Then he swayed from sheer weariness; he could have dropped gladly to the bottom of the boat. Brain as well as sinew has its limitations and the night had been long and trying. He had done work that called for tenseness and mental concentration every moment. He had outlasted divers and many periods when catastrophe might have overwhelmed them, and now that the blackness which had shrouded a thousand unseen risks and perils had been swept aside, an almost overpowering reaction claimed him. This natural lassitude became the more marked after he had scanned the horizon in vain for the prince's pleasure-yacht.
His task, however, was far from over, and he straightened. To Sonia Turgeinov, his gaze and his expression were almost somnambulistic. He continued steering, guiding their destinies as by force of habit. Luckily the breeze had waned and the boat danced more gaily than dangerously. It threw little rainbows of spray in the air; he blinked at them, his eyes half closed. In the bow the old dun-colored blanket stirred but he did not see it. A glorious sun swept up, and began to lap thirstily the wavering mists from the surface of the sea.
Sonia Turgeinov spoke now softly to the steersman. What she said he did not know; his lack-luster gaze met hers. All dislike and disapproval seemed to have vanished from it; he saw her only as one sees a face in a daguerreotype of long ago, or looks at features limned by a soulless etcher.
"Do you see it?" he asked.
"Trees? Aren't those trees?"
"I see nothing."
"You do. You must. They are there." He spoke almost roughly, as if she irritated him.
"Oh, yes. I think I do see something," she said, and started. "Like a speck?—a film?—a bird's wing, perhaps?"
In the bow the blanket again stirred. Then, as from the dull chrysalis emerge brightness and beauty, so from those dun folds sprang into the morning light a red-lipped, lovely vision.
"Trees," repeated the steersman to Sonia Turgeinov. "I am positive—" he went on, but lost interest in his own words. Fatigue seemed to fall from him in an instant; he stared.
From beneath her golden hair Betty Dalrymple's eyes flashed full upon him.
"You!" she said.
Mr. Heatherbloom appeared to relapse; his expression—that smile—vague, indefinite—again partook of the somnambulistic.
AN ANOMALOUS SITUATION
The most unexpected and extraordinary thing in the world had happened, yet Betty Dalrymple asked no questions. Had she done so, it is probable that Mr. Heatherbloom would have been physically unequal to the labyrinthine explanation the occasion demanded. For a brief spell the girl had continued to regard him and she had seemed about to speak further. Then the blue light of her gaze had slowly turned and her lips remained mute. He was glad of this; of course he would later have to tell something, but sufficient unto that unlucky hour were the perplexities thereof. Sonia Turgeinov had been surprised, too, but it was Betty Dalrymple's surprise that had most awakened her wonder. "Why, didn't you know it was he?" the dark eyes seemed to say to the young girl. "Who else, on earth, did you think it was?" The mystery for her, as well as for Betty Dalrymple, deepened. Only for Mr. Heatherbloom there existed no mystery; it was all now clear as day. He had done what he had set out to do. She would soon be enabled to find her way back to civilization. His present concern lay with the occupation of the moment.
The tree was a tree; this was the most momentous immediate consideration; a few more miles had established that fact with positiveness. But distances on the water are long, and they three would have to journey together on the sea yet a while. He bethought him of his duties, as host; these—his two passengers-were in his care.
"You should find biscuits in a basket and water in a cask," he said, speaking to both of them, and, at the same time, to immeasurable distance. "If you don't mind looking—I can't very well."
At that, a nervous laugh welled from Sonia Turgeinov's throat; she had to give way. Possibly the absurd thought seized her that all the tragedies and comedies might be simmered down to one thing. Were there biscuits in the basket? But Betty Dalrymple did not laugh; her eyes were like stars on a wintry night; her face was white as paper. It was turned now from the steersman—ahead. She saw the blur before them become a definite line of green; later she made out details, the large heads of small trees. The former looked like big overflowing cabbages; the trunks, beneath, sprawled this way and that, as the vagaries of the wind had directed their growth. In front of them and the vernal strip, a white line slowly resolved itself into moving foam. She—they all could hear it now, faintly—they were very near; no thunderous anthem it pealed forth; its voice seethed in soft cadences.
Mr. Heatherbloom, with sheet taut, ran his craft toward the sands but the boat grounded some little distance from the shore. It was useless to attempt to go farther so he let his sail out, got up and stepped overboard. The water was rather more than knee deep; he tugged at the boat and attempted to draw her up farther without much success. She was too heavy, and desisting from his efforts, he approached Miss Dalrymple. The young girl shrank back slightly, but seeming not to notice that first instinctive movement, he reached over and lifted her out. It was done in a businesslike manner and with no more outward concern than a Kikuji porter might have displayed in meeting the exigencies of a like situation. The bubbles seethed around Mr. Heatherbloom's legs; unmindful of them or the shifting sands beneath foot, he strode straight as might be for the shore. His burden was not a heavy one but it seemed very still and unyielding. He released her at the earliest possible opportunity and in the same matter-of-fact way (still that of a human ferry on the banks of the turbulent Chania) he returned for his other passenger. Around Sonia Turgeinov's rich lips a mocking smile seemed to play; she arose at once.
"How charming! How very gallant!" she murmured. "First, you nearly strangle one, and then—"
Her soft arm stole about his neck, and her warm breath swept his cheek as, stony-faced, he trudged along. This time his burden was heavier, although there were men who would not have minded that under the circumstances. The dark eyes, full of sparkles and enigmas, turned upon his frosty ones. But she did not see very far into that so-called medium of the soul; she received only an impression one gets in looking at a wall.
He put her down—gently. Whereupon, her dark brows lifted ironically. He, gentle—to her? Did she dream? She felt again that fierce clasp of the night before, and mentally told herself she would like to label him an artistic study in contrasts. Really the adventure began to be "worth while"; she felt almost reconciled to it. He had carried her off as the rough, old-fashioned pirates bear away feminine prizes from a town they have looted. From dog-tender to bucaneer—he appealed to her imagination. She experienced a childlike desire to sit down where he had left her and play with the shells. But instead she looked toward Betty Dalrymple. That young girl, however, did not return her regard, though the golden head, a few moments before, had lifted once, with a swift, bird-like motion toward Sonia Turgeinov, en route beachward. Now the girl's features were steadfastly bent away; whatever gladness she may have felt in thus, after many vicissitudes, reaching land safely, she kept to herself.
Mr. Heatherbloom resumed the task of porter; his next burden—the water-cask—was the heaviest of all. He struggled with it and once nearly went down, so tired was he, but he got it ashore, and the basket of biscuits, too, and some other things. The boat, floating more lightly, he now pulled to the strand; then he took out the spar and the sail. This done, he gazed around; the place was deserted by man, though of birds and crabs and other crawling objects there were a-plenty. Mr. Heatherbloom stood with knitted brow; it was a time for contemplation, visual and mental. For the latter he did not feel very fit as he strove to think what was best to do next. The other two—he still forced himself to keep to the purely impersonal aspect of the case—were his charges. Being women, they were mutually and equally (the mockery of it!) dependent on him. He was responsible for their welfare and well-being. In the sail-boat he had been captain; ashore, he became commandant, an answerable factor. He began to plan.
What kind of place had they come to?—was it big or small?—inhabited, or deserted? All this would have to be ascertained, later. Meanwhile, temporary headquarters were needed; he would erect a tent. The spar and boom served for the ridge and front poles, the sail for the canvas covering, the sheet and halyards for the restraining lines. Sonia Turgeinov again watched him; her interest was now of that vague kind she had sometimes experienced when the manager appeared on a darkened stage, with a fresh crackling manuscript. Then she had lolled back and listened to the first reading. She would have lolled back now—for the air was soporific—but, instead, she started suddenly. The old wound on Mr. Heatherbloom's head, heretofore concealed by the cap Francois had procured for him, had reopened as he exerted himself; he raised his hand quickly and seemed a little at a loss. She stepped to him at once.
"The scarf, Monsieur?"
"Thank you." He took it absently.
"It serves divers purposes," she murmured. And Mr. Heatherbloom, remembering the more violent employment he had found for it the night before, flushed slightly.
She added delicate emphasis to her remark by assisting him. With her own fingers she tied a knot, and rather painstakingly spread out the ends. He endured grimly. Miss Dalrymple appeared not to have observed the episode but, of course, it had in reality been all quite fully revealed to her. It was in keeping with certain circumstances of the past that the Russian woman should not be unmindful of him, her confrere in the conspiracy. That much was patent; but other happenings were not so easily reconciled. What had taken place on the deck of the Nevski in those breathless last few moments as they were escaping, was in ill conformity with those amicable relations which should have existed between the two. This man's presence in the boat, in the place of Francois, could be explained by no logical process with the premises she had at her command.
