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Thanks to Rita Hayworth’s inimitable incarnation as the title character in the film adaptation retitled Miss Sadie Thompson, the short story “Rain” may arguably be Somerset Maugham’s most well-known tale. Hayworth was actually the third legendary Hollywood star to take on the role of the iconic bad girl of Maugham’s story following in the footsteps of Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford. So integrated into the fabric of “Rain” is this character that Maugham had originally titled it simply “Sadie Thompson”
The retitled story appeared in Maugham’s 1921 collection, The Trembling of a Leaf: Stories of the South Sea Islands. Four years later, the story was adapted into a stage play that had a successful 648-performance run on Broadway in its initial production. “Rain” is yet another of Maugham’s stories that intermingle reality with fiction to an unusually honest degree: the story was inspired by an actual prostitute named Thompson (he changed her first for the story) that he met aboard a ship sailing to Pago Pago. The real Miss Thompson was fleeing the authorities in Hawaii with plan to go back into business on another island.
Maugham, however, invented the story of what happens eventually happens to the prostitute in a narrative that pits the sexual repression versus sexual expression in a battle to the death. The story of the married evangelical minister whose attempts to reform and redeem Sadie instead culminate with the unleashing of his repressed passion in a violent climax of attempted rape and successful suicide has been interpreted as Maugham’s bitterly corrosive critique of the long-term negative effects of British missionaries attempting to impose their rigid moral code upon native populations as part of the country’s racist colonial imperialism.
From Augustus Earle in the 1820's to William Somerset Maugham in the middle of World War I, the deep distaste intelligent men had for missionaries in the Pacific was almost universal. When the reader thinks how difficult it was for the English to openly criticise Christian Missionaries in print throughout most of this period and how barely concealed was the contempt with which some writers went after them, it says a great deal of the loathing they inspired. Maugham of course had the great misfortune to lose both his parents young and to end up in the care of an Uncle who was the Vicar of Whitstable, in Kent. The move was hugely destructive, as Henry Maugham was pompous, distant and emotionally cruel and Maugham himself a painfully sensitive boy. So in 1916 when Maugham sailed to the Pacific to research what became the novel, The Moon and Sixpence he was already disposed to regard clergy in a less than flattering light. Rain is regarded as one of his most successful short stories and under the title; Sadie Thompson was a silent movie starring Gloria Swanson in 1928 and as Rain in 1932 a sound version starring Joan Crawford. Today almost a hundred years on from Rain's appearance in the 1921 short story collection; The Trembling of a Leaf, it is very difficult for us to imagine how startlingly bold was his theme. His portrait of Davidson, the missionary is savage, and he bores in on the sexual nature of the cleric's persecution of Sadie Thompson as well as its pathological sadism. It is as complete a demolition of the character of English 19th Century Evangelical Christianity as is possible.
It was nearly bed-time and when they awoke next morning land would be insight. Dr Macphail lit his pipe and, leaning over the rail, searched theheavens for the Southern Cross. After two years at the front and a woundthat had taken longer to heal than it should, he was glad to settle downquietly at Apia for twelve months at least, and he felt already betterfor the journey. Since some of the passengers were leaving the ship nextday at Pago-Pago they had had a little dance that evening and in hisears hammered still the harsh notes of the mechanical piano. But thedeck was quiet at last. A little way off he saw his wife in a long chairtalking with the Davidsons, and he strolled over to her. When he satdown under the light and took off his hat you saw that he had very redhair, with a bald patch on the crown, and the red, freckled skin whichaccompanies red hair; he was a man of forty, thin, with a pinched face,precise and rather pedantic; and he spoke with a Scots accent in a verylow, quiet voice.
Between the Macphails and the Davidsons, who were missionaries, therehad arisen the intimacy of shipboard, which is due to propinquity ratherthan to any community of taste. Their chief tie was the disapprovalthey shared of the men who spent their days and nights in thesmoking-room playing poker or bridge and drinking. Mrs Macphail was nota little flattered to think that she and her husband were the onlypeople on board with whom the Davidsons were willing to associate, andeven the doctor, shy but no fool, half unconsciously acknowledged thecompliment. It was only because he was of an argumentative mind that intheir cabin at night he permitted himself to carp.
"Mrs Davidson was saying she didn't know how they'd have got through thejourney if it hadn't been for us," said Mrs Macphail, as she neatlybrushed out her transformation. "She said we were really the only peopleon the ship they cared to know."
"I shouldn't have thought a missionary was such a big bug that he couldafford to put on frills."
"It's not frills. I quite understand what she means. It wouldn't havebeen very nice for the Davidsons to have to mix with all that rough lotin the smoking-room."
"The founder of their religion wasn't so exclusive," said Dr Macphailwith a chuckle.
"I've asked you over and over again not to joke about religion,"answered his wife. "I shouldn't like to have a nature like yours, Alec.You never look for the best in people."
He gave her a sidelong glance with his pale, blue eyes, but did notreply. After many years of married life he had learned that it was moreconducive to peace to leave his wife with the last word. He wasundressed before she was, and climbing into the upper bunk he settleddown to read himself to sleep.
When he came on deck next morning they were close to land. He looked atit with greedy eyes. There was a thin strip of silver beach risingquickly to hills covered to the top with luxuriant vegetation. Thecoconut trees, thick and green, came nearly to the water's edge, andamong them you saw the grass houses of the Samoans; and here and there,gleaming white, a little church. Mrs Davidson came and stood beside him.She was dressed in black and wore round her neck a gold chain, fromwhich dangled a small cross. She was a little woman, with brown, dullhair very elaborately arranged, and she had prominent blue eyes behindinvisible _pince-nez_. Her face was long, like a sheep's, but she gaveno impression of foolishness, rather of extreme alertness; she had thequick movements of a bird. The most remarkable thing about her was hervoice, high, metallic, and without inflection; it fell on the ear with ahard monotony, irritating to the nerves like the pitiless clamour of thepneumatic drill.
"This must seem like home to you," said Dr Macphail, with his thin,difficult smile.
"Ours are low islands, you know, not like these. Coral. These arevolcanic. We've got another ten days' journey to reach them."
"In these parts that's almost like being in the next street at home,"said Dr Macphail facetiously.
"Well, that's rather an exaggerated way of putting it, but one doeslook at distances differently in the South Seas. So far you're right."
Dr Macphail sighed faintly.
"I'm glad we're not stationed here," she went on. "They say this is aterribly difficult place to work in. The steamers' touching makes thepeople unsettled; and then there's the naval station; that's bad for thenatives. In our district we don't have difficulties like that to contendwith. There are one or two traders, of course, but we take care to makethem behave, and if they don't we make the place so hot for them they'reglad to go."
Fixing the glasses on her nose she looked at the green island with aruthless stare.
"It's almost a hopeless task for the missionaries here. I can never besufficiently thankful to God that we are at least spared that."
Davidson's district consisted of a group of islands to the North ofSamoa; they were widely separated and he had frequently to go longdistances by canoe. At these times his wife remained at theirheadquarters and managed the mission. Dr Macphail felt his heart sinkwhen he considered the efficiency with which she certainly managed it.She spoke of the depravity of the natives in a voice which nothing couldhush, but with a vehemently unctuous horror. Her sense of delicacy wassingular. Early in their acquaintance she had said to him:
"You know, their marriage customs when we first settled in the islandswere so shocking that I couldn't possibly describe them to you. But I'lltell Mrs Macphail and she'll tell you."
Then he had seen his wife and Mrs Davidson, their deck-chairs closetogether, in earnest conversation for about two hours. As he walked pastthem backwards and forwards for the sake of exercise, he had heard MrsDavidson's agitated whisper, like the distant flow of a mountaintorrent, and he saw by his wife's open mouth and pale face that she wasenjoying an alarming experience. At night in their cabin she repeated tohim with bated breath all she had heard.
"Well, what did I say to you?" cried Mrs Davidson, exultant, nextmorning. "Did you ever hear anything more dreadful? You don't wonderthat I couldn't tell you myself, do you? Even though you are a doctor."
Mrs Davidson scanned his face. She had a dramatic eagerness to see thatshe had achieved the desired effect.
