|BOOK I - The Island|
|Chapter I.||The Primitive Norm|
|Chapter II.||Conscious of His Manhood|
|Chapter III.||The Word of the Book|
|Chapter IV.||Lesson and Labor|
|Chapter V.||The Voices of the Past|
|BOOK II - The Ship|
|Chapter VI.||The Baseless Fabric|
|Chapter VII.||The Joy of Freedom|
|Chapter VIII.||Cast up by the Sea|
|BOOK III - The Revelation|
|Chapter IX.||Latent Passions|
|Chapter X.||Hearts Awakened|
|Chapter XI.||The Conscience Quickened|
|Chapter XII.||The Ship on the Horizon|
|BOOK IV - The Coming of the World|
|Chapter XIII.||The Long Search|
|Chapter XIV.||Past and Present|
|Chapter XV.||Accusation and Admission|
|Chapter XVII.||The Woman's Plea|
|Chapter XIX.||The Man's Failure|
|Chapter XX.||The Repentance That Came Too Late|
|BOOK V - Abandoned|
|Chapter XXI.||The Resurrection|
|Chapter XXII.||Unavailing Appeal|
|BOOK VI - The New Life|
|Chapter XXIII.||A Great Purpose|
|Chapter XXIV.||A Promise Broken|
BOOK III - THE REVELATION
The three years which had elapsed had made a vast change in the relations between the man and the woman. In the beginning and for a long time hers had been the dominant position. So absolutely had she ruled that to him she had been as a god. So entirely had he obeyed that to her he had been as a devotee. Once she discovered his ductility and had begun to teach him, the relationships had commenced to change. Gradually each had recognized the humanity of the other. Together students, they had naturally approached a common level. Every new knowledge she imparted to him was an abdication of some of her supremacy. Every new knowledge he acquired was an aspiration to her high level.
Three years is a short time in the educational life of a human being, but she brought to her side of what was slowly developing into an equation the highest training, a natural ability to impart what she knew, an absolute devotion to the endeavor, and an entire freedom from other interests. So fascinating had the experiment been that she had scarcely missed the rest of the world. Had he been a woman instead of a man, would that absorption have resulted from their intercourse?
On his part he brought to bear upon the problem of learning, it was soon developed, an intellect which, although entirely untrained, was unusually acute, a faculty of acquiring knowledge as great as was her ability to impart it, and a reasoning capacity which kept pace with his other qualities. Indeed, the main thing with which she had to contend at first was his lack of application. But so soon as he had learned enough to enable him to realize the importance of learning more, she had no trouble on that score. It was as if a mature mind had been confronted with the hard problems of adolescence. He grappled with things in that way. Whatever she taught him, he learned, he mastered; all that he mastered in spired him to learn more. His mnemonic ability was prodigious; for all the years of his life he had not been storing up the insignificant, the immaterial, the unnecessary in his brain cells. He remembered all that she taught him with unvarying accuracy. His was a powerful, vigorous mentality which had known nothing and upon which she wrote what she pleased. To the judgment of a man he added the receptivity and ductility of a child.
She had taught him first of all to speak and then to read, then rudimentary mathematics such as he could do in his head. There was nothing that she could devise that was practicable for writing. There was no slate on the island, the rock was not suitable. Therefore he had never learned to write, although he knew what writing was, for she had explained it to him, and had made shift to teach him the Arabic letters. She also taught him geography, astronomy, natural sciences, and, above all, history. She unfolded the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them before his vision, touching lightly, as has been the fashion of such unfolders, upon the misery and the shame. His was a singular knowledge indeed. There were some things about which she was reticent, and some things she could not tell him at all, being a woman; but being a man, with imagination quickened, he thought of these things the more -- for these were some of the deeper things of life, and nature!
But the change in the relations between the two was not greater than the change in the woman herself. She was no longer a philosopher. That which she had disdained, she admired; that which she had abhorred, she loved; that which she had refused, she accepted. She was a Christian in belief at least. Alone, or practically so, face to face with God in His world, God in His Book, God in humanity, her specious ideas of life and her relationship to it had broken down. She had learned to kneel beside that man and pray. She had learned to seek elsewhere than in herself for power to enable her to live her life and fulfill her tasks.
She had not wished to be a Christian. She had fought against it, struggled with it, agonized over it, but a compelling necessity was upon her. The convictions of her conversion tore the veil from before her face, dispelled the mist that hung about her. She saw herself as she was, a woman who, under the influence of wrong ideas, false conceptions, had branded herself forever. No, not in the eyes of that God whom she had learned to fear, not in the eyes of that Christ whom she had learned to love, but in the eyes of men; yet she was a woman who was pure in heart. Perhaps these thoughts and this consciousness had more to do with keeping her content even than her intense preoccupation in her man and her work, for she realized what she would have to face if she went back to the world which had mocked her while it applauded her. That world, therefore, she now began to fear.
The one being upon earth with whom she could associate, who knew nothing about it, who could cast no stone at her, was, she realized, the man whom she had made; and this man looked to her almost as men look to the divine. Yet she felt that some day he would have to know. Some day she would have to tell him. What then? That feeling was ever with her. She constantly asked herself that question, and found no answer.
Indeed, it was he who had taught her the truth of Christ. At first she had not been able, she had felt a strange unwillingness, if indeed it were possible, to break down the lingering remains of faith in that man. That babble of childish prayer had in some strange way caught her heart strings. It was the one memory of intelligence that had remained to him. Now that he was capable of expression, that his mind had been born again, over and over he had told her of the dim returning recollection of a long voyage in an open boat with a woman and some animal, which she knew must be the dog. He could remember nothing of the intercourse between him and that woman except that she had been good to him -- sometimes that is as much as the wisest recall of a mother -- and that she had taught him and made him say always that prayer whose coherency and meaning, to her intense surprise, she found herself imparting to him. And she could not make up her mind to take from him the reality of the only recollection that remained to him.
Her new belief, as has been said, was both joy and sorrow to her. Save for her experience in the ship, she had been happier in her philosophy. She had suffered grievously through her trust in it and in man, but her consciousness that she was fundamentally right in her beliefs had consoled her. Now to feel that she had been wrong, that she had thrown away under the leading of a false light what she could never regain -- ah, no Magdalene ever wept bitterer tears at the feet of Jesus than this woman in her hours of solitude over her mistaken past, her loss and shame.
She had hours of solitude, too. Early in the life they lived she had laid down certain regulations. He was in the formative period then and had unhesitatingly acquiesced in them. So far those regulations neither had been abrogated by her nor broken by him. A cave upon the farther side of the island had been found, and that was his home. They breakfasted together at a certain hour, which he told by means of the sun and she by her faithful watch. The morning was spent in study. In the afternoon they separated, each passing it in accordance with individual preference, but he rigorously kept to his side and she to her side of the island during the period. Certain dividing lines, clearly established and understood, marked which was his and which was hers. At suppertime they met again and passed the hours together in conversation until the rest period arrived. Things had to be this way else life would have been unendurable. They lived on the natural products of the island, which were varied and sufficiently abundant to fulfill all dietetic requirements.
She had also taught him things not learned from books. Among them, truth, honor, duty, and dignity all the virtues. Her instruction had been originally ethical merely -- first that which was natural! -- but afterward it had grown spiritual. Unspotted from the world he, and she washed white she hoped and prayed in spite of the spots, they lived a life of pristine innocence. Yet because he was a man and she was a woman, strange fires glowed beneath the outward calm, strange ideas and desires and thoughts rose from both hearts. This was inevitable. Her original relation to the man had been one of so great superiority as to be fatal to the early development of any feeling but the maternal. Even now she possessed the superiority which association with her kind, her longer training and her greater opportunities, had given her. And yet she could only recognize that to the impartial view, considering his abilities and opportunities, he stood quite on a level with her. Perhaps, had he enjoyed her chances, he might have stood higher.
She began to idealize him, to dream about him, to wonder. She trembled on the verge of passion. She knew his to be a brilliant mind. She divined his to be a knightly soul. Physically, in face and figure no more splendid man, untrammeled by base convention, ever stood upon the earth's surface. Grace and strength mingled in a harmony that was as striking as it was full of charm. She had no opportunity to test his courage, for no physical danger ever menaced them. But she believed in his manhood thoroughly. The life they led was absolutely idyllic. It was a life that might have been lived in some serpentless Eden. No manifestation of the powers of nature had ever perturbed him in the slightest degree, she had observed. The island was sometimes visited by the most terrific storms, which were quite appalling to her, but which he endured calmly. Once she had had the curiosity to take his pulse during one tremendous cataclysm, and its ordinary rate was not accelerated by a single beat. His mind, too, was as sweet and fresh as a girl's. Indeed, it could hardly be other wise. Whatever was in it she had put there. No, not quite that, but she had put the seed of whatever was in it, and what had been developed from it had been due to himself.
The woman had had bitter experience with love. Following what she believed to be the highest inspiration, she had wrecked her life and brought herself to this pass. The revolt in her soul at the thought of the man who had so degraded her, or who had so taken advantage of her ignorance and innocence -- the more complete since they were covered by a confidence of knowledge and sophistication -- as to allow her to degrade herself, convinced her that what she had mistaken for divine light was only a false fire, an ignis fatuus which had led her into the marsh and slough of slime and shame. She loathed the thought of that man. She had loathed, when she had been thrown upon that island, the thought of all men. This one had given back her confidence in her kind. Yet sometimes she wondered whethe that confidence were warranted or not because of him. Suppose he should come in touch with the world, what would happen? Was he, too, capable of breaking a woman's heart? Would he do it? Was hers the heart? What would the soiling touch of the sordid conditions under which life was lived as she had known it do for him? Would he still remain unspotted? Would he think her the same? She had taught him many things. But how should he learn to fight temptations -- temptations with which he had no experience, which ever came to him, she fondly dreamed.
Yet she had confidence in him. She had confidence in God; and we cannot have confidence in God without some confidence in man. The converse, too, is true. Therefore she believed. She was confident that he would rise supreme in the face of every test. She wondered if the test would ever be applied to him, if she would be there to see. She found herself praying for affirmation in both matters. Her belief in him would only be belief founded upon hope until he had been tried. There was a doubt about him that must be resolved; she must resolve it. She could never be satisfied, in spite of her belief, until she had done so. The very fact that she thought so keenly upon the subject, that she was so interested and engrossed in the situation, was evidence to her that she cared more for the man than she had dreamed it possible.
Indeed, how could it be otherwise? The primal instinct of humanity, by and through which the race persists, is to mate, and love is the motive of the mating if it is to be real and actual and holy. Any woman under such circumstances might be expected to draw toward any man; the much more she to such a man as he.
And so in her hours to herself she dreamed of him and of some future, and of that great test some day to be made. Alas, it was rushing toward them with a swiftness beyond imagination, of which she had not the faintest idea. She had often thought that they might stay upon that island forever; that there they might live and die. And she had had, too, deeper, stranger thoughts as to what might be in that contingency. Should they live forever apart? Could there be no marriage between them in the sight of heaven? Was life and all that it held for men and women to be forever denied? What would keep them apart? And yet she had trampled upon convention once, with frightful consequences. Because of that she could not do it again. She was not free, but fettered by her past. She would sit, not calmly, but of necessity, and arrange the future and her destiny, forgetful of the fact that she was no longer the sole factor of determination. She no longer thought much about the yacht and the other man, and yet she had wondered at first why no search had been made for her. But as the days and weeks and months sped away and she remained undisturbed in her new-found Elysium, she had come to regard it as an accepted thing that she had dropped out of existence and had been forgot. And so she loved and hoped and dreamed.
And what of him? For once her intuition failed her. She wanted to see him tested and tried; she wanted to see him tempted and triumphant; but he was all of that in those very hours in which she fancied him so unthinking. It never occurred to her that he might entertain an earthly passion for her. She still, from ancient habit, believed herself so far above him that such an ambition would have been little less than sacrilege to him. She lulled herself to sleep with that idea. She believed, she knew, of course, that all that was needed was a suggestion from her. To love is the lot of man. This man had seen no other being than her. If she said the word, it would be accomplished. She held the only key to his heart; her hand could unlock it on the in stant. She forgot the master key and the Master Hand.
He had controlled that strange trembling that used to take him whenever he touched her, but she could feel his pulses beat and throb when by chance there was any contact, even of the casual, between them. Sometimes he had asked her strange ques ions which she had put by, and sometimes she caught him looking at her in strange ways that sent the blood to her skin and sometimes turned her pale. Yet she lived in the fool's Paradise. She did not awake to the possibilities of that which she had made him because her apprehension of him had not kept pace with his apprehension of her. To her he was still in some degree the creature that he had been, and sometimes she thought upon her growing love for him with a feeling of shame, as if it were a condescension, a derogation.
She did not know what blood was leaping in the veins of the man, and how he taught himself, because she had instilled in him honor and decency and Christlike self-control, to repress these things. She did not know how much faster he had learned certain things than she had intended. She did not know how instinctively he had leaped to conclusions which she imagined were still latent in his mind. This was a good man, this was an honest man, this was a gentleman, this was a Christian man. There was no question about his faith. It was as simple and abiding as it was sincere. The early Christians who had been brought in personal touch with the Master and His men were not more faithful, acceptant, and devoted. Yet this was a very human man in spite of all these things, a man of splendid vigor and health, with all a man's impulses, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. And he loved her.
He, too, sat upon the white sands of the gemlike island and looked out into the far blue of the Pacific washing the distant shores and lands peopled with strange creatures of history and romance, and he, too, wondered. He had had no experience with men and the world, and he longed to get away and to take her away.
She had long since discovered that he was a gentleman, an innate gentleman; that he had been well born, and she had seen to it herself that he had been well bred. Yet no mortal man ever went through greater fires of unknown and mysterious temptations than he. He forced himself not to speak words that burned. He checked the free course of thoughts that bubbled and seethed within his brain, and the relationship between them remained that of mistress and man, teacher and taught, friend and friend. It was he who so maintained it, though of this she was unaware.
And he, too, longed for some hour to come when he might with right and decency and dignity speak the words which some day he must speak or die. He was not versed in the ways of women. He had no store of knowledge, no lesson of experience to fall back upon. He knew but one woman. He could not predicate from any petty maxim, or from any ancient aphorism, or from any worn-out philosophy, what she would or would not do under certain conditions. Indeed, he only thought that he loved her, and he must tell her or die in the concealment.
And so matters ran on and on. It needed but a spark to ignite the powder, it would have seemed, and yet a vast cataclysm of nature only brought about the explosion. He had never touched her except to take her hand. Her person had been as inviolate to him as if she had been a star above his head. And she had been careful under no circumstances to allow more than that. Their hands had clasped often. Indeed, with every "Good-night" and "Good-morning" the circuit of touch was made and broken, but that was all. They usually parted at night, on the sands where she had first been thrown ashore. He would stand and watch her as she glided away from him in the darkness toward the cave that was her home. She had impressed upon him how she trusted him, the absolute assurance, the entire confidence, she had that he would respect the agreement between them; and he would have died rather than have transgressed the law, stepped over that imaginary barrier, as potent as the circle of Richelieu, which kept them apart.
And yet she would never know what horrible constraint he put upon himself; how he stood with clenched hands and quivering body and stared after her long after she had gone. She would never know how that intensity of longing grew and grew until sometimes he felt that he could not overmaster it. She would never know how he plunged away, staggering through the woods, and threw himself down upon the sands on his side of the island, disdaining even the rude shelter of the cave which was his home, and fought it out. Sometimes she saw evidences of internal conflict in his soul the next morning. The calm serenity, the indifference, the animal-like satisfaction with which he had faced life when she first knew him had long since disappeared. There were deepening lines upon his face which told of thought, of struggle, and of character thus developed by these two potent factors in shaping human destiny.
And he could never know what was in her mind, either. He never dreamed that she could love him. She was so far above him, so supreme in his eyes, that the possibility never occurred to him. If he had known for a moment how she thought of him, the great passion in both hearts would have over leaped every obstacle and in a moment he would have had her in his arms. Well indeed it is that the power to read human hearts is reserved for the Mind which towers above human passions because it is divine.
And so these two, while drawing together as in evitably and as irresistibly as the tide comes in, were still kept apart. Their feelings were in solution, as it were. A precipitant must be thrown into the atmosphere in which they moved and lived and had their being to disclose them to each other.
On one certain balmy summer night they parted as usual. Was the handclasp longer, was the glance with which he peered at her under the moonlight more self-revealing than usual? Did something in his own breast call to the surface that which beat around her heart? At any rate, it was with a great effort that she tore herself away at last, and for the first time in his life, although she knew it not, he followed after her with a few noiseless steps, only to stop, his face white in the moonlight, drops of sweat beading his brow from the violence of his effort. Having transgressed even to that degree the law, he turned instantly, without waiting to watch her disappear around the jutting crag that marked the little amphitheater where she slept, and went to his own side of the island resolutely, without another moment's hesitation or delay.
For the moment she forgot where she was and fancied herself back on the ship or, more naturally, tossing about in that small boat after that long, eventful voyage. Yet no motion to which she had ever been subjected, not even in the wildest pitch of the storm which had finally cast her away, produced in her such strange emotions as she experienced then. For the earth itself was trembling, quivering, rocking. The cave wall above her, seen dimly by the filtering light of very early dawn which came through the openings, partook of the mad, fantastic motion. In another second she realized that it was an earthquake. The air seemed filled with a peculiar ringing sound of storm.
Her bed, of course, was the soft sand over which grass had been strewn. She lay, therefore, on the floor and could not be thrown down, but she was rolled from side to side in a way which paralyzed her senses. Never in all her experience had she known such a sick feeling of terror. When the foundations of things are shaken, when not merely the great deep but the solid earth is broken up, humanity stands as if in the very presence of God. She lay resistless, staring, praying, wondering whether the shaking rock over her head would fall and crush her.
In a moment the instinct of life quickened her to action. She rose to her knees, staggered to her feet and tried to make her way to the entrance. Walking was terrible. The earth seemed to have shaken for hours, and yet the duration of the shock was really less than a minute. Its violence was terrific. Just before she reached the opening, it stopped with one tremendous shock, as suddenly as it had begun. The next second, with a roar that sounded in her ears like a thousand pieces of artillery, the gray, hazy light in front of her was blotted out by a falling mass of rock which just escaped her. The face of the cliff had given away. In deeper, intenser terror than before she threw herself against the barrier. It was as hard and as unyielding as the other walls. No light came to her even. She was imprisoned alive in this rocky sepulcher. She sank down on her knees and buried her face in her hands. She murmured words of prayer.
Her mind flew to the other side of the island, to the Man. Was he, too, entombed? Was this the end of her labors? Outside she could hear the wind roar and the waves thundering with awful violence on the shore. Before the earthquake, had come the storm. There was still some connection between the cave and the outer air, it seemed, for she was now conscious of lightning flashes. After the storm, came the fire. Her mind went back to what she had read from the Bible a few days before of Elijah's despair. Therefore in like case she listened with all her heart for the still small voice of comfort to her awestruck soul. It did not seem to come. She was doomed; she would never see him again, if indeed he were yet alive. She knew her feeling for him now. She slipped forward and fell fainting on the sandy floor of the cave. And still the voice was there. Presently it came to her as the voice of God usually comes to humanity, through the lips of man. After a space, how long after she could not tell, she was conscious of a human cry through the wild clamor of the tempest. A voice that she knew and loved was calling her by name. Was it some wraith-like fancy of the storm? She rose to her knees, sick and faint, and listened. No, it was a human voice, his voice, her name. The cry was fraught with frantic appeal. It thrilled and vibrated with passion. It told her even in that awful moment a story which she had not read. It revealed to her imaginations of which she had not dreamed. She was fascinated with what she heard. She forgot for the moment to answer. All the woman in her, the eternal feminine in her, listened. Her bosom rose and fell, her heart throbbed, her pulses beat. Alone with that wild, passionate, appealing, frantic cry, she forgot the earthquake, she forgot the prison, she forgot the storm, she forgot the world. She only realized that there out in the dawn, a man, the man of all the world, who loved her, was calling her name. The old call of manhood to womanhood, of mate to mate.
She rose instantly to her feet. This time it was the beating of her heart that pitched and tossed her body. She leaned against the rock wall and then she called his name.
"Man," she cried, "are you safe?"
"Yes," was the answer. "And you? "
"Entirely so, save for this prison." Thank God!" came faintly to her from beyond the wall. "Thank God, I hear your voice. I shall have you out, never fear."
She pressed her ear close to the heap of huge loose stones which filled the opening. She could hear him working outside.
"Don't be afraid," he said at last.
"I fear nothing," she answered, "if you are there."
In one instant the situations of life had been reversed. He was the master now, and she hung upon his words and actions even as he had done on hers in days gone by.
She had no knowledge of what task was before him, but she could hear the progress that he was making. It was evident that he was working furiously, and yet he stopped once in every little while to reassure himself as to her presence.
"Woman," he cried, "are you still there?"
