* A Project Gutenberg Canada Ebook *

This ebook is made available at no cost and with very few restrictions. These restrictions apply only if (1) you make a change in the ebook (other than alteration for different display devices), or (2) you are making commercial use of the ebook. If either of these conditions applies, please check gutenberg.ca/links/licence.html before proceeding.

This work is in the Canadian public domain, but may be under copyright in some countries. If you live outside Canada, check your country's copyright laws. If the book is under copyright in your country, do not download or redistribute this file.

Title: Hope Against Hope and Other Stories
Author: Benson, Stella (1892-1933)
Date of first publication: 1931
Edition used as base for this ebook: London: Macmillan, 1931 (first edition)
Date first posted: 17 February 2009
Date last updated: 18 February 2009
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #264

This ebook was produced by: Jon Ingram, Hélène de Mink & the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://dp.rastko.net

[Pg 1]










These stories have appeared in Harper's Monthly Magazine, the Bystander, the Nation and Athenaeum, the Fortnightly Review and Time and Tide, and I am indebted to the editors of these periodicals for raising no objection to this reprinting of my work.

S.B.[Pg 8]

[Pg 9]


Ward Clark thought, "Really, women shouldn't be allowed to live beyond the age of about thirty--unmarried women, at any rate." He watched Miss Hope coming across the terrace, carrying a little tray towards him. Miss Hope-against-hope he called her because there was something so senselessly hopeful about the large and rather fine slate-coloured eyes behind her glasses. Directly she saw that he was looking at her, she made a little arch backward movement with the back of her neck, tucking her chin in, like a lizard when it sees a fly.

Her hair was of an uncertain dust colour. One could imagine the kind of clothes, thought Clark, that she would choose to suit that hair--unobtrusive ladylike clothes, navy blue probably, black stockings, a neat black bow at the throat, a neat black bow at the instep. But now, of course, she was dressed in the garb of her profession--"trim" it was always called--quiet blue linen with stiff white collar and cuffs, a white winged headkerchief round her head allowing[Pg 10] only one loop of her dull hair to be seen over one temple.

"You naughty man," said Hope-against-hope. "You didn't take your medicine I poured out for you after breakfast. And now I've brought you your eggnog, and it won't mix! Well ... you ought to be well smacked...."

Ward Clark did not answer. He did not even stretch his lips to the smile that politeness demanded as a reaction to such roguishness. He had ceased to mind hurting his nurse's feelings. Besides, as far as he could see, she hadn't any.

"I climbed down the steps on to the beach ... such pretty little ... very like our Cornish thyme ... and running up and down on the wet ... oh, you would have laughed ... little birds ... oh, I stood and laughed ... running so fast, like toys ... an old fisherman said they were called Ri-ti-ti ... ri-ti-ti-isn't it killing...." She stood leaning towards him with both her hands flat on the table, turned in like ungainly toes, her eyes burning intensely at his face, imploring him to laugh. Clark gave a slight snort and withdrew his eyes from hers. He heard her sigh. Fun evidently would not do. She looked about the bright sun-dappled terrace, as he was looking. The mountain rose so tall and velvet-grey behind the hotel that it seemed like a lowering[Pg 11] thunder sky until one's eye caught the peak, brittle and gold-trimmed, against a pearl blue cloudlessness, far above the chimneys. "Oh, what weather!" said Miss Hope, clenching her fists and jaws. "Doesn't it make you thrill to be alive?" He felt his flesh creep as she looked at him wistfully. He was conspicuously refraining from thrilling to be alive.

"D'you see that man over there sitting near the windows?" she said (and Clark could almost hear her thoughts--"Well, we'll see if a little gossip will rouse him,")--"Well, his name is Jawge Dawkins and he comes from China. China--just think how.... Oh, how thrilling it must be to travel...."

Ward Clark carefully looked away from Mr. Dawkins, out over the merry speckled sea. To his astonishment he heard the indomitable Miss Hope draw a chair across the gravel to his side and sit down. "Mustn't it be wonderful," she said, "to live in China ... it makes you thrill to think.... Last night I was sitting reading my ... and he was at the next table talking to the.... Oh my, Mr. Clark, you should have heard the ... well, all about brigands and temples and rickshaws and ... you know ... all matter of fact--as if they were just everyday things ... well, of course, they are, to him...."[Pg 12] Clark's eyes were drawn by a morbid fascination from the sea to his tormentor. Her chin, he thought, looked too soft, as if it had been boned like a chicken; all its flesh trembled as she talked. He gnawed his nails moodily as he lay staring at her. He felt justified in despising her, since he thought of himself as a reasonable-looking and still young man, in spite of the fact that he was older than she was, that his nose was a little crooked, and that baldness ran up like a boulevard to the crown of his head between two thinned thickets of fair curly hair. Still, he felt himself a man--what a man ought to be--and knew her to be absurdly faded and virgin--exactly what a woman ought not to be. Of course, he was an assiduous reader of Mr. Aldous Huxley.

In spite of his efforts not to flatter her by attention to what she was saying, Ward Clark could not help letting his eyes rest on Mr. George Dawkins for a moment. He saw a thin-nosed wide-eyed man, some fifty years old, with a very noticeable trick of sniffing. When he sniffed, he twitched up his upper lip to disclose large teeth, making the apologetic snarling grimace a dog makes when a friend touches a wounded part of its body. His sniff was a sort of punctuation and made every action seem like a significant parenthesis.[Pg 13] He sniffed when he turned a page of his newspaper, or spoke to the waiter, or looked out admiringly over the polished sea. He sniffed twice as he was joined by a pretty young girl who came out of one of the French windows of the hotel.

"That's his daughter," said Miss Hope, pleased to see that the angle of her patient's head now expressed a slight awakening of interest. "Pretty little thing, isn't she?... but rather a meaningless face ... if you know what I mean.... I always think an interesting face is so much more attractive than a pretty empty face ... don't you know what I mean? I remember when I used to live with my dear stepmother and she found me crying one day over ... and she said, 'Now, Agnes ... you've got a face full of character ...' she said, 'that'll be a hundred times more useful to you than curls and cream....' That's what she said ... curls and cream--I've never forgotten that...."

"I've left my pocket-handkerchief upstairs, nurse," blurted Clark. "Would you mind...?" The fact that this jellyfaced faded creature should have her vanity made him feel almost sick. With a glowering eye he followed her retreat across the terrace towards the vine-shaded windows. At the table of George Dawkins the fantastically[Pg 14] confident woman actually paused and made a Social Advance. Ward Clark could hear in the clear air, "Lovely day, isn't it? Doesn't this weather make you positively thrill to be alive?"

Mr. Dawkins, between one sniff and another, made some obviously affable reply--even rubbing his hands together in a complaisant gesture of thrill. "How can he?" thought Ward Clark. "It's so bad for her." It would have been difficult to explain why. When Miss Hope had gone indoors, the Dawkins daughter looked after her with a hoarse giggle in which Mr. Dawkins did not join. Miss Dawkins's eye, rendered homeless, as it were, by her father's unresponsiveness, met Clark's curious look across the terrace. She rose at once and made a coy devious way towards Clark. She approached sidelong the terrace balustrade and leaned her hip against it, looking self-consciously from the invalid to the sea and back again. "Lovely weather, isn't it?" she said with her husky short giggle. "Shame you can't be up and about to enjoy it."

Ward Clark's face lit up. "It is rather a shame, isn't it?" he said happily. "Especially as I'm a bit of a golf maniac. But it's my own fault I'm laid up. I can't blame anyone at all--I would if I could." He went on eagerly to tell her[Pg 15] of his own rather picturesque rashness in riding a steeplechase on an untried horse, of his accident--three broken ribs and double pneumonia....

"Oo Lor," said Miss Dawkins, now sitting on the end of his chaise-longue. "How you men dare to do such things--I'd be simply tarrified.... I knew a boy in Shanghai who used to...."

Ward Clark watched with real delight her short well-cut painted upper lip moving as she spoke. He never would have thought an upper lip could be lovely that was so short that it twitched the tip of the nose slightly every time the mouth closed. Yet there it was--positively delightful. And her eyes too, the way they looked at him as though pleading merrily for his permission to be rather silly every time she told him something about herself. For their talk rapidly resolved itself into the amiable battle of egoisms that is characteristic of all talk between men under forty and women under twenty. Neither was impressed by anything the other said, yet each was delighted with the general effect and felt that something interesting was being made known. "My dad said, 'Bess, you've driven that boy fairly crazy--I can't move a step in the house without falling over him.' ... A fellow called Bernard on the Stock Exchange--and[Pg 16] they know a thing or two, those fellers--and he said, 'Damn it all, Clark, how do you do it--I'd have had to pay at least fifteen shillings a bottle for it.' ... 'Not a bit of it, old man,' I said, 'If you'll let me give you a word of advice....' I suppose I'm silly and fastidious but I simply can't pretend about that kind of thing--I just blurt out.... I know, I'm like that too, I used to get into no end of trouble with----"

"Here's ya hankie, mister," said Miss Hope's bright voice behind him. "Do you know what happened? I got up into that room and I simply couldn't remember what I'd come for--too killing--I simply stood gaping--I got hold of your clothes brush and gaped at it as if I was ... I'm sure the fam-de-chombe must have thought I was raving mad ... she happened to ... now what did I come for? I said--and then all at once.... Oh, I see you've got a nice companion now--a little lady from China to talk to.... Well, I'll leave you to have a nice ... and don't forget ya eggnog again, you naughty man ... and I'll just hop up and do a little...."

She entered the house at the same French window as before and the back of her neck made the same lizard-like moue as before towards the Dawkins table. But Mr. George Dawkins was no longer there.[Pg 17]

Bessie Dawkins gave her curious croaking giggle. "What a priceless person...."

"Oh God," said Ward Clark. "She ought to have been drowned at birth." But of course if he had given a little thought to the matter he would have modified his pronouncement. Actually twenty-nine is the age at which practically all women should be drowned, if I understand the average young man correctly. Miss Dawkins was quite safe for some time yet. She was only nineteen.

"I won't hear a word against a woman," she said. "I don't know where you men get the idea us women are always cats to each other. I do admire women who go out and earn their living most frightfully--I mean I really do.... I wish Dad would let me do it myself, but since Mum died--d'you know what he says? He says--(it's too killing of him)--he says, 'No, no, Bess, you're far too pretty.' ... I do think it's too tiresome of the men to run after a girl that only wants to be let alone.... Though as I often say, I love to have plenty of men friends only somehow just when I get to know a boy really well he always gets silly and falls passionately in love with me ..." etc.... etc....

Ward Clark hung on her lips. The only drawback to what she was saying was that it[Pg 18] prevented him--(but only temporarily, of course)--from telling her something that he was convinced would interest her very much--a story about his buying a horse against the advice of his horsey brother-in-law--a horse which most marvellously justified his prescience by winning ... etc.... etc.... And so the amiable contest went on.

"Oo look," presently said Bessie, interrupting a rather good story. By sitting up rather carefully in his chair, Clark could just see over the terrace balustrade, down through the pine trees on the slope to the spot on the beach at which Miss Dawkins's finger was pointed. There, striding up and down near the waving silver margin of the sea, were Miss Agnes Hope and Mr. George Dawkins, looking eagerly into each other's faces as they strode. His hand was gesticulating emphatically--one could imagine that he was sniffing like a dog on a trail, but of course one couldn't hear this. The enchanted exclamations uttered by Miss Hope could, however, be heard, rising rather sweetly and remotely above the faint brittle noise of little waves breaking.

It almost seemed as if the eyes of the two watchers on the terrace had touched some spring in the attention of the ardent talkers on the shore. They swerved, still talking, still twisting their[Pg 19] shoulders to face each other, towards the steps among the pines, and disappeared.

"Your unlucky parent ..." groaned Ward Clark. "He little knows...."

"Oh, Dad loves every one," giggled Mr. Dawkins's daughter.

And, suitably enough, Mr. Dawkins was talking of love as he came within earshot at the other end of the terrace. "I love my boys," he was saying. "There's no denying charm to the Chinese--they certainly have charm. Young or old--it's all the same.... I wouldn't exchange an evening spent among educated Chinese men and lads for one in any company.... I love my lads ... both as pupils and as friends...."

Ward Clark gave a slight concealed snort. He disliked schoolmasters almost as much as he disliked plain women.

Miss Hope looked with a dreamy and almost loving look towards her unresponsive patient. "I've had such a thrilling stroll," she said in a surprisingly subdued voice. "Oh, my dear Mr. Clark--the things I've heard.... Just like a story book.... Now I must introduce you two...."

Mr. Dawkins drew up his chair and, catching the waiter's eye across the terrace, called "Boy," and asked Clark to Name His.[Pg 20] "Not at any rate a missionary," sighed Ward Clark, secretly feeling like a lamb to which the wind has only been rather ineffectually tempered.

"He hasn't finished his eggnog yet," said Miss Hope absently. Clark listened, his exasperated ears stretched for the inevitable roguish, "Naughty man." It did not come. Miss Hope's dark patient eyes glowed through her glasses at Mr. Dawkins's face. "Do go on with what you were saying," she said.

Mr. Dawkins went on, in a competent tenor voice interrupted only by an energetic sniff from time to time. It was obvious, even to the reluctant Clark, that everything that he spoke of was very vivid to his own remembering senses. He drew very few morals, in spite of being a schoolmaster. Nearly everything that he said was told from the point of view of his own eyes and ears. A Chinese dinner party ... the splashed tablecloth ... chopsticks nuzzling and biting in the common bowl like storks' beaks ... the bright friendly lidless eyes ... the harsh sing-song talk, never ironic, never careless ... the clamour of servants uncouthly pushing dishes between guests' shoulders ... the far howl of the cook announcing the readiness of a new course....

"I can see now," said Miss Hope presently in a pause, "that what thrills one about abroad is[Pg 21] imagining oneself at home in it ... not strange ... not surprised...."

Ward Clark gaped at her. Her voice was quite quiet, her words thoughtful. He suddenly drank the rest of his eggnog, as a sort of reward to her for speaking so sensibly.... Mr. Dawkins said, "It is not often that a garrulous traveller finds such a sympathetic and imaginative audience for his yarns...." He leaned over Clark and tapped him lightly on the diaphragm, sniffing impressively before he said, "Let me tell you, sir, you're a lucky man to be nursed through a wearisome convalescence by a woman of imagination ... it's a very rare thing--imagination--among professional women--and men too, for the matter of that...."

"Oh, get along," said Miss Hope, crimson with pleasure. "You'll never get my patient to believe all that. Why, his very eye scares all the fancy out of me...."

Ward Clark, who was a healthy man, was well enough in ten days to walk quietly about by the side of his unloved attendant. He might not as yet risk the steep steps down through the pine slopes to the beach, but from the terrace he could walk a little way along the top of the cliff--along[Pg 22] the rather cultured little path that broadened every few yards to accommodate an "artistic" bench wherever the view was considered to be finest. To Clark, upright at last after how many weeks of illness, the ground seemed very near and the sea very tremendous and trancelike. Miss Hope, too, seemed to him in his weakness different, more stalwart, a staff of strength--if only, like a staff, she would permit herself to be laid aside, mercifully dumb, when not needed to support his steps.

"You sit on the bench, mister, and have a little rest. I shall sit on the dear moss--oh, the feel of it beneath my fingers...." And by the way she threw herself down in a careless sitting position on the ground and straightened her knees and moved her toes in their neat professional low shoes, Clark could see, with the keen understanding of dislike, that she still saw herself as a sprawling girl and had not learned to dissociate herself, as she should, from a calf-like impulsiveness of gesture. She even threw off her hat gaily, as if she had charming roughened curls beneath it, instead a tortured mat of frizzed strands and hairpins. "One of the signs of a patient's convalescence," she said, as she spun the hat round on a finger before flinging it on the moss. "Now you're up and about, I can come[Pg 23] into your august presence like a human being instead of with that starchy napkin flapping about. D'you know why I love wearing nothing on my head?... You'll never guess--how should you--a mere... why, I'll tell you.... I hate wearing hats and ... because I hate to hide my best features.... There now, aren't I a silly girl!... But it's not just fancy.... I once won a prize for them--first prize at a Features Contest at a bazaar at ... and besides that, I've been complimented on... and----"

"On what--for God's sake?" Ward Clark could not restrain himself from saying in a furious voice, though he had been trying to pretend to read Punch.

"Well, look," said Miss Hope in an excited voice, and she pushed up a dangling frizzle of hair and showed her ear--a good ear enough, small and neat, but, to Clark, a great deal less than interesting. "I'm not vain," she said, "but I can't help knowing ... it's seldom you see an ear anywhere near the Greek.... I remember the judge at the bazaar showed me a plaster cast of...."

"Sorry I'm no judge," said Clark, so much revolted by all she said that he was almost amused. He looked forward to telling Bessie Dawkins about Hope-against-hope's One Claim[Pg 24] to Beauty. He heard in imagination Bessie's low giggle and his own ironic voice. "Poor little Bessie," he thought, and a sort of glamour came over the face of earth and sky and sea as he thought of her. He could no longer see her merely as an amusing flapper with a pretty mouth--for she had crowned herself with a secret halo by falling in love with him. It was obvious though unspoken; her concealments were pathetically frail. Clark had outgrown most of the cruder forms of young conceit, and had never aspired to the role of lady-killer; his good sense regretted that the child should harrow her romantic affections to no purpose--yet, there it was--she wore now, in his eyes, a special fragile charm, in spite of the fact that it never once occurred to him to fall in love with her. He had not the slightest intention of marrying, and, in any case, he was never in the least attracted by virgins. He simply felt a sort of deep, still, apologetic gentleness towards the afflicted Bessie, and everything that she said or did was heard or seen by him in a haze of glamorous--almost holy--tolerance. She could, indeed, do no wrong, since even her pettishnesses, her small violences of manner, her craving to exhibit her little soul, like her pretty little knees, to him, her efforts to rivet his interest on the oddities she so wistfully[Pg 25] valued in herself--all these were but harmless weeds in that same garden of charm that flowered in the sun of her young passion for him. "Dear little Bessie," he thought whenever he remembered her--which was fairly often. He had an uneasy conviction that she expected him to propose marriage to her, and was determined to be very very careful to avoid hurting her little feelings more than was necessary. Good God, there was Hope-against-hope again--nagging at his attention as usual. She caught his ear, of course, by naming the radiant name Dawkins.

