Never mind about those three days in Paris. Maubert was quite sober when he got on the train again at Montparnasse. He did not regret his larger vacation. He had had a very good permission, take it all in all.
At about the time that Maubert found himself mobilised and summoned into the reserves, a further mobilisation of subjects of the French Empire was taking place in certain little known, outlying dominions of the "Empire." I should have said Republic or even Democracy. The result, however, is all the same. In certain outlying portions of the mighty Empire or Republic or Democracy, as you will, further mobilisation of French subjects was taking place, although in these outlying dominions the forces were not mobilised but volunteered. That is to say, the headsman or chief of a certain village, lying somewhere between the Equator and ten degrees North latitude, was requested by those in authority to furnish so many volunteers. The word being thus passed round, volunteers presented themselves, voluntarily. Among them was Ouk. Ouk knew, having been so informed by the headsman of his village, that failure to respond to this opportunity meant a voluntary sojourn in the jungle. Ouk hated the jungle. All his life he had lived in terror of it, of the evil forces of the jungle, strangling and venomous, therefore he did not wish to take refuge amongst them, for he knew them well. Of the two alternatives, the risks of civilization seemed preferable. Civilization was an unknown quantity, whereas the jungle was familiar to himself and his ancestors, and the fear transmitted by his ancestors was firmly emplanted in his mind. Therefore he had no special desire to sojourn amongst the mighty forces of the forest, which he knew to be overwhelming. At that time, he did not know that the forces of civilization were equally sinister, equally overwhelming. All his belated brain knew, was that if he failed to answer the call of those in authority, he must take refuge in the forests. Which was sure death. It was sure death to wander defenceless, unarmed, in the twilight gloom of noon day, enveloped by dense overgrowth, avoiding venomous serpents and vile stinging insects by day, and crouching by night from man-eating tigers. It presented therefore, no pleasant alternative—no free wandering amidst beautiful, tropical trees and vines heavy with luscious fruits—there would be no drinking from running streams in pleasant, sunlit clearings. Ouk knew the jungle, and as the alternative was civilization, he chose civilization which he did not yet know. Therefore he freely offered himself one evening, coming from his native village attired in a gay sarong, a peaked hat, and nothing more. He entered a camp, where he found himself in company with other volunteers, pressed into the service of civilization by the same pressure that had so appealed to himself. There were several hundred of them in this camp, all learning the ways of Europe, and learning with difficulty and pain. The most painful thing, perhaps, were the coarse leather shoes they were obliged to wear. Ouk's feet had been accustomed to being bare—clad, on extreme occasions, with pliant straw sandals. He garbed them now, according to instructions, in hard, coarse leather shoes, furnished by those in authority, which they told him would do much to protect his sensitive feet against the cold of a French winter. Ouk had no ideas as to the rigours of a French winter, but the heavy shoes were exceedingly painful. In exchange for his gay sarong, they gave him a thick, ill fitting suit of khaki flannel, in which he smothered, but this, they likewise explained to him, would do much to protect him from the inclemency of French weather. Thus wound up and bound up, and suffering mightily in the garb of European civilization, Ouk gave himself up to learn how to protect it. The alternative to this decision, being as we have said, an alternative that he could not bring himself to face.
Three months of training being accomplished, Ouk and his companions were by that time fitted to go forth for the protection of great ideals. They were the humble defenders of these ideals, and from time to time the newspapers spoke in glowing terms, of their sentimental, clamorous wish to defend them. Even in these remote, unknown regions, somewhere between the Equator and ten degrees North latitude, volunteers were pressing forward to uphold the high traditions of their masters. Ouk and his companions knew nothing of these sonorous, ringing phrases in the papers. They knew only of the alternative, the jungle. Time came and the day came when they were all ushered forth from their training camp, packed into a big junk, and released into the stormy tossings of the harbour, there to await the arrival of the French Mail, that was to convey them to Europe. The sun beat down hot upon them, in their unaccustomed shoes and khaki, the harbour waves tossed violently, and the French Mail was late. Eventually it arrived, however, and they all scrambled aboard, passing along a narrow gangplank from which four of them slipped and were drowned in the sea. But four out of five hundred was a small matter, quite insignificant.
When the French Mail arrived at Saigon, Ouk was able to replenish his supply of betel nut and sirra leaves, buying them from coolies in bobbing sampans, which sampans had been allowed to tie themselves to the other side of the steamer. At Singapore also he bought himself more betel nut and sirra leaves, but after leaving Singapore he was unable to replenish his stock, and consequently suffered. Every one with him, in that great company of volunteers, also suffered. It was an unexpected deprivation. The ship ploughed along, however, the officers taking small notice of Ouk and his kind—indeed, they only referred to Ouk by number, for no one of those in authority could possibly remember the outlandish names of these heathen. Nor did their names greatly matter.
Time passed, the long voyage was over, and Ouk landed at Marseilles. In course of time he found himself placed in a small town in one of the provinces, the very town from which Maubert had been released to go to the Front. Thus it happened that there were as many men in that town as had been taken away from it, only the colour and the race of the men had changed. The nationality of all of them, however, was the same—they were all subjects of the mighty French Empire or Democracy, and in France race prejudice is practically nil. Therefore Ouk, who worked in a munition factory, found himself regarded with curiosity and with interest, though not with prejudice. Thus it happened that Madame Maubert found herself gazing at Ouk one evening, from behind the safe security of her zinc covered bar. Curiosity and interest were in her soul, but no particular sense of racial superiority. Ouk and some companions, speaking together in heathen jargon, were seated comfortably at one of the little yellow tables of the cafe, learning to drink wine in place of the betel nut of which they had been deprived. All through the day they worked in one of the big factories, but in the evenings they were free, and able to mix with civilization and become acquainted with it. And they became acquainted with it in the bar of Madame Maubert, who served them with yellow wine, and who watched, from her safe place behind the zinc covered counter, the effect of yellow wine upon yellow bodies which presumably contained yellow souls—if any.
All this made its impression upon Ouk. All this enforced labour and civilization and unaccustomed wine. So it happened that one evening Ouk remained alone in the bar after his companions had gone, and he came close up to the zinc covered counter behind which was seated Madame Maubert, and he regarded her steadily. She too, regarded him steadily, and beheld in his slim, upright figure something which attracted her. And Ouk beheld in Madame Maubert something which attracted him. Seated upon her high stool on the other side of the counter, she towered above him, but he felt no awe of her, no sense of her superiority. True, she looked somewhat older than the girls in his village, but on the other hand, she had a pink and white skin, and Ouk had not yet come in contact with a pink and white skin. Nor had Madame Maubert ever seen, close to, the shining, beautiful skin of a young Oriental. After all, were they not both subjects of the same great nation, were they not both living and sacrificing themselves for the preservation of the same ideals? Madame Maubert had given up her man. Ouk had given up—heaven knows what—the jungle! Anyway, such being the effect of yellow wine upon Ouk, and such being the effect of Ouk on Madame Maubert, they both leaned their elbows upon opposite sides of the zinc counter that evening and looked at each other. For a whole year Madame Maubert's husband had been away from her, and for nearly a whole year Ouk had been away from the women of his kind, and suddenly they realised, gazing at each other from opposite sides of the zinc covered bar, that Civilization claimed them. Each had a duty to perform towards its furtherance and enhancement.
Let us now go back to Maubert, standing for long months within his straw covered hut, or standing in the roadway in front of it, demanding passports. Every day, for many months past, he remembered his misspent permission and cursed the way he had passed it. Passed it in so futile a manner. Things might have been so different. His companions often chaffed him about it, chaffed him rudely. For he had never seen fit to tell them that he had not gone down to his home in the provinces, as they thought he had, but had been ensnared by some woman in Paris who had pulled him away from a passing tram on the rue de la Gaiete. One day the vaguemestre brought him a letter. He was very dizzy when he read it. Everything swam round. Rage and relief combated together in his limited brain. Rage and relief—rage and relief! He could take his letter to the authorities and demand his release—or——
For now he had five children, had Maubert. No one would question it. In his hand lay the letter of his wife. Five children. The fifth just born. That meant release from the service of his country. She said she was sorry. That she had done it for him. He would understand. But Maubert did not understand. He remembered his misspent permission, and the thought of it nauseated him. She, too. The thought of it nauseated him. Certainly he did not understand.
On the other hand, the authorities had on their books the date of his permission. He looked again at the letter of his wife. The dates coincided admirably. He had but to go to his superior officer and show him the letter of his wife, announcing the birth of their fifth child. Then he would be free. Free from the service of his country, the hated service, the examining of passports presented by a rushing General, by a rushing ambulance, by some rushing motor that was perhaps carrying a spy.
He so hated it all. But now, more than anything else, he hated his wife. He would accept his release and go home and kill her. He wouldn't be free any more if he did that, however. He argued it out with himself. So he couldn't kill her. He must accept it. If he accepted his release from the service of his country, he must accept it on her terms. He spent a long day in the rain and the wind, thinking it out. But he thought it out at last. He would accept her terms, obtain his release, go home and see—and then decide.
He told his Colonel about it, and his Colonel chaffed him, and looked over some papers, and finally set in motion the mechanism by which he was finally set free from the service of his country. It took some weeks before this was accomplished, but it was finally done. And when he arrived in Paris, coming down from his post in the First Zone of the Armies, he was painfully sober. No more wine that day for him. No more wine, bought at the estaminet before he left, or bought during the long journey down to Paris. No more zig-zagging up the rue de la Gaiete. He found the Metro entrance at the exit of the Gare Montparnasse, took the train, and arrived, shortly afterwards, at the Gare du Nord, very sober. Very sober and angry.
