Page images

that he had always 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 to. There's something in him. One doesn’t care to. “But what's the object 2 Are you thinking of keeping possession of the mine 2' I asked him. “Something of the sort,” he says. “I am keeping hold.” “But all this is as dead as Julius Caesar,” I cried. “In fact, you have nothing worth holding on to, Heyst.” “Oh, I am done with facts,’ says he, putting his hand to his helmet sharply with one of his short bows.” 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 vanished—all 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 hail-fellow-well-met crowd, with standards of our own—no 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 the steamer 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 Davidson. 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 mine—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 P So! Good! Well, I am told the jungle has
choked the very sheds in Black Diamond Bay. Fact.
He’s a hermit in the wilderness now. But what can
this manager get to eat there 2. It beats me.”
Sometimes a stranger would inquire with natural
“Who? What manager ?”
“Oh, a certain Swede,”—with a sinister emphasis,
as if he were saying “a certain brigand.” – “Well
known here. He's turned hermit from shame.
That's what the devil does when he's found out.”
Hermit. This was the latest of the more or less
witty labels applied to Heyst during his aimless
pilgrimage in this section of the tropical belt, where
the inane clacking of Schomberg’s tongue vexed our
But apparently Heyst was not a hermit by tem-
perament. The sight of his kind was not invincibly
odious to him. We must believe this, since for some
reason or other he did come out from his retreat for
a while. Perhaps it was only to see whether there
were any letters for him at the Tesmans. I don't
know. No one knows. But this reappearance shows
that his detachment from the world was not complete.

Viciory. - 4

[ocr errors]

And incompleteness of any sort leads to trouble.
Axel Heyst ought not to have cared for his letters
—or whatever it was that brought him out after
something more than a year and a half in Samburan.
But it was of no use. He had not the hermit’s voca-
tion! That was the trouble, it seems.
Be this as it may, he suddenly reappeared in the
world, broad chest, bald forehead, long moustaches,
polite manner, and all—the complete Heyst, even to
the kindly, sunken eyes on which there still rested
the shadow of Morrison's death. Naturally, it was
Davidson who had given him a lift out of his forsaken
island. There were no other opportunities, unless
some native craft were passing by—a very remote
and unsatisfactory chance to wait for. Yes, he came

out with Davidson, to whom he volunteered the state

ment that it was only for a short time—a few days,
no more. He meant to go back to Samburan.
Davidson expressing his horror and incredulity of
such foolishness, Heyst explained that when the com-
pany came into being he had his few belongings sent
out from Europe.
To Davidson, as to any of us, the idea of Heyst,
the wandering, drifting, unattached Heyst, having
any belongings of the sort that can furnish a house
was startlingly novel. It was grotesquely fantastic.
It was like a bird owning real property.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »