Roy Glashan's Library
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The Sydney Mail, Australia, 18 May 1927

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"Have I, sweet lady, told you a pretty fortune?"

THE youngest deck-hand and cabin steward aboard the Arafura Belle had speculated upon Nan Lorimer's chance of ever returning from Fane Island. It was the last coral bead within a far-flung necklace of reefs where men and trade-houses still clung. There were forty-odd passengers aboard the Arafura Belle—copra farmers and their wives returning from a visit to Sydney and Brisbane, with a sprinkling of young men on their way to the rubber lands of Kotal Lambang. The daily talk under the ample sun-awnings included things like typhoons, rhinoceros beetles, flies, fever, and the rubber that gets into the necks of shiftless, tennis-playing planters.

Each day the Arafura Belle drew alongside some rattletrap wharf or jetty to take in cargo and leave a few passengers behind. Often the longboat dropped passengers on naked beaches, where the blinding surf raved and drenched the huddled figures in the thwarts. Each day the groups on the deck of the Arafura Belle grew smaller, less inclined to talk. The merciless longboat took them off, like a sea-hearse, to their garden of rest by the sea. Women called out good-bye to the last watching group by the rail. Maybe they would never meet again. Things were always happening in the islands to spoil one's plans.

Miss Nan Lorimer next! The longboat would put her ashore at Mission Bay, where an ancient padre and his 'boys' would convey her in a schooner or launch to Fane Island, the last bead on the rim of the bending blue.

Eight people remained at breakfast in the little white and gold saloon for'ard. Perhaps they took an added interest in each other now, as friends will at times when a loved member of their sacred company is about to step into the shadows.

Nan was twenty, with a shade of sapphire in her eyes that became brighter with the passing hours. The man seated opposite her was John Medway. He was thirty. There was nothing of the dreamer about John in spite of his deep brown eyes and far-away glances. No one would ever have guessed his calling.

'Then it's good-bye at the gangway to-morrow at dawn,' he said to Nan. By way of emphasising his remark he pushed some toast and marmalade in her direction. Nan appeared grateful for the toast.

'I never did like gangways,' she confided pensively, 'or jumping-off places. They ought to build nice piers to avoid all this longboat business. I'm going to get horribly soaked!'

There were one or two things in life that mattered to Nan Lorimer; one was her intense self-respect, the other might have been a Brahms sonata or a game of golf. But whether it was Brahms or golf, it mattered a good deal to Nan. During the last week of the outward voyage Medway had constantly reminded her of the passing hours, of the exact bell and tide that would lift the longboat and her belongings across the bar at Mission Bay. And then?

'So... to-morrow at dawn,' John repeated, rather heavily this time. 'You're not likely to forget, eh?'

'Forget nothing!' she retorted sweetly, her big silver-plated spoon deep in the marmalade. 'Once upon a time, a very long time ago, Mr. Medway, I mistook a Wednesday for Thursday. But just now I'm going to see that this longboat doesn't forget anything.'

ALL the passengers had gone on deck. She was suddenly aware that his fingers had slipped across the table and had closed softly on her hand. His voice sounded a trifle husky.

'I'm going to tell your fortune, Miss Lorimer, with or without apologies. May I proceed?'

'Please let go my hand, Mr. Medway,' she begged, with a stark, inquiring glance into his smiling eyes. Hitherto she had felt at ease with Medway. Unlike the rest of the passengers, he had not pressed for too much information concerning her past and future prospects in life. She admired his cheerful banter—the way he had stood beside the skipper on the bridge when the big yellow squall had struck them off Thursday Island. Nan had missed nothing of his daily life on deck, his games, his books, his exercises. And, last but not least, his standing among other men.

'For the second time, Mr. Medway, don't mistake my hand for a deck quoit. As for my fortune, it's as good as settled, so there now!'

'Your fortune is bound up with the hungry sea-birds of Fane Island,' he assured her blandly. 'Whether you applaud or not, I'll take a dive into your dark future. On Saturday last,' he reminded her with a cheerful grin, 'when you were floating about the deck in the backwash from that hurricane, whose hand was it plucked you from the yawning moisture?'

