IT was nearly bed-time and when they awoke next morning land would be in sight. Dr Macphail lit his pipe and, leaning over the rail, searched the heavens for the Southern Cross. After two years at the front and a wound that had taken longer to heal than it should, he was glad to settle down quietly at Apia for twelve months at least, and he felt already better for the journey. Since some of the passengers were leaving the ship next day at Pago-Pago they had had a little dance that evening and in his ears hammered still the harsh notes of the mechanical piano. But the deck was quiet at last. A little way off he saw his wife in a long chair talking with the Davidsons, and he strolled over to her. When he sat down under the light and took off his hat you saw that he had very red hair, with a bald patch on the crown, and the red, freckled skin which accompanies red hair; he was a man of forty, thin, with a pinched face, precise and rather pedantic; and he spoke with a Scots accent in a very low, quiet voice.
Between the Macphails and the Davidsons, who were missionaries, there had arisen the intimacy of shipboard, which is due to propinquity rather than to any community of taste. Their chief tie was the disapproval they shared of the men who spent their days and nights in the smoking-room playing poker or bridge and drinking. Mrs Macphail was not a little flattered to think that she and her husband were the only people on board with whom the Davidsons were willing to associate, and even the doctor, shy but no fool, half unconsciously acknowledged the compliment. It was only because he was of an argumentative mind that in their cabin at night he permitted himself to carp.
“Mrs Davidson was saying she didn’t know how they’d have got through the journey if it hadn’t been for us,” said Mrs Macphail, as she neatly brushed out her transformation. “She said we were really the only people on the ship they cared to know.”
“I shouldn’t have thought a missionary was such a big bug that he could afford to put on frills.”
“It’s not frills. I quite understand what she means. It wouldn’t have been very nice for the Davidsons to have to mix with all that rough lot in the smoking-room.”
“The founder of their religion wasn’t so exclusive,” said Dr Macphail with a chuckle.
“I’ve asked you over and over again not to joke about religion,” answered his wife. “I shouldn’t like to have a nature like yours, Alec. You never look for the best in people.”
He gave her a sidelong glance with his pale, blue eyes, but did not reply. After many years of married life he had learned that it was more conducive to peace to leave his wife with the last word. He was undressed before she was, and climbing into the upper bunk he settled down to read himself to sleep.
When he came on deck next morning they were close to land. He looked at it with greedy eyes. There was a thin strip of silver beach rising quickly to hills covered to the top with luxuriant vegetation. The coconut trees, thick and green, came nearly to the water’s edge, and among them you saw the grass houses of the Samoans; and here and there, gleaming white, a little church. Mrs Davidson came and stood beside him. She was dressed in black and wore round her neck a gold chain, from which dangled a small cross. She was a little woman, with brown, dull hair very elaborately arranged, and she had prominent blue eyes behind invisible pince-nez. Her face was long, like a sheep’s, but she gave no impression of foolishness, rather of extreme alertness; she had the quick movements of a bird. The most remarkable thing about her was her voice, high, metallic, and without inflection; it fell on the ear with a hard monotony, irritating to the nerves like the pitiless clamour of the pneumatic drill.
“This must seem like home to you,” said Dr Macphail, with his thin, difficult smile.
“Ours are low islands, you know, not like these. Coral. These are volcanic. We’ve got another ten days’ journey to reach them.”
“In these parts that’s almost like being in the next street at home,” said Dr Macphail facetiously.
“Well, that’s rather an exaggerated way of putting it, but one does look at distances differently in the South Seas. So far you’re right.”
Dr Macphail sighed faintly.
“I’m glad we’re not stationed here,” she went on. “They say this is a terribly difficult place to work in. The steamers’ touching makes the people unsettled; and then there’s the naval station; that’s bad for the natives. In our district we don’t have difficulties like that to contend with. There are one or two traders, of course, but we take care to make them behave, and if they don’t we make the place so hot for them they’re glad to go.”
Fixing the glasses on her nose she looked at the green island with a ruthless stare.
“It’s almost a hopeless task for the missionaries here. I can never be sufficiently thankful to God that we are at least spared that.”
Davidson’s district consisted of a group of islands to the North of Samoa; they were widely separated and he had frequently to go long distances by canoe. At these times his wife remained at their headquarters and managed the mission. Dr Macphail felt his heart sink when he considered the efficiency with which she certainly managed it. She spoke of the depravity of the natives in a voice which nothing could hush, but with a vehemently unctuous horror. Her sense of delicacy was singular. Early in their acquaintance she had said to him:
“You know, their marriage customs when we first settled in the islands were so shocking that I couldn’t possibly describe them to you. But I’ll tell Mrs Macphail and she’ll tell you.”
Then he had seen his wife and Mrs Davidson, their deck-chairs close together, in earnest conversation for about two hours. As he walked past them backwards and forwards for the sake of exercise, he had heard Mrs Davidson’s agitated whisper, like the distant flow of a mountain torrent, and he saw by his wife’s open mouth and pale face that she was enjoying an alarming experience. At night in their cabin she repeated to him with bated breath all she had heard.
“Well, what did I say to you?” cried Mrs Davidson, exultant, next morning. “Did you ever hear anything more dreadful? You don’t wonder that I couldn’t tell you myself, do you? Even though you are a doctor.”
Mrs Davidson scanned his face. She had a dramatic eagerness to see that she had achieved the desired effect.
“Can you wonder that when we first went there our hearts sank? You’ll hardly believe me when I tell you it was impossible to find a single good girl in any of the villages.”
She used the word good in a severely technical manner.
“Mr Davidson and I talked it over, and we made up our minds the first thing to do was to put down the dancing. The natives were crazy about dancing.”
“I was not averse to it myself when I was a young man,” said Dr Macphail.
“I guessed as much when I heard you ask Mrs Macphail to have a turn with you last night. I don’t think there’s any real harm if a man dances with his wife, but I was relieved that she wouldn’t. Under the circumstances I thought it better that we should keep ourselves to ourselves.”
“Under what circumstances?”
Mrs Davidson gave him a quick look through her pince-nez, but did not answer his question.
“But among white people it’s not quite the same,” she went on, “though I must say I agree with Mr Davidson, who says he can’t understand how a husband can stand by and see his wife in another man’s arms, and as far as I’m concerned I’ve never danced a step since I married. But the native dancing is quite another matter. It’s not only immoral in itself, but it distinctly leads to immorality. However, I’m thankful to God that we stamped it out, and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that no one has danced in our district for eight years.”
But now they came to the mouth of the harbour and Mrs Macphail joined them. The ship turned sharply and steamed slowly in. It was a great land-locked harbour big enough to hold a fleet of battleships; and all around it rose, high and steep, the green hills. Near the entrance, getting such breeze as blew from the sea, stood the governor’s house in a garden. The Stars and Stripes dangled languidly from a flagstaff. They passed two or three trim bungalows, and a tennis court, and then they came to the quay with its warehouses. Mrs Davidson pointed out the schooner, moored two or three hundred yards from the side, which was to take them to Apia. There was a crowd of eager, noisy, and good-humoured natives come from all parts of the island, some from curiosity, others to barter with the travellers on their way to Sydney; and they brought pineapples and huge bunches of bananas, tapa cloths, necklaces of shells or sharks’ teeth, kava-bowls, and models of war canoes. American sailors, neat and trim, clean-shaven and frank of face, sauntered among them, and there was a little group of officials. While their luggage was being landed the Macphails and Mrs Davidson watched the crowd. Dr Macphail looked at the yaws from which most of the children and the young boys seemed to suffer, disfiguring sores like torpid ulcers, and his professional eyes glistened when he saw for the first time in his experience cases of elephantiasis, men going about with a huge, heavy arm or dragging along a grossly disfigured leg. Men and women wore the lava-lava.
“It’s a very indecent costume,” said Mrs Davidson. “Mr Davidson thinks it should be prohibited by law. How can you expect people to be moral when they wear nothing but a strip of red cotton round their loins?”
“It’s suitable enough to the climate,” said the doctor, wiping the sweat off his head.
Now that they were on land the heat, though it was so early in the morning, was already oppressive. Closed in by its hills, not a breath of air came in to Pago-Pago.
“In our islands,” Mrs Davidson went on in her high-pitched tones, “we’ve practically eradicated the lava-lava. A few old men still continue to wear it, but that’s all. The women have all taken to the Mother Hubbard, and the men wear trousers and singlets. At the very beginning of our stay Mr Davidson said in one of his reports: the inhabitants of these islands will never be thoroughly Christianised till every boy of more than ten years is made to wear a pair of trousers.”
But Mrs Davidson had given two or three of her birdlike glances at heavy grey clouds that came floating over the mouth of the harbour. A few drops began to fall.
“We’d better take shelter,” she said.