"Would you believe it--he noticed my ears.... The day I walked to the east point with him and we climbed out on the.... I had left my hat on the beach ... and he said, 'That's right, now I can see a very pretty sight, like a shell in floating seaweed.' ... D'you know, at first I was almost offended--I made a little face at him because ... well, seaweed, you know ... not a very pretty ... but he showed me some brown seaweed in a pool among the ... it really was like a fairy tress of.... I was quite pleased then ... he does talk so well, doesn't he?... I remember he said that on the ship coming home through a very rough ... the waves boiling in blue curls against his porthole ... boiling in ... can't you see them?... with stormy sunlight[Pg 26] showing through.... Oh my--I should like to travel.... D'you know ... one so seldom meets nobility--it seems almost silly to say ... you know what I mean ... noble ... yet it does seem to me that one could use the word of ... don't you know what I mean--he could never be unkind or small ... or cynical ... or do anything he thought wasn't.... He is a noble person.... I do feel so proud to have made such a friend--because you know--I really do think he looks on me as a ... you know what I mean--what schoolboys call a pal.... I'm so silly with you, Mr. Clark, because I'm frightened of you ... you're criticizing all the ... but with him.... D'you know, I dreamt about him last night ... wasn't it killing?... in my dream he called me Little Woman ... he kept on saying it, Little Woman, Little Woman.... Oh, I--What's the matter, mister--shivering?--Are you cold?

"Yes," said Ward Clark. "Cold and a little sick. I think I'll start walking home."

He was moved to grind his teeth in a paroxysm of revulsion, as hatred showed him that the dream had been enchanting to her, and that the golden memory of it had filled her silly eyes with tears.

The Dawkinses were gone.[Pg 27]

Ward Clark, his elbows on the window-sill of his bedroom, watched the morning shadow of the mountain dwindle upon the sea, and thought of his parting with Bessie. He felt, glowingly, that the chapter was a pretty one in his life; he had been, he knew, kind and understanding, as befitted a man twenty years older than she was, dear little thing. Many men, he knew, would have taken advantage of the child's naïve vulnerability; some men would now be flattering themselves crudely on a small triumph. Short of proposing to the girl, Ward Clark felt that he could not have been more comforting and tactful to her than he had been. Poor little Bessie, her tender courage--so flattering to him--had stirred him. "You men do so well without women ... but if ever...." Her large brown eyes had dazzled with tears. "You will write to me sometimes, Ward, won't you ... you don't know what it would mean to me...." "Your post-bag's full already with letters from all your boy friends, my dear," Ward had smiled, reminding her gently to be vain--to look past her humiliation. "What about Guy and Tim and Wally and all the rest you told me about? Why, you won't even have time to open letters from an old crock like me." The memory of her look gave him an exquisite feeling--almost like a feeling of[Pg 28] something accomplished. "I've plenty of boy friends," she said with a strangled giggle, and a modest manner of accepting his offer of dignity. "I'll probably marry Guy--goodness knows he's keen enough--so are several of my boy friends ... but I'll always remember my man friend.... Oh, Ward--good-bye--what a fool I am...."

It was a good thing the father--and even the lamentable Hope-against-hope--had had the sense to keep out of the way, Clark thought. The little scene, so restrained, so perfect, so creditable to both participants, could so easily have been spoiled by interruption or facetiousness. He had, indeed, not seen Hope-against-hope since the early departure of the hotel bus in which the Dawkinses had gone to catch the train for Rome. Ward Clark had given them letters of introduction to friends in Rome--a city he knew well. He had drawn for Bessie a little map, showing her how to find a wonderful little restaurant where people in the know asked for a bottle of Number Twenty-two with the chill just off. Half apologetically he caught himself enjoying the thought of how immediate would be his memory in her mind as she triumphed over the intricacies of the streets with the help of his map, and found the door he had described to her.[Pg 29] It was long past the time for his eggnog. Though he was now scarcely an invalid, he still took no exercise before noon, and had only dressed this morning in order to see the Dawkinses off. He ought to have been lying on his chaise-longue on the terrace, but Miss Hope had not come in to "lay him out" (daily joke). He still felt enough of an invalid to be a little aggrieved against his nurse for her neglect. The shadow of the mountain had climbed inshore from the sea, was almost swallowed up by the noon sun. The heads of the pine trees glistened a little in the heat; they were gathering their distorted shadows more closely round them as the sun climbed higher. Clark heard the sound of a horse and cart--a rare enough sound in the motor-haunted driveway of this sophisticated hotel. He crossed to the side window of his room.

He saw an amazing sight. Two local fishermen were driving in one of the heavy farm carts of the country, behind a stout furry horse. And on the back seat of the cart sat a distraught disordered figure--Hope-against-hope--hatless--wet hair dripping round a neck to which still clung the limp remains of her neat collar--shoeless feet set, with toes turned in, in a pool of water on the cart's floor--knees grotesquely protruding from (oh God) a torn pink artificial silk[Pg 30] petticoat, for she had no skirt on. Standing stiffly out round all this was a fisherman's coat, stiff as a basket, open like an anatomical sectional illustration to show every detail of its miserable human contents.

Ward Clark, aching with surprise and annoyance, hurried to the verandah to meet her. There was a twitter of astonishment from a waiter and two chambermaids as Miss Hope, her stony eyes fixed on nothing, stumbled from the cart between the two sheepish-looking fishermen.

"My dear Miss Hope ..." began Clark in a voice of repressed exasperation. She clutched at his shoulder without seeming to see it. He had to put his arm about her to steady her. She could not speak. She seemed abysmally unaware that she was his nurse and he her patient. Clark could not wait to hear the fishermen's explanation; he had to support the staggering dripping woman along the passage to her room. There he left her with the chambermaid while he hurried back to the verandah. He felt quite choked with excitement; his temperature, he was sure, had gone up. Oh, damn the woman--splashing her beastly personality all over the place--was she not paid to be a background?

The head waiter--all the waiters now assembled on the verandah--had now mastered all the facts.[Pg 31] The fishermen spoke a dialect that Clark had great difficulty in understanding. He turned to the waiters. It seemed that the fishermen had been mending their nets on the shore when they had seen a woman run along the rocks of the east point and leap into the sea. They had launched their boat and reached her in a few minutes. They had found her clinging to the seaweed of the furthermost rock, trying to thrust herself under the sea--even trying, rather feebly, to beat her head against the rock. She had struggled to refuse help. "Na--na--na--" said the younger fisherman, throwing his head back, shutting his eyes and shrieking through bared teeth as he imitated the woman's behaviour. The men feared that they had bruised her obstinate fingers in disengaging them from the weedy rocks. "She held herself to die," said a waiter in English.

"Good Lord, Good Lord ..." groaned Clark, dazed with disgust. "What d'you think I ought to give these fellers?" he asked the head waiter.

"She harries me--she harries me ..." he thought. "Or do I mean harrows...?"

She was up next day, the fingers of her left hand neatly bandaged, the rest of her form neatly clad once more in professional linen. Ward[Pg 32] Clark found her with her pen poised stiffly over a blank sheet of notepaper. She had made no mark except some poor scribblings representing people coming out of the hotel depicted on the notepaper--little inky spiders straddling on the terrace.

"I'm going--I'm going ..." she said in a desperately mollifying voice.

Clark's precarious patience was almost overset at once. No thought for him or for her professional duties.... "Well, I should think you had better go home--it's obvious, isn't it? that you're not fit, nervously, for what you've undertaken.... Luckily I'm almost well--I'll telegraph to my sister to come out ... so you needn't worry about me.... But for God's sake, my dear woman--what happened? What on earth possessed you? Haven't you any dignity--any self-control?"

"Oh--" said Miss Hope, and her pale mouth was pulled into a stiff grin. "Oh--how far away--how far away--men and women are from each other...."[Pg 33]

[Pg 34]

[Pg 35]


There was a loud squealing in her ears and it was like the translation into sound of the hurried green twilight about her. Her head felt as if it was padded with vacuum like a thermos, but--also like a thermos filled with iced lemonade--cool, acid, and lucid inside. She watched Amos in front of her, cannonball-headed, waddling grotesquely, sticking out a large creased behind, like an offended rhinoceros, planting his immense feet on gardens and moving creatures and swaying flowers, flapping a portentous hand like a drunkard. "That's the man I love," she thought, gaping at him through streaked unflattering space, and as she thought this, his foot moved carelessly and he sprang, sprawling askew, to a point outside her range of vision. She could only see a blinkered view through the window in her helmet.

She was not wearing the full diving-suit but only a headpiece with a rubber "bertha" and her own bathing dress. She felt like a top-heavy pawn on a drunken chess-board. The airpipe was under her arm. The helmet was like a diving-bell[Pg 36] with only a certain allowance of bubbling squealing air trapped inside it. When she bowed forward to look at a little crab, the air receded up to her mouth; in fright she bent backward and the crisp line of the water slipped down at once to her adam's apple. Now she felt braver; she could bend her nervous weightless body a little--not too much--to allow her window to command a view of white coral branches, white craters, anemones like pianists' fingers, green-black patches of matted weed, crabs and smiling open mussels, little glassy splinters offish that moved off round her ankles like sun-touched midges round the pillars of a cathedral. Looking at her ankles, slim and pearl-green under a body that felt so top-heavy and undisciplined, she tried to dance a step or two. Instantly she soared by mistake--sideways--backwards--outspread like a spider--outspread like a little boy lifted by the seat of the trousers.... She landed on one heel, unable for a moment to retrieve her aspiring right leg, in a white coral crater.

"Who was that man like?" came suddenly into her mind as she waved and slanted in the urgent water, unable to stand, unable to fall. She was thinking of the man in charge of the raft above her. "Who was he like?" Her eyes remembered the man, standing in his shirtsleeves[Pg 37] in the sun on the raft, scowling at the negroes who worked the pump, turning with an apologetic smile to her and Amos. Her ears remembered him.... "It's not often we get a lady on this raft, wanting to dive for the fun of the thing, too. But you couldn't wear the outfit, lady, well look, you couldn't move it--try one of the shoes ... well look, there, you see--why, you couldn't carry the weight over the side--three hundred and twenty-five pounds--of course it feels like a feather once you're under water, but it'd be the getting there. Still ... well look, I'd like you to go down and see the Will o' the Wisp--she lies so pretty, just twenty-eight feet under that buoy there; we shall get the whisky out of her hold by to-morrow night, I guess, if there really are only a hundred cases. No--she's not worth salving, herself--she was only a dot-and-carry-one old schooner and she crumpled her bows right in, running into that rock there--the sea was pretty high and the old man must have lost his head.... It's only the whisky the owners want out of her; well look, right here, within a hundred miles of the Yankee buyers, whisky's worth something, I can tell you. Well look, lady, I'd like you to see her--well, why don't you go down in this gadget here, what the niggers use when they don't want to bother with[Pg 38] the whole caboodle--nothing but the helmet and the tube, you see--works just as well for a short trip."

Well look, he said so often--who was that like--with that mumbled well, like wll, and the open throaty look--"wll lok." It was like Nana--he might be Nana's son--that was why the connection--or disconnection--in her memory had made her so uncomfortable. Everything connected with Nana was wounding. The thought of Nana brought in a rush into her mind a young lifetime of croonings and hummings and comfortings and scoldings and rockings and forgivings ... and then--crash--a day when Amos discovered that Nana, turned from nurse to housekeeper, had during these twenty years stolen eight hundred and thirty pounds out of the money given her for her charge's upkeep. The widow profiting by the orphan's trust. Nana turned out of the house. Amos shouting, "You're lucky we don't care to prosecute...." Nana's sailor son--who happened to be in Harwich--sent for in a great uproar. "Call yesself a gentleman--this is how you reward my old mother's lifetime of service.... Wait till I get you alone--I'll get a chance to get even with you some day...." She had only seen Nana's son on that occasion--she had looked over the banisters[Pg 39] and seen him shaking his fist. The man on the raft was like him. Amos would not notice it--he was so short-sighted. Besides, it was ten years ago. But "wll lok"--it was Nana's exact intonation. Surely the coincidence could be too extraordinary. She and Amos were only here by chance, yachting in the West Indies--had come here idly to this lonely lagoon, having heard of the wreck of the little smuggler. "Why, there's diving--oh, what fun, Vi, let's dive...." So here they were, by chance, at the bottom of the sea, at the mercy of a man on a raft--who was like Nana's son. By chance. "I'll get a chance to get even...." Was it Nana's son? Now, suddenly, she remembered that he had said to Amos, "Some people like diving, and some do it once and never do it again." Amos had said, "We shall never get a chance to do it again, whether we like it or not." And Nana's son had replied, "Probably not." (It was Nana's son.) Then, to the negroes, "You goggling idiots, can't you--aw hell--well then, get to hell out of here. I'll do it myself." He would work the pump himself.

The young woman, alone in a squealing bubbling silence in the crater, looked about her in a panic, moving jointlessly like a cheap puppet. She thought thirstily of the safe dry air--of the[Pg 40] light sky--of birds--of England--Oh to be in England now that April's here; there's the wise elm he grows each twig twice over.... She tentatively pulled her air tube--the signal for help from the raft. There was no answering pull. She could probably swim upward unaided--indeed she had some difficulty in remaining down. But Amos in his leaden armour.... Where was Amos? Where was the wreck of the Will o' the Wisp--?--he would be there. She began to climb prancingly up the side of the crater, a mild slope of perhaps six feet but as difficult as a mountain to her unwieldy feet. At the edge of the crater at last, she could see the wreck quite near, looking very different from her expectation. It looked like a little leaning house with a swinging door; the mast, with flags of blackish seaweed, was like a dying tree over the little house, and the ominous green light added to its menaced look. A waltzing inverted Spanish onion bowing to the crushed bows of the ship was identifiable as Amos. As his wife approached, the unsuspicious Amos, in one flying stride like a slow motion cinema study, aimed himself at the sloping deck of the schooner, reached it, slipped and fell, and lay in the scuppers. He did all this with absurd suspended ponderousness; his helmet, of course, could not change its expression to a[Pg 41] smile, and this immobility gave him the earnest look of a puppy trying unsuccessfully for the first time to climb steps. His wife, however, did not smile at his antics inside her own soberly grinning mask. Somehow she reached the lower side of the ship, bruising her shoulder against a stanchion. She could reach her Amos' foot as he cautiously tried to get up. She pulled his foot; he sat down again as abruptly as the supporting water would allow him to, and bounced once. (What a field there is for a submarine low comedian!) Amos made a flapping gesture of irritation, like the "Don't bovver me" of a baby.

"Amos--come quickly--that's Nana's son, we're in danger," yelled his wife. Her ears cracked. The squealing in her headpiece changed its note and crackled; she felt almost suffocated; she reeled. Amos could not hear a sound. He flapped foolishly again. "Amos--Amos--" She pulled his ankle in panic--it was all she could reach of him. He tried to draw it away. There was asperity in his flapping. She pointed upward like a Salvation Army preacher. He turned his mask towards her; she half saw his mouth moving behind the glass. He pointed at her and pointed upward as he lay along the rail at an impossible angle. He was evidently saying, "Go up yourself then, but leave me[Pg 42] alone." This squealing instead of silence was a more frightful answer than silence. There he was, wrapped away in his own squealing sound-proof world. A fish swam between him and her. "Amos--Amos," she screamed, and once more was checked by semi-suffocation. Was the air being cut off from above? Amos withdrew his leaden foot from her reach. He regained a kind of perpendicularity and signed to her once more, peremptorily, that she should soar away from him. He took one step away from her. As a step, it failed. As a flight, it was unexpectedly successful; the steep deck seemed to launch him backwards into space; he flew towards his wife and, for a second, sat lightly on her iron face. She clasped him round the middle; he doubled up like a jointed foot-rule. She was saving him. She bounded about frantically. Amos managed to twist himself out of her grasp but she caught his arm. "It's Nana's son up there--an enemy." She clung with both hands to his rubber wrist, dragging him. Amos, she could see, was now quite alarmed--not suspicious of foul play but dumbfounded by the frenzied behaviour of his wife. He pulled his safety cord. They were instantly caught up to heaven together, floating sideways, intertwined, through the blowing current, like G.F. Watts' Paolo and[Pg 43] Francesca. Their two round steel heads collided at the surface, at the foot of the raft's ladder. Some one lifted our young woman's false head off; she was herself again--she was herself in her bathing suit, unarmoured, safe, as though coming aboard after a common swim. A face bent over her. Nana's son? What had she been thinking of? This man was not in the least like Nana's son; he was short and broad--Nana's son had been tall and knock-kneed; this man on the raft was obviously Australian--he greeted her with an unmistakable accent, and his first words were not wll lok, but lok here, lidy.... What madness of memory had caught her, down there in that new senseless shadowed world?

