The Little Heathen
THE great unfinished Canal lay baking in the sun while half the ships in the world went traipsing around Cape Horn and twice the length of South America out of their way, and — while. Lyon and I stood at the top of the bank of the Calicut Ditch, and gazed down at our protege—young Grey.
“Fine lad!” chuckled old Lyon, “ain’t he, John?”
“One can’t help liking him,” I admitted conservatively.
“I’ve no use for women,” pursued Lyon, as our admiring eyes took in every movement of the young giant down below us bossing his men, taking as much pains in his work as though it was a wall in the actual canal itself instead of a mere temporary embankment to meet the purposes of the Chief Engineer, “I wouldn’t give you tuppence for all the women in Creation, but I like a man. I don’t mean your pasty-faced, cigarette-smoking ninnies that I’ve seen so much of around these parts. Always coming to me for dope for some peevishness brought on by some fool doings. But I mean a real man such as Grey. A fine animal—clean and white and sound. You can have all the women in the world, John. Give me a Man.”
“Women are all right in their place,” 1 answered, for I have seen some good ones in my day, “We mustn’t be sour on 'em, Lyon. We’re too old. People might think it was sour grapes.”
“I’m not sour on ’em,” retorted Lyon, “but I want no dealings with them. That’s all.”
As he spoke I happened to turn my head and look along the top of the bank on which we were standing. Not far from us, but hidden slightly by a heap of brush, I saw a little copper-colored girl
sitting, Indian fashion, among the overgrowth. She was gazing contentedly, chin in hand, elbow on knee, down into the old dry ditch which young 'Grey and his gang were converting into a temporary reservoir for a certain river which the Chief wished to divert for a little while.
“Why, look, Lyon,” I said, “what’s that little native girl so interested in the ditch for? Look! She’s waving her hand down into the ditch at somebody. Probably it’s at a nigger—”
“Not at a nigger!” exclaimed Lyon, becoming suddenly animated. “Look at Grey !”
He pointed into the ditch. There, big and fair and handsome, with sun-helmet on his head and his shirt open at the throat, in the centre of his swarm of men, stood Grey. A procession of wheel-barrows was filing past him up a plank runway from the piles of material on the far bank of the ditch. Some carried earth, some stone, some heaps of dried out rushes. All around the boy’s feet other niggers were putting the material in place, raising the wall to the proper height. A moment before, when I had looked, Grey was intent upon his work, his first real commission in the work on the great canal. Lyon and I had been admiring his poise, the way he seemed to be cursing his niggers without heat, as a good engineer does,—but now, he was waving^ his hand up at the little Copper girl, squatting on the top of the bank with his coat.
“Perhaps he’s waving at us,” suggested Lyon, hopefully. “Let him see we are here. Show your hand.”
“No!” I returned, “don’t let’s make fools of ourselves. He hasn’t seen us. He sees nobody but that little brown girl, and she sees—nobody but him. Let’s get out of here.”
Now in our district, in the building of the Panama Canal, there had been many rumors concerning the ways of certain white men who had made friends of natives. There were certain little tragedies recorded in the mess-room gossip which resembled in not a few ways the story of Madame Butterfly and Kipling’s yarn called “Georgie Porgie.” But they were not such pretty stories. They were rather grim. Men who wished to avoid being talked about had made it more or less of a rule in our division to have no truck with natives. Yet Lyon and I had just seen Grey lay himself open to being misunderstood. We had intended bringing Grey home with us to lunch instead of waiting for him on the verandah of our mess house. But as if by mutual consent Lyon and I turned off toward home without having informed Grey of our presence. Lyon was even more silent than usual on the way. I had nothing to say either.
We two, among the rest of the staff in our division, were bachelor Canadians. Grey also was Canadian, but he was young and he had been in the camp only a little while, whereas Lyon and I were veterans. We were in our fifties. He was still smacking of teens. Lyon was a physician. He had been a country doctor in an Ontario town. His business here was malaria, yellow fever, cholera and obstetrical cases. Mine was steel and concrete. For two years we had lived alone together because our tastes were similar and we had certain whimsical ideas about making coffee and broiling steaks, which necessitated our having one cook, the only other option being to accept the fare at some other mess table. We seldom went out, except for billiards or some little bachelor pleasure and I am aware that we were known to certain of our friends as “nancies.” But this does not matter. The story is about Grey—and the Little Heathen.
