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Within the Tides by Joseph Conrad

Part 4 out of 4

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"Why exactly he came this way I can't tell. Towards the end of my
time here we began to hear talk of a maimed Frenchman who had been
seen here and there. But no one knew then that he had foregathered
with Niclaus and lived in his prau. I daresay he put Niclaus up to
a thing or two. Anyhow, it was a partnership. Niclaus was
somewhat afraid of the Frenchman on account of his tempers, which
were awful. He looked then like a devil; but a man without hands,
unable to load or handle a weapon, can at best go for one only with
his teeth. From that danger Niclaus felt certain he could always
defend himself.

"The couple were alone together loafing in the common-room of that
infamous hotel when Fector turned up. After some beating about the
bush, for he was doubtful how far he could trust these two, he
repeated what he had overheard in the tiffin-rooms.

"His tale did not have much success till he came to mention the
creek and Bamtz's name. Niclaus, sailing about like a native in a
prau, was, in his own words, 'familiar with the locality.' The
huge Frenchman, walking up and down the room with his stumps in the
pockets of his jacket, stopped short in surprise. 'Comment?
Bamtz! Bamtz!'

"He had run across him several times in his life. He exclaimed:
'Bamtz! Mais je ne connais que ca!' And he applied such a
contemptuously indecent epithet to Bamtz that when, later, he
alluded to him as 'une chiffe' (a mere rag) it sounded quite
complimentary. 'We can do with him what we like,' he asserted
confidently. 'Oh, yes. Certainly we must hasten to pay a visit to
that--' (another awful descriptive epithet quite unfit for
repetition). 'Devil take me if we don't pull off a coup that will
set us all up for a long time.'

"He saw all that lot of dollars melted into bars and disposed of
somewhere on the China coast. Of the escape after the coup he
never doubted. There was Niclaus's prau to manage that in.

"In his enthusiasm he pulled his stumps out of his pockets and
waved them about. Then, catching sight of them, as it were, he
held them in front of his eyes, cursing and blaspheming and
bewailing his misfortune and his helplessness, till Niclaus quieted
him down.

"But it was his mind that planned out the affair and it was his
spirit which carried the other two on. Neither of them was of the
bold buccaneer type; and Fector, especially, had never in his
adventurous life used other weapons than slander and lies.

"That very evening they departed on a visit to Bamtz in Niclaus's
prau, which had been lying, emptied of her cargo of cocoanuts, for
a day or two under the canal bridge. They must have crossed the
bows of the anchored Sissie, and no doubt looked at her with
interest as the scene of their future exploit, the great haul, le
grand coup!

"Davidson's wife, to his great surprise, sulked with him for
several days before he left. I don't know whether it occurred to
him that, for all her angelic profile, she was a very stupidly
obstinate girl. She didn't like the tropics. He had brought her
out there, where she had no friends, and now, she said, he was
becoming inconsiderate. She had a presentiment of some misfortune,
and notwithstanding Davidson's painstaking explanations, she could
not see why her presentiments were to be disregarded. On the very
last evening before Davidson went away she asked him in a
suspicious manner:

"'Why is it that you are so anxious to go this time?'

"'I am not anxious,' protested the good Davidson. 'I simply can't
help myself. There's no one else to go in my place.'

"'Oh! There's no one,' she said, turning away slowly.

"She was so distant with him that evening that Davidson from a
sense of delicacy made up his mind to say good-bye to her at once
and go and sleep on board. He felt very miserable and, strangely
enough, more on his own account than on account of his wife. She
seemed to him much more offended than grieved.

"Three weeks later, having collected a good many cases of old
dollars (they were stowed aft in the lazarette with an iron bar and
a padlock securing the hatch under his cabin-table), yes, with a
bigger lot than he had expected to collect, he found himself
homeward bound and off the entrance of the creek where Bamtz lived
and even, in a sense, flourished.

"It was so late in the day that Davidson actually hesitated whether
he should not pass by this time. He had no regard for Bamtz, who
was a degraded but not a really unhappy man. His pity for Laughing
Anne was no more than her case deserved. But his goodness was of a
particularly delicate sort. He realised how these people were
dependent on him, and how they would feel their dependence (if he
failed to turn up) through a long month of anxious waiting.
Prompted by his sensitive humanity, Davidson, in the gathering
dusk, turned the Sissie's head towards the hardly discernible
coast, and navigated her safety through a maze of shallow patches.
But by the time he got to the mouth of the creek the night had

"The narrow waterway lay like a black cutting through the forest.
And as there were always grounded snaggs in the channel which it
would be impossible to make out, Davidson very prudently turned the
Sissie round, and with only enough steam on the boilers to give her
a touch ahead if necessary, let her drift up stern first with the
tide, silent and invisible in the impenetrable darkness and in the
dumb stillness.

