« PreviousContinue »
deliberate, on the defensive, the great fair beard like a cuirass over his manly chest. He did not like Davidson, never a very faithful client of his. He hit a bell on one of the tables as he went by, and asked in a distant, Officer-of-the-Reserve manner:
The good Davidson still sponging his wet neck, declared with simplicity that he had come to fetch away Heyst, as agreed.
A Chinaman appeared in response to the bell. Schomberg turned to him very severely:
“Take the gentleman's order.”
Davidson had to be going. Couldn't wait-only begged that Heyst should be informed that the Sissie would leave at midnight.
“Not-here, I am telling you!” Davidson slapped his thigh in concern.
“Dear me! Hospital, I suppose.” A natural enough surmise in a very feverish locality.
The Lieutenant of the Reserve only pursed up his mouth and raised his eyebrows without looking at him. It might have meant anything, but Davidson dismissed the hospital idea with confidence. However, he had to get hold of Heyst between this and midnight.
“He has been staying here?” he asked. “Yes, he was staying here.”
“Can you tell me where he is now?” Davidson went on placidly. Within himself he was beginning to grow anxious, having developed the affection of a selfappointed protector towards Heyst. The answer he got was:
“Can't tell. It's none of my business,” accompanied by majestic oscillations of the hotel-keeper's head, hinting at some awful mystery.
Davidson was placidity itself. It was his nature. He did not betray his sentiments, which were not favourable to Schomberg.
“I am sure to find out at the Tesmans' office,” he thought. But it was a very hot hour, and if Heyst was down at the port he would have learned already that the Sissie was in. It was even possible that Heyst had already gone on board, where he could enjoy a coolness denied to the town. Davidson, being stout, was much preoccupied with coolness and inclined to immobility. He lingered awhile, as if irresolute. Schomberg, at the door, looking out, affected perfect indifference. He could not keep it up, though. Suddenly he turned inward and asked with brusque rage:
“You wanted to see him?" “Why, yes,” said Davidson. “We agreed to meet-"
“Don't you bother. He doesn't care about that now.”
“Well, you can judge for yourself. He isn't here, is he? You take my word for it. Don't you bother about him. I am advising you as a friend.”
“Thank you,” said Davidson, inwardly startled at the savage tone. “I think I will sit down for a moment and have a drink, after all.”
This was not what Schomberg had expected to hear. He called brutally:
The Chinaman approached, and after referring him to the white man by a nod the hotel-keeper departed, muttering to himself. Davidson heard him gnash his teeth as he went.
Davidson sat alone with the billiard-tables as if there had been not a soul staying in the hotel. His placidity was so genuine that he was not unduly fretting himself over the absence of Heyst or the mysterious manners Schomberg had treated him to. He was considering these things in his own fairly shrewd way. Something had happened; and he was loath to go away to investigate, being restrained by a presentiment that somehow enlightenment would come to him there. A poster of “Concerts Every Evening,” like those on the gate, but in a good state of preservation, hung on the wall fronting him. He looked at it idly and was struck by the fact—then not so very common—that it was a ladies' orchestra; “Zangiacomo's eastern tour eighteen performers.” The poster stated that they had had the honour of playing their select repertoire before various colonial excellencies, also before pashas, sheiks, chiefs, H. H. the Sultan of Mascate, etc., etc.
Davidson felt sorry for the eighteen lady-performers. He knew what that sort of life was like, the sordid conditions and brutal incidents of such tours led by such Zangiacomos who often were anything but musicians by profession. While he was staring at the poster, a door somewhere at his back opened, and a woman came in who was looked upon as Schomberg's wife, no doubt with truth. As somebody remarked cynically once, she was too unattractive to be anything else. The opinion that he treated her abominably was based on her frightened expression. Davidson lifted his hat to her. Mrs. Schomberg gave him an inclination of her sallow head and incontinently sat down behind a sort of raised counter, facing the door, with a mirror and rows of bottles at her back. Her hair was very elaborately done with two ringlets on the left side of her scraggy neck; her dress was of silk, and she had come on duty for the afternoon. For some reason or other Schomberg exacted this from her, though she added nothing to the fascinations of the place. She sat there in the smoke and noise, like an enthroned idol, smiling stupidly over the billiards from time to time, speaking to no one, and no one speaking to her. Schomberg himself took no more interest in her than may be implied in a sudden and totally unmotived scowl. Otherwise the very Chinamen ignored her existence.
She had interrupted Davidson in his reflections. Being alone with her, her silence and open-eyed immobility made him uncomfortable. He was easily sorry for people. It seemed rude not to take any notice of her. He said, in allusion to the poster: “Are you having these people in the house?”
She was so unused to being addressed by customers that at the sound of his voice she jumped in her seat. Davidson was telling us afterward that she jumped ex. actly like a figure made of wood, without losing her rigid immobility. She did not even move her eyes; but she answered him freely, though her very lips seemed made of wood.
“They stayed here over a month. They are gone now. They played every evening.”
“Pretty good, were they?”
To this she said nothing; and as she kept on staring fixedly in front of her, her silence disconcerted Davidson. It looked as if she had not heard him—which was impossible. Perhaps she drew the line of speech at the expression of opinions. Schomberg might have trained her, for domestic reasons, to keep them to herself. But Davidson felt in honour obliged to converse; so he said, putting his own interpretation on this surprising silence:
"I see not much account. Such bands hardly ever are. An Italian lot, Mrs. Schomberg, to judge by the name of the boss?”
She shook her head negatively. “No. He is a German really; only he dyes his hair
and beard black for business. Zangiacomo is his business name."
“That's a curious fact,” said Davidson. His head being full of Heyst, it occurred to him that she might be aware of other facts. This was a very amazing discovery to any one who looked at Mrs. Schomberg. Nobody had ever suspected her of having a mind, I mean even a little of it, I mean any at all. One was inclined to think of her as an It-an automaton, a very plain dummy, with an arrangement for bowing the head at times and smiling stupidly now and then. Davidson viewed her profile with a flattened nose, a hollow cheek, and one staring, unwinking, goggle eye. He asked himself: Did that speak just now? Will it speak again? It was as exciting, for the mere wonder of it, as trying to converse with a mechanism. A smile played about the fat features of Davidson; the smile of a man making an amusing experiment. He spoke again to her:
“But the other members of that orchestra were real Italians, were they not?”
Of course, he didn't care. He wanted to see whether the mechanism would work again. It did. It said they were not. They were of all sorts, apparently. It paused, with the one goggle eye immovably gazing down the whole length of the room and through the door opening on to the “piazza.” It paused, then went on in the same low pitch:
“There was even one English girl.”
“Poor devil!” said Davidson. “I suppose these women are not much better than slaves really. Was that fellow with the dyed beard decent in his way?"
The mechanism remained silent. The sympathetic soul of Davidson drew its own conclusions.
“Beastly life for these women!” he said. “When you say an English girl, Mrs. Schomberg, do you really
Ito But the other ment. He spoluhe of a man man