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hundredth time or so I reproached myself for my folly in ever having
undertaken the voyage. To add to my regret my arm was still very
painful, and though, to a certain extent, I was protected from the sun
by the awning my friend had constructed for me, yet I began to suffer
agonies of thirst. The afternoon wore on - the sun declined upon the
western horizon, and still no wind came. It looked as if we were
destined to spend yet another night upon this horrible junk, the very
sight of which had become beyond measure loathsome to me. As darkness
fell, it seemed peopled with ghosts, for though the bodies of those
killed in the late affray no longer defaced the deck with their
ghastly presence, I could not drive the picture they had presented
from my brain.

When the sun disappeared below the horizon, a great peace fell upon
the deep, broken only by the groaning of our timbers and the
ill-stepped masts. Little by little darkness stole down upon us, a few
stars came into the sky, followed soon after by multitudes of others.
But there was no wind at all, and by this time my thirst was
excruciating. About seven o'clock my companion brought me a small cup
of water, hardly sufficient to wet my lips, but more precious than any
diamonds, and held it while I drank.

"I'm sorry to say that's all we have," he said solemnly when I had
finished it. "Henceforward we must go without."

His words seemed to toll in my ears like a death knell, and I became
thirsty again immediately. I suppose I must have been in a high state
of fever; at any rate I know that I have never spent such another
night of pure physical agony in my life.

I was asleep next morning when the sun rose, but his heat soon woke me
to the grim reality of our position. My companion was still at the
tiller, and from where I lay I could see that we were still sailing in
the same direction. He called to me to know how I felt, and to show
him that I was better, I endeavoured to rise, only to fall back again
in what must have been a dead faint.

I have no recollection of what followed immediately upon my recovering
myself, except a confused remembrance of craving for water - water!
water! water! But there was none to be had even if I had offered a
hundred pounds for a drop.

Towards evening our plight was indeed pitiable. We were all too weak
to work the boat. Friends and foes mingled together unmolested. Unable
to bear his agony one of the men jumped overboard, and so ended his
sufferings. Others would have followed his example, but my companion
promised that he would shoot the next man who attempted it, and so
make his end still more certain.

About half-past seven the sun sank beneath the horizon, and with his
departure a welcome breeze came down to us. Within an hour this had
freshened into a moderate gale. Then, just before darkness obscured
everything, a cry from one of the Chinamen forrard brought my
companion to his feet. Rushing to the side he stared towards the west.

"Yes! Yes it is! We're saved, De Normanville - we're saved. As he says,
it is the schooner!"

Then for the fourth time during that eventful voyage my senses
deserted me!




CHAPTER III.

THE BEAUTIFUL WHITE DEVIL.


When I opened my eyes again I found myself, to my intense
astonishment, lying, fully dressed, in a comfortable hammock beneath a
well-constructed awning. The canvas walls of my resting-place
prevented me from seeing anything more of my surroundings than my
toes, but when I lifted myself up and peered over the side, it was not
the junk's evil planks that I saw before me, but the deck of a
handsome, well-appointed yacht. My hammock was seemingly swung
amidships, and judging from the side upon which I looked - save the man
at the wheel and a couple of hands polishing brasswork forrard - I
appeared to have the entire deck to myself. Whose boat was she? How
had I come to be aboard her? And how long had I been there? But though
I puzzled my brains for an answer to these questions I could find
none. My memory refused to serve me, and so, feeling tired, I laid
myself back again upon my pillow and once more closed my eyes.

I had scarcely done so before I heard a noise on the other side which
caused me to look over again. How shall I describe what I saw there?
Three years have passed since then, but I have the recollection of
even the minutest detail connected with the picture that was before me
at that moment just as plainly engraved upon my memory as if it had
occurred but yesterday.