Amos was being helped up the ladder. Some one opened his little window and his voice leapt out like a bird out of a cage. "Good Lord, Vi, what in the world...?" as the raftman helpfully wrenched his iron head off.[Pg 44]

[Pg 45]

[Pg 46]


"My father," said Doctor Bligh, "lived on this island about a hundred years ago.... Seems a long time ago doesn't it, but ... well, let me see ... where are we now ... nineteen hundred--yes--I'm over sixty and my father was over sixty when I was born. He lived here as a boy; he was born in Cardiff in 1785...."

All the way south from New York Doctor Bligh had been carefully not saying this. Ridiculously melodramatic though the conclusions were that might be drawn from the information that a harmless elderly passenger's father had lived on Lily Island a hundred years ago--drawn they might be, and especially by a facetious joker like Captain Fink.

"A hundred years ago on Lily Island," mused the captain in arch meditation. "Why--then he must have been a pirate!"

"There--you see!" said Doctor Bligh to himself. "You see what havoc three brandies and sodas after midnight can do with one's privacy!" However, the confidential impetus[Pg 47] was irresistible now. Besides it was such a good retort to the captain's waggishness. "He was a pirate," said Doctor Bligh, leaning dramatically forward and then throwing himself back in his chair as if to watch the resulting excitement.

There was no excitement. The captain of the Rising Day, who suffered from a strong quivering spasm of the breath when amused, gave but a faint exhibition of it now, and rubbed his nose. What a silly old man this was, he thought. The old ass had been talking of the criminal frivolity of hospital nurses all the way from New York and now he says his father was a pirate. "We get quite a lot of pirate yarns told us, one way or another," sighed the captain. "But I don't remember hearing of any famous pirate on Lily Island called Bligh."

"He changed his name. When Queen Victoria came to the throne. That was when he ceased to be really proud of his past. His real name was Carey."

"Good Lord! Not Hairy Carey?" cried the captain, checking his tumbler three inches from his lips.

Doctor Bligh looked at him in some alarm. "I didn't know it was such a well-known name on Lily Island. If I had known it was a by-word I wouldn't have told you the name."[Pg 48]

"It's so long ago," said the captain. "I don't think I should trouble to be shy about it, if I were you. Anyway Hairy Carey didn't leave a scoundrelly reputation, you know--not like the man they called the Old Duke. Carey didn't have time--he was just a kid, I believe, when piracy was stamped out. The only thing they say about him, as far as I know, is that he grew a beard when he was twelve, and that he fell through a hole in an inland cave once and bobbed up like a cork fifty yards out at sea. There's a song that the niggers sing about it--that's the only reason why Lily Island remembers Hairy Carey--because it rhymes with scarey and wary and fairy...."

"What are you laughing at?" asked Doctor Bligh rather crossly.

"I'm not laughing," laughed the captain. "I was looking at Young Rummie here, collecting information about Hairy Carey--and collecting it through his mouth, apparently...."

Doctor Bligh turned irascibly to follow the direction of the captain's look. Young Rummie, the ship's boy, with his back to the two men, was fiddling with some glasses on a tray. His innocent young neck was claret-coloured with embarrassment.[Pg 49]

"Have you come to Lily Island to hunt for your father's buried treasure?" persisted the wheezing captain. "Got a chart drawn in blood and everything just so?" Doctor Bligh saw his roguish distorted eye through the bottom of his tumbler, and wished he could throw something at it and distort it for good and all.

"No," he said shortly. "My father had a good position in the tobacco trade in England. He never made a penny out of the adventures of his boyhood." How undignified it was, thought Doctor Bligh, for a respectable general practitioner to be mixed up with the kind of story that excites cabin-boys and causes negroes to burst into song. Why on earth had he brought the subject up? It had been perfectly safe in his own mind. Really, of course, it had never been safe at all since he had found that paper. It had seethed so much in his mind that it was bound sooner or later to bubble over the brim before he could stop it. "My father had a sentimental fondness for this island," added Doctor Bligh. "As a very old man, especially, he often fancied himself on Lily Island. But it was a purely sentimental feeling, and it is on purely sentimental grounds that I have long wished to visit an island that my father held in such happy memory."

"There isn't much sentiment on Lily Island,"[Pg 50] said the captain. "Or much of anything else either, for that matter."

"Well, good-night," said Doctor Bligh, finding to his surprise as he stood up that his feet were a little unsteady, even though the Rising Day was at anchor and perfectly motionless. "I have to get up early to-morrow, if I want to get my walk over before the sun gets too hot."

On the deck, on the way to his cabin, the doctor paused and looked at Lily Island across a stretch of striped glass water polished by moonlight. The low uneven land was blurred black against the sky. Stars floated out of the land to follow the flying moon.

Doctor Bligh was saying this phrase to himself: "Fifty thousand pounds under a Cow's Lick." Whenever he thought of that phrase he felt a certainty and then a sort of squirm. What an absurd position to be in--if one wore woollen underclothes and weighed two hundred pounds--to be the reluctant slave of a romantic quest. It was as though he had been mysteriously impelled to find joy in the possession of a popgun and the taste of bulls-eyes.

"Pleessa," said a voice near him. He turned to see the tiresome freckled face of Young Rummie. "Pleessa--I couldn't help hearing what you was talking about in there-sa. Pleessa[Pg 51] please may I come with you-sa, to look for your father's treasure-sa. I bin to the island often before-sa, and I'm strong and useful-sa...."

"Good God, boy," snapped the doctor. "What are you talking about? My father's treasure, indeed! Do I look like a man with a father who had any treasure? My father lived for fifty years after he left this island. If he had any treasure or knew of any treasure why should he have left it here or anywhere else without coming to get it? You go to hell, and stay there."

"I thought you told the cap'n your father was Hairy Carey-sa."

"Go to hell," repeated Doctor Bligh, but a little more doubtfully now. Was it possible that the boy had heard of or found something on the island? "What do you know about Carey?"

"On'y that he was about my age-sa--and that song about him...." And the irritating child began to sing in the creaking voice peculiar to the middle teens.

Where-a you been, Hairy Carey?
Down-do-down, I bin drowned.
You go an' ask the green growin' fishes
Down-do-down what I found.
[Pg 52]

What were boys coming to! exclaimed Doctor Bligh to himself. Butting into the treasure hunts of their elders and betters and insisting on singing to them, uninvited, in the middle of the night. "Captain Fink was mistaken, if you must know. My father was no pirate. He was very much interested in tobacco culture and came here some years ago to make experiments."

"Yessa," said the boy with docility.

"There were no pirates in his day."


"Anything else you want to ask me?" asked Doctor Bligh in a withering voice.

"No-sa. On'y--please, pleessa let me come with you on your treasure hunt-sa...."

Doctor Bligh walked furiously away across the deck to his cabin. "Fifty thousand pounds under a Cow's Lick," he thought. He carried always in his inner pocket the scrap of unexplained paper found between the pages of an old notebook labelled Heavens Sugar Farm. The writing--on the torn-out fly-leaf of a book called Beauty's Dower, published in London by Mr. Atkinson, MDCCXC--was not his father's writing. It was a mincing deliberate hand, and seemed almost as if idle fingers had gone over it again and again, crossing and super-crossing t's, dotting i's with galaxies of stars, adding frills to[Pg 53] the capital letters. There was nothing to explain what it meant, or who scribbled it so, or how it got there among the papers of a reformed pirate. "Fifty thousand pounds under a Cow's Lick...." Doctor Bligh had first seen this scrap of paper on going through his father's possessions forty years ago when the old man died. At the time it had made no impression on him at all, for he had been a sober single-hearted young doctor filled with the determination to Do Good and Make Good. Now that the paper had become almost an obsession with him, he found it difficult to understand how he could have seen it so indifferently in his hot youth. But really his youth had never been hot--only in his mysteriously réchauffé middle age had Doctor Bligh suddenly become tired of tepid duty. Anything would have done as a hot sauce for duty--golf--stamp collecting--the Primrose League--Angora rabbits--only it happened to be buried treasure. An idle rediscovery of the scrap of paper, and some idle speculation upon its meaning had lighted a discreet fuse which led to an explosion of fantastic convictions about an actual buried treasure on Lily Island. And with the thought of buried treasure, all kinds of romantic and grisly half-recollections had found their way into Doctor Bligh's consciousness. His mind's[Pg 54] ear added ambiguously, fragment by fragment, to his memory of what old Bligh--late Hairy Carey--had said from time to time, fifty years ago. "It wasn't so much that the Old Duke was a murderer--he didn't murder people who crossed him, exactly.... There were none of the traditional pirate scenes in his ship--she was just dirty and dull and as much like your modern tramp steamers as a schooner can be--with just that wicked freak of speed thrown in. But there was a sort of crooked indirect curse on everything the Old Duke touched--he didn't murder a man who offended him--but he made a murderer of that man--and in such a way that it wasn't generally the dead man that was most to be pitied. So his property was always safe; he protected it with the irrelevance of his cruelty. It was to every one's interest, somehow, not to offend the Old Duke." Had the old pirate said something like that, or had his son imagined it all, in the light of this new inexplicable romantic brooding? "Am I really on the track of accursed treasure?" Doctor Bligh thought. "Am I to have adventures at last, before I die?"

Doctor Bligh slept and dreamed that he looked from the deck of the Rising Day and saw, on the island, a broad road apparently leading up easily to a terrace between the hoofs of a colossal[Pg 55] golden cow upon the skyline. And yet, in his dream, he could not start on his walk along the road because there was no boat in which he could be rowed ashore, nor any one to row him--only, in the distance, so elusive that the frantic dreamer sought him in vain, a singer singing in a faint wild treble voice.

Captain Fink had early breakfast with his passenger in the morning. "Young Rummie can row you ashore," he said. "And you'd better arrange with him where he shall meet you and at what time. Unless you'd like to take him and walk along to the Cove, three or four miles south, and meet us there. We have to drop down there for a few dozen crates of fruit when we've finished the little bunch now alongside. We'll be there about sunset. We go out at high water to-morrow."

"I'll do that alone," said Doctor Bligh. "I don't fancy that Young Rummie much. He follows me about like a dog."

"He doesn't want to lose sight of the son of Hairy Carey, eh?" said the captain with an attack of his merry asthma. "Oh, come on, Doctor--even you must have been young once...."

Young Rummie rowed the little boat energetically over the gorgeous green water. Doctor[Pg 56] Bligh, looking down, could see half-defined shapes in the water--peacock-coloured shadows that melted before they could be realized. The little beaked garfish skidded, splintering light and spray, from the tip of one wave to another. A great heart-shaped sting-ray slid across a patch of pearl-green sand thirty feet below, with a rolling ripple of its frills. In the distance sober somersaulting fins marked the progress of three or four grampuses, wheeling in slow suspended acrobatics across the roof of their green world.

"Please pleessa, let me come with you to-day. Pleessa, I'm sorry to go on botherin' you, but I can't bear it--I can't bear not to go-sa.... It may be the last chance I get, goin' after treasure-sa. I'm born to go after treasure-sa--pleessa please give me a try-sa.... I'm such a resourceful feller-sa-it might just make the difference to finding the----"

"How many times am I to tell you, you young fool--" shouted Doctor Bligh, "that there's no question of treasure. Didn't you hear me tell you--my father was here planting pineapples and----"


"I said pineapples. As I told you, I am thinking of investing ... I mean investigating...." He broke off. "What's the matter with me?"[Pg 57] he thought irritably. "Going on lying ... as if it was worth while explaining anything to this pink rat of a boy. What he really needs is a good whipping." Yet, looking along the little boat at Young Rummie's ugly shining face, bobbing backwards and forwards as he rowed, Doctor Bligh, with that inconsequence he was now coming to recognize as one of the perils of middle age, felt unexpectedly tolerant. A tooth was missing in the front of Young Rummie's broad mouth, and somehow this chink in the otherwise tough rubber armour of his youth made Doctor Bligh conscious of the anxious, desperately expectant heart beating beneath that dirty and childishly narrow singlet. As if, with the disclosure of the lost tooth, a tiny window had been opened.

"I don' cair-sa," said Young Rummie, after clearing his throat nervously. "I must--I must foller you-sa, whatever you say-sa.... I hope you'll forgive me-sa--when I've proved me worth...."

"If you want to inform yourself about pineapples under cultivation," said Doctor Bligh, grinding his teeth with anger, "follow me and be damned to you. I can't stop you. Lily Island's not my property."

The little village of Corkscrew Bay squatted under its crooked palms and casuarinas on a[Pg 58] bend in the narrow harbour. On the striped sand and seaweed beach, as the little boat ran ashore, white and mauve branches of coral lay among petalled shells that were like pink roses. The ragged black village children, fluttering with faded cottons, gathered on the beach to watch strangers arrive. The men of the village were standing in a group round the mate of the Rising Day, listening to his curses. That agitated man, his coat off, sweat running into his eyes and dripping from his chin, stood, like a defender, beside a complicated frail fortress built of pineapple crates. He was hoarsely and hopelessly exhorting the crowd of negroes to get to work. The men watched him rather plaintively and passively, as though more of the sense of what he was saying reached them through their wide wet eyes, their broad clumsy polished noses, their thick open mouths--than through the ears that leaned out from their dark skulls.

"Well, all I can say is ..." said the mate in an exhausted voice when he saw Doctor Bligh. "Give me baboons--give me the blind pups of a cross-eyed bitch--give me half-baked clams--give me----"

"You find the islanders unintelligent?" said Doctor Bligh. "Look here, Mr. Wilkins, why don't you keep Young Rummie to help you get[Pg 59] these crates aboard ... he was sent here as a sort of guide for me, but as a matter of fact I can well spare him."

"Please--pleessa--" Young Rummie's thin voice was full of a real panic.

"There's only an hour's work here," said the mate. "I'd send the boy after you."

"Oh, I shan't need him."


"Damn you, boy--Well.... I'll come back for you in an hour's time.... There's nothing--there's nothing to look for.... You're making a silly mistake.... Oh, all right then, I'll come back--I won't forget."

"Hey, you Rummie," shouted the mate with alacrity.

Free of his follower at last, Doctor Bligh strode away along a narrow path that led through the high guinea grass. For the first time he wondered what actual steps he could take to decode the mysterious message and apply it to the country in front of him. "Fifty thousand pounds under a Cow's Lick." The whole affair from beginning to end had been so far contrary to the ordered plans of his life that, for the first time in his life, plans had seemed wholly irrelevant. Here he was, on Lily Island, under a spell, the magic wording of which was--"Fifty thousand pounds under[Pg 60] a Cow's Lick." Of course it was all nonsense. Surely an elderly retired doctor is free to travel when his work is done. Why should not Lily Island be as good a destination as any other for a slightly asthmatically inclined professional gentleman in search of sea air and sunlight? Doctor Bligh looked uneasily round the horizon, regretting the translucent and candid horizon of last night's dream. Behind him was the village, scrawled with the shadows of palms and crazy huts; behind the village was a small valley pitted with pineapple holes. Round Doctor Bligh, shoulder-high, was the guinea grass, varied here and there with dangling angular jumba beans and with prickly pears and organ pipe cactuses. The low hills all round were furred over with frizzed brush, as evenly as negroes' heads are capped with wool. A rather higher strip of land in front of the traveller was spiked along the skyline with century palms--some closed like giant asparagus shoots, others opened out into jejune forks and fans. Far beyond this ridge of land was a higher ridge, only one bluff of which could be seen through a cleft in the near ridge. And that far bluff--was it Doctor Bligh's imagination?--was it perhaps an effect due to the abrupt framing in the near gorge?--the resemblance was very vague--yet was[Pg 61] it so vague?... Doctor Bligh turned away for a moment to give his eyes a chance of blotting out their prejudice in favour of romance. The bluff, he now saw quite clearly, looked like a cow's head and shoulders--there was a quite bovine hump behind the shoulders.... It was a hornless cow, to be sure, unless one counted--but that would be foolishly fanciful--those two tall century palms as horns. The throat of the cow--that narrow receding flapping pendulous throat--was very clearly suggested, thought Doctor Bligh, trying to keep quite cool and unbiased. All the same, he wished he could look at that cow's head for a second with fresh eyes. If Young Rummie were here, one could say, "What does that bluff remind you of?" Doctor Bligh was afraid of his own judgment now. He remembered how he had deceived his imagination with his pirate-father's stories--now, though he knew he had deceived himself, he could not say what was false and what was real in that stammering tale.

He drew in his breath as a negro woman, carrying a tall bundle on her head--a bundle crowned with boots and a trussed chicken, padded towards him round a bend in the narrow path.

"Good morning," said Doctor Bligh.

"Ma-anin' za."

"Can you tell me the name of that hill?"[Pg 62]

"Aye za."

"What is its name?"

"Aye za."

"Hasn't got a name, eh?"


"I was just thinking how like a cow's head it was. Did that ever strike you or your friends?"

The woman turned her head with smoothness and caution under her balancing bundle to look in the direction his finger indicated. "Ya-azza," she said, her opaque brown eyes searching the horizon for whatever might be the object of this unintelligible buckra's gaze.

"Like a cow--do you not think so?"

"Ca-aw za?"

"Yes, a cow's head. Can you see it?"


"You can! Can you not tell me the name of the ridge?"

"Ca-aw's zed za."

"Cow's Head? Do you really mean that the ridge is called Cow's Head?"


He searched her thick simple face with his eyes. Were his ears as well as his eyes biased to the point of self-deception? "Thank you so much. Good morning." He pushed along the path, combing the coarse yellow grass with his shins.[Pg 63]

As he reached the slope up to the near ridge, the grass gave place to thick brush. A little breeze made all the short unkempt palms amid the brush seem to turn their backs. The path, which could barely push between the pale-stemmed bristles of the shrubs, gave a wide berth to the clumps of sisal and the century palm, with their defensive sheaves of spears, but sometimes the detour was not wide enough, and Doctor Bligh's thin neat tussore trousers were soon torn and the plump neat legs beneath them severely scratched.

