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White Fire By John Oxenham Characters: 11131

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Mr. Blair! The young man who spoke at the meeting the other night? Why, I didn't even know that you knew him, Jean!" said Aunt Jannet Harvey, gazing at her in wide-eyed wonder.

"Oh, I've known him since I was thirteen!"

"And you never spoke to me about him! Why I don't remember your ever even mentioning his name!"

"I don't believe I ever did. We will make up for it now, auntie."

"And he has really had the audacity to ask you to marry him?"

"And he has really had the audacity to ask you to marry him."

"Yes, auntie,"-very meekly.

"And you've said 'yes,' and you're going out with him to the South Seas?"

"Yes, auntie."

"Well, child, let me tell you what I think about it. I think you might have looked much higher, and fared very much worse. He struck me the other night as a very noble young man indeed, and I wondered then why he hadn't made some woman happy. I believe you will be very happy, Jean, unless those cannibals kill you and eat you."

"If they eat us both at the same time I don't care," said Jean boldly. "Yes, I shall be very happy, auntie, for he is the best man in the whole world."

"And when do you go?"

"Our marriage will make some changes in his plans, of course, and he is seeing the Society people to-day about an extension of leave. We discussed it all yesterday-at least, all that we had time for. He is full of plans-such glorious plans! It is a grand thing to be a man, and to be built on a great big scale, and to have glorious ideas--"

"And the means to carry them out! And when did you say you'd be going?"

"In about six weeks probably. You see, he wants to buy a steamer for his work among the Islands, and we shall go out in her."

"I shall be quite ready," said Aunt Jannet Harvey "I shall want two or three new dresses suitable to the climate--"

"You, auntie? You will go too?"

"Why, of course, child! You'll need me more than ever out there. Suppose you fell sick. Suppose-oh, I can look ahead farther than you can, perhaps! I can see a hundred ways in which I can be useful to you. And you don't need to fear that I'll be in your way-I'll see to that. But I'll be within reach when I'm wanted; and I've always had a hankering to see those outside parts of the world. It was my dear James's dream too. He was a great botanist, when he had any time to spare from his logic. He'll be glad to think the chance has come to me at last."

And so when Blair came back next day from an exciting time in the city, Jean solemnly announced-

"You'll only find out by degrees all you've undertaken, young man. You've got to marry Aunt Jannet Harvey as well."

"Polygamy is still practised out there," he said heartily. "As a matter of policy we have to countenance it at times; but we set our faces against it, because it does not work well. If this means that Mrs. Harvey has consented to accompany us--"

"Consented? She proposed it, or rather took it for granted, and won't hear a word against it."

"Then my heart is lightened of one of its cares, and I am truly grateful to Aunt Jannet"-and Aunt Jannet was his from that moment. "God surely put the thought into your kind heart," he said, as he wrung the capable old hand warmly. "You will be more to Jean out there than words can tell. I thank you with all my heart."

"I knew it," said Aunt Jannet, with emphasis. "I wanted to ask you, Mr. Blair--"

"Kenneth, surely, now, Aunt Jannet!"

"Surely!-Kenneth-what the ladies wear out there."

"Well, the native ladies don't wear much, and the ladies of the missions wear much what you would here, if you cared only for use and comfort, and nothing for fashion. They always look very neat and clean"-at which Jean smiled reminiscently.

"I see," said Aunt Jannet. "Jean and I will lay our heads together. I think we can live up to that standard, at all events."

He had a cup of tea with them, and then ran along to the hotel to bring old Mr. and Mrs. MacTavish over to dinner. And after dinner they sat and talked and talked, and he laid some of his ideas and plans before them, and had only just begun when it was time for the old people to go home to bed. For his plans and ideas were blossoming in the golden sunshine like an orchard kept back by a late spring, and flung suddenly into the quickening warmth of coming summer.

He had gone down that morning to see the secretary of the Society which had originally sent him out, and to whom he still felt officially bound, to inform him of the changes in his plans which his marriage would bring about, and to request an extension of leave.

There happened to be a full meeting of the committee in session when his name was brought in, and the secretary at once suggested his introduction to the meeting. And so, when Blair was shown into the board-room, expecting to meet Mr. Secretary alone, he found some fifty ladies and gentlemen eagerly awaiting him.

The great glad light in his face-the light that Jean Arnot had helped to rekindle-drew all their eyes. They whispered among themselves that the Queen's Hall meeting had done him good after all. Some of them had been fearing the effects of such tremendous emotion on a weakened body.

The chairman, the noble head of a house devoted to good deeds, gave him hearty welcome, and said the committee would be delighted to hear any further details he would like to give them of his work or future plans in the Dark Islands.

Blair jumped up as the old man sat down.