They made their way with all the crowd to a great shed of corrugated iron, and the rain began to fall in torrents. They stood there for some time and then were joined by Mr Davidson. He had been polite enough to the Macphails during the journey, but he had not his wife’s sociability, and had spent much of his time reading. He was a silent, rather sullen man, and you felt that his affability was a duty that he imposed upon himself Christianly; he was by nature reserved and even morose. His appearance was singular. He was very tall and thin, with long limbs loosely jointed; hollow cheeks and curiously high cheek-bones; he had so cadaverous an air that it surprised you to notice how full and sensual were his lips. He wore his hair very long. His dark eyes, set deep in their sockets, were large and tragic; and his hands with their big, long fingers, were finely shaped; they gave him a look of great strength. But the most striking thing about him was the feeling he gave you of suppressed fire. It was impressive and vaguely troubling. He was not a man with whom any intimacy was possible.
He brought now unwelcome news. There was an epidemic of measles, a serious and often fatal disease among the Kanakas, on the island, and a case had developed among the crew of the schooner which was to take them on their journey. The sick man had been brought ashore and put in hospital on the quarantine station, but telegraphic instructions had been sent from Apia to say that the schooner would not be allowed to enter the harbour till it was certain no other member of the crew was affected.
“It means we shall have to stay here for ten days at least.”
“But I’m urgently needed at Apia,” said Dr Macphail.
“That can’t be helped. If no more cases develop on board, the schooner will be allowed to sail with white passengers, but all native traffic is prohibited for three months.”
“Is there a hotel here?” asked Mrs Macphail.
Davidson gave a low chuckle.
“What shall we do then?”
“I’ve been talking to the governor. There’s a trader along the front who has rooms that he rents, and my proposition is that as soon as the rain lets up we should go along there and see what we can do. Don’t expect comfort. You’ve just got to be thankful if we get a bed to sleep on and a roof over our heads.”
But the rain showed no sign of stopping, and at length with umbrellas and waterproofs they set out. There was no town, but merely a group of official buildings, a store or two, and at the back, among the coconut trees and plantains, a few native dwellings. The house they sought was about five minutes’ walk from the wharf. It was a frame house of two storeys, with broad verandahs on both floors and a roof of corrugated iron. The owner was a half-caste named Horn, with a native wife surrounded by little brown children, and on the ground-floor he had a store where he sold canned goods and cottons. The rooms he showed them were almost bare of furniture. In the Macphails’ there was nothing but a poor, worn bed with a ragged mosquito net, a rickety chair, and a washstand. They looked round with dismay. The rain poured down without ceasing.
“I’m not going to unpack more than we actually need,” said Mrs Macphail.
Mrs Davidson came into the room as she was unlocking a portmanteau. She was very brisk and alert. The cheerless surroundings had no effect on her.
“If you’ll take my advice you’ll get a needle and cotton and start right in to mend the mosquito net,” she said, “or you’ll not be able to get a wink of sleep to-night.”
“Will they be very bad?” asked Dr Macphail.
“This is the season for them. When you’re asked to a party at Government House at Apia you’ll notice that all the ladies are given a pillow-slip to put their—their lower extremities in.”
“I wish the rain would stop for a moment,” said Mrs Macphail. “I could try to make the place comfortable with more heart if the sun were shining.”
“Oh, if you wait for that, you’ll wait a long time. Pago-Pago is about the rainiest place in the Pacific. You see, the hills, and that bay, they attract the water, and one expects rain at this time of year anyway.”
She looked from Macphail to his wife, standing helplessly in different parts of the room, like lost souls, and she pursed her lips. She saw that she must take them in hand. Feckless people like that made her impatient, but her hands itched to put everything in the order which came so naturally to her.
“Here, you give me a needle and cotton and I’ll mend that net of yours, while you go on with your unpacking. Dinner’s at one. Dr Macphail, you’d better go down to the wharf and see that your heavy luggage has been put in a dry place. You know what these natives are, they’re quite capable of storing it where the rain will beat in on it all the time.”
The doctor put on his waterproof again and went downstairs. At the door Mr Horn was standing in conversation with the quartermaster of the ship they had just arrived in and a second-class passenger whom Dr Macphail had seen several times on board. The quartermaster, a little, shrivelled man, extremely dirty, nodded to him as he passed.
“This is a bad job about the measles, doc,” he said. “I see you’ve fixed yourself up already.”
Dr Macphail thought he was rather familiar, but he was a timid man and he did not take offence easily.
“Yes, we’ve got a room upstairs.”
“Miss Thompson was sailing with you to Apia, so I’ve brought her along here.”
The quartermaster pointed with his thumb to the woman standing by his side. She was twenty-seven perhaps, plump, and in a coarse fashion pretty. She wore a white dress and a large white hat. Her fat calves in white cotton stockings bulged over the tops of long white boots in glacé kid. She gave Macphail an ingratiating smile.
“The feller’s tryin’ to soak me a dollar and a half a day for the meanest sized room,” she said in a hoarse voice.
“I tell you she’s a friend of mine, Jo,” said the quartermaster. “She can’t pay more than a dollar, and you’ve sure got to take her for that.”
The trader was fat and smooth and quietly smiling.
“Well, if you put it like that, Mr Swan, I’ll see what I can do about it. I’ll talk to Mrs Horn and if we think we can make a reduction we will.”
“Don’t try to pull that stuff with me,” said Miss Thompson. “We’ll settle this right now. You get a dollar a day for the room and not one bean more.”
Dr Macphail smiled. He admired the effrontery with which she bargained. He was the sort of man who always paid what he was asked. He preferred to be over-charged than to haggle. The trader sighed.
“Well, to oblige Mr Swan I’ll take it.”
“That’s the goods,” said Miss Thompson. “Come right in and have a shot of hooch. I’ve got some real good rye in that grip if you’ll bring it along, Mr Swan. You come along too, doctor.”
“Oh, I don’t think I will, thank you,” he answered. “I’m just going down to see that our luggage is all right.”
He stepped out into the rain. It swept in from the opening of the harbour in sheets and the opposite shore was all blurred. He passed two or three natives clad in nothing but the lava-lava, with huge umbrellas over them. They walked finely, with leisurely movements, very upright; and they smiled and greeted him in a strange tongue as they went by.
It was nearly dinner-time when he got back, and their meal was laid in the trader’s parlour. It was a room designed not to live in but for purposes of prestige, and it had a musty, melancholy air. A suite of stamped plush was arranged neatly round the walls, and from the middle of the ceiling, protected from the flies by yellow tissue paper, hung a gilt chandelier. Davidson did not come.
“I know he went to call on the governor,” said Mrs Davidson, “and I guess he’s kept him to dinner.”
A little native girl brought them a dish of Hamburger steak, and after a while the trader came up to see that they had everything they wanted.
“I see we have a fellow lodger, Mr Horn,” said Dr Macphail.
“She’s taken a room, that’s all,” answered the trader. “She’s getting her own board.”
He looked at the two ladies with an obsequious air.
“I put her downstairs so she shouldn’t be in the way. She won’t be any trouble to you.”
“Is it someone who was on the boat?” asked Mrs Macphail.
“Yes, ma’am, she was in the second cabin. She was going to Apia. She has a position as cashier waiting for her.”
When the trader was gone Macphail said:
“I shouldn’t think she’d find it exactly cheerful having her meals in her room.”
“If she was in the second cabin I guess she’d rather,” answered Mrs Davidson. “I don’t exactly know who it can be.”
“I happened to be there when the quartermaster brought her along. Her name’s Thompson.”
“It’s not the woman who was dancing with the quartermaster last night?” asked Mrs Davidson.
“That’s who it must be,” said Mrs Macphail. “I wondered at the time what she was. She looked rather fast to me.”
“Not good style at all,” said Mrs Davidson.
They began to talk of other things, and after dinner, tired with their early rise, they separated and slept. When they awoke, though the sky was still grey and the clouds hung low, it was not raining and they went for a walk on the high road which the Americans had built along the bay.
On their return they found that Davidson had just come in.
“We may be here for a fortnight,” he said irritably. “I’ve argued it out with the governor, but he says there is nothing to be done.”
“Mr Davidson’s just longing to get back to his work,” said his wife, with an anxious glance at him.
“We’ve been away for a year,” he said, walking up and down the verandah. “The mission has been in charge of native missionaries and I’m terribly nervous that they’ve let things slide. They’re good men, I’m not saying a word against them, God-fearing, devout, and truly Christian men—their Christianity would put many so-called Christians at home to the blush—but they’re pitifully lacking in energy. They can make a stand once, they can make a stand twice, but they can’t make a stand all the time. If you leave a mission in charge of a native missionary, no matter how trustworthy he seems, in course of time you’ll find he’s let abuses creep in.”
Mr Davidson stood still. With his tall, spare form, and his great eyes flashing out of his pale face, he was an impressive figure. His sincerity was obvious in the fire of his gestures and in his deep, ringing voice.
