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ďYes, yes, he has told me that.Ē
ďWell, wíen Ďe gives me that there packidge, Ďe forks out fifty quid, aní says, ĎPeter, if you want more, go to my bank.í But fifty golden suvrins is a small fortin to a sailorman Ė Iíve known the time it Ďud keep me aní my missus aní Chris for a year Ė aní I wasnít flinginí it about for bookiní clerks aní pursers to pick up, neether. We Ďad to dig a bit out oí the bank wíen this trip showed up, but afore that Chris aní me worked our passidge to Scotland, aní Hamburg, aní as far south as Bordeaux.Ē
ďYou went to Scotland? Why?Ē
ďAfore the Capín left Lunnon Ďe Ďad a telegram from the coasĖtguard to say the San Sowsy headed souíeast by east from Lochmerig, aní them ainít the sailiní directions for the Shetlands, or they wasnít wíen I was at sea. It seemed to me some old salt thereabouts might help a bit Ė fishermen keep a pretty close eye on passiní craft, miss Ė so off we goes. I shipped as extra hand on the Inverkeld, bound from London to Aberdeen, aní Chris was stooard in the engineersí mess. Sure enough, I lights on a Montrose herriníĖboat as Ďad seen the yacht beariní away in the line for Hamburg, I follered, on a tramp from Newcastle, but I was a week late. You see, my orders was Ďinto her own Ďands, Peter.íĒ
ďOh, you are a dear!Ē
ďWell, mebbe. Iíve bin called most things in me time, miss. But itís spinniní a tremenjous long yarn to go over all the ground. Wot I want to ax you now is this Ė wot stopped Capín Warden from gettiní your letters?Ē
ďAh, Peter! a wicked woman, I am afraid.Ē
ďDíye Ďear, Chris?Ē and Peter turned solemnly to his son. ďWot did I tell yer? You see, miss,Ē he went on, ďI looked in at the Lodge, aní med friends with a servant or two, aní it kem out that Mrs. Laing collared a telegram addressed to you. ĎWas it himportant?í sez one chap. ĎReel himportant,í sez I, Ďit was from Ďer young man.í Beg pardon, miss, but thatís the way we talks among ourselves. ĎOo is he?í sez the other fellow. ĎCaptain Warden,í sez I. ĎNot Captain Arthur Warden, of Ostend?í sez Ďe. ĎThe very man,í sez I. ĎDash my eyes,í sez Ďe, Ďthatís queer. Mrs. Laing wanted a letter out of the box one day wíen I was goiní to the post, aní thatís the very name as was on it. Wotís Ďis little game? Is Ďe aĖplayiní up to both of Ďem?í ĎYoung man,í sez I, Ďyou donít know Ďim. ĎEís the straightest gentleman as ever wore shoeĖleather.í I axed Ďim wíen the incident occurred, as they say in the noospapers, aní Ďe tole me it was just arter Mrs. Laing kem to Lochmerig. In fact, Ďe wouldnít haí known Ďoo she was if she Ďadnít bin standiní in the Ďall talkiní to Ė to Ė wotís Ďis name, Chris?Ē
ďLord Fairholme?Ē broke in Evelyn.
ďNo, miss, that wasnít it Ė not in the same street.Ē
ďTally! Iíve got it all logged up in my cabin. I wasnít sartin Iíd see you toĖnight, or Iíd haí brought the book. Thatís Ďim Ė Billy Thring Ė it sounds familiar like, if heís a swell, but thatís wot they called Ďim at Lochmerig.Ē
ďPeter, you are a wonder.You have found out the one thing I wanted to know.Ē
ďExcuse me, miss, but youíre a bit of a wonder yourself. If that was the oníy missiní link, wíy didnít you write to me, care oí the Pilotsí Office, Cardiff? I could haí put you straight within a week. Any shipís skipper would haí guessed my address, if you tole Ďim about the Nancy aní gev Ďim my name.Ē
ďI fear I am very much to blame,Ē said Evelyn contritely. ďBut you hardly realize yet how I have been victimized. Now I must go. It is very late. Where are you staying?Ē
ďChris aní me will turn in with our engineer friend on board the Cid. At least thatís wot I call the old tub, but these Spanish jokers make it into Thith. Did yí ever Ďear anythink funnierín that?Ē
She laughed blithely, arranged an early hour to meet the two at the mole next day, and sped back to the hotel. She wanted to read that thriceĖprecious letter again. Seen in the moonlight, it seemed to be fantastic, unreal. The words danced before her eyes. Her brain had only half grasped its extraordinary meanings.
