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Title: Civilization - Tales of the Orient
Author: La Motte, Ellen Newbold, 1873-1961
Language: English
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CIVILIZATION

Tales of the Orient

by

ELLEN N. LA MOTTE

Author of "The Backwash of War," Etc



New York
George H. Doran Company
Copyright, 1919,
by George H. Doran Company
Printed in the United States of America



     The stories "Under A Wineglass," "Homesick" and "The Yellow
     Streak" are published by courtesy of the _Century Magazine_.



CONTENTS


                                                        PAGE

I
THE YELLOW STREAK                                         11

II
ON THE HEIGHTS                                            33

III
HOMESICK                                                  65

IV
CIVILIZATION                                              93

V
MISUNDERSTANDING                                         121

VI
PRISONERS                                                141

VII
CANTERBURY CHIMES                                        177

VIII
UNDER A WINEGLASS                                        217

IX
CHOLERA                                                  235

X
COSMIC JUSTICE                                           247



THE YELLOW STREAK



I

THE YELLOW STREAK


He came out to Shanghai a generation ago, in those days when Shanghai
was not as respectable as it is now--whatever that says to you. It
was, of course, a great change from Home, and its crude pleasures and
crude companions gave him somewhat of a shock. For he was of decent
stock, with a certain sense of the fitness of things, and the
beach-combers, adventurers, rough traders and general riff-raff of the
China Coast, gathered in Shanghai, did not offer him the society he
desired. He was often obliged to associate with them, however, more or
less, in a business way, for his humble position as minor clerk in a
big corporation entailed certain responsibilities out of hours, and
this responsibility he could not shirk, for fear of losing his
position. Thus, by these acts of civility, more or less enforced, he
was often led into a loose sort of intimacy, into companionship with
people who were distasteful to his rather fastidious nature. But what
can you expect on the China Coast? He was rather an upright sort of
young man, delicate and abstemious, and the East being new to him,
shocked him. He took pleasure in walking along the Bund, marvelling at
the great river full of the ships of the world, marvelling at the
crowds from the four corners of the world who disembarked from these
ships and scattered along the broad and sunny thoroughfare, seeking
amusements of a primitive sort. But in these amusements he took no
part. For himself, a gentleman, they did not attract. Not for long.
The sing-song girls and the "American girls" were coarse, vulgar
creatures and he did not like them. It was no better in the back
streets--bars and saloons, gaming houses and opium divans, all the
coarse paraphernalia of pleasure, as the China Coast understood the
word, left him unmoved. These things had little influence upon him,
and the men who liked them overmuch, who chaffed him because of his
squeamishness and distaste of them, were not such friends as he needed
in his life. However, there were few alternatives. There was almost
nothing else for it. Companionship of this kind, or the absolute
loneliness of a hotel bedroom were the alternatives which confronted
him. He had very little money,--just a modest salary--therefore the
excitement of trading, of big, shady deals, said nothing to him. He
went to the races, a shy onlooker. He could not afford to risk his
little salary in betting. Above all things, he was cautious.
Consequently life did not offer him much outside of office hours, and
in office hours it offered him nothing at all. You will see from this
that he was a very limited person, incapable of expansion. Now as a
rule, life in the Far East does not have this effect upon young men.
It is generally stimulating and exciting, even to the most
unimaginative, while the novelty of it, the utter freedom and lack of
restraint and absence of conventional public opinion is such that
usually, within a very short time, one becomes unfitted to return to a
more formal society. In the old days of a generation ago, life on the
China Coast was probably much more exciting and inciting than it is
to-day, although to-day, in all conscience, the checks are off. But
our young man was rather fine, rather extraordinarily fastidious, and
moreover, he had a very healthy young appetite for the normal. The
offscourings of the world and of society rolled into Shanghai with the
inflow of each yellow tide of the Yangtzse, and somehow, he resented
that deposit. He resented it, because from that deposit he must pick
out his friends. Therefore instead of accepting the situation, instead
of drinking himself into acquiescence, or drugging himself into
acquiescence, he found himself quite resolved to remain firmly and
consciously outside of it. In consequence of which decision he
remained homesick and lonely, and his presence in the community was
soon forgotten or overlooked. Shy and priggish, he continued to lead
his lonely life. In his solitary walks along the Bund, there was no
one to take his arm and snigger suggestions into his ear, and lead him
into an open doorway where the suggestions could be carried out. He
had come out to the East for a long term of years, and the prospect of
these interminable years made his position worse. Not that it shook
his decision to remain aloof and detached from the call of the
East--his decision was not shaken in the slightest, which seemed
almost a pity.

Like all foreigners, of course, he had his own opinions of the
Chinese. They were an inferior, yellow race, and therefore despicable.
But having also a firm, unshakable opinion of his own race, especially
of those individuals of his race in which a yellow streak
predominated, he held the Chinese in no way inferior to these
yellow-streaked individuals. Which argues broadmindedness and
fairmindedness. Of the two, perhaps, he thought the Chinese
preferable--under certain circumstances. Yet he knew them to be
irritating in business dealings, corrupt, dishonest--on the whole he
felt profound scorn for them. But as they had been made to suit the
purposes of the ruling races of the world--such, for example, as
himself, untainted by a yellow streak--he had to that extent, at
least, succumbed to the current opinions of Shanghai. He resolved to
make use of them--of one, at least, in particular.

He wanted a home. Wanted it desperately. He wanted to indulge his
quiet, domestic tastes, to live in peace a normal, peaceful life, far
apart from the glittering trivialities of the back streets of the
town. He wanted a home of his own, a refuge to turn to at the end of
each long, monotonous day. You see, he was not an adventurer, a
gambler, a wastrel, and he wanted a quiet home with a companion to
greet him, to take care of him, to serve him in many ways. There was
no girl in England whom he wanted to come out to marry him. Had there
been such a girl, he would probably not have allowed her to come. He
was a decent young man, and the climate was such, here on the China
Coast, that few women could stand it without more of the comforts and
luxury than his small salary could have paid for. So finally, at the
end of a year or two, he got himself the home he wanted, in
partnership with a little Chinese girl who answered every purpose. He
was not in love with her, in any exalted sense, but she supplied
certain needs, and at the end of his long days, he had the refuge that
he craved. She kept him from going to the bad.

His few friends--friends, however, being hardly the word to apply to
his few casual acquaintances,--were greatly surprised at this. Such an
establishment seemed to them the last sort of thing a man of this
type would have gone in for. He had seemed such a decent sort, too.
Really, a few professed to be quite shocked--they said you never knew
how the East would affect a person, especially a decent person. For
themselves, they preferred looser bonds, with less responsibility.
They said this to each other between drinks, and there was then, as
now, much drinking in Shanghai. A few even said this to each other
quite seriously, as they lay in pairs on opium divans, smoking opium,
with little Chinese girls filling their pipes--girls who would
afterwards be as complaisant as was required. One man who had lost his
last cent at the gambling wheels, professed great astonishment at this
departure from the usual track, a departure quite unnecessary since
there were so many ways of amusing oneself out here in the East. Of
course such unions were common enough, heaven knows--there was nothing
unusual about it. But then such fastidious people did not as a rule go
in for them. It was not the ménage, it was the fact that this
particular young man had set up such, that caused the comment. The
comment, however, was short-lived. There was too much else to think
about.

Rogers liked his new life very much. Never for a moment did he think
of marrying the girl. That, of course, never dawned on him. Recollect,
he was in all things decent and correct, and such a step would have
been suicidal. Until the time came for him to go Home, she was merely
being made use of--and to be useful to the ruling races is the main
object in life for the Chinese. They exist for the profit and benefit
of the superior races, and this is the correct, standard opinion of
their value, and there are few on the China Coast, from Hongkong
upwards, who will disagree with it.

In time, a son was born to Rogers, and for a while it filled him with
dismay. It was a contingency he had not foreseen, a responsibility he
had not contemplated, had not even thought he could afford. But in
time he grew used to the boy, and, in a vague way, fond of him. He
disturbed him very little, and counted very little in his life, after
all. Later, as the years rolled by, he began to feel some
responsibility towards the child. He despised half-breeds,
naturally--every one does. They are worse than natives, having
inherited the weakness of both ancestries. He was sincerely glad to be
rid of the whole business, when, at the end of about fifteen years, he
was called home to England. It had all served his purpose, this
establishment of his, and thanks to it, he was still clean and
straight, undemoralised by the insidious, undermining influences of
the East. When he returned to his native land, he could find himself a
home upon orthodox lines and live happily ever afterwards. Before he
left Shanghai, he sent his little Chinese girl, a woman long ago, of
course, back to her native province in the interior, well supplied
with money and with the household furniture. For the boy he had
arranged everything. He was to be educated in some good, commercial
way, fitted to take care of himself in the future. Through his lawyer,
he set aside a certain sum for this purpose, to be expended annually
until the lad was old enough to earn his own living. In all ways
Rogers was thoughtful and decent, far-sighted and provident. No one
could accuse him of selfishness. He did not desert his woman, turn her
adrift unprovided for, as many another would have done. No, thank
heavens, he thought to himself as he leaned over the rail of the ship,
fast making its way down the yellow tide, he had still preserved his
sense of honour. So many men go to pieces out in the East, but he,
somehow, had managed to keep himself clear and clean.

Rogers drops out of the tale at this point, and as the ship slips out
of sight down the lower reaches of the Yangtzse, so does he disappear
from this story. It is to the boy that we must now turn our attention,
the half-caste boy who had received such a heritage of decency and
honour from one side of his house. In passing, let it be also said
that his mother, too, was a very decent little woman, in a humble,
Chinese way, and that his inheritance from this despised Chinese side
was not discreditable. His mother had gone obediently back to the
provinces, as had been arranged, the house passed into other hands,
and the half-caste boy was sent off to school somewhere, to finish his
education. Being young, he consoled himself after a time for the loss
of his home, its sudden and complete collapse. The memory of that
home, however, left deep traces upon him.

In the first place, he was inordinately proud of his white blood. He did
not know that it had cost his guardian considerable searching to find a
school where white blood was not objected to--when running in Chinese
veins. His schoolmates, of European blood, were less tolerant than the
school authorities. He therefore soon found his white blood to be a
curse. There is no need to go into this in detail. For every one who
knows the East, knows the contempt that is shown a half-breed, a
Eurasian. Neither fish, flesh nor fowl--an object of general distrust
and disgust. Oh, useful enough in business circles, since they can
usually speak both languages, which is, of course, an advantage. But
socially, impossible. In time, he passed into a banking house, where
certain of his qualities were appreciated, but outside of banking hours
he was confronted with a worse problem than that which had beset his
father. He felt himself too good for the Chinese. His mother's people
did not appeal to him, he did not like their manners and customs. Above
all things he wanted to be English, like his father, whom in his
imagination he had magnified into a sort of god. But his father's people
would have none of him. Even the clerks in the bank only spoke to him on
necessary business, during business hours, and cut him dead on the
street. As for the roysterers and beach-combers gathered in the bars of
the hotels, they made him feel, low as they were, that they were not yet
sunk low enough to enjoy such companionship as his. It was very
depressing and made him feel very sad. He did not at first feel any
resentment or bitterness towards his absent father, disappeared forever
from his horizon. But it gave him a profound sense of depression. True,
there were many other half-breeds for him to associate with--the China
Coast is full of such--but they, like himself, were ambitious for the
society of the white man. What he craved was the society of the white
man, to which, from one side of his house, he was so justly entitled. He
was not a very noticeable half-breed either, for his features were
regular, and he was not darker than is compatible with a good sunburn.
But just the same, it was unmistakable, this touch of the tar brush, to
the discriminating European eye. He seemed inordinately slow witted--it
took him a long time to realise his situation. He argued it out with
himself constantly, and could arrive at no logical explanation. If his
mother, pure Chinese, was good enough for his father, why was not he,
only half-Chinese, good enough for his father's people? Especially in
view of the fact that his father's history was by no means uncommon.
His father and his kind had left behind them a trail of
half-breeds--thousands of them. If his mother had been good enough for
his father---- His thoughts went round and round in a puzzled, enquiring
circle, and still the problem remained unsolved. For he was very young,
and not as yet experienced.

He was well educated. Why had his father seen to that? And he was well
provided for, and was now making money on his own account. He bought
very good clothes with his money, and went in the bar of one of the
big hotels, beautifully dressed, and took a drink at the bar and
looked round to see who would drink with him. He could never catch a
responsive eye, so was forced to drink alone. He hated drinking,
anyway. In many ways he was like his father. The petty clerks who
were at the office failed to see him at the race course. He hated the
races, anyway. In many respects he was like his father. But he was far
more lonely than his father had ever been. Thus he went about very
lonely, too proud to associate with the straight Chinese, his mother's
people, and humbled and snubbed by the people of his father's race.

He was twenty years old when the Great War upset Europe. Shanghai was
a mass of excitement. The newspapers were ablaze. Men were needed for
the army. One of the clerks in the office resigned his post and went
home to enlist. In the first rush of enthusiasm, many other young
Englishmen in many other offices resigned their positions and
enlisted, although not a large number of them did so. For it was
inconceivable that the war could last more than a few weeks--when the
first P. and O. boat reached London, it would doubtless all be over.
During the excitement of those early days, some of the office force so
far forgot themselves as to speak to him on the subject. They asked
his opinion, what he thought of it. They did not ask the shroff, the
Chinese accountant, what he thought of it. But they asked him. His
heart warmed! They were speaking to him at last as an equal, as one
who could understand, who knew things English, by reason of his
English blood.

So the Autumn came, and still the papers continued full of appeals for
men. No more of the office force enlisted, and their manner towards
him, of cold indifference, was resumed again after the one outburst of
friendliness occasioned by the first excitement. Still the papers
contained their appeals for men. But the men in the other offices
round town did not seem to enlist either. He marvelled a little.
Doubtless, however, England was so great and so invincible that she
did not need them. But why then these appeals? Soon he learned that
these young men could not be spared from their offices in the Far
East. They were indispensable to the trade of the mighty Empire.
Still, he remained puzzled. One day, in a fit of boldness, he ventured
to ask the young man at the next stool why he did not go. According to
the papers, England was clamouring loudly for her sons.

"Enlist!" exclaimed the young Englishman angrily, colouring red. "Why
don't you enlist yourself? You say you're an Englishman, I believe!"

The half-breed did not see the sneer. A great flood of light filled
his soul. He was English! One half of him was English! England was
calling for her own--and he was one of her own! He would answer the
call. A high, hot wave of exultation passed over him. His spirit was
uplifted, exalted. The glorious opportunity had come to prove
himself--to answer the call of the blood! Why had he never thought of
it before!

For days afterwards he went about in a dream of excitement, his soul
dwelling on lofty heights. He asked to be released from his position,
and his request was granted. The manager shook hands with him and
wished him luck. His brother clerks nodded to him, on the day of his
departure, and wished him a good voyage. They did not shake hands with
him, and were not enthusiastic, as he hoped they would be. His spirits
were a little dashed by their indifference. However, they had always
slighted him, so it was nothing unusual. It would be different after
he had proved himself--it would be all right after he had proved
himself, had proved to himself and to them, that English blood ran in
his veins, and that he was answering the call of the blood.

His adventures in the war do not concern us. They concern us no more
than the gap in the office, caused by his departure, concerned his
employer or his brother clerks. Within a few weeks, his place was
taken by another young Englishman, just out, and the office routine
went on as usual, and no one gave a thought to the young recruit who
had gone to the war. Just one comment was made. "Rather cheeky of him,
you know, fancying himself an Englishman." Then the matter dropped.
Gambling and polo and golf and cocktails claimed the attention of
those who remained, and life in Shanghai continued normal as usual.

In due course of time, his proving completed, he returned to his
native land. As the ship dropped anchor in the lower harbour, his
heart beat fast with a curious emotion. An unexpected emotion, Chinese
in its reactions. The sight of the yellow, muddy Yangtzse moved him
strangely. It was his river. It belonged, somehow, to him. He stood,
a lonely figure, on the deck, clad in ill-fitting, civilian clothes,
not nearly so jaunty as those he used to wear before he went away. His
clothes fell away from him strangely, for illness had wasted him, and
his collar stood out stiffly from his scrawny neck. One leg was gone,
shot away above the knee, and he hobbled painfully down the gangplank
and on to the tender, using his crutches very awkwardly.

The great, brown, muddy Yangtzse! His own river! The ships of the
world lay anchored in the harbour, the ships of all the world! The
tender made its way upward against the rushing tide, and great, clumsy
junks floated downstream. As they neared the dock, crowds of bobbing
sampans, with square, painted eyes--so that they might see where they
were going--came out and surrounded them. A miserable emotion overcame
him. They were his junks--he understood them. They were his sampans,
with their square, painted eyes--eyes that the foreigners pointed to
and laughed at! He understood them all--they were all his!

Presently he found himself upon the crowded Bund, surrounded by a
crowd of men and women, laughing, joyous foreigners, who had come to
meet their own from overseas. No one was there to meet him, but it was
not surprising. He had sent word to no one, because he had no one to
send word to. He was undecided where to go, and he hobbled along a
little, to get out of the crowd, and to plan a little what he should
do. As he stood there undecided, waiting a little, hanging upon his
crutches, two young men came along, sleek, well-fed, laughing. He
recognised them at once--two of his old colleagues in the office. They
glanced in his direction, looked down on his pinned-up trouser leg,
caught his eye, and then, without sign of recognition, passed on.

He was still a half-breed.



ON THE HEIGHTS



II

ON THE HEIGHTS


Rivers made his way to China many years ago. He was an adventurer, a
ne'er-do-weel, and China in those days was just about good enough for
him. Since he was English, it might have seemed more natural for him
to have gone to India, or the Straits Settlements, or one of the other
colonies of the mighty Empire, but for some reason, China drew him. He
was more likely to meet his own sort in China, where no questions
would be asked. And he did meet his own sort--people just like
himself, other adventurers and ne'er-do-weels, and their companionship
was no great benefit to him. So he drifted about all over China,
around the coast towns and back into the interior, to and fro,
searching for opportunities to make his fortune. But being the kind of
man he was, fortune seemed always to elude him. In course of time he
became rather well known on the China Coast--known as a beach-comber.
And even when he went into the remote, interior province of Szechuan,
where he lived a precarious, hand-to-mouth existence for several
years, he was also known as a beach-comber. Which shows that being two
thousand miles inland does not alter the characteristics associated
with that name.

Personally, he was not a bad sort. Men liked him, that is, men of his
own type. Some of them succeeded better than he did, and afterwards
referred to him as "poor old Rivers," although he was not really old
at that time. Neither was he really old either, when he died, several
years later. He was rather interesting too, in a way, since he had
experienced many adventures in the course of his wanderings in remote
parts of the country, which adventures were rather tellable. He even
knew a lot about China, too, which is more than most people do who
have lived in China many years. Had he been of that sort, he might
have written rather valuable books, containing his shrewd observations
and intimate, underhand knowledge of political and economic
conditions. But he was emphatically not of that sort, so continued to
lead his disreputable, roving life for a period of ten years. At the
end of which time he met a plaintive little Englishwoman, just out
from Home, and she, knowing nothing whatever of Rivers, but being
taken with his glib tongue and rather handsome person, married him.

As the wife of a confirmed beach-comber she had rather a hard time of
it. But for all that she was so plaintive and so supine, there was a
certain quality of force within her, and she insisted upon some
provision for the future. They were living in the interior at that
time, not too far in, and Rivers had come down to Shanghai to
negotiate some transactions for a certain firm. He could do things
like that well enough when he wanted to, as he had a certain ability,
and a knowledge of two or three Chinese dialects, and these things he
could put to account when he felt like it. Aided by his wife,
stimulated by her quiet, subtle insistence, he put through the
business entrusted to him, and the business promised success. Which
meant that the interior town in which they found themselves would soon
be opened to foreign trade. And as a new trade centre, however small,
Europeans would come to the town from time to time and require a
night's lodging. Here was where Mrs. Rivers saw her chance and took
it. In her simple, wholly supine way, she realised that there were
nothing but Chinese inns in the place, and therefore it would be a
good opportunity to open a hotel for foreigners. Numbers of foreigners
would soon be arriving, thanks to Rivers' efforts, and as he was now
out of employment (having gone on a prolonged spree to celebrate his
success and been discharged in consequence), there still remained an
opportunity for helping foreigners in another way. Personally, he
would have preferred to open a gambling house, but the risks were too
great. At that time the town was not yet fully civilized or
Europeanised, and he realised that he would encounter considerable
opposition to this scheme from the Chinese--and he was without
sufficient influence or protection to oppose them. His wife,
therefore, insisted upon the hotel, and he saw her point. She did not
make it in behalf of her own welfare, or the welfare of possible
future children. She merely made it as an opportunity that a man of
his parts ought not to miss. He had made a few hundred dollars out of
his deal, and fortunately, had not spent all of it on his grand
carouse. There was enough left for the new enterprise.

So they took a temple. Buddhism being in a decadent state in China,
and the temples being in a still further state of decay, it was an
easy matter to arrange things with the priests. The temple selected
was a large, rambling affair, with many compounds and many rooms,
situated in the heart of the city, and near the newly opened offices
of the newly established firm, the nucleus of this coming trade centre
of China. A hundred dollars Mex. rented it for a year, and Mrs. Rivers
spent many days sweeping and cleaning it, while Rivers himself helped
occasionally, and hired several coolies to assist in the work as well.
The monks' houses were washed and whitewashed; clean, new mats spread
on the floors, cheap European cots installed, with wash basins, jugs
and chairs, and other accessories such as are not found in native
inns. The main part of the temple still remained open for worship,
with the dusty gods on the altars and the dingy hangings in place as
usual. The faithful, such as there were, still had access to it, and
the priests lived in one of the compounds, but all the other compounds
were given over to Rivers for his new enterprise. Thus the prejudices
of the townspeople were not excited, the old priests cleared a hundred
dollars Mex., while the new tenants were at liberty to pursue their
venture to its most profitable limits. Mrs. Rivers managed the
housekeeping, assisted by a capable Chinese cook, and Rivers had a
sign painted, in English, bearing the words "Temple Hotel."
Fortunately it was summertime, so there were no expenses for
artificial heat, an item which would have taxed their small capital
beyond its limits.

Two weeks after the Temple Hotel swung out its sign, the first guest
arrived, the manager of the new company. He came to town reluctantly,
dreading the discomforts of a Chinese inn, and bringing with him his
food and bedding roll, intending to sleep in his cart in the
courtyard. Consequently he was greatly pleased and greatly surprised
to find a European hotel, and he stayed there ten days in perfect
comfort. Mrs. Rivers treated him royally--lost money on him, in fact,
but it was a good investment. At parting, the manager told Rivers
that his wife was a marvel, as indeed she was. Then he went down to
Shanghai and spread the news among his friends, and from that time on,
the success of the Temple Hotel was assured. True, Rivers still
continued to be a good fellow, that is, he continued to drink pretty
hard, but his guests overlooked it and his wife was used to it, and
the establishment continued to flourish. In a year or two the railroad
came along, and a period of great prosperity set in all round.

Like most foreigners, Rivers had a profound contempt for the Chinese.
They were inferior beings, made for servants and underlings, and to
serve the dominant race. He was at no pains to conceal this dislike,
and backed it up by blows and curses as occasion required. In this he
was not alone, however, nor in any way peculiar. Others of his race
feel the same contempt for the Chinese and manifest it by similar
demonstrations. Lying drunk under a walnut tree of the main courtyard,
Rivers had only to raise his eyes to his blue-coated, pig-tailed
coolies, to be immensely aware of his superiority. Kwong, his
number-one boy, used to survey him thus stretched upon the ground,
while Rivers, helpless, would explain to Kwong what deep and profound
contempt he felt for all those who had not his advantages--the great,
God-given advantage of a white skin. The lower down one is on the
social and moral plane, the more necessary to emphasize the
distinction between the races. Kwong used to listen, imperturbable,
thinking his own thoughts. When his master beat him, he submitted. His
impassive face expressed no emotion, neither assent nor dissent.

Except for incidents like these, of some frequency, things went on
very well with Rivers for three or four years, and then something
happened. He had barely time to bundle his wife and children aboard an
English ship lying in harbour and send them down river to Shanghai,
before the revolution broke out. He himself stayed behind to see it
through, living in the comparative security of his Consulate, for the
outbreak was not directed against foreigners and he was safe enough
outside the city, in the newly acquired concession. On this particular
day, when things had reached their climax and the rebels were sacking
and burning the town, Rivers leaned over the ramparts of the city
wall and watched them. The whole Tartar City was in flames, including
the Temple Hotel. He watched it burn with satisfaction. When things
quieted down, he would put in his claim for an indemnity. The Chinese
government, whichever or whatever it happened to be, should be made to
pay handsomely for his loss. Really, at this stage of his fortunes
nothing could have been more opportune. The Temple Hotel had reached
the limit of its capacity, and he had been obliged to turn away
guests. Moreover the priests, shrewd old sinners, had begun to clamour
for increased rental. They had detected signs of prosperity--as
indeed, who could not detect it--and for some time past they had been
urging that a hundred dollars Mex. a year was inadequate compensation.
Well, this revolution, whatever it was all about, would put a stop to
all that. Rivers would claim, and would undoubtedly receive, an ample
indemnity, with which money he would build himself a fine modern
hostelry, such as befitted this flourishing new trade centre, and as
befitted himself, shrewd and clever man of affairs. Altogether, this
revolution was a most timely and fortunate occurrence. He surveyed the
scene beneath him, but a good way off, be it said. Shrieks and yells,
firing and destruction, and the whole Tartar City in names and fast
crumbling into ashes.

The revolution settled itself in due time. The rebels either got what
they wanted, or didn't get what they wanted, or changed their minds
about wanting it after all, as sometimes happens with Chinese
uprisings. Whichever way it was, law and order were finally restored
and life resumed itself again on normal lines, although the Tartar
City, lying within the Chinese City, was a total wreck. What happened
in consequence to the despoiled and dispersed Manchu element is no
concern of ours.

