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Title: Wild Oranges
Author: Hergesheimer, Joseph, 1880-1954
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Wild Oranges" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



WILD ORANGES



WILD ORANGES

BY

JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER

ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES FROM

KING VIDOR'S PHOTOPLAY

A GOLDWYN PICTURE

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS--NEW YORK

Made in the United States of America



COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY ALFRED A. KNOPF, Inc.

Published, April, 1918, in a volume now out of print,
entitled "Gold and Iron," and then reprinted twice.

First published separately, March, 1922



TO GEORGE HORACE LORIMER



WILD ORANGES



I


The ketch drifted into the serene inclosure of the bay as silently as
the reflections moving over the mirrorlike surface of the water.
Beyond a low arm of land that hid the sea the western sky was a
single, clear yellow; farther on the left the pale, incalculably old
limbs of cypress, their roots bare, were hung with gathering shadows
as delicate as their own faint foliage. The stillness was emphasized
by the ceaseless murmur of the waves breaking on the far, seaward
bars.

John Woolfolk brought the ketch up where he intended to anchor and
called to the stooping white-clad figure in the bow: "Let go!" There
was an answering splash, a sudden rasp of hawser, the booms swung
idle, and the yacht imperceptibly settled into her berth. The wheel
turned impotently; and, absent-minded, John Woolfolk locked it. He
dropped his long form on a carpet-covered folding chair near by. He
was tired. His sailor, Poul Halvard, moved about with a noiseless and
swift efficiency; he rolled and cased the jib, and then, with a
handful of canvas stops, secured and covered the mainsail and
proceeded aft to the jigger. Unlike Woolfolk, Halvard was short--a
square figure with a smooth, deep-tanned countenance, colorless and
steady, pale blue eyes. His mouth closed so tightly that it appeared
immovable, as if it had been carved from some obdurate material that
opened for the necessities of neither speech nor sustenance.

Tall John Woolfolk was darkly tanned, too, and had a grey gaze,
by turns sharply focused with bright black pupils and blankly
introspective. He was garbed in white flannels, with bare ankles and
sandals, and an old, collarless silk shirt, with sleeves rolled
back on virile arms incongruously tattooed with gauzy green
cicadas.

He stayed motionless while Halvard put the yacht in order for the
night. The day's passage through twisting inland waterways, the hazard
of the tides on shifting flats, the continual concentration on details
at once trivial and highly necessary, had been more wearing than the
cyclone the ketch had weathered off Barbuda the year before. They had
been landbound since dawn; and all day John Woolfolk's instinct had
revolted against the fields and wooded points, turning toward the open
sea.

Halvard disappeared into the cabin; and, soon after, a faint, hot air,
the smell of scorched metal, announced the lighting of the vapor
stove, the preparations for supper. Not a breath stirred the surface
of the bay. The water, as transparently clear as the hardly darkened
air, lay like a great amethyst clasped by its dim corals and the arm
of the land. The glossy foliage that, with the exception of a small
silver beach, choked the shore might have been stamped from metal. It
was, John Woolfolk suddenly thought, amazingly still. The atmosphere,
too, was peculiarly heavy, languorous. It was laden with the scents of
exotic, flowering trees; he recognized the smooth, heavy odor of
oleanders and the clearer sweetness of orange blossoms.

He was idly surprised at the latter; he had not known that orange
groves had been planted and survived in Georgia. Woolfolk gazed more
attentively at the shore, and made out, in back of the luxuriant
tangle, the broad white façade of a dwelling. A pair of marine glasses
lay on the deck at his hand; and, adjusting them, he surveyed the face
of a distinguished ruin. The windows on the stained wall were broken
in--they resembled the empty eyes of the dead; storms had battered
loose the neglected roof, leaving a corner open to sun and rain; he
could see through the foliage lower down great columns fallen about a
sweeping portico.

The house was deserted, he was certain of that--the melancholy
wreckage of a vanished and resplendent time. Its small principality,
flourishing when commerce and communication had gone by water, was one
of the innumerable victims of progress and of the concentration of
effort into huge impersonalities. He thought he could trace other even
more complete ruins, but his interest waned. He laid the glasses back
upon the deck. The choked bubble of boiling water sounded from the
cabin, mingled with the irregular sputter of cooking fat and the
clinking of plates and silver as Halvard set the table. Without, the
light was fading swiftly; the wavering cry of an owl quivered from the
cypress across the water, and the western sky changed from paler
yellow to green. Woolfolk moved abruptly, and, securing a bucket to
the handle of which a short rope had been spliced and finished with an
ornamental Turk's-head, he swung it overboard and brought it up half
full. In the darkness of the bucket the water shone with a faint
phosphorescence. Then from a basin he lathered his hands with a thick,
pinkish paste, washed his face, and started toward the cabin.

He was already in the companionway when, glancing across the still
surface of the bay, he saw a swirl moving into view about a small
point. He thought at first that it was a fish, but the next moment saw
the white, graceful silhouette of an arm. It was a woman swimming.
John Woolfolk could now plainly make out the free, solid mass of her
hair, the naked, smoothly turning shoulder. She was swimming with
deliberate ease, with a long, single overarm stroke; and it was
evident that she had not seen the ketch. Woolfolk stood, his gaze
level with the cabin top, watching her assured progress. She turned
again, moving out from the shore, then suddenly stopped. Now, he
realized, she saw him.

The swimmer hung motionless for a breath; then, with a strong, sinuous
drive, she whirled about and made swiftly for the point of land. She
was visible for a short space, low in the water, her hair wavering in
the clear flood, and then disappeared abruptly behind the point,
leaving behind--a last vanishing trace of her silent passage--a
smooth, subsiding wake on the surface of the bay.

John Woolfolk mechanically descended the three short steps to the
cabin. There had been something extraordinary in the woman's brief
appearance out of the odorous tangle of the shore, with its ruined
habitation. It had caught him unprepared, in a moment of half weary
relaxation, and his imagination responded with a faint question to
which it had been long unaccustomed. But Halvard, in crisp white,
standing behind the steaming supper viands, brought his thoughts again
to the day's familiar routine.

The cabin was divided through its forward half by the centerboard
casing, and against it a swinging table had been elevated, an
immaculate cover laid, and the yacht's china, marked in cobalt with
the name Gar, placed in a polished and formal order. Halvard's service
from the stove to the table was as silent and skillful as his housing
of the sails; he replaced the hot dishes with cold, and provided a
glass bowl of translucent preserved figs.

Supper at an end, Woolfolk rolled a cigarette from shag that resembled
coarse black tea and returned to the deck. Night had fallen on the
shore, but the water still held a pale light; in the east the sky was
filled with an increasing, cold radiance. It was the moon, rising
swiftly above the flat land. The moonlight grew in intensity, casting
inky shadows of the spars and cordage across the deck, making the
light in the cabin a reddish blur by contrast. The icy flood swept
over the land, bringing out with a new emphasis the close, glossy
foliage and broken façade--it appeared unreal, portentous. The odors
of the flowers, of the orange blossoms, uncoiled in heavy, palpable
waves across the water, accompanied by the owl's fluctuating cry. The
sense of imminence increased, of a _genius loci_ unguessed and
troublous, vaguely threatening in the perfumed dark.



II


John Woolfolk had said nothing to Halvard of the woman he had seen
swimming in the bay. He was conscious of no particular reason for
remaining silent about her; but the thing had become invested with a
glamour that, he felt, would be destroyed by commonplace discussion.
He had no personal interest in the episode, he was careful to add.
Interests of that sort, serving to connect him with the world, with
society, with women, had totally disappeared from his life. He rolled
and lighted a fresh cigarette, and in the minute orange spurt of the
match his mouth was somber and forbidding.

The unexpected appearance on the glassy water had merely started into
being a slight, fanciful curiosity. The women of that coast did not
commonly swim at dusk in their bays; such simplicity obtained now only
in the reaches of the highest civilization. There were, he knew, no
hunting camps here, and the local inhabitants were mere sodden
squatters. A chart lay in its flat canvas case by the wheel; and, in
the crystal flood of the moon, he easily reaffirmed from it his
knowledge of the yacht's position. Nothing could be close by but
scattered huts and such wreckage as that looming palely above the
oleanders.

Yet a woman had unquestionably appeared swimming from behind the point
of land off the bow of the _Gar_. The women native to the locality,
and the men, too, were fanatical in the avoidance of any unnecessary
exterior application of water. His thoughts moved in a monotonous
circle, while the enveloping radiance constantly increased. It became
as light as a species of unnatural day, where every leaf was clearly
revealed but robbed of all color and familiar meaning.

He grew restless, and rose, making his way forward about the
narrow deck-space outside the cabin. Halvard was seated on a coil
of rope beside the windlass and stood erect as Woolfolk approached.
The sailor was smoking a short pipe, and the bowl made a crimson spark
in his thick, powerful hand. John Woolfolk fingered the wood
surface of the windlass bitts and found it rough and gummy.
Halvard said instinctively:

"I'd better start scraping the mahogany tomorrow, it's getting
white."

Woolfolk nodded. Halvard was a good man. He had the valuable quality
of commonly anticipating spoken desires. He was a Norwegian, out of
the Lofoden Islands, where sailors are surpassingly schooled in the
Arctic seas. Poul Halvard, so far as Woolfolk could discover, was
impervious to cold, to fatigue, to the insidious whispering of mere
flesh. He was a man without temptation, with an untroubled allegiance
to a duty that involved an endless, exacting labor; and for those
reasons he was austere, withdrawn from the community of more fragile
and sympathetic natures. At times his inflexible integrity oppressed
John Woolfolk. Halvard, he thought, was a difficult man to live up
to.

He turned and absently surveyed the land. His restlessness increased.
He felt a strong desire for a larger freedom of space than that
offered by the _Gar_, and it occurred to him that he might go ashore
in the tender. He moved aft with this idea growing to a determination.
In the cabin, on the shelf above the berths built against the sides of
the ketch, he found an old blue flannel coat, with crossed squash
rackets and a monogram embroidered in yellow on the breast pocket.
Slipping it on, he dropped over the stern of the tender.

Halvard came instantly aft, but Woolfolk declined the mutely offered
service. The oars made a silken swish in the still bay as he pulled
away from the yacht. The latter's riding light, swung on the forestay,
hung without a quiver, like a fixed yellow star. He looked once over
his shoulder, and then the bow of the tender ran with a soft shock
upon the beach. Woolfolk bedded the anchor in the sand and then stood
gazing curiously before him.

On his right a thicket of oleanders drenched the air with the perfume
of their heavy poisonous flowering, and behind them a rough clearing
of saw grass swept up to the débris of the fallen portico. To the
left, beyond the black hole of a decaying well, rose the walls of a
second brick building, smaller than the dwelling. A few shreds of
rotten porch clung to its face; and the moonlight, pouring through a
break above, fell in a livid bar across the obscurity of a high single
chamber.

Between the crumbling piles there was the faint trace of a footway,
and Woolfolk advance to where, inside a dilapidated sheltering fence,
he came upon a dark, compact mass of trees and smelled the increasing
sweetness of orange blossoms. He struck the remains of a board path,
and progressed with the cold, waxen leaves of the orange trees
brushing his face. There was, he saw in the grey brightness, ripe
fruit among the branches, and he mechanically picked an orange and
then another. They were small but heavy, and had fine skins.

He tore one open and put a section in his mouth. It was at first
surprisingly bitter, and he involuntarily flung away what remained in
his hand. But after a moment he found that the oranges possessed a
pungency and zestful flavor that he had tasted in no others. Then he
saw, directly before him, a pale, rectangular light which he
recognized as the opened door of a habitation.



III


He advanced more slowly, and a low, irregular house detached itself
from the tangled growth pressing upon it from all sides. The doorway,
dimly lighted by an invisible lamp from within, was now near by; and
John Woolfolk saw a shape cross it, so swiftly furtive that it was
gone before he realized that a man had vanished into the hall. There
was a second stir on the small covered portico, and the slender,
white-clad figure of a woman moved uncertainly forward. He stopped
just at the moment in which a low, clear voice demanded: "What do you
want?"

The question was directly put, and yet the tone held an inexplicably
acute apprehension. The woman's voice bore a delicate, bell-like
shiver of fear.

"Nothing," he hastened to assure her. "When I came ashore I thought no
one was living here."

