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Chapter 38
'It all begins, as I've told you, with the man called Brown,' ran the opening
sentence of Marlow's narrative. 'You who have knocked about the Western
Pacific must have heard of him. He was the show ruffian on the Australian coast-
-not that he was often to be seen there, but because he was always trotted out in
the stories of lawless life a visitor from home is treated to; and the mildest of
these stories which were told about him from Cape York to Eden Bay was more
than enough to hang a man if told in the right place. They never failed to let you
know, too, that he was supposed to be the son of a baronet. Be it as it may, it is
certain he had deserted from a home ship in the early gold-digging days, and in a
few years became talked about as the terror of this or that group of islands in
Polynesia. He would kidnap natives, he would strip some lonely white trader to
the very pyjamas he stood in, and after he had robbed the poor devil, he would
as likely as not invite him to fight a duel with shot-guns on the beach--which
would have been fair enough as these things go, if the other man hadn't been by
that time already half-dead with fright. Brown was a latter-day buccaneer, sorry
enough, like his more celebrated prototypes; but what distinguished him from his
contemporary brother ruffians, like Bully Hayes or the mellifluous Pease, or that
perfumed, Dundreary-whiskered, dandified scoundrel known as Dirty Dick, was
the arrogant temper of his misdeeds and a vehement scorn for mankind at large
and for his victims in particular. The others were merely vulgar and greedy
brutes, but he seemed moved by some complex intention. He would rob a man
as if only to demonstrate his poor opinion of the creature, and he would bring to
the shooting or maiming of some quiet, unoffending stranger a savage and
vengeful earnestness fit to terrify the most reckless of desperadoes. In the days
of his greatest glory he owned an armed barque, manned by a mixed crew of
Kanakas and runaway whalers, and boasted, I don't know with what truth, of
being financed on the quiet by a most respectable firm of copra merchants. Later
on he ran off--it was reported--with the wife of a missionary, a very young girl
from Clapham way, who had married the mild, flat-footed fellow in a moment of
enthusiasm, and, suddenly transplanted to Melanesia, lost her bearings
somehow. It was a dark story. She was ill at the time he carried her off, and died
on board his ship. It is said--as the most wonderful put of the tale--that over her
body he gave way to an outburst of sombre and violent grief. His luck left him,
too, very soon after. He lost his ship on some rocks off Malaita, and disappeared
for a time as though he had gone down with her. He is heard of next at Nuka-
Hiva, where he bought an old French schooner out of Government service. What
creditable enterprise he might have had in view when he made that purchase I
can't say, but it is evident that what with High Commissioners, consuls, men-of-
war, and international control, the South Seas were getting too hot to hold
gentlemen of his kidney. Clearly he must have shifted the scene of his operations
farther west, because a year later he plays an incredibly audacious, but not a
very profitable part, in a serio-comic business in Manila Bay, in which a