Guy Boothby.

The Beautiful White Devil online

. (page 6 of 19)
Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 6 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

house, lovely creepers twined from tree to tree, orchids gaped from
every crevice, some of them almost human in their quaintness; while
mixed up with them in marvellous profusion were palms, ferns, shrubs,
and bamboos of every known hue and description. Butterflies and
beetles, of colourings so glorious that my fingers positively itched
for my collecting box, fluttered from flower to flower, while parrots
(_Palædinis longianda_), Nikobar pigeons, and the darter, or snake
bird, were so frequently met with as to lose all their charm of
novelty. Sometimes we would be in places where the wealth of greenery
shut out all view of the sky; a moment later we could look through the
leaves at the great mountain pushing its head up into what seemed the
azure vault of heaven itself. But beautiful as all this was, not the
least lovely part of it was the mysterious woman walking by my side.

As we made our way down the path we talked on many subjects, European
politics, of which her knowledge was extensive, the beauties of the
East, literature and art; but, somehow or another, however far we
might wander from it, the conversation invariably came back to the
epidemic that was the occasion of my presence in the settlement.

At last we left the jungle and prepared to descend the precipitous
hillside by means of a long flight of wooden steps, which ended at the
commencement of the main street. In the brilliant sunlight the
township looked a pretty enough little place, with its well laid-out
and nicely planted thoroughfares, neatly built European houses, and
picturesque native huts. It was hard to believe that, clean and
healthy as it all looked, it had lost more than a quarter of its
population by the ravages of one of the most awful pestilences human
flesh is heir to. Indeed, so much impressed was I with its beauty that
for a moment or two I stood watching it, unable to say a word. Then I
looked at my companion. She, like myself, had been very silent for the
last hundred yards, and now, as she looked down at her kingdom, I saw
her beautiful eyes fill with tears.

"Dr. De Normanville," she said, as we arrived at the bottom of the
steps, "if you will allow me, some day, when we are a little better
acquainted, I will tell you the story of this place and the influence
it has had upon my life. Then you will be able to understand how it is
that I am so much affected by my people's sufferings."

I murmured an appropriate reply and we entered the village. Our
arrival had been anxiously expected, and at the gate of the first
house we were met by an old man, who was evidently a person of
considerable importance in the place. He had a white skin and a
slightly Scandinavian cast of countenance, and, though he spoke
Chinese and the native tongue with unusual fluency, was evidently more
than half an Englishman. On seeing my companion he raised his hat
politely and waited for her to speak.

"Mr. Christianson," she said, holding out her hand, "this is Dr. De
Normanville, who has been kind enough to come to our assistance from
Hong Kong. I don't think it is necessary for me to assure him that you
will give him your entire assistance in this terrible crisis, in the
same manner as you have hitherto given it to me."

The old man bowed to me, and then addressed my companion.

"We have done our best in your absence," he said sorrowfully; "but it
seems as if Fate were against us. There are at the present moment one
hundred and thirty cases all told, of which eighty-four are men,
twenty-three women, and the remainder children. Yesterday there were
eighteen deaths - among them your old coxswain, Kusae, who died at
seven in the morning, and Ellai, the wife of Attack, who followed him
within an hour. The Englishman, Brandon, died at midday, his wife
during the afternoon, and their only child this morning, scarcely an
hour ago. Doctor, is there any hope at all of our being able to stop
this awful plague?"

I assured him we would do our best, and he agreed that no man could
ask or expect us to do more. By the time our conversation was finished
I had taken a decided fancy to the old fellow, and with Alie's
permission enrolled him there and then as my second in command.

"Now," I said, turning to her, "before we commence our work let me
exactly understand my position. With what powers am I invested?"

"With full and complete authority," she answered promptly. "Whatever
you may deem best for my unfortunate people, please do without
consulting anyone. Believe me, no one will attempt to dispute your

"That is as it should be, and I thank you," I said. "Now, will you
tell me where my own abode is to be? It should be as far removed from
the centre of the infected district as possible, yet, at the same
time, central enough to be convenient for all the inhabitants."

