CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница

They were directly beneath the village, and they could hear the crowing

of roosters, two women's voices raised in brief dispute, and, once, the

crying of a child. The run-way now became a deeply worn path, rising so

steeply that several times the party paused for breath. The path never

widened, and in places the feet and the rains of generations had scoured

it till it was sunken twenty feet beneath the surface.

"One man with a rifle could hold it against a thousand," Sheldon

whispered to Joan. "And twenty men could hold it with spears and

arrows."

They came out on the village, situated on CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница a small, upland plateau, grass-

covered, and with only occasional trees. There was a wild chorus of

warning cries from the women, who scurried out of the grass houses, and

like frightened quail dived over the opposite edge of the clearing,

gathering up their babies and children as they ran. At the same time

spears and arrows began to fall among the invaders. At Sheldon's

command, the Tahitians and Poonga-Poonga men got into action with their

rifles. The spears and arrows ceased, the last bushman disappeared, and

the fight was over almost as soon as it had begun. On their own side no

one CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница had been hurt, while half a dozen bushmen had been killed. These

alone remained, the wounded having been carried off. The Tahitians and

Poonga-Poonga men had warmed up and were for pursuit, but this Sheldon

would not permit. To his pleased surprise, Joan backed him up in the

decision; for, glancing at her once during the firing, he had seen her

white face, like a glittering sword in its fighting intensity, the

nostrils dilated, the eyes bright and steady and shining.

"Poor brutes," she said. "They act only according to their natures. To

eat their kind and take heads is good morality for them CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница."

"But they should be taught not to take white men's heads," Sheldon

argued.

She nodded approval, and said, "If we find one head we'll burn the

village. Hey, you, Charley! What fella place head he stop?"

"S'pose he stop along devil-devil house," was the answer. "That big

fella house, he devil-devil."

It was the largest house in the village, ambitiously ornamented with

fancy-plaited mats and king-posts carved into obscene and monstrous forms

half-human and half-animal. Into it they went, in the obscure light

stumbling across the sleeping-logs of the village bachelors and knocking

their heads CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница against strings of weird votive-offerings, dried and

shrivelled, that hung from the roof-beams. On either side were rude

gods, some grotesquely carved, others no more than shapeless logs swathed

in rotten and indescribably filthy matting. The air was mouldy and heavy

with decay, while strings of fish-tails and of half-cleaned dog and

crocodile skulls did not add to the wholesomeness of the place.

In the centre, crouched before a slow-smoking fire, in the littered ashes

of a thousand fires, was an old man who blinked apathetically at the

invaders. He was extremely old--so old that his withered skin hung about

him CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница in loose folds and did not look like skin. His hands were bony

claws, his emaciated face a sheer death's-head. His task, it seemed, was

to tend the fire, and while he blinked at them he added to it a handful

of dead and mouldy wood. And hung in the smoke they found the object of

their search. Joan turned and stumbled out hastily, deathly sick,

reeling into the sunshine and clutching at the air for support.

"See if all are there," she called back faintly, and tottered aimlessly

on for a few steps, breathing the air in great draughts and trying to

forget the CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница sight she had seen.

Upon Sheldon fell the unpleasant task of tallying the heads. They were

all there, nine of them, white men's heads, the faces of which he had

been familiar with when their owners had camped in Berande compound and

set up the poling-boats. Binu Charley, hugely interested, lent a hand,

turning the heads around for identification, noting the hatchet-strokes,

and remarking the distorted expressions. The Poonga-Poonga men gloated



as usual, and as usual the Tahitians were shocked and angry, several of

them cursing and muttering in undertones. So angry was Matapuu, that he

strode suddenly over to the CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница fire-tender and kicked him in the ribs,

whereupon the old savage emitted an appalling squeal, pig-like in its

wild-animal fear, and fell face downward in the ashes and lay quivering

in momentary expectation of death.

Other heads, thoroughly sun-dried and smoke-cured, were found in

abundance, but, with two exceptions, they were the heads of blacks. So

this was the manner of hunting that went on in the dark and evil forest,

Sheldon thought, as he regarded them. The atmosphere of the place was

sickening, yet he could not forbear to pause before one of Binu Charley's

finds CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница.

"Me savvee black Mary, me savvee white Mary," quoth Binu Charley. "Me no

savvee that fella Mary. What name belong him?"

