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Title: Long Odds
Author: Bindloss, Harold, 1866-1945
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Long Odds" ***

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[Illustration: "He watched her go down the stairway."--See page 279.]


LONG ODDS

by

HAROLD BINDLOSS

Author of "Alton of Somasco," "The Cattle-Baron's
Daughter," "The Mistress of Bonaventure,"
"Winston of The Prairie," "Delilah of
The Snows," etc.



[Illustration: SCIRE QVOD SCIENDVM]

Boston
Small, Maynard & Company
1908

Copyright, 1908, by
Small, Maynard & Company
(Incorporated)



CONTENTS

 CHAPTER                                       PAGE
       I  THOMAS ORMSGILL                         1
      II  RESTITUTION                            16
     III  HIS OWN PEOPLE                         29
      IV  THE SUMMONS                            44
       V  A DETERMINED MAN                       60
      VI  DESMOND MAKES AN ADMISSION             73
     VII  ORMSGILL KEEPS HIS WORD                86
    VIII  THE BONDSWOMAN                         97
      IX  ANITA BECOMES A RESPONSIBILITY        108
       X  ORMSGILL ASKS A FAVOR                 118
      XI  DESMOND VENTURES A HINT               129
     XII  LISTER OFFERS SATISFACTION            141
    XIII  HIS BENEFICENT INFLUENCE              152
     XIV  HERRERO'S IMPRUDENCE                  165
      XV  NARES COUNTS THE COST                 176
     XVI  NEGRO DIPLOMACY                       189
    XVII  THE AMBUSCADE                         201
   XVIII  DOM CLEMENTE LOOKS ON                 213
     XIX  THE DELAYED MESSAGE                   225
      XX  DESMOND GOES ASHORE                   237
     XXI  ON THE BEACH                          250
    XXII  UNDER STRESS                          264
   XXIII  THE SLACKENING OF RESTRAINT           280
    XXIV  BENICIA MAKES A BARGAIN               294
     XXV  DOMINGO APPEARS                       307
    XXVI  THE DAY OF RECKONING                  320
   XXVII  AN ERROR OF JUDGMENT                  332
  XXVIII  THE CHEFE STANDS FAST                 344
    XXIX  DOM CLEMENTE STRIKES                  356
     XXX  ORMSGILL BEARS THE TEST               369
    XXXI  ON HIS TRIAL                          381
   XXXII  BENICIA UNDERTAKES AN OBLIGATION      392



LONG ODDS



CHAPTER I

THOMAS ORMSGILL


It was towards the middle of a sweltering afternoon when Commandant
Dom Erminio roused himself to wakefulness as he lay in his Madeira
chair on the veranda of Fort San Roque, which stands beside a muddy
river of Western Africa. As a rule Dom Erminio slept all the
afternoon, which was not astonishing, since there was very little else
for him to do, and if there had been he would conscientiously have
refrained from doing it as long as possible. It is also very probable
that any other intelligent white man similarly circumstanced would
have been glad to spend part, at least, of the weary day in merciful
oblivion. San Roque is one of the hottest places in Africa, which is
saying a good deal, and at night a sour white steam, heavy with the
exhalations of putrefaction, rises from the muddy river. They usually
bring the white man who breathes them fever of one or several kinds,
while even if he endures them scatheless the steamy heat melts the
vigor out of him, and the black dejection born of it and the monotony
crushes his courage down. San Roque is scorched with pitiless
sunshine during part of the year, but it is walled in by never-lifting
shadow, for all round the dark forest creeps close up to it.

On the afternoon in question the Commandant's rest was prematurely
broken, because his dusky major-domo had not had the basket chair
placed where it would remain in shadow, and a slanting shaft of
sunlight struck hotly upon the sleeper's face. A dull throbbing sound
also crept softly out of the heavy stillness, and it was a sound which
usually promised at least an hour or two's distraction. Dom Erminio
recognized it as the thud of canoe paddles, and sat upright in his
chair looking about him drowsily, a little, haggard, yellow-faced man
in white uniform, with claw-like hands whose fingers-ends were stained
by tobacco. He lived remote from even such civilization as may be met
with on the coast of Western Africa, with a handful of black soldiers
and one white companion, distinctly on sufferance, since the fever and
certain tribesmen who showed signs of resenting the white men's
encroachments might at any time snuff him out. He was, however, of
Iberian extraction, and it was characteristic of him that he did not
concern himself greatly about the possibility of such a catastrophe or
consider it worth while to take any steps to avert it which he might
perhaps have done.

As he glanced round he saw the straggling line of stockade which was
falling down in places, for, being what he was, it had not occurred to
him to mend it; the black soldiers' thatched quarters; and the
ramshackle residency, which was built in part of wood and in part of
well rammed mud. Beyond them rose the forest, black and mysterious,
cleft by the river's dazzling pathway, and a faint look of
anticipation crept into Dom Erminio's eyes as the thud of paddles grew
louder. The river was one stage of the road to civilization, and he
could not quite give up the hope that certain political friends in his
own country would remember him some day. Then his look of interest
died away, for it became evident from the beat of paddles that the
occupants of the approaching canoe were traveling faster than any one
in the Government service usually thought it worth while to do.
Besides that, the Government's messengers were not addicted to
traveling at all in the heat of the afternoon.

"Ah," he said, with a wave of his unlighted cigarette which was
vaguely expressive of resignation, "it is the Englishman Ormsgill or
the American missionary. Perhaps, by a special misfortune, it may be
both of them."

His companion, who leaned upon the balustrade, nodded, for Englishmen
and Americans are not held in great esteem in that country, nor are
missionaries of any kind. They see too much, and some of them report
it afterwards, which, when now and then the outer world pricks up its
ears in transient interest or indignation, is apt to make trouble for
everybody. Still, the Lieutenant Luiz was a lethargic man and a
philosopher in his way, so he said nothing, though he waved the comely
brown-skinned girl who had been sitting near him back into the house.
There was, at least, no occasion to provide a weapon for the enemy,
and Marietta had made several attempts to run away lately.

Commandant Erminio smiled approvingly. "What one suspects does not
count," he said. "In this land of the shadow one suspects everything
and everybody. There are even envious and avaricious men on the coast
down yonder who fling aspersions at me."

If Lieutenant Luiz had been an Englishman he would probably have
grinned, but he was too dignified a gentleman to do anything of that
kind, though there was a faint twinkle in his languid dark eyes. Then
a canoe swung into sight round a bend, and slid on towards the landing
with wet paddles flashing dazzlingly. Four almost naked negroes swung
them, but another man, who wore white duck and a wide gray hat also
plied a dripping blade just clear of the awning astern, which was a
very unusual thing in that region.

"It is certainly the Englishman Ormsgill," said Dom Erminio. "That is
a man the fever cannot kill, which is, perhaps, a pity." Then he waved
his cigarette again. "Still, it is possible that Headman Domingo will
settle with him some day."

The canoe slid up to the pile-bound bank, and the two white men who
got out strode towards the residency, which was characteristic, since
on a day of that kind an Iberian would certainly have sauntered. The
first of them was tall, and thinner even than most white men are who
have had the flesh melted from them in tropical Africa. His face was
hollow, though he was apparently only some thirty years of age, but
it was the face of a strong-willed man, and there was a certain
suggestion of optimism in it and his eyes, which was singularly
unusual in the case of a man who had spent several years in that
country. Even nature is malignant there, and man is steeped in lust
and avarice and cruelty, but in spite of this Watson Nares was an
optimist as well as an American medical missionary.

He returned the Commandant's greeting, which was punctiliously
courteous, and sitting down in the chair a negro brought for him,
waited until his companion, who had turned to give an order to the
canoe boys, came up. The latter was of average height, a strongly
built man of about the missionary's age, with a brick red face, fair
hair thinned by fever, and wrinkles about his gray eyes. They were
steady, observant eyes, though a half-cynical, half-whimsical twinkle
crept into them now and then, as it did when he glanced towards the
Commandant. The latter would have clapped his shoulder, but he avoided
the effusive greeting with a certain quiet tactfulness which was usual
with him.

"The padre and I are going back to the concession," he said in
Portuguese. "If you have any hammock boys we would like to borrow
them."

The Commandant said that this was unfortunately not the case. Two of
his carriers had dysentery, and another a guinea worm in his leg; and
there was only the little twinkle in Ormsgill's eyes to show that he
did not believe him.

"Besides," said Lieutenant Luiz, "the country is not safe. There is a
rumor that the Abbatava men are watching the lower road."

Ormsgill laughed, though he fancied that Dom Erminio had flashed a
quick glance at his subordinate before the latter spoke.

"Still, I scarcely think the Abbatava people will trouble me, and in
any case some of them would be sorry if they did," he said. "Well,
since you have no carriers we will get on again. It is a long way to
the concession, and Lamartine is very ill. I brought up the padre to
see if he could do anything for him."

Dom Erminio shrugged his shoulders. "It is a wasted effort, which is a
thing to be regretted in this land, where an effort is difficult to
make. Lamartine has been ill too often, and if he is ill again he will
certainly die. As you have heard, the bushmen are in an unsettled
state, and there are several sick men here. It is, perhaps, convenient
that the Señor Nares should stay at San Roque."

He made a little suggestive gesture which seemed to indicate that the
road was unsafe, turning towards his subordinate as though for
confirmation, but once more Ormsgill fancied there was a warning in
his glance.

"Of a surety!" said the Lieutenant Luiz. "Lamartine is probably not
alive by now. Still, if the Señor Nares insists on going it is well
that he should take the higher road."

In the meantime the canoe boys had unrolled a canvas hammock and
lashed it to its pole. Nares stood up as they approached the veranda
stairway with the pole upon their wooly crowns.

"I will come back and look at your sick," he said. "We have only the
one hammock, Ormsgill."

Ormsgill smiled. "There is nothing very wrong with my feet, and I
haven't had a dose of fever for some time. It isn't your fault that
you have one now."

He made the two officers a little inclination as he took off his hat,
and Nares, who shook hands with them, crawled into his hammock. He, at
least, had the fever every two or three months or so. Then the boys
struck up a marching song as they swung away with their burden into
the steamy shadow, and the Commandant leaned on the balustrade
listening with a little dry smile until the crackle of trampled
undergrowth and sighing refrain died away.

"When one desires to encourage such men it is generally wise to point
out the difficulties," he said. "One would fancy that they were fond
of them, especially the Señor Ormsgill, who is of the kind the customs
of this world make rebels of."

"And the other?" asked Lieutenant Luiz, who had, not without reason, a
respect for the wisdom of his superior. He had found that it was, in
some ways at least, warranted.

The Commandant lighted his cigarette, and watched the first smoke
wreath float straight up into the stagnant air. "He would be a martyr.
It is a desire that is incomprehensible to you and me, but there are
others besides him who seem to cherish it--and in this land of the
devil opportunities of satisfying it are generally offered them."

He looked at Lieutenant Luiz, and once more the latter's face relaxed
into the nearest approach to a grin his sense of dignity allowed. One
could have fancied there was an understanding of some kind between the
men.

In the meanwhile Nares' bearers were plodding down a two-foot trail
walled in by thorny underbrush and festoons of as thorny creepers that
flowed down in tangled luxuriance between the towering cottonwood
trunks. There was dim shade all about them, and the atmosphere was
like that of a Turkish bath, steamy and almost insufferably hot, only
that there was in it something which checked instead of accelerated
the cooling perspiration. Now and then the bearers gasped, and
Ormsgill's face was flushed as he walked beside the hammock.

"We should get through by to-morrow night if we take the lower road,"
he said. "I believe that would be advisable, though I'm not quite sure
of it. At least, it's the nearer one, and Lamartine was going down
hill very fast when I left him. In fact, he sent two of the boys to
the Mission for Father Tiebout. In one way, the thing's a trifle
invidious, but, you see, Lamartine is of his persuasion."

Nares smiled. "I'm to have the care of his body, and Father Tiebout of
his soul. Well, we have fought as allies on those terms before, and I
guess I don't mind."

"You're quite sure? After all, in one way, the soul of Lamartine would
be something of a trophy."

The American looked up at him with a faint kindling in his eyes.
"Tiebout has so many to his credit--and he could afford to spare me
this one. Still, at least, I can heal the body, if I am called in in
time."

"Which is a good deal. Especially in a land where it is singularly
difficult to believe that men have souls at all."

Nares shook his head. "If I didn't feel quite so played out I'd take
your challenge up," he said. "Guess we'll join issue on that point
another time. You mentioned once or twice that Lamartine was very
sick?"

"There's about one chance in twenty we get there before he's dead.
It's one of the reasons I'm taking the lower road. It's the nearest."

It was characteristic that Ormsgill did not state that it was also one
of the reasons he had traveled for four days and most of four nights
under an enervating heat. Lamartine was an alien of dubious character,
and in some respects distinctly uncongenial habits, but Ormsgill had
not spared himself to give his comrade that one chance for his life.

"Didn't Lieutenant Luiz' recommendation count?" asked Nares.

"No," said Ormsgill, reflectively. "I don't think it did. At least,
not as he meant it to, though I've been trying to worry out what he
did mean exactly. One thing's certain. He wasn't prompted by any
solicitude for our safety. You see, he might have been counting on my
distrust of him, or my usual obstinacy, and wanted me to take the
higher road after all. Or he may have been playing another game. I
don't know. That's why we'll take the nearest way and not worry. When
you're in doubt, it's generally wisest to do the obvious thing."

Nares made a little drowsy gesture of concurrence. "Straight to the
mark--and you get there now and then. At least, it can't be the wrong
path--and if one doesn't finish the journey it's only a falling out by
the way. A good many of us have done that in this country."

Ormsgill said nothing. He had somewhere buried deep in him a vague,
unformulated faith which, however, seldom found expression of any kind
in words, and was tinged with a bitterness against all conventional
creeds, which was not altogether astonishing in the case of a man who
had lived as he had done in the dark land. Still, he had traveled four
days and nights to bring his sick comrade the assistance he felt would
arrive too late and now, when he dragged himself along dead weary
through the steamy shade, he had reasons for surmising that there was
peril somewhere down the winding trail.

Nares was asleep when they passed the forking and held on by the lower
road, and Ormsgill did not tell the boys that he had seen a huddled
black figure lying a few yards back among the undergrowth. He did not
even stop to look at it. Labor is in demand in that country, and when
it is supplied by a dusky contractor who collects the raw material in
the bush the unfortunate who sickens on the long march from the
interior usually dies. Transport on the human head makes provisions
costly in a devastated country, and it is not economy to feed a man
who will bring one nothing in. A white man, as everybody knows, may
not own or sell a slave in any part of Africa under European control,
but he must have labor, and there are in practice ways of getting over
the obvious difficulty. They are not ways which are discussed openly,
and, so far as one can ascertain, are by no means satisfactory to the
negro for whose benefit they are sometimes said to be devised. In
this, and a few other matters, the negro's opinion is not, however,
deferred to. It is his particular business to gather rubber for the
white man and grow his cocoa, and the fact that he is not as a rule
content to recognize this obligation is very seldom taken into
consideration.

It had been dark two hours, and the bearers could go no further
without a rest, when Ormsgill camped on a ridge beneath tall tufted
palms at least a hundred yards from the trail. There was a reason for
this, and also for the fact that he allowed no fires to be made,
though of all things the negro loves a cheerful blaze. The powers of
evil are very real to him, which is by no means astonishing
considering the land he lives in. The boys sat huddled about the empty
hammock among the palms, while the two white men lay upon a waterproof
ground sheet some fifty yards apart from them and nearer the trail.
Ormsgill had had very little sleep during the last four nights, but
he was very wide awake then, and a good magazine rifle, which had been
smuggled through San Roque without the Commandant's notice, lay across
his knees.

He was listening intently, but could hear nothing except an occasional
rustling among the creepers and the heavy splash of moisture on the
leaves. Nor could he see very much, for though here and there a star
shown down between the towering trunks, a sour white steam hung almost
a man's height about the dripping undergrowth. Save for the splash of
moisture it was so still that Nares, with imagination quickened by the
tension the fever had laid upon his nerves, could almost fancy he
could hear things growing. The growth, at least was characteristic of
the country in that it was untrammeled, luxuriant, and destructive
rather than beneficent. Orchids and parasites sucked the life blood
from the trees, and throve upon their ruin; creepers strangled them
and tore them down half-rotten. It was a mad, cruel struggle for
existence, and Ormsgill, whose hot hands were clenched upon the rifle,
clearly recognized that man must take his part in it. As a matter of
fact, he was not averse to doing so. There was a vein of combativeness
in him, and circumstances had hitherto usually forced him well to the
front when there was trouble anywhere in his vicinity.

What he and Nares talked about was of no particular consequence. They
were men whose inner thoughts only became apparent now and then, and
their conversation largely concerned the merits of certain Congolese
cigars. By and by, however, Nares stopped abruptly, as a hand that
evidently did not belong to his companion touched his arm, but it was
characteristic of him that he did not start. He looked round instead,
and saw an indistinct and shadowy figure rise out of the undergrowth.
It pointed up the trail, and Ormsgill, who seemed to listen for a
moment or two, nodded.

"I really think Lieutenant Luiz meant us to take the other road," he
said. "That must be Domingo bringing down another drove, and as it is
evidently a big one it is just as well we didn't meet him on the
trail. Domingo doesn't like either of us, and he has been getting
truculent lately."

Nares said nothing, and a faint patter of naked feet that grew
steadily louder crept out of the silence. It was dragging and
listless, the shuffle of weary and hopeless men; and it was evident
that the hammock boy who sank down again into the undergrowth close
beside Ormsgill was badly afraid. Five minutes later a shadowy figure
appeared among the trees below them where the mist was thinner, grew a
trifle plainer as it slipped across an opening and vanished again, but
there were others behind, and for several minutes a row of half-seen
men flitted by. Here and there one of them draped in white cotton
carried a flintlock gun, but the rest were half-naked, and last of all
a few plodded behind a lurching hammock. They went by without a sound
but the confused patter of weary feet upon the quaggy trail, and left
an impressive silence behind them when they plunged into the gloom
again.

Then Ormsgill smiled grimly as he tapped the breech of his rifle.

"If homicide is ever justifiable it would have been to-night," he
said. "One could hardly have missed that bulge in Domingo's hammock,
and the longing to drive a bullet through it was almost too much for
me."

Nares made no attempt to rebuke him. "That man," he said, "is
permitted to be--one must suppose as part of a great purpose. The
mills of the gods grind slowly, but they do their work thoroughly."

"It seems so," and Ormsgill laughed a little bitter laugh. "Anyway,
the stones are wet with blood, and a good many of us have passed
between them. One wonders now and then how long the downtrodden will
endure that terrible grinding."

"It is for a time only. Day and night the cry goes up in many
tongues."

"And the gods of the heathen cannot hear; and those of the white men
may, it seems, be propitiated by masses in the cathedral and stained
windows bought with cocoa and rubber dividends. Well, one must try to
believe that Domingo's laborers enlisted for the purpose of being
taught agriculture by the white men of their own free will. At least,
that is the comfortable assurance usually furnished the civilized
powers, and as they have their own little problems to grapple with
they complacently shut one eye. I only wonder how many played-out
niggers' throats Domingo has cut on the way. In the meanwhile,
Lamartine is dying, and we may as well get on again."

He called to the hammock boys, who still seemed afraid, and in another
five minutes the little party was once more floundering onwards
through the silence of the steamy bush.



CHAPTER II

RESTITUTION


Darkness had closed down suddenly on the forest, but it was hotter
than ever in the primitively furnished general room of Lamartine's
house, where the lamp further raised the already almost insupportable
temperature. There was also a deep, impressive silence in the bush
that shut the rickety dwelling in, though now and then the sound of a
big drop splashing upon a quivering leaf came in through the open
window with startling distinctness. Lamartine, the French trader, was
dead, and had been buried that afternoon, as was customary, within an
hour or two after the breath has left his body. His career, like that
of most men in his business, had not been a very exemplary one, but he
had, at least, now and then shown that he possessed certain somewhat
fantastic and elementary notions of ethics, which he was in the habit
of alluding to as his code of honor. It was, as Father Tiebout, who
had once or twice given him spiritual advice when he was very sick of
fever, admitted, a rather indifferent one, but very few white men in
that country had any code at all, and, as the good padre said, it was
possible that too much would not be expected from any one who had
lived in that forest long.

In any case, Lamartine had gone to answer for the deeds that he had
done, and the three men who had buried him and had constituted
themselves his executors sat about his little table with the
perspiration dripping from them. There was Nares, gaunt and
hollow-faced, weak from fever and worn with watching; Father Tiebout,
the Belgian priest, little, and also haggard; and Ormsgill, the
gray-eyed, brown-faced Englishman, who sat looking at them with set
lips and furrowed forehead. Their creeds were widely different, but
men acquire a certain wide toleration in the land of the shadow, where
it is exceedingly difficult to believe in any thing beyond the
omnipotence of evil.

It was, perhaps, characteristic that it was the priest who tore up
certain papers Ormsgill had selected from the pile upon the table.

"I do not think that anything would be gained by allowing them to come
under the notice of the authorities," he said. "I am not sure that
they might not consider they invalidated the trifling bequest to the
Mission, which with good management should enable us to rescue a few
more of the heathen."

"A very few!" and Ormsgill smiled. "The market's stiff now Domingo has
practically a monopoly as purveyor. Converts will be dearer. One
understands that you buy most of yours."

Father Tiebout's eyes twinkled good-humoredly. "One must use the means
available, and it is, at least, something if we can save their bodies.
But to proceed, our companion will agree with me that repentance must
be followed by restitution or reparation. In the case of the friend we
have buried one must take the will for the deed, and the will was
there. Restitution may also be efficacious if it is vicarious. As you
know, it was the thought of the woman from the interior that most
troubled Lamartine."

Ormsgill glanced at Nares, for both had heard some, at least, of the
dying man's words on that subject, but for a time the American looked
straight in front of him. Then he turned to Ormsgill.

"He seemed to expect you to make that restitution for him. Tell us
what you know. Most of it will not be news to Father Tiebout, but I
haven't his advantages."

"The affair is easily understood. Lamartine bought the girl from the
man who ran the labor supply business before Domingo. She was
decidedly good-looking, a pretty warm brown in color, and had the most
intelligent eyes I've ever seen in an African. The curious thing is
that I believe Lamartine was genuinely fond of her. In any case, he
was furious when one of the boys laid what looked like very conclusive
evidence of her unfaithfulness before him. He meant to administer the
usual penalty."

Father Tiebout made a little gesture. "Ah," he said, "these things
happen. One can only protest."

"Well," said Ormsgill dryly, "as you know, they didn't in this case. I
nearly broke his wrist, but I took the pistol from him. You see, I
rather believed in the girl's innocence. Lamartine compromised the
thing by handing her on to Herrero--though he would take no money for
her. He had, as he was rather fond of mentioning, his code of honor.
There was a trying scene when Herrero sent for her. The girl flung
herself down and clung to Lamartine's knees. It seemed she was fond of
the man, and didn't want to go away, which was, as it happens, wise of
her. Though she was probably not aware of this, Herrero trains the
women who take his fancy with the whip."

He stopped a moment and glared at Nares. "I have no doubt the padre
knows the rest. Lamartine found out not long ago that the boy had
lied, and remembered a little too late that Herrero would in all
probability beat the girl to death in one of his outbreaks. He made
him a very tempting offer if he would send her back, but Herrero
apparently wanted to keep her, and while negotiations were in progress
Lamartine fell sick. I naturally don't know what he told the padre,
but he once or twice assured me that if he knew she could be sent back
safe to her people in the bush he would die more contentedly. In fact,
improbable as it may seem in this country, the thing was worrying him
badly."

It was significant that Nares, who was something of an optimist,
appeared by his expression to consider the fact that such a thing
should have troubled Lamartine very improbable indeed, but Father
Tiebout smiled contemplatively. His profession gave him, as had been
suggested, advantages which Nares did not enjoy, and he was a wise man
in his way.

"Lamartine," he said, "desired to make restitution--but to do it in
his own person was not permitted him."

Then he turned, and sat still with his eyes fixed on Ormsgill, as
though waiting. It was, in fact, an occupation he was accustomed to,
for one who would see the result of his efforts must as a rule wait a
long while in Africa.

Ormsgill met his gaze thoughtfully, with steady gray eyes, and it was
a moment or two before he spoke.

"Whether a vicarious reparation will be of any benefit to the soul of
Lamartine I naturally do not know," he said. "It is enough for me that
he and the padre seemed to fancy it might be, and, as it happens, I
owe Lamartine a good deal. This is why I practically promised to
undertake his responsibility. I am not sure that either of you know I
first arrived in this Colony trimming coal among the niggers in a
steamer's stokehold."

Father Tiebout made a little gesture with his hands which seemed to
imply that there was very little he was not acquainted with, and
Ormsgill went on--

"Still, I do not think you know I was quietly compelled to abandon the
service of a British Colony for a fault I never committed. My friends
at home very naturally turned against me. I had brought them
discredit--and it did not matter greatly whether I was guilty. How I
made a living afterwards along this coast does not concern you; but I
went down in one sense as far as a white man may, and the struggle has
left a mark that will never quite come out on me. Still, I met with
kindness from other outcasts and benighted heathen, as one usually
does from the outcast and the trodden on, and, when I was flung ashore
after nearly pounding the life out of a brutal second engineer,
Lamartine, who had gone down to the coast on business, held out a hand
to me. As I said, I feel that I owe him a little."

He stopped for a moment with a little grim smile. "Herrero has gone
South somewhere, taking the girl with him, but if she is alive I think
I can promise that he will give her up. After that it would not be so
very difficult to send her back to where she comes from in the bush."

"For the repose of the soul of Lamartine!" and Nares glanced at Father
Tiebout, with a challenge in his eyes.

The little priest's gesture seemed to imply that he declined to be
drawn into a controversy, and it was Ormsgill who answered the
American.

"To discharge a debt--among other reasons--and as a protest. I have
been driven to exhaustion myself more than once. Have you any hope at
all to offer these African people, I mean in this world, padre?"

Father Tiebout smiled. "Yes," he said simply. "One does what one can,
and waits patiently. How long, I do not know, but slowly or suddenly,
in our time, or in the time of these people's children, the change
will come."

He looked at Nares, the man of action, who bore with waiting ill, and
he, flushed with fever, laid a hand that was clenched hard upon the
table.

"You expect them to endure to the second generation. I tell you that
they are forging spears in the interior now. A little more, and they
will come down and wipe out every bush mission and garrison, and can
we blame them, who stand by and tolerate the abominable traffic in
black men's souls and bodies? There was more excuse for the old-time
slavery. Horrible as it would be, one could almost welcome the
catastrophe which would force the outside world to recognize what
white men are doing here."

There were, perhaps, men in the outside world who knew it already, and
could suggest no remedy. After all, labor is essential to the
prosperity of any African colony, and while in some which are ruled as
justly as circumstances permit the negro is offered wages for his
services, and can go home with his earnings when he likes, there are
others where more drastic measures are adopted. There the labor
purveyor collects the white man's servants in the bush, and it is not
the business of the Administration to inquire whether they are
prisoners of war or have been sold by their friends. They are bound
down to toil for a term of years, and if they die off during it few
troublesome questions are asked. The African climate is an unhealthy
one, as everybody knows.

In the meanwhile neither of Nares' companions said anything for a
space. They were thinking of the same thing, each in his own way,
while the dense steamy blackness of the African night shut them in.
Ormsgill, who had been driven until the sweat of anguished effort
dripped from him, wondered vaguely what a man with brains and nerve
and money might do on the negroes' behalf in spite of the opposition
of a corrupt administration. The priest was also wondering how much
he could accomplish with Lamartine's bequest, very little of which
would, however, in all probability, be allowed to remain in his
hands, though he knew that it would in any case not go very far,
for he was one who recognized that the new beneficent order must be
evolved slowly, here a little and there a little, with other men to
carry out what he had begun. Father Tiebout seldom rode a tilt at
impossibilities, as Nares and Ormsgill occasionally did. He was a wise
man, and knew the world too well. At last Nares made a little gesture
of weariness.

"Well, the thing may happen, but that hardly concerns us in the
meanwhile, and our work here is done. I wonder if you remember that
you haven't read the letters Father Tiebout brought up, Ormsgill?"

Ormsgill had, as it happened, quite forgotten them. He had arrived
worn out with a long and hasty journey, and Nares and he had then kept
close watch beside his comrade's bed. When at last their watch was
over there was still much to be done, and now for the first time he
had leisure to open the packet the priest had handed him. He took out
a stiff blue envelope with an English postmark, and gazed at it heavy
eyed and vacantly before he broke the cover. Then he slowly
straightened himself in his chair, and incredulity gave place to
bewilderment as he read the letter he shook out. Lamartine's death had
left him an outcast and one obnoxious to constituted authority again.
Five minutes ago he had not known what his next step would be, but the
stiff legal writing held out before him dazzling possibilities. Then
he laid down the letter, and turned to his companions with a curious
little laugh.

"The thing is almost incredible," he said. "A man who I was told would
never forgive the discredit I brought upon the family has died in
England and left me what looks very like a fortune. The other letters
may bear upon it. You'll excuse me."

They watched him in silence for ten minutes, and there was a faint
flush in his bronzed face when he quietly rose and took out a
photograph from a little tin box.

"Padre," he said, "you are the wisest man I know, and, though
distinctions are invidious, Nares is, I think, the honestest. That is
why I am going to put a case before you. Well, I had a good
upbringing, and I think my English friends expected something from me
before I was flung out of the British service and became a pariah.
After that I never troubled them again, which was no doubt a cause of
satisfaction to everybody. There was, however, a thing I had to do
which was not easy, and this picture should make it clear to you. It
was arranged that we should be married when I had brought my laurels
home from Africa."

He handed Nares the photograph. "When I was made a scapegoat I gave
her back her liberty. It is now intimated that she has not so far
profited by it."

Nares bent over the portrait of a young and very comely English girl,
and saw only the fresh, innocent face, and the smiling eyes. Then he
handed it to the little haggard priest, who had a deeper
understanding, and saw a good deal more than that.

"It is a beautiful face," he said when Father Tiebout had gazed at it
steadily, but the latter said nothing, and turned towards Ormsgill, as
though still ready to give him his attention, which he seemed to
understand.

"It is more than four years since I saw her, and I have spent them
with the outcasts," he said. "You can realize what effect that has
upon one, padre. The stamp this country sets on the white man is plain
on you, but you have not lived here as I have been forced to do. Well,
I think the woman is still the same, and I have greatly changed. I do
not know my duty."

Father Tiebout sat silent for at least a minute, looking reflectively
at the man before him. Ormsgill was young still, but his lean face was
furrowed, and there was a suggestiveness in the lines on it. He had
seen death and pestilence, human nature stripped naked, and
unmentionable cruelty; and the priest was quite aware that one cannot
live with the outcast, in Africa, and remain unchanged. Then he looked
at the photograph again, for he knew that the four years had also had
their effect upon the woman.

"Ah," he said, "we all grow, some towards the beneficent light, and
some in the blighting shadow. The training and the pruning we are
subjected to also has its effect. Her people?"

"I almost think you would consider them children of this world," said
Ormsgill dryly.

"And you have been left a good deal of money?"

Ormsgill told him what the amount was, and once more the priest said
nothing for awhile. Quiet and unobtrusive as he was, he never forgot
that he was one of the vanguard of the Church militant, and was ready
to use with skill any weapon that was offered him. It was also
necessary to thrust hard now and then, and he knew that in his hands
the man who had lived with the outcast and the oppressed would prove a
reliable blade. Ormsgill, as he recognized, had capacities. Still, his
counsel had been asked, and he would answer honestly, knowing that he
could afford to do it if his knowledge of human nature, and the girl's
face, had not deceived him. After all, he fancied, whatever he said
the result would be the same, and he was playing a skillful game of
which the stakes were black men's bodies, and, perhaps, human souls.

"With a sum like that there is so much that one could do," he said.
"With discretion--you understand--here and there a little. Domingo put
down, women dying at their tasks redeemed and enfolded in the shelter
of the Mission, men with brutal masters set at liberty, and
concessions where they are driven to death suppressed. One could also
bring about a reckoning with corrupt authority. When admonition is of
no service one may try the scourge."

He saw the little glint in Ormsgill's eyes, and made a deprecatory
gesture with his hands. "Still, you have asked for counsel, and you
have another duty. With us marriage is not a social contract, and the
promise that precedes it is almost as sacred. You are pledged to this
Englishwoman if she has not released you, and that you are changed
will not matter if she loves you. It is your duty to go back to her."

Nares looked up and nodded. "Of course!" he said. "You must go."

Ormsgill's forehead was furrowed, and the perspiration stood in beads
on it. The love that had driven him out to win his spurs in the land
of shadow still in some degree, at least, remained with him; but he
was conscious of the change in him which the girl with her upbringing
might well shrink from. He had lived with the outcasts until he had
become one of them, a hater of conventional formulas and shams, while
there had crept into his nature a trace of the somberness of the dark
land. What, he wondered, would the sunny-tempered English girl he had
left make of such a man. Still, as the priest had said, his duty was
clear, and, what was perhaps more, his inclination marched with it. He
straightened himself suddenly with a little resolute jerk of his
shoulders.

"I will start for the coast to-morrow, and go to Grand Canary," he
said. "As it happens, she is there now with her people. Still, before
I go, padre, I will arrange with the casa Sarraminho to hand you the
equivalent of £200 sterling. With that you can buy the liberty of the
woman Lamartine gave Herrero, and use what is left over as you and
Nares think fit. If Herrero will not part with her, or you find the
thing too difficult, I will come back for a while and undertake it
myself. After all, it is my affair. I owe it to Lamartine."

Then he took the little photograph and replaced it in the tin box,
after which he walked quietly past them and out of the room while,
when they heard him go down the veranda stairway, Father Tiebout
looked at his companion with a curious smile.

"Four years!" he said. "It is a space in a woman's lifetime, and every
year leaves its mark on us. It is decreed that we must grow, but we do
not all grow the same."

In the meanwhile Ormsgill stood in the little compound with the sour
white steam drifting past him. The forest rose out of it, a great
black wall, and its hot, damp smell was in his nostrils. It was a
heady savor, for something that goes with the smell of the wilderness
sinks deep into the hearts of those who once allow it to enter, and is
always afterwards a cause of disquietude and restlessness to some of
them. Ormsgill had had his endurance and all the courage he was born
with taxed to the uttermost in that steamy shade, but now when he was
about to leave it he found the smell of its tall white lilies and the
acrid odors of corruption stirring and shaking him. At last, with a
little jerk of his shoulders, which was a trick he had acquired from
Lamartine, he turned and went back to the lighted room again.



CHAPTER III

HIS OWN PEOPLE


The velvet dusk that crept up from the eastwards was held in check by
the brightening flood of moonlight on the sea when Ormsgill leaned on
the balustrade of the veranda outside the _Hotel Catalina_ in Grand
Canary. Close in front of him the long Atlantic swell broke upon the
hammered beach with a drowsy rumbling, and flung a pungent freshness
into the listless air, for the Trade breeze had fallen dead away. The
fringe of surf ran southwards beside the dim white road to where the
lights of Las Palmas blinked and twinkled in the shadow the great
black peaks flung out upon the sparkling sea.

Ormsgill, who had turned from its contemplation at the sound of a
voice he recognized, had, however, no longer any eyes for the
prospect. He had arrived on an African mail-boat two hours earlier,
and had somehow missed the girl whose voice had sent a little thrill
through him. She had, it seemed, gone in through one of the long,
lighted windows instead of by the door, but the horse she had just
dismounted from was still standing with another, which carried a man's
saddle, just below the veranda. Ormsgill could see that it was one of
the sorry beasts the Spaniards hire to Englishmen, but it was also
jaded and white with lather.

"These English have no consideration," said the peon who held its
bridle, to a comrade. "This horse is old, but when I brought it here
it was not more than a very little lame. Now it is certain I cannot
hire it to anybody to-morrow. They were at Arucas, which for a horse
of this kind is a long way, but they came home by the barranco and
across the sand heaps at the gallop. The Señorita must not be late for
dinner. _Vaya!_ it is a cruelty."

The matter was, perhaps, not a great one in itself, but it had a
somewhat unpleasant effect upon Ormsgill, who knew that the Iberian is
not as a rule squeamish about any cruelty that the lust of gain
renders it necessary to inflict upon his beast. The horse, as he could
see, had certainly been ridden hard, and was very lame. The thing
jarred on him, and as he leaned on the veranda waiting until the
message he had left to announce his arrival should be delivered, a
scene he had looked upon in the dark land forced itself upon his
recollection. It was a line of jaded men staggering under the burdens
on their heads through an apparently interminable sea of scorched and
dusty grass. There was little water in that country at the season, and
they dragged themselves along, grimed with the fibrous dust, in
torments of thirst, with limbs that were reddened by the stabbing of
the flinty grass stems. Then rousing himself he drove the suggestive
vision from his brain and entered the hall of the big hotel.

It blazed with light, there was music somewhere, and already
conventionally attired men and elaborately dressed women were
descending the stairway, and appearing by twos and threes from the
corridors. They were for the most part Englishmen and women, but
Ormsgill was a little astonished to feel that instead of arousing
sympathy their voices and bearing jarred on him. Their conversation
appeared to have no point in it, and their smiles were meaningless.
They seemed shallow and artificial, and he had lived at high pressure,
face to face with grim realities, in the land of the shadow. He stood
a little apart, quietly regarding them, a lonely figure in plain white
duck with a lined brown face, until a burly man in the conventional
black and white strode up to him.

"I'm uncommonly glad to see you, Tom," he said. "Ada will be down in a
minute. I left her and her mother almost too startled to understand
that you had arrived. The man you gave your message to had just
brought it in. You should have let us know what boat you were sailing
by. But I mustn't keep you talking. You have just time to change your
things."

Ormsgill shook hands with him, but was conscious of a lack of
enthusiasm as he did it that irritated him. He had once considered
Major Chillingham a very good fellow, but now there seemed to be
something wanting in his characteristic bluff geniality. Ormsgill
could not tell what it was, but he felt the lack of it.

"I suppose there is," he said with a smile. "Still, you see, I haven't
anything to change into. In fact, my present outfit is a considerably
smarter one than the get-up I have been accustomed to dining in."

Chillingham's gaze was at first expressive of blank astonishment, and
there was a sardonic gleam in Ormsgill's eyes. "You must try to
remember that I've got out of the way of wearing evening clothes. I
think I'd made it clear that I have been down in the depths the past
four years."

His companion's red face flushed a trifle, but he laughed. "Well," he
said, "that's one of the things we needn't talk about, and I'm not
sure that everybody would be so ready to mention it." Then he drew
back a trifle. "Tom, you're greatly changed."

Ormsgill nodded. "Yes," he said, "I dare say I am. In several ways the
thing's not unnatural."

After that Chillingham discoursed about English affairs, and though it
appeared to cost him a slight effort Ormsgill made no attempt to help
him. He stood still, perfectly at his ease, but for all that conscious
that he was an anachronism in such surroundings, while the men and
women who smiled or nodded to his companion as they came into the hall
cast curious glances at him. This duck-clad man with the lined face
and steady eyes was clearly not of their world, which was, in the case
of most of them, an essentially frivolous one.

At last he turned, and strode forward impulsively as the girl he
waited for came down the stairway in a filmy dress of lace-like
texture that rustled softly as it flowed about her. She was
brown-haired and brown-eyed, warm in coloring, and her face, which was
as comely as ever, had a certain hint of disdain in it. That, however,
did not strike Ormsgill then, for she flushed a little at the sight
of him, and laid a slim white hand in his.

"Tom," she said, "I am very glad, but why didn't you cable? Still, you
must tell me afterwards. We are stopping the others, and mother is
waiting to speak to you."

Ormsgill was conscious of a faint relief as he turned to the tall lady
who stood beside the girl, imposing and formal in somber garments. The
meeting he had looked forward to with longing, and at the same time a
vague apprehension, was over. He had, he felt, been reinstated,
permitted to resume his former footing, and the manner of the elder
lady, which was quietly gracious, conveyed the same impression. Then
Mrs. Ratcliffe sent her brother, the Major, on to see that places were
kept for them together, and Ormsgill was thankful that the dinner
which was waiting would render any confidential conversation out of
the question for the next hour. He wanted time to adjust himself to
the changed conditions, for a man can not cut himself adrift from all
that he has been accustomed to and then resume his former life just as
he left it, especially if he has dwelt with the outcast in the
meanwhile.

A chair had been placed for him between Ada Ratcliffe and her mother,
while Major Chillingham sat almost opposite him across the long table.
The glow of light, glitter of glass and silver, scent of flowers and
perfumes, and hum of voices had a curious effect on him after the
silence of the shadowy forest and the primitive fashion in which he
had lived with Lamartine, and some minutes had passed before he
turned to the girl at his side.

"I was a little astonished to hear that you were in Las Palmas," he
said.

Ada Ratcliffe looked at him with a smile, and a slight lifting of her
brows. She was perfectly composed, and in one way he was glad of that,
though he vaguely felt that her attitude was not quite what he had
expected.

"Astonished only?" she said. "As you would have had to change steamers
here and wait a few days it would probably have taken you two weeks
more to join us in England. At least, so the Major said."

Ormsgill felt he had deserved this, for he had recognized the inanity
of the observation when he made it. It was evident that his companion
had recognized it, too. Still, it is difficult to express oneself
feelingly to order.

"I should have said delighted," he ventured.

The girl smiled again, and he felt that he had chosen an injudicious
word. "In any case, it isn't in the least astonishing that we are
here. It is becoming a recognized thing to come out to Las Palmas in
the winter, and I believe it is a good deal cheaper than Egypt or
Algeria. That is, of course, a consideration."

"It certainly is," broke in the lady at her side. "When they are
always finding a new way to tax us in, and incomes persist in going
down. Tom is fortunate. It will scarcely be necessary for him to
trouble himself very much about such considerations."

Ormsgill for the first time noticed the signs of care in Mrs.
Ratcliffe's face, and the wrinkles about her eyes. Neither had, he
fancied, been there when he had last seen her in England nearly five
years earlier, but the change in her was as nothing compared to that
in her daughter. Ada Ratcliffe was no longer a fresh and somewhat
simple-minded English girl. She was a self-possessed and dignified
woman of the world, but what else she might be he could not at the
moment tell. He blamed himself for the desire to ascertain it, since
he felt it was more fitting that he should accept her without question
as the embodiment of all that was adorable. Still, he could not do it.
The four years he had spent apart from her had given him too keen an
insight.

"Well," he said, "there are people who believe that the possession of
even a very small fortune is something of a responsibility."

"That," said Mrs. Ratcliffe, "is a mistake nowadays. There are so many
excellent organized charities ready to undertake one's duties for one.
They are in a position to discharge them so much more efficiently."

Ormsgill did not reply to this, though there was a faint sardonic
twinkle in his eyes. He was not, as a rule, addicted to passing on a
responsibility, but he remembered then that he had handed a little
Belgian priest £200 to carry out a duty that had been laid on him. The
fact that he had done so vaguely troubled him. Mrs. Ratcliffe,
however, went on again.

"One of the disadvantages of living here is the number of invalids one
is thrown into contact with," she said. "I find it depressing. You
will notice the woman in the singularly unbecoming black dress yonder.
She insists on drinking thick cocoa with a spoon at dinner."

One could have fancied that she felt this breach of custom to be an
enormity, and Ormsgill wondered afterwards what malignant impulse
suddenly possessed him. Still, the worthy lady's coldly even voice and
formal manner jarred upon him, while the pleasure of meeting the girl
he had thought of for four long years was much less than he felt it
should have been. He resented the fact, and most men's tempers grow a
trifle sharp in tropical Africa.

"Well," he said dryly, "one understands that it is nourishing, and,
after all, we are to some extent cannibals."

"Cannibals?" said Mrs. Ratcliffe with a swift suspicious glance which
seemed to suggest that she was wondering whether the African climate
had been too much for him.

"Yes," said Ormsgill, "cocoa, or, at least, that grown in parts of
Africa where the choicest comes from, could almost be considered human
flesh and blood. Any way, both are expended lavishly to produce it. I
fancy you will bear me out in this, Señor?"

He looked at the little, olive-faced gentleman in plain white duck who
sat not far away across the table. He had grave dark eyes with a
little glint in them, and slim yellow hands with brown tips to some of
the fingers, and was just then twisting a cigarette between them.
Ormsgill surmised that it cost him an effort to refrain from lighting
it, since men usually smoke between the courses of a dinner in his
country. There was a certain likeness between him and the Commandant
of San Roque, sufficient at least, to indicate that they were of the
same nationality, but the man at the table in the _Catalina_ had been
cast in a finer mold, and there was upon him the unmistakable stamp of
authority.

"One is assured that what is done is necessary," he said in slow
deliberate English. "I am, however, not a commercialist."

"You, of course, believe those assurances?"

The little white-clad gentleman smiled in a somewhat curious fashion.
"A wise man believes what is told him--while it is expedient. Some
day, perhaps, the time comes when it is no longer so."

"And then?"

A faint, suggestive glint replaced the smile in the keen dark eyes.
"Then he acts on what he thinks himself. Though I can not remember
when, it seems to me, senhor, that I have had the pleasure of meeting
you before."

"You have," said Ormsgill dryly. "It was one very hot morning in the
rainy season, and you were sitting at breakfast outside a tent beneath
a great rock. Two files of infantry accompanied me."

"I recollect perfectly. Still, as it happens, I had just finished
breakfast, which was, I think, in some respects fortunate. One is
rather apt to proceed summarily before it--in the rainy season."

Ormsgill laughed, and the girl who sat beside the man he had spoken
to flashed a swift glance at him. She was dressed in some thin, soft
fabric, of a pale gold tint, and the firm, round modeling of the
figure it clung about proclaimed her a native of the Iberian
peninsula, the Peninsula, as those who are born there love to call it.
Still, there was no tinge of olive in her face, which, like her arms
and shoulders, was of the whiteness of ivory. Her eyes, which had a
faint scintillation in them, were of a violet black, and her hair of
the tint of ebony, though it was lustrous, too. She, however, said
nothing, and Major Chillingham, who seemed to feel himself neglected,
broke in.

"I'm afraid you were at your old tricks again, Tom," he said. "What
had you been up to then?"

"Interfering with two or three black soldiers, who resented it. They
were trying to burn up a native hut with a couple of wounded niggers
inside it. I believe there was a woman inside it, too."

Chillingham shook his head reproachfully. "One can't help these things
now and then, and I don't know where you got your notions from," he
said. "It certainly wasn't from your father. He was a credit to the
service, and a sensible man. You can only expect trouble when you kick
against authority."

Ormsgill looked at Ada Ratcliffe, but there was only a faint
suggestion of impatience in her face. Then, without exactly knowing
why, he glanced across the table, and caught the little gleam of
sardonic amusement in the other girl's violet eyes. She, at least, it
seemed, had comprehension, and that vaguely displeased him, since he
had expected it from the woman he had come back to marry, instead of
a stranger. Then the man with the olive face looked up again.

"You have it in contemplation to go back to Africa?"

"No," said Ormsgill, who felt that Mrs. Ratcliffe was listening. "At
least, I scarcely think it will be necessary."

"Ah," said the other, with a little dry smile, "It is, one might,
perhaps, suggest, not advisable. There are several men who do not bear
you any great good will in that country."

Ormsgill laughed. "One," he said, "is forced to do a good many things
which do not seem advisable yonder, and I have one or two very
excellent friends."

Then he turned to Ada Ratcliffe, and discoursed with her and her
mother on subjects he found it difficult to take much interest in,
which was a fresh surprise to him, for he had considered them subjects
of importance before he left England. The effort he made to display a
becoming attention was not apparent, but it was a slight relief to two
of the party when the dinner was over. Another hour had, however,
passed before he had the girl to himself, and they sauntered down
through the dusty garden and along the dim white road until they
reached a little mole that ran out into the harbor. The moon had just
dipped behind the black peaks, and they sat down in the soft darkness
on a ledge of stone, and listened for a while to the rumble of the
long Atlantic swell that edged to the strip of shadowy coast with a
fringe of spouting foam. Both felt there was a good deal to be said,
but the commencement was difficult, and it was significant that the
man gazed westwards--towards Africa--across the dusky heaven, until he
looked round when his companion spoke to him.

"Tom," she said quietly, "you have not come back the same as when you
went away."

"I believe I haven't," and Ormsgill's voice was gentle. "My dear, you
must bear with me awhile. You see, there are so many things I have
lost touch with, and it will take me a little time to pick it up
again. Still, if you will wait and humor me, I will try."

He turned, and glanced towards a great block of hotel buildings that
cut harsh and square against the soft blueness of the night not far
away. The long rows of open windows blazed, and the music that came
out from them reached the two who sat listening through the deep-toned
rumble of the surf. It was evident that an entertainment of some kind
was going on, but Ormsgill found the signs of it vaguely disquieting.

"One feels that building shouldn't be there," he said. "They should
have placed it in the city. It's too new and aggressive where it is,
and the ways of the folks who stay in it are almost as out of place."

He stopped a moment with a little laugh. "I expect I'm talking
nonsense, and it's really not so very long since that kind of thing
used to appeal to me. After all, there must be a certain amount of
satisfaction to be got out of purposeless flirtation, cards, dining,
and dancing."

It was not very dark, and, when he looked round, the shapely form of
his companion was silhouetted blackly against the sky on the step
above him. There was something vaguely suggestive of an impatience
that was, perhaps, excusable in her attitude.

"Oh," she said, "there is not a great deal. I admit that, but one must
live as the others do, and have these things to pass the time. You
know there is nothing to be gained by making oneself singular."

Ormsgill smiled, though once more the smell of the wilderness, the
odors of lilies and spices, and the sourness of corruption, was in his
nostrils. Men grappled for dear life with stern and occasionally
appalling realities there, and he was one in whom the love of conflict
had been born.

"No," he said, "I suppose there isn't. At least, it usually involves
one in trouble, and, as you say, one must have something to pass the
time away. Still, Ada, for a while you will try to put up with my
little impatiences and idiosyncrasies. No doubt I shall fit myself to
my surroundings by and by."

Ada Ratcliffe had a face that was almost beautiful, and a slim,
delicately modeled form in keeping with it, but perhaps they had been
given her as makeweights and a counterbalance for the lack of more
important things. At times, when her own interests were concerned, she
could show herself almost clever but she fell short of average
intelligence just then, when a sympathetic word or a sign of
comprehension would have bound the man to her.

Leaning a little towards him she laid her hand on the sleeve of his
duck jacket. "I would like you to do it soon," she said. "Tom, to
please me, you won't come in to dinner dressed this way again."

There was a suggestion of harshness in Ormsgill's laugh, but he
checked himself. "Of course not, if you don't wish it. If there is a
tailor in Las Palmas I will try to set that right to-morrow. Now we
will talk of something else. You want to live in England?"

It appeared that Ada did, and she was disposed to talk at length upon
that topic. She also drew closer to him, and while the man's arm
rested on her shoulder discussed the house he was to buy in the
country, and how far his means, which were, after all, not very large,
would permit the renting of another in town each season. He listened
gravely, and saw that there were no aspirations in the scheme. Their
lives were evidently to be spent in a round of conventional
frivolities, and all the time he heard the boom of the restless sea,
and the smell of the wilderness, pungent and heady, grew stronger in
his nostrils. Then he closed a hand tighter on the shoulder of the
girl, in a fashion that suggested he felt the need of something to
hold fast by, as perhaps he did.

"There is one point we have to keep in view, for the thing may be
remembered against me still," he said. "I was turned out of the
service of a British Colony."

"Ah," said the girl, "I felt it cruelly at the time, but, after all,
it happened more than four years ago--and not very many people heard
of it."

Ormsgill sat still a minute, and his grasp grew a trifle slacker on
her arm. "I told you I didn't do the thing they accused me of," he
said.

"Of course! Still, everybody believed you did, and that was almost as
hard to bear. The great thing is that it was quite a long while ago.
Tom," and she turned to him quickly, "I believe you are smiling."

"I almost think I was," said Ormsgill. "Still, I don't know why I
should do so. Well, I understand we are to stay here a month or two,
and we will have everything arranged before we go back to England."

It was half an hour later when his companion rose. "The time is
slipping by," she said. "There is to be some singing, and one or two
of the people we have met lately are coming round to-night. I must go
in and talk to them. These things are in a way one's duty. One has to
do one's part."

Ormsgill made no protest. He rose and walked quietly back with her to
the hotel, but his face was a trifle grave, and he was troubled by
vague misgivings.



CHAPTER IV

THE SUMMONS


The month Ormsgill spent at Las Palmas was a time of some anxiety to
Mrs. Ratcliffe. He had, as she complained to her brother, no sense of
the responsibility that devolved upon a man of his means, and was
addicted to making friends with all kinds of impossible people, grimy
English coaling clerks, and the skippers of Spanish schooners, and,
what was more objectionable, now and then bringing them to the hotel.
He expressed his regret when she pointed out the undesirability of
such proceedings, but, for all that, made no very perceptible change
in his conduct.

Major Chillingham as a rule listened gravely, and said very little,
for his sister was one who seldom welcomed advice from anybody, and
though not a brilliant man he was by no means a fool. On the last
occasion he, however, showed a little impatience.

"Well," he said, "he seems to have got hold of a few first-class
people, too. There is that Ayutante fellow on the Governor's staff,
and the Senhor Figuera, the little, quiet man with the yellow hands,
is evidently a person of some consequence in his own country. You
can't mistake the stamp of authority. After all, it's no doubt just
as well he and the girl have gone. Tom seemed on excellent terms with
them."

Mrs. Ratcliffe looked indignant. "A Portuguese with a powdered face,
and no notion of what is fitting!"

"An uncommonly good-looking one," and the Major grinned. "A woman with
brains enough to get the thing she sets her mind on, too, and I have
rather a fancy that she was pleased with Tom. Still, that's not the
question, and anyway she's back again in Africa. Now, if you'll take
advice from me you'll keep a light hand on him, and not touch the
curb. If you do he's quite capable of making a bolt of it."

"That," said the lady, "would be so disgraceful as to be
inconceivable--when Ada has waited more than four years for him."

Her brother's eyes twinkled. "In one way, I suppose she did. Still, of
course, Urmston didn't get the Colonial appointment he expected, and,
one has to be candid, young Hatherly seemed proof against the
blandishments you wasted on him."

"A marriageable daughter is a heavy responsibility," said Mrs.
Ratcliffe with a sigh.

"No doubt," said the Major. "That is precisely why I recommended the
judicious handling of Tom Ormsgill. If he hasn't quite as much as you
would like, it's enough to keep them comfortably, and in several ways
he's worth the other two put together. The man's straight, and quiet.
In fact, I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer him with a few more
gentlemanly dissipations. They act as a safety valve occasionally."

His sister raised her hands in protest, and Chillingham withdrew with
a chuckle, but she was rather more gracious to Ormsgill than usual
that day, and during the next one accompanied him with her daughter
and one or two acquaintances in a launch he had borrowed to look at
the wreck of a steamer which had gone ashore a night or two earlier.
The unfortunate vessel afforded a somewhat impressive spectacle as she
lay grinding on the reef with the long yeasty seas washing over her,
and the little party spent some time watching her from the launch
which swung with the steep, green swell.

It was, however, very hot and dazzling bright, and no protests were
made when Ormsgill, who it seemed knew all about steam launches,
leaned forward from the helm and started the engines. The little
propeller thudded, and they slid away with a long, smooth lurch across
the slopes of glittering water that were here and there flecked with
foam, for the beach they skirted lies open to the heave of the
Atlantic. The Trade breeze fanned their faces pleasantly, and Ada
Ratcliffe sat almost contented for the time being at Ormsgill's side.
It was refreshing that hot day, to listen to the swish of sliding
brine, and there was a certain exhilaration in the swift smooth
motion, while she realized that the man she was to marry appeared to
greater advantage than he did as a rule in the drawing room of the big
hotel.

He was never awkward, or ill at ease, but she had noticed--and
resented--the air of aloofness he sometimes wore when he listened to
her companions' pointless badinage and vapid conversation. Now as he
sat with a lean brown hand on the tiller controlling the little
hissing craft he seemed curiously at home. There was also, as
generally happened when he was occupied, a suggestion of reserved
force in his face and attitude. He was, she realized, a man one could
have confidence in when there were difficult things to be done. This
however, brought her presently a vague dissatisfaction, for she felt
there were certain aspects of his character which had never been
revealed to her, and she was faintly conscious of the antagonism to
and shrinking from what one cannot quite understand which is not
infrequently a characteristic of people with imperfectly developed
minds.

The fresh Trade breeze which blew down out of the harbor from the
black Isleta hill was, however, evidently much less pleasant to the
Spanish peons who toiled at the ponderous sweeps of an empty coal
lighter the launch was rapidly drawing level with. She was floating
high above the flaming swell, and the perspiration dripped from the
men's grimy faces as they labored, two of them at each of the huge
oars. Indeed Ormsgill could see the swollen veins stand out on their
wet foreheads, and the overtaxed muscles swell on their half-covered
chests and naked arms, for the barge was of some forty tons, and it
was very heavy work pulling her against the wind. She had evidently
been to a Spanish steamer lying well out beyond the mole, and there
was, as he noticed, no tug available to tow her back again, while the
sea foamed whitely on a reef close astern of her. It was only by a
strenuous effort that the men were propelling the big clumsy craft
clear of the reef, and there were signs that they could not keep it up
much longer.

