MoboReader> Literature > Hell's Hatches


Hell's Hatches By Lewis R. Freeman Characters: 66650

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

It was two o'clock when I began powdering and screening the yellow-hued inner lining of my sea shells. Subconsciously, I must have set three in my mind as the time my caller would come, for it was not until that hour that I ceased my absorbingly interesting labours and looked at my watch. So far as I can recall, I felt no concern one way or the other. I simply noted that the hour had gone by without bringing my expected visitor, and went back to my work.

As a matter of fact, having just made a most gratifying discovery, I was rather glad that the interruption had not come. I had isolated a new and wonderful colour-a dark coppery gold that I had yearned for every time I saw sunlight filtering through brine onto the gently undulating leaves of reef-rooted kelp. Now I had it; and it was not an accident-I could do it again. By standing on edge a fragment of one of the big bivalves I was experimenting with, I discovered that a sharp blow with the side of my pestle caused the thinnest of chips to fly from its enamel-like lining. These, glassily translucent as they fell, when reduced in the mortar gave a warm, almost glowing powder of exactly the hue I sought. Now if I could only devise a way of mixing it effectively....

So well were my innermost faculties set to respond to that expected knock, that, when it came, not even the mazes of exultant speculation in which my discovery had set my brain-my outward wits-to wandering, prevented instant ganglionic reaction. I didn't have to think. That had all been done an hour before, and the necessary orders given. At the alarm, these had only to be carried out as prearranged. My legs and arms simply obeyed the directions that had been registered for them in some convenient little nerve-knots strung along my spinal column. That carried me, stepping softly, out of the bathroom, through the bedroom, and past the middle of the sitting-room, well beyond the direct line of vision of anyone opening the door from the hall. It was a position from which I must see anyone coming in before he was able to locate me. The rest of the order-carried out simultaneously-had to do with laying the pestle lightly on the bathroom table and thrusting the hand that had been wielding it deep into the right-hand pocket of my old shooting jacket.

In the second or two that it had taken me to reach the middle of the sitting-room from the bathroom, my wits had relinquished their rainbow dreams and were back on their workaday job. They it was which, now the limit of ganglionic action had been reached, stepped in and took command. It was not from nervousness that I swallowed once and flashed my tongue across my lips before speaking. I only wanted to be sure my voice was as firm as I knew the resolution directing it to be. Speaking sharply, but in a tone not above the ordinary, I said: "Come in, Allen!"

Among the several little surprises in store for me in the course of the next few minutes, not the least came when the man on the other side of the door coughed and cleared his throat as his hand began to turn the knob. I was just telling myself that such palpable symptoms of nervousness were very unlike "Slant" Allen to display, when the door swung inwards and "Slant" Allen stepped into the room. Allen, but not the Allen I had known. Absolutely nerved to readiness as I was, the contrast of this flushed, slightly embarrassed, almost diffident young chap and the ruthless, cold-blooded badman I had made every preparation-physical and mental-to meet came nigh to taking me aback. It was like clambering up out of a companionway, all set for a hurricane sweeping the deck-and finding it calm. For an instant my jaw must have come near to sagging in the amazement that swept over me. I pulled myself together quickly, though, and if Allen noticed my momentary lapse, he gave no sign of it.

He was the first to speak. "So you were expecting me?" he said, but not as though greatly surprised.

"Ra-ther," I replied with emphasis. "Look at this!" and I pulled out the revolver from my right-hand pocket, released the hair-trigger adjustment, slid the safety-catch, and laid it on the table by the window. I would not have been guilty of such an obvious act of bravado had not my preternaturally acute senses told me that, so far as Allen was concerned at least, there was not going to be any occasion to use the weapon. That feeling persisted even when, as Allen turned slightly in the act of closing the door, I noticed a very perceptible bulge where the flimsy corner of his pongee coat swept his lean right flank. The instant he entered the room I knew that, whatever motives had brought him there, the intention of trying to kill me was not among them. Scarcely less strong were my doubts that I would be able to establish any valid grounds for killing him. My old sneaking liking for certain things about the debonair rascal was not dead.

He grinned appreciatively at the sight of the gun, and then, with a perfunctory "You don't mind, do you?" stepped over and picked it up. I watched him without misgivings, my mind still busy adjusting itself to the new aspect.

"Was that the toy you used the day you put a bullet hole through the crown of my new hundred-dollar Payta hat?" he asked, fingering the exquisitely turned barrel admiringly. "My own fault, of course. I egged you on by expressing some doubts of your ability to do it from your jacket pocket. This looks like ..."

"Same gun-same jacket-new pocket," I cut in laconically; adding: "I was prepared to repeat the operation just now-with about half a finger less elevation on the muzzle."

It was the real old Allen grin that opened out as the significance of those concluding words sunk home. Not the mocking smirk which had curled his lips so much of the time, but a good, broad, healthy grin that betokened genuine inward enjoyment. The fellow-I had remarked it before-had a really keen and inclusive sense of humour-even inclusive enough to permit his hearty participation in a laugh that was on himself. But that irritating sneer (which had died on his lips as a full realization of Bell's bigness in giving him his choice of going on the Cora or remaining at Kai came to him)-that sneer, with the amused contempt for all the world it connoted, did not reappear. Indeed, I am not sure that I ever saw it again. Had there been some inward change in the man to dry up the fount of contempt from which that ironic smirk rose to his lips? I wasn't clear on that point yet: but certainly he had been profoundly shaken-deeply stirred.

Save for that expansive grin of real amusement, Allen made no comment on my implication that I had been waiting to send a bullet-a few inches below the crown of his hat. "Sweetest balanced little piece of light artillery I ever trained," he remarked inconsequentially, holding the revolver at arm's length and squinting along the sights to where his reversed image menaced back from the depths of a full-length mirror. He really admired the little gun-I could see that by the way his fist closed on the checked vulcanite grip, by the caressing touch of his forefinger on the locked trigger.

"Made to order by the S. and W. people for my father," I explained, trying to fall in with his mood as far as I could. If he had come to talk about revolvers-well, who in Australia knew more about them than I did? I continued:

"There's two or three of the Governor's own little gadgets on it, and one or two I had added myself. The one that I like best is that safety-catch.... Stranger can't release it till he's been shown how. You never can tell who may be picking up a gun that's left lying around, you know. You'll have to admit it would be doubly painful for a man to be plunked with his own revolver."

I couldn't for the life of me have refrained from that last little sally, and Allen seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. His broadened grin showed an extra tooth or two at each end as he relaxed his extended arm. "I haven't the least intention of trying to impose that indignity on you," he laughed. "Besides, you needn't fear that the significance of that sag in your left-hand pocket has been lost on me. Had me covered from there all the time, didn't you?"

