Among the passengers who landed at Singapore a week later were Mrs.
Van der Beck and Frederick. Twenty-four hours afterward they left for
Hong-Kong on board the French Messageries Maritime mail steamer Tigre,
having given their names as Mr. and Mrs. Muller, from Grats, Austria.
On touching at the French port of Saigon, where the steamer was to
remain some twenty hours, they went on shore and, hiring a carriage,
drove around the town, which Nina was curious to visit. After
inspecting the park and the magnificent palace of the governor-general,
they repaired to a fashionable restaurant, where they dined. While
sipping their coffee the French waiter, who had been dazzled by a
princely _pourboire_ from Frederick, informed them that there was
at that moment in the town a very good opera-bouffe troupe which
gave performances every evening at a cafe chantant in the vicinity
of the restaurant. He even offered to get him tickets. Nina having
manifested a desire to witness the performance, they crossed the
street and entered the wooden building, which was brilliantly lighted
with rows of gas-jets, and took their seats in the front row of the
auditorium. A few minutes after the curtain had gone up a gentleman in
undress uniform took the seat on the other side of Mme. Van der Beck.
Frederick, glancing indifferently at him, suddenly recognized, to his
horror, the municipal surgeon of the convict hospital at Noumea. He
fairly shuddered as he realized what the consequences might be should
he be recognized by the man who had attended him several times during
his illness on the Island of Nou. But with his usual coolness in
matters of the kind he did not show his terror either by word or look.
During the course of the piece, Nina having dropped her fan, her
neighbor picked it up, and seized this occasion to enter into
conversation with her. He looked several times inquiringly at Frederick
as if seeking to recall to mind a half-forgotten face. At last, bowing
courteously, he addressed himself to the man, saying:
“I can’t help thinking that I have had the pleasure of meeting you
before, but I cannot remember where.”
With incredible audacity Frederick quietly replied: “Your face also
seems very familiar to me. Perhaps we have met at Paris. Have you been
long absent from France?”
Thereupon the conversation turned on Paris and Parisian society, and
toward midnight “Mr. and Mrs. Muller,” taking leave of the surgeon,
returned on board the Tigre.
Early the next morning, before the steamer cast loose its moorings,
Frederick, who was smoking his morning’s cigar on deck, saw a sight
which, hard-hearted as he was, deeply moved him. A Jesuit missionary
was carried on board in a dying condition. This unfortunate man
had been detained for two years as a prisoner by the Anamites, and
during the whole of this time the inhuman monsters had kept him in a
wooden cage, so small that he could neither stand up nor lie down. As
an additional refinement of cruelty, thick wedges of wood had been
inserted between his fingers and toes and secured there with supple
willow twigs. The hair of the poor wretch, who was only twenty-six
years old, had become as white as snow, and he was entirely paralyzed!
He died before the vessel reached Hong-Kong.
Frederick, as he directed his steps toward the saloon, could not help
making a comparison between the easy and luxurious life he, who so
little deserved it, was now enjoying, and the shattered and broken
existence of this saint, who had never done anything but good during
his short but pure and admirable career.
With a movement of impatience, quickly followed by a sneer, he turned
away, and, dismissing these thoughts from his mind, knocked at the door
of Nina’s cabin.