The Adventures of Miss Gregory/The Adventure on a Portuguese Trader
THE ADVENTURE ON A PORTUGUESE TRADER
MISS GREGORY had at least one attribute of the born traveler: she was easily led aside into a by-path. "At fifty," she was wont to say, "one knows the uselessness of making plans; the thing is to keep one's eyes open." Her own eyes had been open to some purpose in several parts of the world. From Shanghai to Sierra Leone she had multiplied friends and enemies, and never, in all her travels, had she bound herself down to a route or destination. People who saw her off on a Union Castle boat for Cape Town heard of her next from Pernambuco; and her book, "The Saharan Solitudes," contains far too much information about the Sudan to be valuable as an authority on the Sahara.
She was one of those disconcerting women who combine a mannish charm with an entirely feminine strength of personality. She was short and strongly made; her handsome gray hair was drawn away from a keen, enterprising face; and below her smooth brows her eyes were humorous and assured. She carried with her to the ends of the earth a certain manner of authority—just the least touch of the arrogance of the high-caste; it was not the least potent of her weapons. Composed, shrewd, and friendly, she had been present at the making of history in both hemispheres; and history was not the poorer for her presence.
It was at Bandero, on the East Coast of Africa, that she embarked aboard the Henriqueta. How she came to be at Bandero matters nothing; she was probably on her way elsewhere and stepped aside. Her idea was to wait there, among the palms and the slaves, till the big German mail-boat arrived to carry her southward in state; but, within an hour of the time when the little Portuguese steamer laid her rust-scarred plates alongside the tremulous bamboo jetty, she was on board inquiring for a passage. It was a shabby little vessel, a mere scavenger of the coastwise trade; from the jetty, where she stood serene among the sweating black cargo hands, Miss Gregory could see her rail forward lined with brown and black deck passengers, sleek and splendid under the vehement sun. It was a picture that she could appreciate, and she was awake, too, to the picturesque aloofness of the one European among them, a gaunt, somber man, who looked at her once without curiosity, and then gazed away over her head at the clustering roofs of Bandero.
"That's an Englishman," Miss Gregory told herself; "he knows how to administer the cut direct."
On her way aboard, she passed through a group of saloon passengers going ashore to spend the hot afternoon. Two or three furtive men accompanied a woman, a tall, slender creature with a thin, vivid face, and weary eyes that grew acute as they fell on Miss Gregory. A less tolerant observer would have dismissed them with a shrug; they had a certain quality of disreputability, an appearance of social and moral flimsiness, that would have justified it. But Miss Gregory was a traveler. She knew that such ships as the Henriqueta carry the light tragedians and the heavy soubrettes of life, and it was a world that she desired to explore more than any other place. She returned the woman's stare calmly, noting her thin, dangerous quality and the hard courage of her face, and passed on about her business. Behind her back, the tall woman smiled slowly.
The captain was a stout, swarthy Portuguese, who breathed noisily, as she stood before him, and scratched his unshaven jowl with a blunt forefinger.
"We not gotta no stewardess." he warned her. "You come—you take-a de chance. You notta like—you stop ashore."
He had the manner of resenting her; he spoke harshly, and stared without intermission. But Miss Gregory was quite clear that she required a passage to Beira. In face of his warnings and objections, her voice took on a certain peremptoriness, and he turned from her, with a snort, to make out her ticket. And when it was done he thrust it at her rudely, for the Portuguese of the Coast hate the English as an ugly woman hates an ugly man. But Miss Gregory was returning her purse to her pocket at that moment, and left him to hold it at arm's length till she was ready. Then she read it through carefully, and invited him to correct an error in addition. He snorted again, a snort of defiance; but this time he returned the ticket to her with a bow. He had learned already that it saved time to treat Miss Gregory with consideration.
In this manner Miss Gregory was installed as the occupant of a cabin on board the Henriqueta. From the poop, that evening, she watched Bandero sink back against the sunset as the little steamer turned her humble nose south toward the Mozambique Channel, while her fellow passengers, in whispering groups, watched her as cattle watch a trespassing dog. She saw them all under the lamplight in the saloon at the meal that was described as dinner, and tried to take account of them. Only one of them, it seemed, was English—the tall woman she had encountered on the gangway. She sat at some distance from Miss Gregory, and at intervals talked in a slow, languid voice. The rest were Germans and Portuguese, and those nondescripts who make up the bulk of the population of the Coast. They talked little, and then in hushed tones; they seemed to have in common a quality of secrecy and caution. They looked about them with sidelong glances and quick gleams of white eyeballs, and observed toward one another that strict formality of politeness which goes with hidden weapons. In their midst, the stout captain, with his clumsiness of movement and harsh throaty voice, took on a grosser quality; Miss Gregory found herself comparing him to a bludgeon in an armory of stilettos.
