The Outstation by W. Somerset Maugham |
The new assistant arrived in the afternoon. When the Resident, Mr. Warburton, was told that the prahu was in sight he put on his solar topee and went down to the landing-stage. The guard, eight little Dyak soldiers, stood to attention as he passed. He noted with satisfaction that their bearing was martial, their uniforms neat and clean, and their guns shining. They were a credit to him. From the landing-stage he watched the bend of the river round which in a moment the boat would sweep. He looked very smart in his spotless ducks and white shoes. He held under his arm a gold-headed Malacca cane which had been given him by the Sultan of Perak. He awaited the newcomer with mingled feelings. There was more work in the district than one man could properly do, and during his periodical tours of the country under his charge it had been inconvenient to leave the station in the hands of a native clerk, but he had been so long the only while man there that he could not face the arrival of another without misgiving. He was accustomed to loneliness. During the war he had not seen an English face for three years; and once when he was instructed to put up an afforestation officer he was seized with panic, so that when the stranger was due to arrive, having arranged everything for his reception, he wrote a note telling him he was obliged to go up-river, and fled; he remained away till he was informed by a messenger that his guest had left.
Now the prahu appeared in the broad reach. It was manned by prisoners, Dyaks under various sentences, and a couple of warders were waiting on the landing-stage to lake them back to jail. They were sturdy fellows, used to the river, and they rowed with a powerful stroke. As the boat reached the side a man got out from under the attap awning and stepped on shore. The guard presented arms.
"Here we are at last. By God, I`m as cramped as the devil. I`ve brought you your mail."
He spoke with exuberant joviality. Mr. Warburton politely held out his hand.
"Mr. Cooper, I presume?"
"That`s right. Were you expecting anyone else?"
The question had a facetious intent, but the Resident did not smile.
"My name is Warburton. I`ll show you your quarters. They`ll bring your kit along."
He preceded Cooper along the narrow pathway and they entered a compound in which stood a small bungalow.
"I`ve had it made as habitable as I could, but of course no one has lived in it for a good many years,"
It was built on piles. It consisted of a long living-room which opened on to a broad verandah, and behind, on each side of a passage, were two bedrooms.
"This`ll do me all right," said Cooper.
"I daresay you want to have a bath and a change. I shall be very much pleased if you`ll dine with me to-night. Will eight o`clock suit you?"
"Any old time will do for me."
The Resident gave a polite, but slightly disconcerted smile, and withdrew. He returned to the Fort where his own residence was. The impression which Alien Cooper had given him was not very favourable, but he was a fair man, and he knew that it was unjust to form an opinion on so brief a glimpse. Cooper seemed to be about thirty. He was a tall, thin fellow, with a sallow face in which there was not a spot of colour. It was a face all in one tone. He had a large, hooked nose and blue eyes. When, entering the bungalow, he had taken off his topee and flung it to a wailing boy, Mr. Warburton noticed that his large skull, covered with short, brown hair, contrasted somewhat oddly with a weak, small chin. He was dressed in khaki shorts and a khaki shirt, but they were shabby and soiled; and his battered topee had not been cleaned for days. Mr. Warburton reflected that the young man had spent a week on a coasting steamer and had passed the last forty eight hours lying in the bottom of a prahu.
"We`ll see what he looks like when he comes in to dinner."
He went into his room where his things were as neatly laid out as if he had an English valet, undressed, and, walking down the stairs to the bath-house, sluiced himself with cool water. The only concession he made to the climate was to wear a while dinner-jacket; but otherwise, in a boiled shirt and a high collar, silk socks and patent-leather shoes, he dressed as formally as though he were dining at his club in Pall Mall. A careful host, he went into the dining-room to see that the table was properly laid. It was gay with orchids, and the silver shone brightly. The napkins were folded into elaborate shapes. Shaded candles in silver candle-sticks shed a soft light. Mr. Warburton smiled his approval and returned to the sitting-room to await his guest. Presently he appeared. Cooper was wearing the khaki shorts, the khaki shirt, and the ragged jacket in which he had landed. Mr. Warburton`s smile of greeting froze on his face.
"Halloa, you`re all dressed up," said Cooper. "I didn`t know you were going to do that. I very nearly put on a sarong."
"It doesn`t mailer at all. I daresay your boys were busy."
"You needn`t have bothered to dress on my account, you know."
"I didn`t. I always dress for dinner." "Even when you`re alone?"
"Especially when I`m alone," replied Mr. Warburton, with a frigid stare.
He saw a twinkle of amusement in Cooper`s eyes, and he flushed an angry red. Mr. Warburton was a hot-tempered man; you might have guessed that from his red face with its pugnacious features and from his red hair now growing white; his blue eyes, cold as a rule and observing, could flash with sudden wrath; but he was a man of the world and he hoped a just one. He must do his best to get on with this fellow.
"When I lived in London I moved in circles in which it would have been just as eccentric not to dress for dinner every night as not to have a bath every morning. When I came to Borneo I saw no reason to discontinue so good a habit. For three years during the war I never saw a white man. I never omitted to dress on a single occasion on which I was well enough to come in to dinner. You have not been very long in this country; believe me, there is no better way to maintain the proper pride which you should have in yourself. When a white man surrenders in the slightest degree to the influences that surround him he very soon loses his self-respect, and when he loses his self-respect you may be quite sure that the natives will soon cease to respect him."
"Well, if you expect me to put on a boiled shirt and a stiff collar in this heat I`m afraid you`ll be disappointed."
"When you are dining in your own bungalow you will, of course, dress as you think fit, but when you do me the pleasure of dining with me, perhaps you will come to the conclusion that it is only polite to wear the costume usual in civilised society."
Two Malay boys, in sarongs and songkoks, with smart white coats and brass buttons, came in, one bearing gin pahits, and the other a tray on which were olives and anchovies. Then they went in to dinner. Mr. Warburton flattered himself that he had the best cook, a Chinese, in Borneo, and he took great trouble to have as good food as in the difficult circumstances was possible. He exercised much ingenuity in making the best of his materials.
"Would you care to look at the menu? " he said, handing it to Cooper.
It was written in French and the dishes had resounding names. They were waited on by the two boys. In opposite corners of the room two more waved immense fans, and so gave movement to the sultry air. The fare was sumptuous and the champagne excellent.
"Do you do yourself like this every day?" said Cooper.
Mr. Warburton gave the menu a careless glance. "I have not noticed that the dinner is any different from usual," he said. "I eat very little myself but I make a point of having a proper dinner served to me every night. It keeps the cook in practice and it`s good discipline for the boys."
The conversation proceeded with effort. Mr. Warburton was elaborately courteous, and it may be that he found a slightly malicious amusement in the embarrassment which he thereby occasioned in his companion. Cooper had not been more than a few months in Sembulu, and Mr. Warburton`s inquiries about friends of his in Kuala Solor were soon exhausted.
