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of the Solomon Islander than to any other class I could think of. They
were bright, intelligent-looking fellows, and evidently well cared
for. As soon as they had hitched on to the gangway, the coxswain came
aboard, and said something in native to my companion, who, in reply,
pointed to me.

Thereupon the man drew a note from his turban, and handed it to me
with the confidence and easy bearing of one gentleman rendering a
service to another. It was addressed in Alie's handwriting.

Though a considerable time has elapsed since my receipt of that little
note, I can plainly recall the thrill that went through me as I
opened it. It ran as follows:

DEAR DR. DE NORMANVILLE:

I beg you will forgive my not remaining on board to welcome
you to my home, but as you will readily imagine I was most
anxious to see for myself, at once, how things were
progressing ashore. Unfortunately, however, I have nothing
favourable to report. Will you come and breakfast with me
immediately on receipt of this? My coxswain will show you
the way. Then, afterward, I could take you, myself, round
the settlement.

With very kind regards,
Believe me, truly your friend,
ALIE.

I thrust the note into my pocket, and having told Walworth what I was
about to do, went below to my cabin to prepare for my excursion. Then
returning to the deck I descended into the boat alongside, and we set
off for the shore. As we rowed I was able to look back and observe,
for the first time, the proportions and symmetry of the beautiful
craft I had just left.

Indeed, a prettier picture than the _Lone Star_ presented at
that moment could not possibly be imagined. Her tall masts and
rigging showed out clear-cut against the blue sky, while her
exquisitely-modelled hull was reflected, with mirror-like
distinctness, in the placid water around her; the brasswork upon her
binnacle and wheel shone like burnished gold, and so clear was the
water, that the whole of her bright copper sheathing, and even the
outline of her keel, could plainly be distinguished.

Within five minutes of leaving her, our coxswain had deftly brought us
alongside a small, but neatly-constructed, wooden jetty. Here I
disembarked, and, escorted by that amiable individual, set off at once
on our journey to the dwelling of my mysterious hostess.

Leaving the white, sandy foreshore of the bay, we passed by a well
made track through the forest in a due northerly direction. And such a
forest as it was! Such wealth of timber, such varieties of woods,
shrubs, creepers, orchids, and flowers. On one hand, perhaps, an iron
tree of imperial growth would tower above us; on another an enormous
teak, with here and there the curious leaves and twisted outline of a
gutta-percha - all mixed up with pipa palms, camphor trees, canes and
bamboos of every possible hue and description. From tree to tree,
across our path, birds of all kinds, including paddi birds, green
pigeons, flycatchers, barbets, and sunbirds flew with discordant
cries, while not once, but more often than I could count, hordes of
monkeys swung themselves wildly from branch to branch overhead,
chattering and calling to each other as if the whole wide world were
there to applaud their antics. Our path was indeed a varied one; one
moment we were surrounded on all sides by the forest, the next we were
out on the bare face of the hill looking down upon the tops of trees.
The bright sunshine flooded everything; while the fresh breeze from
the sea was just cool enough to make the exertion of walking pleasant.
Indeed, so enjoyable was it, that I was almost sorry when we left the
forest for the last time and emerged on to a small plain, bounded by
the scrub on one side and by the mountain on the other. On this I
could discern a collection of huts and houses to the number of perhaps
three hundred. But what struck me as most remarkable about them was
the fact that they were arranged in streets, and that the majority of
them were built on European lines; also in almost every case - and I
was able to verify this later on - each one possessed a well-kept and
apparently productive garden, varying in extent from a quarter up to
as much in some cases as an acre. On the other side of the village
furthest from where I stood, the forest began again, and ran in an
unbroken mass up to the high mountain land before referred to. On the
right side of this mountain, and distinctly visible from every part of
the village, was a fine waterfall, perhaps a couple of hundred feet
high, from which rose continually a heavy mist, catching in the
sunlight every known colour of the rainbow. Altogether, a more
picturesque little place could not have been discovered. It was quite
in keeping with the woman, the yacht, the forest, and the harbour. And
to think that this was the home of the Beautiful White Devil, the home
of that mysterious woman whose so-called crimes and acts of daring
were common gossip from Colombo to the farthest Saghalien coast.

