My Faculty Site

Chapter IV

Chapter IChapter IIChapter IIIChapter IVChapter VChapter VI

I suppose praiseworthy motives are a sufficient justification
almost for anything. What could be more commendable in the
abstract than a girl’s determination that “poor papa” should not be
worried, and her anxiety that the man of her choice should be kept
by any means from every occasion of doing something rash, something
which might endanger the whole scheme of their happiness?

Nothing could be more tender and more prudent. We must also
remember the girl’s self-reliant temperament, and the general
unwillingness of women–I mean women of sense–to make a fuss over
matters of that sort.

As has been said already, Heemskirk turned up some time after
Jasper’s arrival at Nelson’s Cove. The sight of the brig lying
right under the bungalow was very offensive to him. He did not fly
ashore before his anchor touched the ground as Jasper used to do.
On the contrary, he hung about his quarter-deck mumbling to
himself; and when he ordered his boat to be manned it was in an
angry voice. Freya’s existence, which lifted Jasper out of himself
into a blissful elation, was for Heemskirk a cause of secret
torment, of hours of exasperated brooding.

While passing the brig he hailed her harshly and asked if the
master was on board. Schultz, smart and neat in a spotless white
suit, leaned over the taffrail, finding the question somewhat
amusing. He looked humorously down into Heemskirk’s boat, and
answered, in the most amiable modulations of his beautiful voice:
“Captain Allen is up at the house, sir.” But his expression
changed suddenly at the savage growl: “What the devil are you
grinning at?” which acknowledged that information.

He watched Heemskirk land and, instead of going to the house,
stride away by another path into the grounds.

The desire-tormented Dutchman found old Nelson (or Nielsen) at his
drying-sheds, very busy superintending the manipulation of his
tobacco crop, which, though small, was of excellent quality, and
enjoying himself thoroughly. But Heemskirk soon put a stop to this
simple happiness. He sat down by the old chap, and by the sort of
talk which he knew was best calculated for the purpose, reduced him
before long to a state of concealed and perspiring nervousness. It
was a horrid talk of “authorities,” and old Nelson tried to defend
himself. If he dealt with English traders it was because he had to
dispose of his produce somehow. He was as conciliatory as he knew
how to be, and this very thing seemed to excite Heemskirk, who had
worked himself up into a heavily breathing state of passion.

“And the worst of them all is that Allen,” he growled. “Your
particular friend–eh? You have let in a lot of these Englishmen
into this part. You ought never to have been allowed to settle
here. Never. What’s he doing here now?”

Old Nelson (or Nielsen), becoming very agitated, declared that
Jasper Allen was no particular friend of his. No friend at all–at
all. He had bought three tons of rice from him to feed his
workpeople on. What sort of evidence of friendship was that?
Heemskirk burst out at last with the thought that had been gnawing
at his vitals:

“Yes. Sell three tons of rice and flirt three days with that girl
of yours. I am speaking to you as a friend, Nielsen. This won’t
do. You are only on sufferance here.”

Old Nelson was taken aback at first, but recovered pretty quickly.
Won’t do! Certainly! Of course, it wouldn’t do! The last man in
the world. But his girl didn’t care for the fellow, and was too
sensible to fall in love with any one. He was very earnest in
impressing on Heemskirk his own feeling of absolute security. And
the lieutenant, casting doubting glances sideways, was yet willing
to believe him.

“Much you know about it,” he grunted nevertheless.

“But I do know,” insisted old Nelson, with the greater desperation
because he wanted to resist the doubts arising in his own mind.
“My own daughter! In my own house, and I not to know! Come! It
would be a good joke, lieutenant.”

“They seem to be carrying on considerably,” remarked Heemskirk
moodily. “I suppose they are together now,” he added, feeling a
pang which changed what he meant for a mocking smile into a strange
grimace.

The harassed Nelson shook his hand at him. He was at bottom
shocked at this insistence, and was even beginning to feel annoyed
at the absurdity of it.

“Pooh! Pooh! I’ll tell you what, lieutenant: you go to the house
and have a drop of gin-and-bitters before dinner. Ask for Freya.
I must see the last of this tobacco put away for the night, but
I’ll be along presently.”

Heemskirk was not insensible to this suggestion. It answered to
his secret longing, which was not a longing for drink, however.
Old Nelson shouted solicitously after his broad back a
recommendation to make himself comfortable, and that there was a
box of cheroots on the verandah.

It was the west verandah that old Nelson meant, the one which was
the living-room of the house, and had split-rattan screens of the
very finest quality. The east verandah, sacred to his own privacy,
puffing out of cheeks, and other signs of perplexed thinking, was
fitted with stout blinds of sailcloth. The north verandah was not
a verandah at all, really. It was more like a long balcony. It
did not communicate with the other two, and could only be
approached by a passage inside the house. Thus it had a privacy
which made it a convenient place for a maiden’s meditations without
words, and also for the discourses, apparently without sense,
which, passing between a young man and a maid, become pregnant with
a diversity of transcendental meanings.