"Can you wonder that when we first went there our hearts sank? You'llhardly believe me when I tell you it was impossible to find a singlegood girl in any of the villages."
She used the word _good_ in a severely technical manner.
"Mr Davidson and I talked it over, and we made up our minds the firstthing to do was to put down the dancing. The natives were crazy aboutdancing."
"I was not averse to it myself when I was a young man," said DrMacphail.
"I guessed as much when I heard you ask Mrs Macphail to have a turn withyou last night. I don't think there's any real harm if a man danceswith his wife, but I was relieved that she wouldn't. Under thecircumstances I thought it better that we should keep ourselves toourselves."
"Under what circumstances?"
Mrs Davidson gave him a quick look through her _pince-nez_, but did notanswer his question.
"But among white people it's not quite the same," she went on, "though Imust say I agree with Mr Davidson, who says he can't understand how ahusband can stand by and see his wife in another man's arms, and as faras I'm concerned I've never danced a step since I married. But thenative dancing is quite another matter. It's not only immoral in itself,but it distinctly leads to immorality. However, I'm thankful to God thatwe stamped it out, and I don't think I'm wrong in saying that no one hasdanced in our district for eight years."
But now they came to the mouth of the harbour and Mrs Macphail joinedthem. The ship turned sharply and steamed slowly in. It was a greatland-locked harbour big enough to hold a fleet of battleships; and allaround it rose, high and steep, the green hills. Near the entrance,getting such breeze as blew from the sea, stood the governor's house ina garden. The Stars and Stripes dangled languidly from a flagstaff. Theypassed two or three trim bungalows, and a tennis court, and then theycame to the quay with its warehouses. Mrs Davidson pointed out theschooner, moored two or three hundred yards from the side, which was totake them to Apia. There was a crowd of eager, noisy, and good-humourednatives come from all parts of the island, some from curiosity, othersto barter with the travellers on their way to Sydney; and they broughtpineapples and huge bunches of bananas, _tapa_ cloths, necklaces ofshells or sharks' teeth, _kava_-bowls, and models of war canoes.American sailors, neat and trim, clean-shaven and frank of face,sauntered among them, and there was a little group of officials. Whiletheir luggage was being landed the Macphails and Mrs Davidson watchedthe crowd. Dr Macphail looked at the yaws from which most of thechildren and the young boys seemed to suffer, disfiguring sores liketorpid ulcers, and his professional eyes glistened when he saw for thefirst time in his experience cases of elephantiasis, men going aboutwith a huge, heavy arm or dragging along a grossly disfigured leg. Menand women wore the lava-lava.
"It's a very indecent costume," said Mrs Davidson. "Mr Davidson thinksit should be prohibited by law. How can you expect people to be moralwhen they wear nothing but a strip of red cotton round their loins?"
"It's suitable enough to the climate," said the doctor, wiping the sweatoff his head.
Now that they were on land the heat, though it was so early in themorning, was already oppressive. Closed in by its hills, not a breath ofair came in to Pago-Pago.
"In our islands," Mrs Davidson went on in her high-pitched tones, "we'vepractically eradicated the lava-lava. A few old men still continue towear it, but that's all. The women have all taken to the MotherHubbard, and the men wear trousers and singlets. At the very beginningof our stay Mr Davidson said in one of his reports: the inhabitants ofthese islands will never be thoroughly Christianised till every boy ofmore than ten years is made to wear a pair of trousers."
But Mrs Davidson had given two or three of her birdlike glances at heavygrey clouds that came floating over the mouth of the harbour. A fewdrops began to fall.
"We'd better take shelter," she said.
They made their way with all the crowd to a great shed of corrugatediron, and the rain began to fall in torrents. They stood there for sometime and then were joined by Mr Davidson. He had been polite enough tothe 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 sullenman, and you felt that his affability was a duty that he imposed uponhimself Christianly; he was by nature reserved and even morose. Hisappearance was singular. He was very tall and thin, with long limbsloosely jointed; hollow cheeks and curiously high cheek-bones; he had socadaverous an air that it surprised you to notice how full and sensualwere his lips. He wore his hair very long. His dark eyes, set deep intheir sockets, were large and tragic; and his hands with their big, longfingers, were finely shaped; they gave him a look of great strength. Butthe most striking thing about him was the feeling he gave you ofsuppressed fire. It was impressive and vaguely troubling. He was not aman with whom any intimacy was possible.
He brought now unwelcome news. There was an epidemic of measles, aserious and often fatal disease among the Kanakas, on the island, and acase had developed among the crew of the schooner which was to take themon their journey. The sick man had been brought ashore and put inhospital on the quarantine station, but telegraphic instructions hadbeen sent from Apia to say that the schooner would not be allowed toenter the harbour till it was certain no other member of the crew wasaffected.
"It means we shall have to stay here for ten days at least."
"But I'm urgently needed at Apia," said Dr Macphail.
"That can't be helped. If no more cases develop on board, the schoonerwill be allowed to sail with white passengers, but all native traffic isprohibited for three months."
"Is there a hotel here?" asked Mrs Macphail.
Davidson gave a low chuckle.
"What shall we do then?"
"I've been talking to the governor. There's a trader along the front whohas rooms that he rents, and my proposition is that as soon as the rainlets up we should go along there and see what we can do. Don't expectcomfort. You've just got to be thankful if we get a bed to sleep on anda roof over our heads."
But the rain showed no sign of stopping, and at length with umbrellasand waterproofs they set out. There was no town, but merely a group ofofficial buildings, a store or two, and at the back, among the coconuttrees and plantains, a few native dwellings. The house they sought wasabout five minutes' walk from the wharf. It was a frame house of twostoreys, with broad verandahs on both floors and a roof of corrugatediron. The owner was a half-caste named Horn, with a native wifesurrounded by little brown children, and on the ground-floor he had astore where he sold canned goods and cottons. The rooms he showed themwere almost bare of furniture. In the Macphails' there was nothing but apoor, worn bed with a ragged mosquito net, a rickety chair, and awashstand. They looked round with dismay. The rain poured down withoutceasing.
"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. Shewas very brisk and alert. The cheerless surroundings had no effect onher.
"If you'll take my advice you'll get a needle and cotton and start rightin to mend the mosquito net," she said, "or you'll not be able to get awink of sleep to-night."
"Will they be very bad?" asked Dr Macphail.
"This is the season for them. When you're asked to a party atGovernment House at Apia you'll notice that all the ladies are given apillow-slip to put their--their lower extremities in."
"I wish the rain would stop for a moment," said Mrs Macphail. "I couldtry to make the place comfortable with more heart if the sun wereshining."
"Oh, if you wait for that, you'll wait a long time. Pago-Pago is aboutthe rainiest place in the Pacific. You see, the hills, and that bay,they attract the water, and one expects rain at this time of yearanyway."
She looked from Macphail to his wife, standing helplessly in differentparts of the room, like lost souls, and she pursed her lips. She sawthat she must take them in hand. Feckless people like that made herimpatient, but her hands itched to put everything in the order whichcame so naturally to her.
"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'dbetter go down to the wharf and see that your heavy luggage has been putin a dry place. You know what these natives are, they're quite capableof 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 doorMr Horn was standing in conversation with the quartermaster of the shipthey had just arrived in and a second-class passenger whom Dr Macphailhad seen several times on board. The quartermaster, a little, shrivelledman, extremely dirty, nodded to him as he passed.
"This is a bad job about the measles, doc," he said. "I see you've fixedyourself up already."
Dr Macphail thought he was rather familiar, but he was a timid man andhe did not take offence easily.
"Yes, we've got a room upstairs."
"Miss Thompson was sailing with you to Apia, so I've brought her alonghere."
The quartermaster pointed with his thumb to the woman standing by hisside. She was twenty-seven perhaps, plump, and in a coarse fashionpretty. She wore a white dress and a large white hat. Her fat calves inwhite cotton stockings bulged over the tops of long white boots in glacékid. She gave Macphail an ingratiating smile.
"The feller's tryin' to soak me a dollar and a half a day for themeanest sized room," she said in a hoarse voice.
"I tell you she's a friend of mine, Jo," said the quartermaster. "Shecan'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 aboutit. I'll talk to Mrs Horn and if we think we can make a reduction wewill."
