“Here, you give me a needle and cotton and I’ll mend that net of yours, while you go on with your unpacking. Dinner’s at one. Dr. Macphail, you’d better go down to the wharf and see that your heavy luggage has been put in a dry place. You know what these natives are, they’re quite capable of storing it where the rain will beat in on it all the time.”
The doctor put on his waterproof again and went downstairs. At the door, Mr. Horn was standing in conversation with the quartermaster of the ship they had just arrived in and a second-class passenger whom Dr. Macphail had seen several times on board. The quartermaster, a little, shriveled man, extremely dirty, nodded to him as he passed.
“This is a bad job about the measles, doc,” he said. “I see you’ve fixed yourself up already.”
Dr. Macphail thought he was rather familiar, but he was a timid man and he did not take offense easily.
“Yes, we’ve got a room upstairs.”
“Miss Thompson was sailing with you to Apia, so I’ve brought her along here.”
The quartermaster pointed with his thumb to the woman standing by his side. She was twenty-seven perhaps, plump, and in a coarse fashion pretty. She wore a white dress and a large white hat. Her fat calves in white cotton stockings bulged over the tops of long white boots in glace kid. She gave Macphail an ingratiating smile.
“The feller’s tryin’ to soak me a dollar and a half a day for the meanest sized room,” she said in a hoarse voice.
“I tell you she’s a friend of mine, Jo,” said the quartermaster. “She can’t pay more than a dollar, and you’ve sure got to take her for that.”
The trader was fat and smooth and quietly smiling. “Well, if you put it like that, Mr. Swan, I’ll see what I can do about it. I’ll talk to Mrs. Horn and if we think we can make a reduction we will.”
“Don’t try to pull that stuff with me,” said Miss Thompson. “We’ll settle this right now. You get a dollar a day for the room and not one bean more.”
Dr. Macphail smiled. He admired the effrontery with which she bargained. He was the sort of man who always paid what he was asked. He preferred to be over-charged than to haggle. The trader sighed.
“Well, to oblige Mr. Swan I’ll take it.”
“That’s the goods,” said Miss Thompson. “Come right in and have a shot of hooch. I’ve got some real good rye in that grip if you’ll bring it’ along, Mr. Swan. You come along too, doctor.”
“Oh, I don’t think I will, thank you,” he answered. “I’m just going down to see that our luggage is all right.”
He stepped out into the rain. It swept in from the opening of the harbor in sheets and the opposite shore was all blurred. He passed two or three natives clad in nothing but the lava-lava, with huge umbrellas over them. They walked finely, with leisurely movements, very upright; and they smiled and greeted him in a strange tongue as they went by.
It was nearly dinner-time when he got back, and their meal was laid in the trader`s parlor. It was a room designed not to live in but for purposes of prestige, and it had a musty, melancholy air. A suite of stamped plush was arranged neatly around the walls, and from the middle of the ceiling, protected from the flies by yellow tissue paper, hung a gilt chandelier. Davidson did not come.
“I know he went to call on the governor,” said Mrs. Davidson, “and I guess he’s kept him to dinner.”
A little native girl brought them a dish of Hamburger steak, and after a while, the trader came up to see that they had everything they wanted.
“I see we have a fellow lodger, Mr. Horn.” said Dr. Macphail.
“She’s taken a room, that’s all,” answered the trader. “She’s getting her own board.”
He looked at the two ladies with an obsequious air.
“I put her downstairs so she shouldn’t be in the way. She won’t be any trouble for you.”
“Is it someone who was on the boat?” asked Mrs. Macphail.
“Yes, ma’am, she was in the second cabin. She was going to Apia. She has a position as cashier waiting for her.”
When the trader was gone, Macphail said:
“I shouldn’t think she’d find it exactly cheerful having her meals in her room.”
“If she was in the second cabin I guess she’d rather,” answered Mrs. Davidson. “I don’t exactly know who it can be.”
“I happened to be there when the quartermaster brought her along. Her name’s Thompson.”
“It’s not the woman who was dancing with the quartermaster last night? ” asked Mrs. Davidson.
“That’s who it must be,” said Mrs. Macphail. “I wondered at the time what she was. She looked rather fast for me.”
“Not a good style at all,” said Mrs. Davidson.
They began to talk of other things, and after dinner, tired with their early rise, they separated and slept. When they awoke, though the sky was still grey and the clouds hung low, it was not raining, and they went for a walk on the high road which the Americans had built along the bay.
On their return they found that Davidson had just come in.
We may be here for a fortnight, he said irritably. “I’ve argued it out with the governor, but he says there is nothing to be done.”
“Mr. Davidson’s just longing to get back to his work,” said his wife, with an anxious glance at him.
“We’ve been away for a year,” he said, walking up and down the verandah. “The mission has been in charge of native missionaries and I’m terribly nervous that they’ve let things slide. They’re good men, I’m not saying a word against them, God-fearing, devout, and truly Christian men – their Christianity would put many so-called Christians at home to the blush – but they’re pitifully lacking in energy, They can make a stand once, they can make a stand twice, but they can’t make a stand all the time. If you leave a mission in charge of a native missionary, no matter how trustworthy he seems, in course of time you’ll find he’s let abuses creep in.”
Mr. Davidson stood still. With his tall, spare form, and his great eyes flashing out of his pale face, he was an impressive figure. His sincerity was obvious in the fire of his gestures and in his deep, ringing voice.
“I expect to have my work cut out for me. I shall act and I shall act promptly. If the tree is rotten it shall be cut down and cast into the flames.”
And in the evening after the high tea which was their last meal, while they sat in the stiff parlor, the ladies working and Dr. Macphail smoking his pipe, the missionary told them of his work in the islands.
“When we went there they had no sense of sin at all,” he said. “They broke the commandments one after the other and never knew they were doing wrong. And I think that was the most difficult part of my work, to instill into the natives the sense of sin.”
The Macphail’s knew already that Davidson had worked in the Solomons for five years before he met his wife. She had been a missionary in China, and they had become acquainted in Boston, where they were both spending part of their leave to attend a missionary congress. On their marriage, they had been appointed to the islands in which they had labored ever since.
In the course of all the conversations they had had with Mr. Davidson one thing had shone out clearly and that was the man’s unflinching courage. He was a medical missionary, and he was liable to be called at any time to one or other of the islands in the group. Even the whaleboat is not so very safe a conveyance in the stormy pacific of the wet season, but often he would be sent for in a canoe, and then the danger was great. In cases of illness or accident, he never hesitated. A dozen times he had spent the whole night baling for his life, and more than once Mrs. Davidson had given him up for lost.