This north verandah was embowered with climbing plants. Freya,
whose room opened out on it, had furnished it as a sort of boudoir
for herself, with a few cane chairs and a sofa of the same kind.
On this sofa she and Jasper sat as close together as is possible in
this imperfect world where neither can a body be in two places at
once nor yet two bodies can be in one place at the same time. They
had been sitting together all the afternoon, and I won’t say that
their talk had been without sense. Loving him with a little
judicious anxiety lest in his elation he should break his heart
over some mishap, Freya naturally would talk to him soberly. He,
nervous and brusque when away from her, appeared always as if
overcome by her visibility, by the great wonder of being palpably
loved. An old man’s child, having lost his mother early, thrown
out to sea out of the way while very young, he had not much
experience of tenderness of any kind.

In this private, foliage-embowered verandah, and at this late hour
of the afternoon, he bent down a little, and, possessing himself of
Freya’s hands, was kissing them one after another, while she smiled
and looked down at his head with the eyes of approving compassion.
At that same moment Heemskirk was approaching the house from the
north.

Antonia was on the watch on that side. But she did not keep a very
good watch. The sun was setting; she knew that her young mistress
and the captain of the Bonito were about to separate. She was
walking to and fro in the dusky grove with a flower in her hair,
and singing softly to herself, when suddenly, within a foot of her,
the lieutenant appeared from behind a tree. She bounded aside like
a startled fawn, but Heemskirk, with a lucid comprehension of what
she was there for, pounced upon her, and, catching her arm, clapped
his other thick hand over her mouth.

“If you try to make a noise I’ll twist your neck!”

This ferocious figure of speech terrified the girl sufficiently.
Heemskirk had seen plainly enough on the verandah Freya’s golden
head with another head very close to it. He dragged the
unresisting maid with him by a circuitous way into the compound,
where he dismissed her with a vicious push in the direction of the
cluster of bamboo huts for the servants.

She was very much like the faithful camerista of Italian comedy,
but in her terror she bolted away without a sound from that thick,
short, black-eyed man with a cruel grip of fingers like a vice.
Quaking all over at a distance, extremely scared and half inclined
to laugh, she saw him enter the house at the back.

The interior of the bungalow was divided by two passages crossing
each other in the middle. At that point Heemskirk, by turning his
head slightly to the left as he passed, secured the evidence of
“carrying on” so irreconcilable with old Nelson’s assurances that
it made him stagger, with a rush of blood to his head. Two white
figures, distinct against the light, stood in an unmistakable
attitude. Freya’s arms were round Jasper’s neck. Their faces were
characteristically superimposed on each other, and Heemskirk went
on, his throat choked with a sudden rising of curses, till on the
west verandah he stumbled blindly against a chair and then dropped
into another as though his legs had been swept from under him. He
had indulged too long in the habit of appropriating Freya to
himself in his thoughts. “Is that how you entertain your visitors-
-you . . ” he thought, so outraged that he could not find a
sufficiently degrading epithet.

Freya struggled a little and threw her head back.

“Somebody has come in,” she whispered. Jasper, holding her clasped
closely to his breast, and looking down into her face, suggested
casually:

“Your father.”

Freya tried to disengage herself, but she had not the heart
absolutely to push him away with her hands.

“I believe it’s Heemskirk,” she breathed out at him.

He, plunging into her eyes in a quiet rapture, was provoked to a
vague smile by the sound of the name.

“The ass is always knocking down my beacons outside the river,” he
murmured. He attached no other meaning to Heemskirk’s existence;
but Freya was asking herself whether the lieutenant had seen them.

“Let me go, kid,” she ordered in a peremptory whisper. Jasper
obeyed, and, stepping back at once, continued his contemplation of
her face under another angle. “I must go and see,” she said to
herself anxiously.

She instructed him hurriedly to wait a moment after she was gone
and then to slip on to the back verandah and get a quiet smoke
before he showed himself.

“Don’t stay late this evening,” was her last recommendation before
she left him.

Then Freya came out on the west verandah with her light, rapid
step. While going through the doorway she managed to shake down
the folds of the looped-up curtains at the end of the passage so as
to cover Jasper’s retreat from the bower. Directly she appeared
Heemskirk jumped up as if to fly at her. She paused and he made
her an exaggerated low bow.

It irritated Freya.

“Oh! It’s you, Mr. Heemskirk. How do you do?” She spoke in her
usual tone. Her face was not plainly visible to him in the dusk of
the deep verandah. He dared not trust himself to speak, his rage
at what he had seen was so great. And when she added with
serenity: “Papa will be coming in before long,” he called her
horrid names silently, to himself, before he spoke with contorted
lips.

“I have seen your father already. We had a talk in the sheds. He
told me some very interesting things. Oh, very–”

Freya sat down. She thought: “He has seen us, for certain.” She
was not ashamed. What she was afraid of was some foolish or
awkward complication. But she could not conceive how much her
person had been appropriated by Heemskirk (in his thoughts). She
tried to be conversational.

“You are coming now from Palembang, I suppose?”

“Eh? What? Oh, yes! I come from Palembang. Ha, ha, ha! You
know what your father said? He said he was afraid you were having
a very dull time of it here.”

“And I suppose you are going to cruise in the Moluccas,” continued
Freya, who wanted to impart some useful information to Jasper if
possible. At the same time she was always glad to know that those
two men were a few hundred miles apart when not under her eye.

Heemskirk growled angrily.

“Yes. Moluccas,” glaring in the direction of her shadowy figure.
“Your father thinks it’s very quiet for you here. I tell you what,
Miss Freya. There isn’t such a quiet spot on earth that a woman
can’t find an opportunity of making a fool of somebody.”

