Chapter 16




WHO IS PAUL ELLISON?


For some time Warrington sat upon the edge of the bed and studied the cigar, balanced it upon his palm, as if striving to weigh accurately Mallow's part in a scrimmage like this. The copra-grower assuredly would be the last man to give a cigar to a Chinaman. His gifts kept his coolies hopping about in a triangle of cuffs and kicks and pummelings. He had doubtless given the cigar to another white man likely enough, Craig, who, with reckless inebriate generosity, had in turn presented it to the Oriental. Besides, Mallow was rich. What stepping-stones he had used to acquire his initial capital were not perfectly known; but Warrington had heard rumors of shady transactions and piratical exploits in the pearl zone. Mallow, rich, was Mallow disposed of, at least logically; unless indeed it was a bit of anticipatory reprisal. That might possibly be. A drunken Mallow was capable of much, for all that his knowledge of letters of credit might necessarily be primitive.

Pah! The abominable odor of fish still clung. He reached for his pipe and lighted it, letting the smoke sink into his beard.

Yet, Mallow was no fool. He would scarcely take such risk for so unstable and chancely a thing as revenge of this order. Craig? He hadn't the courage. Strong and muscular as he was, he was the average type of gambler, courageous only when armed with a pack of cards, sitting opposite a fool and his money. But, Craig and Mallow together. . . . He slipped off the label. It was worth preserving.

With an unpleasant laugh he began to get into his clothes. Why not? The more he thought of it, the more he was positive that the two had been behind this assault. The belt would have meant a good deal to Craig. There were a thousand Chinese in Singapore who would cut a man's throat for a Straits dollar. Either Mallow or Craig had seen him counting the money on shipboard. It had been a pastime of his to throw the belt on the bunk-blanket and play with the gold and notes; like a child with its Christmas blocks. He had spent hours gloating over the yellow metal and crackly paper which meant a competence for the rest of his years. And Craig or Mallow had seen him.

He looked at his watch; quarter after two. If they were not in their rooms he would have good grounds for his suspicions. He stole along the gallery and down the stairs to the office, just in time to see the two enter, much the worse for drink. Mallow was boisterous, and Craig was sullen. The former began to argue with the night manager, who politely shook his head. Mallow grew insistent, but the night manager refused to break the rules of the hotel. Warrington inferred that Mallow was demanding liquor, and his inference was correct. He moved a little closer, still hidden behind the potted palms.

"All right," cried Mallow. "We'll go back to town for it."

"I've had enough," declared Craig sullenly.

"Yah! A little sore, eh? Well, I can't pour it down your throat."

"Let's cut out booze and play a little hand or two."

"Fine!" Mallow slapped his thigh as he laughed. "Nice bird I'd be for you to pluck. Think of something else. You can hit me on the head when I'm not looking and take my money that way. What do you think I am, anyhow? The billiard-hall is open."

Craig shook his head. When Mallow was argumentative it was no time to play billiards.

"Bah!" snarled Mallow. "Since you won't drink like a man nor play billiards, I'm for bed. And just as the fun was beginning!"

Craig nudged him warningly. Mallow stalked away, and Craig, realizing that the night was done, followed.

Warrington had seen and heard enough. He was tolerably sure. It might have been out of pure deviltry, so far as Mallow was concerned; but Craig had joined in hope of definite profits. A fine pair of rogues! Neither of them should be able to draw against the letter. He would block that game the first thing in the morning. He would simply notify the local banks and cable to Rangoon.

He eyed indecisively the stairs and then glanced toward the brilliant night outside. It would not be possible to sleep in that room again. So he tiptoed out to the cafe-veranda and dropped into a comfortable chair. He would hunt them up some time during the day. He would ask Mallow for fifty pounds, and he sincerely hoped that Mallow would refuse him. For he was grimly resolved that Mallow should pay for those half-truths, more damning than bald lies. It was due to Mallow that he was never more to see or speak to Elsa. He emptied the ash from his cutty which he stowed away.

