There was only one way to treat the matter, and before I answered her I knew perfectly well what the result would be.
"Enviable man!" was all I said.
She drew herself up to her full height. Then, turning on her heel, she made her way swiftly towards the house. My silly compliment had succeeded where expostulation or reserve would have failed.
Next morning the mail-boat which was to carry me away from Equinata made her appearance in the harbour. She was to sail at midday, and up to eleven o'clock I had seen nothing of the Senorita. About ten minutes before I left the palace, however, she made her appearance in the President's study. Her face was somewhat paler than usual, and though she endeavoured to lead me to suppose that she had forgotten our conversation on the previous evening, I could see that the memory of it still weighed heavily upon her. The President had declared his intention of personally escorting me on board the steamer, and at the last moment, not a little to my surprise, the Senorita decided to accompany him. We accordingly set off, and in due course reached the vessel, a miserable packet of some six hundred tons, whose captain, on hearing of our arrival, hastened forward to receive his distinguished guests. After he had paid his respects he offered to show the Senorita the saloon, and thus gave me a few minutes alone with the President.
"It is needless for me to say how sorry I am that you are going," said the latter. "I wish I could have persuaded you to stay with us. But I suppose you know your own business best. Remember this, however!
Should you ever need a friend, there is one in La Gloria to whom you can always turn!"
I thanked him and promised that I would not forget, and then the Senorita rejoined us. We had only time to exchange a few words before the whistle sounded for strangers to leave the ship.
"Good-bye," said the President, giving me his hand. "Think sometimes of Equinata."
"You may be sure I shall do that," I answered, with a glance at the white town ash.o.r.e.
Then the Senorita in her turn held out her little hand. I took it, and as I did so looked into her eyes.
"Good-bye," she said, and in a low voice added:--"May the Saints protect you."
Then she followed the President to the gangway. A quarter of an hour later we were steaming between the Heads, and in half-an-hour La Gloria was out of sight.
It was a cold and foggy day in November when the steamer which I had boarded in Barbadoes reached the Thames. I had been absent from England more than four months, and the veriest glutton for excitement could not have desired more than had fallen to my lot.
Having bade my fellow-pa.s.sengers good-bye, I caught the first available train to town only to discover, when I reached Fenchurch Street, that I should have some considerable time to wait at Waterloo before I could get on to Salisbury. I accordingly cast about me for a way of employing my time. This resolved itself in a decision to call upon my old friend, Mr. Winzor, in order to obtain from him the letter I had entrusted to his charge. As I made my way along the crowded streets I could not help contrasting them to the sun-bathed thoroughfares of La Gloria. In my mind's eye I could see again the happy-go-lucky _cafes_ on the tree-shaded pavement, the white houses with their green shutters; and, behind the city, the mountains towering up, peak after peak, into the azure sky.
At last I turned into the street I remembered so well, and approached the office of my old friend. I ascended the steps and pushed open the gla.s.s door. Somewhat to my surprise a strange clerk accosted me. When I inquired for Mr. Winzor, the surprised look upon the youth's face told me that something unusual had happened.
"Don't you know that he is dead?" he inquired.
"Dead?" I cried, in genuine consternation. "Good heavens! you don't mean that!"
"He died more than six weeks ago," the young man replied. "He had some papers to sign in that room, and when his chief clerk went in to get them he found the old gentleman stone dead."
I was more distressed than I could say at this news. The little lawyer had been a kindly friend to me, and also to my mother.
Thanking the clerk for his information I left the office and made my way to Waterloo. There I took the train to Salisbury, and, on arrival at the cathedral city, set out for Falstead.
At this last stage of my story I will not weary you with a long description of my home coming. Let it suffice that I at last reached the village and found myself approaching the house of my childhood.
The tiny gate had scarcely closed behind me when the front-door opened and my mother hastened to greet me.
When we reached her little drawing-room I questioned her concerning Molly.
"I expect her every moment," said my mother.
As she spoke the click of the gate caused me to go to the window with all speed.
Shall I describe what followed? Would it interest you to know how Molly and I greeted each other? I think not. I will inform you, however, that I was more than repaid for all I had been through by the way in which I was received.
Later in the evening we went for a walk together.
"d.i.c.k, dear," said my sweetheart, "you have not told me how your venture prospered."
This was the question I had been dreading.
"It has not prospered at all," I said. "The fact is, I have made nothing out of it. I am ashamed to say so, but I am poorer than when I left England four months ago."
To my surprise she received my information with perfect equanimity.
"But I am afraid you don't understand what it means to me, darling," I said. "And, before we go any further, I am going to tell you the whole story. Though it may make you think differently of me, I feel that I should let you know all."
I thereupon set to work and told her everything, from the moment of my first meeting with Silvestre on board the _Pernambuco_ to my return to Falstead that evening. I finished with the information that there was still upwards of five thousand pounds of Silvestre's money to my credit in the Salisbury bank. I told her that it was my intention not to keep a halfpenny of it, but to send it anonymously to a London hospital.
"And I think you would be right, d.i.c.k," the sweet girl answered. "Do not keep it. It would only bring us bad luck. And now, what about our marriage?"
I shook my head.
"I fear, dear, we shall have to go on waiting," I said. "I must try and get another berth, but whether or not I shall be able to do so Heaven only knows."
"d.i.c.k, dear," she said, slipping her arm through mine as she spoke, "I cannot keep the secret from you any longer. I ought to have told you before."
"And what is this wonderful secret?" I inquired.
"I doubt whether I look it, d.i.c.k, but I am a very rich woman."
"A rich woman!" I cried incredulously. "What do you mean by that?"
For the moment I thought she was joking, but one glance at her face showed me that she was serious.
"I mean what I say," she answered. "I am a very rich woman. When poor old Mr. Winzor died he left me all his fortune--nearly forty thousand pounds."
I could scarcely contain my astonishment.
"Was it not good of him?" she continued. "Forty thousand pounds at three per cent. is twelve hundred pounds a year, is it not?"
Even then I was too much surprised by her information to be able to realize the change that had taken place in Molly's position.
"Are you not glad, dear?" she said at last.
"Yes, yes," I replied, "but I cannot quite understand it yet. It seems too good to be true."
"We shall be able to do so much with it," she said, drawing closer to me and lifting her sweet face to mine.
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