"Don't try to pull that stuff with me," said Miss Thompson. "We'llsettle this right now. You get a dollar a day for the room and not onebean 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 preferredto 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 shotof hooch. I've got some real good rye in that grip if you'll bring italong, Mr Swan. You come along too, doctor."
"Oh, I don't think I will, thank you," he answered. "I'm just going downto see that our luggage is all right."
He stepped out into the rain. It swept in from the opening of theharbour in sheets and the opposite shore was all blurred. He passed twoor three natives clad in nothing but the lava-lava, with hugeumbrellas over them. They walked finely, with leisurely movements, veryupright; and they smiled and greeted him in a strange tongue as theywent by.
It was nearly dinner-time when he got back, and their meal was laid inthe trader's parlour. It was a room designed not to live in but forpurposes of prestige, and it had a musty, melancholy air. A suite ofstamped plush was arranged neatly round the walls, and from the middleof the ceiling, protected from the flies by yellow tissue paper, hung agilt chandelier. Davidson did not come.
"I know he went to call on the governor," said Mrs Davidson, "and Iguess he's kept him to dinner."
A little native girl brought them a dish of Hamburger steak, and aftera 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 gettingher 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 anytrouble to 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 hasa 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 inher room."
"If she was in the second cabin I guess she'd rather," answered MrsDavidson. "I don't exactly know who it can be."
"I happened to be there when the quartermaster brought her along. Hername'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 whatshe was. She looked rather fast to me."
"Not good style at all," said Mrs Davidson.
They began to talk of other things, and after dinner, tired with theirearly rise, they separated and slept. When they awoke, though the skywas still grey and the clouds hung low, it was not raining and they wentfor 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 outwith 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 terriblynervous that they've let things slide. They're good men, I'm not sayinga word against them, God-fearing, devout, and truly Christian men--theirChristianity would put many so-called Christians at home to theblush--but they're pitifully lacking in energy. They can make a standonce, they can make a stand twice, but they can't make a stand all thetime. If you leave a mission in charge of a native missionary, no matterhow trustworthy he seems, in course of time you'll find he's let abusescreep in."
Mr Davidson stood still. With his tall, spare form, and his great eyesflashing out of his pale face, he was an impressive figure. Hissincerity 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 actpromptly. If the tree is rotten it shall be cut down and cast into theflames."
And in the evening after the high tea which was their last meal, whilethey sat in the stiff parlour, the ladies working and Dr Macphailsmoking 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. "Theybroke the commandments one after the other and never knew they weredoing wrong. And I think that was the most difficult part of my work, toinstil into the natives the sense of sin."
The Macphails knew already that Davidson had worked in the Solomons forfive years before he met his wife. She had been a missionary in China,and they had become acquainted in Boston, where they were both spendingpart of their leave to attend a missionary congress. On their marriagethey had been appointed to the islands in which they had laboured eversince.
In the course of all the conversations they had had with Mr Davidson onething 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 timeto one or other of the islands in the group. Even the whaleboat is notso very safe a conveyance in the stormy Pacific of the wet season, butoften he would be sent for in a canoe, and then the danger was great. Incases of illness or accident he never hesitated. A dozen times he hadspent the whole night baling for his life, and more than once MrsDavidson had given him up for lost.
"I'd beg him not to go sometimes," she said, "or at least to wait tillthe weather was more settled, but he'd never listen. He's obstinate, andwhen he's once made up his mind, nothing can move him."
"How can I ask the natives to put their trust in the Lord if I am afraidto do so myself?" cried Davidson. "And I'm not, I'm not. They know thatif they send for me in their trouble I'll come if it's humanly possible.And do you think the Lord is going to abandon me when I am on hisbusiness? The wind blows at his bidding and the waves toss and rage athis word."
Dr Macphail was a timid man. He had never been able to get used to thehurtling of the shells over the trenches, and when he was operating inan advanced dressing-station the sweat poured from his brow and dimmedhis spectacles in the effort he made to control his unsteady hand. Heshuddered' a little as he looked at the missionary.
"I wish I could say that I've never been afraid," he said.
"I wish you could say that you believed in God," retorted the other.
But for some reason, that evening the missionary's thoughts travelledback to the early days he and his wife had spent on the islands.
"Sometimes Mrs Davidson and I would look at one another and the tearswould stream down our cheeks. We worked without ceasing, day and night,and we seemed to make no progress. I don't know what I should have donewithout her then. When I felt my heart sink, when I was very neardespair, she gave me courage and hope."
Mrs Davidson looked down at her work, and a slight colour rose to herthin cheeks. Her hands trembled a little. She did not trust herself tospeak.
"We had no one to help us. We were alone, thousands of miles from any ofour own people, surrounded by darkness. When I was broken and weary shewould put her work aside and take the Bible and read to me till peacecame and settled upon me like sleep upon the eyelids of a child, andwhen at last she closed the book she'd say: 'We'll save them in spite ofthemselves.' And I felt strong again in the Lord, and I answered: 'Yes,with God's help I'll save them. I must save them.'"
He came over to the table and stood in front of it as though it were alectern.
"You see, they were so naturally depraved that they couldn't be broughtto see their wickedness. We had to make sins out of what they thoughtwere natural actions. We had to make it a sin, not only to commitadultery and to lie and thieve, but to expose their bodies, and to danceand not to come to church. I made it a sin for a girl to show her bosomand a sin for a man not to wear trousers."
"How?" asked Dr Macphail, not without surprise.
"I instituted fines. Obviously the only way to make people realise thatan action is sinful is to punish them if they commit it. I fined them ifthey didn't come to church, and I fined them if they danced. I finedthem if they were improperly dressed. I had a tariff, and every sin hadto be paid for either in money or work. And at last I made themunderstand."
"But did they never refuse to pay?"
"How could they?" asked the missionary.
"It would be a brave man who tried to stand up against Mr Davidson,"said his wife, tightening her lips.
Dr Macphail looked at Davidson with troubled eyes. What he heardshocked him, but he hesitated to express his disapproval.
"You must remember that in the last resort I could expel them from theirchurch membership."
"Did they mind that?"
Davidson smiled a little and gently rubbed his hands.
"They couldn't sell their copra. When the men fished they got no shareof the catch. It meant something very like starvation. Yes, they mindedquite a lot."
"Tell him about Fred Ohlson," said Mrs Davidson.
The missionary fixed his fiery eyes on Dr Macphail.
"Fred Ohlson was a Danish trader who had been in the islands a good manyyears. He was a pretty rich man as traders go and he wasn't very pleasedwhen we came. You see, he'd had things very much his own way. He paidthe natives what he liked for their copra, and he paid in goods andwhiskey. He had a native wife, but he was flagrantly unfaithful to her.He was a drunkard. I gave him a chance to mend his ways, but hewouldn't take it. He laughed at me."
Davidson's voice fell to a deep bass as he said the last words, and hewas silent for a minute or two. The silence was heavy with menace.
"In two years he was a ruined man. He'd lost everything he'd saved in aquarter of a century. I broke him, and at last he was forced to come tome like a beggar and beseech me to give him a passage back to Sydney."
"I wish you could have seen him when he came to see Mr Davidson," saidthe missionary's wife. "He had been a fine, powerful man, with a lot offat on him, and he had a great big voice, but now he was half the size,and he was shaking all over. He'd suddenly become an old man."
With abstracted gaze Davidson looked out into the night. The rain wasfalling again.
Suddenly from below came a sound, and Davidson turned and lookedquestioningly at his wife. It was the sound of a gramophone, harsh andloud, wheezing out a syncopated tune.
"What's that?" he asked.
Mrs Davidson fixed her pince-nez more firmly on her nose.
"One of the second-class passengers has a room in the house. I guess itcomes from there."
They listened in silence, and presently they heard the sound of dancing.Then the music stopped, and they heard the popping of corks and voicesraised in animated conversation.
"I daresay she's giving a farewell party to her friends on board," saidDr Macphail. "The ship sails at twelve, doesn't it?"
Davidson made no remark, but he looked at his watch.
"Are you ready?" he asked his wife.
She got up and folded her work.
"Yes, I guess I am," she answered.
"It's early to go to bed yet, isn't it?" said the doctor.