"Here and waiting," was the answer.
He needed that assurance of her safety to enable him to achieve his prodigious task. How terrible were the efforts he put forth, she did not know until afterward, but his was the work of a Titan. He was moving mountains with his bare hands. Inspired by love, mightiest of passions, he was tearing asunder, like the earthquake, the rocky foundations of the world. Well for him that he was so thewed and sinewed. Well for her that God had added strength and power and energy to all his other splendid qualities. He had never done any work in his life harder than the climbing of a tree, but no toiler with a heritage of earth's whole long experience of labor could have struggled as did he.
He had been awakened at the selfsame instant in his lonely cell upon the other side of the island. With the first shock he remembered that some time in his days of darkness before she came there had been a similar upheaval. He realized instantly what it was. Less timorous than the woman, more agile, he did not lie supine for a single second. His thoughts were instantly for her. He had thrown himself from his cave and had raced across the shaking, quivering island without the hesitation of a moment. Never so long as he might live would he forget the shock that came to him when he saw his way to her barred by that great heap of rock fallen from the face of the cliff which lay over the entrance to the cave. For one moment he had stood appalled, and then he had got to work. How much time had elapsed before he arrived at her door, how much time it took him to clear it away, he had no idea. He had no thought but that he must open a passage and get to her, dead or alive.
It was not wise for him to expend breath in cries, but until he had some reply he could not keep silent. After that, when her answer came to him, he worked more quietly save for those periods when he felt that he must hear her voice to enable him to go on. Such was the furious energy of his toil that by and by the great mass of rock was cleared away save one huge boulder which fairly blocked the entrance. It was light outside now. A gray dawn and full of storm. Through the wider interstices she could see him plainly. She knew now that her rescue was only a matter of time. A branch of a tree for a lever, and his strength would roll the rock away. She started to tell him, but he caught a glimpse of her white face pressed against a crevice, and the sight inspired him. With a great burst of strength, the like of which possibly had never been compassed by mortal man since Samson pulled apart the pillars of the temple, he rolled the great rock aside and stood in the entrance, gasping, panting, with outstretched arms.
But a step divided them. That step she took. With a sob of relief she fell upon his breast, naturally, inevitably. His splendid arms swept her close to him. Her own hands met about his neck. With upturned face she looked upon him in all the abandonment of perfect, passionate surrender. He bent his head and kissed her, the first time in all his years that his lips had been pressed upon another mouth. He clung to her there in that kiss as if to make up in one moment for all the neglected possibilities of the past, as if never in all the bringings forth of the future should such another opportunity be afforded him. He felt for the first time in his life the beat of another human heart against his own, the rise and fall of another human breast, the throbbing of another human soul. Tighter and tighter his arms strained her to him. She gave herself up in that mad, delirious, awful moment to the full flow of long-checked passion and, kiss for kiss, pressure for pressure, and heart beat for heart beat, she made response.
It was too much. It was the man who broke away. There was nothing, no experience, no remembrance to teach him. It was all surprise. He thrust her from him slowly. Her hands lingered about his neck, but his backward pressure would not be denied. He held her at arm's length, her hands outstretched to him, her bosom panting, her eyes shining, her cheeks aflame in the gray dawn. Yielding, giving up to him absolutely, yet something, the magnificent mettle of the man, the restraints through which he had gone, the long battle with his own passion, rose to his soul and gave him mastery once more.
"Woman! woman!" he whispered no mere local name would represent her now, she was humanity to him "Woman," he whispered, "My God! my God!"
He turned away, sank down on one of the great boulders that he had thrown aside and buried his face in his hands, his body shaking with emotions he could scarce define but well understand. The woman threw herself down on her knees before him and took him once more in her arms.
"Man," she said, "I love you!"
She drew his hands away from his face; she laid her own face in his bleeding palm and kissed it.
"Man," she said, her lips wet with his own blood in a sort of wild, barbaric sacrament, "man, I love you!"
He stared at her as one distraught. He had dreamed of this, he had imagined it, he had prayed for it, he had hoped for it, but no revelation that had come to him in the years of their association equaled in its blinding brilliancy, in its intense illumination, the revelation in that woman's voice, in that woman's eyes, in that woman's touch.
"Man," she said again, "I love you. Do you understand? Do you know what it means?"
Then he found voice. He took her hand and pressed it against his heart.
"I know," he whispered. "I understand, here."
He rose to his feet, stooped, caught her by the shoulders and lifted her to his level. A piece of rock ill balanced on the edge of the cliff fell crashing. The place was dangerous. Without a word he slipped his arm beneath her, lifted her up as he might have done a child and carried her out upon the sand away from the beetling crags of the rocky wall.
She nestled in his arms with a sense of joy and satisfaction and helplessness cared for so exquisite that it was almost pain. He sat her down presently on a rounded boulder and turned away a moment, striving to control himself. Unable to deny himself, he bent over her, his hand on her shoulder. The sunlight sprang through the gray haze on the horizon's edge and lighted her face as she lifted it up to him. She stretched out her arm to draw him to her. Suddenly he broke away and threw himself prostrate before her and laid his lips upon her feet.
"Not there," she whispered, laying her hand upon his bent head, "but here, here in my arms, upon my heart, for Man, Man, I love you!"
She nestled in his arms with a sense of joy and satisfaction and helplessness.
Then kneeling by her side he took her once more within his arms.
" But you have not said," she began at last, "that you loved me."
"There is no word," he said softly, " in that speech that you have taught me which is equal to what I feel. You don't know how I have looked upon you and longed for you ever since you made me know and feel that I was a man with a man's soul. Night after night I have watched you as you went to your nook in the rocks. But that you have taught me honor and consideration, what it is to be a gentleman, I had followed you and caught you in the dark within my arms."
She laid her hand upon his breast and looked at him feelingly, entreatingly, with touching consciousness of his strength and her weakness.
"What I have taught you," she asked, "you will not forget?"
He released her waist and took her hand and kissed it. There was as much passion in the pressure of his lips upon her hand as there was in the beat of his heart against her own she felt.
"You," he continued, "will say what is to be done."
"Not I," she answered piteously, "but you. I have no strength when you are by. Since that moment when you kissed me, you are the master and the man, but you will respect me in my helplessness?"
"As if you were God in heaven," cried the man, raising his hand as one who makes a vow. "You are to me everything that is pure, that is holy, that is lovely."
"No! No!" she whispered, a look of terror coming into her face.
"Yes," he said. "Through you I know God, through you I know woman. You are sacred to me. Never again, unless you give me leave, will I press my lips to yours; never again, unless you say I may, will I take you in my arms; never again will I even touch your hand. Indeed, indeed, I cannot do these things. And yet I will love you in ways of which you cannot dream so long as I can draw the breath of life."
He rose to his feet as he spoke and turned away from her and stood with clasped hands and bowed shoulders. In one moment the whole course of their lives had changed. It had taken an earthquake shock to do it, but so terrific had been the submerged fires of mutual passion that a whisper opportunely uttered would have effected the same revolution. She sat and watched him, wondering what would be the end of it. She knew at last what love was, not the pale, philosophic emotion she had experienced in the cabin of that yacht. God, how she hated that recollection! How she wished that it had never been. If untouched by man she could have been cast upon that island to be given to this man who looked upon her as a goddess. She had told him some of her history, but not the part which was vital. It had been easy not to enlighten him wholly as to that. He knew nothing about conditions. He had never seen a ship or a boat within his recollection, and the story she had settled upon and told him was one that received instant acceptance from him. Indeed there was nothing that she had told him or could have told him that he would not implicitly have accepted and believed. The queen could do no wrong. She was incarnate truth. And she would have to tell him all now. She would have to put into that pure soul, alive with passionate devotion, admiration, respect -- every feeling that can make up the sum of mighty love! -- this story of evil and shame. There was no help for it. She would have to tell him.
But she could not tell him now, not on this day. She would have a few perfect hours. She would stand for a little while within the vales of Eden. She would look for a little time through the gates of heaven. To-morrow! To-day she would have and she would enjoy it to the full. She rose softly to her feet at last and stepped closer to him. She laid her hand upon his shoulder. She could see the muscles in his arms tighten as he clenched his hands the harder. She turned him gently about and lifted her perfect lips to his. She kissed him again. Her hand sought his; her fingers parted his iron grasp. She drew his arm about her and nestled against him.
"I trust you," she said, "as I love you. I shall be safe with you. You shall not draw away from me in such isolation. You have waited long for kisses like these."
And then the man spoke, the man in him.
"Woman," he said, "yours are the only lips that nave been pressed upon mine, save perhaps my mother's as a child. Has any other man ever kissed you?"
She could not lie to him.
"Don't ask me," she said -- the futile request!
The man had turned away with a groan. No happiness is unalloyed; no joy comes into our lives that some pain does not dog its footsteps. With love came jealousy before the flood, and many waters have not washed it out.
"At least," she said, pressing closer to him, and he did not repulse her, "I have loved no man but you."
"Oh!" he said, taking her once more within his arms, "that I might know for one moment what's out there, how you lived, who saw you, who followed you, who loved you!"
"I shall tell you," said the woman.
"But you have told me."
"When the rest, then?"
"To-morrow. Meanwhile let us enjoy the day" -- the old, old human prayer, let us enjoy the day despite the morrow, -- "let it suffice that I love you; that I never loved anyone else; that no kisses like to yours have ever been pressed upon my lips no, I believe, not upon the lips of mortal woman. Let us pass the day in happiness together. Come, we must breakfast. We must see what the earthquake has done to our island. We have things to think about, things to do."
"I have nothing to think about but you; nothing to do but to love you."
Hand in hand, they stepped across the sand to the shade of the trees, a royal and a noble couple, the splendid woman nobly planned, fit mate for the god like man, children of God and Nature, both of them in loose tunics which she had woven from the long soft grass, which left neck and arms bare and fell to knee and were belted in at the waist. Unhampered by any of the debasing or degrading garments of civilization, they were a pair to excite the admiration and arouse the envy of the gods.
They had spent the morning together, but not as usual. Things were different, conditions had changed. For the first time in years the daily lesson which she had given him was intermitted. To-day they were both at school, with Love for preceptor and such willingness in their hearts as made them ideal pupils. The storm which had accompanied the earthquake had died away as suddenly as it had arisen. No visible evidence of it was left save the tremendous thunder of the long undulating seas upon the outward barrier. The earthquake had not greatly damaged the island; the fallen cliff, a few prostrate palms here and there, that was all. But there was visible evidence in them of the storm through which they had passed and which still held them in its throes in the tumult of their souls.
To the man the experience of the morning was absolutely new, and to the woman it was so different from what had hitherto transpired that it was practically so. They luxuriated in their emotions. They sat side by side, hand in hand; they walked together, hand in hand. Yet it was the woman who was the bolder, the woman who made the advances. The man was not passive. Kiss for kiss, look for look, word for word, touch for touch, he gave, but the initiative was hers, not his. He was putting a constraint of steel upon himself. She saw that and was glad. It made her bold. Womanlike she tried and tested the blade that she had forged again and again, growing daring in her immunity, braver in her trust.
The experience to him was a torture of such surpassing sweetness that he could have cried aloud with the exquisite pain of it. She was glad when she divined something of what was going on in his soul. He was proving his worth to her. When memory forced the recollection of another upon her, she contrasted the conduct of the present with the conduct of the past. She contrasted the actions and characteristics of this, what the world would call, half-naked savage, with the brutal vulgarity of the fine specimen of modern civilization with which she had gone away. And even in her shame at the recollection she exulted. This was indeed a man. When the great passion did come in full flood into her heart, she loved, she realized, worthily.
And was she worthy of him? Aye, but for that, worthy of any man. She was too clear-headed to convict herself of moral obliquity, but there was in her a sense and it had never been so keen and so powerful and so penetrating as at this moment when she loved -- of personal pollution, under which, by hard fortune, little of the blame being hers, she had to suffer. She luxuriated in her consciousness of his qualities, in his love for her, in her love for him; but as he suffered, so, too, did she. His suffering was of the present, hers was of the past. Which is the worse, the more unendurable, is a question to which no solution is apparent. Yet hers was the harder case in the particular instance, for hers was filled with shame and dread, and his was only begot by a prayer that he might not forget his manhood.
They stood, in one part of their wanderings, before the door of what had been her cave. Hand in hand they looked down upon the heap of rocks that he had torn away. It was nothing to him; to her it was incredible. She could better estimate what human strength was capable of than he. She had standards of comparison which he lacked.
"It cannot be possible that you lifted that boulder, and that one, alone?" she said, gazing at him wonderingly.
"At that moment I could have torn the rock asunder to release you!" he cried, throwing out his arms in a magnificent gesture of strength and force.
She caught his hand with her own and once more pressed her lips within his palm.
"I don't know how to say how much I love you!" she exclaimed.
"Say that you will try to care as much for me as I for you, and I shall be content," he answered.
And so there was a pretty rivalry between them as to which loved the more. In the midst of the strife of tongues, the woman spoke. She could not keep away from the subject.
"You love me," she said at last, " because you think me more than I am, because," she ran on in spite of his protesting gesture, checking his denying word, "because you have seen no other woman, because . . ."
"I will not hear another word!" he cried, finding voice at last and stopping her. "I know not woman or man save as I know you and myself, save as you have taught me by the women of whom you have read to me in that single book we have, the women of whom you have told me who have played their parts in the world. All of them together are not like you."
"That is because I am alive and here, and they are dead and away."
"If they all stood here by me on the sand, if all their excellencies and virtues were centered upon one, and she stood by you on the sand, my heart would turn to you. It isn't because you are beautiful -- you are beautiful, are you not?"
Poor man, he had no standards of comparison, only the instinct for the lovely.
"Men said so," she answered, smiling at him and blushing in confusion.
"Men!" he cried. "What men?"
"I will tell you to-morrow."
She sighed deeply at the thought of the revelation.
"Well, then," he continued, "it isn't because you are beautiful, or because you are wise, or because you are learned, or because you are kind; it is be cause you are yourself that I love you."
"And if I were none of these things?"
"I would love you just the same."
"But I am not what you think me ... in some ways," she protested.
"I could never think highly enough of you; I know that."
"No, no, it isn't that. When I tell you. . . ."
She stopped and looked at him, paling. After all the greater test was to come then. "To err," she remembered the ancient Latin proverb, "was human; to forgive divine." Would he be human or divine in this trial? Had she so trained him that he could forgive the unforgivable? In more ways than one her happiness depended upon what would be his course. If he forgave her and condoned her fault, their love could have free course if ever opportunity for benison upon it presented. But if he followed the common course of men, not only would any future union between them on the only terms to which she could consent be impossible, but he would kill her heart, her trust in man -- some times, she wildly believed, her trust in God.
"Nothing, nothing," he repeated, "that you could tell me would make any difference."
So lovers have protested, she recalled, since time and the world began. And yet things told have made differences. What would it do for their future, this revelation of the morrow?
And again she realized that the test, if she herself were compelled to make it, would be not exactly fair, for she would be at once prosecuting attorney, advocate for the defense, even in some phase the passer of judgment. She would be the criminal and the world to him. It would hardly be possible for him to arrive at a correct view and come to a determination unbiased and free. If she could have transported him by some magic power among the children of men, and with them for auditory have told her story, the test would be a true one. What he would do then, after having heard the world's voices, the world's appeals, the world's mockeries, would truly determine what he was, and in no other way could that determination be arrived at. Though she strove to be as impartial as divinity, she could not but make her defense coincident with her revelation, her justification at the same time with her condemnation. He knew nothing of life but what she and instinct had taught him, and neither would be safe guides in this emergency. He could protest and she could believe his protests, but unless they were uttered not merely before high heaven but before surrounding men, they would be of little value.
She put this by resolutely at last. We are the creatures of circumstance and environment. She would have to do the best that she could on the morrow. Meanwhile she would, as she had said, enjoy the day. And so the morning hours wore away until the time came for the customary parting. At first she would have abandoned, in the luxury of the new passion or the new revelation of the old passion, the customary rule, but she still preserved some lingering remains of her common sense, and she clearly perceived that it was necessary to go on as they had. Society cannot proceed without its conventions, and these simple regulations were their conventions which had to be obeyed. And so they parted as usual. But they parted as they had never parted before, torn asunder by their own compliance with their own petty rules, their hearts protesting.
Long before the earthquake they had erected on the topmost hill of the island a huge pile of dead wood from the groves beneath. She had lighted fires with her flint and steel for him from time to time to teach him what they were. She had even managed to cook some of the vegetable growths of the island, as well as the eggs of the turtle, oysters, and mussels which they could gather from the rocks at low tide. And she had taught him -- strange whimsy! -- to eat of these things on occasion with the use of salt with a sort of dim anticipation that some day he might come into the land of cooked food and of flesh food and find the power capable of development and useful.
She had taught him all sorts of little refinements and niceties of civilization. He had an accurate idea of a fork, although he had never seen one. He knew that to eat with a knife was a thing to be avoided, although he knew no knife except the sailor s sheath knife which she still wore at her waist. A dainty person, she had taught him daintiness just as she had taught him to comb his hair. Indeed, she had done that first herself, marveling at the brilliant golden curls that adorned his head. She had taught him to trim his beard and to care for his person, smiling the while to find how much more inherent daintiness and nicety and refinement are than, as some would have us believe, only external acquirements of civilization. He had had lessons in manners and etiquette, this half-naked savage. Indeed, the time had been all too short for what she would have him learn. But she had gone about it systematically, persistently, and given days and days without break to her task, and the results were wonderful.
When they had parted she had suggested to him-- and it was significant that now it was a suggestion; yesterday it would have been a command -- that he should take time to ascend the hill and rearrange the great heap of wood which they had builded. During all the time that had elapsed since she had been there no sail had whitened the horizon, no curl of smoke had betokened the distant passing of a steamer. But no spot of the globe could for ever remain unvisited, she thought, and some day that pile of wood might make a beacon light to call civilization to them. He was glad to comply with her suggestion, glad for occupation, and so he promised and went his way.
When he had disappeared, she turned the edge of the cliff in the secluded amphitheater where her cave fronted the ocean. She threw aside her tunic of woven grass and plunged into the cool, delightful pool, which fortunately the earthquake had not disturbed. Her clothes, the scanty garments she had improvised from her underclothing, had long since worn out. It had not been difficult, however, to plait of certain pliable rushes which grew in plenty upon the island the loose and shapeless garments they both wore. She had used strips torn from what had remained of her clothing for binding and edging, and practice had made her dexterous and skillful in the rude weaving. She still preserved, however, the blouse and skirt of serge, her only pair of stockings, and the canvas boating shoes. Some times in idle moments she tried those shoes on. Fortunately for her they were loose and easy. Going barefoot these years had enlarged her small and slender feet to something like those human and proper proportions which, from the standpoint of nature at least, had greatly enhanced their beauty. She kept these clothes, she hardly knew why; perhaps, for one reason, since she had been able to weave the wattled garment so well suited to her needs she had no use for them; perhaps against the day of the arrival of other civilization than her own.
Greatly refreshed by her bath -- and it shows her absolute confidence in him and his worth that interruption never occurred to her; it had never come and therefore it never would -- she resumed her tunic and walked toward the cave. The tide was very low. The sands terminated on one side in a rocky ledge where a long arm of the lagoon ran to the foot of the cliff. The cliff had been tremendously shaken apparently, and she noticed just above the water line a narrow opening. She had thought from noises during storms that there was a hidden cave in the cliff with an opening under water. She had imagined that possibly she could enter it by diving, but she had never cared to make the attempt, although by this time she had become as much at home in the water or under it as if she had been native to the South Seas. Sometimes in the morning they swam in the lagoon together, oftentimes she swam alone. It was a great pleasure to her, and a necessity as well in that low latitude.
Curiosity induced her to inspect more closely this opening near the water's edge. Again throwing aside her garment, she plunged into the arm of the sea and swam boldly toward the cliff. There was just room enough between the water level and the top of the opening for her head. She found herself in a straight passageway perhaps eight or ten feet long and as many wide. Cautiously she swam through it and discovered herself in an immense cave. Light filtered through the opening, and one or two fissures had been opened here and there by the earthquake or by some convulsion of nature before, through the rocky wall, invisible on the face of the cliff from the outside but quite distinct within. There was even a stretch of sandy beach on one side. She swam to it, clambered upon it, and sat down to rest.
Here was an excellent haven of refuge, instinctively occurred to her, although a refuge from what she scarcely knew. Except at the very lowest of the ebb the entrance would be covered, and even then it would take a curious and familiar eye to discover the entrance or to imagine it anything more than a deep rift in the face of the sea wall. At any other hour the entrance would be invisible, and even at low tide, if the wind blew from the sea, which it generally did, the breaking waves would cover the entrance completely. Off to one side, quite accessible from the sand strip which rose sufficiently high to afford full shelter above the high water mark, a little stream plunged down the cliff. She tasted the water and found it fresh and sweet. All that one would lack would be food and the hiding place could be occupied indefinitely.