When, gasping, he reached the top of the near ridge, one thing was certain--he would not go back for Young Rummie. He had never meant very seriously to do so. He noticed that the Cow's Head had receded--had, apparently, side-slipped to quite a different point of the compass, and to a site at least twice as far away as he had expected. Without its frame, too, it was less arrestingly like--but no; it was like a cow's head. Between him and it lay a large lake--probably invisibly connected with the sea. Several of the ridges around this lake seemed to be paltry imitations of a cow's head too, but Doctor Bligh guiltily averted his mind from this suspicion. His cow, he told himself firmly, looked more like a cow than ever; it must have been a famous[Pg 64] landmark for the pirates, as it evidently now was to the negroes. After a minute's thought, Doctor Bligh decided to walk down to the lake and then follow its western shore. As far as he could see, a broadish rocky ledge formed a more or less continuous rim to the lake; the bands of green thicket that interrupted this rocky strip seemed to him negligible from a distance. He almost ran down the slope to the water. The path he was following led straight into the lake, made no effort to veer to right or left. At its terminus lay the submerged skeleton of an old boat, with small striped fishes whisking between her ribs. Doctor Bligh began to walk along the terrace of rock beside the water. The high sun was giving a more and more breathless quality to the heat. The wind that had disturbed the palms on the ridge was still now. All the air quivered, and from the long spindling rafts of glare upon the lake, splintering spears of light were aimed to pierce the sight. Doctor Bligh found it very much more difficult than he expected, to walk along the waterside. The rock, a coral formation, was pitted with sharp-edged craters. And at every few dozen yards the rock surrendered the shore to mangroves.

Each strip of encroaching mangroves meant an obstacle of almost desperate difficulty. The[Pg 65] mangroves sprawled in a sort of angular horizontal scaffolding over the water. Roots sloped tautly into the water, like the legs of spiders. Footholds among these roots were always slanting and slippery, and were treacherously concealed by the bright juicy disks of the leaves. The branches were breast-high. Doctor Bligh, bruised about the shins and wet to the knees, negotiated three mangrove entanglements, and then he felt that he would rather press on in the hope of finding an end to them than return by such an arduous and revolting route. Inviting stretches of firm pale rock in front tempted him with promises of better going presently. But these promises always proved to be illusory; the mangrove strips stretched wider and wider, and finally Doctor Bligh, achieving a strip of rock after an hour's frenzied battle with fifty yards of malevolent swamp roots, gave up. He sank down almost fainting, his set sweating face buried in his hands. The heat of the sun seemed to throb about his body. He could not keep his face covered, in spite of the glare; his hands suffocated him. He decided to drink half the brandy and water he had in his flask, and to eat one of the biscuits the steward had given him. He looked about wildly as he ate. Where the rock again surrendered to the swamp, a graceful[Pg 66] grey bird like a small crane, too young to fly, threaded itself like a silver hook among the angular lacey intricacies of the mangroves. Its parents, less innocent about the dangers of human proximity, flew in the air above it, planing with outstretched neck and legs in a tilted obtuse angle.

"I must strike inland," thought Doctor Bligh, noticing that a promontory of dry scrub pierced the swamp to a point quite near him. Now he realized that by following the lake shore he had lost his Cow's Head. The ridge was still there, with its two pin shapes of century palm, but perspective had completely robbed it of any suggestion of a cow. "I must strike west again across country." Certainly the matted brush could not be more heartbreaking to walk through than the mangroves were. He crossed the intervening yard or two of swamp-growth and struggled in the clawing stubborn brush, like a fly in a spider's web. At least, as he at first thought, he was spared the glare on the water. Then he realized that he was robbed also of the slight coolness of stirring air that belonged to the lake. He made slowly towards a twisted casuarina tree which, in that low thicket, seemed to stand like a memorial and spread a sanctuary of shade. Not only were the close-growing shrubs difficult[Pg 67] to push through, but deep mazy pits continually waylaid the lost man's steps--pits sometimes ten feet deep--traces of rolling seas long dried--holes made often perfectly circular by the bowling of imprisoned uneasy stones--galleries pierced by long departed tides between one curvy cell and another. Bananas were planted in the rich black earth that lined such pits. The banana fronds, down in the pit where no wind disturbed them, were virgin and whole, like the pages of unread books, but the topmost plumes, which Doctor Bligh came to appreciate as warnings of the deep traps laid in the wilderness, were tattered and torn by exposure to the creeping hot wind. Doctor Bligh hoped that these bananas, which must have been planted by men, meant that he would presently come upon a path or a cabin. But he reached the casuarina after hours of effort without finding any further trace of men.

The tree stood on the edge of a low knoll, and its roots, mostly exposed, clung to the dusty bank like knuckles. Between the roots was a blackness--the crooked mouth of a cave. Doctor Bligh Walked straight across the band of shade he had so ardently longed for, and, in a stride and two stumbles, he was down in the cave. He found himself in a kind of antechamber in a half light striped by gaunt and crumbling columns.[Pg 68] Behind these columns a black passage led downward. Doctor Bligh felt in his pockets. He had a few matches--eighteen, to be exact. He was so deeply exhausted that he had but little sense, and he started down the black gallery, lighting his first match as soon as he came to the end of level ground. The passage led downward over unsteady red boulders. Some of the stones were set rolling by his tread, but he went carefully and did not fall. By the time the ground became level again, he had used five matches. He tried now to be cautious, not only in actual economy of matches, but also in economy in the glances he threw here and there into each brief dazzle. He tried not to waste glances on the fluted white ceiling, the bats, the sinuous water-carvings on the walls, the fantastic half-articulate friezes of pattern, the pendulous needles of runed coral, the pinnacled pillars aspiring from the floor. He tried to look first and last at the floor before him. It was the fourteenth match that showed a black patch on the floor immediately in front of him. He had noticed these patches before, but since they had not lain actually in his path he had passed them by without investigation. The concentration of light on this last patch seemed to be too much for the poor spirit of the match. He lit another more carefully, as he crouched on the[Pg 69] ground. Before him he now saw an abrupt pit, showing bottomless to the scope of matchlight. Doctor Bligh, an already overstrained man, began to quake. "I must get out of this," he thought. "Why did I come down here?" and as he turned to retreat, he heard the sipping rustle of water scores of feet below in the pit. He lit another match. Behind him a ridge of rock not more than two feet across divided the fluted rims of two more pits, between which he must have walked in the fitful light without suspicion. He had one match left now.

Doctor Bligh was, after all, an old man. His whole dilemma, from the beginning of the expedition till now, had been the result of an old man's rebound into youthful irresponsibility from a life spent in arduous and precise duty. The same tired old brain that had re-read so hopefully the scribble on the fly-leaf of Beauty's Dower, had now failed to allocate reasonably resources of light and time in the search. Now the thin staff of romantic excitement gave way. He sank down and lay, half-huddled against the wall, for a long time in the dark.

He could hardly have slept, but he must have been sunk in a sort of trance, for when he noticed at last that a distant light shone ahead of him--how far away he could not guess--he realized[Pg 70] that his eyes had long been fixed senselessly upon it. He shouted; his heart nearly strangled him as the raucous echoes crashed about him; a rustle began, which he diagnosed after a moment as the bats waking in the hollows of the ceiling. The distant light did not move. He lit his last match, as an answer and an appeal to the light. No sign of recognition. Groping very cautiously on hands and knees, he felt the rim of the pit in front of him. His hand did not dare to leave the solid stone--he felt that if he should suddenly find clear space beneath his hand he would tip forward and fall headlong into terrible depths. But his hand made sure at last that the rim curved away from him, leaving a shelf several feet wide between the pit and the wall. He crawled along this, inch by inch, never trusting a first scouting hand, but verifying its discoveries with agonized and repeated pressure. He gathered no courage from his successful circumvention of this pit. His imagination bored more frightful shafts of space in every direction in which he moved his tremulous hand. But after some hours of this painful progress, the corner of a curtain of rock seemed suddenly lifted, and a powdering of stars spangled the space thus revealed. The further he crawled, the more widely did this blessed pricked doorway into freedom seem opened. The roaring[Pg 71] of the clear sea now drowned the deadly subterranean sucking and moaning of secret channels. He identified the light he had first seen as the reflection of a star in a water cup formed in the peak of a frustrated stalagmite by a too impetuous dripping from the hanging point above it. The little crater full of water, when he reached it, seemed to accumulate more than its share of light; it almost glowed. He thought it looked as brittle and fey as a moon crater. He drank the cool water most gratefully. He tried not to quicken his painful crawl as he found himself facing an apparently unobstructed passage to the stars. There might still be traps. But at last, there he was, on the lip of a cave halfway down an overhanging cliff. The sea knocked at the under surface of a deep shelf below him. Only the stars, the moon and a giddy silvered screen of vertical stone towered above him. He ate his last biscuit, finished what he had in his flask, and slept.

When he awoke, after a confused and painful sleep, it was daylight, and the first thing that he realized was the next headland. It was quite close, and it was unmistakably the neck of yesterday's Cow's Head. There was that overhanging fluted flap of stone that had, from a distance, seemed to lead so appropriately from the cow's[Pg 72] lower jaw to its chest. The romancer had seen it from a vantage point that had not been high enough to show him that nothing but the deep sea lay at the foot of the jut. Under the Cow's Lick--under the sea, his imagination had placed the fifty thousand pounds of his vision. Only the slow green waves shone at the foot of that bovine fantasy in stone. Doctor Bligh looked for a time at the hopeless face of the stone, feeling disillusionment pervade his heart. He saw then, pricking out of the profile of the cliff, a pimple, a hair, a brown wart, the bows of a boat, finally the whole of a little brown fishing boat tacking along the coast.

When the boat was within hailing distance, Doctor Bligh gave a loud cry. His voice sounded to him like the new voice of a dumb man. The boat turned towards the cliff. An old brown man was sitting in her, picking over some small fish that lay in the wash in her bottom.

"No way da-an from thar, za," shouted the old man thinly. "You'll ha-ave to make a dive of it. Best go ba-ack through the ca-aive."

Doctor Bligh, who during the first few words had been looking down appalled at the deep swinging water, when he heard the last suggestion, threw himself instantly, all askew, from the lip of the cave into the sea. After several choking[Pg 73] centuries, he was able to breathe air instead of water. In a moment he was grasping the old man's hand and, after a breast-bruising, shin-bruising struggle, he was in the boat, treading on a squirming fish.

"You'd best a gone ba-ack troo the ca-aive, za," piped the old man.

"I'll give you anything you like to get me to the Cove before high water."

"Z'aba-at four hours sa-ail, za," said the old man. "Yer on the wra-ang shore of Lily A-aland."

Doctor Bligh sat in the bows, getting gradually dry, looking with incredulous distaste at his scarred and blood-caked legs--one entirely denuded of trouser from the knee down, the other clad only in tatters. He found it impossible to reconcile this sight with the fact that one month ago he had been a medical man in good standing at Monmouth. For a dreaming second it seemed to him that though the blood came, in appearance, from superficial scratches on his legs, really it flowed from a wound in his spirit that was mortal. He dozed a little, presently, and when he woke he began to believe again in a probability he had lost sight of--the hope that he had a future of fastidious old age at Monmouth in front of him--that all this nightmare of melodramatic[Pg 74] misfortune was a thing that would pass. Never again would blood flow from this trespassing young spirit in his breast.

As the little boat made the final tack that would bring it round the ultimate headland, Doctor Bligh saw for the last time the corroded overhang that had seemed to him to join his Cow's Head to boundless treasure below.

"Did you ever hear of a place-name like Cow's Lick connected with any spot on this island?" he asked the old fisherman.

"Nuzz'n excep' the Ca-aw's Lick they fa-and the fifty tha-asand pa-and under," said the old man.

Doctor Bligh stared at him, paralysed for a moment with astonishment. "Did they find Fifty Thousand Pounds under a Cow's Lick?"

"Na-za--not just like that, they didn'.... It's an a-alanders' sayin', that--why, ye must have heard people on the a-aland sayin' Fifty Tha-asand Pa-and under a Ca-aw's Lick. It's a saying fer a piece of luck.... My fa-ather he tol' me the true ta-aile aba-at that sayin'--how a man called Havens ha-ad a ca-aw, an' ca-aw went astray da-an to beach, an' Havens went a-lookin' fer the ca-aw an' fa-and 'er lickin' at a lomp salt that got thar some way, and all aroun' the ca-aw thar floated that grease stuff--hunreds[Pg 75] a-ya-ards of that thar grease stuff--what you call that thar grease stuff that's worth sa moch money----?"


"Yeah--A guess so--ambergris.... An' Havens made a fortune outa what he fa-and, an' he built a ha-ase and mek a sugar farm--just a ruin now, it is--near the Cove an' he had his da-ater eddicated--pretty girl, my fa-ather useter say, but spiled wiz bookla-arnin'--though Havens was just ornery tra-ash himself--an' she married a ja-adge in United Sta-aites. But Havens lost all his money when the sla-aives was freed by Queen Victa-aria. And that's how the sayin' comes, my fa-ather useter say--Fifty Thaa-asand Paa--and Under a Caa-aw's Lick."

"Beauty's Dower," thought Doctor Bligh; "It belonged to the pretty daughter of Heavens Sugar Farm. And my susceptible young papa...." And he now saw it all as a romance after all--the last shred of the callow young Hairy Carey's romance. He said nothing more. The little boat slid on towards the Cove. He had looked for his destination so long, yet he reached it unexpectedly. Tacking round a headland they came abruptly in sight of the Rising Day.

"Why--woz goin' on? exclaimed the old man, looking not at the ship but at the shore. A[Pg 76] group of men stood on the green grassy seam that joined the white sand to the scrub. The old man sailed close inshore and after a moment Doctor Bligh said, "Why--there's the skipper--there's Mr. Wilkins--there's Tom and Veery Joe."

"Thar's a ca-affin," said the old fisherman. "It's a buryin'."

"Can you land me on this beach?" asked Doctor Bligh. The boat drew alongside a rough natural pier in the pockmarked rock at the curve of the bay. As Doctor Bligh, conscious of his tattered trousers and peeling face, drew near to the rigid, Sunday-best-looking group, Captain Fink came to meet him.

"Well, I'm damned," said Captain Fink, looking unlike himself and certainly more damned than blessed. "Where in hell did you get to, Doctor?"

"Whose grave is that?" asked Doctor Bligh.

"It's Young Rummie's.... Good Lord, poor little brute, and he's got a mother in Cardiff and all that.... The kid lent a hand loading pines yesterday and Wilkins says he nearly broke his heart over it ... seemed to think you were coming back to take him on a trip or something.... Good Lord, I wish you had happened to take him along, Doc.... It would[Pg 77] have saved his life.... Wilkins wasn't too hard on the little chap about the work--he was kind of sorry for him--the kid fretted so--God knows why--and anyway, there wasn't more than an hour's work. He consoled himself eating spoilt pineapples--the niggers say he put away over a dozen--and by midnight he was off his head--raving and screaming with pain.... Gosh, I tried every bleeding thing I could think of--but of course I hadn't an idea really.... I thought you'd turn up any minute. I had a couple of men out all night looking for you ... and one with a boat, up and down the coast.... I'm sure a doctor could have saved him.... There are three black parsons in this bloody hole and not one doctor--black or white. The kid died at sunrise."

"So this was the crooked curse," thought Doctor Bligh, forgetting that his futile search had endangered no pirate's secret. He said nothing. He walked up the beach and stood by Young Rummie's grave, dug just where the sand marched with the limit of the red rockstrewn earth. And as he stood, spent and strained, beside the grave, time seemed to spin about him--yesterday seemed almost within his grasp, and youth a thing returning, like a thunderstorm, against the wind. Yesterday--that freak day astray at the wrong end[Pg 78] of his life--he saw it glamorously now--it was terribly desirable to him--and only an hour ago he had dismissed it with relief. But--oh, now--come back, deferred bright day--come back, lost gleam--lost youth....[Pg 79]

[Pg 80]


"You'll soon get used to it all, girlie," said Willie. "Everything takes a bit of getting used to--that's what I always say." His large perspiring cheeks quivered as the Buick in which he sat quivered splashily through the storm along the main street of Coffee Town. Rose looked at the street full of strangenesses--at the rich shoes, the rich jumpers, the rich white plus fours, the rich silken calves, of the tourists seeking shelter from the storm in the doors of shops full of Hyper-Best dresses.

"One can't get used to people who are all the same person," said Rose. "All these people are the same one, dressed up in different funny ways. One can't get used to a one...."

"Folks all look like a buncha freaks when you're new to 'em," said Willie, who always confidently mistranslated, in a tone ten times magnified, like a faulty loud speaker, everything that his bride said.

Still, the honour of having married an American had to be paid for somehow. Rose, a[Pg 81] sensible though untutored girl, had realized this from the first. It was most rare for any inhabitant of Liver Island to marry any one except another inhabitant of Liver Island. Sometimes a young man crossed over from one of the Kidney Islands and chose a Liver Island bride. Apart from this, the only other island inhabited by white people within a day's sailing of Liver Island was Tripe Key, on which only seven people lived, of whom Rose's cousin had married the only man under fifty. But Rose had fallen right off her planet; she had married an American. Willie, from New York, had been looking for a site for a turtle-shell depot, and had found Rose. Rose had never worn silk stockings or tasted ice-cream, or used face powder or a lipstick. Her Sunday hat was six years old; it was made of wired imitation lace and lay like a plate on the peak of her mountain of bronze hair. "Better wear nothing on ya head than that fool-thing," said Willie. "Foller the crowd, that's what I always say--it's only crazy folks that try to be different. I'll buy you a hat in Coffee Town like my sister wears, with a fake diamond swaller in the front." So Rose had given her dear romantic Sunday hat to a younger sister, and hidden her hair in a tortured tam-o'-shanter bought at the incredible city of Coffee Town.[Pg 82] "One-horse burg, this; give me N'York, that's what I always say to these foreigners," said Willie--which showed what America must be, since Coffee Town, on Bacon Island, was the great renowned capital of the Marmalado Islands.

