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bed it was not to sleep. The extraordinary story I had just been told,
and the exciting events of the day, were not of a nature calculated to
induce repose, and so I tossed and tumbled upon my couch hour after
hour, till the first faint signs of dawn made their appearance. Then I
had a bath in cool spring water, and, having dressed, went out and
began to prepare my work for the day.

As the sun made his appearance above the tree-tops, Christianson and
his colleagues, my trusty lieutenants, came up the path towards the
house, and five minutes later Alie herself appeared upon the scene,
eager to be employed. As she entered the verandah and greeted me I
glanced at her face. But there was no trace there of the sadness of
the previous night. Indeed, if the truth must be told, there was even
a sort of distant haughtiness about her manner towards me, that was
as unexpected as it was difficult to account for.

"Good-morning, Dr. De Normanville!" she said, as she put down on the
table the parcel she had brought with her. "It is nearly five o'clock;
are you ready to commence work?"

"Quite ready," I answered, turning to a man named Andrews. "To begin,
sir, will you and your deputies hunt up the builders and continue the
work at the huts till breakfast time?" Then turning to another, "Mr.
Williams, you might take three men and erect four bed places in each
hut. Mr. Christianson, and the remainder of you gentlemen, if you will
accompany me, we will make a careful house-to-house inspection of the
village."

Having despatched the others to their various employments, I set off,
accompanied by Alie, to begin the ghastly work of inspection. It must
not be supposed that I in any way induced her to run the risk; to tell
the truth, I protested vigorously against it, but without result; her
heart was set upon it, and she would not be deterred.

The first house we visited was a small one, built of _adobe_ mixture
and inhabited by three people, two of whom were down with the disease.
There had originally been six in the family, but three had perished. I
made my examination, noted their cases in my pocket-book, spoke some
cheering words to them, and passed on to the next house. This was of
wood, neatly built, and contained one patient who was quite alone, his
wife and daughter having both succumbed to the plague. In the next
there was no case, nor the next; but in the three following there
were eight. Hardly a house was free from it, and in many cases, all
the inhabitants being dead, the buildings were quite tenantless. By
the time I had finished my inspection it was eight o'clock, and I was
quite ready for breakfast. This disposed of, work was at once resumed.

Everyone toiled with a will, and the hut-builders to such good
purpose, that by midday twelve fine huts were standing ready for
occupation on the slope of the western hill. The real work was now
about to commence. Summoning to my assistance those men and women who
had volunteered to act as nurses, I had a number of stretchers made,
and on these conveyed the sufferers to the hospitals. Four patients
went to each hut. The men I sent to those on the right hand of the
street, the women to those on the left. By this means forty-eight
persons were disposed of, and by five o'clock sufficient huts were at
my disposal to contain as many more. By sundown every sufferer in the
place had been removed, the nurses were duly instructed in their
duties and installed, and the real combating of the disease had
commenced. But at this juncture a serious problem was presented for
our consideration. Having removed the owners to places of safety, what
were we to do with the old houses and their contents? Taking Alie into
my confidence, I explained the situation to her, told her how loth I
was to destroy so many good buildings, but at the same time pointed
out to her how imperatively necessary it was that every dwelling and
any article likely to harbour infection should be got rid of. To my
satisfaction she met it in the proper spirit.

"If it is necessary for the safety of those who remain, there can be
no doubt at all as to what course we should pursue," she answered.
"The houses must go. And that being so, I must endeavour to make it up
to the owners when they shall require them again. Will you give the
necessary instructions?"

I did so forthwith, and in less than half an hour no less than eighty
houses, with their contents, were blazing on the plain.

And so the week went on, and the next after that, with hardly a break
in the routine of work. Out of one hundred cases treated, thirty
succumbed in the first eight days, twelve in the remaining six, while
fifteen more were added from the township during the same period.

