Thursday, 19 January 2017
FRANK L. PACKARD (1929)
UNDER the swinging lamp in the cuddy of a small two-masted schooner, two men sat facing each other at the table. Bob Kenyon, black-haired, clean shaven, big across the shoulders, and displaying an enviable muscular development of chest where his shirt was open at the neck against the tropical heat, was a young Canadian of perhaps twentyeight or nine; the other, Captain David Watts, master and owner, was a wiry, weather-beaten, blue-eyed, bearded little New Zealander of fifty.
“Old Isaacs ought to be along any minute now,” said Captain David Watts significantly.
Bob Kenyon thrust one hand into his trousers’ pocket, extracted therefrom a little cloth sack that had once done duty as a container for cigarette tobacco, loosened the draw-string, and rolled three pearls of great size into the hollow of his other hand.
“I thought you said, when you sent for him, that this chap Isaacs was to be trusted,” he observed.
“And so he is,” returned the older man coolly. “That’s the reason I picked him out. He’s the best of the brokers ashore there, which may not be saying much, but it’s a safe bet he knows more about pearls than all the rest of them put together. He’s been at it now for a number of years here, and I’ve never heard a word said about him except that he was on the square.”
Bob Kenyon, still rolling the three pearls in the hollow of his hand, smiled a little quizzically.
“Why the precaution, then?” he inquired.
“I’ll tell you why,” said Captain David Watts, a sudden grim earnestness in his voice. “It ain’t that I’m afraid of Isaacs except that, like every other human being, he’s got a tongue. If he buys the pearls, all right; but we ain’t likely to come to any bargain off-hand tonight, and, for your own sake, it ain’t a wise thing to have anybody know where they’re kept in the meantime. We’re partners in ’em in a way, but my share is small compared with yours, according to the bargain when you staked the schooner for the trip, and, except for this little bit of by-play, I ain’t going to have it any other way than that they stay in your possession—and right in your pocket, which is the safest place for ’em. But the world don’t need to know it!
I’m an old-timer here, and you ain’t even been ashore yet, and I know what I’m talking about. The minute the word’s out it’s a question of keeping your weather eye skinned. The lagoon’s filling up with pearlers coming in, and some of ’em as far as morals go don’t belong anywhere except in hell; and furthermore the town itself, to say nothing of the whole island of Illola, ain’t unanimous in its church attendance in spite of the missionary stations. There’s a British Resident here, and native police, and all that, but—” He ended with an expressive shrug of his shoulders.
“You’ve put an enormous price on these pearls,” remarked Bob Kenyon speculatively. “Don’t you think you’re a bit high?”
“It ain’t a question of thinking,” Captain David Watts answered tersely. “I know!”
“All right, then,” said Bob Kenyon quietly. He pushed the pearls across the table. “I must say it seems a little unnecessary to me—but go as far as you like.”
Captain David Watts picked up the pearls, opened a locker, and took out a leather wallet. He placed the pearls inside the wallet, returned the wallet to the locker, and closed the locker again. He nodded his head in selfapproval.
“Now,” said he, “let’s go up and take a look-see if he’s coming.”
Bob Kenyon rose from his seat and followed the other up the little companionway to the deck, and for a moment both stood at the schooner’s rail staring out over the black mirror-like, unrippled surface of the lagoon. It was a quiet night, the moon just rising, the scented odor of tropical vegetation in the air. Off to the extreme right of the bay in which the schooner was anchored, scores of scintillating little gleams, denoting the position of the town, broke through the palms that fringed the beach, but growing fewer and fewer as the eye followed the shoreline finally dwindled out until, opposite where the little vessel lay within not more than two hundred yards from the shore, a point, closing this end of the bay, exhibited only a lonely and deserted stretch of sand. Here and there in the lagoon, some quite close at hand, some farther off, singly and in little groups, the riding lights of other vessels twinkled like stars against the sky-line. But there was no sign of any approaching boat.
“What the devil’s keeping him?” exclaimed Captain David Watts impatiently.
“Oh, it’s early yet,” said Bob Kenyon unconcernedly. “It’s scarcely eight o’clock.” He pointed suddenly to two or three little dots of light that came from the windows of a house high up on a hill and almost abreast of the schooner’s position. “What place is that up there?” he asked.
The question was apparently irrelevant to Captain David Watts’ thoughts. He answered with a grunt: “That’s the British Residency—Colonel Willett’s place.” And then: “Damn that man, Isaacs!”
Bob Kenyon made no comment. He was still staring at the lights on the hill when Captain David Watts, after an impatient turn or two along the schooner’s deck, finally halted again beside him at the rail.
“Look here!” said Captain David Watts abruptly, “a thing like this don’t happen in the lifetime of a hundred men—one pearl maybe—but not three of ’em. I don’t go off halfcocked as a general rule, not me; but though my stake don’t amount to one-two-three alongside of yours, I’ve been as excited as a kid ever since we found ’em, and you’ve never batted an eyelash. What’s the idea? Is it because you don’t believe they’re worth what I’ve kept on telling you they were day after day?”
Bob Kenyon’s eyes shifted from the lights on the hill to the rugged, honest face beside him. He brushed his hand across his forehead as though, fogged, he sought to clear his mental vision.
“Why, I don’t know,” he said slowly. “To tell you the truth, I haven’t thought much about them—sort o all in the day’s work, you know.”
“Good Lord!” ejaculated Captain David Watts helplessly. “Listen to that! Well, answer me this, then. Granting those pearls are worth all I say they are, and that’s a fortune, and a whopping big one, what are you going to do with yourself from now on?”
Bob Kenyon shook his head.
“Same answer,” he said. “I haven’t thought about it—but I don’t think it would change anything.”
Captain David Watts stuck a square-ended cigar in his mouth and sucked on it unlighted.
“Well, then, you’re wrong!” said Captain David Watts, a sudden sharpness in his voice. “I’m going to say something to you because I like you, my lad—and, damme, you can take it or leave it. When you and I met up a while ago at MacDonald’s in Suva, I was broke, and you said you had enough to pay the expenses of a trip, including a fair screw for me, and take your chances on the luck. So I fancy you weren’t exactly rolling in wealth, and on that score I don’t blame you for sort of pillar-to-post life, I take it, you’ve led up to now. I can’t think of anything much, according to the stories you’ve let slip, that you have not done, from plantation work to the present fling at pearl fishing, or any place in this lower half of the world where you haven’t been during the last five years. But you keep that up and it gets to be a habit that ends, if you live long enough, in a whining, gin-begging, stinking beachcomber. You think it over, my boy. You know the islands well enough to know what they can do to any white man who lets himself drift. .There’s no excuse for you doing that any more. You’re a rich man to-night whether you believe it or not.”
IN THE flare of a match there was a queer tightening of Bob Kenyon’s lips, as he bent his head to light a cigarette.
“What would you suggest?” he asked, without inflection in his voice.
“Settle down and get married,” replied Captain David Watts promptly. “Yes, and”—his seriousness became suddenly mellowed by a quiet chuckle—“blimy, I’ll show you the girl! You see those lights on the hill you were asking about? Well, there’s a girl for you! As fine a looker as ever you clapped your eyes on is Marion Willetts, and none of those damned new fancy notions about her, either! She’s the kind of a wife for a man—kept the Residency going like one o’clock for her father ever since her mother died five years ago.”
“And, of course,” said Bob Kenyon facetiously, “the British Resident’s first choice for a son-in-law would be an embryonic beachcomber, and naturally the lady’s preference would—”
Bob Kenyon stopped abruptly as a low hail came across the water.
“Hello!” exclaimed the captain. “What’s that?”
The hail was repeated.
And now both men, staring shoreward, made out the white figure of a man on the sandy beach of the point.
“That’ll be old Isaacs now,” said Captain David Watts in a puzzled way. “But it’s blamed queer! He’s walked out from the town instead of taking a boat.”
“Well, you know him, and I don’t,” said Bob Kenyon; “so you’d better take the dingy and fetch him aboard. I’ll take him back, and that’ll be turn about; besides, as I haven’t been ashore yet, I’d like to stretch my legs and take a look at the town when this business is over.”
“Right you are!” agreed Captain David Watts, and hurrying aft to where the dingy floated astern, pulled the boat alongside and clambered in.
BOB KENYON watched the other for a moment; then, his elbows on the rail, his chin cupped in his hands, his eyes fastened and held on the window lights on the hill again. The cigarette fell with a little hiss into the water. There came again that queer tightening of his lips, and with it now, slowly, a strange whiteness came creeping into his face. So Marion Willetts had never married! Of course, he had supposed that she was somewhere here on this island, but that had had no bearing on his coming. She would never know he was here. He would see to that. Besides, when he had seen her last, five years ago, he had been Mr. John Hingston—he was Bob Kenyon now.
