« PreviousContinue »
Heyst should leave it with her. And then, behaving like a painted image rather than a live woman, she whispered, just loud enough for me to hear: “‘I helped them. I got her things together, tied them up in my own shawl, and threw them into the compound out of a back window. I did it.’ “That woman that you would say hadn't the pluck to lift her little finger!” marvelled Davidson in his quiet, slightly panting voice. “What do you think of that?” I thought she must have had some interest of her own to serve. She was too lifeless to be suspected of impulsive compassion. It was impossible to think that Heyst had bribed her. Whatever means he had, he had not the means to do that. Or could it be that she was moved by that disinterested passion for delivering a woman to a man which in respectable spheres is called matchmaking? —a highly irregular example of it! “It must have been a very small bundle,” remarked Davidson further. “I imagine the girl must have been specially attractive,” I said. “I don’t know. She was miserable. I don’t suppose it was more than a little linen and a couple of these white frocks they wear on the platform.” Davidson pursued his own train of thought. He sup. posed that such a thing had never been heard of in the history of the tropics. For where could you find any one to steal a girl out of an orchestra? No doubt fellows here and there took a fancy to some pretty one—but it was not for running away with her. Oh dear no! It needed a lunatic like Heyst. “Only think what it means,” wheezed Davidson, imaginative under his invincible placidity. “Just only try to think! Brooding alone on Samburan has upset his brain. He never stopped to consider, or he couldn't have done it. No sane man . . . How is a thing like that to go on?
What's he going to do with her in the end? It's madness.” “You say that he's mad. Schomberg tells us that he must be starving on his island; so he may end yet by eating her,” I suggested. Mrs. Schomberg had had no time to enter into details, Davidson told us. Indeed, the wonder was that they had been left alone so long. The drowsy afternoon was slipping by. Footsteps and voices resounded on the verandah —I beg pardon, the piazza; the scraping of chairs, the ping of a smitten bell. Customers were turning up. Mrs. Schomberg was begging Davidson hurriedly, but without looking at him, to say nothing to any one, when on a half-uttered word her nervous whisper was cut short. Through a small inner door Schomberg came in, his hair brushed, his beard combed neatly, but his eyelids still heavy from his nap. He looked with suspicion at Davidson, and even glanced at his wife; but he was baffled by the natural placidity of the one and the acquired habit of immobility in the other. “Have you sent out the drinks?” he asked surlily. She did not open her lips, because just then the head boy appeared with a loaded tray, on his way out. Schomberg went to the door and greeted the customers outside, but did not join them. He remained blocking half the doorway, with his back to the room, and was still there when Davidson, after sitting still for a while, rose to go. At the noise he made Schomberg turned his head, watched him lift his hat to Mrs. Schomberg and receive her wooden bow accompanied by a stupid grin, and then looked away. He was loftily dignified. Davidson stopped at the door, deep in his simplicity. “I am sorry you won't tell me anything about my friend's absence,” he said. “My friend Heyst, you know. I suppose the only course for me now is to make inquiries down at the port. I shall hear something there, I don’t doubt.”
“Make inquiries of the devil!” replied Schomberg in a hoarse mutter. Davidson's purpose in addressing the hotel-keeper had been mainly to make Mrs. Schomberg safe from suspicion; but he would fain have heard something more of Heyst's exploit from another point of view. It was a shrewd try. It was successful in a rather startling way, because the hotel-keeper's point of view was horribly abusive. All of a sudden, in the same hoarse sinister tone, he proceeded to call Heyst many names, of which “pigdog” was not the worst, with such vehemence that he actually choked himself. Profiting from the pause, Davidson, whose temperament could withstand worse shocks, remonstrated in an undertone: “It's unreasonable to get so angry as that. Even if he had run off with your cash-box—” The big hotel-keeper bent down and put his infuriated face close to Davidson's. “My cash-box! My—he-look here, Captain Davidson' He ran off with a girl. What do I care for the girl? The girl is nothing to me.” He shot out an infamous word which made Davidson start. That's what the girl was; and he reiterated the assertion that she was nothing to him. What he was concerned for was the good name of his house. Wherever he had been established, he had always had “artist parties” staying in his house. One recommended him to the others; but what would happen now, when it got about that leaders ran the risk in his house—his house—of losing members of their troupe? And just now, when he had spent seven hundred and thirty-four guilders in building a concerthall in his compound. Was that a thing to do in a respectable hotel? The cheek, the indecency, the impudence, the atrocity! Vagabond, impostor, swindler, ruffian, schwein-hund ! He had seized Davidson by a button of his coat, detaining him in the doorway, and exactly in the line of Mrs. Schomberg's stony gaze. Davidson stole a glance in that direction and thought of making some sort of reassuring sign to her, but she looked so bereft of senses, and almost of life, perched up there, that it seemed not worth while. He disengaged his button with firm placidity. Thereupon, with a last stifled curse, Schomberg vanished somewhere within, to try and compose his spirits in solitude. Davidson stepped out on the verandah. The party of customers there had become aware of the explosive interlude in the doorway. Davidson knew one of these men, and nodded to him in passing; but his acquaintance called out: “Isn't he in a filthy temper? He's been like that ever since.” The speaker laughed aloud, while all the others sat smiling. Davidson stopped. “Yes, rather.” His feelings were, he told us, those of bewildered resignation; but of course that was no more visible to the others than the emotions of a turtle when it withdraws into its shell. “It seems unreasonable,” he murmured thoughtfully. “Oh, but they had a scrap!” the other said. “What do you mean? Was there a fight!—a fight with Heyst?” asked Davidson, much perturbed, if somewhat incredulous. “Heyst? No, these two—the bandmaster, the fellow who's taking these women about and our Schomberg. Signor Zangiacomo ran amuck in the morning, and went for our worthy friend. I tell you, they were rolling on the floor together on this very verandah, after chasing each other all over the house, doors slamming, women screaming, seventeen of them, in the dining-room; Chinamen up the trees—Hey, John You climb tree to see the fight, eh?” The boy, almond-eyed and impassive, emitted a scornful grunt, finished wiping the table, and withdrew.
“That's what it was—a real, go-as-you-please scrap. And Zangiacomo began it. Oh, here's Schomberg. Say, Schomberg, didn't he fly at you, when the girl was missed, because it was you who insisted that the artists should go about the audience during the interval?” Schomberg had reappeared in the doorway. He advanced. His bearing was stately, but his nostrils were extraordinarily expanded, and he controlled his voice with apparent effort. “Certainly. That was only business. I quoted him special terms and all for your sake, gentlemen. I was thinking of my regular customers. There's nothing to do in the evenings in this town. I think, gentlemen, you were all pleased at the opportunity of hearing a little good music; and where's the harm of offering a grenadine, or what not, to a lady artist? But that fellow—that Swede— he got round the girl. He got round all the people out here. I’ve been watching him for years. You remember how he got round Morrison.” \ He changed front abruptly, as if on parade, and marched off. The customers at the table exchanged glances silently. Davidson's attitude was that of a spectator. Schomberg's moody pacing of the billiard-room could be heard on the verandah. “And the funniest part is,” resumed the man who had been speaking before—an English clerk in a Dutch house —“the funniest part is that before nine o'clock that same morning those two were driving together in a gharry down to the port, to look for Heyst and the girl. I saw them rushing around making inquiries. I don't know what they would have done to the girl, but they seemed quite ready to fall upon your Heyst, Davidson, and kill him on the quay.” He had never, he said, seen anything so queer. Those two investigators working feverishly to the same end were glaring at each other with surprising ferocity. Ir