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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdventure - Chapter X - A MESSAGE FROM BOUCHER
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Adventure - Chapter X - A MESSAGE FROM BOUCHER Post by :valu39 Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :1130

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Adventure - Chapter X - A MESSAGE FROM BOUCHER

The next day Sheldon was left all alone. Joan had gone exploring
Pari-Sulay, and was not to be expected back until the late
afternoon. Sheldon was vaguely oppressed by his loneliness, and
several heavy squalls during the afternoon brought him frequently
on to the veranda, telescope in hand, to scan the sea anxiously for
the whale-boat. Betweenwhiles he scowled over the plantation
account-books, made rough estimates, added and balanced, and
scowled the harder. The loss of the Jessie had hit Berande
severely. Not alone was his capital depleted by the amount of her
value, but her earnings were no longer to be reckoned on, and it
was her earnings that largely paid the running expenses of the
plantation.

"Poor old Hughie," he muttered aloud, once. "I'm glad you didn't
live to see it, old man. What a cropper, what a cropper!"

Between squalls the Flibberty-Gibbet ran in to anchorage, and her
skipper, Pete Oleson (brother to the Oleson of the Jessie),
ancient, grizzled, wild-eyed, emaciated by fever, dragged his weary
frame up the veranda steps and collapsed in a steamer-chair.
Whisky and soda kept him going while he made report and turned in
his accounts.

"You're rotten with fever," Sheldon said. "Why don't you run down
to Sydney for a blow of decent climate?"

The old skipper shook his head.

"I can't. I've ben in the islands too long. I'd die. The fever
comes out worse down there."

"Kill or cure," Sheldon counselled.

"It's straight kill for me. I tried it three years ago. The cool
weather put me on my back before I landed. They carried me ashore
and into hospital. I was unconscious one stretch for two weeks.
After that the doctors sent me back to the islands--said it was the
only thing that would save me. Well, I'm still alive; but I'm too
soaked with fever. A month in Australia would finish me."

"But what are you going to do?" Sheldon queried. "You can't stay
here until you die."

"That's all that's left to me. I'd like to go back to the old
country, but I couldn't stand it. I'll last longer here, and here
I'll stay until I peg out; but I wish to God I'd never seen the
Solomons, that's all."

He declined to sleep ashore, took his orders, and went back on
board the cutter. A lurid sunset was blotted out by the heaviest
squall of the day, and Sheldon watched the whale-boat arrive in the
thick of it. As the spritsail was taken in and the boat headed on
to the beach, he was aware of a distinct hurt at sight of Joan at
the steering-oar, standing erect and swaying her strength to it as
she resisted the pressures that tended to throw the craft broadside
in the surf. Her Tahitians leaped out and rushed the boat high up
the beach, and she led her bizarre following through the gate of
the compound.

The first drops of rain were driving like hail-stones, the tall
cocoanut palms were bending and writhing in the grip of the wind,
while the thick cloud-mass of the squall turned the brief tropic
twilight abruptly to night.

Quite unconsciously the brooding anxiety of the afternoon slipped
from Sheldon, and he felt strangely cheered at the sight of her
running up the steps laughing, face flushed, hair flying, her
breast heaving from the violence of her late exertions.

"Lovely, perfectly lovely--Pari-Sulay," she panted. "I shall buy
it. I'll write to the Commissioner to-night. And the site for the
bungalow--I've selected it already--is wonderful. You must come
over some day and advise me. You won't mind my staying here until
I can get settled? Wasn't that squall beautiful? And I suppose
I'm late for dinner. I'll run and get clean, and be with you in a
minute."

And in the brief interval of her absence he found himself walking
about the big living-room and impatiently and with anticipation
awaiting her coming.

"Do you know, I'm never going to squabble with you again," he
announced when they were seated.

"Squabble!" was the retort. "It's such a sordid word. It sounds
cheap and nasty. I think it's much nicer to quarrel."

"Call it what you please, but we won't do it any more, will we?"
He cleared his throat nervously, for her eyes advertised the
immediate beginning of hostilities. "I beg your pardon," he
hurried on. "I should have spoken for myself. What I mean is that
I refuse to quarrel. You have the most horrible way, without
uttering a word, of making me play the fool. Why, I began with the
kindest intentions, and here I am now--"

"Making nasty remarks," she completed for him.

"It's the way you have of catching me up," he complained.

"Why, I never said a word. I was merely sitting here, being
sweetly lured on by promises of peace on earth and all the rest of
it, when suddenly you began to call me names."

"Hardly that, I am sure."

"Well, you said I was horrible, or that I had a horrible way about
me, which is the same thing. I wish my bungalow were up. I'd move
to-morrow."

But her twitching lips belied her words, and the next moment the
man was more uncomfortable than ever, being made so by her
laughter.

