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All this time he had been looking fixedly at the girl he called Lena. In the submissive quietness of her being, which had been her attitude ever since they had begun their life on the island, she remained as secret as ever. Heyst got up abruptly, with a smile of such enigmatic and despairing character that Mr. Secretary Ricardo, whose abstract gaze had an allround efficiency, made a slight crouching start, as if to dive under the table for his leg-knife—a start that was repressed as soon as begun. He had expected Heyst to spring on him or draw a revolver, because he created for himself a vision of life in his own image. Instead of doing either of these evident things, Heyst walked across the room, opened the door, and put his head through it to look out into the compound.
As soon as his back was turned, Ricardo's hand sought the girl's arm under the table. He was not looking at her, but she felt the groping, nervous touch of his search, felt suddenly the grip of his fingers above her wrist. He leaned forward a little; still he dared not look at her. His hard stare remained fastened on Heyst's back. In an extremely low hiss, his fixed idea of argument found expression scathingly:
"See! He's no good. He's not the man for you!"
He glanced at her at last. Her lips moved a little, and he was awed by that movement without a sound. Next instant the hard grasp of his fingers vanished from her arm. Heyst had shut the door. On his way back to the table, he crossed the path of the girl they had called Alma—she didn't know why—also Magdalen, whose mind had remained so long in doubt as to the reason of her own existence. She no longer wondered at that bitter riddle, since her heart found its solution in a blinding, hot glow of passionate purpose.
SHE passed by Heyst as if she had indeed been blinded by some secret, lurid, and consuming glare into which she was about to enter. The heavy curtain of the bedroom door fell behind her into rigid folds. Ricardo's vacant gaze seemed to be watching the dancing flight of a fly in mid air.
"Extra dark outside, ain't it?" he muttered.
"Not so dark but that I could see that man of yours prowling about there," said Heyst in measured tones.
"What—Pedro? He's scarcely a man, you know; or else I wouldn't be so fond of him as I am."
"Very well. Let's call him your worthy associate."
"Ay! Worthy enough for what we want of him. A great stand-by is Peter in a scrimmage. A growl and a bite—oh, my! And you don't want him about?"
"You want him out of the way?" insisted Ricardo, with an affectation of incredulity which Heyst accepted calmly, though the air in the room seemed to grow more oppressive with every word spoken.
"That's it. I do want him out of the way." He forced himself to speak equably.
"Lor'! That's no great matter. Pedro's not much use here. The business my governor's after can be settled by ten minutes' rational talk with— with another gentleman. Quiet talk!"
He looked up suddenly with hard, phosphorescent eyes. Heyst didn't move a muscle. Ricardo congratulated himself on having left his revolver behind. He was so exasperated that he didn't know what he might have done. He said at last:
"You want poor, harmless Peter out of the way before you let me take you to see the governor—is that it?"
"Yes, that is it."
"H'm! One can see," Ricardo said with hidden venom, "that you are a gentleman; but all that gentlemanly fancifulness is apt to turn sour on a plain man's stomach. However—you'll have to pardon me."
He put his fingers into his mouth and let out a whistle which seemed to drive a thin, sharp shaft of air solidly against one's nearest ear-drum. Though he greatly enjoyed Heyst's involuntary grimace, he sat perfectly stolid waiting for the effect of the call.
It brought Pedro in with an extraordinary, uncouth, primeval impetuosity. The door flew open with a clatter, and the wild figure it disclosed seemed anxious to devastate the room in leaps and bounds; but Ricardo raised his open palm, and the creature came in quietly. His enormous half-closed paws swung to and fro a little in front of his bowed trunk as he walked. Ricardo looked on truculently.
"You go to the boat—understand? Go now!"
The little red eyes of the tame monster blinked with painful attention in the mass of hair.
"Well? Why don't you get? Forgot human speech, eh? Don't you know any longer what a boat is?"
"Si—boat," the creature stammered out doubtfully.
"Well, go there—the boat at the jetty. March off to it and sit there, lay down there, do anything but go to sleep there—till you hear my call, and then fly here. Them's your orders. March! Get, vamos! No, not that way—out through the front door. No sulks!"
Pedro obeyed with uncouth alacrity. When he had gone, the gleam of pitiless savagery went out of Ricardo's yellow eyes, and his physiognomy took on, for the first time that evening, the expression of a domestic cat which is being noticed.
"You can watch him right into the bushes, if you like. Too dark, eh? Why not go with him to the very spot, then?"
Heyst made a gesture of vague protest.
"There's nothing to assure me that he will stay there. I have no doubt of his going; but it's an act without a guarantee."
"There you are!" Ricardo shrugged his shoulders philosophically. "Can't be helped. Short of shooting our Pedro, nobody can make absolutely sure of his staying in the same place longer than he has a mind to; but I tell you, he lives in holy terror of my temper. That's why I put on my sudden-death air when I talk to him. And yet I wouldn't shoot him —not I, unless in such a fit of rage as would make a man shoot his favourite dog. Look here, sir! This