Sheldon was back in the plantation
superintending the building of
a bridge, when the schooner Malakula
ran in close and dropped anchor.
Joan watched the taking in of
sail and the swinging out of
the boat with a sailor's interest,
and herself met the two men who
came ashore. While one of the
house-boys ran to fetch Sheldon,
she had the visitors served with
whisky and soda, and sat and
They seemed awkward and constrained
in her presence, and she caught
first one and then the other
looking at her with secret curiosity.
She felt that they were weighing
her, appraising her, and for
the first time the anomalous
position she occupied on Berande
sank sharply home to her. On
the other hand, they puzzled
her. They were neither traders
nor sailors of any type she had
known. Nor did they talk like
gentlemen, despite the fact that
there was nothing offensive in
their bearing and that the veneer
of ordinary social nicety was
theirs. Undoubtedly, they were
men of affairs-- business men
of a sort; but what affairs should
they have in the Solomons, and
what business on Berande? The
elder one, Morgan, was a huge
man, bronzed and moustached,
with a deep bass voice and an
almost guttural speech, and the
other, Raff, was slight and effeminate,
with nervous hands and watery,
washed-out gray eyes, who spoke
with a faint indefinable accent
that was hauntingly reminiscent
of the Cockney, and that was
yet not Cockney of any brand
she had ever encountered. Whatever
they were, they were self-made
men, she concluded; and she felt
the impulse to shudder at thought
of falling into their hands in
a business way. There, they would
She watched Sheldon closely
when he arrived, and divined
that he was not particularly
delighted to see them. But see
them he must, and so pressing
was the need that, after a little
perfunctory general conversation,
he led the two men into the stuffy
office. Later in the afternoon,
she asked Lalaperu where they
"My word," quoth Lalaperu; "plenty
walk about, plenty look 'm. Look
'm tree; look 'm ground belong
tree; look 'm all fella bridge;
look 'm copra-house; look 'm
grass-land; look 'm river; look
'm whale-boat--my word, plenty
big fella look 'm too much."
"What fella man them two fella?" she
"Big fella marster along white
man," was the extent of his description.
But Joan decided that they
were men of importance in the
Solomons, and that their examination
of the plantation and of its
accounts was of sinister significance.
At dinner no word was dropped
that gave a hint of their errand.
The conversation was on general
topics; but Joan could not help
noticing the troubled, absent
expression that occasionally
came into Sheldon's eyes. After
coffee, she left them; and at
midnight, from across the compound,
she could hear the low murmur
of their voices and see glowing
the fiery ends of their cigars.
Up early herself, she found they
had already departed on another
tramp over the plantation.
"What you think?" she
"Sheldon marster he go along
finish short time little bit," was
"What you think?" she
big fella walk about along
me t'ink so. He finish along
All day the examination of
the plantation and the discussion
went on; and all day the skipper
of the Malakula sent urgent messages
ashore for the two men to hasten.
It was not until sunset that
they went down to the boat, and
even then a final talk of nearly
an hour took place on the beach.
Sheldon was combating something--
that she could plainly see; and
that his two visitors were not
giving in she could also plainly
"What name?" she
asked lightly, when Sheldon
sat down to dinner.
He looked at her and smiled,
but it was a very wan and wistful
"My word," she went on. "One
big fella talk. Sun he go down--
talk-talk; sun he come up--talk-talk;
all the time talk-talk. What
name that fella talk-talk?
"Oh, nothing much." He shrugged
his shoulders. "They were trying
to buy Berande, that was all."
She looked at him challengingly.
"It must have
been more than that. It was
you who wanted to
Miss Lackland; I assure you
that I am far from
desiring to sell."
"Don't let us fence about it," she
urged. "Let it be straight talk
between us. You're in trouble.
I'm not a fool. Tell me. Besides,
I may be able to help, to--to
In the pause that followed,
he seemed to debate, not so much
whether he would tell her, as
how to begin to tell her.
"I'm American, you see," she
persisted, "and our American
heritage is a large parcel of
business sense. I don't like
it myself, but I know I've got
it--at least more than you have.
Let us talk it over and find
a way out. How much do you owe?"
pounds, and a few trifles over--small
know. Then, too, thirty of the
boys finish their time next week,
and their balances will average
ten pounds each. But what is
the need of bothering your head
with it? Really, you know--"
"What is Berande
"Whatever Morgan and Raff are
willing to pay for it." A glance
at her hurt expression decided
him. "Hughie and I have sunk
eight thousand pounds in it,
and our time. It is a good property,
and worth more than that. But
it has three years to run before
its returns begin to come in.
