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"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?"
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