The MessageŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďBy the way,Ē she said before the maid went out, ďhave you seen Mr. Figuero recently? I mean the darkĖskinned man who came here yesterday.Ē
Yes, he had just left the library with the master and another gentleman. Rosamund rose at once. If she were not greatly mistaken, Evelynís harmlessĖlooking postscript had given her a clue to the mystery of Figueroís presence in Baumgartnerís house. She knew her West Africa, and the bad repute of Oku was one of her clearest memories. Yet she turned back at the door, took Evelynís letter from her pocket, copied a portion of it, and locked the original in her jewel case.
The luncheonĖgong sounded as she descended the stairs, so perforce she postponed the interview she promised herself with the Portuguese. And, for the success of her deepĖlaid schemes, it was as well. Sometimes there comes to the aid of evilĖdoers a fiend who contrives opportunities where human forethought would fail. Rosamund, embarked on a wellĖnigh desperate enterprise, suddenly found the way smoothed by Baumgartnerís wholly unexpected announcement that business considerations compelled him to leave Lochmerig forthwith.
ďMy wife and I would have tried to arrange matters satisfactorily for our guests,Ē he said, ďbut the gloom cast on our pleasant party by the unhappy tidings received this morning by one of our number renders it almost impossible for any of us to enjoy the remainder of a most memorable and delightful sojourn in Scotland.Ē
He delivered himself of other platitudes, but Mrs. Baumgartnerís dejected air and Berylís sulky silence showed plainly enough that the millionaireís fiat was unalterable. Polite murmurs of agreement veiled the chagrin of people who had a fortnight or more thrown on their hands without any prior arrangements. The meal was a solemn function. Everybody was glad when it ended.
Rosamund met Figuero in the hall.
ďI am going to the village,Ē she said. ďWill you walk there with me?Ē
He caught the veiled meaning of the glance, and agreed instantly. When they were clear of the house, she commenced the attack.
ďWhy are you and Count von Rippenbach and three men of Oku in England?Ē she asked.
She did not look at Figuero. There was no need. He waited a few seconds too long before he laughed.
ďYou make joke,Ē he said.
ďDo I? It will be no joke for you when Captain Warden informs the Government, if he has not done that already.Ē
ďWhy you say dem tíing?Ē he growled, and she was fully aware of the menace in his voice.
ďYou told me what you were pleased to consider a secret last night. Very well, I am willing to trade. Captain Warden knows what you are doing. He probably guesses every item of the business you and the Count were discussing so long and earnestly with Mr. Baumgartner in the library before lunch. Oh, please donít interruptĒ Ė for Figuero, driven beyond the bounds of selfĖcontrol, was using words better left to the Portuguese tongue in which they were uttered Ė ďI am not concerned with your plots.
They never come to anything, you know. If either Count von Rippenbach or Mr. Baumgartner had your history at their fingerís ends as I have, they would drop you like a hot cinder. Yet, I am ready to bargain. Help me, and I will keep my information to myself.Ē
ďWhat you want, den?Ē
She glanced at him, and was surprised to see that his face was livid, almost green with rage and perplexity. It must be a grave matter Ė this jumble of hints in Evelynís letter.
ďCan you read English?Ē she asked, after a pause.
ďYes, leetle piece Ė better as I can make palaver.Ē
ďRead that then.Ē
She handed him the copy of that part of the fateful letter that alluded to himself and his affairs. He puzzled it out, word by word.
ďWhere him lib for?Ē he demanded.
ďThat was written by Miss Dane and intended for Captain Warden. I came by it, no matter how, and I mean to make use of it in some way.Ē
With a rapid movement, he stuffed the sheet of noteĖpaper into a pocket.
ďI keep dem letter,Ē he announced.
ďCertainly. It is only a copy. Savvy? I have the real one safely put away.Ē
Figuero swallowed something. His thin lips were bloodless, and his tongue moistened them with the quick darting action of a snake. Rosamund, who was really somewhat afraid, trusted to the daylight and the fact that they were traversing an open road, with cottages scattered through the glen.
