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“Rain” by W. Somerset Maugham Part 2

“But among white people, it’s not quite the same,” she went on, “though I must say I agree with Mr. Davidson, who says he can’t understand how a husband can stand by and see his wife in another man’s arms, and as far as I’m concerned I’ve never danced a step since I married. But the native dancing is quite another matter. It’s not only immoral in itself, but it distinctly leads to immorality. However, I’m thankful to God that we stamped it out, and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that no one has danced in our district for eight years.”

But now they came to the mouth of the harbour and Mrs. Macphail joined them. The ship turned sharply and steamed slowly in. It was a great landlocked harbour big enough to hold a fleet of battleships and all around it rose, high and steep, the green hills. Near the entrance, getting such breeze as blew from the sea, stood the governor’s house in a garden. The Stars and Stripes dangled languidly from a flagstaff. They passed two or three trim bungalows, and a tennis court, and then they came to the quay with its warehouses. Mrs. Davidson pointed out the schooner, moored two or three hundred yards from the side, which was to take them to Apia. There was a crowd of eager, noisy, and good-humoured natives come from all parts of the island, some from curiosity, others to barter with the travellers on their way to Sydney; and they brought pineapples and huge bunches of bananas, tapa cloths, necklaces of shells or sharks’ teeth, kava-bowls, and models of war canoes. American sailors, neat and trim, clean-shaven and frank efface, sauntered among them, and there was a little group of officials. While their luggage was being landed the Macphails and Mrs. Davidson watched the crowd. Dr. Macphail looked at the yaws from which most of the children and the young boys seemed to suffer, disfiguring sores like torpid ulcers, and his professional eyes glistened when he saw for the first time in his experience cases of elephantiasis, men going about with a huge, heavy arm or dragging along a grossly disfigured leg. Men and women wore the lava-lava.

“It’s a very indecent costume,” said Mrs. Davidson. “Mr. Davidson thinks it should be prohibited by law. How can you expect people to be moral when they wear nothing but a strip of red cotton round their loins?”

“It’s suitable enough to the climate,” said the doctor, wiping the sweat off his head.

Now that they were on land the heat, though it was so early in the morning, was already oppressive. Closed in by its hills, not a breath of air came in to Pago-Pago.

“In our islands,” Mrs. Davidson went on in her high-pitched tones, “we’ve practically eradicated the lava-lava. A few old men still continue to wear it, but that’s all. The women have all taken to the Mother Hubbard, and the men wear trousers and singlets. At the very beginning of our stay, Mr. Davidson said in one of his reports: the inhabitants of these islands will never be thoroughly Christianised till every boy of more than ten years is made to wear a pair of trousers.”

But Mrs. Davidson had given two or three of her birdlike glances at heavy grey clouds that came floating over the mouth of the harbour. A few drops began to fall.

“We’d better take shelter,” she said.

They made their way with all the crowd to a great shed of corrugated iron, and the rain began to fall in torrents. They stood there for some time and then were joined by Mr. Davidson. He had been polite enough to the Macphails during the journey, but he had not his wife`s sociability and had spent much of his time reading. He was a silent, rather sullen man, and you felt that his affability was a duty that he imposed upon himself Christianly; he was by nature reserved and even morose. His appearance was singular. He was very tall and thin, with long limbs loosely jointed, hollow cheeks, and curiously high cheek-bones. He had so cadaverous an air that it surprised you to notice how full and sensual were his lips. He wore his hair very long. His dark eyes, set deep in their sockets, were large and tragic, and his hands with their big, long fingers were finely shaped; they gave him a look of great strength. But the most striking thing about him was the feeling he gave you of suppressed fire. It was impressive and vaguely troubling. He was not a man with whom any intimacy was possible.

He brought now unwelcome news. There was an epidemic of measles, a serious and often fatal disease among the Kanakas, on the island, and a case had developed among the crew of the schooner which was to take them on their journey. The sick man had been brought ashore and put in hospital on the quarantine station, but telegraphic instructions had been sent from Apia to say that the schooner would not be allowed to enter the harbour till it was certain no other member of the crew was affected.

“It means we shall have to stay here for ten days at least.”

“But I’m urgently needed an Apia,” said Dr. Macphail.

“That can’t be helped. If no more cases develop on board, the schooner will be allowed to sail with white passengers, but all native traffic is prohibited for three months.”

“Is there a hotel here?” asked Mrs. Macphail.

Davidson gave a low chuckle.

“There’s not.”

“What shall we do then?”

“I’ve been talking to the governor. There’s a trader along the front who has rooms that he rents, and my proposition is that as soon as the rain lets up we should go along there and see what we can do. Don`t expect comfort. You`ve just got to be thankful if we get a bed to sleep on and a roof over our heads.”

But the rain showed no sign of stopping, and at length with umbrellas and waterproofs they set out. There was no town, but merely a group of official buildings, a store or two, and at the back, among the coconut trees and plantains, a few native dwellings. The house they sought was about five minutes` walk from the wharf. It was a frame house of two storeys, with broad verandahs on both floors and a roof of corrugated iron. The owner was a half-caste named Horn, with a native wife surrounded by little brown children, and on the ground-floor he had a store where he sold canned goods and cottons. The rooms he showed them were almost bare of furniture. In the Macphails’ there was nothing but a poor, worn bed with a ragged mosquito net, a rickety chair, and a washstand. They looked round with dismay. The rain poured down without ceasing.

“I’m not going to unpack more than we actually need,” said Mrs. Macphail.

Mrs. Davidson came into the room as she was unlocking a portmanteau. She was very brisk and alert. The cheerless surroundings had no effect on her.

“If you’ll take my advice you’ll get a needle and cotton and start right in to mend the mosquito net, she said, or you’ll not be able to get a wink of sleep tonight.”

“Will they be very bad?” asked Dr. Macphail.

“This is the season for them. When you’re asked to a party at Government House at Apia you’ll notice that all the ladies are given a pillow-slip to put their – their lower extremities in.”

“I wish the rain would stop for a moment,” said Mrs. Macphail. “I could try to make the place comfortable with more heart if the sun were shining.”

“Oh, if you wait for that, you’ll wait a long time. Pago-Pago is about the rainiest place in the Pacific. You see, the hills, and that bay, they attract the water, and one expects rain at this time of year anyway.”

She looked from Macphail to his wife, standing helplessly in different parts of the room, like lost souls, and she pursed her lips. She saw that she must take them in hand. Feckless people like that made her impatient, but her hands itched to put everything in the order which came so naturally to her.

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