"You're from the white boat that sailed in at sunset?"

"Yes," he replied, "and I am returning immediately."

"It was like magic!" she continued. "Suddenly, without a sound, you
were anchored in the bay." Even this quiet statement bore the shadowy
alarm. John Woolfolk realized that it had not been caused by his
abrupt appearance; the faint accent of dread was fixed in the illusive
form before him.

"I have robbed you too," he continued in a lighter tone. "Your oranges
are in my pocket."

"You won't like them," she returned indirectly; "they've run wild. We
can't sell them."

"They have a distinct flavor of their own," he assured her. "I should
be glad to have some on the _Gar_."

"All you want."

"My man will get them and pay you."

"Please don't----" She stopped abruptly, as if a sudden consideration
had interrupted a liberal courtesy. When she spoke again the
apprehension, Woolfolk thought, had increased to palpable fright. "We
would charge you very little," she said finally. "Nicholas attends to
that."

Silence fell upon them. She stood with her hand resting lightly
against an upright support, coldly revealed by the moon. John
Woolfolk saw that, although slight, her body was delicately full,
and that her shoulders held a droop which somehow resembled the
shadow on her voice. She bore an unmistakable refinement of being,
strange in that locality of meager humanity. Her speech totally lacked
the unintelligible, loose slurring of the natives.

"Won't you sit down," she at last broke the silence. "My father was
here when you came up, but he went in. Strangers disturb him."

Woolfolk moved to the portico, elevated above the ground, where he
found a momentary place. The woman sank back into a low chair. The
stillness gathered about them once more, and he mechanically rolled a
cigarette. Her white dress, although simply and rudely made, gained
distinction from her free, graceful lines; her feet, in black,
heelless slippers, were narrow and sharply cut. He saw that her
countenance bore an even pallor on which her eyes made shadows like
those on marble.

These details, unremarkable in themselves, were charged with a
peculiar intensity. John Woolfolk, who long ago had put such
considerations from his existence, was yet clearly conscious of the
disturbing quality of her person. She possessed the indefinable
property of charm. Such women, he knew, stirred life profoundly,
reanimating it with extraordinary efforts and desires. Their mere
passage, the pressure of their fingers, were more imperative than the
life service of others; the flutter of their breath could be more
tyrannical that the most poignant memories and vows.

John Woolfolk thought these things in a manner absolutely detached.
They touched him at no point. Nevertheless, the faint curiosity
stirred within him remained. The house unexpectedly inhabited behind
the ruined façade on the water, the magnetic woman with the echo of
apprehension in her cultivated voice, the parent, so easily disturbed,
even the mere name "Nicholas," all held a marked potentiality of
emotion; they were set in an almost hysterical key.

He was suddenly conscious of the odorous pressure of the flowering
trees, of the orange blossoms and the oleanders. It was stifling. He
felt that he must escape at once, from all the cloying and insidious
scents of the earth, to the open and sterile sea. The thick tangle in
the colorless light of the moon, the dimmer portico with its enigmatic
figure, were a cunning essence of the existence from which he had
fled. Life's traps were set with just such treacheries--perfume and
mystery and the veiled lure of sex.

He rose with an uncouth abruptness, a meager commonplace, and hurried
over the path to the beach, toward the refuge, the release, of the
_Gar_.

John Woolfolk woke at dawn. A thin, bluish light filled the cabin;
above, Halvard was washing the deck. The latter was vigorously
swabbing the cockpit when Woolfolk appeared, but he paused.

"Perhaps," the sailor said, "you will stay here for a day or two. I'd
like to unship the propeller, and there's the scraping. It's a good
anchorage."

"We're moving on south," Woolfolk replied, stating the determination
with which he had retired. Then the full sense of Halvard's words
penetrated his waking mind. The propeller, he knew, had not opened
properly for a week; and the anchorage was undoubtedly good. This was
the last place, before entering the Florida passes, for whatever minor
adjustments were necessary.

The matted shore, flushed with the rising sun, was starred with white
and deep pink blooms; a ray gilded the blank wall of the deserted
mansion. The scent of the orange blossoms was not so insistent as it
had been on the previous evening. The land appeared normal; it
exhibited none of the disturbing influence of which he had been first
conscious. Last night's mood seemed absurd.

"You are quite right," he altered his pronouncement; "we'll put the
_Gar_ in order here. People are living behind the grove, and there'll
be water."

He had, for breakfast, oranges brought down the coast, and he was
surprised at their sudden insipidity. They were little better than
faintly sweetened water. He turned and in the pocket of his flannel
coat found one of those he had picked the night before. It was as keen
as a knife; the peculiar aroma had, without doubt, robbed him of all
desire for the cultivated oranges of commerce.

Halvard was in the tender, under the stern of the ketch, when it
occurred to John Woolfolk that it would be wise to go ashore and
establish his assertion of an adequate water supply. He explained this
briefly to the sailor, who put him on the small shingle of sand. There
he turned to the right, moving idly in a direction away from that he
had taken before.

He crossed the corner of the demolished abode, made his way through a
press of sere cabbage palmettos, and emerged suddenly on the blinding
expanse of the sea. The limpid water lay in a bright rim over
corrugated and pitted rock, where shallow ultramarine pools spread
gardens of sulphur-yellow and rose anemones. The land curved in upon
the left; a ruined landing extended over the placid tide, and, seated
there with her back toward him, a woman was fishing.

It was, he saw immediately, the woman of the portico. At the moment of
recognition she turned, and after a brief inspection, slowly waved her
hand. He approached, crossing the openings in the precarious boarding
of the landing, until he stood over her. She said:

"There's an old sheepshead under here I've been after for a year. If
you'll be very still you can see him."

She turned her face up to him, and he saw that her cheeks were without
trace of color. At the same time he reaffirmed all that he felt before
with regard to the potent quality of her being. She had a lustrous
mass of warm brown hair twisted into a loose knot that had slid
forward over a broad, low brow; a pointed chin; and pale, disturbing
lips. But her eyes were her most notable feature--they were widely
opened and extraordinary in color; the only similitude that occurred
to John Woolfolk was the grey greenness of olive leaves. In them he
felt the same foreboding that had shadowed her voice. The fleet
passage of her gaze left an indelible impression of an expectancy that
was at once a dread and a strangely youthful candor. She was, he
thought, about thirty.

She wore now a russet skirt of thin, coarse texture that, like the
dress of the evening, took a slim grace from her fine body, and a
white waist, frayed from many washings, open upon her smooth, round
throat.

"He's usually by this post," she continued, pointing down through the
clear gloom of the water.

Woolfolk lowered himself to a position at her side, his gaze following
her direction. There, after a moment, he distinguished the sheepshead,
barred in black and white, wavering about the piling. His companion
was fishing with a short, heavy rod from which time had dissolved the
varnish, an ineffectual brass reel that complained shrilly whenever
the lead was raised or lowered, and a thick, freely-knotted line.

"You should have a leader," he told her. "The old gentleman can see
your line too plainly."

There was a sharp pull, she rapidly turned the handle of the
protesting reel, and drew up a gasping, bony fish with extended red
wings.

"Another robin!" she cried tragically. "This is getting serious.
Dinner," she informed him, "and not sport, is my object."

He looked out to where a channel made a deep blue stain through the
paler cerulean of the sea. The tide, he saw from the piling, was low.

"There should be a rockfish in the pass," he pronounced.

"What good if there is?" she returned. "I couldn't possibly throw out
there. And if I could, why disturb a rock with this?" She shook the
short awkward rod, the knotted line.

He privately acknowledged the palpable truth of her objections, and
rose.

"I've some fishing things on the ketch," he said, moving away. He blew
shrilly on a whistle from the beach, and Halvard dropped over the
_Gar's_ side into the tender.

Woolfolk was soon back on the wharf, stripping the canvas cover from
the long cane tip of a fishing rod brilliantly wound with green and
vermilion, and fitting it into a dark, silver-capped butt. He locked a
capacious reel into place, and, drawing a thin line through agate
guides, attached a glistening steel leader and chained hook. Then,
adding a freely swinging lead, he picked up the small mullet that lay
by his companion.

"Does that have to go?" she demanded. "It's such a slim chance, and it
is my only mullet."

He ruthlessly sliced a piece from the silvery side; and, rising and
switching his reel's gear, he cast. The lead swung far out across the
water and fell on the farther side of the channel.

"But that's dazzling!" she exclaimed; "as though you had shot it out
of a gun."

He tightened the line, and sat with the rod resting in a leather
socket fastened to his belt.

"Now," she stated, "we will watch at the vain sacrifice of an only
mullet."

The day was superb, the sky sparkled like a great blue sun; schools of
young mangrove snappers swept through the pellucid water. The woman
said:

"Where did you come from and where are you going?"

"Cape Cod," he replied; "and I am going to the Guianas."

"Isn't that South America?" she queried. "I've traveled far--on maps.
Guiana," she repeated the name softly. For a moment the faint dread in
her voice changed to longing. "I think I know all the beautiful names
of places on the earth," she continued: "Tarragona and Seriphos and
Cambodia."

"Some of them you have seen?"

"None," she answered simply. "I was born here, in the house you know,
and I have never been fifty miles away."

This, he told himself, was incredible. The mystery that surrounded her
deepened, stirring more strongly his impersonal curiosity.

"You are surprised," she added; "it's mad, but true. There--there is a
reason." She stopped abruptly, and, neglecting her fishing rod, sat
with her hands clasped about slim knees. She gazed at him slowly, and
he was impressed once more by the remarkable quality of her eyes,
grey-green like olive leaves and strangely young. The momentary
interest created in her by romantic and far names faded, gave place to
the familiar trace of fear. In the long past he would have responded
immediately to the appeal of her pale, magnetic countenance.... He had
broken all connection with society, with----

There was a sudden, impressive jerk at his line, the rod instantly
assumed the shape of a bent bow, and, as he rose, the reel spindle was
lost in a grey blur and the line streaked out through the dipping tip.
His companion hung breathless at his shoulder.

"He'll take all your line," she lamented as the fish continued his
straight, outward course, while Woolfolk kept an even pressure on the
rod.

"A hundred yards," he announced as he felt a threaded mark wheel
from under his thumb. Then: "A hundred and fifty. I'm afraid it's a
shark." As he spoke the fish leaped clear of the water, a spot of
molten silver, and fell back in a sparkling blue spray. "It's a
rock," he added. He stopped the run momentarily; the rod bent
perilously double, but the fish halted. Woolfolk reeled in smoothly,
but another rush followed, as strong as the first. A long, equal
struggle ensued, the thin line was drawn as rigid as metal, the rod
quivered and arched. Once the rockfish was close enough to be
clearly distinguishable--strongly built, heavy-shouldered, with
black stripes drawn from gills to tail. But he was off again with
a short, blundering rush.

"If you will hold the rod," Woolfolk directed his companion, "I'll
gaff him." She took the rod while he bent over the wharf's side. The
fish, on the surface of the water, half turned; and, striking the gaff
through a gill, Woolfolk swung him up on the boarding.

"There," he pronounced, "are several dinners. I'll carry him to your
kitchen."

"Nicholas would do it, but he's away," she told him; "and my father is
not strong enough. That's a leviathan."

John Woolfolk placed a handle through the rockfish's gills, and,
carrying it with an obvious effort, he followed her over a narrow,
trampled path through the rasped palmettos. They approached the
dwelling from behind the orange grove; and, coming suddenly to the
porch, surprised an incredibly thin, grey man in the act of lighting a
small stone pipe with a reed stem. He was sitting, but, seeing
Woolfolk, he started sharply to his feet, and the pipe fell,
shattering the bowl.

"My father," the woman pronounced: "Lichfield Stope."

"Millie," he stuttered painfully, "you know--I--strangers--"

John Woolfolk thought, as he presented himself, that he had never
before seen such an immaterial living figure. Lichfield Stope was like
the shadow of a man draped with unsubstantial, dusty linen. Into his
waxen face beat a pale infusion of blood, as if a diluted wine had
been poured into a semi-opaque goblet; his sunken lips puffed out and
collapsed; his fingers, dust-colored like his garb, opened and shut
with a rapid, mechanical rigidity.

"Father," Millie Stope remonstrated, "you must manage yourself better.
You know I wouldn't bring any one to the house who would hurt us. And
see--we are fetching you a splendid rockfish."