The bandage possessed a subtly weird and bizarre interest for the young girl. He had been injured. How? For what reason? Betty Dalrymple's mind swept, seemingly without very definite cause, to another scene, one of violence. Again she heard the crashing of glass and saw forms leaping into the cabin. Her thoughts reverted, on the instant, to the unknown helper she had been obliged to leave behind. Somehow, real as he had been, he seemed at this moment strangely apart, something in the abstract. Then all illusive speculations merged abruptly into a realization that needed no demonstration. Sonia Turgeinov possessed a certain outre attractiveness the young girl had never noted before. The violet eyes, shining through the long shading lashes, rested a moment on her; then passed steadily beyond.
"I'm off for a look around." Mr. Heatherbloom, having transferred their meager possessions to the tent, now addressed Miss Dalrymple, or Sonia Turgeinov, or an indefinite space between them. "Better stay right here while I'm gone." His tones had a firm accent. "Sorry there are only biscuits for breakfast, but perhaps there'll be better fare before long. If you should move around"—his eye lingered authoritatively on Betty Dalrymple—"keep to the beach."
"How very solicitous!" laughed Sonia Turgeinov as the young man strode off. "That was intended especially for you, Mademoiselle. As for me, it does not matter." With a shrug. "I might stroll into the wood, be devoured by wild beasts, and who would care?"
Betty Dalrymple did not answer.
"A truce, Mademoiselle!" said the other in the same gay tone. "I know very well what you think of me. You told me very clearly on the Nevski, and before that, on shore. In this instance, however, since it is through no fault or choice of mine that we are thrown thus closely together, would it not be well to make the best of the situation?"
"There seems, indeed, no choice in the matter," answered the young girl coldly.
"None, unless like those in the admirable play, we elect to pitch our respective camps at different parts of the beach. But that would be absurd, wouldn't it? Besides, I have my punishment—no light one for Sonia Turgeinov who herself has been accustomed to a little adulation in the past. I am de trop."
"De trop?" There was a faint uplifting of the brow. "You should not be altogether that."
"You mean I should be very friendly with him, my colleague and confidant, n'est ce pas?" Sonia's dark eyes swept swiftly the proud lovely face. "In truth he proved an able assistant." Her voice was a little mocking. "What if I should tell you it was he who planned it all —devised the ways and means?" A statue could, not have been more immovable than Betty Dalrymple. "Or," suddenly, "what if I should say quite—au contraire." The girl stirred. Sonia Turgeinov seemed to ruminate. "Should I be so forgiving—after last night?" she murmured. "It would be inconsistent, wouldn't it?—or angelic? And I am no angel."
The girl's lips started to form a question but she did not speak. Afar, Mr. Heatherbloom's figure could be seen, almost at the vanishing point. He was toiling up an incline. Then the green foliage swallowed him. Sonia Turgeinov smiled at vacancy. "Though I do owe him a little," she went on, half meditative. "He was kind to me in the park. He was sorry for me. Think of it, and without admiring me. Other men have professed for poor Sonia Turgeinov a little interest or solicitude at divers times and places, but it has always been accompanied with something else. Is that beyond the understanding of your pure soul, nourished in a hothouse, Mademoiselle?" There was a sudden hard ring of rebellion in her tones. "Am I handsome? Your eyes said it not long ago. Ma foi!" Her voice becoming light again. "It was Parsifal himself who talked with me in the park—that place for rendezvous and romances." Her thoughts leaped over time and space. "The first light of the sun revealed to you this day the last face you expected to see. It was as if a bit of miracle, or a little diablerie had happened. I, too, was in a haze, not so great—though on the deck the night before I little expected to encounter one I had last seen in chains, a prisoner—"
"A prisoner—in chains—he—" Betty Dalrymple stared.
"You did not know? What on earth did you expect? That the prince would give him the suite de luxe after the beating his excellency received—"
"The beating?" half-stammered the girl. "Then the man in the salon who claimed to be a detective was—"
"What? He claimed that?" laughed Sonia Turgeinov. "Tres drole!"
But Betty Dalrymple did not laugh. Her eyes, bent seaward, saw nothing now of the leaping waves; her face was fixed as a cameo's. Only her hair stirred, wind-tossed, all in motion like her thoughts. And regarding her, Sonia Turgeinov's eyes began to harden a little. Did the woman regret for the moment what she had said, divining again some play within a play? Yet what could there be in common between this beautiful heiress and the gardeurde chiens? No! it was absurd to conceive anything of the kind. Nevertheless Sonia Turgeinov unaccountably began to experience a vague hostility for the young girl; this she might partly attribute to the great gaps of convention separating them. Her own life, in confused pictures, surged panorama-like before her mental vision: The garret beginning; the cold and hunger hardships; the beatings, when a child; the girl problems—so hard; the woman's—Faugh! what a life! Would that the flame of the artist had burned more brightly or not at all. She tried to imagine what she would have been, if she, too, had been born to a golden cradle.
A great ennui swept over her. How old she felt on a sudden! And how homesick, too. Yes; that was it—homesickness. She could have stretched out her arms toward her much beloved and, sometimes, a little hated, Russia. The bright domes of her native city seemed to shine now in her eyes. She walked in spirit the stony pavement of the Kremlin. Cruelty, intolerance, suffering—all these reigned in the city of extremes, but she would have kissed even the cold marble at the feet of dead tyrants, the way the people did, if she could have stood at that moment in one of the old, old sacred places. Her brief flight into the new world had led her to no pots of gold at rainbow end. The little honorarium from his excellency for her part in this adventure, she did not want now. She regretted that she had ever embarked upon it. What penalty might she not have to pay yet? The law, with dragon fingers would reach out—no doubt was reaching out now—to grip her. Well, let it.
A crisp, matter-of-fact voice—concealing any agitation the speaker may have felt—broke in upon these varied reflections. Mr. Heatherbloom, rather out of breath but quiet and determined, stood before them.
"Miss Dalrymple!—Mademoiselle! There is no occasion for alarm but it will be necessary; for us to leave here at once!"
AN UNEXPECTED OFFER
"To leave?" It was Sonia Turgeinov who spoke. "You mean—" Her eyes turned oceanward but saw nothing.
He made a quick gesture toward a break in the outline of the shore where the island swept around. "Beyond!" he said succinctly and she had no doubt as to his meaning. The tent he had put up where it could not be seen from the sea. But their boat—He looked at the little craft, a too distinct object on the sands. Those on a vessel skirting the shore could not fail to discover that incriminating bit of evidence with their glasses. And there was no way of getting rid of it. He could not destroy it with his bare hands. It was unsinkable. If he set it adrift, wind and sea would drive it straight back.
"They probably discovered our absence about daybreak and surmised correctly the direction the breeze would carry us," he muttered half bitterly. "We must go at once." These last words he spoke firmly.
"But where?" Again it was Sonia Turgeinov who questioned him. Betty Dalrymple remained silent; her eyes shone with a new inscrutable light; her cheek, though pale, had the warmth of a live pearl. She touched the sands with the tip of her shoe.
But he did not regard her, nor did he answer Sonia Turgeinov. Going to the tent, he bent over the basket of biscuits and hastily filled his pockets. Then, throwing a woman's heavy cloak over his arm, he stepped quickly to Miss Dalrymple's side.
"Come," he said laconically.
Her foot, Cinderella's for daintiness, ceased its motion; she turned at once. Around her lips a strange little smile flitted but faded almost immediately. Save for her straightness and that proud characteristic poise of the head, she might have seemed, at that moment of emergency, a veritable Griselda for acquiescence. He started to walk away, when—
"What about me?" cried Sonia Turgeinov.
"You can come or you can stay," said Mr. Heatherbloom. "The chances are that the prince will see the boat, land and get you."
"And if he doesn't?"
"There are plenty of biscuits, and I'll send back for you when I can."
"That prospect is not very inviting," she demurred. "Suppose I elect not to risk it—to go with you?"
"It is for you to decide, and quickly," he said in a cold crisp tone.
"You dismiss my fate bruskly, Monsieur," she returned.
"There is no time to bandy words, Madam," he retorted warmly. "I am not oblivious to you—I trust I would not be to any woman—but every minute now is precious."
