Copyright
Guy Boothby.

The Beautiful White Devil online

. (page 9 of 19)
Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 9 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"I have a letter for your consideration that is of the utmost
importance," he answered; "the junk arrived with it this morning."

I must here explain that communications from the outside world were
conveyed by well-chosen messengers once every month to a certain spot
in the group of islands, about two degrees west of the settlement.
Thence they were brought on to their destination by a swift-sailing
junk, the property of the Beautiful White Devil, which had already
conveyed and handed over the outward mail in exchange. Thus a regular
service was kept up, to the advantage of both parties.

Taking the letter from Walworth's hand she gave him an invitation to
breakfast, and then passed with it into her own hut. I took him to
mine, and when the gong sounded for the meal we sought the dining
saloon together. A moment later Alie joined us, and I gathered from
her face that there was something serious toward. Until the meal was
finished, however, she said nothing. Then, suggesting that we should
bring our cigars outside, so as to be away from any possible
eavesdroppers, she intimated that she had something important to tell
us. We accordingly rose and followed her into the open air, across the
plateau to the glade in the jungle where I had told her of my love the
previous day. Throughout the walk she did not speak, and when she
turned and bade us be seated, her face was as hard set as when she had
sentenced Kwong Fung to death in her verandah more than two months
before.

"Gentlemen," she said, "I have brought you out here in order that I
may consult you on a most important matter. Dr. De Normanville, before
I begin I may say that I have had an excellent opportunity of studying
your character, while you have had an equal chance of studying mine.
You know now exactly what my life is, but at the same time I cannot
keep from myself a remembrance of the fact that you are only here as a
visitor; if you wish therefore to withdraw before you hear any more I
will give you free permission to do so. On the other hand, if you will
give me your advice, I assure you I shall be most grateful for it.
You, Mr. Walworth, have been my trusted and faithful servant for many
years past, and I could not have a better. Doctor, I await your
decision."

She looked fixedly at me, and I began to see the reason of her speech.

"I beg that you will let me advise you," I answered promptly. "I think
you know that you can place implicit trust in me?"

"I am quite sure of that," she answered solemnly, and, as she said it,
she took from her pocket the letter she had that morning received.

"This communication," she began, "is from a person in Singapore, whose
word I have the very best of all possible reasons for being able to
trust. He tells me that my own confidential agent in that place, a man
in whom I have hitherto placed the most implicit confidence, whom I
have saved from ruin, and worse, who owes his very life to my
generosity, contemplates selling me to the English authorities. My
correspondent, who holds a high position in the Straits Settlements,
informs me that this dastardly traitor has already hinted to the
authorities that it is in his power to disclose my long-sought
rendezvous. He only stipulates that, seeing the nature of his
communication, and the dangerous position in which he stands regarding
me, the reward offered shall be doubled. The authorities, of whom my
informant is one, have asked him to wait until the arrival of the new
English admiral, who is expected in Singapore, _en route_ for Hong
Kong, early next month. As soon as he arrives this man's evidence will
be taken and decisive measures adopted to rid the world of the
notorious White Devil."

"The traitor - the scoundrel - he shall pay for this!" came from between
Walworth's clenched teeth. I said nothing. But perhaps I was like the
owl, and thought the more. At any rate I told myself under my breath
that it would be an exceedingly bad day for the man if he ever fell
into my hands, and, after a glance at Alie's face, I thought it would
be a worse one for him should he fall into hers. She resumed the
conversation.

"There is one point I may count in my favour, however," she said; "and
that is, he will be hardly likely to reveal the fact that for the last
five years he has acted as my agent, and for that reason it will be
only possible for him to give his evidence on hearsay."

"He must be prevented from giving it at all," cried Walworth, looking
swiftly up at her.

"But how?" she answered.

"A warning would be of no avail, I presume?" I said.

"Not the least," she answered; "even if he took it I should always be
in danger of him. In that case I should have to discharge him, and his
very life would be a continual menace to me!"

"Is he a married man?"

"No; he is not."

"Has he an extensive business? I mean by that, would his death or
departure be the means of bringing misery upon other people?"

"He has no occupation at all, save what I have given him. No. He has
idled away his life on the bounty I have paid him for keeping me
informed of all that goes on."

