“Why not?” he asked soberly, arising and coming quite close to her side. “You are beautiful. If they should take you alive, it would be a very simple matter for any one of these men to purchase you from the others. You might easily be kept on this island for the rest of your days, and the world would be none the wiser. Or you could be sold into Persia, or Arabia, or Turkey. I am not surprised that you shudder. Forgive me for alarming you, perhaps needlessly. Nevertheless, it is a thing to consider. I have learned all of the plans from Selim’s wife. They do not contemplate the connubial traffic, ’tis true, but that would be a natural consequence. Von Blitz and Rasula mean to destroy all of us. We are to disappear from the face of the earth. When our friends come to look for us, we will have died from the plague and our bodies will have been burned, as they always are in Japat. There will be no one left to deny the story. All outsiders are to be destroyed—even the Persian and Turkish women, who hate their liege lords too well. After to-morrow, no ship is due to put in here for three weeks. They will see to it that none of us get out to that ship; nor will the ship’s officers know of our peril. The word will go forth that the plague has come to the island. That is the first step, your highness. But there is one obstacle they have overlooked,” he concluded. She looked up inquiringly.
“My warships,” he said, the whimsical smile broadening.
THE PLAGUE IS ANNOUNCED
The next morning, a steamship flying the English flag came to anchor off Aratat, delivered and received mail bags, and after an hour’s stay steamed away in the drift of the southeast trade winds, Bombay to Cape Colony. The men at the chateau gazed longingly, helplessly through their glasses at this black hulled visitor from the world they loved; they watched it until nothing was left to be seen except the faint cloud of smoke that went to a pin point in the horizon. There had been absolutely no opportunity to communicate with the officers of the ship; they sailed away hurriedly, as if in alarm. Their haste was significant.
“I guess we’d better not tell the women,” said Bobby Browne, heaving a deep sigh. “It won’t add to their cheerfulness if they hear that a ship has called here.”
“It couldn’t matter in any event,” said Deppingham. “We’ve got to stick here two weeks longer, no matter how many ships call. I’m demmed if I’ll funk now, after all these rotten months.”
“Perhaps Bowles succeeded in getting a word with the officer who came ashore,” said Browne hopefully. “He knows the danger we are in.”
“My dear Browne, Bowles hadn’t the ghost of a chance to communicate with the ship,” said Chase. “He can’t bully ’em any longer with his Tommy Atkins coat. They’ve outgrown it, just as he has. It was splendid while it lasted, but they’re no more afraid of it now than they are of my warships. I wish there was some way to get him and his English assistants into the chateau. It’s awful to think of what is coming to them, sooner or later.”