And when he reached his home in the provinces, he was still sober and still angry. Nor did he know what he should do. He did not know whether he should kill his wife or not. If he did, he must go back to the Front. And he hated the Front. He hated his duties, sentry duty, in the First Zone of the Armies. He could not report to his Colonel again, and say, "Give me back my sentry box—let me serve my country—that fifth child is not mine!" He was in a tight place, surely. But at his home, his mood changed, his wife was very gentle. She said she had been wrong.
"Ouk is dead," she said. "All those poor little men who come from the Tropics die very soon in our cold, damp weather. They cannot stand it. The khaki flannels we give them do not warm them. There is not much wool in them. The cold penetrates into their bones. They catch cold and die, all of them, sooner or later. It is an extravagance, importing them."
Therefore he was mollified. "For your sake," said his wife. Maubert looked down at the fifth child lying in its cradle. The child that brought him release from the service of his country—release from sentry duty, from looking at hastily shoved out, unintelligible passports.
"For your sake," repeated his wife, slipping her arm through his arm. "Very well," said Maubert stiffly. All the same, he thought to himself, the child certainly looks like a Chinese.
They say out here, that one can never understand the native mind and its workings. So primitive are they, these quiet, gentle, brown-skinned men and women, crouching over their compound fires in the evening, lazily driving the lumbering buffaloes in the rice fields, living their facile life, here on the edge of the jungle. So primitive are they, these gentle, simple forest people.
In the towns—oh, but they are not made for the towns, they are so strangely out of place in the towns which the foreigner has contrived for himself on the borders of their brown, sluggish rivers, towns which he has created by pushing backward for a little the jungle, while he builds his pink and yellow bungalows beneath the palm trees, and spaces them between the banana trees, along straight tracks which he calls roads. Wide, red roads, which the natives have made under his direction, and deep, cool bungalows, which the natives have made under his direction. Altogether, they are his towns, the foreigners' towns, and he has constructed them so that they may remind him of his home, ten thousand miles across the world.
It is not necessary to try to fancy the natives in these foreign towns. They mean nothing to him, and are far distant from his tendencies and desires. His own villages are different—thatched huts, erected on bamboo piles, roofed with palm leaves. They cluster close together along the winding brown rivers, on the edge of the jungle. Mounted very high on their stilts of bamboo, crowding each other very close together, compound touching compound for the sake of companionship and safety. Safety from the wild beasts of the forests, those that cry by night, and howl and prowl and kill; safety from the serpents, whose sting is death, shelter, protection, from all the dark, lurking dangers of the jungle—the evil, mighty forests, at whose edge, between it and the winding yellow rivers, they build themselves their homes. Yes, but life is very easy here, just the same. A little stirring of the rich earth in the clearings, and food springs forth. A little paddling up the stream or down, in a pirogue or a sampan, a net strung across the sluggish waters, and there is food again. A little wading in shallow, sunlit pools, a swift strike with a trident, and a fish is caught. And fruit hangs heavy from the trees. Life is very easy in these countries. And with the coming of the sudden sunset of the Tropics, the evening fires are lighted in the compounds and there is gathering together, with song and laughter, rest and ease. So as life is very facile in the jungle, love of money is unknown. Why money—what can it mean? Why toil for something which one has no use for, cannot spend? Just enough, perhaps, to bargain with the white man for some simple need—to buy a water buffalo, maybe, for ploughing in the rice fields. No more than that—it's not needed. And the very little coins, the very, very little coins, two dozen of them making up the white man's penny, just enough of these left over to stick upon the lips of Buddha, at the corners, with a little gum. Thus a prayer to Buddha, and the offering of a little coin, stuck with resin to the god's lips, as an offering. That is all. Life is very simple, living in one's skin.
I have said all this so that you might understand. Only, remember, no one understands, quite, the workings of the savage mind. And these of whom I write are gentle savages, and their way of life is simple, primitive and crude. Only, upon contact with the white man, some of this has been obliged to wear off a little. They have had to become adaptive, to assume a little polish, as it were. But at heart, after these many years of contact, they are still simple. They are mindless, gentle, squatting bare backed in the shade, chewing, spitting, betel nut. Chewing as the ox chews, thinking as the ox thinks. Gentle brown men and women, touching the edge of the most refined civilization of the western world.
The tale jerks here—why shouldn't it? The Lieutenant told me this bit of it himself—he lives in the foreigners' town, and keeps order there. There was a revolt last year. But that is too dignified a word, it assumes too much, it assumes something that there never was. For revolt signifies organisation, and there wasn't any. It signifies a general understanding, and there wasn't any. It signifies great numbers involved, and there were no great numbers. How could there have been any of these things, said the Lieutenant, among a scattered people, scattered through the jungle, on the edges of the warm, mighty forests, at the headwaters of the great winding rivers which penetrate inland for a thousand miles. No, it was in no sense a revolt, which is too strong a word. They had no organisation, they could not communicate with each other, had they wished. Distances were great, and they could not read or write. They had never been molested—never schooled. It was better so. Education is no good to a squatter in the shade. No, it was rather an uprising of a handful of them in the town of the white man, the town of red earth streets, with pink and yellow bungalows, cool and sheltered under spreading palms. The town where many foreigners lived, who walked about listlessly in their white linen clothes, ghastly pale, with dark rings beneath their eyes, who stifled in the heat and thought of Home, ten thousand miles away. It all happened suddenly, no one knows how or why. But one morning, just after the sun rose in his red, burning splendour, there crept into the town a few hundred men. They came in by this red street, with the statue of the Bishop at the top—the bronze statue of the Bishop who had lived and worked and died here years ago. They came by the red street leading past the bazaar, the model market, fashioned, with improvements, like the one at home. They came by the red street leading past the Botanical Garden, the gardens where at the close of scorching days the women of the white man, ghastly white, used to drive before sunset, to breathe a little after the stifling day. They came along the quais, where the white man's ships found harbour. Altogether, creeping in on many roads, coming in their fours and fives, they made about three hundred. And they were in revolt, if you please, against the representatives of the most refined civilization of the western world! Just three hundred, no more. Not a ripple of it, apparently, spread backwards to the jungle, to the millions inland, in the forests.
What happened? Oh, it was all over in an hour! The Lieutenant heard them coming—his orderly ran in with the word—and he was out in an instant with eight men. Eight soldiers armed with rifles. It was quite amusing. And opposed to them, that mob, in their peaked hats, in their loin cloths or their sarongs, bare to waist as usual. Poor fools! Fancy—not a gun among them! They thought they were invisible! The geomancer had told them that, and they believed him. Carried at their head a flag, some outlandish, homemade thing, with unknown characters upon it. Well, it was all over in a moment—those eight men armed with guns saw to that. Short work—thirty wounded, fourteen killed. The rest scattered, but before the day was out they had them—had them in two hours, for a fact. All disarmed, and the Lieutenant had their weapons. Come to see them at his bungalow, if we'd time? Interesting lot of trophies, most unique collection. Quite unequalled. Homemade spears, forged and hammered, stuck on bamboo poles. Homemade swords, good blades, too, for all their crudeness. Must have taken months to make them, fashioned slyly, on the quiet. Killing weapons, meant to kill. Swords like the Crusaders, only cased in bamboo scabbards. Funny lot—come to see them if we'd time. Nothing like it, a unique collection. And the flag—red cotton flag, all blood stained, with some device in corner, just barbaric. Poor fools! Flag pathetic? Pathetic? Heavens, no!
Well, they stamped it out very thoroughly, at four o'clock that afternoon. It finished at the race course, for there is always a race course where the white man rules. Word went round, as it always goes round in times like this, and just before sunset the whole native population was out to see the white man's method. No one hindered them or feared them, for apparently they had no hand in this uprising, and moreover, were unarmed. They were full of curiosity to see what they should see. Silently they trooped out in hundreds through the shady, palm bordered, red streets of the town, padding barefoot past the sheltered bungalows, past the bronze statue of the Bishop, out to the edge of the town. All the Tropics was there, moving silently, flowing gently, in their hundreds, to the race course. Dark skins, yellow skins, eyes straight, eyes slanting, black hair cut short, or worn in pigtails, or in top knots, or in chignons; bare bodies, bare legs, or legs clothed in brilliant sarongs or in flapping pyjamas—all the costumes of all the countries bordering the Seven Seas streamed outward from the town, very silent. And as the sun blazed low to his setting; all the Tropics waited to see what the white man would do.
They did it very cleverly, the white men. For they called upon the native troops to do it for them, to see if they were loyal. There were thirty-four prisoners all told, and they walked along with hands bound behind them, looking very stupid. Even as they walked along, at that moment the wife of the Lieutenant was showing their crude spears to friends—she gave tea to her friends in the pink bungalow, and exhibited the captured weapons, but the Lieutenant was not there—he was at the race course, supervising.
They led them forward in groups of six, and they were faced by six native soldiers armed with rifles. And just behind the six native soldiers stood six soldiers of the white troops, also with rifles. And when the word was given to fire, if the native troops had not fired upon their brothers, the white troops would have fired upon both. It was cleverly managed, and very well arranged. But there was no hitch. Six times the native troops fired upon batches of naked, kneeling men, and six times the white soldiers stood behind them with raised rifles, in case of hesitation. Only the crack of the rifles broke the stillness. The dense crowd of natives gathered close, standing by in silence. Giving no sign, they watched the retribution of the white man. The sun beat down upon them, in their wide hats, their semi-nakedness, attired in their sombre or brilliant cotton skirts. When it was over, they dispersed as quietly as they had gathered. The silent crowds walked back from the race course, the pleasure ground of the dominant race, and drifted along the red streets of the town, back again to the holes and burrows from which they had come.
