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Jerry of the Islands Jack London

Chapter IX

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By this time the boat had swung around, reversing bow and stern, Van Horn pivoting so as to face the Snider-armed dandy. At another signal from Van Horn the rowers backed water and forced the boat, stern in, up to the solid ground of the runway. And each rower, his oar in position in case of attack, privily felt under the canvas flap to make sure of the exact location of his concealed Lee-Enfield. "All right boy belong you walk about?" Van Horn queried of the dandy, who signified the affirmative in the Solomon Islands fashion by half-closing his eyes and nodding his head upward, in a queer, perky way;

"No kai-kai 'm Su'u fella boy suppose walk about along you?"

"No fear," the dandy answered. "Suppose 'm Su'u fella boy, all right. Suppose 'm no fella Su'u boy, my word, big trouble. Ishikola, big fella black marster along this place, him talk 'm me talk along you. Him say any amount bad fella boy stop 'm along bush. Him say big fella white marster no walk about. Him say jolly good big fella white marster stop 'm along ship."

Van Horn nodded in an off-hand way, as if the information were of little value, although he knew that for this time Su'u would furnish him no fresh recruits. One at a time, compelling the others to remain in their places, he directed the return boys astern and ashore. It was Solomon Islands tactics. Crowding was dangerous. Never could the blacks be risked to confusion in numbers. And Van Horn, smoking his cigar in lordly indifferent fashion, kept his apparently uninterested eyes glued to each boy who made his way aft, box on shoulder, and stepped out on the land. One by one they disappeared into the runway tunnel, and when the last was ashore he ordered the boat back to the ship.

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"Nothing doing here this trip," he told the mate. "We'll up hook and out in the morning."

The quick tropic twilight swiftly blent day and darkness. Overhead all stars were out. No faintest breath of air moved over the water, and the humid heat beaded the faces and bodies of both men with profuse sweat. They ate their deck-spread supper languidly and ever and anon used their forearms to wipe the stinging sweat from their eyes.

"Why a man should come to the Solomons--beastly hole," the mate complained.

"Or stay on," the captain rejoined.

"I'm too rotten with fever," the mate grumbled. "I'd die if I left. Remember, I tried it two years ago. It takes the cold weather to bring out the fever. I arrived in Sydney on my back. They had to take me to hospital in an ambulance. I got worse and worse. The doctors told me the only thing to do was to head back where I got the fever. If I did I might live a long time. If I hung on in Sydney it meant a quick finish. They packed me on board in another ambulance. And that's all I saw of Australia for my holiday. I don't want to stay in the Solomons. It's plain hell. But I got to, or croak."

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Jerry of the Islands
Jack London

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