"Forgive you what?" she asked, almost in a whisper.
"For the lie I told you. The lie that was the beginning of all this misery."
"I forgive you. I had forgotten all about it. Now let me go. It is daylight, and I must get away before anyone sees me."
"Go away? What do you mean? Where are you going to?"
"I don't know--I don't care. But it must be somewhere where no one will know my name. You will find everything in order here, and Mrs. Fenwick knows all your wants. The boy is asleep in the room there. You will not let him even learn the story of my shame, will you?"
He put his arm around her waist, but she put it off with a little shiver.
"No! You must not do that now."
"Why not? In G.o.d's name, why not?"
"Because of what has happened to-night. I am the cause of it all. I know you cannot forgive me now; but oh, some day, for the child's sake, you may not think so hardly of me."
He moved on to the sofa and tried to hold her, but she fell on her knees at his feet and burst into a storm of pa.s.sionate weeping.
"Esther, you are deceiving yourself. I have nothing to forgive. I love you as fondly now--nay, I am wrong, I love you more fondly now than ever. Fortunately I heard all that man said to you. I heard you refuse and repulse him. It was then that I interfered. You are as much my own true wife as you ever were. I love you still, and, as G.o.d hears me, I have never doubted you, not for one single moment."
"You have never doubted me?"
"Never, so help me G.o.d!"
He took her in his arms and kissed her tears away. She did not repulse him this time, but clung to him like one returned from the dead.
"Oh, my husband! my husband!" was all that she could say. "Now that I know you love me still, I can bear anything. Tell me, Cuthbert, all that has happened? Don't spare me."
Without more ado he told her everything--who Murkard really was; how Merton had cherished such a deadly hatred of him; the loss of the pearl; Merton's return to the island, and all the events connected with that fatal night. With the exception of the murder he told her everything.
When he had finished, she said;
"And Murkard--where is he? My thanks are due to him."
"He will never receive them, dearest. He is dead."
"Dead!" she cried, in horrified amazement. "Oh, this is too horrible!
How did he die?"
"Merton killed him in the store."
Her head dropped on to her hands, and again she sat white and trembling.
"A thief and a murderer, and what did he want to make me?"
"Hush, hush! you must never think of that again; it could not have been. You are the mother of my boy, and I am not afraid for you."
"But, Cuthbert, you don't know all; you don't know how he fascinated me.
I seemed to have no will at all when he was talking to me. When he looked into my eyes I had to do his bidding. I was very wicked and weak to listen to him; but try how I would to escape I could not get away."
"He will fascinate no more women; he is safely under lock and key by this time. Now you must go to bed, and try to sleep, or you will be seriously ill after all this excitement. And think what that will mean for me."
She stooped and kissed his forehead, and then, struggling with her tears, departed to her room. Ellison went out into the cool veranda. The sun was just rising above the horizon, and already the Kanaka cook was bustling in and out of his kitchen preparing breakfast for the hands as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Ellison descended the steps and went across to the store. With a feeling of intense awe he opened the door and pa.s.sed in. Removing the blanket that covered the figure lying so stiff and cold upon the floor, he stood and looked down at the face he had grown to love so well. Poor Murkard, and yet rather happy, happy Murkard in his last great act of self-sacrifice. As he looked down at him his own sin rose before him in all its shame. Then by the dead body of his friend, who had given his life for him, he registered a solemn vow that never again would he yield to temptation. He had suffered bitterly for this one mistake, and now the whole future should be spent in endeavouring to make amends for it. He re-drew the blanket and left the store.
Shortly after breakfast a hand came to tell him that a police-officer desired to see him. He went out and asked the slim young official his business.
"I have been sent across, Mr. Ellison, to see you regarding the prisoner we removed from here last night on a charge of murder."
"Well, what about him?"
"He is dead--drowned."
"Drowned!" cried Ellison. "What do you mean? When was he drowned?"
"Crossing the straits last night. We'd got him halfway across; my mate pulling, the prisoner sitting amidships, the doctor and myself astern.
Suddenly he gave a yell, jumped up, and threw himself overboard before we could stop him. There and then he sank, for his hands were handcuffed behind him, you see; and--well, we've not set eyes on him since, and I don't suppose we're likely to until his body's washed up."
For a few seconds Ellison was so stunned by this intelligence that he could hardly think, and yet when he did come to think it out he could not help seeing that even in this Fate had been very good to him. Except for the fact that he had killed Murkard, he had no desire for Merton's death, and as it was now, even that result had been achieved. Merton would trouble n.o.body again. He had gone to hear his verdict at a higher court than that presided over by any Queensland judge, and Ellison could not but own that it was as well. He thanked the police-officer for his intelligence, and went in to tell Esther. She received the news calmly enough. Indeed, it seemed as if she were almost beyond being surprised at anything.
"We seem bereft of everything," she said at length; "friends, as well as enemies."
"But we still have each other, and we have the little one asleep in there. Does that count for something, dear?"
"It counts for everything," she said, and softly kissed his hands.
Eighteen months or so ago I happened to be in Tahiti, the capital of the Society Group. I had business in Papeete, and, while walking on the beautiful Broom Road one day, who should I chance upon but Ellison and his wife, picknicking among the palms. We walked down to the town together and dined in company. Afterwards I was invited to a trading schooner lying in the harbour.
"A beautiful boat," I remarked to her owner, when I had gained the deck.
"Why, she's more like a Royal Cowes Yacht Squadron craft than a simple South Sea trader."
"It is our home, you see," he answered. "The pearling station, after Murkard's death, grew distasteful to us, and as I was fortunate enough to be able to sell it to great advantage, I bought this boat. Since then we have made it our home, and our life is spent cruising about these lovely seas. It suits my wife and the boy admirably, and for that reason, of course, it suits me. Won't you come and see our son?"
I followed him down the companion into the prettiest little cuddy it has ever been my good fortune to behold. Two large and beautifully fitted up cabins led off it, and in a corner of one of them hung a cradle. Mrs.
Ellison conducted us to it, and drew aside the curtain, disclosing the tiny occupant asleep.
"What a really beautiful child!" I cried, in an outburst of sincere admiration, "and pray what may be his name?"
"Murkard," said the father quietly, and without another remark led me back on deck again.
The name, and the tone in which it was uttered, puzzled me very considerably. But I was destined to be enlightened later on.
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