Rivers put in his claim for an indemnity and got it. It was awarded
promptly, that is, with the delay of only a few months, and he at once
set out to build himself a fine hotel, in accordance with his highest
ambitions. The construction was entrusted to a native contractor, and
while the work progressed apace, he and his wife went down river to
Shanghai, and the children were sent north somewhere to a mission
school. During this enforced residence in Shanghai, in which city he
had been known some years ago as a pronounced beach-comber and
ne'er-do-weel, he was obliged to live practically without funds.
However, he was able to borrow on the strength of his indemnity, but
to do him justice, he limited his borrowings to the lowest terms, not
wishing to encroach upon his capital. In all this economy of living,
his wife assisted him greatly, for although supine and flexible there
was that quality of force about her which we have mentioned before.

As befitted a person who had lost his all in a Chinese uprising and
had been rewarded with a large sum of money in return, Rivers was
particularly bitter against the Chinese. His old contempt and hatred
flared up to large proportions, and he expressed his feelings openly
and freely, especially at those times when alcohol clouded his
judgment. Moreover, he was living in Shanghai now, where it was easy
to express his feelings in the classic way approved by foreigners, and
sanctioned by the customs and usages of the International Settlement.
He delighted to walk along the Bund, among crowds of burdened coolies
bending and panting under great sacks of rice, and to see them shrink
and swerve as he approached, fearing a blow of his stick. When he rode
in rickshaws, he habitually cheated the coolie of his proper fare,
secure in the knowledge that the Chinese had no redress, could appeal
to no one, and must accept a few coppers or none at all, at his
pleasure. If the coolie objected, Rivers still had the rights of it. A
crowd might collect, vociferating in their vile jargon, but it
mattered nothing. A word from Rivers to a passing European, to a
policeman, to any one whose word carries in the Settlement, was
sufficient. He had but to explain that one of these impertinent yellow
pigs had tried to extort three times the legal fare, and his case was
won. No coolie could successfully contradict the word of a foreigner,
no police court, should matters go as far as that, would take a
Chinaman's word against that of a white man. He was quite secure in
his bullying, in his dishonesty, in his brutality, and there is no
place on earth where the white man is more secure in his
whitemanishness than in this Settlement, administered by the ruling
races of the world. Rivers thoroughly enjoyed these street fracases,
in which he was the natural and logical victor. He enjoyed telling
about them afterward, for they served to illustrate his conception of
the Chinese character and of the Chinese race in general. It was but
natural for him to feel this way, seeing what losses he had suffered
through the revolution. As he told of his losses, it was not apparent
to an outsider that the hotel had not been utterly and entirely his
property, instead of an old Buddhist temple rented from the priests
for one hundred dollars Mex. a year.

Besides Rivers, others in the town in the interior had suffered
hardships. Among them was his number-one boy, Kwong, who had served
him faithfully for several years. Kwong had been rather hard hit by
the uprising. His wretched little hovel had been burned to the ground,
his wife had fallen victim to a bullet, while his two younger children
disappeared during the excitement and were never heard of again.
Killed, presumably. After the victorious rebels had had their way, all
that remained to Kwong was his son Liu, aged eighteen, and these two
decided to come down to Shanghai and earn their living amidst more
civilized surroundings. One of the strongest arguments in favour of
the International Settlement is that it affords safety and protection
to the Chinese. They flock to it in great numbers, preferring the just
and beneficent administration of the white man to the uncertainties of
native rule. So Kwong and his son made their way down the Yangtzse,
floating down river on a stately junk with ragged matting sails. It
was the tide, and a bamboo pole for pushing, rather than any
assistance derived from the ragged sails, which eventually landed them
in the safe harbour of Whangpoo Creek, and stranded them on the mud
flats below Garden Bridge.

Being illiterate people, father and son, unskilled labour was all that
presented itself, so they became rickshaw coolies, as so many country
people do. During a year, some two hundred thousand men, young and old
and mostly from up-country, take up the work of rickshaw runners. It
is not profitable employment, and the work is hard, and many of them
drop out--the come-and-go of rickshaw runners is enormous, a great,
unstable, floating population. Kwong and Liu hired a rickshaw between
them, for a dollar and ten cents a day, and their united exertions
barely covered the day's hire. Sometimes they had a few coppers over
and above the daily expenses, sometimes they fell below that sum and
had to make up the deficit on the morrow. On the occasions when they
were in debt to the proprietor, they were forced to forego the small
outlay required for food, and neither could afford a meagre bowl of
millet. Pulling a rickshaw on an empty stomach is not conducive to
health. Kwong, being an older man, found the strain very difficult,
and Liu, being but a fledgling and weak and undeveloped at that, also
found it difficult. They were always tired, nearly always hungry, and
part of the time ill. And what neither could understand was the
passengers' objection to paying the legal fare. Now and then, of
course, they had a windfall in the shape of a tourist or a drunken
sailor from a cruiser, but these exceptions were few and far between.
Necessarily so, considering the number of rickshaws, and that the tram
cars were strong competitors as well.

They were also surprised at the attitude of the Europeans. The first
time that Liu was struck over the head by a beautiful Malacca cane, he
was aghast with astonishment--and pain. Fortunately he knew enough not
to hit hack. Not understanding English, he did not know that he was
being directed to turn up the Peking Road, and accordingly had run
swiftly past the Peking Road until brought to his senses, so to speak,
by a silver knob above the ear, which made him dizzy with pain. As
time passed, however, he grew accustomed to this attitude of the
ruling race, and accepted the blows without remonstrance, knowing that
remonstrance was vain. His fellow coolies soon taught him that. He and
his kind were but dogs in the sight of the foreigners, and must accept
a dog's treatment in consequence. Once a lady leaned far forward in
the rickshaw and gave him a vicious kick. Up till then, he had not
realised that the women of the white race also had this same feeling
towards him. But what can one expect? If a man lowers himself to the
plane of an animal and gets between shafts, he must expect an animal's
treatment. In certain communities, however, there are societies to
protect animals.

Matters went along like this for some months, and Kwong and Liu barely
kept themselves going. However, they managed to keep out of debt for
the rickshaw hire, which was in itself an achievement. Rivers also
continued to live in Shanghai at this time, making up-river trips now
and then to inspect the progress of his new hotel, which was
favourable. As he landed at the Bund one day, returning from one of
these excursions, he chanced to step into the rickshaw pulled by his
old servitor, Kwong. Kwong made him a respectful salute, but Rivers,
preoccupied, failed to recognise his former servant in the old and
filthy coolie who stood between the shafts of an old and shabby
rickshaw. He always made it a point to select old rickshaws, pulled by
broken down men. They looked habitually underpaid, and were probably
used to it, and were therefore less likely to raise objections at the
end of the trip than one of the swift young runners who stood about
the European hotels. Remember, in extenuation, that Rivers was living
on credit at this time, on borrowed money, and he did not like to be
more extravagant than he had to.

The day was a piping hot one, and the distance Rivers travelled was
something under three miles, out on the edge of French Town. When he
alighted, he found but three copper cents in his pocket, all that was
left him after a considerable carouse on the river boat coming down.
He tendered this sum to the panting and sweating Kwong, who stood
exhausted but respectful, hoping in a friendly way that his old master
would recognise him. To do Rivers justice, he did not recognise his
former servant, nor did he have more than three copper cents in his
possession, although that fact was known to him when he stepped into
the rickshaw and directed the coolie to French Town, extreme limits.
Kwong indignantly rejected the copper cents, and Rivers flung them
into the dust and turned away. Kwong ran after him, expostulating,
catching him by the coat sleeve. Rivers turned savagely. The wide road
was deserted, and in a flash he brought his heavy blackwood stick
across Kwong's face with a terrific blow. The coolie fell sprawling in
the dust at his old master's feet, and Rivers, furious, kicked him
savagely in the stomach, again and again, until the man lay still and
ceased writhing. Blood gushed from his mouth, making a puddle in the
dust, a puddle which turned black and thick about the edges.

In an instant Rivers was sobered. He glanced swiftly up and down the
road, and to his dismay, saw a crowd of blue coated figures running in
his direction. He had barely time to stoop down and pick up the
tell-tale coppers before he was surrounded by a noisy and excited
group of Chinese, gesticulating furiously and rending the hot, blue
air with their outlandish cries. A policeman came in sight, and a
passing motor filled with foreigners stopped to see the trouble. He
had overdone things, surely. There was nothing for it but the police
station.

Now such accidents are not infrequent in Shanghai, the white man's
city built in China, administered by the white men to their own
advantage, and to the advantage of the Chinese who seek protection
under the white man's just and beneficent rule. However, human life is
very cheap in China, cheaper than most places in the Orient, although
that is not saying much. It would, therefore, have been very easy for
Rivers to have extricated himself from this scrape had he possessed
any money. Two hundred and fifty dollars, Mex. is the usual price for
a coolie's life when an affair of this kind happens. There is a well
established precedent to this effect. Unfortunately for Rivers, he did
not possess two hundred and fifty dollars, for as has been said, he
was at this time living on borrowed money. Nothing for it then but a
trial, and certain unpleasant publicity. Happily, there were no
witnesses to the occurrence, and Rivers' plea of self-defence would
naturally he accepted. It was an unpleasant business, however, but
there was no other way out of it, seeing that he was bankrupt.

The trial took place with due dignity. Evidence, produced after an
autopsy, proved that at the time of the accident Kwong was in a very
poor state of health. Every one knows that the work of a rickshaw
coolie is hard, the physical strain exceedingly severe. Four years, at
the outside, is the average life of a rickshaw runner, after which he
must change his occupation to something more suited to a physical
wreck. Much testimony was produced to show that Kwong had long ago
reached that point. He was courting death, defying death, every day.
It was his own fault. He had great varicose veins in his legs, which
were large and swollen. His heart, constantly overtaxed by running
with heavy weights, was enlarged and ready to burst any moment. His
spleen also was greatly dilated and ready to burst--in fact, it was
not at all clear whether after such a long run--three miles in such
heat--he would not have dropped dead anyway. Such cases were of daily
occurrence, too numerous to mention. The slight blow he had
received--a mere push as defendant had stated under oath--was probably
nothing more than a mere unfortunate coincidence.

Such being the evidence, and the courts being administered by
Europeans, and there being no doubt whatever of the quality of justice
administered by Europeans in their own behalf, it is not surprising
that Rivers was acquitted. The verdict returned was, Accidental death
due to rupture of the spleen, caused by over-exertion. Rivers was a
good deal shaken, however, when he stepped out of the courtroom, into
the hot, bright sunshine, and received the congratulations of his
friends. He had heard so many disgusting medical details of the havoc
caused by rickshaw pulling, that he resolved to be very careful in
future about hitting these impudent, good-for-nothing swine.

Amongst the crowd in the courtroom, but practically unnoticed, sat
Liu, son of the late Kwong. The proceedings being in English, he was
unable to follow them, but he knew enough to realise that the slayer
of his father was being tried. Presumably his life was at stake, as
was befitting under the circumstances. Therefore his surprise was
great when the outcome of the case was explained to him by a Chinese
friend who understood English, and his astonishment, if such it may be
called, was still more intense upon seeing Rivers walk out of the
courtroom receiving congratulatory handshakes as he passed. To the
ignorant mind of the young Chinese, Rivers was being felicitated for
having committed murder. He was unable to draw any fine distinctions,
or to understand that these congratulations were not intended for
Rivers personally, but because his acquittal strengthened established
precedents. Precedents that rendered unassailable the status of the
ruling race. Liu was therefore filled with an overmastering and bitter
hatred of Rivers, and had he realised what the acquittal stood for,
would probably have been filled with an equally intense hatred for the
dominant race in general. Not understanding that, however, he
concentrated his feelings upon Rivers, and resolved to bring him to
account in accord with simpler, less civilized standards.

Within two months, the Temple Hotel was finished and ready for use.
Much foreign furniture had been sent up from Shanghai, and Rivers and
his wife also removed themselves to the up-river town and set about
their business. Rivers was glad to leave Shanghai; he had had enough
of it, since his unlucky episode, and was glad to bury himself in the
comparative obscurity of the interior. Life resumed itself smoothly
once again, and he prospered exceedingly.

His attitude towards the natives, however, was more domineering than
ever, now that he had recovered from the unpleasant two weeks that
preceded his trial. These two weeks had been more uncomfortable than
he liked to think about, but safely away from the scene of the
disturbance, he became more abusive, more brutal than ever in his
attitude towards the Chinese. His servants horribly feared him, yet
did his bidding with alacrity. The reputation of a man who could kill
when he chose, with impunity, stood him in good stead. Liu, the son of
Kwong, followed him up-river and obtained a place in his household as
pidgeon-cook, assistant to number-one cook. Rivers failed to recognize
his new servant, and at such times as he encountered him, was
delighted with the servile attitude of the youth, and called him "Son
of a Turtle" which is the worst insult in the Chinese language.

Liu bided his time, for time is of no moment in the Orient. His hatred
grew from day to day, but he continued to wait. He wished to see
Rivers thoroughly successful, at the height of his career, before
calling him to account. Since he would have to pay for his revenge
with his life--not being a European--he determined that a white man at
the top of his pride would be a more fitting victim than one who had
not yet climbed the ladder. Such was his simple reasoning. Under his
long blue coat there hung a long, thin knife, whetted to razor
sharpness on both edges.

Summer came again, and the blazing heat of mid-China, lay over the
land. Mrs. Rivers went north to join her children, and the number of
guests in the hotel diminished to two or three. Business and tourists
came to a standstill during these scorching weeks, and Rivers finally
went down to Shanghai for a few days' jollification. He left his
affairs in the hands of the shroff, the Chinese accountant, who could
be trusted to manage them for a short time.

He returned unexpectedly one night about eleven o'clock, quite drunk.
The few guests had retired and the hotel was closed. At the gate, the
watchman lay asleep beside his lantern, and when Rivers let himself in
with his key, he found Liu in the lounge, also asleep. He cursed Liu,
but submitted to the steady, supporting arm which the boy place around
his waist, and was led to bed without difficulty. Liu assisted his
master to undress, folding up the crumpled, white linen clothes with
silver buttons, and laying them neatly across a chair. He was an
excellent servant. Then he retired from the room, listening outside
the door till he heard sounds of heavy, stertorous breathing. At that
moment, the contempt of the Chinese for the dominant race was even
greater than Rivers' contempt for the inferior one.

When the proprietor's breathing had assumed reassuring proportions,
Liu opened the door cautiously, and stepped lightly into the room. He
then locked it with equal caution, slipped quietly across to the
verandah, and passed out through the long, wide-open windows. The
verandah was a dozen feet from the ground, and the dark passage below,
leading to the gate, was deserted. At the other end sat the watchman
with his lantern, presumably asleep. Liu had not heard his drum tap
for an hour. A shaft of moonlight penetrated the room, and a light
wind blowing in from outside gently stirred the mosquito curtains over
the bed. Liu tiptoed to the bed, and with infinite care drew the
netting aside and stood surveying his victim. Rivers lay quite still
with arms outstretched, fat and bloated, breathing with hoarse,
blowing sounds, quite repulsive. The moonlight was sufficient to
enable Liu to see the dark outline upon the bed, and to gauge where
he would strike. He hovered over his victim, exultant, prolonging from
minute to minute this strange, new feeling of power and dominance.
That was what it meant to be a white man--to feel this feeling
always--always--all one's life, not merely for a few brief,
exhilarating moments! And with that feeling of power and dominance was
the ability to inflict pain, horrible, frightful pain. That also was
part of the white man's heritage, this ability to inflict pain and
suffering at will. And after that, death. Liu also had the power to
inflict death. Leaning over the bed, with the long, keen knife in his
steady clutch, he was for those glorious moments the equal of the
white man! He prolonged his sensations breathlessly--this sense of
superb power, this superb ability to inflict humiliation, pain and
death.

A mosquito lit on Rivers' blotched cheek, and he raised a heavy arm to
brush it away. Then he relaxed again with a snore. Liu paused,
waiting. The glorious exaltation was mounting higher. It occurred to
him to sharpen these sensations, to heighten them. After all, he was
about to kill a drunken man in a drunken sleep. He wanted something
better. He wanted to feel his power over a conscious man, a man
conscious and aware of what was to befall him. Even as his father had
been conscious and aware of what was befalling him, even as thousands
of his countrymen were awake and aware, knowing what was being done to
them--by the dominant race. He wished Rivers awake and aware. It
involved greater risk, but it was worth it. Therefore, with the point
of his sharp, keen knife, he gently prodded the throat of the sleeper,
lying supine before him under the moon rays. Gently, very gently, he
prodded the exposed throat, placed the point of his knife very gently
upon his heaving, corded larynx, which pulsed inward and outward under
the heaving, stertorous breaths. Gently he stimulated the corded,
puffing throat, gently, with the point of his sharp knife.

The result was as he wished. First Rivers stirred, moved a restless
arm, flopped an impotent, heavy arm that fell back upon the pillow, an
arm that failed to reach its objective, to quell the tickling, cold
point prodded into his throat. Then as he slowly grew conscious, the
movements of the arm became more coordinated. Into his drunken mind
came the fixed sensation of a disturbance at his throat. He became
conscious, opened a heavy eye, and fixed it upon Liu, without at the
same time feeling the pressing point at his throat. Liu saw his
returning consciousness, and leaning over him, pressed upon his
throat, ever so lightly, the point of his long knife. Thus for a
moment or two they regarded each other, Liu having the advantage. But
so it had always been. Having the advantage was one of the attributes
of the dominant race. Thus for those few brief seconds, Liu
experienced the whole glory of it. And as little by little Rivers
emerged from the drunken to the conscious, to the abjectly, cravenly
conscious, so Liu mounted to the heights.

Then he saw that Rivers was about to cry out. To let forth a roaring
bellow, a howling bellow. Enough. He had tasted the whole of it. He
had felt, for prolonged and glorious moments, the feelings of the
superior race. Therefore he drove home, silently, his sharp, keen
knife, and stifled the mad bellow that was about to be let forth.
After which, he crept very cautiously to the balcony, and peered
anxiously up and down the dark alleyway beneath. He lowered himself
with infinite caution over the railing. He had become once more the
cringing Oriental.



HOMESICK



III

HOMESICK


A Chinese gentleman, with his arms tucked up inside the brocaded
sleeves of his satin coat, stood one day with one foot in China and
the other upon European soil. From time to time he bore with alternate
weight upon the right foot, on Chinese soil, and then upon the left
foot, upon European soil, and his mental attitude shifted from right
to left accordingly. The foot upon Chinese soil reflected upward to
his brain the restriction of Chinese laws, the breaking of which were
accompanied by heavy penalties. The foot upon European soil reassured
him as to his ability to indulge himself, with no penalties
whatsoever. Therefore, after balancing himself for a few moments first
upon this foot, then upon that, he gave way to his inclinations and
resolved to indulge them. In certain matters, Europeans were more
liberal than Chinese.

From this you will see that he had been standing with one foot in
China, where opium traffic was prohibited, where heavy fines were
attached to opium smoking and to opium buying, where heavy jail
sentences were imposed upon those who smoked or bought opium, while
the other foot, planted upon the ground of the Foreign Concession,
assured him of his absolute freedom to buy opium in any quantity he
chose, and to smoke himself to a standstill in an opium den licensed
under European auspices. In his saner moments, when not under the
influence of the drug, he resented the European occupation of certain
parts of Chinese territory, but when his craving for opium
occurred--which it did with great frequency--he was delighted to
realise that there were certain parts of China not under the authority
of the drastic laws of China, which laws prohibited with such drastic
and heavy penalties the indulgences he craved. Therefore he swayed
himself backwards and forwards for a space, first upon this foot, then
upon that, and finally withdrew both feet into the Foreign Concession,
and directed his steps to a shop where opium was sold under European
influence. The shop was capacious but dark. He stated his requirements
and they were measured out to him--a large keg was withdrawn from its
place on a shelf, and a gentle Chinese, clad, like himself, in satin
brocade, dug into the contents of the keg with a ladle and withdrew
from it a black, molasses-like substance, which ran slowly and gummily
from the ladle into the small silver box which the customer had
produced. The box finally filled, with some of the gummy, black
contents running over the edges, our gentleman withdrew himself,
having accomplished his purpose. Tucked into the security of his belt,
it was impossible to detect the contraband as he again stepped over
the boundary line which separated Chinese from European soil.

Half an hour after our Chinese gentleman had stepped across the
boundary line into the native city, with a large supply of opium
concealed in his belt, part of which he would retail to certain
friends who had not time enough to run across into the European
concession to buy it for themselves, a young Englishman stood, by
curious coincidence, upon the same spot recently occupied by the
Chinese. He also stood with one foot upon Chinese soil, with the
other upon the soil of the Foreign Concession, and regretted, with
considerable vehemence, that at this dividing line his efforts must
cease. He had been pursuing, for perhaps a mile, the proprietor of a
certain gambling den, whom he wished to apprehend. But at the boundary
line, which the Chinese had reached before him, his prey had escaped.
He was off somewhere, safe in the devious lanes and burrows of the
native city. Therefore he stood baffled, and finally made his way back
into the Settlement, along the quais, and finally reached his rooms.
He pondered somewhat over the situation. That which was permitted on
Chinese territory, was prohibited in the foreign holdings--and the
reverse. It just depended whether you were on this side the line or
that, as to whether or not you were a lawbreaker. Morality appeared
arbitrary, determined by geographical lines--a matter of dollars and
cents. Lawson walked slowly along the Bund, turning the matter over in
his rather limited mind. Take the opium business, he considered. The
Chinese considered it harmful, and wished to abolish it. Very good.
Yet the Foreign Concessions made money out of it and insisted upon
selling it.

Take another example, he reflected--gambling, his job. Or rather, his
job was the suppression of gambling--in the foreign holdings. The
Chinese considered it harmless, a matter of individual inclination.
Very good. But the foreigners considered it a vice, and he, Lawson,
was appointed to run to earth Chinese fan-tan houses, in the
Concession, and suppress them. Yet his own people, the foreigners,
gambled freely and uproariously in their own establishments--at the
races, and at certain houses which they maintained for their pleasure.
True, these houses were not in the Concession--for some reason the
foreigners had set their face against gambling in the Concession--yet
they maintained their establishments, their showy and luxurious
establishments, outside the Concession and upon Chinese soil. They
must pay a handsome squeeze for the privilege. Yet it was difficult to
reconcile. What was right and wrong, anyway? What was moral or
immoral, anyway? Lawson, of very limited intelligence, walked along,
sorely puzzled. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander--well, two
very different kinds of sauces, composed of very different
ingredients, as far as he could see. Lawson, being a young man of
limited intelligence, was greatly puzzled. He had been greatly
bothered over this for a long time. It began to look to him--very
vaguely--as if morality was not an abstract but a concrete affair.

Just then he passed an opium shop, and considered again. That surely
was a nasty game, yet his Government encouraged it--and made money
from it. But the Chinese, on their side of the boundary line, were
doing their best to suppress it. It was very difficult for them to
make headway, however, since opium shops flourished and were
encouraged by the foreign concessions, over which the Chinese had no
control. Topsy turvy, anyway. No wonder a person like Lawson was
unable to understand it. It all resolved itself into a question of
money, after all. For after all, money was the main object of life,
whether on the part of an individual or of a government. And since all
governments were composed of individuals, and reflected the ideas of
individuals, there you were!

By this time, young Lawson had become quite bored with life in the Far
East. The romance was gone and it offered so little variety. One day
was so like another, and every day, winter and summer, it was the same
thing or the same sorts of things, and there was an intense sameness
about it all. By day he did his work--that goes without saying--one
has to work in the Far East, that is what one comes out to do.
Otherwise, why come? Unless one is a tourist or a missionary, or a
buyer of Chinese antiques, or has had an overwhelming desire to write
a book upon international politics, a desire springing from the depths
of gross ignorance. But after all, why not such a book? It reaches, if
it reaches at all, a public still less informed, and misinformation is
as valuable as no information at all, when we desire to interfere with
the destiny of the Chinese. In his leisure moments, Lawson had tried
his hand at such a book--until he suddenly realised that he had been
in the Orient too long to make it a success. He knew just a trifle too
much about affairs, and found himself setting forth facts which would
lead to his undoing, as a minor official in the International
Settlement--if he gave them publicity. He could not afford to lose his
position. And he was by no means sure that the deep, unerring sense of
justice, the innate instinct of the masses, would rally to his
support. He had his own opinion of the ruling classes, but he trusted
the masses still less.

It was a biting cold night, with a high wind from the north howling
down the long streets and whipping the waters of the harbour into a
fury. Junks strained at their anchors, tossed and heaved, and now and
then one broke loose from its moorings and wandered about adrift,
spreading infinite terror amongst the owners of other junks, who
feared for their safety. A cruiser or two lay in the roads, and the
French mail, and two or three Japanese cargo-boats, and half a dozen
tramp ships from the China Coast, but none of these were unduly
buffeted by the gale, which only created havoc among the junks and
sampans. Lawson's lodgings overlooked the harbour, and he laid down
his pen and moved from the table to the dark window, trying in vain to
see what was going on without. Below, the long line of the quais was
outlined by long rows of electric lights, swaying and tossing from
their poles, and illuminating the shining, wet asphalt of the Bund. He
was very, very tired of it all. So many years he had been out, and the
same monotonous round must be gone through with, over and over again,
day after day--until he made money enough to return home. And as a
salaried clerk, a court runner, whose duty it was to enforce the laws
against gambling in the Settlement, that day seemed very far distant
indeed. Whenever he heard of a fan-tan place--and he heard of them
every day--he must investigate, see that it was closed and the
keepers, if he was lucky enough to catch them, duly punished. And the
players as well. Now to eradicate gambling from amongst the Chinese is
a difficult task, futile and ridiculous, a good waste of time and
money. He wondered why his Government should attempt it. Foolish thing
for his Government to do--yet what would become of Lawson if the
undertaking were abolished? Taste tea, probably--apprentice himself to
some tea merchant, and learn all the nasty rôle of tea spitting. From
which you will see that Lawson was squeamish about some things, and
did not envy those of his friends who had become tea tasters, and who
moved all day up and down a long table, filled with rows of stupid
little cups, with an attendant China boy forever shoving a cuspidor
from one advanced position to another. And if not a tea taster, then
some commercial house would absorb his energies, which would be worse
still--close at his elbow a spectacled Chinese clicking all day upon a
dirty little abacus,--checking him up, keeping tabs on him.

