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The Pool by William Somerset Maugham

When I was introduced to Lawson by Chaplin, the owner of the HotelMetropole at Apia, I paid no particular attention to him. We weresitting in the lounge over an early cocktail and I was listening withamusement to the gossip of the island.

Chaplin entertained me. He was by profession a mining engineer andperhaps it was characteristic of him that he had settled in a placewhere his professional attainments were of no possible value. It was,however, generally reported that he was an extremely clever miningengineer. He was a small man, neither fat nor thin, with black hair,scanty on the crown, turning grey, and a small, untidy moustache; hisface, partly from the sun and partly from liquor, was very red. He wasbut a figurehead, for the hotel, though so grandly named but a framebuilding of two storeys, was managed by his wife, a tall, gauntAustralian of five and forty, with an imposing presence and a determinedair. The little man, excitable and often tipsy, was terrified of her,and the stranger soon heard of domestic quarrels in which she used herfist and her foot in order to keep him in subjection. She had beenknown after a night of drunkenness to confine him for twenty-four hoursto his own room, and then he could be seen, afraid to leave his prison,talking somewhat pathetically from his verandah to people in the streetbelow.

He was a character, and his reminiscences of a varied life, whether trueor not, made him worth listening to, so that when Lawson strolled in Iwas inclined to resent the interruption. Although not midday, it wasclear that he had had enough to drink, and it was without enthusiasmthat I yielded to his persistence and accepted his offer of anothercocktail. I knew already that Chaplin's head was weak. The next roundwhich in common politeness I should be forced to order would be enoughto make him lively, and then Mrs Chaplin would give me black looks.

Nor was there anything attractive in Lawson's appearance. He was alittle thin man, with a long, sallow face and a narrow, weak chin, aprominent nose, large and bony, and great shaggy black eyebrows. Theygave him a peculiar look. His eyes, very large and very dark, weremagnificent. He was jolly, but his jollity did not seem to me sincere;it was on the surface, a mask which he wore to deceive the world, and Isuspected that it concealed a mean nature. He was plainly anxious to bethought a "good sport" and he was hail-fellow-well-met; but, I do notknow why, I felt that he was cunning and shifty. He talked a great dealin a raucous voice, and he and Chaplin capped one another's stories ofbeanos which had become legendary, stories of "wet" nights at theEnglish Club, of shooting expeditions where an incredible amount ofwhisky had been consumed, and of jaunts to Sydney of which their pridewas that they could remember nothing from the time they landed till thetime they sailed. A pair of drunken swine. But even in theirintoxication, for by now after four cocktails each, neither was sober,there was a great difference between Chaplin, rough and vulgar, andLawson: Lawson might be drunk, but he was certainly a gentleman.

At last he got out of his chair, a little unsteadily.

"Well, I'll be getting along home," he said. "See you before dinner."

"Missus all right?" said Chaplin.

"Yes."

He went out. There was a peculiar note in the monosyllable of his answerwhich made me look up.

"Good chap," said Chaplin flatly, as Lawson went out of the door intothe sunshine. "One of the best. Pity he drinks."

This from Chaplin was an observation not without humour.

"And when he's drunk he wants to fight people."

"Is he often drunk?"

"Dead drunk, three or four days a week. It's the island done it, andEthel."

"Who's Ethel?"

"Ethel's his wife. Married a half-caste. Old Brevald's daughter. Tookher away from here. Only thing to do. But she couldn't stand it, and nowthey're back again. He'll hang himself one of these days, if he don'tdrink himself to death before. Good chap. Nasty when he's drunk."

Chaplin belched loudly.

"I'll go and put my head under the shower. I oughtn't to have had thatlast cocktail. It's always the last one that does you in."

He looked uncertainly at the staircase as he made up his mind to go tothe cubby hole in which was the shower, and then with unnaturalseriousness got up.

"Pay you to cultivate Lawson," he said. "A well read chap. You'd besurprised when he's sober. Clever too. Worth talking to."

Chaplin had told me the whole story in these few speeches.

When I came in towards evening from a ride along the seashore Lawson wasagain in the hotel. He was heavily sunk in one of the cane chairs in thelounge and he looked at me with glassy eyes. It was plain that he hadbeen drinking all the afternoon. He was torpid, and the look on his facewas sullen and vindictive. His glance rested on me for a moment, but Icould see that he did not recognise me. Two or three other men weresitting there, shaking dice, and they took no notice of him. Hiscondition was evidently too usual to attract attention. I sat down andbegan to play.

"You're a damned sociable lot," said Lawson suddenly.

He got out of his chair and waddled with bent knees towards the door. Ido not know whether the spectacle was more ridiculous than revolting.When he had gone one of the men sniggered.

"Lawson's fairly soused to-day," he said.

"If I couldn't carry my liquor better than that," said another, "I'dclimb on the waggon and stay there."

Who would have thought that this wretched object was in his way aromantic figure or that his life had in it those elements of pity andterror which the theorist tells us are necessary to achieve the effectof tragedy?

I did not see him again for two or three days.

I was sitting one evening on the first floor of the hotel on a verandahthat overlooked the street when Lawson came up and sank into a chairbeside me. He was quite sober. He made a casual remark and then, when Ihad replied somewhat indifferently, added with a laugh which had in itan apologetic tone:

"I was devilish soused the other day."

I did not answer. There was really nothing to say. I pulled away at mypipe in the vain hope of keeping the mosquitoes away, and looked at thenatives going home from their work. They walked with long steps, slowly,with care and dignity, and the soft patter of their naked feet wasstrange to hear. Their dark hair, curling or straight, was often whitewith lime, and then they had a look of extraordinary distinction. Theywere tall and finely built. Then a gang of Solomon Islanders, indenturedlabourers, passed by, singing; they were shorter and slighter than theSamoans, coal black with great heads of fuzzy hair dyed red. Now andthen a white man drove past in his buggy or rode into the hotel yard. Inthe lagoon two or three schooners reflected their grace in the tranquilwater.

"I don't know what there is to do in a place like this except to getsoused," said Lawson at last.

"Don't you like Samoa?" I asked casually, for something to say.

"It's pretty, isn't it?"

The word he chose seemed so inadequate to describe the unimaginablebeauty of the island, that I smiled, and smiling I turned to look athim. I was startled by the expression in those fine sombre eyes of his,an expression of intolerable anguish; they betrayed a tragic depth ofemotion of which I should never have thought him capable. But theexpression passed away and he smiled. His smile was simple and a littlenaïve. It changed his face so that I wavered in my first feeling ofaversion from him.

"I was all over the place when I first came out," he said.

He was silent for a moment.

"I went away for good about three years ago, but I came back." Hehesitated. "My wife wanted to come back. She was born here, you know."

"Oh, yes."

He was silent again, and then hazarded a remark about Robert LouisStevenson. He asked me if I had been up to Vailima. For some reason hewas making an effort to be agreeable to me. He began to talk ofStevenson's books, and presently the conversation drifted to London.

"I suppose Covent Garden's still going strong," he said. "I think I missthe opera as much as anything here. Have you seen Tristan and Isolde?"

He asked me the question as though the answer were really important tohim, and when I said, a little casually I daresay, that I had, he seemedpleased. He began to speak of Wagner, not as a musician, but as theplain man who received from him an emotional satisfaction that he couldnot analyse.

"I suppose Bayreuth was the place to go really," he said. "I never hadthe money, worse luck. But of course one might do worse than CoventGarden, all the lights and the women dressed up to the nines, and themusic. The first act of the Walküre's all right, isn't it? And the endof Tristan. Golly!"

His eyes were flashing now and his face was lit up so that he hardlyseemed the same man. There was a flush on his sallow, thin cheeks, and Iforgot that his voice was harsh and unpleasant. There was even a certaincharm about him.

"By George, I'd like to be in London to-night. Do you know the Pall Mallrestaurant? I used to go there a lot. Piccadilly Circus with the shopsall lit up, and the crowd. I think it's stunning to stand there andwatch the buses and taxis streaming along as though they'd never stop.And I like the Strand too. What are those lines about God and CharingCross?"

I was taken aback.

"Thompson's, d'you mean?" I asked.

I quoted them.

"And when so sad, thou canst not sadder, Cry, and upon thy so sore loss Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder Pitched between Heaven and Charing Cross."

He gave a faint sigh.

"I've read The Hound of Heaven. It's a bit of all right."

"It's generally thought so," I murmured.

"You don't meet anybody here who's read anything. They think it'sswank."