"By the way," he said presently, "did you meet a lad called Hennerley? He`s come out recently, I believe."
"Oh, yes, he`s in the police. A rotten bounder."
"I should hardly have expected him to be that. His uncle is my friend Lord Barraclough. I had a letter from Lady Barraclough only the other day asking me to look out for him."
"I heard he was related to somebody or other. I suppose that`s how he got the job. He`s been to Eton and Oxford and he doesn`t forget to let you know it."
"You surprise me," said Mr. Warburton. "All his family have been at Eton and Oxford for a couple of hundred years. I should have expected him to take it as a matter of course."
"I thought him a damned prig."
"To what school did you go?"
"I was born in Barbadoes. I was educated there."
"Oh, I see."
Mr. Warburton managed to put so much offensiveness into his brief reply that Cooper flushed. For a moment he was silent.
"I`ve had two or three letters from Kuala Solor", continued Mr. Warburton, "and my impression was that young Hennerley was a great success. They say he`s a first-rate sportsman."
"Oh, yes, he`s very popular. He`s just the sort of fellow they would like in K. S. I haven`t got much use for the first-rate sportsman myself. What does it amount to in the long run that a man can play golf and tennis better than other people? And who cares if he can make a break of seventy-five al billiards? They attach a damned sight too much importance to that sort of thing in England."
"Do you think so? I was under the impression that the first-rate sportsman had come out of the war certainly no worse than anyone else."
"Oh, if you`re going to talk of the war then I do know what I`m talking about. I was in the same regiment as Hennerley and I can tell you that the men couldn`t stick him at any price."
"How do you know?"
"Because I was one of the men."
"Oh, you hadn`t got a commission."
"A fat chance I had of getting a commission. I was what was called a Colonial. I hadn`t been to a public school and I had no influence. I was in the ranks the whole damned time."
Cooper frowned. He seemed to have difficulty in preventing himself from breaking out into violent invective. Mr. Warburton watched him, his little blue eyes narrowed, watched him and formed his opinion. Changing the conversation, he began to speak to Cooper about the work that would be required of him, and as the clock struck ten he rose.
"Well, I won`t keep you any more. I daresay you`re tired by your journey."
They shook hands.
"Oh, I say, look here," said Cooper, "I wonder if you can find me a boy. The boy I had before never turned up when I was starting from K. S. He took my kit on board and all that, and then disappeared. I didn`t know he wasn`t there till we were out of the river."
"I`ll ask my head-boy. I have no doubt he can find you someone."
"All right. Just tell him to send the boy along and if I like the look of him I`ll take him."
There was a moon, so that no lantern was needed Cooper walked across from the Fort to his bungalow.
"I wonder why on earth they`ve sent me a fellow like that?" reflected Mr. Warburton. "If that`s the kind of man they`re going to get out now I don`t think much of it."
He strolled down his garden. The Fort was built on the top of a little hill and the garden ran down to the river`s edge; on the bank was an arbour, and hither it was his habit to come after dinner to smoke a cheroot. And often from the river that flowed below him a voice was heard, the voice of some Malay too timorous to venture into the light of day, and a complaint or an accusation was softly wafted to his ears, a piece of information was whispered to him or a useful hint, which otherwise would never have come into his official ken. He threw himself heavily into a long rattan chair. Cooper! An envious, ill-bred fellow, bumptious, self-assertive and vain. But Mr. Warburton`s irritation could not withstand the silent beauty of the night. The air was scented with the sweet-smelling flowers of a tree that grew at the entrance to the arbour, and the fire-flies, sparkling dimly, flew with their slow and silvery flight. The moon made a pathway on the broad river for the light feet of Siva`s bride, and on the further bank a row of palm trees was delicately silhouetted against the sky. Peace stole into the soul of Mr. Warburton.
He was a queer creature and he had had a singular career. At the age of twenty-one he had inherited a considerable fortune, a hundred thousand pounds, and when he left Oxford he threw himself into the gay life which in those days (now Mr. Warburton was a man of four and fifty) offered itself to the young man of good family. He had his flat in Mount Street, his private hansom, and his hunting-box in Warwickshire. He went to all the places where the fashionable congregate. He was handsome, amusing, and generous. He was a figure in the society of London in the early nineties, and society then had not lost its exclusiveness nor its brilliance. The Boer War which shook it was unthought of; the Great War which destroyed it was prophesied only by the pessimists. It was no unpleasant thing to be a rich young man in those days, and Mr. Warburton`s chimney-piece during the season was packed with cards for one great function after another. Mr. Warburton displayed them with complacency. For M r. Warburton was a snob. He was not a timid snob, a little ashamed of being impressed by his betters, nor a snob who sought the intimacy of persons who had acquired celebrity in politics or notoriety in the arts, nor the snob who was dazzled by riches; he was the naked, unadulterated common snob who dearly loved a lord. He was touchy and quick-tempered, but he would much rather have been snubbed by a person of quality than flattered by a commoner. His name figured insignificantly in Burke`s Peerage, and it was marvellous to watch the ingenuity he used to mention his distant relationship to the noble family he belonged to; but never a word did he say of the honest Liverpool manufacturer from whom, through his mother, a Miss Gubbins, he had come by his fortune. It was the terror of his fashionable life that at Gowes, maybe, or at Ascot, when he was with a duchess or even with a prince of the blood, one of these relatives would claim acquaintance with him.
His failing was too obvious not soon to become notorious, but its extravagance saved it from being merely despicable. The great whom he adored laughed at him, but in their hearts felt his adoration not unnatural. Poor Warburton was a dreadful snob, of course, but after all he was a good fellow. He was always ready to back a bill for an impecunious nobleman, and if you were in a tight corner you could safely count on him for a hundred pounds. He gave good dinners. He played whist badly, hut never minded how much he lost if the company was select. He happened to be a gambler, an unlucky one, hut he was a good loser, and it was impossible not to admire the coolness with which he lost five hundred pounds at a sitting. His passion for cards, almost as strong as his passion for titles, was the cause of his undoing. The life he led was expensive and his gambling losses were formidable. He began to plunge more heavily, first on horses, and then on the Stock Exchange. He had a certain simplicity of character, and the unscrupulous found him an ingenuous prey. I do not know if he ever realised that his smart friends laughed at him behind his back, but I think he had an obscure instinct that he could not afford to appear other than careless of his money. He got into the hands of money-lenders. At the age of thirty-four he was ruined.
