Read CHAPTER XXXI - RICHTER’S MESSAGE of Brandon of the Engineers , free online book, by Harold Bindloss, on

It was a hot evening and Clare sat at a table in the patio, trying to read.  The light was bad, for buzzing insects hovered about the lamp, but the house had not cooled down yet and she wanted to distract her troubled thoughts.  Footsteps and voices rose from the street outside, where the citizens were passing on their way to the plaza, but the sounds were faint and muffled by the high walls.  The house had been built in times when women were jealously guarded and a dwelling was something of a fort.  Now, with the iron gate in the narrow, arched entrance barred, the girl was securely cut off from the exotic life of the city.

This isolation was sometimes a comfort, but it sometimes jarred.  Clare was young, and fond of cheerful society, and the iron gate had its counterpart in another barrier, invisible but strong, that shut her out from much she would have enjoyed.  She often stood, so to speak, gazing wistfully between the bars at innocent pleasures in which she could not join.  Kenwardine, in spite of his polished manners, was tactfully avoided by English and Americans of the better class, and their wives and daughters openly showed their disapproval.

At length Clare gave up the attempt to read.  She felt lonely and depressed.  Nobody had been to the house since Kenwardine left, and Dick and Jake were away.  She did not see Dick often and he was, of course, nothing to her; for one thing, he was in some mysterious way her father’s enemy.  Still, she missed him; he was honest, and perhaps, if things had been different ­

Then she turned her head sharply as she heard the click of a bolt.  This was strange, because Lucille had locked the gate.  She could not see it in the gloom of the arch, but it had certainly opened.  Then as she waited with somewhat excited curiosity a dark figure appeared on the edge of the light, and she put down her book as Richter came forward.  He made very little noise and stopped near the table.

“How did you get in?” she asked.

Richter smiled.  “You have forgotten that Herr Kenwardine gave me a key.”

“I didn’t know he had,” Clare answered.  “But won’t you sit down?”

He moved a chair to a spot where his white clothes were less conspicuous, though Clare noted that he did so carelessly and not as if he wished to hide himself.  Then he put a small linen bag on the table.

“This is some money that belongs to Herr Kenwardine; you may find it useful.  It is not good to be without money in a foreign town.”

Clare looked at him with alarm.  He was fat and generally placid, but his philosophical good humor was not so marked as usual.

“Then you have heard from my father?”

“Yes.  I have a cablegram.  It was sent in a roundabout way through other people’s hands and took some time to reach me.  Herr Kenwardine left Kingston last night.”

“But there is no boat yet.”

Richter nodded.  “He is not coming to Santa Brigida.  I do not think that he will come back at all.”

For a moment or two Clare felt unnerved, but she pulled herself together.  She realized now that she had long had a vague fear that something of this kind would happen.

“Then where has he gone?  Why didn’t he write to me?” she asked.

“He has gone to Brazil and will, no doubt, write when he arrives.  In the meantime, you must wait and tell people he is away on business.  This is important.  You have some money, and the house is yours for a month or two.”

“But why has he gone?  Will you show me the cablegram?”

“You could not understand it, and it might be better that you should not know,” Richter answered.  Then he paused and his manner, which had been friendly and sympathetic, changed.  His short hair seemed to bristle and his eyes sparkled under his shaggy brows as he resumed:  “Herr Kenwardine was forced to go at the moment he was needed most.  Your father, fraeulein, is a bold and clever man, but he was beaten by a blundering fool.  We had confidence in him, but the luck was with his enemies.”

“Who are his enemies?”

“The Englishman, Brandon, is the worst,” Richter answered with keen bitterness.  “We knew he was against us, but thought this something of a joke.  Well, it seems we were mistaken.  These English are obstinate; often without imagination or forethought, they blunder on, and chance, that favors simpletons, is sometimes with them.  But remember, that if your father meets with misfortunes, you have Brandon to thank.”

The color left Clare’s face, but she tried to brace herself.

“What misfortunes has my father to fear?”

