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The Woman Scorned, A Tragedy of Three by Alexander Montgomery

 

STUITZEN, pacing to and fro upon his post, peered anxiously through the darkness towards the prison building--a long black blur upon a starless sky. With every minute's delay, that lessened his chance of the reward, the risk he ran appeared to dwindle--the reward itself to swell; but when at last two women's figures, black and noiseless, took sudden shape beside him, the danger reared itself again before his mind in full proportions.

"As silent as death," he whispered in the taller woman's ear. "Listen!"

From right and left came distinctly through the stillness the rhythmic steps of men--like Stuitzen, water-sentries--but not, like Stuitzen, expectant of 12,000 guilders for contriving the escape of a Sumatran "princess;" which personage--the shorter of the women--made now a gesture of impatience, said something also, in a voice so loud that on the instant the distant pacing ceased.

"Down with her to the boat, quick!" the warder whispered, rapidly, "but touch nothing till I come"--and he resumed his measured tread, until his fellows, judging all was right, did likewise. Then Stuitzen spat contemptuously towards the prison, unfixed his bayonet, slung his rifle, and slid cautiously down the shelving sandbank.

The women were already in the boat, and the man pushed her off with case, for here, inside the Isle of Graves, there was but little surf. Little wind, either--for the same reason--and slowly they stood over for Chapel Point. Outside, against the sea-wall of the prison cemetery, the waves would make noise enough to drown their voices--but they couldn't weather the point, and unwillingly Stuitzen put the boat about for a short board to south-east--a shift of helm without which this story would never have been written. For the "princess"--understanding only that the boat was heading back towards Padak--sprang up with a scream that cleft the night air for a mile. A red flash answered from the shore--then, with the sharp bark of the rifle, came a fainter flash from further off--a duller report--another, and another--as the alarm circled completely round the island.

"Smother the she-devil!" hissed Stuitzen to his wife; and better would it have been for Mrs. Stuitzen--late female warder in Padak--if she had literally obeyed his order. But only with handkerchief and hand she stopped the other woman's mouth, and held her till the boat, upon her former tack, was standing out to sea. A silent boat, then, for the Sumatran had collapsed in the bows, and the Stuitzens were listening for something. Two minutes, and it came--the cannon-shot that carried far and wide the news of a prisoner's escape, and loosed upon the startled night a sullen roll of corroborative echoes.

Then, again, silence, and Stuitzen--his disjointed utterance travelling with his slowly-working wits--said, "That--settles it! No use, now--to run for the Tidambang! The kanonneerboot--will be there before us! We'll have to make--for the Carabongs, and--keep dark till the fuss is over!"


"Six weeks we have been here!" said Mrs. Stuitzen, answering her husband. "And"--with a significant glance at the Sumatran--"it is high time for us to go!"

The man laughed uneasily. Marital infidelity--conventionally attributed to innate depravity--is just as often due to nothing worse than the craving for variety, and Stuitzen--a moral nondescript, with brutal possibilities--might never, under ordinary circumstances, have discovered even that he wanted a change. But he had his full share of vanity, and the knowledge that Ganga--this buxom brown woman with the splendid eyes--was striving to supplant his wife set him noticing how hard Mrs. Stuitzen's Friesian features were growing--how thin her sandy hair, and how dim her pale-blue eye.

He thought it best to bluster. His wife--he told her with many Dutch expletives--was a jealous idiot! "Donder en weerlicht!--did she think he was never going to look at another woman? And, in short, he was a man, and would do as he chose!"

"Not this, Sybrandt!--not this! after all these years!"--and the hollow--eyed woman caught his unwilling hand.

Ganga laughed--the poisoned snigger with which woman stings woman. "He is mine!" the laugh said. "Poor wretch!--you can do nothing with him now!"

Hekla Stuitzen--a woman of the people--had no conventional dignity to sustain; she stepped swiftly across and struck the "princess" on the mouth--a blow that started blood out of the full, insolent lips. Stuitzen's bayonet lay in a corner of the tent, and the Sumatran--a triple murderess already--had it in her hand before the man could interpose. But the Dutchwoman--officially accustomed to emergencies--parried the thrust with one hand, wrested the weapon away with the other, and sent it whirling out over the rollers into deep water.

Stuitzen threw off the mask. Taking Ganga round the waist, he drew her back, kissed the blood from her mouth, and looked round savagely at his wife.

"Your place is outside, now!" he said. "See that you stay there!" and, without a word, she went.


With night came a heavy westerly blow, but the fringing reef took most of the surf, and the tent--well stayed with boatgear--stood the squall. But outside, in the rain and darkness, Mrs. Stuitzen sat and tried the occupants for their lives. Where folk were numerous, she thought--where she might have had a chance of seeming not to know--it might have been more endurable. But here--the only three human beings within a hundred miles--the insolent grossness of the thing was intolerable. "The woman shall die!" she decided--"and perhaps the man also!"

Stuitzen came from the tent and called. Upon the reef the snowy ridges were still thundering in, but, beyond, the sea shone blue again to an unclouded morning sun.

