The MessageŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďPeter,Ē he said, ďyouíre a firstĖclass pilot, but neither you nor any other man can look far into the future, eh?Ē
ďNo, sir,Ē came the prompt answer, ďthatís a sea without charts or soundinís aní full of everlastiní fog. But sometimes one can do a bit oí guessiní, aní thatís wot Iíve bin doiní since Chris tole me he saw you aní the young leddy aĖdriviní in a keb!Ē
Mr. Isidore David Baumgartner was in a state of high good humor. After wasting many hundreds of cartridges he had actually shot a driven grouse. True, the method of slaughter amounted almost to a crime. Traveling fast and low before the wind, the doomed bird flew straight toward the butts. Baumgartner closed his eyes, fired both barrels Ė the first intentionally, the second from sheer nervousness Ė and a cloud of feathers, out of which fell all that was left of legs, wings, and body, showed how a gallant moorcock had met his fate.
ďThereís a clean hit for you, Sandy,Ē cried the little man delightedly. ďItís all knack. I knew I could do it, once I got the hang of it.Ē
ďMan, but ye stoppit him,Ē replied Sandy, who doled out encouragement with a sour grin. The shattered carcass lay in full view on a tuft of heather. Two ounces of shot had riddled it at a distance of ten feet.
ďI suppose the second barrel was hardly necessary,Ē said Baumgartner, more critically.
ďItís best to makí sure,Ē said the sardonic gillie, ďbut now yeíve got yer Ďee in, as the sayiní is, mebbe yeíll be droppiní ithers, Mr. Baumgartner.Ē
He held forth the spare gun as a hint. Grouse were plentiful at Lochmerig, and three other men in the line of shelters were busy. Baumgartner forthwith excelled himself. Just as a novice at Monte Carlo may achieve several winning coups in succession, so did fortune favor one whom nature had not designed as a sportsman. He shot with blind confidence, and brought down half a dozen birds while they came sailing over the crest of the hill before a strong breeze that brought them to close range. That he rendered them for the most part uneatable did not trouble him in the least. Sport was merely slaying to him; his only trophies previously were some tame pigeons secured for practice.
So Baumgartner was well content. As he trudged down the brae to Lochmerig Lodge, discoursing learnedly to his companions anent the ďstoppingĒ qualities of his eightyĖguinea pair of guns, his eyes roved over the beauties of loch and glen, and the dayĖdream that it would be well to pass the remainder of his days in this quiet haven cast its spell on his soul. Rich as he was, he owned no home except a garish mansion in New York. His career had been meteoric, full of lurid energy. Beginning with the lust of money, he had followed the beaten track of his order, and became obsessed with the lust of power. Yet his ambition needed spurring. Already the tremendous issues involved in the project which procured him the condescending patronage of an emperor were revealing their dangers.
Here, in Scotland, surrounded by subservient friends and wellĖtrained servants, he longed for rest. Lairdship was proving a subtle rival to West African adventure.
Moreover, he was married, and Mrs. Baumgartner was endowed with a will of her own and a tongue to bear witness thereto. She was learning to appreciate the easy tolerance of English society, which proved itself far more accessible than the Four Hundred of New York. Men and women of recognized social rank and pleasant manners were quite willing to shoot over the Lochmerig moors, play bridge in the Lodge, cruise on the Sans Souci, and generally live and amuse themselves at the millionaireís expense. Mrs. Baumgartner was shrewd enough to see that the gain of a big slice of British territory in West Africa would offer poor compensation for the loss of the new career which was opening up an alluring vista to her dazzled gaze. For once, therefore, discord threatened in the household. In her daughter, too, she found a powerful ally. A month of close companionship with Evelyn Dane had completely changed the lifeĖtheories of a spoiled and affected girl of eighteen. Too young as yet to be jealous of Evelynís greater attractions, Beryl Baumgartner was alert enough to see that vulgar pertness was ludicrously inadequate as a means of winning male regard. Luckily, she became enthusiastically attached to Evelyn from the first hour. The wonderful faculty of heroĖworship had survived the precocity of a tooĖindulgent rearing. It was stronger now than mere counsel. Beryl began to copy her new friend, and at once she began to improve.