"I came, sir," he said, "on a very definite errand-to ask for a slight extension

of my stay here."

"It is granted, my dear sir, before you put any limit to it," said the old man cordially. "Every member of this committee feels, I am sure, that the matter may be safely left in your own hands. We know also that you are anxious to get back to your work. I will only express the hope that it is not through any relapse in health that you think it necessary."

It certainly did not look like it, as Blair, with a smile that would not be controlled, said-

"I am glad to say it is not a matter touching my health, though one that very intimately affects my happiness and well-being. Since that somewhat trying meeting in Queen's Hall a piece of very great good-fortune has come to me--"

"Good indeed to set such a light in his face!" thought they, and hung upon his words.

"Miss Arnot has consented to become my wife and to join me in the work out there."

"Miss Arnot!-Jean Arnot!"-a buzz of excitement ran round. For Miss Arnot was a personage of importance, known alike for her beauty, her wealth, and her good deeds. Rumour, indeed, had fixed upon Miss Arnot as the mysterious donor for the last two years of a £1,000 note each year for the special benefit and use of the South Sea Mission.

And he was going to marry Miss Arnot, and she was going out with him! No wonder there was a light in his face!

But he was speaking again.

"You will see, sir, at once that this happy circumstance brings about many changes in my plans and hopes. The vista of usefulness which it opens before me-before us, may I say?-is magnified one hundred-fold. Miss Arnot dedicates her fortune, herself, and her enthusiasms to the work. There is a mighty field out there. It is not white to the harvest-it is black as darkest night. By God's help we hope to lift the fringes and let in some rays of His blessed light. I shall have the opportunity of discussing my ideas in detail with your secretary. But broadly speaking, this is how they point. We contemplate purchasing and fitting out a steamer suitable for mission-work among the Islands, and going out in her ourselves. We would like several assistants, married or unmarried-but big men, please! Big heads are good, and big hearts are better, but best of all if they are contained in big bodies. You have no idea what a vast impression a big man makes on those big Islanders compared with a small man. As to the size of the ladies, I would not venture to offer any suggestions. But the men should be-must be-big men. One further matter, sir, and I have done. Those Islanders must come under the protection of the British flag at once. And I want-you will not misunderstand me if I go the length of saying I must have-the appointment of Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner, or any position that will give me the official right to deal with certain matters which block our way out there.

"The wrongs the people of some of those Outer Islands suffer, from the scum of the earth who prey upon them, to their utter ruin of body, soul, and spirit, are almost incredible.

"I could tell you facts-bald, brutal facts-concerning the labour traffic carried on there which would make you shudder and doubt my veracity. But I have seen these things with my own eyes, and heard them with my own ears, and been powerless to stop them.

"Now, by God's help, and Miss Arnot's, I will wage war on these doings-hot war-yes, red-hot war with Maxim and Lee-Metford, if necessary"-his voice rang out militantly-"on those who do these dreadful deeds. Those hideous wrongs shall cease, and those poor kinsfolk of ours-God's children as much as we, though they know it not yet-shall have their chance. I would of course prefer to act officially in the matter; but, officially or not, act I shall.

"This may seem to you strange talk for a peaceful man. I have a precedent. As long as I tread in the Master's steps I shall not go far wrong."

He sat down, and they cheered him to the echo. They had heard many noble men and women speak in that room; but I doubt if they had ever heard words which gripped their hearts as these had done.

The news of the approaching marriage of the penniless young missionary to the great heiress, Miss Arnot, spread rapidly and evoked much comment, candid, caustic, congratulatory, from Jean's friends and otherwise.

"Clever man, that young sky-pilot!"

"Absolutely thrown herself away, my dear, and actually going to live among naked savages!"

"Trust the missionary to feather his own nest. Why should he lose sight of No. 1 while saving brother man?"

"The missionary man has done himself well. Poor rich Miss Arnot!"

"Oh, well, you know, she's twenty-seven if she's a day, and when a girl gets to twenty-seven--! And they say he's exceedingly good-looking. Still, don't you know--"

These behind her back. And to her face:

"He's simply charming, dear. I envy you-I do indeed!

"He's a splendid fellow, Miss Arnot. You will be very happy together."

"My dear,"-this from a very old lady, bearing a very old title, whose early married life had been a hideous martyrdom-"you have chosen very wisely. He is a noble Christian gentleman, and he would lay down his life for you. Believe me, dear, compared with what you have got, all the wealth of the world and all its titles are nothing but dust and ashes and misery. I know it!"

And everybody else knew that she knew it. And Jean kissed her very tenderly.

And Mr. Punch, when he heard of the matter, in his playful little way quoted:

"Do?n't thou marry for munny, but-go? wheer munny is."

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