ďYou cannot humbug me,Ē she went on, ďbut I want to assure you again that I am no enemy of yours. Now, listen. I mean to marry Captain Warden, but I have reason to believe that he is engaged, promised, to Miss Dane. I am trying to stop that, to break it off. Can you help?Ē
ďYou ask hard tíing Ė in dis place. In Africa, we get Oku man make juĖju.Ē
She shuddered. The cold malevolence in his words recalled stories she had heard of those who had died with unaccountable suddenness when ďOku man make juĖju.Ē
ďI donít mean that,Ē she cried vehemently. ďTell me what is taking place, and how it will affect Captain Warden. Then I can twist events to my own purpose. I can warn him, perhaps prove myself his friend. Above all Ė where are you going toĖmorrow? Mr. Baumgartner sails in the Sans Souci, I hear. Does Miss Dane go with him, or is she to be sent away because she is aware of your plans?Ē
Figuero did not answer during a whole minute.
He saw light, dimly, but growing more distinct each instant. Warden was a deadly personality in the field against him, and his active interference was now assured beyond cavil. But, with two women as foils, both beautiful, and one exceedingly well equipped with money, there was still a chance of circumventing the only man he feared.
ďYou steal dem letter?Ē he said unexpectedly.
ďAt any rate, it has not gone to Captain Warden,Ē was the acid reply.
ďAní you write Ďim. What you say?Ē
ďOh, nothing that affects the case.Ē
ďYou tole him me here?Ē
ďNo. That can wait,Ē which statement, as shall be seen, was strictly untrue.
ďWell, den, dem yacht lib for Ė for somewheres toĖmorrow. Dem girl, Mees Dane, go wid me. You tole him dat tíing as you say lasí night. I make wife palaver to dem girl.Ē
ďWhat good will that do?Ē she said. ďIn a week, ten days, he will hear from her again.Ē
ďNo. I take dem letter. You gib me Captain Warden writiní, aní I keep eye for dat. Savvy?Ē
ďBut can you carry out what you promised?Ē
ďTwo, tíree months, yes. After dem yacht lib for Madeira, no. Píraps dem girl be wife den.Ē
Rosamundís dark eyes narrowed to two tiny slits. If Figuero could really keep Warden and Evelyn apart during so long a period, the utterly hopeless project on which she had embarked in a moment of jealous rage might become feasible. Of course, the suggestion that he would marry Evelyn was preposterous, but there was no reason why she should hurt his pride by telling him so. Her heart throbbed madly, while her active brain debated the pros and cons of the allĖimportant question Ė should she post the letter already written? Yes. It was the outcome of her earliest thought. She would follow it up with another in different strain. The two would be vastly more convincing than one, and the dates would have a significance that no mere contriving could impart.
By this time they were at the postĖoffice, from which mails were dispatched by a later train than that caught by the groom. Rosamund dropped her letter in the box. She was quite pale with suppressed excitement. Her boats were burnt. She heard the fall of the envelope into the receptacle, and the appalling notion possessed her that the sound resembled the fall of earth on a coffin. She breathed heavily, and pressed a hand to her bosom. Figuero was watching her.
ďNow you done dem tíing,Ē he said, ďyou dash me some money.Ē
She started. Did he mean to levy blackmail for his services?
ďWhy?Ē she asked, summoning all her strength of character to meet his gaze without flinching.
ďMe buy present for dem girl. If I make wife palaver dat cost many dollar.Ē
ďI am not buying your help. You trade with me one thing for the other. If you refuse, I write to the Government about the men of Oku.Ē
The Portuguese laughed more naturally than she had yet heard him. If his archĖenemy, Arthur Warden, was well acquainted with the mission he and the chiefs had undertaken, this pretty and passionate woman counted for very little in the scale against him.
