Moon and Sixpence, by Somerset Maugham
Part 4 out of 5
at the thought of the vast number of bad pictures he would
paint before he died.
Next day I saw him off for Amsterdam.
For the next month, occupied with my own affairs, I saw no one
connected with this lamentable business, and my mind ceased to
be occupied with it. But one day, when I was walking along,
bent on some errand, I passed Charles Strickland. The sight
of him brought back to me all the horror which I was not
unwilling to forget, and I felt in me a sudden repulsion for
the cause of it. Nodding, for it would have been childish to
cut him, I walked on quickly; but in a minute I felt a hand on
"You're in a great hurry," he said cordially.
It was characteristic of him to display geniality with anyone
who showed a disinclination to meet him, and the coolness of
my greeting can have left him in little doubt of that.
"I am," I answered briefly.
"I'll walk along with you," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"For the pleasure of your society."
I did not answer, and he walked by my side silently.
We continued thus for perhaps a quarter of a mile. I began to
feel a little ridiculous. At last we passed a stationer's,
and it occurred to me that I might as well buy some paper.
It would be an excuse to be rid of him.
"I'm going in here," I said. "Good-bye."
"I'll wait for you."
I shrugged my shoulders, and went into the shop. I reflected
that French paper was bad, and that, foiled of my purpose,
I need not burden myself with a purchase that I did not need.
I asked for something I knew could not be provided, and in a
minute came out into the street.
"Did you get what you wanted?" he asked.
We walked on in silence, and then came to a place where
several streets met. I stopped at the curb.
"Which way do you go?" I enquired.
"Your way," he smiled.
"I'm going home."
"I'll come along with you and smoke a pipe."
"You might wait for an invitation," I retorted frigidly.
"I would if I thought there was any chance of getting one."
"Do you see that wall in front of you?" I said, pointing.
"In that case I should have thought you could see also that I
don't want your company."
"I vaguely suspected it, I confess."
I could not help a chuckle. It is one of the defects of my
character that I cannot altogether dislike anyone who makes me laugh.
But I pulled myself together.
"I think you're detestable. You're the most loathsome beast
that it's ever been my misfortune to meet. Why do you seek
the society of someone who hates and despises you?"
"My dear fellow, what the hell do you suppose I care what you
think of me?"
"Damn it all," I said, more violently because I had an inkling
my motive was none too creditable, "I don't want to know you."
"Are you afraid I shall corrupt you?"
His tone made me feel not a little ridiculous. I knew that he
was looking at me sideways, with a sardonic smile.
"I suppose you are hard up," I remarked insolently.
"I should be a damned fool if I thought I had any chance of
borrowing money from you."
"You've come down in the world if you can bring yourself to flatter."
"You'll never really dislike me so long as I give you the
opportunity to get off a good thing now and then."
I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from laughing. What he
said had a hateful truth in it, and another defect of my
character is that I enjoy the company of those, however
depraved, who can give me a Roland for my Oliver. I began to
feel that my abhorrence for Strickland could only be sustained
by an effort on my part. I recognised my moral weakness, but
saw that my disapprobation had in it already something of a pose;
and I knew that if I felt it, his own keen instinct had
discovered it, too. He was certainly laughing at me up his sleeve.
I left him the last word, and sought refuge in a shrug of the
shoulders and taciturnity.
We arrived at the house in which I lived. I would not ask him
to come in with me, but walked up the stairs without a word.
He followed me, and entered the apartment on my heels. He had
not been in it before, but he never gave a glance at the room
I had been at pains to make pleasing to the eye. There was a
tin of tobacco on the table, and, taking out his pipe, he
filled it. He sat down on the only chair that had no arms and
tilted himself on the back legs.
"If you're going to make yourself at home, why don't you sit
in an arm-chair?" I asked irritably.
"Why are you concerned about my comfort?"
"I'm not," I retorted, "but only about my own. It makes me
uncomfortable to see someone sit on an uncomfortable chair."
He chuckled, but did not move. He smoked on in silence,
taking no further notice of me, and apparently was absorbed in
thought. I wondered why he had come.
Until long habit has blunted the sensibility, there is
something disconcerting to the writer in the instinct which
causes him to take an interest in the singularities of human
nature so absorbing that his moral sense is powerless against it.
He recognises in himself an artistic satisfaction in the
contemplation of evil which a little startles him;
but sincerity forces him to confess that the disapproval he feels
for certain actions is not nearly so strong as his curiosity
in their reasons. The character of a scoundrel, logical and
complete, has a fascination for his creator which is an
outrage to law and order. I expect that Shakespeare devised
Iago with a gusto which he never knew when, weaving moonbeams
with his fancy, he imagined Desdemona. It may be that in his
rogues the writer gratifies instincts deep-rooted in him, which
the manners and customs of a civilised world have forced back
to the mysterious recesses of the subconscious. In giving to
the character of his invention flesh and bones he is giving
life to that part of himself which finds no other means of
expression. His satisfaction is a sense of liberation.
The writer is more concerned to know than to judge.
There was in my soul a perfectly genuine horror of Strickland,
and side by side with it a cold curiosity to discover his motives.
I was puzzled by him, and I was eager to see how he
regarded the tragedy he had caused in the lives of people who
had used him with so much kindness. I applied the scalpel
"Stroeve told me that picture you painted of his wife was the
best thing you've ever done."
Strickland took his pipe out of his mouth, and a smile lit up
"It was great fun to do."
"Why did you give it him?"
"I'd finished it. It wasn't any good to me."
"Do you know that Stroeve nearly destroyed it?"
"It wasn't altogether satisfactory."
He was quiet for a moment or two, then he took his pipe out of
his mouth again, and chuckled.
"Do you know that the little man came to see me?"
"Weren't you rather touched by what he had to say?"
"No; I thought it damned silly and sentimental."
"I suppose it escaped your memory that you'd ruined his life?"
He rubbed his bearded chin reflectively.
"He's a very bad painter."
"But a very good man."
"And an excellent cook," Strickland added derisively.
His callousness was inhuman, and in my indignation I was not
inclined to mince my words.
"As a mere matter of curiosity I wish you'd tell me, have you
felt the smallest twinge of remorse for Blanche Stroeve's death?"
I watched his face for some change of expression, but it
"Why should I?" he asked.
"Let me put the facts before you. You were dying, and Dirk
Stroeve took you into his own house. He nursed you like a mother.
He sacrificed his time and his comfort and his money for you.
He snatched you from the jaws of death."
Strickland shrugged his shoulders.
"The absurd little man enjoys doing things for other people.
That's his life."
"Granting that you owed him no gratitude, were you obliged to
go out of your way to take his wife from him? Until you came
on the scene they were happy. Why couldn't you leave them alone?"
"What makes you think they were happy?"
"It was evident."
"You are a discerning fellow. Do you think she could ever
have forgiven him for what he did for her?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Don't you know why he married her?"
I shook my head.
"She was a governess in the family of some Roman prince, and
the son of the house seduced her. She thought he was going to
marry her. They turned her out into the street neck and crop.
She was going to have a baby, and she tried to commit suicide.
Stroeve found her and married her."
"It was just like him. I never knew anyone with so
compassionate a heart."
I had often wondered why that ill-assorted pair had married,
but just that explanation had never occurred to me. That was
perhaps the cause of the peculiar quality of Dirk's love for
his wife. I had noticed in it something more than passion.
I remembered also how I had always fancied that her reserve
concealed I knew not what; but now I saw in it more than the
desire to hide a shameful secret. Her tranquillity was like
the sullen calm that broods over an island which has been
swept by a hurricane. Her cheerfulness was the cheerfulness
of despair. Strickland interrupted my reflections with an
observation the profound cynicism of which startled me.
"A woman can forgive a man for the harm he does her," he said,
"but she can never forgive him for the sacrifices he makes on
"It must be reassuring to you to know that you certainly run
no risk of incurring the resentment of the women you come in
contact with," I retorted.
A slight smile broke on his lips.
"You are always prepared to sacrifice your principles for a
repartee," he answered.
"What happened to the child?"
"Oh, it was still-born, three or four months after they were married."
Then I came to the question which had seemed to me most puzzling.
"Will you tell me why you bothered about Blanche Stroeve at all?"
He did not answer for so long that I nearly repeated it.
"How do I know?" he said at last. "She couldn't bear the
sight of me. It amused me."
He gave a sudden flash of anger.
"Damn it all, I wanted her."
But he recovered his temper immediately, and looked at me with
"At first she was horrified."
"Did you tell her?"
"There wasn't any need. She knew. I never said a word.
She was frightened. At last I took her."
I do not know what there was in the way he told me this that
extraordinarily suggested the violence of his desire. It was
disconcerting and rather horrible. His life was strangely
divorced from material things, and it was as though his body
at times wreaked a fearful revenge on his spirit. The satyr
in him suddenly took possession, and he was powerless in the
grip of an instinct which had all the strength of the
primitive forces of nature. It was an obsession so complete
that there was no room in his soul for prudence or gratitude.
"But why did you want to take her away with you?" I asked.
"I didn't," he answered, frowning. "When she said she was
coming I was nearly as surprised as Stroeve. I told her that
when I'd had enough of her she'd have to go, and she said
she'd risk that." He paused a little. "She had a wonderful
body, and I wanted to paint a nude. When I'd finished my
picture I took no more interest in her."
"And she loved you with all her heart."
He sprang to his feet and walked up and down the small room.
"I don't want love. I haven't time for it. It's weakness.
