"That friend of yours."
"Oh, you know I am here looking for a friend," said Davidson hopefully. "Won't you tell me — "
"I've told you"
A mist seemed to roll away from before Davidson's eyes, disclosing something he could not believe.
"You can't mean it!" he cried. "He's not the man for it." But the last words came out in a faint voice. Mrs. Schomberg never moved her head the least bit. Davidson, after the shock which made him sit up, went slack all over.
"Heyst! Such a perfect gentleman!" he exclaimed weakly.
Mrs. Schomberg did not seem to have heard him. This startling fact did not tally somehow with the idea Davidson had of Heyst. He never talked of women, he never seemed to think of them, or to remember that they existed; and then all at once — like this! Running off with a casual orchestra girl!
"You might have knocked me down with a feather," Davidson told us some time afterwards.
By then he was taking an indulgent view of both the parties to that amazing transaction. First of all, on reflection, he was by no means certain that it prevented Heyst from being a perfect gentleman, as before. He confronted our open grins or quiet smiles with a serious round face. Heyst had taken the girl away to Samburan; and that was no joking matter. The loneliness, the ruins of the spot, had impressed Davidson's simple soul. They were incompatible with the frivolous comments of people who had not seen it. That black jetty, sticking out of the jungle into the empty sea; these roof-ridges of deserted houses peeping dismally above the long grass! Ough! The gigantic and funeral blackboard sign of the Tropical Belt Coal Company, still emerging from a wild growth of bushes like an inscription stuck above a grave figured by the tall heap of unsold coal at the shore end of the wharf, added to the general desolation.
Thus the sensitive Davidson. The girl must have been miserable indeed to follow such a strange man to such a spot. Heyst had, no doubt, told her the truth. He was a gentleman. But no words could do justice to the conditions of life on Samburan. A desert island was nothing to it. Moreover, when you were cast away on a desert island — why, you could not help yourself; but to expect a fiddle-playing girl out of an ambulant ladies' orchestra to remain content there for a day, for one single day, was inconceivable. She would be frightened at the first sight of it. She would scream.
The capacity for sympathy in these stout, placid men! Davidson was stirred to the depths; and it was easy to see that it was about Heyst that he was concerned. We asked him if he had passed that way lately.
"Oh, yes. I always do — about half a mile off."
"Seen anybody about?"
"No, not a soul. Not a shadow."
"Did you blow your whistle?"
"Blow the whistle? You think I would do such a thing?"
He rejected the mere possibility of such an unwarrantable intrusion. Wonderfully delicate fellow, Davidson!
"Well, but how do you know that they are there?" he was naturally asked.
Heyst had entrusted Mrs. Schomberg with a message for Davidson — a few lines in pencil on a scrap of crumpled paper. It was to the effect: that an unforeseen necessity was driving him away before the appointed time. He begged Davidson's indulgence for the apparent discourtesy. The woman of the house — meaning Mrs. Schomberg — would give him the facts, though unable to explain them, of course.
"What was there to explain?" wondered Davidson dubiously.
"He took a fancy to that fiddle-playing girl, and — "
"And she to him, apparently," I suggested.
"Wonderfully quick work," reflected Davidson. "What do you think will come of it?"
"Repentance, I should say. But how is it that Mrs. Schomberg has been selected for a confidante?"
For indeed a waxwork figure would have seemed more useful than that woman whom we all were accustomed to see sitting elevated above the two billiard-tables — without expression, without movement, without voice, without sight.
"Why, she helped the girl to bolt," said Davidson turning at me his innocent eyes, rounded by the state of constant amazement in which this affair had left him, like those shocks of terror or sorrow which sometimes leave their victim afflicted by nervous trembling. It looked as though he would never get over it.
"Mrs. Schomberg jerked Heyst's note, twisted like a pipe-light, into my lap while I sat there unsuspecting," Davidson went on. "Directly I had recovered my senses, I asked her what on earth she had to do with it that Heyst should leave it with her. And then, behaving like a painted image rather than a live woman, she whispered, just loud enough for me to hear:
"I helped them. I got her things together, tied them up in my own shawl, and threw them into the compound out of a back window. I did it."
"That woman that you would say hadn't the pluck to lift her little finger!" marvelled Davidson in his quiet, slightly panting voice. "What do you think of that?"
I thought she must have had some interest of her own to serve. She was too lifeless to be suspected of impulsive compassion. It was impossible to think that Heyst had bribed her. Whatever means he had, he had not the means to do that. Or could it be that she was moved by that disinterested passion for delivering a woman to a man which in respectable spheres is called matchmaking? — a highly irregular example of it!