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Title: A Bitter Heritage - A Modern Story of Love and Adventure
Author: Bloundelle-Burton, John
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.

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Appletons'
Town and Country
Library
No. 272



A BITTER HERITAGE



By J. BLOUNDELLE-BURTON.
***********
Each, 12mo, cloth, $1.00; paper, 50 cents.
***********


A Bitter Heritage.

"Mr. Bloundelle-Burton is one of the most successful of the purveyors
of historical romance who have started up in the wake of Stanley
Weyman and Conan Doyle. He has a keen eye for the picturesque, a happy
instinct for a dramatic (or more generally a melodramatic) situation,
and he is apt and careful in his historic paraphernalia. He usually
succeeds, therefore, in producing an effective story."--_Charleston
News and Courier_.


Fortune's my Foe.

"The story moves briskly, and there is plenty of dramatic
action."--_Philadelphia Telegraph_.


The Clash of Arms.

"Well written, and the interest is sustained from the beginning to the
end of the tale."--_Brooklyn Eagle_.

"Vividness of detail and rare descriptive power give the story life
and excitement."--_Boston Herald_.


Denounced.

"A story of the critical times of the vagrant and ambitious Charles I,
it is so replete with incident and realistic happenings that one seems
translated to the very scenes and days of that troublous era in
English history."--_Boston Courier_.


The Scourge of God.

"The story is one of the best in style, construction, information, and
graphic power, that have been written in recent years."--_Dial,
Chicago_.


In the Day of Adversity.

"Mr. Burton's creative skill is of the kind which must fascinate those
who revel in the narratives of Stevenson, Rider Haggard, and Stanley
Weyman. Even the author of 'A Gentleman of France' has not surpassed
the writer of 'In the Day of Adversity' in the moving interest of his
tale."--_St. James's Gazette_.

***************
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, NEW YORK.



A BITTER HERITAGE

_A MODERN STORY OF LOVE AND ADVENTURE_



BY
JOHN BLOUNDELLE-BURTON
AUTHOR OF THE SEAFARERS, FORTUNE'S MY FOE,
THE CLASH OF ARMS, IN THE DAY OF ADVERSITY,
DENOUNCED, THE SCOURGE OF GOD, ETC.



NEW YORK
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
1899



Copyright, 1899,
By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.

_All rights reserved_.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER

I.--"You will forgive?"

II.--The story of a crime.

III.--"The land of the golden sun."

IV.--An encounter.

V.--"A half-breed--named Zara."

VI.--"Knowledge is not always proof."

VII.--Madame Carmaux takes a nap.

VIII.--A midnight visitor.

IX.--Beatrix.

X.--Mr. Spranger obtains information.

XI.--A visit of condolence.

XII.--The reminiscences of a French gentleman.

XIII.--A change of apartments.

XIV.--"This land is full of snakes."

XV.--Recollections of Sebastian's birth.

XVI.--A drop of blood.

XVII.--"She hates him because she loves him."

XVIII.--Sebastian is disturbed.

XIX.--A pleasant meeting.

XX.--Love's blossom.

XXI.--Julian feels strange.

XXII.--In the dark.

XXIII.--Warned.

XXIV.--Julian's eyes are opened.

XXV.--A dénouement.

XXVI.--"You have killed him!"

XXVII.--"I will save you."

XXVIII.--"I live--to kill him."

XXIX.--The watching figure.

XXX.--Beyond passion's bound.

XXXI.--"The man I love."

XXXII.--The Shark's Tooth Reef.

XXXIII.--Madame Carmaux tells all.

XXXIV.--Contentment.



A BITTER HERITAGE.



CHAPTER I.

"YOU WILL FORGIVE?"


A young man, good-looking, with well-cut features, and possessing a
pair of clear blue-grey eyes, sat in a first-class smoking compartment
of a train standing in Waterloo Station--a train that, because there
was one of those weekly race-meetings going on farther down the line,
which take place all through the year, gave no sign of ever setting
forth upon its journey. Perhaps it was natural that it should not do
so, since, as the dwellers on the southern banks of the Thames are
well aware, the special trains for the frequenters of race-courses
take precedence of all other travellers; yet, notwithstanding that
such is the case, this young man seemed a good deal annoyed at the
delay. One knows how such annoyance is testified by those subjected to
that which causes it; how the watch is frequently drawn forth and
consulted, the station clock glanced at both angrily and often, the
officials interrogated, the cigarette flung impatiently out of the
window, and so forth; wherefore no further description of the symptoms
is needed.

All things, however, come to an end at last, and this young man's
impatience was finally appeased by the fact of the train in which he
sat moving forward heavily, after another ten minutes' delay; and also
by the fact that, after many delays and stoppages, it eventually
passed through Vauxhall and gradually, at a break-neck speed of about
ten miles an hour, forced its way on towards the country.

"Thank goodness!" exclaimed Julian Ritherdon, "thank goodness! At last
there is a chance that I may see the dear old governor before night
falls. Yet, what on earth is it that I am to be told when I do see
him--what on earth does his mysterious letter mean?" And, as he had
done half a dozen times since the waiter had brought the "mysterious
letter" to the room in the huge caravansary where he had slept
overnight, he put his hand in the breast pocket of his coat and,
drawing it forth, began another perusal of the document.

Yet his face clouded--as it had done each time he read the letter, as
it was bound to cloud on doing so!--at the first worst words it
contained; words which told the reader how soon--very soon now, unless
the writer was mistaken--he would no longer form one of the living
human units of existence.

"Poor old governor, poor old dad!" Lieutenant Ritherdon muttered as he
read those opening lines. "Poor old dad! The best father any man ever
had--the very best. And now to be doomed; now--and he scarcely fifty!
It is rough. By Jove, it is!"

Then again he read the letter, while by this time the train, by
marvellous exertions, was making its way swiftly through all the
beauty that the springtide had brought to the country lying beyond the
suburban belt. Yet, just now, he saw nothing of that beauty, and
failed indeed to appreciate the warmth of the May day, or to observe
the fresh young green of the leaves or the brighter green of the
growing corn--he saw and enjoyed nothing of all this. How should he do
so, when the letter from his father appeared like a knell of doom that
was being swiftly tolled with, for conclusion, hints--nay! not hints,
but statements--that some strange secrets which had long lain hidden
in the past must now be instantly revealed, or remain still
hidden--forever?

It was not a long letter; yet it told enough, was pregnant with
matter.

"If," the writer said, after the usual form of address, "your ship,
the Caractacus, does not get back with the rest of the Squadron ere
long, I am very much afraid we have seen the last of each other;
that--and Heaven alone knows how hard it is to have to write such
words!--we shall never meet again in this world. And this, Julian,
would make my death more terrible than I can bear to contemplate. My
boy, I pray nightly, hourly, that you may soon come home. I saw the
specialist again yesterday and he said----Well! no matter what he
said. Only, only--time is precious now; there is very little more of
it in this world for me."

Julian Ritherdon gazed out of the open window as he came to these
words, still seeing nothing that his eyes rested on, observing neither
swift flowering pink nor white may, nor budding chestnut, nor laburnum
bursting into bloom, nor hearing the larks singing high up above the
cornfields--thinking only again and again: "It is hard. Hard! Hard! To
die now--and he not fifty!"

"And I have so much to tell you," he read on, "so much to--let me say
it at once--confess. Oh! Julian, in my earlier days I committed a
monstrous iniquity--a sin that, if it were not for our love for each
other--thank God, there has always been that between us!--nothing can
deprive the past of that!--would make my ending even worse than it
must be. Now it must be told to you. It must. Already, because I begin
to fear that your ship may be detained, I have commenced to write down
the error, the crime of my life--yet--yet--I would sooner tell it to
you face to face, with you sitting before me. Because I do not think,
I cannot think that, when you recall how I have always loved you, done
my best for you, you will judge me hardly, nor----"

The perusal of this letter came, perforce, to an end now, for the
train, after running through a plantation of fir and pine trees, had
pulled up at a little wayside station; a little stopping-place built
to accommodate the various dwellers in the villa residences scattered
all around it, as well as upon the slope of the hill that rose a few
hundred yards off from it.

Here Julian Ritherdon was among home surroundings, since, even before
the days when he had gone as a cadet into the Britannia and long
before he had become a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, his father had
owned one of those villas. Now, therefore, the station-master and the
one porter (who slept peacefully through the greater part of the day,
since but few trains stopped here) came forward to greet him and to
answer his first question as to how his father was.

Nor, happily, were their answers calculated to add anything further to
his anxiety, since the station-master had not "heerd" that Mr.
Ritherdon was any "wus" than usual, and the porter had "seed" him in
his garden yesterday. Only, the latter added gruesomely, "he was that
white that he looked like--well, he dursn't say what he looked like."

Mr. Ritherdon kept no vehicle or trap of any sort, and no cab was ever
to be seen at this station unless ordered by an intending arrival or
departing traveller on the previous day, from the village a mile or so
off; wherefore Julian started at once to walk up to the house, bidding
the porter follow him with his portmanteau. And since the villa, which
stood on the little pine-wooded eminence, was no more than a quarter
of a mile away, it was not long ere he was at the garden gate and, a
moment later, at the front door. Yet, from the time he had left the
precincts of the station and had commenced the ascent of the hill, he
had seen the white face of his father at the open window and the white
hand frequently waved to him.

"Poor old governor," he thought to himself, "he has been watching for
the coming of the train long before it had passed Wimbleton, I'll be
sworn."

Then, in another moment, he was with his father and, their greeting
over, was observing the look upon his face, which told as plainly as
though written words had been stamped upon it of the doom that was
about to fall.

"What is it?" he said a little later, almost in an awestruck manner.
Awestruck because, when we stand in the presence of those whose
sentence we know to be pronounced beyond appeal there falls upon us a
solemnity almost as great as that which we experience when we gaze
upon the dead. "What is it, father?"

"The heart," Mr. Ritherdon answered. "Valvular disease. Sir Josias
Smith says. However, do not let us talk about it. There is so much
else to be discussed. Tell me of the cruise in the Squadron, where you
went to, what you saw----"

"But--your letter! Your hopes that I should soon be back. You have not
forgotten? The--the--something--you have to tell me.

"No," Mr. Ritherdon answered. "I have not forgotten. Heaven help me!
it has to be told. Yet--yet not now. Let us enjoy the first few hours
together pleasantly. Do not ask to hear it now."

And Julian, looking at him, saw those signs which, when another's
heart is no longer in its normal state, most of us have observed: the
lips whitening for a moment, the left hand raised as though about to
be pressed to the side, the dead white of the complexion.

"If," he said, "it pains you to tell me anything of the past,
why--why--tell it at all? Is it worth while? Your life can contain
little that must necessarily be revealed and--even though it should do
so--why reveal it?"

"I must," his father answered, "I must tell you. Oh!" he exclaimed,
"oh! if at the last it should turn you against me--make
you--despise--hate--"

"No! No! never think that," Julian replied quickly, "never think that.
What! Turn against you! A difference between you and me! It is
impossible."

As he spoke he was standing by his father's side, the latter being
seated in his armchair, and Julian's hand was on the elder man's
shoulder. Then, as he patted that shoulder--once, too, as he touched
softly the almost prematurely grey hair--he said, his voice deep and
low and full of emotion:

"Whatever you may tell me can make no difference in my love and
respect for you. How can you think so? Recall what we have been to
each other since I was a child. Always together till I went to
sea--not father and son, but something almost closer, comrades----"

"Ah, Julian!"

"Do you think I can ever forget that, or forget your sacrifices for
me; all that you have done to fit me for the one career I could have
been happy in? Why, if you told me that you--oh! I don't know what to
say! how to make you understand me!--but, if you told me you were a
murderer, a convict, a forger, I should still love you; love you as
you say you loved the mother I never knew----"

"Don't! Don't! For Heaven's sake don't speak like that--don't speak of
her! Your mother! I--I--have to speak to you of her later. But
now--now--I cannot bear it!"

For a moment Julian looked at his father, his eyes full of amazement;
around his heart a pang that seemed to grip at it. They had not often
spoken of his mother in the past, the subject always seeming one that
was too painful to Mr. Ritherdon to be discussed, and, beyond the
knowledge that she had died in giving birth to him, Julian knew
nothing further. Yet now, his father's agitation--such as he had never
seen before--his strange excitement, appalled, almost staggered him.

"Why?" he exclaimed, unable to refrain from dwelling upon her. "Why
not speak of her? Was she----"

"She was an angel. Ah," he continued, "I was right--this story of my
past must be told--of my crime. Remember that, Julian, remember that.
My crime! If you listen to me, if you will hear me, as you must--then
remember it is the story of a crime that you will learn. And," he
wailed almost, "there is no help for it. You must be told!"

"Tell it, then," Julian said, still speaking very gently, though even
as he did so it seemed as if he were the elder man, as if he were the
father and the other the son. "Tell it, let us have done with
vagueness. There has never been anything hidden between us till now.
Let there be nothing whatever henceforth."

"And you will not hate me? You will--forgive, whatever I may have to
tell?"

"What have I said?" Julian replied. And even as he did so, he again
smoothed his father's hair while he stood beside him.



CHAPTER II.

THE STORY OF A CRIME.


The disclosure was made, not among, perhaps, surroundings befitting
the story that was told; not with darkness outside and in the
house--with, in truth, no lurid environments whatever. Instead, the
elderly man and the young one, the father and son, sat facing each
other in the bright sunny room into which there streamed all the
warmth and brilliancy of the late springtide, and into which, now and
again, a humble-bee came droning or a butterfly fluttered. Also,
between them was a table white with napery, sparkling with glass and
silver, gay with fresh-cut flowers from the garden. It is amid such
surroundings that, nowadays, we often enough listen to stories brimful
with fate--stories baneful either to ourselves or others--hear of
trouble that has fallen like a blight upon those we love, or learn
that something has happened which is to change forever the whole
current of our own lives.

It was thus that Julian Ritherdon listened to the narrative his father
now commenced to unfold; thus amid such environment, and with a
freshly-lit cigarette between his lips.

"You do not object to this?" he asked, pointing to the latter; "it
will not disturb you?"

"I object to nothing that you do," Mr. Ritherdon replied. "In my day,
I have, as you know, been a considerable smoker myself."

"Yes, in the days, your days, that I know of. But--forgive me for
asking--only--is it to tell me of your earlier years, those with which
I am not acquainted, that you summoned me here and bade me lose no
time in coming to you?--those earlier days of which you have spoken so
little in the past?"

"For that," replied the other slowly, "and other reasons. To hear
things that will startle and disconcert you. Yet--yet--they have their
bright side. You are the heir to a great----"

"My dear father!"

"Your 'dear father'! Ay! Your 'dear father'!" Once more, nay, twice
more, he repeated those words--while all the time the younger man was
looking at him intently. "Your 'dear father.'" Then, suddenly, he
exclaimed: "Come, let us make a beginning. Are you prepared to hear a
strange story?"

"I am prepared to hear anything you may have to tell me."

"So be it. Pay attention. You have but this moment called me your
'dear father.' Well, I am not your father! Though I should have been
had all happened as I once--so long ago--so--so long ago--hoped would
be the case."

"_Not--my--father!_" and the younger man stared with a startled look
at the other. "Not--my--father. You, who have loved me, fostered me,
anticipated every thought, every wish of mine since the first moment I
can recollect--not my father! Oh!" and even as he spoke he laid his
hand, brown but shapely, on the white, sickly looking one of the
other. "Don't say that! Don't say that!"

"I must say it."

"My God! who, then, are you? What are you to me?
And--and--who--am--_I_? It cannot be that we are of strange blood."

And the faltering words of the younger man, the blanched look that had
come upon his face beneath his bronze--also the slight tremor of the
cigarette between his fingers would have told Mr. Ritherdon, even
though he had not already known well enough that such was the case,
how deep a shock his words had produced.

"No," he answered slowly, and on his face, too, there was, if
possible, a denser, more deadly white than had been there an hour
ago--while his lips had become even a deeper leaden hue than before.
"No. Heaven at least be praised for that! I am your father's brother,
therefore, your uncle."

"Thank Heaven we are so near of kin," and again the hand of the young
man pressed that of the elder one. "Now," he continued, though his
voice was solemn--hoarse as he spoke, "go on. Tell me all. Blow as
this is--yet--tell me all."

"First," replied the other, "first let me show you something. It came
to me by accident, otherwise perhaps I should not have summoned you so
hurriedly to this meeting; should have restrained my impatience to see
you. Yet--yet--in my state of health, it is best to tell you by word
of mouth--better than to let you find out when--I--am--dead, through
the account I have written and should have left behind me. But, to
begin with, read this," and he took from his breast pocket a neatly
bound notebook, and, opening it, removed from between the pages a
piece of paper--a cutting from a newspaper.

Still agitated--as he would be for hours, for days hence!--at all that
he had already listened to, still sorrowful at hearing that the man
whom he loved so much, who had been so devoted to him from his
infancy, was not his father, Julian Ritherdon took the scrap and
read it. Read it hastily, while in his ear he heard the other man
saying--murmuring: "It is from a paper I buy sometimes in London at a
foreign newspaper shop, because in it there is often news of a--of
Honduras, where, you know, some of my earlier life was passed."

Nodding his head gravely to signify that he heard and understood,
Julian devoured the cutting, which was from the well-known New Orleans
paper, the Picayune. It was short enough to be devoured at a glance.
It ran:


Our correspondent at Belize informs us by the last mail, amongst other
pieces of intelligence from the colony, that Mr. Ritherdon (of
Desolada), one of the richest, if not the richest, exporters of
logwood and mahogany, is seriously ill and not expected to recover.
Mr. Ritherdon came to the colony nearly thirty years ago, and from
almost the first became extremely prosperous.


"Well!" exclaimed Julian, laying down the slip. "Well! It means, I
suppose--that----"

"He is your father? Yes. That is what it does mean. He is your father,
and the wealth of which that writer speaks is yours if he is now dead;
will be yours, if he is still alive--when he dies."

Because, when our emotion, when any sudden emotion, is too great for
us, we generally have recourse to silence, so now Julian said nothing;
he sitting there musing, astonished at what he had just heard. Then,
suddenly, knowing, reflecting that he must hear more, hear all, that
he must be made acquainted now with everything that had occurred in
the far-off past, he said, very gently: "Yes? Well, father--for it is
you whom I shall always regard in that light--tell me everything. You
said just now we had better make a beginning. Let us do so."

For a moment Mr. Ritherdon hesitated, it seeming as if he still
dreaded to make his avowal, to commence to unfold the strange
circumstances which had caused him to pass his life under the guise of
father to the young man who was, in truth, his nephew. Then, suddenly,
nerving himself, as it seemed to Julian, he began:

"My brother and I went to British Honduras, twenty-eight years ago,
three years before you were born; at a time when money was to be made
there by those who had capital. And _he_ had some--a few thousand
pounds, which he had inherited from an aunt who died between his birth
and mine. I had nothing. Therefore I went as his companion--his
assistant, if you like to call it so. Yet--for I must do him
justice--I was actually his partner. He shared everything with me
until I left him."

"Yes," the other said. "Yes. Until you left him! Yet, in such
circumstances, why----?"

"Leave him, you would say. Why? Can you not guess? Not understand?
What separates men from each other more than all else, what divides
brother from brother, what----"

"A woman's love, perhaps?" Julian said softly. "Was that it?"

"Yes. A woman's love," Mr. Ritherdon exclaimed, and now his voice was
louder than before, almost, indeed, harsh. "A woman's love. The love
of a woman who loved me in return. That was his fault--that for which,
Heaven forgive me!--I punished him, made him suffer. She was my
love--she loved me--that was certain, beyond all doubt!--and--she
married him."

"Go on," Julian said--and now his voice was low, though clear, "go
on."

"Her name was Isobel Leigh, and she was the daughter of an English
settler who had fallen on evil days, who had gone out from England
with her mother and with her--a baby. But now he had become a man who
was ruined if he could not pay certain obligations by a given time.
They said, in whispers, quietly, that he had used other people's names
to make those obligations valuable. And--and--I was away in New
Orleans on business. You can understand what happened!"

"Yes, I can understand. A cruel ruse was practised upon you."

"So cruel that, while I was away in the United States, thinking always
about her by day and night, I learnt that she had become his wife.
Then I swore that it should be ruse against ruse. That is the word! He
had made me suffer, he had broken, cursed my life. Well, henceforth, I
would break, curse him! This is how I did it."

Mr. Ritherdon paused a moment--his face white and drawn perhaps from
the emotion caused by his recollection, perhaps from the disease that
was hurrying him to his end. Then, a moment later, he continued:

"There were those with whom I could communicate in Honduras, those who
would keep me well informed of all that was taking place in the
locality: people I could rely upon. And from them there came to New
Orleans, where I still remained, partly on business and partly because
it was more than I could endure to go back and see her his wife, the
news that she was about to become a mother. That maddened me, drove me
to desperation, forced me to commit the crime that I now conceived,
and dwelt upon during every hour of the day."

"I begin to understand," Julian said, as Mr. Ritherdon paused. "I
begin to understand." Then, from that time he interrupted the other no
more--instead, both the narrative and his own feelings held him
breathless. The narrative of how he, a newborn infant, the heir to a
considerable property, had been spirited away from Honduras to
England.

"I found my way to the neighbourhood of Desolada, stopping at Belize
when once I was back in the colony, and then going on foot by night
through the forest towards where my brother's house was--since I was
forced to avoid the public road--forests that none but those who knew
their way could have threaded in the dense blackness of the tropical
night. Yet I almost faltered, once I turned back, meaning to return to
the United States and abandon my plan. For I had met an Indian, a
half-caste, who told me that she, my loved, my lost Isobel was dying,
that--that--she could not survive. And then--then--I made a compact
with myself. I swore that it she lived I would not tear her child away
from her, but that, if--if she died, then he who had made me wifeless
should himself be not only wifeless but childless too. He had tricked
me; now he should be tricked by me. Only--if she should live--I could
not break her heart as well.

"But again I returned upon my road: I reached a copse outside
Desolada, outside the house itself. I was near enough to see that the
windows were ablaze with lights, sometimes even I saw people passing
behind the blinds of those windows--once I saw my brother's figure and
that excited me again to madness. If she were dead I swore that then,
too, he should become childless. Her child should become mine, not
his. I would have that satisfaction at least.

"Still I drew nearer to the house, so near that I could hear people
calling to each other. Once I thought--for now I was quite close--that
I could hear the wailing of the negro women-servants--I saw a
half-breed dash past me on a mustang, riding as for dear life, and I
knew, I divined as surely as if I had been told, that he was gone for
the doctor, that she was dying--or was dead. Your father's chance was
past."

"Heaven help him!" said Julian Ritherdon. "Heaven help him. It was an
awful revenge, taken at an awful moment. Well! You succeeded?"

"Yes, I succeeded. She _was_ dead--I saw that when, an hour later, I
crept into the room, and when I took you from out of the arms of the
sleeping negro nurse--when, God forgive me, _I stole you!_"



CHAPTER III.

"THE LAND OF THE GOLDEN SUN."


The mustang halted on a little knoll up which the patient beast had
been toiling for some quarter of an hour, because upon that knoll
there grew a clump of _gros-gros_ and moriche palms which threw a
grateful shade over the white, glaring, and dusty track, and Julian
Ritherdon, dropping the reins on its drenched and sweltering neck,
drew out his cigar-case and struck a light. Also, the negro "boy"--a
man thirty years old--who had been toiling along by its side, flung
himself down, crushing crimson poinsettias and purple dracæna beneath
his body, and grunted with satisfaction at the pause.

"So, Snowball," Julian said to this descendant of African kings, "this
ends your journey, eh? I am in the right road now and we have got to
say 'Good-bye.' I suppose you don't happen to be thirsty, do you,
Pompey?"

"Hoop! Hoop!" grunted the negro, showing a set of ivories that a
London belle would have been proud to possess, "always thirsty. Always
hungry. Always want tobaccy. Money, too."

"Do you!" exclaimed Julian. "By Jove! you'd make a living as a London
johnny. That's what they always want. Pity you don't live in London,
Hannibal. Well, let's see."

Whereon he threw his leg over the great saddle, reached the ground,
and began opening a haversack, from which he took a bottle, a packet,
and a horn cup.

"Luncheon time," he said. "Sun's over the foremast! Come on, Julius
Cæsar, we'll begin."

After which he opened the packet, in which was a considerable quantity
of rather thickly cut sandwiches, divided it equally, and then filled
the horn cup with the liquid from the bottle, which, after draining,
he refilled and handed to his companion.

"I'm sorry it isn't iced, my lily-white friend," he said; "it does
seem rather warm from continual contact with the mustang's back, but I
daresay you can manage it. Eh?"

"Manage anything," the negro replied firmly, his mouth full of
sandwich, "anything. Always----"

"Yes, I know. 'Thirsty, hungry, want tobacco and money.' I tell you,
old chap, you're lost in this place. London's the spot for you. You're
fitted for a more advanced state of civilization than this."

"Hoop. Hoop," again grunted the negro, and again giving the huge
smile--"want----"

"This is getting monotonous, Sambo," Julian exclaimed. "Come, let's
settle up;" whereon he again replenished the guide's cup, and then
drew forth from his pocket two American dollars, which are by now the
standard coin of the colony. "One dollar was the sum arranged for,"
Julian said, "but because you are a merry soul, and also because a
dollar extra isn't ruinous, you shall have two. And in years to come,
my daisy, you can bless the name of Mr. Ritherdon as that of a man
both just and generous. Remember those words, 'just and generous.'"

The negro of many sobriquets--at each of which he had laughed like a
child, as in absolute fact the negro is when not (which is extremely
rare!) a vicious brute--seemed, however, to be struck more forcibly by
some other words than those approving ones suggested by Julian as
suitable for recollection, and, after shaking his woolly head a good
deal, muttered: "Ritherdon, Ritherdon," adding afterwards, "Desolada."
Then he continued: "Hard man, Massa Ritherdon. Hard man, Massa
Ritherdon. Hard man. Cruel man. Beat Blacky. Beat Whity, too,
sometimes. Hard man. Cruel man."

"Sambo," said Julian, feeling (even as he spoke still jocularly to the
creature--a pleasant way being the only one in which to converse with
the African) that he would sooner not have heard these remarks in
connection with his father, "Sambo, you should not say these things to
people about their relatives. _That_ would not do for London;" while
at the same time he reflected that it would be little use telling his
guide of the old Latin proverb suggesting that one should say nothing
but good of the dead.

"You relative of Massa Ritherdon!" the other grunted now, though still
with the unfailing display of ivories. "You relative. Oh! I know not
that. Now," he said, thinking perhaps it was time he departed, and
before existing amicable arrangements should be disturbed, "now, I go.
Back to Belize. Good afternoon to you, sir. Good-bye. I hope you like
Desolada. Fifteen miles further on;" and making a kind of shambling
bow, he departed back upon the road they had come. Yet not without
turning at every other three or four steps he took, and waving his
hand gracefully as well as cordially to his late employer.

"A simple creature is the honest black!" especially when no longer a
dweller in his original equatorial savagery.

"Like it," murmured Julian to himself, "Yes, I hope so. Since it is
undoubtedly my chief inheritance, I hope I shall!"

He had left Belize that morning, by following a route which the negro
knew of, had arrived in the neighbourhood of a place called Commerce
Bight--a spot given up to the cultivation of the cocoanut-tree. And
having proceeded thus far, he knew that by nightfall he would be at
Desolada--the dreary _hacienda_ from which, twenty-six years before,
his uncle had ruthlessly kidnapped him from his father--the father
who, he had learnt since he arrived in the colony, had been dead three
months. Also he knew that this property called Desolada lay some dozen
miles or so beyond a village named All Pines, and on the other side of
a river termed the Sittee, and, as he still sat beneath the palm-trees
on the knoll where they had halted for the midday meal, he wondered
what he would find when he arrived there.

"It is strange," he mused to himself now, as from out of that cool,
refreshing shade he gazed across groves upon groves of mangroves at
his feet, to where, sparkling in the brilliant cobalt-coloured
Caribbean Sea, countless little reefs and islets--as well as one large
reef--dotted the surface of the ocean, "strange that, at Belize, I
could gather no information of my late father. No! not even when I
told the man who kept the inn that I was come on a visit to Desolada.
Why, I wonder, why was it so? My appearance seemed to freeze them into
silence, almost to startle them. Why? Why--this reticence on their
part? Can it be that he was so hated all about here that none will
mention him? Is that it? Remembering what the negro said of him, of
his brutality to black and white, can that be it? Yet my uncle hinted
at nothing of the kind."

Still thinking of this, still musing on what lay before him, he
adjusted the saddle (which he had previously loosened to ease the
mustang) once more upon the animal's back. Then, as his foot was in
the stirrup there came, swift as a flash of lightning, an idea into
his mind.

"I must be like him," he almost whispered to himself, "so like him,
must bear such a resemblance to him, that they are thunderstruck. And,
if any who saw me can recollect that, twenty-six years ago, his
newborn child was stolen from him on the night his wife died, it is no
wonder that they were thunderstruck. That is, if I do resemble him so
much."

But here his meditations ceased, he understanding that his name, which
he had inscribed in the visitor's book lying on the marble table of
the hotel, would be sufficient to cause all who learnt it to refrain
from speaking about the recently dead man--his namesake.

"Yet all the same," he muttered to himself, as now the mule bore him
along a more or less good road which traversed copses of oleanders and
henna plants, allamandas and Cuban Royal palms--the latter of which
formed occasionally a grateful shade from the glare of the sun--"all
the same, I wish that darkey had not spoken about my father's cruelty.
I should have preferred never to learn that he bore such a character.
He must have been very different from my uncle, who, in spite of the
one error of his life, was the gentlest soul that ever lived."

All the way out from England to New Orleans, and thence to Belize by a
different steamer, his thoughts had been with that dear uncle--who
survived the disclosure he had made but eight days--he being found
dead in his bed on the morning of the ninth day--and those thoughts
were with him now. Gentle memories, too, and kindly, with in them
never a strain of reproach for what had been done by him in his hour
of madness and desire for revenge; and with no other current of ideas
running through his reflections but one of pity and regret for the
unhappiness his real father must have experienced at finding himself
bereft at once of both wife and child. Regret and sorrow, too, for the
years which that father must have spent in mourning for him, perhaps
in praying that, as month followed month, his son might in some way be
restored to him. And now he--that son--was in the colony; here, in the
very locality where the bereaved man must have passed so many sad and
melancholy years! Here, but too late!

Ere he died, George Ritherdon had bidden his nephew make his way to
British Honduras and proclaim himself as what he was; also he had
provided him with that very written statement which he had spoken of
as being in preparation for Julian's own information in case he should
die suddenly, ere the latter returned home.

"With that in your possession," he had said, two days before his death
actually occurred, "what's there that can stand in the way of your
being acknowledged as his son? He cannot have forgotten my
handwriting; and even if he has, the proofs of what I say are
contained in the intimate knowledge that I testify in this paper of
all our surroundings and habits out there. That paper is a certificate
of who you are."

"Suppose he is dead when I get there, or that he should have married
again. What then?"

"He may be dead, but he has not married again. Remember what I told
you last night. I know my brother has remained a widower."

"I wonder the paper did not also say that his son was stolen from him
many years ago, or that there was no heir to his property, or
something to that effect."

"It is strange perhaps that such a state of things is not mentioned.
Yet, the Picayune's correspondent may have forgotten it, or not known
it, or not have thought it worth mention--or have had other news which
required to be published. Half a hundred things might have occurred to
prevent mention of that one."

"And," said Julian, "presuming I do go out to British Honduras if I
can get leave from the Admiralty, on 'urgent private affairs'----"

"You _must_ go out. It is a fortune for you. Your father cannot be
worth less than forty thousand pounds. You _must_ go out, even though
you have to leave the navy to do so."

Julian vowed inwardly that in no circumstances should the latter
happen, while, at the same time, he thought it by no means unlikely
that the necessary leave would be granted. He had already fifty days'
leave standing to his credit, and he knew that not only his captain,
but all his superiors in the service, thought well of him. The "urgent
private affairs," when properly explained to their lordships, would
make that matter easy.

"When I go to British Honduras, then," said Julian, putting now the
question which he had been about to ask in a slightly different form,
but asking it nevertheless, "what am I to do supposing he is dead? I
may have many obstacles to encounter--to overcome."

"There can be none--few at least, and none that will be
insurmountable. I had you baptised at New Orleans as his son, and,
with my papers, you will find the certificate of that baptism, while
the papers themselves will explain all. Meanwhile, make your
preparations for setting out. You need not wait for my death----"

"Don't talk of that!"

"I must talk of it. At best it cannot be far off. Let us face the
inevitable. Be ready to go as soon as possible. If I am alive when you
set out, I will give you the necessary documents; if I die before you
start, they are here," and as he spoke he touched lightly the desk at
which he always wrote.



CHAPTER IV.

AN ENCOUNTER.


And now Julian Ritherdon was here, in British Honduras, within ten or
fifteen miles of the estate known as Desolada--a name which had been
given to the place by some original Spanish settlers years before his
father and uncle had ever gone out to the colony. He was here, and
that father and uncle were dead; here, and on the way to what was
undoubtedly his own property; a property to which no one could dispute
his right, since George Ritherdon, his uncle, had been the only other
heir his father had ever had.

Yet, even as the animal which bore him continued to pace along amid
all the rich tropical vegetation around them; even, too, as the
yellow-headed parrots and the curassows chattered above his head and
the monkeys leapt from branch to branch, he mused as to whether he was
doing a wise thing in progressing towards Desolada--the place where he
was born, as he reflected with a strange feeling of incredulity in his
mind.

"For suppose," he thought to himself, "that when I get to it I find it
shut up or in the occupation of some other settler--what am I to do
then? How explain my appearance on the scene? I cannot very well ride
up to the house on this animal and summon the garrison to surrender,
like some knight-errant of old, and I can't stand parleying on the
steps explaining who I am. I believe I have gone the wrong way to work
after all! I ought to have gone and seen the Governor or the Chief
Justice, or taken some advice, after stating who I was. Or Mr.
Spranger! Confound it, why did I not present that letter of
introduction to him before starting off here?"

The latter gentleman was a well-known planter and merchant living on
the south side of Belize, to whom Julian had been furnished with a
letter of introduction by a retired post-captain whom he had run
against in London prior to his departure, and with whom he had dined
at a Service Club. And this officer had given him so flattering an
account of Mr. Spranger's hospitality, as well as the prominent
position which that personage held in the little capital, that he now
regretted considerably that he had not availed himself of the chance
which had come in his way. More especially he regretted it, too, when
there happened to come into his recollection the fact that the gallant
sailor had stated with much enthusiasm--after dinner--that Beatrix
Spranger, the planter's daughter, was without doubt the prettiest as
well as the nicest girl in the whole colony.

However, he comforted himself with the reflection that the journey
which he was now taking might easily serve as one of inspection
simply, and that, as there was no particular hurry, he could return to
Belize and then, before making any absolute claim upon his father's
estate, take the advice of the most important people in the town.

"All of which," he said to himself, "I ought to have thought of before
and decided upon. However, it doesn't matter! A week hence will do
just as well as now, and, meanwhile, I shall have had a look at the
place which must undoubtedly belong to me."

As he arrived at this conclusion, the mustang emerged from the
forest-like copse they had been passing through, and ahead of him he
saw, upon the flat plain, a little settlement or village.

"Which," thought Julian, "must be All Pines. Especially as over there
are the queer-shaped mountains called the 'Cockscomb,' of which the
negro told me."

Then he began to consider the advisability of finding accommodation at
this place for a day or so while he made that inspection of the estate
and residence of Desolada which he had on his ride decided upon.

All Pines, to which he now drew very near, presented but a bare and
straggling appearance, and that not a particularly flourishing one
either. A factory fallen quite into disuse was passed by Julian as he
approached the village; while although his eyes were able to see that,
on its outskirts, there was more than one large sugar estate, the
place itself was a poor one. Yet there was here that which the
traveller finds everywhere, no matter to what part of the world he
directs his footsteps and no matter how small the place he arrives at
may be--an inn. An inn, outside which there were standing four or five
saddled mules and mustangs, and one fairly good-looking horse in
excellent condition. A horse, however, that a person used to such
animals might consider as showing rather more of the hinder white of
its eye than was desirable, and which twitched its small, delicate
ears in a manner equally suspicious.

There seemed very little sign of life about this inn in spite of these
animals, however, as Julian made his way into it, after tying up his
own mustang to a nail in a tree--since a dog asleep outside in the sun
and a negro asleep inside in what might be, and probably was, termed
the entrance hall, scarcely furnished such signs. All the same, he
heard voices, and pretty loud ones too, in some room close at hand, as
well as something else, also--a sound which seemed familiar enough to
his ears; a sound that he--who had been all over the world more than
once as a sailor--had heard in diverse places. In Port Said to wit, in
Shanghai, San Francisco, Lisbon, and Monte Carlo. The hum of a wheel,
the click and rattle of a ball against brass, and then a soft
voice--surely it was a woman's!--murmuring a number, a colour, a
chance!

"So, so!" said Julian to himself, "Madame la Roulette, and here, too.
Ah! well, madame is everywhere; why shouldn't she favour this place as
well as all others that she can force her way into?"

Then he pushed open a swing door to his right, a door covered with
cocoanut matting nailed on to it, perhaps to keep the place cool,
perhaps to deaden sound--the sound of Madame la Roulette's clicking
jaws--though surely this was scarcely necessary in such an
out-of-the-way spot, and entered the room whence the noise proceeded.

The place was darkened by matting and Persians; again, perhaps, to
exclude the heat or deaden _sound_; and was, indeed, so dark that,
until his eyes became accustomed to the dull gloom of the room--vast
and sparsely furnished--he could scarcely discern what was in it. He
was, however, able to perceive the forms of four or five men seated
round a table, to see coins glittering on it; and a girl at the head
of the table (so dark that, doubtless, she was of usual mixed Spanish
and Indian blood common to the colony) who was acting as croupier--a
girl in whose hair was an oleander flower that gleamed like a star in
the general duskiness of her surroundings. While, as he gazed, she
twirled the wheel, murmuring softly: "Plank it down before it is too
late," as well as, "Make your game," and spun the ball; while, a
moment later, she flung out pieces of gold and silver to right and
left of her and raked in similar pieces, also from right and left of
her.

But the sordid, dusty room, across which the motes glanced in the
single ray of sunshine that stole in and streamed across the table,
was not--it need scarcely be said--a prototype of the gilded palace
that smiles over the blue waters of the Mediterranean, nor of the
great gambling chambers in the ancient streets behind the Cathedral in
Lisbon, nor of the white and airy saloons of San Francisco--instead,
it was mean, dusty, and dirty, while over it there was the f[oe]tid,
sickly, tropical atmosphere that pervades places to which neither
light nor constant air is often admitted.

Himself unseen for the moment--since, as he entered the room, a
wrangle had suddenly sprung up among all at the table over the
disputed ownership of a certain stake--he stared in amazement into the
gloomy den. Yet that amazement was not occasioned by the place itself
(he had seen worse, or at least as bad, in other lands), but by the
face of a man who was seated behind the half-caste girl acting as
croupier, evidently under his directions.

Where had he seen that face, or one like it, before? That was what he
was asking himself now; that was what was causing his amazement!

Where? Where? For the features were known to him--the face was
familiar, some trick or turn in it was not strange.

Where had he done so, and what did it mean?

Almost he was appalled, dismayed, at the sight of that face. The nose
straight, the eyes full and clear, the chin clear cut; nothing in it
unfamiliar to him except a certain cruel, determined look that he did
not recognise.

The dispute waxed stronger between the gamblers; the half-caste girl
laughed and chattered like one of the monkeys outside in the woods,
and beat the table more than once with her lithe, sinuous hand and
summoned them to put down fresh stakes, to recommence the game; the
men squabbled and wrangled between themselves, and one pointed
significantly to his blouse--open at the breast; so significantly,
indeed, that none who saw the action could doubt what there was inside
that blouse, lying ready to his right hand.

That action of the man--a little wizened fellow, himself half
Spaniard, half Indian, with perhaps a drop or two of the tar-bucket
also in his veins--brought things to an end, to a climax.

For the other man whose face was puzzling Julian Ritherdon's brain,
and puzzling him with a bewilderment that was almost weird and
uncanny, suddenly sprang up from beside, or rather behind, the girl
croupier and cried--

"Stop it! Cease, I say. It is you, Jaime, you who always makes these
disputes. Come! I'll have no more of it. And keep your hand from the
pistol or----"

But his threat was ended by his action, which was to seize the man he
had addressed by the scruff of his neck, after which he commenced to
haul him towards the door.

Then he--then all of them--saw the intruder, Julian Ritherdon,
standing there by that door, looking at them calmly and
unruffled--calm and unruffled, that is to say, except for his
bewilderment at the sight of the other man's face.

They all saw him in a moment as they turned, and in a moment a fresh
uproar, a new disturbance, arose; a disturbance that seemed to bode
ominously for Julian. For, now, in each man's hands there was a
revolver, drawn like lightning from the breast of each shirt or
blouse.

"Who are you? What are you?" all cried together, except the girl, who
was busily sweeping up the gold and silver on the table into her
pockets. "Who? One of the constabulary from Belize? A spy! Shoot him!"

"No," exclaimed the man who bore the features that so amazed Julian
Ritherdon, "no, this is not one of the constabulary;" while, as he
spoke, his eyes roved over the tropical naval clothes, or "whites," in
which the former was clad for coolness. "Neither do I believe he is a
spy. Yet," he continued, "what are you doing here? Who are you?"

Neither their pistols nor their cries had any power to alarm Julian,
who, young as he was, had already won the Egyptian medal and the
Albert medal for saving life; wherefore, looking his interrogator
calmly in the face, he said--

"I am on a visit to the colony, and my name is Julian Ritherdon."

"Julian Ritherdon!" the other exclaimed, "Julian Ritherdon!" and as he
spoke the owner of that name could see the astonishment on all their
faces. "Julian Ritherdon," he repeated again.

"That is it. Doubtless you know it hereabouts. May I be so bold as to
ask what yours is?"

The man gave a hard, dry laugh--a strange laugh it was, too; then he
replied, "Certainly you may. Especially as mine is by chance much the
same as your own. My name is Sebastian Leigh Ritherdon."

"What! Your name is Ritherdon? You a Ritherdon? Who in Heaven's name
are you, then?"

"I happen to be the owner of a property near here called Desolada. The
owner, because I am the son of the late Mr. Ritherdon and of his wife,
Isobel Leigh, who died after giving me birth!"



CHAPTER V.

"A HALF-BREED NAMED ZARA."


To describe Julian as being startled--amazed--would not convey the
actual state of mind into which the answer given by the man who said
that his name was Sebastian Leigh Ritherdon, plunged him.

It was indeed something more than that; something more resembling a
shock of consternation which now took possession of him.