"As a matter of fact, I had," I replied, beginning to grin myself; "but this confounded sawed-off Mauser automatic has an upkick that makes anything like delicate work quite out of the question. I could wing you with it from there, no doubt; but the job wouldn't be a pretty one-nothing that I could take any pride in."

I laid the stubby automatic on the table where the other weapon had been, saying that I always did hate the drag of a gun in my pocket. Then, letting my glance wander to the bulge on Allen's right hip, I added pointedly: "... especially when I can't see any immediate use ahead for it."

Either missing the point of that gentle hint, or else ignoring it completely, Allen went on playing with the little S. & W. Breaking it gently with practised hand, he studied with bent head the smooth, easy action of the automatic ejector. Just a bit more of a bend, and the six cartridges slid noiselessly forth and fell into his hand. He commenced shoving them back, one by one. It was the last, or the next to the last, of the greasy cylinders that slipped from his fingers, struck the floor and rolled under the table. I remarked with admiration the magnificent swell of the flexed saddle muscles as the thin pongee tightened over the bent thighs; the narrow hips, the lean, powerful back, the-

"Good God!"

The voice, hoarse with awe and surprise, was mine; but my own mother would hardly have recognized it. For an instant my quaking knees almost let me collapse to the floor; then my faltering inward control stiffened and clapped the brakes on my skidding nerves. By the time Allen, startled by my sudden exclamation, straightened up from his scramble after the still unretrieved cartridge, I had myself fully in hand again. I could not be sure whether his flush and quick breathing were from surprise or the stooping posture in which he had been.

"Did you speak, Whitney?" he asked, after running his eyes over the room and assuring himself that no one had entered. I held his eyes with my own till I was sure my voice was steadied. When I spoke, it was deliberately and evenly. "So Rona came back," I said.

The train of lightning mental processes by which I had arrived at that astonishing conclusion had not much of an edge on Allen's quick comprehension of what had started that train going. For only the briefest instant his eyes were blank with surprise. Then, with a look of complete understanding, he clapped a hand to the side of his neck and began smoothing straight the limp collar of his soft silk shirt. The ghost of what would have been a sheepish grin flickered up and died away, and to his face came something of that half-embarrassed, half-eager look that had sat upon it when he entered the room, as he said: "Yes, Rona has come back. That was one of the things I came to see you about. She-we-the both of us have a bit of a favour to ask of you."

Quite the master of myself now (and of the situation, too, I thought), I came back banteringly with: "If it's that red, white and blue neck of yours you want tied up, I have one of B. and W.'s little First Aid cases in my bag...."

It was the shockingly torn and bruised neck that had been revealed when Allen's collar had slipped back as he stooped to recover the rolling cartridge that set my swift train of thought going. This must have been something of the order of it, but electrically rapid of action: Lacerated neck-old Chinaman at Ponape whose neck was scratched when Rona ran away from him-Rona a specialist in neck-scratching-probably scratched Allen's neck (Question-Was it done in the course of one of the attacks she was known to have made upon him on the Cora?)-Could not have been done on the Cora, as they had left her over two weeks ago and these half-healed scratches were not over five or six days old.-Hence, Rona had scratched Allen's neck inside of the last week, and, therefore, could not have drowned herself in Ross Creek a fortnight ago. Conclusion-Rona has come back.

It had taken not over a second or two for my quickened mind to run that devious course, and Allen's must have covered a good part of it in even less time. The wits of the both of us were keenly on edge. There could not but have been a fine display of sparks had he been in his wonted aggressive mood. But he had not come for fighting, physical or mental, it seemed. He had come to ask a favour-"for the both of us."

"For the both of us!" The significance lurking in those words had eluded me for a moment in the sudden adjustment my mind was called upon to make in coming to a realization of the fact that Rona-the lissome lovely Rona-was not dead-that the bright flame of her was unquenched after all. But: "a favour for the both of us!" A sudden chill checked and throttled the thrill that had started to flood my being. "A favour for both of us!" "So-Bell dead-'Slant' Allen takes the girl in the end!" I said to myself. Then, the echo of Kai's estimate of Allen's track strategy: "An easy starter but a hell of a finisher, 'Slant'. Don't worry about what he's doing when the starting flag drops; watch him head into the stretch." "... head into the stretch," I repeated to myself. "Then what about the finish? Is he already under the wire?"

These thoughts, like the train preceding them, must have flashed through my mind very quickly, for it was Allen's voice replying to my badinage about First Aid for his lacerated neck that brought me out of them.

"The neck's doing very well, thank you," he was saying, "considering that its windpipe was closed for all of sixty seconds, and that most of the hide was clawed off from it all the way round."

That was really very interesting intelligence, but my mind, deep in another channel, was quite incapable of compassing the significance of it for the moment.

"So you've landed the girl after all," I said woodenly, cursing myself inwardly for the gallery play that had left both guns beyond my reach. For of course he had deliberately put Bell out of the running-shouldered him in the stretch.... Reviving suspicions brought also a realization of what it was up to me to do, now that there was no longer doubt....

"That depends very largely upon you." Allen's quick reply cut short further conjecture.

"Depends upon me?" I interrupted incredulously. "What do you mean by that? Oh, I see. Now that you've put Bell out of the way, perhaps you think that I, as his closest friend, ought to-to distribute his estate, so to speak. If that is the way you figure it, let me tell you that all the distributing you can count on me for will take the form of spraying lead over your worthless hide. You won't mind handing me one of those guns, will you? I don't mind which."

It would have been sheer madness-straight suicide,-that outburst, had Allen been moved by the least desire to get me out of his way. I have never been quite able to make up my mind as to whether it was my instinctive feeling that he had no such desire that prompted me to take more leeway than prudence-nay, the commonest motive of self-preservation-would have dictated; or whether I simply lost my head-let my feelings get away with me. It may well have been the latter, for shocks had been crowding pretty thick, and it was hardly to be expected that the gears of my self-control wouldn't slip a cog now and then under the strain.

Allen's brows drew together in a black scowl for a brief space, and his eyes contracted and grew hard as steel. Then, slowly, the scowl smoothed out, leaving only a deep flush behind it. It was not replaced by his former look of anxious embarrassment, however. Rather his expression was one of a serious, controlled determination.

"That matter of my putting Captain Bell out of the way, as you choose to phrase it," he said sharply, "is one of the things I called to talk with you about. Since you've stated so plainly what you intend to do about it-assuming it's a fact,-perhaps it would be in order to take it up before-before the other matter. As for these pistols.... Since they're yours, help yourself to both of them." Stepping back from the table, well out of reach of the guns, he added: "But I'd rather appreciate it if you could see your way to refraining from using them until I'm through with what I've got to say; after that ..." (he gave his shoulders an indifferent shrug) "it's up to you. Do what you think best with them. I don't want them-neither one of them."