She stayed in the cave some little time, and when she finally decided to return to the outer world she discovered that the tide had turned and that the entrance was now completely under water. This gave her no disquiet. Light still came from the outside to mark the way. She had acquired the faculty of swimming beneath the surface with her eyes open, and the distance was short. She dove into it confidently and presently emerged in the lagoon outside. It was the one place on the island, so far as she had discovered -- she had always thought there was a cave there, but had never been able to verify her knowledge -- which provided her with a shelter absolutely secure and inaccessible, as she believed. She had no less trust in her man than she had before, but the knowledge gave her a strange comfort.
When she met him that night she did not impart her secret to him. Whatever happened now, she had a place of refuge, she realized, and she was glad. It was a gorgeous golden night in the South Pacific. They wandered and played and loved together under the tropic moon and stars in the gemlike island. Yet when they parted each was unaccountably sad; she because of what she must tell him on the morrow, and he because of what he had begun to fancy he must hear.
There were more things to happen on that morrow than either she in her philosophy or he in his in experience could have dreamed of when they kissed again at parting and together said good-night
Yesterday morning she had been awakened by an earthquake. To-day it was the call of a voice, his voice. Besides hers there was none other on the island. It came to her through the open entrance. By turning her head she could see the bright expanse of sand and sea and sky beyond. Yet no figure darkened that rift in the cave wall. He stood out of sight, but within hearing, calling her name. She rose to her feet, gathered the tunic about her waist by a cincture of plaited grass, mechanically thrust the knife within a rude sheath she had made for it, and stepped out upon the sand. She had a sudden premonition that something unusual had happened, for never before had he ventured to come to the cave and thus awaken her. The change in their relations might have moved him to this extraordinary course, yet she did not believe that it had. She found him in a great state of excitement. As she cleared the entrance, he ran toward her waving his hands.
"There is something," he cried, his voice thrilling with new and strange emotions, "on the other side of the island!"
"Is it something of enough importance," she said softly, laying her hand upon his shoulder, "to keep you from kissing me good-morning?"
Evidently whatever it was, it was not, she thought for a happy moment as he swept her to his breast at once. That had been his first instinct, that had been his burning desire the night long. To have her in his arms was his constant thought; but he was new to lover's ways, unused to lover's customs, and, besides, he had sworn that the advances must come from her. But once the advance was made, the signal was displayed, the permission was given, he more than did his part. Pressing back her head he fed his fill upon her lips. No, not that, he could never do that; but he kissed her long, and for the moment forgot what he had come to tell. It was she who first remembered.
"And what is it," she asked, "on the other side of the island?"
"I forgot it for the moment," he answered passionately, "as I forget everything with you in my arms."
She laughed at this bold assertion.
"You love," she said, "as if you had been taught to do it from the beginning."
"The sight of you, your touch, the air that hangs about your person, they have taught me, and I am only beginning now to show you how much I love you."
"If this be the beginning," she laughed, "what will be the end?"
"There is no end," he replied, laughing in his turn.
"But you came here to tell me something else."
"When I started from the other side of the island, it seemed the greatest thing that I could tell, but since I have seen you . . ."
"Man, Man," she cried with pleasant impatience, "what is it that you saw?"
"I think it is a ship," he answered with sudden gravity.
"A ship!" she exclaimed in wild amaze.
She laid her hand upon her heart and sank down upon a near-by boulder. If his words were true, what would it mean to them both?
"I have never seen a ship, but there is a dark object out yonder," he pointed across the island toward the farther horizon, "too far away for me to distinguish what it is, but smoke rises from it."
"Let us go!"
She rose to her feet and extended her hand. He took it and they began to run. They ran as often as they walked except in the greater heat of mid-day. Lithe, free-limbed, lightly clad, deep-chested and strong, in this emergency they headed straight across the hill instead of taking the longer way around the sands. The distance was not great. There was a sort of rude path which they had made and often traversed, and in a few moments they stood, panting a little, for they had been unusually speedy and eager, on the top of the hill.
"There!" cried the man, pointing to seaward.
His eyesight was better than hers, but hers was still sufficiently keen, as she followed his outstretched arm and extended finger, to see upon the far horizon a dark object which was undoubtedly a ship. A hazy column of smoke elongated behind it and told her that it was a steamer.
"You are right," she said at last, a little sob in her voice, "it is a ship. It means rescue. The world is coming to our shores."
"My world is here," he returned, laying his hand upon her shoulder, and for answer she drew closer to him, glad to feel his clasp about her waist.
She had time to think how singularly like the language of convention was the language of nature. It was what any other man who loved would have said and in the same way.
"That ship is passing by," he went on. "When I saw it as I woke this morning, it was there. It goes rapidly."
"Yes," she said, "it passes by."
"I care not," he interrupted. "I don't want anything else or anybody else. Now that I have you, I am content here."
"But we shall summon it and bring it back," she went on resolutely.
"How?" he asked curiously.
"By lighting the beacon yonder."
"I forgot that."
"But I did not. Go back to the cave and bring the flint and steel. You will find them in the silver box on the shelf by the Bible; and make haste."
"I will go the quicker," he said, turning from her, "that I may be the sooner back with you."
He turned and bounded away like a young deer. She watched him through the trees and then sat down upon the summit of the hill and stared toward the ship. She was glad, of course, that they were to be rescued, but as in the joy of her love there was sorrow, so in her gladness there was apprehension. That test of which she had dreamed the night before was now to be made complete. She would postpone the telling of her story until he could hear in comment upon it the voice of the world.
They had lived in Eden, Eden without a serpent. They had plucked the tree of knowledge at will and no consequences evil had ensued; nevertheless they must go out into the world now, the world with its pains, its toils and frets, the world with its mockeries and scorns, and take up the appointed life of men. He loved her now there could not be any doubt about that but what would he do when he knew, and when he knew that the world knew, as well what she had thought, what she had been, and what she had done? Alas, when that ship s boat touched the shores of their island to take them away from that paradise, the angel of the flaming sword would always guard the entrance and prevent their returning to it.
She was a brave woman. She could face the inevitable with courage, with a philosophy which now at last was Christian. She had had three peaceful years and a day of such happiness as falls to the lot of few of the children of sorrow. Perhaps that was all that she was destined to look back upon of joy. Perhaps the future held for her only expiation. Perhaps she ought not to rebel against that pos sibility. She ought to be glad of such an opportunity indeed. But she was a woman, and by and by she hid her face in her hands and wept.
In all their intercourse he had rarely seen her weep. Tears were almost foreign to his experience. He knew what sorrow was, what sadness was, what sympathy was, for his heart had been torn when she had read to him the story of the Man of Sorrows and His sufferings. A child of nature, the pathetic in the Old Covenant and the New had appealed to him profoundly, but his were not easy tears. He had never shed any. He had only once or twice seen any. He was appalled, therefore, when approaching noiselessly he laid his hand upon her shoulder and saw and heard the evidence of her grief. He dropped the box to the sod and knelt beside her.
"Has the sight of that ship made you weep?
he said softly. "I wish that I had never come to tell you it was there!"
"We have been so happy together, you and I," said the woman. "This island has been my world, my haven, my heaven, rather, and you have been humanity to me, but now the earth opens before you. You will have other interests, other hopes, other ambitions, perhaps. . . ."
"Don't say it," protested the man vehemently. "I shall have nothing, nothing but you anywhere, everywhere, and, besides, nothing is changed. See, the smoke grows fainter, the ship more dim. She passes beyond. Things shall be as they were! Here we shall live and love on!"
Her desolation, her sorrow, appealed to him profoundly. He took her in his arms. He laid her head gently upon his shoulder. There was protection and tenderness as well as passion in his touch.
"Together," he whispered, patting her hair softly, "alone, you and I, forever!"
For one delicious moment, with closed eyes, she let herself be so soothed and comforted. But her better nature woke on the instant as it were.
"No," she said, drawing away from him gently, "it would not be right. We belong in the world of men. Men and women are not men and women until they have lived among their fellows, until they have fought down the temptations of which we know nothing here, and have conquered them . . . out there. Give me the flint and steel. I must call back the ship!"
He stooped as she spoke and picked up the little silver box. He extended his hand toward her and then suddenly drew it back.
"You cannot light the beacon," he said.
"Cannot!" she cried.
"No, for I will not give you the flint and steel."
"You must give it to me."
"I will not. I am the stronger and you cannot take it from me," he returned with growing firmness.
It was the first time in all their intercourse that he had disobeyed a command. She looked at him amazed, her heart nevertheless throbbing at the mastery in his tone, at the thought that he was willing to throw away the world for her. It is true he had had no experience of that he was giving up, but he was not entirely ignorant of the possibility, for she had told him of what lay beyond the horizon, and she had presented it in such a way that it glowed with color and life and charm. The evil, the sordid, and the wretched had been lightly alluded to, just definitely enough to shade the picture and bring out the higher lights of civilization. His was not the decision, therefore, of an untutored, inexperienced savage, not the abandonment of a toy by a child; there was some reality in it, and the reality measured his affection. Her heart leaped in her breast at that thought. For one fleeting moment she acquiesced. Things would go on in the old way. But things could not go on in the old way. For a day and a night, in spite of the great change that had come to their feelings, life had flowed on as usual, but there was a limit to human power. It was better, what ever betide, that they should go back to civilization. The woman stared at him long, earnestly, her lip trembling, her face pale, her eyes shining. They stood speechless at gaze for a moment, and then she spoke.
"You are right," she said, "my power over you has gone. I can no longer command. Mine has ceased to be the supreme will, but I beg you, I entreat you, I pray you, give me the flint and steel. See, on my knees I ask you!"
She sank down before him in an attitude which he knew to be that of prayer. They had often read the sacred Scriptures and had said their prayers together on the sand or beneath the trees since she, too, in the solitude had seen God and believed.
"I cannot. I will not," he answered hoarsely, stepping nearer to her.
"No," she said, "you must not touch me, you shall not touch me. I shall be to you as a stranger, unless you take me by force, if you will not let me light that beacon."
"No," said the man doggedly. "When the world touches our shores, it brings you unhappiness. Let it pass."
"Listen!" she said. "I have tried to tell you something about honor and duty. My honor says that that ship must be called. My duty bids me call her. You have said that you love me."
"Said! " exclaimed the man.
You do love me, then," returned the woman, " and I you, but that love must be tested, tried in the world. I can never believe in it, in you, until the trial has been made. We must call back the ship!"
"But I can believe in you without any test."
"I am different. I have been out there. I know what it is. I have seen other men."
She looked fixedly at him. He bent closer to her and laid his hand upon her shoulder, not this time in caress. She winced from the tightness of his grasp, the fierce intensity of his clutch, yet she did not draw away and he was not conscious of the force he used.
You have seen other men. They have loved you?"
"Yes," she forced herself to reply.
"I have loved no man but you."
"You had something to tell me. You were to tell me to-day."
"Was it about some other man?"
"What was it?"
"I will tell you when we have gone back where men and women live."
"Why not now?"
"You must hear the voice of the world in comment upon what I say."
"But if we do not go back?"
"There will be a secret between us which I will carry to my grave. It would be fatal to our happi ness. You see we must call back the ship. Give me the flint and steel, for God s sake, if you love me, Man!"
She had never adjured him in that fashion before. He stood irresolute a moment and dropped the box at her feet. She had conquered, conquered by appealing to his love for her. Nothing else, she felt, would have moved him.
Eagerly she opened the silver box and took thence the tiny implements. Fortunately they were in the heart of the dry season. To strike a spark was easy, to communicate it to the tinderlike brushwood was easier still. In a moment, catching the inflammable wood dried out by the tropic sun, the flames roared through the great mass. The cliff or peak at the top of the island made a background for the flame, and soon a pillar of fire twenty or thirty feet high leaped and curled up into the still air of the morning.
The woman beckoned. The two ran around the peak of the rock until they were sheltered from the fierce heat of the fire. From where they stood they could see the ship.
"Do you think," asked the man, "that the people on the ship will see the flame?"
"They cannot fail to do so."
"And how will they regard it?"
"As a signal."
"And what will they do?"
"Turn about and head for the island."
"And how can we tell what they are doing?"
"When the smoke ceases to elongate," she replied, "it will show us that they have turned and are heading this way."
There was little breeze, apparently, and the smoke would follow the wake of the ship. They watched the little speck on the horizon with strained intensity for a few moments.
"How if she passes on?" asked the man at last.
"I shall take it as a sign," said the woman slowly, "that . . . Look!" she cried with sudden emotion.
The ship had turned and the cloud of smoke now rose straight above her in the quiet air.
"They have seen the signal," went on the woman. "They will come here. We shall be taken away!"
"It is your fault," said the man grimly. "I wanted nothing but to be alone with you."
BOOK IV - THE COMING OF THE WORLD
Mr. Valentine Arthur Langford was wearily pacing the quarterdeck of his magnificent yacht, the Southern Cross. Mr. Langford was an intensely disappointed and embittered man. He had made two ventures which, by a stretch of language in one case at least, could be called matrimonial, and both of them had resulted in di[s]aster. Death opportunely had relieved him of one wife; the other, who had stood in the place of the former without the legal ceremony or the spiritual benediction, had vanished under circumstances so mysterious that he had no idea whether she was alive or dead. On a certain night some three years ago he had a dim remembrance that he had behaved like a brute to a woman. His remembrance was only dim as to details. It was entirely clear as to the fact.
What had happened as a result of his conduct, he could not definitely state. The next morning the crew had found him lying insensible on the cabin floor with a fractured skull. The woman was gone, also the power boat which had trailed astern of the yacht in the pleasant weather. Such was his physical condition that when he was not unconscious, he was delirious. He had been unable to give any coherent account of affairs, and equally unable to give any directions as to the future movements of the yacht, which had been bound nowhere in particular upon a pleasure cruise.
The old sailing-master and captain, much distressed by the accident and the emergency in which he found himself suddenly plunged, decided that his best course, in fact his only course, was to get back to civilization and a doctor as soon as possible. He had instantly put the yacht about and headed for the nearest land where he might hope to get suitable care for his terribly ill young employer. He pushed the yacht to the utmost of her speed and in three weeks dropped anchor in Honolulu just in time to save the young man's life. Indeed, for a long time it was touch and go as to whether his life could be saved at all, and it was not until nearly a year had elapsed before the Southern Cross sailed for San Francisco with a weak and shaky but convalescing owner on her quarterdeck.
The departure of Katharine Brenton with Valentine Langford had made a great sensation, but it was nothing to the sensation which raged when it became known that Valentine Langford had returned without her. She was a woman of too much importance, she had played too large a part in the affairs of the world, civilization had manifested too much interest in her, to allow her to drop out of its sight without at least making an effort to find her. The position of Mr. Valentine Langford became interestingly difficult in the face of a storm of inquiry. Mr. Langford's previous marriage was, unfortunately for him, unknown, but the world had had so complete and adequate an idea of the terms of the union which had been entered upon so blithely between Langford and Miss Brenton that the first question that met him when he came back alone was as to which one had repented. Had the woman come to her senses, had the man grown tired of her, had they parted, and where was the woman? These were the queries which were put to him with the direct simplicity of the American public through its imperious representatives, the reporters. And to these questions Mr. Langford could return no adequate answer whatever except the truth, which he could not bring himself to tell. He declared that she had left the yacht in the South Seas, that he did not know her present whereabouts, and refused to say anything further privately or in public. Miss Brenton had no near relations; what was everybody's business was nobody's, and presently public interest in her declined. She and her philosophy were practically forgotten by all but Langford himself.
Fortune, which had done him some evil turns, here, however, interposed to his advantage. The lady who legally bore his name departed this life and left him a free man. Brute though he had been, Langford was not without some strong ideas of honor and decency. Indeed, he had enjoyed long and undisturbed hours for meditation upon his sins of omission and commission during his period of convalescence, and the calm consideration of his character and previous career had done him good. At heart, in spite of his brutal conduct, for which drink had largely been responsible, he was a gentleman, and capable of things fine and high under the stimulus of some really great emotion. He had come to realize, to put it mildly, what an utter fool he had been, to say nothing of his villainy. What had led him to this realization had been the remembrance of the hours he had passed with Katharine Brenton before the clouds had arisen which had culminated in that awful storm, the recollection of which fairly made him shudder. However he had deceived her by professed adherence to her wild theories and impossible philosophies, he had honestly loved her, and association with her had been of benefit to him. If he only had not given away to his temper and his appetite! If it had not been for his former obligation!
He had married his wife in a moment of boyish infatuation. The union had been impossible almost from the first. She was little more than an adventuress, much older than he, who had entrapped him for his money. There had been a separation on a liberal financial basis, to which the woman had readily, even cheerfully, agreed, and he had no lingering remains of affection to hold him back. Her death was only a relief to him. He felt that he owed reparation to Katharine Brenton, and he was the more willing to pay the debt because he was honestly and genuinely in love with her so far as a man of his temperament could be in love with a woman. He wanted to make amends for his treatment. He would have given anything he possessed to have been able to say to her how ashamed he was of all that he had done, and to beg her to forgive him and marry him.
She had vanished, however, from under the sun, and he no more than the rest of the world knew her whereabouts. He did not believe that she was dead because he did not wish to believe it, perhaps, and he would not believe that she was dead until he had some positive evidence of it. He had figured out the chances many times; he had discussed them pro and con with the veteran seaman who commanded his ship, and he was able shrewdly enough to forecast to a certain extent her movements. He knew that she would run the boat as fast and as far as the gasoline would carry her and then she would drift. He believed that with the empty gasoline tanks forward and aft the boat was practically unsinkable. It was possible that she could have drifted upon some island. She might be alive in the South Seas somewhere at that hour.
The death of his father and the necessity for the administration of the vast interests of the bonanza king's estate prevented him from at once engaging upon the search which he promised himself he would make, but he expedited matters, sometimes to his own loss, as rapidly as he could, and after nearly a year's stay in San Francisco he found himself in position to undertake his quest. For a year thereafter he and the Southern Cross traversed the unexplored, unvisited waters of the South Seas. He had landed upon island after island which he had examined with minute particularity. Some he had found inhabited by natives whom, through interpreters he had procured, he questioned unavailingly. He ran across stray vessels trading among the islands, and through them, with constantly increasing, ever-widening mediums, he carried on his search, but without results. In thus sweeping the Pacific he had visited everything that was charted and all that he could find that was not, and was now homeward bound, convinced that the launch must have foundered and that he would never solve the mystery of her disappearance.
So assiduously had he prosecuted his search that the crew of the Southern Cross, who knew little as to the cause of his eagerness, with the exception of the shipmaster, looked upon him as a harmless visionary. They had been away so long and had visited so many islands with so much hardship, often times with so much danger from uncharted reefs in the unknown seas, that they were one and all wildly anxious to return from the, to them, aimless wander ing. If he had communicated to them at the first his quest, they would have shared his eagerness, but he kept it to himself as he had kept his own counsel in San Francisco, and he straitly charged his sailing-master to say nothing of it.
Consequently the lookout on the fore-topmast crosstrees on a certain summer morning, catching sight of a dim, blue haze on the horizon far off to starboard, made no report of it. What was the use? It would only delay matters, and they were within a few weeks of Honolulu now, and another fortnight beyond Hawaii would bring them back to the United States, for which they all longed with the desire of men who had been away from home and confined to the narrow decks of a cruising ship for over a year.
Something as to whether it was Providence or not he was somewhat doubtful in his mind afterward brought Langford on deck hours before his usual time for rising. The watch was in charge of a rather sleepy, stupid second officer, unimaginative and unobservant. He had not noticed the land, which it was difficult to see from the deck at any rate, especially as it did not lie between the yacht and the sun, and as it had not been reported from the masthead, he knew nothing of it.
Langford had found sleep impossible. The year of search, the constant disappointment, the pressing sense of mystery, the feeling that his conduct was indeed irreparable, had preyed upon him. He was thin, worn, nervous and irritable. He walked up and down the deck in the cool of the morning, thinking. For three years practically he had had this woman before his eyes as the goal of his efforts. Now she was gone and he must concentrate his life upon something else. He gazed languidly and in differently about the horizon, his unpractised eye noticing nothing for a time. Suddenly, however, staring off to starboard listlessly during a pause in his steady tramp, he thought he caught a glimpse of light. He looked idly in the direction whence the reflection had come for a few moments and saw it again; a thin cloud of smoke, or was it haze, rose above it. He was puzzled by it, of course, and stood staring. The concentration in his gaze, he thought, discovered to him a cloudy blink in the gray of the dawn which might mean land. He knew there was no land charted in those seas, for he had carefully studied the chart the night before, saying nothing to anyone, as he had become somewhat sensitive about the matter.
He ran down the companion ladder into his cabin and fetched thence a new and powerful glass which, upon his return to the deck, he focussed upon the distant point of light. By the aid of these wonderful binoculars he made out what it was. He was a man of quick decision and purpose. He called the officer to him, pointed to the light, and handed the glass to the man with the question:
"What do you make of that, Mr. Holtzman?"