It was, therefore, a very dark cloud that lowered over the Baumgartner sky when a family coach which brought visitors from the ten miles distant railway deposited at the hospitable door of Lochmerig Lodge, at one and the same moment, Mrs. Laing, Miguel Figuero, and Count von Rippenbach. As it happened, the three already knew each other slightly. They had met in Madeira during the previous winter. Figuero then acted as bearĖleader to the count before he started on the hunting trip in the Tuburi hinterland which had come to the Under Secretaryís knowledge.
It was a surprise to both men when they encountered Mrs. Laing at Perth Junction. They passed several interesting hours in her company, and von Rippenbach, who spoke English better than Figuero, was a skilled crossĖexaminer. Thus, he soon hit upon a plausible explanation of the ladyís appearance in InvernessĖshire. She was one of Mrs. Baumgartnerís social links with England. On his part, as a ďdistinguished foreigner,Ē he would be acceptable in a higher circle than that occupied by his host, but, when it came to Figuero, Mrs. Laing was puzzled Ė indeed, somewhat amused.
The manís record was no secret. Tolerant Madeira did not ask how he had risen to seeming affluence. It helped him to spend his money, and was graciously blind to the darker pages of his history Ė nevertheless, those pages were an open book to local gossips.
Figuero, a shrewd and levelĖheaded scoundrel, was the most taken aback of the trio at this unlookedĖfor meeting. He was aware of the love passages between Warden and Rosamund Laing; he feared Warden; and here was the woman whom Warden had once loved crossing his path at an awkward hour.
The situation might have provided harmless interest for a number of unimportant people at Lochmerig if Figuero had not recognized Evelyn Dane the instant he set eyes on her. Straightway the tiny rills of intrigue and suspicion flowing through the adventurerís brain united into a torrent.
Seizing the first opportunity that presented itself, he drew Baumgartner into an unoccupied room, and closed and locked the door. Before the surprised millionaire could utter a word of protest, the West African fireĖbrand began to question him in his own tongue, since Baumgartner, despite his Teutonic label and semblance, had a Portuguese mother.
ďWhy did you fail to recognize the girl I described to you in Cowes?Ē he demanded fiercely. ďMalediction! Are you mad, that you would risk our enterprise in this fashion?Ē
ďYou must neither address me in that manner nor talk in riddles,Ē growled Baumgartner. ďWhat girl? How am I to know one among the ten thousand girls of a regatta week?Ē
ďRiddles! It is you who are the conundrum, senhor. I tell you that this Englishman, Captain Warden, a Deputy Commissioner in Nigeria, is the man we have most to fear, yet you permit one who is probably his fianc?e, and surely in league with him, to live in your house and spy on the actions of yourself and your friends. What will Count von Rippenbach think when I tell him? What will the Emperor say, after all the precautions we took that none should know Ė Ē
ďSilence!Ē roared Baumgartner, who could hold his own in matters that demanded clear thinking and careful guidance. ďYou are too ready with some names, Senhor Figuero, yet too sparing of others that may explain your folly. Of whom are you speaking?Ē
ďOf the young Englishwoman I have just met, of course. I am not good at catching these strange words, but I mean the goodĖlooking one, the tall slim girl in white muslin, she with brown hair and Madonna eyes Ė Ē
ďDo you mean Miss Dane?Ē
ďYes Ė that is she. I remember now.Ē
ďMy daughterís companion! Nonsense!Ē
ďIt is true, I tell you. Am I likely to forget a face Ė and such a face! Did I not describe her dress? She must have left your yacht just before Warden met her. And they are lovers. How can I be mistaken? They went away from Cowes in the same train. I told you her destination. What was it? I have it written here,Ē and he hurriedly turned over the leaves of a noteĖbook.