ďYou dash me one hunnerí pouní,Ē he said cheerfully. ďJusí dat, no moí. If you say Ďno,í dem girl no lib for yacht. Mr. Baumgartner say go oneĖtime. Me tell Ďim take dem girl Ė savvy?Ē
Mrs. Laing savvied. She gave him thirty pounds Ė all she could spare from her purse Ė and promised to send the balance to an address in London. He was fully satisfied. He was sure she would not fail him. When he needed further supplies she would pay willingly. In an intrigue based on such lines Miguel Figuero was an adept.
WARDEN BEGINS HIS ODYSSEY
Evelynís weekly letter from Scotland usually arrived by the mailĖboat due at Ostend about three oíclock in the afternoon. Warden, sitting on the plage among a cosmopolitan crowd that delighted in its own antics, watched the steamer from Dover picking its way along the coast and into the harbor. He was dining with a friend that evening in one of the big hotels on the sea front. He could call for his letters after he had dressed Ė meanwhile, he had an hour or more at his disposal, and he was weary of the frolics of Monsieur, Madame et B?b?, and of a great many other people who came under a less domestic category.
To kill time, he strolled into the Casino and drank a cup of the decoction which Belgians regard as tea. Then he went to the soĖcalled Club to look at the gamblers. Play did not appeal to him, but he had joined the Cercle Priv? because some men he knew went there regularly for baccarat. ToĖday, to dispel the ennui of existence between meals, a German baron was opening banks of five hundred louis each, and losing or winning money with a bored air. He had just closed one bank successfully, and the table was set for another, when a young American, brightĖeyed, cleanĖshaven, and pallid, stirred the pulses of both onlookers and players by crying, ďBanco!Ē Even in Ostend one does not often see four hundred pounds won or lost at a single coup. Warden, whose sympathies were against the stolid banker, stood by the side of the younger man until the incident was ended.
There was no waiting. The challenger, impassive as a Red Indian, gave a bundle of notes to the croupier, who counted them. The baron dealt the two tableaux, and his adversary stooped and picked up the first.
ďHuit!Ē he said, throwing the cards face upwards on the table. He took the second pair.
An excited buzz of talk rose around the board. With a blas? smile, the banker showed his cards Ė two queens.
ďPeste!Ē cried a Frenchman, ďtoujours on souffre pour les dames!Ē
Some few laughed; the German, more phlegmatic than ever, opened a pocketĖbook and started a fresh bank for the same amount, while the American collected his stake and winnings. He was stuffing the notes into a pocket when he caught Wardenís glance.
ďThatís the easiest way of making two thousand dollars Iíve ever struck,Ē he said.
ďBut you stood to lose the same amount,Ē said Warden.
ďWhy, yes. The only difference between me and the fellow who puts up with this beastly atmosphere every day for a month is that he fritters away his money at five or ten dollars a pop, while I hit or miss at the first time of asking.Ē
ďYou wonít play any more, then?Ē
ďNo, sir. Me for the tall timbers with the baronís wad. ĎLucky at cards, unlucky in love,í you know, and Iíve just heard that my best girl has made a date with the other fellow.Ē
He walked away, erect, alert, and selfĖpossessed. Warden strolled to a roulette board.
ďI wonder if that is true,Ē he mused.
Instinctively his hand went to his pocket, and he staked a louis on 29, the year of his age. Up came 29, and he won thirtyĖfive louis. He was so astonished that he bent over the shoulders of a lady seated near the foot of the table, and began mechanically to draw in the fiveĖhundred franc note and ten gold pieces that were pushed by a croupierís rake close to his own coin.
ďBut, monsieur,Ē whispered the lady, who was French, and gave slight heed to convention, ďcertainly you will follow your luck!Ē
ďWhy not?Ē he answered.
Knowing that the maximum on a number was nine louis, he was on the point of leaving that amount on 29, when he remembered that Evelynís age was twenty. To the surprise of his selfĖappointed counselor, he told the croupier to transfer the gold to the new number, while the note went on the 19Ė24 transversale. Thus, if he lost, he was still a louis to the good, and the Americanís consoling adage was robbed of its sting.