Strange! Life was strange—a strange, queer, damned thing! So was love! Why hadn’t she married? She could not have cared—not that much. She had been a very beautiful girl of eighteen then.
His hands, clenching, bit into the folds of his cheeks. Well, he had cared, and—God help him!—he still cared. But he hadn’t come here to this island expecting to torture himself with the might-have-been—nor to sell pearls either! He broke into a sudden low, mirthless laugh. The pearls! There seemed something mockingly ironical in the fact that stupendous luck of this kind, which he neither needed nor cared about, should come his way, when luck of another, if grimmer, sort had persistently eluded him for five futile years!
He roused himself, conscious that he was still staring at the window lights on the hill, as the splash of oars alongside warned him that the dingy had returned. And then a moment later Bob Kenyon smiled to himself
in the moonlight at the sight of a curious little personage that came trailing forward along the deck in the wake of Captain David Watts. The man was bent-shouldered and stooped as he walked; he had a patriarchal beard and wore sun glasses; his white duck suit had long since lost any claim to intimacy with the washtub; and his head was crowned with an oversized pith helmet, also incredibly dirty and much the worse for wear, and which obviously to keep it from resting on his ears, was cocked a little askew, giving him a ludicrously jaunty air.
“Bob,” said Captain David Watts, “this is Mr. Isaacs. Mr. Isaacs, this is Bob Kenyon, my partner in this deal.”
“I’m glad to meet Mr. Isaacs,” said Bob Kenyon pleasantly, shaking hands.
“Humph!” grunted Mr. Isaacs ungraciously. “Well, I’ll tell you right now, young man, I don’t like this business.”
Bob Kenyon, taken a little aback, stared at the other; but before he could speak, Captain David Watts interposed.
“He says,” said Captain David Watts, “that those black-skinned rascals that make our crew, and that we let go ashore and warned to keep their mouths shut, have been talking. So Mr. Isaacs walked.”
“I don’t understand,” said Bob Kenyon.
“You don’t, eh?” said Mr. Isaacs crustily. “Well, I think I can make it clear. The whole town is buzzing like a hornets’ nest over your pearls. I don’t believe for a moment you’ve got anything much out of the ordinary, but the town does—the damned things have grown to the size of a hen’s eggs already.” He turned on Captain David Watts. “Why the devil didn’t you bring them ashore to me yourself as soon as you dropped anchor this afternoon, instead of sending that black fool with a message to me to come out this evening?”
“Let’s go down to the cabin,” suggested Captain David Watts plaçatingly. “We’ll get it all straightened out down there.”
He led the way. The others followed. Mr. Isaacs sat down at the table. And then Bob Kenyon, leaning negligently against a bulk-head, smiled again as Captain David Watts produced a bottle and set it down in front of the visitor from shore.
“I don’t drink,” said Mr. Isaacs testily, “and you know it.” He shoved the bottle away. “Why don’t you answer my question, and where are those pearls?”
“You know why,” said Captain David Watts mildly. “It was on your account. I gave the crew shore leave until to-morrow because I thought you could get off here to-night and nobody the wiser for anything. Nobody else knew anything about the pearls. Some friends of mine from that schooner there nearest us came aboard this afternoon to ask what luck we’d had, and have a drink, but they didn’t go away burdened with information. I thought I could trust those fellows of mine, and it looked like the best thing to do—they must have got hold of liquor somewhere to loosen up like that.”
“A nice mess!” said Mr. Isaacs tartly. “As much as my life is worth! I wouldn’t have come at all if I hadn’t done business with you for the last few years. Good Heavens! Don’t you understand? I’m seen coming out to your schooner. And then they say old Isaacs has bought the pearls; old Isaacs has got them. And old Isaacs stands the best chance he ever had in his life of getting his throat cut before morning. I’d have had to have some one row me if I’d taken a boat out here from the town, and that would have given the show away. So I slipped, and walked. Two miles!” He pushed the pith helmet nervously back on his head, and snatched as nervously to save it from falling to the floor as the rear brim of it bumped against his shoulders. “I hope to God I haven’t been seen!”
Bob Kenyon leaned a little forward toward the other.
“You don’t mean that literally, do you?” he asked quietly.
“Mean it!” Mr. Isaacs gulped distressingly as though something had caught in his throat. “Of course, I mean it! With the stories going around now that those pearls are the greatest find that have ever been made at one time in the Pacific, there’s any one of a dozen men in the riff-raff of the town that wouldn’t ask for anything better than a chance to stick a knife into you for them. You ask Captain Watts.”
Captain David Watts nodded.
“Yes; that’s true,” he said. “I’ve already told Kenyon so.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Isaacs caustically, “and I suppose what you’ve really got is worth maybe somewhere around twenty or thirty quid or so!” He jerked his battered pith helmet forward on his head again. “Well, well!” he ejaculated impatiently. “Let’s see ’em! Let’s see ’em! I want to get back.”
“TWENTY quid!” repeated Captain David Watts with a quiet chuckle. “Oh, right-o!” He opened the locker, produced the wallet, and from the wallet took out the three pearls. These he laid on the table in front of Mr. Isaacs. “Well, there you are!”
Mr. Isaacs did not move; he made no motion to pick up the pearls, he simply sat and stared at them, but there was a sudden, sibilant little sound as Mr. Isaacs sucked in his breath.
Captain David Watts hung eagerly over the table. Bob Kenyon watching, lighted a cigarette.
And then Mr. Isaacs adjusted his ambercolored sun spectacles, and, picking up the pearls one at a time, examined each in turn. Finally, he pushed the three of them away from him, and, with a shake of his head, leaned back in his chair.
“I can’t do any business with you,” he said brusquely. Captain David Watts wiped his forehead with his sleeve.
“What’s the matter?” he said hoarsely. “I know they’re good.”
“That’s the matter,” said Mr. Isaacs. “They’re too good for a little island broker like me. I’ve never seen anything like them before. I tell you frankly I could not even value them. They’re worth thousands of pounds.”
“Well, make us an offer,” suggested Bob Kenyon.
Mr. Isaacs shook his head again.
“I haven’t got enough money,” he said. “I’ve got to be honest with you. The run of pearls that are brought in here from the surrounding islands are one thing—these are another. I haven’t got money enough, and all the brokers here put together haven’t got money enough to buy them.”
Captain David Watts laughed boisterously.
“What did I tell you!” he exclaimed gleefully.
Bob Kenyon whistled softly.
“What’s to be done, then?” he asked.
Mr. Isaacs reached out for the pearls again, stared at them again, and once more, but with extreme reluctance this time, pushed them away from him.
“Get out of here with them,” said Mr. Isaacs bluntly. “With that story going around, and with more than a fair share of the scum of the Pacific here at any time and worse now during the pearling season, it’s the only safe thing to do. Besides, the only place to sell these is in the big market, and then to special buyers. My advice to you is to get what stores you need aboard the first thing in the morning and pull out at once for Auckland or Sydney. And when you get there clap those pearls in a bank for safe-keeping. They may have to be sent to New York, or Paris, or London. I don’t know. Anyway, that’s my advice.”
“And I’ll not say it’s bad,” said Captain David Watts after a moment. “And I’ll say, as I’ve always said, that you’re a square man, Isaacs.”
“I’m not so square,” said Mr. Isaacs with sudden irascibility. “It’s only because I’ve got to be. You don’t think I’m a fool, do you? You don’t think I wouldn’t like to get my hands on those pearls, do you? Only I wouldn’t have any chance of putting anything over on you even if I tried, for sooner or later everybody from Hong Kong to the other end of the world will know the price they brought. But I’m not philanthropic either, and business is business, and if you think there’s anything coming to me and my advice is worth anything, I’ll send you off some letters to some people in Auckland and Sydney who can start things going for you, and I’ll leave it to you to say if there’s a bit of commission coming to me when you’ve made your sale.”
“Fair enough!” said Bob Kenyon promptly.
Captain David Watts gathered up the pearls, replaced them in the wallet, and returned the latter to the locker. “Aye,” he agreed. “And no more than proper, I say.” Mr. Isaacs stood up.
“All right, then,” he said. “I’ll get back.” He secured his pith helmet firmly askew by means of a little corkscrew twist, and headed for the companionway. “One of you take me ashore.”
“I’m going ashore,” said Bob Kenyon. “I’ll take you.”
He followed the pearl broker on deck, and started after behind the other toward where the dingy was made fast. Halfway along the deck he glanced back. Captain David Watts was just emerging from the companionway. A moment later the other joined him, and, as Mr. Isaacs clambered over the side into the dingy, Bob Kenyon felt the wallet pressed into his hand. He pocketed it with an amused smile. The old skipper was as fine a chap as ever stepped—but at times, perhaps, a bit old-womanish. From the day the pearls had been found Captain David Watts had steadfastly refused any share in their custodianship. Oh, well! What difference did it make? If the old man were the more contented thereby, it was not a matter over which to argue.