He glanced at the little group of daintily attired, soft-handed men
and women on board the launch, to whom the stress of physical labor
was an unknown thing, and then looked back towards the coal-grimed
toilers on the lighter. As yet they worked on stubbornly, with tense
furrowed faces, under a scorching sun, taxing to the uttermost every
muscle in their bodies, but it seemed to him that the lighter was no
further from the reef. He flung an arm up, and hailed them, for he had
acquired a working acquaintance with several Latin languages on the
fever coast.

"You can't clear that point," he said. "Have you no anchor?"

"No, señor," cried one of the peons breathlessly. "The tug should have
come for us, but she is taking the water boat to the English steamer."

Ormsgill turned to his companions. "You won't mind if I pull them in?
They're almost worn out, and it will not detain us more than ten
minutes."

One of the men made a little gesture of concurrence which had a hint
of good-humored toleration in it, but Mrs. Ratcliffe appeared
displeased, and Ada flushed a trifle. One could have fancied she did
not wish the man who belonged to her to display his little
idiosyncrasies before her friends.

"One understands that all Spaniards avoid exertion when they can," she
said. "Perhaps a little hard work wouldn't hurt them very much."

There was a slight change in Ormsgill's expression. "I fancy the men
can do no more."

Then he waved his hand to the peons. "Get your hawser ready."

He was alongside the lighter in another minute, but she rolled wildly
above the launch, big and empty, and the sea broke whitely about her,
for now the men had ceased rowing she was drifting towards the reef.
The hawser was also dripping and smeared with coal dust when Ormsgill,
who seemed to understand such matters, hauled it in, and while the sea
splashed on board the launch, streams of gritty brine ran from it over
everything. Then he stirred the little furnace with an iron bar before
he pulled over the starting lever, and a rush of sparks and thin hot
smoke poured down upon his companions as the little craft went full
speed ahead. Ada, perhaps half-consciously, drew herself a little
farther away from him. There was coal grit on his wet duck jacket, and
he had handled hawser and furnace rubble like one accustomed to them,
in fact as a fireman or a sailor would have done. That was a thing
which did not please her, and she wondered if the others had noticed
it. It became evident that one of them had.

"You did that rather smartly," he said.

Ormsgill's smile was a trifle dry. "I have," he said, "done much the
same thing before professionally."

There was a struggle for the next few minutes. Launch and lighter had
drifted into shoal water while they made the hawser fast, and the
swell had piled itself up and was breaking whitely. The little launch
plunged through it with flame at her funnel and a spray-cloud blowing
from her bows, and as she hauled the big lighter out yard by yard a
little glint crept into Ormsgill's eyes. Ada Ratcliffe almost resented
it, for he had never looked like that at any of the social functions
she had insisted on his taking a part in, but her forbearance was
further taxed when they crept slowly beneath the side of a big white
steam yacht. A little cluster of men and daintily dressed women sat
beneath the awning on her deck, and one or two of them were people her
mother had taken pains to cultivate an acquaintance with.

One man leaned upon her rail and looked down with a little smile.
"Have you been going into the coal business, Fernside?" he said.
"Considering the figure they charged Desmond it ought to be a
profitable one."

The man in the launch he addressed laughed, and Ormsgill towed the
lighter on until at last he cast the tow rope off, and a very grimy
peon stood upon her deck. He took off his big, shapeless hat, and as
he swung, cut in black against the dazzling sea, there was in his
poise a lithe gracefulness and a certain elaborate courtesy.

"Señor," he said, "our thanks are yours, and everything else that
belongs to us. May the saints watch over you, and send you a friend if
ever your task is too heavy and the breakers are close beneath your
lee."

Ormsgill took off his hat gravely, as equal to equal, but he smiled a
little as the launch swept on.

"Well," he said, "after all, I may need one some day."

They were back in the hotel in another half-hour, and Mrs. Ratcliffe
took him to task as they sat on the shady veranda. Ormsgill lay back
in his big Madeira chair, with half-closed eyes, and listened
dutifully. He felt he could afford it, for the few minutes of tense
uncertainty when he had hauled the lighter out of the grasp of the
breakers had been curiously pleasant to him.

"There was, of course, no harm in the thing itself," she said at last.

"No," said Ormsgill with an air of deep reflection, "I almost think
that to save a fellow creature who is badly worn out an effort he is
scarcely fit to make isn't really very wrong. Still, the men were
certainly very dirty--I suppose that is the point?"

The lady, who looked very stiff and formal in the black she persisted
in wearing, favored him with a searching glance, but there was only
grave inquiry in his steady eyes.

"The point is that things which may be commendable in themselves are
not always--appropriate," she said.

"Expedient--isn't it?" suggested Ormsgill languidly.

"Expedient," said Mrs. Ratcliffe with a little flush in her face.
"In this world one has to be guided by circumstances, and must
endeavor to fit oneself to that station in life to which one has
been--appointed."

"I suppose so," said Ormsgill. "The trouble is that I really don't
know what particular station I have been appointed to. I was thrown
out of the Colonial service, you see, and afterwards drove a steam
launch for a very dissolute mahogany trader. Then I floated the same
kind of trees down another river with the niggers, and followed a few
other somewhat unusual occupations. In fact, I've been in so many
stations that it's almost bewildering."

His companion got away from the point. She did not like having the
fact that he had been, as he expressed it, thrown out of the Colonial
service forced upon her recollection.

"One has, at least, to consider one's friends," she said. "We are on
rather good terms with two or three of the people who came out with
Mr. Desmond, whom I have not met yet, in the _Palestrina_. In fact,
Ada is a little anxious that you should make their acquaintance. You
will probably come across them in England."

"Well," said Ormsgill cheerfully, "I really don't think Dick Desmond
would mind if I took up coal heaving as an amusement. He isn't a
particularly conventional man himself."

"You know him?"

"Oh, yes. I know him tolerably well."

"Then didn't you consider it your duty to go off and call upon him?"

"I suppose it was," said Ormsgill meditatively. "Still, as a rule, I
rather like my friends to call on me. I've no doubt that Dick will do
it presently. He only arrived here yesterday, as you know. The people
he brought out came on from Teneriffe, I think. Somebody told me the
_Palestrina_ lay a week there with something wrong with her engines."

Mrs. Ratcliffe smiled approvingly at last. "Yes," she said, "in one
way the course you mention is usually preferable. It places one on a
surer footing."

Then she discussed other subjects, and supplied him with a good deal
of excellent advice to which he listened patiently, though he was
sensible of a certain weariness and there was a little dry smile in
his eyes when she went away. As it happened, Desmond, who owned the
_Palestrina_, came ashore that evening and was received by Mrs.
Ratcliffe very graciously. The two men had also a good deal to say to
each other, and the meeting was not without its results to both of
them.

It was late the following afternoon when a little yellow-funneled
mail-boat with poop and forecastle painted white steamed into the
harbor with awnings spread, and an hour or two later a waiter handed
Ormsgill a letter. His face grew intent as he read it, and the curious
little glint that Ada Ratcliffe had noticed when he towed the coal
lighter clear of the surf crept back into his eyes. It was also
significant that, although she and her mother were sitting near him on
the veranda, he appeared oblivious of them when he rose and stepped
back through an open window into the hotel. Five minutes later they
saw him stride through the garden and down the long white road.

"I think he is going to the little mole," said Ada. "I don't know why
he does so, but when anything seems to ruffle him he generally goes
there."

Then she flashed a quick questioning glance at her mother. "That
letter was from Africa. I saw the stamp on it."

Mrs. Ratcliffe shook her head. "I don't think there is any reason why
you should disturb yourself," she said. "After all, one has to excuse
a good deal in the case of men who live in the tropics, and though the
ways Tom has evidently acquired there now and then jar on me I venture
to believe he will grow out of them and become a credit to you with
judicious management. It would, perhaps, be wiser not to mention that
letter, my dear."

Ada said nothing, though she was a trifle uneasy. She had seen the
sudden intentness of Ormsgill's face, and was far from sure that he
would submit to management of any kind. Nobody acquainted with her
considered her a clever woman, but, after all, her intelligence was
keener than her mother's.

In the meanwhile Ormsgill sat down on the steps of the little mole. It
was pleasantly cool there, and he had already found the rush and
rumble of frothing brine tranquilizing, though he was scarcely
conscious of it as he took out the letter and read it again. It was
from the missionary Nares.

"Father Tiebout has just come in very shaky with fever," he read. "It
appears that Herrero, who will not let her go, has gone back towards
the interior with the woman Lamartine gave him, and has been
systematically ill-using her. There is another matter to mention.
Soon after you went Domingo seized the opportunity of raiding
Lamartine's station, and took all the boys away while we were
arranging to send them home as you asked us to do. It will, in view of
the feeling against us, be difficult or impossible to bring the thing
home to him, but I understand from Father Tiebout that you engaged the
boys for Lamartine and pledged your word to send them home when the
time agreed upon expired. Father Tiebout merely asked me to tell you.
He said that if you recognized any responsibility in the matter you
would not shrink from it."

Ormsgill crumpled up the letter and sat very still, gazing into the
dimness that was creeping up from Africa across the sea. The message
was terse, and though the writing was that of Nares he saw the wisdom
of Father Tiebout in it. Nares when he was moved spoke at length and
plainly, but the little priest had a way of making other folks do what
he wanted, as it were, of their own accord, and without his prompting
them.

It grew rapidly darker, but Ormsgill did not notice it. The deep
rumble of the surf was in his ears, and the restlessness of the sea
crept in on him. He had heard that thunderous booming on sweltering
African beaches, and had watched the filmy spray-cloud float far
inland athwart the dingy mangroves, and a curious gravity crept into
his eyes as he gazed at the Eastern haze beyond which lay the shadowy
land. Life was intense and primitive there, and his sojourn in the big
hotel had left him with a growing weariness. Then there was the debt
he owed Lamartine, and the promise he had made, and he wondered
vaguely what Ada Ratcliffe would say when he told her he was going
back again. She would protest, but, for all that, he fancied she would
not feel his absence very much, though there were times when her
manner to him had been characterized by a certain tenderness. As he
thought of it he sighed.

By and by a boat from the white steam yacht slid up to the foot of the
steps, and a man who ascended them started when he came upon Ormsgill.
He was tall and long-limbed, and his voice rang pleasantly.

"What in the name of wonder are you doing here alone?" he asked.

"I think I'm worrying, Dick," said Ormsgill. "The fact is, I'm going
back yonder."

Desmond looked hard at him--but it was already almost dark. "Well," he
said, "we're rather old friends. Would it be too much if I asked you
why?"

"Sit down," said Ormsgill. "I'll try to tell you."

He did so concisely and quietly, and Desmond made a little sign of
comprehension. "Well," he said, "if you feel yourself under an
obligation to that Frenchman I'm not sure it isn't just as binding now
he's dead."

"I was on my beam-ends, without a dollar in my pocket, when he held
out his hand to me. Of course, neither of us know much about these
questions, and, as a matter of fact, it's scarcely likely that
Lamartine did, but he seemed to believe what the padre told him, and
there's no doubt it was a load off his mind when he understood I'd
have the woman set at liberty."

Desmond sat silent for a minute. Then he said, "There are two points
that occur to me. Since you are willing to supply the money, can't the
priest and the missionary arrange the thing?"

"Nares says they can't. After all, they're there on sufferance, and
every official keeps a jealous eye on them. You couldn't expect them
to throw away all they've done for several years, and that's very much
what it would amount to if they were run out of the Colony."

"Then suppose you bought the woman back, and got those boys set free?
From what I've heard about the country somebody else would probably
lay hands on them again. Since the Frenchman has broken them in they'd
be desirable property."

"That's one of the things I'm worrying over," said Ormsgill
reflectively. "I had thought of running them up the coast and turning
them loose in British Nigeria. They'd be reasonably well treated, and
get wages at the factories there. Still, I'd have some trouble in
getting them out of the country, especially as I'm not greatly tempted
to buy the boys. If I was it's quite likely that Domingo, who is not a
friend of mine, wouldn't let me have them. You see, I'd have to get
papers at the port, though there are plenty of lonely beaches where
one could get a surf-boat off. I had a notion of trying to pick up a
schooner at Sierra Leone or Lagos."

Again Desmond said nothing for a few moments. Then he laughed. "Well,"
he said, "there's the _Palestrina_, and when we shake her up she can
do her fourteen knots. You can have her for a shooting expedition at a
pound a month. Now don't raise any--nonsensical objections. I'm about
sick of loafing. The thing would be a relief to me."

"There's your father," said Ormsgill suggestively.

"Just so! There's also the whole estimable family, who have made up
their minds I'm to go into Parliament whether I'm willing or not.
Well, it seems to me that if I'm to have a hand in governing my
country it will be an education to see how they mismanage things in
other ones."

Then the scion of a political family who could talk like a fireman,
and frequently did so, laughed again. "If I get into trouble over it
it will be a big advertisement. Besides, it's two years since I had a
frolic of any kind. Been nursing the constituency, taking a benevolent
interest in everything from women's rights to village cricket clubs,
and I'm coming with you to rake up brimstone now. After all, though
I've had no opportunity of displaying my abilities in that direction
lately, it's one of the few things I really excel in."

Ormsgill was far from sure that this was what he desired, but he knew
his man, and that, for all his apparent inconsequence, he was one who
when the pinch came could be relied upon. Then Desmond's effervescence
usually vanished, and gave place to a cold determined quietness that
had carried him through a good many difficulties. This was fortunate,
since he was addicted to involving himself in them rather frequently.

"Well," said Ormsgill, "I'll be glad to have you, but it's rather a
big thing. I think they're expecting you at the hotel. We'll talk of
it again."

He rose, and as they went back together Desmond said reflectively. "I
suppose you understand that it's scarcely likely your prospective
mother-in-law will be pleased with you?"

"I wasn't aware that you knew her until you came across her here,"
said Ormsgill.

"I didn't. My cousins do. Perhaps you won't mind my saying that they
seem a little sorry for you. From what they have said about Mrs.
Ratcliffe it seems to me that you may have trouble in convincing her
of the disinterestedness of your intentions."

Ormsgill felt that this was very probable, though he said nothing.



CHAPTER V

A DETERMINED MAN


It was the following afternoon when Ormsgill stood on the wide veranda
outside Mrs. Ratcliffe's room. That lady sat somewhat stiffly facing
him in a big basket chair, while her daughter lay close by in one of
canvas with her eyes also fixed upon the man languidly. She was
dressed in white, and looked very cool and dainty, though her face was
almost expressionless. In fact, her attitude was characterized by a
certain well-bred serenity which is seldom without its effect when it
is an essential part of the person who exhibits it, though a passable
imitation of it may be cultivated.

Then one sometimes wonders what may lie behind it, though an attempt
to ascertain is not always advisable. In some cases there is nothing,
and in others things which it is wiser to leave unseen.

Ormsgill had, as it happened, been busy that morning with an English
lawyer whom he had met at the hotel, and had taken him over to the
office of the Vice-Consul, who signed a document the lawyer drew out.
He had also made other preparations for a journey, but he had sent the
priest no word that he was going back to Africa. This, he felt, was
not necessary, since Father Tiebout would expect him. He leaned
bareheaded against the rails, with the furrows showing plainly on his
bronzed face, while the Trade breeze, which was fresh that afternoon,
swept the cool veranda and piled the long Atlantic swell rumbling on
the beach. He could see the spray fly high and white, and the dust
whirl down the glaring road that led to the Spanish city, and once
more he felt his blood stir in harmony with the throb of restless life
in the frothing sea. Still, the task before him was difficult, and he
set about it diffidently.

It was, as he realized, a very lame story and one open to serious
misconception that fell from his lips. He could, of course, say
nothing in favor of Lamartine's mode of life, though it was by no
means an unusual one, and he had to mention it. The subject was a
somewhat delicate one in itself, but it was not that alone which
brought a faint flush to his face. Mrs. Ratcliffe's pose grew
perceptibly primmer as he proceeded, and he recognized that any
confidence she might have had in him was being severely shaken. Still,
he had not expected her to understand, and he glanced at her daughter
with a certain anxiety. The girl's languid indifference was less
marked now, for there was a spot of color in her cheek, and her lips
were set disdainfully. Ormsgill closed one lean hand a trifle, for
these things had their significance, and he had expected that she, at
least, would have found his assurance sufficient.

"I think you will agree with me that I must go," he said.

Mrs. Ratcliffe's tone was sharp and she looked at him steadily.

"I'm afraid I don't," she said. "The man was on your own showing an
altogether depraved person."

"No," said Ormsgill dryly. "I should be sorry to admit as much. But if
he had been, would that have rendered a promise to him less binding?"

"Yes," said the elder lady sturdily. "If he really felt any remorse at
all--of which I am very dubious--he brought it upon himself. One
cannot do wrong without bearing the consequences. Still, I do not
suppose it was penitence. It was more probably pagan fear of death.
The man, you admit, was under priestly influence. Of course, if he had
been brought up differently----"

Ormsgill could not help a little smile. "He would have considered
repentance sufficient, and left the woman to bear the consequences?
Somehow I have a hazy notion that restitution is insisted on. But if
we dismiss that subject there are still the boys. You see, I pledged
myself to send them home again."

Ada Ratcliffe looked up, and her expression was quietly disdainful.
"Half-naked, thick-lipped niggers. Would it hurt them very much to
work a little and become a trifle civilized? One understands that
there is no actual slavery in any part of Africa under European
control."

Ormsgill winced, and it was, perhaps, only natural that Mrs. Ratcliffe
should not understand why he did so. Then his face grew a trifle hard,
but he answered quietly.

"I have no doubt there are folks who would tell you so, but there is,
at least, something very like it in one or two colonies," he said.
"Still, that is not quite the point."

The girl laughed. "I am a little afraid there is no point at all."

She rose languidly, and the way she did so suggested collusion, though
Ormsgill had not noticed that her mother made her any sign. She swept
past him with a swish of filmy fabric, and he turned to the elder
lady, who made a little gesture of resignation.

"It seems," she said, "you are determined to go, and in that case
there is something to be said. As you are bent on exposing yourself to
the hazards of a climate I have heard described as deadly, one has to
consider--eventualities."

"Exactly!" and Ormsgill found it difficult to repress a sardonic
smile. "I have endeavored to provide against them in the one way
possible to me. An hour ago I handed Major Chillingham a document
which will place Ada in possession of a considerable proportion of my
property in six months from my death. The absence of any word from me
for that period is to be considered as proof of it. I have no
relatives with any claim on me, and I think I am only carrying out an
obligation."

"You are very generous," and his companion's tone was expressive of
sincere satisfaction. "Though it is, of course, painful, one is
reluctantly compelled to take these things into consideration."

She said rather more to the same effect, and the man's face, which was
a trifle hard when she went away, suggested that some, at least, of
her observations had jarred on him. He was also somewhat astonished
to find Ada waiting for him when he strolled moodily into the big
drawing-room.

"Tom," she said, "you won't go back there, after all. I don't want you
to."

There was a tinge of color in her cheeks and a tense appeal in her
eyes, and for a moment Ormsgill was almost tempted to forget his
promise and break his word. It seemed that she did care, though he had
scarcely fancied that she would feel the parting with him very much a
little while ago, and something suggested that she was apprehensive,
too. He stood very still, and she saw him slowly close one of his
hands.

"My dear," he said, "I have to go."

The girl looked at him steadily a moment, and then made a little
hopeless gesture of resignation.

"In that case I should gain nothing by attempting to urge you," she
said with a curious quietness. "Still, Tom, you will write to me when
you can."

Ormsgill was stirred, as well as a trifle astonished. She had seldom
shown him very much tenderness, and he had said nothing that might
lead her to believe that he was undertaking a somewhat dangerous thing
or that the country was especially unhealthy. Still, he could not help
feeling that she was afraid of something. Then, as it happened, they
heard her mother speaking to somebody in the corridor, and making him
a little sign she slipped out softly. Ormsgill sat where he was,
wondering why she had done so, until a rustle of dresses suggested
that she and the people she had apparently spoken to had moved away.
Then he went out, and met Desmond in front of the hotel.

"Been having it out with Mrs. Ratcliffe?" he said. "I saw you on the
veranda. Found it rather difficult? I couldn't stand that old woman."

"It was not exactly pleasant," said Ormsgill, dryly.

Desmond grinned. "Told her what you were going back for--and she
didn't believe a word of it? As a matter of fact, you could hardly
expect her to. Still, you needn't be unduly anxious. It wouldn't
matter very much what you did out there. She might be horrified when
she heard of it, but she wouldn't let you go."

The blood rose to Ormsgill's face. He fancied his companion was right
in this, but it suggested another thought, and it appeared impossible
that the girl's views should coincide with her mother's. It was
painful to feel that she might have placed an unfavorable construction
upon his narrative, but that she should believe him a libertine and
still be willing to marry him because he was rich was a thing he
shrank with horror from admitting. He was aware that women now and
then made such marriages, but although he did not as a rule expect too
much of human nature, he looked for a good deal from the woman he
meant to make his wife. He could not quite disguise the fact that
there were aspects of her character which did not altogether please
him.

"Well," he said grimly, "we will talk about something else. You are
still determined on going with me?"

"Of course," said Desmond.

Ormsgill took him into his room, and by and by unrolled a chart upon
the table.

"There's shelter off this beach in about six fathoms under the point,"
he said. "She will roll rather wildly, but the holding's excellent,
and a surf-boat could get off most days in the week. As some of the
mail-boat skippers will probably see you and mention it, you will call
and report yourself to the Commandant and the customs on your way down
the coast. Bring one or two of them off to dinner and inquire about
the sport to be had. As a matter of fact, there is something to shoot
a few days' march back from the beach, and there is no reason why you
shouldn't go after it."

"You haven't said very much about yourself," observed his companion.

"I'm going direct by mail-boat. There is to be no apparent connection
between us. If you are at the beach by the date I mentioned and wait
there fourteen days, it will be sufficient. If I don't join you by
that time something will have gone radically wrong."

"Then," said Desmond cheerfully, "I'll fit the whole crowd out down to
the firemen with elephant guns and rifles, and go ashore to fetch you,
if we have to sack every bush fort in the country."

Ormsgill only laughed, and going out together they swung themselves on
a passing steam tram and were whirled away to the steamship offices in
the Spanish city through a blinding cloud of dust.

Two days later Ormsgill boarded a yellow-funneled steamer, which crept
out of harbor presently with the Portuguese flag at the fore, and
faded into a streak of hull and a smoke trail low down on the dazzling
sea. From the veranda of the hotel, Ada Ratcliffe watched it slowly
melt, with her lips tight set and a curious look in her eyes, until
when the blue expanse was once more empty she rose with a little sigh.
There was, of course, nothing to be gained by sitting there
disconsolate, and she had to array herself becomingly for an excursion
to a village among the black volcanic hills. She also took a prominent
part in it very gracefully, while a quiet brown-faced man leaned on a
little wildly-rolling steamer's rail, looking southwest across the
dazzling white-flecked combers towards the shadowy land.

He reached it in due time, and one afternoon two or three days after
he arrived at a little decadent city, sat talking to the olive-faced
gentleman he had met at the Las Palmas hotel. The latter now wore a
very tight white uniform, and a rather high and cumbrous kepi lay on
the chair at his side. He was singularly spare in figure; his face,
which was a trifle worn and hollow, was in no way suggestive of
physical virility, and the brown-tipped fingers of the hand which
rested on his knee very much resembled claws; but, as Major
Chillingham had noticed, he wore the unmistakable stamp of high
authority.

"Ah," he said in Portuguese, "you are not as most of your countrymen,
and seem to understand that haste is not always advisable--especially
in this land."

Ormsgill smiled a little as he gazed down on the straggling city. The
room he and his companion sat in had no front to it. A row of slender
pillars with crude whitewashed arches between them served instead, and
he could look out on the curiously jumbled buildings below. Some were
of wood and had red iron roofs and broad verandas, others of stone, or
what appeared to be blocks of sun-baked mud, and these were mostly
glaringly whitewashed and roofed with tiles, though a few were flat
topped. Some stood in clusters, but as a rule there were wide spaces,
strewn with ruins and rubbish, between them. Scarcely a sound rose
from any of them. Here and there a white-clad figure reclined in a big
chair on a veranda, and odd clusters of negroes, some loosely draped
in raw colors, and some half-naked, slept in the shadow. Everything
was so still that one could have fancied the place was peopled by the
dead. Beyond the long strip of land across the harbor the glaring
levels of the Atlantic stretched away, and the hot air quivered with
the dull insistent roar and rumble of the surf.

"It is certainly as I suggested," said the little olive-faced
gentleman. "You have been here three days, and I do not even know what
you expect from me yet."

"It is very little. A concession of exploitation in the country
inland."

"In which district?"

Ormsgill mentioned it, and his companion looked at him with a little
smile. "The request can be granted, but I gave you good advice once
before, and I venture to offer it again. This Africa is not a healthy
country, and it is not, I think, advisable that you should stay here,
especially up yonder in the bush. There are gentleman of some
importance there whom you have offended, and we are, it seems, not all
forgiving. It is, perhaps, a fact to be deprecated, but one to be
counted on."

"One has occasionally to do a thing that doesn't seem advisable," said
Ormsgill reflectively.

"In this case the reasons cannot be financial. I heard of your good
fortune in Las Palmas."

Ormsgill was not pleased at this, but he laughed. "A little money is
not always a fortune. Perhaps it would be permissible for me to
express my pleasure that your administrative genius has been
recognized?"

Dom Clemente made him a little grave inclination. "I hold authority,
but the man who does so seldom sleeps on roses, especially in this
country. Well, you still want the concession of exploitation, though
the region you mention is not a productive one?"

"There are articles of commerce which come down that way from the
interior."

Dom Clemente looked at him steadily. "Ah," he said, "if one could tell
what went on there. Still, as you say, there are things we have need
of that come down from the interior."

Ormsgill's face was expressionless, though he was not pleased to see a
little smile creep into his companion's eyes, but just then another
man of very dusky color came up the outside stairway with a big
clanking sword strapped on to him, and Dom Clemente rose.

"I make my excuses, but the permit will be ready to-morrow," he said.
"In the meanwhile my daughter, who is in the patio, would thank you
for several courtesies at Las Palmas."

Ormsgill turned away, and went down to the little pink-washed patio
which was filled with straggling flowers and was, at least,
comparatively cool. The girl who lay in a big chair did not rise, but
signed to him to take another near her side, and then looked up at him
with big violet eyes. It did not occur to Ormsgill that there was any
significance in the fact that the only two chairs in the patio should
be close together, but it struck him that Benicia Figuera was a very
well-favored young woman, and very much in harmony with her
surroundings. Colorless as her face was, there was a scintillation in
her eyes, and a depth of hue in her somewhat full red lips, which with
the sweeping lines of her lightly-draped, rounded form suggested that
there was in her a full measure of the warm and vivid life of the
tropics. Her voice was low and quiet, and her English passable.

"I believe my father has been giving you good advice," she said.

"Why should you think that?" asked Ormsgill, lightly.

His companion's gesture might have meant anything. "You feel the
advice is excellent, but you do not mean to take it? It is not a thing
you often do. In one way I am sorry."

Ormsgill laughed. "Might one ask why you should take so much interest
in an obstinate stranger?"

The girl moved her hands, which were white and very shapely, in a
fashion which seemed to imply a protest. Ormsgill noticed that they
had also the appearance of capable hands, and he fancied that their
grasp could be tenacious.

"Ah," she said, "there were little courtesies shown us at Las Palmas,
things that made our stay there pleasanter, and I think there was,
perhaps, no great reason why you should have done them for my father."
Then her eyes twinkled. "I am not sure that all your friends were very
pleased with you."

Ormsgill did not smile this time. He recollected now that Ada
Ratcliffe had been distinctly less gracious and her mother more formal
than usual after one or two of the trifling courtesies he had shown
Dom Clemente and the girl, but it had not occurred to him to put the
two things together.

"I wonder," he said reflectively "how you come to speak such excellent
English."

The girl laughed.

"My mother's name was O'Donnel, though she was rather more Portuguese
than I am. She was born in the Peninsula. It seems I have gone back
two or three generations. They assured me of it once in Wicklow.
Still, all that does not interest you. You are going into the
interior."

Ormsgill said he was, and the girl appeared thoughtful for a moment or
two.

"Then one might again advise you to be careful. There are, at least,
two men who do not wish you well. One of them is a certain Commandant,
and the other the trader Herrero."

"I wonder if you could tell me where the trader Herrero is?"

"If I can I will send you word to-morrow."

Ormsgill thanked her and took his leave ceremoniously, but he was a
little annoyed to find that his thoughts would wander back to the cool
patio as he strolled through the dazzling, sun-scorched town. He felt
it would have been pleasant to stay there a little in the shadow, and
that Benicia Figuera would not have resented it. There was something
vaguely attractive about her, and she had Irish eyes in which he had
seen a hint of the reckless inconsequent courage of that people. This,
he reflected, did not concern him, and dismissing all further thought
of her he went about his business. Still, when the concession was sent
to him next morning the negro who brought it also handed him a little
note. It had no signature, and merely contained the name of a certain
village on the fringe of the hills that cut off the coast levels from
the island plateaux.



CHAPTER VI

DESMOND MAKES AN ADMISSION


Two months had slipped by since Ormsgill and his carefully chosen
carriers had vanished into the steamy bush which climbs the slopes of
the inland plateaux, when the _Palestrina_ steamed in towards the
straggling, sun-scorched town. She came on at half-speed, gleaming
ivory white, in a blaze of brightness, with a man strapped outside her
bridge swinging the heavy lead, until Desmond, who swept the shore
line with his glasses, raised his hand. Then the propeller whirled
hard astern and she stopped amidst a roar of running chain. Next the
awnings were stretched across her aft, and after a beautiful white gig
sank down her side, a trimly uniformed crew pulled Desmond ashore to
interview the men in authority.

He found them courteous. Though that is not a coast which English
yachts frequent, one had called there not very long before, and they
had a pleasant recollection of the hospitality they had enjoyed on
board her. Besides, it was very soon evident that this red-faced
yachtsman was not one of the troublesome Englishmen who demand
information about social and political matters which do not concern
them. Desmond took the authorities off to dinner, and showed them his
sporting rifles and one or two letters given him by gentlemen of
their own nationality whom he had similarly entertained at Funchal
Madeira. His young companion with the heavy sea-bronzed face was even
more ingenuous, and there was no doubt that the wine and cigars were
excellent.

Strangers with any means were also singularly scarce in that town, and
its rulers finding Desmond friendly made much of him, and supplied him
freely with the information he required respecting the localities
where one might still come across big game. He was, in fact, a social
success, and contrived to spend a fortnight there very pleasantly.
Still, there was one of his new friends who considered it advisable to
take certain precautions, which came indirectly to the knowledge of
the latter's daughter.

It also happened that Desmond's companion, Lister, who went ashore
alone now and then, enjoyed himself in his own fashion. He was a young
man whose tastes and idiosyncrasies had caused his friends at home
some anxiety, and they had for certain reasons prevailed upon Desmond
to take him to sea for a few months out of harm's way. Lister
submitted unwillingly, but he discovered that even that sweltering
African town had pleasures to offer him, and determined on making the
most of them.

It was a very hot evening when he sat in the patio of a little
flat-topped house which bore a legend outside announcing that it was a
_caffee_. A full moon hung above the city and flooded half the little
square round which the building rose with silvery light. The summit of
the white walls cut sharply against the cloudless blue, and the land
breeze flowed in through a low archway heavy with heat and smells. Now
and then the roar of the Atlantic surf swelled in volume and rolled
across the roofs in a deep-toned rumbling. Lister, however, naturally
noticed very little of this.

He lay in a Madeira chair near a little table upon which stood several
flasks of wine and glasses, as well as a bundle of cigarettes. A lamp
hung above him, and his light white clothing displayed the fleshiness
of his big, loosely-hung frame. His face was a trifle flushed, and
there was a suggestive gleam in his eyes when he glanced towards the
unglazed square of lighted window behind which a comely damsel of
somewhat dusky skin was singing to a mandolin, but the occasional
bursts of hoarse laughter made it evident that the lady had other
companions, and there was then a little but rather painful punctured
wound in one of Lister's hands. She had made it that afternoon with a
slender silver-headed strip of steel which she wore in her dusky hair,
and Lister could take a hint when it was plain enough.

As it happened, a partial acquaintance with one or two Latin languages
had been drilled into him in preparation for a certain branch of his
country's service to which prejudiced persons had eventually denied
him admission, and he had afterwards acquired sundry scraps of
Portuguese in Madeiran wine-shops. As the result of this, his
companions understood part, at least, of what he said. Two of them who
had very yellow hands and somewhat crisp black hair were shaking dice
upon the table, while a third lay quietly in a basket lounge watching
the Englishman with keen dark eyes. The latter threw a piece of paper
money down on the table.

"It's against me," he said. "I'll double on the same odds you don't
shake as high again. Pass your friend the wine, Dom Domingo."

The quiet man made this a trifle plainer, and thrust the wine flask
across the table, but Lister did not notice that one of the others
looked at him as if for permission or instructions before he flung the
dice back into the box.

"One who knows the game would not give quite such odds," he said in
passable French. "It is the cards you play on board the steamer?"

"No," said Lister, who had consumed a good deal of wine, "not often. I
wish we did. It would pass the time while we lie waiting off your
blazing beaches."

"Ah," said the little man, "you wait for somebody, then?"

Lister's little start was quite perceptible, but he grinned. "You
can't go inland without taking somebody who knows the way. I think I
told you we were going up country to kill big game."

"But certainly!" and the other spread out his hands. "This is,
however, not the season when one usually sets out on such a journey.
It would be wiser to make it in a month or two. For good heads you
must also go inland a long way. You start from--?"

"The Bahia Santiago," but Lister recollected next moment, and looked
at his companion truculently with half-closed eyes. "It seems to me
you have a good many questions to ask. Besides, you stop the game."

The little man waved his hand deprecatingly, and answered one of the
others' inquiring glance with a just perceptible motion of his head.

"Your pardon, señor," he said. "It was good advice I gave you about
the odds."

He rose and slowly sauntered across the patio, but Lister did not
notice that he stopped in the black shadow of the archway. Neither did
the other men, one of whom shook the dice again.

"Ah!" he said. "The luck is once more against you."

Lister poured himself out another glass of wine. He was feeling a
trifle drowsy, and the patio was very hot, but he wished to rouse
himself enough to watch one of the player's thick-fingered yellow
hands. Then flinging down another piece of paper money he reached out
and took the box himself. His lips had shut tight, and though his face
had flushed more deeply his eyes were keen.

They threw twice more while the other man, who appeared to relinquish
his share in the proceedings, good-humoredly looked on, and then
Lister leaned forward suddenly and seized the yellow hand. The box
fell with a clatter, and Lister clutched one of the little spotted
cubes that rolled out upon the table. Then the player's companion
swung out his right arm with a flick of his sleeve, and Lister caught
the gleam of steel. Loosely hung and a trifle slouching as he was, he
was big, and had, at least, no lack of animal courage. He said
nothing, but he flung the man whose hand he held backward upon the
table, which overturned in front of his companion, and snatching a
heavy wine flask from one close by, swung it by the neck.

The man with the knife was a moment recovering his footing, and then
he moved forward, half-crouching, with a cat-like gait. The veins rose
swollen on Lister's forehead, but he stood still, and his big red hand
tightened savagely on the neck of the heavy vessel, which held a quart
or two. The tinkle of the mandolin had ceased abruptly, and for a few
moments there was not a sound in the little patio. Then there was a
sharp command, and the man with the knife slunk backward, as a figure
moved quietly out of the shadow beneath the archway. It was the man
who had questioned Lister, and he laid his hand upon the flask the
latter held.

"With permission I will take it from you," he said. "It is, I think,
convenient that you go back to your steamer."

Lister fancied that he was right, and when three or four men who had
now come out from the lighted room made way for them he followed his
companion out through the archway. The latter called to a man in
dilapidated white uniform, and they proceeded together to where a boat
was waiting. They put Lister on board her, and stood still a minute or
two watching while a couple of negroes rowed him off to the
_Palestrina_. Then one of them laughed.

"There are many fools in this world but one has perhaps no cause to
pity them," he said. "It is as a rule their friends they bring to
grief."

Twenty minutes later he called at Dom Clemente's residence, and was
not exactly pleased when he was shown into the presence of Benicia
Figuera.

"My father is on board the yacht. You have come about the Englishman
you have been watching?" she said.

The man made a little deprecatory gesture. "It is not permissible to
contradict the señorita."

Benicia laughed. "It would not be worth while, my friend. You will
leave your message."

"It is a report for Dom Clemente," and again the man spread out his
hands. One could have fancied he felt it necessary to excuse himself
for such an answer.

"Then," said the girl, "it is, as I think you know, quite safe with
me."

There was no smile in her eyes this time, and her companion thought
rapidly. Then, after another gesture which expressed resignation, he
spoke for some three or four minutes until the girl checked him with a
sign.

"If Dom Clemente has any questions to ask he will send for you," she
said. "If not, you must not trouble him about the matter. I think you
understand?"

It was evident that the man did so, for he went out with a respectful
gesture of comprehension, and then turned and shook a yellow fist at
the door which closed behind him. He could foresee that to do as he
was bidden might involve him in difficulties, but Benicia Figuera was
something of a power in that country, and he knew it was seldom
advisable to thwart her. She, as it happened, sat still thinking for a
time, and as the result of it when Desmond's gig went ashore next
morning a negro handed one of her crew a little note. That afternoon
Desmond dressed himself with somewhat unusual care before he was rowed
ashore, and on being ushered into a white house by a uniformed negro
was not altogether astonished to find Benicia Figuera waiting for him
alone in a big cool room. He had met her in Las Palmas, and she smiled
at him graciously as she pointed to a little table where wine and
cigarettes were laid out.

"They are at your disposal. Here one smokes at all times and
everywhere," she said.

Desmond sat down some distance away from her, for as he said
afterwards, she was astonishingly pretty as well as most artistically
got up, and he was on his guard.

"I almost fancy it is advisable that I should keep my head just now,
and it already promises to be sufficiently difficult," he said with a
twinkle in his eyes. "Dom Clemente is presumably not at home. That is
why you sent for me?"

Now the compliments men offer a lady in the Iberian Peninsula are as a
rule artistically involved, but the girl laughed.

"He will not be back until this evening, but the excellent Señora
Castro in whose charge I am is now sitting on the veranda," she said.
"You need not put your armor on, my friend. It would be useless
anyway."

"Yes," said the man reflectively, "I almost think it would be."

"And my intentions are friendly."

Desmond spread his hands out as the men of her own nationality did.
"The assurance is a relief to me, but I should feel easier if you told
me what you wanted. After all, it could not have been merely the
pleasure of seeing me."

Benicia nodded approvingly. His keenness and good-humored candor
appealed to her. It was also in some respects a pleasure to meet a man
who could come straight to the point. Her Portuguese friends usually
spent an unreasonable time going around it.

"Well," she said, leaning forward and looking at him with eyes which
he afterwards told Ormsgill were worth risking a fortune for, "I will
tell you what I know, and I leave you to decide how far it is
desirable for you to be frank with me. In the first place, you are not
going inland to shoot big game. You are going to wait at the Bahia
Santiago for somebody."

Desmond's face grew a trifle red. "If I had Lister here I think I
should feel tempted to twist his neck for him."

The girl laughed. "It would be an interesting spectacle. I suppose you
know that last night he broke a man's wrist?"

"I did not," said Desmond dryly. "When he amuses himself in that way
he seldom tells me--but, to be quite frank, I've almost had enough of
him. It's rather a pity the other fellow didn't break his head.
Still, perhaps, that's a little outside the question."

"The question is--who are you going to wait for at the Bahia
Santiago?"

"Ah," said Desmond, "I almost think you know."

Benicia smiled. "It is, of course, Mr. Ormsgill. He is a friend of
yours. Now, as you can recognize, it is in my power or that of my
father to involve you in a good many difficulties. I wish to know what
Ormsgill went inland for. It was certainly not on a commercial
venture."

Desmond thought hard for the next half-minute. He was a man who could
face a responsibility, and it was quite clear to him that Miss Figuera
already knew quite enough to ruin his comrade's project if she thought
fit to do so. Still, he felt that she would not think fit. He did not
know how she conveyed this impression, or even if she meant to convey
it, for Benicia Figuera was a lady of some importance in that country,
and, as he reflected, no doubt recognized the fact. She sat
impassively still, with her dark eyes fixed on him, and there was a
certain hint of imperiousness in her manner, until he suddenly made
his mind up.

"Well," he said, "I will try to tell you, though there are, I think,
people who would scarcely understand the thing."

He spoke for some ten minutes, and Benicia sat silent a while when at
last he stopped abruptly. Then she made a little gesture of
comprehension.

"Yes," she said simply, "I think your friend is one of the few men who
could be expected to do such things." Then she laughed. "The girl he
is to marry, the one I saw in Las Palmas, is naturally very vexed with
him?"

"That," said Desmond gravely, "is a subject I scarcely feel warranted
in going into. Besides, as a matter of fact, I don't know. There is,
however, another point I am a little anxious about."

"The course I am likely to take?" and Benicia rose. "Well, it is
scarcely likely to be to your disadvantage, and I think you are wise
in telling me. Still, as you see, I do not bind myself to anything."

Desmond stood up in turn, and made her a little grave inclination. "I
leave it in your hands with confidence. After all, that is the only
course open to me."

"Yes," said Benicia, "I believe it is. Still, you seem to have no
great fear of me betraying you."

"I certainly haven't," said Desmond. "I don't know why."

His companion laughed, and held out her hand to him, and in a few more
minutes Desmond was striding down the hot street towards the beach.
When he reached the boat he turned a moment and looked back towards
the big white house.

"It looks very much as if I'd made a fool of myself, and spoiled the
whole thing, but I don't think I have," he said.

It was two or three hours later, and darkness had suddenly closed down
on the sweltering town, when the scream of a whistle broke through the
drowsy roar of the surf as a mail-boat ringed with blinking lights
crept up to the anchorage. Then Desmond sent for Lister, and drew him
into the room beneath the bridge.

"There doesn't appear to be anything very much for that boat, and
she'll probably clear for the north to-morrow," he said. "You had
better get your things together."

Lister gazed at him with astonishment in his heavy face. "I don't
quite understand you," he said.

"The thing's perfectly simple. You're going north in her. In one or
two respects I'm sorry I have to turn you out, but, to be quite
straight, you're not the kind of man I want beside me now. You're too
fond of company, and have a--inconvenient habit of talking in your
cups."

Lister flushed. "I presume you are referring to my conversation with
that slinking yellow-handed fellow I came across last night? He was a
little inquisitive, but I didn't tell him anything."

"No," said Desmond dryly, "I don't suppose you did. It's often the
points a man of your capacity doesn't mention one deduces the most
from. He generally makes it evident that he's working away from them.
That, however, wouldn't strike you, and any way it doesn't affect the
case. I'm sorry I can't offer to accommodate you on board the
_Palestrina_ any longer. I told your folks I'd keep an eye on you, but
it's becoming too big a responsibility."

Lister gazed at him almost incredulously. "Of course, I'll have to go
if you really mean it. Still, I would like to point out that in some
respects you're not exactly a model yourself."

"That," said Desmond dryly, "is a fact I'm naturally quite aware of. I
like a frolic now and then as well as most other men, but I've sense
enough not to indulge in it when I'm out on business. The trouble is
that what you have done you will very probably do again, and that
wouldn't suit either me or Ormsgill. I'm afraid you'll have to take
the boat north to-morrow."



CHAPTER VII

ORMSGILL KEEPS HIS WORD


Forest and compound were wrapped in obscurity, and the night was
almost insufferably hot, when Nares, who had arrived there during the
afternoon, sat in a room of the Mission of Our Lady of Pity. The
little, heavily thatched dwelling stood with the mud-built church and
rows of adherents' huts on the shadowy frontier of the debatable land
whose dusky inhabitants were then plotting a grim retribution for
their wrongs, and on the night in question black, impenetrable
darkness shut it in. Though the smell of wood smoke was still in the
steamy air, the cooking-fires had died out an hour ago, and there was
no sound from any of the clustering huts. Nares, who sat, gaunt and
worn in face, by an open window, could not see one of them. Still, he
was looking out into the compound, and his attitude suggested
expectancy. One could have fancied that he was listening for
something.

"My boys heard in the last village we stopped at that there was
another party coming up behind us, and it's quite likely that there
is," he said. "The bushmen are generally right in these things. I've
seen a whole village clear out half a day before a section or two of
troops arrived, though it's hard to understand how they could possibly
have known."

Father Tiebout, who lay in a canvas chair with the perspiration
trickling down his forehead, smiled. "There are many other things
beyond our comprehension in this country," he said, with a trace of
dryness. "We have our senses and our reason. The negro has them, too,
but he has something more--shall we call it the blind instinct of
self-preservation? It is, at least, certain that it is now and then
necessary to him. So you did not come by San Roque or the new
outpost?"

"I did not. Still, how did you deduce it?"

The priest spread out his hands. "It is simple. One does not find an
inhabited village within easy reach of a fort, my friend. The cause
for that is obvious. You are listening for the other party?"

"Anyway, I was wondering whose it could be."

Father Tiebout smiled. "If there is a white man with the boys it is
Thomas Ormsgill. I have been expecting him the last week. He will be
here within the next two--if he is alive."

He spoke with a quiet certainty, as though the matter admitted of no
doubt, and Nares added,

"Yes," he said, "that is a man who keeps his promise, but you could
give him another week. One knows when the mail-boats arrive, but there
might be difficulties when he got ashore. Anybody who wishes to go
inland is apt to meet with a good many, especially if he isn't looked
upon with favor by the Administration."

Father Tiebout said nothing further. It was almost too hot to talk,
though the silence that brooded over the little gap in the forest was
unpleasantly impressive. It would not be broken until the moon rose
and the beasts awoke. There were also times when Nares, who was not a
nervous man, felt a curious instinctive shrinking from the blackness
of the bush. It was too suggestive. One wondered what it hid, for that
is a land where the Powers of Darkness are apparently omnipotent. It
is filled with rapine and murder, and pestilence stalks through it
unchecked.

At last a faint sighing refrain stole out of the silence, sank into
it, and rose again, and Nares glanced at his companion, for he
recognized that a band of carriers were marching towards the mission
and singing to keep their courage up.

"I think you're right. They're coast boys," Father Tiebout said.

It was some ten minutes later when there was a patter of naked feet in
the compound, and a clamor from the huts. Then a white man walked
somewhat wearily up the veranda stairway into the feeble stream of
light. It was characteristic that Nares was the first to shake hands
with him, while Father Tiebout waited with a little quiet smile.
Ormsgill turned towards the latter.

"Have you a hut I can put the boys in? That's all they want," he said.
"They're fed. We stopped to light our fires at sunset."

The greeting was not an effusive one in view of the difficulties and
privations of the journey, but neither of Ormsgill's companions had
expected anything of that kind from him. It was also noticeable that
there was none of the confusion and bustle that usually follows the
arrival of a band of carriers. This was a man who went about all he
did quietly, and was willing to save his host inconvenience. The
priest went with him to a hut, and the boys were disposed of in five
minutes, and when they came back Ormsgill dropped into a chair.

"Well," he said, "I'm here. Caught the first boat after I got your
letter. I think it was your letter, padre, though Nares signed it."

"At least," said Father Tiebout, "we both foresaw the result of it.
But you have had a long march. Is there anything I can offer you?"

"A little cup of your black coffee," said Ormsgill.

Nares laughed softly. "He's a priest, as well as a Belgian. I believe
they teach them self-restraint," he added. "Still, when I saw you
walking up that stairway I felt I could have forgiven him if he had
flung his arms about your neck."

"You see I had expected him," and Father Tiebout set about lighting a
spirit lamp.

"With a little contrivance one can burn rum in it," he added. "There
are times when I wish it was a furnace."

Ormsgill smiled and shook his head. "You and other well meaning
persons occasionally go the wrong way to work, padre," he said. "Would
you pile up the Hamburg gin merchants' profits, or encourage the folks
here to build new sugar factories? You can't stop the trade in
question while the soil is fruitful and the African is what he is."

"What the white man has made him," said Father Tiebout.

"I believe the nigger knew how to produce tolerably heady liquors and
indulged in them before the white man brought his first gin case in,"
said Ormsgill reflectively. "In any case, Lamartine was a trader,
which is, after all, a slightly less disastrous profession to the
niggers here than a government officer, and I did what I could for
him. From your point of view I've no doubt I acquired a certain
responsibility. Could you do anything useful with £200 or £300
sterling, padre?"

"Ah," said the little priest, "one cannot buy absolution."

Nares smiled. It was seldom he let slip an opportunity of inveigling
Father Tiebout into a good-humored discussion on a point of this kind.
"I fancied it was only we others who held that view," he said. Then he
turned to Ormsgill. "He is forgetting, or, perhaps, breaking loose
from his traditions. After all, one does break away in Africa. It is
possible it was intended that one should do so."

"Still," persisted Ormsgill, "with £300 sterling one could, no doubt,
do something."

Father Tiebout, who ignored Nares' observations, tinkered with his
lamp before he turned to Ormsgill with a little light in his eyes.
"Taking the value of a man's body at just what it is just now one
could, perhaps, win twenty human souls. Of these three or four could
be sent back into the darkness when we were sure of them. Ah," and
there was a little thrill in his voice, "if one had only two or three
to continue the sowing with."

"In this land," said Ormsgill, "the reaper is Death. Their comrades
would certainly sell them to somebody or spear them in the bush. The
priests of the Powers of Darkness would see they did it."

"Where that seed is once sown there must be a propagation. One can
burn the plant with fire or cut it down, but it springs from the root
again, or a grain or two with the germ of life indestructible in it
remains. Flung far by scorching winds or swept by bitter floods, one
of those grains finds a resting place where the soil is fertile. Here
a little and there a little, that crop is always spreading."

Ormsgill turned to Nares. "You could do something with the sum alluded
to?"

Nares shook his head, and there was a shadow of pain in his lean face.
"I am not fixed as Father Tiebout is," he said. "His faith is the
official one. They dare not steal his followers from him. Besides, I
have never bought the body of a man. Sometimes I heal them, and if
they are grateful they are driven away from me." He broke off for a
moment with a curious little laugh. "I am an empty voice in the
darkness that very few dare listen to. Still, I will take a case of
London packed drugs from you."

The Belgian spread his thin hands out. "Four villages snatched from
the pestilence! It was his care that saved them. How many men's bodies
he has healed he can not tell you, but I think that a careful count is
kept of all of them."

"Well," said Ormsgill quietly, "there is £600 to your joint credit in
Lisbon. You should get the bank advices when the next mail comes in.
You can apportion it between you."

Nares stood up with a flush in his worn face, and spoke awkwardly, but
Father Tiebout sat very still. A little glow crept into his eyes, and
he said a few words in the Latin tongue. Then Ormsgill thrust his
chair back noisily and moved towards the lamp.

"I almost think that coffee should be ready," he said.

Father Tiebout served it out, and when the cups were laid aside Nares
looked at Ormsgill with a little smile.

"You have not been long away, but one could fancy you were glad to get
back again," he said.

Ormsgill's face hardened. "In some respects I am. The folks I belonged
to were not the same. My views seemed to pain them. It cost them an
effort to bear with me. Still, that was perhaps no more than natural.
One loses touch with the things he has been used to in this country."

"Sometimes," said Father Tiebout, "one grows out of it, and that is a
little different. Our friend yonder once went home, too, but now I
think he will stay here altogether, as I shall do, unless I am sent
elsewhere."

Nares smiled. "The padre is right, as usual. I went home--and the
folks I had longed for 'most broke my heart between them. It seemed
that I was a failure, and that hurt me. They wanted results, the tale
of souls, and I hadn't one that I was sure of to offer as a trophy.
One, they said, could heal men's bodies in America. As you say, one
falls out of line in Africa."

There was a wistfulness which he could not quite repress in his voice,
and Ormsgill nodded sympathetically.

"Oh," he said, "I know. It hurts hard for awhile. We are most of us
the cast-offs and the mutineers here. Still, in one respect, I
sometimes think Father Tiebout's people are wiser. They don't ask for
results."

The little priest once more spread his hands out. "The results," he
said, "will appear some day, but that is not our concern. It is
sufficient that a man should do the work that is set out for him. And
now we will be practical. Have you any news of Herrero?"

"He is a hundred miles north of us in Ugalla's country, and I am going
on there. You will have to find me a few more carriers. It was Miss
Figuera told me."

"Perhaps one can expect a little now Dom Clemente is in authority. He
is honest as men go in Africa, and at least he is a soldier. Well, you
shall have the carriers in a week or so."

Ormsgill laughed. "I want them to-morrow. There is a good deal to do.
I have the boys Domingo stole to trace when I have bought the woman
back from Herrero."

"Bought!" said Father Tiebout with a twinkle in his eyes. "If Herrero
is not willing to sell?"

"Then," said Ormsgill dryly, "I shall have considerable pleasure in
making him."

He stretched himself wearily with a little yawn. "And now we will talk
about other matters."

It was an hour later when he retired to rest and, hot as it was, sank
into sound sleep within ten minutes, but although he rose early and
roused the little priest to somewhat unusual activity, several days
had passed before his new carriers were collected and ready to march.
They were sturdy, half-naked pagans, and appeared astonished when he
gave them instructions in a few words of the bush tongue and bore with
their slow comprehension instead of applying the stick to their dusky
skin, which was what they had somewhat naturally expected from a white
man.

He shook hands with Nares and Father Tiebout in the sloppy compound
early one morning when the mists were streaming from the dripping
forest, and looked at the little priest with a twinkle in his eyes.

"I haven't asked you how you got those boys," he said. "Still, it must
have cost you something to secure the good will of whoever had the
privilege of supplying them."

He turned to Nares as if to invite his opinion, which was
unhesitatingly offered him. The latter, at least, would make no
compromise.

"It certainly did," he said. "I am glad you did not ask me to hire you
the boys. The system under which he obtained them is an iniquity."

Father Tiebout smiled. "The object, I think, was a pious one. One has
to use the means available."

"Anyway," said Ormsgill, "the responsibility and the cost is mine."

The priest shook his head. "At least, you can take this gift from me,"
he said. "It is not much, but one does with pleasure what he can."

It was offered in such a fashion that Ormsgill could only make his
grateful acknowledgments, though he had grounds for surmising that the
gift would cost the giver months of stringent self-denial, and there
was already very little sign of luxury at the Mission. Then he called
to his carriers, who swung out of the compound with their burdens in
single file, slipping and splashing in the mire. The two men he had
left behind stood watching them until the last strip of fluttering
cotton had vanished into the misty forest when Father Tiebout looked
at his companion with a little smile.

"One could consider the venture our friend has undertaken a folly, but
still I think he will succeed," he said. "One could almost fancy that
the Powers above us hold the men who attempt such follies in their
special keeping."

Nares, as it happened, had been almost uncomfortably stirred during
the last ten minutes, but he was Puritan to the backbone, and usually
endeavored, at least, to prevent what he felt carrying him away. He
was also as a rule ready to join issue with the little priest on any
point that afforded him an opportunity.

"There is a difficulty," he said. "I'm not sure he would admit the
existence of all the Powers you believe in. There are so many of them.
One would fancy that faith was necessary."

Father Tiebout smiled at him again. "Ah," he said, "they who know
everything have doubtless a wide charity."



CHAPTER VIII

THE BONDSWOMAN


A small fire burned on the edge of the ravine, flinging out pale red
flashes and an intolerable smoke, for the wood was green and wet. It
had been raining heavily, and the whole forest that rolled down the
slopes of the plateau was filled with a thick white steam. Filmy wisps
of it drifted out of the darkness which hid the towering trunks, and
streamed by the girl who crouched beside the fire cooking her white
lord's evening meal. She was comely, though her face and uncovered
arms were of a warm brown. A wide strip of white cotton fell from one
shoulder, and half revealed the slenderness of her shapely form. It
also covered certain significant discolored bruises on the soft brown
skin. The look in her eyes just then, perhaps, accounted for them, for
it vaguely suggested intelligence, and a protest against her fate, in
place of the hopeless apathy which, after all, saves the native of
that country a great deal of trouble. He has been taught drastically
that any objection he might reasonably make would certainly be futile
and very apt to produce unwished-for results.

A wall of dripping forest rose above the fire, but behind the girl the
ground sloped sharply to the brink of a swollen river which rose in
the plateaux of the interior, and a little, tattered tent was pitched
on the edge of the declivity. In front of it two somewhat ragged white
men lay listlessly upon a strip of waterproof ground sheeting. They
were worn with travel and a long day's labor, for they had been
engaged since sunrise in raft building and ferrying their equipment
and trade goods across the river, and, as it happened, had lost most
of their provisions in the process. They were of widely different
birth and character, and cordially disliked each other, though they
had both first seen the light in Africa and community of interest held
them together.

Gavin was tall and lean and hard, with an expressionless bronzed face,
the son of an English ostrich farmer who had married a Boer woman. He
had come into that country on foot with one other survivor of the
party he had started with after a difference of opinion with the Boer
administration. The others had died with their oxen during their two
years' wandering in the wilderness. His companion Herrero passed for a
Portuguese, though his hair would curl and his lips were a trifle
thick. He was spare in form, and his face was of a muddy yellow with
the stamp of sensuality and cruelty in it. He had also been drinking
freely, though that is not as a rule a Latin vice, and was still very
wet from his labors in the river. He had lower legs like broomsticks,
and his torn, drenched trousers clung tightly about his protuberant
knees.

