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Adventure Jack London

The Lost Toy

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"Well," Joan said with a sigh, "I've shown you hustling American methods that succeed and get somewhere, and here you are beginning your muddling again."

Five days had passed, and she and Sheldon were standing on the veranda watching the Martha, close-hauled on the wind, laying a tack off shore. During those five days Joan had never once broached the desire of her heart, though Sheldon, in this particular instance reading her like a book, had watched her lead up to the question a score of times in the hope that he would himself suggest her taking charge of the Martha. She had wanted him to say the word, and she had steeled herself not to say it herself. The matter of finding a skipper had been a hard one. She was jealous of the Martha, and no suggested man had satisfied her.

"Oleson?" she had demanded. "He does very well on the Flibberty, with me and my men to overhaul her whenever she's ready to fall to pieces through his slackness. But skipper of the Martha? Impossible!"

"Munster? Yes, he's the only man I know in the Solomons I'd care to see in charge. And yet, there's his record. He lost the Umbawa--one hundred and forty drowned. He was first officer on the bridge. Deliberate disobedience to instructions. No wonder they broke him.

"Christian Young has never had any experience with large boats. Besides, we can't afford to pay him what he's clearing on the Minerva. Sparrowhawk is a good man--to take orders. He has no initiative. He's an able sailor, but he can't command. I tell you I was nervous all the time he had charge of the Flibberty at Poonga-Poonga when I had to stay by the Martha."

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And so it had gone. No name proposed was satisfactory, and, moreover, Sheldon had been surprised by the accuracy of her judgments. A dozen times she almost drove him to the statement that from the showing she made of Solomon Islands sailors, she was the only person fitted to command the Martha. But each time he restrained himself, while her pride prevented her from making the suggestion.

"Good whale-boat sailors do not necessarily make good schooner-handlers," she replied to one of his arguments. "Besides, the captain of a boat like the Martha must have a large mind, see things in a large way; he must have capacity and enterprise."

"But with your Tahitians on board--" Sheldon had begun another argument.

"There won't be any Tahitians on board," she had returned promptly. "My men stay with me. I never know when I may need them. When I sail, they sail; when I remain ashore, they remain ashore. I'll find plenty for them to do right here on the plantation. You've seen them clearing bush, each of them worth half a dozen of your cannibals."

So it was that Joan stood beside Sheldon and sighed as she watched the Martha beating out to sea, old Kinross, brought over from Savo, in command.

"Kinross is an old fossil," she said, with a touch of bitterness in her voice. "Oh, he'll never wreck her through rashness, rest assured of that; but he's timid to childishness, and timid skippers lose just as many vessels as rash ones. Some day, Kinross will lose the Martha because there'll be only one chance and he'll be afraid to take it. I know his sort. Afraid to take advantage of a proper breeze of wind that will fetch him in in twenty hours, he'll get caught out in the calm that follows and spend a whole week in getting in. The Martha will make money with him, there's no doubt of it; but she won't make near the money that she would under a competent master."

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