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Chapter 30
'He told me further that he didn't know what made him hang on--but of course we
may guess. He sympathised deeply with the defenceless girl, at the mercy of that
"mean, cowardly scoundrel." It appears Cornelius led her an awful life, stopping
only short of actual ill-usage, for which he had not the pluck, I suppose. He
insisted upon her calling him father--"and with respect, too--with respect," he
would scream, shaking a little yellow fist in her face. "I am a respectable man,
and what are you? Tell me--what are you? You think I am going to bring up
somebody else's child and not be treated with respect? You ought to be glad I let
you. Come-- say Yes, father. . . . No? . . . You wait a bit." Thereupon he would
begin to abuse the dead woman, till the girl would run off with her hands to her
head. He pursued her, dashing in and out and round the house and amongst the
sheds, would drive her into some corner, where she would fall on her knees
stopping her ears, and then he would stand at a distance and declaim filthy
denunciations at her back for half an hour at a stretch. "Your mother was a devil,
a deceitful devil--and you too are a devil," he would shriek in a final outburst, pick
up a bit of dry earth or a handful of mud (there was plenty of mud around the
house), and fling it into her hair. Sometimes, though, she would hold out full of
scorn, confronting him in silence, her face sombre and contracted, and only now
and then uttering a word or two that would make the other jump and writhe with
the sting. Jim told me these scenes were terrible. It was indeed a strange thing to
come upon in a wilderness. The endlessness of such a subtly cruel situation was
appalling--if you think of it. The respectable Cornelius (Inchi 'Nelyus the Malays
called him, with a grimace that meant many things) was a much-disappointed
'I don't know what he had expected would be done for him in consideration of his
marriage; but evidently the liberty to steal, and embezzle, and appropriate to
himself for many years and in any way that suited him best, the goods of Stein's
Trading Company (Stein kept the supply up unfalteringly as long as he could get
his skippers to take it there) did not seem to him a fair equivalent for the sacrifice
of his honourable name. Jim would have enjoyed exceedingly thrashing
Cornelius within an inch of his life; on the other hand, the scenes were of so
painful a character, so abominable, that his impulse would be to get out of
earshot, in order to spare the girl's feelings. They left her agitated, speechless,
clutching her bosom now and then with a stony, desperate face, and then Jim
would lounge up and say unhappily, "Now--come--really--what's the use--you
must try to eat a bit," or give some such mark of sympathy. Cornelius would keep
on slinking through the doorways, across the verandah and back again, as mute
as a fish, and with malevolent, mistrustful, underhand glances. "I can stop his
game," Jim said to her once. "Just say the word." And do you know what she
answered? She said--Jim told me impressively--that if she had not been sure he
was intensely wretched himself, she would have found the courage to kill him