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Mallow spun around, stared for a moment, then grinned evilly. "Here's our crow at last, Craig."
"Speaking of birds of ill-repute, the crow passes his admiration to the kite and the vulture." Warrington spoke coolly.
"Hey, boy; the chit!" called Mallow.
"No, no," protested Warrington; "by all means finish the game. I've all the time in the world."
Mallow looked at Craig, who scowled back. He was beginning to grow weary at the sight of Warrington, bobbing up here, bobbing up there, always with a subtle menace.
"What's the odds?" said Mallow jovially.
"Only twenty points to go. Your shot."
Craig chalked his cue and scored a run of five. Mallow ran three, missed and swore amiably. Craig got the balls into a corner and finished his string.
"That'll be five pounds," he said.
"And fifty quid for me," added Warrington, smiling, though his eyes were as blue and hard as Artic ice.
"I'll see you comfortably broiled in hell," replied Mallow, as he tossed five sovereigns to Craig. "Now, what else is on your mind?"
Warrington took out the cigar-band and exhibited it. "I found that in my room last night. You're one of the few, Mallow, who smoke them out here. He was a husky Chinese, but not husky enough. Makes you turn a bit yellow; eh, Craig, you white-livered cheat? You almost got my money-belt, but almost is never quite. The letter of credit is being reissued. It might have been robbery; it might have been just deviltry; just for the sport of breaking a man. Anyhow, you didn't succeed. Suppose we take a little jaunt out to where they're building the new German Lloyd dock? There'll be no one working at this time of day. Plenty of shade."
For a moment the click of the balls on the other tallies was the only sound. Craig broke the tableau by reaching for his glass of whisky, which he emptied. He tried to assume a nonchalant air, but his hand shook as he replaced the glass on the tabouret. It rolled off to the floor and tinkled into pieces.
"Nerves a bit rocky, eh?" Warrington laughed sardonically.
"You're screeching in the wrong jungle, Parrot, old top," said Mallow, who, as he did not believe in ghosts, was physically nor morally afraid of anything. "Though, you have my word for it that I'd like to see you lose every cent of your damned oil fluke."
"Don't doubt it."
"But," Mallow went on, "if you're wanting a little argument that doesn't require pencils or voices, why, you're on. You don't object to my friend Craig coming along?"
"On the contrary, he'll make a good witness of what happens."
"The chit, boy!" Mallow paid the reckoning. "Now, then, come on. Three rickshaws!" he called.
"Make it two," said Warrington. "I have mine."
"All fine and dandy!"
The barren plot of ground back of the dock was deserted. Warrington jumped from his rickshaw and divested himself of his coat and flung his hat beside it. Gleefully as a boy Mallow did likewise. Warrington then bade the coolies to move back to the road.
"Rounds?" inquired Mallow.
"You filthy scoundrel, you know very well that there won't be any rules to this game. Don't you think I know you? You'll have a try at my knee-pans, if I give you the chance. You'll stick your finger into my eyes, if I let you get close enough. I doubt if in all your life you ever fought a man squarely." Warrington rolled up his sleeves and was pleased to note the dull color of Mallow's face. He wanted to rouse the brute in the man, then he would have him at his mercy. "I swore four years ago that I'd make you pay for that night."
"You scum!" roared Mallow; "you'll never be a whole man when they carry you away from here."
"Wait and see."
On the way to the dock Warrington had mapped out his campaign. Fair play from either of these men was not to be entertained for a moment. One was naturally a brute and the other was a coward. They would not hesitate at any means to defeat him. And he knew what defeat would mean at their hands: disfigurement, probably.
"Will you take a shilling for your fifty quid?" jeered Craig. He was going to enjoy this, for he had not the least doubt as to the outcome. Mallow was without superior in a rough and tumble fight.
Warrington did not reply. He walked cautiously toward Mallow. This maneuver brought Craig within reach. It was not a fair blow, but Warrington delivered it without the least compunction. It struck Craig squarely on the jaw. Lightly as a cat Warrington jumped back. Craig's knees doubled under him and he toppled forward on his face.