And now I must say something about the care and attention bestowed on
these patients by those who had volunteered for the arduous task of
nursing. Indeed, I feel justified in saying that no better service
could have been obtained in any London hospital. Fortunately, a
sincere bond of affection seemed to bind all these people together,
and this, taken with the influence exercised by the wonderful woman at
their head, made its power thoroughly felt in everything they did. And
here I should also like to put on record Alie's wonderful devotion to
her people, during that time of awful anxiety. Day in, day out, night
and morning alike, accompanied by her dog, she was occupied about the
different huts, helping and reproving, chiding and encouraging. Her
presence was like a ray of sunlight which seemed to light the place
long after she had left it. The convalescent derived new vigour from
her touch, the dying were soothed by her voice. Never once throughout
the whole of the time did she think of herself; the path of what she
considered to be her duty lay before her, and the Beautiful White
Devil, the notorious adventuress, the abductor of rich merchants, the
terror of the China seas, trod it without murmur or complaint. It was
a wonderful exhibition of womanly gentleness, forbearance, and
endurance. And when I saw her, tired and almost dispirited by the
results of the struggle, and noted how she put all this aside, assumed
a smiling face to speak words of comfort to some sufferer, and then
remembered the accusations and stories to which I had listened in the
Victoria Hotel that first evening, I felt almost as mean and
contemptible as it was possible for a man to be.

And here, gentle reader, let me make a confession, though I doubt if
it will come upon you as a surprise. Already, I expect, you have
accused me of being in love with the Beautiful White Devil. I do not
deny that I was. Where so many better men had succumbed, who was I
that I should go free? And surely if so many others had fallen captive
to her mere beauty, knowing next to nothing of her real merit, I, who
had exceptional opportunities of studying her character under every
aspect, who saw her grave and gay, passionate and self-sacrificing,
imperious and the most humble of any, might claim for my affection
that it was based on something more tangible than any mere personal
beauty.

Yes! I _was_ in love with Alie, and, what is more, I am in love with
her now, as I shall be in love with her on my dying day, and
afterwards if that be possible. And this I can say truthfully, that
throughout my love for her, my heart has known no unworthy thought. I
have loved her for her beautiful, noble, impulsive, generous self,
and, if that be an offence, I can only say that I am proud to
acknowledge it.

But though I was over head and ears in love with her, seeing no sun in
heaven when she was not with me, no stars at night when I was not by
her side, never once did I allow her to suspect my passion. I did my
work as I had contracted to do it - that is, to the best of my ability.
But hard as I worked, she worked harder. Day in, day out, she was
never idle; she took her share of nursing, superintended the erection
of huts and houses for those who had been deprived of them, and
cheered and encouraged everyone with whom she came in contact.
Beautiful White Devil, the Chinese called her. Beautiful White Angel
would surely have been a better and more appropriate name.




CHAPTER VI.

A TRIP INTO THE COUNTRY.


Sixty-four days exactly after my taking charge of the health of the
settlement, the last patient was discharged from the hospital, cured.
Out of one hundred and ninety-five cases treated, one hundred and
thirty-three had recovered; the rest lay in the little graveyard on
the hillside to the eastward of the town. It had been a weary,
harassing time from beginning to end, and the strain and
responsibility had had a more severe effect upon me than I should have
anticipated. Alie alone, of all the workers, seemed untouched. Her
indomitable will would not permit her body to know such a thing as
fatigue, and for this reason the last day of our work found her powers
as keen and her energy as unabated as they had been on the first.

On the afternoon of the day following the discharge of my last
patient, she came into the surgery, and, seating herself in my
armchair, looked about her with that interest my medical affairs
always seemed to inspire in her.

"Dr. De Normanville," she began, clasping her little white hands
together on the arm of the chair; "I have been watching you lately,
and I have come to the conclusion that you are thoroughly tired out.
There is but one cure for that - rest and complete change of air and
scene."

"And pray what makes you suppose I am worn out?" I asked, wiping a
pair of forceps that I had been using on a native boy five minutes
before, and putting them back into their case.

"The colour of your face for one thing," she answered, "and the way
you move about for another. Your appetite, I have also noticed, has
been gradually falling off of late. No, it won't do! My friend, you
have been so good to us that we should be worse than ungrateful if we
allowed you to get ill. So, without consulting you, I have arranged a
little holiday for you!"

