« PreviousContinue »
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 her 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
"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
tion, he was by no means certain that it prevented Heyst from being a perfect gentleman, as before. He confronted our open grins or quiet smiles with a serious round face. Heyst had taken the girl away to Samburan; and that was no joking matter. The loneliness, the ruins of the spot, had impressed Davidson's simple soul. They were incompatible with the frivolous comments of people who had not seen it. That black jetty, sticking out of the jungle into the empty sea; those roof-ridges of deserted houses peeping dismally above the long grass! Ough! The gigantic and funereal blackboard sign of the Tropical Belt Coal Company, still emerging from a wild growth of bushes like an inscription stuck above a grave figured by the tall heap of unsold coal at the shore end of the wharf, added to the general desolation.
Thus the sensitive Davidson. The girl must have been miserable indeed to follow a strange man to such a spot. Heyst had, no doubt, told her the truth. He was a gentleman. But no words could do justice to the conditions of life on Samburan. A desert island was nothing to it. Moreover, when you were cast away on a desert islandwhy, you could not help yourself; but to expect a fiddleplaying girl out of an ambulant ladies' orchestra to remain content there for a day, for one single day, was inconceivable. She would be frightened at the first sight of it. She would scream.
The capacity for sympathy in these stout, placid men! Davidson was stirred to the depths; and it was easy to see that it was about Heyst that he was concerned. We asked him if he had passed that way lately.
"Oh, yes. I always do—about half a mile off.”
“Blow the whistle? You think I would do such a thing?"
He rejected the mere possibility of such an unwarrantable intrusion. Wonderfully delicate fellow, Davidson!
“Well, but how do you know that they are there?" he was naturally asked.
Heyst had entrusted Mrs. Schomberg with a message for Davidson—a few lines in pencil on a scrap of crumpled paper. It was to the effect that an unforeseen necessity was driving him away before the appointed time. He begged Davidson's indulgence for the apparent discourtesy. The woman of the house—meaning Mrs. Schomberg—would give him the facts, though unable to explain them, of course.
"What was there to explain?” wondered Davidson dubiously. “He took a fancy to that fiddle-playing girl, and
“And she to him, apparently,” I suggested.
“Wonderfully quick work,” reflected Davidson. “What do you
think will come of it?" "Repentance, I should say. But how is it that Mrs. Schomberg has been selected for a confidante?"
For indeed a waxwork figure would have seemed more useful than that woman whom we all were accustomed to see sitting elevated above the two billiard-tables without expression, without movement, without voice, without sight.
"Why, she helped the girl to bolt," said Davidson turning at me his innocent eyes, rounded by the state of constant amazement in which this affair had left him, like those shocks of terror or sorrow which sometimes leave their victim afflicted by nervous trembling. It looked as though he would never get over it.
“Mrs. Schomberg jerked Heyst's note, twisted like a pipe-light, into my lap while I sat there unsuspecting," Davidson went on. “Directly I had recovered my senses, I asked her what on earth she had to do with it that