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surprised when, about the middle of the morning, Alie appeared on
deck. She came aft to where I was standing, and, having looked at the
compass card, gazed round her.

"If I'm not mistaken we're in for a typhoon," she shouted, her
glorious hair blowing in tangled profusion across her eyes and about
her face. "Our friend, the cruiser, you see, is out of sight. I expect
she thinks it's useless endeavouring to chase us across such a sea."
Then, turning to Walworth, who was standing near, she cried: "Send Mr.
Patterson to me."

Though it was not Patterson's watch on deck he was too anxious about
the weather and his ship to go below. Immediately on receiving Alie's
message he came aft, and, having touched his sou'wester, waited for
her to speak.

"Mr. Patterson, what is your opinion of the weather?" she shouted in
his ear, for it was impossible to make yourself heard by any ordinary
means. "Don't you think we had better heave to and endeavour to find
out how the centre of the storm bears from us?"

"I was just going to do so," Patterson bellowed, in reply. Then,
turning to his subordinate, he gave the necessary instructions in a
yell that sounded like a fog horn. The yacht's nose was immediately
pointed dead to the wind, which at that moment was due N. E., the
requisite number of points to the right of it were then taken, and the
centre of the approaching hurricane found to be exactly S. S. E. of
our position. At this juncture Walworth, who had been acting under
instructions, returned from the cuddy and reported the barometer had
fallen to 27.45. It might, therefore, be inferred that we were within
the storm circle, and, for the same reason, it was apparent that our
safety entirely depended upon our being able to avoid the centre of
the field. Having decided the direction of the storm, and discovered
that we lay in the due line of its advance, - the most dangerous of
all, - there was nothing for it but to run with the wind on our
starboard quarter.

Never shall I forget the scene presented as our course was changed.
Even now, when I shut my eyes, I can see it as clearly before me as if
I were standing in the very thick of it again. I can see the heavens,
black with angry clouds, frowning down on a confused and angry sea
that dashed against our hull with terrific and repeated violence. I
can see the waters one moment raising us on high, the next hurling us
deep down into some black and horrible abyss. And all the time I can
hear the wind shrieking and yelling through the cordage like the
chorus of a million devils.

It was impossible to hear oneself speak, and on the bridge almost
impossible to retain one's balance against the wind's pressure. And,
what was worse, the anger of the storm was increasing every moment.

I looked from Alie, who, enveloped in oilskins, was clinging to the
starboard railing, then to the chief officer gazing anxiously aloft,
and from both to the men struggling and straining at the wheel. Now,
when a great wave, seemingly mountains high, dark as green jade, and
topped with hissing foam, would come tearing towards us, obscuring
half the horizon, I would shut my eyes and wait for it to engulf us.
Then I would feel the noble little vessel meet it, rise on to its
crest, and next moment be sinking again, down, down, down into the
trough. Then once more I would draw breath and open my eyes, just in
time to see another rise and meet her forrard, to break with a roar
upon the fo'c's'le head, carrying away a dozen feet of bulwark and one
of the boats as if both were built of so much paper.

For nearly five hours the hurricane continued with the same awful
violence, and all that time I remained on the bridge with Alie, afraid
to go below, lest, when the vessel went to pieces, as I infallibly
believed she must, I should be separated from the woman I loved. It
may be said that I proved myself a coward. I do not deny it. I will
confess that I was more frightened then than, with the exception of
one occasion to be hereafter narrated, I have ever been in my life.
And yet, somehow, I am not without a feeling that, after all, mine
should have been classed as of the magnificent order of courage; for,
though my heart had absolutely lost all hope, I spared my companions
any exhibition of my terror, and nerving myself for the occasion,
looked Death in the face with an equable countenance, believing every
moment he would snatch me into the hollow of his hand.

Towards the middle of the afternoon the strength of the gale began
somewhat to abate, the sea lost its greater fury, and the barometer in
a measure recovered its stability. It seemed incredible that the _Lone
Star_ could have come through it so safely, for, with the exception of
one man washed overboard, another who had three of his ribs smashed in
by a marauding sea, a portion of the port bulwark and a boat carried
away, as above described, and another crashed to atoms on the davits,
we had experienced no casualties worth mentioning.