It was after dinner that she first had word with one of them. She was watching the wonder of moonlight which comes to redeem those latitudes, the soft radiance that touches the world to tender, ephemeral shades of color. A step sounded behind her, and the tall woman lounged against the rail at her side.
"Good evening," said Miss Gregory.
The other nodded impatiently. "Say," she said, "you're a fool to be here."
The rich tones in her voice fulfilled the promise of her lithe figure and small, darkling face.
"Am I?" said Miss Gregory. "Why?"
"You ought to know," said the other. "I saw you takin' stock of us all at dinner. We're not your kind. Perhaps we don't want to be, either; but there it is. Your place is a cabin on a German boat, with stewardesses and a drawing-room."
Miss Gregory smiled patiently. "You're very kind," she said. "But I think I can manage without the drawing-room, at a pinch."
The tall woman laughed. "That's one for me, I suppose?" she answered. "Still, if anything happens to you, don't say I didn't tell you. This coast ain't like any other place. You can go blunderin' about the world for years as safe as if you were in jail, and then find trouble waitin' for you here. What do you think of the lot you saw at dinner?"
"I was interested," said Miss Gregory. "It was rather curious."
"Curious!" She stared. "Curious. Yes. They don't look much, I suppose, to a stranger. Lord! it's pleasant to meet a real lady now and again, but it's like talkin' to a baby. There isn't one of those men that wouldn't screw himself up to murder you, if it was worth his while. You can believe me; I know."
"Do you? You live on the Coast?"
The tall woman nodded. "I don't run to visiting cards," she said; "but my name's Ducane—Miss Ducane." She paused. "I'm an actress," she added. "Everybody knows me."
Miss Gregory, as it happened, did run to cards, and the introduction was completed in form.
"Well," said Miss Ducane, "you don't lose by this. I'll see you're not bothered. Those fellows don't take any chances with me."
She looked over her shoulder at a group of them on the other side of the deck. It was easy to understand her boast. She moved like a whip-lash; she had all the trenchant menace of a naked blade. She seemed to personify the Coast of which she had spoken, its tropical opulence, its tradition of violence, its quality of a lost soul.
"I believe," said Miss Gregory, "that there's a man forward who is English. I saw him this afternoon. He looked rather——"
"Him!" Miss Ducane interrupted scornfully. "That deck passenger, you mean? You don't want to have anything to do with him. When a man travels among the niggers, he's dead."
"Is he English?" persisted Miss Gregory.
"Oh, he might be—goodness knows." Miss Ducane declined to be interested in the matter. "He keeps where he belongs, at the other end of the ship," she said. "Let him stop there."
She yawned luxuriously. "I'll be going below," she said. "This is when I get my sleep. Ashore I don't seem to get much. Good night."
Miss Gregory bade her good night, and saw her stride across to the companion-stairs like a gaunt wraith. The group of men turned to watch her go. The night seemed tame and empty for her absence, and it was not long before Miss Gregory followed her example.
She made an attempt next morning upon the white man forward. From the poop, where she walked before breakfast, she could see him seated on the forecastle-head. He was gazing seaward, with his chin in his hands. Something in the attitude of the man heightened his solitude and made it suddenly pathetic. Miss Gregory did not hesitate. She picked her way among the natives about the fore hatch, and was at his side before he heard her coming. He looked up at her with a start of annoyance, but rose to his feet and lifted his shabby hat in grudging salute.
"It's a fine morning," said Miss Gregory.
"Yes," he replied.
He was tall and lean. His sharp face was graven with the lines of hard living; a pallor that was eloquent of fevers showed through the tan upon it. He wore the thin white clothes which all Europeans affect in those parts, even those who travel with natives; but he was English to the finger-tips, with the voice and accent of the cleanly bred. Stranger things may happen to a man on the Coast than to fall through the shifting levels of respectability to the stable bottom upon which the natives have their plane. A hundred things may thrust him down: a tender conscience may be as heavy a burden as drink; a fastidious temper may ruin a man as effectually as gambling. But the bottom is always the bottom, and his brows knitted in a scowl as she looked him over.
"You get the wind here," remarked Miss Gregory, as perfunctorily as she could. The morning breeze was not yet stilled by the sun; it blew freshly on her face.