He was too much imbued with the spirit of his class to hesitate in the choice of his next step. When a man in his set had run through his money, he went out to the colonies. No one heard Mr. Warburton repine. He made no complaint because a noble friend had advised a disastrous speculation, he pressed nobody to whom he had lent money to repay it, he paid his debts (if he had only known it, the despised blood of the Liverpool manufacturer came out in him there), sought help from no one, and, never having done a stroke of work in his life, looked for a means of livelihood. He remained cheerful, unconcerned and full of humour. He had no wish to make anyone with whom he happened to be uncomfortable by the recital of his misfortune. Mr. Warburton was a snob, but he was also a gentleman.
The only favour he asked of any of the great friends in whose daily company he had lived for years was a recommendation. The able man who was at that time Sultan of Sembulu took him into his service. The night before he sailed he dined for the last lime at his club.
"I hear you`re going away, Warburton," the old Duke of Hereford said to him.
"Yes, I`m going to Borneo."
"Good God, what are you going there for?"
"Oh, I`m broke."
"Arc you? I`m sorry. Well, let us know when you come back. I hope you have a good time."
"Oh yes. Lots of shooting, you know."
The Duke nodded and passed on. A few hours later Mr. Warburton watched the coast of England recede into the mist, and he left behind everything which to him made life worth living.
Twenty years had passed since then. He kept up a busy correspondence with various great ladies and his letters were amusing and chatty. He never lost his love for tilled persons and paid careful attention to the announcement in The Times (which reached him six weeks after publication) of their comings and goings. He perused the column which records births, deaths, and marriages, and he was always ready with his letter of congratulation or condolence. The illustrated papers told him how people looked and on his periodical visits to England, able to take up the threads as though they had never been broken, he knew all about any new person who might have appeared on the social surface. His interest in the world of fashion was as vivid as when himself had been a figure in it. It still seemed to him the only thing that mattered.
But insensibly another interest had entered into his life. The position he found himself in flattered his vanity; he was no longer the sycophant craving the smiles of the great, he was the master whose word was law. Me was gratified by the guard of Dyak soldiers who presented arms as he passed. He liked to sit in judgement on his fellow men. It pleased him to compose quarrels between rival chiefs. When the head-hunters were troublesome in the old days he set out to chastise them with a thrill of pride in his own behaviour. He was too vain not to be of dauntless courage, and a pretty story was told of his coolness in adventuring single-handed into a stockaded village and demanding the surrender of a blood-thirsty pirate. He became a skilful administrator. He was strict, just and honest.
And little by little he conceived a deep love for the Malays. He interested himself in their habits and customs. He was never tired of listening to their talk. He admired their virtues, and with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders condoned their vices.
"In my day," he would say, "I have been on intimate terms with some of the greatest gentlemen in England, but I have never known finer gentlemen than some wellborn Malays whom I am proud to call my friends."
He liked their courtesy and their distinguished manners, their gentleness and their sudden passions. Me knew by instinct exactly how to treat them. He had a genuine tenderness for them. But he never forgot that he was an English gentleman, and he had no patience with the white men who yielded to native customs. He made no surrenders. And he did not imitate so many of the while men in taking a native woman to wife, for an intrigue of this nature, however sanctified by custom, seemed to him not only shocking but undignified. A man who had been called George by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, could hardly be expected to have any connection with a native. And when he returned to Borneo from his visits to England it was now with something like relief. His friends, like himself, were no longer young, and there was a new generation which looked upon him as a tiresome old man. It seemed to him that the England of to-day had lost a good deal of what he had loved in the England of his youth. But Borneo remained the same. It was home to him now. He meant to remain in the service as long as was possible, and the hope in his heart was that he would die before at last he was forced to retire. He had staled in his will that wherever he died he wished his body to be brought back to Sembulu, and buried among the people he loved within the sound of the softly flowing river.
But these emotions he kept hidden from the eyes of men; and no one, seeing this spruce, stout, well-set-up man, with his clean-shaven strong face and his whitening hair, would have dreamed that he cherished so profound a sentiment.
He knew how the work of the station should be done, and during the next few days he kept a suspicious eye on his assistant. He saw very soon that he was painstaking and competent. The only fault he had to find with him was that he was brusque with the natives.
"The Malays are shy and very sensitive," he said to him. "I think you will find that you will get much better results if you lake care always to be polite, patient and kindly."
Cooper gave a short, grating laugh.
" I was born in Barbadoes and I was in Africa in the war. I don`t think there`s much about niggers that I don`t know."
"I know nothing," said Mr. Warburton acidly. "But we were not talking of them. We were talking of Malays."
"Aren`t they niggers?"
"You are very ignorant," replied Mr. Warburton.
He said no more.
On the first Sunday after Cooper`s arrival he asked him to dinner. He did everything ceremoniously, and though they had met on the previous day in the office and later, on the Fort verandah where they drank a gin and bitters together at six o`clock, he sent a polite note across to the bungalow by a boy. Cooper, however unwillingly, came in evening dress and Mr. Warburton, though gratified that his wish was respected, noticed with disdain that the young man`s clothes were badly cut and his shirt ill-fitting. But Mr. Warburton was in a good temper that evening.
"By the way," he said to him, as he shook hands, "I`ve talked to my head-boy about finding you someone and he recommends his nephew. I`ve seen him and he seems a bright and willing lad. Would you like to see him?"
"I don`t mind."
"He`s waiting now."
Mr. Warburton called his boy and told him to send for his nephew. In a moment a tall, slender youth of twenty appeared. He had large dark eyes and a good profile. He was very neat in his sarong, a little white coat, and a fez, without a tassel, of plum-coloured velvet. He answered to the name of Abas. Mr. Warburton looked on him with approval, and his manner insensibly softened as he spoke to him in fluent and idiomatic Malay. He was inclined to be sarcastic with white people, but with the Malays he had a happy mixture of condescension and kindliness. I le stood in the place of the Sultan. He knew perfectly how to preserve his own dignity, and at the same lime put a native at his ease.
"Will he do?" said Mr. Warburton, turning to Cooper.
"Yes, I daresay he`s no more of a scoundrel than any of the rest of them."
Mr. Warburton informed the boy that he was engaged, and dismissed him.
"You`re very lucky to get a boy like that," he told Cooper. "He belongs to a very good family. They came over from Malacca nearly a hundred years ago."
"I don`t much mind if the boy who cleans my shoes and brings me a drink when I want it has blue blood in his veins or not. All I ask is that he should do what I tell him and look sharp about it."
Mr. Warburton pursed his lips, but made no reply.
They went in to dinner. It was excellent, and the wine was good. Its influence presently had its effect on them, and they talked not only without acrimony, but even with friendliness. Mr. Warburton liked to do himself well, and on Sunday night he made it a habit to do himself even a little better than usual. He began to think he was unfair to Cooper. Of course he was not a gentleman, but that was not his fault, and when you got to know him it might be that he would turn out a very good fellow. His faults, perhaps, were faults of manner. And he was certainly good at his work, quick, conscientious and thorough. When they reached the dessert Mr. Warburton was feeling kindly disposed towards all mankind.