"It was a long job, and when at the end of two hours Davidson
thought he must be up to the clearing, the settlement slept
already, the whole land of forests and rivers was asleep.

"Davidson, seeing a solitary light in the massed darkness of the
shore, knew that it was burning in Bamtz's house. This was
unexpected at this time of the night, but convenient as a guide.
By a turn of the screw and a touch of the helm he sheered the
Sissie alongside Bamtz's wharf--a miserable structure of a dozen
piles and a few planks, of which the ex-vagabond was very proud. A
couple of Kalashes jumped down on it, took a turn with the ropes
thrown to them round the posts, and the Sissie came to rest without
a single loud word or the slightest noise. And just in time too,
for the tide turned even before she was properly moored.

"Davidson had something to eat, and then, coming on deck for a last
look round, noticed that the light was still burning in the house.

"This was very unusual, but since they were awake so late, Davidson
thought that he would go up to say that he was in a hurry to be off
and to ask that what rattans there were in store should be sent on
board with the first sign of dawn.

"He stepped carefully over the shaky planks, not being anxious to
get a sprained ankle, and picked his way across the waste ground to
the foot of the house ladder. The house was but a glorified hut on
piles, unfenced and lonely.

"Like many a stout man, Davidson is very lightfooted. He climbed
the seven steps or so, stepped across the bamboo platform quietly,
but what he saw through the doorway stopped him short.

"Four men were sitting by the light of a solitary candle. There
was a bottle, a jug and glasses on the table, but they were not
engaged in drinking. Two packs of cards were lying there too, but
they were not preparing to play. They were talking together in
whispers, and remained quite unaware of him. He himself was too
astonished to make a sound for some time. The world was still,
except for the sibilation of the whispering heads bunched together
over the table.

"And Davidson, as I have quoted him to you before, didn't like it.
He didn't like it at all.

"The situation ended with a scream proceeding from the dark,
interior part of the room. 'O Davy! you've given me a turn.'

"Davidson made out beyond the table Anne's very pale face. She
laughed a little hysterically, out of the deep shadows between the
gloomy mat walls. 'Ha! ha! ha!'

"The four heads sprang apart at the first sound, and four pairs of
eyes became fixed stonily on Davidson. The woman came forward,
having little more on her than a loose chintz wrapper and straw
slippers on her bare feet. Her head was tied up Malay fashion in a
red handkerchief, with a mass of loose hair hanging under it
behind. Her professional, gay, European feathers had literally
dropped off her in the course of these two years, but a long
necklace of amber beads hung round her uncovered neck. It was the
only ornament she had left; Bamtz had sold all her poor-enough
trinkets during the flight from Saigon--when their association

"She came forward, past the table, into the light, with her usual
groping gesture of extended arms, as though her soul, poor thing!
had gone blind long ago, her white cheeks hollow, her eyes darkly
wild, distracted, as Davidson thought. She came on swiftly,
grabbed him by the arm, dragged him in. 'It's heaven itself that
sends you to-night. My Tony's so bad--come and see him. Come

"Davidson submitted. The only one of the men to move was Bamtz,
who made as if to get up but dropped back in his chair again.
Davidson in passing heard him mutter confusedly something that
sounded like 'poor little beggar.'

"The child, lying very flushed in a miserable cot knocked up out of
gin-cases, stared at Davidson with wide, drowsy eyes. It was a bad
bout of fever clearly. But while Davidson was promising to go on
board and fetch some medicines, and generally trying to say
reassuring things, he could not help being struck by the
extraordinary manner of the woman standing by his side. Gazing
with despairing expression down at the cot, she would suddenly
throw a quick, startled glance at Davidson and then towards the
other room.

"'Yes, my poor girl,' he whispered, interpreting her distraction in
his own way, though he had nothing precise in his mind. 'I'm
afraid this bodes no good to you. How is it they are here?'