Grey was a youngster from the Science Department in Toronto. He was pretty new, as you could tell by the extreme neatness with which he would make a drawing for a blue-print. When you’ve been thirty years out of school you are either a good engineer and make pretty sloppy drawings—or else you’re a draughtsman. Grey’s experience had consisted in working with an English party, prospecting for coal in B.C. He had done a little right-of-way work for the C.N.K. in the West, and had prospected for silver in Cobalt. Bui h3 was very green. The Chief had already put him to work on a draughting board when we found him.
Lyon fixed his face—Lyon’s hobby is ' Alen.” In a dry Scotch way he was always falling in love with them. He would find a man and idealize him, set him up on a pillar and worship him secretly, until, one day, he'd find some disappointing thing about the fellow. The idol might smoke or chew or drink so long as it did not impair his health, but Lyon wanted no “fusser” as he called them. He laid a ban upon women.
So we had hauled Grey into our mess and emptied him of news from the Dominion. Later on we proposed him and seconded him to ourselves and voted him a third member of our mess. He wras handsome and shy for so strong a man, and stolid. There was something clean and fresh in his appearance that made people fall for him everywhere. Lyon and I were jealous of the invitations he received. But he accepted only for such stag affairs as Lyon and I accepted and we cherished him the more. Then the two of us planned to get him promoted and accomplished it by dropping little words about Grey in the ear of the Chief, and when the Chief finally had given our man an outside job, a real commission, Lyon and I rejoiced. It was only the building of a mud wall across the Calicut ditch to act as a temporary reservoir for the waters of the Yarni creek, but still it was a commission, and Lyon and I, after brooking our impatience for several days, had gone down this morning to the ditch to look at it, and to observe our protege at work.
He had been no disappointment. He was handling his men well. From the distance, he seemed not to be cursing them too much, nor too little, but moderately, and with much reserve, which is the best way in handling certain kinds of niggers.
But just that little incident of the copper-colored child—she seemed no more than a child—disturbed Lyon and disturbed me. I overheard Lyon muttering to himself as we crossed our verandah. As
we entered our mess room lie turned and faced me with a long countenance.
“Look here John,” he said enigmatically, “are you thinking what I’m thinking?” .
“About Grey? Yes.”
“Then,” he whispered, “you’d better quit it. I tell you there’s none of that monkey-business in Grey and besides—” he growled, “if there is then—but there isn’t! It was probably just a little accident. That-er-waving of the hand business.”
“Probably,” I assented.
We might have thought no more about it only that Grey did not stay home that night as usual but went out, without so much as saying where he was going. And the next night he did the same, after making a lame sort of an excuse about leaving some plans at the office. The next day somebody stopped Lyon and me on the street and asked us what Grey was so interested in the native quarters for. The fellow leered at us knowingly and Lyon, flaring up, wanted to know whose business it was what Grey might be doing. And he added weakly: “He may be studying the language. In—In fact, I
believe I heard him say so John, didn’t you?”
But the other man was skeptical. This latest news was rankling in Lyon’s mind as we went home to lunch.
“Well,” he remarked irrelevantly, “Confound the women ! T’ think that s’
nice a boy as Gr-.”
“I don’t think anything about it,” I retorted, “If that boy’s going to be like a few other young fools that happens to be mixed up with natives—if he’s going to turn black-guard—”
“Who said black-guard!” cried Lyon, wrathy. “There’s no need for anybody to make things out worse than they are— and anyway,” his voice trailed off into a ruminative tone, “I guess it’s none of our business. Let’s ’tend our own affairs. It don’t matter to us.”
“Of course it don’t,” I said. “That’s right. Let’s shut up. We ain’t his Mother—though say Lyon! Didn’t he say he was engaged to a girl in Winnipeg?”
“Shut up!” retorted Old Lyon, trying to be satisfied with the conclusion we had arrived at, “We ain't his Mother, nor his girl in Winnipeg. What’s a young whelp like that want a girl in Winnipeg for anyway, or anywhere else?”
