Two days passed, and Sheldon
felt that he could not grow any
weaker and live, much less make
his four daily rounds of the
hospital. The deaths were averaging
four a day, and there were more
new cases than recoveries. The
blacks were in a funk. Each one,
when taken sick, seemed to make
every effort to die. Once down
on their backs they lacked the
grit to make a struggle. They
believed they were going to die,
and they did their best to vindicate
that belief. Even those that
were well were sure that it was
only a mater of days when the
sickness would catch them and
carry them off. And yet, believing
this with absolute conviction,
they somehow lacked the nerve
to rush the frail wraith of a
man with the white skin and escape
from the charnel house by the
whale-boats. They chose the lingering
death they were sure awaited
them, rather than the immediate
death they were very sure would
pounce upon them if they went
up against the master. That he
never slept, they knew. That
he could not be conjured to death,
they were equally sure--they
had tried it. And even the sickness
that was sweeping them off could
not kill him.
With the whipping in the compound,
discipline had improved. They
cringed under the iron hand of
the white man. They gave their
scowls or malignant looks with
averted faces or when his back
was turned. They saved their
mutterings for the barracks at
night, where he could not hear.
And there were no more runaways
and no more night-prowlers on
Dawn of the third day after
the whipping brought the Jessie's
white sails in sight. Eight miles
away, it was not till two in
the afternoon that the light
air-fans enabled her to drop
anchor a quarter of a mile off
the shore. The sight of her gave
Sheldon fresh courage, and the
tedious hours of waiting did
not irk him. He gave his orders
to the boss-boys and made his
regular trips to the hospital.
Nothing mattered now. His troubles
were at an end. He could lie
down and take care of himself
and proceed to get well. The
Jessie had arrived. His partner
was on board, vigorous and hearty
from six weeks' recruiting on
Malaita. He could take charge
now, and all would be well with
Sheldon lay in the steamer-chair
and watched the Jessie's whale-
boat pull in for the beach. He
wondered why only three sweeps
were pulling, and he wondered
still more when, beached, there
was so much delay in getting
out of the boat. Then he understood.
The three blacks who had been
pulling started up the beach
with a stretcher on their shoulders.
A white man, whom he recognized
as the Jessie's captain, walked
in front and opened the gate,
then dropped behind to close
it. Sheldon knew that it was
Hughie Drummond who lay in the
stretcher, and a mist came before
his eyes. He felt an overwhelming
desire to die. The disappointment
was too great. In his own state
of terrible weakness he felt
that it was impossible to go
on with his task of holding Berande
plantation tight-gripped in his
fist. Then the will of him flamed
up again, and he directed the
blacks to lay the stretcher beside
him on the floor. Hughie Drummond,
whom he had last seen in health,
was an emaciated skeleton. His
closed eyes were deep-sunken.
The shrivelled lips had fallen
away from the teeth, and the
cheek-bones seemed bursting through
the skin. Sheldon sent a house-boy
for his thermometer and glanced
questioningly at the captain.
"Black-water fever," the captain
said. "He's been like this for
six days, unconscious. And we've
got dysentery on board. What's
the matter with you?"
"I'm burying four a day," Sheldon
answered, as he bent over from
the steamer-chair and inserted
the thermometer under his partner's
Captain Oleson swore blasphemously,
and sent a house-boy to bring
whisky and soda. Sheldon glanced
at the thermometer.
"One hundred and seven," he
said. "Poor Hughie."
Captain Oleson offered him
"Couldn't think of it--perforation,
you know," Sheldon said.
He sent for a boss-boy and
ordered a grave to be dug, also
some of the packing-cases to
be knocked together into a coffin.
The blacks did not get coffins.
They were buried as they died,
being carted on a sheet of galvanized
iron, in their nakedness, from
the hospital to the hole in the
ground. Having given the orders,
Sheldon lay back in his chair
with closed eyes.
"It's ben fair hell, sir," Captain
Oleson began, then broke off
to help himself to more whisky. "It's
ben fair hell, Mr. Sheldon, I
tell you. Contrary winds and
calms. We've ben driftin' all
about the shop for ten days.
There's ten thousand sharks following
us for the tucker we've ben throwin'
over to them. They was snappin'
at the oars when we started to
come ashore. I wisht to God a
nor'wester'd come along an' blow
the Solomons clean to hell."
"We got it
from the water--water from
Owga creek. Filled my casks
with it. How was we to know?
I've filled there before an'
it was all right. We had sixty
recruits-full up; and my crew
of fifteen. We've ben buryin'
them day an' night. The beggars
won't live, damn them! They die
out of spite. Only three of my
crew left on its legs. Five more
down. Seven dead. Oh, hell! What's
the good of talkin'?"