“I expect to have my work cut out for me. I shall act and I shall act promptly. If the tree is rotten it shall be cut down and cast into the flames.”
And in the evening after the high tea which was their last meal, while they sat in the stiff parlour, the ladies working and Dr Macphail smoking his pipe, the missionary told them of his work in the islands.
“When we went there they had no sense of sin at all,” he said. “They broke the commandments one after the other and never knew they were doing wrong. And I think that was the most difficult part of my work, to instil into the natives the sense of sin.”
The Macphails knew already that Davidson had worked in the Solomons for five years before he met his wife. She had been a missionary in China, and they had become acquainted in Boston, where they were both spending part of their leave to attend a missionary congress. On their marriage they had been appointed to the islands in which they had laboured ever since.
In the course of all the conversations they had had with Mr Davidson one thing had shone out clearly and that was the man’s unflinching courage. He was a medical missionary, and he was liable to be called at any time to one or other of the islands in the group. Even the whaleboat is not so very safe a conveyance in the stormy Pacific of the wet season, but often he would be sent for in a canoe, and then the danger was great. In cases of illness or accident he never hesitated. A dozen times he had spent the whole night baling for his life, and more than once Mrs Davidson had given him up for lost.
“I’d beg him not to go sometimes,” she said, “or at least to wait till the weather was more settled, but he’d never listen. He’s obstinate, and when he’s once made up his mind, nothing can move him.”
“How can I ask the natives to put their trust in the Lord if I am afraid to do so myself?” cried Davidson. “And I’m not, I’m not. They know that if they send for me in their trouble I’ll come if it’s humanly possible. And do you think the Lord is going to abandon me when I am on his business? The wind blows at his bidding and the waves toss and rage at his word.”
Dr Macphail was a timid man. He had never been able to get used to the hurtling of the shells over the trenches, and when he was operating in an advanced dressing-station the sweat poured from his brow and dimmed his spectacles in the effort he made to control his unsteady hand. He shuddered’ a little as he looked at the missionary.
“I wish I could say that I’ve never been afraid,” he said.
“I wish you could say that you believed in God,” retorted the other.
But for some reason, that evening the missionary’s thoughts travelled back to the early days he and his wife had spent on the islands.
“Sometimes Mrs Davidson and I would look at one another and the tears would stream down our cheeks. We worked without ceasing, day and night, and we seemed to make no progress. I don’t know what I should have done without her then. When I felt my heart sink, when I was very near despair, she gave me courage and hope.”
Mrs Davidson looked down at her work, and a slight colour rose to her thin cheeks. Her hands trembled a little. She did not trust herself to speak.
“We had no one to help us. We were alone, thousands of miles from any of our own people, surrounded by darkness. When I was broken and weary she would put her work aside and take the Bible and read to me till peace came and settled upon me like sleep upon the eyelids of a child, and when at last she closed the book she’d say: ‘We’ll save them in spite of themselves.’ And I felt strong again in the Lord, and I answered: ‘Yes, with God’s help I’ll save them. I must save them.'”
He came over to the table and stood in front of it as though it were a lectern.
“You see, they were so naturally depraved that they couldn’t be brought to see their wickedness. We had to make sins out of what they thought were natural actions. We had to make it a sin, not only to commit adultery and to lie and thieve, but to expose their bodies, and to dance and not to come to church. I made it a sin for a girl to show her bosom and a sin for a man not to wear trousers.”
“How?” asked Dr Macphail, not without surprise.
“I instituted fines. Obviously the only way to make people realise that an action is sinful is to punish them if they commit it. I fined them if they didn’t come to church, and I fined them if they danced. I fined them if they were improperly dressed. I had a tariff, and every sin had to be paid for either in money or work. And at last I made them understand.”
“But did they never refuse to pay?”
“How could they?” asked the missionary.
“It would be a brave man who tried to stand up against Mr Davidson,” said his wife, tightening her lips.
Dr Macphail looked at Davidson with troubled eyes. What he heard shocked him, but he hesitated to express his disapproval.
“You must remember that in the last resort I could expel them from their church membership.”
“Did they mind that?”
Davidson smiled a little and gently rubbed his hands.
“They couldn’t sell their copra. When the men fished they got no share of the catch. It meant something very like starvation. Yes, they minded quite a lot.”
“Tell him about Fred Ohlson,” said Mrs Davidson.
The missionary fixed his fiery eyes on Dr Macphail.
“Fred Ohlson was a Danish trader who had been in the islands a good many years. He was a pretty rich man as traders go and he wasn’t very pleased when we came. You see, he’d had things very much his own way. He paid the natives what he liked for their copra, and he paid in goods and whiskey. He had a native wife, but he was flagrantly unfaithful to her. He was a drunkard. I gave him a chance to mend his ways, but he wouldn’t take it. He laughed at me.”
Davidson’s voice fell to a deep bass as he said the last words, and he was silent for a minute or two. The silence was heavy with menace.
“In two years he was a ruined man. He’d lost everything he’d saved in a quarter of a century. I broke him, and at last he was forced to come to me like a beggar and beseech me to give him a passage back to Sydney.”
“I wish you could have seen him when he came to see Mr Davidson,” said the missionary’s wife. “He had been a fine, powerful man, with a lot of fat on him, and he had a great big voice, but now he was half the size, and he was shaking all over. He’d suddenly become an old man.”
With abstracted gaze Davidson looked out into the night. The rain was falling again.
Suddenly from below came a sound, and Davidson turned and looked questioningly at his wife. It was the sound of a gramophone, harsh and loud, wheezing out a syncopated tune.
“What’s that?” he asked.
Mrs Davidson fixed her pince-nez more firmly on her nose.
“One of the second-class passengers has a room in the house. I guess it comes from there.”
They listened in silence, and presently they heard the sound of dancing. Then the music stopped, and they heard the popping of corks and voices raised in animated conversation.
“I daresay she’s giving a farewell party to her friends on board,” said Dr Macphail. “The ship sails at twelve, doesn’t it?”
Davidson made no remark, but he looked at his watch.
“Are you ready?” he asked his wife.
She got up and folded her work.
“Yes, I guess I am,” she answered.
“It’s early to go to bed yet, isn’t it?” said the doctor.
“We have a good deal of reading to do,” explained Mrs Davidson. “Wherever we are, we read a chapter of the Bible before retiring for the night and we study it with the commentaries, you know, and discuss it thoroughly. It’s a wonderful training for the mind.”
The two couples bade one another good night. Dr and Mrs Macphail were left alone. For two or three minutes they did not speak.
“I think I’ll go and fetch the cards,” the doctor said at last.
Mrs Macphail looked at him doubtfully. Her conversation with the Davidsons had left her a little uneasy, but she did not like to say that she thought they had better not play cards when the Davidsons might come in at any moment. Dr Macphail brought them and she watched him, though with a vague sense of guilt, while he laid out his patience. Below the sound of revelry continued.
It was fine enough next day, and the Macphails, condemned to spend a fortnight of idleness at Pago-Pago, set about making the best of things. They went down to the quay and got out of their boxes a number of books. The doctor called on the chief surgeon of the naval hospital and went round the beds with him. They left cards on the governor. They passed Miss Thompson on the road. The doctor took off his hat, and she gave him a “Good morning, doc.,” in a loud, cheerful voice. She was dressed as on the day before, in a white frock, and her shiny white boots with their high heels, her fat legs bulging over the tops of them, were strange things on that exotic scene.
“I don’t think she’s very suitably dressed, I must say,” said Mrs Macphail. “She looks extremely common to me.”
When they got back to their house, she was on the verandah playing with one of the trader’s dark children.
“Say a word to her,” Dr Macphail whispered to his wife. “She’s all alone here, and it seems rather unkind to ignore her.”
Mrs Macphail was shy, but she was in the habit of doing what her husband bade her.
“I think we’re fellow lodgers here,” she said, rather foolishly.
“Terrible, ain’t it, bein’ cooped up in a one-horse burg like this?” answered Miss Thompson. “And they tell me I’m lucky to have gotten a room. I don’t see myself livin’ in a native house, and that’s what some have to do. I don’t know why they don’t have a hotel.”
They exchanged a few more words. Miss Thompson, loud-voiced and garrulous, was evidently quite willing to gossip, but Mrs Macphail had a poor stock of small talk and presently she said:
“Well, I think we must go upstairs.”
In the evening when they sat down to their high-tea Davidson on coming in said:
“I see that woman downstairs has a couple of sailors sitting there. I wonder how she’s gotten acquainted with them.”
“She can’t be very particular,” said Mrs Davidson.
They were all rather tired after the idle, aimless day.
“If there’s going to be a fortnight of this I don’t know what we shall feel like at the end of it,” said Dr Macphail.
“The only thing to do is to portion out the day to different activities,” answered the missionary. “I shall set aside a certain number of hours to study and a certain number to exercise, rain or fine—in the wet season you can’t afford to pay any attention to the rain—and a certain number to recreation.”
