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The Girl Who Had Not Grown Up
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A week after the Upolu's departure, the Malakula dropped anchor and her skipper came ashore for a game of billiards and to gossip until the land breeze sprang up. Besides, as he told his super-cargo, he simply had to come ashore, not merely to deliver the large package of seeds with full instructions for planting from Joan, but to shock Sheldon with the little surprise born of information he was bringing with him.
Captain Auckland played the billiards first, and it was not until he was comfortably seated in a steamer-chair, his second whisky securely in his hand, that he let off his bomb.
"A great piece, that Miss Lackland of yours," he chuckled. "Claims to be a part-owner of Berande. Says she's your partner. Is that straight?"
Sheldon nodded coldly.
"You don't say? That is a surprise! Well, she hasn't convinced Guvutu or Tulagi of it. They're pretty used to irregular things over there, but--ha! ha!- " he stopped to have his laugh out and to mop his bald head with a trade handkerchief. "But that partnership yarn of hers was too big to swallow, though it gave them the excuse for a few more drinks."
"There is nothing irregular about it. It is an ordinary business transaction." Sheldon strove to act as though such transactions were quite the commonplace thing on plantations in the Solomons. "She invested something like fifteen hundred pounds in Berande--"
"So she said."
"And she has gone to Sydney on business for the plantation."
"Oh, no, she hasn't."
"I beg pardon?" Sheldon queried.
"I said she hasn't, that's all."
"But didn't the Upolu sail? I could have sworn I saw her smoke last Tuesday afternoon, late, as she passed Savo."
"The Upolu sailed all right." Captain Auckland sipped his whisky with provoking slowness. "Only Miss Lackland wasn't a passenger."
"Then where is she?"
"At Guvutu, last I saw of her. She was going to Sydney to buy a schooner, wasn't she?"
"That's what she said. Well, she's bought one, though I wouldn't give her ten shillings for it if a nor'wester blows up, and it's about time we had one. This has been too long a spell of good weather to last."
"If you came here to excite my curiosity, old man," Sheldon said, "you've certainly succeeded. Now go ahead and tell me in a straightforward way what has happened. What schooner? Where is it? How did she happen to buy it?"
"First, the schooner Martha," the skipper answered, checking his replies off on his fingers. "Second, the Martha is on the outside reef at Poonga-Poonga, looted clean of everything portable, and ready to go to pieces with the first bit of lively sea. And third, Miss Lackland bought her at auction. She was knocked down to her for fifty-five quid by the third-assistant-resident-commissioner. I ought to know. I bid fifty myself, for Morgan and Raff. My word, weren't they hot! I told them to go to the devil, and that it was their fault for limiting me to fifty quid when they thought the chance to salve the Martha was worth more. You see, they weren't expecting competition. Fulcrum Brothers had no representative present, neither had Fires, Philp Company, and the only man to be afraid of was Nielsen's agent, Squires, and him they got drunk and sound asleep over in Guvutu.
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