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The next morning Sheldon came in from the plantation to breakfast,
to find the mission ketch, Apostle, at anchor, her crew swimming
two mares and a filly ashore. Sheldon recognized the animals as
belonging to the Resident Commissioner, and he immediately wondered
if Joan had bought them. She was certainly living up to her threat
of rattling the dry bones of the Solomons, and he was prepared for
"Miss Lackland sent them," said Welshmere, the missionary doctor,
stepping ashore and shaking hands with him. "There's also a box of
saddles on board. And this letter from her. And the skipper of
The next moment, and before he could greet him, Oleson stepped from
the boat and began.
"She's stolen the Flibberty, Mr. Sheldon. Run clean away with her.
She's a wild one. She gave me the fever. Brought it on by shock.
And got me drunk, as well--rotten drunk."
Dr. Welshmere laughed heartily.
"Nevertheless, she is not an unmitigated evil, your Miss Lackland.
She's sworn three men off their drink, or, to the same purpose,
shut off their whisky. You know them--Brahms, Curtis, and Fowler.
She shipped them on the Flibberty-Gibbet along with her."
"She's the skipper of the Flibberty now," Oleson broke in. "And
she'll wreck her as sure as God didn't make the Solomons."
Dr. Welshmere tried to look shocked, but laughed again.
"She has quite a way with her," he said. "I tried to back out of
bringing the horses over. Said I couldn't charge freight, that the
Apostle was under a yacht license, that I was going around by Savo
and the upper end of Guadalcanar. But it was no use. 'Bother the
charge,' said she. 'You take the horses like a good man, and when
I float the Martha I'll return the service some day.'"
"And 'bother your orders,' said she to me," Oleson cried. "'I'm
your boss now,' said she, 'and you take your orders from me.'
'Look at that load of ivory nuts,' I said. 'Bother them,' said
she; 'I'm playin' for something bigger than ivory nuts. We'll dump
them overside as soon as we get under way.'"
Sheldon put his hands to his ears.
"I don't know what has happened, and you are trying to tell me the
tale backwards. Come up to the house and get in the shade and
begin at the beginning."
"What I want to know," Oleson began, when they were seated, "is IS
she your partner or ain't she? That's what I want to know."
"She is," Sheldon assured him.
"Well, who'd have believed it!" Oleson glanced appealingly at Dr.
Welshmere, and back again at Sheldon. "I've seen a few unlikely
things in these Solomons--rats two feet long, butterflies the
Commissioner hunts with a shot-gun, ear-ornaments that would shame
the devil, and head-hunting devils that make the devil look like an
angel. I've seen them and got used to them, but this young woman
"Miss Lackland is my partner and part-owner of Berande," Sheldon
"So she said," the irate skipper dashed on. "But she had no papers
to show for it. How was I to know? And then there was that load
of ivory nuts-eight tons of them."
"For heaven's sake begin at the--" Sheldon tried to interrupt.
"And then she's hired them drunken loafers, three of the worst
scoundrels that ever disgraced the Solomons--fifteen quid a month
each--what d'ye think of that? And sailed away with them, too!
Phew!--You might give me a drink. The missionary won't mind. I've
been on his teetotal hooker four days now, and I'm perishing."
Dr. Welshmere nodded in reply to Sheldon's look of inquiry, and
Viaburi was dispatched for the whisky and siphons.
"It is evident, Captain Oleson," Sheldon remarked to that refreshed
mariner, "that Miss Lackland has run away with your boat. Now
please give a plain statement of what occurred."
"Right O; here goes. I'd just come in on the Flibberty. She was
on board before I dropped the hook--in that whale-boat of hers with
her gang of Tahiti heathens--that big Adamu Adam and the rest.
'Don't drop the anchor, Captain Oleson,' she sang out. 'I want you
to get under way for Poonga-Poonga.' I looked to see if she'd been
drinking. What was I to think? I was rounding up at the time,
alongside the shoal--a ticklish place--headsails running down and
losing way, so I says, 'Excuse me, Miss Lackland,' and yells
for'ard, 'Let go!'
"'You might have listened to me and saved yourself trouble,' says
she, climbing over the rail and squinting along for'ard and seeing
the first shackle flip out and stop. 'There's fifteen fathom,'
says she; 'you may as well turn your men to and heave up.'
"And then we had it out. I didn't believe her. I didn't think
you'd take her on as a partner, and I told her as much and wanted
proof. She got high and mighty, and I told her I was old enough to
be her grandfather and that I wouldn't take gammon from a chit like
her. And then I ordered her off the Flibberty. 'Captain Oleson,'
she says, sweet as you please, 'I've a few minutes to spare on you,
and I've got some good whisky over on the Emily. Come on along.