Rose looked about Coffee Town through the stripes of the rain. In the hotel lobby, while Willie was in the bar, seeing a man he knew, Rose sat and looked about, feeling as though she were in a trance. On Liver Island, although almost all the white people had the same surname--Leggatt--the other differences between one person and another were marked and known by every one. One knew that Abraham Leggatt's John hated cats, was colour-blind, and dreamt often of his late mother; one knew that Mary Leggatt's, Mary's Mollie always lost her temper when she was hungry, and had a mole on her left shoulder-blade. And if a stranger should come and say, "How like Miss Mary Leggatt is to--er--Miss Mary Leggatt--I mean the other one, not the one who lives on Bay Street ..." any inhabitant of Liver Island would have looked at him in astonishment as though at an imbecile. Nobody on Liver Island could be like any one else, except in name. Nobody, for instance, shared common catchwords. Liver Islanders[Pg 83] didn't talk enough for that. They said Ah with an upward inflexion when they meant yes, and a downward Ah when they meant no. Between Ah and Ah they only stated facts about birth, death, marriage, religion, food, turtles, and sponges. But here in Coffee Town, every one seemed to have a different name and yet to be the same person. The tourists stood about the lobby uttering elaborate forms of words in imitation of one another, and yet expressing no facts. "I said, see here, son, I'm a man who.... What I always say is.... That's what I always say.... It's a long time between drinks, as the Governor of North Carolina.... You ladies are all alike ... it's the principle of the thing I care about.... I always say...."

Here was Willie coming towards her, his large opaque brown eyes rolling through horn'rimmed glasses, his beaked nose sniffing this way and that. Rose waved her umbrella at him with rather an out-island expansiveness. Willie looked politely but stonily at her and turned his little fat eagle's nose towards another woman. Good gracious--it was not Willie, after all--he wore Willie's clothes and Willie's nose but he was not Willie. Here was Willie, coming now--oh no, that one was wearing white plus fours and a flame-coloured pullover; Willie couldn't have[Pg 84] changed his clothes in the bar. Ah--here was the real authentic Willie--how absurd not to have been sure of one's own husband--though only a two days' husband to be sure. Willie had seemed to be the most different person in the world on Liver Island, but here in Coffee Town, every one seemed to be different in the same way.

"Well, girlie, bin kinda lonesome? I couldn't come sooner; there was a guy there who had a very stimulating line of high-grade information about a new material for toilet goods called rubberine something or other; never pass up a chance to get education, that's what I always say. I didn't take but two highballs, but I've got plenty of the best on my hip. Be prepared for a rainy day, that's what I always say."

"Well, you couldn't have a rainier day than this," said Rose happily, seizing his arm affectionately and leading him to the window.

"Smart baby," laughed Willie. "Knows what she wants and wants it right now. But we haven't got time now, not even for a quick one, cutie, we gotta beat it. The ship can't come into harbour--it's too rough; we gotta get to the tender at South Bay by four."

The wind whined through the flapping chinks of the car's hood as they drove between agitated shockheaded palm groves. From under[Pg 85] the wheels came the sharp sound of cloven pools of water.

"Too bad--this gale," said Willie. "I guess we gotta bum trip ahead of us, girlie. But what can't be cured must be endured--that's what I always say."

A perfect suburb of cars had sprung up beside the short pier at South Bay. Scores of stoutish men in grey overcoats and grey hats and expensive sporting shoes--as though all dressed by one divine impulse--stood on the pier watching the sailors' efforts to control the violent movements of several lifeboats. Scores of slim women in biscuit-coloured coats, and brown hats nailed to the skull with diamond ornaments, and thick legs encased in silk, and wine-coloured lips below chalk noses, crouched in the pier shelter. Luggage, in dwindling mountains on the pier, was being tumbled precariously into the leaping boats. "The tender can't come right up to the pier in this sea," said Willie. "Aw hell, this is going to be one bum party." He then mingled with a crowd of other perfect imitations of himself on the pier, and said with them, "You c'n take it from me ... it's the principle of the thing ... these fellers oughta ... don't know their own business, that's what I always say...."

Three hours passed, while restive boats full of[Pg 86] luggage and passengers bounded with difficulty back and forth. A good many of the waiting male passengers got drunk. The women and children did not, because they had to keep sober enough to be protected from the dangers of the embarkation by their reeling husbands and fathers. A great deal of sobriety was needed for this, as Rose found when it was her turn to leap into the pitching boat from the pier-head. "Weddle I say jum" said Willie--was it Willie?--holding her awkwardly and painfully by the upper arm. "Don' jum till I say jum, f'godsek...." Another Willie, on the bucking edge of the boat below, held out his arms. The boat rose violently to meet her, all askew. "Jum ... jump ... jum...." Rose jumped; she was torn from one Willie, was in the arms of another, was passed to a third. She was sitting in the boat. Great slaty waves shut out the shore; the sky reeled; a distant lighthouse whisked a feather of light across the dingy distance till a near wave leapt up and obliterated it.

Rose, an out-islander, was well accustomed to small boats, and to getting wet at the whim of waves. It was the tender that alarmed her, and the distant liner frightened her still more. She had never been in a steamer before--or indeed in anything inexplicably propelled, until yesterday[Pg 87] when the Buick carried her across Coffee Town. She watched for the tender intermittently from view-points on the tottering peaks of waves. It was nearly dark. The tender looked like a gold-toothed snarl, the far liner like a sneer of lights. She sat feeling sick with fright, wedged tightly in a row of elaborately undaunted women; the bones she sat on seemed to be shifted by some insane pull of gravity inside her wedged flesh, as the boat pitched this way and that. Opposite to her was Willie, and there, two women down on her left, was another unmistakable Willie. In the whirl and the dusk she could, uneasily, see other Willies grouped in the stern. As the boat twitched itself skilfully parallel with the ribs of the tender, Rose realized that the larger vessel was lined with Willies. She felt altogether alone in the midst of this superfluity, and began to cry unobtrusively. Several Willies helped her from the lifeboat. She had quite given up trying to distinguish the right one. They were all kind. Two of them sat down beside her on a bench on the tender. "Feeling kinda lonesome, girlie?" said one, and the other said, "I gotta toothful of the best on my hip. Always hope for the best and be prepared for the worst--that's what I always say."

"Why did he say I--not we?" wondered Rose vaguely.[Pg 88]

The tender rose and fell with energy but with more dignity than the little boat. The wind whined between canvas screens. There was a stir among the passengers. "Where is she? there.... Gee ... she's gone ... no--there...." Every one but Rose and one of her immediate Willies moved to the tender's side. The other Willie came back and said, "Lifeboat's engine stalled--she's being blown out to sea. Fourteen passengers on board of her--but don't get rattled, little lady--they'll be all right." Rose, chilled and exhausted, was not at all rattled about the endangered boat; among so many Willies it seemed that some could be spared.

Hurrying clouds tore themselves to shreds on the horn of a crescent moon. The sea tossed and jostled Rose and a tender-full of Willies. Rose was now, as far as appearances went, the only woman on board. The other women had all shrunk into cracks and crannies of the vessel. Around Rose lay, sat, stood, waved and reeled Willies in all attitudes, at all stages of synthetic sobriety. A line of them leaned against the rail, watching the search for the stray lifeboat, commenting one to another, "Why don't they ... if I was them ... know their own business.... I said to the captain, say, listen, cap, why don't [Pg 89]you ... he had to admit afterwards, say, listen, he said, that sure was some good advice you handed ... that's what I always say ... I just said, say, listen...."

The thick clumsy blade of the tender's search-light lashed out through the dark, pricking a rock, a flare of spray, a distant palm tree, a searching lifeboat, with light like a quick short dream.

"Found--found--found," said all the Willies suddenly. "Gee--found 'em at last.... I knoo they would ... if they done that right at the start.... I said, say, listen, cap ... isn't that fine.... I guess the other boat's picked 'em up.... I guess Ed's glad he had a droppa the best on the hip.... Be prepared for the worst, that's what I always say...."

Rose, though cramped and cold, was half asleep on her bench. No less than six faithful Willies now guarded her rest, each with a wad of gum inside his large soft cheek, each watching Rose kindly through horn-rimmed glasses. When the tender, drunkenly approaching her mothership, ran impetuously into her on an irresistible wave, breaking off large portions of her superstructure, quite a dozen Willies snatched Rose from under a shower of splintered wood. The force of the gangway, craning wildly from the pitching liner to the rolling tender, was broken[Pg 90] by the intervening figures of thirty Willies, who threw themselves between it and Rose.

In the liner at last, the passages echoed with the voices of a chorus of Willies asking where was the state-room of Mrs. Willie Gold. Rose felt swallowed up, irrevocably digested, by this monster full of Willies. She rushed into a cabin and sat weeping on the bed. The cabin, arranged by a cabin steward who was himself a flawless Willie, looked, though she was too ignorant to know it, like a cabin steward's ideal cabin--unsleepable-in apple-pie beds--undrinkable-out of upside-down water glasses--unwashable-in disappearing basin--unsittable-on folded campstool--unhangable-in pegless wardrobe--all bleakly neat, and designed to make the passenger feel nothing but an uncouth intrusion. But Rose disarranged the bed by crying into the pillow. The Willies squeezed in embarrassment and suspended chivalry at the door.

"She's kinda lonesome, I guess ... tired ... no wonder ... you ladies aren't used to.... Wait, sister, I guess I still gotta toothful of the best...."

Rose looked at them wildly, pressing in, pressing out, peering shortsightedly over one another's shoulders, all anxious, kind, stoutish, smooth, all spectacled, all with grey overcoats on. And one[Pg 91] of them said, "Why, say, listen, girlie, I bin looking everywhere for you...."

"Aw hell, Rosie, what's eating you?" added Willie, unclasping his bride's arms from the neck of the wrong Willie. "She's an out-island girl ... she don't know much about the ways of civilized folks yet ... everything takes a bit of getting used to, that's what I always say...."[Pg 92]

[Pg 93]

[Pg 94]


Leonard Lumley had some very good ideas for keeping cool in the Red Sea. "Wear wool next the skin," he said, "and drink nothing but very hot tea...." He had many such ideas, but no one could be absolutely certain that he practised what he preached. Hot tea was not served, for instance, in the bar, where Leonard spent a good deal of his time, and it seemed that he had lost his only collar stud, so that his shirt-collar flapped open in defiance of his dictum that Closed Collars were Coolest. However, the very contrariness of his views was impressive, and Leonard himself was a very impressive, though rather stout, young man. Several people trusted him so much that they went about for a day or two in thick Jaegers, looking like kettles boiling over. Miss Dancey admired him so much that she must have lost several pints in weight, between Suez and Perim.

Leonard, instinctively aware that all that he could say was safe in Miss Dancey's ear, sat very[Pg 95] often at the foot of her deck chair--indeed partly on her feet, since he was of spreading figure--but spiritually, as he knew, their positions were reversed; his were the feet that were sat at. He believed that every man should have a profession, he would tell her--but not before he is forty. A man should afford himself leisure while he is young and work when he is old.

"Oh--oh, what an eggstrawdinarily interesting idea," said Miss Dancey.

Leisure is only useful to the young, according to Leonard Lumley; after forty a man should begin to work, having nothing better to do, and should work harder and harder until the age of ninety or so, when death, the supremely full-time job, should interrupt him at his desk or in the pulpit or on his charger riding into battle or at his stethoscope or what not. For, though Mr. Lumley was just over thirty-five and would soon come to the end of his period of leisure, he had not yet decided on the occupation that would most fruitfully employ his declining years.

"Oh--oh--a doctor," suggested Miss Dancey. "Doctors are magnificent, I think--perfect saints...."

"On the contrary," said Leonard, to whose lips this phrase rose almost automatically. "The doctor's profession is the least noble[Pg 96] of any. A stockbroker is more saintly than a doctor."

"Oh--oh--not really--do, do tell me why...."

"Well, it's to a doctor's interest, you must remember, to live in a sickly world, and also--er--well, if you knew as much about doctors and stockbrokers as I do...."

"Oh--oh--" breathed Miss Dancey. "Then why not be a stockbroker? Then you'd be both rich and saintly...."

"On the contrary," replied Leonard. "Stockbrokers never make money. Not a penny. They always die in the workhouse."

"Oh--oh--how eggstrawdinary that is.... Can you explain it to me?"

"Well, you can take it from me," said Leonard. And she did. Stockbrokers and doctors being thus thrust beyond the pale, she tried soldiers, clergymen, barristers ... imagining herself the wife of each in turn. But all, it seemed, were not only unsuitable but impossible; soldiers were slaves, clergymen's inhibitions invariably landed them in lunatic asylums, barristers, being always corrupt, finished up in gaol.

"Sailors, then," whispered Miss Dancey, a trifle discouraged. "Such breezy, healthy darlings, sailors...."

"On the contrary," said Leonard. "I can[Pg 97] always see in a sailor's eye that introspective, scarcely sane look that tells of a life spent within unnaturally narrow limits. Show me a sailor and I'll show you a potential homicidal hysteric."

"Oh Lord," said a voice near them.

Leonard looked round, annoyed, to see who this might be that so impertinently appealed from his authority to a Higher Power. He saw Mr. Hospice, S.S. Meritoria's third officer, pausing in a walk round the deck with some unknown fellow-homicidal-hysteric of minor rank.

"Oh--oh--Mr. Hospice," said Miss Dancey. "I'm learning such a lot of new things." (There had been a difference of opinion among the passengers as to whether Miss Dancey ever intended sarcasm. Fortunately for her popularity, however, it was finally proved that she never did.)

"Thplendid," said Mr. Hospice. "Thorry I interrupted. I couldn't help overhearing Mithter Lumley'th latht remark, and it thurpriithed me rather. Thorry." And he and his friend strode away down the deck.

Mr. Lumley, who whole-heartedly despised the thin undersized third officer, was beginning to tell Miss Dancey how perfect an example was this Hospice of all the Lumley theories--when--something happened.[Pg 98]

Really, for the first two or three minutes, the passengers could hardly tell what had happened. It was like an earthquake reversed--a sort of lurch from regular movement into stillness. It had the same deeply disturbing effect on the nerves as has an earthquake--gave feet that had learned to trust their foothold, a sense of betrayal. The ship, after a futile churning of propellers, was motionless, but listed very slightly. Passengers streamed out of the smoking-room, to ask Leonard what had happened.

The moonlight, which had long been exhibiting a silver panorama of sea to no audience, now attracted general attention. Everybody crowded to the rail, trying, with anxious gimlet eyes, to bore through the curiously substantial silvered air. Every one expected to see--what? A rock? A whale? Some unthinkable menace? Something, at any rate, to write to one's horrified family about from Colombo. Perhaps, even, something that would get into the papers and enable them all to be called Survivors. But there was nothing to be seen except calm sea and, a mile or so away--by the very keen-sighted--very low unobtrusive land.

"Don't look over the rail," rang Leonard's commanding voice. "In danger, the best thing is not to know the worst. Now I propose we all[Pg 99] sit down on the deck and play some silly game like Old Maid or something. Better than singing Nearer My God to Thee, what?"

"Oh--oh," quavered Miss Dancey. "Then there really is danger?"

"Who's got playing-cards on the spot?" asked Leonard. "Hi, don't go mooning over the rail there, I tell you. Turn your eyes inboard, everybody, and remember you're English."

"Oh--oh--is there anything very terrible to be seen over the rail?" asked Miss Dancey hoarsely.

"Cards--cards--cards," called Leonard gaily.

"Yipp-i-yaddy," echoed Mr. Hospice, appearing from the direction of the bridge. "We're aground."

"Don't make such a fuss, man," said Leonard sharply. "You--an officer--ought to know better than to frighten the ladies like that. But we're not going to be frightened, are we," he added, looking lovingly at his flock--of which Miss Dancey was the bell-wether--, "Not a bit frightened. We're going to play Old Maid sitting on the deck. What a lark!"

"Oh, for the Lord'th thake, don't be tho dam brave," said Mr. Hospice in a low voice. He added more loudly. "We're aground--on[Pg 100] thand--till high tide to-morrow morning. No danger whatever."

Only a dread of being ridiculous restrained Leonard from strangling Mr. Hospice on the spot. For, unfortunately for the landsman, words spoken from above the brassy buttons of a uniform had a completely soothing effect on the listeners. Nobody even dreamed of playing Old Maid. Everybody went back to interrupted bridge and poker. Everybody in due course went to bed and to sleep--though every one kept, as it were, one ear awake for the sound of a change in the ship's condition.

There was no change. Promenaders before breakfast saw still the same sluggish sea, the same sullen low land. Even the jellyfish looked as if they had been there for generations. Leonard was, by the mercy of his gods, enabled to say at breakfast, "I told you so.... Off at high tide indeed.... Didn't I say that little shrimp of a third officer didn't know his job?"

Meeting Mr. Hospice on deck after breakfast, he said acidly, "In spite of your hopeful promise, Mr. Hospice, we're still aground."

"Why, by jove--tho we are!" exclaimed Mr. Hospice blithely.