"She seized his forearm and breathed out forcibly: 'No good to me!
Oh, no! But what about you! They are after the dollars you have
on board.'

"Davidson let out an astonished 'How do they know there are any

"She clapped her hands lightly, in distress. 'So it's true! You
have them on board? Then look out for yourself.'

"They stood gazing down at the boy in the cot, aware that they
might be observed from the other room.

"'We must get him to perspire as soon as possible,' said Davidson
in his ordinary voice. 'You'll have to give him hot drink of some
kind. I will go on board and bring you a spirit-kettle amongst
other things.' And he added under his breath: 'Do they actually
mean murder?'

"She made no sign, she had returned to her desolate contemplation
of the boy. Davidson thought she had not heard him even, when with
an unchanged expression she spoke under her breath.

"'The Frenchman would, in a minute. The others shirk it--unless
you resist. He's a devil. He keeps them going. Without him they
would have done nothing but talk. I've got chummy with him. What
can you do when you are with a man like the fellow I am with now.
Bamtz is terrified of them, and they know it. He's in it from
funk. Oh, Davy! take your ship away--quick!'

"'Too late,' said Davidson. 'She's on the mud already.'

"If the kid hadn't been in this state I would have run off with
him--to you--into the woods--anywhere. Oh, Davy! will he die?' she
cried aloud suddenly.

"Davidson met three men in the doorway. They made way for him
without actually daring to face his glance. But Bamtz was the only
one who looked down with an air of guilt. The big Frenchman had
remained lolling in his chair; he kept his stumps in his pockets
and addressed Davidson.

"'Isn't it unfortunate about that child! The distress of that
woman there upsets me, but I am of no use in the world. I couldn't
smooth the sick pillow of my dearest friend. I have no hands.
Would you mind sticking one of those cigarettes there into the
mouth of a poor, harmless cripple? My nerves want soothing--upon
my honour, they do.'

"Davidson complied with his naturally kind smile. As his outward
placidity becomes only more pronounced, if possible, the more
reason there is for excitement; and as Davidson's eyes, when his
wits are hard at work, get very still and as if sleepy, the huge
Frenchman might have been justified in concluding that the man
there was a mere sheep--a sheep ready for slaughter. With a 'merci
bien' he uplifted his huge carcase to reach the light of the candle
with his cigarette, and Davidson left the house.

"Going down to the ship and returning, he had time to consider his
position. At first he was inclined to believe that these men
(Niclaus--the white Nakhoda--was the only one he knew by sight
before, besides Bamtz) were not of the stamp to proceed to
extremities. This was partly the reason why he never attempted to
take any measures on board. His pacific Kalashes were not to be
thought of as against white men. His wretched engineer would have
had a fit from fright at the mere idea of any sort of combat.
Davidson knew that he would have to depend on himself in this
affair if it ever came off.

"Davidson underestimated naturally the driving power of the
Frenchman's character and the force of the actuating motive. To
that man so hopelessly crippled these dollars were an enormous
opportunity. With his share of the robbery he would open another
shop in Vladivostok, Haiphong, Manila--somewhere far away.

"Neither did it occur to Davidson, who is a man of courage, if ever
there was one, that his psychology was not known to the world at
large, and that to this particular lot of ruffians, who judged him
by his appearance, he appeared an unsuspicious, inoffensive, soft
creature, as he passed again through the room, his hands full of
various objects and parcels destined for the sick boy.

"All the four were sitting again round the table. Bamtz not having
the pluck to open his mouth, it was Niclaus who, as a collective
voice, called out to him thickly to come out soon and join in a

"'I think I'll have to stay some little time in there, to help her
look after the boy,' Davidson answered without stopping.

"This was a good thing to say to allay a possible suspicion. And,
as it was, Davidson felt he must not stay very long.

"He sat down on an old empty nail-keg near the improvised cot and
looked at the child; while Laughing Anne, moving to and fro,
preparing the hot drink, giving it to the boy in spoonfuls, or
stopping to gaze motionless at the flushed face, whispered
disjointed bits of information. She had succeeded in making
friends with that French devil. Davy would understand that she
knew how to make herself pleasant to a man.

"And Davidson nodded without looking at her.