Seated in a long cane chair, one elbow balanced on the arm-rest and
one tiny hand supporting her dimpled chin, was the most beautiful
woman - and I say it advisedly, knowing it to be true - that I had ever
or have ever beheld, or shall ever behold, in my life. Though she was
seated, and for that reason I could not determine her exact height, I
was convinced it was considerably above the average; her figure, as
much as I could see of it, was beautifully moulded; her face was
exquisitely shaped; her eyes were large, and of a deep sea-blue; while
the wealth of rippling hair that crowned her head was of a natural
golden hue, and enhanced rather than detracted from the softness of
her delicate complexion. As if still further to add to her general
fairness, she was dressed entirely in white, even to her deck shoes
and the broad Panama hat upon her head. Only one thing marred the
picture. By her side, presenting a fitting contrast to so much
loveliness, crouched, his head resting between his forepaws, a
ferocious white bulldog, who ever and anon looked up with big
bloodshot eyes into her face as if to make quite sure that there was
no one within reach whom she might wish him to destroy.

She was evidently absorbed in her own thoughts, and presently the hand
that was hanging down beside the chair found the dog's head, and began
softly to stroke his tulip ears. Then her eyes looked up, caught mine,
and seeing that I was no longer asleep she rose and came towards me.

"So you are awake at last, Dr. De Normanville?" she said with a smile.
And as I heard her it struck me that her voice was even more beautiful
than all her other attributes put together. "You have had a long
sleep. Twelve hours!"

"Twelve hours?" I cried in amazement, at the same time gazing at her
with admiration only too plainly written on my face. "You don't mean
to say that I've been twelve hours asleep? I can hardly believe it.
Why it seems only a few minutes since we were aboard that rascally
junk. And what has happened since then? Is this the vessel we left
Hong Kong to meet?"

"Yes. This is the boat. We were just beginning to grow anxious about
you when the junk was sighted. I am afraid, from your companion's
account, you must have had a desperate time on board her."

"I should not care to go through it again, certainly," I answered
truthfully. "One such experience is enough to last a man a lifetime.
By the way, how is my companion? I hope he is none the worse for his
adventures."

"You need have no fear on that score; he is accustomed to that sort of
thing and thrives on it, as you may have noticed. He is below at
present, but as soon as he comes on deck I will send him to you. Now
you had better lie down again and try to get some more sleep. You must
remember that your strength is of the utmost value to us."

"I don't think I quite understand. But before we go any further will
you tell me what yacht this is and to whom I am indebted for my
rescue?"

"This yacht is called the _Lone Star_," she answered, "and I am the
owner." As she said this she looked at me in rather a queer sort of a
way, I thought. But I let it pass and asked another question.

"I am very much afraid you will think me pertinacious, but is it
permissible for me to know your name?"

"You may certainly know it if you wish to!" she answered with a short
and, I could not help thinking, rather bitter laugh; "But I don't
think you will be any too pleased when you hear it. My real name is
Alie, but by the benighted inhabitants of this part of the globe I am
called by another and more picturesque cognomen."

She stopped, and I almost caught my breath with excitement. A light
was breaking upon me.

"And that is - - " I said, trying in vain to keep my voice down to a
steady level.

"The Beautiful White Devil," she answered, with another of her
peculiar smiles, and then, calling her bulldog to her, she bowed to
me, turned on her heel, and went slowly aft along the deck.

I laid myself back in my hammock, my heart - why, I could not
say - beating like a piston-rod, and tried to think the situation out.
So my thoughtless wish was gratified after all: I had now seen the
Beautiful White Devil face to face, and, what was more to the point, I
was likely to be compelled to see more of her than I should consider
necessary for my own amusement. Like the Sultan of Surabaya and Vesey
of Hong Kong, I was now her prisoner. And by what a simple ruse I had
been caught! By all that was reasonable in woman, however, what
possible advantage could she hope to gain by abducting me? At the very
most, I could not lay my hands on more than three thousand pounds, and
what earthly use could that be to a woman who was known to deal in
millions? But perhaps, I reflected, it was not money she was after;
perhaps she had some other desperate game to play - some other move in
that wonderful life of hers in which my science could be of use to her
and the nature of which I could not be expected to fathom. Situated as
I was, she could compel me to do her bidding if she pleased, or make
it extremely awkward for me if I felt it my duty to refuse.