"Of course not," I sneered. "Quite naturally, you'd prefer to use your own. Quite right, too. Get it out of your hip-pocket while you've got a chance. That's a new chum's way of carrying a gun, anyhow. I'm just a bit surprised to see a practised killer like Mister 'Slant' Allen resorting to it. No chance in the world to make an even break of it with a man with a gun in his side-pocket. Tail of your coat's always getting mixed up with your fingers just when you want to use them."

Allen had braced himself after my first taunt came so near to getting him going, and this second one-galling as it must have been-hardly moved him. Only the faintest flutter of a corrugation between the brows told that another scowl had been repressed. The half-surprised tap he gave to the bulge on his hip-a gesture that would most certainly have drawn a shot from me had I had a gun in hand-suggested that he really had forgotten that there was anything there. I am positive that I could have grabbed a revolver from the table and beaten him to it on the draw. A move so na?ve on the part of an old gunman convinced me, even before he had spoken a word, that I had let my feelings send me off at half-cock.

"I haven't a pistol in my hip-pocket," he said evenly. "Never did carry one there, and wouldn't be likely to begin it if I was going gunning for a specialist like you. You'll have to take my word for that. Yes, and since I'm going to ask you to take my word-my unsupported word-for a number of other things, it may be in order to try to make you believe that my word, when I give it to you straight, isn't quite-that it isn't on just the same plane with the rest of my doings."

I was just a bit surprised that he didn't take out whatever it was that created that bulge in his hip-pocket, but hardly reckoned it worth while mentioning. I was fully assured that, far from seeking trouble, it was the one thing he had steadfastly resolved to avoid. That was enough for the moment. He was also about to speak of the one thing I was interested in above all others-the doping of Bell. There was every reason why I should encourage him to speak of that. The matter of Rona would come up in due course. He evidently had something to say about her also.

"Sit down," I said, and extended my cigarette case.

He declined my fat gold-tipped Egyptians, heavily salted with kief (another accursed habit I had picked up in Paris), and lighted a slender Sumatra cheroot from his own case. It was not as a move of precaution (I was through with all pretence of that now) that I set the big lounging chair I shoved up for him so that he would sit facing the light. I merely wanted to watch his face. Yet even that was not necessary to satisfy me of his sincerity, at least for the moment. His every tone and gesture was sufficient proof of that.

"In the matter of the value of my word...." Allen was losing no time in getting to the point. "In the time you have spent mooching about the Islands, Whitney, you have doubtless heard me referred to by a good many hard names, such as pirate, murderer, thief, blackguard, jail-bird, crook, and so on without end. You've heard all of these, haven't you?"

"All, and many others," I assented readily. His frankness rather appealed to me just then.

"Quite right. Yet I dare say you didn't happen to hear the name of liar included among the number. If you did, it was used by some cove who had a grudge against me, and didn't care whether he stuck to facts or not. I don't mean that I haven't put over a lot of crooked deals in my time, nor that I haven't come out with a gratuitous falsehood now and then when it suited my purpose. I don't claim to be a George Washington. But I do mean just this: that when I have deliberately assured a man that a thing was, or was not so, I was giving him the dead straight of it to the best of my knowledge. And that's the way I'm speaking when I tell you that I haven't a revolver on me, and that that dope I slipped into Bell's whisky at Kai had nothing to do with his playing out on the voyage. As for the reason of that ..."

Allen frowned slightly and ceased speaking for a few seconds. When he resumed it was not to take up the thread where he had dropped it.

"I don't know whether you'll have difficulty in believing it or not, Whitney," he went on after a half-dozen puffs at his slow-burning cheroot; "but this is the first time since I was packed out of Australia five years ago that I've tried to explain to anyone anything I've said or done-tried to make out a case for myself. That was simply because I didn't give a damn whether anyone approved of it or not. The reason I am doing it now-well, there are two reasons."

He puffed quietly for a few moments again, as though gathering his thoughts. Then he continued: "The first reason is that I owe it to you for the consideration you showed in the matter of not telling them at Kai what an ass I'd made of myself. That was dead white, Whitney. I've got to give it you for that. No one but a thoroughbred could have held his tongue for five minutes about a thing like that, especially seeing you were under no obligations of any kind whatever to me. And, for all I can learn, you've held your tongue for a month. How do I know? Well, I know about Kai (the only ones I care much about anyway) through a letter Jackson got off to me from Samarai-after he'd delivered you over to old 'Choppy' Tancred to bring south. Got it the night before I left Townsville. It wasn't much of a literary effort, but he managed to say a few things that-things that I knew he wouldn't have said if you had given them the facts-all the facts about my departure in the Cora. As for Australia.... If you had been dishing up any inside dope in this nest of old women and busybodies, no fear that it wouldn't have come to me before this. I know them. Their tongues will waft gossip from Melbourne to Port Darwin quicker'n the telegraph. My word, don't I know them!"

Quickened puffs registered the bitterness of unpleasant memories as Allen fell silent for a brief interval. "I'm not fool enough to believe that you kept quiet here out of any regard for me," he went on presently. "That wouldn't be it, for you haven't any. I don't blame you. As a matter of fact, I don't seriously care what Australia thinks anyway. I'm through with them here for good and all. But the Islands are different. The rest of my life, such as it is, is going to be lived there, and the only men I have ever had any great respect for are living there now. So, whatever reason there was behind it, Whitney, I'm deeply grateful to you for not showing me up in Kai. It was dead white of you.-I say it again. I've thought of it a good many times since I got Jack's scrawl, and it was the first thing I intended to speak to you about today. Only, my slate got a bit upset. That little gun of yours deflected my thoughts, and then-but you saw how I got forced off on another tack.

"The other reason" (Allen hurried on as though anxious to avoid hearing any observations I might feel impelled to make on what he had just said) "why I am going to the trouble of trying to clear up your suspicions in the matter of Bell's death is because, if I don't, there will be no hope of your granting the request I have come to make of you-and I can't run any chances of failure with that.

"I didn't want to kill Bell, but-well, it seems that I was equal to playing a damn dirty trick to get him out of the way. I won't need to tell you why. I hate to drag the girl into it, but it can't be helped. She must have bewitched me, I'm afraid. Not intentionally. Quite to the contrary, she never gave me a look. I admired Bell-in spite of his rather standoffish way with me-as much as any man I ever met. That was the only reason I held myself in about the girl as long as I did. I don't know just what would have happened if the schooner hadn't come. Chances are, since I was getting pretty near the limit of my self-control, I would have blown off some other way.