Leonard had no shyness of asking captains questions. The bluff and buttony spotlessness of[Pg 101] captains imposed no humility on him. He felt himself the moral captain of every ship he travelled in. Actual captains were sometimes a little irritated by his assumption of a constant right to claim tête-à-tête with them, but Leonard never observed this irritation. The captain of the Meritoria admitted, a little fretfully, on being buttonholed by Leonard, that the ship of which they shared the command had taken a firmer seat on the sand than had at first been supposed. "It'll be a matter of shifting cargo," said the captain, as he abruptly took flight.

"It'll be a matter of shifting cargo," retailed Leonard to his flock on deck. "We shall be here--oh ... er ... well ... quite a time...."

"Oh--oh--quite a time?" echoed Miss Dancey. "What would happen if the sea got rough? The ship would break up. Like in Robinson Crusoe."

"On the contrary," said Leonard. "The waves would help to jerk us off--but that's a technical question and I won't go into it now. The--er--south-west typhoon isn't due at this time of year...." Even his hopeful ear detected a flaw in his omniscience here, so he changed the subject. "What do you all say to my suggesting to the captain that we passengers go ashore for[Pg 102] the day? Just to get out of the way while they're shifting cargo."

"It would be dam hot," said Bertie Briggs, a slightly mutinous male lamb of his flock, looking at the scarred, heat-dazzled line of land.

"On the contrary," said Leonard. "It would be far cooler than in the ship. I've spent years of my life in the tropics and you can take it from me that the way to keep cool in a hot climate is to keep out of whatever breeze there is. Directly I take over a house in India, I immediately scrap all punkahs and electric fans. Immediately. 'Take the beastly things away,' I say to the servants. 'I'm not going to sit and catch pneumonia under those fancy gadgets like a callow tourist....'"

A callow tourist! Every tourist within earshot shuddered, shocked at such an idea. For a tourist to behave like a tourist--how degrading! About twenty tourist passengers felt obliged to disprove their shameful touristhood by consenting to an expedition to the windless shore, if it could be arranged.

Leonard and Miss Dancey had some difficulty in finding the captain. "These sailors simply don't know their job," he said to her as they followed rumours of the captain all over the[Pg 103] ship. "Look at this so-called captain--gets his ship into a hole like this, and then disappears--can't be found, it seems, by any of his subordinates. Why, anything might happen--and yet nobody knows where to lay their hands on the man supposed to be responsible."

"Oh--oh--might anything happen?"

They finally ran the captain to earth in the chart room. "I'm afraid, Miss Dancey, I can't invite passengers to come and see me here--" he began, but Leonard managed, by talking in a very loud voice, to explain the object of their visit. The captain's attention was caught. "Well," he said, on a note of hope, "I can't think why you should want to go to a burnt-up hole like that, but if you do want to--far be it from me.... We shall probably spend the day shifting cargo and get off at high tide early to-morrow. You going too, little Miss Dancey? Well, ladies do certainly have some odd fancies. I'll send my third officer, Mr. Hospice, to undertake the expedition."

"Oh, I'll undertake the expedition all right, captain," said Leonard.

"God help it, I know you will," replied the captain with unexpected vigour. "Let's say, then, that Mr. Hospice will overtake the under-taker.... Ha-ha. He'll have the boat ready in[Pg 104] half an hour's time. I'm afraid I'm busy now. Good-bye. Enjoy yourselves."

"All ships' captains suffer from a superiority complex," said Leonard, looking a little ruffled as he helped Miss Dancey down the companion way. "They seem to think their authority is supreme."

"Oh--oh--so they do.... But isn't it--on board their own ship?"

"On the contrary. In these days of trades unions, the captain is the slave of the humblest stoker on board."

"Oh--oh--really? Then oughtn't we to have gone and asked the humblest stoker on board if we might...."

Really Miss Dancey was almost silly sometimes, thought Leonard.

However, as the boat, bristling with twenty passengers, was rowed to shore, he felt the joy of creation and domination--even though Mr. Hospice was ostensibly in charge--for certainly no other than Leonard Lumley had led out these bleating Israelites from their Egypt--had set the strong machinery of these rowing Lascars' arms in motion.

The most beautiful moment of the expedition was the moment of landing. As the wrinkled sea-bottom, sloping lightly upwards under blue[Pg 105] space, stopped being sea-bottom and became Arabia--as the keel of the boat gently grooved the ochre sand, it seemed to all the adventurers that they were about to do something wholly new for the first time. In marking that dazzling virgin beach with their feet, they would print some mystic and undreamt-of word on the only really blank page their eyes had ever rested on. One by one they jumped out of their boat, murmuring or shrilling their astonishment. The shore--the whole land as far as eye could see--seemed to be newly created by some brusque movement of the earth, like a great nut newly cracked in haphazard fragments. Jagged rocks lay lightly on the sand; nothing was embedded or rooted. The very vegetation was only laid on the sand's surface in the form of large round rolling transparencies of dried tangled shrub--like ogres' thistledowns--blown from their far roots by some dusty long-dead wind. The uncouth newly-broken rocks were sparsely scattered about the shore, were grouped into a crazy Stonehenge just above high-water mark, and, a little further inland still, were built into a long ridge which had acted as a kind of dam for the low-blown shifting sifting sand from the desert. The horizon, therefore, was very close. The Magnificent Infinities which Leonard had promised his flock[Pg 106] were shut away by this wave of rock and sand.

"Oh--oh--" cried Miss Dancey. "How eggstrawdinarily eggciting it all is. So dangerous-looking, kind of. I believe I saw a man's head behind that rock. I suppose this country is crammed with sheikhs."

"On the contrary," said Leonard. "You may take it from me that there isn't a living soul within three hundred miles."

As he spoke, a young dark boy, almost naked, stepped out from behind a rock where he had been hiding to watch the landing of the strangers.

"--Except, of course," added Leonard with some presence of mind, "a few fisher-families scattered along the coast."

"I suppose they're practically savages," said elderly Mrs. Wilkins, looking dubiously at the morose child.

"On the contrary. Like all simple peoples, they are extremely friendly. They haven't learned to distrust strangers." He held out his hand with a coin in it. The simple boy seized a rock and threw it at the group--fortunately unskilfully--before he ran away shouting something that, one feared, was an Arabian curse.

"Well, well," said Leonard, "boys will be boys all the world over. Now everybody--let's[Pg 107] enjoy ourselves.... Isn't it good to feel the solid earth under our feet again?"

"Yes and no," said Mr. Briggs rather impudently. "The solid earth is almost burning the soles off my shoes. If you'd told me what we were in for, I'd have brought a pair of stilts along. What's the next move?"

"My next move is into the shade of that pile of rocks," said Mrs. Wilkins, who was rather stout. "It must be cooler there."

"On the contrary...." But Leonard's flock, showing a disquieting independence, moved away from him as one lamb, towards the strip of red quivering shadow.

"We'd better have our cool drinkth now or never," said Mr. Hospice, who had been superintending two cross-looking stewards in the removal of several hampers into the shade. "The ithed lemonade'll be hot toddy thoon."

"I strongly disapprove of iced drinks in hot weather," began Leonard. "I have often----"

"Oh, thplendid," said Mr. Hospice. "Tho much the more for the retht of uth."

There was nothing for Leonard to do but to follow the party to the strip of shade. It was a narrow strip, growing narrower, and they were obliged to sit in a long row to enjoy it. The sand here certainly felt cool in contrast to the baked[Pg 108] shore. Mrs. Wilkins said, "Really, this is quite pleasant," in a tone of surprise.

"Yes and no," grumbled Mr. Briggs, for at that moment the flies discovered the party.

"I wonder how long we can thtick thith out," said Mr. Hospice cheerfully.

Nobody answered, but every one--even Leonard--silently wished that it would not seem ridiculous to leave Arabia after a visit of only nine minutes.

"Oh--oh--it's an adventure, anyway," said Miss Dancey.

"On the contrary. It is a popular fallacy that adventure is found in wild remote places like this. You can take it from me that there is more chance of adventure in the Strand, London, than in the whole of the Arabian desert."

His luck seemed to be out to-day, for as he finished speaking a startling adventure began happening to them, that certainly would have been unlikely in the Strand. A torrent of dirty and wild-looking men began streaming round from behind the ridge of rocks against which they sat. All were shouting--not apparently to anyone in particular--and each carried a naked dagger or a kind of a billhook. They came and stood in front of the long line of seated picnickers--and continued coming--more and[Pg 109] more of them--until the travellers' view of the sea was completely shut out. The heat and smell, within this human stockade, became almost unbearable.

"My hat," said Mr. Hospice, standing up. "Thethe beggarth don't look any too friendly."

"On the contrary," said Leonard, "they are no doubt friendly fisherfolk, inviting us to visit their village. I see evidences of native industries. Look at the coloured plaited leather round the hilts of their weapons."

"Look at their toes," said Bertie Briggs. "All eaten away."

Their feet were the easiest part of them to look at, since all the lookers were seated. To stand up against the overhanging boulders, one would have to stand almost nose to nose with the visitors.

"I don't want to look at anything," said Mrs. Wilkins. "I shall be sick in a minute."

Since Mr. Hospice was standing, the Arabs made the mistake of supposing that he was the travellers' mouthpiece, especially as he spoke a little Arabic. So Leonard sat back trying to smile subtly, like a general leaving the drudgery to his aide-de-camp.

"Well, well," said Mr. Hospice, after a long bellowing talk with the head man, who wore[Pg 110] red and sandy striped draperies." It theemth thethe beggarth want thome of our good money off uth. No leth than twenty poundth, in fact.

"Whatever for?" asked Mrs. Wilkins, letting go of her nose for the purpose.

"Well, thtrangely enough, for the privilege of going back on board."

"Oh--oh--are they brigands?" asked Miss Dancey.

"Thomething like it, I'm afraid. But we're perfectly thafe, really. Only I thuppothe there'th nothing for it but to pay up."

"On the contrary," began Leonard, but Mr. Briggs interrupted him, "Can't we knock some of 'em down and run for it? They've got no firearms."

"Oh--oh--don't talk like that.... I'm going to faint," cried Miss Dancey, and she certainly began to cant alarmingly towards Leonard's shoulder.

"I've got eight and sixpence," said a desiccated Major. Apart from this sum, no one had more than a shilling or so.

"Well, talk--talk, my dear fellow," said Leonard to Mr. Hospice. "Talk, to gain time while I think out a plan of action. Bargain with the brutes. Bargaining is the essence of Oriental business."[Pg 111]

"Very pothibly it ith," agreed Mr. Hospice. "I've been bargaining like hell. They athked forty firtht--they now conthent to take twenty. No amount of bargaining'll bring 'em down from twenty poundth to theventeen and thixpenthe--which ith all we've got."

"Let me talk to them," said Leonard, heaving himself to his feet among the crowding draperies of the Arabs. They began laughing coarsely, for some obscure reason expecting entertainment. "Now then, you scoundrels," he shouted authoritatively. But he stopped because a lean black hand darted forward and removed his pince-nez from his nose, snapping the little chain that tethered them to his bosom. "Here--I say--drop it--this is too much--this is robbery."

But the pince-nez were by now straddling a broad black nose at least twenty noses away from their owner's.

"Better rethign ourthelveth, I'm afraid," said Mr. Hospice. "They want me to go back to the ship and get the money, and I think I'd better, on the whole. You'll be quite thafe, ath long ath you don't annoy them. You're money to them."

"So damned ignominious," said Mr. Briggs.

But Leonard did not feel ignominious, though[Pg 112] his eyes, without their glasses, had rather a pink wincing look. "Yes, go back," he said haughtily, "and ask the captain from me to send a party of armed men--all the arms he has, and----"

But Mr. Hospice was hurrying down the beach to where the Lascars--all agog--were waiting in the boat.

"I'd like to see the captain's face when he gets my message," said Leonard, looking down his line of wilting followers. "He'll agree with me, of course, that an armed demonstration would be a better course than tamely paying up."

"Oh--oh--" wailed Miss Dancey. "But if these brigands see men with guns coming, they'll cut our throats--I'm sure of it. They've got us so squeezed up against this cliff."

"On the contrary," said Leonard. "We have a strategic position. An Englishman with his back to the wall is the toughest man to beat on God's earth, you can take it from me."

"Oh--oh--you're so brave.... I wish I was brave...."

"I wish I had a severe cold in the head," said Mrs. Wilkins.

Now that Mr. Hospice was gone, the robbers seemed to recognize Leonard's leadership, though in no very flattering way. They made him the[Pg 113] butt of their simple wit, as he stood among them, trying to trip him up with their sinuous black feet, pushing his hat over his nose, tweaking his coat, putting their hands in his pockets and even trying to pinch his ear. From above, a shaggy head looking over a split boulder--like holly on the top of a partly eaten plum pudding--was engaged in spitting assiduously down on to the captives. Leonard haughtily moved out of the range of this marksman.

"Better stand in the shade, Lumley," said the Major. "You're the only one of us without a topi or a sunshade."

"On the contrary," said Leonard grimly. "The topi is the cause of more cases of sunstroke than ... you can take it from me.... Oh, when is this blasted little sailor coming back? The inefficiency of sailors is simply--" He covered his burst of petulance with--"I'm longing to have a dozen armed, men behind me and put these damned niggers in their places.... Excuse my language, ladies."

"Oh--oh--you are so brave...."

"I can see a boat--no, two boats, leaving the ship now," said Mr. Briggs.

"Two boats--that means forty men," said Leonard. "I knew the captain would agree with me. Pay up, indeed--what nonsense!"[Pg 114] There was a pause and then Mr. Briggs said, "The boats are empty, except for Hospice and the men rowing."

"On the contrary," said Leonard, "the armed men are all crouching out of sight. Even Hospice would have too much sense to show his hand too soon."

"The two boats are separating now," continued Mr. Briggs. "One's going to land right away down the beach. Very mysterious."

"Not in the least," said Leonard. "They understood my suggestions perfectly. Lord, I wish I could get my glasses back so that I could see the fun."

But there was no fun to see. The two boats ran ashore about a hundred yards apart, and Mr. Hospice alone jumped out of the nearest one. Even the robbers listened as he began shouting. His voice reached his friends across the hot air with a brittle, almost microphonic sound. "I'm going to walk thlowly up the beach while you walk thlowly down to that further boat. I'll thet the pathe. You mutht all be thafe in the boat by the time I reach the niggerth."

"Must! Must!" exclaimed Leonard furiously. "What does he mean--must? Are we to trot about the beach at his orders like a flock of sheep? I shan't move a step."[Pg 115]

"Well, I shall," said the Major. "And I advise the ladies...."

But the ladies needed no advice; they were already gingerly filing between the bars of their living prison. A few robbers walked with them, shuffling along packed closely against their victims, treading on their heels, nudging their ribs, thrusting their chins into their back hair--meaning no harm but impelled to this almost lover-like contiguity by their naïve curiosity.

"Not too fatht," shrilled Mr. Hospice. "Keep all together, and watch me." He shouted in pidgin Arabic to the robbers. A group of them left the picnickers and started to meet him, but he at once retreated towards the boat. The Arabs, understanding the position, stood still, watching their victims receding, their reward approaching. Leonard stood sullenly against the rock, wondering what gesture of valour and authority remained to him to make.

"Oh--oh--Mr. Lumley," Miss Dancey called back. "Don't stay there by yourself.... You'll be killed."

"I must stand by Hospice," said Leonard. This idea occurred to him one second before he put it into words.

The retreat and approach, regulated to synchronize, were slow, but at last the picnickers[Pg 116] were safe in the boat and Mr. Hospice reached the robber group.

"Good Lord, Mithter Lumley--you thtill here? Why didn't you go with the otherth?"

"Because I'm a man and not a sheep."

Mr. Hospice said nothing; he was counting out money into the chief robber's hand. All the Arabs wanted to look at the money; they craned and tiptoed behind each other like excited children. Leonard stood outside the group, trying to keep his looks in keeping with his latest gesture--"Standing By a Fellow Man." The robbers, finding themselves all bowed by curiosity and avarice to one centre, suddenly awoke to the fact that in the messenger they had another hostage. Why not send Leonard back to the ship for another twenty pounds ransom? And then seize Leonard and send the sailor. What a delightfully easy way of making money, thought the simple fellows. Holding Mr. Hospice by every outlying fold in his clothes, they expounded their idea to him, pointing vigorously to Leonard. But just as Leonard was wondering what this (probably flattering) attention meant, Mr. Hospice, lithe as a fish, burst himself out of his clawed-at coat and kicked the robber chief in the stomach.

"Run for it, Lumley," he shrieked--and ran.[Pg 117]

Mr. Leonard Lumley's legs ran after him, bearing his reluctant body which still throbbed with the thought--"An Englishman never turns his back on danger." Luckily, his legs knew better. They had never run so fast since they had had the honour of carrying Leonard.

A few of the Arabs, rather half-heartedly, pursued the fugitives, but most of them at once relinquished their too-complex plan of seizing alternate hostages and earning ransom after ransom to infinity. They had had a remunerative morning's work, after all. Some of them came, shouting uncertainly, to the sea's edge, but Mr. Hospice and Leonard were being rowed swiftly away. The picnickers were already safe on board the Meritoria.

"I thought there'd be trouble," panted Leonard. "As it turned out, I was quite right to stay and back you up."

"Very noble of you, I'm thure."

"I can't imagine why you didn't bring back a few guns and men as I told you to."

"My dear thir, thothe bruteth would have cut all your throatth at the firtht shot. They had you penned up like pigth in a thtye. Twenty poundth for the lot of you wath only a pound a piethe, after all. Worth that, to get free without bloodshed. Tho the Thkipper thought, at leatht."[Pg 118]

"Pigs in a stye." Leonard was struck dumb by the outrageous description. What a detestable young man this was. He little knew that the kind Mr. Hospice was suppressing the captain's actual message--"Can't you arrange to pay up nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and eleven-pence--and let 'em keep that dam-fool Lumley?"