A year later, nearly. The Lieutenant who had quelled the uprising, with a handful of men armed with rifles of the latest device, as against three hundred natives armed with spears, had been decorated and was very proud. He also continued to exhibit his unique collection of arms to all comers, when the mail boats came in. Nor did he see their pathos. And in the jungles of the interior, where most of them lived, the natives never knew of the existence of the little red flag, and would not have understood if they had been told. Why? The white men were kind and considerate. Easy and indulgent masters who in no wise interfered with life as lived in the jungle. But with the native troops who had fired upon their brothers it was different.
Thus it happened that the small coastwise steamer, going her usual cruise among the islands and along the coast of one of the Seven Seas, carried unusual freight. Being a very little boat, with a light cargo, she was sometimes severely buffeted by the northeast monsoon, which was blowing at that time of the year. On these days, when the monsoon was strongest, the few passengers she carried were not comfortable. On other days, when she found calm weather among the islands, it was very pleasant. She dropped anchor from time to time in little bays bordered with cocoanut tree, and from the bays emerged sampans with vivid painted eyes on their prows, seeking out the steamer and the bales of rice she carried, or the mails. The mails, consisting of half a dozen letters for each port, were tied up in big canvas sacks, sealed with big government seals, and the white men who lived on these remote, desert islands, would come themselves to fetch them. They paddled themselves to the steamer in pirogues or in sampans, white faced, anaemic, apathetic, devoid of vitality. The great, overwhelming heat of the Tropics, the isolation of life, in unknown islands in the southern seas, makes one like that. Yet they were "making money" on their island plantations of rubber or cocoanut, or expecting to make it. It takes seven years of isolation in the tropic seas, after one has started a plantation—and even then, many things may happen——
So the little steamer stopped here and there, at little, unknown bays, at places not mentioned in the guide books, and from the beautiful, desolate islands came out sampans and junks, with the lonely figure of a white man sitting despondent among the naked rowers, eager to get his letters from home. It was his only eagerness, but very dull and listless at that. At night, the islands loomed large and mysterious in the darkness, while now and then a single ray of light from some light house, gleaming from some lost, mysterious island of the southern seas, beamed with a curious constancy. There were dangerous rocks, sunken reefs. And always the soft wind blew, the soft, enervating wind of the Tropics.
On the fore part of the little steamer, that wound its way with infinite care, slowly, among the sunken rocks, the shoals and sandbars, sat a company of fifty men. Natives, such as you might see back there in the jungle, or harnessed to the needs of civilization, bearing the white man in rickshaws along the red streets of the little town. These, however, were native troops—the rickshaw runner used in another way. They were handcuffed together, sitting in pairs on the main deck. In the soft, moist wind, they eat rice together, with their free hands, out of the same bowl. Very dirty little prisoners, clad in khaki, disarmed, chained together in pairs. A canvas was stretched over that part of the deck, which sheltered them from the glaring sun, and prevented the odour of them from rising to the bridge, a little way above, where stood the Captain in yellow crepe pyjamas. For they were dirty, handcuffed together like that, unexercised, unwashed. They would be put ashore in three days, however, to work on the roads, government roads. Notoriously good roads, the colony has too. Their offense? Grave enough. With the European world at war, this colony, like those of all the other nations, had called upon its native troops. The native troops had been loyal, had responded, had volunteered to go when told they must. Proof of that? Forty thousand of them at the moment helping in this devastating war. It was a good record—it spoke well——
Only this handful had refused. Refused absolutely, flagrantly defiant. Just this little group, out of all the thousands. So they were being sent off somewhere, handcuffed, to make roads. Prisoners for three years to make roads, useless roads that led nowhere. Good roads, excellent, for traffic that never was. Some said they were the soldiers who had been forced to kill their brothers a while back—after that paltry revolution. One didn't know. They are stupid, these natives. Chewing betel nut all day, their mouths a red, bloody gash across their faces.
The ship stopped finally in some bay. Then a big, unwieldy junk put out from shore, and tacked back and forth, for two hours, against a strong head wind, coming to rest finally against the steamer's side. Two big iron rods were put out, with a padlock at each end, and places for twenty-five feet to be locked in. Then came European guards, with rifles, and revolvers in big leather cases hanging at their sides. The prisoners were very docile, but it was well to take precautions. When all was ready, the prisoners filed out slowly and with difficulty, because of their chains, and descended the gangway ladder to the uncouth junk, with its painted, staring eyes. After that, the junk slowly detached itself from the ship, unrolled its ragged matting sails, and made towards the mainland with the docile cargo.
The third passenger leaned over the rail. A sweet breeze blew in from the island, a scented breeze, laden with the heavy scents of the Tropics. For three years, he said, they would labour at the futile roads, the roads that led nowhere. Really, commented the third passenger, it was impossible to understand the Oriental mind. They had chosen this—this isolation, this cutting off from home and friends, rather then go to Europe to serve the race that had treated them so well. Afraid? Oh, no—too ignorant to be afraid. Brave enough when it came to that—just obstinate. Just refused to serve, to do as they were told. Refused to serve, to fight for the race that had treated them so well, by and large, take it all in all. That had built them towns and harbours, brought in ships and trade—had done everything, according to best western standards. It was incomprehensible—truly it was difficult to fathom the Oriental mind! The revolt a year ago? Oh, nothing!
The big junk with the staring eyes carried them off, the supine, listless prisoners, handcuffed together, foot-locked to an iron bar. They must build roads for three years. Somewhere at the back of those slow minds was a memory of the race course, of the brothers they had slain. Perhaps. Who knows. But the Occidental mind does not understand the Oriental mind, and it was good to be rid of them, dirty little creatures, who smelled so bad under the awning of the main deck.
The anchor chain wound in, grating link on link. The soft, sweet wind blew outward from the cocoanut trees, from the scented earth of the island. The third passenger watched the junk disappear in the shadows of the warm night, then he went below to get another drink.
Mercier was writing his report for the day. He sat at a rattan table, covered with a disorderly array of papers, ledgers and note books of various sorts, and from time to time made calculations on the back of an old envelope. He finally finished his work, and pushing back his chair, lighted a cigarette. Unconsciously, he measured time by cigarettes. One cigarette, and he would begin work. One cigarette and he would start on the first paragraph. One cigarette, to rest after the first paragraph before beginning the second, and so on. It was early in the morning, but not early for a morning in the Tropics. Already the sun was creeping over the edge of the deep, palm-shaded verandah, making its way slowly across the wooden floor, till it would reach him, at his table, in a very short time. And as it slowly crept along, a brilliant line of light, so the heat increased, the moist, stagnant heat, from which there was no escape. Outside some one was pulling the punkah rope, and the great leaves of linen, attached to heavy teak poles, swayed back and forth over his head, stirring slightly the dense, humid atmosphere.
Mercier was a young man, not over thirty. He had come out to the East three years ago, to a minor official post in the Penal Settlement, glad of a soft position, of easy work, of an opportunity to see life in the Tropics. At a port on the mainland, he transshipped from the liner to a little steamer, which two days later dropped anchor in the blue bay of his future home. At that time, he was conscious of being intensely pleased at the picture spread before him. Long ago, in boyhood, he had cherished romantic dreams of the Tropics, of islands in southern seas, of unknown, mysterious life set in gorgeous, remote setting. It had all appealed to his fancy, and then suddenly, after many long years, sordid, difficult years, the opportunity had come for the realisation of his dreams. He had obtained a post as minor official in one of the colonies of his country—overseas in the Far East—and he gladly gave up his dull, routine life at home, and came out to the adventures that awaited him. The island, as he saw it for the first time, was beautiful. Steep hills, rocky and mountainous, rose precipitately out of the blue waters, and the rising sun glinted upon the topmost peaks of the hills and threw their deep shadows down upon the bay, and upon the group of yellow stucco bungalows that clustered together upon the edge of the water, upon the narrow strip of land lying between the sea and the sheer sides of the backing mountains. The bay was a crescent, almost closed, and a coral reef ran in an encircling sweep from the headland beyond, and the translucent, sparkling waters of the harbour seemed beautiful beyond belief. His heart beat wildly when for the first time he beheld his new home—it exceeded in beauty anything that he had ever dreamed of. What mattered it whether or no it was a Penal Settlement for one of the great, outlying colonies of his mother country, two days' sail from the nearest port on the mainland, the port itself ten thousand miles from home. It was beautiful to look upon—glorious to look upon, and it was glorious to think that the next few years of his life would be spent amidst such surroundings. The captain of the coasting steamer told him it would be lonely—he laughed at the idea. How could one be lonely amidst such beauty as that! His thirsty soul craved beauty, and here it was before him, marvellous, complete, the island a gem sparkling in the sunlight, veiled in the shadow of an early morning. Lying somewhere, all this beauty, one degree north or south of the Equator!