Leaving the village on our left, we ascended the mountain side for a
short distance by a well-worn track, then turning sharply to our left
hand, wound round it to where another large plateau began. Reaching
this, midway between the village and the waterfall, we saw before us a
high and well-made picket fence in which was a gate. Through this gate
we passed, and after carefully closing it behind us, followed a short
track along a lovely avenue of Areca palms and india rubber trees
towards a house we could just discern through the foliage; then,
having ascended a flight of broad stone steps, flanked with quaint
stone gods and images, we stood before the dwelling of the Beautiful
White Devil.

I fear, deeply as the memory of it is impressed upon my mind, it
is hardly in my power to convey to you any real impression of the
building I had come so far to see, and in which I was destined
to spend so many hours. Suffice it that it was an _adobe_
construction - one story high, and designed on somewhat the same plan
as an Indian bungalow; the walls were of great thickness, the better
to withstand the heat, I suppose; the rooms presented the appearance
of being lofty and imposing, while one and all opened by means of
French windows on to the broad verandah which ran round the house upon
every side. This verandah, and indeed the whole house, was embowered
in dense masses of different-coloured creepers, which in the brilliant
sunshine presented a most charming and novel effect. From the verandah
on the left, or south, side, another broad flight of stone steps,
similarly adorned with stone carvings, conducted one to the garden,
while to the right, and scarcely more than a couple of hundred yards
distant, crashed the waterfall I had seen from the hill, with a roar
that could have been heard many miles away, down into the black pool
two hundred feet below.

At the foot of the first steps my guide left me and returned to the
harbour by the road along which he had come. I paused to recover my
breath and watched him out of sight, then turning to the house
ascended the flight of steps. Just as I reached the top, and was
wondering how I might best make my presence known to those inside, I
heard the rustling of a dress in the verandah; next moment Alie
herself, clad in white from top to toe, as was her custom, came round
the corner, followed by her enormous bulldog, and confronted me. I can
see her now, and even after this lapse of time can feel the influence
of her wonderful personality upon me just as plainly as if it were but
yesterday I stood before her. Seeing me she said something to the
dog, - who had uttered a low growl, - and stretched out her hand.

"Good-morning, Dr. De Normanville," she said, smiling as no other
woman could ever do; "you received my note, then? I am glad to see
you, and I make you welcome to my home."

"A Garden of Eden I should be inclined to call it," I answered,
looking about me. "How many of us would be glad to dwell in it!"

She looked at me for a moment, and then asked somewhat bitterly:

"Pray is that pretty speech meant for Alie or the Beautiful White
Devil? There is a difference, you know."

Then, not permitting me time to answer, she changed the subject by
saying:

"Breakfast is on the table, I believe. Let us go in to it. Will you
give me your arm?"

I did so, and together we passed from the creeper-covered verandah
into a room straight before us.

In the previous chapter I have described to you Alie's cabin on board
the _Lone Star_, and, in doing it, almost beggared myself of language;
now I can only ask you to believe that rich as that cabin was in its
appointments, in its arrangements, its curios and articles of _vertu_,
the room which we entered now eclipsed it in every particular. Indeed,
such another I never remember to have seen. From floor to ceiling it
was filled with curiosities and articles of the greatest beauty and
value. Rich Persian, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese hangings covered
the walls, interspersed with such articles of pottery, silver, and
china, as made me break the Tenth Commandment every time I looked at
them. Native weapons of all kinds and of every nationality, some with
plain, others with superbly jewelled, hilts; Indian, Cinghalese,
Burmese, Siamese, Japanese, and Chinese bric-a-brac; two large cases
of mineral specimens, comprising many precious stones; quite a dozen
pictures of rare value, one looking suspiciously like a Titian; while
fully a couple of hundred books, a grand piano, and at least
half-a-dozen other musical instruments, including a harp and a guitar,
helped to complete the furniture.

