I knew from old that Hollis was a firm believer in the final value of shades. And I said, ‘I see,’ because I really did see Hollis’s Davidson in the man who had passed us a little while before. But I remembered that at the very moment he smiled his placid face appeared veiled in melancholy—a sort of spiritual shadow. I went on:

‘Who on earth has paid him off for being so fine by spoiling his smile?’

‘That’s quite a story and I will tell it to you if you like. Confound it! it’s quite a surprising one, too. Surprising in every way, but mostly in the way it knocked over poor Davidson—and apparently only because he is such a good sort. He was telling me all about it only a few days ago. He said that when he saw these four fellows with their heads in a bunch over the table, he at once didn’t like it. He didn’t like it at all. You mustn’t suppose that Davidson is a soft fool. These men—

‘But I had better begin at the beginning. We must go back to the first time the trade dollars* had been called in by our government in exchange for a new issue. Just about the time when I left these parts to go home and stay there. Every trader in the islands was thinking of getting his old dollars sent up here in time and the demand for empty French wine cases—you know, the dozen of vermouth or claret size—was something unprecedented. The custom was to pack the dollars in little bags of a hundred each. I don’t know how many bags each case would hold. A good lot. Pretty tidy sums must have been moving afloat just then. Davidson.… But let us get away from here. Won’t do to stay in the sun. Where could we…I know!…let us go to those tiffin-rooms* over there.…’

We moved over accordingly. Our appearance in the long, empty room at that early hour caused visible consternation among the China boys. But Hollis led the way to one of the tables between the windows, screened by rattan blinds. A brilliant half-light trembled on the ceiling, on the white-washed walls, bathed the multitude of vacant chairs and tables in a peculiar, stealthy glow.

‘All right. We will get something to eat when it’s ready,’ he said, waving the anxious Chinaman waiter aside. He took his temples, touched with grey, between his hands, leaning over the table to bring his face, his dark, keen eyes, closer to mine.

‘Davidson then was commanding the steamer Sissie—the little one which we used to chaff him about. Well, she was so small that he ran her alone, with only the Malay serang* for a deck officer. The nearest approach to another white man on board of her was his engineer, a Portuguese half-caste, as thin as a lath and quite a youngster at that. For all practical purposes Davidson was managing that command of his single-handed, and of course this was known in the port. I am telling you of it because the fact had its influence on the development you shall hear of presently.

‘His steamer, being so small, could go up tiny creeks and into shallow bays and through reefs and over sandbanks, collecting produce where no other vessel but native craft would think of venturing. It is a paying game often. Davidson was known to visit places that no one else could find and that hardly anybody had ever heard of.

‘The old dollars being called in, Davidson’s Chinaman thought that the Sissie would be just the thing to collect them from small traders in the less frequented parts of the Archipelago. Davidson, too, thought it was a good idea, and together they made up a list of his calls on his next trip. Then Davidson (he had naturally the chart of his voyages in his head) remarked that on his way back he might look in at a certain settlement up a mere creek, where a poorer sort of white man lived in a native village. Davidson pointed out to his Chinaman that the fellow was certain to have some rattans* to ship.

‘This was sound talk, and the Chinaman owner could not but agree. But if it hadn’t been sound it would have been just the same. Davidson did what he liked. He was a man that could do no wrong. However, this suggestion of his was not merely a business matter. There was in it a touch of Davidsonian kindness. For you must know that the man could not have continued to live quietly up that creek if it had not been

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