So we went into the house. Grey a little later, swaggered in. You can always forgive some people for swaggering, while there are other people that you hate to see walk across your line of vision. Lyon and I, for the moment forgetting what had been in our minds concerning Grey and the little copper girl, fell in on either side of our protege like two rusty old senile dements posing as cherubs under the feet of some Herculean Madonna, if, in your imagination, you could twist Grey around to be a Madonna. He could have walked over us for all we cared. But in order to show our imperviousness to any charm he might possess, we scowled at him and growled.
“You’re late,” I remarked as he strode across our living room, taking his coat off and rolling up his sleeves preparatory to disappearing into his own room.
“That so?” he asked, serious at once, “Oh! I’m sorry if I kept you waiting John.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean that,” I said, hastily backing down.
“Well y’ know,” he said as he came out of his room and put on his coat again, fresh and smiling through his tan, “Y’ know John, the Chief was passing just as I was ready to come up to lunch and he stopped to look things over.”
“Did he say anything?” blurted out Lyon, hoping that the Chief had expressed some approval of our protege, and at the same time trying to scowl, “What’d he think of your wall?”
“Nothing much,” returned Grey, passing me the yams. “He was saying it was a good thing there wasn’t much water to be held behind that wall, because if there was much strain on it and she ever gave way it’d wipe out a bunch of niggers that are living farther down the ditch. We’re to put the wall up flush with the tops of the sides of the old Calicut ditch so as to make a road-way across for teams. That’d be handier than going across the upper road-way. The wall will be finished to-
night and at six o’clock the creek will be turned into it, out of its present channel. I told the Chief that with a little concrete I could make a decent wall, but he said no, he couldn’t afford the machines nor the material and for all the water there was to be held back, the mud wall would do. As, he said, the creek is pretty low. But I warned him. If anything happens the wall, he admitted it’d be his fault.” “Humph!” sniffed Lyon, absorbed in his plate, “And if anything happens your wall what happens your natives? Suppose there was a nice young cloud-burst up the river and all the water was being turned against your wall?”
“But that’s not likely,” argued Grey, “and if it did happen they could open the temporary gates and let the water back into its old course.”
“Humph!” grunted Lyon.
There was a long quiet silence during which Lyon continued to study his plate and I carefully avoided Grey’s eyes. Grey went to pull some papers out of his inside pocket and as he did so something dropped out of them and on the table. Lyon and I both looked at it. It was a little charm carved in jade. As Grey reached to recover it, Lyon, very red in the face, exploded.
“So it’s true!” he said, “so it is true Master Grey!” He rose and was leaning excitedly across the table. “That you have been seeking pleasure among the natives —preferring the society of little heathen wenches to the company of white men.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Grey, quietly, apparently puzzled by Lyon’s manner, and a trifle ill at ease. “What did you say, sir?”
“Say!” cried Lyon, exploding again. “Say! You telling us you were to marry a girl in Winnipeg and carrying on with a little copper wench that sits on the top of the bank and waves her hand at you when you ought to be at you work—”
“Sit down !” commanded Lyon—but the boy remained standing. “Where did you get that?”
“That?” returned Grey. “That’s an Aztec idol.”
“Yes,” hissed Lyon, sneering, “A heathen love token—.”
Grey went white. He had seen what 1 yon meant. T expected a hot denial and 1 v.oukl have accepted it and been happy. But instead, after a pause, he turned from the table, tabu g the little trinket with hun. “Hel1!” he EXCLAIMJ !, and walked out of the house.
The sound of his steps died out. Our food grew cold on our plates. Our servant stood dumb at the end of the room. Lyon looked at me and I answered him with one word. “Fool!” I snapped.
“Ass!” he admitted humbly.
I hurried to the door and looked out. But there was no sign of Grey. As the doctor looked over my shoulder I heard someone crying and perceived a small brown girl, huddled in a shadow across the street.
“Then—then it’s true,” said Lyon, turning to me.
“I guess it is,” I returned, weakly.