Leonard and Mr. Hospice, on the deck of the Meritoria, found themselves the centre of a frenzied group of ex-picnickers and their friends. "Oh--oh--OH--what an adventure."

"On the contrary--" began Leonard--but his world suddenly played him false. It wavered, whirled, slipped upward, crashed, as he fell flat on the deck in the midst of his flock. Before he became quite unconscious, he heard two voices--good and evil--like the voices described by poets as A Voice and Another Voice.

"Oh--oh--poor darling Mr. Lumley--he's been so wonderful...."

"Sunstroke. That's what comes of being such a----fool as not to wear a topi...."

"On the contrary," gargled Leonard--but he was obliged to reserve his retort for several days. And by that time it was not necessary, for Leonard's convalescence was brightened by the discovery that it was the intention of his flock to[Pg 119] present him with a solid silver cigarette-case, in recognition of his splendid behaviour and competent leadership in the hour of danger. Even Mr. Hospice was to be given a pair of enamel cuff-links.[Pg 120]

[Pg 121]

[Pg 122]


Constantine hopefully followed the Chinese servant through the unknown house. He felt hopeful of success in his plan of begging this Englishman for help, for he knew that an Englishman, alone among people of a different colour (as this Englishman was alone in this south China town), treated the helping of stray white men almost as part of the White Man's Burden. But even without this claim of one lonely white man upon another, Constantine would have felt hopeful. He knew himself to be a man of compelling manner in spite of his ugly, too long face, and his ugly, too short legs.

As Constantine stumped in on his hobnailed soles, Mr. White--who was evidently not a very tactful man--said, "Oh, are you another deserter from the Foreign Legion?"

"I am Constantine Andreievitch Soloviev," said Constantine, surprised. He spoke and understood English almost perfectly (his mother had been English) yet he could not remember[Pg 123] ever having heard the word another applied to himself. In fact it did not--could not possibly--so apply. There was only one of him, he knew.

Of course, in a way there was some sense in what this stupid Englishman said. Constantine had certainly been a légionnaire in Tonkin up till last Thursday-his narrow pipe--clayed helmet, stiff khaki greatcoat, shabby drill uniform, puttees, brass buttons, and inflexible boots were all the property of the French government. But the core--the pearl inside this vulgar, horny shell--was Constantine Andreievitch Soloviev. That made all the difference.

Constantine saw that he must take this Didymus of an Englishman in hand at once and tell him a few exciting stories about his dangerous adventures between the Tonkin border and this Chinese city. Snakes, tigers, love-crazed Chinese princesses and brigands passed rapidly through his mind, and he chose the last, because he had previously planned several impressive things to do if he should be attacked by brigands. So now, though he had not actually met a brigand, those plans would come in useful. Constantine intended to write his autobiography some day when he should have married a rich wife and settled down. Not only did his actual life seem[Pg 124] to him a very rare one but, also, lives were so interesting to make up.

Constantine was a desert islander--a spiritual Robinson Crusoe. He made up everything himself and he wasted nothing. Robinson Crusoe was his favourite book--in fact, almost the only book he had ever read--and he was proud to be, like his hero, a desert islander. He actually preferred clothing his spirit in the skins of wild thoughts that had been the prey of his wits and sheltering it from the world's weather in a leaky hut of his brain's own contriving to enjoying the good tailoring and housing that dwellers on the mainland call experience and education. He enjoyed being barbarous, he enjoyed living alone on his island, accepting nothing, imitating nothing, believing nothing, adapting himself to nothing--implacably home-made. Even his tangible possessions were those of a marooned man rather than of a civilized citizen of this well-furnished world. At this moment his only luggage was a balalaika that he had made himself out of cigar boxes, and to this he sang songs of his own composition--very imperfect songs. He would not have claimed that either his songs or his instrument were better than the songs and instruments made by song-makers and balalaika-makers they were, however, much more rapturously hi[Pg 125] than any acquired music could have been and, indeed, in this as in almost all things, it simply never occurred to him to take rather than make. There was no mainland on the horizon of his desert island.

"I am not a beggar," said Constantine. "Until yesterday I had sixty piastres which I had saved by many sacrifices during my service in the Legion. But yesterday, passing through a dark forest of pines in the twilight, about twenty versts from here, I met----"

"You met a band of brigands," said Mr. White. "Yes, I know ... you all say that."

Constantine stared at him. He had not lived, a desert islander, in a crowded and over-civilized world without meeting many rebuffs, so this one did not surprise him--did not even offend him. On the contrary, for a minute he almost loved the uncompromising Mr. White, as a sportsman almost loves the chamois on a peculiarly inaccessible crag. This was a friend worth a good deal of trouble to secure, Constantine saw. He realized at once that the desert islander's line here was to discard the brigands and to discard noble independence.

"Very well then," said Constantine. "I did not meet brigands. I am a beggar. I started without a penny and I still have no penny. I hope[Pg 126] you will give me something. That is why I have come." He paused, drawing long pleased breaths through his large nose. This, he felt, was a distinctly self-made line of talk; it set him apart from all previous deserting légionnaires.

Mr. White evidently thought so too. He gave a short grunting laugh. "That's better," he said.

"These English," thought Constantine lovingly. "They are the next best thing to being originals, for they admire originals." "I like you, he added extravagantly, aloud. "I like the English. I am so glad I found an Englishman to beg of instead of an American--though an American would have been much richer than you are, I expect. Still, to a beggar a little is enough. I dislike Americans; I dislike their women's wet finger-nails."

"Wet finger-nails?" exclaimed Mr. White. "Oh, you mean their manicure polishes. Yes ... they do always have wet finger-nails ... ha, ha ... so they do. I should never have thought of that myself."

"Of course not," said Constantine, genuinely surprised. "I thought of it. Why should you have thought of it?" After a moment he added, "I am not a gramophone."

Mr. White thought that he had said, "Have[Pg 127] you got a gramophone?" and replied at once with some pleasure, "Yes, I have--it is a very precious companion. Are you musical? But of course you are, being Russian. I should be very lonely without my daily ration of Chopin. Would you like some music while the servants are getting you something to eat?

"I should like some music," said Constantine, "but I should not like to hear a gramophone. I will play you some music--some unique and only music on a unique and only instrument."

"Thank you very much," said Mr. White, peering doubtfully through his glasses at the cigar-box balalaika. "What good English you speak," he added, trying to divert his guest's attention from his musical purpose. "But all Russians, of course, are wonderful linguists."

"I will play you my music," said Constantine. "But first I must tell you that I do not like you to say to me, 'Being Russian you are musical' or 'All Russians speak good English.' To me it seems so stupid to see me as one of many."

"Each one of us is one of many," sighed Mr. White patiently.

"You, perhaps--but I, not," said Constantine. "When you notice my English words instead[Pg 128] of my thoughts it seems to me that you are listening wrongly--you are listening to sounds only, in the same way as you listen to your senseless gramophone----"

"But you haven't heard my gramophone," interrupted Mr. White, stung on his darling's behalf.

"What does it matter what sounds a man makes--what words he uses? Words are common to all men; thoughts belong to one man only."

Mr. White considered telling his guest to go to hell, but he said instead, "You're quite a philosopher, aren't you?"

"I am not quite an anything," said Constantine abruptly. "I am me. All people who like Chopin also say, 'You're quite a philosopher.'"

"Now you're generalizing, yourself," said Mr. White, clinging to his good temper. "Exactly what you've just complained of my doing."

"Some people are general," said Constantine. "Now I will play you my music, and you will admit that it is not one of many musics."

He sang a song with Russian words which Mr. White did not understand. As a matter of fact, such was Constantine's horror of imitating, that the words of his song were just a list of the names of the diseases of horses, learned while[Pg 129] Constantine was a veterinary surgeon in the Ukraine. His voice was certainly peculiar to himself; it was hoarse--so hoarse that one felt as if a light cough or a discreet blowing of that long nose would clear the hoarseness away; it was veiled, as though heard from behind an intervening stillness; yet with all its hoarseness and insonorousness, it was flexible, alive, and exciting. His instrument had the same quality of quiet ugliness and oddity; it was almost enchanting. It was as if an animal--say, a goat--had found a way to control its voice into a crude goblin concord.

"That's my music," said Constantine. "Do you like it?"

"Frankly," said Mr. White, "I prefer Chopin."

"On the gramophone?"

"On the gramophone."

"Yet one is a thing you never heard before and will never hear again--and the other is a machine that makes the same sound for millions.

"I don't care."

Constantine chewed his upper lip for a minute, thinking this over. Then he shook himself. "Nevertheless, I like you," he said insolently. "You are almost a person. Would you like me to tell you about my life, or would you[Pg 130] rather I explained to you my idea about Zigzags?"

"I would rather see you eat a good meal," said Mr. White, roused to a certain cordiality--as almost all Anglo-Saxons are--by the opportunity of dispensing food and drink.

"I can tell you my Zigzag idea while I eat," said Constantine, leading the way towards the table at the other end of the room. "Are you not eating too?"

"I'm not in the habit of eating a meat meal at ten o'clock at night."

"Is 'not being in the habit' a reason for not doing it now?"

"To me it is."

"Oh--oh--oh--I wish I were like you," said Constantine vehemently. "It is so tiring being me--having no guide. I do like you."

"Help yourself to spinach," said Mr. White crossly.

"Now shall I tell you my Zigzag idea?"

"If you can eat as well as talk."

Constantine was exceedingly hungry; he bent low over his plate, though he sat sideways to the table, facing Mr. White, ready to launch a frontal attack of talk. His mouth was too full for a moment to allow him to begin to speak, but quick, agonized glances out of his black eyes implored[Pg 131] his host to be silent till his lips should be ready. "You know," he said, swallowing hurriedly, "I always think of a zigzag as going downwards. I draw it in the air, so ... a straight honest line, then--see--a diagonal subtle line cuts the air away from under it--so.... Do you see what I mean? I will call the zig a to, and the zag a from. Now----"

"Why is one of your legs fatter than the other?" asked Mr. White.

"It is bandaged. Now, I think of this zigzag as a diagram of human minds. Always human minds are zigs or zags--a to or a from--the brave zig is straight, so ... the cleverer, crueller zag cuts away below. So are men's----"

"But why is it bandaged?"

"It was kicked by a horse. Well, so are men's understandings. Here I draw the simple, faithful understanding--and here--zag--the easy, clever understanding that sees through the simple faith. Now below that--see--zig once more--the wise, the serene, and now a zag contradicts once more; this is the cynic who knows all answers to serenity. Then below, once more----"

"May I see your leg?" asked Mr. White. "I was in an ambulance unit during the war."

"Oh, what is this talk of legs?" cried Constantine. "Legs are all the same; they belong[Pg 132] to millions. All legs are made of blood and bone and muscle--all vulgar things. Your ambulance cuts off legs, mends legs, fits bones together, corks up blood. It treats men like bundles of bones and blood. This is so dull. Bodies are so dull. Minds are the only onliness in men."

"Yes," said Mr. White. "But minds have to have legs to walk about on. Let me see your leg."

"Very well, then, let us talk of legs. We have at least legs in common, you and I."

"Hadn't you got more sense than to put such a dirty rag round an open wound?"

"It is not dirty; it is simply of a grey colour. I washed it in a rice field." Constantine spoke in a muffled voice from somewhere near his knee-cap, for he was now bent double, whole-heartedly interested in his leg. "I washed the wound too, and three boils which are behind my knee. This blackness is not dirt; it is a blackness belonging to the injury."

Mr. White said nothing, but he rose to his feet as though he had heard a call. Constantine, leaving his puttee in limp coils about his foot like a dead snake, went on eating. He began to talk again about the zigzag while he stuffed food into his mouth, but he stopped talking soon, for Mr. White was walking up and down the long room[Pg 133] and not pretending to listen. Constantine, watching his host restively pacing the far end of the room, imagined that he himself perhaps smelled disagreeable, for this was a constant fear of his--that his body should play his rare personality this horrid trick. "What is the matter?" he asked anxiously, with a shamed look. "Why are you so far?"

Mr. White's lazy, mild manner was quite changed. His voice seemed to burst out of seething irritation. "It's a dam nuisance, just now. It couldn't happen at a worse time. I've a great deal of work to do--and this fighting all over the province makes a journey so dam----"

"What is so dam?" asked Constantine, his bewilderment affecting his English.

"I'll tell you what," said Mr. White, standing in front of Constantine with his feet wide apart and speaking in an angry voice. "You're going to bed now in my attic, and to-morrow at daylight you're going to be waked up and driven down in my car, by me (damn it!) to Lao-chow, to the hospital--a two days' drive--three hundred miles--over the worst roads you ever saw."

Constantine's heart gave a sickening lurch. "Why to hospital? You think my leg is dangerous?

"If I know anything of legs," said Mr.[Pg 134] White rather brutally, "the doctor won't let you keep that one an hour longer than he has to."

Constantine's mouth began instantly to tremble so much that he could scarcely speak. He thought, "I shall die--I shall die like this--of a stupid black leg--this valuable lonely me will die." He glared at Mr. White, hungry for consolation. "He isn't valuable--he's one of many ... of course he could easily be brave."

Mr. White, once more indolent and indifferent, led the little Russian to the attic and left him there. As soon as Constantine saw the white sheets neatly folded back, the pleasant blue rugs squarely set upon the floor, the open wardrobe fringed with hangers, he doubted whether, after all, he did value himself so very much. For in this neat room he felt betrayed by this body of his--this unwashed, unshaven, tired body, encased in coarse dirty clothes, propped on an offensive, festering leg. He decided to take all his clothes off, even though he had no other garment with him to put on; he would feel more appropriate to the shiny linen in his own shiny skin, he thought. He would have washed, but his attention was diverted as he pulled his clothes off by the wound on his leg. Though it was not very painful, it made him nearly sick with disgust now. Every nerve in his body seemed on tiptoe,[Pg 135] alert to feel agony, as he studied the wound. He saw that a new sore place was beginning, well above the knee. With only his shirt on, he rushed downstairs, and in at the only lighted doorway. "Look--look," he cried. "A new sore place.... Does this mean the danger is greater even than we thought?"

Mr. White, in neat blue-and-white pyjamas, was carefully pressing a tie in a tie-press. Constantine had never felt so far away from a human being in his life as he felt on seeing that tie-press, those pyjamas, those monogrammed silver brushes, that elastic apparatus for reducing exercises that hung upon the door.

"Oh, go to bed," said Mr. White irascibly. "For God's sake, show a little sense."

Constantine was back in his attic before he thought, "I ought to have said, 'For God's sake, show a little nonsense yourself.' Sense is so vulgar."

Sense, however, was to drive him three hundred miles to safety, next day.

All night the exhausted Constantine, sleeping only for a few minutes at a time, dreamed trivial, broken dreams about establishing his own superiority, finding, for instance, that he had after all managed to bring with him a suitcase full of clean, fashionable clothes, or noticing that his[Pg 136] host was wearing a filthy bandage round his neck instead of a tie.

Constantine was asleep when Mr. White, fully dressed, woke him next morning. A clear, steely light was slanting in at the window. Constantine was always fully conscious at the second of waking, and he was immediately horrified to see Mr. White looking expressionlessly at the disorderly heap of dirty clothes that he had thrown in disgust on the floor the night before. Trying to divert his host's attention, Constantine put on a merry and courageous manner. "Well, how is the weather for our motor-car jaunt?"

"It could hardly be worse," said Mr. White placidly. "Sheets of rain. God knows what the roads will be like."

"Well, we are lucky to have roads at all, in this benighted China."

"I don't know about that. If there weren't any roads we shouldn't be setting off on this beastly trip."

"I shall be ready in two jiffies," said Constantine, springing naked out of bed and shuffling his dreadful clothes out of Mr. White's sight. "But just tell me," he added as his host went through the door, "why do you drive three hundred miles on a horrible wet day just to take a perfect stranger--a beggar too--to hospital?"[Pg 137] (He thought, "Now he must say something showing that he recognizes my value.")

"Because I can't cut off your leg myself," said Mr. White gloomily. Constantine did not press his question because this new reference to the cutting off of legs set his nerves jangling again; his hands trembled so that he could scarcely button his clothes. Service in the Foreign Legion, though it was certainly no suitable adventure for a rare and sensitive man, had never obliged him to face anything more frightening than non-appreciation, coarse food, and stupid treatment. None of these things could humiliate him--on the contrary, all confirmed him in his persuasion of his own value. Only the thought of being at the mercy of his body could humiliate the excited and glowing spirit of Constantine. Death was the final, most loathsome triumph of the body; death meant dumbness and decay--yet even death he could have faced courageously could he have been flattered to its very brink.

The car, a ramshackle Ford, stood in the rain on the bald gravel of the compound, as Constantine, white with excitement, limped out through the front door. His limp, though not consciously assumed, had developed only since last night. His whole leg now felt dangerous, its[Pg 138] skin shrinking and tingling. Constantine looked into the car. In the back seat sat Mr. White's coolie, clasping a conspicuously neat little white canvas kit-bag with leather straps. The kit-bag held Constantine's eye and attacked his self-respect as the tie-press had attacked and haunted him the night before. Every one of his host's possessions was like a perfectly well-balanced, indisputable statement in a world of fevered conjecture. "And a camp-bed--so nicely rolled," said Constantine, leaning into the car, fascinated and humiliated. "But only one...."

"I have only one," said Mr. White.

"And you are bringing it--for me?" said Constantine, looking at him ardently, overjoyed at this tribute.

"I am bringing it for myself," said Mr. White with his unamused and short-sighted smile. "I am assuming that a légionnaire is used to sleeping rough. I'm not. I'm rather fixed in my habits and I have a horror of the arrangements in Chinese inns."

