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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 1/11 -


CUMNER'S SON AND OTHER SOUTH SEA FOLK

by Gilbert Parker

Volume 4.

A SABLE SPARTAN A VULGAR FRACTION HOW PANGO WANGO WAS ANNEXED AN AMIABLE REVENGE THE BLIND BEGGAR AND THE LITTLE RED PEG A FRIEND OF THE COMMUNE

A SABLE SPARTAN

Lady Tynemouth was interested; his Excellency was amused. The interest was real, the amusement was not ironical. Blithelygo, seeing that he had at least excited the attention of the luncheon party, said half- apologetically: "Of course my experience is small, but in many parts of the world I have been surprised to see how uniform revolutionises the savage. Put him into Convention, that is clothes, give him Responsibility, that is a chance to exercise vanity and power, and you make him a Britisher--a good citizen to all intents and purposes."

Blithelygo was a clever fellow in his way. He had a decided instinct for military matters, and for good cigars and pretty women. Yet he would rather give up both than an idea which had got firmly fixed in his mind. He was very deferential in his remarks, but at the same time he was quite willing to go into a minority which might not include pretty Miss Angel who sat beside him, if he was not met by conclusive good arguments.

In the slight pause which followed his rather long speech, his Excellency passed the champagne cup, and Lady Tynemouth said: "But I suppose it depends somewhat on the race, doesn't it, Mr. Travers? I am afraid mere uniforming would scarcely work successfully--among the Bengalese, for instance."

"A wretched crew," said Major Warham; "awful liars, awful scoundrels, need kicking every morning."

"Of course," said Blithelygo, "there must be some consideration of race. But look at the Indian Mutiny. Though there was revolt, look at those who 'fought with us faithful and few'; look at the fidelity of the majority of the native servants. Look at the native mounted police in Australia; at the Sikhs in the Settlements and the Native States; at the Indian scouts of the United States and Canada; and look at these very Indian troops at your door, your Excellency! I think my principle holds good; give uniform, give responsibility--under European surveillance of course--get British civilisation."

His Excellency's eyes had been wandering out of the window, over the white wall and into the town where Arabia, India, Africa, the Islands of the South and Palestine were blended in a quivering, radiant panorama. Then they rose until they fell upon Jebel Shamsan, in its intoxicating red and opal far away, and upon the frowning and mighty rampart that makes Aden one of the most impregnable stations of the Empire. The amusement in his eyes had died away; and as he dipped his fingers in the water at his side and motioned for a quickening of the punkahs, he said: "There is force in what you say. It would be an unpleasant look-out for us here and in many parts of the world if we could not place reliance on the effect of uniform; but"--and the amused look came again to his eyes-- "we somehow get dulled to the virtues of Indian troops and Somauli policemen. We can't get perspective, you see."

Blithelygo good-naturedly joined in the laugh that went round the table; for nearly all there had personal experience of "uniformed savages." As the ladies rose Miss Angel said naively to Blithelygo: "You ought to spend a month in Aden, Mr. Blithelygo. Don't go by the next boat, then you can study uniforms here."

We settled down to our cigars. Major Warham was an officer from Bombay. He had lived in India for twenty years: long enough to be cynical of justice at the Horse Guards or at the India Office: to become in fact bitter against London, S.W., altogether. It was he that proposed a walk through the town.

The city lay sleepy and listless beneath a proud and distant sky of changeless blue. Idly sat the Arabs on the benches outside the low- roofed coffee-houses; lazily worked the makers of ornaments in the bazaars; yawningly pounded the tinkers; greedily ate the children; the city was cloyed with ease. Warham, Blithelygo and myself sat in the evening sun surrounded by gold-and-scarlet bedizened gentry of the desert, and drank strong coffee and smoked until we too were satisfied, if not surfeited; animals like the rest. Silence fell on us. This was a new life to two of us; to Warham it was familiar, therefore comfortable and soporific. I leaned back and languidly scanned the scene; eyes halfshut, senses half-awake. An Arab sheikh passed swiftly with his curtained harem; and then went filing by in orderly and bright array a number of Mahommedans, the first of them bearing on a cushion of red velvet, and covered with a cloth of scarlet and gold, a dead child to burial. Down from the colossal tanks built in the mountain gorges that were old when Mahomet was young, there came donkeys bearing great leathern bottles such as the Israelites carried in their forty years' sojourning. A long line of swaying camels passed dustily to the desert that burns even into this city of Aden, built on a volcano; groups of Somaulis, lithe and brawny, moved chattering here and there; and a handful of wandering horsemen, with spears and snowy garments, were being swallowed up in the mountain defiles.

