"There's some mystery and I'm going to clear it up. That's the only way to do it."
"Oh, Bateman, how can you be so good and kind?" she exclaimed.
"You know there's nothing in the world I want more than your happiness, Isabel."
She looked at him and she gave him her hands.
"You're wonderful, Bateman. I didn't know there was anyone in the world like you. How can I ever thank you?"
"I don't want your thanks. I only want to be allowed to help you."
She dropped her eyes and flushed a little. She was so used to him that she had forgotten how handsome he was. He was as tall as Edward and as well made, but he was dark and pale of face, while Edward was ruddy. Of course she knew he loved her. It touched her. She felt very tenderly towards him.
It was from this journey that Bateman Hunter was now returned.
The business part of it took him somewhat longer than he expected and he had much time to think of his two friends. He had come to the conclusion that it could be nothing serious that prevented Edward from coming home, a pride, perhaps, which made him determined to make good before he claimed the bride he adored; but it was a pride that must be reasoned with. Isabel was unhappy. Edward must come back to Chicago with him and marry her at once. A position could be found for him in the works of the Hunter Motor Traction and Automobile Company. Bateman, with a bleeding heart, exulted at the prospect of giving happiness to the two persons he loved best in the world at the cost of his own. He would never marry. He would be godfather to the children of Edward and Isabel, and many years later when they were both dead he would tell Isabel's daughter how long, long ago he had loved her mother. Bateman's eyes were veiled with tears when he pictured this scene to himself.
Meaning to take Edward by surprise he had not cabled to announce his arrival, and when at last he landed at Tahiti he allowed a youth, who said he was the son of the house, to lead him to the Hotel de la Fleur. He chuckled when he thought of his friend's amazement on seeing him, the most unexpected of visitors, walk into his office.
"By the way," he asked, as they went along, "can you tell me where I shall find Mr. Edward Barnard?"
"Barnard?" said the youth. "I seem to know the name."
"He's an American. A tall fellow with light brown hair and blue eyes. He's been here over two years."
"Of course. Now I know who you mean. You mean Mr Jackson's nephew."
"Mr Arnold Jackson."
"I don't think we're speaking of the same person," answered Bateman, frigidly.
He was startled. It was queer that Arnold Jackson, known apparently to all and sundry, should live here under the disgraceful name in which he had been convicted. But Bateman could not imagine whom it was that he passed off as his nephew. Mrs Longstaffe was his only sister and he had never had a brother. The young man by his side talked volubly in an English that had something in it of the intonation of a foreign tongue, and Bateman, with a sidelong glance, saw, what he had not noticed before, that there was in him a good deal of native blood. A touch of hauteur involuntarily entered into his manner. They reached the hotel. When he had arranged about his room Bateman asked to be directed to the premises of Braunschmidt & Co. They were on the front, facing the lagoon, and, glad to feel the solid earth under his feet after eight days at sea, he sauntered down the sunny road to the water's edge. Having found the place he sought, Bateman sent in his card to the manager and was led through a lofty barn-like room, half store and half warehouse, to an office in which sat a stout, spectacled, bald-headed man.
"Can you tell me where I shall find Mr Edward Barnard? I understand he was in this office for some time."
"That is so. I don't know just where he is."
"But I thought he came here with a particular recommendation from Mr Braunschmidt. I know Mr Braunschmidt very well."
The fat man looked at Bateman with shrewd, suspicious eyes. He called to one of the boys in the warehouse.
"Say, Henry, where's Barnard now, d'you know?"
"He's working at Cameron's, I think," came the answer from someone who did not trouble to move.
The fat man nodded.
"If you turn to your left when you get out of here you'll come to Cameron's in about three minutes."
"I think I should tell you that Edward Barnard is my greatest friend. I was very much surprised when I heard he'd left Braunschmidt & Co."
The fat man's eyes contracted till they seemed like pin-points, and their scrutiny made Bateman so uncomfortable that he felt himself blushing.
"I guess Braunschmidt & Co. and Edward Barnard didn't see eye to eye on certain matters," he replied.
Bateman did not quite like the fellow's manner, so he got up, not without dignity, and with an apology for troubling him bade him good-day. He left the place with a singular feeling that the man he had just interviewed had much to tell him, but no intention of telling it. He walked in the direction indicated and soon found himself at Cameron's. It was a trader's store, such as he had passed half a dozen of on his way, and when he entered the first person he saw, in his shirt sleeves, measuring out a length of trade cotton, was Edward. It gave him a start to see him engaged in so humble an occupation. But he had scarcely appeared when Edward, looking up, caught sight of him, and gave a joyful cry of surprise.
"Bateman! Who ever thought of seeing you here?"
He stretched his arm across the counter and wrung Bateman's hand. There was no self-consciousness in his manner and the embarrassment was all on Bateman's side.
"Just wait till I've wrapped this package."
With perfect assurance he ran his scissors across the stuff, folded it, made it into a parcel, and handed it to the dark-skinned customer.
"Pay at the desk, please."
Then, smiling, with bright eyes, he turned to Bateman.
"How did you show up here? Gee, I am delighted to see you. Sit down, old man. Make yourself at home."
"We can't talk here. Come along to my hotel. I suppose you can get away?"
This he added with some apprehension.
"Of course I can get away. We're not so businesslike as all that in Tahiti." He called out to a Chinese who was standing behind the opposite counter. "Ah-Ling, when the boss comes tell him a friend of mine's just arrived from America and I've gone out to have a drain with him."
"All-light," said the Chinese, with a grin.
Edward slipped on a coat and, putting on his hat, accompanied Bateman out of the store. Bateman attempted to put the matter facetiously.
"I didn't expect to find you selling three and a half yards of rotten cotton to a greasy nigger," he laughed.
"Braunschmidt fired me, you know, and I thought that would do as well as anything else."
Edward's candour seemed to Bateman very surprising, but he thought it indiscreet to pursue the subject.
"I guess you won't make a fortune where you are," he answered, somewhat dryly.
"I guess not. But I earn enough to keep body and soul together, and I'm quite satisfied with that."
"You wouldn't have been two years ago."
"We grow wiser as we grow older," retorted Edward, gaily.
Bateman took a glance at him. Edward was dressed in a suit of shabby white ducks, none too clean, and a large straw hat of native make. He was thinner than he had been, deeply burned by the sun, and he was certainly better looking than ever. But there was something in his appearance that disconcerted Bateman. He walked with a new jauntiness; there was a carelessness in his demeanour, a gaiety about nothing in particular, which Bateman could not precisely blame, but which exceedingly puzzled him.
"I'm blest if I can see what he's got to be so darned cheerful about," he said to himself.
They arrived at the hotel and sat on the terrace. A Chinese boy brought them cocktails. Edward was most anxious to hear all the news of Chicago and bombarded his friend with eager questions. His interest was natural and sincere. But the odd thing was that it seemed equally divided among a multitude of subjects. He was as eager to know how Bateman's father was as what Isabel was doing. He talked of her without a shade of embarrassment, but she might just as well have been his sister as his promised wife; and before Bateman had done analysing the exact meaning of Edward's remarks he found that the conversation had drifted to his own work and the buildings his father had lately erected. He was determined to bring the conversation back to Isabel and was looking for the occasion when he saw Edward wave his hand cordially. A man was advancing towards them on the terrace, but Bateman's back was turned to him and he could not see him.