By the time darkness fell, the sea was almost its old calm, placid
self again, so quickly do these terrible typhoons spring up and die
away. As soon as we were certain all danger was past, the yacht was
returned to her course, and we once more proceeded on our way. What
had become of our pursuer, or how she had weathered the storm, we
could not tell. Up to the time daylight left us nothing was to be seen
of her, and we began devoutly to hope we had given her the slip for
good and all.

How wonderful and inscrutable is the mighty deep! Next day the weather
was as peaceful as ever I had seen it - bright sunshine, gentle
breezes, and a sea as smooth as polished silver. After breakfast, the
awning, which on account of the storm had been unshipped the day
before, was rigged again, and, drawing a deck chair aft, I settled
myself down to read beneath its shade. A few minutes later Alie and
her companion joined me. I brought them seats, and then, for the first
time, I saw the Beautiful White Devil - for I must sometimes call her
by her picturesque Chinese cognomen - engaged in needlework. Why I
should have found anything extraordinary in such a circumstance I
cannot say. Possibly it may have been because I had never imagined
that there could be sufficient leisure in her life for such a homely
occupation. At any rate, I know that to watch her bent head, with its
glorious wealth of hair; to see those beautiful white fingers,
unadorned by jewellry of any sort, twisting and twining among her
silks, and to make out one little foot peeping beneath her snow-white
dress, sent a thrill through me that made me tingle from top to toe.

Suddenly one of the hands engaged upon some work in the fore-rigging
uttered a cry in the native. Alie and her companion sprang to their
feet; and, though I did not understand what had happened I followed
their example. We ran to the starboard bulwark, but nothing was to be
seen there. Not being able to make it out, I asked what had occasioned
the alarm.

"One of the hands reports a boat away to starboard," said Alie.

She turned to one of the younger officers, who was standing near, and
ordered him aloft to take the boat's bearing. As soon as this was
discovered the yacht was put over on a tack that would bring us close
up with it, and after that there was nothing for it but to wait
patiently for the result.

For some time we could not see anything; then a small black speck made
its appearance about two points off our starboard bow and gradually
grew plainer.

"Keep her as she goes," said Alie to the man at the wheel, while we
strained our eyes towards the tiny dot.

Little by little it became more distinct until we were sufficiently
near to make out with a glass that it was a man-of-war's gig pulled by
two men and containing three others. Ten minutes later the yacht was
hove to, and Patterson clambered on to the rail of the bulwarks.

"Are you strong enough to bring her alongside, do you think?" he
bellowed, "or shall we send a boat to tow you?"

The man steering, who was evidently an officer, funnelled his mouth
with his hands and shouted back that they thought they could manage
it. Then, as if to prove his words, the men who had been rowing, but
had now stopped, resumed their monotonous labour. Bit by bit the tiny
craft crept over the oily surface towards us until she was close
enough for us to see with our naked eyes all that she contained.

As she came alongside, our gangway was lowered, and within an hour
from the time of our first sighting her the boat's crew stood upon our
deck. In spite of their man-of-war dress, a more miserable, woe-begone
appearance could not have been imagined than the party presented. It
consisted of one lieutenant, a midshipman, and three able seamen, and
out of curiosity I glanced at the cap of the man standing nearest me.
It bore the name H. M. S. _Asiatic_. Then I looked round for Alie,
only to discover that she had mysteriously disappeared. It was left
for Patterson to welcome the poor fellows to the yacht, and this he
accordingly did, with a hearty kindness that I should hardly have
expected from him.

"Before you tell me anything about yourselves," he said, "let me
arrange for the comfort of your men." Then calling a hand to him, he
continued, pointing to the three Jacks who stood sheepishly by, "Take
these men forrard and tell the cook to give them all they want. You
can supply them with hammocks among you and find room somewhere for
them to sling them." Then, turning to the officers again, he said,
"Will you be so good as to follow me, gentlemen?" and led the way down
the companion to the cuddy. Thinking my professional services might
possibly be required I followed with Walworth.