"Yes," he said again; "it's a good place to be alone in. I won't interrupt your pleasure in it."
He swung about forthwith, but Miss Gregory cried out: "Oh, please!"
He turned. He really was a master of the art of declining an acquaintance. There was a chill directness about him which Miss Gregory recognized as part of the armory of the higher civilization. The brutality of indifference is the crown of the age.
"Nor my own, then," he said briefly. His nod was a bow, in its way—the equivalent of a bow, anyway. And then Miss Gregory saw his back as he descended the ladder and disappeared from her sight. From the bridge, the officer of the watch surveyed the transaction with eyes of interest.
Miss Gregory laughed. She was getting her money's worth. Introduced to Miss Ducane, and snubbed, cut, flattened, by a deck passenger, all within twenty-four hours.
"I ought to be able to get some character into my next book," was her reflection.
It occurred to her at intervals in the next few days, while the Henriqueta lumbered on her way. Little by little, Miss Gregory began to make acquaintances among her companions, and found character enough to dramatize a dictionary. Those sunburnt, still men, with the stealthy eyes, had no word to say that was not an illumination. One of them professed himself concerned with the ivory trade; he was difficult to understand till it flashed upon her that his ivory was black, and alive. A great, blond German, with a manner of almost imbecile good humor, bored her for a while, until, at one small port where they called, a platoon of dusty little soldiers boarded the Henriqueta and took him ashore to answer a charge of murder. Miss Gregory saw him go down the ladder to the boat with his hands chained behind him, and noted that his features still wore the foolish smile that had irritated her. It began to be bewildering. At her side, Miss Ducane, pale and nonchalant, pointed the moral.
"They'll never be able to keep him," she assured Miss Gregory, in her tired voice. "Max is worth ten of 'em; he'll escape in a day or two. And you and he was talkin' poetry, eh?"
"He seemed fond of it," admitted Miss Gregory. "He knew fathoms by heart."
"Did he?" Miss Ducane seemed impressed. "And he's one of the cleanest shots you ever saw. Who'd have thought of old Max goin' in for poetry?"
Miss Gregory agreed with her. "Who indeed?" she echoed.
"It only shows you," pursued Miss Ducane, "it's not safe to judge by appearances. That's what you've got to remember, my dear. A knife in your stocking isn't ladylike, perhaps; but sometimes it's a great comfort."
"Have—have you got one there?" demanded Miss Gregory. Miss Ducane shook her head composedly. "A knife's no use to me," she replied; "I've got a weak wrist."
Miss Gregory blinked and swallowed; character was accumulating a little too rapidly. Miss Ducane continued to gaze tranquilly after the boat in which the fat, amiable face of Max was still discernible amid a huddle of shabby uniforms.
It was two nights later that Miss Gregory was awaked by her bed bouncing under her. The Henriqueta was not fitted with electric lights; she leaped from the edge of her bunk to the unsteady deck in darkness. Her nerves were good, but it took some moments to command them. She had gone to sleep in silent weather; now there was a thrashing of water in her ears, and other noises thereto—a roaring jar from the engine-room, and queer, shrill voices joined in a Babel of panic. She was thrown to the floor the next minute by a shock that seemed to wrench the whole ship. She crawled on hands and knees to the matches, and made a light; then, with deft haste and all the quick skill of an old campaigner, she slipped into such clothes as came to hand. Through the partition she could hear a man blubbering; even in the urgency of that moment, she frowned disapproval of the weakness of it. Then she thrust her door open, and hurried down the alleyway.
She was nearly knocked off her feet by a man who charged past her. She had time, as she reeled, to recognize the stout captain, clutching papers in both hands, his face convulsed and writhing. Then he was gone, and a chill jet of spray, curling inboard, stung her into self-possession. Everybody else seemed to be on deck. From the companion, her eyes yet futile in the darkness, she perceived heaving groups of them here and there; the wind—it was more wonderful than anything else to find such a wind—whipped their voices past her in shreds of sound. All was tumult and chaos, when suddenly her arm was grasped, and she looked up into the face of the deck passenger.
"The niggers will be aft in a minute," he said.
Miss Gregory thrilled. "What has happened?" she cried. "I was asleep."
"We're aground," he said. "We've bumped on a reef. And the captain and crew have got away in a boat and left us."
He had the air of a man hurried beyond endurance, yet he did not move as he spoke. Out of the darkness behind him Miss Ducane suddenly emerged, fully dressed, with her damp hair plastered about her head. She ran to the shelter of the companion, breathing gaspingly.