In the privacy of her own room she should go through it slowly, weighing its bewildering revelations, taking to her very heart the outspoken, manly sentences that assured her of Wardenís devotion, and planning with new zest the means whereby she might circumvent her enemies and his. Warden had been deceived even more grossly than she herself. His faithful record of Rosamundís malicious innuendoes during the dinner at the Savoy Hotel gave ample proof of that. It was quite true she had talked with Figuero in the garden at Lochmerig. The man naturally interested her; his manner of speech was quaint, and he told her strange things about the country in which the whole of her loverís active career might be passed. Was that a crime? And how shameful that any woman should write such a wicked untruth as to say that she had gossiped to Thring and others about the men of Oku! Of course, Mrs. Laing had obtained her information from the stolen letter. Evelyn remembered perfectly well the unfortunate postscript in which she alluded to the negroes and the calabash. She meant only to soften the harshness of her comments on Rosamund and the two foreigners, but it was obvious now that she could have written nothing more harmful to Wardenís mission.
And then, with a sudden horror that made her white to the lips, she realized what it meant Ė that Warden had never received her letter, that Rosamund had adroitly availed herself of the details it contained, and that her lover had gone to Africa with a lurking doubt in his heart of the one woman in the world whom he trusted. Did he think her really the base creature she was depicted? Oh, it was intolerable! She would never forgive Mrs. Laing Ė no, never! Her rival had stooped to a meanness that could not be borne Ė she must be punished, with a vengeance at once swift and merciless.
All this was very unĖChristian, and wholly unlike the delightfully shy yet lovable girl to whom Warden lost his heart during the midsummer madness of Cowes and Plymouth, but Evelyn was stirred to the depths of a passionate nature; not for the first time in Las Palmas, she cried herself to sleep.
She awoke in a better frame of mind, though still determined to bring Mrs. Laing to her knees at the first opportunity. Keeping the tryst with Peter, she took him fully into her confidence. He was able to supply many minor items of information that fitted the pieces of the puzzle more accurately together. He did not know what had become of Warden, but Evelyn made no scruple of telling him the facts within her knowledge.
She recked little of Government secrets and the byways of Imperial politics. The exĖpilot and his sturdy offspring were now the only witnesses of her good faith. Perhaps they might meet Warden in England before he was able to communicate with her. In that event, she wanted Peter to be in a position to do for her lover what he had done for her, and disabuse Wardenís mind of the cloud of lies by which it had been darkened.
Father and son were returning at once by the outĖgoing mail steamer. She pressed Peter to accept what little money she could spare, but he would not take a penny.
ďNo, miss,Ē he said, with emphatic headĖshaking. ďThereís some shot left in the locker yet, aní me aní the Capín will Ďave a reckoniní wíen he comes Ďome. If Iím short of a pound or two afore I get the Nancy in commission this spring, Iíll ax that gentleman at the bank for it. Píraps youíll write Ďim a line, aní say Iíve kepí me contract.Ē
She had to be content with that. Were it practicable, she would have gone back to England in the same steamer. Here, in Las Palmas, she felt so utterly unbefriended. Though thousands of miles nearer Africa than in England, she seemed to be more thousands of miles removed from the chance of receiving a letter or a cablegram. True, she possessed a very useful acquaintance in the commander of the Valiant, but she could hardly expect one of His Majestyís cruisers to fly to and fro in the East Atlantic in order to keep her conversant with developments in Nigeria. Peter, however, undertook to call at the Colonial Office, while she would cable him her address after the lapse of a fortnight. Then, if there was any news of Warden, he would communicate with her.
