“I did not intend to stay for lunch,” said Phyllis, “but your overpowering will swept me along with it, Ella. But I hope you will let me say that I don’t think you should jest about what is—what some people at any rate think very serious.”

“Phyllis is of Philistia,” said Ella, “and Philistia was always given to ordeal by champions. She thinks the attack made upon you by two missionaries in their newspaper organ quite disgraceful. It doesn’t seem so disgraceful after all.”

“I haven’t seen the attack,” said he. “But I feel it to be very good of Miss Ayrton to think it disgraceful.”

“Of course I thought it disgraceful,” said Phyllis, “and I came to Ella to talk it all over. The article accuses you of atrocities, and said that a question would shortly be put to the Minister of the Annexation Department in the House of Commons. Now, I know that there is nothing my father enjoys more than snubbing those detestable men who endeavor to get up a reputation for philanthropy, and temperance, and bimetallism, and other virtues, by putting questions on the paper; and he could, I think, ask some counter question in this particular case that would ridicule the original busybody.”

“It was very good of you to think so, Miss Ayrton,” said he. “I can’t say that, personally, I mind all the attacks that all the missionaries who earn precarious salaries in South Seas may make upon me; but I must confess that I have a weakness for seeing busybodies put to shame.”

“You may depend upon Mr. Ayrton’s satire,” said Ella. “It never misses the point in the harness. The barb of the dart is, I believe, Mr. Ayrton’s, the feather at the other end is Phyllis’.”

“Only once that happened,” said Phyllis. “Oh, no! papa manufactures his own darts, from feather to tip.”

“But supposing that the charges brought against me are true?” suggested Mr. Courtland.

“Why, then, can’t you see there is all the greater need for ingenuity in your defense?” said Ella.

“It is impossible to think of the charges as true,” said Phyllis stoutly.

“For example?” said he.

“Well, the article said that you had made slaves of some of the natives of New Guinea, purchasing them by a promise to help a native chief against his enemies.”

“There wasn’t much harm in that: I did it,” said he.

“And then it went on to say that you kept your promise,” said Phyllis.

“What! They accused me of keeping my promise?” said he. “Well, I’m afraid I can’t deny that charge either.”

“Did you really slaughter the natives?” cried Phyllis.

The interest which she felt appeared in her eyes.

“I did my best for the savages who had purchased my services,” he replied. “The campaign was not a protracted one. Two days after the outbreak of hostilities brought things to a climax. We fought our decisive battle—the Sedan of King Mubamayo. You see, I had a trustworthy Winchester. I believe that about seventy of the enemy bit the dust.”

“Only seventy? That was unworthy of you, Mr. Courtland,” cried Ella. “Nothing short of thousands counts as a civilized battle. Seventy! Oh, I’m afraid you don’t do yourself justice.”

“Of course a battle is a battle,” said Phyllis stoutly. “If you hadn’t killed them they would have killed you. You were in the right, I’m sure.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” said he, shaking his head. “To tell you the truth, the elements of the crisis of Headman Glowabyola were somewhat involved. The original dispute was difficult for a foreigner to understand—it was, in fact, the Schleswig-Holstein question of Kafalonga.”

“You settled it, anyway,” suggested Ella. “You were the Bismarck of what’s-its-name?”

“I doubled the parts of Bismarck and Von Moltke,” said he.

“And that’s why they worshiped you as their god? I don’t wonder at the heathen in his blindness doing that. Any man who was the same as Bismarck and Von Moltke would certainly shoulder a deity out of his way,” laughed Ella.