"This is your first Sunday, and I`m going to give you a very special glass of port. I`ve only got about two dozen of it left and I keep it for special occasions."
He gave his boy instructions and presently the bottle was brought. Mr. Warburton watched the boy open it.
"I got this port from my old friend Charles Hollington. He`d had it for forty years, and I`ve had it for a good many. He was well-known to have the best cellar in England."
"Is he a wine merchant?"
"Not exactly," smiled Mr. Warburton. "I was speaking of Lord Hollington of Castle Reagh. He`s one of the richest peers in England. A very old friend of mine. I was at Eton with his brother."
This was an opportunity that Mr. Warburton could never resist, and he told a little anecdote of which the only point seemed to be that he knew an Earl. The port was certainly very good; he drank a glass and then a second. Me lost all caution. He had not talked to a while man for months. He began to tell stories. He showed himself in the company of the great. Hearing him, you would have thought that at one time ministries were formed and policies decided on his suggestion whispered into the ear of a duchess or thrown over the dinner-table to be gratefully acted on by the confidential adviser of the sovereign. The old days at Ascot, Goodwood and Cowes lived again for him. Another glass o port. There were the great house-parties in Yorkshire and in Scotland to which he went every year.
"I had a man called Foreman then, the best valet I ever had, and why do you think he gave me notice? You know in the Housekeeper`s Room the ladies` maids and the gentlemen`s gentlemen sit according to the precedence of their masters. He told me he was sick of going to party after party at which I was the only commoner. It meant that he always had to sit at the bottom of the table, and all the best bits were taken before a dish reached him. I told the story to the old Duke of Hereford, and he roared. `By God, Sir,` he said, `if I were King of England, I`d make you a viscount just to give your man a chance.` `Take him yourself, Duke,` I said, `He`s the best valet I`ve ever had.` `Well, Warburton,` he said, `if he`s good enough for you he`s good enough for me. Send him along."`
Then there was Monte Carlo where Mr. Warburton and the Grand Duke Fyodor, playing in partnership, had broken the bank one evening; and there was Marienbad. At Marienbad Mr. Warburton had played baccarat with Edward VII.
"He was only Prince of Wales then, of course. I remember him saying to me, `George, if you draw on a five you`ll lose your shirt.` He was right; I don`t think he ever said a truer word in his life. He was a wonderful man. I always said he was the greatest diplomatist in Europe. But I was a young fool in those days, I hadn`t the sense to lake his advice. If I had, if I`d never drawn on a five, I daresay I shouldn`t be here to-day."
Cooper was watching him. His brown eyes, deep in their sockets, were hard and supercilious, and on his lips was a mocking smile, he had heard a good deal about Mr. Warburton in Kuala Solor, not a bad sort, and he ran his district like clockwork, they said, but by heaven, what a snob! They laughed at him good-naturedly, for it was impossible to dislike a man who was so generous and so kindly, and Cooper had already heard the story of the Prince of Wales and the game of baccarat. But Cooper listened without indulgence. From the beginning he had resented the Resident`s manner. He was very sensitive, and he writhed under Mr. Warburton`s polite sarcasms. Mr. Warburton had a knack of receiving a remark of which he disapproved with a devastating silence. Cooper had lived little in England and he had a peculiar dislike of the English. He resented especially the public-school boy since he always feared that he was going to patronise him. He was so much afraid of others putting on airs with him that, in order as it were to get in first, he put on such airs as to make everyone think him insufferably conceited.
"Well, at all events the war has done one good thing for us," he said at last. "It`s smashed up the power of the aristocracy. The Boer War started it, and 1914 put the lid on."
"The great families of England are doomed," said Mr. Warburton with the complacent melancholy of an emigre who remembered the court of Louis XV. "They cannot afford any longer to live in their splendid palaces and their princely hospitality will soon be nothing but a memory."
"And a damned good job too in my opinion."
"My poor Cooper, what can you know of the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome?"
Mr. Warburton made an ample gesture. His eye for an instant grew dreamy with a vision of the past.
"Well, believe me, we`re fed up with all that rot. What we want is a business government by business men. I was born in a Crown Colony, and I`ve lived practically all my life in the colonies. I don`t give a row of pins for a lord. What`s wrong: with England is snobbishness. And if there`s anything that gets my goat it`s a snob."
A snob! Mr. Warburton`s face grew purple and his eyes blazed" with anger. That was a word that had pursued him all his life. The great ladies whose society he had enjoyed in his youth were not inclined to look upon his appreciation of themselves as unworthy, but even great ladies are sometimes out of temper and more than once Mr. Warburton had had the dreadful word flung in his teeth. He knew, he could not help knowing, that there were odious people who called him a snob. How unfair it was! Why, there was no vice he found so detestable as snobbishness. After all, he liked to mix with people of his own class, he was only at home in their company, and how in heaven`s name could anyone say that was snobbish? Birds of a feather.
"I quite agree with you," he answered. "A snob is a man who admires or despises another because he is of a higher social rank than his own. It is the most vulgar failing of our English middle-class."
He saw a flicker of amusement in Cooper`s eyes. Cooper put up his hand to hide the broad smile that rose to his lips, and so made it more noticeable. Mr. Warburton`s hands trembled a little.
Probably Cooper never knew how greatly he had offended his chief. A sensitive man himself he was strangely insensitive to the feelings of others.
Their work forced them to see one another for a few minutes now and then during the day, and they met at six to have a drink on Mr. Warburton`s verandah. This was an old-established custom of the country which Mr. Warburton would not for the world have broken. But they ate their meals separately. Cooper in his bungalow and Mr. Warburton at the Fort. After the office work was over they walked till dusk fell, but they walked apart. There were but few paths in this country, where the jungle pressed close upon the plantations of the village, and when Mr. Warburton caught sight of his assistant passing along with his loose stride, he would make a circuit in order to avoid him. Cooper, with his bad manners, his conceit in his own judgement and his intolerance, had already got on his nerves; but it was not till Cooper had been on the station for a couple of months that an incident happened which turned the Resident`s dislike into bitter hatred.
Mr. Warburton was obliged to go up-country on a lour of inspection, and he left the station in Cooper`s charge with mere confidence, since had definitely come to the conclusion that he was a capable fellow. The only thing he did not like was that he had no indulgence. Me was honest, just and painstaking, but he had no sympathy for the natives. It bitterly amused Mr. Warburton to observe that this man who looked upon himself as every man`s equal, should look upon so many men as his own inferiors, he was hard, he had no patience with the native mind, and he was a bully. Mr. Warburton very quickly realised that the Malays disliked and feared him. He was not altogether displeased. He would no I have liked it very much if his assistant had enjoyed a popularity which might rival his own. Mr. Warburton made his elaborate preparations, set out on his expedition, and in three weeks returned. Meanwhile the mail had arrive. The first thing that struck his eyes when he entered his sitting-room was a great pile of open newspapers. Cooper had met him, and they went into the room together. Mr. Warburton turned to one of the servants who had been left behind and sternly asked him what was the meaning of those open papers. Cooper hastened to explain.