Dr Macphail looked at his companion with misgiving. Davidson’s programme oppressed him. They were eating Hamburger steak again. It seemed the only dish the cook knew how to make. Then below the gramophone began. Davidson started nervously when he heard it, but said nothing. Men’s voices floated up. Miss Thompson’s guests were joining in a well-known song and presently they heard her voice too, hoarse and loud. There was a good deal of shouting and laughing. The four people upstairs, trying to make conversation, listened despite themselves to the clink of glasses and the scrape of chairs. More people had evidently come. Miss Thompson was giving a party.
“I wonder how she gets them all in,” said Mrs Macphail, suddenly breaking into a medical conversation between the missionary and her husband.
It showed whither her thoughts were wandering. The twitch of Davidson’s face proved that, though he spoke of scientific things, his mind was busy in the same direction. Suddenly, while the doctor was giving some experience of practice on the Flanders front, rather prosily, he sprang to his feet with a cry.
“What’s the matter, Alfred?” asked Mrs Davidson.
“Of course! It never occurred to me. She’s out of Iwelei.”
“She can’t be.”
“She came on board at Honolulu. It’s obvious. And she’s carrying on her trade here. Here.”
He uttered the last word with a passion of indignation.
“What’s Iwelei?” asked Mrs Macphail.
He turned his gloomy eyes on her and his voice trembled with horror.
“The plague spot of Honolulu. The Red Light district. It was a blot on our civilisation.”
Iwelei was on the edge of the city. You went down side streets by the harbour, in the darkness, across a rickety bridge, till you came to a deserted road, all ruts and holes, and then suddenly you came out into the light. There was parking room for motors on each side of the road, and there were saloons, tawdry and bright, each one noisy with its mechanical piano, and there were barbers’ shops and tobacconists. There was a stir in the air and a sense of expectant gaiety. You turned down a narrow alley, either to the right or to the left, for the road divided Iwelei into two parts, and you found yourself in the district. There were rows of little bungalows, trim and neatly painted in green, and the pathway between them was broad and straight. It was laid out like a garden-city. In its respectable regularity, its order and spruceness, it gave an impression of sardonic horror; for never can the search for love have been so systematised and ordered. The pathways were lit by a rare lamp, but they would have been dark except for the lights that came from the open windows of the bungalows. Men wandered about, looking at the women who sat at their windows, reading or sewing, for the most part taking no notice of the passers-by; and like the women they were of all nationalities. There were Americans, sailors from the ships in port, enlisted men off the gunboats, sombrely drunk, and soldiers from the regiments, white and black, quartered on the island; there were Japanese, walking in twos and threes; Hawaiians, Chinese in long robes, and Filipinos in preposterous hats. They were silent and as it were oppressed. Desire is sad.
“It was the most crying scandal of the Pacific,” exclaimed Davidson vehemently. “The missionaries had been agitating against it for years, and at last the local press took it up. The police refused to stir. You know their argument. They say that vice is inevitable and consequently the best thing is to localise and control it. The truth is, they were paid. Paid. They were paid by the saloon-keepers, paid by the bullies, paid by the women themselves. At last they were forced to move.”
“I read about it in the papers that came on board in Honolulu,” said Dr Macphail.
“Iwelei, with its sin and shame, ceased to exist on the very day we arrived. The whole population was brought before the justices. I don’t know why I didn’t understand at once what that woman was.”
“Now you come to speak of it,” said Mrs Macphail, “I remember seeing her come on board only a few minutes before the boat sailed. I remember thinking at the time she was cutting it rather fine.”
“How dare she come here!” cried Davidson indignantly. “I’m not going to allow it.”
He strode towards the door.
“What are you going to do?” asked Macphail.
“What do you expect me to do? I’m going to stop it. I’m not going to have this house turned into—into….”
He sought for a word that should not offend the ladies’ ears. His eyes were flashing and his pale face was paler still in his emotion.
“It sounds as though there were three or four men down there,” said the doctor. “Don’t you think it’s rather rash to go in just now?”
The missionary gave him a contemptuous look and without a word flung out of the room.
“You know Mr Davidson very little if you think the fear of personal danger can stop him in the performance of his duty,” said his wife.
She sat with her hands nervously clasped, a spot of colour on her high cheek bones, listening to what was about to happen below. They all listened. They heard him clatter down the wooden stairs and throw open the door. The singing stopped suddenly, but the gramophone continued to bray out its vulgar tune. They heard Davidson’s voice and then the noise of something heavy falling. The music stopped. He had hurled the gramophone on the floor. Then again they heard Davidson’s voice, they could not make out the words, then Miss Thompson’s, loud and shrill, then a confused clamour as though several people were shouting together at the top of their lungs. Mrs Davidson gave a little gasp, and she clenched her hands more tightly. Dr Macphail looked uncertainly from her to his wife. He did not want to go down, but he wondered if they expected him to. Then there was something that sounded like a scuffle. The noise now was more distinct. It might be that Davidson was being thrown out of the room. The door was slammed. There was a moment’s silence and they heard Davidson come up the stairs again. He went to his room.
“I think I’ll go to him,” said Mrs Davidson.
She got up and went out.
“If you want me, just call,” said Mrs Macphail, and then when the other was gone: “I hope he isn’t hurt.”
“Why couldn’t he mind his own business?” said Dr Macphail.
They sat in silence for a minute or two and then they both started, for the gramophone began to play once more, defiantly, and mocking voices shouted hoarsely the words of an obscene song.
Next day Mrs Davidson was pale and tired. She complained of headache, and she looked old and wizened. She told Mrs Macphail that the missionary had not slept at all; he had passed the night in a state of frightful agitation and at five had got up and gone out. A glass of beer had been thrown over him and his clothes were stained and stinking. But a sombre fire glowed in Mrs Davidson’s eyes when she spoke of Miss Thompson.
“She’ll bitterly rue the day when she flouted Mr Davidson,” she said. “Mr Davidson has a wonderful heart and no one who is in trouble has ever gone to him without being comforted, but he has no mercy for sin, and when his righteous wrath is excited he’s terrible.”
“Why, what will he do?” asked Mrs Macphail.
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t stand in that creature’s shoes for anything in the world.”
Mrs Macphail shuddered. There was something positively alarming in the triumphant assurance of the little woman’s manner. They were going out together that morning, and they went down the stairs side by side. Miss Thompson’s door was open, and they saw her in a bedraggled dressing-gown, cooking something in a chafing-dish.
“Good morning,” she called. “Is Mr Davidson better this morning?”
They passed her in silence, with their noses in the air, as if she did not exist. They flushed, however, when she burst into a shout of derisive laughter. Mrs Davidson turned on her suddenly.
“Don’t you dare to speak to me,” she screamed. “If you insult me I shall have you turned out of here.”
“Say, did I ask Mr Davidson to visit with me?”
“Don’t answer her,” whispered Mrs Macphail hurriedly.
They walked on till they were out of earshot.
“She’s brazen, brazen,” burst from Mrs Davidson.
Her anger almost suffocated her.
And on their way home they met her strolling towards the quay. She had all her finery on. Her great white hat with its vulgar, showy flowers was an affront. She called out cheerily to them as she went by, and a couple of American sailors who were standing there grinned as the ladies set their faces to an icy stare. They got in just before the rain began to fall again.
“I guess she’ll get her fine clothes spoilt,” said Mrs Davidson with a bitter sneer.
Davidson did not come in till they were half way through dinner. He was wet through, but he would not change. He sat, morose and silent, refusing to eat more than a mouthful, and he stared at the slanting rain. When Mrs Davidson told him of their two encounters with Miss Thompson he did not answer. His deepening frown alone showed that he had heard.
“Don’t you think we ought to make Mr Horn turn her out of here?” asked Mrs Davidson. “We can’t allow her to insult us.”
“There doesn’t seem to be any other place for her to go,” said Macphail.
“She can live with one of the natives.”
“In weather like this a native hut must be a rather uncomfortable place to live in.”
“I lived in one for years,” said the missionary.
When the little native girl brought in the fried bananas which formed the sweet they had every day, Davidson turned to her.
“Ask Miss Thompson when it would be convenient for me to see her,” he said.
The girl nodded shyly and went out.
“What do you want to see her for, Alfred?” asked his wife.
“It’s my duty to see her. I won’t act till I’ve given her every chance.”
“You don’t know what she is. She’ll insult you.”
“Let her insult me. Let her spit on me. She has an immortal soul, and I must do all that is in my power to save it.”
Mrs Davidson’s ears rang still with the harlot’s mocking laughter.
“She’s gone too far.”
“Too far for the mercy of God?” His eyes lit up suddenly and his voice grew mellow and soft. “Never. The sinner may be deeper in sin than the depth of hell itself, but the love of the Lord Jesus can reach him still.”