What did it mean?--he asked himself, even as he stood face to face
with that other bearer of the name of Ritherdon. What? And to this
question he could find but one answer: his uncle in England must, for
some reason--the reason being in all probability that his hatred for
the deceit practised on him years ago had never really become
extinguished--have invented the whole story. Yet, of what use such an
invention! How could he hope that he, Julian, should profit by such a
fabrication, by such a falsehood; why should he have bidden him go
forth to a distant country there to assert a claim which could never
be substantiated?

Then, even in that moment, while still he stood astounded before the
other Ritherdon, there flashed into his mind a second thought, another
supposition; the thought that George Ritherdon had been a madman. That
was--must be--the solution. None but a madman would have conceived
such a story. If it were untrue!

Yet, now, he could not pursue this train of thought; he must postpone
reflection for the time being; he had to act, to speak, to give some
account of himself. As to who he was, who, bearing the name of
Ritherdon, had suddenly appeared in the very spot where Ritherdon was
such a well-known and, probably, such an influential name.

"I never knew," the man who had announced himself as being the heir of
the late Mr. Ritherdon was saying now, "that there were any other
Ritherdons in existence except my late father and myself; except
myself now since his death. And," he continued, "it is a little
strange, perhaps, that I should learn such to be the case here in
Honduras. Is it not?"

As he spoke to Julian, both his tone and manner were such as would not
have produced an unfavourable impression upon any one who was witness
to them. At the gaming-table, when seated behind the half-caste girl,
his appearance would have probably been considered by some as
sinister, while, when he had fallen upon the disputatious gambler, and
had commenced--very roughly to hustle him towards the door, he had
presented the appearance of a hectoring bully. Also, his first address
to Julian on discovering him in the room had been by no means one that
promised well for the probable events of the next few moments. But
now--now--his manner and whole bearing were in no way aggressive, even
though his words expressed that a certain doubt in his mind
accompanied them.

"Surely," he continued, "we must be connections of some sort. The
presence of a Ritherdon in Honduras, within an hour's ride of my
property, must be owing to something more than coincidence."

"It is owing to something more than coincidence," Julian replied,
scorning to take refuge in an absolute falsehood, though acknowledging
to himself that, in the position in which he now found himself--and
until he could think matters out more clearly, as well as obtain
some light on the strange circumstances in which he was suddenly
involved--diplomacy if not evasion--a hateful word!--was necessary.

"More than coincidence. You may have heard of George Ritherdon, your
uncle, who once lived here in the colony with your father."

"Yes," Sebastian Ritherdon answered, his eyes still on the other.
"Yes, I have heard my father speak of him. Yet, that was years ago.
Nearly thirty, I think. Is he here, too? In the colony?"

"No; he is dead. But I am his son. And, being on leave from my
profession, which is that of an officer in her Majesty's navy, it has
suited me to pay a visit to a place of which he had spoken so often."

As he gave this answer, Julian was able to console himself with the
reflection that, although there was evasion in it, at least there was
no falsehood. For had he not always believed himself to be George
Ritherdon's son until a month or so ago; had he not been brought up
and entered for the navy as his son? Also, was he sure now that he was
_not_ his son? He had listened to a story from the dying man telling
how he, Julian, had been kidnapped from his father's house, and how
the latter had been left childless and desolate; yet now, when he was
almost at the threshold of that house, he found himself face to face
with a man, evidently well known in all the district, who proclaimed
himself to be the actual son--a man who also gave, with some
distinctness in his tone, the name of Isobel Leigh as that of his
mother. She Sebastian Ritherdon's mother! the woman who was, he had
been told, his own mother: the woman who, dying in giving birth to her
first son, could consequently have never been the mother of a second.
Was it not well, therefore, that, as he had always been, so he should
continue to be, certainly for the present, the son of George
Ritherdon, and not of Charles? For, to proclaim himself here, in
Honduras, as the offspring of the latter would be to bring down upon
him, almost of a surety, the charge of being an impostor.

"I knew," exclaimed Sebastian, while in his look and manner there was
expressed considerable cordiality; "I knew we must be akin. I was
certain of it. Even as you stood in that doorway, and as the ray of
sunlight streamed across the room, I felt sure of it before you
mentioned your name."

"Why?" asked Julian surprised; perhaps, too, a little agitated.

"Why! Can you not understand? Not recognise why--at once? Man alive!
_We are alike!_"

Alike! Alike! The words fell on Julian with startling force. Alike!
Yes, so they were! They were alike. And in an instant it seemed as if
some veil, some web had fallen away from his mental vision; as if he
understood what had hitherto puzzled him. He understood his
bewilderment as to where he had seen that face and those features
before! For now he knew. He had seen them in the looking-glass!

"No doubt about the likeness!" exclaimed one of the gamblers who had
remained in the room, a listener to the conference; while the
half-breed stared from first one face to the other with her large eyes
wide open. "No doubt about that. As much like brothers as cousins, I
should say."

And the girl who (since Julian's intrusion, and since, also, she had
discovered that it was not the constabulary from Belize who had
suddenly raided their gambling den), had preserved a stolid
silence--glancing ever and anon with dusky eyes at each, muttered also
that none who saw those two men together could doubt that they were
kinsmen, or, as she termed it, _parienti_.

"Yes," Julian answered bewildered, almost stunned, as one thing after
another seemed--with crushing force--to be sweeping away for ever all
possibility of George Ritherdon's story having had any foundation in
fact, any likelihood of being aught else but the chimera of a
distraught brain; "yes, I can perceive it. I--I--wondered where I had
seen your face before, when I first entered the room. Now I know."

"And," Sebastian exclaimed, slapping his newly found kinsmen somewhat
boisterously on the back, "and we are cousins. So much the better! For
my part I am heartily glad to meet a relation. Now--come--let us be
off to Desolada. You were on your way there, no doubt. Well! you shall
have a cordial welcome. The best I can offer. You know that the
Spaniards always call their house 'their guests' house.' And my house
shall be yours. For as long as you like to make it so."

"You are very good," Julian said haltingly, feeling, too, that he was
no longer master of himself, no longer possessed of all that ease
which he had, until to-day, imagined himself to be in full possession
of. "Very good indeed. And what you say is the case. I was on my
way--I--had a desire to see the place in which your and my father
lived."

"You shall see it, you shall be most welcome. And," Sebastian
continued, "you will find it big enough. It is a vast rambling place,
half wood, half brick, constructed originally by Spanish settlers, so
that it is over a hundred years old. The name is a mournful one, yet
it has always been retained. And once it was appropriate enough. There
was scarcely another dwelling near it for miles--as a matter of fact,
there are hardly any now. The nearest, which is a place called 'La
Superba,' is five miles farther on."

They went out together now to the front of the inn--Julian observing
that still the negro slept on in the entrance-hall and still the
dog slept on in the sun outside--and here Sebastian, finding the
good-looking horse, began to untether it, while Julian did the same
for his mustang. They were the only two animals now left standing in
the shade thrown by the house, since all the men--including he who had
stayed last and listened to their conversation--were gone. The girl,
however, still remained, and to her Sebastian spoke, bidding her make
her way through the bypaths of the forest to Desolada and state that
he and his guest were coming.

"Who is she?" asked Julian, feeling that it was incumbent on him to
evince some interest in this new-found "cousin's" affairs; while, as
was not surprising, he really felt too dazed to heed much that was
passing around him. The astonishment, the bewilderment that had fallen
on him owing to the events of the last half-hour, the startling
information he had received, all of which tended, if it did anything,
to disprove every word that George Ritherdon had uttered prior to his
death--were enough to daze a man of even cooler instincts than he
possessed.

"She," said Sebastian, with a half laugh, a laugh in which contempt
was strangely discernible, "she, oh! she's a half-breed--Spanish and
native mixed--named Zara. She was born on our place and turns her hand
to anything required, from milking the goats to superintending the
negroes."

"She seems to know how to turn her hand to a roulette wheel also,"
Julian remarked, still endeavouring to frame some sentences which
should pass muster for the ordinary courteous attention expected from
a newly found relation, who had also, now, assumed the character of
guest.

"Yes," Sebastian answered. "Yes, she can do that too. I suppose you
were surprised at finding all the implements of a gambling room here!
Yet, if you lived in the colony it would not seem so strange. We
planters, especially in the wild parts, must have some amusement, even
though it's illegal. Therefore, we meet three times a week at the inn,
and the man who is willing to put down the most money takes the bank.
It happened to me to-day."

"And, as in the case of most hot countries," said Julian, forcing
himself to be interested, "a servant is used for that portion of the
game which necessitates exertion. I understand! In some tropical
countries I have known, men bring their servants to deal for them at
whist and mark their game."

"You have seen a great deal of the world as a sailor?" the other
asked, while they now wended their way through a thick mangrove wood
in which the monkeys and parrots kept up such an incessant chattering
that they could scarcely hear themselves talk.

"I have been round it three times," Julian replied; "though, of
course, sailor-like, I know the coast portions of different countries
much better than I do any of the interiors."

"And I have never been farther away than New Orleans. My mother ca--my
mother always wanted to go there and see it."

"Was she--your mother from New Orleans?" Julian asked, on the alert at
this moment, he hardly knew why.

"My mother. Oh! no. She was the daughter of Mr. Leigh, an English
merchant at Belize. But, as you will discover, New Orleans means the
world to us--we all want to go there sometimes."



CHAPTER VI.

"KNOWLEDGE IS NOT ALWAYS PROOF."

If there was one desire more paramount than another in Julian's
mind--as now they threaded a campeachy wood dotted here and there with
clumps of cabbage palms while, all around, in the underbrush and
pools, the Caribbean lily grew in thick and luxurious profusion--that
desire was to be alone. To be able to reflect and to think
uninterruptedly, and without being obliged at every moment to listen
to his companion's flow of conversation--which was so unceasing that
it seemed forced--as well as obliged to answer questions and to
display an interest in all that was being said.

Julian felt, perhaps, this desire the more strongly because, by now,
he was gradually becoming able to collect himself, to adjust his
thoughts and reflections and, thereby, to bring a more calm and clear
insight to bear upon the discovery--so amazing and surprising--which
had come to his knowledge but an hour or so ago. If he were alone now,
he told himself, if he could only get half-an-hour's entire and
uninterrupted freedom for thought, he could, he felt sure, review the
matter with coolness and judgment. Also, he could ponder over one or
two things which, at this moment, struck him with a force they had not
done at the time when they had fallen with stunning--because
unexpected--force upon his brain. Things--namely words and
statements--that might go far towards explaining, if not towards
unravelling, much that had hitherto seemed inexplicable.

Yet, all the same, he was obliged to confess to himself that one thing
seemed absolutely incapable of explanation. That was, how this man
could be the child of Charles Ritherdon, the late owner of the vast
property through which they were now riding, if his brother George had
been neither demented nor a liar. And that Sebastian should have
invented his statement was obviously incredible for the plain and
simple reasons that he had made it before several witnesses, and that
he was in full possession, as recognised heir, of all that the dead
planter had left behind.

It was impossible, however, that he could meditate--and, certainly, he
could not follow any train of thought--amid the unfailing flow of
conversation in which his companion indulged. That flow gave him the
impression, as it must have given any other person who might by chance
have overheard it, that it was conversation made for conversation's
sake, or, in other words, made with a determination to preclude all
reflection on Julian's part. From one thing to another this man,
called Sebastian Ritherdon, wandered--from the trade of the colony to
its products and vegetation, to the climate, the melancholy and
loneliness of life in the whole district, the absence of news and of
excitement, the stagnation of everything except the power of making
money by exportation. Then, when all these topics appeared to be
thoroughly beaten out and exhausted, Sebastian Ritherdon recurred to a
remark made during the earlier part of their ride, and said:

"So you have a letter of introduction to the Sprangers? Well! you
should present it. Old Spranger is a pleasant, agreeable man, while as
for Beatrix, his daughter, she is a beautiful girl. Wasted here,
though."

"Is she?" said Julian. "Are there, then, no eligible men in British
Honduras who could prevent a beautiful girl from failing in what every
beautiful girl hopes to accomplish--namely getting well settled?"

"Oh, yes!" the other answered, and now it seemed to Julian as though
in his tone there was something which spoke of disappointment, if not
of regret, personal to the man himself. "Oh, yes! There are such men
among us. Men well-to-do, large owners of remunerative estates,
capitalists employing a good deal of labour, and so forth.
Only--only----"

"Only what?"

"Well--oh! I don't know; perhaps we are not quite her class, her
style. In England the Sprangers are somebody, I believe, and Beatrix
is consequently rather difficult to please. At any rate I know she has
rejected more than one good offer. She will never marry any colonist."

Then, as Julian turned his eyes on Sebastian Ritherdon, he felt as
sure as if the man had told him so himself that he was one of the
rejected.

"I intend to present that letter of introduction, you know," he said a
moment later. "In fact I intended to do so from the first. Now, your
description of Miss Spranger makes me the more eager."

"You may suit her," the other replied. "I mean, of course, as a
friend, a companion. You are a naval officer, consequently a gentleman
in manners, a man of the world and of society. As for us, well, we may
be gentlemen, too, only we don't, of course, know much about society
manners."

He paused a moment--it was indeed the longest pause he had made for
some time; then he said, "When do you propose to go to see them?"

"I rather thought I would go back to Belize to-morrow," Julian
answered.

"To-morrow!"

"Yes. I--I--feel I ought not to be in the country and not present that
letter."

"To-morrow!" Sebastian Ritherdon said again. "To-morrow! That won't
give me much of your society. And I'm your cousin."

"Oh!" said Julian, forcing a smile, "you will have plenty of that--of
my society--I'm afraid. I have a long leave, and if you will have me,
I will promise to weary you sufficiently before I finally depart. You
will be tired enough of me ere then."

To his surprise--since nothing that the other said (and not even the
fact that the man was undoubtedly regarded by all who knew him as the
son and heir of Mr. Ritherdon and was in absolute fact in full
possession of the rights of such an heir) could make Julian believe
that his presence was a welcome one--to his surprise, Sebastian
Ritherdon greeted his remark with effusion. None who saw his smile,
and the manner in which his face lit up, could have doubted that the
other's promise to stay as his guest for a considerable time gave him
the greatest pleasure.

Then, suddenly, while he was telling Julian so, they emerged from one
more glade, leaving behind them all the chattering members of the
animal and feathered world, and came out into a small open plain which
was in a full state of cultivation, while Julian observed a house,
large, spacious and low before them.

"There is Desolada--the House of Desolation as my poor father used to
call it, for some reason of his own--there is my property, to which
you will always be welcome."

His property! Julian thought, even as he gazed upon the mansion (for
such it was); his property! And he had left England, had travelled
thousands of miles to reach it, thinking that, instead, it was _his_.
That he would find it awaiting an owner--perhaps in charge of some
Government official, but still awaiting an owner--himself. Yet, now,
how different all was from what he had imagined--how different! In
England, on the voyage, the journey from New York to New Orleans, nay!
until four hours ago, he thought that he would have but to tell his
story after taking a hasty view of Desolada and its surroundings to
prove that he was the son who had suddenly disappeared a day or so
after his birth: to show that he was the missing, kidnapped child. He
would have but to proclaim himself and be acknowledged.

But, lo! how changed all appeared now. There was no missing, kidnapped
heir--there could not be if the man by his side had spoken the
truth--and how could he have spoken untruthfully here, in this
country, in this district, where a falsehood such as that statement
would have been (if not capable of immediate and universal
corroboration), was open to instant denial? There must be hundreds of
people in the colony who had known Sebastian Ritherdon from his
infancy; every one in the colony would have been acquainted with such
a fact as the kidnapping of the wealthy Mr. Ritherdon's heir if it had
ever taken place, and, in such circumstances, there could have been no
Sebastian. Yet here he was by Julian's side escorting him to his own
house, proclaiming himself the owner of that house and property.
Surely it was impossible that the statement could be untrue!

Yet, if true, who was he himself? What! What could he be but a man who
had been used by his dying father as one who, by an imposture, might
be made the instrument of a long-conceived desire for vengeance--a
vengeance to be worked out by fraud? A man who would at once have been
branded as an impostor had he but made the claim he had quitted
England with the intention of making.

Under the palms--which grew in groves and were used as
shade-trees--beneath the umbrageous figs, through a garden
in which the oleanders flowered luxuriously, and the plants and
mignonette-trees perfumed deliciously the evening air, while
flamboyants--bearing masses of scarlet, bloodlike flowers--allamandas,
and temple-plants gave a brilliant colouring to the scene, they rode
up to the steps of the house, around the whole of which there was a
wooden balcony. Standing upon that balcony, which was made to traverse
the vast mansion so that, no matter where the sun happened to be, it
could be avoided, was a woman, smiling and waving her hand to
Sebastian, although it seemed that, in the salutation, the newcomer
was included. A woman who, in the shadow which enveloped her, since
now the sun had sunk away to the back, appeared so dark of complexion
as to suggest that in her veins there ran the dark blood of Africa.

Yet, a moment later, as Sebastian Ritherdon presented Julian to her,
terming him "a new-found cousin," the latter was able to perceive that
the shadows of the coming tropical night had played tricks with him.
In this woman's veins there ran no drop of black blood; instead, she
was only a dark, handsome Creole--one who, in her day, must have been
even more than handsome--must have possessed superb beauty.

But that day had passed now, she evidently being near her fiftieth
year, though the clear ivory complexion, the black curling hair, in
which scarcely a grey streak was visible, the soft rounded features
and the dark eyes, still full of lustre, proclaimed distinctly what
her beauty must have been in long past days. Also, Julian noticed, as
she held out a white slim hand and murmured some words of cordial
welcome to him, that her figure, lithe and sinuous, was one that might
have become a woman young enough to have been her daughter. Only--he
thought--it was almost too lithe and sinuous: it reminded him too much
of a tiger he had once stalked in India, and of how he had seen the
striped body creeping in and out of the jungle.

"This is Madame Carmaux," Sebastian said to Julian, as the latter
bowed before her, "a relation of my late mother. She has been here
many years--even before that mother died. And--she has been one to me
as well as fulfilling all the duties of the lady of the house both for
my father and, now, for myself."

Then, after Julian had muttered some suitable words and had once more
received a gracious smile from the owner of those dark eyes, Sebastian
said, "Now, you would like to make some kind of toilette, I suppose,
before the evening meal. Come, I will show you your room." And he led
the way up the vast campeachy-wood staircase to the floor above.

Tropical nights fall swiftly directly the sun has disappeared, as it
had now done behind the still gilded crests of the Cockscomb range,
and Julian, standing on his balcony after the other had left him and
gazing out on all around, wondered what was to be the outcome of this
visit to Honduras. He pondered, too, as he had pondered before,
whether George Ritherdon had in truth been a madman or one who had
plotted a strange scheme of revenge against his brother; a scheme
which now could never be perfected. Or--for he mused on this also--had
George Ritherdon spoken the truth, had Sebastian----

The current of his thoughts was broken, even as he arrived at this
point, by hearing beneath him on the under balcony the voice of
Sebastian speaking in tones low but clear and distinct--by hearing
that voice say, as though in answer to another's question:

"Know--of course he must know! But knowledge is not always proof."



CHAPTER VII.

MADAME CARMAUX TAKES A NAP.


On that night when Sebastian Ritherdon escorted Julian once more up
the great campeachy-wood staircase to the room allotted to him, he had
extorted a promise from his guest that he would stay at least one day
before breaking his visit by another to Sprangers.

"For," he had said before, down in the vast dining-room--which would
almost have served for a modern Continental hotel--and now said again
ere he bid his cousin "good-night," "for what does one day matter?
And, you know, you can return to Belize twice as fast as you came
here."

"How so?" asked Julian, while, as he spoke, his eyes were roaming
round the great desolate corridors of the first floor, and he was,
almost unknowingly to himself, peering down those corridors amid the
shadows which the lamp that Sebastian carried scarcely served to
illuminate. "How so?"

"Why, first, you know your road now. Then, next, I can mount you on a
good swift trotting horse that will do the journey in a third of the
time that mustang took to get you along. How ever did you become
possessed of such a creature? We rarely see them here."

"I hired it from the man who kept the hotel. He said it was the proper
thing to do the journey with."

"Proper thing, indeed! More proper to assist the bullocks and mules in
transporting the mahogany and campeachy, or the fruits, from the
interior to the coast. However, you shall have a good trotting Spanish
horse to take you into Belize, and I'll send your creature back
later."

Then, after wishing each other good-night, Julian entered the room,
Sebastian handing him the lamp he had carried upstairs to light the
way.

"I can find my own way down again in the dark very well," the latter
said. "I ought to be able to do so in the house I was born in and have
lived in all my life. Good-night."

At last Julian was alone. Alone with some hours before him in which he
could reflect and meditate on the occurrences of this eventful day.

He did now that which perhaps, every man, no matter how courageous he
might have been, would have done in similar circumstances. He made a
careful inspection of the room, looking into a large wardrobe which
stood in the corner, and, it must be admitted, under the bed also;
which, as is the case in most tropical climates, stood in the middle
of the room, so that the mosquitoes that harboured in the whitewashed
walls should have less opportunity of forcing their way through the
gauze nets which protected the bed. Then, having completed this survey
to his satisfaction, he put his hand into his breast and drew from a
pocket inside his waistcoat that which, it may well be surmised, he
was not very likely to be without here. This was an express revolver.

"That's all right," he said as, after a glance at the chambers, he
laid it on the table by his side. "You have been of use before, my
friend, in other parts of the world and, although you are not likely
to be wanted here, you don't take up much room."

"Now," he went on to himself, "for a good long think, as the paymaster
of the Mongoose always used to say before he fell asleep in the
wardroom and drove everybody else out of it with his snores. Only,
first there are one or two other little things to be done."

Whereon he walked out on to the balcony--the windows of course being
open--and gave a long and searching glance around, above, and below
him. Below, to where was the veranda of the lower or ground floor,
with, standing about, two or three Singapore chairs covered with
chintz, a small table and, upon it, a bottle of spirits and some
glasses as well as a large carafe of water. All these things were
perfectly visible because, from the room beneath him, there streamed
out a strong light from the oil lamp which stood on the table within
that room, while, even though such had not been the case, Julian was
perfectly well aware that they were there.

He and Sebastian had sat in those chairs for more than an hour talking
after the evening meal, while Madame Carmaux, whose other name he
learnt was Miriam, had sat in another, perusing by the light of the
lamp the Belize Advertiser. Yet, now and again, it had seemed to
Julian as though, while those dark eyes had been fixed on the sheet,
their owner's attention had been otherwise occupied, or else that she
read very slowly. For once, when he had been giving a very guarded
description of George Ritherdon's life in England during the last few
years, he had seen them rest momentarily upon his face, and then be
quickly withdrawn. Also, he had observed, the newspaper had never been
turned once.

"Now," he said again to himself, "now, let us think it all out and
come to some decision as to what it all means. Let us see. Let me go
over everything that has happened since I pulled up outside that
inn--or gambling house!"

He was, perhaps, a little more methodical than most young men; the
habit being doubtless born of many examinations at Greenwich, of a
long course in H.M.S. Excellent, and, possibly, of the fact that he
had done what sailors call a lot of "logging" in his time, both as
watchkeeper and when in command of a destroyer. Therefore, he drew
from his pocket a rather large, but somewhat unbusinesslike-looking
pocketbook--since it was bound in crushed morocco and had its leaves
gilt-edged--and, ruthlessly tearing out a sheet of paper, he withdrew
the pencil from its place and prepared to make notes.

"No orders as to 'lights out,'" he muttered to himself before
beginning. "I suppose I may sit up as long as I like."

Then, after a few moments' reflection, he jotted down:

"S. didn't seem astonished to see me. (Qy?) Ought to have done so, if
I came as a surprise to him. Can't ever have heard of me before.
Consequently it was a surprise. Said who he was, and was particularly
careful to say who his mother was, viz. I. S. R. (Qy?) Isn't that odd?
Known many people who tell you who their father was. Never knew 'em
lug in their mother's name, though, except when very swagger. Says
Madame Carmaux relative of his mother, yet Isobel Leigh was daughter
of English planter. C's not a full-bred Englishwoman, and her name's
French. That's nothing, though. Perhaps married a Frenchman."

These little notes--which filled the detached sheet of the ornamental
pocketbook--being written down, Julian, before taking another, sat
back in his chair to ponder; yet his musings were not satisfactory,
and, indeed, did not tend to enlighten him very much, which, as a
matter of fact, they were not very likely to do.

"He must be the _right_ man, after all, and I must be the wrong one,"
he said to himself. "It is impossible the thing can be otherwise. A
child kidnapped would make such a sensation in a place like this that
the affair would furnish gossip for the next fifty years. Also, if a
child was kidnapped, how on earth has this man grown up here and now
inherited the property? If I was actually the child I certainly didn't
grow up here, and if he was the child and did grow up here then there
was no kidnapping."

Indeed, by the time that Julian had arrived at this rather complicated
result, he began to feel that his brain was getting into a whirl, and
he came to a hasty resolution. That resolution was that he would
abandon this business altogether; that, on the next day but one, he
would go to Belize and pay his visit to the Sprangers, while, when
that visit was concluded, he would, instead of returning to Desolada,
set out on his return journey to England.

"Even though my uncle--if he was my uncle and not my father--spoke the
truth and told everything exactly as it occurred, how is it to be
proved? How can any legal power on earth dispossess a man who has been
brought up here from his infancy, in favour of one who comes without
any evidence in his favour, since that certificate of my baptism in
New Orleans, although it states me to be the son of the late owner of
this place, cannot be substantiated? Any man might have taken any
child and had such an entry as that made. And if he--he my uncle, or
my father--could conceive such a scheme as he revealed to me--or _such
a scheme as he did not reveal to me_--then, the entry at New Orleans
would not present much difficulty to one like him. It is proof--proof
that it be----" He stopped in his meditations--stopped, wondering
where he had heard something said about "proof" before on this
evening.

Then, in a moment, he recalled the almost whispered words; the words
that in absolute fact were whispered from the balcony below, before he
went down to take his seat at the supper table; the utterance of
Sebastian:

"Know--of course he must know. But knowledge is not always proof."

How strange it was, he thought, that, while he had been indulging in
his musings, jotting down his little facts on the sheet of paper, he
should have forgotten those words.

"Knowledge is not always proof." What knowledge? Whose? Whose could it
be but his! Whose knowledge that was not proof had Sebastian referred
to? Then again, in a moment--again suddenly--he came to another
determination, another resolve. He did possess some knowledge that
this man, Sebastian could not dispute--for it would have been folly to
imagine he had been speaking of any one else but him--though he had no
proof. So be it, only, now, he would endeavour to discover a proof
that should justify such knowledge. He would not slink away from the
colony until he had exhausted every attempt to discover that proof. If
it was to be found he would find it.

Perhaps, after all, his uncle was his uncle, perhaps that uncle had
undoubtedly uttered the truth.

He rose now, preparing to go to bed, and as he did so a slight breeze
rattled the slats of the green persianas, or, as they are called in
England, Venetian blinds--a breeze that in tropical land often rises
as the night goes on. It was a cooling pleasant one, and he remembered
that he had heard it rustling the slats before, when he was engaged in
making his notes.

Yet, now, regarding those green strips of wood, he felt a little
astonished at what he saw. He had carefully let the blinds of both
windows down and turned the laths so that neither bats nor moths, nor
any of the flying insect world which are the curse of the tropics at
night, should force their way in, attracted by the flame of the lamp;
but now, one of those laths was turned--turned, so that, instead of
being downwards and forming with the others a compact screen from the
outside, it was in a flat or horizontal position, leaving an open
space of an inch between it and the one above and the next below. A
slat that was above five feet from the bottom of the blind.

He stood there regarding it for a moment; then, dropping the revolver
into his pocket, he went towards the window and with his finger and
thumb put back the lath into the position he had originally placed it,
feeling as he did so that it did not move smoothly, but, instead, a
little stiffly.

"There has been no wind coming up from the sea that would do that," he
reflected, "and, if it had come, then it would have turned more than
one. I wonder whether," and now he felt a slight sensation of
creepiness coming over him, "if I had raised my eyes as I sat writing,
I should have met another pair of eyes looking in on me. Very likely.
The turning of that one lath made a peep-hole."

He pulled the blind up now without any attempt at concealing the noise
it caused--that well-known clatter made by such blinds as they are
hastily drawn up--and walked out on to the long balcony and peered
over on to the one beneath, seeing that Madame Carmaux was asleep in
the wicker chair which she had sat in during the evening, and that the
newspaper lay in her lap. He saw, too, that Sebastian Ritherdon was
also sitting in his chair, but that, aroused by the noise of the
blind, he had bent his body backwards over the veranda rail and, with
upturned face, was regarding the spot at which Julian might be
expected to appear.

"Not gone to bed, yet, old fellow," he called out now, on seeing the
other lean over the balcony rail; while Julian observed that Madame
Carmaux opened her eyes with a dazzled look--the look which those have
on their faces who are suddenly startled out of a light nap.

And for some reason--since he was growing suspicious--he believed that
look to have been assumed as well as the slumber which had apparently
preceded it.



CHAPTER VIII.

A MIDNIGHT VISITOR.


"Not yet," Julian called down in answer to the other's remark, "though
I am going directly. Only it is so hot. I hope I am not disturbing the
house."

"Not at all. Do what you like. We often sit here till long after
midnight, since it is the only cool time of the twenty-four hours.
Will you come down again and join us?"

"No, if you'll excuse me. I'll take a turn or two here and then go to
bed."

Whereon as he spoke, he began to walk up and down the balcony.

It ran (as has been said of the lower one on which Sebastian and
Madame Carmaux were seated) round the whole of the house, so that, had
Julian desired to do so, he could have commenced a tour of the
building which, by being continued, would eventually have brought him
back to the spot where he now was. He contented himself, however, with
commencing to walk towards the right-hand corner of the great rambling
mansion, proceeding as far upon it as led to where the balcony turned
at the angle, then, after a glance down its--at that place--darkened
length, he retraced his steps, meaning to proceed to the opposite or
left-hand corner.

Doing so, however, and coming thus in front of his bedroom window,
from which, since the blind was up, the light of his lamp streamed out
on to the broad wooden floor of the balcony, he saw lying at his feet
a small object which formed a patch of colour on the dark boards. A
patch which was of a pale roseate hue, the thing being, indeed, a
little spray, now dry and faded, of the oleander flower. And he knew,
felt sure, where he had seen that spray before.

"I know now," he said to himself, "who turned the slat--who stood
outside my window looking in on me."

Picking up the withered thing, he, nevertheless, continued his stroll
along the balcony until he arrived at the left angle of the house,
when he was able to glance down the whole of that side of it, this
being as much in the dark and unrelieved by any light from within as
the corresponding right side had been. Unrelieved, that is, by any
light except the gleam of the great stars which here glisten with an
incandescent whiteness; and in that gleam he saw sitting on the floor
of the balcony--her back against the wall, her arms over her knees and
her head sunk on those arms--the half-caste girl, Zara, the croupier
of the gambling-table to which Sebastian had supplied the "bank" that
morning at All Pines.

"You have dropped this flower from your hair," he said, tossing it
lightly down to her, while she turned up her dark, dusky eyes at him
and, picking up the withered spray, tossed it in her turn
contemptuously over the balcony. But she said nothing and, a moment
later, let her head droop once more towards her arms.

"Do you pass the night here?" he said now. "Surely it is not wholesome
to keep out in open air like this."

"I sit here often," she replied, "before going to bed in my room
behind. The rooms are too warm. I disturb no one."

For a moment he felt disposed to say that it would disturb him if she
should again take it into her head to turn his blinds, but, on second
considerations, he held his peace. To know a thing and not to divulge
one's knowledge is, he reflected, sometimes to possess a secret--a
clue--a warning worth having; to possess, indeed, something that may
be of use to us in the future if not now, while, for the rest--well!
the returning of the spray to her had, doubtless, informed the girl
sufficiently that he was acquainted with the fact of how she had been
outside his window, and that it was she who had opened his blind wide
enough to allow her to peer in on him.

"Good-night," he said, turning away. "Good-night," and without waiting
to hear whether she returned the greeting or not, he went back to the
bedroom. Yet, before he entered it, he bent over the balcony and
called down another "good-night" to Sebastian, who, he noticed, had
now been deserted by Madame Carmaux.

For some considerable time after this he walked about his room; long
enough, indeed, to give Sebastian the idea that he was preparing for
bed, then, although he had removed none of his clothing except his
boots, he put out the lamp.

"If the young lady is desirous of observing me again," he reflected,
"she can do so. Yet if she does, it will not be without my knowing it.
And if she should pay me another visit--why, we shall see."

But, all the same, and because he thought it not at all unlikely that
some other visitor than the girl might make her way, not only to the
blind itself but even to the room, he laid his right arm along the
table so that his fingers were touching the revolver that he had now
placed on that table.

"I haven't taken countless middle watches for nothing in my time," he
said to himself; "another won't hurt me. If I do drop asleep, I
imagine I shall wake up pretty easily."

He was on the alert now, and not only on the alert as to any one who
might be disposed to pay him a nocturnal visit, but, also, mentally
wary as to what might be the truth concerning Sebastian Ritherdon and
himself. For, strange to say, there was a singular revulsion of
feeling going on in his mind at this time; strange because, at
present, scarcely anything of considerable importance, scarcely
anything sufficiently tangible, had occurred to produce this new
conviction that Sebastian's story was untrue, and that the other story
told by his uncle before his death was the right one.

All the same, the conviction was growing in his mind; growing
steadily, although perhaps without any just reason or cause for its
growth. Meanwhile, his ears now told him that, although Madame Carmaux
was absent when he glanced over the balcony to wish Sebastian that
last greeting, she undoubtedly had not gone to bed. From below, in the
intense stillness of the tropic night--a stillness broken only
occasionally by the cry of some bird from the plantation beyond the
cultivated gardens, he heard the soft luscious tones of the woman
herself--and those who are familiar with the tones of southern women
will recall how luscious the murmur can be; he heard, too, the deeper
notes of the man. Yet what they said to each other in subdued whispers
was unintelligible to him; beyond a word here and there nothing
reached his ears.

With the feeling of conviction growing stronger and stronger in his
mind that there was some deception about the whole affair--that,
plausible as Sebastian's possession of all which the dead man had left
behind appeared; plausible, too, as was his undoubted position here
and had been from his very earliest days, Julian would have given much
now to overhear their conversation--a conversation which, he felt
certain, in spite of it taking place thirty feet below where he was
supposed to be by now asleep, related to his appearance on the scene.

Would it be possible? Could he in any way manage to thus overhear it?
If he were nearer to the persianas, his ear close to the slats, his
head placed down low, close to the boards of the room and of the
balcony as well--what might not be overheard?

Thinking thus, he resolved to make the attempt, even while he told
himself that in no other circumstances would he--a gentleman, a man of
honour--resort to such a scheme of prying interference. But--for still
the certainty increased in his mind that there was some deceit, some
fraud in connection with Sebastian Ritherdon's possession of Desolada
and all that Desolada represented in value--he did not hesitate now.
As once he, with some of his bluejackets, had tracked slavers from the
sea for miles inland and into the coast swamps and fever-haunted
interior of the great Black Continent, so now he would track this
man's devious and doubtful existence, as, remembering George
Ritherdon's story, it seemed to him to be. If he had wronged
Sebastian, if he had formed a false estimate of his possession of this
place and of his right to the name he bore, no harm would be done. For
then he would go away from Honduras for ever, leaving the man in
peaceable possession of all that was rightly his. But, if his
suspicions were not wrong----

He let himself down to the floor from the chair on which he had been
sitting in the dark for now nearly an hour, and, quietly, noiselessly,
he progressed along that solid floor--one so well laid in the past
that no board either creaked or made any noise--and thus he reached
the balcony, there interposing nothing now between him and it but the
lowered blind.

Then when he had arrived there, he heard their voices plainly; heard
every word that fell from their lips--the soft murmur of the woman's
tones, the deeper, more guttural notes of the man.

Only--he might as well have been a mile away from where they sat, he
might as well have been stone deaf as able to thus easily overhear
those words.

For Sebastian and his companion were speaking in a tongue that was
unknown to him; a tongue that, in spite of the Spanish surroundings
and influences which still linger in all places forming parts of
Central America, was not Spanish. Of this language he, like most
sailors, knew something; therefore he was aware that it was not that,
as well as he was aware that it was not French. Perhaps 'twas Maya,
which he had been told in Belize was the native jargon, or Carib,
which was spoken along the coast.

And almost, as he recognised how he was baffled, could he have laughed
bitterly at himself. "What a fool I must have been," he thought, "to
suppose that if they had any confidences to make to each other, any
secrets to talk over in which I was concerned they would discuss them
in a language I should be likely to understand."

But there are some words, especially those which express names, which
cannot be translated into a foreign tongue. Among such, Ritherdon
would be one. Julian, too, is another, with only the addition of the
letter "o" at the end in Spanish (and perhaps also in Maya or Carib),
and George, which, though spelt Jorge, has, in speaking, nearly the
same pronunciation. And these names met his ear as did others:
Inglaterra--the name of the woman Isobel Leigh, whom Julian believed
to have been his mother, but whom Sebastian asserted to have been
his; also the name of that fair American city lying to the north of
them--New Orleans--it being referred to, of course, in the Spanish
tongue.

"So," he thought to himself, "it is of me they are talking. Of
me--which would not, perhaps, be strange, since a guest so suddenly
received into the house and having the name of Ritherdon might well
furnish food for conversation. But, when coupled with George
Ritherdon, with New Orleans, above all with the name of Isobel
Leigh----"

Even as that name was in his mind, he heard it again mentioned below
by the woman--Madame Carmaux. Mentioned, too, in conjunction with and
followed by a light, subdued laugh; a laugh in which his acuteness
could hear an undercurrent of bitterness--perhaps of derision.

"And she was this woman's relative," he thought, "her relative! Yet
now she is jeered at, spoken scornfully of by----"

In amazement he paused, even while his reflections arrived at this
stage.

In front of where his eyes were, low down to the floor of the balcony,
something dark and sombre passed, then returned and stopped before
him, blotting from his eyes all that lay in front of them--the tops of
the palms, the woods beyond the garden, the dark sea beyond that. Like
a pall it rested before his vision, obscuring, blurring everything.
And, a moment later, he recognised that it was a woman's dress which
thus impeded his view, while, as he did so, he heard some five feet
above him a light click made by one of the slats.

Then, with an upward glance of his eyes, that glance being aided by a
noiseless turn of his head, he saw that a finger was holding back the
lath, and knew--felt sure--that into the darkness of the room two
other eyes were gazing.



CHAPTER IX.

BEATRIX.


Thirty-six hours later Julian Ritherdon sat among very different
surroundings from those of Desolada; certainly very different ones
from those of his first night in the gloomy, mysterious house owned by
that other man who bore his name.

He was seated now in a wicker chair placed beneath the cool shadow
cast by a vast clump of "shade-trees," as the royal palm, the thatch
palm, and, indeed, almost every kind and species of that form of
vegetation are denominated. These shade-trees grew in the pretty and
luxuriant garden of Mr. Spranger's house on the southern outskirts of
Belize, a garden in which, for some years now, Beatrix Spranger had
passed the greater part of her days, and sometimes when the hot simoon
was on, as it was now, and the temperature scarcely ever fell below
85°, a good deal of the early part of her nights.

She, too, was seated in that garden now, talking to Julian, while
between them there lay two or three books and London magazines (three
or four months old), a copy of the Times of the same ancient date, and
another of the Belize Advertiser fresh from the local press. Yet
neither the news from London which had long since been published, nor
that of the immediate neighbourhood, which was quite new but not
particularly exciting, seemed to have been able to secure much of
their attention. And this for a reason which was a simple one and
easily to be understood. All their attention was at the present moment
concentrated on each other.

"You cannot think," Beatrix Spranger was saying now, "what a welcome
event the arrival of a stranger is to us here, who regard ourselves
more or less as exiles for the time being. Moreover," she continued,
without any of that false shame which a young lady at home in England
might have thought necessary to assume, even though she did not
actually feel it, "it seems to me that you are a very interesting
person, Lieutenant Ritherdon. You have dropped down into a place where
your name happens to be extremely well known, yet in which no one ever
imagined that there was any other Ritherdon in existence anywhere,
except the late and the present owners of Desolada."

"People, even exiles, have relatives sometimes in other parts of the
world," Julian murmured rather languidly--the effect of the heat and
the perfume of the flowers in the garden being upon him--"and you
know----"

"Oh! yes," the girl said, with an answering smile. "I do know all
that. Only I happen to know something else, too. You see we--that is,
father and I--are acquainted with your cousin, and we knew his father
before him. And it is a rather singular thing that they have always
given us to understand that, so far as they were aware, they hadn't a
relation in the world."

"They had, though, you see, all the same. Indeed, they had two until a
short time ago; namely, when my father, Mr. George Ritherdon, was
alive."

"Mr. Ritherdon, Sebastian's father, hadn't seen him for many years,
had he? He didn't often speak of him, and always gave people the idea
that his brother was dead. I suppose they had not parted the best of
friends?"

"No," Julian answered quietly, "I don't think they had. As a matter of
fact, my--George Ritherdon--was almost, indeed quite, as reticent
about his brother Charles as Charles seems to have been about him."
Then, suddenly changing the subject, he said: "Is Sebastian popular
hereabouts. Is he liked?"

"No," the girl replied, rather more frankly than Julian had expected,
while, as she did so, she lifted a pair of beautiful blue eyes to his
face. "No, I don't think he is, since you ask me."

"Why not? You may tell me candidly, Miss Spranger, especially as you
know that to-night I am going to have a rather serious interview with
your father, and shall ask him for his advice and assistance on a
matter in which I require his counsel."

"Oh! I don't know quite," the girl said now. "Only--only--well! you
know--because you have told us that you saw him doing it--he--he--is
too fond of play, of gambling. People say--different things. Some that
he is ruining his brother planters, and others that he is ruining
himself. Then he has the reputation of being very hard and cruel to
some of his servants. You know, we have coolies and negroes and Caribs
and natives here, and a good many of them are bound to the employers
for a term of years--and--and--well--if one feels inclined to be
cruel--they can be."

As she spoke of this, Julian recognised how he had been within an ace
of discovering, some time before he reached the inn at All Pines, that
the late Mr. Ritherdon had not died without leaving an heir, apparent
or presumptive, as he had supposed when he landed at Belize. The negro
guide on whom he had bestowed so many good-humoured sobriquets had
spoken of Mr. Ritherdon as being a hard and cruel man, both to blacks
and whites. But--in his ignorance, which was natural enough--he had
supposed that the statement could only have applied to the one owner
of Desolada of whom he had ever heard--the man lately dead.

Now, he reflected, he wished he had really understood to whom that
negro referred. It might have made a difference in his plans, he
thought; might have prevented him from going on farther on the road to
All Pines and Desolada; from meeting this unexpected, unknown of,
possessor of what he believed to be his, until those plans had become
more matured. Until, too, he had had time to decide in what form, if
any, he should present himself before the man who was called Sebastian
Ritherdon.