"One could fancy that we have been bewitched," he said. "Trouble has
followed us all the journey. There was a native woman who looked at
us as we left San Roque, and she made a sign."

Gavin laughed contemptuously. "The loads," he said, "were too heavy.
It is not economical to overdrive these cattle. One must remember the
trek-ox's back."

Herrero blinked at the forest with something that suggested
apprehension in his eyes, and it was not difficult to fancy that it
and all it held was hostile to the white man. It seemed to crowd in
upon him menacingly as the fire leapt up, vague, black, and
impenetrable, an abode of unformulated terror and everlasting shadow.

"I have brought up the same loads with fewer boys before," he said.
"They did not fall lame or die, as some of these have done. It is
known that there is black witchcraft in this bush. There are white men
who have gone into it and did not come out again."

"They were probably easier with their carriers than is advisable," and
Gavin smiled grimly as he dropped a big hand on a cartridge in his
bandolier. "This is a certain witchcraft cure. Still, you have to make
your mind up. We can not go on, and take all the trade goods, without
provisions."

His companion raised one shoulder in protest against the trouble fate
had heaped upon them, for the trade goods were worth a good deal in
the country that lay before them.

"It takes almost as much to keep a man in strength whether he marches
light or loaded," he said. "It would ruin me if we left any more
behind. Boys are scarce just now. One could, perhaps, get provisions
in another week's march."

"The boys can not make it," and it was evident that Gavin was
languidly contemptuous of his comrade's indecision. "You must leave a
few here or you will lose half of them on the way."

He, at least, could face a crisis resolutely, but it was clear that
he, too, regarded the carriers as chattels that had a commercial value
only, for he was quite aware that, since that was one of the sterile
belts, those who were left behind would in all probability die. The
men whose fate they were discussing lay among the wet undergrowth
apart from them, and Herrero, who appeared to be glancing towards
them, raised himself a trifle suddenly.

"Something moves. There in the bush," he said.

"One of the boys," said Gavin, who saw nothing, though his eyes were
keen. "Lie down. You have been taking more cognac than is wise
lately."

Herrero shrugged his shoulders. "There is always something in the
bush. It comes and goes when the boys are asleep," he said. "It is not
pleasant that one should see it."

Gavin scarcely smiled. He was growing a trifle impatient with his
comrade, who could not recognize when it was necessary to make a
sacrifice, and he was ready for his meal. By and by Herrero called to
the girl, who filled a calabash from the iron cooking pot hung above
the fire, and laid it down in front of him with two basins. The trader
lifted a portion of the savory preparation in a wooden spoon and
smelled it.

"The pepper is insufficient. How often must one tell you that?" he
said, and rising laid a yellow hand upon her arm.

The girl shrank back from him, but he followed her, still holding her
arm, and nipped it deeply between the nails of his thumb and
forefinger. He did it slowly, and with a certain relish, while his
face contracted into a malicious grin. For a moment a fierce light
leapt into the girl's eyes, but the torturing grip grew sharper, and
it faded again. The man dropped his hand when at last she broke into a
little cry, and stooping for the calabash she went back towards the
fire. Gavin, who had looked on with an expressionless face, turned to
his comrade.

"If you do that too often I think you will be sorry, my friend," he
said. "She will cut your throat for you some day."

"No," said Herrero, "it is not a thing that is likely to happen if one
uses the stick sufficiently."

His companion smiled in a curious fashion, but said nothing. His
mother's people had long ruled the native with a heavy hand, and he
had no hesitation in admitting that leniency is seldom advisable.
Still, he recognized that in spite of his apathetic patience one may
now and then drive the negro over hard, so that when life becomes
intolerable he somewhat logically grows reckless and turns upon his
oppressors in his desperation, which was a thing that Herrero
apparently did not understand.

In the meanwhile the girl crouched silently by the fire, stirring the
blistering peppers into the cooking pot, a huddled figure robed in
white with meekly bent head and the marks of the white man's brutality
upon her dusky body. Every line of the limp figure was suggestive of
hopelessness. She might have posed for a statue of Africa in bondage.
Still, as it happened, she and the boys who lay apart among the
dripping undergrowth glanced now and then towards the forest with
apathetic curiosity. Gavin's ears were good, but, after all, he had
not depended upon his hearing for life and liberty, as the others had
often done, and their keenness of perception was not in him. They knew
that strangers were approaching stealthily through the bush. Indeed,
they knew that one had flitted about the camp for some little while,
but they said nothing. It was the white man's business, and nothing
that was likely to result from it could matter much to them.

The fire blazed up a little, but, save for its snapping and the roar
of the swollen river, there was silence in the camp, until Gavin rose
to one knee with a little exclamation. He had heard nothing, but at
last his trained senses had given him a sub-conscious warning that
there was something approaching. Just then the girl stirred the fire,
and the uncertain radiance flickered upon the towering trunks. It
drove an elusive track of brightness back into the shadow, and Herrero
scrambled to his feet as a man strode into the light.

He stopped and stood near the fire, dressed in thorn-rent duck, with
the wet dripping from him and a little grim smile in his face, and it
was significant that although he had nothing in his hands Gavin
reached out for the heavy rifle that lay near his side. Strangers
are usually received with caution in that part of Africa, and he
recognized the man. As it happened, the girl by the fire recognized
him, too, and ran forward with a little cry. After all, he had been
kind to her while she lived with Lamartine, and it may have been that
some vague hope of deliverance sprang up in her mind, for she stopped
again and crouched in mute appeal close at his side. Ormsgill laid a
hand reassuringly upon her brown shoulder.

[Illustration: "Ormsgill laid a hand reassuringly upon her brown
shoulder."--See page 103.]

He had not spoken a word yet, and there was silence for a moment or
two while the firelight flared up. It showed Gavin watching him
motionless with the rifle that glinted now and then on his knee,
Herrero standing with closed hands and an unpleasant scowl on his
yellow face, and the boys clustering waist-deep in the underbrush.
Then the trader spoke.

"What do you want?" he said.

"This woman," said Ormsgill simply. "I am willing to buy her from
you."

Herrero laughed maliciously. "She is not for sale. You should not have
let her slip through your fingers. It is possible you could have made
terms with Lamartine."

Ormsgill disregarded the gibe. Indeed, it was one he had expected.

"That," he said, "is not quite the point. Besides, one could hardly
fancy that you are quite correct. Everything is for sale in this part
of Africa. It is only a question of the figure. You have not heard my
offer."

"In this case it would not be a great temptation," and Herrero's grin
was plainer. "The girl is now and then mutinous, and that lends the
affair a certain piquancy. When she has been taught submission I shall
probably grow tired of her and will give her to you. Until then the
breaking of her in will afford me pleasure. In fact, as I have never
been defied by a native yet I feel that to fail in this case would be
a stain on my self-respect."

"I almost think my offer would cover that," said Ormsgill dryly. "It
seems to me your self-respect has been sold once or twice before."

Herrero disregarded him, though his face grew a trifle flushed.
"Anita," he said, "come here."

The girl rose when Ormsgill let his hand drop from her shoulder, and
gazed at him appealingly. Then as he made no sign she turned away with
a little hopeless gesture, moved forward a few paces, and stopped
again when the trader reached out for a withe that lay on the ground
sheet not far from where he stood.

"It would," he said with a vindictive smile, "have saved her trouble
if you had stayed away."

"Stop," said Ormsgill sharply, and striding forward stood looking at
him. "You have shown how far you would go, which was in one way most
unwise of you since you have made it a duty to take the girl from you.
What is more to the purpose, it will certainly be done. There are two
ways of obtaining anything in this country. One is to buy it, and the
other to fight for it. I am willing to use either."

Herrero who saw the glint in his eyes, backed away from him, and
flashed a warning glance at Gavin, who turned to Ormsgill quietly.

"I am," he said in English, "willing to stand by, and see fair play,
since it does not seem to be altogether a question of business. Still,
if it seems likely that you will deprive me of my comrade's services I
shall probably feel compelled to take a hand in. He has a few good
points though they're not particularly evident, and I can't altogether
afford to lose him."

Herrero, who glanced round the camp, waved his hand towards the boys.
"I will call them to beat you back into the bush."

Ormsgill raised his voice, and there was a sharp crackling of
undergrowth, while here and there a dusky figure materialized out of
the shadow.

"As you see, they have guns," he said.

Gavin smiled and tapped his rifle. "Still, they can't shoot as I can.
Hadn't you better send them away again, and if you have any offer to
make Mr. Herrero get on with it? One naturally expected something of
this kind."

Ormsgill made a little gesture with his hand, and the men sank into
the gloom again.

"Well," he said, "for the last week I have been trailing you, and as I
did not know how long I might be coming up with you, I have plenty of
provisions. Yours, it is evident from one or two things I noticed, are
running out, and you can't get through the sterile belt without a
supply. It was rather a pity the San Roque people burned the village
where you expected to get some. I'm open to hand you over all the
loads I can spare in return for the girl Anita."

"How many loads?"

Ormsgill told him, and Gavin nodded, "It is a reasonable offer," he
said. "I will engage that our friend makes terms with you. Bring in
the provisions, and you shall have the girl."

Herrero protested savagely until his companion dryly pointed that
since his objections had no weight he was wasting his breath. Then
Ormsgill turned away into the bush, and came back with a line of
half-naked carrier boys who laid down the loads they carried before
the tent. After that he touched the girl's shoulder, and pointed to
the hammock two of the boys lowered.

"You are going back to your own village," he said.

The girl gazed at him a moment in evident astonishment, and then waved
her little brown hands.

"I have none," she said. "It was burned several moons ago."

It was evident that this was something Ormsgill had not expected, and
was troubled at, and Gavin, who watched him, smiled.

"If she belongs to the Lutanga people, as one would fancy from her
looks, what she says is very likely correct," he said. "One of the
plateau tribes came down not long ago and wiped several villages out.
Domingo told me, and from what he said the tribe in question is
certainly not one I'd care about handing over a woman to. She would
probably have to put up with a good deal of unpleasantness if she
went back there. Besides, it seems to me that what you had in view
would scarcely be flattering to the lady. It isn't altogether what she
would expect from her rescuer."

Ormsgill had already an unpleasant suspicion of the latter fact, for
woman's favor is not sought but purchased or commanded in most parts
of Africa. Still, he once more pointed to the hammock, and walked
behind it without a word when the bearers hove the pole to their wooly
crowns.

Then as they flitted into the shadowy bush Gavin turned to Herrero
with a little laugh. "There are a few men like him, men with views
that bring them trouble," he said. "My father was one. He threw away a
big farm on account of them. He would not make obeisance to his new
masters when his nation turned its back on him. That, however, is a
thing one could scarcely expect you to understand."

Then he called one of the boys and sent him to the fire. "And now we
will have supper. After all, I'm not very sorry you lost that girl, my
friend."



CHAPTER IX

ANITA BECOMES A RESPONSIBILITY


It was two weeks later when Ormsgill reached the Mission with his
boys, footsore, ragged, and worn with travel. He had avoided Anita's
hammock as far as possible on the way, and it was with a certain
relief he saw her safely installed in one of the dusky adherents'
huts. Then he arrayed himself in whole, clean clothes, and when he had
eaten sat on the shadowy veranda talking with his host, a somewhat
ludicrous figure since Father Tiebout's garments were several sizes
too small for him. It was then the hottest part of the afternoon. The
perspiration trickled down their faces, and the little priest blinked
when he met the blazing sunlight with dazzled eyes.

They spoke in disjointed sentences, sometimes mixing words of three
languages, but it was significant that although neither expressed
himself with clearness his companion seldom failed in comprehension,
for priest and rash adventurer were in curious sympathy. Both of them
had borne heat, and fever, and bodily pain, and proved their courage
in a land where the white man often sinks into limp dejection. Each
had also in his own way done what he could for the oppressed, and had,
perhaps, accomplished a little here and there. It was, however,
inevitable that their conversation should turn upon the girl Anita.

"I had not heard of the raid up yonder," said the priest. "I am not
sure that I am sorry. After all, one hears enough. Still, it no doubt
took place. Herrero's companion would have no motive for deceiving
you. The question is what is to be done with the woman. To be frank,
she cannot stay here."

"Why?" and Ormsgill's face grew a trifle grave, for Anita was rapidly
becoming a cause of anxiety to him.

His companion made a little gesture. "She would prove an apple of
discord; she is too pretty. One must not expect too much of human
nature, and one wife alone is permitted. There is not now a boy she
could marry. In the second place, Herrero would probably attempt to
seize her here."

It occurred to Ormsgill that Anita might not be anxious or even
willing to marry anybody. In fact, he felt it would be an almost
astonishing thing if she was. Still, he realized with a vague
uneasiness that it is, after all, very often difficult to foresee the
course a woman would adopt.

"Then," he said, "I don't know what can be done with her."

"You are not one who would leave a task half finished?"

"At least, I cannot turn this woman adrift."

Father Tiebout wrinkled his brows. "There is, I think, only one place
where she would be safe, and that is on the coast. There are also
friends of mine who could be trusted to take good care of her in the
city, and she could be sent down from the San Thome Mission. It is,
however, a long journey."

"If it is necessary," said Ormsgill, "I must make it."

His companion's little gesture seemed to indicate that he believed it
was, and Ormsgill dismissed the subject with a smile.

"In that case I will start again to-morrow," he said.

He set out in the early morning, taking two letters from Father
Tiebout, one for the man who directed the San Thome Mission, and one
to be sent on from there to certain friends of his host's on the
coast, and it was two days later when he lay a little apart from his
carriers in a glade in the bush. Blazing sunshine beat down into it.
There was an overpowering heat, and a deep stillness pervaded the
encircling forest, for the beasts had slunk into their darkest lairs
in the burning afternoon. The snapping of the fire made it the more
perceptible, and Ormsgill could see the blue smoke curl up above a
belt of grass behind which the boys were cooking a meal. Anita, who
was with them, would, he knew, bring him his portion, and in the
meanwhile he felt it was advisable to keep away from her. She had
talked very little with him during the last two days, but that was his
fault, and he fancied that she failed to understand his reticence. In
fact, the signs of favor she had once or twice shown him had rendered
him a little uncomfortable.

For all that, his face relaxed into a little dry smile as he wondered
what the very formal Mrs. Ratcliffe would think of that journey. He
remembered that he had always been more or less of a trial to his
conventional friends even before he had been dismissed from his
country's service for an offense he had not committed, but he was one
of the men who do not greatly trouble themselves about being
misunderstood. It is a misfortune which those who undertake anything
worth doing have usually to bear with.

He was, however, a little drowsy, for they had started at sunrise and
marched a long way since then. There was only one hammock, which
somewhat to the carriers' astonishment Anita had occupied, for this
was distinctly at variance with the customs of a country in which
nobody concerns himself about the comfort of a native woman. It would
also be an hour before the boys went on again, and he stretched
himself out among the grass wearily, but, for all that, with a little
sigh of content. He had found the restraints of civilization galling,
and the untrammeled life of the wilderness appealed to him. The need
of constant vigilance, and the recognition of the hazards he had
exposed himself to, had a bracing effect. It roused the combativeness
that was in his nature, and left him intent, strung up, and resolute.
The task he had saddled himself with had become more engrossing since
it promised to be difficult.

He did not think he slept, for he was conscious of the pungent smell
of the wood smoke all the time, but at last he roused himself to
attention suddenly, and looked about him with dazzled eyes. He could
see the faint blue vapor hanging about the trunks, and hear the boys'
low voices, but except for that the bush was very still. Yet he was
certainly leaning on one elbow with every sense strung up, and he knew
that there must be some cause for it. What had roused him he could not
tell, but he had, perhaps, lived long enough in that land to acquire a
little of the bushman's unreasoning recognition of an approaching
peril. There was, he knew, something that menaced him not far away.

For a moment or two his heart beat faster than usual, and the
perspiration trickled down his set face, and then laying a restraint
upon himself he rose a trifle higher, and swept his eyes steadily
round the glade. There was one spot where it seemed to him that the
outer leaves of a screen of creepers moved. He did not waste a moment
in watching them, but letting his arm fall under him rolled over
amidst the grass which covered him, for it was evidently advisable to
take precautions promptly. Just as the crackling stems closed about
him there was a pale flash and a detonation, and a puff of smoke
floated out from the creepers.

Ormsgill was on his feet in another moment, and running his hardest
plunged into them, but when he had smashed through the tangled, thorny
stems there was nobody there, and except for the clamor of the boys
the bush was very still. Still, this was very much what he had
expected, and looking round he saw the print of naked toes and a knee
in the damp soil before his eyes rested on the brass shell of a spent
cartridge. He picked it up and turned it over in his hand,
recognizing it as one made for a heavy, single-shot rifle of old
fashioned type, which had its significance for him. He fancied his
would-be assassin had been lent the rifle by a white man who in all
probability knew what he meant to do with it. Then he glanced at the
cartridge again, and noticed a slight outward bending of its rim.
There was a portentous little glint in his eyes as he slipped it into
his pocket.

"Some day I may come across the man who owns that rifle," he said.

He stood still for another few moments, grim in face, with his jacket
rent, and a little trickle of blood running from one hand which a
thorn had gashed. Every nerve in him tingled with fierce anger, but he
knew that the man who runs counter to established customs has usually
more than misconception to face in Africa, especially if he
sympathizes with the oppressed, and he was one who could wait. Then
the boys came floundering through the undergrowth, one or two with
heavy matchets, and one or two with long flintlock guns, but Ormsgill,
who recognized that pursuit would certainly prove futile even if they
were willing to undertake it, drove them back to the fire again.

"We will start when I have eaten," was all he said.

Anita brought him his meal, and stood watching him curiously while he
ate, but Ormsgill said nothing, and in half an hour they went on again
and spent the rest of that day and a number of others floundering
amidst and hacking a way through tangled creepers in the dim shadow of
the bush. It was a relief to all of them when at last the thatched
roofs of San Thome Mission rose out of a little opening into which the
dazzling sunlight shone. Ormsgill was received by an emaciated priest
with a dead white face and the intolerant eyes of a fanatic, who
supplied him and the boys with a very frugal meal and took Anita away
from him. Then he read Father Tiebout's letters, and after he had done
so sat with Ormsgill on the veranda.

"Father Tiebout vouches for you--and your purpose," he said, watching
his companion with doubt in his eyes.

"If he had not done so I should probably not have been welcome?" said
Ormsgill, smiling.

The priest made a little gesture which seemed to imply that he did not
intend to discuss that point. "The girl would be safe with the people
he mentions. They are good Catholics."

"I am not sure that is quite sufficient in itself," said Ormsgill
reflectively. "Still, Father Tiebout would scarcely have suggested
sending her to them unless he had felt reasonably certain that they
would show her kindness."

His companion's face hardened. "They are people of blameless lives.
There are, perhaps, two or three such in that city. You could count
upon the woman receiving kindness from them, but one would have you
quite clear about the fact that my recommendation is necessary. It is,
of course, in my power to withhold it, and if it is given you will
undertake not to claim the woman again?"

Ormsgill looked at him with a little smile. "I have no wish to claim
her, though I have only that assurance to offer you, and I must tell
you that I am going to the coast. There are, however, one or two
conditions. She must be treated well, and paid for her services."

"That would be arranged. It is convenient that she should understand
what would be required of her. I will send for her."

Ormsgill made a sign of concurrence, and in another five minutes Anita
stood before them, slight and lithe in form, and very comely, but with
apprehension and anxiety in her brown face. The priest spoke to her
concisely in a coldly even voice, and it was evident that the course
he mentioned was one she had no wish to take. Then he turned from her
to Ormsgill as she stretched out her hands with a little gesture of
appeal towards the latter.

"It is your will that I should go away and live with these people?"
she said.

Ormsgill knew that the priest was watching him, and that there was
only one answer, but he shrank from uttering it. The girl's eyes were
beseeching, and she looked curiously forlorn. She was a castaway
without kindred or country, one who had lived the untrammeled life of
the bush, and he feared that she would find the restraints of the city
intolerably galling.

"It is," he said gravely.

The girl stood very still a moment or two looking at him, and Ormsgill
felt the blood creep into his face. He was, in all probability, the
only man who had ever shown her kindness, and he recognized that she
too had misunderstood his motives and regarded him as rather more than
her rescuer. Then as he made no sign she flung out her hands again,
hopelessly this time, and slowly straightened herself.

"I go," she said simply and turned away from them.

Ormsgill watched her cross the compound, a forlorn object, with the
white cotton robe that flowed about her gleaming in the dazzling
sunlight, and then turn for a moment in the shadowy entrance of a
palm-thatched hut. He was stirred with a vague compassion, but putting
a firm restraint upon himself he sat still, and the girl turning
suddenly once more vanished into the dark gap. It also happened that
he never met her again.

"One's powers are limited, Father. After all, there is not much one
can do for another," he said.

The priest looked hard at him, and then made a little grave gesture.
"It is something if one can ease for a moment another's burden. I
have, it seems, to ask your pardon for a misconception that was,
perhaps, not altogether an unnatural one, Señor."

Ormsgill saw little more of him during the day, and started for the
coast early next morning. He had only accomplished half his purpose,
and that in some respects the easier half, but it was necessary for
him to procure further supplies and communicate with Desmond. Before
he started, however, he sent home most of the boys Father Tiebout had
obtained for him, keeping only two or three of them, for these and
the others he had brought up with him could, he fancied, be relied
upon. They were thick-lipped, wooly-haired heathen, stupid in all
matters beyond their acquaintance, but after the first few weeks they
had, at least, done his bidding unquestioningly.

This quiet white man with the lined face had never used the stick on
one of them, and did not, so far as they were aware, even carry a
pistol. When they slept at a bush village or obtained provisions there
he made the headman a due return before he went away, which was not
the invariable custom of other white men they had traveled with. In
fact, they looked upon him as somewhat of an anachronism in that
country, but since the one attempt a few of them had made to disregard
his authority had signally failed they obeyed him, and little by
little became sensible of a curious confidence in him. What he said he
did, and, what was rather more to the purpose, when he told them that
a certain course was expected from them they usually adopted it, even
when it was far from coinciding with their wishes.

There are a few men of Ormsgill's kind and one or two women who have
made adventurous journeys in the shadowy land unarmed, and carried
away with them the dusky tribesmen's good will, while others have
found it necessary to march with a band of hired swashbucklers and
mark their trail with burnt villages and cartridge shells. As usual, a
good deal depended upon how they set about it.



CHAPTER X

ORMSGILL ASKS A FAVOR


A silver lamp burned on the little table where two diminutive cups of
bitter coffee were set out, but its indifferent light was scarcely
needed in the open-fronted upper room of Dom Clemente's house. A full
moon hung above the Atlantic, and the clear radiance that rested on
the glittering harbor streamed in between the fretted arches and
slender pillars. Throughout tropical Africa all there is of grace and
beauty in man's handiwork bears the stamp of the unchanging East, and
one finds something faintly suggestive of the art of olden days where
the eye rests with pleasure on any of its sweltering towns, which is,
however, not often the case. It is incontrovertible that most of the
towns are characterized by native squalor and that some of them are
unpleasantly filthy, but, after all, filth and squalor are usual in
the East, and serve by contrast to enhance the elusive beauty of its
cities.

It was almost cool that evening, and Ormsgill, looking down between
the slim pillars across the white walls and flat roofs, though some
were ridged and tiled, towards the blaze of moonlight on the harbor,
was well content to be where he was after his journey through the
steamy bush and across the sun-scorched littoral. He had arrived that
afternoon, and had spent the last hour with Benicia Figuera, who had
shown herself gracious to him. She lay not far away from him in a big
Madeira chair, loosely draped in diaphanous white attire which
enhanced the violet depths of her eyes and the duskiness of her hair,
and her face showed in the moonlight the clear pallor of ivory.
Ormsgill fancied that her attendant the Señora Castro sat in the room
behind them from which a soft light streamed out through quaintly
patterned wooden lattices, though he had seen nothing of the latter
lady since the comida had been cleared away.

He had said very little about his journey, though he intended to tell
Dom Clemente rather more, but he presently became conscious that
Benicia was regarding him with a little smile. He also noticed, and
was somewhat annoyed with himself for thinking of it, that she had
lips like the crimson pulp of the pomegranate, the grandadilla which
figures in the imagery of the Iberian Peninsula as well as in that of
parts of Africa, where it is seldom grown. Ormsgill was quite aware of
this, and it had its associations of Eastern mysticism and sensuality,
for he was a man of education and the outcasts he had lived with had
not all been of low degree. Among them there had been a certain
green-turbaned Moslem who had taught him things unknown to his kind at
home. He felt that it was advisable to put a restraint upon himself.

"You are not sorry you have come back to us?" said Benicia.

Ormsgill was by no means sorry, and permitted himself to admit as
much. He had accomplished part, at least, of his purpose
successfully, and that in itself had a tranquilizing effect on him,
while after the weary marches through tall grass and tangled bush
under scorching heat it was distinctly pleasant to sit there cleanly
clad, in the cool air with such a companion. Benicia, it almost
seemed, guessed his thoughts, for she laughed softly.

"It is comforting to feel that one has done what he has undertaken,"
she said. "Still, you were, at least, not alone by those campfires in
the bush."

Ormsgill flushed a little, though he contrived not to start. He had
naturally not considered it necessary to tell Miss Figuera anything
about Anita.

"No," he said simply. "I don't know how you could have heard about it,
but I was not alone."

It was characteristic of him that he offered no explanation, and was
content to leave what he had done open to misconception. In fact, he
had a vague but unpleasant feeling that the latter course might be the
wiser one. Benicia turned her dark eyes full upon him, and there was a
faint sparkle in the depths of them.

"My friend, I hear of almost everything," she said. "As it happens, I
know what you went up into the bush for."

"Well," said Ormsgill reflectively, "perhaps, I should not be
surprised at that. It was only natural that I should be watched."

He met her gaze without wavering, and, though he was not aware of
this, his eyes had a question in them. It was one he could not have
asked directly even if he had wished, but remembering that Anita was
to live in that city he took a bold course.

"I wonder if one could venture to mention that your interest in the
woman I brought down from the bush would go a long way?" he said. "It
is, I think, deserved, and in case of any difficulty would ensure her
being left in quietness here, though, perhaps, the favor is too much
to expect."

"No," said the girl, "not when you make the request. Frankly, in the
case of others I should have found what I have heard incredible. It
suggests the Knight of La Mancha. Are there many in your country who
would do such things?"

Ormsgill felt his face grow a trifle hot. After all, Benicia Figuera
was, in that land, at least, a great lady, and he remembered that his
own people had doubted him. He laughed somewhat bitterly.

"If I remember correctly, the famous cavalier was more or less crazy,"
he said.

The girl turned a trifle in her chair, and he saw a little gleam
kindle in her dark eyes.

"Ah," she said, "perhaps it is a pity there are so many who are wholly
sensible."

She sat very close to him, dressed in filmy white which flowed in
sweeping lines about a form of the statuesque modeling that is one of
the characteristics of the women of The Peninsula, but it was
something in her eyes which held Ormsgill's attention. They were Irish
eyes, with the inconsequent daring of the Celt in them, though she had
also the lips of the Iberian, full and red and passionate. The hot
blood of the South was in her, and, though she never forgot wholly
who and what she was, and there was a certain elusive stateliness in
her pose, it was clear to the man that she was one who could on
occasion fling petty prudence to the winds and ride as reckless a tilt
at conventionalities and cramping customs as he had done. Such a woman
he felt would not expect to be safeguarded by a man, but would bear
the stress of the conflict with him, if she loved him, not because his
quarrel might be an honorable one but because it was his. Then she
made him a little grave inclination.

"I venture to make you my compliments, Señor Ormsgill," she said.

The man set his lips for a moment, and she saw it with a little thrill
of triumph. It was borne in upon her that she desired the love of this
quiet Englishman who for a whimsical idea had undertaken such a task.
She also felt that she could take it, for she had seen the woman he
was pledged to, and knew, if he did not, that he would never be
satisfied with her. Then she suddenly remembered her pride, and
quietly straightened herself again. Ormsgill sat still looking at her,
and though the signs of restraint were plain on his lined face, she
saw a curious little glint creep into his eyes. Still, she felt that
he did not know it was there.

"What shall I say?" he asked. "I don't think there are many people who
would see anything commendable in what I have done. In fact, those who
heard about it would probably consider it a piece of futile rashness,
and it is very likely that they would be right. After all, the
restraints of the city may become intolerable to the girl."

"Then why did you undertake it?"

Ormsgill laughed, though there was a faint ring in his voice, for he
saw that she had not asked out of idle curiosity. "I don't exactly
know. For one thing, I had made a promise, but to be candid I think
there were other reasons. You see, I have borne the burden myself. I
have been plundered of my earnings, driven to exhaustion, and have
fought against long odds for my life. It left me with a bitterness
against any custom which makes the grinding of the helpless possible.
One can't help a natural longing to strike back now and then."

Benicia nodded. It was not surprising that there was a certain vein of
vindictiveness in her, which rendered it easy for her to sympathize
with him, and once more the man noticed that where Ada Ratcliffe would
in all probability have listened with half-disdainful impatience she
showed comprehension.

"Still," she said, "in a struggle of this kind you have so much
against you. After all, you are only one man."

"I almost think there are a few more of us even in Africa and, as
Father Tiebout says, it is, perhaps, possible that one man may be
permitted to do--something--here and there."

He spoke with a grave simplicity which curiously stirred the girl. It
is possible that the sorrows of the oppressed did not in themselves
greatly interest her, for she had certainly never borne the burden,
but the attitude of this quiet man who, it seemed, had taken up their
cause, and was ready to ride a tilt against the powers that be,
appealed to her. She had, at least, courage and imagination, and there
was Irish blood in her.

"Ah," she said, "the fight is an unequal one, but though there will be
so many against you I think you have also a few good friends--as well
as the Señor Desmond."

Ormsgill started. Her knowledge of his affairs was disconcerting, but
he forgot his annoyance at it when she leaned forward a trifle looking
at him. Her mere physical beauty had its effect on him, and the soft
moonlight and her clinging white draperies enhanced and etherealized
it, but it was not that which set his heart beating a trifle faster
and sent a faint thrill through him. It was once more her eyes he
looked at, and what he saw there made it clear that the reckless,
all-daring something that was in her nature was wholly in sympathy
with him. He also understood that she had asked him to count her as
one of his friends. His manner was, however, a little quieter than
usual.

"It is a matter of gratification to me to feel that I have," he said.
"Still, what do you know about Desmond?"

Benicia laughed. "Not a great deal, but I can guess rather more.
Still, I do not think you need fear that I will betray you. In the
meantime I venture to believe that this is another of your friends."

She rose and turned towards the door as her father came in. He shook
hands with Ormsgill, and then taking off his kepi drew forward a
chair. Benicia said nothing further, but went out and left them
together. Dom Clemente lighted a cigarette before he turned to his
guest with a little dry smile.

"Trade," he said, "is not brisk up yonder?"

"I do not know if it is or not," said Ormsgill simply.

"Then, perhaps, you have accomplished the purpose that took you
there?"

"A part of it. Because I have ventured to ask your daughter's interest
in a native woman I brought down I will tell you what it was."

He did so, and the olive-faced soldier nodded. "I think you have done
wisely in making me your confidant," he said. "At least, the woman
will be safe here. It is also possible that I shall have a few words
to speak to our friend Herrero some day." Then his tone grew a trifle
sharper. "I have heard that there are rifles in the hands of some of
the bushmen up yonder."

Ormsgill took a cartridge from his pocket and pointed to the dint in
the rim. "One might consider this as a proof of it. You will notice
the caliber, and I fancy I should recognize the rifle it was fired out
of. In that case the man who carries it will have an account to render
me."

"Ah," said the little soldier quietly, "it is a confirmation of
several things I have heard of lately. I think I mentioned that the
bush was not a desirable place for you to wander in. Still, you are
probably going back there again?"

"I believe I am."

His companion looked at him with a little smile. "It is what one would
expect from you. One may, perhaps, venture to recall the circumstances
under which I first met you. Two soldiers brought you before me--and,
as it happened, I had, fortunately, finished breakfast. You made
certain damaging admissions with a candor which, though it might have
had a different effect a little earlier, saved you a good deal of
unpleasantness. I said here is an unwise man whose word can be
depended on. You know what the people of this city say of me?"

"That you are a great soldier."

Dom Clemente's eyes twinkled. "Also that like the rest I am willing to
abuse my office if it will line my pockets. The latter, it seems, is
the purpose which influences me in the unpopular things I do. I make
no protestations, but after all it is possible that I may have another
one. In any case, I have received you into my house, and admitted a
certain indebtedness to you. In return, I ask for your usual
frankness. You have heard of a native rising up yonder?"

The question was sharp and incisive, and Ormsgill nodded.

"To be precise," he said, "I heard of two."

"Then we will have your views about the first one. It is not what one
could call spontaneous?"

"At least, it is scarcely likely to take place without a little
judicious encouragement. The results, it is expected, would be
repression and reprisal. It seems that a lenient native policy does
not please everybody."

This time Dom Clemente nodded with the twinkle a trifle plainer in his
eyes. "There are, one may admit, certain trading gentlemen in this
city who do not like it, but I will tell you a secret," he said.
"There are also a few well meaning people of some influence in my
country who can not be brought to believe that commercial interests
should count for everything. They seem to consider one has a certain
responsibility towards the negro. I do not say how far my views
coincide with theirs. That may become apparent some day. But the
second rising?"

"Will, at least, be genuine, and, I almost fancy, formidable. It is a
little curious that the people who are most interested in the other do
not seem to foresee it. It may break upon them before they are quite
ready with the bogus one."

Dom Clemente smoked out his cigarette before he answered, and then he
waved one of his hands.

"Now and then," he said, "things happen that way. Perhaps, the Powers
who direct our little comedy can smile on occasion. At least, we
frequently afford them the opportunity. It is certain that there is no
fool like the over-cunning man. But we will talk of something else. In
the meantime, and while you stay here, you will consider this house of
mine your home, and those in it your friends and servants."

"Thanks," said Ormsgill. "And when I go away?"

His host made a little gesture. "Then it will depend upon where you go
and what you do. We may be friends still, or our ideas of what is
expected from us may render that impossible. Perhaps, it is
unfortunate when one has any ideas upon that point at all. Still, that
is a subject one must leave to the priests and those who reckon our
work up afterwards. Being simply a soldier, I do not know."



CHAPTER XI

DESMOND VENTURES A HINT


It was blowing hard, and the deluge which had blotted out the dingy
daylight and beaten flat the white spouting along the hammered beach
had just ceased suddenly when Desmond lay upon a settee at the head of
the _Palestrina_'s companion stairway. Though the long, sandy point to
the north of her afforded a partial shelter, she was rolling savagely
with a half-steam ready and two anchors down. Desmond had wedged
himself fast with his feet against the balustrade, but he found it
somewhat difficult to remain where he was, and the little room was
uncomfortably hot, though one door and the lee ports were open. The
two that looked forward were swept by spray that beat on them like a
shot, and overhead funnel-guy and wire rigging screamed in wild
arpeggios under the impact of the muggy gale.

The _Palestrina_'s owner was, however, used to that. It rains and
blows somewhat hard on that coast at certain seasons, and he had lain
there several weeks growling at the heat and the weather, for he was
also one of the men who can keep a promise. Just then he had an
unlighted pipe and a letter which he had received from Las Palmas a
month earlier in one hand. It was from an Englishman he had brought
out to Grand Canary, and though its contents did not directly concern
him he had given it a good deal of thought once or twice already. His
forehead grew a trifle furrowed as he opened it again.

"We have been wondering what Lister came back for, and the general
notion is that you had had enough of him," said his friend. "In any
case, he seems quite content with Las Palmas, and the British colony
are watching his proceedings with quiet interest. After cleaning out
several Spaniards at the casino he has apparently devoted himself to
Miss Ratcliffe's service. It is not evident that he receives a great
deal of encouragement from the lady herself, but her mother is
ostentatiously gracious to him. She may have a purpose in this."

Desmond crumpled the letter in one hand. "Crosbie always was
a--tattler, but it's more than possible that he's right," he said.
Then he sighed. "And I put Lister on board the mail-boat and sent him
there! If I'd only known what the result would be I'd have drowned
him."

He lay still for another few moments filling his pipe, and then flung
the tobacco pouch across the room, for a sojourn off those beaches
would probably try the temper of most white men, and the Hibernian
nature now and then came uppermost in him.

"Damp," he said. "Reeking, dripping, putrid, like everything else on
this forlorn coast! It would be a boon to humanity if somebody bought
the besotted continent and scuttled it."

He rose to his feet as a man in bedraggled white uniform appeared in
the doorway.

"You were speaking, sir?" he said.

"I was," said Desmond. "I suggested that it was a pity somebody
couldn't torpedo this benighted continent. Any word from the men you
sent ashore?"

"They've signaled from the rise," said the _Palestrina_'s mate. "No
sign of him yet. I don't expect them off until to-morrow. The surf's
running steep." Desmond made a gesture of concurrence as he glanced at
the filmy spray-cloud that drove like smoke up the wet and glistening
beach. It was flung aloft by a wild white welter of crumbling seas,
and he realized that the boat's crew who had gone ashore could not
rejoin the _Palestrina_ before the morning, at least. They went every
day to watch for a lumbering ox team or a band of carriers plodding
seaward across the littoral, and it seemed they had once more signaled
that there was no sign of either. Then he moved towards the door
bareheaded, with only an unbuttoned duck jacket over his thin singlet,
and the mate ventured a deprecatory protest.

"She's throwing it over her in sheets forward," he said.

Desmond disregarded him, and staggering clear of the deck-house stood
with feet spread well apart gazing at the stretch of leaden sea while,
as the _Palestrina_'s bows went up, the spray that whirled in over her
weather rail wet him to the skin. He saw the livid tops of the combers
that rolled by the point and heard the jarring cables ring, and then
turned his eyes shorewards and gazed across the waste of misty
littoral.

"It's a cheerful place, but now and then you feel you might get to
like it," he said. "Perhaps it's the uncertainty as to when the fever
will get you that gives living here a zest. When you come to think of
it, some of us have curious notions."

He appeared to be considering the point as they edged back under the
lee of the deck-house, and the mate grinned.

"The men don't take kindly to it, sir," he said. "They've been
worrying me lately as to how long we're stopping here."

"A week," said Desmond. "Ormsgill's time is running out, and he'll be
here or send us word by then. He said he would, and what that man says
you can count on being done."

Something in his tone suggested that the question might be considered
as closed, and they discussed other matters while the deck heaved and
slanted under them until a man forward flung up an arm and turned
towards them with a cry which the wind swept away. In another moment
Desmond scrambled half-way up the bridge ladder, and clung there with
the mate close beneath him gazing at the white welter where the seas
swept by the point. There was a sail just outshore of it, a little
strip of gray canvas that appeared and vanished amidst the serried
ranks of tumbling combers. It drew out of them and drove furiously
towards the _Palestrina_, and when a strip of white hull grew into
visibility beneath it Desmond looked down at his mate.

"A big surf-boat. It's Ormsgill," he said.

There was certainty in his tone, as well as a little ring of
satisfaction which was, perhaps, warranted, for it is, after all,
something to be the friend of a man who does just what he has promised
and never arrives too late. In the meanwhile the object they were
watching had grown into a bellying lug-sail that reeled to lee and to
weather with the sea streaming from the foot of it, and a patch of
foam-swept hull. The boat came on furiously, and when the mate sprang
from the ladder roaring orders Desmond could see three or four black
figures through the spray that whirled over her. There was also
another man in white garments standing upright in her stern, and
Desmond was wholly sure of his identity. Then she was lost for awhile,
and only swept into sight again abreast of the _Palestrina_'s dipping
bows, hove high with half her length lifted out of the crest of a
breaking sea.

She drove forward with it, the foam standing half a man's height above
her stern and the foot of the slanted lug-sail washing in the brine,
while a bent white figure struggled with the great steering oar. She
swooped like a toboggan plunging down an icy slide when she was level
with the _Palestrina_'s bridge, and some of the men who watched her
from the latter's rail held their breath as the smoking sea passed on
and another gathered itself together astern of her. The helmsman, they
knew, must bring the dripping, half-swamped boat on the wind to reach
the strip of lee beneath the steamer's stern, and when he did it
there was every prospect of her rolling over.

In another moment several black objects rose and grappled with the
lug-sail sheet, and the big boat tilted until all one side of her was
in the air. Then she went up in the midst of a white spouting as the
slope of water behind fell upon her. Still, the slanted lug-sail rose
out of it, and then came down thrashing furiously while naked black
figures half-seen in the spray bent from her gunwale with swinging
paddles as she drove towards the _Palestrina_'s quarter. After that
there was a hoarse shouting, and the lines flew from the reeling
taffrail as she slid under the steamer's stern.

In another minute or two Ormsgill swung himself on board through the
gangway. He had no hat, and the water ran from him, but he shook hands
with Desmond unconcernedly.

"Ask them to hand that fellow up," he said pointing to a man who sat
huddled in the water that swirled up and down inside the plunging
boat. "We took rather a heavy one over two or three hours ago, and he
brought up on the after thwart when the big oar jumped its crutch. As
he's the only Kroo among them, I took the helm myself after that. I
don't fancy he has broken anything."

Desmond hustled him into the deck-house when the negro had been
brought on deck and the dripping boat rode astern, and an hour later
he sat at dinner with his comrade in the little white saloon. Darkness
had closed down in the meanwhile, and the lamp that swung above their
heads flung a soft light across the table, where dainty glassware and
silver glittered on the snowy cloth. Ormsgill smiled as he glanced at
it and the glowing blotch of color in his wine glass.

"After all, this kind of thing has its advantages, especially when one
has been accustomed to squatting in the wood smoke over a calabash of
palm oil or some other unhallowed nigger compound," he said. "It's a
trifle pleasant to wear clothes that fit you, too. Father Tiebout's
and those Dom Clemente lent me didn't. I had to cut the wrists off the
latter's jacket."

Desmond looked at him reflectively over his cigar, for he had
something to say, and was a trifle uncertain as to how he should set
about it.

"Well," he said, "I suppose it is nice for a while, especially, as you
say, when it's a change. The point is, would it satisfy you long?"

"A dinner like this one is generally acceptable."

"We'll admit it. The trouble is that these civilized comforts are apt
to cost you something. I mean one has usually to give up something
else for the sake of them. You begin to understand?"

"I'm not sure that I do," said Ormsgill. "I'll ask you to go on."

Desmond laughed, though he did not feel quite at ease. He remembered
the letter in his pocket, and felt that there was a responsibility on
him, and that was a thing which, inconsequent as he was, he seldom
shrank from. This was not a man who talked about his duty; in fact,
any reference to the subject usually roused in him a sense of
opposition. He contented himself with doing it when he recognized it,
and since singleness of purpose is not invariably an efficient
substitute for mental ability, it was not altogether his fault when at
times he did it clumsily. There was also a subtle bond between him and
the man who sat opposite him. Affection was not the right term, and it
was more than _camaraderie_, an elusive something that could not be
defined and was yet in their case a compelling force.

"Well," he said, "those quagmires and forests up yonder appeal to you.
It's a little difficult for any reasonable person to see why they
should, but they certainly do. So does the sea. The love of it's in
both of us."

He stopped with a lifted hand, and, for the ports were open, Ormsgill
heard the deep rumble of the eternal surf on the hammered beach. He
also heard the onward march of the white hosts of tumbling seas, and
the shrill scream of the wire rigging singing to the gale. It was the
turmoil of the elemental conflict that must rage in one form or
another by sea and in the wilderness while the world endures, and
there is a theme in its clashing harmonies that stirs the hearts of
men. Ormsgill felt the thrill of it, and Desmond's eyes glistened.

"Lord," he said, "we're curiously made. What in the name of wonder is
it that appeals to us in driving a swamping surf-boat over those
combers, or standing on the bridge ramming her full speed into it with
the green seas going over her forward and everything battened down?
Still, there is something. While we can do that kind of thing we can't
stay at home."

Ormsgill smiled curiously. He was acquainted with some of the
characteristics of the wild Celtic strain, and knew that his comrade
now and then let himself go. "I think," he said, "considering where
you come from, you should understand it more readily than I can do."

"You're not exempt," said Desmond, "you cold-blooded Saxons. What did
you run that boat down the coast under the whole lug-sail for when
she'd have gone nearly dry with two reefs tied down?"

"I don't know. Still, she lost the wind in the hollows. One had to
keep her ahead of the seas."

Desmond laughed scornfully. "Is that it? When the boy went down with
the breath knocked out of him as she took in a green sea, something
came over you as you grabbed the steering oar. You went suddenly
crazy, fighting crazy. You'd have rolled her over or run her under
before you tied a reef in."

He stopped a moment, and made a little gesture as of one throwing
something away. "Still, you'll have to give all that up when you marry
and settle down, though it's a little difficult to imagine you going
round in a frock coat and tight patent boots, growing fat, and
overfeeding yourself like a--Strasburg goose. I suppose it is your
intention to be married some day?"

"I believe it is," said Ormsgill quietly.

Desmond laid down his cigar and looked at him. "Well, I may be on
dangerous ground, but when I get steam up I seldom allow a thing like
that to influence me. Anyway, I've been worrying over you lately. The
question is--are you going to marry the right girl, one who would take
you as you are and encourage you to be more so? It isn't every woman
who could put up with a man of your kind, but there are a few."

His comrade's expression might have warned another man, but Desmond
went on.

"I don't know if my views are worth anything, and some of my friends
doubt it, but you shall have them. After all, the matter's rather an
important one. The wife for you is one who would sympathize with your
notions even if she knew they were crazy ones, because they were
yours, and when they led you into lumber, as such notions generally
do, stand beside you smiling to face the world and the devil. There
are such women. I've met one or two."

There was silence for a moment or two when he stopped, and Ormsgill,
gazing straight before him with vacant eyes, saw a dark-eyed girl with
dusky hair and a face of the pale ivory tint sitting where the
moonlight streamed in between a colonnade of slender pillars. As it
happened, Desmond saw her, too, and sighed. Then Ormsgill seemed to
rouse himself.

"I am," he said, "going to marry Miss Ratcliffe, as I think you must
be quite aware."

Desmond could have laughed. He fancied that it would have been almost
warranted, but he laid a restraint upon himself. "Then," he said, "if
you have both made up your minds and the thing is settled what in the
name of wonder are you wandering about Africa for? The fact that you
like it doesn't count. Why don't you go back--now--to her? It would
be considerably wiser."

Ormsgill looked at him with half-closed eyes. "I'll have to ask you to
speak plainly."

"I'll try," and Desmond made a little deprecatory gesture. "There are
women it isn't wise to leave too long alone. They were not made to
live that way, and if they find it insupportable you can't blame them.
How many years is it since Miss Ratcliffe has had more than a few
weeks of your company, and is it natural that a young woman should be
quietly content while the man she is to marry wanders through these
forests endeavoring to throw his life away? Besides that, the thing
might very possibly not commend itself to her mother."

The lines grew a trifle deeper on Ormsgill's forehead, and his eyes
were grave. "I have," he said, "been a little afraid of what her
mother might do myself."

"Then why don't you go across to Grand Canary and make sure she
doesn't try to influence the girl? Isn't it only reasonable that she
should expect you to be there and save her all unpleasantness in case
of anything of that kind happening?"

Ormsgill said nothing for several minutes, but it was borne in upon
his comrade that his efforts had been thrown away. He had, however,
after all, not expected them to be successful. At length Ormsgill
spoke quietly.

"I can't go," he said. "Domingo has carried those boys away into the
interior and I pledged myself that they should go home when their
time was up. As it is, unless I can take them from him they will be
driven to death in a few years. For that, I think, I should be held
responsible."

He rose with a little sigh. "Dick," he said, "I have this thing to do,
and even if it costs me a good deal it must be done. I am going back
inland, and may be three or four months away. You can't stay here.
After all, I don't know that I shall have much difficulty in getting
the boys out of the country when I come down again."

Desmond smiled. "I may go to Las Palmas or Madeira, but I'll be here
when you want me. We can fix that later. It seems to me I've said
quite enough to-night."

Then they went up the companion, and Ormsgill talked of other matters
as they sat under the lee of the deck-house, and watched the white
seas sweep out of the darkness and vanish into it again.



CHAPTER XII

LISTER OFFERS SATISFACTION


Desmond's informant had, as it happened, been quite warranted in
mentioning that Lister's proceedings had aroused the interest of the
English colony in Las Palmas. He provided those who belonged to it
with something to talk about as they lounged on the hotel verandas,
which was a cause for gratification, since a good many of them had no
more profitable occupation. That dusty city has, like others in the
south, distractions to offer the idler with liberal views, though a
certain proportion of them are of distinctly doubtful character. There
are also in it gentlemen of easy morality who are willing to act as
cicerone to the stranger with means, that is, provided he possesses a
generous disposition. Spaniards of the old régime call them the _Sin
Verguenza_, "men without shame," and there are one or two coarsely
forceful Anglo-Saxon terms that might be aptly applied to them. It is,
unfortunately, a fact that there are Englishmen among them.

Lister, who was young, and had never imposed much restraint upon
himself, profited by the opportunities they provided him. He had the
command of more money than was, perhaps, desirable, and for several
weeks the pace he made was hot. He was naturally preyed upon and
victimized, though, after all, the latter happened less frequently
than those who watched his proceedings supposed. The lad was careless
and generous, but there was a certain shrewdness in him as well as a
vein of cold British stubbornness which made him a trifle difficult to
handle when once his dislike was aroused. Indeed, one or two of his
acquaintances fancied he had not gone so very deep in the mire, after
all. How much Mrs. Ratcliffe knew about his doings did not appear. One
desires to be charitable, and since Major Chillingham had gone back to
England, it is possible, though far from likely, that she had not
heard of them at all. In any case, she took him up, and was gracious
to him in a motherly fashion, and there was suddenly a change in him.

Lister henceforward spent his evenings at the hotel, generally near
the piano when Ada Ratcliffe sang. He also planned excursions for her
and her mother to little palm-shrouded villages among the volcanic
hills, and, since there was nobody who understood exactly how Miss
Ratcliffe stood with regard to the man who had gone to Africa, the
onlookers chuckled, and said that the girl's mother was a clever
woman. She said that Lister was a very likable young man, who had no
mother of his own, which was always a misfortune, and that it was
almost a duty to look after him.

It was, in any case, one she discharged efficiently, and for a time
his former companions had very little of Lister's company. Several of
them were also sorry he had, apparently, as the result of their
persistent efforts to undermine her authority, flung off the
restraints Mrs. Ratcliffe had gradually imposed on him when at last he
spent a night with them again.

They had reasonable cause for dissatisfaction when they sat in a
certain _caffee_ which stood near the cathedral. The latter fact has a
significance for those acquainted with Spanish cities, but, after all,
the Church is needed most where sinners abound. The _caffee_ had wide
unglazed windows, and clear moonlight streamed down into the hot,
unsavory street, which under that pure radiance looked for once
curiously clean and white. Tall limewashed walls rose above it, and,
for the flat roofs lay beneath their crests, cut against the strip of
velvety indigo, while a little cool breeze swept between them with a
welcome freshness. There was no gleam of light behind any of the green
lattices that broke their flat monotony and, save for the deep rumble
of the surf, the city was very still. Once a measured tramp of feet
rang across the flat roofs and indicated that two of the armed
_civiles_ were patroling a neighboring _calle_ where the principal
shops stand, but their business would not take them near the _caffee_.
It is, in fact, not often that authority obtrudes itself unadvisedly
into certain parts of most Spanish towns.

The moonlight also streamed into the _caffee_ where a big lamp in
which the oil was running low burned dimly. The table beneath it was
stained with cheap red wine, and a good many bottles stood upon it
among a litter of Spanish cards. Four men sat about it, and two more
lounged upon the settee which ran along the discolored wall. The place
was filled with tobacco smoke and the sickly odor of anisado, which
was, however, no great disadvantage, since the natural reek of a
Spanish Alsatia is more unpleasant still. The men had been there four
or five hours when Lister flung down a card and noisily pushed back
his chair. His face was a trifle flushed, and his hands were not quite
steady, but his half-closed eyes were, as one or two of the others
noticed, almost unpleasantly calm. There was a pile of silver at his
side on the table, for he had, as the red-faced English skipper
opposite him had once or twice observed, been favored with an
astonishing run of luck. It is, however, possible that the skipper did
not go quite far enough. Lister had certainly been fortunate, but he
had also a nice judgment in such matters, and his nerve was unusually
good. He looked round at his companions with a little dry smile.

"You should have left me alone," he said. "I didn't want to come here,
but when you insisted I did it to oblige you. As you pointed out,
considering what I took out of some of you on another occasion, it
seemed the fair thing. Now I hope you're satisfied."

He indicated the pile of silver with a little wave of his hand, and
the others, among whom there were two Englishmen beside the skipper,
waited in some astonishment, with very little sign of content in their
faces, until he went on again.

"Well," he said, "I'm still willing to do the fair thing, though,
while I don't wish to be unduly personal, that is a point which has
evidently not caused one or two of you any undue anxiety. You can
explain that, Walters, to the Spanish gentlemen, though I don't
altogether confine my remarks to them."

An Englishman straightened himself suddenly, and one of the Spaniard's
eyes flashed when the man Lister turned to did his bidding. Lister,
however, grinned at them.

"The question," he said, "is simply do you feel I owe you any further
satisfaction, or have you had enough? I want you to understand that
I'm never coming here again, and if you care to double the stakes I'll
play you another round."

There was no doubt that they had had enough, and while three of them
might have taken another hand with a view to getting back the pile of
silver by certain means they were acquainted with they refrained,
perhaps because they felt that the man called Walters and the burly
steamboat skipper would in case of necessity stand by Lister. The
silence that lasted a moment or two grew uncomfortable, but it did not
seem to trouble Lister, who sat still looking at them with a little
sardonic smile.

"Well," he said, "it's evident that you don't expect anything more
from me. Will you and Captain Wilson come with me, Walters?"

He rose when the men addressed reached out for their hats, and then
clapped his hands until a girl came in. She was very young, and looked
jaded, which was not particularly astonishing considering that she
had been keeping the party supplied with refreshment for more than
half the night. The smudgy patches of powder on it emphasized the
weariness of her olive-tinted face, but there was for all that a
certain suggestion of daintiness and freshness about her which was not
what one would have expected in such surroundings.

Lister stood looking at her with half-closed eyes, while the others
watched them both until he made a little abrupt gesture.

"It is not you, but your father, the patron, the man who owns this
place, I want, but you can stop here and call him," he said in a
half-intelligible muddle of Castilian and Portuguese.

Walters made it a little plainer, and the girl spread out her hands.
"The patron does not live here," she said. "My father, he is only in
charge."

"Call him!" said Lister.

The man came in, and his dark eyes as well as those of all the others
were fixed expectantly on Lister when he once more turned to the girl.

"You like waiting on and singing for these pigs?" he asked.

Walters rendered the word _puerco_, which is not a complimentary term
in Spain, but the men it was applied to forgot to resent it in their
expectancy. A flicker of color swept into the girl's face, and it was
evident that her task was not a congenial one. She was, however, about
to retreat when Lister raised his hand in protest, and turned to the
man.

"What do you mean," he said, "by keeping a girl of that kind in a
place like this?"

Again Walters translated, and the little flicker of color grew a
trifle plainer in the girl's olive-tinted cheek. One could have
fancied that she had suddenly realized how others might regard her
occupation and surroundings. The man, however, spread his hands out.

"It is certainly not what one would wish for her, and she would be a
modista," he said. "But what would you--when one is very poor?"

Lister caught up a double handful of the silver which still lay upon
the table and signed to the girl.

"That should make it a little easier. It's for you," he said. "If it
is not enough you can let me know. You will go and learn to make hats
and dresses to-morrow. If your father makes any more objections I'll
send the little fat priest after him. You know the one I mean. He has
a cross eye and likes a good dinner as well as any man. He is a friend
of mine."

The others gazed at Lister in blank astonishment when Walters made
this clear, until the Spaniard became suddenly profuse. Lister,
however, disregarded him, and picking up the rest of the silver turned
towards the door. He went out, and Walters looked at him curiously
when he stopped and stood still a moment, apparently reflecting, with
the moonlight on his face. The combativeness with which he had
regarded his gaming companions had faded out of it, and left it, as it
usually was, heavy and inanimate. Lister was skillful at games of
chance, where his impassiveness served him well, but Walters fancied
he was by no means likely to shine at anything else. He was a young
man of no mental capacity, and his tastes were not refined, but there
was hidden in his dull nature a germ of the rudimentary chivalry which
now and then rouses such men as he was to deeds which astonish their
friends. It had lain inert until the dew of a beneficent influence had
rested on it, and then there was a sudden growth that was to result in
the production of unlooked for fruit. Because of the love he bore one
woman he had become compassionate, and, perhaps, it did not matter
greatly that she was unworthy, since the gracious impulse was merely
brought him by, and not born of, the reverence he had for her. After
all, its source was higher than that. It was, however, not to be
expected that he should realize such a fact, and he stood wrinkling
his brows as though ruminating over his proceedings, until he became
conscious that his companion was looking at him inquiringly.

"I don't know what made me do that," he said. "It's quite certain I
wouldn't have thought of it a month or two ago."

"No," said Walters, a trifle drily, "one would not have expected it
from you. Still, you have made a few changes lately. What has come over
you?"

Lister did not answer him. "If that blamed ass of a skipper means to
stop I'm not going to wait for him. He'll get a knife slipped into him
some night and it will serve him right," he said. "We'll get out of
this place. Once we strike the big calle it will be fresher."

