She rapped sharply on the wood; waited for some reply, and then called out. Not a sound reached them from within. The situation was strange, nerve-racking, and she shrank back as though frightened before the black silence confronting her. West, his teeth clinched, stepped in through the open door, determined to learn the secret of that mysterious interior. With hands outstretched he felt his way forward, by sense of touch alone assuring himself that he traversed a hall, carpeted, his extended arms barely reaching from wall to wall. He encountered no furniture, and must have advanced some two yards, before his groping disclosed the presence of a closed door on the left. He had located the knob, when the outer door suddenly closed, as though blown shut by a draught of wind, and, at the same instant, his eyes were blinded by a dazzling outburst of light.
This came with such startling, unexpected brilliancy that West staggered back as though struck. For the instant he was positively blind; then he dimly perceived a man standing before him—a man who, little by little, became more clearly defined, recognizable, suddenly exhibiting the features of Jim Hobart, sarcastically grinning into his face.
“You are evidently a cat of nine lives, West,” he said sneeringly. “But this ought to be the last of them.”
HOBART FORGETS AND TALKS
For a moment West lost all control over himself. He was too completely dazed for either words or action; could only stare into that mocking countenance confronting him, endeavouring to sense what had really occurred. He was undoubtedly trapped again, but how had the trick been accomplished? What devilish freak of ill luck had thus thrown them once more into the merciless hands of this ruffian? How could it have happened so perfectly? The boat on the sand in the cove yonder; perhaps that was the key to the situation. Those fellows who had left the Seminole to sink behind them, knew where they were when they deserted the yacht; they landed at the nearest point along shore, where they had a rendezvous already arranged for. Then what? The helpless raft had naturally drifted in the same direction, blown by the steady east wind, until gripped by the land current, and thus finally driven into this opening on the coast. His mind had grasped this view, this explanation, before he even ventured to turn his head, and glance at the girl. She stood leaning back against the closed door as though on guard, her uncovered hair ruffled, a scornful, defiant look in her eyes, the smile on her lips revealing the gleam of white teeth. In spite of a wonderful resemblance, a mysterious counterfeit in both features and expression, West knew now this was not Natalie Coolidge. Her dress, the way in which her hair was done, the sneering curl of her red mouth, were alike instantly convincing. He had permitted himself to be tricked again by the jade; the smart of the wound angered him beyond control.