"We have a good deal of reading to do," explained Mrs Davidson."Wherever we are, we read a chapter of the Bible before retiring for thenight and we study it with the commentaries, you know, and discuss itthoroughly. It's a wonderful training for the mind."
The two couples bade one another good night. Dr and Mrs Macphail wereleft alone. For two or three minutes they did not speak.
"I think I'll go and fetch the cards," the doctor said at last.
Mrs Macphail looked at him doubtfully. Her conversation with theDavidsons had left her a little uneasy, but she did not like to say thatshe thought they had better not play cards when the Davidsons might comein at any moment. Dr Macphail brought them and she watched him, thoughwith a vague sense of guilt, while he laid out his patience. Below thesound of revelry continued.
It was fine enough next day, and the Macphails, condemned to spend afortnight of idleness at Pago-Pago, set about making the best of things.They went down to the quay and got out of their boxes a number ofbooks. The doctor called on the chief surgeon of the naval hospital andwent round the beds with him. They left cards on the governor. Theypassed Miss Thompson on the road. The doctor took off his hat, and shegave him a "Good morning, doc.," in a loud, cheerful voice. She wasdressed as on the day before, in a white frock, and her shiny whiteboots with their high heels, her fat legs bulging over the tops of them,were strange things on that exotic scene.
"I don't think she's very suitably dressed, I must say," said MrsMacphail. "She looks extremely common to me."
When they got back to their house, she was on the verandah playing withone of the trader's dark children.
"Say a word to her," Dr Macphail whispered to his wife. "She's all alonehere, and it seems rather unkind to ignore her."
Mrs Macphail was shy, but she was in the habit of doing what her husbandbade her.
"I think we're fellow lodgers here," she said, rather foolishly.
"Terrible, ain't it, bein' cooped up in a one-horse burg like this?"answered Miss Thompson. "And they tell me I'm lucky to have gotten aroom. I don't see myself livin' in a native house, and that's what somehave to do. I don't know why they don't have a hotel."
They exchanged a few more words. Miss Thompson, loud-voiced andgarrulous, was evidently quite willing to gossip, but Mrs Macphail hada poor stock of small talk and presently she said:
"Well, I think we must go upstairs."
In the evening when they sat down to their high-tea Davidson on comingin said:
"I see that woman downstairs has a couple of sailors sitting there. Iwonder how she's gotten acquainted with them."
"She can't be very particular," said Mrs Davidson.
They were all rather tired after the idle, aimless day.
"If there's going to be a fortnight of this I don't know what we shallfeel like at the end of it," said Dr Macphail.
"The only thing to do is to portion out the day to differentactivities," answered the missionary. "I shall set aside a certainnumber of hours to study and a certain number to exercise, rain orfine--in the wet season you can't afford to pay any attention to therain--and a certain number to recreation."
Dr Macphail looked at his companion with misgiving. Davidson's programmeoppressed him. They were eating Hamburger steak again. It seemed theonly dish the cook knew how to make. Then below the gramophone began.Davidson started nervously when he heard it, but said nothing. Men'svoices floated up. Miss Thompson's guests were joining in a well-knownsong and presently they heard her voice too, hoarse and loud. There wasa good deal of shouting and laughing. The four people upstairs, tryingto make conversation, listened despite themselves to the clink ofglasses and the scrape of chairs. More people had evidently come. MissThompson was giving a party.
"I wonder how she gets them all in," said Mrs Macphail, suddenlybreaking into a medical conversation between the missionary and herhusband.
It showed whither her thoughts were wandering. The twitch of Davidson'sface proved that, though he spoke of scientific things, his mind wasbusy in the same direction. Suddenly, while the doctor was giving someexperience of practice on the Flanders front, rather prosily, he sprangto his feet with a cry.
"What's the matter, Alfred?" asked Mrs Davidson.
"Of course! It never occurred to me. She's out of Iwelei."
"She can't be."
"She came on board at Honolulu. It's obvious. And she's carrying on hertrade here. Here."
He uttered the last word with a passion of indignation.
"What's Iwelei?" asked Mrs Macphail.
He turned his gloomy eyes on her and his voice trembled with horror.
"The plague spot of Honolulu. The Red Light district. It was a blot onour civilisation."
Iwelei was on the edge of the city. You went down side streets by theharbour, in the darkness, across a rickety bridge, till you came to adeserted road, all ruts and holes, and then suddenly you came out intothe light. There was parking room for motors on each side of the road,and there were saloons, tawdry and bright, each one noisy with itsmechanical piano, and there were barbers' shops and tobacconists. Therewas a stir in the air and a sense of expectant gaiety. You turned down anarrow alley, either to the right or to the left, for the road dividedIwelei into two parts, and you found yourself in the district. Therewere rows of little bungalows, trim and neatly painted in green, and thepathway between them was broad and straight. It was laid out like agarden-city. In its respectable regularity, its order and spruceness, itgave an impression of sardonic horror; for never can the search for lovehave been so systematised and ordered. The pathways were lit by a rarelamp, but they would have been dark except for the lights that came fromthe open windows of the bungalows. Men wandered about, looking at thewomen who sat at their windows, reading or sewing, for the most parttaking no notice of the passers-by; and like the women they were of allnationalities. There were Americans, sailors from the ships in port,enlisted men off the gunboats, sombrely drunk, and soldiers from theregiments, white and black, quartered on the island; there wereJapanese, walking in twos and threes; Hawaiians, Chinese in long robes,and Filipinos in preposterous hats. They were silent and as it wereoppressed. Desire is sad.
"It was the most crying scandal of the Pacific," exclaimed Davidsonvehemently. "The missionaries had been agitating against it for years,and at last the local press took it up. The police refused to stir. Youknow their argument. They say that vice is inevitable and consequentlythe best thing is to localise and control it. The truth is, they werepaid. Paid. They were paid by the saloon-keepers, paid by the bullies,paid by the women themselves. At last they were forced to move."
"I read about it in the papers that came on board in Honolulu," said DrMacphail.
"Iwelei, with its sin and shame, ceased to exist on the very day wearrived. The whole population was brought before the justices. I don'tknow why I didn't understand at once what that woman was."
"Now you come to speak of it," said Mrs Macphail, "I remember seeing hercome on board only a few minutes before the boat sailed. I rememberthinking at the time she was cutting it rather fine."
"How dare she come here!" cried Davidson indignantly. "I'm not going toallow it."
He strode towards the door.
"What are you going to do?" asked Macphail.
"What do you expect me to do? I'm going to stop it. I'm not going tohave this house turned into--into...."
He sought for a word that should not offend the ladies' ears. His eyeswere flashing and his pale face was paler still in his emotion.
"It sounds as though there were three or four men down there," said thedoctor. "Don't you think it's rather rash to go in just now?"
The missionary gave him a contemptuous look and without a word flung outof the room.
"You know Mr Davidson very little if you think the fear of personaldanger can stop him in the performance of his duty," said his wife.
She sat with her hands nervously clasped, a spot of colour on her highcheek bones, listening to what was about to happen below. They alllistened. They heard him clatter down the wooden stairs and throw openthe door. The singing stopped suddenly, but the gramophone continued tobray out its vulgar tune. They heard Davidson's voice and then the noiseof something heavy falling. The music stopped. He had hurled thegramophone on the floor. Then again they heard Davidson's voice, theycould not make out the words, then Miss Thompson's, loud and shrill,then a confused clamour as though several people were shouting togetherat the top of their lungs. Mrs Davidson gave a little gasp, and sheclenched her hands more tightly. Dr Macphail looked uncertainly from herto his wife. He did not want to go down, but he wondered if theyexpected him to. Then there was something that sounded like a scuffle.The noise now was more distinct. It might be that Davidson was beingthrown out of the room. The door was slammed. There was a moment'ssilence and they heard Davidson come up the stairs again. He went to hisroom."I think I'll go to him," said Mrs Davidson.
She got up and went out.
"If you want me, just call," said Mrs Macphail, and then when the otherwas gone: "I hope he isn't hurt."
"Why couldn't he mind his own business?" said Dr Macphail.
They sat in silence for a minute or two and then they both started, forthe gramophone began to play once more, defiantly, and mocking voicesshouted hoarsely the words of an obscene song.
