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to put him to sleep for days she would have used incantations or philtres without misgivings. He seemed to her too good for such contacts, and not sufficiently equipped. This last feeling had nothing to do with the material fact of the revolver being stolen. She could hardly appreciate that fact at its full value.
Observing her eyes fixed and as if sightless—for the concentration on her purpose took all expression out of them —Heyst imagined it to be the effect of a great mental effort.
"No use asking me what he meant, Lena; I don't know, and I did not ask him. The gentleman, as I have told you before, seems devoted to mystification. I said nothing, and he laid down his head again on the bundle of rugs he uses for a pillow. He affects a state of great weakness, but I suspect that he's perfectly capable of leaping to his feet if he likes. Having been ejected, he said, from his proper social sphere because he had refused to conform to certain usual conventions, he was a rebel now, and was coming and going up and down the earth. As I really did not want to listen to all this nonsense, I told him that I had heard that sort of story about somebody else before. His grin is really ghastly. He confessed that I was very far from the sort of man he expected to meet. Then he said:
"'As to me, I am no blacker than the gentleman you are thinking of, and I have neither more nor less determination.'"
Heyst looked across the table at Lena. Propped on her elbows, and holding her head in both hands, she moved it a little with an air of understanding.
"Nothing could be plainer, eh?" said Heyst grimly. "Unless, indeed, this is his idea of a pleasant joke; for, when he finished speaking, he burst into a long, loud laugh. I didn't join him!"
"I wish you had," she breathed out.
"I didn't join him. It did not occur to me. I am not much of a diplomatist. It would probably have been wise; for, indeed, I believe he had said more than he meant to say, and was trying to take it back by this affected jocularity. Yet, when one thinks of it, diplomacy without force in the background is but a rotten reed to lean upon. And I don't know whether I could have done it if I had thought of it. I don't know. It would have been against the grain. Could I have done it? I have lived too long within myself, watching the mere shadows and shades of life. To deceive a man on some issue which could be decided quicker by his destruction while one is disarmed, helpless, without even the power to run away—no! That seems to me too degrading. And yet I have you herel I have your very existence in my keeping. What do you say, Lena? Would I be capable of throwing you to the lions to save my dignity?"
She got up, walked quickly round the table, posed herself on his knees lightly, throwing one arm round his neck, and whispered in his ear:
"You may, if you like. And maybe that's the only way I would consent to leave you. For something like that. If it were something no bigger than your little finger."
She gave him a light kiss on the lips and was gone before he could detain her. She regained her seat and propped her elbows again on the table. It was hard to believe that she had moved from the spot at all. The fleeting weight of her body on his knees, the hug round his neck, the whisper in his ear, the kiss on his lips, might have been the unsubstantial sensations of a dream invading the reality of waking life; a sort of charming mirage in the barren aridity of his thoughts. He hesitated to speak till she said, business-like:
"Well. And what then?"
Heyst gave a start.
"Oh, yes. I didn't join him. I let him have his laugh out by himself. He was shaking all over, like a merry skeleton, under a cotton sheet he was covered with—I believe in order to conceal the revolver that he had in his right hand. I didn't see it, but I have a distinct impression it was there in his fist. As he had not been looking at me for some time, but staring into a certain part of the room, I turned my head and saw a hairy, wild sort of creature which they take about with them, squatting on its heels in the angle of the walls behind me. He wasn't there when I came in. I didn't like the notion of that watchful monster behind my back. If I had been less at their mercy, I should certainly have changed my position. As things are now, to move would have been a mere weakness. So I remained where I was. The gentleman on the bed said he could assure me of one thing; and that was that his presence here was no more morally reprehensible than mine.
"*We pursue the same ends,' he said, 'only perhaps I pursue them with more openness than you—with more simplicity.'
"That's what he said," Heyst went on, after looking at Lena in a sort of inquiring silence. "I asked him if he knew beforehand that I was living here; but he only gave me a ghastly grin. I didn't press him for an answer, Lena. I thought I had better not."
On her smooth forehead a ray of light always seemed to rest. Her loose hair, parted in the middle, covered the hands sustaining her head. She seemed spellbound by the interest of the narrative. Heyst did not pause long. He managed to continue his relation smoothly enough, beginning afresh with a piece of comment.