No, assuredly, he would not be lonely! Were there not many families on the island, the officials and their families, a good ten or fifteen of them? Besides, there was his work. He knew nothing of his work, of his duties. But in connection with the prisoners, of course—and there were fifteen hundred prisoners, they told him, concentrated on those few square miles of island, off somewhere in the Southern Seas, a few miles north or south of the Equator. He was anxious to see the prisoners, the unruly ones of the colony. Strange types they would appear to his conventional, sophisticated eyes. He saw them in imagination—yellow skins, brown skins, black skins, picturesque, daring, desperate perhaps. The anchor splashed overboard into the shallow water, and the small steamer drifted on the end of the chain, waiting for a boat to come out from shore. With the cessation of the steamer's movement, he felt the heat radiate round him, in an overpowering wave, making him feel rather sick and giddy. Yet it was only six o'clock in the morning. Before the boat arrived from shore, the sun had passed over the highest peak of the mountains and was glaring down with full power upon the cluster of hidden bungalows, the edges and ends of which bungalows protruded a little from the shelter of vines and palm trees. White clad men came down to the beach, and a woman or two appeared on the verandahs, and then disappeared back into the verandahs, while the men came down to the water's edge alone. The rowboat was pulled ashore by strong rowers, dark skinned, brawny men, and as the boat neared the beach, other dark skinned brawny men took a carrying chair and splashed out to meet the boat, inviting him by gestures to step into the chair and be carried ashore. He forgot the heat in the novelty of this new sensation—being carried ashore in a chair, with the clear, transparent water beneath him, and wavy sands, shell studded, over which the bearers walked slowly, with precision. And then came his first hours on shore. How calmly they had welcomed him, those white faced, pale men, with the deep circles beneath their eyes. They looked at him with envy, it seems, as a being newly come from contact with civilization, and they looked upon him with pity, as a being who had deliberately chosen to shut himself off from civilization, for a period of many years. He was taking the place of one who was going home—and the man was in a desperate hurry to get away. He looked ill, withal he was so fat, for he was very fat and flabby, extraordinarily white, with circles beneath his puffy eyes blacker and more marked than those on the other faces. The departing official shook hands hurriedly with Mercier, and kissed his old companions good-bye hurriedly upon both cheeks, and then hastened into the chair, to get to the rowboat, to get to the steamer as soon as possible. The other officials on the beach commented volubly on his good fortune—ah, but he had the chance! What chance! What luck! What fortune! They themselves had no luck, they must remain here how long, ah, who knew how long! They all stood there upon the beach watching the departing one until he reached the steamer, drifting idly at the length of her anchor chain.
Then they remembered Mercier again, and surrounded him, not eagerly, listlessly, and asked him to the office of the Administrator, to have a cup of champagne. A cup of champagne, at a little after six in the morning. As they walked slowly up the beach, Mercier spoke of the beauty of the place, the extraordinary beauty of the island. They seemed not to heed him. They smiled, and reminded him that he was a newcomer, and that such was the feeling of all newcomers and that it would soon pass. And in a body, ten of them, they conducted Mercier to the bureau of the Administrator, a tired, middle aged men, who shook hands without cordiality, and ordered a boy to bring a tray with a bottle and glasses and mouldy biscuits, and they all sat together and drank without merriment. It was dark in the Administrator's office, for the surrounding verandah was very wide and deep, and tall bamboos grew close against the edges of the railing, and a little way behind the bamboos grew banana trees and travellers' palms, all reaching high into the air and making a thick defence against the sunlight. The stone floor had been freshly sprinkled with water, and the ceiling was high, made of dark teak wood, and it was very dark inside, and damp and rather cool. There was a punkah hanging from the ceiling, but it stood at rest. Its movement had come to make the Administrator nervous. He was very nervous and restless, turning his head from side to side in quick, sharp jerks, first over one shoulder and then the other, and now and then suddenly bending down to glance under the table. Later on, some one explained to Mercier that the Administrator had a profound fear of insects, the fierce, crawling, stinging things that lived outside under the bamboos, and that crept in sometimes across the stone paved floor, and bit. Only last week, one of the paroled convicts, working in the settlement, had been bitten by some venomous evil thing, and had died a few hours later. Such accidents were common—one must always be on guard. Most people became used to being on guard, but with the Administrator, the thing had become a nightmare. He had been out too long—his nerves were tortured. It was the heat, of course—the stifling, enervating heat. Few could stand it for very long, and the authorities back home must have forgotten to relieve the old man—he was such a good executive, perhaps they had forgotten on purpose. The sub-officials were changed from time to time, but the old man seemed to have been forgotten. He could not stand it much longer—that was obvious.
Mercier went thoughtfully to the bungalow assigned to him, installed his few meagre possessions, and entered without zest upon his work. Somehow, the keenness had been taken out of him by that hour's conversation in the darkened bureau of the Chief. The weeks passed slowly, but Mercier never regained his enthusiasm. The physical atmosphere took all initiative away. His comrades were listless beings, always tired, dragging slowly to their daily rounds, and finishing their work early in the morning before the heat became intolerable. Then for hours they rested—retired to their bungalows or that of a comrade, and rested, to escape the intense heat which never varied, winter or summer, although it was a farce to speak of the seasons as winter or summer, except in memory of home. Mercier soon fell in with their ways. He drank a great deal, beginning very early in the morning, and measured time by cigarettes, postponing his duties, such that claimed him, till he had just finished another cigarette. They were cheap and bad, but there was a solace in them, and they whiled away the time. The only joviality about the place came in the evenings, after many cigarettes, which made him nervous, and after very many little glasses of brandy, which unfitted him for work but which were necessary to stimulate him for what work he had to do.
Near the group of bungalows belonging to the officials and to the prison guards, stood the prison building itself, a large, rambling, one storeyed structure, with many windows fitted with iron bars. Here the newcomers were kept, about eight hundred of them, and nearby, in an adjacent compound, were quarters for about seven hundred prisoners out on parole, by reason of good conduct. The confined prisoners did not work, being merely confined, but those out on parole, on good conduct, and whose terms would soon come to an end, were trusted to work about the island in various capacities. They made the roads—such few as there were. The island was so small that many roads were not required, and since there was no traffic, but little labour was required to keep the roads in repair. They also worked in the rice fields, but, again, there were not many rice fields. It was easier to bring rice from the mainland. There was a herd of water buffaloes, used for ploughing during the season, and the buffaloes needed some attention, but not much. So the paroled convicts were employed in other ways about the island, in cooking for the prisoners, in cleaning the various buildings, and as servants in the households of the officials. Only the most trusted, however, were given such posts as that. Yet it was necessary to trust many of them, and each official had a large retinue of servants, for there was little settlement work to be done, and something must be done with the men on parole, since the prison itself was too small to hold fifteen hundred men under lock and key at the same time. Moreover, these trusted ones were rather necessary. In the Tropics, work is always done in a small, half-hearted way, by reason of the heat which so soon exhausts the vitality, consequently many people are required to perform the smallest task.
Mercier, therefore, was obliged to accept the life as he found it, and he found it different from the romantic conception which he had formed at home. And he became very listless and demoralised, and the lack of interests of all sorts bored him intolerably. He was not one to find solace in an intellectual life. The bi-monthly call of the supply ship with its stocks of provisions, the unloading of which he must oversee, was the sole outside interest he had to look forward to. Old newspapers and magazines came with the supply ship, and these were eagerly read, and soon abandoned, and nothing was left but cigarettes and brandy to sustain him between whiles.
On a certain morning, when he had been at the settlement for over a year, he finished his daily report and strolled over to lay it upon the desk in the office of the Administrator. The supply ship was due in that day, and he wandered down to the beach to look for her. There she was, just dropping anchor. His heart beat a little faster, and he hastened his steps. It was cattle day. Bullocks from the mainland, several hundred miles away, which came once a month for food. He took his boat and rowed, out to the ship, and then directed the work of removing the bullocks.
It was nasty work. The coolies did it badly. The hatch was opened, and by means of a block and pulley, each bullock was dragged upward by a rope attached to its horns. Kicking and struggling, they were swung upwards over the side of the ship and lowered into the lighter below. Sometimes they were swung out too far and landed straddle on the side of the lighter, straddling the rail, kicking and roaring. And sometimes, when the loosely moored lighter drifted away a little from the ship's side, an animal would be lowered between the ship's side and the lighter, and squeezed between the two—so crushed that when it was finally hauled up and lowered safely into the boat, it collapsed in a heap, with blood flowing from its mouth. The coolies did it all very badly—they had no system, and as Mercier could not speak to them in their language, he could not direct them properly. Besides, he was no organiser himself, and probably could not have directed them properly had he been able to speak to them. All he could do, therefore, was to look on, and let them do it in their own way. Sometimes as an animal was being raised, its horns would break, and it would be lowered with a bleeding head, while the coolies stood by and grinned, and considered it a joke. Mercier was still sensitive on some points, and while long ago he had ceased to find any beauty in the island, he was nevertheless disgusted with needless suffering, with stupid, ugly acts.
There were only twenty cattle to be unloaded on this day, but it took two hours to transfer them to the lighter, and at the end of that time the tide had fallen so that they must wait for another six or eight hours, in the broiling sun, until the water was high enough for the lighter to approach the landing stage, where another block and pulley was rigged. Which meant that later in the day—possibly in the hottest part—Mercier would be obliged to come down again to oversee the work, and to see that it was finished. For the cattle must be ashore by evening—meat was needed for the settlement, and some must be killed for food that night. Mercier was thoroughly disgusted with his work, with his whole wasted life. Ah, it was a dog's life! Yet how eagerly he had tried to obtain this post—how eagerly he had begged for the chance, pleaded for it, besought the few influential people he knew to obtain it for him.