Next day Mrs Davidson was pale and tired. She complained of headache,and she looked old and wizened. She told Mrs Macphail that themissionary had not slept at all; he had passed the night in a state offrightful agitation and at five had got up and gone out. A glass of beerhad been thrown over him and his clothes were stained and stinking. Buta sombre fire glowed in Mrs Davidson's eyes when she spoke of MissThompson.
"She'll bitterly rue the day when she flouted Mr Davidson," she said."Mr Davidson has a wonderful heart and no one who is in trouble has evergone to him without being comforted, but he has no mercy for sin, andwhen his righteous wrath is excited he's terrible."
"Why, what will he do?" asked Mrs Macphail.
"I don't know, but I wouldn't stand in that creature's shoes foranything in the world."
Mrs Macphail shuddered. There was something positively alarming in thetriumphant assurance of the little woman's manner. They were going outtogether that morning, and they went down the stairs side by side. MissThompson's door was open, and they saw her in a bedraggleddressing-gown, cooking something in a chafing-dish.
"Good morning," she called. "Is Mr Davidson better this morning?"
They passed her in silence, with their noses in the air, as if she didnot exist. They flushed, however, when she burst into a shout ofderisive laughter. Mrs Davidson turned on her suddenly.
"Don't you dare to speak to me," she screamed. "If you insult me I shallhave you turned out of here."
"Say, did I ask Mr Davidson to visit with me?"
"Don't answer her," whispered Mrs Macphail hurriedly.
They walked on till they were out of earshot.
"She's brazen, brazen," burst from Mrs Davidson.
Her anger almost suffocated her.
And on their way home they met her strolling towards the quay. She hadall her finery on. Her great white hat with its vulgar, showy flowerswas an affront. She called out cheerily to them as she went by, and acouple of American sailors who were standing there grinned as the ladiesset their faces to an icy stare. They got in just before the rain beganto fall again.
"I guess she'll get her fine clothes spoilt," said Mrs Davidson with abitter sneer.
Davidson did not come in till they were half way through dinner. He waswet through, but he would not change. He sat, morose and silent,refusing to eat more than a mouthful, and he stared at the slantingrain. When Mrs Davidson told him of their two encounters with MissThompson he did not answer. His deepening frown alone showed that he hadheard.
"Don't you think we ought to make Mr Horn turn her out of here?" askedMrs Davidson. "We can't allow her to insult us."
"There doesn't seem to be any other place for her to go," said Macphail.
"She can live with one of the natives."
"In weather like this a native hut must be a rather uncomfortable placeto live in."
"I lived in one for years," said the missionary.
When the little native girl brought in the fried bananas which formedthe sweet they had every day, Davidson turned to her.
"Ask Miss Thompson when it would be convenient for me to see her," hesaid.
The girl nodded shyly and went out.
"What do you want to see her for, Alfred?" asked his wife.
"It's my duty to see her. I won't act till I've given her every chance."
"You don't know what she is. She'll insult you."
"Let her insult me. Let her spit on me. She has an immortal soul, and Imust do all that is in my power to save it."
Mrs Davidson's ears rang still with the harlot's mocking laughter.
"She's gone too far."
"Too far for the mercy of God?" His eyes lit up suddenly and his voicegrew mellow and soft. "Never. The sinner may be deeper in sin than thedepth of hell itself, but the love of the Lord Jesus can reach himstill."
The girl came back with the message.
"Miss Thompson's compliments and as long as Rev. Davidson don't come inbusiness hours she'll be glad to see him any time."
The party received it in stony silence, and Dr Macphail quickly effacedfrom his lips the smile which had come upon them. He knew his wife wouldbe vexed with him if he found Miss Thompson's effrontery amusing.
They finished the meal in silence. When it was over the two ladies gotup and took their work, Mrs Macphail was making another of theinnumerable comforters which she had turned out since the beginning ofthe war, and the doctor lit his pipe. But Davidson remained in his chairand with abstracted eyes stared at the table. At last he got up andwithout a word went out of the room. They heard him go down and theyheard Miss Thompson's defiant "Come in" when he knocked at the door. Heremained with her for an hour. And Dr Macphail watched the rain. It wasbeginning to get on his nerves. It was not like our soft English rainthat drops gently on the earth; it was unmerciful and somehow terrible;you felt in it the malignancy of the primitive powers of nature. It didnot pour, it flowed. It was like a deluge from heaven, and it rattled onthe roof of corrugated iron with a steady persistence that wasmaddening. It seemed to have a fury of its own. And sometimes you feltthat you must scream if it did not stop, and then suddenly you feltpowerless, as though your bones had suddenly become soft; and you weremiserable and hopeless.
Macphail turned his head when the missionary came back. The two womenlooked up.
"I've given her every chance. I have exhorted her to repent. She is anevil woman."
He paused, and Dr Macphail saw his eyes darken and his pale face growhard and stern.
"Now I shall take the whips with which the Lord Jesus drove the usurersand the money changers out of the Temple of the Most High."
He walked up and down the room. His mouth was close set, and his blackbrows were frowning.
"If she fled to the uttermost parts of the earth I should pursue her."
With a sudden movement he turned round and strode out of the room. Theyheard him go downstairs again.
"What is he going to do?" asked Mrs Macphail.
"I don't know." Mrs Davidson took off her pince-nez and wiped them."When he is on the Lord's work I never ask him questions."
She sighed a little.
"What is the matter?"
"He'll wear himself out. He doesn't know what it is to spare himself."
Dr Macphail learnt the first results of the missionary's activity fromthe half-caste trader in whose house they lodged. He stopped the doctorwhen he passed the store and came out to speak to him on the stoop. Hisfat face was worried.
"The Rev. Davidson has been at me for letting Miss Thompson have a roomhere," he said, "but I didn't know what she was when I rented it to her.When people come and ask if I can rent them a room all I want to know isif they've the money to pay for it. And she paid me for hers a week inadvance."
Dr Macphail did not want to commit himself.
"When all's said and done it's your house. We're very much obliged toyou for taking us in at all."
Horn looked at him doubtfully. He was not certain yet how definitelyMacphail stood on the missionary's side.
"The missionaries are in with one another," he said, hesitatingly. "Ifthey get it in for a trader he may just as well shut up his store andquit."
"Did he want you to turn her out?"
"No, he said so long as she behaved herself he couldn't ask me to dothat. He said he wanted to be just to me. I promised she shouldn't haveno more visitors. I've just been and told her."
"How did she take it?"
"She gave me Hell."
The trader squirmed in his old ducks. He had found Miss Thompson a roughcustomer.
"Oh, well, I daresay she'll get out. I don't suppose she wants to stayhere if she can't have anyone in."
"There's nowhere she can go, only a native house, and no native'll takeher now, not now that the missionaries have got their knife in her."
Dr Macphail looked at the falling rain.
"Well, I don't suppose it's any good waiting for it to clear up."
In the evening when they sat in the parlour Davidson talked to them ofhis early days at college. He had had no means and had worked his waythrough by doing odd jobs during the vacations. There was silencedownstairs. Miss Thompson was sitting in her little room alone. Butsuddenly the gramophone began to play. She had set it on in defiance, tocheat her loneliness, but there was no one to sing, and it had amelancholy note. It was like a cry for help. Davidson took no notice. Hewas in the middle of a long anecdote and without change of expressionwent on. The gramophone continued. Miss Thompson put on one reel afteranother. It looked as though the silence of the night were getting onher nerves. It was breathless and sultry. When the Macphails went to bedthey could not sleep. They lay side by side with their eyes wide open,listening to the cruel singing of the mosquitoes outside their curtain.
"What's that?" whispered Mrs Macphail at last.
They heard a voice, Davidson's voice, through the wooden partition. Itwent on with a monotonous, earnest insistence. He was praying aloud. Hewas praying for the soul of Miss Thompson.