There was a wistful look on his face, and I thought I divined thefeeling that made him come to me. I was a link with the world heregretted and a life that he would know no more. Because not so verylong before I had been in the London which he loved, he looked upon mewith awe and envy. He had not spoken for five minutes perhaps when hebroke out with words that startled me by their intensity.

"I'm fed up," he said. "I'm fed up."

"Then why don't you clear out?" I asked.

His face grew sullen.

"My lungs are a bit dicky. I couldn't stand an English winter now."

At that moment another man joined us on the verandah and Lawson sankinto a moody silence.

"It's about time for a drain," said the new-comer. "Who'll have a dropof Scotch with me? Lawson?"

Lawson seemed to arise from a distant world. He got up.

"Let's go down to the bar," he said.

When he left me I remained with a more kindly feeling towards him than Ishould have expected. He puzzled and interested me. And a few days laterI met his wife. I knew they had been married for five or six years, andI was surprised to see that she was still extremely young. When hemarried her she could not have been more than sixteen. She was adorablypretty. She was no darker than a Spaniard, small and very beautifullymade, with tiny hands and feet, and a slight, lithe figure. Her featureswere lovely; but I think what struck me most was the delicacy of herappearance; the half-caste as a rule have a certain coarseness, theyseem a little roughly formed, but she had an exquisite daintiness whichtook your breath away. There was something extremely civilised abouther, so that it surprised you to see her in those surroundings, and youthought of those famous beauties who had set all the world talking atthe Court of the Emperor Napoleon III. Though she wore but a muslinfrock and a straw hat she wore them with an elegance that suggested thewoman of fashion. She must have been ravishing when Lawson first sawher.

He had but lately come out from England to manage the local branch of anEnglish bank, and, reaching Samoa at the beginning of the dry season, hehad taken a room at the hotel. He quickly made the acquaintance of alland sundry. The life of the island is pleasant and easy. He enjoyed thelong idle talks in the lounge of the hotel and the gay evenings at theEnglish Club when a group of fellows would play pool. He liked Apiastraggling along the edge of the lagoon, with its stores and bungalows,and its native village. Then there were week-ends when he would rideover to the house of one planter or another and spend a couple of nightson the hills. He had never before known freedom or leisure. And he wasintoxicated by the sunshine. When he rode through the bush his headreeled a little at the beauty that surrounded him. The country wasindescribably fertile. In parts the forest was still virgin, a tangle ofstrange trees, luxuriant undergrowth, and vine; it gave an impressionthat was mysterious and troubling.

But the spot that entranced him was a pool a mile or two away from Apiato which in the evenings he often went to bathe. There was a littleriver that bubbled over the rocks in a swift stream, and then, afterforming the deep pool, ran on, shallow and crystalline, past a ford madeby great stones where the natives came sometimes to bathe or to washtheir clothes. The coconut trees, with their frivolous elegance, grewthickly on the banks, all clad with trailing plants, and they werereflected in the green water. It was just such a scene as you might seein Devonshire among the hills, and yet with a difference, for it had atropical richness, a passion, a scented languor which seemed to melt theheart. The water was fresh, but not cold; and it was delicious after theheat of the day. To bathe there refreshed not only the body but thesoul.

At the hour when Lawson went, there was not a soul and he lingered for along time, now floating idly in the water, now drying himself in theevening sun, enjoying the solitude and the friendly silence. He did notregret London then, nor the life that he had abandoned, for life as itwas seemed complete and exquisite.

It was here that he first saw Ethel.

Occupied till late by letters which had to be finished for the monthlysailing of the boat next day, he rode down one evening to the pool whenthe light was almost failing. He tied up his horse and sauntered to thebank. A girl was sitting there. She glanced round as he came andnoiselessly slid into the water. She vanished like a naiad startled bythe approach of a mortal. He was surprised and amused. He wondered whereshe had hidden herself. He swam downstream and presently saw her sittingon a rock. She looked at him with uncurious eyes. He called out agreeting in Samoan.

"Talofa."

She answered him, suddenly smiling, and then let herself into the wateragain. She swam easily and her hair spread out behind her. He watchedher cross the pool and climb out on the bank. Like all the natives shebathed in a Mother Hubbard, and the water had made it cling to herslight body. She wrung out her hair, and as she stood there,unconcerned, she looked more than ever like a wild creature of the wateror the woods. He saw now that she was half-caste. He swam towards herand, getting out, addressed her in English.

"You're having a late swim."

She shook back her hair and then let it spread over her shoulders inluxuriant curls.

"I like it when I'm alone," she said.

"So do I."

She laughed with the childlike frankness of the native. She slipped adry Mother Hubbard over her head and, letting down the wet one, steppedout of it. She wrung it out and was ready to go. She paused a momentirresolutely and then sauntered off. The night fell suddenly.

Lawson went back to the hotel and, describing her to the men who were inthe lounge shaking dice for drinks, soon discovered who she was. Herfather was a Norwegian called Brevald who was often to be seen in thebar of the Hotel Metropole drinking rum and water. He was a little oldman, knotted and gnarled like an ancient tree, who had come out to theislands forty years before as mate of a sailing vessel. He had been ablacksmith, a trader, a planter, and at one time fairly well-to-do; but,ruined by the great hurricane of the nineties, he had now nothing tolive on but a small plantation of coconut trees. He had had four nativewives and, as he told you with a cracked chuckle, more children than hecould count. But some had died and some had gone out into the world, sothat now the only one left at home was Ethel.

"She's a peach," said Nelson, the supercargo of the Moana. "I've givenher the glad eye once or twice, but I guess there's nothing doing."

"Old Brevald's not that sort of a fool, sonny," put in another, a mancalled Miller. "He wants a son-in-law who's prepared to keep him incomfort for the rest of his life."

It was distasteful to Lawson that they should speak of the girl in thatfashion. He made a remark about the departing mail and so distractedtheir attention. But next evening he went again to the pool. Ethel wasthere; and the mystery of the sunset, the deep silence of the water, thelithe grace of the coconut trees, added to her beauty, giving it aprofundity, a magic, which stirred the heart to unknown emotions. Forsome reason that time he had the whim not to speak to her. She took nonotice of him. She did not even glance in his direction. She swam aboutthe green pool. She dived, she rested on the bank, as though she werequite alone: he had a queer feeling that he was invisible. Scraps ofpoetry, half forgotten, floated across his memory, and vaguerecollections of the Greece he had negligently studied in his schooldays. When she had changed her wet clothes for dry ones and saunteredaway he found a scarlet hibiscus where she had been. It was a flowerthat she had worn in her hair when she came to bathe and, having takenit out on getting into the water, had forgotten or not cared to put inagain. He took it in his hands and looked at it with a singular emotion.He had an instinct to keep it, but his sentimentality irritated him, andhe flung it away. It gave him quite a little pang to see it float downthe stream.

He wondered what strangeness it was in her nature that urged her to godown to this hidden pool when there was no likelihood that anyoneshould be there. The natives of the islands are devoted to the water.They bathe, somewhere or other, every day, once always, and often twice;but they bathe in bands, laughing and joyous, a whole family together;and you often saw a group of girls, dappled by the sun shining throughthe trees, with the half-castes among them, splashing about the shallowsof the stream. It looked as though there were in this pool some secretwhich attracted Ethel against her will.

Now the night had fallen, mysterious and silent, and he let himself downin the water softly, in order to make no sound, and swam lazily in thewarm darkness. The water seemed fragrant still from her slender body. Herode back to the town under the starry sky. He felt at peace with theworld.

Now he went every evening to the pool and every evening he saw Ethel.Presently he overcame her timidity. She became playful and friendly.They sat together on the rocks above the pool, where the water ran fast,and they lay side by side on the ledge that overlooked it, watching thegathering dusk envelop it with mystery. It was inevitable that theirmeetings should become known--in the South Seas everyone seems to knoweveryone's business--and he was subjected to much rude chaff by the menat the hotel. He smiled and let them talk. It was not even worth whileto deny their coarse suggestions. His feelings were absolutely pure. Heloved Ethel as a poet might love the moon. He thought of her not as awoman but as something not of this earth. She was the spirit of thepool.