The girl came back with the message.
“Miss Thompson’s compliments and as long as Rev. Davidson don’t come in business hours she’ll be glad to see him any time.”
The party received it in stony silence, and Dr Macphail quickly effaced from his lips the smile which had come upon them. He knew his wife would be vexed with him if he found Miss Thompson’s effrontery amusing.
They finished the meal in silence. When it was over the two ladies got up and took their work, Mrs Macphail was making another of the innumerable comforters which she had turned out since the beginning of the war, and the doctor lit his pipe. But Davidson remained in his chair and with abstracted eyes stared at the table. At last he got up and without a word went out of the room. They heard him go down and they heard Miss Thompson’s defiant “Come in” when he knocked at the door. He remained with her for an hour. And Dr Macphail watched the rain. It was beginning to get on his nerves. It was not like our soft English rain that drops gently on the earth; it was unmerciful and somehow terrible; you felt in it the malignancy of the primitive powers of nature. It did not pour, it flowed. It was like a deluge from heaven, and it rattled on the roof of corrugated iron with a steady persistence that was maddening. It seemed to have a fury of its own. And sometimes you felt that you must scream if it did not stop, and then suddenly you felt powerless, as though your bones had suddenly become soft; and you were miserable and hopeless.
Macphail turned his head when the missionary came back. The two women looked up.
“I’ve given her every chance. I have exhorted her to repent. She is an evil woman.”
He paused, and Dr Macphail saw his eyes darken and his pale face grow hard and stern.
“Now I shall take the whips with which the Lord Jesus drove the usurers and the money changers out of the Temple of the Most High.”
He walked up and down the room. His mouth was close set, and his black brows were frowning.
“If she fled to the uttermost parts of the earth I should pursue her.”
With a sudden movement he turned round and strode out of the room. They heard him go downstairs again.
“What is he going to do?” asked Mrs Macphail.
“I don’t know.” Mrs Davidson took off her pince-nez and wiped them. “When he is on the Lord’s work I never ask him questions.”
She sighed a little.
“What is the matter?”
“He’ll wear himself out. He doesn’t know what it is to spare himself.”
Dr Macphail learnt the first results of the missionary’s activity from the half-caste trader in whose house they lodged. He stopped the doctor when he passed the store and came out to speak to him on the stoop. His fat face was worried.
“The Rev. Davidson has been at me for letting Miss Thompson have a room here,” he said, “but I didn’t know what she was when I rented it to her. When people come and ask if I can rent them a room all I want to know is if they’ve the money to pay for it. And she paid me for hers a week in advance.”
Dr Macphail did not want to commit himself.
“When all’s said and done it’s your house. We’re very much obliged to you for taking us in at all.”
Horn looked at him doubtfully. He was not certain yet how definitely Macphail stood on the missionary’s side.
“The missionaries are in with one another,” he said, hesitatingly. “If they get it in for a trader he may just as well shut up his store and quit.”
“Did he want you to turn her out?”
“No, he said so long as she behaved herself he couldn’t ask me to do that. He said he wanted to be just to me. I promised she shouldn’t have no more visitors. I’ve just been and told her.”
“How did she take it?”
“She gave me Hell.”
The trader squirmed in his old ducks. He had found Miss Thompson a rough customer.
“Oh, well, I daresay she’ll get out. I don’t suppose she wants to stay here if she can’t have anyone in.”
“There’s nowhere she can go, only a native house, and no native’ll take her now, not now that the missionaries have got their knife in her.”
Dr Macphail looked at the falling rain.
“Well, I don’t suppose it’s any good waiting for it to clear up.”
In the evening when they sat in the parlour Davidson talked to them of his early days at college. He had had no means and had worked his way through by doing odd jobs during the vacations. There was silence downstairs. Miss Thompson was sitting in her little room alone. But suddenly the gramophone began to play. She had set it on in defiance, to cheat her loneliness, but there was no one to sing, and it had a melancholy note. It was like a cry for help. Davidson took no notice. He was in the middle of a long anecdote and without change of expression went on. The gramophone continued. Miss Thompson put on one reel after another. It looked as though the silence of the night were getting on her nerves. It was breathless and sultry. When the Macphails went to bed they could not sleep. They lay side by side with their eyes wide open, listening to the cruel singing of the mosquitoes outside their curtain.
“What’s that?” whispered Mrs Macphail at last.
They heard a voice, Davidson’s voice, through the wooden partition. It went on with a monotonous, earnest insistence. He was praying aloud. He was praying for the soul of Miss Thompson.
Two or three days went by. Now when they passed Miss Thompson on the road she did not greet them with ironic cordiality or smile; she passed with her nose in the air, a sulky look on her painted face, frowning, as though she did not see them. The trader told Macphail that she had tried to get lodging elsewhere, but had failed. In the evening she played through the various reels of her gramophone, but the pretence of mirth was obvious now. The ragtime had a cracked, heart-broken rhythm as though it were a one-step of despair. When she began to play on Sunday Davidson sent Horn to beg her to stop at once since it was the Lord’s day. The reel was taken off and the house was silent except for the steady pattering of the rain on the iron roof.
“I think she’s getting a bit worked up,” said the trader next day to Macphail. “She don’t know what Mr Davidson’s up to and it makes her scared.”
Macphail had caught a glimpse of her that morning and it struck him that her arrogant expression had changed. There was in her face a hunted look. The half-caste gave him a sidelong glance.
“I suppose you don’t know what Mr Davidson is doing about it?” he hazarded.
“No, I don’t.”
It was singular that Horn should ask him that question, for he also had the idea that the missionary was mysteriously at work. He had an impression that he was weaving a net around the woman, carefully, systematically, and suddenly, when everything was ready would pull the strings tight.
“He told me to tell her,” said the trader, “that if at any time she wanted him she only had to send and he’d come.”
“What did she say when you told her that?”
“She didn’t say nothing. I didn’t stop. I just said what he said I was to and then I beat it. I thought she might be going to start weepin’.”
“I have no doubt the loneliness is getting on her nerves,” said the doctor. “And the rain—that’s enough to make anyone jumpy,” he continued irritably. “Doesn’t it ever stop in this confounded place?”
“It goes on pretty steady in the rainy season. We have three hundred inches in the year. You see, it’s the shape of the bay. It seems to attract the rain from all over the Pacific.”
“Damn the shape of the bay,” said the doctor.
He scratched his mosquito bites. He felt very short-tempered. When the rain stopped and the sun shone, it was like a hothouse, seething, humid, sultry, breathless, and you had a strange feeling that everything was growing with a savage violence. The natives, blithe and childlike by reputation, seemed then, with their tattooing and their dyed hair, to have something sinister in their appearance; and when they pattered along at your heels with their naked feet you looked back instinctively. You felt they might at any moment come behind you swiftly and thrust a long knife between your shoulder blades. You could not tell what dark thoughts lurked behind their wide-set eyes. They had a little the look of ancient Egyptians painted on a temple wall, and there was about them the terror of what is immeasurably old.
The missionary came and went. He was busy, but the Macphails did not know what he was doing. Horn told the doctor that he saw the governor every day, and once Davidson mentioned him.
“He looks as if he had plenty of determination,” he said, “but when you come down to brass tacks he has no backbone.”
“I suppose that means he won’t do exactly what you want,” suggested the doctor facetiously.
The missionary did not smile.
“I want him to do what’s right. It shouldn’t be necessary to persuade a man to do that.”
“But there may be differences of opinion about what is right.”
“If a man had a gangrenous foot would you have patience with anyone who hesitated to amputate it?”
“Gangrene is a matter of fact.”
What Davidson had done soon appeared. The four of them had just finished their midday meal, and they had not yet separated for the siesta which the heat imposed on the ladies and on the doctor. Davidson had little patience with the slothful habit. The door was suddenly flung open and Miss Thompson came in. She looked round the room and then went up to Davidson.
“You low-down skunk, what have you been saying about me to the governor?”
She was spluttering with rage. There was a moment’s pause. Then the missionary drew forward a chair.
“Won’t you be seated, Miss Thompson? I’ve been hoping to have another talk with you.”
“You poor low-life bastard.”
She burst into a torrent of insult, foul and insolent. Davidson kept his grave eyes on her.
“I’m indifferent to the abuse you think fit to heap on me, Miss Thompson,” he said, “but I must beg you to remember that ladies are present.”
Tears by now were struggling with her anger. Her face was red and swollen as though she were choking.
“What has happened?” asked Dr Macphail.
“A feller’s just been in here and he says I gotter beat it on the next boat.”
Was there a gleam in the missionary’s eyes? His face remained impassive.
“You could hardly expect the governor to let you stay here under the circumstances.”
“You done it,” she shrieked. “You can’t kid me. You done it.”
“I don’t want to deceive you. I urged the governor to take the only possible step consistent with his obligations.”
