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Somerset Maugham "The End Of The Flight"

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       I shook hands with the skipper and he wished me luck. Then I went down to the lower deck crowded with passengers, and made my way to the ladder. Looking over the ship's side I saw that my luggage was already in the boat. It was full of gesticulating natives. I got in and a place was made for me. We were about three miles from the shore and a fresh breeze was blowing. As we drew near I saw a lot of coconut trees and among them the brown roofs of the village. A Chinese who spoke English pointed out to me a white bungalow as the 
residence of the district officer. Though he did not know it, it was with him that I was going to stay. I had a letter of introduction to him in my pocket.
      I felt somewhat lonely when I landed and my bags were put beside me on the beach. This was a far off place, this little town on the north coast of Borneo, and I felt a trifle shy at the thought of presenting myself to a total stranger with the announcement that I was going to sleep under his roof, eat his food and drink his whisky, till another boat came in to take me to the place where I was going.
      But everything turned out all right. The moment I reached the bungalow and sent in my letter he came out, a sturdy, ruddy, cheerful man, of thirty five perhaps, and greeted me with heartiness. While he held my hand he shouted to a boy to bring drinks and to another to look after my luggage. He cut short my apologies.
      "Good God, man, you have no idea how glad I am to see you. Don't think I'm doing anything for you in putting you up. The boot's on the other leg. And stay as long as you like. Stay a year."
      I laughed. He put away his day's work, saying that he had nothing to do that could not wait till tomorrow, and threw himself into a long chair. We talked and drank and talked. Towards evening, when it was no longer hot we went for a long walk in the jungle and came back wet to the skin. We took a bath, and then we dined. I was tired out and though it was clear that my host was willing to go on talking straight through the night I was obliged to beg him to allow me to go to bed.
      "All right, I'll just come along to your room and see that everything's all right."
      It was a large room with verandahs on two sides of it and a huge bed protected by mosquito netting.
      "The bed is rather hard. Do you mind?"
      "Not a bit. I shall sleep without rocking tonight."
      My host looked at the bed thoughtfully.
      "It was a Dutchman who slept in it last. Do you want to hear a funny story?"
      I wanted chiefly to go to bed, but he was my host, and then I know that it is hard to have an amusing story to tell and find no listener.
      "He came on the boat that brought you here. He came into my office and asked me where he could find a place to stay for some time. I told him that if he hadn't anywhere to go I didn't mind putting him up. He jumped at the invitation. I told him to send for his luggage.
      ''This is an I've got,' he said.
      "He held out a little shiny black bag. It seemed a bit scanty, but it was no business of mine, so I told him to go to the bungalow and I would come as soon as I was through with my work. While I was speaking the door of my office was opened and my clerk came in. The Dutchman had his back to the door and it may be that my clerk opened it a bit suddenly. Anyhow, the Dutchman gave a shout, he jumped about two feet into the air and whipped out a revolver.
      '"What the hell are you doing?' I said.
      "When he saw it was the clerk, he collapsed. He leaned against the desk, breathing hard, and upon my word he was shaking as though he'd got fever.
      "'I beg your pardon,' he said. 'It's my nerves. My nerves are terrible.'
      "'It looks like it,' I said.
      "I was rather short with him. To tell you the truth I was sorry that I had asked him to stop with me. He didn't look as though he'd been drinking a lot and I wondered if he was some fellow the police were after.
      '"You'd better go and lie down,' I said.
      "He went, and when I got back to my bungalow I found him sitting quite quietly, but very upright, on the verandah. He'd had a bath and shaved and put on clean things and he looked much better.
      '"Why are you sitting in the middle of the place like that?' I asked him. 'You'll be much more comfortable in one of the long chairs.'
      "'I prefer to sit up,' he said.
      "Queer, I thought. But if a man in this heat prefers to sit up rather than lie down it's his own business. He wasn't much to look at, tall and heavily built, with a square head and close-cut hair. I think he was about forty. The thing that chiefly struck me about him was his expression. There was a look in his eyes, blue eyes they were and rather small, that I could not understand, and his face gave you the feeling that he was going to cry. He had a way of looking quickly over his left shoulder as though he thought he heard something. By God, he was nervous. But we had a couple of drinks and he began to talk. He spoke English very well; except for a slight accent you'd never have known that he was a foreigner, and I have to admit he was a good talker. He'd been everywhere and he'd read a great deal. It was a pleasure to listen to him.
      "We had three or four whiskies in the afternoon and a lot of gin later on, so that when dinner came we were rather gay and I'd come to the conclusion that he was a damned good fellow. Of course we had a lot of whisky at dinner and I happened to have a bottle of Benedictine, so we had some liqueurs afterwards. I think we both got very drunk.