In the centre of the room stood the breakfast table, covered with an
exquisitely embroidered white linen cloth, on which was displayed such
a collection of beautiful gold and silver ware as I had never seen on
a table before. Three heaps of fruit, consisting of durians, pisangs,
bananas, mangoes, mangosteens, and custard apples were piled upon
three lovely Sèvres dishes in the centre, flanked by two
quaintly-shaped decanters filled with wine.

We seated ourselves at either end of the table, and my hostess struck
a tiny silver gong by her side. Breakfast was instantly served by the
same impassive servant who had waited upon us on board the yacht. If
he felt any surprise at my presence on this occasion, he did not show
it; indeed, it would almost have seemed as if he were not aware that I
was the same person.

And now a word as to the _déjeuner_ itself. It has been my good
fortune to have breakfasted at most of the famous restaurants in
Europe, that is to say, in London, Paris, Rome, and Vienna, but I am
prepared to state, and I put it forward believing it to be true, that
the meal of which I partook that morning in the Beautiful White
Devil's bungalow excelled any I had ever partaken of before. From
beginning to end it was perfect in every way. The fish, evidently but
lately caught, could only have been called a poem of culinary art, the
omelets were Parisian in their daintiness and serving, the cutlets
were of the right size and done to a turn, the wine (for the meal was
served after the French fashion) was worthy of imperial cellars, and
the fruit had evidently been in the garden less than half an hour
before. My hostess noticed the surprise with which I regarded these
things; for extraordinary it certainly was to sit down to such a
breakfast on an island in the North Pacific.

"You are evidently wondering at the civilisation of my surroundings,"
she said, as the man servant poured her out a glass of Tokay.

"Indeed, yes!" I answered. "I must own I had no notion I should find
anything in any way approaching it in these seas. Your cook must be a
wonder."

"Well, perhaps he _is_ rather extraordinary!" she continued. "But I
doubt if you will deem it so wonderful when I tell you that he is a
Frenchman of the French, who was once in the service of Victor
Emanuel. How I came to obtain the benefit of his skill is, of course,
another matter."

"And will he stay with you, do you think? Are you not sometimes
afraid that your servants will want to leave you, and return to
civilisation again?"

"My servants never leave me," she answered, with an emphasis there was
no mistaking. "And for the best of reasons. No! I certainly have no
fear on that score."

"You are able to place implicit trust in them, then?" I asked, amazed
at the confidence with which she spoke.

"The most implicit trust," she said. "My servants are carefully
chosen. They give their services cheerfully, and, like my dog there,
they would obey me at any cost, however great, to themselves. Would
you like an example?"

"Very much, if you will favour me," I answered.

"Then watch me closely. In the first place you must understand that,
next to myself, my bulldog's greatest friend and companion is my
butler - the man who has just left the room. Well, I will ring for
him."

She did so, and, as soon as the bell had stopped ringing, called the
dog to her side and said something to him in the same curious language
she had employed before. Thereupon he went over to the door, and,
laying himself down about a yard from it, watched it intently. He had
not been there a half minute before the door opened, and the servant
stood upon the threshold.

Immediately the dog saw him he rose to his feet, every bristle erect,
showing all his teeth, and growling savagely. At first the man did not
know what to make of this behaviour. Then he spoke to the animal, and
at the same time attempted to pass him. But this the beast would not
permit. His upper lip drew further back, and he showed unmistakably
that if the man advanced another step he would bite, and bite
severely. All this time his mistress lay back in her chair, toying
with a spoon upon the table, and watching the pair out of half-closed
eyes, according to her peculiar habit. Then she spoke to the man.

"I have told the dog," she said in English, for my benefit, I suppose,
"to seize you by the throat if you attempt to enter the room. You know
that he will do what I tell him. Very well then, come in!"