The older man made a convulsive effort to regain his composure.

"Ah, yes," he muttered; "just so."

The flush receded from his indeterminate countenance. Woolfolk saw
that he had a goatee laid like a wasted yellow finger on his chin, and
that his hands hung on wrists like twisted copper wires from circular
cuffs fastened with large mosaic buttons.

"We are alone here," he proceeded in a fluctuating voice, the voice of
a shadow; "the man is away. My daughter--I----" He grew inaudible,
although his lips maintained a faint movement.

The fear that lurked illusively in the daughter was in the parent
magnified to an appalling panic, an instinctive, acute agony that had
crushed everything but a thin, tormented spark of life. He passed his
hand over a brow as dry as the spongy limbs of the cypress, brushing a
scant lock like dead, bleached moss.

"The fish," he pronounced; "yes ... acceptable."

"If you will carry it back for me," Millie Stope requested; "we have
no ice; I must put it in water." He followed her about a bay window
with ornamental fretting that bore the shreds of old, variegated
paint. He could see, amid an incongruous wreckage within, a dismantled
billiard table, its torn cloth faintly green beneath a film of dust.
They turned and arrived at the kitchen door. "There, please." She
indicated a bench on the outside wall, and he deposited his burden.

"You have been very nice," she told him, making her phrase less
commonplace by a glance of her wide, appealing eyes. "Now, I suppose,
you will go on across the world?"

"Not tonight," he replied distantly.

"Perhaps, then, you will come ashore again. We see so few people. My
father would be benefited. It was only at first, so suddenly--he was
startled."

"There is a great deal to do on the ketch," he replied indirectly,
maintaining his retreat from the slightest advance of life. "I came
ashore to discover if you had a large water supply and if I might fill
my casks."

"Rain water," she informed him; "the cistern is full."

"Then I'll send Halvard to you." He withdrew a step, but paused at the
incivility of his leaving.

A sudden weariness had settled over the shoulders of Millie Stope; she
appeared young and very white. Woolfolk was acutely conscious of her
utter isolation with the shivering figure on the porch, the
unmaterialized Nicholas. She had delicate hands.

"Good-by," he said, bowing formally. "And thank you for the fishing."

He whistled sharply for the tender.



IV


Throughout the afternoon, with a triangular scraping iron, he assisted
Halvard in removing the whitened varnish from the yacht's mahogany.
They worked silently, with only the shrill note of the edges drawing
across the wood, while the westering sun plunged its diagonal rays far
into the transparent depths of the bay. The _Gar_ floated motionless
on water like a pale evening over purple and silver flowers threaded
by fish painted the vermilion and green of parrakeets. Inshore the
pallid cypresses seemed, as John Woolfolk watched them, to twist in
febrile pain. With the waning of day the land took on its air of
unhealthy mystery; the mingled, heavy scents floated out in a sickly
tide; the ruined façade glimmered in the half light.

Woolfolk's thoughts turned back to the woman living in the miasma of
perfume and secret fear. He heard again her wistful voice pronounce
the names of far places, of Tarragona and Seriphos, investing them
with the accent of an intense hopeless desire. He thought of the
inexplicable place of her birth and of the riven, unsubstantial figure
of the man with the blood pulsing into his ocherous face. Some old,
profound error or calamity had laid its blight upon him, he was
certain; but the most lamentable inheritance was not sufficient to
account for the acute apprehension in his daughter's tones. This was
different in kind from the spiritual collapse of the aging man. It was
actual, he realized that; proceeding--in part at least--from without.

He wondered, scraping with difficulty the under-turning of a cathead,
if whatever dark tide was centered above her would, perhaps, descend
through the oleander-scented night and stifle her in the stagnant
dwelling. He had a swift, vividly complete vision of the old man face
down upon the floor in a flickering, reddish light.

He smiled in self-contempt at this neurotic fancy; and, straightening
his cramped muscles, rolled a cigarette. It might be that the years he
had spent virtually alone on the silence of various waters had
affected his brain. Halvard's broad, concentrated countenance, the
steady, grave gaze and determined mouth, cleared Woolfolk's mind of
its phantoms. He moved to the cockpit and from there said:

"That will do for today."

Halvard followed, and commenced once more the familiar, ordered
preparations for supper. John Woolfolk, smoking while the sky turned
to malachite, became sharply aware of the unthinkable monotony of the
universal course, of the centuries wheeling in dull succession into
infinity. Life seemed to him no more varied than the wire drum in
which squirrels raced nowhere. His own lot, he told himself grimly,
was no worse than another. Existence was all of the same drab piece.
It had seemed gay enough when he was young, worked with gold and
crimson threads, and then----

His thoughts were broken by Halyard's appearance in the companionway,
and he descended to his solitary supper in the contracted, still
cabin.

Again on deck his sense of the monotony of life trebled. He had been
cruising now about the edges of continents for twelve years. For
twelve years he had taken no part in the existence of the cities he
had passed, as often as possible without stopping, and of the villages
gathered invitingly under their canopies of trees. He was--yes, he
must be--forty-six. Life was passing away; well, let it ...
worthless.

The growing radiance of the moon glimmered across the water and folded
the land in a gossamer veil. The same uneasiness, the inchoate desire
to go ashore that had seized upon him the night before, reasserted its
influence. The face of Millie Stope floated about him like a magical
gardenia in the night of the matted trees. He resisted the pressure
longer than before; but in the end he was seated in the tender,
pulling toward the beach.

He entered the orange grove and slowly approached the house beyond.
Millie Stope advanced with a quick welcome.

"I'm glad," she said simply. "Nicholas is back. The fish weighed--"

"I think I'd better not know," he interrupted. "I might be tempted to
mention it in the future, when it would take on the historic suspicion
of the fish story."

"But it was imposing," she protested. "Let's go to the sea; it's so
limitless in the moonlight."

He followed her over the path to where the remains of the wharf
projected into a sea as black, and as solid apparently, as ebony, and
across which the moon flung a narrow way like a chalk mark. Millie
Stope seated herself on the boarding and he found a place near by. She
leaned forward, with her arms propped up and her chin couched on her
palms. Her potency increased rather than diminished with association;
her skin had a rare texture; her movements, the turn of the wrists,
were distinguished. He wondered again at the strangeness of her
situation.

She looked about suddenly and surprised his palpable questioning.

"You are puzzled," she pronounced. "Perhaps you are setting me in the
middle of romance. Please don't! Nothing you might guess----" She
broke off abruptly, returned to her former pose. "And yet," she added
presently, "I have a perverse desire to talk about myself. It's
perverse because, although you are a little curious, you have no real
interest in what I might say. There is something about you like--yes,
like the cast-iron dog that used to stand in our lawn. It rusted away,
cold to the last and indifferent, although I talked to it by the hour.
But I did get a little comfort from its stolid painted eye. Perhaps
you'd act in the same way.

"And then," she went on when Woolfolk had somberly failed to comment,
"you are going away, you will forget, it can't possibly matter. I must
talk, now that I have urged myself this far. After all, you needn't
have come back. But where shall I begin? You should know something of
the very first. That happened in Virginia.... My father didn't go to
war," she said, sudden and clear. She turned her face toward him, and
he saw that it had lost its flower-like quality; it looked as if it
had been carved in stone.

"He lived in a small, intensely loyal town," she continued; "and when
Virginia seceded it burned with a single high flame of sacrifice. My
father had been always a diffident man; he collected mezzotints and
avoided people. So, when the enlistment began, he shrank away from the
crowds and hot speeches, and the men went off without him. He lived in
complete retirement then, with his prints, in a town of women. It
wasn't impossible at first; he discussed the situation with the few
old tradesmen that remained, and exchanged bows with the wives and
daughters of his friends. But when the dead commenced to be brought in
from the front it got worse. Belle Semple--he had always thought her
unusually nice and pretty--mocked at him on the street. Then one
morning he found an apron tied to the knob of the front door.

"After that he went out only at night. His servants had deserted him,
and he lived by himself in a biggish, solemn house. Sometimes the news
of losses and deaths would be shouted through his windows; once stones
were thrown in, but mostly he was let alone. It must have been
frightful in his empty rooms when the South went from bad to worse."
She paused, and John Woolfolk could see, even in the obscurity, the
slow shudder that passed over her.

"When the war was over and what men were left returned--one with hands
gone at the wrists, another without legs in a shabby wheelchair--the
life of the town started once more, but my father was for ever outside
of it. Little subscriptions for burials were made up, small schemes
for getting the necessities, but he was never asked. Men spoke to him
again, even some of the women. That was all.

"I think it was then that a curious, perpetual dread fastened on his
mind--a fear of the wind in the night, of breaking twigs or sudden
voices. He ordered things to be left on the steps, and he would peer
out from under the blind to make sure that the walk was empty before
he opened the door.

"You must realize," she said in a sharper voice, "that my father was
not a pure coward at first. He was an extremely sensitive man who
hated the rude stir of living and who simply asked to be left
undisturbed with his portfolios. But life's not like that. The war
hunted him out and ruined him; it destroyed his being, just as it
destroyed the fortunes of others.

"Then he began to think--it was absolute fancy--that there was a
conspiracy in the town to kill him. He sent some of his things away,
got together what money he had, and one night left his home secretly
on foot. He tramped south for weeks, living for a while in small place
after place, until he reached Georgia, and then a town about fifty
miles from here----"

She broke off, sitting rigidly erect, looking out over the level black
sea with its shifting, chalky line of light, and a long silence
followed. The antiphonal crying of the owls sounded over the bubbling
swamp, the mephitic perfume hung like a vapor on the shore. John
Woolfolk shifted his position.

"My mother told me this," his companion said suddenly. "Father
repeated it over and over through the nights after they were married.
He slept only in snatches, and would wake with a gasp and his heart
almost bursting. I know almost nothing about her, except that she had
a brave heart--or she would have gone mad. She was English and had
been a governess. They met in the little hotel where they were
married. Then father bought this place, and they came here to live."

Woolfolk had a vision of the tenuous figure of Lichfield Stope; he was
surprised that such acute agony had left the slightest trace of
humanity; yet the other, after forty years of torment, still survived
to shudder at a chance footfall, the advent of a casual and harmless
stranger.

This, then, was by implication the history of the woman at his side;
it disposed of the mystery that had veiled her situation here. It was
surprisingly clear, even to the subtle influence that, inherited from
her father, had set the shadow of his own obsession upon her voice and
eyes. Yet, in the moment that she had been made explicable, he
recalled the conviction that the knowledge of an actual menace lurked
in her mind; he had seen it in the tension of her body, in the anxiety
of fleet backward glances.

The latter, he told himself, might be merely a symptom of mental
sickness, a condition natural to the influences under which she had
been formed. He tested and rejected that possibility--there could be
no doubt of her absolute sanity. It was patent in a hundred details of
her carriage, in her mentality as it had been revealed in her
restrained, balanced narrative.

There was, too, the element of her mother to be considered. Millie
Stope had known very little about her, principally the self-evident
fact of the latter's "brave heart." It would have needed that to
remain steadfast through the racking recitals of the long, waking
darks; to accompany to this desolate and lonely refuge the man who had
had an apron tied to his doorknob. In the degree that the daughter had
been a prey to the man's fear she would have benefited from the
stiffer qualities of the English governess. Life once more assumed its
enigmatic mask.

His companion said:

"All that--and I haven't said a word about myself, the real end of my
soliloquy. I'm permanently discouraged; I have qualms about boring
you. No, I shall never find another listener as satisfactory as the
iron dog."

A light glimmered far at sea. "I sit here a great deal," she informed
him, "and watch the ships, a thumbprint of blue smoke at day and a
spark at night, going up and down their water roads. You are
enviable--getting up your anchor, sailing where you like, safe and
free." Her voice took on a passionate intensity that surprised him; it
was sick with weariness and longing, with sudden revolt from the
pervasive apprehension.

"Safe and free," he repeated thinly, as if satirizing the condition
implied by those commonplace, assuaging words. He had, in his flight
from society, sought simply peace. John Woolfolk now questioned all
his implied success. He had found the elemental hush of the sea, the
iron aloofness of rocky and uninhabited coasts, but he had never been
able to still the dull rebellion within, the legacy of the past. A
feeling of complete failure settled over him. His safety and freedom
amounted to this--that life had broken him and cast him aside.

