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Officer And Man 1901   By: (1855-1913)

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From "The Tapu Of Banderah and Other Stories"

By Louis Becke

C. Arthur Pearson Ltd.


The anchor of her Majesty's ship Hannibal was underfoot and the captain on the bridge, and Rear Admiral Garnet had shaken hands with the last of the "leading" Fijian white residents, who always did the welcoming and farewelling when distinguished persons visited Levuka, when Lieutenant Bollard approached him and intimated that "a person" from the shore had just come alongside in a boat and desired to see "his Excellency on private and important business."

"What the devil does the fellow want?" said the Admiral irascibly, not a whit softened by the "his Excellency" style of address; "I'm going on the bridge, and can't see any one now; we can't delay the ship and get into a mess going through the passage."

"Told him so, sir; but he says he wants to see you upon an important a most pressing matter."

"Oh, well! Confound him! Let the sentry show him to my cabin, and tell Captain Bracely I shall be up in five minutes."

The "person," conducted by the sentry, was shown into the cabin, where the Admiral, without taking a seat or offering one to his visitor, inquired with a cold, cautious politeness born of much experience of island visitors with "important and private Service matters of great urgency," what he might be pleased to want?

The stranger was a short, fat, coarse looking man with little pig like eyes and scanty tufts of black beard and whiskers growing in irregular patches on his cheeks and chin, like clumps of gorse on clayey banks. He was dressed in a manner in an ill fitting black cloth suit imported from Sydney. His hair was very black and shiny, plastered down over his temples and beautifully parted at the back of his bullet head. Altogether he was an unpleasantly sleek, oleaginous creature, and as he stood bowing and smirking with a catlike grin, the Admiral felt an almost irresistible impulse to kick him out of the cabin. Notwithstanding his haste, however, he began to recollect the man as an individual who had been introduced to him a few days previously at some municipal function.

"Can't recollect the fellow's name," he muttered to himself. "I wonder what the devil the creature wants! Got a complaint against the Consul very likely every one has a complaint against a Consul it's a disease in the South Seas. Confound their twopenny halfpenny squabbles!" Then the little fat man, with another servile grin, spoke.

"I wish, your Excellency, to see you upon a matter which I think, as a loyal subject, it is my duty my painful duty to bring under your notice."

"Thought as much," said the Admiral to himself. "Some row about a trader insulting a native teacher, or vice versa ." Then smothering an exclamation of impatience, he said

"What is it, sir? I have no time to lose. By the way, who are you, sir?"

"My name, your Excellency, is Obadiah Howl man. I had the distinguished honour, your Excellency, of showing your Excellency over the grounds of the new Mission College. I was the contractor for the erection of that ornament to our little town." And again the oily creature smirked and bowed and did the invisible soap business.

"Surely you are not a missionary, sir?" asked the Admiral, with undisguised contempt.

"I am not, your Excellency. That is, I am not yet an ordained labourer in the Vineyard, your Excellency; but I hope soon to be one. Meanwhile, all the time that is left to me from my business (I am a storekeeper and contractor) is given to the cause of spreading the Light I was once a lost soul, your "

"I see, I see," interrupted the Admiral, with ill disguised disgust and open impatience, "but do, for Heaven's sake, tell me what is your complaint. I am due in Sydney on the tenth of this month, and the ship is already under way. As it is, we shall have to stop outside the reef to let you get into your boat."

"I am aware of it, your Excellency, and I should not have ventured to detain you, but this is a very serious matter I may say, a criminal matter... Continue reading book >>

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