"I thought that house on the mound at the foot of the hill," she
answered, pointing with her beautiful hand to a neat weather-board
structure about a couple of hundred yards from the place where we were
then standing; "in fact, I have even gone so far as to give orders
that it should be prepared for you. Shall we go and examine it?"

Accordingly, accompanied by the old man, we set out for it, eagerly
watched by a crowd of natives, who, from the expressions on their
faces, had come quite to look upon me as their deliverer.

The house proved to be a most commodious little place of four rooms,
and, from the luxury with which the two living apartments were
furnished, it was evident that considerable trouble and care had been
bestowed upon them. When we entered, an intelligent native lad was
called from an inner room and informed in English that I was his new
master, and that he was to see that I wanted for nothing. It is only
fair to add that during my stay in the island no man could have
desired a better and more trustworthy servant.

From the bedroom and sitting-room we passed on to the room at the end
of the verandah, which I found had been set apart for, and equipped
as, a surgery. Neatly arranged around the walls, on shelves, were
enough drugs of all sorts and descriptions to stock half a dozen
chemist's shops, while my instruments, cases, and other paraphernalia
were spread out upon the table in the centre. Altogether the
arrangements were most satisfactory and complete, and I intimated as
much to Alie, who stood watching me from the window.

"It is all Mr. Christianson's doing," she said. "You must thank him."

I did so, and then proposed that we should set about our work at once.

"In the first place, Mr. Christianson," I began, "have you had any
symptoms of the disease yourself?"

"Not one! Since it started I have been as well as I remember ever to
have been in my life."

"When were you vaccinated last?"

I put the question with some little timidity, for I feared lest by so
doing I might wake some unpleasant memory in the old man's mind. But,
whatever his past may have been, - and there were few men in the
settlement, I afterwards found, who had not more or less of a romantic
history, - he answered without hesitation:

"I was vaccinated in Liverpool, twelve years ago next March."

"Then, with your permission, I'll do it for you again. After that
we'll call up the heads of the village and I'll operate on them."

So saying, I unpacked my things, and, having done so, vaccinated my
second in command. When this was accomplished, he gave me a list he
had prepared of the half-dozen principal inhabitants. They were
immediately sent for, and as soon as they arrived my position was
explained to them in a short speech by Alie.

"Now, gentlemen," I said, when her address was finished, "in view of
the serious nature of our position and the necessity for a
well-organized attack upon the disease which has so decimated your
population, I propose to enrol you as my staff. You will each of you
have special duties assigned to you, and I need not say that I feel
sure you will fulfil them to the very best of your ability. Before we
go any further, as I hear none of you have taken the disease, I
propose vaccinating you all, as I have just done Mr. Christianson.
When that has been accomplished we will get properly to work."

In half an hour or so this was done, and I was free to enter upon my
next course of action.

"We will now," I said, after a little consultation with Alie,
"assemble the healthy folk of the village on the green yonder."

This was soon done, and, at the word of command, the entire population
able to get about assembled themselves on the open space before my
verandah - blacks and whites, yellow and copper colour, all mixed up,
higgledy-piggledy, in glorious confusion. From a cursory glance at
them they appeared to come from all countries and from all parts of
the globe. I could distinguish Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans,
Swedes, Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, Russians, Hindoos, Malays,
Dyaks, and even Chinamen. The dusky population, however, predominated.

The first business to be performed, when they were all before me, was
to separate the men from the women, and, as soon as this was
accomplished, to carefully examine each in turn; after that I singled
out those who were skilled in carpentering and hut-building, and kept
them on one side. Fortunately, I was able to procure nearly thirty who
were in some degree efficient. All of these - I mean of course those
who had not had the disease - were forthwith vaccinated and despatched,
under the leadership of one of my six lieutenants, to a site I had
chosen on the hillside for the hospital. There they were employed
erecting huts with all possible despatch.

