Книга Adventure. Содержание - CHAPTER XXI-CONTRABAND
Tears of disappointment were in her eyes, and she caught a swift sob in her throat.
«I warned you,» he said gravely. «Such unusual situations between men and women cannot endure. I told you so at the beginning.»
«Oh, yes; it is quite clear to me what you did.» She was angry again, and the feminine appeal had disappeared. «You were very discreet in your warning. You took good care to warn me against every other man in the Solomons except yourself.»
It was a blow in the face to Sheldon. He smarted with the truth of it, and at the same time he smarted with what he was convinced was the injustice of it. A gleam of triumph that flickered in her eye because of the hit she had made decided him.
«It is not so one-sided as you seem to think it is,» he began. «I was doing very nicely on Berande before you came. At least I was not suffering indignities, such as being accused of cowardly conduct, as you have just accused me. Remember-please remember, I did not invite you to Berande. Nor did I invite you to stay on at Berande. It was by staying that you brought about this-to you– unpleasant situation. By staying you made yourself a temptation, and now you would blame me for it. I did not want you to stay. I wasn't in love with you then. I wanted you to go to Sydney; to go back to Hawaii. But you insisted on staying. You virtually-«
He paused for a softer word than the one that had risen to his lips, and she took it away from him.
«Forced myself on you-that's what you meant to say,» she cried, the flags of battle painting her cheeks. «Go ahead. Don't mind my feelings.»
«All right; I won't,» he said decisively, realizing that the discussion was in danger of becoming a vituperative, schoolboy argument. «You have insisted on being considered as a man. Consistency would demand that you talk like a man, and like a man listen to man-talk. And listen you shall. It is not your fault that this unpleasantness has arisen. I do not blame you for anything; remember that. And for the same reason you should not blame me for anything.»
He noticed her bosom heaving as she sat with clenched hands, and it was all he could do to conquer the desire to flash his arms out and around her instead of going on with his coolly planned campaign. As it was, he nearly told her that she was a most adorable boy. But he checked all such wayward fancies, and held himself rigidly down to his disquisition.
«You can't help being yourself. You can't help being a very desirable creature so far as I am concerned. You have made me want you. You didn't intend to; you didn't try to. You were so made, that is all. And I was so made that I was ripe to want you. But I can't help being myself. I can't by an effort of will cease from wanting you, any more than you by an effort of will can make yourself undesirable to me.»
«Oh, this desire! this want! want! want!» she broke in rebelliously. «I am not quite a fool. I understand some things. And the whole thing is so foolish and absurd-and uncomfortable. I wish I could get away from it. I really think it would be a good idea for me to marry Noa Noah, or Adamu Adam, or Lalaperu there, or any black boy. Then I could give him orders, and keep him penned away from me; and men like you would leave me alone, and not talk marriage and 'I want, I want.'»
Sheldon laughed in spite of himself, and far from any genuine impulse to laugh.
«You are positively soulless,» he said savagely.
«Because I've a soul that doesn't yearn for a man for master?» she took up the gage. «Very well, then. I am soulless, and what are you going to do about it?»
«I am going to ask you why you look like a woman? Why have you the form of a woman? the lips of a woman? the wonderful hair of a woman? And I am going to answer: because you are a woman-though the woman in you is asleep-and that some day the woman will wake up.»
«Heaven forbid!» she cried, in such sudden and genuine dismay as to make him laugh, and to bring a smile to her own lips against herself.
«I've got some more to say to you,» Sheldon pursued. «I did try to protect you from every other man in the Solomons, and from yourself as well. As for me, I didn't dream that danger lay in that quarter. So I failed to protect you from myself. I failed to protect you at all. You went your own wilful way, just as though I didn't exist-wrecking schooners, recruiting on Malaita, and sailing schooners; one lone, unprotected girl in the company of some of the worst scoundrels in the Solomons. Fowler! and Brahms! and Curtis! And such is the perverseness of human nature-I am frank, you see-I love you for that too. I love you for all of you, just as you are.»
She made a moue of distaste and raised a hand protestingly.
«Don't,» he said. «You have no right to recoil from the mention of my love for you. Remember this is a man-talk. From the point of view of the talk, you are a man. The woman in you is only incidental, accidental, and irrelevant. You've got to listen to the bald statement of fact, strange though it is, that I love you.»
«And now I won't bother you any more about love. We'll go on the same as before. You are better off and safer on Berande, in spite of the fact that I love you, than anywhere else in the Solomons. But I want you, as a final item of man-talk, to remember, from time to time, that I love you, and that it will be the dearest day of my life when you consent to marry me. I want you to think of it sometimes. You can't help but think of it sometimes. And now we won't talk about it any more. As between men, there's my hand.»
He held out his hand. She hesitated, then gripped it heartily, and smiled through her tears.
«I wish-« she faltered, «I wish, instead of that black Mary, you'd given me somebody to swear for me.»
And with this enigmatic utterance she turned away.
Sheldon did not mention the subject again, nor did his conduct change from what it had always been. There was nothing of the pining lover, nor of the lover at all, in his demeanour. Nor was there any awkwardness between them. They were as frank and friendly in their relations as ever. He had wondered if his belligerent love declaration might have aroused some womanly self– consciousness in Joan, but he looked in vain for any sign of it. She appeared as unchanged as he; and while he knew that he hid his real feelings, he was firm in his belief that she hid nothing. And yet the germ he had implanted must be at work; he was confident of that, though he was without confidence as to the result. There was no forecasting this strange girl's processes. She might awaken, it was true; and on the other hand, and with equal chance, he might be the wrong man for her, and his declaration of love might only more firmly set her in her views on single blessedness.
While he devoted more and more of his time to the plantation itself, she took over the house and its multitudinous affairs; and she took hold firmly, in sailor fashion, revolutionizing the system and discipline. The labour situation on Berande was improving. The Martha had carried away fifty of the blacks whose time was up, and they had been among the worst on the plantation-five-year men recruited by Billy Be-blowed, men who had gone through the old days of terrorism when the original owners of Berande had been driven away. The new recruits, being broken in under the new regime, gave better promise. Joan had joined with Sheldon from the start in the programme that they must be gripped with the strong hand, and at the same time be treated with absolute justice, if they were to escape being contaminated by the older boys that still remained.
«I think it would be a good idea to put all the gangs at work close to the house this afternoon,» she announced one day at breakfast. «I've cleaned up the house, and you ought to clean up the barracks. There is too much stealing going on.»