Roy Glashan's Library
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As published in
The Chronicle, Adelaide, Australia, 3 December 1931

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-05-23
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

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MARGARET'S hour had arrived. Judd was due about midnight. The steamer would berth at the pier for twenty-four hours, allowing time for their marriage at the little chapel of the Magdalen Sisters, at Monsoon Point.

She had not seen Archie Judd for three years. The tragedy of her position lay in the fact that she had almost forgotten him. Her work at Payne's Silk House, on Malay avenue, had so pleasantly and completely absorbed her young thoughts. On her desk lay Judd's big, red sealed envelope, delivered by the morning Indian mail. It contained bank notes to the value of five thousand rupees. Judd insisted that the money was essential for the purchase of her travelling outfit, she could buy everything on Malay avenue.

It went without saying that during her three happy years at Payne's she had saved little. Judd had been her father's secretary in China, until the endless revolutions had broken the old man's heart and fortune. There had been an almost insane deathbed agreement, wherein Judd had eased her father's last moments by promising to 'see her through' after he had made enough money to start a business on his own.

Archie Judd was nearly forty, and had thrown in his lot with a trading group in Calcutta, while Margaret had gone to Mrs. Maltby, the widow of an old army officer in Songolo. Mrs. Maltby owned a red-tiled bungalow at Monsoon Point. It was through her good offices that the sixteen-year-old Margaret had found employment at Payne's big silk warehouse on Malay avenue. The palatial showrooms attached to the mammoth silk emporium were controlled and owned by Norry Payne, the youngest and most inscrutable of Songolo's silk rajahs.

Payne was barely in his twenty-sixth year. A shy and somewhat elusive type of merchant prince, he had nevertheless fought his way, unaided, through the continued opposition of native guilds and tongs, with skill and daring. Margaret had grown accustomed to his shy, quick glances whenever he passed down the bale- littered passages where the native clerks sat on their heels, or perched on high stools before their ledgers and invoices. From his morning survey of his well-organised staff he would pass to the seclusion of his fan-cooled office, where he worked alone.

How careful Norry Payne had been to avoid undue favours or attentions, despite the fact that she was the one white girl in his employ! Sometimes in passing he would pause to emphasise a clause or point in regard to a recent business communication from a foreign buyer. Yet in the moment of leisured intercourse the eyes of a hundred watchful clerks would focus her, the lovely, aloof memsahib with the dreaming face and eyes. Well, she was going to forget it all, forget the three years of wistful dreaming within the secluded walls and gardens of Songolo's inscrutable trader, Payne. Margaret had sent in her resignation the moment Judd's letter had reached her, had left the office with the intention of completing her outfit at the imposing general store owned by Hop Sing, at the far end of the town.

Of course Norry Payne had received her letter, had probably read it, and forgotten it as completely as if she had never existed. Every day in the year someone was resigning. He had no time to feel sorry for the domestic comedies and tragedies of the wayward ones who peopled his little kingdom on Malay avenue. And, be it noted, the men and women who resigned comfortable positions in the house of Payne never returned. Not once had the rule been broken.

Norry Payne stayed late, that afternoon, in his office. Margaret's letter of resignation was on the desk before him. So the girl with the eyes of a Ridi Madonna was gone, the Margaret he had taken under his house-flag, when disaster and death had overtaken her father, had slipped away without a nod or a good- bye.

Well, it had not been his custom to jump from his desk and farewell every man and woman leaving his service. They left with a year's salary and as much silk as they wanted. Yet, he reflected, Margaret might have just looked in for the last time. After all, his own days were pretty lonely. That fellow Judd from Calcutta! Would Margaret find happiness with him? Archie Judd! Good lord!

The telephone at his elbow rang. Hop Sing was speaking in his fiercest pidgin.

"Lissen to me, sah!" he raved. "One big swindle just bin put on me! You hear, Missah Payne?"

"I hear, Hop Sing," Norry gave back sternly. "Don't shout at me, please. Who is the swindler?"

The Chinaman was breathing savagely as he answered, "One of your people, sah, Missey Margaret Blake. She hand five-thousan' rupee to my cashier to pay for goods she just take away. Five thousan' rupees!" he almost screamed. "I callee police now! You heah, sah?"

Payne sat frozen at the receiver. "Wait a bit, Hop Sing," he answered at last. "I'm coming to your store. There's been a mistake."

HOP SING received him with dangerously gleaming eyes. With scarcely a word he led the young silk merchant into his private room. On the table beside an open safe was a pile of banknotes. The Chinaman took them up, beat them with his open hand.

"Missey Blake come hear to buy wedding clothes. My people treat her with much politeness when she order leather bags, amber beads, jade an' silver bottles of perfume, sah. Allee welly expensive things foh Missey Blake's honeymoon. An' she pay us with these dam notes. All forgeries, sah? Not worth five annas!"