At luncheon she had her first meeting with Mrs. Laing since the arrival of that epochĖmarking letter. A special menu was ordered, and the table was gay with flowers, for the Baumgartners dearly loved a lord, and were resolved to make the most of their friendly relations with the Earl of Fairholme.
Mr. Baumgartner looked worried and preoccupied. The coming of the mail which meant so much to Evelyn perhaps had its importance for him also. At any rate, he left the entertainment of his guests largely to his wife, until a sharp clash of wits rudely dispelled his reverie.
Beryl Baumgartner was the unconscious agent that brought about an unforeseen crisis. Her restless eyes speedily caught the glint of diamonds on Evelynís left hand, and she cried ecstatically:
ďOh, Evelyn, what a lovely ring! Where did you get it?Ē
Each woman at the table was on the qui vive instantly. In a place like Las Palmas the mere mention of a diamond ring in connection with a young and pretty girl suggests that one more infatuated male has voluntarily removed his name from the list of eligibles.
Evelyn, having stilled the volcano that raged over night, might have allowed the opportunity to pass if she had not happened to catch the mocking smile on Rosamundís face when the nature of the ring became selfĖevident. That steeled her intent.
ďIt is my engagement ring,Ē she said quietly.
ďWhat?Ē shrieked Beryl, to whom this was news indeed. ďWho is he?Ē
ďYou do not know him, dear, but his name is Captain Warden. He is at present in West Africa, somewhere near the Benu? River.Ē
ďAnd did he send it to you?Ē
ďYes. I received it only last night. It would have reached me four months ago, had not Mrs. Laing stolen one of my letters Ė perhaps others as well Ė and that naturally led to some confusion.Ē
There was a moment of stupefied silence at the table. Everybody seemed to be stricken dumb. Rosamund, crimson with anger, could only mutter:
ďIt is an unpleasant thing to say, but it is true,Ē said Evelyn, discussing her rivalís transgression in the most matterĖofĖfact tone, though she was conscious of a queer tingling at the roots of her hair, and she hardly recognized the sound of her own voice.
Baumgartner felt it imperative to stop what threatened to develop into a scandal.
ďMiss Dane, you are making a serious charge against a lady of the highest repute,Ē he said, in his best chairmanĖofĖtheĖcompany style.
ďI mean it, every word,Ē cried Evelyn, a trifle more vehemently. ďLord Fairholme, am I speaking the truth or not?Ē she demanded, suddenly wheeling round on the inoffensive peer.
ďReally Ė er Ė really Ė Ē he spluttered, for once too bewildered to grin.
ďPlease tell Mr. Baumgartner what happened in the hall at Lochmerig when Mrs. Laing asked the postman to give her a letter addressed to Captain Arthur Warden, at Ostend. You were present. It was my letter she obtained. Perhaps she has it yet if her boxes were searched.Ē
Here was no timid girl striving vainly to bolster up a false accusation, but a fiery young goddess impeaching an erring mortal. The atmosphere was electrical; Beryl Baumgartner said afterwards that she felt pins and needles attacking her at all points!
ďIím awfully sorry, Miss Dane, but I gave very little attention to the incident,Ē said Fairholme, partly recovering himself.
ďBut you remembered Captain Wardenís name last night? Was it not at Lochmerig that you heard it, and from Mrs. Laing?Ē
ďWell Ė yes, but, you know, Mrs. Laing might have written to him.Ē
ďShe did, after obtaining the address from my letter and reading what I wrote.Ē
Then she turned on Rosamund with magnificent disdain.
ďShall I give you a copy of your letter? Captain Warden has sent it to me.Ē
Sheer fury enabled Rosamund to regain her selfĖcontrol.
ďYour foolish attack on me is disproved out of your own mouth,Ē she said, striving desperately to speak with her accustomed nonchalance. ďCaptain Warden has not written to you since I saw him in London. He is in Africa, it is true, but he has never been heard of after going ashore at Rabat fully three months ago. How can you pretend that you received a letter from him last night? My authority is an Under Secretary of State. Pray, who is yours?Ē
Under other conditions, Evelyn might have been warned by the imperious command to ďhold her tongueĒ that Baumgartner telegraphed to his wife when that good lady was minded to interfere. But no consideration would stop her now. The memory of all she had suffered through the machinations of one evilly disposed woman upset her calm judgment. In other respects, she acted with a restraint that was worthy of a firstĖrate actress; people at the next table might have thought she was discussing the weather. Taking Wardenís letter from her pocket, she handed it to Lord Fairholme.