I am a man, and sometimes I want a woman. When I've satisfied
my passion I'm ready for other things. I can't overcome my
desire, but I hate it; it imprisons my spirit; I look forward
to the time when I shall be free from all desire and can give
myself without hindrance to my work. Because women can do
nothing except love, they've given it a ridiculous importance.
They want to persuade us that it's the whole of life. It's an
insignificant part. I know lust. That's normal and healthy.
Love is a disease. Women are the instruments of my pleasure;
I have no patience with their claim to be helpmates, partners,
I had never heard Strickland speak so much at one time.
He spoke with a passion of indignation. But neither here nor
elsewhere do I pretend to give his exact words; his vocabulary
was small, and he had no gift for framing sentences, so that
one had to piece his meaning together out of interjections,
the expression of his face, gestures and hackneyed phrases.
"You should have lived at a time when women were chattels and
men the masters of slaves," I said.
"It just happens that I am a completely normal man."
I could not help laughing at this remark, made in all seriousness;
but he went on, walking up and down the room like
a caged beast, intent on expressing what he felt, but found
such difficulty in putting coherently.
"When a woman loves you she's not satisfied until she
possesses your soul. Because she's weak, she has a rage for
domination, and nothing less will satisfy her. She has a
small mind, and she resents the abstract which she is unable
to grasp. She is occupied with material things, and she is
jealous of the ideal. The soul of man wanders through the
uttermost regions of the universe, and she seeks to imprison
it in the circle of her account-book. Do you remember my wife?
I saw Blanche little by little trying all her tricks.
With infinite patience she prepared to snare me and bind me.
She wanted to bring me down to her level; she cared nothing
for me, she only wanted me to be hers. She was willing to do
everything in the world for me except the one thing I wanted:
to leave me alone."
I was silent for a while.
"What did you expect her to do when you left her?"
"She could have gone back to Stroeve," he said irritably.
"He was ready to take her."
"You're inhuman," I answered. "It's as useless to talk to you
about these things as to describe colours to a man who was
He stopped in front of my chair, and stood looking down at me
with an expression in which I read a contemptuous amazement.
"Do you really care a twopenny damn if Blanche Stroeve is
alive or dead?"
I thought over his question, for I wanted to answer it
truthfully, at all events to my soul.
"It may be a lack of sympathy in myself if it does not make
any great difference to me that she is dead. Life had a great
deal to offer her. I think it's terrible that she should have
been deprived of it in that cruel way, and I am ashamed
because I do not really care."
"You have not the courage of your convictions. Life has no
value. Blanche Stroeve didn't commit suicide because I left
her, but because she was a foolish and unbalanced woman.
But we've talked about her quite enough; she was an entirely
unimportant person. Come, and I'll show you my pictures."
He spoke as though I were a child that needed to be
distracted. I was sore, but not with him so much as with myself.
I thought of the happy life that pair had led in the
cosy studio in Montmartre, Stroeve and his wife, their
simplicity, kindness, and hospitality; it seemed to me cruel
that it should have been broken to pieces by a ruthless
chance; but the cruellest thing of all was that in fact it
made no great difference. The world went on, and no one was a
penny the worse for all that wretchedness. I had an idea that
Dirk, a man of greater emotional reactions than depth of
feeling, would soon forget; and Blanche's life, begun with who
knows what bright hopes and what dreams, might just as well
have never been lived. It all seemed useless and inane.
Strickland had found his hat, and stood looking at me.
"Are you coming?"
"Why do you seek my acquaintance?" I asked him. "You know
that I hate and despise you."
He chuckled good-humouredly.
"Your only quarrel with me really is that I don't care a
twopenny damn what you think about me."
I felt my cheeks grow red with sudden anger. It was
impossible to make him understand that one might be outraged
by his callous selfishness. I longed to pierce his armour of
complete indifference. I knew also that in the end there was
truth in what he said. Unconsciously, perhaps, we treasure
the power we have over people by their regard for our opinion
of them, and we hate those upon whom we have no such
influence. I suppose it is the bitterest wound to human
pride. But I would not let him see that I was put out.
"Is it possible for any man to disregard others entirely?"
I said, though more to myself than to him. "You're dependent on
others for everything in existence. It's a preposterous
attempt to try to live only for yourself and by yourself.
Sooner or later you'll be ill and tired and old, and then
you'll crawl back into the herd. Won't you be ashamed when
you feel in your heart the desire for comfort and sympathy?
You're trying an impossible thing. Sooner or later the human
being in you will yearn for the common bonds of humanity."
"Come and look at my pictures."
"Have you ever thought of death?"
"Why should I? It doesn't matter."
I stared at him. He stood before me, motionless, with a
mocking smile in his eyes; but for all that, for a moment I
had an inkling of a fiery, tortured spirit, aiming at
something greater than could be conceived by anything that was
bound up with the flesh. I had a fleeting glimpse of a
pursuit of the ineffable. I looked at the man before me in
his shabby clothes, with his great nose and shining eyes, his
red beard and untidy hair; and I had a strange sensation that
it was only an envelope, and I was in the presence of a
"Let us go and look at your pictures," I said.
I did not know why Strickland had suddenly offered to show
them to me. I welcomed the opportunity. A man's work reveals him.
In social intercourse he gives you the surface that he
wishes the world to accept, and you can only gain a true
knowledge of him by inferences from little actions, of which
he is unconscious, and from fleeting expressions, which cross
his face unknown to him. Sometimes people carry to such
perfection the mask they have assumed that in due course they
actually become the person they seem. But in his book or his
picture the real man delivers himself defenceless.
His pretentiousness will only expose his vacuity. The lathe
painted to look like iron is seen to be but a lathe.
No affectation of peculiarity can conceal a commonplace mind.
To the acute observer no one can produce the most casual work
without disclosing the innermost secrets of his soul.
As I walked up the endless stairs of the house in which
Strickland lived, I confess that I was a little excited.
It seemed to me that I was on the threshold of a surprising
adventure. I looked about the room with curiosity. It was
even smaller and more bare than I remembered it. I wondered
what those friends of mine would say who demanded vast
studios, and vowed they could not work unless all the
conditions were to their liking.
"You'd better stand there," he said, pointing to a spot from
which, presumably, he fancied I could see to best advantage
what he had to show me.
"You don't want me to talk, I suppose," I said.
"No, blast you; I want you to hold your tongue."
He placed a picture on the easel, and let me look at it for a
minute or two; then took it down and put another in its place.
I think he showed me about thirty canvases. It was the result
of the six years during which he had been painting. He had
never sold a picture. The canvases were of different sizes.
The smaller were pictures of still-life and the largest were
landscapes. There were about half a dozen portraits.
"That is the lot," he said at last.
I wish I could say that I recognised at once their beauty and
their great originality. Now that I have seen many of them
again and the rest are familiar to me in reproductions, I am
astonished that at first sight I was bitterly disappointed.
I felt nothing of the peculiar thrill which it is the property
of art to give. The impression that Strickland's pictures
gave me was disconcerting; and the fact remains, always to
reproach me, that I never even thought of buying any.
I missed a wonderful chance. Most of them have found their way
into museums, and the rest are the treasured possessions of
wealthy amateurs. I try to find excuses for myself. I think
that my taste is good, but I am conscious that it has no originality.
I know very little about painting, and I wander
along trails that others have blazed for me. At that time I
had the greatest admiration for the impressionists. I longed
to possess a Sisley and a Degas, and I worshipped Manet.
His seemed to me the greatest picture of modern times,
and moved me profoundly.
These works seemed to me the last word in painting.
I will not describe the pictures that Strickland showed me.
Descriptions of pictures are always dull, and these, besides,
are familiar to all who take an interest in such things. Now
that his influence has so enormously affected modern painting,
now that others have charted the country which he was among
the first to explore, Strickland's pictures, seen for the
first time, would find the mind more prepared for them; but it
must be remembered that I had never seen anything of the sort.
First of all I was taken aback by what seemed to me the
clumsiness of his technique. Accustomed to the drawing of the
old masters, and convinced that Ingres was the greatest
draughtsman of recent times, I thought that Strickland drew
very badly. I knew nothing of the simplification at which he aimed.
I remember a still-life of oranges on a plate, and I
was bothered because the plate was not round and the oranges
were lop-sided. The portraits were a little larger than
life-size, and this gave them an ungainly look. To my eyes the
faces looked like caricatures. They were painted in a way
that was entirely new to me. The landscapes puzzled me even more.
There were two or three pictures of the forest at
Fontainebleau and several of streets in Paris: my first feeling
was that they might have been painted by a drunken cabdriver.
I was perfectly bewildered. The colour seemed to
me extraordinarily crude. It passed through my mind that the
whole thing was a stupendous, incomprehensible farce.
Now that I look back I am more than ever impressed by
Stroeve's acuteness. He saw from the first that here was a
revolution in art, and he recognised in its beginnings the
genius which now all the world allows.
But if I was puzzled and disconcerted, I was not unimpressed.
Even I, in my colossal ignorance, could not but feel that
here, trying to express itself, was real power. I was excited
and interested. I felt that these pictures had something to
say to me that was very important for me to know, but I could
not tell what it was. They seemed to me ugly, but they
suggested without disclosing a secret of momentous
significance. They were strangely tantalising. They gave me
an emotion that I could not analyse. They said something that
words were powerless to utter. I fancy that Strickland saw
vaguely some spiritual meaning in material things that was so
strange that he could only suggest it with halting symbols.