"And now he is going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? The
man must be mad to contemplate such an act of folly."

"There is a method in his madness, though," she answered. "He
evidently believes I am on the eve of being captured, and as the
reward is a large one, he wishes to secure it before it is snapped up
by anybody else."

I thought for a little while and then spoke again.

"You say he is unmarried; in that case he has no wife or children to
consider. He has no business - then he cannot bring ruin upon a
trusting public. I should say abduct him before he can do any harm.
Surely it could be managed with a little ingenuity?"

Alie was silent for a few moments. Then she looked up and her face
brightened.

"I believe you have hit on the very idea," she said. "I will think it
over, and, if possible, it shall be carried into effect. Yes, I will
abduct him, and bring him here. But we must remember that he has
always been most suspicious, and he will be doubly so now. For every
reason it is impossible for me to go into Singapore and abduct him in
my own proper person, so I must do it in disguise."

"No!" I answered promptly; "you must not run such a risk. Supposing he
should recognise you?"

"He has never seen me in his life," she replied; then, smiling, she
continued, "And you have evidently not yet grasped my talent for
disguising myself."

"But somebody must accompany you," said Walworth, who all this time
had been turning my scheme over and over in his mind; "and the worst
part of it is, he knows me so well that I dare not go."

Long before this I had made up my mind.

"I think, since you have honoured me with your confidence," I said,
turning to Alie, "I have a right to ask a favour at your hands."

She looked at me with a little surprise.

"And what is that favour, Dr. De Normanville?" she asked.

"That in whatever you are going to do you will let me help you. No; I
am not making this offer without thought, I assure you. It is my
greatest wish to be of any service I can to you."

I saw Walworth look at me in rather a peculiar fashion, but whatever
he may have thought he kept to himself. Alie paused before replying,
then she stretched out her little hand to me.

"I accept your offer in the spirit in which it is made," she said. "I
_will_ ask you to help me to get this traitor out of the way. Now we
must consider the _modus operandi_."

Many and various were the schemes proposed, discussed, and eventually
thrown aside. Indeed, it was not until nearly midday that we had
decided on one to our liking. Once this was settled, however, we
returned to the camp. Orders for starting were immediately given, and,
by the time lunch was over, the packs were made up, the loads
distributed, the ponies saddled, and we were ready to start upon our
return journey to the settlement.

It was a long and tedious ride, and it was far into the night before
we arrived at our destination. But late though it was, no one thought
of bed. Too much important business had to be transacted before
daylight.

On arrival, we repaired instantly to the bungalow on the hill, where a
hasty supper was eaten, and an adjournment made from the dining-room
to the large chart-room at the rear of the house. In this apartment
were stored the latest Admiralty charts of all the seas and harbours
in the world, and it was here, as I gathered later, that the Beautiful
White Devil concocted the most cunning and audacious of her plans.
Arriving in it, she bade us seat ourselves while she gave us the
details of the plan she had prepared.

"I have come to the conclusion," she said, "that your scheme is an
excellent one, Dr. De Normanville, and I have arranged it all as
follows: We will proceed in the yacht to-morrow morning (I have
already sent the necessary instructions down to the harbour) to Java.
In Batavia we shall meet a young English doctor named De Normanville,
who will accompany me to Singapore. I shall remain with a companion in
that place for a short time while I do the sights, stopping at the
Mandalay Hotel, where the man resides whom we want to catch. You will
gradually make his acquaintance, and, having done so, introduce him to
me. All the rest will be plain sailing. Do you think my scheme will
do?"

"Admirably, I should say."

"It will be necessary, however, Dr. De Normanville, that you should
remember one thing: you must not, for your own sake, be seen about too
much with me. You are just to be a casual acquaintance whom I have
picked up while travelling between Singapore and Batavia. Do you
understand? After your great kindness, I cannot allow you to be
implicated in any trouble that may arise from what I may be compelled
to do."

"Pray do not fear for my safety," I answered. "I am content to chance
that. In for a penny, in for a pound. Believe me, I am throwing my lot
in with you with my eyes open. I hope you understand that very
thoroughly?"