"Of course!" An instant she looked at the girl and a spark appeared in the dark eyes. Then Sonia Turgeinov's features abruptly relaxed and she waved her hand carelessly. "I have decided," she said in her old manner. "Go! My best adieus, Monsieur—Mademoiselle." With a gay courtesy. "Farewell! babes in the wood!" Her voice was once more mocking. They moved silently away but before they had gone far enough to disappear in the forest she suddenly ran toward them. "No, no!" she said in a different voice. "I have changed my mind. It is such a tiny, thing, that boat—in the glare and shine. They might not see it, and then—" She shuddered, "How frightfully lonesome!—the terrible nights—"
He made an impatient gesture. "After me, then! You, Miss Dalrymple, will come last."
"Ah, you think I am coming because I may wish to help them?" Sonia Turgeinov said quickly.
"I intend to take no chances," he returned in the same tone. And the three moved on.
He set a sharp pace; if there was need for haste at all it was now, at the beginning of their flight. They plunged deeper into the forest; no one spoke; only the crackling under foot and certain wood sounds broke the stillness. Unfortunately the soil was soft so that their footprints might be followed by any one versed in woodcraft. At times they were forced to skirt unusually thick places, but in spite of these deviations Mr. Heatherbloom was enabled generally to keep to their course by consulting a small compass he had found in the boat. It was essential to maintain as straight a line as possible. People sometimes walked round and round in forests; he took no chance of that; better a moment lost now and then, while stopping to wait for the quivering pointer to settle, than returning, perhaps, to the very spot they had left.
As thus they advanced, often he looked around to reassure himself that the young girl, in spite of the roughness of the way, yet followed. Once Sonia Turgeinov arrested that swift backward look; her own shone with curiosity.
"How in heaven's name did you do it, Monsieur?" she asked suddenly, drawing nearer. "Get out of that cell, I mean. When last I saw you on the ship, you were as securely fastened as a prisoner in the fortress at Petersburg. Of course you must have had some one to help—"
He answered coldly, recalling a promise to protect Francois. He could, however, and did, tell her the truth in this without involving the youth. "When the third officer, my jailer, came to the cell and released my hands—well, I did the best I could, surprised him, got the keys and left him there in my stead. A little Jap trick for handling men that I learned in San Francisco long ago," he added.
Her dark eyes lingered on him not without a trace of admiration. "Mademoiselle is fortunate, indeed, in her champion," she murmured. "And yet that does not explain the preparations for departure—the provisions in the boat—other little details. How came you by that compass, for example?"
"It explains all that will be explained."
"Which means, once more, you do not trust me?" She shrugged. "Eh bien!" And again they went on in silence.
Toward noon, reaching a fringe of the forest, they found before them a wide open space where the ground was higher and dry, but the walking more difficult. The grass, long and tenacious, twined snake-like around their ankles; they had to go more slowly, but reached, at length, the top of the eminence. Here Mr. Heatherbloom stopped. They ate their biscuit and rested, but only for a brief while. Scanning the distance, in the direction they had come, he suddenly discerned moving forms on the farthest edge of the open space—forms which advanced toward them. No doubt as to their purpose could be entertained; his excellency had landed and was already in pursuit. A smoldering fire leaped from Mr. Heatherbloom's eyes while rage that she should thus be driven harder filled his breast. Fool! that he had not killed the prince when opportunity had offered that night in the cabin. His clemency might—probably would—cost her dear.
"We've got to go on, and faster," said the young man. His hands were clenched; his arms were stiff at his side. "Can you do it?" he asked Betty Dalrymple. She answered; standing in a green recess, she had never appeared more beautiful to him than in that moment of peril. Green and red things flashed behind her—tiny feathered creatures that shone like jewels. The dewdrops from the branches in sunless places were glistening brilliants in the gold of her hair. But he had no time to gaze. The figures were drawing nearer.
"You used to be able to run, Betty. It seems as if it's all my fault"—hoarsely—"but you'll have to do so now."
Again that ready response from her! Did she, in the excitement of the moment, call him by a Christian name not Horatio? He did not take cognizance of it; neither did Sonia Turgeinov seem to.
The latter spoke quickly: "I remain here."
"Of course," said Mr. Heatherbloom, with a glance back toward the open space.
She overlooked the significance or bitterness in his accent. "Keep to the right," she said swiftly. "Believe me or not, I'll send them to the left. It's your only chance. Otherwise they would overtake you in an hour. Among the prince's men are Cossacks trained to feats of endurance."
"You would do that?" He looked at her quickly. The dark eyes did not swerve from the gray ones.
"Did I betray you on the boat?" said Sonia Turgeinov rather haughtily.
"No," he conceded.
"And yet I knew you! You know that," she affirmed.
"Yes; you knew me." Slowly.
"Did I tell his excellency who you were, when he had you, a prisoner?" she demanded.
And—"No," he was obliged to say again.
"See." She took from her breast a tiny cross. "I had that as a child. Would I kiss it, and—tell you a lie in the next breath?" He did not answer. "I have lived up to the letter of my contract with his excellency. It is at an end. Perhaps I am a little sorry for my own part"—with a laugh slightly reckless—"or maybe"—with a flash of seriousness—- "I have become, in the least, afraid. Your laws are very severe, and—I had not counted on mademoiselle's steadfast resistance to—mon Dieu!—a prince who had been considered irresistible—whose principality is larger than one of your states—who would have made her, in truth, a czaritza. I had fancied," in a rush of words, "the mad episode might end as it did in the prince's favorite Fire and Sword trilogy, with wedding-bells and rejoicing." She paused abruptly. "I had also not counted on the all-important possibility that mademoiselle might have bestowed her heart on another—"
"Madam!" It was Betty Dalrymple who spoke quickly.
Sonia Turgeinov laughed maliciously. "Go," she said, "or"—almost fiercely—"I may change my mind."
They went; Sonia Turgeinov turned and looked out over the open space. The approaching figures were now much nearer.
Dusk had begun to fall, but still two figures went on through the forest—slowly, with obvious effort. One turned often to the other, held back a branch, or proffered such service as he might over rough places, for Betty Dalrymple's movements were no longer those of a lithe wood-nymph; she had never felt so weary before. The first shades of twilight made it harder to distinguish their way amid intervening objects, and once an elastic bit of underbrush struck her sharply in the face. The blow smarted like the touch of a whip but she only smiled faintly. The momentary sting spurred her on faster, until her foot caught and she stumbled and would have fallen except that Mr. Heatherbloom had turned at that moment and put out an arm.
"Forgive me." His voice was full of contrition. "It has been brutal to make you go on like this, but I had to."
"It doesn't matter." The slender form slid from him over-quickly. "You, too, must be very tired," she said with breath coming fast.
He glanced swiftly back; listened. "We'll rest here," he commanded. "We've got to. I should have stopped before, but"—the words came in a harsher staccato—"I dared not."
"I'll be all right in a few moments," she answered, resting on a fallen log, "and then—"
"No, no," he said in a tone of finality. "After all, there is small likelihood they'll find us now. Besides, it will soon be too dark to go on. Fortunately, the night is warm, and I've got this cloak for you."
"And for yourself?" Her voice was very low and quiet, or perhaps it seemed so because here, in the little recess in the great wood, the hush was most pronounced.
"Me?" he laughed. "You seem to forget I'm one of the happy brotherhood that just drop down anywhere. Shouldn't know what to do with a silk eiderdown if I had one."
His gaiety sounded rather forced. She was silent and the quietude seemed oppressive. The girl leaned back to a great tree trunk and looked up. The sky wore an ocher hue against which the branches quivered in zigzags of blackness. Mr. Heatherbloom moved apart to watch, but still he neither saw nor heard sign of any one drawing near. The sad ocher merged into a somber blue; the stars came out, one by one, then in shoals. She could hardly see him now, so fast had the tropical night descended, but she heard his step, returning.
"Quite certain there's no danger," he reassured her. "Went back a way."
"Thank you," she said. And added: "For all."
"Betty." The stars twinkled madly. Pulsating waves seemed to vibrate in the air. A moment he continued to stare into the darkness, then again turned. He had not seen how the girl's hand had suddenly closed, and her slender form had swayed. As restlessly he resumed his sentinel's duty, Sonia Turgeinov's last words once more recurred to him. How often had he thought of them that long afternoon, and wondered who was the one the young girl would now shortly be free to turn to? There had been many in the past who had sought her favor. Perhaps the unknown was one of these; or, more likely, one of the newer many that had arisen, no doubt, since, in the gayer larger world of New York, or the continent. Betty Dalrymple's manner at the Russian woman's words indicated that the latter had—how Mr. Heatherbloom could not imagine—hit upon a great kernel of truth. Again, in fancy, he saw on her cheek that swift flush of warm blood. Lucky, thrice lucky, the man who had caused it! Softly Mr. Heatherbloom moved nearer.
