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"My object, I said, was not to get assistance. I did not intend to chase the Chinaman. I had come only to warn them that he was armed, and that he really objected to their presence on the island. I wanted them to understand that I was not responsible for anything that might happen.
"'Do you mean to tell us,' asked Ricardo, 'that there is a crazy Chink with a six-shooter broke loose on this island, and that you don't care?'
"Strangely enough, they did not seem to believe my story. They were exchanging significant looks all the time. Ricardo stole up close to his principal; they had a confabulation together, and then something happened which I did not expect. It's rather awkward, too.
"Since I would not have their assistance to get hold of the Chink and recover my property, the least they could do was to send me their servant. It was Jones who said that, and Ricardo backed up the idea.
"'Yes, yes—let our Pedro cook for all hands in your compound. He isn't so bad as he looks. That's what we will do!'
"He bustled out of the room to the verandah, and let out an air-splitting whistle for their Pedro. Having heard the brute's answering howl, Ricardo ran back into the room.
"Tes, Mr. Heyst. This will do capitally, Mr. Heyst. You just direct him to do whatever you are accustomed to have done for you in the way of attendance. See?'
"Lena, I confess to you that I was taken completely by surprise. I had not expected anything of the sort. I don't know what I expected. I am so anxious about you that I can't keep away from these infernal scoundrels. And only three months ago I would not have cared. I would have defied their scoundrelism as much as I have scorned all the other intrusions of life. But now I have you! You stole into my life, and—"
Heyst drew a deep breath. The girl gave him a quick, wide-eyed glance.
"Ah! That's what you are thinking of—that you have me!"
It was impossible to read the thoughts veiled by her steady grey eyes, to penetrate the meaning of her silences, her words, and even her embraces. He used to come out of her very arms with the feeling of a baffled man.
"If I haven't you, if you are not here, then where are you?" cried Heyst. "You understand me very well!"
She shook her head a little. Her red lips, at which he looked now, her lips as fascinating as the voice that came out of them, uttered the words:
"I hear what you say; but what does it mean?"
"It means that I could He and perhaps cringe for your sake."
"No! No! Don't you ever do that," she said in haste, while her eyes glistened suddenly. "You would hate me for it afterwards!"
"Hate you?" repeated Heyst, who had recalled his polite manner. "No! You needn't consider the extremity of the improbable—as yet. But I will confess to you that I—how shall I call it?—that I dissembled. First I dissembled my dismay at the unforeseen result of my idiotic diplomacy. Do you understand, my dear girl?"
It was evident that she did not understand the word. Heyst produced his playful smile, which contrasted oddly with the worried character of his whole expression. His temples seemed to have sunk in, his face looked a little leaner.
"A diplomatic statement, Lena, is a statement of which everything is true but the sentiment which seems to prompt it. I have never been diplomatic in my relation with mankind—not from regard for its feelings, but from a certain regard for my own. Diplomacy doesn't go well with consistent contempt. I cared little for life and still less for death."
"Don't talk like that!"
"I dissembled my extreme longing to take these wandering scoundrels by their throats," he went on. "I have only two hands—I wish I had a hundred to defend you—and there were three throats. By that time their Pedro was in the room too. Had he seen me engaged with their two throats, he would have been at mine like a fierce dog, or any other savage and faithful brute. I had no difficulty in dissembling my longing for the vulgar, stupid, and hopeless argument of fight. I remarked that I really did not want a servant. I couldn't think of depriving them of their man's services; but they would not hear me. They had made up their minds.
"We shall send him over at once,' Ricardo said, 'to start cooking dinner for everybody. I hope you won't mind me coming to eat in with you in your bungalow; and we will send the governor's dinner over to him here.'
"I could do nothing but hold my tongue or bring on a quarrel—some manifestation of their dark purpose, which we have no means to resist. Of course, you may remain invisible this evening; but with that atrocious brute prowling all the time at the back of the house, how long can your presence be concealed from these men?"
Heyst's distress could be felt in his silence. The girl's head, sustained by her hands buried in the thick masses of her hair, had a perfect immobility.
"You are certain you have not been seen so far?" he asked suddenly.
The motionless head spoke.