Besides, I want your advice about this wrecking business.
Everybody says you're a crackerjack sailor-man'--that's what she
said, 'crackerjack.' And I went, in her whale-boat, Adamu Adam
steering and looking as solemn as a funeral.
"On the way she told me about the Martha, and how she'd bought her,
and was going to float her. She said she'd chartered the Emily,
and was sailing as soon as I could get the Flibberty underway. It
struck me that her gammon was reasonable enough, and I agreed to
pull out for Berande right O, and get your orders to go along to
Poonga-Poonga. But she said there wasn't a second to be lost by
any such foolishness, and that I was to sail direct for Poonga-
Poonga, and that if I couldn't take her word that she was your
partner, she'd get along without me and the Flibberty. And right
there's where she fooled me.
"Down in the Emily's cabin was them three soaks--you know them--
Fowler and Curtis and that Brahms chap. 'Have a drink,' says she.
I thought they looked surprised when she unlocked the whisky locker
and sent a nigger for the glasses and water-monkey. But she must
have tipped them off unbeknownst to me, and they knew just what to
do. 'Excuse me,' she says, 'I'm going on deck a minute.' Now that
minute was half an hour. I hadn't had a drink in ten days. I'm an
old man and the fever has weakened me. Then I took it on an empty
stomach, too, and there was them three soaks setting me an example,
they arguing for me to take the Flibberty to Poonga-Poonga, an' me
pointing out my duty to the contrary. The trouble was, all the
arguments were pointed with drinks, and me not being a drinking
man, so to say, and weak from fever . . .
"Well, anyway, at the end of the half-hour down she came again and
took a good squint at me. 'That'll do nicely,' I remember her
saying; and with that she took the whisky bottles and hove them
overside through the companionway. 'That's the last, she said to
the three soaks, 'till the Martha floats and you're back in Guvutu.
It'll be a long time between drinks.' And then she laughed.
"She looked at me and said--not to me, mind you, but to the soaks:
'It's time this worthy man went ashore'--me! worthy man! 'Fowler,'
she said--you know, just like a straight order, and she didn't
MISTER him--it was plain Fowler--'Fowler,' she said, 'just tell
Adamu Adam to man the whale-boat, and while he's taking Captain
Oleson ashore have your boat put me on the Flibberty. The three of
you sail with me, so pack your dunnage. And the one of you that
shows up best will take the mate's billet. Captain Oleson doesn't
carry a mate, you know.'
"I don't remember much after that. All hands got me over the side,
and it seems to me I went to sleep, sitting in the stern-sheets and
watching that Adamu steer. Then I saw the Flibberty's mainsail
hoisting, and heard the clank of her chain coming in, and I woke
up. 'Here, put me on the Flibberty,' I said to Adamu. 'I put you
on the beach,' said he. 'Missie Lackalanna say beach plenty good
for you.' Well, I let out a yell and reached for the steering-
sweep. I was doing my best by my owners, you see. Only that Adamu
gives me a shove down on the bottom-boards, puts one foot on me to
hold me down, and goes on steering. And that's all. The shock of
the whole thing brought on fever. And now I've come to find out
whether I'm skipper of the Flibberty, or that chit of yours with
her pirating, heathen boat's-crew."
"Never mind, skipper. You can take a vacation on pay." Sheldon
spoke with more assurance than he felt. "If Miss Lackland, who is
my partner, has seen fit to take charge of the Flibberty-Gibbet,
why, it is all right. As you will agree, there was no time to be
lost if the Martha was to be got off. It is a bad reef, and any
considerable sea would knock her bottom out. You settle down here,
skipper, and rest up and get the fever out of your bones. When the
Flibberty-Gibbet comes back, you'll take charge again, of course."
After Dr. Welshmere and the Apostle departed and Captain Oleson had
turned in for a sleep in a veranda hammock, Sheldon opened Joan's
DEAR MR. SHELDON,--Please forgive me for stealing the Flibberty-
Gibbet. I simply had to. The Martha means everything to us.
Think of it, only fifty-five pounds for her, two hundred and
seventy-five dollars. If I don't save her, I know I shall be able
to pay all expenses out of her gear, which the natives will not
have carried off. And if I do save her, it is the haul of a life-
time. And if I don't save her, I'll fill the Emily and the
Flibberty-Gibbet with recruits. Recruits are needed right now on
Berande more than anything else.
And please, please don't be angry with me. You said I shouldn't go
recruiting on the Flibberty, and I won't. I'll go on the Emily.
I bought two cows this afternoon. That trader at Nogi died of
fever, and I bought them from his partner, Sam Willis his name is,
who agrees to deliver them--most likely by the Minerva next time
she is down that way. Berande has been long enough on tinned milk.
