A GLASS OF WATER.
TAN TOCK came into the dining-room and glanced about him. With two opium pellets at work inside of him, his yellow features gave no sign of weariness after a sleepless night. Instead, he was very cheerful, and chattered aloud as he worked.
“Truly the things of a Sultan!” he observed as he took silver-gilt utensils from a cupboard and began to set the table—for two. “Very beautiful. As beautiful as that white woman’s hair. Perhaps the Sultan will give her to me when he is tired of her—I must not forget to mention it to him. He will have her dressed like the women statues on the temple of Angkor Wat—ai, by Allah!”
He opened the wine locker and drew out champagne bottles. There was no ice, but Tan Tock had a simpler cooling system; he drew forth a bucket with long rope attached, put the bottles in the bucket, and lowered it from the stern window. The depths of the lagoon were hardly cold, but would serve at a pinch.
“Now we must have tinned meats. First, however, I must make ready her water—the woman must be made agreeable to the Sultan’s wishes, of course!”
He set out glasses, filled them with mineral water, and into one glass put a drop of colorless fluid from a tiny vial, which he replaced in his belt. He chuckled evilly, and proceeded to get out the tins of meat and caviar.
“So she is sleeping, eh?” His furtive eyes flitted to a doorway before which hung a covering of broad-striped crimson silk, such as they weave in Kelantan. “ Perhaps it might be permitted to look upon her, since she is an infidel woman and without shame—”
Tan Tock wiped his hands on his sarong and stepped to the doorway, his yellow face suddenly wrinkled in evil lines. On either side of the door were pillars of carven teakwood, heavily gilded. His hand went out and caught the silken curtain to draw it aside—
But the silken curtain moved of itself. A long, naked white arm shot forth, and iron fingers clenched upon the throat of Tan Tock; behind the arm emerged the figure of Stone, grimly silent.
That first instant of surprise and terror was enough to give the American’s terrible fingers a firm grip on the yellow man’s throat. Unable to cry out or get help, seeing death leaping at him from those hard gray eyes, Tan Tock’s hand flashed down and whipped for a knife, flame-bladed like a kris. So swift was the motion that Stone did not see the weapon until it seared across his naked breast, barely slitting the skin.
Then, wild rage upon him, surging with anger at this man who had balked him during the night, he swung up Tan Tock by the neck, one-handed, and dashed the steward’s head against one of the carven teakwood pillars. There was a sound like an egg breaking, and the body of Tan Tock hung limp. The knife tinkled on the deck.
“Well,” ejaculated Stone, surprised at the access of strength which had come upon him, and staring at the draggling figure, “what d’you know about that? Ugh—the beast must have had a skull like paper!”
Glancing around swiftly, Stone took a gold-mounted phonograph from a table in the corner, tied it to the feet of the body, and a moment later the steward was lowered from the stern window and disappeared in the lagoon.
Stone fingered the revolver he had found in the man’s pocket, and shivered a little.
“Deadly work, this raja business!” he muttered. “Still, there’s no help for it. It’s not for yourself, Dick lad—it’s for the little woman in yonder. So let her sleep, poor soul, while you have a look around. Raja against Sultan, by the Lord!”
Whereupon, regarding all within reach as lawful loot, Stone proceeded to look around.
Sultan Lumpur was wealthy, and, like all Oriental rulers, desired to have evidences of his wealth about him in intrinsic shape. Thus his private suite was rich in gold mountings and costly things of all sorts; and set in the teak wall was a small but excellent safe. These things Stone disdained for the moment, settling himself at the table with a great sigh of contentment,, for he was hungry. Of clothes there were none in sight, but food was in plenty, and the American determined to make the most of it.
Half an hour later he lighted a superfine cheroot from the Sultan’s silver humidor, and with Tan Tock's knife absent-mindedly picked three superb rubies from the chased lid of the humidor itself.