"The big beast had got to be quite confidential with her. She held
his cards for him when they were having a game. Bamtz! Oh! Bamtz
in his funk was only too glad to see the Frenchman humoured. And
the Frenchman had come to believe that she was a woman who didn't
care what she did. That's how it came about they got to talk
before her openly. For a long time she could not make out what
game they were up to. The new arrivals, not expecting to find a
woman with Bamtz, had been very startled and annoyed at first, she

"She busied herself in attending to the boy; and nobody looking
into that room would have seen anything suspicious in those two
people exchanging murmurs by the sick-bedside.

"'But now they think I am a better man than Bamtz ever was,' she
said with a faint laugh.

"The child moaned. She went down on her knees, and, bending low,
contemplated him mournfully. Then raising her head, she asked
Davidson whether he thought the child would get better. Davidson
was sure of it. She murmured sadly: 'Poor kid. There's nothing
in life for such as he. Not a dog's chance. But I couldn't let
him go, Davy! I couldn't.'

"Davidson felt a profound pity for the child. She laid her hand on
his knee and whispered an earnest warning against the Frenchman.
Davy must never let him come to close quarters. Naturally Davidson
wanted to know the reason, for a man without hands did not strike
him as very formidable under any circumstances.

"'Mind you don't let him--that's all,' she insisted anxiously,
hesitated, and then confessed that the Frenchman had got her away
from the others that afternoon and had ordered her to tie a seven-
pound iron weight (out of the set of weights Bamtz used in
business) to his right stump. She had to do it for him. She had
been afraid of his savage temper. Bamtz was such a craven, and
neither of the other men would have cared what happened to her.
The Frenchman, however, with many awful threats had warned her not
to let the others know what she had done for him. Afterwards he
had been trying to cajole her. He had promised her that if she
stood by him faithfully in this business he would take her with him
to Haiphong or some other place. A poor cripple needed somebody to
take care of him--always.

"Davidson asked her again if they really meant mischief. It was,
he told me, the hardest thing to believe he had run up against, as
yet, in his life. Anne nodded. The Frenchman's heart was set on
this robbery. Davy might expect them, about midnight, creeping on
board his ship, to steal anyhow--to murder, perhaps. Her voice
sounded weary, and her eyes remained fastened on her child.

"And still Davidson could not accept it somehow; his contempt for
these men was too great.

"'Look here, Davy,' she said. 'I'll go outside with them when they
start, and it will be hard luck if I don't find something to laugh
at. They are used to that from me. Laugh or cry--what's the odds.
You will be able to hear me on board on this quiet night. Dark it
is too. Oh! it's dark, Davy!--it's dark!'

"'Don't you run any risks,' said Davidson. Presently he called her
attention to the boy, who, less flushed now, had dropped into a
sound sleep. 'Look. He'll be all right.'

"She made as if to snatch the child up to her breast, but
restrained herself. Davidson prepared to go. She whispered

"'Mind, Davy! I've told them that you generally sleep aft in the
hammock under the awning over the cabin. They have been asking me
about your ways and about your ship, too. I told them all I knew.
I had to keep in with them. And Bamtz would have told them if I
hadn't--you understand?'

"He made a friendly sign and went out. The men about the table
(except Bamtz) looked at him. This time it was Fector who spoke.
'Won't you join us in a quiet game, Captain?'

"Davidson said that now the child was better he thought he would go
on board and turn in. Fector was the only one of the four whom he
had, so to speak, never seen, for he had had a good look at the
Frenchman already. He observed Fector's muddy eyes, his mean,
bitter mouth. Davidson's contempt for those men rose in his gorge,
while his placid smile, his gentle tones and general air of
innocence put heart into them. They exchanged meaning glances.

"'We shall be sitting late over the cards,' Fector said in his
harsh, low voice.

"'Don't make more noise than you can help.'

"'Oh! we are a quiet lot. And if the invalid shouldn't be so well,
she will be sure to send one of us down to call you, so that you
may play the doctor again. So don't shoot at sight.'

"'He isn't a shooting man,' struck in Niclaus.

"'I never shoot before making sure there's a reason for it--at any
rate,' said Davidson.

"Bamtz let out a sickly snigger. The Frenchman alone got up to
make a bow to Davidson's careless nod. His stumps were stuck
immovably in his pockets. Davidson understood now the reason.

"He went down to the ship. His wits were working actively, and he
was thoroughly angry. He smiled, he says (it must have been the
first grim smile of his life), at the thought of the seven-pound
weight lashed to the end of the Frenchman's stump. The ruffian had
taken that precaution in case of a quarrel that might arise over
the division of the spoil. A man with an unsuspected power to deal
killing blows could take his own part in a sudden scrimmage round a
heap of money, even against adversaries armed with revolvers,
especially if he himself started the row.