"He is morally brave," thought Constantine, though, for the first time, it occurred to him how satisfactory it would be to slap his host's face. "A man less brave would have changed his plans about the camp-bed at once and said, 'For you, my dear man, of course--why not?'"[Pg 139] Constantine chattered nervously as he took his seat in the car next to his host, the driver. "I feel such admiration for a man who can drive a motor-car. I adore the machine when it does not--like the gramophone--trespass on matters outside its sphere. This machine's sphere is space, you see--it controls space--and that is so adorable, for no non-machine except human thought can do that. And you control it. It is truly admirable--even when the machine is so very unimpressive as this one. Mr. White, your motor-car is very unimpressive indeed. Are you sure it will run three hundred miles?"

"It always seems to," said Mr. White. "I never do anything to it except pour petrol, oil, and water into the proper openings. I am completely unmechanical."

"You cannot be if you work a gramophone."

"You seem to have my gramophone on your mind. To me it doesn't answer the purpose of a machine--it simply is Chopin, to me."

Constantine stamped his foot in almost delighted irritation, for this made him feel a god beside this groundling. After a few minutes of self-satisfaction, however, a terrible thought invaded him. He became obsessed with an idea that he had left fleas in his bed in Mr. White's attic. That smug, immaculate Chinese servant would[Pg 140] see them when he made the bed, and on Mr. White's return would say, "That foreign soldier left fleas in our attic bed." How bitterly did Constantine wish that he had examined the bed carefully before leaving the room, or alternatively, that he could invent some elaborate lie that would prevent Mr. White from believing this revolting accusation. Constantine's mind, already racked with the fear of pain and death and with the agony of his impotence to impress his companion, became overcast with the hopelessness and remorselessness of everything. Everything despairing seemed a fact beyond dispute; everything hopeful, a mere dream. His growing certainty about the fleas, the persistence of the rain, combined with the leakiness of the car's side-curtains, the skiddiness of the road, the festering of his leg, the thought of the surgeon's saw, the perfection of that complacent kit-bag in the back seat, with the poor cigar-box balalaika tinkling beside it, the over-stability and over-rightness of his friend in need--there was not one sweet or flattering thought to which his poor trapped mind could turn.

The absurdly inadequate bullock-trail only just served the purpose of a road for the Ford. The wheels slid about, wrenching themselves from groove to groove. Constantine's comment[Pg 141] on the difficulties of the road was silenced by a polite request on the part of Mr. White. "I can't talk while I'm driving, if you don't mind. I'm not a good driver, and I need all my attention, especially on such a bad road."

"I will talk and you need not answer. That is my ideal plan of conversation. I will tell you why I joined the Foreign Legion. You must have been wondering about this. It will be a relief for me from my misfortunes, to talk."

"I'd rather not, if you don't mind," said his host serenely.

"Mean old horse," thought Constantine passionately, his heart contracting with offence. "It is so English to give away nothing but the bare, bald, stony fact of help--no decorations of graciousnesses and smilings. A Russian would be a much poorer helper, but a how much better friend."

The car ground on. Constantine turned over again and again in his mind the matter of the fleas. The wet ochre-and-green country of south China streamed unevenly past, the neat, complex shapes of rice fields altering, disintegrating and re-forming, like groups in a country dance. Abrupt horns of rock began piercing through the flat rain-Striped valley, and these, it seemed, were the heralds of a mountain range that barred the[Pg 142] path of the travellers, for soon cliffs towered above the road. A village which clung to a slope at the mouth of a gorge was occupied by soldiers. "This is where our troubles begin," said Mr. White peacefully. The soldiers were indolent, shabby, ineffectual-looking creatures, scarcely distinguishable from coolies, but their machine-guns, straddling mosquito-like about the forlorn village street, looked disagreeably wideawake and keen. Constantine felt as if his precious heart were the cynosure of all the machine-guns' waspish glances, as the car splashed between them.

"Is this safe?" he asked. "Motoring through a Chinese war?"

"Not particularly," smiled Mr. White. "But it's safer than neglecting that leg of yours."

Constantine uttered a small, shrill, nervous exclamation--half a curse. "Is a man nothing more than a leg to you?"

As he spoke, from one side of the gorge along which they were now driving, a rifle shot cracked, like the breaking of a taut wire. Its echoes were overtaken by the sputtering of more shots from a higher crag. Constantine had been tensely held for just such an attack on his courage as this--and yet he was not ready for it. His body moved instantly by itself, without consulting his self-respect; it flung its arms round Mr. White.[Pg 143] The car, thus immobilized at its source of energy, swerved, skidded, and stood still askew upon the trail. Constantine, sweating violently, recalled his pride and reassembled his sprawling arms. Mr. White said nothing, but he looked with a cold benevolence into Constantine's face and shook his head slightly. Then he started the car again and drove on in silence. There was no more firing.

"Oh, oh, I do wish you had been a little bit frightened too," said Constantine, clenching his fists. He was too much of a desert islander to deny his own fright, as a citizen of the tradition-ruled mainland might have denied it. Brave or afraid, Constantine was his own creation; he had made himself, he would stand or fall by this self that he had made. It was indeed, in a way, more interesting to have been afraid than to have been brave. Only, unfortunately, this exasperating benefactor of his did not think so.

The noon-light was scarcely brighter than the light of early morning. The unremitting rain slanted across the grey air. Trees, skies, valleys, mountains, seen through the rain-spotted windshield, were like a distorted, stippled landscape painted by a beginner who has not yet learned to wring living colour from his palette. However, sun or no sun, noontime it was at last, and Mr.[Pg 144] White, drawing his car conscientiously to the side of the bullock trail, as if a procession of Rolls Royces might be expected to pass, unpacked a neat jigsaw puzzle of a sandwich box.

"I brought a few caviare sandwiches for you," he said gently. "I know Russians like caviare."

"Are your sandwiches then made of Old England's Rosbif?" asked Constantine crossly, for it seemed to him that this man used nothing but collective nouns.

"No; of bloater paste."

They said nothing more but munched in a rather sullen silence. Constantine had lost his desire to tell Mr. White why he had joined the Foreign Legion--or to tell him anything else, for that matter. There was something about Mr. White that destroyed the excitement of telling ingenious lies--or even the common truth; and this something Constantine resented more and more, though he was uncertain how to define it. Mr. White leaned over the steering-wheel and covered his eyes with his hands, for driving tired him. The caviare, and his host's evident weariness, irritated Constantine more and more; these things seemed like a crude insistence on his increasing obligation. "I suppose you are tired of the very sight of me," he felt impelled to say bitterly.

"No, no," said Mr. White politely but indifferently.[Pg 145] "Don't worry about me. It'll all be the same a hundred years hence."

"Whether my leg is off or on--whether I die in agony or live--it will all be the same a hundred years hence, I suppose you would say," said Constantine, morbidly goading his companion into repeating this insult to the priceless mystery of personality.

"My good man, I can't do more than I am doing about your leg, can I?" said Mr. White irritably, as he restarted the car.

"A million times more--a million times more," thought Constantine hysterically, but with an effort he said nothing.

As the wet evening light smouldered to an ashen twilight, they drove into Mo-ming, which was to be their night's stopping-place. Outside the city wall they were stopped by soldiers; for Mourning was being defended against the enemy's advance. After twenty minutes' talk in the clanking Cantonese tongue, the two white men were allowed to go through the city gate on foot, leaving the Ford in a shed outside, in the care of Mr. White's coolie. Mr. White carried his beautiful little kit-bag and expected Constantine to carry the camp-bed.

"What--and leave my balalaika in the car?" protested Constantine childishly.[Pg 146]

"I think it would be safe," said Mr. White, only faintly ironic. "Hurry up. I must go at once and call on the general in charge here. I don't want to have my car commandeered."

Constantine limped along behind him, the camp-bed on one shoulder, the balalaika faintly tinkling under his arm. They found the inn in the centre of a tangle of looped, frayed, untidy streets--a box-like gaunt house, one corner of which was partly ruined, for the city had been bombarded that day. The inn, which could never have been a comfortable place, was wholly disorganized by its recent misfortune; most of the servants had fled, and the innkeeper was entirely engrossed in counting and piling up on the verandah his rescued possessions from the wrecked rooms. An impudent little boy, naked down to the waist--the only remaining servant--showed Mr. White and Constantine to the only room the inn could offer.

"One room between us?" cried Constantine, thinking of his shameful, possibly verminous, clothes and his unwashed body. He felt unable to bear the idea of unbuttoning even the greasy collar of his tunic within sight of that virgin-new kit-bag. Its luminous whiteness would seem in the night like triumphant civilization's eye fixed upon the barbarian--like the[Pg 147] smug beam of a lighthouse glowing from the mainland upon that uncouth obstruction, a desert island. "I'm not consistent," thought Constantine. "That's my trouble. I ought to be proud of being dirty. At least that is a home-made condition."

"Yes--one room between us," said Mr. White tartly. "We must do the best we can. You look after things here, will you, while I go and see the general and make the car safe."

Left alone, Constantine decided not to take off any clothes at all--even his coarse greatcoat--but to say that he had fever and needed all the warmth he could get. No sooner had he come to this decision than he felt convinced that he actually was feverish; his head and his injured leg ached and throbbed as though all the hot blood in his body had concentrated in those two regions, while ice seemed to settle round his heart and loins. The room was dreary and very sparsely furnished with an ugly, too high table and rigid chairs to match. The beds were simply recesses in the wall, draped with dirty mud-brown mosquito-veils. Constantine, however, stepped more bravely into this hard, matted coffin than he had into Mr. White's clean attic bed. As he lay down, his leg burned and throbbed more fiercely than ever, and he began to imagine[Pg 148] the amputation--the blood, the yawning of the flesh, the scraping of the saw upon the bone. His imagination did not supply an anæsthetic. Fever came upon him now in good earnest; he shook so much that his body seemed to jump like a fish upon the unyielding matting, he seemed to breathe in heat, without being able to melt the ice in his bones. Yet he remained artistically conscious all the time of his plight, and even exaggerated the shivering spasms of his limbs. He was quite pleased to think that Mr. White would presently return and find him in this condition, and so be obliged to be interested and compassionate. Yet as he heard Mr. White's heavy step on the stair, poor Constantine's eye fell on the fastidious white kit-bag, and he suddenly remembered all his fancies and fears about vermin and smells. By the time Mr. White was actually standing over him, Constantine was convinced that the deepest loathing was clearly shown on that superior, towering face.

"I can't help it--I can't help it," cried Constantine, between his chattering teeth.

Mr. White seemed to ignore the Russian's agitation. "I think the car'll be all right now," he said. "I left the coolie sleeping in it, to make sure. The general was quite civil and gave me a permit to get home; but it seems it's utterly[Pg 149] impossible for us to drive on to Lao-chow. Fighting on the road is particularly hot, and the bridges are all destroyed. The enemy have reached the opposite side of the river, and they've been bombarding the city all day. I told the general about your case; he suggests you go by river in a sampan down to Lao-chow to-morrow. You may be fired on just as you leave the city, but nothing to matter, I dare say. After that, you'd be all right--the river makes a stiff bend south here, and gets right away from the country they're fighting over. It would take you only about eighteen hours to Lao-chow, going down stream. I've already got a sampan for you.... Oh Lord, isn't this disgusting," he added, looking round the dreadful room and wrinkling his nose. "How I loathe this kind of thing."

"I can't help it. I can't help it." Constantine began first to moan and then to cry. He was by now in great pain, and he did not try to control his distress. It passed through his mind that crying was the last thing a stupid Englishman would expect of a légionnaire; so far so good, therefore--he was a desert islander even in his degradation. Yet he loathed himself; all his morbid fears of being offensive were upon him, and the unaccustomed exercise of crying, combined with the fever, nauseated him. Mr. White,[Pg 150] still wearing his expression of repugnance, came to his help, loosened that greasy collar, lent a handkerchief, ordered some refreshing hot Chinese tea.

"You should have known me in Odessa," gasped Constantine in an interval between his paroxysms. "Three of the prettiest women in the town were madly in love with me. You know me only at my worst."

Mr. White, soaking a folded silk handkerchief in cold water, before laying it on Constantine's burning forehead, did not answer. He unrolled the pillow from his camp-bed and put it under Constantine's head. As he did so, he recoiled a little, but after a second's hesitation, he pushed the immaculate little pillow into place with a heroic firmness.

"I wore only silk next the skin then," snuffled Constantine. The fever rose in a wave in his brain, and he shouted curses upon his cruelly perfect friend.

Mr. White lay only intermittently on his camp-bed that night. He was kept busy making use of his past experience as a member of an ambulance unit. Only at daylight he slept for an hour or so.

Constantine, awakened from a short sleep by the sound of firing outside, lay on his side and[Pg 151] watched Mr. White's relaxed, sleeping face. The fever had left Constantine, and he was now sunk in cold, limp depression and fear. Luckily, he thought, there was no need to stir, for certainly he could not be expected--a sick man--to set forth in a sampan through such dangers as the persistent firing suggested. At least in this inn he knew the worst, he thought wearily, and his companion knew the worst too. "I will not leave him," Constantine vowed, "until I have somehow cured him of these frightful memories of me--somehow amputated his memory of me...." He lay watching his companion's face--hating it--obscurely wishing that those eyes, which had seen the worst during this loathsome night, might remain for ever shut.

Mr. White woke up quite suddenly. "Good Lord!" he said, peering at his watch. "Nearly seven. I told the sampan man to be at the foot of the steps at daylight."

"Are you mad?" asked Constantine shrilly. "Listen to the firing--quite near. Besides--I'm a very sick man, as you should know by now. I couldn't even walk--much less dodge through a crowd of Chinese assassins."

Mr. White, faintly whistling Chopin, laboriously keeping his temper, left the room, and could presently be heard hee-hawing in the Chinese[Pg 152] language on the verandah to the hee-hawing innkeeper.

When he came back, he said, "The sampaneer's there, waiting--only too anxious to get away from the bombing they're expecting to-day. He's tied up only about a hundred yards away. You'll be beyond reach of the firing as soon as you're round the bend. Hurry up, man; the sooner you get down to hospital, and I get off on the road home, the better for us both."

Constantine, genuinely exhausted after his miserable night, did not speak, but lay with his eyes shut and his face obstinately turned to the wall. He certainly felt too ill to be brave or to face the crackling dangers of the battle-ridden streets, but he was conscious of no plan except a determination to be as obstructive as he could--to assert at least this ignoble power over his tyrant.

"Get up, you dam fool," shouted Mr. White, suddenly plucking the pillow from under the sick man's head, "or I'll drag you down to the river by the scruff of your dirty neck."

Dirty neck! Instantly Constantine sat up--hopeless now of curing this man's contempt, full of an almost unendurable craving to be far away from him--to wipe him from his horizon--to be allowed to imagine him dead. Invigorated by[Pg 153] this violent impulse, he rolled out of bed and sullenly watched Mr. White settle up with the innkeeper and take a few packages out of that revoltingly refined kit-bag.

"A small tin of water-biscuits," said Mr. White, almost apologetically, "and the remains of the bloater paste. It's all I have with me, but it ought to keep you alive till you get to Lao-chow to-morrow morning.... I'll see you down to the river first and then pick up these things." He spoke as if he were trying to make little neat plans still against this disorderly and unwonted background. He brushed his splashed coat with a silver clothes-brush, wearing the eagerly safe expression Constantine had seen on his face as he bent over the tie-press the night before last. The orderly man was trying to maintain his quiet impersonal self-respect amid surroundings that humiliated him. Even Constantine understood vaguely that his attacker was himself being attacked. "Well, I've done my best," added Mr. White, straightening his back after buckling the last strap of the kit-bag, and looking at Constantine with an ambiguous, almost appealing look.

They left the inn. The steep street that led down to the river between mean, barricaded shops was deserted. The air of it was outraged by[Pg 154] the whipping sound of rifle fire--echoes clanked sharply from wall to wall.

"It is not safe--it is not safe," muttered Constantine, suddenly standing rooted, feeling that his next step must bring him into the path of a bullet.

"It's safer than a gangrenous leg." With his great hand, Mr. White seized the little Russian's arm and dragged him almost gaily down the steps. Constantine was by now so hopelessly mired in humiliation that he did not even try to disguise his terror. He hung back like a rebellious child, but he was tweaked and twitched along, stumbling behind his rescuer. He was pressed into the little boat. "Here, take the biscuits--good-bye--good luck," shouted Mr. White, and a smile of real gaiety broke out at last upon his face. The strip of rainy air and water widened between the two friends.

"Strike him dead, God," said Constantine.

The smile did not fade at once from the Englishman's face, as his legs curiously crumpled into a kneeling position. He seemed trying to kneel on air; he clutched at his breast with one hand while the other hand still waved good-bye; he turned his alert, smiling face towards Constantine as though he were going to say again--"Good-bye--good luck." Then he fell, head[Pg 155] downward, on the steps, the bald crown of his head just dipping into the water. Mud was splashed over the coat he had brushed only five minutes before.

There was a loud outcry from the sampan man and his wife. They seemed to be calling Constantine's already riveted attention to the fallen man--still only twenty yards away; they seemed uncertain whether he would now let them row yet more quickly away, as they desired, or insist on returning to the help of his friend.

"Row on--row on," cried Constantine in Russian and, to show them what he meant, he snatched up a spare pole and tried to increase the speed of the boat as it swerved into the current. Spaces of water were broadening all about the desert islander--home on his desert island again at last. As Constantine swayed over the pole, he looked back over his shoulder and flaunted his head, afraid no more of the firing now that one blessed bullet had carried away unpardonable memory out of the brain of his friend.

The End[Pg 156]

[End of Hope Against Hope and Other Stories by Stella Benson]