And when, at the end of an hour, Van Horn passed Jerry into the sternsheets of the whaleboat and followed, he left on the beach a stunned and wondering royal black, who, more than ever before, was respectful of the dynamite-compounded white men who brought to him stick tobacco, calico, knives and hatchets, and inexorably extracted from such trade a profit.
Back on board, Van Horn immediately hove short, hoisted sail, broke out the anchor, and filled away for the ten-mile beat up the lagoon to windward that would fetch Somo. On the way, he stopped at Binu to greet Chief Johnny and land a few Binu returns. Then it was on to Somo, and to the end of voyaging for ever of the Arangi and of many that were aboard of her.
Quite the opposite to his treatment at Langa-Langa was that accorded Van Horn at Somo. Once the return boys were put ashore, and this was accomplished no later than three-thirty in the afternoon, he invited Chief Bashti on board. And Chief Bashti came, very nimble and active despite his great age, and very good-natured—so good-natured, in fact, that he insisted on bringing three of his elderly wives on board with him. This was unprecedented. Never had he permitted any of his wives to appear before a white man, and Van Horn felt so honoured that he presented each of them with a gay clay pipe and a dozen sticks of tobacco.
Late as the afternoon was, trade was brisk, and Bashti, who had taken the lion’s share of the wages due to the fathers of two boys who had died, bought liberally of the Arangi’s stock. When Bashti promised plenty of fresh recruits, Van Horn, used to the changeableness of the savage mind, urged signing them up right away. Bashti demurred, and suggested next day. Van Horn insisted that there was no time like the present, and so well did he insist that the old chief sent a canoe ashore to round up the boys who had been selected to go away to the plantations.
“Now, what do you think?” Van Horn asked of Borckman, whose eyes were remarkably fishy. “I never saw the old rascal so friendly. Has he got something up his sleeve?”
The mate stared at the many canoes alongside, noted the numbers of women in them, and shook his head.
“When they’re starting anything they always send the Marys into the bush,” he said.
“You never can tell about these niggers,” the captain grumbled. “They may be short on imagination, but once in a while they do figure out something new. Now Bashti’s the smartest old nigger I’ve ever seen. What’s to prevent his figuring out that very bet and playing it in reverse? Just because they’ve never had their women around when trouble was on the carpet is no reason that they will always keep that practice.”
“Not even Bashti’s got the savvee to pull a trick like that,” Borckman objected. “He’s just feeling good and liberal. Why, he’s bought forty pounds of goods from you already. That’s why he wants to sign on a new batch of boys with us, and I’ll bet he’s hoping half of them die so’s he can have the spending of their wages.”