A long, hollow wail rose from the land, and Millie Stope moved
sharply.

"There's Nicholas," she exclaimed, "blowing on the conch! They don't
know where I am; I'd better go in."

A small, evident panic took possession of her; the shiver in her voice
swelled.

"No, don't come," she added. "I'll be quicker without you." She made
her way over the wharf to the shore, but there paused, "I suppose
you'll be going soon?"

"Tomorrow probably," he answered.

On the ketch Halvard had gone below for the night. The yacht swayed
slightly to an unseen swell; the riding light moved backward and
forward, its ray flickering over the glassy water. John Woolfolk
brought his bedding from the cabin and, disposing it on deck, lay with
his wakeful dark face set against the far, multitudinous worlds.



V


In the morning Halvard proposed a repainting of the engine.

"The Florida air," he said, "eats metal overnight." And the ketch
remained anchored.

Later in the day Woolfolk sounded the water casks cradled in the
cockpit, and, when they answered hollow, directed his man with regard
to their refilling. They drained a cask. Halvard put it on the tender
and pulled in to the beach. There he shouldered the empty container
and disappeared among the trees.

Woolfolk was forward, preparing a chain hawser for coral anchorages,
when he saw Halvard tramping shortly back over the sand. He entered
the tender and, with a vicious shove, rowed with a powerful,
vindictive sweep toward the ketch. The cask evidently had been left
behind. He made the tender fast and swung aboard with his notable
agility.

"There's a damn idiot in that house," he declared, in a surprising
departure from his customary detached manner.

"Explain yourself," Woolfolk demanded shortly.

"But I'm going back after him," the sailor stubbornly proceeded. "I'll
turn any knife out of his hand." It was evident that he was laboring
under an intense growing excitement and anger.

"The only idiot's not on land," Woolfolk told him. "Where's the water
cask you took ashore?"

"Broken."

"How?"

"I'll tell you fast enough. There was nobody about when I went up to
the house, although there was a chair rocking on the porch as if a
person had just left. I knocked at the door; it was open, and I was
certain that I heard someone inside, but nobody answered. Then after a
bit I went around back. The kitchen was open, too, and no one in
sight. I saw the water cistern and thought I'd fill up, when you could
say something afterward. I did, and was rolling the cask about the
house when this--loggerhead came out of the bushes. He wanted to know
what I was getting away with, and I explained, but it didn't suit him.
He said I might be telling facts and again I mightn't. I saw there was
no use talking, and started rolling the cask again; but he put his
foot on it, and I pushed one way and he the other----"

"And between you, you stove in the cask," Woolfolk interrupted.

"That's it," Poul Halvard answered concisely. "Then I got mad, and
offered to beat in his face, but he had a knife. I could have broken
it out of his grip--I've done it before in a place or two--but I
thought I'd better come aboard and report before anything general
began."

John Woolfolk was momentarily at a loss to establish the identity of
Halvard's assailant.

He soon realized, however, that it must be Nicholas, whom he had never
seen, and who had blown such an imperative summons on the conch the
night before. Halvard's temper was communicated to him; he moved
abruptly to where the tender was fastened.

"Put me ashore," he directed. He would make it clear that his man was
not to be interrupted in the execution of his orders, and that his
property could not be arbitrarily destroyed.

When the tender ran upon the beach and had been secured, Halvard
started to follow him, but Woolfolk waved him back. There was a stir
on the portico as he approached, the flitting of an unsubstantial
form; but, hastening, John Woolfolk arrested Lichfield Stope in the
doorway.

"Morning," he nodded abruptly. "I came to speak to you about a water
cask of mine."

The other swayed like a thin, grey column of smoke.

"Ah, yes," he pronounced with difficulty. "Water cask----"

"It was broken here a little while back."

At the suggestion of violence such a pitiable panic fell upon the
older man that Woolfolk halted. Lichfield Stope raised his hands as if
to ward off the mere impact of the words themselves; his face was
stained with the thin red tide of congestion.

"You have a man named Nicholas," Woolfolk proceeded. "I should like to
see him."

The other made a gesture as tremulous and indeterminate as his speech
and appeared to dissolve into the hall. John Woolfolk stood for a
moment undecided and then moved about the house toward the kitchen.
There, he thought, he might obtain an explanation of the breaking of
the cask. A man was walking about within and came to the door as
Woolfolk approached.

The latter told himself that he had never seen a blanker countenance.
In profile it showed a narrow brow, a huge, drooping nose, a pinched
mouth and insignificant chin. From the front the face of the man in
the doorway held the round, unscored cheeks of a fat and sleepy boy.
The eyes were mere long glimmers of vision in thick folds of flesh;
the mouth, upturned at the corners, lent a fixed, mechanical smile to
the whole. It was a countenance on which the passage of time and
thoughts had left no mark; its stolidity had been moved by no feeling.
His body was heavy and sagging. It possessed, Woolfolk recognized, a
considerable unwieldy strength, and was completely covered by a
variously spotted and streaked apron.

"Are you Nicholas?" John Woolfolk demanded.

The other nodded.

"Then, I take it, you are the man who broke my water cask."

"It was full of our water," Nicholas replied in a thick voice.

"That," said Woolfolk, "I am not going to argue with you. I came
ashore to instruct you to let my man and my property alone."

"Then leave our water be."

John Woolfolk's temper, the instinctive arrogance of men living apart
from the necessary submissions of communal life, in positions--however
small--of supreme command, flared through his body.

"I told you," he repeated shortly, "that I would not discuss the
question of the water. I have no intention of justifying myself to
you. Remember--your hands off."

The other said surprisingly: "Don't get me started!" A spasm of
emotion made a faint, passing shade on his sodden countenance; his
voice held almost a note of appeal.

"Whether you 'start' or not is without the slightest significance,"
Woolfolk coldly responded.

"Mind," the man went on, "I spoke first."

A steady twitching commenced in a muscle at the flange of his nose.
Woolfolk was aware of an increasing tension in the other, that gained
a peculiar oppressiveness from the lack of any corresponding outward
expression. His heavy, blunt hand fumbled under the maculate apron;
his chest heaved with a sudden, tempestuous breathing. "Don't start
me," he repeated in a voice so blurred that the words were hardly
recognizable. He swallowed convulsively, his emotion mounting to an
inchoate passion, when suddenly a change was evident. He made a short,
violent effort to regain his self-control, his gaze fastened on a
point behind Woolfolk.

The latter turned and saw Millie Stope approaching, her countenance
haggard with fear. "What has happened?" she cried breathlessly while
yet a little distance away. "Tell me at once----"

"Nothing," Woolfolk promptly replied, appalled by the agony in her
voice. "Nicholas and I had a small misunderstanding. A triviality," he
added, thinking of the other's hand groping beneath the apron.



VI


On the morning following the breaking of his water cask John Woolfolk
saw the slender figure of Millie on the beach. She waved and called,
her voice coming thin and clear across the water:

"Are visitors--encouraged?"

He sent Halvard in with the tender, and as they approached, dropped a
gangway over the _Gar's_ side. She stepped lightly down into the
cockpit with a naïve expression of surprise at the yacht's immaculate
order. The sails lay precisely housed, the stays, freshly tarred,
glistened in the sun, the brasswork and newly varnished mahogany
shone, the mathematically coiled ropes rested on a deck as spotless as
wood could be scraped.

"Why," she exclaimed, "it couldn't be neater if you were two nice old
ladies!"

"I warn you," Woolfolk replied, "Halvard will not regard that
particularly as a compliment. He will assure you that the order of
a proper yacht is beyond the most ambitious dream of a mere
housekeeper."

She laughed as Halvard placed a chair for her. She was, Woolfolk
thought, lighter in spirit on the ketch than she had been on shore;
there was the faintest imaginable stain on her petal-like cheeks; her
eyes, like olive leaves, were almost gay. She sat with her slender
knees crossed, her fine arms held with hands clasped behind her head,
and clad in a crisply ironed, crude white dress, into the band of
which she had thrust a spray of orange blossoms.

John Woolfolk was increasingly conscious of her peculiar charm. Millie
Stope, he suddenly realized, was like the wild oranges in the
neglected grove at her door. A man brought in contact with her
magnetic being charged with appealing and mysterious emotions, in a
setting of exotic night and black sea, would find other women, the
ordinary concourse of society, insipid--like faintly sweetened water.

She was entirely at home on the ketch, sitting against the immaculate
rim of deck and the sea. He resented that familiarity as an
unwarranted intrusion of the world he had left. Other people, women
among them, had unavoidably crossed his deck, but they had been
patently alien, momentary; but Millie, with her still delight at the
yacht's compact comfort, her intuitive comprehension of its various
details--the lamps set in gimbals, the china racks and chart cases
slung overhead--entered at once into the spirit of the craft that was
John Woolfolk's sole place of being.

He was now disturbed by the ease with which she had established
herself both in the yacht and in his imagination. He had thought,
after so many years, to have destroyed all the bonds which ordinarily
connect men with life; but now a mere curiosity had grown into a
tangible interest, and the interest showed unmistakable signs of
becoming sympathy.

She smiled at him from her position by the wheel; and he instinctively
responded with such an unaccustomed, ready warmth that he said
abruptly, seeking refuge in occupation:

"Why not reach out to sea? The conditions are perfect."

"Ah, please!" she cried. "Just to take up the anchor would thrill me
for months."

A light west wind was blowing; and deliberate, exactly spaced swells,
their tops laced with iridescent spray, were sweeping in from a sea
like a glassy blue pavement. Woolfolk issued a short order, and the
sailor moved forward with his customary smooth swiftness. The sails
were shaken loose, the mainsail slowly spread its dazzling expanse to
the sun, the jib and jigger were trimmed, and the anchor came up with
a short rush.

Millie rose with her arms outspread, her chin high and eyes closed.

"Free!" she proclaimed with a slow, deep breath.

The sails filled and the ketch forged ahead. John Woolfolk, at the
wheel, glanced at the chart section beside him.

"There's four feet on the bar at low water," he told Halvard. "The
tide's at half flood now."

The _Gar_ increased her speed, slipping easily out of the bay, gladly,
it seemed to Woolfolk, turning toward the sea. The bow rose, and the
ketch dipped forward over a spent wave. Millie Stope grasped the
wheelbox. "Free!" she said again with shining eyes.

The yacht rose more sharply, hung on a wave's crest and slid lightly
downward. Woolfolk, with a sinewy, dark hand directing their course,
was intent upon the swelling sails. Once he stopped, tightening a
halyard, and the sailor said:

"The main peak won't flatten, sir."

The swells grew larger. The _Gar_ climbed their smooth heights and
coasted like a feather beyond. Directly before the yacht they were
unbroken, but on either side they foamed into a silver quickly
reabsorbed in the deeper water within the bar.

Woolfolk turned from his scrutiny of the ketch to his companion, and
was surprised to see her, with all the joy evaporated from her
countenance, clinging rigidly to the rail. He said to himself,
"Seasick." Then he realized that it was not a physical illness that
possessed her, but a profound, increasing terror. She endeavored to
smile back at his questioning gaze, and said in a small, uncertain
voice:

"It's so--so big!"

For a moment he saw in her a clear resemblance to the shrinking figure
of Lichfield Stope. It was as though suddenly she had lost her fine
profile and become indeterminate, shadowy. The grey web of the old
deflection in Virginia extended over her out of the past--of the past
that, Woolfolk thought, would not die.

The _Gar_ rose higher still, dropped into the deep, watery valley, and
the woman's face was drawn and wet, the back of her straining hand was
dead white. Without further delay John Woolfolk put the wheel sharply
over and told his man, "We're going about." Halvard busied himself
with the shaking sails.

"Really--I'd rather you didn't," Millie gasped. "I must learn ... no
longer a child."

But Woolfolk held the ketch on her return course; his companion's
panic was growing beyond her control. They passed once more between
the broken waves and entered the still bay with its border of
flowering earth. There, when the yacht had been anchored, Millie sat
gazing silently at the open sea whose bigness had so unexpectedly
distressed her. Her face was pinched, her mouth set in a straight,
hard line. That, somehow, suggested to Woolfolk the enigmatic
governess; it was in contradiction to the rest.