Freya thought: “I mustn’t let him provoke me.” Presently the
Tamil boy, who was Nelson’s head servant, came in with the lights.
She addressed him at once with voluble directions where to put the
lamps, told him to bring the tray with the gin and bitters, and to
send Antonia into the house.

“I will have to leave you to yourself, Mr. Heemskirk, for a while,”
she said.

And she went to her room to put on another frock. She made a quick
change of it because she wished to be on the verandah before her
father and the lieutenant met again. She relied on herself to
regulate that evening’s intercourse between these two. But
Antonia, still scared and hysterical, exhibited a bruise on her arm
which roused Freya’s indignation.

“He jumped on me out of the bush like a tiger,” said the girl,
laughing nervously with frightened eyes.

“The brute!” thought Freya. “He meant to spy on us, then.” She
was enraged, but the recollection of the thick Dutchman in white
trousers wide at the hips and narrow at the ankles, with his
shoulder-straps and black bullet head, glaring at her in the light
of the lamps, was so repulsively comical that she could not help a
smiling grimace. Then she became anxious. The absurdities of
three men were forcing this anxiety upon her: Jasper’s
impetuosity, her father’s fears, Heemskirk’s infatuation. She was
very tender to the first two, and she made up her mind to display
all her feminine diplomacy. All this, she said to herself, will be
over and done with before very long now.

Heemskirk on the verandah, lolling in a chair, his legs extended
and his white cap reposing on his stomach, was lashing himself into
a fury of an atrocious character altogether incomprehensible to a
girl like Freya. His chin was resting on his chest, his eyes gazed
stonily at his shoes. Freya examined him from behind the curtain.
He didn’t stir. He was ridiculous. But this absolute stillness
was impressive. She stole back along the passage to the east
verandah, where Jasper was sitting quietly in the dark, doing what
he was told, like a good boy.

“Psst,” she hissed. He was by her side in a moment.

“Yes. What is it?” he murmured.

“It’s that beetle,” she whispered uneasily. Under the impression
of Heemskirk’s sinister immobility she had half a mind to let
Jasper know that they had been seen. But she was by no means
certain that Heemskirk would tell her father–and at any rate not
that evening. She concluded rapidly that the safest thing would be
to get Jasper out of the way as soon as possible.

“What has he been doing?” asked Jasper in a calm undertone.

“Oh, nothing! Nothing. He sits there looking cross. But you know
how he’s always worrying papa.”

“Your father’s quite unreasonable,” pronounced Jasper judicially.

“I don’t know,” she said in a doubtful tone. Something of old
Nelson’s dread of the authorities had rubbed off on the girl since
she had to live with it day after day. “I don’t know. Papa’s
afraid of being reduced to beggary, as he says, in his old days.
Look here, kid, you had better clear out to-morrow, first thing.”

Jasper had hoped for another afternoon with Freya, an afternoon of
quiet felicity with the girl by his side and his eyes on his brig,
anticipating a blissful future. His silence was eloquent with
disappointment, and Freya understood it very well. She, too, was
disappointed. But it was her business to be sensible.

“We shan’t have a moment to ourselves with that beetle creeping
round the house,” she argued in a low, hurried voice. “So what’s
the good of your staying? And he won’t go while the brig’s here.
You know he won’t.”

“He ought to be reported for loitering,” murmured Jasper with a
vexed little laugh.

“Mind you get under way at daylight,” recommended Freya under her
breath.

He detained her after the manner of lovers. She expostulated
without struggling because it was hard for her to repulse him. He
whispered into her ear while he put his arms round her.

“Next time we two meet, next time I hold you like this, it shall be
on board. You and I, in the brig–all the world, all the life–”
And then he flashed out: “I wonder I can wait! I feel as if I
must carry you off now, at once. I could run with you in my hands-
-down the path–without stumbling–without touching the earth–”

She was still. She listened to the passion in his voice. She was
saying to herself that if she were to whisper the faintest yes, if
she were but to sigh lightly her consent, he would do it. He was
capable of doing it–without touching the earth. She closed her
eyes and smiled in the dark, abandoning herself in a delightful
giddiness, for an instant, to his encircling arm. But before he
could be tempted to tighten his grasp she was out of it, a foot
away from him and in full possession of herself.

That was the steady Freya. She was touched by the deep sigh which
floated up to her from the white figure of Jasper, who did not
stir.

“You are a mad kid,” she said tremulously. Then with a change of
tone: “No one could carry me off. Not even you. I am not the
sort of girl that gets carried off.” His white form seemed to
shrink a little before the force of that assertion and she
relented. “Isn’t it enough for you to know that you have–that you
have carried me away?” she added in a tender tone.

He murmured an endearing word, and she continued:

“I’ve promised you–I’ve said I would come–and I shall come of my
own free will. You shall wait for me on board. I shall get up the
side–by myself, and walk up to you on the deck and say: ‘Here I
am, kid.’ And then–and then I shall be carried off. But it will
be no man who will carry me off–it will be the brig, your brig–
our brig. . . . I love the beauty!”