"How many recruits left?" Sheldon
Thirty left. Twenty down, and
ten tottering around."
another addition to the hospital.
We've got to
get them ashore somehow.--Viaburi!
Hey, you, Viaburi, ring big fella
bell strong fella too much."
The hands, called in from the
fields at that unwonted hour,
were split into detachments.
Some were sent into the woods
to cut timber for house-beams,
others to cutting cane-grass
for thatching, and forty of them
lifted a whale-boat above their
heads and carried it down to
the sea. Sheldon had gritted
his teeth, pulled his collapsing
soul together, and taken Berande
plantation into his fist once
"Have you seen the barometer?" Captain
Oleson asked, pausing at the
bottom of the steps on his way
to oversee the disembarkation
of the sick.
"No," Sheldon answered. "Is
"Then you'd better sleep aboard
to-night," was Sheldon's judgment. "Never
mind the funeral. I'll see to
"A nigger was
kicking the bucket when I dropped
The captain made the statement
as a simple fact, but obviously
waited for a suggestion. The
other felt a sudden wave of irritation
rush through him.
"Dump him over," he cried. "Great
God, man! don't you think I've
got enough graves ashore?"
"I just wanted to know, that
was all," the captain answered,
in no wise offended.
Sheldon regretted his childishness.
"Oh, Captain Oleson," he called. "If
you can see your way to it, come
ashore to-morrow and lend me
a hand. If you can't, send the
"Right O. I'll
come myself. Mr. Johnson's
dead, sir. I forgot
to tell you--three days ago."
Sheldon watched the Jessie's
captain go down the path, with
waving arms and loud curses calling
upon God to sink the Solomons.
Next, Sheldon noted the Jessie
rolling lazily on the glassy
swell, and beyond, in the north-west,
high over Florida Island, an
alpine chain of dark-massed clouds.
Then he turned to his partner,
calling for boys to carry him
into the house. But Hughie Drummond
had reached the end. His breathing
was imperceptible. By mere touch,
Sheldon could ascertain that
the dying man's temperature was
going down. It must have been
going down when the thermometer
registered one hundred and seven.
He had burned out. Sheldon knelt
beside him, the house-boys grouped
around, their white singlets
and loin-cloths peculiarly at
variance with their dark skins
and savage countenances, their
huge ear-plugs and carved and
glistening nose-rings. Sheldon
tottered to his feet at last,
and half-fell into the steamer-chair.
Oppressive as the heat had been,
it was now even more oppressive.
It was difficult to breathe.
He panted for air. The faces
and naked arms of the house-boys
were beaded with sweat.
"Marster," one of them ventured, "big
fella wind he come, strong fella
Sheldon nodded his head but
did not look. Much as he had
loved Hughie Drummond, his death,
and the funeral it entailed,
seemed an intolerable burden
to add to what he was already
sinking under. He had a feeling--nay,
it was a certitude--that all
he had to do was to shut his
eyes and let go, and that he
would die, sink into immensity
of rest. He knew it; it was very
simple. All he had to do was
close his eyes and let go; for
he had reached the stage where
he lived by will alone. His weary
body seemed torn by the oncoming
pangs of dissolution. He was
a fool to hang on. He had died
a score of deaths already, and
what was the use of prolonging
it to two-score deaths before
he really died. Not only was
he not afraid to die, but he
desired to die. His weary flesh
and weary spirit desired it,
and why should the flame of him
not go utterly out?
But his mind that could will
life or death, still pulsed on.
He saw the two whale-boats land
on the beach, and the sick, on
stretchers or pick-a-back, groaning
and wailing, go by in lugubrious
procession. He saw the wind making
on the clouded horizon, and thought
of the sick in the hospital.
Here was something waiting his
hand to be done, and it was not
in his nature to lie down and
sleep, or die, when any task
The boss-boys were called and
given their orders to rope down
the hospital with its two additions.
He remembered the spare anchor-
chain, new and black-painted,
that hung under the house suspended
from the floor-beams, and ordered
it to be used on the hospital
as well. Other boys brought the
coffin, a grotesque patchwork
of packing-cases, and under his
directions they laid Hughie Drummond
in it. Half a dozen boys carried
it down the beach, while he rode
on the back of another, his arms
around the black's neck, one
hand clutching a prayer-book.