Two or three days went by. Now when they passed Miss Thompson on theroad she did not greet them with ironic cordiality or smile; she passedwith her nose in the air, a sulky look on her painted face, frowning, asthough she did not see them. The trader told Macphail that she had triedto get lodging elsewhere, but had failed. In the evening she playedthrough the various reels of her gramophone, but the pretence of mirthwas obvious now. The ragtime had a cracked, heart-broken rhythm asthough it were a one-step of despair. When she began to play on SundayDavidson sent Horn to beg her to stop at once since it was the Lord'sday. The reel was taken off and the house was silent except for thesteady pattering of the rain on the iron roof.
"I think she's getting a bit worked up," said the trader next day toMacphail. "She don't know what Mr Davidson's up to and it makes herscared."
Macphail had caught a glimpse of her that morning and it struck him thather arrogant expression had changed. There was in her face a huntedlook. The half-caste gave him a sidelong glance.
"I suppose you don't know what Mr Davidson is doing about it?" hehazarded.
"No, I don't."
It was singular that Horn should ask him that question, for he also hadthe idea that the missionary was mysteriously at work. He had animpression that he was weaving a net around the woman, carefully,systematically, and suddenly, when everything was ready would pull thestrings tight.
"He told me to tell her," said the trader, "that if at any time shewanted him she only had to send and he'd come."
"What did she say when you told her that?"
"She didn't say nothing. I didn't stop. I just said what he said I wasto and then I beat it. I thought she might be going to start weepin'."
"I have no doubt the loneliness is getting on her nerves," said thedoctor. "And the rain--that's enough to make anyone jumpy," he continuedirritably. "Doesn't it ever stop in this confounded place?"
"It goes on pretty steady in the rainy season. We have three hundredinches in the year. You see, it's the shape of the bay. It seems toattract the rain from all over the Pacific."
"Damn the shape of the bay," said the doctor.
He scratched his mosquito bites. He felt very short-tempered. When therain stopped and the sun shone, it was like a hothouse, seething, humid,sultry, breathless, and you had a strange feeling that everything wasgrowing with a savage violence. The natives, blithe and childlike byreputation, seemed then, with their tattooing and their dyed hair, tohave something sinister in their appearance; and when they patteredalong at your heels with their naked feet you looked back instinctively.You felt they might at any moment come behind you swiftly and thrust along knife between your shoulder blades. You could not tell what darkthoughts lurked behind their wide-set eyes. They had a little the lookof ancient Egyptians painted on a temple wall, and there was about themthe terror of what is immeasurably old.
The missionary came and went. He was busy, but the Macphails did notknow what he was doing. Horn told the doctor that he saw the governorevery day, and once Davidson mentioned him.
"He looks as if he had plenty of determination," he said, "but when youcome down to brass tacks he has no backbone."
"I suppose that means he won't do exactly what you want," suggested thedoctor facetiously.
The missionary did not smile.
"I want him to do what's right. It shouldn't be necessary to persuade aman to do that."
"But there may be differences of opinion about what is right."
"If a man had a gangrenous foot would you have patience with anyone whohesitated to amputate it?"
"Gangrene is a matter of fact."
What Davidson had done soon appeared. The four of them had just finishedtheir midday meal, and they had not yet separated for the siesta whichthe heat imposed on the ladies and on the doctor. Davidson had littlepatience with the slothful habit. The door was suddenly flung open andMiss Thompson came in. She looked round the room and then went up toDavidson.
"You low-down skunk, what have you been saying about me to thegovernor?"
She was spluttering with rage. There was a moment's pause. Then themissionary drew forward a chair.
"Won't you be seated, Miss Thompson? I've been hoping to have anothertalk with you."
"You poor low-life bastard."
She burst into a torrent of insult, foul and insolent. Davidson kept hisgrave eyes on her.
"I'm indifferent to the abuse you think fit to heap on me, MissThompson," he said, "but I must beg you to remember that ladies arepresent."
Tears by now were struggling with her anger. Her face was red andswollen as though she were choking.
"What has happened?" asked Dr Macphail.
"A feller's just been in here and he says I gotter beat it on the nextboat."
Was there a gleam in the missionary's eyes? His face remained impassive.
"You could hardly expect the governor to let you stay here under thecircumstances."
"You done it," she shrieked. "You can't kid me. You done it."
"I don't want to deceive you. I urged the governor to take the onlypossible step consistent with his obligations."
"Why couldn't you leave me be? I wasn't doin' you no harm."
"You may be sure that if you had I should be the last man to resent it."
"Do you think I want to stay on in this poor imitation of a burg? Idon't look no busher, do I?"
"In that case I don't see what cause of complaint you have," heanswered.
She gave an inarticulate cry of rage and flung out of the room. Therewas a short silence.
"It's a relief to know that the governor has acted at last," saidDavidson finally. "He's a weak man and he shilly-shallied. He said shewas only here for a fortnight anyway, and if she went on to Apia thatwas under British jurisdiction and had nothing to do with him."
The missionary sprang to his feet and strode across the room.
"It's terrible the way the men who are in authority seek to evade theirresponsibility. They speak as though evil that was out of sight ceasedto be evil. The very existence of that woman is a scandal and it doesnot help matters to shift it to another of the islands. In the end I hadto speak straight from the shoulder."
Davidson's brow lowered, and he protruded his firm chin. He lookedfierce and determined.
"What do you mean by that?"
"Our mission is not entirely without influence at Washington. I pointedout to the governor that it wouldn't do him any good if there was acomplaint about the way he managed things here."
"When has she got to go?" asked the doctor, after a pause.
"The San Francisco boat is due here from Sydney next Tuesday. She's tosail on that."
That was in five days' time. It was next day, when he was coming backfrom the hospital where for want of something better to do Macphailspent most of his mornings, that the half-caste stopped him as he wasgoing upstairs.
"Excuse me, Dr Macphail, Miss Thompson's sick. Will you have a look ather."
Horn led him to her room. She was sitting in a chair idly, neitherreading nor sewing, staring in front of her. She wore her white dressand the large hat with the flowers on it. Macphail noticed that her skinwas yellow and muddy under her powder, and her eyes were heavy.
"I'm sorry to hear you're not well," he said.
"Oh, I ain't sick really. I just said that, because I just had to seeyou. I've got to clear on a boat that's going to 'Frisco."
She looked at him and he saw that her eyes were suddenly startled. Sheopened and clenched her hands spasmodically. The trader stood at thedoor, listening.
"So I understand," said the doctor.
She gave a little gulp.
"I guess it ain't very convenient for me to go to 'Frisco just now. Iwent to see the governor yesterday afternoon, but I couldn't get to him.I saw the secretary, and he told me I'd got to take that boat and thatwas all there was to it. I just had to see the governor, so I waitedoutside his house this morning, and when he come out I spoke to him. Hedidn't want to speak to me, I'll say, but I wouldn't let him shake meoff, and at last he said he hadn't no objection to my staying here tillthe next boat to Sydney if the Rev. Davidson will stand for it."
She stopped and looked at Dr Macphail anxiously.
"I don't know exactly what I can do," he said.
"Well, I thought maybe you wouldn't mind asking him. I swear to God Iwon't start anything here if he'll just only let me stay. I won't go outof the house if that'll suit him. It's no more'n a fortnight."
"I'll ask him."
"He won't stand for it," said Horn. "He'll have you out on Tuesday, soyou may as well make up your mind to it."
"Tell him I can get work in Sydney, straight stuff, I mean. 'Tain'tasking very much."
"I'll do what I can."
"And come and tell me right away, will you? I can't set down to a thingtill I get the dope one way or the other."
It was not an errand that much pleased the doctor, and,characteristically perhaps, he went about it indirectly. He told hiswife what Miss Thompson had said to him and asked her to speak to MrsDavidson. The missionary's attitude seemed rather arbitrary and it coulddo no harm if the girl were allowed to stay in Pago-Pago anotherfortnight. But he was not prepared for the result of his diplomacy. Themissionary came to him straightway.
"Mrs Davidson tells me that Thompson has been speaking to you."
Dr Macphail, thus directly tackled, had the shy man's resentment atbeing forced out into the open. He felt his temper rising, and heflushed.
"I don't see that it can make any difference if she goes to Sydneyrather than to San Francisco, and so long as she promises to behavewhile she's here it's dashed hard to persecute her."
The missionary fixed him with his stern eyes.
"Why is she unwilling to go back to San Francisco?"