The officer took a quick look through the glasses, handed them back to their owner, and said laconically:
"Land! Fire! Smoke, sir."
"Head the yacht to that island at once."
Very good, sir," said the officer, turning to the man at the wheel and ordering the helm to be put aport.
The yacht's bows swung slowly round until the island and the light were both dead ahead.
"Now, Mr. Holtzman," said Langford when the maneuver was completed, "who is at the mast head?"
" I ll see, sir," answered the second officer, step ping forward.
" Bring him to me," said the owner as the officer turned away.
In a few moments the officer came back to the quarterdeck followed by one of the seamen. The man looked very much frightened, for Langford was in a towering passion, and when he was in a pas sion he was not a pleasant spectacle.
"Did you see that island yonder?" began the owner fiercely.
"I . . . er . . . ."
" Answer me!"
" Yes, sir," said the man desperately.
"Why didn't you report it?"
The man hesitated, shifted from one foot to an other, muttered something about a wild-goose chase. Carried away by anger, Langford sprang at him and would have done him bodily violence had he not been quickly restrained by the second officer.
" Mr. Langford, sir," cried Holtzman, grasping him tightly, "recover yourself, sir."
The check was sufficient.
"Get forward!" cried Langford, controlling him self with difficulty. "Mr. Holtzman, send for Captain Harper."
"Very good, sir," answered the officer.
"And meanwhile you are to keep straight for that island until further orders."
In a few moments the old captain presented himself before the owner.
"Harper," began the young man imperiously, "the lookout this morning deliberately failed to report that land, that island yonder. I want him disrated and his pay stopped. Put him in the brig and set him ashore at the first civilized port."
Very well, sir," said the old sailing-master, not daring to remonstrate under such circumstances.
"Do you know that island?" continued Langford.
"No, sir," answered Harper. "It' not set down in any chart. I have never heard of it before."
"Harper," said the other, laying his hand upon the old man's arm, "it is our last chance. We are passing out of the region of these islands. If she be not there, we shall never find her."
"I am afraid not, sir."
" I have an idea that our quest is going to be successful this morning," returned Langford, eagerness flushing his thin face.
"I hope so, sir," answered the other. "There is somebody on the island evidently, for they have lighted a fire. It should be a signal. It might be savages of some kind."
"It's not likely. Why should they signal a ship? And how should there be savages on a lonely island like this five hundred miles away from any other land? You may depend upon it, captain, tis some castaway who wants help, and why not she? Indeed, I am sure it must be."
Something of the man's confidence infected the old sailor. He took up the glass from where it lay on the cabin skylight and going forward studied the island.
"It's one of those volcanic islands, I take it," he said as he came back. "It seems to be covered with trees. There is a hill rising from the midst of it. The fire is on the top. There should be an encircling reef round about it and deep water up to the very barrier."
"Could you see anything else?"
"No, sir. No glass would reveal anything more than that at this distance. Try for yourself, Mr. Langford."
He handed the binoculars to the owner, but his own scrutiny revealed nothing more than the captain had told him.
"How are we going now?" he said, looking over the side.
"About eight, I should judge, sir," answered Harper.
"Let us have full speed until we get nearer."
"Very good, sir."
The captain turned and spoke a word to the second officer, who signaled to the engine room, and in a few moments the motion of the great vessel through the water was perceptibly accelerated.
"Have you had your breakfast, Mr. Langford?" asked the captain at last.
"Then if you'll allow me, sir, I think you would better get it. We won't be within landing distance of that island for an hour or an hour and a half. In fact, we'll presently have to slow down. I don't like to dash in full tilt so near land through these unknown waters, and you will do well, sir, to go below and get a bite to eat."
Your advice is good," said Langford, turning away and entering the cabin.
Never had man less appetite than he. Somehow, he could not tell why, he felt certain that this, which would be his last attempt, would not prove fruit less; that his search, hitherto unavailing, would now be rewarded. He took time to re-examine the chart of those seas. It was quite possible, he thought, for the woman to have made that particular island before them from the point at which she had left the ship. The more he studied it, the more sure he became. At last he forced himself to break his fast, but in a short time he was on deck once more.
The island was perceptibly nearer. Captain Harper was forward staring through the glass. Running along the waist, Langford joined him on the forecastle.
"Can you make out anything?" said the young man, catching the old one by the arm.
"Aye," was the answer.
"Is she there?" he asked hoarsely, his heart in his mouth.
"There is a figure on the weather side of the fire yonder."
"A figure!" asked Langford, trembling so he could scarcely control himself. "Is it a woman?"
"I can't tell. It's too far off."
"Give me the glass."
"I make out another figure. There are two of them," returned Harper, slowly lowering the glass and handing it to Langford.
Two!" cried the other, rapidly focussing the glass, disappointment in his tone which he strove to keep out of his heart. "You are right," he said at last, "there are two figures there, but 'tis impossible to make them out."
He handed the glass back to the captain, who in his turn fixed it again upon the island.
"They are going down the hill," said Harper. "I have lost them among the trees." " We are approaching swiftly," he continued. " Mr. Holtzman, half speed, if you please."
Bells jangled below as Mr. Holtzman rapidly set the indicator, and the speed of the yacht was quickly checked. She still approached the island with sufficient rapidity, however, and after perhaps fifteen minutes of easy going Captain Harper signaled her to stop, fearful of any nearer approach.
"What now?" asked the owner.
"I think we better not chance it nearer, sir," said the captain. "It isn t more than a half mile to the shore. Shall I call away the launch, or will you be rowed?"
The launch was stowed amidships; the gig swung from the davits. It would be quicker to take the gig.
"I'll be rowed," said Langford.
And in a moment the voice of the boatswain's mate could be heard calling away the crew. All hands were now on deck. The conversations between the captain and the owner had been heard by many and their tenor communicated to all. Consequently when the gig, manned by six of the best oarsmen in the ship, dropped alongside and Langford descended to the stern sheets and took the tiller in his hand, the crew spontaneously manned the rail and sent him off with three ringing cheers.
It did not take the men long to cover the distance between the motionless ship and the island. As they approached the latter, they perceived the barrier reef, which, unless they could find an opening, would effectually prevent their getting on the shore. Langford swung the boat about at a judicious distance from the reef over which the sea always broke with more or less force, and closely scrutinized the line of foam. The coxswain of the boat, who rowed the stroke oar, also followed with his eyes the jagged reef. It was he who detected the two figures on the beach of the island waving palm branches and apparently pointing. He called the attention of Langford to the figures, and suggested that the inhabitants were trying to show an opening through the barrier.
Following the indicated direction, presently smooth water was discovered. Langford headed the boat for it. The men bent to their oars and soon parted the quiet waters of the lagoon. The two figures stood in plain view upon the beach still too far for those in the boat to make out who or what they were. Langford could only see that one was taller than the other; that both were dressed in some sort of loose tunics that fell to the knee and left the arms bare. He was disappointed, but yet hopeful. The suspense was almost unbearable. The men were doing their utmost, seeing the anxiety in his face, but their utmost was too slow for the impatient man.
"How long do you think it will be before they will be here?" asked the man after they had sat silent on the hill to windward of the fire watching the trail of smoke.
"I should think that it would be perhaps an hour or a little more. Why?" she returned after a moment's pause. "Are you so anxious to have them here?"
For the life of her she could not keep the bitterness out of her question. The man looked at her in surprise. She had never lost her temper before him in the years they had been together. There had been something singularly simple, free, and unrestrained in their life. Nothing had ever occurred to vex her, at least not after the man had known enough to notice it. She was a woman of sunny, even temper under any circumstances, and she had felt it incumbent upon her to be as nearly perfect as possible since she represented humanity to him, nor had it been a difficult task for her to be gentle. This flash of resentment, therefore, struck him as something entirely novel. In his amazement for a moment he forgot the injustice of it, the unkindness of it. He looked at her strangely and said to her with a little touch of severity:
"You know that it is not that, Woman."
He had no terms of endearment. He had never heard the words that lovers use, and although he knew that her name was Katharine and he believed that his was John, and though sometimes they made use of these names, generally they called each other by the broad generic terms which stood for sex. Names are only for differentiation and identification in any event, and here was no need for such appellations. She loved to call him "Man," and she loved to hear him call her "Woman."
"You know," he said, "that 'tis not I who have brought the world upon us."
"I was unjust, unkind," she answered quickly enough, stretching out her hand to him. "You must forgive me. You see even the approach of yonder ship brings bitterness into our hearts and into our speech."
"I guessed that it would be so when I saw you weep," said the man. "I wish now that I had not given you the flint and steel; that I had not allowed you to light the beacon."
"My friend, it had to be. Don't reproach yourself with that. Sooner or later this island would have been visited by someone. Sooner or later the ship would have come to fetch us off."
"But we were so happy here," he protested.
"Yes," she answered, "but not since yesterday."
"Are you unhappy because I love you?"
"Because," she made swift to reply, "I am no longer sure that you will love me always."
"But you love me, do you not?" he questioned eagerly.
"Are you sure of yourself?"
"Why not of me, then? Am I less true? Do I love less than you?"
"What is the difference between us, then?"
" I have seen the world and you have not."
" But I tell you that will make no difference; that . . .
"No man can say that who has no experience to draw upon."
"You are my mentor," said the man gently. "You have taught me all I know, but sometimes I think that about some things I know more than you, and this is one thing of which I am sure."
"Yes," said the woman, "you can be sure so long as conditions remain as they are at present, but other times, other manners . . ."
"You had something to tell me?" interrupted the other swiftly.
The woman nodded.
You said yesterday you would tell me to-day. Why not tell me now?"
"Because . . . ."
"Are you afraid to tell me?
"Yes," she said.
"Afraid of what?"
"Of losing you."
"Banish that fear."
"But 'tis not that that keeps me silent."
"I would have you hear the world's comment on what I say when I say it."
" The world's comment! What is the world's comment to me?"
"A test, a trial of your feelings! If it breaks my heart, you must know."
"If you feel that way about it," said the man resolutely, "you need tell me nothing at all."
It was a brave thing to say, for her mysterious words filled him with dubiety and dismay. He had no idea what it was that she could tell him. He had no experience by and through which to embody her vague hints into something real and tangible. He knew that he was terribly grieved, and but that he had no way to describe the pain of jealousy, he would have said that he was racked with that un happy emotion.
"Tell me nothing," he repeated again, "if it grieves you."
"Are you afraid of the test?" she asked swiftly.
"I am afraid of nothing except losing you."
"I am not worthy of you," returned the woman, "as I told you, but if you will have me, if you will take me when I have said what I must say and when the world has said what it will say, then I shall be yours so long as I live."
"It is well," said he man. "I wait the ship now eagerly, that I may show you that what I have said is true."
"The vessel is nearer now," she said at last, rising from where they had been seated together upon the grass absorbed in each other, and pointing sea ward.
"Yes," he answered. "I can even see figures upon deck."
"Your brother men."
"Will there be women on the ship?"
"I do not know," she answered quickly. "It isn't likely. Do you wish to see other women? "
"None," was the instant answer. "I wondered if my brothers would bring your sisters. That was all."
There was absolutely no dissimulation about the man. There had been no coquetry about her. He would simply have failed entirely to understand what it was. He was as honest, as straightforward, as absolute simplicity and sincerity must ever be, and she had met him exactly on his own ground. It was impossible, therefore, for her to misapprehend his mere casual interest.
She stood quietly studying the approaching vessel. As she did so, it came to her mind that there was something strangely familiar about the oncoming ship. She stared longer and the conviction grew upon her. When she realized it, she clasped her hand to her heart with a sudden gasp and turned a white face upon him. He was all solicitude in an instant.
"What is the matter?" he cried. "Your face is white; you look so strangely."
"It is a sudden pain," she gasped, terror and dismay constricting her throat.
She wavered. He thought she was going to fall. He stepped closer to her and put his arm about her.
"No, no!" she said, repulsing him.
It was like the first command she had given him in those bygone days when he had stood dumbly before her.
"No, no!" she pushed him away. "I shall be all right."
"And has the approach of men deprived me of the privilege of touching you?" he asked wistfully. "What is the matter?"
"Don't ask me now," she answered. "I ... I ... cannot explain."
The vessel was nearer now and, as she stared, it came to a stop and swung broadside to the reef. There was no mistaking it. It was the Southern Cross. She knew it as well as she knew her own face. The thing which she had dreaded so when she fled from that vessel in the launch, which she had dreaded for a time in the first period of her sojourn on the island, had come to pass. It was the very yacht from which she had escaped. Undoubtedly it bore the man from whom she had fled. He had come to claim her. Of all the teeming millions which the world held, this was he whom she would fain have avoided. Rather anyone and everyone had come to her than he! What would happen when these men met? The story that she would have told him to-day in her own way had the ship not appeared, the story that she would have told him on her decks had that ship been other than it was, he must now learn by the brutal force of circumstances, through some compelling necessity which she could not in any way influence or alter. She loathed the man who was coming toward her. Her Christianity trembled in the balance. She would fain have called invectives down upon his head, and for the moment she swept the whole sex together in one unreasoning hatred and resentment in which the man of the island participated. What sorry jest had blind fate played upon her?
She moved farther away from her companion under the constraint of these thoughts, and when he would have approached her nearer she flamed upon him in sudden anger that left him appalled. But under the influence of it he kept his distance. She saw the way of the yacht checked. She saw the boat dropped from the davits and manned by the men. She saw a figure, too far off to recognize, but which she divined must be his, descend the battens from the gangway. She saw the little boat headed toward the shore. Then she turned to the man. He was standing with folded arms, his brow as black as midnight, staring out to sea. He knew nothing, understood nothing, comprehended nothing, suspected nothing. His only realization was that she, his gentle goddess, whom he had loved, was angry with him, so far as he was concerned with out rhyme or reason or cause.
The stoppage of the ship, the lowering of the boat, its approach to the island, were now matters of indifference to him. She was angry. He could think of nothing else, and there was bewilderment in his dismay. Nothing had given him power to solve the enigma of her conduct. Where she gazed with serious intentness, he looked listlessly. Her heart smote her again. The sense of justice upon which she prided herself came to her rescue. She stepped close to him and laid her hand upon his arm.
"Forgive me!" she murmured, and her heart leaped within her bosom to meet the great flush of pleasure in his face as he responded instantly to her caress and her appeal.
"What has troubled you," he said gently, "that you are angry with me?"
"You will know soon enough," was the answer. "But see, the boat approaches the reef. It would be best for us to go to the shore and direct them, if we can, to the entrance, otherwise they will not be able to make a landing, and they may turn in their search for an entrance and be compelled to the long row around the island."
"And if they never landed," said the man, "would you be happy? If they went away without seeing us, would you believe me without the test?"
"My friend," said the woman gently.
She had often called him that during their long intercourse, and it was a name he had loved until yesterday. Now he would fain have had something near and dearer.
"My friend," she began, "it is too late now. Such is the temper of men that having once been attracted to this island they would not be satisfied until they had visited it. They saw the fire. They know that human beings kindled it and for some purpose. They won't go away until they find out who did it and why."
"Would that I had never given you that flint and steel!" he cried bitterly.
She smiled at him.
"It was my appeal, you remember, and if you repine again, I shall think you fear the test. Come, let us go down to the shore."
"You said you know men," the man asked as they threaded their way through the trees and down the hill along the familiar path, "do you know any one on that ship, do you think?"
The question was an absurd one under almost any other circumstances than that. Yet chance had shown him the one point in her armor, and hisinno cent and casual question had driven into her soul a barb. Evasion would have been easy. Indeed, his trust in her was so great that deceit would have been simple. But she had always told him the truth, and she could not begin to deceive him now.
"Yes," she said, "I think I do."
He stopped abruptly, illumination and anguish, the light of pain, in his soul.
"Was it because you know that man that you suffered so on the hill?"
"Yes," she said, again forcing herself to speak.
"Is he one of those who loved you? "
"He said so, but ..."
"And you, did you love him?"
"I hated him."
"Why?" asked the man sternly. "Had he injured you in some way?"
"In the greatest way," she answered with deepening gravity. And here her sense of justice pricked her. "But it was partly my fault."
"And have you forgiven him? " he asked with a little softening of his voice.
To him forgiveness was as natural and inevitable as breathing. In his ethics there was no other course. He had never had anything to forgive, be it remem bered. She was not so true to her standard as the man she had taught. The pupil was more devoted than the master.
"There are some things," she replied bitterly, "that a woman never forgives, cannot forgive."
"What things?" he persisted, wondering ignorantly as to her meaning.
"Don't ask me," she answered impatiently. "I told you I would tell you the story to-day, and you will have to wait until I do."
"But that comment of the world?"
"You will hear it from that man's lips, if I mistake not," said the woman wearily. "But you must press me no further. See, they are close to the reef. We must hasten."
She drew her hand away from his and ran rapidly to the beach. Naturally he followed, overtaking her in a few swift steps and running, as was his wont, by her side. If he had stopped to indulge in the luxury of self-examination, he would have found his feelings in such a turmoil of such strange emotions as would have defied classification and description. Of but two things was he very clear: that he loved this woman, and that in some way, for causes unfathomable and not present to him, he hated the man or the men in the boat off shore.
By the woman's directions just before they reached the shore, the man picked up two fallen branches of palm. They ran to the beach opposite the entrance and waved the palm branches above their heads. It was too far for the voice to carry, and there was too much noise from the breakers on the reef if the distance had been shorter. But the men in the boat evidently caught sight of the signals and understood them, for she was presently headed about and in a few moments they saw her prow cut the blue waters of the lagoon through the one entrance to the barrier. The man and woman stood silently, a little apart, watching the swift approach. Unerringly steered, the boat struck the gently shelving beach bows on, and a last sturdy pull drove her fairly out of the water. The man in the stern sheets rose, stepped forward between the oarsmen, and leaped out on the sand.
The present was in touch with the past, conventional faced the unconventional, civilization and the primitive confronted one another.
Now that the great moment had come for Langford had at once recognized the woman whom he had sought, in spite of her strange garb he became suddenly acutely conscious of trivial details and accurately responsible to matters of no moment. For instance, he stopped near the bow of the boat, told the coxswain that he might allow the men to land but that they must remain close to the beach and within easy call, and directed him to see that the boat was properly secured. Then he turned and walked slowly -- singular how eager he had been for that moment and how tardy he was in availing himself of it when it came -- toward the two who had stood silently watching a little distance away.
He was dressed in a boating suit of white and wore a white yachting cap. He was distinctly good-looking. His repentance, his anxiety, his disappointment, had refined his face to a marked degree and he was not an unworthy specimen of humanity in appearance. The man looked at him with vivid curiosity and a sudden sense of dismay to find the newcomer so worthy of respect on the ground of appearance at least.
The glance that Langford gave the man was at once casual and indifferent. His whole interest was centered upon the woman. He found himself trembling violently in spite of the superhuman efforts he put forth at control. It was only the most iron constraint indeed that enabled him to approach her at all. As he drew near to her, he took off his cap, bowed to her, and strove to speak calmly.
" Katharine," he said at last hoarsely, "thank God that I have found you!"
"Woman," said the man by her side, stepping swiftly forward and confronting Langford, "who is this man?"
"His name," returned the woman steadily, "is Valentine Arthur Langford."
"What did you do to her," asked the man with the bluntest possible directness, "that she weeps at the thought of you; that she is filled with horror as you approach; that she looks at you as she does now? I have never seen that look upon her face since we have been upon this island."
Langford turned and faced the man as these singular queries were put to him.
"Who is this man, Katharine?" he asked, an angry flush in his face.
"I don't know for certain," the woman answered, "but I think his name is . . ."
"What has my name to do with it?" interrupted the man persistently. "Will you answer my questions?"
"When I know who you are and by what right you put them, I will decide," was Langford's contemptuous answer.
The woman had never seen her companion in a temper, but he was perilously near the breaking point now, and Langford, although he realized it not, had never been and would never be in so much danger as at that instant. A swift glance showed her the man strung to the very outbreaking point. The woman laid her hand upon his arm, a calming touch.
"In the world," she said, striving in the emergency for the calming touch of the commonplace, "people are presented to one another."
How she loathed the intruder! She thought for a moment that she had only to say the word and her island companion would tear him to pieces. She wondered how far after all she had succeeded in in stilling into his mind the restraints of civilization. She began to see dimly that such an achievement was beyond the power of any single individual; that it had been in the past and would always be in the future the result of the cooperation and restraint of the many. Yet she forced herself to speak evenly to the visitor.
"Mr. Langford, I believe this man's name to be John Revell Charnock. I believe him to be an American, a Virginian. I found him here upon the island."
"This matters nothing," said the islander. " I don't care what this man's name is, or who he is. I want to know why he distresses you."
"Sir," said Langford, wondering what was the best tone to take with this singular being, "pray let us all withdraw yonder to the shade of the trees where we can be more private."
