The Crescent Moon
The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Crescent Moon, by Francis Brett YoungThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and mostother parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms ofthe Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org. If you are not located in the United States, you'll haveto check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.Title: The Crescent MoonAuthor: Francis Brett YoungRelease Date: February 13, 2019 [eBook #58886]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE CRESCENT MOON***
This eBook was transcribed by Les Bowler
FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
AUTHOR OF “MARCHING ONTANGA”
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
681 FIFTH AVENUE
All Rights Reserved
First printing . . . . .January, 1919
Second printing . . . . .March, 1919
Third printing . . . . .March, 1920
Printed in the United States ofAmerica
When I stepped on to the platformat Nairobi I hadn’t the very least idea of what I was infor. The train for which we were waiting was due fromKisumu, bringing with it a number of Indian sepoys, captured atTanga and Jasin, whom the Belgian advance on Taborah hadfreed. It was my job to see them into the ambulances andsend them off to hospital. But when I got to the station Ifound the platform swarming with clerical hats and women wholooked religious, all of whom couldn’t very well have beenswept into this degree of congregation for the sake of an oddsepoy’s soul. These mean and ill-dressed people keptup a chatter like starlings under the station roof. It wasa hot day in November, and the rains were due. Even sixthousand feet of altitude won’t stimulate you then. It had all the atmosphere of a sticky school treat in August athome. . . . Baptists on an August Bank Holiday. Thatwas how it struck me.
And anyway it was a nuisance: I couldn’t get myambulances on to the platform. “You see, sir, itisn’t p.2a norspital train,” said the military policeman,“only a nordinary passenger train from the lake.”
I asked him what all the crowd was about.
“They say,” he replied cautiously, “as themissionaries is coming down. Them that was Germanprisoners.”
So that was it. And a few minutes later the clumsy traingroaned in, and the engine stood panting as though it were out ofbreath, as do all the wood-fuel engines of the UgandaRailway. The shabby people on the platform sent up anattempt at a cheer. I suppose they were missionariestoo. My wounded sepoys had to wait until these martyrs weredisgorged.
Poor devils. . . . They were a sad-looking crowd. I don’t suppose Taborah in war-time had been a bed ofroses: and yet . . . and yet one couldn’t help feeling thatthese strange-looking creatures invited persecution. Themen, I mean. Oh yes, I was properly ashamed of myself thenext moment: but there’s something about long-neckedhumility in clerical clothes that stirs up the savage in one,particularly when it moves slowly and with weak knees. Nowto the cheers tears were added. They wept, these goodpeople, and were very fluttered and hysterical: and theprisoners, poor souls, looked as if they didn’t know wherethey were. It wasn’t they who did the crying. Idare say, after all, they were quite admirable people and felt assick at being slobbered over by over-emotional women as I didwatching the progress. Gradually all of them were whippedoff into cars that were
I had noticed her from the first: principally, I imagine,because she seemed horribly out of it, standing, somehow,extraordinarily aloof from the atmosphere of emotionalism whichbathed the assembly as in weak tea. She didn’t looktheir sort. And it wasn’t only that her face showed alittle tension—such a small thing—about the eyes, asthough the whole thing (very properly) gave her a headache. And I think that if she hadn’t been so dreadfully tired shewould have smiled. As it was, nobody seemed to take anynotice of her, and I could have sworn that she was thankful forit. But that wasn’t the only reason why I wasinterested in her. In spite of the atrocious black clotheswhich she wore, and which obviously hadn’t been made forher, she was really very beautiful, and this was a thing whichcould not be said of any other woman on the platform. Butthe thing which most intrigued me was the peculiar type of beautywhich her pale face brought back to me, after many years. This girl’s face, happily unconscious of my gaze, was thespring of a sudden inspiration of the kind which is most preciousto those who love England and live in alien lands: it brought tome, suddenly and with a most poignant tenderness, the atmosphereof that sad and beautiful country which lies along the March ofWales. Other things will work the same magic: a puff ofwood smoke; a single note in a bird’s song; a shaft ofsunlight or a billow of cloud.
“Well, my dear, are you Miss Burwarton?”
And my girl shivered. It was a little shiver which Idon’t suppose anyone else noticed. But why should shehave shivered at her own name?
She said: “Yes, I’m Eva Burwarton.”
I was right. Beyond doubt I was right. The“i” sound was deliciously pure, the “r”daintily liquid. Oh, I knew the sound well enough. Myvision had been justified.
