Louis Tracy.

The Message





The garden by all means, she agreed, trying hard to restrain her agitation. So they walked among the dusty palms and oleanders, and Captain Mortimer told her something of the strange doings of the Blue Man of El Hamra.

When the Valiant paid her second visit to Rabat, the Bey was inclined to be communicative. As a matter of fact, the news of the Nila Moullahs disastrous fight with the Evil One spread so rapidly that it reached the seaboard within a fortnight, whereas the prophets journey in the reverse direction took three weeks. Other items filtered through the Atlas passes, and finally there came a man who was actually in Lektawa at the time of the dread combat. He it was who first gave definite assurance that Warden lived. When the new ruler of that disturbed city had slain every individual overtly opposed to him, and the remaining inhabitants were meditating on the divine right of kings, it occurred to someone that the Nazarene and Beni Kalli were missing. A caravan from Bel Abbas reported that a European in Arab clothing, accompanied by a Hausa soldier and a negress, had ridden in there from the north, and was recruiting a kafila to go on to Taudeni and Timbuktu. The Frank had plenty of golddust in quills, both he and the Hausa were well armed, he spoke Arabic like a native, and claimed to be the special prot?g? of the Blue Man of El Hamra, who had carried benevolence to the point of giving him his own particular wrap of blue cotton, which was exhibited to the faithful, not so much for worship, but as a guarantee of good faith.

It was noticed, too, that the knife used by Satan in destroying the Nila Moullah resembled one that was wont to hang at the girdle of his successor, so the deduction was reasonable, provided the deducer were sufficiently far away from Lektawa, that the flight of the Christian and his accomplices had something in common with the moullahs death and the establishment of the new r?gime.

This, and more, the Bey of Rabat discreetly told to the captain of the warship. It was clear enough, in some senses, but it left Evelyn greatly bewildered.

These names of people and places are so much Greek to me, she cried. What is the outcome of it all? Is Captain Warden marching across Africa?

Mortimer was prepared for that question. He unfolded a map, and they pored over it together. Small as the type was in which many of the towns were shown, the bright moonlight would have permitted the names to be read. But that was unnecessary. The sailor knew exactly where to point while he explained matters.

Here is Rabat, he said, and here, beyond the mountain chain, Lektawa. Now, there appears to be little doubt that Captain Warden was the European encountered at Bel Abbas, and I am inclined to believe the northbound caravans account of his proceedings there. A long way south, at the very verge of a tremendous stretch of desert, we come to Timbuktu. The obvious inference is that he adopted the Sahara route as safer than the journey across Morocco, and headed that way in order to reach Nigeria, the place where his duty lies.

Can he do it? Dare I even hope that he will pass unharmed through thousands of miles of wild country inhabited only by savages?

Her voice broke, and the sailor saw that her eyes were filled with tears.

More perplexed than ever, he tried to dispel her foreboding, though none knew better than he the perils Warden would have to encounter.

Steady, Miss Dane, he said cheerily. He jumped the worst fence when he got away from Lektawa with money and supplies. The fact that he made Bel Abbas vouches for his ability to take the rest of the trip, and he will be on the Niger River long before he reaches the thousandmile limit. Once there, he is practically in British territory. To put it plainly, two months ago I didnt think his chance of being alive amounted to a row of beans, whereas today I am confident he will pull through.

So you did not tell me everything at Funchal? Are you keeping back the less pleasing facts now?

No. On my honor, I have given you the whole budget.

When will it be known whether or not he has arrived in Nigeria?

Ah, that depends on so many circumstances. It is six hundred miles from Bel Abbas to the Niger, and there may be difficulties. May I ask you a personal question, Miss Dane? Are you Captain Wardens fianc?e?

I I thought so, sobbed Evelyn.

You thought so? Didnt you know?

There was a moment of tense silence. Then Evelyn swept the tears from her eyes with a splendid confidence. The moonbeams spread a silvery riband across the dark Atlantic toward the horizon. Beyond that magic path lay Africa, and her heart had bridged the void ere she answered.

Yes, she said proudly. I know! Never again shall doubt find room in my mind. Oh, Captain Mortimer, if only I might tell you what I have suffered during these horrible months, when never a word came from him, and another woman lost no opportunity of taunting me with the lie that she was his promised wife!

You are speaking of Mrs. Laing, I suppose?

For an instant Evelyn did not appreciate the significance of that marvelously accurate guess. Then she turned and looked at him in wonderment.

Why do you mention her? she cried, almost hysterically.

The sailor smiled, though his face showed some degree of confusion.

