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“There used to be a carver here, but it was broken and thrown away a long time ago. Nothing much to carve here. It would have made a noble weapon, no doubt; but—”
He stopped. The girl sat very quiet, with downcast eyes. As he kept silent for some time, she looked up and said thoughtfully:
“Yes, a knife—it's a knife that you would want, wouldn't you, in case, in case
He shrugged his shoulders.
"There must be a crowbar or two in the sheds; but I have given up all the keys together. And then, do you see me walking about with a crowbar in my hand ? Ha, ha! And besides, that edifying sight alone might start the trouble for all I know. In truth, why has it not started yet ?"
"Perhaps they are afraid of you,” she whispered, looking down again.
"By Jove, it looks like it,” he assented meditatively. “They do seem to hang back for some reason. Is that reason prudence, or downright fear, or perhaps the leisurely method of certitude ?”
Out in the black night, not very far from the bungalow, resounded a loud and prolonged whistle. Lena's hands grasped the sides of the chair, but she made no movement. Heyst started, and turned his face away from the door.
The startling sound had died away.
"Whistles, yells, omens, signals, portents—what do they matter ?" he said. “But what about that crowbar ? Suppose I had it! Could I stand in ambush at the side of the door-this door—and smash the first protruding head, scatter blood and brains over the floor, over these walls, and then run stealthily to the other door to do the same thingand repeat the performance for a third time, perhaps ? Could I? On suspicion, without compunction, with a calm and determined purpose ? No, it is not in
I date too late. Would you like to see me attempt this thing while that mysterious prestige of mine lasts—or their not less mysterious hesitation ?"
"No, no!" she whispered ardently, as if compelled to speak by his eyes fixed on her face. “No, it's a knife you want to defend yourself with—"
"And who knows if it isn't really my duty ?” he began again, as if he had not heard her disjointed words at all. “It may be—my duty to you, to myself. For why should I put up with the humiliation of their secret menaces ? Do you know what the world would say?"
He emitted a low laugh, which struck her with terror. She would have got up, but he stooped so low over her that she could not move without first pushing him away.
"It would say, Lena, that I—that Swede—after luring my friend and partner to his death from mere greed of money, have murdered these unoffending shipwrecked strangers from sheer funk. That would be the story whispered-perhaps shoutedcertainly spread out, and believed and believed, my dear Lena!"
“Who would believe such awful things ?"
"Perhaps you wouldn't—not at first, at any rate; but the power of calumny grows with time. It's insidious and penetrating. It can even destroy one's faith in oneself-dry-rot the soul.”
All at once her eyes leaped to the door and remained fixed, stony, a little enlarged. Turning his head, Heyst beheld the figure of Ricardo framed in the doorway. For a moment none of the three moved; then, looking from the newcomer to the girl in the chair, Heyst formulated a sardonic introduction.
“Mr. Ricardo, my dear."
Her head dropped a little. Ricardo's hand went up to his moustache. His voice exploded in the
"At your service, ma'am!"
*He stepped in, taking his hat off with a flourish, and dropping it carelessly on a chair near the door.
“At your service," he repeated, in quite another
tone. "I was made aware there was a lady about, by that Pedro of ours; only I didn't know I should have the privilege of seeing you to-night, ma'am.”
Lena and Heyst looked at him covertly, but he, with a vague gaze avoiding them both, looked at nothing, seeming to pursue some point in space.
"Had a pleasant walk ?” he asked suddenly.
“Yes. And you ?” returned Heyst, who had managed to catch his glance.
“I? I haven't been a yard away from the governor this afternoon till I started for here." The genuineness of the accent surprised Heyst, without convincing him of the truth of the words. “Why do you ask ?” pursued Ricardo with every inflexion of perfect candour.
"You might have wished to explore the island a little," said Heyst, studying the man, who, to render him justice, did not try to free his captured gaze. "I may remind you that it wouldn't be a perfectly safe proceeding."
Ricardo presented a picture of innocence.
“Oh, yes!—meaning that Chink that has run away from you. He ain't much!"
"He has a revolver," observed Heyst meaningly.
"Well, and you have a revolver, too,” Mr. Ricardo argued unexpectedly. "I don't worry myself about that."
“I? That's different. I am not afraid of you,” Heyst made answer after a short pause.
"You have a queer way of putting things," began Ricardo.
At that moment the door on the compound side of the house came open with some noise, and Pedro entered, pressing the edge of a loaded tray to his breast. His big, hairy head rolled a little, his feet fell in front of each other with a short, hard thump on the floor. The arrival changed the current of Ricardo's thought, perhaps, but certainly of his speech.
“You heard me whistling a little while ago outside ? That was to give him a hint, as I came along, that it was time to bring in the dinner; and here it is."
Lena rose and passed to the right of Ricardo, who lowered his glance for a moment. They sat down at the table. The enormous gorilla back of Pedro swayed out through the door.
"Extraordinary strong brute, ma'am,” said Ricardo. He had a propensity to talk about "his Pedro,” as some men will talk of their dog. “He ain't pretty, though. No, he ain't pretty. And he has got to be kept under. I am his keeper, as it