Chapter One. Great Misfortune.
Dick Stapleton tossed restlessly on his bamboo bed, till the rickety legs creaked ominously and the mosquito net waved to and fro, threatening to descend upon his head. The heat was stifling. Inside his room the thermometer stood at an unusual height, even for this Gold Coast country, where high readings are a common occurrence, and where hot nights are the rule rather than the exception. The windows of the house in which he slept, or vainly attempted to do so, were thrown wide open, but despite that fact, they admitted nothing but the deep and ever-recurring boom of the surf, which beats upon the sandy beach of the Fanti country without ceasing. Boom! Boom! The thunder of the waves seemed to shake even the land, while in his mind’s eye Dick could see the spray rise high, and then fall back as white as milk, seething and foaming, to be swallowed by the next breaker as it curled its green crest on to the sand. Not a breath stirred on this sultry night. The leaves on the forest trees within a stone’s-throw of the house made no movement. Nothing, in fact, appeared to have the energy for movement on this night save the myriad mosquitoes, which seemed to revel in the heat, and an occasional beast in the forest, whose piercing cry was wont at one time to startle our hero.
“Oh, for a breeze!” sighed Dick. “If only a cool wind would play into the room a fellow might fall asleep. This mosquito net stifles me, and yet I dare not throw it aside or I shall be well-nigh eaten. I feel, too, as if I had a little fever, and that is just the very thing I wish to avoid. I’ve work before me; difficulties to set aside, and—and affairs to arrange.”
For some reason his hand sought for a box deposited beneath the bed, and his fingers touched the lock to make sure that it was closed.
“All that stands between me and starvation,” said Dick. “Just a bare two hundred pounds in gold, a store almost depleted of goods, and two houses which no one seems to want. There’s the business, too, and James Langdon.”
For a while his thoughts went to the man whose name he had mentioned, and he brooded uneasily.
“He ought to go,” he said to himself. “Father trusted him, I know; but I am sure of his dishonesty. He has been robbing the store for years, and he will rob me if I let him stay. He is a sneaking half-caste, a rogue who cannot be trusted, and if it were not for father he should be dismissed. Well, to-morrow I will go into the matter. I’m tired to-night. If only it were not so frightfully hot!”
Dick was peevish and out of temper. He had worked hard all day, and was very tired, for the heat had been great. And now that he had thrown himself on his bed he could not sleep. The old worries filled his mind, only instead of being lessened, the silence of the night, the droning insects, the shrill cries from the forests, and the deep boom of the surf, intensified his difficulties, till they sat upon his young shoulders like a millstone....