She heard an inarticulate sound, something like a moan wrung out by
pain or delight, and glided away. There was that other man on the
other verandah, that dark, surly Dutchman who could make trouble
between Jasper and her father, bring about a quarrel, ugly words,
and perhaps a physical collision. What a horrible situation! But,
even putting aside that awful extremity, she shrank from having to
live for some three months with a wretched, tormented, angry,
distracted, absurd man. And when the day came, the day and the
hour, what should she do if her father tried to detain her by main
force–as was, after all, possible? Could she actually struggle
with him hand to hand? But it was of lamentations and entreaties
that she was really afraid. Could she withstand them? What an
odious, cruel, ridiculous position would that be!

“But it won’t be. He’ll say nothing,” she thought as she came out
quickly on the west verandah, and, seeing that Heemskirk did not
move, sat down on a chair near the doorway and kept her eyes on
him. The outraged lieutenant had not changed his attitude; only
his cap had fallen off his stomach and was lying on the floor. His
thick black eyebrows were knitted by a frown, while he looked at
her out of the corners of his eyes. And their sideways glance in
conjunction with the hooked nose, the whole bulky, ungainly,
sprawling person, struck Freya as so comically moody that, inwardly
discomposed as she was, she could not help smiling. She did her
best to give that smile a conciliatory character. She did not want
to provoke Heemskirk needlessly.

And the lieutenant, perceiving that smile, was mollified. It never
entered his head that his outward appearance, a naval officer, in
uniform, could appear ridiculous to that girl of no position–the
daughter of old Nielsen. The recollection of her arms round
Jasper’s neck still irritated and excited him. “The hussy!” he
thought. “Smiling–eh? That’s how you are amusing yourself.
Fooling your father finely, aren’t you? You have a taste for that
sort of fun–have you? Well, we shall see–” He did not alter his
position, but on his pursed-up lips there also appeared a smile of
surly and ill-omened amusement, while his eyes returned to the
contemplation of his boots.

Freya felt hot with indignation. She sat radiantly fair in the
lamplight, her strong, well-shaped hands lying one on top of the
other in her lap. . . “Odious creature,” she thought. Her face
coloured with sudden anger. “You have scared my maid out of her
senses,” she said aloud. “What possessed you?”

He was thinking so deeply of her that the sound of her voice,
pronouncing these unexpected words, startled him extremely. He
jerked up his head and looked so bewildered that Freya insisted
impatiently:

“I mean Antonia. You have bruised her arm. What did you do it
for?”

“Do you want to quarrel with me?” he asked thickly, with a sort of
amazement. He blinked like an owl. He was funny. Freya, like all
women, had a keen sense of the ridiculous in outward appearance.

“Well, no; I don’t think I do.” She could not help herself. She
laughed outright, a clear, nervous laugh in which Heemskirk joined
suddenly with a harsh “Ha, ha, ha!”

Voices and footsteps were heard in the passage, and Jasper, with
old Nelson, came out. Old Nelson looked at his daughter
approvingly, for he liked the lieutenant to be kept in good humour.
And he also joined sympathetically in the laugh. “Now, lieutenant,
we shall have some dinner,” he said, rubbing his hands cheerily.
Jasper had gone straight to the balustrade. The sky was full of
stars, and in the blue velvety night the cove below had a denser
blackness, in which the riding-lights of the brig and of the
gunboat glimmered redly, like suspended sparks. “Next time this
riding-light glimmers down there, I’ll be waiting for her on the
quarter-deck to come and say ‘Here I am,'” Jasper thought; and his
heart seemed to grow bigger in his chest, dilated by an oppressive
happiness that nearly wrung out a cry from him. There was no wind.
Not a leaf below him stirred, and even the sea was but a still
uncomplaining shadow. Far away on the unclouded sky the pale
lightning, the heat-lightning of the tropics, played tremulously
amongst the low stars in short, faint, mysteriously consecutive
flashes, like incomprehensible signals from some distant planet.

The dinner passed off quietly. Freya sat facing her father, calm
but pale. Heemskirk affected to talk only to old Nelson. Jasper’s
behaviour was exemplary. He kept his eyes under control, basking
in the sense of Freya’s nearness, as people bask in the sun without
looking up to heaven. And very soon after dinner was over, mindful
of his instructions, he declared that it was time for him to go on
board his ship.

Heemskirk did not look up. Ensconced in the rocking-chair, and
puffing at a cheroot, he had the air of meditating surlily over
some odious outbreak. So at least it seemed to Freya. Old Nelson
said at once: “I’ll stroll down with you.” He had begun a
professional conversation about the dangers of the New Guinea
coast, and wanted to relate to Jasper some experience of his own
“over there.” Jasper was such a good listener! Freya made as if
to accompany them, but her father frowned, shook his head, and
nodded significantly towards the immovable Heemskirk blotting out
smoke with half-closed eyes and protruded lips. The lieutenant
must not be left alone. Take offence, perhaps.

Freya obeyed these signs. “Perhaps it is better for me to stay,”
she thought. Women are not generally prone to review their own
conduct, still less to condemn it. The embarrassing masculine
absurdities are in the main responsible for its ethics. But,
looking at Heemskirk, Freya felt regret and even remorse. His
thick bulk in repose suggested the idea of repletion, but as a
matter of fact he had eaten very little. He had drunk a great
deal, however. The fleshy lobes of his unpleasant big ears with
deeply folded rims were crimson. They quite flamed in the
neighbourhood of the flat, sallow cheeks. For a considerable time
he did not raise his heavy brown eyelids. To be at the mercy of
such a creature was humiliating; and Freya, who always ended by
being frank with herself, thought regretfully: “If only I had been
open with papa from the first! But then what an impossible life he
would have led me!” Yes. Men were absurd in many ways; lovably
like Jasper, impracticably like her father, odiously like that
grotesquely supine creature in the chair. Was it possible to talk
him over? Perhaps it was not necessary? “Oh! I can’t talk to
him,” she thought. And when Heemskirk, still without looking at
her, began resolutely to crush his half-smoked cheroot on the
coffee-tray, she took alarm, glided towards the piano, opened it in
tremendous haste, and struck the keys before she sat down.

