Turnbull thrust his hands through his red hair like one who gives up the world as a bad riddle. “Lord love a duck,” said he, “can it be Jamaica?”
Then glancing at his companion with a small frown, as of one slightly suspicious, he said: “I say, don’t think me rude—but you’re a visionary kind of fellow—and then we drank a great deal. Do you mind waiting here while I go and see for myself?”
“Shout if you get into trouble,” said the Celt, with composure; “you will find it as I say.”
Turnbull ran off ahead with a rapidity now far greater than his rival’s, and soon vanished over the disputed sand-hill. Then five minutes passed, and then seven minutes; and MacIan bit his lip and swung his sword, and the other did not reappear. Finally, with a Gaelic oath, Evan started forward to the rescue, and almost at the same moment the small figure of the missing man appeared on the ridge against the sky.
Even at that distance, however, there was something odd about his attitude; so odd that MacIan continued to make his way in that direction. It looked as if he were wounded; or, still more, as if he were ill. He wavered as he came down the slope and seemed flinging himself into peculiar postures. But it was only when he came within three feet of MacIan’s face, that that observer of mankind fully realized that Mr. James Turnbull was roaring with laughter.
“You are quit right,” sobbed that wholly demoralized journalist. “He’s black, oh, there’s no doubt the black’s all right—as far as it goes.” And he went off again into convulsions of his humorous ailment.
“What ever is the matter with you?” asked MacIan, with stern impatience. “Did you see the nigger——”
“I saw the nigger,” gasped Turnbull. “I saw the splendid barbarian Chief. I saw the Emperor of Ethiopia—oh, I saw him all right. The nigger’s hands and face are a lovely colour—and the nigger——” And he was overtaken once more.
“Well, well, well,” said Evan, stamping each monosyllable on the sand, “what about the nigger?”
“Well, the truth is,” said Turnbull, suddenly and startlingly, becoming quite grave and precise, “the truth is, the nigger is a Margate nigger, and we are now on the edge of the Isle of Thanet, a few miles from Margate.”
Then he had a momentary return of his hysteria and said: “I say, old boy, I should like to see a chart of our fortnight’s cruise in Wilkinson’s yacht.”
MacIan had no smile in answer, but his eager lips opened as if parched for the truth. “You mean to say,” he began——