Dangerous as was his position, so great was the influence the
Beautiful White Devil exercised over her dependents that the man did
not hesitate or wait to be bidden twice, but at once complied with her
order. He had not advanced two steps, however, before the dog had
sprung into the air, and had his mistress not called to him in time,
would have taken the unfortunate domestic by the throat. As it was he
stopped midway in his spring, and a moment later was back again
crouching at her side. Then having addressed some words of explanation
to the frightened man, she turned to me and said:

"Are you satisfied with that practical proof, Dr. De Normanville, or
do you want another? You are satisfied? I am glad of that, for I tell
you just as that man obeyed my orders, regardless of the consequences,
so would every other man in my employ, from my chief officer down to
the little native lad who pulls the punkah."

"It is very wonderful!"

"On the contrary, it is very simple."

"I'm afraid I do not quite understand?"

"Then I'm sorry to say I must for the present leave you in your
ignorance. Some day I may afford you another example which will
perhaps enlighten you more fully."

For a few moments she sat wrapped in thought, looking at a flower she
had taken from a vase; then she lifted her eyes again and addressed me
with an air of authority that sat well upon her.

"We have finished our breakfast, I think," she said. "Now I imagine
you will be anxious to inspect your patients. Well, if you will wait
ten minutes while I transact a little legal business, I will accompany
you."

So saying she led me out into the verandah, where we seated ourselves
in long cane chairs. A tall native was in waiting, and when she had
said something to him he withdrew.

"Now you will have an opportunity of witnessing a little piece of
retributive justice," she observed; "and also of observing how I treat
those who misconduct themselves in my domains."

She had hardly spoken before the tramp of feet sounded from round the
corner, and next moment two stalwart natives appeared escorting a
young man, also an islander, whose bright attractive countenance won
my regard from the first. Behind this party came the complainant, an
elderly native, whose puckered and wrinkled face was about as
unprepossessing as the other's was pleasing. Seeing their ruler before
them they prostrated themselves with one accord, and remained in that
position until they were told to rise. When they had done so, Alie
narrated the features of the case to me in English. The old man, it
appeared, had a young wife; the prisoner was her cousin, and, if the
complainant could be believed, had shown himself fonder of her than
was comfortable for the husband's peace of mind. Age proving jealous,
and at the same time suspicious of the motive of Youth's cousinly
affection, had trumped up a charge of stealing gardening implements
against him, and had brought sworn testimony to prove that the stolen
articles had been found in his possession. But it so happened that
Alie had been aware for some time past that the real object of the
youth's affection was one of her own domestics, a comely enough
damsel, employed in the house. The upshot of it all was that the
charge was dismissed; the old man had to listen to a short homily on
jealousy; the young couple were married there and then, and given a
hut in the township for their own use, while the old man was ordered,
by way of compensation for the false accusation he had brought, to
provide them, that self-same day, with certain goods and chattels
necessary to their housekeeping. As for the three false witnesses, who
had placed so small a value upon their reputations for veracity as to
allow themselves to be suborned against an innocent man, their case
was somewhat harder; they were taken to the rear of the house, where
they received ten strokes of the rod apiece, well laid on, as a
warning to them against future dealings in unsound evidence.

This case finished, Alie made another sign to one of her men, who
instantly disappeared. Then she settled herself in her chair, and I
noticed that a harder look came into her face.

"You have witnessed how I conduct one side of my court," she said.
"Now you shall see the other."

Again the tramp of feet was heard, and once more guards and prisoner
made their appearance round the corner. To my surprise, the latter was
none other than my old acquaintance Kwong Fung, the notorious Chinese
pirate. But though he must have remembered me, his sullen, evil face
betrayed no sign of surprise. He only stood between his guards
watching my hostess and waiting for her to speak. Presently she did
so, in Chinese, and once, only once, did he answer her. During the
harangue I glanced at her face, and was amazed at the change in it.
The old soft expression was completely gone, and in its place had come
one that, to tell the honest truth, even frightened _me_. Never before
or since have I seen such a perfect exhibition of self-contained, but
all-consuming, rage. Once more she spoke to the prisoner, who refused
to answer. She instantly addressed herself to the escort. The man in
command was in the act of replying when the prisoner, by some means
which I shall never be able to explain, raised his right arm before
his guards could stop him. In the palm of his hand lay a knife,
somewhat resembling a Malay krise, but with a shorter and straighter
blade. With the swiftness of thought the hand seemed to drop back and
instantly resume its upright position. The impetus thus given sent the
weapon flying along the verandah toward us, and if I had not thrown my
left arm before her, there could be no doubt that it would have found
a scabbard in Alie's breast. As it was it stuck in the sleeve of my
white jacket, passing through the fabric without even scratching the
flesh. Unnerving as the incident was, the Beautiful White Devil did
not show the slightest sign of fear, but simply said "Thank you!" to
me, and then resumed her instructions to the guard. Kwong Fung was
immediately led away.