'Yours,' she admitted brightly. 'But if, in return for saving my wretched life, you claim the privilege of telling my fortune, I'll say it's a punishment I didn't expect. Get on with it, and for goodness' sake leave out all the future sea voyages I'm going to make. Say nothing about the money that's coming to me from nine uncles. And don't dare mention marriage!'

He stared at her hot cheeks, the brilliant but dangerous light in the sapphire eyes.

'Well, I won't,' he promised, drawing her flinching palm nearer. 'I'll content myself with the merest reference to your unhappy childhood. Unhappiness pursued you to the door of your college, and maintained its pernicious sway during the months of your father's financial troubles.'

Nan Lorimer sighed. 'Anyone with a taste for newspapers could have told me that. Everybody in Sydney knew Dad.'

'I didn't,' Medway grumbled, his steady brown eyes boring into the lines of her delicately-shaped hand. 'I can see you now, though,' he went on seriously, 'living with your father in a cottage at a cheap Sydney suburb, with your neighbours' chickens and dogs breaking through the dilapidated fence. Everything belonging to your father has been seized by his creditors—cars, jewels, art treasures, house, and yacht, and even the little Shetland pony you rode to school. I observe these things in the spirit of a professional seer, Miss Lorimer; also the fact that your father is sick and worried to the point of distraction. There remained but one remedy for your ills,' he stated, releasing her hand.

'To wit?' she questioned warily.

'The good old fairy prince. In your case he was sorely needed. And he came!'

Medway bent forward, his voice full of sympathy and understanding. 'A prince with money and gifts for your nerve- shattered father. In a few short months he raised you from the slough of despond. It was a miracle. Then a strange thing happened,' Medway concluded with a sigh.

Nan sat hack in her chair.

'What?' she demanded.

'Only that your fairy prince was sent to prison! A cruel, unbelievable event!' His voice was low and not without pity. 'Three years hard for our fairy benefactor. It matters not that he happened to have altered the written words and figures of certain cheques paid to him. We see Nan Lorimer in tears at the news; we can almost hear her vow to help and sustain the poor prince the moment he is turned adrift from gaol.'

Nan sat very still in her seat. 'And then?' There was a challenge in her question, a girlish defiance of his almost uncanny revelations.

Medway's voice lost his caressing intonations. The brown eyes had somehow turned to flint.

'The seer has gone blind,' he confessed stonily. 'After serving his sentence our fairy prince emerged from his confinement and disappeared into space. Vanished!'

Medway's eyes kindled strangely as he contemplated her blonde loveliness, the cupid lips, the flashing danger signals in her steady eyes.

'Have I, sweet lady, told you a pretty fortune?' he begged meekly.

She passed him a shilling in silence. He regarded it almost wistfully, and then placed it in his vest pocket. Followed a long pause. Uneasily she rose as though to leave the room. His slow, kindly glance restrained her.

'But you do not answer,' he complained at last.

'The good seer has spoken the truth,' she said, with an effort to appear at ease. 'And a fairy prince has a right to vanish into space when life becomes a burden.'

Something rose to his lips like a blood-drop. He checked it with his hand. Silence fell again. The long, low thrash of the seas ended in a shrill whistling murmur along the white lines of distant reefs.

'So the prince went away,' she continued, as though unable to bear Medway's silence. 'He shook himself from the city pavements to the mists of his enchanted island.'

Medway lit his first morning cigarette, and again regarded her in the warm tropic light. Her eyes seemed to burn with fever, fever of suspense and hopeless wailing. She appeared to be on the verge of laughter and tears.

'He was a humorist,' she said in a choking voice.

'I'm glad to hear it,' Medway assured her gravely. 'Always you'll find me near the box-office when the humorist is billed to appear.'

MISSION BAY at last, with the dawn trailing across the east, like a shawl of yellow and pink. The skipper of the Arafura Belle did not lower the longboat, but stood off the smoky reefs and let his siren go. In a little while the mission-house whaleboat came through the sea haze and headed for the vessel's side. Eight Erromango boys sat at the oars. Nan's belongings were summarised in one suitcase. She stood rather white and lonely by the rail, watching the whaleboat meet the first line of breakers; she saw it strike like a clean-driven wedge, ride high and fall down the sloping wave, rise dipping on the crest of a second smoker, and swing under their lowered gangway to the sonorous chanting of the boys behind the oars.