They strode on down the hot, stale smelling street, and Lister
appeared to draw in a deep breath of relief when they turned into the
broad road that runs close by the surf-swept beach to the harbor.
Though there were tall white stores and houses on its seaward side the
night breeze swept down it exhilaratingly fresh and cool, and Lister
bared his hot forehead to it.

"Well," he said, "I've been down among the swine in a number of
places, and, though I suppose it sometimes falls out differently, I've
scratched some of the bristles off a few of them. Now I want to forget
the tricks they've taught me. You see, I'm never going back to any of
the--stys again. It's a thing I owe myself and somebody else."

He had certainly consumed a good deal of wine, but it was clear that
he was fully in command of his senses, and Walters endeavored to check
his laugh as comprehension suddenly dawned upon him. Still, he was not
quite successful, and his companion turned on him.

"I meant it," he said. "There'll probably be trouble between us if you
attempt to work off any of your assinine witticisms."

Walters said nothing. He had seen his companion calmly insult four men
whose dollars he had pocketed, and he did not consider it advisable to
explain what he thought about Mrs. Ratcliffe and the interest she had
taken in his friend. Still, like most of the English residents who had
made her acquaintance, he had his views upon the subject. Lister was,
at least, rich enough to make a desirable son-in-law, and if he
fancied it was essential that he should reform before he offered
himself as a candidate there was nothing to be gained by undeceiving
him.

They walked on until they left the tall white houses and little rows
of flat-topped dwellings that replaced them behind, and the dim, dusty
road stretched away before them with a filmy spray-cloud and
glistening Atlantic heave on one side of it. Lister glanced at the
fringe of crumbling combers with slow appreciation.

"In one way that's inspiriting," he said. "I might have sat and
watched them half the evening from the veranda of the hotel. In that
case I'd have had a clearer head and been considerably fresher
to-morrow. Still, those hogs would have me out. It's a consolation to
realize that it has cost them something."

Walters stopped when they reached the hotel and glanced at his
companion. "Aren't you going in?" he said. "You could still get a
little sleep before it's breakfast time."

"No," said Lister simply, "I'm going for a swim. It's no doubt an
assinine notion, but the smell of the sty seems to cling to me."

Walters laughed. "Is that a custom you mean to adopt invariably after
a night of this kind?"

"No," said Lister. "It won't be necessary. You see there will never be
another one."

They went on, and Walters sat down on the little mole not far away
while his comrade stripped off his thin attire. Then Lister stood a
moment, gleaming white in the moonlight, a big, loose-limbed figure,
on the head of the mole before he went down with flung-out hands and
stiffened body into the cool Atlantic swell. It closed about him
glittering, and he was well out in the harbor when he came up again
and slid away down the blaze of radiance with left arm swinging. The
chill of the deep sea water, at least, cooled his slightly fevered
skin, and, perhaps, there was something in his half pagan fancy that
it also washed a stain off him. In any case, the desire to escape from
the most unusual sense of contamination was a wholesome one.



CHAPTER XIII

HIS BENEFICENT INFLUENCE


There is a certain aldea, a little straggling village of flat-topped
houses, among the black volcanic hills of Grand Canary which has like
one or two others of its kind a good deal to offer the discerning
traveler who will take the trouble to visit it. It is certainly a
trifle difficult to reach, which is, perhaps, in one sense not
altogether a misfortune, since the Englishmen and Englishwomen who
visit that island in the winter seldom leave such places exactly as
they find them. One goes up by slippery bridle paths on horse or mule
back over hot sand and wastes of dust and ashes into a rift between
the hills, and when once the tremendous gateway of fire-rent rock has
been passed discovers that it costs one an effort to go away again.

In the bottom of the barranco lie maize-fields and vines. Tall green
palms fling streaks of shadow over them, and close beneath the black
crags stands a little ancient church and odd cubes of lava houses
tinted with delicate pink or ochre or whitewashed dazzlingly. They
nestle among their fig trees shut in by tall aloes, and oleanders, and
a drowsy quietness which is intensified by the murmur of running water
pervades the rock-walled hollow. It is the stillness of a land where
nothing matters greatly, and there is in it the essence of the
resignation which regards haste and effort and protest as futile, that
is characteristic of old world Spain, for Spain was never until lately
bounded by the confines of the Peninsula.

Las Palmas down beside the smoking beach is no longer Spanish. It is
filled with bustle and a rampant commercialism, and English is spoken
there; but the quietness of the ages lingers among the hills where the
grapes of Moscatel are still trodden in the winepress by barelegged
men in unstarched linen who live very much as one fancies the
patriarchs did, plowing with oxen and wooden plows, and beating out
their corn on wind-swept threshing floors. They also comport
themselves, even towards the wandering Briton, who does not always
deserve it, with an almost stately courtesy, and seldom trouble
themselves about the morrow. All that is essentially Spanish is
Eastern, too. The life in the hill pueblos is that portrayed in the
Jewish scriptures, and the olive-skinned men whose forefathers once
ruled half the world have also like the Hebrew the remembrance of
their departed glory to sadden them.

It is, however, scarcely probable that any fancies of this kind
occurred to Mrs. Ratcliffe as she lay in a somewhat rickety chair
under a vine-draped pergola outside a pink-washed house in that aldea
one afternoon. She was essentially modern, and usually practical, in
which respects Ada, who sat not far away, was not unlike her. A man,
at least, seldom expects to find the commercial instinct and a shrewd
capacity for estimating and balancing worldly advantages in a young
woman of prepossessing appearance with innocent eyes, which is,
perhaps, a pity, since it now and then happens that the fact that she
possesses a reasonable share of both of them is made clear to him in
due time. Then it is apt to cause him pain, for man being vain prefers
to believe that it is personal merit that counts for most where he is
concerned.

Ada Ratcliffe was listening to the drowsy splash of falling water, and
looking down through the rocky gateway over tall palms and creeping
vines, blackened hillslopes, and gleaming sands, on the vast plain of
the Atlantic which lay, a sheet of turquoise, very far below. Above
her, tremendous fire-rent pinnacles ran up into the upper sweep of
ethereal blue, but all this scarcely roused her interest. She had seen
it already, and had said it was very pretty. Besides, she was thinking
of other things which appealed to her considerably more, a London
house, an acknowledged station in smart society, and the command of
money. These were things she greatly desired to have, and it was
evident that Thomas Ormsgill could only offer her them in a certain
measure. It was, in some respects, only natural that her mother should
set a high value on them too, and desire them for her daughter. She
had made a long and gallant fight against adverse circumstances since
her husband died, and there was in her face the hardness of one who
has more than once been almost beaten. There were, she knew, women who
would freely give themselves with all that had been given them to the
man they loved, but Mrs. Ratcliffe had never had much sympathy with
them. It was, she felt, a much more sensible thing to make a bargain,
and secure something in return.

Still, nobody would have fancied that Ada Ratcliffe had any such ideas
just then. Her face was quietly tranquil, and the pose she had fallen
into in the big basket chair was, if not quite unstudied, a singularly
graceful one. In her hands lay a Spanish fan, a beautiful, costly
thing of silk and feathers and fretted ebony which Lister had given
her a few days earlier. He sat on a block of lava watching her with a
little significant gleam that she was perfectly conscious of in his
usually apathetic eyes. Still, though he had a heavy face of the kind
one seldom associates with self-restraint, there was nothing in his
expression which could have jarred upon a woman of the most sensitive
temperament. There were not many things which Albert Lister had much
reverence for, but during the last few weeks a change had been going
on in him, and it was a blind, unreasoning devotion which none of his
friends would have believed him capable of that he offered this girl.

His pleasures had been coarse ones, and there was much in him that she
might have shrunk from, but he had, at least, of late fought with the
desires of his lower nature, and, for the time being, trampled on one
or two of them. Slow of thought, and of very moderate intelligence, as
he was, he had yet endeavored to purge himself of grossness before he
ventured into her presence. He had not spoken for awhile when Mrs.
Ratcliffe turned to him.

"You were not in the drawing-room last night," she said, and her
manner subtly conveyed the impression that she had expected him. "No
doubt you had something more interesting on hand?"

"No," said Lister slowly, "I don't think I had. In fact, I was playing
cards!"

Mrs. Ratcliffe was a trifle perplexed, for she had now and then
ventured to express her disapproval of one or two of his favorite
distractions in a motherly fashion, and she could not quite understand
his candor. It was, perhaps, natural that she should not credit him
with a simple desire for honesty, since this was a motive which would
not have had much weight with her.

"Ah," she said, with an air of playful reproach, "everybody plays
cards nowadays, and I suppose one must not be too hard on you. Still,
I think you know what my views are upon that subject."

They were scarcely likely to be very charitable ones, since she owed
her own long struggle to the fact that there were few forms of gaming
her husband had not unsuccessfully experimented with, and she
continued feelingly, "If one had no graver objections, it is apt to
prove expensive."

Lister laughed a little. "It proved so--to the other people--last
night, but I think you are right. In fact, it's scarcely likely I'll
touch a card again. In one way,"--and he appeared to reflect
laboriously, "it's a waste of life."

His companions were both a trifle astonished. They had scarcely
expected a sentiment of this kind from him, and though the elder lady
would probably not have admitted it, gaming did not appear to her so
objectionable a thing provided that one won and had the sense to leave
off when that was the case. Ada Ratcliffe, however, smiled.

"To be candid, one would hardly have fancied you would look at it in
that light," she said. "Still, you seem to have been changing your
views lately."

"I have," said the man slowly, with a faint flush in his heavy face.
"After all, one comes to look at these things differently, and I dare
say those fellows are right who lay it down that one ought to do
something for his country or his living. Once I had the opportunity,
but I let it go, or rather I flung it away. I often wish I hadn't, but
I'm not quite sure it's altogether too late now."

He spoke with an awkward diffidence, for though he was very young,
ideas of this kind were quite new to him. The love of the girl he
looked at appealingly had stirred his slow coarse nature, and
something that had sprung up in its depths was growing towards the
light. It might have grown to grace and beauty had the light been a
benignant one, for, after all, it is not upon the soil alone that
growth of any kind depends. Ada Ratcliffe, however, did not recognize
in the least that this laid upon her a heavy responsibility.

"No," she said with an encouraging smile, "there is no reason why you
shouldn't make a career yet. I almost think you could if you wanted
to."

It was a bold assertion, but she made it unblushingly, and Lister
appeared to consider.

"There are not many things I'm good at--that is, useful ones," he
said. "You have to be able to talk sensibly, anyway, before you can
make your mark at politics, and some of them don't do it under twenty
years."

He stopped for a moment with a little sigh. "Still, I suppose there
must be something worth while for one to do, even if it's not exactly
what one would like."

"One's duty is usually made clear to one," said Mrs. Ratcliffe
encouragingly.

"Well," said Lister, "I'm not sure it is, though it's probably his own
fault if he doesn't want to recognize it. As I mentioned, you can look
at the same thing differently. There was Desmond's friend Ormsgill. A
little while ago I thought he was a trifle crazy. Now I begin to see
it's a big thing he's doing, something to look back on afterwards even
if he never does anything worth while again."

He saw the faint flush of color in Ada Ratcliffe's face, though he did
not in the least understand it. There was a good deal this man could
give her, and she knew that he would in due time press it upon her,
but she was naturally aware that his mental capacity was painfully
small. This made the fact that he should look upon Ormsgill's errand
as one a man could take pride in a reproach to her. Mrs. Ratcliffe's
face was, however, if anything, expressive of anxiety, for she had
asked herself frequently if Lister could by any chance have heard that
the girl's pledge to Ormsgill had never been retracted. She did not
think he had, but this was a point it was well to be sure upon.

"I didn't think you had met him," she said.

"I haven't. You see, I stayed behind in Madeira while the _Palestrina_
came on, and when I got here Ormsgill had gone. Desmond told me about
him. I understood he was to marry somebody when he had done his
errand, though, if he knew, Desmond never mentioned who she was."

He stopped, and Mrs. Ratcliffe sighed with sheer relief when he turned
and looked eastwards towards Africa across the vast stretch of sea
with a vague longing in his eyes.

"Well," he said, "when he comes back again he will have done something
that should make the girl look up to him."

Again the flicker of color crept into Ada Ratcliffe's cheek, for she
was conscious just then of a curious resentment against the man who
had gone to Africa for an idea. It was singularly galling that a man
of Lister's caliber should make her ashamed. Still, she smiled at him.

"I believe we have all more than one opportunity, and another one will
no doubt present itself," she said.

Lister sat still looking at her in a fashion she found almost
embarrassing, and for a moment or two none of them spoke. Then there
were footsteps on the lava blocks outside the pergola, and a man
appeared in an opening between the vines. He was dressed in white
duck, and his face was bronzed by wind and spray, while Mrs.
Ratcliffe found it difficult to refrain from starting at the sight of
him. He stood where he was for a moment looking at the group with
grave inquiry, and Ada Ratcliffe felt that she hated him for the
little smile of comprehension that crept into his eyes. Then he moved
quietly forward, and Lister rose with a faint flush in his face.

"I'm glad to see you, Desmond. I mean it, in spite of what passed the
night you packed me off," he said.

It was an awkward meeting, though Lister was the only one whose
embarrassment was noticeable. His companions were watching Desmond
quietly, though Mrs. Ratcliffe was sensible that this was the last man
she would have desired to see. He had come back from Africa and might
spoil everything, for at the back of her mind she was not quite sure
of her daughter. Still, though it cost her an effort, she asked him a
few questions.

"Ormsgill didn't want me for some time and I ran across for coal and
other things. That coast isn't one it's judicious to stay on," he
said, and looked at Ada steadily. "You will be pleased to hear that he
was in excellent health--though he was still bent on carrying out his
purpose--when he left me."

The girl's gesture was apparently expressive of relief, and Desmond
who sat down on the lava parapet proceeded to relate what he knew of
Ormsgill's projects and adventures. He felt the constraint that was
upon all of them except Lister, whose embarrassment was rapidly
disappearing, and though it afforded him certain grim satisfaction he
talked to dissipate it.

"We ran in this morning, and as the folks at the hotel told me you
were here I came on," he said at length.

They asked him a few more questions, and it said a good deal for Mrs.
Ratcliffe's courage that she invited him to stay there for comida and
then to ride back to their hotel with them. Still it would, as she
recognized, be useless to separate the men, since they would come
across each other continually in Las Palmas, and she was one who knew
that the boldest course is now and then the wisest. Desmond stayed,
and it was some little time later when he sat alone with Lister among
the tumbled lava by the watercourse. Feathery palm tufts drooped above
them, and looking out between the fringed and fretted greenery they
could see the blue expanse of sea. Beyond its sharp-cut eastern rim,
as both of them were conscious, lay the shadowy land. Desmond turned
from its contemplation and regarded his companion with a little smile.

"I heard a good deal about you in the hotel smoking room," he said. "I
suppose I ought to compliment you on the possession of a certain
amount of sense. Presumably you have now a motive for going steady?"

Lister flushed, but he met his companion's gaze without wavering. "As
a matter of fact you are quite correct," he said. "Anyway, the motive
is a sufficient one."

"Ah," said Desmond dryly, "it is in that case a lady, Miss Ratcliffe
most probably? You no doubt recognize that she is several years older
than you, and that it is more than possible her affections have been
engaged before?"

His companion resolutely straightened himself. "It isn't as a rule
advisable to go too far, but I don't mind informing you that they are
not engaged now."

"You seem sure," said Desmond with more than a trace of his former
dryness. "She has presumably told you so?"

"She has not," said Lister. "That is, however, quite sufficient in
itself, because if there had been anyone else with the slightest claim
on her she and her mother would certainly have found means of making
it clear to me."

Desmond saw the glint in the lad's eyes, and could not quite repress a
little sardonic smile. What he had heard in the hotel had at first
been almost incomprehensible to him, but, as he listened to what the
men he met there had to tell, it became clear that Lister had in
reality turned from his former courses. Then came his own admission
that it was Ada Ratcliffe who had inspired him. Desmond could have
found it a relief to laugh. The woman who, it seemed, was willing to
throw over his comrade and break her pledge to him that she might be
free to marry a richer man was the one who had stirred the lad to what
was probably a stern and valiant encounter with his baser nature. It
seemed that she could not even be honest with him.

"Am I to understand that you have made up your mind to marry Miss
Ratcliffe?" he asked.

"Yes," said Lister slowly, "I have; that is, if she will have me,
which is doubtful. It is, however, in no sense your business, and you
needn't trouble to remind me that it would be a very indifferent match
for her."

Desmond sat still for several minutes, and thought as hard as he had
in all probability ever done in his life. He had given Ormsgill a hint
which had not been taken, and now he found it had been fully
warranted, he had ventured on giving Lister another which had also
been disregarded. The lad's faith in the woman who was deceiving both
of them was evidently sincere and generous, as well as in one respect
pitiable, and under the circumstances Desmond could not tell what
course he ought to take. He was aware that the man who rashly meddles
in his friends' affairs seldom either confers any real benefit upon
them or earns their thanks, and he doubted if Lister would listen to
any advice or information he might offer him. To say nothing meant
that he must leave Mrs. Ratcliffe a free hand, but he had sufficient
knowledge of that lady's capabilities to feel reasonably sure that she
would succeed in marrying the girl to one of the men in spite of him.
That being so, it seemed to him preferable that the one in question
should not be his friend. Then he looked at Lister gravely.

"Well," he said, "I almost think she'll have you, and I'm not sure
that you need worry yourself too much about not being good enough for
her. That's a point you could be content with her mother's opinion
on."

He left the lad, and five minutes later came upon Ada Ratcliffe in the
patio of the adjacent house. "You will make my excuses to your
mother," he said. "After all, I think I had better ride back to Las
Palmas alone."

The girl met his eyes, but for a moment her face flushed crimson. She
said nothing, and he quietly turned away, while in another few minutes
she heard his horse stumbling down the slippery path beside the
watercourse. When they reached the hotel that evening they were also
told that he did not intend to live ashore while the yacht was in the
harbor, which was a piece of information that afforded Mrs. Ratcliffe
considerable relief.



CHAPTER XIV

HERRERO'S IMPRUDENCE


Though it was, at least, as hot as it usually is at San Roque and the
heavy, stagnant atmosphere made exertion of any kind impossible to a
white man, Dom Erminio had not gone to sleep that afternoon, as he
generally did. He had, after all, some shadowy notions of duty, and
would now and then rouse himself to carry them out; that is, at least,
when he stood to obtain some advantage by doing so. In this he was,
perhaps, not altogether singular, since it is possible that there are
other men who recognize a duty most clearly under similar
circumstances. He lay in a low hung hammock where the veranda roof
flung a grateful shadow over him, with a cigar in his hand,
meditatively watching a row of half-naked negroes toiling in the
burning sun, and the fashion in which he did so suggested that it
afforded him a certain quiet satisfaction. He had grave objections to
physical exertion personally, and as a rule succeeded in avoiding it,
for there are, as he recognized, advantages in being a white man, in
that country, at least. Dom Erminio invariably made the most of them.

It must be admitted that the negro is by no means addicted to toiling
assiduously under scorching heat, especially when, as sometimes
happens, he works for a white man who requisitions his services
without any intention of rewarding him for them, but though the baked
and trampled soil of the compound flung back an intolerable heat and
glare, the half-naked men were diligent that afternoon. Dom Erminio
had his shifty black eyes on them, and certain dusky men with sticks
stood ready to spur the laggards to fresh endeavor. So while the sweat
of strenuous effort dripped from them some trotted to and fro with
baskets of soil upon their woolly heads and the rest plied saw and
hammer persistently. They were strengthening the fort stockade and
digging a ditch, and incidentally riveting the shackles of the white
man's bondage more firmly on their limbs. The Commandant, or Chefe as
he was usually called, appeared to recognize that fact, for he smiled
a little as he watched them.

By and by he turned and blinked at the forest which hemmed in the
stockaded compound as with an impenetrable wall. It was dim and
shadowy, even under that burning glare suggestively so, and he was
aware that just then whispers of a coming rising were flying through
its unlifting gloom, though the fact caused him no great concern. A
few white friends of his were playing a game that has been played
before in other regions, and he was quite willing to gain fresh renown
as an administrator by the suppression of a futile rebellion. It is
also possible that his friends looked for more tangible advantages,
and would have been willing to offer him a certain share of them.
That, however, is not quite a matter of certainty, and there were, at
least, men in that country who said they regarded Dom Erminio as all
an administrator ought to be. Perhaps he was, from their point of
view.

The Lieutenant Luiz, who had just come back from a native village with
a handful of dusky soldiers and a band of carriers loaded with fresh
provisions, sat in a basket chair close by, also regarding the
stockade builders with a little smile. The natural reluctance of
certain negroes to part with their possessions had occasioned him a
good deal of trouble during the last few days. A negro who served as
messenger stood waiting a few paces behind him.

"It is an advantage when one can teach the trek-ox to harness
himself," he said reflectively. "I do not think those men like what
they are doing. Every pile that they are driving makes our rule a
little surer. It is not astonishing that some of them should be a
trifle mutinous now and then."

"You had a difficulty about those provisions?" said Dom Erminio.

His companion laughed. "One would scarcely call it that. It was merely
advisable to use the stick, and a hut or two was burnt. In times like
the present one profits by a little judicious firmness."

"I think one could even go a trifle further than that."

Lieutenant Luiz made a little gesture. He had a certain shrewdness,
and the Chefe was only cunning, which is, after all, a different thing
from being clever. It seemed that Dom Erminio failed to recognize
that it is always somewhat dangerous to play with fire. One can as a
rule start a conflagration without much difficulty, but it is now and
then quite another matter to put it out.

"I am not sure," he said. "There are men in this country who seem to
enjoy scattering sparks, and they are rather busy just now. It is,
perhaps, not very hazardous when it is done judiciously and one knows
there is only a little tinder here and there, but when one flings them
broadcast it is possible that two or three may fall on powder." He
turned and stretched out a dainty, olive-tinted hand towards the
forest. "After all, we do not know much about what goes on there."

"Bah!" said Dom Erminio, who had courage, at least, "if the blaze is a
little larger than one expected what does it matter? The stockade will
be a strong one."

His companion glanced at the gap in the row of well stiffened piles.
"It would certainly be difficult to storm that gate, but these bushmen
who are building the stockade will have the sense to realize it and
tell their friends. If there is an attack it will not be made that
way."

"Exactly!" and the Chefe's eyes twinkled as he waved a yellow hand.
"It is a little idea that occurred to me while you were away. The
bushmen would come by the rear of the stockade which we leave lower,
and when they do I think we shall also be ready for them there. There
are certain defenses which will be substituted when their friends
have gone away again."

They both laughed at this and neither of them said anything further
for awhile until a negro swathed in white cotton strode out of the
forest with a little stick in his hand. He was challenged by a sentry
who sent him on, and presently stood on the veranda holding out the
stick. Dom Erminio glanced at it languidly.

"Our injudicious friend Herrero has some word for us," he said. "He is
a man who lets his dislikes run away with him, and he is not always
wise in his messages." He stopped a moment with a little reflective
smile. "Still, a message is always a difficulty in this part of
Africa. If one teaches the messenger what he is to say he may tell it
to somebody else, and it happens now and then that to write is not
advisable. One must choose, however, and I wonder which our friend has
done."

The man decided the question by holding out a strip of paper, and the
Chefe who took it from him nodded as he read.

"It appears that Herrero is not pleased with the doings of the
Englishman who is now in the bush country," he said. "Herrero seems to
consider that he and a few others are capable of rousing all the ill
will against us among the natives that is desirable, and I am almost
tempted to believe that he is right in this. He is, however, imprudent
enough to supply me with a few particulars which might with advantage
have been made less explicit. He fancies we shall have a rebellion,
and if we do not I almost think it will be no fault of his."

"There is no doubt a little more," observed Lieutenant Luiz. "When
that man writes a letter he has something to ask for."

The Commandant nodded. "It is in this case a thing we can oblige him
in," he said. "It seems the crazy Englishman Ormsgill is causing
trouble up yonder and inciting the natives to mutiny. Further, it is
evidently his intention to deprive Domingo of some of the boys who
have engaged themselves under him. The man is one who could, I think,
be called dangerous. It is not a favor to Herrero, but a duty to place
some check on him."

They looked at one another, and Dom Luiz grinned. "Ah," he said, "our
imprudent friend no doubt mentions how it could most readily be done."

The Commandant raised one hand. "The thing is simple. You will start,
we will say the day after to-morrow, with several men, and you will
come upon Ormsgill in a village in Cavalho's country. Domingo, it
seems, is there now, and it is expected that Ormsgill will attempt to
take the boys from him, but this will cause no difficulty. The
Headman, who is a friend of Domingo's will, if it appears advisable,
disarm Ormsgill. The latter will no doubt not permit this to be done
quietly, and it is possible that there will be a disturbance in the
village, as the result of which you will arrest him for raiding
natives under our protection. We shall know what to do when you bring
him here."

They had, after sending Herrero's messenger away, spoken in Portuguese
of which the negro who remained on the veranda understood no more than
a word or two. He stood still, statuesque, with his white draperies
flowing about his dusky limbs, and as disregarded by the white men as
the native girl with the big bedizened fan who crouched in the shadowy
doorway just behind them. Yet both had intelligence, and noticed that
the Chefe instead of destroying the letter laid it carelessly on the
edge of his hammock, from which it dropped when he raised himself a
little. The girl's eyes glistened, but she said nothing, and the man
moved slightly as though his pose had grown irksome. It was
unfortunate that Dom Erminio had considered it advisable to keep him
there waiting his pleasure, for when he stood still again he was a
foot or two nearer the strip of paper than he had been a few moments
earlier.

Then the girl in the doorway rose, and the Chefe turned sharply in his
hammock as a little haggard man in plain white duck walked quietly out
of the house. He saw the question in the glance Dom Erminio flashed at
his Lieutenant, and smiled as he seated himself in the nearest chair.
Father Tiebout was always unobtrusive, and what he did was as a rule
done very quietly, but he was quite aware that neither of the two
white men were exactly pleased to see him.

"I came in from the east by the rear of the stockade where they are
mending it," he said. "It was a little nearer. One would suppose that
you did not see me."

The residency veranda, as is usual in that country, ran round the
building, which had several doors and two stairways, and it was
therefore perfectly natural that the priest should have arrived
unnoticed, but the fact that he had done so was disconcerting just
then, and it left the question how long he might have been in the
house. Still, there were reasons why the Chefe could not ask it or
treat his guest with any discourtesy.

"In any case you are welcome," he said. "There is presumably something
I can do for you?"

Father Tiebout nodded. "A little matter," he said. "I was going to San
Thome, and as my road led near the fort I thought I would mention it.
My people have a complaint against the soldiers you lately sent into
our neighborhood under the Sergeant Orticho. Some of them have been
beaten."

"Dom Luiz will go over and look into it," said the Chefe. "That is,
presently."

"Ah," said Father Tiebout, "then Dom Luiz is busy now? He will, no
doubt, be at liberty in a day or two?"

It was not a question Dom Erminio wished to answer, and he waved his
hand. "At the moment one cannot say. In the meanwhile you will make
your complaint a little more definite."

He had apparently forgotten the messenger, but Father Tiebout had been
quietly watching him, and now saw him stretch out a dusky foot towards
the strip of paper which lay not far away. He touched it with a
prehensile toe, and in another moment it had vanished altogether,
though the man did not stand exactly where he had stood before.
Lieutenant Luiz, as it happened, sat with his back to him, and Dom
Erminio lay in his hammock where he could not see, but two people had
noticed every motion, and though neither of them made any sign the
dusky man was quite aware that the girl who had retired to one of the
windows was watching him. About Father Tiebout he was far from
certain, but he was a bold man, and turning a little away from him he
stooped and apparently touched a scratch a thorn or broken grass stalk
had made on his foot. When he straightened himself again there was,
however, something in his hand. Then the Chefe appeared to remember
him.

"You will go back to the Lieutenant Castro," he said. "You can tell
him there is no answer. Start to-morrow."

"It is a long journey," said the man. "I go back now."

Dom Erminio made a little gesture which seemed to indicate that it was
a matter of indifference to him, and Father Tiebout put a check on his
impatience. He had, as it happened, been in the house at least a
minute before any one had noticed him, and was anxious for reasons of
his own to discover what was in the letter. He did not know what the
messenger meant to do with it, but he was aware that those entrusted
with authority in that country were frequently at variance and spied
on one another. It was possible that the man who could not read the
note might expect to sell it.

Still, the missionary was one who seldom spoiled anything by undue
haste, and he reflected that while he had traveled in a hammock
leisurely the man was probably worn by a long journey, since San Roque
lay at some distance from the camp where the officer the Chefe had
mentioned was stationed then. So he supplied his hosts with
particulars concerning his complaint, and then talked of other matters
for an hour or more, and it was not until the comida was laid out that
he set out on his journey. This was a somewhat unusual course in the
case of a guest who had a long march still in front of him, but
although the messenger, who might also have been expected to spend the
night there, had evinced the same desire to get on his way, it never
occurred to Dom Erminio to put the two facts together. There are,
however, other cunning men who now and then fail to see a very obvious
thing.

Still, Father Tiebout did not go by the nearest way to San Thome,
though he urged his hammock boys through the bush all night at their
utmost speed. The path was smoothly trodden, and they had no great
difficulty in following it through the drifting steam, while when the
red sun leapt up and here and there a ray of brightness streamed down,
they came upon a weary man who turned and stood still when he saw
them. He made a little gesture of comprehension when the priest
dropped from his hammock and looked at him.

Father Tiebout touched his shoulder and led him back a few paces into
the bush. The man was big and muscular, as well as a pagan, but the
priest had the letter when they came out again. He did not tell any
one how he induced the messenger to part with it, but, as he now and
then admitted, he was one who did not hesitate to use the means
available. It was, in fact, a favorite expression of his, and, though
he usually left the latter point an open question, in his case, at
least, the results generally justified the means. He spoke a word or
two sharply to the hammock boys, and they left the man sitting wearily
beside the trail when they went on again.

It was three weeks later when the priest in charge of the San Thome
Mission, who was a privileged person, sent on the letter to Dom
Clemente Figuera by the hands of a Government messenger, but Father
Tiebout, who requested him to do so, had made one or two other
arrangements in connection with it in the meanwhile. Ormsgill, as he
had once said, had a few good friends in Africa.



CHAPTER XV

NARES COUNTS THE COST


It was getting late and the night was very hot, but Nares was still
busy in his palm-thatched hut. The creed he taught was not regarded
with any great favor by the authorities, and, perhaps, was also by
virtue of its very simplicity a little beyond the comprehension of the
negro, who not unnaturally finds it a good deal easier to believe in a
pantheon of mostly malevolent deities, but if his precepts produced no
very visible result, there were, at least, many sick who flocked to
him. It was significant that the door of his hut stood wide open, as
it always did, though there were men in that forest who had little
love for him. The priests of the heathen also practice the art of
healing, and it is not in human nature to be very tolerant towards a
rival who works without a fee.

He sat with the perspiration trickling down his worn face beside a
little silver reading lamp, a gift from somebody in the land he came
from. Now and then there was a faint stirring of the muggy air, and
the light flickered a little, while the blue flame of a spirit lamp
that burned beneath a test tube was deflected a trifle, but the weary
man scarcely noticed it as he pored over a medical treatise. Nor did
he notice the crackling that unseen creatures made in the thatch
above his head, the steamy dampness that soaked his thin duck jacket,
or the sickly smell of lilies that now and then flowed into the room.
He was too intent upon the symbols of certain equations, letters and
figures, and crosses of materialistic significance, with the aid of
which he could, at least, mitigate bodily suffering and fight disease.
They were always present, and it was a valiant fight he made in a land
where the white man's courage melts and his faith grows dim.

At last there were voices and footsteps in the compound, which he
heard but scarcely heeded, and he only looked up when a man stood in
the doorway smiling at him.

"Ah," he said, "I scarcely expected to see you, Father. What has
become of your hammock boys, and where have you sprung from?"

Father Tiebout waved his hand, and dropped into the nearest chair.
"The boys are already in the guest hut," he said. "I have come from
San Roque, but not directly. In fact, I found it advisable to make a
little detour."

"In your case that is not a very unusual thing," and Nares laughed.
"Still, you appear to get there, arrive, as you express it, at least
as frequently as I do."

The priest made a little gesture. "When one finds a wall he can not
get over across his path it is generally wiser to go round. Why should
one waste his strength and bruise his hands endeavoring to tear it
down? It may be a misfortune, but I think we were not all intended to
be battering rams. The metaphor, however, is not a very excellent
one, since it is in this case a lion that stands in the path of our
friend Ormsgill. For a minute or two you will give me your attention."

Nares listened with wrinkled forehead, leaning forward with both arms
on the table, and then there was a faint twinkle in his eyes as he
looked at his companion. It was, after all, not very astonishing that
he should smile, for he was accustomed to disconcerting news.

"I wonder if one could ask how you learned so much?" he said. "It is
scarcely likely that the Chefe or his Lieutenant would tell it you."

"For one thing, I heard a few words that were not exactly meant for
me; for another, I laid unauthorized hands upon a certain letter. One,
as I have pointed out, must use the means available."

"The results justify it--when he is successful, which is, no doubt,
why you so seldom fail? Under the circumstances you can not afford to.
There may be something to say for that point of view, but our fathers
were not so liberal in Geneva."

Father Tiebout smiled good-humoredly. "We will not discuss the point
just now. The question is what must be done? We have a friend who will
walk straight into the jaws of the lion unless--some one--warns him."

"It is not impossible that he will do so then."

The priest spread his hands out. "Ah," he said, "how can one teach the
men who delight in stone walls and lions a little sense? Still,
perhaps, it would be a pity if one could. It is possible that folly
was the greatest thing bestowed on them when they were sent into this
world. That, however, is not quite the question."

"It is--who shall go?" and Nares, who closed one hand, thrust his
chair back noisily. "There are you and I alone available, padre, and
we know that the one of us who ventures to do this thing will be laid
under the ban of Authority, openly proscribed or, at least, quietly
thwarted here and there until he is driven from his work and out of
the country. There are many ways in which those who hold power in
these forests can trouble us."

Father Tiebout said nothing, but he made a gesture of concurrence,
with his eyes fixed steadily on his companion, and Nares, who could
not help it, smiled a trifle bitterly.

"Well," he said, "you have your adherents--a band of them--and what
you teach them must be a higher thing than their own idolatry. If they
lost their shepherd they would fall away again. I, as you know, have
none. My call, it seems, is never listened to--and it is plain that
circumstances point to me. Well, I am ready."

His companion nodded gravely. "It is a hard thing I have to say, but
you are right in this," he said. "I have a flock, and some of them
would perish if I left them. For their sake I can not go. It is not
for me to take my part in a splendid folly, but"--and he spread his
thin hands out--"because it is so I am sorry."

It was clear that Nares believed him, though he said nothing. He knew
what the thing he was about to do would in all probability cost him,
but he also realized that had circumstances permitted it the little
fever-wasted priest would have gladly undertaken it in place of him.
Father Tiebout was one who recognized his duty, but there was also the
Latin fire in him, and Nares did not think it was merely because he
liked it he submitted to Authority and walked circumspectly,
contenting himself with quietly accomplishing a little here and there.

Then Father Tiebout made a gesture which seemed to imply that there
was nothing further to be said on that subject, as he pointed through
the open door to the steamy bush.

"You and I have, perhaps, another duty," he said. "We know what is
going on up yonder, and, as usual, those in authority seem a trifle
blind. If nothing is done there will be bloodshed when the men with
the spears come down."

Nares was by no means perfect, and his face grew suddenly hard.
"That," he said, "is the business of those who rule. They would not
believe my warning, and I should not offer it if they would. There are
wrongs which can only be set right by the shedding of blood, and I
would not raise a hand if those who have suffered long enough swept
the whole land clean."

Father Tiebout smiled curiously. "There is, I think, one man who would
have justice done. It is possible there are also others behind him,
but that I do not know. He is not a man who takes many into his
confidence or explains his intentions beforehand. I will venture to
send him Herrero's letter--and a warning."

He rose with a soft chuckle. "I almost think he will do--something by
and by, but in the meanwhile it is late, and you start to-morrow."

"No," said Nares simply. "I am starting as soon as the hammock boys
are ready."

He extinguished the spirit lamp, and lighting a lantern went out into
the darkness which shrouded the compound. He spent a few minutes in a
big whitened hut where two or three sick men lay and a half-naked
negro sat half-asleep. There was, as he realized, not much that he
could do for any of them, and after all, his most strenuous efforts
were of very slight avail against the pestilence that swept those
forests. He had not spared himself, and had done what he could, but
that night he recognized the uselessness of the struggle, as other men
have done in the land of unlifting shadow. Still, he gave the negro a
few simple instructions, and then went out and stood still a few
moments in the compound before he roused the hammock boys.

There was black darkness about him, and the thicker obscurity of the
steamy forest that shut him in seemed to emphasize the desolation of
the little station. He had borne many sorrows there, and had fought
for weeks together, with the black, pessimistic dejection the fever
breeds, but now it hurt him to leave it, for he knew that in all
probability he would never come back again. He sighed a little as he
moved towards one of the huts, and standing in the entrance called
until a drowsy voice answered him.

"Get the hammock ready with all the provisions the boys can carry. We
start on a long journey in half an hour," he said.

Then he went back to his hut, and set out food for himself and his
guest. They had scarcely finished eating when there was a patter of
feet in the compound and a shadowy figure appeared in the dim light
that streamed out from the door.

"The boys wait," it said. "The hammock is ready."

Nares rose and shook hands with his companion. "If I do not come
back," he said, "you know what I would wish done."

The priest was stirred, but he merely nodded. "In that case I will see
to it," he said.

Then Nares climbed into the hammock, and once more turned to his
companion.

"I have," he said, "failed here as a teacher. At first it hurt a
little to admit it, but the thing is plain. I may have wasted time in
wondering where my duty lay, but I think I was waiting for a sign.
Now, when the life of the man you and I brought back here is in peril
I think it has been given me."

"Ah," said the little priest quietly, "when one has faith enough the
sign is sometimes given. There are, I think, other men waiting on the
coast yonder, and one of them is a man who moves surely when the time
is ripe."

Nares called to the hammock boys, who slipped away into the darkness
with a soft patter of naked feet, while Father Tiebout stood still in
the doorway with a curious look in his eyes. He remembered how Nares
had first walked out of that forest and unobtrusively set about the
building of his station several years ago. Now he had as quietly gone
away again, and in a few more months the encroaching forest would
spread across the compound and enfold the crumbling huts, but for all
that, the man he had left behind could not believe that what he had
done there would be wholly thrown away.

It was a long and hasty march the woolly-haired bearers made, and they
did not spare themselves. It is believed in some quarters that the
African will only exert himself when he is driven with the stick, and
there are certainly white men in whose case the belief is more or less
warranted, but Nares, like Ormsgill, used none, and the boys plodded
onwards uncomplainingly under burning heat and through sour white
steam. They hewed a way through tangled creepers, and plunged knee and
sometimes waist deep in foul morasses. The sweat of tense effort
dripped from them, and thorns rent their skin, but they would have
done more had he asked it for the man who lay in the hammock that
lurched above them.

Nares on his part knew that Ormsgill was well in front of him, and
Ormsgill as a rule traveled fast, but it was evident that he must have
made a long journey already, and the Mission boys were fresh. That, at
least, was clear by the pace they made, but it did not greatly slacken
when weariness laid hold on them. They pushed on without flagging
through the unlifting shade, and the ashes of their cooking fires
marked their track across leagues of forest, until late one night they
stopped suddenly in a more open glade, and Nares, flung forward in his
hammock, seized the pole and swung himself down.

He alighted in black shadow, but he could dimly see one of the boys in
front of him leaning forward as though listening. A blaze of moonlight
fell upon the trail some forty yards away, and two great trunks rose
athwart it in towering columns, but there was nothing else visible.
Still, the boy, who now crouched a trifle, was clearly intent and
apprehensive. He stood rigid and motionless, gazing at the bush, until
he slowly turned his head.

Nares, who could hear no sound, felt his heart beat, for the man's
attitude was unpleasantly suggestive. It seemed that he was following
something that moved behind the festooned creepers with eyes which
could see more than those of a white man, and Nares felt the tension
becoming unendurable as he watched him until the negro flung out a
pointing hand. Then a voice rose sharply.

"Move forward a few paces out of the shadow," it said in a native
tongue.

Nares laughed from sheer relief, for the voice was familiar.

"We'll move as far as you wish, but we're quite harmless," he said.

There was a crackle of undergrowth, and a white-clad figure stepped
out of the bush with something that caught the moonlight and glinted
in its hand. Nares moved forward, and in another moment or two stopped
by Ormsgill's side.

"I might have expected something of the kind, but I scarcely fancied
you were so near," he said. "Anyway, I should not have supposed a
white man could have crept up on us as you have done."

Ormsgill's smile was a trifle grim. "Most white men have not been
hunted for their life," he said. "As a rule it's prudent to take
precautions in the bush. It was not you I expected to see."

"Still, I have come a long way after you."

"Then we'll go back to camp," said Ormsgill. "Bring your boys along."

He sent a hoarse call ringing through the shadows of the bush, and
then turned to his companion as if in explanation.

"One or two of the boys have Sniders, and their nerves might be a
trifle unsteady," he said, "I can't get them to keep their finger off
the trigger."

"Sniders?" said Nares.

Ormsgill laughed. "There are, it seems, a few of them in the country.
I have now and then come across American rifles, too. I don't know how
they got here, and it's not my business, but it is generally believed
that officials now and then acquire a competence by keeping a hand
open and their eyes shut."

Nares, who asked no more questions, followed him through the creepers
and undergrowth until he turned and pointed to a stalwart negro
standing close against a mighty trunk, who lowered his heavy rifle
with a grin. Then the faint glow of a smoldering fire became visible,
and Ormsgill stopped where the moonlight streamed down upon the ground
sheet spread outside a little tent.

"Your boys can camp among my carriers," he said. "You will probably
have fed them, but I can offer you a few biscuits and some coffee.
It's Liberian."

The coffee was made and brought them by a splendid grinning negro with
blue-striped forehead, who hailed from the land where it was grown,
and while they drank it Nares made his errand clear. When he had done
this Ormsgill laid down his cup and looked at him.

"There is one thing you have to do, and that is to go back to the
Mission as fast as you can," he said. "Our friends in authority will
make things singularly uncomfortable for you if they hear that you
have taken the trouble to spoil their plan by warning me."

Nares smiled and shook his head. "You ought to be acquainted with the
customs of this country by now," he said. "I couldn't keep clear of
all the villages on my way up, and, if I had, news of what I have done
would have reached San Roque already."

"Ah," said Ormsgill quietly, "that is probably correct. It is
unfortunate. I won't attempt to thank you--under the circumstances it
would be a trifle difficult to do it efficiently. Well, since you
can't go back to the Mission, you must come on with me."

Nares looked at him in some astonishment. "After what I told you, you
are going on?"

"Of course!" and Ormsgill laughed softly. "I have been trailing
Domingo for a long while, and he is, as you know, in the village a few
days' march in front of us with most of the boys. It is scarcely
likely that I shall have a more favorable opportunity."

"Haven't I made it clear to you that the Headman is a friend of his,
and they are supposed to have arms there? Can't you understand yet
that Domingo will embroil you with him, and arrange that you will have
to fight your way out? Even if you manage it Dom Luiz is close behind
with several files of infantry, and will certainly lay hands on you.
You will have fired upon natives under official protection, and taken
a labor purveyor's boys away from him. It would not be difficult to
make out that you were inciting the natives to rebellion. Do you
expect a fair hearing at San Roque?"

"I don't," and Ormsgill smiled. "In fact, I don't purpose to go there
at all. I expect to be clear again with the boys before Dom Luiz
arrives. From what I know of his habits on the march I should be able
to manage it."

"But it is likely that Domingo, who knows he is expected to keep you
here until Dom Luiz turns up, will sell the boys?"

Ormsgill smiled again. "I don't purpose to afford him the opportunity.
He stole the boys, and I am merely going to make him give them up
again. With a little resolution I believe it can be done. Still, I am
sorry to drag you into the thing."

Nares said nothing for a moment or two. He felt that it would be
useless, and his companion's quiet cold-blooded daring had its effect
on him. After all, check it as he would, there was in him a vague
pride and belief in the white man's destiny, and in the land he came
from the term white man does not include the Latins. This world, it
seems, was made for Americans and Englishmen to rule. A little gleam
crept into his eyes.

"Well," he said, "I don't think I'm going to blame you now I am in."



CHAPTER XVI

NEGRO DIPLOMACY


The glare was almost intolerable when Ormsgill and his carriers walked
into the space of trampled dust round which straggled the heavily
thatched huts of the native village. The afternoon sun flooded it with
a pitiless heat and dazzling brilliancy, and there was not a movement
in the stagnant atmosphere. Beyond the clustering huts the forest rose
impressively still, and there was a deep silence for a few moments
after the line of weary men appeared. Then as they came on with a soft
patter of naked feet a murmur rose from the groups of half-naked
negroes squatting in the dust under the shadow flung by a great tree.
It was not articulate, but there was a hint of anger in it, for white
men were not regarded with any great favor in that village, which was
not astonishing.

They moved quietly forward across the glaring dust, with a guard of
dusky men in white cotton marching rifle on shoulder behind them.
Indeed, the carriers only stopped when they reached the shadow of the
tree under which the Headman and the elders of the village had
assembled. Then as Ormsgill raised his hand the men with rifles swung
out to left and right, and stood fast, an inconsequent handful of
motionless figures with the unarmed carriers clustering behind them.
Their white cotton draperies, which they had put on half an hour ago,
gleamed in the sun glare dazzlingly.

Ormsgill was quite aware that a good deal depended on his composure
and steadiness of bearing, but he had just come out of the shadow of
the forest and he blinked as he looked about him. Close in front of
him the fat village Headman sat on a carved stool, but there was
another older man of somewhat lighter color and dignified presence who
was seated a little higher, and this promised to complicate the
affair, since Ormsgill recognized him as a man of some importance in
those forests, and one who claimed a certain domination over the
villages in them. It was known that he bore the white men little good
will, but his presence there suggested that he had some complaint
against the villagers, or was disposed as their suzerain to listen to
their grievances, and Ormsgill realized that he had arrived at a
somewhat unfortunate time. Then his eyes rested on another man he had
expected to see. He stood among the elders, big and brown-skinned,
with loose robes of white and blue flowing about him, smiling
maliciously, though Ormsgill fancied that for some not very evident
reason he was not quite at ease. Nares, who now stood beside his
comrade, recognized him as Domingo, the labor purveyor.

"I'm 'most afraid you are going to find it difficult to get those
boys," he said. "One could fancy these people had affairs of their own
to discuss, and it's by no means certain that they'll even listen to
us in the meanwhile."

Ormsgill, who did not answer him, glanced round at his boys. He
fancied that none of them felt exactly comfortable, but they, at
least, kept still, and he sent forward two of them with the presents
he had brought before he turned to the Headman.

"I have come here to justice," he said in a bush tongue, and Nares who
had a closer acquaintance with it amplified his observations. "That
man," and he pointed to Domingo, "has with him boys who belonged to my
friend the trader Lamartine. He stole them, and I have made a long
journey to get them back again."

"If they belonged to Lamartine, who is dead, they can not be yours,"
said the Headman shrewdly. "You do not say you bought them from him."

"In one sense it's almost a pity you hadn't. He has made a point,"
Nares said quietly.

It was evident that the rest of the assembly recognized the fact, for
there was laughter and a murmur of concurrence. Ormsgill, who did not
expect to be believed, flung a hand up.

"If you will listen you shall hear why I claim them," he said, and he
spoke for some minutes tersely while Nares now and then flung in a
word or two.

Another laugh rang along the rows of squatting men, and there was
blank incredulity in the dusky faces. This was, however, by no means
astonishing, since the motives he professed to have been actuated by
were distinctly unusual in that part of Africa. It was inconceivable
to those who heard him that a man should trouble himself greatly about
a promise he need not have kept, as this one said he had done. They
were too well acquainted with the white men's habits to believe a
thing of that kind could be possible. The fat Headman looked round and
grinned.

"I think," he observed, "we should now hear what Domingo has to say."

Domingo had a good deal to say, and framed it cunningly, playing upon
the dislike of the white men that was in those who heard him, but as
Ormsgill noticed, it was the old man of lighter color he chiefly
watched. The latter sat silent and motionless, regarding him with
expressionless eyes, until he ceased, and Ormsgill realized that if it
depended upon the opinion of the assembly Domingo had won his case.
Still, though he was by no means sure what he would do, he was, at
least, determined it should not depend on that, and there was a trace
of grimness in his smile when Nares turned to him.

"I'm afraid it has gone against us," he said.

"Against me, you mean," said Ormsgill dryly.

"No," and Nares's gesture was expressive, "what I said stands without
the correction."

Before Ormsgill could answer, the old man made a sign, and there was
no mistaking his tone of authority.

"Bring the boys," he said.

They were led in some minutes later, eight of them, and three or four
ran towards Ormsgill with eager cries. He waved them back, and there
was silence for a moment or two until the old man rose up slowly with
a curious smile in his eyes.

"It seems that this man has not beaten them too often," he said. "You
have seen that they would sooner be his men than Domingo's. Let one of
them speak."

One of them did so, and what he said bore out some, at least, of
Ormsgill's assertions. Then the grave figure in the plain white robe
raised a hand, and there was a sudden silence of attention.

"After all," he said, "this is my village, and it is by my permission
your Headman rules here. Now, this stranger has told us a thing which
appears impossible. We have not heard anything like it from a white
man before, but when a man would deceive you he is careful to tell you
what you can believe."

There was a little murmur which suggested that the listeners grasped
the point of this, and the old man went on.

"I know that Lamartine was an honest man, for I have bought trade
goods from him. They were what I bought them for, and I got the weight
and count in full. Lamartine was honest, and it is likely that this
man is honest, too, or he would not have been his friend."

He stopped a moment, and smiled a trifle dryly. "Now, we know that
Domingo is a thief, for he has often cheated you, and it is certain
that he is a friend of the white men. I have told you at other times
that you are fools to trade with him. If a man is in debt or has done
some wrong you part with him for this trader's goods. The rum is
drunk, the cloth wears out, but the man lives on, and every day's work
he does on the white men's plantations makes them richer and
stronger. As they grow richer they grow greedier, and by and by they
will not be satisfied with a man or two from among you. You will have
made them strong enough to take you all. That, however, is not the
question in the meanwhile. I think it may have happened, as this
stranger says, that Domingo stole these boys from Lamartine, but even
in that case there is a difficulty. The boys are with him, and in this
country what a man holds in his hand is his. Perhaps the white man
will offer him goods for them. I do not think he would ask too much,
at least, if he is wise."

He looked at Ormsgill, who shook his head.

"Not a piece of cloth or a bottle of gin," he said.

There was a little murmur of resentment from the assembly, but
Ormsgill saw that his boldness had the effect he had expected upon the
man whose suggestion he had disregarded, and he had not acted
inadvisedly when he dismissed all idea of compromise. Domingo had
influential friends in that village, while, save for the handful of
carriers, he and his companion stood alone. He also knew that if
misfortune befell them no troublesome questions would be asked by the
authorities. The whole enterprise was in one sense a folly, and that
being so it was only by a continuance of the rashness he could expect
to carry it through. Half measures were, as he realized, generally
useless, and often perilous, in an affair of the kind, for there are
occasions when one must face disastrous failure or bid boldly for
success. Nares also seemed to recognize that fact, for he smiled as he
turned to his companion.

"I think you were right," he said.

Then the Headman said something to his Suzerain who made a sign that
the audience was over.

"It is a thing that must be talked over," he announced. "We shall,
perhaps, know what must be done to-morrow."

Ormsgill acknowledged his gesture, swinging off his shapeless hat, and
then led his boys away to the hut one of the Headman's servants
pointed out to him. It was old, and had apparently been built for a
person of importance for, though this was more usual further east
among the dusky Moslem, there was a tall mud wall about it, and a
smaller building probably intended for the occupation of the women
inside the latter. It was dusty and empty save for the rats and
certain great spiders, and during the rest of the hot afternoon
Ormsgill sat with Nares in the little enclosed space under the
lengthening shadow of the wall. The boys had curled themselves up
amidst the dust and quietly gone to sleep.

There was nothing they could see but the ridge of forest beyond the
huts, and though now and then a clamor of voices reached them from
outside, it supplied them with no clue to what was going on. Ormsgill
smoked his pipe out several times before he said anything, and then he
glanced at the wall meditatively.

"It seems thick, and there's only one entrance," he observed. "I
almost fancy we could hold the place, though I don't anticipate the
necessity. Still, Domingo, who does a good trade here, has a certain
following, and it might be an advantage if I knew a little more about
our friends' affair. Their Suzerain seems to have some notion of fair
play. I wonder what he is doing here."

"I have been asking myself the same question," said Nares. "It seems
to me these folks have been a little slack in recognizing his
authority, and he has been making them a visitation. In one respect
they're somewhat unfortunately fixed. The Portuguese consider they
belong to them though they have made no attempt to occupy the country,
and it's a little rough on the Headman who has to keep the peace with
both."

Ormsgill made a little gesture of concurrence. "No doubt you're
correct. The question is who the Headman would sooner not offend, and
it's rather an important one because we are somewhat awkwardly
circumstanced if it's the Portuguese. Our friend from the Interior
naturally doesn't like them, but it's uncertain how far we could count
on him, and Dom Luiz will probably turn up to-morrow night or the next
day, and then there would be fresh complications."

"In that case we should never get the boys."

The lines grew a trifle deeper in Ormsgill's forehead, but he smiled.
"I wouldn't go quite so far, though if Domingo still had the boys it
might delay things. As it is, I don't think he will have them. How I'm
going to take them from him I don't quite know, but I expect to make
an attempt of some kind to-morrow. You see, these folks have no
particular fondness for the Portuguese, and that will probably count
for a little."

Nares said nothing further on that subject, and Ormsgill talked about
other matters while the shadows crept across the little dusty
enclosure and the forest cut more darkly against the dazzling glare.
Then it stood out for a brief few minutes fretted hard and sharp in
ebony against a blaze of transcendent splendor, and vanished with an
almost bewildering suddenness as darkness swept down. The smell of
wood smoke crept into the stagnant air, and a cheerful hum of voices
rose from the huts beyond the wall, through which odd bursts of
laughter broke. It would not have been astonishing if it had jarred
upon the susceptibilities of the two men who heard it, but, as it
happened, they listened tranquilly. They had both faced too many
perils in the shadowy land to concern themselves greatly as to what
might befall them. In one was the sure belief that all he was to bear
was appointed for him, and the other thought of little but the task in
hand. They were simple men, impatient often, and now and then driven
into folly by human bitterness, but there is, perhaps, nothing taught
in all the creeds and philosophies greater than their desire to do a
little good. The formulas change, and lose their authority, but the
down-trodden and those who groan beneath a heavy burden always remain.

By and by one of the Headman's retainers brought in food and a native
lamp. He had nothing to tell the white men, and they, recognizing it,
judiciously refrained from useless questions. When they had eaten they
sat awhile talking of matters that did not greatly interest them until
Ormsgill, who had already stationed his sentries, extinguished the
light.

"Whether the boys can be depended on to watch I don't know, and it's
probably very doubtful," he said. "Anyway, I think we shall be safe
until to-morrow, and I'm going to sleep. After all, I fancy we could
leave the thing to the Headman. He's a cunning rascal, and it's to
some extent his business to find a way out of the difficulty. As you
suggest, he stands between his Suzerain and the Portuguese, and can't
afford to offend either of them."

He stretched himself out on his hard native couch, and apparently sank
into tranquil slumber, but it was some time before Nares' eyes closed.
He was of different temperament, and, though he was not unduly
anxious, the surroundings had their effect on him. There was, as
usual, no door to the hut, and he could see the soft blue darkness
beyond the entrance. The figure of a big, half-naked man who carried a
heavy rifle cut against it shadowily now and then. The village was
silent, and he could hear a little hot breeze sweep through it and
stir the invisible trees. At last, however, he sank into sleep, and
was awakened suddenly some time later. He did not know what had roused
him, but as he raised himself he dimly saw Ormsgill slip across the
room. Then there was a footfall outside, and he made out the sentry
half-crouching in the entrance.

He rose, and stood still, quivering a little, while, perhaps, a
quarter of a minute slipped by. The stillness was very impressive, and
seemed emphasized by the footsteps outside. They were soft and
cautious, and it was evident that the man who made them was desirous
of slipping into the hut unseen. Then there was a thud in the
entrance, and a scuffle during which Ormsgill hurled himself upon the
pair of struggling men.

"Let him go," he said in a bush tone. "Take your hand off his neck.
Now get up."

A man who gasped heavily staggered to his feet, and Ormsgill laughed
as he turned to Nares.

"I believe he's a messenger, but he can hardly blame us for welcoming
him as we did," he said. "Now if you have anything to say go on with
it."

Nares could only just see the negro, who was probably attempting to
recover his senses, for he said nothing.

"Who sent you?" asked Ormsgill, who gripped his arm tightly, in the
native tongue.

"It is a thing I am not to tell," said the man. "I have a message.
Domingo left our village with the boys an hour ago. He heads for the
west."

Nares turned to Ormsgill. "Well," he said, "I am not altogether
astonished, and the Headman's hint is plain enough. Of course, the
thing may be a trap, but it is quite possible he is not unnaturally
anxious to get rid of us and Domingo."