It was as though he found in the chaos of the universe a new
pattern, and were attempting clumsily, with anguish of soul,
to set it down. I saw a tormented spirit striving for the
release of expression.
I turned to him.
"I wonder if you haven't mistaken your medium," I said.
"What the hell do you mean?"
"I think you're trying to say something, I don't quite know
what it is, but I'm not sure that the best way of saying it is
by means of painting."
When I imagined that on seeing his pictures I should get a
clue to the understanding of his strange character I was
mistaken. They merely increased the astonishment with which
he filled me. I was more at sea than ever. The only thing
that seemed clear to me -- and perhaps even this was fanciful
-- was that he was passionately striving for liberation from
some power that held him. But what the power was and what
line the liberation would take remained obscure. Each one of
us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and
can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs
have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain.
We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures
of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them,
and so we go lonely, side by side but not together,
unable to know our fellows and unknown by them. We are like
people living in a country whose language they know so little that,
with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say,
they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual.
Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only
tell you that the umbrella of the gardener's aunt is in the house.
The final impression I received was of a prodigious effort to
express some state of the soul, and in this effort, I fancied,
must be sought the explanation of what so utterly perplexed me.
It was evident that colours and forms had a significance
for Strickland that was peculiar to himself. He was under an
intolerable necessity to convey something that he felt, and he
created them with that intention alone. He did not hesitate
to simplify or to distort if he could get nearer to that
unknown thing he sought. Facts were nothing to him, for
beneath the mass of irrelevant incidents he looked for
something significant to himself. It was as though he had
become aware of the soul of the universe and were compelled to
Though these pictures confused and puzzled me, I could not be
unmoved by the emotion that was patent in them; and, I knew
not why, I felt in myself a feeling that with regard to
Strickland was the last I had ever expected to experience.
I felt an overwhelming compassion.
"I think I know now why you surrendered to your feeling for
Blanche Stroeve," I said to him.
"I think your courage failed. The weakness of your body
communicated itself to your soul. I do not know what infinite
yearning possesses you, so that you are driven to a perilous,
lonely search for some goal where you expect to find a final
release from the spirit that torments you. I see you as the
eternal pilgrim to some shrine that perhaps does not exist.
I do not know to what inscrutable Nirvana you aim. Do you know
yourself? Perhaps it is Truth and Freedom that you seek, and
for a moment you thought that you might find release in Love.
I think your tired soul sought rest in a woman's arms, and
when you found no rest there you hated her. You had no pity
for her, because you have no pity for yourself. And you
killed her out of fear, because you trembled still at the
danger you had barely escaped."
He smiled dryly and pulled his beard.
"You are a dreadful sentimentalist, my poor friend."
A week later I heard by chance that Strickland had gone to
Marseilles. I never saw him again.
Looking back, I realise that what I have written about Charles
Strickland must seem very unsatisfactory. I have given
incidents that came to my knowledge, but they remain obscure
because I do not know the reasons that led to them.
The strangest, Strickland's determination to become a painter,
seems to be arbitrary; and though it must have had causes in
the circumstances of his life, I am ignorant of them.
From his own conversation I was able to glean nothing. If I were
writing a novel, rather than narrating such facts as I know of
a curious personality, I should have invented much to account
for this change of heart. I think I should have shown a
strong vocation in boyhood, crushed by the will of his father
or sacrificed to the necessity of earning a living; I should
have pictured him impatient of the restraints of life; and in
the struggle between his passion for art and the duties of his
station I could have aroused sympathy for him. I should so
have made him a more imposing figure. Perhaps it would have
been possible to see in him a new Prometheus. There was here,
maybe, the opportunity for a modern version of the hero who for
the good of mankind exposes himself to the agonies of the damned.
It is always a moving subject.
On the other hand, I might have found his motives in the
influence of the married relation. There are a dozen ways in
which this might be managed. A latent gift might reveal
itself on acquaintance with the painters and writers whose
society his wife sought; or domestic incompatability might turn
him upon himself; a love affair might fan into bright flame
a fire which I could have shown smouldering dimly in his heart.
I think then I should have drawn Mrs. Strickland quite
differently. I should have abandoned the facts and made her a
nagging, tiresome woman, or else a bigoted one with no
sympathy for the claims of the spirit. I should have made
Strickland's marriage a long torment from which escape was the
only possible issue. I think I should have emphasised his
patience with the unsuitable mate, and the compassion which
made him unwilling to throw off the yoke that oppressed him.
I should certainly have eliminated the children.
An effective story might also have been made by bringing him
into contact with some old painter whom the pressure of want
or the desire for commercial success had made false to the
genius of his youth, and who, seeing in Strickland the
possibilities which himself had wasted, influenced him to
forsake all and follow the divine tyranny of art. I think
there would have been something ironic in the picture of the
successful old man, rich and honoured, living in another the
life which he, though knowing it was the better part, had not
had the strength to pursue.
The facts are much duller. Strickland, a boy fresh from school,
went into a broker's office without any feeling of distaste.
Until he married he led the ordinary life of his fellows,
gambling mildly on the Exchange, interested to the extent
of a sovereign or two on the result of the Derby or the
Oxford and Cambridge Race. I think he boxed a little in his
spare time. On his chimney-piece he had photographs of Mrs.
Langtry and Mary Anderson. He read and the Sporting Times>. He went to dances in Hampstead.
It matters less that for so long I should have lost sight of him.
The years during which he was struggling to acquire
proficiency in a difficult art were monotonous, and I do not
know that there was anything significant in the shifts to
which he was put to earn enough money to keep him. An account
of them would be an account of the things he had seen happen
to other people. I do not think they had any effect on his
own character. He must have acquired experiences which would
form abundant material for a picaresque novel of modern Paris,
but he remained aloof, and judging from his conversation there
was nothing in those years that had made a particular
impression on him. Perhaps when he went to Paris he was too
old to fall a victim to the glamour of his environment.
Strange as it may seem, he always appeared to me not only
practical, but immensely matter-of-fact. I suppose his life
during this period was romantic, but he certainly saw no
romance in it. It may be that in order to realise the romance
of life you must have something of the actor in you; and,
capable of standing outside yourself, you must be able to
watch your actions with an interest at once detached and
absorbed. But no one was more single-minded than Strickland.
I never knew anyone who was less self-conscious. But it is
unfortunate that I can give no description of the arduous
steps by which he reached such mastery over his art as he ever
acquired; for if I could show him undaunted by failure, by an
unceasing effort of courage holding despair at bay, doggedly
persistent in the face of self-doubt, which is the artist's
bitterest enemy, I might excite some sympathy for a
personality which, I am all too conscious, must appear
singularly devoid of charm. But I have nothing to go on.
I never once saw Strickland at work, nor do I know that anyone
else did. He kept the secret of his struggles to himself.
If in the loneliness of his studio he wrestled desperately with
the Angel of the Lord he never allowed a soul to divine his
When I come to his connection with Blanche Stroeve I am
exasperated by the fragmentariness of the facts at my disposal.
To give my story coherence I should describe the
progress of their tragic union, but I know nothing of the
three months during which they lived together. I do not know
how they got on or what they talked about. After all, there
are twenty-four hours in the day, and the summits of emotion
can only be reached at rare intervals. I can only imagine how
they passed the rest of the time. While the light lasted and
so long as Blanche's strength endured, I suppose that
Strickland painted, and it must have irritated her when she
saw him absorbed in his work. As a mistress she did not then
exist for him, but only as a model; and then there were long
hours in which they lived side by side in silence. It must
have frightened her. When Strickland suggested that in her
surrender to him there was a sense of triumph over Dirk Stroeve,
because he had come to her help in her extremity, he opened
the door to many a dark conjecture. I hope it was not true.
It seems to me rather horrible. But who can fathom the
subtleties of the human heart? Certainly not those who expect
from it only decorous sentiments and normal emotions.
When Blanche saw that, notwithstanding his moments of passion,
Strickland remained aloof, she must have been filled with
dismay, and even in those moments I surmise that she realised
that to him she was not an individual, but an instrument of
pleasure; he was a stranger still, and she tried to bind him
to herself with pathetic arts. She strove to ensnare him with
comfort and would not see that comfort meant nothing to him.
She was at pains to get him the things to eat that he liked,
and would not see that he was indifferent to food. She was
afraid to leave him alone. She pursued him with attentions,
and when his passion was dormant sought to excite it, for then
at least she had the illusion of holding him. Perhaps she
knew with her intelligence that the chains she forged only
aroused his instinct of destruction, as the plate-glass window
makes your fingers itch for half a brick; but her heart,
incapable of reason, made her continue on a course she knew
was fatal. She must have been very unhappy. But the
blindness of love led her to believe what she wanted to be
true, and her love was so great that it seemed impossible to
her that it should not in return awake an equal love.
But my study of Strickland's character suffers from a greater
defect than my ignorance of many facts. Because they were
obvious and striking, I have written of his relations to
women; and yet they were but an insignificant part of his life.
It is an irony that they should so tragically have
affected others. His real life consisted of dreams and of
tremendously hard work.
Here lies the unreality of fiction. For in men, as a rule,
love is but an episode which takes its place among the other
affairs of the day, and the emphasis laid on it in novels
gives it an importance which is untrue to life. There are few
men to whom it is the most important thing in the world, and
they are not very interesting ones; even women, with whom the
subject is of paramount interest, have a contempt for them.