"I am perfectly sensible, you may be sure, of the debt we are under to
you," she answered. "Now we must get to business, for there is much to
be done before daylight."

Accordingly we set to work perfecting all the ins and outs of our
plan, and when it was completed, and my bags were packed and
despatched to the harbour, the stars were paling in the eastern
heavens preparatory to dawn.

Walworth had preceded us to the yacht some time before, and nothing
remained now but for me to follow with Alie and the bulldog.

A boat was waiting for us at the same jetty on which I had landed on
my arrival nearly three months before, and in it we were rowed out to
the _Lone Star_, whose outline we could just discern. It was an
uncanny hour to embark, and my feelings were quite in keeping with the
situation. I was saying good-bye to a place for which I had developed
a sincere affection, and I was going out into the world again to do a
deed which might end in cutting me off from my profession, my former
associates, and even my one remaining relation. These thoughts sat
heavily upon me as I mounted the ladder, but when, on reaching the
deck, Alie turned and took my hand and gave me a welcome back to the
yacht, they were dispelled for good and all.

Side by side we went aft. Steam was up, the anchor was off the ground,
and five minutes later, in the fast increasing light, we were moving
slowly across the harbour towards what looked to me like impenetrable
cliffs. When we got closer to them, however, I saw that one projected
further than the other, and that between the two was a long opening,
the cliffs on either side being nearly a hundred and fifty feet high.
This opening was just wide enough to let a vessel pass through with
the exercise of extreme caution.

At the further end of this precipitous canal the width was barely
sufficient to let our vessel out, though at that particular point the
cliffs on either side were scarcely more than eighty feet high. Here,
lying flat against the walls of stone, were two enormous, and very
curious, gates, the use of which I could not at all determine.

We passed through and out into the sea. By the time we reached open
water daylight had increased to such an extent that, when we were a
mile out, objects ashore could be quite plainly distinguished.

"Look astern," said Alie, who stood by my side upon the bridge, "and
tell me if you can discover the entrance to the harbour."

I did so, but though I looked, and looked, and even brought a glass to
bear upon the cliffs, I could see no break in the line through which a
vessel of any size might pass.

"No!" I said at last, "I must confess I cannot see it."

"Now you will understand," she said, smiling at my bewilderment, "the
meaning of those great doors. On the seaward side they are painted to
resemble the cliffs. Could anyone wish for a better disguise?"

I agreed that no one could. And, indeed, it was most wonderful. A
man-of-war might have patrolled that seemingly barren coast for weeks
on end and still have been unaware of the harbour that lay concealed
behind.

"Now you will want to rest, I know," she said. "I think you will find
your old cabin prepared for you."

"And you?"

"I am going below too. Look, the coast is fast disappearing from our
sight. There it goes beneath the horizon. Now will you wish our
enterprise good luck?"

"Good luck," I said, with a little squeeze of her hand.

"Thank you, and may God bless you," she answered softly, and
immediately vanished down the companion-ladder.




CHAPTER VIII.

A QUEER SURPRISE.


Within a week of our leaving the island behind us, as narrated in the
previous chapter, we had brought the Madura coast well abeam, and were
dodging along it waiting for darkness to fall in order to get into
Probolingo Harbour. Here it was arranged I should leave the yacht and
travel by the Nederlands-India line of steamers to Batavia. A vessel
of this line, so we had discovered, called at Probolingo about the end
of each month, and for this reason our arrival was timed for the
afternoon of the day of her departure.

Shortly before three o'clock we brought up at the anchorage, about a
mile from the shore. It was a lovely afternoon, and I could see that
the steamer, which was to carry me on, was already preparing for her
departure. The boat was alongside, my traps were safely stowed in her,
and nothing remained but to bid Alie good-bye. As soon as this was
accomplished I went down the gangway, took my seat in the stern, and
we pushed off. Ten minutes later I was on board the steamer _Van
Tromp_, had paid my passage-money, secured my berth, and was waiting
to see what the next item of the programme would be.

