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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdventure - Chapter V - SHE WOULD A PLANTER BE
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Adventure - Chapter V - SHE WOULD A PLANTER BE Post by :chris1492 Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :1049

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Adventure - Chapter V - SHE WOULD A PLANTER BE

Sheldon mended rapidly. The fever had burned out, and there was
nothing for him to do but gather strength. Joan had taken the cook
in hand, and for the first time, as Sheldon remarked, the chop at
Berande was white man's chop. With her own hands Joan prepared the
sick man's food, and between that and the cheer she brought him, he
was able, after two days, to totter feebly out upon the veranda.
The situation struck him as strange, and stranger still was the
fact that it did not seem strange to the girl at all. She had
settled down and taken charge of the household as a matter of
course, as if he were her father, or brother, or as if she were a
man like himself.

"It is just too delightful for anything," she assured him. "It is
like a page out of some romance. Here I come along out of the sea
and find a sick man all alone with two hundred slaves--"

"Recruits," he corrected. "Contract labourers. They serve only
three years, and they are free agents when they enter upon their
contracts."

"Yes, yes," she hurried on. "--A sick man alone with two hundred
recruits on a cannibal island--they are cannibals, aren't they? Or
is it all talk?"

"Talk!" he said, with a smile. "It's a trifle more than that.
Most of my boys are from the bush, and every bushman is a
cannibal."

"But not after they become recruits? Surely, the boys you have
here wouldn't be guilty."

"They'd eat you if the chance afforded."

"Are you just saying so, on theory, or do you really know?" she
asked.

"I know."

"Why? What makes you think so? Your own men here?"

"Yes, my own men here, the very house-boys, the cook that at the
present moment is making such delicious rolls, thanks to you. Not
more than three months ago eleven of them sneaked a whale-boat and
ran for Malaita. Nine of them belonged to Malaita. Two were
bushmen from San Cristoval. They were fools--the two from San
Cristoval, I mean; so would any two Malaita men be who trusted
themselves in a boat with nine from San Cristoval."

"Yes?" she asked eagerly. "Then what happened?"

"The nine Malaita men ate the two from San Cristoval, all except
the heads, which are too valuable for mere eating. They stowed
them away in the stern-locker till they landed. And those two
heads are now in some bush village back of Langa Langa."

She clapped her hands and her eyes sparkled. "They are really and
truly cannibals! And just think, this is the twentieth century!
And I thought romance and adventure were fossilized!"

He looked at her with mild amusement.

"What is the matter now?" she queried.

"Oh, nothing, only I don't fancy being eaten by a lot of filthy
niggers is the least bit romantic."

"No, of course not," she admitted. "But to be among them,
controlling them, directing them, two hundred of them, and to
escape being eaten by them--that, at least, if it isn't romantic,
is certainly the quintessence of adventure. And adventure and
romance are allied, you know."

"By the same token, to go into a nigger's stomach should be the
quintessence of adventure," he retorted.

"I don't think you have any romance in you," she exclaimed.
"You're just dull and sombre and sordid like the business men at
home. I don't know why you're here at all. You should be at home
placidly vegetating as a banker's clerk or--or--"

"A shopkeeper's assistant, thank you."

"Yes, that--anything. What under the sun are you doing here on the
edge of things?"

"Earning my bread and butter, trying to get on in the world."

"'By the bitter road the younger son must tread, Ere he win to
hearth and saddle of his own,'" she quoted. "Why, if that isn't
romantic, then nothing is romantic. Think of all the younger sons
out over the world, on a myriad of adventures winning to those same
hearths and saddles. And here you are in the thick of it, doing
it, and here am I in the thick of it, doing it."

"I--I beg pardon," he drawled.

"Well, I'm a younger daughter, then," she amended; "and I have no
hearth nor saddle--I haven't anybody or anything--and I'm just as
far on the edge of things as you are."

"In your case, then, I'll admit there is a bit of romance," he
confessed.

He could not help but think of the preceding nights, and of her
sleeping in the hammock on the veranda, under mosquito curtains,
her bodyguard of Tahitian sailors stretched out at the far corner
of the veranda within call. He had been too helpless to resist,
but now he resolved she should have his couch inside while he would
take the hammock.

"You see, I had read and dreamed about romance all my life," she
was saying, "but I never, in my wildest fancies, thought that I
should live it. It was all so unexpected. Two years ago I thought
there was nothing left to me but. . . ." She faltered, and made a
moue of distaste. "Well, the only thing that remained, it seemed
to me, was marriage."

"And you preferred a cannibal isle and a cartridge-belt?" he
suggested.

"I didn't think of the cannibal isle, but the cartridge-belt was
blissful."

"You wouldn't dare use the revolver if you were compelled to. Or,"
noting the glint in her eyes, "if you did use it, to--well, to hit
anything."