The men in the boat, who had scrambled out upon the sands, had been eager spectators and auditors of everything that had gone on. Their curiosity was greatly excited and their propinquity was evidently distasteful to Langford.
"You are refusing to answer my questions," said the man. "I will not be put off further."
"Man," said the woman, laying her hand upon his arm, "it is my wish."
"Oh, if you wish it."
Without a word he led the way rapidly across the beach out of earshot, but not out of sight, among the trees.
"Now," he said, turning and facing the other two.
He noticed that the woman was ghastly white and that Langford was scarcely less pale.
"Sir," said Langford firmly, "I decline to answer your questions. I have business with this lady and with her alone. It does not concern you, and I beg you to withdraw for a moment and give me free speech with her. After that I may have some questions to put to you."
"Everything that concerns her concerns me," said the man sternly. "What you have to say to her must be said to me. Speak on."
For a moment Langford looked as if he would have sprung upon the other, but he was so clearly no match for the wild stranger that discretion came to his aid and kept him still. Besides, he had no wish for vulgar brawling then. He turned to the woman.
"Katharine," he said, "I have much to say to you. Can't you make this man hear reason?"
"She has made me hear reason for three years," answered the man for her before she could speak, "but her power ends in this hour."
The woman looked at him piteously and nodded her head. She realized that the thread of destiny was taken from her hands and forever.
"Mr. Langford, you will have to say to me what ever you wish before this man," she said at last.
"Why, 'tis impossible!" cried the other.
"It must be."
"And," interposed the man, "you shall say nothing to her until you have answered my questions."
There must be no violence," cried the woman, stepping between the two. "No violence!"
For answer the man gently, but with irresistible force, lifted her out of the way. She knew now where he got the strength to tear the rocky wall, and while she trembled, she thrilled.
"Katharine," said Langford -- to do him justice he was not afraid -- "what is this man to you?"
"I am nothing to her," answered the man, " except that I love her."
"And you?" said Langford hotly, still addressing the woman.
"She loves me," again answered the other, "and we were happy until you brought the world to our shores. Since then she has wept. Look at her now."
"My God," exclaimed Langford, "is it possible?"
"It is true," said the woman, finding voice at last and looking steadily from one to the other.
Langford's emotion passed all bounds. He had trembled before; he shook now as if with the palsy. He reached out and caught the trunk of one of the trees to steady himself.
"What are you to this man, in God's name?" he cried.
"Nothing. Ever since I fled from the ship on that hateful night and landed on this island, we have been friends, good friends. He was a castaway. He had forgotten his speech. He had lived here alone since he was a child. I taught him everything."
"To love you?" queried Langford in hot and bitter jealously.
"That was one thing I learned myself," answered the man. "And yesterday something, you might call it chance, but I call it God," said the man gravely, "discovered to us the love we bore each other, and that is all."
"Are you -- forgive the question," said Langford, addressing the woman, and there was agony in his voice, "as you were when I left you?"
"I am a different woman, thank God!"
Yes, but in the sense in which you mean the question, I am just as I was, save that I love this man."
"But you had no right to love him or anyone," burst forth Langford bitterly.
"And do you reproach me with that?"
Think of your wife."
"She's dead," said the man hoarsely. "I have searched the world for you. I have come back here to make amends, to own my fault, to marry you before God and man, to take you back, to do for you as long as I shall live all that a man can do."
There was such genuine passion in his voice and in his appeal that the most inimical and indifferent would have recognized it, but there was no response to it in the woman's heart. A greater love than his had come into her soul. The whole current of her being flowed to the man by her side.
"No," she said. "Your words have no appeal for me. They awaken no response in my heart. I love this man, not you."
"Have you thought," persisted Langford meaningly, "that you are not free to love anyone but me?"
"By heaven!" cried the man, springing forward, "this time I will be answered. Why is she not free to love me or anyone?"
"Because," said the other resolutely, "before she came into your life she belonged to me."
"Belonged to you?"
"Yes, to me."
"And by what tie?"
Langford hesitated. He was furiously wrought up. He saw that it was necessary to make a break, a rupture, between these two. He thought that if he could do so, his own suit might the better prosper. He was in deadly earnest and therefore he took the risk. How frightful it was, he had no preconception. He did not understand that he was dealing with a primitive man. How should he? He did not under stand what passions slept beneath the surface. And perhaps if he had understood, to do him justice, for he was a fearless man, he would have ventured just the same.
"She was my mistress!" he said through his teeth.
"Shame! Shame!" cried the woman, and then she fell silent, clasping her hands and waiting for what might come. The hour of her travail was upon her.
Langford flashed a look at her, and then his gaze reverted to the man. The expected outbreak did not instantly come.
"Mistress!" said the other. "I know not what that means, but 'tis a word of bitterness. Say further and more clearly your intent."
"Why, you fool!"
"He that calleth his brother a fool shall be damned," said the man.
Langford stared at him.
"Where have you lived," he cried, "that you don't know the meaning of words?"
"I have lived nowhere but here, and I have known no language but what this woman has taught me."
"Yet she could easily have taught you the meaning of that word," the other responded with cruel, ruthless meaning.
"I will take the lesson from you."
"You will have it then!"
"She was my wife, but without the blessing of God or the law of man. I owned her, do you understand? I possessed her, body and soul."
"Not soul," said the woman, but the protest was lost.
You lie!" cried the man, swiftly leaping upon him.
No tiger ever sprang with such swiftness or such ferocity. Langford was prepared for an attack. He dealt a blow at the oncoming figure with all the force of his arm, and skill and training enabled him to put into it more than one would have fancied from the slightness of his figure. He struck the man fairly in the chest. The blow apparently might have staggered an ox; it had no effect whatever upon the other. In an instant Langford was caught as if in the grasp of a whirlwind. He was lifted from the earth and held high in the air. For one tense moment, unable to struggle, he hung upon uplifted arms. He heard a voice beneath him cry:
"Woman, shall I throw him down and kill him?"
"Do him no hurt," said the woman, "for what he has said, as he sees it, is true."
At these appalling words the strength seemed all at once to go out of the man's arms. Heavily, but not with purposeful ungentleness, he slowly sat Langford down upon his feet on the sand.
"You brute!" cried the man, trembling with impotent anger.
There was nothing that he could do personally. If he had possessed a weapon he would have killed the islander, but he was unarmed and helpless. Therefore he turned toward the beach and called to his men. They had seen the sudden attack and were already running across the sands.
"No," said the woman, "that word belongs to you. You have told the truth, and yet not all." She turned to her companion of the island. "Man," she said, "you have loved me. You must hear what I have to say."
"You have said that it was true," he muttered hoarsely. "And the man who has said it lives. Lives!"
His voice rose to a cry. He turned toward Langford again. But by this time the six blue jackets who made up the boat s crew were close at hand.
"Haley," cried Langford to the coxswain, "seize that brute yonder, and . . ."
The woman was still wearing the knife that she habitually carried. She used it often and kept the blade bright and of keen edge. She whipped it out on the instant, her civilization falling from her like a discarded garment when the man she loved was threatened.
"Let no one lay hand upon him," she cried, aflame to defend him. "I swear that I will drive it into my own heart if he be touched."
"Give me the knife," said her companion suddenly.
Before she could prevent him, he whipped it out of her hand.
"And now," he said, springing toward the huddled group of sailors, the bright blade lifted, "which of you will touch me?"
The men shrank back. There was something so furious in the aspect of the man, his power was so evident, and his temper as well, that none wished to precipitate the fray.
"I appeal to you," said the woman, turning to Langford, "send back the men. A moment since I saved your life. At a word from me he would have thrown you from him and broken your back. Be generous. You must. And this man shall give me a hearing. You are safe from him, I promise you,"
What might have been the result of this appeal can never be determined, for at that moment a new factor entered upon the scene, a factor whose presence was as surprising and unexpected as it was determinative. From out to sea, yet near at hand, came a muffled detonation, the roar of a heavy gun. Around one of the headlands that rose on that side of the island there swept the white sides of another great ship beside which the yacht, imposing though she was, was a toy. It was the woman who saw it first.
"Look!" she cried. "A ship of war. See the flag of the United States. This land is America. I claim it by right of discovery. Lay but a hand upon this man and I will have you hanged for murder, Langford. With their glasses they have seen this encounter. That gun was a warning. A boat is putting off. Thank God, we are saved from you!"
Things had transpired even as she said. What the cruiser was doing in those seas, how happened she to be there, were things as yet unknown, but that she was there was apparent. She had approached the island from the other side and had sailed around it. Her men had observed the encounter on the shore, which seemed to be between natives and persons from the yacht which was in plain view a little farther out to sea, and the gun had been fired to call attention to the advent of the United States.
This put an entirely new face on the whole affair. Matters were taken out of the hands of the parties to the quarrel. The law had come to the island. The islander did not, could not, know it, but his baffled antagonist realized it immediately. So did the woman. At Langford's command, his men, much bewildered at the scene they had witnessed, went back to their boat. He himself presently followed after and stood upon the strand awaiting the approach of the heavy man-of-war cutter which had pulled away from the big white cruiser's side.
"Man," she said softly, "this is what I had to tell you."
He nodded. A hollow groan burst from his lips. "His mistress," he muttered brokenly.
"I would not have had you learn in this way, and now that you have heard so much, you must hear more" she went on, not sparing herself, though she might justly have resented the word. She was dealing with more serious things than words now, bitter though they might be. "That ship, which is the ship of our country, stands for law as his for license. I was more sinned against than sinning. When you have heard all, then you shall judge. This is the test."
"Would God that it had never been laid upon me," said the man hoarsely. "Would God that the beacon had not been lighted on the hill!"
"Nay," returned the woman gently, "that's past praying for. Decision rests with you, but you must not pass it until you have heard the whole story. The world holds me stained, polluted it may be, as he said, but I am not the sinner that it thinks me or he portrays."
"You said it was true," doggedly cried the man.
"Yes, but not all true."
"And I had him in my hands, and still he lives."
"Won't you hear me?" pleaded the woman.
The man shook her off and turned away. That very innocence which had prevented his understanding at first the charge, made it the more hideous when comprehension came. He had loved this woman with a love that passed the love of man, for there had not entered in his mind the faintest possibility that she could ever be or ever have been other than what she seemed, a daughter of the gods, in truth, in sweetness, and in purity. And this man had come from out of the world and proclaimed her his mistress, his cast-off, abandoned mistress. Once the clew was given he found more hideous depths of infamy in that word than would have appeared had his been a wiser and more experienced vision. Indeed, so clear and pure was the soul of this woman that a man of the world would have known instantly that there was an explanation, which this child of nature could not see forthcoming. He wanted to be away from her and alone, and he turned as if to plunge into the depths of the forest, but with gentle force she restrained him.
"If you are a man, with a man's power and a man's soul and a man's heart, you cannot fly now. You must stay and face the problem. The question must be pursued to the bitter end. My life and your life depend upon what we do now, perhaps his life, too."
"O God," cried the man, recurring again to that bitter thought, "I had him in my hands and spared him."
"But you spared him for my sake," said the woman, "think of that."
"For your sake," declared the man pointedly, "I should and would have killed him."
"Thou shalt not kill!" said the woman softly.
"Thou shalt not kill!"
"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," returned the man. " He and you between you slew my heart. His death would be no murder, but retribution."
"But it was in part my fault," returned the woman, bravely making her confession.
"I will never believe it. It cannot be."
"And yet it was, but you shall have the whole wretched story to-day, and you shall judge. This much I will say, that though all that he said was true, yet I hold myself blameless and innocent. The world judges me harshly, and it may be that you will find its judgment just. Yet I do not hold myself as on trial at this moment, but you."
"I do not understand."
"There are many things that you do not understand, my friend."
"I would that I had been left in ignorance."
"Nay, that is not a man's wish, but a child's."
"Of one thing am I certain."
"And what is that?"
"That I should have killed him!"
"Nay," said the woman again, "that is not a child's wish, but a brute's."
"You said yourself," he flashed at her, "that there were some things a woman could not forgive, and this is one thing that a man puts in the same class."
The woman sighed. There occurred to her at the moment no answer which was adequate to the stark realism of this fact. The conversation had reached an impasse beyond which it could not progress with out the full and complete explanation which now there was neither time nor opportunity to give, for the boat from the man-of-war was approaching the shore. The woman stepped resolutely down the strand to meet it, and the man, after a slight hesitation, followed after.
So soon as the boat's keel grated on the bottom in the shallow water a middle-aged officer rose from the stern sheets and stepped ashore, followed by a younger companion in the uniform of a sergeant of marines. A little squad of privates in the bows landed and fell in line with martial celerity and precision. The officer in charge, who wore the white tropic uniform of a lieutenant-commander, now faced the people on the island who had instinctively divided into two groups, one on either side of him. To the right stood the man, and behind him the woman, to the left Langford, back of him his crew. It was to the latter that the officer first addressed himself.
"Sir," he began, "I am the executive officer of the United States cruiser Cheyenne, detached on special service. We raised this island this morning, ran it down, circled it, saw the yacht yonder. . . ."
" It is my yacht, sir, the Southern Cross answered the other. "My name is Langford."
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Langford. Mine is Whittaker."
The lieutenant-commander touched his cap as he spoke. Langford lifted his, and the two shook hands.
"We saw," continued the lieutenant-commander, "what appeared to be some sort of a fracas with the natives, and fired a gun to attract attention, and Captain Ashby sent this boat party ashore under my charge to do whatever was necessary. Perhaps you can explain how you came to be embroiled with the natives."
"Sir," said the woman and the fact that she addressed him in his own language and with the cultivated accents of the well-bred and the well-educated caused the officer to start violently "the island is mine."
Mr. Whittaker turned and looked deliberately at her, his surprise only equaled by his admiration. The tunic that she wore was a rough garment and shapeless, but few vestments were better calculated to set off her exquisite proportions. The grace and beauty of her figure, the nobility and intelligence of her face, took added luster from the contrast of the utterly simple, natural, and primitive. Whittaker's glance fell upon a well-nigh perfect woman. The constraining influences of civilization had been so long absent that nature had time and opportunity to reassert its claim. She was tall, exquisitely modeled. Her bare arms might have supplied those missing from the Venus of Milo; her limbs, which the short tunic to her knee left exposed, were perfect in their symmetry and strength; her feet were such as those to which ancient Greece had bowed; her hands were shapely, graceful, yet strong; her dark eyes looked at him fearlessly; her dark hair rose like a somber, cloudy crown above her brow. The fierce sun, the open air, the wild wind had not materially altered the clear, slightly olive pallor of her face. The woman had been beautiful before. Now that nature had had free sway, she was nobly lovely. She had stood a little in the rear of the man at first and the lieutenant-commander had not particularly observed her. When she spoke, she stepped into the open. He stared and stared, amazed.
Indeed, the direct intensity of his glance added a sudden new perception to the woman's faculties, and for the first time in years she realized that she was standing before her fellows half naked. In one swift moment convention leaped across the missing years and caught her in its arms. The red flashed into her cheek; beneath her rude vest her bosom rose and fell. Her instinct for the moment was to fly. She wished that she had put on those treasured garments which she had kept for a scene like this in that cave all those years. It was too late now. She summoned her courage and, realizing that dignity after all is not made of clothes or conventions, once more addressed him.
"Sir," she said, "my name is Katharine Brenton. I am not, as you might well think, a savage, but a castaway."
"I beg your pardon," said the officer, a man of wide reading and culture, "is it possible that you are the Katharine Brenton who wrote 'Fate and Destiny'?"
"I am that unhappy woman."
"Yes," returned the other, "I . . ."
""Madam," said the lieutenant-commander, flushing deeply and bowing in his turn. He had taken off his cap at her first word. "I beg your pardon, I have heard something of your story."
He was very much embarrassed. It was Langford who took up the tale.
"Since you know so much, Mr. Whittaker, you may as well hear the rest. Indeed, I am anxious that the world shall hear it. Miss Brenton and I, we . . . er . . . did not believe in marriage, and we went away . . . together."
Every word was agony to Langford, who was a proud man; it was worse agony to Katharine Brenton, who was a proud woman; and it was worst agony of all to the man of the island. But Langford persisted. He did not care how he hurt himself. Indeed, he rather luxuriated in the consciousness of his own pain. It was part of his expiation. He realized that he would have to hurt Katharine, but perhaps the very keenness of her pain would make her realize her position, and he wanted to win her, now that he had found her and seen her, more than ever. Nor was his passion a base one. Again he was ashamed of what he had already said, so he spoke the more frankly. He gave no thought at all to the other man, but if he had, he would have been glad to hurt him until he killed him.
"We went away on my yacht yonder three years ago. I ... in short ... I behaved like a brute on it, I will admit."
"I discovered that he was a married man," said the woman swiftly at this juncture. She, too, would be frank. This grave and middle-aged officer should hear all. "He had professed belief in those views which, if you have read 'Fate and Destiny,' you realized that I entertained."
The officer bowed.
"And have you abandoned them now?" he asked.
"Absolutely," was the firm answer. "I am a Christian woman, thank God!"
"Thank God say I, too," continued Langford. "Yet I was not altogether a sham or a lie. It is true that I was a married man."
The lieutenant-commander flashed a contemptuous look at him, at which Langford winced, but he went on. He was determined to make an absolutely clean breast of the whole affair.
"It is true I was a married man, but I was under the spell of Miss Brenton's eloquence and of her beauty."
"I can well understand that," said the officer gravely as a matter of course.
"I thought that marriage meant nothing and that the old tie might be disregarded. I hated the woman who bore my name, and so, as Miss Brenton's disciple, as her devotee, for I loved her, I will admit," he smiled drearily, "more than her philosophy, I proposed that we should trample upon the conventions she had taught me to believe she despised, and go away together."
"But you were not free," said the woman, "to enter upon such an undertaking."
"No, by heaven!" cried Whittaker.
Now this conversation had been carried on with three auditors, or groups of auditors, besides those participating, Langford's yachtsmen, the marines and seamen from the Cheyenne, for the boat was against the shore, and the man of the island. Whittaker first awoke to the situation.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "but would it not be better to continue this conversation privately?"
"I think so," returned Langford.
"No," said the man of the island, addressing the lieutenant-commander for the first time; "you and these men are the world. I want the story told where all the world may hear."
Whittaker's surprise at this remark was scarcely less than he had experienced when the woman addressed him. Who was this splendid, godlike form of man standing glooming by the woman's side, a silent, eager listener to all that transpired? What had he to do with the question that he assumed this tone and manner of authority? The officer turned toward the woman.
"I think," said he quietly, "that the lady should be allowed to decide."
"My wish is my friend's wish," said the woman, laying her hand softly upon the man's arm.
Whittaker observed that the man shook it off nervously, but the point being settled, there was no further appeal.
"Pray proceed with your story, Mr. Langford," he continued.
"No, let me take up the tale," cried the woman. "Believing that I was right, believing that the education and training which had made me what I was were sound, believing that this man was as free as I to choose his course and order his lift, knowing nothing of his wife, I yielded to his pleadings. I thought it was a noble and splendid opportunity vouchsafed me, and, in a measure, vouchsafed him to show the world that we did really believe what we said. Had I believed in God then, I should have said his meeting with me, his conversion to my theories, his passion for me, his willingness to abide by my decision, were providential. I was glad to consecrate my life to the truth, with his aid to take the final step in attestation of my belief, to convince the world that one woman at least had the courage of her convictions. It was a mistake, a frightful mistake, an irreparable mistake, for which I suppose that I must suffer to the end of time."
"No," cried Langford, "I am here to repair the blunder."
"There is no power on earth," said the woman passionately, "that can put me where I was; that can give me back that I have lost."
"Kate, Kate," cried Langford, "you don't understand!"
"I understand too well. Why continue the sorry story? Mr. Whittaker, and you that are men beyond, that have wives and children and sweethearts, that have been taught to love God, to believe in Him, and to observe His laws, that have submitted yourselves gladly to the conventions of society or if any there be among you who have outraged these and gone against them, taken the law into your own hands you will understand sooner or later what came to me. I discovered that there was nothing high or holy in this man's regard for me; that he had persuaded himself that he believed what I taught simply to get possession of me. I awoke to a dreadful realization, alone with him on that yacht. He was not kind to me. He acted according to his lights."
"I will confess it," said Langford. "I was a brute to her. I drank; I acknowledged that I had a wife; I said she was in my power; I called her vile names."
There was a low growl, a muttered roar from the men behind Whittaker. Even Langford's own men, in his own pay, shrank back from him. The man was frightfully pale, yet he went on resolutely, Whittaker stilling the tumult with upraised hand.
"No one," he cried, "can think more hatefully of a human being than I think of myself now. I have not learned her philosophy; I have learned an other and a better. In some sort of a way at least I know that I can never be happy until I have made her happy. I know that I love her now as I should have loved her then; that I have hunted these seas for her without ceasing since she left me in a drunken stupor one night."
"Left you how?" asked the lieutenant-commander.