"That is very kind of you," I said; "and pray what is it to be?"

"I will tell you. You are an enthusiastic botanist and entomologist,
are you not? Very well, then. This island abounds with unclassified
flora and fauna. I will have an expedition fitted out to-day, and
to-morrow morning we will leave the settlement and plunge into the
interior. I expect a week's absence from worry will work a wonderful
change in you. At any rate, we'll try it. What have you to say to my
proposition?"

"I should like it above all things," I answered eagerly. And, indeed,
apart from the scientific chances it would afford me, a trip anywhere
in her company could not be anything else than delightful.

Having gained her point, she rose to go.

"I may consider it settled, I suppose?" she said. "At daybreak
to-morrow morning we are to mount our ponies in the square down
yonder, and set off. You need not bother about rifles or any
impedimenta of that kind. I will see that you are well provided."

So saying she withdrew, and I saw no more of her that day. The rest
of the afternoon I spent in preparing my specimen boxes for the trip,
and when I sought my couch at night it was to dream of birds and
beetles of the most glorious colouring, size, and variety.

True to our arrangement, daybreak next morning found me, booted and
spurred, striding towards the village square. Early as I was at the
rendezvous, Alie was there before me, mounted on a neat bay pony, and
evidently awaiting my coming. She wished me "good morning," and then
pointed to the group of pack-horses standing at a little distance in
charge of half a dozen men.

"We shall not want for provisions during our travels," she said, with
a happy laugh; and as she did so she signed to one of her attendants
to lead up a pony she had reserved for my use. "The cook and his
staff," she continued, "have gone on ahead of us to prepare our
breakfast, so now if you are ready we'll start."

The order to march was thereupon given, and we immediately set off up
the mountain track. Within five minutes of starting the settlement lay
hidden behind the hill, with all its painful memories and anxieties,
and we found ourselves surrounded by the primeval forest. The
mysterious silence of the dawn still held the landscape, and all
nature seemed waiting for the sun to make his appearance before
beginning the business of the day. Here and there in the dips, and
upon the pools, heavy mists wreathed and curled themselves, suggestive
of malaria and a hundred other unpleasantnesses. Before we have been
riding an hour, however, the sun rose in all his majesty; in a trice
the forest woke to life and activity; hordes of monkeys leaped from
branch to branch above our heads, in many cases racing us nearly a
hundred yards before they left us; gigantic swine crashed through the
undergrowth, almost under our ponies' noses; while birds of every
plumage flew, from tree to tree, across our path. A moment before the
world had seemed dead, now it was full and brimming over with
vitality.

When the first half-dozen miles were overcome the aspect of the
country began to change; it became more open, and we continually
emerged from timber on to highly-grassed plains, where pig and deer of
many kinds were to be seen feeding placidly. Towards eight o'clock the
trend of the country lay upward, and continued so until we had mounted
to a considerable elevation, when an extensive panorama was unfolded
before us. The island must indeed have been a large one if it could be
judged by the extensive views we had presented to us of it; only on
the settlement side could I see the sea, while on the other the forest
rolled away as far as the eye could reach.

At half-past eight, or between that and nine o'clock, we commenced to
descend again, following the course of a pretty stream, until our
guides came back to tell us that we were approaching the spot where it
had been arranged we should partake of breakfast.

And surely enough, as we reached the bottom of the valley, the smoke
of a fire rose above the palms before us, and, a few seconds later, we
were permitted a view of an impromptu camp, with a blazing fire, and a
white man actively engaged beside it, frying-pan in hand. As I looked
at the little scene I could not help thinking of the many picnics I
had assisted at in dear old England, and I naturally fell to
comparing them with this one, at which I was the guest of so
extraordinary a woman, under such novel and exciting circumstances.

Had I been told only half a year before that I should be picnicking on
an island in the North Pacific, of which I knew neither the location
nor the name, with a woman who had a reputation such as Alie
unfortunately possessed, I should certainly have refused to believe
it. Yet it was so, and, what was more to the point, I was not only
picnicking, but was head over ears in love with that self-same woman,
and, what was perhaps still more extraordinary, gloried in the fact.