On the way back to his bungalow, he passed along the palm grown road, on each side of which were the red and white bungalows, residences of the dozen officials of the island. They were screened by hedges of high growing bushes, bearing brilliant, exotic flowers which gave out a heavy, sweet perfume, and the perfume hung in clouds, invisible yet tangible, pervading the soft, warm air. How he had dreamed of such perfumes—long ago. Yet how sickening in reality. And how dull they were, the interiors of these sheltered bungalows, how dull and stupid the monotonous life that went on inside them—dejected, weary, useless little rounds of household activity, that went along languorously each day, and led nowhere. It all led nowhere. Within each house was the wearied, stupid wife of some petty official, and sometimes there were stupid, pallid children as well, tended by convicts on parole. Nowhere could he turn to find intellectual refreshment. The community offered nothing—there was no society—just the dull daily greetings, the dull, commonplace comments on island doings or not doings, for all lay under the spell of isolation, under the pall of the great, oppressive, overwhelming heat. How deadly it all was, the monotonous life, the isolation, the lack of interests and occupation. As he passed along, a frowzy woman in a Mother Hubbard greeted him from a verandah and asked him to enter. Years ago she had come out fresh and blooming, and now she was prematurely aged, fat and stupid—more stupid, perhaps, than the rest. Yet somehow, because there was nothing else to do, Mercier pushed open the flimsy bamboo gate, walked up the gravelled path, and flung himself dejectedly upon a chaise longue which was at hand. And the woman talked to him, asked him how many cattle had come over that morning, whether they were yet unloaded, when they would be finally landed and led to the slaughter pens a little way inland. It was all so gross, so banal, yet it was all there was of incident in the day, and most clays were still more barren, with not even these paltry events to discuss. And he felt that he was sinking to the level of these people, he who had dreamed of high romance, of the mystery of the Far Eastern Tropics! And this was what it meant—what it had come to! A fat woman in a Mother Hubbard asking him how many bullocks had come in that day, and when they would be ready to kill and eat!
She clapped together her small, fat hands, and a servant entered, and she ordered grenadine and soda and liqueurs, and pushed towards him a box of cheap cigarettes. Where was her charm? Why had he married her, her husband—who was at the moment in the Administrator's bureau, compiling useless statistics concerning the petty revenues of the prison colony? But he was just like her, in his way. All the men were run to seed, and all their women too. And these were the only women on the island, these worn, pale, bloated wives who led an idle life in the blazing heat. Seven such women, all told. He relapsed into silence, and she likewise fell silent, there being nothing more to get nor give. They were all gone, intellectually. They had no ideas, nothing to exchange. So he smoked on, lazily, in silence, feeling the slight stir in his blood caused by the Quinquina. He filled his glass again, and looked forward to the next wave of relaxation. Overhead, the punkah swung slowly, stirring the scented air. These were the scents he had dreamed of, the rich, heavy perfumes of the Tropics. Only it was all so dull!
The door opened and a little girl entered the verandah, a child of perhaps fourteen. A doomed child. He looked at her languidly, and continued to look at her, thinking vague thoughts. She was beautiful. Her cotton frock, belted in by some strange arrangement of seashells woven into a girdle, pressed tightly over her young form, revealing clearly the outline of a childish figure soon ready to bloom into full maturity under these hot rays of vertical sunshine. She would develop soon, even as the native women developed into maturity very early. His tired glance rested upon her face. That, too, bore promise of great beauty. The features were fine and regular, singularly well formed, and the eyes those of a gentle cow, unspeculative, unintelligent. She was very white, with the deathlike whiteness of the Tropics, and under the childish eyes were deep, black rings, coming early. He noticed her hands—slender, long, with beautiful fingernails—such hands in Paris! And again his roving glance fell lower, and rested upon her bare legs, well formed, well developed, the legs of a young woman. He stirred lightly in his chair. The feet matched the hands—slender, long feet, with long, slender toes. She was wearing native sandals, clumsy wooden sandals, with knobs between the first two toes. Only the knobs were of silver, instead of the usual buttons of bone, or wood. Some one had brought them to her from the mainland, evidently. Well, here she was, a doomed creature, uneducated, growing older, growing into womanhood, with no outlook ahead. Her only companions her dull, stupid mother, and the worn-out wives of the officials—all years older than herself. Or perhaps she depended for companionship upon the children—there were a dozen such, about the place, between the ages of two and six. And she stood between these two groups, just blooming into womanhood, with her beautiful young body, and her atrophied young brain. Her eyes fell shyly under his penetrating, speculative glances, and a wave of colour rose into her white cheeks. She felt, then, hey? Felt what?
Mercier leaned forward, with something curious pulsing in his breast. The sort of feeling that he had long since forgotten, for there was nothing for such feelings to feed upon, here in his prison. Yet the sensation, vague as it was, seemed to have been recognised, shared for an instant by the young creature beside him. It was rather uncanny. He had heard that idiots or half-witted people were like that. She rose uneasily, placing upon her long, sprawling curls an old sun hat, very dirty, the brim misshapen by frequent wettings of pipe-clay. A servant appeared from behind the far corner of the verandah, an old man, dark skinned, emaciated, clad in a faded red sarong. He was her personal servant, told off to attend her. Something must be done for the men on parole, some occupation given them to test their fitness before returning them again to society. As she passed from the verandah, followed by the old black man in his red sarong, Mercier felt a strange thrill. Where were they going, those two?
He turned to the inattentive, vacuous mother. "Your daughter," he began, "is fast growing up. Soon she will be marrying."
The woman shrugged her shoulders.
"With whom?" she answered. "Who will take her? What dowry can we give her? We cannot even send her to Singapore to be educated. Who will take her—ignorant, uneducated—without a dot? Besides," she continued eagerly, warmed into a burst of confidence, "you have heard—you have seen—the trouble lies here," and she tapped her forehead significantly.
And with a sigh she concluded, "We are all prisoners here, every one of us—like the rest."
Mercier rose from the chaise longue, still thinking deeply, still stirred by the vague emotion that had called forth an answer from the immature, half-witted child. He had a report to make to the Bureau, and he must be getting on. Later, when the tide turned, and the lighter could come against the jetty, he must attend to the cattle.
He did not linger in the office of the Administrator, but sent in his report by a waiting boy, and then strolled inland by the road that led past the prison, into the interior of the island. On his way he passed the graveyard. It was a melancholy graveyard, containing a few slanting shafts erected to the memory of guards and of one or two officers who had been killed from time to time by prisoners who had run amok. Such uprisings occurred now and then, but seldom. He entered the cemetery, and looked about languidly, reading the names on the stones. Killed, killed, killed. Then he came upon a few who had died naturally. Or was it natural to have died, at the age of thirty, out here on the edge of the world? Yet it was most natural, after all. He himself was nearly ready for the grave, ready because of pure boredom, through pure inertia, quite ready to succumb to the devitalising effect of this life. This hideous life on a desert island. This hideous mockery of life, lived while he was still so young and so vital, and which was reducing him, not slowly but with great pacing strides, to an inertia to which he must soon succumb. Why didn't the prisoners revolt now, he wondered? He would gladly accept such a way out—gladly offer himself to their knives, or their clubs, or whatever it was they had. Anything that would put an end to him, and land him under a stone in this forsaken spot. Surely he was no more alive than the dead under those stones. No more dead than the dead.
He passed out of the gate, swinging on a loose hinge, and in deep meditation walked along the palm bordered road back of the settlement. Soon the last bungalow was left behind, even though he walked slowly. Then succeeded the paddy fields, poorly tilled and badly irrigated. There were enough men on the island to have done it properly—only what was the use? Who cared—whether they raised their own rice or brought it from the mainland twice a month? It was not a matter to bother about. Water buffaloes, grazing by the roadside, raised their heavy heads and stared at him with unspeakable insolence. They were for ploughing the rice fields, but who had the heart to oversee the work? Better leave the men squatting in content by the roadside, under the straggly banana trees, than urge them to work. It meant more effort on the part of the officials and effort was so useless. All so futile and so hopeless. He nodded in recognition of the salutes given him by groups of paroled prisoners, chewing betel nut under the trees. Let them be.
A bend in the road brought him to a halt. Just beyond, lying at full length upon the parched grass, was the little girl he had seen that morning. She lay on her back, with bare legs extended, asleep. Nearby, squatting on his heels and lost in a meditative pipe, sat the Kling, her body servant. The man rose to his feet respectfully as Mercier passed, watching his mistress and watching Mercier with a sombre eye. Mercier passed on slowly, with a long glance at the child. She was not a child, really. Her cotton dress clung round her closely, and he gazed fascinated, at the young figure, realising that it was mature. Mature enough. A thought suddenly rose to his mind, submerging everything else. He walked on hurriedly, and at a turn of the road, looked back. The Kling was sitting down again impassively, refilling his pipe.
From that time on, Mercier's days were days of torment, and the nights as well. He struggled violently against this new feeling, this hideous obsession, and plunged into his work violently, to escape it. But his work, meagre and insufficient at best, was merely finished the sooner because of his energy, which left him with more time on his hands. That was all. Time in which to think and to struggle. No, certainly, he did not wish to marry. That thought was put aside immediately. Marry a stupid little child like that, with a brain as fat as her body! But not as beautiful as her body. Besides, she was too young to marry, even in the Tropics, where all things mate young. But there she was, forever coming across his path at every turn. In his long walks back into the interior, behind the settlement, he came upon her daily, with her attendant Kling. The Kling always squatting on his heels, smoking, or else rolling himself a bit of areca nut into a sirrah-leaf, and dabbing on a bit of pink lime from his worn, silver box. Mercier tried to talk to the child, to disillusion himself by conversations which showed the paucity of ideas, her retarded mentality. But he always ended by looking at the beautiful, slim hands, at the beautiful, slim feet, at the cotton gown slightly pressed outward by the maturing form within.
