"'Do you mean to tell us,' asked Ricardo, 'that there is a crazy Chink with a six-shooter broke loose on this island, and that you don't care?'
"Strangely enough they did not seem to believe my story. They were exchanging significant looks all the time. Ricardo stole up close to his principal; they had a confabulation together, and then something happened which I did not expect. It's rather awkward, too.
"Since I would not have their assistance to get hold of the Chink and recover my property, the least they could do was to send me their servant. It was Jones who said that, and Ricardo backed up the idea.
"'Yes, yes — let our Pedro cook for all hands in your compound! He isn't so bad as he looks. That's what we will do!'
"He bustled out of the room to the veranda, and let out an ear-splitting whistle for their Pedro. Having heard the brute's answering howl, Ricardo ran back into the room.
"'Yes, Mr. Heyst. This will do capitally, Mr. Heyst. You just direct him to do whatever you are accustomed to have done for you in the way of attendance. See?'
"Lena, I confess to you that I was taken completely by surprise. I had not expected anything of the sort. I don't know what I expected. I am so anxious about you that I can't keep away from these infernal scoundrels. And only two months ago I would not have cared. I would have defied their scoundrelism as much as I have scorned all the other intrusions of life. But now I have you! You stole into my life, and — "
Heyst drew a deep breath. The girl gave him a quick, wide-eyed glance.
"Ah! That's what you are thinking of — that you have me!"
It was impossible to read the thoughts veiled by her steady grey eyes, to penetrate the meaning of her silences, her words, and even her embraces. He used to come out of her very arms with the feeling of a baffled man.
"If I haven't you, if you are not here, then where are you?" cried Heyst. "You understand me very well."
She shook her head a little. Her red lips, at which he looked now, her lips as fascinating as the voice that came out of them, uttered the words:
"I hear what you say; but what does it mean?"
"It means that I could lie and perhaps cringe for your sake."
"No! No! Don't you ever do that," she said in haste, while her eyes glistened suddenly. "You would hate me for it afterwards!"
"Hate you?" repeated Heyst, who had recalled his polite manner. "No! You needn't consider the extremity of the improbable — as yet. But I will confess to you that I — how shall I call it? — that I dissembled. First I dissembled my dismay at the unforeseen result of my idiotic diplomacy. Do you understand, my dear girl?"
It was evident that she did not understand the word. Heyst produced his playful smile, which contrasted oddly with the worried character of his whole expression. His temples seemed to have sunk in, his face looked a little leaner.
"A diplomatic statement, Lena, is a statement of which everything is true, but the sentiment which seems to prompt it. I have never been diplomatic in my relation with mankind — not from regard for its feelings, but from a certain regard for my own. Diplomacy doesn't go well with consistent contempt. I cared little for life and still less for death."
"Don't talk like that!"
"I dissembled my extreme longing to take these wandering scoundrels by their throats," he went on. "I have only two hands — I wish I had a hundred to defend you — and there were three throats. By that time their Pedro was in the room too. Had he seen me engaged with their two throats, he would have been at mine like a fierce dog, or any other savage and faithful brute. I had no difficulty in dissembling my longing for the vulgar, stupid, and hopeless argument of fight. I remarked that I really did not want a servant. I couldn't think of depriving them of their man's services; but they would not hear me. They had made up their minds.
"'We shall send him over at once,' Ricardo said, 'to start cooking dinner for everybody. I hope you won't mind me coming to eat it with you in your bungalow; and we will send the governor's dinner over to him here.'
"I could do nothing but hold my tongue or bring on a quarrel — some manifestation of their dark purpose, which we have no means to resist. Of course, you may remain invisible this evening; but with that atrocious-brute prowling all the time at the back of the house, how long can your presence be concealed from these men?"
Heyst's distress could be felt in his silence. The girl's head, sustained by her hands buried in the thick masses of her hair, had a perfect immobility.
"You are certain you have not been seen so far?" he asked suddenly.
The motionless head spoke.
"How can I be certain? You told me you wanted me to keep out of the way. I kept out of the way. I didn't ask your reason. I thought you didn't want people to know that you had a girl like me about you."
"What? Ashamed?" cried Heyst.
"It isn't what's right, perhaps — I mean for you — is it?"