The bustling woman spoke:
“My dear, Mr. Oddy has been telling me about your poordear brother. So sad . . . such a terrible loss foryou. But the Lord . . .”
I didn’t hear what precisely the Lord had done in thiscase, for a group of Sisters of Mercy in pale blue uniforms andwhite caps passed between us, but I saw
Good Lord, I thought, this is an extraordinary girl whocan’t or won’t raise the flicker of an eyelid whenshe’s being swamped with condolences about a brother towhom something horrible has evidently happened. And thenthe busy woman swept her away, and all the length of the platformI watched her beautiful, pale, serious face. And with hergoing that sudden vision, that atmosphere which still enwrappedme, faded, and I turned to the emptier end of the platform, wherethe wounded sepoys were squatting, looking as pathetic as onlysick Indians can. And I was back in Nairobi again, with lowclouds rolling over the parched Athi Plains, and the earth andthe air and every living creature athirst for rain and the reliefof thunder. A funny business . . .
But all that day the moment haunted me: that, and thegirl’s white face and serious brows, and the extraordinaryincongruity of her ill-made, ill-fitting dress with her palebeauty. And her name, Eva Burwarton, which seemed somehowstrangely representative of her tragic self. At first Icouldn’t place it at all. It sounded like Warburtongone wrong. And then when I wasn’t thinking ofanything in particular, I remembered that there was a village ofthat name somewhere near Wenlock Edge. And once again witha thrill I realised that I was right.
And after that I couldn’t help thinking of her. Ip. 6can’texactly say why. I don’t think it was for the sake ofher physical attractions: indeed, when I came to speak to her,when in the end she was driven, poor thing, into a certain degreeof intimacy with me, I believe this aspect of her was quiteforgotten. No . . . I think the attraction which sheexercised over me was simply due to the curious suggestivenesswhich clung to her, the thing which had set me dreaming of aplace or an atmosphere which it was an ecstasy to remember, andthe flattering discovery that I had something more thanimagination on which to build. And then, when myfriendliness, the mere fact that we had something, even if itwere only a memory, in common had surprised her into getting theinexpressible story off her mind, the awful spiritual intensityof the thing was so great that everything else about her wasforgotten; she became no more than the fragile, and in glimpsesthe pathetic, vehicle of the drama. Nothing more: though,of course, it was easy enough for anyone who had eyes to see whypoor old M‘Crae (alias Hare) had fallen in love withher.
But at first, as I say, it was nothing more than the flavourof the country-side which she carried with her that heldme. When next I saw her she had shed a little of thattender radiance. She had been furnished by some charitableperson with clothing less grotesque. She certainlywasn’t so indefinitely tragic; but now that she was lesstired her country complexion—so
She had been dumped by Mr. Oddy’s friend (or wife, forall I know) into the Norfolk Hotel, the oldest and most reputablehouse in Nairobi, and it was in the gloomy lounge of this placethat I was introduced to her by the only respectable woman I wasprivileged to know in the Protectorate. She said:“Cheer her up . . . there’s a good fellow. She’s lost her brother, poor thing! A missionary, youknow.”
And I proceeded to cheer up Eva Burwarton. My methodsdidn’t answer very well. It was obvious that shewasn’t used to the kind of nonsense which men talk. She took me very seriously, or rather, literally. Ithought: “She has no sense of humour.” Shehadn’t . . . of my kind. And all the time thosefrightfully serious dark eyes of hers, which had never yet losttheir hint of suffering, seemed full of a sort of dumb reproach,as if the way in which I was talking wasn’t really fair onher. I didn’t realise then what a child she was or ahundredth part of what she had endured. I knew nothingabout M‘Crae (alias Hare) or Godovius, or of thatdreadful mission house on the edge of the M’ssenteSwamp. And if it hadn’t been for that fortunatevision of mine on the station platform I don’t suppose thatI should ever have known at all. The thing would havepassed me by, as I suppose terrible and intense drama passes oneby every day of one’s life. An amazing thing. . .. You would have thought that a story of that kind would
But when we seemed to be getting no further, and whatever elseI may have done, I certainly hadn’t cheered her at all, Ibrought out the fruits of my deduction. I said:
“Do you come from Shropshire or Hereford?”
Suddenly her whole face brightened, and the eyes which hadbeen gazing at nothing really looked at me. Now, more thanever, I was overwhelmed with their childishness.
“Oh, but how do you know?” she cried, and in thatmoment more than ever