Part 2 out of 6
lamplight, catching on the facets, struck from it blinding shafts of
intensely green radiance. Rutton nodded as if in recognition of the
stone and, turning, with an effect of carelessness, tossed it to Amber.
"Keep that for me, David, please," he said. And Amber, catching it,
dropped the ring into his pocket.
"My lord is satisfied with my credentials, then?" the babu persisted.
"It is the Token," Rutton assented wearily. "Now, your message. Be
"The utterances of the Voice be infrequent, hazoor, its words few--but
charged with meaning: as you know of old." The Bengali drew himself up,
holding up his head and rolling forth his phrases in a voice of great
resonance and depth. "These be the words of the Voice, hazoor:
"'_To all my peoples:
"'Even now the Gateway of Swords yawns wide, that he who is without
fear may pass within; to the end that the Body be purged of the Scarlet
"'The Elect are bidden to the Ordeal with no exception._'"
The sonorous accents subsided, and a tense wait ensued, none speaking.
Rutton stood in stony apathy, his eyes lifted to a dim corner of the
ceiling, his gaze--like his thoughts--perhaps ranging far beyond the
dreary confines of the cabin in the dunes. Minute after minute passed,
he making no sign, the babu poised before him in inscrutable triumph,
watching him keenly with his black and evil eyes of a beast. Amber hung
breathless upon the issue, sensing a conflict of terrible forces in
Rutton's mind, but comprehending nothing of their natures. In the hush
within-doors he became acutely conscious of the war of elements
without: the mad elfin yammering of the gale tearing at the cabin as
though trying to seize it up bodily and whirl it off into the witches'
dance of the storm; the deep and awful booming of the breakers, whose
incessant impact upon the beach seemed to rock the very island on its
base. Somehow he divined a similitude between the struggle within and
the struggle without, seemed to see the contending elements personified
before his eyes--the spirit of evil incarnate in the Bengali, vast,
loathsome, terrible in his inflexibility of malign purpose; the force
of right symbolized in Rutton, frail of stature, fine of mould, strong
in his unbending loyalty to his conception of honour and duty. The
Virginian could have predicted the outcome confidently, believing as he
did in his friend. It came eventually on the heels of a movement of the
babu's; unable longer to hold his pose, he shifted slightly. And Rutton
awoke as from a sleep.
"The Voice has spoken, babu," he said, not ungently, "and I have
"And your answer, lord?"
"There is no answer."
"I have said," Rutton confirmed evenly, "there is no answer."
"You will obey?"
"That is between me and my God. Go back to the Hall of the Bell, Behari
Lal Chatterji, and deliver your report; say that you have seen me, that
I have listened to the words of the Voice, and that I sent no answer."
"Hazoor, I may not. I am charged to return only with you."
"Make your peace with the Bell in what manner you will, babu; it is no
concern of mine. Go, now, while yet time is granted you to avoid a
longer journey this night."
"Go." Rutton pointed to the door, his voice imperative.
Upon this the babu abandoned argument, realising that further
resistance were futile. And in a twinkling his dignity, his Urdu and
his cloak of mystery, were discarded, and he was merely an
over-educated and over-fed Bengali, jabbering babu-English.
"Oah, as for thatt," he affirmed easily, with an oleaginous smirk, "I
daresay I shall be able to make adequate explanation. It shall be as
you say, sar. I confess to fright, however, because of storm." He
included Amber affably in his confidences. "By Gad, sar, thees climate
iss most trying to person of my habits. The journey hither _via_
causeway from mainland was veree fearful. Thee sea is most agitated.
You observe my wetness from association with spray. I am of opinion if
I am not damn-careful I jolly well catch-my-death on return. But
_thatt_ is all in day's work."
He rolled sluggishly toward the door, dragging his inadequate overcoat
across his barrel-like chest; and paused to cough affectingly, with one
hand on the knob. Rutton eyed him contemptuously.
"If you care to run the risk," he said suddenly, "you may have a chair
by the fire till the storm breaks, babu."
"Beg pardon?" The babu's eyes widened. "Oah, yess; I see. 'If I care to
run risk.' Veree considerate of you, I'm sure. But as we say in Bengal,
'thee favour of kings iss ass a sword of two edges.' Noah, thanks; the
servants of thee Bell do not linger by wayside, soa to speak. Besides,
I am in great hurree. Mister Amber, good night. Rutton Sahib"--with a
flash of his sinister humour--"_au revoir_; I mean to say, till we meet
in thee Hall of thee Bell. Good night."
He nodded insolently to the man whom a little time since he had hailed
as "my lord," shrugged his coat collar up round his fat, dirty neck,
shivered in anticipation, jerked the door open and plunged ponderously
A second later Amber saw the confused mass of his turban glide past the
THE GOBLIN NIGHT
Amber whistled low. "Impossible!" he said thoughtfully.
Rutton had crossed to and was bending over a small leather trunk that
stood in one corner of the room. In the act of opening it, he glanced
over his shoulder. "What?" he demanded sharply.
"I was only thinking; there's something I can't see through in that
babu's willingness to go."
"He was afraid to stay."
Rutton, rummaging in the trunk, made no reply. After a moment Amber
"You know what Bengalis are; that fellow'd do anything, brave any
ordinary danger, rather than try to cross that sandbar again--if he
really came that way; which I am inclined to doubt. On the other hand,
he's intelligent enough to know that a night like this in the dunes
would kill him. Well, what then?"
Rutton was not listening. As Amber concluded he seemed to find what he
had been seeking, thrust it hurriedly into the breast-pocket of his
coat, and with a muttered word, unintelligible, dashed to the door and
flung it open and himself out.
With a shriek of demoniac glee the wind entered into and took
possession of the room. A cloud of snow swept across the floor like a
veil. The door battered against the wall as if trying to break it down.
A pile of newspapers was swept from the table and scattered to the four
corners of the room. The rug lifted beneath the table and flapped
against it like a broken wing. The cheap tin kerosene lamp jumped as
though caught up by a hand; its flame leapt high and blue above the
chimney--and was not. In darkness but for the fitful flare of the fire
that had been dying in embers on the hearth, Amber, seeking the
doorway, fell over a chair, blundered flat into the wall, and stumbled
unexpectedly out of the house.
His concern was all for Rutton; he had no other thought. He ran a
little way down the hollow, heartsick with horror and cold with dread.
Then he paused, bewildered. Other than the wan glimmer of the snow-clad
earth he had no light to guide him; with this poor aid he could see no
more than that the vale was deserted. Whither in that white whirling
world Rutton might have wandered, it was impossible to surmise. In
despair the Virginian turned back.
When he had found his way to the door of the cabin, it was closed; as
he entered and shut it behind him, a match flared and expired in the
middle of the room, and a man cursed brokenly.
"Rutton?" cried Amber in a flush of hope.
"Is that you, Mr. Amber? Thank Gawd! Wyte a minute."
A second match spluttered, its flame waxing in the pink cup of
Doggott's hands. The servant's head and shoulders stood out in dim
relief against the darkness.
"I've burnt me 'and somethin' 'orrid on this damn' 'ot chimney," he
He succeeded in setting fire to the wick. The light showed him barefoot
and shivering in shirt and trousers. He lifted a bemused red face to
Amber, blinking and nursing his scorched hand. "For pity's syke, sir,
"It's hard to say," replied Amber vaguely, preoccupied. He went
immediately to a window and stood there, looking out.
"But w'ere's Mr. Rutton, sir?"
"Gone--out there--I don't know just where." Amber moved back to the
table. "You see, he had a caller."
"A caller, sir--on a night like this?"
"The man he came here to hide from," said Amber.
"I knew 'e was tryin' to dodge somethin', sir; but 'e never told me
aught about it. What kind of a person was 'e, sir, and what made Mr.
Rutton go aw'y with 'im?"
"He didn't; he went after him to...." Amber caught his tongue on the
verge of an indiscretion; no matter what his fears, they were not yet
become a suitable subject for discussion with Rutton's servant. "I
think," he amended lamely, "he had forgotten something."
"And 'e's out there now! My Gawd, what a night!" He hung in hesitation
for a little. "Did 'e wear 'is topcoat and 'at, sir?"
"No; he went suddenly. I don't think he intended to be gone long."
"I'd better go after 'im, then. 'E'll 'ave pneumonia ... I'll just jump
into me clothes and--" He slipped into the back room, to reappear with
surprisingly little delay, fully dressed and buttoning a long ulster
round his throat. "You didn't 'appen to notice which w'y 'e went, sir?"
"As well as I could judge, to the east."
Doggott took down a second ulster and a cap from pegs in the wall.
"I'll do my best to find 'im; 'e might lose 'imself, you know, with no
light nor nothin'."
"I'll be all right; I'll follow 'is footprints in the snow. I've a
'andy little electric bull's-eye to 'elp me, in my pocket."
"Are you armed, Doggott?"
"By Mr. Rutton's orders, sir, I've carried a revolver for years. You
aren't thinkin' it's come to that, sir?"
"I don't know.... If I was sure I wouldn't let you go alone," said
Amber, frowning. "It's only that Mr. Rutton may not want me about ... I
wish I knew!"
"It'll be better, sir, for you to stay and keep the fire up--if you
don't mind my makin' so free as to advise--in case 'e's 'arf-froze when
'e gets back, as is likely. But I'd better 'urry, 'specially if...."
Doggott's color faded a little and his mouth tightened. "But I 'ope
you're mistyken, sir. Good-night."
The door slammed behind him.
Alone, and a prey to misgivings he scarce dared name to himself, Amber
from the window watched the blot of light from Doggott's handlamp fade
and vanish in the storm; then, becoming sensible to the cold, went to
the fireplace, kicked the embers together until they blazed, and piled
on more fuel.
A cosy, crackling sound began to be audible in the room; sibilant jets
of flame, scarlet, yellow, violet, and green, spurted up from the
driftwood. Under the hypnotic influence of the comforting warmth,
weariness descended upon Amber like a burden; he was afraid to close
his eyes or to sit down, lest sleep should overcome him for all his
intense excitement and anxiety. He forced himself to move steadily
round the room, struggling against a feeling that all that he had
witnessed must have been untrue, an evil dream, akin to the waking
visions that had beset him between the loss of Quain and the finding of
Rutton. The very mediocrity of the surroundings seemed to discredit the
testimony of his wits.