Richter hesitated, and then said deprecatingly:  “I cannot be as frank as I wish.  Herr Kenwardine’s work was most important, but he failed in it.  I know this was not his fault and would trust him again, but there are others, of higher rank, who may take a different view.  Besides, it will be remembered that he is an Englishman.  If he stays in Brazil, I think he will be left alone, but he will get no money and some he has earned will not be sent.  Indeed, if it were known, fraeulein, I might be blamed for paying you this small sum, but I expect you will need it.”

He got up, as if to go, but Clare stopped him.

“You will come back as soon as you know something more and tell me what to do.”

Richter made an apologetic gesture.  “That will be impossible.  I ran some risk in coming now and leave Santa Brigida to-night in a fishing boat.  You will stay in this house, as if you expect your father back, until you hear from him.  He will send you instructions when he lands.”

Then the kitchen door across the patio opened and a bucket clinked.  Richter stepped back into the shadow and Clare looked round as an indistinct figure crossed the tiles.  When she looked back Richter had gone and she heard the splash of water.  She sat still until the servant went away and then sank down limply in her chair.  She was left alone and unprotected except for old Lucille, in a foreign town where morals were lax and license was the rule.  The few English and Americans whose help she might have asked regarded her with suspicion, and it looked as if her father would be unable to send for her.

This was daunting but it was not the worst.  Richter had vaguely hinted at Kenwardine’s business, which was obviously mysterious.  She saw where his hints led, but she would not follow up the clue.  Her father had been ruined by Brandon, and her heart was filled with anger, in which she found it some relief to indulge.  Dick had long been their enemy and thought her a thief, while the possibility that he was justified in the line he had taken made matters worse.  If she was the daughter of a man dishonored by some treason against his country, she could not marry Dick.  She had already refused to do so, but she did not want to be logical.  It was simpler to hate him as the cause of her father’s downfall.  The latter had always indulged her, and now she understood that he would land in Brazil penniless, or at least impoverished.  Since he was accustomed to extravagance, it was painful to think of what he might suffer.

Then she began to speculate about Richter’s visit.  He had come at some risk and seemed sorry for her, but he had urged her to stay in the house, as if she expected her father to return.  This could be of no advantage to the latter, and she wondered whether the man had meant to make use of her to divert suspicion from himself and his friends.  It seemed uncharitable to think so, but she was very bitter and could trust nobody.

After a time she got calm, and remembering that she had her own situation to consider, counted the money in the bag.  It was not a large sum, but with economy might last for a few weeks, after which she must make some plans.  She was incapable of grappling with any fresh difficulty yet, but she must brace her courage and not break down, and getting up with a resolute movement she went into the house.

On the morning after his fall, Dick came to his senses in a shaded room.  He heard a shutter rattle as the warm breeze flowed in, and noted a flickering patch of light on the wall, but found with some annoyance that he could not see it well.  His head was throbbing and a bandage covered part of his face.  His side was painful too, and he groaned when he tried to move.

“Where am I?” he asked a strange man, who appeared beside his bed, and added in an injured tone:  “It looks as if I’d got into trouble again.”

“You had a narrow escape,” the other answered soothingly.  “You cut your head badly and broke two of your ribs when you fell down the steamer’s hold.  Now you’re in hospital, but you’re not to talk.”

“I’ll get worse if you keep me quiet,” Dick grumbled.  “How can you find out things that bother you, unless you talk?”

“Don’t bother about them,” said the doctor.  “Have a drink instead.”

Dick looked at the glass with dull suspicion.  “I don’t know, though I’m thirsty.  You see, I’ve been in a doctor’s hands before.  In fact, I seem to have a gift for getting hurt.”

“It’s cool and tastes nice,” the other urged.  “You didn’t rest much last night and if you go to sleep now we’ll try to satisfy your curiosity afterwards.”

Dick hesitated, but took the glass and went to sleep soon after he drained it.  When he awoke the light had vanished from the wall and the room was shadowy, but he saw Jake sitting by the bed.  A nurse, who put a thermometer in his mouth and felt his pulse, nodded to the lad as if satisfied before she went away.  Dick’s head was clearer, and although the movement hurt him he resolutely fixed his uncovered eye on his companion.

“Now,” he said, “don’t tell me not to talk.  Do you know why they’ve fixed this bandage so that it half blinds me?”

Jake looked embarrassed.  “There’s a pretty deep cut on your forehead.”

