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"Oh! You? Yes, I hoped she would find means to -"
"But she didn't tell me much," interrupted Davidson, who was not averse from hearing something—he hardly knew what.
“H'm-yes. But that note of mine? Yes? She found an opportunity to give it to you? That's good, very good. She's more resourceful than one would give her credit for."
"Women often are," remarked Davidson. The strangeness from which he had suffered, merely because his interlocutor had carried off a girl, wore off as the minutes went by. “There's a lot of unexpectedness about women,' he generalized with a didactic aim which seemed to miss its mark; for the next thing Heyst said was:
“This is Mrs. Schomberg's shawl.” He touched the stuff hanging over his arm. "An Indian thing, I believe,” he added, glancing at his arm sideways.
"It isn't of particular value," said Davidson truthfully.
"Very likely. The point is that it belongs to Schomberg's wife. That Schomberg seems to be an unconscionable ruffian—don't you think so?" .
Davidson smiled faintly.
“We out here have got used to him,” he said, as if excusing a universal and guilty toleration of a manifest nuisance. “I'd hardly call him that. I only know him as a hotel-keeper.”
“I never knew him even as that-not till this time, when you were so obliging as to take me to Sourabaya. I went to stay there from economy. The Netherlands House is very expensive, and they expect you to bring your own servant with you. It's a nuisance.”
“Of course, of course," protested Davidson hastily.
After a short silence Heyst returned to the matter of the shawl. He wanted to send it back to Mrs. Schomberg. He said that it might be very awkward for her if she
were unable, if asked, to produce it. This had given him, Heyst, much uneasiness. She was terrified of Schomberg. Apparently she had reason to be.
Davidson had remarked that, too. Which did not prevent her, he pointed out, from making a fool of him, in a way, for the sake of a stranger.
"Oh! You know !" said Heyst. "Yes, she helped meus.”
"She told me so. I had quite a talk with her,” Davidson informed him. “Fancy any one having a talk with Mrs. Schomberg! If I were to tell the fellows they wouldn't believe me. How did you get round her, Heyst? How did you think of it? Why, she looks too stupid to understand human speech and too scared to shoo a chicken away. Oh, the women, the women! You don't know what there may be in the quietest of them."
“She was engaged in the task of defending her position in life,” said Heyst. "It's a very respectable task.'
“Is that it? I had some idea it was that," confessed Davidson.
He then imparted to Heyst the story of the violent proceedings following on the discovery of his flight. Heyst's polite attention to the tale took on a sombre cast; but he manifested no surprise, and offered no comment. When Davidson had finished he handed down the shawl into the boat, and Davidson promised to do his best to return it to Mrs. Schomberg in some secret fashion. Heyst expressed his thanks in a few simple words, set off by his manner of finished courtesy. Davidson prepared to depart. They were not looking at each other. Suddenly Heyst spoke:
“You understand that this was a case of odious persecution, don't you? I became aware of it and—”
It was a view which the sympathetic Davidson was capable of appreciating.
“I am not surprised to hear it.” he said placidly.
“Odious enough, I dare say.
course--not being a married man—were free to step in. Ah, well !"
He sat down in the stern-sheets, and already had the steering lines in his hands when Heyst observed abruptly:
“The world is a bad dog. It will bite you if you give it a chance; but I think that here we can safely defy the fates.”
When relating all this to me, Davidson's only comment
“Funny notion of defying the fates to take a woman in tow!"
Some considerable time afterward—we did not meet very often—I asked Davidson how he had managed about the shawl and heard that he had tackled his mission in a direct way, and had found it easy enough. At the very first call he made in Samarang he rolled the shawl as tightly as he could into the smallest possible brown paper parcel, which he carried ashore with him. His business in the town being transacted, he got into a gharry with the parcel and drove to the hotel. With his previous experience, he timed his arrival accurately for the hour of Schomberg's siesta. Finding the place empty as on the former occasion, he marched into the billiard-room, took a seat at the back, near the sort of dais which Mrs. Schomberg would in due course come to occupy, and broke the slumbering silence of the house by thumping a bell vigorously. Of course a Chinaman appeared promptly. Davidson ordered a drink and sat tight.
“I would have ordered twenty drinks one after another, if necessary,” he said—Davidson's a very abstemious man—"rather than take that parcel out of the house again. Couldn't leave it in a corner without letting the woman know it was there. It might have turned out worse for her than not bringing the thing back at all.”
And so he waited, ringing the bell again and again, and swallowing two or three iced drinks which he did not want. Presently, as he hoped it would happen, Mrs. Schomberg came in, silk dress, long neck, ringlets, scared eyes, and silly grin—all complete. Probably that lazy beast had sent her out to see who was the thirsty customer
waking up the echoes of the house at this quiet hour. Bow, nod—and she clambered up to her post behind the raised counter, looking so helpless, so inane, as she sat there, that if it hadn't been for the parcel, Davidson declared, he would have thought he had merely dreamed of all that had passed between them. He ordered another drink, to get the Chinaman out of the room, and then seized the parcel, which was reposing on a chair near him, and with no more than a mutter—“This is something of yours”—he rammed it swiftly into a recess in the counter, at her feet. There ! The rest was her affair. And just in time, too. Schomberg turned up, yawning affectedly, almost before Davidson had regained his seat. He cast about suspicious and irate glances. An invincible placidity of expression helped Davidson wonderfully at the moment, and the other, of course, could have no grounds for the slightest suspicion of any sort of understanding between his wife and this customer.
As to Mrs. Schomberg, she sat there like a joss. Davidson was lost in admiration. He believed, now, that the woman had been putting it on for years. She never even winked. It was immense! The insight he had obtained almost frightened him; he couldn't get over his wonder at knowing more of the real Mrs. Schomberg than anybody in the Islands, including Schomberg himself. She was a miracle of dissimulation. No wonder Heyst got the girl away from under two men's noses, if he had her to help with the job!
The greatest wonder, after all, was Heyst getting mixed up with petticoats. The fellow's life had been open to us for years and nothing could have been more detached from feminine associations. Except that he stood drinks to people on suitable occasions, like any other man, this observer of facts seemed to have no connection with earthly affairs and passions. The very courtesy of his manner, the flavour of playfulness in the voice set him