« PreviousContinue »
hatred, and mistrust they entered a steam-launch, and went flying from ship to ship all over the harbour, causing no end of sensation. The captains of vessels, coming on shore later in the day, brought tales of a strange invasion, and wanted to know who were the two offensive lunatics in a steam-launch, apparently after a man and a girl, and telling a story of which one could make neither head nor tail. Their reception by the roadstead was generally unsympathetic, even to the point of the mate of an American ship bundling them out over the rail with unseemly precipitation. Meantime Heyst and the girl were a good few miles away, having gone in the night on board one of the Tesman schooners bound to the eastward. This was known afterward from the Javanese boatmen whom Heyst hired for the purpose at three o'clock in the morning. The Tesman schooner had sailed at daylight with the usual land breeze, and was probably still in sight in the offing at the time. However, the two pursuers after their experience with the American mate made for the shore. On landing, they had another violent row in the German language. But there was no second fight; and finally, with looks of fierce animosity, they got together into a gharry— obviously with the frugal view of sharing expenses—and drove away, leaving an astonished little crowd of Europeans and natives on the quay. * After hearing this wondrous tale, Davidson went away from the hotel verandah, which was filling with Schomberg's regular customers. Heyst's escapade was the general topic of conversation. Never before had that unaccountable individual been the cause of so much gossip, he judged. No! Not even in the beginnings of the Tropical Belt Coal Company when becoming for a moment a public character he was the object of silly criticism and unintelligent envy for every vagabond and adventurer in the islands.
Davidson concluded that people liked to discuss that sort of scandal better than any other. I asked him if he believed that this was such a great scandal after all. “Heavens, no!” said that excellent man who, himself, was incapable of any impropriety of conduct. “But it isn't a thing I would have done myself; I mean even if I had not been married.” * There was no implied condemnation in the statement; rather something like regret. Davidson shared my suspicion that this was in its essence the rescue of a distressed human being. Not that we were two romantics, tingeing the world to the hue of our temperament, but that both of us had been acute enough to discover a long time ago that Heyst was. “I shouldn’t have had the pluck,” he continued. “I see . a thing all round, as it were; but Heyst doesn't, or else he would have been scared. You don’t take a woman into a desert jungle without being made sorry for it sooner or later, in one way or another; and Heyst being a gentle. man only makes it worse.”
WE SAID no more about Heyst on that occasion, and it so happened that I did not meet Davidson again for some three months. When we did come together, almost the first thing he said to me was: “I’ve seen him.” Before I could exclaim, he assured me that he had taken no libertv. that he had not intruded. He was called in. Otherwise he would not have dreamed of breaking in upon Hevst's privacy. “I am certain you wouldn't,” I assured him, concealing my amusement at his wonderful delicacy. He was the most delicate man that ever took a small steamer to and fro amongst the islands. But his humanity, which was not less strong and praiseworthy, had induced him to take his steamer past Samburan wharf (at an average distance of a mile) every twenty-three days—exactly. Davidson was delicate, humane and regular. “Heyst called you in?” I asked, interested. Yes, Heyst had called him in as he was going by on his usual date. Davidson was examining the shore through his glasses with his unwearied and punctual humanity as he steamed past Samburan. “I saw a man in white. It could only have been Heyst. He had fastened some sort of enormous flag to a bamboo pole, and was waving it at the end of the old wharf.” Davidson didn't like to take his steamer alongside— for fear of being indiscreet, I suppose; but he steered close inshore, stopped his engines, and lowered a boat. He went himself in that boat, which was manned, of course, by his Malay seamen. Heyst, when he saw the boat pulling towards him, dropped his signalling-pole; and when Davidson arrived, he was kneeling down engaged busily in unfastening the flag from it. “Was there anything wrong?” I inquired, Davidson having paused in his narrative and my curiosity being naturally aroused. You must remember that Heyst as the , Archipelago knew him was not—what shall I say—was not a signalling sort of man. “The very words that came out of my mouth,” said Davidson, “before I laid the boat against the piles. I could not help it.” Heyst got up from his knees and began carefully folding up the flag thing, which struck Davidson as having the dimensions of a blanket. “No, nothing wrong,” he cried. His white teeth flashed . agreeably below the coppery horizontal bar of his long moustaches. I don’t know whether it was his delicacy or his obesity which prevented Davidson from clambering upon the wharf. He stood up in the boat, and, above him, Heyst stooped low with urbane smiles, thanking him and apologizing for the liberty, exactly in his usual manner. Davidson had expected some change in the man, but there was none. Nothing in him betrayed the momentous fact that within that jungle there was a girl, a performer in a ladies’ orchestra, whom he had carried straight off the concert platform into the wilderness. He was not ashamed or defiant or abashed about it. He might have been a shade confidential when addressing Davidson. And his words were enigmatical. “I took this course of signalling to you,” he said to Davidson, “because to preserve appearances might be of the utmost importance. Not to me, of course. I don't
care what people may say, and of course no one can hurt me. I suppose I have done a certain amount of harm, since I allowed myself to be tempted into action. It seemed innocent enough, but all action is bound to be harmful. It is devilish. That is why this world is evil upon the whole. But I have done with it! I shall never lift a little finger again. At one time I thought that intelligent observation of facts was the best way of cheating the time which is allotted to us whether we want it or not, but now I have done with observation, too.” Imagine poor, simple Davidson being addressed in such terms alongside an abandoned, decaying wharf jutting out of tropical bush. He had never heard anybody speak like this before; certainly not Heyst, whose conversation was concise, polite, with a faint ring of playfulness in the cultivated tones of his voice. “He’s gone mad,” Davidson thought to himself. But, looking at the physiognomy above him on the wharf, he was obliged to dismiss the notion of common, crude lunacy. It was truly most unusual talk. Then he remembered—in his surprise he had lost sight of it—that Heyst now had a girl there. This bizarre discourse was probably the effect of the girl. Davidson shook off the absurd feeling, and asked, wishing to make clear his friendliness, and not knowing what else to say: “You haven’t run short of stores or anything like that?” Heyst smiled and shook his head. “No, no. Nothing of the kind. We are fairly well off here. Thanks, all the same. If I have taken the liberty to detain you, it is not from any uneasiness for myself and my—companion. The person I was thinking of when I made up my mind to invoke your assistance is Mrs. Schomberg.” “I have talked with her,” interjected Davidson.