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Chapter II

Chapter IChapter IIChapter IIIChapter IVChapter VChapter VI

For, pray, who was Heemskirk? You shall see at once how
unreasonable this dread of Heemskirk. . . . Certainly, his nature
was malevolent enough. That was obvious, directly you heard him
laugh. Nothing gives away more a man’s secret disposition than the
unguarded ring of his laugh. But, bless my soul! if we were to
start at every evil guffaw like a hare at every sound, we shouldn’t
be fit for anything but the solitude of a desert, or the seclusion
of a hermitage. And even there we should have to put up with the
unavoidable company of the devil.

However, the devil is a considerable personage, who has known
better days and has moved high up in the hierarchy of Celestial
Host; but in the hierarchy of mere earthly Dutchmen, Heemskirk,
whose early days could not have been very splendid, was merely a
naval officer forty years of age, of no particular connections or
ability to boast of. He was commanding the Neptun, a little
gunboat employed on dreary patrol duty up and down the Archipelago,
to look after the traders. Not a very exalted position truly. I
tell you, just a common middle-aged lieutenant of some twenty-five
years’ service and sure to be retired before long–that’s all.

He never bothered his head very much as to what was going on in the
Seven Isles group till he learned from some talk in Mintok or
Palembang, I suppose, that there was a pretty girl living there.
Curiosity, I presume, caused him to go poking around that way, and
then, after he had once seen Freya, he made a practice of calling
at the group whenever he found himself within half a day’s steaming
from it.

I don’t mean to say that Heemskirk was a typical Dutch naval
officer. I have seen enough of them not to fall into that absurd
mistake. He had a big, clean-shaven face; great flat, brown
cheeks, with a thin, hooked nose and a small, pursy mouth squeezed
in between. There were a few silver threads in his black hair, and
his unpleasant eyes were nearly black, too. He had a surly way of
casting side glances without moving his head, which was set low on
a short, round neck. A thick, round trunk in a dark undress jacket
with gold shoulder-straps, was sustained by a straddly pair of
thick, round legs, in white drill trousers. His round skull under
a white cap looked as if it were immensely thick too, but there
were brains enough in it to discover and take advantage maliciously
of poor old Nelson’s nervousness before everything that was
invested with the merest shred of authority.

Heemskirk would land on the point and perambulate silently every
part of the plantation as if the whole place belonged to him,
before her went to the house. On the verandah he would take the
best chair, and would stay for tiffin or dinner, just simply stay
on, without taking the trouble to invite himself by so much as a
word.

He ought to have been kicked, if only for his manner to Miss Freya.
Had he been a naked savage, armed with spears and poisoned arrows,
old Nelson (or Nielsen) would have gone for him with his bare
fists. But these gold shoulder-straps–Dutch shoulder-straps at
that–were enough to terrify the old fellow; so he let the beggar
treat him with heavy contempt, devour his daughter with his eyes,
and drink the best part of his little stock of wine.

I saw something of this, and on one occasion I tried to pass a
remark on the subject. It was pitiable to see the trouble in old
Nelson’s round eyes. At first he cried out that the lieutenant was
a good friend of his; a very good fellow. I went on staring at him
pretty hard, so that at last he faltered, and had to own that, of
course, Heemskirk was not a very genial person outwardly, but all
the same at bottom. . . .

“I haven’t yet met a genial Dutchman out here,” I interrupted.
“Geniality, after all, is not of much consequence, but don’t you
see–“

Nelson looked suddenly so frightened at what I was going to say
that I hadn’t the heart to go on. Of course, I was going to tell
him that the fellow was after his girl. That just describes it
exactly. What Heemskirk might have expected or what he thought he
could do, I don’t know. For all I can tell, he might have imagined
himself irresistible, or have taken Freya for what she was not, on
account of her lively, assured, unconstrained manner. But there it
is. He was after that girl. Nelson could see it well enough.
Only he preferred to ignore it. He did not want to be told of it.

“All I want is to live in peace and quietness with the Dutch
authorities,” he mumbled shamefacedly.

He was incurable. I was sorry for him, and I really think Miss
Freya was sorry for her father, too. She restrained herself for
his sake, and as everything she did she did it simply,
unaffectedly, and even good humouredly. No small effort that,
because in Heemskirk’s attentions there was an insolent touch of
scorn, hard to put up with. Dutchmen of that sort are over-bearing
to their inferiors, and that officer of the king looked upon old
Nelson and Freya as quite beneath him in every way.

I can’t say I felt sorry for Freya. She was not the sort of girl
to take anything tragically. One could feel for her and sympathise
with her difficulty, but she seemed equal to any situation. It was
rather admiration she extorted by her competent serenity. It was
only when Jasper and Heemskirk were together at the bungalow, as it
happened now and then, that she felt the strain, and even then it
was not for everybody to see. My eyes alone could detect a faint
shadow on the radiance of her personality. Once I could not help
saying to her appreciatively:

“Upon my word you are wonderful.”