Sheldon looked. Ancient and withered, blackened by many years of the

smoke of the devil-devil house, nevertheless the shrunken, mummy-like

face was unmistakably Chinese. How it had come there was the mystery. It

was a woman's head, and he had never heard of a Chinese woman in the

history of the Solomons. From the ears hung two-inch-long ear-rings, and

at Sheldon's direction the Binu man rubbed away the accretions of smoke

and dirt, and from under his fingers appeared CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница the polished green of jade,

the sheen of pearl, and the warm red of Oriental gold. The other head,

equally ancient, was a white man's, as the heavy blond moustache, twisted

and askew on the shrivelled upper lip, gave sufficient advertisement; and

Sheldon wondered what forgotten beche-de-mer fisherman or sandalwood

trader had gone to furnish that ghastly trophy.

Telling Binu Charley to remove the ear-rings, and directing the Poonga-

Poonga men to carry out the old fire-tender, Sheldon cleared the devil-

devil house and set fire to it. Soon every house was blazing merrily,

while the ancient CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница fire-tender sat upright in the sunshine blinking at the

destruction of his village. From the heights above, where were evidently

other villages, came the booming of drums and a wild blowing of

war-conchs; but Sheldon had dared all he cared to with his small

following. Besides, his mission was accomplished. Every member of

Tudor's expedition was accounted for; and it was a long, dark way out of

the head-hunters' country. Releasing their two prisoners, who leaped

away like startled deer, they plunged down the steep path into the

steaming jungle.

Joan, still shocked by what she had seen, walked on in front of Sheldon,

subdued CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница and silent. At the end of half an hour she turned to him with a

wan smile and said,--

"I don't think I care to visit the head-hunters any more. It's

adventure, I know; but there is such a thing as having too much of a good

thing. Riding around the plantation will henceforth be good enough for

me, or perhaps salving another _Martha_; but the bushmen of Guadalcanar

need never worry for fear that I shall visit them again. I shall have

nightmares for months to come, I know I shall. Ugh!--the horrid beasts!"

That night found them CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница back in camp with Tudor, who, while improved, would

still have to be carried down on a stretcher. The swelling of the Poonga-

Poonga man's shoulder was going down slowly, but Arahu still limped on

his thorn-poisoned foot.

Two days later they rejoined the boats at Carli; and at high noon of the

third day, travelling with the current and shooting the rapids, the

expedition arrived at Berande. Joan, with a sigh, unbuckled her revolver-

belt and hung it on the nail in the living-room, while Sheldon, who had

been lurking about for the sheer joy of seeing her perform that

particular home CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница-coming act, sighed, too, with satisfaction. But the home-

coming was not all joy to him, for Joan set about nursing Tudor, and

spent much time on the veranda where he lay in the hammock under the

mosquito-netting.

CHAPTER XXVI--BURNING DAYLIGHT

The ten days of Tudor's convalescence that followed were peaceful days on

Berande. The work of the plantation went on like clock-work. With the

crushing of the premature outbreak of Gogoomy and his following, all

insubordination seemed to have vanished. Twenty more of the old-time

boys, their term of service up, were carried away by the _Martha_, and

the fresh CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница stock of labour, treated fairly, was proving of excellent

quality. As Sheldon rode about the plantation, acknowledging to himself

the comfort and convenience of a horse and wondering why he had not

thought of getting one himself, he pondered the various improvements for

which Joan was responsible--the splendid Poonga-Poonga recruits; the

fruits and vegetables; the _Martha_ herself, snatched from the sea for a

song and earning money hand over fist despite old Kinross's slow and safe

method of running her; and Berande, once more financially secure,

approaching each day nearer the dividend-paying time, and growing each

day as the black toilers cleared the CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница bush, cut the cane-grass, and

planted more cocoanut palms.

In these and a thousand ways Sheldon was made aware of how much he was

indebted for material prosperity to Joan--to the slender, level-browed

girl with romance shining out of her gray eyes and adventure shouting

from the long-barrelled Colt's on her hip, who had landed on the beach

that piping gale, along with her stalwart Tahitian crew, and who had

entered his bungalow to hang with boy's hands her revolver-belt and Baden-

Powell hat on the nail by the billiard table. He forgot all the early

exasperations, remembering only CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница her charms and sweetnesses and glorying

much in the traits he at first had disliked most--her boyishness and

adventurousness, her delight to swim and risk the sharks, her desire to

go recruiting, her love of the sea and ships, her sharp authoritative

words when she launched the whale-boat and, with firestick in one hand

and dynamite-stick in the other, departed with her picturesque crew to

shoot fish in the Balesuna; her super-innocent disdain for the commonest

conventions, her juvenile joy in argument, her fluttering, wild-bird love

of freedom and mad passion for independence. All this he now loved, and

he no longer desired CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница to tame and hold her, though the paradox was the

winning of her without the taming and the holding.

