Divers articles were traced indubitably to the house-boys, each of whom steadfastly proclaimed his own innocence and cast doubts on his fellows. The boy with the billiard ball said that he had never seen it in his life before, and hazarded the suggestion that it had got into his box through some mysterious and occultly evil agency. So far as he was concerned it might have dropped down from heaven for all he knew how it got there. To the cooks and boats’-crews of every vessel that had dropped anchor off Berande in the past several years were ascribed the arrival of scores of the stolen articles and of the major portion of the ammunition. There was no tracing the truth in any of it, though it was without doubt that the unidentified weapons and unfamiliar cartridges had come ashore off visiting craft.
“Look at it,” Sheldon said to Joan. “We’ve been sleeping over a volcano. They ought to be whipped—”
“No whip me,” Gogoomy cried out from below. “Father belong me big fella chief. Me whip, too much trouble along you, close up, my word.”
“What name you fella Gogoomy!” Sheldon shouted. “I knock seven bells out of you. Here, you Kwaque, put ’m irons along that fella Gogoomy.”
Kwaque, a strapping gang-boss, plucked Gogoomy from out of his following, and, helped by the other gang-bosses; twisted his arms behind him and snapped on the heavy handcuffs.
“Me finish along you, close up, you die altogether,” Gogoomy, with wrath-distorted face, threatened the boss-boy.
“Please, no whipping,” Joan said in a low voice. “If whipping is necessary, send them to Tulagi and let the Government do it. Give them their choice between a fine or an official whipping.”
Sheldon nodded and stood up, facing the blacks.
“Manonmie!” he called.
Manonmie stood forth and waited.
“You fella boy bad fella too much,” Sheldon charged. “You steal ’m plenty. You steal ’m one fella towel, one fella cane-knife, two-ten fella cartridge. My word, plenty bad fella steal ’m you. Me cross along you too much. S’pose you like ’m, me take ’m one fella pound along you in big book. S’pose you no like ’m me take ’m one fella pound, then me send you fella along Tulagi catch ’m one strong fella government whipping. Plenty New Georgia boys, plenty Ysabel boys stop along jail along Tulagi. Them fella no like Malaita boys little bit. My word, they give ’m you strong fella whipping. What you say?”
“You take ’m one fella pound along me,” was the answer.
And Manonmie, patently relieved, stepped back, while Sheldon entered the fine in the plantation labour journal.
Boy after boy, he called the offenders out and gave them their choice; and, boy by boy, each one elected to pay the fine imposed. Some fines were as low as several shillings; while in the more serious cases, such as thefts of guns and ammunition, the fines were correspondingly heavy.