GRENVILLE leaned forward across the café table, watching a party coming to the table that stood at Trenchard's back. Then he looked at Trenchard, suddenly tense and alert.
“You said,” he breathed, “that only one man in Madagascar knew you by sight—the same who furnished your description to the authorities.”
Trenchard, who was lighting his pipe, nodded carelessly.
“Yes—Lieutenant Brouillan, port officer at Nosi Bé. No danger from him here in the capital.”
“Then don't turn around, or you're a dead man. He's just sitting down at the table behind you.”
Trenchard calmly finished lighting his pipe. He sat motionless, watching his companion; Grenille, in turn, watched the two men who had just come in and were seating themselves just behind Trenchard at the adjoining table.
One was a colonel of infantry, a tall and dignified officer. The other man was slender, lithe, uniformed as a naval lieutenant, sitting with his shoulders not two feet from those of Trenchard.
“This is a lucky meeting, my nephew,” said the colonel, relaxing in his seat after giving his order. “What the devil brings you to the capital? I thought you a fixture in Nosi Bé, in that charming place of yours in Hellville.”
“Ten thousand francs, a month's leave, and a detached command,” said a penetrating voice, that of Lieutenant Brouillan. “In other words, I am about to become moderately wealthy, get my captaincy, and achieve fame.”
“Good! Give me your magic formula, by all means! How shall you do all this, pray?”
“By hanging the pirate Trenchard.”
At this, Trenchard's brows went up. Grenille, now over his first alarm, pawed his black beard and began to grin.
“Ah, yes!” said the colonel, laughing. “I remember, you have seen and know him. Well, he is said to be a brave man. I warn you, he has sharp teeth!”
“But I have brains,” said Brouillan complacently.
Trenchard chuckled at that.
THE night was clear, warm but fresh, and this capital of Madagascar, whose unwieldy name had been shortened to Tananarive, lay bathed in the glorious splendor of a tropic moon. From the café terrace, by day, one had a marvelous view of the city on its two steep hill-slopes, and of the surrounding hills and rice-plains for full fifty miles; but now, by night, all was changed. Up above, the church spires and glass palace roof glimmered in the moonlight, and below lay a city of fairy-land, its up-and-down streets jeweled and radiant with electric clusters, tinkling with rickshaw bells, while now and again the strident siren of a motor pierced harshly across the night.
“Very pleasant weather we are having, my dear M. Argenteuil,” observed Grenille smoothly.
“Very,” repeated Trenchard, who bore perfectly good papers and identity-card under that French name. None would have suspected him of being the famous pirate and smuggler, worth ten thousand francs dead or alive, whom few knew by sight but all by repute. The infamous pirate would never come inland to Tananarive, in the very center of Madagascar; and then this M. Argenteuil was a slim, quiet, small man, his level gray eyes inoffensive, always calmly poised, his features bronzed, but neat and attractive in cut. Anything but a pirate, certainly!
“He will not be easy prey, this Trenchard,” observed the dignified colonel thoughtfully. “When you trap him, your troubles only begin. And remember, he is not a pirate as we know the word—that is, in the sight of international law. You have a plan?”
“I have made all arrangements,” returned Brouillan in an assured voice. Trenchard shot a smoke-ring at Grenille, who chuckled in response; but to their disappointment no details were forthcoming. “Not a pirate, you say? Nonsense! He is a smuggler, an enemy to society, a man who disregards all law; and he has a weak point—his devotion to that sailing schooner of his! He respects nothing, does not hesitate to sink a ship or fire on our soldiers, yet sticks to his old-fashioned schooner. That will ruin him.”
“Well, well,”—and the colonel sighed,—“here is the apéritif, and we shall drink to your success and wealth. You are to command a ship?”
“But yes—the Tonkin. I am to correct the charts of the Barren Islands, on the west coast. Also, my pursuit lies in that direction. Trenchard's ship is at Zanzibar now, somewhat damaged from his last month's escapade on the northeast coast.”
Trenchard's lips curved in their faint, inscrutable smile. His schooner at Zanzibar, indeed! He had carefully planted that report. True, he was not in conflict with British interests, and Zanzibar was a refuge for him, since he was no pirate according to international law; at the same time, Brouillan would have whistled had he known just where the schooner lay at the present moment.
“If I were you,” said Trenchard, leaning over the table, “I'd get out of here. You have to see your man and arrange about that cargo. I don't dare leave yet—besides, that rubber-broker of yours will be along any time now. Do you suppose he's connected with this petty schemer?”
Grenille shook his head a trifle anxiously. He was a fiery little Frenchman, usually a reckless and carefree man, though walking in dangerous paths.
“It is impossible to say,” he responded. “I am sorry now that I introduced him to you. And I do not like leaving you here.”
HE fingered his black beard, for he was true to his friends, and one word might ruin Trenchard, who was persona non grata to the French authorities. Trenchard, that inscrutable and quiet man, had queer notions about laws, and would sooner help some poor downtrodden devil than kowtow to port authorities. Not so long since he had been nearly trapped; bullets had flown, and Trenchard had caught one of them. So, with his usual audacity, he came to the capital to recuperate.
“Don't worry,” said Trenchard. “Besides, you must book our seats in the Government mail-auto. If we don't get out tomorrow morning, we're stuck for another three days, and now it's time we got out. I'll meet you later at the hotel.”
With a resigned shrug, Grenille obediently rose. He had influential relatives in Paris and did not fear for himself so much as for Trenchard. Since there was need of action, he drew his hat over his eyes and sauntered away.