Was she sleeping? He, himself, felt too fagged to sleep. Like Psyche, in the glade, she was covered all with starlight. He ventured closer, bent over; the widely opened eyes looked suddenly into his.
"The woman told me you had nothing to do with it—that plot of hers and the prince," she said slowly. "I know now why you were on the boat, and—all the rest—what it meant for me, your being there."
"You know, then"—embarrassed—"the awful mess I made of it all—"
"You dared a great deal," she said softly.
"And came an awful cropper!"
She did not answer directly. "At first Francois was most reluctant to risk going with me," she went on. "I thought it odd, at the time, he should change so suddenly, become so brave. Now I understand, at least, a little—in a general way. I have been over-quick to think evil of you, ever since we met again. Perhaps, in the past, too"—slowly—"I have been—"
"Betty!" he cried uneasily, and seemed about once more to move away, when—
"Don't go," she said. "I'll not talk if you command me not to. You've been the master to-day, you know," with subtle accent.
"Have I?" His voice showed evidence of distress. "I didn't really mean—it was necessary," he ended firmly.
"Of course it was," said the girl. Her accent conveyed no note of displeasure. Profile-wise he saw her face now—the young moon beyond. "Don't think I'm blaming you. I'm not quite so hard, perhaps, as I once was." Mr. Heatherbloom stood back a little farther in the shadow. "Maybe, my poor little standard of judgment—" she stopped. "I have been heedless, heartless, perhaps—"
"You!" he exclaimed. "You!" There was only unfaltering adoration in his tone—faith, unchanged and unchangeable.
She spoke with a little catch in her voice: "Oh, I haven't cared. I did flirt with the prince; he accused me of that. He was right. What did it matter to me, if I made others suffer? I haven't always had so good a time as I seemed to—" There was a ring of passion in her tone now. "What happened?" she said, turning on him swiftly. "What has happened? I want to know all—"
"You mean about the prince?"
"I know all I want to know about him," scornfully. "I mean"—her slender figure bent toward Mr. Heatherbloom—"you! What has taken place, and why has it? What does it all mean? Don't you understand?"
He drew in his breath slowly.
"Tell me," she said, still tensely poised, her eyes insistent in the shadow of her hair.
"Miss Dalrymple—Betty—" he half stammered.
"I want to know," she repeated. There was an inexorable demand in her gaze. Mr. Heatherbloom straightened. The ordeal?—it must be met—though that box of Pandora were best left unopened. He could not refuse her anything; this she asked of him was not easy to grant, however.
"Where shall I begin?" he said uncertainly. "You know a great deal. There doesn't seem much worth talking about."
"Begin where we left off—"
"Our boy-and-girl engagement? You broke it. Quite right of you!" She stirred slightly. "It was, at best, but a perfunctory business, half arranged by our parents to keep the millions together—"
"You never blamed me a little, then?" she asked.
"I—blame you?" wonderingly. "You were as far from me as a star. What you thought of me, you told me; it was all right—true stuff. Though it sank in like a blade. I was nothing—worse than nothing. A rich man's son!—a commonplace type. A good fellow some called me at Monte Carlo, Paris, elsewhere." He paused. A moment he seemed another personality—that other one. She saw it anew, caught a glimpse of it like a flash on a mirror; then he seemed to relapse farther back into the shadow. "I really don't want to bore you," he said perfunctorily, raising an uncertain hand to the stray; lock on his forehead.
"You aren't—doing that. Go on." Her eyes were full of questions. "After I saw you that last time"—he nodded—"you disappeared. No one ever heard anything of you; again, or knew what had become of you."
"As no one cared," he said with a short laugh, "what did it matter?"
"You were lost to the world—had vanished completely," she went on. "Sometimes I thought—feared you were dead." Her voice changed.
"Feared?" he repeated. "Ah, yes! You did not want me to go out like that."
"No," she said slowly. "Not like that."
He looked at her comprehendingly; in spite of the bitter passionate repudiation of him, she had been a little in earnest—had cared, in the least, how he went down.
"Why," he said, with a forced smile, "I didn't think you'd bother to give the matter a thought."
"You had some purpose?" she persisted, studying him. "I see—seem to feel it now. It all—you—were incomprehensible. I mean, when I saw you again that first time, in New York, after so long—"
"It was funny, wasn't it?" he said with rather strained lightness. "The Chariot of Concord—What's the Matter with Mother?—the gaping or jibing crowd—then you, going by—"
Her eyelids drooped; he stood now erect and motionless; in spite of the determination to maintain that matter-of-fact pose, visions appeared momentarily in his eyes. The glamour of the instant he had referred to caught him. All he had felt then at the unexpected sight of her—beautiful, far-away—returned to him. She was near now, but still immeasurably distant. He pulled himself together; he hadn't explained very much yet. He was forced to go on; her eyes once more seemed to draw the story from him.
"Yes; I had some purpose in going away like that. The idea came to me at the sanatorium, when I was about 'all in'. They'd managed to keep the drugs and the drink from me, and one day I seemed to wake up and realize I hadn't ever really lived. Just been a tail-ender who had 'gone the pace'. Hadn't even had a beginning. Was it too late to start over again? Probably." His voice came in crisp accents. "But it was a last chance—a feeble one—a straw to the drowning," he laughed. "That sounds absurd to you but I don't know how to explain it better."
"No; it doesn't sound absurd," she said.
"The idea of mine?—how to carry it out? Ways and means were not hard to find. I went to"—he mentioned a name—"an old friend of my father's. He thought I was a fool," bruskly, "but in the end he approved, or seemed to. Anyhow, I persuaded him to take all my bonds, securities and the rest of (for me) cursed stuff. At the end of a certain time, if I wanted back the few millions I hadn't yet run through, he was to give them to me, minus commissions, wage, etc."
"You mean," said the girl, "that was the way you took to go back to the beginning, as you call it?" Her eyes were like stars. "You practically gave away all your money so as to start by yourself."
"How could I start with it?" he asked, with a faint smile. "Don't you see, Betty"—in a momentary eagerness he forgot himself—"there couldn't be any compromising? Besides, it came to me—you will laugh"—she did not laugh—"that some day, somewhere else, if not here, I'd have to make that beginning, to be something myself. Remember that old Hindu fellow with a red turban who sat on your front lawn, beneath the palms, and had the women gathered around him in a kind of hypnotic state? He said something like that—I thought him an old fakir at the time. He used a lot of flowery language, but I guess, boiled down, it meant start at the bottom of the ladder. Build yourself up, the way my father did," with a certain wistful pride. "You remember him?"
Her head moved. "Fine looking, wasn't he?" ruminatively. "He got there with his hands and brains, and honestly. While I hadn't ever used either. I hope," he broke off, "all this doesn't sound like preaching."
"No," she said.
An instant his gaze lingered on her. "You're sleepy now," he spoke suddenly.
"No, I am not. You found it a little hard, at first?"
"A little. When a man is relaxed and the reaction is on him—" He stopped.
"Tell me—tell me all," she breathed. "Every bit of it, Harry."
His lips twitched. To hear his almost forgotten name spoken again by her! A moment he seemed to waver. Temptation of violet eyes; wonder of the rapt face! Oh, that he might catch her in his arms, claim her anew; this time for all time! But again he mastered himself and went on succinctly, as quickly as possible. Between the lines, however, the girl might read the record of struggles which was very real to her. He had reverted "to the beginning" with poor tools and most scanty experience. And there was that other fight that made it a double fight, the fiercer conflict with self. Hunger, privation, want, which she might divine, though he did not speak of them, became as lesser details. She listened enrapt.
"I guess that's about all," he said at last.
She continued to look at him, his features, clear-cut in the white light. "And you didn't ever really go back—to undo it all?"
"Once I did go back to 'Frisco"—he told her of the relapse with cold candor—"out at heels, and ready to give up. I wanted the millions. They were gone."
"You mean, lost?"
"Yes; he had speculated; was dead. Poor fellow!"
"You say that? And you have never tried to get any of the money back?"
"Fortunately, he died bankrupt," said Mr. Heatherbloom calmly.
"And you failed to show the world he was a—thief?" Something in the word seared her.
"What was the use? He left a wife and children. Besides, he really served me by what the world would call robbing me. I had to continue at the beginning. It was the foot of the ladder, all right," he added.
Her face showed no answering gaiety. "You are going to amount to a great deal some day," she said. "I think very few of us in this world find ourselves," she added slowly.