“I’m going to turn in,” said Captain David Watts. “I think you said you were going to take a look at the town, Bob; but I’m not so sure you’d better. You heard what Mr. Isaacs here said.”
“Nonsense!” Bob Kenyon laughed. “To begin with, nobody knows who I am except those chaps that came aboard from that schooner over there this afternoon. I’m not a marked man, even if what Mr. Isaacs says is true. Besides, it isn’t even nine o’clock yet, and I shan’t be gone more than an hour or two.”
“Well, maybe that’s so,” admitted Captain David Watts. “And anyway I fancy you can look out for yourself. Good-night, Mr. Isaacs, and many thanks to you!” Bob Kenyon dropped into the dingy, shipped the oars, and began to pull away from the schooner.
“You don’t want to be landed at that point again, do you, Mr. Isaacs?” he inquired. “I’m rowing over to the town anyway, and it isn’t, as you said, as though there was any one to talk who had brought you out here. It’ll save you a long walk.”
Mr. Isaacs grunted his affirmation.
“I’m not anxious to walk,” he said. “There’s plenty of places on the beach in front of the town to land without being seen. Just keep away from the rest of the schooners on the way in, that’s all.”
“Right!” said Bob Kenyon, and settled down to the pull across the lagoon.
And thereafter, apart from the fact that Mr. Isaacs gratified his curiosity with a question or two as to how and where the pearls had been found, the conversation languished. At the expiration of some ten minutes, the distance being but perhaps a quarter of that traversed by Mr. Isaacs in following the windings of the road ashore, the dingy grounded on the beach at a spot a hundred yard or so away from the town’s wharf.
Here, there appeared to be no one about, and, as they stepped ashore Mr. Isaacs tapped Bob Kenyon on the shoulder.
“It’s none of my business, young man,” said he gruffly, “but unless you’re looking for trouble don’t drink with every one you meet. And if you’re not sure you can keep your mouth shut, my advice to you is to go straight away back to the schooner.”
Bob Kenyon smiled quietly.
“I guess I’ll be all right,” he said.
“Humph!” grunted Mr. Isaacs — and, turning abruptly, trudged off across the sand.
Bob Kenyon pulled the dingy a little higher up on the beach, and took stock of his surroundings. Across the beach itself was a fringe of palms. Through these he could see numerous window lights stretching out for quite a distance to right and left. From directly in front of him the strumming of a banjo, the squeak of a fiddle and the rattle of a tin-pan piano made a riotous, if unmusical, medley of sound, and he stepped out in that direction.
HE MADE his way through the trees, and, coming out on the road, found himself in front of a rambling, two-story, wooden structure, every window slight, and which from its sign proclaimed itself to be the Southern Cross Hotel. Up and down the street there appeared to be a number of other edifices of similar ilk. He began to stroll along. The street, though quite dark in spots where the stores and copra agents’ offices were closed for the night, was well populated. Natives in lava-lavas, that looked like abbreviated aprons of gaudy hue, meandered, never hurrying, here and there. Mingling with these was a sparkling of East Indian coolies, and, now and then, monarchial in his importance and immensely conscious of his uniform, most polite to the whites and equally brusque with the less fortunate of his own color, stalked a native policeman. But to these Bob Kenyon paid little or no attention. His interest was centered on the whites, little groups of whom, for the most part a rough-and-ready looking lot and evidently mostly from the pearling fleet, congregated outside the lighted windows of nearly all the public houses. He spoke to no one, save to return an occasional good-night that was flung with easy camaraderie in his direction; once or twice he caught snatches of their conversation—the luck of Captain David Watts—the greatest find ever made in the Pacific. But into each of these men’s faces he looked, not offensively, but steadily and with a disarming smile, as he passed by. It had become a habit of long standing.
And then Bob Kenyon began to enter the various bars. But though he ordered much he drank little. He scanned the faces at the bars, at the gaming tables that were invitingly easy of access. At the end of an hour, apparently a little unsteady on his feet, he found himself again in front of the Southern Cross Hotel. The banjo, the fiddle and the piano were still in discordant evidence. He stepped inside, looked around a little owlishly, lurched toward a table in the corner that was shadowy in the ill-distributed lighting from the oil lamps, subsided somewhat heavily into a chair, and ordered a gin and tonic. The drink, though it was surreptitiously spilled upon the floor, appeared to be the last straw in his fight for sobriety, for presently he sprawled across the table, his head down on his out-flung arms.
The long bar was well patronized. There was constant coming and going. No one paid any attention to the lone figure in the corner.
DOB KENYON’S face, hidden in his arms, was hard-set as he watched. Somehow it was different to-night than in all the nights that had gone before. To-night there were two faces instead of the one that usually visualized itself before him. To-night there was the face of a girl, a sweet, wistful face, with hair when the sunlight was on it like glinting gold, that kept rising before him, living its way into his life again. And she was here. He knew where she was. And the temptation grew strong upon him to go out to where those lighted windows on the hill were because perhaps, unseen himself, he might have again a stolen glimpse of her, perhaps see her smile, perhaps hear her voice. He half raised his head—and let it drop again. He snarled savagely, contemptuously at himself under his breath. Had he not promised himself that if he came to this island here he would not torture himself with memories of her? Her’s was not the face he sought—it was the face of a man he searched for amongst those faces there at the bar, as he had searched at other bars, in other islands, in the lowest holes of vice below the equator, along the waterfronts of the shipping centres from China to Honolulu, a face with a closecropped bullet head, with thick, sensual lips, with slightly slanting eyes, with complexion that was darkened with a tinge of Malay blood—the face of Shanghai Jim.
Bob Kenyon’s white helmet slid a little farther over his forehead, covering still more his eyes as he watched. It was six years since he had seen that face— a year after his elder brother’s strange disappearance in Bombay—and he had not even known then that his brother had been murdered, much less that in Shanghai Jim he had once stood face to face with the murderer himself. And then, after a year, when he had given up hope of ever solving his brother’s disappearance, he had made a trip home to New York via England, and in England had met Marion Willetts, who, though her father was the Resident of Illola, was on a visit to what she too called “home”—as all out-posts families of the Empire called the motherland. They had seen a great deal of each other in a very little while. He had returned to Bombay—and then that strange sequence of events—the murder of a young Englishman committed and brought home to Shanghai Jim—Shanghai Jim’s flight and disappearance—the night that he, Bob Kenyon, had listened to the tale of his brother’s murder told by Shanghai Jim’s “runner,” Dublin Mike—his meeting again with Marion Willetts as she passed through Bombay on her return to Illola— and his own arrest.
Bob Kenyon’s face was as white as the pipe-clayed helmet on his head. Everything had culminated—and ended—that night. He was left with only one aim, one object, one desire in life—to find Shanghai Jim.
His hands clenched now until the nails bit into his palms. It was queer, strange—hellishly strange! But life was queer itself! It was queer that in murdering his, Bob Kenyon’s brother, Shanghai Jim should, by that same act through the queer, strange turn of circumstances have wrecked his, Bob Kenyon’s, own life as well.
AND so he had searched for Shanghai Jim, and the years had gone by without sign or trace or vestige of the man. And to-night he still searched—searched each face as it came up there to the bar—not that he had more reason to believe that Shanghai Jim was in Illola than anywhere else in this quarter of the world — but searched as he always searched—everywhere.
There was a grim tightness to Bob Kenyon’s lips. The years stood for futility. The man might be dead. How did he know? It was admittedly strange that a man like Shanghai Jim, known in his day from end to end of the southern world, the mention of whose sailors’ boarding house in Bombay was an “open sesame” to a flood of fervent and virile blasphemy by seamen wherever ships were found, and the measure of whose iniquity ran the gamut of the decalogue, should have so utterly and completely vanished from existence. But Shanghai Jim was clever, he had the cunning of the Malay in that mixture in his blood, coupled with the diabolical ingenuity of the degenerate white and, known so widely, besides being wanted by the police, it would be stranger still if the man had died anywhere unrecognized, his death unreported. No, Shanghai Jim was not dead; Shanghai Jim was alive— not here perhaps—but somewhere—somewhere on this side of the world, because the chances were a thousand to one that the Malay in the man would deny the north—and somewhere, some day, a year or ten from now, he and Shanghai Jim would meet.
Illola—this island here—Marion! Damn it, he was back to that! He had not come here following any clue. In his search he had long since given up everything but a blind surrender into the hands of fate. His meeting with Captain David Watts in Suva had been purely a matter of chance. He had never seen the man in his life before. But money being no object to him, he had hired the old skipper and his schooner simply because the pearl fisheries offered as hopeful a field as any other.