You will doubtless have noticed that I had quite abandoned the idea of
the small-pox epidemic. The notion of that island with the raging
pestilence probably only existed in the fertile brain of the man who
had been sent to induce me to leave Hong Kong. But in that case - and
here the original argument wheeled back upon me - what possible
advantage could accrue to her through abducting me? There were
hundreds of richer men in Hong Kong. Why had not one of them been
chosen? But as the more I thought it out, the farther I seemed to be
from getting at the truth of it, I gave the problem up and turned my
thoughts in another direction.

As I did so I heard somebody coming along the deck. This time it was a
man's footstep, so I looked out to see who it might be. It was
Walworth, the individual who had visited me in Hong Kong and enticed
me away. He was dressed in European habiliments now, and carried a
cigarette in his hand. Seeing that I was aware of his presence he came
across to the hammock and held out his hand.

"Good morning, doctor!" he said cheerily enough. "I'm glad to see
you're better. All things considered you've had a nasty time of it
since you said good-bye to the Victoria Hotel - haven't you?"

"A pretty cheeky way of putting it, considering he was the cause of it
all," I thought to myself. "However, I'll give him a Roland for his
Oliver! He shall not think I'm wanting in pluck."

"You have certainly contrived a good many stirring adventures for my
entertainment, I must say," I answered aloud. "But will you tell me
one thing? Why did you not let me know in Hong Kong who my hostess
would turn out to be?"

"Because in that case you would probably have informed the police, and
we should not then have been able to give ourselves the pleasure of
your company and assistance."

"Well, all I can say is, I am sorry you didn't try for higher game
while you were about it. For even with that five hundred you gave me,
your leader will only get a sop for her pains. You can't force blood
out of a stone, can you?"

He seated himself in the chair she had occupied, and lit a fresh
cigarette. Having done so, he continued:

"I don't know that I quite follow you!"

"Well, I don't think I could make it much plainer without being
absolutely rude. The long and the short of it is, Mr. Walworth, if
it's money you're after - why not have gone in for a pigeon better
worth plucking?"

"But then we're not after the money, you see. Why should I have paid
you that five hundred else? No! Dr. De Normanville, you need have no
fear on that score - our motive was perfectly honest. We are on our way
to the island now where the small-pox exists, and believe me, when
your work is accomplished, you will be conveyed safely back to your
hotel. I can't say more than that. Play fair by us and we'll play
fair by you. In the meantime we shall hope to make your stay with us
as pleasant as possible."

I breathed freely again. I was not abducted. I was only wanted in my
professional capacity after all. Well, that was a relief. I was in a
unique position, for it was evident I was not only to be permitted the
opportunity of making the Beautiful White Devil's acquaintance, but I
was to be well paid for doing so. In the first freedom from anxiety I
began to look forward with almost pleasure to what lay before me.

"Don't you think you could get up for a little while?" Walworth said,
when he had finished his smoke; "it would do you good. Let me help
you."

With his assistance I scrambled out of the hammock into a cane chair
alongside the companion hatch. I was still very weak, and incapable of
much exertion. There could be no doubt that I had lost a good deal
more blood than I had at first imagined.

Once seated in the chair I looked about me. I was now permitted a full
and uninterrupted view of the vessel, and was able to make good use of
my eyes. Roughly speaking, that is to say as far as I could tell, not
being a nautical man, she must have been a topsail schooner of about
three hundred tons burden, with auxiliary steaming power, for I could
see the funnel, which was not in use just then, lying along the deck.
In what part of the world she had been built I could not tell; but
wherever it was, she did credit to her designer, for her lines were
perfection, and nothing short of it. If ever a boat were built for
speed she was that one, and I said as much to my companion, who
laughed.

"There can be no doubt about that," he answered. "But then, you see,
no other boat but the fastest built would suit her ladyship. Believe
me, there are times when even the _Lone Star_ is pretty well put to it
to throw dust in her enemies' eyes. If you feel strong enough, shall
we take a walk round and examine her?"

