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Talbot Mundy's Collected Works eBook by Talbot Mundy Kobo Edition | spawevlainesa.ml
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. Current writers have forgotten that language can be used for its shear beauty as well as to convey meaning. Talbot Mundy is an example of what we have lost. Greater and Lesser Gabriel, Inner and Outer Islands, and The Crown are named on the charts—the remainder are shown as black dots; but each one in reality is a red-and-green-and-yellow jewel set in a purple sea, with dazzling white edges to mark the setting. And in the beginning Bill Hill had been king.
Bill Hill did as he chose in those days, and that was always beastly; but Bagg, aged thirty, stepped out of a man-of-war's boat, in a clean white civilian uniform, and the man-of-war hung about in the offing for fourteen days, to give him moral backing. After that Bagg managed without assistance. Bill Hill—he was called Chief after Bagg came—was the quarter-breed son of a half-breed trader of the bad old days and spoke English fairly well, though he could not sign his name. He lived in a big thatched hut, in a compound with a high palisade round it, at the other end of the island, and cultivated that brand of secretiveness which he thought was privacy.
Bagg's ideas of privacy had been learned at Rugby, where he fagged for a tradesman's son and slept in a dormitory with nineteen other boys.
TROS OF SAMOTHRACE
He had some experience of minor consulates and rather more of famine-relief work in Baroda and Guzerat—that is to say, he had a fund of patience to begin with; but the speed with which he induced Bill Hill to have a house built for him out in the open was surprising. The house was nearly all veranda, wind-swept from three sides; and Bagg lived on the veranda most of the time, in full view of anyone who cared to look, apparently cultivating no privacy at all.
But nobody ever seemed able to guess what he was thinking about, whereas Bagg guessed Bill Hill's next move in advance nine times out of ten. Luther, who was trying hard to do so, could not guess Bagg's thoughts now, though the snuff-and-butter-colored man was supposed to be more intimate with him than any other person on the islands. Up on the natural parapet facing the sea Bagg was thinking just that same thing—only with the difference that he did not show it. Very early in the game things had settled down into a warfare of sap, pin prick and attrition in which Bagg was the defender and Bill Hill all the other things.
Bagg had grown gray-haired and gray-bearded at the game; but Bill Hill, whose revenues under Bagg's supervision were treble what they had been, was fat and had grown ambitious, even to the point of being carried in a hammock when he took the air. He was in a mood by now to take advantage of an opportunity; and to him—and to Bagg—and to Luther—and to the islanders, who had known the real Bill Hill before Bagg came—the opportunity looked ripe, though, of course, each saw it from a different angle.
Caves of Terror
Bagg quartered the sea again and the horizon with his old-fashioned glass, balancing himself against a gaining wind that stirred the shore—line palms already to a crazy dance. His white drill suit, of the fashion of twenty years ago—for he sends his worn-out suits to Calcutta to be copied—was clean and well pressed; but perhaps his trimmed beard and his finger nails were the best surface indications that he had kept his ideals bright all these years. There are few men who can do that in the islands.
A very ugly, dark-copper-colored native, in a white trade suit of much later pattern than Bagg's, approached him at a dog run along the track Bagg's feet had made on his daily morning walk. But Bagg did not turn his head; he looked down, on his left, at the whaleboat beached on the sand of a tiny cove, and again seaward, where the waves raced, white-topped, between him and Lesser Gabriel, two miles away, and the sea birds beat up against the wind in hundreds.
Nobody molests the sea birds, because somebody has told the natives that they are loving thoughts, which will turn into devils if they are killed. Luther has tried hard to undermine the superstition and has even asked Bagg's help; and in the evenings, when the low stars swing almost within reach, Bagg has let the more inquisitive natives sit on his steps and talk to him.
But they never come when Luther is there, and they are a shy, uncommunicative people. The superstition remains, and Luther cannot tell why, any more than he can guess why Bagg should think so much of sea birds. And Bagg does not care to explain that they remind him of springtime at home.
Steamer not comin' datway. Steamer comin' always by North End, sah. Breakfus' now, master—breakfus,' him ready long time! They'd be swamped in the narrows, without a helmsman!
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I'll go to breakfast. But a man is entitled to his own opinion; and at least Bagg has not drowned himself nor anybody else, though from the whaleboat he has explored every nook and cranny of the islands and knows them as some men know other people's business. Bagg jumped from the parapet and started for his bungalow at a pace that made the native shuffle to keep up, hurrying by without looking up at the flag, which snapped and rippled from its pole on a high mound between the bungalow and the sea.
The native, who perhaps was half his age, looked older the moment they were in action, in spite of Bagg's pointed gray beard. Bagg continued up the steps and took his place before a table that was white with washed linen and fragrant with coffee, grown as well as ground close by. He ate and slept and wrote his letters all on the veranda. The native hurried to obey, while Bagg poured coffee for himself with the manners of a town-bred man. He sat straight at table. There was no hint about him of the man who has even dealt with beach combers.
In a minute Luther came up the steps, spectacled and nervous, his thin legs seeming yet thinner in red-check cotton trousers. A black cotton shirt under his white jacket was the only attempt at clerical attire, except the sun hat; he removed a huge white topee as he came. Bagg helped himself to fish that would have made an epicure's mouth water; but in the islands one is either hungry or one is not. Luther drew a chair back from the table and a little on one side, and sat on the front edge of it, as though the back part were on fire.
He is never quite sure of himself in Bagg's presence. It had been Bagg who wrote to the missionary society for him, and guaranteed him enough to live on; Bagg had ordered the little schoolhouse built, and Bagg had appointed him secretary to the Legislative Council.
Yet he admits, even to the natives, that he does not understand Bagg. For instance, in the matter of geography: Bagg ordered him, when he first came, to teach it to the natives. So, after he had given them their lesson in religion he would tell them about Gabriel Mendoza, the Portuguese, who discovered the islands and gave his name to them.
Surely Bagg approved of that, because the information was in the textbook Bagg provided. Yet the natives insist that when God made the world He left one place in the ocean incomplete, and ordered the Archangel Gabriel to try a hand. So Gabriel, who had sighed for just such an opportunity, wrought his very craftsmanliest; but, being lesser than the Master Craftsman, he pinched the finished jewels a mite too hard when he came to set them in the sea.
Luther is sure that sort of heresy leads straight to hell, and he said so from the first; but Bagg's boat crew took him in the whaleboat and showed him the marks of thumb and forefinger on every one of the islands. Yet, before he began to teach, Luther and Bagg were the only two people thereabout who knew anything concerning either God or Gabriel. Legends have strange ways of springing up. Once, at breakfast, as it might have been now, Luther asked Bagg to help root out the superstition; but Bagg smiled at him.
Be gentle with 'em. There hasn't been a head-hunt since either of us came here—now has there?
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Besides," he added, "why is that rock called the Thumbmark on the chart if the story isn't true? It was all very disconcerting; so that, though Bagg was invariably kind to him and treated him to many confidences, he never felt at ease on Bagg's veranda. He is not always sure that he is not being laughed at.
I am sorry to say, sir, it is a meeting of the Legislative Council. I replied, of course, that hitherto I have always called meetings at your direction, and not at his. Sir, he abused me frightfully! Sir, he called me names—abominable names that I will not repeat to you! Sir, in the end he told me I am secretary by your orders and my job is to call meetings; so, unless I call a meeting, he will act on his own account, without one! I am sorry, sir, to have such a tale to bring to you; but it is the truth.