They are flattered and excited by them, but have an uneasy
feeling that they are poor creatures. But even during the
brief intervals in which they are in love, men do other things
which distract their mind; the trades by which they earn their
living engage their attention; they are absorbed in sport;
they can interest themselves in art. For the most part, they
keep their various activities in various compartments, and
they can pursue one to the temporary exclusion of the other.
They have a faculty of concentration on that which occupies
them at the moment, and it irks them if one encroaches on the
other. As lovers, the difference between men and women is
that women can love all day long, but men only at times.
With Strickland the sexual appetite took a very small place.
It was unimportant. It was irksome. His soul aimed elsewhither.
He had violent passions, and on occasion desire seized
his body so that he was driven to an orgy of lust, but
he hated the instincts that robbed him of his self-possession.
I think, even, he hated the inevitable partner in his debauchery.
When he had regained command over himself, he
shuddered at the sight of the woman he had enjoyed.
His thoughts floated then serenely in the empyrean, and he felt
towards her the horror that perhaps the painted butterfly,
hovering about the flowers, feels to the filthy chrysalis from
which it has triumphantly emerged. I suppose that art is a
manifestation of the sexual instinct. It is the same emotion
which is excited in the human heart by the sight of a lovely
woman, the Bay of Naples under the yellow moon, and the
of Titian. It is possible that Strickland hated
the normal release of sex because it seemed to him brutal by
comparison with the satisfaction of artistic creation.
It seems strange even to myself, when I have described a man who
was cruel, selfish, brutal and sensual, to say that he was a
great idealist. The fact remains.
He lived more poorly than an artisan. He worked harder.
He cared nothing for those things which with most people make
life gracious and beautiful. He was indifferent to money.
He cared nothing about fame. You cannot praise him because he
resisted the temptation to make any of those compromises with
the world which most of us yield to. He had no such temptation.
It never entered his head that compromise was possible.
He lived in Paris more lonely than an anchorite in the
deserts of Thebes. He asked nothing his fellows except
that they should leave him alone. He was single-hearted in
his aim, and to pursue it he was willing to sacrifice not only
himself -- many can do that -- but others. He had a vision.
Strickland was an odious man, but I still think be was a great one.
A certain importance attaches to the views on art of painters,
and this is the natural place for me to set down what I know
of Strickland's opinions of the great artists of the past.
I am afraid I have very little worth noting. Strickland was not
a conversationalist, and he had no gift for putting what he
had to say in the striking phrase that the listener remembers.
He had no wit. His humour, as will be seen if I have in any
way succeeded in reproducing the manner of his conversation,
was sardonic. His repartee was rude. He made one laugh
sometimes by speaking the truth, but this is a form of humour
which gains its force only by its unusualness; it would cease
to amuse if it were commonly practised.
Strickland was not, I should say, a man of great intelligence,
and his views on painting were by no means out of the ordinary.
I never heard him speak of those whose work had a certain
analogy with his own -- of Cezanne, for instance, or of Van Gogh;
and I doubt very much if he had ever seen their pictures.
He was not greatly interested in the Impressionists.
Their technique impressed him, but I fancy that
he thought their attitude commonplace. When Stroeve was
holding forth at length on the excellence of Monet, he said:
"I prefer Winterhalter." But I dare say he said it to annoy,
and if he did he certainly succeeded.
I am disappointed that I cannot report any extravagances in
his opinions on the old masters. There is so much in his
character which is strange that I feel it would complete the
picture if his views were outrageous. I feel the need to
ascribe to him fantastic theories about his predecessors, and
it is with a certain sense of disillusion that I confess he
thought about them pretty much as does everybody else.
I do not believe he knew El Greco. He had a great but somewhat
impatient admiration for Velasquez. Chardin delighted him,
and Rembrandt moved him to ecstasy. He described the
impression that Rembrandt made on him with a coarseness I
cannot repeat. The only painter that interested him who was
at all unexpected was Brueghel the Elder. I knew very little
about him at that time, and Strickland had no power to explain
himself. I remember what he said about him because it was so
"He's all right," said Strickland. "I bet he found it hell to paint."
When later, in Vienna, I saw several of Peter Brueghel's
pictures, I thought I understood why he had attracted
Strickland's attention. Here, too, was a man with a vision of
the world peculiar to himself. I made somewhat copious notes
at the time, intending to write something about him, but I
have lost them, and have now only the recollection of an emotion.
He seemed to see his fellow-creatures grotesquely,
and he was angry with them because they were grotesque;
life was a confusion of ridiculous, sordid happenings, a fit
subject for laughter, and yet it made him sorrowful to laugh.
Brueghel gave me the impression of a man striving to express
in one medium feelings more appropriate to expression in another,
and it may be that it was the obscure consciousness of this
that excited Strickland's sympathy. Perhaps both were trying
to put down in paint ideas which were more suitable to literature.
Strickland at this time must have been nearly forty-seven.
I have said already that but for the hazard of a journey to
Tahiti I should doubtless never have written this book. It is
thither that after many wanderings Charles Strickland came,
and it is there that he painted the pictures on which his fame
most securely rests. I suppose no artist achieves completely
the realisation of the dream that obsesses him, and Strickland,
harassed incessantly by his struggle with technique,
managed, perhaps, less than others to express the vision
that he saw with his mind's eye; but in Tahiti the
circumstances were favourable to him; he found in his
surroundings the accidents necessary for his inspiration to
become effective, and his later pictures give at least a
suggestion of what he sought. They offer the imagination
something new and strange. It is as though in this far
country his spirit, that had wandered disembodied, seeking a
tenement, at last was able to clothe itself in flesh. To use
the hackneyed phrase, here he found himself.
It would seem that my visit to this remote island should
immediately revive my interest in Strickland, but the work I
was engaged in occupied my attention to the exclusion of
something that was irrelevant, and it was not till I had been
there some days that I even remembered his connection with it.
After all, I had not seen him for fifteen years, and it was
nine since he died. But I think my arrival at Tahiti would
have driven out of my head matters of much more immediate
importance to me, and even after a week I found it not easy to
order myself soberly. I remember that on my first morning I
awoke early, and when I came on to the terrace of the hotel no
one was stirring. I wandered round to the kitchen, but it was
locked, and on a bench outside it a native boy was sleeping.
There seemed no chance of breakfast for some time, so I
sauntered down to the water-front. The Chinamen were already
busy in their shops. The sky had still the pallor of dawn,
and there was a ghostly silence on the lagoon. Ten miles away
the island of Murea, like some high fastness of the Holy
Grail, guarded its mystery.
I did not altogether believe my eyes. The days that had
passed since I left Wellington seemed extraordinary and
unusual. Wellington is trim and neat and English; it reminds
you of a seaport town on the South Coast. And for three days
afterwards the sea was stormy. Gray clouds chased one another
across the sky. Then the wind dropped, and the sea was calm
and blue. The Pacific is more desolate than other seas; its
spaces seem more vast, and the most ordinary journey upon it
has somehow the feeling of an adventure. The air you breathe
is an elixir which prepares you for the unexpected. Nor is it
vouchsafed to man in the flesh to know aught that more nearly
suggests the approach to the golden realms of fancy than the
approach to Tahiti. Murea, the sister isle, comes into view
in rocky splendour, rising from the desert sea mysteriously,
like the unsubstantial fabric of a magic wand. With its
jagged outline it is like a Monseratt of the Pacific, and you
may imagine that there Polynesian knights guard with strange
rites mysteries unholy for men to know. The beauty of the
island is unveiled as diminishing distance shows you in
distincter shape its lovely peaks, but it keeps its secret as
you sail by, and, darkly inviolable, seems to fold itself
together in a stony, inaccessible grimness. It would not
surprise you if, as you came near seeking for an opening in
the reef, it vanished suddenly from your view, and nothing met
your gaze but the blue loneliness of the Pacific.
Tahiti is a lofty green island, with deep folds of a darker
green, in which you divine silent valleys; there is mystery in
their sombre depths, down which murmur and plash cool streams,
and you feel that in those umbrageous places life from
immemorial times has been led according to immemorial ways.
Even here is something sad and terrible. But the impression
is fleeting, and serves only to give a greater acuteness to
the enjoyment of the moment. It is like the sadness which you
may see in the jester's eyes when a merry company is laughing
at his sallies; his lips smile and his jokes are gayer because in
the communion of laughter he finds himself more intolerably alone.
For Tahiti is smiling and friendly; it is like a
lovely woman graciously prodigal of her charm and beauty;
and nothing can be more conciliatory than the entrance into the
harbour at Papeete. The schooners moored to the quay are trim
and neat, the little town along the bay is white and urbane,
and the flamboyants, scarlet against the blue sky, flaunt
their colour like a cry of passion. They are sensual with an
unashamed violence that leaves you breathless. And the crowd
that throngs the wharf as the steamer draws alongside is gay
and debonair; it is a noisy, cheerful, gesticulating crowd.
It is a sea of brown faces. You have an impression of
coloured movement against the flaming blue of the sky.
Everything is done with a great deal of bustle, the unloading
of the baggage, the examination of the customs; and everyone
seems to smile at you. It is very hot. The colour dazzles you.
HAD not been in Tahiti long before I met Captain Nichols.
He came in one morning when I was having breakfast on the terrace
of the hotel and introduced himself. He had heard that I was
interested in Charles Strickland, and announced that he was
come to have a talk about him. They are as fond of gossip in
Tahiti as in an English village, and one or two enquiries I
had made for pictures by Strickland had been quickly spread.
I asked the stranger if he had breakfasted.
"Yes; I have my coffee early," he answered, "but I don't mind
having a drop of whisky."
