Sheldon obeyed her instructions, rushed hot-water bottles along to her, and then sat on the veranda vainly trying to interest himself in a two-months-old file of Sydney newspapers. He kept glancing up and across the compound to the grass house. Yes, he decided, the contention of every white man in the islands was right; the Solomons was no place for a woman.
He clapped his hands, and Lalaperu came running.
“Here, you!” he ordered; “go along barracks, bring ’m black fella Mary, plenty too much, altogether.”
A few minutes later the dozen black women of Berande were ranged before him. He looked them over critically, finally selecting one that was young, comely as such creatures went, and whose body bore no signs of skin-disease.
“What name, you?” he demanded. “Sangui?”
“Me Mahua,” was the answer.
“All right, you fella Mahua. You finish cook along boys. You stop along white Mary. All the time you stop along. You savvee?”
“Me savvee,” she grunted, and obeyed his gesture to go to the grass house immediately.
“What name?” he asked Viaburi, who had just come out of the grass house.
“Big fella sick,” was the answer. “White fella Mary talk ’m too much allee time. Allee time talk ’m big fella schooner.”
Sheldon nodded. He understood. It was the loss of the Martha that had brought on the fever. The fever would have come sooner or later, he knew; but her disappointment had precipitated it. He lighted a cigarette, and in the curling smoke of it caught visions of his English mother, and wondered if she would understand how her son could love a woman who cried because she could not be skipper of a schooner in the cannibal isles.
The most patient man in the world is prone to impatience in love—and Sheldon was in love. He called himself an ass a score of times a day, and strove to contain himself by directing his mind in other channels, but more than a score of times each day his thoughts roved back and dwelt on Joan. It was a pretty problem she presented, and he was continually debating with himself as to what was the best way to approach her.
He was not an adept at love-making. He had had but one experience in the gentle art (in which he had been more wooed than wooing), and the affair had profited him little. This was another affair, and he assured himself continually that it was a uniquely different and difficult affair. Not only was here a woman who was not bent on finding a husband, but it was a woman who wasn’t a woman at all; who was genuinely appalled by the thought of a husband; who joyed in boys’ games, and sentimentalized over such things as adventure; who was healthy and normal and wholesome, and who was so immature that a husband stood for nothing more than an encumbrance in her cherished scheme of existence.