Old Lyon, in a conversational way, severed the heads of several people from their respective bodies that afternoon. The nurses in the divisional hospital were quite fluttered at the really curmudgeon manners he displayed. His reputation had hitherto been fairly good among the women with whom he came in contact, for although he avoided them and wasted as little ceremony with them as he could, and although he was forever quoting, curtly, old proverbs about the cardinal virtues and the gossiping proclivities of “fee-males,” they discounted it all by saying that his “bark was worse than his bite,” and that he was after all nothing but a peppery old fellow with a kind heart. For when it came to a matter of babies and mothers, Old Lyon was a trifle softer, and some of the stories jwàflph had leaked out concerning thhjnîcmight trips and the everlasting patience of the old bear when it came to handling certain kinds of cases, softened the women toward him. Many of them, no doubt, would have been glad to weep on his old rusty shoulder of he had for one moment let down his defences. But on the afternoon after his outburst with Grey, he was three times as curt as he had ever been before. He cut everybody short and growled incessantly.
As for me, I stayed in the house and
pretended to work on tlie plans for some work which was to go on as soon as the little river which was in our way had been turned into the Calicut ditch which Grey was damming. There was ordinarily, very little water in the creek at this time of year, but it was sufficient to be embarrassing in my concrete work.
At supper there was no sign of Grey, though 1 heard that he had completed the wall, and later, heard that the water had been turned into the Calicut ditch so as to let the original water-course dry out before morning. But when I looked out, just before going into supper, I saw signs of rain.
We ate in silence. Grey’s plate was set. Lyon refused to look at it. 1 was feeling gloomy myself.
At length I could stand the strain no longer. I had to ease myself somehow and 1 let fly at Lyon.
“I sometimes wonder if you were so almighty virtuous yourself, when you were young,” I sneered, breaking the silence. He knew what I referred to and colored. He was feeling humble in the presence of his thoughts.
“Aye!” he sighed, “perhaps you’re right John. I’ve consumed large quantities of liquor in my day. I’ve been a swearin’ man and now’t ye recall me to it, I am brought to admit that it was never a very godly life 1 led, and yet—and yet John, it was never fee-males. But 1 suppose, John, one’s as bad as another. D’ye think so?”
I was pained at his humility. It was unlike the irrascible old bachelor.
“Begad!” he cried, starting up suddenly and gathering his napkin in one fist, “begad I may have done a wrong. How ciunixc tell—I’ll go and apologize to him, though i never did such a thing to a puppy in my days**/ But if—if only I thought I was wrong—I'd go and apologize. Gad ! I—will !”
“You can’t!” I observed sourly. “He didn’t deny anything. All he needed to have done was to have called us liars and we’d ’a been satisfied. But y’ can’t go and apologize for calling a man a thief when he doesn’t deny it and when-”
Lyon’s fist nearly broke the table. The dishes danced.
“Shut up John!” he commanded.
“Who said anything about thief. Don’t you get calling him names or-”
The conversation limped oil into silence again.
We tried smoking on the tin verandah after supper but our pipes would not draw and the air was heavy. The insects were clamoring at the screen doors for admission to the light inside. Every now and then some small winged thing crashed into the screen and hung there buzzing stupidly to be admitted. But we took no interest in anything, not even the massing rain clouds. Grey had failed to turn up. As a rule, Grey spent his evenings with us, playing chess or cribbage, or we went with him to one of the other houses and had a game of billiards or some other sort of amusement. Or else we sat by in a corner with the old man of the house while he talked to the daughters, if there were any. Lyon and I, on such occasions, kept jealous watch over him. But now there was no Grey.
“Just suppose,” Lyon began, almost timidly, “Just suppose, John, that a little conversation—a little harmless conversation—a fatherly talk as it were, such as Grey and I had at noon to-day—suppose now that it might—er—drive him to the devil. D—do you suppose, John, that there might be any chance whatever of its having that effect?”
He fairly pleaded to be re-assured, but I was in no mood for re-assuring anyone. I needed re-assurance myself.
“He’s always been shy of women,” I replied. “Lie’s sort of stupid with women till he gets to know ’em, and there’s nobody more scared of a skirt than he is. But I’m afraid Lyon, I am afraid that this—er—affair may be different. He might not have gone down hill so fast if we had kept him with us. But—but if he gets an idea that he’s an outcast from society, or something like that, he might go straight to the bow-wows. He may take up with some of the swift young devils now and then—”
I shrugged my shoulders to intimate the rest of the story.
“Don’t you think,” said Lyon, confidingly, and leaning across to me, “don’t you think John, that perhaps it is our duty to go and—and find him, bring him back into the fold—ain’t that the proper
expression? Don’t you think we ought to sacrifice our own dignity as it were, and save him ?”