"The opportunity which I saw to get rid of Bell in the schooner was too great a temptation to be resisted. So far as getting him clean away with the Cora was concerned, I have only my own hot-headedness to blame for failing. I was simply asking for trouble when I went prancing down to take over the girl before the schooner even had her hook broken out; and I found it. No more than I deserved, though."

Allen paused while the old humorous grin spread over his face for a moment. Then: "I trust you won't mind if I don't go into details about how I came to put my head into the noose," he said, still grinning. "It wasn't very edifying, you know-from my standpoint, I mean.

"But it would have made no difference even if Bell had got away, while the girl and I remained behind on the island. She wouldn't have had anything to do with me anyway-at any rate, not while she had any reason to hope that Bell was still alive,-and probably she would have knifed me at the first chance for the part I had in getting him away. She would have found the chance, too, let me tell you. That girl creates her own opportunities-there's no holding her once she takes the bit in her teeth. What she wants to do, that thing she does. And what she wants a man to do for her, that thing he does. She'll put through what she's after if she has to go through hell for it-and no minding whom she takes with her."

The queer unnerved look on Allen's face drew my first interruption. "So it's come to that?" was all I said.

"Yes, it's come to that," he assented, the seriousness of his eyes belying the whimsical smile on his lips. "But I'll be returning to that presently.

"About that dope I gave Bell," he went on-"it was absolutely harmless. I bought the stuff in Macassar a few months ago, more out of curiosity than anything else. The old Sultan at Ternate had told me about it, and I was just a bit interested in its effects. It was pretty concentrated, though not a hundredth of the strength of the essence from the same plant that Rona took it for-the deadly poison, which has the same pungent smell. It was a considerable overdose of the stuff I took one night that put me on to the fact that, after a short spell of rather pleasant mental stimulation, it would drug a man to sleep for an hour or two. Hardly any after-effects at all, except a deuce of a thirst for liquor for a few days. I had talked about it with Doc Wyndham two or three times, and am perfectly certain of what I tell you.

"It was the only stuff I could lay hands on that promised to do the trick. You see, I was afraid that if Bell wasn't drugged, he would become suspicious when I failed to return to the schooner, and come to look for me-perhaps even chuck up the stunt entirely. If he hadn't been pretty drunk (much the furthest along I ever saw him-probably on account of the beastly heat-you remember it?) he must have sniffed the half-dozen drops I put in his half-emptied glass of whisky while he was conning that old chart he had on the wall. It was a light dose (I've taken twice that much myself), and though he went under jolly fast-due to his being so far gone with whisky, probably-he was up and taking command of the schooner inside of an hour. And you'll remember how he was going right on ahead getting under way to catch the tide, even though I hadn't returned. The best nerves I ever saw in a man, bar none, that chap had. Will of iron and eyes for nothing but the thing he set out to do. There was a lot in common between him and the girl on that score. No wonder they were so strong for each other."

Allen fell silent again, stroking his cheroot between thumb and forefinger-the habit the correspondents had characterized as a sign of modesty. "I hope you won't insist on my telling any more about the voyage than I have to in connection with Bell's death," he said at last. "I hate to speak of it at all. The thing is almost as much of a nightmare in memory as it was in fact. You saw how things were on the schooner when we got away. Well, just picture them getting worse and worse day by day for-how long was it?-something over a week, I believe, but it seemed a lifetime. The whisky I kept bracing up with made it a lot easier for me to stand-kept me from going crazy and jumping overboard, as so many of the niggers did. But Bell-he didn't have the whisky-wouldn't have it. Yes, he kept up that mad joke of his about being a 'soba skippa' to the end. That was what killed him-just that, and nothing else. It was beyond a being of flesh and blood to do what he set himself out to do-and live. He tried to (my God, how he tried!)-and died.

"I never felt such pity for any living thing, unless it was old Recoil, my first steeplechaser, when he lived for twenty-four hours after staving in his chest against a stone wall. I was hardly more than a kid then. I lay in the straw of his box all that time with his battered, bleeding frame, and swore I'd kill the first man that tried to shoot him. Then I pulled myself together and did the humane job myself. But I couldn't shoot Bell, and he wouldn't shoot himself. That would have been the easy way out (since he had steeled his will against taking another drink), but he wouldn't follow that short-cut either. Said he was-how did he put it?-'goin' to ride the wata wagon all the way to po't, an' then fall off good and plenty.' Some Yankee expression about keeping strict teetotal, wasn't it?

"It got to me worse than the crazy niggers-watching the agony of his mind and body contorting the muscles of his face, as he tried to hide what he was going through. The girl was a good deal of help to him for the first day or two, and he admitted that he was glad she had decided to join his 'li'l' pa'ty at the last minnit.' But even she failed to create a diversion as his cravings for whisky became more and more intense, and he seemed to try to avoid her as much as he could toward the last-probably because he couldn't hide his suffering from her. I saw that it was killing him-that he would never last out the voyage on the course he was heading,-and tried hard to make him see that it was only reasonable to allow himself at least enough whisky to ease off the tension on his breaking nerves. But he wouldn't listen to it.

"'I gave it out official,' he said, 'that I was goin' to keep soba on my next ship, if I eva got one. An' soba's the wo'd.' To put an end to the matter, he turned his back on me and went for'ard among the niggers.

"After that I tried to explain to Rona (I had managed to get on speaking terms with her as soon as she became satisfied that Bell had not been poisoned) how things stood, in the hope that she would fall in with a plan I had for giving him small doses of whisky with the coffee he had taken to drinking with increasing frequency as the craving for liquor grew on him. She flew into a temper at once, however. Said that, far from helping me to give him whisky on the quiet, she would taste every cup of coffee after it was poured for him in the galley, and then take it to him herself. She ended by saying that if I tried that trick she would knife me with her own hands: in fact, rather regretted that she hadn't done it when she had a chance at Kai. I couldn't for the life of me see why the girl should take that attitude, when it was so plain that whisky was the only thing that would pull Bell through; but take it she did, and that was the end of it, at least as far as co-operation from her was concerned, I mean. That simply left it up to me to watch my chances and do the best I could on my own.

"Bell had insisted on standing watch-and-watch with me from the first, usually, in his own watch, taking the wheel himself, probably because it gave him something to occupy his mind-and his hands. (He was beginning to tear the skin of the palms of his hands from clenching and unclenching his fingers.) What broke him finally was discovering that he was no longer fit for a trick at the wheel. His eyes went bad rapidly under the strain, and it was not long before he could not distinguish the readings on the compass card. He told me about it at once, but was confident he could manage to hold a course by the stars. This went on all right as long as it was clear. But one night, when it was squally and overcast, he lost the 'Cross' (which had been giving him a shifting but fairly approximate bearing), and fell back on trying to keep her a couple of points off the wind. This would have done all right if the Trade had held from the southeast. But it

hauled up to east in a squall, and Bell, following it around by the 'feel' of it on his face, had the schooner all but onto the Baluka Reef and shoal at daybreak. I let him extricate himself to save his feelings; but he knew that both the Bo'sun and I had twigged what had happened, and why, and it must have been the realization of the fact that he had become quite useless in navigating the ship that hastened the final collapse.