Baumgartner was undoubtedly impressed. Figueroís earnestness was not to be gainsaid, and he had an unpleasant belief, now he came to recall the incidents of a busy day, that Evelyn Dane was dressed exactly as Wardenís unknown acquaintance was pictured.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese found the memorandum he sought.
ďHere it is,Ē he snapped, all aĖquiver with the doubts that threatened the destruction of his pet scheme of vengeance on the British power which had stopped the supply of slaves to the Sultan of Bogota. ďLangton in Oxfordshire Ė that is the place. The railway official spelt it for me. A boatman told me he knew the girl, and gave me some outlandish name as being hers. Now I see he was fooling me. What was his motive? Was he also an emissary of Wardenís? Let me assure you, senhor, this thing begins to look ugly.Ē
Baumgartnerís heavy jowl lost some of the ruddy hue of the moors. Count von Rippenbach had been ready enough to apply the screw when his quondam confederate showed a degree of hesitancy in falling in with the proposal he came from London to make, and this latest complication would strengthen von Rippenbachís hands beyond resistance. Already the lairdship of Lochmerig was becoming visionary, and the farĖoff hills of interior Africa grew more substantial in their dim outlines.
But the millionaire, though he might toady to a Scottish gillie for a crumb of recognition as a marksman, had not attained his present position by displaying weakness in face of a crisis.
ďI believe you are the victim of a delusion,Ē he said, with some show of dignity, ďbut, even if you are right, we gain nothing by yielding to panic. What if Miss Dane is, as you say, Wardenís belle amie? Why should that be harmful? Does it not explain his visit to Cowes? Indeed, once we are convinced that they know each other, we can turn the circumstance to our own purpose. I am far from crediting an insignificant official of the Niger Company with the importance you seem to attach to him, but, granted he is a hostile influence to be feared, why not stalk him through an unsuspecting agent?Ē
ďYou donít rate him high enough,Ē muttered Figuero. ďHe can sway those stupid niggers like no other man in Nigeria. He talks Arabic, and Hausa, and krooboy palaver as well as I do. He broke the Oku juĖju when it was worth a thousand lives to touch a stick or a feather. If Warden gets wind of our project before we are ready, we will fail, and you realize what that means to all of us.Ē
A dinner gong came to Baumgartnerís aid. He wished to avoid any discussion on the last point raised by the Portuguese. It bristled with thorns. Von Rippenbach revealed some of its cactusĖlike properties earlier in the evening.
ďYou and I and the Count will go into other matters fully toĖmorrow,Ē he said. ďAs for Miss Dane, I shall clear up that difficulty without delay. Act as though you had never seen her before, and keep your ears open during dinner.Ē
So it came to pass that Evelyn, who was mightily astonished and perplexed by the arrival of the two men concerning whom Warden had told her so much, was still more bewildered when Mr. Baumgartner availed himself of a lull in the conversation at the dinnerĖtable to say casually:
ďBy the way, Miss Dane, is Langton, in Oxfordshire, near your peopleís place?Ē
ďYes,Ē she said, wondering what the question signified.
ďI suppose, then, you passed through it on your way home after quitting the Sans Souci at Cowes?Ē
ďOh, yes. Langton is our station.Ē
ďAh! What a small world it is! A friend of mine, Mr. James G. Hertz, of Boston, is staying there now. I suppose you did not chance to meet him?Ē
ďNo. Our village is three miles away, and that is a long distance in the country.Ē
And, in truth, Mr. James G. Hertz, of Boston, who was buried in Boston, could tell of yet more impassable gulfs.
Rosamund Laing was sitting next to Figuero. She noticed the eager attention with which he followed this trivial bit of talk, though his limited knowledge of English rendered most of the lively chatter at the table unintelligible.
ďWere you in Cowes during the regatta week, Senhor Figuero?Ē she asked.