Medway leaned against the rail as the steward dropped Nan's suitcase into the whaleboat. In the flaming dawn, against an infinitude of reefs and sky, it seemed to him like the end of all things. She was going. He recalled how he had once stood at the grave of a child, when a crying voice had bidden him cast one more flower on to the tiny casket before the earth closed it in. It was Nan's voice that brought him back to life.

'Good-bye, Mr. Medway. The longest chapter must end.'

He wanted to ask fiercely why she was going, but an inner voice warned him against such a folly. He had read the fever in her eyes. And when he met fever in babes and girls he found coolness and silence an infallible remedy.

Once upon a time she had made a promise to a white-faced boy in the shadow of a prison gate. She was keeping that promise now.

Nan looked up from the last step of the lowered gangway. Her cheeks had blanched at the sight of the smothering line of breakers, at the grinning brown faces of the Kanakas in the whaleboat. The old padre was not there. He would meet her on shore.

'Good-bye, everybody!' she called again as the boat shot away info the green abyss of brine and spindrift that wrapped her slender figure like sheets of death.

John Medway breathed through his shut teeth. 'A good little boat,' he said to the skipper, standing beside him. 'Bucks into that surf like a young seal.'

'You know, Mr. Medway,' the skipper was saying, 'Miss Lorimer is going a devil of a way round to reach Fane Island. She could just as easily have gone on to Port Chadwick. From Chadwick it's only half a day's sail to Fane Island.'

'She's meeting the padre here,' Medway roused himself to say. 'There mightn't be a priest at Chadwick—and that would be awkward for a girl who wants to get married. You see, she's playing safe,' he added with a tortured smile.

The skipper of the Arafura Belle grunted inaudibly as he returned to the bridge. But his reference to the short cut to Fane Island, via Port Chadwick, touched Medway to the quick. The Arafura Belle would fetch Chadwick about midnight. Any kind of a launch or sailing craft would reach Fane Island before Nan could start on her way.

Port Chadwick was reached before midnight. John Medway went ashore with his luggage. He discovered an old-time whisky bar among the sand hills, to accommodate the pearlers and trepang fishers across the bay. And there was Ling Poh, owner of the eight-ton schooner Lantern.

Ling Poh was a shark-fisher. He sold fins and oil to the compradores of the South China ports. The Lantern was lying alongside the sandbag jetty when Medway stepped aboard to discuss ways and means of reaching Fane Island. Ling was frying chicken in the stuffy little galley. Over the sizzling chicken he was squeezing lemon-juice and butter. He greeted the tall white man with a smile that came from his twinkling almond eyes.

While he was prepared to hand over all the chicken and lemon to his visitor, Poh stated regretfully that he knew little or nothing of Fane Island or its owner. He, Ling Poh, kept to his own reefs and channels. Plenty trouble waiting for Chinaman if he pulled fish or pearl from the other man's waters. White man no likee! Yet for the modest sum of fifteen dollars Ling Poh was willing to carry the honourable sir to Fane Island.

Of course, there was great hurry. But after some chicken and tea, and a breath of tobacco, the Lantern would he ready to cast off.

IT was well past midnight when the Lantern slipped away under a sudden slant of wind. The Chinaman hung over the wheel, while his three native boys stood by the big flapping boom and foresail. The warm gusty night freshened as the dawn drew near. Far down the horizon Fane Island showed its few spindly palms against the reddening sky. The atoll was surrounded by barriers of coral hummocks. As the schooner drew close in the loud mutter of the breakers became a thunderous din.

It was agreed that Medway should land in the big dinghy. The Lantern would return to Port Chadwick without him. It was his intention to meet the mission schooner with Nan on board. The padre would give him a lift back to Mission Bay.

He saw no signs of habitation as the dinghy pulled into a channel on the lee side of the atoll. He searched the low pandanus scrub with his binoculars, a sudden doubt entering him. It was possible that the owner of Fane Island had gone elsewhere or died since Nan began her voyage.

The steersman pointed to the coral walls of a foursquare shanty, almost unseen in the black shadow of the pandanus.