When the remainder had undergone the necessary operation, volunteers
were requested to enrol themselves for the work of nursing the sick,
and for this duty no less than twenty held up their hands, eight of
whom had themselves been victims of the pestilence.

Long before I had completed my work of vaccination, the sun had
disappeared behind the hill, and it was time for the evening meal. But
tired as we all were, it was useless to think of stopping, so after we
had broken our fast, the work of hut-building and vaccination
proceeded again by torch and lamp light, until long after midnight. By
the time my last patient was dismissed I was utterly worn out. But
this was not the case with Alie, who throughout the day, and up to the
very last moment at night, had never abated one jot of her energy.
Encouraging the women, cheering the men, weighing out stores, and
measuring cloth, she had been occupied without ceasing. Her enthusiasm
was like a stimulant, and it had the effect of one upon all concerned.
When my arms ached and my brain seemed fagged out beyond all recouping
with plotting, planning, and giving advice, it was like a breath of
new life to see her moving about among her people, taking no thought
of herself, or of the danger she was running, thinking only of the
terror-stricken wretches who turned to her in their hour of trouble
for sympathy and help. And certainly as she passed about among them,
Beelzebub, the bulldog, slouching along at her heels, it was wonderful
to see how their faces would brighten, and the light of fear for the
moment die out of their eyes. Nothing in my science had the power to
do as much for them.

As I put down my implements and received Christianson's report that
the fourth hut was ready for occupation, the clock on the mantelpiece
of my sitting room struck a quarter to one. Bidding him good-night,
and warning him to be early astir on the morrow, I took my hat, and
prepared to accompany Alie on her homeward journey.

Following the path behind my house, we ran it round the foot of the
falls, and up through the jungle to her gate. By the time we reached
the spot where I had first looked down at the settlement that morning
the moon was sailing high in a cloudless sky, and the whole of our
world was bathed in its pale, mysterious light. The scene was
indescribably beautiful, and perhaps the exquisite softness of the
night, and the thought of the sickness raging in the valley below us,
may have had something to do with the silence that followed our
arrival at the top. We were standing at the gate, looking down upon
the white roofs, showing like flakes of silver through the sea of dark
jungle. For some time neither of us spoke. Then it was Alie who began
the conversation.

"Dr. De Normanville," she said, - and it must not be thought conceited
on my part to repeat it, - "I want to thank you from the bottom of my
heart for the way in which you have taken up your work of mercy. I
cannot say what I would like to do, because my heart is too full for
utterance; but if you could only realise what a relief it is to me to
know that you are here to conduct matters, you would understand
something of the gratitude I feel."

I uttered some commonplace reply, all the time watching the wistful
look upon her face. Then she said suddenly:

"We have scarcely known each other three days yet, but somehow I feel
as if, despite all you have heard of me, you are my friend."

"And you are quite right in so feeling," I said. "Believe me, I have
forgotten all the foolish stories I have heard about you."

"No, no! I don't know that you ought to do that," she continued,
"because, you see, a great number of them are true."

"You wish me to remember them, then?" I cried, in some surprise.

"Yes!" she answered. "I think you ought to get a clue for your own
guidance out of them. But in saying that, I wish you to understand why
I do so. To do that involves my telling you my history. Are you too
tired to listen to it to-night?"

"Of course I am not," I answered quickly, only too glad of the
opportunity of hearing a story that others would have given anything
to have had related to them. "But if it means recalling unhappy
memories, why tell it me? I shall serve you just as faithfully without
knowing it."

"I do not doubt that for an instant," she said. "But you must surely
see, Dr. De Normanville, that being brought into contact with you as
much as I am, I want to set myself right with you. I want you to know
all about me. Hitherto you have only thought of me, remember,
as - well, as a beautiful woman, whose pleasure in life it is to rob
and blackmail innocent and unsuspecting folk in this distant portion
of the globe. Having seen your kindness and gentleness to my
unfortunate people to-day, and honouring you for it as I do, is it to
be wondered at that I want you to understand my work in life properly?
May I tell you my story?"

"Please do! It will interest me deeply."