“It so happened, however, that my deification was due neither to my recognition as a diplomatist nor as a military strategist,” said the explorer. “No, they wanted something beyond the mere fighting man to worship, and my knowledge of that fact combined with their paeans of victory—to the obbligato of a solid iron-wood drum beaten with the thigh bones of the conquered—to keep me awake at night. But one morning the headman came upon me when I was about to boil my kettle to make myself a cup of tea. I had a small lamp that burned spirits, and he stood by while I filled it up from the bottle that I carried with me. He took it for granted that the spirit was water, and he was greatly impressed when he saw it flare up as I applied a lighted match to it. He asked me if I possessed the power to set water in a blaze, and I assured him that that was something for which I had long been celebrated; adding that when I had had my breakfast I meant to while away an hour or two by setting fire to the ocean itself. He implored of me to reconsider my decision, and when I had poured a little spirit into the hollow of my hand and lighted it in the presence of his most eminent scientists, they said that they also desired to associate themselves with the headman’s petition. I was, however, inexorable; I walked down to the beach and had just struck a match on the brink of the ocean when the whole tribe prostrated themselves around me, promising to continue worshiping me if I would only stay my hand. Well, what could I do? I weakly yielded and spared the multitudinous sea from being the medium of what would in all likelihood have been the greatest conflagration on record. From that moment, I’m happy to say, they worshiped me as their supreme deity, and I’m bound to say that I behaved as such; I was certainly the most superior class of god they had ever had, and they gave me a testimonial to this effect in case I might ever be looking out for a new situation.”

“That was how you managed to get such a collection of birds, including my meteor-bird,” said Ella. “But Phyllis of Philistia is shocked at the bare recital of such a tale of idolatry. Are you not, Phyllis?”

“I think I am a little shocked,” said Phyllis. She did not say that her first thought just then was that the feather fan was not, after all, the price of blood: it was something much worse. “It was an encouragement of idolatry, was it not, Mr. Courtland?”

“Scarcely,” said he. “On the contrary, it was an honest attempt to lead them from their idols to something higher and better.”

“You are something higher and better,” suggested Ella.

“Quite so; I am a little lower than the angels, but a good deal higher than the awful image which they worshiped before I turned up,” said he. “The whole tribe admitted in the most honorable manner that I was by far the best god they had ever had; they had not an unlucky day so long as they worshiped me, and I retained my Winchester and a full supply of cartridges.”

“The testimony was flattering,” said Ella. “But still Phyllis is shocked.”

“I am,” said Phyllis. “I believe in God. Mr. Courtland believes in a Principle.”

“Anyhow, I led some thousands of savages from idolatry and cannibalism to something higher, and that’s a better record than most gods of my acquaintance can show. Everything must be done gradually to be done permanently. Nothing could be more absurd than the modus operandi of your missionary. Most of them have got rid of their Christianity to make way for their theology. They endeavor to inculcate upon the natives the most subtle points of their theological system, immediately after they have preached against the wickedness of economy in the matter of clothing.”

“A large missionary work might be done among husbands at home,” said Ella. “But what about the dynamite, that is the charge which still hands over you—a charge of dynamite?”

“That was my worst hour,” said Courtland. “I had gone up the Fly River in my steam launch to a point never previously reached by a European. I was fortunate enough to get some specimens that had never been seen before, and I was returning to the coast. My engineer and I were captured when ashore one night getting fuel for our furnace. They took us into the forest a long way, binding our hands with the fiber of one of the creepers, and I had no trouble whatever gathering that it was their intention to make a feast of us—a sort of high tea, it was to be, for they began brewing the herbs which I knew they used only when they were cannibalizing. We were courteously permitted to watch these preparations, for it was rightly assumed that they would be in some degree interesting to us. We were, indeed, greatly interested in all we saw, but much more so when, toward evening, a number of the natives arrived on the scene carrying with them some of the stores which they had found aboard the steam launch. They broke open with a stone hatchet some tins of preserved meat, and seemed to enjoy the contents greatly. The biscuits they didn’t care for much, and the cakes of soap which they began to eat could not honestly be said to be an entire success as comestibles. But while we watched them at these hors d’oeuvres to the banquet at which we were expected to take a prominent part, a straggler came up with some reserve supplies; I saw them; tins of dynamite—we carried dynamite for blowing up the snags that obstructed the narrower reaches of the river. We watched the thieves crowd around the bearer of the tins, and we saw that the general impression that prevailed in regard to them was that they had come upon some of the most highly concentrated beef they had ever had in their hands. When they laid the tins among the hot ashes of their fires and began to break them open with their stone hatchets, my engineer thought with me that all the interest there would be in the subsequent proceedings could not possibly compensate us for the waste of precious time which would be entailed by our remaining. We bolted in spite of our fettered hands, but before we had got more than a couple of hundred yards from the camp, there took place the severest earthquake, coincidental with a thunderstorm and the salute of a battery of a thousand heavy guns. We were whirled into the air like feathers in a breeze, but managed to cling—our bonds being broken—to some of the boughs among which we found ourselves. Shortly afterward, a quarter of an hour or so, there came on the heaviest shower I had ever experienced. Such a downpour of branches of trees, gnarled roots, broken fruits, birds’ feathers, mutilated apes of many species, and—well, anatomical specimens! It went on and on until the boughs around us were made into splinters and we were beaten to the ground with the force of those missiles, all the dense forest around us echoing to the shrieks of the lories and parrots, the monkeys and the wildcats.”

