"I am going, Lena. I am going to confront these scoundrels." He was surprised to feel two arms falling on his shoulders. "I thought that you — " he began.
"Yes, yes!" the girl whispered hastily.
She neither clung to him, nor yet did she try to draw him to her. Her hands grasped his shoulders, and she seemed to him to be staring into his face in the dark. And now he could see something of her face, too — an oval without features — and faintly distinguish her person, in the blackness, a form without definite lines.
"You have a black dress here, haven't you, Lena?" he asked, speaking rapidly, and so low that she could just hear him.
"Yes — an old thing."
"Very good. Put it on at once."
"Not for mourning!" Them was something peremptory in the slightly ironic murmur. "Can you find it and get into it in the dark?"
She could. She would try. He waited, very still. He could imagine her movements over there at the far end of the room; but his eyes, accustomed now to the darkness, had lost her completely. When she spoke, her voice surprised him by its nearness. She had done what he had told her to do, and had approached him, invisible.
"Good! Where's that piece of purple veil I've seen lying about?" he asked.
There was no answer, only a slight rustle.
"Where is it?" he repeated impatiently.
Her unexpected breath was on his cheek.
"In my hands."
"Capital! Listen, Lena. As soon as I leave the bungalow with that horrible scoundrel, you slip out at the back — instantly, lose no time! — and run round into the forest. That will be your time, while we are walking away, and I am sure he won't give me the slip. Run into the forest behind the fringe of bushes between the big trees. You will know, surely, how to find a place in full view of the front door. I fear for you; but in this black dress, with most of your face muffled up in that dark veil, I defy anybody to find you there before daylight. Wait in the forest till the table is pushed into full view of the doorway, and you see three candles out of four blown out and one relighted — or, should the lights be put out here while you watch them, wait till three candles are lighted and then two put out. At either of these signals run back as hard as you can, for it will mean that I am waiting for you here."
While he was speaking, the girl had sought and seized one of his hands. She did not press it; she held it loosely, as it were timidly, caressingly. It was no grasp; it was a mere contact, as if only to make sure that he was there, that he was real and no mere darker shadow in the obscurity. The warmth of her hand gave Heyst a strange, intimate sensation of all her person. He had to fight down a new sort of emotion, which almost unmanned him. He went on, whispering sternly:
"But if you see no such signals, don't let anything — fear, curiosity, despair, or hope — entice you back to this house; and with the first sign of dawn steal away along the edge of the clearing till you strike the path. Wait no longer, because I shall probably be dead."
The murmur of the word "Never!" floated into his ear as if it formed itself in the air.
"You know the path," he continued. "Make your way to the barricade. Go to Wang — yes, to Wang. Let nothing stop you!" It seemed to him that the girl's hand trembled a little. "The worst he can do to you is to shoot you, but he won't. I really think he won't, if I am not there. Stay with the villagers, with the wild people, and fear nothing. They will be more awed by you than you can be frightened of them. Davidson's bound to turn up before very long. Keep a look-out for a passing steamer. Think of some sort of signal to call him."
She made no answer. The sense of the heavy, brooding silence in the outside world seemed to enter and fill the room — the oppressive infinity of it, without breath, without light. It was as if the heart of hearts had ceased to beat and the end of all things had come.
"Have you understood? You are to run out of the house at once," Heyst whispered urgently.
She lifted his hand to her lips and let it go. He was startled.
"Lena!" he cried out under his breath.
She was gone from his side. He dared not trust himself — no, not even to the extent of a tender word.
Turning to go out he heard a thud somewhere in the house. To open the door, he had first to lift the curtain; he did so with his face over his shoulder. The merest trickle of light, earning through the keyhole and one or two cracks, was enough for his eyes to see her plainly, all black, down on her knees, with her head and arms flung on the foot of the bed — all black in the desolation of a mourning sinner. What was this? A suspicion that there were everywhere more things than he could understand crossed Heyst's mind. Her arm, detached from the bed, motioned him away. He obeyed, and went out, full of disquiet.