She started up suddenly to enter the house. He knew she was going
for her revolver.

"Never mind," he said, "here's mine. What can you do with it?"

"Shoot the block off your flag-halyards."

He smiled his unbelief.

"I don't know the gun," she said dubiously.

"It's a light trigger and you don't have to hold down. Draw fine."

"Yes, yes," she spoke impatiently. "I know automatics--they jam
when they get hot--only I don't know yours." She looked at it a
moment. "It's cocked. Is there a cartridge in the chamber?"

She fired, and the block remained intact.

"It's a long shot," he said, with the intention of easing her
chagrin.

But she bit her lip and fired again. The bullet emitted a sharp
shriek as it ricochetted into space. The metal block rattled back
and forth. Again and again she fired, till the clip was emptied of
its eight cartridges. Six of them were hits. The block still
swayed at the gaff-end, but it was battered out of all usefulness.
Sheldon was astonished. It was better than he or even Hughie
Drummond could have done. The women he had known, when they
sporadically fired a rifle or revolver, usually shrieked, shut
their eyes, and blazed away into space.

"That's really good shooting . . . for a woman," he said. "You
only missed it twice, and it was a strange weapon."

"But I can't make out the two misses," she complained. "The gun
worked beautifully, too. Give me another clip and I'll hit it
eight times for anything you wish."

"I don't doubt it. Now I'll have to get a new block. Viaburi!
Here you fella, catch one fella block along store-room."

"I'll wager you can't do it eight out of eight . . . anything you
wish," she challenged.

"No fear of my taking it on," was his answer. "Who taught you to
shoot?"

"Oh, my father, at first, and then Von, and his cowboys. He was a
shot--Dad, I mean, though Von was splendid, too."

Sheldon wondered secretly who Von was, and he speculated as to
whether it was Von who two years previously had led her to believe
that nothing remained for her but matrimony.

"What part of the United States is your home?" he asked. "Chicago
or Wyoming? or somewhere out there? You know you haven't told me a
thing about yourself. All that I know is that you are Miss Joan
Lackland from anywhere."

"You'd have to go farther west to find my stamping grounds."

"Ah, let me see--Nevada?"

She shook her head.

"California?"

"Still farther west."

"It can't be, or else I've forgotten my geography."

"It's your politics," she laughed. "Don't you remember
'Annexation'?"

"The Philippines!" he cried triumphantly.

"No, Hawaii. I was born there. It is a beautiful land. My, I'm
almost homesick for it already. Not that I haven't been away. I
was in New York when the crash came. But I do think it is the
sweetest spot on earth--Hawaii, I mean."

"Then what under the sun are you doing down here in this God-
forsaken place?" he asked. "Only fools come here," he added
bitterly.

"Nielsen wasn't a fool, was he?" she queried. "As I understand, he
made three millions here."

"Only too true, and that fact is responsible for my being here."

"And for me, too," she said. "Dad heard about him in the
Marquesas, and so we started. Only poor Dad didn't get here."

"He--your father--died?" he faltered.

She nodded, and her eyes grew soft and moist.

"I might as well begin at the beginning." She lifted her head with
a proud air of dismissing sadness, after, the manner of a woman
qualified to wear a Baden-Powell and a long-barrelled Colt's. "I
was born at Hilo. That's on the island of Hawaii--the biggest and
best in the whole group. I was brought up the way most girls in
Hawaii are brought up. They live in the open, and they know how to
ride and swim before they know what six-times-six is. As for me, I
can't remember when I first got on a horse nor when I learned to
swim. That came before my A B C's. Dad owned cattle ranches on
Hawaii and Maui--big ones, for the islands. Hokuna had two hundred
thousand acres alone. It extended in between Mauna Koa and Mauna
Loa, and it was there I learned to shoot goats and wild cattle. On
Molokai they have big spotted deer. Von was the manager of Hokuna.
He had two daughters about my own age, and I always spent the hot
season there, and, once, a whole year. The three of us were like
Indians. Not that we ran wild, exactly, but that we were wild to
run wild. There were always the governesses, you know, and
lessons, and sewing, and housekeeping; but I'm afraid we were too
often bribed to our tasks with promises of horses or of cattle
drives.

"Von had been in the army, and Dad was an old sea-dog, and they
were both stern disciplinarians; only the two girls had no mother,
and neither had I, and they were two men after all. They spoiled
us terribly. You see, they didn't have any wives, and they made
chums out of us--when our tasks were done. We had to learn to do
everything about the house twice as well as the native servants did
it--that was so that we should know how to manage some day. And we
always made the cocktails, which was too holy a rite for any
servant. Then, too, we were never allowed anything we could not
take care of ourselves. Of course the cowboys always roped and
saddled our horses, but we had to be able ourselves to go out in
the paddock and rope our horses--"

"What do you mean by ROPE?" Sheldon asked.