Ormsgill looked at the negro. "If he has gone an hour ago how are we
to come up with him?"

"The road twists across the high land," said the man. "There is a
shorter path through a swamp."

"Then if you will lead us across the swamp so we can reach firm ground
in front of Domingo you shall have as much cloth as you can carry."

It was a tempting offer, and though the negro appeared to have
misgivings he profited by it, and in another few minutes Ormsgill had
roused the boys in the compound.

"If we have no trouble in getting out I think we can feel reasonably
sure that the Headman doesn't care whether we worry Domingo or not,"
he said.

"Well," said Nares reflectively, "I almost think you're right. Still,
he may, after all, have something different in his mind. As you said,
we could probably hold the hut, and we are not out of the village
yet."

Ormsgill seemed to smile. "In that case," he said, "he may have reason
to be sorry he ever entertained a notion of that kind."



CHAPTER XVII

THE AMBUSCADE


A thin crescent moon hung low in the western sky when they slipped out
into the sleeping village, and shadowy huts and encircling forest were
dimly distinguishable. The place was very silent, and though the negro
as a rule sleeps lightly no one appeared in a doorway, and no voice
was raised to challenge them. In fact, Nares, who walked beside his
comrade with his heart beating a good deal faster than usual, felt the
silence almost oppressive, for he was conscious that it might at any
moment be rudely broken. He had very little confidence in the dusky
Headman, and knew that if treachery was intended they were affording
him the opportunity he probably desired.

Now and then there was a faint clatter and jingle of arms, and at
times the soft patter of naked feet in the trampled dust was flung
back with what appeared to be a startling distinctness by the huts
they passed, but there was no other sound, and the boys flitted
steadily on, a line of vague, shadowy figures, in front of him. Then
he drew a deep breath of relief as they left the village behind them
and plunged into the gloom of the forest. He looked back a moment
towards the clustering huts which rose faintly black against the dim
bush, and wondered how the Headman would explain matters to his
Suzerain on the morrow. That, however, was the Headman's affair, and
Nares fancied he would be equal to the occasion, since the negro is
usually a very shrewd diplomatist.

By and by the darkness beneath the trees grew a little less intense,
and they came out on the brink of a morass. It stretched away before
them smeared with drifting wisps of sour white steam, and it was not
astonishing that they halted and looked at it apprehensively. An
African swamp is not, as a rule, considered impassable so long as one
does not sink beyond the hips in it, and there are places where
British forest officers flounder through them more or less cheerfully
for days together, but it is, for all that, a thing the average white
man has a natural shrinking from. Ormsgill significantly tapped the
rifle he now carried before he exchanged a few words with their guide.

"He says we can get through, but I'll take the precaution of walking
close beside him," he said to Nares. "It's an excellent rule in this
country not to let your guide get too far in front of you."

They went in, and the tall grass near the verge crackled about them as
they sank in the plastic mire out of which they could scarcely drag
their feet. It was a little easier where there was only foul slime and
water, and in places there were signs of a path, that is, they could
see where somebody else had floundered through the quaggy waste of
corruption. The smell was a thing to shudder at, but they were all of
them more or less used to that, and the emanations of such places do
not invariably prostrate the white man who is accustomed to the
country. In some cases, at least, the results of inhaling them only
appear some time afterwards, but there are very few white men who
escape them altogether.

In due time they came out, bemired from head to foot, with scum and
slimy water draining from them, and they diffused sour odors as they
once more plunged into the forest which just there was permeated with
the sickly scent of lilies. Still, it was a consolation to Ormsgill
that they had, at least, left nobody behind, and he acquired a certain
confidence in their guide. They pushed on for most of the night,
smashing and hacking a way through creepers, and stumbling in loose
white sand, and at last came out upon a well beaten trail. The negro
who crawled up and down it said that Domingo had not reached that spot
yet, but Ormsgill did not content himself with his assurance. With
difficulty, he made a little fire and while it flickered feebly
stooped over the loose sand. Then he stamped it out before he turned
to Nares.

"I almost think he is right, and as the Headman doesn't expect us to
compromise him we'll let him go," he said.

The man, it was evident, had no desire to stay, and when he went away
content with his load of cotton cloth Ormsgill made the most of his
forces. Two men with Sniders whom he fancied he could to some extent
depend upon were sent back to crouch beside the trail; a few more took
up their stations a little distance ahead; and the white men lay down
with the carriers between the two parties, and a few yards back from
the path. It was now a trifle cooler, for the night was wearing
through, and the mysterious voices of the forest had died away and
left a deep silence intensified by the splash of moisture on the
leaves. Nares shivered a little as the all pervading damp crept
through his thin garments, though the lower half of them was still
foul with the mire of the swamp.

"I suppose we shall meet Domingo if we wait long enough?" he said.
"After all, we have only the Headman's word to warrant us believing
it."

Ormsgill laughed. "It depends a good deal upon the kind of bargains
Domingo has made with him lately. The thing will probably work out
just as we would like it if he hasn't been quite satisfied with them.
It's an arrangement that would commend itself to the average African.
Still, as I said already, I'm a trifle sorry that you are mixed up in
it."

Nares sat silent a moment or two. He had borne a good deal, perhaps
rather more than could have been expected of him, from those whom he
considered with some reason as workers of iniquity, and, after all,
excessive meekness has seldom been a characteristic of the Puritan.

"Well," he said slowly, "I'm not sure that I am. It is very probable
that I have been proscribed already, and, perhaps, it was not patience
but cowardice that made me submit so long. After all, patience
accomplishes very little in Africa."

"I'm afraid it was never one of my strong points," and Ormsgill
smiled. "In fact, if Domingo made any kind of fight it would be a
certain relief to me, although because one can't always afford to be
guided by his personal likes I've taken every precaution against it.
Now, suppose we get the boys back, what do you propose to do?"

"Go back to my station," said Nares quietly.

"And if you hear that Dom Luiz is there with several files of infantry
to arrest you?"

"In that case I will go down to the coast with you."

Ormsgill dropped a hand on his comrade's shoulder. "I shall be glad to
have you wherever I go, though I'm not sure that you wouldn't be safer
if you pushed on alone. You don't mention what it has cost you to warn
me, but I think I can understand."

Nares slowly shook his head. "I don't think I have much to regret," he
said without a trace of bitterness. "I was sent here to save men's
souls, and it seems that I have failed. Still, I think I should have
stayed and healed their bodies--had it been permitted--but there is,
perhaps, work I can do elsewhere since that is not the case." He
stopped a moment with the faintest sigh. "We will not mention this
again."

Ormsgill said nothing, probably because he was more than a trifle
stirred. He knew that it requires self-restraint and courage to face
the fact that one's efforts have been thrown away, but there are men
like him who now and then shrink from expressing their sympathy.
Leaning forward a little with the rifle across his knees he set
himself to listen.

It was almost an hour before he heard anything at all, and in the
meanwhile the faint coolness increased, and the tops of the trees
above him became dimly visible. They cut with a growing sharpness
against the eastern sky, and here and there a massy trunk grew out of
the obscurity. Then there was a faint pearly flush beyond them, and in
the cold of the sudden dawn he heard the men he was waiting for. A
soft patter of footsteps and a murmur of voices came up the winding
trail. He knew the boys had also heard, for the undergrowth behind him
crackled and then was still again.

In another few minutes there was dim light in the forest, and he could
see indistinct figures moving towards him through the narrow gap in
the leaves. They became more visible, and he could make out the
uncovered ebony skin of some and the fluttering cotton that flowed
about the others' limbs. There were burdens upon most of their heads,
but a few carried what seemed to be long flintlock guns. Then, for
dawn comes with startling swiftness in that land, the shadowy trunks
became sharp and clear, and the men who plodded among them seemed to
emerge from a blurring obscurity. Black limbs, impassive faces, raw
white draperies, and gray gun barrels were forced up in the sudden
light, but Ormsgill raising himself a trifle fixed his eyes upon the
man of lighter color who walked a little apart from the others. His
voice rang harshly as he flung menaces in a native tongue at one or
two of those who lagged under their burdens, and perhaps he was, in
one respect, warranted in this, since, for economic reasons, the negro
whose labor somebody else has sold for him is seldom loaded beyond
his strength on his march to the coast, at least, so long as
provisions are plentiful.

They had almost reached the spot where the white men lay when Ormsgill
quietly walked out into the trail, and stood there with left foot
forward and the rifle at his hip. He had left his shapeless hat
behind, and his thin, thorn-rent garments clung about him damp with
dew and foul with mire. Still, he looked curiously resolute, and the
men with the burdens stopped and recoiled at the sight of him, until
one group of them flung down what they carried and ran towards him
clamoring. Then there was a harsh cry from the rear of the line, and
swinging round they scattered into the underbrush as the tall man of
lighter color sprang forward with something that glinted in his hand.

Ormsgill's rifle went up and came in to the shoulder. With the same
motion his cheek dropped upon the stock. He said nothing, but the
labor purveyor stopped. Ormsgill swung down the rifle.

"Look behind you," he said in Portuguese.

Domingo turned, and saw two half-naked men with Sniders standing in
the trail. Then looking round again he saw several more ahead, while
other dusky figures had risen here and there among the undergrowth.
They appeared resolute, and it was evident that he could get no
further without their permission. He was credited with being a daring
as well as an unscrupulous man, but he knew when the odds were too
heavy against him, and he made a sign to Ormsgill.

"You want something from me?" he said.

"I do," said Ormsgill. "The boys you stole from Lamartine. It will
save you trouble if you give them up."

Domingo glanced once more at the men with the rifles, who stood still,
one or two of them regarding him with a sardonic grin. Then he glanced
at his startled carriers, who had thrown down their burdens and
huddled together. There was, of course, nothing to be expected from
them, and his few armed retainers were evidently not to be relied
upon. In fact, they were gazing longingly at the bush, and it was
clear that they were ready to make a dash for its shelter. They had
done his bidding truculently when it was a question of overawing
down-trodden bushmen and keeping defenseless carriers on the march,
but to face resolute men with rifles was a different matter, and their
courage was not equal to the task. Domingo seemed to recognize it, for
he made a little scornful gesture.

"If I had a few men who could be depended on I would fight you for the
boys," he said. "As it is they are yours."

"I see eight," said Ormsgill. "Where are the others?"

Domingo smiled maliciously. "In the hands of the Ugalla Headman. I am
afraid it will be a little difficult to induce him to part with them:
Lamartine, it seems, had taught them enough to make them useful to a
Headman who is copying the white men's habits."

"In that case he no doubt gave you something worth while for them, and
since you stole them it does not belong to you. Are you willing to
tell me what he offered you?"

"No," said Domingo resolutely.

"It wouldn't be difficult to estimate it at the usual figure, and you
will understand that the Headman will ask me, at least, as much as he
gave for them, but I will be reasonable. If you will let me have the
arms your boys carry I shall be satisfied."

"How can I drive these men to the coast if we have no arms?"

"I don't know," said Ormsgill with a little laugh. "It is your affair,
but, perhaps, I can simplify the thing for you. I will take the arms
in exchange for the boys in the Headman's possession, and hand you
over what trade goods I have and paper bills for the rest of the men,
except the eight boys, for whom you will get nothing. I think I can
calculate what they cost you, and the fact that the transaction is
probably illegal does not trouble me."

There was still silence for a moment or two, and a dazzling ray of
sunlight beat down into the bush. It made a sudden brightness, and
showed the malice in Domingo's dusky face. Then it touched the huddled
carriers' naked skin, and Nares glanced from them to the group of
Lamartine's boys who had appeared again. It seemed they understood a
little of what was going on, and were watching Ormsgill expectantly.
He stood quietly in the middle of the trail, with a rifle at his hip
and a little grim smile in his eyes. All round rose the forest,
impressive in its stillness, dim and shadowy, and the scene had a
curious effect on Nares. He felt it had its symbolism, and its motive
was that of all the old world legends and dramas, the triumph of the
right over evil which man has from forgotten times vaguely believed
in. It is, perhaps, especially difficult to be an optimist in Africa,
but Nares who had borne a good deal in its steamy shadow held fast to
his faith, and it did not matter greatly to him that the latter day
champion of the oppressed was a most unknightly figure in burst shoes
and tattered garments and carried an American rifle. At last, however,
Domingo made a little gesture.

"I am in your hands," he said. "You shall have them."

They were not long in making the bargain, and when the arms and all
the boys except the few who had carried the long guns had been handed
over Ormsgill turned once more to Domingo.

"Now," he said, "you can go where you please, but I scarcely think it
will be back towards the interior. Your friends up yonder would
probably profit by the opportunity if you appeared among them with a
few unarmed men."

Domingo called to his few remaining followers, who took up some of the
loads the men released had carried for them. Then there was a soft
patter of feet and one by one the dusky figures flitted by and
vanished into the gloom. Ormsgill armed Lamartine's boys, and
afterwards drew Nares aside.

"In the first case I have to make sure of these men, and it is a
question if I can reach the coast before Domingo's friends head me
off," he said. "Considering everything it seems to me that haste is
distinctly advisable."

They started in another half-hour, and pushed on through the forest
for a week or two. Then Ormsgill made a traverse which cost him
several days to reach the vicinity of Nares' station. He stopped at a
bush village, and was told there that the station was occupied by
black soldiers from San Roque. When they heard it Ormsgill quietly
looked at Nares.

"You can't go back," he said. "The Chefe holds summary authority, and
no doubt has his views concerning you. It's scarcely worth while
pointing out what they would probably be, but if you succeed in
getting out of his hands you would be a discredited man who had only
met with his deserts."

Nares made a little gesture, for that was a very bitter moment, but
his face was tranquil.

"It's a thing I was prepared for. We'll push on," he said.

They stayed an hour or two in the village, and then started once more
on their long journey to the coast. It was clear that they could
afford no delay in reaching it, but there was no road to the Bahia
Santiago, and day by day they floundered through swamp and forest
under an intolerable heat, with garments rent to tatters, worn out,
gasping now and then, but always pushing on. They drank putrid water,
and when provisions commenced to run out lived on a few daily handfuls
of equally divided food. Nature was also against them, and barred
their path with fallen trees and thorny creepers, and the march they
made was a test of what man could bear. Still, there was no discord,
and no negro raised his voice in protest. The boys recognized that
haste was advisable, and they had confidence in the white man with the
quiet lined face who marched at the head of them.



CHAPTER XVIII

DOM CLEMENTE LOOKS ON


A little breeze blew in between the slender pillars delightfully fresh
and cool, and Dom Clemente Figuera, who had taken off his heavy kepi,
lay in a cane chair with a smile in his half-closed eyes. The ten
o'clock breakfast had just been cleared away, but two cups of bitter
black coffee still stood upon the table beside a bundle of cigars and
a flask of light red wine. He was, as he now and then laughingly
admitted, usually in an excellent humor after breakfast, and one could
have fancied just then that he had not a care in the world. There
were, however, men who said that in the case of Dom Clemente
tranquillity was not always a favorable sign.

Opposite him sat the trader Herrero, who was not quite so much at ease
as he desired to be. His manners were usually characterized by a
certain truculence, which as a rule served him well in the bush, but
he had sense enough to realize that it was not likely to have much
effect upon his companion. There was something about the little
smiling gentleman in the immaculate white uniform on the other side of
the table which would have made it difficult for one to adopt an
aggressive attitude towards him, even if he had not been one who held
authority. Herrero had therefore laid a somewhat unusual restraint
upon himself while he expressed his views, and now sat watching his
companion anxiously. Dom Clemente lighted a cigar before he answered
him.

"This Englishman," he said, "is apparently a turbulent person. I have
just received a letter concerning him from the Chefe at San Roque, as
you are, no doubt, aware."

There was a question in his glance which Herrero could not ignore,
though he would have liked to do so. He felt it was unfortunate that
he did not know exactly what was in the letter.

"I addressed my complaint to the Chefe in the first case," he said.
"Since Ormsgill is believed to have traveled towards the coast it was
to be expected that Dom Erminio should communicate with you."

"Exactly!" and Dom Clemente smiled. "The complaint, it seems, is a
double one. The Englishman Ormsgill has, I am informed, abducted a
native girl who was in your company, but one can not quite understand
how he has offended in this, since it appears that she was content to
go with him. In one case only you have a remedy. If you have any
record of a marriage with this woman the affair shall be looked into."

"I have none," and Herrero made a little gesture. "There are, you
understand, certain customs in the bush."

Dom Clemente reproachfully shook his head. "They are," he said, "not
recognized by the law, and that being so your grievance against the
Englishman is a purely personal one. It is no doubt exasperating that
the woman should prefer him, and she is probably unwise in this, but
it is not a matter that concerns any one else."

"It is not alleged that she preferred him," and the trader's face
flushed a trifle.

"Still," said his companion, "she went with him. Now you do not wish
to tell me that you had laid any restraint upon her to keep her with
you, or that there was anything to warrant you doing so. For instance,
you do not wish me to believe that you had bought her?"

Herrero did not, at least, consider it prudent. The law, as he was
aware, did not countenance such transactions, and while he sat silent
his companion smiled at him.

"Then," he said, "I am afraid I can only offer you my sympathy, and we
will proceed to the next complaint. This Englishman, it is alleged,
has also stolen certain boys from Domingo. Now the law allows a native
to bind himself to labor for a specified time, and while the
engagement lasts he is in a sense the property of the man he makes it
with. The engagement, of course, can only be made in due form on the
coast, but the man who brings the boys down and feeds them on the
strength of their promise may be considered to have some claim on
them. It seems to me that person was Domingo. Why did he not make the
complaint himself?"

"He is busy, and it would necessitate a long journey. Besides, I have
a share in his business ventures."

"That," said Dom Clemente reflectively, "is a sufficient reason. This
Domingo seems to be an enterprising man. One wonders if he has many
business associates up yonder."

Again Herrero did not answer. He did not like the little shrewd smile
in his companion's eyes, for, as he was aware, the only white men in
the forests Domingo frequented were missionaries and administrators,
who were, at least, not supposed to participate in purely commercial
ventures. He could not understand Dom Clemente at all, for it was very
natural that it should not occur to him that he was an honest man, as
well as an astute one who had been entrusted with a difficult task. He
would, in fact, have been startled had he known what was in his
companion's mind. Seeing he did not speak, Dom Clemente waved his
hand.

"It seems," he said, "that Ormsgill will make for the coast with the
boys in question, and you have come to warn me, partly because it is
to your interest, and partly from the sense of duty. Well, with this
knowledge in my possession it should be difficult for him to get them
away."

He stopped a moment, but Herrero saw nothing significant in the fact
that he glanced languidly towards the _Palestrina_. She lay gleaming
white like ivory on the glittering stretch of water he could see
across the roofs of the city, and, as it happened, he was going off
that evening to a function which Desmond, who had brought her in the
day before, had arranged.

"Steps will be taken to intercept him when we have news of his
whereabouts, and in the meanwhile I have another question," he said.
"There is discontent up yonder among the bushmen?"

His manner was indifferent, but Herrero was on his guard. "A little,"
he said. "If it becomes more serious it will be due to this Ormsgill,
and, perhaps, to the missionaries. He and the American are teaching
the bushmen to be mutinous."

Dom Clemente took up a letter which had, as it happened, been sent him
by Father Tiebout, from the table, and read it meditatively. Then he
rose with a little smile.

"The affair shall be looked into," he said.

Herrero withdrew, not altogether satisfied. Dom Clemente had been
uniformly courteous, but now and then a just perceptible hardness had
crept into his eyes. The latter, however, smiled as he poured himself
out another glass of wine, and then turned quietly, as his daughter
appeared in the doorway. She came nearer, and stood looking down at
him.

"That man has gone away?" she said. "He is an infamous person."

Dom Clemente glanced at the little green lattice on the white wall
behind her with a faint twinkle in his eyes. It was not very far away,
and he remembered that Herrero had spoken distinctly.

"One would admit that he is not a particularly estimable man, but he
has, like most of us, his little rôle to play," he said. "He does not,
however, play it brilliantly."

Benicia made a gesture of impatience. "The Englishman is on his way
to the coast. You are going to arrest him?"

"When we know where he is. What would you have me do? A man in
authority has his duty."

"Is it a duty to bring trouble on a man who has done no wrong?"

Dom Clemente leaned forward with his arms on the table, and looked at
her with a curious little smile.

"I almost think," he said reflectively, "if I was a great friend of
this Englishman's I would prefer him to fall into the hands of--such a
man as I am. In that case, he would, at least, be prevented from going
back to the bush, which is just now unsafe for him."

Benicia felt her face grow hot under his steady gaze. "The difficulty
is that there are men without scruples who would blame him for
whatever trouble may be going on up yonder in the forest," she said.
"You would have to listen to them. If their complaints were serious
what would you do?"

"Ah," said Dom Clemente, "that is rather more than I can tell. When
one is young one feels that he is always expected to do something.
Afterwards, however, one becomes content to leave it to the others now
and then. It is sometimes wiser to--look on. That may be my attitude
in this case, but I am not sure that the affair is one that concerns
you."

He made a little deprecatory gesture as he turned to the papers in
front of him, and Benicia went out quietly. It was an affair that
concerned her very much indeed, but she knew that Dom Clemente could
be reticent, and she fancied that he had something in his mind. As it
happened, this was the case with her. In the meanwhile he sat still,
gazing thoughtfully at the sun-scorched town while he smoked another
cigar. Then he rose with a little jerk of his shoulders, and buckling
on his big sword went down the stairway.

When evening came he went off to the _Palestrina_ with his daughter,
her attendant Señora Castro, and one or two officials and their wives,
and enjoyed an excellent dinner on board the yacht. He fancied Benicia
was rather silent during part of it, and glanced at her once or twice,
which she naturally noticed, and as the result of it roused herself to
join in the conversation. Still, she was a trifle relieved when the
dinner was over and Desmond led them up on deck. Clear moonlight
streamed in between the awnings, and, as it happened, Desmond seated
himself beside the rail at some distance from her Madeira chair. Twice
she ventured to make him a little sign, which he apparently
disregarded, but at last he rose and walked forward, and she turned to
the black-robed Señora Castro, who had clung persistently to her side.

"The dew is rather heavy. I brought a wrap or two, but I think I left
them in the saloon," she said.

The little portly lady waddled away, and a minute or two later Benicia
rose languidly, and moved towards the companion door through which she
had disappeared. Instead of descending the stairway, the girl slipped
out by the other door, and flitted forward in the shadow of the
deckhouse until she came upon Desmond standing beneath the bridge.

"You do not seem to notice things to-night. I signed to you twice,"
she said.

Desmond smiled. "I saw you," he said. "Still, I wasn't quite sure that
another of my guests did not do so, too. You have something to say to
me."

Benicia turned and glanced down the long deck. There was nobody
visible on that part of it.

"Yes," she said a trifle breathlessly. "But nobody must know that I
have talked to you alone."

Desmond opened the door of the little room beneath the bridge. A lamp
burned in it, and he flung a shade across the port before he drew the
girl in, and then closing the door, leaned with his back against it.

"I do not think we shall be disturbed," he said.

Benicia stood still a moment looking at him. It was in the case of a
young woman from The Peninsula a very unusual thing she had done, but
there was inconsequent courage in her, and a certain quiet
imperiousness in her manner.

"You have coal and water on board?" she said.

"I have," said Desmond. "I have also clearance papers for British
Nigeria, but we haven't steam up. You see, I expected to stay here at
least a day or two."

"Then you must raise it. You must sail for the Bahia Santiago before
to-morrow."

"You have word of Ormsgill?" and Desmond became suddenly intent. "He
is a man who is never late, but on this occasion he is a week or two
before his time. Well, I dare say we can sail to-morrow. You will tell
me what you know?"

He leaned against the door with a quiet thoughtful face while she did
so, and then the Celtic temperament revealed itself in the flash in
his eyes.

"It will evidently be a tight fit, but we'll get him if I have to arm
every man on board and bring him off," he said. "That there may be
complications afterwards doesn't in the least matter."

"Ah," said Benicia, "you are one who would do a good deal for a
friend."

Desmond looked at her with a little wry smile. "Miss Figuera," he said
slowly, "I think I would gladly do a very great deal for you."

A just perceptible flicker of color crept into the girl's face. "But
what you are about to do now is for your friend Ormsgill."

"Yes," said Desmond, still with the curious little smile. "In one way,
at least, I suppose it is."

Benicia turned and faced him, with the color growing plainer in her
cheeks, and for a moment there was hot anger in her, for she knew what
he meant. Then the fierce resentment vanished suddenly, as she once
more met his eyes. There was something that suggested a deep regret in
them, and his manner was wholly deferential.

"I only wish you to understand that if I fail it will not be because I
have not done all I can," he said. "You see, I would, at least, like
to keep your good opinion, and in spite of every effort one can't
always be successful. Still, if it is possible, I will bring Ormsgill
safely off. As you say, he is my friend."

There was silence for, perhaps, half a minute, and during it each knew
what the other was thinking. Then Benicia made this clear.

"Ah," she said, "you are a very generous man." She stopped a moment,
and there was a faint tremble in her voice when she turned to him
again. "You have come from Las Palmas?"

"I have," said Desmond. "I saw Miss Ratcliffe there. I think I may
venture to tell you that Ormsgill will never marry her."

Benicia's face flamed, but the color died out of it again, and she
looked at him quietly. "To no one else could I have forgiven that.
Still, one can forgive everything to one who has your courage--and
devotion."

Desmond made a little gesture. "Well," he said simply, "we sail before
to-morrow, and I will do what I can. There is this in my favor--your
friends probably don't know where Ormsgill is heading for."

Then the girl started suddenly with consternation in her eyes, for
there was a tapping at the door, but Desmond's hand fell on her
shoulder and she felt that he would do what was most advisable. Next
moment he leaned forward and turned the lamp out before he threw the
door open.

"Well," he said, "what do you want? I am, as you see, just coming
out."

There was moonlight outside, though the awnings dimmed it, and just
there the bridge flung a shadow on the deck, and he recognized with
the first glance that it was one of his guests who had tapped upon
the door which he flung carelessly to behind him.

"One wondered where you had gone to," said the man.

Desmond laughed, and slipping his hand beneath the inquirer's arm
strolled aft with him, but he sighed with relief when, as they joined
the others on the opposite side of the deck-house, he saw Benicia
already sitting there. He did not know how she had contrived it, until
he remembered that to slip through the companion would shorten the
distance. It was, however, half an hour later when she found an
opportunity of standing beside him for a moment or two.

"It seems that one is watched," she said. "You must be careful."

Desmond was on the whole not sorry when his guests took themselves
away, and he laughed as he stood at the gangway shaking hands with
them.

"I am afraid I shall not be ashore to-morrow," he said. "It is very
likely that we shall be out at sea by then."

One or two of them expressed their regret, and the boat slid away,
while some little time afterwards Dom Clemente glanced at his daughter
as they stood on the outer stairway of his house. Beneath them they
could see the _Palestrina_ dotted here and there with blinking lights,
and a dingy smear of smoke was steaming from her funnel.

"So he is going away again to-morrow," he said reflectively. "Well, I
suppose one is always permitted to change his mind."

Benicia made no answer, and Dom Clemente stood still, glancing
towards the steamer with a somewhat curious expression when she went
into the house. Then he made a little abrupt gesture, as of one who
resigns himself, before he turned away and went in after her.

"In the meanwhile I look on," he said.



CHAPTER XIX

THE DELAYED MESSAGE


It was a few days after the _Palestrina_ had sailed when Dom Clemente
once more sat behind the pillars in a basket chair looking
thoughtfully at his unlighted cigar. He could when it appeared
advisable move energetically and to some effect, but he was not fond
of action, or conversation, for its own sake, and he seldom told
anybody else what was in his mind. There are men who apparently find a
pleasure in doing so, and in their case the task is as a rule a
particularly easy one, but Dom Clemente had no sympathy with them.
When the time was ripe he acted on his opinions, but otherwise he was
placid, tolerantly courteous, and inscrutable. Still, there were men
concerned in the government of his country who had confidence in him.

It happened that a little cargo steamer on her way north had crept in
that morning with engines broken down, and her British skipper, who
had certain favors to ask, had been sent to Dom Clemente. He had gone
away contented a few minutes earlier, but he had incidentally supplied
Dom Clemente with a piece of information which, although he was not
altogether astonished at it, had made him thoughtful. At last he rose,
and laying down his cigar strolled forward leisurely to where,
looking down between the pillars, he could see his daughter in the
patio below. She did not see him, for she was sitting with a book
turned back upwards upon her knee and apparently gazing straight
before her at a trellis draped with flowers. He would have greatly
liked to know what she was thinking, but since he recognized that this
was one of the wishes that must remain ungratified he turned away
again with a little gesture which was chiefly expressive of
resignation. He could deal with men, but he had already found that the
charge of a motherless daughter was something of a responsibility.
Then he called a negro whom he dispatched with a message, and leaned
against one of the pillars until a man in uniform with a big sword
belted to him came in.

"Sit down," he said, pointing to the table. "Write what I tell you."

The man did as he was bidden, and Dom Clemente nodded when he was
shown the letter. "You will take it across to the Lieutenant Frequillo
and tell him to send a few men direct to the Bahia if he considers it
advisable," he said. "Then you will see the messenger Pacheco
dispatched with it. The matter, as you will understand, is urgent. As
you go down say that I should like a word with the Señorita Benicia if
she is at liberty."

His companion went out with the letter of instructions which was
directed to the officer in command of the handful of dusky soldiers
who had been sent up to inquire for news of Ormsgill, and Dom Clemente
who sat down again waited until his daughter came in. She stood
looking at him expectantly until he turned and pointed to the little
British steamer.

"The captain of that vessel has just been in," he said. "He told me
with some resentment that a white steam yacht went by him two days
ago, and took no notice of his signals. The captain, it seems, was
very anxious to be towed in here."

"I do not think that concerns me," said Benicia.

"The yacht," said Dom Clemente, "had a single funnel, a long
deck-house, and two masts, which, of course, is not unusual, but it is
most unlikely that there are two yachts of that description anywhere
near this coast. The point is that she was steaming very fast, and
heading south, which is certainly not the way to Nigeria."

Benicia appeared to straighten herself a trifle, but save for the
little movement she was very quiet, and she looked at her father with
eyes that were almost as inscrutable as his own. Still, she recognized
that she was at a disadvantage, since it was evident that the course
he meant to take was clear to him, and she was in a state of anxious
uncertainty.

"It is," he continued tranquilly, "a little astonishing how these
Englishmen recognize the natural facilities of a country. There is
down the coast a little bay which I have long had my eyes upon. Some
day, perhaps, we will build a deep water pier there and make a railway
across the littoral. No other place has so many advantages. It offers,
among others, a natural road to the interior."

The girl could have faced a direct question better than this
preamble, which Dom Clemente no doubt guessed.

"The Señor Desmond is not a commercialist," she said. "Why should this
interest him?"

"Well," said Dom Clemente, "one could fancy that it does, for he is
certainly going there." He stopped for a moment, and then his tone was
sharp and incisive. "The question is, who sent him?"

Benicia saw the little glint in his dark eyes, but she met his gaze.
She was clever enough to realize that there was only one course open
to her.

"Ah," she said, "I almost think you know."

The man made a little gesture. "At least, I do not know how the affair
concerns you."

Benicia sat down in the nearest chair, and a faint warmth crept into
her face, for this was the last point she desired to make clear, and
Dom Clemente's eyes were still fixed upon her. It was evident that he
expected an answer, and it said a good deal for her courage that her
voice was steady.

"You are aware that I have spoiled your plans?" she said.

"That," said Dom Clemente dryly, "is another matter. I am not sure
that you have spoiled them. I would, however, like to hear your
reasons for meddling with them."

It was the same question in a different guise, and she nerved herself
to face it.

"The Señor Ormsgill is doing a very chivalrous thing," she said. "It
is one in which he has my sympathy--one could almost fancy that he
has yours, too."

This was a bold venture, but she saw the man's faint smile. "I have a
duty here, and that counts for most," he said. "Then it was sympathy
with this man Ormsgill that influenced you?"

"Not altogether. I hate the Chefe at San Roque. You know why that is
natural, and, after all, it was you who had him sent there. Apart from
that, is it not clear that he and the trader Herrero and Domingo play
into each other's hands up yonder? The traffic they are engaged in is
authorized, but the way in which it is carried out is an iniquity."

There were, as it happened, men in that country who held similar
views, but the other reason the girl had proffered seemed to Dom
Clemente the most obvious one, though he fancied it did not go quite
far enough. It was conceivable that she should hate Dom Erminio, who
had been sent up into the bush after bringing discredit upon himself
as well as certain friends of hers. Still, he realized that this was a
matter on which she would never fully enlighten him, and he recognized
his disabilities. It was, perhaps, one of his strong points that he
usually did recognize them, and seldom attempted the impossible. As
the result of this he generally carried out what he took in hand. Dom
Clemente was first of all a soldier, and not one who shone in
civilized society or cared to scheme for preferment by social
influence, which was probably why he had been sent out to a secondary
command in Africa. He had friends who said he might have gone further
had he been less faithful to his dead wife's memory.

"Well," he said, "it was certainly my intention to arrest this man
Ormsgill. I admit that I have a certain sympathy with him, and that is
partly why I am a little anxious to keep him from involving himself in
useless difficulties."

"Do you think a man of his kind would be grateful for that?"

Dom Clemente made a little gesture of indifference. "I do not know. It
is, after all, not a point that very much concerns me, though he is
doing a perilous thing by meddling with our affairs, especially in the
bush yonder."

"Ah," said Benicia, "then is nobody to meddle, and is this iniquity to
go on?"

Dom Clemente smiled dryly. "I almost think," he said, "that when the
time is ripe there will, as usual, be a man ready to take the affair
in hand. In the meanwhile it would be a very undesirable thing that
any one should point to you as a friend of this rash Englishman."

He rose, and buckling on his sword went down the outer stairway, while
Benicia sat still with her cheeks burning. She fancied Dom Clemente
had meant a good deal more than he had said, but, after all, that did
not greatly trouble her. She was not one who counted the cost, and it
was not quite clear that she had failed, though she knew troops had
been dispatched to head off Ormsgill from the coast. It was possible
that he had slipped past them, and the _Palestrina_ would be waiting
at the Bahia Santiago, and then it flashed upon her that it would not
be difficult for her father to send the man in command of the troops
instructions to proceed direct to the Bahia by a fast messenger. While
she considered the point it happened that the officer he had handed
the instructions to came up the stairway.

"I wonder if you know where the messenger Pacheco is, Señorita?" he
said. "I have an urgent errand for him."

Benicia saw that he had a packet in his hand, and a swift glance at
the table showed her that the writing materials were not exactly as
they had been laid out an hour or two earlier. Somebody, it seemed,
had written a letter, and she could make a shrewd guess at its
purport. For a moment she stood looking at the officer, and thinking
hard. It was evident that her father had a certain liking for
Ormsgill, but she felt that he would probably not allow it to
influence him to any great extent. He was apparently working out some
cleverly laid plan of his own, and it was evident that she would incur
a heavy responsibility by meddling with it, but after all Ormsgill's
safety stood first with her.

"I am not sure, but I think he is in the house," she said.

She left the officer waiting, and entering her own room hastily wrote
a note. Then she went down the inner stairway with it in her hand, and
crossing the patio glanced up for a moment at the balustrade above.
Fortunately, the officer was not leaning over it, and did not see her
slip into a store room where a big dusky man was talking to the
negress cook, with whom, as it happened, he was a favorite. Western
Africa is indifferently supplied with telegraphic and postal
facilities and messages are still usually carried by native runners.
There were none of them anywhere about that city as fast or trusty as
Pacheco, and Benicia smiled as she looked at him. He was lean and hard
and muscular, a man who had made famous journeys in the service of the
Government, which was exactly why she did not wish him to be available
for another one.

"I have a message for the Señora Blanco," she said. "I should like her
to get it before she goes to sleep in the afternoon, and you will
start now, but if it is very hot you need make no great haste in
bringing me back the answer."

Pacheco rose with a grin. "It is only two leagues to the plantation,"
he said. "Though the road is rough, that is nothing to me."

Then the plump negro woman caught Benicia's eyes, and, though she said
nothing, there was comprehension in her dusky face. The girl went out
in the patio satisfied, and stood waiting behind a creeper-covered
trellis. She felt she could leave the matter in the hands of the
negress with confidence. The latter turned to the messenger with a
compassionate smile.

"You have the sense of a trek-ox. It is in your legs," she said. "The
Señorita does not wish you to distress yourself if the day is hot."

"But," said Pacheco, "it is always hot, and no journey of that kind
could weary me."

The woman made a little grimace. "The trek-ox is slow to understand
and one teaches it with the stick. Sometimes the same thing is done
with a man. It seems the Señorita does not wish to see how fast you
could go."

At last Pacheco seemed to understand. "Ah," he said, "there are thorns
in this country. Now and then one gets one in his foot."

"The Señorita would be sorry if you came home limping. Once or twice I
have cut my hand with the chopper, and she was kind to me."

The man chuckled softly and went out, and Benicia standing in the
shadow felt her heart beat as she watched him slip across the patio.
There would probably be complications if the officer saw him from
above. Nobody, however, appeared among the pillars, and the shadowy
arch that led through the building was not far away. The negro's feet
fell softly on the hot stones, and though the slight patter sounded
horribly distinct to her nobody called out to stop him. He had almost
reached the arch when a uniformed figure appeared between two of the
pillars, and for a moment the girl held her breath. If the man moved
another foot it was evident that he must see the messenger, but, as it
happened, he stood where he was, and next moment Pacheco, who turned
and looked back at her with a grin, slipped into the shadow of the
arch. Then Benicia went back into the house a little quiver of relief
running through her. It would, she knew, be possible to obtain other
messengers, but none of them were so well acquainted with the native
paths which traverse the littoral or so speedy as Pacheco, and she did
not think he would be available until the evening.

In the meantime the officer waited above, until growing impatient, he
summoned the major domo, who sent for the negress.

"Pacheco was certainly in the house because he talked to me, but he
went out with a message, and I do not know when he will be back
again," she said.

The officer asked her several questions without, however, eliciting
much further information, and went away somewhat perplexed. He could
not help a fancy that Benicia was somehow connected with the
messenger's disappearance, but there was nothing to suggest what her
object could have been. She was also a lady of influence, and he
wisely decided to keep his thoughts to himself. As it happened,
Pacheco did not arrive until late that night, and another messenger
was dispatched in the meanwhile. He, however, became involved amidst a
waste of tall grass which Pacheco would have skirted, and afterwards
wasted a day or two endeavoring to carry out the directions certain
villagers who bore the Government no great good-will had given him. As
the result of this the handful of black soldiers had wandered a good
deal further inland before he came up with them.

In the meantime it happened the morning after he set out that Dom
Clemente sent for Pacheco who was just then sitting in the cook's
store nursing an injured foot. They exchanged glances when the
major-domo informed him that his presence would be required in a few
minutes, and after the latter had gone out the negress handed Pacheco
a sharp-pointed knife.

"It is wise to make certain when one has to answer a man like Dom
Clemente, and the scratch the thorn made was not a very large one,"
she said.

Pacheco took the knife, and looked at it hesitatingly.

"The thing would be easier if it was some other person's foot. It
will, no doubt, hurt," he said.

"It will hurt less than what Dom Clemente may order you," and the
negress grinned. "A man is always afraid of bearing a little pain."

Pacheco decided that she was probably right, and set his thick lips as
he laid the knife point against the ball of his big toe. Still, for it
is probable that there are respects in which the negro's
susceptibilities are less than those of the civilized white man, he
steadily pressed the blade in. After that he wrapped up his foot
again, and rose with a wry face.

"I was given a bottle of anisado and a small piece of silver
yesterday," he said. "I almost think I deserve a little more for
this."

Then he limped up the stairway leaving red marks behind him, and made
a little deprecatory gesture when he appeared before Dom Clemente. The
latter looked at him in a fashion which sent a thrill of dismay
through him.

"I hear you have hurt your foot," he said. "Take that bandage off."

Pacheco, who dare not hesitate, sat down and unrolled the rag. Then
with considerable misgivings he did as he was bidden and held up his
foot.

"Ah," said Dom Clemente dryly, "a thorn did that. The wound a thorn
makes seems to keep curiously fresh. Well, you can put on the rag
again."

Pacheco did it as hastily as he could while he wondered with a growing
uneasiness what the man who regarded him with a little sardonic smile
would ask him next. Dom Clemente, however, made him a sign to get up.

"One would recommend you to be more careful," he said. "You will have
reason to regret it if the next time I have an errand for you you have
a--thorn--in your foot."

Pacheco limped away with sincere relief, and Dom Clemente who sat
still contemplatively smoked a cigar. While he did it he once more
decided that it is now and then advisable to content oneself with
simply looking on, and it was characteristic of him that when he next
met Benicia he asked her no questions.



CHAPTER XX

DESMOND GOES ASHORE


It was a thick black night when Desmond brought the _Palestrina_ into
the Bahia, steaming at half-speed with the big smooth swell heaving in
vast undulations behind her. The blinding deluge which had delayed him
for half an hour had just ceased, and at every roll boat and deckhouse
shook off streams of lukewarm water. A dripping man stood strapped
outside the bridge swinging the heavy lead, and his sing-song cry
which rose at regular intervals broke through the throb of slowly
turning engines. A yard or two away from him Desmond leaned upon the
rails peering into the darkness athwart which there ran a dim black
line of bluff. A filmy haze that glimmered faintly white leapt up
between him and it, and the stagnant air was filled with a great,
deep-toned rumbling. It rolled along the half-seen bluff like the
muttering of distant thunder, for, though the Bahia was partly
sheltered, the vast heave of the Southern Ocean was crumbling upon the
hammered beach that night. It does so now and then when there is not a
breath of wind.

"It isn't exactly encouraging," he said to his mate. "The surf seems
running unpleasantly steep. There's a weight in it. I'm rather glad
the boat's a big one since we have to face it. Well, you had better
get forward, and stand by your anchors. I'll bring her up in another
few minutes."

The mate went forward with a handful of dripping men behind him, and
left Desmond quietly intent upon the bridge. The latter was quite
aware that it would have been prudent to wait for daylight, and
recognized that he was doing a reckless thing, but that rather
appealed to him. It is also possible to do a reckless thing carefully,
and he was, at least, proceeding with a certain circumspection. When
the bluff grew a trifle plainer he seized his telegraph, and raised a
warning hand to the helmsman.

"Starboard!" he said. "Let her swing when she goes astern."

A gong tinkled beneath him, there was a sharper clank of engines, and
the _Palestrina_ swinging round rolled from rail to rail. Then a
strident roar of running cable jarred through the rumbling of the
surf, and was succeeded by a trumpeting blast of blown off steam when
he rang the telegraph again. When this slackened a little he raised
his voice.

"If you're ready there, Mr. Winthrop, will you bring your men along,"
he said.

There was a tramp of feet forward, and when half-seen figures
clustered beneath the bridge Desmond leaned over the rails and
addressed them.

"Boys," he said, "what we are going to do is in some respects a crazy
thing, and while I don't know that we'll have trouble it's very
probable. Now there'll be a bonus for the men who come with me, but I
don't want any one to go against his will. If any of you would sooner
stay here all he has to do is to walk forward, and I'll admit that
he's sensible."

There was a little laughter, but nobody moved. Among those who heard
him were shrewd, cold-blooded Scots from the Clyde, and level-headed
Solent Englishmen, as well as boys from Kingston and Belfast Lough. Of
these latter Desmond had no doubt. A hint that the thing was rash and
might lead to trouble was naturally enough for them, but he recognized
that there might be occasions when the colder temperament of the
others was likely to prove, at least, as serviceable. It was not
astonishing that these, too, evidently meant to go with him, for there
are men who can apparently with no great effort bend others to their
will, and, after all, one can not invariably be sensible. Perhaps, it
would be a misfortune if this were possible.

"Sure," said one of them, and he was a Kingston man, "all ye have to
do, sir, is to go straight ahead. We're coming with ye, if we have to
swim, an' if we have to it's more than I can."

One or two of his comrades laughed, and Desmond raised a hand. "It's
very probable that you'll have to try. We'll get the surfboat over,
Mr. Winthrop."

It would have been a difficult task in the daylight, for the
_Palestrina_ rolled wickedly and the long slopes of water lapped to
her rail, but they accomplished it in the dark, and when the big boat
hove up beneath them dropped into her one by one. They had a few Accra
and Liberia boys for the paddles, but not enough and white seamen
perched among them on the froth-licked gunwale as they reeled away on
the back of a swell. It swept them out from the steamer, and let them
drop into a black hollow while the negro at the steering oar yelled as
another dark ridge hove itself aloft behind them. They drove on with
this one and several others that succeeded it, careering amidst a
turmoil of spouting froth that boiled round the high, pointed stern,
and there was spray all about them, stinging their eyes and in their
nostrils, when at last the beach was close at hand. They could not,
however, see it. There was nothing visible now but a dim filmy cloud,
out of which came a thunderous rumbling that has its effect upon the
stoutest nerves, for there are probably few men who can listen to the
crashing charge of the great combers on an African beach quite
unmoved, especially if it is their business to face them in the dark.

Desmond glanced astern a moment when the sable helmsman shouted, and
then resolutely turned his eyes ahead. He had seen all he wished to,
and it was with vague relief he felt the boat rush upwards under him,
for that waiting in the hollow was not a thing one could bear easily.
She went forward reeling, half-buried in tumbling foam, twisting in
spite of the gasping helmsman in peril of rolling over, and out of the
spray and darkness the dim line of bluff came rushing back to them.
Then there was a crash that flung half of them from the gunwale, and
the boat went up the beach with a seething white turmoil washing over
her, until they swung themselves over and clung to her waist-deep in
the wild welter when the sea sucked back. Straining every muscle they
held her somehow, and a voice rose strained and harsh through the din.

"Where are those--rollers, boys?" it said.

Somebody produced them, and gasping and floundering they ran her up
with another comber thundering out of the darkness behind them, and
then flung themselves down breathless and dripping on the hot sand.
Desmond let them lie awhile, and then leaving the negroes behind, the
white men clambered up the face of the bluff. After that they stumbled
amidst loose sand and tufts of harsh grass that now and then cut
through their thin duck garments and twined about their legs, but they
plodded on steadily, and when morning broke had made about a league
which was, all things considered, excellent traveling. With the
daylight, however, came the rain that beat the soil into a pulp and
filled the steamy air. The grass they found in places bent beneath it,
and the water flowed about their feet. Still, they held on, drenched,
and bleeding from odd scars and scratches, until there broke out
dazzling, blistering sunshine which in a few minutes sucked the
moisture from their clothing.

Then Desmond, who had heard that littoral described as dry and
parched, bade them lie down in the scanty strip of shadow behind a
clump of thorns, and a twinkle crept into his eyes as he glanced at
them. They were already freely plastered with mire. A few of them had
sporting rifles--he carried one himself--and bandoliers, while some of
the rest had the gig's ash stretchers, and one a big pointed iron
bar, but he fancied they would scarcely pass for a big game
expedition. For one thing, they had no carriers. Desmond desired only
men who could be relied upon to say as well as do what he bade them,
for he could without any great effort foresee that he might have to
grapple with more than physical difficulties. He let them lie for half
an hour, and then the rain came and drove them on again.

[Illustration: "He fancied they would scarcely pass for a big game
expedition."--Page 242.]

They floundered through it all that afternoon, lay down in wet sand
when the sudden darkness blotted out the misty littoral, and rose with
the swift dawn, cramped and wet and aching, to plunge into a thick
white steam. There was a muggy warmth in it which relaxed their
muscles and insidiously slackened the domination of their will. They
wanted to lie down, and wondered vaguely why they did not do so, for
there are times when man's resolution melts out of him in that land,
and nothing seems worth the trouble of accomplishing. Still, they went
on, and evening found them wearied in body and limp of will, as well
as very wet and miry, on the edge of a belt of thorny vegetation
amidst which there wound a native path. They slept beside it as best
they could, and went on again for two more days under scorching
sunshine until at last they reached a ridge of higher ground. There
were a few palms on the crest of it, and they lay down between them
amidst a maze of thorny vines.

Darkness was creeping up from the eastwards when Desmond sat poring
over a section of a large-scale chart which had proved to be a
reasonably accurate guide to the physical features of that
littoral. The elevation of which the ridge formed a portion was duly
marked, as was the creek they had cautiously waded through, and not
far away there stood another rise which might be made out from a
steamer's bridge. The dots that ran through them both indicated
Ormsgill's path. He was a man who, at least, endeavored to provide for
contingencies, and he had for Desmond's benefit plotted out the last
stages of his march to the coast. The latter, however, remained in
unpleasant uncertainty as to when he would arrive, which, in view of
the fact that a handful of dusky troops were in all probability not
very far away, was a question of some consequence.

When darkness swept down he posted two sentries and then lay down near
the smoldering cooking fire. The strip of rubber sheeting he spread
beneath him did not make a very efficient mattress, but worn-out as he
was he fell asleep in spite of the mosquitoes, and so far as he could
afterwards ascertain the men he had left on watch in due time did the
same. When he awakened there was a half-moon in the sky, and a faint
silvery light shone down upon the ridge. He could see the palm shafts
cut against it darkly in delicately proportioned columns, and the
ebony tracery of their great curved leaves. Now and then a big drop
that fell from them splashed heavily upon the straggling undergrowth,
but save for that everything was very still. The fire was red and low,
but the smell of wood smoke and hot wet soil was in his nostrils. He
was wondering drowsily why he had awakened when he fancied that a
shadowy figure flitted behind a palm, and turning cautiously he
reached out for the rifle that lay by his side. As his hand closed
upon it another figure moved towards him quietly. The moonlight fell
upon it and his grasp relaxed on the rifle as he saw that it was
dressed in tattered duck. He scrambled to his feet, and Ormsgill
stopped a pace or two away.

"You are a little ahead of time, but considering everything it's
fortunate," he said.

Desmond blinked at him for a moment or two. The man's face was lean
and worn, and his thin, dew-drenched garments were torn by thorns. One
of his boots had also burst, his wide hat was shapeless, and sunbaked
mire clung about him to the knees.

"There were reasons why it seemed advisable to divide my party and
push on," he proceeded. "My few personal belongings are now reposing
in a swamp."

Desmond shook hands with him. "Well," he said, "it's like you. Where
are your niggers, and what's the matter with my--sentries? Still
that's not exactly what I meant to say."

Ormsgill laughed, and sent a shrill call ringing across the belt of
mist below. There was an answer from it, and while the men from the
_Palestrina_ rose clamoring to their feet a row of weary, half-naked
negroes plodded into camp. Some of them had red scars upon their dusky
skin, some of them limped, and when they stopped at a sign from
Ormsgill the seaman clustered round and gazed at them. They were
woolly-haired and thick-lipped, and their weariness had worn all sign
of intelligence out of their dusky faces. They looked at the
clustering seamen vacantly and without curiosity.

"Lord," said Desmond, "and these are the fellows you have done so much
for! Well, it's evidently my turn. I suppose they can eat?"

Ormsgill laughed. "A good deal just now. We started soon after
sunrise, and have scarcely stopped all day. In fact, we have been
marching rather hard the last week or two."

Desmond turned to one of the men he had brought with him. "Stir that
fire," he said. "Make these images something, then take them away and
stuff them."

He touched Ormsgill, and pointed to the strip of sheeting. "Get off
your feet. We have a good deal to talk about."

They sat down, and by and by one of the _Palestrina_'s stewards served
them with coffee and canned stuff while his comrades sat in a ring
about the negroes patting them on their naked shoulders and
encouraging them to eat. The black men's stolidity vanished, and they
grinned widely, while by degrees odd snatches of different languages
and bursts of hoarse laughter rose from them. In the midst of it one
big man chanted a monotonous song. Ormsgill laid down his cup and
listened with a little smile.

"He's improvising rather cleverly," he said. "It's almost a pity you
don't know enough of the language to hear your praises sung. You see,
he has so far only come across two white men who have even spoken to
him decently."

Desmond grinned, and raised his voice. "If they understand what
tobacco is let them have what you have with you, boys," he said. "You
can come to me for more when we get back on board."

"That's all right, sir," said one man. "It's our dinner party. We've
got most of a hatful for them ready."

"Sailors," said Desmond reflectively, "have some curious notions on
the subject of making pets. So have you, for that matter, but, after
all, that's not quite the question. Did you see anything that would
lead you to believe Herrero's friends were after you?"

"I did," said Ormsgill. "Smoke, for one thing, and that was why I
pushed on for the coast. Nares who was a little feverish and found it
difficult to march fast insisted on turning back inland with half the
carriers. I left two men I could rely on behind to investigate, and I
expect some news before the morning. In the meanwhile what are you
doing here? It's at least a week before I was due."

Desmond looked at him steadily, and, as it happened, the firelight
fell upon them both. "Miss Figuera sent me."

"Ah," said Ormsgill, and a curious little glint crept into his eyes
and faded out of them again. "Well, you have, no doubt, a little more
to tell."

His companion told it tersely, and afterwards Ormsgill sat silent for
awhile with a half-filled pipe in his hand. Many a time during his
wanderings he had seen in fancy Benicia Figuera sitting in the shady
patio, and on each occasion the longing to hear her voice and once
more stand face to face had grown stronger. He had fought against it
on weary march and when the boys were sleeping in the silent camp, but
it had conquered him.

"It was very kind of her," he said at last. "Still, considering her
father's status, one could wonder why she did it."

Desmond smiled curiously as he leaned forward and stirred the fire.
"That," he said with an air of reflection, "is naturally one of the
things I don't know. Still, there is a certain chivalrous rashness in
the adventure you have undertaken which, although sensible folks would
probably consider it misguided, might appeal to a young woman of Miss
Figuera's description. You see, she is by no means a conventional
person herself. Perhaps, it's fortunate there are young women like her
with courage and intelligence enough to form their own opinions."

"Miss Figuera has certainly courage," said Ormsgill slowly.

Desmond laughed. "She has. She has also a wholesome pride, and sense
as well as imagination, though the two don't always go together. With
her at his side a man crazy enough to be pleased with that kind of
thing might set himself to straighten up half the wrongs perpetrated
by our civilization, and she'd see he was never wholly beaten.
Somehow, she would, at least, bring him off with honor, and that is,
after all, the most any one with such notions could reasonably look
for."

He stopped for a moment, and when he went on again the firelight
showed the little flush in his cheeks and the gleam in his eyes.

"Lord," he said, "how little some of us are content with when we
marry--a woman to sit at the head of out table, and talk prettily, one
who asks for everything that isn't worth while, and sees you never do
anything her friends don't consider quite fitting. Still, there is
another kind, the ones who give instead of asking, and who would, for
the man they loved, face the malice of the world with a smile in their
eyes. I think," and he made a little vague gesture, "I have said
something of the kind before, but I have to let myself go now and
then. I can't help it."

"One would almost fancy you were in love with the girl yourself," said
Ormsgill quietly.

Desmond leaned forward a trifle, and looked hard at him. "No. I might
have been had things been different. At least, she is certainly not in
love with me."

Ormsgill said nothing, but he was sensible of a curious stirring of
his blood. He would not ask himself exactly what his comrade meant, or
if, indeed, he meant anything in particular, for it was a consolation
to remember that Desmond now and then talked inconsequently. He sat
still, vacantly watching the blue smoke wreaths curl up between the
palms. The boys had lain down now, and only an occasional faint
rustle as one moved broke the heavy silence. Then, and, perhaps he was
a trifle overwrought and fanciful, as he watched the drifting smoke
wreaths a figure seemed to materialize out of them. It was filmy and
unsubstantial, etherealized by the moonlight, but it grew plainer, and
once more he saw Benicia Figuera as he had talked with her in the
shady patio. She seemed to be looking at him with reposeful eyes that
had nevertheless a little glint in the depths of them, and now the
desire to see her in the flesh took him by the throat and shook the
resolution out of him. At last he knew. There could no longer be any
brushing of disconcerting facts aside. There was one woman in the
world whom he desired, and he had pledged himself to marry another
one. Still, his duty remained, and he sat silent with one lean hand
closed tightly and the lines on his worn face deepening until at last
he became conscious that Desmond was watching him, and he roused
himself with an effort.

"Well," he said quietly, "she has laid me under a heavy obligation,
but we have other things to talk of."



CHAPTER XXI

ON THE BEACH


Desmond was asleep when the men his comrade had left behind came in,
but the negroes' sense of hearing was quicker than his, and when he
rose drowsily to his feet there was already a bustle in the camp.
Ormsgill, who was giving terse directions, turned to him.

"These boys have brought me word that there is a handful of troops in
a village a few hours' march away," he said, pointing towards two
half-seen men who were talking excitedly to the dusky carriers. "As
they know where we are heading for they will probably be upon our
trail as soon as the sun is up." He did not seem very much concerned,
and when he once more turned to the negroes, Desmond, reassured by his
quietness, glanced about him. The fire had died out, and there was no
longer any moonlight, but the palms cut with a sharp black
distinctness against the eastern sky. It was also a little cooler.
Indeed, Desmond shivered, for he was stiff and clammy with the dew.
The negroes were hurrying to and fro, apparently getting their loads
together, and the seamen were asking each other disjointed questions
as they scrambled to their feet. Desmond could see their faces faintly
white which he had not been able to do when he went to sleep.

"Well," he said, "I suppose we'll have to make a move of some kind?"

