(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

De Ciz and his wife, Ysé, are chatting one morning with their fellow passengers Almaric and Mesa on the forward deck of a liner on the Indian Ocean bound for the Far East from France. The married couple and their two children only recently embarked at Aden, and De Ciz, like Almaric, is traveling to China to seek new business opportunities. Mesa, a former seminarian, is returning to China where he previously achieved success as an influential customs official.

Ysé flirts with Mesa, teasing him about his gold rocking chair and extracting a promise that she might use it whenever she wishes. De Ciz and Ysé go below to attend to their luggage, and Almaric suggests to Mesa that Ysé has a romantic interest in him. Though Mesa protests that she is too vulgar and a brazen flirt, Almaric implies that the romantic interest might very well be mutual.

When De Ciz and Ysé return, De Ciz and Mesa go for a stroll. Ysé and Almaric reminisce about old times. By coincidence, they were lovers ten years earlier. They recall their affair with a regretful wistfulness. However, although Ysé does not particularly appreciate the life her husband provides for her, she insists that she loves him.

Almaric goes for a solitary smoke just as Mesa returns from his stroll. He finds Ysé alone, reclining in the rocking chair and reading a love story. Mesa tells Ysé that he knows she is attracted to him. She forces him to swear that he will not love her, thereby arousing his ardor. When Almaric and then De Ciz return with drinks for all, the four discuss their various prospects for making their fortunes in the Far East. In the glaring noon heat in the middle of the ocean they enjoy their drinks.

In Hong Kong, Mesa and Ysé arrange a rendezvous in an obscure corner of an old Chinese cemetery. Mesa, arriving early enough to get cold feet, leaves. Shortly afterward, Ysé and De Ciz arrive. They are arguing over his latest...

(The entire section is 793 words.)