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After hearing this wondrous tale, Davidson went away from the hotel veranda, which was filling with Schomberg's regular customers. Heyst's escapade was the general topic of conversation. Never before had that unaccountable individual been the cause of so much gossip, he judged. No! Not even in the beginnings of the Tropical Belt Coal Company when becoming for a moment a public character he was the object of silly criticism and unintelligent envy for every vagabond and adventurer in the islands. Davidson concluded that people liked to discuss that sort of scandal better than any other.
I asked him if he believed that this was such a great scandal after all.
“Heavens, no!" said that excellent man who, himself was incapable of any impropriety of conduct. “But it isn't a thing I would have done myself; I mean even if I had not been married.” There was
no implied condemnation in the statement; rather something like regret. Davidson shared my suspicion that this was in its essence the rescue of a distressed human being. Not that we were two romantics, tinging the world to the hue of our temperament, but that both of us had been acute enough to discover a long time ago that Heyst was.
"I shouldn't have had the pluck," he continued. "I see a thing all round, as it were; but Heyst doesn't, or else he would have been scared. You don't take a woman into a desert jungle without being made sorry for it sooner or later, in one way or another; and Heyst being a gentleman only makes it worse."
We said no more about Heyst on that occasion, and it so happened that I did not meet Davidson again for some three months. When we did come together, almost the first thing he said to me was:
“I've seen him."
Before I could exclaim, he assured me that he had taken no liberty, that he had not intruded. He was called in. Otherwise he would not have dreamed of breaking in upon Heyst's privacy.
“I am certain you wouldn't," I assured him, concealing my amusement at his wonderful delicacy. He was the most delicate man that ever took a small steamer to and fro amongst the Islands. But his humanity, which was not less strong and praiseworthy, had induced him to take his steamer past Samburan wharf (at an average distance of a mile) every twenty-three days—exactly. Davidson was delicate, humane and regular.
"Heyst called you in ?" I asked, interested. ✓ Yes, Heyst had called him in as he was going by on his usual date. Davidson was examining the shore through his glasses with his unwearied and punctual humanity as he steamed past Samburan.
“I saw a man in white. It could only have been Heyst. He had fastened some sort of enormous flag to a bamboo pole, and was waving it at the end of the old wharf.”
Davidson didn't like to take his steamer alongside -for fear of being indiscreet, I suppose; but he steered close inshore, stopped his engines, and lowered a boat. He went himself in that boat, which was manned, of course by his Malay seamen.
Heyst, when he saw the boat pulling toward him, dropped his signalling-pole; and when Davidson arrived, he was kneeling down engaged busily in unfastening the flag from it.
“Was there anything wrong ?” I inquired, Davidson having paused in his narrative and my curiosity being naturally aroused. You must remember that Heyst as the Archipelago knew him was not—what shall I say—was not a signalling sort of man.
“The very words that came out of my mouth," said Davidson, "before I laid the boat against the piles. I could not help it."
Heyst got up from his knees and began carefully folding up the flag thing, which struck Davidson as having the dimensions of a blanket.
" "No, nothing wrong,” he cried. His white teeth flashed agreeably below the coppery horizontal bar of his long moustaches.
I don't know whether it was his delicacy or his obesity which prevented Davidson from clambering upon the wharf. He stood up in the boat, and, above him, Heyst stooped low with urbane smiles, thanking him and apologising for the liberty, exactly. in his usual manner.
Davidson had expected some change in the man, but there was none. Nothing in him betrayed the momentous fact that within that jungle there was a girl, a performer in a ladies' orchestra, whom he had carried straight off the concert platform into the wilderness. He was not ashamed or defiant or abashed about it. He might have been a shade confidential when addressing Davidson. And his words were enigmatical.
"I took this course of signalling to you," he said to Davidson, “because to preserve appearances might be of the utmost importance. Not to me, of course. I don't care what people may say, and of course no one can hurt me. I suppose I have done a certain amount of harm, since I allowed myself to be tempted into action. It seemed innocent enough, but all action is bound to be harmful. It is devilish. That is why this world is evil upon the whole. But I have done with it! I shall never lift a little finger