It was a reasonable deduction from his presence at Lochmerig, but she little guessed the devilish purpose engendered in that alert brain by her aimless inquiry. The Portuguese felt that he was at a disadvantage among the gay throng gathered under Baumgartnerís roof. His nimble wits were dulled by the barrier of language. It put him outside the pale. Things might be occurring which he ought to know, but which were hidden from him owing to this drawback. In the beautiful woman by his side he might find an excellent goĖbetween if only he could command her interest. Was that old flame quite quenched in her heart, he mused? She had married a rich man, but had she forgotten Ė did any woman ever forget Ė her first love? He thought not. At any rate, here was an opening provided by the gods.
ďI lib for Cowes oneĖtime, senora,Ē he murmured, ďaní I see sometíing dere dat I tell you if you not vexed.Ē
ďWhy should I be vexed?Ē she said, smiling at the odd expressions, though she was quite conversant with the lingua franca of the coast.
ďYou Ďmember dem Captain Warden?Ē
ďOf course I do.Ē
ďAní you keep secret dem tíing I tell you?Ē
ďWhere Captain Wardenís affairs are concerned, I shall certainly not discuss him or them.Ē
Figuero paid no heed to the intentional snub.
ďYou understaní better wíen I tole you dem secret. You promise not speak Ďim any one?Ē
ďWell Ė yes.Ē
ďHe fit for marry dem Mees Dane.Ē
ďDonít be idiotic.Ē
Mrs. Laing could not help it. She was so startled that she raised her voice, and more than one of her neighbors wondered what the sallowĖfaced stranger had said that evoked the outburst. Figuero looked annoyed. He was not prepared for such vehement repudiation of his news. Fortunately, the Honorable Billy Thring was giving a realistic account of his failure to secure an heiress during a recent wifeĖhunting tour in America Ė he tried lots of Ďem, he explained, but they all said he must kill off at least one brother and two healthy nephews before they would risk marryiní a prize dude like him Ė so Rosamundís emphatic cry passed almost unheeded amidst the laughter evoked by Thringís exploits.
ďYou fit for chop,Ē muttered the Portuguese sarcastically. ďYou fit for fool palaver. You plentyĖmuch silly woman.Ē
ďBut what you say cannot be true,Ē she half whispered, and the manís astute senses warned him that it was dread, not contempt, that drew the protest from her lips.
ďI fit for tell you Warden make wife palaver wid dem girl at Cowes. If you no bílieve me, make sofí mouf aní ax Mees Dane.Ē
Then the woman remembered Wardenís anxiety to return to the Isle of Wight. He had not written to her or to Lady Hilbury during the past month, and this fact, trivial as a pinĖprick before, now became a rankling wound.
ďYou keep dem secret?Ē went on Figuero, watching her closely.
ďWhy did you tell me?Ē she retorted.
ďCoss I no want Warden marry dem girl. Savvy?Ē
ďDo you want to marry her yourself?Ē she asked, with a bitterness that showed how deeply she was hurt.
He grinned, and wetted his thin lips with his tongue.
ďYou tíink I tired goiní by lone?Ē he said.
ďWhat is your motive? Why do you choose me as a confidant?Ē
Figuero suddenly became dense.
ďI tell you leetle bit news,Ē he said. ďDat is English custom. Wíen we chop oneĖtime palaver set. But you no say Figuero tole you dem tíing.Ē
Rosamund did not reply. She endeavored to eat, and entered into conversation with a man near her. The Honorable Billy was ending his story.
ďSo I am still eligible,Ē he was saying. ďI went to America full of hot air, and came back with cold feet. But I learned the language Ė eh, what?Ē
That night, in the drawingĖroom, Mrs. Laing carried out the opening move in a campaign she had mapped out for herself. If Figueroís story were true, she would smite and spare not. If it were untrue, Evelyn would be the first to deny it, and Rosamund trusted to her own intuition to discover how far such denial might be credited.
A man who was talking to Evelyn was summoned to a bridge table, and Rosamund took his place unobtrusively.