"I didn't enquire," answered the doctor with some asperity. "And I thinkone does better to mind one's own business."
Perhaps it was not a very tactful answer.
"The governor has ordered her to be deported by the first boat thatleaves the island. He's only done his duty and I will not interfere. Herpresence is a peril here."
"I think you're very harsh and tyrannical."
The two ladies looked up at the doctor with some alarm, but they neednot have feared a quarrel, for the missionary smiled gently.
"I'm terribly sorry you should think that of me, Dr Macphail. Believeme, my heart bleeds for that unfortunate woman, but I'm only trying todo my duty."
The doctor made no answer. He looked out of the window sullenly. Foronce it was not raining and across the bay you saw nestling among thetrees the huts of a native village.
"I think I'll take advantage of the rain stopping to go out," he said.
"Please don't bear me malice because I can't accede to your wish," saidDavidson, with a melancholy smile. "I respect you very much, doctor, andI should be sorry if you thought ill of me."
"I have no doubt you have a sufficiently good opinion of yourself tobear mine with equanimity," he retorted.
"That's one on me," chuckled Davidson.
When Dr Macphail, vexed with himself because he had been uncivil to nopurpose, went downstairs, Miss Thompson was waiting for him with herdoor ajar.
"Well," she said, "have you spoken to him?"
"Yes, I'm sorry, he won't do anything," he answered, not looking at herin his embarrassment.
But then he gave her a quick glance, for a sob broke from her. He sawthat her face was white with fear. It gave him a shock of dismay. Andsuddenly he had an idea.
"But don't give up hope yet. I think it's a shame the way they'retreating you and I'm going to see the governor myself."
He nodded. Her face brightened.
"Say, that's real good of you. I'm sure he'll let me stay if you speakfor me. I just won't do a thing I didn't ought all the time I'm here."
Dr Macphail hardly knew why he had made up his mind to appeal to thegovernor. He was perfectly indifferent to Miss Thompson's affairs, butthe missionary had irritated him, and with him temper was a smoulderingthing. He found the governor at home. He was a large, handsome man, asailor, with a grey toothbrush moustache; and he wore a spotless uniformof white drill.
"I've come to see you about a woman who's lodging in the same house aswe are," he said. "Her name's Thompson."
"I guess I've heard nearly enough about her, Dr Macphail," said thegovernor, smiling. "I've given her the order to get out next Tuesday andthat's all I can do."
"I wanted to ask you if you couldn't stretch a point and let her stayhere till the boat comes in from San Francisco so that she can go toSydney. I will guarantee her good behaviour."
The governor continued to smile, but his eyes grew small and serious.
"I'd be very glad to oblige you, Dr Macphail, but I've given the orderand it must stand."
The doctor put the case as reasonably as he could, but now the governorceased to smile at all. He listened sullenly, with averted gaze.Macphail saw that he was making no impression.
"I'm sorry to cause any lady inconvenience, but she'll have to sail onTuesday and that's all there is to it."
"But what difference can it make?"
"Pardon me, doctor, but I don't feel called upon to explain my officialactions except to the proper authorities."
Macphail looked at him shrewdly. He remembered Davidson's hint that hehad used threats, and in the governor's attitude he read a singularembarrassment.
"Davidson's a damned busybody," he said hotly.
"Between ourselves, Dr Macphail, I don't say that I have formed a veryfavourable opinion of Mr Davidson, but I am bound to confess that hewas within his rights in pointing out to me the danger that the presenceof a woman of Miss Thompson's character was to a place like this where anumber of enlisted men are stationed among a native population."
He got up and Dr Macphail was obliged to do so too.
"I must ask you to excuse me. I have an engagement. Please give myrespects to Mrs Macphail."
The doctor left him crest-fallen. He knew that Miss Thompson would bewaiting for him, and unwilling to tell her himself that he had failed,he went into the house by the back door and sneaked up the stairs asthough he had something to hide.
At supper he was silent and ill-at-ease, but the missionary was jovialand animated. Dr Macphail thought his eyes rested on him now and thenwith triumphant good-humour. It struck him suddenly that Davidson knewof his visit to the governor and of its ill success. But how on earthcould he have heard of it? There was something sinister about the powerof that man. After supper he saw Horn on the verandah and, as though tohave a casual word with him, went out.
"She wants to know if you've seen the governor," the trader whispered.
"Yes. He wouldn't do anything. I'm awfully sorry, I can't do anythingmore."
"I knew he wouldn't. They daren't go against the missionaries."
"What are you talking about?" said Davidson affably, coming out to jointhem.
"I was just saying there was no chance of your getting over to Apia forat least another week," said the trader glibly.
He left them, and the two men returned into the parlour. Mr Davidsondevoted one hour after each meal to recreation. Presently a timid knockwas heard at the door.
"Come in," said Mrs Davidson, in her sharp voice.
The door was not opened. She got up and opened it. They saw MissThompson standing at the threshold. But the change in her appearance wasextraordinary. This was no longer the flaunting hussy who had jeered atthem in the road, but a broken, frightened woman. Her hair, as a rule soelaborately arranged, was tumbling untidily over her neck. She worebedroom slippers and a skirt and blouse. They were unfresh andbedraggled. She stood at the door with the tears streaming down her faceand did not dare to enter.
"What do you want?" said Mrs Davidson harshly.
"May I speak to Mr Davidson?" she said in a choking voice.
The missionary rose and went towards her.
"Come right in, Miss Thompson," he said in cordial tones. "What can I dofor you?"
She entered the room.
"Say, I'm sorry for what I said to you the other day an' for--foreverythin' else. I guess I was a bit lit up. I beg pardon."
"Oh, it was nothing. I guess my back's broad enough to bear a few hardwords."
She stepped towards him with a movement that was horribly cringing.
"You've got me beat. I'm all in. You won't make me go back to 'Frisco?"
His genial manner vanished and his voice grew on a sudden hard andstern.
"Why don't you want to go back there?"
She cowered before him.
"I guess my people live there. I don't want them to see me like this.I'll go anywhere else you say."
"Why don't you want to go back to San Francisco?"
"I've told you."
He leaned forward, staring at her, and his great, shining eyes seemed totry to bore into her soul. He gave a sudden gasp.
She screamed, and then she fell at his feet, clasping his legs.
"Don't send me back there. I swear to you before God I'll be a goodwoman. I'll give all this up."
She burst into a torrent of confused supplication and the tears courseddown her painted cheeks. He leaned over her and, lifting her face,forced her to look at him.
"Is that it, the penitentiary?"
"I beat it before they could get me," she gasped. "If the bulls grab meit's three years for mine."
He let go his hold of her and she fell in a heap on the floor, sobbingbitterly. Dr Macphail stood up.
"This alters the whole thing," he said. "You can't make her go back whenyou know this. Give her another chance. She wants to turn over a newleaf."
"I'm going to give her the finest chance she's ever had. If she repentslet her accept her punishment."
She misunderstood the words and looked up. There was a gleam of hope inher heavy eyes.
"You'll let me go?"
"No. You shall sail for San Francisco on Tuesday."
She gave a groan of horror and then burst into low, hoarse shrieks whichsounded hardly human, and she beat her head passionately on the ground.Dr Macphail sprang to her and lifted her up.
"Come on, you mustn't do that. You'd better go to your room and liedown. I'll get you something."
He raised her to her feet and partly dragging her, partly carrying her,got her downstairs. He was furious with Mrs Davidson and with his wifebecause they made no effort to help. The half-caste was standing on thelanding and with his assistance he managed to get her on the bed. Shewas moaning and crying. She was almost insensible. He gave her ahypodermic injection. He was hot and exhausted when he went upstairsagain.
"I've got her to lie down."
The two women and Davidson were in the same positions as when he hadleft them. They could not have moved or spoken since he went.
"I was waiting for you," said Davidson, in a strange, distant voice. "Iwant you all to pray with me for the soul of our erring sister."
He took the Bible off a shelf, and sat down at the table at which theyhad supped. It had not been cleared, and he pushed the tea-pot out ofthe way. In a powerful voice, resonant and deep, he read to them thechapter in which is narrated the meeting of Jesus Christ with the womantaken in adultery.
