« PreviousContinue »
A Few of us who were sufficiently interested went to Davidson for details. These were not many. He told us that he passed to the north of Samburan on purpose to see what was going on. At first, it looked as if that side of the island had been altogether abandoned. This was what he expected. Presently, above the dense mass of vegetation that Samburan presents to view, he saw the head of the flagstaff without a flag. Then, while steaming across the slight indentation which for a time was known officially as Black Diamond Bay, he made out with his glass the white figure on the coaling-wharf. It could be no one but Heyst.
“I thought for certain he wanted to be taken off, so I steamed in. He made no signs. However, I lowered a boat. I could not see another living being anywhere. Yes. He had a book in his hand. He looked exactly as we have always seen him—very neat, white shoes,
cork helmet. He explained to me that he had always I had a taste for solitude. It was the first I ever heard
of it, I told him. He only smiled. What could I
say? He isn't the sort of man one can speak familiarly I to. There's something in him. One doesn't care to.
“‘But what's the object? Are you thinking of keeping possession of the mine?' I asked him.
“'Something of the sort,' he says. “I am keeping hold.'
“ But all this is as dead as Julius Cæsar,'I cried. 'In fact, you have nothing worth holding on to, Heyst.'
“‘Oh, I am done with facts,' says he, putting his
o'clock thate “the funniest an English
yai 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 billiardroom 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. In 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 mles 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; hand to his helmet sharply with one of his short
Thus dismissed, Davidson went on board his ship, swung her out, and as he was steaming away he watched from the bridge Heyst walking shoreward along the wharf. He marched into the long grass and vanishedall but the top of his white cork helmet, which seemed to swim in a green sea. Then that too disappeared, as if it had sunk into the living depths of the tropical vegetation, which is more jealous of men's conquests than the ocean, and which was about to close over the last vestiges of the liquidated Tropical Belt Coal Company-A. Heyst, manager in the East.
Davidson, a good, simple fellow in his way, was strangely affected. It is to be noted that he knew very little of Heyst. He was one of those whom Heyst's finished courtesy of attitude and intonation most strongly disconcerted. He himself was a fellow of fine feeling, I think, though of course he had no more polish than the rest of us. We were naturally a hailfellow-well-met crowd, with standards of our ownno worse, I daresay, than other people's; but polish was not one of them. Davidson's fineness was real enough to alter the course of thesteamer he commanded. Instead of passing to the south of Samburan, he' made it his practice to take the passage along the north shore, within about a mile of the wharf.
“He can see us if he likes to see us,” remarked David. son. Then he had an after-thought: “I say! I hope he won't think I am intruding, eh?”
We reassured him on the point of correct behaviour. The sea is open to all.
This slight deviation added some ten miles to Davidson's round trip, but as that was sixteen hundred miles it did not matter much.
“I have told my owner of it,” said the conscientious commander of the Sissie.
His owner had a face like an ancient lemon. He was small and wizened—which was strange, because generally a Chinaman, as he grows in prosperity, puts on inches of girth and stature. To serve a Chinese firm is not so bad. Once they become convinced you deal straight by them, their confidence becomes unlimited. You can do no wrong. So Davidson's old Chinaman squeaked hurriedly:
"All right, all right, all right. You do what you like, captain.”
And there was an end of the matter; not altogether, though. From time to time the Chinaman used to ask Davidson about the white man. He was still there, eh?
"I never see him,” Davidson had to confess to his owner, who would peer at him silently through round, horn-rimmed spectacles, several sizes too large for his little old face. “I never see him.”
To me, on occasions, he would say:
“I haven't a doubt he's there. He hides. It's very unpleasant.” Davidson was a little vexed with Heyst. “Funny thing,” he went on. “Of all the people I speak to, nobody ever asks after him but that Chinaman of minem and Schomberg,” he added after a while.
Yes, Schomberg, of course. He was asking everybody about everything, and arranging the information into the most scandalous shape his imagination could invent. From time to time he would step up, his blinking, cushioned eyes, his thick lips, his very chestnut beard, looking full of malice.
“ 'Evening, gentlemen. Have you got all you want? So! Good! Well, I am told the jungle has choked the very sheds in Black Diamond Bay. Fact. He's a