"'He's ready to face any of his friends with that thing. But he
will have no use for it. There will be no occasion to quarrel
about these dollars here,' thought Davidson, getting on board
quietly. He never paused to look if there was anybody about the
decks. As a matter of fact, most of his crew were on shore, and
the rest slept, stowed away in dark corners.

"He had his plan, and he went to work methodically.

"He fetched a lot of clothing from below and disposed it in his
hammock in such a way as to distend it to the shape of a human
body; then he threw over all the light cotton sheet he used to draw
over himself when sleeping on deck. Having done this, he loaded
his two revolvers and clambered into one of the boats the Sissie
carried right aft, swung out on their davits. Then he waited.

"And again the doubt of such a thing happening to him crept into
his mind. He was almost ashamed of this ridiculous vigil in a
boat. He became bored. And then he became drowsy. The stillness
of the black universe wearied him. There was not even the lapping
of the water to keep him company, for the tide was out and the
Sissie was lying on soft mud. Suddenly in the breathless,
soundless, hot night an argus pheasant screamed in the woods across
the stream. Davidson started violently, all his senses on the
alert at once.

"The candle was still burning in the house. Everything was quiet
again, but Davidson felt drowsy no longer. An uneasy premonition
of evil oppressed him.

"'Surely I am not afraid,' he argued with himself.

"The silence was like a seal on his ears, and his nervous inward
impatience grew intolerable. He commanded himself to keep still.
But all the same he was just going to jump out of the boat when a
faint ripple on the immensity of silence, a mere tremor in the air,
the ghost of a silvery laugh, reached his ears.


"He kept very still. He had no difficulty now in emulating the
stillness of the mouse--a grimly determined mouse. But he could
not shake off that premonition of evil unrelated to the mere danger
of the situation. Nothing happened. It had been an illusion!

"A curiosity came to him to learn how they would go to work. He
wondered and wondered, till the whole thing seemed more absurd than

"He had left the hanging lamp in the cabin burning as usual. It
was part of his plan that everything should be as usual. Suddenly
in the dim glow of the skylight panes a bulky shadow came up the
ladder without a sound, made two steps towards the hammock (it hung
right over the skylight), and stood motionless. The Frenchman!

"The minutes began to slip away. Davidson guessed that the
Frenchman's part (the poor cripple) was to watch his (Davidson's)
slumbers while the others were no doubt in the cabin busy forcing
off the lazarette hatch.

"What was the course they meant to pursue once they got hold of the
silver (there were ten cases, and each could be carried easily by
two men) nobody can tell now. But so far, Davidson was right.
They were in the cabin. He expected to hear the sounds of
breaking-in every moment. But the fact was that one of them
(perhaps Fector, who had stolen papers out of desks in his time)
knew how to pick a lock, and apparently was provided with the
tools. Thus while Davidson expected every moment to hear them
begin down there, they had the bar off already and two cases
actually up in the cabin out of the lazarette.

"In the diffused faint glow of the skylight the Frenchman moved no
more than a statue. Davidson could have shot him with the greatest
ease--but he was not homicidally inclined. Moreover, he wanted to
make sure before opening fire that the others had gone to work.
Not hearing the sounds he expected to hear, he felt uncertain
whether they all were on board yet.

"While he listened, the Frenchman, whose immobility might have but
cloaked an internal struggle; moved forward a pace, then another.
Davidson, entranced, watched him advance one leg, withdraw his
right stump, the armed one, out of his pocket, and swinging his
body to put greater force into the blow, bring the seven-pound
weight down on the hammock where the head of the sleeper ought to
have been.

"Davidson admitted to me that his hair stirred at the roots then.
But for Anne, his unsuspecting head would have been there. The
Frenchman's surprise must have been simply overwhelming. He
staggered away from the lightly swinging hammock, and before
Davidson could make a movement he had vanished, bounding down the
ladder to warn and alarm the other fellows.