I called the Chinese boy.
"You don't think it's too early?" said the Captain.
"You and your liver must decide that between you," I replied.
"I'm practically a teetotaller," he said, as he poured himself
out a good half-tumbler of Canadian Club.
When he smiled he showed broken and discoloured teeth. He was
a very lean man, of no more than average height, with gray
hair cut short and a stubbly gray moustache. He had not
shaved for a couple of days. His face was deeply lined,
burned brown by long exposure to the sun, and he had a pair of
small blue eyes which were astonishingly shifty. They moved
quickly, following my smallest gesture, and they gave him the
look of a very thorough rogue. But at the moment he was all
heartiness and good-fellowship. He was dressed in a
bedraggled suit of khaki, and his hands would have been all
the better for a wash.
"I knew Strickland well," he said, as he leaned back in his
chair and lit the cigar I had offered him. "It's through me
he came out to the islands."
"Where did you meet him?" I asked.
"What were you doing there?"
He gave me an ingratiating smile.
"Well, I guess I was on the beach."
My friend's appearance suggested that he was now in the
same predicament, and I prepared myself to cultivate an
agreeable acquaintance. The society of beach-combers always
repays the small pains you need be at to enjoy it. They are
easy of approach and affable in conversation. They seldom put
on airs, and the offer of a drink is a sure way to their hearts.
You need no laborious steps to enter upon familiarity with
them, and you can earn not only their confidence, but their
gratitude, by turning an attentive ear to their discourse.
They look upon conversation as the great pleasure of life,
thereby proving the excellence of their civilisation, and for
the most part they are entertaining talkers. The extent of
their experience is pleasantly balanced by the fertility of
their imagination. It cannot be said that they are without guile,
but they have a tolerant respect for the law, when the
law is supported by strength. It is hazardous to play poker
with them, but their ingenuity adds a peculiar excitement to
the best game in the world. I came to know Captain Nichols
very well before I left Tahiti, and I am the richer for his
acquaintance. I do not consider that the cigars and whisky he
consumed at my expense (he always refused cocktails, since he
was practically a teetotaller), and the few dollars, borrowed
with a civil air of conferring a favour upon me, that passed
from my pocket to his, were in any way equivalent to the
entertainment he afforded me. I remained his debtor.
I should be sorry if my conscience, insisting on a rigid
attention to the matter in hand, forced me to dismiss him in a
couple of lines.
I do not know why Captain Nichols first left England. It was
a matter upon which he was reticent, and with persons of his
kind a direct question is never very discreet. He hinted at
undeserved misfortune, and there is no doubt that he looked
upon himself as the victim of injustice. My fancy played with
the various forms of fraud and violence, and I agreed with him
sympathetically when he remarked that the authorities in the
old country were so damned technical. But it was nice to see
that any unpleasantness he had endured in his native land had
not impaired his ardent patriotism. He frequently declared
that England was the finest country in the world, sir, and he
felt a lively superiority over Americans, Colonials, Dagos,
Dutchmen, and Kanakas.
But I do not think he was a happy man. He suffered from
dyspepsia, and he might often be seen sucking a tablet of
pepsin; in the morning his appetite was poor; but this
affliction alone would hardly have impaired his spirits.
He had a greater cause of discontent with life than this.
Eight years before he had rashly married a wife. There are men
whom a merciful Providence has undoubtedly ordained to a single
life, but who from wilfulness or through circumstances they
could not cope with have flown in the face of its decrees.
There is no object more deserving of pity than the married bachelor.
Of such was Captain Nichols. I met his wife. She was
a woman of twenty-eight, I should think, though of a type
whose age is always doubtful; for she cannot have looked
different when she was twenty, and at forty would look no
older. She gave me an impression of extraordinary tightness.
Her plain face with its narrow lips was tight, her skin was
stretched tightly over her bones, her smile was tight, her
hair was tight, her clothes were tight, and the white drill
she wore had all the effect of black bombazine. I could not
imagine why Captain Nichols had married her, and having
married her why he had not deserted her. Perhaps he had,
often, and his melancholy arose from the fact that he could
never succeed. However far he went and in howsoever secret a
place he hid himself, I felt sure that Mrs. Nichols,
inexorable as fate and remorseless as conscience, would
presently rejoin him. He could as little escape her as the
cause can escape the effect.
The rogue, like the artist and perhaps the gentleman, belongs
to no class. He is not embarrassed by the of
the hobo, nor put out of countenance by the etiquette of the
prince. But Mrs. Nichols belonged to the well-defined class,
of late become vocal, which is known as the lower-middle.
Her father, in fact, was a policeman. I am certain that he was
an efficient one. I do not know what her hold was on the
Captain, but I do not think it was love. I never heard her speak,
but it may be that in private she had a copious conversation.
At any rate, Captain Nichols was frightened to death of her.
Sometimes, sitting with me on the terrace of the hotel,
he would become conscious that she was walking in the road outside.
She did not call him; she gave no sign that she was aware
of his existence; she merely walked up and down composedly.
Then a strange uneasiness would seize the Captain;
he would look at his watch and sigh.
"Well, I must be off," he said.
Neither wit nor whisky could detain him then. Yet he was a
man who had faced undaunted hurricane and typhoon, and would
not have hesitated to fight a dozen unarmed niggers with
nothing but a revolver to help him. Sometimes Mrs. Nichols
would send her daughter, a pale-faced, sullen child of seven,
to the hotel.
"Mother wants you," she said, in a whining tone.
"Very well, my dear," said Captain Nichols.
He rose to his feet at once, and accompanied his daughter
along the road. I suppose it was a very pretty example of the
triumph of spirit over matter, and so my digression has at
least the advantage of a moral.
I have tried to put some connection into the various things
Captain Nichols told me about Strickland, and I here set them
down in the best order I can. They made one another's
acquaintance during the latter part of the winter following my
last meeting with Strickland in Paris. How he had passed the
intervening months I do not know, but life must have been very
hard, for Captain Nichols saw him first in the Asile de Nuit.
There was a strike at Marseilles at the time, and Strickland,
having come to the end of his resources, had apparently found
it impossible to earn the small sum he needed to keep body and
The Asile de Nuit is a large stone building where pauper and
vagabond may get a bed for a week, provided their papers are
in order and they can persuade the friars in charge that they
are workingmen. Captain Nichols noticed Strickland for his
size and his singular appearance among the crowd that waited
for the doors to open; they waited listlessly, some walking to
and fro, some leaning against the wall, and others seated on
the curb with their feet in the gutter; and when they filed
into the office he heard the monk who read his papers address
him in English. But he did not have a chance to speak to him,
since, as he entered the common-room, a monk came in with a
huge Bible in his arms, mounted a pulpit which was at the end
of the room, and began the service which the wretched outcasts
had to endure as the price of their lodging. He and
Strickland were assigned to different rooms, and when, thrown
out of bed at five in the morning by a stalwart monk, he had made
his bed and washed his face, Strickland had already disappeared.
Captain Nichols wandered about the streets for an hour of
bitter cold, and then made his way to the Place Victor Gelu,
where the sailor-men are wont to congregate. Dozing against
the pedestal of a statue, he saw Strickland again.
He gave him a kick to awaken him.
"Come and have breakfast, mate," he said.
"Go to hell," answered Strickland.
I recognised my friend's limited vocabulary, and I prepared to
regard Captain Nichols as a trustworthy witness.
"Busted?" asked the Captain.
"Blast you," answered Strickland.
"Come along with me. I'll get you some breakfast."
After a moment's hesitation, Strickland scrambled to his feet,
and together they went to the Bouchee de Pain, where the
hungry are given a wedge of bread, which they must eat there
and then, for it is forbidden to take it away; and then to the
Cuillere de Soupe, where for a week, at eleven and four,
you may get a bowl of thin, salt soup. The two buildings are
placed far apart, so that only the starving should be tempted
to make use of them. So they had breakfast, and so began the
queer companionship of Charles Strickland and Captain Nichols.
They must have spent something like four months at Marseilles
in one another's society. Their career was devoid of adventure,
if by adventure you mean unexpected or thrilling incident,
for their days were occupied in the pursuit of enough
money to get a night's lodging and such food as would stay
the pangs of hunger. But I wish I could give here the pictures,
coloured and racy, which Captain Nichols' vivid narrative
offered to the imagination. His account of their discoveries
in the low life of a seaport town would have made a
charming book, and in the various characters that came their
way the student might easily have found matter for a very
complete dictionary of rogues. But I must content myself with
a few paragraphs. I received the impression of a life intense
and brutal, savage, multicoloured, and vivacious. It made the
Marseilles that I knew, gesticulating and sunny, with its
comfortable hotels and its restaurants crowded with the well-to-do,
tame and commonplace. I envied men who had seen with their
own eyes the sights that Captain Nichols described.
When the doors of the Asile de Nuit were closed to them,
Strickland and Captain Nichols sought the hospitality of Tough Bill.
This was the master of a sailors' boarding-house, a huge
mulatto with a heavy fist, who gave the stranded mariner
food and shelter till he found him a berth. They lived with
him a month, sleeping with a dozen others, Swedes, negroes,
Brazilians, on the floor of the two bare rooms in his house
which he assigned to his charges; and every day they went with
him to the Place Victor Gelu, whither came ships' captains in
search of a man. He was married to an American woman, obese
and slatternly, fallen to this pass by Heaven knows what
process of degradation, and every day the boarders took it in
turns to help her with the housework. Captain Nichols looked
upon it as a smart piece of work on Strickland's part that he
had got out of this by painting a portrait of Tough Bill.
