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low, 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 thing—and repeat the performance for a third time, perhaps? Could I? On suspicion, without compunction, with a calm and determined purpose?
purpose? No, it is not in me. 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—to defend—there will be time
“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 shouted-certainly 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 drooped a little. Ricardo's hand went up to his moustache. His voice exploded in the room.
“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
“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 mien 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 might be. The governor don't trouble his head much about dee-tails. All that's left to Martin. Martin, that's me, ma'am.”
Heyst saw the girl's eyes turn towards Mr. Jones's secretary and rest blankly on his face. Ricardo, however, looked vaguely into space, and, with faint flickers of a smile about his lips, made conversation indefatigably against the silence of his entertainers. He boasted largely of his long association with Mr. Jones—over four years now, he said. Then, glancing rapidly at Heyst:
“You can see at once he's a gentleman, can't you?”
“You people,” Heyst said, his habitual playful intonation tinged with gloom, "are divorced from all reality in my eyes.
Ricardo received this speech as if he had been expecting to hear those very words, or else did not mind at all what Heyst might say. He muttered an absentminded “Ay, ay,” played with a bit of biscuit, sighed, and said, with a peculiar stare which did not seem to carry any distance, but to stop short at a point in the air
very near his face:
You and the governor ought to understand each other. He expects to see you to-night. The governor isn't well, and we've got to think of getting away from here.”
While saying these words he turned himself full towards Lena, but without any marked expression. Leaning back with folded arms, the girl stared before her as if she had been alone in the room. But under that aspect of almost vacant unconcern the perils and emotion that had entered into her life warmed her heart, exalted her mind with a sense of an inconceivable intensity of existence.
“Really? Thinking of going away from here?" Heyst murmurea.
“The best of friends must part,” Ricardo pronounced slowly. “And, as long as they part friends, there's no harm done. We two are used to be on the move. You, I understand, prefer to stick in one place.
It was obvious that all this was being said merely for the sake of talking, and that Ricardo's mind was concentrated on some purpose unconnected with the words that were coming out of his mouth.
“I should like to know,” Heyst asked with incisive politeness, “how you have come to understand this or anything else about me? As far as I can remember, I've made you no confidences.
Ricardo, gazing comfortably into space out of the back of his chair—for some time all three had given up any pretence of eating-answered abstractedly:
“Any fellow might have guessed it.” He sat up suddenly, and uncovered all his teeth in a grin of extraordinary ferocity, which was belied by the persistent amiability of his tone. “The governor will be the man to tell you something about that. I wish you would say you would see my governor. He's the one who does all our talking. Let me take you to him this evening. He ain't at all well; and he can't make up his mind to go away without having a talk with you.
Heyst, looking up, met Lena's eyes. Their expression of candour seemed to hide some struggling intention. Her head, he fancied, had made an imperceptible affirmative movement. Why? What reason could she have? Was it the prompting of some obscure instinct? Or was it simply a delusion of his own senses? But in this strange complication invading the quietude of his life, in his state of doubt and disdain and almost of despair with which he looked at himself, he would let even a delusive appearance guide him through a darkness so dense that it made for indifference.