Page images
PDF
EPUB

levels of shrouded billiard-tables, a white form heavec up from two chairs on which it had been extended The middle of the day, table d'hôte tiffin once over was Schomberg's easy time. He lounged out, portly deliberate, on the defensive, the great fair beard like &

cuirass over his manly chest. He did not like David :- son, never a very faithful client of his. He hit a bell non one of the tables as he went by, and said in a dis. tant, Officer-of-the-Reserve manner:

“You desire?”

The good Davidson, still sponging his wet neck, de clared with simplicity that he had come to fetch away Heyst, as agreed.

“Not here!"

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 natura enough surmise in a very feverish locality.

The Lieutenant of the Reserve only pursed up hi mouth and raised his eyebrows without looking at him It might have meant anything, but Davidson dis missed the hospital idea with confidence. However he had to get hold of Heyst between this and mid night.

“He had 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 toward 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 “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.”

“Doesn't he?" "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 a the savage tone. “I think I will sit down for a mo ment and have a drink, after all.”

This was not what Schomberg had expected to hear He called brutally:

"Boy!"

The Chinaman approached, and after referring hin to the white man by a nod the hotel-keeper departed muttering to himself. Davidson heard him gnas) his teeth as he went.

Davidson sat alone with the billiard-tables as i there had been not a soul staying in the hotel. Hi placidity was so genuine that he was not unduly fret ting himself over the absence of Heyst or the mys terious manners Schomberg had treated him to He was considering these things in his own fairly shrewd way. Something had happened; and he wa loath to go away to investigate, being restrained by : presentiment that somehow enlightenment would come to him there. A poster of "Concerts Every Evening,” like those on the gate, but in a good stat of preservation, hung on the wall fronting him. H looked at it idly and was struck by the fact—then no so very common—that it was a ladies' orchestra "Zangiacomo's eastern tour-eighteen performers. The poster stated that they had had the honour o playing their select repertoire before various colonia

cellencies, also before pashas, sheiks, chiefs, H. H the Sultan of Mascate, etc., etc.

Davidson felt sorry for the eighteen lady-per formers. He knew what that sort of life was like, th sordid conditions and brutal incidents of such tour

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 jumpe exactly like a figure made of wood, without losing he rigid immobility. She did not even move her eyes but she answered him freely, though her very lip seemed made of wood.

“They stayed here over a month. They are gon now. They played every evening."

“Pretty good, were they?”

To this she said nothing; and as she kept on stai ing fixedly in front of her, her silence disconcerte Davidson. It looked as if she had not heard himwhich was impossible. Perhaps she drew the line a speech at the expression of opinions. Schomber might have trained her, for domestic reasons, to kee them to herself. But Davidson felt in honour oblige to converse; so he said, putting his own interpretatio on this surprising silence:

“I see—not much account. Such bands hardl ever are. An Italian lot, Mrs. Schomberg, to judg by the name of the boss?

She shook her head negatively.

“No. He is a German really; only he dyes his hai and beard black for business. Zangiacomo is his bus ness name.”

“That's a curious fact,” said Davidson. His hea being full of Heyst, it occurred to him that she mig! be aware of other facts. This was a very amazin discovery to any one who looked at Mrs. Schombery Nobody had ever suspected her of having a mind, mean even a little of it, I mean any at all. One wa inclined to think of her as an It-an automaton, a ver plain dummy, with an arrangement for bowing th

« PreviousContinue »