As soon as breakfast was over we remounted our ponies and pushed on in
the same fashion, through the same sort of country, with a brief halt
at midday, until nightfall. Towards the middle of the afternoon the
view once more began to change; craggy uplands rose on our right,
while the same wonderful forest still continued on our left. What
struck me as remarkable was the fact that so far we had seen no
villages and encountered no natives. Could the island - if island it
really were, and of that I was beginning to have my doubts - be
inhabited only by the people of our settlement? It seemed scarcely
probable, but if not, where were the rest of its aboriginal
population?

A little before sundown, Alie informed me that we were close upon our
destination. And surely enough, just as the orb of day disappeared
behind the tree tops, we saw before us, on a small plateau, four or
five large and exceedingly comfortable huts, which the men who had
preceded us that morning had erected for our accommodation. They faced
towards the east, and the view from the little terrace on which they
stood was beautiful in the extreme. Across it, and for a short
distance below, the land was open, then the undergrowth began again,
gradually rising from small bushes to great trees, and afterwards
continuing in one unbroken sea of green, away to where the faint
outline of a mountain range peered up, upon the southeastern horizon.
It was a picture to see and remember for ever.

Having dismounted from our ponies, we prepared to make ourselves
comfortable. The distribution of huts was as follows: Alie took that
to the right, I had a large one on the left, while that in the centre
was set apart for our dining-room and sitting-room (if we wanted to be
indoors, which was unlikely); the fourth was destined for the
accommodation of the cook, and from it already resounded the clatter
of pots and pans.

Full of curiosity to see in what sort of comfort Alie travelled, I
entered my own hut, and was amazed at the completeness of the
arrangements. A comfortable bed-place, with mosquito curtains,
occupied one side; a square of matting covered the floor, a portable
wash-hand stand stood near the bed; while against the opposite wall,
neatly arranged in a rack, were my guns and specimen cases. By the
time I had washed off the stains of travel, and exchanged my riding
costume for a lounge suit, the native gong had summoned us to dinner,
and Alie and I, meeting on the terrace, entered the centre hut
together.

If I had been surprised at the completeness of the arrangements of my
own hut, how much more astonished was I now. Indeed, had it not been
for the walls, which were covered, with some peculiar sort of
tapestry, and the different ceiling, I should hardly have known that
we were not in the bungalow at the settlement. The white cloth, the
glittering glass and silver, the costly ornaments and the profusion of
dishes, were the same; and when the same impassive servant entered to
wait upon us, clad in his usual white livery, my astonishment was
complete. Alie was in exceptionally good spirits and for this reason
the meal proceeded in a most delightful fashion.

When it was over we drew our chairs outside into the gathering gloom,
and sat watching the fire-flies dashing in and out amid the tangle of
dark forest across the plateau. It was indeed a night to be
remembered. Overhead the tropic stars shone in all their beauty;
around us were the unfathomable depths of the forest; from the right
sounded the tinkling music of a stream; while now and again out of the
darkness would come the deep note of some forest animal, or the
melancholy hoot of an owl or other night bird.

Later on, by Alie's orders, enormous fires were lit at intervals all
round the circle of the camp, and these not only failed to detract
from, but succeeded in adding to, the weird picturesqueness of the
scene. From the darkness behind us we could catch the subdued voices
of our followers, varied now and again by the occasional snorting and
stamping of the picketed ponies.

"How beautiful it all is!" said Alie, looking up at the winking stars.
Then, as if to herself, "If only we could always be as peaceable as
this, how much happier we should be!"

"Do you really think we should?" I answered. "Don't you think it is
the wild unrest and turmoil of the world, to say nothing of that
constant struggling, which makes existence so sweet to us?"

"Ah! You speak of your own world," she said sadly. "Think what _my_
world is? Continual plotting, endless striving, with always the one
great dread of capture hanging over me. Oh! Dr. De Normanville, you
little know the sort of life I lead!"