While he read the service,
the blacks gazed apprehensively
at the dark line on the water,
above which rolled and tumbled
the racing clouds. The first
breath of the wind, faint and
silken, tonic with life, fanned
through his dry-baked body as
he finished reading. Then came
the second breath of the wind,
an angry gust, as the shovels
worked rapidly, filling in the
sand. So heavy was the gust that
Sheldon, still on his feet, seized
hold of his man-horse to escape
being blown away. The Jessie
was blotted out, and a strange
ominous sound arose as multitudinous
wavelets struck foaming on the
beach. It was like the bubbling
of some colossal cauldron. From
all about could be heard the
dull thudding of falling cocoanuts.
The tall, delicate-trunked trees
twisted and snapped about like
whip-lashes. The air seemed filled
with their flying leaves, any
one of which, stem-on could brain
a man. Then came the rain, a
deluge, a straight, horizontal
sheet that poured along like
a river, defying gravitation.
The black, with Sheldon mounted
on him, plunged ahead into the
thick of it, stooping far forward
and low to the ground to avoid
being toppled over backward.
"'He's sleeping out and far
to-night,'" Sheldon quoted, as
he thought of the dead man in
the sand and the rainwater trickling
down upon the cold clay.
So they fought their way back
up the beach. The other blacks
caught hold of the man-horse
and pulled and tugged. There
were among them those whose fondest
desire was to drag the rider
in the sand and spring upon him
and mash him into repulsive nothingness.
But the automatic pistol in his
belt with its rattling, quick-
dealing death, and the automatic,
death-defying spirit in the man
himself, made them refrain and
buckle down to the task of hauling
him to safety through the storm.
Wet through and exhausted,
he was nevertheless surprised
at the ease with which he got
into a change of clothing. Though
he was fearfully weak, he found
himself actually feeling better.
The disease had spent itself,
and the mend had begun.
"Now if I don't get the fever," he
said aloud, and at the same moment
resolved to go to taking quinine
as soon as he was strong enough
out on the veranda. The rain
had ceased, but the
wind, which had dwindled to a
half-gale, was increasing. A
big sea had sprung up, and the
mile-long breakers, curling up
to the over-fall two hundred
yards from shore, were crashing
on the beach. The Jessie was
plunging madly to two anchors,
and every second or third sea
broke clear over her bow. Two
flags were stiffly undulating
from the halyards like squares
of flexible sheet-iron. One was
blue, the other red. He knew
their meaning in the Berande
private code--"What are your
instructions? Shall I attempt
to land boat?" Tacked on the
wall, between the signal locker
and the billiard rules, was the
code itself, by which he verified
the signal before making answer.
On the flagstaff gaff a boy hoisted
a white flag over a red, which
stood for--"Run to Neal Island
That Captain Oleson had been
expecting this signal was apparent
by the celerity with which the
shackles were knocked out of
both anchor-chains. He slipped
his anchors, leaving them buoyed
to be picked up in better weather.
The Jessie swung off under her
full staysail, then the foresail,
double-reefed, was run up. She
was away like a racehorse, clearing
Balesuna Shoal with half a cable-
length to spare. Just before
she rounded the point she was
swallowed up in a terrific squall
that far out-blew the first.
All that night, while squall
after squall smote Berande, uprooting
trees, overthrowing copra-sheds,
and rocking the house on its
tall piles, Sheldon slept. He
was unaware of the commotion.
He never wakened. Nor did he
change his position or dream.
He awoke, a new man. Furthermore,
he was hungry. It was over a
week since food had passed his
lips. He drank a glass of condensed
cream, thinned with water, and
by ten o'clock he dared to take
a cup of beef-tea. He was cheered,
also, by the situation in the
hospital. Despite the storm there
had been but one death, and there
was only one fresh case, while
half a dozen boys crawled weakly
away to the barracks. He wondered
if it was the wind that was blowing
the disease away and cleansing
the pestilential land.
By eleven a messenger arrived
from Balesuna village, dispatched
by Seelee. The Jessie had gone
ashore half-way between the village
and Neal Island. It was not till
nightfall that two of the crew
arrived, reporting the drowning
of Captain Oleson and of the
one remaining boy. As for the
Jessie, from what they told him
Sheldon could not but conclude
that she was a total loss. Further
to hearten him, he was taken
by a shivering fit. In half an
hour he was burning up. And he
knew that at least another day
must pass before he could undertake
even the smallest dose of quinine.
He crawled under a heap of blankets,
and a little later found himself
laughing aloud. He had surely
reached the limit of disaster.
Barring earthquake or tidal-wave,
the worst had already befallen
him. The Flibberty-Gibbet was
certainly safe in Mboli Pass.
Since nothing worse could happen,
things simply had to mend. So
it was, shivering under his blankets,
that he laughed, until the house-
boys, with heads together, marvelled
at the devils that were in him.