"To lariat them, to lasso them. And Dad and Von timed us in the
saddling and made a most rigid examination of the result. It was
the same way with our revolvers and rifles. The house-boys always
cleaned them and greased them; but we had to learn how in order to
see that they did it properly. More than once, at first, one or
the other of us had our rifles taken away for a week just because
of a tiny speck of rust. We had to know how to build fires in the
driving rain, too, out of wet wood, when we camped out, which was
the hardest thing of all--except grammar, I do believe. We learned
more from Dad and Von than from the governesses; Dad taught us
French and Von German. We learned both languages passably well,
and we learned them wholly in the saddle or in camp.

"In the cool season the girls used to come down and visit me in
Hilo, where Dad had two houses, one at the beach, or the three of
us used to go down to our place in Puna, and that meant canoes and
boats and fishing and swimming. Then, too, Dad belonged to the
Royal Hawaiian Yacht Club, and took us racing and cruising. Dad
could never get away from the sea, you know. When I was fourteen I
was Dad's actual housekeeper, with entire power over the servants,
and I am very proud of that period of my life. And when I was
sixteen we three girls were all sent up to California to Mills
Seminary, which was quite fashionable and stifling. How we used to
long for home! We didn't chum with the other girls, who called us
little cannibals, just because we came from the Sandwich Islands,
and who made invidious remarks about our ancestors banqueting on
Captain Cook--which was historically untrue, and, besides, our
ancestors hadn't lived in Hawaii.

"I was three years at Mills Seminary, with trips home, of course,
and two years in New York; and then Dad went smash in a sugar
plantation on Maui. The report of the engineers had not been
right. Then Dad had built a railroad that was called 'Lackland's
Folly,'--it will pay ultimately, though. But it contributed to the
smash. The Pelaulau Ditch was the finishing blow. And nothing
would have happened anyway, if it hadn't been for that big money
panic in Wall Street. Dear good Dad! He never let me know. But I
read about the crash in a newspaper, and hurried home. It was
before that, though, that people had been dinging into my ears that
marriage was all any woman could get out of life, and good-bye to
romance. Instead of which, with Dad's failure, I fell right into
romance."

"How long ago was that?" Sheldon asked.

"Last year--the year of the panic."

"Let me see," Sheldon pondered with an air of gravity. "Sixteen
plus five, plus one, equals twenty-two. You were born in 1887?"

"Yes; but it is not nice of you."

"I am really sorry," he said, "but the problem was so obvious."

"Can't you ever say nice things? Or is it the way you English
have?" There was a snap in her gray eyes, and her lips quivered
suspiciously for a moment. "I should recommend, Mr. Sheldon, that
you read Gertrude Atherton's 'American Wives and English
Husbands.'"

"Thank you, I have. It's over there." He pointed at the
generously filled bookshelves. "But I am afraid it is rather
partisan."

"Anything un-English is bound to be," she retorted. "I never have
liked the English anyway. The last one I knew was an overseer.
Dad was compelled to discharge him."

"One swallow doesn't make a summer."

"But that Englishman made lots of trouble--there! And now please
don't make me any more absurd than I already am."

"I'm trying not to."

"Oh, for that matter--" She tossed her head, opened her mouth to
complete the retort, then changed her mind. "I shall go on with my
history. Dad had practically nothing left, and he decided to
return to the sea. He'd always loved it, and I half believe that
he was glad things had happened as they did. He was like a boy
again, busy with plans and preparations from morning till night.
He used to sit up half the night talking things over with me. That
was after I had shown him that I was really resolved to go along.

"He had made his start, you know, in the South Seas--pearls and
pearl shell--and he was sure that more fortunes, in trove of one
sort and another, were to be picked up. Cocoanut-planting was his
particular idea, with trading, and maybe pearling, along with other
things, until the plantation should come into bearing. He traded
off his yacht for a schooner, the Miele, and away we went. I took
care of him and studied navigation. He was his own skipper. We
had a Danish mate, Mr. Ericson, and a mixed crew of Japanese and
Hawaiians. We went up and down the Line Islands, first, until Dad
was heartsick. Everything was changed. They had been annexed and
divided by one power or another, while big companies had stepped in
and gobbled land, trading rights, fishing rights, everything.

"Next we sailed for the Marquesas. They were beautiful, but the
natives were nearly extinct. Dad was cut up when he learned that
the French charged an export duty on copra--he called it medieval--
but he liked the land. There was a valley of fifteen thousand
acres on Nuka-hiva, half inclosing a perfect anchorage, which he
fell in love with and bought for twelve hundred Chili dollars. But
the French taxation was outrageous (that was why the land was so
cheap), and, worst of all, we could obtain no labour. What kanakas
there were wouldn't work, and the officials seemed to sit up nights
thinking out new obstacles to put in our way.

