“I dare say I am not a master of strategy,” I cried, furious at myself for my moment of weakness and at him for the softening tone which had crept into his voice. “I am merely—honest. And when I see Aunt Jane hypnotized—by this Violet person—”
“And indeed I have seen no reason to think that Miss Higglesby-Browne is not a most excellent lady,” interrupted Mr. Shaw stiffly. “And let me say this, Miss Harding: here we are all together, whether we wish to be or no, and for six weeks or more on the island we shall see no faces but our own. Are we to be divided from the beginning by quarrels? Are maybe even the men of us to be set by the ears through the bickering of women?”
Like the nick of a whip came the certainty that he was thinking of the Honorable Cuthbert, and that I was the rock on which their David-and-Jonathan friendship might split. Otherwise I suppose Miss Higglesby-Browne and I might have clawed each other forever without interference from him.
“Really,” I said with—I hope—well-simulated scorn, “since I am quite alone against half a dozen of you, I should think you could count on putting down any rebellion on my part very easily. I repeat, I had no other object in coming along—though I was really kidnaped along—than to look after my aunt. The affairs of the party otherwise—or its personnel—–do not interest me at all. As to the treasure, of course I know perfectly well that there isn’t any.”
And I turned my back and looked steadily out to sea. After a moment or two I heard him turn on his heel and go away. It was none too soon, for I had already begun to feel unostentatiously for my handkerchief. Any way, I had had the last word—
The rest of my day was lonely, for the beautiful youth, probably by malevolent design, was kept busy between decks. Mr. Tubbs danced attendance on Aunt Jane and Miss Browne, so assiduously that I already began to see some of my worst fears realized. There was nothing for me to do but to retire to my berth and peruse a tattered copy of Huckleberry Finn which I found in the cabin.
At dinner, having the Honorable Cuthbert at my elbow, it was easier than not to ignore every one else. The small keen eyes of Mr. Tubbs, under his lofty and polished dome of thought, watched us knowingly. You saw that he was getting ready to assume a bless-you-my-children attitude and even to take credit somehow as match-maker. He related anecdotes, in which, as an emissary of Cupid, he played a benevolent and leading role. One detected, too, a grin, ugly and unmirthful, on the unprepossessing countenance of Captain Magnus. I was indifferent. The man my gaiety was intended for sat at the far end of the table. I had to wipe out the memory of my wet eyes that afternoon.
Directly dinner was at an end, remorselessly he led the Honorable Cuthbert away. I retired to Huckleberry Finn. But a face with a scar running to the eyebrow looked up at me from the pages, and I held colloquies with it in which I said all the brilliant and cutting things which had occurred to me too late.