"Davidson sprang instantly out of the boat, threw up the skylight
flap, and had a glimpse of the men down there crouching round the
hatch. They looked up scared, and at that moment the Frenchman
outside the door bellowed out 'Trahison--trahison!' They bolted
out of the cabin, falling over each other and swearing awfully.
The shot Davidson let off down the skylight had hit no one; but he
ran to the edge of the cabin-top and at once opened fire at the
dark shapes rushing about the deck. These shots were returned, and
a rapid fusillade burst out, reports and flashes, Davidson dodging
behind a ventilator and pulling the trigger till his revolver
clicked, and then throwing it down to take the other in his right

"He had been hearing in the din the Frenchman's infuriated yells
'Tuez-le! tuez-le!' above the fierce cursing of the others. But
though they fired at him they were only thinking of clearing out.
In the flashes of the last shots Davidson saw them scrambling over
the rail. That he had hit more than one he was certain. Two
different voices had cried out in pain. But apparently none of
them were disabled.

"Davidson leaned against the bulwark reloading his revolver without
haste. He had not the slightest apprehension of their coming back.
On the other hand, he had no intention of pursuing them on shore in
the dark. What they were doing he had no idea. Looking to their
hurts probably. Not very far from the bank the invisible Frenchman
was blaspheming and cursing his associates, his luck, and all the
world. He ceased; then with a sudden, vengeful yell, 'It's that
woman!--it's that woman that has sold us,' was heard running off in
the night.

"Davidson caught his breath in a sudden pang of remorse. He
perceived with dismay that the stratagem of his defence had given
Anne away. He did not hesitate a moment. It was for him to save
her now. He leaped ashore. But even as he landed on the wharf he
heard a shrill shriek which pierced his very soul.

"The light was still burning in the house. Davidson, revolver in
hand, was making for it when another shriek, away to his left, made
him change his direction.

"He changed his direction--but very soon he stopped. It was then
that he hesitated in cruel perplexity. He guessed what had
happened. The woman had managed to escape from the house in some
way, and now was being chased in the open by the infuriated
Frenchman. He trusted she would try to run on board for

"All was still around Davidson. Whether she had run on board or
not, this silence meant that the Frenchman had lost her in the

"Davidson, relieved, but still very anxious, turned towards the
river-side. He had not made two steps in that direction when
another shriek burst out behind him, again close to the house.

"He thinks that the Frenchman had lost sight of the poor woman
right enough. Then came that period of silence. But the horrible
ruffian had not given up his murderous purpose. He reasoned that
she would try to steal back to her child, and went to lie in wait
for her near the house.

"It must have been something like that. As she entered the light
falling about the house-ladder, he had rushed at her too soon,
impatient for vengeance. She had let out that second scream of
mortal fear when she caught sight of him, and turned to run for
life again.

"This time she was making for the river, but not in a straight
line. Her shrieks circled about Davidson. He turned on his heels,
following the horrible trail of sound in the darkness. He wanted
to shout 'This way, Anne! I am here!' but he couldn't. At the
horror of this chase, more ghastly in his imagination than if he
could have seen it, the perspiration broke out on his forehead,
while his throat was as dry as tinder. A last supreme scream was
cut short suddenly.

"The silence which ensued was even more dreadful. Davidson felt
sick. He tore his feet from the spot and walked straight before
him, gripping the revolver and peering into the obscurity
fearfully. Suddenly a bulky shape sprang from the ground within a
few yards of him and bounded away. Instinctively he fired at it,
started to run in pursuit, and stumbled against something soft
which threw him down headlong.

"Even as he pitched forward on his head he knew it could be nothing
else but Laughing Anne's body. He picked himself up and, remaining
on his knees, tried to lift her in his arms. He felt her so limp
that he gave it up. She was lying on her face, her long hair
scattered on the ground. Some of it was wet. Davidson, feeling
about her head, came to a place where the crushed bone gave way
under his fingers. But even before that discovery he knew that she
was dead. The pursuing Frenchman had flung her down with a kick
from behind, and, squatting on her back, was battering in her skull
with the weight she herself had fastened to his stump, when the
totally unexpected Davidson loomed up in the night and scared him

"Davidson, kneeling by the side of that woman done so miserably to
death, was overcome by remorse. She had died for him. His manhood
was as if stunned. For the first time he felt afraid. He might
have been pounced upon in the dark at any moment by the murderer of
Laughing Anne. He confesses to the impulse of creeping away from
that pitiful corpse on his hands and knees to the refuge of the
ship. He even says that he actually began to do so. . .