From the deck of the Dutch vessel, as she swept by us under full sail,
her course set for Batavia, the _Lone Star_ looked as pretty a craft
as any man could wish to see. I noticed, however, that during the
three months she had been in her own harbour her colour, and indeed
her whole appearance, had been entirely changed. When first I had made
her acquaintance she was white as the driven snow; now she was a
peculiar shade of red. Her bows seemed bluffer than when I had seen
her last, indeed from the present shape and construction of her masts
and gear it would have been extremely difficult to tell her for the
same vessel.

At six o'clock, and in the eye of a glorious sunset, we got up our
pressure and steamed out to sea. Of that voyage there is little to
tell. The _Van Tromp_ was a clumsy old tub of an almost obsolete
pattern, and by the time we reached Tanjong Priok, as the seaport of
Batavia is called, I had had about enough of her.

Once there, I repacked my bag and stepped on to the wharf, resolved to
take the first train to the city. Arriving there I drove direct to the
hotel whose name Alie had given me and booked my room.

Batavia is a pretty place, and at the time of our visit was looking
its best. So far I had seen nothing of Alie, and I did not like to
make inquiries concerning her lest by so doing I might excite
suspicion. To while away the time till dinner I lit a cigar, and
seating myself in the long verandah that surrounded the house, read my
book, keeping a watchful eye on the folk about me all the time.

Shortly before five o'clock, I noticed that the Dutch ladies in my
neighbourhood ordered afternoon tea, and partook of it in the
verandah. Not to be outdone, I followed their example. But just as I
was about to pour myself out a cup an interruption occurred which
presently assumed annoying proportions.

The table, on which my Malay boy had placed the tray, stood in the
full glare of the afternoon sun, and this being hotter than I liked, I
bade him move it nearer to the wall, and to facilitate matters, myself
took up the tray on which my cup stood, brimming full. Just as he was
putting the table down, however, two strange ladies turned the corner
of the verandah and came towards us. The taller, and younger of the
two, was a fine dark woman, with a wealth of beautiful brown hair
rolled tightly behind her head. She was dressed in a well-fitting
travelling dress, wore, what I believe is called, a sailor hat, and
walked with a carriage that would have even attracted attention in the
most crowded street in the world. Her companion was an older woman,
and, if one might judge by appearances, nearer sixty than fifty, with
a fine, aristocratic face, and a considerable quantity of grey hair
heaped in little corkscrew curls all over her head.

When they came level with where I stood, I stepped back to let them
pass, but in doing so came into collision with the younger lady. How
it happened I cannot say, but the result was in every way disastrous;
the tray slipped, and would have fallen had I not caught it in time,
but the cup of tea was too quick for me, and fell to the ground,
splashing the young lady's pretty grey dress beyond hope of remedy in
its descent. The cup and saucer were broken into a hundred pieces. For
a moment the fair sufferer stood silent, hardly, I suppose, knowing
what to say; but when I commenced my apologies and wanted to run to
my room for a cloth with which to wipe her dress, she found her voice,
and said with a strong American accent -

"You must do nothing of the kind. It was all my fault. I declare I'm
downright sorry."

It would have been one of the prettiest voices I had ever heard but
for the Yankee twang that spoiled it. I hastened to assure her that I
could not let her take the blame upon herself, and once more begged to
be allowed to sponge the tea off her dress. This, however, she would
not permit me to do.

"It won't hurt," she assured me for the twentieth time, "and if it
did, it's an old dress, so don't bother yourself. But now, look here,
you've been deprived of your tea, and that's not fair at all. Say,
won't you come right along to our verandah and take a cup with us?
You're English, I know, and it's real nice to have somebody who speaks
our own tongue to talk to. Promise 'Yes' right away and we'll be off."

There was something so frank about her that, though I didn't at all
want to go, I could not resist her. So putting the remnants of the cup
and saucer back upon the tray I accepted the invitation and
accompanied them round the hotel garden to their own verandah on the
other side. As I went I kept my eyes open for any sign of Alie, but
though I thought I saw her once I presently found I was mistaken. I
could not help wondering what she would think if she met me in this
girl's company. However, as I had let myself in for it I had nobody to
thank but myself.