"Now kneel with me and let us pray for the soul of our dear sister,Sadie Thompson."
He burst into a long, passionate prayer in which he implored God to havemercy on the sinful woman. Mrs Macphail and Mrs Davidson knelt withcovered eyes. The doctor, taken by surprise, awkward and sheepish, knelttoo. The missionary's prayer had a savage eloquence. He wasextraordinarily moved, and as he spoke the tears ran down his cheeks.Outside, the pitiless rain fell, fell steadily, with a fierce malignitythat was all too human.
At last he stopped. He paused for a moment and said:
"We will now repeat the Lord's prayer."
They said it and then; following him, they rose from their knees. MrsDavidson's face was pale and restful. She was comforted and at peace,but the Macphails felt suddenly bashful. They did not know which way tolook.
"I'll just go down and see how she is now," said Dr Macphail.
When he knocked at her door it was opened for him by Horn. Miss Thompsonwas in a rocking-chair, sobbing quietly.
"What are you doing there?" exclaimed Macphail. "I told you to liedown."
"I can't lie down. I want to see Mr Davidson."
"My poor child, what do you think is the good of it? You'll never movehim."
"He said he'd come if I sent for him."
Macphail motioned to the trader.
"Go and fetch him."
He waited with her in silence while the trader went upstairs. Davidsoncame in.
"Excuse me for asking you to come here," she said, looking at himsombrely.
"I was expecting you to send for me. I knew the Lord would answer myprayer."
They stared at one another for a moment and then she looked away. Shekept her eyes averted when she spoke.
"I've been a bad woman. I want to repent."
"Thank God! thank God! He has heard our prayers."
He turned to the two men.
"Leave me alone with her. Tell Mrs Davidson that our prayers have beenanswered."
They went out and closed the door behind them.
"Gee whizz," said the trader.
That night Dr Macphail could not get to sleep till late, and when heheard the missionary come upstairs he looked at his watch. It was twoo'clock. But even then he did not go to bed at once, for through thewooden partition that separated their rooms he heard him praying aloud,till he himself, exhausted, fell asleep.
When he saw him next morning he was surprised at his appearance. He waspaler than ever, tired, but his eyes shone with an inhuman fire. Itlooked as though he were filled with an overwhelming joy.
"I want you to go down presently and see Sadie," he said. "I can't hopethat her body is better, but her soul--her soul is transformed."
The doctor was feeling wan and nervous.
"You were with her very late last night," he said.
"Yes, she couldn't bear to have me leave her."
"You look as pleased as Punch," the doctor said irritably.
Davidson's eyes shone with ecstasy.
"A great mercy has been vouchsafed me. Last night I was privileged tobring a lost soul to the loving arms of Jesus."
Miss Thompson was again in the rocking-chair. The bed had not been made.The room was in disorder. She had not troubled to dress herself, butwore a dirty dressing-gown, and her hair was tied in a sluttish knot.She had given her face a dab with a wet towel, but it was all swollenand creased with crying. She looked a drab.
She raised her eyes dully when the doctor came in. She was cowed andbroken.
"Where's Mr Davidson?" she asked.
"He'll come presently if you want him," answered Macphail acidly. "Icame here to see how you were."
"Oh, I guess I'm O. K. You needn't worry about that."
"Have you had anything to eat?"
"Horn brought me some coffee."
She looked anxiously at the door.
"D'you think he'll come down soon? I feel as if it wasn't so terriblewhen he's with me."
"Are you still going on Tuesday?"
"Yes, he says I've got to go. Please tell him to come right along. Youcan't do me any good. He's the only one as can help me now."
"Very well," said Dr Macphail.
During the next three days the missionary spent almost all his time withSadie Thompson. He joined the others only to have his meals. Dr Macphailnoticed that he hardly ate.
"He's wearing himself out," said Mrs Davidson pitifully. "He'll have abreakdown if he doesn't take care, but he won't spare himself."
She herself was white and pale. She told Mrs Macphail that she had nosleep. When the missionary came upstairs from Miss Thompson he prayedtill he was exhausted, but even then he did not sleep for long. After anhour or two he got up and dressed himself, and went for a tramp alongthe bay. He had strange dreams.
"This morning he told me that he'd been dreaming about the mountains ofNebraska," said Mrs Davidson.
"That's curious," said Dr Macphail.
He remembered seeing them from the windows of the train when he crossedAmerica. They were like huge mole-hills, rounded and smooth, and theyrose from the plain abruptly. Dr Macphail remembered how it struck himthat they were like a woman's breasts.
Davidson's restlessness was intolerable even to himself. But he wasbuoyed up by a wonderful exhilaration. He was tearing out by the rootsthe last vestiges of sin that lurked in the hidden corners of that poorwoman's heart. He read with her and prayed with her.
"It's wonderful," he said to them one day at supper. "It's a truerebirth. Her soul, which was black as night, is now pure and white likethe new-fallen snow. I am humble and afraid. Her remorse for all hersins is beautiful. I am not worthy to touch the hem of her garment."
"Have you the heart to send her back to San Francisco?" said the doctor."Three years in an American prison. I should have thought you might havesaved her from that."
"Ah, but don't you see? It's necessary. Do you think my heart doesn'tbleed for her? I love her as I love my wife and my sister. All the timethat she is in prison I shall suffer all the pain that she suffers."
"Bunkum," cried the doctor impatiently.
"You don't understand because you're blind. She's sinned, and she mustsuffer. I know what she'll endure. She'll be starved and tortured andhumiliated. I want her to accept the punishment of man as a sacrifice toGod. I want her to accept it joyfully. She has an opportunity which isoffered to very few of us. God is very good and very merciful."
Davidson's voice trembled with excitement. He could hardly articulatethe words that tumbled passionately from his lips.
"All day I pray with her and when I leave her I pray again, I pray withall my might and main, so that Jesus may grant her this great mercy. Iwant to put in her heart the passionate desire to be punished so that atthe end, even if I offered to let her go, she would refuse. I want herto feel that the bitter punishment of prison is the thank-offering thatshe places at the feet of our Blessed Lord, who gave his life for her."
The days passed slowly. The whole household, intent on the wretched,tortured woman downstairs, lived in a state of unnatural excitement. Shewas like a victim that was being prepared for the savage rites of abloody idolatry. Her terror numbed her. She could not bear to letDavidson out of her sight; it was only when he was with her that she hadcourage, and she hung upon him with a slavish dependence. She cried agreat deal, and she read the Bible, and prayed. Sometimes she wasexhausted and apathetic. Then she did indeed look forward to her ordeal,for it seemed to offer an escape, direct and concrete, from the anguishshe was enduring. She could not bear much longer the vague terrorswhich now assailed her. With her sins she had put aside all personalvanity, and she slopped about her room, unkempt and dishevelled, in hertawdry dressing-gown. She had not taken off her night-dress for fourdays, nor put on stockings. Her room was littered and untidy. Meanwhilethe rain fell with a cruel persistence. You felt that the heavens mustat last be empty of water, but still it poured down, straight and heavy,with a maddening iteration, on the iron roof. Everything was damp andclammy. There was mildew on the walls and on the boots that stood on thefloor. Through the sleepless nights the mosquitoes droned their angrychant."If it would only stop raining for a single day it wouldn't be so bad,"said Dr Macphail.
They all looked forward to the Tuesday when the boat for San Franciscowas to arrive from Sydney. The strain was intolerable. So far as DrMacphail was concerned, his pity and his resentment were alikeextinguished by his desire to be rid of the unfortunate woman. Theinevitable must be accepted. He felt he would breathe more freely whenthe ship had sailed. Sadie Thompson was to be escorted on board by aclerk in the governor's office. This person called on the Monday eveningand told Miss Thompson to be prepared at eleven in the morning. Davidsonwas with her.
"I'll see that everything is ready. I mean to come on board with hermyself."
Miss Thompson did not speak.
When Dr Macphail blew out his candle and crawled cautiously under hismosquito curtains, he gave a sigh of relief.
"Well, thank God that's over. By this time to-morrow she'll be gone."
"Mrs Davidson will be glad too. She says he's wearing himself to ashadow," said Mrs Macphail. "She's a different woman."
"Sadie. I should never have thought it possible. It makes one humble."