There were times when he was dizzy with thought of her and love of her,

when he would stop his horse and with closed eyes picture her as he had

seen her that first day, in the stern-sheets of the whale-boat, dashing

madly in to shore and marching belligerently along his veranda to remark

that it was pretty hospitality this letting strangers sink or swim in his

front yard. And as he opened his eyes and urged his horse onward, he

would ponder for the CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница ten thousandth time how possibly he was ever to hold

her when she was so wild and bird-like that she was bound to flutter out

and away from under his hand.

It was patent to Sheldon that Tudor had become interested in Joan. That

convalescent visitor practically lived on the veranda, though, while

preposterously weak and shaky in the legs, he had for some time insisted

on coming in to join them at the table at meals. The first warning

Sheldon had of the other's growing interest in the girl was when Tudor

eased down and finally ceased pricking him with his habitual CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница sharpness of

quip and speech. This cessation of verbal sparring was like the breaking

off of diplomatic relations between countries at the beginning of war,

and, once Sheldon's suspicions were aroused, he was not long in finding

other confirmations. Tudor too obviously joyed in Joan's presence, too

obviously laid himself out to amuse and fascinate her with his own

glorious and adventurous personality. Often, after his morning ride over

the plantation, or coming in from the store or from inspection of the

copra-drying, Sheldon found the pair of them together on the veranda,

Joan listening, intent and excited, and Tudor deep in some recital CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница of

personal adventure at the ends of the earth.

Sheldon noticed, too, the way Tudor looked at her and followed her about

with his eyes, and in those eyes he noted a certain hungry look, and on

the face a certain wistful expression; and he wondered if on his own face

he carried a similar involuntary advertisement. He was sure of several

things: first, that Tudor was not the right man for Joan and could not

possibly make her permanently happy; next, that Joan was too sensible a

girl really to fall in love with a man of such superficial stamp; and,

finally, that Tudor CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница would blunder his love-making somehow. And at the

same time, with true lover's anxiety, Sheldon feared that the other might

somehow fail to blunder, and win the girl with purely fortuitous and

successful meretricious show. But of the one thing Sheldon was sure:

Tudor had no intimate knowledge of her and was unaware of how vital in

her was her wildness and love of independence. That was where he would

blunder--in the catching and the holding of her. And then, in spite of

all his certitude, Sheldon could not forbear wondering if his theories of

Joan might not be wrong, and if CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница Tudor was not going the right way about

after all.

The situation was very unsatisfactory and perplexing. Sheldon played the

difficult part of waiting and looking on, while his rival devoted himself

energetically to reaching out and grasping at the fluttering prize. Then,

again, Tudor had such an irritating way about him. It had become quite

elusive and intangible, now that he had tacitly severed diplomatic

relations; but Sheldon sensed what he deemed a growing antagonism and

promptly magnified it through the jealous lenses of his own lover's eyes.

The other was an interloper. He did not belong to Berande, and now that

he was well and CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница strong again it was time for him to go. Instead of

which, and despite the calling in of the mail steamer bound for Sydney,

Tudor had settled himself down comfortably, resumed swimming, went

dynamiting fish with Joan, spent hours with her hunting pigeons, trapping

crocodiles, and at target practice with rifle and revolver.

But there were certain traditions of hospitality that prevented Sheldon

from breathing a hint that it was time for his guest to take himself off.

And in similar fashion, feeling that it was not playing the game, he

fought down the temptation to warn Joan. Had he known anything CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница, not too

serious, to Tudor's detriment, he would have been unable to utter it; but

the worst of it was that he knew nothing at all against the man. That

was the confounded part of it, and sometimes he was so baffled and

overwrought by his feelings that he assumed a super-judicial calm and

assured himself that his dislike of Tudor was a matter of unsubstantial

prejudice and jealousy.

Outwardly, he maintained a calm and smiling aspect. The work of the

plantation went on. The _Martha_ and the _Flibberty-Gibbet_ came and

went, as did all the miscellany of coasting craft that dropped in to wait

for a breeze CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница and have a gossip, a drink or two, and a game of billiards.

Satan kept the compound free of niggers. Boucher came down regularly in

his whale-boat to pass Sunday. Twice a day, at breakfast and dinner,

Joan and Sheldon and Tudor met amicably at table, and the evenings were

as amicably spent on the veranda.

