“You were muddlers, the pair of you, without doubt. But you needn’t sell to Morgan and Raff. I shall go down to Sydney on the next steamer, and I’ll come back in a second-hand schooner. I should be able to buy one for five or six thousand dollars—”
He held up his hand in protest, but she waved it aside.
“I may manage to freight a cargo back as well. At any rate, the schooner will take over the Jessie’s business. You can make your arrangements accordingly, and have plenty of work for her when I get back. I’m going to become a partner in Berande to the extent of my bag of sovereigns—I’ve got over fifteen hundred of them, you know. We’ll draw up an agreement right now—that is, with your permission, and I know you won’t refuse it.”
He looked at her with good-natured amusement.
“You know I sailed here all the way from Tahiti in order to become a planter,” she insisted. “You know what my plans were. Now I’ve changed them, that’s all. I’d rather be a part owner of Berande and get my returns in three years, than break ground on Pari-Sulay and wait seven years.”
“And this—er—this schooner. . . . " Sheldon changed his mind and stopped.
“Yes, go on.”
“You won’t be angry?” he queried.
“No, no; this is business. Go on.”
“You—er—you would run her yourself?—be the captain, in short?—and go recruiting on Malaita?”
“Certainly. We would save the cost of a skipper. Under an agreement you would be credited with a manager’s salary, and I with a captain’s. It’s quite simple. Besides, if you won’t let me be your partner, I shall buy Pari-Sulay, get a much smaller vessel, and run her myself. So what is the difference?”
“The difference?—why, all the difference in the world. In the case of Pari-Sulay you would be on an independent venture. You could turn cannibal for all I could interfere in the matter. But on Berande, you would be my partner, and then I would be responsible. And of course I couldn’t permit you, as my partner, to be skipper of a recruiter. I tell you, the thing is what I would not permit any sister or wife of mine—”
“But I’m not going to be your wife, thank goodness—only your partner.”
“Besides, it’s all ridiculous,” he held on steadily. “Think of the situation. A man and a woman, both young, partners on an isolated plantation. Why, the only practical way out would be that I’d have to marry you—”
“Mine was a business proposition, not a marriage proposal,” she interrupted, coldly angry. “I wonder if somewhere in this world there is one man who could accept me for a comrade.”
“But you are a woman just the same,” he began, “and there are certain conventions, certain decencies—”
She sprang up and stamped her foot.
“Do you know what I’d like to say?” she demanded.
“Yes,” he smiled, “you’d like to say, ‘Damn petticoats!’”