"I am not quite clear. I must have descended very low," said Langford. "I remember some sort of a scene at supper, and when I woke in the morning, or I didn't wake for six months they found me in the morning with a fractured skull on the cabin floor and they took me back to the United States. It was a year or more before I could begin the search for her."
"He said things to me that night," said the woman, "that no woman could endure or forgive. He came toward me. I threw him from me with such force and violence -- I am a strong woman -- that he lay senseless in the cabin. The motor launch had been got overboard for a trial and was trailing astern. I got in it, drifted away, started the motor and ran it until the gasoline was gone. I brought food and water from the cabin table. I lived a week alone in the boat, bearing southward all the time by means of a sail which I improvised from a boat cloak. One night there was a storm. At the height of it I was thrown upon this island. The . . ."
"I hoped," said Langford, taking up the tale, "that that might be the case, and with that end in view I have searched the Pacific. I have landed upon many uncharted islands. I have explored others little, if ever, visited, praying to God that she might be alive, that I might find her and make reparation, and now I have found her at last when I had given up all hope, abandoned all expectation. And I stand here confessing my fault before men, ready to do anything and everything that a man can do to make amends for the past."
"But you have a wife," said Whittaker coldly.
"No, she's dead these two years, thank God. I never loved her. It was a boyish infatuation with a designing adventuress who wanted a hold upon my father's money. I am free, free to make her my wife. I ask her, I beg her, to take me, to give me a chance to show that I feel what I have done, to devote my life to expiation."
He stopped, wiped the moisture from his fore head, stood for a moment in the silence that followed his words, his face downcast. Then he lifted it, haggard, worn, sad, the humiliation of the last few moments having entered deeply into his soul.
"Kate," he said softly, "your answer! "
"Miss Brenton," said Whittaker with the deepest gravity he could infuse in voice and manner, "you have been a most unfortunate, a most unhappy woman. Allow me to assure you of my sincerest commiseration, my deepest respect, my most profound admiration. You have suffered, but innocently. If I may speak the voice of society, if I may stand for the world, as your companion has said, I can only express my reverence for you and my homage to you in this way."
He stepped nearer to her, he seized her hand. He was an old-fashioned, humble-minded, quixotic sort of a sailor, if you will, for before anybody realized what he was about, he bent his head low over it and kissed it. And the sailors behind him and the marines in rank broke into a hearty cheer.
"There, madam," said Whittaker, "you have the approbation of society for my act. As for you, sir," he turned toward Langford, "I should be untrue to my manhood if I did not say what you yourself have said; that you acted not only like a brute and a coward, but, sir, when I look at the lady, I am constrained to add like a fool."
Langford started forward, but the lieutenant-commander checked him.
"Having said all that, I must admit that you have conducted yourself since that time as a man of honor and as a gentleman. I have no doubt but that your offer will be accepted; that the world will forgive you as it will admire and respect your wife."
"No!" cried the man of the island suddenly.
He had kept silence, resolved to hear it all out without interruption. He had suffered, as the miserable story had been unfolded, to such an extent that all that he had gone through before seemed like child's play. He had heard Langford's noble confession, his generous offer to repair his wrong, but without the appreciation of it which the circumstances and its intrinsic quality might have evoked. He had heard the woman's defense, her splendid justification of her course, the bitter repentance that had followed it, but without that appreciation of what justification there was for her and the value of her remorse which the account should have brought to him. He had observed Whittaker's prompt and touching expression of confidence and reverence, but without understanding its force and power. Indeed, he had instinctive shrewdness enough to realize that even though the sailors, touched by the act of gallantry and moved with pity for the young woman who stood there lovely in her misery, had cheered, yet the world would be very slow to the same expression. He saw that the woman was face to face with a crisis; that she would either have to accept or decline Langford's offer to marry her at once.
His heart was filled with bitter rage. He knew that he loved the woman; that he never would love any person but the woman, but nevertheless the resentment against fate, which had placed him in so awful a position, of whose malign purposes he had been the blind, ignorant victim, was so great that for the time being his love was in abeyance. He pitied himself, he loathed Langford, he was contemptuously indifferent to the world, and for the moment he almost hated the woman. The subconsciousness that possessed him that these feelings were as ungrateful as they were unwarranted increased his wretchedness and misery.
He had the passions of the savage and the civilized man at the same moment. He worshiped her, but he could have killed her then and there. In his blind fury he could have killed them all. He could have wished that the earth might open and swallow him and all who stood upon it. Like Samson, he could have pulled the pillars down upon the company, though he brought the rocks of doom upon his own head, and, like Samson, he was blind, blind with passion, blind with unreasoning resentment, caught in a net, striking out violently on every side, cutting a strand here and there, but feeling generally like one who beats the air and knows not upon what he strikes. He could keep silence no longer.
"No," he cried, "before any answer is made, let me speak!"
"Your pardon," said Whittaker, "may I ask who and what you are?"
He spoke with a tone of authority that could not be gainsaid. Indeed, he largely represented law and order on this strange island. The power of the United States was back of him; over his head particularly flew the flag. In a certain sense this was taking the shape of a judicial inquiry and it behooved him to be accurately informed ere he presumed to pass judgment, to express a comment, or to decide upon a course of action.
"Sir," returned the man, "as to who I am and what I am, I do not know, nor does it greatly matter."
"Your pardon again," returned the lieutenant-commander coolly, "but it matters very much. Unless you have some right to interfere, I do not concede that any suggestion from you in this crisis, which seems to concern these two people, this lady and this gentleman, is at all in order."
"But it does concern me," returned the man, impatient of this checking, "for I love this woman myself, and she has done me the honor to say that she loved me. I had intended to make her my wife should Providence ever bring us to civilization again."
"Had intended!" exclaimed the woman under her breath, but no one noticed her words, for the lieutenant-commander spoke again.
"That being the case, some information as to who you are and how you came here is the more evidently in order."
"I can answer that," said the woman. "When I landed on this island, I found this man here. He had been here a long time. I believe he had been cast away here as a child and had grown up alone. He had no speech or language. He had no memory of the past. His mind was a blank. I was glad to find him here. He gave me occupation, companionship. I had been well educated. I determined to teach him. I knew that his ignorance was the result of his environment. I believed him to be naturally acute. I found my beliefs warranted. I taught him all that I could of life and letters from memory. For three years my sole and only occupation has been to teach him what I knew. No preceptor ever had apter or more docile pupil."
"No learner ever sat at the feet of such a teacher," cried the man, touched by the recollection. "Think, men, all that I knew was a childish babble of prayer which had remained in my memory. I was ignorant of everything, even that I myself existed; that there was any difference between me and the palm tree or yonder bird; that man was made in the image of his God; that there was such a thing as a woman upon earth. I had no ideas of honor, or honesty, or purity, or sweetness, or truth, or life, or God, until she taught me. I believed in her as I believed in God, and I loved her as I love sunlight and fresh air and the sweet wind. I loved her, as I learned to love, under her teaching, goodness and truth and every virtue. And to think, to think, to think" -- he threw up his hand in a wild gesture "that it has come to this."
"And he taught me something, Mr. Whittaker," said the woman. "He gave me back my faith in manhood, which you" -- she swept Langford in a bitter glance -- "had destroyed. He gave me back, I think, my faith in God. He taught me many things. And when two days ago an earthquake buried me within the cave I call my home and he tore the rocks asunder and freed me and caught me in his arms, I knew that he had taught me what love was, and as he has confessed before you all that he loved me, that he did love me, I will confess the same, and say that I at least have not changed in this hour."
"Kate, Kate!" cried Langford, "for God's sake, think what you say and do!"
"Sir," said Whittaker, turning to the man of the island, "you are a very fortunate man."
"Of all on earth," was the bitter answer, "I cannot think there are any more miserable than I."
"Did you learn nothing of his past, Miss Brenton?" asked Whittaker uncomfortably, unable to answer this strange yet natural assertion. "Could the man remember nothing?"
"I learned a great deal," returned the woman. "In the cave which he had made his home and which he has since yielded up to me . . ."
"Where is this cave? "
"On the other side of the island. You shall see it presently. I found a Bible. There was a date in it some thirty years back, and a name in it."
"What was the name?"
"John Revell Charnock."
"Of Virginia?" asked Whittaker eagerly.
"I think so, although there was nothing but the name and the date in the Bible."
"I know the Charnocks in Virginia. They came from Nansemond County."
"It is a further confirmation," said the woman. "With the Bible there was a little silver box containing a flint and steel by means of which," she turned to Langford "we lighted that beacon which brought you here this morning."
"It was my own eye caught the signal," answered Langford.
"Would God I had died ere I gave it up to her!" interposed the man.
"I insisted upon it. So soon as I realized this man loved me, I told him I had a story to tell. I knew it would bring sadness to his heart. I wanted him to hear the voice of the world in comment upon my relation, and I knew he would find it on yonder ship."
"I was happy," said the man, "to go on as we were. I should not have lighted that fire."
"Pray continue with your story, Miss Brenton," said the lieutenant-commander. " I am deeply interested in it. There is a great Charnock estate in Virginia which has been held in trust for twenty-five years or more by the last survivor of the ancient family. And I remember some romantic story connected with it, too."
"The silver box that enclosed the flint and steel," continued the woman, "was marked J.R.C. Exploring the island I came upon the remains of a boat buried in the sand. It lies off yonder and any of you may examine it. Near the boat in yonder coppice there were two skeletons, one of a woman and the other of a dog. I excavated the boat, found that it had belonged to the ship Nansemond of Virginia. I have the stern-piece with the name painted on it in my cave. I put the skeletons of the dog and the woman in the boat and filled it up again with sand. There they lie waiting Christian burial. The place where they had died, the woman and her dog, I carefully inspected. Everything but metal, and most of that, had rusted away, but I found two rings." She stretched forth her hand. "They are here." She stripped them off. "One of them is a wedding ring. You see it is marked." She read the markings off, "'J.R.C. to M.P.T., September 10, 1869, II Cor. xii-15.' The verse of Scripture to which reference is made is, I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. There was a piece of silver also, which had evidently been part a dog collar. It, too, was marked: John Revell Charnock -- His Dog, July 22, 1865. And that is all."
"Do you remember nothing of your early life, nothing whatever, sir?" asked Whittaker, turning to the man.
"I have a dim recollection of some sort of a sea happening, of a long voyage with a woman and some kind of an animal in an open boat, of horrible sufferings, of a few words of prayer; that is all."
"I think that this man, then a child," resumed the woman, "and his mother must in some way have been involved in a shipwreck, and that she and her son and a dog must have been cast away on this island; that the woman died and the child survived. There is nothing here that would in any way harm him, and his life and growth under such circumstances and conditions are quite possible. He had probably seen his mother read that Bible. He carried it with him, put it in that cave and forgot it with the flint and steel in the silver box of which he would have no knowledge and which he could not use. The dog probably lived some time and when he died crawled back to where his mistress lay and gave up his life at her feet. And therefore I believe this man's name to be John Revell Charnock; that he is an American and that he came from Virginia. I know him to be a Christian and a gentleman. In all the days that we have been together on this island, he has done me no wrong. He has been gentleness, kindness, docility itself, and despite ourselves we have learned to love each other. Until yesterday we did not know it. Now it is for him to say what we shall do."
"Kate, Kate," cried Langford, "you cannot let this untutored savage . . ."
"Not that," said the woman, "for I have taught him all I know and all I believe."
"You cannot let him decide this question," continued the man, passing over her interruptions.
"Yes," said the woman, "he must decide, but whatever he decides, whatever the relationship between this man and this woman is to be, I can never be anything on earth to you."
"Don't say that," said Whittaker. "Think, my dear lady, what you do, what this man offers you, the position in which God forgive me! you stand."
"Sir," said the woman, addressing the lieutenant-commander, "this man wronged me grievously, terribly. He deceived me. He broke my heart. He killed ambition, aspiration, and respect for my own kind within my soul. I know him through and through. The fact that he failed quickened his passion; the fact that men say I am beautiful made him the more eager; the fact that he was away and that he could not lay his hands upon me made him the more insistent; the fact that I had flaunted him and said him nay and struck him down made him the more determined."
"Kate, Kate, you wrong me. Before God you wrong me!" interrupted Langford.
"And indeed, Madam, I believe you do," commented Whittaker.
"Let her speak on," said the man of the island.
"It may be that you are right," continued the woman. "It may be that he is higher, nobler, truer than I have fancied. I should be glad to be able to think so. I am willing to take your view of it, his assertion of it, but I do not love h[i]m. Should I marry him, I would bring to him a heart, a soul, a body that turn to someone else. He could never be anything to me. As I am a Christian woman, a lover of my God and a follower of His Son, I cannot see but that I would be adding one wrong to another to come to this man in compliance with any suggestion of the world, following any dictate of society, subservient to any convention. I cannot see but that I would be doing as great a wrong in obeying as I did before in flaunting all of these forces. I have learned what love is and what marriage should be. I will not give my hand and yield my person where I cannot yield my heart. And there is no expiation or reparation that require it of me, no voice that can coerce me into it. I will not marry you, Valentine Langford. I will accept your expression as evidenced by your words, by your presence here, as testimony to your regret. Indeed, I realize that your confession was itself a great humiliation to a man like you. And perhaps I have spoken harshly of it. But the bare fact remains, I do not love you, I could not love you, I don't even want to love you. My heart, my soul, goes to this man," she turned to her companion of the island, "whom up to to-day I have made and fashioned and taught and trained until these hours when he has broken away from me. I love this man who stands silent, who thinks of me as a thing spotted, polluted, damned. Him I love; though he slay me, yet will I love him. Him I trust; though he disbelieve me, yet will I love him. Him I serve; though he cast me off, yet will I love him. And with this in my heart in which I glory and which I confess as openly and with as little hesitation as you confessed your shame, I give you my final, absolute, utterly irrevocable decision. I will not marry you, I will not go back with you. No, not for anything that you can proffer, not for any reason that you can urge, will I come to you when in my soul I belong to an other. There may be no end to this but my despair. This man may cast me off. This man may trample me under foot. The spots upon my soul may loom large in his view and hide what else is there. I know that I have been forgiven by God. I may not be forgiven by men, but I tell you here and now, again and again, that I will not be your wife. I will be his wife or no man's wife."
Langford turned away and hid his face in his hands. Whittaker stepped forward and laid his hand upon the shoulder of the man of the island. He shook him for a moment.
"You stand immobile," he cried sharply, "after such a confession as that, after such an appeal? What have you to say, man? You ought to get down on your knees and thank God for the love of such a woman."
"Aye, aye," burst out the deep-toned voice of the old coxswain of the cutter. "So say all of us."
"God help me," cried the man, lifting his hand and releasing his shoulder from the grasp of the officer, "I did love this woman. Think how it was, think how I believed in her. No Christian ever believed in his God as I believed in her. She told me what purity was, what innocence was, what sweetness was, what light was, what truth was, and I looked at her and saw them."
" And you can look at her and see them now," cried the officer.
"No," said the man, "I can never look at her and see her the same."
"Oh, Man, Man!" cried the woman.
The test was upon him. He was failing. Her sorrow, her grief, were more for him than for herself.
"Don't mistake me," said the man, " I can't help loving you whatever you are. If you had been as guilty as when he began to speak, and when you corroborated him I fancied that you were. I should have loved you just the same and I should have married you, and I shall marry you. This . . . this awful thing has come between us, but we will try in some way to live it down, to forget it, to go on as we were."
He stepped toward the woman.
She drew herself up to her full height and looked him unflinchingly in the face.
"No," she said, "we are not going on as we thought. We will not marry and live together. We will not bury this wretched happening in the past in any oblivion. I will marry no man, although he may have my whole heart, who is not proud and glad to take me, who does not realize that I am as pure and as innocent of wrong and shame as he would fain think his mother, as he would absolutely know his wife must be. I told you that your manhood must be put to the test. I told you that your love must be tried by fire. What I loved in you was the assurance that you would survive the test, that you would triumph in the trial. It is not I that have been before the Great Judge this morning, but you, and you have failed."
"Kate," said Langford, "he casts you off, take me. I swear to you that were I in his place, I would not have hesitated a moment."
"I respect you more than ever," said the woman, "but I don't love you and I cannot, I will not take you!"
"Charnock," said Whittaker, "if that's your name, permit me to say here, saving the lady's pres ence, that you are behaving like a damned fool."
The man looked at him dumbly, uncomprehendingly, and made no reply. It was the woman who spoke, coldly, impartially. She had seemingly dismissed the whole affair, though at what a cost to herself no one could know.
"Sir," she said, "is there anyone on your ship empowered to administer an oath?"
"I have that power," answered the lieutenant-commander. "Why do you ask?"
"I wish you would bring some of your officers here with paper and ink. I wish to make a deposition as to the facts that I have learned concerning this man which may be of service to him in establishing his identity and discovering his history when he returns to the United States."
"But are you not going back with us, Miss Brenton?" asked the officer in amazement. "We are sailing for Honolulu and thence for San Francisco as directly as we can go."
"No," said the girl, "I will not leave the island. You can take my friend here."
"The Southern Cross," said Langford, "is at your disposal, Kate."
"I have had one voyage upon her," said the woman bitterly, "I want never to see her again."
"Woman," said the man of the island suddenly, "if you stay here, I stay here. Without you, I will not go."
"Not so," said the woman scornfully;"I would not be upon the same island alone with you again. You have failed me."
Her voice broke, but she caught it again instantly and resumed her iron self-control.
Then if one of us must stay, it shall be I."
"No," said the woman, "I have been in the world and you have not. You may go and learn what it holds for you. I have tried to prepare you, to give you lessons. Now, you may put them in practice."
"The island is mine," said the man. "I was here when you came. I shall be here when you return."
"We shall see," returned the woman, looking boldly at him. The clash of wills almost struck fire within the eyes of the two who thus crossed swords. "Meanwhile," she turned to Langford, "if you will leave the island and go back to your ship, I shall be very glad. There is nothing you can do here. You have nothing to gain by remaining."
"Kate," he cried, "one last appeal."
"It is as unavailing as the first."
She looked at him steadily. He saw that within her face and bearing which convinced him that what she said was true.
"At least," he said with the dignity of sorrow and disappointment, "if I have played the fool, I have done my best to play the man."
He turned slowly away. In a step the woman was by his side.
You have," she said. "Whoever else has failed me in this hour, it has not been you. I am sorry that I do not love you, that I never did love you, and that I cannot love you." She extended her hand to him. "Good-by."
"Good-by," he said; "if you think of me, remember that I did my best to make amends, and if you ever change . . ."
"I shall not change," said the woman. "Good-by."
He moved off down the strand, called his sailors to him, got into his boat, shoved off and was rowed over the blue lagoon and through the opening in the barrier toward the yacht tossing slowly upon the long swells of the Pacific.
"As for you, sir," said the woman after she had watched Langford a little while in silence, "will you go back and bring some officers ashore to hear my story?"
"At your wish, Miss Brenton," said the lieutenant-commander gravely.
The woman turned to her companion.
"Will you go with them?"
"And leave you here alone?" cried the man.
"I shall be here when you come back, I give you my word upon it. I do not break my word. You know whatever else you may have against me, I have always told you the truth. If you will remember, I said but yesterday that I was not worthy of you."
She smiled bitterly.
"And in that, madam," said Whittaker, "give me leave to say that you broke your record for veracity."
"'Tis good of you to say so," she returned. "Believe me, I have taken more comfort from your words and actions in this dreadful hour than I had dreamed it possible for men to give. Now, if you will all go away and leave me and not come back until evening, I shall be so glad and so thankful."
"Come, sir," said the lieutenant-commander, not unkindly, touching the man upon the shoulder, "as a gentleman you cannot do less than accede to the lady's request."
Suffering himself thus to be persuaded, the man followed the officer into the boat in which the whole party embarked and was rowed away from the island. His first touch with the world had separated him from the woman he loved and who loved him. Nay, his own frightful folly, his own blindness, his own criminal and heartless decision had done that. And the world upon which humanity loves to load the blame of its transgressions and with which it would fain share the consequences of its own follies, had nothing whatever to do with it. In fact, it was because he was so ignorant of the world, so utterly unable to see things in their relative values and in relation we ascertain truth that he had taken the tone that he had used and entered upon the course which he had followed.
He could only see one thing, that this woman whom he supposed belonged as completely and entirely and absolutely to him, who was as fresh and unspotted from the world as he was, who had been his own even as he had belonged entirely and utterly and absolutely to her, was . . . different! That the difference was more in his own imagination than anywhere else brought him no comfort. He still loved her, he still wanted to marry her, but he loved her in spite of her shame. A greater, a wiser man would have loved her because of it. And some day this fact, which he himself was inherently large enough to realize, or would be after a time, would cause him a grief so great that the anguish that he suffered now would be nothing.
Whittaker was a man of great tact and shrewdness and one with a wide knowledge of the world. He realized something of what was in the man's mind. He saw in some measure how the situation presented itself to him, and he felt a deep kindness and pity toward his unhappy fellow passenger.