And then it happened. Tudor made his blunder. Never divining Joan's

fluttering wildness, her blind hatred of restraint and compulsion, her

abhorrence of mastery by another, and mistaking the warmth and enthusiasm

in her eyes (aroused by his latest tale) for something tender and

acquiescent, he CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница drew her to him, laid a forcible detaining arm about her

waist, and misapprehended her frantic revolt for an exhibition of

maidenly reluctance. It occurred on the veranda, after breakfast, and

Sheldon, within, pondering a Sydney wholesaler's catalogue and making up

his orders for next steamer-day, heard the sharp exclamation of Joan,

followed by the equally sharp impact of an open hand against a cheek.

Jerking free from the arm that was all distasteful compulsion, Joan had

slapped Tudor's face resoundingly and with far more vim and weight than

when she had cuffed Gogoomy.

Sheldon had half-started up, then controlled CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница himself and sunk back in his

chair, so that by the time Joan entered the door his composure was

recovered. Her right forearm was clutched tightly in her left hand,

while the white cheeks, centred with the spots of flaming red, reminded

him of the time he had first seen her angry.

"He hurt my arm," she blurted out, in reply to his look of inquiry.

He smiled involuntarily. It was so like her, so like the boy she was, to

come running to complain of the physical hurt which had been done her.

She was certainly not a woman versed in CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница the ways of man and in the ways

of handling man. The resounding slap she had given Tudor seemed still

echoing in Sheldon's ears, and as he looked at the girl before him crying

out that her arm was hurt, his smile grew broader.

It was the smile that did it, convicting Joan in her own eyes of the

silliness of her cry and sending over her face the most amazing blush he

had ever seen. Throat, cheeks, and forehead flamed with the rush of the

shamed blood.

"He--he--" she attempted to vindicate her deeper indignation, then

whirled abruptly away and passed out the rear door CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница and down the steps.

Sheldon sat and mused. He was a trifle angry, and the more he dwelt upon

the happening the angrier he grew. If it had been any woman except Joan

it would have been amusing. But Joan was the last woman in the world to

attempt to kiss forcibly. The thing smacked of the back stairs anyway--a

sordid little comedy perhaps, but to have tried it on Joan was nothing

less than sacrilege. The man should have had better sense. Then, too,

Sheldon was personally aggrieved. He had been filched of something that

he felt was almost his, and his CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница lover's jealousy was rampant at thought

of this forced familiarity.

It was while in this mood that the screen door banged loudly behind the

heels of Tudor, who strode into the room and paused before him. Sheldon

was unprepared, though it was very apparent that the other was furious.

"Well?" Tudor demanded defiantly.

And on the instant speech rushed to Sheldon's lips.

"I hope you won't attempt anything like it again, that's all--except that

I shall be only too happy any time to extend to you the courtesy of my

whale-boat. It will land you in Tulagi in a few CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница hours."

"As if that would settle it," was the retort.

"I don't understand," Sheldon said simply.

"Then it is because you don't wish to understand."

"Still I don't understand," Sheldon said in steady, level tones. "All

that is clear to me is that you are exaggerating your own blunder into

something serious."

Tudor grinned maliciously and replied,--

"It would seem that you are doing the exaggerating, inviting me to leave

in your whale-boat. It is telling me that Berande is not big enough for

the pair of us. Now let me tell you that the Solomon CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница Islands is not big

enough for the pair of us. This thing's got to be settled between us,

and it may as well be settled right here and now."

"I can understand your fire-eating manners as being natural to you,"

Sheldon went on wearily, "but why you should try them on me is what I

can't comprehend. You surely don't want to quarrel with me."

"I certainly do."

"But what in heaven's name for?"

Tudor surveyed him with withering disgust.

"You haven't the soul of a louse. I suppose any man could make love to

your wife--"

"But CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница I have no wife," Sheldon interrupted.

"Then you ought to have. The situation is outrageous. You might at

least marry her, as I am honourably willing to do."

For the first time Sheldon's rising anger boiled over.

"You--" he began violently, then abruptly caught control of himself and

went on soothingly, "you'd better take a drink and think it over. That's

my advice to you. Of course, when you do get cool, after talking to me

in this fashion you won't want to stay on any longer, so while you're

getting that drink I'll call the boat's-crew CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница and launch a boat. You'll

be in Tulagi by eight this evening."

He turned toward the door, as if to put his words into execution, but the

other caught him by the shoulder and twirled him around.