"How strange," she said at last in an insuperably weary voice, "to be
forced back to this place that I loathe, by myself, by my own
cowardice. It's exactly as if my spirit were chained--then the body
could never be free. What is it," she demanded of John Woolfolk, "that
lives in our own hearts and betrays our utmost convictions and
efforts, and destroys us against all knowledge and desire?"

"It may be called heredity," he replied; "that is its simplest phase.
The others extend into the realms of the fantastic."

"It's unjust," she cried bitterly, "to be condemned to die in a pit
with all one's instinct in the sky!"

The old plea of injustice quivered for a moment over the water and
then died away. John Woolfolk had made the same passionate protest, he
had cried it with clenched hands at the withdrawn stars, and the
profound inattention of Nature had appalled his agony. A thrill of
pity moved him for the suffering woman beside him. Her mouth was still
unrelaxed. There was in her the material for a struggle against the
invidious past.

In her slender frame the rebellion took on an accent of the heroic.
Woolfolk recalled how utterly he had gone down before mischance. But
his case had been extreme, he had suffered an unendurable wrong at the
hand of Fate. Halvard diverted his thoughts by placing before them a
tray of sugared pineapple and symmetrical cakes. Millie, too, lost her
tension; she showed a feminine pleasure at the yacht's fine napkins,
approved the polish of the glass.

"It's all quite wonderful," she said.

"I have nothing else to care for," Woolfolk told her.

"No place nor people on land?"

"None."

"And you are satisfied?"

"Absolutely," he replied with an unnecessary emphasis. He was, he told
himself aggressively; he wanted nothing more from living and had
nothing to give. Yet his pity for Millie Stope mounted obscurely,
bringing with it thoughts, dim obligations and desires, to which he
had declared himself dead.

"I wonder if you are to be envied?" she queried.

A sudden astounding willingness to speak of himself, even of the past,
swept over him.

"Hardly," he replied. "All the things that men value were killed for
me in an instant, in the flutter of a white skirt."

"Can you talk about it?"

"There's almost nothing to tell; it was so unrelated, so senseless and
blind. It can't be dressed into a story, it has no moral--no meaning.
Well--it was twelve years ago. I had just been married, and we had
gone to a property in the country. After two days I had to go into
town, and when I came back Ellen met me in a breaking cart. It was a
flag station, buried in maples, with a white road winding back to
where we were staying.

"Ellen had trouble in holding the horse when the train left, and the
beast shied going from the station. It was Monday, clothes hung from a
line in a side yard and a skirt fluttered in a little breeze. The
horse reared, the strapped back of the seat broke, and Ellen was
thrown--on her head. It killed her."

He fell silent. Millie breathed sharply, and a ripple struck with a
faint slap on the yacht's side. Then: "One can't allow that," he
continued in a lower voice, as if arguing with himself; "arbitrary,
wanton; impossible to accept such conditions----

"She was young," he once more took up the narrative; "a girl in a
tennis skirt with a gay scarf about her waist--quite dead in a second.
The clothes still fluttered on the line. You see," he ended, "nothing
instructive, tragic--only a crude dissonance."

"Then you left everything?"

He failed to answer, and she gazed with a new understanding and
interest over the _Gar_. Her attention was attracted to the beach,
and, following her gaze, John Woolfolk saw the bulky figure of
Nicholas gazing at them from under his palm. A palpable change, a
swift shadow, enveloped Millie Stope.

"I must go back," she said uneasily; "there will be dinner, and my
father has been alone all morning."

But Woolfolk was certain that, however convincing the reasons she put
forward, it was none of these that was taking her so hurriedly ashore.
The dread that for the past few hours had almost vanished from her
tones, her gaze, had returned multiplied. It was, he realized, the
objective fear; her entire being was shrinking as if in anticipation
of an imminent calamity, a physical blow.

Woolfolk himself put her on the beach; and, with the tender canted on
the sand, steadied her spring. As her hand rested on his arm it
gripped him with a sharp force; a response pulsed through his body;
and an involuntary color rose in her pale, fine cheeks.

Nicholas, stolidly set with his shoes half buried in the sand,
surveyed them without a shade of feeling on his thick countenance. But
Woolfolk saw that the other's fingers were crawling toward his pocket.
He realized that the man's dully smiling mask concealed sultry,
ungoverned emotions, blind springs of hate.



VII


Again on the ketch the inevitable reaction overtook him. He had spoken
of Ellen's death to no one until now, through all the years when he
had been a wanderer on the edge of his world, and he bitterly
regretted his reference to it. In speaking he had betrayed his
resolution of solitude. Life, against all his instinct, his wishes,
had reached out and caught him, however lightly, in its tentacles.

The least surrender, he realized, the slightest opening of his
interest, would bind him with a multitude of attachments; the octopus
that he dreaded, uncoiling arm after arm, would soon hold him again, a
helpless victim for the fury Chance.

He had made a disastrous error in following his curiosity, the
insistent scent of the wild oranges, to the house where Millie had
advanced on the dim portico. His return there had been the inevitable
result of the first mistake, and the rest had followed with a fatal
ease. Whatever had been the deficiences of the past twelve years he
had been free from new complications, fresh treacheries. Now, with
hardly a struggle, he was falling back into the old trap.

The wind died away absolutely, and a haze gathered delicately over the
sea, thickening through the afternoon, and turned rosy by the
declining sun. The shore had faded from sight.

A sudden energy leaped through John Woolfolk and rang out in an abrupt
summons to Halvard. "Get up anchor," he commanded.

Poul Halvard, at the mainstay, remarked tentatively: "There's not a
capful of wind."

The wide calm, Woolfolk thought, was but a part of a general
conspiracy against his liberty, his memories. "Get the anchor up," he
repeated harshly. "We'll go under the engine." The sudden jarring of
the _Gar's_ engine sounded muffled in a shut space like the flushed
heart of a shell. The yacht moved forward, with a wake like folded
gauze, into a shimmer of formless and pure color.

John Woolfolk sat at the wheel, motionless except for an occasional
scant shifting of his hands. He was sailing by compass; the patent
log, trailing behind on its long cord, maintained a constant, jerking
register on its dial. He had resolutely banished all thought save that
of navigation. Halvard was occupied forward, clearing the deck of the
accumulations of the anchorage. When he came aft Woolfolk said
shortly: "No mess."

The haze deepened and night fell, and the sailor lighted and placed
the port and starboard lights. The binnacle lamp threw up a dim,
orange radiance on Woolfolk's somber countenance. He continued for
three and four and then five hours at the wheel, while the smooth
clamor of the engine, a slight quiver of the hull, alone marked their
progress through an invisible element.

Once more he had left life behind. This had more the aspect of a
flight than at any time previous. It was, obscurely, an unpleasant
thought, and he endeavored--unsuccessfully--to put it from him. He was
but pursuing the course he had laid out, following his necessary,
inflexible determination.

His mind for a moment turned independently back to Millie with her
double burden of fear. He had left her without a word, isolated with
Nicholas, concealing with a blank smile his enigmatic being, and with
her impotent parent.

Well, he was not responsible for her, he had paid for the privilege of
immunity; he had but listened to her story, volunteering nothing. John
Woolfolk wished, however, that he had said some final, useful word to
her before going. He was certain that, looking for the ketch and
unexpectedly finding the bay empty, she would suffer a pang, if only
of loneliness. In the short while that he had been there she had come
to depend on him for companionship, for relief from the insuperable
monotony of her surroundings; for, perhaps, still more. He wondered
what that more might contain. He thought of Millie at the present
moment, probably lying awake, steeped in dread. His flight now assumed
the aspect of an act of cowardice, of desertion. He rehearsed wearily
the extenuations of his position, but without any palpable relief.

An even more disturbing possibility lodged in his thoughts--he was not
certain that he did not wish to be actually back with Millie again. He
felt the quick pressure of her fingers on his arm as she jumped from
the tender; her magnetic personality hung about him like an aroma.
Cloaked in mystery, pale and irresistible, she appealed to him from
the edge of the wild oranges.

This, he told himself again, was but the manner in which a ruthless
Nature set her lures; it was the deceptive vestment of romance. He
held the ketch relentlessly on her course, with--now--all his
thoughts, his inclinations, returning to Millie Stope. In a final,
desperate rally of his scattering resolution he told himself that he
was unfaithful to the tragic memory of Ellen. This last stay broke
abruptly, and left him defenseless against the tyranny of his mounting
desires. Strangely he felt the sudden pressure of a stirring wind upon
his face; and, almost with an oath, he put the wheel sharply over and
the _Gar_ swung about.

Poul Halvard had been below, by inference asleep; but when the yacht
changed her course he immediately appeared on deck. He moved aft, but
Woolfolk made no explanation, the sailor put no questions. The wind
freshened, grew sustained. Woolfolk said:

"Make sail."

Soon after, the mainsail rose, a ghostly white expanse on the night.
John Woolfolk trimmed the jigger, shut off the engine; and, moving
through a sudden, vast hush, they retraced their course. The bay was
ablaze with sunlight, the morning well advanced, when the ketch
floated back to her anchorage under the oleanders.



VIII


Whether he returned or fled, Woolfolk thought, he was enveloped in an
atmosphere of defeat. He relinquished the wheel, but remained seated,
drooping at his post. The indefatigable Halvard proceeded with the
efficient discharge of his narrow, exacting duties. After a short
space John Woolfolk descended to the cabin, where, on an unmade berth,
he fell immediately asleep.

He woke to a dim interior and twilight gathering outside. He
shaved--without conscious purpose--with meticulous care, and put on
the blue flannel coat. Later he rowed himself ashore and proceeded
directly through the orange grove to the house beyond.

Millie Stope was seated on the portico, and laid a restraining hand on
her father's arm as he rose, attempting to retreat at Woolfolk's
approach. The latter, with a commonplace greeting, resumed his place.

Millie's face was dim and potent in the gloom, and Lichfield Stope
more than ever resembled an uneasy ghost. He muttered an indistinct
response to a period directed at him by Woolfolk and turned with a
low, urgent appeal to his daughter. The latter, with a hopeless
gesture, relinquished his arm, and the other vanished.

"You were sailing this morning," Millie commented listlessly.

"I had gone," he said without explanation. Then he added: "But I came
back."

A silence threatened them which he resolutely broke: "Do you remember,
when you told me about your father, that you wanted really to talk
about yourself? Will you do that now?"

"Tonight I haven't the courage."

"I am not idly curious," he persisted.

"Just what are you?"

"I don't know," he admitted frankly. "At the present moment I'm lost,
fogged. But, meanwhile, I'd like to give you any assistance in my
power. You seem, in a mysterious way, needful of help."

She turned her head sharply in the direction of the open hall and said
in a high, clear voice, that yet rang strangely false: "I am quite
well cared for by my father and Nicholas." She moved closer to him,
dragging her chair across the uneven porch, in the rasp of which she
added, quick and low:

"Don't--please."

A mounting exasperation seized him at the secrecy that veiled her, hid
her from him, and he answered stiffly: "I am merely intrusive."

She was seated above him, and she leaned forward and swiftly pressed
his fingers, loosely clasped about a knee. Her hand was as cold as
salt. His irritation vanished before a welling pity. He got now a
sharp, recognized happiness from her nearness; his feeling for her
increased with the accumulating seconds. After the surrender, the
admission, of his return he had grown elemental, sensitized to
emotions rather than to processes of intellect. His ardor had the
poignancy of the period beyond youth. It had a trace of the
consciousness of the fatal waning of life which gave it a depth denied
to younger passions. He wished to take Millie Stope at once from all
memory of the troublous past, to have her alone in a totally different
and thrilling existence.

It was a personal and blind desire, born in the unaccustomed tumult of
his newly released feelings.

They sat for a long while, silent or speaking in trivialities, when he
proposed a walk to the sea; but she declined in that curiously loud
and false tone. It seemed to Woolfolk that, for the moment, she had
addressed someone not immediately present; and involuntarily he looked
around. The light of the hidden lamp in the hall fell in a pale,
unbroken rectangle on the irregular porch. There was not the shifting
of a pound's weight audible in the stillness.

Millie breathed unevenly; at times he saw she shivered uncontrollably.
At this his feeling mounted beyond all restraint. He said, taking her
cold hand: "I didn't tell you why I went last night--it was because I
was afraid to stay where you were; I was afraid of the change you were
bringing about in my life. That's all over now, I----"

"Isn't it quite late?" she interrupted him uncomfortably. She rose and
her agitation visibly increased.

