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ďThe garden by all means,Ē 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 Moullahís disastrous fight with the Evil One spread so rapidly that it reached the seaboard within a fortnight, whereas the prophetís 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 goldĖdust 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 moullahís 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.
ďThese names of people and places are so much Greek to me,Ē she cried. ďWhat is the outcome of it all? Is Captain Warden marching across Africa?Ē
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.
ďHere is Rabat,Ē he said, ďand 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 northĖbound caravanís 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.Ē
ďCan he do it? Dare I even hope that he will pass unharmed through thousands of miles of wild country inhabited only by savages?Ē
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.
ďSteady, Miss Dane,Ē he said cheerily. ďHe 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 thousandĖmile limit. Once there, he is practically in British territory. To put it plainly, two months ago I didnít think his chance of being alive amounted to a row of beans, whereas toĖday I am confident he will pull through.Ē
ďSo you did not tell me everything at Funchal? Are you keeping back the less pleasing facts now?Ē
ďNo. On my honor, I have given you the whole budget.Ē
ďWhen will it be known whether or not Ė he has Ė arrived in Nigeria?Ē
ďAh, that depends on so many circumstances. It is six hundred miles from Bel Abbas to the Niger, and Ė there may be difficulties. May I ask you a personal question, Miss Dane? Are you Captain Wardenís fianc?e?Ē
ďI Ė I thought so,Ē sobbed Evelyn.
ďYou thought so? Didnít you know?Ē
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.
ďYes,Ē she said proudly. ďI 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!Ē
ďYou are speaking of Mrs. Laing, I suppose?Ē
For an instant Evelyn did not appreciate the significance of that marvelously accurate guess. Then she turned and looked at him in wonderment.
ďWhy do you mention her?Ē she cried, almost hysterically.
The sailor smiled, though his face showed some degree of confusion.
ďI 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 Ė perhaps some one there had seen youĖ†she 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.Ē
ďBut only yesterday Mrs. Laing pretended that Arthur Ė that Captain Warden had written to her, saying he was engaged on a secret mission for the Government.Ē
ďYou 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 Ė I didnít 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?Ē
Evelyn lifted her head defiantly. Mortimer had blundered into the worst possible line of inquiry.
ďShe has told me repeatedly that she is in Las Palmas in order to meet Captain Warden when he returns from the Oku territory.Ē
The man glanced around to be sure they were not overheard.
ďThat, at least, is untrue, because he is not there. Owing to his absence, another deputy commissioner is appointed. I expect Mrs. Laingís talkativeness does not extend to her relations with Miguel Figuero?Ē
ďAh, how I loathe that man! He Ė 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,Ē she added, ďthat he seemed rather to avoid Mrs. Laing.Ē
ďI have reason to believe that they are acting in collusion,Ē said Mortimer dryly. ďHow long do you remain on the island, Miss Dane?Ē
ďThere was some talk the other day of our return.Ē
ďWhat, all of you?Ē
ďYes. 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.Ē
ďDo you go in the yacht?Ē
ďI suppose so. She is there Ė in the harbor.Ē
ďYes. The Sans Souci does not travel far without my knowledge. You changed your crew at Hamburg, I believe?Ē
ďYes, all our Englishmen were sent home. Mr. Baumgartner said that Germans were cheaper and more obedient.Ē
ďWhat was your opinion of the new crew?Ē
ďI didnít 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.Ē
ďYou carry a good many hands for a small vessel?Ē
ďWell, yes. Even I thought that.Ē
ďDid you ship a large quantity of heavy stores at Hamburg?Ē
ďI donít know. We were in a hotel there five or six days, and never visited the yacht during that time.Ē
ďOf 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?Ē
ďYou 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.Ē
ďWho is that?Ē he inquired.
ďBeryl 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.Ē
ďIs Mrs. Laing there?Ē
ďShe was dancing with the Commandante when I came out.Ē
ďI shall probably see you again toĖmorrow evening,Ē he said. ďSome of my officers will be ashore, and I may be dining here.Ē
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 Wardenís 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 Laingís first attempt to undermine her trust Ė 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 Evelynís humble lightĖheartedness was destined not to survive the next ten minutes. Looking in at the ballroom, she saw Beryl waltzing with a Canario fruitĖgrower, 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.
ďBy gad, Miss Dane, itís just like beiní in Lochmerig,Ē he cried. ďHere we are again, you know Ė the same old circus. Couldnít stand the British climate, so I fled here, per Spanish packet, as the Post Office says.Ē
ďI am delighted to see you again,Ē she began, but Mrs. Laing broke in breathlessly.
ďTheyíve just finished that waltz, Lord Fairholme. Shall we make up a set for the Lancers?Ē
ďWell Ė er Ė no,Ē he said lamely. ďYou see, Iím not dancing just now.Ē
Rosamund flushed with annoyance. Her rudeness to Evelyn had caused her to forget Fairholmeís bereavement.
ďPray forgive me,Ē she cried. ďHow thoughtless I was! Who was the man you were conversing with so deeply in the garden, Miss Dane?Ē
ďA friend, an officer on board one of the ships in the harbor. Are you making a long stay in Las Palmas, Lord Fairholme?Ē
The goodĖnatured little peer was conscious that the two women were at daggers drawn, and the younger one could evidently match her senior in contemptuous indifference.