When we reached the ladies' quarters we found tea prepared. Before we
sat down, however, the younger lady said, without a shadow of
embarrassment -

"I reckon, before we begin, we'd better do a little introducing, don't
you? This lady (she pointed to her companion) is my very kind friend
Mrs. Beecher, of Boston, with whom I am travelling; you've probably
heard of Beecher's patent double-action sofa springs, I reckon? I am
Kate Sanderson, of New York, only daughter of millionaire Sanderson,
of Wall Street, whom I guess you've heard all about too. So you see
we're both of the United States of America, and very much at your
service."

"I am very glad to have met you," I answered. "My name is De
Normanville, and I hail from London."

"Not Dr. De Normanville, of Cavendish Square, surely?"

"Yes, the same. Cavendish Square was my London address two years ago.
But how do you come to know it?"

"Well, now, if that isn't real extraordinary! I thought I recognised
you directly I set eyes on you. But it's mighty plain you don't
remember me! That's not much of a compliment any way you look at it.
Is it, Mrs. Beecher?"

The elder declined to commit herself, so Miss Sanderson once more
turned to me.

"Just think now, Dr. De Normanville," she said. "Look at me well, and
try to remember where we have met before."

I looked and looked, but for the life of me I could not recall her
face, and yet somehow it seemed strangely familiar to me. All the time
I was watching her she sat gazing at me with an amused smile upon her
face, and when she saw that it was useless my cudgelling my brains
any more, gave another little silvery laugh, and said -

"Do you remember, just three years ago, being called in to the Langham
Hotel to attend a young American lady who had a fish-bone stuck in her
throat?"

"I remember the circumstance perfectly," I answered, "but that young
lady was only one or two and twenty."

"You think then I look older than that? Well! I reckon you are really
not very complimentary. But you must remember that that was three
years ago, and I was only a girl then. When once we get grown up, and
past a certain point, over on our side, we age pretty fast. That's so,
I reckon. Well now you know me, don't you? What a day that was, to be
sure, wasn't it? Lor! how pap and mammie did go on! Anybody'd have
thought I was going to Kingdom Come right away to have heard them.
D'you know, I reckon I must have got the marks of that bone in my
throat to this day."

"It was a very nasty scratch, if I remember rightly," I answered, glad
to have at last discovered who this talkative creature was, and where
I had seen her face before.

"Are you remaining very long in Java, Mrs. Beecher?" I asked the elder
lady, feeling that so far she had been rather neglected.

"No, I think not," she answered thoughtfully; "we are trying to make
up our minds whether to take a British India steamer home from here,
or to go up to Singapore and intercept a Peninsular and Oriental
there. Miss Sanderson has taken a great fancy to the East, and I must
confess I am very loth to leave it."

"You are quite right," I said. "I can fully sympathise with your
feelings. I am sadly reluctant to go back to foggy old England myself,
after my trip out here."

"And do you intend going back very soon?" asked Miss Sanderson, who
had been smoothing out her gloves upon her knee.

"Within the next month or so," I answered, with a sigh. "My business
in the East is at an end, and I have no excuse for staying longer."

From this point the talk drifted on to general topics, and when tea
was finished I seized the first opportunity that presented itself,
and, making an excuse, withdrew. Just as I stepped from the verandah,
one of the small native _dos-a-dos_ carts entered the grounds and drew
up near the end of my corridor. Two ladies descended from it, and,
having paid the driver, entered their rooms. One was tall, and the
other rather shorter. At last I felt convinced Alie had arrived.

As they disappeared the gong warned us to prepare for dinner; but,
heedless of my costume, I seated myself outside my door and waited.
Though I remained there for some time, however, they did not emerge
again, and at last I was compelled to go in and make myself
presentable without having seen them.

At dinner, which was served in the palatial marble dining saloon
standing in the centre of the gardens, I discovered to my annoyance
that my place was laid at a long table at the further end, exactly
opposite those occupied by the American ladies with whom I had taken
tea.

From where I sat it was quite impossible for me to see all over the
room, and, in consequence, I could not tell whether Alie was present
or not. As soon, however, as the meal was over I rose, and, before
walking out, looked about me. Some of the residents were still dining,
and at the end of the middle table, farthest from me, were, without
doubt, the two ladies whom I had seen arrive. At the distance I was


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryGuy BoothbyThe Beautiful White Devil → online text (page 9 of 19)