He was about to force her to hear all that he must say, but he stopped
at the mute wretchedness of her pallid face. He stood gazing up at her
from the rough sod. She clenched her hands, her breast heaved sharply,
and she spoke in a level, strained voice:

"It would have been better if you had gone--without coming back. My
father is unhappy with anyone about except myself--and Nicholas. You
see--he will not stay on the porch nor walk about his grounds. I am
not in need of assistance, as you seem to think. And--thank you. Good
night."

He stood without moving, his head thrown back, regarding her with a
searching frown. He listened again, unconsciously, and thought he
heard the low creaking of a board from within. It could be nothing but
the uneasy peregrination of Lichfield Stope. The sound was repeated,
grew louder, and the sagging bulk of Nicholas appeared in the
doorway.

The latter stood for a moment, a dark, magnified shape; and then,
moving across the portico to the farthest window, closed the shutters.
The hinges gave out a rasping grind, as if they had not been turned
for months, and there was a faint rattle of falling particles of
rusted iron. The man forced shut a second set of shutters with a
sudden violence and went slowly back into the house. Millie Stope said
once more:

"Good night."

It was evident to Woolfolk that he could gain nothing more at present;
and stifling an angry protest, an impatient troop of questions, he
turned and strode back to the tender. However, he hadn't the slightest
intention of following Millie's indirectly expressed wish for him to
leave. He had the odd conviction that at heart she did not want him to
go; the evening, he elaborated this feeling, had been all a strange
piece of acting. Tomorrow he would tear apart the veil that hid her
from him; he would ignore her every protest and force the truth from
her.

He lifted the tender's anchor from the sand and pulled sharply across
the water to the _Gar_. A reddish, misshapen moon hung in the east,
and when he had mounted to his deck it was suddenly obscured by a
high, racing scud of cloud; the air had a damper, thicker feel. He
instinctively moved to the barometer, which he found depressed. The
wind, that had continued steadily since the night before, increased,
and there was a corresponding stir among the branches ashore, a
slapping of the yacht's cordage against the spars. He turned forward
and half absently noted the increasing strain on the hawser
disappearing into the dark tide. The anchor was firmly bedded. The
pervasive far murmur of the waves on the outer bars grew louder.

The yacht swung lightly over the choppy water, and a strong affection
for the ketch that had been his home, his occupation, his solace
through the past dreary years expanded his heart. He knew the _Gar's_
every capability and mood, and they were all good. She was an
exceptional boat. His feeling was acute, for he knew that the yacht
had been superseded. It was already an element of the past, of that
past in which Ellen lay dead in a tennis skirt, with a bright scarf
about her young waist.

He placed his hand on the mainmast, in the manner in which another
might drop a palm on the shoulder of a departing faithful companion,
and the wind in the rigging vibrated through the wood like a sentient
and affectionate response. Then he went resolutely down into the
cabin, facing the future.

John Woolfolk woke in the night, listened for a moment to the
straining hull and wind shrilling aloft, and then rose and went
forward again to examine the mooring. A second hawser now reached into
the darkness. Halvard had been on deck and put out another anchor. The
wind beat salt and stinging from the sea, utterly dissipating the
languorous breath of the land, the odors of the exotic, flowering
trees.



IX


In the morning a storm, driving out of the east, enveloped the coast
in a frigid, lashing rain. The wind mounted steadily through the
middle of the day with an increasing pitch accompanied by the basso of
the racing seas. The bay grew opaque and seamed with white scars.
After the meridian the rain ceased, but the wind maintained its
volume, clamoring beneath a leaden pall.

John Woolfolk, in dripping yellow oilskins, occasionally circled the
deck of his ketch. Halvard had everything in a perfection of order.
When the rain stopped, the sailor dropped into the tender and with a
boat sponge bailed vigorously. Soon after, Woolfolk stepped out upon
the beach. He was without any plan but the determination to put aside
whatever obstacles held Millie from him. This rapidly crystallized
into the resolve to take her with him before another day ended. His
feeling for her, increasing to a passionate need, had destroyed the
suspension, the deliberate calm of his life, as the storm had
dissipated the sunny peace of the coast.

He paused before the ruined façade, weighing her statement that it
would have been better if he had not returned; and he wondered how
that would affect her willingness, her ability, to see him today. He
added the word "ability" instinctively and without explanation. And he
decided that, in order to have any satisfactory speech with her, he
must come upon her alone, away from the house. Then he could force her
to hear to the finish what he wanted to say; in the open they might
escape from the inexplicable inhibition that lay upon her expression
of feeling, of desire. It would be necessary, at the same time, to
avoid the notice of anyone who would warn her of his presence. This
precluded his waiting at the familiar place on the rotting wharf.

Three marble steps, awry and moldy, descended to the lawn from a
French window in the side of the desolate mansion. They were
screened by a tangle of rose-mallow, and there John Woolfolk seated
himself--waiting.

The wind shrilled about the corner of the house; there was a mournful
clatter of shingles from above and the frenzied lashing of boughs. The
noise was so great that he failed to hear the slightest indication of
the approach of Nicholas until that individual passed directly before
him. Nicholas stopped at the inner fringe of the beach and, from a
point where he could not be seen from the ketch, stood gazing out at
the _Gar_ pounding on her long anchor chains. The man remained for an
oppressively extended period; Woolfolk could see his heavy, drooping
shoulders and sunken head; and then the other moved to the left,
crossing the rough open behind the oleanders. Woolfolk had a momentary
glimpse of a huge nose and rapidly moving lips above an impotent
chin.

Nicholas, he realized, remained a complete enigma to him; beyond the
conviction that the man was, in some minor way, leaden-witted, he knew
nothing.

A brief, watery ray of sunlight fell through a rift in the flying
clouds and stained the tossing foliage pale gold; it was followed by a
sudden drift of rain, then once more the naked wind. Woolfolk was fast
determining to go up to the house and insist upon Millie's hearing
him, when unexpectedly she appeared in a somber, fluttering cloak,
with her head uncovered and hair blown back from her pale brow. He
waited until she had passed him, and then rose, softly calling her
name.

She stopped and turned, with a hand pressed to her heart. "I was
afraid you'd gone out," she told him. "The sea is like a pack of
wolves." Her voice was a low complexity of relief and fear.

"Not alone," he replied; "not without you."

"Madness," she murmured, gathering her wavering cloak about her
breast. She swayed, graceful as a reed in the wind, charged with
potency. He made an involuntary gesture toward her with his arms; but
in a sudden accession of fear she eluded him.

"We must talk," he told her. "There is a great deal that needs
explaining, that--I think--I have a right to know, the right of your
dependence on something to save you from yourself. There is another
right, but only you can give that----"

"Indeed," she interrupted tensely, "you mustn't stand here talking to
me."

"I shall allow nothing to interrupt us," he returned decidedly. "I
have been long enough in the dark."

"But you don't understand what you will, perhaps, bring on yourself--on
me."

"I'm forced to ignore even that last."

She glanced hurriedly about. "Not here then, if you must."

She walked from him, toward the second ruined pile that fronted the
bay. The steps to the gaping entrance had rotted away and they were
forced to mount an insecure side piece. The interior, as Woolfolk had
seen, was composed of one high room, while, above, a narrow, open
second story hung like a ledge. On both sides were long counters with
mounting sets of shelves behind them.

"This was the store," Millie told him. "It was a great estate."

A dim and moldering fragment of cotton stuff was hanging from a
forgotten bolt; above, some tinware was eaten with rust; a scale had
crushed in the floor and lay broken on the earth beneath; and a
ledger, its leaves a single, sodden film of grey, was still open on a
counter. A precarious stair mounted to the flooring above, and Millie
Stope made her way upward, followed by Woolfolk.

There, in the double gloom of the clouds and a small dormer window
obscured by cobwebs, she sank on a broken box. The decayed walls shook
perilously in the blasts of the wind. Below they could see the empty
floor, and through the doorway the somber, gleaming greenery without.

All the patient expostulation that John Woolfolk had prepared
disappeared in a sudden tyranny of emotion, of hunger for the slender,
weary figure before him. Seating himself at her side, he burst into a
torrential expression of passionate desire that mounted with the tide
of his eager words. He caught her hands, held them in a painful grip,
and gazed down into her still, frightened face. He stopped abruptly,
was silent for a tempestuous moment, and then baldly repeated the fact
of his love.

Millie Stope said:

"I know so little about the love you mean." Her voice trailed to
silence; and in a lull of the storm they heard the thin patter of rats
on the floor below, the stir of bats among the rafters.

"It's quickly learned," he assured her. "Millie, do you feel any
response at all in your heart--the slightest return of my longing?"

"I don't know," she answered, turning toward him a troubled scrutiny.
"Perhaps in another surrounding, with things different, I might care
for you very much----"

"I am going to take you into that other surrounding," he announced.

She ignored his interruption. "But we shall never have a chance to
learn." She silenced his attempted protest with a cool, flexible palm
against his mouth. "Life," she continued, "is so dreadfully in the
dark. One is lost at the beginning. There are maps to take you safely
to the Guianas, but none for souls. Perhaps religions are----Again I
don't know. I have found nothing secure--only a whirlpool into which I
will not drag others."

"I will drag you out," he asserted.

She smiled at him, in a momentary tenderness, and continued: "When I
was young I never doubted that I would conquer life. I pictured myself
rising in triumph over circumstance, as a gull leaves the sea.... When
I was young.... If I was afraid of the dark then I thought, of course,
I would outgrow it; but it has grown deeper than my courage. The night
is terrible now." A shiver passed over her.

"You are ill," he insisted, "but you shall be cured."

"Perhaps, a year ago, something might have been done, with assistance;
yes--with you. Then, whatever is, hadn't materialized. Why did you
delay?" she cried in a sudden suffering.

"You'll go with me tonight," he declared stoutly.

"In this?" She indicated the wind beating with the blows of a great
fist against the swaying sides of the demolished store. "Have you seen
the sea? Do you remember what happened on the day I went with you when
it was so beautiful and still?"

John Woolfolk realized, wakened to a renewed mental clearness by
the threatening of all that he desired, that--as Millie had
intimated--life was too complicated to be solved by a simple
longing; love was not the all-powerful magician of conventional
acceptance; there were other, no less profound, depths.

He resolutely abandoned his mere inchoate wanting, and considered the
elements of the position that were known to him. There was, in the
first place, that old, lamentable dereliction of Lichfield Stope's,
and its aftermath in his daughter. Millie had just recalled to
Woolfolk the duration, the activity, of its poison. Here there was no
possibility of escape by mere removal; the stain was within; and it
must be thoroughly cleansed before she could cope successfully,
happily, with life. In this, he was forced to acknowledge, he could
help her but little; it was an affair of spirit; and spiritual
values--though they might be supported from without--had their growth
and decrease strictly in the individual they animated.

Still, he argued, a normal existence, a sense of security, would
accomplish a great deal; and that in turn hung upon the elimination of
the second, unknown element--the reason for her backward glances, her
sudden, loud banalities, yesterday's mechanical repudiation of his
offered assistance and the implied wish for him to go. He said
gravely:

"I have been impatient, but you came so sharply into my empty
existence that I was upset. If you are ill you can cure yourself.
Never forget your mother's 'brave heart.' But there is something
objective, immediate, threatening you. Tell me what it is, Millie, and
together we will overcome and put it away from you for ever."

She gazed panic-stricken into the empty gloom below. "No! no!" she
exclaimed, rising. "You don't know. I won't drag you down. You must go
away at once, tonight, even in the storm."

"What is it?" he demanded.

She stood rigidly erect with her eyes shut and hands clasped at her
sides. Then she slid down upon the box, lifting to him a white mask of
fright.

"It's Nicholas," she said, hardly above her breath.

A sudden relief swept over John Woolfolk. In his mind he dismissed as
negligible the heavy man fumbling beneath his soiled apron. He
wondered how the other could have got such a grip on Millie Stope's
imagination.

The mystery that had enveloped her was fast disappearing, leaving them
without an obstacle to the happiness he proposed. Woolfolk said
curtly:

"Has Nicholas been annoying you?"

She shivered, with clasped straining hands.

"He says he's crazy about me," she told him in a shuddering voice that
contracted his heart. "He says that I must--must marry him, or----"
Her period trailed abruptly out to silence.