Tough Bill not only paid for the canvas, colours, and brushes,
but gave Strickland a pound of smuggled tobacco into the
bargain. For all I know, this picture may still adorn the
parlour of the tumbledown little house somewhere near the
Quai de la Joliette, and I suppose it could now be sold for
fifteen hundred pounds. Strickland's idea was to ship on some
vessel bound for Australia or New Zealand, and from there make his
way to Samoa or Tahiti. I do not know how he had come upon
the notion of going to the South Seas, though I remember that
his imagination had long been haunted by an island, all green
and sunny, encircled by a sea more blue than is found in
Northern latitudes. I suppose that he clung to Captain
Nichols because he was acquainted with those parts, and it was
Captain Nichols who persuaded him that he would be more
comfortable in Tahiti.
"You see, Tahiti's French," he explained to me. "And the
French aren't so damned technical."
I thought I saw his point.
Strickland had no papers, but that was not a matter to
disconcert Tough Bill when he saw a profit (he took the first
month's wages of the sailor for whom he found a berth), and he
provided Strickland with those of an English stoker who had
providentially died on his hands. But both Captain Nichols
and Strickland were bound East, and it chanced that the only
opportunities for signing on were with ships sailing West.
Twice Strickland refused a berth on tramps sailing for the
United States, and once on a collier going to Newcastle.
Tough Bill had no patience with an obstinacy which could only
result in loss to himself, and on the last occasion he flung
both Strickland and Captain Nichols out of his house without
more ado. They found themselves once more adrift.
Tough Bill's fare was seldom extravagant, and you rose from
his table almost as hungry as you sat down, but for some days
they had good reason to regret it. They learned what hunger was.
The Cuillere de Soupe and the Asile de Nuit were both
closed to them, and their only sustenance was the wedge of
bread which the Bouchee de Pain provided. They slept where
they could, sometimes in an empty truck on a siding near the
station, sometimes in a cart behind a warehouse; but it was
bitterly cold, and after an hour or two of uneasy dozing they
would tramp the streets again. What they felt the lack of
most bitterly was tobacco, and Captain Nichols, for his part,
could not do without it; he took to hunting the "Can o' Beer,"
for cigarette-ends and the butt-end of cigars which the
promenaders of the night before had thrown away.
"I've tasted worse smoking mixtures in a pipe," he added,
with a philosophic shrug of his shoulders, as he took a couple
of cigars from the case I offered him, putting one in his mouth
and the other in his pocket.
Now and then they made a bit of money. Sometimes a mail
steamer would come in, and Captain Nichols, having scraped
acquaintance with the timekeeper, would succeed in getting the
pair of them a job as stevedores. When it was an English boat,
they would dodge into the forecastle and get a hearty
breakfast from the crew. They took the risk of running
against one of the ship's officers and being hustled down the
gangway with the toe of a boot to speed their going.
"There's no harm in a kick in the hindquarters when your
belly's full," said Captain Nichols, "and personally I never
take it in bad part. An officer's got to think about discipline."
I had a lively picture of Captain Nichols flying headlong down
a narrow gangway before the uplifted foot of an angry mate,
and, like a true Englishman, rejoicing in the spirit of the
There were often odd jobs to be got about the fish-market.
Once they each of them earned a franc by loading trucks with
innumerable boxes of oranges that had been dumped down on the quay.
One day they had a stroke of luck: one of the boarding-masters
got a contract to paint a tramp that had come in
from Madagascar round the Cape of Good Hope, and they spent
several days on a plank hanging over the side, covering the
rusty hull with paint. It was a situation that must have
appealed to Strickland's sardonic humour. I asked Captain
Nichols how he bore himself during these hardships.
"Never knew him say a cross word," answered the Captain.
"He'd be a bit surly sometimes, but when we hadn't had a bite
since morning, and we hadn't even got the price of a lie down
at the Chink's, he'd be as lively as a cricket."
I was not surprised at this. Strickland was just the man to
rise superior to circumstances, when they were such as to
occasion despondency in most; but whether this was due to
equanimity of soul or to contradictoriness it would be
difficult to say.
The Chink's Head was a name the beach-combers gave to a
wretched inn off the Rue Bouterie, kept by a one-eyed Chinaman,
where for six sous you could sleep in a cot and for
three on the floor. Here they made friends with others in as
desperate condition as themselves, and when they were
penniless and the night was bitter cold, they were glad to
borrow from anyone who had earned a stray franc during the day
the price of a roof over their heads. They were not niggardly,
these tramps, and he who had money did not hesitate
to share it among the rest. They belonged to all the
countries in the world, but this was no bar to good-fellowship;
for they felt themselves freemen of a country whose
frontiers include them all, the great country of Cockaine.
"But I guess Strickland was an ugly customer when he was roused,"
said Captain Nichols, reflectively. "One day we ran
into Tough Bill in the Place, and he asked Charlie for the
papers he'd given him."
"`You'd better come and take them if you want them,' says Charlie.
"He was a powerful fellow, Tough Bill, but he didn't quite
like the look of Charlie, so he began cursing him. He called
him pretty near every name he could lay hands on, and when
Tough Bill began cursing it was worth listening to him.
Well, Charlie stuck it for a bit, then he stepped forward and he
just said: `Get out, you bloody swine.' It wasn't so much
what he said, but the way he said it. Tough Bill never spoke
another word; you could see him go yellow, and he walked away
as if he'd remembered he had a date."
Strickland, according to Captain Nichols, did not use exactly
the words I have given, but since this book is meant for
family reading I have thought it better, at the expense of
truth, to put into his mouth expressions familiar to the
Now, Tough Bill was not the man to put up with humiliation at
the hands of a common sailor. His power depended on his prestige,
and first one, then another, of the sailors who lived in
his house told them that he had sworn to do Strickland in.
One night Captain Nichols and Strickland were sitting in one
of the bars of the Rue Bouterie. The Rue Bouterie is a narrow
street of one-storeyed houses, each house consisting of but
one room; they are like the booths in a crowded fair or the
cages of animals in a circus. At every door you see a woman.
Some lean lazily against the side-posts, humming to themselves
or calling to the passer-by in a raucous voice, and some
listlessly read. They are French. Italian, Spanish,
Japanese, coloured; some are fat and some are thin; and under
the thick paint on their faces, the heavy smears on their
eyebrows, and the scarlet of their lips, you see the lines of
age and the scars of dissipation. Some wear black shifts and
flesh-coloured stockings; some with curly hair, dyed yellow,
are dressed like little girls in short muslin frocks.
Through the open door you see a red-tiled floor, a large wooden bed,
and on a deal table a ewer and a basin. A motley crowd
saunters along the streets -- Lascars off a P. and O., blond
Northmen from a Swedish barque, Japanese from a man-of-war,
English sailors, Spaniards, pleasant-looking fellows from a
French cruiser, negroes off an American tramp. By day it is
merely sordid, but at night, lit only by the lamps in the
little huts, the street has a sinister beauty. The hideous
lust that pervades the air is oppressive and horrible, and yet
there is something mysterious in the sight which haunts and
troubles you. You feel I know not what primitive force which
repels and yet fascinates you. Here all the decencies of
civilisation are swept away, and you feel that men are face to
face with a sombre reality. There is an atmosphere that is at
once intense and tragic.
In the bar in which Strickland and Nichols sat a mechanical
piano was loudly grinding out dance music. Round the room
people were sitting at table, here half a dozen sailors
uproariously drunk, there a group of soldiers; and in the
middle, crowded together, couples were dancing. Bearded
sailors with brown faces and large horny hands clasped their
partners in a tight embrace. The women wore nothing but a shift.
Now and then two sailors would get up and dance together.
The noise was deafening. People were singing, shouting,
laughing; and when a man gave a long kiss to the
girl sitting on his knees, cat-calls from the English sailors
increased the din. The air was heavy with the dust beaten up
by the heavy boots of the men, and gray with smoke. It was
very hot. Behind the bar was seated a woman nursing her baby.
The waiter, an undersized youth with a flat, spotty face,
hurried to and fro carrying a tray laden with glasses of beer.
In a little while Tough Bill, accompanied by two huge negroes,
came in, and it was easy to see that he was already three
parts drunk. He was looking for trouble. He lurched against
a table at which three soldiers were sitting and knocked over
a glass of beer. There was an angry altercation, and the
owner of the bar stepped forward and ordered Tough Bill to go.
He was a hefty fellow, in the habit of standing no nonsense
from his customers, and Tough Bill hesitated. The landlord
was not a man he cared to tackle, for the police were on his side,
and with an oath he turned on his heel. Suddenly he
caught sight of Strickland. He rolled up to him. He did not speak.
He gathered the spittle in his mouth and spat full in
Strickland's face. Strickland seized his glass and flung it
at him. The dancers stopped suddenly still. There was an
instant of complete silence, but when Tough Bill threw himself
on Strickland the lust of battle seized them all, and in a
moment there was a confused scrimmage. Tables were
overturned, glasses crashed to the ground. There was a
hellish row. The women scattered to the door and behind the bar.
Passers-by surged in from the street. You heard curses
in every tongue the sound of blows, cries; and in the middle
of the room a dozen men were fighting with all their might.
On a sudden the police rushed in, and everyone who could made
for the door. When the bar was more or less cleared, Tough
Bill was lying insensible on the floor with a great gash in
his head. Captain Nichols dragged Strickland, bleeding from a
wound in his arm, his clothes in rags, into the street.