"I was only teasing you. Honest Injun. And if you don't laugh
I'll suspect you of being in a temper with me. That's right,
laugh. But don't--" she added in alarm, "don't if it hurts you.
You look as though you had a toothache. There, there--don't say
it. You know you promised not to quarrel, while I have the
privilege of going on being as hateful as I please. And to begin
with, there's the Flibberty-Gibbet. I didn't know she was so large
a cutter; but she's in disgraceful condition. Her rigging is
something queer, and the next sharp squall will bring her head-gear
all about the shop. I watched Noa Noah's face as we sailed past.
He didn't say anything. He just sneered. And I don't blame him."

"Her skipper's rotten bad with fever," Sheldon explained. "And he
had to drop his mate off to take hold of things at Ugi--that's
where I lost Oscar, my trader. And you know what sort of sailors
the niggers are."

She nodded her head judicially, and while she seemed to debate a
weighty judgment he asked for a second helping of tinned beef--not
because he was hungry, but because he wanted to watch her slim,
firm fingers, naked of jewels and banded metals, while his eyes
pleasured in the swell of the forearm, appearing from under the
sleeve and losing identity in the smooth, round wrist undisfigured
by the netted veins that come to youth when youth is gone. The
fingers were brown with tan and looked exceedingly boyish. Then,
and without effort, the concept came to him. Yes, that was it. He
had stumbled upon the clue to her tantalizing personality. Her
fingers, sunburned and boyish, told the story. No wonder she had
exasperated him so frequently. He had tried to treat with her as a
woman, when she was not a woman. She was a mere girl--and a boyish
girl at that--with sunburned fingers that delighted in doing what
boys' fingers did; with a body and muscles that liked swimming and
violent endeavour of all sorts; with a mind that was daring, but
that dared no farther than boys' adventures, and that delighted in
rifles and revolvers, Stetson hats, and a sexless camaraderie with
men.

Somehow, as he pondered and watched her, it seemed as if he sat in
church at home listening to the choir-boys chanting. She reminded
him of those boys, or their voices, rather. The same sexless
quality was there. In the body of her she was woman; in the mind
of her she had not grown up. She had not been exposed to ripening
influences of that sort. She had had no mother. Von, her father,
native servants, and rough island life had constituted her
training. Horses and rifles had been her toys, camp and trail her
nursery. From what she had told him, her seminary days had been an
exile, devoted to study and to ceaseless longing for the wild
riding and swimming of Hawaii. A boy's training, and a boy's point
of view! That explained her chafe at petticoats, her revolt at
what was only decently conventional. Some day she would grow up,
but as yet she was only in the process.

Well, there was only one thing for him to do. He must meet her on
her own basis of boyhood, and not make the mistake of treating her
as a woman. He wondered if he could love the woman she would be
when her nature awoke; and he wondered if he could love her just as
she was and himself wake her up. After all, whatever it was, she
had come to fill quite a large place in his life, as he had
discovered that afternoon while scanning the sea between the
squalls. Then he remembered the accounts of Berande, and the
cropper that was coming, and scowled.

He became aware that she was speaking.

"I beg pardon," he said. "What's that you were saying?"

"You weren't listening to a word--I knew it," she chided. "I was
saying that the condition of the Flibberty-Gibbet was disgraceful,
and that to-morrow, when you've told the skipper and not hurt his
feelings, I am going to take my men out and give her an
overhauling. We'll scrub her bottom, too. Why, there's whiskers
on her copper four inches long. I saw it when she rolled. Don't
forget, I'm going cruising on the Flibberty some day, even if I
have to run away with her."

While at their coffee on the veranda, Satan raised a commotion in
the compound near the beach gate, and Sheldon finally rescued a
mauled and frightened black and dragged him on the porch for
interrogation.

"What fella marster you belong?" he demanded. "What name you come
along this fella place sun he go down?"

"Me b'long Boucher. Too many boy belong along Port Adams stop
along my fella marster. Too much walk about."

The black drew a scrap of notepaper from under his belt and passed
it over. Sheldon scanned it hurriedly.

"It's from Boucher," he explained, "the fellow who took Packard's
place. Packard was the one I told you about who was killed by his
boat's-crew. He says the Port Adams crowd is out--fifty of them,
in big canoes--and camping on his beach. They've killed half a
dozen of his pigs already, and seem to be looking for trouble. And
he's afraid they may connect with the fifteen runaways from Lunga."

"In which case?" she queried.

"In which case Billy Pape will be compelled to send Boucher's
successor. It's Pape's station, you know. I wish I knew what to
do. I don't like to leave you here alone."

"Take me along then."

He smiled and shook his head.

"Then you'd better take my men along," she advised. "They're good
shots, and they're not afraid of anything--except Utami, and he's
afraid of ghosts."