Woolfolk grew animated with determination, an immediate purpose.

"Where would Nicholas be at this hour?" he asked.

She rose hastily, clinging to his arm. "You mustn't," she exclaimed,
yet not loudly. "You don't know! He is watching--something frightful
would happen."

"Nothing 'frightful,'" he returned tolerantly, preparing to descend.
"Only unfortunate for Nicholas."

"You mustn't," she repeated desperately, her sheer weight hanging from
her hands clasped about his neck. "Nicholas is not--not human. There's
something funny about him. I don't mean funny, I----"

He unclasped her fingers and quietly forced her back to the seat on
the box. Then he took a place at her side.

"Now," he asked reasonably, "what is this about Nicholas?"

She glanced down into the desolate cavern of the store; the ghostly
remnant of cotton goods fluttered in a draft like a torn and grimy
cobweb; the lower floor was palpably bare.

"He came in April," she commenced in a voice without any life. "The
woman we had had for years was dead; and when Nicholas asked for work
we were glad to take him. He wanted the smallest possible wages and
was willing to do everything; he even cooked quite nicely. At first he
was jumpy--he had asked if many strangers went by; but then when no
one appeared he got easier.... He got easier and began to do extra
things for me. I thanked him--until I understood. Then I asked father
to send him away, but he was afraid; and, before I could get up my
courage to do it, Nicholas spoke----

"He said he was crazy about me, and would I please try and be good to
him. He had always wanted to marry, he went on, and live right, but
things had gone against him. I told him that he was impertinent and
that he would have to go at once; but he cried and begged me not to
say that, not to get him 'started.'"

That, John Woolfolk recalled, was precisely what the man had said to
him.

"I went back to father and told him why he must send Nicholas off, but
father nearly suffocated. He turned almost black. Then I got
frightened and locked myself in my room, while Nicholas sat out on the
stair and sobbed all night. It was ghastly! In the morning I had to go
down, and he went about his duties as usual.

"That evening he spoke again, on the porch, twisting his hands exactly
as if he were making bread. He repeated that he wanted me to be nice
to him. He said something wrong would happen if I pushed him to it.

"I think if he had threatened to kill me it would have been more
possible than his hints and sobs. The thing went along for a month,
then six weeks, and nothing more happened. I started again and again
to tell them at the store, two miles back in the pines, but I could
never get away from Nicholas; he was always at my shoulder, muttering
and twisting his hands.

"At last I found something." She hesitated, glancing once more down
through the empty gloom, while her fingers swiftly fumbled in the band
of her waist.

"I was cleaning his room--it simply had to be done--and had out a
bureau drawer, when I saw this underneath. He was not in the house,
and I took one look at it, then put the things back as near as
possible as they were. I was so frightened that I slipped it in my
dress--had no chance to return it."

He took from her unresisting hand a folded rectangle of coarse grey
paper; and, opening it, found a small handbill with the crudely
reproduced photograph of a man's head with a long, drooping nose,
sleepy eyes in thick folds of flesh, and a lax under-lip with a fixed,
dull smile:

                           WANTED FOR MURDER!

  The authorities of Coweta offer THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS for the
  apprehension of the below, Iscah Nicholas, convicted of the murder
  of Elizabeth Slakto, an aged woman.

  General description: Age about forty-eight. Head receding, with
  large nose and stupid expression. Body corpulent but strong.
  Nicholas has no trade and works at general utility. He is a
  homicidal maniac.

                           WANTED FOR MURDER!

"He told me that his name was Nicholas Brandt," Millie noted in her
dull voice.

A new gravity possessed John Woolfolk.

"You must not go back to the house," he decided.

"Wait," she replied. "I was terribly frightened when he went up to his
room. When he came down he thanked me for cleaning it. I told him he
was mistaken, that I hadn't been in there, but I could see he was
suspicious. He cried all the time he was cooking dinner, in a queer,
choked way; and afterward touched me--on the arm. I swam, but all the
water in the bay wouldn't take away the feel of his fingers. Then I
saw the boat--you came ashore.

"Nicholas was dreadfully upset, and hid in the pines for a day or
more. He told me if I spoke of him it would happen, and if I left it
would happen--to father. Then he came back. He said that you
were--were in love with me, and that I must send you away. He added
that you must go today, for he couldn't stand waiting any more. He
said that he wanted to be right, but that things were against him.
This morning he got dreadful--if I fooled him he'd get you, and me,
too, and then there was always father for something extra special.
That, he warned me, would happen if I stayed away for more than an
hour." She rose, trembling violently. "Perhaps it's been an hour now.
I must go back."

John Woolfolk thought rapidly; his face was grim. If he had brought a
pistol from the ketch he would have shot Iscah Nicholas without
hesitation. Unarmed, he was reluctant to precipitate a crisis with
such serious possibilities. He could secure one from the _Gar_, but
even that short lapse of time might prove fatal--to Millie or
Lichfield Stope. Millie's story was patently fact in every detail. He
thought more rapidly still--desperately.

"I must go back," she repeated, her words lost in a sudden blast of
wind under the dilapidated roof.

He saw that she was right.

"Very well," he acquiesced. "Tell him that you saw me, and that I
promised to go tonight. Act quietly; say that you have been upset, but
that you will give him an answer tomorrow. Then at eight o'clock--it
will be dark early tonight--walk out to the wharf. That is all. But it
must be done without any hesitation; you must be even cheerful, kinder
to him."

He was thinking: She must be out of the way when I meet Nicholas. She
must not be subjected to the ordeal that will release her from the
dread fast crushing her spirit.

She swayed, and he caught her, held her upright, circled in his steady
arms.

"Don't let him hurt us," she gasped. "Oh, don't!"

"Not now," he reassured her. "Nicholas is finished. But you must help
by doing exactly as I have told you. You'd better go on. It won't be
long, hardly three hours, until freedom."

She laid her cold cheek against his face, while her arms crept round
his neck. She said nothing; and he held her to him with a sudden throb
of feeling. They stood for a moment in the deepening gloom, bound in a
straining embrace, while the rats gnawed in the sagging walls of the
store and the storm thrashed without. She reluctantly descended the
stair, crossed the broken floor and disappeared through the door.

A sudden unwillingness to have her return alone to the sobbing menace
of Iscah Nicholas, the impotent wraith that had been Lichfield Stope,
carried him in an impetuous stride to the stair. But there he halted.
The plan he had made held, in its simplicity, a larger measure of
safety than any immediate, unconsidered course.

John Woolfolk waited until she had had time to enter the orange-grove;
then he followed, turning toward the beach.

He found Halvard already at the sand's edge, waiting uneasily with the
tender, and they crossed the broken water to where the _Gar's_ cabin
flung out a remote, peaceful light.



X


The sailor immediately set about his familiar, homely tasks, while
Woolfolk made a minute inspection of the ketch's rigging. He descended
to supper with an expression of abstraction, and ate mechanically
whatever was placed before him. Afterward he rolled a cigarette, which
he neglected to light, and sat motionless, chin on breast, in the warm
stillness.

Halvard cleared the table and John Woolfolk roused himself. He turned
to the shelf that ran above the berths and secured a small, locked tin
box. For an hour or more he was engaged alternately writing and
carefully reading various papers sealed with vermilion wafers. Then he
called Halvard.

"I'll get you to witness these signatures," he said, rising. Poul
Halvard hesitated; then, with a furrowed brow, clumsily grasped the
pen. "Here," Woolfolk indicated. The man wrote slowly, linking
fortuitously the unsteady letters of his name. This arduous task
accomplished, he immediately rose. John Woolfolk again took his place,
turning to address the other, when he saw that one side of Halvard's
face was bluish and rapidly swelling.

"What's the matter with your jaw?" he promptly inquired.

Halvard avoided his gaze, obviously reluctant to speak, but Woolfolk's
silent interrogation was insistent. Then:

"I met that Nicholas," Halvard admitted; "without a knife."

"Well?" Woolfolk insisted.

"There's something wrong with this cursed place," Halvard said
defiantly. "You can laugh, but there's a matter in the air that's not
natural. My grandmother could have named it. She heard the ravens that
called Tollfsen's death, and read Linga's eyes before she strangulated
herself. Anyhow, when you didn't come back I got doubtful and took the
tender in. Then I saw Nicholas beating up through the bushes, hiding
here and there, and doubling through the grass; so I came on him from
the back and--and kicked him, quite sudden.

"He went on his hands, but got up quick for a hulk like himself. Sir,
this is hard to believe, but it's Biblical--he didn't take any more
notice of the kick than if it had been a flag halyard brushed against
him. He said 'Go away,' and waved his foolish hands.

"I closed in, still careful of the knife, with a remark, and got onto
his heart. He only coughed and kept telling me in a crying whisper to
go away. Nicholas pushed me back--that's how I got this face. What was
the use? I might as well have hit a pudding. Even talk didn't move
him. In a little it sent me cold." He stopped abruptly, grew sullen;
it was evident that he would say no more in that direction. Woolfolk
opened another subject:

"Life, Halvard," he said, "is uncertain; perhaps tonight I shall find
it absolutely unreliable. What I am getting at is this: if anything
happens to me--death, to be accurate--the _Gar_ is yours, the ketch
and a sum of money. It is secured to you in this box, which you will
deliver to my address in Boston. There is another provision that I'll
mention merely to give you the opportunity to repeat it verbally from
my lips: the bulk of anything I have, in the possibility we are
considering, will go to a Miss Stope, the daughter of Lichfield Stope,
formerly of Virginia." He stood up. "Halvard," Woolfolk said abruptly,
extending his hand, expressing for the first time his repeated
thought, "you are a good man. You are the only steady quantity I have
ever known. I have paid you for a part of this, but the most is beyond
dollars. That I am now acknowledging."

Halvard was cruelly embarrassed. He waited, obviously desiring a
chance to retreat, and Woolfolk continued in a different vein:

"I want the canvas division rigged across the cabin and three berths
made. Then get the yacht ready to go out at any time."

One thing more remained; and, going deeper into the tin box, John
Woolfolk brought out a packet of square envelopes addressed to him in
a faded, angular hand. They were all that remained now of his youth,
of the past. Not a ghost, not a remembered fragrance nor accent, rose
from the delicate paper. They had been the property of a man dead
twelve years ago, slain by incomprehensible mischance; and the man in
the contracted cabin, vibrating from the elemental and violent forces
without, forebore to open them. He burned the packet to a blackish ash
on a plate.

It was, he saw from the chronometer, seven o'clock; and he rose
charged with tense energy, engaged in activities of a far different
order. He unwrapped from many folds of oiled silk a flat, amorphous
pistol, uglier in its bleak outline than the familiar weapons of more
graceful days; and, sliding into place a filled cartridge clip, he
threw a load into the barrel. This he deposited in the pocket of a
black wool jacket, closely buttoned about his long, hard body, and
went up on deck.

Halvard, in a glistening yellow coat, came close up to him, speaking
with the wind whipping the words from his lips. He said: "She's ready,
sir."

For a moment Woolfolk made no answer; he stood gazing anxiously into
the dark that enveloped and hid Millie Stope from him. There was
another darkness about her, thicker than the mere night, like a black
cerement dropping over her soul. His eyes narrowed as he replied to
the sailor: "Good!"



XI


John Woolfolk peered through the night toward the land.

"Put me ashore beyond the point," he told Halvard; "at a half-sunk
wharf on the sea."

The sailor secured the tender, and, dropping into it, held the small
boat steady while Woolfolk followed. With a vigorous push they fell
away from the _Gar_. Halvard's oars struck the water smartly and
forced the tender forward into the beating wind. They made a choppy
passage to the rim of the bay, where, turning, they followed the thin,
pale glimmer of the broken water on the land's edge. Halvard pulled
with short, telling strokes, his oarblades stirring into momentary
being livid blurs of phosphorescence.

John Woolfolk guided the boat about the point where he had first seen
Millie swimming. He recalled how strange her unexpected appearance had
seemed. It had, however, been no stranger than the actuality which had
driven her into the bay in the effort to cleanse the stain of Iscah
Nicholas' touch. Woolfolk's face hardened; he was suddenly conscious
of the cold weight in his pocket. He realized that he would kill
Nicholas at the first opportunity and without the slightest
hesitation.