In an instant the verandah, the whole carpetless wooden bungalow
raised on piles, became filled with an uproarious, confused
resonance. But through it all she heard, she felt on the floor the
heavy, prowling footsteps of the lieutenant moving to and fro at
her back. He was not exactly drunk, but he was sufficiently primed
to make the suggestions of his excited imagination seem perfectly
feasible and even clever; beautifully, unscrupulously clever.
Freya, aware that he had stopped just behind her, went on playing
without turning her head. She played with spirit, brilliantly, a
fierce piece of music, but when his voice reached her she went cold
all over. It was the voice, not the words. The insolent
familiarity of tone dismayed her to such an extent that she could
not understand at first what he was saying. His utterance was
thick, too.

“I suspected. . . . Of course I suspected something of your little
goings on. I am not a child. But from suspecting to seeing–
seeing, you understand–there’s an enormous difference. That sort
of thing. . . . Come! One isn’t made of stone. And when a man has
been worried by a girl as I have been worried by you, Miss Freya–
sleeping and waking, then, of course. . . . But I am a man of the
world. It must be dull for you here . . . I say, won’t you leave
off this confounded playing . . .?”

This last was the only sentence really which she made out. She
shook her head negatively, and in desperation put on the loud
pedal, but she could not make the sound of the piano cover his
raised voice.

“Only, I am surprised that you should. . . . An English trading
skipper, a common fellow. Low, cheeky lot, infesting these
islands. I would make short work of such trash! While you have
here a good friend, a gentleman ready to worship at your feet–your
pretty feet–an officer, a man of family. Strange, isn’t it? But
what of that! You are fit for a prince.”

Freya did not turn her head. Her face went stiff with horror and
indignation. This adventure was altogether beyond her conception
of what was possible. It was not in her character to jump up and
run away. It seemed to her, too, that if she did move there was no
saying what might happen. Presently her father would be back, and
then the other would have to leave off. It was best to ignore–to
ignore. She went on playing loudly and correctly, as though she
were alone, as if Heemskirk did not exist. That proceeding
irritated him.

“Come! You may deceive your father,” he bawled angrily, “but I am
not to be made a fool of! Stop this infernal noise . . . Freya . .
. Hey! You Scandinavian Goddess of Love! Stop! Do you hear?
That’s what you are–of love. But the heathen gods are only devils
in disguise, and that’s what you are, too–a deep little devil.
Stop it, I say, or I will lift you off that stool!”

Standing behind her, he devoured her with his eyes, from the golden
crown of her rigidly motionless head to the heels of her shoes, the
line of her shapely shoulders, the curves of her fine figure
swaying a little before the keyboard. She had on a light dress;
the sleeves stopped short at the elbows in an edging of lace. A
satin ribbon encircled her waist. In an access of irresistible,
reckless hopefulness he clapped both his hands on that waist–and
then the irritating music stopped at last. But, quick as she was
in springing away from the contact (the round music-stool going
over with a crash), Heemskirk’s lips, aiming at her neck, landed a
hungry, smacking kiss just under her ear. A deep silence reigned
for a time. And then he laughed rather feebly.

He was disconcerted somewhat by her white, still face, the big
light violet eyes resting on him stonily. She had not uttered a
sound. She faced him, steadying herself on the corner of the piano
with one extended hand. The other went on rubbing with mechanical
persistency the place his lips had touched.

“What’s the trouble?” he said, offended. “Startled you? Look
here: don’t let us have any of that nonsense. You don’t mean to
say a kiss frightens you so much as all that. . . . I know better.
. . . I don’t mean to be left out in the cold.”

He had been gazing into her face with such strained intentness that
he could no longer see it distinctly. Everything round him was
rather misty. He forgot the overturned stool, caught his foot
against it, and lurched forward slightly, saying in an ingratiating
tone:

“I’m not bad fun, really. You try a few kisses to begin with–”

He said no more, because his head received a terrific concussion,
accompanied by an explosive sound. Freya had swung her round,
strong arm with such force that the impact of her open palm on his
flat cheek turned him half round. Uttering a faint, hoarse yell,
the lieutenant clapped both his hands to the left side of his face,
which had taken on suddenly a dusky brick-red tinge. Freya, very
erect, her violet eyes darkened, her palm still tingling from the
blow, a sort of restrained determined smile showing a tiny gleam of
her white teeth, heard her father’s rapid, heavy tread on the path
below the verandah. Her expression lost its pugnacity and became
sincerely concerned. She was sorry for her father. She stooped
quickly to pick up the music-stool, as if anxious to obliterate the
traces. . . . But that was no good. She had resumed her attitude,
one hand resting lightly on the piano, before old Nelson got up to
the top of the stairs.