One day at the hotel, passing through the bar, he saw that old Brevald,as ever in his shabby blue overalls, was standing there. Because he wasEthel's father he had a desire to speak to him, so he went in, noddedand, ordering his own drink, casually turned and invited the old man tohave one with him. They chatted for a few minutes of local affairs, andLawson was uneasily conscious that the Norwegian was scrutinising himwith sly blue eyes. His manner was not agreeable. It was sycophantic,and yet behind the cringing air of an old man who had been worsted inhis struggle with fate was a shadow of old truculence. Lawson rememberedthat he had once been captain of a schooner engaged in the slave trade,a blackbirder they call it in the Pacific, and he had a large hernia inthe chest which was the result of a wound received in a scrap withSolomon Islanders. The bell rang for luncheon.

"Well, I must be off," said Lawson.

"Why don't you come along to my place one time?" said Brevald, in hiswheezy voice. "It's not very grand, but you'll be welcome. You knowEthel."

"I'll come with pleasure."

"Sunday afternoon's the best time."

Brevald's bungalow, shabby and bedraggled, stood among the coconut treesof the plantation, a little away from the main road that ran up toVailima. Immediately around it grew huge plantains. With their tatteredleaves they had the tragic beauty of a lovely woman in rags. Everythingwas slovenly and neglected. Little black pigs, thin and high-backed,rooted about, and chickens clucked noisily as they picked at the refusescattered here and there. Three or four natives were lounging about theverandah. When Lawson asked for Brevald the old man's cracked voicecalled out to him, and he found him in the sitting-room smoking an oldbriar pipe.

"Sit down and make yerself at home," he said. "Ethel's just titivating."

She came in. She wore a blouse and skirt and her hair was done in theEuropean fashion. Although she had not the wild, timid grace of the girlwho came down every evening to the pool, she seemed now more usual andconsequently more approachable. She shook hands with Lawson. It was thefirst time he had touched her hand.

"I hope you'll have a cup of tea with us," she said.

He knew she had been at a mission school, and he was amused, and at thesame time touched, by the company manners she was putting on for hisbenefit. Tea was already set out on the table and in a minute oldBrevald's fourth wife brought in the tea-pot. She was a handsome native,no longer very young, and she spoke but a few words of English. Shesmiled and smiled. Tea was rather a solemn meal, with a great deal ofbread and butter and a variety of very sweet cakes, and the conversationwas formal. Then a wrinkled old woman came in softly.

"That's Ethel's granny," said old Brevald, noisily spitting on thefloor.

She sat on the edge of a chair, uncomfortably, so that you saw it wasunusual for her and she would have been more at ease on the ground, andremained silently staring at Lawson with fixed, shining eyes. In thekitchen behind the bungalow someone began to play the concertina and twoor three voices were raised in a hymn. But they sang for the pleasure ofthe sounds rather than from piety.

When Lawson walked back to the hotel he was strangely happy. He wastouched by the higgledy-piggledy way in which those people lived; and inthe smiling good-nature of Mrs Brevald, in the little Norwegian'sfantastic career, and in the shining mysterious eyes of the oldgrandmother, he found something unusual and fascinating. It was a morenatural life than any he had known, it was nearer to the friendly,fertile earth; civilisation repelled him at that moment, and by merecontact with these creatures of a more primitive nature he felt agreater freedom.

He saw himself rid of the hotel which already was beginning to irk him,settled in a little bungalow of his own, trim and white, in front of thesea so that he had before his eyes always the multicoloured variety ofthe lagoon. He loved the beautiful island. London and England meantnothing to him any more, he was content to spend the rest of his days inthat forgotten spot, rich in the best of the world's goods, love andhappiness. He made up his mind that whatever the obstacles nothingshould prevent him from marrying Ethel.

But there were no obstacles. He was always welcome at the Brevalds'house. The old man was ingratiating and Mrs Brevald smiled withoutceasing. He had brief glimpses of natives who seemed somehow to belongto the establishment, and once he found a tall youth in a _lava-lava_,his body tattooed, his hair white with lime, sitting with Brevald, andwas told he was Mrs Brevald's brother's son; but for the most part theykept out of his way. Ethel was delightful with him. The light in hereyes when she saw him filled him with ecstasy. She was charming andnaïve. He listened enraptured when she told him of the mission school atwhich she was educated, and of the sisters. He went with her to thecinema which was given once a fortnight and danced with her at the dancewhich followed it. They came from all parts of the island for this,since gaieties are few in Upolu; and you saw there all the society ofthe place, the white ladies keeping a good deal to themselves, thehalf-castes very elegant in American clothes, the natives, strings ofdark girls in white Mother Hubbards and young men in unaccustomed ducksand white shoes. It was all very smart and gay. Ethel was pleased toshow her friends the white admirer who did not leave her side. Therumour was soon spread that he meant to marry her and her friends lookedat her with envy. It was a great thing for a half-caste to get a whiteman to marry her, even the less regular relation was better thannothing, but one could never tell what it would lead to; and Lawson'sposition as manager of the bank made him one of the catches of theisland. If he had not been so absorbed in Ethel he would have noticedthat many eyes were fixed on him curiously, and he would have seen theglances of the white ladies and noticed how they put their headstogether and gossiped.

Afterwards, when the men who lived at the hotel were having a whiskybefore turning in, Nelson burst out with:

"Say, they say Lawson's going to marry that girl."

"He's a damned fool then," said Miller.

Miller was a German-American who had changed his name from Müller, a bigman, fat and bald-headed, with a round, clean-shaven face. He wore largegold-rimmed spectacles, which gave him a benign look, and his ducks werealways clean and white. He was a heavy drinker, invariably ready to stayup all night with the "boys," but he never got drunk; he was jolly andaffable, but very shrewd. Nothing interfered with his business; herepresented a firm in San Francisco, jobbers of the goods sold in theislands, calico, machinery and what not; and his good-fellowship waspart of his stock-in-trade.

"He don't know what he's up against," said Nelson. "Someone ought to puthim wise."

"If you'll take my advice you won't interfere in what don't concernyou," said Miller. "When a man's made up his mind to make a fool ofhimself, there's nothing like letting him."

"I'm all for having a good time with the girls out here, but when itcomes to marrying them--this child ain't taking any, I'll tell theworld."

Chaplin was there, and now he had his say.

"I've seen a lot of fellows do it, and it's no good."

"You ought to have a talk with him, Chaplin," said Nelson. "You know himbetter than anyone else does."

"My advice to Chaplin is to leave it alone," said Miller.

Even in those days Lawson was not popular and really no one took enoughinterest in him to bother. Mrs Chaplin talked it over with two or threeof the white ladies, but they contented themselves with saying that itwas a pity; and when he told her definitely that he was going to bemarried it seemed too late to do anything.

For a year Lawson was happy. He took a bungalow at the point of the bayround which Apia is built, on the borders of a native village. Itnestled charmingly among the coconut trees and faced the passionate blueof the Pacific. Ethel was lovely as she went about the little house,lithe and graceful like some young animal of the woods, and she was gay.They laughed a great deal. They talked nonsense. Sometimes one or two ofthe men at the hotel would come over and spend the evening, and often ona Sunday they would go for a day to some planter who had married anative; now and then one or other of the half-caste traders who had astore in Apia would give a party and they went to it. The half-castestreated Lawson quite differently now. His marriage had made him one ofthemselves and they called him Bertie. They put their arms through hisand smacked him on the back. He liked to see Ethel at these gatherings.Her eyes shone and she laughed. It did him good to see her radianthappiness. Sometimes Ethel's relations would come to the bungalow, oldBrevald of course, and her mother, but cousins too, vague native womenin Mother Hubbards and men and boys in _lava-lavas_, with their hairdyed red and their bodies elaborately tattooed. He would find themsitting there when he got back from the bank. He laughed indulgently.

"Don't let them eat us out of hearth and home," he said.

"They're my own family. I can't help doing something for them when theyask me."

He knew that when a white man marries a native or a half-caste he mustexpect her relations to look upon him as a gold mine. He took Ethel'sface in his hands and kissed her red lips. Perhaps he could not expecther to understand that the salary which had amply sufficed for abachelor must be managed with some care when it had to support a wifeand a house. Then Ethel was delivered of a son.

It was when Lawson first held the child in his arms that a sudden pangshot through his heart. He had not expected it to be so dark. After allit had but a fourth part of native blood, and there was no reason reallywhy it should not look just like an English baby; but, huddled togetherin his arms, sallow, its head covered already with black hair, with hugeblack eyes, it might have been a native child. Since his marriage he hadbeen ignored by the white ladies of the colony. When he came across menin whose houses he had been accustomed to dine as a bachelor, they werea little self-conscious with him; and they sought to cover theirembarrassment by an exaggerated cordiality.