Trenchard mouthed his pipe, wondering what sort of scheme this Lieutenant Brouillan had cooked up for his undoing, but failed to catch any further words on the subject from the table adjoining. The waiter came bustling around. Trenchard beckoned and handed him a purple five-franc note, then waved him off with a gesture, sure of keeping his table.
Ten minutes afterward a portly man approached and greeted Trenchard with a bow. This was a rubber-broker to whom Grenille had introduced him, and who had business to discuss. The broker sat down, glanced around, and then spoke.
“Well, M. Argenteuil! We may talk here?”
“As well as anywhere.”
“I understand, then, that you are acting as agent for a certain gentleman whose name we may not mention.”
Trenchard nodded, and jerked his thumb toward the table behind. The rubber-broker made a gesture of comprehension, and kept his voice down.
“And if any bargain is made with you, this other gentleman will perform his part?”
Another nod from Trenchard, who was relieved to find that the broker did not suspect his actual identity with the gentleman who could not be named. The broker ordered a drink, and then lighted a cigarette and thrust himself over the table.
“Here is the case, monsieur. I am acquainted with two men who are willing to pay large sums to get out of Madagascar and reach the mainland—either Mozambique or Zanzibar or Mombasa. For reasons which we need not discuss, they are unable to leave by the usual channels; every port is being watched for them.”
Again Trenchard nodded. “Who are they?” he demanded curtly.
“One is an American named Berry, the other a Frenchman, Emile Forillon.”
Trenchard compressed his lips. He had heard of Berry—a rubber-plantation manager in the south, guilty of a particularly atrocious murder.
“We need not discuss Berry,” he said. “My principal does not care for his class of criminals—”
“But monsieur! Your principal is also an American. This man will pay heavily—”
“Appeal denied,” was the curt response. “Let the scoundrel hang. Who's the other man?”
“Forillon? Ah, that is a sad case! The man had a post in the Administration Bureau. His wife ran away with a superior. Forillon threatened revenge, and was arrested on a trumped-up charge of smuggling, and sentenced to a penal colony. He broke out of jail, and is in hiding on the west coast. Some friends have supplied him with money, so that he can pay—”
Trenchard made a gesture. “Can he be at the Arab village of Soalala, in Boyanna Bay, within five days?”
“Let him be there next Tuesday and he will be taken care of. No money necessary; my principal does not accept money for helping unfortunate men.”
TRENCHARD cocked his head slightly, listening. The two officers at the adjoining table were ordering a regular meal. He frowned, then spoke.
“Monsieur, you can do me a service. I am about to leave. Kindly follow me very closely, as far as the door; I do not wish to be seen by a certain person.”
The broker assented. Trenchard laid out coins to pay for the drinks, then rose. A moment later he was past the adjoining table and heading for the entrance, the broker close behind and shielding him with portly figure from any chance recognition by Brouillan. At the entrance Trenchard exchanged farewells with the broker, went out, and beckoned a rickshaw.
In fifteen minutes he was at the quiet little hotel, down past the center of the lower city and almost in the shadow of the magnificent railway terminus, with its gardens and avenues of Australian pines. Once in their room, where he found Grenille smoking alone and anxiously, Trenchard sat down and recounted his talk with the broker.
“I'll lend this chap Forillon a hand gladly,” he said, “for he's a victim of this cursed bureaucrat government. But it occurred to me that the chap might be a plant. You'd know if there has been any such case, of course.”
Grenille assented at once. “Yes; the exact circumstances are vague, but it's been in the journals to some extent. Forillon was put under arrest for smuggling, broke jail, and seems to have evaded capture.”
“Then that's all right,” said Trenchard, and relaxed. “Seats booked?”
“Yes, The auto leaves early, too.”
“The sooner the better,” grunted Trenchard. “Wont you change your mind and come along to sea?”
Grenille shook his head. “I'm going to have another try at that gold prospect in the north. I'll see you as far as Maevatanana and make sure you get off all right. The cargo is all arranged; a dhow will bring up the stuff from the south and will meet you at the Barren Islands—at the anchorage a mile north of Lava Island. It's the only possible place.”
“What date?” demanded Trenchard, frowning slightly.
“A week from Friday.”
“Can do. I'm to pick up this beggar Forillon on Tuesday, at Boyanna Bay—I can get down the coast all right by Friday, this monsoon. Everything's clear. Now, then, do you imagine that your cargo proposition could be tangled up in our friend Brouillan's little plot? He mentioned that he'd be doing some charting along the Barren Islands, you know. It looks a bit thick.”
Grenille frowned. “My friend, this is a cursed coincidence—but no more. First, the dhow and cargo belong to old Ali el Khadar, who hates the government as the devil hates holy water; I answer for his integrity absolutely, and for that of his son whom I met tonight. He is the biggest Arab trader in the south. The son is getting a wireless off to Ali in the morning, and so, without mentioning your presence here I told him that I had overheard Brouillan, and he promised to inform the old chap. Ali will send you any information by the dhow that he can pick up. Also, the son said that he'd get off a wireless to his agent in Majunga, who in turn will inform Ali in the south if he learns anything. Thus, if these Arabs pick up some news, you'll get it. Now, if you're afraid to go near the Barrens, I'd better see the son again tonight and call off the deal—”
“No,” said Trenchard. “If you answer for Ali el Khadar, that's enough. Let's turn in and get a good night's rest, eh? Right.”