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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAdventure - Chapter XIV - THE MARTHA
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Adventure - Chapter XIV - THE MARTHA Post by :coachlois Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :March 2011 Read :836

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Adventure - Chapter XIV - THE MARTHA

They were deep in a game of billiards the next morning, after the
eleven o'clock breakfast, when Viaburi entered and announced, -

"Big fella schooner close up."

Even as he spoke, they heard the rumble of chain through hawse-
pipe, and from the veranda saw a big black-painted schooner,
swinging to her just-caught anchor.

"It's a Yankee," Joan cried. "See that bow! Look at that
elliptical stern! Ah, I thought so--" as the Stars and Stripes
fluttered to the mast-head.

Noa Noah, at Sheldon's direction, ran the Union Jack up the flag-
staff.

"Now what is an American vessel doing down here?" Joan asked.
"It's not a yacht, though I'll wager she can sail. Look! Her
name! What is it?"

"Martha, San Francisco," Sheldon read, looking through the
telescope. "It's the first Yankee I ever heard of in the Solomons.
They are coming ashore, whoever they are. And, by Jove, look at
those men at the oars. It's an all-white crew. Now what reason
brings them here?"

"They're not proper sailors," Joan commented. "I'd be ashamed of a
crew of black-boys that pulled in such fashion. Look at that
fellow in the bow--the one just jumping out; he'd be more at home
on a cow-pony."

The boat's-crew scattered up and down the beach, ranging about with
eager curiosity, while the two men who had sat in the stern-sheets
opened the gate and came up the path to the bungalow. One of them,
a tall and slender man, was clad in white ducks that fitted him
like a semi-military uniform. The other man, in nondescript
garments that were both of the sea and shore, and that must have
been uncomfortably hot, slouched and shambled like an overgrown
ape. To complete the illusion, his face seemed to sprout in all
directions with a dense, bushy mass of red whiskers, while his eyes
were small and sharp and restless.

Sheldon, who had gone to the head of the steps, introduced them to
Joan. The bewhiskered individual, who looked like a Scotsman, had
the Teutonic name of Von Blix, and spoke with a strong American
accent. The tall man in the well-fitting ducks, who gave the
English name of Tudor--John Tudor--talked purely-enunciated English
such as any cultured American would talk, save for the fact that it
was most delicately and subtly touched by a faint German accent.
Joan decided that she had been helped to identify the accent by the
short German-looking moustache that did not conceal the mouth and
its full red lips, which would have formed a Cupid's bow but for
some harshness or severity of spirit that had moulded them
masculinely.

Von Blix was rough and boorish, but Tudor was gracefully easy in
everything he did, or looked, or said. His blue eyes sparkled and
flashed, his clean-cut mobile features were an index to his
slightest shades of feeling and expression. He bubbled with
enthusiasms, and his faintest smile or lightest laugh seemed
spontaneous and genuine. But it was only occasionally at first
that he spoke, for Von Blix told their story and stated their
errand.

They were on a gold-hunting expedition. He was the leader, and
Tudor was his lieutenant. All hands--and there were twenty-eight--
were shareholders, in varying proportions, in the adventure.
Several were sailors, but the large majority were miners, culled
from all the camps from Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. It was the old
and ever-untiring pursuit of gold, and they had come to the
Solomons to get it. Part of them, under the leadership of Tudor,
were to go up the Balesuna and penetrate the mountainous heart of
Guadalcanar, while the Martha, under Von Blix, sailed away for
Malaita to put through similar exploration.

"And so," said Von Blix, "for Mr. Tudor's expedition we must have
some black-boys. Can we get them from you?"

"Of course we will pay," Tudor broke in. "You have only to charge
what you consider them worth. You pay them six pounds a year,
don't you?"

"In the first place we can't spare them," Sheldon answered. "We
are short of them on the plantation as it is."

"WE?" Tudor asked quickly. "Then you are a firm or a partnership?
I understood at Guvutu that you were alone, that you had lost your
partner."

Sheldon inclined his head toward Joan, and as he spoke she felt
that he had become a trifle stiff.

"Miss Lackland has become interested in the plantation since then.
But to return to the boys. We can't spare them, and besides, they
would be of little use. You couldn't get them to accompany you
beyond Binu, which is a short day's work with the boats from here.
They are Malaita-men, and they are afraid of being eaten. They
would desert you at the first opportunity. You could get the Binu
men to accompany you another day's journey, through the grass-
lands, but at the first roll of the foothills look for them to turn
back. They likewise are disinclined to being eaten."