"Mrs Lawson well?" they would say. "You're a lucky fellow. Damned prettygirl."

But if they were with their wives and met him and Ethel they would feelit awkward when their wives gave Ethel a patronising nod. Lawson hadlaughed.

"They're as dull as ditchwater, the whole gang of them," he said. "It'snot going to disturb my night's rest if they don't ask me to their dirtyparties."

But now it irked him a little.

The little dark baby screwed up its face. That was his son. He thoughtof the half-caste children in Apia. They had an unhealthy look, sallowand pale, and they were odiously precocious. He had seen them on theboat going to school in New Zealand, and a school had to be chosen whichtook children with native blood in them; they were huddled together,brazen and yet timid, with traits which set them apart strangely fromwhite people. They spoke the native language among themselves. And whenthey grew up the men accepted smaller salaries because of their nativeblood; girls might marry a white man, but boys had no chance; they mustmarry a half-caste like themselves or a native. Lawson made up his mindpassionately that he would take his son away from the humiliation ofsuch a life. At whatever cost he must get back to Europe. And when hewent in to see Ethel, frail and lovely in her bed, surrounded by nativewomen, his determination was strengthened. If he took her away among hisown people she would belong more completely to him. He loved her sopassionately, he wanted her to be one soul and one body with him; and hewas conscious that here, with those deep roots attaching her to thenative life, she would always keep something from him.

He went to work quietly, urged by an obscure instinct of secrecy, andwrote to a cousin who was partner in a shipping firm in Aberdeen, sayingthat his health (on account of which like so many more he had come outto the islands) was so much better, there seemed no reason why he shouldnot return to Europe. He asked him to use what influence he could to gethim a job, no matter how poorly paid, on Deeside, where the climate wasparticularly suitable to such as suffered from diseases of the lungs. Ittakes five or six weeks for letters to get from Aberdeen to Samoa, andseveral had to be exchanged. He had plenty of time to prepare Ethel. Shewas as delighted as a child. He was amused to see how she boasted to herfriends that she was going to England; it was a step up for her; shewould be quite English there; and she was excited at the interest theapproaching departure gave her. When at length a cable came offering hima post in a bank in Kincardineshire she was beside herself with joy.

When, their long journey over, they were settled in the little Scotstown with its granite houses Lawson realised how much it meant to him tolive once more among his own people. He looked back on the three yearshe had spent in Apia as exile, and returned to the life that seemed theonly normal one with a sigh of relief. It was good to play golf oncemore, and to fish--to fish properly, that was poor fun in the Pacificwhen you just threw in your line and pulled out one big sluggish fishafter another from the crowded sea--and it was good to see a paper everyday with that day's news, and to meet men and women of your own sort,people you could talk to; and it was good to eat meat that was notfrozen and to drink milk that was not canned. They were thrown upontheir own resources much more than in the Pacific, and he was glad tohave Ethel exclusively to himself. After two years of marriage he lovedher more devotedly than ever, he could hardly bear her out of his sight,and the need in him grew urgent for a more intimate communion betweenthem. But it was strange that after the first excitement of arrival sheseemed to take less interest in the new life than he had expected. Shedid not accustom herself to her surroundings. She was a littlelethargic. As the fine autumn darkened into winter she complained of thecold. She lay half the morning in bed and the rest of the day on a sofa,reading novels sometimes, but more often doing nothing. She lookedpinched.

"Never mind, darling," he said. "You'll get used to it very soon. Andwait till the summer comes. It can be almost as hot as in Apia."

He felt better and stronger than he had done for years.

The carelessness with which she managed her house had not mattered inSamoa, but here it was out of place. When anyone came he did not wantthe place to look untidy; and, laughing, chaffing Ethel a little, he setabout putting things in order. Ethel watched him indolently. She spentlong hours playing with her son. She talked to him in the baby languageof her own country. To distract her, Lawson bestirred himself to makefriends among the neighbours, and now and then they went to littleparties where the ladies sang drawing-room ballads and the men beamed insilent good nature. Ethel was shy. She seemed to sit apart. SometimesLawson, seized with a sudden anxiety, would ask her if she was happy.

"Yes, I'm quite happy," she answered.

But her eyes were veiled by some thought he could not guess. She seemedto withdraw into herself so that he was conscious that he knew no moreof her than when he had first seen her bathing in the pool. He had anuneasy feeling that she was concealing something from him, and becausehe adored her it tortured him.

"You don't regret Apia, do you?" he asked her once.

"Oh, no--I think it's very nice here."

An obscure misgiving drove him to make disparaging remarks about theisland and the people there. She smiled and did not answer. Very rarelyshe received a bundle of letters from Samoa and then she went about fora day or two with a set, pale face.

"Nothing would induce me ever to go back there," he said once. "It's noplace for a white man."

But he grew conscious that sometimes, when he was away, Ethel cried. InApia she had been talkative, chatting volubly about all the littledetails of their common life, the gossip of the place; but now shegradually became silent, and, though he increased his efforts to amuseher, she remained listless. It seemed to him that her recollections ofthe old life were drawing her away from him, and he was madly jealous ofthe island and of the sea, of Brevald, and all the dark-skinned peoplewhom he remembered now with horror. When she spoke of Samoa he wasbitter and satirical. One evening late in the spring when the birchtrees were bursting into leaf, coming home from a round of golf, hefound her not as usual lying on the sofa, but at the window, standing.She had evidently been waiting for his return. She addressed him themoment he came into the room. To his amazement she spoke in Samoan.

"I can't stand it. I can't live here any more. I hate it. I hate it."

"For God's sake speak in a civilised language," he said irritably.

She went up to him and clasped her arms around his body awkwardly, witha gesture that had in it something barbaric.

"Let's go away from here. Let's go back to Samoa. If you make me stayhere I shall die. I want to go home."

Her passion broke suddenly and she burst into tears. His anger vanishedand he drew her down on his knees. He explained to her that it wasimpossible for him to throw up his job, which after all meant his breadand butter. His place in Apia was long since filled. He had nothing togo back to there. He tried to put it to her reasonably, theinconveniences of life there, the humiliation to which they must beexposed, and the bitterness it must cause their son.

"Scotland's wonderful for education and that sort of thing. Schools aregood and cheap, and he can go to the University at Aberdeen. I'll make areal Scot of him."

They had called him Andrew. Lawson wanted him to become a doctor. Hewould marry a white woman.

"I'm not ashamed of being half native," Ethel said sullenly.

"Of course not, darling. There's nothing to be ashamed of."

With her soft cheek against his he felt incredibly weak.

"You don't know how much I love you," he said. "I'd give anything in theworld to be able to tell you what I've got in my heart."

He sought her lips.

The summer came. The highland valley was green and fragrant, and thehills were gay with the heather. One sunny day followed another in thatsheltered spot, and the shade of the birch trees was grateful after theglare of the high road. Ethel spoke no more of Samoa and Lawson grewless nervous. He thought that she was resigned to her surroundings, andhe felt that his love for her was so passionate that it could leave noroom in her heart for any longing. One day the local doctor stopped himin the street.

"I say, Lawson, your missus ought to be careful how she bathes in ourhighland streams. It's not like the Pacific, you know."

Lawson was surprised, and had not the presence of mind to conceal thefact.

"I didn't know she was bathing."

The doctor laughed.

"A good many people have seen her. It makes them talk a bit, you know,because it seems a rum place to choose, the pool up above the bridge,and bathing isn't allowed there, but there's no harm in that. I don'tknow how she can stand the water."

Lawson knew the pool the doctor spoke of, and suddenly it occurred tohim that in a way it was just like that pool at Upolu where Ethel hadbeen in the habit of bathing every evening. A clear highland stream randown a sinuous course, rocky, splashing gaily, and then formed a deep,smooth pool, with a little sandy beach. Trees overshadowed it thickly,not coconut trees, but beeches, and the sun played fitfully through theleaves on the sparkling water. It gave him a shock. With his imaginationhe saw Ethel go there every day and undress on the bank and slip intothe water, cold, colder than that of the pool she loved at home, and fora moment regain the feeling of the past. He saw her once more as thestrange, wild spirit of the stream, and it seemed to him fantasticallythat the running water called her. That afternoon he went along to theriver. He made his way cautiously among the trees and the grassy pathdeadened the sound of his steps. Presently he came to a spot from whichhe could see the pool. Ethel was sitting on the bank, looking down atthe water. She sat quite still. It seemed as though the water drew herirresistibly. He wondered what strange thoughts wandered through herhead. At last she got up, and for a minute or two she was hidden fromhis gaze; then he saw her again, wearing a Mother Hubbard, and with herlittle bare feet she stepped delicately over the mossy bank. She came tothe water's edge, and softly, without a splash, let herself down. Sheswam about quietly, and there was something not quite of a human beingin the way she swam. He did not know why it affected him so queerly. Hewaited till she clambered out. She stood for a moment with the wet foldsof her dress clinging to her body, so that its shape was outlined, andthen, passing her hands slowly over her breasts, gave a little sigh ofdelight. Then she disappeared. Lawson turned away and walked back to thevillage. He had a bitter pain in his heart, for he knew that she wasstill a stranger to him and his hungry love was destined ever to remainunsatisfied.

