He watched her morosely and without intention of speaking, till he saw her take a rifle from the stand, examine the magazine, and start for the door.
“Where are you going?” he asked peremptorily.
“As between man and woman,” she answered, “it would be too terribly—er—indecent for you to tell me why I shouldn’t go alligatoring. Good-night. Sleep well.”
He shut off the phonograph with a snap, started toward the door after her, then abruptly flung himself into a chair.
“You’re hoping a ’gator catches me, aren’t you?” she called from the veranda, and as she went down the steps her rippling laughter drifted tantalizingly back through the wide doorway.
The next day Sheldon was left all alone. Joan had gone exploring Pari-Sulay, and was not to be expected back until the late afternoon. Sheldon was vaguely oppressed by his loneliness, and several heavy squalls during the afternoon brought him frequently on to the veranda, telescope in hand, to scan the sea anxiously for the whale-boat. Betweenwhiles he scowled over the plantation account-books, made rough estimates, added and balanced, and scowled the harder. The loss of the Jessie had hit Berande severely. Not alone was his capital depleted by the amount of her value, but her earnings were no longer to be reckoned on, and it was her earnings that largely paid the running expenses of the plantation.
“Poor old Hughie,” he muttered aloud, once. “I’m glad you didn’t live to see it, old man. What a cropper, what a cropper!”
Between squalls the Flibberty-Gibbet ran in to anchorage, and her skipper, Pete Oleson (brother to the Oleson of the Jessie), ancient, grizzled, wild-eyed, emaciated by fever, dragged his weary frame up the veranda steps and collapsed in a steamer-chair. Whisky and soda kept him going while he made report and turned in his accounts.
“You’re rotten with fever,” Sheldon said. “Why don’t you run down to Sydney for a blow of decent climate?”
The old skipper shook his head.
“I can’t. I’ve ben in the islands too long. I’d die. The fever comes out worse down there.”
“Kill or cure,” Sheldon counselled.
“It’s straight kill for me. I tried it three years ago. The cool weather put me on my back before I landed. They carried me ashore and into hospital. I was unconscious one stretch for two weeks. After that the doctors sent me back to the islands—said it was the only thing that would save me. Well, I’m still alive; but I’m too soaked with fever. A month in Australia would finish me.”
“But what are you going to do?” Sheldon queried. “You can’t stay here until you die.”
“That’s all that’s left to me. I’d like to go back to the old country, but I couldn’t stand it. I’ll last longer here, and here I’ll stay until I peg out; but I wish to God I’d never seen the Solomons, that’s all.”