Unmistakably a camp erected for its owners' convenience during the
hunting season, alike in design and furnishing the cabin was almost
painfully crude and homely. The walls were of rough-hewn logs from
which the bark had not been removed; the interstices were stopped only
with coarse plaster; the partition dividing it into two rooms was of
pine, unpainted. In one corner near Rutton's trunk, a bed-hammock swung
from a beam. The few chairs were plain and rude. There were two deal
tables, a plate-rack nailed to the partition, and a wall-seat in the
chimney-corner. On the centre table, aside from the lamp, were a couple
of books, some out-of-date magazines, and a common tin alarm-clock
In a setting so hopelessly commonplace and everyday, one act of a drama
of blood and fire had been played; into these mean premises the breath
of the storm, as the babu entered, had blown Romance.... Incredible!
And yet Amber's hand, dropping idly in his coat-pocket, encountered a
priceless witness to the reality of what had passed. Frowning,
troubled, he drew forth the ring and slipped it upon his finger; rays
of blinding emerald light coruscated from it, dazzling him. With a low
cry of wonder he took it to the lamplight. Never had he looked upon so
fine a stone, so strangely cut.
It was set in ruddy soft gold, worked and graven with exquisite art in
the semblance of a two-headed cobra; inside the band was an inscription
so worn and faint that Amber experienced some difficulty in deciphering
the word RAO (king) in Devanagari, flanked by swastikas. Aside from the
stone entirely, he speculated, the value of the ring as an antique
would have proven inestimable. As for the emerald itself, in its
original state, before cutting, it must have been worth the ransom of
an emperor; much had certainly been sacrificed to fashion it in its
present form. The cunning of a jewel-cutter whose art was lost before
Tyre and Nineveh upreared their heads must have been taxed by the task.
Its innumerable facets reproduced with wonderful fidelity a human
eyeball, unwinking, sleepless. In the enigmatic heart of its
impenetrable iris cold fire lived, cold passionless flames leaped and
died and leaped again like the sorcerous fire of a pythoness.
To gaze into its depths was like questioning the inscrutable green
heart of the sea. Fascinated, Amber felt his consciousness slip from
him as a mantle might slip from his shoulders; awake, staring wide-eyed
into the emerald eye, he forgot self, forgot the world, and dreamed,
The crash of the door closing behind him brought him to the right-about
in a panic flutter. He glared stupidly for a time before comprehending
that Rutton and Doggott had returned. How long they had been absent he
had no means of reckoning; the interval might have been five minutes or
an hour in duration. The time since he had stooped to examine the ring
was as indefinite; but his back was aching and his thoughts were drowsy
and confused. He had a sensation as of being violently recalled to a
dull and colourless world from some far realm of barbaric enchantment.
His brain reeled and his vision was blurred as if by the flash and
glamour of many vivid colours.
With an effort he managed to force himself to understand that Rutton
was back. After that he felt more normal. His thoughts slid back into
their accustomed grooves.
If there were anything peculiar in his manner, Rutton did not remark
it. Indeed, he seemed unconscious, for a time, of the presence either
of Amber or of Doggott. The servant relieved him of his overcoat and
hat, and he strode directly to the fire, bending over to chafe and warm
his frost-nipped hands. Unquestionably he laboured under the influence
of an extraordinary agitation. His limbs twitched and jerked nervously;
his eyebrows were tensely elevated, his eyes blazing, his nostrils
dilated; his face was ashen grey.
From across the room Doggott signalled silence to Amber, with a
forefinger to his lips; and with a discretion bred of long knowledge of
his master's temper, tiptoed through into the back room and shut the
Amber respected the admonition throughout a wait that seemed endless.
The tin clock hammered off five minutes or more. Suddenly Rutton
started and wheeled round, every trace of excitement smoothed away.
Meeting Amber's gaze he nodded as if casually, and said, "Oh, Amber,"
quietly, with an effect of faint surprise. Then he dropped heavily into
a chair by the table.
"Well," he said slowly, "that is over."
Amber, without speaking, went to his side and touched his shoulder with
that pitifully inadequate gesture of sympathy which men so frequently
"I killed him," said Rutton dully.
"Yes," replied Amber. He was not surprised; he had apprehended the
tragedy from the moment that Rutton had fled him, speechless; the
feeling of horror that he had at first experienced had ebbed, merged
into a sort of apathetic acknowledgment of the inevitable.
After a bit Rutton turned to the table and drew an automatic pistol
from his pocket, opening the magazine. Five cartridges remained in the
clip, showing that two had been exploded. "I was not sure," he said
thoughtfully, "how many times I had fired." His curiosity satisfied, he
reloaded the weapon and returned it to his pocket. "He died like a
dog," he said, "whimpering and blaspheming in the face of eternity ...
out there in the cold and the night.... It was sickening--the sound of
the bullets tearing through his flesh...."
"Didn't he resist?" Amber asked involuntarily.
"He tried to. I let him pop away with his revolver until it was empty.
"What made you wait?"
"I didn't care; it didn't matter. One of us had to die to-night; he
should have known that when I refused to accompany him back to ... I
was hungry for his bullet more than for his life; I gave him every
chance. But it had to be as it was. That was Fate. Now...." He paused
and after a little went on in a more controlled voice. "Quaintly
enough, if there's anything in the theory of heredity, David, my hands
have been stained with no man's blood before to-night. Yet my forebears
were a murderous lot.... Until this hour I never realised how swift and
uncontrollable could be the impulse to slay...."
His voice trailed off into silence and he sat staring into the
flickering flames that played about the driftwood. Now and again his
lips moved noiselessly.
With a wrench Amber pulled himself together. He had been mentally a
witness to the murder--had seen the Bengali, obese, monstrous, flabby,
his unclean carcass a gross casing for a dark spirit of iniquity and
treachery, writhing and whining in the throes of death.... "Rutton," he
demanded suddenly, without premeditation, "what are you going to do?"
"Do?" Rutton looked up, his eyes perplexed.
"Why, what is there to do? Get away as best I can, I presume--seek
another hole to hide in."
"But how about the law?"
"The law? Why need it ever be known--what has happened to-night? I can
count on your silence--I have no need to ask. Doggott would die rather
than betray me. He and I can dispose of--it. No one comes here at this
time of the year save hunting parties; and their eyes are not upon the
ground. You will go your way in the morning. We'll clear out
"You'd better take no chances."
Suddenly Rutton smote the table with his fist. "By Indur!" he swore
strangely, his voice quavering with joy; "I had not thought of that!"
He jumped up and began to move excitedly to and fro. "I am free! None
but you and I know of the passing of the Token and the delivery of the
message--none can possibly know for days, perhaps weeks. For so much
time at least I am in no danger of--"
He shut his mouth like a trap on words that might have enlightened
"Let me see: there are still waste places in the world where a man may
lose himself. There's Canada--the Hudson Bay region, Labrador...."
A discreet knock sounded on the door in the partition, and it was
opened gently. Doggott appeared on the threshold, pale and careworn.
Rutton paused, facing him.
"Any orders, sir?"
"Yes; begin packing up. We leave to-morrow."
"Very good, sir."
"That is all to-night."
"Yes, sir. Good-night. Good-night, Mr. Amber." The man retired and at
intervals thereafter Amber could hear him moving about, apparently
Rutton replenished the fire and stood with his back to it, smiling
almost happily. All evidence of remorse had disappeared. He seemed
momentarily almost light-hearted, certainly in better spirits than he
had been at any time that night. "Free!" he cried softly. "And by the
simplest of solutions. Strange that I should never have thought before
to-night of--" He glanced carelessly toward the window; and it was as
if his lips had been wiped clean of speech.
Amber turned, thrilling, his flesh creeping with the horror that he had
divined in Rutton's transfixed gaze.
Outside the glass, that was lightly silvered with frost, something
moved--the spectral shadow of a turbaned head--moved and was stationary
for the space of twenty heartbeats. Beneath the turban Amber seemed to
see two eyes, wide staring and terribly alight.
"God!" cried Rutton thickly, jerking forth his pistol.
The shadow vanished.
With a single thought Amber sprang upon Rutton, snatched the weapon
from his nerveless fingers, and, leaping to the door, let himself out.
The snow had ceased; only the wind raved with untempered force.
Overhead it was blowing clear; through rifts and rents in the
fast-moving cloud-rack pale turquoise patches of moonlit sky showed,
here and there inlaid with a far shining star. The dunes were coldly
a-glimmer with the meagre light that penetrated to the earth and was
cast back by its white and spotless shroud.
But Amber, at pause a few paces beyond the doorstep, his forefinger
ready upon the trigger of the automatic pistol, was alone in the
Cautiously, and, to be frank, a bit dismayed, he made a reconnaissance,
circling the building, but discovered nothing to reward his pains. The
snow lay unbroken except in front of the cabin, where the traces of
feet existed in profuse confusion; Amber himself, Rutton, Doggott, the
babu, and perhaps another, had passed and repassed there; the trail
they had beaten streamed out of the vale, to the eastwards. Only,
before the window, through which he had seen the peering turbaned head,
he found the impressions of two feet, rather deep and definite, toes
pointing toward the house, as though some one had lingered there,
looking in. The sight of them reassured him ridiculously.
"At least," he reflected, "disembodied spirits leave no footprints!"
He found Rutton precisely as he had left him, his very attitude an
"No," Amber told him, "he'd made a quick getaway. The marks of his feet
were plain enough, outside the window, but he was gone, and ... somehow
I wasn't over-keen to follow him up."
"Right," said the elder man dejectedly. "I might have known Chatterji
would not have come alone. So my crime was futile." He spoke without
spirit, as if completely fagged, and moved slowly to the door. "I don't
want another interruption to-night," he continued, shooting the bolts.
He turned to the windows, "Nor peeping Toms," he added, drawing the
shade of one down to the sill.
Amber started for him in a panic. "Get away from that window, Rutton!
For the love of heaven don't be foolhardy!"
Rutton drew the second shade deliberately. "Dear boy!" he said with his
slow, tired smile, "I'm in no danger personally. Not a hair of my head
will be touched until...." Again he left his thought half-expressed.
"But if that fellow out there was Chatterji's companion----!"
"He undoubtedly was. But you don't understand; my life is not
"Chatterji fired at you," Amber argued stubbornly.
"Only when he found it was his life or mine. I tell you, David, if our
enemy in the outer darkness were the babu's brother, he would not touch
a hair of my head unless in self-defense."