The day had been long, the coffee and cigarettes had been heavy, and we dozed away in the sensuous atmosphere. Then there came, as if in a dream, a harsh and far-off murmur of voices. It grew from a murmur to a sharp cry, and from a sharp cry to a roar of rage. In a moment we were on our feet, and dashing away toward the sound.

The sight that greeted us was a strange one, and horribly picturesque. In front of a low-roofed house of stone was a crowd of Mahommedans fierce with anger and loud in imprecation. Knives were flashing; murder was afoot. There stood, with his back to the door of the house, a Somauli policeman, defending himself against this raging little mob. Not defending himself alone. Within the house he had thrust a wretched Jew, who had defiled a Mahommedan mosque; and he was here protecting him against these nervous champions of the faith.

Once, twice, thrice, they reached him; but he fought on with his unwounded arm. We were unarmed and helpless; no Somaulis were near. Death glittered in these white blades. But must this Spartan die?

Now there was another cry, a British cheer, a gleam of blue and red, a glint of steel rounding the corner at our left, and the Mahommedans broke away, with a parting lunge at the Somauli. British soldiers took the place of the bloodthirsty mob.

Danger over, the Somauli sank down on the threshold, fainting from loss of blood. As we looked at him gashed all over, but not mortally wounded, Blithelygo said with glowing triumph: "British, British, you see!"

At that moment the door of the house opened, and out crawled to the feet of the officer in command the miserable Israelite with his red hemmed skirt and greasy face. For this cowardly creature the Somauli policeman had perilled his life. Sublime! How could we help thinking of the talk at his Excellency's table?

Suddenly the Somauli started up and looked round anxiously. His eyes fell on the Jew. His countenance grew peaceful. He sank back again into the arms of the surgeon and said, pointing to the son of Abraham: "He owe me for a donkey."

Major Warham looking at Blithelygo said with a chilled kind of lustre to his voice: "British, so British, don't you know!"

A VULGAR FRACTION

Sometimes when, like Mirza, I retire to my little Hill of Bagdad for meditation, there comes before me the bright picture of Hawaii with its coral-bulwarked islands and the memory of an idle sojourn on their shores. I remember the rainbow-coloured harbour of Honolulu Hilo, the simply joyous Arcadie at the foot of Mauna Loa, and Mauna Kea which lifted violet shoulders to the morning, the groves of cocoa-palms and tamarinds, the waterfalls dropping over sheer precipices a thousand feet into the ocean, the green embrasures where the mango, the guava, and the lovi lovi grow, and where the hibiscus lifts red hands to the light. I call to mind the luau where Kalakua, the King, presided over the dispensation of stewed puppy, lifted to one's lips by brown but fair fingers, of live shrimps, of poi and taro and balls of boiled sea-weed stuffed with Heaven knows what; and to crown all, or to drown all, the insinuating liquor kava, followed when the festival was done by the sensuous but fascinating hula hula, danced by maidens of varying loveliness. Of these Van Blaricom, the American, said, "they'd capture Chicago in a week with that racket," and he showed Blithelygo his calculations as to profits.

The moments that we enjoyed the most, however, were those that came when feast and serenade were over, when Hawaii Ponoi, the National Anthem, was sung, and we lay upon the sands and watched the long white coverlet of foam folding towards the shore, and saw visions and dreamed dreams. But at times we also breathed a prayer--a prayer that somebody or something would come and carry off Van Blaricom, whose satire, born and nurtured in Chicago, was ever turned against Hawaii and all that therein was.

There are times when I think I had a taste of Paradise in Hawaii--but a Paradise not without a Satanic intruder in the shape of that person from Illinois. Nothing escaped his scorn. One day we saw from Diamond Head three water-spouts careering to the south, a splendid procession of the powers of the air. He straightway said to Kalakua, that "a Michigan cyclone had more git-up-and-git about it than them three black cats with their tails in the water." He spent hours in thinking out rudely caustic things to repeat about this little kingdom. He said that the Government was a Corliss-engine running a sewing machine. He used to ask the Commander of the Forces when the Household Cavalry were going into summer camp--they were twelve. The only thing that appeared to impress him seriously was Molokai, the desolate island where the lepers made their cheerless prison-home. But the reason for his gravity appeared when he said to Blithelygo and myself: "There'd be a fortune in that menagerie if it was anchored in Lake Michigan." On that occasion he was answered in strong terms. It was the only time I ever heard Blithelygo use profanity. But the American merely dusted his patent leather shoes with a gay silk kerchief, adjusted his clothes on his five-foot frame as he


Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 1/11

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