However, it was done. He had presented himself and, if he knew
anything of human nature, if he could read a character at all, his
appearance had caused considerable excitement in the minds of both
Sebastian Ritherdon and Madame Carmaux.

"Do _you_ like Sebastian?" he asked now, and he could scarcely have
explained why he was anxious to hear a denial of any liking for that
person on the part of Beatrix Spranger. It may have been, he thought,
because this girl, with her soft English beauty, which the climate of
British Honduras during some years of residence had--certainly, as
yet--had no power to impair, seemed to him far too precious a thing to
be wasted on a man such as Sebastian was--rough, a gambler, and
possessing cruel instincts.

"Do you think I should like him?" she asked in her turn, and again the
eyes which he thought were so beautiful glanced at him from beneath
their thick lashes, "after what I have told you of the character he
bears? What I have told you, perhaps, far too candidly, saying more
than I ought to have done."

"Do not think that," he made haste to exclaim. "To-night I am going to
be even more frank with Mr. Spranger. I am going to tell him one or
two things in connection with my 'cousin,' when I ask him for his
assistance and advice, which will make your father at least imagine
that I have not formed a very favourable impression of my new-found
relative."

"And mayn't I be told, too--now?" she asked, thoroughly womanlike.

"Not yet," he answered, with a smile. "Not yet. Later--perhaps."

"Oh!" she exclaimed, with something that might almost be described as
a pout. "Oh! Not even after my candour about your cousin! You _are_ a
man of mystery, Lieutenant Ritherdon. Why! you won't even tell us how
it happens that you arrived here from Desolada with that round your
arm," and as she spoke she directed her blue eyes to a sling around
his neck in which his arm reposed. "Nor that," she added, nodding now
towards his forehead, where, on the left side, were affixed two or
three pieces of sticking-plaster.

"Yes," he said, "I will tell you that. I feel, indeed, that I ought to
do so, if only as an apology for presenting myself before you in such
a guise. You see, it is so easy to explain this, that it is not worth
making any mystery about it. It all comes from the fact that I am a
sailor, and sailors are proverbial for being very bad riders," and as
he spoke he accompanied his words with another smile.

But Beatrix did not smile in return. Instead, she said, half gravely,
perhaps almost half severely: "Go on. Lieutenant Ritherdon, if you
please. I wish to hear how the accident happened," while she added
impressively, "on your journey from Desolada to Belize."

"I'm a bad rider," he said again, but once more meeting her glance, he
altered his mode of speech and said:

"Well, you see, Miss Spranger, it happened this way. I set out on my
journey of inspection, on my road to Desolada, on a rather ancient
mustang which the worthy landlord of the hotel with a queer Spanish
name recommended to me as the proper thing to do the journey easily
on. Later, when I had made Sebastian's acquaintance, he rather
ridiculed my good Rosinante."

"Did he!" Beatrix interjected calmly.

"He did, indeed. In fact he said such creatures were scarcely ever
used in the colony except for draught purposes. Then he said he would
mount me on a good horse of Spanish breed, such as I believe you use a
great deal here; so that when I was returning to Belize yesterday to
present myself before you and Mr. Spranger, I should be able to make
the journey rapidly and comfortably."

"That was very kind of him," Beatrix exclaimed. "Though, as you did
not arrive until nine o'clock at night, you hardly seem to have made
it very rapidly, and those things," with again a glance at the sling
and the plasters, "are not usually adjuncts to comfort."

"Well, you see, I'm a sailor and not a good ri----"

"Go on, please."

"Yes, certainly. I started under favourable circumstances at six in
the morning, receiving, I believe, a kind of blessing or benediction
from Sebastian and Madame Carmaux, as well as strong injunctions to
return as soon as possible."

"People are hospitable in this country," Beatrix again interrupted.

"We got along very well, anyhow, for a time; at a gentle trot, of
course, because already it was getting hot, and as we neared All Pines
I was just thinking of slowing down to a walk when----"

"The creature bolted? Was that it?"

"As a matter of fact it was. By the way, you seem to know the manners
and customs of the animals in this country, Miss Spranger."

"I know that many lives are lost in this country," the girl said
gravely now, "owing to unbroken horses being ridden too young horses,
too, that are sometimes full of vice. The landlord of the hotel here
did you a better service than your cousin."

"Perhaps this was one of those horses," Julian remarked. "But, anyhow,
it bolted. Then, a little later, it did something else. It stopped
dead in a gallop and, after nearly shooting me over its head, it
reared upright and did absolutely throw me off it backwards.
Fortunately, I fell at the side of the road onto a sort of undergrowth
full of ferns and interspersed with lovely flowering shrubs; so I got
off with what you see. The horse, however, had killed itself. It fell
over on its back with a tremendous sort of backward bound and, when I
got up and looked at it, it was just dying. Later, I came on from All
Pines in a kind of cart--that is, when I had been bandaged up.
Perhaps, however, it wouldn't have happened if I had not been such a
bad rider and----"

"It would have happened," Beatrix said, decisively, "if you had been a
circus rider or a cowboy. That is, unless you had been well acquainted
with the horse, and, even then, it would probably have happened just
the same."

After this they were silent for a little while, Julian availing
himself of Beatrix's permission to smoke, and she sitting meditatively
behind her huge fan. And, although he did not tell her so, Julian
agreed with her that the accident would probably have happened even
though he had been a circus rider or a cowboy, as she had said.



CHAPTER X.

MR. SPRANGER OBTAINS INFORMATION.


Mr. Spranger was at home later in the afternoon, his business for the
day being done, and in the evening they all sat down to dinner in the
now almost cool and airy dining-room of his house. And, at this meal,
Julian thought that Beatrix looked even prettier than she had done in
the blue-and-white striped dress worn by her during the day. She had
on now one of those dinner jackets which young ladies occasionally
assume when not desirous of donning the fullest of evening gowns, and,
as he sat there observing the healthy sunburn of her cheeks (which was
owing to her living so much in the open air) that contrasted markedly
with the whiteness of her throat, he thought she was one of the most
lovely girls he had ever seen. Which from him, who had met so much
beauty in different parts of the world, was a very considerable
compliment--if she had but known it. Also, if the truth must be told,
her piquant shrewdness and vivacity--which she had manifested very
considerably during Julian's description of the vagaries of the animal
lent to him by his cousin--appealed very much to him, so that he could
not help reflecting how, should this girl eventually be made
acquainted with all the doubts and difficulties which now perplexed
him as to his birthright, she might possibly become a very valuable
counsellor.

"She has ideas about my worthy cousin for some reason," he thought to
himself more than once during dinner, "and most certainly she suspects
him of--well of not having been very careful about the mount he placed
at my disposal. So do I, as a matter of fact--only perhaps it is as
well not to say so just at present."

Moreover, now was not the time to take her into his confidence; the
evening was required for something else, namely, the counsel and
advice of her father. He had made Mr. Spranger's acquaintance
overnight on his arrival, and, in the morning of the present day,
before that gentleman had departed to his counting house in Belize, he
had asked if he would, in the evening, allow him to have his counsel
on some important reasons connected with his appearance in British
Honduras. Whereon, Mr. Spranger having told him very courteously that
any advice or assistance which he could give should be at his service,
Julian knew that the time had arrived for him to take that gentleman
into his confidence. Arrived, because now, Beatrix, rising from the
table, made her way out to the lawn, where, already, a negro servant
had placed a lamp on the rustic table by which she always sat; she
saying that when they had done their conference they would find her
there.

"Now, my boy," said Mr. Spranger, who was a hale, jovial Englishman,
on whom neither climate nor exile had any depressing influence, and
who, besides, was delighted to have as his guest a young man who, as
well as being a gentleman, could furnish him with some news of that
far-off world from which he expected to be separated for still some
years. "Now, help yourself to some more claret--it is quite sound and
wholesome--and let me see what I can do for you."

"It will take some time in the telling," Julian said. "It is a long
story and a strange one."

"It may take till midnight, if you choose," the other answered. "We
sit up late in this country, so as to profit by the coolest hours of
the day."

"But--Miss Spranger. Will she not think me very rude to detain you so
long?"

"No," he replied. "If we do not join her soon, she will understand
that our conversation is of importance."


It was nearly midnight when Julian had concluded the whole of his
narrative, he telling Mr. Spranger everything that had occurred from
the time when George Ritherdon had unfolded that strange story in his
Surrey home, until the hour when he himself had arrived at the house
in which he now was, with his arm bandaged up and his head dressed.

Of course there had been interruptions to the flow of the narrative.
Once they had gone out onto the lawn to bid Beatrix good-night and to
chat with her for a few moments during which Julian had been amply
apologetic for preventing her father from joining her, as well as for
not doing so himself--and, naturally, Mr. Spranger had himself
interrupted the course of the recital by exclamations of astonishment
and with many questions.

But that recital was finished now, and still the elder man's
bewilderment was extreme.

"It is the most extraordinary story I ever heard in my life! A
romance. And it seems such a tangled web! How, in Heaven's name, can
your father's, or uncle's, account be the right one?"

"You do not believe his story?" Julian asked; "you believe Sebastian
is, in absolute fact, Charles Ritherdon's son?"

"What am I to believe? Just think! That young man has been brought up
here ever since he was a baby; there must be hundreds upon hundreds of
people who can recollect his birth, twenty-six years ago, his
christening, his baptism. And Charles Ritherdon--whom I knew very well
indeed--recognised him, treated him in every way, as his son. He died
leaving him his heir. What can stand against that?"

"Doubtless it is a mystery. Yet--yet--in spite of all, I cannot
believe that George Ritherdon would have invented such a falsehood.
Remember, Mr. Spranger, I had known him all my life and knew every
side and shade of his character. And--he was dying when he told it all
to me. Would a man go to his grave fabricating, uttering such a lie as
that?"

For a moment Mr. Spranger did not reply, but sat with his eyes turned
up towards the ceiling of the room--and with, upon his face, that look
which all have seen upon the faces of those who are thinking deeply.
Then at last he said--

"Come, let us understand each other. You have asked my advice, my
opinion, as the only man you can consult freely. Now, are we to talk
frankly--am I to talk without giving offence?"

"That is what I want," Julian said, "what I desire. I must get to the
bottom of this mystery. Heaven knows I don't wish to claim another
man's property--I have no need for it--there is my profession and some
little money left by George Ritherdon. On the other hand, I don't
desire to think of him as dying with such a deception in his heart. I
want to justify him in my eyes."

Then, because Mr. Spranger still kept silence, he said again: "Pray,
pray tell me what you do think. Pray be frank. No matter what you
say."

"No," Mr. Spranger said now. "No. Not yet at least. First let us look
at facts. I was not in the colony twenty-six years ago, but of course,
I am acquainted with scores of people who were. And those people knew
old Ritherdon as well as they know me; also they have known Sebastian
all his life. And, you must remember, there are such things as
registers of births, registers kept of baptism, and so forth. What
would you say if you saw the register of Sebastian's birth, as well as
the register of your--of Mrs. Ritherdon's death?"

"What could I say in such circumstances? Only--why, then, the attempt
to make me break my neck on that horse? Why the half-caste girl
watching me through the night, and why the conversation which I
overheard, the contemptuous laugh of Madame Carmaux at my mother's--at
Isobel Leigh's name? Why all that, coupled with the name of George
Ritherdon, of myself, of New Orleans--where he said he had me baptized
when he fled there after kidnapping me?"

As Julian spoke, as he mentioned the name of New Orleans, he saw a
light upon Mr. Spranger's face--that look which comes upon all our
faces when something strikes us and, itself, throws a light upon our
minds; also he saw a slight start given by the elder man.

"What is it?" Julian asked, observing both these things. "What?"

"New Orleans," Mr. Spranger said now, musingly, contemplatively, with,
about him, the manner of one endeavouring to force recollection to
come to his aid. "New Orleans--and Madame Carmaux. Why do those
names--the names of that city--of that woman--connect themselves
together in my mind. Why?" Then suddenly he exclaimed, "I know! I have
it! Madame Carmaux is a New Orleans woman."

"A New Orleans woman!" Julian repeated. "A New Orleans woman! Yet he,
Sebastian, said when we met--that--that--she was a connection of
Isobel Leigh; 'a relative of my late mother,' were his words. How
could she have been a relative of hers, if Mr. Leigh came out from
England to this place bringing with him his English wife and the child
that was Isobel Leigh, as George Ritherdon told me he did? Also----"

"Also what?" Mr. Spranger asked now. "Also what? Though take
time--exert your memory to the utmost. There is something strange in
the discrepancy between George Ritherdon's statement made in England
and Sebastian's made here. What else is it that has struck you?"

"This. As we rode towards Desolada he was telling me that he had never
been farther away from Honduras than New Orleans. Then he began to
say--I am sure he did--that his mother came from there, but he broke
off to modify the statement for another to the effect that she had
always desired to visit that city. And when I asked him if his mother
came from New Orleans, he said: 'Oh, no! She was the daughter of Mr.
Leigh, an English merchant at Belize.'"

"You must have misunderstood him," Mr. Spranger said; "have
misunderstood the first part of his remark at any rate."

"Perhaps," Julian said quietly, "perhaps." But, nevertheless, he felt
perfectly sure that he had not done so. Then suddenly he said--

"You knew Mr. Ritherdon of Desolada. Tell me, do I bear any
resemblance to him?"

"Yes," Mr. Spranger answered gravely, very gravely. "So much of a
resemblance that you might well be his son. As great a resemblance to
him as you do in a striking manner to Sebastian. You and he might
absolutely be brothers.

"Only," said Julian, "such a thing is impossible. Mrs. Ritherdon did
not become the mother of twins, and she died within a day or so of
giving her first child birth. She could never have borne another."

"That," Spranger acquiesced, "is beyond doubt."

They prepared to separate now for the night, yet before they did so,
his host said a word to Julian. "To-morrow," he told him, "when I am
in the city, I will speak to one or two people who have known all
about the Desolada household ever since the place became the property
of Mr. Ritherdon. And, as perhaps you do not know, twenty-five years
ago all births along the coast, and far beyond Desolada, were
registered in Belize. Now, they are thus registered at All Pines--but
it is only in later days that such has been the case."

And next morning, when Mr. Spranger had been gone from his home some
two or three hours, and Julian happened to be sitting alone in
Beatrix's favourite spot in the garden--she being occupied at the
moment with her household duties--a half-caste messenger from the city
brought him a letter from Mr. Spranger, or, rather, a piece of paper,
on which was written--


"Miriam Carmaux's maiden name was Gardelle and she came from New
Orleans. She married Carmaux in despair, after, it is said, being
jilted by Charles Ritherdon (who had once been in love with her). Her
marriage took place about the same time as Mr. Ritherdon's with Miss
Leigh, but her husband was killed by a snake bite a few months
afterwards. Sebastian's birth was registered here by Mr. Ritherdon, of
Desolada, as taking place on the 4th of September, 1871, he being
described as the child of 'Charles Ritherdon, of Desolada, and Isobel
his wife, now dead.'

"Her death is also registered as taking place on the 7th of September,
1871."


"Sebastian's birth registered as taking place on the 4th of September,
1871!" Julian exclaimed, as the paper fell from his hand. "The 4th of
September, 1871! The very day that has always been kept in England as
my birthday. The very day on which I am entered in the Admiralty books
as being born in Honduras!"



CHAPTER XI.

A VISIT OF CONDOLENCE.


The remainder of that day was passed by Julian in the society of
Beatrix--since Mr. Spranger never came back to his establishment--which
was called "Floresta"--until he returned for good in the evening; the
summer noontide heat causing a drive to and from Belize for lunch to be
a journey too full of discomfort to be worth undertaking. Therefore,
this young man and woman were drawn into a companionship so close that,
ere long, it seemed to each of them that they had been acquainted for a
considerable time, while to Beatrix it began to appear that when once
Lieutenant Ritherdon should have taken his departure, the cool shady
garden of her abode would prove a vastly more desolate place than it
had ever done before.

But, while these somewhat dreary meditations occupied her thoughts,
Julian was himself revolving in his own mind a determination to which
he had almost, if not quite, arrived at as yet--a determination that
she should be made a confidante of what engrossed now the greater part
of his reflections, i.e., the mystery which surrounded both his own
birth and that of Sebastian Ritherdon. The greater part, but not the
whole of these reflections! because he soon observed that one other
form--a form far different from the handsome but somewhat rough and
saturnine figure and personality of his cousin Sebastian--was ever
present in his mind and, if not absolutely present before his actual
eyes, was never absent from his thoughts.

That form was the tall, graceful figure of Beatrix, surmounted by the
shapely head and beautiful features of the girl; the head crowned by
masses of fair curling hair, from beneath which those calm and clear
blue eyes gazed out through the thick and somewhat darker lashes.

"I must do it," he was musing to himself now, as they sat in the shade
when the light luncheon was over, and while around them were all the
languorous accompaniments of a tropic summer day, with, also, the
cloying, balmy odours of the tropic summer atmosphere; "I must do it,
must take her into my confidence, obtain her opinion as well as her
father's. She can see as far as any one, as she showed plainly enough
by her manner when I told her about my ride on that confounded horse.
She might in this case perhaps, see something, divine something of
that which at present is hidden from her father and from me."

Yet, although he had by now arrived at the determination to impart to
her all that now so agitated him, he also resolved that he would not
do so until he had taken her father's opinion on the subject.

"He will not refuse, I imagine," he thought to himself. "Why should
he? Especially when I represent to him that, by excluding her from the
various confidences which he and I must exchange on the matter--since
he has evidently thrown himself heart and soul into unravelling the
mystery--we shall also be dooming her to a great many hours of dulness
and lack of companionship."

But this, perhaps, savoured a little of sophistry--although probably
imperceptibly so to himself--since it must be undoubted that he also
recognised how great a lack of her companionship he was likewise
dooming himself to if she was not allowed to participate in their
conversation on the all important subject.

Young people are, however, sometimes more or less of sophists,
especially those who, independently of all other concerns of
importance, are experiencing a certain attractiveness that is being
exercised by members of the other sex into whose companionship they
are much thrown by chance.

The day drew on; above them the heat--that subtle tropical heat which
has been justly compared with the atmosphere of a Turkish bath or the
engine room of a steamer--was exerting its full and irresistible power
on all and everything that was subject to its influence. Even the
yellow-headed parrots had now ceased their chattering and clacking;
while Beatrix's pet monkey, whose home was on the lower branches of a
huge thatch-palm, presented a mournful appearance of senile
exhaustion, as it sat with its head bowed on its breast and its now
drawn-down, wizened features a picture of absolute but resigned
despair. And even those two human beings, each ordinarily so full of
life and youth and vigour, appeared as if--despite all laws of good
breeding to the effect that friends and acquaintances should not go to
sleep in each other's presence--they were about to yield to the
atmospheric influence. Julian knew that he was nodding, even while, as
he glanced to where Beatrix's great fan had now ceased to sway, he was
still wide awake enough to suspect that his were not the only eyes
that were struggling to keep open.

As thus all things human and animal succumbed, or almost succumbed, to
the dead, unruffled atmosphere, and while, too, the scarlet flowers of
the flamboyants and the lilac-coloured blossoms of the oleanders
drooped, across the lawn so carefully sown, with English grass seeds
every spring and mowed and watered regularly, there fell a heavy
footstep on the ears of Beatrix and Julian--footsteps proclaimed
clearly by the jingle of spurs, if in no other way. And, a moment
later, a sonorous voice was heard, expressing regret for thus
disturbing so grateful a siesta and for intruding at all.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Ritherdon," Julian said, somewhat coldly, as now
Sebastian came close to them; while Beatrix--her face as calm as
though no drowsiness had come near her since the past night--greeted
him with a civility that might almost have been termed glacial, and
was, undoubtedly, distant. "I suppose you have heard of my little
adventure on the horse you so kindly exchanged for my mustang?"

"It is for that that I am here," the other answered, dropping into a
basket-chair towards which Beatrix coldly waved her hand. "I cannot
tell you what my feelings, my remorse, were on hearing what had
befallen you. Good Heavens! think--just think--how I should have felt
if any real, any serious accident had befallen you! Yet, it was not my
fault."

"No?" asked Julian. "No? Did you not know the animal's peculiarities,
then?"

"Of course. Naturally. But, owing to the carelessness of one of the
stable hands, you were given the wrong one. I can tell you that that
fellow has had the best welting he ever had in his life and has been
sent off the estate. You won't see him there when you return to me."

"No," thought Beatrix to herself, "he won't. And what's more he never
would have seen him, unless he has the power of creating imaginary
people out of those who have no actual existence." While, although her
lips did not move, there was in her eyes a look--conveyed by a hasty
glance towards Julian, which told him as plainly as words could have
done, what her thoughts were.

"We had bought a new draft of horses," Sebastian went on, "and by a
mistake this one--the one on which you rode--got into the wrong stall,
the stall properly belonging to the animal you ought to have had.
Heavens!" he exclaimed again, "when I heard that it had been found
lying dead near All Pines and that you had been attended to
there--your injuries being exaggerated, I am thankful to see--I
thought I should have gone mad. You, my guest, my cousin, to be
treated thus."

"It doesn't matter. Only, when I come to see you, I hope your
stableman will be more careful."

As he spoke of returning to Desolada once more, the other man's face
lit up with a look of pleasure in the same manner that it had done on
a previous occasion. Any one regarding him now would have said that
there was a generous, hospitable host, to whom no greater satisfaction
could be afforded than to hear that his invitations were sought after
and acceptable.

He did not deceive either of his listeners, however; not Julian, who
now had reason to suspect many things in connection with this man's
existence and possession of Desolada; nor Beatrix who, without knowing
what Julian knew, had always disliked Sebastian and, since the affair
of the horse, had formed the most unfavourable opinions concerning his
good faith.

Probably, however, Sebastian, who also had good reasons for doubting
whether either of them was likely to believe his explanations,
scarcely expected that they should be deceived. He expressed,
nevertheless, the greatest, indeed the most vivid, satisfaction at
Julian's words, and exclaimed, "Ah! when next you come to see me? That
is it--what I desire. You shall be well treated, I can assure you--the
honoured relative, and all that kind of thing. Now fix the date, Mr.
Rither--cousin Julian."

The poets and balladmongers (also the lady novelists) have told us so
frequently that there is no possibility of our ever forgetting it,
that there exists, such a thing as the language of the eyes, while, to
confirm their statements, we most of us have our own special knowledge
on the subject. And that language was now being used with considerable
vehemence by Beatrix as a means of conveying her thoughts to Julian,
her sweet blue eyes signalling clearly to him a message which she took
care should be unseen by Sebastian. A message that, if put into words,
would have said: "Don't go! Don't go!" or, "Don't fix a date."

But--although Julian understood perfectly that language--it was not
his cue to act upon it at the present moment. Beatrix did not know all
yet, though he was determined she should do so that very night; and,
also, he had already resolved that he would once more become an inmate
of Desolada. There, if anywhere, he believed that some proof might be
found, some circumstances discovered to throw a light upon what he
believed to be a strange reversal of the proper state of things that
ought to actually exist; in short, he was determined to accept
Sebastian's invitation.

Purposely avoiding Beatrix's glance, therefore, while meaning to
explain his reason for doing so later on, when they should be alone,
he said now to his cousin--

"You are very good, and, of course, I shall be delighted to come back
and stay with you. As to the date, well! Mr. and Miss Spranger are so
kind and hospitable that you must let me avail myself of their welcome
for a little longer. I suppose a day need not be actually fixed just
now?"

"Why, no, my dear fellow," Sebastian exclaimed, with that almost
boisterous cordiality which he had unfailingly evinced since they had
first met, and which might be either real or assumed. "Why, no, of
course not. Indeed, there is no need to fix any date at all. There is
the house and everything in it, and there am I. Come when you like and
you will find a welcome, rough as it must needs be in this country,
but at any rate sincere."

After which there was nothing more for Julian to do than to mutter
courteous thanks for such proffered hospitality and to promise that,
ere long, he would again become a guest at Desolada.

They walked with Sebastian now to the stable, where his horse was
awaiting him, Beatrix proffering refreshment--to omit which courtesy
to a visitor would have been contrary to all the established, though
unwritten, laws of Honduras, as well as, one may say, of most
colonies--but Sebastian, refusing this, rode off to Belize, where he
said he had business. And Julian could not help wondering to himself
if that business could possibly have any connection with the same
affairs which had brought him out from England.

"You either didn't see my signals, or misunderstood them," Beatrix
said, as now they returned once more to the coolness of the garden.

"Pardon me," Julian replied, "I did. Only, it is necessary--absolutely
necessary, I think--that I should pay another visit to my cousin's
house. To-night your father and I are going to invite your opinion on
a matter between Sebastian and me. Then I think you will also agree
that it is necessary for me to return to Desolada."

"I may do so," Beatrix said, "but all the same I don't like the idea
of your being an inhabitant of that place--of your being under his
roof again."



CHAPTER XII.

THE REMINISCENCES OF A FRENCH GENTLEMAN.


A week later Julian was once more on his way towards Desolada, and
upon a journey which he was fully determined should either result in
satisfying him that Sebastian did not properly occupy the position
which he now held openly in the eyes of the whole colony, or should be
his last one.

He did not 'come to this decision without much anxious consideration
being given to the subject by himself, by Mr. Spranger, and by
Beatrix--who had been taken into the confidence of the others on the
evening following Sebastian's visit to "Floresta." Nor had he arrived
at the decision to again become his cousin's guest without taking
their opinions on that subject as well.

And the result was--when briefly stated--that he was on his road once
more.

Now, as he rode along a second time on the mule (which had been
returned to its owner by a servant from Desolada), because it was at
least a safe and trusty animal although not speedy--such a
qualification being, indeed, unnecessary, in a country where few
people ride swiftly because of the heat--he was musing deeply on all
that the past weeks had brought forth.

"First," he reflected, "it has done one thing which was not to be
expected, and may or may not have a bearing on what I am in this place
for. It has caused me to fall over head and ears in love. Some people
would say, 'That's good.' Others that it is bad, since it might
distract my attention from more serious matters. So it would be bad,
for me, if she doesn't feel the same way. I suppose I shall have
courage to tell her all about it some day, but at present I'm sure I
couldn't do it. And, anyhow, we will first of all see who and what I
am. As the owner of Desolada I should be a more suitable match than as
a lieutenant of five years' seniority with a few thousand pounds in
various colonial securities."

Whereupon, since the animal had by now reached the knoll where he had
halted with his guide for luncheon upon the occasion of his former
journey along the same road, he dismounted and, drawing out of his
haversack a packet of sandwiches prepared for him by Beatrix's cook,
commenced, while eating them to reconsider all that had taken place
during the past week.

What had taken place needs, indeed, to be set down here, since the
passage of the last few days had brought to light more than one
discrepancy in connection not only with Sebastian's first statements
to Julian, but also with his possession of all that the late Mr.
Ritherdon had left him the sole possessor of.

Mr. Spranger had brought home with him to dinner, on the night
following that when Beatrix had been informed of the strange variance
between the statement made by George Ritherdon in England, and the
recognised position held by Sebastian in British Honduras, an elderly
gentleman who filled a position in one of the principal schools
established by the Government and in receipt of Government aid, in the
city; while, before doing so, he had suggested to Julian that he
should keep his ears open but say as little as possible. To his
daughter he had also made the same suggestion, which was, as a matter
of fact, unnecessary, since that young lady had now thrown herself
heart and soul into the unravelling of a mystery which she said was
more interesting than the plot of any novel she had read for many a
long day. Also, it need scarcely be said to which side her opinions
inclined, or in which quarter her sympathies were enlisted. Julian had
wondered later, as he ate his lunch on the knoll, whether the
affection which had sprung up in his heart for this girl was ever
likely to be returned; but, had he been able to peer closely into that
mystical receptacle of conglomerate feelings--a woman's heart--his
wonderment might, perhaps, have ceased to exist.

With considerable skill, Mr. Spranger led the conversation at dinner
to the old residents in the colony and, at last, by more or less
devious ways, to the various personages who at one time or another had
been inhabitants of Desolada. Then, when he and his guest were, to use
a hunting metaphor, in full cry over a fine open country, he casually
remarked that, among others, Madame Carmaux had herself held a
considerable place of trust in the establishment for a great many
years.

"Yes, yes," said the old gentleman, who was himself a French-American
from Florida, "yes, a long time. Miriam Carmaux! Ha! Miriam
Carmaux--Miriam Gardelle as she was when she arrived here from New
Orleans and sought a place as governess. A beautiful girl then; oh! my
faith, she was beautiful."

"Did she get a place as governess?" Mr. Spranger asked, filling
Monsieur Lemaire's glass.

"Well, you see, she did and she did not. She got lessons in families,
but no posts, no. No posts. Then, of course, she married poor Carmaux.
Oh! these snakes--ah! _mon Dieu_, that coral-snake, and the
tommy-goff--there are dreadful creatures for you! It was a tommy-goff
that killed poor Jules Carmaux."

"Was it, though? And what was poor Carmaux?"

"Ah!" said Monsieur Lemaire, shaking his head most mournfully, "he
was not a solid man, not steady. Oh! no, not at all steady. Carmaux
loved pleasure too much: all kinds of pleasure. He loved cards,
and--and--excuse me, Miss Spranger--but he loved this also," while as
he spoke the old gentleman shook his head reprovingly at the claret
jugs. "Also he loved sport--shooting the curassow, hunting the raccoon
and the jaguar--ah! he did not love work. Oh, no! Work and he were
never the best of friends. Then the tommy-goff killed him in the
woods."

"Perhaps," remarked Beatrix with one of her bright smiles, "as a
punishment for his not loving work."

"But," said Mr. Spranger, "he must have been a poor husband for that
young lady, Mademoiselle Gardelle, as she was then. If he would not
work, how did he support a wife?"

"Ah!" said Monsieur Lemaire with a very emphatic shake of his head
now, so that Beatrix wondered he did not get quite warm over the
exertion, "Ah! they did say that he thought she might earn the money
to support him." And still he wagged his head.

"I wonder," exclaimed Julian, who had been listening to all this with
considerable interest, "that she should have married him. He seems to
have been a useless sort of man."

"Ah! Ah! There were reasons, very sad reasons. You see, she had been
in love with another man. Ah! _mon Dieu_, these love affairs. Another
man, Mr. Ritherdon, was supposed to have been the object of her
affections."

"Dear! dear," said Mr. Spranger.

"Yes. Only--" and now Monsieur Lemaire made a sort of apologetic,
old-court-life-in-France style of bow to Beatrix, as though beseeching
pardon for the errors of his own sex--sinking his voice, too, to a
kind of pleading one, as well as one reprobating the late Mr.
Ritherdon's conduct--"only he jilted her."

"Good gracious!" exclaimed the girl, feeling it necessary to say
something in return for the old Frenchman's politeness, while, as a
matter of fact, she had heard the story from her father only a night
or so before. "Good gracious!"

"Ah! yes. Ah! yes," Lemaire continued. "It was so indeed. Indeed it
was. Then, they do say----" And now he sank his voice so much that he
might have been reciting the history of some most awful and
soul-stirring Greek tragedy, "they do say that in her rage and despair
she flung herself away on Carmaux. But the tommy-goff killed him after
he trod on it in the woods--and, so, she was free." Then his voice
rose crescendo, as though the mention of the tragedy being concluded,
a lighter tone was permissible.

"Take some more claret," said Mr. Spranger; "help yourself." While as
the old gentleman did so, he continued--

"But how in such circumstances did she become a resident in Mr.
Ritherdon's house? One would have thought that was the last place she
would be found in next."

"Ah!" said Monsieur Lemaire, "then the woman's heart, the heart of all
good women"--and he bowed solemnly now to Beatrix--"exerted its sway.
She was bereft, even the little girl, the poor little daughter that
had been born to her after Carmaux's death--when the tommy-goff killed
him--was dead and buried----"

"So she had had a daughter?" said Mr. Spranger.

"Poor woman, yes. But what--what was I saying. The good woman's heart
prompted her, and, smothering her own griefs, forgetting her own
wrongs, knowing the stupendous misery which had fallen on the man who
had jilted her through the loss of his wife, she went to him and
offered to look after the poor little motherless Sebastian; to be a
guide and nurse to it. Ah! a noble woman was Miriam Carmaux, a woman
who buried her own griefs in assuaging those of others."

"She went to Desolada," Julian said, "after Mrs. Ritherdon's death?
She did that? After Mrs. Ritherdon's death?"

"_Si_. After her death. Soon. Very soon. As soon as her own sorrows,
her own loss, were more or less softened."

That night, when Monsieur Lemaire had been driven back into the city
in Mr. Spranger's buggy, the latter gentleman, his daughter and
Julian, sat out on the lawn, inhaling the cool breeze which comes up
from the sea at sunset as well as watching the fireflies dancing. All
were quite silent now, for all were occupied with their own thoughts:
Julian in reflecting on what Monsieur Lemaire had said; Beatrix in
wondering whether George Ritherdon's dying disclosures could possibly
have been true; Mr. Spranger in feeling positive that they were false.
Everything, he told himself, or almost everything, pointed to such
being the case. The registration of Sebastian's birth by the late Mr.
Ritherdon; the acknowledgment of the young man during all the dead
man's remaining years as his heir: the knowledge which countless
people possessed in the colony of Sebastian's whole life having been
passed at Desolada! And against this, what set-off was there?

Only the falsehood--for such it must have been--told by Sebastian to
the effect that Miriam Carmaux was his mother's relative, which, since
she was a French creole, was impossible. Nothing much more than that;
nothing tangible.

As for the slip made by him to Julian, the words, "My mother ca--I
mean my mother always wanted to go there and see it," (New Orleans
being the place referred to) well, there was nothing in that. It was a
slip any one might easily have made. And no living soul in British
Honduras had ever heard a whisper of any stolen child. Surely that was
enough to settle all doubt.

Then, breaking in upon the silence around, he and his daughter heard
Julian saying: "If Monsieur Lemaire's facts are accurate, Sebastian
made another misstatement to me. He said that Madame Carmaux had been
at Desolada for many years, _even before his mother died_. That could
not have been so."

"And," said Beatrix, emerging now from the silence which she had
preserved so long, "it was perhaps with reference to that subject that
he had uttered the words which you overheard, to the effect that you
must know something, but that knowledge was not always proof."

"All the same," said Mr. Spranger now, "it is a blank wall, a wall
against which you will push in vain, I fear. Honestly, I see no
outlet."

"Nor I," answered Julian, "yet all the same I mean to try and find
one. At present I am groping in the dark; perhaps the light will come
some day."

"I cannot believe it," Mr. Spranger said, "much as I might like to do
so. If--if Charles Ritherdon's child had been stolen from its father's
house how could it be that, in so small a place as this, the thing
would never have been heard of? And if it was stolen, if you were
stolen, how could another, a substitute, take your place?"

"Heaven only knows," Julian replied. "It is to find out this that I am
going back to Desolada," while as he spoke, he saw again on Beatrix's
face the look of dissent to that proposed journey which, a day or two
before, she had signalled to him through her eyes.

So--determinate, resolved to fathom the mystery, if mystery there
were; refusing, too, to believe that George Ritherdon's story could
have been one huge fabrication, one hideous falsehood from beginning
to end, and that a fabrication, a falsehood, which must ere long be
disproved, directly it was challenged--he did set out and was by now
drawing near the end of his journey.

"Only," said Beatrix to him on the morning of his departure, "I do so
wish you would let me persuade you not to go. I dread----"

"What?"

"Oh!" she said, raising her hands to her hair with a bewildered
movement--a movement that perhaps expressed regret as to the
destination for which he was about to depart. "I do not know.
Yet--still--I fear. Sebastian Ritherdon is cruel;--fierce--if--if--he
thought you were about to cross his path--if--he knows anything that
you do not know, then I dread what the end may be. And, I shall think
always of that half-caste girl--peering in--glaring into your room,
with perhaps, if she is a creature, a tool of his, murder in her
heart."

"Fear nothing, I beseech you," he said deeply moved at her sympathy.
"I can be very firm--very resolute--when occasion needs. Fear
nothing."



CHAPTER XIII.

A CHANGE OF APARTMENTS.


A boisterous welcome from Sebastian, a cordial grasp of the hand,
accompanied by a smile from the dark eyes of Madame Carmaux (which
latter would have appeared more sincere to Julian had the corners of
the mouth been less drawn down and the eyelids closed a little less,
while the eyes behind those lids glittering with a light that seemed
to him unnatural), did not, to use a metaphor, throw any dust in his
own eyes.

For long reflection on everything that had occurred since first
George Ritherdon had made his statement in the Surrey home until now,
when Julian stood once more in the house in which he believed himself
to have been born, had only served to produce in his mind one
conviction--the firm conviction that George Ritherdon was his uncle
and had spoken the truth; that Sebastian was--in spite of all evidence
seeming to point in a totally different direction--occupying a
position which was not rightly his. A belief that, before long, he was
resolved at all hazards to himself to justify and disprove once and
for all.

The hilarious welcome on the part of Sebastian did not deceive him,
therefore; the greeting of Madame Carmaux was, he felt, insincere. And
feeling thus he knew that in the latter was one against whom he would
have to be doubly on his guard.

And on his guard, against both the man and the woman, he commenced to
be from the moment when he once more entered the precincts of
Desolada.

That night at dinner, which was here called supper, but which only
varied from the former meal in name, he observed a most palpable
desire on the part of both his hosts to extract from him all that he
had done while staying with the Sprangers--as well as an even stronger
desire to discover into what society he might have been introduced, or
what acquaintances he might happen to have made.

"I made one acquaintance," he replied to Madame Carmaux, who was by
far the most pertinacious in her inquiries, "the hearing about whom
may interest you considerably. A gentleman who knew you long ago."

"Indeed!" she said, "and who might that be?"

She asked the question lightly, almost indifferently, yet--unless the
flicker of the lamp in the middle of the table was playing tricks with
his vision--there came suddenly a look of nervousness, of
apprehension, upon her face. A look controlled yet not altogether to
be subdued.

"It was Monsieur Lemaire," he replied, "the professor of modern
languages at the Victoria College. He said he knew you very well once,
before your marriage."

"Yes," she replied, "he did," and now he saw that, whatever
nervousness she might be experiencing, she was exerting a strong power
of suppression of any visible outward sign of her feelings. "Monsieur
Lemaire was very good to me. He enabled me to find employment as a
teacher in various houses. What did he tell you besides?"

"He mentioned the sad ending to your marriage. Also the death of your
little---- Excuse me," he broke off, "but you have upset your glass.
Allow me," and from where he sat he bent forward, and with his napkin
sopped up the spilt water which had been in that glass.

"It was very clumsy," she muttered. "My loose sleeves are always
knocking things over. Thank you. But what was it you said he
mentioned? The death of my----"

"Little daughter," Julian replied softly, feeling sorry--and indeed,
annoyed with himself--at what he now considered a lack of delicacy and
consideration. A lack of feeling, because he thought it very possible
that, even after a long lapse of time, this poor widowed woman might
still lament bitterly the death of her little child.

"Ah! yes," she said, though why now her face should brighten
considerably he did not understand. "Ah! yes. Poor little thing, it
did not live long, only a very little while. Poor little baby!"

Looking still under the lamp and feeling still a little disconcerted
at the reflection that he had quite unintentionally recalled unhappy
recollections to Madame Carmaux, he saw that Sebastian was also
regarding her with a strange, almost bewildered look in his eyes. What
that look meant, Julian was not sufficiently a judge of expression to
fathom; yet, had he been compelled there and then to describe what
feeling that glance most suggested to him, he would probably have
termed it one of surprise.

Surprise, perhaps, that Madame Carmaux should have been so emotional
as to exhibit such tenderness at the recollection being brought to her
mind of her little infant daughter, dead twenty-five years ago and
almost at the hour of its birth.

No more was said, however, on the subject and an adjournment was made
directly the meal was over to the veranda, that place on which in
British Honduras almost all people pass the hours of the evening; none
staying indoors more than is absolutely necessary. And here their
conversation became of the most ordinary kind for some time, its
commonplace nature only being varied occasionally by divers questions
put to Julian by both Sebastian and Madame Carmaux as to what George
Ritherdon's existence had been since he quitted Honduras to return to
England.

"It was a quiet enough one," replied Julian, carefully weighing every
word he uttered and forcing himself to be on his guard over every
sentence. "Quiet enough. He took to England some capital from this
part of the world, as I have always understood, and he was enabled to
make a sufficient living by the use of it to provide for us both. He
was never rich, yet since his desires were not inordinate, we did well
enough. At any rate, he was able to place me in the only calling I was
particularly desirous of following, without depriving himself of
anything."

"And he left money behind?" Madame Carmaux asked, while, even as she
did so, Julian could not but observe that her manner was listless and
absent, as well as to perceive that she only threw in a remark now and
again with a view of appearing to be interested in the conversation.

"Yes," he replied, "he left money behind him. Not much; some few
thousand pounds fairly well invested. Enough, anyhow, for a sailor
who, at the worst, can live on his pay."

"All the same," Sebastian said, "a few thousand pounds is a mighty
good thing to have handy. I wish I had a few."

"You!" exclaimed Julian, looking at him in surprise. "Why! I should
have thought you had any amount. This is a big property, even for the
colonies, and Mr. Ritherdon--your father--has left the reputation
behind him in Belize of being one of the richest planters in the
place."

"Ay," said Sebastian, "rich in produce, stores, cattle, and so forth,
but no money. No ready money. Not sufficient to work a large place
like this. Why, look here, Julian, as a matter of fact, you and I are
each other's heirs, yet I expect I'd sooner come in for your few
thousands than you would for Desolada. One can do a lot with a few
thousands. I wish I had some."

"Didn't your father leave any ready money, then?" Julian asked.

"Oh, yes! He did. But it's all sunk in the place already."

Such a conversation as this would, in ordinary circumstances, have
been one of no importance and certainly not worth recording, had it
not--short as it was--furnished Julian with some further food for
reflections. And among other shapes which those reflections took, one
was that he did not believe that all the money which Mr. Ritherdon was
stated to have died possessed of had been sunk in the estate. He, the
late Mr. Ritherdon, had been able to put by money out of the products
of that estate--it scarcely stood to reason, therefore, that his
successor would have instantly invested all that money in it.
Wherefore Julian at once came to the conclusion that if it was really
gone--vanished--it had done so in Sebastian's gambling transactions.

Then, as to their being each other's heirs! Well, that view had never
occurred to him--certainly it had never occurred to him that by any
chance Sebastian could be his heir. Yet, if Sebastian was in truth
Charles Ritherdon's son and he, Julian, was absolutely George
Ritherdon's son, such was the case. And, if anything should happen to
him while staying here at Desolada, where he had announced himself
plainly as the son of George Ritherdon, he could scarcely doubt that
Sebastian would put in a claim as that heir. If anything should happen
to him!