No, the work he had was better. But he was so tired of it. He leaned
himself against the dripping, cold pane, and regarded the lights
below, shining on the wet asphalt of the quais. He was thirty years
old and ten years in the East had about done for him. The East does,
for many people. Yes, he reflected bitterly, it had about done for
him. It undermines people, in some mysterious manner, and in Lawson's
case there had been so little to undermine. He had little imagination,
and could never imagine the larger possibilities of life, and what he
had missed, therefore the undermining of his character was of small
account. He was only conscious of an intense boredom, and to-night
the boredom was accentuated, because of the weather. He was too inert
to splash about in such a driving rain in quest of a friend more weary
than himself.

If he could just get out of it all! By which, understand, he had not
the adventurous spirit of the beach-comber, the adventurer who combs
pleasure and profits from the ports of the China Coast. He wasn't that
sort. He had no desire to take a sampan and row out to the nearest
cargo-boat and ship away to the Southern Seas, and sink himself in
romance north or south of the Line. No, the mystery of the East, the
romance of foreign lands made no appeal to him. And the everlasting
monotony of his daily work, of his daily association with his few
wearied friends, clerks and suchlike, all minor and unimportant cogs
of the big machine overseas, offered him nothing. Very decidedly he
was homesick. But his tired mind came upon a blank wall--he had no
home to be homesick for. Nothing compelling, nothing to return to--all
broken up long ago, such as it was, long before he had come out to the
Orient. Yet he was longing for the sight of his native land again.
Yes, that was it--just the familiar sight of it. It offered him
nothing in the way of tie or kin, yet he was longing to see it again,
just his own native land. He was exiled in China--and he was exiled at
Home, when you got down to it--but to-night his home land drew him
with overwhelming insistence.

What can you do, I'd like to know, when you are like this? Along the
outskirts of the Settlement stood big houses, cheerful with lights,
with home life, with all that the successful ones had brought out from
Home, to establish Home in the Orient. But Lawson had nothing to do
with these, with all the pompous, successful ones, who ignored him
completely and were unaware of his existence. They were all superior
to him, with the superiority that new-found money brings, and they
looked down upon him as a cheap court runner, told off to round up the
fan-tan playing Chinese. You see, Lawson was common--he had sprung
from nothing and was nothing. But these others, these successful ones,
they too had sprung from nothing, but out here in the Orient they had
become important. Through the possession of certain qualities which
Lawson did not possess, they had become large and prominent in the
community. They referred to themselves, among each other, as "younger
sons." Which left one to infer that they were of distinguished
lineage. But Lawson knew better, and knew it with great bitterness.
Like himself, they were indeed "younger sons"--of greengrocers.
Therefore, for that reason perhaps, they went home seldom, for at home
they were nobodies. Whereas out here--oh, out here, by reason of
certain qualities which Lawson did not possess, they were important
and pompous, and lived in big houses, with lights and guests and
servants and motors. Therefore Lawson resented them, because they
thought he was common. And he was common, he admitted bitterly, but so
were they. Only they were successful, by reason of certain qualities
which he did not possess. They ignored him, and left him alone in the
community, and it is never very good to be too much alone, especially
in the Far East. True, they provided him with his job--with his
wretchedly paid little Government job, which they maintained for no
altruistic or moral reasons. To suppress gambling amongst the
Chinese? Perhaps. Incidentally, on the surface, it looked well. Looked
well, he considered, coming from those who never helped the Chinese in
anything else. Who exploited them, in all possible ways, and
undermined them--undermined the Chinese who were pretty well done for
anyway, by nature, being Chinese. No, he reflected savagely--he had
heard the story--one night some big personage living in one of the big
houses, to which he was never invited--had given a big dinner, with
much wine and fine food and many guests and all the rest of it--and
what happened? No servants, or rather many servants without liveries
or clothing of any kind, everything having been pawned the evening
before over the fan-tan tables. Therefore he, Lawson, was employed by
Government to suppress these gambling houses, to keep the servants
from stealing and pawning their liveries, making embarrassment in the
big, foreign-style houses, making amusement and consternation and
scandal. He had happened along shortly after this affair, and so
obtained the appointment.

Lawson leaned his forehead against the cold glass, down which the rain
poured in sheets. The lights of the French mail glimmered
intermittently through the darkness--to-morrow she would weigh anchor
and be off for Marseilles, for Home. Not that he had a home, as we
have said, but he longed for the familiar look of things, for the
crowds all speaking his own tongue, for the places he knew, the well
known street signs, and the big hoardings. And he couldn't go back. He
had not money enough to go back. Every penny of his little salary went
for living expenses and living comes high in China. To say nothing of
the passage money and the money for afterwards---- A gentle cough
behind him made him turn round in a hurry. His China-boy stood
expectantly in the doorway.

"What is it?" demanded Lawson sharply. Ah Chang drew in his breath,
not wishing to breathe upon his superior. The indrawn, hissing noise
irritated Lawson immensely. He had been out ten years, and in that
time had never learned that Ah Chang and the others were showing him
respect, deep proofs of Oriental respect, when they sucked in their
breath with that hissing noise, to avoid breathing upon a superior. To
Lawson it was just another horrid trait, another horrid native
characteristic.

"Man come see Master," observed Ah Chang, addressing space
impersonally. "Heap plenty important business. You see?"

Anything for a change this dreary evening. "Very well," said Lawson,
"I see."

In a moment or two, a tall Chinese shuffled into the room, bowing
repeatedly with hands on knees. After which he passed his long slim
hands up into the sleeves of his satin coat, and waited quietly till
the boy withdrew. He gave a swift look about the room, a glance so
hurried that it seemed impossible he could have satisfied himself that
they were alone, and then began to speak. Lawson recognised him at
once as the keeper of a house he had raided the week before, a big,
crowded place, where the police had captured a score of players and
much money. It was an important haul, a notorious den, that they had
been after for a long time. Only it changed its location so often,
moved from place to place each night, or so it seemed, that Lawson had
spent months trying to find it. It is not easy finding such places in
the crowded, native streets of the Concession, and he had stumbled
upon it by a piece of sheer luck. And the proprietor had been heavily
fined and heavily warned, yet here he stood to-night, silent,
respectful, hands up his sleeves, waiting. For once in his life,
Lawson's imagination worked. He foresaw something portentous looming
in the background of that impenetrable mind, revealed in the steady,
unblinking stare of those slanting Chinese eyes, fixed steadily and
fearlessly and patiently upon his.

"Sit down," he commanded, with a sweep of his hand towards an upright
chair.

       *       *       *       *       *

After his visitor had departed, Lawson stood lost in thought. He was
not angry, yet he should have been, he realised. Assuredly he should
have been angry, assuredly he should have kicked his visitor
downstairs. But as it was, he remained in deep thought, pondering over
a suggestion that had been made to him. The suggestion, stripped of
certain Oriental qualities of flowery phraseology and translated from
pidgin-English into business English, was the merest, most vague hint
of an exchange of favours. So slight was the hint, but so
overwhelming the possibilities suggested, that, as we have said,
Lawson had not kicked his visitor downstairs, but remained standing
lost in thought for several moments after his departure. As he had
stood earlier in the day, with one foot in the Foreign Concession, and
the other on Chinese soil, considering the different standards that
obtained in each, so he stood now, figuratively, on the boundary line
of an ethical problem and swayed mentally first towards one side and
then the other. The irony of it, the humour of it, appealed to him. It
seemed so insanely just--just what you might expect. He had been
asked--that was too definite a word--to forego his activities for a
few brief weeks. And during those few brief weeks he could repay
himself, week by week, on Friday nights----

He had been merely asked--too strong a word--the suggestion had been
merely hinted at--he balanced himself back and forth over the problem.
If his efforts during the next few weeks should prove fruitless,
possible enough, considering the wily race he was dealing with----And
in exchange, well, once a week on Friday night, he could slip outside
the boundaries of the Concession to a large, foreign gambling house
kept by and for his own people. By his own people, the Europeans, who
employed him to eradicate gambling from amongst the Chinese. Do you
wonder that he shifted himself back and forth, morally, first from
this point of view, then to that? His own people who objected to
gaming, when it involved the loss of their servants' liveries. But
they had no such scruples when it came to their own pleasure.
Therefore, for their own pleasure, careless of the inconsistency, they
had established a very fine place of their own just outside the
boundaries of the foreign Concession. Lawson had heard of the place
before--the most famous, the most notorious on the China Coast. Kept
by the son of a parson, so he had been told, a University graduate.
Once, ten years ago, he had gone there and lost a month's pay in an
evening. But now it was to be different. He could go there now, every
Friday night, and reap the reward of his inability to discover Chinese
dens within the Concession.

For nearly an hour he remained undecided, then determined to test the
offer made him--but offer was too strong a word. And his salary was
so meagre, so abominably small. And the people in the big houses would
have none of him, they never invited him, he was left so alone, to
himself. He was intensely homesick. Therefore, still on the boundary
line, he went to the telephone and called up a certain number. In a
confident manner he asked for a limousine. After which he got into his
overcoat, muffled himself up well around the ears and nose, for the
air outside was cold with a biting north wind, and the rain still
drove slantwise in torrents. In a few moments Ah Chang announced that
the calliage had come.

Round the earner from his lodgings on a side street and in darkness,
stood a big car with the motor puffing violently. It was a big,
handsome car, very long, and on the front seat sat two men in livery,
one of whom jumped down briskly to open the door. Lawson entered and
sank down into the soft cushions, for it was very luxurious. Then the
car moved on briskly, without any directions from himself, and he
leaned back upon the cushions and took pleasure in the luxury of it,
and of the two men in livery upon the front seat, and enjoyed the
pouring rain which dashed upon the glass, yet left him so dry and
comfortable within. "They will only think it's inconsistent--that's
all," he said to himself, "if they ever find out--which is unlikely."

Beyond the confines of the Settlement the motor rapidly made its way,
slipping noiselessly over the smooth, wet asphalt, and then out along
the bumpy roads beyond the city limits. All was dark now, the street
lamps having been left behind with the ending of the good roads, and
the car jolted along slowly, over deep ruts. A stretch of open country
intervened between the Settlement and a native village of clustering
mud huts. Lawson, having no imagination, was not impressed with his
position. People did all sorts of things in China, just as
elsewhere--only here, in China, it was so much easier to get away with
it. His coming to-night might be considered inconsistent, he repeated
over and over to himself, but nothing more. Every one did it, he
reassured himself.

The car stopped finally, before a pair of high, very solid black
gates, and the footman jumped off the box to open the door. He was
conscious of a small grill with a yellow face peeping out, backed by
flickering lantern light, of a rainy, windswept compound, with a shaft
of light from an open door flooding the courtyard. Then he was inside
a warm, bright anteroom, with an obsequious China-boy relieving him of
overcoat and muffler, and he became aware of many big, fur-lined
overcoats, hanging on pegs on the wall. Beyond, in the adjoining room,
were two long tables, the players seated with their backs to him,
absorbed. Only a few people were present, for the night was early.
There was no one there he knew--even had there been, he would not have
cared. He drew out a chair and seated himself confidently, while a
China-boy pushed a box of cigars towards him, a very good brand. And
behind came another boy with a tray of whisky and soda, while a third
boy carried sandwiches. It was all very well done, he thought
absently. The proprietor, being a parson's son and a University
graduate, did it very well. There was no disorder, it was all
beautifully done. He wondered what amount of squeeze the Chinese
received, for allowing such a fine place to remain undisturbed on
Chinese soil. A very big squeeze, certainly. They would surely be very
grasping, considering the warfare waged against them, upon their own
establishments, by the Europeans. It was all very interesting. Lawson
considered the matter critically, from various angles, knowing what he
knew. He sorted his chips carefully. It must pay the parson's son
well, he concluded, to be able to run such a fine place, in such
style, with so much to eat and drink and all, and with all those
motors to carry out the guests. All this in addition to the
squeeze--it must really be an enormous squeeze. And the people for
whose amusement this was established, were the people who were
employing him----

For a brief, fleeting second his eye rested upon the calm,
unquestioning face of the Chinese at the wheel, brother of the
proprietor of the fan-tan place he had raided a week ago. The placid
eye of the Oriental fixed his for the fraction of a second, even as he
called out the winning numbers. There was no recognition either way,
yet Lawson felt himself flushing. The wheel spun again and slowly
stopped, and he found himself gathering in thirty-five chips, raking
them in with eager fingers over the green cloth. It was all right
then, after all!

       *       *       *       *       *

Lawson was going home. Speaking about this, some said, Well enough--he
has become quite incompetent of late. Getting stale, probably. Unable
to discover the obvious, losing his keenness. Ten years in the Far
East about does for one. But with Lawson, the situation was different.
He had become so tired of boundary lines, of perpetual swaying back
and forth from one side to the other, without conviction. Geographical
and moral concessions, wrong here, right there, had blurred his sense
of the abstract. All he was conscious of was an overwhelming desire to
leave it all and go home. And now he was going home. He was very glad.
It hurt to be so glad. He was going away from China, forever. He was
going back to his own land, where he was born, where he belonged, even
though there was no one to welcome his return. There was no roof to
receive him save an attic roof, rented for a few shillings a week. For
though he had plenty of money now, he still thought in small sums. He
was glad to be going home--the joy was painful. His chief praised him
a little at parting, and said he had done good work and hoped his
successor would do as well. Regretted his departure at this moment,
since that old fellow who kept such a notorious den was breaking loose
again, more villainous, more elusive than ever. Lawson heard this with
astonishment, with infinite regret. Wished he could have stayed to see
it ended.

He was going home. It hurt to be so glad. In all these years he had
been so utterly lonely, so utterly miserable. His few companions came
down to the landing stage on the Bund to see him off, to wish him
luck. They were rather wistful, for they also knew loneliness. They
had tried to forget about this longing for home in the many ways of
forgetfulness that the East offered, nevertheless they were wistful.
Lawson understood, he felt great pity for them. He advised them to get
away before they were done for, for the East does for many people in
the long run. The launch, waiting to take him down river where the
steamer lay anchored, grated against the steps of the landing stage,
as if eager to be off.

"I wish," said one of his friends, "that we had your luck--that we
too were going home."

Lawson's heart ached for them. He had experience but no imagination.
"Yes," he said simply, "it is very good to be going Home."



CIVILIZATION



IV

CIVILIZATION


I

Maubert leaned against the counter in his wine-shop, reading a paper
that had just come to him--an official looking paper, which he held
unsteadily, unwillingly, and which trembled a little between his big,
thick fingers. Behind the counter sat Madame Maubert, knitting. Before
her, ranged neatly on the zinc covered shelf, was a row of inverted
wine glasses, three of them still dripping, having been washed after
the last customers by a hasty dip into a bucket of cold water.

"Mobilised," said Maubert slowly. "I am mobilised--at last." Madame
Maubert looked up from her knitting. For a year now they had both been
expecting this, for the war had been going on for over a year, and
Maubert, while over age and below par in physical condition, was still
a man and as such likely to be called into the reserves. The two
exchanged glances.

"When?" asked Madame Maubert, resuming her clicking.

"At once, imbecile," replied her husband stolidly. "Naturally," he
continued, "when one is at last sent for, there can be no delay. I
must report at once."

"Oh, la la," said Madame Maubert, noncommittally.

Maubert glanced round his shop, his little wine-shop, his lucrative
little business that he had made successful. Very well. His wife must
run it alone now, as best she could. As best she could, that was
evident. She could do many things well. She must do it now while he
went forth into service of some kind--into a munition factory
probably, or perhaps near the front, as orderly to an officer, or as
sentinel, perhaps, along some road in the First Zone of the Armies. He
would not be placed on active service--he was too old for that.
Nevertheless it meant a horrid jarring out of his usual routine of
life, consequently he was angry and resentful, and there was no fine
glow of pride or patriotism or such-like feeling in his breast. Bah!
All that sort of thing had vanished from men long and long ago, after
the first few bitter weeks of war and of realisation of the meaning of
war. War was now an affair--a sordid, ugly affair, and Maubert knew it
as well as any man. Living in his backwater of a village, keeper of
the principal wine-shop of the village, his zinc counter rang every
night under emphatic fists, emphasising emphatic remarks about the
war, and the remarks were true but devoid of romance. They differed
considerably from the tone of the daily press.

From the kitchen beyond came the clattering of dishes, and some
talking in immature, childish voices, and the insistent, piping tones
of a quite young child. They were all in there, all four of them, the
eldest twelve, the youngest four, and Maubert and his wife leaned
across the zinc counter and looked at each other.

"It is your fault," he said slowly, with conviction. His eyes, deep
set, ugly, sunken, glared angrily into hers. "It is your fault that I
am mobilised."

She sat still, rather bewildered, gazing at him steadily. "You wished
it!" he began again, "You coward! You trembling coward!"

Still Madame Maubert made no sign, waiting further explanations. She
laid down her knitting and took her elbows in her hands, and by
gripping her elbows firmly, stopped the trembling he spoke of.

"You don't understand, eh?" he went on sneeringly. "Always thinking of
yourself, of your pretty figure, how to keep yourself always here at
the bar, pretty and attractive, ready to gossip with all comers.
Nothing must interrupt that. You'd done your share, all that was
necessary. And I--poor fool--I let you! I didn't insist--I gave
in----"

"You wish to say----?" began Madame Maubert at last, breaking her
silence.

"Yes! To say just that!" burst out Maubert. "Just that--you coward!
When you might have--when you might have--made _this_ out of the
question for me." He shook his order for mobilisation. Again there was
a noise from the kitchen, again the sound of many young voices, and
one voice that ended in a cry, an irritated, angry, querulous howl.

"I see," said Madame Maubert slowly, "five instead of four--five
would have made it safe for you--eh? I didn't think of that--at the
time."

"Of your own self at the time--as always!" ground out Maubert, very
angry. He was a very big man, of the bully type, with a red neck that
swelled under his anger, or on the occasions when he had taken too
much red wine--which meant that it swelled very often and made him a
great brute, and his wife disliked him, and tried to put the zinc
counter between them or anything else that gave shelter.

"You selfish coward!" he cried out again, and slammed his fist down,
and then raised it again and shook it at her, "You could have saved me
from this--this--being mobilised----! Five instead of four! Five
instead of four! Then I would have been exempt, no matter what
happened! You contemptible----"

He struck at his wife, but missed her. The doorway darkened and two
soldiers entered, limping.

"My husband is mobilised," exclaimed Madame Maubert quickly. "His
country needs him--he is rather elevated in consequence! Doubtless he
will be of the auxiliaries, where there is less danger. Discomfort,
perhaps, but less danger. Nevertheless he is regretful," she concluded
scornfully. The simple soldiers, home on leave, laughed uproariously.
They placed a few sous upon the counter and asked for wine, and drank
to Maubert solicitously. Then they all drank together, to one
another's good fortune, and to La Patrie.


II

Maubert was at the Front. Near it, that is, but in the First Zone of
the Armies and shut off from communication with the rear. He was shut
off from communication with his wife and family, isolated in a little
hut standing by the roadside, his sentry box. A little box of straw
standing upright on the roadside, and with just enough room for him
inside, also standing upright. No more. Whenever he heard the whir of
a motor coming down the road, he opened his front door and stood
squarely in the middle of the roadway, waving a red flag by day or a
lantern by night, and expecting, both night and day, to be run down
and killed by the onrushing motor. He flagged the ambulances and got
cursed for it. He flagged the General's car and got cursed for it.
Impossible pieces of paper were shoved out to him to read, filled with
unintelligible hieroglyphics, which he could not read, which he made a
vain pretence of reading and then concluded were all right. After
which the car or the ambulance dashed on again, and he communed with
himself within his hut, wondering whether the car was carrying a
uniformed spy, or whether the ambulance was carrying a spy hidden
under its brown wings, beneath the seat somewhere. It was all so
perplexing and precarious, this business of sentry duty. The papers
issued by the D.E.S. were so illegible. Sometimes they were blue,
sometimes pink, and the remarks written on them were such that no one
could understand or know what they were about. People had the right to
circulate by this road or that--and when they were trying to circulate
by a route not specified in the blue or pink paper, they always
explained glibly that it was because they had missed the way, and made
the wrong turning. It was all so perplexing. Whenever he stopped their
cars, the General was always so furiously impatient, and the
ambulance drivers were always so furiously impatient, and one asked
you if you did not respect the Army of France, and the other if you
did not respect the wounded of France, if you had no pity for them,
and must delay them--altogether it was very perplexing. Maubert always
had the impression that if he failed in his duties, if he let through
a general who wore stripes and medals galore, yet who was a spy
general, that he would be courtmartialed and shot. Or if he let
through an ambulance full of wounded--apparently--yet with a spy
concealed in the body--that he would be courtmartialed and shot.
Always he had in his mind this fear of being courtmartialed and shot,
and it made him very nervous, and he did not like to tell people that
he could barely read and write. Very barely able to read and write,
and totally unable to read the hieroglyphics written on the pink and
blue papers issued down the road by Headquarters, at the D.E.S. He
felt that some one ought to know these facts about himself, these
extenuating circumstances, in case of trouble. Yet he hesitated to
give himself away. Bad as it was, there were worse jobs than sentry
duty.

A little way down the road there was an _estaminet_, where he slept
when he could, where he spent his leisure hours, where he bought as
much wine as he could pay for. But his sentry box always confronted
him, which leaked when it rained, and the wind blew through it, and on
certain days, when there was much travel by the road, he hardly spent
a moment inside it but was always standing in the mud and wind of the
highway, waving his flag, and stopping impatient, snorting motors. And
always pretending that he could read the pink and blue papers, angrily
thrust out for his inspection. Too great a responsibility for one who
could barely read and write.

Came the time, eventually, for his leave. Five days permission. One
day to get to Paris. One day from Paris to his province. One day in
his province at home with his wife. One day back to Paris, one day to
get back to his sentry box in the First Zone of the Armies. Not much
time, all considered. He bought a bottle of wine at the _estaminet_,
and got aboard the train for Paris. Somewhere along the route came a
long stop, and he bought another bottle of wine--forty centimes.
Another stop, and another bottle of wine. He thought much of his wife
during these long hours of the journey--thoughts augmented and made
glowing by three bottles of wine. She wasn't so bad, after all.

The Gare Montparnasse was reached, and he got off, dizzily, to change
trains. He knew, vaguely, that to get to his province in the interior,
he must first somehow get to the Gare du Nord. There was a Métro
entrance somewhere about the Gare Montparnasse and he tried to find
it. The Métro would take him to the Gare du Nord. No good. Such crowds
of people all about, and they called him Mon Vieux, and pulled him
this way and that, laughing with him, offering him cigarettes and
happy comments, received by a brain in which three bottles of wine
were already fermenting. Thus it happened that he missed the Métro
entrance, and instead of finding a métro to take him to the Gare du
Nord, he missed the entrance, turned quite wrong, and walked up the
middle of the rue de la Gaiétè. And because of the three bottles of
wine within him--entirely within his head--he walked light-heartedly
up the rue de la Gaiétè, with his helmet tossed backwards on his
shaggy head, his heavy kit swinging in disordered fashion from his
shoulders, his mouth open, shouting meaningless things to the
passers-by, and his steps very short, jerky and unsteady. Thus it
happened, that many people, seeing him in this condition, shuddered,
and asked what France had come to, when she must place her faith in
such men as that. Other people, however, laughed at him, and made way
for him, or closed in on him and squeezed his arm, and whispered
things into his ears. Back and forth he ricochetted along the narrow
street, singing and swinging, mouth open, with strange, happy cries
coming from it. Some laughed and said what a pity, and others laughed
and said how perfectly natural and what could you expect.

Presently down the street came a big, double decked tramcar, and
Maubert stood in front of the tramcar, refusing to give way. It should
have presented a blue paper to him--or a pink paper--anyway, there he
stood in front of it, asking for its permission to circulate, and as
it had no permission, it stopped within an inch of running over him,
while the conductor leaned forward shouting curses. Then it was that
a firm but gentle hand inserted itself within Maubert's arm, while a
firm but gentle voice asked Maubert to be a good boy and come with
her. Maubert was very dazed, and also perplexed that he had not
received a paper from the big, double-decked tramcar, which obviously
had no right to circulate without such permission, sanctioned by
himself. He was gently drawn off the tracks, by that unknown arm,
while the big tramcar proceeded on its way without permission. It was
all wrong, yet Maubert felt himself drawn to one side of the roadway,
felt himself still propelled along by that gentle but firm arm, and
looked to see who was leading him. He was quite satisfied by what he
saw. The three bottles of wine made him very uncritical, but they also
inflamed certain other faculties. To these other faculties his
befogged mind gave quick response. To Hell with the tramcar, papers or
no papers, pink or blue. Also, although not quite so emphatically, he
relinquished all thoughts of arriving at the Gare du Nord, and of
finding a train to take him home to his province, where his wife
lived. The reasons that made him desire his wife, were quite
satisfied with the gentle pressure on his arm. Thus it happened that
big Maubert, shaggy and dirty and drunk, reeling down the rue de la
Gaiétè, very suddenly gave up all idea of finding his way to his
province in the interior.

Never mind about those three days in Paris. Maubert was quite sober
when he got on the train again at Montparnasse. He did not regret his
larger vacation. He had had a very good permission, take it all in
all.