"I wanted to read all about the Wolverhampton murder, and so I borrowed your Times. I brought them back again. I knew you wouldn`t mind."
Mr. Warburton turned on him, while with anger.
"But I do mind. I mind very much."
"I`m sorry," said Cooper, with composure. "The fact is, I simply couldn`t wait till you came back."
"I wonder you didn`t open my letters as well."
Cooper, unmoved, smiled al his chief`s exasperation.
"Oh, that`s not quite the same thing. After all, I couldn`t imagine you`d mind my looking at your newspapers. There`s nothing private in them."
"I very much object to anyone reading my paper before me." He went up to the pile. There were nearly thirty numbers there. I think it extremely impertinent of you. They`re all mixed up."
"We can easily put them in order," said Cooper, joining him al the table.
"Don`t touch them," cried Mr. Warburton.
" I say, it`s childish to make a scene about a little thing like that."
"How dare you speak to me like that?"
"Oh, go to hell," said Cooper, and he flung out of the room.
Mr. Warburton, trembling with passion, was left contemplating his papers. His greatest pleasure in life had been destroyed by those callous, brutal hands. Most people living in out of the way places when the mail comes tear open impatiently their papers and taking the last ones first glance at the latest news from home. Not so Mr. Warburton. His newsagent had instructions to write on the outside of the wrapper the date of each paper he despatched, and when the great bundle arrived Mr. Warburton looked at these dates and with his blue pencil numbered them. His head-boy`s orders were to place one on the table every morning in the verandah with the early cup of tea, and it was Mr. Warburton`s especial delight to break the wrapper as he sipped his tea, and reap the morning paper. It gave him the illusion of living at home. Every Monday morning he read the Monday Times of six weeks back, and so went through the week. On Sunday he read The Observer. Like his habit of dressing for dinner it was a tie to civilisation. And it was his pride that no matter how exciting the news was he had never yielded to the temptation of opening a paper before its allotted time. During the war the suspense sometimes had been intolerable, and when he read one day that a push was begun he had undergone agonies of suspense which he might have saved himself by the simple expedient of opening a later paper which lay waiting for him on a shelf. It had been the severest trial to which he had ever exposed himself, but he victoriously surmounted it. And that clumsy fool had broken open those neat tight packages because he wanted to know whether some horrid woman had murdered her odious husband.
Mr. Warburton sent for his boy and told him to bring wrappers. He folded up the papers as neatly as he could, placed a wrapper round each and numbered it. But it was a melancholy task.
"I shall never forgive him," he said. "Never."
Of course his boy had been with him on his expedition; he never travelled without him, for his boy knew exactly how he liked things, and Mr. Warburton was not the kind of jungle traveller who was prepared to dispense with his comforts; but in the interval since their arrival he had been gossiping in the servants` quarters. He had learnt that Cooper had had trouble with his boys. All but the youth Abas had left him. Abas had desired to go too, but his uncle had placed him there on the instructions of the Resident, and he was afraid to leave without his uncle`s permission.
"I told him he had done well, Tuan," said the boy. "But he is unhappy. He says it is not a good house, and he wishes to know if he may go as the others have gone."
"No, he must stay. The Tuan must have servants. Have those who went been replaced?"
"No, Tuan, no one will go."
Mr. Warburton frowned. Cooper was an insolent fool, but he had an official position and must be suitably provided with servants. It was not seemly that his house should be improperly conducted.
"Where are the boys who ran away?"
"They are in the kampong, Tuan."
"Go and see them to-night, and tell them that I expect them to be back in Tuan Cooper`s house at dawn to-morrow."
"They say they will not go, Tuan." "On my order?"
The boy had been with Mr. Warburton for fifteen years, and he knew every intonation of his master`s voice. He was not afraid of him, they had gone through too much together, once in the jungle the Resident had saved his life, and once, upset in some rapids, but for him the Resident would have been drowned; but he knew when the Resident must be obeyed without question. "I will go to the kampong," he said.
Mr. Warburton expected that his subordinate would take the first opportunity to apologise for his rudeness, but Cooper had the ill-bred man`s inability to express regret; and when they met next morning in the office he ignored the incident. Since Mr. Warburton had been away for three weeks it was necessary for them to have a somewhat prolonged interview. At the end of it, Mr. Warburton dismissed him.
"I don`t think there`s anything else, thank you." Cooper turned to go, but Mr. Warburton stopped him. "I understand you`ve been having some trouble with your boys."
Cooper gave a harsh laugh. "They tried to blackmail me. They had the damned cheek to run away, all except that incompetent fellow Abas - he knew when he was well off - but I just sat light. They`ve all come to heel again."
"What do you mean by that?"
"This morning they were all back on their jobs, the Chinese cook and all. There they were, as cool as cucumbers; you would have thought they owned the place. I suppose they`d come to the conclusion that I wasn`t such fool as I looked."
"By no means. They came back on my express order."
Cooper flushed slightly.
"I should be obliged if you wouldn`t interfere with my private concerns."
"They`re not your private concerns. When your servants run away it makes you ridiculous. You are perfectly free to make a fool of yourself, but I cannot allow you to be made a fool of. It is unseemly that your house should not be properly staffed. As soon as I heard that your boys had left you, I had them told to be back in their places at dawn. That`ll do."
Mr. Warburton nodded to signify that the interview was at an end. Cooper took no notice.
"Shall I tell you what I did? I called them and gave the whole bally lot the sack. I gave them ten minutes to gel out of the compound."
Mr. Warburton shrugged his shoulders.
"What makes you think you can get others?"
"I`ve told my own clerk to see about it."
Mr. Warburton reflected for a moment.
"I think you behaved very foolishly. You will do well to remember in future that good masters make good servants."
"Is there anything else you want to leach me?"
"I should like to teach you manners, but it would be an arduous task, and I have not the time to waste. I will see that you get boys."
"Please don`t put yourself to any trouble on my account. I`m quite capable of getting them for myself."
Mr. Warburton smiled acidly. He had an inkling that Cooper disliked him as much as he disliked Cooper, and he knew that nothing is more galling than to be forced to accept the favours of a man you detest.
"Allow me to tell you that you have no more chance of getting Malay or Chinese servants here now than you have of getting an English butler or a French chef. No one will come to you except on an order from me. Would you like me to give it?"
"As you please. Good morning."
