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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdventure - Chapter IV - JOAN LACKLAND
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Adventure - Chapter IV - JOAN LACKLAND Post by :JPatrick Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :2498

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Adventure - Chapter IV - JOAN LACKLAND

By the second day of the northwester, Sheldon was in collapse from
his fever. It had taken an unfair advantage of his weak state, and
though it was only ordinary malarial fever, in forty-eight hours it
had run him as low as ten days of fever would have done when he was
in condition. But the dysentery had been swept away from Berande.
A score of convalescents lingered in the hospital, but they were
improving hourly. There had been but one more death--that of the
man whose brother had wailed over him instead of brushing the flies
away.

On the morning of the fourth day of his fever, Sheldon lay on the
veranda, gazing dimly out over the raging ocean. The wind was
falling, but a mighty sea was still thundering in on Berande beach,
the flying spray reaching in as far as the flagstaff mounds, the
foaming wash creaming against the gate-posts. He had taken thirty
grains of quinine, and the drug was buzzing in his ears like a nest
of hornets, making his hands and knees tremble, and causing a
sickening palpitation of the stomach. Once, opening his eyes, he
saw what he took to be an hallucination. Not far out, and coming
in across the Jessie's anchorage, he saw a whale-boat's nose thrust
skyward on a smoky crest and disappear naturally, as an actual
whale-boat's nose should disappear, as it slid down the back of the
sea. He knew that no whale-boat should be out there, and he was
quite certain no men in the Solomons were mad enough to be abroad
in such a storm.

But the hallucination persisted. A minute later, chancing to open
his eyes, he saw the whale-boat, full length, and saw right into it
as it rose on the face of a wave. He saw six sweeps at work, and
in the stern, clearly outlined against the overhanging wall of
white, a man who stood erect, gigantic, swaying with his weight on
the steering-sweep. This he saw, and an eighth man who crouched in
the bow and gazed shoreward. But what startled Sheldon was the
sight of a woman in the stern-sheets, between the stroke-oar and
the steersman. A woman she was, for a braid of her hair was
flying, and she was just in the act of recapturing it and stowing
it away beneath a hat that for all the world was like his own
"Baden-Powell."

The boat disappeared behind the wave, and rose into view on the
face of the following one. Again he looked into it. The men were
dark-skinned, and larger than Solomon Islanders, but the woman, he
could plainly see, was white. Who she was, and what she was doing
there, were thoughts that drifted vaguely through his
consciousness. He was too sick to be vitally interested, and,
besides, he had a half feeling that it was all a dream; but he
noted that the men were resting on their sweeps, while the woman
and the steersman were intently watching the run of seas behind
them.

"Good boatmen," was Sheldon's verdict, as he saw the boat leap
forward on the face of a huge breaker, the sweeps plying swiftly to
keep her on that front of the moving mountain of water that raced
madly for the shore. It was well done. Part full of water, the
boat was flung upon the beach, the men springing out and dragging
its nose to the gate-posts. Sheldon had called vainly to the
house-boys, who, at the moment, were dosing the remaining patients
in the hospital. He knew he was unable to rise up and go down the
path to meet the newcomers, so he lay back in the steamer-chair,
and watched for ages while they cared for the boat. The woman
stood to one side, her hand resting on the gate. Occasionally
surges of sea water washed over her feet, which he could see were
encased in rubber sea-boots. She scrutinized the house sharply,
and for some time she gazed at him steadily. At last, speaking to
two of the men, who turned and followed her, she started up the
path.

Sheldon attempted to rise, got half up out of his chair, and fell
back helplessly. He was surprised at the size of the men, who
loomed like giants behind her. Both were six-footers, and they
were heavy in proportion. He had never seen islanders like them.
They were not black like the Solomon Islanders, but light brown;
and their features were larger, more regular, and even handsome.

The woman--or girl, rather, he decided--walked along the veranda
toward him. The two men waited at the head of the steps, watching
curiously. The girl was angry; he could see that. Her gray eyes
were flashing, and her lips were quivering. That she had a temper,
was his thought. But the eyes were striking. He decided that they
were not gray after all, or, at least, not all gray. They were
large and wide apart, and they looked at him from under level
brows. Her face was cameo-like, so clear cut was it. There were
other striking things about her--the cowboy Stetson hat, the heavy
braids of brown hair, and the long-barrelled 38 Colt's revolver
that hung in its holster on her hip.

"Pretty hospitality, I must say," was her greeting, "letting
strangers sink or swim in your front yard."

"I--I beg your pardon," he stammered, by a supreme effort dragging
himself to his feet.

His legs wobbled under him, and with a suffocating sensation he
began sinking to the floor. He was aware of a feeble gratification
as he saw solicitude leap into her eyes; then blackness smote him,
and at the moment of smiting him his thought was that at last, and
for the first time in his life, he had fainted.