"He came on the following night for his watch-the 'graveyard,' from midnight to four in the morning,-but made no objection when I stuck on at the helm. We were closing the tangle of the Barrier Reef by then, you see, and it wouldn't have done to trust the wheel to a nigger. In fact, when I went on at eight the previous evening, it was practically the beginning of the thirty-six-hour trick at the wheel that ended when we anchored off Townsville.

"When Bell let me stay on at the wheel at midnight, he showed the first voluntary signs of giving in, not in the matter of closing his lips to whisky-nothing could affect his decision on that score,-but to the other alternative. I mean that he gave up hope of holding on till he had brought his ship to port-gave up hope of living to the end of the voyage. Up to that time he had always tried to pass the whole thing off as a sort of a joke, running on with patter like that about the 'wata wagon.' But he dropped all that from the moment I refused to give way to him at the wheel.

"'Youah quite right, Allen,' he said in a weary sort of voice, and went over and sat down on the rail of the cockpit. His voice was hollower still when he spoke again, maybe ten minutes later. 'Allen,' he croaked, 'I've got a hunch I'm not up to pullin' my weight in this heah schoona any longa. I'm all in-no mo'n so much ballast. Just a dead drag.'

"I didn't reply to that. I was too much awed-yes, awed-even to urge him again to take the drink I knew would be the saving of his mind-perhaps his life. He didn't speak again till after I roused him to prevent the main boom giving him a crack on the head as I put her about. (We were working through a nasty patch of broken coral-the outskirts of the Barrier-but scant seaway and fluky airs.) As he settled back on the weather rail of the cockpit he said, speaking very slow as though hard put to control his voice: 'Allen, I make it about two hundred miles to Townsville by youah noon position. Say thirty-six to forty hours' sailin', with the wind holdin' up. Do you reckon you an' Ranga-good man, Ranga-do you reckon you an' he ah up to pullin' it off alone? I'm-damn it all, I'm seem' hell-west-an'-crooked just as we hit the dirty navigatin' Allen, take my wud fo' it, this soba skippa stunt ain't all it's cracked up to be-not by a long shot. I'd rather ha' had the plague by a damn sight, Allen.'

"He wouldn't mention the other alternative-whisky-even then, and I simply didn't have the nerve to take advantage of the opening and suggest it to him outright. But I did what I thought was the best thing under the circumstances-waited for a stretch of open sailing, gave the wheel to a nigger, fished up a convenient bottle of whisky, and set it down just behind him against the cockpit rail. I didn't speak even then-just pressed his shoulder, tilted the neck of the bottle against his hand where it clutched the rail, and went back to the wheel.

"I had the feeling (and I still have) that I was doing the decent and humane thing, just as I did when I put old Recoil out of his misery; though the cases aren't quite parallel of course. But I knew it would force a crisis one way or the other, and that was what, in all sincerity, I thought was the kindest thing to do. If Bell drank (though it well might be that he would go on drinking until he fell in a stupor), it would surely save his life. What if he did get dead drunk? He wouldn't be any more useless in navigating the schooner than he was already. On the other hand, if he still refused to drink, the heightened temptation of the handy bottle would increase the tension and hasten the collapse of mind and body, which was now but a matter of a few hours at the outside. I think you'll agree with me, Whitney, that I did the kindest thing possible under the circumstances."

"I wouldn't venture an opinion on that offhand," I temporized; "but, in any event, it's the thing I would undoubtedly have done myself had I been in your place. There's no question in my mind on that point at least."

"I'm glad to hear you say that," he said warmly; "especially as there was one person-a rather important person to me-who didn't approve of my action.

"Bell's only acknowledgment of what I had done," Allen went on, "was a sort of disjointed muttering. 'Many thanks, ol' man. Nothin' doin'. Good intentions. Soba skippa to the fareyewell!' (I think that was the word). He shoved the bottle along out of easy reach, but didn't even make a bluff at throwing it over the side. I have an idea that the reason for his restraint on that score was due to the fact that he remembered I had told him that the supply was running low (I had been putting an awful crimp in it), and didn't want to deprive me of it. He was quite considerate enough to think of that sort of a thing, even with his senses toppling, as they must have been from the beginning of the watch.

"It was a moonless night, and heavily overcast, so that I could just make out the blur of Bell's head and shoulders against the deckhouse where he sat hunched up on the port rail of the cockpit. But there was a crack opening up in the beastly binnacle, and through it an inch-wide welt of light slashed diagonally across his tortured face. One eye, the side of his nose and half of his mouth were sharply lighted up. The rest was a shadowy blank. The vivid gash of light, like a magnet, kept drawing my gaze away from the compass. That one eye, wide and staring, never blinked in the bright beam. The nostril, distending and contracting jerkily, was red, like that of a horse that has been galloped to the point of death. The teeth looked to be clenched through the lower lip, and blood was trickling over the lighted streak of clean-shaven chin. Not all his sufferings had made him miss his morning shave. Almost like a rite with him, that was."

"Holdover from his Naval life," I suggested hastily, fearful less he should be tempted to digress upon irrelevant details.

"I don't know just when it was that the end came," Allen resumed. "I was expecting every moment that he would jump up and begin his restless pacings, as he had done on previous nights. But at six bells his position was still unchanged, and to blot out that beastly slash of light across his drawn face I threw a piece of canvas over the top and back of the binnacle, so that the beam from the crack was cut off. Just as the morning watch was called a nasty bit of a squall was threatening to bore in and give us a raking, though it finally passed astern of us and spun off down to leeward. My hands were full for some minutes preparing against the imminent onslaught, and it was not until the menace was past and I had taken over the wheel from Ranga (who had relieved me when I went for'ard to have a squint ahead for myself), that it struck me that Bell had been paying no attention whatever to all that had been going on-didn't appear to have shifted at all, in fact.