There was nothing I should have liked more, so, taking the arm he
offered me, we set off. The first thing that attracted my attention
was the spotless neatness and cleanliness prevailing. The decks, which
were flush fore and aft, were as white as curds; the brasses on the
wheel, capstans, masts, skylights, belaying pins, shone till you could
see your face in them. Not a detail seemed to have been overlooked.
Even the great sheets of canvas, bellying into balloons above our
heads, appeared at first sight to have been lately washed, while the
very ropes were white and, when not in actual use, flemish-coiled upon
the decks. She carried six boats, an unusually large number for a
craft of her size; two were surf-boats, I found on inspection; two
were uncollapsible lifeboats; one was an ordinary ship's gig, while
the other was a small steam launch of excellent build and workmanship.
For a craft of three hundred tons her spars were enormous: her topmast
head must have been a hundred and fifty feet from her deck, if an
inch, while from her rig forrard I could guess the amount of extra
canvas she was capable of carrying. Walking to the side, I discovered
that she was painted white, with a broad gold stripe a little above
the water-line; below this she was sheathed with copper, which shone
like gold whenever the water left it.

Inside the bulwarks, and reaching to within an inch of the scuppers,
were some contrivances that caused me a considerable amount of
curiosity. At first glance they looked like reversible shop shutters
more than anything else, being about six feet long by three wide, and
were attached to the rail of the bulwarks by enormous hinges. On my
asking for what purpose they were intended, my guide again laughed,
and said:

"You must not ask too many questions, my friend, for obvious reasons.
In this case, however, and since you have given your word not to tell
what you may see, I will explain."

Detaching the catch of one, he lifted it from the deck and threw it
over the side, where it hung, just reaching to the top of the copper
below water.

"Do you grasp the idea?" he continued. "The next one fits into that,
and the next one into that again, and so on all round the boat. You
see, they can be attached in no time, and when they are once fixed,
the shape of the masts altered, the funnel differently cased or done
away with altogether, the character of her bows and stern changed
beyond recognition by another appliance, she can be three different
crafts inside of twenty-four hours."

This then accounted for the number of different vessels the Beautiful
White Devil was supposed to possess. I began to understand the
marvellous escapes more clearly now.

"And whose idea was this ingenious invention?" I ventured to ask.

"Like most of our things, her ladyship's own," he replied. "And
wonderfully successful it has proved."

"And shall I be presuming too much on your good nature if I seek to
learn something of the lady herself?"

"Ah! I'm afraid there I cannot satisfy your curiosity," he answered,
shaking his head. "We have strict instructions on that point, and
there's not a man aboard this ship who values his life so little as to
dream of disobeying. One piece of advice I will give you, however, for
the sake of what we went through together yesterday. Take care how you
behave towards her. In spite of her quiet demeanour and frank, artless
manner, she sees, takes in, and realises the motive and importance of
everything you say or do. If you act fairly towards her, she will act
fairly by you; but if you play her false you're a dead man. Remember
that. Now you must excuse me if I go to my duties. My absence in Hong
Kong has delayed my work sadly. And there goes eight bells."

As the silvery voice of a bell chimed out from the fo'c's'le, he left
me and went below. Hardly knowing what to do with myself, I went back
to my chair. A tall man with a gray beard close-cropped, sharp
glittering eyes, and a not unhandsome face, marred, however, by what
looked like a sabre cut extending from the left temple to his chin,
resigned the deck to another officer and went below.

While the watch was being changed I had an opportunity of examining
the crew; they were nearly all natives, smart, intelligent-looking
fellows, and excellently disciplined. Whether they were Dyaks or
Malays, however, I had not sufficient experience to determine, and,
for more than one reason, I did not like to ask.

It was a lovely morning; the sea was as blue as the sky, a fresh wind
was driving the schooner along at an exhilarating pace, and, looking
over the side at the line of foam extending from either bow, I was
afforded a very good idea of what an exceptional sailor the _Lone
Star_ really was.

Being a little tired after my perambulations, I lay back in my chair,
and shutting my eyes, fell to ruminating on the queer trick Fate had
played me. So far I could hardly accept my position as real. It was
difficult to believe that I, George De Normanville, unromantic,
plodding student of Guy's, - now M.D., of Cavendish Square, London,
whose sole aim in life, a year ago, had been to put a brass plate upon
his front door, and collect wealthy hypochondriacal lady
patients, - was now medical adviser to a mysterious female, who
perambulated Eastern waters in a chameleon craft, blackmailing rajahs,
abducting merchants, levying toll on mail boats, and bringing down on
her devoted head the wrath of all sorts of nations, principalities,
and powers. And then another point struck me. While outwardly so fair,
what sort of a woman was she at heart? From Walworth's warning I had
gathered that I must be careful in my dealings with her.