The ringing of the big bell aroused him. He opened his eyes and
found that he was on the couch indoors. A glance at the clock told
him that it was six, and from the direction the sun's rays streamed
into the room he knew that it was morning. At first he puzzled
over something untoward he was sure had happened. Then on the wall
he saw a Stetson hat hanging, and beneath it a full cartridge-belt
and a long-barrelled 38 Colt's revolver. The slender girth of the
belt told its feminine story, and he remembered the whale-boat of
the day before and the gray eyes that flashed beneath the level
brows. She it must have been who had just rung the bell. The
cares of the plantation rushed upon him, and he sat up in bed,
clutching at the wall for support as the mosquito screen lurched
dizzily around him. He was still sitting there, holding on, with
eyes closed, striving to master his giddiness, when he heard her
voice.

"You'll lie right down again, sir," she said.

It was sharply imperative, a voice used to command. At the same
time one hand pressed him back toward the pillow while the other
caught him from behind and eased him down.

"You've been unconscious for twenty-four hours now," she went on,
"and I have taken charge. When I say the word you'll get up, and
not until then. Now, what medicine do you take?--quinine? Here
are ten grains. That's right. You'll make a good patient."

"My dear madame," he began.

"You musn't speak," she interrupted, "that is, in protest.
Otherwise, you can talk."

"But the plantation--"

"A dead man is of no use on a plantation. Don't you want to know
about ME? My vanity is hurt. Here am I, just through my first
shipwreck; and here are you, not the least bit curious, talking
about your miserable plantation. Can't you see that I am just
bursting to tell somebody, anybody, about my shipwreck?"

He smiled; it was the first time in weeks. And he smiled, not so
much at what she said, as at the way she said it--the whimsical
expression of her face, the laughter in her eyes, and the several
tiny lines of humour that drew in at the corners. He was curiously
wondering as to what her age was, as he said aloud:

"Yes, tell me, please."

"That I will not--not now," she retorted, with a toss of the head.
"I'll find somebody to tell my story to who does not have to be
asked. Also, I want information. I managed to find out what time
to ring the bell to turn the hands to, and that is about all. I
don't understand the ridiculous speech of your people. What time
do they knock off?"

"At eleven--go on again at one."

"That will do, thank you. And now, where do you keep the key to
the provisions? I want to feed my men."

"Your men!" he gasped. "On tinned goods! No, no. Let them go out
and eat with my boys."

Her eyes flashed as on the day before, and he saw again the
imperative expression on her face.

"That I won't; my men are MEN. I've been out to your miserable
barracks and watched them eat. Faugh! Potatoes! Nothing but
potatoes! No salt! Nothing! Only potatoes! I may have been
mistaken, but I thought I understood them to say that that was all
they ever got to eat. Two meals a day and every day in the week?"

He nodded.

"Well, my men wouldn't stand that for a single day, much less a
whole week. Where is the key?"

"Hanging on that clothes-hook under the clock."

He gave it easily enough, but as she was reaching down the key she
heard him say:

"Fancy niggers and tinned provisions."

This time she really was angry. The blood was in her cheeks as she
turned on him.

"My men are not niggers. The sooner you understand that the better
for our acquaintance. As for the tinned goods, I'll pay for all
they eat. Please don't worry about that. Worry is not good for
you in your condition. And I won't stay any longer than I have to-
-just long enough to get you on your feet, and not go away with the
feeling of having deserted a white man."

"You're American, aren't you?" he asked quietly.

The question disconcerted her for the moment.

"Yes," she vouchsafed, with a defiant look. "Why?"

"Nothing. I merely thought so."

"Anything further?"

He shook his head.

"Why?" he asked.

"Oh, nothing. I thought you might have something pleasant to say."

"My name is Sheldon, David Sheldon," he said, with direct
relevance, holding out a thin hand.

Her hand started out impulsively, then checked. "My name is
Lackland, Joan Lackland." The hand went out. "And let us be
friends."

"It could not be otherwise--" he began lamely.

"And I can feed my men all the tinned goods I want?" she rushed on.

"Till the cows come home," he answered, attempting her own
lightness, then adding, "that is, to Berande. You see we don't
have any cows at Berande."

She fixed him coldly with her eyes.

"Is that a joke?" she demanded.

"I really don't know--I--I thought it was, but then, you see, I'm
sick."

"You're English, aren't you?" was her next query.

"Now that's too much, even for a sick man," he cried. "You know
well enough that I am."

"Oh," she said absently, "then you are?"

He frowned, tightened his lips, then burst into laughter, in which
she joined.

"It's my own fault," he confessed. "I shouldn't have baited you.
I'll be careful in the future."

"In the meantime go on laughing, and I'll see about breakfast. Is
there anything you would fancy?"

He shook his head.

"It will do you good to eat something. Your fever has burned out,
and you are merely weak. Wait a moment."

She hurried out of the room in the direction of the kitchen,
tripped at the door in a pair of sandals several sizes too large
for her feet, and disappeared in rosy confusion.

"By Jove, those are my sandals," he thought to himself. "The girl
hasn't a thing to wear except what she landed on the beach in, and
she certainly landed in sea-boots."

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Sheldon mended rapidly. The fever had burned out, and there wasnothing for him to do but gather strength. Joan had taken the cookin hand, and for the first time, as Sheldon remarked, the chop atBerande was white man's chop. With her own hands Joan prepared thesick man's food, and between that and the cheer she brought him, hewas able, after two days, to totter feebly out upon the veranda.The situation struck him as strange, and stranger still was thefact that it did not seem strange to the girl at all. She hadsettled down and taken charge of
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