EXILES OF FALOO
AUTHOR OF “THE GIFTED FAMILY”
METHUEN & CO.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
First Published ... March 10th 1910
Second Edition ... March 1910
THE EXILES OF FALOO
Overhead a blue sky without a cloud; in the distance the sound of the surf—a muffled bass which broke on the tink of the bell at the French Mission or the scream of the parrot on the broad verandah of the Exiles’ Club.
On the lawn in front of the verandah two natives had just finished their reluctant work with the mower. They wore loin-cloths of tappa and nothing else. The head-gardener wore a loin-cloth of tappa and a white evening-dress waistcoat, the latter being the gift of Dr Soames Pryce. The waistcoat was splendid but unclean. The head-gardener had been inspecting the work of the others from a recumbent position. All three passed away now along the grass path under the laden orange trees. Two gorgeous butterflies chased one another over the lawn in the sunshine.
The plaited blind in front of the French windows was pushed back and Sir John Sweetling appeared on the verandah. He was a man of fifty-five, six feet in height and inclined to corpulence. On the whole a handsome man, with a short white beard and moustache neatly trimmed, and fearless blue eyes under shaggy white brows. The nose was perhaps a trifle nosey. He wore a white silk shirt, white ducks, a brown holland jacket and a panama of the finest texture.
Sir John lingered for a moment beside the parrot’s perch. He scratched the bird’s neck, and said in an affectionate voice, “Poor old Polly.”
The parrot bent down and got to work with its beak on the perch, much as if the perch had been a steel and the beak a carving-knife which it was trying to sharpen. Then it sat up, drew its indecent lids over its solemn eyes once or twice, and spoke distinctly.
“You damned thief,” said the parrot.
It was an observation which had been addressed to Sir John before, and not only by parrots.
Sir John shook his head. “Naughty bird,” he said, “naughty bird!” Then he came down the steps of the verandah on to the lawn. Three lounge chairs were grouped about a small table, and Sir John took the most comfortable of the three. On the table were books of a ledger-like appearance, writing materials, and a bell. Sir John struck the bell with a fat brown forefinger.
The head-gardener came out from the orange trees. After all, he was not only the head-gardener. He smiled ingratiatingly, as if to say that he took a personal interest in Sir John, and it would be a positive pleasure to him to do anything for him. From a natural friendliness, which only broke down under severe stress, all the natives wore this air of interest in the white man and of readiness to serve them in any way. As a matter of fact no native, with the solitary exception of King Smith, ever did anything that he could possibly avoid. The climate is relaxing, and the cokernut palm supplies many wants.
Sir John looked at the man doubtfully. “Well, yes, you’ll do,” he said. “Go and tell Thomas that I want a lime-squash, no sugar, and a double Hollands in it.”
The head-gardener repeated the order, with a careworn look beginning to gather on his handsome, dusky face. The club-house was at least twenty yards away, and he would have to walk every step of it. He walked very gracefully and very slowly, a slight wind fluttering the buckle straps of his waistcoat behind. On the verandah he paused to rest and to tease the parrot.
“Get on, you dog,” shouted Sir John. And the head-gardener got on.
Presently Thomas appeared with the drink. At one time he had been desk-waiter at the Cabinet Club, London. At the Exiles’ Club, in this very tiny and remote island, he was a combination of steward and head-waiter. He wore black trousers and neck-tie and a white jacket. He was grey-haired, round-faced, and loose-mouthed.
Sir John let the ice clink musically against the glass. It was almost the only æsthetic pleasure that he enjoyed. He took a long suck at a couple of straws and then, as he fumbled for his money, said plaintively:
“I say, Thomas, aren’t they coming?”
“Coming directly, sir. The green lizard won, and they are not racing again, Mr Bassett having no more ready money with him.”
“Childish—utterly childish,” said Sir John, irritably.
“Your change, sir?”
“It was half-a-crown I gave you.”
“I took it for a florin,” said Thomas, quite unembarrassed. “My mistake. Sorry, sir.”
Down the steps of the verandah towards Sir John came Mr Bassett and Dr Soames Pryce. Mr Bassett was a very short man. His face was ape-like and had a fringe beard of sandy grey. He was overshadowed by an immense Terai felt hat, and was a quaint figure until you got used to him. He occupied the honorary position of secretary to the Exiles’ Club. Dr Soames Pryce was a man of medium height and magnificent figure—a chest deep and broad, small waist and hips, powerful muscles, and no spare flesh. He was clean-shaven, and his ugly, strong face suggested a cynical Napoleon. He wore a shirt and trousers of white flannel and a pith helmet.
“My lizard won, Sweetling,” he said, as he sank into one of the lounge chairs.
“So Thomas has been telling me,” said Sir John, reflectively. “Wish I’d backed it.”
“Tell you what, Bassett,” said the doctor, sharply. “You were grumbling—said you’d never seen your browny run so badly. I’ll back my green one against him once more for another sovereign—run it off to-morrow morning.”
“Can’t,” said Bassett. “Killed mine—always kill losers.” His manner was jerky and nervous. He was already turning over the volumes on the table. “We have business of some importance to the club before us this morning—the election of—”
He stopped short as a native waiter approached with a tray. The doctor apparently shared the taste of Sir John in morning beverages; Mr Bassett drank iced barley-water with a slice of lemon in it.
“Yes, yes,” said Sir John as the waiter retired. “Mr Bassett is right; business of very serious importance. We must be getting on. I will ask Mr Bassett to read the minutes of the last meeting.”
Mr Bassett jerked rapidly through the data of the meeting and the names of the committee-men who attended. In addition to the names of those now present the name of the Rev. Cyril Mast was read.
Dr Soames Pryce took his mouth away from a drinking-straw to observe, “Mast not coming to-day?”
“I shall have something to say presently as to that,” said Sir John.
“Myself also,” said Mr Bassett, and went on with the minutes in a quick staccato.
There were certain financial matters “examined and found correct.” There was a history of two backed bills; in one case the secretary would write and express regrets; in the other the committee had found that the price charged for giant asparagus was not unreasonable.
Sir John took the formal vote that he should sign the minutes as correct, and proceeded to routine business. Financial questions were considered with care, and were a little complicated by the use