The big bell was rung, and fifty black boys carried the whale-boat
down to the water. The regular boat's-crew manned her, and
Matauare and three other Tahitians, belted with cartridges and
armed with rifles, sat in the stern-sheets where Sheldon stood at
the steering-oar.

"My, I wish I could go with you," Joan said wistfully, as the boat
shoved off.

Sheldon shook his head.

"I'm as good as a man," she urged.

"You really are needed here," he replied.

"There's that Lunga crowd; they might reach the coast right here,
and with both of us absent rush the plantation. Good-bye. We'll
get back in the morning some time. It's only twelve miles."

When Joan started to return to the house, she was compelled to pass
among the boat-carriers, who lingered on the beach to chatter in
queer, ape-like fashion about the events of the night. They made
way for her, but there came to her, as she was in the midst of
them, a feeling of her own helplessness. There were so many of
them. What was to prevent them from dragging her down if they so
willed? Then she remembered that one cry of hers would fetch Noa
Noah and her remaining sailors, each one of whom was worth a dozen
blacks in a struggle. As she opened the gate, one of the boys
stepped up to her. In the darkness she could not make him out.

"What name?" she asked sharply. "What name belong you?"

"Me Aroa," he said.

She remembered him as one of the two sick boys she had nursed at
the hospital. The other one had died.

"Me take 'm plenty fella medicine too much," Aroa was saying.

"Well, and you all right now," she answered.

"Me want 'm tobacco, plenty fella tobacco; me want 'm calico; me
want 'm porpoise teeth; me want 'm one fella belt."

She looked at him humorously, expecting to see a smile, or at least
a grin, on his face. Instead, his face was expressionless. Save
for a narrow breech-clout, a pair of ear-plugs, and about his kinky
hair a chaplet of white cowrie-shells, he was naked. His body was
fresh-oiled and shiny, and his eyes glistened in the starlight like
some wild animal's. The rest of the boys had crowded up at his
back in a solid wall. Some one of them giggled, but the remainder
regarded her in morose and intense silence.

"Well?" she said. "What for you want plenty fella things?"

"Me take 'm medicine," quoth Aroa. "You pay me."

And this was a sample of their gratitude, she thought. It looked
as if Sheldon had been right after all. Aroa waited stolidly. A
leaping fish splashed far out on the water. A tiny wavelet
murmured sleepily on the beach. The shadow of a flying-fox drifted
by in velvet silence overhead. A light air fanned coolly on her
cheek; it was the land-breeze beginning to blow.

"You go along quarters," she said, starting to turn on her heel to
enter the gate.

"You pay me," said the boy.

"Aroa, you all the same one big fool. I no pay you. Now you go."

But the black was unmoved. She felt that he was regarding her
almost insolently as he repeated:

"I take 'm medicine. You pay me. You pay me now."

Then it was that she lost her temper and cuffed his ears so soundly
as to drive him back among his fellows. But they did not break up.
Another boy stepped forward.

"You pay me," he said.

His eyes had the querulous, troubled look such as she had noticed
in monkeys; but while he was patently uncomfortable under her
scrutiny, his thick lips were drawn firmly in an effort at sullen
determination.

"What for?" she asked.

"Me Gogoomy," he said. "Bawo brother belong me."

Bawo, she remembered, was the sick boy who had died.

"Go on," she commanded.

"Bawo take 'm medicine. Bawo finish. Bawo my brother. You pay
me. Father belong me one big fella chief along Port Adams. You
pay me."

Joan laughed.

"Gogoomy, you just the same as Aroa, one big fool. My word, who
pay me for medicine?"

She dismissed the matter by passing through the gate and closing
it. But Gogoomy pressed up against it and said impudently:

"Father belong me one big fella chief. You no bang 'm head belong
me. My word, you fright too much."

"Me fright?" she demanded, while anger tingled all through her.

"Too much fright bang 'm head belong me," Gogoomy said proudly.

And then she reached for him across the gate and got him. It was a
sweeping, broad-handed slap, so heavy that he staggered sideways
and nearly fell. He sprang for the gate as if to force it open,
while the crowd surged forward against the fence. Joan thought
rapidly. Her revolver was hanging on the wall of her grass house.
Yet one cry would bring her sailors, and she knew she was safe. So
she did not cry for help. Instead, she whistled for Satan, at the
same time calling him by name. She knew he was shut up in the
living room, but the blacks did not wait to see. They fled with
wild yells through the darkness, followed reluctantly by Gogoomy;
while she entered the bungalow, laughing at first, but finally
vexed to the verge of tears by what had taken place. She had sat
up a whole night with the boy who had died, and yet his brother
demanded to be paid for his life.

"Ugh! the ungrateful beast!" she muttered, while she debated
whether or not she would confess the incident to Sheldon.

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