III

At about the time that Maubert found himself mobilised and summoned
into the reserves, a further mobilisation of subjects of the French
Empire was taking place in certain little known, outlying dominions of
the "Empire." I should have said Republic or even Democracy. The
result, however, is all the same. In certain outlying portions of the
mighty Empire or Republic or Democracy, as you will, further
mobilisation of French subjects was taking place, although in these
outlying dominions the forces were not mobilised but volunteered.
That is to say, the headsman or chief of a certain village, lying
somewhere between the Equator and ten degrees North latitude, was
requested by those in authority to furnish so many volunteers. The
word being thus passed round, volunteers presented themselves,
voluntarily. Among them was Ouk. Ouk knew, having been so informed by
the headsman of his village, that failure to respond to this
opportunity meant a voluntary sojourn in the jungle. Ouk hated the
jungle. All his life he had lived in terror of it, of the evil forces
of the jungle, strangling and venomous, therefore he did not wish to
take refuge amongst them, for he knew them well. Of the two
alternatives, the risks of civilization seemed preferable.
Civilization was an unknown quantity, whereas the jungle was familiar
to himself and his ancestors, and the fear transmitted by his
ancestors was firmly emplanted in his mind. Therefore he had no
special desire to sojourn amongst the mighty forces of the forest,
which he knew to be overwhelming. At that time, he did not know that
the forces of civilization were equally sinister, equally
overwhelming. All his belated brain knew, was that if he failed to
answer the call of those in authority, he must take refuge in the
forests. Which was sure death. It was sure death to wander
defenceless, unarmed, in the twilight gloom of noon day, enveloped by
dense overgrowth, avoiding venomous serpents and vile stinging insects
by day, and crouching by night from man-eating tigers. It presented
therefore, no pleasant alternative--no free wandering amidst
beautiful, tropical trees and vines heavy with luscious fruits--there
would be no drinking from running streams in pleasant, sunlit
clearings. Ouk knew the jungle, and as the alternative was
civilization, he chose civilization which he did not yet know.
Therefore he freely offered himself one evening, coming from his
native village attired in a gay sarong, a peaked hat, and nothing
more. He entered a camp, where he found himself in company with other
volunteers, pressed into the service of civilization by the same
pressure that had so appealed to himself. There were several hundred
of them in this camp, all learning the ways of Europe, and learning
with difficulty and pain. The most painful thing, perhaps, were the
coarse leather shoes they were obliged to wear. Ouk's feet had been
accustomed to being bare--clad, on extreme occasions, with pliant
straw sandals. He garbed them now, according to instructions, in hard,
coarse leather shoes, furnished by those in authority, which they told
him would do much to protect his sensitive feet against the cold of a
French winter. Ouk had no ideas as to the rigours of a French winter,
but the heavy shoes were exceedingly painful. In exchange for his gay
sarong, they gave him a thick, ill fitting suit of khaki flannel, in
which he smothered, but this, they likewise explained to him, would do
much to protect him from the inclemency of French weather. Thus wound
up and bound up, and suffering mightily in the garb of European
civilization, Ouk gave himself up to learn how to protect it. The
alternative to this decision, being as we have said, an alternative
that he could not bring himself to face.

Three months of training being accomplished, Ouk and his companions
were by that time fitted to go forth for the protection of great
ideals. They were the humble defenders of these ideals, and from time
to time the newspapers spoke in glowing terms, of their sentimental,
clamorous wish to defend them. Even in these remote, unknown regions,
somewhere between the Equator and ten degrees North latitude,
volunteers were pressing forward to uphold the high traditions of
their masters. Ouk and his companions knew nothing of these sonorous,
ringing phrases in the papers. They knew only of the alternative, the
jungle. Time came and the day came when they were all ushered forth
from their training camp, packed into a big junk, and released into
the stormy tossings of the harbour, there to await the arrival of the
French Mail, that was to convey them to Europe. The sun beat down hot
upon them, in their unaccustomed shoes and khaki, the harbour waves
tossed violently, and the French Mail was late. Eventually it arrived,
however, and they all scrambled aboard, passing along a narrow
gangplank from which four of them slipped and were drowned in the sea.
But four out of five hundred was a small matter, quite insignificant.

When the French Mail arrived at Saigon, Ouk was able to replenish his
supply of betel nut and sirra leaves, buying them from coolies in
bobbing sampans, which sampans had been allowed to tie themselves to
the other side of the steamer. At Singapore also he bought himself
more betel nut and sirra leaves, but after leaving Singapore he was
unable to replenish his stock, and consequently suffered. Every one
with him, in that great company of volunteers, also suffered. It was
an unexpected deprivation. The ship ploughed along, however, the
officers taking small notice of Ouk and his kind--indeed, they only
referred to Ouk by number, for no one of those in authority could
possibly remember the outlandish names of these heathen. Nor did their
names greatly matter.

Time passed, the long voyage was over, and Ouk landed at Marseilles.
In course of time he found himself placed in a small town in one of
the provinces, the very town from which Maubert had been released to
go to the Front. Thus it happened that there were as many men in that
town as had been taken away from it, only the colour and the race of
the men had changed. The nationality of all of them, however, was the
same--they were all subjects of the mighty French Empire or Democracy,
and in France race prejudice is practically nil. Therefore Ouk, who
worked in a munition factory, found himself regarded with curiosity
and with interest, though not with prejudice. Thus it happened that
Madame Maubert found herself gazing at Ouk one evening, from behind
the safe security of her zinc covered bar. Curiosity and interest were
in her soul, but no particular sense of racial superiority. Ouk and
some companions, speaking together in heathen jargon, were seated
comfortably at one of the little yellow tables of the café, learning
to drink wine in place of the betel nut of which they had been
deprived. All through the day they worked in one of the big factories,
but in the evenings they were free, and able to mix with civilization
and become acquainted with it. And they became acquainted with it in
the bar of Madame Maubert, who served them with yellow wine, and who
watched, from her safe place behind the zinc covered counter, the
effect of yellow wine upon yellow bodies which presumably contained
yellow souls--if any.

All this made its impression upon Ouk. All this enforced labour and
civilization and unaccustomed wine. So it happened that one evening
Ouk remained alone in the bar after his companions had gone, and he
came close up to the zinc covered counter behind which was seated
Madame Maubert, and he regarded her steadily. She too, regarded him
steadily, and beheld in his slim, upright figure something which
attracted her. And Ouk beheld in Madame Maubert something which
attracted him. Seated upon her high stool on the other side of the
counter, she towered above him, but he felt no awe of her, no sense of
her superiority. True, she looked somewhat older than the girls in his
village, but on the other hand, she had a pink and white skin, and Ouk
had not yet come in contact with a pink and white skin. Nor had Madame
Maubert ever seen, close to, the shining, beautiful skin of a young
Oriental. After all, were they not both subjects of the same great
nation, were they not both living and sacrificing themselves for the
preservation of the same ideals? Madame Maubert had given up her man.
Ouk had given up--heaven knows what--the jungle! Anyway, such being
the effect of yellow wine upon Ouk, and such being the effect of Ouk
on Madame Maubert, they both leaned their elbows upon opposite sides
of the zinc counter that evening and looked at each other. For a whole
year Madame Maubert's husband had been away from her, and for nearly a
whole year Ouk had been away from the women of his kind, and suddenly
they realised, gazing at each other from opposite sides of the zinc
covered bar, that Civilization claimed them. Each had a duty to
perform towards its furtherance and enhancement.


IV

Let us now go back to Maubert, standing for long months within his
straw covered hut, or standing in the roadway in front of it,
demanding passports. Every day, for many months past, he remembered
his misspent permission and cursed the way he had passed it. Passed it
in so futile a manner. Things might have been so different. His
companions often chaffed him about it, chaffed him rudely. For he had
never seen fit to tell them that he had not gone down to his home in
the provinces, as they thought he had, but had been ensnared by some
woman in Paris who had pulled him away from a passing tram on the rue
de la Gaiétè. One day the _vaguemestre_ brought him a letter. He was
very dizzy when he read it. Everything swam round. Rage and relief
combated together in his limited brain. Rage and relief--rage and
relief! He could take his letter to the authorities and demand his
release--or----

For now he had five children, had Maubert. No one would question it.
In his hand lay the letter of his wife. Five children. The fifth just
born. That meant release from the service of his country. She said she
was sorry. That she had done it for him. He would understand. But
Maubert did not understand. He remembered his misspent permission, and
the thought of it nauseated him. She, too. The thought of it nauseated
him. Certainly he did not understand.

On the other hand, the authorities had on their books the date of his
permission. He looked again at the letter of his wife. The dates
coincided admirably. He had but to go to his superior officer and show
him the letter of his wife, announcing the birth of their fifth child.
Then he would be free. Free from the service of his country, the
hated service, the examining of passports presented by a rushing
General, by a rushing ambulance, by some rushing motor that was
perhaps carrying a spy.

He so hated it all. But now, more than anything else, he hated his
wife. He would accept his release and go home and kill her. He
wouldn't be free any more if he did that, however. He argued it out
with himself. So he couldn't kill her. He must accept it. If he
accepted his release from the service of his country, he must accept
it on her terms. He spent a long day in the rain and the wind,
thinking it out. But he thought it out at last. He would accept her
terms, obtain his release, go home and see--and then decide.

He told his Colonel about it, and his Colonel chaffed him, and looked
over some papers, and finally set in motion the mechanism by which he
was finally set free from the service of his country. It took some
weeks before this was accomplished, but it was finally done. And when
he arrived in Paris, coming down from his post in the First Zone of
the Armies, he was painfully sober. No more wine that day for him. No
more wine, bought at the _estaminet_ before he left, or bought during
the long journey down to Paris. No more zig-zagging up the rue de la
Gaiétè. He found the Métro entrance at the exit of the Gare
Montparnasse, took the train, and arrived, shortly afterwards, at the
Gare du Nord, very sober. Very sober and angry.

And when he reached his home in the provinces, he was still sober and
still angry. Nor did he know what he should do. He did not know
whether he should kill his wife or not. If he did, he must go back to
the Front. And he hated the Front. He hated his duties, sentry duty,
in the First Zone of the Armies. He could not report to his Colonel
again, and say, "Give me back my sentry box--let me serve my
country--that fifth child is not mine!" He was in a tight place,
surely. But at his home, his mood changed, his wife was very gentle.
She said she had been wrong.

"Ouk is dead," she said. "All those poor little men who come from the
Tropics die very soon in our cold, damp weather. They cannot stand it.
The khaki flannels we give them do not warm them. There is not much
wool in them. The cold penetrates into their bones. They catch cold
and die, all of them, sooner or later. It is an extravagance,
importing them."

Therefore he was mollified. "For your sake," said his wife. Maubert
looked down at the fifth child lying in its cradle. The child that
brought him release from the service of his country--release from
sentry duty, from looking at hastily shoved out, unintelligible
passports.

"For your sake," repeated his wife, slipping her arm through his arm.
"Very well," said Maubert stiffly. All the same, he thought to
himself, the child certainly looks like a Chinese.



MISUNDERSTANDING



V

MISUNDERSTANDING


I

They say out here, that one can never understand the native mind and
its workings. So primitive are they, these quiet, gentle,
brown-skinned men and women, crouching over their compound fires in
the evening, lazily driving the lumbering buffaloes in the rice
fields, living their facile life, here on the edge of the jungle. So
primitive are they, these gentle, simple forest people.

In the towns--oh, but they are not made for the towns, they are so
strangely out of place in the towns which the foreigner has contrived
for himself on the borders of their brown, sluggish rivers, towns
which he has created by pushing backward for a little the jungle,
while he builds his pink and yellow bungalows beneath the palm trees,
and spaces them between the banana trees, along straight tracks which
he calls roads. Wide, red roads, which the natives have made under
his direction, and deep, cool bungalows, which the natives have made
under his direction. Altogether, they are his towns, the foreigners'
towns, and he has constructed them so that they may remind him of his
home, ten thousand miles across the world.

It is not necessary to try to fancy the natives in these foreign
towns. They mean nothing to him, and are far distant from his
tendencies and desires. His own villages are different--thatched huts,
erected on bamboo piles, roofed with palm leaves. They cluster close
together along the winding brown rivers, on the edge of the jungle.
Mounted very high on their stilts of bamboo, crowding each other very
close together, compound touching compound for the sake of
companionship and safety. Safety from the wild beasts of the forests,
those that cry by night, and howl and prowl and kill; safety from the
serpents, whose sting is death, shelter, protection, from all the
dark, lurking dangers of the jungle--the evil, mighty forests, at
whose edge, between it and the winding yellow rivers, they build
themselves their homes. Yes, but life is very easy here, just the
same. A little stirring of the rich earth in the clearings, and food
springs forth. A little paddling up the stream or down, in a pirogue
or a sampan, a net strung across the sluggish waters, and there is
food again. A little wading in shallow, sunlit pools, a swift strike
with a trident, and a fish is caught. And fruit hangs heavy from the
trees. Life is very easy in these countries. And with the coming of
the sudden sunset of the Tropics, the evening fires are lighted in the
compounds and there is gathering together, with song and laughter,
rest and ease. So as life is very facile in the jungle, love of money
is unknown. Why money--what can it mean? Why toil for something which
one has no use for, cannot spend? Just enough, perhaps, to bargain
with the white man for some simple need--to buy a water buffalo,
maybe, for ploughing in the rice fields. No more than that--it's not
needed. And the very little coins, the very, very little coins, two
dozen of them making up the white man's penny, just enough of these
left over to stick upon the lips of Buddha, at the corners, with a
little gum. Thus a prayer to Buddha, and the offering of a little
coin, stuck with resin to the god's lips, as an offering. That is
all. Life is very simple, living in one's skin.

I have said all this so that you might understand. Only, remember, no
one understands, quite, the workings of the savage mind. And these of
whom I write are gentle savages, and their way of life is simple,
primitive and crude. Only, upon contact with the white man, some of
this has been obliged to wear off a little. They have had to become
adaptive, to assume a little polish, as it were. But at heart, after
these many years of contact, they are still simple. They are mindless,
gentle, squatting bare backed in the shade, chewing, spitting, betel
nut. Chewing as the ox chews, thinking as the ox thinks. Gentle brown
men and women, touching the edge of the most refined civilization of
the western world.

The tale jerks here--why shouldn't it? The Lieutenant told me this bit
of it himself--he lives in the foreigners' town, and keeps order
there. There was a revolt last year. But that is too dignified a word,
it assumes too much, it assumes something that there never was. For
revolt signifies organisation, and there wasn't any. It signifies a
general understanding, and there wasn't any. It signifies great
numbers involved, and there were no great numbers. How could there
have been any of these things, said the Lieutenant, among a scattered
people, scattered through the jungle, on the edges of the warm, mighty
forests, at the headwaters of the great winding rivers which penetrate
inland for a thousand miles. No, it was in no sense a revolt, which is
too strong a word. They had no organisation, they could not
communicate with each other, had they wished. Distances were great,
and they could not read or write. They had never been molested--never
schooled. It was better so. Education is no good to a squatter in the
shade. No, it was rather an uprising of a handful of them in the town
of the white man, the town of red earth streets, with pink and yellow
bungalows, cool and sheltered under spreading palms. The town where
many foreigners lived, who walked about listlessly in their white
linen clothes, ghastly pale, with dark rings beneath their eyes, who
stifled in the heat and thought of Home, ten thousand miles away. It
all happened suddenly, no one knows how or why. But one morning, just
after the sun rose in his red, burning splendour, there crept into the
town a few hundred men. They came in by this red street, with the
statue of the Bishop at the top--the bronze statue of the Bishop who
had lived and worked and died here years ago. They came by the red
street leading past the bazaar, the model market, fashioned, with
improvements, like the one at home. They came by the red street
leading past the Botanical Garden, the gardens where at the close of
scorching days the women of the white man, ghastly white, used to
drive before sunset, to breathe a little after the stifling day. They
came along the quais, where the white man's ships found harbour.
Altogether, creeping in on many roads, coming in their fours and
fives, they made about three hundred. And they were in revolt, if you
please, against the representatives of the most refined civilization
of the western world! Just three hundred, no more. Not a ripple of it,
apparently, spread backwards to the jungle, to the millions inland, in
the forests.

What happened? Oh, it was all over in an hour! The Lieutenant heard
them coming--his orderly ran in with the word--and he was out in an
instant with eight men. Eight soldiers armed with rifles. It was quite
amusing. And opposed to them, that mob, in their peaked hats, in their
loin cloths or their sarongs, bare to waist as usual. Poor fools!
Fancy--not a gun among them! They thought they were invisible! The
geomancer had told them that, and they believed him. Carried at their
head a flag, some outlandish, homemade thing, with unknown characters
upon it. Well, it was all over in a moment--those eight men armed with
guns saw to that. Short work--thirty wounded, fourteen killed. The
rest scattered, but before the day was out they had them--had them in
two hours, for a fact. All disarmed, and the Lieutenant had their
weapons. Come to see them at his bungalow, if we'd time? Interesting
lot of trophies, most unique collection. Quite unequalled. Homemade
spears, forged and hammered, stuck on bamboo poles. Homemade swords,
good blades, too, for all their crudeness. Must have taken months to
make them, fashioned slyly, on the quiet. Killing weapons, meant to
kill. Swords like the Crusaders, only cased in bamboo scabbards.
Funny lot--come to see them if we'd time. Nothing like it, a unique
collection. And the flag--red cotton flag, all blood stained, with
some device in corner, just barbaric. Poor fools! Flag pathetic?
Pathetic? Heavens, no!

Well, they stamped it out very thoroughly, at four o'clock that
afternoon. It finished at the race course, for there is always a race
course where the white man rules. Word went round, as it always goes
round in times like this, and just before sunset the whole native
population was out to see the white man's method. No one hindered them
or feared them, for apparently they had no hand in this uprising, and
moreover, were unarmed. They were full of curiosity to see what they
should see. Silently they trooped out in hundreds through the shady,
palm bordered, red streets of the town, padding barefoot past the
sheltered bungalows, past the bronze statue of the Bishop, out to the
edge of the town. All the Tropics was there, moving silently, flowing
gently, in their hundreds, to the race course. Dark skins, yellow
skins, eyes straight, eyes slanting, black hair cut short, or worn in
pigtails, or in top knots, or in chignons; bare bodies, bare legs, or
legs clothed in brilliant sarongs or in flapping pyjamas--all the
costumes of all the countries bordering the Seven Seas streamed
outward from the town, very silent. And as the sun blazed low to his
setting; all the Tropics waited to see what the white man would do.

They did it very cleverly, the white men. For they called upon the
native troops to do it for them, to see if they were loyal. There were
thirty-four prisoners all told, and they walked along with hands bound
behind them, looking very stupid. Even as they walked along, at that
moment the wife of the Lieutenant was showing their crude spears to
friends--she gave tea to her friends in the pink bungalow, and
exhibited the captured weapons, but the Lieutenant was not there--he
was at the race course, supervising.

They led them forward in groups of six, and they were faced by six
native soldiers armed with rifles. And just behind the six native
soldiers stood six soldiers of the white troops, also with rifles. And
when the word was given to fire, if the native troops had not fired
upon their brothers, the white troops would have fired upon both. It
was cleverly managed, and very well arranged. But there was no hitch.
Six times the native troops fired upon batches of naked, kneeling men,
and six times the white soldiers stood behind them with raised rifles,
in case of hesitation. Only the crack of the rifles broke the
stillness. The dense crowd of natives gathered close, standing by in
silence. Giving no sign, they watched the retribution of the white
man. The sun beat down upon them, in their wide hats, their
semi-nakedness, attired in their sombre or brilliant cotton skirts.
When it was over, they dispersed as quietly as they had gathered. The
silent crowds walked back from the race course, the pleasure ground of
the dominant race, and drifted along the red streets of the town, back
again to the holes and burrows from which they had come.


II

A year later, nearly. The Lieutenant who had quelled the uprising,
with a handful of men armed with rifles of the latest device, as
against three hundred natives armed with spears, had been decorated
and was very proud. He also continued to exhibit his unique collection
of arms to all comers, when the mail boats came in. Nor did he see
their pathos. And in the jungles of the interior, where most of them
lived, the natives never knew of the existence of the little red flag,
and would not have understood if they had been told. Why? The white
men were kind and considerate. Easy and indulgent masters who in no
wise interfered with life as lived in the jungle. But with the native
troops who had fired upon their brothers it was different.

Thus it happened that the small coastwise steamer, going her usual
cruise among the islands and along the coast of one of the Seven Seas,
carried unusual freight. Being a very little boat, with a light cargo,
she was sometimes severely buffeted by the northeast monsoon, which
was blowing at that time of the year. On these days, when the monsoon
was strongest, the few passengers she carried were not comfortable. On
other days, when she found calm weather among the islands, it was very
pleasant. She dropped anchor from time to time in little bays
bordered with cocoanut tree, and from the bays emerged sampans with
vivid painted eyes on their prows, seeking out the steamer and the
bales of rice she carried, or the mails. The mails, consisting of half
a dozen letters for each port, were tied up in big canvas sacks,
sealed with big government seals, and the white men who lived on these
remote, desert islands, would come themselves to fetch them. They
paddled themselves to the steamer in pirogues or in sampans, white
faced, anæmic, apathetic, devoid of vitality. The great, overwhelming
heat of the Tropics, the isolation of life, in unknown islands in the
southern seas, makes one like that. Yet they were "making money" on
their island plantations of rubber or cocoanut, or expecting to make
it. It takes seven years of isolation in the tropic seas, after one
has started a plantation--and even then, many things may happen----

So the little steamer stopped here and there, at little, unknown bays,
at places not mentioned in the guide books, and from the beautiful,
desolate islands came out sampans and junks, with the lonely figure of
a white man sitting despondent among the naked rowers, eager to get
his letters from home. It was his only eagerness, but very dull and
listless at that. At night, the islands loomed large and mysterious in
the darkness, while now and then a single ray of light from some light
house, gleaming from some lost, mysterious island of the southern
seas, beamed with a curious constancy. There were dangerous rocks,
sunken reefs. And always the soft wind blew, the soft, enervating wind
of the Tropics.

On the fore part of the little steamer, that wound its way with
infinite care, slowly, among the sunken rocks, the shoals and
sandbars, sat a company of fifty men. Natives, such as you might see
back there in the jungle, or harnessed to the needs of civilization,
bearing the white man in rickshaws along the red streets of the little
town. These, however, were native troops--the rickshaw runner used in
another way. They were handcuffed together, sitting in pairs on the
main deck. In the soft, moist wind, they eat rice together, with their
free hands, out of the same bowl. Very dirty little prisoners, clad in
khaki, disarmed, chained together in pairs. A canvas was stretched
over that part of the deck, which sheltered them from the glaring sun,
and prevented the odour of them from rising to the bridge, a little
way above, where stood the Captain in yellow crêpe pyjamas. For they
were dirty, handcuffed together like that, unexercised, unwashed. They
would be put ashore in three days, however, to work on the roads,
government roads. Notoriously good roads, the colony has too. Their
offense? Grave enough. With the European world at war, this colony,
like those of all the other nations, had called upon its native
troops. The native troops had been loyal, had responded, had
volunteered to go when told they must. Proof of that? Forty thousand
of them at the moment helping in this devastating war. It was a good
record--it spoke well----

Only this handful had refused. Refused absolutely, flagrantly defiant.
Just this little group, out of all the thousands. So they were being
sent off somewhere, handcuffed, to make roads. Prisoners for three
years to make roads, useless roads that led nowhere. Good roads,
excellent, for traffic that never was. Some said they were the
soldiers who had been forced to kill their brothers a while
back--after that paltry revolution. One didn't know. They are stupid,
these natives. Chewing betel nut all day, their mouths a red, bloody
gash across their faces.

The ship stopped finally in some bay. Then a big, unwieldy junk put
out from shore, and tacked back and forth, for two hours, against a
strong head wind, coming to rest finally against the steamer's side.
Two big iron rods were put out, with a padlock at each end, and places
for twenty-five feet to be locked in. Then came European guards, with
rifles, and revolvers in big leather cases hanging at their sides. The
prisoners were very docile, but it was well to take precautions. When
all was ready, the prisoners filed out slowly and with difficulty,
because of their chains, and descended the gangway ladder to the
uncouth junk, with its painted, staring eyes. After that, the junk
slowly detached itself from the ship, unrolled its ragged matting
sails, and made towards the mainland with the docile cargo.

The third passenger leaned over the rail. A sweet breeze blew in from
the island, a scented breeze, laden with the heavy scents of the
Tropics. For three years, he said, they would labour at the futile
roads, the roads that led nowhere. Really, commented the third
passenger, it was impossible to understand the Oriental mind. They had
chosen this--this isolation, this cutting off from home and friends,
rather then go to Europe to serve the race that had treated them so
well. Afraid? Oh, no--too ignorant to be afraid. Brave enough when it
came to that--just obstinate. Just refused to serve, to do as they
were told. Refused to serve, to fight for the race that had treated
them so well, by and large, take it all in all. That had built them
towns and harbours, brought in ships and trade--had done everything,
according to best western standards. It was incomprehensible--truly it
was difficult to fathom the Oriental mind! The revolt a year ago? Oh,
nothing!

The big junk with the staring eyes carried them off, the supine,
listless prisoners, handcuffed together, foot-locked to an iron bar.
They must build roads for three years. Somewhere at the back of those
slow minds was a memory of the race course, of the brothers they had
slain. Perhaps. Who knows. But the Occidental mind does not understand
the Oriental mind, and it was good to be rid of them, dirty little
creatures, who smelled so bad under the awning of the main deck.

The anchor chain wound in, grating link on link. The soft, sweet wind
blew outward from the cocoanut trees, from the scented earth of the
island. The third passenger watched the junk disappear in the shadows
of the warm night, then he went below to get another drink.



PRISONERS



VI

PRISONERS


Mercier was writing his report for the day. He sat at a rattan table,
covered with a disorderly array of papers, ledgers and note books of
various sorts, and from time to time made calculations on the back of
an old envelope. He finally finished his work, and pushing back his
chair, lighted a cigarette. Unconsciously, he measured time by
cigarettes. One cigarette, and he would begin work. One cigarette and
he would start on the first paragraph. One cigarette, to rest after
the first paragraph before beginning the second, and so on. It was
early in the morning, but not early for a morning in the Tropics.
Already the sun was creeping over the edge of the deep, palm-shaded
verandah, making its way slowly across the wooden floor, till it would
reach him, at his table, in a very short time. And as it slowly crept
along, a brilliant line of light, so the heat increased, the moist,
stagnant heat, from which there was no escape. Outside some one was
pulling the punkah rope, and the great leaves of linen, attached to
heavy teak poles, swayed back and forth over his head, stirring
slightly the dense, humid atmosphere.