ďI cited you as a witness,Ē she said. ďWill you now act as a judge? Read that, and tell my friends which of us two is speaking truly.Ē
Despite his selfĖsupposed shortcomings, Fairholme was a gentleman. Instinctively he believed Evelyn, but he shrank from the duty she entrusted to him.
ďOh, I say,Ē he bleated, ďhasnít this thing gone a bit too far already? Is it worth all the beastly fuss? There may be a mistake somewhere, you know. Iím sure, Miss Dane, nobody doubts your statement where this lucky chap Warden is concerned, aní, on the other hand, donít you know, Mrs. Laing may have a perfectly fair explanation of the other business. So let it go at that, eh, what?Ē
ďMay I act as arbitrator?Ē said Baumgartner. ďIf I glance through your letter, Miss Dane, I may discover a means of settlement.Ē
Something in his tone, some hint of a crafty purpose behind the smoothĖspoken words, beat through the haze of wrath and grief that clouded Evelynís mind. She could trust Fairholme with her loverís letter, but not Baumgartner. To reveal to him what Warden had said about Mrs. Laingís extraordinarily accurate knowledge of proceedings in the Solent and affairs in Nigeria would be tantamount to betraying her loverís faith.
With splendid calmness she took the letter from the table and replaced it in her pocket.
ďNo, thank you, Mr. Baumgartner,Ē she said, ďif Lord Fairholme declines to help me, nobody else can take his place. I appealed to him because he is aware that Mrs. Laing induced your groom to unlock the postĖbox and hand her my letter. The proof of my words lies here. It is for him to say whether or not he is satisfied he saw Mrs. Laing commit a theft.Ē
Fairholme shook his head. He was not lacking in pluck, and his artificial humor was only the veneer of an honest nature, but he surprised a look in Rosamundís eyes that startled him. She was pale now, ashen pale. She uttered no word, but continued to glower at Evelyn with a suppressed malevolence that was more threatening than the mere rage of a detected trickster.
His lordship evidently thought it high time Baumgartner or his wife exercised their authority.
ďDonít you think this matter has gone quite far enough?Ē he asked, glancing from one to the other, and avoiding the eyes of either Evelyn or Mrs. Laing.
ďYes,Ē said Baumgartner, speaking with a pomposity that contrasted sharply with his prompt offer to supplant Fairholme as judge. ďThis absurd dispute about a purely private affair must end at once. I and my family are going to Europe by the next mail steamer Ė Ē
ďIsadore!Ē gasped his wife.
ďFather, you canít mean it!Ē cried Beryl, who, at the lowest calculation, had made arrangements for a good three weeksí further frivolity at Las Palmas.
ďUnfortunately, I am quite in earnest.Ē
The financier looked it. Despite his magisterial air, his puffy face was drawn and haggard, and he had the aspect of a man who needed rest and sleep.
ďYou will accompany us, of course, Miss Dane,Ē he went on, speaking slowly, as though he were groping for the best way out of a difficulty. ďYour quarrel with Mrs. Laing can be much more easily adjusted in England than here. I hope, therefore, we shall be spared further bickering during our brief stay in the Canaries.Ē
ďBut, father dear,Ē put in his daughter, ďyou said we were going home on the yacht, and calling at Gibraltar and Algiers.Ē
ďI have changed my plans,Ē he retorted curtly, and that was all he would say on the subject.
Evelyn left the table at the earliest moment. When too late, she regretted the impulse that led her to declare open war against Mrs. Laing. But it was done now. Those words ďtheftĒ and ďstealĒ were irrevocable. She had retreated to a nook in the garden where a dense clump of tropical trees and shrubs gave shelter from the sun, and was trying to discover if she had imperilled the success of Wardenís mission by any unguarded phrase, when Lord Fairholme came to her.