"He would have lied impudently—and I detest being told a lie. It makes me uncomfortable. It's pretty clear that I am not fitted for the affairs of the wide world. But I did not want him to think that I accepted his presence too meekly; so I said that his comings or goings on the earth were none of my business, of course, except that I had a natural curiosity to know when he would find it convenient to resume them.
"He asked me to look at the state he was in. Had I been all alone here, as they think I am, I should have laughed at him. But not being alone—I say, Lena, you are sure you haven't shown yourself where you could be seen?"
"Certain," she said promptly.
He looked relieved.
"You understand, Lena, that when I ask you to keep so strictly out of sight, it is because you are not for them to look at—to talk about. My poor Lena! I can't help that feeling. Do you understand it?"
She moved her head slightly in a manner that was neither affirmative nor negative.
"People will have to see me some day," she said.
"I wonder how long it will be possible for you to keep out of sight!" murmured Heyst thoughtfully. He bent over the table. "Let me finish telling you. I asked him pointblank what it was he wanted with me; he appeared extremely unwilling to come to the point. It was not really so pressing as all that, he said. His secretary, who was in fact his partner, was not present, having gone down to the wharf to look at their boat. Finally the fellow proposed that he should put off a certain communication he had to make till the day after to-morrow. I agreed; but I also told him that I was not at all anxious to hear it. I had no conception in what way his affairs could concern me.
"'Ah, Mr. Heyst,' he said, you and I have much more in common than you think.'"
Heyst struck the table with his fist unexpectedly.
"It was a jeer; I am sure it was!"
He seemed ashamed of this outburst and smiled faintly into the motionless eyes of the girl.
"What could I have done—even if I had had my pockets full of revolvers?"
She made an appreciative sign.
"Killing's a sin, sure enough," she murmured.
"I went away," Heyst continued. "I left him there, lying on his side with his eyes shut. When I got back here, I found you looking ill. What was it, Lena? You did give me a scare! Then I had the interview with Wang while you rested. You were sleeping quietly. I sat here to consider all these things calmly, to try to penetrate their inner meaning and their outward bearing. It struck me that the two days we have before us have the character of a sort of truce. The more I thought of it, the more I felt that this was tacitly understood between Jones and myself. It was to our advantage, if anything can be of advantage to people caught so completely unawares as we are. Wang was gone. He, at any rate, had declared himself, but as I did not know what he might take it into his head to do, I thought I had better warn these people that I was no longer responsible for the Chinaman. I did not want Mr. Wang making some move which would precipitate the action against us. Do you see my point of view?"
She made a sign that she did. All her soul was wrapped in her passionate determination, in an exalted belief in herself—in the contemplation of her amazing opportunity to win the certitude, the eternity, of that man's love.
"I never saw two men," Heyst was saying, "more affected by a piece of information than Jones and his secretary, who was back in the bungalow by then. They had not heard me come up. I told them I was sorry to intrude.
"'Not at all! Not at all,' said Jones.
"The secretary backed away into a corner and watched me like a wary cat. In fact, they both were visibly on their guard.
"'I am come,' I told them, 'to let you know that my servant has deserted—gone off.'
"At first they looked at each other as if they had not understood what I was saying; but very soon they seemed quite concerned.
"Tou mean to say your Chink's cleared out?' said Ricardo, coming forward from his corner. 'Like this—all at once? What did he do it forf"
"I said that a Chinaman had always a simple and precise reason for what he did, but that to get such a reason out of him was not so easy. All he had told me, I said, was that he 'didn't like.'
"They looked extremely disturbed at this. Didn't like what, they wanted to know.
"'The looks of you and your party,' I told Jones.
"'Nonsense!' he cried out; and immediately Ricardo, the short man, struck in.
"'Told you that? What did he take you for, sir—an infant? Or do you take us for kids?—meaning no offence. Come, I bet you will tell us next that you've missed something.'
"T didn't mean to tell you anything of the sort,' I said, 'but as a matter of fact it is so.'
"He slapped his thigh.
"'Thought so. What do you think of this trick, governor?"
"Jones made some sort of sign to him, and then that extraordinary cat-faced associate proposed that he and their servant should come out and help me to catch or kill the Chink.