Poor father! How furious he will be–how upset! And afterwards,
what tremors, what unhappiness! Why had she not been open with him
from the first? His round, innocent stare of amazement cut her to
the quick. But he was not looking at her. His stare was directed
to Heemskirk, who, with his back to him and with his hands still up
to his face, was hissing curses through his teeth, and (she saw him
in profile) glaring at her balefully with one black, evil eye.

“What’s the matter?” asked old Nelson, very much bewildered.

She did not answer him. She thought of Jasper on the deck of the
brig, gazing up at the lighted bungalow, and she felt frightened.
It was a mercy that one of them at least was on board out of the
way. She only wished he were a hundred miles off. And yet she was
not certain that she did. Had Jasper been mysteriously moved that
moment to reappear on the verandah she would have thrown her
consistency, her firmness, her self-possession, to the winds, and
flown into his arms.

“What is it? What is it?” insisted the unsuspecting Nelson,
getting quite excited. “Only this minute you were playing a tune,
and–”

Freya, unable to speak in her apprehension of what was coming (she
was also fascinated by that black, evil, glaring eye), only nodded
slightly at the lieutenant, as much as to say: “Just look at him!”

“Why, yes!” exclaimed old Nelson. “I see. What on earth–”

Meantime he had cautiously approached Heemskirk, who, bursting into
incoherent imprecations, was stamping with both feet where he
stood. The indignity of the blow, the rage of baffled purpose, the
ridicule of the exposure, and the impossibility of revenge maddened
him to a point when he simply felt he must howl with fury.

“Oh, oh, oh!” he howled, stamping across the verandah as though he
meant to drive his foot through the floor at every step.

“Why, is his face hurt?” asked the astounded old Nelson. The truth
dawned suddenly upon his innocent mind. “Dear me!” he cried,
enlightened. “Get some brandy, quick, Freya. . . . You are subject
to it, lieutenant? Fiendish, eh? I know, I know! Used to go
crazy all of a sudden myself in the time. . . . And the little
bottle of laudanum from the medicine-chest, too, Freya. Look
sharp. . . . Don’t you see he’s got a toothache?”

And, indeed, what other explanation could have presented itself to
the guileless old Nelson, beholding this cheek nursed with both
hands, these wild glances, these stampings, this distracted swaying
of the body? It would have demanded a preternatural acuteness to
hit upon the true cause. Freya had not moved. She watched
Heemskirk’s savagely inquiring, black stare directed stealthily
upon herself. “Aha, you would like to be let off!” she said to
herself. She looked at him unflinchingly, thinking it out. The
temptation of making an end of it all without further trouble was
irresistible. She gave an almost imperceptible nod of assent, and
glided away.

“Hurry up that brandy!” old Nelson shouted, as she disappeared in
the passage.

Heemskirk relieved his deeper feelings by a sudden string of curses
in Dutch and English which he sent after her. He raved to his
heart’s content, flinging to and fro the verandah and kicking
chairs out of his way; while Nelson (or Nielsen), whose sympathy
was profoundly stirred by these evidences of agonising pain,
hovered round his dear (and dreaded) lieutenant, fussing like an
old hen.

“Dear me, dear me! Is it so bad? I know well what it is. I used
to frighten my poor wife sometimes. Do you get it often like this,
lieutenant?”

Heemskirk shouldered him viciously out of his way, with a short,
insane laugh. But his staggering host took it in good part; a man
beside himself with excruciating toothache is not responsible.

“Go into my room, lieutenant,” he suggested urgently. “Throw
yourself on my bed. We will get something to ease you in a
minute.”

He seized the poor sufferer by the arm and forced him gently
onwards to the very bed, on which Heemskirk, in a renewed access of
rage, flung himself down with such force that he rebounded from the
mattress to the height of quite a foot.

“Dear me!” exclaimed the scared Nelson, and incontinently ran off
to hurry up the brandy and the laudanum, very angry that so little
alacrity was shown in relieving the tortures of his precious guest.
In the end he got these things himself.

Half an hour later he stood in the inner passage of the house,
surprised by faint, spasmodic sounds of a mysterious nature,
between laughter and sobs. He frowned; then went straight towards
his daughter’s room and knocked at the door.

Freya, her glorious fair hair framing her white face and rippling
down a dark-blue dressing-gown, opened it partly.

The light in the room was dim. Antonia, crouching in a corner,
rocked herself backwards and forwards, uttering feeble moans. Old
Nelson had not much experience in various kinds of feminine
laughter, but he was certain there had been laughter there.

“Very unfeeling, very unfeeling!” he said, with weighty
displeasure. “What is there so amusing in a man being in pain? I
should have thought a woman–a young girl–”

“He was so funny,” murmured Freya, whose eyes glistened strangely
in the semi-obscurity of the passage. “And then, you know, I don’t
like him,” she added, in an unsteady voice.

“Funny!” repeated old Nelson, amazed at this evidence of
callousness in one so young. “You don’t like him! Do you mean to
say that, because you don’t like him, you–Why, it’s simply cruel!
Don’t you know it’s about the worst sort of pain there is? Dogs
have been known to go mad with it.”

“He certainly seemed to have gone mad,” Freya said with an effort,
as if she were struggling with some hidden feeling.

But her father was launched.