"I was just going to call to him to suggest that he go below and turn in for a spell, when the nigger on the lookout in the bows sung out 'breaka-dead ahead!' It was a near thing, but I managed to sheer off and avoid grounding on a patch of barely submerged coral, just becoming visible in the shimmer of the false dawn. As I knew that the main wall of the Great Barrier must be close at hand to lee, I was chary of letting her fall off very far in that direction. I had just ordered a man to stand-by to heave the lead at the first sign of shoaling water on the starboard bow, when the tail of my eye caught a glimpse of Rona stepping out on deck from the cabin companion way. (We had sulphured out the Agent's cabin and made it fairly comfortable for her use. It was out of the question her sleeping on deck, on account of the incessant squalls.) She headed straight for Bell, who was still hunched up on the weather rail of the cockpit, the outlines of his face just beginning to show in the ashy light of early morning.

"As her hand touched his shoulder she let out a shrill squeal and plumped down on her knees beside him. In doing this she must have bumped the whisky bottle, which had been rolling back and forth on the deck with the lurches of the schooner. It was with more of a hiss than a scream that she grabbed it up and flung it straight for my head. Oh, I should hardly say straight," Allen corrected himself, "for Rona evidently can't throw any better than the run of her white sisters. The bottle smashed against the wheel, deluged the cockpit with broken glass and one of my last half-dozen quarts of whisky. If I had not been pretty sure that Bell was already dead, the fact that the smell of the old familiar juice welling up from the deck didn't bring a twitch to his nostrils would have been enough to drive it home to me.

"Without waiting to observe the effects of her throw, Rona launched herself right on after the bottle-only a shade better aimed. Unluckily, the cross-cut she took to my throat carried her right over the wheel-and at the very instant that the appearance of a second line of foam down to leeward confirmed my fears about our desperately scant working room. The instinctive lifting of my right arm to block the girl's grab at my face came near to bringing disaster. I fended the clutch from my throat all right, but the weight of her body falling across the wheel tore the spoke from my left hand and threw the schooner up into the wind.

"Ranga's quick presence of mind was all that saved the situation. Jumping into the cockpit regardless of the broken glass cutting his bare feet, he grabbed the girl about the waist, disentangled her flying arms and legs from the wheel, and smothered her struggles against his side. I threw the wheel back an instant before she jibed, and then, for two or three seconds, things hung in the balance. Finally, very slowly, she filled away on the port tack again, and the immediate danger was over. Had the schooner gone about, nothing could have saved her from running onto the reef. There was not enough room left in which to wear her round.

"Bell must have given up the fight along toward the end of the 'graveyard' watch. I heard him muttering off and on for a while, but the last coherent words that came to my ears were, not unfitly: 'Nothin' doin'. Soba skippa to a fareyewell.'

"That rub with the reef was the nearest squeak we had-though I can't say that I remember much about the navigation that took us through the Barrier and on to Townsville. Drunken man's luck doubtless. I was sure drunk, and no mistake, though both my legs and my head were grinding right along to the finish-only ceased functioning when there was nothing more to do.

"The girl-when Ranga let her go again-went back and settled down by Bell's body. Wouldn't let anyone come near it. Only left it on the two or three further occasions that she took to fly at my throat when she thought I wasn't looking. I didn't want to lock her up (it was inviting the plague to force her to stay 'tween decks for too long), but managed to get around the difficulty finally by having one of the crew stand-by to push in and absorb the impact whenever she made a break in my direction. She gave up trying after that. Seemed to loathe the touch of a nigger. But with Ranga it was different. She grew quiet as soon as he picked her up-something like a kid with its nurse.

"The big fellow was wonderful, by the way. Always doing the right thing without waiting for an order, always cool and quiet, always good-natured. Spent his spare time sitting on the taffrail and peeping to the sea-gulls on a queer little Malay flute he always carried in his belt-some kind of hollow stem, full of little wooden balls that gave a weird sort of ripple to the notes. First and last, Ranga was the man to whom the bulk of the credit was due for taking the schooner through. I still feel a bit guilty that I didn't divide the whisky with him. But perhaps it was best to stow it where I did.... You never know how a yellow man or a black man will react to the stuff. It's hard enough guessing with a white man sometimes."

Allen smiled whimsically as he lighted a fresh cheroot. He was through with the worst of the story and seemed a good deal relieved. It was plain enough that he spoke the truth when he said that the memory of it was still a nightmare, and that he hated to have to speak of it. He said a few words more in explanation of why he had not buried Bell at sea, which appeared to have been mainly because he was afraid the girl would have followed the body over the side. He had no misgivings about keeping it aboard, he said, as he was quite certain that it carried no plague infection. He mentioned incidentally, that they had found a lot of stick brimstone among the stores, and that the thorough smudging they gave the after quarters with this was probably responsible for the fact that the plague had not reappeared there. It had been impossible to devise a way to disinfect the big 'midships hold where the labour recruits were housed, on account of the more or less crazy condition of all of the niggers.

Allen looked at his watch, but went on with his story as though in no particular hurry. "You're doubtless impatient to hear about the girl's turning up again," he said. "You've already heard of the rather remarkable escape she made from the Quarantine Station-Butler, one of the doctors, mentioned that he told you about it on your steamer. At the Station it was the theory that the girl had broken out so that she could kill herself on Bell's grave-that she was more or less off her head anyhow. That was a mistake, though a natural one. She had just one thing in view when she clambered out of the mad cell and over the wall: that was to lie low until I came out and then, watching her chance, try to make a better job of polishing me off than she had done on the schooner. She realized that they were on their guard against her at the Station, and that she might be kept under restraint indefinitely, or at least until I was out and gone beyond her reach.

"Her mind was working well enough to make her reckon that that Chinese shawl (which everyone would have noted) was the one garment she had that could not fail to be recognized. So-it must have been something of a wrench for her-she left it on the bank of Ross Creek and went to seek a hiding place.

"Luck was with her in the search. Locating the native quarter after wandering for a while, she circulated around until she came upon the signs-in Hindustani, I fancy-in front of the shack of an old East Indian drug seller and money changer. How she got around him I don't know; but at any rate she persuaded him to keep her there until I was out of quarantine. She even contrived to get the old rascal to spy out the refuge I had flown to-a bungalow just out of town, where I figured I would be a bit quieter than at the hotel. Then she took a hand in the game herself.

"It was on the second night after I came out, and I had turned in early. I had taken no precautions of any kind against attack. Never have bothered much with that kind of thing. The doors and windows were wide open. I had a servant-a Chino,-but he was sleeping in his own hut in the rear of the grounds.

"It was the window she came in by, though she could just as well have used the door. I was more than half awake (hadn't been sleeping very well any of the time since my two-day snooze after landing from the schooner), lying on my back under the mosquito net, with no covers over me. It was probably her intention to slip up quietly and get her hands under the net before disturbing me. She had no knife, by the way. They had taken that little Malay dagger away after she had tried to stick me at the Quarantine Station. As she would have had no difficulty in raising another through old Ratu Lal had she wanted it, I take it that she felt confident enough of doing the job with her hands. No idle dream that, either; you know something of the strength of them.