"Perhaps some don't have to hunt so hard as others," observed Mr. Heatherbloom.
"Don't they?" Her lips wore an odd little smile.
He threw back his shoulders. "Good night, now. You are very tired, I know."
She put out her hand. He took it—how soft and small and cold! The seconds were throbbing hours; he couldn't release it, at once. The little fingers grew warmer—warmer in his palm—their very pulsations seemed throbbing with his. Suddenly he dropped her hand.
"Good night," he said quickly.
He remembered he was nothing to her—that they would soon part for ever.
"Good night," she answered softly.
Morn came. They had heard or seen nothing of the prince and his men. Mr. Heatherbloom walked back for a cold plunge in a stream that had whispered not far from their camping spot throughout the night. He and Betty Dalrymple breakfasted together on an old log; it wasn't much of a meal—a few crackers and crumbs that were left—but neither appeared to mind the meagerness of the fare. With much gaiety (the dawn seemed to have brought with it a special allegrezza of its own) she insisted upon a fair and equitable division of their scanty store, even to the apportioning of the crumbs into two equal piles. Then, prodigal-handed for a castaway who knew not where her next meal might come from, she tossed a bit or two to the birds, and was rewarded by a song.
All this seemed very wonderful to Mr. Heatherbloom; there had never before been such a breakfast; compared to it, the dejeuner a la fourchette of a Durand or a Foyot was as starvation fare. It was surprising how beautiful the dark places of the night before looked now; daylight metamorphosed the spot into a sylvan fairyland. Mr. Heatherbloom could have lingered there indefinitely. The soft moss wooed him, somewhat aweary with world contact; she filled his eyes. The faint shadowy lines beneath hers which he had noted at the dawn had now vanished; the same sun-god that ordered the forest flowers to lift their gay heads commanded the rosebuds to unfold their bright petals on her cheeks. Her lips were as red berries; the cobwebs, behind, alight with sunshine, gleamed no more than the tossed golden hair. She had striven as best she might with the last, not entirely to her own satisfaction but completely to Mr. Heatherbloom's. His untutored masculine sense rather gloried in the unconventionally of a superfluous tangle or two; he found her most charming with a few rents in her gown from branch or brier. They seemed to establish a new bond of camaraderie, to make blithe appeal to his nomadic soul. It was as if fate had directed her footsteps until they had touched and lingered on the outer circle of his vagabondage. Both seemed to have forgotten all about his excellency.
"Rested?" queried Mr. Heatherbloom.
"Quite," she answered. There was no trace of weariness in her voice. "And you?"
"Ditto," he laughed. Then, more gravely, "You see, I fell asleep while watching," he confessed.
"You'd make a lenient commanding officer. Shall we go on?"
"I don't exactly know," he confessed.
"That's lovely." Then, tentatively, "It's nice here."
"Fine," he assented. There was no hardness in the violet eyes as they rested on him. He did not pause to analyze the miracle; he only accepted it. A moment he yielded to the temptation of the lotus-eater and continued to luxuriate in the lap of Arcadia. Then he bestirred himself uneasily; it was not sufficient just to breathe in the golden gladness of the moment. "Yes; it's fine," he repeated, "only you see—"
"Of course!" she said with a little sigh, and rose. "I see you are going to be very domineering, the way you were yesterday."
"Weren't you?" she demanded, looking at him from beneath long lashes.
"I'm sure I didn't intend—" He stopped for she was laughing at him. They went on and her mood continued to puzzle him. Never had he seen her so blithe, so gay. She waved her hand back at the woodland spot. "Good-by," she said.
Then they came upon the little town suddenly—so suddenly that both appeared bewildered. Only a hillock had separated them from the sight of it the night before. They looked and looked. It lay beneath an upward sweep of land, in a cosy indenture of a great circle that swept far around and away, fringed with cocoanut trees. Small wisps or corkscrews of smoke defiled the blue of the sky; a wharf, with a steamer at the end, obtruded abruptly upon the curve of the shore. Mr. Heatherbloom regarded the boat—a link from Arcadia to the mundane world. He should have been glad but he didn't seem overwhelmed at the sight; he stood very still. He hardly felt her hand on his sleeve; the girl's eyes were full of sparkles.
"What luck!" he said at length, his voice low and somewhat more formal.
"Isn't it?" she answered. And drawing in her breath—"I can scarcely, believe it."
"It's there all right." He spoke slowly. "Come." And they went down. A colored worker in the fields stared at them, but Betty nodded gaily, and asked what town it was and the name of the island. He told them, growing wonderment in his gaze. How could they be here and not know that; where had they come from? To him they were as mysterious as two visitants from Mars. Regardless of the effect they produced on the dusky toiler they walked on. The island proved to be larger than they had thought and commercially important. They had, the day before, but crossed a neck of it.
Soon now they reached the verge of the town and stood on its main artery of traffic; the cobblestone pavement resounded with the rattling of carts and rough native vehicles. At a curb stood a dilapidated public conveyance to which was attached a horse of harmoniously antique aspect. Miss Dalrymple got in and Mr. Heatherbloom took his place at her side.
"The cable office," said the girl briefly, whereupon a lad of mixed ancestry began to whack energetically the protuberant ribs of the drowsy steed. It woke him and they clattered down the narrow way. Mr. Heatherbloom leaned back, his gaze straight ahead, but Betty Dalrymple looked around with interest at the people of divers shades and hues, and, for the most part, in costumes of varying degrees of picturesque originality. After having narrowly escaped running over a small proportion of the juvenile colored population overflowing from odd little shops and houses, they reached the transportable zinc shed that served as a cable office. Here Miss Dalrymple indited rapidly a most voluminous message, paid the clerk in a businesslike manner, and, unmindful of his amazed expression as he read what she had written, tranquilly re-entered the carriage.
"Miss Van Rolsen will be relieved when she gets that," observed Mr. Heatherbloom mechanically. "It'll be a happy moment for her," meditatively.
"And won't she be gladder still when she sees us?" answered the girl gaily.
The use of the plural slightly disconcerted Mr. Heatherbloom for the moment, but he dismissed it as an inadvertence. "Where now?" he asked.
"Where do you think?" with dancing eyes. "Shopping, of course. Fortunately I drew plenty of money before starting for California."
An hour or so later Mr. Heatherbloom sat with parcels in his arms and bundles galore around him. He accepted the situation gracefully; indeed, displayed an almost tender solicitude for those especial packages she herself handed him.
"What next?" She had at length exhausted the somewhat limited resources of the thoroughfare.
"Drive to the best hotel," was her command. She laughed at the picture he made, or at something in her own thoughts. She had unconsciously assumed toward him a manner in the least proprietary, but if he noticed he did not resent it. They went faster; her voice was a low thread of music running through an accompaniment of crashing dissonances. She wore a hat now—the best she could find. He considered it most "fetching", but her thrilling derision overwhelmed his expression of opinion. Though the way was so rough that they were occasionally thrown rather violently one against another, they arrived in high spirits at their destination, Mr. Heatherbloom having performed the commendable feat of preserving intact the parcels and bundles en route. In the "best hotel" they were given two rooms overlooking a courtyard redolent with orchids. The girl nodded a brief farewell to him from the threshold of her room.
"In about an hour, please, come back."
He did, brushed up and with shoes shined, as presentable as possible. She wore the same gown, but the sundry rents were mended and there had occurred other changes he could divine rather than define. He brought her information—not agreeable, he said. He was very sorry, but the next boat for the United States would not call at the island for a fortnight. He expected her to show dismay, but she received the news with commendable fortitude, if not resignation.
"I can cable aunt every day—so there can be no cause for worry—and she will only be the more pleased when we actually do arrive."
Again the plural! And once more that prophetic picture which included Mr. Heatherbloom within the pale of the venerable and austere Miss Van Rolsen's jubilation. He looked embarrassed but said nothing. During the hour of his exclusion from Miss Dalrymple's company he had sallied forth on a small but necessary financial errand of his own. Francois had placed in the basket of biscuits a revolver, and this latter Mr. Heatherbloom, rightfully construing it as his own personal property in lieu of the weapon his excellency had deprived him of, had exchanged for a bit of cardboard and a greenback. The last named, reinforced by the small amount Mr. Heatherbloom had left upon reaching the Nevski and of which the prince had not deprived him, would relieve his necessities for the moment. After that? Well, he would take up the problem presently; he had no time for it now. This day, at least, should be consecrated to Betty Dalrymple.
