They seemed awkward and constrained in her presence, and she caught first one and then the other looking at her with secret curiosity. She felt that they were weighing her, appraising her, and for the first time the anomalous position she occupied on Berande sank sharply home to her. On the other hand, they puzzled her. They were neither traders nor sailors of any type she had known. Nor did they talk like gentlemen, despite the fact that there was nothing offensive in their bearing and that the veneer of ordinary social nicety was theirs. Undoubtedly, they were men of affairs—business men of a sort; but what affairs should they have in the Solomons, and what business on Berande? The elder one, Morgan, was a huge man, bronzed and moustached, with a deep bass voice and an almost guttural speech, and the other, Raff, was slight and effeminate, with nervous hands and watery, washed-out gray eyes, who spoke with a faint indefinable accent that was hauntingly reminiscent of the Cockney, and that was yet not Cockney of any brand she had ever encountered. Whatever they were, they were self-made men, she concluded; and she felt the impulse to shudder at thought of falling into their hands in a business way. There, they would be merciless.
She watched Sheldon closely when he arrived, and divined that he was not particularly delighted to see them. But see them he must, and so pressing was the need that, after a little perfunctory general conversation, he led the two men into the stuffy office. Later in the afternoon, she asked Lalaperu where they had gone.
“My word,” quoth Lalaperu; “plenty walk about, plenty look ’m. Look ’m tree; look ’m ground belong tree; look ’m all fella bridge; look ’m copra-house; look ’m grass-land; look ’m river; look ’m whale-boat—my word, plenty big fella look ’m too much.”
“What fella man them two fella?” she queried.
“Big fella marster along white man,” was the extent of his description.
But Joan decided that they were men of importance in the Solomons, and that their examination of the plantation and of its accounts was of sinister significance.
At dinner no word was dropped that gave a hint of their errand. The conversation was on general topics; but Joan could not help noticing the troubled, absent expression that occasionally came into Sheldon’s eyes. After coffee, she left them; and at midnight, from across the compound, she could hear the low murmur of their voices and see glowing the fiery ends of their cigars. Up early herself, she found they had already departed on another tramp over the plantation.
“What you think?” she asked Viaburi.
“Sheldon marster he go along finish short time little bit,” was the answer.
“What you think?” she asked Ornfiri.
“Sheldon marster big fella walk about along Sydney. Yes, me t’ink so. He finish along Berande.”
All day the examination of the plantation and the discussion went on; and all day the skipper of the Malakula sent urgent messages ashore for the two men to hasten. It was not until sunset that they went down to the boat, and even then a final talk of nearly an hour took place on the beach. Sheldon was combating something—that she could plainly see; and that his two visitors were not giving in she could also plainly see.