"I sat up in bed in a dazed sort of way as her shadow darkened the window. (There was a bit of a moon, shining on that side of the house.) It must have been my movement under the netting that made her change her plan. Very naturally, she counted on my shooting first and asking questions afterwards. It was the rational and proper thing to do, and it is probably what I would have done had my pistol been handy. But, not dreaming of an attack (this was the day before old 'Squid' Saunders turned up and took a jab at me), my gun was in my coat pocket. I have always carried it there-when I had a coat on-ever since I saw your little exhibition of pocket gunnery at Kai," he added with a humorous smile.

"As I was saying, the stir I made under the mosquito net forced the girl to speed up her schedule a bit. You saw the jump she made the time she caught up the schooner at Kai. Well, it must have been about that same kind of a spring over again. She never touched the floor between the low window ledge and my bed. Landed right on my chest, bringing down the net under her weight, and went to my throat with an instinct as sure as that of a fighting bulldog. She was choking me right through the net before I really knew what had happened.

"Of course, taking it for granted that she was dead, I didn't have the ghost of an idea it was Rona who was sprawling on my chest and shutting off my wind with steel fingers that seemed closing in to meet at the base of my brain. I didn't even know that it was a woman. In fact, the deadly pressure of that grip argued all the other way-that I was being throttled by a man, and a deucedly powerful one at that. If I did any speculating at all, I probably figured it as some kind of a thieving stunt. But a man fighting for his life-and that is precisely what I was doing-doesn't waste much time in conjecture. My immediate problem was a simple one. If that grip wasn't broken inside of a minute, it might stay there forever as far as my shaking it off was concerned. I had been choked before, and also done a bit of choking on my own account; so I knew to within a few seconds how long it is before the head of a man whose wind is shut off begins to reel.

"Still quite the master of myself, I tried on, very deliberately, the best thing I knew for breaking a strangle grip-that simple little jujutsu trick of thrusting your arms between those of the man choking you, and then throwing back your shoulders and expanding your chest. Stiffening the chest muscles, I mean-of course you can't expand it with air while your windpipe is closed. That never fails if you are both on your feet, and will sometimes work even when you are on your back. Here the tangle of the net blocked the up-thrust of my arms, and I failed to get enough leverage to break the hold on my neck.

"Then I tried my next best bet-that of turning over and over and sort of unwinding the grip on your throat. I was a shade less confident now. Time was getting short. I did some jolly active wriggling in trying to work along far enough to roll over the side of the bed, but again it was the net that defeated my effort. I was getting a good deal peeved with that bally canopy; and yet, in the end, it was the very thing that got me clear.

"Nine times out of ten a man being held down and choked by another man-that is, if the choker knows his job-has no chance of doubling up in a ball and kicking his assailant off by straightening out his legs. If the man choking you flattens his body closely enough against yours, you simply haven't the room to start doubling your knees. My assailant knew his business right enough, but the folds of the net (some of the corners of which were still clinging to its frame), prevented his flattening in close to my legs. The sag of the woven bamboo bed springs also gave me a few inches of leeway.

"There was nothing deliberate or confident in the jerk with which I began drawing my knees up against my chest. I had already failed twice with what I rated as decidedly better bets than that one, and the time limit was nearly up. My head was already beginning to swim. It was neck or nothing this heat. The sheer desperation of my effort won out for it. The push of my knees against the chest of the incubus did not lift it quite enough to break its hold, but it did enable me to squirm my right foot up and get it firmly planted in the pit of the creature's stomach. Then, with all the strength left in me, I straightened out in a terrific kicking push.

"In reverse, the flight of the muscular body that had been holding me down must have been fully equal to that opening jump from the window. Indeed, I am almost sure that it hit the further wall before it did the floor. The hold on my neck was the only point of contact that did not break readily, and there the result was-as you saw a moment ago. As those steel-claw fingers would not give an inch, they simply ripped out through the flesh. I can consider myself dead lucky that they didn't hook onto my windpipe or jugular. Both of them would have come right along with all the flesh and hide those unrelaxing talons took with them.

"It didn't occur to me for a few moments that I might have knocked out my assailant, and I was a good deal surprised when he neither returned to the attack nor made any break to escape. The laboured gasping in the darkness on the other side of the room quickly told me the reason, however. I had knocked the wind out of him with my mighty kick. I knew that spasmodic gasping for air meant that I wasn't going to be greatly troubled for a minute or two at least, so took my time about fumbling for my automatic and lighting the lamp.

"A bit dazzled by the light for a moment, I took the lanky yellow figure huddled up against the wall to be a Hindu coolie. The thin legs and arms were like those of the East Indian indentured labourers of the sugar plantations, and the two or three yards of white cloth trailing off along the floor suggested a Madrassi waist and shoulder rag. Presently-for that one rumpled wrapping was all she had worn-I saw that it was a woman; and then-but as a matter of fact I think that the girl spoke before I recognized her face.

"'"Slant,"' she piped out in that bird-like chirrup of hers; '"Slant," I guess I make a meestake. 'Scuse me, ple-ese, "Slant."'

"Could you beat that for cheek? Trying to tear a man's throat out one minute, and asking him to 'ple-ese 'scuse' her for it the next. And what do you think of a man who would tumble for it, especially after the way she had made me jump through and roll over at Kai? But that's Rona; yes, and that's me. I tumbled, and-I may as well admit it-I am still tumbling.

"Having the girl turn up like that-after I had been thinking of her as dead for a week or two-didn't give me quite the shock it would have if that voice had come out of the darkness without my seeing her first. It was a deuce of a surprise even as it was; but, when all is said and done, a pleasant one, in spite of the rather startling way she chose to-to re-materialize. I was glad to find that she was alive, whether it meant anything more to me than that or not.

"We didn't talk much that night-there wasn't much talk left in either of us as a matter of fact. Rona continued to croak and hiccup, while my own swollen vocal chords smothered every other word I tried to get past them. I managed to assure Rona that I quite understood her feelings against me (though I didn't entirely, and don't yet), and begged her to give me a chance to explain the way Bell had come to his finish. She admitted that she had begun to believe that she might have been hasty in her decision and action, and said she would be glad to hear what I had to say. She told me where she was in hiding and asked me to come there in the morning; also to do what I could to square her with the quarantine authorities for breaking out of the Station ahead of time, and on no account to let anything happen to old Ratu Lal for giving her refuge. She seemed to take it as a matter of course that I would do these things. You'd have thought I was some sort of a mayordomo taking orders.

