Chapter XI.

4 Apr

Veta blinked with surprise when she opened the door.

“Come in, Dey.” Her voice had a sense of unconscious foreboding to it. She stepped back, letting him proceed into her sitting room.

He turned around as she closed the door. The two stood facing each other.

“Won’t you sit down?” she said nervously. “I didn’t expect to see you until morning. Has anything happened?”

Dey told her what he had spent considerable time formulating and rehearsing in his mind.

“The assistant to Dr. Slyn came to see me in my room a short while ago. It was a woman called Beryl Sehr. She invited me to attend a miners’ rally set for tomorrow morning. The Founder is to be the speaker and I will have an opportunity to meet and talk with him. A locomobile is to be sent here to take me to the location.

“I was told to be by myself, with no one else accompanying me.”

He gave her a trenchant, penetrating look.

“That sounds good,” she reacted. “I am happy for you.”

“Bato is the one organizing the rally,” continued Dey. “I hope to see him there and ask him some questions that will help me understand the miners’ movement.”

Veta was about to ask him a question, but changed her mind. “Please sit down, Dey,” she said instead.

He took a soft sofa chair exactly like the one in his room, while she continued to stand.

What is putting her in such a hesitant state? was the question in his mind. What was she about to say? Why did she stop?

All at once, Veta made a startling confession to him.

“Do not be angry with me, Dey, but I have had a visit from an agent of the Clandestine Service. He is an odd little man who saw me in Chalcedony, asking me to make reports to him on your activities. I did not know you well then, so there was no alternative to staying quiet about these contacts he made with me.

“A short time ago, this C.S. captain appeared here in Plumago. He came to my room and inquired how we reached this city. I lied, telling him that we paid someone with a loco to drive us from where the tracker stopped. He appeared to accept the fiction that I dreamed up and ordered me to keep informing him of your movements. I prevaricated once more, promising the man to do his bidding and spy on you.”

Suddenly tears filled her eyes.

“I am not versed in the art of deception, Dey. This Captain Kont trapped and frightened me into agreeing to his demands. I had no choice but to pretend I would serve him as he wished. But that would be a treacherous betrayal of a friend and totally unacceptable. So, my conscience compels me to reveal what he is up to. He believes that your journey here has some concealed, ulterior aim. The nature of these hidden purposes is what he wants me to find out and give to him.”

Dey concentrated on her face, searching for some sign upon which he could hang his strong, increasing trust in her.

“What are your plans, Veta?” he asked in a faint undertone.

For a moment or so, she seemed to be far away.

“I was born in a family that suffered deep poverty. My father died when I was only a small child. My mother had difficulty raising me and my brothers. She worked as a house servant to pay our bills and send us to school. So, when I passed the tests for my present job in the Department of Information, it was a significant triumph for our family. I had made good and there was great pride in my achievement.”

“That is understandable,” noted Dey. “It is clear to me that you are very good at your legitimate, official work. And I have confidence that you would never become a tool of the C.S. and this Captain Kont. You are definitely not that type of person. You possess too much personal integrity to act as an informer for the government.”

Veta made a decision. “I shall stay here in the hotel tomorrow. You will go to the rally without me. Trust me never to become a secret spy for the government, Dey. That is not at all in my character.”

“What if this man bothers you about watching me?” asked the writer.

Her lips and mouth formed into a grin. “I can tell him that I’ve fallen ill and must stay in my room for several days.”

Dey found himself rising to his feet. “Thank you, Veta,” he muttered. “I will leave you now, but I know that I can never repay you for your sincere honesty with me. I shall always be indebted to you.”

“As he moved close to her, a hidden emotion surfaced into his conscious mind. It instantly resulted in an unforeseen action: kissing the cheek of the slender woman who was risking her future for his sake.

Dey left Veta’s room without saying anything more, nor fully understanding the reason for his kissing her.

The journalist ate breakfast by himself in the Neodymium Hotel’s restaurant the next morning. He then waited in the multicolored lobby until it was time for him to go outside to be picked up in a locomobile. He rose from the cushioned throne chair and ambled out to the sandstone sidewalk. A doorman in bright crimson uniform stood at attention under the large entrance canopy.

A black locosedan rolled up and stopped where Dey was standing. The back door of the long vehicle opened. A voice rang from inside the shadowy interior.

“Mr. Skull?” it inquired.

“Yes, that is me.”

“Please get in. We can talk on the ride to the rally.”

Dey climbed in, staring at the white-haired man in the left corner of the back seat. It was clear at once that the Founder himself had personally come to fetch him to the rally.

A large hand was extended to Dey as the locomobile began to move forward. The two men in the rear shook hands as the driver steered around a street corner.

“I understand that you intend to tell the Continent about our movement here in Landia,” began Garen Slyn in a melodious voice. “Tell me, will you only report what you know is true?”

“That is my plan and intention,” confessed Skull. “Nothing but the truth will ever come from me.”

The Founder’s thin mouth creased into a half-smile. A knowing twinkle illuminated the large violet eyes in a circular, pie-shaped face.

“That is good. I want you to learn the truth and publicize it abroad. In order to accomplish that, we must get to know each other. Today’s rally furnishes an opportunity for you to witness a large crowd of miners together in one place. I want you to mingle with them and hear what they say. That will give you a sense of what our movement is about. Later, we can discuss what you have found out. I want you to reach a deep, complete understanding of our movement.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Dey. “There is so much I would like to ask you.”

“Our movement is much bigger than any one individual, my friend. I am called the Founder, but that is only an honorary description, not an official title of any kind. No one person has absolute authority in our organization. All decisions are arrived at by discussion and consensus. I have to convince my colleagues before any action can be taken. Nothing occurs arbitrarily. Final authority must always rest with the miners themselves.”

“I spoke with your assistant, Miss Sehr, last evening,” said Dey. “She related many facts about the origins of the miners’ movement.”

“Beryl is my right hand,” sighed the white-haired one. “I could not function without her. It’s she who keeps me on schedule. I would be lost without her and all that she accomplishes.”

“I learned from her how the government persecuted you.”

Slyn’s eyes appeared to turn a dark purple color. “The greater the sacrifices one makes for a cause, the more a person comes to believe in it. That has been my experience in life.” He paused, but then changed the subject.

“I will be giving our members a report on the current conditions of our demands on the mining companies. My task will be to inspire hope in our final victory, despite the adamant refusal of the owners to give us the slightest concession.”

“I have heard from several persons about the love that the miners have for you,” smiled the writer. “That is not something easily earned.”

The Founder furrowed his brow. “There are extremists and hotheads among us who would take precipitous actions,” he said in a low voice. “It is increasingly more difficult for me to restrain them.”

“Bato Mentin described the situation to me on our ride to Plumbago,” explained Dey. “In fact, he introduced me to an attorney in Corundum named Taval Renda. That man is calling for bold, adventurous action that could result in terrible violence.”

Slyn, becoming silent, turned his head away. Only after several moments did he look as Dey again.

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