No, she was secure; she was secure. She guarded her heart from all. And she could not suffer deeply—so she told herself—so long as she kept it close. Yet, as the wonder-music of the torrent lulled her to sleep, a face she knew, dark, strong, full of silent purpose, rose before her inner vision and would not be driven forth. What was he doing to-night? Was he wandering about the bazaars in some disguise, learning the secrets of that strange native India that had drawn him into her toils? She tried to picture that hidden life of his, but could not. The keen, steady eyes, set in that calm, emotionless face, held her persistently, defeating imagination. Of one thing only was she certain. He might baffle others, but by no amount of ingenuity could he ever deceive her. She would recognize him in a moment whatever his disguise. She was sure that she would know him. Those grave, unflinching eyes would surely give him away to any who really knew him. So ran her thoughts on that night of magic till at last sleep came, and the vision faded. The last thing she knew was a memory that awoke and mocked her—the sound of a low voice that in spite of herself she had to hear.
“I was waiting,” said the voice, “till my turn should come.”
With a sharp pang she cast the memory from her—and slept.
THE SERPENT IN THE GARDEN
“Now, you old sinner! Let’s hear your valuable piece of information!” Carelessly Ralph Dacre sauntered forth again into the moonlight and confronted the tatterdemalion figure of his visitor.
The contrast between them was almost fantastic so strongly did the arrogance of the one emphasize the deep abasement of the other. Dacre was of large build and inclined to stoutness. He had the ruddy complexion of the English country squire. He moved with the swagger of the conquering race.
The man who cringed before him, palsied, misshapen, a mere wreck of humanity, might have been a being from another sphere—some underworld of bizarre creatures that crawled purblind among shadows.
He salaamed again profoundly in response to Dacre’s contemptuous words, nearly rubbing his forehead upon the ground. “His most noble excellency is pleased to be gracious,” he murmured. “If he will deign to follow his miserably unworthy servant up the goat-path where none may overhear, he will speak his message and depart.”
“Oh, it’s a message, is it?” With a species of scornful tolerance Dacre turned towards the path indicated. “Well, lead on! I’m not coming far—no, not for untold wealth. Nor am I going to waste much time over you. I have better things to do.”
The old man turned also with a cringing movement. “Only a little way, most noble!” he said in his thin, cracked voice. “Only a little way!”
Hobbling painfully, he began the ascent in front of the strolling Englishman. The path ran steeply up between close-growing shrubs, following the winding of the torrent far below. In places the hillside was precipitous and the roar of the stream rose louder as it dashed among its rocks. The heavy scent of the azalea flowers hung like incense everywhere, mingling aromatically with the smoke from Dacre’s newly lighted cigar.