"It would be advisable," said Ormsgill. "Fortunately, it will be
daylight in a few minutes. You will start for the coast as soon as you
are ready, and take most of the boys I brought down along. It would be
wiser to push on as fast as possible, though it's scarcely likely that
the troops will come up with you. If they do, you will give the boys
up to them, but in that case one of the carriers will slip away and
bring me word. Any resistance you could make would be useless and very
apt to involve you in serious difficulties."

Desmond smiled dryly, and did not pledge himself. He was not a man who
invariably did the most prudent thing.

"You are not coming with us?" he said.

"No," said Ormsgill. "There are six boys not accounted for yet. I am
going back inland for them. The troops will, of course, pick up your
trail, and they will probably be content with that. It's scarcely
likely to occur to them that there might be another."

Desmond exerted all his powers of persuasion during the next minute or
two, and it was not his fault if his comrade did not realize that it
was a folly he was undertaking. Desmond, at least made a strenuous
attempt to impress that point on him, in spite of the fact that it was
a folly he would in all probability have been guilty of himself.
Ormsgill, however, only smiled.

"As you have pointed out, anything I can do to straighten out things
in this country is scarcely worth while," he said. "I'm also willing
to admit that it's not exactly my business, and I'm far from sure that
the rôle of professional philanthropist is one that fits me. Still,
you see, I have undertaken the thing, and I can't very well leave it
half done." He stopped a moment, and laughed, a trifle harshly.
"Especially as it's scarcely probable that I shall have an opportunity
of doing anything of the kind again."

Then he turned to the negroes, and spoke to them for several minutes
in scraps of Portuguese and a native tongue. Their villages on the
inland plateau had been burned, he said, and there was, so far as he
knew, no one he could trust them to in the country. If they stayed in
it some white man would in all probability claim them, and they would
be sent to toil for a term of years upon the plantations. They knew
what that meant.

They certainly appeared to do so by the murmurs that rose from them,
and Ormsgill pointed to Desmond. He had pledged himself to set them at
liberty, he said, and his friend would take them to a country where
negroes were reasonably paid for their services, and, unless they
deserved it, very seldom beaten. What was more to the purpose, if they
did not like the factory they worked at they could leave it and go to
another, which was a thing that appeared incomprehensible to them,
until a man with a blue stripe down his forehead stood up and told
them it certainly was as Ormsgill had said. He had himself earned as
much by twelve months' labor at a white man's factory as would have
kept him several years in luxury. Then one of the boys, a
thick-lipped, woolly-haired pagan with nothing about him that
suggested intelligence or sensibility asked Ormsgill a question in the
native tongue, and the latter looked at Desmond.

"He asks if I can give my word that they will not be ill-used in
Nigeria, and it's a good deal to assure them of," he said. "Still, I
think it could be done. There are outcasts in those factories, men
outside the pale, and it's possible that some of them occasionally
belabor a nigger with a wooden kernel-shovel, but considering what the
negro is accustomed to in this country that is a little thing, and
they usually stop at it. After all, it is not men of their kind who
practice systematic oppression or grind the toiler down. When I was a
ragged outcast it was the men outside the pale who held out their
hands to me."

He turned to the negro saying a few words quietly, and there was a low
murmuring until one of the boys pointed to Desmond.

"Then," he said, "we are ready to go with him."

Even Desmond could understand all that this implied, and it stirred
the hot Celtic blood in him. It was a crucial test of faith, for it
seemed that these half-naked bushmen had a confidence in his comrade
which no one acquainted with the customs of the country could
reasonably have expected of them. They knew how their fellows were
driven by men of his color, but in face of that his word that it
should not be so with them was, it seemed, sufficient.

"You already understand my wishes, and here are the letters for the
two traders in Nigeria," said Ormsgill quietly. "There is nothing more
to say."

"There's just this," said Desmond turning towards the _Palestrina_'s
men, who had naturally been listening. "If it costs me the yacht to do
it I'll see these boys safe into the right hands."

The men from Belfast Lough and Kingston grinned approvingly. They and
their leader were, after all, of the same temperament, and one of them
carried a sharp-pointed iron bar and others stout ash stretchers which
they had, somewhat to their regret, not been called upon to do
anything with yet. Desmond, however, walked a little apart with
Ormsgill.

"When will you be back?" he asked.

"I don't know," said Ormsgill. "There is a good deal against me just
now. In any case, I expect nothing further from you. You have done
more than I would have asked of anybody else already."

"Will two months see you through?"

"It may be four, very probably longer."

"Exactly," said Desmond with a little smile. "In the meantime the
_Palestrina_ is going to Nigeria. I don't quite know where she'll go
after that."

They said very little more until Ormsgill shook hands with him and
calling to his carriers marched out of camp. The sun had just lifted
itself above a rise to the east, and for awhile Desmond watched the
line of dusky men with eyes dazzled by the fierce light, and then
turned to give instructions to his seamen. They had already been busy,
and in another few minutes they and the boys that had been
Lamartine's had started for the coast.

It proved an arduous march, for before the sun had risen its highest
it was blotted out by leaden cloud and the wide littoral was wrapped
in dimness until the lightning blazed. It ceased in a few minutes, but
the men crouched bewildered for another half hour ankle-deep in water
while a pitiless blinding deluge thrashed them. Then they went on
again dripping, and every league or so were lashed by tremendous rain
while mad gusts of wind rioted across the waste in between. The next
day there was scorching sunshine, and the men were worn-out, parched,
and savage, when at last one of the boys who had served Lamartine,
climbing a low elevation, assured his comrades that there were soldiers
behind them. He said they would be, at least, an hour in reaching that
spot, but there was haste and bustle when the information was conveyed
to Desmond. The latter fancied it would be several hours before he
made the beach.

He and the white men had occasion to remember the rest of that
journey. They strained every aching muscle as they plodded on with the
perspiration dripping from them and the baked mire crumbling and
slipping beneath their feet while a dingy haze once more crept across
the sky and the heat became intolerable. It was dark when they reached
the beach, and Desmond gasped with relief when the roar of the
_Palestrina_'s whistle rang through the thunder of the surf in answer
to a rifle shot. It was evident that she had steam up. He sent two
men back to keep watch on the crest of the bluff, and then set about
getting the boat down with the rest.

She was big and heavy. The sand was soft, and the rollers instead of
running over it bedded themselves in it. The boys from the interior
were also of little use at that task, and though the seamen toiled
desperately it was almost beyond their accomplishing. The tide was at
low ebb, and the sand grew softer as they ran her down a yard at a
time, until at last they stopped gasping. Then one of the men came
running from the bluff.

"The soldiers are not far away," he said.

Desmond asked him no questions, but turned to the seamen. "We have got
to do it, boys," he said. "Shift that after roller under her nose."

They drew breath, and toiled on again. Their progress was not
reassuring in view of the fact that the troops were close at hand, but
they made a little, and in front of them the spray beyond which lay
the _Palestrina_ whirled in a filmy cloud. Every now and then there
was a thunderous roar in the midst of it, and part of the beach was
hidden in a tumultuous swirl of foam. Gasping, straining, slipping,
but grimly silent, they toiled on, moving her a foot with every
desperate effort, until at last a yeasty flood surged past them
knee-deep, and hove her away from them grinding one bilge in the sand.
Then Desmond raised a hoarse voice.

"Hang on to her," he said. "Oh, hang on. Down on her bilge, and let
her go when the sea sucks out again."

They went out with her and it amidst a sliding mass of sand, and
somehow contrived to hold her when the next sea came in. It broke
across her, and some of them went down, but when the seething flood
swept on up the beach she was there still, and they went out again
waist-deep in the downward swirl of it. Then they were up to the
shoulders with a great hissing wall of water close in front of them,
and black man and white scrambled in over the gunwale and floundered
furiously in the water inside her, groping for oar and paddle. Still,
they were perched on the gunwale, and the man with the blue-striped
forehead had the big steering oar before the sea fell upon them, and
straining every muscle they drove her through the breaking crest of
it.

She lurched out, half-full and loaded heavily, to face the next, and
Desmond was never certain how she got over it, but at least, he was
not washed out of her as he had half expected. He fancied there was a
faint shouting on the bluff, but nobody could have been sure of that
through the din of the surf, and all his attention was occupied by his
paddle. Very slowly, fighting for every fathom, they drove her
outshore, until the combers grew less steep and their crests ceased to
break, and Desmond gazing seawards could see the _Palestrina_ when she
lifted. She swung with the swell, a dim, blurred shape, without a
light on board her, but a sharp jarring rattle told him that his
instructions were being carried out. Winthrop the mate was already
heaving his anchor. That was satisfactory, for Desmond knew that
nobody could see the yacht through the spray that floated over bluff
and beach.

They were alongside in some twenty minutes with another troublesome
task before them. The yacht was rolling heavily, and the big
half-swamped boat swung up to her rail one moment and sank down
beneath a fathom of streaming side the next. It was a difficult matter
to reach her deck, and Lamartine's boys were bushmen who knew nothing
of the sea. They crouched in the boat's bottom stupidly until their
white companions who found thumps and pushes of no avail seized them
by their woolly hair and dragged them to their feet. They were sent up
one by one, and when at last the boat was hove in by the banging winch
Desmond scrambled with the brine running from him to his bridge. The
windlass rattled furiously for another minute or two, and then with a
quickening throb of engines the _Palestrina_ swept out into the night.
A little while later Winthrop the mate climbed to the bridge, and
Desmond laughed when he asked him a few questions.

"I don't think those folks ashore got a sight of the yacht or boat,"
he said. "It will be morning before they find out where we've gone,
and we should be a good many miles to the north by then. I don't
suppose they know Ormsgill isn't with us either, and that will
probably put them off his trail for a time, at least. In the meanwhile
you'll head her out a point or two more to the westwards for another
hour, and have me called at daylight. I'm going down to change my
clothes."

He had just dressed himself in dry garments when a steward tapped at
the door of his room.

"I don't know what's to be done with those niggers, sir," he said.
"The men won't have them in the forecastle."

"Ah," said Desmond a trifle sharply, "that's a thing I hadn't thought
of, though, of course, it might have struck me. They're on deck still?
Bring me a lantern."

The man got one, and Desmond who went out with him held it up when
they stood beside the little group of dusky men who sat huddled
together upon the sloppy deck. A seaman stood not far away from them,
and he turned to Desmond.

"We can't have them down forward with us, sir," he said.

There was a certain deference in his tone, but it was very resolute,
and Desmond made a little gesture of comprehension as he glanced at
the huddled negroes. Most of them were naked save for a strip of
tattered waistcloth, and their thick lips, wooly hair, and heavy faces
were revealed in the lantern light. He realized that there was
something to be said for the seaman's attitude. They had done what
they could for these Africans, and had done it gallantly, but now they
were afloat again they would not eat with them or sleep in their
vicinity. Color is only skin-deep, a question of climate and
surroundings, but Desmond, who admitted that, felt that, after all,
there was a wide distinction between himself and the seamen and these
aliens. It was one that could not be ignored. The theory of the
brotherhood of humanity went so far, and then broke down.

"We have a few strips of pine scantling among the stores," he said,
after a moment's thought. "You can screw one or two of them down on
deck--but I can't have more than a couple of screws in each. Then if
you ranged a bass warp in between it would keep them off the wet.
There's an old staysail they can have to sleep in. We could toss it
overboard when they have done with it."

He turned away, and, soon after a meal was brought him, went to sleep
while the _Palestrina_ sped on as fast as her engines could drive her
towards the north. In due time she also crept into one of the many
miry waterways which wind through the mangrove forests of Lower
Nigeria, and Desmond sent a boat up it with a letter Ormsgill had
given him to a certain white trader. An hour or two later a big gaunt
man in white duck came back with the boat and drank a good deal of
Desmond's wine. Then after asking the latter a few questions he looked
at him with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Well," he said, "Ormsgill is rather a friend of mine, and what you
have been telling me is certainly the kind of thing one would expect
from him. It is by no means what I would do myself, but he always
had--curious notions. Most of us have, for that matter, though,
perhaps, it's fortunate they're not all the same. Well, I'll be glad
to have the boys, especially as it's difficult to get Kroos enough
from Liberia just now."

"I think there were certain conditions laid down in Ormsgill's
letter," said Desmond reflectively.

The trader laughed. "There were," he said. "Well, I'm willing to admit
that I have once or twice pitched a nigger who was a trifle impudent
over the veranda rails. It's one of the things you have to do, and if
you do it in one way they don't seem to mind. No doubt they understand
it's only natural the climate and the fever should make you a trifle
hasty. Still, I don't think a Kroo was ever done out of his earnings,
or had things thrown at him when he didn't deserve it, in my factory."

Desmond fancied that this was probable, for he liked the man's face.
There was rough good-humor in it, and the twinkle in his eyes was
reassuring. As a matter of fact, he was, like most of those who
followed his occupation in those swamps, one who lived a trifle hard
and grimly held his own with a good deal against him. His code of
ethics was, perhaps, slightly vague, but there were things he would
not stoop to, and though now and then he might in a fit of
exasperation hurl anything that was convenient as well as hard words
at his boys, they knew that such action was not infrequently followed
by a fit of inconsequent generosity. There are men of his kind in
those factories whose boys will not leave them even when a rival
offers them more gin cases and pieces of cloth for their services. In
a moment or two Desmond made up his mind.

"Shall I send the boys ashore with you?" he asked.

"No," said the trader reflectively. "After what you've told me it
might be wiser if I ran them up river in the launch to our factory
higher up after dark. You see, nobody would worry about where they
came from there. In the meantime you had better go up and ask the
Consul down to dinner. You needn't mention the boys to him, and it's
fortunate that a yacht owner escapes most of the usual formalities.
I'll be back with the launch by sunset."

He kept his word, but while he was getting the boys on board his
launch just after darkness closed down a little white steamer swept
suddenly round a bend, and before the launch was clear two white
officers stepped on board the _Palestrina_. A thick white mist rose
from the river, but Desmond was a trifle anxious when one of the
officers leaned over the yacht's rail looking down on the launch.

"You seem to have a crowd of boys with you, Brinsley," he said.

The trader stepped back on to the _Palestrina_'s ladder. "I could do
with more. Those folks up river are loading me up with oil. Anyway,
I'd like a talk with you about that gin duty your clerk has
overcharged me."

Then he turned to a man in the launch below. "Go ahead," he said. "You
can tell Nevin he must send me that oil down if he works all to-morrow
night."

A negro shouted something back to him, and with engines clanking the
launch swept away up the misty river, while it was with relief Desmond
led Brinsley and his guests into the saloon where dinner was set out.



CHAPTER XXII

UNDER STRESS


When Desmond left him Ormsgill did not march directly east towards the
interior, but headed northwards for several days. There were reasons
which rendered the detour advisable, especially as he desired to avoid
the few scattered villages as much as possible, but he had occasion to
regret that he had made it. He pushed on as fast as possible until one
hot afternoon when the boys wearied with the march since early morning
lay down in the grass, and he wandered listlessly out of camp. Their
presence was irksome, and he wanted to be alone just then.

There are times when an unpleasant dejection fastens upon the white
man in that climate, and when he is in that state a very little is
usually sufficient to exasperate him. The boys were muttering drowsily
to one another, and Ormsgill felt he could not lie still and listen to
them. He had also a tangible reason for the bitterness he was troubled
with. Desmond had brought him no message from Ada Ratcliffe, and
though she had as he knew no sympathy with what he was doing and had
never shown him very much tenderness, it seemed to him that she might,
at least, have sent him a cheering word. It was, in view of what it
would cost him to keep faith with her, and that was a thing he
resolutely meant to do, a little disconcerting to feel that she did
not think of him at all.

In the meanwhile it was oppressively hot, and the air was very still.
His muscles seemed slack and powerless, his head ached, and the
perspiration dripped from him, but he wandered on until he reached a
spot where a little patch of jungle rose amidst a strip of tall grass
in the mouth of a shallow ravine. Ormsgill stood still in its shadow
and looked about him. Not a leaf shook, and there was not a movement
in the stagnant air. In front of him the patch of jungle cut harshly
green against the glaring blue of the sky, and beyond it there was
sun-baked soil and sand on the slopes of the ravine.

Then there was a flash in the shadow and one of his legs gave away. He
staggered and reeled crashing into a thicket, and when a minute later
he strove to raise himself out of it one leg felt numb beneath the
knee except for the spot where there was a stinging pain. Ormsgill
also felt more than a little faint and dizzy, and for a few moments
lay still again blinking about him. A wisp of blue smoke still hung
about the leaves, and he could hear a low crackling that grew fainter
as he listened. It was evident that the man who had shot him was bent
on getting away, and he made shift to roll up his thin duck trousers,
and looked down at his leg. There was a bluish mark in the middle of
the big muscle with a little dark blood about it, and he took out his
knife. He set his lips as he felt the point of it grate on something
hard, and then closed the knife and sat still again with a little
gasp of pain.

There was, he knew, a piece of the broken cooking pot the West African
usually loads his flintlock gun with embedded in his leg. That, at
least, was evident, but he did not know who had shot him, and, indeed,
was never any wiser on that point. It was, perhaps, a negro who had
supposed him to be a trader or official against whom he had some
grievance, but, after all, that seemed scarcely likely, and Ormsgill
fancied it was some dusky sportsman who had fired at a venture when he
heard a movement, and had then gone away as fast as possible when he
saw that he had hit a white man. This appeared the more probable
because they were not very far from the coast, where men do not often
attempt each other's life, and Ormsgill had only been struck by one
piece of iron.

In any case, the faintness was leaving him by the time the startled
boys came up and found him sitting in the shadow. It was evident that
the wound was not very serious in itself, but he realized that a man
could not expect to travel far in that climate with a piece of iron
rankling in his leg. Somebody must cut it out for him, and he did not
care to entrust any of his thick-headed carriers with the operation.
Without being much of a physiologist he knew that there are arteries
in one's leg which it is highly undesirable to sever. He also
recognized that while the thing was, perhaps, possible to one with
nerve enough, he could not get it out himself, which was, however,
rather more than one could reasonably have expected of a man born and
brought up in a state of civilization, for there are a few points on
which the primitive peoples excel us. Still, the life he had led had
made him hard, and when he had quieted the boys he bound up the wound,
and filling his pipe with hands that were tolerably steady, lay still
awhile to consider.

He could not push on towards the interior as he was, and there were,
he believed, one or two doctors in the city, which was not very far
away. He was aware that he was liable to be arrested there, but it
seemed possible that he might enter it unobserved at night and
purchase secrecy from any one who took him in. In such a case he would
be the safer because it was about the last spot in which those
interested in his capture would expect to come across him, and in a
few more minutes he had made up his mind. Though the hammock is not so
frequently used as a means of conveyance in that country where the
trek-ox is generally available as it is in most other parts of Western
Africa, he had provided himself with one.

"Get the hammock slung," he said. "We will go on towards the west when
you are ready."

Half an hour later the bearers hove the pole to their woolly crowns,
and plodded on again. They were not men of any great intelligence, and
were usually content to do what they were told without asking
questions, which was a custom that had its advantages. They had also
an unreasoning and half-instinctive confidence in the man who led
them, and in due time they plodded into sight of the town one night
when the muggy land breeze was blowing. Like other West African
towns, the place straggles up and back from the seaboard bluff, with
wide spaces between the houses, and nobody seemed stirring when
Ormsgill's boys marched into the outskirts of it. Remembering what the
priest of San Thome had told him of the man whose wife he had sent the
girl Anita to, he presently bade them stop outside the building which
stood well apart from the rest. Some of them were roofed with
corrugated iron, and some with picturesque tiles, but the top of this
one was flat, which Ormsgill was pleased to see. He recognized that it
was built in the older Iberian style which is not uncommon in Western
Africa and ensures the inmates privacy. There are no outbuildings
where this plan is adopted. The house stands four-square and
self-contained, presenting an almost unbroken wall to the outer world,
though there is usually an open patio in the midst of it. One of the
boys rapped upon a door, and when it was opened by a negro his
comrades unceremoniously marched down an arched passage under the
building until they reached the enclosed patio. Ormsgill had impressed
them with the fact that the most important thing was to get in.

Then lights appeared at one or two windows, and when a little,
olive-faced gentleman in white linen with a broad sash about his waist
came down the stairway from a veranda Ormsgill raised himself in the
lowered hammock.

"You will forgive this intrusion, Señor," he said.

The other man made him a little formal salutation. "I," he said dryly,
"await an explanation."

Ormsgill offered him one, and the little gentleman looked at him
thoughtfully for a moment or two.

"I have heard of you--from the fathers up yonder who are friends of
mine," he said. "Perhaps it is my duty to inform the Authorities that
you are here, but in the meanwhile that is a point on which I am not
quite certain. You can, at least, consider this house as yours until
we talk the matter over. The boys may sleep in the patio to-night, but
they will first carry you in."

They did it at Ormsgill's bidding, and left him sitting in a basket
chair in a big, cool room, after which his host brought in a few
cigars and a flask of wine.

"They are at your service, señor," he said. "I would suggest that you
give me a little more information. I am one who can, at least, now and
then respect a confidence."

Ormsgill looked at him steadily, and made up his mind. It was clear
that if his host meant to hand him over to the Authorities there was
nothing to prevent him doing so, and reticence did not appear likely
to serve any purpose, since he was wholly in his hands. He spoke for a
few minutes, and the other nodded.

"I think it was wise of you to tell me this," he said. "There are, I
may mention, others besides myself who desire to see certain changes
made in our administration, and they would, I think, sympathize with
you. Some of them are gentlemen of influence, but we have confidence
in Dom Clemente and another man of greater importance--and we are
waiting. To proceed, I think it would not be difficult to keep you
here awhile without anyone we would not wish to know becoming aware of
it. The thing is made easier by the fact that my wife and the girl
Anita are away, and my sister, who is very deaf and does not like
society, rules the household. Now if it is permissible I will examine
your leg."

He did so, and looked a trifle grave after it. "I know a little of
these matters, and it is advisable that this should be seen to," he
said. "Now the Portuguese doctor is not exactly a friend of mine, and
might ask questions as to how you got hurt and where you came from,
but there is a half-breed who I think is clever, and he would probably
refrain from mentioning anything that appeared unusual if he is
remunerated sufficiently. It is"--and he made a little expressive
gesture, "a thing he is accustomed to doing."

Ormsgill suggested that the man should be sent for early next morning,
and went to sleep an hour later in greater comfort than he had enjoyed
for a considerable time. He did not, however, sleep soundly, and was
awake when the half-breed doctor came into his room next morning. The
latter set to work and managed to extract the piece of iron, but
before nightfall the fever which had left him alone of late had
Ormsgill in its grip. It shook him severely during several days, and
then, as sometimes happens, left him suddenly, limp and nerveless in
mind and body. He was content to lie still and wait almost
unconcernedly. Nothing seemed to matter, and he felt that effort of
any kind was futile.

He lay one morning in this frame of mind when there were footsteps on
the veranda outside his door, and he heard a voice that sounded
curiously familiar. Then the door opened, and Benicia Figuera who came
into the room started when she saw him. Ormsgill, however, betrayed no
astonishment. He was too languid, and he lay still gravely watching
her. The sunlight that streamed in through the open door fell full
upon her, gleaming on her trailing white draperies and forcing up
bronze lights in her dusky hair. He did not see the faint tinge of
color that crept into the ivory of her cheek, but he vaguely noticed
the pity shining in her eyes. She seemed to him refreshingly cool and
reposeful.

He did not remember exactly what she said, though he fancied she
mentioned that she had some business with his host's sister, and he
had no recollection of his own observations, but he sank into tranquil
sleep when she went away and awoke refreshed, to wonder when she would
come back again. As it happened, she came next day, bringing him
choice fruits and wine, and it was by her instructions he was carried
out on the veranda above the patio where she sat and talked to him.
Her voice was low and tranquil, her mere presence soothing, and she
did not seem to mind when he grew drowsy. Once or twice again, when
she was not aware that he was watching her, he saw compassion in her
eyes. Afterwards, though this was not quite in accordance with Iberian
customs, she came for an hour or two frequently, and Ormsgill grew
curiously restless when she stayed away. Sometimes his host sat with
them and discoursed on politics, but more often he left his deaf
sister, who would wander away to superintend the dusky servants' lax
activities.

The house, like others of the same type, might have been built for a
fortress, and afforded those within it all the seclusion any one could
desire. One arched entrance pierced the tall white walls, which had a
few little windows with heavy green lattices set high in them. Within,
the building rose, tinted a faint pink and terraced with verandas
supported by tottering wooden pillars, about a quadrangular patio, and
it was characteristic that it was more or less ruinous. When the outer
windows were open the sea breeze blew through it, and sitting in cool
shadow one could hear the drowsy murmur of the surf. Ormsgill found
the latter inexpressibly soothing when Benicia sat near him, and he
would lie still contentedly listening to her and watching the shadow
creep across the patio. Weak as he was in body, with his mind relaxed,
he allowed no misgivings to trouble him. He was vaguely grateful for
her presence as a boon that had been sent him without his request, and
whether Benicia understood his attitude, or what she thought of it,
did not appear.

That was at first, however, and by degrees he took himself to task as
his strength came back, until in the hot darkness of one sleepless
night he realized towards what all this was leading him. As it
happened, Benicia did not appear the next day, and he had nerved
himself for an effort by the one that followed. He had an interview
with his host and the half-breed doctor, who both protested, and then
lay waiting for the girl in a state of tense expectancy. He recognized
now what it was most fitting that he should do, but that, after all,
is a good deal less than half the battle. It was late in the afternoon
when she came, and the first glance showed her that there was a change
in Ormsgill.

He lay in a canvas lounge smiling gravely, but he had dressed himself
more precisely than usual, and there was a suggestion of resolution in
his haggard face which had not been there before. There was also
something in his eyes which conveyed the impression that the
resolution had cost him an effort, and Benicia laid a certain
restraint upon herself, for she knew what had happened. The days in
which he had leaned upon her and permitted her unquestioningly to
minister to his comfort had, undoubtedly been pleasant, but, after
all, she had not expected them to continue.

"You are stronger to-day," she said, with a composure that was a
little difficult to assume, as she took a chair beside him.

"I am," said Ormsgill quietly. "In fact I have been getting stronger
rapidly of late, and I am glad of it. You see, I have been blissfully
idle for a while and I have a good deal to do."

Benicia knew what was coming, but she smiled. "You are sure of that?"
she said. "I mean, you still think it is your business?"

"Perhaps it's a little absurd of me, but I do. Anyway, I don't know of
anybody else who is willing to undertake it."

"Ah," said Benicia, "would it matter greatly if it was not done, after
all? There are so many things one would have altered in Africa--and
they still go on. It is possible that nobody will ever succeed in
changing them."

It was, though she was, perhaps, not aware of this, a very strong
argument she used, one whose force is now and then instinctively
realized by every thinking white man in the western half of Africa,
and in other parts as well. It is a land that has absorbed many
civilizations and continued in its barbarism. Nature unsubdued is
against the white man there, and against her tremendous forces his
most strenuous efforts are of little avail. Where the air reeks with
germs of pestilence and there are countless leagues of swamps breeding
corruption, one can expect very little from a few scattered hospitals
and an odd mile of drains. Besides, there is in the lassitude born of
its steamy heat something that insidiously saps away the white man's
will until he feels that effort of any kind is futile, and that in the
land of the shadow it is wiser to leave things as they are.

Ormsgill nodded gravely. "Yes," he said, "one recognizes that, but,
you see, I don't expect to do very much--merely to keep a promise, and
set a few thick-headed heathen at liberty. I think I could accomplish
that."

"Why should you wish to set them at liberty?"

"It's a trifle difficult to answer," and Ormsgill laughed. "After all,
the motive is probably to some extent a personal one. Anyway, it's not
a thing I have any occasion to inflict on you. There was a time when
you didn't adopt this attitude, but sympathized with me."

The girl made a little gesture. "I would like to understand. You and
Desmond have all that most men wish for. Why are you risking your life
and health in Africa?"

A curious little smile crept into Ormsgill's eyes. "Well," he said
reflectively, "there are respects in which one's possessions are apt
to become burdensome. They seem to carry so many obligations along
with them that one falls into bondage under them, and I think some of
us are rebels born. We feel we must make our little protest, if it's
only by doing the thing everybody else considers reprehensible."

He stopped a moment, and his face grew a trifle grim when he went on
again. "In my case it must be made now since I shall probably never
have an opportunity of doing anything of the kind again."

Benicia understood him, for she had watched Miss Ratcliffe carefully
at Las Palmas. In fact, she had understood him all along. That he
should shrink from any claim to philanthropy was only what she had
expected from him, and it was also characteristic that he should have
made as little as possible of his motives. Admitting that he had to
some extent been swayed by the rebellious impulse he had mentioned,
she knew there was beneath it a chivalrous purpose that was likely to
prove the more effective from its practical simplicity. The Latins can
appreciate chivalry, though they do not invariably practice it now,
and she realized vaguely that there is nothing in man more knightly
than the desire to strike a blow for the oppressed or at his peril to
redress a wrong. Ormsgill's sentiments and methods were, perhaps, a
trifle crude, and, from one point of view, somewhat old fashioned. He
did not preach a crusade, but couched the lance himself. After all, he
belonged to a nation which had once, using crude effective means,
swept the slavers off that coast, and still stamps its coinage with
the George and Dragon.

It was, however, after all, not so much as a redresser of grievances
and a friend of the oppressed, but as a man that Benicia regarded her
companion, for she knew that she loved him. She said nothing, and in a
minute or two he spoke again.

"There is a thing that has been on my mind the last few days," he
said. "The fever must have left me too shaky to think of it before. I
am afraid, though it was very pleasant to see you, I haven't quite
kept faith with your father in allowing you to come and talk with me.
You, of course, don't understand exactly how the Authorities regard
me."

Benicia smiled a little, for she understood very well. "I don't think
that counts," she said, "and what is, perhaps, more to the purpose, my
father is not here; he has gone, I believe, on business of the State,
into the bush country. If you had remembered earlier you would have
been anxious to send me away?"

She leaned forward looking at him, and saw the tension in his face. It
told her a good deal, and she felt that for all his resolution she
could, if she wished, bend him to her will.

"No," he said, "I'm not sure I could have done it if I had wished. In
fact, the week--is it a week?--I have lain here has been such a one as
I have never spent before. Now I am horribly sorry that it is over."

There was something in his voice which fully bore out what he had
said, but Benicia was aware that it was she who had forced the
admission from him without his quite realizing its significance. She
knew that he would speak more plainly still if she kept her eyes on
him.

"It is over? You can countenance no more of my visits, then?" she
asked.

"I am," said Ormsgill gravely, "going away again before to-morrow."

Benicia sat very quiet, and contrived that he did not see her face for
a moment or two. She had, at least, not expected this, and it sent a
thrill of dismay through her. Steady as his voice was, she was aware
that the simple announcement had cost the man a good deal.

"You are not strong enough for the journey yet," she said at length.
"It would not be safe."

Ormsgill smiled in a curious wry fashion. "It does not require much
strength to lie still in a hammock, and I shall no doubt get a little
more every day. Besides, I almost think there is a certain danger
here. In fact, it would be safer for me up yonder in the bush."

Benicia was quite aware that he was not thinking chiefly of the danger
of arrest, and again a little thrill that was no longer altogether one
of dismay ran through her. He was, it seemed, afraid of sinking wholly
under her influence. Again she leaned a little forward, and laid her
hand upon his arm.

"You must go? Would nothing keep you here--at least until you are fit
to travel?" she asked.

She saw his lips set for a moment, and the tinge of grayness creep
into his face. Then, with a visible effort, he laid a restraint upon
himself.

"If I do not go," he said simply, "I should be ashamed the rest of my
life. Perhaps, that would not matter so much, but, as it happens, one
can't always bear his shame himself."

Benicia turned a little in her chair, and let her hand fall back
again. She knew that if she chose to exert her power he would not go
at all, but it was probably fortunate that she did not choose. After
all, she was a lady of importance in that land, and had the pride of
her station in her. Though he loved her, she would not stoop to claim
him against his will, and, what was more, she had a vague perception
of the fact that he was right. A wrong done could not be wiped out by
the mere wish to obliterate it, and she felt that if he broke faith
with the Englishwoman in Las Palmas and slackly turned back from the
task which he, at least, fancied was an obligation upon him, there
might come a time when the fact would stand between them and she would
remember the stain upon his shield. She hated the Englishwoman with
Latin sincerity, but in this case her pride saved her from a fall.
There are other people who owe their pride a good deal.

"Then," she said slowly, "one can only tell you to go. Some time,
perhaps, you will come back again?"

She rose, and Ormsgill with an effort stood up awkwardly, and taking
the hand she held out held it a moment. "I do not know," he said with
a faint trace of hoarseness. "It is not often possible for one to do
what one would wish, and there are--duties--laid on me. Still, if it
should be possible--" He broke off for a moment, and then went on
again in a different tone very quietly, "In the meanwhile I must thank
you. I owe you a good deal."

He watched her go down the stairway, and then leaned on the balustrade
for awhile wondering vaguely what would have happened if he had flung
off all restraint and let himself go. He did not know that while he
was nearest to doing so Benicia Figuera had laid a restraint on him,
and that had she permitted it he would have rushed headlong to a fall.
There are times when the strength of a usually resolute man is apt to
prove a snare to him. Then he sat down wearily in the canvas chair
again, and when the land breeze swept through the city that night he
and his handful of carriers slipped quietly out of it.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE SLACKENING OF RESTRAINT


A half moon had just sailed up above the shoulder of a hill, and its
pale light streamed into the veranda of the little mission house which
stood in a rift of the great scarp where the high inland plateau
breaks down to the levels of the sun-scorched littoral. The barren
hillslopes round about it were streaked with belts of gleaming sand,
and above them scrubby forests, destitute of anything that man or
beast could eat, rolled back to the vast marshes of the western
watershed, but the bottom of the deep valley was green and fertile as
a garden. It had, however, only been made so by patient labor, for
even in the tropics there is no escape from the primeval ban. It is by
somebody's tense effort that man is provided with his daily bread, and
where he labors least he lives most like the animals, for nature
unsubdued is very rarely bountiful. She sends thorns and creepers to
choke the young plantations, and the forest invades the clearing when
the planter stays his hand. But in Western Africa the white man sees
that the negro fights the ceaseless battle for him. It is, in his
opinion, what the black man was made for, and those who know by what
methods he obtains and controls his dusky laborers in certain tracts
of the dark land wonder now and then why such things are permitted
and if there will never be a reckoning. That is, however, only one
aspect of a very old question, and it is admittedly difficult to be an
optimist in Africa.

Still, there was, for the time being, at least, quietness and good
will in that lonely rift among the hills, and Nares, sitting on the
mission house veranda in the moonlight, felt its beneficent influence,
though he was suffering from that most exasperating thing the prickly
heat, which had, as it frequently does, followed a slight attack of
fever. Two patient men from his own country sat with him, and it was
clear that their toil had not been in vain. He could see the
sprinkling of white blossom on the trees beneath him that bore green
limes, and beyond these were rows of mangoes, coffee plants, and sweet
potato vines, but the huts of the dusky converts were silent and
hidden among the leaves. There was no sound but the soft murmur of
running water. A deep serenity brooded over it all.

"A garden!" he said. "In this country one could call it a garden of
the Lord."

The elder of his two companions smiled, for he had shrewdness as well
as faith.

"Thanks in part, at least, to our mountain wall," he said. "We lie
several leagues from the only road, and that is not a much frequented
one. There is, most fortunately, little commerce in this strip of
country, and the great roads lie as you know far to the south of us.
Still, I sometimes wonder how we have been left alone so long, and we
have had our warnings."

"Herrero now and then comes up this way?"

The missionary nodded. "He is the thorn in our side," he said.
"Domingo, his associate, as of course you know, rambles through the
back country. There is no one else to cause us anxiety, but Herrero
has an old grudge against us. There were villages in these valleys
when he first came here, and he swept them almost clean. We gathered
up the remnant of the people, and now they will not buy his rum from
him."

"If the news we got with our last supplies is correct he can not be
more than a few days' march away," the younger man broke in. "I have
been wondering how often he will pass us by. Some day he will come
down on us. It's a sure thing."

Nares straightened himself a trifle. He had for several years borne
almost all a man could bear and live through in that land, and after
he left Ormsgill had fled inland, proscribed, finding no safety
anywhere until his countrymen at their peril had offered him shelter
at the mission. Besides, he had fever and prickly heat, which tries
the meekest white man's patience, and it was New England stock he
sprang from. He was a Puritan by birth as well as training, of the old
grim Calvinistic strain, and his forbears had believed that the sword
of the Lord is now and then entrusted to human hands. In that faith
they had faced their king at Naseby, and in later days and another
land held their own at Bunker Hill, and again crushed the Southern
slave-owners' riflemen. It awoke once more deep down in the heart of
their descendant as he sat on the mission veranda that night.

"What will you do then?" he said. "It sometimes seems to me that we
have borne enough. One could almost wonder if there is anything more
than prudence in our non-resistance. That alone seldom carries one
very far."

A faint sparkle crept into the eyes of the younger man, for there was
also a capacity for righteous wrath in him, but his elder companion
raised a restraining hand.

"What can we do that will not bring down trouble on our followers'
heads?" he asked.

Nares had not slept for several nights, and that coming on top of his
other troubles had its effect on him, for he was, after all, very
human, and the white man's self-restraint is apt to grow feeble in
that land where his passions usually grow strong. Now and then,
indeed, it breaks down altogether suddenly.

"Somebody must suffer for every reform," he said. "It seems that a
sacrifice is demanded, and the ban is upon us still. Here, at least,
the cost of man's progress is the shedding of blood." Then he made a
little forceful gesture. "They are arming in the bush. In another
month or two there will be very grim doings at San Roque."

The older man changed the subject abruptly. "You have your own course
to consider. Have you come to a decision yet? I almost think if you
surrendered to a responsible officer the Society has influence enough
to secure your acquittal. After all, there are a few honest men upon
the coast."

Nares looked at him with a curious little smile. "It is possible that
I might escape with my liberty, but not until those who hate us had
blackened my character and flung discredit upon the aims and methods
of the men who sent me here. Is my acquittal worth what it would cost
your Society? Would the folks down yonder miss such an opportunity as
my trial would afford them of making us out political intriguers and
destroyers of authority?"

He broke off for a moment, and laughed softly. "Still, they can't very
well have a trial without a prisoner, and I shall wait in the bush
until Ormsgill overtakes me. I have left word for him here and there
with men who I think will not betray me."

"Why shouldn't you stay here?" asked the younger man.

"And bring the authorities down upon you? You know the cost of
harboring me. Still, I will wait a day or two. Ormsgill must go inland
by the road through the next valley, and if he has escaped the troops,
there should be news of him any hour now."

The others said nothing further. They knew those in authority had,
perhaps, naturally little love for them, and would make the most of
the opportunity if it became evident that they had sheltered a
proscribed man. After all, they had a duty to their flock and the men
who had sent them out. Nares, who guessed their thoughts, smiled at
them.

"It is all decided," he said. "When Ormsgill comes up I, believing as
I do in the straitest teaching of the Geneva fathers, am going into
the interior with him to accomplish the work he has undertaken for
the repose of the soul of the rum trader Lamartine."

Again his companions made no answer. After all, the creeds now and
then grow vague in Africa, or, perhaps, in the anguish of life in the
dark land they are purged of their narrowness and amplified. Besides
this, it was evident that Nares was a trifle off his balance. There
was silence for the next half hour. One of the men had toiled with the
hoe among his flock that day, and the other had come back from a long
march to a native village. The night was clear and cool and
wonderfully still, and the peace of the garden valley crept in on
them. One could almost have fancied the mission had been translated
far from Africa, where tranquillity that is not tempered with
apprehension seldom lasts very long. Then a sharp cry, harsh with
human pain and terror, rang out of the soft darkness, and the man in
charge of the station rose quietly from his chair.

"Herrero's men are here. Our time has come at last," he said.

The others rose with him, and stood very still for a moment or two
listening until the cry arose again more shrilly, and there was a
clamor among the unseen huts. The crash of a long flintlock gun broke
through it, and in the midst of the uproar they heard a patter of
naked feet. Half-seen shadowy figures swept past among the leaves, and
a red glare that grew momentarily brighter leapt up behind the mango
trees.

"Herrero's men," said the older man again, as though in the bitterness
of the moment that was all that occurred to him.

They followed him down the stairway, though none of them knew what
they meant to do, and, while now and then a half-naked figure dashed
past them, down a narrow path between the trees, until the thatched
roofs of the village rose close in front of them. One of them was
blazing fiercely, and in another few minutes they saw a little group
of dusky figures scurrying to and fro with burdens in the glare. A man
among the latter also saw the newcomers, for apparently in drunken
bravado he flung up a long gun, and there was a flash and a detonation
as he fired at random. Nares saw him clearly, a big, brawny man
swaying half-naked on his feet with short cotton draperies hanging
from his waist, and his truculence was a guide to his profession. He
was one of the hired ruffians who escort the labor recruits to the
coast, and the African has no more grievous oppressor than the negro
who acts as the white man's deputy.

Still, the missionaries saw very little more just then, for at the
flash of the gun a swarm of terror-stricken boys who had been lurking
there broke out from the shadow of the outlying huts, and swept madly
up the path. Nares ran forward to meet them, calling to them in a
native tongue, but it was not evident that they understood him, for
they ran on. He felt one of his comrade's hands upon his shoulder, but
he shook it off, and clutched at one of the flying men nearest him. He
was overwrought that night, and his patience had gone. An unreasoning
fury of indignation came upon him, and in the midst of it he
remembered that it was most unlikely Herrero's boys would do more
than attempt to overawe any one who might venture to resist them with
their guns. Yet here was a flock of sturdy men flying in wild panic
from a handful of ruffians. Perhaps this was natural. The men had seen
what came of resistance, and had been taught drastically that it was
wisest to submit to the white man and those whom he permitted to
persecute them.

In any case, Nares's efforts availed him nothing, for the crowd of
fugitives surged about him and his companions and bore them along.
They could neither make head against it nor struggle clear, and were
jostled against each other and driven forward until the crowd grew
thinner abreast of the mission house where several paths that led to
the hillslopes and the bush branched off. Then at last they reeled out
from among the negroes, and while they stood gasping, Nares looked at
the man in charge of the station with a question in his eyes. The
latter made a little gesture of resignation.

"That is certainly Herrero's work, and I think he has given them rum,
but there is nothing we can do," he said. "They may burn a hut or two,
but they can be built again, and the boys--I am thankful--have taken
to the bush. We will go back to the house."

This was not exactly to Nares' mind, but he recognized that there was
wisdom in it, and they went up the little stairway and sat down once
more upon the veranda. Now and then a hoarse shouting reached them,
and the glare of burning thatch grew brighter, but nobody came near to
trouble them. After all, a missionary's color counted for something,
and it was a perilous thing for a negro who had not direct authority
to meddle with him. Still, the older man's face was troubled.

"They will go away by and by, and there is, fortunately, very little
in the huts," he said. "There is only one thing I am anxious about.
Our store shed stands in a thicket among the trees yonder close
beneath us. We built it there not to be conspicuous, and they may not
notice it, but it is only a few weeks since our supplies came
in--drugs and cloth, besides tools, and goods that we could not
replace."

Nares made a little gesture of comprehension. He knew that the
finances of the stations in that country are usually somewhat
strained, and that when supplies went missing on the journey from the
coast, as they sometimes did, the efforts of those they were intended
for were apt to be crippled for many months.

"The place is locked?" he said.

"It is," said the younger man with a little smile. "After all, the
boys are human. The door and building are strong enough, and the roof
is iron. They can not burn it."

Nares glanced at his older companion and saw that there was still
concern in his face. Half an hour dragged by, and they sat still
struggling with the uneasiness that grew upon them. There was less
shouting in the village, and the fire was evidently dying down, but
now and then a hoarse clamor reached then. Nares felt that to sit
there and do nothing was a very hard thing. At last the younger man
pushed his chair back sharply.

"I think they have found where the store shed is. They are coming
here," he said.

"I wonder who has told them," said his companion.

A patter of feet grew nearer, and Nares felt his mouth grow dry as he
forced himself to sit still and listen, until several shadowy figures
flitted out from among the trees. Then the older man's question was
answered, for one of them dragged a Mission boy along with him. He
carried a hide whip in one hand, and turned towards the veranda with a
truculent laugh as he brought it down on his captive's quivering
limbs.

"Ah," said the younger man with sharp incisiveness, "I do not think
one could blame that boy."

More figures appeared behind the others, and they flitted across the
strip of open space towards the store shed, after which there were
hoarse shouts and a sound of hammering which ceased again. Then
Herrero's boys came back by twos and threes, big, muscular negroes
with short draperies fluttering from their hips, some of them lurching
drunkenly. Three or four also carried long flintlock guns, and the one
who had the whip still dragged the Mission boy along. They stopped in
the clear space beneath the house, and Nares, who felt his heart beat,
set his lips tight as one of them strode forward to the foot of the
short veranda stairway. He was almost naked, and for a moment or two
the white men sat still, and looked at him. It was, they felt, just
possible that at the last moment his assurance would fail him.
Perhaps, he understood what they were thinking, for he made a little
contemptuous gesture.

"We want the key to the store," he said in halting Portuguese.

Then Nares turned to the head of the station. "You mean to give it
him?"

"No," said the older man simply. "If they are able to break into the
shed I can not help it, but, at least, I will do nothing to make it
easier for them. I am the Society's steward and these goods are
entrusted to me."

Nares looked at his younger companion, and saw a little smile in his
eyes. It was clear that force would be useless, even if they had been
willing to resort to it, but passive resistance was not forbidden
them, and while apt to prove perilous it might avail, since it was
scarcely probable that Herrero's boys could find the key. Then the
younger man turned to the negro.

"We will never give you the key," he said.

"Then we will come and take it," said the man below.

He signed to his companions, and when three or four of them gathered
about him clamoring excitedly Nares felt his blood tingle and his face
grow hot. Perhaps it was the fever working in him, and he was
certainly overwrought, and, perhaps, it was a subconscious awakening
of the white man's pride. After all, the men of his color held
dominion, and it was an intolerable thing that one of them should
submit to personal indignity at a negro's hand. A little quiver ran
through him, but his restraint did not break down until the big
truculent negro came up the stairway and laid a greasy black hand upon
the shoulder of the worn and haggard man who ruled the station. He
shook him roughly, grinning as he did it, and then Nares' self-control
suddenly left him. Swinging forward on his left foot he struck at the
middle of the heavy, animal face, and the negro staggering went
backwards down the stairway. Then with the sting of his knuckles a
change came over Nares, for the passions he had long held in stern
subjection were suddenly unloosed. At last he had broken down under a
tension that had been steadily growing intolerable, and he turned on
his persecutors as other men of his faith have done. When men of that
kind strike they strike shrewdly.

There was also a change in the negroes' attitude. They had maltreated
their own countrymen at their will, but they had as yet never laid
hands upon a white man. Perhaps, it was the rum Herrero had given them
which had stirred their courage, and, perhaps, they regarded a
missionary as a good-humored fool who had for some inconceivable
reason flung the white man's prerogative away. In any case, they were
coming up the stairway, three or four of them, and now the first man
carried a matchet, an instrument which resembles an old-fashioned
cutlass. Nares, who asked for no directions, sprang into the room
behind him where one of the trestle cots not unusual in that country
stood. It had a stout wooden frame, and he rent one bar from the
canvas laced to it. In another moment he was back at the head of the
stairway where the man in charge of the station stood, frail, and
haggard, but very quiet, with his thin jacket rent open where the
negro had seized him. A foot or two below him the man with the matchet
was coming up, naked to the waist, and half-crazed with rum. Nares
could see his eyes in the moonlight, and that was enough.

He swung the bar high with both hands, and it descended on the negro's
crown. The man went backwards, but another who carried a long gun
sprang over him, and the heavy bar came crashing down on his naked
arm. Then it whirled again, and there was a curious thud as it left
its mark upon a dusky face. There was a clamor from the men below, a
gasp behind Nares, and a folded canvas chair struck the next negro on
the breast. He, too, lost his balance, and in another moment the
stairway was empty except for one of the dusky men who lay still upon
the lower steps of it. Nares stood on the veranda, with a suffused
face, and the perspiration dripping from him, and smiled curiously
when the man in charge of the station glanced at him with wonder and a
vague reproof in his eyes.

"I am not sure that I have anything to regret," he said. "They are
coming back again."

Herrero's boys were once more at the foot of the stairway, trampling
on their comrade as they scrambled over him, but there were now two
men with extemporized weapons at the head of it who stood above them
and had them at a disadvantage. Nares was, however, never quite clear
as to what happened during the next few minutes, for an unreasoning
fury came upon him, and he saw only the woolly heads and dusky faces
as he gasped and smote, though he was vaguely conscious that now and
then a shattered chair somebody whirled by the legs swung above his
head. Then a long gun flashed, and the detonation was answered by a
sharper, ringing crash. One of Herrero's boys screamed shrilly, and
the half-naked figures went scrambling down the stairway. They had
scarcely floundered clear of it when a man in white duck appeared in
the space below, and flung up a rifle, and another of the boys who
went down headlong lay writhing horribly in the sand. After that there
was a shouting and a patter of flying feet, and further dusky men with
matchets and Snider rifles poured out of the path that wound down the
hillside. Nares quietly laid the bar he held against the wall, and
turned to the others with a gasp.

"It's Ormsgill," he said.



CHAPTER XXIV

BENICIA MAKES A BARGAIN


Except for the two unsightly objects that lay in the soft moonlight,
there was no sign of Herrero's boys when Ormsgill walked up the
stairway with a rifle in his hand. A little smoke curled from the
breech which he opened before he shook hands with Nares.

"It's fortunate I knew where you were, and came round to pick you up,"
he said, and turned to the head of the station, who leaned upon the
balustrade apparently shaken and bewildered by what had happened.

"I came up behind Herrero most of the way, and when there were signs
that we were getting closer I sent one of my boys on to creep in upon
his camp two or three days ago. From what he told me when he came back
I fancied there was mischief on foot, and I pushed on as fast as
possible. Considering everything, it seems just as well I did."

The other man appeared unwilling to let his gaze wander beyond the
veranda, which was in one way comprehensible. There was shrinking in
his face, and his voice was strained and hoarse.

"It was so sudden--it has left me a trifle dazed," he said. "I am
almost afraid the trouble is not over yet."

Ormsgill smiled reassuringly. "I scarcely think--you--have any cause
to worry. There is no doubt that Herrero inspired his boys, and
attempts of this kind, as no doubt you are aware, have been made on
mission stations before, but it's certain he would disclaim all
knowledge of what they meant to do, and will be quite content to let
the matter go no further. That is, at least, so far as anybody
connected with the Mission is concerned."

"I am afraid he may find some means of laying the blame on you."

"It is quite likely," and Ormsgill laughed. "After all, it's a thing
I'm used to, and, you see, I'm proscribed already. As it happens, so
is Nares. He should never have left me. I have no doubt Herrero, who
has friends in authority, will endeavor to make him regret his share
in to-night's proceedings."

Nares glanced at one of the rigid figures that lay beneath him in the
moonlight. He saw the naked black shoulders, and the soiled white
draperies that had fallen apart from the ebony limbs, and a little
shiver ran through him. The heat of the conflict had vanished now, and
the pale light showed that his face was drawn and gray.

"I struck that man," he said. "I don't know what possessed me, but I
think I meant to kill him. In one way, the thing is horrible."

"Well," said Ormsgill dryly, "it is also very natural. The impulse you
seem to shrink from is lurking somewhere in most of us. In any case,
the man is certainly dead. I looked at him as I came up."

He stopped a moment, and leaned somewhat heavily upon the balustrade
with his eyes fixed on the dusky form of the negro. "The meanest thing
upon this earth is the man who sides with the oppressor and tramples
on his own kind. Still, though I think what I did was warranted, that
was not why I shot those men. One doesn't always reason about these
matters, as I fancy you understand."

He turned, and looked at Nares who, after a momentary shrinking,
steadily met his gaze. The man was wholly honest, and the thing was
clear to him. He had struck at last, shrewdly, in a righteous cause,
and nobody could have blamed him, but, as had happened in his
comrade's case, human bitterness had also nerved the blow.

"Well," he said slowly, "you and I, at least, will probably have to
face the results of it."

Again Ormsgill laughed, but a little glint crept into his eyes. "As I
pointed out, we are both of us outlawed, with the hand of every white
man in this country against us, but we have still a thing to do, and
somehow I almost think it will be done."

Then he turned to the man in charge of the Mission. "Nares is coming
away with me. There are several reasons that make it advisable. It is
very unlikely that anybody will trouble you further about this affair,
and if the blame is laid on us it can't greatly matter. The score
against one of us is a tolerably long one already--and if my luck
holds out it may be longer. There is just another point. Shall I take
those two boys below away for you?"

"No," said the other man quietly. "There is, at least, one duty we owe
them."

Ormsgill made a little gesture. "The bones of their victims lie thick
along each trail to the interior, but, after all, that is probably a
thing for which they will not be held responsible. In the meanwhile,
there are one or two reasons why I should outmarch Herrero if it can
be done. When Nares is ready we will go on again."

Nares was ready in a few minutes, and shaking hands with the two men
who went down the veranda stairway with them, they struck into the
path that led up the steep hillside. Ormsgill's boys plodded after
them, but when they reached the crest of the ridge that overhung the
valley Nares sat down, gasping, in the loose white sand, and looked
down on the shadowy mission. He could see its pale lights blinking
among the leaves.

"It stands for a good deal that I have done with," he said. "It is a
strange and almost bewildering thing to feel oneself adrift."

"Still," said Ormsgill, "now and then the bonds of service gall."

Nares made a little gesture. "Often," he said. "Perhaps I was not
worthy to wear the uniform and march under orders with the rank and
file, but I think the Church Militant has, after all, a task for the
free companies which now and then push on ahead of her regular
fighting line."

"They march light," said Ormsgill. "That counts for a good deal. It
has once or twice occurred to me that the authorized divisions are a
little cumbered by their commissariat and baggage wagons."

Nares sighed. "Well," he said softly, "every one must, at least now
and then, leave a good deal that he values or has grown attached to
behind him." He stopped a moment, and then asked abruptly, "You have
heard from the girl at Las Palmas. Desmond would bring you letters?"

"No," said Ormsgill, "not a word. She had no sympathy with my
project--that she should have was hardly to be expected. One must
endeavor to be reasonable."

"There must have been a time when you expected--everything."

Ormsgill sat silent a minute or two, and while he did so a moving
light blinked among the trees below. It stopped at length, and negro
voices came up faintly with the thud of hastily plied shovels. It
seemed that the terrified converts were coming back and the
missionaries had already set them a task. Ormsgill knew what it was,
but he looked down at the rifle that glinted in the moonlight across
his knee with eyes that were curiously steady. The thing he had done
had been forced upon him. Then he turned to his companion, and though
he was usually a reticent man he spoke what was in his mind that
night.

"There certainly was such a time," he said. "No doubt it has come to
others. For five long years I held fast by the memory of the girl I
had left in England, and I think there were things it saved me from.
Somehow there was always a vague hope that one day I might go back to
her--and for that reason I kept above the foulest mire. One goes under
easily here in Africa. Then at last the thing became possible."

He broke off, and laughed, a curious little laugh, before he went on
again.

"I went back. Whether she was ever what I thought her I do not
know--perhaps, I had expected impossibilities--or those five years had
made a change. We had not an idea that was the same, and the world she
lives in is one that has grown strange to me. They think me slightly
crazy--and it is perfectly possible that they are right. Men do lose
their mental grip in Africa."

Nares made a little gesture which vaguely suggested comprehension and
sympathy before he looked at his comrade with a question in his eyes.

"Yes," said Ormsgill quietly, "I am going on. After all, I owe the
girl I thought she was a good deal--and to plain folks there is safety
in doing the obvious thing." His voice softened a little. "It may be
hard for her--in fact when I went back she probably had a good deal to
bear with too. One grows hard and bitter when he has lived with the
outcasts as I have done."

Nares understood that he meant what other men called duty by the
obvious thing, but the definition, which he felt was characteristic of
the man, pleased him. He was one who could, at least, recognize the
task that was set before him, and, as it happened, he once more made
this clear when he rose and called to the boys who had flung
themselves down on the warm white sand.

"Well," he said, "we have now to outmarch Herrero, and there is a good
deal to be done."

They went on, Ormsgill limping a little, for his wound still pained
him, and vanished into the shadows of the bush, two weary,
climate-worn men who had malignant nature and, so far as they knew,
the malice of every white man holding authority in that country
against them. Still, at least, their course was clear, and in the
meanwhile they asked for nothing further.

It also happened one afternoon while they pushed on through shadowy
forest and steaming morass that a little and very ancient gunboat
crept along the sun-scorched coast. Her white paint, although very far
from fresh, gleamed like ivory on the long dazzling swell that changed
to a shimmering sliding green in her slowly moving shadow, for she was
steaming eight knots, and rolling viciously. Benicia Figuera, who swung
in a hammock hung low beneath her awnings, did not, however, seem to
mind the erratic motion. She was watching the snowy fringe of
crumbling surf creep by, though now and then her eyes sought the far,
blue hills that cut the skyline. Her thoughts were with the man who
was wandering in the dim forests that crept through the marshes beyond
them.

By and by she aroused herself, and looked up with a smile at the man
who strolled towards her along the deck. She had met him before at
brilliant functions in Portugal where he was a man of importance, and
he had come on board in state a few hours earlier from a little
sweltering town above a surf-swept beach whose citizens had seriously
strained its finances to do him honor. He was dressed simply in plain
white duck, a little, courtly gentleman, with the look of one who
rules in his olive-tinted face. He sat down in a deck chair near the
girl.

