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Officer And Man by Louis Becke

Produced by David Widger

OFFICER AND MAN

From "The Tapu Of Banderah and Other Stories"

By Louis Becke

C. Arthur Pearson Ltd.

1901

The anchor of her Majesty's ship _Hannibal_ was underfoot and the captain on the bridge, and Rear-Admiral Garnet had shaken hands with the last of the "leading" Fijian white residents, who always did the welcoming and farewelling when distinguished persons visited Levuka, when Lieutenant Bollard approached him and intimated that "a person" from the shore had just come alongside in a boat and desired to see "his Excellency on private and important business."

"What the devil does the fellow want?" said the Admiral irascibly, not a whit softened by the "his Excellency" style of address; "I'm going on the bridge, and can't see any one now; we can't delay the ship and get into a mess going through the passage."

"Told him so, sir; but he says he wants to see you upon an important--a most pressing matter."

"Oh, well! Confound him! Let the sentry show him to my cabin, and tell Captain Bracely I shall be up in five minutes."

The "person," conducted by the sentry, was shown into the cabin, where the Admiral, without taking a seat or offering one to his visitor, inquired with a cold, cautious politeness born of much experience of island visitors with "important and private Service matters of great urgency," what he might be pleased to want?

The stranger was a short, fat, coarse-looking man with little pig-like eyes and scanty tufts of black beard and whiskers growing in irregular patches on his cheeks and chin, like clumps of gorse on clayey banks. He was dressed--in a manner--in an ill-fitting black cloth suit imported from Sydney. His hair was very black and shiny, plastered down over his temples and beautifully parted at the back of his bullet head. Altogether he was an unpleasantly sleek, oleaginous creature, and as he stood bowing and smirking with a catlike grin, the Admiral felt an almost irresistible impulse to kick him out of the cabin. Notwithstanding his haste, however, he began to recollect the man as an individual who had been introduced to him a few days previously at some municipal function.

"Can't recollect the fellow's name," he muttered to himself. "I wonder what the devil the creature wants! Got a complaint against the Consul very likely--every one has a complaint against a Consul--it's a disease in the South Seas. Confound their twopenny-halfpenny squabbles!" Then the little fat man, with another servile grin, spoke.

"I wish, your Excellency, to see you upon a matter which I think, as a loyal subject, it is my duty--my painful duty--to bring under your notice."

"Thought as much," said the Admiral to himself. "Some row about a trader insulting a native teacher, or _vice-versa_." Then smothering an exclamation of impatience, he said--

"What is it, sir? I have no time to lose. By the way, who are you, sir?"

"My name, your Excellency, is Obadiah Howl-man. I had the distinguished honour, your Excellency, of showing your Excellency over the grounds of the new Mission College. I was the contractor for the erection of that ornament to our little town." And again the oily creature smirked and bowed and did the invisible soap business.


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