« PreviousContinue »
ings. This seemed to be an inexpugnable refuge, where w< could live untroubled and learn to know each other."
"It's perhaps in trouble that people get to know eacl other," she suggested.
"Perhaps," he said indifferently. "At any rate, we woulc not have gone away from here with him; though I believi he would have come in eagerly enough, and ready for an; service he could render. It's that fat man's nature—a de lightful fellow. You would not come on the wharf that timi I sent the shawl back to Mrs. Schomberg through him. Hi has never seen you."
"I didn't know that you wanted anybody ever to see me,' she said.
He had folded his arms on his breast and hung his head
"And I did not know that you cared to be seen as yet A misunderstanding evidently. An honourable misunder standing. But it does not matter now."
He raised his head after a silence.
"How gloomy this forest has grown! Yet surely the sd cannot have set already."
She looked round; and as if her eyes had just opened, she perceived the shades of the forest surroundinjj her, not so much with gloom, but with a sullen, dumb, menacing hostility. Her heart sank in the engulfing stillness; al that moment she felt the nearness of death breathing on her and on the man with her. If there had been a sudden stir of leaves, the crack of a dry branch, the faintest rustle, she would have screamed aloud. But she shook off the urn worthy weakness. Such as she was, a fiddle-scraping girl picked up on the very threshold of infamy, she would try to rise above herself, triumphant and humble; and then happiness would burst on her like a torrent, flinging at her feet the man whom she loved.
Heyst stirred slightly.
"We had better be getting back, Lena, since we cant stay all night in the woods—or anywhere else, for that matter. We are the slaves of this infernal surprise which ha been sprung on us by—shall I say fate?—your fate, or mine.
It was the man who had broken the silence, but it was the woman who led the way. At the very edge of the fores'
she stopped, concealed by a tree. He joined her cautiously. "What is it? What do you see, Lena?" he whispered. She said that it was only a thought that had come into
her head. She hesitated for a moment, giving him over her shoulder a shining gleam of her grey eyes. She wanted to know whether this trouble, this danger, this evil, whatever it was, finding them out in their retreat, was not a sort of Punishment.
"Punishment?" repeated Heyst. He could not understand ffhat she meant. When she explained, he was still more sur3rised. "A sort of retribution from an angry Heaven?" he aid in wonder. "On us? What on earth for?"
He saw her pale face darken in the dusk. She had Jushed. Her whispering flowed very fast . It was the way bey lived together—that wasn't right, was it? It was a guilty fe. For she had not been forced into it, driven, scared into :. No, no—she had come to him of her own free will, with er whole soul yearning unlawfully.
He was so profoundly touched that he could not speak >r a moment. To conceal his trouble, he assumed his best feystian manner.
"What? Are our visitors then messengers of morality, rengers of righteousness, agents of Providence? That's cerlinly an original view. How flattered they would be if they 5uld hear you!"
"Now you are making fun of me," she said in a subdued sice which broke suddenly.
"Are you conscious of sin?" Heyst asked gravely. She lade no answer. "For I am not," he added; "before Heaven am not!"
"You! You are different. Woman is the tempter. You took te up from pity. I threw myself at you."
"Oh, you exaggerate, you exaggerate. It was not so bad : that," he said playfully, keeping his voice steady with 1 effort .
He considered himself a dead man already, yet forced ) pretend that he was alive for her sake, for her defence. le regretted that he had no Heaven to which he could scommend this fair, palpitating handful of ashes and dust —warm, living, sentient, his own—and exposed helplessly to insult, outrage, degradation, and infinite misery of the body.
She had averted her face from him and was still. He suddenly seized her passive hand.
"You will have it so?" he said. "Yes? Well, let us then hope for mercy together."
She shook her head without looking at him, like an abashed child.
"Remember," he went on, incorrigible with his delicate raillery, "that hope is a Christian virtue, and surely you can't want all the mercy for yourself."
