“Heaven forbid!” he cried in such genuine dismay that she broke into hearty laughter.
“There, I won’t tease you. Really, you know, I’m not accustomed to forcing my presence where it is not desired. Yes, yes; I know you’re just aching to point out that I’ve forced myself upon you ever since I landed, only you are too polite to say so. Yet as you said yourself, it was impossible for me to go away, so I had to stay. You wouldn’t let me go to Tulagi. You compelled me to force myself upon you. But I won’t buy in as partner with any one. I’ll buy Pari-Sulay, but I’ll put only ten boys on it and clear slowly. Also, I’ll invest in some old ketch and take out a trading license. For that matter, I’ll go recruiting on Malaita.”
She looked for protest, and found it in Sheldon’s clenched hand and in every line of his clean-cut face.
“Go ahead and say it,” she challenged. “Please don’t mind me. I’m—I’m getting used to it, you know. Really I am.”
“I wish I were a woman so as to tell you how preposterously insane and impossible it is,” he blurted out.
She surveyed him with deliberation, and said:
“Better than that, you are a man. So there is nothing to prevent your telling me, for I demand to be considered as a man. I didn’t come down here to trail my woman’s skirts over the Solomons. Please forget that I am accidentally anything else than a man with a man’s living to make.”
Inwardly Sheldon fumed and fretted. Was she making game of him? Or did there lurk in her the insidious unhealthfulness of unwomanliness? Or was it merely a case of blank, staring, sentimental, idiotic innocence?
“I have told you,” he began stiffly, “that recruiting on Malaita is impossible for a woman, and that is all I care to say—or dare.”
“And I tell you, in turn, that it is nothing of the sort. I’ve sailed the Miele here, master, if you please, all the way from Tahiti—even if I did lose her, which was the fault of your Admiralty charts. I am a navigator, and that is more than your Solomons captains are. Captain Young told me all about it. And I am a seaman—a better seaman than you, when it comes right down to it, and you know it. I can shoot. I am not a fool. I can take care of myself. And I shall most certainly buy a ketch, run her myself, and go recruiting on Malaita.”
Sheldon made a hopeless gesture.
“That’s right,” she rattled on. “Wash your hands of me. But as Von used to say, ‘You just watch my smoke!’”
“There’s no use in discussing it. Let us have some music.”
He arose and went over to the big phonograph; but before the disc started, and while he was winding the machine, he heard her saying:
“I suppose you’ve been accustomed to Jane Eyres all your life. That’s why you don’t understand me. Come on, Satan; let’s leave him to his old music.”