Mercier was a young man, not over thirty. He had come out to the East
three years ago, to a minor official post in the Penal Settlement,
glad of a soft position, of easy work, of an opportunity to see life
in the Tropics. At a port on the mainland, he transshipped from the
liner to a little steamer, which two days later dropped anchor in the
blue bay of his future home. At that time, he was conscious of being
intensely pleased at the picture spread before him. Long ago, in
boyhood, he had cherished romantic dreams of the Tropics, of islands
in southern seas, of unknown, mysterious life set in gorgeous, remote
setting. It had all appealed to his fancy, and then suddenly, after
many long years, sordid, difficult years, the opportunity had come for
the realisation of his dreams. He had obtained a post as minor
official in one of the colonies of his country--overseas in the Far
East--and he gladly gave up his dull, routine life at home, and came
out to the adventures that awaited him. The island, as he saw it for
the first time, was beautiful. Steep hills, rocky and mountainous,
rose precipitately out of the blue waters, and the rising sun glinted
upon the topmost peaks of the hills and threw their deep shadows down
upon the bay, and upon the group of yellow stucco bungalows that
clustered together upon the edge of the water, upon the narrow strip
of land lying between the sea and the sheer sides of the backing
mountains. The bay was a crescent, almost closed, and a coral reef ran
in an encircling sweep from the headland beyond, and the translucent,
sparkling waters of the harbour seemed beautiful beyond belief. His
heart beat wildly when for the first time he beheld his new home--it
exceeded in beauty anything that he had ever dreamed of. What mattered
it whether or no it was a Penal Settlement for one of the great,
outlying colonies of his mother country, two days' sail from the
nearest port on the mainland, the port itself ten thousand miles from
home. It was beautiful to look upon--glorious to look upon, and it was
glorious to think that the next few years of his life would be spent
amidst such surroundings. The captain of the coasting steamer told him
it would be lonely--he laughed at the idea. How could one be lonely
amidst such beauty as that! His thirsty soul craved beauty, and here
it was before him, marvellous, complete, the island a gem sparkling in
the sunlight, veiled in the shadow of an early morning. Lying
somewhere, all this beauty, one degree north or south of the Equator!

No, assuredly, he would not be lonely! Were there not many families on
the island, the officials and their families, a good ten or fifteen of
them? Besides, there was his work. He knew nothing of his work, of his
duties. But in connection with the prisoners, of course--and there
were fifteen hundred prisoners, they told him, concentrated on those
few square miles of island, off somewhere in the Southern Seas, a few
miles north or south of the Equator. He was anxious to see the
prisoners, the unruly ones of the colony. Strange types they would
appear to his conventional, sophisticated eyes. He saw them in
imagination--yellow skins, brown skins, black skins, picturesque,
daring, desperate perhaps. The anchor splashed overboard into the
shallow water, and the small steamer drifted on the end of the chain,
waiting for a boat to come out from shore. With the cessation of the
steamer's movement, he felt the heat radiate round him, in an
overpowering wave, making him feel rather sick and giddy. Yet it was
only six o'clock in the morning. Before the boat arrived from shore,
the sun had passed over the highest peak of the mountains and was
glaring down with full power upon the cluster of hidden bungalows, the
edges and ends of which bungalows protruded a little from the shelter
of vines and palm trees. White clad men came down to the beach, and a
woman or two appeared on the verandahs, and then disappeared back into
the verandahs, while the men came down to the water's edge alone. The
rowboat was pulled ashore by strong rowers, dark skinned, brawny men,
and as the boat neared the beach, other dark skinned brawny men took a
carrying chair and splashed out to meet the boat, inviting him by
gestures to step into the chair and be carried ashore. He forgot the
heat in the novelty of this new sensation--being carried ashore in a
chair, with the clear, transparent water beneath him, and wavy sands,
shell studded, over which the bearers walked slowly, with precision.
And then came his first hours on shore. How calmly they had welcomed
him, those white faced, pale men, with the deep circles beneath their
eyes. They looked at him with envy, it seems, as a being newly come
from contact with civilization, and they looked upon him with pity, as
a being who had deliberately chosen to shut himself off from
civilization, for a period of many years. He was taking the place of
one who was going home--and the man was in a desperate hurry to get
away. He looked ill, withal he was so fat, for he was very fat and
flabby, extraordinarily white, with circles beneath his puffy eyes
blacker and more marked than those on the other faces. The departing
official shook hands hurriedly with Mercier, and kissed his old
companions good-bye hurriedly upon both cheeks, and then hastened into
the chair, to get to the rowboat, to get to the steamer as soon as
possible. The other officials on the beach commented volubly on his
good fortune--ah, but he had the chance! What chance! What luck! What
fortune! They themselves had no luck, they must remain here how long,
ah, who knew how long! They all stood there upon the beach watching
the departing one until he reached the steamer, drifting idly at the
length of her anchor chain.

Then they remembered Mercier again, and surrounded him, not eagerly,
listlessly, and asked him to the office of the Administrator, to have
a cup of champagne. A cup of champagne, at a little after six in the
morning. As they walked slowly up the beach, Mercier spoke of the
beauty of the place, the extraordinary beauty of the island. They
seemed not to heed him. They smiled, and reminded him that he was a
newcomer, and that such was the feeling of all newcomers and that it
would soon pass. And in a body, ten of them, they conducted Mercier to
the bureau of the Administrator, a tired, middle aged men, who shook
hands without cordiality, and ordered a boy to bring a tray with a
bottle and glasses and mouldy biscuits, and they all sat together and
drank without merriment. It was dark in the Administrator's office,
for the surrounding verandah was very wide and deep, and tall bamboos
grew close against the edges of the railing, and a little way behind
the bamboos grew banana trees and travellers' palms, all reaching high
into the air and making a thick defence against the sunlight. The
stone floor had been freshly sprinkled with water, and the ceiling was
high, made of dark teak wood, and it was very dark inside, and damp
and rather cool. There was a punkah hanging from the ceiling, but it
stood at rest. Its movement had come to make the Administrator
nervous. He was very nervous and restless, turning his head from side
to side in quick, sharp jerks, first over one shoulder and then the
other, and now and then suddenly bending down to glance under the
table. Later on, some one explained to Mercier that the Administrator
had a profound fear of insects, the fierce, crawling, stinging things
that lived outside under the bamboos, and that crept in sometimes
across the stone paved floor, and bit. Only last week, one of the
paroled convicts, working in the settlement, had been bitten by some
venomous evil thing, and had died a few hours later. Such accidents
were common--one must always be on guard. Most people became used to
being on guard, but with the Administrator, the thing had become a
nightmare. He had been out too long--his nerves were tortured. It was
the heat, of course--the stifling, enervating heat. Few could stand it
for very long, and the authorities back home must have forgotten to
relieve the old man--he was such a good executive, perhaps they had
forgotten on purpose. The sub-officials were changed from time to
time, but the old man seemed to have been forgotten. He could not
stand it much longer--that was obvious.

Mercier went thoughtfully to the bungalow assigned to him, installed
his few meagre possessions, and entered without zest upon his work.
Somehow, the keenness had been taken out of him by that hour's
conversation in the darkened bureau of the Chief. The weeks passed
slowly, but Mercier never regained his enthusiasm. The physical
atmosphere took all initiative away. His comrades were listless
beings, always tired, dragging slowly to their daily rounds, and
finishing their work early in the morning before the heat became
intolerable. Then for hours they rested--retired to their bungalows or
that of a comrade, and rested, to escape the intense heat which never
varied, winter or summer, although it was a farce to speak of the
seasons as winter or summer, except in memory of home. Mercier soon
fell in with their ways. He drank a great deal, beginning very early
in the morning, and measured time by cigarettes, postponing his
duties, such that claimed him, till he had just finished another
cigarette. They were cheap and bad, but there was a solace in them,
and they whiled away the time. The only joviality about the place came
in the evenings, after many cigarettes, which made him nervous, and
after very many little glasses of brandy, which unfitted him for work
but which were necessary to stimulate him for what work he had to do.

Near the group of bungalows belonging to the officials and to the
prison guards, stood the prison building itself, a large, rambling,
one storeyed structure, with many windows fitted with iron bars. Here
the newcomers were kept, about eight hundred of them, and nearby, in
an adjacent compound, were quarters for about seven hundred prisoners
out on parole, by reason of good conduct. The confined prisoners did
not work, being merely confined, but those out on parole, on good
conduct, and whose terms would soon come to an end, were trusted to
work about the island in various capacities. They made the roads--such
few as there were. The island was so small that many roads were not
required, and since there was no traffic, but little labour was
required to keep the roads in repair. They also worked in the rice
fields, but, again, there were not many rice fields. It was easier to
bring rice from the mainland. There was a herd of water buffaloes,
used for ploughing during the season, and the buffaloes needed some
attention, but not much. So the paroled convicts were employed in
other ways about the island, in cooking for the prisoners, in cleaning
the various buildings, and as servants in the households of the
officials. Only the most trusted, however, were given such posts as
that. Yet it was necessary to trust many of them, and each official
had a large retinue of servants, for there was little settlement work
to be done, and something must be done with the men on parole, since
the prison itself was too small to hold fifteen hundred men under lock
and key at the same time. Moreover, these trusted ones were rather
necessary. In the Tropics, work is always done in a small,
half-hearted way, by reason of the heat which so soon exhausts the
vitality, consequently many people are required to perform the
smallest task.

Mercier, therefore, was obliged to accept the life as he found it, and
he found it different from the romantic conception which he had formed
at home. And he became very listless and demoralised, and the lack of
interests of all sorts bored him intolerably. He was not one to find
solace in an intellectual life. The bi-monthly call of the supply ship
with its stocks of provisions, the unloading of which he must oversee,
was the sole outside interest he had to look forward to. Old
newspapers and magazines came with the supply ship, and these were
eagerly read, and soon abandoned, and nothing was left but cigarettes
and brandy to sustain him between whiles.

On a certain morning, when he had been at the settlement for over a
year, he finished his daily report and strolled over to lay it upon
the desk in the office of the Administrator. The supply ship was due
in that day, and he wandered down to the beach to look for her. There
she was, just dropping anchor. His heart beat a little faster, and he
hastened his steps. It was cattle day. Bullocks from the mainland,
several hundred miles away, which came once a month for food. He took
his boat and rowed, out to the ship, and then directed the work of
removing the bullocks.

It was nasty work. The coolies did it badly. The hatch was opened, and
by means of a block and pulley, each bullock was dragged upward by a
rope attached to its horns. Kicking and struggling, they were swung
upwards over the side of the ship and lowered into the lighter below.
Sometimes they were swung out too far and landed straddle on the side
of the lighter, straddling the rail, kicking and roaring. And
sometimes, when the loosely moored lighter drifted away a little from
the ship's side, an animal would be lowered between the ship's side
and the lighter, and squeezed between the two--so crushed that when it
was finally hauled up and lowered safely into the boat, it collapsed
in a heap, with blood flowing from its mouth. The coolies did it all
very badly--they had no system, and as Mercier could not speak to them
in their language, he could not direct them properly. Besides, he was
no organiser himself, and probably could not have directed them
properly had he been able to speak to them. All he could do,
therefore, was to look on, and let them do it in their own way.
Sometimes as an animal was being raised, its horns would break, and it
would be lowered with a bleeding head, while the coolies stood by and
grinned, and considered it a joke. Mercier was still sensitive on some
points, and while long ago he had ceased to find any beauty in the
island, he was nevertheless disgusted with needless suffering, with
stupid, ugly acts.

There were only twenty cattle to be unloaded on this day, but it took
two hours to transfer them to the lighter, and at the end of that time
the tide had fallen so that they must wait for another six or eight
hours, in the broiling sun, until the water was high enough for the
lighter to approach the landing stage, where another block and pulley
was rigged. Which meant that later in the day--possibly in the hottest
part--Mercier would be obliged to come down again to oversee the work,
and to see that it was finished. For the cattle must be ashore by
evening--meat was needed for the settlement, and some must be killed
for food that night. Mercier was thoroughly disgusted with his work,
with his whole wasted life. Ah, it was a dog's life! Yet how eagerly
he had tried to obtain this post--how eagerly he had begged for the
chance, pleaded for it, besought the few influential people he knew to
obtain it for him.

On the way back to his bungalow, he passed along the palm grown road,
on each side of which were the red and white bungalows, residences of
the dozen officials of the island. They were screened by hedges of
high growing bushes, bearing brilliant, exotic flowers which gave out
a heavy, sweet perfume, and the perfume hung in clouds, invisible yet
tangible, pervading the soft, warm air. How he had dreamed of such
perfumes--long ago. Yet how sickening in reality. And how dull they
were, the interiors of these sheltered bungalows, how dull and stupid
the monotonous life that went on inside them--dejected, weary, useless
little rounds of household activity, that went along languorously each
day, and led nowhere. It all led nowhere. Within each house was the
wearied, stupid wife of some petty official, and sometimes there were
stupid, pallid children as well, tended by convicts on parole. Nowhere
could he turn to find intellectual refreshment. The community offered
nothing--there was no society--just the dull daily greetings, the
dull, commonplace comments on island doings or not doings, for all lay
under the spell of isolation, under the pall of the great, oppressive,
overwhelming heat. How deadly it all was, the monotonous life, the
isolation, the lack of interests and occupation. As he passed along, a
frowzy woman in a Mother Hubbard greeted him from a verandah and asked
him to enter. Years ago she had come out fresh and blooming, and now
she was prematurely aged, fat and stupid--more stupid, perhaps, than
the rest. Yet somehow, because there was nothing else to do, Mercier
pushed open the flimsy bamboo gate, walked up the gravelled path, and
flung himself dejectedly upon a chaise longue which was at hand. And
the woman talked to him, asked him how many cattle had come over that
morning, whether they were yet unloaded, when they would be finally
landed and led to the slaughter pens a little way inland. It was all
so gross, so banal, yet it was all there was of incident in the day,
and most clays were still more barren, with not even these paltry
events to discuss. And he felt that he was sinking to the level of
these people, he who had dreamed of high romance, of the mystery of
the Far Eastern Tropics! And this was what it meant--what it had come
to! A fat woman in a Mother Hubbard asking him how many bullocks had
come in that day, and when they would be ready to kill and eat!

She clapped together her small, fat hands, and a servant entered, and
she ordered grenadine and soda and liqueurs, and pushed towards him a
box of cheap cigarettes. Where was her charm? Why had he married her,
her husband--who was at the moment in the Administrator's bureau,
compiling useless statistics concerning the petty revenues of the
prison colony? But he was just like her, in his way. All the men were
run to seed, and all their women too. And these were the only women on
the island, these worn, pale, bloated wives who led an idle life in
the blazing heat. Seven such women, all told. He relapsed into
silence, and she likewise fell silent, there being nothing more to
get nor give. They were all gone, intellectually. They had no ideas,
nothing to exchange. So he smoked on, lazily, in silence, feeling the
slight stir in his blood caused by the Quinquina. He filled his glass
again, and looked forward to the next wave of relaxation. Overhead,
the punkah swung slowly, stirring the scented air. These were the
scents he had dreamed of, the rich, heavy perfumes of the Tropics.
Only it was all so dull!

The door opened and a little girl entered the verandah, a child of
perhaps fourteen. A doomed child. He looked at her languidly, and
continued to look at her, thinking vague thoughts. She was beautiful.
Her cotton frock, belted in by some strange arrangement of seashells
woven into a girdle, pressed tightly over her young form, revealing
clearly the outline of a childish figure soon ready to bloom into full
maturity under these hot rays of vertical sunshine. She would develop
soon, even as the native women developed into maturity very early. His
tired glance rested upon her face. That, too, bore promise of great
beauty. The features were fine and regular, singularly well formed,
and the eyes those of a gentle cow, unspeculative, unintelligent. She
was very white, with the deathlike whiteness of the Tropics, and under
the childish eyes were deep, black rings, coming early. He noticed her
hands--slender, long, with beautiful fingernails--such hands in Paris!
And again his roving glance fell lower, and rested upon her bare legs,
well formed, well developed, the legs of a young woman. He stirred
lightly in his chair. The feet matched the hands--slender, long feet,
with long, slender toes. She was wearing native sandals, clumsy wooden
sandals, with knobs between the first two toes. Only the knobs were of
silver, instead of the usual buttons of bone, or wood. Some one had
brought them to her from the mainland, evidently. Well, here she was,
a doomed creature, uneducated, growing older, growing into womanhood,
with no outlook ahead. Her only companions her dull, stupid mother,
and the worn-out wives of the officials--all years older than herself.
Or perhaps she depended for companionship upon the children--there
were a dozen such, about the place, between the ages of two and six.
And she stood between these two groups, just blooming into womanhood,
with her beautiful young body, and her atrophied young brain. Her eyes
fell shyly under his penetrating, speculative glances, and a wave of
colour rose into her white cheeks. She felt, then, hey? Felt what?

Mercier leaned forward, with something curious pulsing in his breast.
The sort of feeling that he had long since forgotten, for there was
nothing for such feelings to feed upon, here in his prison. Yet the
sensation, vague as it was, seemed to have been recognised, shared for
an instant by the young creature beside him. It was rather uncanny. He
had heard that idiots or half-witted people were like that. She rose
uneasily, placing upon her long, sprawling curls an old sun hat, very
dirty, the brim misshapen by frequent wettings of pipe-clay. A servant
appeared from behind the far corner of the verandah, an old man, dark
skinned, emaciated, clad in a faded red sarong. He was her personal
servant, told off to attend her. Something must be done for the men on
parole, some occupation given them to test their fitness before
returning them again to society. As she passed from the verandah,
followed by the old black man in his red sarong, Mercier felt a
strange thrill. Where were they going, those two?

He turned to the inattentive, vacuous mother. "Your daughter," he
began, "is fast growing up. Soon she will be marrying."

The woman shrugged her shoulders.

"With whom?" she answered. "Who will take her? What dowry can we give
her? We cannot even send her to Singapore to be educated. Who will
take her--ignorant, uneducated--without a _dot_? Besides," she
continued eagerly, warmed into a burst of confidence, "you have
heard--you have seen--the trouble lies here," and she tapped her
forehead significantly.

And with a sigh she concluded, "We are all prisoners here, every one
of us--like the rest."

Mercier rose from the chaise longue, still thinking deeply, still
stirred by the vague emotion that had called forth an answer from the
immature, half-witted child. He had a report to make to the Bureau,
and he must be getting on. Later, when the tide turned, and the
lighter could come against the jetty, he must attend to the cattle.

He did not linger in the office of the Administrator, but sent in his
report by a waiting boy, and then strolled inland by the road that led
past the prison, into the interior of the island. On his way he passed
the graveyard. It was a melancholy graveyard, containing a few
slanting shafts erected to the memory of guards and of one or two
officers who had been killed from time to time by prisoners who had
run amok. Such uprisings occurred now and then, but seldom. He entered
the cemetery, and looked about languidly, reading the names on the
stones. Killed, killed, killed. Then he came upon a few who had died
naturally. Or was it natural to have died, at the age of thirty, out
here on the edge of the world? Yet it was most natural, after all. He
himself was nearly ready for the grave, ready because of pure boredom,
through pure inertia, quite ready to succumb to the devitalising
effect of this life. This hideous life on a desert island. This
hideous mockery of life, lived while he was still so young and so
vital, and which was reducing him, not slowly but with great pacing
strides, to an inertia to which he must soon succumb. Why didn't the
prisoners revolt now, he wondered? He would gladly accept such a way
out--gladly offer himself to their knives, or their clubs, or whatever
it was they had. Anything that would put an end to him, and land him
under a stone in this forsaken spot. Surely he was no more alive than
the dead under those stones. No more dead than the dead.

He passed out of the gate, swinging on a loose hinge, and in deep
meditation walked along the palm bordered road back of the settlement.
Soon the last bungalow was left behind, even though he walked slowly.
Then succeeded the paddy fields, poorly tilled and badly irrigated.
There were enough men on the island to have done it properly--only
what was the use? Who cared--whether they raised their own rice or
brought it from the mainland twice a month? It was not a matter to
bother about. Water buffaloes, grazing by the roadside, raised their
heavy heads and stared at him with unspeakable insolence. They were
for ploughing the rice fields, but who had the heart to oversee the
work? Better leave the men squatting in content by the roadside,
under the straggly banana trees, than urge them to work. It meant more
effort on the part of the officials and effort was so useless. All so
futile and so hopeless. He nodded in recognition of the salutes given
him by groups of paroled prisoners, chewing betel nut under the trees.
Let them be.

A bend in the road brought him to a halt. Just beyond, lying at full
length upon the parched grass, was the little girl he had seen that
morning. She lay on her back, with bare legs extended, asleep. Nearby,
squatting on his heels and lost in a meditative pipe, sat the Kling,
her body servant. The man rose to his feet respectfully as Mercier
passed, watching his mistress and watching Mercier with a sombre eye.
Mercier passed on slowly, with a long glance at the child. She was not
a child, really. Her cotton dress clung round her closely, and he
gazed fascinated, at the young figure, realising that it was mature.
Mature enough. A thought suddenly rose to his mind, submerging
everything else. He walked on hurriedly, and at a turn of the road,
looked back. The Kling was sitting down again impassively, refilling
his pipe.

From that time on, Mercier's days were days of torment, and the nights
as well. He struggled violently against this new feeling, this hideous
obsession, and plunged into his work violently, to escape it. But his
work, meagre and insufficient at best, was merely finished the sooner
because of his energy, which left him with more time on his hands.
That was all. Time in which to think and to struggle. No, certainly,
he did not wish to marry. That thought was put aside immediately.
Marry a stupid little child like that, with a brain as fat as her
body! But not as beautiful as her body. Besides, she was too young to
marry, even in the Tropics, where all things mate young. But there she
was, forever coming across his path at every turn. In his long walks
back into the interior, behind the settlement, he came upon her daily,
with her attendant Kling. The Kling always squatting on his heels,
smoking, or else rolling himself a bit of areca nut into a
sirrah-leaf, and dabbing on a bit of pink lime from his worn, silver
box. Mercier tried to talk to the child, to disillusion himself by
conversations which showed the paucity of ideas, her retarded
mentality. But he always ended by looking at the beautiful, slim
hands, at the beautiful, slim feet, at the cotton gown slightly
pressed outward by the maturing form within.

He was angry with himself, furious at the obsession that possessed
him. Once he entered the gravelled path of the child's home, and
seriously discussed with her mother the danger of letting her roam at
large over the island, accompanied only by the old Kling. He explained
vigorously that it was not safe. There were hundreds of paroled
prisoners at large, engaged in the ricefields, on the plantations,
mending the roads--there was not a native woman on the place. He
explained and expostulated volubly, surprised at his own eloquence.
The mother took it calmly. The Kling, she replied, was trustworthy. He
was an old man, very trustworthy and very strong. No harm could come
to her daughter under his protection. And the long rambles abroad were
good for the child. Was she not accustomed to convicts, as servants?
She had a houseful of them, and many years' experience. What did he
know of them, a comparative newcomer? For example, she had three
pirates, Malays from the coast of Siam. They were quiet enough now.
And one Cambodian, a murderer, true enough, but gentle enough now.
Three house-boys and a cook. As for the old Kling, he was a marvel--he
had been a thief in his day, but now--well now, he was body-servant
for her daughter and a more faithful soul it would be hard to find.
For seven years she had lived upon the island, surrounded by these
men. She knew them well enough. True, there was the graveyard back of
the prison compound, eloquent, mute testimony of certain lapses from
trustworthiness, but she was not afraid. She had no imagination, and
Mercier, failing to make her sense danger, gave it up. It had been a
great effort. He had been pleading for protection against himself.

Mercier awoke one morning very early. It was early, but still dark,
for never, in these baleful Tropics, did the dawn precede the sunrise,
and there was no slow, gradual greying and rosying creeping of
daylight, preceding the dawn. It was early and dark, with a damp
coolness in the air, and he reached down from his cot for his
slippers, and first clapped them together before placing them upon his
slim feet. Then he arose, stepped out upon his verandah, and thought
awhile. Darkness everywhere, and the noise of the surf beating within
the enclosed crescent of the harbour. Over all, a great heat, tinged
with a damp coolness, a coolness which was sinister. And standing upon
his verandah, came rushing over him the agony of his wasted life. His
prisoner life upon this lonely island in the Southern Seas. Exchanged,
this wasted life, for his romantic dreams, and a salary of a few
hundred francs a year. That day he would write and ask for his
release--send in his resignation--although it would be weeks or months
before he could be relieved. As he stood there in agony, the dawn
broke before him suddenly, as Tropic dawns do break, all of a sudden,
with a rush. Before him rose the high peaks of the binding mountains,
high, impassable, black peaks, towering like a wall of rock. It was
the wall of the world, and he could not scale it. Before him stretched
the curve of the southern sea, in a crescent, but for all its
fluidity, as impassable as the backing wall of rock. Between the two
he was hemmed in, on a narrow strip of land, enclosed between the
mountain wall and the curving reach of sea. He and all his futile
interests lay within that narrow strip of land, between the mountain
wall and the sea--and the strip was very narrow and small.

