A narrative of personality and class conflict in an exotic setting, this story opens with Mr. Warburton, the Resident, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his new assistant, Alan Cooper. For twenty years, Mr. Warburton has been the only Englishman within many miles, but at the station, work has increased to the point that an assistant is needed. As he steps off the boat, Cooper disconcerts Mr. Warburton by greeting him with a breezy informality. After showing Cooper to his bungalow, the Resident invites him to dinner.
Although the dinner is for two, Mr. Warburton has arranged a formal table with a continental menu prepared by his excellent Chinese cook. As always, he dons his formal dinner jacket and tie. Thus he is taken aback when Cooper arrives in the same soiled shorts and shirt that he wore on the journey. The dinner confirms Mr. Warburton’s perplexed conclusion that Cooper is no gentleman. A colonial born in Barbados, he received an indifferent education and was an enlisted man during the war. The conversation becomes strained as Mr. Warburton gives Cooper some pointers about dress and manners. After dinner, Cooper asks Mr. Warburton to find him a new servant because his previous boy unaccountably disappeared during the journey upriver.
As the narrative makes plain, Mr. Warburton’s character and background differ markedly from Cooper’s. At twenty-one, he inherited a fortune that enabled him to move with ease and grace among the highest London society. A popular young man, unfailingly generous and polite, he preferred the company of noblemen, not for their wealth but for their titles. He became known as a snob, though his extravagance and generosity made the fault appear minor. He was also passionately fond of gambling and speculation, activities that led to his financial ruin at age thirty-four. After paying off his debts, he did what English gentlemen in his situation usually did: He went out to the colonies to seek a living. Now fifty-four, he retains many habits and attitudes from his London days, but he has gradually changed. During his annual visits to England, he now feels uncomfortable and out of place. He has developed an affection for Borneo and its indigenous people. His will, though no one knows or even suspects it, orders that he be buried there.
At a second dinner on the following Sunday, Cooper arrives in proper dress, and Mr. Warburton wonders whether his first impression might have been severe. For Cooper’s servant, Mr. Warburton has selected Abas, a nephew of his own head boy. Feeling relaxed and congenial, he entertains Cooper with stories of his association with dukes and princes. Cooper, who has heard of Mr. Warburton’s snobbery, listens with wry amusement. Though he speaks little, he makes it...
(The entire section is 1129 words.)