Mr. Warburton watched the development of the situation with acrid humour. Cooper`s clerk was unable to persuade Malay, Dyak or Chinese to enter the house of such a master. Abas, the boy who remained faithful to him, knew how to cook only native food, and Cooper, a coarse feeder, found his gorge rise against the everlasting rice. There was no water-carrier, and in that great heal he needed several baths a day. He cursed Abas, but Abas opposed him with sullen resistance and would not do more than he chose. It was galling to know that the lad stayed with him only because the Resident insisted. This went on for a fortnight and then, one morning, he found in his house the very servants whom he had previously dismissed. He fell into a violent rage, but he had learnt a little sense, and this time, without a word, he let them stay. He swallowed his humiliation, but the impatient contempt he had felt for Mr. Warburton`s idiosyncrasies changed into a sullen hatred: the Resident with this malicious stroke had made him the laughing-stock of all the natives.
The two men now held no communication with one another. They broke the time-honoured custom of sharing, notwithstanding personal dislike, a drink at six o`clock with any white man who happened to be at the station. Each lived in his own house as though the other did riot exist. Now that Cooper had fallen into the work, it was necessary for them to have little to do with one another in the office. Mr. Warburton used his orderly to send any message he had to give his assistant, and his instructions he sent by formal letter. They saw one another constantly, that was inevitable, but did not exchange half a dozen words in a week. The fact that they could not avoid catching sight of one another got on their nerves. They brooded over their antagonism, and Mr. Warburton, taking his daily walk, could think of nothing but how much he detested his assistant.
And the dreadful thing was that in all probability they would remain thus, facing each other in deadly enmity, till Mr. Warburton went on leave, it might be three years, he had no reason to send in a complaint to headquarters: Cooper did his work very well, and at that time men were hard to gel. True, vague complaints reached him and hints that the natives found Cooper harsh. There was certainly a feeling of dissatisfaction among them. But when Mr. Warburton looked into specific cases, all he could say was that Cooper had shown severity where mildness would not have been misplaced, and had been unfeeling when himself would have been sympathetic. He had done nothing for which he could be taken to task. But Mr. Warburton watched him. Hatred will often make a man clear-sighted, and he had a suspicion that Cooper was using the natives without consideration, yet keeping within the law, because he felt that thus he could exasperate his chief. One day perhaps he would go too far. None knew better than Mr. Warburton how irritable the incessant heat could make a man and how difficult it was to keep one`s self-control after a sleepless night. He smiled softly to himself. Sooner or later Cooper would deliver himself into his hand.
When at last the opportunity came, Mr. Warburton laughed aloud. Cooper had charge of the prisoners; they made roads, built sheds, rowed when it was necessary to send the prahu up or down stream, kept the town clean and otherwise usefully employed themselves. If well-behaved they even on occasion served as house-boys. Cooper kept them hard at it. He liked to see them work. He took pleasure in devising tasks for them; and seeing quickly enough that they were being made to do useless things the prisoners worked badly. He punished them by lengthening their hours. This was contrary to the regulations, and as soon as it was brought to the attention of Mr. Warburton, without referring the matter back to his subordinate, he gave instructions that the old hours should be kept; Cooper, going out for his walk, was astounded to see the prisoners strolling back to the jail; he had given instructions that they were not to knock off till dusk. When he asked the warder in charge why they had left off work he was told that it was the Resident`s bidding.
White with rage he strode to the Fort. Mr. Warburton, in his spotless white ducks and his neat topee, with a walking-stick in his hand, followed by his dogs, was on the point of starting out on his afternoon stroll. He had watched Cooper go, and knew that he had taken the road by the river. Cooper jumped up the steps and went straight up to the Resident.
"I want to know what the hell you mean by countermanding my order that the prisoners were to work till six," he burst out, beside himself with fury.
Mr. Warburton opened his cold blue eyes very wide and assumed an expression of great surprise.
"Are you out of your mind? Are you so ignorant that you do not know that that is not the way to speak to your official superior?"
"Oh, go to hell. The prisoners are my pidgin, and you`ve got no right to interfere. You mind your business and I`ll mind mine. I want to know what the devil you mean by making a damned fool of me. Everyone in the place will know that you`ve countermanded my order."
Mr. Warburton kept very cool.
"You had no power to give the order you did. I countermanded it because it was harsh and tyrannical. Believe me, I have not made half such a damned fool of you as you have made of yourself."
"You disliked me from the first moment I came here. You`ve done everything you could to make the place impossible for me because I wouldn`t lick your boots for you. You got your knife into me because I wouldn`t flatter you."
Cooper, spluttering with rage, was nearing dangerous ground, and Mr. Warburton`s eyes grew on a sudden colder and more piercing.
"You are wrong. I thought you were a cad, but I was perfectly satisfied with the way you did your work."
"You snob. You damned snob. You thought me a cad because I hadn`t been to Eton. Oh, they told me in K, S. what to expect. Why, don`t you know that you`re the laughing-stock of the whole country? I could hardly help bursting into a roar of laughter when you told your celebrated story about the Prince of Wales. My God, how they shouted at the club when they told it. By God, I`d rather be the cad I am than the snob you are."
He got Mr. Warburton on the raw.
"If you don`t get out of my house this minute I shall knock you down," he cried.
The other came a little closer to him and put his face in his.
"Touch me, touch me," he said. "By God, I`d like to sec you hit me. Do you want me to say it again? Snob. Snob."
Cooper was three inches taller than Mr. Warburton, a strong, muscular young man. Mr. Warburton was fat and fifty-four. His clenched fist shot out. Cooper caught him by the arm and pushed him back.
"Don`t be a damned fool. Remember I`m not a gentleman. I know how to use my hands."
He gave a sort of hoot, and, grinning all over his pale, sharp face, jumped down the verandah steps. Mr. Warburton, his heart in his anger pounding against his ribs, sank exhausted into a chair. His body tingled as though he had prickly heat. For one horrible moment he thought he was going to cry. But suddenly he was conscious that his head-boy was on the verandah and instinctively regained control of himself. The boy came forward and filled him a glass of whisky and soda.
Without a word Mr. Warburton took it and drank it to the dregs.
"What do you want to say to me?" asked Mr. Warburton, trying to force a smile on to his strained lips.
"Tuan, the assistant tuan is a bad man. Abas wishes again to leave him."
"Let him wait a little. I shall write to Kuala Solor and ask that Tuan Cooper should go elsewhere."
"Tuan Cooper is not good with the Malays."
The boy silently withdrew. Mr. Warburton was left alone with his thoughts. He saw the club al Kuala Solor, the men sitting round the table in the window in their flannels, when the night had driven them in from golf and tennis, drinking whiskies and gin pahits, and laughing when they told the celebrated story of the Prince of Wales and himself al Marienbad. He was hot with shame and misery. A snob! They all thought him a snob. And he had always thought them very good fellows, he had always been gentleman enough to let it make no difference to him that they were of very second-rate position. He haled them now. But his hatred for them was nothing compared with his haired for Cooper. And if it had come to blows Cooper could have thrashed him. Tears of mortification ran down his red, fat face. He sat there for a couple of hours smoking cigarette after cigarette, and he wished he were dead.
