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"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 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 exactly 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 er 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 mean a young girl? Some of these orchestra girls are no chicks."
“Young enough," came the low voice out of Mrs Schomberg's unmoved physiognomy.
Davidson, encouraged, remarked that he was sorry for her. He was easily sorry for people.
“Where did they go to from here?” he asked.
"She did not go with them. She ran away."
This was the pronouncement Davidson obtained next. It introduced a new sort of interest.
"Well! Well!” he exclaimed placidly; and then, with the air of a man who knows life: “Who with?” he inquired with assurance.
Mrs. Schomberg's immobility gave her an appearance of listening intently. Perhaps she was really listening, but Schomberg must have been finishing his sleep in some distant part of the house. The silence was profound, and lasted long enough to become startling. Then, enthroned above Davidson, she whispered at last:
“That friend of yours.”
"Oh, you know I am here looking for a friend,” said Davidson hopefully. "Won't you tell me "
"I've told you." ". "Eh?”
A mist seemed to roll away from before Davidson's eyes, disclosing something he could not believe.
"You can't mean it !” he cried. “He's not the man for it.” But the last words came out in a faint voice. Mrs. Schomberg never moved her head the least bit. Davidson, after the shock which made him sit up, went slack all over.
"Heyst! Such a perfect gentleman!” he exclaimed weakly.
Mrs. Schomberg did not seem to have heard him. This startling fact did not tally somehow with the idea Davidson had of Heyst. He never talked of women, he never seemed to think of them, or to remember that they existed; and then all at once-like this! Running off with a casual orchestra girl!
"You might have knocked me down with a feather," Davidson told us some time afterward.
By then he was taking an indulgent view of both the parties to that amazing transaction. First of all, on reflec