For some seconds after his departure neither of us spoke, then,
noticing that her face was regaining its old expression, I took
courage enough to inquire my enemy's fate.

"Death," she answered. "I have forgiven that man times out of number;
I have helped him when he was in distress, and once I rescued him when
he was within an ace of being executed. But since he has murdered one
of my bravest subjects in cold blood, and cannot respect the orders I
have given, but must needs attempt the lives of those I have sworn to
protect, he must be prevented from doing any more harm by the safest
means we can employ."

She was silent again for a few moments, then picking up the dagger,
which had fallen on the floor, she looked me steadily in the face, and
said:

"Dr. De Normanville, I owe you my life. If ever the opportunity
arrives you will not find me ungrateful. It was a near escape, was it
not? I shall have to change my servants if they cannot see that their
prisoners are unarmed."

I was about to reply, but was interrupted by the arrival of a second
batch of litigants, who were followed by a third. They were all
natives, for, as I discovered later, there was not one single instance
on record, in the history of the island, of the white population
having found it necessary to resort to law to settle their
differences. A more peaceable, happy, and law-abiding community could
not be found. One thing was very noticeable in each of these cases,
and that was the pacific reception of, and the resignation with
which, the decisions of their ruler were received. She spoke to them,
chided them, sympathised with them, and smoothed down their ruffled
feathers just as if they had in reality been what she had called
them - her children. And as a result, in each case plaintiff and
defendant went off together, their differences settled and their
former animosity quite forgotten. When the last case was concluded,
Alie put on her large white hat, which throughout the legal business
had been lying beside her, and we were in the act of setting out for
the village, accompanied by the dog, when an incident occurred which
was fraught with as much interest to me, in my study of her
extraordinary position and character, as anything else I had so far
met with during my stay in the island.

We were descending the long stone steps before described, when a young
and attractive native woman hove in sight, carrying in her arms a
bundle, which on her nearer approach proved to be a baby. Arriving at
the steps she halted and knelt at Alie's feet, kissing the hem of her
dress, and at the same time saying something to her in the soft native
tongue I have so repeatedly admired.

When she had finished Alie turned to me and said:

"Doctor, this is your first case; and a sad one. Will you tell me if
you can do anything for this poor creature's child?"

Turning to the woman I signed to her to let me look at the infant. The
poor little thing was in the last stage of confluent small-pox, and
presented a sickening appearance.

"Is it a hopeless case?" Alie asked, with almost an entreat in her
voice, a note that had certainly not been there a quarter of an hour
before, when she had sent Kwong Fung to his doom.

"Quite hopeless," I answered; "but I will endeavour to make death as
painless as possible. Will you tell the poor soul to bring the child
to me in half an hour in the village?"

Alie translated my speech and must have given the mother some
encouragement, for she fell at my feet, and in the deepest reverence
kissed my boots. Then with an obeisance to my companion she passed
down a side path and disappeared among the trees.

Alie turned to me and said, with a deep sigh:

"Now, Dr. De Normanville, if you are ready we will set off on our tour
of inspection."

I agreed, and accordingly we passed through the gate and went down the
path towards the settlement.




CHAPTER V.

HOW WE FOUGHT THE PLAGUE.


Leaving the house behind us we made our way by means of a circuitous
path, round the base of the majestic waterfall before described, down
towards the buildings on the plain. The route chosen was a perfect one
in every way, not only for observing the excellent placing of the
township on the plateau, but for noting the beauties of nature along
the path. As in the jungle through which I had passed to approach the


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Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 5 of 19)