“He probably don’t want to be saved,” I muttered, vaguely recalling having heard the term at a street meeting in Panama.
“If I could only have kept m’ mouth shut!” wailed Lyon.
Suddenly, save for the abandoned racket of a hoisting engine letting out slack, there was stillness over the whole1 valley. It was the pause before a rain storm. The wind held its breath. The bugs were still. Three great drops of water exploded as they fell on the edge of the verandah. There was a thump on the roof as another detachment of drops arrived. Then the gathering wind broke, and the rain marched over the valley in endless battalions. We went indoors and played draw poker.
It was just ten o’clock when I thought, in a lull in the wind outside, that I heard a voice on the verandah. It seemed like a little faint cry that had been caught up by the wind and was being harried against the wall of the house.
We reached the door together. Lyon opened it. Lying prostrate on the verandah, exhausted, lay a small womanly figure, drenched with rain.
“M’sieu’ Grey,” she whispered faintly, in excellent English but with a tinge of French in it somewhere, “M’sieu’ Grey is lying by his wall, by the dam which he made.”
“Something’s happened,” said Lyon. “Hurry John !”
We ran through the rain, down the long street on which the most of the staff have their quarters. We took short cuts behind shrouded heaps of steel work and concrete sacks. We plunged through puddles and tripped over stray bits of machinery. And at last we arrived at the dam. My lantern had gone out. Grey’s had had no oil in it. It took whole moments to light my wick. The glass refused to lift out of place so that I could get the match underneath. The catch for holding it in place refused to work. On a tenth attempt we succeeded. I went ahead with the light. I saw that the ditch was only half full of water, and I saw that the wall was still there, and yet there was something awrv^it had slid over—no, only a great layer from the top had collapsed. The immense bulk was still holding back most of the water.
But on the edge of the debris as though some person had dragged him as far from danger as possible, lay Grey, mud-covered, bleeding a little, unconscious.
Lyon worked quickly, while we waited for assistance. I had found a telephone and informed the night orderly at the hospital. AVhile we waited, Lyon examined our man.
“He’s smashed considerably.” He reported drily, “but he’ll get over it.”
“Must of been a flood up-country,” I remarked. Chief couldn’t expect Grey’s wall or any mud wall to hold that strain.”
Two orderlies from the hospital arrived with a stretcher.
As Lyon and I walked home at dawn the old Doctor passed me one re"' “The girl saved Grey,” he said. “She must have pulled him out of that mud. Mebbe he ain’t worth it. Never would ’a thought a woman would ’a had the brains.”
That was the beginning of the end. Lyon had praised a woman.
Grey sat in an invalid chair on the hospital verandah and Lyon and I faced him. It was an ordeal for Grey.
“I was lonesome,” he kept repeating, “I was lonesome as the very Devil, I tell you Lvon, and you John, you don’t know what it’s like. “ I didn’t get any letters from "Winnipeg for weeks, and I didn’t want to have any truck with the people in the Division. I went over to my old Aztec foreman’s house to get him to teach me the language while I was to teach him English, and I met her there. Honest Lyon, there was no harm in it. I just made her pretty speeches and paid her compliments. I—well it was because I was lonesome, I tell you.”
“That’s something; I don’t know anything about,” said the doctor tartly. “Other people have been that way without fussing over little heathen.”
“But I tell you,” persisted Grey, “I tell you there was no harm in the whole thing. I—I just wanted something to be nice to and fuss over. Something that wasn t
just plain brute masculine. I swear it,
Lyon, I never even-”
“You only saw a little pretty face and you paid it little compliments as you would to a pretty doll, so that now the little Miss Innocence thinks—she thinks Master Grey, that you have been courting her all along. In fact she expects you to marry her native fashion, no doubt, so there, Master Grey.”
“I know,” he admitted heavily.
“And it was she that saved-”
But I caught Lyon’s eye in time. He would have blurted out the truth that it had been the little heathen that had saved Grey from his broken-down wall. Grey had not caught the drift of what Lyon had said, otherwise it might have made more difficulties.
“Well,” he said, looking up wearily, “All I can do, Lyon—, John, is to let it go at that unless—unless you do want me to marry—to marry her, I thought she was only a child—but Lyon—Lyon ! I’m engaged to a girl in Winnipeg !”