I have done it now, so I may as well make a clean breast of it. But, mind you, I am revealing official secrets, so please forget what I am telling you. Mrs. Laing went to the Foreign Office, and claimed to be engaged to Warden. For some reason perhaps some one there had seen youshe was not believed, and that is why I was sent to you at Funchal. At any rate, they seem to know all about you in Whitehall.

But only yesterday Mrs. Laing pretended that Arthur that Captain Warden had written to her, saying he was engaged on a secret mission for the Government.

You can take it from me he did nothing of the sort. Outside the department, no one knew where he had gone or what he was doing. He even passed under an alias on board the Water Witch. There I didnt mean to tell you that. I am but a poor diplomatist, I fear. And that reminds me: I must hark back to my errand. Why has Mrs. Laing come here?

Evelyn lifted her head defiantly. Mortimer had blundered into the worst possible line of inquiry.

She has told me repeatedly that she is in Las Palmas in order to meet Captain Warden when he returns from the Oku territory.

The man glanced around to be sure they were not overheard.

That, at least, is untrue, because he is not there. Owing to his absence, another deputy commissioner is appointed. I expect Mrs. Laings talkativeness does not extend to her relations with Miguel Figuero?

Ah, how I loathe that man! He pestered me with his attentions at Hamburg, and Trouville, and Arcachon, and Biarritz. He was either on board the yacht or visited us at each port of call. But it is only fair to admit, she added, that he seemed rather to avoid Mrs. Laing.

I have reason to believe that they are acting in collusion, said Mortimer dryly. How long do you remain on the island, Miss Dane?

There was some talk the other day of our return.

What, all of you?

Yes. Mrs. Baumgartner wishes to pass the spring in the Riviera, and her husband says he has important business at Frankfort in February, so he will leave us at Nice while he attends to it.

Do you go in the yacht?

I suppose so. She is there in the harbor.

Yes. The Sans Souci does not travel far without my knowledge. You changed your crew at Hamburg, I believe?

Yes, all our Englishmen were sent home. Mr. Baumgartner said that Germans were cheaper and more obedient.

What was your opinion of the new crew?

I didnt like them at first, as I had to bother my wits in talking German if I wished to speak to any of them, but they are a very superior set of men.

You carry a good many hands for a small vessel?

Well, yes. Even I thought that.

Did you ship a large quantity of heavy stores at Hamburg?

I dont know. We were in a hotel there five or six days, and never visited the yacht during that time.

Of course, Miss Dane, if you should be asked why I called, we are old friends, eh? I hope I may claim that privilege apart from other considerations?

You have been most kind, Captain Mortimer. I cannot tell you what a load of care you have taken from me. Now, I must go to the ballroom and see that none of those romantic Spaniards has run off with my charge.

Who is that? he inquired.

Beryl Baumgartner. I am her companion, you know. Though I am only three years older than Beryl, I am credited with so much more gravity that her mother trusts her to me absolutely.

Is Mrs. Laing there?

She was dancing with the Commandante when I came out.

He laughed.

I shall probably see you again tomorrow evening, he said. Some of my officers will be ashore, and I may be dining here.

He took his leave with a cordiality that was in marked contrast to his earlier frigid manner, but Evelyn had long since forgotten her surprise at his momentary curtness.

The extraordinary tidings of Wardens adventures in Morocco absorbed her mind to the exclusion of all else. She wanted to study a map, to follow his wanderings in spirit, to weave fantasies about his track across the desert with all the ardor of reawakened love. How could she ever have doubted him? She was brave enough to flout Rosamund Laings first attempt to undermine her trust why had she yielded to the strain during these later days of weary waiting? She was sure it was not so with her lover. Some time, quite soon, there would be a letter or a cablegram announcing his safe arrival at some weirdly named British station in Northern Nigeria. She must learn the map of West Africa by heart. Perhaps her friend, Captain Mortimer, might tell her from what town she might expect to receive the earliest news.

But Evelyns humble lightheartedness was destined not to survive the next ten minutes. Looking in at the ballroom, she saw Beryl waltzing with a Canario fruitgrower, a youthful Spaniard of immense wealth who owned a large part of the island. While crossing the hall with intent to find the manager, and get the loan of an atlas, she almost ran into the arms of Lord Fairholme, who was standing there, talking to Mrs. Laing.

By gad, Miss Dane, its just like bein in Lochmerig, he cried. Here we are again, you know the same old circus. Couldnt stand the British climate, so I fled here, per Spanish packet, as the Post Office says.

I am delighted to see you again, she began, but Mrs. Laing broke in breathlessly.