Bob Kenyon lifted a hand suddenly and brushed it heavily across his eyes. Faces! Faces! Faces! Like mocking ghosts! Not one of them at the bar there was the one he sought. And to-night, as never before, he had become tired of watching them. He was full of disgust and unrest. He knew why. He had over-rated his immunity from the memories that her presence in the same place with him, her nearness to him, might bring.
He lurched up to his feet, and, stumbling in simulated intoxication, made his way out to the street. It was still early, not much more than ten o’clock, and he had been ashore but little over an hour, but his spirit rebelled against any further vigil that night. It seemed as though he had become mentally fatigued almost to the point of exhaustion. He crossed the road, went down to the beach, and, pushing off the dingy, began to row back to the schooner.
HE ROWED leisurely, and presently a quiet born of the serenity of the night fell upon him; and at moments he rested on his oars, allowing the little craft to glide forward under the impetus of his last strokes until, its way quite gone, he pulled on again for a little while. It was very silent out here in the lagoon, but dark now because the moon had gone under a cloud. Elsewhere a sky, wonderfully blue even in the night, sparkled with a thousand stars. And he lost count of time. And finally, drifting silently past the schooner anchored nearest to his own some few hundred yards away, he rounded the counter of his own vessel, stood up, and, making fast, prepared to clamber aboard.
And then suddenly, half over the rail, he hung for an instant motionless, robbed of all power of movement, as a cry, wild, gurgling, hoarse, a horrible sound out of the silence that sent the blood cold in his veins, rang through the night, and, repeated, rang again.
But now Bob Kenyon was in action. The glow from the skylight showed that the lamp was burning in the cabin. The cries had come from there. He leapt across the deck and flung himself down the companionway. And here for an instant again, because it seemed as though his reason had fled and his brain refused its functions, he stood still, save that he swayed upon his feet like a man stunned. Upon the floor, dead, stabbed, lay Captain David Watts. A mist seemed to swim before Bob Kenyon’s eyes, but out of this mist there loomed another figure—the figure of a man, naked but for cotton trousers that clung to the flesh as though they had recently been immersed in water—the figure of a man crouched, head lowered, knife in hand to spring. And Bob Kenyon’s eyes fastened on the other’s face—on a face with slightly slanting eyes, with thick, sensual lips, half open now like those of a snarling beast with teeth displayed. And slowly out from his body went Bob Kenyon’s great muscular arms reaching toward the other, his fingers wide apart, curved inward like claws, trembling with an unholy eagerness that racked him to the soul. And from his lips there came a choking sound.
“Shanghai Jim!” he whispered, “Shanghai Jim.”
“Yes, you damned fool!” snarled the other. “And you’re young Hingston. So you’ve found me, have you? And maybe you thought I didn’t know what you’ve been after for the last five years! Well, you’ll have a chance to give my chin-chin to your brother to-night before I’m through with you, and—”
The man stopped abruptly— listening. Subconsciously Bob Kenyon was aware that sounds were coming across the water from the direction of the near-by schooner.
And then Bob Kenyon sprang. There was a flicker of light on the knife blade as Shanghai Jim struck with a swift, full-arm, downward blow, but Bob Kenyon caught the other’s wrist, and, turning the thrust aside, the blade gashed a cut across Shanghai Jim’s own chin. And Bob Kenyon laughed now and grappled with the other, and for a moment, hugged close in each others’ embrace, the two men lurched and swayed around the little cabin carrying destruction in their path, and blood flowing from Shanghai Jim’s chin made great crimson blotches on Bob Kenyon’s shirt.
Shouts, the sound of oars, came nearer from across the water now. They seemed to lend an added frenzy to Shanghai Jim’s struggles, for the man with a quick, sudden twist broke almost free, and Bob Kenyon, as he sought to tighten his hold on the other, felt his hands slipping on the naked flesh of the man’s back and chest. He could not get his grip again. He dug with his fingers mercilessly, with untamed fury, into the man’s flesh, making a fold of it, but the fold flattened out, and with a bound Shanghai Jim disappeared up the companionway.
It threw Bob Kenyon off his balance and he stumbled to the floor. Then with a bound he, too, was up the companionway and on the deck after the other. It was dark here, the moon still obscured, but he saw the other like a black shadow, streak forward across the deck, and, reaching the shore rail, swing himself overboard.
Bob Kenyon whirled in the other direction, and racing aft, jumped into the dingy. His jaws were clamped now like a vise. The man had taken the water with scarcely a splash, in the hope, no doubt, that he had gained the rail quickly enough to avoid having been seen, and that he, Bob Kenyon, would still be searching the schooner’s deck for him. Well, it would not do the other any good! The man would not escape now. Shanghai Jim! The years of it! He knew where Shanghai Jim was now—in the water here somewhere. The reckoning would come tonight.
He stood up, staring at the black surface of the water. There was nothing to be seen—not a ripple. The man was swimming under water, of course, but certainly he would also be swimming in the direction of the shore. That was obviously how the man had come out to the schooner—swimming—his cotton drawers had been wet.
Bob Kenyon sat down and began to row the dingy away from the schooner. He was cool now—almost abnormally cool—but there was something deadly, remorseless, in his composure. He kept staring around in all directions at the surface of the water. If the cursed moon would only break free of that cloud! It was just on the edge of it! The trouble was, it wasn’t a straight shoreline. The point, curving, made a semi-circle of shore, a long stretch where the beach was everywhere equidistant from the schooner, and there was no telling just where the man might make for.
It was only two hundred yards. He was halfway in now, and still he had seen nothing. He heard voices from the schooner as the boat from the neighboring craft boarded her. He kept scanning the surface intently until his eyes ached with the strain. Nothing! Shanghai Jim, to give him his due, was a magnificent swimmer.
And then well over to left, just barely discernible, he saw something dark emerge from the water and disappear quickly in the black shadows of the trees. With a low cry, he spun the boat’s head in that direction, and rowed with all his strength. That was Shanghai Jim. He couldn’t be mistaken. It wasn’t imagination—not just a shadow. They had seen it, too, from the schooner. They were shouting and the boat was coming. But there wasn’t any time to wait for them to come up, or any good to be accomplished by it. Shanghai Jim in the woods there already had too big a lead. Besides, somehow—and a strange laugh came into Bob Kenyon’s throat—he preferred to reckon with Shanghai Jim alone.
The boat smashed its nose upon the shore, and, leaping from it, Bob Kenyon dashed across the beach. The moon was coming out again. He smiled through grim lips. That would help. He was running now, dodging the trees in his path—but they weren’t thick—and all around him the spaces were becoming moon-flecked. The road ought to be ahead somewhere. The man couldn’t be very far away—he hadn’t had that much start.
BOB Kenyon halted for an instant to listen—and faintly, in front of him, he heard the rustle of undergrowth and the snap of a twig. He plunged on once more. But now suddenly he found himself laboring and making progress with difficulty. The ground was rising sharply under his feet. He hadn’t noticed that before. And now too, he was aware of the crashing of branches behind him, the sound of men running, stumbling, tripping, the sound of hoarse shouting. He swore savagely to himself under his breath. Why in hell didn’t they spread out fan-wise?
He ran on. Shanghai Jim was in front of him. He was sure of it. He had heard the man that time when he had stopped to listen. The trees seemed to be growing thinner and thinner; but also now, immediately in front of him, what seemed to be a thick wall of foliage blocked his path. Strange! He plunged at it, tore and broke his way through it—and suddenly, on the other side, stood still, panting for his breath, amazed, and for the moment wholly bewildered. A stretch of lawn confronted him, a few yards away there twinkled the lights of a house; and nearer still, the slim figure of a girl in white, the glint of gold in her hair under the moonlight, the blue eyes wide and startled, stood facing him.
He drew in his breath. He felt the color come and go from his face. He heard himself cry out in a low inarticulate way. And mechanically he reached his hand to his hat. But he had no hat.
“Mar—Miss Willetts!” he said.
She came forward, staring into his face.
“Mr. Hingston!” she said almost inaudibly; and then with a quick, little cry: “What is the matter? There is blood all over you! You are hurt!”
Marion! This was Marion! This was really Marion. But there was something else—there must be something else, only his brain seemed all in turmoil. Yes, that was it—Shanghai Jim!
“No, I am not hurt,” he blurted out.
“But what are you doing here?” she cried. “Where did you come from? How did you get here? What does it all mean? And who are those men coming there now through the shrubbery?”
He turned as she spoke. Three men were on the lawn and were running toward him. A voice bawled out:
“You damned hound! We’ve got you!”
They were upon him, battering at him, striking at him. He heard Marion Willetts scream. He tried to speak and then stung to fury by the rain of blows being showered upon him, he struck right and left with all his strength. And then the butt of a revolver crashed against his skull, he felt his knees sag under him—and consciousness was blotted out.
