“You can’t help being yourself. You can’t help being a very desirable creature so far as I am concerned. You have made me want you. You didn’t intend to; you didn’t try to. You were so made, that is all. And I was so made that I was ripe to want you. But I can’t help being myself. I can’t by an effort of will cease from wanting you, any more than you by an effort of will can make yourself undesirable to me.”
“Oh, this desire! this want! want! want!” she broke in rebelliously. “I am not quite a fool. I understand some things. And the whole thing is so foolish and absurd—and uncomfortable. I wish I could get away from it. I really think it would be a good idea for me to marry Noa Noah, or Adamu Adam, or Lalaperu there, or any black boy. Then I could give him orders, and keep him penned away from me; and men like you would leave me alone, and not talk marriage and ‘I want, I want.’”
Sheldon laughed in spite of himself, and far from any genuine impulse to laugh.
“You are positively soulless,” he said savagely.
“Because I’ve a soul that doesn’t yearn for a man for master?” she took up the gage. “Very well, then. I am soulless, and what are you going to do about it?”
“I am going to ask you why you look like a woman? Why have you the form of a woman? the lips of a woman? the wonderful hair of a woman? And I am going to answer: because you are a woman—though the woman in you is asleep—and that some day the woman will wake up.”
“Heaven forbid!” she cried, in such sudden and genuine dismay as to make him laugh, and to bring a smile to her own lips against herself.
“I’ve got some more to say to you,” Sheldon pursued. “I did try to protect you from every other man in the Solomons, and from yourself as well. As for me, I didn’t dream that danger lay in that quarter. So I failed to protect you from myself. I failed to protect you at all. You went your own wilful way, just as though I didn’t exist—wrecking schooners, recruiting on Malaita, and sailing schooners; one lone, unprotected girl in the company of some of the worst scoundrels in the Solomons. Fowler! and Brahms! and Curtis! And such is the perverseness of human nature—I am frank, you see—I love you for that too. I love you for all of you, just as you are.”
She made a moue of distaste and raised a hand protestingly.
“Don’t,” he said. “You have no right to recoil from the mention of my love for you. Remember this is a man-talk. From the point of view of the talk, you are a man. The woman in you is only incidental, accidental, and irrelevant. You’ve got to listen to the bald statement of fact, strange though it is, that I love you.”
“And now I won’t bother you any more about love. We’ll go on the same as before. You are better off and safer on Berande, in spite of the fact that I love you, than anywhere else in the Solomons. But I want you, as a final item of man-talk, to remember, from time to time, that I love you, and that it will be the dearest day of my life when you consent to marry me. I want you to think of it sometimes. You can’t help but think of it sometimes. And now we won’t talk about it any more. As between men, there’s my hand.”