He did not make any mention of what he had seen. He ignored the incidentcompletely, but he looked at her curiously, trying to divine what was inher mind. He redoubled the tenderness with which he used her. He soughtto make her forget the deep longing of her soul by the passion of hislove.

Then one day, when he came home, he was astonished to find her not inthe house.

"Where's Mrs Lawson?" he asked the maid.

"She went into Aberdeen, Sir, with the baby," the maid answered, alittle surprised at the question. "She said she would not be back tillthe last train."

"Oh, all right."

He was vexed that Ethel had said nothing to him about the excursion, buthe was not disturbed, since of late she had been in now and again toAberdeen, and he was glad that she should look at the shops and perhapsvisit a cinema. He went to meet the last train, but when she did notcome he grew suddenly frightened. He went up to the bedroom and saw atonce that her toilet things were no longer in their place. He opened thewardrobe and the drawers. They were half empty. She had bolted.

He was seized with a passion of anger. It was too late that night totelephone to Aberdeen and make enquiries, but he knew already all thathis enquiries might have taught him. With fiendish cunning she hadchosen a time when they were making up their periodical accounts at thebank and there was no chance that he could follow her. He was imprisonedby his work. He took up a paper and saw that there was a boat sailingfor Australia next morning. She must be now well on the way to London.He could not prevent the sobs that were wrung painfully from him.

"I've done everything in the world for her," he cried, "and she had theheart to treat me like this. How cruel, how monstrously cruel!"

After two days of misery he received a letter from her. It was writtenin her school-girl hand. She had always written with difficulty:

Dear Bertie:I couldn't stand it any more.I'm going back home. Good-bye.

Ethel.

She did not say a single word of regret. She did not even ask him tocome too. Lawson was prostrated. He found out where the ship made itsfirst stop and, though he knew very well she would not come, sent acable beseeching her to return. He waited with pitiful anxiety. Hewanted her to send him just one word of love; she did not even answer.He passed through one violent phase after another. At one moment he toldhimself that he was well rid of her, and at the next that he would forceher to return by withholding money. He was lonely and wretched. Hewanted his boy and he wanted her. He knew that, whatever he pretended tohimself, there was only one thing to do and that was to follow her. Hecould never live without her now. All his plans for the future were likea house of cards and he scattered them with angry impatience. He did notcare whether he threw away his chances for the future, for nothing inthe world mattered but that he should get Ethel back again. As soon ashe could he went into Aberdeen and told the manager of his bank that hemeant to leave at once. The manager remonstrated. The short notice wasinconvenient. Lawson would not listen to reason. He was determined to befree before the next boat sailed; and it was not until he was on boardof her, having sold everything he possessed, that in some measure heregained his calm. Till then to those who had come in contact with himhe seemed hardly sane. His last action in England was to cable to Ethelat Apia that he was joining her.

He sent another cable from Sydney, and when at last with the dawn hisboat crossed the bar at Apia and he saw once more the white housesstraggling along the bay he felt an immense relief. The doctor came onboard and the agent. They were both old acquaintances and he felt kindlytowards their familiar faces. He had a drink or two with them for oldtimes' sake, and also because he was desperately nervous. He was notsure if Ethel would be glad to see him. When he got into the launch andapproached the wharf he scanned anxiously the little crowd that waited.She was not there and his heart sank, but then he saw Brevald, in hisold blue clothes, and his heart warmed towards him.

"Where's Ethel?" he said, as he jumped on shore.

"She's down at the bungalow. She's living with us."

Lawson was dismayed, but he put on a jovial air.

"Well, have you got room for me? I daresay it'll take a week or two tofix ourselves up."

"Oh, yes, I guess we can make room for you."

After passing through the custom-house they went to the hotel and thereLawson was greeted by several of his old friends. There were a good manyrounds of drinks before it seemed possible to get away and when they didgo out at last to Brevald's house they were both rather gay. He claspedEthel in his arms. He had forgotten all his bitter thoughts in the joyof beholding her once more. His mother-in-law was pleased to see him,and so was the old, wrinkled beldame, her mother; natives andhalf-castes came in, and they all sat round, beaming on him. Brevald hada bottle of whisky and everyone who came was given a nip. Lawson satwith his little dark-skinned boy on his knees, they had taken hisEnglish clothes off him and he was stark, with Ethel by his side in aMother Hubbard. He felt like a returning prodigal. In the afternoon hewent down to the hotel again and when he got back he was more than gay,he was drunk. Ethel and her mother knew that white men got drunk now andthen, it was what you expected of them, and they laughed good-naturedlyas they helped him to bed.

But in a day or two he set about looking for a job. He knew that hecould not hope for such a position as that which he had thrown away togo to England; but with his training he could not fail to be useful toone of the trading firms, and perhaps in the end he would not lose bythe change.

"After all, you can't make money in a bank," he said. "Trade's thething."

He had hopes that he would soon make himself so indispensable that hewould get someone to take him into partnership, and there was no reasonwhy in a few years he should not be a rich man.

"As soon as I'm fixed up we'll find ourselves a shack," he told Ethel."We can't go on living here."

Brevald's bungalow was so small that they were all piled on one another,and there was no chance of ever being alone. There was neither peace norprivacy.

"Well, there's no hurry. We shall be all right here till we find justwhat we want."

It took him a week to get settled and then he entered the firm of a mancalled Bain. But when he talked to Ethel about moving she said shewanted to stay where she was till her baby was born, for she wasexpecting another child. Lawson tried to argue with her.

"If you don't like it," she said, "go and live at the hotel."

He grew suddenly pale.

"Ethel, how can you suggest that!"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"What's the good of having a house of our own when we can live here."

He yielded.

When Lawson, after his work, went back to the bungalow he found itcrowded with natives. They lay about smoking, sleeping, drinking _kava_;and they talked incessantly. The place was grubby and untidy. His childcrawled about, playing with native children, and it heard nothing spokenbut Samoan. He fell into the habit of dropping into the hotel on hisway home to have a few cocktails, for he could only face the evening andthe crowd of friendly natives when he was fortified with liquor. And allthe time, though he loved her more passionately than ever, he felt thatEthel was slipping away from him. When the baby was born he suggestedthat they should get into a house of their own, but Ethel refused. Herstay in Scotland seemed to have thrown her back on her own people, nowthat she was once more among them, with a passionate zest, and sheturned to her native ways with abandon. Lawson began to drink more.Every Saturday night he went to the English Club and got blind drunk.

He had the peculiarity that as he grew drunk he grew quarrelsome andonce he had a violent dispute with Bain, his employer. Bain dismissedhim, and he had to look out for another job. He was idle for two orthree weeks and during these, sooner than sit in the bungalow, helounged about in the hotel or at the English Club, and drank. It wasmore out of pity than anything else that Miller, the German-American,took him into his office; but he was a business man, and though Lawson'sfinancial skill made him valuable, the circumstances were such that hecould hardly refuse a smaller salary than he had had before, and Millerdid not hesitate to offer it to him. Ethel and Brevald blamed him fortaking it, since Pedersen, the half-caste, offered him more. But heresented bitterly the thought of being under the orders of a half-caste.When Ethel nagged him he burst out furiously:

"I'll see myself dead before I work for a nigger."

"You may have to," she said.

And in six months he found himself forced to this final humiliation. Thepassion for liquor had been gaining on him, he was often heavy withdrink, and he did his work badly. Miller warned him once or twice andLawson was not the man to accept remonstrance easily. One day in themidst of an altercation he put on his hat and walked out. But by now hisreputation was well known and he could find no one to engage him. For awhile he idled, and then he had an attack of _delirium tremens_. When herecovered, shameful and weak, he could no longer resist the constantpressure and he went to Pedersen and asked him for a job. Pedersen wasglad to have a white man in his store and Lawson's skill at figures madehim useful.