      "And at last he told me why he had come. It was a strange story."
      My host stopped and looked at me with his mouth slightly open as though, remembering it now, he was struck again with its strangeness.
      "He came from Sumatra, the Dutchman, and he'd done something to an Achinese and the Achinese had sworn to kill him. At first he thought nothing of it, but the fellow tried two or three times and it began to be rather a nuisance, so he decided to go away for a bit. He went over to Batavia and made up his mind to have a good time. But when he'd been there a week he saw the fellow hiding behind a wall. By God, he'd followed him. It looked as though he meant business. The Dutchman began to think it was getting beyond a joke and he thought the best thing he could do was to go off to Soerabaya. Well, he was strolling about the town one day, when he happened to turn round and saw the Achinese walking quite quietly just behind him. It gave him a turn. It would give anyone a turn.
      "The Dutchman went straight back to his hotel, packed his things and took the next boat to Singapore. Of course he put up at the hotel where all the Dutch stay, and one day when he was having a drink in the courtyard in front of the hotel, the Achinese walked in, looked at him for a minute, and walked out again. The Dutchman told me he was just paralysed. The fellow could have stuck his dagger into him there and then and he wouldn't have been able to move a hand to defend himself. The Dutchman knew that the Achinese was just awaiting his time, that damned fellow was going to kill him, he saw it in his eyes; and he went all to pieces."
      "But why didn't he go to the police?" I asked.
      "I don't know. I suppose he didn't want the police to know anything about this thing."
      "But what had he done to the man?"
      "I don't know that either. He wouldn't tell me. But by the look he gave me when I asked him, I suppose it was something pretty bad. I have an idea he knew he deserved whatever the Achinese could do."
      My host lit a cigarette.
      "Go on," I said.
      "The skipper of the boat that runs between Singapore and Kuching lives in that hotel between trips and the boat was starting at dawn. The Dutchman thought it an excellent chance to get away from the Achinese; he left his luggage at the hotel and walked down to the ship with the skipper, as if he were just going to see him off, and stayed on the boat when she sailed. His nerves were in a terrible state by then. He didn't care about anything but getting rid of the Achinese. He felt pretty safe at Kuching. He got a room at a hotel and bought himself a couple of suits and some shirts in the Chinese shops. But he told me he couldn't sleep. He dreamt of that man and half a dozen times he awakened just as he thought a dagger was being drawn across his throat. By God, I felt quite sorry for him. He just shook as he talked to me and his voice was hoarse with terror. That was the meaning of the look I had noticed. You remember, I told you he had a funny look on his face and I couldn't tell what it meant. Well, it was fear.
      "And one day when he was in the club at Kuching he looked out of the window and saw the Achinese sitting there. Their eyes met. The Dutchman collapsed and fainted. When he came to himself, his first idea was to get out. This boat that brought you was the only one that gave him a chance to get away quickly. He got on her. He was quite sure the man was not on board."
      "But what made him come here?"
      "Well, the boat stops at a dozen places on the coast and the Achinese couldn't guess that the Dutchman had chosen this one. He only made up his mind to get off when he saw there was only one boat to take the passengers ashore, and there weren't more than a dozen people in it.
      '"I'm safe here for a bit at all events,' he said, 'and if I can only be quiet for a while I shall get my nerve back.'
      " 'Stay as long as you like,' I said. 'You're all right here, at all events till the boat comes here next month, and if you like we'll watch the people who come off.'
      "He thanked me again and again. I could see what a relief it was to him.
      "It was pretty late and I told him it was time to go to bed. I took him to his room to see that everything was all right. He bolted the shutters, though I told him there was no risk, and when I left him I heard him lock the door I had just gone out of.
      "Next morning when the boy brought me my tea I asked him if he'd called the Dutchman. He said he was just going to. I heard him knock and knock again. Funny, I thought. The boy hammered on the door, but there was no answer. I felt a little nervous, so I got up. I knocked too. We made enough noise to rouse the dead, but the Dutchman slept on. Then I broke down the door. I pulled apart the mosquito curtains that were round the bed. He was lying there on his back with his eyes wide open. He was as dead as mutton.
      "A dagger lay across his throat, and say I'm a liar if you like, but I swear to God it's true, there wasn't a wound about him anywhere. The room was empty."
      "Funny, wasn't it?"
      "Well, that all depends on your idea of humour," I replied.
      My host looked at me quickly.
      "You don't mind sleeping in that bed, do you?"
      "N-no. But I would have preferred to hear the story tomorrow morning."


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