'A white feller live there, sah. He sleep alla mornin', maybe. He get up make fire bymby.'

The steersman accepted some silver thankfully, and departed promptly to the schooner, outside the channel. Medway lit a cigarette as he contemplated the coral shanty. There was no sign of cultivation about the place, no garden or fruit trees, no verandah or hammocks. It was just a hermit's cell, a dugout that merely sheltered a soul-blighted wanderer from the wind and sun. Other island recluses had been known to keep fowls, pigs, a goat or two for milk, a banyan grove, taro patches, and breadfruit trees. Nan's fairy prince was above such things. He lived, no doubt, on store food, canned butter and beef, canned fruit, and hard-boiled tea. Poor tucker for a prince!

Slowly, reluctantly, Medway approached the front door of the coral hive. A square aperture in the south wall overlooked the channel and a mile-long vista of grinning shoals. The door was closed. Medway halted and called out cheerfully: 'Ahoy, there! Anybody home?'

There was no immediate reply. In the tense silence Medway heard the heavy movement of someone turning on a creaking camp- bed. Then came the hasty thump-thump of bare feet on the floor. It seemed ages before the feet steadied themselves. 'Who's there?'

It was a thick, sluggish voice, sleepy and irritable, that struck on Medway's nerves. A half-naked figure came to the door, opened it slowly. The face of the shanty-owner was slightly swollen, a face that belonged to the gaol gate. He was not more than twenty-five, with eyes that worked shiftily as if to escape the ordeal of a straight glance. Behind this queer figure Medway saw a shelf covered with bottles—gin, brandy, whisky—and nearly all empty.

'You seem pretty settled here, Mr. Troop,' he began in a friendly tone. 'But rather lonely, if one may say so. May I presume upon your hospitality for an hour or so?'

The sun was well over the atoll and lagoons. Troop's eyes grew clearer. His lean figure stiffened.

'Hospitality?' he echoed sharply. 'I guess you'll find that stuff where you pay for it. What's wrong with the air outside, that you want to burrow in here?'

Then something in Medway's pose, an undefined gesture or trick of the hands, stirred Troop to a more defensive position. He retreated to the darkness of the shanty interior, as one measuring his visitor from a safer coign of vantage.

'A cursed policeman!' he burst out. 'Handcuffs, warrant, and all complete!'


'A confounded policeman!' he burst out.
Handcuffs, warrant, and all complete!'

Medway did not alter his position in the doorway. His features expressed his lightning concentration of purpose. He remained quite still, left hand resting idly on the slight bulge in his side-pocket.

'As you say, Troop, a policeman,' he confessed lightly. 'The guess about the handcuffs is also correct. But these details need trouble no honest islander or recluse. Fact is, Troop, I'm on a holiday jaunt. I give you my word I hold no warrant or commission to arrest anyone! I'm studying the habits of seagulls and typhoons,' he added with a pleasant laugh.

While Medway talked his glance stole across the darkened interior of the shanty. On a low table behind Troop he made out. a large, expensive camera, together with a number of plates and drawings. There were half-a-dozen bottles containing strange- coloured liquids beside the camera. Scattered over the table was a pile of Australian banknotes and bills. In the south corner of the room, beneath the aperture in the wall, was a small printing press.

Medway drew breath sharply. Here was the fairy prince in his forger's den, cheating the law, circulating his artistic productions throughout the archipelago!

Myriads of hungry sea-birds planed and squalled over the reefs. Beyond this chain of hungry reefs and atolls the vast wheel of the Pacific churned and heaved.

'Couldn't you understand, Troop,' Medway said at last, 'that the paper money you're making was bound to blow on to the desk of the Chief Commissioner of Police? And why, in the name of humanity, did you ask Nan Lorimer to come here?'

Troop's eyes snapped dangerously.

'Because I can't live alone!' He shuffled his feet uneasily. 'She promised to stand by me to the last ditch.'

'A pretty deep ditch,' Medway commented. 'And all because Nan regards you as the one who saved her poor old father from the slums. You!'

Troop hunched his lean shoulders sulkily. 'Let her decide,' he retorted. 'She's glad enough to have me.'