"Easy, Hop Sing!" Payne remonstrated. "The notes were sent to her by her promised husband. Archie Judd, of Calcutta. Miss Blake knows nothing about Indian currency."

Hop Sing stared at him. "Judd has been robbin' everyone on the Peninsula foh years. Allee poor Chinaman planters, allee Malay shopkeepers. Nobody able to catchee him. He welly clever sendin' bad money to Missey Blake to cash."

"He's a bad man," Payne agreed readily. Hot anger kindled in him at the thought of Judd's criminal manipulations. Margaret had been used to foist the notes on traders in the hope that she would be clear of the town before the fraud was discovered! Here was a honeymoon tragedy for Margaret. Moreover, once her name was mentioned in connection with the affair, life in the East would be impossible for her.

"See here, Mr. Sing," Payne went on earnestly. "I'll take over all those bad notes and give you my cheque for the amount in return. You shall not lose a penny on the transaction."

Hop Sing was guilty of a bitter retort as he slammed the package of counterfeit notes into the safe. Then he faced the young silk rajah menacingly.

"Keepee your money, sah! You wantee hush-hush the mattah. Allee bad notes come from your house. You onderstan? Flom the house of Missah Payne. How muchee bad money you bin passin' lately, eh? Missey Blake your servant. You pay her to do this an' that. I wish yo' good day, sah. Me velly busy!"

Payne realised instantly as he left the Chinaman's store that Sing desired to bring calumny on his house. Once the word was passed that the forged notes were circulating from Judd via the English silk house, incalculable harm would follow. More than this, Payne was moved by the thought of Margaret having to face a charge of criminal conspiracy with her fiancé, Judd.

BACK in his office Payne reflected swiftly. It was going to be a fight for more than one life and reputation. He had seen English traders ruined by the stroke of a Chinaman's pen. The fight was here and now. His fingers tingled as he took up the telephone receiver. In a few moments he was speaking to his wharfside superintendent.

"We are storing several cargoes of fine fabrics belonging to Hop Sing. There's more of his stuff unloading from the junks and lighters. Tell my stevedores not to handle any more of his goods. Turn all his merchandise out of my godowns! I want the space immediately. I've no contract with Sing to store and shelter his goods. Up to the moment it's been a matter of goodwill between us. Throw everything on to the wharf!"

"Very good, sir."

Payne sat back in his chair and waited. Within half an hour of Norry's declaration swarms of lightermen and coolies were seen casting piles of rare and priceless fabrics on to the open wharf, under a blazing sun. Masses of Chinese furniture, delicately fashioned, lacquered screens, and costly trays were strung out in the full glare of the destroying heat waves. The whole town stared in horror. Always these cargoes of exquisitely fashioned goods were handled with infinite care. Worse still, the long delayed rains were spreading east. The barometer had been steadily falling.

A shaven Buddhist priest stared from his ricksha at the growing mountain of spoilable goods on the pier.

"Here be half a million tales' worth of riches to fade and blister in the sun! There is madness somewhere! Or a woman?" he lamented.

A scream of rage was heard on Malay avenue as Hop Sing tore frantically in the direction of the pier. He was met by Payne's overseers.

"Build your own godowns, Mr. Sing," they told him. "The rains are coming and we've our own cargoes to shelter. Sorry, but it seems to be each for himself in this town!"

At three o'clock that afternoon, while Hop Sing's coolie gangs swarmed hopelessly about the mile-long line of scattered merchandise, in their frantic efforts to improvise cover, Norry took up his receiver and called up the half-demented Chinaman, The first big raindrops were thumping on the iron roofs of the adjoining warehouses.

"Hello, Sing! Had enough?" A short silence, and then—"I nevah think you play such a trick on me, Missah Payne!"

The Chinaman's voice quivered with suppressed wrath; for he was sure the young Englishman was laughing at the other end of the wire.

"When I start to trim a pigtail, Mr. Sing, I always cut at the roots. Have you had enough? it's beginning to rain!"

There was no doubt about the Chinaman's answer. "I am coming to you now, Missah Payne," he wailed.

"Then bring those false notes. I'll pay you for them. Try any more foolishness and I'll bankrupt you in three months!"

In half an hour Payne had Judd's collection of forgeries within his own safe.

Scarcely had he placed the key within his own drawer when his house boy entered the office with no more sound than a ghost.

"The sahib Judd, from the ship at the pier, has come," he announced in a whisper.

Norry Payne stood up as though naked steel had touched him. The outer door of the office opened, bringing the sound of rain and wind into the dusk-dimmed room. A lean squall-drenched figure wearing an oil coat and topee entered. He favoured the young silk merchant with a patronising grin.