“And you know how he is. He notices everything. He is a fellow to
take offence for the least little thing–regular Dutchman–and I
want to keep friendly with him. It’s like this, my girl: if that
rajah of ours were to do something silly–and you know he is a
sulky, rebellious beggar–and the authorities took into their heads
that my influence over him wasn’t good, you would find yourself
without a roof over your head–”

She cried: “What nonsense, father!” in a not very assured tone,
and discovered that he was angry, angry enough to achieve irony;
yes, old Nelson (or Nielsen), irony! Just a gleam of it.

“Oh, of course, if you have means of your own–a mansion, a
plantation that I know nothing of–” But he was not capable of
sustained irony. “I tell you they would bundle me out of here,” he
whispered forcibly; “without compensation, of course. I know these
Dutch. And the lieutenant’s just the fellow to start the trouble
going. He has the ear of influential officials. I wouldn’t offend
him for anything–for anything–on no consideration whatever. . . .
What did you say?”

It was only an inarticulate exclamation. If she ever had a half-
formed intention of telling him everything she had given it up now.
It was impossible, both out of regard for his dignity and for the
peace of his poor mind.

“I don’t care for him myself very much,” old Nelson’s subdued
undertone confessed in a sigh. “He’s easier now,” he went on,
after a silence. “I’ve given him up my bed for the night. I shall
sleep on my verandah, in the hammock. No; I can’t say I like him
either, but from that to laugh at a man because he’s driven crazy
with pain is a long way. You’ve surprised me, Freya. That side of
his face is quite flushed.”

Her shoulders shook convulsively under his hands, which he laid on
her paternally. His straggly, wiry moustache brushed her forehead
in a good-night kiss. She closed the door, and went away from it
to the middle of the room before she allowed herself a tired-out
sort of laugh, without buoyancy.

“Flushed! A little flushed!” she repeated to herself. “I hope so,
indeed! A little–”

Her eyelashes were wet. Antonia, in her corner, moaned and
giggled, and it was impossible to tell where the moans ended and
the giggles began.

The mistress and the maid had been somewhat hysterical, for Freya,
on fleeing into her room, had found Antonia there, and had told her
everything.

“I have avenged you, my girl,” she exclaimed.

And then they had laughingly cried and cryingly laughed with
admonitions–“Ssh, not so loud! Be quiet!” on one part, and
interludes of “I am so frightened. . . . He’s an evil man,” on the
other.

Antonia was very much afraid of Heemskirk. She was afraid of him
because of his personal appearance: because of his eyes and his
eyebrows, and his mouth and his nose and his limbs. Nothing could
be more rational. And she thought him an evil man, because, to her
eyes, he looked evil. No ground for an opinion could be sounder.
In the dimness of the room, with only a nightlight burning at the
head of Freya’s bed, the camerista crept out of her corner to
crouch at the feet of her mistress, supplicating in whispers:

“There’s the brig. Captain Allen. Let us run away at once–oh,
let us run away! I am so frightened. Let us! Let us!”

“I! Run away!” thought Freya to herself, without looking down at
the scared girl. “Never.”

Both the resolute mistress under the mosquito-net and the
frightened maid lying curled up on a mat at the foot of the bed did
not sleep very well that night. The person that did not sleep at
all was Lieutenant Heemskirk. He lay on his back staring
vindictively in the darkness. Inflaming images and humiliating
reflections succeeded each other in his mind, keeping up,
augmenting his anger. A pretty tale this to get about! But it
must not be allowed to get about. The outrage had to be swallowed
in silence. A pretty affair! Fooled, led on, and struck by the
girl–and probably fooled by the father, too. But no. Nielsen was
but another victim of that shameless hussy, that brazen minx, that
sly, laughing, kissing, lying . . .

“No; he did not deceive me on purpose,” thought the tormented
lieutenant. “But I should like to pay him off, all the same, for
being such an imbecile–”

Well, some day, perhaps. One thing he was firmly resolved on: he
had made up his mind to steal early out of the house. He did not
think he could face the girl without going out of his mind with
fury.

“Fire and perdition! Ten thousand devils! I shall choke here
before the morning!” he muttered to himself, lying rigid on his
back on old Nelson’s bed, his breast heaving for air.

He arose at daylight and started cautiously to open the door.
Faint sounds in the passage alarmed him, and remaining concealed he
saw Freya coming out. This unexpected sight deprived him of all
power to move away from the crack of the door. It was the
narrowest crack possible, but commanding the view of the end of the
verandah. Freya made for that end hastily to watch the brig
passing the point. She wore her dark dressing-gown; her feet were
bare, because, having fallen asleep towards the morning, she ran
out headlong in her fear of being too late. Heemskirk had never
seen her looking like this, with her hair drawn back smoothly to
the shape of her head, and hanging in one heavy, fair tress down
her back, and with that air of extreme youth, intensity, and
eagerness. And at first he was amazed, and then he gnashed his
teeth. He could not face her at all. He muttered a curse, and
kept still behind the door.

With a low, deep-breathed “Ah!” when she first saw the brig already
under way, she reached for Nelson’s long glass reposing on brackets
high up the wall. The wide sleeve of the dressing-gown slipped
back, uncovering her white arm as far as the shoulder. Heemskirk
gripping the door-handle, as if to crush it, felt like a man just
risen to his feet from a drinking bout.

And Freya knew that he was watching her. She knew. She had seen
the door move as she came out of the passage. She was aware of his
eyes being on her, with scornful bitterness, with triumphant
contempt.