"I don't understand. It's all so impossible!" Amber threw out his hands
helplessly, "Unbelievable! For God's sake wake me up and tell me I've
had a nightmare!"
"I would that were so, David. But the end is not yet."
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Amber, startled.
"Simply, that we have more to endure, you and I. Consider the
limitations of the human understanding, David; a little while ago I
promised to ask your aid if ever the time should come when I might be
free to do so; I said, 'That hour will never strike.' Yet already it is
here; I need you. Will you help me?"
"You know that."
"I know.... One moment's patience, David." Rutton glanced at the clock.
"Time for my medicine," he said; "that heart trouble I mentioned...."
He drew from a waistcoat pocket a small silver tube, or phial, and
uncorking this, measured out a certain number of drops into a silver
spoon. As he swallowed the dose the phial slipped from his fingers and
rang upon the hearthstone, spilling its contents in the ashes. A
pungent and heady odour flavoured the air.
"No matter," said Rutton indifferently. "I shan't need it again for
some time." He picked up and restored the phial to his pocket. "Now let
me think a bit." He took a quick turn up the room and down again. Amber
remarked that the medicine was having its effect; though the brilliance
of Rutton's eyes seemed somewhat dimmed a dull flush had crept into his
dark cheeks, and when he spoke it was in stronger accents--with a
manner more assured, composed.
"A mad dance," he observed thoughtfully: "this thing we call life. We
meet and whirl asunder--motes in a sunbeam. To-night Destiny chose to
throw us together for a little space; to-morrow we shall be irrevocably
parted, for all time."
"Don't say that, Rutton."
"It is so written, David." The man's smile was strangely placid. "After
this night, we'll never meet. In the morning Doggott will ferry you
"Shan't we go together?"
"No," said Rutton serenely; "I must leave before you."
"Without Doggott; I wish him to go with you."
"On the errand I am going to ask you to do for me. You are free to
leave this country for several months?"
"Quite. I corrected the final galleys of my 'Analysis of Sanskrit
Literature' just before I came down. Now I've nothing on my mind--or
hands. Go on."
"Wait." Rutton went a second time to the leather trunk, lifted the lid,
and came back with two small parcels. The one, which appeared to
contain documents of some sort, he cast negligently on the fire, with
the air of one who destroys that which is no longer of value to him. It
caught immediately and began to flame and smoke and smoulder. The other
was several inches square and flat, wrapped in plain paper, without a
superscription, and sealed with several heavy blobs of red wax.
Rutton drew a chair close to Amber and sat down, breaking the seals
"You shall go a long journey, David," he said slowly--"a long journey,
to a far land, where you shall brave perils that I may not warn you
against. It will put your friendship to the test."
The elder man ripped the cover from the packet, exposing the back of
what seemed to be a photograph. Holding this to the light, its face
invisible to Amber, he studied it for several minutes, in silence, a
tender light kindling in his eyes to soften the almost ascetic
austerity of his expression. "In the end, if you live, you shall win a
rich reward," he said at length. He placed the photograph face down
upon the table.
"The love of a woman worthy of you, David."
"But----!" In consternation Amber rose, almost knocking over his chair.
"But--Great Scott, man!"
"Bear with me, David, for yet a little while," Rutton begged. "Sit
"All right, but----!" Amber resumed his seat, staring.
"You and Doggott are to seek her out, wherever she may be, and rescue
her from what may be worse than death. And it shall come to pass that
you shall love one another and marry and live happily ever after--just
as though you were a prince and she an enchanted princess in a fairy
"I must say you seem pretty damn' sure about it!"
"It must be so, David; it shall be so! I am an old man--older than you
think, perhaps--and with age there sometimes comes something strangely
akin to the gift of second-sight. So I know it will be so, though you
think me a madman."
"I don't, indeed, but you.... Well! I give it up." Amber laughed
uneasily. "Go on. Where's this maiden in distress?"
"In India--I'm not sure just where. You'll find her, however."
"Then you are to bring her home with you, without delay."
"You must win her first; then she will come gladly."
"But I've just told you I loved another woman, Rutton, and besides--"
"You mean the Miss Farrell you mentioned?"
"That will be no obstacle."
"What! How in thunder d'you know it won't?" Amber expostulated. A faint
suspicion of the truth quickened his wits. "Who is this woman you want
me to marry?"
"My only child, David."
"Then why won't my--my love for Sophia Farrell interfere?"
"Because," said Rutton slowly, "my daughter and Sophia Farrell are the
same.... No; listen to me; I'm not raving. Here is my proof--her latest
photograph." He put it into Amber's hands.
Dazed, the younger man stared blankly at the likeness of the woman he
loved; it was unquestionably she. Fair, sweet, and imperious, her face
looked up to his from the bit of cardboard in his hands; the direct and
fearless eyes met his--eyes frank, virginal, and serene, beautiful with
the beauty of a soul as unsullied and untroubled as the soul of a
He gasped, trembling, astounded. "Sophia...!" he said thickly,
colouring hotly. He was conscious of a tightening of his throat
muscles, making speech a matter of difficulty. "But--but--" he
"Her mother," said Rutton softly, looking away, "was a Russian
noblewoman. Sophia is Farrell's daughter by adoption only. Farrell was
once my closest friend. When my wife died...." He covered his eyes with
his hand and remained silent for a few seconds. "When Sophia was left
motherless, an infant in arms, Farrell offered to adopt her. Because I
became, about that time, aware of this horror that has poisoned my
life--this thing of which you have seen something to-night--I accepted
on condition that the truth be never revealed to her. It cost me the
friendship of Farrell; he was then but lately married and--and I
thought it dangerous to be seen with him too much. I left England,
having settled upon my daughter the best part of my fortune, retaining
only enough for my needs. From that day I never saw her or heard from
Farrell. Yet I knew I could trust him. Last summer, when my daughter
was presented at Court, I was in London; I discovered the name of her
photographer and bribed him to sell me this." He indicated the
"And she doesn't know!"
"She must never know." Rutton leaned forward and caught Amber's hand in
a compelling grasp. "Remember that. Whatever you do, my name must never
pass your lips--with reference to herself, at least. No one must even
suspect that you know me--Farrell least of all."
"Sophia knows that now," said Amber. "Quain and I spoke of you one
night, but the name made no impression on her. I'm sure of that."
"That is good; Farrell has been true. Now ... you will go to India?"
"I will go," Amber promised.
"You will be kind to her, and true, David? You'll love her faithfully
and make her love you?"
"I'll do my best," said the young man humbly.
"It must be so--she must be taught to love you. It is essential,
imperative, that she marry you and leave India with you without a day's
Amber sat back in his chair, breathing quickly, his mouth tense. "I'll
do my best. But, Rutton, why? Won't you tell me? Shouldn't I know--I,
who am to be her husband, her protector?"
"Not from me. I am bound by an oath, David. Some day it may be that you
will know. Perhaps not. You may guess what you will--you have much to
go on. But from me, nothing. Now, let us settle the details. I've very
little time." He glanced again at the shoddy tin clock, with a slight
but noticeable shiver.
"How's that? It's hours till morning."
"I shall never see the dawn, David," said Rutton quietly.
"I have but ten minutes more of life.... If you must know--in a word:
poison.... That I be saved a blacker sin, David!"
"You mean that medicine--the silver phial?" Amber stammered, sick with
"Yes. Don't be alarmed; it's slow but sure and painless, dear boy. It
works infallibly within half an hour. There'll be no agony--merely the
drawing of the curtain. Best of all, it leaves no traces; a
diagnostician would call it heart-failure.... And thus I escape that."
He nodded coolly toward the door.
"But this must not be, Rutton!" Amber rose suddenly, pushing back his
chair. "Something must be done. Doggott--"
"Not so loud, please--you might alarm him. After it's all over, call
him. But now--it's useless; the thing is done; there's no known
antidote. Be kind to me, David, in this hour of mine extremity. There's
much still to be said between us ... and in seven minutes more...."
Rutton retained his clutch upon Amber's hand; and his eyes, their
lustre dimmed, held Amber's, pitiful, passionate, inexorable in their
entreaty. Amber sat down, his soul shaken with the pity of it.
"Ah-h!" sighed Rutton. Relieved, the tension relaxed; he released
Amber's hand; his body sank a little in the chair. Becoming conscious
of this, he pulled himself together.... "Enter India by way of
Calcutta," he said in a dull and heavy voice. "There, in the Machua
Bazaar, you will find a goldsmith and money-lender called Dhola Baksh.
Go to him secretly, show him the ring--the Token. He will understand
and do all in his power to aid you, should there be any trouble about
your leaving with Sophia. To no one else in India are you to mention my
name. Deny me, if taxed with knowing me. Do you understand?"
"Never mind--but remember these two things: you do not know me and you
must under no circumstances have anything to do with the police. They
could do nothing to help you; on the other hand, to be seen with them,
to have it known that you communicate with them, would be the
equivalent of a seal upon your death warrant. You remember the
"Dhola Baksh of the Machua Bazaar."
"Trust him--and trust Doggott.... Four minutes more!"
"Rutton!" cried Amber in a broken voice. Cold sweat broke out upon his
The man smiled fearlessly. "Believe me, this is the better way--the
only way.... Some day you may meet a little chap named Labertouche--a
queer fish I once knew in Calcutta. But I daresay he's dead by now. But
if you should meet him, tell him that you've seen his B-Formula work
flawlessly in one instance at least. You see, he dabbled in chemistry
and entomology and a lot of uncommon pursuits--a solicitor by
profession, he never seemed to have any practice to speak of--and he
invented this stuff and named it the B-Formula." Rutton tapped the
silver phial in his waistcoat pocket, smiling faintly. "He was a good
little man.... Two minutes. Strange how little one cares, when it's
He ceased to speak and closed his eyes. A great stillness made itself
felt within the room. In the other, Doggott was silent--probably
asleep. Amber noted the fact subconsciously, even as he was aware that
the high fury of the wind was moderating. But consciously he was bowed
down with sorrow, inexpressibly racked.
In the hush the metallic hammering of the mean tin clock rang loud and
harsh; Amber's heart seemed to beat in funeral time to its steady,
unhurried, immutable ticking.
It was close upon two in the morning.
"Amber," said Rutton suddenly and very clearly, "you'll find a will in
my despatch box. Doggott is to have all I possess. The emerald
ring--the Token--I give to you."
