« PreviousContinue »
ious appearance than ever. "Me no likee," he added in a quieter tone. "Me velly sick."
He put his hand over the region under the breastbone.
"That," said Heyst, serenely positive, "belong one piecee lie. That isn't proper man-talk at all. And after stealing my revolver, too!"
He had suddenly decided to speak about it, because this frankness could not make the situation much worse than it was. He did not suppose for a moment that Wang had the revolver anywhere about his person; and after having thought the matter over, he had arrived at the conclusion that the Chinaman never meant to use the weapon against him. After a slight start, because the direct charge had taken him unawares, Wang tore open the front of his jacket with a convulsive show of indignation.
"No hab got. Look see!" he mouthed in pretended anger.
He slapped his bare chest violently; he uncovered his very ribs, all astir with the panting of outraged virtue; his smooth stomach heaved with indignation. He started his wide blue breeches flapping about his yellow calves. Heyst watched him quietly.
"I never said you had it on you," he observed, without raising his voice, "but the revolver is gone from where I kept it."
"Me no savee levolvel," Wang said obstinately.
The book lying open on Heyst's knee slipped suddenly and he made a sharp movement to catch it up. Wang was unable to see the reason of this because of the table, and leaped away from what seemed to him a threatening symptom. When Heyst looked up, the Chinaman was already at the door facing the room, not frightened, but alert.
"What's the matter?" asked Heyst.
Wang nodded his shaven head significantly at the curtain closing the doorway of the bedroom.
"Me no likee," he repeated.
"What the devil do you mean?" Heyst was genuinely amazed. "Don't like what?"
Wang pointed a long, lemon-coloured finger at the motionless folds.
"Two," he said.
"Two what? I don't understand."
"Suppose you savee, you no like that fashion. Me savee plenty. Me go now."
Heyst had risen from his chair, but Wang kept his ground in the doorway for a little while longer. His almond-shaped eyes imparted to his face an expression of soft and sentimental melancholy. The muscles of his throat moved visibly while he uttered a distinct and guttural "Good-bye," and vanished from Number One's sight.
The Chinaman's departure altered the situation. Heyst reflected on what would be best to do in view of that fact. For a long time he hesitated; then, shrugging his shoulders wearily, he walked out on the verandah, down the steps, and continued at a steady gait, with a thoughtful mien, in the direction of his guests' bungalow. He wanted to make an important communication to them, and he had no other object—least of all to give them the shock of a surprise call. Nevertheless, their brutish henchman not being on watch, it was Heyst's fate to startle Mr. Jones and his secretary by his sudden appearance in the doorway. Their conversation must have been very interesting to prevent them from hearing the visitor's approach. In the dim room—the shutters were kept constantly closed against the heat—Heyst saw them start apart. It was Mr. Jones who spoke.
"Ah, here you are again! Come in, come in!"
Heyst, taking his hat off in the doorway, entered the Waking up suddenly, Lena looked, without raising her head from the pillow, at the room in which she was alone. She got up quickly, as if to counteract the awful sinking of her heart by the vigorous use of her limbs. But this sinking was only momentary. Mistress of herself from pride, from love, from necessity, and also because of a woman's vanity in self-sacrifice, she met Heyst, returning from the strangers' bungalow, with a clear glance and a smile.
The smile he managed to answer; but, noticing that he avoided her eyes, she composed her lips and lowered her gaze. For the same reason she hastened to speak to him in a tone of indifference, which she put on without effort, as if she had grown adept in duplicity since sunrise.
"You have been over there again?"
"I have. I thought—but you had better know first that we have lost Wang for good."
She repeated Tor good?" as if she had not understood.
"For good or evil—I shouldn't know which if you were to ask me. He has dismissed himself. He's gone."
"You expected him to go, though, didn't you?"
Heyst sat down on the other side of the table.
"Yes. I expected it as soon as I discovered that he had annexed my revolver. He says he hasn't taken it. That's of course. A Chinaman would not see the sense of confessing under any circumstances. To deny any charge is a principle of right conduct; but he hardly expected to be believed. He was a little enigmatic at the last, Lena. He startled me."
Heyst paused. The girl seemed absorbed in her own thoughts.
"He startled me," repeated Heyst. She noted the anxiety in his tone, and turned her head slightly to look at him across the table.
"It must have been something—to startle you" she said. In the depth of her parted lips, like a ripe pomegranate, there was a gleam of white teeth.
"It was only a single word—and some of his gestures. He had been making a good deal of noise. I wonder we didn't wake you up. How soundly you can sleep! I say, do you feel all right now?"
"As fresh as can be," she said, treating him to another deep gleam of a smile. "I heard no noise, and I'm glad of it. The way he talks in his harsh voice frightens me. I don't like all these foreign people."
"It was just before he went away—bolted out, I should say. He nodded and pointed at the curtain of our room. He knew you were there, of course. He seemed to think—he seemed to try to give me to understand that you were in special—well, danger. You know how he talks."
She said nothing; she made no sound, only the faint tinge of colour ebbed out of her cheek.
"Yes," Heyst went on. "He seemed to try to warn me. That must have been it. Did he imagine I had forgotten your existence? The only word he said was 'two.' It sounded so, at least. Yes, 'two'—and that he didn't like it."
"What does that mean?" she whispered.
"We know what the word two means, don't we, Lena? We are two. Never were such a lonely two out of the world, my dear! He might have tried to remind me that he himself has a woman to look after. Why are you so pale, Lena?"
"Am I pale?" she asked negligently.
"You are." Heyst was really anxious.
"Well, it isn't from fright," she protested truthfully.
Indeed, what she felt was a sort of horror which left her absolutely in the full possession of all her faculties; more difficult to bear, perhaps, for that reason, but not paralysing to her fortitude.
Heyst in his turn smiled at her.
"I really don't know that there is any reason to be frightened."
"I mean I am not frightened for myself."
"I believe you are very plucky," he said. The colour had returned to her face. "L" continued Heyst, "am so rebellious to outward impressions that I can't say that much about myself. I don't react with sufficient distinctness." He changed his tone. "You know I went to see those men first thing this morning."
"I know. Be careful!" she murmured.
"I wonder how one can be careful! I had a long talk with —but I don't believe you have seen them. One of them is a fantastically thin, long person, apparently ailing; I shouldn't wonder if he were really so. He makes rather a point of it in a mysterious manner. I imagine he must have suffered from tropical fevers, but not so much as he tries to make out. He's what people would call a gentleman. He seemed on the point of volunteering a tale of his adventures—for which I didn't ask him—but remarked that it was a long story; some other time, perhaps.
"'I suppose you would like to know who I am?' he asked me.
"I told him I would leave it to him, in a tone which, between gentlemen, could have left no doubt in his mind. He raised himself on his elbow—he was lying down on the camp-bed—and said:
"'I am he who is—'"
Lena seemed not to be listening; but when Heyst paused, she turned her head quickly to him. He took it for a movement of inquiry, but in this he was wrong. A great vagueness enveloped her impressions, but all her energy was concentrated on the struggle that she wanted to take upon herself, in a great exaltation of love and self-sacrifice, which is woman's sublime faculty; altogether on herself, every bit of it, leaving him nothing, not even the knowledge of what she did, if that were possible. She would have liked to lock him up by some stratagem. Had she known of some means