Well! it might! One could never tell. It might! Especially as, when
Sebastian had uttered those words, he had seen a flash from Madame
Carmaux's eyes and had observed a light spring into them which told
plainly enough that she had never regarded matters in that aspect
before; that this new view of the state of things had startled her.

If anything should happen to him! Well, to prevent anything doing so
he must be doubly careful of himself. That was all.

The evening--like most evenings spent in the tropics and away from the
garish amusements and gaieties of tropical towns--was passed more or
less monotonously, it being got through by scraps of conversation, by
two or three cooling drinks being partaken of by Julian and Sebastian,
and by Madame Carmaux in falling asleep in her chair. Though, Julian
thought, her slumbers could neither have been very sound nor
refreshing, seeing that, whenever he chanced to turn his eyes towards
her, he observed how hers were open and fixed on him, though shut
immediately that she perceived he had noticed that they were unclosed.

"Come," exclaimed Sebastian now, springing from out of his chair with
as much alacrity as is ever testified in the tropics, while as he did
so Madame Carmaux became wide-awake in the most perfect manner. "Come,
this won't do. Early to bed you know--and all the rest of it. We
practise that good old motto here."

"I thought you practised stopping up rather late when I was here
last," Julian remarked quietly. "As I told you, I heard your voices
and saw you sitting in the balcony long after I had turned in."

"But to-night we must be off to bed early," Sebastian replied. "I have
to start for Belize to-morrow in good time, as I remarked to you at
supper, and you are going to take a gun and try for some shooting in
the Cockscomb mountains. Early to bed, my boy, early, and, also, an
early breakfast."

After which Julian and Madame Carmaux made their adieux to each other
for the night, while Sebastian, as he had done before, escorted his
cousin up the vast stairs to his room. This room was, however, a
different one from that occupied previously by Julian, it being on the
other side of the house and looking towards those Cockscomb mountains
which, gun in hand, he was to explore on the morrow.

"It is a better room," said Sebastian, "than the other, as you see;
although not so large. And the sun will not bother you here in the
morning, nor will our chatter on the balcony beneath or inside the
room do so either. Good night, sleep well. To-morrow, breakfast at
six."

"Good-night," replied Julian as he entered the room, and, after
Sebastian was out of earshot (as he calculated), turned the key in the
lock. Then, as he sat himself down in his chair, after again producing
his revolver and placing it by his side, he thought to himself:

"Yes! he spoke truly. Their conversation below will not disturb me,
nor will there be any chance of my overhearing it. All right,
Sebastian, you understand the old proverb about one for me and two for
yourself. But you have for gotten a little fact, namely, that a sailor
can move about almost as lightly as a cat when he chooses, and, if I
think you and your respected housekeeper have anything to say that it
will be worth my while to hear--why, I shall be a cat for the time
being."



CHAPTER XIV.

"THIS LAND IS FULL OF SNAKES."


The truth was, as the reader is by now very well aware, that Julian no
more believed in either Sebastian's lawful possession of Desolada or
in his being the son of Charles Ritherdon, than he believed that
George Ritherdon had concocted the whole of that story which he
narrated ere his death. "For," said the young man to himself, "if it
were true, his manner and her manner--that of the superb Madame
Carmaux--would not be what they are. 'Think it out,' our old naval
instructor in the Brit, used to say, 'analyze, compare, exercise the
few brains Heaven has mercifully given you.' Well, I will--or, rather,
I have."

And he had done so. He had thought it all over and over
again--Sebastian's manner, Madame Carmaux's manner, Sebastian's slight
inaccuracies of statement, Madame Carmaux's pretence of being asleep
when she was awake, and her strange side-glances at him when she
thought he was not observing her.

"I played _Hamlet_ once at an amateur show in the Leviathan," he
mused. "It was an awful performance, and, if it had been for more
than one act, I should undoubtedly have been hissed out of the ship.
All the same it taught me something. What was it the poor chap said?
'I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pounds.' Well, I'll take my
uncle's word--for uncle he was and he was telling the truth--for
a thousand pounds, too. Only, how to prove it? That is the
question--which, by-the-bye, Hamlet also remarked."

That was indeed the question. How to prove it!

"That fellow is no more Charles Ritherdon's son than I'm a soldier,"
he went on, "and I _am_ the son. That I'm sure of! Everything, every
fresh look on their faces, every word they say, convinces me only the
more certainly. Even this shifting of the room I am to occupy: why,
Lord bless me! does he think I'm a fool? Yet, all the same, I don't
see how it is to be proved. Confound them! Some one played a trick on
Charles Ritherdon after George had stolen me--for steal me he
did--some trick or other. And she, this Madame Carmaux was in it. Only
why--why--_why?_"

He clenched his hands in front of his forehead, as he recalled now Mr.
Spranger's words: "It is a blank wall against which you will push in
vain." Almost, indeed, he began to fear that such was the case; that
never would he throw down that wall which rose an adamantine object
between him and his belief. Yet, even as he did so, he recollected
that he was an Englishman and a sailor; that, consequently, he must be
resolved not to be beaten. Only, how was it to be accomplished; how
was the defeat to be avoided?

As he arrived at this determination he heard, outside on the
veranda, a sound which he had heard more than once on his first visit,
and when he slept on the other side of the mansion. A sound, light,
stealthy--such a one as if some soft-footed creature, a cat, perhaps,
was creeping gently in the night along the balcony. Creeping nearer to
his window in front of which, as had been the case before, the
Venetian blind was lowered.

Then he resolved that, this time, his strange visitant should know
that he had discovered the spying to which he was again to be
subjected.

In a moment he feigned sleep as he sat by the table on which stood the
lamp--casting out a considerable volume of light--while, as he did so,
he let his outstretched hands and fingers cover the revolver.

And still the weird, soft scraping of those catlike feet came nearer;
he knew that his ghost-like visitor was close to the open window. He
heard also, though it was the faintest click in the world, the slat or
lath turning the least little bit, he knew that now those eyes that
had gleamed into the other and darkened room were gleaming in at him
in this one.

Then, suddenly, he opened his own eyes as wide as he could, while with
his outstretched hand he now raised the revolver and pointed it at the
little dusky figure that he could see was holding the slat back, while
he said in a voice, low but perfectly clear in the silence of the
night:

"Don't move. Stop where you are--there--outside that blind till I come
to you. If you do move I will scatter your brains on the floor of the
veranda!"

And as he rose and went towards the persianas he could see that his
instructions were--through fear--obeyed. The eyes, now white,
horrible, almost chalky in their glare of fright, instead of being
dusky as he had once seen them, stared with a hideous expression of
terror into the room. Also, the brown finger which was crooked over
the blind-slat trembled.

He pulled the persianas up with his left hand, still keeping his right
hand extended with the revolver in it (of course only with the
intention of frightening the girl into making no attempt to fly);
then, when he had fastened the pulley he took her unceremoniously by
the upper part of the arm and led her into the room.

"Now, Mademoiselle Zara, as I understand your name to be, kindly give
me an explanation of why, whenever I am in my room in this house, you
honour me with these attentions. My manly beauty can be observed at
any time in the daylight much better than at night, and----"

"Don't tell him," the girl whispered, and he felt as he still held her
arm that she was trembling, while, also, he saw that she was deathly
pale, her usual coffee-and-milk complexion being more of the latter
than the former now. "Oh, don't tell him!"

"Don't tell whom?" he asked astonished. Astonished at first, since he
had deemed her an emissary of his host, sent to pry in on him for some
reason best known to both of them. Then, he reflected, this was only
some ruse hatched in her scheming, half-Indian brain, whereby to
escape from his clutches; upon which he said:

"Now, look here. No lies. What do you come peeping and prying in on me
for in the middle of the night. Perhaps you're not aware that I saw
you do so the last time I was here."

"I came to see," she said inconsequently, "if you were comfortable; I
am a servant----"

But now Julian laughed so loudly at this ridiculous statement that the
girl in hasty terror--and if it was assumed, she must be a good
actress, he thought--put up her hand as though she intended to clap it
over his mouth.

"Oh!" she whispered, "don't! Don't! He will hear you--or _she_
will----"

"Well, what if they do! I suppose they know you are here just as much
as I do. Come," he continued, "come, don't look so frightened, I'm not
going to shoot you or harm you in any way. Though, mind you, my dark
beauty, you might have got shot if you had timed your visit at a later
hour and startled me out of a heavy slumber, or if I had seen those
eyes looking in on me in the dead of night However, out with the
explanation. Quick."

For a moment the girl paused as though thinking deeply, then she
looked up at him with all the deep tropical glow once more in her
sombre eyes, and said:

"I won't tell you. No. But----"

"But what?"

"I--will you believe what I say?"

"Perhaps. That depends. I might, if it sounded likely."

"Listen, then. I don't come here to do you any harm. My visits won't
hurt you. Only--only--this is a dangerous house in more ways than one.
It is a very old one--strange things happen sometimes in it. How," she
said, and now her voice which had been sunk to a whisper became even
lower, "how would you like to die in it?"

Perhaps the slow mysterious tones of that voice--the something weird
and wizard in the elf-like appearance of this dusky girl who was, in
truth, beautiful with that beauty often found in the half-caste
Indian--was what caused Julian to feel a sort of creepiness to come
over him in spite of the warm, bath-like temperature of the night.

"Neither in this house nor elsewhere, just at present," he remarked,
steadying his nerves. "But," he continued, "I don't suppose there is
much likelihood of that. Who is going to cause me to die?"

For answer the girl cast those marvellous orbs of hers all around the
room, taking, meanwhile, as she did so, the mosquito curtains in her
hands and shaking them with a swish away from the floor on which they
drooped in festoons; she looking also behind the bedposts and in other
places.

"No one--to-night," she said, "but--but--if I may not come here again,
if you will not let me, then do this always. And--perhaps--some night
you will know."

After which she moved off towards the window, her lithe, graceful
figure seeming to glide without the assistance of any movement from
her feet towards the open space; and made as though she meant to
retire. Yet, as she stood within the framework of that window, she
turned and looked back at him, her finger slightly raised as though
impressing silence.

Then she stepped outside on to the boards of the veranda and peered
over the front of it down towards the garden from which, now, there
rose the countless perfumes exhaled by the Caribbean wealth of
flowers. Also, she crept along to either side of the window, glancing
to right and left of her until, at that moment, borne on the soft
night breeze, there came from the front of the house, a harsh,
strident, and contemptuous laugh--the laugh of Sebastian Ritherdon.
When, seemingly reassured by this, she returned again towards the open
window and said:

"You go to-morrow to the Cockscomb mountains shooting. Yet, when
there, be careful. Danger is there, too. This land is full of snakes,
the coral snake--which kills instantly, even like the _fer de lance_
of the islands, the rattlesnake, the tamagusa, or, as you English say,
the 'tommy-goff.' One killed him--her husband," and she pointed down
to where Madame Carmaux might be supposed to be sitting at this
moment, while as she did so he saw in her eyes a look so
startling--since they blazed with fire--that he stared amazed. Was
she, this half-savage girl, gloating over the horrid death of a man
which must have taken place ere she was born? Or--or--what?

"In all the land," she went on, "there are snakes. Those I tell you
of--and--others. You understand? And others."

"I almost understand," Julian muttered hoarsely--though he knew not
why. "_And others_. Is that--? ah! yes--I do understand. Yet tell me
further, tell----"

But she was gone; the window frame was empty of the dark shadowy
figure it had enshrouded. Gone, as he saw when he stepped out on to
the balcony and observed a sombre form stealing along betwixt the
bright gleams of the low-lying stars and himself.

"Why does she warn me thus," he muttered to himself as now he began to
undress slowly, "why? She is that man's servant--almost, as servants
go here, his slave. Why warn me--she whom I deemed his creature--she
who does his dirty work as croupier at a gambling hell? And she
gloated over Carmaux's death in days of long ago--why that also? Does
she hate this woman who governs here as mistress of the house?"

With some degree of horror on him now, with some sort of mystic terror
creeping over him at unknown and spectrelike dangers that might be
surrounding his existence, he turned down the light serape stretched
over the bed for coverlet, and threw back the upper sheet Then he
started away with a hoarse exclamation at what he saw.

For, lying coiled up in the middle of the bed, yet with a hideous flat
head raised and vibrating, while from out that head gleamed a pair of
threatening and scintillating emerald eyes, was a small, red
coral-coloured snake--a snake that next unwound itself slowly with
horribly lithe and sinuous movements which caused Julian to turn cold,
warm as the night was.

"So," he whispered to himself, as now he seized a rifle that he had
brought out from England with him, and, after beating the reptile on
to the floor, used the stock as a bat and sent the thing flying out of
the window; "this is what she was looking for, what she expected to
find. But where are the others? The other snakes she hinted at? I
think I can guess."



CHAPTER XV.

RECOLLECTIONS OF SEBASTIAN'S BIRTH.


It is forty miles inland to where the Cockscomb mountains rear their
appropriately named crests, but not half that distance to where
obliquely from north to south there run spurs and ridges which, though
they do not rise to the four thousand feet that is attained by the
highest peak or summit of the range, are still lofty mountains. Here,
amidst these spurs and ridges, which dominate and break up what is
otherwise a country, or lowland, almost as flat as Holland (and which
until a few years ago was marked on the maps as "unexplored country"),
Nature presents a different aspect from elsewhere in the colony. The
country becomes wild and rugged; the copses of mangroves are
superseded by woods and forests of prickly bamboos and umbrageous
figs; vast clumps of palms of all denominations cluster together,
forming in their turn other little woods, while rivers, whose sources
are drawn from the great lagoons inland, roll swiftly towards the sea.

Here, upon the bank of one of those lagoons, Julian sat next day
beneath the shadow of a clump of locust-trees, in which were
intermingled other trees of salm-wood, braziletto, and turtle-bone, as
well as many others almost unknown of and unheard of by Europeans,
with at his feet a fowling-piece, while held across his knees was a
safety repeating rifle. This was the rifle with which he had overnight
beaten out on to the veranda (where this morning he had left it dead
and crushed) the coral snake, and which he had provided himself with
ere he left England in case opportunities for sport should arise. The
gun, an old-fashioned thing lent him by Sebastian, he had not used
against any of the feathered inhabitants of the woods, although many
opportunities had arisen of shooting partridges, wild pigeons,
whistling ducks, quails, and others. Had not used it because,
remembering one or two other incidents, such as that of the horse and
that of the coral-snake (which might have crept into his bed for extra
warmth, as such reptiles will do even in the hottest climates, but on
the other hand might have reached that spot by different means), and
because since also he was now full of undefined suspicion, he thought
it very likely that if used it would burst in his hands.

He was not alone, as by his side, there sat now a man whose features,
as well as his spare, supple frame, bespoke him one of that tribe of
half-breeds, namely, Spanish and Carib Indian, which furnishes so
large a proportion of the labourers to the whole of Central America.
He was an elderly man, this--a man nearer sixty than fifty, with
snow-white hair; yet any one who should have regarded him from behind,
or watched his easy strides from a distance, or his method of mounting
an incline, might well have been excused for considering him to be
about thirty-five.

"What did Mr. Ritherdon strike you for this morning?" Julian asked
now, while, as he spoke he raised his rifle off his knee, and, with it
ready to be brought to the shoulder, sat watching a number of ripples
which appeared a hundred and fifty yards away in the lagoon.

"Because he is a cruel man," his companion, who was at the present
time his guide, replied; "because, too, everything makes him angry
now--even so small a thing as my having buckled his saddle-girth too
loose. A cruel man and getting worse. Always angry now."

"Why?" asked Julian, raising the rifle and aiming it at this moment
towards a conical grey-looking object that appeared above the ripples
on the lagoon--an object that was, in absolute fact, the snout of an
alligator.

"Because--don't fire yet, senor; he's coming nearer--because, oh!
because things go very bad with him, they say. He lose much money
and--and--pretty Missy Sprangy don't love him."

"Does he love her?"

"They say. Say, too, Massa Sprangy much money. Seabastiano wants money
as well as pretty missy. Never get it, though. Perhaps, too, he not
live get much more."

"What do you mean?" asked Julian, lowering the rifle as the huge
reptile in the lagoon now drew its head under water; while he looked
also at the man with stern, inquiring eyes. "What do you mean?" Though
inwardly he said to himself: "This is a new phase in these mysterious
surroundings. My life doesn't seem just now one that the insurance
companies would be very glad to get hold of, while also my beloved
cousin's doesn't appear to be a very good one. Lively place, this!"

"He very much hated," the half-breed answered. "Very cruel. Some day
tommy-goffy give him a nice bite, or half-breed gentleman put a knife
in his liver."

"The snakes don't hate him, do they? He can't be cruel to them."

The other gave a laugh at this; it was indeed a laugh which was
something between the bleating of a sheep and the (so-called) terrible
war-whoop of a North-American Indian; then he replied: "Easy enough
make tommy-goffy hate him. Take tommy into room where a man sleeps,
wrapped up in a serape with his head out, then put him mouth to man's
arm. Tommy do the rest. Gentleman want no breakfast."

"This _is_ a nice country!" Julian thought. "I'm blessed if some of
these chaps couldn't give the natives in India, or the dear old
Chinese, a tip or two."

While as he so reflected, he also thought: "Easy enough, too, to put
tommy-goff into a man's bed. Then that man wouldn't want any breakfast
either. It's rather a good job that I found myself with an appetite
this morning."

"Here he comes," the man, whose name was Paz, exclaimed, now suddenly
referring to the alligator. "Hit him in the eye if you can, señor, or
mouth. If he gets on shore we shall have to run." While, as he spoke,
from out of the lagoon there rose the head of an enormous alligator,
which seemed to have touched bottom since it was waddling ashore.

"I shall never hit him in the eye," Julian said, taking deliberate
aim, however. "Gather up the traps, Paz, and get further away. I'll
have a shot at him; and, then if he comes on land, I'll have another.
Here goes."

But now, even as he prepared to fire, the beast gave him a chance,
since, either from wishing to draw breath or from excitement at seeing
a probable meal, it suddenly began opening and shutting its vast jaws
as it came along, so that the hideous rows of yellow teeth, and the
whity-pink roof of its mouth were plainly visible. And, at that
moment, from the repeating rifle rang out a report, while, after the
smoke had drifted away, it was easy to perceive that the monster had
received a deadly wound. It was now spread-eagled out upon the rim of
the lagoon's bank, its short, squat legs endeavouring to grip the
sand, its eyes rolled up in its head and a stream of blood pouring
from its open mouth.

"Though," said Julian, as now he approached close to the creature,
and, taking steady aim, delivered another bullet into its eye which
instantly gave it the _coup de grace_; "though I don't know why I
should have killed the poor beast either. It couldn't have done me any
harm." Then he thought, "I might as well have reserved the fire for
something that threatened danger to me."

He had had enough sport for the day by now, having done that which
every visitor to Central America is told he ought to do, namely, kill
a jaguar and an alligator; wherefore, bidding Paz go on with the
skinning of the former (which the man had already began earlier) since
the spotted coat of this creature is worth preserving, he took a last
look at the dead reptile lying half in and half out of the lagoon, and
then made preparations for their return to Desolada. These
preparations consisted of readjusting the saddle on the mustang, which
he was still the temporary proprietor of, and in also saddling Paz's
mule for him.

Then, when the operation of skinning was finished, they took their way
back towards the coast.

Among other questions which Julian had asked this man during the
morning with reference to the owner of the above abode, was one as to
how long he had been present on the estate--a question which had
remained unanswered owing to the killing of the jaguar having occurred
ere it could be answered. But now--now that they were riding easily
forward, the skin of the creature hanging like a horse-cloth over the
tail of the half-breed's mule, he returned to it.

"How long did you say you had known Mr. Ritherdon and his household?"
he asked, referring of course to the late owner of the property to the
borders of which they were now approaching.

"Didn't say anything," Paz replied, "because then we killed him," and
he touched the fast drying skin of the dead animal. "But I know
Desolada for over thirty years. Before Massa Ritherdon come."

"Then you've known the present Mr. Ritherdon all his life--since the
day he was born."

"Yes. Yes. Oh, yes. Since that day. Always remember that. Same day my
poor old mother die. She Carib from Tortola."

"Did you know his--mother--too; the lady who had been Miss Leigh?"

"Yes. Yes. Oh, yes. I know her. I remember she beautiful young
girl--English missy. With the blue eye and the skin like the peach and
the hair like the wheat. Oh, yes. I remember her. Very beautiful."

"Blue eyes, skin like a peach, hair like the wheat," thought Julian to
himself; "his supposed mother, my own mother as before Heaven I
believe. Yet he, Sebastian, speaks of this woman Carmaux, this woman
of French origin hailing from New Orleans, as a near relative of hers.
Bah! it is impossible."

"Also I remember," Paz went on, "when--when--his brother--the man who
Sebastian tell us the other day was your father--love her too. And she
love him. Only old man Leigh he say that no good. Old man ruin very
much. They say constabulary and old man English Chief Justice very
likely to arrest him. Then Missy Leigh save her father and marry Massa
Ritherdon when Massa George's back turned."

Julian nodded as he heard all this--nodded as though confirming Paz's
story. Though, in fact, it was Paz's story which confirmed that which
the dead man in England had told him.

"You knew her and her father, Mr. Leigh?" he asked now.

"Know him! Know him! I worked for him at the Essex hacienda----"

"Essex hacienda!"

"Yes, he gave it that name because he love it. 'All my family, Paz,'
he say to me one day when I was painting the name on waggon--'all
my family come from Essex many, many long years. All born
there--grandmother, father, mother, myself, and daughter Isobel, Paz.
All; every one. Oh! Paz,' he say to me, 'England always been good
enough for us till my turn come. Then I very bad young man--very
dis--dis--dis--something he say. Now, he say, I have to be the first
exile of family, I and poor little Isobel. No Leigh ever have to live
abroad before!"

"Did he say all that, Paz? Is this the truth?"

"Truff, sir! Sir, my father Spanish gentleman, my mother Carib lady.
Very fine lady."

"All right. I beg your pardon. Never mind, I did not mean that. And so
you remember when this Mr. Ritherdon was born, eh? Did the old
gentleman seem pleased?"

"He very pleased about the son--very sad about the poor wife. He weep
much, oh! many weeps. But he give us all money to drink Sebastian's
health, and he tell us that as his poor wife dead. Mam Carmaux come
keep the house and bring up little boy."

"Did he?" said Julian, and then lapsed into silence as they rode
along. Yet, to himself he said continually: "What is this mystery?
What is the root of it all? What is at the bottom? Somehow I feel as
certain as that I am alive that I was this son--yet--yet--he was
pleased--gave money--oh! shall I ever unravel it all?"



CHAPTER XVI.

A DROP OF BLOOD.


They were drawing near the coast now as the sun sank slowly away over
the crest of the Cockscomb mountains towards Guatemala; and already
there were signs that the night--the swift night that comes to all
spots which lie betwixt Capricorn and Cancer--was drawing near.

The sun, although now hidden behind the topmost ridge of the
Cockscombs, was still an hour above the blue horizon, yet nevertheless
the signs were apparent that he would soon be gone altogether. The
parrots and the monkeys were becoming still and quiet in the
branches--that is to say, as still and quiet as these screeching and
chattering creatures ever do become in their native state--in dark and
shade places where now the evening glow scarce penetrated, the
fireflies gleamed little sparks and specks of molten gold; while,
above all, there rose now from the earth that true tropical sign of
coming night, the incense exuded by countless flowers and shrubs, as
well as the cool damp of the earth when refreshed by the absence of
the burning sun. Sometimes, too, across their path, an unmade one, or
only made by the tracks of wild deer or the mountain cow, two or three
of the former would glide swiftly and gracefully, seeking their lair,
or the iguana would scuttle before their animals into the nearest
copse, while the quash and gibonet were often visible.

They rode slowly, not only because of the heat, but also because none
could progress at a swift rate through those tangled copses, the trees
of which were often hung with masses of wild vines whose tendrils met
and interlaced with each other, so that sometimes almost a wall of
network was encountered. Also they rode slowly, because Desolada was
but a mile or so off now, and they would be within its precincts ere
the sun was quite gone for the day. And as they did so in silence,
Julian was acknowledging to himself that, with every fresh person he
encountered and every fresh question he asked, his bewilderment was
increased.

For now, by his side, rode this man, half Spaniard, half Indian, named
Ignacio Paz, who not only had been present at the birth of Mr.
Ritherdon's son, but also had known that son's mother before she was
married. And, Julian asked himself, how did the knowledge now
proclaimed by this man--this man who, if he possessed any feelings
towards Sebastian possessed only those of hatred--this man who had
prophesied for him a violent death as the reward of his brutality and
cruelty--how did that knowledge make for or against the story told by
George Ritherdon? Let him see.

It served above all to corroborate, to establish, Sebastian's position
as the true son and inheritor of Charles Ritherdon. So truly an
acknowledged son and inheritor that, undoubtedly no contrary proof
could ever be brought of sufficiently powerful nature to overwhelm all
that the evidence of the last twenty-five or twenty-six years
affirmed. Had not this man, Paz, been one of those who had received
money from Mr. Ritherdon to drink Sebastian's health? Surely--surely,
therefore, the old man was satisfied that this was his son. And
if he, Sebastian, was his son, who then was he, Julian?

On the other hand, the half-breed proved by old Mr. Leigh's
conversation that there was some inaccuracy--perhaps an intentional
inaccuracy--in Sebastian's statement that Miriam Carmaux, or Gardelle,
was a relative of Isobel Leigh. That was undoubted! There was an
inaccuracy. Old Leigh had definitely said that he was the first of his
family who had ever been forced to earn a living in exile--yet she,
this woman, with a French maiden, as well as married, name, was a
native of New Orleans, was a Frenchwoman. Was it not enormous odds,
therefore, against her being any connection of the English girl with
the fair, wheat-coloured hair, the peachlike complexion, and the blue
eyes who had been brought as an infant from Essex to Honduras?

Also, was it not immeasurably unlikely that, even if then the women
were connected by blood, such coincidences should have occurred that
both should have come to the colony at almost an identical time; that
Mr. Ritherdon's wandering heart should have chanced to be captivated
by each of those women; that he should have jilted the one for the
other, and that eventually one, the jilted woman, should have dropped
into the place of mistress of the household which death had caused the
other to resign? What would the doctrine of chances say in connection
with these facts, he would like to know?

"One other thing perplexes me, too," he thought to himself, as now
they reached an open glade across which the swift departing sun
streamed horizontally, "perplexes me marvellously. Does Sebastian
know, does he dream, that against his position and standing such a
story has been told as that narrated to me in England by my uncle--as
still I believe him to be. And if--if there is some chicanery, some
dark secret in connection with his and my birth, does he know of
it--or is he inno----"

He paused, startled now at an incident that had happened, an incident
that drove all reflection from his mind.

Across that glade there had come trotting easily, and evidently
without any fear on its part, one of the red deer common enough in
British Honduras. Only this deer was not as those are which sportsmen
and hunters penetrate into the forests and the mountains to shoot and
destroy; instead, it was one which Julian had himself seen roaming
about the parklike grounds and surroundings of Desolada, the territory
of which began on the other side of the open glade.

Yet this was not the incident, nor the portion of the incident which
startled both him and Paz. Not that, but something else more serious
than a tame deer crossing an open grassland a few hundred yards in
diameter each way. There was nothing to startle in that--though much
to do so in what followed.

What followed being that as the deer, still slowly trotting over the
broad-leaved grass, which here forms so luxurious a pasture for all
kinds of cattle, came into line with Julian and Paz riding almost side
by side, though with the latter somewhat ahead of the former--there
came from out of the mangrove trees on the other side of the little
opening, a spit of flame, a puff of smoke, and the sharp crack of a
rifle, while, a second later, from off the side of a logwood tree
close by them there fell a strip of bark to the ground.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Julian, his accustomed coolness not deserting him
even at this agitating moment, "the gallant sportsman is a reckless
kind of gentleman. One would think we were the game he is after and
not the deer which, by-the-bye, has departed like a streak of greased
lightning. I say, Paz, that bullet passed about three inches behind
your head and not many more in front of my nose. People don't go out
shooting human beings here as they do partridges at home, do they?"
and he turned his eyes on his companion.

If, as an extra excitement to add to the incident, he had desired to
observe now a specimen of native-born ferocity, he would have been
gratified as he thus regarded Paz. For the man in whose veins ran the
hot blood of a Spaniard, mixed with the still more hot and tempestuous
blood of the Indian, seemed almost beside himself now with rage and
fury. His dark coffee-hued skin had turned livid, his eyes glared like
those of a maddened wolf, and his hands, which were now unstrapping
the rifle that he too carried slung to his saddle, resembled masses of
vibrating cords. Yet they became calm enough as, the antique
long-barrelled weapon being released, he raised that rifle quickly,
brought it to the shoulder and fired towards the exact spot whence
they had observed the flame and smoke of the previous rifle to come.

"Are you mad?" exclaimed Julian, horrified at the act. "Great Heavens!
Do you want to commit a murder? If the person who let drive at that
deer has not moved away yet, you have very likely taken a human life."

But Paz, who seemed now to have recovered his equanimity and to have
relieved his feelings entirely by that savage idea of retaliation,
which had been not only sprung into his mind, but had also been
instantly put into practice, only shrugged his shoulders indifferently
while he restrapped his rifle. Then he pointed a long lean finger at
the spot across the glade where the first discharge had taken place,
directing the digit next to the spot where the deer had been, after
which he pointed next to their heads and then to the tree, in which
they could see the hole where the bullet was buried two or three
inches. Having done all which, he muttered:

"Fired at the deer. At the deer! The deer was there--there--there,"
and he directed his eyes to a spot five yards off the line which would
be drawn between the other side of the glade whence the fire had come
and the deer, "and we are here. Tree here, too."

"What do you suspect?" Julian asked, white to the lips now
himself--appalled at some hitherto unsuspected horror. "What? Whom?"
And as he spoke his lips seemed to take the form of a name which,
still, he hesitated to give utterance to.

"No," the half-caste said in reply, his quick intelligence grasping
without the aid of any speech the identity of the man to whom Julian's
expression pointed. "No. He is in Belize by now. He must be there. He
has money--much money--to pay to lawyer this morning. Not him. Not
him." After which the mysterious creature laughed in a manner that set
Julian's mind reflecting on how he had heard the Indians of old
laughed at the tortures endured by their victims.

"Come," he said now, feeling suddenly cold and chilled, as he had felt
once or twice before in Desolada and its surroundings. "Come, let us
go ho----back to the house," and he started the mustang forward on the
route they had been following.

"No," Paz exclaimed, "however, not that way now. Other way. Quite as
near. Also," and his dark eyes glistened strangely as he fastened them
on Julian, "lead to hacienda. To Desolada. Come. We go through
wood--over glade. Very nice wood."

"What do you expect to do there?" Julian asked, divining all the same.

"Oh! oh!" Paz said, his face alight with a demoniacal gleam. "Oh! oh!
Perhaps find a body. Who knows? Gunny he shoot very straight. Perhaps
a wounded man. Who knows?"

So they crossed the glade, making straight for the spot whence the
murderous belch of flame had sprung forth, and, pushing aside
flowering cacti and oleanders as well as other lightly knitted
together shrubs and bushes, looked all around them. But, except that
there were signs of footmarks on the bruised leaves of some of the
greater shrubs and also that the undergrowth was a little trodden
down, they saw nothing. Certainly nobody lay there, struck to death by
Paz's bullet.

The keen eyes of the half-caste--glinting here and there and
everywhere--and looking like dark topazes as the rays of the evening
sun danced in them--seemed, however, to penetrate each inch of the
surrounding shrubbery. And, at last, Julian heard him give a little
gasp--it was almost a bleat--and saw him point with his finger at
something about three feet from the ground.

At a leaf--a leaf of the wild oleander--on which was a speck that
looked like a ladybird. Only--it was not that! But, instead, a drop of
blood. A drop that glistened, as his eyes had glistened in the sun; a
drop that a step or two further onward had a fellow. Then--nothing
further.

"I hit him," Paz said, "somewhere. Only--did not kill." While,
instantly he wheeled round and gazed full into Julian's eyes--his face
expressing a very storm of demoniacal hate against the late owner of
that drop.

"That," he almost hissed, "will keep. For a later day. When I know
him."

They went now toward the house, each intent on his own meditations and
with hardly a word spoken between them; or, at least, but a few words:
Julian requesting Paz to say nothing of the incident, and the latter
replying that by listening and not talking was the way to discover a
secret.

"Ha! the gentle lady," said the half-breed now, as they observed
Madame Carmaux seated on the veranda arranging some huge lilies in a
glass bowl, while the form of Zara was observed disappearing into the
house. "Ha! the gracious ruler and mistress." Then, as they drew near
and stepped on to the veranda, Paz began bowing and scraping before
the former with extraordinary deference. Yet, all the same, Julian
observed that his eyes were roving everywhere around, and all over the
boards near where Madame Carmaux sat, so that he wondered what it was
for which the half-breed sought!



CHAPTER XVII.

"SHE HATES HIM BECAUSE SHE LOVES HIM."


"It would be folly," said Julian to himself that night, "not to
recognise at once that each moment I spend in this house, or, indeed
in this locality, is full of danger to me. Therefore, from this moment
I commence to take every precaution that is possible. Now let us think
out how to do it."

On this occasion he was the sole occupant of the lower veranda, in
spite of its being quite early in the evening, and owing to the fact
that Sebastian was passing the night in Belize, while Madame Carmaux,
having announced that she had a severe headache, had taken herself off
to her own room before supper, he had partaken of that meal alone. So
that he sat there quite by himself now, smoking; and, as a matter of
fact, he was not at all sorry to do so.

He recognised that any attempt at conversation with the "gentle lady"
as Paz had termed her--in an undoubtedly ironical and subacid
manner--was the veriest make-believe; while, as to Sebastian, when he
was at home--well, his conversation was absolutely uninteresting. He
never talked of anything but gambling and the shortness of ready
money, diversified occasionally by a torrent of questions as to what
George Ritherdon had done and what he had said during the whole time
of his life in England. While, as Julian reflected, or, indeed, now
felt perfectly sure, that even this wearisome talk was but assumed as
a mask or cloak to the other's real thoughts, it was not likely that
Sebastian's absence to-night could be a cause of much regret.

"Let me think out how to do it," he said again, continuing his
meditations; "let me regard the whole thing from its proper aspect. I
am in danger. But of what at the worst? Well, at the worst--death.
There is, it is very evident, a strong determination on the part of
some people in this place to relieve the colony of my interesting
presence. First, Sebastian tries to break my neck with an untrained
horse; next, some one probably places a coral snake in my bed; while,
thirdly, some creature of his endeavours to shoot me. Paz--who seems
to have imbibed many ancient ideas from his Spanish and savage
ancestors--appears, however, if I understand him, to imagine he was
the person shot at, his wild and barbaric notions about the sacredness
of the guest making him suppose, apparently that my life could not be
the one aimed at. Well, let him think so. At any rate, his feelings of
revenge and hatred are kept at boiling-pitch against some unknown
enemy.

"Now," he went on, with still that light and airy manner of looking at
difficulties (even difficulties that at this time seemed to be
assuming a horrible, not to say, hideous, aspect) which had long since
endeared him to countless comrades in the wardroom and elsewhere.
"Now, I will take a little walk in the cool of the evening. Dear
Madame Carmaux's headache has deprived her of the pearls of my
conversation, wherefore I will, as her countrymen say, 'go and take
the air.'"

Upon which he rose from his seat, and, pushing aside the wicker table
on which stood a bottle of Bourbon whisky, a syphon, and also a pen
and ink with some writing-paper, he took from off it a letter directed
and stamped, and dropped it into the pocket of his white jacket.

"The creole negro--as they call those chaps here--passes the foot of
the garden in five minutes' time," he said to himself, looking at a
fine gold watch which he had gained as a prize at Greenwich, "and he
will convey this to Spranger's hands. Afterwards, from to-night, I
will make it my business to send one off from All Pines every day. I
should like Spranger and Beat--I mean Miss Spranger--to receive a
daily bulletin of my health henceforth.

"Sebastian," he continued to reflect, as now he made his way beneath
the palms towards where the road ran, far down at the foot of the
garden, "has meditations about being my heir--well, so have I about
being his. Yet I think, I do really think, I would rather be
Sebastian's if it's all the same to him. Nevertheless, in case
anything uncomfortable should happen to me, I should like Spranger and
Beat--Miss Spranger, to be acquainted with the fact. It might make the
succession easier to--Sebastian."

He heard the "creole negro's" cart coming along, even as he reached
the road; he heard also the chuckles and whoops with which the
conveyer of her Majesty's mails urged on the flea-bitten, raw-boned
creature that carried them; and then, the cart drew into sight and was
pulled up suddenly as Julian emerged into the road.

"Hoop! Massa Sebastian, you give me drefful fright," the sable driver
began, "thought it was your ghost, as I see you in Belize this berry
morning----"

"So it would have been his ghost," remarked Julian, as he came close
to the cart with the letter in his hand, "if you had happened to see
him now. Meanwhile, kindly take this letter and put it in your
mail-bag."

"Huah! huah!" grunted the negro, while he held out his great black
hand for the missive and, opening the mouth of the bag which was in
the cart behind him, thrust it in on the top of all the others he had
collected on his route along the coast; "he get there all right about
two o'clock this morning. But, massa, you berry like Massa Sebastian.
In um white jacket you passy well for um ghost or brudder."

"So they tell me," Julian answered lightly. "But, you see, we happen
to be cousins, and, sometimes, cousins are as much alike as brothers.
My friend," he said, changing the subject, "are you a teetotaller?"

"Hoop! Huah! Teetotallum. Huah! Teetotallum! Yes, massa, when I've no
money. Then berry good teetotallum. Berry good."

"Well, now see, here is some money," and he gave the man a small piece
of silver. "Take a drink at All Pines as you go by; it will keep this
limekiln sort of air out of your throat--or wash it down. Off with
you, only take two drinks. Have the second when you get to Belize."

Profuse in thanks, the darkey drove off, wishing Julian good-night,
while the latter's cheery, "Good-night, fair nymph," seemed to him so
exquisite a piece of humour that, for some paces along the road, the
former could hear him chuckling and murmuring in his musical bass:
"Fair nymph. Hoah! Fair nymph. Hoah! Fair nymph. That's me."

"Now," Julian said to himself as he strolled along the road, "we shall
see if Spranger comes to meet me as he said he would if I wanted his
assistance. If he doesn't, then bang goes this one into the All Pines
post-box to-morrow;" the "this one" being an exact duplicate of the
letter which the negro postman had at that moment in his mail-bag.

"I'm getting incredibly cunning," Julian murmured to himself,
"shockingly so. Yet, what is one to do? One must meet ruse with ruse
and cunning with cunning, and I do believe Sebastian is as artful as a
waggon-load of monkeys. However, if things go wrong with me, if I
should get ill--Sebastian says the climate is bad and lays a good deal
of stress on the fact, although other people say it's first-rate---or
disappear, or furnish a subject for a first-class funeral, there is
one consolation. Spranger, on not hearing from me, will soon begin to
make inquiries and, as the novelists say, 'I shall not die unavenged.'
That's something."

It is permissible for those who record veracious chronicles such as
this present one, to do many things that in ordinary polite society
would not be tolerated. Thus, we have accompanied Julian to his
bedchamber on more than one occasion, and now we will look over his
shoulder as, an hour before this period, he indited the letter to Mr.
Spranger (which at the present moment is in the Belize post-cart), and
afterwards made a copy of it for posting the next day at All Pines.

It was not a lengthy document--since the naval officer generally
writes briefly, succinctly and to the purpose--and simply served to
relate the various startling "incidents" which had occurred after he
had returned to Desolada. And he told Mr. Spranger that, henceforth, a
letter would be posted for him at All Pines every day, which, so long
as it conveyed no tidings of ill news, required no answer; but that,
if such letter should fail to come, then Spranger might imagine that
he stood in need of succour. It concluded by saying that if this
gentleman had a few hours to spare next day and could meet him
half-way betwixt Belize and Desolada--say, opposite a spot called
Commerce Bight--he would take it as a favour--would meet him, say, in
the early morning, about ten o'clock, before the heat was too great.

"Sebastian," the letter ended, "seems to harp more, now, on the fact
that he's my heir than on anything else. He evidently imagines that I
have more to leave than I have. But, however that may be, I don't want
him to inherit yet."

He was thinking about this letter, and its duplicate which was to
follow to-morrow, if the first one did not bring his friend from
Belize, when he heard voices near him--voices that were pitched low
and coming closer with every step he took, and then, suddenly, he came
upon the girl, Zara, and the man, Ignacio Paz, walking along the road
side by side.

"Well, my Queen of Night," he said to the former, "and how are you?
You heard that I found the snake after all, I suppose?"

"Yes, I heard," the girl said, her dark slumbrous eyes gleaming at him
in the light of the stars. "I heard. Better always look. This is a
dangerous land. Very dangerous to white men."

"So Sebastian tells me. Thank you, Zara. Henceforth I will be sure to
look. I am going to take a great deal of care of my precious health
while I am in this neighbourhood."

"That is well," the girl said; then, having noticed his bantering
manner, she added, "you may laugh--make joke, but it is no joke. Take
care," and a moment later she was gone swiftly up to the house,
leaving him and his companion of the morning standing together in the
dusty road.

"I wonder why Zara is such a good friend of mine?" Julian asked
meditatively now, looking into the eyes of Paz, which themselves
gleamed brightly.

"You wonder?" the half-caste said, with that bleating little laugh
which always sounded so strangely in Julian's ears. "_Do_ you wonder?
Can't you guess? Do you wonder, too, why I'm a friend of yours?"

"You, Paz! Why we've only known each other about fifteen hours. Though
I'm glad to hear it, all the same."

"Friends long enough to nearly get killed together to-day," the man
replied. "That's one reason."

"And the other--Zara's reasons? What are they?"

Again the man's eyes glistened in the starlight; then he put out his
long lithe finger, which, Indianlike, he used to emphasize most of his
remarks.

"She hates him. So do I."

"You I can understand. He beat you this morning. But--Zara! I thought
she was his faithful adherent."

"She hates him because," the man replied laconically, "she loves him."

"Loves him. And he? Well--what?"

"Not love her. He love 'nother. English missy. You know her."

"I do," Julian answered emphatically. "I do. Now, I'll add my share to
this little love story. She, the English missy, does not love him."

"Zara think she do. Thinks he with her now. Go Belize, see her."

"Bah! Bosh! The English missy wouldn't--why, Paz," he broke off
suddenly, "what's this in your hand? Haven't you had enough sport
to-day--or are you going out shooting the owls to-night for a change?"
while as he spoke he pointed to a small rifle the half-caste held in
his hand. "Though," he added, "one doesn't shoot birds with rifles."

"No," the other replied, with again the bleat, and with, now, his eyes
blazing--"no. Shoot men with him. Nearly shoot one to-day. I find him
near where I find drop of blood this afternoon. Hid away under ferns.
I take a little walk this evening in the cool. Then I find him."