Mrs. Stuitzen went wearily over--a piteous figure, with sodden hair and drenched garments--and her husband, pipe in mouth, let a shadow of compunction steal into his florid, wooden face. He brought out a little metal cup of brandy and held it towards her. She drank it, for she didn't want to throw away her life--yet.

"Well, vrow!"--Stuitzen avoided her eye--"you see what a fool you've been, by this time, I hope. You can come into the tent again, now, if you like?"

"Call me no longer vrow!" she answered quietly. "And, if I ever enter that tent while she is in it, I shall be as mean a thing as--as you are!"

Stuitzen dashed his pipe in her face. "Verdoemnis!--stay out, then! And, look here!--make yourself useful!" He brought out half a dozen turtle's eggs. "Make a fire and roast these, for her breakfast"--pointing back into the tent.

But no such petty malice had power to touch this apathetic woman. She calmly took the eggs and did as she was bidden. Then, while the others ate, she wandered off along the beach till Stuitzen called her back. He was struggling with laughter and a mouthful of egg. "Ganga says," he began--and broke out into a fresh guffaw.

"Ganga says," took up the Sumatran rapidly, in Malay, "that if it be thy purpose to drown thyself, better would it be to do it here, that Ganga's eyes may be gladdened with the sight."

"And this," said Mrs. Stuitzen, in Dutch, "is what this creature laughs at!--this heartless hog I have so long mistaken for a man!" Then, in Malay--"Myself I will not drown, woman. Drown me, thou, if thou darest!--thou or thy miserable--"

Stuitzen stopped her speech with a well-aimed egg--an act more farcical than tragic, but an act that sealed his fate. The outraged woman made no sign. Submissively she cleared the stuff from her face--submissively endured the other woman's taunting laughter. "He will be going to the hill to look out, presently," Mrs. Stuitzen told herself; "and he will be afraid to leave her here with me!"

She was right. Her husband brought out his rifle and a shotgun. "Better out of your way, these playthings!" he said to the white woman; then to the brown one--"Come thou with me, Ganga! If no sign I see to-day of that accursed kanonneerboot, from here will we sail to-morrow! With favourable winds three days should see us in thy river of Tidambang."

"With her?" said Ganga's questioning glance. Stuitzen's shaken head answered "No!"--and Stuitzen's wife, understanding, hardened her heart the more.


She could see them through the trees--black specks upon the low basaltic ridge that made the island's northern end. But they could not see her, she knew.

She went into the tent and brought out a canister of gun-powder, provided by Stuitzen, the methodical, for the service of the shot-gun. Off this she took the lid, and, raking away the embers of the fire, buried the canister so slightly in the sandy soil that its open mouth was barely screened from view. Waiting, then, until the embers were extinct, she gathered them again into place above the hidden powder.

"I will hide! This snake of a woman will have to cook. Then!--"

For twenty hours she had not eaten, but thirst was all she felt, as she stole down into the hollow where the sago-palms were thickest. There was water here, in pools, amongst the stiff, red clay. Mrs. Stuitzen drank, and lay down to wait.


"It may be that she has drowned herself, after all."

"Not she!" the Dutchman answered, angrily. "She may do evil to herself after she has done it to us--not before. She will come back when she is hungry--as I am now. There are more eggs in the tent. Fetch them, my princess, and light the fire. And be careful of these matches; they don't grow on trees hereabouts!"

He kissed the Sumatran as she took the box he held out, but the other--seeing all from her hiding-place--only smiled. "She won't be so kissable in a quarter of an hour--if all goes well!" And the white woman crept a little nearer.

The fire burned slowly up. Ganga put down the eggs to roast, and Stuitzen came over to light his pipe. Carelessly he stooped, resting one hand on the brown shoulder of the kneeling woman; then, suddenly--where both had been--there was only a cumulus of dense, sulphurous smoke, as, with a thump that shook the ground the watcher lay on, the powder exploded! Then shriek on shriek made music to her ear as she ran up and saw rolling on the ground a dreadful hairless object, with its blackened hands pressed to its blasted features. But the Dutchman, with his clothes on fire, lay still enough!


A Banca fishing crew, poking about amongst the less known Carabongs, came one day on a spirit stalking by a lonely shore. They thought it was, at all events, and were getting out their sweeps in a mighty hurry, when the thing cried out to them--in Dutch, one said. "And who," he wanted to know, "had ever heard of a Dutch antu?" He'd swim ashore and speak to it--this daring fellow--if the others were afraid. They were; and he did; and in the end the craft took on board a white woman--gaunt and wild--eyed and ragged--who was Mrs. Stuitzen.

She went with them to Banca, and there--being a wise woman--held her peace until her death was at hand. Then she told.

"My husband never stirred. There was a piece of the canister so firmly fixed in his forehead that I couldn't pull it out. And, badly as he had treated me, I was glad he hadn't to suffer like the other. She lived three days--and then I was alone. Sorry? No--it was justice! I would do it again!"

 
 
 

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