“Why couldn’t you leave me be? I wasn’t doin’ you no harm.”
“You may be sure that if you had I should be the last man to resent it.”
“Do you think I want to stay on in this poor imitation of a burg? I don’t look no busher, do I?”
“In that case I don’t see what cause of complaint you have,” he answered.
She gave an inarticulate cry of rage and flung out of the room. There was a short silence.
“It’s a relief to know that the governor has acted at last,” said Davidson finally. “He’s a weak man and he shilly-shallied. He said she was only here for a fortnight anyway, and if she went on to Apia that was under British jurisdiction and had nothing to do with him.”
The missionary sprang to his feet and strode across the room.
“It’s terrible the way the men who are in authority seek to evade their responsibility. They speak as though evil that was out of sight ceased to be evil. The very existence of that woman is a scandal and it does not help matters to shift it to another of the islands. In the end I had to speak straight from the shoulder.”
Davidson’s brow lowered, and he protruded his firm chin. He looked fierce and determined.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Our mission is not entirely without influence at Washington. I pointed out to the governor that it wouldn’t do him any good if there was a complaint about the way he managed things here.”
“When has she got to go?” asked the doctor, after a pause.
“The San Francisco boat is due here from Sydney next Tuesday. She’s to sail on that.”
That was in five days’ time. It was next day, when he was coming back from the hospital where for want of something better to do Macphail spent most of his mornings, that the half-caste stopped him as he was going upstairs.
“Excuse me, Dr Macphail, Miss Thompson’s sick. Will you have a look at her.”
Horn led him to her room. She was sitting in a chair idly, neither reading nor sewing, staring in front of her. She wore her white dress and the large hat with the flowers on it. Macphail noticed that her skin was yellow and muddy under her powder, and her eyes were heavy.
“I’m sorry to hear you’re not well,” he said.
“Oh, I ain’t sick really. I just said that, because I just had to see you. I’ve got to clear on a boat that’s going to ‘Frisco.”
She looked at him and he saw that her eyes were suddenly startled. She opened and clenched her hands spasmodically. The trader stood at the door, listening.
“So I understand,” said the doctor.
She gave a little gulp.
“I guess it ain’t very convenient for me to go to ‘Frisco just now. I went to see the governor yesterday afternoon, but I couldn’t get to him. I saw the secretary, and he told me I’d got to take that boat and that was all there was to it. I just had to see the governor, so I waited outside his house this morning, and when he come out I spoke to him. He didn’t want to speak to me, I’ll say, but I wouldn’t let him shake me off, and at last he said he hadn’t no objection to my staying here till the next boat to Sydney if the Rev. Davidson will stand for it.”
She stopped and looked at Dr Macphail anxiously.
“I don’t know exactly what I can do,” he said.
“Well, I thought maybe you wouldn’t mind asking him. I swear to God I won’t start anything here if he’ll just only let me stay. I won’t go out of the house if that’ll suit him. It’s no more’n a fortnight.”
“I’ll ask him.”
“He won’t stand for it,” said Horn. “He’ll have you out on Tuesday, so you may as well make up your mind to it.”
“Tell him I can get work in Sydney, straight stuff, I mean. ‘Tain’t asking very much.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“And come and tell me right away, will you? I can’t set down to a thing till I get the dope one way or the other.”
It was not an errand that much pleased the doctor, and, characteristically perhaps, he went about it indirectly. He told his wife what Miss Thompson had said to him and asked her to speak to Mrs Davidson. The missionary’s attitude seemed rather arbitrary and it could do no harm if the girl were allowed to stay in Pago-Pago another fortnight. But he was not prepared for the result of his diplomacy. The missionary came to him straightway.
“Mrs Davidson tells me that Thompson has been speaking to you.”
Dr Macphail, thus directly tackled, had the shy man’s resentment at being forced out into the open. He felt his temper rising, and he flushed.
“I don’t see that it can make any difference if she goes to Sydney rather than to San Francisco, and so long as she promises to behave while she’s here it’s dashed hard to persecute her.”
The missionary fixed him with his stern eyes.
“Why is she unwilling to go back to San Francisco?”
“I didn’t enquire,” answered the doctor with some asperity. “And I think one does better to mind one’s own business.”
Perhaps it was not a very tactful answer.
“The governor has ordered her to be deported by the first boat that leaves the island. He’s only done his duty and I will not interfere. Her presence is a peril here.”
“I think you’re very harsh and tyrannical.”
The two ladies looked up at the doctor with some alarm, but they need not have feared a quarrel, for the missionary smiled gently.
“I’m terribly sorry you should think that of me, Dr Macphail. Believe me, my heart bleeds for that unfortunate woman, but I’m only trying to do my duty.”
The doctor made no answer. He looked out of the window sullenly. For once it was not raining and across the bay you saw nestling among the trees the huts of a native village.
“I think I’ll take advantage of the rain stopping to go out,” he said.
“Please don’t bear me malice because I can’t accede to your wish,” said Davidson, with a melancholy smile. “I respect you very much, doctor, and I should be sorry if you thought ill of me.”
“I have no doubt you have a sufficiently good opinion of yourself to bear mine with equanimity,” he retorted.
“That’s one on me,” chuckled Davidson.
When Dr Macphail, vexed with himself because he had been uncivil to no purpose, went downstairs, Miss Thompson was waiting for him with her door ajar.
“Well,” she said, “have you spoken to him?”
“Yes, I’m sorry, he won’t do anything,” he answered, not looking at her in his embarrassment.
But then he gave her a quick glance, for a sob broke from her. He saw that her face was white with fear. It gave him a shock of dismay. And suddenly he had an idea.
“But don’t give up hope yet. I think it’s a shame the way they’re treating you and I’m going to see the governor myself.”
He nodded. Her face brightened.
“Say, that’s real good of you. I’m sure he’ll let me stay if you speak for me. I just won’t do a thing I didn’t ought all the time I’m here.”
Dr Macphail hardly knew why he had made up his mind to appeal to the governor. He was perfectly indifferent to Miss Thompson’s affairs, but the missionary had irritated him, and with him temper was a smouldering thing. He found the governor at home. He was a large, handsome man, a sailor, with a grey toothbrush moustache; and he wore a spotless uniform of white drill.
“I’ve come to see you about a woman who’s lodging in the same house as we are,” he said. “Her name’s Thompson.”
“I guess I’ve heard nearly enough about her, Dr Macphail,” said the governor, smiling. “I’ve given her the order to get out next Tuesday and that’s all I can do.”
“I wanted to ask you if you couldn’t stretch a point and let her stay here till the boat comes in from San Francisco so that she can go to Sydney. I will guarantee her good behaviour.”
The governor continued to smile, but his eyes grew small and serious.
“I’d be very glad to oblige you, Dr Macphail, but I’ve given the order and it must stand.”
The doctor put the case as reasonably as he could, but now the governor ceased to smile at all. He listened sullenly, with averted gaze. Macphail saw that he was making no impression.
“I’m sorry to cause any lady inconvenience, but she’ll have to sail on Tuesday and that’s all there is to it.”
“But what difference can it make?”
“Pardon me, doctor, but I don’t feel called upon to explain my official actions except to the proper authorities.”
Macphail looked at him shrewdly. He remembered Davidson’s hint that he had used threats, and in the governor’s attitude he read a singular embarrassment.
“Davidson’s a damned busybody,” he said hotly.
“Between ourselves, Dr Macphail, I don’t say that I have formed a very favourable opinion of Mr Davidson, but I am bound to confess that he was within his rights in pointing out to me the danger that the presence of a woman of Miss Thompson’s character was to a place like this where a number of enlisted men are stationed among a native population.”
He got up and Dr Macphail was obliged to do so too.
“I must ask you to excuse me. I have an engagement. Please give my respects to Mrs Macphail.”
The doctor left him crest-fallen. He knew that Miss Thompson would be waiting for him, and unwilling to tell her himself that he had failed, he went into the house by the back door and sneaked up the stairs as though he had something to hide.
At supper he was silent and ill-at-ease, but the missionary was jovial and animated. Dr Macphail thought his eyes rested on him now and then with triumphant good-humour. It struck him suddenly that Davidson knew of his visit to the governor and of its ill success. But how on earth could he have heard of it? There was something sinister about the power of that man. After supper he saw Horn on the verandah and, as though to have a casual word with him, went out.
“She wants to know if you’ve seen the governor,” the trader whispered.
“Yes. He wouldn’t do anything. I’m awfully sorry, I can’t do anything more.”
“I knew he wouldn’t. They daren’t go against the missionaries.”
“What are you talking about?” said Davidson affably, coming out to join them.
“I was just saying there was no chance of your getting over to Apia for at least another week,” said the trader glibly.
He left them, and the two men returned into the parlour. Mr Davidson devoted one hour after each meal to recreation. Presently a timid knock was heard at the door.
