“By Jove, those are my sandals,” he thought to himself. “The girl hasn’t a thing to wear except what she landed on the beach in, and she certainly landed in sea-boots.”
Sheldon mended rapidly. The fever had burned out, and there was nothing for him to do but gather strength. Joan had taken the cook in hand, and for the first time, as Sheldon remarked, the chop at Berande was white man’s chop. With her own hands Joan prepared the sick man’s food, and between that and the cheer she brought him, he was able, after two days, to totter feebly out upon the veranda. The situation struck him as strange, and stranger still was the fact that it did not seem strange to the girl at all. She had settled down and taken charge of the household as a matter of course, as if he were her father, or brother, or as if she were a man like himself.
“It is just too delightful for anything,” she assured him. “It is like a page out of some romance. Here I come along out of the sea and find a sick man all alone with two hundred slaves—”
“Recruits,” he corrected. “Contract labourers. They serve only three years, and they are free agents when they enter upon their contracts.”
“Yes, yes,” she hurried on. “—A sick man alone with two hundred recruits on a cannibal island—they are cannibals, aren’t they? Or is it all talk?”
“Talk!” he said, with a smile. “It’s a trifle more than that. Most of my boys are from the bush, and every bushman is a cannibal.”
“But not after they become recruits? Surely, the boys you have here wouldn’t be guilty.”
“They’d eat you if the chance afforded.”
“Are you just saying so, on theory, or do you really know?” she asked.
“Why? What makes you think so? Your own men here?”
“Yes, my own men here, the very house-boys, the cook that at the present moment is making such delicious rolls, thanks to you. Not more than three months ago eleven of them sneaked a whale-boat and ran for Malaita. Nine of them belonged to Malaita. Two were bushmen from San Cristoval. They were fools—the two from San Cristoval, I mean; so would any two Malaita men be who trusted themselves in a boat with nine from San Cristoval.”
“Yes?” she asked eagerly. “Then what happened?”
“The nine Malaita men ate the two from San Cristoval, all except the heads, which are too valuable for mere eating. They stowed them away in the stern-locker till they landed. And those two heads are now in some bush village back of Langa Langa.”
She clapped her hands and her eyes sparkled. “They are really and truly cannibals! And just think, this is the twentieth century! And I thought romance and adventure were fossilized!”
He looked at her with mild amusement.
“What is the matter now?” she queried.