The Spirit of France can be found in






Ace-High Magazine, First February Number, 1931

THE SPIRIT OF FRANCE

By S. B. H. Hurst

She danced for Mohammedans, and she was white; and when Mergui boiled over with religious fanaticism—white she remained!

"MERGUI is a dirty and most immoral town.' Father Murphy, the stout, kindly missionary paused dramatically. "But hitherto we have been spared this—a white girl dancing for Mohammedans and Chinamen! You must do something, Bailey!"

The youthful English magistrate, who, with ten Sikh policemen and one white clerk, was administrator of the affairs of the little town and the district adjoining it on the Tenasserim strip of the coast of Burma, looked through the window of his office at the mud of low tide in the harbor. A puff of wind brought the reek of it. He sniffed, then answered testily:

"You know as well as I do, Padre, that I can do nothing. Until the girl commits a crime I cannot have her arrested. English law does not infringe on the rights of people to live where they wish. If she wants to live among the colored population, that's her business. Let her dance! I have received no complaints about her. If you are worried about her morals, well—that's in your department, not mine!"

The priest sighed.

"Yes," he answered. "But the girl won't listen to me. She politely avoids discussion. Admits being a Catholic, too! Orphan. Daughter of some Frenchman who died up Indo-China way. I don't know how she drifted down here."

"Well, I can't help you, Murphy. I detest having a white woman of her occupation in the town—liable to stir up any sort of trouble. But you can find 'em all over Burma. We must bear our burdens, Padre. Good morning!"

The priest left the magistrate's office. The heat weighed heavily upon his huge figure. He felt, both physically and spiritually, depressed. This pretty child— for she was little more—who politely refused to worry about her soul's welfare! Father Murphy clenched his fists.

"If I have to use force," he said firmly, "I'll do it! I will break the law if need be—the law that protects vice from the assaults of decency! I will break through that ring of Mohammedan and Chinese brutes who leer at her dancing. I may have to hit a few ugly faces, for which Bailey could have me arrested; but I will—for the good of that young woman's soul. It's my duty, and by the living God I'll do it! I'm Irish, and before I got so fat I could use my hands for other things than blessing people!"

He was spared this necessity. His walk had brought him to the tiny church he himself had designed and helped to build. In its quiet he would compose himself. He took off his large solar hat and wiped his streaming forehead. Then he dropped the hat in joyful astonishment. For the girl he had thought apostate was kneeling there, praying!

"Oh, Father, I thank Thee!" he murmured.

The girl looked up and saw him. She was vaguely disturbed. The priest, that massive man of intuitions, felt that she had timed her visit to the church to correspond with his absence. No doubt there were other visits.

"Daughter," he said, "I do not understand this!"

She smiled, mischievously.

"My Father, there is, ah, so veree mouch that ees hard to ounderstand!"

His voice became hard.

"I do not understand why you have refused to talk with me. I do not understand why you have come here when you knew I was away. And . . . I have known other women like you. But the others did not avoid the priest. Instead, they sought absolution!"

She shrugged her shoulders. The flash of her smile was of pearls. Her eyes were violet lakes in which dwelt mystery and delight.

"Perhaps they needed it!" she answered.

For a moment the priest was so angry at her pert reply that he could not answer her. She went on. But she no longer smiled, and the lids covered her provocative eyes.

"But I, what am so small, joost come 'ere because, maybe, God ees 'ere! Onnyways, if He is anywhere in Mergui, He will be 'ere! And you know, Father, that there is times when every woman feel lonelee for God. So I do not come when you are here. Becos' I do not want to talk about my sins. Eet would take too much time. And the time I come 'ere is the time I 'ave give to God!"

Her eyes met his defiantly.

Murphy mastered his anger.

"Do you realize that God sees you when you are not in His church—when you are dancing and—and living with those horrible heathen men?"

She raised her small head proudly.

"I do not 'live' w...

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