ďDunno yet,Ē he grinned. ďIt depends on how Mrs. Laing and you treat me. Judginí by the giddy throng in the ballroom, Iím afraid I shall figure again in the Ďalso raní class.Ē
ďMiss Dane is free. I can vouch for that,Ē laughed Rosamund.
But Evelynís answering smile was more genuine.
ďMrs. Laingís statements are invariably inaccurate where I am concerned,Ē she said. ďIf 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.Ē
ďCaptain Arthur Warden!Ē gasped the earl, who, despite his habitual air of buffoonery, could remember some things exceedingly well.
ďYes. Do you know him?Ē
ďEr Ė not exactly. Iíve heard his name.Ē
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 Evelynís 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.
ďI was under a different impression,Ē she managed to say. ďBut I am sure our private affairs are not of vital interest to Lord Fairholme.Ē
ďWhere is old I. D. B.?Ē put in the man, anxious to restore harmony. ďShootiní wild duck by moonlight, eh, what?Ē
Evelyn resumed her quest of the manager. She had not failed to notice Rosamund Laingís 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 maidĖservant 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 hallĖporter, 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.
ďChris!Ē she whispered, ďis it really you?Ē
His chubby face creased with joy at the sight of her.
ďYes, miss, itís me right enough,Ē he said. ďCan you come with me to father? Heís orfly anxious ter see yer, miss.Ē
ďWhere is he?Ē
ďOut there in the road, miss, standiní orf aní on till I heave in sight. He wouldnít show up at the hotel, miss, Ďcause Ďis wooden leg sort oí makes folk stare at Ďim, aní he donít want too many people ter know Ďe kem Ďere to find you.Ē
ďCame to find me Ė all the way from England? Who sent him?Ē
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.
ďBless yer Ďeart, miss, weíve done a lot moreín come from England,Ē said Chris. ďWeíve followed yer to Scotland, aní Germany, aní France, aní Madeira. But fatheríll tell you all about it. My eye, wasnítí e pleased wíen our steamer rounded the mole aní Ďe sighted the San Sowsy. ĎLord love a duck, Chris,í sez Ďe, Ďthere she is at last. Ooíll say now that Peter Evans Ďasnít done as he was toleí!Ē
Evelyn, in her excitement, still held the boyís arm. He felt that she was trembling, though her voice was calm.
ďChris,Ē she repeated, ďwho sent you?Ē
ďCapín Warden, miss. But there! Itís dadís yarn. You must Ďave it from Ďim, from chapter one to finis.Ē
Though on the brink of tears Ė for she was overwrought Ė the girl could not help smiling.
ďYou are becoming quite literary,Ē she said.
ďThatís the way I read a book if itís any good, miss,†Ė a book like ĎThe Scalp Huntersí or ĎNick of the Woodsí Ė every word, from beginniní to end. There Ďe is Ė thatís father Ė on the seat under the tree. I sípose Ďeís tired. It was a long tramp through the dust from the quay.Ē
Peter received her joyously.
ďSink me!Ē he cried, ďbut itís a cure for sore eyes ter see you at last, miss. It is you, isnít it?Ē
He was not content until he had looked her full in the face in the moonlight.
ďYouíre a bit thinner,Ē he commented. ďPeople can say wot they like, but Ole Englandís hard to beat for fresh air aní sound vittals. Chris aní me would haí starved on that tub of a mailĖboat if we Ďadnít palled in with the Scotch engineer, who med Ďem cook some plain food. Hello! Youíre bin cryiní? Now, wot the Ė Ē
ďPeter,Ē said Evelyn brokenly, ďfor Heavenís sake, if you have news of Captain Warden tell me what it is.Ē
The exĖpilot produced a frayed and soiled parcel from a pocket.
ďThere you are, miss,Ē he cried triumphantly. ďIíve done it! ĎFind Miss Dane, no matter wot it costsí Ė themís my sailiní orders from the capín. ĎDeliver this letter into Miss Daneís own Ďands.í Right again!†Ė as per code! Now, miss, if I was you, Iíd just open that there envelope aní see wot Ďe sez. Then, mebbe, I can fill in a bit. I tole Ďim Iíd find you within a month, but I couldnít! Nobody could unless he was a bird, aní a jolly good flier at that. Wíy, Iíve follered you pretty well round the compass. Aní my godfather!†Ė íavenít you covered up yer tracks!Ē
The first thing Evelynís trembling fingers withdrew from the package was the jewelerís 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 Wardenís answer to Rosamund Laingís 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 selfĖeffacement. His prominent eyes bulged with surprise, and he gripped his sonís shoulder emphatically.
ďTell you wot, Chris,Ē he whispered hoarsely. ďIf weíd haí known wot was in that billyĖdoo weíd not haí slepí so sound oí nights!Ē
ďNot while we was in furrin parts, father.Ē
ďNot in any parts, me lad. Them sort oí sparksíll get you a knife under your ribs anywhere. Now, if I was Miss Dane, Iíd turn it into money, quick. But she wonít, mark my words. Sheíll just twiddle it round, aní shove in a hairpin wíen thereís a chandelier handy, aní lean on Ďer elbow wíen the light shines on the port bow Ė all to make the other wimmen green with envy.Ē
Though Evelyn was deep in her letter Ė though her brows were knitted and her little hands clenched as the full measure of Rosamundís perfidy was revealed to her, she could not help overhearing Peterís 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.
ďYou are right, Peter,Ē she cried, and her voice sounded shrilly in her own ears. ďOne woman, at least, shall see my ring, even though envy were to kill her.Ē