CHAPTER XVIII.

SEBASTIAN IS DISTURBED.


"This knoll is becoming historic," Julian said to himself the next
morning, as he halted the mustang where twice he had halted it before,
when he had been journeying the other way from that which he had now
come. "When, some day, the life and adventures of Admiral Ritherdon,
K.C.B., and so forth, are given to an admiring world, it must figure
in them. Make a pretty frontispiece, too, with its big shady palms and
the blue sea beyond the mangroves down below."

In spite, however, of his bright and buoyant nature, which
refused to be depressed or subdued by the atmosphere of doubt or
suspicion--to give that atmosphere no more important name--he
recognised very clearly that matters were serious with him. He knew,
too, that the calamities which had approached, without absolutely
overwhelming him--so far--were something more than coincidences;
natural enough as each by itself might have been in a country which,
even now, can scarcely be called anything else than a wild and
unsettled one.

"I was once flung off a horse, a buckjumper," he reflected, "in
Western Australia when I was a 'sub'; I found a snake in my bed in
Burmah; and a chap shot at me once in Vera Cruz--but--but," and he
nodded his head meditatively over his recollections, "the whole lot
did not happen together in Australia or Burmah or Vera Cruz. If they
had done so, it would have appeared rather pointed. And--well--they
_have_ all happened together here. That looks rather pointed, too."

"All the same," Julian went on reflectively, as now he tethered the
mustang to a bush where it could stand in the shade, and also drew
himself well under the spreading branches of the palms--"all the same,
I can't and won't believe that Sebastian sees danger to his very
firmly-established rights by my presence here. He said on that first
night to Madame Carmaux, 'Knowledge is not proof,' and what proof have
I against him? This copy of my baptism at New Orleans which I possess
can't outweigh that entry of his birth which Spranger has seen in
Belize. And there is nothing else. Nothing! Except George Ritherdon's
statement to me, which nobody would believe. My own opinion is," he
concluded, "that Sebastian, who at the best is a rough, untutored
specimen of the remote colonist, with very little knowledge of the
world beyond, thinks that if anything happened to me he would only
have to put in a claim to whatever I have in England, prove his
cousinship, and be put in possession of my few thousands. What a
sublime confidence he must have in the simplicity of the English
laws!"

Even, however, as he thought all this, there came to him a
recollection, a revived memory, of something that had struck him after
George Ritherdon's death--something that, in the passage of so many
other stirring events, had of late vanished from his mind.

"He said," Julian murmured to himself--"my uncle said in the letter I
received when we got back to Portsmouth, that he had commenced to
write down the error, the crime of his life, in case he did not live
to see me. And--and--later--after he had told me all, on the next day,
he remarked that the whole account was written down; that when--poor
old fellow! he was gone I should find it in his desk; that it would
serve to refresh my memory. But--I never did find it, and, I suppose,
he thought it was best destroyed. I wish, however, he hadn't done it;
even his handwriting would have been some corroboration of the
statement. At least it would have shown, if I ever do make the
statement public, that I had not invented it."

While he had been indulging in these meditations he had kept his eyes
fixed on the long, white, dusty road that stretched from where the
knoll was on which he sat toward Belize; a road which, through this
flat country, could be traced for two or three miles, it looking like
a white thread lying on a dark green carpet the colour of which had
been withered by the sun.

And now, as he looked, he saw upon the farthest end of that thread a
speck, even whiter than itself--a speck, that is to say, white above
and black beneath--which was gradually travelling along the road,
coming nearer and growing bigger each moment.

"It may be Mr. Spranger," he thought to himself, still watching the
oncoming party-coloured patch as it continued to loom larger;
"probably is. Yet for a man of his time of life, and in such a baker's
oven as that road is, he is a bold rider. I hope he won't get a
sunstroke or a touch of heat apoplexy in his efforts to come and meet
me."

At last, however, the person, whoever it was, drew so near that the
rider's white tropical jacket stood out quite distinct from the black
coat of the animal he bestrode; while, also, the great white sombrero
on the man's head was distinctly visible.

"That's not Spranger," Julian said to himself, "but a much younger
man. By Jove!" he exclaimed, "it's Sebastian. And I might have
expected it to be him. Of course. It is about the time he would be
returning to Desolada."

His recognition of his cousin was scarcely accomplished beyond all
doubt, when Sebastian's horse began to slow down in its stride, owing
to having commenced the ascent of the incline that led up to the knoll
where Julian sat, and in a very few more moments the animal, emitting
great gusts from its nostrils, had brought its rider close to where he
was. While, true to his determination to exhibit no outward sign of
anything he might suspect concerning Sebastian's designs toward him,
as well as to resolve to assume a light and cheerful manner, and also
a friendly one, Julian called out pleasantly:

"Halloa, Sebastian! How are you this fine morning? Rather a hot ride
from Belize, isn't it?"

If, however, he had expected an equally cordial greeting in return,
or, to put it in other and more appropriate words, a similar piece of
acting on Sebastian's part, he was very considerably mistaken. For,
instead of his cousin returning his cheerful salutation in a
corresponding manner, his reception of it betokened something that
might very well have been considered to be dismay. Indeed, he reined
his horse up so suddenly as almost to throw the panting creature on
its haunches, in spite of the ascent it was making; while his face,
sunbrowned and burned as it was, seemed to grow nearly livid behind
the bronze. His eyes also had in them the startled expression which
might possibly be observed in those of a man who had suddenly been
confronted by a spectre.

"Why!" he said, a moment later, after peering about and around and
into all the rich luxuriant vegetation which grew on the knoll, as
though he might have expected to see some other person sitting among
the wild allamandas or ixoras--"why, what on earth are you doing here,
Julian? I--I thought you were at Desolada, or--or perhaps out shooting
again. By the way, I had left Desolada before you were up yesterday
morning; what sort of a day did you have of it?"

"Most exciting," Julian replied, himself as cool as ice. "Quite a
field-day." And then he went on to give his cousin, who had by now
dismounted and was sitting near him, a _résumé_ of the whole day's
adventures--not forgetting to tell him also of the interesting
discovery of the coral snake in his bed.

"If," he thought to himself, "he wants to see how little he can
frighten one of her Majesty's sailors, he shall see it now."

He had, however, some slight hesitation in narrating the retaliation
of Paz upon the unknown, would-be assassin--for such the person must
have been who had fired at where the deer was not--he being in some
doubt as to how this fact would be received.

At first it was listened to in silence, Sebastian only testifying how
much he was impressed at the recountal by the manner in which he kept
his eyes fixed on Julian--and also by the whiteness of his lips, to
which the circulation seemed unable to find its way. Also, it seemed
as though, when he heard of the drop of blood upon the leaf, once more
the blood in his own veins was impeded--and as if his heart was
standing still. Then, when the recital was concluded, he said:

"Paz did right. It was a cowardly affair. I wish he had killed the
villain. I suppose it was some enemies of his. Some fellow half-caste.
Paz has enemies," he added.

"Probably," said Julian quietly.

"And," went on Sebastian now in a voice of considerable equanimity,
though still his bronze and sunburn were not what they usually were;
"and how did you leave Madame Carmaux? Was she not horrified at such a
dastardly outrage?"

"I did not have much time with her. Not time enough indeed to tell
her. She went to bed directly I got back----"

"Went to bed! Why?"

"She was not well. Said she had a headache, or rather sent word to
that effect. Nor did she come down to breakfast. Rather slow, you
know, all alone by myself, so I thought I'd come on here for a ride.
Must do something with one's time."

"Of course! Of course! I told you Desolada was Liberty Hall. Went to
bed, eh? I hope she is not really ill. I don't know what I should do
without her," and as he spoke Julian observed that, if anything, he
was whiter than before. Evidently he was very much distressed at
Madame Carmaux's suffering from even so trifling an ailment as a
headache.

"I think I'll get on now," Sebastian said, rising from where he was
sitting. "If she is laid up I shall have a good deal of extra work to
do, I suppose it really is a headache."

"I suppose it is," Julian said, "it is not likely to be much else. She
was arranging flowers in a vase when Paz and I returned."

"Was she!" Sebastian exclaimed, almost gleefully; "was she! Oh, well!
then there can't be much the matter with her, can there? I am glad to
hear that. But, anyhow, I'll go on now. You'll be back by sundown, I
suppose. You know it's bad to be out just at sunset. The climate is a
tricky one."

"So I have heard you say. Never mind, I'll be back in the evening, or
before. Meanwhile I may wander into the woods and shoot a monkey or
so."

"Shoot! Why! you haven't got a gun with you," Sebastian exclaimed,
looking on the ground and at the mustang's back where, probably, such
a thing would have been strapped.

"No, I haven't. But I've always got this," and he showed the handle of
his revolver in an inside pocket.

"You're a wise man. Though, if you knew the colony better, you'd
understand there isn't much danger to human life here."

"There was yesterday. And Paz has taught me a trick or two. If any one
fired at me now I should do just what he did, and, perhaps, I too
might find a leaf with a drop of blood on it afterwards."

"You're a cool fish!" exclaimed Sebastian after bursting out into a
loud laugh which, somehow, didn't seem to have much of the ring of
mirth in it. "Upon my word you are. Well, so long! Don't go committing
murder, that's all."

"No, I won't. Bye-bye. I'll be back to-night."

After which exchange of greetings, Sebastian got on his horse and
prepared to continue his journey to Desolada.

"By the way," he said, however, before doing so, "about that snake!
How could it have got into your bed?"

"_I_ don't know," Julian replied with a half laugh. "How should I? The
coral snake is a new acquaintance, though I've known other specimens
in my time. It got there somehow, didn't it?"

"Of course! They love warmth, you know. Perhaps it climbed up the legs
of the bed and crept in where it would be covered up."

"It was rather rude to do such a thing in a visitor's bed though,
wasn't it? It isn't as though I was one of the residents. And it must
have been a clever chap, too, because it got in without disarranging
the mosquito curtains the least little bit. That _was_ clever, when
you come to think of it!"

At which Sebastian gave a rather raucous kind of laugh, and then set
his horse in motion.

"_Au revoir!_" said Julian. "I hope you'll find Madame Carmaux much
better when you get back."



CHAPTER XIX.

A PLEASANT MEETING.


The morning was drawing on and it was getting late--that is, for the
tropics--namely, it was near nine o'clock, and soon the sun would be
high in the heavens, so that it was not likely along the dusty white
road from Belize any sign of human life would make it appearance until
sunset was close at hand.

"If Mr. Spranger doesn't come pretty soon," Julian said consequently
to himself, "he won't come at all, and has, probably, important
business to attend to in the city. Wherefore I shall have to pass
to-day alone here, or have a sunstroke before I can get as far back as
All Pines for a meal. I ought to have brought some lunch with me."

"Halloa, my friend," he remarked a moment later to the mustang, which
had commenced to utter little whinnies, and seemed to be regarding him
with rather a piteous sort of look, "what's the matter with you? You
don't want to start back and get a sunstroke, do you? Oh! I know. Of
course!" and he rose from his seat and, going further into the bushes
behind the knoll, began to use both his eyes and his ears. For it had
not taken him a moment to divine--he who had been round the world
three times! that the creature required that which in all tropical
lands is wanted by man and animal more than anything else--namely, the
wherewithal to quench their thirst.

Presently, he heard the grateful sound of trickling water, which in
British Honduras is bountifully supplied by Providence, and discovered
a swift-flowing rivulet on its way to the sea below--it being, in
fact, a little tributary of Mullin's River--when, going back for the
creature, he led it to where the water was, while, tying its bridle to
some reeds, he left it there to quench its thirst. After which he
returned to the summit of the knoll to continue his lookout along the
road from Belize.

But now he saw that, during his slight absence, some signs of
other riders had appeared, there being at this present moment two
black-and-white blurs upon the white dusty thread. Two that progressed
side by side, and presented a duplicate, party-coloured imitation of
that which, earlier, Sebastian Ritherdon and his steed had offered to
his view.

"If that's Mr. Spranger," Julian thought to himself, "he has brought a
companion with him, or has picked up a fellow traveller. By Jove
though! one's a darkey and, well! I declare, the other's a woman. Oh!"
he exclaimed suddenly, joyfully too; "it's Miss Spranger. Here's
luck!" and with that, regardless of the sun's rays and all the
calamities that those rays can bring in such a land, he jumped into
the road and began waving his handkerchief violently.

The signal, he saw, was returned at once; from beneath the huge green
umbrella held over the young lady's head--and his own--by the negro
accompanying her, he observed an answering handkerchief waved, and
then the mass of white material which formed a veil thrown back, as
though she was desirous that he who was regarding her should not be in
any doubt as to who was approaching. Yet, she need not have been thus
desirous. There is generally one form (as the writer has been told by
those who know) which, when we are young, or sometimes even, no longer
boys and girls, we recognise easily enough, no matter how much it may
be disguised by veils or dust-coats or other similar impediments to
our sight.

Naturally, Beatrix and her sable companion rode slowly--to ride fast
here on such a morning means death, or something like it--but they
reached the knoll at last, and then, after mutual greetings had been
exchanged and Julian had lifted Miss Spranger off her horse--one may
suppose how tenderly!--she said:

"Father was sorry, but he could not come. So I came instead. I hope
you don't mind."

"Mind!" he said, while all the time he was thinking how pretty she
looked in her white dress, and how fascinating the line which marked
the distinction between the sunburn of her face and the whiteness of
her throat made her appear--"mind!" Then, words seeming somehow to
fail him (who rarely was at a loss for such things, either for the
purpose of jest or earnest) at this moment, he contented himself with
a glance only, and in preparing for her a suitable seat in the shade.
Yet, all the same, he was impelled directly afterwards to tell her
again and again how much he felt her goodness in coming at all.

"Jupiter," she said to the negro now, "bring the horses in under the
shade and unsaddle and unbridle them. And, find some 'water for them.
I am going to stay quite a time, you know," she went on, addressing
Julian. "I can't go back till sunset, or near sunset, so you will have
to put up with my company for a whole day. I suppose you didn't happen
to think of bringing any lunch or other provisions?"

"The mere man is forgetful," he replied contritely, finding his tongue
once more, "so----"

"So I am aware. Therefore, I have brought some myself. Oh! yes, quite
enough for two, Mr. Ritherdon; therefore you need not begin to say you
are not hungry or anything of that sort. Later, Jupiter shall unpack
it. Meanwhile, we have other things to think and talk about. Now,
please, go on with that," and she pointed to the pipe in his hand
which he had let go out in her presence, "and tell me everything.
Everything from the time you left us."

Obedient to her orders and subject to no evesdropping by the discreet
Jupiter--who, having been told by Julian where the rivulet was, had
conducted the two fresh horses there and was now seated on the bank
crooning a mournful ditty which, the former thought, might have been
sung by some African sorcerer to his barbaric ancestors--he did tell
her everything. He omitted nothing, from the finding of the
coral-snake in his bed to his last meeting with Sebastian half an hour
ago.

While the girl sitting there by his side, her pure clear eyes
sometimes fixed on the narrator's face and sometimes gazing
meditatively on the sapphire Caribbean sparkling a mile off in front
of them, listened to and drank in and weighed every word.

"Lieutenant Ritherdon," she said, when he had concluded, and placing
her hand boldly, and without any absurd false shame, upon his sleeve,
"you must give me a promise--a solemn promise--that you will never go
back to that place again."

"But!" he exclaimed startled, "I must go back. I cannot leave and give
up my quest like that. And," he added, a little gravely, "remember I
am a sailor, an officer. I cannot allow myself to be frightened away
from my search in such a manner."

"Not for----" she began interrupting.

"Not for what?" he asked eagerly, feeling that if she said, "not for
my sake?" he must comply.

"Not for your life? Its safety? Not for that?" she concluded, almost
to his disappointment. "May you not retreat to preserve your life?"

"No," he answered a moment later. "No, not even for that. For my own
self-respect, my own self-esteem I must not do so. Miss Spranger," he
continued, speaking almost rapidly now, "I know well enough that I
shall do no good there; I have come to understand at last that I shall
never discover the truth of the matter. Yet I do believe all the same
that George Ritherdon was my uncle, that Charles Ritherdon was my
father, that Sebastian Ritherdon is a--well, that there is some
tricking, some knavery in it all. But," he continued bitterly, "the
trickery has been well played, marvellously well managed, and I shall
never unearth the method by which it has been done."

"Yet, thinking this, you will not retreat! You will jeopardize your
life?"

"I have begun," he said, "and I cannot retreat, short of absolute,
decisive failure. Of certain failure! And, oh! you must see why, you
must understand why, I can not--it is because my life is in jeopardy
that I cannot do so. I embarked on this quest expecting to find no
difficulties, no obstacles in my way; I came to this country and, at
once, I learned that my appearance here, at Desolada, meant deadly
peril to me. And, because of that deadly peril, I must, I will, go on.
I will not draw back; nor be frightened by any danger. If I did I
should hate myself forever afterwards; I should know myself unworthy
to ever wear her Majesty's uniform again. I will never draw back," he
repeated emphatically, "while the danger continues to exist."

As he had spoken, Julian Ritherdon--the bright, cheery Englishman,
full of joke and quip, had disappeared: in his place had come another
Julian--the Englishman of stern determination, of iron nerve; the man
who, because peril stared him in the face and environed his every
footstep, was resolute to never retreat before that danger.

While she, the girl sitting by his side, her eyes beaming with
admiration (although he did not see them), knew that, as he had
said, so he would do. This man--fair, young, good-looking, and
_insouciant_--was, beneath all that his intercourse with the world and
society had shaped him into being, as firm as steel, as solid as a
rock.

What could she answer in return?

"If you are so determined," she said now, controlling her voice for
fear that, through it, she should betray her admiration for his
strength and courage, "you will, at least take every measure for your
self-preservation. Write every day, as you have said you will in your
letter to my father, be ever on your guard--by night and day. Oh!" she
went on, thrusting her hands through the beautiful hair from which she
had removed her large Panama hat for coolness while in the shade, "I
sicken with apprehension when I think of you alone in that mournful,
mysterious house."

"You need not," he said, and now he too ventured to touch her sleeve
as she had previously touched his--"you need not do so. Remember, it
is man to man at the worst; Sebastian Ritherdon--if he is Sebastian
Ritherdon--against Julian. And I, at least, am used to facing risks
and dangers. It is my trade."

"No," she answered, almost with a shudder, while her lustrous eyes
expressed something that was very nearly, if not quite, horror--"no!
it is not. It is a man and a woman--and that a crafty, scheming
woman--against a man. Against you. Lieutenant Ritherdon," she cried,
"can you doubt who--who----"

"Hush," he said, "hush. Not yet. Let us judge no one yet. Though
I--believe me--_I_ doubt nothing. _I_, too, can understand. But," he
went on a little more lightly now, "remember, Sebastian is not the
only one possessed of a female auxiliary, of female support. Remember,
I have Zara."

"Zara," she repeated meditatively, "Zara. The girl with whom he amused
himself by making believe that he loved her; made her believe that,
when this precious Madame Carmaux should be removed, she might reign
over his house as his wife."

"Did he do that?"

"He did. If all accounts are true he led her to believe he loved her
until he thought another woman--a woman who would not have let him
serve her as a groom--might look favourably on his pretensions."

"Therefore," said Julian, ignoring the latter part of her remark,
though understanding not only it, but the deep contempt of her tone,
"therefore, now she hates him. May she not be a powerful ally of
mine, in consequence. That is, if she does hate him, as my other
ally--Paz--says."

"Yes, yes," Beatrix said, still musing, still reflectively. "Yet, if
so, why those mysterious visits to your bedroom window, why that
haunting the neighbourhood of your room at midnight?"

"I understand those visits now, I think I understand them, since the
episode of the coral snake. I believe she was constituting herself a
watch, a guard over me. That she knows much--that--that she suspects
more. That she will at the worst, if it comes, help me to--to thwart
him."

"Ah! if it were so. If I could believe it."

"And Paz, too. Sebastian told me to-day that Paz has enemies. Well!
doubtless he has--only, I would rather be Paz than one of those
enemies. You would think so yourself if you had seen the blaze of the
man's eyes, the look upon his face, when that shot was fired, and,
later, when he showed me the rifle which he had found close by the
spot. No; I should not like to be one of Paz's enemies nor--a false
lover of Zara's."

"If I could feel as confident as you!" Beatrix exclaimed. "Oh! if I
could. Then--then--" but she could find no ending for her sentence.



CHAPTER XX.

LOVE'S BLOSSOM.


A fortnight had elapsed since that meeting on the palm-clad knoll, and
Julian was still an inmate of Desolada. But each day as it came and
went--while it only served to intensify his certainty that some
strange trickery had been practised at the time when he was gone and
when George Ritherdon had stolen him from his dying, or dead, mother's
side--served also to convince him that he would never find out the
manner in which the deceit had been practised, nor unravel the clue to
that deceit. He had, too, almost decided to take his farewell of
Desolada and it inmates, to shake the dust of the place off his shoes,
and to abandon any idea of endeavouring to obtain further
corroboration of his uncle's statement.

For he had come to believe, to fear, that no corroboration was to be
found. Every one in British Honduras regarded Sebastian as the
undoubted child and absolute heir of the late Charles Ritherdon,
while, in addition, there were still scores of persons alive, black
and white and half-caste, who remembered the birth of the boy, though
not one individual could be discovered who had heard even a whisper of
any kidnapping having ever taken place. Once, Julian had thought that
a journey to New Orleans and a verification of the copy of his
baptismal certificate with the original might be of some use, but on
reflection he had decided that this, as against the certificate of
Sebastian's baptism in Belize, would be of no help whatever.

"It is indeed a dead wall, a solid rock, against which I am pushing,
as Mr. Spranger said," he muttered to himself again and again. "And
it is too firm for me. I shall have to retreat--not because I fear my
foe, but because that foe has no tangible shape against which to
contend."

He had not returned to Desolada on the night that followed his meeting
with, first, Sebastian on the knoll and then with Beatrix; he making
his appearance at that place about dawn on the following morning. The
reason whereof was, that, after passing the whole day with Miss
Spranger on that spot (the lunch she had brought with her being amply
sufficient to provide an afternoon, or evening, meal), he had insisted
on escorting her back to her father's house.

At first she protested against his doing this, she declaring that
Jupiter was quite sufficient cavalier for her, but he would take no
denial and was firm in his resolve to do so. He did not tell her,
though (as perhaps, there was no necessity for him to do, since, if
all accounts are true, young ladies are very apt at discovering the
inward workings of those whom they like and by whom they are liked),
that he regarded this opportunity as a most fortuitous one, and, as
such, not to be missed. Who is there amongst us all who, given youth
and strength and the near presence of a woman whom we are fast
beginning to love with our whole heart, would not sacrifice a night's
rest to ride a score of miles by her side? Not one who is worthy to
win that woman's love!

So through the tropical night--where high above them blazed the
constellations of the Southern Crown, the Peacock, and the Archer,
with their incandescentlike glow--those two rode side by side; the
negro on ahead and casting many a glance of caution around at bush and
shrub and clump of palm and mangrove. Of love they did not speak, for
a sufficient reason; each knew that it was growing and blossoming in
the other's heart--that it was there! The man's love there--in his
heart, not only because of the girl's winsome beauty; but born and
created also by the knowledge that she went hand in hand with him in
all that he was endeavouring to accomplish; the woman's love
engendered by her recognition of his bravery and strength of
character. If she had not come to love him before, she did so when he
exclaimed that, because the danger was near to and threatening him, he
would never desist from the task on which he had embarked.

But love often testifies its existence otherwise than in words, and it
did so now--not only in the subdued tones of their voices as they fell
on the luscious sultry air of the night, but also in the understanding
which they came to as to how they should be in constant communication
with each other in the future, so that, if aught of evil befell Julian
at Desolada, Beatrix might not be long unaware of the evil.

"Perhaps," Julian said, as now they were drawing near Belize--"perhaps
it will not be necessary that I should apprise you each day of my
safety, of the fact that everything is all right with me.
Therefore----"

"I must know frequently! hear often," Beatrix said, turning her eyes
on him. "I must. Oh! Mr. Ritherdon, forty-eight hours will appear an
eternity to me, knowing, as I shall know, that you are in that
dreadful house. Alone, too, and with none to help you. What may they
not attempt against you next!"

"Whatever they attempt," he replied, "will, I believe, be thwarted. I
take Paz and Zara--especially Zara, now that you tell me she is a
jilted woman--against Sebastian and Madame Carmaux. But, to return to
my communications with you."

"Yes," she said, with an inward catching of her breath--"yes, your
communications with me.

"Let it be this way. If you do not hear from me at the end of every
forty-eight hours, then begin to think that things may be going wrong
with me; while if, at the end of a second forty-eight hours, you have
still heard nothing from me, well! consider that they have gone very
wrong indeed. Shall it be like that?"

"Oh!" the girl exclaimed with almost a gasp, "I am appalled. Appalled
even at the thought that such an arrangement, such precautions, should
have to be made."

"Of course, they may not be necessary," he said; "after all, we may be
misjudging Sebastian."

"We are not," she answered emphatically. "I feel it; I know it. I
mistrust that man--I have always disliked him. I feel as sure as it is
possible to be that he meditates harm to you. And--and--" she almost
sobbed, "what is to be done if the second forty-eight hours have
passed, and still I have heard nothing from or of you."

"Then," he said with a light laugh--"then I think I should warn some
of those gentry whom we have seen loafing about Belize in a light and
tasteful uniform--the constabulary, aren't they?--that a little visit
to Desolada might be useful."

"Oh!" Beatrix cried again now, "don't make a joke of it, Mr.
Ritherdon! Don't, pray don't. You cannot understand how I feel, nor
what my fears are. If four days went by and I heard no tidings of you,
I should begin to think that--that----"

"No," he said, interrupting her. "No. Don't think that! Whatever
Sebastian may suspect me of knowing, he would not do what you imagine.
He would not----"

"Kill you, you would say! Why, then, should he mount you on that
horse? And--and was--there no intention of killing you when the coral
snake was found in your bed--a deadly, venomous reptile, whose bite is
always fatal within the hour--nor when that shot was fired at you?"

"Is there not a chance," Julian said now, asking a question instead of
answering one, "that, after all, we are entirely on a wrong tack,
granting even that Sebastian is in a false position--a position that
by right is mine?"

"What can you mean? How can we be on a false tack?"

"In this way. Even should it be as I suggest, namely, that he
is--well, the wrong man, how is it possible that he should be aware
of it; above all, how is it possible that he should know that I am
aware of it? He has been at Desolada, and held the position of heir
to--to--to my father ever since he was a boy, a baby. If wrong has
been done, he was not and could not be the doer of it. Therefore, why
should he suspect me of being the right man, and consequently wish to
injure me?"

"Surely the answer is clear enough," Beatrix replied. "However
innocent he may once have been of all knowledge of a wrong having been
done, he possesses that knowledge now--in some way. And," the girl
went on, turning her face towards him as she spoke, so that he could
see her features plainly in the starlight, "he knows that it is to you
it has been done. Would not that suffice to make him meditate harm to
you?"

"Yet, granting this, how--how can it be? How can he have discovered
the wrongdoing. A wrongdoing that his father--his supposed
father--died without suspecting."

"Yes, that is it; that is what puzzles me more than all else," Beatrix
exclaimed, "that Mr. Ritherdon should have died without suspecting.'
That is it. It is indeed marvellous that he could have been imposed
upon from first to last."

Then for a time they rode on in silence, each deep in their own
thoughts: a silence broken at last by Beatrix saying--

"Whatever the secret is, I am convinced that one other person knows it
besides himself."

"Madame Carmaux?"

"Yes, Madame Carmaux. If we could find out what her influence over him
is, or rather what makes her so strong an ally of his, then I feel
sure that all would be as clear as day."

These conversations caused Julian ample food for meditation as he rode
back towards Desolada in the coolness of the dawn--a roseate and
primrose hued dawn--after having left Beatrix Spranger at her father's
house.

What was Madame Carmaux's influence over Sebastian? Why was she so
strong an ally of his? And for answer to his self-communings, he could
find only one. The answer that this woman, who had been bereft in one
short year of the husband she had hurriedly espoused in her bitterness
of desolation as well as of the little infant daughter who had come as
a solace to her misery, had transferred all the affection left in her
heart to the boy she found at Desolada; no matter whom that boy might
be.

An affection that year following year had caused to ripen until, at
last, her very existence had become bound up in his. This, combined
with the fact that Desolada had been her home, and that home a
comfortable one, over which she had ruled as mistress for so many
years, was the only answer he could find.

All was very still as he rode into the back part of the mansion where
the stables were--for it was now but little after four o'clock, and
consequently there was hardly daylight yet--when, unsaddling the
mustang himself, he closed the stable door again and prepared to make
his way into the house. This was easy enough to do, since, in such a
climate, windows were never closed at night, and, beyond the
persianas, which could easily be lifted aside, there was no bar to any
one's entrance.

Yet early as it was or, as it should be said, perhaps, far advanced as
the night was, Sebastian had not yet sought his bed. Instead, he
seemed to have decided on taking whatever rest he might require in the
great saloon in which he seemed to pass the principal part of his time
when at home. He was asleep now in the large Singapore chair he always
sat in--it being inside the room at this time instead of outside on
the veranda--possibly for fear of any night dews that--even in this
climate--will sometimes arise; he being near the table on which was
the never-failing bottle of Bourbon whisky. "The young man's
companion," as Sebastian had more than once hilariously termed it.

But that was not the only bottle, the only liquid, on the table by his
side.

For there stood also by Sebastian's hand a stumpy, neckless bottle
which looked as if it might once have been part of the stock-in-trade
of some chemist's shop--a bottle which was half full of a liquid of
the faintest amber or hay-colour. And, to his astonishment, he
likewise saw standing on the table a small retort, a thing he had
never supposed was likely to be known to Sebastian.

"Well!" he thought to himself as he moved slowly along the balcony to
the open door, not being desirous of waking the sleeping man, "you are
indeed a strange man, if 'strange' is the word to apply to you. I
wonder what you are dabbling in chemistry for now? Probably no good!"



CHAPTER XXI.

JULIAN FEELS STRANGE.


A fortnight had elapsed, it has been written, since the meeting
between Beatrix and Julian on the palm-clad knoll, and during that
time the latter had found himself left very much to his own resources
by Sebastian. Indeed, Julian was never quite able to make out what
became of his "relative" during the day, although at night, when they
sat as usual on the veranda, Sebastian generally explained matters by
saying that he had been absent at one place or another on business,
the "business" consisting of trafficking with other settlers for the
sale or purchase of the productions of the various estates. As,
however, few people ever came to Desolada, and none as "visitors" in
the ordinary sense of the word, Julian had no opportunity of
discovering by outside conversation whether the other's statements
were accurate or not. Still, as he said to himself, Sebastian's
pursuits were no concern whatever of his, and at any rate the latter's
absence left him free to do whatever he chose with his own time. To
shoot curassows, wild turkeys, and sometimes monkeys, or, at least, to
appear to go out shooting them; though, as often as not, the
expedition ended at All Pines, to which place Julian made his way
every other day to post a letter to Beatrix.

Now, after a fortnight had been spent in this manner, during the whole
of which period he had not set his eyes on Madame Carmaux, who still
kept her room and was reported to be suffering from a bilious fever,
the two men sat upon the veranda of the lower floor after the evening
meal had been concluded, both of them having their pipes in their
mouths. While, close to Sebastian's hand, was a large tumbler which
contained a very good modicum of Bourbon whisky, slightly dashed with
water.

"You don't drink at all now," that gentleman said to his cousin, as he
always called him. "Don't you like the stuff, or what? If that's what
it is, I can get something else, you know, from Belize."

"No," Julian replied, "that is not what it is. But of late, for a week
or so now, I have not been feeling well, and perhaps abstinence from
that is the best thing," and he nodded his head towards where the
Bourbon whisky bottle stood.

"I told you so," Sebastian exclaimed; "only you wouldn't believe me.
You were sure to feel seedy sooner or later. Every one does at first,
when they come to this precious colony."

"I ought to be pretty well climate-hardened all the same," Julian
remarked, "after the places I've been in. Burmah isn't considered
quite the sweetest thing in the way of health resorts, yet I got
through that all right."

"I hope you are not going to have a fever or anything wrong with your
liver. Those are the things people suffer from here, intermittent and
remittent fevers especially. I must give you some medicine."

"No, thanks," Julian replied; "I think I can do very well without it
at present. Besides, the time has come for me to bring my visit to a
close, you know. You have been very kind and hospitable, but there is
such a thing as overstaying one's welcome."

To his momentary astonishment, since he quite expected that Sebastian
was looking forward to his departure with considerable eagerness and
was extremely desirous of seeing the last of him, this announcement
was not received at all as he expected. In actual truth, Julian had
imagined that his decision would be accepted with the faintest of
protests which a host could make, while, instead, he perceived that
Sebastian was absolutely overcome with something that, if not dismay,
was very like it. His face fell, as the light of the lamp (round which
countless moths buzzed and circled in the sickly night air) testified
plainly, and he uttered an exclamation that was one of unfeigned
disappointment, if not regret.

"Oh!" he said, "but I can't allow that. I can't, indeed. Going away
because you feel queer. Nonsense, man! You'll be all right in a day or
so. And to go away after a visit of two or three weeks only! Why! when
people come such a journey as you have done from England to here, we
expect them to stop six months."

"That in any case would be impossible. My leave of absence only covers
that space of time, and cannot be exceeded. But," Julian continued,
"don't think, all the same, that I am afraid of fever or anything of
that sort. That wouldn't frighten me away."

"I can't see what you came for, then. What the deuce," he said,
speaking roughly now as though his temper was rising, "could have
brought you to Honduras if you weren't going to stay above a month in
the place?"

"I wanted to see the place where my father lived," the other replied,
and as he did so he watched Sebastian's features carefully. For
although, of course, he was supposed to be the son of George Ritherdon
who had lived at Desolada once, he thought it most probable that this
remark might cause his cousin some disturbance.

Whether it did so or not, he could, however, scarcely tell, since, as
he made it, Sebastian, who was relighting his pipe with a match, let
the latter fall, and instantly leant forward to pick it up again.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, when he had done so, "of course, if you only
wanted to do that, two or three weeks are long enough. Yet, I must
say, I think it is an uncommon short stay. However, I suppose even now
you don't mean to go off in a wonderful hurry?"

"To-day," said Julian, "is Wednesday. Suppose, as you are so kind,
that we fix next Monday for my departure."

"Next Monday. Next Monday," and by the movement of Sebastian's lips,
the other could see that he was making some kind of calculation. "Next
Monday. Four clear days. Ah!" and his face brightened very much as he
spoke. "Well! that's something, isn't it? Four clear days."

Upstairs, when Julian had reached his room, he found himself
meditating upon why Sebastian should have seemed so undoubtedly
pleased at the knowledge that he was going to stay for another "four
clear days."

"We haven't seen such a wonderful lot of each other," he reflected,
"except for an hour or so after supper; and as I have spent my time
uselessly in mooning about this place and the neighbourhood, he can't
suppose that it's very lively for me. Especially as--as there have
been risks."

"As--as--as there have been--risks," he repeated a few moments
afterwards. Then, while still he sat on in his chair, gazing, as he
recognised, vaguely out of the window, he noticed that his mind seemed
to have got into a dull, sodden state--that it was not active.

"As--there--have--been risks," he repeated once more. And now he
pushed his chair on one side as he rose from it, exclaiming:

"This won't do. There's something wrong with me.
As--there--have--no!--no! I don't want to keep on repeating this
phrase over and over again. What is the matter with me? _Have_ I got a
fever?"

Thinking this, though as he did so he recognised that his head was by
no means clear and that he felt dull and heavy, as a man might do who
had not slept for some nights, he thought, too, that it would be best
for him to go to bed. Doubtless his liver was affected by the climate;
doubtless, also, he would be well enough in the morning.

"There is," he said to himself, "a chemist's in the village of All
Pines--I will let him to give me a draught in the morning. I wonder if
Zara ever takes a draught--I--I--mean Beatrix. What rot I am talking!"
he murmured to himself, "and now, to add to other things the lamp is
going out."

Whereon he made a step towards where the lamp stood on the table, and
turning up the wicks gently saw that, in a moment, the flames were
leaping up the glass chimney and blackening it.

"I thought it was going out," he said to himself, turning the wicks
down again rapidly; "I seem to be getting blind too. There is no doubt
that I have got a fever. Let me see."

As he spoke he put his hand into his trousers pocket to draw out his
keys, it being his intention to open his Gladstone bag and get out a
little medicine casket he always carried with him when out of England,
and especially when in tropical places; and, in doing so, he leant his
head a little to the side that the pocket was on, his chin drooping
somewhat towards the lapel of his white jacket.

"I suppose," he muttered, "that my sense of smell's affected too, now.
Or else--jacket's getting--some beastly old--old--old tropical smell
that clings to everything--in--in such countries. Never mind. Here's
keys."

He drew them forth, regarding the bunch with a stare as though it was
something he was unacquainted with, and then, instead of putting into
the lock of the bag the long slim key which is usual, he endeavoured
to insert a large one that really belonged to a trunk he had left
behind at the shipping office in Belize as not being wanted.

Reflection served, however, to call to his mind that this key was not
very likely to open the bag, and at last, after giving an inane smile
at the mistake, he succeeded in his endeavour and was able to get out
the contents, and to withdraw the little medicine casket.

"Quinine," he said, spelling the word letter by letter as he held the
phial under the lamp. "Quinine. That's it. Don't let's make a mistake.
Q-u-i-n-i-n-e. That's all right. Can't go wrong now."

By the aid of the contents of the water-bottle and his glass he was
enabled to swallow two quinine pills of two grains each, and then he
resolved--in a hazy, uncertain kind of way--to go to bed. Whereon,
slowly he divested himself of his clothes and, in a mechanical manner,
threw back the mosquito curtains. But, whatever might be the matter
with him, and however clouded his intellect might be, he was not yet
so dense as to forget the strange occupant of that bed which he had
once before discovered there.

"Beatrix said," he muttered, "that coral snake kills in an hour. I
don't want to die in an hour. Let's see if we've got another guest
here to-night."

And, as he had done every night since he had returned to Desolada, he
thoroughly explored the bed, doing so, however, on this occasion in a
lethargic, heavy manner which caused him to be some considerable time
about it.

"Turn to the left to unscrew," he said to himself, recalling some old
schoolboy phrase as he stood now by the lamp ready to extinguish it,
"to the right to screw. Same, I suppose, to turn up and down. Oh! the
revolver. Where's that? May as well have it handy." Whereupon he went
over to where he had hung up his jacket and removed the weapon from
the inside pocket.

"A nasty smell these tropical places have," he muttered as he did so.
"There's the smell of India--no one ever forgets that--and also the
smell of Africa. Well! strikes me Honduras can go one better than
either of them."

Then he got into bed.

Dizzy, stupefied as he felt, however, it did not seem as if his
stupefaction or semi-delirium, or whatever it was which had overcome
him, was likely to plunge him into a heavy, dull sleep. Instead, he
found himself lying there with his eyes wide open, and, although his
brain felt like a lump of lead, while there was a weight at his
forehead as if something were pressing on it, he was conscious that
one of his senses was very acute--namely, the sense of smell. Either
that, or else some very peculiar phase in the fever which he was
experiencing, was causing a strange sense of disgust in his nostrils.

"This bed smells just like a temple I went into in Burmah once," he
thought to himself. "What the deuce is the matter with me--or it?
Anyhow, I can't stand it." And, determined not to endure the
unpleasantness any longer, he got up from the bed, while wrapping
himself in the dark coverlet he went over to an old rickety sofa that
ran along the opposite side of the room and lay down upon it.

And here, at least, the odour was not apparent. The old horsehair
bolster and pillow did emit, it is true, the peculiar stuffy flavour
which such things will do even in temperate climates; but beyond that
nothing else. The acrid, loathsome odour which he had smelt for the
first time when he leant his head slightly as he felt for his keys,
and which he had perceived in a far more intensified form when he lay
down in the bed, was not at all apparent now. It seemed as if he was,
at last, likely to fall asleep.



CHAPTER XXII.

IN THE DARK.


Julian supposed when he was awakened later on, and felt that he was
drenched with a warm perspiration which caused his light tropical
clothes to stick to him with a hot clammy feeling, that he must have
slept for two hours. For now, as he lay on the sofa facing the window,
he could see through the slats of the persianas, which he had
forgotten to turn down, that, peeping round the window-frame there
came an edge of the moon, which he seemed to recollect--dimly, hazily,
and indistinctly--had risen late last night.

And that moon--which stole more and more into his view as he regarded
it--was casting now a long ray into the bedroom, so that there came
across the floor a streak of light of about the breadth of nine
inches.

Yet--once his bemused brain had grasped the fact that this ray was
there, while, at the same time, that brain was still clear enough to
comprehend that every moment the flood of light was becoming larger,
so that soon the apartment would be filled with it--he paid no further
attention to the matter, nor to the distant rumbling of thunder far
away--thunder that told of a tropical storm taking place at a
distance. Instead, he was endeavouring to argue silently with himself
as to the actual state in which his mind was; as to whether he was in
a dreamy kind of delirium, or whether, in spite of any fever that
might be upon him, he was still able to distinctly understand his
surroundings.

If, as he hoped earnestly, the latter was the case; if he was not
delirious, but only numbed by some ailment that had insidiously taken
possession of him--then--why then--surely! he was in deadly peril of
some immediate attack upon him--upon his life perhaps.

For, outside those persianas there was another light, two other lights
glittering in upon him that were not cast by the moon, but that
(because now and again her rays were thrown upon them) he discovered
to be a pair of eyes. And not the eyes of an animal either, since they
glisten in the dark, but, instead, human eyes that glared horribly as
now and again the moonbeams caught them.

Only! was it the truth that they were real tangible eyes, or were they
but a fantasy of a mind unhinged by fever?

He must know that! And he could only do so by lying perfectly still;
by watching.

Those eyes which stared in at him now were low down to the floor of
the balcony, even as he seemed to recollect Zara's eyes had been on
one occasion during her nocturnal visits to him when he first arrived
at Desolada; yet now he knew, felt sure, that they were not Zara's.
Why he felt so sure he could not tell, nor in the feverish languor
that was upon him, could he even reason with himself as why he did
feel so sure. But, at the same time, he told himself, they were not
hers. Of that he was certain.

How did they come there, low down--not a foot above the floor of the
veranda? Could they indeed be the eyes of an animal in spite of the
white eyeballs on which the rays shone with such a sickly gleam; did
they belong to some household dog which had chosen this spot for its
night's repose? Yet--yet--if such was the case, why did it not sleep
curled up or stretched out, instead of peering through the latticework
with its eyes close to the slats, as though determined to see all that
was in the room and all that was going on in it. No! it could not be
that, while, also it was not what he had deemed it might be a few
minutes ago--the eyes of a snake. It was impossible, since the eyes of
a snake would have been much closer together.