"Is it as bad as that?" asked Von Blix.

"The interior of Guadalcanar has never been explored," Sheldon
explained. "The bushmen are as wild men as are to be found
anywhere in the world to-day. I have never seen one. I have never
seen a man who has seen one. They never come down to the coast,
though their scouting parties occasionally eat a coast native who
has wandered too far inland. Nobody knows anything about them.
They don't even use tobacco--have never learned its use. The
Austrian expedition--scientists, you know--got part way in before
it was cut to pieces. The monument is up the beach there several
miles. Only one man got back to the coast to tell the tale. And
now you have all I or any other man knows of the inside of
Guadalcanar."

"But gold--have you heard of gold?" Tudor asked impatiently. "Do
you know anything about gold?"

Sheldon smiled, while the two visitors hung eagerly upon his words.

"You can go two miles up the Balesuna and wash colours from the
gravel. I've done it often. There is gold undoubtedly back in the
mountains."

Tudor and Von Blix looked triumphantly at each other.

"Old Wheatsheaf's yarn was true, then," Tudor said, and Von Blix
nodded. "And if Malaita turns out as well--"

Tudor broke off and looked at Joan.

"It was the tale of this old beachcomber that brought us here," he
explained. "Von Blix befriended him and was told the secret." He
turned and addressed Sheldon. "I think we shall prove that white
men have been through the heart of Guadalcanar long before the time
of the Austrian expedition."

Sheldon shrugged his shoulders.

"We have never heard of it down here," he said simply. Then he
addressed Von Blix. "As to the boys, you couldn't use them farther
than Binu, and I'll lend you as many as you want as far as that.
How many of your party are going, and how soon will you start?"

"Ten," said Tudor; "nine men and myself."

"And you should be able to start day after to-morrow," Von Blix
said to him. "The boats should practically be knocked together
this afternoon. To-morrow should see the outfit portioned and
packed. As for the Martha, Mr. Sheldon, we'll rush the stuff
ashore this afternoon and sail by sundown."

As the two men returned down the path to their boat, Sheldon
regarded Joan quizzically.

"There's romance for you," he said, "and adventure--gold-hunting
among the cannibals."

"A title for a book," she cried. "Or, better yet, 'Gold-Hunting
Among the Head-Hunters.' My! wouldn't it sell!"

"And now aren't you sorry you became a cocoanut planter?" he
teased. "Think of investing in such an adventure."

"If I did," she retorted, "Von Blix wouldn't be finicky about my
joining in the cruise to Malaita."

"I don't doubt but what he would jump at it."

"What do you think of them?" she asked.

"Oh, old Von Blix is all right, a solid sort of chap in his
fashion; but Tudor is fly-away--too much on the surface, you know.
If it came to being wrecked on a desert island, I'd prefer Von
Blix."

"I don't quite understand," Joan objected. "What have you against
Tudor?"

"You remember Browning's 'Last Duchess'?"

She nodded.

"Well, Tudor reminds me of her--"

"But she was delightful."

"So she was. But she was a woman. One expects something different
from a man--more control, you know, more restraint, more
deliberation. A man must be more solid, more solid and steady-
going and less effervescent. A man of Tudor's type gets on my
nerves. One demands more repose from a man."

Joan felt that she did not quite agree with his judgment; and,
somehow, Sheldon caught her feeling and was disturbed. He
remembered noting how her eyes had brightened as she talked with
the newcomer--confound it all, was he getting jealous? he asked
himself. Why shouldn't her eyes brighten? What concern was it of
his?

A second boat had been lowered, and the outfit of the shore party
was landed rapidly. A dozen of the crew put the knocked-down boats
together on the beach. There were five of these craft--lean and
narrow, with flaring sides, and remarkably long. Each was equipped
with three paddles and several iron-shod poles.

"You chaps certainly seem to know river-work," Sheldon told one of
the carpenters.

The man spat a mouthful of tobacco-juice into the white sand, and
answered, -

"We use 'em in Alaska. They're modelled after the Yukon poling-
boats, and you can bet your life they're crackerjacks. This
creek'll be a snap alongside some of them Northern streams. Five
hundred pounds in one of them boats, an' two men can snake it along
in a way that'd surprise you."

At sunset the Martha broke out her anchor and got under way,
dipping her flag and saluting with a bomb gun. The Union Jack ran
up and down the staff, and Sheldon replied with his brass signal-
cannon. The miners pitched their tents in the compound, and cooked
on the beach, while Tudor dined with Joan and Sheldon.

