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- Mrs. Falchion, Volume 1. - 20/25 -
accompanied. So we left her there.
A score of times I have stopped when preparing my notes for this tale from my diary and those of Mrs. Falchion and Galt Roscoe, to think how, all through the events recorded here, and many others omitted, Justine Caron was like those devoted and, often, beautiful attendants of the heroes and heroines of tragedy, who, when all is over, close the eyes, compose the bodies, and cover the faces of the dead, pronouncing with just lips the benediction, fittest in their mouths. Their loves, their deeds, their lives, however good and worthy, were clothed in modesty and kept far up the stage, to be, even when everything was over, not always given the privilege to die as did their masters, but, like Horatio, bade to live and be still the loyal servant:
"But in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, To tell my story."
There was no reason why we should go to the ship immediately, and I proposed that we should first explore the port-town, and then visit the city of Aden--five miles away beyond the hills--and the Tanks. To this the ladies consented.
Somauli policemen patrolled the streets; Somauli, Arab, and Turkish guides impeded the way; Arabs in plain white, Arab sheikhs in blue and white, and gold, lounged languidly about, or drank their coffee in the shade of the bazaars. Children of the desert, nearly naked, sprinkled water before the doors of the bazaars and stores and upon the hot thoroughfare, from long leather bottles; caravans of camels, with dusty stride, swung up the hillside and beyond into the desert; the Jewish water-carrier with his donkey trudged down the pass from the cool fountains in the volcanic hills; a guard of eunuchs marched by with the harem of a Mohammedan; in the doorways of the houses goats and donkeys fed. Jews, with greasy faces, red-hemmed skirt, and hungry look, moved about, offering ostrich feathers for sale, everywhere treated worse than the Chinaman in Oregon or at Port Darwin. We saw English and Australian passengers of the 'Fulvia' pelting the miserable members of a despised race with green fruit about the streets, and afterwards from the deck of the ship. A number of these raised their hats to us as they passed; but Belle Treherne's acknowledgment was chilly.
"It is hard to be polite to cowards," she said.
After having made some ruinous bargains in fezes, Turkish cloths and perfume, I engaged a trap, and we started for Aden. The journey was not one of beauty, but it had singular interest. Every turn of the wheels carried us farther and farther away from a familiar world to one of yesterday. White-robed warriors of the desert, with lances, bent their brows upon us as they rode away towards the endless sands, and vagabonds of Egypt begged for alms. In about three-quarters of an hour we had passed the lofty barriers of Jebel Shamsan and its comrades, and were making clouds of dust in the streets of Aden. In spite of the cantonments, the British Government House, and the European Church, it was an Oriental town pure and simple, where the slow-footed hours wandered by, leaving apathy in their train; where sloth and surfeit sat in the market-places; idle women gossiped in their doorways; and naked children rolled in the sun. Yet how, in the most unfamiliar places, does one wake suddenly to hear or see some most familiar thing, and learn again that the ways of all people and nations are not, after all, so far apart! Here three naked youths, with trays upon their heads, cried aloud at each doorway what, interpreted, was: "Pies! Hot pies! Pies all hot!" or, "Crum-pet! Crumpet! Won't you buy-uy a crum-pet!"
One sees the same thing in Kandy, in Calcutta, in Tokio, in Istamboul, in Teheran, in Queensland, in London.
To us the great Tanks overlooking the place were more interesting than the town itself, and we drove thither. At Government House and here were the only bits of green that we had seen; they were, in fact, the only spots of verdure on the peninsula of Aden. It was a very sickly green, from which wan and dusty fig trees rose. In their scant shadow, or in the shelter of an overhanging ledge of rock, Arabs offered us draughts of cool water, and oranges. There were people in the sickly gardens, and others were inspecting the Tanks. Passengers from the ship had brought luncheon-baskets to this sad oasis.
As we stood at the edge of one of the Tanks, Miss Treherne remarked with astonishment that they were empty. I explained to her that Aden did not have the benefits conferred even on the land of the seven fat and seven lean kine--that there had not been rain there for years, and that when it did come it was neither prolonged nor plentiful. Then came questions as to how long ago the Tanks were built.
"Thirteen hundred years!" she exclaimed. "How strange to feel it so! It is like looking at old graves. And how high the walls are, closing up the gorge between the hills."
At that moment Mrs. Callendar drew our attention to Mrs. Falchion and a party from the ship. Mrs. Falchion was but a few paces from us, smiling agreeably as she acknowledged our greetings. Presently two of her party came to us and asked us to share their lunch. I would have objected, and I am certain Belle Treherne would gladly have done so, but Mrs. Callendar was anxious to accept, therefore we expressed our gratitude and joined the group. On second thoughts I was glad that we did so, because, otherwise, my party must have been without refreshments until they returned to the ship--the restaurants at Aden are not to be trusted. To me Mrs. Falchion was pleasantly impersonal, to Miss Treherne delicately and actively personal. At the time I had a kind of fear of her interest in the girl, but I know now that it was quite sincere, though it began with a motive not very lofty--to make Belle Treherne her friend, and so annoy me, and also to study, as would an anatomist, the girl's life.