His own face was covered with blood from a blow on the nose.
"I guess you'd better get out of Marseilles before Tough Bill
comes out of hospital," he said to Strickland, when they had
got back to the Chink's Head and were cleaning themselves.
"This beats cock-fighting," said Strickland.
I could see his sardonic smile.
Captain Nichols was anxious. He knew Tough Bill's vindictiveness.
Strickland had downed the mulatto twice, and the mulatto,
sober, was a man to be reckoned with. He would bide
his time stealthily. He would be in no hurry, but one
night Strickland would get a knife-thrust in his back, and in
a day or two the corpse of a nameless beach-comber would be
fished out of the dirty water of the harbour. Nichols went
next evening to Tough Bill's house and made enquiries. He was
in hospital still, but his wife, who had been to see him, said
he was swearing hard to kill Strickland when they let him out.
A week passed.
"That's what I always say," reflected Captain Nichols,
"when you hurt a man, hurt him bad. It gives you a bit of
time to look about and think what you'll do next."
Then Strickland had a bit of luck. A ship bound for Australia
had sent to the Sailors' Home for a stoker in place of one who
had thrown himself overboard off Gibraltar in an attack of
"You double down to the harbour, my lad," said the Captain to
Strickland, "and sign on. You've got your papers."
Strickland set off at once, and that was the last Captain
Nichols saw of him. The ship was only in port for six hours,
and in the evening Captain Nichols watched the vanishing smoke
from her funnels as she ploughed East through the wintry sea.
I have narrated all this as best I could, because I like the
contrast of these episodes with the life that I had seen
Strickland live in Ashley Gardens when he was occupied with
stocks and shares; but I am aware that Captain Nichols was an
outrageous liar, and I dare say there is not a word of truth
in anything he told me. I should not be surprised to learn
that he had never seen Strickland in his life, and owed his
knowledge of Marseilles to the pages of a magazine.
It is here that I purposed to end my book. My first idea was
to begin it with the account of Strickland's last years in
Tahiti and with his horrible death, and then to go back and
relate what I knew of his beginnings. This I meant to do,
not from wilfulness, but because I wished to leave Strickland
setting out with I know not what fancies in his lonely soul
for the unknown islands which fired his imagination. I liked
the picture of him starting at the age of forty-seven,
when most men have already settled comfortably in a groove,
for a new world. I saw him, the sea gray under the mistral and
foam-flecked, watching the vanishing coast of France, which he
was destined never to see again; and I thought there was
something gallant in his bearing and dauntless in his soul.
I wished so to end on a note of hope. It seemed to emphasise
the unconquerable spirit of man. But I could not manage it.
Somehow I could not get into my story, and after trying once
or twice I had to give it up; I started from the beginning in
the usual way, and made up my mind I could only tell what I
knew of Strickland's life in the order in which I learnt the facts.
Those that I have now are fragmentary. I am in the position
of a biologist who from a single bone must reconstruct not
only the appearance of an extinct animal, but its habits.
Strickland made no particular impression on the people who
came in contact with him in Tahiti. To them he was no more
than a beach-comber in constant need of money, remarkable only
for the peculiarity that he painted pictures which seemed to
them absurd; and it was not till he had been dead for some
years and agents came from the dealers in Paris and Berlin to
look for any pictures which might still remain on the island,
that they had any idea that among them had dwelt a man of consequence.
They remembered then that they could have bought for
a song canvases which now were worth large sums, and they
could not forgive themselves for the opportunity which had
escaped them. There was a Jewish trader called Cohen, who had
come by one of Strickland's pictures in a singular way.
He was a little old Frenchman, with soft kind eyes and a pleasant
smile, half trader and half seaman, who owned a cutter in
which he wandered boldly among the Paumotus and the Marquesas,
taking out trade goods and bringing back copra, shell, and pearls.
I went to see him because I was told he had a large black
pearl which he was willing to sell cheaply, and when I
discovered that it was beyond my means I began to talk to him
about Strickland. He had known him well.
"You see, I was interested in him because he was a painter,"
he told me. "We don't get many painters in the islands, and I
was sorry for him because he was such a bad one. I gave him
his first job. I had a plantation on the peninsula, and I
wanted a white overseer. You never get any work out of the
natives unless you have a white man over them. I said to him:
`You'll have plenty of time for painting, and you can earn a
bit of money.' I knew he was starving, but I offered him good wages."
"I can't imagine that he was a very satisfactory overseer,"
I said, smiling.
"I made allowances. I have always had a sympathy for artists.
It is in our blood, you know. But he only remained a few
months. When he had enough money to buy paints and canvases
he left me. The place had got hold of him by then, and he
wanted to get away into the bush. But I continued to see him
now and then. He would turn up in Papeete every few months
and stay a little while; he'd get money out of someone or
other and then disappear again. It was on one of these visits
that he came to me and asked for the loan of two hundred
francs. He looked as if he hadn't had a meal for a week, and
I hadn't the heart to refuse him. Of course, I never expected
to see my money again. Well, a year later he came to see me
once more, and he brought a picture with him. He did not
mention the money he owed me, but he said: `Here is a picture
of your plantation that I've painted for you.' I looked at it.
I did not know what to say, but of course I thanked him, and
when he had gone away I showed it to my wife."
"What was it like?" I asked.
"Do not ask me. I could not make head or tail of it. I never
saw such a thing in my life. `What shall we do with it?'
I said to my wife. `We can never hang it up,' she said.
`People would laugh at us.' So she took it into an attic and
put it away with all sorts of rubbish, for my wife can never
throw anything away. It is her mania. Then, imagine to
yourself, just before the war my brother wrote to me from
Paris, and said: `Do you know anything about an English
painter who lived in Tahiti? It appears that he was a genius,
and his pictures fetch large prices. See if you can lay your
hands on anything and send it to me. There's money to be
made.' So I said to my wife. `What about that picture that
Strickland gave me?' Is it possible that it is still in the
attic?' `Without doubt,' she answered, ` for you know that I
never throw anything away. It is my mania.' We went up to the
attic, and there, among I know not what rubbish that had been
gathered during the thirty years we have inhabited that house,
was the picture. I looked at it again, and I said:
`Who would have thought that the overseer of my plantation on
the peninsula, to whom I lent two hundred francs, had genius?
Do you see anything in the picture?' `No,' she said, `it does not
resemble the plantation and I have never seen cocoa-nuts with
blue leaves; but they are mad in Paris, and it may be that
your brother will be able to sell it for the two hundred
francs you lent Strickland.' Well, we packed it up and we sent
it to my brother. And at last I received a letter from him.
What do you think he said? `I received your picture,' he said,
`and I confess I thought it was a joke that you had played on me.
I would not have given the cost of postage for the picture.
I was half afraid to show it to the gentleman who
had spoken to me about it. Imagine my surprise when he said
it was a masterpiece, and offered me thirty thousand francs.
I dare say he would have paid more, but frankly I was so taken
aback that I lost my head; I accepted the offer before I was
able to collect myself.'"
Then Monsieur Cohen said an admirable thing.
"I wish that poor Strickland had been still alive. I wonder
what he would have said when I gave him twenty-nine thousand
eight hundred francs for his picture."
I lived at the Hotel de la Fleur, and Mrs. Johnson, the
proprietress, had a sad story to tell of lost opportunity.
After Strickland's death certain of his effects were sold by
auction in the market-place at Papeete, and she went to it
herself because there was among the truck an American stove
she wanted. She paid twenty-seven francs for it.
"There were a dozen pictures," she told me, "but they were
unframed, and nobody wanted them. Some of them sold for as
much as ten francs, but mostly they went for five or six.
Just think, if I had bought them I should be a rich woman now."
But Tiare Johnson would never under any circumstances have
been rich. She could not keep money. The daughter of a
native and an English sea-captain settled in Tahiti, when I
knew her she was a woman of fifty, who looked older, and of
enormous proportions. Tall and extremely stout, she would
have been of imposing presence if the great good-nature of her
face had not made it impossible for her to express anything
but kindliness. Her arms were like legs of mutton, her
breasts like giant cabbages; her face, broad and fleshy, gave
you an impression of almost indecent nakedness, and vast chin
succeeded to vast chin. I do not know how many of them there were.
They fell away voluminously into the capaciousness of her bosom.
She was dressed usually in a pink Mother Hubbard,
and she wore all day long a large straw hat. But when she let
down her hair, which she did now and then, for she was vain of
it, you saw that it was long and dark and curly; and her eyes
had remained young and vivacious. Her laughter was the most
catching I ever heard; it would begin, a low peal in her throat,
and would grow louder and louder till her whole vast
body shook. She loved three things -- a joke, a glass of
wine, and a handsome man. To have known her is a privilege.
She was the best cook on the island, and she adored good food.
From morning till night you saw her sitting on a low chair in
the kitchen, surrounded by a Chinese cook and two or three
native girls, giving her orders, chatting sociably with all
and sundry, and tasting the savoury messes she devised. When
she wished to do honour to a friend she cooked the dinner with
her own hands. Hospitality was a passion with her, and there
was no one on the island who need go without a dinner when
there was anything to eat at the Hotel de la Fleur. She never
turned her customers out of her house because they did not pay
their bills. She always hoped they would pay when they could.
There was one man there who had fallen on adversity, and to
him she had given board and lodging for several months.
