(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Wiltshire welcomed his transfer to the trading station at Falesa after spending four years on a Pacific island where he had no white neighbors. Case and old Captain Randall lived in Falesa. Even though they operated a competing store, Wiltshire was grateful for their presence. At first, he was not disturbed by the fates of his two predecessors. One of them, John Adams, had become ill and died after a period of insanity. The other, Vigours, had left suddenly because of his intense fear of Case and Black Jack.

When Wiltshire first met Case and his black colleague, Black Jack, he was pleased with the clean appearance of both and with the educated speech of the white man. Case was very obliging. He had suggested that Wiltshire get a native wife and had pointed out Uma, a shy, slender girl whom Wiltshire agreed to take. Because Wiltshire did not know the native tongue, Case made all the arrangements with the girl and her mother.

The wedding took place in the store operated by Randall, Case, and Black Jack. This store, a small and filthy place with few supplies other than firearms and liquor, was nominally owned by Randall, a sottish old derelict; but Case was obviously in charge. The marriage service was conducted by Black Jack, who pretended to read the service from a novel and said a few obscene words in English, which Uma could not understand. Case prepared a document, which stated that they were illegally married. At first sight, Wiltshire had been favorably impressed by Uma, and this impression was deepened by her modest and serious demeanor during the ceremony. His long-standing resolve to avoid serious involvement with a native woman was weakening.

A series of mysterious happenings began on the next day. In the morning, Wiltshire discovered a group of natives who were sitting quietly and staring with sorrowful expressions at his house. The crowd increased during the day and did not disperse until evening. On his first day of business, he had no customers; more surprising, not one curious spectator entered his store. On Sunday, attracted by the singing, he stuck his head in the window of a church. The native pastor, staggering from amazement and fear, pointed his finger at the white man. After a second business day had passed without a single visitor to the store, Wiltshire concluded that he had been tabooed by the natives.

Ostensibly to help his fellow Englishman, Case accompanied Wiltshire to a meeting with five of the chiefs of Falesa. Because Wiltshire was ignorant of the language, Case acted as his spokesman. Afterward, Case alleged that he had not succeeded in getting the chiefs to change their attitude toward Wiltshire. He said that the natives feared Wiltshire because of some unknown superstition, much the same as they had feared Vigours, and would not go near him.

That same day, Wiltshire gained his first insight into the plot that Case was working against him. Uma disclosed that the taboo had been placed on her originally and that it was now put on him because of his marriage. Case had told her that Wiltshire had married with full knowledge of the situation.

Wiltshire also learned that Case, when Uma and her widowed mother had come to Falesa a year before, had shown interest in the two women and had given...

(The entire section is 1344 words.)