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«But it would pay for itself by quicker passages,» she argued; «and it would be as good as insurance. I know. I've knocked about amongst reefs myself. Besides, if you weren't so mediaeval, I could be skipper and save more than the engineer's wages.»

He did not reply to her thrust, and she glanced at him. He was looking out over the water, and in the lantern light she noted the lines of his face-strong, stern, dogged, the mouth almost chaste but firmer and thinner-lipped than Tudor's. For the first time she realized the quality of his strength, the calm and quiet of it, its simple integrity and reposeful determination. She glanced quickly at Tudor on the other side of her. It was a handsomer face, one that was more immediately pleasing. But she did not like the mouth. It was made for kissing, and she abhorred kisses. This was not a deliberately achieved concept; it came to her in the form of a faint and vaguely intangible repulsion. For the moment she knew a fleeting doubt of the man. Perhaps Sheldon was right in his judgment of the other. She did not know, and it concerned her little; for boats, and the sea, and the things and happenings of the sea were of far more vital interest to her than men, and the next moment she was staring through the warm tropic darkness at the loom of the sails and the steady green of the moving sidelight, and listening eagerly to the click of the sweeps in the rowlocks. In her mind's eye she could see the straining naked forms of black men bending rhythmically to the work, and somewhere on that strange deck she knew was the inevitable master-man, conning the vessel in to its anchorage, peering at the dim tree-line of the shore, judging the deceitful night-distances, feeling on his cheek the first fans of the land breeze that was even then beginning to blow, weighing, thinking, measuring, gauging the score or more of ever– shifting forces, through which, by which, and in spite of which he directed the steady equilibrium of his course. She knew it because she loved it, and she was alive to it as only a sailor could be.

Twice she heard the splash of the lead, and listened intently for the cry that followed. Once a man's voice spoke, low, imperative, issuing an order, and she thrilled with the delight of it. It was only a direction to the man at the wheel to port his helm. She watched the slight altering of the course, and knew that it was for the purpose of enabling the flat-hauled sails to catch those first fans of the land breeze, and she waited for the same low voice to utter the one word «Steady!» And again she thrilled when it did utter it. Once more the lead splashed, and «Eleven fadom» was the resulting cry. «Let go!» the low voice came to her through the darkness, followed by the surging rumble of the anchor-chain. The clicking of the sheaves in the blocks as the sails ran down, head– sails first, was music to her; and she detected on the instant the jamming of a jib-downhaul, and almost saw the impatient jerk with which the sailor must have cleared it. Nor did she take interest in the two men beside her till both lights, red and green, came into view as the anchor checked the onward way.

Sheldon was wondering as to the identity of the craft, while Tudor persisted in believing it might be the Martha.

«It's the Minerva,» Joan said decidedly.

«How do you know?» Sheldon asked, sceptical of her certitude.

«It's a ketch to begin with. And besides, I could tell anywhere the rattle of her main peak-blocks-they're too large for the halyard.»

A dark figure crossed the compound diagonally from the beach gate, where whoever it was had been watching the vessel.

«Is that you, Utami?» Joan called.

«No, Missie; me Matapuu,» was the answer.

«What vessel is it?»

«Me t'ink Minerva.»

Joan looked triumphantly at Sheldon, who bowed.

«If Matapuu says so it must be so,» he murmured.

«But when Joan Lackland says so, you doubt,» she cried, «just as you doubt her ability as a skipper. But never mind, you'll be sorry some day for all your unkindness. There's the boat lowering now, and in five minutes we'll be shaking hands with Christian Young.»

Lalaperu brought out the glasses and cigarettes and the eternal whisky and soda, and before the five minutes were past the gate clicked and Christian Young, tawny and golden, gentle of voice and look and hand, came up the bungalow steps and joined them.


News, as usual, Christian Young brought-news of the drinking at Guvutu, where the men boasted that they drank between drinks; news of the new rifles adrift on Ysabel, of the latest murders on Malaita, of Tom Butler's sickness on Santa Ana; and last and most important, news that the Matambo had gone on a reef in the Shortlands and would be laid off one run for repairs.

«That means five weeks more before you can sail for Sydney,» Sheldon said to Joan.

«And that we are losing precious time,» she added ruefully.

«If you want to go to Sydney, the Upolu sails from Tulagi to-morrow afternoon,» Young said.

«But I thought she was running recruits for the Germans in Samoa,» she objected. «At any rate, I could catch her to Samoa, and change at Apia to one of the Weir Line freighters. It's a long way around, but still it would save time.»

«This time the Upolu is going straight to Sydney,» Young explained. «She's going to dry-dock, you see; and you can catch her as late as five to-morrow afternoon-at least, so her first officer told me.»

«But I've got to go to Guvutu first.» Joan looked at the men with a whimsical expression. «I've some shopping to do. I can't wear these Berande curtains into Sydney. I must buy cloth at Guvutu and make myself a dress during the voyage down. I'll start immediately-in an hour. Lalaperu, you bring 'm one fella Adamu Adam along me. Tell 'm that fella Ornfiri make 'm kai-kai take along whale-boat.» She rose to her feet, looking at Sheldon. «And you, please, have the boys carry down the whale-boat-my boat, you know. I'll be off in an hour.»

Both Sheldon and Tudor looked at their watches.

«It's an all-night row,» Sheldon said. «You might wait till morning-«

«And miss my shopping? No, thank you. Besides, the Upolu is not a regular passenger steamer, and she is just as liable to sail ahead of time as on time. And from what I hear about those Guvutu sybarites, the best time to shop will be in the morning. And now you'll have to excuse me, for I've got to pack.»

«I'll go over with you,» Sheldon announced.

«Let me run you over in the Minerva,» said Young.

She shook her head laughingly.

«I'm going in the whale-boat. One would think, from all your solicitude, that I'd never been away from home before. You, Mr. Sheldon, as my partner, I cannot permit to desert Berande and your work out of a mistaken notion of courtesy. If you won't permit me to be skipper, I won't permit your galivanting over the sea as protector of young women who don't need protection. And as for you, Captain Young, you know very well that you just left Guvutu this morning, that you are bound for Marau, and that you said yourself that in two hours you are getting under way again.»

«But may I not see you safely across?» Tudor asked, a pleading note in his voice that rasped on Sheldon's nerves.

«No, no, and again no,» she cried. «You've all got your work to do, and so have I. I came to the Solomons to work, not to be escorted about like a doll. For that matter, here's my escort, and there are seven more like him.»

Adamu Adam stood beside her, towering above her, as he towered above the three white men. The clinging cotton undershirt he wore could not hide the bulge of his tremendous muscles.

«Look at his fist,» said Tudor. «I'd hate to receive a punch from it.»

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