From that time his degeneration was rapid. The white people gave him thecold shoulder. They were only prevented from cutting him completely bydisdainful pity and by a certain dread of his angry violence when he wasdrunk. He became extremely susceptible and was always on the lookout foraffront.

He lived entirely among the natives and half-castes, but he had nolonger the prestige of the white man. They felt his loathing for themand they resented his attitude of superiority. He was one of themselvesnow and they did not see why he should put on airs. Brevald, who hadbeen ingratiating and obsequious, now treated him with contempt. Ethelhad made a bad bargain. There were disgraceful scenes and once or twicethe two men came to blows. When there was a quarrel Ethel took the partof her family. They found he was better drunk than sober, for when hewas drunk he would lie on the bed or on the floor, sleeping heavily.

Then he became aware that something was being hidden from him.

When he got back to the bungalow for the wretched, half native supperwhich was his evening meal, often Ethel was not in. If he asked whereshe was Brevald told him she had gone to spend the evening with one orother of her friends. Once he followed her to the house Brevald hadmentioned and found she was not there. On her return he asked her whereshe had been and she told him her father had made a mistake; she hadbeen to so-and-so's. But he knew that she was lying. She was in her bestclothes; her eyes were shining, and she looked lovely.

"Don't try any monkey tricks on me, my girl," he said, "or I'll breakevery bone in your body."

"You drunken beast," she said, scornfully.

He fancied that Mrs Brevald and the old grandmother looked at himmaliciously and he ascribed Brevald's good-humour with him, so unusualthose days, to his satisfaction at having something up his sleeveagainst his son-in-law. And then, his suspicions aroused, he imaginedthat the white men gave him curious glances. When he came into thelounge of the hotel the sudden silence which fell upon the companyconvinced him that he had been the subject of the conversation.Something was going on and everyone knew it but himself. He was seizedwith furious jealousy. He believed that Ethel was carrying on with oneof the white men, and he looked at one after the other with scrutinisingeyes; but there was nothing to give him even a hint. He was helpless.Because he could find no one on whom definitely to fix his suspicions,he went about like a raving maniac, looking for someone on whom to venthis wrath. Chance caused him in the end to hit upon the man who of allothers least deserved to suffer from his violence. One afternoon, whenhe was sitting in the hotel by himself, moodily, Chaplin came in and satdown beside him. Perhaps Chaplin was the only man on the island who hadany sympathy for him. They ordered drinks and chatted a few minutesabout the races that were shortly to be run. Then Chaplain said:

"I guess we shall all have to fork out money for new dresses."

Lawson sniggered. Since Mrs Chaplin held the purse-strings if she wanteda new frock for the occasion she would certainly not ask her husband forthe money.

"How is your missus?" asked Chaplin, desiring to be friendly.

"What the hell's that got to do with you?" said Lawson, knitting hisdark brows.

"I was only asking a civil question."

"Well, keep your civil questions to yourself."

Chaplin was not a patient man; his long residence in the tropics, thewhisky bottle, and his domestic affairs had given him a temper hardlymore under control than Lawson's.

"Look here, my boy, when you're in my hotel you behave like a gentlemanor you'll find yourself in the street before you can say knife."

Lawson's lowering face grew dark and red.

"Let me just tell you once for all and you can pass it on to theothers," he said, panting with rage. "If any of you fellows come messinground with my wife he'd better look out."

"Who do you think wants to mess around with your wife?"

"I'm not such a fool as you think. I can see a stone wall in front of meas well as most men, and I warn you straight, that's all. I'm not goingto put up with any hanky-panky, not on your life."

"Look here, you'd better clear out of here, and come back when you'resober."

"I shall clear out when I choose and not a minute before," said Lawson.

It was an unfortunate boast, for Chaplin in the course of his experienceas a hotel-keeper had acquired a peculiar skill in dealing withgentlemen whose room he preferred to their company, and the words werehardly out of Lawson's mouth before he found himself caught by thecollar and arm and hustled not without force into the street. Hestumbled down the steps into the blinding glare of the sun.

It was in consequence of this that he had his first violent scene withEthel. Smarting with humiliation and unwilling to go back to the hotel,he went home that afternoon earlier than usual. He found Ethel dressingto go out. As a rule she lay about in a Mother Hubbard, barefoot, witha flower in her dark hair; but now, in white silk stockings andhigh-heeled shoes, she was doing up a pink muslin dress which was thenewest she had.

"You're making yourself very smart," he said. "Where are you going?"

"I'm going to the Crossleys."

"I'll come with you."

"Why?" she asked coolly.

"I don't want you to gad about by yourself all the time."

"You're not asked."

"I don't care a damn about that. You're not going without me."

"You'd better lie down till I'm ready."

She thought he was drunk and if he once settled himself on the bed wouldquickly drop off to sleep. He sat down on a chair and began to smoke acigarette. She watched him with increasing irritation: When she wasready he got up. It happened by an unusual chance that there was no onein the bungalow. Brevald was working on the plantation and his wife hadgone into Apia. Ethel faced him.

"I'm not going with you. You're drunk."

"That's a lie. You're not going without me."

She shrugged her shoulders and tried to pass him, but he caught her bythe arm and held her.

"Let me go, you devil," she said, breaking into Samoan.

"Why do you want to go without me? Haven't I told you I'm not going toput up with any monkey tricks?"

She clenched her fist and hit him in the face. He lost all control ofhimself. All his love, all his hatred, welled up in him and he wasbeside himself.

"I'll teach you," he shouted. "I'll teach you."

He seized a riding-whip which happened to be under his hand, and struckher with it. She screamed, and the scream maddened him so that he wenton striking her, again and again. Her shrieks rang through the bungalowand he cursed her as he hit. Then he flung her on the bed. She lay theresobbing with pain and terror. He threw the whip away from him and rushedout of the room. Ethel heard him go and she stopped crying. She lookedround cautiously, then she raised herself. She was sore, but she had notbeen badly hurt, and she looked at her dress to see if it was damaged.The native women are not unused to blows. What he had done did notoutrage her. When she looked at herself in the glass and arranged herhair, her eyes were shining. There was a strange look in them. Perhapsthen she was nearer loving him than she had ever been before.

But Lawson, driven forth blindly, stumbled through the plantation andsuddenly exhausted, weak as a child, flung himself on the ground at thefoot of a tree. He was miserable and ashamed. He thought of Ethel, andin the yielding tenderness of his love all his bones seemed to grow softwithin him. He thought of the past, and of his hopes, and he was aghastat what he had done. He wanted her more than ever. He wanted to take herin his arms. He must go to her at once. He got up. He was so weak thathe staggered as he walked. He went into the house and she was sitting intheir cramped bedroom in front of her looking-glass.

"Oh, Ethel, forgive me. I'm so awfully ashamed of myself. I didn't knowwhat I was doing."

He fell on his knees before her and timidly stroked the skirt of herdress.

"I can't bear to think of what I did. It's awful. I think I was mad.There's no one in the world I love as I love you. I'd do anything tosave you from pain and I've hurt you. I can never forgive myself, butfor God's sake say you forgive me."

He heard her shrieks still. It was unendurable. She looked at himsilently. He tried to take her hands and the tears streamed from hiseyes. In his humiliation he hid his face in her lap and his frail bodyshook with sobs. An expression of utter contempt came over her face. Shehad the native woman's disdain of a man who abased himself before awoman. A weak creature! And for a moment she had been on the point ofthinking there was something in him. He grovelled at her feet like acur. She gave him a little scornful kick.

"Get out," she said. "I hate you."

He tried to hold her, but she pushed him aside. She stood up. She beganto take off her dress. She kicked off her shoes and slid the stockingsoff her feet, then she slipped on her old Mother Hubbard.

"Where are you going?"

"What's that got to do with you? I'm going down to the pool."

"Let me come too," he said.

He asked as though he were a child.

"Can't you even leave me that?"

He hid his face in his hands, crying miserably, while she, her eyes hardand cold, stepped past him and went out.