"Is it the niggers?" she cried. "Is it the niggers?"
The deck passenger gave her but the one look.
"Yes," he said. "You run and hide, Polly."
It was passing strange, in that environment—his cool tone of ironic patronage, her swift, resentful cock of the head.
"And why ain't you with them?" she asked acidly.
He had a retort shaped on his lips, when he jumped back.
"Here they come!" he cried.
It was as if the darkness precipitated itself into velvet-footed shapes. Of a sudden, the night about them was peopled with black men from forward, negroes naked and showing white teeth in a cold fury of murder. It was for fear of these that the captain had shown that face of emasculate terror—negroes armed with desperation. The deck passenger's shoulder thrust Miss Gregory aside as he squared himself in the doorway. Miss Ducane had already stepped clear. In the flurry of that moment, Miss Gregory had but one clear impression—the long black leg of Miss Ducane as she snatched her skirt up and dragged at her crimson garter. Then she was seemly again, and her slim hand reached forward with a revolver, miraculously materialized, and thrust it into the hand of the deck passenger. At once the noise of it began to make its effect—two shots, a rush, and two more. It was all too like a trick to be imposing, and far too swift in its happening. Miss Gregory had hardly realized it, when the deck passenger was back again. It had only needed proof that the white man still possessed resources of mastery to drive the natives forward.
"I'll have to leave you," he was saying. "They'll need watching." And he was gone again.
There was a settee in the companion, and Miss Gregory sat down upon it. She was placid enough outwardly, but inwardly the spate of events had left her a little bewildered. Through her thoughts there penetrated the calm, rather weary voice of Miss Ducane.
"It makes a bulge, I grant," she was saying; "but it's a handy thing to have about you. I'd as soon go without my shoes—sooner, in fact."
As the sky grew pale with the foreknowledge of dawn, the sharp wind abated. It had been no more than a heavy squall at its worst, that sudden mood of tempest which the tropics know. In ones and twos the saloon passengers appeared, shivering, from their hiding-places. Nobody had been killed. They gathered to leeward of the companion, restoring themselves with low talk. At the rail which overlooked the fore deck, the deck passenger leaned with folded arms, an efficient sentry. Miss Gregory groped her way to her cabin and completed her toilet; she was her every-day self when she stepped forth to inspect the situation.
She made sure of the deck passenger first.
"I suppose we may consider ourselves introduced now?" she suggested, pausing at his side.
He smiled shortly. "It is for you to say."
"Well, then," she said, "what is happening?"
He straightened his back and slipped Miss Ducane's revolver into a pocket of his jacket.
"Nothing very dreadful," he said. "These Portuguese will go to sea without an Englishman to look after them, and they managed to bump us on as convenient a reef as you could wish to see. Look at it."
Miss Gregory's eyes followed his pointing finger. The edge of the sun was above the hills; daylight had arrived. They lay on an even keel within three miles of the shore, whence a string of white water ran out to them.
"That's the reef," he explained. "There's a lot of coral hereabouts. We're jammed hard upon it. And as soon as we struck, the niggers raised a yell, and the captain and his men got away in the first boat they could lay hands on. As likely as not they were swamped in the squall and the lot of them drowned."
"But what about us?" inquired Miss Gregory.
"Oh, we're all right," he said easily. "Plenty of boats left, you know. But we mustn't be in too much of a hurry. It's easier to keep those niggers in hand here than it would be ashore."
They were sleeping under the forecastle-head at that moment, it appeared; a white man with a pistol had been a sight to soothe their fears. Occasionally a smooth black head thrust out to watch their interview, and then withdrew, as if reassured that affairs were still in strong hands.
"They're the real danger, I suppose?" asked Miss Gregory.
He shrugged his shoulders. "They're not dangerous when they know their master," he said. "All the same, the revolver came in handy."
"Yes," agreed Miss Gregory; "if it hadn't been for Miss Ducane——"
He laughed. "Is that what she calls herself?" he asked. "That kind usually have rather magnificent names."
"What kind?" asked Miss Gregory.
He gave her a hard, level look. "Madam." he said, "you look as if you knew the world, and yet you let that woman make a friend of you. Think of any word you like to describe a woman—a woman of your own country—who lives and holds her own on the Coast, and has friends among that crowd of passengers aft here, and carries weapons in her stocking, at that. Any word you like—that's the kind I mean."
"I see," said Miss Gregory, and sighed. She remembered Miss Ducane's words, "You don't want to have anything to do with him." In the face of social prejudices there is nothing useful to be said; so she was silent. The deck passenger shrugged the subject from him.