"Then why do you go on with it? If only I might - - "

I checked myself suddenly. Another moment and the fatal words would
have passed my lips. But to see her thus and not to tell her of my
love was almost more than I could bear. I kept a tight rein upon
myself, however, and crammed the words back into my heart. She had
paused, and was looking away towards the dark forest.

"Why do I go on with it?" she answered, a few moments later. "Because
I must! Because there is no one else to guide and care for them but
me."

"But supposing you were caught? They would have to shift for
themselves then."

"I shall never be taken alive. That is, except by treachery. No, Dr.
De Normanville, come what may, I can never forsake them. My duty lies
before me, and as I have endeavoured to do it in the past, so I must
strive to do it in the future. But it is getting late, and we have
travelled a long distance to-day. Don't you think we had better bid
each other good-night?"

As she spoke she rose, and I followed her example. Then she shook
hands, wished me good-night, and disappeared into her own hut, her dog
at her heels. When she had gone I reseated myself, lit another cigar,
and fell to work upon my thoughts. Away in the darkness beyond the
leaping fires, a Sambhur deer, probably disturbed by our lights, was
barking to his mate, and in a tree near at hand a night bird hooted
dolefully. The first sweetness of the evening had passed, and now an
unutterable melancholy seemed to have laid its hand upon it. When my
cigar was finished I passed into my hut, glanced at my rifles to see
that they were ready to my hand in case of need, and, having disrobed
myself, went to bed. Tired as I was, my slumbers were almost
dreamless, and it seemed but a few minutes from the time I laid my
head upon my pillow before my servant was waking me to the new-born
day.

Immediately breakfast was over I took my specimen cases and a light
rifle, and, accompanied by Alie and two of our native servants, dived
into the forest on collecting thoughts intent. But the profusion of
subjects was so vast that it was difficult to know quite where to
begin. At every turn some peculiar grass, some plant, some shrub would
arrest my attention, while in the air butterflies, beetles, and birds
innumerable seemed to call upon me to catch and catalogue them without
delay. Alie had quite recovered her good spirits by this time, and
having once grasped the general idea, followed her new hobby with the
same impassioned ardour that was noticeable in everything she
undertook. By midday our cases were full to bursting, so we returned
to the camp to lunch. In the afternoon we continued our work, but this
time without our native followers, who, when all was said and done,
preferred chattering to working, and in more ways than one were in the
way.

Leaving the camp, we struck into the forest in a southeasterly
direction, following the course of a tiny stream that evidently had
its origin in the mountain range elsewhere described. Game of all
sorts abounded; twice I saw herds of small deer alongside the river
bank; wild swine we continually met with, and once I felt certain the
spoor we saw round a big pool was that of an elephant. Indeed, Alie
informed me that the natives had often informed her that in their
hunting expeditions they had met with these gigantic beasts. This
circumstance, perhaps more than anything else, set me wondering where
Alie's marvellous island could be located.

By the time the sun declined upon the mountain our boxes were once
more full, and we turned our heads campwards, following on our
homeward route the course of the same stream we had pursued on our
outward journey. It was warm work, and when about half our walk was
done we stopped on a little rise to look about us.

Alie seated herself on a fallen tree, and I put down my boxes and took
my place beside her. Throughout the afternoon she had been a little
quiet, and I must own that my own spirits were none too lively.
Enjoyable as our excursion had proved, it was nevertheless a fact that
every day was bringing my stay in the island nearer to its close, and,
under the circumstances, I could not help feeling that, my duty done,
it behoved me to be moving on as soon as possible. And yet the thought
of leaving this woman, into whose life I had flashed like a meteor,
and whom I had come so desperately to love, was agonising to me.

Alie rolled a small stone into the foaming torrent below us and then
turned to me.

"Dr. De Normanville," she began, - and it struck me that she hesitated
a good deal over what she had to say, - "when my agent visited you in
Hong Kong and induced you to come to our assistance, he promised that,
as soon as your work was completed, you should be returned safe and
sound to the place whence you started. Your work is completed, and now
it only remains for you to say - well, to say when you wish to leave


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Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 7 of 19)