« PreviousContinue »
had happened he could not pretend, even to himself. But his bottled-up indignation was fermenting venomously. At the time of his immoderate loquacity one of his customers, an elderly man, had remarked one evening:
"If that ass keeps on like this, he will end by going crazy."
And this belief was less than half wrong. Schomberg had Heyst on the brain. Even the unsatisfactory state of his affairs, which had never been so unpromising since he came out East directly after the Franco-Prussian War, he referred to some subtly noxious influence of Heyst. It seemed to him that he could never be himself again till he had got even with that artful Swede. He was ready to swear that Heyst had ruined his life. At fifty a disappointment like the one from which he suffered may well wear such an aspect. The girl so unfairly, craftily, basely decoyed away would have inspired him to success in a new start. Obviously Mrs. Schomberg, whom he terrified by savagely silent moods combined with underhand, poisoned glances, could give him no inspiration. He had grown generally neglectful, but with a partiality for reckless expedients, as if he did not care when and how his career as a hotel-keeper was to be brought to an end. This demoralised state accounted for what Davidson had observed on his last visit to the Schomberg establishment, some two months after Heyst's secret departure with the girl to the solitude of Samburan.
The Schomberg of a few years ago—the Schomberg of the Bangkok days, for instance, when he started the first of his famed table-d'hote dinners—would never have risked anything of the sort. His genius ran to catering, white man for white man, and to the inventing, elaborating, and retailing of scandalous gossip with asinine unction and impudent delight. But now his mind was perverted by the pangs of wounded vanity and of thwarted passion. In this state of moral weakness Schomberg allowed himself to be corrupted.
M from Celebes, having boarded her in Macassar, but generally, Schomberg understood, from up China Sea way; a wanderer, clearly, even as Heyst was, but not alone and of quite another kind.
Schomberg, looking up from the stern-sheets of his steam-launch, which he used for boarding passenger ships on arrival, discovered a dark, sunken stare plunging down on him over the rail of the first-class part of the deck. He was no great judge of physiognomy. Human beings, for him, were either the objects of scandalous gossip or else the recipients of narrow strips of paper, with proper bill-heads stating the name of his hotel.—"W. Schomberg, proprietor; accounts settled weekly."
So in the clean-shaven, extremely thin face hanging over the mail-boat's rail Schomberg saw only the face of a possible "account." The steam-launches of other hotels were also alongside, but he obtained the preference.
"You are Mr. Schomberg, aren't you?" the face asked quite unexpectedly.
"I am, at your service," he answered from below; for business is business, and its forms and formulas must be observed, even if one's manly bosom is
tortured by that dull rage which succeeds the fury of baffled passion, like the glow of embers after a fierce blaze.
Presently the possessor of the handsome but emaciated face was seated beside Schomberg in the sternsheets of the launch. His body was long and loosejointed; his slender fingers, intertwined, clasped the leg resting on his knee, as he lolled back in a careless yet tense attitude. On the other side of Schomberg sat another passenger, who was introduced by the clean-shaven man as—
"My secretary. He must have the room next to mine."
"We can manage that easily for you."
Schomberg steered with dignity, staring straight ahead, but very much interested by these two promising "accounts." Their belongings, a couple of large leather trunks browned by age and a few smaller packages, were piled up in the bows. A third individual—a nondescript, hairy creature—had modestly made his way forward and had perched himself on the luggage. The lower part of his physiognomy was over-developed; his narrow and low forehead, unintelligently furrowed by horizontal wrinkles, surmounted wildly hirsute cheeks and a flat nose with wide, baboon-like nostrils. There was something equivocal in the appearance of his shaggy, hairsmothered humanity. He, too, seemed to be a follower of the clean-shaven man, and apparently had travelled on deck with native passengers, sleeping under the awnings. His broad, squat frame denoted great strength. Grasping the gunwales of the launch, he displayed a pair of remarkably long arms, terminating in thick, brown, hairy paws of simian aspect.
"What shall we do with that fellow of mine?" the chief of the party asked Schomberg. "There must be a boarding-house somewhere near the port—some grog-shop where they could let him have a mat to sleep on?"
Schomberg said there was a place kept by a Portuguese half-caste.
"A servant of yours?" he asked.
"Well, he hangs on to me. He is an alligatorhunter. I picked him up in Colombia, you know. Ever been in Colombia?"
"No," said Schomberg, very much surprised. "An alligator-hunter? Funny trade! Are you coming from Colombia, then?"
"Yes, but I have been coming for a long time. I come from a good many places. I am travelling west, you see."
"For sport, perhaps?" suggested Schomberg.
"Yes. Sort of sport. What do you say to chasing the sun?"
"I see—a gentleman at large," said Schomberg, watching a sailing canoe about to cross his bow, and ready to clear it by a touch of the helm.
The other passenger made himself heard suddenly.
"Hang these native craft! They always get in the way."
He was a muscular, short man with eyes that gleamed and blinked, a harsh voice, and a round, toneless, pock-marked face ornamented by a thin, dishevelled moustache sticking out quaintly under the tip of