On reaching the cabin they were conducted to seats, and food was
immediately set before them. They fell upon it like starving men, and
for some time only the sound of steady munching and the clatter of
knives and forks was to be heard. When they had finished, the
midshipman, without warning, burst into a flood of tears, and was led
by Walworth to a cabin near by, where, when his torrent had worn
itself out, the poor little chap fell fast asleep.

"Now," said Patterson, as soon as the lieutenant had finished his
meal, "perhaps you will tell me your story?"

"It won't take long to do that," the officer began. "I am the first
lieutenant of Her Majesty's cruiser _Asiatic_. We were sent out from
Singapore last Saturday in pursuit of this very yacht, if I mistake
not. As you know, we almost picked you up in the fog, but when it
lifted, your superior steaming power enabled you to escape us. Then
the typhoon caught us, and in looking after ourselves, we lost sight
of you altogether. We rode out the storm safely enough, but, just at
sun-time yesterday, she struck an uncharted rock and went down within
five minutes."

He stopped for a moment and covered his face with his hands.

"This is terrible news!" cried Patterson, while we all gave utterance
to expressions of horrified astonishment. "And was yours the only boat
that got away?"

"I'm very much afraid so," he replied. "At least I saw no other. Yes,
you are right, it is terrible, and Her Majesty has lost a fine vessel
and a splendid ship's company in the _Asiatic_."

When the poor fellow had finished his story he was silent for some
minutes. Indeed, so were we all. It seemed almost incredible that the
great vessel we had admired, and feared, only the day before, should
now be lying, with the majority of her crew, deep down at the bottom
of the ocean.

"We are fortunate in having been able to pick you up," said Patterson,
after a while. "An hour later and we should have changed our course,
and have been many miles away."

"In that case we should have been dead men by nightfall," was the
reply. "As it was, we lost one man."

"How did it happen?"

"The poor devil went mad, and jumped overboard. Remember, we had no
water and nothing to eat, and so you may imagine it was heartbreaking
work pulling in that baking sun. The miracle to me is that the boy
stood it as well as he did."

"Poor little chap! It must have been a terrible experience for him."

"And what do you intend doing with us?" asked the officer, after a
little pause. "For, of course, we're your prisoners."

"That I cannot say," Patterson answered. "It does not lie within my
province. However, you'll hear soon enough - never fear. By the way, I
suppose you will give me your word that you will not attempt to play
us any tricks. You must remember, please, that to all intents and
purposes we are at war!"

"I will give you my word. Is that enough?"

"Quite enough. And now that you have done so I make you free of our
ward-room and its contents."

All the time Patterson had been speaking I had noticed that the
lieutenant, whose name, it transpired later, was Thorden, had been
staring at his face as if trying to recall some countenance it
reminded him of. Just as we were preparing to go on deck again his
memory seemed to come back to him.

"I hope you will excuse what I am going to say, and stop me if I am
recalling any unpleasant memories," he blurted out; "but ever since I
came aboard I've been wondering where we have met before. Aren't you
Gregory, who was commander of the gunboat _Parcifal_ in the Egyptian
business of 1879?"

Patterson fell back against the wall as if he had been shot. For a
moment his face was as white as the paper I am now writing upon, then,
with a great effort, he pulled himself together, and answered:

"I have quite forgotten that I had any existence at all in 1879. May I
beg that you will not recall the fact to my memory?" Then, as if to
change the subject, he continued, "I expect you would like to rest
after all your troubles; pray let me conduct you to a cabin."

"Many thanks," said Thorden; and with that they went along the
alleyway together, and I returned to the deck to think out what I had
heard. It was, of course, no business of mine; but I was interested in
Patterson, and could not help speculating as to what the reason could
have been that had induced him to abandon a career in which, even so
many years ago, he seemed to have attained such exalted rank.

During the afternoon I received an invitation from Alie to dine with
her that evening. She stated in the little note she sent me that she
had also asked the rescued lieutenant and his midshipman, and I
gathered from this that something out of the common was toward.