But at that moment my reverie was interrupted by the appearance of a
neatly-clad steward, who in broken English presented me with an
invitation from her ladyship to tiffin in the saloon in half an hour.
This was an unexpected honour, and one which, you may be sure, I did
not hesitate to accept. I wanted, however, to make a suitable toilet
first, but where to do it puzzled me, for so far as I knew no cabin
had yet been apportioned to me. I placed my difficulty before an
officer who was standing near me. He said something in native dialect
to the steward, who replied, and then turned again to me.

"Your traps have been placed in a cabin next to Mr. Walworth's, he
says, and if you will follow him he will conduct you to it."

I followed the steward down the main companion (I afterward discovered
that the one aft was sacred to her ladyship) as requested, and found
myself in a large mess-room, in which three officers were seated at
lunch. On either side a number of fair-sized berths were situated. The
one set apart for me was nearest the companion, and contained a bunk,
a small settee and locker combined, a wash-hand basin, and a place for
hanging clothes. The first operation was to shave, a bath followed, to
which another steward conducted me, after which I returned to my
berth, dressed my wound, and, having selected a clean suit of white
ducks, attired myself and repaired on deck.

Punctual to the stroke of two bells (one o'clock) I was summoned to
the after-saloon by my first messenger. I followed him, and descending
the companion, the scantling of which was prettily picked out in white
and gold, found myself in her ladyship's own quarters. There was no
one present, and I must own I was glad of that, for I wanted an
opportunity to look about me. In the small space I can allot to it, it
would be difficult to do adequate justice to the cabin in which I
found myself, but for the better understanding of my story I must
endeavour to give you some description of it. In the first place, you
must understand that the companion-ladder opened directly into the
saloon itself. This otherwise commonplace effect, was, however,
rendered most artistic by a heavy pile of carpet which covered the
steps, and by the curtains which draped the entrance and the
portholes. More of the same noiseless carpet covered the floor, while
light was supplied from ports on either side, and from a richly
decorated skylight in the deck above. The effect of the thick butt of
the mainmast was entirely taken away by a number of artfully contrived
and moulded Japanese mirrors, which, besides fulfilling their original
purpose, gave an additional air of light and elegance to the room. The
walls, which were exquisitely panelled and moulded in ivory and gold,
were loaded with bric-a-brac of every description, including much
china and many pictures of rare value, while deep chairs and couches,
Turkish and Indian divans, piles of soft cushions and furs were
scattered about here and there, as if inviting the cabin's occupants
to an existence of continual repose. A grand piano stood in one
corner, firmly cleated to the deck; on the bulkhead above it was an
exquisitely inlaid Spanish guitar, and a Hungarian zither, while above
them again were several fine specimens of the old Venetian lute.
Altogether a more luxurious and beautifully furnished apartment it has
never been my good fortune to behold, and I settled myself down in a
comfortable chair prepared to spend a really critical and enjoyable
time. Then a daintily-bound volume, open on a cushion near where I
sat, attracted my attention. I took it up to find that it was a volume
of Heine's poems in the original.

"So my lady understands German, and reads Heine too, does she?" I said
to myself. "I must - - "

But I was prevented saying what I would do by the drawing aside of a
curtain that covered a door at the further end of the saloon, and the
entrance of my hostess herself. If she were capable of such a
weakness, my astonishment must have flattered her, for, prepared as I
was to see a beautiful woman, I had no idea she would prove as lovely
as she looked then. She had discarded the close-fitting white dress
she had worn earlier in the day, and was now attired in some soft
clinging fabric of a dark colour, which not only brought out all the
lines of her superb figure, but rendered her even more attractive than
before. There must have been a quantity of jet scattered about the
costume, for I was conscious of a shimmering sensation which
accompanied her every movement. She carried herself with a truly regal


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Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 3 of 19)