From that time she entirely despised him; and though, herded together inthe small bungalow, Lawson and Ethel with her two children, Brevald, hiswife and her mother, and the vague relations and hangers-on who werealways in and about, they had to live cheek by jowl, Lawson, ceasing tobe of any account, was hardly noticed. He left in the morning afterbreakfast, and came back only to have supper. He gave up the struggle,and when for want of money he could not go to the English Club he spentthe evening playing hearts with old Brevald and the natives. Except whenhe was drunk he was cowed and listless. Ethel treated him like a dog.She submitted at times to his fits of wild passion, and she wasfrightened by the gusts of hatred with which they were followed; butwhen, afterwards, he was cringing and lachrymose she had such a contemptfor him that she could have spat in his face. Sometimes he was violent,but now she was prepared for him, and when he hit her she kicked andscratched and bit. They had horrible battles in which he had not alwaysthe best of it. Very soon it was known all over Apia that they got onbadly. There was little sympathy for Lawson, and at the hotel thegeneral surprise was that old Brevald did not kick him out of theplace.

"Brevald's a pretty ugly customer," said one of the men. "I shouldn't besurprised if he put a bullet into Lawson's carcass one of these days."

Ethel still went in the evenings to bathe in the silent pool. It seemedto have an attraction for her that was not quite human, just thatattraction you might imagine that a mermaid who had won a soul wouldhave for the cool salt waves of the sea; and sometimes Lawson went also.I do not know what urged him to go, for Ethel was obviously irritated byhis presence; perhaps it was because in that spot he hoped to regain theclean rapture which had filled his heart when first he saw her; perhapsonly, with the madness of those who love them that love them not, fromthe feeling that his obstinacy could force love. One day he strolleddown there with a feeling that was rare with him now. He felt suddenlyat peace with the world. The evening was drawing in and the dusk seemedto cling to the leaves of the coconut trees like a little thin cloud. Afaint breeze stirred them noiselessly. A crescent moon hung just overtheir tops. He made his way to the bank. He saw Ethel in the waterfloating on her back. Her hair streamed out all round her, and she washolding in her hand a large hibiscus. He stopped a moment to admire her;she was like Ophelia.

"Hulloa, Ethel," he cried joyfully.

She made a sudden movement and dropped the red flower. It floated idlyaway. She swam a stroke or two till she knew there was ground within herdepth and then stood up.

"Go away," she said. "Go away."

He laughed.

"Don't be selfish. There's plenty of room for both of us."

"Why can't you leave me alone? I want to be by myself."

"Hang it all, I want to bathe," he answered, good-humouredly.

"Go down to the bridge. I don't want you here."

"I'm sorry for that," he said, smiling still.

He was not in the least angry, and he hardly noticed that she was in apassion. He began to take off his coat.

"Go away," she shrieked. "I won't have you here. Can't you even leave methis? Go away."

"Don't be silly, darling."

She bent down and picked up a sharp stone and flung it quickly at him.He had no time to duck. It hit him on the temple. With a cry he put hishand to his head and when he took it away it was wet with blood. Ethelstood still, panting with rage. He turned very pale, and without a word,taking up his coat, went away. Ethel let herself fall back into thewater and the stream carried her slowly down to the ford.

The stone had made a jagged wound and for some days Lawson went aboutwith a bandaged head. He had invented a likely story to account for theaccident when the fellows at the club asked him about it, but he had nooccasion to use it. No one referred to the matter. He saw them castsurreptitious glances at his head, but not a word was said. The silencecould only mean that they knew how he came by his wound. He was certainnow that Ethel had a lover, and they all knew who it was. But there wasnot the smallest indication to guide him. He never saw Ethel withanyone; no one showed a wish to be with her, or treated him in a mannerthat seemed strange. Wild rage seized him, and having no one to vent iton he drank more and more heavily. A little while before I came to theisland he had had another attack of _delirium tremens_.

I met Ethel at the house of a man called Caster, who lived two or threemiles from Apia with a native wife. I had been playing tennis with himand when we were tired he suggested a cup of tea. We went into the houseand in the untidy living-room found Ethel chatting with Mrs Caster.

"Hulloa, Ethel," he said, "I didn't know you were here."

I could not help looking at her with curiosity. I tried to see whatthere was in her to have excited in Lawson such a devastating passion.But who can explain these things? It was true that she was lovely; shereminded one of the red hibiscus, the common flower of the hedgerow inSamoa, with its grace and its languor and its passion; but whatsurprised me most, taking into consideration the story I knew even thena good deal of, was her freshness and simplicity. She was quiet and alittle shy. There was nothing coarse or loud about her; she had not theexuberance common to the half-caste; and it was almost impossible tobelieve that she could be the virago that the horrible scenes betweenhusband and wife, which were now common knowledge, indicated. In herpretty pink frock and high-heeled shoes she looked quite European. Youcould hardly have guessed at that dark background of native life inwhich she felt herself so much more at home. I did not imagine that shewas at all intelligent, and I should not have been surprised if a man,after living with her for some time, had found the passion which haddrawn him to her sink into boredom. It suggested itself to me that inher elusiveness, like a thought that presents itself to consciousnessand vanishes before it can be captured by words, lay her peculiar charm;but perhaps that was merely fancy, and if I had known nothing about herI should have seen in her only a pretty little half-caste like another.

She talked to me of the various things which they talk of to thestranger in Samoa, of the journey, and whether I had slid down the waterrock at Papaseea, and if I meant to stay in a native village. She talkedto me of Scotland, and perhaps I noticed in her a tendency to enlarge onthe sumptuousness of her establishment there. She asked me naïvely if Iknew Mrs This and Mrs That, with whom she had been acquainted when shelived in the north.

Then Miller, the fat German-American, came in. He shook hands all roundvery cordially and sat down, asking in his loud, cheerful voice for awhisky and soda. He was very fat and he sweated profusely. He took offhis gold-rimmed spectacles and wiped them; you saw then that his littleeyes, benevolent behind the large round glasses, were shrewd andcunning; the party had been somewhat dull till he came, but he was agood story-teller and a jovial fellow. Soon he had the two women, Etheland my friend's wife, laughing delightedly at his sallies. He had areputation on the island of a lady's man, and you could see how thisfat, gross fellow, old and ugly, had yet the possibility of fascination.His humour was on a level with the understanding of his company, anaffair of vitality and assurance, and his Western accent gave a peculiarpoint to what he said. At last he turned to me:

"Well, if we want to get back for dinner we'd better be getting. I'lltake you along in my machine if you like."

I thanked him and got up. He shook hands with the others, went out ofthe room, massive and strong in his walk, and climbed into his car.

"Pretty little thing, Lawson's wife," I said, as we drove along.

"Too bad the way he treats her. Knocks her about. Gets my dander up whenI hear of a man hitting a woman."

We went on a little. Then he said:

"He was a darned fool to marry her. I said so at the time. If he hadn't,he'd have had the whip hand over her. He's yaller, that's what he is,yaller."

The year was drawing to its end and the time approached when I was toleave Samoa. My boat was scheduled to sail for Sydney on the fourth ofJanuary. Christmas Day had been celebrated at the hotel with suitableceremonies, but it was looked upon as no more than a rehearsal for NewYear, and the men who were accustomed to foregather in the loungedetermined on New Year's Eve to make a night of it. There was anuproarious dinner, after which the party sauntered down to the EnglishClub, a simple little frame house, to play pool. There was a great dealof talking, laughing, and betting, but some very poor play, except onthe part of Miller, who had drunk as much as any of them, all faryounger than he, but had kept unimpaired the keenness of his eye and thesureness of his hand. He pocketed the young men's money with humour andurbanity. After an hour of this I grew tired and went out. I crossed theroad and came on to the beach. Three coconut trees grew there, likethree moon maidens waiting for their lovers to ride out of the sea, andI sat at the foot of one of them, watching the lagoon and the nightlyassemblage of the stars.

I do not know where Lawson had been during the evening, but between tenand eleven he came along to the club. He shambled down the dusty, emptyroad, feeling dull and bored, and when he reached the club, before goinginto the billiard-room, went into the bar to have a drink by himself. Hehad a shyness now about joining the company of white men when there werea lot of them together and needed a stiff dose of whisky to give himconfidence. He was standing with the glass in his hand when Miller camein to him. He was in his shirt sleeves and still held his cue. He gavethe bar-tender a glance.

"Get out, Jack," he said.

The bar-tender, a native in a white jacket and a red lava-lava,without a word slid out of the small room.

"Look here, I've been wanting to have a few words with you, Lawson,"said the big American.

"Well, that's one of the few things you can have free, gratis, and fornothing on this damned island."

Miller fixed his gold spectacles more firmly on his nose and held Lawsonwith his cold determined eyes.