The roulette whirred round, the marble danced madly across diamonds and slots. Checking its pace, it hopped, hopped, hopped Ė into 20 Ė and the Frenchwoman nearly became hysterical. Warden received so much money that he lost count. As a matter of fact, he had won just forty louis less than the cynic of the baccarat table. He deemed the example of the unknown philosopher too good not to be followed, so he gathered his gains and stakes, and left the room.
Now, most men would have felt elated at this stroke of luck, but Warden was not. Though it was very pleasant to be richer by nearly three hundred and seventy pounds, he wished heartily that this sudden outburst of the gambling mania had found its genesis in some other topic than the reputed ill fortune of a favored lover. The incident was so astounding that he began to search for its portent. For a few seconds, he saw in his mindís eye an evil leer on the black face hidden away in the Nancyís cabin, and it almost gave him a shock when he recalled the fact that both 29 and 20 were black numbers. But the light and gaiety of the streets soon dispelled these vapors, and he loitered in front of a jewelerís shop while planning a surprise for his beloved. He had not yet given her a ring. Their tacit engagement was so sudden, and their parting so complete since that neverĖtoĖbeĖforgotten night at Plymouth, that he now fancied, with a certain humorous dismay, that Evelyn might long have been anticipating the receipt of some such token. Well, she should own a ring that he could never have afforded but for the kindly help of the Casino. There was one in the window marked ďDíOccasion Ė 5,000 frs.Ē It contained three diamonds fit for a queenís diadem. He wondered whether or not, under the circumstances, one should buy a secondĖhand ring. Would Evelyn care to wear an article, however valuable, that had once belonged to another woman? At any rate, the stones would require reĖsetting, and he was not afraid of being swindled in the purchase, because the jeweler evidently regarded this special bargain as a magnet to draw the eyes of passersĖby to his stock.
Five minutes later, the ring reposed in a case in Wardenís pocket, and he was making for the postĖoffice. But there was no letter from Evelyn. There would have been, were it not locked in Mrs. Laingís writingĖcase, and Warden was no wizard that he should guess any such development in the bewildering tumult of events that was even then gathering around him. Nevertheless, the clerk gave him a letter Ė from the Colonial Office Ė asking that he should come to London with the least possible delay.
Though gratifying to a man eager for recognition in his service, the incidence of the request was annoying. At any other time in his career he would have left Ostend by the night mail. Now he resolved to wait until the morrowís midday service, and thus secure Evelynís missive before his departure. He read between the lines of the brief official message clearly enough. Affairs were growing critical in West Africa. At best, his advice, at worst, his immediate return to duty, was demanded. If the latter, by hook or by crook he would contrive to see Evelyn before he sailed for the south.
He telegraphed his change of plans to Evelyn, telling her to write to his flat in London, and asking her to wire saying whether or not a letter was en route to Ostend. He bade Peter bring the Nancy to Dover and there await orders, and then joined his friend, who was sympathetic when he heard that Warden must leave Ostend next day.
ďYouíll miss the racing,Ē he said, ďand that is a pity, because I know of one or two good things that would have paid for your holiday.Ē
Warden laughed, and recounted his beforeĖdinner experiences in the Casino.
ďBy gad!Ē cried the other, ďI wish Iíd been there. I know that German Johnny Ė let me see, he has a horse running toĖmorrow. Here is the programme Ė third race Ė Baron von Gr?belsteinís ĎBlack Mask.í Eh, what? Oh, that is the geeĖgeeís name right enough, but it hasnít an earthly.Ē
To cloak his amazement, Warden pretended to be interested in the entries. ďBlack MaskĒ was Number Thirteen on the card. He could not help smiling.
ďI feel rather superstitious toĖday,Ē he said. ďWill you back that horse for me?Ē
ďCertainly, dear boy. But you are throwing your money away. Itís a fifty to one shot.Ē
ďI donít mind. It is the Casinoís money, anyhow.Ē
ďVery well. How much?Ē
Wardenís pocketĖbook, reduced somewhat in bulk by the visit to the jewelerís, came in evidence again.