"Your hand.... Mine is cold? No? I fancied it was," said the man
drowsily. And later: "Sophia. You will be kind to her, David?"
"On my faith!"
Rutton's fingers tightened cruelly upon his, then relaxed suddenly. He
began to nod, his chin drooping toward his breast.
"The Gateway ... the Bell...."
The words were no more than whispers dying on lips that stilled as they
spoke. For a long time Amber sat unmoving, his fingers imprisoned in
that quiet, cooling grasp, his thoughts astray in a black mist of
mourning and bewilderment.
Through the hush of death the tin clock ticked on, placidly,
monotonously, complacently. In the fireplace a charred log broke with a
crash and a shower of live cinders.
Out of doors something made a circuit of the cabin, like a beast of the
night, stealthy footsteps muffled by the snow: _pad--pad--pad_....
In the emerald ring on Amber's finger the deathless fire leaped and
Presently Amber rose and quietly exchanged dressing-gown and slippers
for his own shooting-jacket and boots--which by now were dry, thanks to
Doggott's thoughtfulness in placing them near the fire.
The shabby tin clock had droned through thirty minutes since Rutton had
spoken his last word. In that interval, sitting face to face, and for a
little time hand in hand, with the man to whom he had pledged his
honour, Amber had thought deeply, carefully weighing ways and means;
nor did he move until he believed his plans mature and definite.
But before he could take one step toward redeeming his word to Rutton,
he had many cares to dispose of. In the hut, Rutton lay dead of poison;
somewhere amongst the dunes the babu lay in his blood, shot to
death--foully murdered, the world would say. Should these things become
known, he would be detained indefinitely in Nokomis as a witness--if,
indeed, he escaped a graver charge.
It was, then, with a mind burdened with black anxiety that he went to
The rear room proved to be as cheerless as the other. Of approximately
the same dimensions, it too had been furnished with little regard for
anything but the barest conveniences of camp-life. It contained a small
sheet-iron stove for cooking, a table, a rack of shelves, two chairs,
and a rickety cot-bed in addition to another trunk. On the table a tin
kerosene-lamp had burned low, poisoning the air with its bitter reek.
On the cot Doggott sprawled in his clothing, his strained
position--half reclining, feet upon the floor--suggesting an
uncontemplated surrender to fatigue. His face was flushed and he was
The Virginian stood over him for several minutes before he could bring
himself to the point of awakening the man to the news of Rutton's
death. Aware of that steadfast loyalty which Doggott had borne his
master through many years of service, he shrank with conceivable
reluctance from the duty. But necessity drove him with a taut rein; and
finally he bent over and shook the sleeper by the shoulder.
With a jerk the man sat up and recognised Amber.
"Beg pardon, sir," he muttered, lifting himself sluggishly; "I didn't
mean to fall asleep--I'd only sat down for a moment's rest. Has--has
anything gone bad, sir?" he added hastily, remarking with troubled eyes
the sympathy and concern in Amber's expression.
Amber looked away. "Mr. Rutton is dead, Doggott," he managed to say
with some difficulty.
Doggott exclaimed beneath his breath. "Dead!" he cried in a tone of
daze. In two strides he had left Amber and was kneeling by Rutton's
side. The most cursory examination, however, sufficed to resolve his
every doubt: the hanging head and arms, the livid face with its staring
yet sightless eyes, the shrunken figure seeming so pitifully slight and
unsubstantial in comparison with its accustomed strong and virile
poise, hopelessly confirmed Amber's statement.
"Dead!" whispered the servant. He rose and stood swaying, his lips
a-tremble, his eyes blinking through a mist, his head bowed. "'E always
was uncommon' good to me, Mr. Amber," he said brokenly. "It's a bit
'ard, comin' this w'y. 'Ow--'ow did it--" He broke down completely for
a time, and staggered away to the wall, there to stand with his head
pillowed on his crossed forearms.
When he had himself in more control Amber told him as briefly as
possible of the head at the window and of its sequel--Rutton's
Doggott listened in silence, nodding his comprehension. "I've always
looked for it, sir," he commented. "'E'd warned me never to touch that
silver tube; 'e never said poison, but I suspected it, 'e being blue
and melancholy-like, by fits and turns--'e never told me why."
Then, reverently, they took up the body and laid it out upon the
hammock-bed, Doggott arranging the limbs and closing the eyes before
spreading a sheet over the rigid form.
"And now, what, Mr. Amber?" he asked.
Amber had returned to the table. He pondered his problems for some time
before answering; a distasteful duty devolved upon him of questioning
the servant about his master's secrets, of delving into the mystery
which Rutton had chosen always to preserve about himself--which,
indeed, he had chosen to die without disclosing to the man whom he had
termed his sole intimate. Yet this task, too, must be gone through
"Mr. Rutton spoke of a despatch-box, Doggott. You know where to find
The servant brought from Rutton's leather trunk a battered
black-japanned tin box, which, upon exploration, proved to contain
little that might not have been anticipated. A bankbook issued by the
house of Rothschild Frères, Paris, showed a balance to the credit of
H.D. Rutton of something slightly under a million francs. There was
American money, chiefly in gold certificates of large denominations, to
the value of, roundly, twenty thousand dollars, together with a handful
of French, German and English bank-notes which might have brought in
exchange about two hundred and fifty dollars. In addition to these
there was merely a single envelope, superscribed: "To be opened in
event of my death only. H.D.R."
Amber broke the seal and read the enclosures once to himself and a
second time aloud to Doggott. The date was barely a year old.
"For reasons personal to myself and sufficient," Rutton had written, "I
choose not to make a formal will. I shall die, probably in the near
future, by my own hand, of poison. I wish to emphasise this statement
in event the circumstances surrounding my demise should appear to
attach suspicion of murder upon any person or persons whatever. I am a
widower and childless. What relations may survive me are distant and
will never appear to claim what estate I may leave--this I know. I
therefore desire that my body-servant, Henry Doggott, an English
citizen, shall inherit and appropriate to his own use all my property
and effects, providing he be in my service at the time of my death. To
facilitate his entering into possession of my means, whatever they may
be, without the necessity of legal procedure of any kind, I enclose a
cheque to his order upon my bankers, signed by myself and bearing the
date of this memorandum. He is to fill it in with the amount remaining
to my credit upon my bank-book. Should he have died or left me,
however, the disposition of my effects is a matter about which I am
The signature was unmistakably genuine--the formal "H.D. Rutton" with
which Amber was familiar. It was unwitnessed.
The Virginian put aside the paper and offered Doggott the blank cheque
on Rothschilds'. "This," he said, "makes you pretty nearly
independently rich, Doggott."
"Yes, sir." Doggott took the slip of paper in a hand that trembled even
as his voice, and eyed it incredulously. "I've never 'ad anything like
this before, sir; I 'ardly know what it means."
"It means," explained Amber, "that, when you've filled in that blank
and had the money collected from the Rothschilds, you'll be worth--with
what cash is here--in the neighbourhood of forty five thousand pounds
Doggott gasped, temporarily inarticulate. "Forty-five thousand
pounds!... Mr. Amber," he declared earnestly, "I never looked for
nothin' like this I--I never--I--" Quite without warning he was quiet
and composed again. "Might I ask it of you as a favour, sir, to look
after this"--he offered to return the cheque--"for a while, till I can
myke up my mind what to do with it."
"Certainly." Amber took the paper, folded it and placed it in his
card-case. "I'd suggest that you deposit it as soon as possible in a
New York bank for collection. In the meantime, these bills are yours;
you'd better take care of them yourself until you open the banking
account. I'll keep Mr. Rutton's bank-book with the cheque." He placed
the book in his pocket with the singular document Rutton had called his
"will," and motioned Doggott to possess himself of the money in the
"It'll keep as well in 'ere as anywheres," Doggott considered,
relocking the box. "I 'aven't 'ardly any use for money, except, of
course, to tide me over till I find another position."
"What!" exclaimed Amber in amaze.
"Yes, sir," affirmed Doggott respectfully. "I'm a bit too old to chynge
my w'ys; a valet I've been all my life and a valet I'll die, sir. It's
too lyte to think of anything else."
"But with this money, Doggott--"
"Beg pardon, sir, but I know; I could live easy like a gentleman if I
liked--but I wouldn't be a gentleman, so what's the use of that? I
could go 'ome and buy me a public-'ouse; but that wouldn't do neither.
I'd not be 'appy; if you'll pardon my s'ying so, I've associated too
long with gentlemen and gentlemen's gentlemen to feel at ease, so to
speak, with the kind that 'angs round publics. So the w'y I look at it,
there's naught for me but go on valeting until I'm too old; after that
the money'll be a comfort, I dares'y.... Don't you think so, sir?" "I
believe you're right, Doggott; only, your common-sense surprises me.
But it makes it easier in a way...." Amber fell thoughtful again.
"'Ow's that, sir--if I m'y ask?"
"This way," said Amber: "Before he died, Mr. Rutton asked me to do him
a service. I agreed. He suggested that I take you with me."
"I'm ready, sir," interrupted Doggott eagerly. "There's no gentleman
I'd like to valet for better than yourself."
"But there will be dangers, Doggott--I don't know precisely what.
That's the rub: we'll have to travel half-way round the world and face
unknown perils. If Mr. Rutton were right about it, we'll be lucky to
get away with our lives."
"I'll go, sir; it was 'is wish. I'll go with you to India, Mr. Amber."
"Very well...." Amber spoke abstractedly, reviewing his plans. "But,"
he enquired suddenly, "I didn't mention India. How did you know----?"
"Why--I suppose I must 'ave guessed it, sir. It seemed so likely,
knowing what I do about Mr. Rutton."
Amber sat silent, unable to bring himself to put a single question in
regard to the dead man's antecedents. But after a pause the servant
"He always 'ad a deal to do with persons who came from
India--niggers--I mean, natives. It didn't much matter where we'd
be--London or Paris or Berlin or Rome--they'd 'unt 'im up; some 'e'd
give money to and they'd go aw'y; others 'e'd be locked up with in 'is
study for hours, talking, talking. They'd 'ardly ever come the same one
twice. 'E 'ated 'em all, Mr. Rutton did. And yet, sir, I always 'ad a
Doggott hesitated, lowering his voice, his gaze shifting uneasily to
the still, shrouded figure in the corner.