“Do you suppose I can’t feel it?  But I want to know why they’re not satisfied with tying my forehead up?  You may as well tell me, because I’m not going to sleep again.  It looks as if I’d slept all day.”

“The cut runs through your eyelid and the doctor thinks it wiser to be careful.”

“About my eye?”

“It’s just a precaution,” Jake declared.  “There’s really nothing the matter, but he thought it would be better to keep out the strong light.”

“Ah!” said Dick, who was not deceived, and was silent for the next few moments.  Then he resumed in a rather strained voice:  “Well, let’s talk about something else.  Where’s Don Sebastian?”

“I haven’t seen him since lunch, but he spent the morning interviewing the British authorities.”

“Do you think he told them to send after Kenwardine?”

“No,” said Jake with a twinkle, “I rather think he’s put them off the track, and although he had to give them a hint out of politeness, doesn’t want them to know too much.  Then there’s only an old-fashioned cruiser here and I understand she has to stop for a guardship.  In fact, Don Sebastian seems to imagine that Kenwardine is safe so long as he keeps off British soil.  However, an official gentleman with a refined taste in clothes and charming manners called at our hotel and is coming to see you as soon as the doctor will let him.”

Next morning Dick saw the gentleman, who stated his rank and then asked a number of questions, which Dick did not answer clearly.  He was glad that his bandaged head gave him an excuse for seeming stupid.  He had done his part, and now Kenwardine could do no further harm, it would be better for everybody if he got away.  After a time, his visitor observed: 

“Well, you seem to have rendered your country a service, and I expect you will find things made smooth for you at home after our report upon the matter has been received.”

“Ah!” said Dick.  “It looks as if you knew why I left.”

The gentleman made a sign of assent.  “Your Spanish friend was discreet, but he told us something.  Besides, there are army lists and London Gazettes in Kingston.”

Dick was silent for a few moments, and then said:  “As a matter of fact, I am not anxious to go home just yet.”

“Are you not?” the other asked with a hint of polite surprise.  “I do not think there would be much difficulty about a new commission, and officers are wanted.”

“They’re not likely to want a man with one eye, and I expect it will come to that,” Dick said grimly.

His visitor was sympathetic, but left soon afterwards, and Dick thought he was not much wiser about Kenwardine’s escape than when he came.  Two or three weeks later he was allowed to get up, although he was tightly strapped with bandages and made to wear a shade over his eyes.  When he lay in the open air one morning, Jake joined him.

“We must get back to Santa Brigida as soon as we can,” he said.  “They’re planning an extension of the irrigation scheme, and the old man and Ida are coming out.  The doctor seems to think you might go by the next boat if we take care of you.  But I’d better give you Kenwardine’s letters.  We took them out of your pocket the night you got hurt, and I’ve been wondering why you haven’t asked for them.”

“Thanks,” Dick answered dully.  “I don’t know that I’ll use them now.  I’ll be glad to get back and dare say I can do my work with one eye.”

“You’ll soon have both,” Jake declared.

“It’s doubtful,” said Dick.  “I don’t think the doctor’s very sanguine.”

On the whole, he was relieved when Jake left, because he found it an effort to talk, but the thoughts he afterwards indulged in were gloomy.  His broken ribs did not trouble him much, but there was some risk of his losing his eye.  He had helped to expose and banish Kenwardine, and could not ask Clare to marry him after that, even if he were not half blind and disfigured.  Besides, it was doubtful if he would be able to resume his profession or do any useful work again.  The sight of the uninjured eye might go.  As a matter of fact, the strain he had borne for some time had told upon his health and the shock of the accident had made things worse.  He had sunk into a dejected, lethargic mood, from which he had not the vigor to rouse himself.

A week later he was helped on board a small French boat and sailed for Santa Brigida.  He did not improve with the sea air, as Jake had hoped, and for the most part avoided the few passengers and sat alone in the darkest corner he could find.  Now and then he moodily read Kenwardine’s letters.  He had at first expected much from them.  They might have removed the stain upon his name and the greatest obstacle between himself and Clare; but he no longer cared much about the former and the letters were useless now.  For all that, he put them carefully away in a leather case which he carried in an inside pocket.