“Come in,” said Mrs Davidson, in her sharp voice.
The door was not opened. She got up and opened it. They saw Miss Thompson standing at the threshold. But the change in her appearance was extraordinary. This was no longer the flaunting hussy who had jeered at them in the road, but a broken, frightened woman. Her hair, as a rule so elaborately arranged, was tumbling untidily over her neck. She wore bedroom slippers and a skirt and blouse. They were unfresh and bedraggled. She stood at the door with the tears streaming down her face and did not dare to enter.
“What do you want?” said Mrs Davidson harshly.
“May I speak to Mr Davidson?” she said in a choking voice.
The missionary rose and went towards her.
“Come right in, Miss Thompson,” he said in cordial tones. “What can I do for you?”
She entered the room.
“Say, I’m sorry for what I said to you the other day an’ for—for everythin’ else. I guess I was a bit lit up. I beg pardon.”
“Oh, it was nothing. I guess my back’s broad enough to bear a few hard words.”
She stepped towards him with a movement that was horribly cringing.
“You’ve got me beat. I’m all in. You won’t make me go back to ‘Frisco?”
His genial manner vanished and his voice grew on a sudden hard and stern.
“Why don’t you want to go back there?”
She cowered before him.
“I guess my people live there. I don’t want them to see me like this. I’ll go anywhere else you say.”
“Why don’t you want to go back to San Francisco?”
“I’ve told you.”
He leaned forward, staring at her, and his great, shining eyes seemed to try to bore into her soul. He gave a sudden gasp.
She screamed, and then she fell at his feet, clasping his legs.
“Don’t send me back there. I swear to you before God I’ll be a good woman. I’ll give all this up.”
She burst into a torrent of confused supplication and the tears coursed down her painted cheeks. He leaned over her and, lifting her face, forced her to look at him.
“Is that it, the penitentiary?”
“I beat it before they could get me,” she gasped. “If the bulls grab me it’s three years for mine.”
He let go his hold of her and she fell in a heap on the floor, sobbing bitterly. Dr Macphail stood up.
“This alters the whole thing,” he said. “You can’t make her go back when you know this. Give her another chance. She wants to turn over a new leaf.”
“I’m going to give her the finest chance she’s ever had. If she repents let her accept her punishment.”
She misunderstood the words and looked up. There was a gleam of hope in her heavy eyes.
“You’ll let me go?”
“No. You shall sail for San Francisco on Tuesday.”
She gave a groan of horror and then burst into low, hoarse shrieks which sounded hardly human, and she beat her head passionately on the ground. Dr Macphail sprang to her and lifted her up.
“Come on, you mustn’t do that. You’d better go to your room and lie down. I’ll get you something.”
He raised her to her feet and partly dragging her, partly carrying her, got her downstairs. He was furious with Mrs Davidson and with his wife because they made no effort to help. The half-caste was standing on the landing and with his assistance he managed to get her on the bed. She was moaning and crying. She was almost insensible. He gave her a hypodermic injection. He was hot and exhausted when he went upstairs again.
“I’ve got her to lie down.”
The two women and Davidson were in the same positions as when he had left them. They could not have moved or spoken since he went.
“I was waiting for you,” said Davidson, in a strange, distant voice. “I want you all to pray with me for the soul of our erring sister.”
He took the Bible off a shelf, and sat down at the table at which they had supped. It had not been cleared, and he pushed the tea-pot out of the way. In a powerful voice, resonant and deep, he read to them the chapter in which is narrated the meeting of Jesus Christ with the woman taken in adultery.
“Now kneel with me and let us pray for the soul of our dear sister, Sadie Thompson.”
He burst into a long, passionate prayer in which he implored God to have mercy on the sinful woman. Mrs Macphail and Mrs Davidson knelt with covered eyes. The doctor, taken by surprise, awkward and sheepish, knelt too. The missionary’s prayer had a savage eloquence. He was extraordinarily moved, and as he spoke the tears ran down his cheeks. Outside, the pitiless rain fell, fell steadily, with a fierce malignity that was all too human.
At last he stopped. He paused for a moment and said:
“We will now repeat the Lord’s prayer.”
They said it and then; following him, they rose from their knees. Mrs Davidson’s face was pale and restful. She was comforted and at peace, but the Macphails felt suddenly bashful. They did not know which way to look.
“I’ll just go down and see how she is now,” said Dr Macphail.
When he knocked at her door it was opened for him by Horn. Miss Thompson was in a rocking-chair, sobbing quietly.
“What are you doing there?” exclaimed Macphail. “I told you to lie down.”
“I can’t lie down. I want to see Mr Davidson.”
“My poor child, what do you think is the good of it? You’ll never move him.”
“He said he’d come if I sent for him.”
Macphail motioned to the trader.
“Go and fetch him.”
He waited with her in silence while the trader went upstairs. Davidson came in.
“Excuse me for asking you to come here,” she said, looking at him sombrely.
“I was expecting you to send for me. I knew the Lord would answer my prayer.”
They stared at one another for a moment and then she looked away. She kept her eyes averted when she spoke.
“I’ve been a bad woman. I want to repent.”
“Thank God! thank God! He has heard our prayers.”
He turned to the two men.
“Leave me alone with her. Tell Mrs Davidson that our prayers have been answered.”
They went out and closed the door behind them.
“Gee whizz,” said the trader.
That night Dr Macphail could not get to sleep till late, and when he heard the missionary come upstairs he looked at his watch. It was two o’clock. But even then he did not go to bed at once, for through the wooden partition that separated their rooms he heard him praying aloud, till he himself, exhausted, fell asleep.
When he saw him next morning he was surprised at his appearance. He was paler than ever, tired, but his eyes shone with an inhuman fire. It looked as though he were filled with an overwhelming joy.
“I want you to go down presently and see Sadie,” he said. “I can’t hope that her body is better, but her soul—her soul is transformed.”
The doctor was feeling wan and nervous.
“You were with her very late last night,” he said.
“Yes, she couldn’t bear to have me leave her.”
“You look as pleased as Punch,” the doctor said irritably.
Davidson’s eyes shone with ecstasy.
“A great mercy has been vouchsafed me. Last night I was privileged to bring a lost soul to the loving arms of Jesus.”
Miss Thompson was again in the rocking-chair. The bed had not been made. The room was in disorder. She had not troubled to dress herself, but wore a dirty dressing-gown, and her hair was tied in a sluttish knot. She had given her face a dab with a wet towel, but it was all swollen and creased with crying. She looked a drab.
She raised her eyes dully when the doctor came in. She was cowed and broken.
“Where’s Mr Davidson?” she asked.
“He’ll come presently if you want him,” answered Macphail acidly. “I came here to see how you were.”
“Oh, I guess I’m O. K. You needn’t worry about that.”
“Have you had anything to eat?”
“Horn brought me some coffee.”
She looked anxiously at the door.
“D’you think he’ll come down soon? I feel as if it wasn’t so terrible when he’s with me.”
“Are you still going on Tuesday?”
“Yes, he says I’ve got to go. Please tell him to come right along. You can’t do me any good. He’s the only one as can help me now.”
“Very well,” said Dr Macphail.
During the next three days the missionary spent almost all his time with Sadie Thompson. He joined the others only to have his meals. Dr Macphail noticed that he hardly ate.
“He’s wearing himself out,” said Mrs Davidson pitifully. “He’ll have a breakdown if he doesn’t take care, but he won’t spare himself.”
She herself was white and pale. She told Mrs Macphail that she had no sleep. When the missionary came upstairs from Miss Thompson he prayed till he was exhausted, but even then he did not sleep for long. After an hour or two he got up and dressed himself, and went for a tramp along the bay. He had strange dreams.
“This morning he told me that he’d been dreaming about the mountains of Nebraska,” said Mrs Davidson.
“That’s curious,” said Dr Macphail.
He remembered seeing them from the windows of the train when he crossed America. They were like huge mole-hills, rounded and smooth, and they rose from the plain abruptly. Dr Macphail remembered how it struck him that they were like a woman’s breasts.
Davidson’s restlessness was intolerable even to himself. But he was buoyed up by a wonderful exhilaration. He was tearing out by the roots the last vestiges of sin that lurked in the hidden corners of that poor woman’s heart. He read with her and prayed with her.
“It’s wonderful,” he said to them one day at supper. “It’s a true rebirth. Her soul, which was black as night, is now pure and white like the new-fallen snow. I am humble and afraid. Her remorse for all her sins is beautiful. I am not worthy to touch the hem of her garment.”
“Have you the heart to send her back to San Francisco?” said the doctor. “Three years in an American prison. I should have thought you might have saved her from that.”
“Ah, but don’t you see? It’s necessary. Do you think my heart doesn’t bleed for her? I love her as I love my wife and my sister. All the time that she is in prison I shall suffer all the pain that she suffers.”