“Now,” he reflected, staring at the three blood-red flames on the table-cloth, “it is quite right that our petty Sultan should pay, and pay well, for the trouble which he causes the Raja of Hell Island, to say nothing of Miss Bretton! These are nice rubies, but I have no pockets to put them in—”
He came to his feet suddenly, listening. Then his lips curved grimly.
“Ah! Here come your pockets, Mr. Raja! I hope it’s the Sultan himself.”
He moved over to the door—not that covered by the silk hanging, but the one that led into the passageway without—and stood behind the teak door, revolver reversed in his hand. From the passage came a shuffle of steps, which paused at the door.
“Tan Tock?” spoke a voice. Stone grimaced. This was not the Sultan, but one of the two quartermasters who had come ashore with him from the Penang.
“Enter!” Stone muffled his voice; and the door, which boasted an excellent English lock, swung open.
The quartermaster appeared, staring about the room in search of Tan Tock. Whatever his errand might have been, it remained undelivered, for Stone’s revolver-butt struck him behind the ear, and the American’s long arm caught him as he fell senseless.
“All things come to him who waits!” chuckled Stone.
Five minutes caused an appreciable alteration in appearances. The quartermaster sat, bound and gagged, in a corner, concealed but not stifled by a spare table-cloth. Clad in the neat blue uniform, Stone looked very much himself again, and carefully pocketed the three rubies. As he stood rubbing the stubble on his chin and gazing at the unconscious seaman, the very sunburst of an idea shot athwart his mind.
“Eh—by the Lord Harry!” he ejaculated admiringly. “I must have a genius for intrigue! If it could be done, now, it’d solve a whole lot of my troubles.”
He turned to the table, quickly rid it of the remains of his own meal, then set it anew, opening the meats and making all ready that he could. The two glasses of water he transposed in place. Then, assuring himself that all looked fairly well, he pulled aside the curtain of crimson silk and knocked lightly at the door behind. There was a moment of silence—then came the response, as upon that first occasion which now seemed a century ago, when he had knocked at her door aboard the Penang.
“Yes? Who is there?”
“His excellency the Raja of Hell Island, ma’am,” returned Stone gaily but guardedly. “Sorry to break into your nap, but—”
“Oh!” In her one word were expressed amazement, delighted recognition, and hasty greeting. Then: “Wait just a moment, please!”
“No hurry,” Stone assured her. “Don’t make much noise, though!”
The word drew a little laugh from him, yet it was a laugh partially of shame. He himself would have said “won’t,” he reflected; in the past year he had fallen much away from the niceties of speech and action.
“Well, there’s some excuse for it!” he muttered, glancing at the quartermaster and thinking of Tan Tock. “These brown beggars are used to monkeying with French and Britishers; now they’ve tackled Americans, they ’ll find out a few things, grammar or not. If we pull out of this mess, they ’ll remember one raja, anyhow!”
He slipped the lock of the door leading to the passage. A moment later the other door opened and showed Miss Bretton, slightly disheveled, her pale cheeks tinged with rich color, her deep-gray eyes alight.
“Oh!” she said, smiling. “I thought—Tan Tock told me you had gone away!”
“Sure! But I came back. Tan Tock’s gone away this time. Here, come in and sit down. How’d you like the Sultan?”
“He—he seemed very polite.” She sank into the chair Stone placed for her. “Really, it is very hard to think that there is anything wrong—”
“Still doubting, eh?” Stone chuckled, and pointed to the glasses of water. “Tan Tock came in and laid this table a few minutes ago. In one of those glasses—this one at the seat by the window—he put a drop of liquid, intending it for you. Had you taken luncheon with the Sultan, you would have been drugged before you knew it. Now, then, I’ll proceed to give you ample proof of what I say, Miss Bretton. Get the Sultan to drink that glass of water!”