ďFifty louis,Ē he said.
ďMy dear fellow, itís rank lunacy.Ē
ďBelieve me, I shall not care tuppence if I lose.Ē
ďOh, all right. Give me your address. Iíll send you a telegram about four oíclock toĖmorrow. Youíll never see your fifty any more.Ē
Never before in his life had Warden acted the spendthrift, but any surprise he may have felt at his own recklessness was utterly dissipated when he received Rosamund Laingís letter next morning. Though its tone was studiously gossipy and cheerful, the tidings it contained were unpleasant enough to lend significance to the Americanís dictum. Its innuendoes, whether intentional or otherwise Ė and Warden was suspicious, for he had not forgotten certain traits of Rosamundís character Ė assumed a sinister aspect when there was neither letter nor telegram from Evelyn.
ďMy dear ArthurĒ Ė wrote this unwelcome correspondent Ė ďI suppose I may address you in that manner after our once close friendship Ė you will think that marvels are happening when you hear that I am at Lochmerig. The real marvel is, however, that I should have obtained your address. Last evening Billy Thring Ė do you know him?†Ė by the way, he is now Lord Fairholme, since that sad railway smash at Beckminster yesterday Ė well, Billy Thring spoke of you. He means to cut you out with your little governess friend. I donít blame you a bit, for she is very pretty, but, without telling tales, I would warn you that the man who said that absence makes the heart grow fonder was certainly not a connoisseur in womanís hearts. Naturally, Fairholme flew south this morning, and that clears off one of your rivals temporarily. Still, there are others. I am only chaffing, of course, and I suppose you were chiefly amusing yourself at Cowes and elsewhere. My presence here is easily accounted for Ė I met the Baumgartners at Madeira last winter; and they invited me to their Scotch shooting. Isnít B. a funny little man? On the island they used to call him by his initials, I. D. B. Ė Illicit Diamond Buyer, you know.
ďNow, why did you leave me to fish out your whereabouts by sheer accident? Naughty! Do write soon, and tell me when I shall see you. Oh, I was nearly forgetting. Recent arrivals included a Herr von Rippenbach and an old acquaintance of yours, Miguel Figuero. Isnít it odd that they should come here! And a little bird named Evelyn has whispered that the men of Oku are making juĖju nearer home than the Benu? River. Please keep out of it, for your friendsí sake, and especially for the sake of yours ever sincerely, Rosamund.Ē
ďP.S. Send a line, and I shall give you more news. R.Ē
There was hardly a word in that innocentĖlooking note that was not a barbed shaft. Was it believable that Evelyn Dane, the girl whose eyes shone so divinely while he entrusted to her willing ears his hopes and aspirations, should make him the butt of the ninnies gathered at Lochmerig? Yet, that allusion to the men of Oku inflicted a stab cruel as the thrust of an Oku spear. Who else but Evelyn could have revealed his interest in the visit of the negroes to England? And who was this Billy Thring Ė whose very name suggested inanity? True, Evelyn had mentioned him as one of the house party. ďI find the Honorable One very amusing,Ē she had said. ďHe is the clown of our somewhat dull circus.Ē But there was no suggestion of friendliness other than the ordinary civilities of life under the same roof. Again, why had she not written, nor answered his telegram? He laid no great stress on these minor things. They became important only in the light of Rosamundís statements.
He read and reĖread the letter while crossing the Channel. Before Dover was reached he had gone through identically the same thoughtĖprocess as Evelyn herself two days earlier. He found malevolence in every line of Rosamundís epistle. It was meant to wound. Its airy comment was distilled poison, its assumed levity the gall of a jealous woman. Were it not for her wholly inexplicable and confusing allusion to the Oku chiefís mission, he could have cast aside with a scornful laugh her sly hints as to Evelynís faithlessness. Even then, puzzled and angry though he was, he remained true in his allegiance to his affianced wife.ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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