And Dr. Welshmere has agreed to get me some orange and lime trees
from the mission station at Ulava. He will deliver them the next
trip of the Apostle. If the Sydney steamer arrives before I get
back, plant the sweet corn she will bring between the young trees
on the high bank of the Balesuna. The current is eating in against
that bank, and you should do something to save it.
I have ordered some fig-trees and loquats, too, from Sydney. Dr.
Welshmere will bring some mango-seeds. They are big trees and
require plenty of room.
The Martha is registered 110 tons. She is the biggest schooner in
the Solomons, and the best. I saw a little of her lines and guess
the rest. She will sail like a witch. If she hasn't filled with
water, her engine will be all right. The reason she went ashore
was because it was not working. The engineer had disconnected the
feed-pipes to clean out the rust. Poor business, unless at anchor
or with plenty of sea room.
Plant all the trees in the compound, even if you have to clean out
the palms later on.
And don't plant the sweet corn all at once. Let a few days elapse
He fingered the letter, lingering over it and scrutinizing the
writing in a way that was not his wont. How characteristic, was
his thought, as he studied the boyish scrawl--clear to read,
painfully, clear, but none the less boyish. The clearness of it
reminded him of her face, of her cleanly stencilled brows, her
straightly chiselled nose, the very clearness of the gaze of her
eyes, the firmly yet delicately moulded lips, and the throat,
neither fragile nor robust, but--but just right, he concluded, an
adequate and beautiful pillar for so shapely a burden.
He looked long at the name. Joan Lackland--just an assemblage of
letters, of commonplace letters, but an assemblage that generated a
subtle and heady magic. It crept into his brain and twined and
twisted his mental processes until all that constituted him at that
moment went out in love to that scrawled signature. A few
commonplace letters--yet they caused him to know in himself a lack
that sweetly hurt and that expressed itself in vague spiritual
outpourings and delicious yearnings. Joan Lackland! Each time he
looked at it there arose visions of her in a myriad moods and
guises--coming in out of the flying smother of the gale that had
wrecked her schooner; launching a whale-boat to go a-fishing;
running dripping from the sea, with streaming hair and clinging
garments, to the fresh-water shower; frightening four-score
cannibals with an empty chlorodyne bottle; teaching Ornfiri how to
make bread; hanging her Stetson hat and revolver-belt on the hook
in the living-room; talking gravely about winning to hearth and
saddle of her own, or juvenilely rattling on about romance and
adventure, bright-eyed, her face flushed and eager with enthusiasm.
Joan Lackland! He mused over the cryptic wonder of it till the
secrets of love were made clear and he felt a keen sympathy for
lovers who carved their names on trees or wrote them on the beach-
sands of the sea.
Then he came back to reality, and his face hardened. Even then she
was on the wild coast of Malaita, and at Poonga-Poonga, of all
villainous and dangerous portions the worst, peopled with a teeming
population of head-hunters, robbers, and murderers. For the
instant he entertained the rash thought of calling his boat's-crew
and starting immediately in a whale-boat for Poonga-Poonga. But
the next instant the idea was dismissed. What could he do if he
did go? First, she would resent it. Next, she would laugh at him
and call him a silly; and after all he would count for only one
rifle more, and she had many rifles with her. Three things only
could he do if he went. He could command her to return; he could
take the Flibberty-Gibbet away from her; he could dissolve their
partnership;--any and all of which he knew would be foolish and
futile, and he could hear her explain in terse set terms that she
was legally of age and that nobody could say come or go to her.
No, his pride would never permit him to start for Poonga-Poonga,
though his heart whispered that nothing could be more welcome than
a message from her asking him to come and lend a hand. Her very
words--"lend a hand"; and in his fancy, he could see and hear her
There was much in her wilful conduct that caused him to wince in
the heart of him. He was appalled by the thought of her shoulder
to shoulder with the drunken rabble of traders and beachcombers at
Guvutu. It was bad enough for a clean, fastidious man; but for a
young woman, a girl at that, it was awful. The theft of the
Flibberty-Gibbet was merely amusing, though the means by which the
theft had been effected gave him hurt. Yet he found consolation in
the fact that the task of making Oleson drunk had been turned over
to the three scoundrels. And next, and swiftly, came the vision of
her, alone with those same three scoundrels, on the Emily, sailing
out to sea from Guvutu in the twilight with darkness coming on.
Then came visions of Adamu Adam and Noa Noah and all her brawny
Tahitian following, and his anxiety faded away, being replaced by
irritation that she should have been capable of such wildness of
And the irritation was still on him as he got up and went inside to
stare at the hook on the wall and to wish that her Stetson hat and
revolver-belt were hanging from it.
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