When he regained his senses he found himself in lighted room, and stretched out on a settee of some kind. There was a buzz of voices around him. His head throbbed and ached miserably, and he blinked suddenly with pain as the reflected light from a mirror on the opposite wall seemed to stab at his eyes. Bob struggled up on his elbow. Three men were grouped around a flat topped desk, at which a fourth man, elderly, gray-haired, stern faced, military in bearing, was seated. At the elderly man’s elbow stood Marion Willetts, and in front of her on the desk was a basin and some cloths. What was it all about? Marion’s face over them was as white as chalk. And she wouldn’t meet his eyes. He raised his hand, helplessly, puzzled, to his forehead. His head was swathed in a bandage.
The elderly man at the desk spoke now.
“I have been waiting for you to regain consciousness,” he said. “Are you well enough to understand what I say now?”
“Yes, quite all right,” Bob Kenyon answered a little jerkily.
“I am Colonel Willetts, and this is the British Residency,” said the other. “I am ready to hear anything you have to say, but at the same time I must warn you that any statement you may make may be used against you. You are accused of the murder of Captain David Watts.”
For an instant the room seemed to swim around Bob Kenyon as he lurched suddenly to his feet. And then with a grip on himself, his hand clenched, he stood rigid.
“What utter rot!” he said contemptuously.
Colonel Willetts held up the leather wallet and the three pearls.
“These were found on your person when you were brought in here from the lawn a few minutes ago,” he said coldly. “Captain Watts was stabbed to death in the cabin of his schooner. Your clothing is covered with blood, and—”
“Wait a minute!” Bob Kenyon cried out sharply. His brain had cleared now— cleared as in a flash. “This is all some ghastly mistake—and while you’re sitting here the man you want is escaping. You’ve heard of Shanghai Jim, haven’t you? You must have heard of him! He was wanted for a murder in Bombay some five years ago. His description was published everywhere.”
“I will answer your question,” replied Colonel Willetts curtly: “though I do not see what bearing it can have on the matter. I have heard of Shanghai Jim. I know something of his record, and, for that matter, I also know that his description has been for a long time in the hands of the police here, just as it probably has been elsewhere.”
“Well, then,” said Bob Kenyon tersely, “it was Shanghai Jim who murdered Captain Watts to-night in the cabin, and I—”
“You’re a liar!” broke in one of the three men savagely, stepping suddenly forward from the desk. “You know me, don’t you? I’m from the schooner next Captain Watts’. You saw me when we came aboard you this afternoon. And I saw you this evening boozing at every bar in town. You’re a bad one and a rotter, that’s what you are! It wasn’t long after I’d got back on board to-night when we heard the screams from Captain Watts’ schooner, and went over there as fast as we could. There wasn’t anybody on board except old Dave dead in the cabin —and then as the moon came out we spotted you in the dingy making for the shore, and the moment you saw us coming you rowed like mad and tried to make your escape in the woods. If it was this Shanghai Jim that you’re so glib about, what became of him? There wasn’t any boat but yours on the beach.”
“He swam ashore. It was Shanghai Jim I was after,” said Bob Kenyon.
“And swam out to the schooner to begin with to do his dirty work, I suppose?” rasped the man.
“Yes,” said Bob Kenyon.
“Hell!” jerked out the man furiously. And then, facing quickly around to Marion Willetts: “I beg your pardon, Miss, but Captain David Watts was one of the oldest friends—and the best—I ever had.”
Colonel Willetts turned to his daughter.
“I have allowed you to stay, Marion,” he said quietly, “because you said you knew this man; but I think it will be just as well now if you went to your room.”
BOB KENYON’S eyes shifted to the girl. She was toying with the basin and cloths—bandages he knew they were now—that lay on the corner of the desk. And now she picked these up, and, without raising her head, started silently away across the room—but, near the door, she paused for an instant as the spokesman of the three men spoke again.
“And that’s another point against him, if any more are needed,” snapped the man. “He’s sailing under two names, if your daughter knew him as Hingston. Captain Watts introduced him to us as Bob Kenyon, his partner. The swine evidently wasn’t satisfied with a share— he wanted all!”
Bob Kenyon’s eyes were still on the girl. She had paused, but she had not looked up, and now she went on again, and the door closed behind her. He bit his lips. They didn’t believe him—but, worse still, they were letting Shanghai Jim escape. They were letting Shanghai Jim escape—the thought seemed suddenly to drive him mad. They must believe him—he must make them—so that they would do something.
“I can explain the names!” he cried eagerly. “Shanghai Jim murdered my brother in Bombay two years before that other murder for which the police want him now. Since then I have been trying to find him. To have kept the name of Hingston would only have been playing into his hands. I took the name of Bob Kenyon.”
There was silence for a moment in the room. Bob Kenyon flushed. He was conscious that it had sounded lame.
Colonel Willetts cleared his throat.
“Is there anything more you wish to say?” he demanded.
“Yes!” said Bob Kenyon, a sudden rush of bitterness and passion upon him. “To beg you, for God’s sake, not to sit here and let the man escape. I tell you it was Shanghai Jim. When I went aboard to-night I found him in the cabin, a knife in his hand, and Captain Watts was dead on the floor. We fought for a minute, but Shanghai Jim broke away from me—we had heard these men coming from their schooner, you understand? He ran up on deck, and I ran after him. He jumped overboard. I jumped into the dingy, but he was swimming under water and I did not catch sight of him again until just as he landed and ran into the woods. I was still out on the lagoon, and that is the reason why at that moment I suddenly, as these men say, began to row like mad.”
Again Colonel Willetts cleared his throat.
“As I understand you, then,” he said, “when you went aboard, this Shanghai Jim was already in the cabin. You fought for a minute, and, as he broke away, you immediately gave chase, first to the deck, and then at once jumped into your dingy. Is that correct?”
Bob Kenyon nodded his head.
Colonel Willetts once more held up the wallet and pearls.
“How, then,” he asked severely, “do you account for these being in your possession?”
“Why,” said Bob Kenyon readily, “they—” He stopped abruptly, a cold sense of disaster seeming suddenly to numb his tongue. To say that they were always kept in his possession through a whim of Captain David Watts! It wasn’t only that that, too, might sound lame— it was far worse than that! It was to stamp him both as guilty and a liar. To-morrow, old Isaacs would testify that the wallet and pearls had been taken from a locker by Captain Watts— and had been replaced in the locker before he, Bob Kenyon, and Isaacs had left the cabin to go ashore. The truth sounded like a damning lie on the face of it.
HIS lips tightened. He was in a hole—a bad hole. The evidence was overwhelmingly against him. Those three men there, glaring at him with unfriendly, angry eyes, honestly believed him guilty —as he, in their place, would have believed any man under like circumstances, and with like evidence against him, to be guilty. There was only one chance for him—Shanghai Jim. To find Shanghai Jim again! That was his only chance. It seemed to plumb the depths of irony. It was sardonic. They wouldn’t do anything because they didn’t believe him. They wouldn’t let him do anything. It was as though hell on the side of Shanghai Jim laughed in mockery—while the prey escaped.
He clenched and unclenched his hands, and yet he heard himself speaking now quietly and steadily:
“I haven’t answered your question. It’s no good my trying to answer it now—or perhaps ever. But I tell you again that it was Shanghai Jim who murdered Captain Watts; that it was Shanghai Jim to-night, who, on account of the stories floating around the town no doubt, tried to get those pearls; that Shanghai Jim is on this island. I know the evidence is all against me, and that probably the only thing that would clear me, prove my story, is to find Shanghai Jim. In that case, you’d believe me, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, yes, undoubtedly,” said Colonel Willets a little wearily; “but it is a good many years since this Shanghai Jim disappeared, and, according to your own version, though well known and readily recognizable, he has ever since eluded the police. It is hardly likely that he could have come here without being recognized.”
“He has to be somewhere,” said Bob Kenyon tersely.
“The police theory, I believe,” said Colonel Willets, “is that the man is long since dead.”
“He’s not dead!” Bob Kenyon cried fiercely. “I saw him to-night. And if you want an additional mark of identification, there’s a long gash across his chin that he got in the fight with me for possession of his knife in the cabin. That’s where the blood on my clothes came from. You admit that finding him will prove my story. Then it’s only fair play that you do something. I’ve a right to demand that.”
There was a mingling of snarls, oaths and contemptuous laughter from the three men at the desk. Colonel Willetts, with a frown and a wave of his hand, silenced them.
“Yes,” he said, after a moment’s hesitation, “I suppose you are entitled to that. I will order a search made for him in the morning, and, though I say quite frankly that I put little credence in your story, the search will be a thorough one.”
“But to-night—now! Between now and morning!” exclaimed Bob Kenyon passionately.
