“That I won’t; my men are men. I’ve been out to your miserable barracks and watched them eat. Faugh! Potatoes! Nothing but potatoes! No salt! Nothing! Only potatoes! I may have been mistaken, but I thought I understood them to say that that was all they ever got to eat. Two meals a day and every day in the week?”
“Well, my men wouldn’t stand that for a single day, much less a whole week. Where is the key?”
“Hanging on that clothes-hook under the clock.”
He gave it easily enough, but as she was reaching down the key she heard him say:
“Fancy niggers and tinned provisions.”
This time she really was angry. The blood was in her cheeks as she turned on him.
“My men are not niggers. The sooner you understand that the better for our acquaintance. As for the tinned goods, I’ll pay for all they eat. Please don’t worry about that. Worry is not good for you in your condition. And I won’t stay any longer than I have to—just long enough to get you on your feet, and not go away with the feeling of having deserted a white man.”
“You’re American, aren’t you?” he asked quietly.
The question disconcerted her for the moment.
“Yes,” she vouchsafed, with a defiant look. “Why?”
“Nothing. I merely thought so.”
He shook his head.
“Why?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing. I thought you might have something pleasant to say.”
“My name is Sheldon, David Sheldon,” he said, with direct relevance, holding out a thin hand.
Her hand started out impulsively, then checked. “My name is Lackland, Joan Lackland.” The hand went out. “And let us be friends.”
“It could not be otherwise—” he began lamely.
“And I can feed my men all the tinned goods I want?” she rushed on.
“Till the cows come home,” he answered, attempting her own lightness, then adding, “that is, to Berande. You see we don’t have any cows at Berande.”
She fixed him coldly with her eyes.
“Is that a joke?” she demanded.
“I really don’t know—I—I thought it was, but then, you see, I’m sick.”
“You’re English, aren’t you?” was her next query.
“Now that’s too much, even for a sick man,” he cried. “You know well enough that I am.”
“Oh,” she said absently, “then you are?”
He frowned, tightened his lips, then burst into laughter, in which she joined.
“It’s my own fault,” he confessed. “I shouldn’t have baited you. I’ll be careful in the future.”
“In the meantime go on laughing, and I’ll see about breakfast. Is there anything you would fancy?”
He shook his head.
“It will do you good to eat something. Your fever has burned out, and you are merely weak. Wait a moment.”
She hurried out of the room in the direction of the kitchen, tripped at the door in a pair of sandals several sizes too large for her feet, and disappeared in rosy confusion.