Page images
PDF
EPUB

“How do you know anything about him 2" she asked, concealing her puzzled alarm. “What has it got to do with you ?” “Everything,” was Ricardo's concise answer, in a low, emphatic whisper. He reflected that this girl was really his best hope. Out of the unfaded impression of past violence there was growing the sort of sentiment which prevents a man from being indifferent to a woman he has once held in his arms —if even against her will—and still more so if she has pardoned the outrage. It becomes then a sort of bond. He felt positively the need to confide in her—a subtle trait of masculinity, this, almost physical, need of trust which can exist side by side with the most brutal readiness of suspicion. “It’s a game of grab–see ?” he went on, with a new inflection of intimacy in his murmur. He was looking straight at her now. “That fat, tame slug of a gin-slinger, Schomberg, put us up to it.” So strong is the impression of helpless and persecuted misery, that the girl who had fought down a savage assault without faltering could not completely repress a shudder at the mere sound of the abhorred name. Ricardo became more rapid and confidential: “He wants to pay him off—pay both of you, at that; so he told me. He was hot after you. He would have given all he had into those hands of yours that have nearly strangled me. But you couldn't, eh? Nohow—what ?” He paused. “So, rather than—you followed a gentleman P” He noticed a slight movement of her head and spoke quickly. “Same here—rather than be a wage-slave. Only these foreigners aren't to be trusted. You're too good for him. A man that will rob his best chum!” She raised her head. He went on, well pleased with his progress, whispering hurriedly: “Yes. I know all about him. So you may guess how he's likely to treat a woman after a bit!” He did not know that he was striking terror into her breast now. Still the grey eyes remained fixed on him unmovably watchful, as if sleepy, under the white forehead. She was beginning to understand. His words conveyed a definite, dreadful meaning to her mind, which he proceeded to enlighten further in a convinced murmur. “You and I are made to understand each other. Born alike, bred alike, I guess. You are not tame. Same here! You have been chucked out into this rotten world of 'yrporcrits. Same here!” Her stillness, her appalled stillness, wore to him an air of fascinated attention. He asked abruptly: “Where is it 2"

She made an effort to breathe out:

“Where’s what P”

His tone expressed excited secrecy.

“The swag—plunder—pieces. It's a game of grab. We must have it; but it isn't easy, and so you will have to lend a hand. Come! Is it kept in the house P"

As often with women, her wits were sharpened by the very terror of the glimpsed menace. She shook her head negatively.

“No.”

“Sure ?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Ay! Thought so. Does your gentleman trust you ?”

Again she shook her head.

“Blamed 'yrporcrit,” he said feelingly, and then reflected: “He’s one of the tame ones, ain’t he P”

“You had better find out for yourself,” she said. .

“You trust me. I don't want to die before you and I have made friends.” This was said with a strange air of feline gallantry. Then, tentatively: “But he could be brought to trust you, couldn't he P”

“Trust me P” she said, in a tone which bordered on despair, but which he mistook for derision.

“Stand in with us,” he urged. “Give the chuck to all this blamed 'yrporcrisy. Perhaps, without being trusted, you have managed to find out something already, eh?” “Perhaps I have,” she uttered with lips that seemed to her to be freezing fast. Ricardo now looked at her calm face with something like respect. He was even a little awed by her stillness, by her economy of words. Womanlike, she felt the effect she had produced, the effect of knowing much and of keeping all her knowledge in reserve. So far, somehow, this had come about of itself. Thus encouraged, directed in the way of duplicity, the refuge of the weak, she made a heroically conscious effort and forced her stiff, cold lips into a smile. Duplicity—the refuge of the weak and the cowardly, but of the disarmed, too! Nothing stood between the enchanted dream of her existence and a cruel catastrophe but her duplicity. It seemed to her that the man sitting there before her was an unavoidable presence, which had attended all her life. He was the embodied evil of the world. She was not ashamed of her duplicity. With a woman's frank courage, as soon as she saw that opening she threw herself into it without reserve, with only one doubt—that of her own strength, She was appalled by the situation; but already all her aroused femininity, understanding that whether Heyst loved her or not she loved him, and feeling that she had brought this on his head, faced the danger with a passionate desire to defend her own.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »