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Part 3 In The Shadow Chapter 4

The trooper continued its course through the Indian Ocean. Down belowin the floating hospital other death-scenes went on. On deck there wascarelessness of health and youth. Round about, over the sea, was avery feast of pure sun and air.

  In this fine trade-wind weather, the sailors, stretched in the shadeof the sails, were playing with little pet parrots and making them runraces. In this Singapore, which they had just left, the sailors buyall kinds of tame animals. They had all chosen baby parrots, withchildish looks upon their hooknose faces; they had no tails yet; theywere green, of a wonderful shade. As they went running over the cleanwhite planks, they looked like fresh young leaves, fallen fromtropical trees.

  Sometimes the sailors gathered them all together in one lot, when theyinspected one another funnily; twisting about their throats, to beseen under all aspects. They comically waddled about like so many lamepeople, or suddenly started off in a great hurry for some unknowndestination; and some fell down in their excitement. And there weremonkeys, learning tricks of all kinds, another source of amusement.

  Some were most tenderly loved and even kissed extravagantly, as theynestled against the callous bosoms of their masters, gazing fondly atthem with womanish eyes, half-grotesque and half-touching.

  Upon the stroke of three o'clock, the quartermasters brought on decktwo canvas bags, sealed with huge red seals, bearing Sylvestre's name;for by order of the regulations in regard to the dead, all his clothesand personal worldly belongings were to be sold by auction. Thesailors gaily grouped themselves around the pile; for, on board ahospital ship, too many of these sales of effects are seen to exciteany particular emotion. Besides, Sylvestre had been but little knownupon that ship.

  His jackets and shirts and blue-striped jerseys were fingered andturned over and then bought up at different prices, the buyers forcingthe bidding just to amuse themselves.

  Then came the turn of the small treasure-box, which was sold for fiftysous. The letters and military medal had been taken out of it, to besent back to the family; but not the book of songs and the work ofConfucious, with the needles, cotton, and buttons, and all the pettyrequisites placed there by the forethought of Granny Moan for sewingand mending.

  Then the quartermaster who held up the things to be sold drew out twosmall buddhas, taken in some pagoda to give to Gaud, and so funny werethey that they were greeted with a general burst of laughter, whenthey appeared as the last lot. But the sailors laughed, not for wantof heart, but only through thoughtlessness.

  To conclude, the bags were sold, and the buyer immediately struck outthe name on them to substitute his own.

  A careful sweep of the broom was afterward given to clear thescrupulously clean deck of the dust and odds and ends, while thesailors returned merrily to play with their parrots and monkeys.



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