He had an inkling that on the morrow he would see less of her; the girl's story would get around. The American consul would call and tender his services. The governor, too, Sir Charles Somebody, whose palatial residence looked down on the town from the side of the hill, might be expected to become officially and paternally interested. The little cable office, despite rules and regulations, could not long retain its prodigious secret; moreover Mr. Heatherbloom, in an absent-minded moment, had inscribed Miss Dalrymple's name on the register, or visitors' book. He recalled how the eyes of the old mammy, the proprietress, had fairly rolled with curiosity. No; he would not be permitted long to have her to himself, he ruminated; better make the most of his opportunity now. Besides, his present monetary position forbade his presence for more than a day or two at the "best hotel"; its rates were for him distinctly prohibitive. The exigencies of financial differences would soon separate them; she could draw on Miss Van Rolsen for thousands; he had but five dollars and twelve cents—or was it thirteen?—to his name.
He kept these reflections, however, to himself and continued to bask in the sunshine of a fool's paradise. They rode, walked and explored. They went to the fruit and the flower market. He bought her a great bunch of flowers, and she not only took it but wore it. For a time he stepped on air; his flowers constituted a fine splash of color on the girl's gown. Her heart beat beneath them; the thought was as wine.
"Shall we?" They had partaken of tea (or nectar) in a small shop, and now she paused before that most modern manifestation of a restless civilization, a begilded, over-ornamented nickelodeon. "Think of finding one of them way off here! Just as at home!"
"More extraordinary your wanting to go in!" he laughed.
"Why not? It will be an experience."
They entered; the place was half filled and they took seats toward the back. There were films, and songs of the usual character; it was very gay. Gurgles of merriment from Creoles and darkies were heard on all sides. They, too, yielded freely, gladly to its infection. Happy Creoles! happy darkies! happy Betty Dalrymple and Horatio Heatherbloom—heiress and outcast! There is a democracy in laughter; yon darky smiled at Miss Dalrymple, while Mr. Heatherbloom laughed with her, with them, and the world. For was she not near, right there by his side? To Mr. Heatherbloom the tinsel palace had become a temple of felicity and wonder. Suddenly he started and his face changed.
"The Great Diamond Robbery," one of the films, was in progress, and there, depicted on the canvas, amid many figures, he saw himself, the most pronounced in that realistic group. And Betty Dalrymple saw the semblance of him, also, for she gave a slight gasp and sat more erect. In the moving picture he was running away from a crowd.
"Shall—shall we go?" The face of the flesh-and-blood Mr. Heatherbloom was very red; he looked toward the door.
She did not answer; her eyes continued bent straight before her, and she saw the whole quick scene of the drama unfolded. Then the street became cleared, the fleeing figure had turned a corner as an automobile, not engaged for the performance, came around it and went by. A big car—her own—she was in it. She caught, like a flash on the canvas, a glimpse of herself looking around; then the scene came to an end. Betty Dalrymple laughed—a little hysterically.
"Oh," she said. "Oh, oh!"
He became, if possible, redder.
"Oh," she repeated. Then, "Why"—with eyes full of mingled tragedy and comedy—"did you not explain it all that day, when—"
Of course she knew even as she spoke why he could not, or would not.
"You had cause to think so many things," he murmured.
"But that! How—how strange! I saw you, and—"
He laughed. "And the manager told me I was a 'rotten bad' actor! Those were his words; not very elegant. But I believed him, until now—"
"Say something harsh and hard to me," she whispered, almost fiercely. "I deserve it."
The violet eyes were passionate. "Betty!" he exclaimed wonderingly.
"Do you call that harsh?" she demanded mockingly. "You—you should be cross with me—scold me—punish me—"
"Well," he said calmly, "you haven't believed that, lately, anyhow."
"No; I just set it aside as something incomprehensible, not to be thought of, or to be considered any more. I believed in you, with all my soul, since last night—a good deal before that, yes, yes!—in my innermost heart! You believe me, don't you?"
He answered, he hardly knew what. Some one was singing Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet. Her shoulder touched his arm and lingered there. "Oh, my dear!" she was saying to herself. The pianist banged; the vocalist bawled, while Mr. Heatherbloom sat in ecstasy.
They took her away the next day. The governor—Sir Charles Somebody—had heard of her and came and claimed her. His lady—portly, majestic—arrived with him. Their carriage was the finest on the island and their horses were the best. The coachman and footman were covered with the most approved paraphernalia and always constituted an unending source of wonder and admiration for the natives. The latter gathered in front of the best hotel on this occasion; they did not quite know what was taking place, but the sight of the big carriage there drew them about like flies.
Mr. Heatherbloom did not linger to speculate or to survey. He had seen but not spoken to Miss Dalrymple that morning; she had smiled at him across space, behind orchids. A moment or two he had sat dreaming how fine it would be to live for ever in such a courtyard, with Betty Dalrymple's face on the other side, then the hubbub below disturbed and dispelled his reflections. He went down to investigate and to retreat. Sir Charles and his lady were in the hall; they seemed to charge the entire hostelry with their presence. Mr. Heatherbloom walked contemplatively out and down the street.
His mind, with a little encouragement, would have flitted back to courtyards and orchids, but he forced it along less fanciful lines. Mundane considerations were imperative and courtyards were a luxury of the rich. He calculated that, after paying his bill at the best hotel, he wouldn't have much more than half a dollar, or two English shillings, left. The situation demanded calm practical reflection; he strove to bestow upon it the necessary measure of orderly thinking. Yesterday, with its nickelodeon, or temple of wonder, was yesterday; to-day, with its problems, was to-day. He had lingered in the happy valley, or kingdom of Micomicon, but the carriage was before the door—the golden chariot had come to bear away the beautiful princess.
Mr. Heatherbloom asked for employment at the wharf and got it. The supercargo of the boat, loading there, had been indulging, not wisely but too well, in "green swizzles", an insidious drink of the country, and, when last seen was oblivious to the world. A red-haired mate, with superfluous utterance, informed the applicant he could come that afternoon and temporarily essay the delinquent one's duties, checking up the bags of merchandise and bananas the natives were bringing aboard, and otherwise making himself useful. Mr. Heatherbloom tendered his thanks and departed.
He wandered aimlessly for a while, but the charm of the town had vanished; he gazed with no interest upon quaint bits most attractive yesterday, and stolidly regarded now those happy faces he had liked so much but a short time before. He shook himself; this would not do; but the work would soon cure him of vain imaginings.
He returned to the hotel and settled with the landlady. Betty Dalrymple was gone. Of course, there could be no denying Sir Charles and his lady; one of the young girl's place and position in the world could not, with reason or good grace, refuse the governor's hospitality. Mr. Heatherbloom was hardly a suitable chaperon. But she had left a hasty and altogether charming note for him which he read the last few moments he spent in the courtyard room. "Come soon;" that was the substance of it. What more could mortal have asked? Mr. Heatherbloom gazed at an empty window where he had last seen her (had they been there only twenty-four hours?), then he took a bit of painting on ivory from his pocket and wrapped the message around it. Before noon he had engaged cheap but neat lodgings at the home of an old negro woman.
Several days passed. After waiting in vain for him to call at the governor's mansion, Betty Dalrymple drove herself to the hotel; here she learned that he had gone without leaving an address; a message from Sir Charles for Mr. Heatherbloom, formally offering to put the latter up at government house, had not been delivered. Mr. Heatherbloom had failed to call for his mail.
"Really, my dear, such solicitude!" murmured the governor's wife, when Miss Dalrymple came out of the hotel. "An ordinary secret-service man, too."
"Oh, no; not an ordinary one," said the girl a little confusedly. She had not taken the liberty of speaking of Mr. Heatherbloom's private affairs to her august hosts. His true name, or his story, were his to reveal when or where he saw fit. In taking her into his confidence he had sealed her lips until such time as she had his permission to speak.
"Well, don't worry about the man," observed the elder lady rather loftily. "There has been a big reward offered, of course, and he'll appear in due time to claim it."
"He'll not," began Betty Dalrymple indignantly, and stopped.
She had been obliged to explain in some way Mr. Heatherbloom's presence, and the subterfuge he had himself employed toward her on the Nevski had been the only one that occurred to her. A brave secret-service officer who had aided her—that's what Mr. Heatherbloom was to the governor and his better half. Hence the distinct formality of Sir Charles' note to Mr. Heatherbloom, indited at Miss Dalrymple's special request and somewhat against the good baronet's own secret judgment. A police agent may be valiant as a lion, but he is not a gentleman.
Something of this axiomatic truth the excellent hosts strove to instill by means, more or less subtle, in the mind of their young guest; but she clung with odd tenacity to her own ingenuous point of view. Whereupon Sir Charles figuratively shrugged. Reprehensible democracy of the new world! She, with the perversity of American womankind, actually spoke of, and, no doubt, desired to treat the fellow as an equal.