"After all, it is a relief to be at sea," he said. "One has quietness
there."

Benicia laughed. "Quietness," she said, "is a thing you can hardly be
accustomed to Señor. Besides, you are in one way scarcely
complimentary to the citizens yonder."

"Ah," said her companion, "it seems they expect something from me and
it is to be hoped that when they get it some of them will not be
disappointed. I almost think," and he waved a capable hand, "that
before I am recalled they will not find insults bad enough for me."

Benicia felt that this was quite possible. Her companion was she knew
a strong man as well as an upright one, who had been sent out not long
ago with ample powers to grapple with one or two of the questions
which then troubled that country. It was also significant that while
he was known as a judicious and firm administrator his personal views
on the points at issue had not been proclaimed. Benicia had, however,
guessed them correctly, and she took it as a compliment that he had
given her a vague hint of them. Perhaps, he realized it, for he
watched her for a moment with a shrewd twinkle in his dark eyes.

"Señorita," he said, "I almost think you know what I was sent out here
to do. One could, however, depend upon Benicia Figuera considering it
a confidence."

The girl glanced out beneath the awnings across the sun-scorched
littoral towards the blue ridge of the inland plateau before she
answered him.

"Yes," she said, "it was to cleanse this stable. I almost think you
will find it a strong man's task."

Her companion made a gesture of assent. "It is, at least, one for
which I need a reliable broom--and I am fortunate in having one
ready."

"Ah," said Benicia, "you of course mean my father. Well, I do not
think he will fail you, and though he has not actually told me so, I
fancy he has, at least, been making preparations for the sweeping."

The man looked at her and smiled, but when a moving shaft of sunlight
struck him as the steamer rolled she saw the deep lines on his face
and the gray in his hair. He, as it happened, saw the little gleam of
pride in her eyes, and then the light swung back again and they were
once more left in the shadow. Yet in that moment a subtle elusive
something that was both comprehension and confidence had been
established between them.

"Dom Clemente," he said, "is a man I have a great regard for. There is
a good deal I owe him, as he may have told you."

"He has told me nothing."

The man spread his hands out. "After all, it was to be expected. He
and I were comrades, Señorita, before you were born, and there was a
time when I made a blunder which it seemed must spoil my career. There
was only one man who could save me and that at the hazard of his own
future, but one would not expect such a fact to count with your
father. Dom Clemente smiled at the peril and the affair was arranged
satisfactorily."

Again he made a little grave gesture. "It happened long ago, and now
it seems I am to bring trouble on him again. Still, the years have not
changed him. He does not hesitate, but I feel I must ask your
forbearance, Señorita. You have, perhaps, seen what sometimes happens
when one does one's duty."

Benicia smiled, a little bitterly. "Yes," she said, "I know that the
man who is so rash as to attempt it in this country is usually
recalled in disgrace. Still, it is not a thing that happens very
frequently. Dom Clemente is to be made the scapegoat."

"I think," said the man gravely, "I may be strong enough to save him
that. It is possible, as I have told him, that he will be
recalled--but what he has done will stand."

He spoke at last as a ruler, with authority, and a trace of sternness
in his eyes, but his face changed again.

"Señorita," he said, "if it happens, I think you will not grudge it,
or blame me."

The girl saw the opportunity she had been waiting for. "As you have
admitted, you owe my father something, and now you have asked
something more. Is it not conceivable that you owe me a little, too. I
am an influence here--and it would be different in Lisbon if Dom
Clemente was sent home again. Besides, sometimes he will listen to me.
Now and then a woman has made a change in a man's policy, and, though
it is a little more difficult when the man is one's father, it might
be done again."

"Ah," said her companion, "you wish to make a bargain."

"It would be too great a condescension, Señor," and Benicia laughed.
"I want a promise that is to be unconditional. Some day, perhaps, I
shall ask you to do something for me. Then you will do it whatever it
is."

The man looked up at her with a little dry smile, but, as he admitted,
he owed her father a good deal, and he was not too old for gallantry.
Besides that, he had the gift of insight, and a curious confidence in
this girl. He felt she would not ask him anything that was not
fitting.

"The request," he said, "is a little vague, and perhaps, I am a trifle
rash, but I almost think I can promise that what you ask shall be
done."

Benicia, reaching out from the hammock, touched him with her fan.
"Now," she said, "I know what you think of me. How shall I make my
poor acknowledgments? Still, there is another thing. You will discover
presently that the brooms of the State are slow. There are two men not
among its servants who have commenced the sweeping already. I think
Dom Clemente knows this, but you will not mention it to him."

Her companion glanced at her sharply with a sudden keenness in his
eyes, but he said nothing, and the girl smiled again.

"When you hear of them I would like you to remember that they are
friends of mine," she said. "You will, of course, recognize that
nobody I said that of could do anything that was really
reprehensible."

"I might admit that it was unlikely," said her companion.

"Then," said Benicia, "when the time comes I would like you to
remember it. That is another thing you will promise."

She flashed one swift glance at her companion, who smiled, and then
looked round as Dom Clemente and two of the gunboat's officers came
towards them along the deck. She roused herself to talk to them, and
succeeded brilliantly, now and then to the momentary embarrassment of
the officers, who were young, while the man with the gray hair lay in
a deck chair a little apart watching her over his cigar. She was
clever, and quick-witted, but he knew also that she was like her
father, one who at any cost stood by her friends. At the same time he
was a little puzzled, for, in the case of a young woman, friend is a
term of somewhat vague and comprehensive significance, and she had
mentioned that there were two of them. That appeared to complicate the
affair, but he had, at least, made a promise, and it was said of him
that when he did so he usually kept it, though it was now and then in
a somewhat grim fashion. There were also men in the sweltering towns
beside the surf-swept beach the gunboat crawled along who would have
felt uneasy had they known exactly why he had been sent out to them.



CHAPTER XXV

DOMINGO APPEARS


The carriers had stopped in a deserted village one morning after a
long and arduous march from the mission station, when Ormsgill, lying
in the hot white sand, looked quietly at Nares, who sat with his back
against one of the empty huts.

"If I knew what the dusky image was thinking I should feel
considerably more at ease," he said. "Still, I don't, and there's very
little use in guessing. After all, we are a long way from grasping the
negro's point of view on most subjects yet. They very seldom look at
things as we do."

Nares nodded. "Anyway, I almost fancy we could consider what he has
told us as correct," he said. "It's something to go upon."

The man he referred to squatted close by them, naked to the waist,
though a few yards of cotton cloth hung from his hips. An old Snider
rifle lay at his side, and he was big and muscular with a heavy,
expressionless face. As Ormsgill had suggested, it certainly afforded
very little indication of what he was thinking, and left it a question
whether he was capable of intelligent thought at all. They had come
upon him in the deserted village on the edge of a great swamp an hour
earlier, and he had skillfully evaded their questions as to what he
was doing there.

It was an oppressively hot morning, and a heavy, dingy sky hung over
the vast morass which they could see through the openings between the
scattered huts. It stretched back bare and level, a vast desolation,
towards the interior, with a little thin haze floating over it in
silvery belts here and there, and streaking the forest that crept up
to its edge. The carriers lay half-asleep in the warm sand, blotches
of white and blue and ebony, and the man with the rifle appeared
vacantly unconcerned. Time is of no value to the negro, and one could
have fancied that he was prepared to wait there all day for the white
men's next question.

"It's not very much," said Ormsgill reflectively, referring to his
comrade's last observation. "Domingo, it seems, is up yonder--but
there are one or two other facts, which I think have their
significance, in our possession. Herrero is coming up behind us, and,
though there are no other Portuguese in the neighborhood, we find this
village empty. I should very much like to know why the folks who lived
in it have gone away, and I fancy our friend yonder could tell us.
Still, it's quite certain that he won't."

"Herrero evidently means to join hands with Domingo," suggested Nares.
"It's quite possible, too, that he will do what he can to prevent us
buying the six boys from the Headman, who, it's generally believed,
does a good deal of business with him. It's a little unfortunate. In
another week the thing might have been done."

Ormsgill nodded as one who makes his mind up. "When in doubt go
straight on--and, as a matter of fact, we can't afford to stop," he
said. "Provisions are going to be a consideration. We'll push on and
try what can be done with Domingo and the Headman before Herrero comes
up."

He turned to the negro, and Nares amplified his question.

"Yes," said the man, with the faintest suggestion of a grin, "I know
where Domingo is, and if you come to our village it is very likely
that you will see him. I will take you to the Headman for the pieces
of cloth you promise."

He got up leisurely, and Ormsgill, who called to the boys, looked at
Nares as they plodded into the forest that skirted the swamp.

"It's quite certain the man was waiting for somebody, and it wasn't
Herrero, or he wouldn't have gone away," he said. "That naturally
seems to suggest he might have been on the lookout for us. In that
case I should very much like to know what was amusing him."

It was not to be made clear until some time later, and in the
meanwhile they pushed on for a week through straggling forest with all
the haste the boys were capable of, though Ormsgill's face grew
thoughtful when they twice passed an empty village. The fact had its
significance, for little labor recruiting had been done in that strip
of country. Still, its dusky inhabitants had apparently forsaken it,
and it became more evident that something unusual was going on. Once
only they met a native, or rather he blundered upon their camp when
they lay silent in the thin shadow of more open bush on a burning
afternoon, and their guide roused himself sharply to attention when a
patter of footsteps came out of the stillness. Somebody was evidently
approaching in haste, and Ormsgill glanced at Nares in warning when
the negro who lay close beside them rose to a crouching posture and
drew back the hammer of his old Snider rifle. It was clear that
strangers were regarded with suspicion in that country. Then the man
drew one foot under him, and sat upon it with the arm that supported
the rifle on his knee, and an unpleasantly suggestive look in his
heavy face. One could have fancied that he meant to kill, and Ormsgill
stretching out a hand laid it on his comrade's shoulder restrainingly.

"Wait," he whispered. "In the meanwhile it's not our business."

Nares waited, but he felt it become more difficult to do so as the
footsteps grew plainer. He could hear the little restless movements of
the boys, but he had eyes for little beyond the ominous half-naked
figure clutching the heavy rifle. It dominated the picture. Tall
trunks, trailing creepers, and clustering carriers grew indistinct,
but he was vaguely conscious that there was an opening between the
leaves some sixty yards in front of him, and his heart throbbed
painfully with the effort the restraint he laid upon himself cost him.
Then a dusky figure appeared in the opening, and stopped a moment,
apparently in astonishment or terror, while Ormsgill was sensible of a
sudden straining after recollection. The man was leanly muscular and
dressed as scantily as any native of the bush, but there was something
in his appearance that was vaguely familiar. In the meanwhile he was
also conscious that their guide's arms were stiffening rigidly, and
when the man's cheek sank a little lower on the rifle stock he let his
hand drop from Nares's shoulder. As it happened, he was close behind
the negro, and in another moment would have clutched him.

Just then, however, the stranger sprang forward and a little acrid
smoke blew into Ormsgill's eyes. There was a detonation and he
contrived to fall with a hand on the ground instead of upon the
crouching negro with the rifle. When he looked up again the man who
had narrowly escaped from the peril by his quickness was running like
a deer, and vanished amidst a crash of displaced undergrowth, while
their guide flung back his rifle breech with clumsy haste. When he
turned round there was no sign of the stranger and Ormsgill was
quietly standing on his feet. Only a few seconds had elapsed since the
man had first appeared.

The guide made a little grimace which was expressive of resignation as
he turned the rifle over and shook out the cartridge, and in another
minute or two they were going on again. When he moved a little away
from them Ormsgill looked at Nares.

"It's probably just as well our friend does not know I meant to spoil
his aim," he said. "I haven't the least notion why he wished to shoot
that man, and very much wish I had, but I can't help fancying that
I've seen him before--at one of the Missions most likely. I should be
glad if anybody could tell me what he is doing here."

There was nobody who could do it except, perhaps, their guide, but
Ormsgill surmised that he was not likely to supply him with any
information. He was not to know until some time later that the man in
question had once served Herrero, who had beaten him too frequently
and severely, and that as a result of this he met Pacheco the
Government messenger in a deserted village after another week's
arduous journey. In the meanwhile he pushed on, limping a little,
through marsh and forest until their guide led them into a large
native village where he expected to find the last of Lamartine's boys.
This one, at least, was not deserted. In fact, it appeared unusually
crowded and, as Ormsgill was quick to notice, most of its inhabitants
were armed. He had, however, little opportunity of noticing anything
else, for he was led straight into the presence of its ruler, who sat
on a low stool under a thatched roof raised on a few rickety pillars
in the middle of the village. He was dressed in a white man's duck
jacket, worn open, and a shirt; and every person of consequence in the
place had gathered about him. The guide presented the newcomers
tersely, and it seemed to Ormsgill that the manner in which he did it
was significant.

"They are here," he said. "I have done as I was bidden."

The Headman spent some time examining the collection of the sundries
they offered him and made a few indifferent attempts to restrain the
rapacity of his retainers, who desired something, too. Then he asked
Ormsgill his business, and nodded when the latter explained it
briefly.

"The six boys are certainly here," he said. "Still, I do not know just
now if I can sell you them. That will depend--" Nares understood from
the next few words that he desired to be a little ambiguous on this
point. "You have, it seems, some business with Domingo, too?"

Nares said it concerned the boys in question, but as the labor
purveyor had no claim upon them the matter could be arranged with the
Headman, who grinned very much as the guide had done, while a curious
little smile crept into the faces of some of the rest.

"Then," he said, "I think he will be here in a day or two. Some of my
people have gone for him, but I am not sure that he will have much to
tell us when he comes. In the meanwhile you will stay with us a few
days, and when I am ready to talk about the boys again I will send for
you."

He made a sign that the interview was over, and several of his
followers who were armed escorted the white men and their boys to the
hut set apart for them. They left them there with a plainly worded
hint that it would be wise of them not to come out of it, and when
they went away Ormsgill looked at Nares.

"I suppose you're not sure what that Headman really meant," he said.
"A man naturally has you at a disadvantage when he doesn't wish to
make himself very clear and talks in a tongue you don't quite
understand. I wish I knew exactly why he chuckled."

Nares looked thoughtful. "He seemed to know we meant to visit him."

"It's evident. How I don't quite understand. We traveled fast. Still,
he did know. In the meanwhile we can only wait."

They waited, somewhat anxiously, for several days, knowing that
Herrero, whose presence promised to complicate affairs, was drawing
nearer all the while. There was, however, no other course open to
them, for when they attempted to leave the hut a big man armed with a
matchet who kept watch outside informed them it was the Headman's
pleasure that they should stay there until he was at liberty to talk
to them.

At last one morning word was brought them, and Ormsgill looked about
him in astonishment when they walked into the wide space in the midst
of the straggling village. All round it stood long rows of dusky men,
most of whom were armed, but only a small and apparently select
company sat under the thatched roof in the shadow of which the Headman
had previously received them.

"There is something very unusual going on. Half these men seem to be
strangers, and they have Sniders," he said. "I expect Domingo could
tell how they got them, but I don't seem to see him." Then he touched
his comrade's shoulder. "I fancy we can expect something dramatic.
There's a man yonder we have met before."

Nares felt that the scene was already sufficiently impressive. The
strip of empty sand in front of him flung up a dazzling glare. The sky
the palm tufts cut against was of a harsh blue that one could scarcely
look upon, and the village was flooded with an almost intolerable
brilliancy which flashed upon glittering matchets and Snider barrels.
It also smote the massed white draperies and flickered with an oily
gleam on ebony limbs and the sea of dusky faces turned expectantly
towards the group beneath the thatch. Most of the men there sat on the
ground, but there were two seated figures, the village Headman, and
the Suzerain lord of his country, the old man they had met already, on
a slightly higher stool. He, at least, was dressed in dignified
fashion in a long robe of spotless cotton, and a few men with tall
spears stood in state behind him. His face was impassively grim, and
Nares's heart beat a trifle faster as his eyes rested on him, but at
the same time he was sensible of an expectancy so tense that it drove
out personal anxiety. He almost felt that he was watching for the
opening of the drama from a place of safety.

In the meanwhile he moved towards the thatch with his comrade until
they stopped a few yards' distance from the Suzerain, who leaned
forward a little and looked at Ormsgill steadily. He was of commanding
presence, but there was something in his attitude which suggested that
he regarded this stranger as an equal, though he was lord of that
country, and the other stood before him, a spare, lonely figure in
white duck, with nothing in his hands.

"The Headman has told me your business, and it seems it is very much
the same as when I last talked to you," he said. "You are, I believe,
not a friend of those other white men who have persecuted me?"

Ormsgill turned to Nares. "You can tell him that we are both
proscribed," he said. "Make it quite clear. I don't think there's any
reason to be anxious about his handing us over to the folks at San
Roque."

Nares explained, and the old man made a little gesture. "Then," he
said, "you shall have the six boys, and it is not my will that you
offer the Headman anything for them. Domingo stole them--and we have
satisfied our claim on him. Still, I do not know yet whether you will
be permitted to go away with them. In the meanwhile there is another
matter."

Nares made out the gist of it, and as he hastily explained the old man
raised his hand. "You have business with Domingo, and there are two
other white men who have come here to meet him. Let them come
forward."

Somebody passed on the order, and there was a murmur of voices and a
stirring of the crowd as a little group of men strode out of it. In
front walked the Boer Gavin, a tall, lean figure in travel-stained
duck with a heavy rifle cradled in his arm, and his manner was
unconcerned. Behind him came Herrero, little, and yellow-faced,
looking about him furtively, while a line of dusky men half of whom
were armed plodded after them, obviously uneasy. The Suzerain sat
impassively still, and looked at them in a curious fashion when they
stopped not far from him.

"You have come here to meet Domingo. You are friends of his?" he said.

Herrero hesitated, but his companion laughed when an interpreter
repeated the question.

"You can say we came to meet him, in any case," he replied.

"Was that wise?" asked the old man, and his voice had a jarring ring.
"Still, as you have come you shall see him."

Then he smiled grimly, and made a sign to some of those behind. Again
there was a stirring of the crowd, and Nares felt his nerves thrill
with expectancy. He looked at Ormsgill, who was standing very still
with empty hands at his side, and afterwards saw Gavin, the Boer,
glance sharply round and change his grip on the heavy rifle. In
another moment there was a very suggestive half-articulate murmur from
the assembly, and then an impressive stillness as two men came forward
bearing between them a heavy fiber package slung as a hammock usually
is beneath a pole. They laid it down, and while Ormsgill and Gavin
moved forward at the Headman's sign one of them took something out of
it. He held it up, and Nares gasped and struggled with a sense of
nausea, for it was a drawn and distorted human face that met his
shrinking gaze.

"They've killed him!" he said hoarsely.

Ormsgill stood rigidly still. "Yes," he said, "it's Domingo.
Considering everything one could hardly blame them."

Then the stillness was sharply broken. A cry rose from the assembly as
Herrero's boys turned and fled. Their leader shrank back pace by pace
from the old man's gaze, and then wheeling round sped after them. As
he did so somebody shouted, and a couple of Sniders flashed. Their
crash was lost in a clamor, and odd groups of men sprang out into the
open space. Then Nares saw Gavin running hard come up with his comrade
and grasp his shoulder. He drove him before him towards one of the
larger huts while the Snider bullets struck up little spurts of sand
behind them.

Nares set his lips, and held his breath as he watched them. The
shadowy entrance of the hut was not far away, but it seemed impossible
that they could reach it before one, at least, of them was struck.
Herrero, blind with fear, seemed to flag already, but Gavin drove him
on, and Nares could see that his face was set and grim. They went by a
cluster of negroes running to intercept them, and the tall man in the
white duck seemed to fling his comrade forward into the hut. Then he
spun round pitching up the heavy rifle. There was a flash and a
detonation, and Ormsgill heard a curious droning sound as if a bee had
passed above his head. In another second a man who stood close at his
Suzerain's side lurched forward with a strangled cry. Then Gavin
sprang into the hut, and when the old man made a sign four of his
retainers laid hands on Ormsgill and his companion. They were big
muscular men, and Nares looked at Ormsgill, who submitted quietly.

"It's horrible," he said.

Ormsgill made a little gesture. "They brought it upon themselves. I'm
a little sorry for Gavin, but I can't get away."

It was perfectly evident. Their captors held them fast, pinioning
their arms with greasy black hands, and there were two to each of
them, while there are very few white men who have the negro's physical
strength, at least if they have been any time in that climate. Nares
gasped and felt his heart throb furiously, as he waited with his eyes
fixed on the hut.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE DAY OF RECKONING


There was silence in the village for almost a minute after Gavin
vanished into the hut, and the men who had pursued him stood still,
apparently irresolute. The entrance was dark and narrow, and they
could not see inside, but it was evident that they recognized it was a
very determined man who awaited them in its shelter. He was also
white, which had no doubt its effect upon the negro mind, since it
usually happens that when a race or caste asserts its superiority
loudly enough its claims are admitted, especially when they are backed
by visible force.

So while the seconds slipped away the negroes stood hesitating, and
glancing at one another as well as at the hut which lay in the shadow.
Their ebony limbs and scanty draperies were forced up against the
glaring dust and sand in a flood of searching brilliancy. Nares, who
felt his nerves tingle, could see the tension in their dusky faces and
the oily gleam of their bodies as the perspiration broke from them.
There was something curiously suggestive of pent up fury in the poses
they had fallen into. In the meanwhile he could not move. Indeed, the
big negro who held him fast had savagely drawn his arms behind his
back, and the strain in the muscles was becoming almost intolerably
painful.

Then several men broke away from the others and ran towards the hut,
and once more Nares held his breath. He could have shouted as he saw
the first dark form bound on, clutching a long Snider rifle in both
hands, but he restrained himself. In another moment or two a thin
flash blazed from the doorway of the hut, and the man went down with a
shrill scream and lay clawing at the sand. Nares heard no detonation.
He was only conscious of the little curl of blue smoke in the entrance
of the hut, and the black object that writhed in the pitiless glare in
front of it. Then the fallen man's comrades stopped, and a little
shiver ran through him as he turned to Ormsgill, who nodded as if he
understood him.

"You can only face it," said the latter. "They would scarcely listen
to their Headman, and I can't move a limb. It's a single-shot rifle.
They're bound to kill him." Then he broke off with a little gasp.
"Ah," he said a moment later, "two of them are trying it now."

Nares did not wish to look, but he could not help it. The scene held
his gaze, and he saw the two figures move cautiously towards the hut,
keeping one wall of it between them and the doorway as far as they
could. This, however, did not serve them. The deadly fire flashed
again, and one negro who collapsed suddenly fell on his hands and
knees. Then there was another streak of sparks and smoke, and the
second man staggering forward went down headlong with a thud. Several
Sniders flashed, and there was silence again.

"It's too much," said Ormsgill. "I can't stand this."

He struggled furiously, and he and the men who held him swayed to and
fro, a cluster of scuffling, staggering figures for a moment or two.
The effort, however, was futile, and he stood still again with his
arms pinioned fast behind his back and the perspiration dripping from
him while the Suzerain looked at him from his stool with a little grim
smile.

"It is not your affair," he said.

Ormsgill said nothing, though the veins were swollen on his forehead
and his face was suffused with blood, and at a sign from the Headman
the negroes who held him relaxed their grasp a trifle. Nares also
stood still, with every nerve in him thrilling. The man inside the hut
no doubt deserved his fate, but that did not seem to count then, and
the missionary felt only a sympathy with him that was almost
overwhelming in its intensity. It was one man against a multitude, for
there was no sign that Herrero was making any effort, and, after all,
that man sprang from the same stock as he did. Then deep down in him
he felt a thrill of pride, for Gavin was making a very gallant fight
of it. It was in many ways a shameful work that he and his comrade had
done, selling proscribed arms to the people who had turned against him
now, fomenting discord between them and their neighbors, and
debauching them with villainous rum, but, at least, he made it clear
that the courage of his kind was in him. This was all at variance with
Nares' beneficent creed, but the man was dying, indomitable, a white
man.

Those who meant to kill him drew back a little farther from the hut,
and standing and squatting flung up the long rifles. They were by no
means marksmen, but the hut was large and built of cane and branch
work. The heavy Snider bullets smashed through it, and for a few
minutes the stagnant air was filled with the jarring detonations.
There was no answering flash from the hut and Nares could see that its
shadowy entrance was empty. Then as the ringing of the Sniders died
away and a man here and there stole forward cautiously it seemed to
him that a dimly seen white object dragged itself towards the doorway
and crouched in it. He did not think it would be visible to the
assailants, for they were keeping a little behind the hut, but it was
clear to him that the one man against a multitude was bent on fighting
still.

The straggling figures crept on, moving obliquely towards the perilous
entrance, that the hut might shelter them, until they massed together
for a dash at it. Then the flash blazed out again, and one of them
dropped. Another went down screaming a few seconds later, and then the
foremost broke and fled, and there was a sudden scattering of those
behind. There were a host of negroes, but they shrank from that
unerring rifle. They were evidently willing to face a hazard, but this
was certain death. Then the Suzerain of the village signed to the
negroes who held Ormsgill, and they led him forward.

"It seems it may cost us a good deal to kill that man," he said. "Go
and see what terms he will make with me. An offer of a few good rifles
would have some weight just now."

Ormsgill went, and crossing the hot space of dust and sand walked into
the hut. Dazzled as he was by the change from the glare outside, he
could see almost nothing for a moment or two. The place was also
filled with an acrid haze, but by degrees he became accustomed to the
dimness and made out Gavin lying against the wall. He looked up with a
little wry smile, but Ormsgill moving nearer saw that his face was
gray and drawn. There was dust on his thin duck clothing, and in two
spots a small dark-colored stain.

"You are hit?" he said.

"Yes," said Gavin, "I'm done." He gasped before he spoke again with
evident difficulty. "They plugged me twice before they made the last
attempt. I could just hold the rifle. If they'd kept it up they'd have
got in."

"Where's Herrero?"

Gavin appeared to glance across the hut, and Ormsgill saw a huddled
figure lying in the shadow. It did not move at all.

"Yes," said Gavin, "I think the first bullet that came in quieted him,
and I wasn't sorry. He was worrying me. Lost his nerve, though he
never had very much. Well, I suppose you have come to make a bargain
with me?"

"Something like that. Our friend yonder hinted that he would probably
do a good deal for a few rifles."

Gavin smiled dryly. "It isn't worth while now. As you have no doubt
noticed, I can hardly talk to you."

He stopped for a moment with a heavy gasp. "This was my last kick, you
see."

"Ah," said Ormsgill, "is there any other little way in which I could
be of service? Any message you would like sent on?"

The man made a painful effort, but Ormsgill had now some little
difficulty in hearing him. "None," he said. "They have forgotten me
yonder, and, perhaps, it's just as well. Our folks--my mother was Cape
Dutch, you know--believe in everything as it used to be, but I'm like
my father; there was always a kick in me. One of your Colonial
vacillations cost him his farm, for, though he said he was ashamed of
his country, he wouldn't recognize the Boers as his rulers. I,
however, got on with them until I vexed the authorities by something I
did in resentment of the--arrogance of certain mine-grabbing
Englishmen. I believe I might have made terms if I'd truckled to them
a little, but that was a thing I wouldn't do, and so I came out here.
There are probably more of us with the same nonsensical notions."

Ormsgill said nothing for a moment or two. He had also lived among the
outcasts, and knew what comes of disdaining to regard things from the
conventional point of view. Something in him stirred in sympathy with
the dying man, and he sat down in the dust and laid a hand on his
shoulder. Gavin made no further observation that was intelligible,
until at last he feebly raised his head.

"If you wouldn't mind I'd like a drink," he said.

Ormsgill rose and walked out of the hut calling in the native tongue.
The men who squatted about it in the hot sand still clenching their
Sniders apparently failed to understand him, or were unwilling to do
what he asked, and some time had slipped by when at last one of them
brought a dripping calabash. Ormsgill went into the hut with it, and
then took off his shapeless hat as he poured out the water on the hot
soil. Gavin lay face downwards now, clutching his deadly rifle, but
there was no breath in him. Then Ormsgill went back quietly to where
the Headman and his Suzerain were sitting.

"I am afraid you can not have those rifles. The man is dead," he said.

After that he and Nares were led back to their hut, and when it was
made clear to them that they were expected to stay there Ormsgill sat
down in the shadow and pulled out his pipe.

"We wondered what was going on, and now the thing's quite plain," he
said. "It's rebellion."

"How was it they didn't creep round the hut from behind?" asked Nares,
who felt a trifle averse from facing the point that concerned them
most.

"Lost their heads, most probably," said Ormsgill. "Didn't think of it.
Any way, they'd have had to make a dash for the door eventually.
Still, it would have saved them a man or two, and our friend the
Suzerain noticed it."

"Why didn't he point it out to them?"

"I fancy he wanted to see how they'd stand fire, and break them in.
Felt he could afford to throw a few of them away, as he certainly
could, and he only stepped in when the thing was commencing to
discourage them."

"It's quite likely you're right," and Nares looked at his comrade with
a little wry smile. "Still, after all, I'm not sure it's very
material."

The lines grew a trifle deeper on Ormsgill's worn face. "No," he said,
"the real question is what our dusky acquaintance means to do with us,
and we have to face it. Personally, I don't think he means us any
harm, but it's certain he won't let us go until he and his friends
have cleaned out San Roque. You see, in an affair of this kind the
first blow must be successful, and he has probably a lurking suspicion
that we might warn Dom Erminio. The trouble is that once the rebellion
breaks out it will be almost impossible for us to reach the coast."

He spoke quietly, but there was a strain in his voice, and Nares
guessed what he felt.

"I suppose he wouldn't be content with our assurance that we'd say
nothing?" he suggested.

"Would you make it?"

Nares sat very still for a few moments, with a curious look in his
eyes, and one hand closed, and his comrade once more recognized that
there had been a change in him of late. He had the fever on him
slightly, and while that is nothing unusual in those forests, he had
grown perceptibly harder and grimmer during the last few weeks. Now
and then he also gave way to outbreaks of indignation, which, so far
as Ormsgill knew, was not a thing he had hitherto been addicted to
doing. Still, the latter was aware that the white man's mental balance
is apt to become a trifle unsettled in that land.

"I can't tell. It's a question I've grappled with in one shape or
other before," he said. "The land is full of iniquities and horrors,
and I think that some of them can only be washed out in blood. That
law stands as it has always done. The great trade road to the south of
us is paved with the bones of the victims, and they still come down to
die, worked out in a few years on the plantations. It is a thing that
can't go on."

He opened and closed a thin hand savagely while his voice rose to a
harsher note. "For one man killed by the bullet if war breaks out a
hundred perish yearly under the driver's lash on the great roads and,
I think, among the coffee plants. They are dumb cattle, here and in
the Congo. They can not tell their troubles, and they have no friends.
How could they when the white man grows rich by their toil and
anguish? Still, this earth is the Lord's, and there are men in it who
will listen when once what is being done in this land of darkness is
clearly told them. One must believe it or throw away all faith in
humanity. I think if it rested with me I would let these bushmen come
down and crush their oppressors, since it seems there is no other way
of making their sorrows known."

He broke off abruptly, and seemed to shrink back within himself, for
it was, after all, but seldom he spoke in that fashion. Ormsgill
nodded.

"It's a very old way of claiming attention, and one that's sometimes
effective," he said. "They might have tried it before, but, you see,
those beneath the yoke have their hands tied, and those who aren't
somewhat naturally don't care. That's one of the things which have
hampered most attempts at emancipation. Only our friend the Suzerain
has sense enough to realize that if they sit still much longer the
yoke will be tolerably securely fastened on all of them. I think he
has the gifts of a leader, but there is another man of the same kind
on the coast. I mean Dom Clemente, and I'm not sure he'd be willing to
have the land swept out in that unceremonious fashion. In fact, one
could almost fancy that in due time he means to do the cleaning up,
tactfully, himself."

He stopped a moment, and smiled somewhat grimly before he went on
again. "After all, this doesn't directly concern either of us. It's a
little hard that now when the thing we have in hand is in one sense
accomplished and neither Domingo nor Herrero can worry us, we should
be kept here indefinitely at the pleasure of this back-country
nigger."

He glanced at the dusky men who squatted not far away in the shadow
watching the hut. They had Snider rifles, and it was evident they were
there to see that nobody came out. Then he sat moodily silent awhile,
with a curious hardness in his lined face. He was lame and worn-out.
The climate had sapped the physical strength out of him, and the wound
in his leg still caused him pain. Also, struggle against it as he
would, the black dejection which preys on the white man in that land
was fastening itself on him. The thing was hard, almost intolerably
so. He was a captive with the opportunity of accomplishing his task
receding every moment further away from him, for it was clear that
once the rebellion broke out it would be almost impossible for him to
convey his boys across the track of it to the wished-for coast. Some
time had slipped by when Nares roused himself to ask another question.

"Are these people likely to meet with any opposition from the natives
when they march?" he said.

"That," said Ormsgill reflectively, "is a thing I'm not quite sure
about. There is one Headman of some importance between them and the
littoral. You know whom I mean, and it would make things difficult for
our jailers if he remained on good terms with the authorities. In
fact, in that case it seems to me these folks would have a good deal
of trouble in getting any further. What he will do I naturally don't
know, but if I was in command of San Roque I would make every effort
to keep him quiet and content just now."

After that he once more sat silent, apparently brooding heavily,
until the sudden darkness fell and the pungent smoke of the cooking
fires drifted about the village. Then, soon after food was brought
them, he sank into restless sleep.



CHAPTER XXVII

AN ERROR OF JUDGMENT


Fort San Roque stood, as Father Tiebout sometimes said, on the verge
of extinction in the shadow of the debatable land, but its Commandant
or Chefe, as he was usually termed, had become accustomed to the fact,
and, if he did not forget it altogether, seldom took it into serious
consideration. After all, the European only exists on sufferance in
the hotter parts of Africa, and as a rule, once he realizes it, ceases
to trouble himself about the matter and concentrates his attention on
the acquiring of riches by any means available. Dom Erminio was not an
exception, and being by no means particular, endeavored to make the
most of his opportunities, especially as his term of office was not a
long one. It was, perhaps, not astonishing that in his eagerness to do
so he became to some extent oblivious of everything else, since those
entrusted with authority over a discontented subject people have at
other times and in other places acted as though they were a trifle
blind to what was going on about them. Dom Erminio was cunning, but,
as occasionally happens in the case of cunning men, he was also
short-sighted.

The evening meal had been cleared away when he lay in a canvas lounge,
yellow in face, as white men often become in that part of Africa,
with a cigar in his bony fingers. Darkness had just closed down on the
lonely station, but the little rickety residency had lain for twelve
hours under a burning sun, and now the big oil lamps raised the
already almost insupportable temperature. The Chefe, however, did not
seem to feel it. He lay in his chair apparently languidly content, a
spare figure in loose and somewhat soiled white uniform, looking at
his Lieutenant, who was fingering a glass of red Canary wine. Neither
of them troubled themselves about the fact that there were men in that
country who regarded them with a vindictive hatred.

"I almost think we may as well call that man in," he said.

The Lieutenant Luiz glanced towards the veranda, where a negro was
patiently squatting, as he had, in fact, been doing for most of the
day. He brought a message from a Headman of some importance in the
vicinity, and there was no reason why he should not have been listened
to several hours earlier, except that Dom Erminio preferred to keep
him waiting. It was in his opinion advisable that a negro should be
taught humbly to await the white man's pleasure, which is a policy
that has now and then brought trouble upon the white man. Dom Luiz,
who understood his companion's views on that subject, smiled.

"He has, no doubt, complaints to make. They always have," he said.
"Considering everything, that is not astonishing. I wonder if the
Headman expects us to give them much consideration."

Dom Erminio spread his yellow hands out. "One would have thought we
had taught him to expect nothing. He is, it seems, a little slow to
understand. Perhaps, we have not put the screw on quite hard enough. I
fancy another turn would make him restive."

He looked at his Lieutenant, and both of them laughed. Then the Chefe
made a little sign.

"Bring him in," he said.

The negro came in, a big, heavily-built man, with an expressionless
face. When Dom Erminio made him a sign not to come too near he
squatted down, a huddled object with apathetic patience in its pose,
until the Lieutenant signified that he might deliver his message.

"The Headman sends you greeting. He has a complaint to make," he said,
and another dusky man who had slipped in softly made his observations
plain. "The soldiers have been beating the people in one of his
villages, and carrying off things that did not belong to them again.
The Headman asks for justice in this matter."

"He shall have it," said the Chefe. "His people have been insolent,
and they are certainly getting lazy. We will send him a requisition
for more provisions."

Nobody could have told whether the messenger felt any resentment, but,
after all, very few white men ever quite understand what the African
is thinking. He crouched impassively still, with the lamplight on his
heavy face and his oily skin gleaming softly over the great knotted
muscles of his splendid arms and shoulders. There was something in his
attitude which vaguely suggested dormant force that might spread
destruction when it was unloosed, but that naturally did not occur to
the Chefe, who indicated by a little gesture that he might continue.

"There is another matter," said the negro. "The Headman can not send
in the rubber demanded. Already we have cleared the forest of half the
trees. One has to go a long way to find any more. He will do what he
can, but he asks that you will be content with a little less than
usual."

Dom Erminio shook his head reproachfully. "I have made this man
concessions, and this is the result," he said. "There are many duties
I have released him from, and I only ask a little rubber and a few
other things for the favor."

Then he straightened himself in his chair. "Tell your Headman that not
a load of rubber will be excused him, and he must restrain his people
from provoking the soldiers. Also, the next time he has a complaint to
make let him come himself and lay it before me."

The man stood up, splendid in his animal muscularity, but there was
for just a moment a little gleam in his eyes which suggested that hot
human passions were at work within him. The white men, however, as
usual, did not notice it, and the black interpreter, whose opinion was
seldom invited, said nothing.

"I will tell him," said the messenger, and Dom Erminio looked at the
Lieutenant Luiz when he went out with the interpreter.

"I think," he said reflectively, "we will give the screw that other
turn. It is supposed that our new rulers down yonder"--and he
apparently indicated the coast with a stretched out hand--"are in
favor of a more conciliatory policy, which is not what we would wish
for just now."

"It is clearly out of the question," and Dom Luiz grinned. "I think it
would be advisable if I went out with a few files and made some
further trifling requisition to-morrow."

"You will go, and do what appears desirable," said the Chefe, who
lighted another cigar.

Dom Luiz set out on the morrow with a handful of dusky ruffians in
uniform, and left rage and shame behind him in the villages he
visited, which, as it happened, had results neither he nor Dom Erminio
had anticipated. The Headman did not come to San Roque to make his
humble complaint, but he sent an urgent message to the Suzerain of the
village Ormsgill was confined in, and at last one morning the old man
sent for the latter.

"We march in a few hours, and as we can not leave you here you and the
boys you asked me for will come with us," he said. "What our business
is does not concern you, and you will go with us as prisoners. Just
now I do not know what we will do with you afterwards. It will
depend"--and he looked at Ormsgill with a little grim smile--"a good
deal upon your own behavior."

Ormsgill, who grasped the gist of what he said, could take a hint, and
went back to Nares. The latter listened quietly when he told him what
he had heard.

"I believe there is no other way. Their oppressors have brought it
upon their own heads," he said.

His comrade noticed the curious hardness of his face, and the glint in
his eyes. It was very evident to him that Nares, who had been down
again with fever while they lay in the sweltering heat, had changed.
He had borne many troubles uncomplainingly for several weary years,
and, perhaps because of it, the events of the last few weeks had left
their mark on him. After all, there is a subtle concord between mind
and body, and in that land, at least, the fever-shaken white man who
persists in staggering on under a burden greater than he can
reasonably bear is apt to be suddenly crushed by it. Then his bodily
strength or mental faculties give way once for all beneath the strain.
Ormsgill could not define the change in his companion, but he
recognized it. It was a thing which he had seen happen to other men.

They started in the heat of that afternoon, and Ormsgill, marching
with his boys, watched the long dusky column wind into the forest in
front of him. There were men with Snider rifles, which they were
indifferently accustomed to, men with glinting matchets, and men with
flintlock guns and spears, besides rows of plodding carriers. They
were half-naked most of them, men of primitive passions and no great
intelligence, but they had risen at last in their desperation to
strike for freedom. Behind them rose a tumultuous uproar of barbaric
music, insistent and deafening, that floated far over the forest.
Ormsgill smiled a little as it grew fainter.

"I'm not sure there will be any music when they come back again," he
said. "Still, I almost think they will accomplish--something."

Nares looked straight in front of him as he plodded on, but there was
a curious gleam in his eyes.

"There is no other way," was all he said.

The long dusky column pushed on steadily through dim forest, wide
morass, and tracts of hot white sand, and it happened one evening when
the advance guard were a considerable distance ahead that Dom Erminio
sat alone on the veranda at San Roque. It was then about eight
o'clock, and the night was very dark and hot. Now and then a little
fitful breeze crept up the misty river, and filled the forest that
rose above it with mysterious noises. Then it dropped away again, and
left a silence the Chefe commenced to find oppressive behind it. He
could hear the oily gurgle of sliding water, and at times a sharp
crackle in the crazy building behind him, out of which there drifted a
damp mildewy smell, but that merely emphasized the almost
disconcerting absence of any other sound. Indeed, it was so still that
the soft rustle his duck garments made as he moved jarred on him, and
he was glad when the little muggy breeze flowed into the veranda
again.

There was nothing in all this to trouble a man who was accustomed to
it, but the Chefe was not quite at his ease. Dom Luiz, whom he had
sent out a few days earlier, should have been back that afternoon, but
there was no sign of him yet, nor had the three or four dusky soldiers
who had gone out on some business of their own with his consent as yet
made an appearance. There were very few men in the fort, and when nine
o'clock came Dom Erminio, who was quite aware that the natives had no
great cause to love him, admitted that he was a trifle anxious. Still,
he had, with what he considered a more sufficient reason, been anxious
rather frequently. It was a thing one became accustomed to in the
debatable land, and sitting still he lighted another cigar. He could
see the mists that rolled up from the river, and the forest cutting
faintly black against the sky, and wondered vaguely what was going on
in it. That there was something going on in it he now felt tolerably
certain, though he did not exactly know why.

At last the hoarse cry of a sentry rose out of the night, and when it
was answered he went down to the gate of the stockade. It was not a
gate that opened in the usual fashion, but one that dropped, a stout
affair of logs copied from the form adopted by the inhabitants of the
plateaux to the south. When he reached it two or three black soldiers
were heaving it up, and there was a patter of feet outside. Then a
line of shadowy figures grew out of the darkness, and though there did
not seem to be as many as he had expected it was with a sense of
relief he saw Dom Luiz come in through the gap. The logs clashed down
behind the last of his men, and Dom Erminio straightened himself
suddenly when a sergeant came up with a lantern.

Two of the row of barefooted men appeared scarcely fit to stand. Their
garments were rent to pieces, and there was blood and mire on them,
while neither of them carried rifles. Dom Luiz saw the question in the
Chefe's eyes, and nodded.

"Yes," he said, "I should have been here earlier. It was these two who
detained me. I sent them on to the village in the thicker bush two
days ago, and they came back dragging themselves with difficulty--as
you see them. It seems the villagers had beaten them, and they did not
know what had become of their rifles."

Dom Erminio's face became suddenly intent. "Ah," he said, "they shall
be beaten again to-morrow. You will hand them to the guard. I suppose
you saw nothing of the Sergeant Orticho?"

"No," said Lieutenant Luiz, who was a trifle puzzled by the sudden
change in the Chefe's manner, "I saw no sign of him."

He called to his men, and as they filed by him loaded heavily with
miscellaneous sundries, Dom Erminio smiled significantly.

"They have, it seems, been successful, which is fortunate," he said.
"I almost think it will be some little time before they make any more
requisitions of the kind again."

He turned back towards the house, and was once more sitting on the
veranda when the Lieutenant Luiz rejoined him.

"It would no doubt be advisable that I should set out again in the
morning with a stronger party and chastise those villagers who have
beaten our men?" said the latter.

"No," said the Chefe dryly, "you will probably be busy here. When the
natives venture to beat our men it is, I think, wiser to keep every
man we have inside the fort."

"Ah," said his companion, "you believe they have courage enough to go
further?"

Dom Erminio smiled. "I believe we both admitted that the natives might
resent our attitude. We were, I think, for several reasons not
unwilling that they should do something to make their resentment
evident."

He stopped a moment, and the manner in which he spread out his yellow
hands was very expressive. "Now I fancy we have got what we wished
for--and, perhaps, a little more than could reasonably have been
expected. It is rather a pity that we have lost several men with
sickness lately."

Dom Luiz straightened himself in his chair. "There are very few of us,
and I am not quite sure that one or two of the fresh draft could be
depended on. Still, Orticho has most of them well in hand."

Dom Erminio made a little gesture. "I think we can not count upon
Orticho in this affair. It is scarcely likely that he and the men who
went out with him will come back again. What he has heard in the bush
I do not know, but it is evident that he regards this thing very much
as I do. In fact, I fancy he is heading as fast as possible for the
coast by now."

"Ah," said Dom Luiz, and looked at his companion inquiringly.

"The business we have in hand is perfectly simple," said Dom Erminio.
"We were sent here to hold San Roque, and it must be done. When these
bushmen call upon us we shall be ready. With that in view you will set
about moving the quick-firing gun from where it is now, and when that
is done you will open a loophole for it at the rear of the stockade.
It is not quite so strong at that point, and our friends, who know
where the gun stood, will probably attack us there. It would be
advisable to have it done before the dawn comes."

Dom Luiz rose and set about it. There was no uneasiness in his
companion's manner, but there was a look which had not been there for
some little time in his eyes. He was, perhaps, in several respects a
rogue, but, like other men of that kind, he had his strong points,
too, and nobody had ever accused him of being deficient in manhood,
which, unfortunately, is not always quite the same thing as humanity.
He was also Chefe, Commandant and Administrator, which he never
forgot, and he sat on the veranda smoking cigarette after cigarette
while Dom Luiz toiled for once very strenuously half the night. It
was very dark and hot, the logs he handled were heavy, and the dusky
soldiers seemed unusually slow at understanding. Still, when the dawn
broke the little quick-firing gun stood at the rear of the stockade,
which had been strengthened wherever it was possible.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE CHEFE STANDS FAST


It was an hour after midnight when the Headman sent for Ormsgill, who
found him sitting with his overlord beside a little fire that burned
redly in the thin mist. The night was almost chilly, and the Suzerain
crouched close beside the blaze, huddled in his loose garments, with
the uncertain light on his impassive face. It seemed to Ormsgill that
he looked worn and old, and he became conscious for the first time of
a vague pity for him. The task he had undertaken was, the white man
felt, one he could not succeed in. It was merely another futile
protest, for the yoke that was being fastened on his people's necks
could not be flung off that way. Ormsgill stood silent a moment or two
until the old man turned to him.

"You have no cause to love those white men in San Roque," he said.
"Well, I will give you forty boys with rifles. We want leaders who
know how the white men fight."

Ormsgill shook his head. "No," he said, "I can not lead them. This
affair is no concern of mine."

The negro appeared to ponder over his answer, for it was with
difficulty they understood each other, though another man crouching in
the wood smoke flung in a word or two.

"Are you all against us because we are black?" he said. "Those men at
San Roque would shoot you if they could."

"It is very likely," and Ormsgill smiled a little. "Still, I think we
are not all against you--though I can not lead your men. There are
white men among the Portuguese who know that you have wrongs. Some day
they will have justice done."

The negro spread out a dusky hand. "That is what the missionaries tell
us, but we have waited a long time, and there is no sign of it yet. We
can not wait for ever, and very soon all my people will be at work
upon the white men's plantations. They get greedier and greedier. Now
at last we strike."

Once more Ormsgill, standing still in the shadow watching him, was
stirred by a vague compassion. He knew that revolt was useless, and
wondered whether the old belief that there was a ban upon the negro
and that he was made to serve the white man was not, after all,
founded on more than superstition and self-interested sophistry. Other
primitive peoples had, he knew, died off before the white man, but the
Africans had thriven in their bondage, filling Brazil and the West
Indies and the cotton-growing States. They were prolific, cheerful,
adaptable to all conditions, and yet even where liberty had been
offered them they remained a subject people, and made no effort to
shake off the white man's yoke.

"You may sack San Roque," he said. "Still, I think you will never
reach the coast."

The Headman started at this boldness, and there was a vindictive
gleam in his eyes, but his overlord sat silent a space, apparently
brooding heavily, and gazing at the mist. Then he turned to Ormsgill
with a somewhat impressive deliberateness.

"At least," he said, "I go on. You will not lead our men, but you can
not warn the white men at San Roque. When we have sacked the fort I
will send for you again."

Ormsgill made him a little formal inclination before he turned away,
for the attitude of this negro was one he could understand. He had
himself attempted things that could not be done, expecting to be
defeated, but undertaking them because he felt that, at least, was an
obligation laid on him. Nares, and Father Tiebout, and no doubt
countless host of others, had also done the same, and Nares the
optimist had said that though they failed signally the protest of
their futile efforts would be listened to some day. It seemed that the
dusky man crouching beside the fire realized how much there was
against him, but, as he had said, he was going on. Perhaps it is
because men of all creeds and colors have pressed on downwards through
the ages to face ax and stake and firing platoon that there are not
even more of the overburdened in the world to-day. The cost of
progress is heavy, and the upward struggle is very grim and slow.

In the meanwhile Ormsgill went back past the long rows of weary men
lying in the sand to where his comrade was sitting in the clammy mist.
Nares was a little feverish that night.

"Well?" he said.

"I have been offered a command," said Ormsgill. "Naturally, I refused
it. I also ventured to tell our friend that he would fail. It says a
good deal for him that I escaped the usual fate of the prophets. He
did not even ask me for my reasons."

"You have them?"

"Yes," said Ormsgill. "The thing's quite evident in a general way and
to be precise he has to reckon with Dom Clemente. You remember the man
our guide fired at? I can't help thinking he has passed on any
information he may have picked up to the coast by now, and Dom
Clemente is a man who can move to some purpose when it's advisable.
Still, I have no doubt we shall sack San Roque before to-morrow. Our
friend hinted that measures would be taken to prevent us warning the
Chefe."

Nares turned and pointed to several men with rifles who sat half-seen
not very far away. Then he seemed to shiver.

"There was a time when I could have warned them in San Roque, though I
scarcely think they would have listened to me. Now I do not know that
I would do it if I had the opportunity." His voice grew sterner. "They
have brought it upon themselves. There are iniquities which can not be
borne."

His companion said nothing further, but sat down gnawing at an empty
pipe until they started again. The Headman or his Suzerain had drilled
his followers into some kind of order, and Ormsgill found something
impressive in the silent flitting by of half-seen men. They came up
out of the soft darkness with a faint patter of naked feet in sand,
and were lost in it again ahead of him. Now and then there was a
crackle of undergrowth or a clash of arms, but for the most part the
long column went by like a crawling shadow, for these were men
accustomed to flit through dim forests thick with perils noiselessly,
and they did not proclaim their presence as white troops would have
done. When they struck it would be in silence, and Ormsgill fancied
that San Roque was not much more than a league away.

Still, it was rough traveling through loose sand and tangled scrub,
and several hours had passed when the long sinuous column stopped
suddenly. The men in charge of Ormsgill handed him and Nares over to a
few others, who had only flintlock guns, and these led them forward to
a more open space, where they sat down. The night had grown a trifle
clearer, and Ormsgill could see a wide break in the bush in front of
him. A broad belt of mist hung about one side of it, and the gurgle of
sliding water came out of the vapor, against which there rose a
shadowy ridge.

"The stockade," he said. "We have arrived. Dom Erminio has either no
vedettes out, or our vanguard has stalked them and cut their throats."

He broke off, but in another moment or two he spoke again with a
little tension in his voice. "It's curious, and no doubt in one way
unreasonable, but I feel the desire to warn him getting almost too
much for me. I don't know how one could do it, and it certainly
wouldn't be any use, since I believe our friends are ringing the fort
in. Dom Erminio must fight for his life to-night."

The clang of a rifle, a Portuguese rifle, cut him short, and a cry
rose out of the vapor. After that there was silence until a crackling
commenced in the bush, and the two sat still and waited while the
tension grew almost intolerable. Ormsgill, who felt his mouth grow
parched and dry, fancied he could see the stockade a trifle more
plainly, and the forest seemed to be growing blacker, though the mist
was a little thicker than it had been. It was also perceptibly colder.

"It will be daylight in half an hour," he said, and his voice struck
on his companion's ears curiously strained and hoarse.

Then another rifle flashed, there was a sudden shouting, and a
tumultuous patter of naked feet, and a shadowy mass of running figures
hurled themselves at the stockade. A good many of them never reached
it, for the dusky barrier blazed with twinkling points of light, and a
withering volley met them in the face. Then the drifting smoke was
rent by brighter snapping flashes in quick succession, and the jarring
thud of heavier reports broke through the crash of the rifles. This
lasted for perhaps two minutes, and then there was by contrast a
silence that was almost bewildering. It seemed emphasized when once or
twice the ringing of a rifle came out of the streaks of drifting vapor
that hung about the stockade.

"They're going back," said Ormsgill hoarsely. "The Chefe's men will
stand." Then he laughed, a harsh, strained laugh. "They know they
have to. Our friends are not likely to have much consideration for any
of them who fall into their hands."

Nares, who shivered a little, said nothing, and a minute or two later
a crackle of riflery broke out in the bush. It came from the
Suzerain's men, for there was no mistaking the crash of the heavy
Sniders. Once or twice the jarring thud of the machine gun broke in,
and here and there a twinkling flash leapt from the stockade, but with
that exception there was no answer from the fort.

"It seems," said Ormsgill, "Dom Erminio has his men in hand. It's a
little more than I expected from him. Presumably our friend wishes to
keep him occupied while he seizes the canoes. Anyway, his boys will be
considerably more dangerous when they've wasted their ammunition."

The fusillade continued, in all probability, harmlessly, for awhile,
and then Ormsgill rose to his feet. "I think they'll get in this time.
They're trying it again."

Once more vague, shadowy objects flitted out of the bush, and swept
towards the stockade. They ran without order, furiously, while more of
their comrades emerged from the shadows behind them, until the narrow
strip of cleared space was filled with running figures. There appeared
to be swarms of them, and Ormsgill held his breath as he watched. He
saw them plunge into a crawling trail of low lying mist, that seemed
torn apart suddenly when once more the face of the stockade was
streaked with little spurts of flame. It closed on them again until
all was hidden but the intermittent flashing, and the jarring thud of
the machine gun rent the din. One could not tell what was going on,
and it was by a tense effort Ormsgill held himself still with every
nerve in him quivering. How long the tension lasted he did not know,
but at length the ringing of the rifles died away again, and as a
little puff of chilly breeze rolled the haze aside it became evident
that the space before the stockade was once more empty. He could see
the stockade clearly, and the edge of the forest now cut sharply
against the sky.

"The Headman can't afford to fail again," he said. "It is breaking
day."

Then there was silence for a space, while the light grew clearer until
the residency beyond the stockade grew into shape. A smear of pale
color widened in the eastern sky, and as Ormsgill turned his eyes
towards the house a limp bundle of fabric rose slowly up the lofty
staff above it. It blew out once on the faint breeze, and then hung
still again, but as he watched it, Ormsgill felt a little thrill run
through him.

"Rather earlier than usual. Dom Erminio means to fight," he said.

Just then, however, a negro who came up gasping with haste signed to
Nares. "The Headman sends for you," he said. "You are to take a
message to those people yonder."

Ormsgill looked at his comrade, who smiled curiously. "Yes," he said,
"I shall certainly go. Whether I am in any way responsible for all
this I do not know, but I may, perhaps, save a few of them."

He raised himself somewhat stiffly, and turned away, but two negroes
held Ormsgill fast when he would have gone with him. He sat down again
when they relaxed their grasp, and at last saw Nares appear again on
the edge of the bush some distance away. He was alone, and walked
quietly towards the stockade with his wide hat in his hand, and a
figure in white uniform appeared in the notch where the palisades had
been cut down for the quick-firing gun. Just then a ray of brightness
struck along the trampled sand, and Ormsgill saw his comrade stop and
stand still, spare and gaunt and ragged, with the widening sunlight
full upon him. What was said he did not know, but he did not blame Dom
Erminio afterwards for what followed. Perhaps, some black soldier's
over-taxed nerve gave way, or the man had flung off all restraint and
gone back to his primitive savagery, for a rifle flashed behind the
stockade, and Nares staggered, recovered his balance, and collapsed
into a blurred huddle of white garments on the trampled sand.

Then as Ormsgill sprang to his feet the bush rang with a yell, and a
swarm of half-naked negroes poured tumultuously out of it. There was
no firing among them. They ran forward with glinting matchets and
spears and brandished flintlock guns, and Ormsgill knew that now, at
least, they would certainly get in. In another moment he was running
furiously towards them, and so far as he could remember afterwards
none of the men in whose charge he had been troubled themselves about
him. It was some way to the front of the stockade, and when he got
there he was hemmed in by a surging crowd. There was smoke in his
eyes, and a bewildering din through which he heard the thudding of the
quick-firing gun, but where Nares was he did not know. He could only
go forward with the press, and he ran on in a fit of hot vindictive
fury.

