He felt himself handicapped in the presence of Tudor, who had the gift of making a show of all his qualities. Sheldon knew himself for a brave man, wherefore he made no advertisement of the fact. He knew that just as readily as the other would he dive among ground-sharks to save a life, but in that fact he could find no sanction for the foolhardy act of diving among sharks for the half of a fish. The difference between them was that he kept the curtain of his shop window down. Life pulsed steadily and deep in him, and it was not his nature needlessly to agitate the surface so that the world could see the splash he was making. And the effect of the other’s amazing exhibitions was to make him retreat more deeply within himself and wrap himself more thickly than ever in the nerveless, stoical calm of his race.
“You are so stupid the last few days,” Joan complained to him. “One would think you were sick, or bilious, or something. You don’t seem to have an idea in your head above black labour and cocoanuts. What is the matter?”
Sheldon smiled and beat a further retreat within himself, listening the while to Joan and Tudor propounding the theory of the strong arm by which the white man ordered life among the lesser breeds. As he listened Sheldon realized, as by revelation, that that was precisely what he was doing. While they philosophized about it he was living it, placing the strong hand of his race firmly on the shoulders of the lesser breeds that laboured on Berande or menaced it from afar. But why talk about it? he asked himself. It was sufficient to do it and be done with it.
He said as much, dryly and quietly, and found himself involved in a discussion, with Joan and Tudor siding against him, in which a more astounding charge than ever he had dreamed of was made against the very English control and reserve of which he was secretly proud.
“The Yankees talk a lot about what they do and have done,” Tudor said, “and are looked down upon by the English as braggarts. But the Yankee is only a child. He does not know effectually how to brag. He talks about it, you see. But the Englishman goes him one better by not talking about it. The Englishman’s proverbial lack of bragging is a subtler form of brag after all. It is really clever, as you will agree.”
“I never thought of it before,” Joan cried. “Of course. An Englishman performs some terrifically heroic exploit, and is very modest and reserved—refuses to talk about it at all—and the effect is that by his silence he as much as says, ’I do things like this every day. It is as easy as rolling off a log. You ought to see the really heroic things I could do if they ever came my way. But this little thing, this little episode—really, don’t you know, I fail to see anything in it remarkable or unusual.’ As for me, if I went up in a powder explosion, or saved a hundred lives, I’d want all my friends to hear about it, and their friends as well. I’d be prouder than Lucifer over the affair. Confess, Mr. Sheldon, don’t you feel proud down inside when you’ve done something daring or courageous?”