"Look here, Sheldon, I told you the Solomons were too small for the pair

of us, and I meant it."

"Is that an offer to buy Berande, lock, stock, and barrel?" Sheldon

queried.

"No, it isn't. It's an invitation to fight."

"But what the devil do you want to fight with me for?" Sheldon's

irritation was growing at the other's CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница persistence. "I've no quarrel with

you. And what quarrel can you have with me? I have never interfered

with you. You were my guest. Miss Lackland is my partner. If you saw

fit to make love to her, and somehow failed to succeed, why should you

want to fight with me? This is the twentieth century, my dear fellow,

and duelling went out of fashion before you and I were born."

"You began the row," Tudor doggedly asserted. "You gave me to understand

that it was time for me to go. You fired me out of your house, in short.

And then you have the CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница cheek to want to know why I am starting the row. It

won't do, I tell you. You started it, and I am going to see it through."

Sheldon smiled tolerantly and proceeded to light a cigarette. But Tudor

was not to be turned aside.

"You started this row," he urged.

"There isn't any row. It takes two to make a row, and I, for one, refuse

to have anything to do with such tomfoolery."

"You started it, I say, and I'll tell you why you started it."

"I fancy you've been drinking," Sheldon interposed. "It's the CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница only

explanation I can find for your unreasonableness."

"And I'll tell you why you started it. It wasn't silliness on your part

to exaggerate this little trifle of love-making into something serious. I

was poaching on your preserves, and you wanted to get rid of me. It was

all very nice and snug here, you and the girl, until I came along. And

now you're jealous--that's it, jealousy--and want me out of it. But I

won't go."

"Then stay on by all means. I won't quarrel with you about it. Make

yourself comfortable. Stay CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница for a year, if you wish."

"She's not your wife," Tudor continued, as though the other had not

spoken. "A fellow has the right to make love to her unless she's

your--well, perhaps it was an error after all, due to ignorance,

perfectly excusable, on my part. I might have seen it with half an eye

if I'd listened to the gossip on the beach. All Guvutu and Tulagi were

laughing about it. I was a fool, and I certainly made the mistake of

taking the situation on its assumed innocent face-value."

So angry was Sheldon becoming that the face and form CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница of the other seemed

to vibrate and oscillate before his eyes. Yet outwardly Sheldon was calm

and apparently weary of the discussion.

"Please keep her out of the conversation," he said.

"But why should I?" was the demand. "The pair of you trapped me into

making a fool of myself. How was I to know that everything was not all

right? You and she acted as if everything were on the square. But my

eyes are open now. Why, she played the outraged wife to perfection,

slapped the transgressor and fled to you. Pretty good proof of what all

the beach has been CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница saying. Partners, eh?--a business partnership? Gammon

my eye, that's what it is."

Then it was that Sheldon struck out, coolly and deliberately, with all

the strength of his arm, and Tudor, caught on the jaw, fell sideways,

crumpling as he did so and crushing a chair to kindling wood beneath the

weight of his falling body. He pulled himself slowly to his feet, but

did not offer to rush.

"Now will you fight?" Tudor said grimly.

Sheldon laughed, and for the first time with true spontaneity. The

intrinsic ridiculousness of the situation was too much for his sense of

humour. He made as if CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница to repeat the blow, but Tudor, white of face, with

arms hanging resistlessly at his sides, offered no defence.

"I don't mean a fight with fists," he said slowly. "I mean to a finish,

to the death. You're a good shot with revolver and rifle. So am I.

That's the way we'll settle it."

"You have gone clean mad. You are a lunatic."

"No, I'm not," Tudor retorted. "I'm a man in love. And once again I ask

you to go outside and settle it, with any weapons you choose."

Sheldon regarded him CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница for the first time with genuine seriousness,

wondering what strange maggots could be gnawing in his brain to drive him

to such unusual conduct.

"But men don't act this way in real life," Sheldon remarked.

"You'll find I'm pretty real before you're done with me. I'm going to

kill you to-day."

"Bosh and nonsense, man." This time Sheldon had lost his temper over the

superficial aspects of the situation. "Bosh and nonsense, that's all it

is. Men don't fight duels in the twentieth century. It's--it's

antediluvian, I tell you."

"Speaking of Joan--"

"Please keep her CHAPTER I--SOMETHING TO BE DONE 15 страница name out of it," Sheldon warned him.

"I will, if you'll fight."

Sheldon threw up his arms despairingly.

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