She moved over from the gate to the broad wooden rail that ran along
the path side, and which had evidently been placed there to protect
foot passengers from the abyss. Leaning on it, she scanned the moonlit
valley for some moments without speaking. Then turning her face toward
me, she began:

"My father, you must know, Dr. De Normanville, was a typical
Englishman; he came of a good old Yorkshire family, and was an officer
in Her Majesty's navy; he was also remarkable for his great height,
strength, and wonderful personal beauty. He was very popular with his
fellow-officers and men, and in the early part of his career saw a
good deal of active service in various parts of the globe. It was
during the time that he was stationed in the West Indies, and soon
after he was made commander of his ship, that he met my mother, a
beautiful Creole, and married her. From the moment of his marriage the
good luck which had hitherto attended his career seemed to desert him;
he lost his ship on an uncharted rock, and, when he was appointed to
another, was ordered to a bad station, where he nearly lost his wife
and his own life of fever. With his recovery came the most unfortunate
part of his career. For just as he was about to be relieved, a charge
was preferred against him by the admiral of the station, of so base
and wicked a description that all those who heard it refused at first
to entertain the notion. He was court-martialled and expelled the
service. Since then the charge has been proved to have been entirely
without foundation, but by the time that was known my poor father had
died in exile. He appealed, but what was the use of that? To a proud,
headstrong man, conscious of his innocence, such disgrace was
unbearable, and he at length fled from England, resolved to shake its
dust for ever off his feet. He went to India, but the result of the
trial was known there, and every post was barred to him. He passed on
to Singapore, and finally to Hong Kong, but always with the same
result. By this time everything that was obstinate and worst in him
was roused; and when the admiral, the same who had brought the charge
against him, was transferred to the China station, my father sought
him out in Shanghai, decoyed him outside the city, requested him to
publicly admit that the charges he had brought against him were false,
and on his refusing, produced pistols, invited him to a duel, and shot
him dead. Then, while the police were hunting for him, he fitted out
a boat, with a large sum of money that had some time before been left
him, collected a dozen other men as desperate as himself, tested them
thoroughly before he trusted them, and, having bound them to secrecy,
set off to find an island where they could lead their own lives
unhindered by the outside world. This was the place they came to, and
those old houses near the harbour were their first dwellings. Once in
every six months my father went off to Hong Kong for supplies, and it
was during one of these excursions that he met the man whose destiny
it was to recognise him, and so hasten the trouble that lay before
him. High words passed between them, and the result was a betrayal,
and a fight with the police, in which two men were left dead upon the
beach. That was the beginning of the end. The same night a boatload of
marines put off to arrest my father, who was in the act of getting his
schooner under weigh. When they came within hailing distance they were
challenged and asked their business. The officer in charge replied
that he held a warrant for my father's arrest. But the latter had no
desire to fall into the authorities' hands again, so he bade them
stand off. The officer, however, ordered his men to board. Again they
were warned not to approach, but they paid no heed; the result may be
imagined: a volley was fired from the schooner, and four men out of
the six constituting the boat's crew, including the officer in charge,
fell dead. Without more ado my father got under weigh, and raced for
his life out of the harbour, pursued by three shots from the cruiser
in the bay. From that day forward he was a proscribed man. Rewards
were offered for his capture in all the principal ports of the East,
not only by the English Government, but by the rich residents of
Singapore, Hong Kong, and the treaty ports. Considering that it was
not their affair, this action on the part of his former friends so
enraged my father, that he swore that if ever one of the signatories
fell into his hands, he would make him pay dearly for his action. It
may interest you to know that Mr. Vesey, the man whom you perhaps
remember I abducted, was the chairman of the meeting that offered the
first reward for my father, and years afterwards for me.

