“And then I heard them coming through the mangroves, and an oar strike on a gunwale, and Miss Lackland laugh, and I knew everything was all right. We pulled on board without a shot being fired. And, by God! she had made the books come true, for there was old Kina-Kina himself being hoisted over the rail, shivering and chattering like an ape. The rest was easy. Kina-Kina’s word was law, and he was scared to death. And we kept him on board issuing proclamations all the time we were in Poonga-Poonga.
“It was a good move, too, in other ways. She made Kina-Kina order his people to return all the gear they’d stripped from the Martha. And back it came, day after day, steering compasses, blocks and tackles, sails, coils of rope, medicine chests, ensigns, signal flags—everything, in fact, except the trade goods and supplies which had already been kai-kai’d. Of course, she gave them a few sticks of tobacco to keep them in good humour.”
“Sure she did,” Sparrowhawk broke forth. “She gave the beggars five fathoms of calico for the big mainsail, two sticks of tobacco for the chronometer, and a sheath-knife worth elevenpence ha’penny for a hundred fathoms of brand new five-inch manila. She got old Kina-Kina with that strong hand on the go off, and she kept him going all the time. She—here she comes now.”
It was with a shock of surprise that Sheldon greeted her appearance. All the time, while the tale of happening at Poonga-Poonga had been going on, he had pictured her as the woman he had always known, clad roughly, skirt made out of window-curtain stuff, an undersized man’s shirt for a blouse, straw sandals for foot covering, with the Stetson hat and the eternal revolver completing her costume. The ready-made clothes from Sydney had transformed her. A simple skirt and shirt-waist of some sort of wash-goods set off her trim figure with a hint of elegant womanhood that was new to him. Brown slippers peeped out as she crossed the compound, and he once caught a glimpse to the ankle of brown open-work stockings. Somehow, she had been made many times the woman by these mere extraneous trappings; and in his mind these wild Arabian Nights adventures of hers seemed thrice as wonderful.
As they went in to breakfast he became aware that Munster and Sparrowhawk had received a similar shock. All their air of camaraderie was dissipated, and they had become abruptly and immensely respectful.
“I’ve opened up a new field,” she said, as she began pouring the coffee. “Old Kina-Kina will never forget me, I’m sure, and I can recruit there whenever I want. I saw Morgan at Guvutu. He’s willing to contract for a thousand boys at forty shillings per head. Did I tell you that I’d taken out a recruiting license for the Martha? I did, and the Martha can sign eighty boys every trip.”
Sheldon smiled a trifle bitterly to himself. The wonderful woman who had tripped across the compound in her Sydney clothes was gone, and he was listening to the boy come back again.