He went forth from his bungalow, pulling upon his feet clumsy native
sandals of wood, with a button between the toes. For underfoot lay the
things he dreaded, the heat things, the things bred by this warm
climate enclosed between the high wall of the mountains and the
infitting curve of the sea. He tramped awkwardly along in his loose
fitting sandals, fast at the toe, clapping up and down at the heel.
The one street of the town through which he passed was bordered by the
houses of the officials, all sleeping. They were accustomed to
sleeping. Only he, Mercier, could not sleep. He was not yet accustomed
to being a prisoner. Perhaps--in time----

He clapped along gently, though to him it seemed very noisily, past
the bungalows of the officials, past the big prison, also sleeping.
Past the Administration buildings, past the weed-grown, unused tennis
courts, out upon the red road leading to the mountains. Turn upon turn
of the red road he passed, and then stopped, halted by a sight. A
sight which for weeks past he had worn in his heart, but which he had
never hoped to see fulfilled. She was there, that child! That child so
young, so voluptuous in her development, so immature in her mentality,
and beside her, a little way away, sat the Kling prisoner who guarded
her. The Kling squatted upon his heels, chewing areca nut, and
spitting long distances before him. The child also squatted upon the
grass by the roadside, very listless. The Kling did not move as
Mercier approached, clapping in his sandals. But the child moved and
cast upon him a luminous, frightened gaze, and then regarded him
fixedly. Therefore Mercier sat down by the child, and noted her. Noted
her with a hungry feeling, taking in every beautiful detail. Her
exquisite little hands, and her exquisite little feet, shod in wooden
sandals, with a button between the toes, such sandals as he was
wearing. He talked to her a little, and she answered in half-shy,
frightened tones, but underneath he detected a note of passion--such
as he felt for her. She was fourteen years old, you see, and fully
developed, partly because she was half-witted, and partly because of
these hot temperatures under the Equator.

Thus it befell that every morning Mercier arose early, clad his feet
in noisy, clapping sandals, and went out for a walk along the red road
underlying the mountain. And every morning, almost by accident, he met
the half-witted child with her faithful Kling attendant. And the
Kling, squatting down upon his heels, chewed areca nut, and spat
widely and indifferently, while Mercier sat down beside the little
girl and wondered how long he could stand it--before his control gave
way. For she was a little animal, you see, and yearned for him in a
sort of fourteen-year-old style, fostered by the intense heat of the
Tropics. But Mercier, not yet very long from home, held back--because
of certain inhibitions. Sometimes he thought he would ask for her in
marriage--which was ridiculous, and showed that life in the Far East,
especially in a prison colony, affects the brain. At other times, he
thought how very awkward it would be, in such a little, circumscribed
community as that, if he did not ask her in marriage. Suppose she
babbled--as she might well do. There is no accounting for the
feeble-minded. But as the days grew on, madder and wilder he became,
earlier and earlier he arose to meet her, to go forth to find her on
the red road beneath the mountains. There she was always waiting for
him, while the Kling, her attendant, squatted chewing betel nut a
little farther on.

       *       *       *       *       *

In time, he had enough. He had had quite enough. She was a stupid
fool, half-witted. He grew quite satiated. Also she grew alarmed. Very
much alarmed. But always, in the distance, with his back discreetly
turned, sat her Kling guardian, the paroled prisoner, chewing betel
nut. So his way out was easy. One day, about eleven o'clock in the
morning, clad in very immaculate white clothes, he came to call upon
the child's parents, with a painful duty to perform. He must report
what he had seen. When out taking his constitutional, he had seen
certain things in an isolated spot of the red road, leading up to the
mountains. These paroled prisoners could not be trusted--he had
intimated as much weeks ago. Therefore he made his report, his painful
report, as compelled by duty. In his pocket was his release--the
acceptance of his resignation. His recall from his post. When the boat
came in next time--that day, in fact--he would go. But he could not
go, with a clear conscience, till he had reported on what he had seen.
The Kling--the old, stupid, trusted Kling--stupid to trust a child
like that with a servant like that----

So the Kling was hanged next morning, and Mercier sailed away that
afternoon, when the little steamer came in. The little colony on the
island of prisoners went on with its life as usual. Ah, bah! There was
no harm done! She was so very immature! Mercier need not have exacted
the life of the Kling servant, after all. He was supersensitive and
over-scrupulous. Life in a prison colony in the Far East certainly
affects one's judgment.



CANTERBURY CHIMES



VII

CANTERBURY CHIMES


I

The Colonial Bishop lay spread out on his long, rattan chair, idly
contemplating the view of the harbour, as seen from his deep, cool
verandah. As he lay there, pleasant thoughts crossed his mind, swam
across his consciousness in a continuous stream, although, properly
speaking, he was not thinking at all. The thoughts condensed in
patches, were mere agglomerations of feelings and impressions, and
they strung themselves across his mind as beads are strung along a
string. His mental fingers, however, slipped the beads along, and he
derived an impression of each bead as it passed before his half closed
eyes. The first that appeared was a sense of physical well-being. He
liked the climate. This climate of the Far Eastern Tropics, which so
few people could stand, much less enjoy. But he liked it; he liked its
enclosing sense of warmth and dampness and heavy scented atmosphere.
Never before had he brought such an appetite to his meals, or so
enjoyed his exercise, or revelled in perspiration after a hard bicycle
ride, and so enjoyed the cool wash and splash in the Java jar
afterwards. The climate suited him admirably. It made one very fit,
physically, and was altogether delightful. From this you will see that
the Bishop was a young man, not over forty-five.

Then the servants. Good boys he had, well trained, obedient,
anticipative, amusing, picturesque in their Oriental dress. Rather
trying because of their laziness, but not too exasperating to be a
real irritant. So many people found native servants a downright source
of annoyance--even worse than the climate--but for himself, he had
never found them so. They gave him no trouble at all, and he had been
out ten years, so ought to know.

The native life was charming too, so rich in colour, in all its gay
costumes. Surely the first Futurists must have been the Orientals. No
modern of the most ultra-modern school had ever revelled in such
gorgeous colour combinations, in such daring contrasts and lurid
extremes, as did these dark hued people, in their primitive
simplicity. He liked them all, decent and docile. He liked their
earrings--only that day he had counted a row of nine in the ear of
some wandering juggler. Nose rings too--how pretty they were, nose
rings. Rubies too, and most of them real, doubtless. How well they
looked in the nostril of a thin, aquiline brown nose. It all went with
the country. Barbaric, perhaps, contrasted with other standards, but
beautiful--in its way. He would not change it for the world.

And the perfumes! A faint scent of gardenias was at that moment being
wafted in from his well-kept, rich gardens, where somehow his boys
managed to make flowers grow in the brown, devitalised earth. For the
soil was devitalised, surely. It got no rest, year in, year out. For
centuries it had nourished, in one long, eternal season, the great
rich mass of tropical vegetation. European flowers would not grow in
the red earth, or the black earth, whichever it was--he had been
accustomed to think of red or black earth as being rich, but out here
in the Tropics, it was unable to produce, for more than a brief
season, the flowers and shrubs that were native to his home land. But
gardenias and frangipanni----

The next bead that slipped along was the memory of an Arab street at
dusk--the merchants sitting at their shop fronts, the gloom of the
little, narrow shops, the glow of rich stuffs and rich colours that
lay in neat piles on the shelves, and the scent of incense burning in
little earthenware braziers at the door of each shop--how sweet was
the warm air, laden with this deeply sweet smell of burning, glowing
incense----

A step sounded on the verandah, and the Bishop concluded his revery
abruptly. It was not the nearly noiseless step of a bare foot, such as
his servants. It was the step of someone in European shoes, yet
without the firm, decided tramp of a European. Yet the tread of a
European shoe, muffled to the slithering, soft effect of a native
foot. A naked foot, booted. This was the Bishop's hour of rest, and
his servants had instructions to admit no one. Well, no one in a
general sense, yet there were always two or three recognised
exceptions. But it was not one of these exceptions, coming in
noiselessly like that. The Bishop sprang up, standing straddle of his
long chair, and looking fixedly in the direction of the approaching
sound. He hated interruptions, and was indignant to think that any one
should have slipped in, past the eyes of his watchful servants. Just
then a figure appeared at the far end of the verandah, a white clad
figure rapidly advancing. A dark skinned, slim figure, clad in white
linen European clothes, even down to a pair of new, ill fitting, white
canvas shoes with rubber soles. That accounted for the sound
resembling bare feet. Really, they could never wear shoes properly,
these natives, however much they might try.

Still standing straddle across his chair, the Bishop called out
angrily to the intruder. Since he was not a European, and obviously
not a native Prince--native princes never slithered in like that, all
the pomp of the East heralded their coming--the Bishop could afford to
let his annoyance manifest itself in his voice. Therefore he called
out sharply, asking the stranger's business.

A slim youth stepped forward, bare headed, hollow chested, very dark
in the gathering twilight, and his hands clasped together as if in
supplication, stood out blackly against the whiteness of his tunic.
The Bishop noticed that they were trembling. Well they might, for he
had taken a great liberty, by this presumptuous, unannounced visit. It
had a sort of sneaking character about it. Coming to steal, perhaps,
and being surprised in the act, had determined to brazen it out under
the pretext of a visit. The young man, however, walked boldly up to
the Bishop's chair, and the Bishop, rather taken aback, sat himself
down again and extended his legs on the rest, in their usual
comfortable position.

"I've come to see you, Sir," began the stranger, using very good
English though with a marked native accent, "on a question of great
importance. On a matter of principle--of high principle. I've never
seen you before, but you are known to me by reputation."

The Bishop snorted at this piece of impudence, but the youth went on
unabashed.

"A very noble reputation, if I may presume to say so. But you know
that, of course. What you are, what you stand for. Therefore I have
dared to come to you for help. It is not a matter of advice--that
does not enter in at all. But I want your great help--on our side. To
right a great, an immense, an immensely growing wrong."

The youth hesitated and stopped, wringing his dark, thin hands
together in evident agitation. The Bishop surveyed him coldly, with
curiosity, without sympathy, enjoying his embarrassment. So that was
it--some grievance, real or fancied. Fancied, most likely. He felt a
distinct sense of resentment that his hour of repose should have been
broken in upon so rudely by this native--bringing him wrongs to
redress in this uncalled for manner. There were plenty of people in
the Bishop's service expressly appointed for the purpose of looking
into complaints and attending to them. To bring them up to
headquarters, to the Bishop himself, was an act of downright
impertinence. Very much as if a native should bring his petty quarrels
up to the Governor-General. These thoughts passed through the Bishop's
mind as he regarded the intruder with a fixed and most unfriendly eye.
A few moments of hesitating silence followed, while the Bishop watched
the darting movements of a lizard on the wall, and waited for the
stranger to continue.

"I want your help," went on the youth in a low voice. "You are so
powerful--you can do so much. Not as a man, but because of your
office. Perhaps as a man, too, for they say you are a good and just
man. But the combination of a strong man in a high office----"

Still no help from the Bishop. That he did not clap his hands together
and call for his servants to have this intruder thrown out, marked
him, in his estimation, as the kind of man that the youth had
suggested. A just and liberal man. Very well, he was ready to listen.
Now that he was caught, so to speak, and obliged to listen against his
will.

"It's about the opium traffic," explained the young man, breathing
hard with excitement, and wringing his thin hands together in
distress.

"Oh, that's it, is it?" exclaimed the Bishop, breaking silence. "I
thought it must be some such thing. I mean, something that is no
concern of mine--nor yours either," he concluded sharply.

"It is both my concern and your concern," replied the young man
solemnly, "both yours and mine. Your race, your country, is sinning
against my race and my country----"

"Your country!" interrupted the Bishop disdainfully.

"Yes, my country!" exclaimed the young man proudly. "Mine still, for
all that you have conquered it, and civilized it and degraded it!"

The Bishop sprang up from his chair angrily, and then sank back again,
determined to listen. He would let this fellow say all he had to say,
and then have him arrested afterwards. He would let him condemn
himself out of his own mouth. How well they spoke English too, these
educated natives.

"What is this Colony, Sir," continued the young man gaining control of
himself, "but a market for the opium your Government sells? For you
know, Sir, as well as I, that the sale of opium is a monopoly of your
Government. And we are helpless, defenceless, powerless to protect
ourselves. And do you know what your Government makes out of this
trade, Sir--the revenue it collects from selling opium to my people?
Three quarters of the revenue of this Colony are derived from opium.
Your Government runs this colony on our degradation. You build your
roads, your forts, your schools, your public buildings, on this vice
that you have forced upon us. Before you came, with your civilization,
we were decent. Very decent, on the whole. Now look at us--what do you
see? How many shops in this town are licensed by your Government for
the sale of opium--and the license money pocketed as revenue? How many
opium divans, where we may smoke, are licensed by your Government, and
the license money pocketed as part of the revenue?"

"You needn't smoke unless you wish to," remarked the Bishop drily. "We
don't force you to do it. We don't put the pipe between your teeth and
insist upon your drugging yourselves. How many shops do you say there
are--how many smoking places? Several hundred? We don't force you into
them, I take it. You go of your own choice, don't you? We Europeans
don't do it. It's as free for us as it is for you. We have the same
opportunities to kill ourselves--I suppose that's how you look at
it--as you do. Yet somehow we abstain. If you can't resist----"

The Bishop shrugged his shoulders. Yet he rather despised himself for
the argument. It sounded cheap and unworthy, somehow. The youth,
however, did not seem to resent it, and went on sadly.

"It's true," he said, "we need not, I suppose. Yet you know," he
continued humbly, "we are a very simple people. We are very primitive,
very--lowly. We didn't understand at first, and now it's too late.
We've most of us got the habit, and the rest are getting it. We're
weak and ignorant. We want you to protect us from ourselves. Just as
you protect your own people--at home. You don't import it into your
own country--you don't want to corrupt your own people. But what about
the races you colonise and subject--who can't protect themselves? It's
not fair!" he concluded passionately, "and besides, this year you have
sold us two millions more than last year----"

"Where did you get your figures?" broke in the Bishop with rising
indignation. This cowering, trembling boy seemed to have all the
arguments on his side.

"From your own reports, Sir. Government reports. Compiled by your own
officials."

"And how did _you_ obtain a Government report?" asked the Bishop
angrily. "Spying, eh?"

The young man ignored the insult, and went on patiently. "Some are
distributed free, others may be bought at the book shops. There is one
lying on your table this moment, Sir."

"Well enough for me," remarked the Bishop, "but how did you come by
it?" The sharp eyes had recognised the fat, blue volume buried under a
miscellaneous litter of books and pamphlets on a wicker table. A lean
finger pointed towards it, and the accusing voice went on.

"There is more than opium in that Report, Sir. Look at the schools.
How little schooling do you give us, how little money do you spend for
them. We are almost illiterate--yet you have ruled us for many years.
How little do you spend on schools, so that you may keep us submissive
and ignorant? You know how freely you provide us with opium, so that
we may be docile and easy to manage--easy to manage and exploit."

The Bishop sprang up from his chair, making a grasp for the white coat
of his tormentor, but the fellow nimbly avoided him, and darted to the
other side of the table. It was almost completely dark by this time,
and the Bishop could not pursue his guest in the gloom, nor could he
reach the bell.

"Are you a Seditionist, Sir? How dare you criticise the Government?"
The answer was immediate and unexpected.

"Yes, I criticise the Government--just as I have been criticising it
to you. But more in sorrow than in anger. Although in time the anger
may come. Therefore that is why I have come to you--for help, before
our anger comes. You are a strong man, a just, a liberal man--so I'm
told. You hold a high position in the Church maintained by your
Government, just as the opium traffic is maintained by your
Government. Both are Government monopolies."

In the distance the cathedral chimes rang over the still air--the old,
sweet Canterbury chimes, pealing the full round, for it was the hour.
Then the hour struck, and both men counted it, mechanically.

"Your salary, Sir--as well as the salaries of the other priests of
your established church, out here in this Colony--comes from the
established opium trade. Your Canterbury chimes ring out, every
fifteen minutes, over the opium dens of the Crown!"

At this supreme insult the Bishop leaped at his tormentor, striking a
blow into space. The youth bounded over the low rail of the verandah
and disappeared amongst the shrubbery in the darkness.

To say that the Bishop was shaken by this interview is to put it
mildly. For he was a good man in his way, and moreover, in a certain
restricted sense, a religious one. But he was lazy and not inclined to
meddle in affairs that did not concern him. And colonial politics and
the management of colonial affairs were certainly not his concern.
Nevertheless, the horrible grouping together of facts, as the young
Seditionist had grouped them for him, their adroit placing together,
with the hideous, unavoidable connection between them, upset him
tremendously. He sat on in the darkness trying to think, trying to
see his way clear, trying to excuse or to justify. He had never
thought of these things before, yet he well knew of their existence.
All sorts of injustices abounded in civilized states--it was perhaps
worse in the colonies. Yet even in the colonies, little by little they
were being weeded out, or adjusted. Yet this particular evil, somehow,
seemed to flourish untouched. Not an effort was made to uproot it. The
only effort made, apparently, was to increase and encourage it. And
with the acquiescence of men like himself. All for what--for money?
For Crown revenues! Pretty poor business, come to think of it. Surely,
if the Colony could not exist by honest and legitimate trade, it might
better not exist at all. To thrive upon the vices of a subject people,
to derive nearly the whole revenue from those vices, really, somehow,
it seemed incompatible with--with--that nasty fling about the Church!

He rang for his boy, and a lamp was brought in and placed upon the
table beside him, and the Bishop reached over for the unheeded Report,
which had been lying on the table so long. The columns of figures
seemed rather formidable--he hated statistics, but he applied himself
to the Report conscientiously. Yes, there it was in all its simplicity
of crude, bald statements, just as the young man had said. Glaring,
horrible facts, disgraceful facts. For an hour he sat absorbed in
them, noting the yearly increase in consumption as indicated by the
yearly increase in revenue. Three quarters of the revenue from
opium--one quarter from other things. He wondered vaguely about his
salary; that painful allusion to it troubled him. It was just possible
that it came from the one quarter derived from legitimate trade.
Certainly, it was quite possible. But on the other hand, there was an
unquiet suspicion that perhaps it didn't.

The Bishop moved into the dining room, carrying the fat Blue Book
under his arm, and read it carefully during his solitary meal. Those
carefully compiled tables, somehow, did not do credit to what he had
heretofore been pleased to consider the greatest colonising nation in
the world. Were all colonies like that--run on these principles? Yet
the Government, apparently, had felt no hesitation in setting forth
these facts explicitly. Presumably the Government felt justified. Yet
it certainly was not--the word honourable rose to his mind, but he
suppressed it at once--however, nothing else suggested itself. Years
ago, so many years ago that he had lost count, the Bishop had worked
for a time in the East End. He had had clubs and classes, and worked
with the young men. He used to know a good deal about certain things,
and to feel strongly---- But since then he had become prosperous, and
a high dignitary in the Church. Something stirred uneasily in the back
of his mind, as he dawdled over his dinner and turned the pages of the
Blue Book----

Then he went back to the verandah again, and subsided into his long
chair. He sat in darkness, for he disliked the night-flying insects of
the Tropics, and had a nervous horror of them. Lamps made them
worse--brought them in thicker shoals. He gazed out at the twinkling
lights of the vessels at anchor in the harbour. There were many ships
in the roadway to-night, a sight which would ordinarily have pleased
him, but his thoughts were in sharp contrast now to his comfortable,
contented thoughts of a few hours ago.


II

The Bishop spent rather a wakeful night, that is, until about two in
the morning, at which hour he settled his problem and fell asleep. It
finally resolved itself in his mind as a matter for him to let alone.
He could not better it, and had not the smallest intention of making a
martyr of himself, of resigning his office, or of incurring any of the
other disagreeable experiences which beset the path of the moral
crusader. No, he could do nothing, for at two o'clock, as we have
said, he had arrived at the conclusion that the evil--if such it could
be called, since there was considerable doubt on the subject--had
reached a magnitude which no single individual could deal with.
Whereupon he wisely dismissed the matter from his mind. Not having
gone to sleep till late he was considerably annoyed when his China-boy
arrived at six with his early tea. This sense of irritation still
clung to him when an hour later he sat down on the verandah facing the
harbour and began his breakfast. Even after ten years in the Tropics,
the Bishop still continued to enjoy bacon and eggs with unabated
relish, and these did something, this morning, to mitigate his ill
humour. A fresh papaya, with a dozen seeds left in as flavouring, also
helped. Finally the boy came in and laid letters by his plate. Home
letters, bearing the familiar postmarks, so dear to dwellers in
outlying parts of the world. A small Malay kriss, with a handle of
ivory and silver and a blade of five waves served as letter opener.
The Bishop slit each envelope carefully, and laid the pile back on the
table, to be read slowly, with full enjoyment. One by one he went
through them, smiling a little, or frowning, as it happened. The mail
from Home was early this week--evidently it had come in last evening,
although he had not seen the steamer in the roads. All the better--all
the more of a surprise.

He stopped suddenly, anxiously, and an open letter in his hand
trembled violently. He finished it hurriedly, went through it a second
time, and again once more before he could acknowledge its meaning.

     "MY DEAR BROTHER" [it began, with a formality about the opening
     that boded trouble], "I write to you in great distress, but
     sure that you will respond to the great demand I am about to
     make upon you, upon all the kindness which you have shown us
     for these many years. Herbert, your namesake, is in deep
     trouble--disgrace, I might better say. Never mind the details.
     They are sufficiently serious, sufficiently humiliating. We
     have managed to cover it up, to conceal what we can, but for
     the present at least, or until this blows over, it is
     impossible for him to remain at home. It has all come about so
     suddenly, so unexpectedly, that there has been no time to write
     to you to obtain your consent. But he must leave home at once,
     and there is no one to whom we can send him except yourself. In
     his present position, feeling the deep dishonour that he has
     brought upon himself, upon all of us in fact, we do not dare to
     send him forth into the world alone. Therefore, without delay,
     we are sending him to you, feeling sure of your response. Under
     your guidance and care, with the inestimable benefits that he
     will derive through the association with such a man as
     yourself, we hope that he will recover his normal balance. Take
     him in, do what you can for him for all our sakes. He has
     always been devoted to you, although it was a lad's
     devotion--you have not seen him for several years, and he is
     now twenty. Put him to work, do whatever you think best for
     him; we give him entirely into your hands. We turn to you in
     this hour of our distress, knowing that you will not fail us.

     "Such is the urgency, that he is going out to you on the boat
     that carries this letter. Failing that, he will leave in any
     event on the boat of the following week. We regret that there
     has not been sufficient time to prepare you. He will be no
     expense, being well provided with funds, although in future I
     shall make out his remittances in your name. In haste, in
     grief, and with all love,

                              "Your affectionate brother,

                                        "ALLAN."

The Bishop sat thunderstruck in his chair, aghast at his predicament.
Here was a pretty situation! A scapegrace nephew, who had done heavens
knew what dishonourable thing--the Bishop thought of a dozen things
all at once, all equally disgraceful and equally probable,--was about
to be quartered upon him, in his peaceful, ordered, carefree life, for
an indefinite period! Really, it was intolerable. What did he, the
Bishop, know of young men and their difficulties? Who was he to guide
the footsteps of an erring one? What practical experience had he in
such matters--it was one thing to expound certain niceties of
theological doctrine, which, after all, had little bearing on daily
life--and quite another to become guardian and preceptor to a young
scamp. For he was a scamp, obviously. And of all places in the world,
to send a weak, undisciplined person out to the Colony--this rather
notorious Colony where even those of the highest principles had some
difficulty in holding to the path. It was obvious that the place for
this young man was in his home--in the home of his father and mother,
who while they had doubtless spoiled him, must nevertheless retain a
certain influence. He needed all the kindness and loving care that a
home could give. The Bishop sought refuge in platitudes, for of such
consisted his daily thoughts, running through his brain in certain
well defined, well worn brain paths. Then a wave of indignation passed
over him concerning his brother--the selfishness of turning his son
out, at this time of all times! Of shirking responsibility towards
him, of turning that responsibility over to another! To another whom
he had not even consulted! All his life his brother had had what he
wanted--riches, a beautiful home, an easy life. Yet at the first
breath of trouble he evaded his responsibilities and dumped them upon
another!

The Bishop worked himself up into a fine fury, seeing his future plans
upset, his easy-going life diverted from its normal, flowing course by
the advent of this scapegrace nephew. His eyes rested once more upon
the letter: "He is going out to you on the boat that carries this
letter." If so, then he must have already landed and would appear at
any moment. For the mailboat must have come in last night, and the
passengers had either been put ashore last evening, or had been put
ashore at sunrise, supposing the boat remained discharging cargo all
night. It was now eight o'clock. The youth should have been here.
Apparently, then, he had failed to catch this boat, and was coming the
following week. But the Bishop was troubled; he must go into town and
make sure. Since he was to be burdened with the rascal for a week (but
only for a week, he would send him packing home by the next boat, he
promised himself) his sense of duty prompted him to act at once. He
raised his fine, thin hands and clapped them together smartly.

"Rickshaw! Quickly!" he ordered the China-boy who appeared in answer
to his summons. A few minutes later he descended the broad steps of
the verandah and entered his neat, black rickshaw, with highly
polished brasses, drawn by two boys in immaculate white livery. The
Bishop kept no carriage--that would have seemed ostentatious--but his
smart, black rickshaw was to be seen all over town, stopping before
houses of high and low degree, but mostly high.

He reached the quais after a sharp run, passing the godowns filled
with rubber, which gave forth its peculiar, permeating odour upon the
heavy, stagnant air of the harbourside. No, the mailboat had gone on,
had weighed anchor early in the morning, at sunrise, they told him,
and had continued on her way up the coast. No such passenger as he
described had been landed--no one by that name. The Bishop, leaning
upon the worn counter in the dingy shipping office, scrutinised the
passenger list carefully. There was a name there, certainly, that
suggested his nephew's, but with two or three wrong letters. Not
enough for a positive identification, but perhaps done purposely, as a
disguise. Could the youth have deliberately done this? It was
possible. When pressed for a description, the Bishop was most hazy. He
could only say that he was searching for a young man, about twenty.
The agent told him that twenty young men, about twenty, had come
ashore. The Bishop was not quite satisfied, was vaguely uneasy, but
there was nothing to be done. However, when the day passed and no
nephew appeared, he drew a long breath of relief. He was safe for
another week. Had a week before him in which to formulate his plans.
And he would formulate them too, he promised himself, and would put
the responsibility of this irresponsible young creature back upon the
shoulders where it belonged. It was a great temptation not to return
to the shipping office again and engage a berth on the next homeward
bound liner, but on second thought, he determined not to do so. Above
all things he prided himself on being just and liberal. He would give
his nephew a week's trial in the Colony, after which the letter
returning him to his father would bear the air of resigned but
seasoned judgment, rather than the unreasoning impulse of a moment's
irritation. A week's guardianship, and--well, so it should be. Nothing
longer, no greater incursion into his smooth, harmonious existence.