Here and there a man about him screamed, and now and then a half-seen
figure collapsed in front of him, but this time no one stopped or
turned. They were all crazed with primitive passion, and were going
in. Ormsgill, pressing onwards with them, saw that he had now a
matchet in his hand, though he had no recollection of how it came
there. Then the thudding of the gun ceased suddenly and the air was
rent by a breathless gasping yell. The stockade rose right over him,
and he went headlong at the gap in it from which there protruded the
muzzle of the gun. Somebody behind him hurled him through the opening,
and he dropped inside. As he scrambled to his feet he saw a swarm of
men running towards the residency, and he went with them, partly
because he wished to get there and also because those who poured
through the gap behind him drove him along. He had afterwards a fancy
that he saw a white man lying not far from the gun, but he could not
be certain, for the negroes were thick about him, and he was not in a
mood to interest himself in anything of that kind just then. He was
possessed by an unreasoning fury, and an overwhelming desire to reach
the men who had treacherously shot his comrade.

They came gasping to the foot of the outer stairway, and by this time
Ormsgill had almost come up with the foremost of his companions. A
glance showed him the barricade of bags and boxes apparently filled
with soil on the veranda, and the black faces and rifle barrels above
them. There seemed to be a good deal of smoke in the air, but he saw
Dom Erminio standing amidst it in white uniform. He had a naked sword
in his hand, and apparently saw Ormsgill, for his drawn face contorted
into a very curious smile. So far as the latter could make out, he had
still a handful of men under his command. Escape was out of the
question. The score he had run up was a long one, and now the
reckoning had come.

Then several rifles flashed among the bags, and the negroes went up
the stairway with a yell. Ormsgill fancied that two or three men went
down about him, and had a vague remembrance of trampling on yielding
bodies, but he went up uninjured, and leapt up upon the barricade. The
veranda was thick with smoke now, but he saw Dom Erminio suddenly lean
forward with the long blade gleaming in his hand, and a black soldier
who crouched close beside his feet tearing at his rifle breech. That,
however, was all he saw, for in another moment he leapt down, and a
swarm of half-naked men with spears and matchets swept into the
veranda. What he did next he knew no more than those about him
probably did, but when at length he reeled out of the smoke-filled
building and down the stairway the matchet was no longer in his hand,
and he wondered vaguely that there was so far as he could discover not
a scratch on him. Still he felt a trifle dazed, and as his head ached
intolerably he sat down gasping.

There was no firing in the residency now, and half-naked men were
pouring out of it, but Ormsgill felt no desire to go back and see what
had become of Dom Erminio and his soldiery. He sat still for several
minutes, and then rising with an effort walked stiffly across the
compound. He had some trouble in climbing the stockade, and when that
was done came upon Nares lying face downwards in the trampled sand. He
raised him a trifle with some difficulty, and saw a little hole in the
breast of his thin jacket. Then laying him gently down again he took
off his shapeless hat. He was still standing beside him vacantly when
one of the Headman's messengers laid a hand on his shoulder. Ormsgill
looked down once more on his comrade, and then turned away and went
with the man.



CHAPTER XXIX

DOM CLEMENTE STRIKES


There was a chill in the air and the white mist crept in and out among
the shadowy trunks when the foremost of the rebels went slipping and
floundering down the side of a river gorge just before the dawn.
Ormsgill marching, well guarded, with his carriers and the six boys he
had liberated in the rear could just discern the dim figures flitting
on in front of him, and wondered if the next hour would see them
safely across the river. He had been subjected to no ill usage though
he had been carefully watched, and he fancied that the rebel leader
expected to find him useful when the time to make terms with the
authorities came, but that was a point he was never quite clear about.
In the meanwhile he was worn-out and badly jaded, for his leg still
pained him, and the rebels had pushed on as fast as possible after the
sacking of San Roque.

Ormsgill fancied he understood the reasons for this. The body was not
a very strong one, and though there were petty Headmen on the inland
plateau who had long cherished grievances against the white men, they
were no doubt prudently waiting to see what their friends were likely
to accomplish before they joined them. In an affair of that kind a
prompt success counts for everything, since it brings the waverers
flocking in, and while the seizing of San Roque was scarcely
sufficient to do this in itself, the first of the white men's
plantations was now not so very far away. There was another fact that
made delay inadvisable. The river flowed rapidly between steep banks
just there, and Ormsgill felt it was just the place he would have
chosen had it been his business to dispute the rebels' passage. He
fancied their leader was anxious to get across before the news of the
fall of San Roque brought troops up from the coast.

In the meanwhile he plodded onwards wearily, aching all over and wet
with the dew, while the sound of sliding water grew steadily louder.
Now and then the long straggling column stopped for a minute or two,
and there was a hoarse clamor which he fancied indicated that a scout
had come in, but the men promptly went on again, and his guards, who
carried flintlock guns, saw that he did not linger. The path grew
steadily steeper, and he stumbled in loose sand while the half-seen
trees went by until at last a sharp crackling mingled with the patter
of naked feet as the head of the column smashed through the thick
undergrowth and tall reeds in the river hollow. Then his guards made
it evident that he was to stay where he was, and he sat down among his
boys in the loose sand where he could look down on the men in front of
him. There was now a faint light, though the mist lay in thick white
belts in the hollow, and the air was very still. He could dimly see
dusky figures moving amidst the grass and reeds, and here and there a
faint gleam of water in front of them, while now and then a confused
clamor rose out of the haze. The rebels, he fancied, were disputing
about their orders, or urging some course upon their leaders, and he
wondered vaguely whether they were likely to do more than involve
themselves in disaster, and where Dom Clemente was.

This was, however, as he recognized, no concern of his. He was a
prisoner, and he could see only difficulties in front of him. Had he
been free at that moment and the boys he had liberated safely sent
away, the outlook would not have been much brighter, for he would
still have to face a duty he shrank from. That Ada Ratcliffe had no
great love for him he now felt reasonably sure, but it was clear that
she and her mother expected him to marry her, and, since she had kept
faith with him, he could not break the pledge he had given her. After
all, he reflected grimly, she would probably not expect too much from
him, and be content with the material advantages he could offer her.
Then he thought of Benicia Figuera, and set his lips tight as he once
more strove to fix his attention on the men below.

At last there was a soft splashing and he could dimly see them wade
into the river. Their disputes were over, and they were going across
in haste. Then the foremost of them plunged into a belt of mist, and
for several minutes he watched their comrades press onwards from the
tall grass and reeds. The water was gleaming faintly now, and they
looked like a long black snake crawling through the midst of it until
the filmy haze shut them in. At times a shouting came up through the
splashing and crackle of undergrowth. In the meanwhile the tail of the
straggling column still winding down the side of the gorge was
steadily growing plainer, and the haze commenced to slide and curl
upwards in long filmy wisps, until at last Ormsgill scrambled to his
feet with every nerve in him thrilling. The ringing of a bugle rose
from beyond the river and was answered by another blast apparently
from the rise behind him.

Then the splashing ceased suddenly, and there was for a few moments a
tense and almost intolerable silence, during which he stood still with
one hand clenched until a clamor rose from the midst of the river, and
he heard the dull thud of a flintlock gun. It was answered by a clear
ringing crash of riflery, and then while the flintlocks and Sniders
joined in, thin pale flashes blazed amidst the reeds and in the
sliding mist. This lasted for, perhaps, a minute or two, until it
became evident that the rebels were splashing back again. Ormsgill
could see them streaming out of the mist, and as he watched them
another patter of riflery broke out upon the higher ground behind him.
A bugle rang shrilly, and he fancied he heard a white man's voice
calling in the bush. Then looking round as one of the boys touched
him, he saw that his guards were no longer there. They had evidently
fled and left him to shift for himself. He stood a minute considering,
with the boys clamoring about him, and then made up his mind. The
rebels were streaming back up the gorge, and it seemed to him just
possible that if he separated himself from them he might slip away
unobserved in the press of the pursuit. Once across the river he might
still reach the coast.

Calling to the boys he set out at a stumbling run, and for awhile
skirted the ridge of bluff. The rebels were too intent on their own
affairs to trouble about him, even if any of them noticed him, which
appeared very doubtful. He struck the river half a mile below the spot
where the negroes had attempted the crossing, and plunged in with the
boys still about him. He could see them clearly now, and the bush
showed sharp and black against the sky. There was a desultory patter
of riflery behind him, but except for that he could hear very little,
and he pushed on with the water rising rapidly to his waist. It was as
much as he could do to keep his feet, for the stream ran strong. Then
one of the boys clutched him and held him up, and for the next few
minutes they struggled desperately in a swifter swirl of current until
the water sank again suddenly, and he stood, gasping, knee-deep in the
yellow stream, looking about him.

It was broad daylight now, and he could see a steep bank clothed with
thick bush and brushwood close by. There was a little hollow in it up
which the mist that still drifted about the river was flowing, and
calling to his boys he headed for it. Nothing seemed to indicate that
there were any troops in the vicinity. They floundered dripping
through a belt of tall grass, and were clambering up the slope when
one of the boys laid a wet hand upon his arm and the rest stood still
suddenly. Ormsgill felt his heart beating a good deal faster than
usual, though he could see nothing but trees in front of him. He was
on the point of pushing on again when a voice came out of the sliding
haze.

"Stand still," it said sharply in Portuguese. "We will shoot the first
who stirs."

Ormsgill made a sign to the boys, and in another moment several black
soldiers appeared among the trees. A white sergeant in very soiled
uniform moved out from among them and stood surveying him with a
little sardonic grin.

"There are half a dozen rifles here," he said. "You surrender
yourselves?"

Ormsgill made a little gesture. "Señor," he said, "it is evident that
we are in your hands."

The man beckoned him to come forward with the boys, and a few more
black soldiers who rose out of the undergrowth closed in on them.
Ormsgill turned quietly to the sergeant.

"You have been too much for the bushmen," he said. "Who is commanding
you?"

"Dom Clemente," said the sergeant. "He has trapped those pigs of the
forest. That is a wonderful man. You will wait here until I can send
you to him. Whether he will have you shot I do not know."

In spite of this observation he appeared a good-humored person, and
presently offered Ormsgill a cigarette. The latter, who sat down near
the sergeant and smoked it, waited until a patrol came along, when the
black soldier in command marched him and the boys through the
undergrowth, and at length led him into the presence of Dom Clemente.
He sat in state at a little table, immaculate in trim white uniform,
with two black men with rifles standing behind him. Another white
officer and a dusky interpreter who stood close by had apparently been
interrogating a couple of rebel prisoners. They squatted upon the
ground gazing at the white men with apprehension in their eyes. Dom
Clemente made Ormsgill a little formal salutation, and then leaned
back in his chair.

"This meeting reminds me of another occasion when you were brought
before me, Señor and you were then frank with me," he said. "I might
suggest that candor would be equally advisable just now. I hear that
San Roque has fallen, and it appears that you were there. I must ask
you to tell me in what capacity."

"As a prisoner in the hands of the rebels," said Ormsgill.

Dom Clemente nodded. "It is on the whole fortunate that I think one
could take your word for it," he said. "You are desired to tell us
what happened at San Roque."

Ormsgill did so quietly, though he said as little as possible about
his own share in the proceedings, and afterwards answered the
questions the other officer asked him until Dom Clemente turned to him
again.

"It seems that Dom Erminio has, at least, acquitted himself creditably
in this affair," he observed. "All things considered, I do not know
that one has much occasion to be sorry for him. Dom Luiz, too, went
down beside his gun. Well, that is, after all, what one would have
expected from him."

Then he made a little gesture. "You will understand that there are
matters which demand my attention, and I may have something more to
say later. In the meanwhile you will give me your parole. The boys
will be looked after."

Ormsgill pledged himself to make no attempt at escape, and was led
away to a little tent where food was brought him and he was told he
was to stay. He realized that Dom Clemente had struck the rebels a
crushing blow, one from which there was little probability of their
recovering, but what was being done about the pursuit he did not know,
though he fancied that a body of troops had crossed the river. Still,
that did not greatly concern him, and worn-out and dejected as he was
he was glad to fall asleep. It was evening when he awakened as a black
soldier looked into the tent, and a few minutes later Dom Clemente
came in and sat down in the camp chair the soldier had brought.
Ormsgill sat on the ground sheet, heavy-eyed, tattered, and haggard,
and waited for him to speak.

"I shall go on to-morrow when more troops come up, and you will come
with us. There are matters that require attention yonder," he said.
"In the meanwhile I have had the boys you brought down interrogated,
and the story they tell me is in some respects a fantastic one. It is,
I fancy, fortunate for your sake that I am acquainted with several
facts which seem to bear it out."

Ormsgill was a trifle astonished, but Dom Clemente smiled. "It is," he
said, "advisable that one in authority should hear of everything, but
it is not always wise that he should make that fact apparent. One
waits until the time comes--and then, as was the case this morning,
one acts."

He spread out one slender, faintly olive-tinted hand and then brought
it down upon the table closed with an unexpected sharpness that was
very expressive.

"Señor," he said, "though I have heard a little from the boys, you
have not told me yet exactly how you came to fall into those bushmen's
hands."

Ormsgill, who did not think that reticence was likely to be of much
service, briefly related what had befallen him, and his companion
nodded.

"I have the honor of your acquaintance, and it is perhaps, permissible
to point out that you have a troublesome fondness for meddling with
other people's business," he said. "Further, you are a trifle
impulsive and precipitate."

"There was nobody else who seemed anxious to undertake the affair in
question," said Ormsgill dryly.

Dom Clemente made a little gesture. "It is generally wiser to wait
until one is certain. Well, I think I may venture to take you into my
confidence to some extent. The doings of the trader Herrero--who has
lodged complaints against you--and his friend Domingo have long been
known to me. They were merely being permitted to involve themselves in
difficulties while we waited until the time was ripe. It is now very
probable that I shall suppress both of them."

"One can sometimes wait longer than is advisable," said Ormsgill with
a little dry laugh. "Herrero and his friend are dead."

Then for the first time he narrated all that had been done in the
inland village, and Dom Clemente, who listened carefully, smiled.

"It only proves my point," he said. "One waits and the affair
regulates itself. Well, they are dead, and I do not think there is
anybody who will greatly regret them. It will clear the ground for
what we mean to do up yonder. There is, you understand, to be a change
in our native policy, and I"--he straightened himself a trifle--"have
been entrusted with its inauguration. From now we shall, at least,
endeavor to modify some of the difficulties which are, perhaps, not
inseparably connected with this question of the labor supply."

"The whole system should be done away with."

Dom Clemente spread his hands out. "In this country one is content
with accomplishing a little now and then. But there is another matter.
Certain complaints have been made against your friend the American,
and we have decided that there is nothing against him. I bring him
permission to go back to his station."

"Nares," said Ormsgill quietly, "will not profit by it. He has been
promoted. He was killed endeavoring to make peace at San Roque."

"Ah," said Dom Clemente, "that is a matter of regret to me. Perhaps,
he was a little imprudent. Some of these missionaries are sadly
deficient in diplomacy, and that may have been the case with him. I do
not know. Still, when all is said, he was a brave man, and I
think"--he made a little grave gesture--"what he has done for these
black men will be remembered where he is now."

It was not a great deal, but Ormsgill who noticed the quick change in
the little soldier's voice was satisfied with it. After all, one can
not say much more of any man than that he has done what he could for
his fellow men. Then Dom Clemente turned to him again.

"I have not asked you yet what you did during the attack on San
Roque," he said.

"If you fancy I have done anything for which I could be held
accountable it is for you to establish it. It seems to me that would
be a little difficult since I believe every man in the fort is dead."

"Still--if the thing appeared advisable--it might be possible."

Ormsgill made no attempt to dispute this, but changed the subject.
"There is a thing I don't quite understand," he said. "I almost fancy
the man who led the rebels must have known you held the bank when he
pushed his men across."

"Yes," said Dom Clemente, "I believe he did. Still, there are men who
can recognize when they must fight or fail ignominiously. One has a
certain respect for them. I do not think it was that negro's fault
that he was driven back. Flintlocks and matchets are not much use
against our rifles."

Then he rose. "In the meanwhile you will be detained. My instructions
were to arrest you, and, as you know, I only hold subordinate
authority. Still, so far as my duty permits it, I think you can
regard me as a friend."

He went out of the tent, and an hour or two later Ormsgill contrived
to go to sleep again. He was roused by the bugles at daylight, and
went back with the rear guard into the forests he had lately left, and
in due time marched with them into sight of the ruins of San Roque. It
was early morning when they reached the fort, but before the sun was
high the three white men who had fallen there were laid to rest in
state. The black troops who had with reversed rifles swung into hollow
square stood listening vacantly round the bank of raw steaming soil
where Father Tiebout recited words of ponderous import in the sonorous
Latin tongue. Then there was a crashing volley, and as the patter of
marching feet commenced again Ormsgill and the priest and Dom Clemente
stood looking on while a few black soldiers raised the three rude
crosses. On one of them a dusky armorer had under Ormsgill's
supervision cut the words, "_In hoc signo._"

Father Tiebout glanced at them and nodded gravely. "It is fitting," he
said. "He did what he could--and we others do not know how much it
was. After all, it is only a grain of understanding that is now
vouchsafed us, but"--and he once more broke into the sonorous Latin,
"I look for the resurrection of the dead."

Dom Clemente smiled. "There are men of your profession, Father, who
would not have ventured to do what you have done," he said. "Still, I
think when that day comes some of us may, perhaps, have cause to envy
this heretic."

Then they turned away, and in another hour once more pushed on into
the forest.



CHAPTER XXX

ORMSGILL BEARS THE TEST


The black troops were coming home again when they halted at a
coffee-planter's fazienda within easy march of the coast to allow the
rear guard to come up. They had met with no resistance since they
crossed the river. The rebels had melted away before them and vanished
into the forests and marshes of the interior, and the troops had
pushed on into a waste and empty country finding only a few deserted
villages here and there. This was, however, very much what their
leader had expected, for he knew that in an affair of this kind
everything usually turns upon the first success, and he had made his
plans with that fact in view. Dom Clemente Figuera was, at least, a
capable soldier.

The fazienda was old and somewhat ruinous. Its prosperity had
departed, though plantations of coffee and cocoa still stretched about
the rambling white house and dusky laborers' sheds, and a little
coarse sugar was made chiefly for the sake of the resultant rum. Cocoa
could no longer be grown there by antiquated methods at a profit, and
there had of late been trouble about the labor supply. Standing where
it did within easy reach of the coast, the fazienda was open to
inspection, and the rulers of that colony had of late been making
inquiries as to the way in which the legislation that permitted the
planters to engage the negroes brought down from the bush was carried
out. Indeed, its owners realized with concern that there was likely to
be a change in their ruler's views. Dom Clemente had, in fact, issued
one or two proclamations which filled them with alarm, for they knew
that what he said was usually done.

Still, during the few days the troops halted there the white planters
had many guests, men who had, for the most part, axes to grind. They
wished to discover how the changes Dom Clemente appeared to be
contemplating might affect their trade, which like everything else in
that country depended upon the labor supply. Some of them wanted
concessions, and to be the first to benefit by any reprisals that
might be made upon the rebels, and others had grievances against the
inland officials whom they supposed Dom Clemente was not altogether
satisfied with. It was also, they felt, desirable to gain his ear, or,
at least, those of his subordinates, before affairs were debated
officially when he reached the coast, but perhaps, Dom Clemente was
aware of this, for he had most vexatiously remained behind, and those
under him had, it seemed, instructions to observe a judicious
reticence. In this case, at least, they also considered it advisable
to carry their instructions out.

Ormsgill, however, knew very little about what was going on, and late
on the second afternoon after he reached the fazienda he sat
listlessly in a half-ruinous shed which was partly filled with bags
of coarse sugar. The door was shut, and he fancied there was a sentry
on guard outside it, but from where he sat he could look out through
an unglazed window across the tall green cane towards the wooded ridge
that shut the plantation in. It is also possible that he could have
got out that way and slipped into the cane without anybody noticing
him, for black sentries are not invariably watchful, but he had given
Dom Clemente his parole, and he would have had to leave behind the
boys he had brought down. Besides, he was utterly listless. He had for
several months overtaxed his physical strength, and the fever of the
country had rudely shaken him, and left behind it an apathetic
lassitude, as it frequently does.

It was very hot in the shed which had lain since morning under a
scorching sun, and the glare that still streamed in through the window
hurt his heavy eyes. He sat on an empty case, ragged and
travel-stained, brooding heavily while the perspiration trickled from
his worn face. Nothing seemed to matter, and it would have afforded
him little pleasure had he been offered his liberty. He would, he
knew, leave all he valued behind him when he left that country, and
worn out in body as he was, and enervated in will, he shrank from the
duty that awaited him, for if he ever reached Las Palmas, which seemed
somewhat doubtful, Mrs. Ratcliffe would certainly expect him to carry
out his promise. He was in one way sorry for Ada Ratcliffe, but he
fancied that she would, after all, probably be satisfied with the
things he could offer her. Since that was the case, and she had kept
faith with him, it was evident that he could not draw back now.
Perhaps he was foolish, but he was one who kept his word, and at least
endeavored to live up to his severely simple code.

At last the glare outside the window commenced to die away, and he
could see an odd palm tuft cut with a restful greenness against the
paling sky. It was very hot still, but evening was at hand and by and
by one of the younger lieutenants who had shown him some kindness on
the march would probably come in and talk to him. He fancied he heard
the man's footsteps when another half hour had slipped away, and then
his voice rose sharply as he said something to the black sentry, but
he did not come in, and Ormsgill rose with every nerve quivering when
he heard another voice he recognized. Still, he contrived to lay a
restraint upon himself when the door opened and Benicia Figuera stood
in the entrance.

She was clad in thin draperies that gleamed immaculately white, and
the fine lines of the figure they flowed about were silhouetted
sharply against the light. Her face was in shadow, but Ormsgill saw
the sudden compassion in her eyes, and the blood crept to his
forehead. Then she turned for a moment towards the portly, black-robed
lady who appeared behind her, and apparently addressed the invisible
lieutenant.

"It is very hot here, and I think the Señora Castro would find it more
comfortable if you brought her a chair outside," she said. "You can
leave the door open. It is scarcely likely that I shall run away with
your prisoner."

The man outside apparently made no demur and when the portly lady
disappeared Benicia turned towards Ormsgill.

"Now we can talk," she said. "You are looking very ill."

Ormsgill drew forward the empty case, and laid some matting on it. "A
prisoner's quarters are not usually very sumptuous, and that is the
only seat I can offer you," he said. "I was a little astonished when I
saw you."

Benicia sat down, and smiled when he found a place among the sugar
bags.

"Astonished--that was all?" she said.

The man felt his forehead grow warm, but he laughed. "Well," he said,
"I'm not sure that quite expresses everything. Still, I certainly was
astonished. I wonder if one could ask what brought you here?"

"I came to meet my father--for one thing," and the little pause might
have had its significance, though Benicia who unrolled her fan was
handicapped by the fact that she was speaking English and had to
choose her words carefully. "I am told that he is expected here some
time to-night--but you are ill. It is needless to say--is it
not?--that I am sorry."

She looked sorry. In fact, her manner was exquisitely expressive of
sympathy, but Ormsgill contrived to answer lightly.

"The thing is not altogether unnatural," he said. "A good many of your
father's troops are sick, too. After all, there are worse troubles
than a slight attack of African fever, and I shall no doubt get well
again presently."

"And you are still--a very little--lame."

It did not strike Ormsgill as significant that she should have noticed
this, though he had only moved a pace or two when she came in. Indeed,
nothing of that kind would have occurred to him then, for while his
blood stirred within him he was struggling fiercely to retain his
self-control.

"It is possible that I shall always be a little lame," he said, and
laughed somewhat bitterly. "Still, I'm not sure that it matters. You
see, I don't even know what will be done with me when we reach the
coast."

"You have certainly enemies there--as well as friends. There are
gentlemen of some influence who had an interest in Herrero's business,
and it seems they have made rather serious complaints against you. It
is even suggested that you brought about his death. We, of course,
know that such complaints are absurd."

"I wonder why?"

Benicia leaned forward a little with her eyes fixed on him. "It is
only strangers one wastes compliments upon," she said. "I think you
and I are friends."

She had, it seemed to Ormsgill, not gone far enough, and there was an
elusive something in her manner which conveyed the impression that she
realized it. He felt his heart beat unpleasantly fast, but he
controlled himself, and while he sat silent Benicia's fan closed with
a curious little snap. One could have fancied that she had expected
him to speak.

"Still," she said, "there are others who might believe those
complaints, and--though you have friends--justice is not always
certain in this country. Are you wise in staying here?"

"I'm not sure that I can help it. You see there is a sentry yonder."

Benicia laughed a little. "Pshaw!" she said, "that could be arranged
without any great difficulty. One could require, perhaps, two minutes
to slip away into the cane, and I think nothing would be discovered
until the morning."

"On the contrary, there are several difficulties. For instance, it
would probably become evident that the thing had been--arranged. Could
I allow you to involve yourself in an affair of that kind?"

"It is by no means certain that I should involve myself. In fact, it
is most unlikely," and Benicia laughed again, though she fixed her
eyes on him with a curious intentness. "Is it not worth the hazard,
Señor, if it set you at liberty to go back to--Las Palmas?"

"No," said Ormsgill with sudden vehemence, while the veins showed
swollen on his forehead. "It certainly isn't."

A little gleam of exultation sprang into the girl's eyes, for she
recognized the thrill of passion in his voice, and she already knew it
was not the woman who awaited him at Las Palmas that he loved. Still,
it was, perhaps, fortunate he had answered her in that decisive
fashion, for the Latin nature is curiously complex and always a trifle
unstable. Though she could not have told exactly why she had led him
on, it is just possible that had he shown any eagerness to profit by
the suggestion she had made her tenderness would have changed to
vindictive anger. That she would be willing to restore him to the
other woman at her peril was, after all, rather more than one could
reasonably have expected from her. Benicia Figuera was in several
respects very human.

"Ah," she said, with a curious slow incisiveness, "then you are not so
very anxious to go back--to her?"

Ormsgill sat still for almost a minute with set lips while the
perspiration dewed his lined face. He read what the girl thought in
her eyes, and his passion came near shaking the resolution he strove
to cling to out of him. Ada Ratcliffe, who did not love him, was far
away, and this girl who he felt would, as Desmond had said, stand by
the man she loved through everything, sat within a yard of him. He
seemed to realize that if he flung aside every consideration that
restrained him and boldly claimed her she would listen. Her mere
physical beauty had also an almost overwhelming effect on him, and the
tinge of color in her cheeks and the softness in her eyes was very
suggestive. Then with a little strenuous effort he straightened
himself.

"After all," he said, "that is scarcely the question?"

"Still," the girl insisted, "I have offered you liberty, and you do
not seem to want it. Since that is so, one could almost fancy it would
not grieve you very much if you never went back."

Ormsgill stood up. "Señorita, that is a thing I can not very well
answer you. Besides, it does not seem to count. You see, I have
pledged myself to go."

"Ah," said the girl, and, though this was no news to her, her fan
snapped to again. "Would nothing warrant one breaking such a pledge?"

Then for a few seconds they looked at one another with no disguise
between them, and all their thoughts in their eyes. The girl's face
was white and intent, the man's drawn and furrowed, and the passion
that was fast overmastering all restraint was awake in both alike. It
is more than likely that Benicia did not remember that her companion
had borne as heavy a stress once before at least. When she came in she
had no intention of subjecting him to it again. She had possibly only
meant to do him a kindness, perhaps merely wished to see him, though
this was a point on which she was never sure; but the fiery Latin
nature had been too strong for her. Restraint is, after all, not a
characteristic of the people of the South. At length Ormsgill made an
effort.

"The thing would be impossible," he said. "I am guarded. There is a
sentry at the door."

The girl saw that his control was slackening, for she knew it was not
the pledge she had mentioned but the hazard she would run in setting
him at liberty he was referring to, and she laughed, almost
exultantly.

"No," she said, "it would be so easy. The sentry is called away for a
few minutes. As I said--it could be arranged. Then you slip away into
the cane. It is not difficult to reach the city--and you have friends
there."

She broke off abruptly, but Ormsgill saw that she had flung her pride
away, and, since it was clear that it was not that he might go back to
Las Palmas she was willing to connive at his escape, he felt it only
remained for him to supply what she had left unsaid. The desire to do
so shook him until he closed one hand in an intensity of effort, and
for almost half a minute there was a silence that grew almost
intolerable.

Then the girl slowly straightened herself, and her eyes gleamed
curiously, though her face was very pale.

"The hazard appears too great for you, Señor?" she said.

"Yes," said Ormsgill quietly, noticing the sudden change in her
attitude, "in one way it does." Then he made a little abrupt gesture.
"As I said, I am pledged to go back to Las Palmas if I am set at
liberty--but it is a matter in which I can not permit you to do
anything for me."

Benicia stood up very straight, and her eyes had still a curious gleam
in them. "Then there is nothing more to be said. It seems you will not
listen to any suggestion I can make--and, perhaps, you are right."

She spread out her hands in a vaguely forceful fashion as she turned
from him and moved towards the door, but before she reached it she
stopped and glanced at him again. Ormsgill who set his lips tight said
nothing at all. Then there was a sound of footsteps outside, and Dom
Clemente, who appeared in the entrance, stood still looking at them
curiously. It was a moment or two before he turned to Benicia.

"Ah," he said, "I did not know you were here until a few minutes ago
and I will not keep you now. I think the Señora is waiting for you."

He stood aside when she swept past him and vanished with a rustle of
filmy draperies. Then he turned to Ormsgill.

"Señor," he said, "I am inclined to fancy that you have something to
say to me."

The blood rose to Ormsgill's face, and his voice was strained. It was
an almost intolerable duty that was laid upon him.

"I am afraid your surmise is not correct," he said. "I have nothing to
say."

Dom Clemente let one hand drop on the hilt of his sword. "Señor," he
said, "I am informed by my Secretary that the Señorita Benicia Figuera
has obtained certain concessions concerning you from a man whose
authority we submit to. You are, it seems, to be treated with every
consideration, and he will investigate the complaints made against you
personally. That," and he made a little impressive gesture, "is
evidently the result of the Señorita Benicia's efforts on your behalf.
I am here to ask you why she has made them?"

Ormsgill looked at him steadily, though it cost him an effort to
answer.

"I have the honor of the Señorita's acquaintance," he said. "It seems
she is one who does what she can for her friends. I can offer no other
explanation."

"Ah," said Dom Clemente with incisive quietness, "I once informed you
that it seemed to me you were doing a perilous thing in going back to
Africa. It is possible you will shortly realize that what I said was
warranted."

Then he turned and went out, and Ormsgill sat down again with a little
gasp, for the tension of the last few minutes had been almost
insupportable.



CHAPTER XXXI

ON HIS TRIAL


Several hours had passed since Dom Clemente left Ormsgill's quarters
when he sat with one of his staff under a lamp in a room of the
fazienda. He had laid his kepi on the table, and leaned back in his
chair looking at a strip of paper with a little grim smile in his
eyes. A negro swathed in white cotton squatted against the wall
watching him uneasily, and a black soldier who had led the man in
stood with ordered rifle at the door. At length Dom Clemente tossed
the paper across to the officer sitting opposite him.

"I should be glad of your opinion," he said.

"It is discreet," said his companion, who examined the paper
carefully. "The writer evidently foresaw the possibility of his
message falling into the wrong hands. It is also indifferent
Portuguese, but I think it is the writing of an educated man."

"Exactly! The question is why should an educated man express himself
in that fashion?"

The officer shook his head. "That," he said reflectively, "is a thing
I do not understand."

Dom Clemente smiled a little, and took up another strip of paper.
"This," he said, "is a message of the same kind which has also fallen
into my hands. Does anything else occur to you when you put the two
together?"

"They are from the same man," and then a light seemed to break in upon
the officer. "He does not write like a native of the Peninsula."

"No," said Dom Clemente. "I do not think he has ever been there.
Still, he had, no doubt, reasons for attempting to write in
Portuguese." Then he turned sternly to the crouching negro. "Who gave
you this message. Where were you to take the answer?"

"A man of a tribe I do not know," said the messenger who was evidently
in a state of terror. "I was to meet him before the morning at a spot
about a league away."

"Then," said Dom Clemente, "there is a little service I want from you.
You will take some of my soldiers with you when you meet this man. If
you attempt to warn him you will probably be shot."

He turned to his companion. "I think it would be advisable for you to
go yourself. You will take a reliable sergeant and several files, and
arrest the man who wrote this letter. I think you will find that he is
the leader of a big game expedition."

The officer raised his eyebrows. "There is no big game in this part of
the country."

"That," said Dom Clemente, "is a point the man in question has
probably forgotten. In any case, you will arrest him and bring him
here. It is, however, advisable that the thing should be done
quietly."

The officer signed to the black soldier who moved forward and touched
the messenger's shoulder, and Dom Clemente smiled grimly as he once
more busied himself with the papers in front of him when they went
out.

In the meanwhile Ormsgill lay half-asleep upon a few empty sugar bags
in the ruinous shed. His head ached, for the fever still troubled him
now and then and the place was almost insufferably hot, but the strain
he had borne that afternoon had left him a trifle dazed and insensible
to physical discomforts, and at length he sank into fitful slumber.
Several times he wakened with a start and closed a hot hand as his
troubles returned to him, but he was too limp in mind to grapple with
them. It was rather late in the morning when a patter of naked feet
and the shouting of orders roused him. It suggested that the troops
were being paraded, and looking out through the window he saw Dom
Clemente and several officers descend from the planter's house. After
that there was a stir and bustle, and by and by he saw a man whom he
did not recognize being led towards the house by a group of
deferential officers. This, however, did not appear to concern
Ormsgill, and leaving the window when his breakfast was brought him he
sat down on the sugar bags for another hour or two. Then the door of
the shed was flung open and he saw a black sergeant who stood outside
beckoning to him.

"Your presence is required," he said in Portuguese.

Ormsgill stood still a moment blinking in the brightness when he left
the shed, for the glare of sunlight on trampled sand and white walls
set his heavy eyes aching, but when the sergeant made a sign he
followed him to the planter's house. He was led into a big scantily
furnished room which had green lattices drawn across two of the open
windows, but a dazzling shaft of sunlight streamed in through one that
was not covered, and he saw a grave-faced gentleman sitting in state
at a table. He was, though Ormsgill did not know this, the man who had
talked to Benicia on board the gunboat, and had arrived at the
fazienda that morning. Two black soldiers with ordered rifles stood
motionless behind him, and Dom Clemente sat on the opposite side of
the table. Beside him there were also two other officers, one of whom
seemed to be acting as secretary, for there was a handful of papers in
front of him, and several of Ormsgill's boys squatted, half-naked,
impassive figures, against the wall.

Ormsgill stood still, looking at the men at the table with heavy eyes.
His thin duck garments were more than a trifle ragged and stained with
travel, and his face was haggard. He was, it seemed, to be tried, but
he felt no great concern. The result was almost a matter of
indifference to him since it only remained for him to go back to Las
Palmas if he was set at liberty. There was a momentary silence when he
was led in, and then Dom Clemente handed one or two more papers to the
secretary.

"There are, as you are aware, several somewhat serious complaints
against you," he said in Portuguese. "It is now desirable that they
should be investigated. I will have them read to you."

Ormsgill listened gravely while the officer read aloud. He was, it
appeared, charged with abducting a native woman from the trader
Herrero, and taking away by force labor recruits who had engaged
themselves to the latter's associate Domingo. There were also charges
of supplying the natives with arms and inciting them to mutiny.

"You have heard?" said the man at the head of the table. "If you do
not admit the correctness of all this we will hear what you have to
say. You will, however, be required to substantiate it."

Ormsgill roused himself for an effort. After all, liberty was worth
something, and it was a duty to attempt to secure it, and for the next
quarter of an hour he concisely related all that he had done since he
came back to the country after the death of Lamartine. None of those
who heard him made any comment, but he could see the little smile of
incredulity which now and then flickered into the eyes of the younger
officers. The man who sat in state at the head of the table, however,
listened gravely, and Dom Clemente's face was expressionless.

"That is all," said Ormsgill at last. "It is very possible that what I
have told you may appear improbable, and I can not substantiate it.
Most of those concerned are dead. Still, you have some of my boys
here, and you can question them."

There was a little silence until the man at the head of the table
leaned back in his chair.

"It is a very astonishing story," he said. "There are one or two
points I should like made clearer, but in the meanwhile we will hear
the boys."

An interpreter was brought in, and with his assistance two of the boys
told what they knew. Then he went out again, and Dom Clemente turned
to his companion.

"I must admit that I have information which partly bears out what has
been said about the native woman Anita," he said. "If this assurance
is not sufficient she could be examined later. I have,"--and he looked
hard at Ormsgill--"at least no cause to be prejudiced in the
prisoner's favor. In the meanwhile one might ask if he can think of
nobody else who would support what he has said?"

"No," said Ormsgill dryly, "as I mentioned, most of those concerned
are dead."

He saw Dom Clemente glance at the man opposite him who smiled.

"There is one point on which we have not touched," said the latter,
who turned to Ormsgill. "How did you get the first eight boys you say
you set free out of the country?"

"That," said Ormsgill, "is a thing I can not tell you. It was, at
least, not with the connivance of anybody in the city."

Dom Clemente made a little sign to his secretary, who went out, and
there was silence for a while. The room was very hot, and Ormsgill
felt himself aching in every limb. He had been standing for half an
hour now, and his leg was becoming painful. Then there were footsteps
outside, and he gasped with astonishment as a black soldier led
Desmond in. The latter, however, turned to the officers.

"You have had me brought here against my will, gentlemen, and it is
very possible that you will have grounds for regretting it," he said
in English. "It would be a favor if you will tell me what you want?"

The gentleman at the head of the table leaned forward in his chair. "A
little information--in the meanwhile," he said quietly. "You recognize
the prisoner yonder?"

Dom Clemente translated, and Desmond carefully looked Ormsgill over.

"Well," he said, "I have certainly met him before--in Las Palmas--and
other places. He doesn't seem to have thriven since then."

"We would like to know what you were doing at the spot where the
soldiers arrested you?"

"That," said Desmond sturdily, "is my own business; and a thing I have
not the least intention of telling you."

Two of the officers frowned, but the man at the table waved his hand.

"Well," he said, "we will try another question. It is desirable that
we should know how a certain eight boys whom the prisoner brought down
to the coast were smuggled out of the country."

Desmond looked at Ormsgill, who nodded. "I think you may as well
tell him," he said. "There is reason for believing that our friend
yonder who speaks excellent English"--and he indicated Dom
Clemente--"is acquainted with it already. I don't think they can
hold--you--responsible."

Then Desmond spoke boldly, answering their questions until almost
everything was explained. Dom Clemente's eyes twinkled, and his
companion leaned back in his chair with a curious little smile.

"What I have heard is so extraordinary as to be almost
incomprehensible," he said. "It seems that you and your friend must
have spent a very large amount of money to set these fourteen boys at
liberty."

He waved his hand towards the squatting negroes. "Señores," he said
turning to the officers, "I would ask you to look at them, and tell me
if the thing appears reasonable."

The manner in which the officers smiled was very expressive. It was,
they were assured, for these thick-lipped, woolly-haired bushmen
crouching half-naked against the wall, without a spark of intelligence
in their heavy animal-like faces, that the two English gentlemen had
spent money broadcast, faced fatigue and peril, and hazarded the anger
of the Government. The thing certainly appeared incomprehensible to
them. Desmond guessed their thoughts, and a red flush crept into his
sea-bronzed face and a little portentous glint into his eyes.

"I admit that it sounds nonsensical," he said. "Still, Señores, I have
the honor of offering you my word."

Then somewhat to the astonishment of all except Dom Clemente, who
smiled, the man at the head of the table made Desmond a little
punctilious inclination.

"Señor," he said, "I think your word would go a long way. In the
meanwhile we will hear what the priest has to tell us."

Ormsgill started a little when Father Tiebout was brought in a minute
or two later. He sat down and nodded when Dom Clemente had spoken to
him.

"Most of what I know is at your service," he said. He commenced with
the death of the trader Lamartine, and told his tale quietly but with
a certain dramatic force. When he came to the point where he and Nares
had written to Ormsgill after Domingo's raid he stopped a moment, and
the pause was impressive.

"You will understand, Señores, that we had faith when we wrote to this
man," he said.

"You believed he would come back and undertake the task at his peril?"

"The thing," said Father Tiebout quietly, "was, to us at least,
absolutely certain."

There was blank astonishment in two of the officers' faces, but the
man at the head of the table made a sign of concurrence, and once more
a little gleam crept into Dom Clemente's eyes. Then the priest went
on, and when at last he stopped there was a full minute's silence.
After that the man at the head of the table spoke to Ormsgill, and his
voice had a curious note in it.

"How was it you did not ask us to send for this priest and hear him in
your defense?" he said.

Ormsgill smiled dryly. "It is not as a rule advisable for a
missionary to meddle with affairs of State."

"Ah," said the other man, "it would, I think, make our work easier if
none of them did. Well, you have given us a reason, and it is one I
could consider satisfactory--in your case."

Then he turned to Desmond. "Señor, I had the honor of asking you a
question a little while ago. Perhaps, it may not appear desirable to
withhold the information I desired any longer."

Desmond laughed, and looked at him steadily.

"Well," he said, "since you have no doubt guessed my purpose, I will
tell you. I came up here to take my friend out of your hands, and if
it hadn't been for the thick-headed boy who let the soldiers creep in
on us while we were asleep I think I would in all probability have
managed it."

"Ah," said the other man spreading out his hands, "I almost believe it
is possible."

Then he turned to his companions. "One naturally expects something
quite out of the usual course from men like these."

After that he sat silent for at least a minute, until he leaned
forward and spoke awhile in a low voice with Dom Clemente who once or
twice made a sign of concurrence.

Then he turned to Ormsgill.

"I shall probably have something to say to you again," he said. "This
is an affair that demands careful consideration, and in the meantime
there are other matters which can not be delayed."

Dom Clemente spoke sharply, and a black sergeant at the door who
beckoned Ormsgill and Desmond to follow him went with them to their
quarters in the ruinous shed.

"There are, I think, very few men in this country who would have
spoken to that man or Dom Clemente as you have done," he said. Then he
grinned in a very suggestive fashion. "It is probably fortunate that
he seemed to believe you, though if he had been any other man I would
have called him very foolish."

Ormsgill said nothing, but sat down among the empty sugar bags, and he
and Desmond looked at one another when the patter of the sergeant's
feet grew indistinct. Both were glad they were alone, but for a minute
or two neither of them broke the silence.



CHAPTER XXXII

BENICIA UNDERTAKES AN OBLIGATION


Ormsgill, who reclined among the sugar bags, lighted a cigarette one
of the officers had given him before he turned to Desmond.

"I don't know if you are comfortable on that case, but, as you see, I
haven't another seat to offer you, and these bags are a trifle
sticky," he said. "I understand that my jailers were instructed to
show me every consideration."

Desmond laughed as he glanced around the half-ruinous shed. "It's
hardly worth while making excuses of that kind," he said. "I'm quite
willing to admit that the one thing that's worrying me is the question
what your friends mean to do with us."

"It's possible they may set us at liberty, but in the meanwhile you
know as much as I do. How did you fall into their hands?"

"I was at Las Palmas when I heard that they were having trouble in the
interior. The news wasn't very definite, but it seemed to me I might
be wanted and I brought the yacht across as hard as we could drive
her."

"Ah," said Ormsgill quietly, "that is, of course, very much the kind
of thing one would expect you to do. You were at Las Palmas--but go
on. I may ask you something later."

Desmond understood him, and though he had driven the _Palestrina_
mercilessly day after day under the uttermost pressure her boilers
would stand he was satisfied. He had not thought it worth while to
mention how they had shaken every rag of canvas out while the yacht
rolling viciously and shivering in every plate swept along with the
spray-clouds flying over her before the big trade breeze combers, or
the more arduous days when, while the firemen gasped beneath an almost
intolerable heat, they still drove her south at topmost speed over an
oily blazing sea across the line. He also fancied he knew what
Ormsgill wished to ask him, and a trace of uneasiness crept into his
face as he proceeded somewhat hastily.

"Well," he said, "when we got the anchor down I heard that the
fighting was over and the troops were coming back again. Somebody told
me they had a white prisoner who had evidently been encouraging the
rebels, and it seemed to me advisable to set out up country on a
shooting trip. There was a rather capable boy among those I hired, and
he hadn't much difficulty in making friends with one of the camp
followers or carriers when we came up with the troops. After that we
followed their track, keeping about a league away from them for almost
a week, and I sent you two messages. I suppose you never got them?"

"No," said Ormsgill. "I almost think it's evident that somebody else
did."

Desmond made a little sign of concurrence. "The boy probably sold us,
or your friend Dom Clemente was too clever for him. One could fancy
that is a very capable man. Anyway, while I was considering how we
could arrange to get you off we went to sleep last night in a belt of
grass. I took the precaution of sending two sentries out, and I don't
know yet why they didn't warn me, but when I awakened early this
morning there was a white officer standing over me. As he had several
black soldiers with him and we were evidently at his mercy I came
along with him. I don't think there was any other course open to me."

"You have done what you could. You brought me no message from Las
Palmas?"

Desmond, who once more appeared uneasy, sat silent for a moment or
two. Then he leaned forward a trifle with a flush in his face.

"I don't know how you'll take it, but, as a matter of fact, I did," he
said. "I brought a letter which Mrs. Ratcliffe gave me, and I believe
there was another from Miss Ratcliffe inside it. Unfortunately, one of
your friends here confiscated it not long ago as well as every other
scrap of paper in my possession."

"They sent me no word when you left Las Palmas before," said Ormsgill
with a portentous quietness, though there were signs of tension in his
face. Then he straightened himself suddenly. "You are keeping
something back. It concerns Ada?"

"It does, and I'm particularly sorry your friends seized that letter.
This is an affair I should greatly have preferred to leave in Mrs.
Ratcliffe's hands. She"--and Desmond made a little vague gesture--"is
a lady of considerable ability and has no doubt explained the thing
much more satisfactorily than I could do."

"Go on," said Ormsgill with sharp incisiveness.

Desmond, who still hesitated, looked at him in a curious deprecatory
fashion.

"Well," he said, "the fact is Miss Ratcliffe was married the day
before I left Las Palmas."

In another moment Ormsgill was on his feet, and his laugh jarred on
Desmond's ears.

"Married!" he said hoarsely, clenching one hand tight. "And I've
thrown away everything to keep faith with her."

Desmond made a little restraining gesture. "Well," he said, "it's not
my business, but I think I understand what you are referring to--and,
perhaps, it's scarcely wise to be too sure. With all deference to Mrs.
Ratcliffe I can't help fancying you are well out of the other matter.
After all, to mention no other reason, it would require a certain
amount of courage to recognize that lady as one's mother-in-law."

Ormsgill, who made no answer, turned towards the door, and spoke a few
words to the sentry. The latter called to one of his comrades, and
Ormsgill, after giving the man a message came back again and sat down
quietly.

"I have asked if I may have the letter," he said.

It was brought him ten minutes later unopened, and he sat very still
for awhile after he had read it. Then there was bitterness in his
laugh.

"It is in one sense a masterly production," he said. "In fact, both of
them are. I am assured that Mrs. Ratcliffe recognized all along that
we were never made for one another." He turned, and grasped his
companion's shoulder. "Can you tell me anything about this paragon
who, it seems, has married Ada?"

A little twinkle crept into Desmond's eyes. "I never heard him called
anything of that kind before. Lister, you see, is an unlicked colt,
and nobody could have said very much to his credit until lately.
Still, he seems to be making an effort to rub out certain defects in
his character, and if Miss Ratcliffe can only keep it up they may get
along tolerably well together."

"Keep it up?"

Desmond smiled again. "It's probably somewhat delicate ground, but the
thing has its whimsical aspect. You see he, perhaps, naturally,
regards Miss Ratcliffe as the incarnation of honor and every other
estimable equality, which is apt to make her rôle rather a difficult
one. I have no doubt her mother has asked you very tactfully not to
say anything that might render it harder still if you ever come across
Lister, which, if she has any hand in his arrangements, is most
unlikely."

"There is a suggestion of that kind here," and Ormsgill gazed at him
very grim in face. "You mean that they have not mentioned me to
Lister."

"I should consider it very improbable," said Desmond dryly. "As I
ventured to suggest, you have, perhaps, after all, no very great cause
for regret."

Ormsgill, who said nothing, rose and walked several times up and down
the shed, and then moved suddenly towards the door. He spoke a few
words to the sentry, after which he sat down and waited for some
little time, while Desmond smiled once or twice as he watched him.
Then the door was opened, and a black sergeant who appeared in the
entrance signed to Ormsgill.

"Dom Clemente can spare you a few minutes," he said.

Ormsgill rose and followed him across the compound and up the veranda
stairway into a room where Dom Clemente was sitting alone. He looked
up when Ormsgill came in.

"You have some complaint--of the accommodation we have provided you
with?" he said.

"No," said Ormsgill, "my business is of a very different nature. You
asked me last night, Señor, if I had anything to say to you. I wonder
if you will now listen to me for a little while?"

His companion's gesture signified compliance, and Ormsgill proceeded,
speaking with a terse directness which, as it happened, served him
well. When at last he stopped Dom Clemente looked at him with a little
dry smile.

"Señor," he said, "in one sense the explanation is sufficient, though
there are, you can understand, respects in which it leaves a little to
be desired."

"I make no excuse," and a faint flush crept into Ormsgill's face.
"Only, in this case my mind will always be the same."

The little officer sat still, looking at him steadily, while half a
minute slipped away, and Ormsgill felt the silence becoming
oppressive. Then he spread one hand out.

"After all," he said, "there are, probably, very few among us who are
quite exempt from some folly of this kind, and I think it is to your
credit that when you recognized that it was a folly you were willing
to carry it out. I may mention that I had the honor of meeting the
lady."

Then he made a little expressive gesture. "Señor, you are, at least,
one whose word can be relied upon, and that counts for a good deal. It
is, however, to be remembered that you are not yet at liberty."

"I think my liberty largely depends upon you. One could fancy that you
know how far the complaints against me are credible. In fact, I do not
understand why you ever gave them any consideration."

Dom Clemente smiled. "One has usually a motive, Señor, and it is
generally wiser not to make it too apparent until the time is ripe. In
this case I think the results have warranted everything I have done.
Herrero and Domingo, not to mention one or two others, have
accomplished their own destruction, though that is, after all, not
quite the question. The matter you have laid before me is, it seems to
me, one that Benicia must decide."

He rose with the little twinkle still in his eyes. "I will leave you
to make it as clear as you can to her."

He went out, and Ormsgill waited, with his heart beating a good deal
faster than usual, until Benicia came in. He stood looking at her a
moment, with a faint flush in his haggard face.

"Señorita," he said, "I would like you to listen to a story--though it
is a little difficult to tell."

For a moment Benicia met his gaze, and saw the little glint in his
eyes. She also saw how worn his face was, and the gauntness of his
frame, and her compassion was stronger than her pride.

"Ah," she said, "I know it already. I have known it all along."

"Still," said Ormsgill, "there is a little more to be said. I am not
going back to Las Palmas if I am set at liberty."

He saw the crimson creep into her forehead. "Benicia," he said, "the
woman I was pledged to has cast me off. I am going back to England,
and--after all you know--I wonder if I dare venture to ask you if you
will come with me."

"Ah," said the girl with a simplicity that had a certain stateliness
in it, "I think I would go anywhere with you."

Then Ormsgill strode forward masterfully, and it was a minute later
when she smiled up at him. "This," she said, "is not what I meant to
do--at least, just now--but when I saw you looking so worn and anxious
and remembered that you were still a prisoner I forgot how I hated
that Englishwoman. I only remembered how I loved you."

A little later there were footsteps outside, and the black sergeant
once more appeared in the doorway, while when he led Ormsgill away
Benicia went straight to a room guarded by a dusky soldier, and
demanded to see the officer within. He sent his secretary away, and
then looked up at her with a little smile.

"You have a promise to keep," she said. "I have come to ask you to set
these two Englishmen at liberty."

"Ah," said the man, "there are, no doubt, one or two reasons for this
that you can suggest?"

"You know they have done no wrong."

"It is possible. Still, we have not altogether settled that question
yet. Is there nothing else that you can urge in their favor?"

"They are friends of mine."

The officer made a little grave gesture. "That," he said, "goes a long
way, but, after all, I am not sure that it goes quite far enough."

Benicia's face grew a trifle warm, but she smiled. "One," she said,
"is the man I am going to marry."

Her companion's eyes twinkled. "Well," he said, "in that case we must
certainly see what can be done before we march to-morrow."

Benicia asked nothing further, for she was satisfied, and soon after
she left the officer Ormsgill sat down opposite Desmond in the
half-ruinous shed. He said a few disjointed words, and Desmond laughed
cheerfully.

"I knew how it was as soon as I saw you," he said. "Well, I believe we
could get hold of an American missionary, and the _Palestrina_'s
ready."

The rest of that day passed very slowly with them both, but early next
morning they were once more led into the presence of Dom Clemente and
the gray-haired officer. When they came in the latter signed to his
secretary, and Father Tiebout, who quietly went out. A few minutes
afterwards the secretary led Benicia in, and the officer turned to
Ormsgill.

"We have," he said, "again carefully considered the complaints against
you. As the result of it I think I can venture to set the Señor
Desmond at liberty, and to place you at the Señorita Benicia's
disposal. She"--and he smiled gravely--"will be held accountable for
your behavior while you remain in this country. If it is permissible,
I might advise her not to countenance any further undertakings of the
kind that brought you back to Africa."



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

The following typographical errors present in the original edtion
have been corrected:

On the title page, "THE CATTLE-BARON S DAUGHTER" was changed to "THE
CATTLE-BARON'S DAUGHTER".

In the Table of Contents, the page number for Chapter XVIII, DOM
CLEMENTE LOOKS ON, was changed from 231 to 213.

In Chapter I, "Maderia chair on the veranda" was changed to "Madeira
chair on the veranda", "since you have no carries" was changed to "since
you have no carriers", "took of his hat" was changed to "took off his
hat", and commas were added after "a good magazine rifle" and "it was so
still that Nares".

In Chapter II, a comma was added after "Herrero has gone South
somewhere".

In Chapter III, a period was added after "almost too startled to
understand that you had arrived", and "I believe you are smilling" was
changed to "I believe you are smiling".

In Chapter IV, a comma was changed to a period after "with a little
flush in her face", and a single quotation mark (') was changed to a
double quotation mark (") after "your prospective mother-in-law will be
pleased with you?".

In Chapter V, a period was changed to a question mark after "become a
trifle civilized", and a period was changed to a comma after "you are
determined to go".

In Chapter VI, "He could forsee that" was changed to "He could foresee
that", and a missing quotation mark was added before "It would be an
interesting spectacle."

In Chapter VII, a period was changed to a comma after "and Nares added",
and a comma was deleted after "Anybody who wishes to go inland".

In Chapter VIII, "two somewhat ragged white men lay listessly" was
changed to "two somewhat ragged white men lay listlessly", and "Still
they can't shoot as I can" was changed to "Still, they can't shoot as I
can".

In Chapter IX, a single quotation mark (') was changed to a double
quotation mark (") after "I should probably not have been welcome?", and
"I am not sure that is quiet sufficient in itself" was changed to "I am
not sure that is quite sufficient in itself".

In Chapter X, "statutesque modeling" was changed to "statuesque
modeling", and a comma was added after "while you stay here".

In Chapter XI, a period was changed to a question mark after "try to
influence the girl".

In Chapter XII, a comma was added after "though far from likely", and
"Still you have made a few changes lately" was changed to "Still, you
have made a few changes lately".

In Chapter XIII, "Thomas Ormsgills could only offer her them" was
changed to "Thomas Ormsgill could only offer her them".

In Chapter XIV, "The Commandant or Chefe as he was usually called" was
changed to "The Commandant, or Chefe as he was usually called".

In Chapter XV, a period was changed to a comma after "I have to say",
and also after "I will see to it", and "until Dom Luix turns up" was
changed to "until Dom Luiz turns up".

In Chapter XVI, a quotation mark was added after "stands without the
correction", "and they recognizing it" was changed to "and they,
recognizing it", "Ormsgill who had already stationed his sentries
extinguished" was changed to "Ormsgill, who had already stationed his
sentries, extinguished" and a comma was changed to a period after "stir
the invisible trees".

In Chapter XVIII, a comma was added after "as he now and then laughingly
admitted".

In Chapter XIX, "'It is', he continued tranquilly" was changed to "'It
is,' he continued tranquilly", and a comma was added after "where the
messenger Pacheco is".

In Chapter XXI, a comma was added after "climbing a low elevation".

In Chapter XXIII, a comma was changed to a period after "changed the
subject abruptly", "one thing I am axious about" was changed to "one
thing I am anxious about", and "an intrument which resembles" was
changed to "an instrument which resembles".

In Chapter XXIV, commas were added around "who swung in a hammock hung
low beneath her awnings", "one of two of the questions which then
troubled that country" was changed to "one or two of the questions which
then troubled that country", and a misformed quotation mark was fixed
after "I think".

In Chapter XXV, a comma was added after "whose presence promised to
complicate affairs", and a missing quotation mark was added before "It's
probably just as well".

In Chapter XXXII, a comma was changed to a period after "twinkle still
in his eyes", "the gauntess of his frame" was changed to "the gauntness
of his frame", and a quotation mark was deleted before "I have known it
all along."

The punctuation in the original edition was erratic and often
ungrammatical, and many words were spelled inconsistently. Corrections
have been made where the author's intent seemed clear, or where the
original text was clearly incorrect or particularly confusing. Oddities
that did not affect the correctness or readability of the text have been
retained.





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