"One can hardly picture to oneself Davidson crawling away on all
fours from the murdered woman--Davidson unmanned and crushed by the
idea that she had died for him in a sense. But he could not have
gone very far. What stopped him was the thought of the boy,
Laughing Anne's child, that (Davidson remembered her very words)
would not have a dog's chance.

"This life the woman had left behind her appeared to Davidson's
conscience in the light of a sacred trust. He assumed an erect
attitude and, quaking inwardly still, turned about and walked
towards the house.

"For all his tremors he was very determined; but that smashed skull
had affected his imagination, and he felt very defenceless in the
darkness, in which he seemed to hear faintly now here, now there,
the prowling footsteps of the murderer without hands. But he never
faltered in his purpose. He got away with the boy safely after
all. The house he found empty. A profound silence encompassed him
all the time, except once, just as he got down the ladder with Tony
in his arms, when a faint groan reached his ears. It seemed to
come from the pitch-black space between the posts on which the
house was built, but he did not stop to investigate.

"It's no use telling you in detail how Davidson got on board with
the burden Anne's miserably cruel fate had thrust into his arms;
how next morning his scared crew, after observing from a distance
the state of affairs on board, rejoined with alacrity; how Davidson
went ashore and, aided by his engineer (still half dead with
fright), rolled up Laughing Anne's body in a cotton sheet and
brought it on board for burial at sea later. While busy with this
pious task, Davidson, glancing about, perceived a huge heap of
white clothes huddled up against the corner-post of the house.
That it was the Frenchman lying there he could not doubt. Taking
it in connection with the dismal groan he had heard in the night,
Davidson is pretty sure that his random shot gave a mortal hurt to
the murderer of poor Anne.

"As to the others, Davidson never set eyes on a single one of them.
Whether they had concealed themselves in the scared settlement, or
bolted into the forest, or were hiding on board Niclaus's prau,
which could be seen lying on the mud a hundred yards or so higher
up the creek, the fact is that they vanished; and Davidson did not
trouble his head about them. He lost no time in getting out of the
creek directly the Sissie floated. After steaming some twenty
miles clear of the coast, he (in his own words) 'committed the body
to the deep.' He did everything himself. He weighted her down
with a few fire-bars, he read the service, he lifted the plank, he
was the only mourner. And while he was rendering these last
services to the dead, the desolation of that life and the atrocious
wretchedness of its end cried aloud to his compassion, whispered to
him in tones of self-reproach.

"He ought to have handled the warning she had given him in another
way. He was convinced now that a simple display of watchfulness
would have been enough to restrain that vile and cowardly crew.
But the fact was that he had not quite believed that anything would
be attempted.

"The body of Laughing Anne having been 'committed to the deep' some
twenty miles S.S.W. from Cape Selatan, the task before Davidson was
to commit Laughing Anne's child to the care of his wife. And there
poor, good Davidson made a fatal move. He didn't want to tell her
the whole awful story, since it involved the knowledge of the
danger from which he, Davidson, had escaped. And this, too, after
he had been laughing at her unreasonable fears only a short time

"'I thought that if I told her everything,' Davidson explained to
me, 'she would never have a moment's peace while I was away on my

"He simply stated that the boy was an orphan, the child of some
people to whom he, Davidson, was under the greatest obligation, and
that he felt morally bound to look after him. Some day he would
tell her more, he said, and meantime he trusted in the goodness and
warmth of her heart, in her woman's natural compassion.

"He did not know that her heart was about the size of a parched
pea, and had the proportional amount of warmth; and that her
faculty of compassion was mainly directed to herself. He was only
startled and disappointed at the air of cold surprise and the
suspicious look with which she received his imperfect tale. But
she did not say much. She never had much to say. She was a fool
of the silent, hopeless kind.

"What story Davidson's crew thought fit to set afloat in Malay town
is neither here nor there. Davidson himself took some of his
friends into his confidence, besides giving the full story
officially to the Harbour Master.

"The Harbour Master was considerably astonished. He didn't think,
however, that a formal complaint should be made to the Dutch
Government. They would probably do nothing in the end, after a lot
of trouble and correspondence. The robbery had not come off, after
all. Those vagabonds could be trusted to go to the devil in their
own way. No amount of fuss would bring the poor woman to life
again, and the actual murderer had been done justice to by a chance
shot from Davidson. Better let the matter drop.

"This was good common sense. But he was impressed.