The week of anticipation passed slowly. After the first shock was
over, after the first sense of imposition had passed away, and he
found himself with a week for consideration, he became more decided
than ever on his course of action. Mentally, he began many letters to
his brother, usually beginning, "I regret exceedingly," from which
beginning he launched out into well balanced, well phrased excuses, of
admirable logic, by means of which he proved the imperative necessity
of finding other anchorage for this stray and apparently very frail
bark. Of necessity these letters were vague, since he did not know
what particular form of frailty he had to contend with. Of one thing,
however, he was sure--the Colony offered opportunities for the
indulgence of every form known to man, with none of those nice
restrictions which are thrown round such opportunities in more
civilized parts of the globe. He would explain all this at length, as
soon as he knew upon which points to concentrate his argument. But,
take it by and large, there were no safeguards of any sort, and only
the strongest and most upright could walk uprightly amidst such
perils.

The coming of the next liner was awaited with much anxiety. The Bishop
had gone so far as to confide to a few friends that a young nephew
would arrive with her, for a week's stay--on his way elsewhere. He
remembered the boy, his namesake. Rather a handsome little chap as he
recalled him--perhaps under more auspicious circumstances it might
have been a pleasure to have had a visit from him. But this suddenly
becoming endowed with him for weeks or months--it might be years,
perhaps--quite another matter.

When the mailboat arrived one afternoon, the Bishop's rickshaw stood
at the jetty, while the Bishop himself, in his immaculate gaiters,
with his sash blowing in the soft wind, stood at the end of the jetty
anxiously regarding the tender making its way inshore. She was crowded
with a miscellaneous throng of passengers, among whom were many young
men, all strange, new, expectant young men coming out for the first
time, but among them he saw no face that resembled the one he was
searching for. Which might possibly be, he reflected, since the face,
as he recalled it at the time of their last meeting many years ago,
was very childish and immature. The tender made fast to the steps, and
amidst much luggage, much scrambling of coolies and general disorder,
the passengers came off. The Bishop standing on the steps scrutinised
each one carefully. Not there. Nor was there a second trip to the
liner, since the tender had fetched ashore all who were to disembark
at that port. The Bishop turned away with mingled feelings, part
relief, part indignation. Another week of suspense to be gone through
with, and after that, another week before he could release himself of
his burden. It was all exceedingly trying and unreasonable--the
feeling of irritation against his brother mounted higher--it was
outrageous, keeping him upset this way.

Then a thought suddenly came into his mind. That name on the passenger
list a week ago, the name slightly different yet curiously
alike--could it have been altered slightly on purpose? Ashamed to face
him, ashamed to come to him? Bundled off in disgrace from home,
willy-nilly, and now here,--hiding?

A wave of sick apprehension came over the Bishop. Agonising fear. He
must see Walker at once. Walker, his old friend, who would know what
to do, what to advise. If only he were in town.

Walker was in town as it happened, and the Bishop found him at his
hotel, and poured out to him all his wretched anxieties, the whole
miserable business, not sparing himself in describing his attitude of
unwelcome and unwillingness to receive the boy, and concluding with
his sick fears concerning his safety. Walker listened gravely and
attentively, and was troubled. It was very possible indeed--more than
possible. A search must be begun at once. Fortunately, in that small
community, it was not easy for a foreigner to disappear, and a
stranger could not go inland, into the interior, undetected.
Therefore, if he was here at all, he would soon be found--somewhere.
He would set in motion the machinery immediately. First the hotels;
that was easy. Then the other places. It would doubtless be necessary
to call in the police.

The Bishop begged for secrecy--no publicity. Walker promised. That,
too, would be easy. Leave it to him. The Bishop might rest easy on
that score--no publicity. Walker would do everything himself, as far
as possible. Only, he might have to send for the Bishop, if it became
necessary, to identify----

Two nights later, the Bishop was reclining on the long chair on his
verandah, while overhead the heavy punkah fans swayed to and fro,
stirring the moist, warm air. Out in the harbour the lights gleamed
fitfully, the lanterns on the bobbing sampans contrasting with the
steadier beams of the big ships anchored in the roadway. The ships of
the Orient, congregated from the Seven Seas, full of the mystery and
romance of the East. He had left it to Walker--as he had been told. In
the darkness, with one hand clasped behind his head and the other
holding a glowing cigar, he contemplated the scene, his favourite hour
of the day. Each moment another and another light flitted across the
heavy blackness, showing red or green, while the lights on the moving
sampans darted back and forth in the darkness, restless and alert. He
had left it to Walker. He had stopped thinking of his impending nephew
for a few moments, and his mind had relaxed, as the mind relaxes when
an evil has been postponed from time to time, and normal feeling
reasserts itself after the reprieve. There was a quiet footfall on the
verandah, and the Bishop was aroused from his meditations. His Chinese
servant approached deferentially. "Man want see Master," he explained
laconically, with the imperturbability of the East.

"What like man?" enquired the Bishop, in pidgin English. "China man,"
came the response. "Must see Master. All belong velly important."

A quick foreboding possessed the Bishop, even in this hour of his
tranquillity.

"Show him here," he replied, after a second's consideration. A tall
figure appeared before him, bowing. A lean, very dirty Chinese, who
bowed repeatedly. In spite of the Oriental repression of feeling, it
was plain that he was troubled. He extended a lean, claw-like hand,
with a long and very dirty nail on the little finger, and offered a
soiled letter to the Bishop.

"Velly important. All belong much tlouble," he explained, and tucked
his hands well inside his long blue sleeves, and stood by impassively,
while the Bishop received the letter, crumpled and soiled, as if
carried for a long time in a pocket. He turned it over and found it
addressed to himself. There was no stamp. The handwriting was
Walker's. The Bishop started erect in his long chair, and then sprang
up, straddling it as usual.

"Where get this?" he asked excitedly. The impassive Chinese bowed once
more.

"Say come quick. Letter velly important. Letter belong you. No police.
My savee you want letter now." He backed away, still bowing. With a
sweep of his arm he indicated the dark night outside.

"You come quick," he repeated, "or call police." By the light of a
lamp which his obsequious but curious Chinese servant carried in, the
Bishop tore open Walker's letter, read it, then crushed it hurriedly
into his pocket.

"Come quick," reiterated the unknown Chinese, "I got lickshaw." The
Bishop strode forward across the verandah, snatching at his hat as he
went, and then hastened across the lawn with hurried steps, followed
by the Chinese pacing rapidly behind him. Two rickshaws were waiting
under the street lamp, two shabby rickshaws. Yet somehow, the Bishop
did not care for his own private conveyance at this moment, did not
wish the sharp, inquisitive eyes of his runners to follow him just
then. He mounted hastily, and the coolies started off with a will, the
Chinese leading the way. Even in that moment of anxiety, the Bishop
was aware that the Chinese was leading the way, was conscious that the
place of honour was not his--for the first time in his life, his
vehicle followed, second place, a rickshaw that carried a Chinese.

The distance seemed interminable. Fortunately, at that hour few of his
acquaintances were abroad, but in the anxiety which possessed him, he
scarcely realised it. He was conscious of passing through crowded
streets, the quarter of the Mohammedans, where incense pots were
alight, scenting the warm air. Then the vile-smelling bazaar, crowded
with buyers, bargaining and shouting under the swaying torches. Then
they passed the European section of the town, where the streets were
wide, clean and deserted. They must be going back of the quais now,
for the air was heavy with the acrid scent of rubber. Then they turned
into a narrow, wildly tumultuous street full of Chinese, scattered all
over the road and sidewalk, shouting, calling, beating drums, yelling
wares for sale, the babel of the Chinese quarter, only such as the
Bishop had never seen it. The rickshaws turned many times, up narrow
lanes and alleys, across wider thoroughfares, and finally halted
before a dingy house of many storeys, a foreign-style house, converted
to native uses. They stopped before a red painted door, a double door,
in two halves, like a saloon door. Over the entrance hung a sign,
black and white, in large, sprawling Chinese characters.
Subconsciously, he was aware that he had passed such signs, in such
characters, many times before. A curious and large crowd gathered
before the house parted at their approach, and the filthy Chinese led
the way, followed by the Bishop in his immaculate garb. As they passed
in and the swing doors closed behind them, a throng of yellow faces
peered down and looked under the door, which was hung high. And all
the while, the low, insistent shuffling noises of the crowd outside
penetrated into the dark, dimly lit room in which the Bishop and his
companion found themselves.

Around three sides of this room, which was narrow, ran a wide bench
covered with dirty matting. Lying at intervals in pairs all along the
bench, were two coolies in a little pen, with a lamp between them,
separated by a narrow ridge from the pen adjoining, which held two
more ragged smokers. The Bishop beheld rows of them, haggard, pallid
rows. A horn lantern was suspended from the ceiling, and the air was
unstirred by punkah, the heavy, foul air reeking with the sickening,
pungent fumes of opium. As he passed, the smokers raised themselves on
their elbows and gazed at him with glazed, dull eyes. The sight of a
Bishop in a low class opium den was unusual, and the dimmed brains of
the smokers dimly recognised the distraction. Then, as he moved on,
they sank down again upon their wooden pillows, and with slow,
infinite pains, set themselves to roll their bits of opium, to cook it
over the dim lamps that dotted the murky atmosphere with glints of
light, and to resume their occupations.

At the back of the room, the proprietor paused before a part of the
bench where the pen was occupied by one smoker only, a foreigner. The
foreigner lay stretched out in an awkward attitude, knees drawn up,
his head sliding off the wooden block, most uncomfortable. A candle
was thrust into the Bishop's unsteady hand.

"Looksee," whispered a voice. The Bishop looked. "All lite?"
questioned the anxious voice of the proprietor, "Die lil' while ago.
No can smoke like China boys. No can do."

The Bishop continued to look at the beautiful, disdainful head of the
young foreigner, sliding limply off its wooden pillow.

"All lite?" continued the whining voice insistently. "My got money.
Have got watch. No steal." A skinny hand with filthy fingernails crept
forth and thrust itself into the pockets of the limp waistcoat,
crumpled so pitifully upon the thin, young figure, and presently a
gold watch was drawn forth. The watch was slowly waved before the
Bishop's eyes, and the case snapped open, so that he could read the
name engraved within. After which the Bishop continued to gaze fixedly
upon the dead youth, lying disgraced upon a bench in one of the lowest
opium dives in the Colony.

"Smoke here week," went on the insistent voice of the proprietor, "all
time smoke. No go out. No eat. Smoke all same China-boy. No same
China-boy. No can do."

There was a slight movement at the back of the room, and an object was
passed from hand to hand and finally held for inspection under the
Bishop's nose. In a grimy frame, protected by a square of fly-brown
glass, was a square, official-looking bit of paper. Of value
evidently, since much care had been taken to preserve it.

"License," went on the explanatory voice. "Gov'ment license. All samee
Gov'ment license. Pay heap money. No can help if man die. Plenty
China-boy die too. This velly lespectable place."

The Bishop recalled himself as from a dream. During the few moments he
had spent looking down upon the huddled figure, he seemed to have
grown older, to have shrunken down, to have lost something of his
fine, arrogant hearing and conscious superiority.

"All lite?" whined the voice insistently. "All lite?" "Yes," said the
Bishop shortly, "it's all right." He strode rapidly through the foul
room, through the heavy, tainted, pungent air. Outside, the dense
crowd pressed closely about the swinging doors scattered widely as he
approached. Two policemen were coming down the street, attracted by
the excitement of the crowd. The Bishop got into a rickshaw and drove
homewards. A heavy weight seemed to have been lifted from his mind.
Through the oppressive, hot night air the Canterbury chimes pealed
their mellow notes.

"Thank God," said the Bishop fervently, "it was not _my_ nephew."



UNDER A WINEGLASS



VIII

UNDER A WINEGLASS


A little coasting steamer dropped anchor at dawn at the mouth of
Chanta-Boun creek, and through the long, hot hours she lay there,
gently stirring with the sluggish tide, waiting for the passage-junk
to come down from Chanta-Boun town, twelve miles further up the river.
It was stifling hot on the steamer, and from side to side, whichever
side one walked to, came no breeze at all. Only the warm, enveloping,
moist heat closed down, stifling. Very quiet it was, with no noises or
voices from the after deck, where under the awning lay the languid
deck passengers, sleeping on their bedding rolls. Very quiet it was
ashore, so still and quiet that one could hear the bubbling, sucking
noises of the large land-crabs, pattering over the black, oozy mud, or
the sound of a lean pig scratching himself against the piles of a
native hut, the clustered huts, mounted on stilts, of the village at
the mouth of the creek.

The Captain came down from the narrow bridge into the narrow saloon.
He was clad in yellow pajamas, his bare feet in native sandals, and
held a well pipeclayed topee in one hand. Impatient he was at the
delay of the passage-junk coming down from up-river, with her possible
trifling cargo, and possible trifling deck-passengers, of which the
little steamer already carried enough.

"This long wait--it is very annoying," he commented, sitting upon the
worn leather cushions of the saloon bench. "And I had wished for time
enough to stop to see the lonely man. I have made good time on this
trip--all things considered. With time to spare, to make that call,
out of our way. And now the good hours go by, while we wait here,
uselessly."

"The lonely man?" asked the passenger, who was not a deck-passenger.
He was the only saloon passenger, and because of that, he slept first
in one, then in the other of the two small cabins, alternating
according to which side the wind blew from.

"You would not mind, perhaps," continued the Captain, "if, after
all--in spite of this long delay--we still found time for the lonely
man? An unscheduled call, much out of our way--oh, a day's sail from
here, and we, as you know, go slowly----"

"Three days from now--four days from now--it matters little to me when
we reach Bangkok," said the passenger largely, "but tell me of this
man."

Upon the sideboard, under an inverted wineglass, sat a small gilt
Buddha, placed there by the China-boys. The Captain fixed his eyes
upon the Buddha.

"Like that. Immovable and covered in close, sitting still in a small
space. Covered in. Some one turned a wineglass over on him, long ago,
and now he sits, still and immovable like that. It makes my heart
ache."

"Tell me. While we are waiting."

"Three years ago," began the Captain dreamily, still looking at the
tiny gilt Buddha in its inverted wineglass, "he came aboard. Bound for
nowhere in particular--to Bangkok, perhaps, since we were going that
way. Or to any other port he fancied along the coast, since we were
stopping all along the coast. He wanted to lose himself, he said. And,
as you have seen, we stop at many remote, lonely villages, such as
this one. And we have seen many lonely men, foreigners, isolated in
villages such as this one, unknown, removed, forgotten. But none of
them suited him. He had been looking for the proper spot for many
years. Wandering up and down the coast, in cargo-boats, in little
coasting vessels, in sailing vessels, sometimes in native junks,
stopping here and there, looking for a place where he could go off and
live by himself. He wanted to be quite, absolutely, to himself. He
said he should know the place immediately, if he saw it--recognise it
at once. He said he could find himself if he could get quite
absolutely away. Find himself, that is, recover himself--something, a
part of him which he had lost. Just temporarily lost. He was very
wistful and very eager, and said I must not think him a fool, or
demented. He said he only wanted to be by himself, in the right spot,
to accomplish his purpose. He would accomplish his purpose and then
return.

"Can you see him, the lonely man, obsessed, going up and down the
China Coast, shipping at distant ports, one after another, on
fruitless quests, looking for a place to disembark. The proper place
to disembark, the place which he should recognise, should know for his
own place, which would answer the longing in him which had sent him
searching round the world, over the Seven Seas of the world. The spot
in which he could find himself again and regain what he had lost.

"There are many islands hereabouts," went on the Captain. "Hundreds.
Desert. He thought one would suit him. So I put him down on one, going
out of my way to find it for him. He leaned over the rail of the
bridge, and said to me 'We are getting nearer.' Then he said that he
saw it. So I stopped the ship and put him down. He was very grateful.
He said he liked to be in the Gulf of Siam. That the name had a
picturesque sound, the Pirate Islands. He would live all by himself on
one of the Pirate Islands, in the Gulf of Siam. Isolated and remote,
but over one way was the coast of Indo-China, and over the other way
was the coast of Malay. Neighbourly, but not too near. He should
always feel that he could get away when he was ready, what with so
much traffic through the Gulf, and the native boats now and then. He
was mistaken about the traffic, but I did not tell him so. I knew
where he was and could watch him. I placed a cross on the chart, on
his island, so that I might know where I had left him. And I promised
myself to call upon him, from time to time--to see when he should be
ready to face the world again."

The Captain spread a chart upon the table.

"Six degrees north latitude," he remarked, "Ten thousand miles
from----"

"Greenwich," supplied the passenger, anxious to show that he knew.

"From Her," corrected the Captain.

"He told me about her a little. I added the rest, from what he
omitted. It all happened quite a long time ago, which was the bother
of it. And because it had taken place so long ago, and had endured for
so long a time, it made it more difficult for him to recover himself
again. Do you think people ever recover themselves again? When the
precious thing in them, the spirit of them has been overlaid and
overlaid, covered deep with artificial layers----?

"The marvel was that he wanted to regain it--wanted to break through.
Most don't. The other thing is so easy. Money--of course. She had it,
and he loved her. He had none, and she loved him. She had had money
always, had lived with it, lived on it, it got into her very bones.
And he had not two shillings to rub together, but he possessed the
gift--genius. But they met somewhere, and fell in love with each
other, and that ended him. She took him, you see, and gave him all she
had. It was marvellous to do it, for she loved him so. Took him from
his four shilling attic into luxury. Out of his shabby, poor, worn
clothes into the best there were. From a penny 'bus into superb
motors. With all the rest of it to match. And he accepted it all
because he loved her, and it was the easiest way. Besides, just before
she had come into his life, he had written--well, whatever it
was--however, they all praised him, the critics and reviewers, and
called him the coming man, and he was very happy about it, and she
seemed to come into his life right at the top of his happiness over
his work. And sapped it. Didn't mean to, but did. Cut his genius down
at the root. Said his beginning fame was quite enough--quite enough
for her, for her friends, for the society into which she took him.
They all praised him without understanding how great he was, or
considering his future. They took him at her valuation, which was
great enough. But she thought he had achieved the summit. Did not
know, you see, that there was anything more.

"He was so sure of himself, too, during those first few years. Young
and confident, conscious of his power. Drifting would not matter for a
while. He could afford to drift. His genius would ripen, he told
himself, and time was on his side. So he drifted, very happy and
content, ripening. And being overlaid all the time, deeper and
thicker, with this intangible, transparent, strong wall, hemming him
in, shutting in the gold, just like that little joss there under the
wineglass.

"She lavished on him everything, without measure. But she had no
knowledge of him, really. Just another toy he was, the best of all, in
her luxurious equipment. So he travelled the world with her, and dined
at the Embassies of the world, East and West, in all the capitals of
Europe and of Asia. Getting restive finally, however, as the years
wore on. Feeling the wineglass, as it were, although he could not see
it. Looking through its clear transparency, but feeling pressed,
somehow, conscious of the closeness. But he continued to sit still,
not much wishing to move, to stretch himself.

"Then sounds from the other side began to filter in, echoing largely
in his restricted space, making within it reverberations that carried
vague uneasiness, producing restlessness. He shifted himself within
his space, and grew conscious of limitations. From without came the
voices, insistent, asking what he was doing now? Meaning, what thing
was he writing now, for a long time had passed since he had written
that which called forth the praise of men. There came to him, within
his wineglass, these demands from the outside. Therefore he grew very
uneasy, and tried to rise, and just then it was that he began to feel
how close the crystal walls surrounded him. He even wanted to break
them, but a pang at heart told him that was ingratitude. For he loved
her, you see. Never forget that.

"Now you see how it all came about. He was conscious of himself, of
his power. And while for the first years he had drifted, he was always
conscious of his power. Knew that he had but to rise, to assume
gigantic stature. And then, just because he was very stiff, and the
pain of stiffness and stretching made him uncouth, he grew angry. He
resented his captivity, chafed at his being limited like that, did not
understand how it had come about. It had come about through love.
Through sheer, sheltering love. The equivalent of his for her. She had
placed a crystal cup above him, to keep him safe. And he had sat safe
beneath it all these years, fearing to stir, because she liked him so.

"It came to a choice at last. His life of happiness with her--or his
work. Poor fool, to have made the choice at that late day. So he broke
his wineglass, and his heart and her heart too, and came away. And
then he found that he could not work, after all. Years of sitting
still had done it.

"At first he tried to recover himself by going over again the paths
of his youth. A garret in London, a studio off Montparnasse, shabby,
hungry--all no use. He was done for. Futile. Done himself in for no
purpose, for he had lost her too. For you see he planned, when he left
her, to come back shortly, crowned anew. To come back in triumph, for
she was all his life. Nothing else mattered. He just wanted to lay
something at her feet, in exchange for all she had given him. Said he
would. So they parted, heart-broken, crushed, neither one
understanding. But he promised to come back, with his laurels.

"That parting was long ago. He could not regain himself. After his
failure along the paths of his youth, his garrets and studios, he
tried to recover his genius by visiting again all the parts of the
world he had visited with her. Only this time, humbly. Standing on the
outside of palaces and Embassies, recollecting the times when he had
been a guest within. Rubbing shoulders with the crowd outside, shabby,
poor, a derelict. Seeking always to recover that lost thing.

"And getting so impatient to rejoin her. Longing for her always.
Coming to see that she meant more to him than all the world beside.
Eating his heart out, craving her. Longing to return, to reseat
himself under his bell. Only now he was no longer gilded. He must gild
himself anew, bright, just as she had found him. Then he could go
back.

"But it could not be done. He could not work. Somewhere in the world,
he told me, was a spot where he could work. Where there were no
memories. Somewhere in the Seven Seas lay the place. He should know it
when he saw it. After so many years' exclusion, he was certain he
should feel the atmosphere of the place where he could work. And there
he would stay till he finished, till he produced the big thing that
was in him. Thus, regilded, he would return to her again. One more
effort, once more to feel his power, once more to hear the stimulating
rush of praise,--then he would give it up again, quite content to sit
beneath his wine-glass till the end. But this first.

"So I put him down where I have told you, on a lonely island. Somewhat
north of the Equator, ten thousand miles away from Her. Wistfully, he
said it was quite the right spot. He could feel it. So we helped him,
the China-boys and I, to build a little hut, up on stilts, thatched
with palm leaves. Very desolate it is. On all sides the burnished
ocean, hot and breathless. And the warm, moist heat, close around,
still and stifling. Like a blanket, dense, enveloping. But he said it
was the spot. I don't know. He has been there now three years. He said
he could do it there--if ever. From time to time I stop there, if the
passengers are willing for a day or two's delay. He looks very old
now, and very thin, but he always says it's all right. Soon, very soon
now, the manuscript will be ready. Next time I stop, perhaps. Once I
came upon him sobbing. Landing early in the morning, slipped ashore
and found him sobbing. Head in arms and shoulders shaking. It was
early in the morning and I think he'd sobbed all night. Somehow, I
think it was not for the gift he'd lost--but for Her.

"But he says over and over again that it is the right spot--the very
right place in the world for such as he. Told me that I must not mind,
seeing him so lonely, so apparently depressed. That it was nothing.
Just the Tropics, and being so far away, and perhaps thinking a
little too much of things that did not concern his work. But the work
would surely come on. Moods came on him from time to time, which he
recognised were quite the right moods in which to work, in which to
produce great things. His genius was surely ripe now--he must just
concentrate. Some day, very shortly, there would be a great rush, he
should feel himself charged again with the old, fine fire. He would
produce the great work of his life. He felt it coming on--it would be
finished next time I called.

"This is the next time. Shall we go?" asked the Captain.

Accordingly, within a day or two, the small coastwise steamer dropped
her anchor in a shallow bay, off a desert island marked with a cross
on the Captain's chart, and unmarked upon all other charts of the same
waters. All around lay the tranquil spaces of a desolate ocean, and on
the island the thatched roof of a solitary hut showed among the palms.
The Captain went ashore by himself, and presently, after a little
lapse of time, he returned.

"It is finished," he announced briefly, "the great work is finished. I
think it must have been completed several weeks ago. He must have
died several weeks ago. Possibly soon after my last call."

He held out a sheet of paper on which was written one word,
"Beloved."



CHOLERA



IX

CHOLERA


There is cholera in the land, and there is fear of cholera in the
land. Both are bad, though they are different. Those who get cholera
have no fear of it. They are simple people and uneducated, fishermen
and farmers, and little tradesmen, and workers of many kinds. Those
who have fear of cholera have more intelligence, and know what it
means. They have education, and their lives are bigger lives--more
imposing, as it were, and they would safeguard them. Those who are
afraid are the foreigners and the officials, yes, even the Emperor
himself. Is he afraid, the Emperor? One can but guess. He has spent
many weeks of this hot summer, when cholera was ravaging his country,
in his summer palace at Nikko. There he was safe. And cholera spread
itself throughout the land, in the seaports, in the capital, across
the rice-fields to the inland villages, taking its toll here and
there, of little petty lives. But dangerous to the Emperor, these
lives, afflicted or cut short, whichever happens. So he is staying
safe at Nikko, in seclusion, waiting for the cool of Autumn to come
and purge his land.

Once he was to come back to Tokyo, to his capital. For September waned
and he was due there, the Son of Heaven, due in his capital. Many of
his subjects came to the station at Nikko on the day appointed for his
departure, stepping with short steps in their high clogs, tinkling on
the roadside in their clogs, scratching in their sandals. They came in
crowds to the station, at the hour when he was due to enter the royal
train. But when the time came for his departure, he did not go. He
would tarry awhile longer at Nikko. So the crowds were disappointed
and did not understand. Rumour had it that cholera had developed in
the royal household itself--the Purveyor to the Palace, so it was
stated, had contracted the disease. A fish dealer, bringing fish to
the palace, had brought cholera with him. So the Emperor tarries at
Nikko, and the highroad, behind the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is
closed to the public, lest any poor coolie, strolling by, should
become ill and bring this dread thing near to the precincts of the Son
of Heaven.

