Page images
PDF
EPUB

gone to join his forefathers in a Dorsetshire church

Fard.

[ocr errors]

Heyst was immensely shocked. He got the news in the Moluccas through the Tesmans, and then dis:ppeared for a time. It appears that he stayed with

Dutch government doctor in Amboynd, a friend of his who looked after him for a bit in his bungalow. He became visible again rather suddenly, his eyes sunk in his head, and with a sort of guarded attitude, us if afraid some one would reproach him with the death of Morrison.

Naïve Heyst! As if anybody would. ... Nobody amongst us had any interest in men who went home. They were all right; they did not count any more. Going to Europe was nearly as final as going to Heaven. It removed a man from the world of hazard and adventure.

As a matter of fact, many of us did not hear of this death till months afterward—from Schomberg, who disliked. Heyst gratuitously and made up a piece of sinister whispered gossip:

"That's what comes of having anything to do with that fellow. He squeezes you dry like a lemon, then chucks you out-sends you home to die. Take warning by Morrison.”

Of course, we laughed at the innkeeper's suggestions of black mystery. Several of us heard that Heyst was prepared to go to Europe himself, to push on his coal enterprise personally; but he never went. It wasn't necessary. The company was formed without him, and his nomination of manager in the tropics came out to him by post.

From the first he had selected Samburan, or Round Island, for the central station. Some copies of the prospectus issued in Europe, having found their way out East, were passed from hand to hand. We greatly admired the map which accompanied them for the edification of the shareholders. On it Samburan was represented as the central spot of the Eastern Hemisphere, with its name engraved in enormous capitals. Heavy lines radiated from it in all directions through the tropics, figuring a mysterious and effective start lines of influence or lines of distance, or something of that sort. Company promoters have an imagination of their own. There's no more romantic temperament on earth than the temperament of a company promoter Engineers came out, coolies were imported, bungalows were put up on Samburan, a gallery driven into the hillside, and actually some coal got out.

These manifestations shook the soberest minds. For a time everybody in the islands was talking of the Tropical Belt Coal, and even those who smiled quietly to themselves were only hiding their uneasiness. Oh, yes; it had come, and anybody could see what would be the consequences—the end of the individual trader, smothered under a great invasion of steamers. We could not afford to buy steamers. Not we. And Heyst was the manager.

“You know, Heyst, enchanted Heyst."

"Oh come! He has been no better than a loafer around here as far back as any of us can remember.”

“Yes, said he was looking for facts. Well, he's

got hold of one that will do for all of us,” commented 2 bitter voice.

"That's what they call development and be hanged to it!" muttered another.

Never was Heyst talked about so much in the tropical belt before.

"Isn't he a Swedish baron or something?" "He, a baron? Get along with you!"

For my part I haven't the slightest doubt that he was. While he was still drifting amongst the islands, enigmatical and disregarded like an insignificant ghost, he told me so himself on a certain occasion. It was a long time before he materialised in this alarming way into the destroyer of our little industryHeyst the Enemy.

It became the fashion with a good many to speak of Heyst as the Enemy. He was very concrete, very visible now. He was rushing all over the Archipelago, jumping in and out of local mail-packets as if they had been tram-cars, here, there, and everywhere organising with all his might. This was no mooning about. This was business. And this sudden display of purposeful energy shook the incredulity of the most sceptical more than any scientific demonstration of the value of these coal-outcrops could have done. It was impressive. Schomberg was the only one who resisted the infection. Big, manly in a portly style, and profusely bearded, with a glass of beer in his thick paw, he would approach some table where the topic of the hour was being discussed, would listen for a moment, and then come out with his invariable declaration:

"All this is very well, gentlemen; but he can't thro any of his coal-dust in my eyes. There's nothing i it. Why, there can't be anything in it. A fello like that for manager? Phoo!”

Was it the clairvoyance of imbecile hatred, or mer stupid tenacity of opinion, which ends sometimes b scoring against the world in a most astonishing mar ner? Most of us can remember instances of triun phant folly; and that ass Schomberg triumphed. Th T. B. C. C. went into liquidation, as I began by tell ing you. The Tesmans washed their hands of i The Government cancelled those famous contract The talk died out, and presently it was remarked her and there that Heyst had faded completely away He had become invisible, as in those early days whe he used to make a bolt clear out of sight in his at tempts to break away from the enchantment of “thes isles," either in the direction of New Guinea or in th direction of Saigon—to cannibals or to cafés. Th enchanted Heyst! Had he at last broken the spell Had he died? We were too indifferent to wonde over-much. You see we had on the whole liked hin well enough. And liking is not sufficient to keep go ing the interest one takes in a human being. Wit! hatred, apparently, it is otherwise. Schomber couldn't forget Heyst. The keen, manly Teutoni creature was a good hater. A fool often is.

“Good evening, gentlemen. Have you got every thing you want? So! Good! You see? What wa I always telling you? Aha! There was nothing i it. I knew it. But what I would like to know i yhat became of that–Swede.”

He put a stress on the word Swede as if it meant kcoundrel. He detested Scandinavians generally. Why? Goodness only knows. A fool like that is infathomable. He continued:

"It's five months or more since I have spoken to inybody who has seen him.”

As I have said, we were not much interested; but Schomberg, of course, could not understand that. He was grotesquely dense. Whenever three people came together in his hotel, he took good care that Heyst should be with them.

"I hope the fellow did not go and drown himself," he would add with a comical earnestness that ought to have made us shudder; only our crowd was superficial, and did not apprehend the psychology of this pious hope.

“Why? Heyst isn't in debt to you for drinks, is he?” somebody asked him once with shallow scorn. "Drinks! Oh dear no!”

The innkeeper was not mercenary. Teutonic temperament seldom is. But he put on a sinister expression to tell us that Heyst had not paid perhaps three visits altogether to his “establishment.” This was Heyst's crime, for which Schomberg wished him nothing less than a long and tormented existence. Observe the Teutonic sense of proportion and nice forgiving temper.

At last, one afternoon, Schomberg was seen approaching a group of his customers. He was obviously in high glee. He squared his manly chest with great importance. “Gentlemen, I have news of him. Who? Why,

« PreviousContinue »