The great heart ache and the greater disillusion would not have fallen to his lot had Elsa been frank in Rangoon, had she but told him that she was to sail on the same steamer. He would have put over his sailing. He would have gone his way, still believing himself to be a Bayard, a Galahad, or any other of those simple dreamers who put honor and chivalry above and before all other things.

Elsa! He covered his face with his hands and remained in that position for a long while, so long indeed that the coolies, whose business it was to scrub the tilings every morning at four, went about their work quietly for fear of disturbing him.

Elsa had retired almost immediately after dinner. She endeavored to finish some initial-work on old embroideries, but the needle insisted upon pausing and losing stitch after stitch. She went to bed and tried to concentrate her thoughts upon a story, but she could no more follow a sentence to the end than she could fly. Then she strove to sleep, but that sweet healer came not to her wooing. Nothing she did could overcome the realization of the shock she had received. It had left her dull and bewildered.

The name echoed and reechoed through her mind: Paul Ellison. It should have been an illumination; instead, she had been thrust into utter darkness. Neither Arthur nor his mother had ever spoken of a brother, and she had known them for nearly ten years. Two men, who might be twin-brothers, with the same name: it was maddening. What could it mean? The beautiful white-haired mother, the handsome charming son, who idolized each other; and this adventurer, this outcast, this patient, brave and kindly outcast, with his funny parrakeet, what was he to them and they to him? It must be, it must be! They were brothers. Nature, full of amazing freaks as she was, had not perpetrated this one without calling upon a single strain of blood.

She lay back among her pillows, her eyes leveled at the few stars beyond her door, opened to admit any cooling breeze. Her head ached. It was like the computations of astronomers; to a certain extent the human mind could grasp the distances but could not comprehend them. It was more than chance. Chance alone had not brought him to the crumbling ledge. There was a strain of fatalism in Elsa. She was positive that all these things had been written long before and that she was to be used as the key.

Paul Ellison.

She drew from the past those salient recollections of Arthur and his mother: first, the day the two had called regarding the purchase of a house that her father had just put on the market,--a rambling old colonial affair, her own mother's birth-place. Sixteen: she had not quite been that, just free from her school-days in Italy. With the grand air of youth she had betrayed the fact almost instantly, while waiting for her father to come into the livingroom.

"Italy!" said Arthur's mother, whom Elsa mentally adopted at once. The stranger spoke a single phrase, which Elsa answered in excellent if formal Italian. This led from one question to another. Mrs. Ellison turned out to be a schoolmate of her mother's, and she, Elsa, had inherited their very room. What more was needed?

The Ellisons bought the house and lived quietly within it. Society, and there was a good deal of it in that small Kentuckian city, society waited for them to approach and apply for admittance, but waited in vain. Mrs. Ellison never went anywhere. Her son Arthur was a student and preferred his books. So eventually society introduced itself. Persons who ignored it must be interesting. When it became known that Mrs. Ellison had been the schoolmate of the beautiful and aristocratic wife of General Chetwood; when the local banker quietly spread the information that the Ellisons were comfortably supplied with stocks and bonds of a high order, society concluded that it could do very well without past history. That could come later.

When her father died, Elsa became as much at home in the Ellison house as in her own. But never, never anywhere in the house, was there indication of the existence of a brother, so like Arthur that under normal conditions it would have been difficult to tell them apart. Even when she used to go up to the garret with Mrs. Ellison, to aid her in rummaging some old trunk, there came to light none of those trifling knickknacks which any mother would have secretly clung to, no matter to what depth her flesh and blood had fallen. Never had she seen among the usual amateur photographs one presenting two boys. Once she had come across a photograph of a smooth-faced youth who was in the act of squinting along the top of an engineer's tripod. Arthur had laughingly taken it away from her, saying that it represented him when he had had ambitions to build bridges.

To build bridges. The phrase awoke something in Elsa's mind. Bridges. She sat up in bed, mentally keen for the first time since dinner. "I have built bridges in my time over which trains are passing at this moment. I have fought torrents, and floods, and hurricanes, and myself."

