Sheldon, who had gone to the head of the steps, introduced them to Joan. The bewhiskered individual, who looked like a Scotsman, had the Teutonic name of Von Blix, and spoke with a strong American accent. The tall man in the well-fitting ducks, who gave the English name of Tudor—John Tudor—talked purely-enunciated English such as any cultured American would talk, save for the fact that it was most delicately and subtly touched by a faint German accent. Joan decided that she had been helped to identify the accent by the short German-looking moustache that did not conceal the mouth and its full red lips, which would have formed a Cupid’s bow but for some harshness or severity of spirit that had moulded them masculinely.
Von Blix was rough and boorish, but Tudor was gracefully easy in everything he did, or looked, or said. His blue eyes sparkled and flashed, his clean-cut mobile features were an index to his slightest shades of feeling and expression. He bubbled with enthusiasms, and his faintest smile or lightest laugh seemed spontaneous and genuine. But it was only occasionally at first that he spoke, for Von Blix told their story and stated their errand.
They were on a gold-hunting expedition. He was the leader, and Tudor was his lieutenant. All hands—and there were twenty-eight—were shareholders, in varying proportions, in the adventure. Several were sailors, but the large majority were miners, culled from all the camps from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. It was the old and ever-untiring pursuit of gold, and they had come to the Solomons to get it. Part of them, under the leadership of Tudor, were to go up the Balesuna and penetrate the mountainous heart of Guadalcanar, while the Martha, under Von Blix, sailed away for Malaita to put through similar exploration.
“And so,” said Von Blix, “for Mr. Tudor’s expedition we must have some black-boys. Can we get them from you?”
“Of course we will pay,” Tudor broke in. “You have only to charge what you consider them worth. You pay them six pounds a year, don’t you?”
“In the first place we can’t spare them,” Sheldon answered. “We are short of them on the plantation as it is.”
“We?” Tudor asked quickly. “Then you are a firm or a partnership? I understood at Guvutu that you were alone, that you had lost your partner.”
Sheldon inclined his head toward Joan, and as he spoke she felt that he had become a trifle stiff.
“Miss Lackland has become interested in the plantation since then. But to return to the boys. We can’t spare them, and besides, they would be of little use. You couldn’t get them to accompany you beyond Binu, which is a short day’s work with the boats from here. They are Malaita-men, and they are afraid of being eaten. They would desert you at the first opportunity. You could get the Binu men to accompany you another day’s journey, through the grass-lands, but at the first roll of the foothills look for them to turn back. They likewise are disinclined to being eaten.”