She let it pass with a faint smile.

“The great thing is to prevent Jasper becoming unreasonable,” she
said; and I could see real concern lurking in the quiet depths of
her frank eyes gazing straight at me. “You will help to keep him
quiet, won’t you?”

“Of course, we must keep him quiet,” I declared, understanding very
well the nature of her anxiety. “He’s such a lunatic, too, when
he’s roused.”

“He is!” she assented, in a soft tone; for it was our joke to speak
of Jasper abusively. “But I have tamed him a bit. He’s quite a
good boy now.”

“He would squash Heemskirk like a blackbeetle all the same,” I
remarked.

“Rather!” she murmured. “And that wouldn’t do,” she added quickly.
“Imagine the state poor papa would get into. Besides, I mean to be
mistress of the dear brig and sail about these seas, not go off
wandering ten thousand miles away from here.”

“The sooner you are on board to look after the man and the brig the
better,” I said seriously. “They need you to steady them both a
bit. I don’t think Jasper will ever get sobered down till he has
carried you off from this island. You don’t see him when he is
away from you, as I do. He’s in a state of perpetual elation which
almost frightens me.”

At this she smiled again, and then looked serious. For it could
not be unpleasant to her to be told of her power, and she had some
sense of her responsibility. She slipped away from me suddenly,
because Heemskirk, with old Nelson in attendance at his elbow, was
coming up the steps of the verandah. Directly his head came above
the level of the floor his ill-natured black eyes shot glances here
and there.

“Where’s your girl, Nelson?” he asked, in a tone as if every soul
in the world belonged to him. And then to me: “The goddess has
flown, eh?”

Nelson’s Cove–as we used to call it–was crowded with shipping
that day. There was first my steamer, then the Neptun gunboat
further out, and the Bonito, brig, anchored as usual so close
inshore that it looked as if, with a little skill and judgment, one
could shy a hat from the verandah on to her scrupulously holystoned
quarter-deck. Her brasses flashed like gold, her white body-paint
had a sheen like a satin robe. The rake of her varnished spars and
the big yards, squared to a hair, gave her a sort of martial
elegance. She was a beauty. No wonder that in possession of a
craft like that and the promise of a girl like Freya, Jasper lived
in a state of perpetual elation fit, perhaps, for the seventh
heaven, but not exactly safe in a world like ours.

I remarked politely to Heemskirk that, with three guests in the
house, Miss Freya had no doubt domestic matters to attend to. I
knew, of course, that she had gone to meet Jasper at a certain
cleared spot on the banks of the only stream on Nelson’s little
island. The commander of the Neptun gave me a dubious black look,
and began to make himself at home, flinging his thick, cylindrical
carcass into a rocking-chair, and unbuttoning his coat. Old Nelson
sat down opposite him in a most unassuming manner, staring
anxiously with his round eyes and fanning himself with his hat. I
tried to make conversation to while the time away; not an easy task
with a morose, enamoured Dutchman constantly looking from one door
to another and answering one’s advances either with a jeer or a
grunt.

However, the evening passed off all right. Luckily, there is a
degree of bliss too intense for elation. Jasper was quiet and
concentrated silently in watching Freya. As we went on board our
respective ships I offered to give his brig a tow out next morning.
I did it on purpose to get him away at the earliest possible
moment. So in the first cold light of the dawn we passed by the
gunboat lying black and still without a sound in her at the mouth
of the glassy cove. But with tropical swiftness the sun had
climbed twice its diameter above the horizon before we had rounded
the reef and got abreast of the point. On the biggest boulder
there stood Freya, all in white and, in her helmet, like a feminine
and martial statue with a rosy face, as I could see very well with
my glasses. She fluttered an expressive handkerchief, and Jasper,
running up the main rigging of the white and warlike brig, waved
his hat in response. Shortly afterwards we parted, I to the
northward and Jasper heading east with a light wind on the quarter,
for Banjermassin and two other ports, I believe it was, that trip.

This peaceful occasion was the last on which I saw all these people
assembled together; the charmingly fresh and resolute Freya, the
innocently round-eyed old Nelson, Jasper, keen, long limbed, lean
faced, admirably self-contained, in his manner, because
inconceivably happy under the eyes of his Freya; all three tall,
fair, and blue-eyed in varied shades, and amongst them the swarthy,
arrogant, black-haired Dutchman, shorter nearly by a head, and so
much thicker than any of them that he seemed to be a creature
capable of inflating itself, a grotesque specimen of mankind from
some other planet.

The contrast struck me all at once as we stood in the lighted
verandah, after rising from the dinner-table. I was fascinated by
it for the rest of the evening, and I remember the impression of
something funny and ill-omened at the same time in it to this day.

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