We all moved into the illusive shade of the fig and magnolia trees, and lunch was soon spread. As we ate, conversation turned upon the annoying persistency of Eastern guides, and reference was made to the exciting circumstances attending the engagement of Amshar, the guide of Mrs. Falchion's party. Among a score of claimants, Amshar had had one particular opponent--a personal enemy--who would not desist even when the choice had been made. He, indeed, had been the first to solicit the party, and was rejected because of his disagreeable looks. He had even followed the trap from the Port of Aden. As one of the gentlemen was remarking on the muttered anger of the disappointed Arab, Mrs. Falchion. said: "There he is now at the gate of the garden."
His look was sullenly turned upon our party. Blackburn, the Queenslander said, "Amshar, the other fellow is following up the game," and pointed to the gate.
Amshar understood the gesture at least, and though he gave a toss of the head, I noticed that his hand trembled as he handed me a cup of water, and that he kept his eyes turned on his opponent.
"One always feels unsafe with these cut-throat races," said Colonel Ryder, "as some of us know, who have had to deal with the nigger of South America. They think no more of killing a man--"
"Than an Australian squatter does of dispersing a mob of aboriginals or kangaroos," said Clovelly.
Here Mrs. Callendar spoke up briskly. "I don't know what you mean by 'dispersing.'"
"You know what a kangaroo battue is, don't you?"
"But that is killing, slaughtering kangaroos by the hundred."
"Well, and that is aboriginal dispersion," said the novelist. "That is the aristocratic method of legislating the native out of existence."
Blackburn here vigorously protested. "Yes, it's very like a novelist, on the hunt for picturesque events, to spend his forensic soul upon 'the poor native,'--upon the dirty nigger, I choose to call him: the meanest, cruellest, most cowardly, and murderous--by Jove, what a lot of adjectives!--of native races. But we fellows, who have lost some of the best friends we ever had--chums with whom we've shared blanket and tucker--by the crack of a nulla-nulla in the dark, or a spear from the scrub, can't find a place for Exeter Hall and its 'poor native' in our hard hearts. We stand in such a case for justice. It is a new country. Not once in fifty times would law reach them. Reprisal and dispersion were the only things possible to men whose friends had been massacred, and--well, they punished tribes for the acts of individuals."
Mrs. Falchion here interposed. "That is just what England does. A British trader is killed. She sweeps a native town out of existence with Hotchkiss guns--leaves it naked and dead. That is dispersion too; I have seen it, and I know how far niggers as a race can be trusted, and how much they deserve sympathy. I agree with Mr. Blackburn."
Blackburn raised his glass. "Mrs. Falchion," he said, "I need no further evidence to prove my case. Experience is the best teacher."
"As I wish to join the chorus to so notable a compliment, will somebody pass the claret?" said Colonel Ryder, shaking the crumbs of a pate from his coat-collar. When his glass was filled, he turned towards Mrs. Falchion, and continued: "I drink to the health of the best teacher." And every one laughingly responded. This impromptu toast would have been drunk with more warmth, if we could have foreseen an immediate event. Not less peculiar were Mrs. Falchion's words to Hungerford the evening before, recorded in the last sentence of the preceding chapter.
Cigars were passed, and the men rose and strolled away. We wandered outside the gardens, passing the rejected guide as we did so. "I don't like the look in his eye," said Clovelly.
Colonel Ryder laughed. "You've always got a fine vision for the dramatic."
We passed on. I suppose about twenty minutes had gone when, as we were entering the garden again, we heard loud cries. Hurrying forward towards the Tanks, we saw a strange sight.
There, on a narrow wall dividing two great tanks, were three people-- Mrs. Falchion, Amshar, and the rejected Arab guide. Amshar was crouching behind Mrs. Falchion, and clinging to her skirts in abject fear. The Arab threatened with a knife. He could not get at Amshar without thrusting Mrs. Falchion aside, and, as I said, the wall was narrow. He was bent like a tiger about to spring.
Seeing Mrs. Falchion and Amshar apart from the others,--Mrs. Falchion having insisted on crossing this narrow and precipitous wall,--he had suddenly rushed after them. As he did so, Miss Treherne saw him, and cried out. Mrs. Falchion faced round swiftly, and then came this tragic situation.
Some one must die.
Seeing that Mrs. Falchion made no effort to dislodge Amshar from her skirts, the Arab presently leaped forward. Mrs. Falchion's arms went out suddenly, and she caught the wrist that held the dagger. Then there was an instant's struggle. It was Mrs. Falchion's life now, as well as Amshar's. They swayed. They hung on the edge of the rocky chasm. Then
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