“One month, one ship; holiday same time,” he explained, and he went on to tell us he worked too plenty hard the rest of the month, stowing the palm-oil and kernels as the natives brought them in by hardly perceptible tracks from their villages far across the swamp.
“Bit slow, isn’t it, old man?” said the purser.
“Not slow,” he answered quickly; “plenty black man go thief, go kill; plenty fever, plenty live for die.”
“I should think you miss the French cafes and concerts and dancing and all that sort of thing,” I remarked.
“No matter for them things,” he answered. “Liberty here. Liberty live for this one place.”
“‘Where there ain’t no Ten Commandments,’” I quoted.
“No ten? No one,” he cried, shaking one finger in my face excitedly, so as to make the meaning of “one” quite clear.
Just then the steamer sounded her siren.
“The old man’s getting in a stew,” said the purser, slowly standing up and mopping his face.
The crew stretched themselves, tightened their wisps of cotton, and slowly stood up too.
As M. Jacques led us politely down to the surf-boat again, I heard him quietly singing in an undertone, “Liberte, Liberte, cherie!”
“What part of France do you come from?” I asked.
“From Marseilles, monsieur,” he answered, and having helped push off the boat, he stood with raised hat, watching us dive through the breakers. Then he slowly climbed the sand again, and I saw him pass into the gate of his fortified wall.
It was strange. Against that man every possible Commandment could be broken, but there was only one which he could have had any pleasure in breaking himself. And as I sat at Marseilles, watching the happy crowds of men and women pass to and fro, it appeared to me that he would have been at liberty to break that Commandment without leaving his native city.
A FAREWELL TO FLEET STREET
It is still early, but dinner is over—not the club dinner with its buzzing conversation, nor yet the restaurant dinner, hurried into the ten minutes between someone’s momentous speech and the leader that has to be written on it. The suburban dinner is over, and there was no need to hurry. They tell me I shall be healthier now. What do I care about being healthier?
Shall I sit with a novel over the fire? Shall I take life at second-hand and work up an interest in imaginary loves and the exigencies of shadows? What are all the firesides and fictions of the world to me that I should loiter here and doze, doze, as good as die?