Still the canoe lingered. The dandy’s toe strayed privily to feel out the butts of the Sniders under the green leaves, and Ishikola was loth to depart.
“Washee-washee!” Van Horn cried with imperative suddenness.
The paddlers, without command from chief or dandy, involuntarily obeyed, and with deep, strong strokes sent the canoe into the encircling darkness. Just as quickly Van Horn changed his position on deck to the tune of a dozen yards, so that no hazarded bullet might reach him. He crouched low and listened to the wash of paddles fade away in the distance.
“All right, you fella Tambi,” he ordered quietly. “Make ’m music he fella walk about.”
And while “Red Wing” screeched its cheap and pretty rhythm, he reclined elbow on deck, smoked his cigar, and gathered Jerry into caressing inclosure.
As he smoked he watched the abrupt misting of the stars by a rain-squall that made to windward or to where windward might vaguely be configured. While he gauged the minutes ere he must order Tambi below with the phonograph and records, he noted the bush-girl gazing at him in dumb fear. He nodded consent with half-closed eyes and up-tilting face, clinching his consent with a wave of hand toward the companionway. She obeyed as a beaten dog, spirit-broken, might have obeyed, dragging herself to her feet, trembling afresh, and with backward glances of her perpetual terror of the big white master that she was convinced would some day eat her. In such fashion, stabbing Van Horn to the heart because of his inability to convey his kindness to her across the abyss of the ages that separated them, she slunk away to the companionway and crawled down it feet-first like some enormous, large-headed worm.
After he had sent Tambi to follow her with the precious phonograph, Van Horn continued to smoke on while the sharp, needle-like spray of the rain impacted soothingly on his heated body.
Only for five minutes did the rain descend. Then, as the stars drifted back in the sky, the smell of steam seemed to stench forth from deck and mangrove swamp, and the suffocating heat wrapped all about.
Van Horn knew better, but ill health, save for fever, had never concerned him; so he did not bother for a blanket to shelter him.
“Yours the first watch,” he told Borckman. “I’ll have her under way in the morning, before I call you.”
He tucked his head on the biceps of his right arm, with the hollow of the left snuggling Jerry in against his chest, and dozed off to sleep.
And thus adventuring, white men and indigenous black men from day to day lived life in the Solomons, bickering and trafficking, the whites striving to maintain their heads on their shoulders, the blacks striving, no less single-heartedly, to remove the whites’ heads from their shoulders and at the same time to keep their own anatomies intact.
And Jerry, who knew only the world of Meringe Lagoon, learning that these new worlds of the ship Arangi and of the island of Malaita were essentially the same, regarded the perpetual game between the white and the black with some slight sort of understanding.