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A Message From Boucher
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"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.
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