“Well,” said Lyon, “we’ll see” and we went out.
The Little Heathen did not turn up for weeks. Lyon had found her father’s house after Grey’s accident and had taken her home. There he had learned what the Little Heathen thought of Grey and when lie came home he had told me the whole twisted little affair of how Grey —big, handsome, selfish, stupid Grey, had been saying “pretty things” to a Little Heathen who had gone to school somewhere or another and had picked up enough English to get more color than a little bit, out of Grey’s idle speeches. So we had arraigned Grey and had his answer. He was contrite but what could he do?
“He’ll sail on the 18th.” remarked Grey to me.
“Yes,” I said.
“And after that?”
“What about the Little Heathen?”
“By the way,” I said, “have you seen her recently?”
“Why no!” returned Lyon, suddenly. “You’re right. I saw her two days after the rain but not since. I wonder now—”
“Oh, she’s only a woman, Lyon,” I mocked.
“Woman!” he retorted, undisturbed, perfectly unconscious of any inconsistency in his conduct, “why should one not be sorry for a—woman? Are you so superior to them yourself, John?”
I had not expected him to turn on me in that way.
“But anyway,” I continued, mocking again, “She’s only a girl—a 'silly little mischief that disturbs the peace of mind of mankind and makes foolishness blossom where brains should grow.’ I’m surprised at your change of front, Lyon.”
“Be surprised at nothing!” he retorted calmly. “She’s only a little heathen wench, as innocent as the Colonel’s baby, but with a fool idea in her head which is as serious to her as it would be for you and me to be fired. She’s neither native nor white. She’s got ideas from both kinds. She thinks Grey is—'hers.’ Tush ! What twaddle.”
But three day later I had to go on a search for Lyon. He had not been seen since breakfast and an urgent message was waiting for him on the sideboard of our mess-room. In two days Grey was to leave for Panama and Winnipeg, via New York.
I wound up my search late that night. It was in the native quarters. The old woman who peddles lottery tickets among the Nicaraguans acted as my pilot to the house where, as she had told me, the doctor was.
“It is fever,” she said, as she poked along ahead of me. “I have had it myself.”
'Ves,” I said impatiently. “Which is the house?”
“It crippled me so that I am forced to sell by ticka’s (a name for lottery papers). But there is not much profit.”
“But how much farther is it to the house?” I demanded again.
“Not far. T sold her one many weeks ago—the little girl who is sick. She told me then that she was going to marry— someone. T don’t know who it was— none of us natives—some great chief perhaps. Ha! Ha! And she said the ticket would buy her pretty wedding clothes such as the American women buy, she says. What should a chit know of Ameri-
can weddings. Anyway, señor, she did not win and now she has the fever. This is the house, señor. Thank the señor! I am a poor woman and as I said—crippled by the ague—”
I entered the house and found Lyon. He was sitting on the floor, old worn Scotchman that he was, beside a native bed. On the bed lay the little Heathen. Hovering in the room was her father, the Aztec Indian. He had a good face. The candle was burning in a far corner of the room, shaded so that the light would not fall upon the eyes of the patient,
“There’s a message for you, Lyon,” I said, after a pause and a glance from the doctor. “It’s from the Chief’s wife. She thinks—■”
“Let her think,” replied Lyon, drily. “There’s a girl here, having a Hellish time to get better. If she comes through the next hour she’ll be safe. She’s been lyin’ here with the damn plague without calling anybody. Scared she’d take the doctor away from that young whelp—”
He did not add, “Grey.”
“In another hour!” I whispered.
“An hour,” echoed the shadow against the wall, the father.
“Aye,” said Lyon, “talk less.”
He was ordinarily a neat man and most precise about everything. But he had seated himself on the floor. There were no chairs. His medicine chest lay upon the floor, opened carelessly. An earthen cup and a wooden spoon lay near. The candle guttered. I had forgotten the Chief’s wife and her premonitions. The three of us watched.
“It’s holding,” said Lyon curtly, over his shoulder, wiping the thermometer.
Still we waited.
“Still holding,” he reported grimly, later.
We waited in tense anxiety.
“I think it’s a bit lower by the feel of her hands. Aye! It’s falling. Good. Get me some water, nigger!”