ďMay I sit down here a few minutes?Ē he asked. ďI want to try to understand things.Ē
ďI should be sorry to test your lordshipís capacity so greatly,Ē she said. She had not yet forgiven him for not taking her part. She was young; her world was tumbling about her ears; she believed that everybody ought to stand aghast at Rosamundís wickedness.
ďOh, come now, thatís a bit severe, isnít it?Ē grinned Fairholme. ďYou donít make allowances for the ruffled feelinís of a poor fellow who has just had his image battered Ė Ē
ďWill you please tell me what you are talking about?Ē
ďEh Ė beg pardon, I meant idol shattered. Silly mistake, eh, what?Ē
Evelynís lips relaxed in a smile. There was no resisting ďBillyĒ when (in his own phrase) he was goiní strong.
ďI fear you all thought me very rude,Ē she said, with a pathetic little gesture of helplessness. ďBut what was I to do?†Ė listen in silence to fresh insults?Ē
ďI think you did the only possible thing.Ē
ďThen why did you refuse to bear out my statement?Ē
ďThere were reasons. May I see that letter now?Ē
ďHave you come of your own accord?Ē she asked.
Evelyn fighting for the man she loved was a very different girl from the proud, disdainful Evelyn who, twentyĖfour hours earlier, would have endured almost any infliction rather than flout her adversary in a public diningĖroom. She credited Rosamund with the adoption of any petty device to gain her ends, and felt that Fairholme was just the man to be used as a stalkingĖhorse.
ďNo,Ē he said, ďor rather, yes Ė and no. I am anxious to know the truth, but Baumgartner suggested that I ought to accept your offer of reading the evidence. Donít you see, he has to consider the future a bit.Ē
ďIn what way?Ē
ďWell, if Mrs. Laing stole a letter in his house, she Ė itís a jolly hard thing to say Ė but she must be warned off.Ē
Baumgartner as a guardian of morals was a new conception. Evelyn felt that a more powerful foe than Rosamund was in the field. Her unimportant romance had suddenly widened out into the worldĖdomain of politics. She must decide quickly and decide right. In that vital moment she realized that her postscript to the Lochmerig letter might have consequences far beyond their effect on Wardenís fortunes and her own.
ďLord Fairholme,Ē she said, turning so that she could watch the slightest change in the expression of his face, ďdoes Mr. Baumgartner strike you as a man who would go out of his way to interfere in a dispute between two women?Ē
ďNot unless there was money in it,Ē said Fairholme cheerfully.
ďThen why is he showing such interest now in a matter which he deliberately closed at luncheon?Ē
ďI gave you his explanation. Even Baumgartner likes to associate with people of good character.Ē
ďNo, that is not the reason. Mr. Baumgartner is engaged at this moment in a plot against British dominion in West Africa. You see that cruiser in the harbor? Well, she is here to watch the Sans Souci. You yourself heard toĖday that our party is going to Europe by the mail steamer. Why, when the Sans Souci is at our disposal? I will tell you. The British authorities believe that the yacht will help, or further in some way, a native rising in Southern Nigeria. Now, the letter in my possession, read by any one who could extract its inner meaning, would yield a valuable clue to the amount of information at the disposal of the home government. If you, without knowing this, answered Mr. Baumgartnerís questions as to its contents, you would be doing the gravest injury to Great Britain.Ē
ďBy gad!Ē exclaimed Fairholme.
ďYou can easily assure yourself that I am not exaggerating the facts. Here is the letter. Read it, and remember what I have told you.Ē
Fairholme pursed his lips and bent his brows in deep mental effort. He held the letter in his hand unopened during this unusual and seemingly painful process. Then he gave it back to Evelyn.
ďNo, Miss Dane,Ē he said emphatically. ďIím far too candid an ass to be laden with state secrets. Now, if you wouldnít mind just pickiní out the bits that refer to Mrs. Laing, aní skippiní all the political part, Iíll be able to bounce old Baumgartner for all heís worth.Ē
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