“You don’t mean that, you know,” he pleaded.
“I do; I really do. I am sick and tired of this protection dodge. Don’t forget for a moment that I am perfectly able to take care of myself. Besides, I have eight of the best protectors in the world—my sailors.”
“You should have lived a thousand years ago,” he laughed, “or a thousand years hence. You are very primitive, and equally super-modern. The twentieth century is no place for you.”
“But the Solomon Islands are. You were living like a savage when I came along and found you—eating nothing but tinned meat and scones that would have ruined the digestion of a camel. Anyway, I’ve remedied that; and since we are to be partners, it will stay remedied. You won’t die of malnutrition, be sure of that.”
“If we enter into partnership,” he announced, “it must be thoroughly understood that you are not allowed to run the schooner. You can go down to Sydney and buy her, but a skipper we must have—”
“At so much additional expense, and most likely a whisky-drinking, irresponsible, and incapable man to boot. Besides, I’d have the business more at heart than any man we could hire. As for capability, I tell you I can sail all around the average broken captain or promoted able seaman you find in the South Seas. And you know I am a navigator.”
“But being my partner,” he said coolly, “makes you none the less a lady.”
“Thank you for telling me that my contemplated conduct is unladylike.”
She arose, tears of anger and mortification in her eyes, and went over to the phonograph.
“I wonder if all men are as ridiculous as you?” she said.
He shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Discussion was useless—he had learned that; and he was resolved to keep his temper. And before the day was out she capitulated. She was to go to Sydney on the first steamer, purchase the schooner, and sail back with an island skipper on board. And then she inveigled Sheldon into agreeing that she could take occasional cruises in the islands, though he was adamant when it came to a recruiting trip on Malaita. That was the one thing barred.
And after it was all over, and a terse and business-like agreement (by her urging) drawn up and signed, Sheldon paced up and down for a full hour, meditating upon how many different kinds of a fool he had made of himself. It was an impossible situation, and yet no more impossible than the previous one, and no more impossible than the one that would have obtained had she gone off on her own and bought Pari-Sulay. He had never seen a more independent woman who stood more in need of a protector than this boy-minded girl who had landed on his beach with eight picturesque savages, a long-barrelled revolver, a bag of gold, and a gaudy merchandise of imagined romance and adventure.