I stayed with Lyon long after that, watching her. Toward dawn she began to stir. She opened her eyes and smiled. It was then I noticed that she was a halfbreed—half white, half Indian.
“To-day,” she whispered, “to-day I may go to see him?”
“No,” said Lyon, “You’re not strong enough.”
“But my lottery! Did I win the prize?” “Yes,” said Lyon.
“B—but she lost it Lyon,” I whispered. “I know,” rebuked Lyon, “but would y’ tell her?”
But the Little Heathen was looking up again and whispering, weakly.
“Señor! M’sieu’!” she called, falling back upon the two languages of the Isthmus. “Would—he—do you think—be
glad that I am better? Will he again soon come?”
Grey had departed. We sat on our verandah the morning after.
“I’ve to tell her the news,” said Lyon, gloomily.
“Dear! Dear!” I sighed, irrelevantly. “And I’m wondering,” he continued, “how she’ll take it.”
“Pretty rough,” I observed, and yet you know Lyon, it was her own fault,” “Fault!” he sneered. “It was your man Grey!”
“My man Grey!” I exclaimed. “Have you so soon turned against him? He meant no harm. He only said pleasant little things that you hear them jolly white girls with three times a day.”
“But this is not a white girl.”
“She’s half white!”
“That only makes it worse.”
He had taken special food from the hospital for the Little Heathen. He had, I am pretty certain, paid the youngster the amount of her lottery just to keep her from worrying. He had lied about Grey every day, in answer to her questions, and I suspect that it was he that sent the flowers that went to the little house in the native quarters.
But late in the afternoon I met Lyon dressed all in black.
“What’s up?” I chirped, if old bachelors ever do “chirp.”
“Can’t a man wear his best clothes if he pleases?”
“I suppose so.”
He strolled off, but presently returned. “Have ye any black gloves?” he asked. “Black gloves? Yes, but what are you up to?”
“But Grey is—Grey’s sailed by this time.”
lie turned on his heel.
But toward evening Lyon came home. He opened the door of my room and gazed in at my confusion of blue-prints. There was a queer look in his eyes.
“He’s buried,” he announced curtly. “Yes, I know,” I answered, “buried in oblivion.”
“Not at all,” he said. “There’s a grave in the cemetery.”
“Look here, Lyon ; are you daft?” “Nearly,” he repeated. “Nearly, man, nearly. But I couldn’t help it man. She kept askin’ me for him, and askin’ me where he was, and all that, ’till I couldn’t a-bear to look her in the face and keep on lying. So I made the last lie—and buried him. I said he was dead!”
“You said Grey was—”
“But he isn’t?”
“And so you—you-”
I didn’t believe it. I thought perhaps Lyon had been stricken by the fever himself, or the sun,—we had been having some unusually hot weather.
“Y’see,” Lyon explained, “I argued, that to tell her Grey had not meant anything might make her unhappy. I fancied she’d be happier with a grave to weep over than the memory of somebody she thought hadn’t played fair. So I faked a funeral and a few things and got the new Chaplain and—oh it was very simple. I didn’t let her see the inside of
the box—lied again. And she wept. It was better than telling her and—and then she’d a thought Grey was a crook or something, and that’d not make her any happier.”
I didn’t believe. I suspected Lyon’s health. This sentimental turn and this preposterous story, could not get past my intelligence, 'till Lyon $ook me by the arm, firmly.
“John,” he said, “I’ll have no man doubt my word. I may be a fool. No doubt I am. But it was my pleasure to be a fool. It pleased me. Now—come with me.”
He put me in a native carriage and gave an order. We arrived at the burying ground.
“There!” he said.
Looking. I saw a mound, a new mound with some native flowers dying thereon. And on a plain head-board was the name:
Born 1889: Died 1910.
“Gone, but not forgotten.”
I wanted to laugh but I couldn’t. I felt funny. Lyon looked at me and again I wanted to laugh but couldn’t.
“Hell!” I said, “that’s a rotten selection—“Gone, but not forgotten!”
“I know,” he answered weakly, “but it was the only appropriate thing I could remember.”
W7hen again I saw the Little Heathen she wore a black straw hat and was the envy of the native quarters. But she had a sad little face which was beginning to brighten ere long. Lyon h. J re-christened her “Mary” and had made her his protege.