Colonel Willetts shook his head.
“Apart from the town itself and the vessels in the lagoon, which I will attend to to-night, it would be utterly impractiable to beat the miles of bush and woodland on the island in the darkness, where, if anywhere, according to your story, he is most likely to be. That is the best I can do for you.”
Bob Kenyon squared his shoulders. It was all he could expect—more, perhaps, than another man in Colonel Willetts’ place would have done. There was nothing more to be said.
“Thank you,” he said hoarsely.
HE SAT down on the settee. His head was throbbing brutally. He buried it in his hand, half to ease the pain of it, half because he wanted to try to think, to try to think clearly. There wasn’t a loophole—save Shanghai Jim. Unless Shanghai Jim were found now, he, Bob Kenyon, was as good as dead—on the end of a rope. Shanghai Jim! The man seemed to have brought a curse into his life that was to carry through even to an ignominious and hideous end. Shanghai Jim! He could see that face now—the gloating, slanting eyes, the thick, half-parted lips, and, yes, this was queer, something white around his chin as though a piece of cloth had been tied there. A sudden cry rose to his lips. He choked it back. God, he wasn’t mad, was he? That was Shanghai Jim! Not imagination—Shanghai Jim in the flesh, with a cloth tied around the wound on his chin! And the soul of Bob Kenyon laughed; and the brain of the man, virile, fighting for him as it had never fought before, beat down the promptings of impulse that bade him leap to his feet and fling himself across the room. Through his fingers, as they covered his face, he had been staring at that mirror over there; and in that mirror, from diagonally across the room, was reflected an open window with the face of Shanghai Jim peering in over the sill—both mirror and window out of the range of vision of the men at the desk.
He became aware that Colonel Willetts was speaking to the three men who were grouped around him.
“I shall keep these here to-night,” he heard Colonel Willetts say.
Bob Kenyon made no movement save that, still looking through his fingers, he turned his eyes toward the desk. Colonel Willetts was unlocking a drawer. Into this he put the wallet and the pearls, and, closing the drawer, locked it again.
Bob Kenyon’s eyes reverted to the mirror. The face was still there—and it seemed to grin now horribly, triumphantly, maliciously.
And now Bob Kenyon was conscious that Colonel Willetts was addressing him directly:
“I sent for the police when you were brought in here. They should be here presently. I have no choice but to give you into custody.”
Bob Kenyon made no reply. Was he a fool, a blind, mad fool to have flung away his chance of life? The face was gone now! Shanghai Jim was gone! No—he was right, sure of it, certain of it! Something in his inner consciousness assured him he had made the one play that could save him. Long before any one could have got outside, had he given the alarm, Shanghai Jim would have vanished, and in the darkness almost certainly have made his escape; and in that case, knowing he had been seen, Shanghai Jim would not dare to come back. As it was now, Shanghai Jim would come back—for those pearls. The window was open—the man had both seen the pearls and had heard Colonel Willetts say they would be kept in that desk there to-night. Yes, in that, he, Bob Kenyon, was right—logically it was without a flaw. But now—what now? For a moment bitter regret, a stinging, jeering, self-mockery for this very act of his that logic indorsed, swept over him again. Everything that he had told these men to-night in his own defense had seemed flimsy and but to make his case the worse. To tell them now that Shanghai Jim had been at that window there, and that he had let the man go without a word! He had not thought of that. And he had just been demanding as his right that something be done to catch Shanghai Jim! The position was untenable. They would not believe him, of course. The story was all of a piece—the mythical Shanghai Jim!
And then suddenly there fell upon Bob Kenyon a sort of grim exhilaration. There was one way left, desperate perhaps, but, if it succeeded, sure. After all, this wás between Shanghai Jim and himself, all the years of it—and the end was between Shanghai Jim and himself! There was no other end. There could be no other end. He wanted it that way.
Slowly Bob Kenyon raised his head, and as though in a helpless way looked around the room. The police, on their way out from the town, would be here any minute now—Colonel Willetts over there had said so. The settee on which he sat was a light wicker affair of the kind usually in vogue in the tropics. Just within a yard or so of him was a door—not the door through which Marion had gone out and which obviously led into the interior of the house, but a door which quite likely opened on the lawn.
He put his hands to his head again as though in sudden pain, staggered to his feet, swayed unsteadily, and as if to save himself from falling reached out to grasp the back of the settee—and then, quick as the winking of an eye, the settee in the air above his head, he sent it hurtling toward the group of men at the desk, and with a leap reached the door, flung it wide and found himself in the open.
CRIES, shouts, excited exclamations, a shot rang out behind him. Bob Kenyon, running at top speed, vaulted the hedge and gained the shelter of the trees. And then he paused to get his breath. It wasn’t a question of putting distance between himself and the Residency—that was what they would expect him to do—and that was precisely what he neither wanted nor intended to do. He couldn’t afford to go far away. He smiled now a little grimly as he swung himself silently into the branches of a tree that was almost on the fringe of the woods. They couldn’t hear him up here—and if they couldn’t hear him, the chances of finding him in the darkness, as he realized now his chances of finding Shanghai Jim had been when he had chased after the latter, were comparatively nil. Through the foliage he could see the lights of the house. He heard cries from various directions around him—men thrashing through bushes and undergrowth. Then these sounds grew more indistinct, and finally only reached him faintly from the distance.
And then another moment of disquiet came. Suppose that in view of all this hubbub Shanghai Jim, for the very reason that he, Bob Kenyon, had refrained from giving the alarm when the other was at the window, might not return! No! He shook his head decisively. It was not at all the same thing as though Shanghai Jim had had to run for it knowing that he had been discovered at the window. As a matter of fact, having heard probably the greater portion of the conversation that had taken place in the room, and having heard, if still in the immediate neighborhood, the sounds of sudden excitement and a shot from the house, Shanghai Jim would put two and two together, and would arrive pretty accurately at the truth of who was really the quarry—and in that case Shanghai Jim’s position, in Shanghai Jim’s mind, would be immeasurably bettered, for, if he then returned and stole the pearls, the theft would naturally be laid to the door of Bob Kenyon. True, those out on the man-hunt now might stumble upon Shanghai Jim—but the possibility was very remote.
Bob Kenyon eased his cramped position as best he could. Shanghai Jim would be back there to-night when the way was clear and the lights were out and the Residency was asleep—and so would he, Bob Kenyon! He must believe that, cling to that belief—if not, he might as well chuck up the sponge. It was no longer alone a matter of bringing his brother’s murderer to account; his own life depended on it now, and—and—he felt the sudden twitching of his lips though they were tight pressed together. Something within him was fighting stubbornly for expression. Why hold it back? Why not admit it? There was no one to see or hear. Marion! She had not looked at him. She had refused to meet his eyes. She might not care—she could not care now. It was too long ago. But, deny it if he would, whatever little it might mean to her, vindication in her eyes meant more to him to-night, now, since he had seen her again, than the mere fact that he should go free. His hands clenched upon the branches that supported him until the knuckles stood out like knobs under the tight-drawn skin. The years had been very empty without her.
“Marion!” Bob Kenyon whispered out into the night.
THE lights still burned in the Residency. He sat there for a long time— sat there until there was no longer any sound in the woods around him save only the sounds of the insects, and the soft flutter of the leaves in their thousands stirred by the gossip of the night breeze in the branches of the trees; sat there until the lights yonder began to go out one by one, and until by and by the Residency was all in darkness.
And then Bob Kenyon lowered himself to the ground, and began to make his way cautiously toward the house. There should be little trouble in gaining entry into the Residency. In the heat of the tropics, save in storm, windows were not closed and bolted; and the shutters that served for privacy were obstacles of a far lesser nature. He reached the edge of the lawn, and, moving now with still greater caution than before, skirted the hedge until he arrived at a position opposite to the door by which, as nearly as he could judge, he had made his escape. And then on hands and knees he crawled across this portion of the lawn, and stood up finally against the wall in the shadows of the house. Yes, here was the door! He tried it. It was locked. He moved then to the window beside it. By the aid of a little force, but with scarcely a sound, he got the shutters open—and the next minute he had swung himself over the sill, and dropped silently to the floor inside the room.
He listened now. There was not a sound—no movement apparently anywhere in the house. This was the room, wasn’t it? He could hardly have made a mistake—but he must be sure. He began to grope around him. It was very dark in here. He could see nothing. He dared not light a match—it might give a warning to Shanghai Jim. His lips twisted in the darkness. Shanghai Jim! How did he know that Shanghai Jim had not already been here? How sure was he now, after all, that he still had not played the fool? He snarled at himself irritably under his breath. Was it the darkness and the silence that conjured up doubts and fancies and disturbing theories in his mind? Shanghai Jim wouldn’t have come until lights were out, that was certain—and since he, Bob Kenyon, had come the moment the last had been extinguished, Shanghai Jim could not reasonably have been here ahead of him. As a matter of fact, the household could but hardly have retired by now. What time was it? He had no means of telling. He could not see his watch. At a guess it might be one o’clock —perhaps two.
