« PreviousContinue »
"You have seen them now," he began. "Think what it was to me to see them land in the dusk, fantasms from the sea—apparitions, chimaeras! And they persist. That's the worst of it—they persist. They have no right to be—but they are. They ought to have aroused my fury. But I have refined everything away by this time—anger, indignation, scorn itself. Nothing's left but disgust. Since you have told me of that abominable calumny, it has become immense— it extends even to myself." He looked up at her.
"But luckily I have you. And if only Wang had not carried off that miserable revolver—yes, Lena, here we are, we two!"
She put both her hands on his shoulders and looked straight into his eyes. He returned her penetrating gaze. It baffled him. He could not pierce the grey veil of her eyes; but the sadness of her voice thrilled him profoundly.
"You are not reproaching me?" she asked slowly.
"Reproach? What a word between us! It could only be myself—but the mention of Wang has given me an idea. I have been, not exactly cringing, not exactly lying, but still dissembling. You have been hiding yourself, to please me, but still you have been hiding. All this is very dignified. Why shouldn't we try begging now? A noble art! Yes, Lena, we must go out together. I couldn't think of leaving you alone, and I must—yes, I must speak to Wang. We shall go and seek that man, who knows what he wants and how to secure what he wants. We will go at once!"
"Wait till I put my hair up," she agreed instantly, and vanished behind the curtain.
When the curtain had fallen behind her, she turned her head back with an expression of infinite and tender concern for him—for him whom she could never hope to understand, and whom she was afraid she could never satisfy; as if her passion were of a hopelessly lower quality, unable to appease some exalted and delicate desire of his superior soul. In a couple of minutes she reappeared. They left the house by the door of the compound, and passed within three feet of the thunderstruck Pedro, without even looking in his direction. He rose from stooping over a fire of sticks, and, balancing himself clumsily, uncovered his enormous fangs in gaping astonishment. Then suddenly he set off rolling on his bandy legs to impart to his masters the astonishing discovery of a woman.
As Luck would have it, Ricardo was lounging alone on the verandah of the former counting-house. He scented some new development at once, and ran down to meet the trotting, bear-like figure. The deep, growling noises it made, though they had only a very remote resemblance to the Spanish language, or indeed to any sort of human speech, were from long practice quite intelligible to Mr. Jones's secretary. Ricardo was rather surprised. He had imagined that the girl would continue to keep out of sight. That line apparently was given up. He did not mistrust her. How could he? Indeed, he could not think of her existence calmly.
He tried to keep her image out of his mind so that he should be able to use its powers with some approach to that coolness which the complex nature of the situation demanded from him, both for his own sake and as the faithful follower of "plain Mr. Jones," gentleman.
He collected his wits and thought. This was a change of policy, probably on the part of Heyst. If so, what could it mean? A deep fellowl Unless it was her doing; in which case—h'm—all right! Must be. She would know what she was doing. Before him Pedro, lifting his feet alternately, swayed to and fro sideways—his usual attitude of expectation. His little red eyes, lost in the mass of hair, were motionless. Ricardo stared into them with calculated contempt and said in a rough, angry voice:
"Woman! Of course there is. We know that without you!" He gave the tame monster a push. "Git! Vamosl Waddle! Get back and cook the dinner! Which way did they go, then?"
Pedro extended a huge, hairy forearm to show the direction, and went off on his bandy legs. Advancing a few steps, Ricardo was just in time to see, above some bushes, two white helmets moving side by side in the clearing. They disappeared. Now that he had managed to keep Pedro from informing the governor that there was a woman on the island, he could indulge in speculation as to the movements of these people. His attitude towards Mr. Jones had undergone a spiritual change, of which he himself was not yet fully aware.
That morning, before tiffin, after his escape from the Heyst bungalow, completed in such an inspiring way by the recovery of the slipper, Ricardo had made his way to their allotted house, reeling as he ran, his head in a whirl. He was wildly excited by visions of inconceivable promise. He waited to compose himself before he dared to meet the governor. On entering the room, he found Mr. Jones sitting on the camp bedstead like a tailor on his board, crosslegged, his long back against the wall.
"I say, sir! You aren't going to tell me you are bored?"
"Bored? No! WTiere the devil have you been all this time?"
"Observing—watching—nosing around. What else? I knew you had company. Have you talked freely, sir?"
"Yes, I have," muttered Mr. Jones.
"Not downright plain, sir?"
"No. I wished you had been here. You loaf all the morning, and now you come in out of breath. WTiat's the matter?"
"I haven't been wasting my time out there," said Ricardo. "Nothing's the matter. I—I—might have hurried a bit." He was in truth still panting; only it was not with running, but with the tumult of thoughts and sensations long repressed, which had been set free by the adventure of the morning. He was almost distracted by them now. He forgot himself in the maze of possibilities threatening
and inspiring. "And so you had a long talkp” he said, to gain time.
“Confound you! The sun hasn't affected your head, has it? Why are you staring at me like a basilisk?”
"Beg pardon, sir. Wasn't aware I stared,” Ricardo apologised good-humouredly. “The sun might well affect a thicker skull than mine. It blazes. Phew! What do you think a fellow is, sir-a salamander?"
"You ought to have been here,” observed Mr. Jones.
"Did the beast give any signs of wanting to prance?" asked Ricardo quickly, with absolutely genuine anxiety. “It wouldn't do, sir. You must play him easy for at least a couple of days, sir. I have a plan. I have a notion that I can find out a lot in a couple of days.”
“You have? In what way?”
“Nothing new, that. Watch, eh? Why not pray a little, too?"
"Ha, ha, ha! That's a good one,” burst out the secretary, fixing Mr. Jones with mirthless eyes.
The latter dropped the subject indolently. "Oh, you may be certain of at least two days,” he said.
Ricardo recovered himself. His eyes gleamed voluptuously.
"We'll pull this off yet-clean-whole-right through, if you will only trust me, sir.”
"I am trusting you right enough,” said Mr. Jones. "It's your interest, too."
And, indeed, Ricardo was truthful enough in his statement. He did absolutely believe in success now. But he couldn't tell his governor that he had intelligences in the enemy's camp. It wouldn't do to tell him of the girl. Devil only knew what he would do if he learned there was a woman about. And how could he begin to tell of it? He couldn't confess his sudden escapade.
“We'll pull it off, sir,” he said, with perfectly acted cheerfulness. He experienced gusts of awful joy expanding in his heart and hot like a fanned flame.
“We must,” pronounced Mr. Jones. “This thing, Martin,