It was nearly dinner-time when he got back
It was nearly dinner-time when he got back, and their meal was laid in the trader's parlour. It was a room designed not to live in but for purposes of prestige, and it had a musty, melancholy air. A suite of stamped plush was arranged neatly round the walls, and from the middle of the ceiling, protected from the flies by yellow tissue-paper, hung a gilt chandelier. Davidson did not come.
'I know he went to call on the governor,' said Mrs. Davidson, 'and I guess he's kept him to dinner.'
A little native girl brought them a dish of Hamburger steak, and after a while the trader came up to see that they had everything they wanted.
'I see we have a fellow lodger, Mr. Horn,' said Dr Macphail.
'She's taken a room, that's all,' answered the trader. 'She's getting her own board.'
He looked at the two ladies with an obsequious air.
'I put her downstairs so she shouldn't be in the way. She won't be any trouble to you.'
'Is it someone who was on the boat?' asked Mrs. Macphail. 'Yes, ma'am, she was in the second cabin. She was going to Apia. She has a position as cashier waiting for her.'
'Oh!' When the trader was gone Macphail said:
'I shouldn't think she'd find it exactly cheerful having her meals in her room.'
'If she was in the second cabin I guess she'd rather,' answered Mrs. Davidson. 'I don't exactly know who it can be.'
'I happened to be there when the quartermaster brought her along. Her name's Thompson.'
It's not the woman who was dancing with the quartermaster last night?' asked Mrs. Davidson.
'That's who it must be,' said Mrs. Macphail. 'I wondered at the time what she was. She looked rather fast to me.'
'Not good style at all,' said Mrs. Davidson.
They began to talk of other things, and after dinner, tired with their early rise, they separated and slept. When they awoke, though the sky was still grey and the clouds hung low, it was not raining and they went for a walk on the high road, which the Americans had built along the bay.
On their return they found that Davidson had just come in.
'We may be here for a fortnight,' he said irritably. 'I've argued it out with the governor, but he says there is nothing to be done.'
'Mr. Davidson's just longing to get back to his work,' said his wife, with an anxious glance at him.
'We've been away for a year,' he said, walking up and down the veranda. 'The mission has been in charge of native missionaries and I'm terribly nervous that they've let things slide. They're good men, I'm not saying a word against them. God-fearing, devout, and truly Christian men-their Christianity would put many so-called Christians at home to the blush-but they're pitifully lacking in energy. They can make a stand once, they can make a stand twice, but they can't make a stand all the time. If you leave a mission in charge of a native missionary, no matter how trustworthy he seems, in course of time you'll find he's let abuses creep in.'
Mr. Davidson stood still. With his tall, spare form, and his great eyes flashing out of his pale face, he was an impressive figure. His sincerity was obvious in the fire of his gestures and in his deep, ringing voice.
'I expect to have my work cut out for me. I shall act and I shall act promptly. If the tree is rotten it shall be cut down and cast into the flames.'
And in the evening after the high tea, which was their last meal, while they sat in the stiff parlour, the ladies working and Dr Macphail smoking his pipe, the missionary told them of his work in the islands.
'When we went there they had no sense of sin at all,' he said. 'They broke the commandments one after the other and never knew they were doing wrong. And I think that was the most difficult part of my work, to instill into the natives the sense of sin.'
The Macphails knew already that Davidson had worked in the Solomons for five years before he met his wife. She had been a missionary in China, and they had become acquainted in Boston, where they were both spending part of their
leave to attend a missionary congress. On their marriage they had been appointed to the islands in which they had laboured ever since.