They were--there could be no doubt about it! the eyes of a human
being, man or woman. And they were not Zara's. He was sure of that.

But still they glared into the room, glared through the dusky
sombreness of the lower part of it, of that part of the floor which,
even now, the moonlight was not illuminating. And then to his
astonishment he saw, as the light flooded the apartment more and more,
that those eyes were staring not at him but towards another portion of
the room; towards where the bed stood enveloped in the long hanging
folds of the mosquito curtains, which, to his distempered mind, seemed
in the weird light of the tropical night to look like the hangings
that enshroud a catafalque--a funeral canopy.

His hand, shaky though he knew it was from whatever ailed him, was on
his revolver; for a moment or so he lay there asking himself if he
should fire at that wizard thing, that creepy mystery outside his
room; if he should aim fair between those glistening eyeballs and
trust to fortune to kill or disable the mysterious watcher? But still,
however, he refrained; for, if his senses were still in his own
possession, if his mind was still able to understand anything, it
understood that near the bed in which he should have been sleeping had
it not been for the evil odours exhaled from it to-night, there was
something that might be a more fitting object of his discharge than
the creature outside.

"If," he thought to himself, "I am neither mad nor delirious nor
drenched with fever, those eyes are watching something in this room,
and that something is not myself."

Should he turn his head; could he turn it towards that dark patch
behind the mosquito curtains which was not illuminated with the moon's
rays? Could he do it as a man turns in his sleep--restlessly--so that
in the action there might be nothing which should alarm whatever
lurked in the darkness over there; the thing that, having got into his
room in the night full of evil intentions towards him, was now itself
being watched, suspected, perhaps trapped.

Could he do it?

As he meditated thus, feeling sure now that his stupor, his density of
mind, was not what it had been--recognising with a feeling of devout
thankfulness that, whatever his state might hitherto have been, his
mind was now becoming clear and his intellect collected, he prepared
to put this determination into practise. He would roll over on to his
right side, as he had seen sleepy sailors roll over on to theirs in
the watch below; he would roll over too, with his hand securely on the
butt of his revolver. And then--if--if, as he felt certain was the
case, there was some dark skulking thing hiding behind his bedhead, if
he should see another pair of eyes gleaming out in the rays of the
moon--why, then, woe befall it! He had had enough of these midnight
hauntings from one visitant or another in this house of mystery; he
would fire straight at that figure, he would kill it dead, if so it
must be, even if it were Sebastian himself.

As he turned, imitating a sleeper's restlessness, as well as he was
able, there came two interruptions--interruptions that stayed his
hand.

From near the bed--he was right! those eyes outside had been watching
something that was inside there!--close to him, across the room, he
heard a sound. A sound that was half a one, half an inward catching of
the breath, a gasp. Yet so low, so quickly suppressed, that none who
had not suspected, none who had not been on the watch for the
slightest sign, would have heard or noticed it. But he had heard it!

The other was a noisier, a more palpable interruption. Sebastian,
below in the great saloon on the front was singing to himself, loudly
and boisterously, and then, equally boisterously, was wishing Madame
Carmaux "Good-night." Answering evidently, too, some question, which
Julian could not hear put to him by her, and expressing also the hope
that she would feel better soon.

"Yet," thought Julian, "she cannot quit her room. It is strange.
Strange, too, that she should be up so late. It must be two o'clock,
at least."

With a glance from his eye towards the lower part of the window, which
still he could see from the position in which he lay, he observed that
the mysterious watcher outside was gone. Those eyes, at least, no
longer gleamed from low down by the floor; through the slats of the
blind he perceived that the spot where they had lately been was now a
void. The watcher was gone! But what of the one who had been watched,
of the lurking creature that was near his bed, and that had gasped
with fear even as he turned over on the sofa? What of that? Well, it
was still there. He was alone with it.

His thumb drew back the trigger of the revolver, the well-known click
was heard--the click which can never be disguised or silenced. A click
that many a man has listened to with mortal agony and terror of soul,
knowing that it sounds his knell. Then again on his ears there fell
that gasp, that indrawn catching of the breath, which told of a
terrified object close by his side.

And it could not be Sebastian who had uttered it; Sebastian, the one
person alone who had reason to meditate the worst towards him that one
human being can desire for another. It could not be he. For was he not
still singing boisterously below in the front of the house? It could
not be he. And, Julian reflected, he was about to take a life, the
life of some one whom he himself did not know, of some one whose
presence in his room even at night, at such an hour of the night,
might yet be capable of explanation; that might not, in absolute fact,
bode evil to him. Suppose, that after all, it should be Zara, and that
again she was there for some purpose of serving his interest as he had
told Beatrix he believed she had been more than once before. Suppose
that, and that now he should fire and kill her! How would he feel
then! What would his remorse be?

No! He would not do it.

Instead, therefore, he whispered the words, "Zara, what is it?"

Even as he did so, even as he spoke, he noticed that a change had come
over the room. It was quite dark now; the moon's rays no longer
gleamed in; the moon itself was gone, obscured. What had happened? In
a moment the question was answered.

Upon the balcony outside there came a rattle as though a deluge of
small stones had been hurled down upon it, and he, who knew well what
the violence of tropical storms is, recognized that one had broken
over Desolada, and that the rain, if not hail, was descending in a
deluge. A moment later there came, too, a flash of purple, gleaming
lightning which was gone before he could turn his eyes into the
quarter of the room where lurked the thing that he suspected, felt
sure was there. Then, over all, there burst the roar of the thunder
from above, reverberating, pealing all around, rumbling, and reechoing
a moment later in the Cockscomb Mountains.

"Zara!" he called louder now, so as to make himself heard above the
din of the storm--"Zara, why do you not answer me? I mean you no
harm."

But, if amid this tumult any answer was given, he did not hear it. For
now the crash of the thunder, the downpour of the rain, the screaming
of the parrots, and the demoniacal howlings of the baboons farther
away, served to create such a turmoil that scarcely could the cry of a
human voice be heard above it all.

"I am determined," Julian exclaimed, "to know who and what it is that
cowers there!" Wherewith he sprang from off the sofa on which he had
previously raised himself to a sitting position, and, with a leap,
rushed towards the mosquito curtains hanging by the bedhead. "I will
see who and what you are!" he cried, feeling certain that in this spot
was still lurking some strange, secret visitant.

Yet to his astonishment the spot was empty when he reached it. Neither
human being nor animal, nor anything whatever, was there.

"I am indeed struck with fever and delirious," he muttered to himself,
"or if not that, am mad. Yet I could have sworn it was as I thought."

Then again, as he stood there holding in his hand the gauzy curtains
which he had brushed aside, the storm burst afresh over the house with
renewed violence; again the sheets of rain poured down; once more the
purple tropical lightning flashed and the thunder roared. And as the
tempest beat down on all beneath its violence, and while a moment of
intense darkness was followed by an instant of brilliant light, Julian
heard a stronger rattle of the Venetian blinds than the wind had made,
and saw, as again there came a flash of lightning, a dark, hooded
figure creep out swiftly past them on to the balcony--a figure
shrouded to the eyes, yet in the dark eyes of which, as the lightning
played on them, there seemed to be a look of awful fear.



CHAPTER XXIII.

WARNED.


Blue as the deepest gleam within the sapphire's depth were the
heavens; bright as molten gold were the sun's rays the next morning
when the storm was past--leaving, however, in its track some marks of
its passage. For the flowers in the gardens round the house were
beaten down now with the weight of water that had fallen on them;
beneath the oleanders and the flamboyants, the allamandas and
ixoras, the blossoms strewed the pampas grass in masses; while many
crabs--which wander up from the seacoast in search of succulent plants
whereon to feed--lay dead near the roots of the bushes and shrubs.

Yet a day's scorching sun, to be followed perhaps by an entire absence
of further rain for a month, would soon cause fresh masses of bloom to
take the place of those which were destroyed, especially as now they
had received the moisture so necessary to their existence. And Julian,
standing on his balcony and wondering who that strange nocturnal
visitor was who had fled on to this very balcony a few hours before,
thought that during his stay in this mysterious place he had never
seen its surroundings look so fair.

Whether it was that he had received considerable benefit from the
quinine which he had taken overnight, or whether it was from the total
change of clothing which he had now assumed in place of the garments
he had worn up to now, or perhaps from his not having lain through the
night upon the bed which, particularly of late, had seemed so
malodorous, he felt very much better this morning. His brain no longer
appeared numbed nor his mind hazy, nor had he any headache.

"Which," he said to himself, "is a mighty good thing. For now I want
all my wits about me. This affair has got to be brought to a
conclusion somehow, and Julian Ritherdon is the man to do it. Only,"
he said, with now a smile on his face--"only, no more of the simple
trusting individual you have been, my friend--if you ever have been
such! Instead of suspecting Master Sebastian of being in the wrong box
you have got to prove him so, and instead of suspecting him to be
a--well! say a gentleman who hasn't got much regard for you, you have
got to get to windward of him. Now go full speed ahead, my son."

Whereon, to commence the process of getting to windward of Sebastian
and also of carrying out the movement known in his profession as going
"full speed ahead," he informed the nigger who brought him his
shaving-water that he felt very poorly indeed, and would, with
Sebastian's permission, remain in his room that day.

"Because," he said to himself, "I think it would be as well if I kept
a kind of watch upon this tastefully furnished apartment. Like all the
rest of this house, it is becoming what the conjurers call 'a home of
mystery,' and is consequently getting more and more interesting. And
there are only the 'four clear days' left wherein the mystery can be
solved--if ever."

A few moments after he had made these reflections he heard a tap at
his bedroom door, and on bidding the person who was outside to come
in, Sebastian made his appearance, there being on his face a look of
regret at the information which he said the negro had just conveyed to
him.

"I say, old fellow, this is bad news. It won't do at all. Not at all.
What is the matter with you?" he exclaimed in his usual bluff, hearty
way.

"A touch of fever, I'm afraid," Julian replied. "Not much, I fancy,
but still worth being careful about. I'll keep my room to-day if you
don't mind."

"Mind!" Sebastian exclaimed. "Mind; why, my dear Julian, that's the
very best thing you can do, the very thing you ought to do. And I'll
send you something appetizing by Zara. Let me see. They have brought
in this morning some of that mountain mullet you liked so much; that
will do first-rate for breakfast with some Guava jelly. How will that
suit?"

"Nothing could be better. Those mountain mullet are superb. You are
very good."

"Oh! that's nothing. And, look here, I have brought you a little phial
of our physic-nut oil, which the natives say will cure anything, and
almost bring a dead man back to life. Take three or four drops of
that, my boy, in your coffee, and you'll feel a new man," whereon he
drew a little phial from his pocket and stood it on the table. Then,
after a few more sympathetic remarks he prepared to depart, saying he
would have the breakfast prepared and sent up by Zara at once.

"I was glad," Julian said casually, as Sebastian approached the door,
"to hear you wishing Madame Carmaux good-night, last night. I didn't
know she was well enough to get downstairs yet."

"Oh! yes," the other replied in a more or less careless tone, "she
came down to supper last night and sat up late with me. I was glad of
her company, you know. So you heard us, eh? Did you hear us singing,
too? We got quite inspirited over her return to health. If you'd only
been down, my boy, we would have had a rollicking time of it."

"Never mind," said Julian, "better luck next time. You wait till I do
come down and we'll have a regular chorus. When I give you some of my
wardroom songs, you'll be surprised."

"Right," said Sebastian, with a laugh; "the sooner the better,"
whereon he took himself off.

"I didn't hear the silvery tones of Madame Carmaux, all the same,"
Julian thought to himself after the other was gone, "neither do I
remember that I heard her return his 'good-night.' However,
Sebastian's own tones are somewhat stentorian when he lets himself go,
or as our Irish doctor used to say of the bo'sun's, 'enough to split a
pitcher,' so I suppose that isn't very strange."

He took down his jacket now, and indeed the whole of his white drill
suit which he had discarded for an exactly similar one that he had in
his large Gladstone bag, and began to roll it up preparatory to
packing it away. Though, as he did so, he again perceived the horrible
f[oe]tid odour which it had emitted overnight--the same odour that had
also been so perceptible when he had laid his head upon the pillow.
The revolting smell that had driven him from the bed to seek repose on
that sofa.

"Faugh!" he exclaimed, "it is loathsome. Even now, with the room full
of the fresh morning air, I feel as if I were getting giddy and
bemused again." Whereon, and while uttering some remarks that were by
no means complimentary to Honduras and some of its perfumes, he began
rolling the clothes up as quickly as he could. Yet while he did so,
being now engaged with the jacket, his eye was attracted by the lapel
of the collar, the white surface of which was discoloured--though only
in the faintest degree discoloured--a yellowish, grey colour. Each
lapel, down to where the topmost button was! Then, after a close
inspection of the jacket all over, he perceived that nowhere else was
it similarly stained.

His curiosity becoming excited by this, since in no way could he
account for such a thing (he distinctly remembered that there had been
no stain, however faint, on the lapel before), he regarded the
waistcoat next; and there, on the small lapel of that--both left and
right--were the same marks.

"Strange," he muttered, "strange. Very strange. One might say that the
washerwoman had spilt something on coat and waistcoat--purposely.
Something, too, that smells uncommonly nasty."

For, by inspection, or rather test with his nostrils, he was easily
able to perceive that no other part of his discarded clothing emitted
any such disagreeable odour. While, too, as he applied his nose again
and again to the faint stains, he also perceived that in his brain
there came once more the giddiness and haziness from which he had
suffered so much last night--as well as the feeling of stupid density
amounting almost to dreaminess or delirium.

"If that stuff was under my nose all day long yesterday, and perhaps
for a week or so before," he reflected, "I don't wonder that at last I
became almost wandering in my mind, as well as stupefied." Then, a
thought striking him, he went over to the pillow on the bed and
gazed down on it. And there, upon it, on either side, was the same
stain--faint, yellow, and emitting the same acrid, loathsome odour.

"So, so," he said to himself, "I begin to understand. I begin to
understand very well, and to comprehend Sebastian's chemical
experiments. The woman who washed my jacket and waistcoat in England
is not the same woman who washed that pillow-case in British Honduras.
Yet the same stain and the same odour are on both. All right! A good
deal may happen in the next four days."

Then, as he thus meditated, he opened the little phial of physic-nut
oil, which Sebastian had thoughtfully brought him and left behind with
injunctions that he should take three or four drops of it in his
coffee, and smelt it. After which he said, "Certainly, I won't fail to
do so. All right, Sebastian, it's full speed ahead now!"

A little later, Zara arrived bearing in her hands a large tray on
which were all the necessaries for a breakfast that would have
satisfied a hungry man, let alone an "invalid." There were, of course,
innumerable other servants about this vast house, but Zara always
seemed to perform the principal duties of waiting upon those who
constituted the superiors, and in many cases to issue orders to the
others, in much such a way as a butler in England issues orders to his
underlings.

Now, having deposited the tray upon the table, which she cleared for
the purpose, she uncovered the largest dish and submitted to Julian's
gaze a good-sized trout reposing in it and looking extremely
appetizing.

"But," said Julian, as he regarded the fish, "that isn't what
Sebastian promised me. He said he would send one of those delicious
mountain mullet we had the other night."

For a moment the half-caste girl's lustrous eyes dwelt almost
meditatively, as it seemed, on him; then she said, "There are none.
The men have not caught any for a long time."

"But Mr. Ritherdon said there were. That the men----"

"He was wrong," she interrupted, her eyes roaming all round the room,
while it seemed almost to Julian as though, particularly, they sought
the spot where the pillow was. "He was wrong. You eat that," looking
at the dish. "That will do you no--will do you good."

And it appeared to Julian, now thoroughly on the _qui vive_ as to
everything that went on around him as well as to every word that was
uttered, as though she emphasized the word "that."

"I'm glad to hear Madame Carmaux is so much better," he said,
conversationally, as she finished arranging the breakfast before him
and poured out his coffee. "They were pretty gay below last night."

"Below last night," she repeated, her eyes full on him. "Below last
night. Were they? Did you hear her below last night?"

"Didn't you?"

"I was not there," she answered; "I was nursing a sick woman in the
plantation."

"Oh! You didn't pass your evening on the balcony, then, as you have
sometimes done?"

"No," she said, and still her eyes gazed so intently into his that he
wondered what was going on in her mind.

"No." Then, suddenly, she asked, "When are you going away?"

"That is not polite, Zara. One never asks a guest----"

"Why," she interrupted, speaking almost savagely and showing her small
white teeth, as though with an access of sudden temper--"why do you
turn everything into a--a--_chanza_--a joke. Are you a fo--a madman?"

"Really, Zara!" Then, seeing that the girl was contending with some
inward turbulence of spirit which seemed almost likely to end in an
outbreak, Julian said quietly, seriously, "No, Zara, I am neither a
fool nor a madman. Look here, I believe you are a good, honest,
straightforward girl. Therefore, I will be plain with you. I have told
Mr. Ritherdon that I am going on Monday. In four days----"

"Go at once!" she interrupted again. "At once. Get news from Belize,
somehow, that calls you away. Leave Desolada. Begone!" she continued
in her quaint, stilted English, which she spoke well enough except
when obliged to use either a Spanish or Carib word. "Begone!" And as
she said this it seemed almost to Julian that, with those dark
gleaming eyes of hers, she was endeavouring to convey some
intelligence to him which she would not put into words.

"That," he said, referring to her last sentence, "is what I am
thinking about doing. Only, even then, I shall not have done with
Desolada and its inhabitants. There is more for me to do yet, Zara."



CHAPTER XXIV.

JULIAN'S EYES ARE OPENED.


Julian's slumbers of the past night having been more or less disturbed
by the various incidents of, first, his drowsy delirium, then of those
figures of the watcher and the watched, as well as by the storm and
the sight of the departing form of the latter individual, he decided
that, during the course of the present day, he would endeavour to
obtain some sleep. Especially he determined thus because, now, he knew
that there must be no more sleeping at night for him.

Whether he remained in Desolada for the next four nights as he had
consented to do, or whether he decided to follow Zara's suggestion and
find some excuse for departing at once, he understood plainly that to
sleep again when night was over all the house might be fraught with
deadly risk to him. What that risk was, what the tangible shape which
it would be likely later on to assume, he was not yet able to
conclude--but that it existed he had no doubt. Bright and _insouciant_
as he was, with also in his composition a total absence of fear, he
was still sufficiently cool, as well as sufficiently intelligent to
understand that here, in Desolada, he was not only regarded as an
inconvenient interloper, but one who must be got rid of somehow.

"Which proves, if it proves anything," he thought, "that Sebastian
knows all about why I am in this country; and also that, secure as his
position seems, there is some flaw in it which, if brought to light,
will destroy that position. I know it, too, now, am certain that
George Ritherdon's story is true--and, somehow, I am going to prove it
so. I have muddled the time away too long; now I am going to be a man
of action. When I get back to Belize that action begins. Mr. Spranger
said I ought to confide in a lawyer, and in a lawyer I will confide.
Henceforth, we'll thresh this thing out thoroughly."

Zara had come in again and removed the remnants of the breakfast, and
as he had told her that he meant to sleep as long as ever it was
possible, she had promised him that he should not be disturbed.
Wherefore, he now proceeded to darken the room in every way that he
could, without thoroughly excluding the air; namely, by letting down
the curtains of the windows as well as by closing the persianas.

"I suppose," he thought to himself, "there is no likelihood of my
visitor coming in, in the broad daylight, yet, all the same, I will
endeavour to make sure." Upon which he proceeded to put in practise an
old trick which in his gunroom days he had often played upon his
brother middies (and had had played upon himself); while remembering,
as he did so, the merry shouts which had run along the gangway of the
lower deck on dark nights over its successful accomplishment. He took
a piece of stout cord and tied it across from one side of the window
to the other at about a foot and a half from the floor.

"Now," he said, "If any one tries to come in here to-day--well! if
they don't break their legs they'll make such a din as will lead to
their falling into my hands."

It was almost midday when he laid himself down on the sofa to obtain
his much needed rest--midday, and with the sun streaming down
vertically and making the apartment, in spite of its being darkened,
more like the engine room of a steamer than anything else; yet, soon,
he was in a deep refreshing sleep in spite of this disadvantage. A
slumber so calm and refreshing that he slept on and on, until, at
last, the room grew cool; partly by aid of a gentle breeze which was
now blowing down from the summits of the Cockscomb Mountains and
partly by the coming of the swift tropical darkness.

Then he awoke, not knowing where he was nor being able to recall that
fact even for a moment or so after he was awake, nor to understand
why he lay there in the dark. Yet, as gradually he returned to his
every-day senses, he became aware that he did not alone owe his
awakening to the fact that he had exhausted his desire for slumber,
but also to a sound which fell upon his ears. The sound of a slight
tapping on his bedroom door.

Astonished at the darkness, which now enveloped the room, more than at
anything else--for the tapping he attributed to Zara having brought
him his evening meal--he went to the door and turned the key, he
having been careful to lock the former securely before going to sleep.

Then, to his surprise, when he had opened the door and peered into the
passage, which was also now enveloped in the shadow of night, he saw a
figure standing there which was not that of Zara, but, instead, of the
half-caste Paz.

"What is it?" he asked, staring at the man and wondering what he
wanted. "What! Is anything the matter?"

"Nothing very much," the half-caste answered, his eyes having a
strange glitter in them as they rested on Julian's face. "Only, think
you like to see funny sight. You like see Señor Sebastian look very
funny. You come with me. Quietly."

"What do you mean, Paz?" Julian asked, wondering if this was some ruse
whereby to beguile him into danger. "What is it?"

"I show you Massa Sebastian very funny. He very strange. Don't think
he find mountain mullet very good for him; don't think he like drink
very much with physic-nut oil in it," and he gave that little bleating
laugh which Julian had heard before and marvelled at.

Mountain mullet! Physic-nut oil! The very things that Sebastian had
suggested to Julian that morning, yet of which Julian had not
partaken. The mullet, although Zara had said the men had not caught
any for a long time. The phial which he had brought to the room, but
the oil of which he had not touched!

"There was no mountain mullet caught--" he began, but Paz interrupted
him with that bleating laugh once more, though subdued as befitted the
circumstances.

"Ho!" he said. "Nice mountain mullet in Desolada this morning. He
order it cook for you. Only--Zara good girl. She love Sebastian, so
she give it him and give you trout. Very good girl. But--it make him
funny. So, too, physic-nut oil. But that wrong name. Physic-nut oil
very much. Not good if mixed with drop of Amancay."

Amancay! Where had Julian heard that name before! Then, swift as
lightning, he remembered. He recalled a conversation he had had with
Mr. Spranger one evening over the various plants and herbs of the
colony, and also how he had listened to stories of the deadly powers
of many of them--of the Manzanillo, or Manchineel, of the Florispondio
and the Cojon del gato--above all, of the Amancay, a plant whose juice
caused first delirium; then, if taken continually, raving madness, and
then--death. A plant, too, whose juice could work its deadly
destruction not only by being taken inwardly, but by being inhaled.

"The Indians," Mr. Spranger had said, "content themselves with that.
If they can only get the opportunity of sprinkling it on the earth
where their enemy lies, or of smearing his tent canvas with it, or his
clothes, the trick is done. And that enemy's only chance is that he,
too, should know of its properties. Then he is safe. For the odour it
emits is such that none who have ever smelt it once can fail to
recognise its presence. But on those who are unacquainted with those
properties--well! God help them!"

He wondered as he recalled those words if he had turned white, so
white that, even in the dusk of the corridor, the man standing by his
side could perceive it; he wondered, too, if his features had assumed
a stern, set expression in keeping with the determination that now was
dominant in his mind. The determination to descend to where Sebastian
Ritherdon was, to stand face to face with him, to ask him whether it
was he who had sprinkled his jacket and his waistcoat, as well as the
pillow on which he nightly slept, with the accursed, infernal juice of
the deadly Amancay. Ask! Bah! what use to ask, only to receive a lie
in return! What need at all to ask? _He knew!_

"Come," he said to Paz, even as he went back into the room for his
revolver. "Come, take me to where this fellow is. Yet," he said
pausing, "you say I shall see a funny sight. What is it? Is he mad--or
dying?"

"He funny. He eat mountain mullet, he drink physic-nut oil in wine.
Zara love him dearly, he----"

"Come," Julian again said, speaking sternly. "Come."

Then they both went along the corridor and down the great staircase.

"Let us go out garden, to veranda," Paz whispered. "Then we look in
over veranda through open window. See funny things. Hear funny words."
Whereupon accompanied by Julian, he went out by a side door of the
long hall, and so came around into the garden in front of the great
saloon in which Sebastian always sat in the evening.

Sheltering themselves behind a vast bush of flamboyants which grew
close up to where the veranda ran, they were both able to see into the
room, when in truth the sight of Sebastian was enough to make the
beholders deem him mad.

His coat was off, flung across the back of the chair, but in his hand
he had a large white pocket handkerchief with which he incessantly
wiped his face, down which the perspiration was pouring. Yet, even as
he did so, it was plain to observe that he was seeking eagerly for
something which he could not find. A large campeachy-wood cabinet
stood up against the wall exactly facing the spot where the window
was, and the doors of this were now set open, showing all the drawers
dragged out of their places and the contents turned out pell-mell.
While the man, lurching unsteadily all the time and with a stumbling,
heavy motion in his feet which seemed familiar enough to Julian (since
only last night he had stumbled and lurched in the same way), was
seizing little bottles and phials and holding them up to the light,
and wrenching the corks out of them to sniff at the contents, and then
hurling them away from him with an action of despair and rage.

"He look for counter-poison," Paz said, using the Spanish expression,
which Julian understood well enough. "Maybe, he not find it. Then he
die," and the bleating laugh sounded now very much like a gloating
chuckle. "Then he die," he repeated.

"Is there, then, an antidote?" Julian asked.

"Yes. Yes," Paz whispered. "Yes, antidoty, if he find it. If he has
not taken too much."

"How can he have taken too much? Why take any?"

For answer Paz said nothing, but instead, looked at Julian. And, in
the light that now streamed out across the veranda to where they
stood, dimmed and shaded as it might be by the thick foliage and
flower of the flamboyant bush, the latter could see that the
half-caste's eyes glittered demoniacally and that his fingers were
twitching, and judged that it was only by great constraint that the
latter suppressed the laugh he indulged in so often.

Then, while no word was spoken between them, Julian felt the long slim
fingers of Paz touch his and push something into his hand, something
that he at once recognised to be the phial of physic-nut oil; or,
rather, the phial that had once contained the physic-nut oil, diluted
with the juice of the murderous Amancay.

"All love Sebastian here," the semi-savage hissed, his remaining white
teeth shining horribly in the flickering gleam through the flamboyant.
"Love him, oh! so dear."

"He find it. He find it," he muttered excitedly an instant afterwards.
"Look! Look! Look!"

And Julian did look; fascinated by Sebastian's manner.

For the other held now a small bottle in his hand which he had
unearthed from some drawer in the interior of the great cabinet, and
was holding it between his eyes and the globe of the lamp, gazing as
steadily as he could at the mixture which it doubtless contained. As
steadily as he could, because he still swayed about a good deal while
he stood there; perhaps because, too, his hands trembled. Then, with a
look of exultation on his features and in his bloodshot eyes, plainly
to be observed from where the two men stood outside, he tore the
stopper out with his teeth, smelt the contents, and instantly seizing
a tumbler emptied them into that, drenched it with water, and drank
the draught down.

Yet, a moment later, Sebastian performed another action equally
extraordinary--he seeming to remember--as they judged by the look of
dawning recollection on his face--something he had forgotten! He came,
still lurching, a little nearer to the open window, and then in a loud
voice--a voice that was evidently intended to be heard at some
distance--said:

"Well, good-night, Miriam. Good-night, I am so thankful to think that
you are better! Good night."

And as he uttered those words, Julian understood.

"I see his ruse, his trick," he muttered. "He thinks that I am still
upstairs, that he is deceiving me, making me believe she is down here.
But, though I am not up there, she is! And perhaps in my room again.
Quick, Paz! Come. Follow me!"



CHAPTER XXV.

A DÉNOUEMENT.


By the same way that they had descended they now mounted to the floor
above. Only, it was not Julian's intention to re-enter his room in the
same manner he had left it; namely, by the door opening out of the
corridor. To do that would be useless, unavailing. If the woman whom
he suspected was in that room now, the first sound of his footstep
outside, be it never so light, would serve to put her on the alert, to
cause her to flee out on to the balcony and away round the whole
length of it, and, thereby, with her knowledge of all the entrances
and exits of the house, to evade him.

That, he reflected, would not do. If she escaped him now, then the
determination he had arrived at, to this night bring matters to a
climax, would be thwarted. Some other way must be found.

"Take me on to the veranda," he whispered to Paz; "to where I shall be
outside the room I occupy. This time I will be the watcher gazing in,
not the person who is watched."

"I take you," Paz said. "I show you. Same way I get there last night."

"Last night! So! That was you outside, lying low down? It was you?"

But Paz only gave him now that look which he had given before, while
he seemed at the same time to be struggling with that bleating laugh
of his--the laugh which would surely have betrayed his presence.

"Come," he said, "I put you in big room of all. Old man Ritherdon call
it guest room. Sebastian born there."

"Was he?" Julian asked in a whisper, "was he? Was he born there?"

"He born there. Come."

So, doubtless, the half-caste believed--since who in all Honduras
disputed it! Who--except Julian himself, and, perhaps, the woman he
loved; perhaps, too, her father.

Yet, the information that he was now being led to the room in which he
felt sure that it was he who had been born and not the other, filled
him with a kind of mystic, weird feeling as they crept along side by
side towards it. For the first time since he had come to Desolada, he
was about to visit the spot in which he had been given birth--the spot
in which his mother had died; the spot wherein he had been stolen from
that dying mother's side by his uncle.

Thinking thus, as they approached the door, he wondered, too, if by
his presence in that room any inspiration would come to him as to how
this other man had been made to supersede him, to appear as himself in
the eyes of the little world in which he moved and lived. A man
received as being what he was not, without question and with his claim
undisputed.

"Go in," Paz whispered now, as he turned the handle. "Go in. From the
window you see all that pass--if anything pass. Or you easy get on
balcony. Your room there to right, hers there to left. If she go from
one to other--then--you surely see."

"You will not accompany me?" Julian asked, wondering for the moment if
there was treachery lurking in the man's determination to leave him at
so critical a time; wondering, too, if, after all, he was about to
warn the woman whom he, Julian, now sought to entrap in some nefarious
midnight proceeding, of her danger. Yet, he argued with himself, that
must be impossible. If he intended to do that, would he have divulged
how Zara had changed one dish of food for another, so that he who set
the trap had himself been caught in it; would he have given him so
real a sign as to what use the phial had been put to as by placing it,
empty, in his hands?

And, even though now Paz should meditate treachery--as, in truth, he
did not believe he meditated it--still he cared nothing. What he had
resolved to do he would do. What he had begun he would go on with.
Now--at once--this very night!

"No. No," Paz said, in answer to his question. "No. I come not with
you. I live not here but in plantation mile away. If I found
here--he--he--try kill me. But you he will not kill. You big, strong,
brave. And," the man continued in a whisper that was in truth a hiss,
"it is you who must kill. Kill! Kill! Remember the snake in bed, the
shot in wood, the mountain mullet, the Amancay. Now, I go. This is the
room."

Then almost imperceptibly he was gone, his form disappearing like a
black blur on the still darker, denser blackness of the corridor.

Without hesitation, Julian softly turned the handle and entered the
room that gave egress to the balcony which he wished to gain. And
although it was as dark as night itself, there was a something, a
feeling of space, quite perceptible to his highly-strung senses, which
told him that it was a vast chamber--a room suitable for the birth of
the son and heir of the great house and its belongings.

"Strange," he thought to himself, "that thus I should revisit the
place in which I first saw the light--that I, who in the darkness was
spirited away, should, in the darkness, return to it."

Yet, black, impenetrable as all around was, there was an inferior
density of darkness at the other end of the great room, away where the
window was; and towards that he directed his footsteps, knowing that
there, between the laths of the persianas which it possessed in common
with every other room in the house, would be his opportunity. There
was the coign of vantage through which he could keep watch and make
observations.

"For," he thought, "if I see her going from her room to mine I shall
know enough, as also I shall do if I see her returning from mine to
hers. While, if she does neither, then it will be easy enough to
discover whether she has been to that room or is in it still."

He was close by the window now, having felt his way carefully to it;
he proceeded slowly so as to stumble against no obstacle nor make any
noise; and then he knew that, should any form, however shrouded, pass
before this window he could not fail to observe it. It was not so dark
outside as to prevent that; also the gleam of the stars was
considerable. And as Paz had done outside on the balcony last night,
so he did now inside the room. He lowered himself noiselessly to the
floor, kneeling on the soft carpet which this, the principal
bedchamber possessed, while through a slat a foot from the ground,
which he turned gently with his finger, he gazed out.

At first nothing occurred. All was as still, as silent as death; save
for sometimes the bark of a distant dog, the chatter of an aroused
bird in the palms near by, and the occasional midnight howl of a
baboon farther away.

Wonderfully still it was; so undisturbed, indeed, except for those
sounds, that almost a breath of air might have been heard.

Then, after half an hour, he heard a noise. The noise being a gentle
one, but still perceptible, of the rattle of the persianas belonging
to some window a little distance off. And to the left of him. Surely
to the left of him!

"She is coming," he thought, holding his breath. "Coming. On her way
to my room. To do what? What?"

But now the silence was again intense. Upon the boards of the veranda
he could hear no footfall--Nothing. Not even the creak of one of the
planks. Nothing! What had she done? What was she doing? Almost he
thought that he could guess. Could divine how she--this woman of
mystery, this midnight visitor who had crouched near his bed some
twenty-four hours ago, who had stolen forth from his room into the
storm as a thwarted murderess might have stolen--having now reached
the veranda, was pausing to make sure that all was safe; to make sure
that there was nothing to thwart her; to disturb her in the doing of
that--whatever it might be--which she meditated.

Then there did fall a sound upon his ears, yet one which he only heard
because it was close to him; because also all was so still. The sound
of an indrawn breath, gentle as the sigh given in its sleep by a
little child, yet issuing from a breast that had long been a stranger
to the innocence of childhood. An indrawn breath, that was in
truth--that must be--the effect of a supreme nervousness, of fear.

"Who is she?" he wondered to himself, while still--his own breath
held--he watched and listened. "What is she to him? She is twice his
age. Surely this is not the love of the hot, passionate Southern
woman! What can she be to him that thus she jeopardizes her life? In
my place many men would shoot her dead who caught her as--as--I--shall
catch her--ere long."

For he knew now (as he could not doubt!) that no step was to be
omitted which should remove him from Desolada, from existence.

"Sebastian and she both know that he fills my place. Well--to-night we
come to an understanding. To-night I tell them that I know it too."

While he thus meditated, from far down at the front of the house there
once more arose the trolling of a song in Sebastian's deep bass tones.
A noisy song; a drinking, carousing song; one that should have had for
its accompaniment the banging of drums and the braying of trombones.

"Bah!" muttered Julian to himself, "you are too late, vagabond! Shout
and bellow as much as you choose--hoping thereby to drown all other
sounds, such as those of stealthy feet and rattling window blinds, or
to throw dust in my eyes. Shout as much as you like. She is here on
her evil errand--a moment later she will be in my hands."

In truth it seemed to be so. Past where his eyes were, there went now,
as that boisterous song uprose, a black substance which obscured the
great gleaming stars from them--the lower part of a woman's gown. Amid
the turmoil that proceeded from below, she was creeping on towards her
goal.

Julian could scarcely restrain himself now--now that she had passed
onward: almost was he constrained to thrust aside the blinds of this
great window and spring out upon the woman. But he knew it was not yet
the time, though it was at hand. She must be outside the window of his
own room by now. The time was near.

Therefore, taking care that neither should his knees crack nor any
other sound whatever be made by him, he rose to his feet. Then, he put
his hand to the side of the laths to be ready to thrust them aside and
follow her. But, perhaps, because that hand was not as steady as it
should have been, those laths rattled the slightest. Had she heard?
No! He knew that could not be, since now he heard the rattling of
others--of those belonging to his own room. Those would drown the
lesser noise that he had made--those----

He paused in his reflections, amazed. Down where his room was to the
right he heard a sound greater than any which could be caused by the
gentle pushing aside of a Venetian blind--he heard a smothered cry,
and also something that resembled a person stumbling forward, falling!

Then in a moment he recollected. He knew what had happened. He had
forgotten to remove the cord he had stretched across the window at
midday ere he slept. He had left it there, and she had fallen forward
over it.

In a moment he was, himself, on the veranda and outside the window of
his own darkened room. In another he was in that room, had struck a
match, and saw her--shrouded, hooded to the eyes--over by the door
opening on to the corridor and endeavouring to unfasten it. He
noticed, too, that one arm, above the wrist, was bandaged. But she was
too late. He had caught her now.

"So," he said, "I know who my visitor is at last, Madame Carmaux. And
I think I know your object here. Have you not dropped another phial in
your fall and broken it? The room is full of the hateful odour of the
Amancay poison."

She made him no answer, so that he felt sure she was determined not to
let him hear her voice, but he felt that she was trembling all over,
even as she writhed in his grasp, endeavouring to avoid it. Then,
knowing that words were unnecessary, he opened the door into the
corridor and bade her go forth.

"You know this house well and can find your way easily in the dark.
Meanwhile, I am now going to descend to have an explanation with the
master of Desolada."



CHAPTER XXVI.

"YOU HAVE KILLED HIM!"


Before however, Julian descended to confront Sebastian he thought it
was necessary to do two things; first, to light the lamp to see how
much of that accursed Amancay had been spilt by the broken phial, and
next--which was the more important--to recharge and look to his
revolver. For he thought it very likely that after he had said all he
intended to say to Sebastian, he might find the weapon useful.

When he had obtained a light by the aid of the matches which he was
never without, he saw that his surmises were fully justified. Upon the
floor there lay, glistening, innumerable pieces of broken glass and
the half of a broken phial, while all around the _débris_ was a small
pool of liquid shining on the polished wooden floor. And from it there
arose an odour so pungent and so f[oe]tid, that he began almost at
once to feel coming over him the hazy, drowsy stupefaction that he had
been conscious of last night. So seizing his water-jug he
unceremoniously sluiced the floor with its contents, washing away and
subduing the noisome exhalation; when taking his revolver from his
pocket and seeing carefully to its being charged, he dropped it into
his pocket again. He took with him, too, the remnants of the broken
phial.

"I shall only return here to pack my few things," he thought to
himself, "but, all the same it is as well to have destroyed that
stuff. Otherwise the room would have been poisoned with it."

And now--taking no light with him, for his experience of the last two
hours had taught him, even had he not known it before, the way down to
the garden--he descended, going out by the way that Paz had led him
and so around to the lower veranda. A moment later he reached it, and
mounting the steps, entered the saloon in which he expected to find
Sebastian.

The man was there, he saw at once even before he stood close by the
open window. He was there, sitting at the great table where the meals
were partaken of; but looking dark and brooding now. Upon his face, as
Julian could easily perceive, there was a scowl, and in his eyes an
ominous look that might have warned a less bold man than the young
sailor that he was in a dangerous mood.

"Has she been with him already," Julian wondered, "and informed him
that their precious schemes are at an end, are discovered?"

"Ha!" exclaimed Sebastian, looking fixedly at him, as now Julian
advanced into the room, "so you are well enough to come downstairs
to-night. Yet--it is a little late. You have scarcely come to sing me
those wardroom songs you spoke of, I suppose!"

"No," Julian said, "it is not to sing songs that I am here. But to
talk about serious matters. Sebastian Ritherdon--if you are Sebastian
Ritherdon, which I think doubtful--you have got to give me an
explanation to-night, not only of who you really are, but also of the
reason why, during the time I have been in this locality, you have
four times attempted my life, or caused it to be attempted."

"Are you mad?" the other exclaimed, staring at him with still that
ominous look upon his face. "You must be to talk to me like this."

"No," Julian replied. "Instead, perfectly sane. I was, perhaps, more
or less demented last night when under the influence of the fumes of
the Amancay plant which had been sprinkled on my pillow, as well as on
my jacket and waistcoat; and you also were more or less demented
to-night when you had by an accident taken some of the poison into
your system, owing to you making a meal of the doctored mountain
mullet you had prepared for me--your guest. But--now--we are both
recovered and--an explanation is needed."

"My God!" exclaimed Sebastian, "you must be mad!"

Yet, in his own heart, he knew well enough that never was the calm,
determined-looking man before him--the man who, hitherto, had been so
bright and careless, but who now stood stern as Nemesis at the other
end of the table--further removed from madness than he was this night.
He knew and felt that it was not with a lunatic but an avenger that he
had to deal.

"I am not mad," Julian replied calmly. "Meanwhile, take your right
hand out of that drawer by your side, and keep it out. Pistol shots
will disturb the whole house, and, if you do not do as I bid you I
shall have to fire first," and he tapped his breast significantly as
he spoke, so that the other could be in no doubt of his meaning.

"Now," he continued, when Sebastian had obeyed him, he laughing with a
badly assumed air of contempt as he did so, all the same, laying his
large brown hand upon the table--"now," said Julian, "I will tell you
all that I believe to be the case in connection with you and with me,
all that I know to have been the case in connection with your various
attempts to injure me, and, also, all that I intend to do, to-morrow,
when I reach Belize and have taken the most eminent lawyer in the
place into my confidence."

As he mentioned the word "lawyer," Sebastian started visibly; then,
once more, he assumed the contemptuous expression he had previously
endeavoured to exhibit, but beyond saying roughly again that Julian
was a madman, he made no further remark for the moment, and sat
staring, or rather glaring, at the other man before him. Yet, had
that other man been able to thoroughly comprehend, or follow, that
glance--which, owing to the lamp being between them, he was not
entirely able to do--he would have seen that, instead of resting on
his face, it was directed to beyond where he stood. That it went past
him to away down to the farther end of the room; to where the open
window was.

"Charles Ritherdon," said Julian now, "had a son born in this house
twenty-six years ago, and that son was stolen within two or three days
of his birth by his uncle, George Ritherdon. You are not that son, and
you know it. Yet you know who is. You know that I am."

"You lie," Sebastian said with an oath; "you are an impostor. And even
if what you say is true--who am I? I," he said, his voice rising now,
either with anger or excitement, "who have lived here all my life, who
have been known from a child by dozens of people still alive? Who am
I, I say?"

"That at present I do not know. Perhaps the lawyer to whom I confide
my case will be able to discover."

"Lawyer! Bah! A curse for your lawyers. What can you tell him, what
proof produce?"

And still, as he spoke, he kept his eyes fixed, as Julian thought,
upon him, but in absolute fact upon that portion of the room which was
in shadow behind where the latter stood.