At last the boy came back and asked him if he would dress for dinner. Of course! He always dressed for dinner. He rose wearily from his chair and put on his stiff shirt and the high collar. He sat down at the prettily decorated table, and was waited on as usual by the two boys while two others waved their great fans. Over there in the bungalow, two hundred yards away, Cooper was eating a filthy meal clad only in a sarong and a baju. His feet were bare and while he ate he probably read a detective story. After dinner Mr. Warburton sat down to write a letter. The Sultan was away, but he wrote, privately and confidentially, to his representative. Cooper did his work very well, he said, but the fact was that he couldn`t get on with him. They were getting dreadfully on each other`s nerves and he would look upon it as a very great favour if Cooper could be transferred to another post.
He despatched the letter next morning by special messenger. The answer came a fortnight later with the month`s mail. It was a private note and ran as follows: -
"My dear Warburton,
I do not want to answer your letter officially, and so I am writing you a few lines myself. Of course if you insist I will put the matter up to the Sultan, but I think you would be much wiser to drop it. I know Cooper is a rough diamond, but he is capable, and he had a pretty thin time in the war, and I think he should be given every chance. I think you are a little too much inclined to attach importance to a man`s social position. You must remember that times have changed. Of course ifs a very good thing for a man to be a gentleman, but ifs better that he should be competent and hard-working. I think if you`ll exercise a little tolerance you`ll get on very well with Cooper.
Yours very sincerely, Richard Temple. "
The letter dropped from Mr. Warburton`s hand. It was easy to read between the lines. Dick Temple, whom he had known for twenty years, Dick Temple, who came from quite a good country family, thought him a snob, and for that reason had no patience with his request. Mr. Warburton felt on a sadden discouraged with life. The world of which he was a part had passed away and the future belonged to a meaner generation. Cooper represented it and Cooper he hated with all his heart. He stretched out his hand to fill his glass, and at the gesture his head-boy stepped forward.
"I didn`t know you were there."
The boy picked up the official letter. Ah, that was why he was waiting.
"Does Tuan Cooper go, Tuan?"
"There will be a misfortune."
For a moment the words conveyed nothing to his lassitude. But only for a moment. He sat up in his chair and looked at the boy. He was all attention.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Tuan Cooper is not behaving rightly with Abas."
Mr. Warburton shrugged his shoulders. How should a man like Cooper know how to treat servants? Mr. Warburton knew the type: he would be grossly familiar with them at one moment and rude and inconsiderate the next.
"Let Abas go back to his family."
"Tuan Cooper holds back his wages so that he may not run away. He has paid him nothing for three months. I tell him to be patient. But he is angry, he will not listen to reason. If the Tuan continues to use him ill there will be a misfortune."
"You were right to tell me."
The fool! Did he know so little of the Malays as to think he could safely injure them? It would serve him damned well right if he got a kris in his back. A kris. Mr. Warburton`s heart seemed on a sudden to miss a beat. He had only to let things lake their course and one fine day he would be rid of Cooper. He smiled faintly as the phrase, a masterly inactivity, crossed his mind. And now his heart beat a little quicker, for he saw the man he haled lying on his face in a pathway of the jungle with a knife in his back. A fit end for the cad and the bully. Mr. Warburton sighed. It was his duty to warn him, and of course he must do it. He wrote a brief and formal note to Cooper asking him to come to the Fort at once.
In ten minutes Cooper stood before him. They had not spoken to one another since the day when Mr. Warburton had nearly struck him. He did not now ask him to sit down.
"Did you wish to see me?" asked Cooper.
He was untidy and none too clean. His face and hands were covered with little red blotches where mosquitoes had bitten him and he had scratched himself till the blood came. His long, thin face bore a sullen look.
"I understand that you are again having trouble with your servants. Abas, my head-boy`s nephew, complains that you have held back his wages for three months. I consider it a most arbitrary proceeding. The lad wishes to leave you, and I certainly do not blame him. I must insist on your paying what is due to him."
"I don`t choose that he should leave me. I am holding back his wages as a pledge of his good behaviour."
"You do not know the Malay character. The Malays are very sensitive to injury and ridicule. They are passionate and revengeful. It is my duty to warn you that if you drive this boy beyond a certain point you run a great risk."
Cooper gave a contemptuous chuckle.
"What do you think he`ll do?"
"I think he`ll kill you."
"Why should you mind?"
"Oh, I wouldn`t, "replied Mr. Warburton, with a faint laugh. "I should bear it with the utmost fortitude. But I feel the official obligation to give you a proper warning."
"Do you think I`m afraid of a damned nigger?"
"It`s a matter of entire indifference to me."
"Well, let me tell you this, I know how to take care of myself; that boy Abas is a dirty, thieving rascal, and if he tries any monkey tricks on me, by God, I`ll wring his bloody neck."
"That was all I wished to say to you," said Mr. Warburton. "Good evening."
Mr. Warburton gave him a little nod of dismissal. Cooper flushed, did not for a moment know what to say or do, turned on his heel and stumbled out of the room. Mr. Warburton watched him go with an icy smile on his lips. He had done his duty. But what would he have thought had he known that when Cooper got back to his bungalow, so silent and cheerless, he threw himself down on his bed and in his bitter loneliness on a sudden lost all control of himself? Painful sobs tore his chest and heavy tears rolled down his thin cheeks.
After this Mr. Warburton seldom saw Cooper, and never spoke to him. He read his Times every morning, did his work at the office, took his exercise, dressed for dinner, dined and sat by the river smoking his cheroot. If by chance he ran across Cooper he cut him dead. Each, though never for a moment unconscious of the propinquity, acted as though the other did not exist. Time did nothing to assuage their animosity. They watched one another`s actions and each knew what the other did. Though Mr. Warburton had been a keen shot in his youth, with age he had acquired a distaste for killing the wild things of the jungle, but on Sundays and holidays Cooper went out with his gun: if he got something it was a triumph over Mr. Warburton; if not, Mr. Warburton shrugged his shoulders and chuckled. These counter-jumpers trying to be sportsmen! Christmas was a bad time for both of them: they ate their dinners alone, each in his own quarters, and they got deliberately drunk. They were the only white men within two hundred miles and they lived within shouting distance of each other. At the beginning of the year Cooper went down with fever, and when Mr. Warburton caught sight of him again he was surprised to see how thin he had grown. He looked ill and worn. The solitude, so much more unnatural because it was due to no necessity, was getting on his nerves. It was getting on Mr. Warburton`s too, and often he could not sleep at night. He lay awake brooding. Cooper was drinking heavily and surely the breaking point was near; but in his dealings with the natives he took care to do nothing that might expose him to his chief`s rebuke. They fought a grim and silent battle with one another. It was a test of endurance. The months passed, and neither gave sign of weakening. They were like men dwelling in regions of eternal night, and their souls were oppressed with the knowledge that never would the day dawn for them. It looked as though their lives would continue for ever in this dull and hideous monotony of hatred.
