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Ben
by [?]

I was in the bark Ransom, with twenty tons of trade aboard, and looking for a station up in the Westward, when I fixed it up with Tom Feltenshaw at Arorai Island to buy him out. It was a good little station, and far better than I could have hoped for at the money I had to offer, with a new tin roof and a water tank and a copra shed with a cement floor, and an imported banana in an imported ton of earth to give a natty effect to the back view–the front being all reef and dazzle and Pacific Ocean.

Lonesome? Coffin-lid, nail-her-down, lonesome–why, of course! Was there ever a coral island that wasn’t? But there was copra in plenty; only one other trader and him a boozer; quite a bit of pearl shell, and Tom’s book showing how he had cleared thirty-three hundred dollars in a year. He had boils something awful, and for the last two years it had just been a fight to stick it out. I came along when the boils had won all along the line, with Tom ready to leave everything all standing in order to get away.

There hadn’t been a ship in five months, and he had come mighty near pegging out, having made his will and tacked it to the shed door, besides giving the natives receipts in advance that he had died a natural death, they being afraid some passing man-of-war might hold them responsible and shoot up the island.

We had settled everything, counted out the money, and shook hands when Tom says, over a good-by nip of Square-face: “Oh, that girl of mine, Ben,–you’ll take care her, won’t you?”

“Girl?” says I.

“She’s broke in to cooking and washing and white ways,” explains Tom, “and it’d go against my conscience to feel I hadn’t left her comfortable.”

“Let’s see her,” I said.

He called her in, and one glance at her settled the matter. She was about eighteen, as slim and straight as a dart, and, by far and away, the prettiest woman I had seen in the group. She stood there mighty sullen as I sized her up, and admired her splendid black hair that was bound by a red ribbon at the nape of her neck, very coquettish and attractive. I’ve always liked that proud, to-hell-with-you look in a girl, and it seemed to make her better worth having, like there was something to master before you could have your will with her. Yes, it was bargain day for me all right, and the store wasn’t the only thing I was getting cheap.

“What she saying?” I asked, as she spoke something in Kanaka to Tom, showing real pretty teeth.

“She won’t stay if you whip her,” grins Tom.

“Bless her heart, I won’t whip her,” I says, thinking to break the ice by pulling her down on my knee. But she struggled like a wildcat, and Tom, he suddenly turns red-hot jealous.

“Leave that till I’m gone,” he says, kind of choking. “If it wasn’t for these damn boils I should never have parted with her or the station.” Then after another nip he takes his bag of money, and calls out to the Kanakas at the porch to carry his two chests down to the boat that was laying there ready to take him aboard. He ups as though to kiss the girl good-by, but she sprang back from him, as fierce as she had been with me–fiercer, I guess; and when he caught her she turned away her head like she hated him. Then he swore and stumbled out of the house without another word or anything, while me and the girl stood side by side, both of us in our different ways deserted, and slung together by the fate of things. She didn’t fight this time when I made free with her again, but began to sob like her heart would break, while I squeezed and cuddled her and watched the sinking topsails of the Ransom.