That is why Hughie and I engaged
in trading and recruiting. The
Jessie and our stations came
very near to paying the running
expenses of Berande."
and Raff offered you what?"
pounds clear, after paying
"The thieves!" she
good business men, that is
all. As they told
me, a thing is worth no more
than one is willing to pay or
"And how much do you need to
carry on Berande for three years?" Joan
boys at six pounds a year means
pounds--that's the main item."
"My, how cheap
labour does mount up! Thirty-six
pounds, eighteen thousand dollars,
just for a lot of cannibals!
Yet the place is good security.
You could go down to Sydney and
raise the money."
He shook his head.
get them to look at plantations
down there. They've
been taken in too often. But
I do hate to give the place up--more
for Hughie's sake, I swear, than
my own. He was bound up in it.
You see, he was a persistent
chap, and hated to acknowledge
defeat. It--it makes me uncomfortable
to think of it myself. We were
running slowly behind, but with
the Jessie we hoped to muddle
through in some fashion."
"You were muddlers,
the pair of you, without doubt.
needn't sell to Morgan and Raff.
I shall go down to Sydney on
the next steamer, and I'll come
back in a second-hand schooner.
I should be able to buy one for
five or six thousand dollars--"
He held up his hand in protest,
but she waved it aside.
"I may manage
to freight a cargo back as
well. At any rate,
the schooner will take over the
Jessie's business. You can make
your arrangements accordingly,
and have plenty of work for her
when I get back. I'm going to
become a partner in Berande to
the extent of my bag of sovereigns--I've
got over fifteen hundred of them,
you know. We'll draw up an agreement
right now--that is, with your
permission, and I know you won't
He looked at her with good-natured
"You know I sailed here all
the way from Tahiti in order
to become a planter," she insisted. "You
know what my plans were. Now
I've changed them, that's all.
I'd rather be a part owner of
Berande and get my returns in
three years, than break ground
on Pari-Sulay and wait seven
"And this--er--this schooner.
. . . " Sheldon changed his mind
"Yes, go on."
"You won't be angry?" he
"No, no; this
is business. Go on."
would run her yourself?--be
the captain, in
short?-- and go recruiting on
We would save the cost of a
skipper. Under an agreement
you would be credited with a
manager's salary, and I with
a captain's. It's quite simple.
Besides, if you won't let me
be your partner, I shall buy
Pari-Sulay, get a much smaller
vessel, and run her myself. So
what is the difference?"
all the difference in the world.
In the case of Pari-Sulay you
would be on an independent venture.
You could turn cannibal for all
I could interfere in the matter.
But on Berande, you would be
my partner, and then I would
be responsible. And of course
I couldn't permit you, as my
partner, to be skipper of a recruiter.
I tell you, the thing is what
I would not permit any sister
or wife of mine--"
"But I'm not
going to be your wife, thank
"Besides, it's all ridiculous," he
held on steadily. "Think of the
situation. A man and a woman,
both young, partners on an isolated
plantation. Why, the only practical
way out would be that I'd have
to marry you--"
"Mine was a business proposition,
not a marriage proposal," she
interrupted, coldly angry. "I
wonder if somewhere in this world
there is one man who could accept
me for a comrade."
"But you are a woman just the
same," he began, "and there are
certain conventions, certain
She sprang up and stamped her
"Do you know what I'd like
to say?" she demanded.
"Yes," he smiled, "you'd
like to say, 'Damn petticoats!'"
She nodded her head ruefully.
I wanted to say, but it sounds
different on your
lips. It sounds as though you
meant it yourself, and that you
meant it because of me."
"Well, I am
going to bed. But do, please,
think over my proposition,
and let me know in the morning.
There's no use in my discussing
it now. You make me so angry.
You are cowardly, you know, and
very egotistic. You are afraid
of what other fools will say.
No matter how honest your motives,
if others criticized your actions
your feelings would be hurt.
And you think more about your
own wretched feelings than you
do about mine. And then, being
a coward--all men are at heart
cowards--you disguise your cowardice
by calling it chivalry. I thank
heaven that I was not born a
man. Good-night. Do think it
over. And don't be foolish. What
Berande needs is good American
hustle. You don't know what that
is. You are a muddler. Besides,
you are enervated. I'm fresh
to the climate. Let me be your
partner, and you'll see me rattle
the dry bones of the Solomons.
Confess, I've rattled yours already."
"I should say so," he answered. "Really,
you know, you have. I never received
such a dressing-down in my life.
If any one had ever told me that
I'd be a party even to the present
situation. . . . Yes, I confess,
you have rattled my dry bones
"But that is nothing to the
rattling they are going to get," she
assured him, as he rose and took
her hand. "Good-night. And do,
do give me a rational decision
in the morning."