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She was rather silent, with a capacity for immobility, an upright stillness, as when resting on the concert platform between the musical numbers, her feet crossed, her hands reposing on her lap. But in the intimacy of their life her grey, unabashed gaze forced upon him the sensation of something inexplicable reposing within her; stupidity or inspiration, weakness or force—or simply an abysmal emptiness, reserving itself even in the moments of complete surrender.
During a long pause she did not look at him. Then suddenly, as if the word "deluge" had stuck in her mind, she asked, looking up at the cloudless sky:
“Does it ever rain here?"
“There is a season when it rains almost every day,” said Heyst, surprised: “There are also thunderstorms. We had once a mud-shower."
"Our neighbour there was shooting up ashes. He sometimes clears his red-hot gullet like that; and a thunderstorm came along at the same time. It was very messy; but our neighbour is generally well behaved—just smokes quietly, as he did that day when I first showed you the smudge in the sky from the schooner's deck. He's a good-natured, lazy fellow of a volcano.”
“I saw a mountain smoking like that before," she said, staring at the slender stem of a tree-fern some dozen feet in front of her. "It wasn't very long after we left England—some few days, though. I was so ill at first that I lost count of days. A smoking mountain—I can't think how they called it.”
"Vesuvius, perhaps," snggested Heyst.
“No, long before I ever thought of coming into this part of the world. I was yet a boy."
She turned and looked at him attentively, as if seeking to discover some trace of that boyhood in the mature face of the man with the hair thin at the top and the long, thick moustaches. Heyst stood the frank examination with a playful smile, hiding the profound effect these veiled grey eyes produced whether on his heart or on his nerves, whether sensuous or spiritual, tender or irritating, he was unable to say.
"Well, princess of Samburan,” he said at last, "have I found favour in your sight ?”
She seemed to wake up, and shook her head.
“Thought, action—so many snares! If you begin to think you will be unhappy."
“I wasn't thinking of myself,” she declared with a simplicity which took Heyst aback somewhat.
“On the lips of a moralist this would sound like a rebuke,” he said, half seriously; "but I won't suspect you of being one. Moralists and I haven't been friends for many years."
She had listened with an air of attention.
“I understood you had no friends,” she said. “I am pleased that there's nobody to find fault with you for what you have done. I like to think that I am in no one's way.”
Heyst would have said something, but she did not give him time. Unconscious of the movement he made, she went on:
“What I was thinking to myself was, why are
you here ?"
Heyst let himself sink on his elbow again.
“If by 'you' you mean 'we'—well, you know why we are here.”
She bent her gaze down at him.
“No, it isn't that. I meant before-all that time before you came across me and guessed at once that I was in trouble, with no one to turn to. know it was desperate trouble, too."
Her voice fell on the last words, as if she would end there; but there was something so expectant in Heyst's attitude as he sat at her feet, looking up at
her steadily, that she continued, after drawing a short, quick breath:
“It was, really. I told you I had been worried before by bad fellows. It made me unhappy, disturbed—angry, too. But oh, how I hated, hated, hated that man!”
"That man" was the florid Schomberg with the military bearing, benefactor of white men (“decent food to eat in decent company”)mature victim of belated passion. The girl shuddered. The harmoniousness of her face became, as it were, decomposed for an instant. Heyst was startled.
“Why think of it now ?” he cried.
“It's because I was cornered that time. It wasn't as before.
It was worse, ever so much. I wished I could die of my fright;—and yet it's only now that I begin to understand what a horror it might have been. Yes, only now, since we"
Heyst stirred a little.
Her tenseness relaxed, her flushed face went gradually back to its normal tint.
“Yes,” she said indifferently, but at the same time she gave him a stealthy glance of passionate appreciation; and then her face took on a melancholy cast, her whole figure drooped imperceptibly. "But you were coming back here anyhow ?" she asked.
“Yes. I was only waiting for Davidson. Yes, I was coming back here, to these ruins—to Wang, who perhaps did not expect to see me again.
It's impossible to guess at the way that Chinaman draws his conclusions, and how he looks upon one."
“Don't talk about him. He makes me feel uncomfortable. Talk about yourself."
“About myself ? I see you are still busy with the mystery of my existence here; but it isn't at all mysterious. Primarily the man with the quill pen in his hand in that picture you so often look at is responsible for my existence. He is also responsible for what my existence is, or rather has been. He was a great man in his way. I don't know much of his history. I suppose he began like other people; took fine words for good, ringing coin and noble ideals for valuable banknotes. He was a great master of both, himself, by the way. Later he discovered how am I to explain it to you ? Suppose the world were a factory and all mankind workmen in it. Well, he discovered that the wages were not good enough. That they were paid in counterfeit money."
"I see!" the girl said slowly.
Heyst, who had been speaking as if to himself, looked up curiously.
“It wasn't a new discovery, but he brought his