She found him one morning, a day or two later. She came down to the wharf, alone, and on foot. He held a note-book and pencil, but that he had not been above lending physical assistance, on occasion, to the natives bearing bags and other merchandise, was evident from his hands which were grimy as a stevedore's. His shirt was open at the throat, and his face, too, bore marks of toil. Betty Dalrymple stepped impetuously toward him; she looked as fresh as a flower, and held out a hand gloved in immaculate white.
"Dare I?" he laughed.
"If you don't!" Her eyes dared him not to take it.
He looked at the hand, such a delicate thing, and seemed still in the least uncertain; then his fingers closed on it.
"You see I managed to find you," she said. "Who is that man who stares so?"
"That," answered Mr. Heatherbloom smiling, "is my boss."
"Well," she observed, "I don't like his face."
"Some of the darkies he's knocked down share, I believe, your opinion," he laughed. "Excuse me a moment." And Mr. Heatherbloom stepped to the dumfounded person in question, handed him the note-book and pencil, with a request to keep tab for a moment, and then returned to the girl. "Now, I'm at your command," he said with a smile.
"Suppose we take a walk?" she suggested. "We can talk better if we do."
A moment Mr. Heatherbloom wavered. "Sorry," he then said, "but I've promised to stick by the job. You see the old tub sails to-morrow for South America and it'll be a task to get her loaded before night. Some of the hands, as well as the supercargo, have been bowled over by fire-water."
"I see." There was a strained look about her lips. Before them heavily laden negroes and a few sailors passed and repassed. The burly red-headed mate often looked at her; amazement and curiosity were depicted on his features; he almost forgot the duties Mr. Heatherbloom had, for a brief interval, thrust upon him. Betty Dalrymple, however, had ceased to observe him; he, the others, no longer existed for her. She saw only Mr. Heatherbloom now; what he said, she knew he meant; she realized with an odd thrill of mingled admiration and pain that even she could not cause him to change his mind. He would "stick to his job", because he had said he would.
"I'm interrupting, I fear," she said, a feeling of strange humility sweeping over her. "When is your day's work done?"
"About six, I expect."
"The governor gives a ball for me to-night," she said.
"Excellent. All the elite of the port will be there, and," with slow meditative accent, "I can imagine how you'll look!"
"Can you?" she asked, bending somewhat nearer.
"Yes." His gaze was straight ahead.
The white glove stole toward the black hand. "Why don't you come?"
"I?" He stared.
"Yes; the governor has sent you an invitation. He thinks you a secret-service officer."
Mr. Heatherbloom continued to look at her; then he glanced toward the boat. Suddenly his hand closed; he hardly realized the white glove was in it. "I'll do it, Betty," he exclaimed. "That is, if I can. And—there may be a way. Yes; there will be."
"You mean, you may be able to rent them?" With a sparkle in her glance.
"Exactly," he answered gaily, recklessly.
Both laughed. Then her expression changed; she suppressed an exclamation, but gently withdrew her hand.
"How many dances will you give me, Betty?" He had not even noticed that he had hurt her; his voice was low and eager.
"Ask and see," she said merrily, and went. But outside the shed, she stretched her crushed fingers; he was very strong; he had spoiled a new pair of gloves; she did not, however, seem greatly to mind. As for Mr. Heatherbloom, for the balance of the day he plunged into his task with the energy of an Antaeus.
* * * * *
Sir Charles regarded rather curiously that night one of his guests who arrived late. Mr. Heatherbloom's evening garments were not a Poole fit, and his white gloves, though white enough, had obviously been used and cleaned often. But the host observed, also, that Mr. Heatherbloom held himself well, said just the right thing to the hostess, and moved through the assemblage with quite the proper poise. He didn't look bored, neither did he appear overimpressed by the almost palatial elegance of the ball-room. He even managed to suppress any outward signs of elation at the sight of Miss Dalrymple with whom he had but the opportunity for a word or two, at first. Naturally the center of attraction, the young girl found herself forced to dance often. He, too, whirled around with others, just whom, he did not know; he dipped into Terpsichorean gaiety to escape the dowager's inquisition regarding that haphazard flight from the Nevski and other details he did not wish to converse about. But his turn came with Betty at last, and sooner than he had reason to expect.
"Ours is the next?" she said, passing him.
Was it? He had ventured to write his name thrice on her card, but neither of the dances he had claimed was the next.
"I put your name down for this one myself," she confessed to him a few moments later. "Do you mind?"
Did he? The evening wore away but too soon; he held her to him a little while, only over-quickly to be obliged to yield her to another. And now, after a third period of waiting, the time came for their last dance. He went for it as soon as the number preceding was over; he wanted, not only to miss none of it, but he hungered to snatch all the prelude he could. The conventional-looking young personage she had been dancing with regarded the approaching Mr. Heatherbloom rather resentfully, but he moved straight as an arrow for her. At once she stepped toward him, and he soon found himself walking with her across the smooth shining floor, on into the great conservatory. Here were soft shadows and wondrous perfumes. Mr. Heatherbloom breathed deeply.
"But a few days more, and we're en route for home." It was the girl who spoke first—lightly, gaily—though there was a thrill in her tones.
He started and did not answer at once. "That will be great, won't it?" His voice, too, was light, but it did not seem so spontaneously glad as her own.
"You are pleased, aren't you?" she said suddenly.
"Pleased? Of course!"
A brief period of inexplicable constraint! He looked at one of her hands resting on the edge of a great vase—at a flower she held in her fingers.
"May I?" he said, and just touched it.
"Of course!" she laughed. "A modest request, after all you've done for me!"
Her fingers placed it in the rented coat.
"There!" she murmured in a matter-of-fact tone, stepping back.
His face, turned to the light, appeared paler; his eyes looked studiously beyond her.
"It will be jolly on the steamer, won't it?" she went on.
"Jolly? Oh, yes," he assented, with false enthusiasm, when a black and white apparition appeared before them, no less a person than Sir Charles.
The governor, as the bearer of particular news, had been looking for her. Mr. Heatherbloom hardly appreciated the preamble or the importance of what followed. Sir Charles imparted a bit of confidential information they were not to breathe to any one until he had verified the particulars. Word had just been brought to him that the Nevski had gone on a reef near a neighboring island and was a total wreck. A passing steamer had stood by, taken off the prince and his crew and landed them. Still Mr. Heatherbloom but vaguely heard; he felt little interest at the moment in his excellency or his boat. Betty Dalrymple's face, however, showed less indifference to this startling intelligence.
"The Nevski a wreck?" she murmured.
"It must all seem like an evil dream to you now," Mr. Heatherbloom spoke absently. "Your having ever been on her!"
"Not all an evil one," she answered. They stood again on the ball-room floor. "Much good has come from it. I no longer hate the prince. I only blame myself a great deal for many things—"
He seemed to hear only her first words. "'Good come from it?' I don't understand."
"But for the Nevski, and what happened to me, I should have gone on thinking, as I did, about you."
"And—would that have made such a difference?" quickly.
She raised her eyes. "What do you think?"
The music had begun. He who had heretofore danced perfectly, now guided wildly.
"Take care!" she whispered.
But discretion seemed to have left him; he spoke he knew not what—wild mad words that would not be suppressed. They came in contact with another couple and were brought to an abrupt stop. Flaming poppies shone on her cheeks; her eyes were brightly beaming. But she laughed and they went on. He swept her out of the crowded ball-room now, on to the broad veranda where a few other couples also moved in the starlight. On her curved lips a smile rested; it seemed to draw his head lower.
"Betty, do you mean it?" Again the words were wrested from him, would come. "What your eyes said just now?"
She lifted them again, gladly, freely—not only that—
"Yes; I mean it—mean it," said her lips. "Of course! Foolish boy! I have long meant it—"
"Long?" he cried.
"You heard what the Russian woman said—"
"About there being some one? Then it was—"
"Guess." The sweet laughing lips were close; his swept them passionately. He found the answer; the world seemed to go round.
But later, that night, there was no joy on Mr. Heatherbloom's face. In his room in the old negro woman's house, he indited a letter. It was brought to Betty Dalrymple the next morning as the early sunshine entered her chamber overlooking the governor's park.