"Well," he said, "we've got to make the best of it. There's a mail-boat behind us, somewhere. She'll take us off when she comes. We've simply got to sit tight and wait for her. She might be along to-morrow."
"Well, that's not much to worry about," agreed Miss Gregory.
But, as the day wore on, new factors in the situation presented themselves. The cautious men reassured themselves by comparing data as to the mail-boat's dates from port to port, and, being relieved of anxiety on that head, broke open the little bar for the materials of forgetfulness. Even in their cups, they were not loud; drink seemed to have no power to unlock their caution; but there was, none the less, some quarreling. Lunch was a meal from biscuit-tins and preserve-boxes—and bottles; after it, Miss Gregory betook herself willingly to the deck. The company of her fellow passengers was not pleasant.· To her arrived Miss Ducane.
"There's one thing about those fellows I don't like," she observed, as she dragged her seat to Miss Gregory's side. "They drink, but it never makes them laugh. Have you noticed that?"
Miss Gregory had not noticed it, but it was true.
"They want to be made to toe the line," Miss Ducane complained. "They're on their own—like the niggers last night. Only shooting wouldn't quiet them."
"What would, then?" inquired Miss Gregory.
"Oh, anything smart," answered Miss Ducane. "They're not so bad, you know; it's just that being all free and easy like this don't suit them. If there was anything to do, they'd straighten up in a minute."
Miss Gregory mused. "I wonder," she said.
"Have you got a dodge?" asked Miss Ducane.
"Well, I half thought of something," said Miss Gregory. "That scrap lunch was enough to demoralize a congregation of saints. And I learned to cook a little when I was a girl."
Miss Ducane sat up and opened her fine eyes.
"Were you thinking—were you dreaming—of getting dinner for them?"
Miss Gregory nodded, and Miss Ducane sprang to her feet with a spurt of laughter.
"Why," she cried, "if that isn't the very thing! The very thing. Cook! You ought to see me with pancakes. I've made pancakes from Lourenço Marquez to Zanzibar. Let's get at it right away. You remind me of that poetry about the mouths of babies and ducklings. Here's me thinking of guns and all that stuff, and you come right out with the one thing to do the trick. Come along and let's get at it."
The good news was not long in spreading: Miss Gregory had done the trick. Throughout the afternoon, the men seemed occupied in finding pretexts for strolling past the galley, where Miss Gregory, nervous at last, perspired before the fire, and Miss Ducane, a marvelous vision with her sleeves rolled back from her slim arms and a new flush in her cheeks, prepared the pancakes of her life, the crucial pancakes of an illustrious career, for her famous frying-pan trick.
Great are the uses of formality. It was as if decorum dwelt in the white table-cloth and returned with it to the saloon in the evening. From among the natives forward there had been recruited emergency waiters, negroes who had at some time or other been house-boys in the service of Europeans. There was a little delay in the beginning; the men were ready for a quarter of an hour before Miss Gregory arrived.
When she came in at the door, with Miss Ducane at her heels, the hum of talk ceased as on a signal. Somebody, prompted by a forgotten instinct of courtliness, rose; one by one, they all stood after him, and their eyes testified an almost resentful astonishment. Miss Gregory was in evening dress. It was the most modest evening frock that ever left the hands of a famous modiste—black and plain, with no more than a prudish little V of décolletége. But for them, who had seen her only in her garb of travel,—the flannel jacket, felt hat, and short skirt that she imposed upon the world,—it transformed her. It identified her, it was a badge of caste; it set her forth as a citizen of that remote and desirable world where strength is not violence, where people write home and are answered by return of post, and everybody goes by his right name. She took her place at the head of the table, smiling the general smile of the hostess, and they waited for her to sit before they seated themselves.
The deck passenger was at Miss Gregory's left; he had come as her guest, protesting none the less. Miss Ducane scowled at the sight of him.
"Well," she said in a clear voice, "since we're shipwrecked, I suppose we're all on a level, niggers an' all. It isn't for long, anyhow."
The deck passenger looked up with an expressionless face.
"Ah," he said, "your revolver—I forgot. You must feel uncomfortable without it. Thanks."
He passed it across to her, and for a moment she looked as if she were about to use it. It lay beside her plate while dinner lasted, a blot upon the feast.