Theyve just finished that waltz, Lord Fairholme. Shall we make up a set for the Lancers?

Well er no, he said lamely. You see, Im not dancing just now.

Rosamund flushed with annoyance. Her rudeness to Evelyn had caused her to forget Fairholmes bereavement.

Pray forgive me, she cried. How thoughtless I was! Who was the man you were conversing with so deeply in the garden, Miss Dane?

A friend, an officer on board one of the ships in the harbor. Are you making a long stay in Las Palmas, Lord Fairholme?

The goodnatured little peer was conscious that the two women were at daggers drawn, and the younger one could evidently match her senior in contemptuous indifference.

Dunno yet, he grinned. It depends on how Mrs. Laing and you treat me. Judgin by the giddy throng in the ballroom, Im afraid I shall figure again in the also ran class.

Miss Dane is free. I can vouch for that, laughed Rosamund.

But Evelyns answering smile was more genuine.

Mrs. Laings statements are invariably inaccurate where I am concerned, she said. If your matrimonial choice rests between her and me, Lord Fairholme, it is only fair that I should tell you I have promised to marry Captain Arthur Warden, of the Nigeria Protectorate, when next he returns to England.

Captain Arthur Warden! gasped the earl, who, despite his habitual air of buffoonery, could remember some things exceedingly well.

Yes. Do you know him?

Er not exactly. Ive heard his name.

Rosamund, scarcely prepared for this turning of the tables, instantly recalled the unpleasant fact that Billy Thring was by her side in the hall at Lochmerig when she purloined Evelyns letter. He looked at her now fixedly, as the color in her face rose and fell with telltale confusion. For once, she was unable to force a retort. She almost feared that Fairholme would blurt forth some reference to the letter.

I was under a different impression, she managed to say. But I am sure our private affairs are not of vital interest to Lord Fairholme.

Where is old I. D. B.? put in the man, anxious to restore harmony. Shootin wild duck by moonlight, eh, what?

Evelyn resumed her quest of the manager. She had not failed to notice Rosamund Laings unaccountable embarrassment, but she attributed it to their personal feud, and imagined that her rival was furiously annoyed by her outspokenness. It was fortunate, in some respects, that the incident was fresh in her mind. She was soon to be enlightened.

She borrowed an atlas, and was studying the ominously vague details of the interior of Northwest Africa, when a maidservant came to her room. With some difficulty, for Evelyn knew very little Spanish, the girl made her understand that un muchado Ingles wished to see her. An English boy! Who could it be at that hour? The few English children visiting the island were in bed long since, or ought to be, if they were not. Closing the atlas, she followed the criada downstairs. In the doorway, trying to make out the English of a gigantic hallporter, was a sturdy youth dressed in sailor fashion. She recognized him at the first glance, but some instinct warned her not to cry aloud her astonishment.

Hurrying forward, she caught him by the arm.

Chris! she whispered, is it really you?

His chubby face creased with joy at the sight of her.

Yes, miss, its me right enough, he said. Can you come with me to father? Hes orfly anxious ter see yer, miss.

Where is he?

Out there in the road, miss, standin orf an on till I heave in sight. He wouldnt show up at the hotel, miss, cause is wooden leg sort o makes folk stare at im, an he dont want too many people ter know e kem ere to find you.

Came to find me all the way from England? Who sent him?

They were in the roadway now, and walking fast in the direction of the alameda, or public gardens, where a military band plays each evening for the inhabitants of Las Palmas.

Bless yer eart, miss, weve done a lot moren come from England, said Chris. Weve followed yer to Scotland, an Germany, an France, an Madeira. But fatherll tell you all about it. My eye, wasnt e pleased wen our steamer rounded the mole an e sighted the San Sowsy. Lord love a duck, Chris, sez e, there she is at last. Ooll say now that Peter Evans asnt done as he was tole!

Evelyn, in her excitement, still held the boys arm. He felt that she was trembling, though her voice was calm.

Chris, she repeated, who sent you?

Capn Warden, miss. But there! Its dads yarn. You must ave it from im, from chapter one to finis.

Though on the brink of tears for she was overwrought the girl could not help smiling.

You are becoming quite literary, she said.

Thats the way I read a book if its any good, miss, a book like The Scalp Hunters or Nick of the Woods every word, from beginnin to end. There e is thats father on the seat under the tree. I spose es tired. It was a long tramp through the dust from the quay.

Peter received her joyously.

Sink me! he cried, but its a cure for sore eyes ter see you at last, miss. It is you, isnt it?

He was not content until he had looked her full in the face in the moonlight.