"What?" demanded Amber tensely.
"I alw'ys thought per'aps 'e was what we call in England a man of
colour, 'imself, sir."
"I don't mean no 'arm, sir; it was just their 'ounding him, like, and
'is being a dark-complected man the syme as them, and speakin' their
language so ready, that made me think it. At least 'e might 'ave 'ad a
little of their blood in 'im, sir. Things 'd seem unaccountable
otherwise," concluded Doggott vaguely.
"It's impossible!" cried Amber.
"Yes, sir; at least, I mean I 'ope so, sir. Not that it'd myke any
difference to me, the w'y I felt towards 'im. 'E was a gentleman, white
or black. I'd've died for 'im any d'y."
"Doggott!" The Virginian had risen and was pacing excitedly to and fro.
"Doggott! don't ever repeat one word of this to man or woman--while
you're faithful to the memory of Mr. Rutton."
The servant stared, visibly impressed. "Very good, Mr. Amber. I'll
remember, sir. I don't ordinarily gossip, sir; but you and him being so
thick, and everything 'appening to-night so 'orrible, I forgot myself.
I 'ope you'll excuse me, sir."
"God in Heaven!" cried the young man hoarsely. "It can't be true!" He
flung himself into his chair, burying his face in his hands. "It
Yet irresistibly the conviction was being forced upon him that Doggott
had surmised aright. Circumstance backed up circumstance within his
knowledge of or his experience with the man, all seeming to prove
incontestably the truth of what at the first blush had seemed so
incredible. What did he, Amber, know of Rutton's parentage or history
that would refute the calm belief of the body-servant of the dead man?
Rutton himself had consistently kept sealed lips upon the subject of
his antecedents; in Amber's intercourse with him the understanding that
what had passed was a closed book had been implicit. But it had never
occurred to Amber to question the man's title to the blood of the
Caucasian peoples. Not that the mystery with which Rutton had ever
shrouded his identity had not inevitably of itself been a provocation
to Amber's imagination; he had hazarded many an idle, secret guess at
the riddle that was Rutton. Who or what the man was or might have been
was ever a field of fascinating speculation to the American, but his
wildest conjecture had never travelled east of Italy or Hungary. He had
always fancied that one, at least, of Rutton's parents had been a
native of the European Continent. He had even, at a certain time when
his imagination had been stimulated by the witchery of "Lavengro" and
"The Romany Rye," gone so far as to wonder if, perchance, Rutton were
not descended from Gipsy stock--a fancy which he was quick to dismiss
as absurd. Yet now it seemed as if he had not been far wrong; if
Doggott were right--and Amber had come to believe that the valet was
right--it was no far cry from the Hindu to the Romany, both offshoots
of the Aryan root.
And then Amber's intelligence was smitten by a thought as by a club;
and he began to tremble violently, uncontrollably, being weakened by
fatigue and the strain of that endless, terrible night. A strangled cry
escaped him without his knowledge: "Sophia!"
Sophia Farrell, the woman he had promised to wed, nay even the woman he
loved with all his being--a half-breed, a mulatto! His mind sickened
with the horror of that thought. All the inbred contempt of the
Southerner for the servile races surged up to overwhelm his passion, to
make it seem more than impossible, revolting, that the mistress of his
dreams should be a creature tainted by the blood of a brown-skinned
people. Though her mother had been of noble Russian family, as her
father had declared; though her secret were contained in his knowledge
and Farrell's alone, and though it were to be preserved by them ever
inviolate--could he, David Amber, ever forget it? Could he make her his
bride and take her home to his mother and his sisters in
Virginia--offer them as daughter and sister a woman who, though she
were fairer than the dawn, was in part a product of intermarriage
between white and black?
His very soul seemed to shudder and his reason cried out that the thing
could never be.... Yet in his heart of hearts still he loved her, still
desired her with all his strength and will; in his heart there was no
wavering. Whatever Rutton had been, whatever his daughter might be, he
loved her. And more, the honour of the Ambers was in pledge, holding
him steadfast to his purpose to seek her out in India or wherever she
might be and to bear her away from the unnamed danger that threatened
her--even to marry her, if she would have him. He had promised; his
word had passed; there could now be no withdrawal....
An hour elapsed, its passing raucously emphasised by the tin clock.
Amber remained at the table, his head upon it, his face hidden by his
arms, so still that Doggott would have thought him sleeping but for his
On tiptoe the man-servant moved in and out of the room, making ready
for the day, mechanically carrying out his dead master's last
instructions, to pack up against an early departing. His face was grave
and sorrowful and now and again he paused in the midst of his
preparations to watch for an instant the sheeted form upon the
hammock-bed, his head bowed, his eyes filling; or to cast a sympathetic
glance at the back and shoulders of the living, his new employer. In
his day Doggott had known trouble; he was ignorant of the cause, but
now intuitively he divined that Amber was suffering mental torment
indescribable and beyond his power to assuage.
At length the young man called him and Doggott found him sitting up,
with a haggard and careworn face but with the sane light of a mind
composed in his eyes.
"Doggott," he asked in an even, toneless voice, "have you ever
mentioned to anybody your suspicion about Mr. Rutton's race?"
"Only to you, sir."
"That's good. And you won't?"
"Have you," continued Amber, looking away and speaking slowly, "ever
heard him mention his marriage?"
"Never, sir. 'E says in that paper 'e was a widower; I fancy the lady
must have died before I entered 'is service. 'E was always a lonely
man, all the fifteen year I've been with 'im, keepin' very much to
"He never spoke of a--daughter?"
"No, sir. Didn't 'e say 'e was childless?"
"Yes. I merely wondered.... Tell me, now, do you know of any letters or
papers of his that we should destroy? If there are any, he would wish
"'E never 'ad many, sir. What letters 'e got 'e answered right away and
destroyed 'em. There was a little packet in 'is trunk, but I see that's
"He burned it himself this evening. There's nothing else?"
"Nothing whatever, sir."
"That's all right, then. We have nothing to do but ... see that he's
decently buried and get away as soon as we can. There's no time to
lose. It's after four, now, and as soon as it's daylight----You must
have a boat somewhere about?"
"Yes, sir. Mr. Rutton 'ad me 'ire a little power launch before 'e came
down. It's down by the bayside, 'alf a mile aw'y."
"Very well. The wind is dying down and by sunrise the bay will be safe
to cross--if it isn't now. These shallow waters smoothe out very
He cut his words short and got up abruptly with a sharp exclamation:
Doggott, too, had heard and been startled. "It sounded like a gun-shot,
sir, and a man shouting," he said, moving toward the door.
But Amber anticipated him there.
As he stepped out into the bitter-cold air of early morning, he
received an impression that a shadow in the hollow had been alarmed by
his sudden appearance and had flitted silently and swiftly out upon the
beaten eastward path. But of this he could not be sure.
He stood shivering and staring, waiting with attentive senses for a
repetition of the sound. The wind had indeed fallen, and the world was
very still--a hush that overspread and lay unbroken upon the deep,
ceaseless growling of the sea, like oil on water. The moon had set and
the darkness was but faintly tempered by the starlight on the snow--or
was it the first wan promise of the dawn that seemed to quiver in the
formless void between earth and sky?
In the doorway Doggott grew impatient. "You don't 'ear anything, sir?"
"Not a sound."
"It's cruel cold, Mr. Amber. 'Adn't you better come inside, sir?"
"I suppose so." He abandoned hope disconsolately and returned to the
hut, his teeth inclined to chatter and his stomach assailed by
qualms--premonitions of exhaustion in a body insufficiently nourished.
Doggott, himself similarly affected, perhaps, was quick to recognise
the symptoms. "I'll get a bite of breakfast, sir," he suggested; "you
'aven't 'ad enough to eat, and 'unger's tyking 'old of you. If you'll
pardon my saying so, you look a bit sickly; but a cup of hot coffee'll
set that right in a jiffy."
"Thank you, Doggott; I believe you're right. Though disappointment has
a good deal to do with the way I look. I'd hoped it might be Mr. Quain
come to look for me."
Doggott disappeared to prepare the meal, but within five minutes a
second gun-shot sounded startlingly near at hand. The Virginian's
appearance at the door was coincident with a clear hail of "Aho-oy,
Amber!"--unmistakably Quain's voice, raised at a distance of not over
two hundred yards.
Amber's answering cry quavered with joy. And with a bear-like rush
Quain topped the nearest dune, dropped down into the hollow, and was
"By the Lord Harry!" he cried, almost embracing Amber in his excitement
and relief; "I'd almost given you up for good and all!"
"And I you," said Amber, watching curiously and somewhat distrustfully
a second man follow Quain into the vale. "Who's that?" he demanded.
"Only Antone. We've him to thank. He remembered this old camp here--I'd
completely forgotten it--and was sure you'd taken refuge in it. Come
inside." He dragged Amber in, the Portuguese following. "Let's have a
look at you by the light. Lord! you seem to be pretty comfortable--and
I've been worrying myself sick for fear you--" He swept the room with
an approving glance which passed over Doggott and became transfixed as
it rested upon the hammock-bed with its burden; and his jaw fell.
"What's this? What's this?" He swung upon Amber, appraising with
relentless eyes the havoc his night's experience had wrought upon the
man. "You look like hell!" he exploded. "What's up here? Eh?"
Amber turned to Doggott. "Take Antone out there with you and keep him
until I call, please. This is Mr. Quain; I want to talk with him
undisturbed.... But you can bring us coffee when it's ready."
Quain motioned to Antone; the Portuguese disappeared into the back room
with Doggott, who closed the communicating door.
"You first," said Amber. "If you've fretted about me, I've been crazy
about you--what time I've had to think."
Quain deferred to his insistence. "It was simple enough--and damned
hard," he explained. "I caught the _Echo_ by the skin of my teeth, the
skimmy almost sinking under me. She was hard and fast aground, but I
managed to get the motor going and backed her off. As soon as that was
all right we got a wave aboard that soused the motor--like a fool I'd
left the hatch off--and short-circuited the coil. After that there was
hell to pay. I worked for half an hour reefing, and meanwhile we went
aground again. The oar broke and I had to go overboard and get wet to
my waist before I got her off. By that time it was blowing great guns
and dead from the beach. I had to stand off and make for the
mainland--nothing else to do. We beached about a mile below the
lighthouse and I had the four-mile tramp home. Then after I'd thawed
out and had a drink and a change of clothes, we had to wait two hours
for the sea to go down enough to make a crossing in the launch
practicable. That's all for mine. Now you? What's that there?"