The best thing on earth for a man in the islander's position would have been isolation and a chance to think it over. The worst thing on earth for a woman in the islander's position was isolation and a chance to think it over. If the man had been enabled by lack of outside interests to give free rein to his thoughts and let them draw him whither they would, he might have arrived at a different view point whence he could have enjoyed a sight of the affair in all its bearings and could have adjusted himself to them, but the opportunity he needed he did not get. He was immediately plunged in an atmosphere of such strangeness to him, filled with such compelling necessity for attention, that although he loathed the necessity thus imposed upon him, he was constrained to take part in the life that flowed around him. His instinct -- and he was almost a woman in his instinctive capacity -- was to be alone, but it was impossible, and in spite of himself, what he saw distracted him. The people that he met did more. Whittaker hustled him below, of course, as soon as possible and took him into his own cabin. Fortunately they were men of much the same height and build, although the islander was the more graceful, symmetric, and strong, and he succeeded in getting him into a civilian suit of clothing for which he had no present use. There was both loss and gain in his appearance. There was no gain in the islander's feelings, at least he thought not, in view of the irk some restraint of clothing, and yet there was a certain satisfaction to his soul in being no longer singled out from among his fellows by the strangeness of his apparel. As clothes the garments became him, and it all depended upon your point of view as to whether you preferred the handsome barbarian with a hint of civilization in his carriage, or the civilized gentleman with a suggestion of the barbaric in his bearing. Whittaker reasoned rightly that the sooner he became accustomed to these things, the better, and that the time to begin was immediately.
He had had a hasty word or two with the captain before he took him below, and when he was dressed and it required much assistance from the lieutenant-commander ere the unfamiliar habiliments were properly adjusted the two passed from the ward room to the cabin of the captain in the after part of the ship.
The few sentences in which Whittaker had made his first brief report to his superior had in a measure prepared the captain for the more lengthy discourse that followed, and feeling that the situation was one which required more than the simple authority of the master of a ship, he had summoned to conference the surgeon and the chaplain. It was to these three men, therefore, that Whittaker and the islander presented themselves.
The chaplain, like Whittaker, was a Virginian. He had not noted the islander s face when he came aboard in his semi-savage garb, but as his eye dwelt upon him standing clothed and in his right mind before him, he gave a start of surprise, and so soon as the formal salutations had been exchanged, with a word to the captain for permission, he asked Whittaker a question.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Whittaker, but what is this gentleman's name?"
The word gentleman was used naturally and unconsciously, with an absolute sense of its fitness, as everyone in the cabin could perceive.
"It is not definitely known," said Whittaker, "but he is believed to be a Virginian of the . . ."
"I knew it," said the chaplain impulsively, "he is one of the Charnocks of Nansemond County."
"Your recognition, chaplain," said the lieutenant-commander eagerly, "will be of great value in determining this stranger's name and station. The evidence of it is all circumstantial. I do not know how it will be regarded in a court of law."
"I have always understood that the Charnock estate was a vast one," said Captain Ashby, "and since coal has been mined on the Virginian lands, it has become very valuable."
"It is true," answered the chaplain.
"Who holds it now?" asked the surgeon.
"It is held by an old man, my friend of many years standing, the brother of John Revell Charnock."
" I believe that to be my name," said the islander.
"I have little doubt of it," replied the chaplain, continuing. "The first John Revell Charnock was lost at sea. He and his wife and young child some thirty years ago set forth on a voyage around the world for her health. The ship, in which I believe he had some ownership, was called the Nansemond. Its course was traced as far as Valparaiso, thence it sailed for the Philippines and was never heard of again. I know the story," said the chaplain, turning toward the captain, "because John Revell Charnock was one of my best friends, as is his brother, Philip Norton Charnock, who now holds the estate."
"Is the present Charnock married?"
"No," returned the chaplain, "he is an old bachelor."
That will make is easier for our friend here," said Mr. Whittaker, "provided the evidence is thought convincing."
The best evidence that he could present," returned the chaplain, "is in his face. He is the living image of his father as I knew him, and he has family characteristics which I think would enable almost anyone to identify him without question."
"Sir," said the islander, addressing the chaplain, "did you know my mother?"
That I did," returned the old man. "Her name was Mary Page Thorton, and she was one of the sweetest girls in Virginia."
"And will you tell me about her and about my father and my people?"
"With the greatest pleasure," said the chaplain kindly. "Meanwhile Captain Ashby and these gentlemen will wish to hear your story."
"Take him to your cabin," said the captain promptly, "and tell him the things he wants to know. We can wait."
"No," returned the islander, "I can wait. I have waited all these years, and a few hours more or less will make little difference. You have a right to know my story, and here it is."
Rapidly, concisely, with a fine dramatic touch, he told the story as he knew it of his life on the island. He was so entirely unconventional that he interwove the bare details of the strange relation which he gave them with personal touches. He made no secret of his love and worship for the girl, of the belief in her which he had cherished, of the reverence in which he had held her. He exhibited that strange commixture of feeling with which he regarded her as a human woman and as a demi-goddess. He showed that he was at once her master and her creature, yet through it all there ran such a thread of bitterness, of grief, of resentment, of shame, that his auditors, at first unpossessed of the key to his feelings, listened to him with amazement and could scarce realize or comprehend. He told the story of the two lives up to the sighting of the ship upon the island, and then, his heart failing him, he turned to Whittaker and bade him take up the relation.
It was a delicate matter of which to speak, but the simplicity with which the first part of the tale had been presented gave the officer his clew. He was a man of retentive memory, of quick apprehensive power, and with a nice sense of discrimination, a rare man indeed. And he told the rest of the tale with a subtle sympathy for the situation and the actors that enabled him so to present it to the interested little group of officers that he almost made them see it as it transpired.
"And what," asked the captain when the final word had been said, "do you propose to do now, Mr. Charnock?"
It was the first time that he had been so addressed, and the man started. He had heard Mr. Whittaker s words as one in a dream. He had been going over that dreadful scene on the sands. His heart was lacerated and torn again. He was blind to everything but the past. He saw her face dimly in the present. He could see nothing of happiness in the future.
"I don't know," he answered.
" But surely this has not made any difference in your feelings?"
"I can't tell. The difference is in her, not in me."
"She made a frightful mistake," said the captain impressively, "but she has nobly atoned, and . . ."
"She's not what I thought she was," said the man, "and if I love her, I love her now not because, but in spite, of what she is, and there is a difference."
"Miss Brenton," interposed Whittaker, at this juncture, "has settled the matter herself. She says that she will have no man's pity, no man's contempt, that no man shall marry her on sufferance, and that ..."
"Right," said the surgeon, who was a man of very few words and generally good ones.
"My young friend," broke in the chaplain, "if I might advise . . ."
"But this," returned the islander with fierceness, "is not a matter for advice. I don't know the world or its customs. I must appear strange to you men. But I take it that a man's choice of a wife, a man's settlement of his future, is not a thing that he brooks counsel over. At any rate, I want none of it."
"Come with me," said the chaplain, "we will talk it over. I have lived in the world," he went on gently. "Perhaps I can help you. Have we your permission to withdraw, Captain Ashby?"
"Certainly," said the captain.
"Pardon me a moment, chaplain," interposed Whittaker, "but the young lady has asked that some of us go ashore to take her deposition as to the matters that have been alleged concerning our friend here. Captain Ashby, will you?"
"Certainly, Mr. Whittaker, I will go. And if you will accompany me, doctor, and you, chaplain, I shall be glad. Mr. Whittaker, you are a notary public and can administer the necessary oaths."
"Very good, sir," returned Mr. Whittaker as the other gentlemen mentioned bowed their acquiescence; "the lady said she would like to be undisturbed until evening."
"At two bells in the first dog watch then have the cutter called away," returned the captain.
"Beg pardon, captain," said the surgeon, "but do you or any of you know this lady to be Miss Brenton?"
"No," said the captain, "I don t know her. Do you, Mr. Whittaker, or you, chaplain?"
"Well then," said the surgeon as both the officers shock their heads, "it will be necessary to have some one ashore who does know her in order to swear to her identity to make her deposition worth anything."
"There is Langford," said Whittaker, "he knows her."
"Very good," said the captain, "send a boat over to the yacht and present my compliments to Mr. Langford. Ask him if he will meet us ashore at quarter after five o clock. Say to him also that I should be glad to have him dine with me to-night at seven. Chaplain, will you and Mr. Charnock take luncheon with me later?"
Now, to go back to the island. The woman stood on the strand proudly, resolutely, sternly erect with out a sign of unbending until the boats reached the sides of the two ships. Even then she kept herself in the bonds of a control of steel. She turned slowly, walked up the beach, entered the grove of palms, mechanically found the path and plodded along it, still erect and unbending, until the windings of the trail and the thickening of the grove hid her from any chance watchers on the ship.
Then came the moment of yielding. As if the tension had been suddenly released, she reeled, staggered, her heart almost stopped. Her instinct was to throw herself prone upon the grass, but she recovered herself in time, and with the natural inclination of the troubled toward the place, however rude and humble it may be, that is called home, she summoned her strength and dragged herself on through the trees over the hill whence a backward glance would have given her a sight of the ships, but she never took it -- down the other slope across the beach and to the cave which had been her haven for these three years.
Then and not until then did she give way completely. She threw herself down upon the sand in the cool shadow of the great rocks in what to her had suddenly become a weary land, and outstretched her arms as if to clasp the earth to her breast in default of the man she had dreamed of and trusted, she had loved and lived for, and lay there a silent, shuddering, wretched figure.
She was conscious, never more so, of her own entire innocence, of her own purity of soul. Into her heart had entered nothing that had defiled her, and out of it nothing of that ilk had come. And yet there was a soiling bodily consciousness in her mind. The terrible interviews of the morning had brought it all back. Her fingers clenched and unclenched.
Langford had craved opportunity for expiation. He had offered amends. She could not but believe that his heart was in his words. But what amends could there be? What expiation could he offer? Not all the waters of the blue Pacific could wash out the damned spots that loomed so black and so huge before the eyes of the one man in whose vision she would fain be sweet and pure and innocent.
She had thought bitterly in times gone past, when she had realized her situation, of the voice of the world. She had insisted that he should not think of any future relationship to her until he had heard the voice of the world. She had believed that the world's voice would condemn her; that the world would disbelieve her; that the world would see no possibility of sweetness and light in her; that its mockery and its scorn would be hurled upon her; that its cry would be "Away with her!"
But she had believed that he would be different; that he would see that she had been sinned against rather than sinning; that she had been led astray by a false philosophy for which in large measure her training and heredity had been responsible; that the step she had taken involved no moral turpitude and carried no evil consequences. She had made him, God and she together. In him she believed. She had spoken of a test, but in a last analysis she would have taken him without the test, confident in his love and in his acquittal of her if her cause should ever be pleaded before the bar of his judgment.
He and the world, the one to sustain her, the other to despise her; this she had expected, and in both instances she had been grievously mistaken. If Whittaker and his men represented the voice of the world and there was no reason why she should believe that they did not the world would withhold denunciation; it would extend pity. Pity was not particularly agreeable to a proud woman such as she was, but at least it was not bitter censure and scorn, which was, after all, what she had received from the man in whom she trusted.
She did not make any allowance for the man at that moment. It might have been thought strange that she had developed such a deep, pervading passion for him. She had loved not merely his actualities but his potentialities, which with prescient eye she had divined. She knew, or thought she knew, of what this man was capable. And now in the first moment of trial he had shown himself unworthy. It is true he still wanted to marry her; he was still willing to do so. But she had refused Langford's offer, which ninety-nine women in a hundred in her position would have jumped at, because she would not give a man her hand where her heart did not go; she could not, as she had said, see that that which she would regard as crime could make anything else that had transpired right. Neither would she accept anything from her island companion which did not carry his whole heart. She would be nothing to the one man unless she loved him, and the other man should be nothing to her unless she seemed to him the supremest thing in this world.
She had had many hours to herself in that long island sojourn, and the sweetest thought that had come to her had been the relationship in which she stood to this man. She had gloried in the position in which he had placed her. She had stood at ease and happy on the pedestal upon which he had enthroned her. And now to be toppled over, to be thrown at his feet as it were, to receive the charity of his condescension rather than the uprush of his adoration -- she could not endure it.
Her crushing disappointment at his failure to rise to the measure of her ideal of him, the total end of her dream of happiness, the breaking of all her hopes, the closing of all her ambitions, the tearing asunder of her heartstrings, whelmed her in agony. She had thought that never could humanity experience more than the pain superinduced by the horror of her position upon the ship, but that pain to the present was like a caress. For to all that old horror was added a new sense of loss, of disappointment and despair. She had not loved before; now she did, and the sorrow and anguish were measured by the depth and power of her passion. The period on the yacht had been an episode. This was life, eternal life or death, she thought. And it shows the power of the episode that it had colored and would color -- was it darkly? -- all the future.
That Christian philosophy which she had fondly believed she had acquired and in which -- O fatal error! -- she had somehow taken pride, fell from her like every other quality, good or bad, that is developed alone. It had lacked exercise. She, too, had submitted to no tests since she had come to the island. She had surmounted no temptations. She had fought no battles. She had not become a veteran by conquest. She had not perfected her offensive and defensive weapons by a series of smaller conflicts which would give her confidence and courage to fight the great and final battle. Like Elijah of old, dismayed, disheartened, broken, she prayed that she might die, there on the sands.
At five o'clock a boat put off from the big white cruiser, conveying the islander, the captain, the other officers, and Langford to the shore. The woman met them on the sand. She had discarded her woven tunic and was dressed in the faded blue blouse and skirt she had worn when she had left the yacht and which she had ever since preserved with such scrupulous care for an emergency like this. Well was it for her that the garments were loose and easy fitting, else she could not have put them on, so splendidly had she developed in waist and chest and limb. She wore stockings and shoes, and, save for a certain natural elegance and freedom in her bearing, she looked much as any other woman, except that few women were so beautiful as she.
The man was greatly surprised. He had never seen her in this dress with any conscious recollection of the fact. She had had wit enough to perceive that having chosen a costume she must stick to it, and she had never after worn her civilized clothes, never even alluded to them, and as he had never entered her cave after he had begun to understand and notice things, he had not even suspected her of the possession of them. It seemed a different woman, therefore, who met him on the strand, one that he did not know, that he did not understand. Some of the ways of social life which had been discarded had come back to her with her dress.
On her part she was scarcely less susprised than he. She had often imagined what he might look like in garments common to his sex and period, but her imaginings had not prepared her for what she saw. Convention did not ill become him. If she had loved him in the wild and savage dress they had been compelled to assume, she did not love him less when she saw him measured by his fellows in the garments natural and peculiar to them. He towered above all the party except Whittaker, and even the lieutenant-commander was not the man that her lover was, she thought. Her lover? . . . She wondered.
Her face, always colorless, was paler than ever. Something of the anguish that she had gone through was seen there by the keen eyes of Whittaker at least, and even the others could notice the strong constraint she put upon herself, and the evidences of self-restraint were painfully apparent.
After a momentary hesitation and a glance at the islander, who, after his first swift comprehending survey of the woman, stood with averted head -- she conscious painfully of his every gesture and movement -- the lieutenant-commander performed the necessary introductions. This ceremony over, it was the woman who spoke.
"I sent for you, gentlemen," she began, " in order that a necessary deposition might be made to enable, if possible, my . . ." she paused and bowed formally toward the islander "this gentleman, to establish his identity, upon which, as I learn from Mr. Whittaker, much seems to depend. I have here . . ."
"But could you not do this more conveniently later on the ship, Miss Brenton?" interposed the captain. He had been told that she intended to stay on the island, but he could not believe it. "We shall be very glad indeed to offer you passage home. The ship is fitted for a flag, and the admiral's quarters are yours to command. We are sailing direct to the United States, with a stop at Honolulu, and will be glad to restore you to your friends."
"Sir," said the woman, "I have no friends who care enough about me to welcome me or whom I care enough about to wish to see. My mind is made up. I shall stay on the island, at least for the present."
"But, my dear young lady," began the officer.
"Captain Ashby," said the woman, "you are the commander of that ship?"
To you is committed the ordering of her course?"
You decide all questions connected with her on your own responsibility?"
"I do, certainly, but . . ."
"Sir, this is my ship, this island. If I choose to stay here, I cannot think you will endeavor to take me hence by force."
"By no means."
"Nor have I any more fondness for having my decisions discussed than you would have for hearing your orders argued or questioned."
"It is my island," cried the man roughly, "and if you stay, I stay."
"We lose time," said the woman shortly. "I am here to give my testimony; are you prepared to take it?"
"I am," said the lieutenant-commander, stepping forward, note book in hand.
"Captain, will you conduct the necessary in quiry?"
"Certainly," said the captain. "Mr. Langford, do you identify this lady?"
"I do, sir," answered Langford. "She is Miss Katharine Brenton of San Francisco."
You say this of your own personal knowledge?"
"You will make affidavit to that fact?"
"I wondered," said the woman bitterly "why you came back."
"It was at my wish, madam," returned Captain Ashby formally.
He was not greatly prepossessed with the imperative manner and demeanor of this young woman, but he did not see exactly how he could resent it, or force any improvement in it. "Will you proceed now with your story," he continued. "Will you speak slowly so that Mr. Whittaker, who does not write shorthand, can take it down?"
Thereupon the woman told that portion of her tale which related to the evidence which she exhibited, the piece of the boat with the name of the ship upon it, the dog collar, the silver box, the Bible, the two rings. These were marked, set down and sworn to. The affidavit to which she subscribed her name and to which she took oath on the very Bible of the island was brief, though comprehensive, and the little ceremony was soon over. Mr. Whittaker assumed charge of all the exhibits except the Bible, which the woman expressed a desire to retain until the next morning. The tale having been completed and all these formalities being got through with, the men stood around in awkward silence wondering what was next to be done.
"Miss Brenton," said the captain, at last breaking the pause, "it seems a shame. For God's sake, reconsider your decision and come off to the ship!"
"No," returned the woman quietly, "my mind is made up."
"Katharine," exclaimed Langford, extending his hand in one final appeal.
"Not with you, either," said the woman.
"My dear young lady," began the old chaplain, "think what it is you do. Has any human being with such powers as you possess a right to bury herself in this lonely island? Is there no call . . ."
"Sir," the woman interposed, "your plea might move me if anything could, but indeed 'tis as useless as the rest."
" Hear mine then," said the man abruptly, even harshly.
The woman turned and faced him as unrelenting and as determined as she had faced the others. What could he say? There was but one plea that could move her. Was he about to make that?
"We have loved each other," he went on brokenly. "It was my dearest wish, my most settled determination, to make you my wife if the opportunity ever presented. That wish I still entertain, that determination has not departed from me. You have refused to marry that man . . ."
"And would you have me do so?" asked the woman.
"No, a thousand times no. I am sorrier every moment that I look at him that I did not kill him. But having refused him, there is nothing now that you can do but marry me. And as you have refused him, it makes it more incumbent upon me to marry you and to take you away. Your honor demands it.
"My honor!" flamed out the woman indignantly.
"I have said it," returned the man doggedly.
"Gentlemen, you will forgive our frankness," said the woman, turning to the little group, who waited, all except Langford, who had walked away out of earshot and who resolutely kept his back toward the party, "but this thing has to be settled. Now," said the woman, "here is no question of honor, but of love. I ask you, Man, do you love me as you did last night?"
"I . . ." he began falteringly.
You have never told me a lie," she continued. You have never known anything but the truth."
" Until I learned from you," cried the man, "what you had concealed."
The woman smiled bitterly, waving aside this cruel stab.
"Tell me the truth. Do you love me as you did last night?"
"If you will have it, no," said the man, rushing to his doom.
Men have taken a bullet in the breast, a shot in the heart, and for a moment have maintained their erect position. The woman knew in that moment how such things could be.
"But I love you still," said the man. "And I still want you for my wife."
"Last night," went on the woman as if in a dream, "I seemed to you the embodiment of every excellence that humanity can possess short of the divine."
"Yes," said the man, "I loved you as . . ."
"Do I still possess those qualities in your eyes?"
He hesitated. He strove to speak.
"The truth! The truth!" whispered the woman. "Nothing else, so help your God!"
"No," said the man, "but I love you still, and you ought to marry me, you must. Can't you understand?"
"Listen," said the woman fiercely. "I did not go to that man yonder although he offered me every thing that honor could dictate and that true affection could suggest, I do believe, because I did not love him, although I have since come to respect him after I have thought it over. It is not duty, but love, which is the compelling motive in this matter. And I won't take you, I would not take an angel from heaven unless he thought me in every particular all that a woman should be to a man, unless he loved me with his whole heart and soul absolutely, unfeignedly, completely. You don't. I don't even think that I love you now. You have been tried and tested, and you have failed. Gentlemen, will you take him away?"
"I stay here," said the man bluntly, drawing apart from the others, "and I will kill with my own hands the man who lays finger upon me."
