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"Webbons you may not have," said the captain; "but wad aboud der bearl dat you were sdealing?"
"You shall have it!" cried Raffles. "You shall have it this minute if you guarantee no public indignity on board!"
"That I'll see to," said Mackenzie, "as long as you behave yourselves. There now, where is't?"
"On the table under your nose."
My eyes fell with the rest, but no pearl was there; only the contents of our pockets--our watches, pocket-books, pencils, penknives, cigarette cases--lay on the shiny table along with the revolvers already mentioned.
"Ye're humbuggin' us," said Mackenzie. "What's the use?"
"I'm doing nothing of the sort," laughed Raffles. "I'm testing you. Where's the harm?"
"It's here, joke apart?"
"On that table, by all my gods."
Mackenzie opened the cigarette cases and shook each particular cigarette. Thereupon Raffles prayed to be allowed to smoke one, and, when his prayer was heard, observed that the pearl had been on the table much longer than the cigarettes. Mackenzie promptly caught up the Colt and opened the chamber in the butt.
"Not there, not there," said Raffles; "but you're getting hot. Try the cartridges."
Mackenzie emptied them into his palm, and shook each one at his ear without result.
"Oh, give them to me!"
And, in an instant, Raffles had found the right one, had bitten out the bullet, and placed the emperor's pearl with a flourish in the centre of the table.
"After that you will perhaps show me such little consideration as is in your power. Captain, I have been a bit of a villain, as you see, and as such I am ready and willing to lie in irons all night if you deem it requisite for the safety of the ship. All I ask is that you do me one favor first."
"That shall debend on wad der vafour has been."
"Captain, I've done a worse thing aboard your ship than any of you know. I have become engaged to be married, and I want to say good-by!"
I suppose we were all equally amazed; but the only one to express his amazement was von Heumann, whose deep-chested German oath was almost his first contribution to the proceedings. He was not slow to follow it, however, with a vigorous protest against the proposed farewell; but he was overruled, and the masterful prisoner had his way. He was to have five minutes with the girl, while the captain and Mackenzie stood within range (but not earshot), with their revolvers behind their backs. As we were moving from the cabin, in a body, he stopped and gripped my hand.
"So I 've let you in at last, Bunny--at last and after all! If you knew how sorry I am. . . . But you won't get much--I don't see why you should get anything at all. Can you forgive me? This may be for years, and it may be for ever, you know! You were a good pal always when it came to the scratch; some day or other you mayn't be so sorry to remember you were a good pal at the last!"
There was a meaning in his eye that I understood; and my teeth were set, and my nerve strung ready, as I wrung that strong and cunning hand for the last time in my life.
How that last scene stays with me, and will stay to my death! How I see every detail, every shadow on the sunlit deck! We were among the islands that dot the course from Genoa to Naples; that was Elba falling back on our starboard quarter, that purple patch with the hot sun setting over it. The captain's cabin opened to starboard, and the starboard promenade deck, sheeted with sunshine and scored with shadow, was deserted, but for the group of which I was one, and for the pale, slim, brown figure further aft with Raffles. Engaged? I could not believe it, cannot to this day. Yet there they stood together, and we did not hear a word; there they stood out against the sunset, and the long, dazzling highway of sunlit sea that sparkled from Elba to the Uhlan's plates; and their shadows reached almost to our feet.
Suddenly--an instant--and the thing was done--a thing I have never known whether to admire or to detest. He caught her--he kissed her before us all--then flung her from him so that she almost fell. It was that action which foretold the next. The mate sprang after him, and I sprang after the mate.
Raffles was on the rail, but only just.
"Hold him, Bunny!" he cried. "Hold him tight!"
And, as I obeyed that last behest with all my might, without a thought of what I was doing, save that he bade me do it, I saw his hands shoot up and his head bob down, and his lithe, spare body cut the sunset as cleanly and precisely as though he had plunged at his leisure from a diver's board!
* * * * * *
Of what followed on deck I can tell you nothing, for I was not there. Nor can my final punishment, my long imprisonment, my everlasting disgrace, concern or profit you, beyond the interest and advantage to be gleaned from the knowledge that I at least had my deserts. But one thing I must set down, believe it who will--one more thing only and I am done.
It was into a second-class cabin, on the starboard side, that I was promptly thrust in irons, and the door locked upon me as though I were another Raffles. Meanwhile a boat was lowered, and the sea scoured to no purpose, as is doubtless on record elsewhere. But either the setting sun, flashing over the waves, must have blinded all eyes, or else mine were victims of a strange illusion.
For the boat was back, the screw throbbing, and the prisoner peering through his porthole across the sunlit waters that he believed had closed for ever over his comrade's head. Suddenly the sun sank behind the Island of Elba, the lane of dancing sunlight was instantaneously quenched and swallowed in the trackless waste, and in the middle distance, already miles astern, either my sight deceived me or a black speck bobbed amid the gray. The bugle had blown for dinner: it may well be that all save myself had ceased to strain an eye. And now I lost what I had found, now it rose, now sank, and now I gave it up utterly. Yet anon it would rise again, a mere mote dancing in the dim gray distance, drifting towards a purple island, beneath a fading western sky, streaked with dead gold and cerise. And night fell before I knew whether it was a human head or not.
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