"A suicide; a friend of mine--the man Rutton whom we were discussing
the night I came down. And that's not half. There's a man out there
somewhere, shot to death by Rutton--a Bengali babu.... Quain, I've
lived in Purgatory ever since we parted and now ... I'm about done."
He was; the coming of Quain with the ease of mind it brought had
snapped the high nervous tension which had sustained Amber. He was now
on the edge of collapse and showed it plainly. But two circumstances
aided him to recover his grip upon himself: Quain's compassionate
consideration in forbearing to press his story from him, and Doggott's
opportune appearance with a pot of coffee, steaming and black. Two cups
of this restored Amber to a condition somewhat approaching the normal.
He lit a cigarette and began to talk.
For all his affection for and confidence in his friend, there were
things he might not tell Quain; wherefore he couched his narrative in
the fewest possible words and was miserly of detail. Of the coming of
the babu and his going Amber was fairly free to speak; he suppressed
little if any of that episode. Moreover he had forgotten to remove the
Token from his finger, and Quain instantly remarked it and demanded an
explanation. But of the nature of the errand on which he was to go,
Amber said nothing; it was, he averred, Rutton's private business. Nor
did he touch upon the question of Rutton's nationality. Sophia Farrell
he never mentioned.
Nevertheless, he said enough to render Quain thoughtful.... "You're set
on this thing, I suppose?" he asked some time after Amber had
"Set upon it, dear man? I've no choice. I must go--I promised."
"Of course. That's you, all over. Personally, I think it'll turn out a
fool's errand. But there's something you haven't told me--I'm not ass
enough to have missed that and no doubt that influences you."
"I've told you everything that, in honor, I could."
"Hmm--yes; I dare say...." Quain scowled over the problem for some
time. "It's plain enough," he asserted forcibly: "that man was involved
in some infernal secret society. Just how and why's the question. Think
I'll have a look at him."
Amber would have protested, but thought better of it and held his peace
while Quain went to the hammock-bed, turned back the sheet, and for
several minutes lingered there, scrutinising the stony, upturned face.
"So!" he said, coming back. "Here's news that'll help you some. You
were blind not to see it yourself. That man's--was, I should say--a
Rajput." He waited for the comment which did not come. "You knew it?"
"I ... suspected, to-night."
"It's as plain as print; the mark of his caste is all over him. But
perhaps he was able to disguise it a little with his manner--alive;
undoubtedly, I'd say. He was a genius of his kind--a prodigy; a mental
giant. That translation of the 'Tantras'----! Wonderful!... Well, he's
gone his own way: God be with him.... When do you want to start?"
"As soon as possible--sooner. I've not a day to lose--not an hour."
"Urgent as that, eh?" Quain peered keenly into his face. "I wish I knew
what you know. I wish to Heaven I might go with you. But I'm married
now--and respectable. If I ''ear the East a-callin'' and daren't
answer, it's my own fault for ever being fool enough to have heard it.
Well...." He proceeded to take charge of the situation with his
masterful habit. "The morning train leaves Nokomis at seven-thirty. You
can make that, if you must. But you need sleep--rest."
"I'll get that on the train."
"'Knew you'd say that. Very well. This is Tuesday. The _Mauretania_--or
the _Lusitania_, I don't know which--sails to-morrow. You can catch
that, too. It's the quickest route, eastwards--"
"But I've decided to go west."
"That means a week more, and you said you were in a hurry."
"I am; but by going westwards it's barely possible I may be able to
transact or wind up the business on the way."
As a matter of fact Amber was hoping the Rolands, with Sophia Farrell,
might linger somewhere _en route_, remembering that the girl had
discussed a tentative project to stop over between steamers at
"Very well," Quain gave in; "you're the doctor. Now as for things here,
make your mind easy. I'll take charge and keep the affair quiet.
There's no reason I can see for its ever getting out. I can answer for
myself and Antone; and the two of us can wind things up. That man
Rutton is at peace now--'chances are he'd prefer a quiet grave here on
the island. Then that devilish babu--he doesn't count; Antone and I'll
get him under the ground in a jiffy. No one ever gets over here but me,
now; come summer and there'll be a few wanderers, but by that time....
The dunes'll hold their secrets fast: be sure of that. Finally, if any
one round here knows about this place being occupied, your departure'll
be public enough to make them think it's being abandoned again. Keep
your hat-brim down and your coat-collar up at the station; and they'll
never know you aren't Rutton himself; and you'll have Doggott to back
up the deception. So there'll be no questions asked.... Get ready now
to trot along, and I'll take care of everything."
"There's no way of thanking you."
"That's a comfort. Call Doggott now and tell him to get ready. You
haven't much time to lose. I'd land at the lighthouse dock, if I were
you, and take the short-cut up to the station by the wood road. If you
land at Tanglewood, Madge'll hold you up for a hot breakfast and make
you miss your train. I'll cook up some yarn to account for your
defection; and when you get back with your blooming bride you can tell
her the whole story, by way of amends."
Amber wheeled upon him, colouring to the brows. "My bride! What do you
mean by that? I said nothing--"
Quain rubbed his big hands, chuckling. "Of course you didn't. But I'm
wise enough to know there's bound to be a woman in this case. Besides,
it's Romance--and what's a romance without a woman?"
"Oh, go to thunder," said Amber good-naturedly, and went to give
Doggott his orders.
While they waited for the servant to pack his handbag--it being obvious
that to take the trunks with them was not feasible; while Quain was to
care for Amber's things at Tanglewood until his return from
India--Quain was possessed by an idea which he was pleased to christen
"It's this," he explained: "what do you know about Calcutta?"
"Little or nothing. I've been there--that's about all."
"Precisely. Now _I_ know the place, and I know you'll never find this
goldsmith in the Machua Bazaar without a guide. The ordinary,
common-or-garden guide is out of the question, of course. But I happen
to know an Englishman there who knows more about the dark side of India
than any other ten men in the world. He'll be invaluable to you, and
you can trust him as you would Doggott. Go to him in my name--you'll
need no other introduction--and tell him what you've told me."
"That's impossible. Rutton expressly prohibited my mentioning his name
to any one in India."
"Oh, very well. You haven't, have you? And you won't have to. I'll take
care of that, when I write and tell Labertouche you're coming."
"Labertouche. Why? You don't know him."
"No; but Rutton did. Rutton got that poison from him."
Quain whistled, his eyes round. "Did, eh? So much the better; he'll
probably know all about Rutton and'll take a keener interest."
"But you forget--"
"Hang your promise. I'm not bound by it and this is business--blacker
business than you seem to realise, Davy. You're bent on jumping
blindfold and with your hands tied into the seething pool of infamy and
intrigue that is India. And I won't stand for it. Don't think for an
instant that I'm going to let you go without doing everything I can to
make things as pleasant as possible for you.... No; Labertouche is your
And to this Quain held inflexibly; so that, in the end, Amber, unable
to move him, was obliged to leave the matter in his hands.
A sullen and portentous dawn hung in the sky when the little party left
the cabin. In the east the entire firmament was ensanguined with
sinister crimson and barred with long reefs of purple-black clouds in
motionless suspense. Upon the earth the red glare fell ominously; the
eastern faces of the snow-clad dunes shone like rubies; westward the
shadows streamed long and dense and violet. The stillness was intense.
A little awed, it may be, and certainly more than a little depressed,
they left the hollow by the beaten way, the Portuguese Antone leading
with a pick and spade, Amber and Quain following side by side, Doggott
with his valise bringing up the rear. Beyond the hollow the tracks
diverged toward the bay shore; and presently they came to the scene of
Between two sandhills the Bengali lay supine, a huddled heap of garish
colour--scarlet, yellow, tan--against the cold bluish-grey of snow. A
veil of unmelted flakes blurred his heavy, contorted features and his
small, black eyes--eyes as evil now, staring glassily up to the zenith,
as when quickened by his malign intelligence. About him were many
footprints, some recently made--presumably by his companion. The
latter, however, kept himself discreetly invisible.
At a word from Quain the Portuguese paused and began to dig. Quain,
Amber, and Doggott went on a little distance, then, by mutual consent,
halted within sight of Antone.
"I wouldn't leave him if I were you," Amber told Quain, nodding back at
the Portuguese. "It mightn't be safe, with that other devil skulking
round--Heaven knows where."
"Right-O!" agreed Quain. His hand sought Amber's. "Good-bye, and God be
with you," he said huskily.
Amber tightened his clasp upon the man's fingers. "I can't improve on
that, Tony," said he with a feeble smile. "Good-bye, and God be with
you." He dropped his hand and turned away. "Come along, Doggott."
The servant led the way baywards. Behind them the angry morning blazed
brighter in the sky.
In the sedge of the shore they found a rowboat and, launching it,
embarked for the power-boat, which swung at her mooring in deeper
water. When they were aboard the latter, Doggott took charge of the
motor, leaving to Amber the wheel, and with little delay they were in
As their distance from the shore increased Amber glanced back. The
island rested low against the flaming sky, a shape of empurpled
shadows, scarcely more substantial to the vision than the rack of cloud
above. In the dark sedges the pools, here and there, caught the light
from above and shone blood-red. And suddenly the attention of the
Virginian was arrested by the discovery of a human figure--a man
standing upon a dune-top some distance inland, and staring steadfastly
after the boat. He seemed of extraordinary height and very thin; upon
his head there was a turban; his arms were folded. While Amber watched
he held his pose, a living menace--like some fantastic statue bulking
black against the grim red dawn.
MASKS AND FACES
Like many a wiser and a better man, Amber was able upon occasion to
change his mind without entertaining serious misgivings as to his
stability of purpose. Therefore, on second thought, he elected to
journey India-wards _via_ the Suez Canal rather than by the western
route. As he understood the situation, he had no time to waste; the
quicker way to his destination was the eastern way; and, viewed
soberly, the chance upon which he had speculated, that of overtaking
the girl's party somewhere _en route_, appeared a long one--a gambler's
risk, and far too risky if he did not exaggerate the urgency of his
errand. Rutton's instructions had, moreover, been explicit upon one
point: Amber was to enter India only by the port of Calcutta. In
deferring to this the Virginian lost several days waiting in London for
the fortnightly P. & O. boat for Calcutta: a delay which might have
been obviated by taking the overland route to Brindisi, connecting
there with the weekly P. & O. boat for Bombay, from which latter point
Calcutta could have been quickly reached by rail across the Indian
Now Quain's letter to Labertouche went by this quicker route and so
anticipated Amber's arrival at the capital of India by about a week;
during all of which time it languished unread.