"Well, months went by, and once more the stores on the island began to
run short. It became imperatively necessary that a fresh supply should
be obtained. To do this my father repainted and rerigged his boat,
disguised himself and his men, and sailed off for Shanghai. Reaching
that port, he sent his mate ashore to make the purchases. But
suspicion seems to have been aroused, the man was arrested, and had
not my father been warned in time and put to sea, he would have shared
the same fate. But he was resolved not to be beaten, and at the risk
of his life he went back and ashore. By means of a subterfuge, which
it would take me too long to explain, he succeeded in rescuing his
companion. In the course of the rescue, however, a man was killed, and
this closed the treaty ports even more firmly to him than before.

"The matter had become terribly serious now. He could not go into any
port for fear of being arrested, and yet stores had to be obtained for
the starving island. To a headstrong man like my father, rendered
desperate by deliberate injustice, there was only one natural way out
of it. He made for Hong Kong, chose a dark night, went down the
harbour in a junk, boarded a trading boat, confined the skipper in his
cabin, and took possession of his cargo, for which, it is only fair to
say, he paid the full market price. The skipper, however, for some
purpose of his own, forgot the incident of payment, went ashore in the
early morning and proclaimed the fact to the police that he had been
robbed of his cargo under the very noses of the cruisers. The
description of the robber tallied with that of my father, and the hue
and cry began again. Thenceforward he declared himself openly in
opposition to society, collected round him all the men who were worth
anything, and whose lives were as desperate as his own, and levied
toll on the ships of all nations whenever occasion offered. He ran
many risks, for often he was sighted and chased by cruisers. It was on
one of these occasions that my poor mother died, killed by an English
bullet. Three months later my father caught the fever in the Manillas
and followed her to the grave, bidding me, a girl of eighteen, keep up
this settlement and carry on the war he had begun. Ever since then the
island has been my tenderest care. I have watched over it and guarded
it as a mother guards her child. But at the same time, as you know, I
have not spared my enemies. My first adventure proved successful, my
second well-nigh ruined me. My father's death had become known by some
mysterious means, and, when it was discovered that I was carrying on
his trade, a supreme effort was made by the authorities to capture me.
But they have not succeeded yet. The same year I had the _Lone Star_,
the boat you found me on, built in Scotland, and began my work in
earnest. Ever since then I have had a price upon my head; but, as I
told you on board the _Lone Star_, I can truthfully say that I have
never knowingly robbed a poor man, and as you have seen for yourself,
I have materially helped a good many. In some cases, too, - the Sultan
of Surabaya, for instance, - I have gone out of my way to assist the
oppressed, and have taught wholesome lessons to their rulers and
oppressors. Now you know my story. It may be that you take a different
view of my life and would call it by a harsh name. I should be sorry
to think that. I simply remember how my father's life was ruined by
his enemies, and that I have never been given a chance, even if I
would have taken it. The English, French, and Chinese governments are
my natural enemies, as they were my father's before me. If the
innocent suffer by what I do, I am deeply sorry for them. But do your
nations in their wars heed the peasantry of either side, even as much
as I do? I think not. Dr. De Normanville, most of those white people
you saw to-day have curious histories. Do not suppose for an instant
that I receive anyone here without strict inquiry into his temperament
and antecedents. But, on the other hand, when I do take him in, I
never swerve from my duty towards him. Now, what have you to say?"

"I can only answer that I think your character has been grossly

"No, don't say that, for you are only speaking on the impulse of the
moment; and, besides, you must remember that those who speak against
me in that fashion look upon my actions from their own point of view.
However, you will not think so badly of me for the future, will you?"

As she said this she came a little closer to me and looked me in the
face. Never before had I seen her look so beautiful.

"No, I can safely promise you I won't," I answered stoutly. "I am your
champion for the future, come what may."

"You are very good to me. Now, as we are both tired, had we not better
say good-night?"

She held out her little hand, and for some reason, goodness only knows
what, I took it and raised it to my lips. Then with another
"good-night," she turned away from me and, with the dog at her heels,
disappeared through the gate and up the path, among the bushes, that
led to her abode.

When she had gone I stood for a few moments looking down upon the
lovely panorama spread out before me, then I turned myself about and
went down the hill to my residence at the foot. But though I went to

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 6 of 19)