“And now the missionaries,” said Ella, after a pause.

“And what happened after that?” whispered Phyllis.

He shook his head.

“After that we came away,” he said. “We couldn’t see that there was any need for us to stay loafing about the forest when we had our business to mind in another direction. It took us two days, however, finding our launch.”

“And that is what the missionaries call your dynamite outrage against the natives?” said Ella.

“So it would seem,” said he. “I suppose they managed to get some account of the business; one can’t hush up a dynamite outrage even in the interior of New Guinea.”

“But what a gross misrepresentation of facts it was to say that you had massacred the natives,” cried Phyllis indignantly.

He laughed with a shrug.

“Oh, we must all live,” he said.

“Unless those who treat tins of dynamite as though they were tins of brawn,” said Ella. Then turning to Phyllis she smiled.

Phyllis had no difficulty interpreting the smile.

“Yes,” she said, “your opinion was quite correct: Mr. Courtland doesn’t care what people say, and it doesn’t matter in the least what they do say, or what falsehoods are spread abroad.”

“Not in the smallest degree,” said Ella. “Herbert Courtland is still Herbert Courtland.”

“But so far as I can gather,” said Mr. Courtland, “all that the missionaries said of me was substantially correct.”

“Read the paper and you will see how detestably false all the charges are,” cried Phyllis, rising,—the servants had now left the room,—and picking up the Spiritual Aneroid from where Ella had laid it on a chair.

Herbert Courtland had not yet opened it. He took it from her, saying:

“Thank you, Miss Ayrton. But I really don’t see that it concerns me very much whether or not the charges brought against me are true or false. The matter is certainly one for the—the—ah—Spiritual Aneroid and its special clientele.”

“But a question is to be asked about it in the House of Commons. I said so just now,” cried Phyllis.

“And even the House of Commons doesn’t matter much,” said Ella.

“That is what papa thought,” said Phyllis meekly. “Only I know that if Mr. Courtland thought it worth noticing, papa would be quite pleased to put a counter question. That is why I came here to-day.”

“It was so good of you,” said the man.

“My Phyllis is all that is good. Let us return to the drawing room,” said Ella, rising.

They returned to the drawing room; but when they had been in the apartment for perhaps four minutes, certainly not five, Phyllis said it was necessary for her to hurry home in order that the afternoon letters should be sent to her father at the House.

With another word of appreciation of her kindness, Mr. Courtland held her hand a second longer than was absolutely necessary to maintain a character for civility.

“She is the most charming girl in the world,” remarked Ella to the visitor, who remained when Phyllis had left.

“Is she?” said he.

“I know it. Don’t you?” asked she.

“How do I know?” he said. “I have thought nothing about it. If you say she is charming, I am pleased to hear it. It matters no more to me that the world is full of charming girls than that the kraken is still at the bottom of the sea. One woman fills all my thoughts. My heart is full of her.”

“And you want her to risk the salvation of her soul for you?”

“Yes; that is just what I want.”

He remained with her for another hour.

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