“What?” She stared at him, frowning slightly. “I don’t see how—”
“Oh, I’ll show you how!” cut in Stone cheerfully, taking another cheroot from the humidor. “I’ve an almighty good little scheme cooked up, if we can put it over. You must remember that Sultan Lumpur comes of a long line of piratical ancestors, and you must pay attention to his admissions; then you’ll have no further scruples, I hope. Also, I must depend entirely upon you to keep his attention occupied while I think up some plan for getting away from this craft.”
She made a helpless gesture.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand you very clearly, Mr. Stone.”
“Sure you don’t!” Stone laughed. “Please tuck up that curling strand of hair that hangs over your ear—it’s the most distractingly attractive thing I ever saw in my life! Well, now, I’ll explain.”
Her slim hands went to her hair; her pale cheeks reddened again in a blush that was half a smile. Stone explained.
The original proprietors of Hell Island, as Stone reflected, were undoubtedly pirates and freebooters; for after this manner lived all Malays in the old days. So, once in the bedroom of the private suite, he looted a fine silk shirt of the Sultan’s, split it a little in getting it over his shoulders, knotted a loud scarlet scarf about his throat, opened the door that led into the dining-room behind the silk curtain, and then sat down to think. While he thought, Miss Bretton acted.
The morning was drawing well on toward noon as she emerged on deck and stood looking about her. Where the lagoon had been gray with stormy fear on the previous day, it was now glittering with tropic warmth; even the gray stones of Hell Island were jeweled with scarlet flowers and flashing parrakeets. The boats had ceased work and now hung listless at the gangway ladder, and the crew were idly draped about the deck forward.
Beneath the awning, Sultan Lumpur had just wakened. At sight of Miss Bretton he sent the nautch-girl away with a snarling oath; but if Miss Bretton had been convinced of the Sultan’s entirely civilized state, that conviction was sadly shaken. The nautch-girl was not naked, in a technical sense; yet it was with some reason that the lips of Agnes Bretton were firmly compressed.
The ruler of Kuala Gajah hastened to make amends.
“Eh, up already, Miss Bretton? You’re looking perfectly ripping, if I may say so!” The Sultan’s English was pronouncedly English. Beneath his fez his small-boned, preternaturally aged brown features looked like weathered rosewood studded with white ivories. “Take this chair—let me sit at your feet and smoke, if I may.”
“No, I won’t sit down, thank you.” Miss Bretton delicately stifled a yawn. “I looked in on your dining-room, and it positively made me ravenous! By the way, Sultan, have you made any plans as to a mission station at Kuala Gajah?”
Sultan Lumpur looked slightly taken aback.
“My word! Aren’t you awfully keen on business, eh?” He grinned disagreeably. “Come, let us go down and assuage our hunger, and over the table we will discuss the mission. I hope Tan Tock did not waken you?”
Refusing his proffered arm, Miss Bretton returned down the companionway, Lumpur at her heels. At the bottom, she turned as if she had forgotten something.
“Oh—when are you going to leave here, Sultan? Soon, I hope?”
“In an hour, Miss Bretton.” He bowed, bobbing absurdly in his frock coat. “Some of my crew are going ashore immediately to find a fishing village, in order that the castaways on the island may secure boats at once. Upon their return we leave for Kuala Gajah.”
She nodded and passed on into the dining-room.
Stone, in the bedroom off the private suite, stuffed some small plush boxes into his jacket pockets and, upon hearing the Sultan’s explanation of their continued stay, went to the door that opened on the passage. Miss Bretton and the Sultan entered the dining-room.
Here, opening on the passage, there were four other cabins, the doors closed. Stone concluded they were occupied by Benbow and the nautch-girls, and he slipped softly down to the companion. Very cautiously venturing up the ladder, he heard the rattle of oars, and after a moment raised his head sufficiently to see that a boat had set off, not toward the island, but toward the river-mouth across the lagoon. The boat was of the Penang, with ten men in her, and was commanded by the other quartermaster who had come ashore with Stone.
“Good!” The American returned up the passage and softly regained the bedroom of the private suite. “Counting the Penang’s men who slipped away from me last night, there were only a dozen aboard here this morning. Ten gone leaves two, and Benbow will snore until night if he’s left alone. Now let’s see how things are going next door.”