"Now, Mallow, you and I alone, with no one to jump on my back when I'm looking elsewhere!"
Mallow, appreciating the trick, swore foully, and rushed. Warrington jabbed with his left and side-stepped. One thing he must do and that was to keep Mallow from getting into close quarters. The copra-grower was more than his match in the knowledge of those Oriental devices that usually cripple a man for life. He must wear him down scientifically; he must depend upon his ring-generalship. In his youth Warrington had been a skilful boxer. He could now back this skill with rugged health and a blow that had a hundred and eighty pounds behind it.
From ordinary rage, Mallow fell into a frenzy; and frenzy never won a ring-battle. Time after time he endeavored to grapple, but always that left stopped him. Warrington played for his face, and to each jab he added a taunt. "That for the little Cingalese!" "Count that one for Wheedon's broken knees!" "And wouldn't San admire that? Remember her? The little Japanese girl whose thumbs you broke?" "Here's one for me!" It was not dignified; but Warrington stubbornly refused to look back upon this day either with shame or regret. Jab-jab, cut and slash! went the left. There was no more mercy in the mind back of it than might be found in the sleek felines who stalked the jungles north. Doggedly Mallow fought on, hoping for his chance. He tried every trick he knew, but he could only get so near. The ring was as wide as the world; there were no corners to make grappling a possibility.
Some of his desperate blows got through. The bezel of his ring laid open Warrington's forehead. He was brave enough; but he began to realize that this was not the same man he had turned out into the night, four years ago. And the pain and ignominy he had forced upon others was now being returned to him. Warrington would have prolonged the battle had he not seen Craig getting dizzily to his feet. It was time to end it. He feinted swiftly. Mallow, expecting a body-blow, dropped his guard. Warrington, as he struck, felt the bones in his hand crack. Mallow went over upon his back, fairly lifted off his feet. He was tough; an ordinary man would have died.
"I believe that squares accounts," said Warrington, speaking to Craig. "If you hear of me in America, in Europe, anywhere, keep away from the places I'm likely to go. Tell him," with an indifferent jerk of his head toward the insensible Mallow, "tell him that I give him that fifty pounds with the greatest good pleasure. Sorry I can't wait."
He trotted back to his rickshaw, wiped the blood from his face, put on his hat and coat, and ordered the respectful coolie to hurry back to town. He never saw Mallow or Craig again. The battle itself became a hazy incident. In life affairs of this order generally have abrupt endings.
And all that day Elsa had been waiting patiently to hear sounds of him in the next room. Never could she recall such long weary hours. Time and again she changed a piece of ribbon, a bit of lace, and twice she changed her dress, all for the purpose of making the hours pass more quickly. She had gone down to luncheon, but Warrington had not come in. After luncheon she had sent out for half a dozen magazines. Beyond the illustrations she never knew what they contained. Over and over she conned the set phrases she was going to say when finally he came. Whenever Martha approached, Elsa told her that she wanted nothing, that she was head-achy, and wanted to be left alone. Discreetly Martha vanished.
To prevent the possibility of missing Warrington, Elsa had engaged the room boy to loiter about down-stairs and to report to her the moment Warrington arrived. The boy came pattering up at a quarter to six.
"He come. He downside. I go, he come top-side?"
"No. That will be all."
The boy kotowed, and Elsa gave him a sovereign.
The following ten minutes tested her patience to the utmost. Presently she heard the banging of a trunk-lid. He was there. And now that he was there, she, who had always taken pride in her lack of feminine nerves, found herself in the grip of a panic that verged on hysteria. Her heart fluttered and missed a beat. It had been so easy to plan! She was afraid. Perhaps the tension of waiting all these hours was the cause. With an angry gesture she strove to dismiss the feeling of trepidation by walking resolutely to her door. Outside she stopped.
