although the hotel had an elevator, it was only used by the totally incapacitated. which did not mean that it was never used. it was operated by hand, usually by one of the native porters or bartenders getting a guest up to his room after the bar closed. it tended to get stuck between floors, a circumstance which was never attributed to anything but the incompetence of the native operating it.
despite his hangover and unsteadiness on his feet, nudworth did not even consider using it. he made his way unsteadily down the stairs to the bar. the stairwell had a comforting shadowed dinginess, and he winced as he entered the bar and was hit by a few blinding rays of noonday sunlight coming through the slats of the heavy blinds on the window.
he was a little surprised to find only two other white men there. pashwick, the banana company agent, and gurdy, the water man. they were seated together at a table in front of the bar, hunched over stiff ones.
nudworth took a seat at a table a little apart from theirs. he had absolutely no desire to talk to either of them, but it would have been rude to sit so far away from them that they would have had to raise their voices to speak to him.
pashwick only nodded, but gurdy, in that irritating way he had, stared at nudworth as if he had never seen him before and as if he were the strangest creature he had ever seen or ever would see.
the boy behind the bar, who knew bloody well what nudworth wanted, was carefully arranging some glasses on a shelf. nudworth stared straight ahead. he breathed as evenly as he could. it would not do to give in to an attack of bongo so early in the day. in the afternoon, actually.
no, it would not do at all to give in to bongo, especially with his head in the condition it was. "bongo" was the term the white men used for the insupportable rage that occasionally overwhelmed them when faced with the everlasting all-consuming, slow, drawling wide-eyed oh-so-innocent insolence of the natives.
when nudworth had been first been posted to the tropics, the fellow behind the desk in london had told him: "you will get used to the sun. you will get used to the dust. you will get used to the insects. you will get used to the paperwork. you will get used to never seeing a white woman. you may even get used to the food. you will never get used to the bloody insolence of the natives. it kills more chaps than malaria, depend upon it."
how true. nudworth took a dangerously deep breath and closed his eyes. when he opened them again the bartender was smiling down on him and placing his drink on the table - the drink he had had to describe two thousand times before the bloody bartenders began to get it half right.
smiling down on him with that infernal eternal native smile that had maddened a million bwanas and sent them screaming into the bush or across the dusty plantations into the sun.
nudworth seized the drink. he didn't care if the boy had made it right. he didn't care if his hand was trembling. he made sure he was holding it tight.
aaaaaaaaaaaah! that felt better.
he was walking down a long green lane under a sky of purest english gray. a figure in the distance was striding toward him...
gurdy was still staring at him. "heard the news?"
nudworth put his glass down. "news of what?"
"if you don't know what the news is about, then i imagine you haven't heard the news."
"no." nudworth didn't care what the news was. this too shall pass, he thought. he looked longingly down at his still half filled glass.
"chap arrived from the office. margrave and mercer are showing him around. wilkinson tagged along with them."
"the office? which office? about the mangoes?"
"no. the colonial office. sent the poor bugger all the way from cairo, can you believe it?"
nudworth didn't care about the poor bugger all the way from cairo. he took another pull from his glass before replying. "about the mangoes?"
"no, about hawkins!"
pashwick laughed. "you are knackered this morning, aren't you, mate? ready to
join the temperance society?"
gurdy ignored this. "hawkins. hawkins, the plantation manager that was murdered by the bloody wogs!"
"oh, of course. hawkins." suddenly nudworth felt completely awake and disgustingly alive. he finished his drink. what filthy swill, he thought. aloud he said, "parkins was right, then, they sent a man out right away. just like sending a chap from liverpool to glasgow."
"ah," pashwick answered. "but this fellow isn't replacing hawkins. he wasn't sent by the company - "
"no," cried gurdy, " didn't you hear me? he was sent by the colonial office, by the bloody bureaucrats in london and cairo!"
"you mean the colonial office is going to take over the plantation from the company?" nudworth held up his empty glass for the bartender to see it.
"no, no, he's not here to take over, he is here to investigate hawkins' death."
"whatever for? investigate what? you can't investigate anything in the bush. "
"ah, you try telling him that." pashwick laughed.
"margrave already tried, " gurdy added.
"there is nothing to investigate." nudworth stared over at the bartender as he took his sweet bloody time preparing his second drink - only his second drink of the day! "nothing is real out here, don't they know that? it's all just a bad dream."
"no, it would seem that they do not know that. you try explaining it to the gentleman when he returns."
"if he returns."
pashwick and gurdy both laughed heartily at this sally. nudworth felt a surge of pleasure - his fellows almost never laughed at his jokes.
maybe it would not be such a bad day. maybe he could get through it.