Youre a bit thinner, he commented. People can say wot they like, but Ole Englands hard to beat for fresh air an sound vittals. Chris an me would ha starved on that tub of a mailboat if we adnt palled in with the Scotch engineer, who med em cook some plain food. Hello! Youre bin cryin? Now, wot the

Peter, said Evelyn brokenly, for Heavens sake, if you have news of Captain Warden tell me what it is.

The expilot produced a frayed and soiled parcel from a pocket.

There you are, miss, he cried triumphantly. Ive done it! Find Miss Dane, no matter wot it costs thems my sailin orders from the capn. Deliver this letter into Miss Danes own ands. Right again! as per code! Now, miss, if I was you, Id just open that there envelope an see wot e sez. Then, mebbe, I can fill in a bit. I tole im Id find you within a month, but I couldnt! Nobody could unless he was a bird, an a jolly good flier at that. Wy, Ive follered you pretty well round the compass. An my godfather! avent you covered up yer tracks!

The first thing Evelyns trembling fingers withdrew from the package was the jewelers case containing the ring. When the diamonds flashed in the moonlight she uttered a choking cry and her lips trembled pitifully. So this was Arthur Wardens answer to Rosamund Laings jibes! Without hesitation, without waiting to read a word of the many pages of manuscript that accompanied it, she slipped it on to the engagement finger of her left hand. It did not fit. It was far too large. But what did that matter? Its glories might await her scrutiny another time. Just then she wanted to assure herself that she had gone back to her allegiance before she was vouchsafed a syllable of explanation. It was humility, not pride, that governed her action.

Peter, however, did not regard the glittering ring with such selfeffacement. His prominent eyes bulged with surprise, and he gripped his sons shoulder emphatically.

Tell you wot, Chris, he whispered hoarsely. If wed ha known wot was in that billydoo wed not ha slep so sound o nights!

Not while we was in furrin parts, father.

Not in any parts, me lad. Them sort o sparksll get you a knife under your ribs anywhere. Now, if I was Miss Dane, Id turn it into money, quick. But she wont, mark my words. Shell just twiddle it round, an shove in a hairpin wen theres a chandelier handy, an lean on er elbow wen the light shines on the port bow all to make the other wimmen green with envy.

Though Evelyn was deep in her letter though her brows were knitted and her little hands clenched as the full measure of Rosamunds perfidy was revealed to her, she could not help overhearing Peters stage aside. For a second her eyes were raised from the stupefying record, and they blazed with a light that surpassed the fire in the diamonds.

You are right, Peter, she cried, and her voice sounded shrilly in her own ears. One woman, at least, shall see my ring, even though envy were to kill her.

CHAPTER XIII
EVELYN ENTERS THE FRAY

Only a woman can fathom another womans mind. A man tries to think logically; a woman throws logic to the winds, and reads her opponents tactics by intuition. Though Warden was not wholly devoid of suspicion of Rosamunds disinterestedness when he penned the plain statement which Evelyn now skimmed through by the light of the Las Palmas moon, he little dreamed that he was framing a damning indictment of one who claimed to be his friend. But Evelyn extracted from every line the hidden truth. A gentlewoman to her fingertips, her loathing of Mrs. Laings despicable tactics was so overpowering for a while that she could only vent her scorn and contempt by little gasps and sobs of indignation.

Her lovers account of events at Ostend and in London was transparently honest. She saw now that by some clever and unscrupulous device his letters and telegrams had been withheld. The burking of her own letters, sent with unfailing regularity until outraged pride bade her cease, was equally clear. But how had their common enemy achieved these results? Why did Mrs. Laing flush and look guilty when Lord Fairholme recognized Wardens name half an hour ago? Well, she would ask the genial little nobleman for an explanation. He would be candid, she was sure; perhaps he might help to illumine some of the dark places of the last four months.

Peter Evans, watching her eyes as they devoured page after page, winked solemnly at Chris, but held his peace until the letter was restored to its envelope. Then he felt that his innings had come.

Well, miss, he remarked quietly, does that round off everything in shipshape style?

For answer, she put both hands on his shoulders, and looked into his weatherbeaten face.

Peter, she said, I can never repay you for what you have done. Captain Warden tells me he had faith in you, and indeed you have justified his confidence. But how did you and Chris manage to travel all this long way to find me? What has it cost you? I have not much money at my command here

Money, miss? Did the Capn say nothink about it?

No.

Just like im. There never was a more freehanded gent than im. Funny thing, aint it, that the wrong people are bloomin millionaires. I spose thats wy they ave it coss they stick to it. Lord love a duck, thers bin no trouble about money! He did some tricks at the Casino





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