"See here, young fellow, I understand you've been knocking Mrs Lawsonabout again. I'm not going to stand for that. If you don't stop it rightnow I'll break every bone of your dirty little body."

Then Lawson knew what he had been trying to find out so long. It wasMiller. The appearance of the man, fat, bald-headed, with his round bareface and double chin and the gold spectacles, his age, his benign,shrewd look, like that of a renegade priest, and the thought of Ethel,so slim and virginal, filled him with a sudden horror. Whatever hisfaults Lawson was no coward, and without a word he hit out violently atMiller. Miller quickly warded the blow with the hand that held the cue,and then with a great swing of his right arm brought his fist down onLawson's ear. Lawson was four inches shorter than the American and hewas slightly built, frail and weakened not only by illness and theenervating tropics, but by drink. He fell like a log and lay half dazedat the foot of the bar. Miller took off his spectacles and wiped themwith his handkerchief.

"I guess you know what to expect now. You've had your warning and you'dbetter take it."

He took up his cue and went back into the billiard-room. There was somuch noise there that no one knew what had happened. Lawson pickedhimself up. He put his hand to his ear, which was singing still. Then heslunk out of the club.

I saw a man cross the road, a patch of white against the darkness of thenight, but did not know who it was. He came down to the beach, passed mesitting at the foot of the tree, and looked down. I saw then that it wasLawson, but since he was doubtless drunk, did not speak. He went on,walked irresolutely two or three steps, and turned back. He came up tome and bending down stared in my face.

"I thought it was you," he said.

He sat down and took out his pipe.

"It was hot and noisy in the club," I volunteered.

"Why are you sitting here?"

"I was waiting about for the midnight mass at the Cathedral."

"If you like I'll come with you."

Lawson was quite sober. We sat for a while smoking in silence. Now andthen in the lagoon was the splash of some big fish, and a little way outtowards the opening in the reef was the light of a schooner.

"You're sailing next week, aren't you?" he said.

"Yes."

"It would be jolly to go home once more. But I could never stand it now.The cold, you know."

"It's odd to think that in England now they're shivering round thefire," I said.

There was not even a breath of wind. The balminess of the night was likea spell. I wore nothing but a thin shirt and a suit of ducks. I enjoyedthe exquisite languor of the night, and stretched my limbs voluptuously.

"This isn't the sort of New Year's Eve that persuades one to make goodresolutions for the future," I smiled.

He made no answer, but I do not know what train of thought my casualremark had suggested in him, for presently he began to speak. He spokein a low voice, without any expression, but his accents were educated,and it was a relief to hear him after the twang and the vulgarintonations which for some time had wounded my ears.

"I've made an awful hash of things. That's obvious, isn't it? I'm rightdown at the bottom of the pit and there's no getting out for me. '_Blackas the pit from pole to pole._'" I felt him smile as he made thequotation. "And the strange thing is that I don't see how I went wrong."

I held my breath, for to me there is nothing more awe-inspiring thanwhen a man discovers to you the nakedness of his soul. Then you see thatno one is so trivial or debased but that in him is a spark of somethingto excite compassion.

"It wouldn't be so rotten if I could see that it was all my own fault.It's true I drink, but I shouldn't have taken to that if things had gonedifferently. I wasn't really fond of liquor. I suppose I ought not tohave married Ethel. If I'd kept her it would be all right. But I didlove her so."

His voice faltered.

"She's not a bad lot, you know, not really. It's just rotten luck. Wemight have been as happy as lords. When she bolted I suppose I ought tohave let her go, but I couldn't do that--I was dead stuck on her then;and there was the kid."

"Are you fond of the kid?" I asked.

"I was. There are two, you know. But they don't mean so much to me now.You'd take them for natives anywhere. I have to talk to them in Samoan."

"Is it too late for you to start fresh? Couldn't you make a dash for itand leave the place?"

"I haven't the strength. I'm done for."

"Are you still in love with your wife?"

"Not now. Not now." He repeated the two words with a kind of horror inhis voice. "I haven't even got that now. I'm down and out."

The bells of the Cathedral were ringing.

"If you really want to come to the midnight mass we'd better go along,"I said.

"Come on."

We got up and walked along the road. The Cathedral, all white, stoodfacing the sea not without impressiveness, and beside it the Protestantchapels had the look of meeting-houses. In the road were two or threecars, and a great number of traps, and traps were put up against thewalls at the side. People had come from all parts of the island for theservice, and through the great open doors we saw that the place wascrowded. The high altar was all ablaze with light. There were a fewwhites and a good many half-castes, but the great majority were natives.All the men wore trousers, for the Church has decided that the_lava-lava_ is indecent. We found chairs at the back, near the opendoor, and sat down. Presently, following Lawson's eyes, I saw Ethel comein with a party of half-castes. They were all very much dressed up, themen in high, stiff collars and shiny boots, the women in large, gayhats. Ethel nodded and smiled to her friends as she passed up the aisle.The service began.

When it was over Lawson and I stood on one side for a while to watch thecrowd stream out, then he held out his hand.

"Good-night," he said. "I hope you'll have a pleasant journey home."

"Oh, but I shall see you before I go."

He sniggered.

"The question is if you'll see me drunk or sober."

He turned and left me. I had a recollection of those very large blackeyes, shining wildly under the shaggy brows. I paused irresolutely. Idid not feel sleepy and I thought I would at all events go along to theclub for an hour before turning in. When I got there I found thebilliard-room empty, but half-a-dozen men were sitting round a table inthe lounge, playing poker. Miller looked up as I came in.

"Sit down and take a hand," he said.

"All right."

I bought some chips and began to play. Of course it is the mostfascinating game in the world and my hour lengthened out to two, andthen to three. The native bar-tender, cheery and wide-awakenotwithstanding the time, was at our elbow to supply us with drinks andfrom somewhere or other he produced a ham and a loaf of bread. We playedon. Most of the party had drunk more than was good for them and the playwas high and reckless. I played modestly, neither wishing to win noranxious to lose, but I watched Miller with a fascinated interest. Hedrank glass for glass with the rest of the company, but remained cooland level-headed. His pile of chips increased in size and he had a neatlittle paper in front of him on which he had marked various sums lent toplayers in distress. He beamed amiably at the young men whose money hewas taking. He kept up interminably his stream of jest and anecdote, buthe never missed a draw, he never let an expression of the face pass him.At last the dawn crept into the windows, gently, with a sort ofdeprecating shyness, as though it had no business there, and then it wasday.

"Well," said Miller, "I reckon we've seen the old year out in style. Nowlet's have a round of jackpots and me for my mosquito net. I'm fifty,remember, I can't keep these late hours."

The morning was beautiful and fresh when we stood on the verandah, andthe lagoon was like a sheet of multicoloured glass. Someone suggested adip before going to bed, but none cared to bathe in the lagoon, stickyand treacherous to the feet. Miller had his car at the door and heoffered to take us down to the pool. We jumped in and drove along thedeserted road. When we reached the pool it seemed as though the day hadhardly risen there yet. Under the trees the water was all in shadow andthe night had the effect of lurking still. We were in great spirits. Wehad no towels or any costume and in my prudence I wondered how we weregoing to dry ourselves. None of us had much on and it did not take uslong to snatch off our clothes. Nelson, the little supercargo, wasstripped first.

"I'm going down to the bottom," he said.

He dived and in a moment another man dived too, but shallow, and was outof the water before him. Then Nelson came up and scrambled to the side.

"I say, get me out," he said.

"What's up?"

Something was evidently the matter. His face was terrified. Two fellowsgave him their hands and he slithered up.

"I say, there's a man down there."

"Don't be a fool. You're drunk."

"Well, if there isn't I'm in for D. T's. But I tell you there's a mandown there. It just scared me out of my wits."

Miller looked at him for a moment. The little man was all white. He wasactually trembling.

"Come on, Caster," said Miller to the big Australian, "we'd better godown and see."

"He was standing up," said Nelson, "all dressed. I saw him. He tried tocatch hold of me."

"Hold your row," said Miller. "Are you ready?"

They dived in. We waited on the bank, silent. It really seemed as thoughthey were under water longer than any men could breathe. Then Castercame up, and immediately after him, red in the face as though he weregoing to have a fit, Miller. They were pulling something behind them.Another man jumped in to help them, and the three together dragged theirburden to the side. They shoved it up. Then we saw that it was Lawson,with a great stone tied up in his coat and bound to his feet.

"He was set on making a good job of it," said Miller, as he wiped thewater from his shortsighted eyes.

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