"Six months was enough for Dad. The situation was hopeless.
'We'll go to the Solomons,' he said, 'and get a whiff of English
rule. And if there are no openings there we'll go on to the
Bismarck Archipelago. I'll wager the Admiraltys are not yet
civilized.' All preparations were made, things packed on board,
and a new crew of Marquesans and Tahitians shipped. We were just
ready to start to Tahiti, where a lot of repairs and refitting for
the Miele were necessary, when poor Dad came down sick and died."

"And you were left all alone?"

Joan nodded.

"Very much alone. I had no brothers nor sisters, and all Dad's
people were drowned in a Kansas cloud-burst. That happened when he
was a little boy. Of course, I could go back to Von. There's
always a home there waiting for me. But why should I go? Besides,
there were Dad's plans, and I felt that it devolved upon me to
carry them out. It seemed a fine thing to do. Also, I wanted to
carry them out. And . . . here I am.

"Take my advice and never go to Tahiti. It is a lovely place, and
so are the natives. But the white people! Now Barabbas lived in
Tahiti. Thieves, robbers, and lairs--that is what they are. The
honest men wouldn't require the fingers of one hand to count. The
fact that I was a woman only simplified matters with them. They
robbed me on every pretext, and they lied without pretext or need.
Poor Mr. Ericson was corrupted. He joined the robbers, and O.K.'d
all their demands even up to a thousand per cent. If they robbed
me of ten francs, his share was three. One bill of fifteen hundred
francs I paid, netted him five hundred francs. All this, of
course, I learned afterward. But the Miele was old, the repairs
had to be made, and I was charged, not three prices, but seven
prices.

"I never shall know how much Ericson got out of it. He lived
ashore in a nicely furnished house. The shipwrights were giving it
to him rent-free. Fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, and ice came to
this house every day, and he paid for none of it. It was part of
his graft from the various merchants. And all the while, with
tears in his eyes, he bemoaned the vile treatment I was receiving
from the gang. No, I did not fall among thieves. I went to
Tahiti.

"But when the robbers fell to cheating one another, I got my first
clues to the state of affairs. One of the robbed robbers came to
me after dark, with facts, figures, and assertions. I knew I was
ruined if I went to law. The judges were corrupt like everything
else. But I did do one thing. In the dead of night I went to
Ericson's house. I had the same revolver I've got now, and I made
him stay in bed while I overhauled things. Nineteen hundred and
odd francs was what I carried away with me. He never complained to
the police, and he never came back on board. As for the rest of
the gang, they laughed and snapped their fingers at me. There were
two Americans in the place, and they warned me to leave the law
alone unless I wanted to leave the Miele behind as well.

"Then I sent to New Zealand and got a German mate. He had a
master's certificate, and was on the ship's papers as captain, but
I was a better navigator than he, and I was really captain myself.
I lost her, too, but it's no reflection on my seamanship. We were
drifting four days outside there in dead calms. Then the
nor'wester caught us and drove us on the lee shore. We made sail
and tried to clew off, when the rotten work of the Tahiti
shipwrights became manifest. Our jib-boom and all our head-stays
carried away. Our only chance was to turn and run through the
passage between Florida and Ysabel. And when we were safely
through, in the twilight, where the chart shows fourteen fathoms as
the shoalest water, we smashed on a coral patch. The poor old
Miele struck only once, and then went clear; but it was too much
for her, and we just had time to clear away in the boat when she
went down. The German mate was drowned. We lay all night to a
sea-drag, and next morning sighted your place here."

"I suppose you will go back to Von, now?" Sheldon queried.

"Nothing of the sort. Dad planned to go to the Solomons. I shall
look about for some land and start a small plantation. Do you know
any good land around here? Cheap?"

"By George, you Yankees are remarkable, really remarkable," said
Sheldon. "I should never have dreamed of such a venture."

"Adventure," Joan corrected him.

"That's right--adventure it is. And if you'd gone ashore on
Malaita instead of Guadalcanar you'd have been kai-kai'd long ago,
along with your noble Tahitian sailors."

Joan shuddered.

"To tell the truth," she confessed, "we were very much afraid to
land on Guadalcanar. I read in the 'Sailing Directions' that the
natives were treacherous and hostile. Some day I should like to go
to Malaita. Are there any plantations there?"

"Not one. Not a white trader even."

"Then I shall go over on a recruiting vessel some time."

"Impossible!" Sheldon cried. "It is no place for a woman."

"I shall go just the same," she repeated.

"But no self-respecting woman--"

"Be careful," she warned him. "I shall go some day, and then you
may be sorry for the names you have called me."

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