"It was not very late and, luckily, the bungalow (which Ralston had occupied himself at times) had a telephone. I ordered a closed carriage sent out, and also got the Quarantine Station and arranged for one of the doctors-Butler, the chap you talked with on the steamer-to come to the landing and wait for me to pick him up. They had been very decent to me at the Station, and I wanted to avoid having to explain things to a strange doctor.

"Rona tied my neck up for me-very handily, too-and when the carriage came I bundled her in and gave the driver the direction which carried him along the edge of the 'foreign quarter.' I dropped her at a corner not far from Ratu Lal's joint, promising to look in on her early the next morning. Butler was waiting for me at the landing when I got there, and I told him about Rona's coming to life, and its sequel, as we drove back to the bungalow. After he had dressed my neck I told him what I wanted him to try to do for me and sent him back to the landing, where his boat had hung on for him.

"Rona was looking a bit white about the gills when I called the next morning, and complained that her stomach 'got mad' every time she sent food down to it. I told her that she still had the best of me, as I didn't expect to be able to get any food down to my stomach for a couple of days yet. That seemed rather to buck her up, and she had a good laugh over it. Then we got down to business, and had an hour's yarn in the drug-scented quiet of old Ratu Lal's back room.

"As my Malay is fairly good, we talked without difficulty. I told her more or less what I have just told you about Bell and why I had given him the whisky. She said, rather grudgingly, that she thought she could understand why I had done as I did. Then I said a few things about-well, about my personal feelings toward her. Finally, I asked her point-blank if she would go back to the Islands with me. Told her she could live anywhere she wanted, and in any way that she wanted. I didn't say that I was willing to marry her, because (since, if she has any religion at all, it's Hindu or Mohammedan) I felt that would make no difference to her one way or the other.

"Am I really willing to marry her?" (It was the lift of my eyebrows that suggested the query to Allen, for I did not speak.) "Well, yes, I think I am, if she made that a condition. But I don't think the question is one likely to arise.

"The girl took in the whole thing without giving away by word or look how it impressed her. When I had finished, she coolly suggested that I run along and square matters up with the quarantine people about her and Ratu Lal. She added that she would be obliged if I'd look up her Chinese shawl for her. She also started to speak about her dagger, but changed her mind and said to let that go for the present. As for what I'd been telling her.... Well, perhaps if I could see my way to dropping in again toward evening she might have an answer for me. High and haughty as a Sultana, she was, sitting cross-legged on a mat and pulling away at one of Ratu Lal's big 'hubble-bubbles.'

"I went to the Quarantine Station straightaway, and, in spite of the red tape tangling up a thing of that kind, managed to get them to agree to discharging the girl without anything more than a perfunctory call from a doctor to certify her free of plague. That done, the rest was easy. I told the story-omitting, of course, the girl's attack upon me-at the Police Station, and they agreed not to arrest Ratu Lal as long as the quarantine authorities were satisfied and lodged no complaint against him. They said they were only too glad of a chance to do me a favour. Then I got them to let me have the shawl, and begged them to keep the news of the girl's turning up quiet as long as they could.

"'Squid' Saunders's little diversion that afternoon gave the pressmen something else to take up their minds, and the matter of the missing girl was forgotten, at least for the remainder of my time in Townsville. The fact that she did not drown herself must have leaked out since, but they probably haven't been enough interested in it-now that the hunt has followed me here-to wire it south.

"When I broke away from the official reception committee and dropped in on Rona at the end of the afternoon-impatient enough, I can tell you-she gave no sign that the matter I had come for an answer about was in her mind at all. She grabbed the Chinese shawl out of my hand with a yelp of delight, but almost dissolved in tears when she saw how the embroidery had been smudged and ruffled in her scrambles over trees and walls and ditches the night she escaped from the Quarantine Station. You may remember that it was a big peacock that was embroidered on the shawl-pretty nearly life-size-rather a fine piece of work, it always struck me. Well, ignoring me entirely, she spread that old peacock out over her breast-something in the way she used to display it when she wore the shawl in Kai-and began chirping and crooning and muttering to it like a dove to its nestlings. She would nuzzle into the plumage, smoothing the ruffled feathers with her lips, just like she was the old peacock preening himself. Every little bit of torn floss she would try to put back where it came from.

"Stiff with funk, I sat quiet until she had gone all over the moulting old bird, but when she started in working down from his crest again, I thought it was time to remind her of my presence. I had never sat around waiting on anybody like that before, Whitney; even my old nurse couldn't make me do it. So I cut in and told her that I had arranged things at the Quarantine Station-that she wouldn't need to go there again; also that old Ratu Lal need not worry any longer about a visit from the Police. Incidentally, I mentioned that I was making him a present of ten pounds to show my appreciation of his consideration in not claiming the reward offered for her.

"She took no notice of anything I said. Just went on crooning and preening and stroking down the ruffled feathers, giving a little sob every now and then as she came to a place where they were badly mussed up. Then I went off on another tack, saying that I knew of a shop in the town that carried Chinese embroideries, and suggesting it was possible a skilled needle-worker might be found there competent to undertake the restoration of the bird's damaged plumage. She deigned to cock up an ear to listen to that, but her only reply was a disconsolate shake of the head, as though anything like proper restoration was a matter beyond all hope.

"That quieted me for a while, but after twirling my thumbs through ten or fifteen minutes more nuzzling and crooning, my patience gave out. I jumped up to the accompaniment of a good lively string of oaths, and asked her point-blank if she had made up her mind about the matter we had been speaking of in the morning. She broke into a ripple of smiles at that, and cooed sweetly: 'Ye-es, I think 'bout that plenty, "Slant."' Then she slipped into voluble Malay and laid down a perfectly simple and direct proposal, on the fulfilment of the conditions of which she was willing to return to the Islands with me. It was not what I had expected,-not what anyone would have dreamed of expecting under the circumstances; yet ridiculously easy of fulfilment in the event a certain third party fell in with the idea. That third party is you, Whitney. That's the main thing I have come to see you about. Everything is up to you now. Perhaps that will make it easier for you to understand why I rattled on for an hour or more in the hope of putting myself right with you about Bell. I've never tried to justify myself with any living man before, and probably will never do it again. But it had to be done this time, Whitney, and I hope I've been successful."

My nod might have meant almost anything, but I was not unwilling that Allen should interpret it in his favour. As a matter of fact, he had convinced me wholly that-after the abortive attempt at drugging in Kai-he had played straight with Bell. As for Rona-well, if he was also ready to play straight with her (and he had just about convinced me on that point, too), what was it to me? If she could forget Bell so easily, it was her own affair. If Allen were trying to carry her off against her will-that would be a different matter of course. But he was not. Plainly it was the girl herself who held the whip hand. The whole thing was a bit obscure yet, but what Allen had still to say might do something to clear it up. Without committing myself by more than that one nod, I waited for him to go on.

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