"How can I be certain? You told me you wanted me to keep out of the way. I kept out of the way. I didn't ask your reason. I thought you didn't want people to know that you had a girl like me about you."
"What? Ashamed?" cried Heyst.
"It isn't what's right, perhaps—I mean for you—is it?"
Heyst lifted his hands, reproachfully courteous.
"I look upon it as so very much right that I couldn't bear the idea of any other than sympathetic, respectful eyes resting on you. I disliked and mistrusted these fellows from the first. Didn't you understand?"
"Yes; I did keep out of sight," she said.
A silence fell. At last Heyst stirred slightly.
"All this is of very little importance now," he said with a sigh. "This is a question of something infinitely worse than mere looks and thoughts, however base and contemptible. As I have told you, I met Ricardo's suggestions by silence. As I was turning away he said:
"'If you happen to have the key of that storeroom of yours on you, Mr. Heyst, you may just as well let me have it; I will give it to our Pedro.'
"I had it on me, and I tendered it to him without speaking. The hairy creature was at the door by then, and caught the key, which Ricardo threw to him, better than any trained ape could have done. I came away. All the time I had been thinking anxiously of you, whom I had left asleep, alone here, and apparently ill."
Heyst interrupted himself, with a listening turn of his head. He had heard the faint sound of sticks being snapped in the compound. He rose and crossed the room to look out of the back door.
"And here the creature is," he said, returning to the table. "Here he is, already attending to the fire. Oh, my dear Lena!"
She had followed him with her eyes. She watched him go out on the front verandah cautiously. He lowered stealthily a couple of screens that hung between the columns, and remained outside very still, as if interested by something on the open ground. Meantime she had risen in her turn, to take a peep into the compound. Heyst, glancing over his shoulder, saw her returning to her seat. He beckoned to her, and she continued to move, crossing the shady room, pure and bright in her white dress, her hair loose, with something of a sleep-walker in her unhurried motion, in her extended hand, in the sightless effect of her grey eyes luminous in the half light. He had never seen such an expression in her face before. It had dreaminess in it, intense attention, and something like sternness. Arrested in the doorway by Heyst's extended arm, she seemed to wake up, flushed faintly—and this flush, passing off, carried away with it the strange transfiguring mood. With a courageous gesture she pushed back the heavy masses of her hair. The light clung to her forehead. Her delicate nostrils quivered. Heyst seized her arm and whispered excitedly:
"Slip out here, quickly! The screens will conceal you. Only you must mind the stair-space. They are actually out —I mean the other two. You had better see them before you—"
She made a barely perceptible movement of recoil, checked at once, and stood still. Heyst released her arm.
"Yes, perhaps I had better," she said with unnatural deliberation, and stepped out on the verandah to stand close by his side.
Together, one on each side of the screen, they peeped between the edge of the canvas and the verandah-post entwined with creepers. A great heat ascended from the sunsmitten ground, in an ever-rising wave, as if from some secret store of earth's fiery heart; for the sky was growing cooler already, and the sun had declined sufficiently for the shadows of Mr. Jones and his henchman to be projected towards the bungalow side by side—one infinitely slender, the other short and broad.
The two visitors stood still and gazed. To keep up the fiction of his invalidism, Mr. Jones, the gentleman, leaned on the arm of Ricardo, the secretary, the top of whose hat just came up to his governor's shoulder.
"Do you see them?" Heyst whispered into the girl's ear. "Here they are, the envoys of the outer world. Here they are before you—evil intelligence, instinctive savagery, arm in arm. The brute force is at the back. A trio of fitting envoys perhaps—but what about the welcome? Suppose I were armed, could I shoot those two down where they stand? Could I?"
Without moving her head, the girl felt for Heyst's hand, pressed it, and thereafter did not let it go. He continued, bitterly playful:
"I don't know. I don't think so. There is a strain in me which lays me under an insensate obligation to avoid even the appearance of murder. I have never pulled a trigger or lifted my hand on a man, even in self-defence."
The suddenly tightened grip of her hand checked him.
"They are making a move," she murmured.
"Can they be thinking of coming here?" Heyst wondered anxiously.
"No, they aren't coming this way," she said; and there was another pause. "They are going back to their house," she reported finally.
After watching them a little longer, she let go Heyst's hand and moved away from the screen. He followed her into the room.