He was angry with himself, furious at the obsession that possessed him. Once he entered the gravelled path of the child's home, and seriously discussed with her mother the danger of letting her roam at large over the island, accompanied only by the old Kling. He explained vigorously that it was not safe. There were hundreds of paroled prisoners at large, engaged in the ricefields, on the plantations, mending the roads—there was not a native woman on the place. He explained and expostulated volubly, surprised at his own eloquence. The mother took it calmly. The Kling, she replied, was trustworthy. He was an old man, very trustworthy and very strong. No harm could come to her daughter under his protection. And the long rambles abroad were good for the child. Was she not accustomed to convicts, as servants? She had a houseful of them, and many years' experience. What did he know of them, a comparative newcomer? For example, she had three pirates, Malays from the coast of Siam. They were quiet enough now. And one Cambodian, a murderer, true enough, but gentle enough now. Three house-boys and a cook. As for the old Kling, he was a marvel—he had been a thief in his day, but now—well now, he was body-servant for her daughter and a more faithful soul it would be hard to find. For seven years she had lived upon the island, surrounded by these men. She knew them well enough. True, there was the graveyard back of the prison compound, eloquent, mute testimony of certain lapses from trustworthiness, but she was not afraid. She had no imagination, and Mercier, failing to make her sense danger, gave it up. It had been a great effort. He had been pleading for protection against himself.
Mercier awoke one morning very early. It was early, but still dark, for never, in these baleful Tropics, did the dawn precede the sunrise, and there was no slow, gradual greying and rosying creeping of daylight, preceding the dawn. It was early and dark, with a damp coolness in the air, and he reached down from his cot for his slippers, and first clapped them together before placing them upon his slim feet. Then he arose, stepped out upon his verandah, and thought awhile. Darkness everywhere, and the noise of the surf beating within the enclosed crescent of the harbour. Over all, a great heat, tinged with a damp coolness, a coolness which was sinister. And standing upon his verandah, came rushing over him the agony of his wasted life. His prisoner life upon this lonely island in the Southern Seas. Exchanged, this wasted life, for his romantic dreams, and a salary of a few hundred francs a year. That day he would write and ask for his release—send in his resignation—although it would be weeks or months before he could be relieved. As he stood there in agony, the dawn broke before him suddenly, as Tropic dawns do break, all of a sudden, with a rush. Before him rose the high peaks of the binding mountains, high, impassable, black peaks, towering like a wall of rock. It was the wall of the world, and he could not scale it. Before him stretched the curve of the southern sea, in a crescent, but for all its fluidity, as impassable as the backing wall of rock. Between the two he was hemmed in, on a narrow strip of land, enclosed between the mountain wall and the curving reach of sea. He and all his futile interests lay within that narrow strip of land, between the mountain wall and the sea—and the strip was very narrow and small.
He went forth from his bungalow, pulling upon his feet clumsy native sandals of wood, with a button between the toes. For underfoot lay the things he dreaded, the heat things, the things bred by this warm climate enclosed between the high wall of the mountains and the infitting curve of the sea. He tramped awkwardly along in his loose fitting sandals, fast at the toe, clapping up and down at the heel. The one street of the town through which he passed was bordered by the houses of the officials, all sleeping. They were accustomed to sleeping. Only he, Mercier, could not sleep. He was not yet accustomed to being a prisoner. Perhaps—in time——
He clapped along gently, though to him it seemed very noisily, past the bungalows of the officials, past the big prison, also sleeping. Past the Administration buildings, past the weed-grown, unused tennis courts, out upon the red road leading to the mountains. Turn upon turn of the red road he passed, and then stopped, halted by a sight. A sight which for weeks past he had worn in his heart, but which he had never hoped to see fulfilled. She was there, that child! That child so young, so voluptuous in her development, so immature in her mentality, and beside her, a little way away, sat the Kling prisoner who guarded her. The Kling squatted upon his heels, chewing areca nut, and spitting long distances before him. The child also squatted upon the grass by the roadside, very listless. The Kling did not move as Mercier approached, clapping in his sandals. But the child moved and cast upon him a luminous, frightened gaze, and then regarded him fixedly. Therefore Mercier sat down by the child, and noted her. Noted her with a hungry feeling, taking in every beautiful detail. Her exquisite little hands, and her exquisite little feet, shod in wooden sandals, with a button between the toes, such sandals as he was wearing. He talked to her a little, and she answered in half-shy, frightened tones, but underneath he detected a note of passion—such as he felt for her. She was fourteen years old, you see, and fully developed, partly because she was half-witted, and partly because of these hot temperatures under the Equator.
Thus it befell that every morning Mercier arose early, clad his feet in noisy, clapping sandals, and went out for a walk along the red road underlying the mountain. And every morning, almost by accident, he met the half-witted child with her faithful Kling attendant. And the Kling, squatting down upon his heels, chewed areca nut, and spat widely and indifferently, while Mercier sat down beside the little girl and wondered how long he could stand it—before his control gave way. For she was a little animal, you see, and yearned for him in a sort of fourteen-year-old style, fostered by the intense heat of the Tropics. But Mercier, not yet very long from home, held back—because of certain inhibitions. Sometimes he thought he would ask for her in marriage—which was ridiculous, and showed that life in the Far East, especially in a prison colony, affects the brain. At other times, he thought how very awkward it would be, in such a little, circumscribed community as that, if he did not ask her in marriage. Suppose she babbled—as she might well do. There is no accounting for the feeble-minded. But as the days grew on, madder and wilder he became, earlier and earlier he arose to meet her, to go forth to find her on the red road beneath the mountains. There she was always waiting for him, while the Kling, her attendant, squatted chewing betel nut a little farther on.
* * * * *
In time, he had enough. He had had quite enough. She was a stupid fool, half-witted. He grew quite satiated. Also she grew alarmed. Very much alarmed. But always, in the distance, with his back discreetly turned, sat her Kling guardian, the paroled prisoner, chewing betel nut. So his way out was easy. One day, about eleven o'clock in the morning, clad in very immaculate white clothes, he came to call upon the child's parents, with a painful duty to perform. He must report what he had seen. When out taking his constitutional, he had seen certain things in an isolated spot of the red road, leading up to the mountains. These paroled prisoners could not be trusted—he had intimated as much weeks ago. Therefore he made his report, his painful report, as compelled by duty. In his pocket was his release—the acceptance of his resignation. His recall from his post. When the boat came in next time—that day, in fact—he would go. But he could not go, with a clear conscience, till he had reported on what he had seen. The Kling—the old, stupid, trusted Kling—stupid to trust a child like that with a servant like that——
So the Kling was hanged next morning, and Mercier sailed away that afternoon, when the little steamer came in. The little colony on the island of prisoners went on with its life as usual. Ah, bah! There was no harm done! She was so very immature! Mercier need not have exacted the life of the Kling servant, after all. He was supersensitive and over-scrupulous. Life in a prison colony in the Far East certainly affects one's judgment.
The Colonial Bishop lay spread out on his long, rattan chair, idly contemplating the view of the harbour, as seen from his deep, cool verandah. As he lay there, pleasant thoughts crossed his mind, swam across his consciousness in a continuous stream, although, properly speaking, he was not thinking at all. The thoughts condensed in patches, were mere agglomerations of feelings and impressions, and they strung themselves across his mind as beads are strung along a string. His mental fingers, however, slipped the beads along, and he derived an impression of each bead as it passed before his half closed eyes. The first that appeared was a sense of physical well-being. He liked the climate. This climate of the Far Eastern Tropics, which so few people could stand, much less enjoy. But he liked it; he liked its enclosing sense of warmth and dampness and heavy scented atmosphere. Never before had he brought such an appetite to his meals, or so enjoyed his exercise, or revelled in perspiration after a hard bicycle ride, and so enjoyed the cool wash and splash in the Java jar afterwards. The climate suited him admirably. It made one very fit, physically, and was altogether delightful. From this you will see that the Bishop was a young man, not over forty-five.
Then the servants. Good boys he had, well trained, obedient, anticipative, amusing, picturesque in their Oriental dress. Rather trying because of their laziness, but not too exasperating to be a real irritant. So many people found native servants a downright source of annoyance—even worse than the climate—but for himself, he had never found them so. They gave him no trouble at all, and he had been out ten years, so ought to know.
The native life was charming too, so rich in colour, in all its gay costumes. Surely the first Futurists must have been the Orientals. No modern of the most ultra-modern school had ever revelled in such gorgeous colour combinations, in such daring contrasts and lurid extremes, as did these dark hued people, in their primitive simplicity. He liked them all, decent and docile. He liked their earrings—only that day he had counted a row of nine in the ear of some wandering juggler. Nose rings too—how pretty they were, nose rings. Rubies too, and most of them real, doubtless. How well they looked in the nostril of a thin, aquiline brown nose. It all went with the country. Barbaric, perhaps, contrasted with other standards, but beautiful—in its way. He would not change it for the world.