ďThen you really were on board the Sans Souci at Cowes, Miss Dane?Ē she began, with a friendly smile.
ďYes,Ē said Evelyn, at a loss to determine why her brief sojourn in the Solent should attract such widespread attention.
ďAnd you met Captain Warden there?Ē
The attack was so direct and unexpected that the younger woman blushed and flinched from it. Still, she was not to be drawn into admissions like a frightened child.
ďI met several people on the island,Ē she said. ďCowes is a crowded place during regatta week.Ē
ďOh, come now,Ē purred the smiling Rosamund, ďone does not forget a man of Arthur Wardenís type so readily Ė and after a violent flirtation, too! You see, I know all about it. Little birds whisper these things. Arthur did not tell me when he came to see me in town. Of course, he wouldnít, but there are always kindĖhearted people willing enough to gossip if they think they are annoying one.Ē
There was sufficient innuendo in this brief speech to justify Mrs. Laingís worst estimate of scandalĖmongers. Not one barbed shaft missed its mark. If words could wound, then Evelyn must have succumbed, but the injuries they inflict are not always visible, and she kept a stiff upper lip, though her heart raced in wild tumult.
ďThe inference is that you are far more interested in Captain Wardenís visits to Cowes than I or any other person can pretend to be,Ē she said slowly.
She meant the coldĖdrawn phrase to hurt, and in that she succeeded, though her own voice sounded in her ears as if it had come from afar.
ďWell, perhaps you ought to be told that he and I are engaged,Ē said Rosamund, stung to a sudden fury of lying. ďDonít imagine I bear malice. You are sweetly pretty, and Arthur is so susceptible! But he is also rather thoughtless. We were pledged to each other years ago, but were kept apart by Ė by a motherís folly. Now I am free, and he came back to me, though I had to insist that at least a year should elapse between my husbandís death and the announcement of our engagement. All our friends know our sad story, and would forgive some measure of haste, but one has to consider the larger circle of the public.Ē
Then, indeed, Evelynís blood seemed to chill in her veins. The room and its occupants swam before her eyes, and the pain of repression became almost unbearable, yet she was resolved to carry off the honors in this duel unless she fainted.
ďI gather that you are warning me against Captain Wardenís thoughtlessness, as you term it?Ē she said, compelling each word at the bayonetís point, as it were.
ďOh, I was not speaking seriously, but we can let it go at that.Ē
ďAnd you wish me to understand that you are his promised wife?Ē
ďThere, at least, I am most emphatic,Ē and Rosamund laughed, a trifle shrilly, perhaps, for a woman so well equipped with the armor of selfĖconceit.
ďI suppose, then, that the late Mr. Laing has been dead a year, as I form one of that larger circle whose favorable opinion you court?Ē
For an instant Rosamundís black eyes flashed angrily. She had expected tears and faltering, not resistance.
ďI only meant to do you a good turn, yet on the raw,Ē she sneered.
ďPray do not consider me at all. By your own showing, I have no grievance Ė no locus standi, as the lawyers say Ė but, since you have gone out of your way to give a mere stranger this interesting information, I wish to be quite sure of the facts. For instance, let us suppose that I have the honor of Captain Wardenís acquaintance Ė am I at liberty to write and congratulate him?Ē
ďThat would place me in a false position.Ē
ďAh. Is there nothing to be said for me? You spoke of a Ďviolent flirtation,í I think. If I may guess at the meaning of a somewhat crude phrase, it seems to imply a possible exchange of loversí vows, and one of the parties might be misled Ė and suffer.Ē
ďWe women are the sinners most frequently.Ē
ďI do not dispute your authority, Mrs. Laing. I only wish to ascertain exactly what I am free to say to Captain Warden?Ē
ďTell him you met me, and that I am well posted in everything that occurred at Cowes. And, for goodnessí sake, let me see his reply. It will be too killing to read Arthurís verbal wrigglings, because he is really clever, donít you think?ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