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  • Publicado : 9 de diciembre de 2010
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It was nearly bed–time and when they awoke next morning land would be in
sight. Dr Macphail lit his pipe and, leaning over the rail, searched the heavens
for the Southern Cross. After two years at the front and a wound that had
taken longer to heal than it should, he was glad to settle down quietly at Apia
for twelve months at least, and he felt already better for the journey. Sincesome
of the passengers were leaving the ship next day at Pago–Pago they had had a
little dance that evening and in his ears hammered still the harsh notes of the
mechanical piano. But the deck was quiet at last. A little way off he saw his wife
in a long chair talking with the Davidsons, and he strolled over to her. When he
sat down under the light and took off his hat you saw that he hadvery red hair,
with a bald patch on the crown, and the red, freckled skin which accompanies
red hair; he was a man of forty, thin, with a pinched face, precise and rather
pedantic; and he spoke with a Scots accent in a very low, quiet voice.
Between the Macphails and the Davidsons, who were missionaries, there had
arisen the intimacy of shipboard, which is due to propinquity rather than to
anycommunity of taste. Their chief tie was the disapproval they shared of the
men who spent their days and nights in the smoking–room playing poker or
bridge and drinking. Mrs Macphail was not a little flattered to think that she
and her husband were the only people on board with whom the Davidsons
were willing to associate, and even the doctor, shy but no fool, half
unconsciously acknowledgedthe compliment. It was only because he was of
an argumentative mind that in their cabin at night he permitted himself to
‘Mrs Davidson was saying she didn’t know how they’d have got through the
journey if it hadn’t been for us,’ said Mrs Macphail as she neatly brushed out
her transformation. ‘She said we were really the only people on the ship they
cared to know.’
‘I shouldn’t havethought a missionary was such a big bug that he could
afford to put on frills.’
‘It’s not frills. I quite understand what she means. It wouldn’t have been very
nice for the Davidsons to have to mix with all that rough lot in the smoking–
‘The founder of their religion wasn’t so exclusive,’ said Dr Macphail with a
‘I’ve asked you over and over again not to joke aboutreligion,’ answered his
wife. ‘I shouldn’t like to have a nature like yours, Alec. You never look for the
best in people.’
He gave her a sidelong glance with his pale, blue eyes, but did not reply. After
many years of married life he had learned that it was more conducive to peace
to leave his wife with the last word. He was undressed before she was, and
climbing into the upper bunk he settled downto read himself to sleep.
When he came on deck next morning they were close to land. He looked at it
with greedy eyes. There was a thin strip of silver beach rising quickly to hills
covered to the top with luxuriant vegetation. The coconut trees, thick and
green, came nearly to the water’s edge, and among them you saw the grass
houses of the Samoans; and here and there, gleaming white, alittle church.
Mrs Davidson came and stood beside him. She was dressed in black and wore
round her neck a gold chain, from which dangled a small cross. She was a little
woman, with brown, dull hair very elaborately arranged, and she had
prominent blue eyes behind invisible pince–nez. Her face was long, like a
sheep’s, but she gave no impression of foolishness, rather of extreme alertness;
shehad the quick movements of a bird. The most remarkable thing about her
was her voice, high, metallic, and without inflexion; it fell on the ear with a
hard monotony, irritating to the nerves like the pitiless clamour of the
pneumatic drill.
‘This must seem like home to you,’ said Dr Macphail, with his thin, difficult
‘Ours are low islands, you know, not like these. Coral. These are...
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