A nice young English boy in Mr. Labertouche's employ received and
stamped it with the date of delivery and put it away with the rest of
the incoming correspondence in a substantial-looking safe. After which
he returned to his desk in the ante-room and resumed his study of the
law; which he pursued comfortably enough with a cigarette in his mouth,
his chair tilted back, and his feet gently but firmly implanted upon
the fair printed pages of an open volume of Blackstone. His official
duties, otherwise, seemed to consist solely in imparting to all and
sundry the information that Mr. Labertouche was "somewhere up in the
Mofussil, hunting bugs--I don't know exactly where."
This was, broadly speaking, perfectly true, within the limitations of
the youth's personal knowledge. He was a pleasant-mannered boy of
twenty or thereabouts, with an engaging air of candour which
successfully masked a close-mouthed reticence, even as his ostensibly
heedless, happy-go-lucky ways disguised a habit of extreme caution and
keen and particular observation: qualities which caused him to be
considered an invaluable office-assistant to a solicitor without any
clientele worth mentioning, and who chose to spend most of his time
somewhere up in the Mofussil hunting bugs.
The Mofussil, by the way, is an extremely elastic term, standing as it
does in the vocabulary of the resident Calcutta-man, for the Empire of
India outside the seat of its Government.
Precisely why Mr. Labertouche maintained his office was a matter for
casual conjecture to his wide circle of acquaintances; although it's
not unlikely that, were he the subject of discussion, the bulk of the
wonder expressed would be inspired by his unreasonable preference for
Calcutta as a place of residence. The Anglo-Indian imagination is
incapable of comprehending the frame of mind which holds existence in
Calcutta tolerable when one has the rest of India--including
Simla--open to one. And Labertouche was unmarried, unconnected with the
Government, and independent of his profession; certainly it would seem
that the slender stream of clients which trickled in and out of the
little offices on Dhurrumtollah Street, near the Maidan, could hardly
have provided him with a practice lucrative enough to be a
consideration. On the other hand it had to be admitted that the man
kept up his establishment in Calcutta rather than lived there; for he
was given to unexpected and extended absences from home, and was
frequently reported as having been seen poking sedulously over this
plain or through that jungle, with a butterfly net, a bottle of
chloroform, and an air of abstraction. In view of all of which he was
set down as an original and wholly irresponsible. The first of which he
was and the second of which he emphatically was not.
Henry Charles Beresford Labertouche was, in person, a quiet and
unassuming body, with nothing particularly remarkable about him save
his preference for boot-heels nearly three inches high and a habit of
dying his hair--naturally greyish--a jet-black. Inasmuch as he was
quite brazen about these matters and would cheerfully discuss with
comparative strangers the contrasted merits of this hair-dye and that
and the obvious advantages of being five feet nine and one-half inches
in height instead of five feet seven, his idiosyncrasies were not held
against him. Otherwise he was a man strikingly inconspicuous; his eyes
were a very dark brown, which is nothing remarkable, and his features
were almost exasperatingly indefinite. You would have found him hard to
recall to memory, visually, aside from the boot-heels, which might
easily have been overlooked, and the black hair, which was, when all's
said, rather becoming than otherwise. Living with two native servants
in a modest bungalow somewhere between Chitpur and Barrackpur, he went
to and from his office, or didn't, at his whim, with entire lack of
ostentation. Soft-spoken and gifted with a distinct sense of the
humorous, he would converse agreeably and intelligently upon any
impersonal topic for hours at a time, when the spirit so moved him. As
an entomologist his attainments were said to be remarkable; he was
admittedly an interested student of ethnology; and he filled in his
spare time compounding unholy smells in a little laboratory connected
with his suburban home. This latter proceeding earned him the wholesome
fear and respect of the native population, who firmly believed him an
intimate of many devils.
Such, at least, was the superficial man.
Now upon the morning of the day that found the steamship _Poonah_
nuzzling up the Hooghly's dirty yellow flood, Mr. Labertouche's clerk
arrived at the Dhurrumtollah Street office at the usual hour; which, in
the absence of his employer, was generally between eleven o'clock and
noon. Having assorted and disposed of the morning's mail, he donned his
office-coat, sat down, thumbed through Blackstone until he found two
perfectly clean pages, opened the volume at that place, tipped back his
chair, and with every indication of an untroubled conscience imposed
his feet upon the book and began the day's labours with a cigarette.
The window at his right was open, affording an excellent view, from an
elevation of one storey, of the tide of traffic ebbing and flowing in
Dhurrumtollah Street. The clerk watched it sleepily, between
half-closed eyelids. Presently he became aware that an especially dirty
and travel-worn Attit mendicant had squatted down across the way, in
the full glare of sunlight, and was composing himself for one of those
apparently purposeless and interminable vigils peculiar to his
vocation. Beneath their drooping lashes the eyes of the clerk
brightened. But he did not move. Neither did the Attit mendicant.
In the course of the next half-hour the clerk consumed two cigarettes
and entertained a visitor in the person of a dapper little Greek
curio-dealer from the Lal Bazaar, who left behind him an invitation to
Mr. Labertouche to call and inspect some scarabs in which he had
professed an interest. It was quite a fresh importation, averred the
Greek; the clerk was to be careful to remember that.
When he had gone the clerk made a note of it. Then, glancing out the
window, he became aware that the Attit mendicant, for some reason
dissatisfied, was preparing to move on. Yawning, the clerk resumed his
street coat, and went out to lunch, carelessly leaving the door
unlocked, and the memorandum of the Greek's invitation exposed upon his
blotter. When he returned at three o'clock, the door of Mr.
Labertouche's private office was ajar and that gentleman was at his
desk. The memorandum was, however, gone.
Mr. Labertouche was in the process of opening and reading a ten-days'
accumulation of correspondence, an occupation which he suspended
temporarily to call his clerk in and receive his report. This proved to
be a tolerably lengthy session, for the clerk, whose name appeared to
be Frank, demonstrated his command of a surprising memory. Without
notes he enumerated the callers at the office day by day from the time
when Labertouche had left for the Mofussil with his specimen-box and
the rest of his bug-hunting paraphernalia; naming those known to his
employer, minutely describing all others, even repeating their words
with almost phonographic fidelity.
Labertouche listened intently, without interrupting, abstractedly
tapping his desk with a paper-cutter. At the end he said "Thank you,"
with a dry, preoccupied air; and resumed consideration of his letters.
These seemed to interest him little; one after the other he gave to his
clerk, saying "File that," or "Answer that so-and-thusly." Two he set
aside for his personal disposition, and these he took up again after
the clerk had been dismissed. The first he read and reconsidered for a
long time; then crumpled it up and, drawing to him a small tray of
hammered brass, dropped the wadded paper upon it and touched a match to
it, thoughtfully poking the blazing sheets with his paper-cutter until
they were altogether reduced to ashes.
Quain's was the second letter. Having merely glanced at the heading and
signature, Labertouche had reserved the rather formidable document--for
Quain had written fully--as probably of scant importance, to be dealt
with at his absolute leisure. But as he read his expression grew more
and more serious and perturbed. Finishing the last page he turned back
to the first and went over it a second time with much deliberation and
frequent pauses, apparently memorising portions of its contents.
Finally he said, "Hum-m!" inscrutably and rang for Frank.
"He left New York by the _Lusitania_, eh?" said Mr. Labertouche aloud.
The clerk entering interrupted his soliloquy. "Bring me, please," he
said, "Bradshaw, the _News_--and the latest P. & O. schedule." And when
Frank had returned with these articles, he desired him to go at once
and enquire at Government House the whereabouts of Colonel Dominick
James Farrell, and further to search the hotels of Calcutta for a Miss
Farrell, or for information concerning her. "Have this for me
to-night--come to the bungalow at seven," he said. "And ... I shall
probably not be at the office again for several days."
"Insects?" enquired the clerk.
"Insects," affirmed Mr. Labertouche gravely.
"In the Mofussil?"
"There or thereabouts, Frank."
"Yes, sir. I presume you don't feel the need of a capable assistant
"Not yet, Frank," said Labertouche kindly. "Be patient. Your time will
come; you're doing famously now."
"Good-afternoon. Lock the door as you leave."
Immediately that he found himself alone, Labertouche made of Quain's
letter a second burnt offering to prejudice upon the tray of hammered
brass. He was possessed of an incurable aversion to waste-paper baskets
and other receptacles from which the curious might fish out torn bits
of paper and, with patience, piece together and reconstruct documents
of whose import he preferred the world at large to remain unadvised.
Hence the tray of brass--a fixture among the furnishings of his desk.
This matter attended to, he lost himself in Bradshaw and the Peninsular
& Oriental Steamship Company's list of sailings; from which he derived
enlightenment. "He was to come direct," mused Labertouche. "In that
case he'll have waited over in London for the _Poonah_." He turned to
the copy of the _Indian Daily News_ which lay at his elbow, somewhat
anxiously consulting its shipping news. Under the heading of "Due this
Day" he discovered the words: "_Poonah_, London--Calcutta--Straits
Settlements." And his face lengthened with concern.
"That's short notice," he said. "Lucky I got back to-day--uncommon
lucky!... Still I may be mistaken." But the surmise failed to comfort
He drew a sheet of paper on which there was no letter-head to him and
began to write, composing deliberately and with great care.
The building in which his offices were located stood upon a corner; at
either end of the long corridor on the upper floor, upon which the
various offices opened, were stairways, one descending to Dhurrumtollah
Street, the other to a side street little better than an alley. It may
be considered significant that, whereas Labertouche himself was not
seen either to enter or to leave the building at any time that day, an
Attit mendicant did enter from Dhurrumtollah Street shortly after Frank
had gone to lunch--and disappeared forthwith; while, in the dusk of
evening, a slim Eurasian boy with a clerkly air left by the stairs to
the alley. I say a boy, but he may have been thirty; he was carefully
attired in clothing of the mode affected by the Anglo-Indian, but wore
shoes that were almost heelless. His height may have been five-feet
seven inches, but he carried himself with a slight, studious rounding
of the shoulders that assorted well with the effect of his large
He stumbled out of the alley into Free School Street and set his face
to the Maidan, shuffling along slowly with a peering air, his
spectacles catching the light from the shop-windows and glaring
glassily through the shadows.