“You are there,” she thought, levelling the long glass. “Oh, well,
look on, then!”

The green islets appeared like black shadows, the ashen sea was
smooth as glass, the clear robe of the colourless dawn, in which
even the brig appeared shadowy, had a hem of light in the east.
Directly Freya had made out Jasper on deck, with his own long glass
directed to the bungalow, she laid hers down and raised both her
beautiful white arms above her head. In that attitude of supreme
cry she stood still, glowing with the consciousness of Jasper’s
adoration going out to her figure held in the field of his glass
away there, and warmed, too, by the feeling of evil passion, the
burning, covetous eyes of the other, fastened on her back. In the
fervour of her love, in the caprice of her mind, and with that
mysterious knowledge of masculine nature women seem to be born to,
she thought:

“You are looking on–you will–you must! Then you shall see
something.”

She brought both her hands to her lips, then flung them out,
sending a kiss over the sea, as if she wanted to throw her heart
along with it on the deck of the brig. Her face was rosy, her eyes
shone. Her repeated, passionate gesture seemed to fling kisses by
the hundred again and again and again, while the slowly ascending
sun brought the glory of colour to the world, turning the islets
green, the sea blue, the brig below her white–dazzlingly white in
the spread of her wings–with the red ensign streaming like a tiny
flame from the peak.

And each time she murmured with a rising inflexion:

“Take this–and this–and this–” till suddenly her arms fell. She
had seen the ensign dipped in response, and next moment the point
below hid the hull of the brig from her view. Then she turned away
from the balustrade, and, passing slowly before the door of her
father’s room with her eyelids lowered, and an enigmatic expression
on her face, she disappeared behind the curtain.

But instead of going along the passage, she remained concealed and
very still on the other side to watch what would happen. For some
time the broad, furnished verandah remained empty. Then the door
of old Nelson’s room came open suddenly, and Heemskirk staggered
out. His hair was rumpled, his eyes bloodshot, his unshaven face
looked very dark. He gazed wildly about, saw his cap on a table,
snatched it up, and made for the stairs quietly, but with a
strange, tottering gait, like the last effort of waning strength.

Shortly after his head had sunk below the level of the floor, Freya
came out from behind the curtain, with compressed, scheming lips,
and no softness at all in her luminous eyes. He could not be
allowed to sneak off scot free. Never–never! She was excited,
she tingled all over, she had tasted blood! He must be made to
understand that she had been aware of having been watched; he must
know that he had been seen slinking off shamefully. But to run to
the front rail and shout after him would have been childish, crude-
-undignified. And to shout–what? What word? What phrase? No;
it was impossible. Then how? . . . She frowned, discovered it,
dashed at the piano, which had stood open all night, and made the
rosewood monster growl savagery in an irritated bass. She struck
chords as if firing shots after that straddling, broad figure in
ample white trousers and a dark uniform jacket with gold shoulder-
straps, and then she pursued him with the same thing she had played
the evening before–a modern, fierce piece of love music which had
been tried more than once against the thunderstorms of the group.
She accentuated its rhythm with triumphant malice, so absorbed in
her purpose that she did not notice the presence of her father,
who, wearing an old threadbare ulster of a check pattern over his
sleeping suit, had run out from the back verandah to inquire the
reason of this untimely performance. He stared at her.

“What on earth? . . . Freya!” His voice was nearly drowned by the
piano. “What’s become of the lieutenant?” he shouted.

She looked up at him as if her soul were lost in her music, with
unseeing eyes.

“Gone.”

“Wha-a-t? . . . Where?”

She shook her head slightly, and went on playing louder than
before. Old Nelson’s innocently anxious gaze starting from the
open door of his room, explored the whole place high and low, as if
the lieutenant were something small which might have been crawling
on the floor or clinging to a wall. But a shrill whistle coming
somewhere from below pierced the ample volume of sound rolling out
of the piano in great, vibrating waves. The lieutenant was down at
the cove, whistling for the boat to come and take him off to his
ship. And he seemed to be in a terrific hurry, too, for he
whistled again almost directly, waited for a moment, and then sent
out a long, interminable, shrill call as distressful to hear as
though he had shrieked without drawing breath. Freya ceased
playing suddenly.

“Going on board,” said old Nelson, perturbed by the event. “What
could have made him clear out so early? Queer chap. Devilishly
touchy, too! I shouldn’t wonder if it was your conduct last night
that hurt his feelings? I noticed you, Freya. You as well as
laughed in his face, while he was suffering agonies from neuralgia.
It isn’t the way to get yourself liked. He’s offended with you.”

Freya’s hands now reposed passive on the keys; she bowed her fair
head, feeling a sudden discontent, a nervous lassitude, as though
she had passed through some exhausting crisis. Old Nelson (or
Nielsen), looking aggrieved, was revolving matters of policy in his
bald head.

“I think it would be right for me to go on board just to inquire,
some time this morning,” he declared fussily. “Why don’t they
bring me my morning tea? Do you hear, Freya? You have astonished
me, I must say. I didn’t think a young girl could be so unfeeling.
And the lieutenant thinks himself a friend of ours, too! What?
No? Well, he calls himself a friend, and that’s something to a
person in my position. Certainly! Oh, yes, I must go on board.”

“Must you?” murmured Freya listlessly; then added, in her thought:
“Poor man!”

Fayetteville State University - Powered by FSU ITTS