He was Paul Ellison, son and brother, and they had blotted him out of their lives by destroying all physical signs of him. There was something inhuman in the deliberateness of it, something unforgivable.

They had made no foolish attempt to live under an assumed name. They had come from New York to the little valley in order to leave behind the scene of their disgrace and all those who had known them. And they had been extremely fortunate. They were all gently born, Elsa's friends and acquaintances, above ordinary inquisitiveness, and they had respected the aloofness of the Ellisons. Arthur was an inveterate traveler. Half the year found him in Europe, painting a little, writing a little less, frequenting the lesser known villages in France and Italy. He let it be understood that he abhorred cities. In the ten years they had appeared at less than a dozen social affairs. Arthur did not care for horses, for hunting, for sports of any kind. And yet he was sturdy, clear-eyed, fresh-skinned. He walked always; he was forever tramping off to the pine-hooded hills, with his painting-kit over his shoulders and his camp-stool under his arm. Later, Elsa began to understand that he was a true scholar, not merely an educated man. He was besides a linguist of amazing facility, a pianist who invariably preferred as his audience his own two ears. Arthur would have been a great dramatist or a great poet, if . . . If what? If what? Ah, that had been the crux of it all, of her doubt, of her hesitance. If he had fought for prizes coveted by mankind, if he had thrown aside his dreams and gone into the turmoil, if he had taken up a man's burden and carried it to success. Elsa, daughter of a man who had fought in the great arena from his youth to his death, Elsa was not meant for the wife of a dreamer.

Paul Ellison. What was his crime in comparison to his expiation of it? He had built bridges, fought torrents, hurricanes, himself. No, he was not a scholar; he saw no romance in the multifarious things he had of necessity put his hand to: these had been daily matter-of-fact occupations. A strange gladness seemed to loosen the tenseness of her aching nerves.

Then, out of the real world about her, came with startling distinctness, the shriek of a parrot. She would have recognized that piercing cry anywhere. It was Rajah. In the next room, and she had not known that Warrington (she would always know him by that name) was stopping at the same hotel! She listened intently. Presently she heard muffled sounds: a clatter of metal. A few minutes later came a softer tinkle, scurry of pattering feet, then silence.

Elsa ran to the door and stood motionless by the jamb, waiting, ethereally white in the moonshine. Suddenly upon the gallery pillars flashed yellow light. She should have gone back to bed, but a thrill of unknown fear held her. By and by the yellow light went out with that quickness which tricks the hearing into believing that the vanishing had been accompanied by sound. She saw Warrington, fully dressed, issue forth cautiously, glance about, then pass down the gallery, stepping with the lightness of a cat.

She returned hastily to her room, threw over her shoulders a kimono, and went back to the door, hesitating there for a breath or two. She stepped out upon the gallery. What had roused him at this time of night? She leaned over the railing and peered down into the roadway which in daytime was given over to the rickshaw coolies. She heard the crunch of wheels, a low murmur of voices; beyond this, nothing more. But as the silence of the night became tense once more, she walked as far as Warrington's door, and paused there.

The gallery floor was trellised with moonlight and shadow. She saw something lying in the center of a patch of light, and she stooped. The light was too dim for her to read; so she reentered her own room and turned on the lights. It was Warrington's letter of credit. She gave a low laugh, perhaps a bit hysterical. There was no doubt of it. Some one had entered his room. There had been a struggle in which he had been the stronger, and the thief had dropped his plunder. (As a matter of fact, the Chinaman, finding himself closed in upon, had thrown the letter of credit toward the railing, in hope that it would fall over to the ground below, where, later, he could recover it.) Elsa pressed it to her heart as another woman might have pressed a rose, and laughed again. Something of his; something to give her the excuse to see and to speak to him again. To-morrow she would know; and he would tell her the truth, even as her heart knew it now. For what other reason had he turned away from her that first day out of Rangoon, hurt and broken? Paul Ellison; and she had told him that she was going home to marry his brother!




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