And the perfumes! A faint scent of gardenias was at that moment being wafted in from his well-kept, rich gardens, where somehow his boys managed to make flowers grow in the brown, devitalised earth. For the soil was devitalised, surely. It got no rest, year in, year out. For centuries it had nourished, in one long, eternal season, the great rich mass of tropical vegetation. European flowers would not grow in the red earth, or the black earth, whichever it was—he had been accustomed to think of red or black earth as being rich, but out here in the Tropics, it was unable to produce, for more than a brief season, the flowers and shrubs that were native to his home land. But gardenias and frangipanni——
The next bead that slipped along was the memory of an Arab street at dusk—the merchants sitting at their shop fronts, the gloom of the little, narrow shops, the glow of rich stuffs and rich colours that lay in neat piles on the shelves, and the scent of incense burning in little earthenware braziers at the door of each shop—how sweet was the warm air, laden with this deeply sweet smell of burning, glowing incense——
A step sounded on the verandah, and the Bishop concluded his revery abruptly. It was not the nearly noiseless step of a bare foot, such as his servants. It was the step of someone in European shoes, yet without the firm, decided tramp of a European. Yet the tread of a European shoe, muffled to the slithering, soft effect of a native foot. A naked foot, booted. This was the Bishop's hour of rest, and his servants had instructions to admit no one. Well, no one in a general sense, yet there were always two or three recognised exceptions. But it was not one of these exceptions, coming in noiselessly like that. The Bishop sprang up, standing straddle of his long chair, and looking fixedly in the direction of the approaching sound. He hated interruptions, and was indignant to think that any one should have slipped in, past the eyes of his watchful servants. Just then a figure appeared at the far end of the verandah, a white clad figure rapidly advancing. A dark skinned, slim figure, clad in white linen European clothes, even down to a pair of new, ill fitting, white canvas shoes with rubber soles. That accounted for the sound resembling bare feet. Really, they could never wear shoes properly, these natives, however much they might try.
Still standing straddle across his chair, the Bishop called out angrily to the intruder. Since he was not a European, and obviously not a native Prince—native princes never slithered in like that, all the pomp of the East heralded their coming—the Bishop could afford to let his annoyance manifest itself in his voice. Therefore he called out sharply, asking the stranger's business.
A slim youth stepped forward, bare headed, hollow chested, very dark in the gathering twilight, and his hands clasped together as if in supplication, stood out blackly against the whiteness of his tunic. The Bishop noticed that they were trembling. Well they might, for he had taken a great liberty, by this presumptuous, unannounced visit. It had a sort of sneaking character about it. Coming to steal, perhaps, and being surprised in the act, had determined to brazen it out under the pretext of a visit. The young man, however, walked boldly up to the Bishop's chair, and the Bishop, rather taken aback, sat himself down again and extended his legs on the rest, in their usual comfortable position.
"I've come to see you, Sir," began the stranger, using very good English though with a marked native accent, "on a question of great importance. On a matter of principle—of high principle. I've never seen you before, but you are known to me by reputation."
The Bishop snorted at this piece of impudence, but the youth went on unabashed.
"A very noble reputation, if I may presume to say so. But you know that, of course. What you are, what you stand for. Therefore I have dared to come to you for help. It is not a matter of advice—that does not enter in at all. But I want your great help—on our side. To right a great, an immense, an immensely growing wrong."
The youth hesitated and stopped, wringing his dark, thin hands together in evident agitation. The Bishop surveyed him coldly, with curiosity, without sympathy, enjoying his embarrassment. So that was it—some grievance, real or fancied. Fancied, most likely. He felt a distinct sense of resentment that his hour of repose should have been broken in upon so rudely by this native—bringing him wrongs to redress in this uncalled for manner. There were plenty of people in the Bishop's service expressly appointed for the purpose of looking into complaints and attending to them. To bring them up to headquarters, to the Bishop himself, was an act of downright impertinence. Very much as if a native should bring his petty quarrels up to the Governor-General. These thoughts passed through the Bishop's mind as he regarded the intruder with a fixed and most unfriendly eye. A few moments of hesitating silence followed, while the Bishop watched the darting movements of a lizard on the wall, and waited for the stranger to continue.
"I want your help," went on the youth in a low voice. "You are so powerful—you can do so much. Not as a man, but because of your office. Perhaps as a man, too, for they say you are a good and just man. But the combination of a strong man in a high office——"
Still no help from the Bishop. That he did not clap his hands together and call for his servants to have this intruder thrown out, marked him, in his estimation, as the kind of man that the youth had suggested. A just and liberal man. Very well, he was ready to listen. Now that he was caught, so to speak, and obliged to listen against his will.
"It's about the opium traffic," explained the young man, breathing hard with excitement, and wringing his thin hands together in distress.
"Oh, that's it, is it?" exclaimed the Bishop, breaking silence. "I thought it must be some such thing. I mean, something that is no concern of mine—nor yours either," he concluded sharply.
"It is both my concern and your concern," replied the young man solemnly, "both yours and mine. Your race, your country, is sinning against my race and my country——"
"Your country!" interrupted the Bishop disdainfully.
"Yes, my country!" exclaimed the young man proudly. "Mine still, for all that you have conquered it, and civilized it and degraded it!"
The Bishop sprang up from his chair angrily, and then sank back again, determined to listen. He would let this fellow say all he had to say, and then have him arrested afterwards. He would let him condemn himself out of his own mouth. How well they spoke English too, these educated natives.
"What is this Colony, Sir," continued the young man gaining control of himself, "but a market for the opium your Government sells? For you know, Sir, as well as I, that the sale of opium is a monopoly of your Government. And we are helpless, defenceless, powerless to protect ourselves. And do you know what your Government makes out of this trade, Sir—the revenue it collects from selling opium to my people? Three quarters of the revenue of this Colony are derived from opium. Your Government runs this colony on our degradation. You build your roads, your forts, your schools, your public buildings, on this vice that you have forced upon us. Before you came, with your civilization, we were decent. Very decent, on the whole. Now look at us—what do you see? How many shops in this town are licensed by your Government for the sale of opium—and the license money pocketed as revenue? How many opium divans, where we may smoke, are licensed by your Government, and the license money pocketed as part of the revenue?"
"You needn't smoke unless you wish to," remarked the Bishop drily. "We don't force you to do it. We don't put the pipe between your teeth and insist upon your drugging yourselves. How many shops do you say there are—how many smoking places? Several hundred? We don't force you into them, I take it. You go of your own choice, don't you? We Europeans don't do it. It's as free for us as it is for you. We have the same opportunities to kill ourselves—I suppose that's how you look at it—as you do. Yet somehow we abstain. If you can't resist——"
The Bishop shrugged his shoulders. Yet he rather despised himself for the argument. It sounded cheap and unworthy, somehow. The youth, however, did not seem to resent it, and went on sadly.
"It's true," he said, "we need not, I suppose. Yet you know," he continued humbly, "we are a very simple people. We are very primitive, very—lowly. We didn't understand at first, and now it's too late. We've most of us got the habit, and the rest are getting it. We're weak and ignorant. We want you to protect us from ourselves. Just as you protect your own people—at home. You don't import it into your own country—you don't want to corrupt your own people. But what about the races you colonise and subject—who can't protect themselves? It's not fair!" he concluded passionately, "and besides, this year you have sold us two millions more than last year——"
"Where did you get your figures?" broke in the Bishop with rising indignation. This cowering, trembling boy seemed to have all the arguments on his side.
"From your own reports, Sir. Government reports. Compiled by your own officials."
"And how did you obtain a Government report?" asked the Bishop angrily. "Spying, eh?"
The young man ignored the insult, and went on patiently. "Some are distributed free, others may be bought at the book shops. There is one lying on your table this moment, Sir."
"Well enough for me," remarked the Bishop, "but how did you come by it?" The sharp eyes had recognised the fat, blue volume buried under a miscellaneous litter of books and pamphlets on a wicker table. A lean finger pointed towards it, and the accusing voice went on.
"There is more than opium in that Report, Sir. Look at the schools. How little schooling do you give us, how little money do you spend for them. We are almost illiterate—yet you have ruled us for many years. How little do you spend on schools, so that you may keep us submissive and ignorant? You know how freely you provide us with opium, so that we may be docile and easy to manage—easy to manage and exploit."
The Bishop sprang up from his chair, making a grasp for the white coat of his tormentor, but the fellow nimbly avoided him, and darted to the other side of the table. It was almost completely dark by this time, and the Bishop could not pursue his guest in the gloom, nor could he reach the bell.
"Are you a Seditionist, Sir? How dare you criticise the Government?" The answer was immediate and unexpected.
"Yes, I criticise the Government—just as I have been criticising it to you. But more in sorrow than in anger. Although in time the anger may come. Therefore that is why I have come to you—for help, before our anger comes. You are a strong man, a just, a liberal man—so I'm told. You hold a high position in the Church maintained by your Government, just as the opium traffic is maintained by your Government. Both are Government monopolies."
In the distance the cathedral chimes rang over the still air—the old, sweet Canterbury chimes, pealing the full round, for it was the hour. Then the hour struck, and both men counted it, mechanically.
"Your salary, Sir—as well as the salaries of the other priests of your established church, out here in this Colony—comes from the established opium trade. Your Canterbury chimes ring out, every fifteen minutes, over the opium dens of the Crown!"
At this supreme insult the Bishop leaped at his tormentor, striking a blow into space. The youth bounded over the low rail of the verandah and disappeared amongst the shrubbery in the darkness.
To say that the Bishop was shaken by this interview is to put it mildly. For he was a good man in his way, and moreover, in a certain restricted sense, a religious one. But he was lazy and not inclined to meddle in affairs that did not concern him. And colonial politics and the management of colonial affairs were certainly not his concern. Nevertheless, the horrible grouping together of facts, as the young Seditionist had grouped them for him, their adroit placing together, with the hideous, unavoidable connection between them, upset him tremendously. He sat on in the darkness trying to think, trying to see his way clear, trying to excuse or to justify. He had never thought of these things before, yet he well knew of their existence. All sorts of injustices abounded in civilized states—it was perhaps worse in the colonies. Yet even in the colonies, little by little they were being weeded out, or adjusted. Yet this particular evil, somehow, seemed to flourish untouched. Not an effort was made to uproot it. The only effort made, apparently, was to increase and encourage it. And with the acquiescence of men like himself. All for what—for money? For Crown revenues! Pretty poor business, come to think of it. Surely, if the Colony could not exist by honest and legitimate trade, it might better not exist at all. To thrive upon the vices of a subject people, to derive nearly the whole revenue from those vices, really, somehow, it seemed incompatible with—with—that nasty fling about the Church!