"'Sounds a terrible affair, Captain Davidson.'

"'Aye, terrible enough,' agreed the remorseful Davidson. But the
most terrible thing for him, though he didn't know it yet then, was
that his wife's silly brain was slowly coming to the conclusion
that Tony was Davidson's child, and that he had invented that lame
story to introduce him into her pure home in defiance of decency,
of virtue--of her most sacred feelings.

"Davidson was aware of some constraint in his domestic relations.
But at the best of times she was not demonstrative; and perhaps
that very coldness was part of her charm in the placid Davidson's
eyes. Women are loved for all sorts of reasons and even for
characteristics which one would think repellent. She was watching
him and nursing her suspicions.

"Then, one day, Monkey-faced Ritchie called on that sweet, shy Mrs.
Davidson. She had come out under his care, and he considered
himself a privileged person--her oldest friend in the tropics. He
posed for a great admirer of hers. He was always a great
chatterer. He had got hold of the story rather vaguely, and he
started chattering on that subject, thinking she knew all about it.
And in due course he let out something about Laughing Anne.

"'Laughing Anne,' says Mrs. Davidson with a start. 'What's that?'

Ritchie plunged into circumlocution at once, but she very soon
stopped him. 'Is that creature dead?' she asks.

"'I believe so,' stammered Ritchie. 'Your husband says so.'

"'But you don't know for certain?'

"'No! How could I, Mrs. Davidson!'

"'That's all wanted to know,' says she, and goes out of the room.

"When Davidson came home she was ready to go for him, not with
common voluble indignation, but as if trickling a stream of cold
clear water down his back. She talked of his base intrigue with a
vile woman, of being made a fool of, of the insult to her dignity.

"Davidson begged her to listen to him and told her all the story,
thinking that it would move a heart of stone. He tried to make her
understand his remorse. She heard him to the end, said 'Indeed!'
and turned her back on him.

"'Don't you believe me?' he asked, appalled.

"She didn't say yes or no. All she said was, 'Send that brat away
at once.'

"'I can't throw him out into the street,' cried Davidson. 'You
don't mean it.'

"'I don't care. There are charitable institutions for such
children, I suppose.'

"'That I will never do,' said Davidson.

"'Very well. That's enough for me.'

"Davidson's home after this was like a silent, frozen hell for him.
A stupid woman with a sense of grievance is worse than an unchained
devil. He sent the boy to the White Fathers in Malacca. This was
not a very expensive sort of education, but she could not forgive
him for not casting the offensive child away utterly. She worked
up her sense of her wifely wrongs and of her injured purity to such
a pitch that one day, when poor Davidson was pleading with her to
be reasonable and not to make an impossible existence for them
both, she turned on him in a chill passion and told him that his
very sight was odious to her.

"Davidson, with his scrupulous delicacy of feeling, was not the man
to assert his rights over a woman who could not bear the sight of
him. He bowed his head; and shortly afterwards arranged for her to
go back to her parents. That was exactly what she wanted in her
outraged dignity. And then she had always disliked the tropics and
had detested secretly the people she had to live amongst as
Davidson's wife. She took her pure, sensitive, mean little soul
away to Fremantle or somewhere in that direction. And of course
the little girl went away with her too. What could poor Davidson
have done with a little girl on his hands, even if she had
consented to leave her with him--which is unthinkable.

"This is the story that has spoiled Davidson's smile for him--which
perhaps it wouldn't have done so thoroughly had he been less of a
good fellow."

Hollis ceased. But before we rose from the table I asked him if he
knew what had become of Laughing Anne's boy.

He counted carefully the change handed him by the Chinaman waiter,
and raised his head.

"Oh! that's the finishing touch. He was a bright, taking little
chap, as you know, and the Fathers took very special pains in his
bringing up. Davidson expected in his heart to have some comfort
out of him. In his placid way he's a man who needs affection.
Well, Tony has grown into a fine youth--but there you are! He
wants to be a priest; his one dream is to be a missionary. The
Fathers assure Davidson that it is a serious vocation. They tell
him he has a special disposition for mission work, too. So
Laughing Anne's boy will lead a saintly life in China somewhere; he
may even become a martyr; but poor Davidson is left out in the
cold. He will have to go downhill without a single human affection
near him because of these old dollars."

Jan. 1914


{1} The gallows, supposed to be widowed of the last executed
criminal and waiting for another.

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