Miss Gregory has since placed it on record that, of all the dinners she ever ate, that was the stiffest. She had the conscience of a good hostess; she did her best to talk, to make conversation travel, to be amused, to be trivial, to sparkle. It was all of no avail. A rigidity of demeanor that nothing could thaw into festivity governed the table. It was like dining with some very ceremonial order of monks. They were striving to exalt their manners to the level of her evening gown, and they ate and drank and passed each other the salt with a somber magnificence of bearing and gesture which was more murderous to the social spirit than any mere constraint of embarrassment.
"And to-morrow night we may all be dining together on the mail-boat," remarked Miss Gregory innocently, at one point.
The deck passenger laughed. "Not all of us." He was looking at Miss Ducane; that lady flushed.
"Why not?" asked Miss Gregory. "I thought you said——"
He nodded. "Oh, I think she'll be here to-morrow," he said; "that part's all right. But"—his eye still on Miss Ducane—"the Germans know this Coast. You'll be in the first saloon; and I'll be in the third, according to my ticket. And the rest, they'll travel second-class. You'll see!"
"But why?" asked Miss Gregory, and bit her lip as the question escaped her.
He smiled with slow malice. "They've their other passengers to think of," he said. "They'd never stand these people."
Miss Ducane put her glass down with a jolt. The deck passenger returned to the food before him with an air of quiet triumph.
Dinner came to an end at last. Miss Gregory felt that another ten minutes of it would be beyond human endurance. She finally found herself on deck again, with the swish of water on the reef for company and a sense of duty performed to warm her. The ship was as still as a hospital ward; the people had not yet come out of their trance. A noise of labored breathing startled her, and Miss Ducane flopped on the deck at her feet.
"He had to say it," she was repeating. "He had to say it!"
Miss Gregory sat up in haste. The tall girl was weeping. The sight of it was horrible to her—horrible and heartbreaking.
"Why, what's the matter?" she cried. "My dear, what's the matter?"
Miss Ducane leaned her forehead on the edge of the chair, and spoke through sobs:
"If it hadn't been—for that revolver—we'd ha' had trouble. I—I—had to fetch it out. I—I couldn't help it. And I've no pockets—an' where else could I carry it?"
Miss Gregory had an impulse to laugh, but she laid a hand on the bowed head. "Come," she said. "Thank goodness you had it. It was splendid. It was the only thing to save us."
"Bub-bub-but—" began Miss Ducane.
"I only wish I had one," said Miss Gregory. "I'll have to see about it when I get ashore."
"You've got pockets," said Miss Ducane.
Miss Gregory smiled over her head. "They're not big enough," she said,—"not nearly big enough."
Miss Ducane sat up and wiped her eyes, frankly and without pretense, on her sleeve.
"Well," she said, "if you don't tell the truth, nobody does! I'm a fool, after all; I don't seem to grow out of it, but I've got my modesty, like other people. That's what that feller was hitting at, at dinner-time."
Miss Gregory made soft noises of consolation.
"And it's true enough I'll have to go second-class on the mail-boat," said Miss Duane; "I know that well enough. But there's one thing you can't go back from, Miss Gregory. We was introduced, and you gave me your card."
"I did," said Miss Gregory. "Have you lost it? Do you want another?"
"Lost it!" Miss Ducane uttered a short bark of laughter. "Lost it? Not me. I've got it safe enough—safe as a bank."
"Where?" asked Miss Gregory, with some curiosity.
"In my stock—" Miss Ducane stopped short.
There was no help for it—Miss Gregory had to laugh; the girl's involuntary movement of the hand had betrayed her. She sat motionless till Miss Gregory was silent again.
"Well, it's safe, anyhow," she said, then. "I won't lose it. It'll remind me I met a lady and was friends with her."
Miss Gregory was touched. She was not given to easy emotions, but she leaned forward now.
"It has my address on it, too," she said, "and I always answer letters." The girl's brow was close to her face, and she kissed it.
Miss Ducane sat still for a space of seconds, then rose to her feet. She was very straight and slender in the moonlight; a quality of austerity seemed to enhance the lines of her tall figure.
"If anybody tries to kiss me after this," she said thoughtfully, "God help him."
She went away forthwith, gliding into the darkness of the companion like a tall ghost.
Miss Gregory's diary, of the following day's date, testifies thus:
It is pleasant to get a warm bath again, but the German cooking tries one hard at times. Miss Ducane was hailed, on arriving on board, by an acquaintance in the third-class; I notice she cuts her dead. My friend the deck passenger, who remains nameless, has dropped his acquaintance with me. What a hermit he would have made in an age better suited to his principles than this! Memorandum: To have a pistol-pocket arranged in my tweed skirt.