'Glad!' Medway took a step forward. 'Why, you poor boob, she threw down a brilliant career to keep her word to you! Glad! She imagines you are living in an island garden, surrounded by forests of young palms and singing birds. She thinks that nothing but the memory of her is keeping you alive!' John Medway paused to take breath. 'And you're just a hopeless gaol rat leading a sweet, simple girl into a pit of crime!'

He spoke without a shadow of anger. He was too amazed, too much on his guard, to indulge in outbursts of temper.

Troop shifted uneasily from the shelf to the table where the camera stood.

'I'm beyond the law, anyhow,' he stated defiantly. 'If a few of my notes do get among the Chinks and the gaming-houses up north, it's no worry of yours! Why should your Commissioner squeal?'

Medway contemplated him in amaze.

'Troop,' he said quietly, 'the mission-house schooner with the padre and Nan on board will be here shortly. There will be no marriage.'

Troop steadied his swaying body.

'Why?' he asked.

'Because I'm going to take you back where you belong,' Medway informed him. 'The high stone walls for you, Troop; a regular diet, with plenty of sleep and freedom from worry.'

Troop appeared to recede further into the gloom of the darkened apartment.

'You mean you're going to pinch me?' he challenged.

'That's what I'm going to do. Sooner or later the Chinks would get you, and then they'd dip you in molasses and feed you to the ants and the flies. They don't like forgers, Troop.'

Troop leaned heavily against the table, reached to the shelf, and helped himself to a gulp of brandy.

'Have a swipe of this stuff, Mr. Policeman,' he invited, with a sudden change of humour. 'Then we'll have some breakfast before Nan arrives.'

Medway shook his head. He, too, was thinking of Nan, of the effect of her meeting with this bleached and dishevelled crook.

'I asked you to have a drink,' Troop reminded him, filling a second glass to the brim. 'Then we'll talk about tidying up this shack and making it comfortable for Nan.' He held out the glass.

Medway gestured impatiently. 'She must not come here,' he declared. 'We must spare her feelings.'

Troop put down the glass and turned with a grunt of scorn to where his canvas jacket hung above the camp bed. In turning, his right hand closed on a covered jar beside the camera. With the speed of a boxer he whirled backwards, hurling the jar at Medway in the shanty entrance. The jar smashed against the coral wall. Instantly the burning fumes of vitriol scorched the face of the young detective. For a moment he seemed enveloped in a choking miasma of poison as he charged across the room. Troop gained the aperture in the south wall, dropped out, and ran towards the far- stretching reefs.

Medway paused to wash his vitriol-burnt hands in a bowl of clean water that stood beside the printing press. Troop would not go far, he told himself, on these barren reefs. Luckily the jar of acid had missed his face; a few scattered drops had splashed his cheek and brow. The cool water in the bowl relieved his slightly scalded wrists and hands.

Outside he gave chase to the fast-running Troop. The young bill-forger gained the reef wall that sprawled in and out the white lines of surf. But the clean-living Medway gained on him stride by stride. It occurred to the detective, as he raced for the coral barrier, that Troop had a boat concealed somewhere among the hundred and one gleaming inlets. All the better, he reflected, if only he would take himself from the sight of men. Small comfort in dragging him back to civilisation by mission schooners and coasting vessels, with Nan on board to witness his humiliation. But duty was duty, and John Medway obeyed the instinct to run his man to the limit and prevent him lying doggo and murderously-inclined in some coral crevasse or gully. He did not relish the sting of the vitriol on his wrists. But better the scald of Troop's acid than the thought of Nan meeting him alone on these brine-roiled reefs.

With surprising agility Troop dodged the mountainous seas that broke over the coral barrier. He ran and leaped the narrow gutters and channels, with Medway in full cry.

A wide opening in the reef yawned suddenly between Troop and a biggish boat fastened to a stake in the sand. Without pause he waded in the breast-high water and struck out in his savage desperation for the craft that would carry him to safety. Once he hoisted his stick of sail Medway could only watch him disappear over the skyline. Medway drew up on the steep bank, half inclined to resent the fellow's escape. Troop was a good swimmer, but Medway realised in a flash that the waters of the channel contained other live desperadoes.

