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"Black-water fever," the captain said. "He's been like this for six days, unconscious. And we've got dysentery on board. What's the matter with you?"
"I'm burying four a day," Sheldon answered, as he bent over from the steamer-chair and inserted the thermometer under his partner's tongue.
Captain Oleson swore blasphemously, and sent a house-boy to bring whisky and soda. Sheldon glanced at the thermometer.
"One hundred and seven," he said. "Poor Hughie."
Captain Oleson offered him some whisky.
"Couldn't think of it--perforation, you know," Sheldon said.
He sent for a boss-boy and ordered a grave to be dug, also some of the packing-cases to be knocked together into a coffin. The blacks did not get coffins. They were buried as they died, being carted on a sheet of galvanized iron, in their nakedness, from the hospital to the hole in the ground. Having given the orders, Sheldon lay back in his chair with closed eyes.
"It's ben fair hell, sir," Captain Oleson began, then broke off to help himself to more whisky. "It's ben fair hell, Mr. Sheldon, I tell you. Contrary winds and calms. We've ben driftin' all about the shop for ten days. There's ten thousand sharks following us for the tucker we've ben throwin' over to them. They was snappin' at the oars when we started to come ashore. I wisht to God a nor'wester'd come along an' blow the Solomons clean to hell."
"We got it from the water--water from Owga creek. Filled my casks with it. How was we to know? I've filled there before an' it was all right. We had sixty recruits-full up; and my crew of fifteen. We've ben buryin' them day an' night. The beggars won't live, damn them! They die out of spite. Only three of my crew left on its legs. Five more down. Seven dead. Oh, hell! What's the good of talkin'?"
"How many recruits left?" Sheldon asked.
"Lost half. Thirty left. Twenty down, and ten tottering around."
"That means another addition to the hospital. We've got to get them ashore somehow.--Viaburi! Hey, you, Viaburi, ring big fella bell strong fella too much."
The hands, called in from the fields at that unwonted hour, were split into detachments. Some were sent into the woods to cut timber for house-beams, others to cutting cane-grass for thatching, and forty of them lifted a whale-boat above their heads and carried it down to the sea. Sheldon had gritted his teeth, pulled his collapsing soul together, and taken Berande plantation into his fist once more.
"Have you seen the barometer?" Captain Oleson asked, pausing at the bottom of the steps on his way to oversee the disembarkation of the sick.
"No," Sheldon answered. "Is it down?"
"It's going down."
"Then you'd better sleep aboard to-night," was Sheldon's judgment. "Never mind the funeral. I'll see to poor Hughie."
"A nigger was kicking the bucket when I dropped anchor."
The captain made the statement as a simple fact, but obviously waited for a suggestion. The other felt a sudden wave of irritation rush through him.
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