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she saw them with extreme distinctness, very still, very vicious to look at.
"You had better let me go forward alone, Lena," said Heyst.
She tugged persistently at his arm, but after a time, during which he never ceased to look smilingly into her terrified eyes, he ended by disengaging himself.
"It's a sign rather than a demonstration," he argued persuasively. "Just wait here a moment. I promise not to approach near enough to be stabbed."
As in a nightmare she watched Heyst go up the few yards of the path as if he never meant to stop; and she heard his voice, like voices heard in dreams, shouting unknown words in an unearthly tone. Heyst was only demanding to see Wang. He was not kept waiting very long. Recovering from the first flurry of her fright, Lena noticed a commotion in the green top-dressing of the barricade. She exhaled a sigh of relief when the spear-blades retreated out of sight, sliding inward—the horrible things! In a spot facing Heyst a pair of yellow hands parted the leaves, and a face filled the small opening—a face with very noticeable eyes. It was Wang's face, of course, with no suggestion of a body belonging to it, like those cardboard faces at which she remembered gazing as a child in the window of a certain dim shop kept by a mysterious little man in Kingsland Road. Only this face, instead of mere holes, had eyes which blinked. She could see the beating of the eyelids. The hands on each side of the face, keeping the boughs apart, also did not look as if they belonged to any real body. One of them was holding a revolver—a weapon which she recognised merely by intuition, never having seen such an object before.
She leaned her shoulders against the rock of the perpendicular hillside and kept her eyes on Heyst, with comparative composure, since the spears were not menacing him any longer. Beyond the rigid and motionless back he presented to her, she saw Wang's unreal cardboard face moving its thin lips and grimacing artificially. She was too far down the path to hear the dialogue, carried on in an ordinary voice. She waited patiently for its end. Her shoulders felt the warmth of the rock; now and then a whiff of cooler air seemed to slip down upon her head from above; the ravine at her feet, choked full of vegetation, emitted the faint, drowsy hum of insect life. Everything was very quiet. She failed to notice the exact moment when Wang's head vanished from the foliage, taking the unreal hands away with it. Tc her horror, the spear-blades came gliding slowly out. The very hair on her head stirred; but before she had time to cry out, Heyst, who seemed rooted to the ground, turned round abruptly and began to move toward her. His great moustaches did not quite hide an ugly but irresolute smile; and when he had come down near enough to touch her, he burst out into a harsh laugh:
"Ha, ha, ha!"
She looked at him, uncomprehending. He cut short his laugh and said curtly:
"We had better go down as we came."
She followed him into the forest. The advance of the afternoon had filled it with gloom. Far away a slant of light between the trees closed the view. All was dark beyond. Heyst stopped.
"No reason to hurry, Lena," he said in his ordinary, serenely polite tones. "We return unsuccessful. I suppose you know, or at least can guess, what was my object in coming up there?"
"No, I can't guess, dear," she said, and smiled, noticing with emotion that his breast was heaving as if he had been out of breath. Nevertheless, he tried to command his speech, pausing only a little between the words.
"No? I went up to find Wang. I went up"—he gasped again here, but this was for the last time—"I made you come with me because I didn't like to leave you unprotected in the proximity of those fellows." Suddenly he snatched his cork helmet off his head and dashed it on the ground. "No!" he cried roughly. "All this is too unreal altogether. It's isn't to be borne! I can't protect you! I haven't the power."
He glared at her for a moment, then hastened after his hat, which had bounded away to some distance. He came back looking at her face, which was very white.
"I ought to beg your pardon for these antics," he said, adjusting his hat. "A movement of childish petulance! Indeed, I feel very much like a child in my ignorance, in my powerlessness, in my want of resource, in everything except in the dreadful consciousness of some evil hanging over your head— yours!"
"It's you they are after," she murmured.
"No doubt, but unfortunately—"
"Unfortunately, I have not succeeded with Wang," he said. "I failed to move his Celestial heart—that is, if there is such a thing. He told me with horrible Chinese reasonableness that he could not let us pass the barrier, because we should be pursued. He doesn't like fights. He gave me to understand that he would shoot me with my own revolver without any sort of compunction, rather than risk a rude and distasteful contest with the strange barbarians for my sake. He has preached to the villagers. They respect him. He is the most remarkable man they have ever seen, and their kinsman by marriage. They understand his policy. And anyway only women and children and a few old fellows are left in the village. This is the season when the men are away in trading vessels. But it would have been all the same.. None of them have a taste for fightings—and with white men too! They are peaceable, kindly folk and would have seen me shot with extreme satisfaction. Wang seemed to think my insistence—for I insisted, you know—very stupid and tactless. But a drowning man clutches at straws. We were talking in such Malay as we are both equal to.
"'Your fears are foolish,' I said to him.
"'Foolish? Of course I am foolish,' he replied. If I were a wise man, I should be a merchant with a big hong in Singapore, instead of being a mine coolie turned house-boy. But if you don't go away in time, I will shoot you before it grows too dark to take aim. Not till then, Number One, but I will do it then. Now—finish!'
"'All right,' I said. 'Finish as far as I am concerned; but you can have no objections to the mem putih coming over to stay with the Orang Kaya's women for a few days. I will make a present in silver for it.' Orang Kaya is the head man of the village, Lena," added Heyst.
She looked at him in astonishment.
"You wanted me to go to that village of savages?" she gasped. "You wanted me to leave you?"
"It would have given me a freer hand."
Heyst stretched out his hands and looked at them for a moment, then let them fall by his side. Indignation was expressed more in the curve of her lips than in her clear eyes, which never wavered.
"I believe Wang laughed," he went on. "He made a noise like a turkey-cock."
"'That would be worse than anything,' he told me.
"I was taken aback. I pointed out to him that he was talking nonsense. It could not make any difference to his security where you were, because the evil men, as he calls them, did not know of your existence. I did not lie exactly, Lena, though I did stretch the truth till it cracked; but the fellow seems to have an uncanny insight. He shook his head. He assured me they knew all about you. He made a horrible grimace at me."
"It doesn't matter," said the girl. "I didn't want —I would not have gone."
Heyst raised his eyes.