And when at last the inevitable happened it came upon Mr. Warburton with all the shock of the unexpected. Cooper accused the boy Abas of stealing some of his clothes, and when the boy denied the theft took him by the scruff of the neck and kicked him down the steps of the bungalow. The boy demanded his wages and Cooper flung at his head every word of abuse he knew. If he saw him in the compound in an hour he would hand him over to the police. Next morning the boy waylaid him outside the Fort when he was walking over to his office, and again demanded his wages. Cooper struck him in the face with his clenched fist. The boy fell to the ground and got up with blood streaming from his nose.
Cooper walked on and set about his work. But he could not attend to it. The blow had calmed his irritation, and he knew that he had gone too far. He was worried. He fell ill, miserable and discouraged. In the adjoining office sat Mr. Warburton, and his impulse was to go and tell him what he had done; he made a movement in his chair, but he knew with what icy scorn he would listen to the story. He could see his patronising smile. For a moment he had an uneasy fear of what Abas might do. Warburton had warned him all right. He sighed. What a fool he had been! But he shrugged his shoulders impatiently. He did not care; a fat lot he had to live for. It was all Warburton`s fault; if he hadn`t put his back up nothing like this would have happened. Warburton had made life a hell for him from the start. The snob. But they were all like that: it was because he was a Colonial. It was a damned shame that he had never got his commission in the war; he was as good as anyone else. They were a lot of dirty snobs. He was damned if he was going to knuckle under now. Of course Warburton would hear of what had happened; the old devil knew everything. He wasn`t afraid. He wasn`t afraid of any Malay in Borneo, and Warburton could go to blazes.
He was right in thinking that Mr. Warburton would know what had happened. His head-boy told him when he went in to tiffin.
"Where is your nephew now?"
"I do not know, Tuan. He has gone."
Mr. Warburton remained silent. After luncheon as a rule he slept a little, but to-day he found himself very wide awake. His eyes involuntarily sought the bungalow where Cooper was now resting.
The idiot! Hesitation for a little was in Mr. Warburton`s mind. Did the man know in what peril he was? He supposed he ought to send for him. But each lime he had tried to reason with Cooper, Cooper had insulted him. Anger, furious anger welled up suddenly in Mr. Warburton`s heart, so that the veins on his temples stood out and he clenched his fists. The cad had had his warning. Now let him take what was coming to him. It was no business of his, and if anything happened it was not his fault. But perhaps they would wish in Kuala Solor that they had taken his advice and transferred Cooper to mother station.
He was strangely restless that night. After dinner he walked up and down the verandah. When the boy went away to his own quarters, Mr. Warburton asked him whether anything had been seen of Abas.
"No, Tuan, I think maybe he has gone to the village of his mother`s brother."
Mr. Warburton gave him a sharp glance, but the boy was looking down, and their eyes did not meet. Mr. Warburton went down to the river and sat in his arbour. But peace was denied him. The river flowed ominously silent. It was like a great serpent gliding with sluggish movement towards the sea. And the trees of the jungle over the water were heavy with a breathless menace. No bird sang. No breeze ruffled the leaves of the cassias. All around him it seemed as though something waited.
He walked across the garden to the road. He had Cooper`s bungalow in full view from there. There was a light in his sitting-room, and across the road floated the sound of rag-time. Cooper was playing his gramophone. Mr. Warburton shuddered; he had never got over his instinctive dislike of that instrument. But for that he would have gone over and spoken to Cooper. He turned and went back to his own house. He read late into the night, and at last he slept. But he did not sleep very long, he had terrible dreams, and he seemed to be awakened by a cry. Of course that was a dream too, for no cry - from the bungalow for instance - could be heard in his room. He lay awake till dawn. Then he heard hurried steps and the sound of voices, his head-boy burst suddenly into the room without his fez, and Mr. Warburton`s heart stood still.
Mr. Warburton jumped out of bed.
"I`ll come at once."
He put on his slippers, and in his sarong and pyjama-jacket walked across his compound and into Cooper`s. Cooper was lying in bed, with his mouth open, and a kris sticking in his heart. He had been killed in his sleep. Mr. Warburton started, but not because he had not expected to see just such a sight, he started because he fell in himself a sudden glow of exultation. A great burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
Cooper was quite cold. Mr. Warburton took the kris out of the wound, it had been thrust in with such force that he had to use an effort to get it out, and looked at it.
He recognised it. It was a kris that a dealer had offered him some weeks before, and which he knew Cooper had bought.
"Where is Abas?" he asked sternly.
"Abas is at the village of his mother`s brother."
The sergeant of the native police was standing at the foot of the bed.
"Take two men and go to the village and arrest him."
Mr. Warburton did what was immediately necessary. With set face he gave orders. His words were short and peremptory. Then he went back to the Fort. He shaved and had his bath, dressed and went into the dining-room. By the side of his plate The Times in its wrapper lay waiting for him. He helped himself to some fruit. The head-boy poured out his tea while the second handed him a dish of eggs. Mr. Warburton ate with a good appetite. The head-boy waited.
"What is it?" asked Mr. Warburton.
"Tuan, Abas, my nephew, was in the house of his mother`s brother all night. It can be proved. His uncle will swear that he did not leave the kampong."
Mr. Warburton turned upon him with a frown.
"Tuan Cooper was killed by Abas. You know it as well as I know it. Justice must be done."
"Tuan, you would not hang him?"
Mr. Warburton hesitated an instant, and though his voice remained set and stern a change came into his eyes. It was a flicker which the Malay was quick to notice and across his own eyes flashed an answering look of understanding.
"The provocation was very great. Abas will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment." There was a pause while Mr. Warburton helped himself to marmalade. "When he has served a part of his sentence in prison I will take him into this house as a boy. You can train him in his duties. I have no doubt that in the house of Tuan Cooper he got into bad habits."
"Shall Abas give himself up, Tuan?"
"It would be wise of him."
The boy withdrew. Mr. Warburton took his Times and neatly slit the wrapper. He loved to unfold the heavy, rustling pages. The morning, so fresh and cool, was delicious and for a moment his eyes wandered out over the garden with a friendly glance. A great weight had been lifted from his mind. He turned to the columns in which were announced the births, deaths, and marriages. That was what he always looked at first. A name he knew caught his attention. Lady Ormskirk had had a son at last. By George, how pleased the old dowager must be! Me would write her a note of congratulation by the next mail.
Abas would make a very good house-boy.
That fool Hooper!