“Still hunting for Winston?” he questioned, sneeringly. “Well, I can inform you where he may very easily be found.”
“Yes, out at the ‘Little Yankee.’ It seems you were a trifle late in getting him word, or else your fascinations failed to move him. You must be losing your grip.”
She neither moved nor spoke, her eyes—dark, unwinking beneath the wide hat-brim—telling him nothing. Yet her hand closed upon the pearl handle hidden away in the jacket pocket, and her lips formed a straight line.
“I ’m damned sorry you did n’t land the fellow, Lizzie,” he went on brutally. “He ’s about the best catch you ’re liable to get, and besides, it leaves me a rather unpleasant job. Still, I thought I ’d better tell you, so you would n’t feel it necessary to hang around the streets here any longer. Fact is, I ’m anxious to shield your reputation, you know.” He looked about carelessly, his glance settling on the open doors of the Gayety. “Don’t strike me this is exactly the sort of place for one of your moral respectability to be discovered in. Lord! but what would the old man or that infernal prig of a brother of yours say, if they could only see you now? A monologue artist at the Gayety was bad enough, but this, this is the limit.”
There was a flash of something white and glittering within six inches of his face, a sharp click, and an eye looked directly into his own across a short steel barrel.
“Go!” The word was like the spat of a bullet.
“Go, you cur! or, as God is my witness, if you stay I’ll kill you!”
With a sharp dig of the spur his horse sprang half-way across the road, a black, prancing shadow against the glare of light. She saw the rider fling up one arm, and bring down the stinging quirt on the animal’s flank; the next instant, with a bound, they were swallowed up in the darkness. A moment she leaned against the shack, nerveless, half fainting from reaction, her face deathly white. Then she inhaled a long, deep breath, gathered her skirts closely within one hand, and plunged boldly into the black alley.
Mercedes stood in the shade of the towering hillside, the single beam of light shining from an uncurtained window alone faintly revealing her slenderness of figure in its red drapery. No other gleam anywhere cleft the prevailing darkness of the night, and the only perceptible sound was that of horses’ hoofs dying away in the distance. The girl was not crying, although one of her hands was held across her eyes, and her bosom rose and fell tumultuously to labored breathing. She stood silent, motionless, the strange radiance causing her to appear unreal, some divinely moulded statue, an artist’s dream carven in colored stone. Suddenly she sprang backward from out that revealing tongue of light and crouched low at the angle of the house, not unlike some affrighted wild animal, her head bent forward intently listening. There was a plainly perceptible movement in the gloom, the sound of an approaching footstep and of rapid breathing, and finally a shadow became visible. The watcher leaped to her feet half angrily.