"Sir," said the captain, "this land, I take it, is the United States. As the ranking officer present, I represent its law. It is under my rule. As to your choice, I have nothing to say, but as far as regards other things, you will have to obey me here as any other citizen of our country."
"And I know nothing of the United States or its laws," answered the man proudly, "I am a law unto myself."
The first lesson that the world will teach you, sir," returned the captain pointedly, "is that that position cannot be maintained; that the whole fabric of civilization depends upon concession by individuals of natural rights, and upon the enforcement of these concessions by other individuals to whom has been delegated that power."
"I don't wish to learn it, and that is why I will not leave this island," persisted the man.
It was the woman who intervened. She stepped close to the man and laid her hand upon his arm.
"You said that in some fashion you loved me," she urged.
"In some fashion I do," he replied.
"It grows late. Captain, can your ship lie by the island until morning?"
"If you wish, certainly," returned the captain.
"Very well. Man, will you then go aboard the ship with these gentlemen and leave me alone here for the night?"
"Alone, madam!" exclaimed the captain.
"Certainly, sir," returned the woman. "There is not a harmful thing upon the island. You can come back in the morning and we will discuss then what is best to be done. Really, gentlemen," she went on with a piteous tremble of her lip, for one moment losing her control, "I have been tried beyond the strength of woman to-day. If I can have a quiet rest, if in the morning . . ."
"That is reasonable," said the surgeon. "The lady is in no state for this discussion, nor indeed are you, sir," he continued, looking hard at the man.
"Very well," said the captain. "Come, Mr. Charnock, you cannot refuse that request; gentlemen. Madam, good-night."
He turned away, followed by the others. Charnock for the moment hesitated.
"I give you one more chance," whispered the woman in his ear. "I think myself fit for the wife of any man; do you think so? Do you love me? Do you care for me as you did last night? Can you think of me as all that is sweet and lovely and noble and pure, and worthy of any man's affection?"
She bent closer toward him in the intensity of her feelings. The words rushed from her. The man passed his hand over his forehead.
"I can only say what I said before, that I do love you still, that I will marry you, and that you ought to be . . ."
"That is enough," interrupted the woman. "Good-by."
She drew instantly apart from him.
"Mr. Charnock," rang the captain's voice imperatively.
Slowly the islander turned and made his way to the sea after the others.
The woman thus left alone upon the island was face to face with a crisis which could only be met in two ways. Either she must go away with the man, or they must both remain on the island. It was possible that the captain might be induced to use force to take the man away, but that was not likely, and if it were attempted, she believed, with much foundation for her belief, that the man who had never been coerced by a human being except by her would fight until he died. She could not go away with him; she could not live with him on the island. A future opened before him. She had learned that afternoon on the sand that if his identity could be established, he would be a man of great wealth, a power, a factor in the world's affairs. She had had her experience in life, her taste of power. It did not matter about her. It mattered greatly about him.
She had given him a final chance. He did not love her as she would be loved. He could not love her. It was evident to her that he never would. She had nothing to live for, nothing to hope for, nothing to dream about. There was one way of cutting the Gordian knot; she could die. And yet somehow the instinct of life was strong in her heart.
She crossed the island to her side, where she was hidden from the ship, and went down to the edge of the water. She even slipped off the garments of civilization and stood forth a primitive Eve and waded out a little way into the lagoon. The night had fallen and she was calm in the screen of the darkness. She could easily swim out to the barrier reef, clamber upon it, and then plunge into the blue Pacific and swim on and on, and fight and fight until the last vestige of her strength was gone, and then sink down, leaving him free and settling the question. And yet the waters lapping about her feet retarded her in her advance, held her back, drove her back.
Could she do it? Should she do it? At least she would not give up the idea for want of trying. She resolutely set herself to wade into the deeper sea. That she waded was evidence of her indecision. Under other circumstances, or had she been clear in her mind as to her course, a quick run, a spring, a splash, and she would have been in the midst of the lagoon. She went slowly, and as the water grew deeper, she went more slowly. It was warm and pleasant in the lagoon. The slight difference of temperature between the water and the air ordinarily was only stimulating. And yet the sea had never seemed so cold to her as it was in that hour.
She was young, strong, splendidly dowered with health and bodily vigor. The mere animal clinging to life was intense in her. It does not minimize her heartbreak or her resolution to settle the question that she found it hard to go on. By and by she stopped, the waters now up to her breast. The wind blew gently toward the land and the land waves struck her softly and beat her back. She stopped dead still and thought and thought, wrestling with her problem, full of passionate disappointment, vain regret, despair, conscious that life held nothing for her, and yet clinging to it, unknowing what would be the outcome of the Titanic struggle raging in her breast between primal passions, love of life, and love of man!
For the first time in his life, the man of the island played the coward. He was afraid to be alone. The others, the officers of the ship, that is, not Langford -- he had gone back to his own yacht, declining the captain's invitation to dinner -- would have respected the islander's mood and have left him to himself, but it was evident that he craved their society. Whittaker and the old chaplain suspected how it would be with him, but they knew that sooner or later he would have to retire to rest and sooner or later he would be alone.
Their sympathies were entirely on the woman's side. If the man had been an ordinary, normal man, they would not have tolerated his conduct for an instant, although any interference on the part of strangers would in truth have been a very delicate matter in such an affair of the heart. But they realized instinctively that he could not be judged as other men; that whatever his training and teaching had been, he had not had the advantages that the world would give, which not the most beautiful and devoted of women could impart unaided, and that he was to be pitied rather than condemned and blamed.
And then his grief was so obvious that in accordance with a natural and commendable tendency they strove to cheer him up. They encouraged him to ask questions. They told him many things in reply that the woman could not have told him ; that he had half dimly suspected, but had not known. They cleared up to him many things which had seemed mysteries and strange to him.
And on their part they marveled at the things he did know, at the thoroughness with which he had been taught, and at the wonderful acuteness of perception which he displayed. The woman had marveled at it, too, but she had become used to it in three years of intimacy. They saw it immediately with greater surprise.
In such engrossing conversation the long hours passed until the striking couplets of the bell forward tolled eight and it was midnight. No one had any desire to sleep in view of the unusual and stimulating experience which both parties to the interchange of thought in the play of question and answer were enjoying. But it was the captain, hard-headed and practical, who gave the signal for retiring. The men were not accustomed to disregard even the suggestions of the autocrat of the ship.
A spare cabin in the ward-room had been arranged for the islander, and there, provided with the unwonted luxury of night wear, after a hearty "Good night " from the lieutenant-commander and a fervent "God bless you" from the old chaplain, he was left to his own devices. The strangeness of his situation, the soft bed, the snowy linen, the silk pajamas, the confining walls of the small cabin, the sudden introduction to the luxuries of civilization, would in itself have kept him awake had he been as heart-whole and as care-free as when the woman had landed upon the island. But indeed the strangeness of these things aroused no emotions in his mind at all, for the moment he was alone his thoughts, which he had been fighting desperately to keep upon other things, reverted to her. What was she doing for the first time alone upon that island? What was she thinking? He realized that no more than he could she be sleeping.
These were the first moments that he could give to reflection, the first quiet hours that he could spend in considering the situation and in getting back his rudely disturbed balance. There had been method in his training, and he had been taught the value of considering a series of events logically and in their proper relationships. Lying in the comfortable berth, he reviewed at length and deliberately the history of his life from the day that he had been born, when he first bent over her sleeping upon the sand until that great glad hour when, the earthquake enlightening him, he tore the rocks asunder, clasped her in his arms and pressed the first kiss that he had ever given anyone upon her lips.
Unflichingly he reviewed with what calmness he could muster the scenes of the morning and the day. He forced himself to consider in all its lights and bearings the information that had been given to him. He tortured himself by the deliberate slow recalling of every detail, and then, quivering as if under the stimulus of some blow upon a raw and open wound, he reviewed his own conduct. Enlightenment came to him in that dark and silent hour. He discovered first of all that he loved her; that the check and counter-check and variation and alteration in his emotions had been swept away in a great development of a more transcending feeling. If she should ask him that question on the morrow as to whether he loved her as he had on that never-to-be-forgotten night, he would still answer no, but now because he loved her more!
And then he discovered that he wanted her more than he had ever desired her before; that she was more necessary to him than ever he had dreamed she would be; that here was no question of honor or duty, indeed, but of love, overwhelming, obsessing. And then he admitted that she was purity, even holiness itself; that he had behaved to her like a cur; that he had been neither grateful, nor kind, nor tender, nor loving. He began to wonder fearfully if, after having failed so egregiously and terribly, there was any possible chance that she could ever care for him again. Fate had brought her into intimate contact, he realized, with two men. One had treated her outrageously in the beginning and had nobly made amends. He hated Langford, and yet his sense of justice forced him to admit that he had played the man at last, while he, the islander, had also treated her outrageously and in the end had played the fool. Was there a chance that she would forgive him?
Before the advent of the ship, he would have said instantly, yes. But now that he had got even in remote and ineffective touch with the world through a small section of it, he was not so sure. The other man had outraged her bodily and she had not forgiven him, although he had abased himself to the dust. He had outraged her mentally and spiritually, would she forgive him, even if he abased himself to the dust? He was quite ready to do it. He had never been so desperately lonely in all his life. He had passed many wakeful hours on that island with the breadth of the hill between them, he in his lair and she in hers; he had passed many hours in longing for her, for the sound of her voice, the look of her eye, but there had always been a binding tie between them. They were there together on that island alone, each necessary to the other, at least so he fondly believed. It was a tie that linked them together in their very isolation.
Now, sleeping in the midst of his fellows, separated from them by the thin partitions of the ward-room, able to summon half a thousand men by a single call, able to bring an attendant to him by the touch of a button, able to flood the darkness with light by the touch of another these things he had learned during the day he was never so much alone. He wanted her. The rest of the world amounted to nothing and counted for nothing. He realized then what it would mean for him to go out among strangers without her.
The man was in many respects still a child. His heart in those sad and dreary hours yearned toward her as the weaned babe yearns toward its mother. And yet there was nothing weak or childish in his feelings. He recognized his own powers, his own capacities. He knew then that she had taught him more things than are learned in books. She had taught him manhood as she had tried to teach him honor and dignity, and if he had failed once, if he had derogated from her high standard, he remem bered that it was through failure that men achieved. He tried to comfort himself with these thoughts, but with little success.
But by and by all these considerations faded away or merged in a great longing for her. He had never disturbed her in the still watches of the night, although he had often been tempted to do so. But now the desire to see her, to plead with her, to beg her forgiveness not a low desire or a base one, he thanked God was so great that he could no longer sustain it. He rose to his feet and looked out of the open porthole. The dawn was graying the east. Attired as he was in the loose shirt and trousers in which he had lain down, which were not unlike the tunic that he habitually wore, save that they were of soft and luxurious silk, he opened the door of the cabin, slipped noiselessly out through the silent ward room he had the natural savage art of treading without a sound ran lightly up the companion ladder and stepped upon the deck. The officer of the watch and his midshipman did not notice him. Their eyes were elsewhere. He ran swiftly across the deck and stopped at the gangway. A marine stood there and started forward as he approached.
That's my island," said the man. " I'm going to swim off to it, and I don't wish to be followed."
"It's a long swim, sir," ventured the marine, scarcely knowing what to do.
He stepped fairly in the gangway as if to bar the exit.
"It is nothing to me," said the man. "Stand aside."
"Mr. Hopkins!" called the marine, turning to ward the officer of the watch.
"Aye, aye," came from Mr. Hopkins as he turned and started forward to the gangway.
The next moment the man had seized the marine in a grip which left him helpless, lifted him gently out of the gangway, dropped him carelessly upon the deck, and had flashed through the air into the water.
By the time Mr. Hopkins reached the gangway, the half-dazed marine had risen to his feet.
"What is it?"
" Why, it's the castaway, sir, the wild man that we brought ashore to-day."
"He said he wanted to swim to the shore and did not want to be followed."
" Why didn't you stop him? "
" I did try, sir, but he picked me up as if I had been a baby and threw me aside and went over board."
The officer was in a quandary. He had received no orders to prevent the man from leaving the ship. He was not quite sure what his duty was. At any rate, he turned to the boatswain's mate and bade him call away a crew for the cutter swinging astern. He directed the coxswain to bring the boat to the gangway, and then sent the midshipman of the watch below to report the matter to the captain and ask his orders.
Captain Ashby, as it happened, was awake. He came on deck immediately in his pajamas and received confirmation of the midshipman's extraordinary story from the watch officer. It was light enough now for the waters and the shore clearly to be seen. The captain stared over the side. He could make out the man's head swimming through the opening in the barrier. He could see the splash that he made in his rapid progress through the quiet seas.
"Mr. Hopkins," he said after a moment's thought, "tell Mr. Cady" -- the midshipman of the watch -- "to take the boat and follow after. If the man gets safely to the shore, they are not to disturb him, but to come back and report to me. If, on the contrary, he needs help, they are to take him aboard and bring him back to the ship."
So much time was lost in these various maneuvers, however, that when the order was carried out, the boat had scarcely reached the entrance to the barrier when they saw the islander stepping through the shallow waters to the beach. There was, therefore, nothing for Mr. Cady to do but come back and report the matter to the captain. When he reached the deck of the cruiser he found the executive officer, with the chaplain and the surgeon, who had been summoned from their berths, in consultation with the captain. By Mr. Whittaker's advice, he and the chaplain were immediately sent ashore to see what had happened and to determine what was to be done.
There was considerable anxiety in the minds of the quartette which had been dealing with the affair heretofore as to what conditions might be. They did not know the man. They did not know what he might be doing, or to what danger the woman, whom they all pitied most profoundly, might be exposed. Of all with whom he had come in contact, the lieutenant-commander and the chaplain were those who would have the most influence over the man of the island, hence they were dispatched to the island.
Another boat crew was therefore called away and the two gentlemen were rowed ashore. It was not yet sunrise, but still sufficiently light to enable them to proceed. They were at a loss at first what to do, for they had not yet had opportunity for exploring the island. They had learned that the cave in which the woman dwelt was upon the other side, and that hills rose between the landing place and her abode. They knew, of course, that they could get to it by following the shores of the island, but they had a reasonably accurate idea of its size, and they knew that that would take a great deal of time. Time was precious. They were becoming more and more fearful with every moment.
They decided, therefore, to chance a direct march over the hill and across the island. By great good fortune they stumbled into the path, which was now sufficiently defined in the growing light to enable them to follow it. They climbed the hill as rapidly as was consistent with the strength of the chaplain, who was a rather old man, and then, having reached the top, went down the other side almost at a run.
As they broke out from under the palm trees they saw a dark object in the gray of the dawn lying upon the sands at the water's edge. It was a human being undoubtedly. As they ran toward it with quickening heartbeats, they recognized it as the man. He was lying motionless as if he had been struck dead. In a brief space they reached him. The lieutenant-commander knelt down by his side and turned him over upon his back. He was as senseless as if he had been smitten with a thunder bolt.
"Is he alive?" asked the chaplain, bending over him.
Mr. Whittaker s hand searched his heart.
"It beats feebly," he said. "He seems to have fainted, collapsed in some strange way. I wish we had brought the surgeon. I wonder what can be the cause of it."
"Look!" said the chaplain.
He pointed to a little heap of something dark on the sands a foot or two away.
"What is it?" asked the officer.
The chaplain stepped over to it.
"It is the clothes of the woman," he said in an awestruck voice, "and that Bible we were to take away with us with the other things, but which she said she would give us in the morning."
"Great heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Whittaker, "you don't think . . ."
At the same instant the same thought had come to both men.
"It looks like it," said the chaplain with bated breath. "Poor woman, may God help her!"
"That is what is the matter with him," returned the lieutenant-commander. "He has sought her in her cave and has not found her. He has discovered these things and he knows that she is gone. The shock has almost killed him."
"What is to be done now?"
Here the man of action interposed.
"Do you watch by him, chaplain," said Mr. Whittaker, rising as he spoke. "I will go back to the landing upon the other side and send for the doctor. Then we will bring a party ashore and search every foot of the island. It is a bad business. To think of that woman offering herself to this man in vain. The fool!"
"Don't," said the chaplain. "He is not much more than a child in spite of all that he has learned. We must make allowances for him. He did love her evidently. Look to what her loss has brought him. Perhaps, stricken by the hand of God, his soul is going out to meet hers, poor woman."
"Well, we must fight for his life any way. Do you stay here. I will be back in a short time."
The lieutenant-commander rose to his feet and started back across the island without another word.
The chaplain composed the members of the stricken man, putting him in a comfortable position on the warm sand, then knelt down and began to pray. It seemed a long time to the waiting priest before his shipmate returned, and yet but a short time had elapsed. He came up panting from the violence of his exertions.
"I have sent the cutter back for the surgeon. I told the men to row for their lives. I gave the midshipman in charge an account of what we had found, and begged the captain to send parties ashore to search the island. What of the man?"
"He breathes still," said the chaplain. "I should think he was in some kind of syncope. His heart evidently was affected. He has had no preparation for such violent strains. The things which are usual and ordinary with us and which, I take it, indurate us to the greater things of life, have been conspicuous by their absence in his case, and he has not been able to bear up under the sudden shock."
"Those clothes, have you examined them?"
"No," said the chaplain, "it has been too dark in the first place, and . . ."
"I will look at them," said Mr. Whittaker. "Perhaps we may find some clew in them."
The lieutenant-commander stooped over the pathetic little heap of worn garments. There were the blouse, the skirt, the stockings, and the worn and torn white shoes. The Bible lay upon them as if to weigh them down, and they had been placed well above the reach of the highest tide. The tide was then just coming in to the island. The Bible had been opened and laid face downward on the clothes. Mr. Whittaker lifted it up reverently. He observed as he did so that his own pencil, which he had left, he now remembered, with the woman, lay beneath the open book. On the blank leaves between the Old and New Testaments something was written. No mention of any writing had been made in the affidavit of the night before. He lifted it, turned his back toward the east, where the sun was just on the verge of rising, and scanned it attentively.
"Do you find anything?" asked the chaplain.
There is writing on this page," said the younger man. " I can just make it out.""Man," he read slowly, studying each word in the dim light, "I loved you. In one sense, in your sense, I was unworthy of you, perhaps, but not in mine. You alone had my heart. The past was a frightful mistake for which I should not be blamed, but for which I must suffer. I tried you with the world by your side. The world was kind, but you were not. You broke my soul and killed something within me which I had thought dead but which you had revived. No power could revive it again. I can not marry Langford, for I do not love him. I will not marry you, for you do not love me. I will not go back to the world now. I have no desire to do so, and I can not live alone with you upon the island. You will not go without me, and so I will go first, by myself, alone. You will think of me, I know, in the great world. Perhaps you will judge yourself harshly, but I do not judge you at all. You did not know, you did not understand. It came too suddenly upon you. You cannot forget me, but do not repine over me, and remember to the very last I loved you. Good-by. May God bless you, and may He pity me!"Underneath she had written the impersonal name which he had loved to call her, "Woman."
So characteristic was the letter that that subscription was supererogatory, thought Mr. Whittaker. Only a woman could have written it. She had gone out of his life, because with her in it there was no solution of it for him, because how pitiful it sounded there in the gray of that morning on that lone island to those two men! because he did not love her. And she had gone out of it with excuses for him on her lips and love for him in her heart. No wonder that, divining this which he had not seen, realizing only that she was gone, he had been stricken as he was.
The doctor arrived presently. He ordered the man, still unconscious, to be taken back to the ship where he would do what he could toward reviving him and pulling him through this great and terrible crisis that had come upon him. The chaplain went with him, conceiving his duty to be in attendance upon the living rather than in searching for the dead.
The captain, with the other officers, brought a hundred men to the shore. The island was systematically searched. It was all open. There was no place of concealment, but not a foot of it was left unvisited. Again and again the men traversed the island. They found nothing, absolutely nothing. The woman had vanished and left no trace except the grass tunic in her cave, the remains of her toilet articles, her scissors, knife, watch, and Bible, and the little heap of clothing on the sand. All these they carefully gathered up and took back to the cruiser for the man.
In the search, and made quite frantic by the necessity for it, Langford joined. Indeed, he would not be persuaded that the woman he had treated so badly, whom he had hunted so determinedly, whom he had loved so truly, who had rejected him finally, was dead, but even he gave up at last.
Taking with them the evidences to substantiate the woman's affidavit and to establish, if so be it were possible, the man's claim, and taking with them also the bones of his mother, not forgetting what remained of the faithful dog, which the captain caused to be exhumed from the ruined boat, as night fell the Cheyenne steamed away to the northeast, followed not long after by the Southern Cross. The two vessels went slowly, as if the souls that animated them were reluctant to leave the gem-like island where they had chanced upon so much that was idyllic, so much that was romantic; and where they had seen so great a tragedy of misfortune and despair.
Below in the cabin, under the care of the surgeon and chaplain, lay the islander in the frightful throes of a racking fever of the brain. He babbled of the woman and knew not whither he was being borne.
Continued in Part V
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