His hands groping out before him touched a piece of furniture—felt over it. It was the flat-topped desk. So far, so good! He moved a little away from it, and, finding a chair, sat down. He had nothing to do now but wait.
The time dragged itself by. Bob Kenyon sat without movement. The silence seemed to become more and more profound with each passing moment, save that after a while it began to possess noises of its own—to beat and palpitate against his ear-drums, startling him every now and then into the belief that some extraneous sound had been made. It brought his nerves to tension, like tight-drawn bow strings; it peopled the darkness with imaginary and flitting shadows.
Suppose Shanghai Jim didn’t come?
The phrase began to repeat itself over and over in his brain, and in a sing-song way kept tempo and rhythm with that throb, throb, throb of the silence in his ears.
Suppose Shanghai Jim didn’t come?
What was that?
It sounded like a faint football. He derided himself viciously under his breath. He had heard dozens of footfalls in the last—how long was it, anyway?— half hour, hour, that he had sat here. It was gone now like all the rest. There remained just that damnable pounding in his ears again, and—
No! Not this time! This was not imagination! A door into the room was being quietly opened. And now his eyes straining, made out what seemed like a black shadow even against the surrounding darkness. It came nearer and nearer. Shanghai Jim! Shanghai Jim! Bob Kenyon’s shoulders drew forward until his body was crouched to spring. It seemed as though every emotion he possessed was culminating in one vast upheaval of his soul—that he gloated in this moment which through all the years he had waited for. Nearer—still nearer! The shadow was opposite to him now, not a yard away—and Bob Kenyon, laughing in a low, choked way, sprang from the chair and launched himself upon it.
SOMETHING yielding, something without resistance, something that crumpled to the floor, carrying him with it, met his attack. Bob Kenyon in a blind way gained his knees, and for an instant it seemed as though his heart had stopped its beat. And then like a man crazed and distraught he leaned forward again touching the soft, clinging garment that enveloped the form upon the floor—and lifting up a woman’s head he pillowed it on his shoulder. He whispered her name over and over again. He did not need to see. It mattered nothing if the darkness hid her face. He knew.
“Marion! Marion!” he whispered wildly. “Have I hurt you? Oh, my God!”
She stirred a little.
“Who is that?” she said faintly. “What—what has happened? I could not sleep to-night, and so—”
“It’s John Hingston,” Bob Kenyon broke in hoarsely. “Are you badly hurt? Have I hurt you?”
“No,” she said—and then suddenly with a low, startled cry as full consciousness seemed to return to her, she drew herself sharply away and struggled to her feet. “You—you here?” she faltered. “It was bad enough before—in Bombay. But I did not want to believe to-night. And now you are back here—that desk —those pearls. Have you already got them? If not, I think you had better go before I call out. If you have already taken them, you must put them back.”
Bob Kenyon, too, was on his feet now. He fought to steady his voice.
“Would you take my word for it?” he asked. “How would you know whether I had them or not?”
“I know where the key is. I shall look,” she replied evenly.
It was a moment before Bob Kenyon spoke again. Vindication in her eyes, his own life, depended not only on the fact that he should stay here, but that Shanghai Jim should have no warning.
“No,” he said deliberately at last; “you are not going to look. Nor are you going to raise any alarm. You are either going to return to your own room with the promise that you will say nothing of my presence in the house, or you are going to sit down in that chair there and not make a sound—I only hope we haven’t made too much noise already. You must make your choice.”
“My choice! Do you realize what you are saying?” she flashed out instantly. “Do you think that you can frighten me? You would not dare—”
“Oh, yes, I would!” interrupted Bob Kenyon in a strangely dogged way. “And I must ask you not to speak above a whisper. When one is desperate, one dares anything. I would dare anything to-night. I’ve got to make you understand that. I would even dare to tell you what I am sure you once knew— that I love you.”
He heard her draw in her breath with a sudden gasp—as though anger and amazement struggled for the supremacy.
“Which will you do?” he demanded.
“Neither!” she exclaimed sharply.
“It would be safer if you went back to your room.” He spoke in low, steady tones now. “You would be out of danger. I am waiting for Shanghai Jim.”
“Shanghai Jim?” She repeated the words with a curious little note of interrogation, as though she were not sure she had heard aright.
“I saw him in that mirror on the wall over there when they were grilling me here in this room to-night,” he said. “He was standing outside the window.”
“And you said nothing?” Her voice was flat, dull.
“Because, before anybody could have reached him, he would have made his escape in the woods, just as I did—and he would not have come back. As it is, he saw the pearls placed in that desk. It’s his one chance to get them, for heaven knows where they’ll be to-morrow—and so I am waiting for him now.”
There was a slight rustle of her garments.
“I—I am sitting down in the chair,” she said.
IT WAS very quiet now in the room— and it was a long minute before Bob Kenyon broke the silence. He moved closer to the chair—and suddenly impulse stronger than himself surged upon him, and he knelt beside it.
“Marion!” he said.
She did not answer.
He felt his pulse quicken, the blood pound through his veins. He had called her Marion—and she had not rebuked him. And then the great shoulders of the man squared. Did it mean that there was a chance—a chance for more than vindication? A chance to fight for it? To fight for more than life? He scarcely dared trust his voice to hold to the low, guarded whisper that it must not exceed.
“Will you listen?” he said huskily. “It has been wrong, all wrong, between us— since that night. You know that when I first met you in England my brother had disappeared for over a year, and that I had given up all hope of ever discovering what had happened to him. You know that my brother and I were the last of our family and fairly well off—too well off, perhaps, for my brother’s sake. His commission business in Bombay was merely a side issue with him. He lived there because he liked the place, and I’m afraid he went the pace and had a bit of a reputation. When I left college I went out to join him, and it was then, almost immediately after my arrival, that he mysteriously disappeared. I had made very few acquaintances; in fact, I was scarcely known at all. I let the clerk run the business, such as it was, and spent months trying to find my brother. I went everywhere, I think, in that quarter of the globe—and then, as I said, when I had given up all hope of ever hearing anything about him, I went to America and England for a change, before returning to Bombay to wind up the business there, as I had no intention of living in Bombay myself.”
Bob Kenyon paused for an instant. In that chair beside him, the figure did not move, did not speak.
He went on again:
“I returned to Bombay. You will remember that you expected to come out that way on your return to Illola here a month or so later, and—and you were to let me know what ship you were coming on.”
She spoke now for the first time.
“I wrote you two weeks before I sailed —as soon as I knew myself,” she said almost inaudibly.
“I never got the letter,” said Bob Kenyon with a quick intake of his breath.
“Would it have mattered?” she said dully. “I cannot see that it would.”
“But I can—now!” There was something suddenly vibrant in Bob Kenyon’s whispering tones. “Marion! Marion! Listen! A week or so after I got back to Bombay, this Shanghai Jim, whom I knew well by sight because in my previous search for my brother I had been several times in his dive as I had in many others seeking information, murdered a young Englishman in a fit of his diabolical Malay rage, and badly wounded his own ‘runner’ who had tried to interfere. He just barely managed to make his escape from the police, and fled no one knew where. Then, the day before you arrived, though I did not know then that you were on the ship, I received a message to go to the hospital where Shanghai Jim’s ‘runner,’ a man known everywhere on the waterfront as Dublin Mike and who had been there in the hospital for weeks with his wounds, was dying and wanted to see me. I went; and to revenge himself, of course, on Shanghai Jim, Dublin Mike told me the story of my brother’s death.”
AGAIN Bob Kenyon paused. It seemed as though the form in the chair beside him, indistinct as it was, had changed position and was leaning a little toward him.
“Shanghai Jim,” said Bob Kenyon after a moment, “besides his sailors’ boarding house, ran a low gambling dive. My brother went in there one night and foolishly showed a large sum of money on his person. Between them, Shanghai Jim and Dublin Mike drugged him and took the money; and then to get rid of him, they shanghaied him. They put him on board a sailing ship that night—and got their commission for it, too, out of the ship’s captain. But before they put him on board, they gave him another, and this time a deliberate over-dose, of the drug. They couldn’t afford to have him come back on them with his story. The result was that the ship’s captain got what he thought was the ordinary run of drunken sailor; but what he really got was a man, under whatever fictitious name Shanghai Jim had seen fit to ship him, who never regained consciousness, and who died and was buried two days later at sea.”
“Yes,” she said a little tremulously.