What was she going to say to him? The trembling that struck at her knees was wholly a new sensation. Presently the tremor died away, but it left her weak. She stepped toward his door and knocked gently on the jamb. No one answered. She knocked again, louder.
"It wouldn't be proper," she replied, with a flash of her old-time self. "Won't you please come out?"
She heard something click as it struck the floor. (It was Warrington's cutty which he had carried for seven years, now in smithereens.) She saw a hand, raw knuckled and bleeding slightly, catch at the curtain and swing it back rattling upon its rings.
"Miss Chetwood?" he said.
"Yes . . . Oh, you've been hurt!" she exclaimed, noting the gash upon his forehead. A strip of tissue-paper (in lieu of court-plaster) lay soaking upon the wound: a trick learned in the old days when razors grew dull over night.
"Hurt? Oh, I ran against something when I wasn't looking," he explained lamely. Then he added eagerly: "I did not know that you were on this gallery. First time I've put up at a hotel in years." It did not serve.
"You have been fighting! Your hand!"
He looked at the hand dumbly. How keen her eyes were.
"You do?" inanely.
"Was it . . . Mallow?"
"Did you . . . whip him?"
"I . . . did," imitating her tone and hesitance. It was the wisest thing he could have done, for it relaxed the nerves of both of them.
Elsa smiled, smiled and forgot the substance of all her rehearsals, forgot the letter of credit, warm with the heat of her heart. "I am a pagan," she confessed.
"And I am a barbarian. I ought to be horribly ashamed of myself."
"But you are not?"
For a moment their eyes drew. Hers were like dark whirlpools, and he felt himself drifting helplessly, irresistibly. He dropped his hands upon the railing and gripped; the illusion of fighting a current was almost real to him. Every fiber in his body cried out against the struggle.
"No, not in the least," he said, looking toward the sunset. "Fighting is riff-raff business, and I'm only a riff-raffer at best."
"Rather, aren't you Paul Ellison, brother, twin brother, of the man I said I was going home to marry?"
How far away her voice seemed! The throb in his forehead and the dull ache over his heart, where some of the sledge-hammer blows had gone home, he no longer felt.
"Don't deny it. It would be useless. Knowing your brother as I do, who could doubt it?"
He remained dumb.
"I couldn't understand, just simply couldn't. They never told me; in all the years I have known them, in all the years I have partly made their home my own, there was nothing. Not a trinket. Once I saw a camera-picture. I know now why Arthur snatched it from my hand. It was you. You were bending over an engineer's tripod. Even now I should have doubted had I not recalled what you said one day on board, that you had built bridges. Arthur couldn't build anything stronger than an artist's easel. You are Paul Ellison."
"I am sorry you found out."
"Because I wanted to be no more than an incident in your life, just Parrot & Co."
"Parrot & Co.!"
It was like a caress; but he was too dull to sense it, and she was unconscious of the inflection. The burning sunshine gave to his hair and beard the glistening of ruddy gold. Her imagination, full of unsuspected poetry at this moment, clothed him in the metals of a viking. There were other whirlpools beside those in her eyes, but Elsa did not sense the drifting as he had done. It was insidious.
"An incident," she repeated.
"Could I be more?" with sudden fierceness. "Could I be more in any woman's life? I take myself for what I am, but the world will always take me for what I have done. Yes, I am Paul Ellison, forgotten, I hope, by all those who knew me. Why did you seek me that night? Why did you come into my life to make bitterness become despair? The blackest kind of despair? Elsa Chetwood, Elsa! . . . Well, the consul is right. I am a strong man. I can go out of your life, at least physically. I can say that I love you, and I can add to that good-by!"
He wheeled abruptly and went quickly down the gallery, bareheaded, without any destination in his mind, with only one thought, to leave her before he lost the last shreds of his self-control.
It was then that Elsa knew her heart. She had spoken truly. She was a pagan: for, had he turned and held out his hands, she would have gone to him, gone with him, anywhere in the world, lawfully or unlawfully.
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