Forward on the promenade deck of the _Poonah,_ in the shadow of the
bridge, Amber stood with both elbows on the rail, dividing his somewhat
perturbed attention between a noisy lot of lascar stewards, deckhands,
and native third-class passengers in the bows below, and the long lines
of Saugor Island, just then slipping past on the starboard beam.
On either hand, ahead, the low, livid green banks of the Hooghly were
closing in, imperceptibly constricting the narrow channel through which
the tawny tide swirled down to the sea at the full force of its ebb.
Struggling under this handicap, the _Poonah_ trembled from stem to
stern with the heavy labouring of the screw, straining forward like a
thoroughbred, its strength almost spent, with the end of the race in
sight. Across the white gleaming decks, as the bows swung from port to
starboard and back again, following the channel, purple-black shadows
slipped like oil. A languid land-wind blew fitfully down the estuary,
in warm puffs dense with sickly-sweet jungle reek. The day was hot and
sticky with humidity; a haze like a wall of dust coloured the skies
almost to the zenith.
It was ten o'clock in the morning; Calcutta lay a hundred miles up the
river, approximately. By evenfall Amber expected to be in the city,
whether he stuck by the steamer until she docked in the port, or left
her at Diamond Harbour, sixty miles upstream, and finished his journey
by rail. At the present moment he hardly knew which to do; in the
ordinary course of events he would have gone ashore at Diamond Harbour,
thereby gaining an hour or two in the city. But within the last
eighteen hours events had been diverted from their normal course; and
Amber was deeply troubled with misgivings.
Up to the day that the Poonah had sailed from Tilbury Dock, London,
from the time he had left Quain among the sand-dunes of Long Island, he
had not been conscious of any sort of espionage upon his movements.
That gaunt and threatening figure which he had seen silhouetted against
the angry dawn had not again appeared to disturb or trouble him. His
journey across the Atlantic had been uneventful; he had personally
investigated the saloon passenger lists, the second and third cabins
and the steerage of the _Lusitania,_ not forgetting the crew, only to
be reassured by the absence of anybody aboard who even remotely
suggested an Indian spy. But from the hour that the _Poonah_ with its
miscellaneous ship's company, white, yellow, brown, and black, had
warped out into the Thames, he had felt he was being watched--had
realised it instinctively, having nothing definite whereon to base his
feeling. He was neither timorous nor given to conjuring up shapes of
terror from the depths of a nervous imagination; the sensation of being
under the surveillance of unseen, prying eyes is unmistakable. Yet he
had tried to reason himself out of the belief--after taking all
sensible precautions, such as never letting the photograph of Sophia
Farrell out of his possession and keeping the Token next his skin, in a
chamois bag that nestled beneath his arm, swinging from a leather cord
round his neck. And as day blended into eventless day, he had lulled
himself into an uneasy indifference. What if he were watched? What
could it profit any one to know what he did or how he did it, day by
day? And with increasing infrequency he had come to question himself as
to the reason for the spying on his movements.
Possibly the fruitlessness of any such speculation had much to do with
his gradual cessation of interest in the enigma. He was not credulous
of the power of divination popularly ascribed to the Oriental; he was
little inclined to believe that the nature of his errand to India had
been guessed, or that any native intelligence in India knew or
suspected the secret of Sophia Farrell's parentage--Rutton's solicitude
to the contrary notwithstanding. The theory that he most favoured in
explanation of the interest in him was that it had somehow become known
that he bore with him the emerald. It was quite conceivable that that
jewel, intrinsically invaluable, was badly wanted by its former
possessors, whether for the simple worth of it or because it played an
important part in the intrigue, or whatever it was, that had resulted
in Rutton's suicide. For his own part, Amber cared nothing for it; he
had christened it, mentally, the Evil Eye--with a smile to himself;
nonetheless he half-seriously suspected it of malign properties. He was
imaginative enough for that--or superstitious, if you prefer.
He would, however, gladly have surrendered the jewel to those who
coveted it, in exchange for a promise of immunity from assassination,
had he known whom to approach with the offer and been free to make it.
But he must first show it to Dhola Baksh of the Machua Bazaar. After
that, when its usefulness had been discharged, he would be glad of the
chance to strike such a bargain....
Such, in short, had been his frame of mind up to eight o'clock of the
previous evening. At that hour he had made a discovery which had
diverted the entire trend of his thoughts.
Doggott, ever a poor sailor, had been feeling ill and Amber had excused
him early in the afternoon. About six o'clock he had gone to his
stateroom and dressed for dinner, unattended. Absorbed in anticipations
of the morrow, when first he should set foot in Calcutta and take the
first step in pursuit of Sophia Farrell, he had absent-mindedly
neglected to empty the pockets of his discarded clothing. At seven he
had gone to dinner, leaving his stateroom door open, as was his
habit--a not unusual one with first-cabin passengers on long
voyages--and his flannels swinging from hooks in the wall. About eight,
discovering his oversight through the absence of his cigarette-case, he
had hurried back to the stateroom to discover that he had been
His watch, his keys, his small change and his sovereign purse, his
silver cigarette-case--all the articles, in fact, that he was
accustomed to stuff into his pockets--with one exception, were where he
had left them. But the leather envelope containing the portrait of
Sophia Farrell was missing from the breast-pocket of his coat.
From the hour in which he had obtained it he had never but this once
let it out of his personal possession. The envelope he had caused to be
constructed for its safe-keeping during his enforced inaction in
London. He had never once looked at it save in strict privacy, secure
even from the eyes of Doggott; and the latter did not know what the
leather case contained.
Thus his preconceived and self-constructed theory as to the extent of
The Enemy's knowledge, was in an instant overthrown. "They" had seized
the very first relaxation of his vigilance to rob him of that which he
valued most. And in his heart he feared and believed that the incident
indicated "their" intimacy not alone with his secret but with that
which he shared with Colonel Farrell.
Since then his every move toward regaining the photograph had been
fruitless. His stateroom steward, a sleek, soft Bengali boy who had
attended him all through the voyage with every indication of eagerness
to oblige him, professed entire ignorance of the theft. That was only
to be expected. But when Amber went to the purser and the latter
cross-examined the steward in his presence, the Bengali stuck to his
protestations of innocence without the tremor of an eyelash. In fact,
he established an alibi by the testimony of his fellow-stewards.
Further, when Amber publicly offered a reward of five guineas "and no
questions asked" and in private tempted the Bengali with much larger
amounts, he accomplished nothing.
In the end, and in despair, Amber posted a notice on the ship's
bulletin-board, offering fifty guineas reward for the return of the
photograph to him either before landing or at the Great Eastern Hotel,
Calcutta, and having thereby established his reputation as a mild
lunatic, sat down to twirl his thumbs and await the outcome,
confidently anticipating there would be none. "They" had outwitted him
and not five hundred guineas would tempt "them," he believed. It
remained only to contrive a triumph in despite of this setback.
But how to set about it? How might he plan against forces of whose very
nature he was ignorant--save that he guessed them to be evil? How could
he look ahead and scheme to circumvent the unguessable machinations of
the unknown?... His wits, like wild things in a cage, battered
themselves to exhaustion against the implacable bars of his
For the thousand-and-first time he reviewed the maddeningly scanty
store of facts at his command, turning them over and over in his mind,
vainly hopeful of inferring a clue. But, as always, he found his
thoughts circling a beaten track of conjecture.... What dread power had
hounded Rutton, forth from the haunts of his kind, from pillar to post
of the world (as he had said) to his death among the desolate dunes of
Long Island? What "staggering blow against the peace and security of
the world" could that or any power possibly strike, with Rutton for its
tool, once it had caught and bent him to its will? What fear had set
upon his lips a seal so awful that even in the shadow of death he had
not dared speak, though to speak were to save the one being to whom his
heart turned in the end? To save his daughter from what, had he
voluntarily renounced her, giving her into another's care, forswearing
his paternal title to her love, refusing himself even the cold comfort
of seeing her attain to the flower of her womanly beauty as another's
child? What--finally--was the ordeal of the Gateway of Swords, and what
could it be that made the Gateway of Death seem preferable to it?
For the thousand-and-first time Amber abandoned his efforts to divine
the inscrutable, to overcome the insurmountable, to attain to the
inaccessible, but abandoned them grudgingly, grimly denying the
possibility of ultimate failure. Though he were never to know the dark
heart of the mystery, yet would he snatch from its pythonic coils the
woman he had sworn to save, the woman he loved!
And while the black steamer with the buff super-structure toiled on,
cleaving its arduous way through the turbulent yellow flood between the
contracting shores of the Sunderbunds, while the offshore wind buffeted
Amber's cheeks with the hot panting breath of Bengal, his eyes, dimmed
with dreaming, saw only Her face.
So often of late had he in solitude pondered her photograph, striving
to solve the puzzle of her heart that was to him a mystery as
unfathomable as that which threatened her, that he had merely to think
of her to bring her picture vividly before him. He could close his eyes
(he closed them now, shutting out the moving panorama of the river) and
see the girl that he had known in those few dear hours: the girl with
eyes as brown as sepia but illumined by traces of gold in the
irides--eyes that could smile and frown and be sweetly grave, all in
the time that a man needs to catch his breath; the girl with the
immaculate, silken skin, milk-white, with the rose-blush of young blood
beneath; with lips softly crimson as satin petals of a flower, that
could smile a man into slavery; the girl to contemplate whose adorably
modelled chin and firm, round, young neck would soften the austerity of
an anchorite; in whose hair was blended every deep shade of bronze and
Something clutched at his heart as with a hand of ice. He could never
forget, dared not remember what he could not believe yet dared not
deny. To him, reared as he had been, the barrier of mixed blood rose
between them, a thing surmountable only at the cost of caste; the
shadow of that horror lay upon his soul like ink--as black as the
silhouetted rails and masts and rigging of the _Poonah_ on her dead
white decks. He could win her heart only to lose his world. And still
he loved, still pursued his steadfast way toward her, knowing that,
were he to find her and his passion to be returned, death alone could
avert their union in marriage. He might not forget but ... he loved.
With him the high wind of Romance was a living gale, levelling every
obstacle between him and the desire of his heart.