“Bunkum,” cried the doctor impatiently.
“You don’t understand because you’re blind. She’s sinned, and she must suffer. I know what she’ll endure. She’ll be starved and tortured and humiliated. I want her to accept the punishment of man as a sacrifice to God. I want her to accept it joyfully. She has an opportunity which is offered to very few of us. God is very good and very merciful.”
Davidson’s voice trembled with excitement. He could hardly articulate the words that tumbled passionately from his lips.
“All day I pray with her and when I leave her I pray again, I pray with all my might and main, so that Jesus may grant her this great mercy. I want to put in her heart the passionate desire to be punished so that at the end, even if I offered to let her go, she would refuse. I want her to feel that the bitter punishment of prison is the thank-offering that she places at the feet of our Blessed Lord, who gave his life for her.”
The days passed slowly. The whole household, intent on the wretched, tortured woman downstairs, lived in a state of unnatural excitement. She was like a victim that was being prepared for the savage rites of a bloody idolatry. Her terror numbed her. She could not bear to let Davidson out of her sight; it was only when he was with her that she had courage, and she hung upon him with a slavish dependence. She cried a great deal, and she read the Bible, and prayed. Sometimes she was exhausted and apathetic. Then she did indeed look forward to her ordeal, for it seemed to offer an escape, direct and concrete, from the anguish she was enduring. She could not bear much longer the vague terrors which now assailed her. With her sins she had put aside all personal vanity, and she slopped about her room, unkempt and dishevelled, in her tawdry dressing-gown. She had not taken off her night-dress for four days, nor put on stockings. Her room was littered and untidy. Meanwhile the rain fell with a cruel persistence. You felt that the heavens must at last be empty of water, but still it poured down, straight and heavy, with a maddening iteration, on the iron roof. Everything was damp and clammy. There was mildew on the walls and on the boots that stood on the floor. Through the sleepless nights the mosquitoes droned their angry chant.
“If it would only stop raining for a single day it wouldn’t be so bad,” said Dr Macphail.
They all looked forward to the Tuesday when the boat for San Francisco was to arrive from Sydney. The strain was intolerable. So far as Dr Macphail was concerned, his pity and his resentment were alike extinguished by his desire to be rid of the unfortunate woman. The inevitable must be accepted. He felt he would breathe more freely when the ship had sailed. Sadie Thompson was to be escorted on board by a clerk in the governor’s office. This person called on the Monday evening and told Miss Thompson to be prepared at eleven in the morning. Davidson was with her.
“I’ll see that everything is ready. I mean to come on board with her myself.”
Miss Thompson did not speak.
When Dr Macphail blew out his candle and crawled cautiously under his mosquito curtains, he gave a sigh of relief.
“Well, thank God that’s over. By this time to-morrow she’ll be gone.”
“Mrs Davidson will be glad too. She says he’s wearing himself to a shadow,” said Mrs Macphail. “She’s a different woman.”
“Sadie. I should never have thought it possible. It makes one humble.”
Dr Macphail did not answer, and presently he fell asleep. He was tired out, and he slept more soundly than usual.
He was awakened in the morning by a hand placed on his arm, and, starting up, saw Horn by the side of his bed. The trader put his finger on his mouth to prevent any exclamation from Dr Macphail and beckoned to him to come. As a rule he wore shabby ducks, but now he was barefoot and wore only the lava-lava of the natives. He looked suddenly savage, and Dr Macphail, getting out of bed, saw that he was heavily tattooed. Horn made him a sign to come on to the verandah. Dr Macphail got out of bed and followed the trader out.
“Don’t make a noise,” he whispered. “You’re wanted. Put on a coat and some shoes. Quick.”
Dr Macphail’s first thought was that something had happened to Miss Thompson.
“What is it? Shall I bring my instruments?”
“Hurry, please, hurry.”
Dr Macphail crept back into the bedroom, put on a waterproof over his pyjamas, and a pair of rubber-soled shoes. He rejoined the trader, and together they tiptoed down the stairs. The door leading out to the road was open and at it were standing half a dozen natives.
“What is it?” repeated the doctor.
“Come along with me,” said Horn.
He walked out and the doctor followed him. The natives came after them in a little bunch. They crossed the road and came on to the beach. The doctor saw a group of natives standing round some object at the water’s edge. They hurried along, a couple of dozen yards perhaps, and the natives opened out as the doctor came up. The trader pushed him forwards. Then he saw, lying half in the water and half out, a dreadful object, the body of Davidson. Dr Macphail bent down—he was not a man to lose his head in an emergency—and turned the body over. The throat was cut from ear to ear, and in the right hand was still the razor with which the deed was done.
“He’s quite cold,” said the doctor. “He must have been dead some time.”
“One of the boys saw him lying there on his way to work just now and came and told me. Do you think he did it himself?”
“Yes. Someone ought to go for the police.”
Horn said something in the native tongue, and two youths started off.
“We must leave him here till they come,” said the doctor.
“They mustn’t take him into my house. I won’t have him in my house.”
“You’ll do what the authorities say,” replied the doctor sharply. “In point of fact I expect they’ll take him to the mortuary.”
They stood waiting where they were. The trader took a cigarette from a fold in his lava-lava and gave one to Dr Macphail. They smoked while they stared at the corpse. Dr Macphail could not understand.
“Why do you think he did it?” asked Horn.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. In a little while native police came along, under the charge of a marine, with a stretcher, and immediately afterwards a couple of naval officers and a naval doctor. They managed everything in a businesslike manner.
“What about the wife?” said one of the officers.
“Now that you’ve come I’ll go back to the house and get some things on. I’ll see that it’s broken to her. She’d better not see him till he’s been fixed up a little.”
“I guess that’s right,” said the naval doctor.
When Dr Macphail went back he found his wife nearly dressed.
“Mrs Davidson’s in a dreadful state about her husband,” she said to him as soon as he appeared. “He hasn’t been to bed all night. She heard him leave Miss Thompson’s room at two, but he went out. If he’s been walking about since then he’ll be absolutely dead.”
Dr Macphail told her what had happened and asked her to break the news to Mrs Davidson.
“But why did he do it?” she asked, horror-stricken.
“I don’t know.”
“But I can’t. I can’t.”
She gave him a frightened look and went out. He heard her go into Mrs Davidson’s room. He waited a minute to gather himself together and then began to shave and wash. When he was dressed he sat down on the bed and waited for his wife. At last she came.
“She wants to see him,” she said.
“They’ve taken him to the mortuary. We’d better go down with her. How did she take it?”
“I think she’s stunned. She didn’t cry. But she’s trembling like a leaf.”
“We’d better go at once.”
When they knocked at her door Mrs Davidson came out. She was very pale, but dry-eyed. To the doctor she seemed unnaturally composed. No word was exchanged, and they set out in silence down the road. When they arrived at the mortuary Mrs Davidson spoke.
“Let me go in and see him alone.”
They stood aside. A native opened a door for her and closed it behind her. They sat down and waited. One or two white men came and talked to them in undertones. Dr Macphail told them again what he knew of the tragedy. At last the door was quietly opened and Mrs Davidson came out. Silence fell upon them.
“I’m ready to go back now,” she said.
Her voice was hard and steady. Dr Macphail could not understand the look in her eyes. Her pale face was very stern. They walked back slowly, never saying a word, and at last they came round the bend on the other side of which stood their house. Mrs Davidson gave a gasp, and for a moment they stopped still. An incredible sound assaulted their ears. The gramophone which had been silent for so long was playing, playing ragtime loud and harsh.
“What’s that?” cried Mrs Macphail with horror.
“Let’s go on,” said Mrs Davidson.
They walked up the steps and entered the hall. Miss Thompson was standing at her door, chatting with a sailor. A sudden change had taken place in her. She was no longer the cowed drudge of the last days. She was dressed in all her finery, in her white dress, with the high shiny boots over which her fat legs bulged in their cotton stockings; her hair was elaborately arranged; and she wore that enormous hat covered with gaudy flowers. Her face was painted, her eyebrows were boldly black, and her lips were scarlet. She held herself erect. She was the flaunting quean that they had known at first. As they came in she broke into a loud, jeering laugh; and then, when Mrs Davidson involuntarily stopped, she collected the spittle in her mouth and spat. Mrs Davidson cowered back, and two red spots rose suddenly to her cheeks. Then, covering her face with her hands, she broke away and ran quickly up the stairs. Dr Macphail was outraged. He pushed past the woman into her room.
“What the devil are you doing?” he cried. “Stop that damned machine.”
He went up to it and tore the record off. She turned on him.
“Say, doc, you can that stuff with me. What the hell are you doin’ in my room?”
“What do you mean?” he cried. “What d’you mean?”
She gathered herself together. No one could describe the scorn of her expression or the contemptuous hatred she put into her answer.
“You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You’re all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!”
Dr Macphail gasped. He understood.