Page images

terrible eulogy and even more awful declarations of love. She was even able to meet his eyes, oblique, apt to glide away, throwing feral gleams of desire. “No!" he was saying, after a fiery outpouring of words in which the most ferocious phrases of love were mingled with wooing accents of entreaty. “I will have no more of it! Don't you mistrust me. I am sober in my talk. Feel how quietly my heart beats. Ten times to-day when you, you, you, swam in my eye, I thought it would burst one of my ribs or leap out of my throat. It has knocked itself dead tired, waiting for this evening, for this very minute. And now it can do no more. Feel how quiet it is!” He made a step forward, but she raised her clear voice commandingly: “No nearer!” He stopped with a smile of imbecile worship on his lips, and with the delighted obedience of a man who could at any moment seize her in his hands and dash her to the ground. “Ah! If I had taken you by the throat that morning and had my way with you, I should never have known what you are. And now I do. You are a wonder! And so am I, in my way. We should have been lost many times but for me. I plan—I plot for my gentleman. Gentleman—pah! I am sick of him. And you are sick of yours, eh? You, you!"

He shook all over; he cooed at her a string of endearing names and then asked abruptly: “Why don't you speak to me?” “It's my part to listen,” she said, giving him an inscrutable smile, with a flush on her cheek and her lips cold as ice. “But you will answer me?” “Yes,” she said, her eyes dilated as if with sudden interest. “Where's that plunder P Do you know?" “Not Not yet." “But there is plunder stowed somewhere that's worth having 2" “Yes, I think so. But who knows?” she added after a pause. “And who cares? he retorted recklessly. “I’ve had enough of this crawling on my belly. It’s you who are my treasure. It's I who found you out where a gentleman had buried you to rot for his accursed pleasure!” He looked behind him and all around for a seat, then turned to her his troubled eyes and dim smile. “I am dog-tired,” he said, and sat down on the floor. “I went tired this morning, since I came in here and started talking to you—as tired as if I had been pouring my life-blood here on these planks for you to dabble your white feet in.”

Unmoved, she nodded at him thoughtfully. Womanlike, all her faculties remained concentrated on her heart’s desire—on the knife—while the man went on babbling insanely at her feet, ingratiating and savage, almost crazy with elation. But he, too, was holding on to his purpose.

“For you! For you I will throw away money, lives —all the lives but mine! What you want is a man, a master that will let you put the heel of your shoe on his neck; not that skulker, who will get tired of you in a year—and you of him. And then what ? You are not the one to sit still; neither am I. I live for myself, and you shall live for yourself, too—not for a Swedish baron. They make a convenience of people like you and me. A gentleman is better than an employer, but an equal partnership against all the 'yrpocrits is the thing for you and me. We'll go on wandering the world over, you and I, both free and both true. You are no cage bird. We'll rove together, for we are of them that have no homes. We are born rovers!”

She listened to him with the utmost attention, as if any unexpected word might give her some sort of opening to get that dagger, that awful knife—to disarm murder itself, pleading for her love at her feet. Again she nodded at him thoughtfully, rousing a gleam in his yellow eyes, yearning devotedly upon her face. When he hitched himself a little closer, her soul had no movement of recoil. This had to be. Anything had to be which would bring the knife within her reach. He talked more confidentially now. “We have met, and their time has come,” he began, looking up into her eyes. “The partnership between me and my gentleman has to be ripped up. There’s no room for him where we two are. Why, he would shoot me like a dog! Don't you worry. This will settle it not later than to-night!” He tapped his folded leg below the knee, and was surprised, flattered, by the lighting up of her face, which stooped toward him eagerly and remained expectant, the lips parted, red in the pale face, and quivering in the quickened drawing of her breath. “You marvel, you miracle, you man's luck and joy—one in a million! No, the only one! You have found your man in me,” he whispered tremulously. “Listen! They are having their last talk together; for I'll do for your gentleman, too, by midnight!” Without the slightest tremor she murmured, as soon as the tightening of her breast had eased off and the words would come: “I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry—with him.” The pause, the tone, had all the value of meditated advice.

“Good, thrifty girl!” he laughed low, with a strange feline gaiety, expressed by the undulating movement of his shoulders and the sparkling snap of his oblique eyes. “You are still thinking about the chance of that swag. You'll make a good partner, that you will! And, I say, what a decoy you will make! Jee-miny!” He was carried away for a moment, but his face darkened swiftly. “No! No reprieve. What do you think a fellow is—a scarecrow P All hat and clothes and no feeling, no inside, no brain to make fancies for himself P No!” he went on violently. “Never in his life will he go again into that room of yours—never any more!” A silence fell. He was gloomy with the torment of his jealousy, and did not even look at her. She sat up and slowly, gradually, bent lower and lower over him, as if ready to fall into his arms. He looked up at last, and checked this droop unwittingly. “Say! You, who are up to fighting a man with your bare hands, could you—eh 2–could you manage to stick one with a thing like that knife of mine P” She opened her eyes very wide and gave him a wild smile. “How can I tell ?” she whispered enchantingly. “Will you let me have a look at it 2"

« PreviousContinue »