"Darling: Forgive me. I am sailing at dawn on the old tub, for South America—"
Here the note fell from the girl's hand. Long she looked out of the window. Then she went back to the bit of paper, took it and held it against her breast before she again read. She seemed to know now what would be in it; the strange depression that had come over her after he had left last night was accounted for. Of course, he would not go back to New York with her; he would, or could, accept nothing, in the way she wished, from her or her aunt. It was necessary for him still to be Mr. Heatherbloom; he had not yet "found himself" fully; the beginning he had spoken of was only begun. The influential friends of his father in the financial world had become impossible aids; he had to continue as he had planned, to go his own way, and his, alone. It would have been easy for him, as his father's son and the prospective nephew of the influential Miss Van Rolsen, to have obtained one of those large salaried positions, or "sinecures", with little to do. But that would be only beginning at the end once more.
Again she essayed to read. The letter would have been a little incomprehensible to any one except herself, but she understood. There were three "darlings"; inexcusable tautology! She kissed them all, but she kissed oftenest the end: "You will forgive me for forgetting myself—God knows I didn't intend to—and you will wait; have faith? It is much to ask—too much; but if you will, I think my father's son and he whom you have honored by caring for, may yet prove a little worthy—"
The words brought a sob to her throat; she threw herself back on the bed. "A little?" she cried, still holding the note tight in her hand. But after a spell of weeping, once more she got up and looked out of the window. The sunshine was very bright, the birds sang to her. Did she take heart a little? A great wave of sadness bowed her down, but courage, too, began to revive in her.
"Have faith?" She looked up at the sky; she would do as he asked—unto the grave, if need be. Then, very quietly, she dressed and went down-stairs.
It is very gay at the Hermitage, in Moscow, just after Easter, and so it was natural that Sonia Turgeinov should have been there on a certain bright afternoon some three years later. The theater, at which she once more appeared, was closed for the afternoon, and at this season following Holy Week and fasting, fashionables and others were wont to congregate in the spacious cafe and grounds, where a superb orchestra discourses classical or dashing selections. The musicians played now an American air.
"Some one at a table out there on the balcony sent a request by the head waiter for it," said a member of Sonia Turgeinov's party—a Parisian artist, not long in Moscow.
"An American, no doubt," she answered absently, sipping her wine. The three years had treated her kindly; the few outward changes could be superficially enumerated: A little more embonpoint; a tendency toward a slight drooping at the corners of the mobile lips, and moments when the shadows seemed to stay rather longer in the deep eyes.
"That style of music should appeal to you, Madam," observed the Frenchman. "You who have been among those favored artists to visit the land of the free. Did you have to play in a tent, and were you literally showered with gold?"
"Both," she laughed. "It is a land of many surprises."
"I have heard es ist alles 'the almighty dollar'," said a musician from Berlin, one of the gay company.
"Exaggeration, mein Herr!" she retorted, with a wave of the hand. "It is also a komischer romantischer land." For a moment she seemed thinking.
"Isn't that his excellency, Prince Boris Strogareff?" inquired abruptly a young man with a beyond-the-Volga physiognomy.
She started. "The prince?" An odd look came into her eyes. "Do you believe in telepathic waves, Monsieur?" she said gaily to the Frenchman.
"Not to any great extent, Madam. Mais pourquoi?"
"Nothing. But I don't see this prince you speak of."
"He has disappeared now," replied her countryman, a fellow-player recently come from Odessa. "It is his first dip again into the gaieties of the world. For several years," with the proud accents of one able to impart information concerning an important personage, "he has been living in seclusion on his vast estates near the Caspian Sea—ruling a kingdom greater than many a European principality. But have you never met the prince?" To Sonia Turgeinov. "He used to be a patron of the arts, according to report, before the sad accident that befell him."
"I think," observed Sonia Turgeinov, with brows bent as if striving to recollect, "I did meet him once. But a poor actress is forced to meet so many princes and nobles, nowadays," she laughed, "that—"
"True! Only one would not easily forget the prince, the handsomest man in Asia."
She yawned slightly.
"What was this 'sad accident' you were speaking of, mein Herr? observed the German, with a mind trained to conversational continuity.
"The prince was cruising somewhere and his yacht was wrecked," said the young Roscius from Odessa. "A number of the crew were drowned; his excellency, when picked up, was unconscious. A blow on the head from a falling timber, or from being dashed on the rocks, I'm not sure which. At any rate, for a long time his life was despaired of, but he recovered and is as strong and sound as ever. Only, there is a strange sequel; or not so strange," reflectively, "since cases of its kind are common. The injury was on his head, as I remarked, and his mind became—"
"Affected, Monsieur?" said the Frenchman. "You mean this great noble of the steppe is no longer right, mentally?"
"He is one of the keenest satraps in Asia, Monsieur. His brain is as alert as ever, only he has suffered a complete loss of memory."
Sonia Turgeinov's interest was of a distinctly artificial nature; she tapped on the floor with her foot; then abruptly arose. "Shan't we go into the garden for our coffee?" she said. "It is close here."
They got up and walked out. As they did so they passed a couple at one of the tables on the balcony and a slight exclamation fell from Sonia Turgeinov's lips. For an instant she exhibited real interest, then hastening down the steps, she selected a place some distance aside. A great bunch of flowers was in the center of the table and she moved her chair behind them.
"You see some one you know, gnaedige Madam?" asked the observant Teuton.
"A great many people," she answered.
"There's that American over there who asked for the Yankee piece of music," said the Frenchman, with eyes on the two people Sonia Turgeinov had started at sight of, a moment before. "Mon Dieu! What charm! What beauty!"
"Der Herr Amerikaner?" blurted the surprised Berliner.
"No—diable! His belle companion!"
"Where?" said Sonia Turgeinov, well knowing. A face that her table companion regarded, she, too, saw beyond the flowers. The afternoon sunshine touched the golden hair of her she looked at; the violet eyes shone with delight upon bizarre details: of the scene—the waiters in blouses resembling street "white wings" in American cities, the coachmen outside, big as balloons in their quilted cloaks.
"Der Herr Amerikaner has the passionate eyes of an admirer, a devout lover," murmured the sentimental musician from Berlin.
"Or an American husband!" said Roscius from Odessa.
"Sometimes!" added the Frenchman cynically.
"I haf met him," observed the Herr Musikaner, "at the hotel. We haf talked together, once or twice. He has been in South America—Argentine, ich glaube—and has made a fortune there. And madam, his wife, and he are making a grand tour of the world. Their wedding trip, I believe. Sie kommt von einer der ersten Familien—the Dalrymples. Der Herr Direktor of the Russicher-Chinese bank told me. He cashes the drafts—Her Gott—nicht kleine!"
These prosaic details the Frenchman, pictorially occupied, hardly, heard. "Mon Dieu! What a chapeau!" he sighed. "No wonder he looks enchanted at that wonderful creation of the Rue de la Paix."
"He seems quite an exception to some husbands in that respect!" remarked the Berliner in deep gutturals.
Sonia Turgeinov lighted a cigarette and blew the smoke at the flowers. There was a resentful cynicism in the act; she leaned back with greater abandon in her chair. "After all, the unities have been observed," she said with an odd laugh.
"What unities?" asked Roscius, becoming keen as a young hound on the scent, at the sound of the trite phrase.
"Oh, I was thinking of a play." Stretching more comfortably. Suddenly her cigarette waved; behind the flowers, her eyes dilated. Prince Boris Strogareff was coming down the steps; he passed the American couple they had been talking about and looked at them. A light of involuntary admiration shone from his gaze, but there was no recognition in it—only the instinctive tribute that a man of the world and a gallant Russian is ever prone to pay at the sight of an unusually charming member of the other sex. Then, once more impassive—a striking handsome figure—he moved leisurely down and out of the gardens. The couple, engrossed at the time in a conversation of some intimate nature or in each other, had not even seen or noticed the august nobleman.
Sonia Turgeinov drew harder on the cigarette; a laugh welled from her throat. "Oh, I wouldn't have missed it for worlds!" she said.
Young Roscius with the Tartar eyes stared at her. She threw away the smoking cylinder.
"Has not the curtain descended?" enigmatically.
"I don't see any curtain," said the Frenchman.
"No? But it's there." At the gate, however, once more she paused—to listen, to laugh.
"Was jetzt?" asked the mystified Berliner.
She only shrugged.
The orchestra, having played a few conventional selections after Dixie, had now plunged into Marching through Georgia.
As Sonia Turgeinov disappeared through the gate, the golden head surmounted by the "wonderful chapeau", bent toward the clean-cut, strong-looking face of the young man on the other side of the small table.
"It's awfully extravagant of you, Harry,—twenty roubles, a tip for those musicians. But it makes it seem like home, doesn't it?"
"Yes, darling," he answered.