When the Chinese laundryman refused to wash for him without
payment she had sent his things to be washed with hers. She could
not allow the poor fellow to go about in a dirty shirt, she said,
and since he was a man, and men must smoke, she gave him a
franc a day for cigarettes. She used him with the same
affability as those of her clients who paid their bills once a week.
Age and obesity had made her inapt for love, but she took a
keen interest in the amatory affairs of the young. She looked
upon venery as the natural occupation for men and women, and
was ever ready with precept and example from her own wide experience.
"I was not fifteen when my father found that I had a lover,"
she said. "He was third mate on the .
A good-looking boy."
She sighed a little. They say a woman always remembers her
first lover with affection; but perhaps she does not always
"My father was a sensible man."
"What did he do?" I asked.
"He thrashed me within an inch of my life, and then he made me
marry Captain Johnson. I did not mind. He was older,
of course, but he was good-looking too."
Tiare -- her father had called her by the name of the white,
scented flower which, they tell you, if you have once smelt,
will always draw you back to Tahiti in the end, however far
you may have roamed -- Tiare remembered Strickland very well.
"He used to come here sometimes, and I used to see him walking
about Papeete. I was sorry for him, he was so thin, and he
never had any money. When I heard he was in town, I used to
send a boy to find him and make him come to dinner with me.
I got him a job once or twice, but he couldn't stick to
anything. After a little while he wanted to get back to the
bush, and one morning he would be gone."
Strickland reached Tahiti about six months after he left
Marseilles. He worked his passage on a sailing vessel that
was making the trip from Auckland to San Francisco, and he
arrived with a box of paints, an easel, and a dozen canvases.
He had a few pounds in his pocket, for he had found work in
Sydney, and he took a small room in a native house outside the town.
I think the moment he reached Tahiti he felt himself at home.
Tiare told me that he said to her once:
"I'd been scrubbing the deck, and all at once a chap said to me:
`Why, there it is.' And I looked up and I saw the outline
of the island. I knew right away that there was the place I'd
been looking for all my life. Then we came near, and I seemed
to recognise it. Sometimes when I walk about it all seems familiar.
I could swear I've lived here before."
"Sometimes it takes them like that," said Tiare. "I've known
men come on shore for a few hours while their ship was taking
in cargo, and never go back. And I've known men who came here
to be in an office for a year, and they cursed the place, and
when they went away they took their dying oath they'd hang
themselves before they came back again, and in six months
you'd see them land once more, and they'd tell you they
couldn't live anywhere else."
I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place.
Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they
have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are
strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have
known from childhood or the populous streets in which they
have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend
their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof
among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is
this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the
search for something permanent, to which they may attach
themselves. Perhaps some deeprooted atavism urges the
wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim
beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to
which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home
he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never
seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were
familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.
I told Tiare the story of a man I had known at St. Thomas's
Hospital. He was a Jew named Abraham, a blond, rather stout
young man, shy and very unassuming; but he had remarkable gifts.
He entered the hospital with a scholarship, and during
the five years of the curriculum gained every prize that was
open to him. He was made house-physician and house-surgeon.
His brilliance was allowed by all. Finally he was elected to
a position on the staff, and his career was assured. So far
as human things can be predicted, it was certain that he would
rise to the greatest heights of his profession. Honours and
wealth awaited him. Before he entered upon his new duties he
wished to take a holiday, and, having no private means,
he went as surgeon on a tramp steamer to the Levant.
It did not generally carry a doctor, but one of the senior
surgeons at the hospital knew a director of the line,
and Abraham was taken as a favour.
In a few weeks the authorities received his resignation of the
coveted position on the staff. It created profound
astonishment, and wild rumours were current. Whenever a man
does anything unexpected, his fellows ascribe it to the most
discreditable motives. But there was a man ready to step into
Abraham's shoes, and Abraham was forgotten. Nothing more was
heard of him. He vanished.
It was perhaps ten years later that one morning on board ship,
about to land at Alexandria, I was bidden to line up with the
other passengers for the doctor's examination. The doctor was
a stout man in shabby clothes, and when he took off his hat I
noticed that he was very bald. I had an idea that I had seen
him before. Suddenly I remembered.
"Abraham," I said.
He turned to me with a puzzled look, and then, recognizing me,
seized my hand. After expressions of surprise on either side,
hearing that I meant to spend the night in Alexandria, he
asked me to dine with him at the English Club. When we met
again I declared my astonishment at finding him there. It was
a very modest position that he occupied, and there was about
him an air of straitened circumstance. Then he told me his story.
When he set out on his holiday in the Mediterranean he
had every intention of returning to London and his appointment
at St. Thomas's. One morning the tramp docked at Alexandria,
and from the deck he looked at the city, white in the
sunlight, and the crowd on the wharf; he saw the natives in
their shabby gabardines, the blacks from the Soudan, the noisy
throng of Greeks and Italians, the grave Turks in tarbooshes,
the sunshine and the blue sky; and something happened to him.
He could not describe it. It was like a thunder-clap, he
said, and then, dissatisfied with this, he said it was like a
revelation. Something seemed to twist his heart, and suddenly
he felt an exultation, a sense of wonderful freedom. He felt
himself at home, and he made up his mind there and then, in a
minute, that he would live the rest of his life in Alexandria.
He had no great difficulty in leaving the ship, and in twenty-four
hours, with all his belongings, he was on shore.
"The Captain must have thought you as mad as a hatter," I smiled.
"I didn't care what anybody thought. It wasn't I that acted,
but something stronger within me. I thought I would go to a
little Greek hotel, while I looked about, and I felt I knew
where to find one. And do you know, I walked straight there,
and when I saw it, I recognised it at once."
"Had you been to Alexandria before?"
"No; I'd never been out of England in my life."
Presently he entered the Government service, and there he had
been ever since.
"Have you never regretted it?"
"Never, not for a minute. I earn just enough to live upon,
and I'm satisfied. I ask nothing more than to remain as I am
till I die. I've had a wonderful life."
I left Alexandria next day, and I forgot about Abraham till a
little while ago, when I was dining with another old friend in
the profession, Alec Carmichael, who was in England on short leave.
I ran across him in the street and congratulated him on
the knighthood with which his eminent services during the
war had been rewarded. We arranged to spend an evening
together for old time's sake, and when I agreed to dine with
him, he proposed that he should ask nobody else, so that we
could chat without interruption. He had a beautiful old house
in Queen Anne Street, and being a man of taste he had
furnished it admirably. On the walls of the diningroom I saw
a charming Bellotto, and there was a pair of Zoffanys that I envied.
When his wife, a tall, lovely creature in cloth of gold,
had left us, I remarked laughingly on the change in his
present circumstances from those when we had both been medical
students. We had looked upon it then as an extravagance to
dine in a shabby Italian restaurant in the Westminster Bridge Road.
Now Alec Carmichael was on the staff of half a dozen hospitals.
I should think he earned ten thousand a year, and his
knighthood was but the first of the honours which must
inevitably fall to his lot.
"I've done pretty well," he said, "but the strange thing is
that I owe it all to one piece of luck."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, do you remember Abraham? He was the man who had the future.
When we were students he beat me all along the line.
He got the prizes and the scholarships that I went in for.
I always played second fiddle to him. If he'd kept on he'd be
in the position I'm in now. That man had a genius for surgery.
No one had a look in with him. When he was
appointed Registrar at Thomas's I hadn't a chance of getting
on the staff. I should have had to become a G.P., and you
know what likelihood there is for a G.P. ever to get out of
the common rut. But Abraham fell out, and I got the job.
That gave me my opportunity."
"I dare say that's true."
"It was just luck. I suppose there was some kink in Abraham.
Poor devil, he's gone to the dogs altogether. He's got some
twopenny-halfpenny job in the medical at Alexandria --
sanitary officer or something like that. I'm told he lives
with an ugly old Greek woman and has half a dozen scrofulous kids.
The fact is, I suppose, that it's not enough to have brains.
The thing that counts is character. Abraham hadn't got character."
Character? I should have thought it needed a good deal of
character to throw up a career after half an hour's
meditation, because you saw in another way of living a more
intense significance. And it required still more character
never to regret the sudden step. But I said nothing, and Alec
Carmichael proceeded reflectively:
"Of course it would be hypocritical for me to pretend that I
regret what Abraham did. After all, I've scored by it."
He puffed luxuriously at the long Corona he was smoking.
"But if I weren't personally concerned I should be sorry at the waste.
It seems a rotten thing that a man should make such a hash of life."
I wondered if Abraham really had made a hash of life.
Is to do what you most want, to live under the conditions that
please you, in peace with yourself, to make a hash of life;
and is it success to be an eminent surgeon with ten thousand a
year and a beautiful wife? I suppose it depends on what
meaning you attach to life, the claim which you acknowledge to
society, and the claim of the individual. But again I held my
tongue, for who am I to argue with a knight?
Tiare, when I told her this story, praised my prudence, and
for a few minutes we worked in silence, for we were shelling
peas. Then her eyes, always alert for the affairs of her
kitchen, fell on some action of the Chinese cook which aroused
her violent disapproval. She turned on him with a torrent of abuse.
The Chink was not backward to defend himself, and a
very lively quarrel ensued. They spoke in the native language,
of which I had learnt but half a dozen words, and it sounded
as though the world would shortly come to an end;
but presently peace was restored and Tiare gave the cook a
cigarette. They both smoked comfortably.
"Do you know, it was I who found him his wife?" said Tiare
suddenly, with a smile that spread all over her immense face.
"But he had one already."
"That is what he said, but I told him she was in England,
and England is at the other end of the world."
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