Their guest seemed to have been everywhere and seen everything and
met everybody, and, encouraged by Joan, his talk was largely upon
his own adventures. He was an adventurer of adventurers, and by
his own account had been born into adventure. Descended from old
New England stock, his father a consul-general, he had been born in
Germany, in which country he had received his early education and
his accent. Then, still a boy, he had rejoined his father in
Turkey, and accompanied him later to Persia, his father having been
appointed Minister to that country.

Tudor had always been a wanderer, and with facile wit and quick
vivid description he leaped from episode and place to episode and
place, relating his experiences seemingly not because they were
his, but for the sake of their bizarreness and uniqueness, for the
unusual incident or the laughable situation. He had gone through
South American revolutions, been a Rough Rider in Cuba, a scout in
South Africa, a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese war. He
had mushed dogs in the Klondike, washed gold from the sands of
Nome, and edited a newspaper in San Francisco. The President of
the United States was his friend. He was equally at home in the
clubs of London and the Continent, the Grand Hotel at Yokohama, and
the selector's shanties in the Never-Never country. He had shot
big game in Siam, pearled in the Paumotus, visited Tolstoy, seen
the Passion Play, and crossed the Andes on mule-back; while he was
a living directory of the fever holes of West Africa.

Sheldon leaned back in his chair on the veranda, sipping his coffee
and listening. In spite of himself he felt touched by the charm of
the man who had led so varied a life. And yet Sheldon was not
comfortable. It seemed to him that the man addressed himself
particularly to Joan. His words and smiles were directed
impartially toward both of them, yet Sheldon was certain, had the
two men of them been alone, that the conversation would have been
along different lines. Tudor had seen the effect on Joan and
deliberately continued the flow of reminiscence, netting her in the
glamour of romance. Sheldon watched her rapt attention, listened
to her spontaneous laughter, quick questions, and passing
judgments, and felt grow within him the dawning consciousness that
he loved her.

So he was very quiet and almost sad, though at times he was aware
of a distinct irritation against his guest, and he even speculated
as to what percentage of Tudor's tale was true and how any of it
could be proved or disproved. In this connection, as if the scene
had been prepared by a clever playwright, Utami came upon the
veranda to report to Joan the capture of a crocodile in the trap
they had made for her.

Tudor's face, illuminated by the match with which he was lighting
his cigarette, caught Utami's eye, and Utami forgot to report to
his mistress.

"Hello, Tudor," he said, with a familiarity that startled Sheldon.

The Polynesian's hand went out, and Tudor, shaking it, was staring
into his face.

"Who is it? " he asked. "I can't see you."

"Utami."

"And who the dickens is Utami? Where did I ever meet you, my man?"

"You no forget the Huahine?" Utami chided. "Last time Huahine
sail?"

Tudor gripped the Tahitian's hand a second time and shook it with
genuine heartiness.

"There was only one kanaka who came out of the Huahine that last
voyage, and that kanaka was Joe. The deuce take it, man, I'm glad
to see you, though I never heard your new name before."

"Yes, everybody speak me Joe along the Huahine. Utami my name all
the time, just the same."

"But what are you doing here?" Tudor asked, releasing the sailor's
hand and leaning eagerly forward.

"Me sail along Missie Lackalanna her schooner Miele. We go Tahiti,
Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora-Bora, Manua, Tutuila, Apia, Savaii, and Fiji
Islands--plenty Fiji Islands. Me stop along Missie Lackalanna in
Solomons. Very soon she catch other schooner."

"He and I were the two survivors of the wreck of the Huahine,"
Tudor explained to the others. "Fifty-seven all told on board when
we sailed from Huapa, and Joe and I were the only two that ever set
foot on land again. Hurricane, you know, in the Paumotus. That
was when I was after pearls."

"And you never told me, Utami, that you'd been wrecked in a
hurricane," Joan said reproachfully.

The big Tahitian shifted his weight and flashed his teeth in a
conciliating smile.

"Me no t'ink nothing 't all," he said.

He half-turned, as if to depart, by his manner indicating that he
considered it time to go while yet he desired to remain.

"All right, Utami," Tudor said. "I'll see you in the morning and
have a yarn."

"He saved my life, the beggar," Tudor explained, as the Tahitian
strode away and with heavy softness of foot went down the steps.
"Swim! I never met a better swimmer."

And thereat, solicited by Joan, Tudor narrated the wreck of the
Huahine; while Sheldon smoked and pondered, and decided that
whatever the man's shortcomings were, he was at least not a liar.

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