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Indeed, what she felt was a sort of horror which left her absolutely in the full possession of all her faculties; more difficult to bear, perhaps, for that reason, but not paralysing to her fortitude.
Heyst in his turn smiled at her.
"I really don't know that there is any reason to be frightened."
"I mean I am not frightened for myself."
“I believe you are very plucky,” he said. The colour had returned to her face. “I,” continued Heyst, "am so rebellious to outward impressions that I can't say that much about myself. I don't react with sufficient distinctness." He changed his tone. “You know I went to see those men first thing this morning."
“I know. Be careful!” she murmured.
"I wonder how one can be careful! I had a long talk with—but I don't believe you have seen them. One of them is a fantastically thin, long person, apparently ailing; I shouldn't wonder if he were really so. He makes rather a point of it in a mysterious manner. He must have suffered from tropical fevers, but not so much as he tries to make out. He's what people would call a gentleman. He seemed on the point of volunteering a tale of his adventures -for which I didn't ask him but remarked that it was a long story; some other time, perhaps.
“I suppose you would like to know who I am ?' he asked me.
"I told him I would leave it to him, in a tone which, between gentlemen, could have left no doubt in his mind. He raised himself on his elbow—he was lying down on the camp-bed—and said:
“I am he who is—
Lena seemed not to be listening; but when Heyst paused, she turned her head quickly to him. He took it for a movement of inquiry, but in this he was wrong. A great vagueness enveloped her impressions, but all her energy was concentrated on the struggle that she wanted to take upon herself, in a great exaltation of love and self-sacrifice, which is woman's sublime faculty; altogether on herself, every bit of it, leaving him nothing, not even the knowledge of what she did, if that were possible. She would have liked to lock him up by some stratagem. Had she known of some means to put him to sleep for days she would have used incantations or philtres without misgivings. He seemed to her too good for such contacts, and not sufficiently equipped. This last feeling had nothing to do with the material fact of the revolver being stolen. She could hardly appreciate that fact at its full value.
Observing her eyes fixed and as if sightless—for the concentration on her purpose took all expression
out of them-Heyst imagined it to be the effect of a great mental effort.
“No use asking me what he meant, Lena; I don't know, and I did not ask him. The gentleman, as I have told you before, seems devoted to mystification. I said nothing, and he laid down his head again on the bundle of rugs he uses for a pillow. He affects a state of great weakness, but I suspect that he's perfectly capable of leaping to his feet if he likes. Having been ejected, he said, from his proper social sphere because he had refused to conform to certain usual conventions, he was a rebel now, and was coming and going up and down the earth. I told him that I had heard that sort of story about somebody else before. His grin is really ghastly. He confessed that I was very far from the sort of man he expected to meet. Then he said:
“As to me, I am no blacker than the gentleman you are thinking of, and I have neither more nor less determination.'”
Heyst looked across the table at Lena. Propped on her elbows, and holding her head in both hands, she moved it a little with an air of understanding.
“Nothing could be plainer, eh ?" said Heyst grimly. "Unless, indeed, this is his idea of a pleasant joke; for, when he finished speaking, he burst into a long, loud laugh. I didn't join him!”
“I wish you had,” she breathed out.
“I didn't join him. It did not occur to me. I am not much of a diplomatist. It would probably have been wise; for, indeed, I believe he had said more than he meant to say, and was trying to take it back by this affected jocularity. Yet, when one
thinks of it, diplomacy without force in the back✓ ground is but a rotten reed to lean upon. And I
don't know whether I could have done it if I had thought of it. I don't know. It would have been against the grain. Could I have done it ? I have lived too long within myself, watching the mere shadows and shades of life. To deceive a man on some issue which could be decided quicker by his destruction while one is disarmed, helpless, without even the power to run away--no! That seems to me too degrading. And yet I have you here! I have. your very existence in my keeping. What do you say, Lena ? Would I be capable of throwing you to the lions to save my dignity ?"
She got up, walked quickly round the table, posed herself on his knees lightly, throwing one arm round his neck, and whispered in his ear:
“You may, if you like. And may be that's the only way I would consent to leave you.
For something like that. If it were something no bigger than your little finger."
She gave him a light kiss on the lips and was gone before he could detain her. She regained her seat and propped her elbows again on the table. It was hard to believe that she had moved from the spot at all. The fleeting weight of her body on his knees, the hug round his neck, the whisper in his ear, the kiss on his lips, might have been the unsubstantial sensations of a dream invading the reality of waking life; a sort of charming mirage in the barren aridity of his thoughts. He hesitated to speak till she said, business-like :
"Well. And what then?"
"Oh, yes. I didn't join him. I let him have his laugh out by himself. He was shaking all over, like v a merry skeleton, under a cotton sheet he was covered with—I believe in order to conceal the revolver that he had in his right hand. I didn't see it, but I have a distinct impression it was there in his fist. As he had not been looking at me for some time, but staring into a certain part of the room, I turned
my head and saw a hairy, wild sort of creature which they take about with them, squatting on its heels in the angle of the walls behind me. He wasn't there when I came in. I didn't like the notion of that watchful monster behind my back. If I had been less at their mercy, I should certainly have