The foreigners are very careful as to what they eat. They avoid the
fruits, the ripe, rich Autumn figs, and the purple grapes, and the
hard, round, woody pears, and the sweet butter and many other things.
Oh, these days the rich foreigners are very careful of themselves, and
meal times are not as pleasant as they used to be. They discuss their
food, and wonder about it. And because there is cholera, rife in the
ports, and among the fishermen and sailors, the authorities have
closed the fish market of Tokyo. The great Nihom-Bashi market, down by
the bridge, the vile, evil smelling fish market, lying along the
sluggish canal, is closed. The canal is full of straw thatched boats.
It all smells very nasty in that quarter, it smells like cholera. No
wonder there is cholera, with that smell. No wonder the great market
is closed. So the baskets of bamboo are empty, turned upside down, for
there is no fish in them. The people, bare-legged, nearly naked, stand
idly about the empty fish market, and talk together of this fear
which is abroad, which has ruined their trade. What is this fear? They
cannot understand. They do not know it. Only the Emperor cannot eat
fish now, for some reason, and their business is ruined because of his
caprice.

It is very hot. All summer has this great heat continued, and it makes
one nervous. Day after day it lasts, unbroken, always the same,
unavoidable. There is no escape from the stifling dampness of it--one
cannot breathe. Over all the land it is like this, this heavy, sultry
heat. It is no cooler when it rains, no dryer when the hot sun shines.
It is enveloping, engulfing. In the big hotel, the leather shoes of
the foreigners become mouldy overnight, and the sweat runs in streams
from the brown bodies of the rickshaw boys. The rickshaw boys of the
big hotel wear clothes, long legged, tight cotton trousers, and
flapping white coats. This is to save the feelings of the foreigners
and the missionaries, who believe that clothing should always be worn,
even in hot weather. So as the rickshaw boy runs along, one can see
his white coat grow damp between the shoulder blades, then wet all
across the back, till it is all wet and sticks to him tight. Yet it is
more modest to wear clothes, when doing the work of a horse. One does
not object to a man doing the work of a horse, provided he dress like
a man. But the coolies toiling at the log carts, and the little
tradesmen in their shops, wear few clothes, because they are
independent of the foreigners. Therefore they seem to suffer less with
the heat, or to suffer less obviously. Ah, but the heat is intense,
overwhelming! Day after day, one cannot breathe. And in it, cholera
goes on.

They say a typhoon is coming. Word has come from Formosa that a
typhoon is rushing up from the southern seas, from Hong Kong, the
Equator, wherever it is they come from. It will reach us to-night.
That will be better. The heat will go then, blown from the land by the
gigantic blast of the typhoon, zig-zagging up the coast from Formosa.
Well, it is late September--this unnatural heat,--why will it not
leave? Why must it linger till torn like a blanket from the sweating
earth, by this hurricane from the Southern seas?

Only it did not come--the typhoon. They said it would, but it failed.
Has it gone shooting off into the Pacific, futile? So the damp,
stifling heat lingers, and the toll of cholera rolls slowly upward day
by day.

It is a long way from Nikko to Tokyo by motor. A hundred miles, when
one can cross the bridge, but the bridge is washed away now, so a
detour of many more miles is necessary, to ferry the motor across the
Tonegawa on a flat bottomed, frail boat. The motor sinks nearly to the
hubs in the blazing, glaring sands of the dry river bed, and many
naked coolies are needed to push and pull it through the hot sands,
and work it into the boat. In the glaring sun of noon, the broad river
lies motionless, like a sheet of glowing steel. Children bathe in the
river, and the sweating coolies dip their brown bodies in it, and the
sun beats down pitiless. A junk gets loose from its moorings, and
drifts down stream, stern first, on the slow current. Who cares? No
one. It will beach itself presently, on a mud flat, and can be
recovered towards evening. The great heat lies over all the land, and
cholera is in the slowly flowing water, and the fishermen and the
coolies and the children live and work and play by the river bank, and
they have no fear of it, because they are ignorant.

From Nikko to the capital, the road runs through village after
village, endlessly, mile after mile. On each side of the village
street are straw thatched houses, and along the roads coolies bend
under great loads, carried on poles across their shoulders. Black
bulls drag giant loads on two wheeled carts, their masters straining
beside them. The bulls' mouths are open, their tongues hang out, and
saliva drools out in streams. It leaves a wet, irregular wake, in the
dust of the roadside, behind the carts. By and by, the men will stop
for food and drink. They cannot choose what it shall be. They cannot
afford to choose. But the food of the Emperor is carefully selected.
Physicians examine those who handle it, who bring it to the Palace, to
see that they are in good health. They examine the food, disinfect it,
see to its cooking. News of this is in the papers each day, not to
show that the Emperor is afraid, but to set an example to his
subjects.

In the houses along the roadside, little tradesmen are at work, all
naked in the heat. Or else they are bathing. For all along the high
road from Nikko to the capital, following its every bend and turning,
runs a ditch or channel filled with water. Sometimes the water is
clean and rushing, sometimes foul and stagnant and evil smelling. And
all the way along the high road people are bathing in this ditch or
channel, in the foul or running water, as it happens. They stand
naked, knee deep, men and children, while the women wash and bathe
also, but more modestly. Also, besides their bodies, they wash much
else in this long ditch,--clothes, pots, what-not. Very dirty seems
this channel, sewer, bath tub, as you please. And cholera is abroad in
the land.

At the entrance to the temples sits the image of Binzuru. Long ago,
when history was new and the gods were young, Binzuru, one of the
sixteen great disciples, broke his vow of chastity by remarking on the
beauty of a woman. So he was put outside the temples. His image no
longer rests upon the altars, with those of the calm, serene ones.
He's disgraced, expelled, no longer fit to sit upon the altars, with
the cold, serene ones, in their colossal calm. He's so human now,
outside the temples. Sitting on a chair for human beings to touch him,
now he's off the altar, he's in contact with humanity. The devout ones
rub his wooden image--there is no bronze or gold in poor Binzuru's
makeup. So the people rub his wooden image, rub his ears, his head,
his forehead, rub his arms, his legs, his shoulders. How they suffer,
human beings! How their bodies ache and suffer, judged by poor
Binzuru's body! For if you rub Binzuru on the part which hurts you in
your body, and then rub your body with a hand fresh from Binzuru, you
will be cured. Your pain will go. That's true. Binzuru is polished
smooth and shining, quite deformed with rubbing--his poor head's a
nubbin! And in gratitude for what he's done for people, he sits now on
a pile of cushions, one for each new cure. Bibs and caps adorn him
too, votive offerings from the faithful whom he's cured.

But he is no good for cholera, poor Binzuru. You can't reach him quick
enough to rub his stomach, then your own. Cholera's too quick for
that. You can't reach him soon enough. He can't help in this.

Down the road a stretcher comes, swinging from a bamboo pole, carried
on the shoulders of two men. Over it a mat is thrown, and through the
little open triangle at one end, you see a pair of brown legs lying.
Only legs, no more. Drawn up stiffly, toes clinched.

Here in the hospital they lie in rows, very quiet. Not an outcry, not
a murmur. Everything is swimming in carbolic. The nurses wear masks
across their mouths and noses. They come and go in clogs, barefooted,
and splash through the carbolic on the floors. This is cholera. These
people, lying so quietly upon their hard pillows, have cholera. It is
not spectacular. All are poor folk, fishermen, sailors, farmers,
shopkeepers, all the ignorant, the stupid, who were not afraid. One is
dying. Nose pinched, gasping, bathed in sweat. The hot air can't warm
him. He is dying, cold.

So there is cholera in the land, and fear of cholera. Those who were
not afraid have cholera. With them it is a matter of a few days only,
one way or the other. But those who have fear of cholera have
something which lasts much longer, weeks and weeks. Till the heat
breaks. Till the typhoon comes.



COSMIC JUSTICE



X

COSMIC JUSTICE


Young Withers bought out his uncle's firm of Withers, Ltd., importers.
He had been associated with his uncle for some years, as a minor
partner, and how he could manage to take over the prosperous Withers,
Ltd. without capital, is one of the mysteries of finance that do not
concern us. Suffice it that he did, everything included, the big
godowns on the quais, shipping rights, the goodwill, stock and
fixtures, and the old compradore, Li Yuan Chang. Most particular was
old Mr. Withers that Li Yuan Chang should be included. "You will never
find a better compradore," he had explained over and over, "in fact,
the business will go to pieces without him." Presumably old Mr.
Withers knew what he was talking about, for Li had been his
interpreter, his accountant, his man of affairs for years. So of
course young Withers made no objection, and considered that he was
very fortunate in having Li stay with him, after the turnover. For old
Li was rich enough to retire by this time, no doubt, as compradores
always find means to put away something year by year over and above
their salaries. But he was scrupulously honest--old Mr. Withers had
full and complete trust in him, and explained to his nephew that he
could leave Tientsin from time to time, for as long a time as he
liked, in fact, and could be sure meanwhile that old Li would look out
for his interests.

"Just be careful of him," he explained. "He's really invaluable. But
be a little careful of him--considerate, I mean--he's not very
strong----"

"Chandoo?" asked young Withers suspiciously, by which he meant, was Li
addicted to smoking that cheapest form of opium, the refuse and
scrapings, which was the only grade that all but the richest could
afford.

"Oh never," replied old Mr. Withers, "never. In all the years I've had
him. Never touches a pipe. Temperate and austere in all things, to a
degree. But he is getting old now and needs humouring--likes to feel
his importance, does not care to be overlooked in the way young men
may be inclined to overlook him,--his work, I mean. Besides, he's not
very strong, rather delicate in fact, so you must be easy with him.
But you'll never get a better compradore, and he's good for many years
yet--or until you learn the ropes."

After which old Mr. Withers concerned himself very earnestly in the
preparations for his departure, for he was leaving China for a better
land,--England, I mean.

Young Withers set about learning the business under the direction of
old Li. Which greatly complimented old Li, who liked being deferred to
by a European. And young Withers being very easy-going, and having
fallen into a business which required no up-building, being already in
its stride, most successful, he left a good many of the details to his
compradore, and bragged about him a good deal, saying that indeed he
had inherited from his uncle a most wonderful and competent man of
affairs. Therefore he was greatly astonished one day, about two years
after his accession, when Li asked for a vacation--a long one.

"Want go America," explained the Chinese succinctly. Young Withers was
dumbfounded.

"But you can't go America!" he explained, "no can go. What become of
business here in Tientsin if you go America? No can do."

Li had had his own way about many things during a great number of
years, and opposition, no matter from what motives, meant nothing to
him. He settled his big horn spectacles more firmly on his nose, and
flecked invisible dust from his rich black brocade coat.

"Want go America," he repeated without emphasis.

"Whatever for?" asked young Withers, to whom a desire to go to America
was incomprehensible. He himself had never felt a desire to go to
America, and that his old compradore should be so obsessed was past
his understanding. Besides, he could imagine somewhat what would
befall the old gentleman, who after many years was only able to speak
pidgin-English, who never wore European clothes, and who had managed
to retain his magnificent queu in spite of all the troubles following
the Boxer business. Old Withers had managed to preserve Li's queu for
him. Took him into his compound and sheltered him, and finally got a
permit from the Legation to allow him to wear it. Li was enormously
proud of this queu, which was long and thick and glossy, and its
length enhanced by a black silk cord, neatly plaited in towards the
end--altogether, it came nearly down to his heels, the envy and
admiration of many a Chinese gentleman who had been abruptly shorn
before help arrived. Young Withers visualised his dignified compradore
the figure of fun to irreverent American crowds. He sincerely wished
to preserve him from what he felt must be an unpleasant experience. He
was even more anxious to protect his old friend from what would
probably be in store for him, than through any selfish desire to
retain his services.

"Come back again four month," observed Li. "Not long time. Want to
go." Young Withers sighed. It was impossible to explain to the old
man. There were pitfalls and pitfalls, he well knew. Yet he had never
been to America himself, so could not speak from experience. Only the
evening before he had been dining in company with a wise woman of
sorts, a French lady who had lived in a cave in Tibet for some years,
pursuing reluctant hermits into their mountain fastnesses in order to
obtain elucidation on certain Buddhist books. She had told him frankly
that she was bound back again for her cave, or for the wilds of
Mongolia, but never, under any circumstances, could she trust herself
to the risks of American civilization. Young Withers tried to explain
something of this to the old man, who was very patient and did not
interrupt him, but the seed was falling on barren ground. If he could
just understand English better, thought Withers, I might be able to
make him see. So Withers' oratory was lost, to a large degree, and
when he came to a pause Li repeated, without emphasis,

"Want go America."

"But you're too old!" exclaimed the young man, exasperated by such
obstinacy. "Too--you're too--you're not strong enough. You're
too--delicate----"

"Want go America. Four month. Come back then," said Li, and Withers
gave it up. Two weeks later Li was standing on the deck of a small
Japanese liner bound from Tientsin to Kobe, from which port he would
transship to a larger Japanese liner bound for San Francisco. He took
with him many bundles of odd sizes, wrapped in coarse blue cotton,
seemingly of no value. He waved a dignified farewell from the rail,
and young Withers, on the dock, watched the departure of his old
compradore with infinite misgivings.

Four months, including the passage both ways, proved much too long a
time in which to see America. Li returned unexpectedly one day, within
half that time, a silent and broken man. His blue bundles, whatever
their mystery, were gone, his rich brocade coat was gone, and gone
also was his confidence and trust in human kind. Only his thick,
glossy, long queu remained to him,--that, and a singular taciturnity.
Whatever his experiences, no word would he speak concerning them--he
preserved a rigid silence. Something had been broken in the old man,
there beyond the seas, and whatever had befallen him was abhorrent and
unspeakable. He seemed very much older, very much more frail, and his
thin, fine hands were always trembling in a manner unaccustomed. Young
Withers was in distress, for Li's distress was so obvious, his
singular reticence making him suffer still more.

"Those thugs in San Francisco must have cleaned out the old fellow
first day on shore," he concluded, and then thought no more about it.
It was pitiful to see the old man, however, pitiful to watch him going
about his duties with the recollection of his terrible days in the New
World undermining his spirits and vitality. The secret, whatever it
was that had befallen him, was sapping his frail strength. Only on one
occasion, several months later, did he bring up the subject. He
appeared suddenly before Withers' desk one day, and there was an angry
gleam in his spectacled eyes.

"Your uncle never let me go America. Twenty years with your uncle.
Very good man. Never can go." He turned away abruptly.

"By Jove," thought young Withers to himself, "the old chap's holding
me responsible. Blaming it all on me. I like that!" and he laughed a
little, uneasily. These Chinese were queer ones. You never knew how
they stood.

The firm of Withers, Ltd. was very busy. Every week or so ships came
into the harbour with boxes and bales of European merchandise of a
rather shoddy kind, intended for the markets of North China. And there
was much business in transferring these boxes and bales to the big
godowns, with their heavy iron doors and windows, in checking them up,
sorting them out--in short, all the sort of activity that goes with a
firm of importers, such as this one. Also there was much business in
distributing these boxes and bales, or rather the contents thereof, to
the railway station, for shipment to Peking and to remote provinces in
the north and west. In Peking, these shoddy goods were made into
smaller bales, and laden on camels, for some far off, remote
destination in the interior. This took Withers frequently to Peking,
leaving old Li in charge of the godowns in Tientsin. Withers always
took charge of this end of the business, because of the opportunity it
offered to get away from daily contact with his old compradore.
Somehow, he felt rather uneasy in the old man's presence. There was a
change in his manner, most marked. Again and again that remark
occurred to him, and again and again, in the compradore's presence,
Withers was conscious of a feeling of undefinable hostility. He holds
me responsible, he thought, absurd, but that's what it is. Because I
did not prevent him from going to America. Therefore Withers was very
glad to go to Peking from time to time, for he liked the excitement of
the barbaric capital, and besides, he thought it would be good for Li
to be quite on his own in charge of the godowns, and might distract
his thoughts from that obsession which was preying upon him.

One day, after an absence of two weeks, young Withers returned to his
Tientsin office, which wore a somewhat deserted air. The shroff was
clicking on his abacus, and left off snicking the beads up and down to
remark casually that the compradore had gone. The shroff was a young
Chinese who spoke excellent, mission-school English, and wore good
European clothes, and he shared Withers' astonishment that such a
thing had happened.

"Wanted to go home, he said. Had had enough business. Gone home ten
days ago, with his family. Said say good-bye to you."

Withers' first feeling was of relief. That's that, he thought to
himself, and just as well. He stood eyeing the young Chinese
accountant, and the shroff looked him back fairly in the eye, and the
same thought passed through both minds. A younger man would do just as
well as compradore, and here was the younger man at hand, waiting.
"Let's go down to the godowns," said Withers, and the two walked out
of the office together, in the direction of the quais. The shroff
should learn things from the beginning, and taking charge of the bales
and boxes in the warehouses, counting them, distributing their
contents, was part of the business.

On unlocking the great, heavy doors, the godowns presented a singular
aspect. Never, in all the years that young Withers had been associated
as junior partner in Withers, Ltd., and never in the few years since
he had become Withers, Ltd. himself, had the godowns presented such an
aspect. They were empty. Quite, stark, utterly empty. Not a bale, not
a box, not a yard of calico was to be found anywhere about. The
sunshine slanted in through the open door, and not a moat of dust
danced in the rays, for nothing had been disturbed for some time, and
the dust was settled. They went top-side, into the lofts. The same
thoroughness presented itself. Everything had been cleared out,
absolutely.

"Stolen!" exclaimed Withers.

"Clean-sweep!" said the shroff, in his mission-school English.

"Ruined!" added Withers to himself.

Together they hurried back to the office and examined things. It was
evident in a moment how it had been done. Withers had signed an order
for the removal of five boxes. The compradore had deftly added a
cipher and raised it to fifty. And so on. Done repeatedly, with
neatness and precision, over Withers' own signature. No wonder the
streets about the godowns had presented an air of activity at times.

"We must find him," said Withers, "catch him quickly, before he has
time to dispose of the money."

The old compradore had made no effort to hide his whereabouts. There
were a dozen people to whom he had said farewell, telling them that he
had now given up work and was retiring with his family to his home in
the Western Hills. Over Jehol way. Three weeks by cart. Aye, his cart
had come down from Peking to fetch him, a two days' journey. He was
not taking the train. He had started early one morning in his big,
blue-hooded cart, drawn by a gorgeous yellow mule, its harness inlaid
with jade stones. Not number-one jade, of course, but still jade, and
of value. Ten days ago he had gone.

Withers and the shroff caught the first train out for Peking, and
arriving in two hours, made hasty preparations for their journey. They
obtained a cart and a mule, bedding rolls and tinned food, and by
afternoon had set out through the West Gate of the Tartar City, over
the dusty plains towards the Western Hills. Over Jehol way, towards a
village beyond Jehol, up in the hills, where Li Yuan Chang had his
dwelling.

Travelling is slow in a Peking cart, and uncomfortable. The heavy,
springless vehicle lumbered along, bouncing over the deep, dried ruts,
at times sinking hub deep into the dry holes. There were times when
the road was below the level of the adjacent fields, so deep below
that even the hood of the cart was below them, worn as they were by
centuries of travel. At these times, the dust swept through the
narrow channel, blinding. Once or twice they ran into a dust storm
whirling down from the north, from the great Gobi Desert, beyond. Then
they drew down the curtains of the cart, suffocating inside, tossed
from side to side, up and down, by the hard jolting of the vehicle. By
night they rested at wayside inns, sometimes finding the compounds
filled with camels, great shaggy brutes that lay about at all angles,
over the courtyard, and snorted and nipped at the intruders. They
slept at night in their cart, wrapping up well in their bedding rolls,
shivering at times in the keen October wind. Their coolies shared the
k'ang within, with the camel drivers and other travellers, but Withers
and the shroff preferred the cart, for there were worse if smaller
animals than camels to be found in native hostelries. Toilsome, weary
days succeeded one another, broken by restless nights, yet ever they
pushed westward, slowly, laboriously.

The coolies brought them news of the wayside, gathering it each night
from the inns. A great mandarin had passed that way some days ago--a
great man surely, to judge by the length of the axles of his cart,
which stuck out a good foot beyond the hubs, marking him as a man of
importance. And a great yellow mule, with harness set with jade
stones, and the brasses polished,--oh, a very rich man, evidently! So
each night they heard accounts of the rich man who had gone ahead,
with his retinue, his family and servants and packmules. It was well
noised abroad, evidently, through the countryside. Travellers coming
from beyond Jehol had met him with his train, and the inns at which
they stopped always had news of his progress, outward bound. In a
hurry, too. And very fearful of the roadside dangers. Always in the
compounds before dusk, fearful of highwaymen.

To Withers, the suspense of the slow journey was well nigh unbearable.
He, too, was in a hurry, worn with fatigue and anxiety. At first, he
had been merely anxious to overtake the old man, to obtain
restitution. But with the wayside gossip prevailing, other fears
entered his mind. One day at noon time, they entered a village
apparently deserted. The heavy gates of the compounds were closed, not
a person visible in the long, straggling street. Every one had
withdrawn himself into his house, behind locked and bolted doors. At
the inn, they pounded repeatedly on the gates, asking admission.
Slowly, after a very long time, the gates were opened an inch, and it
could be seen that there was the pressure of many men on the inside,
ready to slam and bar them in an instant. Then, seeing they were but
travellers, they were hastily admitted into the courtyard, and the
gates closed and barred again. Bandits. A band of them was scouring
the country, thirty or more, down from Mongolia. Abject terror was on
every face. The whole village was under its spell.

"We must push on," said Withers, "we must hasten." The shroff was very
fearful, but as he was to be compradore now, to do the work of a
European, he could not show fear. But the mafu and the coolies were
too frightened to continue the journey, so they were left behind, and
Withers and the shroff went off by themselves. It was very foolhardy,
he told himself, it was sheer madness. But he was ruined anyhow, so it
did not much matter. Only, he must somehow reach the village three
days' journey beyond Jehol--if only he could arrive in time.

Very laborious was the travelling, and they walked in the wake of
fear. They now passed through many deserted villages, one after
another, locked and barred, that the murderous band from Mongolia had
ridden through. Only, they had gone ahead, the bandits--perhaps they
would not he riding back that way again. Perhaps they would be going
on, into the north again, after they had finished----

Finished? Yes, it was a very rich man they were after,--they had asked
for him all along the road. They were trailing him to his home,
following with great ease the description of the great mandarin, with
the great yellow mule with jade-set harness, who had gone by with his
retinue just before.

So Withers and the shroff continued their desolate journey, day by
day, across the plains, over such roads as are not, save in North
China. Passing through villages shut and empty, through fields in
which there were no workers, following in the train of terror that had
been spread over the land by the bandits from the north. And the
terror reached into Withers' heart, making it cold. They do not want
_us_, he said to himself, over and over. We are quite safe. But the
old man---- The little shroff, however, who was also filled with
terror, did not think they were safe at all. Only he must appear as
brave as a European, so he could only tremble inwardly. Besides all
that, the big mule was very difficult to manage, and they had to drag
the cart from the deep ruts many times a day, and each evening when
they were most tired, they had to calm the suspicions of those within,
and make long explanations before the inn gates, before they could be
admitted into the compounds.

They arrived at their destination at dusk one evening, after three
weeks' weary travel. Trembling fingers pointed out the house--trembling,
but in a manner, reassured. At the end of the long street they would
find the house, a very fine house indeed--formerly a mandarin's palace,
they explained, but purchased a few months ago by a rich man who had
come there with his family to live. The tired men and tired mule pushed
on through the long street, gazed upon curiously by clustering Chinese,
huddled in doorways. They came to a high wall topped with broken glass,
a high, strong wall, surrounding a large compound. Beyond, at the
entrance, stood two stone lions, such as mark the homes of the rich and
great. But the great stone guardian lions were guarding a broken door.
The high, red lacquered door was split into many pieces, the hinges
holding, but the doors themselves split, so that a man's body could
crawl through.

Withers led the way, the shroff following. Within, the compound was
deserted. They made their way to the doors of the main house, which
had been smashed in. The rooms inside were empty, stripped, their
treasures gone, cleaned out. Very much in appearance like the godowns
in Tientsin. They made their way through the silent compound into the
women's compound in the rear. It was the same--ransacked, despoiled.
But there were many compounds and many houses, so together they passed
through moon gates, over elaborate terraces, beside peony mountains,
and summer houses, across delicate rock bridges with marble
balustrades. Silent, deserted, bearing the evidence of thorough
looting.

Then, quite at the rear, a woman appeared, the number-one wife of Li
Yuan Chang. She peered round the edges of a moon gate, hiding her body
behind it. She recognised Withers and the shroff and came forward. She
was very apologetic, very embarrassed, for she was wearing coolie
clothes. Her own, she explained, had been taken from her by the
bandits. Timidly she approached them, but the timidity was
embarrassment. She was very embarrassed to be found in coolie clothes,
felt resentment at the humiliation, and apologised repeatedly for her
appearance. She could think of nothing else. Then she led the way
still further to the rear, to a compound quite behind all the other
compounds and other houses of the gorgeous mandarin's palace. The last
stand of the defenders. They were scattered about the courtyard in all
attitudes, in grotesque and uncouth positions, all dead. She pointed
to a figure lying face downward, a thin, elderly figure, in
blood-soaked black brocade, with a magnificent queu lying at right
angles to the dead body.

Once more she apologised for appearing before the gentlemen in coolie
clothes. She felt the disgrace keenly.

"My husband," she explained contemptuously, pointing to the old
compradore, "was unable to protect us. He was always such a delicate
old thing."



       *       *       *       *       *



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    | Typographical errors corrected in text:                      |
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    | Page  19: felt replaced with left                            |
    | Page  97: comtemptible replaced with contemptible            |
    | Page 128: apparparently replaced with apparently             |
    | Page 155: muts replaced with must                            |
    | Page 199: aleady replaced with already                       |
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