"Hello, Payne! My name's Judd. Sorry to barge in at this hour. But the fact is I expected Margaret to come aboard before we adjourned to the little old chapel somewhere off Monsoon Point. I got tired of waiting."

It was some time before Payne spoke. Anger died in him as he surveyed the man who had come to carry Margaret away to his own spheres of life, to use her as he had used others in his soulless forgeries.

"Margaret left here this morning," he said quietly. "Only by an effort did I prevent her arrest on a charge of uttering these!" He opened the safe quickly, drew out the pile of counterfeit notes while a slow grin touched Judd's hard mouth.

"There's nothing for you to worry about, Payne," he sneered. "The thought of a few dirty chinks and Malays being done in doesn't keep me awake at night. It's easier than slaving in a shop!"

"Ten years for you, Judd, the moment the word goes round you're in Songolo! There's a place in the chain gang over on the island ready for you. Somehow," he paused an instant as though listening to the storm outside, "I feel that Margaret will not be waiting for you at the chapel of the Magdalen Sisters. Go and see!"

Judd swallowed a bitter retort as he slunk from the office. Norry heard him go, heard the roar of the rain on roof and palm as the outer gate slammed on the heels of the note-layer.

Five hours later a report went through the town that a party of Chinese and Malays had kidnapped a white man waiting near the chapel at Monsoon Point. It was known, later, that the white man had been taken by his captors into the Lindang hills.

THE following morning found Payne at the office earlier than usual. The rain-clouds had blown inland. Over the palm-skirted beach the sun rode in tropic splendour. Norry stared from his window down the wide avenue where cinnamon and scarlet merged with the blue and gold of streaming shawls and turbans. Ever and ever the soft prattle of native voices rose above the boom of surf on the breakwater.

Where was Margaret? Had she returned to her work? For a while he was afflicted with a sense of pride, a feeling that his boyish dignity might suffer if he traversed the long, coolie-thronged passages to her cubicle. Always these native clerks followed his slightest movements with the avidity of expectant children.

Unable to bear the strain of waiting, he rose steadily and passed down the chattering line of native clerks to her cool little office on the north side of the tree-shaded warehouse. The fragrance of rain-washed earth and flowers blew in from every window and gate. At Margaret's door he halted as one caressing the last moment of life.

Then he opened it briskly and entered. There was upon him an almost suffocating fear that she had gone; vanished with the shame of Judd's treachery crying within her. The window of the tiny office was open. A sheaf of madonna lilies filled the window space. At the small desk in the centre of the room Margaret sat, head bent over a pile of native correspondence. He could scarcely see her face, but in one swift intake of breath he knew that her world had gone to pieces.

As one awakened from a dream, she became aware of Payne's presence. Her face showed no sign that she had not slept. Her eyes told nothing, except that fate's messenger had whispered something over-night. She looked up into his inscrutable face, and all the stories she had heard of his relentless attitude towards resigning employees came back to her. And she was afraid.

The East loomed cruel and menacing now. Alone, she shrank from the possibility of dismissal, the facing of new ordeals, new masters and perils. If only—

The sound of her own voice was disturbing. "I have decided to stay on, sir. But knowing it against the rules of the house I—I—"

A silence. It was as if he were forcing her to her last rampart, as if he were waiting for the fullest and most humiliating confession. He took up the sheaf of Madonna lilies and examined them critically. Then his glance went out to the long winding avenue in the north, visible from the window where he stood.

A surging mob of Chinese and Malays appeared suddenly on the crest of the hill. Came a tornado of beating drums in their wake. From every part of the native quarter surged men and women carrying sticks and bamboos. They hurried forward in the hope of striking something that ran and dodged each blow aimed at it from the screaming, pursuing Malays and Chinese. Nearer and nearer came the runner, naked to the waist, his face a twisted agony as he made for the ship at the end of the distant pier.

Payne leaned from the window as the runner drew near. Archie Judd! Judd's eyes held the glare of a maddened beast. On his brow was the imprint of a tattooed-bank note, for India to see. A hurricane of empty bottles crashed in his path as he hurtled towards the quay. The screaming voices reached Margaret at her desk. She rose, white lipped and trembling to the window.'

"What—what was that?" she begged.

Payne barred her view.

"Just a crowd of coolie rats chasing a bazaar thief. They'll be gone in a minute and the town will be quiet again."

The screams and shouts died away as the tattooed fugitive gained the protection of the pier and the vessel's gangway. Payne came away from the window softly, bent over the chair and the sobbing shoulders of the girl who had missed her fate by the breadth of a hand.

"The thief has gone!" he said quietly. "Never to return." And then, "You are free of all rules in my house, Margaret. I want it to be your sanctuary, dear, your garden of dreams and mine!"

All that Margaret knew was that the thief had vanished, and that Norry was holding her to his breast.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.