A wet triangular fin was moving across the channel at lightning speed. It cut the water between Troop and the boat. Troop saw it, and turned with a howl of dismay back to the bank. But the fin was not discouraged by the manoeuvre. It slewed round gracefully and shot in pursuit. Troop had fifty feet of deep water to negotiate.

'Shoot, for God's sake!' he called to Medway. 'It will sheer off if you bang away.'

Medway's fingers smarted from their recent contact with the vitriol. But his automatic jumped into line with the livid, shadowy length sweeping on the heels of the madly plunging Troop.

Troop did not wait to observe the effects of the shot on the inrushing shark. Cursing, choking with his lungs full of sea water, he was assisted to the bank by the tense-browed Medway.

'Set a shark to catch a crook,' the detective commented drily. 'After that bath of vitriol you gave me my aim was bad, and the fish bolted.'

The incident sobered Troop. In silence he followed Medway back to the hut of coral.

THERE was nothing to do but wait for Nan. In the meantime Medway built a fire in the chimney corner and fed it with the piles of counterfeit bills and notes he discovered everywhere about the place. Then, in the forger's presence, he smashed the camera and plates with a hammer he found in the fireplace. The printing press he took to pieces, pocketing the screws and smaller parts, and scattering the rest in the deep waters of the channel. By the afternoon nothing remained within the shanty to prove that Troop was other than an eccentric dweller on the reefs, with no possessions or aim in life.

For Nan's sake he could start afresh. As far as John Medway was concerned, his past was wiped out.

Troop lay huddled on the camp bed, watching with a dumb hate in his heart the destruction of his life's work, of the almost priceless rolls of paper that spelt riches, drink, and an easy time when Nan got used to his ways. He had never dared to keep a native servant for fear of betrayal to the naval patrols.

'How am I going to live without a quid to buy stores?' he whined as the last of the paper money disappeared in a blue blaze within the chimney corner.

Medway shrugged unconcernedly.'Get back to the beach towns and work. If Nan wants you I'll lend you some real money to keep you out of gaol. If you touch another plate or camera I'll put you away for life!'

Darkness came soon enough. Medway lit an oil lamp that hung from an overhead beam, made some coffee over the hot fire, and ate a few biscuits he carried in a small bag.

Troop helped himself to brandy, and later to some canned fish and preserved vegetables. Once a month passing schooners looked in with stores and cases of spirits. In return they accepted Troop's counterfeit money. The bluff little skippers had never questioned its legality. Artistically it was as good as the best English and American currency. The Dutch traders took it as a matter of habit. They passed it on to the Chinese banks and gaming-houses; then it disappeared. Troop gritted his teeth as he twisted and wriggled on the camp bed.

'With Nan I could have made this place into a comfortable little castle,' he broke out passionately. 'All the nice grub and savouries, the furniture, and the flummeries would have come soon or later. I've only been here a year. And now'—he clenched his fist at the smoky rafters—'I'm left without a note to show Nan!'

Medway secretly ground his heel into the coral floor of the shanty. It was around this abandoned forger Nan had weaved her romantic setting, had invested with a halo the man who had made a tool of her innocent father!

Would this slim, bright-eyed girl from the south ever learn the difference between a gaolbird and a gentleman? Well, she was going to get a glimpse of her unshaved fairy prince, with his background of empty whisky bottles, his empty fish tins. If she could recover the missing magic, the wonderful lantern-lit garden, she had promised herself, then he, John Medway, would forget for ever more the one woman who came like a flower of paradise into his life.

'If I were you, Troop,' he advised steadily, 'I'd try a wash and shave. There's something moving outside. I'll lend you a hair-brush and soap. Can't you dig out a change of linen? It's the mission schooner I hear piping over the reefs.'

Even in his own mental torment Medway was not unmindful of Troop's degradation. The fellow stood for something in Nan's dreams. And he was still young! Above all things he did not want to see Nan's feelings torn the moment she entered the hut. He wanted Troop to stand up and show himself with decency and courage.

OUTSIDE the hut it was dark. Beyond the reefs a few stars showed dimly through the rising mist. A schooner's riding-light winked at the mouth of the channel. With a backward glance at Troop on the camp bed, Medway sauntered towards the schooner. Fifty yards from the channel he halted and uncovered his head. An old white-haired priest with a lantern was standing before him. The priest drew a deep breath.