Upon, too--although Julian knew it not, and did not, indeed, for one
moment suspect such to be the case--a white face, that, peeping round
the less white curtains which hung by the window, never moved the dark
eyes that shone out of it from off the back of the man who confronted
Sebastian. Fixed upon, too, the form to which that face belonged,
which, even as Sebastian had raised his voice, had drawn itself a few
feet nearer to the other; finding shelter now behind the curtains of
the next or nearest window.

"I can at least produce the proofs," Julian replied, his eyes still
regarding the other, and knowing nothing of that creeping listener
behind, "that my presence in Honduras--at Desolada as your invited
guest--caused you so much consternation, so much dismay, that you
hesitated at nothing which might remove me from your path. What will
the law believe, what will these people who have known you from your
infancy--as you say--think, when they learn that three times at least,
if not more, you have attempting my life?"

"Again I say it is a lie!" Sebastian muttered hoarsely.

"And I can prove that it is the truth. I can prove that this woman,
this accomplice of yours--this woman whom my father--not _your_
father, but _my_ father--jilted, threw away, so that he might marry
Isobel Leigh, my mother--fired at me with a rifle known to be hers and
used by her on small game. I can prove that she poisoned the meal that
was to be partaken of by me; that even so late as to-night she
drenched the floor of my room--as she meant again to drench the pillow
on which I slept--with the deadly juice of the Amancay--with this,"
and he held before Sebastian the broken phial he had found above.

"You can prove nothing," Sebastian muttered hoarsely, raucously.
"Nothing."

"Can I not? I have two witnesses."

"Two witnesses!" the other whispered, and now indeed he looked
dismayed. "Two witnesses. Yet--what of that, of them! Even though they
could prove this--which they can not--what else can they prove? Even
though I am not Charles Ritherdon's son and you are--even though such
were the case--which it is not--how prove it?"

"That remains to be seen. But, though it should never be proved; even
though you and that murderous accomplice of yours, that discarded
sweetheart of my father's, that woman who I believe, as I believe
there is a God in Heaven, was the prime mover in this plot----"

"Silence!" cried Sebastian, springing to his feet now, yet still with
that look in his eyes which Julian did not follow; that look towards
where the white corpse-faced creature was by this time--namely, five
feet nearer still to Julian--"silence, I say. That woman is not, shall
not, be defamed by you. Neither here or elsewhere. She--she--is--ah!
God, she has been my guardian angel--has repaid evil for good. My
father threw her off--discarded her--and she came here, forgiving him
at the last in his great sorrow. She helped to rear me--his
son--to----"

"Now," said Julian, still calmly, "it is you who lie, and the lie is
the worse because you know it. Some trick was played on him whom you
still dare to call your father, on him who was mine--never will I
believe he was a party to it!--and before Heaven I do believe that it
was she who played it. She never forgave him for his desertion of her;
she, this would be murderess--this poisoner--and--and--ah!"

What had happened to him? What had occurred? As he uttered the last
words, accusing that woman of being a murderess in intention, if not
in fact--a poisoner--he felt a terrible concussion at the nape of his
neck, a blow that sent him reeling forward towards the other side of
that table against which Sebastian had sat, and at which he now stood
confronting him. And, dazed, numbed as this blow had caused him to
become, so that now the features of the man before him--those features
that were so like his own!--were confused and blurred, though with
still a furious, almost demoniacal expression in them, he scarcely
understood as he gave that cry that in his nostrils was once more the
sickening overpowering odour of the Amancay--that it was suffocating,
stifling him.

Then with another cry, which was not an exclamation this time, but
instead, a moan, he fell forward, clutching with his hands at the
tablecloth, and almost dragging the lamp from off the table. Fell
forward thus, then sank to his knees, and next rolled senseless,
oblivious to everything, upon the floor.

"You have killed him!" muttered Sebastian hoarsely, and with upon his
face now a look of terror. "You have killed him! My God! if any others
should be outside, should have seen"--while, forgetting that what he
was about to do would be too late if those others might be outside of
whom he had spoken, he rushed to both the windows and hastily closed
the great shutters, which, except in the most violent tempests that at
scarce intervals break over British Honduras, were rarely used.

And she, that woman standing there above her victim with her face
still white as is the corpse's in its shroud, her lips flecked with
specks of foam, her hands quivering, muttered in tones as hoarse as
Sebastian's:

"Killed him. Ay! I hope so. Curse him, there has been enough of his
prying, his seeking to discover the truth of our secret. And--and--if
it were not so--then, still, I would have done it. You heard--you
heard--how he sneered, gloated over my despair, my abandonment by
Charles Ritherdon, so that he might marry that child--that
chit--Isobel Leigh. The woman who cursed, who broke my life. Killed
him, Sebastian! Killed him! Yes! That at least is what I meant to do.
Because, Heaven help me! you were not man enough to do it yourself."



CHAPTER XXVII.

"I WILL SAVE YOU."


Beatrix Spranger sat alone in her garden at "Floresta," and was the
prey to disquieting, nay, to horrible, emotions and doubts. For, by
this time, not only had forty-eight hours passed since she had heard
from Julian--forty-eight hours, which were to mark the limit of the
period when, as had been arranged, she was to consider that all was
still well with the latter at Desolada! but also another twelve hours
had gone by without any letter coming from him. And then--then--while
the girl had become almost maddened, almost distraught with nervous
agitation and forebodings as to some terrible calamity having occurred
to the man she had learned to love--still another twelve hours had
gone by, it being now three days since any news had reached her.

"What shall I do?" she whispered to herself as, beneath the shade of
the great palms, she sat musing; "what! what! Oh! if father would only
counsel me; yet, instead, he reiterates his opinion that nothing can
be intended against him--that he must have gone on some sporting
expedition inland, or is on his way here. If I could only believe
that! If I could think so! But I know it is not the case. It cannot
be. He vowed that nothing should prevent him from writing every other
day so long as he was alive or well enough to crawl to the gate and
intercept the mail driver; and he would keep his word. What, what,"
she almost wailed, "can have happened to him? Can they have murdered
him?"

Even as the horrid word "murder" rose to her thoughts--a word horrid,
horrible, when uttered in the most civilized and well-protected spots
on earth, but one seeming still more terrible and ominous when thought
of in lawless places--there came an interruption to her direful
forebodings. The parrots roosting in the branches during the burning
midday heat plumed themselves, and opened their startled, staring eyes
and clucked faintly, while Beatrix's pet monkey--still, as ever,
presenting an appearance of misery and dark despair and woe--opened
its own eyes and gazed mournfully across the parched lawn.

For these creatures had seen or heard that which the girl sitting
there had not perceived, and had become aware that the noontide
stillness was being broken by the advent of another person. Yet when
Beatrix, aroused, cast her own eyes across the yellow grass, she
observed that the newcomer was no more important person than a great
negro, who carried in one hand a long whip such as the teamsters of
the locality use, and in the other a letter held between his black
finger and thumb.

"He has written!" she exclaimed to herself, "and has sent it by this
man. He is safe. Oh! thank God!" while, even as she spoke, she
advanced towards the black with outstretched hand.

Yet she was doomed to disappointment when, after many bows and smirks
and a removal of his Panama hat, so that he stood bareheaded in the
broiling sun (which is, however, not a condition of things harmful to
negroes, even in such tropical lands), the man had given her the
letter, and she saw that the superscription was not in the handwriting
of Julian, but in that of his supposed cousin, Sebastian.

"What does it mean?" she murmured half aloud and half to herself,
while, as she did so, the hand holding the letter fell by her side.
"What does it mean?" Then, speaking more loudly and clearly to the
negro, "have you brought this straight from Desolada?"--the very
mention of that place giving her a weird and creepy sensation.

"Bring him with the gentleman's luggage, missy," the man replied, with
the never-failing grin of his race. "Gentleman finish visit there,
then come on here pay little visit. Steamer go back New Orleans
to-morrow, missy, and gentleman go in it to get to England. Read
letter, missy, perhaps that tell you all."

The advice was as good as the greatest wiseacre could have given
Beatrix, in spite of its proceeding from no more astute Solomon than
this poor black servant, yet the girl did not at first profit by it.
For, indeed, she was too stunned, almost it might be said, too
paralyzed, to do that which, besides the negro's suggestion, her own
common sense would naturally prompt her to do. Instead, she stood
staring at the messenger, her hand still hanging idly by her side, her
face as white as the healthy tan upon it would permit it to become.

And though she did not utter her thoughts aloud, inwardly she repeated
again and again to herself, "His luggage! His luggage! And he is going
back to England to-morrow. Without one word to me in all these hours
that have passed, and after--after--oh! Without one word to me! How
can he treat me so!"

She had turned her face away from the negro as she thought thus, not
wishing that even this poor creature should be witness of the distress
she knew must be visible upon it, but now she turned towards him,
saying:

"Go to the house and tell the servants to give you some refreshment,
and wait till I come to you. I shall know what to do when I have read
this letter."

Then she went back to her basket-chair and, sitting in the shade, tore
open Sebastian's note. Yet, even as she did so, she murmured to
herself, "It cannot be. It cannot be. He would not go and leave me
like this. Like this! After that day we spent together." But
resolutely, now, she forced herself to the perusal of the missive.


Dear Miss Spranger (it ran): Doubtless, you have heard from Cousin
Julian (who, I understand, writes frequently to you) that he has been
called back suddenly to England to join his ship, and leaves Belize
to-morrow, by the Carib Queen for New Orleans.

But, as you also know, he is an ardent sportsman, and said he must
have one or two days' excitement with the jaguars, so he left us
yesterday morning early, in company with a rather villainous servant
of mine, named Paz, and, as I promised him I would do, I now send on
his luggage to your father's house, where doubtless he will make his
appearance in the course of the day.

I wish, however, he could have been induced to stay a little longer
with us, and I also wish he had not taken Paz, who is a bad character,
and, I believe, does not like him. However, Ju is a big, powerful
fellow, and can, of course, take care of himself.

With kind regards to Mr. Spranger and yourself,

I am, always yours sincerely,

   Sebastian Ritherdon.


Beatrix let the note fall into her lap and lie there for a moment,
while in her clear eyes there was a look of intense thought as they
stared fixedly at the thirsty, drooping flamboyants and almandas
around her: then suddenly she started to her feet, standing erect and
determinate, the letter crushed in her hand.

"It is a lie," she said to herself, "a lie from beginning to end.
Written to hoodwink me--to throw dust in my eyes--to--to--keep me
quiet. 'Paz does not like him,' she went on, 'Paz does not like him.'
No, Sebastian, it is you whom he does not like, and to use Jul--Mr.
Ritherdon's own quaint expression--you have 'given yourself away.'
Well! so be it. Only if you--you treacherous snake! have not killed
him with the help of that other snake, that woman, your accomplice, we
will outwit you yet." And she went forward swiftly beneath the shade
of the trees to the house.

"Where is that man?" she asked of another servant, one of her own and
as ebony as he who had brought the luggage and the letter; "send him
to me at once." Then, when the messenger from Desolada stood before
her, she said:

"Tell Mr. Ritherdon you have delivered his letter, and that I have
read and understand it. You remember those words?"

The negro grinned and bowed and, perhaps to show his marvellous
intelligence and memory, repeated the words twice, whereon Beatrix
continued:

"That is well. Be sure not to forget the message. Now, have you
brought in the luggage?"

For answer the other glanced down the long, darkened, and consequently
more or less cool hall, and she, following that glance, saw standing
at the end of it a cabin trunk with, upon it, a Gladstone bag as well
as a rifle. Then, after asking the man if he had been provided with
food and drink, she bade him begone.

Yet, recognising that if, as she feared, if indeed, as she felt sure
beyond the shadow of a doubt, Julian Ritherdon was in some mortal
peril (that he was dead she did not dare to, would not allow herself
to, think nor believe) no time must be wasted, she gave orders that
the buggy should be got ready at once to take her into the city to her
father's offices.

"He," she thought, "is the only person who can counsel me as to what
is best, to do. And surely, surely, he will not attempt to prevent me
from sending, nay, from taking assistance, to Julian. And if he does,
then--then--I must tell him that I love----" But, appalled even at the
thought of having to make use of such a revelation, she would not
conclude the sentence, though there were none to hear it. Instead, she
walked back into the garden, and, seating herself, resolved that she
would think of nothing that might unnerve her or cause her undue
agitation before she saw her father; and so sat waiting calmly until
they should come to tell her that the carriage was ready.

But she did not know, as of course it was impossible that she should
know, that drawing near to her was another woman who would bring her
such information of what had recently taken place at Desolada as would
put all surmises and speculations as to why Sebastian Ritherdon's
letter had been written--the lying letter, as she had accurately
described it--into the shade. A woman who would tell her that if
murder had not yet been done in the remote and melancholy house, it
was intended to be done, was brewing; would be done ere long, if
Julian Ritherdon did not succumb to the injuries inflicted on him by
Madame Carmaux. One who would give her such information that she would
be justified in calling upon the authorities of Belize to instantly
take steps to proceed to Desolada, and (then and there) to render
Sebastian and his accomplice incapable of further crimes.

A woman--Zara--who almost from daybreak had set out from the lonely
hacienda with the determination of reaching Belize somehow and of
warning Beatrix, the Englishman's friend, of the danger that
threatened that Englishman; above all, and this the principal reason,
with the determination of saving Sebastian from the commission of a
crime which, once accomplished, could never be undone. Yet, also, in
her scheming, half-Indian brain, there had arisen other thoughts,
other hopes.

"She loves him; this cold, pale-faced English girl loves Sebastian,"
she thought, still cherishing that delusion as she made her way
sometimes along the dusty road, sometimes through copses and groves
and thickets, all the paths of which she knew. "She loves him. But,"
and as this reflection rose in her mind her scarlet lips parted with a
bitter smile, and her little pearl-like teeth glistened, "when she
knows, when I show her how cruel, how wicked he has intended to be to
that other man, so like him yet so different, then--then--ah! then,
she will hate him." And again she smiled, even as she pursued her way.

"She will hate him--these English can hate, though they know not
what real love means--and then when he finds he has lost her, he
will--perhaps--love me. Ah!" And at the thought of the love she longed
so for, her eyes gleamed more softly, more starlike, in the dim dawn
of the forest glade.

"I shall save him--I shall save him from a crime--then--he--will--love
me." And still the look upon her face was ecstatic. "Will marry me. My
blood is Indian, not negro--'tis that alone with which these English
will not mix theirs; the negro women alone with whom they will never
wed. Ah! Sebastian," she murmured, "I must save you from a crime
and--from her."

And so she went on and on, seeing the daffodil light of the coming day
spreading itself all around; feeling the rays of the swift-rising sun
striking through the forests, and parching everything with their
fierceness, but heeding nothing of her surroundings. For she thought
only of making the "cold, pale-faced English girl" despise the man
whom she hungered for herself, and of one other thing--the means
whereby to prevent him from doing that which might deprive him of his
liberty--of his life and--also, deprive her of him.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

"I LIVE TO KILL HIM."


Still she went on, unhalting and resolute, feeling neither fatigue nor
heat, or, if she felt them, ignoring them. She was resolved to reach
Belize, or to fall dead upon the road or in the forests while
attempting to do so.

And thus she came at last to All Pines, seeing the white inn gleaming
in the first rays of the sun, it being now past six o'clock; while
although her thirst was great, she determined that she would not go
near it. She was known too well there as the girl, Zara, from
Desolada, and also as she who acted as croupier for all the dissipated
young planters who assembled at the inn to gamble, she doing so
especially for Sebastian when he held the bank. She would be
recognized at once and her presence commented on.

Yet she must pass near it, go through the village street to get
forward on her way to Belize; she could only pray in her half-savage
way that there might be none about who would see her, while, even as
she did so, she knew that her chances of escaping observation were of
the smallest. In such broiling lands as those of which Honduras formed
one, the earliest and the latest hours of the day are the hours which
are the most utilized because of their comparative coolness and
consequently few are asleep after sunrise.

Yet, she told herself, perhaps after all it was not of extreme
importance whether she was recognised or not. By to-night, if all went
well, and if the pale-faced English girl and her father had any spirit
in them, they would have taken some steps to prevent that which was
meditated at Desolada on this very night. And, if they had not that
spirit, then she herself would utter some warning, would herself see
the "old judge man," and tell him her story. Perhaps he would listen
to it and believe her even though she was but half-breed trash, as
those of her race were termed contemptuously as often as not.

But, now, as she drew nearer to the village street, and to where the
inn stood, she started in dismay at what she saw outside the door. An
animal that she recognised distinctly, not only by itself but by the
saddle on its back and the long Mexican stirrups, and also by its
colour and flowing mane.

She recognised the favourite horse of Sebastian, the one he always
rode, standing at the inn door.

At first a sickening suspicion came to her mind; a fear which she gave
utterance to in the muttered words:

"He has followed me. He knows that I have set out for Belize." Then
she dismissed the suspicion as impossible. For she remembered that
Sebastian had been absent from Desolada all the previous day, and had
not returned by the time when the others had gone to rest; she thought
now (and felt sure that she had guessed aright) that he had slept at
the inn all night, and was about to return to Desolada in the cool of
the morning.

Determined, however, to learn what the master of that horse--and of
her--was about to do, and above all, which direction he went off in
when he came outside, she crept on and on down the street until at
last she was nearly in front of the inn door. Then, lithe and agile as
a cat, she stole behind a great barn which stood facing the _plaza_,
and so was enabled to watch the opposite house without any possibility
of being herself seen from it.

That something of an exciting nature had been taking place within the
house (even as Zara had sought the shelter behind which she was now
ensconced) she had been made aware by the loud voices and cries she
heard--voices, too, that were familiar to her, as she thought. And
about one of those voices she had no doubt--could have no doubt--since
it was that of the man she loved, Sebastian.

Then, presently, even as she watched the inn through a crack in the
old and sun-baked barn-door, the turmoil increased; she heard a
scuffling in the passage, more cries and shouts, Sebastian's
objurgations rising above all, and, a moment later, the girl saw the
latter dragging Paz out into the open space in front of the inn. And
he was shaking him as a mastiff might shake a rat that had had the
misfortune to find itself in his jaws.

"You hound!" he cried, even as he did so; "you will lurk about
Desolada, will you, at light; prying and peering everywhere, as though
there were something to find out. And because you are reproved, you
endeavour to run away to Belize. What for, you treacherous dog? What
for? Answer me, I say," and again he shook the half-caste with one
hand, while with the other he rained down blows upon his almost grey
head.

But, since the man was extremely lithe, in spite of his age, many of
the blows missed their mark; while taking advantage of the twists and
turns which he, eel-like, was making in his master's hands, he managed
during one of them to wrench himself free from Sebastian. And then,
then--Zara had to force her hands over her mouth to prevent herself
from screaming out in terror. And she had to exercise supreme
control over herself also so that she should not rush forth from her
hiding-place and spring at Paz. For, freed from his tyrant's clutches,
he had darted back from him, and a second later, with a swift movement
of his hand to his back, had drawn forth a long knife that glistened
in the morning sun.

What he said, what his wild words were, cannot be written down, since
most of them were uttered in the Maya dialect; yet amid them were some
that were well understood by Zara and Sebastian; perhaps also by the
landlord of the inn and the two or three half-caste servants huddled
near him, all of them giving signs of the most intense excitement and
fear. And Zara, hearing those words, threw up her hands and covered
her face, while Sebastian, his own face white as that of a corpse's in
its shroud, staggered back trembling and shuddering.

"You know," the latter whispered, "you know that! You know?" And his
hand stole into his open shirt. Yet he drew nothing forth; he did not
produce that which Zara dreaded each instant to see. In truth the man
was paralyzed, partly by Paz's words--yet, doubtless, even more so by
the look upon his face--and by his actions.

For now Paz was creeping toward the other, even as the panther creeps
through the jungle toward the victim it is about to spring upon; the
knife clutched in his hand, upon his face a gleam of hate so hideous,
a look in his topaz eyes so horrible, that Sebastian stood rooted to
the ground. While from his white and foam-flecked lips, the man
hissed:

"Shoot. Shoot, curse you! but shoot straight. Into either my heart or
head--for if you miss me!--if you miss me--" and he sprang full on the
other, the knife raised aloft. Sprang at him as the wild cat springs
at the hunter who has tracked it to the tree it has taken refuge in,
and when it recognises that for it there is no further shelter--his
face a very hell of savage rage and spite; his scintillating,
sparkling eyes the eyes of an infuriated devil.

And Sebastian, cowed--struck dumb with apprehension of such a foe--a
thing half-human and half a savage beast--forgot to draw his revolver
from his breast and seemed mad with dismay and terror. Yet he must do
something, he knew, or that long glittering blade would be through and
through him, with probably his throat cut from ear to ear the moment
he was down. He must do something to defend, to save himself.

Recognising this even in his mortal terror, he struck out
blindly--whirling, too, his arms around in a manner that would have
caused an English boxer to roar with derision, had he not also been
paralyzed with the horror of Paz's face and actions. He struck out
blindly, therefore, not knowing what he was doing, and dreading every
instant that he would feel the hot bite of the steel in his flesh,
and--so--saved himself.

For in one of those wild, uncalculated blows, his right fist alighted
on Paz's jaw, and, because of his strength, which received accession
from his maddened fury and fear, felled the half-caste to the earth,
where he lay stunned and moaning; the deadly knife beneath him in the
dust.

For an instant Sebastian paused, his trembling and bleeding hand again
seeking his breast, and his fury prompting him to pistol the man as he
lay there before him. But he paused only for a moment, while as he did
so, he reflected that if he slew the man who was at his mercy now it
would be murder--and that murder done before witnesses--then turned
away to where his horse stood, and, flinging himself into the saddle,
rode off swiftly to Desolada.

As he disappeared, Zara came forth from behind the door where she had
been lurking, an observer of all that had taken place, and forgetting,
or perhaps heedless, of whether she was now seen or not, ran toward
Paz and lifted his head up in her arms.

"Paz, Paz," she whispered in their own jargon. "Paz, has he killed
you? Answer."

From beneath her the man looked up bewildered still, and half-stunned
by the blow; then, after a moment or so, he muttered, "No, no! I
live--to--to kill him yet." And Zara hearing those words shuddered,
for since they were both of the same half wild and savage blood, she
knew that unless she could persuade him to forego his revenge, he
would do just as he had said, even though he waited twenty years for
its accomplishment.

"No," she said, "no. You must not. Not yet, at least, Paz, promise me
you will not. I--I--you know--I love him. For my sake--mine, Paz,
promise."

"I do worse," said Paz, "I ruin him--drive him away. Zara, I know his
secret--now."

"What secret?"

"Who he is. Ah!--" for Zara had clapped her little brown hand over his
mouth, as though she feared he was going to shout out that secret
before the landlord of the inn and his servants, all of whom were
still hovering near. "Ah, I not tell it now. But to the other--the
cousin--I tell it. Because I--know it, Zara."

"So," she whispered, "do I. But not now. Do not tell it now. Paz, I go
to Belize to fetch succour. He will kill _him_ if it comes not soon."

"He will kill him to-night, perhaps. I, too, was going to Belize."

"Where is he now?" the girl asked; "where is the handsome cousin?
Where have they put him?"

"In the room at end of corridor, with the steps outside to garden.
Easy bring him down them."

"Will he die?"

"Not of wound," the man said, his eyes sparkling again, but
this time with intelligence, with suggestion. "Not of
wound--but--of--what--they--do--to-night."

"I must go," Zara cried, springing to her feet. "I must go. Every
minute is gold, and--it is many miles."

"Take the mule," Paz said. "It is there. There," and he glanced
towards the stables. "Take him. He go fast."

"I will take him," she replied, "but--but--promise me, Paz, that you
will do nothing until I return. Nothing--no harm to him. Else I will
not go."

"I will promise," the man said, rising now to his feet, and staggering
a little from his giddiness. "I will promise--you. Yet, I look after
him--I take care he do very little more harm now."

"Keep him but from evil till to-night--till to-morrow, let him not hurt
Mr. Ritherdon, then all will be well." And accompanied by Paz, she
went toward the stable where his mule was.

It took but little time for the girl to spring to its back, to ride it
out at a sharp trot from the open plaza, and, having again extorted a
promise from Paz, to be once more on her road toward Belize--she not
heeding now the fierceness of the rays of the sun, which was by this
time mounting high in the heavens.

And so at last she drew near to "Floresta," which she knew well enough
was Mr. Spranger's abode; near to where the other girl was causing
preparations to be made for reaching her father and telling him what
she had learned through the arrival of the negro--she never dreaming
of the further revelations that were so soon to be made to her.
Revelations by the side of which the lying letter and the lying action
of Sebastian in sending forward Julian's luggage would sink into
insignificance.

She sat on in her garden, waiting now for the groom to come and tell
her that the buggy was ready--sat on amid all the drowsy noontide
heat, and then, when once more the parrots rustled their feathers, and
the monkey opened its mournful eyes, she heard behind her a footstep
on the grass; a footstep coming not from the house but behind her,
from an entrance far down at the end of the tropical garden. And,
looking around, she saw close to her the girl Zara, her face almost
white now, and her clothes covered with dust.

"What is it?" Beatrix cried, springing to her feet. "What brings you
here? I know you, you are Zara; you come from Desolada."

"Yes," the other answered, "I come from Desolada. From Desolada, where
to-night murder will be done--if it is not prevented."



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE WATCHING FIGURE.


With a gasp, Beatrix took a step toward the other, while as she did so
the latter almost uttered a moan herself; though her agitation
proceeded from a different cause--from, in truth, her appreciation of
how wide a gulf there was between them. Between them who both loved
the same man! Between this dainty English girl, who looked so fresh
and fair, and was dressed in so spotless and cool a garb, and her who
was black and swarthy, her who was clad almost in rags, and covered
with the dust and grime of a long journey made partly on foot and
partly on the mule's back. What chance was there for her, what hope,
she asked herself, that Sebastian should ever love her instead of this
other?

"Murder will be done!" Beatrix exclaimed, repeating Zara's words, even
while a faintness stole over her that she thought must be like the
faintness of coming death. "Murder will be done. To whom? To Mr.--to
Lieutenant Ritherdon?"

"Yes," Zara answered, standing there before the other, and feeling
ashamed as she did so of the appearance she must present to her rival,
as she deemed her. "Yes, murder. The murder of Lieutenant Ritherdon.
But, if you have courage, if you have any power, it may be prevented.
And--and--you love him! I know it. There must be no crime. You love
him!" she repeated fiercely.

Astonished that the girl should know her secret, unable to understand
how she could have learned it, unless for some reason, Lieutenant
Ritherdon might have hinted that he hoped such was the case; abashed
at the secret being known, Beatrix could but stammer: "Yes--yes--I
love him."

"I love him, too!" Zara exclaimed fiercely, hotly; she neither
stammering, nor appearing to be put to shame. "I love him too. There
must be no crime----"

"You love him!" Beatrix repeated, startled.

"With my whole heart and soul. Do you think our hot blood is not as
capable of love as the cold blood that runs in your veins?"

But Beatrix could only whisper again, amazed, "You love him too!"

"I have loved him all my life," Zara said. "I have always loved him.
And I will save him."

Then Beatrix understood how they were at cross-purposes, and that this
half-savage girl was here, not to save Julian from being murdered so
much as to save Sebastian from becoming a murderer.

"Tell me all," she said faintly, sinking into her chair, while she
motioned to Zara to seat herself in one of the others that stood close
by. "Tell me all that has happened. Then I shall know perhaps what I
am to do."

And Zara, smothering in her heart the hatred that she felt against
this other girl so much more fair and attractive than she, she who was
but a peasant, almost a slave, while her rival had wealth and bright
surroundings--told her all she knew.

She narrated how she had watched by day and night to see that no harm
was done to the stranger staying at Desolada: how, sometimes, she had
slept on the upper veranda and sometimes in the grounds and gardens,
being ever on the watch. And then she told the story of all that had
happened, of how Madame Carmaux had tried to shoot Julian in the copse
and had herself been struck in the arm by a bullet from Paz's rifle,
but to avoid suspicion had, on her return to the house, commenced
arranging flowers in a bowl with one hand, she keeping the other,
which Zara knew she had hastily bandaged up, out of sight. She told,
too, the whole story of the Amancay poison, and described the final
scene in the lower room which she had witnessed from the garden where
she stood hidden.

"And now," she cried, "now they will kill him to-night, get rid of him
forever, if, before night comes, help does not reach him."

"What will they do?" asked Beatrix, white to the lips, and trembling
all over as she had trembled from the first. "Poison him with that
hateful Amancay--or--or----"

"I know not, but they will kill him. They will not keep him there.
Instead, perhaps, carry him to one of the lagoons where the alligators
are, or to the sea where the white sharks are, or----"

"Come, come!" cried Beatrix, with a shriek of horror. "Come at once to
my father in the city. Oh! in mercy, come--there is not an hour, not a
moment, to be lost!"

She had seen, almost directly after Zara had made her appearance, the
groom come out from the house, and understood that he was approaching
to tell her that the buggy was prepared, but by a motion of her hand
she had made the man understand that she was not ready. But, now, she
must go at once, and she must take this girl with her--that was all
important. For surely, when some of the legal authorities in Belize
had heard the tale which Zara could tell, they would instantly send
assistance to Julian.

"Come!" she cried again. "Come! we must go to the city at once."

"It will save--him?" Zara asked, her thoughts still upon the man who
must be prevented at all hazards from committing a horrible crime, and
supposing in her ignorance that it was also the desire to prevent that
man from committing this crime which made Beatrix so anxious. "It will
save--him?"

"Yes," Beatrix answered. "Yes. It will save him."


The night had come, suddenly, swiftly, as it always does in Southern
lands. Half an hour earlier a band of twenty people had been riding as
swiftly as the heat would permit along the dusty white thread, which
was the road that led past All Pines on toward Desolada--now the same
band was progressing beneath the swift-appearing stars overhead. The
breeze, too, which, not long before, had burnt them with its fiery
sun-struck breath, came cool and fresh and grateful at this time,
since it was no longer laden with heat; while from all the wealth of
vegetation around, there were, distilled by the night dews, the
luscious scents and odours that the flowers of the region possess.

A band of twenty people--of eighteen men and two women--who, now that
night had fallen, rode more swiftly than they had done before, the
trot of the horses being accompanied by the clang of scabbard against
boot and spur, of jangling bridle and bridle-chain. For among them was
a small troop of constabulary headed by an officer, as well as a
handful of the police. Also, Mr. Spranger formed one of the number.
The two women were Beatrix and Zara, the former having insisted on her
father allowing her to accompany the force.

When Beatrix had caused Zara to go with her to Mr. Spranger's offices,
and then to tell him her tale--a tale supplemented by the former's
own account of the letter from Sebastian accompanied by Julian's
luggage--that gentleman had at once agreed that there was no time to
be lost if Julian was to be saved from any further designs against
him. Of course, he and all the Government officials were well
acquainted with each other, the Governor included, but it was to the
Chief Justice that he at once made his way, accompanied by Zara, who
had to tell her tale for a second time to that representative of
authority and law.

Then the rest was easy--instructions were given to the Commandant of
Constabulary and the Superintendent of Police, and the force set out.
Meanwhile, the latter was provided with a warrant (although neither
Beatrix nor Zara was aware that such was the case) for the arrest of
both Sebastian Ritherdon and Madame Carmaux on a charge of attempted
murder.

And now as the little band passed All Pines, Zara, who rode close by
Beatrix's side, whispered in the latter's ear that she was about to
quit them; she knew, she said, bypaths that she could thread which
the others could not do, or in doing, would only make very slow
progress.

"But," she concluded, still in a whisper, and with her dark face as
close to the fair one of the English girl as she could place it--"I
shall be there when you all arrive. And by then I shall know what has
been done, or what is to be done. He must not kill him; we must stop
that. We love him too well for that."

And, ere Beatrix could answer, the other had disappeared into the
denseness of the forest, it seeming as though she had power to impart
to the beast which she bestrode her own mysterious and subtle methods
of movement.

At first, she was not missed by any of the others, Mr. Spranger being
the earliest to do so; but by the time he had observed that she was
gone, they had drawn so near to the object of their visit that, even
if her absence was noticed, very little remark was made. For now they
were, as most in the band knew, on the outskirts of the plantations
around Desolada; soon they would be within those plantations and
threading their way toward the house itself. What was noticed,
however, as now their horses trod on the soft luxurious grass beneath
their feet--so gently that the thud of their hoofs became entirely
deadened--was that a man, who had certainly not accompanied them from
Belize, was doing so at this moment, and that, as they wended their
way slowly, this man, who was on foot, walked side by side with them.

"Who are you?" asked the officer in command of the constabulary,
bending down from his horse to look at the newcomer, and observing
that he was a half-caste. "Do you belong to this property?"

"I did," that newcomer said, looking up at the other. "I did--but not
now. Now I belong to you. To the Government, the police."

"So! You desire to give information. Is that it?

"Yes. That is it."

"What can you tell?"

"That the Englishman not there--that he taken away already, I
think----"

"It is not so," a voice whispered close to his ear, yet one
sufficiently loud to be heard by all. "It is not so." And, looking
round, every one saw the dark, starlike eyes of Zara gleaming through
the darkness at them. "He is there--but he will not be for long if
you do not make haste."

From one of her hearers--from Beatrix--there came a gasp; from the
rest only a few muttered sentences that there was no time to be lost;
that they must attack the house at once, and call on the inhabitants
to come forth and give an account of themselves. Then, once more, the
order was issued for the cavalcade to advance. And silently they did
so, Beatrix being placed in the rear, so that if any violence should
be offered, or any resistance, she should not be exposed to it more
than was necessary.

But there was little or no sign at present of the likelihood of such
resistance being made. Instead, Desolada presented now an appearance
worthy of its mournful name. For all was darkened in and around it;
the windows of the lower floor, especially the windows of the great
saloon, from which, or from its veranda, the light of the lamp had
streamed forth nightly, were all closed and shuttered; nowhere was a
glimmer to be seen. And also the door in the middle of the veranda was
closed--a circumstance that certainly during the summer, would have
been unusual in any abode in British Honduras.

All were close to the steps of the veranda now, and the officer in
command of the constabulary, dismounting from his horse, strode up on
to the latter, while beating upon the door with his clenched fist, he
called out that he required to see Mr. Ritherdon at once. A summons to
which no answer was returned.

"If," this person said, looking around on those behind him, and whose
forms he could but dimly see--"if no answer is returned, we shall be
forced to break the door down or blow the lock off. Into the house we
must get."

"There is now," said Mr. Spranger, who had also dismounted and joined
him, "a figure on the balcony of the floor above. It has come out from
one of the windows. But I cannot see whether it is man or woman."

"A figure!" cried the other, darting out at once on to the path
beneath, so that thus he could gaze up to the higher balcony. "A
figure!" and then, raising his eyes, he saw that Mr. Spranger had
spoken accurately. For, against the darkness of the night, and the
darkness of the house too, there was perceptible some other darker,
deeper blur which was undoubtedly the form of a person gazing down at
them. A form surmounted by something that was a little, though not
much, whiter than its surroundings; something that all who gazed upon
it knew to be a human face.



CHAPTER XXX.

BEYOND PASSION'S BOUND.

A human face was gazing down on them from where the body beneath
crouched, as though kneeling against the rails of the veranda--a face
from which more than one in that band thought they could see the eyes
glistening. Yet, from it no sound issued, only--only--still the white
face grew more perceptible and stood out more clearly in the
blackness, as the others continued to stare at it, and the eyes seemed
to glitter with a greater intensity.

"Come down," cried up the officer now, directing his voice toward
where it lurked, "come down and let us in. We have important business
with Mr. Ritherdon."

But still no reply nor sound was heard.

"Come down," the other said again, "and at once, or we shall force an
entrance; we shall lose no time."

Then from that dark, indistinct mass there did come some whispered
words; words clear enough, however, to be heard by those below.

"Who are you?" that voice demanded, "and what do you want?"

"We want," the officer replied, "Mr. Ritherdon. And also, Madame
Carmaux, his housekeeper, and the Englishman who has been staying
here."

"The Englishman has gone away, back to England, and Mr. Ritherdon is
at Belize----"

"Liar!" all heard another voice murmur in their midst, while looking
around, they saw that Zara was still there, standing beside the horses
and gazing up toward the balcony. "Liar! Both are in the house."

Then in a moment she had crept away, and stolen toward where Beatrix,
who had also left the saddle, stood, while, seizing her arm she
whispered, "Follow me. Now is the time."

"To him?"

"Yes," Zara said--"yes, to him. To him you love. You do love him, do
you not?"

"Ah, yes! Ah, yes! Oh, save him! Save him!"

"Come," said Zara--and Beatrix thought that as the other spoke now,
her voice had changed. As, indeed it had. For (still thinking that the
English girl could have but one man in her thoughts, and he the one
whom she herself loved and hated alternately--the latter passion being
testified by the manner in which she had, in a moment of impulse,
given him the physic-nut oil and the poisoned mullet) her blood had
coursed like wildfire through her veins at hearing Beatrix's avowal,
and her voice had become choked. For Beatrix had forgotten in the
excitement of the last few hours to undeceive the girl; had forgotten,
indeed, the cross-purposes at which they had been that morning in the
garden at "Floresta;" and thus Zara still deemed that they were
rivals--deemed, too, that this white-faced rival was the favoured one.

"She loves him," she muttered to herself, her heart and brain racked
with torture and with passion; "she loves him. She loves him. And he
loves her! But--she shall never have him, nor he her. Come," she cried
again, savagely this time. "Come, then, and see him. And--love him. It
will not be for long," she added to herself.

Whereupon she drew Beatrix away toward the back of the house, going
around by the farthest side of it, and on, until, at last, they stood
at the foot of the stairs outside that gave access to the floor above,
on that farthest side. Here, they were quite remote from the parley
that was going on between those who were in the front and the dark
shrouded figure on the veranda above; yet Beatrix noticed that, still,
they were not alone. For, as they approached those outside stairs she
saw three or four dark forms vanish away from them, and steal farther
into the obscurity of the night.

"Who are those?" she asked timorously, nervously, as she watched their
retreating figures.

"Men," said Zara, "who to-night will take the Englishman, tied and
bound, out to the sea in Sebastian's boat, and sink him."

"Oh, my God!" wailed Beatrix, nearly fainting. "Oh! Oh!"

"If we do not prevent it. If _I_ do not prevent it."

Then, suddenly, before Beatrix could put her foot on the steps as Zara
had directed her to do, as well as ascend them, she felt her arm
grasped by the latter, and heard her whisper:

"Stop! Before we mount to where he is--tell me--tell me truthfully,
has--has he told you he loves you?"

"No----"

"You lie!"

"I do not lie," Beatrix replied, hotly, scornfully; "I never lie. But,
since you will have the truth--I cannot understand why, what affair it
is of yours--although he has not told me, I know it. Love can be made
known without words."

Her own words struck like a dagger to the other's heart--nay,
they did worse than that. They communicated a spark to the heated,
maddening passions which until now, or almost until now, had lain
half-slumbering and dormant in that heart; they roused the bitterest,
most savage feelings that Zara's half-savage heart had nurtured.

"She scorns me," she said to herself, "she despises me because she
knows she possesses his love, the love made known without words.
Because she is sure of him. Ay, and so she shall be--but not in life.
'What affair is it of mine?'" she brooded. "She shall see. She shall
see."

Then, as once more she motioned Beatrix to follow her up those stairs,
she, unseen by the latter, dropped her right hand into the bosom of
her dress, and touched something that lay within it.

"She shall see," she said again. "She shall see."

Above, in that obscure, gloomy corridor to which they now entered--the
corridor which more than once had struck a chill even to the bold
heart of Julian Ritherdon, when he sojourned in the house--all was
silent and sombre, so that one might have thought that they stood upon
the first floor of some long-neglected mansion from which the
inhabitants had departed years before; while the darkness was intense.
And, whatever might have been the effect of the weirdness of the place
upon the nerves of Zara, strung up as those nerves now were to tragic
pitch, upon Beatrix, at least, it was intense. A great black bat, the
wind from whose passing wing fanned her cheek and caused her to utter
a startled exclamation, added some feeling of ghastly terror to the
surroundings, while, also, the company in which she was, the company
of a half-Indian savage girl charged with tempestuous passions,
contributed to her alarm.

Yet, on the silence there broke now some sounds, they coming from the
front part of the house; the sound of voices, of a hurried
conversation, of sentences rapidly exchanged.

"You hear," hissed Zara in the other's ear--"you hear--and understand?
'Tis she--Carmaux. And, as ever, she lies. As her life has always
been, so is her tongue now."

Then Beatrix heard Madame Carmaux saying from the balcony:

"He has returned. He is coming, I tell you. But just now he has ridden
to the stables behind. He will be with you at once. He will explain
all. Wait but a few moments more."

"It must be but a very few then," the girl heard in reply, she
recognising the voice of the Commandant of the Constabulary. "Very
few. He must indeed explain all. Otherwise we force our entrance. Not
more than five minutes will be granted."

"You understand?" whispered Zara, "you understand? She begs time so
that--so that--the Englishman shall be taken to his death. When he is
gone, Sebastian will show himself." Though, to her own heart she
added, "Never."

"I can bear no more," gasped Beatrix; "I must see him. Go to him."

"Nay," replied Zara, "he comes to you. Observe. Look behind you--the
way we came."

And, looking behind her as the other bade, even while she trembled all
over in her fear and excitement, she saw that Sebastian had himself
mounted the stairs outside the house, and was preparing to pass along
the passage; to pass by them.

Yet, ere he did so, she saw, too, that behind him were those misty
forms of the natives which she had observed to vanish at their
approach below; she heard him speak to them; heard, too, the words he
said.

"When I whistle, come up and bear him away. You know the rest. To my
yawl, then a mile out to sea and--then--sink him. Now go, but be
ready."

Whereon he turned to proceed along the passage, and, even in her
terror, Beatrix could see that he bore in his hand a little lantern
from which the smallest of rays was emitted. A lantern with which,
perhaps, he wished to observe if his victim still lived, since surely
he, who had dwelt in this house all his life, needed no light to
assist him in finding his way about it.

"He will see us. He will see us," murmured Beatrix.

"He will never see us again," answered Zara, and as she spoke, she
drew the other into the deep doorway of one of the bedrooms. "Never
again," while looking down at her from her greater height, Beatrix saw
that her right hand was at her breast, and that in it something
glistened.

And, now, Sebastian was close to them, going on to the room at the end
of the passage. He was in front of them. He was passing them.

"It is your last farewell," said Zara. And ere. Beatrix could shriek,
"No. No!" divining the girl's mistake; ere, too, she could make any
attempt to restrain her, Zara had sprung forth from the embrasure of
the doorway, the long dagger gleaming in her hand, as the sickly rays
of Sebastian's lamp shone on it, and had buried it in his back, he
springing around suddenly with a hoarse cry as she did so--his hands
clenched and thrust out before him--in his eyes an awful glare. Then
with a gasp he sank to the floor, the lamp becoming extinguished as he
did so. Whereby, Zara did not understand that, lying close by the man
whom she had slain, or attempted to slay, was Beatrix, who had swooned
from horror, and then fallen prostrate.