Before their eyes the bungalow across the cleared ground stood bathed in a sinister light. An unexpected chill gusl of wind made a noise in the tree-tops. She snatched hei hand away and stepped out into the open; but before she had advanced more than three yards, she stood still and pointed to the west.
"Oh, look there!" she exclaimed.
Beyond the headland of Diamond Bay, lying black on a purple sea, great masses of cloud stood piled up and bathed in a mist of blood. A crimson crack like an open wound zigzagged between them, with a piece of dark red sun showing at the bottom. Heyst cast an indifferent glance at the ill-omened chaos of the sky.
"Thunderstorm making up. We shall hear it all night, but it won't visit us, probably. The clouds generally gather round the volcano."
She was not listening to him. Her eyes reflected the sombre and violent hues of the sunset.
"That does not look much like a sign of mercy," she said slowly, as if to herself, and hurried on, followed by Heyst Suddenly she stopped. "I don't care. I would do more yed And some day you'll forgive me. You'll have to forgive mef
STUMBLING up the steps, as if suddenly exhausted, Lena entered the room and let herself fall on the nearest chair. Before following her, Heyst took a survey of the surroundings from the verandah. It was a complete solitude. There was nothing in the aspect of this familiar scene to tell him that he and the girl were not as completely alone as they had been in the early days of their common life on this abandoned spot, with only Wang discreetly materialising from time to time and the uncomplaining memory of Morrison to keep them company.
After the cold gust of wind there was an absolute stillness of the air. The thunder-charged mass hung unbroken beyond the low, ink-black headland, darkening the twilight. By contrast, the sky at the zenith displayed pellucid clearness, the sheen of a delicate glass bubble which the merest movement of air might shatter. A little to the left, between the black masses of the headland and of the forest, the volcano, a feather of smoke by day and a cigar-glow at night, took its first fiery expanding breath of the evening. Above it a reddish star came out like an expelled spark from the fiery bosom of the earth, enchanted into permanency by the mysterious spell of frozen spaces.
In front of Heyst the forest, already full of the deepest shades, stood like a wall. But he lingered, watching its edge, especially where it ended at the line of bushes, masking
the land end of the jetty. Since the girl had spoken of catd ing a glimpse of something white among the trees, he b< lieved pretty firmly that they had been followed in the excursion up the mountain by Mr. Jones's secretary. N doubt the fellow had watched them out of the forest, an now, unless he took the trouble to go back some distanc and fetch a considerable circuit inland over the clearing, h was bound to walk out into the open space before the bui galows. Heyst did, indeed, imagine at one time some mov< ment between the trees, lost as soon as perceived. He stare patiently, but nothing more happened. After all, why shoul he trouble about these people's actions? Why this stupi concern for the preliminaries, since, when the issue wS joined, it would find him disarmed and shrinking from til ugliness and degradation of it?
He turned and entered the room. Deep dusk reigned i there already. Lena, near the door, did not move or speal The sheen of the white tablecloth was very obtrusive. Th brute these two vagabonds had tamed had entered on il service while Heyst and Lena were away. The table laid. Heyst walked up and down the room several tiro The girl remained without sound or movement on the chaii But when Heyst, placing the two silver candelabra on th table, struck a match to light the candles, she got up sud denly and went into the bedroom. She came out again al most immediately, having taken off her hat. Heyst at her over his shoulder.
"What's the good of shirking the evil hour? I've these candles for a sign of our return. After all, we migi not have been watched—while returning, I mean. Of court we were seen leaving the house."
The girl sat down again. The great wealth of her W looked very dark above her colourless face. She raised W eyes, glistening softly in the light with a sort of unreadaH< appeal, with a strange effect of unseeing innocence.
"Yes," said Heyst across the table, the fingertips of e* hand resting on the immaculate cloth. "A creature with * antediluvian lower jaw, hairy like a mastodon, and forn^ like a prehistoric ape, has laid this table. Are you awafc Lena? Am I? I would pinch myself, only I know that no*