'The blessing of heaven be on you, my son,' he greeted, raising the lantern to the level of Medway's tall shoulder. 'You are not Martin Troop,' he commented, with a long-drawn sigh of relief.

Medway gave a reason for his visit to Fane Island. About the printing plant, or Troop's trickery with the acid jar, he said nothing. He was content to await the padre's movements and the coming of Nan. The priest stared undecidedly at the hut in the distance.

'For weeks I have dreaded this hour,' he confessed hurriedly. 'I could not let Miss Lorimer come here alone. Someone had to be here when she met Troop.'

Medway merely nodded.

The padre made a sign towards the schooner outside the channel. Then he shook his head. 'She insists on meeting Troop alone. On that point her mind is made up. But,' he added in a lower voice, 'there's no reason why you should not be on hand. For a while it will be better, perhaps, if Miss Lorimer does not see you. Time enough, my son, when they have revealed themselves to each other.'

From the deep shelter of the south wall of the hut Medway saw the slim figure of Nan approach. She also carried a lantern. It lit the rough coral path about her tripping feet. Straight to the shanty entrance she hurried. The door was open.

Inside, under the smoky flare of the lamp, Troop was leaning against the bottle-covered shelf, a cigar slanting from his loose lips, a leering expectancy in his swollen eyes. Nan's footsteps in the doorway stirred him.

'Come in,' he invited hoarsely.

For a fraction of time Nan hesitated, then, gaining courage, stepped inside. Her eager eyes swept the almost bare interior, the naked limestone walls and floor, the rows of bottles on the shelf, the tumbled blankets on the rickety camp bed.

'Your little home, Martin,' she commented in a scarce audible voice. 'And, by the look of it, the lagoon and garden you described so enthusiastically in your last letter are still in the making.'

He came forward unsteadily and put out his hand. 'Don't get scared because the ornamental lagoon isn't on view, girlie. We'll get the old hut into shape by-and-bye.'

All the blood had drained from her cheeks. The fever spot that had burned during the voyage aboard the Arafura Belle had faded. Her lips were ashen.

'Not many women would have followed you here, Martin,' she said at last. 'Even when my father warned me against you I took the warning with bad grace. I believed you only needed a fighting chance, that you were sick of cities and the long shadow of the prison gates.'

'Have you come here to say that, Nan?' He slouched against the shelf, biting his thumbnail that had struck sharp coral in his mad race from the shark.

Nan's supple figure took on the pliancy of a whip as she bent near him.

'You were thoughtful enough, Martin, to send money for my trousseau. You imagined I was without funds. It was kind of you, and I paid the money to a firm of dressmakers.'

He smiled, chuckled under his breath.

Nan watched him closely, as a child watches a toy with a broken spring. 'The man who sold trousseau was very sweet about the matter,' she told him.' He asked me where I got so much money to pay for my wedding clothes.

'My heart was too full to tell him everything. I said that my good fairy had sent the money—sent it from his enchanted island among the palms and paradise birds of the Pacific.

'Martin,' Nan went on, with a tiny flash in soft eyes, 'I saw that the manager of the firm was troubled. He listened just like my father used to listen to women who came for help and advice. After a long, long talk with his cashier he said: "Little girl, I don't know anything about your fairy prince. Mine died, years ago, before I could lead him into trouble. But I'm sorry to say your fairy money won't buy our clothes!"'

Nan paused, drew a packet of notes from her pocket, and very gently thrust them into the fire.

Troop was guilty of a drunken grin. 'You're fresh to the game, Nan. A little more practice and you'd get away with the cash register!'

She drew away from his leering face with a shudder of dismay. The mechanism of her play box stood grinning and broken before her.

'Good-night, Martin Troop. There was just a chance that a mistake had happened—just a chance. I had to find out. One cannot carry fairy tales to the police.'

In the darkness outside she almost collapsed in Medway's arms. His lips pressed her burning cheeks tenderly.

'I don't know what would have happened to your fairy majesty if this old policeman hadn't been here,' he protested firmly.

Nan sighed as the cool darkness beat about her.'I should have been surprised, John, if my policeman hadn't been here,' she sighed happily.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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