Sebastian had carried his white drill jacket over his arm as he
advanced along the passage, he having taken it off as he mounted the
steps, perhaps with the view of being better able to assist the
Indians in the task of removing Julian when he should summon them. And
Zara, full of hate as she was; full, too, of rage and jealousy as she
had been at the moment before she stabbed him, as well as at the
moment when she did so, had observed such to be the case, when,
instantly, there came into her astute brain an idea that, through this
circumstance, might be wreaked a still more deadly vengeance on
Sebastian for his infidelity to her.

"He would have sent that other to his death in the sea," she thought;
"now--false-hearted jaguar--that death shall be yours. If the knife
has not slain you, the water shall." Whereupon, quick as lightning,
she seized the jacket and disappeared with it down the corridor,
entering at the end of the latter a room in which Julian lay wounded
and bound upon a bed. A room in which there burnt a candle, by the
light of which she saw that he who was a prisoner there was asleep.

Without pausing to awaken him, she took from off a nail in the room
the navy white jacket that Julian had worn--which like Sebastian's own
was stained somewhat with blood--and, seizing it in one hand and the
candle in the other, went back to where Sebastian lay.

"I cannot put it on him," she muttered, "as he lies thus; still, it
will suffice. The Indians will think it is the other in this light,
since both are so alike." After which she crept down the passage to
the stairs, and, whistling softly, called up the men outside to her,
there being five of them.

"He is here," she whispered as they approached Sebastian. "Here. Waste
no time; away with him," while they, with one glance at the prostrate
body, prepared to obey her, knowing how Sebastian confided many things
to her.

But one of that five never took his eyes off the girl, and seeing that
from beneath the jacket there protruded a hand on which was a ring--a
ring well known by all around Desolada--he drew the jacket over that
hand, covering it up. Yet, as he did so, he contrived also to
disarrange the portion that lay over Sebastian's face--and--to see
that face. Whereupon, upon his own there came an awful look of
gloating, even as the Indians bent down and, lifting their burden,
departed with it.

"At last," he whispered to Zara, "at last. You not endure longer?"

"No," the girl replied. "No longer. He loved
that--that--other--and--and--I slew him. Now, Paz, go--and--sink him
beneath the sea forever."

"Yes. Yes. I sink him. He knew not Paz was near, but Paz never forget.
I sink him deep. But, outside--I take ring away so that Indians not
know. Oh, yes, he sink very deep. Paz never forget."



CHAPTER XXXI.

"THE MAN I LOVE."


Recovering her consciousness, Beatrix perceived that she was alone.
Yet, dimmed though her senses were by the swoon in which she had lain,
she was able to observe that some change had taken place in the
corridor since she fell prostrate. Sebastian Ritherdon's body was gone
now, but the little lamp which he had carried lay close to the spot
where she had seen him fall, while near to it, and standing on the
floor, was a candlestick. Within it was a candle, which showed to her
startled eyes something which almost caused her to faint again;
something that formed a small pool upon the shiny, polished floor. And
then as she saw the hateful thing, the recollection of all that had
happened returned to her, as well as the recollection of other things.

"He was going to the end of the passage," she said to herself as,
rising, she drew her skirts closely about her so that they should not
come into contact with that shining, hideous pool at her feet;
"therefore, Julian must be there. Oh, to reach him, to help him to
escape from this horrid, awful house!" Whereon, snatching up the
candlestick from the floor, she proceeded swiftly to the end of the
corridor; while, seeing that, far down it, there was one door open,
she naturally directed her footsteps to that.

Then, as she held the light above her head, she saw that on a bed
there lay a man asleep, or in a swoon--or dead! A man whose eyes were
closed and whose face was deadly white, yet who was beyond doubt
Julian Ritherdon.

"Oh, Julian!" she gasped, yet with sufficient restraint upon herself
to prevent her voice from awaking him. "Oh, Julian! To find you at
last, but to find you thus," and she took a step forward toward where
the bed was, meaning to gaze down upon him and to discover if he was
in truth alive or not.

Yet she was constrained to stop and was stayed in her first attempt to
cross the room, by the noise of swift footsteps behind her and by the
entrance of Zara, whose wild beauty appeared now to have assumed an
almost demoniacal expression.

For the girl's eyes gleamed as the eyes of those in a raging fever
gleam; her features were working terribly, and her whole frame seemed
shaken with emotion.

"It is done!" she cried exultingly--there being a tone of almost
maniacal derision in her voice. "It is done. In two hours he will be
dead. And I have kept my word to you. You loved him, and you desired
to see him. Well, you have seen him! Did you take," she almost
screamed in her frenzy, "a long, last farewell? I hope so, since you
will never take another," and in her fury of despair she thrust her
face forward and almost into the other's.

But, now, hers was not the only wild excitement in the room. For
Beatrix, recognising to what an extreme the girl's jealousy had
wrought her, and what terrible deed she had been guilty of, herself
gave a slight scream as she heard the other's words, and then cried:

"Madwoman! Fool! You are deceived. You have deceived yourself. I never
loved him. Nor thought of him. This man lying here, this man whom he
would have murdered, is the one I love with all my heart; this is the
man I came to save."

Then as she spoke, Julian--who was now either awake or had emerged
from the torpor in which he had been lying--cried from out of the
darkness: "Beatrix, Beatrix, oh, my darling!" Whereon she, forgetting
that in her excitement she had proclaimed her love, forgetting all
else but that her lover was safe, rushed toward where he lay, uttering
words of thankfulness and delight at his safety. Yet, when a moment
later they looked toward the place where Zara had been, they saw that
she was gone. For, slight as was the glimmer from the candle, it
served to show that she was no longer there; that in none of the deep
shadows of the room was she lurking anywhere.

She had, indeed, rushed from the room on hearing Beatrix's avowal, a
prey to fresh excitement now, and to fresh horrors.

"I have slain him in my folly," she muttered wildly to herself. "I
have slain him. And--and, at last, I might have won him. God help me!"

Then she directed her footsteps toward where she knew Madame Carmaux
was, toward where her ears told her that, below the balcony on which
the woman stood, they were making preparations to break into the
house. Already, she could hear the hammering and beating on the great
door from without; and, so hearing, thought they must be using some
tree or sapling wherewith to break it in. She recognised, too, the
Commandant's voice, as he gave orders to one of his men to blow the
lock off with his carbine.

But without pause, without stopping for one instant, she rushed into
the room and out upon the balcony where, seizing Madame Carmaux by the
arm, she cried:

"Let them come in. It matters not. Sebastian is dead, or will be dead
ere long. I deemed him false to me, as in truth he was. I have sent
him to his doom. The Indians have taken him away to drown him,
thinking he is that other."

Then from a second woman in that house there arose that night a
piercing heartbroken cry, the cry of a woman who has heard the most
awful news that could come to her, a cry followed by the words--as,
throwing her hands up above her head, she sank slowly down on to the
floor of the veranda--

"You have slain him--you have sent him to his doom? Oh, Sebastian! Oh,
my son!"

"Yes, your son," said Zara. "Your son."

"It is impossible," they both heard a voice say behind them, the voice
of Julian, as now he entered the room with Beatrix. "You are mistaken.
Madame Carmaux never had a son, but instead a daughter."

"No," said still another voice, and now it was Mr. Spranger who spoke,
all the party from outside having entered the house at last. "No. She
never had a daughter, though it suited her purpose well enough to
pretend that such was the case, and that that daughter was dead; the
birth of her son being thus disguised."

"You hear this," the man in command of the police said, addressing the
crouching woman. "Is it true?"

But Madame Carmaux, giving him but one glance from her upturned eyes,
uttered no word.

"I have a warrant for your arrest and for this man called Sebastian
Ritherdon," the sergeant said. "If he is not dead we shall have him."

"Then I pray God he is dead," Madame Carmaux cried, "for if you arrest
him you will arrest an innocent man."

In answer to which the sergeant merely shrugged his shoulders, while
addressing one of his force he bade him keep close to her.

"Was he in truth her son?" Julian asked, turning to where a moment
before Zara had been standing. But once more, as so often she had done
in the course of this narrative, the girl had vanished. Vanished, that
is, so far as Julian and one or two others observed now, yet being
seen by some of those who were standing near the door to creep out
hurriedly and then to rush madly down the corridor.

"No," said Madame Carmaux, glaring at him with a glance which, had she
had the power, would have slain him where he stood. "Though I often
called him so. It is a lie."

"Is it?" said Julian quietly. "It would hardly seem so. Here is a
paper which was written in England ere I set out for Honduras by the
man whom I thought to be my father, and in which he tells in writing
the whole story he told me by word of mouth. I looked for that paper
after his death--and--I have found it here--in the pocket of
Sebastian's jacket."

Such was indeed the case. When Zara had run into the room where Julian
was, and had possessed herself of his jacket with the naval buttons on
it--she meaning by its use to more thoroughly deceive the Indians who
were to take Sebastian away in his stead--she had left behind her the
other jacket which the latter had carried over his arm. And that, in
the obscurity of a room lit only by the one candle, Julian should have
hastily donned another jacket so like his own, and which he found in
the place where he had lain for three nights, was not a surprising
thing. But he recognised the exchange directly when, happening to put
his hand into the pocket, he discovered the very missing papers which
Mr. Ritherdon said he was going to leave behind for Julian's guidance,
but which he must undoubtedly have forwarded to his brother, as an
explanation--an account--of his sin against him in years gone by.

"Whoever's son he was," said Mr. Spranger, "he was undoubtedly not the
son of Charles Ritherdon and his wife, Isobel Leigh. There can be no
possibility of that. Who, therefore, can he have been--he who was so
like you?" while, even as he gazed into Julian's eyes, there was still
upon his face the look of incredulity which had always appeared there
whenever he discussed the latter's claim to be the heir of Desolada.

"If she," said Beatrix now, with a glance toward where Madame Carmaux
sat, rigid as a statue and almost as lifeless, except for her
sparkling, glaring eyes--"if she never had a daughter, but did have a
son, why may he not be that son? Some imposture may have been
practised upon Mr. Ritherdon."

"It is impossible," her father said. "He knew his own child was
lost--his brother's narrative tells that; she could not have palmed
off on him another child--her own child--in the place of his."

"There is the likeness between us," whispered Julian in Mr. Spranger's
ear. "How can that be accounted for? Can it be--is it possible--that
in truth two children were born to him at the same time?"

"No," said Mr. Spranger. "No. If such had been the case, your uncle,
the man you were brought up to believe in for years as your father,
must have known of it."

"Then," said Julian, "the mystery is as much unsolved as ever, and is
likely to remain so. She," directing his own glance to Madame Carmaux,
"will never tell--and--well. Heaven help him! Sebastian is probably
dead by now."

"In which case," said the other, always eminently practical, "you are
the owner of Desolada all the same. If Sebastian was the rightful
heir, and he is dead, you, as Mr. Ritherdon's nephew, come next."

"Nevertheless," replied Julian, "I am not his nephew. I am his son. I
feel it; am sure of it."

But, even as he spoke, he noticed--had noticed indeed, already--that
there was some stir in the direction where Madame Carmaux was. He had
seen that, as he uttered the words "Heaven help him! Sebastian is
probably dead by now," she had sprung to her feet, while uttering a
piteous cry as she did so, and had stood scowling at Julian as though
it was he who had sent the other to his doom. Then, too, he had seen
that, in spite of the sergeant of police and one or two of his men
having endeavoured to prevent her, she had brushed them on one side
and was crossing the room to where he, with Mr. Spranger and Beatrix,
stood. A moment later, she was before them; facing them.

"You have said," she exclaimed, "that he is probably dead by now," and
they saw that her face was white and drawn; that it was, indeed,
ghastly. "But," she continued, "if he is not dead--if yet he should be
saved, if the scheme of that devil incarnate, Zara, should have
failed--will you--will you hold him harmless--if--if--I tell all? Will
you hold _him_ harmless! For myself I care not, you may do with me
what you will."

"Yes," said Julian. "Yes--if you will----"

"No," said the sergeant of police. "That is impossible. You cannot
give such a promise. He has to answer to the law."

"What!" cried Madame Carmaux, turning on the man, her eyes
flashing--"what if I prove him innocent of everything--of everything
attempted against this one here," and she indicated Julian.

"Do that," said the sergeant, "and he may escape."

"Come, then," she said, addressing Mr. Spranger and Julian; "but not
you, you bloodhound," turning on the man. "Not you! Come, I will tell
you everything. I will save him."

While, making her way through the others as though she still ruled
supreme in the house, and followed by the two men, she led the way to
a small parlour situated upon the same floor they were on.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE SHARK'S TOOTH REEF.


Meanwhile the night grew on, and with it there was that accompaniment
which is so common in the tropics: the wind rising, and from blowing
lightly soon sprang up into what the sailors call half a gale.

Now and again, far away to the east, flashes of rusty red lightning
might be seen also, the almost sure heralds of a storm later.

The wind blew, too, over the dense masses of orange groves and other
vegetation which go to form the tropical jungle that hereabout fringes
the seashore; compact masses that, to many endeavouring to arrive at
that shore, would offer an impenetrable, an impassable, barrier.
Though not so to those acquainted with the vicinity and used to
threading the jungle, nor to the Indians and half-castes whose huts
and cabins bordered on that jungle, since they knew every spot where
passage might be made, and the coast thereby reached at last.

Zara knew also each of those passages well, and threaded them now with
the confidence born of familiarity; with, too, the stern determination
to arrive at the end she had sworn to attain, if such attainment were
possible.

She had left the room where Madame Carmaux had been confronted, not
only by her but by all the others, in the manner described; had left
it suddenly, though mysteriously, even as to her maddened brain a
thought had sprung, dispelling for the moment all the agony and
passion with which that brain was racked. The thought that, as she had
sent the man she loved to his doom, so, also, it might not yet be too
late to avert that doom--to save him.

The Indians who were bearing him to the old ramshackle sailing-boat he
possessed (a thing half yawl and half lugger--a thing, too, which she
supposed those men had been instructed to pierce and bore so that it
would begin to fill from the first, and should, thereby, sink by the
time it was in deep water) must necessarily go slowly, owing to the
burden they had to carry, while she--well! she could progress almost
as swiftly as the deer could themselves thread the thickets that
bordered the coast.

Surely, surely, lithe, young, and active as she was she would overtake
those men with their burden ere they could reach the yawl; she would
be able to bid them stop, and could at once point out to them the
fatal mistake that had been made. She could give them proof, by
bidding them take one glance at the features of the senseless man they
were transporting, of the nature of that mistake.

So she set out to overtake the Indians with their burden; set out,
staying for nothing, and allowing nothing to hinder her. For, swiftly
as she might go, every minute was still precious.

And now--now--as the night wind arose still more and the rusty red of
the lightning turned to a more purple-violet hue--sure warning of the
nearness of the coming storm--she was almost close to the beach where
she knew Sebastian's crazy old craft was kept in common with one or
two others; namely, a punt with a deep tank for fish, a scow, and a
boat with oars. She was close to the beach, but with, at this time,
her heart like lead in her bosom because of the fear she had that she
was too late.

"No sound," she muttered to herself. "No voices to be heard. They are
gone. They are gone. I _am_ too late!"

Then, redoubling her exertions, she ran swiftly the remainder of the
distance to where she knew the boathouse--an erection of poles with
planks laid across them--stood.

And in a moment she knew that she was, indeed, too late. Where the
yawl usually floated there was now an empty space; there was nothing
in the boathouse but the punt and the rowboat.

"Oh! what to do," she cried, "what to do!" and she beat her breast as
she so cried. "They have carried him out to sea, even now the yawl is
sinking--has sunk--they will be on their way back. He is dead! he is
dead! he must be dead by now!"

While, overcome by the horror and misery of her thoughts, she sank
down to the ground. But not for long, however, since at such a crisis
as this her strong--if often ungovernable--heart became filled with
greater courage and resource. To sink to the ground, she told herself,
to lie there wailing and moaning over the impending fate of him she
loved, was not the way to avert that fate. Instead, she must be prompt
and resolute.

She sprang, therefore, once more to her feet and--dark as was all
around her, except for the light of a young crescent moon peeping up
over the sea's rim and forcing a glimmer now and again through the
banks of deep, leaden clouds which the wind was bringing up from that
sea--made her way into the boathouse, where, swiftly unloosing the
painter of the rowboat, she pushed the latter out into the tumbling
waves and began to scull it.

"They must have gone straight out," she thought, "straight out. And
they would not go far. Only to where the water is deep enough for the
yawl to sink, or to encounter one of the many reefs--those jagged
crested reefs which would make a hole in her far worse than fifty awls
could do."

Then still bending her supple frame over the oars, while her little
hands clenched them tightly, she rowed and rowed for dear life--as in
actual truth it was!--her breath coming faster and faster with her
exertions, her bosom heaving, but her courage indomitable.

"I may not be too late," she whispered again and again; "the boat may
not yet have filled. I may not be too late."

Suddenly she paused affrighted, startled; her heart seemed to cease to
beat, her hands were idle as they clutched the oars. Startled, and
despairing!

For out here the water was calmer, there being on it only the long
Atlantic roll that is so common beneath the roughness of the winds;
except for the slapping and crashing of those waves against the bows
of the boat with each rise and fall it made, there was scarcely any
noise; certainly none such as those waves had made, and would make
against the boathouse and the long line of the shore. So little noise
that what she had heard before she heard again now, as she sat
listening and terrified in her place. She caught the beat of oars in
another boat, a boat that was drawing nearer to her with each fresh
stroke--that was, also, drawing nearer to the boathouse.

The Indians were returning. Their work was done!

"I am too late," she moaned. "I am too late. God help us both!"

Then, too, she heard something else.

Over the waters, over the rolling waves, there came to her ears the
clear sounds of a man singing in a high tenor--it was almost a high
treble--a man singing a song in Maya which she, who was of their race,
knew was one that, in bygone days the Caribs and natives had sung in
triumph over the downfall of their enemies. A song which, when it was
concluded, was followed by a little bleating laugh, one which she knew
well enough, a laugh which only one man in all that neighbourhood
could give. Then she heard words called out in a half-chuckling,
half-gloating tone, still in Maya.

"'Sink him beneath the sea forever,' she say, 'forever beneath the
sea.' And Paz he never for get, oh, never, never! Now he sunk," and
again she heard the bleating laugh, and again the beginning of that
wild Carib song of triumph.

Springing up, dropping the oars heedlessly--her heart almost
bursting--the girl rose from her seat, then shrieked aloud--sending
her voice in the direction where now there loomed before her eyes a
blur beneath the moon's glimmer which she knew to be a boat. "Paz,"
she cried, "Paz, it is not true, say it is not true. Oh! Paz, where is
he?"

"Where you wish. Where you tell me put him," the other called back,
while still beneath the brawny, muscular strokes of the Indians rowing
it, the boat swept on toward the shore. "Beneath the waves or soon
will be. Breaking to pieces on Shark's Tooth Reef. Paz never forget."

"Beast! devil!" the girl cried in her agony, forgetting, or recalling
with redoubled horror, that what had been done was her own doing, was
perpetrated at her suggestion. "Return and help me to save him. Oh!
come back."

But the boat was gone, was but a speck now beneath the moon, and she
was alone upon the sea, over which the wind howled as it lashed it to
fury at last.

"The Shark's Tooth Reef," she murmured. "The Shark's Tooth Reef, The
worst of all around. Yet--yet--if caught on that, the yawl may not
sink. Oh! oh!" and she muttered to herself some wild unexpressed words
that were doubtless a prayer. Then she grasped the oars once more,
which, since they were fixed by loops on to thole pins instead of
being loose in rowlocks, had not drifted away as might otherwise have
been the case, and set the boat toward the spot where the Shark's
Tooth Reef was as nearly as she could guess.

"If I can but reach it," she muttered to herself. "If I can but reach
it."

But now her labours were more intense than before, her struggles more
terrible. For, coming straight toward the bow of the boat, the
Atlantic rollers beat it back with every stroke she took, while also
they deluged it with water, so that she knew ere long it must sink
beneath the waves. Already there were three or four inches in the
bottom--nay, more, for the stretchers were half-covered--another three
of four and it would go down like lead. And each fresh wave that broke
over the bows added a further quantity.

"To see him once again; only to see him though if not to save," she
moaned--weeping at last; "to see him, to be able to tell him that
though I sent him to his doom I loved him," while roused by the
thought, she still struggled on, buffeted and beaten by the waves;
breathless, almost lifeless--but still unconquered and unconquerable.

Suddenly she gave a gasp, a shriek. Close by her, rising up some
twenty feet from the sea, there was a cone-shaped rock, jagged and
serrated at its summit; black, too, and glistening as, in the rays of
the fast rising young moon, the water streaming from off it. It was
the Shark's Tooth Reef, so called because, from its long length of
some fifty yards (a length also serrated and jagged like the under jaw
of a dog), there rose that cone-shaped thing which resembled what it
was named from.

And again she shrieked as, looking beyond the base of the cone,
peering through the hurtling waves and white filmy spume and spray,
she saw upon the further edge of the base of the reef a black,
indistinct mass being beaten to and fro. She heard, too, the grinding
of that mass against the reef, as well as its thumps as it was flung
on and dragged off it by the swirling of the sea; she heard, how each
time, the force of the impact became louder and more deadly.

"To reach him at last," she cried, "to die with him! To die together."

Then it seemed that into that quivering, nervous frame there came a
giant's strength; it seemed as though the cords and sinews of her arms
had become steel and iron, as though the little hands were vises in
the power of their grip. "To die together," she thought again, as,
with superhuman efforts, she forced her boat toward the battered,
broken yawl.

Now, she was close to it--now!--then, with a crash her own boat was
dashed against the larger one, its bow crushed in, in a moment, its
stem lifted into the air. But, catlike, desperate, too, fighting fate
with the determination of despair, she had seized the top of the
yawl's side; had clung to it one moment while the sea thundered and
broke against her feet below, and had then drawn herself up onto the
deck over the side.

And he was there, lying half-in, half-out the little forecastle cuddy,
bound and corded--insensible.

"I have found you, Sebastian," she whispered, her lips to his cold
ones. "I have found you."

With an awful lurch the yawl heeled over, the man's body rolling like
a log as it did so, and then Zara knew that the end had come. Even
though he lived, nothing could save him now; his arms were bound
tightly to his sides, the cords passing over his chest from left to
right. He was without sense or power.

"Nothing can save him now--nor me," she said. "Nothing."

Then she forced her own little hands beneath those cords so that,
thereby, she was bound to him; whereby if ever they were found, they
would be found locked together; she grasping tightly, too, the top
ply, so that neither wave, nor roll of sea, nor any force could tear
them apart again. And if they were never found--still--still, nothing
could part them more.

"Together," she murmured, for the last time, her own strength ebbing
fast, "together forever. Together at the end. Always together now--in
death!"



CHAPTER XXXIII.

MADAME CARMAUX TELLS ALL.


Calmly--almost contemptuously--as though she were in truth mistress of
Desolada and a woman who conferred honour upon those who followed her,
instead of one who was in actual fact their prisoner, Madame Carmaux
led the way to that parlour wherein she had promised to divulge all;
to reveal the secret of how another man had usurped for so long the
place and position which rightfully belonged to Julian Ritherdon.

And they who followed her, observing how rigid, how masklike were the
handsome features; how the soft, dark eyes gleamed now with a hard,
determined look, knew that as she had said, so she would do; so she
would perform. They recognised that she would not falter in her task,
she deeming that what she divulged would tell in Sebastian's favour.

Still firm and calm, therefore, and still as though she were the owner
of that house which she had ruled for so long with absolute sway, she
motioned to Julian and Mr. Spranger to be seated--while standing
before them enveloped in the long loose robe of soft black material in
which she had been clad, and with the lace hood thrown back from her
head and setting free the dark masses of hair which had always been
one of her greatest beauties--hair in which there was scarcely, even
now, a streak of white.

"It is," she murmured, when the lights had been brought, "for
Sebastian's sake, if he still lives. And to prove to you that he is
innocent--was innocent until almost the day when he, that other, came
here," and her glance fell on Julian--"that I tell you all which I am
about to do. Also, that I tell you how I alone am the guilty one."

Her eyes resting on those of Julian and Mr. Spranger, they both
signified by a look that they were prepared to hear all she might have
to narrate. Then, ere she began the recital she was about to make, she
said:

"Yet, if you desire more witnesses, call them in. Let them hear, too.
I care neither for what they may think of me, nor what testimony they
may bear against me in the future. Call in whom you will."

For a moment the two men before her looked into each other's faces;
then Mr. Spranger said:

"Perhaps it would be as well to have another witness, especially as
Mr. Ritherdon is the most interested person. My daughter is outside,
if--if your story contains nothing she may not hear----"

"It contains nothing," Madame Carmaux answered, there being a tone of
contempt in it which she did not endeavour to veil, "but the story of
a crime, a fraud, worked out by a deserted, heartbroken woman. Call
her in."

Then, summoned by Julian, Beatrix entered the room, and, taking a seat
between her father and her lover, was an ear-witness to all that the
other woman had to tell.

For a moment it seemed as if Madame Carmaux scarce knew how to
commence; for a few moments she stood before them, her eyes sometimes
cast down upon the floor, sometimes seeking theirs. Then, suddenly,
she said:

"That narrative which George Ritherdon wrote in England when he was
dying, and sent to his brother Charles, who was himself close to his
end, was true."

"It was true!" whispered Julian, repeating her words, "I knew it was!
I was sure of it! Yet how--how--was the deception accomplished?"

"He loved me," madame exclaimed, she hardly, as it seemed, hearing or
heeding Julian's remark. "Charles loved me--till he saw her, Isobel
Leigh. And I--I--well, I had never loved any other man. I did not know
what love was till I saw him. Then--then--he--what need to seek for
easy words--he jilted me, and, in despair, I married Carmaux on the
day that he married her. It seemed to my distracted heart that by
doing so I might more effectually erase his memory from my mind
forever. And my son was born but a week or so before you, Julian
Ritherdon, were born."

"Sebastian. Not a daughter?" Julian said.

"Yes; Sebastian; not a daughter. Yet, later, when it was necessary
that my child should be registered, I recorded the birth as that of a
daughter, and at the same time I registered that daughter's death.
Later, you will understand why it was necessary that any child of mine
should disappear out of existence, and also why, above all things, it
must never be known that I had a son."

Again Julian looked in Mr. Spranger's eyes, and Mr. Spranger into his,
their glances telling each other plainly that, even now, they thought
they began to understand.

"I heard," Madame Carmaux went on, "that she too had borne a son, and
in some strange, heartbroken excitement that took possession of me, I
determined to go and see Charles Ritherdon, to show him my child, to
prove to him--as I thought it would do--that if he who had forgotten
me was happy in marriage, so, too, was I. Happy! oh, my God! However,
no matter for my happiness--I went.

"I arrived here late at night, and I found him almost distracted. His
wife was dying: she could not live, they said; how was the child to
live without her? Then I promised that, if he would let me stay on at
Desolada, I would be as much a mother to that child as to my own, that
I would forget his cruelty to me, that I would forgive.

"'Come,' he said to me, on hearing this, 'come and see them--come.'
And I went with him to the room where she was, where you were," and
she looked at Julian.

"I went to that room," she continued, "with every honest feeling in my
heart that a woman who had sworn to condone a man's past faithlessness
could have; before Heaven I swear that I went to that room resolved to
be what I had said, a second mother to you. I went with pity in my
heart for the poor dying woman--the woman who had never really loved
her husband, but, instead, had loved his brother. For, as you know
well enough, she had been forced to jilt George Ritherdon even as
Charles had jilted me. I went to that room and then--then we learned
that she was dead. But, also, we learned something else. There was no
child by her side. It was gone. Its place was empty."

"I begin to understand," murmured Julian, while Beatrix and her father
showed by their expression that to them also a glimmering of light was
coming.

"Yet," said Madame Carmaux, "scarcely can you understand--scarcely
dream of--the temptation that fell in my way. In a moment, at the
instant that Charles Ritherdon saw that his child was missing, he
cried, 'This is my brothers doing! It is he who has stolen it. To
murder it, to be avenged on me for having won his future wife from
him. I know it.' And, distractedly, he raved again and again that it
was his brother's doing. In vain I tried to pacify him, saying that
his brother was far away in the States. To my astonishment he told me
that, on the contrary, he was here, close at hand, if not even now
lurking in the plantation of Desolada, or at Belize.

"'I saw him there yesterday,' he cried, 'I saw him with my own
eyes. Now I understand what took him there. It was to steal my
child--to murder it. Great God! to thereby become my heir.'

"As he spoke there came a footfall in the passage; some one was
coming. Perhaps the nurse returning; perhaps, also, if George
Ritherdon had only been there a short time before us, she did not know
that the child had been kidnapped. 'And if she does not know, then no
one else can know,' he cried. 'While,' he said, 'if that unutterable
villain, George, thinks to profit by this theft, I will thwart him. He
may rob me of my child, he may murder the poor innocent babe--but he
at least shall never be my heir,' and as he spoke his eyes fell on
_my_ child in my arms. 'Cover it up,' he whispered, 'show its face
only, otherwise the clothes it wears will betray it. Cover it up.'"

"If this is true, the crime was his," whispered Julian.

"_That_ crime was his," said Madame Carmaux, "the rest was mine.
But--let me continue. As Charles spoke, the nurse was at the door--a
negro woman who died six months afterward--a moment later she was in
the room. Yet not before I had had time to whisper a word in his ear,
to say, 'If I do this, it is forever? If your child is never found, is
mine to remain in its place?'--and with a glance he seemed to answer,
'Yes.'

"None ever knew of that substitution, no living soul ever knew that
the child growing up as his, its birth registered by him at Belize as
his, was, in truth, mine. Not one living soul. Nor were you ever heard
of again. We agreed to believe that you had been made away with. Yet,
as time went on, Charles Ritherdon seemed to repent of what he had
done; he came to think that, after all, his brother might not have
been the thief, or, being so, that he had not slain the child; to also
think that perhaps some of the half-castes or Indians, on whom he was
occasionally hard, might have stolen it out of revenge. And it
required all my tears and supplications, all my prayers to him to
remember that, had he not been cruelly false to me, it would in truth
have been our child which was the rightful heir, which was here--his
child and mine! At last he consented--provided that the other--the
real child--you--were never heard of again. My son should remain in
his son's place, if you never appeared to claim that place.

"Sebastian grew up in utter ignorance of all; he grew up also to
resemble strangely the man who was supposed to be his father--perhaps
because from the moment I married Monsieur Carmaux it was not his
image but that of Charles Ritherdon which was ever in my mind.

"But when George Ritherdon's statement came, and with it the
information that you were in existence, Charles determined to tell
Sebastian everything. He would have done so, too, but that the illness
he was suffering from took a fatal termination almost directly
afterward--doubtless from the shock of learning what he did. Yet it
made no difference, for the day after his death Sebastian found the
paper and so discovered all."

"He knew then," said Julian--though as he spoke his voice was not
harsh, he recognising how cruel had been this woman's lot from the
first, and how doubly cruel must have been the blow which fell on her
when, after twenty-five years of possession, the son whom she had
loved so, and had schemed so for, was about to be dispossessed--"he
knew then who I was when we first met, and--and--God forgive
him!--from that moment commenced to plot my death."

"No!" cried Madame Carmaux. "No! Have I not said that he was innocent?
It was I--I--who plotted--alas! he was my son. Will not a mother do
all for her only child? It was I who changed the horses in their
stalls, putting his, which none but he could ride in safety, in place
of the sure-footed one he had destined for you; it was I--God help and
pardon me! who put the coral snake in your bed--I--I--who did the rest
you know of."

"And did you, too, procure the Indians who were to take me out to sea
and drown me?" asked Julian with a doubtful glance at her. "Surely
not. There was a man's hand in that. And it was Sebastian who was
advancing along the passage when Zara's knife struck him down."

"By instigation I did it," Madame Carmaux cried, determined to the
last to shield the son she still hoped to meet again in this
world--"the suggestion, the plot was mine alone. While because he was
weak, because from the first he has ever yielded to me, he yielded
now. Spare him!" she cried, and flung herself upon her knees before
that listening trio, her calmness, her contemptuousness, vanished now.
"Spare him, and do with me what you will."

So the story was told, so the discovery of all was made at last.
Julian knew now upon how simple a thing--the fact of Madame Carmaux
having taken that strange determination to go and see the man who had
cast her off and jilted her, carrying her child in her arms--the whole
mystery had rested. But what he never knew was that, had Zara lived,
she could have also told him all. For in the savage girl's love for
the man, who in his turn had treated her badly, and in her
determination to be ever watching over him, she had long since
overheard scraps of conversation which had revealed the secret to her
in the same way as they had done to Paz.

And it was to her, and her determination to prevent Sebastian from
committing any crime by which his life or his liberty might become
imperilled, that Julian owed the fact that he had not long since died
by the hand of Madame Carmaux--if not by that of Sebastian.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

CONTENTMENT.


   "And on her lover's arm she leaned,
    And 'round her waist she felt it fold."


Some two or three months of Julian's leave remained to expire at the
time when the foregoing explanation had taken place, and perhaps
nothing which had occurred since the day when he first set foot in
British Honduras had caused him more perplexity than his present
deliberations as to how to make the best of that period.

For now he knew that he had done with the colony for ever; he had
achieved that for which he had come to it; he had proved the truth of
George Ritherdon's statement up to the hilt, and--in so far as
obtaining the possession of that which was undoubtedly his--well! the
law would soon take steps to enable him to do so.

Only, when he told himself that he had done with the colony, when he
reflected that henceforth his foot would never tread on its earth
more, he had also to tell himself that he could alone consent to sever
his connection with it by also taking away with him the most precious
thing it contained in his eyes--Beatrix Spranger.

"For," he said to that young lady, as once more they sat in the garden
at "Floresta," with about and around them all the surroundings that he
had learned to know so well and to recall during many of the gloomy
nights and days he had spent at Desolada--the great shade palms, the
gorgeous flamboyants and delicate oleander blossoms, as well as the
despairing looking and lugubrious monkey--"for, darling, I cannot go
without you. If I were to do so, Heaven alone knows when I could
return to claim you; and, also, I cannot wait. Sweetheart, you too
must sail for England with me, and it must be as Mrs. Ritherdon."

He said the same thing often. Indeed at night, which is--as those
acquainted with such matters tell us--the period when young ladies
pass in review the principal events that have happened to them during
the day, Beatrix used to consider, or rather to calculate, that he
made the same remark about twenty times daily. While, since, loving
and gentle as she was, she was also possessed of a considerable amount
of feminine perspicacity, she supposed that he reiterated the phrase
upon the principle that the constant drop of water which falls upon a
stone will at last wear it away.

"Though," the girl would say to herself in those soft hours of maiden
meditation, "he need not fear. He cannot but think that his longing is
also shared by me."

Aloud, however, when once more he repeated what had become almost a
set phrase, she said:

"You know that you have taken an unfair advantage of me. Indeed,
though it was only by chance, you have put me to terrible
mortification. You overheard my avowal to that unhappy girl, my avowal
that--that--I loved you." And Beatrix blushed most beautifully as she
softly uttered the words. "Think what an avowal it was. To be made by
a woman for a man who had never asked for her love."

"Had he not," Julian said, "had he not, Beatrix? Never asked for that
love on one happy day spent alone by that woman's side, when he
confided everything to her that bore upon his presence here; and she,
full of soft and gentle sympathy, told him all her fears and anxiety
for the risks he might run. And, did he not ask for that love on the
night which followed that day, as they rode back to Belize beneath the
stars?"

And now his eyes were gazing into hers with a look of love which no
woman could doubt, even though no other man had ever looked at her so
before; while since loverlike, they were sitting close together, his
arm stole round her waist.

To the inexperienced--the present narrator included--it may be
permitted to wonder how lovers learn to do these things as well as how
they discover, too, the efficacy of such subtle tenderness; yet one is
told that they are done, and that the success thereof is indisputable.

Nor, with Beatrix, did either the look of love or the soft environment
of his arm fail in their effort, as may be judged from her answer to
his whispered question, "It shall be, shall it not, darling?"

"Yes," she murmured, blushing again and more deeply. "Yes. If father
permits."

And so Julian's love grew toward a triumphant termination; yet still
there were other matters to be seen to and arranged ere he, with his
wife by his side, should quit the colony forever. One thing, however,
it transpired, would require little trouble in arranging; namely, the
property of Desolada, when the law should put him in possession of it,
since, on investigation being made after the disappearance of
Sebastian, it was found to be so heavily mortgaged that to pay off the
loans upon it would leave Julian without any capital whatever; while,
at the same time, he would be saddled with a possession in a country
with which he had nothing in common. Of what had become of the money
left by Charles Ritherdon at his death (and it had been a substantial
sum) or of what had become of the other sums borrowed on Desolada,
there was no one to inform them.

Sebastian had disappeared, was undoubtedly gone forever--and of his
fate there could be little doubt. Certainly there could be no doubt in
the minds of either Beatrix or Julian or of Mr. Spranger, who had of
course been made acquainted with the substitution of Sebastian for
Julian. Zara also had disappeared, and Madame Carmaux had--escaped.

How she had done it no one ever knew, but in the morning which
followed that eventful night when she made her confession, she was
missing from her room, at the door of which one of the constabulary
had been set as a guard. That she should be able so to evade those who
were passing the night at Desolada was easily to be comprehended when,
the next day, her room was examined; they understood how she might
have passed on to the balcony outside that room, have traversed it for
some distance, and then have made her way into some other apartment,
and so from that have descended the great stairs in the darkness, and
stolen away into the plantations. At any rate, whether these surmises
were correct or not, she was gone, and she has never since been seen
in British Honduras.

Yet one planter, who makes frequent journeys to New Orleans in
connection with his imports and exports, declares that only a few
months ago he saw her in Lafayette Square in that city. It was at the
time when the terrible scourge of Louisiana, the yellow fever, is most
dreaded, and even as the planter entered the Square he saw a man lying
prostrate on the ground, while afar off from him, because of fear of
the infection, yet regarding him with a gaping curiosity, was a crowd
of negroes and whites. Then, still watching the scene, this gentleman
saw a woman clad in the garb of a Nun of Calvary, who approached the
prostrate man, and, while calling on those near to assist him,
ministered to his wants in so far as she could. And, her veil falling
aside, the planter declared that he saw plainly the face of the woman
who, in British Honduras, had been known for a quarter of a century as
Miriam Carmaux. He also recognized her voice.

If such were the case, if, at last, that tempestuous soul--the soul of
a woman who, in her earlier days, had had meted out to her a more
cruel fate than falls to the lot of most women--if at last the erring
woman who had been driven to fraud and crime by the love she bore her
child--had found calm, if not peace, beneath that holy garb, perhaps
those who have heard her story may be disposed to think of her without
harshness. Such was the case with Julian Ritherdon, who, as she made
her confession, forgave her for all that she had attempted against
him--since she was scarcely a greater sinner than his own father, who
had countenanced the fraud she perpetrated, or his uncle, whose early
vindictiveness led to that fraud. Such, also, was the case with
Beatrix, from whose gentle eyes fell tears as she listened to the
narrative told by the unhappy woman while she was yet uncertain of the
doom of the son for whom she had so long schemed and plotted. And so
let it be with others. If she had erred, so also she had suffered.
And, by suffering, is atonement made.


You could not have witnessed, perhaps, a brighter scene than that
which took place on a clear October morning in the handsome Gothic
church of Belize, when Julian Ritherdon and Beatrix Spranger became
man and wife.

Space has not permitted for the introduction of the reader to several
other sweet young English maidens whose parents' affairs have led to
their residences in the colony; yet such maidens there are in
Honduras--as the inquiring traveller may see for himself, if he
chooses--and of these fair exiles some were, this morning,
bridesmaids. They, you may be sure, lent brightness and brilliancy to
the scene, and so did the uniforms of several young officers of her
Majesty's navy, these gentlemen having been impressed into the
ceremony For, as luck would have it, not a week before, H.M.S.
Cerberus (twin-screw cruiser, first-class, armoured) had anchored, off
Belize, and, as those acquainted with the Royal navy are aware, no
officer of that noble service can come into contact with any ship
belonging to it (as Julian Ritherdon soon did) without finding therein
old friends and comrades. Be very sure also, therefore, that George
Hope, George Potter, John Hamilton, that most illustrious of naval
doctors, "Jock" Lyons, and many others dear to friends both in and
out of the service, all came ashore in the bravery of their full
dress--epaulettes, cocked hats, and so forth--while the _Padré_ "stood
by" to lend a hand to the local clergyman in performing the ceremony.
While, too, the path from the churchyard gates to the church door was
lined by bluejackets who, of course, were here clad in their "whites"
and straw hats.

But, because rumour ever runneth swift of foot, even in so small a
colony as this--where, naturally, its feet have not so much ground to
cover--and in so small a capital as Belize, with its six thousand
inhabitants, the church was also filled with many others drawn from
the various races, mixed and pure, who dwell therein. For, by now,
there was scarcely a person in either the colony or capital to whose
ears there had not come the news that the handsome young officer who
was in a few moments to become the husband of Miss Spranger, was, in
truth, the rightful owner of Desolada. Likewise, all knew that
Sebastian had never been that owner, but that he was the son of
Carmaux, who had perished by the fangs of the tommy-goff, and of the
dark, mysterious beauty who had come among them as Miriam Gardelle and
had married him. And they knew, too, that this marriage was to be the
reward and crown of dangers run by Julian, of more than one attempt
upon his life, as well as that it was the outcome of a deep fraud
perpetrated and kept dark for many years.

Paz was there, too, his eyes glistening with rapture at the sound of
the Wedding March, his weird soul being ever stirred by music; so,
also, was Monsieur Lemaire, grave, dignified, and calm as became a
French gentleman in exile, and with, about him as ever, that flavour
of one who ought by right to have walked in the gardens of Versailles
two hundred years ago, and have basked in the smiles of the Great
Monarch.

And so they were married, nor can it be doubted that they will live
happy ever afterward--to use the sweet, old-time expression of the
storybooks of our infancy. Married--she given away by her father; he
supported by his oldest friend in the Cerberus--and both passing
happy! Married, and going forth along the path of life, he most
probably to distinction in his calling, she to the duties of an honest
English wife. Married and happy. What more was needed?

"I come," he said to her that afternoon, when already the steamer was
leaving Honduras far astern, and they were travelling by the new route
toward Kingstown on their road to England--"I came to Honduras to find
perhaps a father, perhaps an inheritance. Neither was to be granted to
me, but, instead, something five thousand times more precious--a wife
five thousand times more dear than any parent or any possession."

"And," she asked, her pure, earnest eyes gazing into his, "you are
contented? You are sure that that will make you happy?"

To which he replied--as--well! as, perhaps--if a man--you would have
replied yourself.



THE END.





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