Page images

"You are looking for something."

He could not have heard her before; but he didn't start at the unexpected whisper. He only pushed the drawer of the table in and, without even looking over his shoulder, asked quietly, accepting her presence as if he had been aware of all her movements:

"I say, are you certain that Wang didn't go through this room this evening?"

"Wang? When?"

"After leaving the lantern, I mean."

"Oh, no. He ran on. I watched him." ,. "Or before, perhaps—while I was with these boat people? Do you know? Can you tell?"

"I hardly think so. I came out as the sun went down, and sat outside till you came back to me

"He could have popped in for an instant through the back veranda."

"I heard nothing in here," she said. "What is the matter?"

"Naturally you wouldn't hear. He can be as quiet as a shadow, when he likes. I believe he could steal the pillows from under our heads. He might have been here ten minutes ago."

"What woke you up? Was it a noise?

"Can't say that. Generally one can't tell; but is it likely, Lena? You are, I believe, the lighter sleeper of us two. A noise loud enough to wake me up would have awakened you, too. I tried to be as quiet as I could. What roused you?"

"I don't know—a dream, perhaps. I woke up cry* ng.

"What was the dream?"

[ocr errors]

Heyst, with one hand resting on the table, had arrived in her direction, his round, uncovered head et on a fighter's muscular neck. She left his question nanswered, as if she had not heard it.

"What is it you have missed?" she asked in her turn, ery grave.

Her dark hair, drawn smoothly back, was done in wo thick tresses for the night. Heyst noticed the pod form of her brow, the dignity of its width, its inshining whiteness. It was a sculptural forehead. le had a moment of acute appreciation intruding upon another order of thoughts. It was as if there ould be no end of his discoveries about that girl, at he most incongruous moments.

She had on nothing but a hand-woven cotton sarong -one of Heyst's few purchases, years ago, in Celebes, where they are made. He had forgotten all about it ill she came, and then had found it in the bottom of an Id sandalwood trunk dating back to pre-Morrison lays. She had quickly learned to wind it up under er armpits with a safe twist, as Malay village girls do then going down to bathe in a river. Her shoulders nd arms were bare; one of her tresses, hanging for

ard, looked almost black against the white skin. As he was taller than the average Malay woman, the irong ended a good way above her ankles. She ;ood poised firmly, half-way between the table and re curtained doorway, the insteps of her bare feet learning like marble on the overshadowed matting f the floor. The/fall of her lighted shoulders, the Tong and fine modelling of her arms hanging down

er sides, hfcr immobility, too, had something statu4

esque, the charm of art tense with life. She was not very big—Heyst used to think of her, at first, as "that poor little girl"—but revealed free from the shabby banality of a white platform dress, in the simple drapery of the sarong, there was that in her form and in the proportions of her body which suggested a reduction from a heroic size.

She moved forward a step.

"What is it you have missed?" she asked again.

Heyst turned his back altogether on the table. The black spokes of darkness over the floor and the walls, joining up on the ceiling in a patch of shadow, were like the bars of a cage about them. It was his turn to ignore a question.

"You woke up in a fright, you say?" he said.

She walked up to him, exotic yet familiar, with her white woman's face and shoulders above the Malay sarong, as if it were an airy disguise; but her expression was serious. \

"No!" she replied. "It was distress, rather. You see, you weren't there, and I couldn't tell why you had gone away from me. A nasty dream—the first I've had, too, since—"

"You don't believe in dreams, do you?" asked Heyst.

"I once knew a woman who did. Leastwise, she used to tell people what dreams meant, for a shilling."

"Would you go now and ask her what this dream means?" inquired Heyst jocularly.

"She lived in Cumber well. She was a nasty old thing!"

Heyst laughed a little uneasily.

"Dreams are madness, my dear. It's things that happen in the waking world, while one is asleep, that one would be glad to know the meaning of."

"You have missed something out of this drawer," she said positively.

"This or some other. I have looked into every single one of them and come back to this again, as people do. It's difficult to believe the evidence of my own senses; but it isn't there. Now, Lena, are you sure that you didn't—"

"I have touched nothing in the house but what you have given me."

"Lena!" he cried.

He was painfully affected by this disclaimer of a charge which he had not made. It was what a servant might have said—an inferior open to suspicion— or, at any rate, a stranger. He was angry at being so wretchedly misunderstood; disenchanted at her not being instinctively aware of the place he had secretly given her in his thoughts.

"After all," he said to himself, "we are strangers to each other."

And then he felt sorry for her. He spoke calmly:

"I was about to say, are you sure you have no reason to think that the Chinaman has been in this room tonight?"

"You suspect him?" she asked, knitting her eyebrows.

"There is no one else to suspect. You may call it a certitude."

"You don't want to tell me what it is?" she inquired, in the equable tone in which one takes a fact into account.

Heyst only smiled faintly.

"Nothing very precious, as far as value goes," he replied.

"I thought it might have been money," she said.

"Money!" exclaimed Heyst, as if the suggestion had been altogether preposterous, j She was so visibly surprised that he hastened to add: "Of course, there is some money in the house—there, in that writingdesk, the drawer on the left. It's not locked. You can pull it right out. There is a recess, and the board at the back pivots; a very simple hiding-place, when you know the way to it. I discovered it by accident and I keep our store of sovereigns in there. The treasure, my dear, is not big enough to require a cavern."

He paused, laughed very low, and returned her steady stare.

"The loose silver, some guilders and dollars, I have always kept in that unlocked left drawer. I have no doubt Wang knows what there is in it; but he isn't a thief, and that's why I—no, Lena, what I've missed is not gold or jewels; and that's what makes the fact interesting—which the theft of money cannot be."

She took a long breath, relieved to hear that it was not money. A great curiosity was depicted on her face, but she refrained from pressing him with questions. She only gave him one of her deep-gleaming smiles.

"It isn't me, so it must be Wang. You ought to make him give it back to you."

« PreviousContinue »