He sank into a gilded Empire chair and listened, chuckling a little to himself.
Being so far accustomed to titles that they bored him, Sultan Lumpur appeared to be keenly enjoying Miss Bretton’s absence of formality and quietly poised bearing. Indeed, he was so interested that so far he had failed to remark the absence either of Tan Tock or the gold-mounted phonograph.
From the sound of voices, Stone gathered that Miss Bretton sat near the door, while the Sultan sat by the stern window; thus all presaged well regarding the glasses of water. A moment later, indeed, Stone knew that the deed was done.
“My word, this water tastes warm!” exclaimed the Sultan. “It’s beastly odd where Tan Tock can be. Would you mind pressing that bell at your hand, Miss Bretton—”
“Then you don’t care for a tête-à-tête?” she inquired, the slightest hint of reproach in her voice. Stone swore admiringly to himself; he had not dreamed that she held such qualities of an actress! The Sultan did not dream so, either, and fell at once to the lure.
“By all means, my dear lady. Now let us have a bottle of this wine. Do you know, Miss Bretton, it makes me very happy indeed to be thus dining with you—to have been the means of rescuing you from an unhappy predicament! It is a great honor, indeed—”
“Thank you,” broke in the girl quietly. “What kind of a mission church did you think of erecting, Sultan Lumpur?”
“Any kind you prefer, dear lady!” retorted the Sultan gaily. “And it shall contain a shrine with a statue of yourself done in gold and jewels, eh? Oh, yes! I am not too orthodox a Mohammedan, you see; nor do I deny myself the beautiful things that nature craves, whether it be wine—or—or hair more beautiful than gold!”
It was self-evident that the words of his highness were no idle compliments. With every instant the man was letting his inner self crack through the veneer of politeness and civilization, and Stone could imagine the leer upon the brown features.
There now came the signal for which the American had been waiting—the signal that the drugged glass of water was gone.
“I met a very interesting man on this island,” observed Miss Bretton, her tone a trifle unsteady despite her self-control.
“Yes?” returned the oily voice of the other. “Not so interesting as I, perhaps.”
“Possibly you know him, Sultan Lumpur. He called himself the raja of this island here—he was a very interesting man, indeed—”
“Raja? Raja of Jehannum Island?” broke out Sultan Lumpur, between surprise and rage. Stone softly rose and stepped to the curtain at the door. “My word! What bally impudence was the beggar handing you?”
“None, I assure you! He was a very nice man, and he was very kind to me.”
“Oh, was he?” An ugly note surcharged the Sultan’s voice—perhaps he was tiring of the game, thought Stone with a grin. “Well, he’ll not be so nice to you as I’ll be, my dear young lady! How would it suit you to be a Sultana—eh, what? With women to wait upon you, and diamonds to wear, and all Kuala Gajah at your beck and call, eh?”
He was giving himself away very nicely now. Then, to Stone’s surprise, Miss Bretton made reply with an icy firmness.
“You forget yourself! Sit down in that chair and stop leering across the table—just remember that you’re speaking to a white woman, Mr. Sultan!”
“Indeed?” Sultan Lumpur gave vent to a cackle of evil mirth. “Did that glass of water taste odd to you, Miss Bretton? There was a drop of liquid in it—and in a very few minutes you will be sound, asleep. And what then, eh? Perhaps to-morrow you’ll forget you’re a boasted white woman, eh? Perhaps you’ll be glad to be a Sultana, eh, what? My word! Does it surprise you to find all the refinements of civilization here in the Malay States, eh?”
“You vile beast!” bit out the girl’s voice. “Don’t you dare use such words to me—”
“Ho! And why not, my dear?” said the Sultan thickly. “Why not? Who’ll stop me?”
“The Raja of Hell Island,” said Stone. “Consider yourself stopped, Sultan!”