About an hour before dusk, as I was reading in the officers'
mess-room, the lieutenant came out of his cabin and sat down at the
table beside me. He looked round to see that we were alone, and then
said in a confidential whisper:

"Your position on board this boat, Dr. De Normanville, has already
been explained to me. I'm sure I sympathise with you; but, for rather
selfish motives, I am glad you are not in league with this
extraordinary woman. I have received an invitation to dine in her
cabin this evening, and I want you, if you will, to tell me something
about her. Do you know enough to satisfy my curiosity?"

"I'll tell you all I can," I answered frankly. "What is it you want to
know?"

"Well, first and foremost," he continued, with a laugh, "since I've
received this invitation, what sort of meal is she likely to give us?"

"A very fair one, I should fancy," I replied. "At least, I hope so, as
I am invited to be one of the party."

"You are? Well, I am glad of that. And now another question. What is
she like? Of course, one has heard all sorts of reports about her
beauty and accomplishments, but when one has travelled about the world
one soon learns to believe rather less than half of what one hears."

"Ah, yes; it's as well not to be too sanguine, isn't it?" I answered,
resolved, if possible, to mislead him, "especially with regard to
women. Now, I've no doubt you expect the Beautiful White Devil to be
really young and beautiful?"

"And is she not? Well, well! There goes another illusion. Before I
came out here I had my own idea of the East - it was to be all state
elephants and diamond-studded howdahs, jewelled Rajahs, mysterious
pagodas with tingling golden bells and rustling palm trees, lovely
houris and Arabian Nights' adventures. But it isn't like that by a
long chalk. And so the Beautiful White Devil goes with the rest, does
she? But don't tell me that she's old, and, above all, don't tell me
she's fat."

"I won't tell you anything about her," I answered, with a laugh; "you
must wait and judge for yourself. One caution, however, before you see
her: beware how you behave towards her, and if I might venture a hint,
make a good toilet. She's very particular, and it's well to humour
her. My things are at your disposal, of course."

He thanked me, and I saw no more of him or the midshipman until a few
minutes before dinner time, when I met them on deck and accompanied
them to Alie's saloon. Having descended the companion-ladder I drew
back the curtain for them to enter. Prepared as I was to see him show
astonishment, I had no idea the lieutenant would be filled with such
amazement as he betrayed when we entered the beautiful cabin I have
before described. As good luck had it Alie was not present, and so we
were able to look about us undisturbed.

"Why didn't you prepare me for this?" whispered my companion, after he
had glanced round the cabin. "I never saw anything like it before, and
I've been aboard scores of yachts in my time."

"There is but one Beautiful White Devil," I said, with serio-comic
earnestness.

"Curios, china, skins, divans, musical instruments, a grand piano
even, and, by Jove, inlaid with tortoiseshell and lapis lazuli! It's
wonderful, it's superb! And now I want to see the woman who owns it
all."

"Steady," I whispered; "if I mistake not, here she comes."

As I spoke, the curtains at the other end of the cabin were parted by
a tiny hand, and Alie, dressed entirely in black, stood before us. The
colour of her costume showed off the superb beauty of her complexion
and hair, while its making exhibited her matchless figure to
perfection. She stood for a moment in the doorway, and then advanced
towards us with that wonderful floating grace which always
characterized her, giving me her little hand first, and then turning
towards her other guests.

To the lieutenant she bowed and said with a smile:

"Sir, you must forgive my not having personally welcomed you to my
boat. But, for reasons which would not interest you, I am not always
able to do as much as I could wish. However, I hope my officers have
taken every care of you."

She shook hands with the handsome little midshipman as she spoke, and
while she was doing so I had time to steal a look at the first
lieutenant's face. The astonishment I saw depicted there almost caused
me to laugh. He had been amazed at the beauty of the cabin; but that
was nothing compared with the admiration he betrayed for the Beautiful
White Devil herself. He murmured a confused, but not altogether
inappropriate reply to her last speech, and then we sat down to
dinner. Her companion, I learnt on inquiry, was suffering from a
severe headache, and had elected to dine in her own cabin.

The dinner was in the chef's best style, and its cooking, serving, and
variety, combined with the beauty and value of the table decorations,
evidently completed the effect upon the officer that the cabin had
begun. Alie herself was in excellent spirits, and talked with the wit
and cleverness of a woman who has perfected an originally liberal
education by continual and varied study of the world and its
inhabitants. By the time the meal was ended and we had bade her
good-night, the lieutenant was in a maze of enchantment.