“I asked Dublin Mike where he thought Shanghai Jim had gone, and Dublin Mike, dying though he was, cursed Shanghai Jim as I had never heard man cursed before. He said Shanghai Jim was too clever for the police, that the police would never find him, and that there was only one way, one chance—to pick up a clue in some of the dives where Shanghai Jim might have made a confidant of some one, and especially in a famous dope joint run by a Chinaman named Ling Su, and so—”
A sudden, half-choked sob came from the chair.
“Don’t!” she interrupted in a quick, low, broken way. “I—I know now. I understand. That night when we had made up a little slumming party from the ship, and I—I saw you coming out of that miserable doorway looking the way you did! I—I thought you had forgotten me and my letter in—in a debauch.”
Bob Kenyon’s hand felt out before him almost as though it were afraid, and found, and lay over the back of hers.
“Yes,” he said, “I had been nearly two days in Ling Su’s. As I told you. hardly any one in Bombay knew me. I was dressed for the part. I had got the entree there through Dublin Mike. I—I saw you—I see you now—standing outside that doorway with all those chaps and girls. I had forgotten what I looked like, unshaven, filthy, unkempt, disreputable. I had forgotten my part at sight of you. I don’t blame one of those chaps who was with you for doing what he did. I should have done the same. I looked exactly what he called me—a drunken bum. But I had forgotten all that for a moment when I jumped toward you and caught your hand; and when he struck me in front of you I—I lost my head. The other men who were with your party naturally joined in when I knocked that first chap down, and just as naturally the hangerson in that locality, the habitues of the dives, believing me to be one of themselves sided in with me. In the melee that followed, besides being arrested, I was rather badly hurt by one of the police. I was off my head for several days, and when I got around again you had left Bombay, and—and you had left no word.”
SHE was crying softly in the darkness.
“Oh, I didn’t know, I didn’t know you had been hurt like that! They told me that your brother had had a very bad record, and that you, as much as was known of you, were like him—spending most of your time in places like that. I know why now, but I didn’t understand then. That was why I went and left no word. I thought that my arrival in Bombay was of far less consequence to you than a night in your usual haunts. And— and I think that night when I saw you like that I wanted to die, because— because—” Her voice broke.
“Because—because you cared?” he whispered eagerly, “Was it that?”
There was no answer.
His arms reached out to her, encircled her, drew her close to him.
“Marion! Marion—was it that?” he urged hoarsely.
Her voice was so low he could barely catch her words.
“I have always cared,” she said. “Always, always, always.”
Marion! It was his soul that spoke her name over and over, and a great tenderness, and a great awe, and a great glory were upon him. And his lips found hers. And for a time neither spoke.
And then she stirred in his arms, and suddenly her hands were lifted to cling passionately to his shoulders, and she was whispering wildly:
“Oh, I am afraid! I am afraid! If he doesn’t come what will you do? They will hunt you—catch you—and—and without this Shanghai Jim the evidence is all against you. Even I was a witness against you—your name. I waited outside the door and heard you explain that, but— but without Shanghai Jim you would never be believed.”
“He will come,” Bob Kenyon answered. He laid his hands over hers on his shoulders. He was strangely sure now. He knew. “He will come,” he said again.
“But he may not dare—even for the pearls,” she said fearfully. “If he is clever enough to be here in a small place like this and the police not know it, even though they have his description, he is too clever to run any risk of falling into a trap.”
Bob Kenyon drew her cheek against his own.
“That’s just it,” he said reassuringly, “He has no reason to think there is the slightest risk of a trap; and, besides that, if he knows that I escaped, which I am pretty sure he does, he knows that if he gets the pearls to-night the theft will be attributed to me, and contribute another link in the evidence against me for the murder of Captain Watts. I don’t know how he has evaded the police. He may only have put in here on one of the pearling schooners. He may have been living here harbored and sheltered by some confederate. I don’t know. I’ve been trying to answer that question for five years all over this part of the world. But I will know to-night. He will come. I saw it in his eyes and I saw it on his face at the window. He will come.” His hands tightened suddenly, warningly upon her. “He is coming now! Do you hear that? At the door over there— the outside door!”
“Yes,” she breathed.
He drew her silently away from the chair, and, retreating back along the wall, crouched down behind what, in the darkness, seemed to him to be a bookcase of some sort.
“Don’t make a sound until I tell you,” he cautioned; “then run instantly for your father and any other men who may be in the house. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” she answered; “but—but you?”
“There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of,” he whispered back. “Now quiet—don’t move—don’t stir! He’s got the door open now.”
THERE was a faint, low, creaking sound from across the room. Then utter silence. It seemed to last interminably until almost the belief that there ever had been a sound foreign to his own presence there insidiously suggested to Bob Kenyon that his imagination was merely over-wrought. Then there came the soft pad of a footfall, treading warily; and, peering out, he could discern a blur of white in the darkness. It came on, a shadowy, filmy thing, crossing the room; and now it reached the position where the desk stood, and seemed to hover there. Shanghai Jim—Shanghai Jim at last! Quietly Bob Kenyon released his arm from the girl’s grasp, and crept silently a few steps forward in the direction of the desk.
And then he stood still.
A match crackled and spurted into flame. The figure at the desk holding the little torch, back turned, was bending over and examining the lock on the drawer.
The match went out. There came a sound much like the gnawing of a rat. The man was working at the drawer.
And then the numbness following as it were, a blow that had been struck him, began to clear from Bob Kenyon’s brain. It wasn’t Shanghai Jim—but it wasn’t hopeless either. He understood now. It was clear—even childishly clear. He had evidently hit the nail on the head when he had said that Shanghai Jim was protected and helped by some confederate ashore. That confederate was old Isaacs. Old Isaacs was the only one who had been shown the pearls and had reason to believe they were in Captain Watts’ locker; and, pretending they were beyond his reach financially, had said so with specious honesty—and sent Shanghai Jim to get them for nothing. Yes, he saw it all now. Shanghai Jim was in turn the only one, apart from those then present in this room, who knew the pearls had been placed in the drawer of that desk. But Shanghai Jim had also heard what had been said—and with that knife gash across his chin, proof of his, Bob Kenyon’s story, and that would instantly attract attention and mark his identity to even a casual glance, had not dared venture out any more in person. And so it had been old Isaacs’ turn again.
Grim-lipped, his jaws clamped, Bob Kenyon was creeping silently on again toward the desk. It wasn’t Shanghai Jim there—but old Isaacs must know where Shanghai Jim was hiding. That was enough—because old Isaacs would tell all he knew! There wouldn’t be any mercy. With his fingers once on old Isaacs’ throat, the man would talk!
The attack upon the desk drawer went on, and in the stillness it seemed to sound thunderously loud. Bob Kenyon crept nearer—still nearer. He was close enough now to spring, and he crouched a little, poised.
“Now, Marion! Quick!” he called, and launched forward.
HE HEARD a sharp, startled oath; he heard Marion’s footsteps racing from the room; he heard her calling wildly for her father; and then, even as he closed with the man in front of him, there was a blinding flash, the roar of the report, and the flame-tongue of a revolver shot scorched his face. And now, locked together, they lurched and staggered here and there in the darkness, Bob Kenyon’s left arm hooked like a vise around the man’s neck, his fingers feeling, searching, clawing for a throat-hold, while his right hand grasped at the other’s wrist, struggling for possession of the weapon. A minute passed—another. The man, old as he was, seemed to possess a maniacal strength; he tore and struck and battled like a demon, snarling oaths with hot, panting breath, raving in a fury as ungovernable as the fury with which he fought. But tighter and tighter now Bob Kenyon’s fingers fastened themselves in the flesh of the man’s throat; and his other hand, though it slipped again and again in the struggle for the ugly prize, still pinioned the wriggling, twisting wrist.
This way and that about the room they reeled, and then suddenly, smashing against the wall and rebounding from it, a chair in their path crashed to the floor entangling their legs, and for an instant they hovered erect, swaying, straining to maintain their balance, then, tottering, pitched downward. Bob Kenyon, uppermost, was conscious of a great roaring sound in his ears, of a revolver flash that was strangely obscured beneath his body, and of a sudden relaxation in the other’s struggles— a sudden stillness in the form under him. It did not struggle. It did not move any more. It did not snarl.
In a half-dazed way he rose to his feet. And subconsciously now he was aware that there was light in the room, and that others were there, too—a gray-haired man for instance, clad in pyjamas. But he was staring down at the floor where a man with a revolver, still smoking, still clasped in his hand, lay dead. And there was a pith helmet there on the floor, too, a ridiculously large one and most outrageously dirty; and moreover there was something very strange about the man’s face—as though the beard were all lopsided, as though it had been torn away from one side and had flopped over on the other, and where there was no beard a great strip of surgeon’s plaster showed across the chin.
There was a stir in the room—voices— some one touched his arm.
But Bob Kenyon did not move. He was staring down into the face of Shanghai Jim.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.