He had never read of anything to compare with it. The fictionists, as usual, were exceeded by fact. The whole thing was too preposterous to be true. He gnawed his moustache and smoked cigarette after cigarette. Satan, back from a prowl around the compound, ran up to him and touched his hand with a cold, damp nose. Sheldon caressed the animal’s ears, then threw himself into a chair and laughed heartily. What would the Commissioner of the Solomons think? What would his people at home think? And in the one breath he was glad that the partnership had been effected and sorry that Joan Lackland had ever come to the Solomons. Then he went inside and looked at himself in a hand-mirror. He studied the reflection long and thoughtfully and wonderingly.
CHAPTER XIV—THE MARTHA
They were deep in a game of billiards the next morning, after the eleven o’clock breakfast, when Viaburi entered and announced,—
“Big fella schooner close up.”
Even as he spoke, they heard the rumble of chain through hawse-pipe, and from the veranda saw a big black-painted schooner, swinging to her just-caught anchor.
“It’s a Yankee,” Joan cried. “See that bow! Look at that elliptical stern! Ah, I thought so—” as the Stars and Stripes fluttered to the mast-head.
Noa Noah, at Sheldon’s direction, ran the Union Jack up the flagstaff.
“Now what is an American vessel doing down here?” Joan asked. “It’s not a yacht, though I’ll wager she can sail. Look! Her name! What is it?”
“Martha, San Francisco,” Sheldon read, looking through the telescope. “It’s the first Yankee I ever heard of in the Solomons. They are coming ashore, whoever they are. And, by Jove, look at those men at the oars. It’s an all-white crew. Now what reason brings them here?”
“They’re not proper sailors,” Joan commented. “I’d be ashamed of a crew of black-boys that pulled in such fashion. Look at that fellow in the bow—the one just jumping out; he’d be more at home on a cow-pony.”
The boat’s-crew scattered up and down the beach, ranging about with eager curiosity, while the two men who had sat in the stern-sheets opened the gate and came up the path to the bungalow. One of them, a tall and slender man, was clad in white ducks that fitted him like a semi-military uniform. The other man, in nondescript garments that were both of the sea and shore, and that must have been uncomfortably hot, slouched and shambled like an overgrown ape. To complete the illusion, his face seemed to sprout in all directions with a dense, bushy mass of red whiskers, while his eyes were small and sharp and restless.