We went on deck together, and once there, out of earshot of the
cabin, his enthusiasm broke loose. I will spare you, however, a
recital of all the extravagant things he said. Let it suffice that I
gathered enough to feel sure that when he got back to Hong Kong he
would add to, rather than detract from, the number of stories already
in circulation about the too famous Beautiful White Devil. One
promise, however, I took care to extract from both officers, and that
was, not to mention my name in connection with the yacht on their
return to civilisation. I made the excuse that if such a thing got
known it might do me serious harm in the practice of my profession,
and both men readily gave me their words that they would not breathe a
syllable on the subject.

Their stay with us, however, was not to be of as long duration as we
had expected, for early next morning we sighted a small brigantine,
who, on being hailed, stated that she was bound for Hong Kong.
Passages for the officers and their men were soon arranged, and,
within an hour of picking her up she had sent a boat, we had bade our
naval visitors good-bye, and were standing on our fictitious course
again. As soon, however, as they were out of sight the helm was put up
and we were making a bee line back to the settlement.

That evening as I was pacing the deck, smoking my cigar and wondering
when the time would come for me to say farewell, I heard a light
footstep behind me, and next moment Alie came to my side. We paced the
deck for a little while, talking commonplaces about the beauty of the
night, the speed of her vessel, and the visit of the man-of-war's men;
then she drew me to the stern, and said:

"Do you remember your first night on board this boat, when we
discussed the sea and the poets who have written of her?"

"It was the night of the first day I ever saw you," I answered. "Is it
likely I should have forgotten it?"

"Some men forget very easily," she answered, looking down at the
sparkling water. "But I'll do you the justice to say I don't think you
are one of that kind."

"And you are right; I am sure I am not. I think if I were lying dead
in my grave, my brain would still remember you."

She looked roguishly up into my face, and said:

"That is rather a big assertion for a medical man to make, is it not?"

"Bother medicine," I cried impatiently. "It reminds me of the outer
world. And by the same token, Alie, I want to ask you something
unpleasant again."

"And that is?"

"When I am to say good-bye to you?"

"To-morrow," she answered. "To-morrow night, all being well, we shall
pick up a trading schooner off a certain island. Her owner is under an
obligation to me, and will take you on board and convey you to
Thursday Island. Thence you can travel home via Australia and the
Canal or Honolulu and America, as you please."

I had expected that the parting was not far distant, but I did not
think it would prove as close as this. I told Alie as much.

"It is the only opportunity that may serve," she answered. "And I must
not keep you with me too long for your own sake."

Under cover of the darkness I managed to find and take her hand.

"It is only for a year, Alie. You understand that, don't you? At the
end of a year you are to be my wife?"

"If you still wish it, yes," she answered, but so softly that I had to
strain my ears to catch it. Then with a whispered good-night she
slipped from me and went below.

At sundown next evening, surely enough, a small topsail schooner hove
in sight from behind an island, and, seeing us, ran up a signal. It
was returned from our gaff, and as soon as I read it I knew that my
fate was sealed. Leaving Walworth to see my luggage brought up on deck
I went down Alie's companion ladder to bid her farewell. She was
seated on the couch at the further end, reading.

"The schooner has just put in an appearance and answered our signals,"
I began, hardly able to trust my voice to speak. "I have come to say
good-bye. For both our sakes we must not let this interview be a long
one. Alie, will you tell me for the last time exactly when I am to see
you again, and where?"

"On the first day of May next year, all being well, I will be at an
address in London, of which I will take care to acquaint you
beforehand."

"But since you last spoke of that I have been thinking it over. Alie,
you must not come to England, the risk would be too great."

"There will be no risk at all, and I shall take every precaution to
ensure my own safety. You may rest assured of that," she answered.
"But before you go I have a little keepsake for you, something that
may serve to remind you of the Beautiful White Devil and the days you
have spent with her, when you are far away."

As she spoke she took from the table, beside which she was now
standing, a large gold locket. Opening it she let me see that it


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Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 13 of 19)