He rang for his boy, and a lamp was brought in and placed upon the table beside him, and the Bishop reached over for the unheeded Report, which had been lying on the table so long. The columns of figures seemed rather formidable—he hated statistics, but he applied himself to the Report conscientiously. Yes, there it was in all its simplicity of crude, bald statements, just as the young man had said. Glaring, horrible facts, disgraceful facts. For an hour he sat absorbed in them, noting the yearly increase in consumption as indicated by the yearly increase in revenue. Three quarters of the revenue from opium—one quarter from other things. He wondered vaguely about his salary; that painful allusion to it troubled him. It was just possible that it came from the one quarter derived from legitimate trade. Certainly, it was quite possible. But on the other hand, there was an unquiet suspicion that perhaps it didn't.
The Bishop moved into the dining room, carrying the fat Blue Book under his arm, and read it carefully during his solitary meal. Those carefully compiled tables, somehow, did not do credit to what he had heretofore been pleased to consider the greatest colonising nation in the world. Were all colonies like that—run on these principles? Yet the Government, apparently, had felt no hesitation in setting forth these facts explicitly. Presumably the Government felt justified. Yet it certainly was not—the word honourable rose to his mind, but he suppressed it at once—however, nothing else suggested itself. Years ago, so many years ago that he had lost count, the Bishop had worked for a time in the East End. He had had clubs and classes, and worked with the young men. He used to know a good deal about certain things, and to feel strongly—— But since then he had become prosperous, and a high dignitary in the Church. Something stirred uneasily in the back of his mind, as he dawdled over his dinner and turned the pages of the Blue Book——
Then he went back to the verandah again, and subsided into his long chair. He sat in darkness, for he disliked the night-flying insects of the Tropics, and had a nervous horror of them. Lamps made them worse—brought them in thicker shoals. He gazed out at the twinkling lights of the vessels at anchor in the harbour. There were many ships in the roadway to-night, a sight which would ordinarily have pleased him, but his thoughts were in sharp contrast now to his comfortable, contented thoughts of a few hours ago.
The Bishop spent rather a wakeful night, that is, until about two in the morning, at which hour he settled his problem and fell asleep. It finally resolved itself in his mind as a matter for him to let alone. He could not better it, and had not the smallest intention of making a martyr of himself, of resigning his office, or of incurring any of the other disagreeable experiences which beset the path of the moral crusader. No, he could do nothing, for at two o'clock, as we have said, he had arrived at the conclusion that the evil—if such it could be called, since there was considerable doubt on the subject—had reached a magnitude which no single individual could deal with. Whereupon he wisely dismissed the matter from his mind. Not having gone to sleep till late he was considerably annoyed when his China-boy arrived at six with his early tea. This sense of irritation still clung to him when an hour later he sat down on the verandah facing the harbour and began his breakfast. Even after ten years in the Tropics, the Bishop still continued to enjoy bacon and eggs with unabated relish, and these did something, this morning, to mitigate his ill humour. A fresh papaya, with a dozen seeds left in as flavouring, also helped. Finally the boy came in and laid letters by his plate. Home letters, bearing the familiar postmarks, so dear to dwellers in outlying parts of the world. A small Malay kriss, with a handle of ivory and silver and a blade of five waves served as letter opener. The Bishop slit each envelope carefully, and laid the pile back on the table, to be read slowly, with full enjoyment. One by one he went through them, smiling a little, or frowning, as it happened. The mail from Home was early this week—evidently it had come in last evening, although he had not seen the steamer in the roads. All the better—all the more of a surprise.
He stopped suddenly, anxiously, and an open letter in his hand trembled violently. He finished it hurriedly, went through it a second time, and again once more before he could acknowledge its meaning.
"MY DEAR BROTHER" [it began, with a formality about the opening that boded trouble], "I write to you in great distress, but sure that you will respond to the great demand I am about to make upon you, upon all the kindness which you have shown us for these many years. Herbert, your namesake, is in deep trouble—disgrace, I might better say. Never mind the details. They are sufficiently serious, sufficiently humiliating. We have managed to cover it up, to conceal what we can, but for the present at least, or until this blows over, it is impossible for him to remain at home. It has all come about so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that there has been no time to write to you to obtain your consent. But he must leave home at once, and there is no one to whom we can send him except yourself. In his present position, feeling the deep dishonour that he has brought upon himself, upon all of us in fact, we do not dare to send him forth into the world alone. Therefore, without delay, we are sending him to you, feeling sure of your response. Under your guidance and care, with the inestimable benefits that he will derive through the association with such a man as yourself, we hope that he will recover his normal balance. Take him in, do what you can for him for all our sakes. He has always been devoted to you, although it was a lad's devotion—you have not seen him for several years, and he is now twenty. Put him to work, do whatever you think best for him; we give him entirely into your hands. We turn to you in this hour of our distress, knowing that you will not fail us.
"Such is the urgency, that he is going out to you on the boat that carries this letter. Failing that, he will leave in any event on the boat of the following week. We regret that there has not been sufficient time to prepare you. He will be no expense, being well provided with funds, although in future I shall make out his remittances in your name. In haste, in grief, and with all love,
"Your affectionate brother,
The Bishop sat thunderstruck in his chair, aghast at his predicament. Here was a pretty situation! A scapegrace nephew, who had done heavens knew what dishonourable thing—the Bishop thought of a dozen things all at once, all equally disgraceful and equally probable,—was about to be quartered upon him, in his peaceful, ordered, carefree life, for an indefinite period! Really, it was intolerable. What did he, the Bishop, know of young men and their difficulties? Who was he to guide the footsteps of an erring one? What practical experience had he in such matters—it was one thing to expound certain niceties of theological doctrine, which, after all, had little bearing on daily life—and quite another to become guardian and preceptor to a young scamp. For he was a scamp, obviously. And of all places in the world, to send a weak, undisciplined person out to the Colony—this rather notorious Colony where even those of the highest principles had some difficulty in holding to the path. It was obvious that the place for this young man was in his home—in the home of his father and mother, who while they had doubtless spoiled him, must nevertheless retain a certain influence. He needed all the kindness and loving care that a home could give. The Bishop sought refuge in platitudes, for of such consisted his daily thoughts, running through his brain in certain well defined, well worn brain paths. Then a wave of indignation passed over him concerning his brother—the selfishness of turning his son out, at this time of all times! Of shirking responsibility towards him, of turning that responsibility over to another! To another whom he had not even consulted! All his life his brother had had what he wanted—riches, a beautiful home, an easy life. Yet at the first breath of trouble he evaded his responsibilities and dumped them upon another!
The Bishop worked himself up into a fine fury, seeing his future plans upset, his easy-going life diverted from its normal, flowing course by the advent of this scapegrace nephew. His eyes rested once more upon the letter: "He is going out to you on the boat that carries this letter." If so, then he must have already landed and would appear at any moment. For the mailboat must have come in last night, and the passengers had either been put ashore last evening, or had been put ashore at sunrise, supposing the boat remained discharging cargo all night. It was now eight o'clock. The youth should have been here. Apparently, then, he had failed to catch this boat, and was coming the following week. But the Bishop was troubled; he must go into town and make sure. Since he was to be burdened with the rascal for a week (but only for a week, he would send him packing home by the next boat, he promised himself) his sense of duty prompted him to act at once. He raised his fine, thin hands and clapped them together smartly.
"Rickshaw! Quickly!" he ordered the China-boy who appeared in answer to his summons. A few minutes later he descended the broad steps of the verandah and entered his neat, black rickshaw, with highly polished brasses, drawn by two boys in immaculate white livery. The Bishop kept no carriage—that would have seemed ostentatious—but his smart, black rickshaw was to be seen all over town, stopping before houses of high and low degree, but mostly high.
He reached the quais after a sharp run, passing the godowns filled with rubber, which gave forth its peculiar, permeating odour upon the heavy, stagnant air of the harbourside. No, the mailboat had gone on, had weighed anchor early in the morning, at sunrise, they told him, and had continued on her way up the coast. No such passenger as he described had been landed—no one by that name. The Bishop, leaning upon the worn counter in the dingy shipping office, scrutinised the passenger list carefully. There was a name there, certainly, that suggested his nephew's, but with two or three wrong letters. Not enough for a positive identification, but perhaps done purposely, as a disguise. Could the youth have deliberately done this? It was possible. When pressed for a description, the Bishop was most hazy. He could only say that he was searching for a young man, about twenty. The agent told him that twenty young men, about twenty, had come ashore. The Bishop was not quite satisfied, was vaguely uneasy, but there was nothing to be done. However, when the day passed and no nephew appeared, he drew a long breath of relief. He was safe for another week. Had a week before him in which to formulate his plans. And he would formulate them too, he promised himself, and would put the responsibility of this irresponsible young creature back upon the shoulders where it belonged. It was a great temptation not to return to the shipping office again and engage a berth on the next homeward bound liner, but on second thought, he determined not to do so. Above all things he prided himself on being just and liberal. He would give his nephew a week's trial in the Colony, after which the letter returning him to his father would bear the air of resigned but seasoned judgment, rather than the unreasoning impulse of a moment's irritation. A week's guardianship, and—well, so it should be. Nothing longer, no greater incursion into his smooth, harmonious existence.