The tender passed about the point, and he could hear more clearly the
sullen clamor of the waves on the seaward bars. The patches of green
sky had grown larger, the clouds swept by with the apparent menace of
solid, flying objects. The land lay in a low, formless mass on the
left. It appeared secretive, a masked place of evil. Its influence
reached out and subtly touched John Woolfolk's heart with the
premonition of base treacheries. The tormented trees had the sound of
Iscah Nicholas sobbing. He must take Millie away immediately; banish
its last memory from her mind, its influence from her soul. It was the
latter he always feared, which formed his greatest hazard--to tear
from her the tendrils of the invidious past.

The vague outline of the ruined wharf swam forward, and the tender
slid into the comparative quiet of its partial protection.

"Make fast," Woolfolk directed. "I shall be out of the boat for a
while." He hesitated; then: "Miss Stope will be here; and if, after an
hour, you hear nothing from me, take her out to the ketch for the
night. Insist on her going. If you hear nothing from me still, make
the first town and report."

He mounted by a cross pinning to the insecure surface above; and,
picking his way to solid earth, waited. He struck a match and,
covering the light with his palm, saw that it was ten minutes before
eight. Millie, he had thought, would reach the wharf before the hour
he had indicated. She would not at any cost be late.

The night was impenetrable. Halvard was as absolutely lost as if he
had dropped, with all the world save the bare, wet spot where Woolfolk
stood, into a nether region from which floated up great, shuddering
gasps of agony. He followed this idea more minutely, picturing the
details of such a terrestrial calamity; then he put it from him with
an oath. Black thoughts crept insidiously into his mind like rats in a
cellar. He had ordinarily a rigidly disciplined brain, an incisive
logic, and he was disturbed by the distorted visions that came to him
unbidden. He wished, in a momentary panic, instantly suppressed, that
he were safely away with Millie in the ketch.

He was becoming hysterical, he told himself with compressed lips--no
better than Lichfield Stope. The latter rose greyly in his memory, and
fled across the sea, a phantom body pulsing with a veined fire like
that stirred from the nocturnal bay. He again consulted his watch, and
said aloud, incredulously: "Five minutes past eight." The inchoate
crawling of his thoughts changed to an acute, tangible doubt, a
mounting dread.

He rehearsed the details of his plan, tried it at every turning. It
had seemed to him at the moment of its birth the best--no, the
only--thing to do, and it was still without obvious fault. Some
trivial happening, an unforeseen need of her father's, had delayed
Millie for a minute or two. But the minutes increased and she did not
appear. All his conflicting emotions merged into a cold passion of
anger. He would kill Nicholas without a word's preliminary. The time
drew out, Millie did not materialize, and his anger sank to the
realization of appalling possibilities.

He decided that he would wait no longer. In the act of moving forward
he thought he heard, rising thinly against the fluctuating wind, a
sudden cry. He stopped automatically, listening with every nerve, but
there was no repetition of the uncertain sound. As Woolfolk swiftly
considered it he was possessed by the feeling that he had not heard
the cry with his actual ear but with a deeper, more unaccountable
sense. He went forward in a blind rush, feeling with extended hands
for the opening in the tangle, groping a stumbling way through the
close dark of the matted trees. He fell over an exposed root,
blundered into a chill, wet trunk, and finally emerged at the side of
the desolate mansion. Here his way led through saw grass, waist high,
and the blades cut at him like lithe, vindictive knives. No light
showed from the face of the house toward him, and he came abruptly
against the bay window of the dismantled billiard room.

A sudden caution arrested him--the sound of his approach might
precipitate a catastrophe, and he soundlessly felt his passage about
the house to the portico. The steps creaked beneath his careful tread,
but the noise was lost in the wind. At first he could see no light;
the hall door, he discovered, was closed; then he was aware of a faint
glimmer seeping through a drawn window shade on the right. From
without he could distinguish nothing. He listened, but not a sound
rose. The stillness was more ominous than cries.

John Woolfolk took the pistol from his pocket and, automatically
releasing the safety, moved to the door, opening it with his left
hand. The hall was unlighted; he could feel the pressure of the
darkness above. The dank silence flowed over him like chill water
rising above his heart. He turned, and a dim thread of light, showing
through the chink of a partly closed doorway, led him swiftly forward.
He paused a moment before entering, shrinking from what might be
revealed beyond, and then flung the door sharply open.

His pistol was directed at a low-trimmed lamp in a chamber empty of
all life. He saw a row of large black portfolios on low supports, a
sewing bag spilled its contents from a chair, a table bore a tin
tobacco jar and the empty skin of a plantain. Then his gaze rested
upon the floor, on a thin, inanimate body in crumpled alpaca trousers
and dark jacket, with a peaked, congested face upturned toward the
pale light. It was Lichfield Stope--dead.

Woolfolk bent over him, searching for a mark of violence, for the
cause of the other's death. At first he found nothing; then, as he
moved the body--its lightness came to him as a shock--he saw that one
fragile arm had been twisted and broken; the hand hung like a withered
autumn leaf from its circular cuff fastened with the mosaic button.
That was all.

He straightened up sharply, with his pistol levelled at the door. But
there had been no noise other than that of the wind plucking at the
old tin roof, rattling the shrunken frames of the windows. Lichfield
Stope had fallen back with his countenance lying on a doubled arm, as
if he were attempting to hide from his extinguished gaze the horror of
his end. The lamp was of the common glass variety, without shade; and,
in a sudden eddy of air, it flickered, threatened to go out, and a
thin ribbon of smoke swept up against the chimney and vanished.

On the wall was a wide stipple print of the early nineteenth
century--the smooth sward of a village glebe surrounded by the low
stone walls of ancient dwellings, with a timbered inn behind broad
oaks and a swinging sign. It was--in the print--serenely evening, and
long shadows slipped out through an ambient glow. Woolfolk, with
pistol elevated, became suddenly conscious of the withdrawn scene, and
for a moment its utter peace held him spellbound. It was another
world, for the security, the unattainable repose of which, he longed
with a passionate bitterness.

The wind shifted its direction and beat upon the front of the house; a
different set of windows rattled, and the blast swept compact and cold
up through the blank hall. John Woolfolk cursed his inertia of mind,
and once more addressed the profound, tragic mystery that surrounded
him.

He thought: Nicholas has gone--with Millie. Or perhaps he has left
her--in some dark, upper space. A maddening sense of impotence settled
upon him. If the man had taken Millie out into the night he had no
chance of following, finding them. Impenetrable screens of bushes lay
on every hand, with, behind them, mile after mile of shrouded pine
woods.

His plan had gone terribly amiss, with possibilities which he could
not bring himself to face. All that had happened before in his
life, and that had seemed so insupportable at the time, faded to
insignificance. Shuddering waves of horror swept over him. He raised
his hand unsteadily, drew it across his brow, and it came away
dripping wet. He was oppressed by the feeling familiar in evil
dreams--of gazing with leaden limbs at deliberate, unspeakable acts.

He shook off the numbness of dread. He must act--at once! How? A
thousand men could not find Iscah Nicholas in the confused darkness
without. To raise the scattered and meager neighborhood would consume
an entire day.

The wind agitated a rocking chair in the hall, an erratic creaking
responded, and Woolfolk started forward, and stopped as he heard and
then identified the noise. This, he told himself, would not do; the
hysteria was creeping over him again. He shook his shoulders, wiped
his palm and took a fresh grip on the pistol.

Then from above came the heavy, unmistakable fall of a foot. It was
not repeated; the silence spread once more, broken only from without.
But there was no possibility of mistake, there had been no subtlety in
the sound--a slow foot had moved, a heavy body had shifted.

At this actuality a new determination seized him; he was conscious of
a feeling that almost resembled joy, an immeasurable relief at the
prospect of action and retaliation. He took up the lamp, held it
elevated while he advanced to the door with a ready pistol. There,
however, he stopped, realizing the mark he would present moving,
conveniently illuminated, up the stair. The floor above was totally
unknown to him; at any turning he might be surprised, overcome,
rendered useless. He had a supreme purpose to perform. He had already,
perhaps fatally, erred, and there must be no further misstep.

John Woolfolk realized that he must go upstairs in the dark, or with,
at most, in extreme necessity, a fleeting and guarded matchlight.
This, too, since he would be entirely without knowledge of his
surroundings, would be inconvenient, perhaps impossible. He must try.
He put the lamp back upon the table, moving it farther out of the eddy
from the door, where it would stay lighted against a possible pressing
need. Then he moved from the wan radiance into the night of the hall.



XII


He formed in his mind the general aspect of the house: its width faced
the orange grove, the stair mounted on the hall's right, in back of
which a door gave to the billiard room; on the left was the chamber of
the lamp, and that, he had seen, opened into a room behind, while the
kitchen wing, carried to a chamber above, had been obviously added. It
was probable that he would find the same general arrangement on the
second floor. The hall would be smaller; a space inclosed for a bath;
and a means of ascent to the roof.

John Woolfolk mounted the stair quickly and as silently as possible,
placing his feet squarely on the body of the steps. At the top the
handrail disappeared; and, with his back to a plaster wall, he moved
until he encountered a closed door. That interior was above the
billiard room; it was on the opposite floor he had heard the footfall,
and he was certain that no one had crossed the hall or closed a door.
He continued, following the dank wall. At places the plaster had
fallen, and his fingers encountered the bare skeleton of the house.
Farther on he narrowly escaped knocking down a heavily framed
picture--another, he thought, of Lichfield Stope's mezzotints--but he
caught it, left it hanging crazily awry.

He passed an open door, recognized the bathroom from the flat odor of
chlorides, reached an angle of the wall and proceeded with renewed
caution. Next he encountered the cold panes of a window and then found
the entrance to the room above the kitchen.

He stopped--it was barely possible that the sound he heard had echoed
from here. He revolved the wisdom of a match, but--he had progressed
very well so far--decided negatively. One aspect of the situation
troubled him greatly--the absence of any sound or warning from Millie.
It was highly improbable that his entrance to the house had been
unnoticed. The contrary was probable--that his sudden appearance had
driven Nicholas above.

Woolfolk started forward more hurriedly, urged by his increasing
apprehension, when his foot went into the opening of a depressed step
and flung him sharply forward. In his instinctive effort to avoid
falling the pistol dropped clattering into the darkness. A sudden
choked cry sounded beside him, and a heavy, enveloping body fell on
his back. This sent him reeling against the wall, where he felt the
muscles of an unwieldly arm tighten about his neck.

John Woolfolk threw himself back, when a wrist heavily struck his
shoulder and a jarring blow fell upon the wall. The hand, he knew, had
held a knife, for he could feel it groping desperately over the
plaster, and he put all his strength into an effort to drag his
assailant into the middle of the floor.

It was impossible now to recover his pistol, but he would make it
difficult for Nicholas to get the knife. The struggle in that way was
equalized. He turned in the gripping arms about him and the men were
chest to chest. Neither spoke; each fought solely to get the other
prostrate, while Nicholas developed a secondary pressure toward the
blade buried in the wall. This Woolfolk successfully blocked. In the
supreme effort to bring the struggle to a decisive end neither dealt
the other minor injuries. There were no blows--nothing but the
straining pull of arms, the sudden weight of bodies, the cunning
twisting of legs. They fought swiftly, whirling and staggering from
place to place.

The hot breath of an invisible gaping mouth beat upon Woolfolk's
cheek. He was an exceptionally powerful man. His spare body had been
hardened by its years of exposure to the elements, in the constant
labor he had expended on the ketch, the long contests with adverse
winds and seas, and he had little doubt of his issuing successful from
the present crisis. Iscah Nicholas, though his strength was beyond
question, was heavy and slow. Yet he was struggling with surprising
agility. He was animated by a convulsive energy, a volcanic outburst
characteristic of the obsession of monomania.

The strife continued for an astonishing, an absurd, length of time.
Woolfolk became infuriated at his inability to bring it to an end, and
he expended an even greater effort. Nicholas' arms were about his
chest; he was endeavoring by sheer pressure to crush Woolfolk's
opposition, when the latter injected a mounting wrath into the
conflict. They spun in the open like a grotesque human top, and fell.
Woolfolk was momentarily underneath, but he twisted lithely uppermost.
He felt a heavy, blunt hand leave his arm and feel, in the dark, for
his face. Its purpose was to spoil, and he caught it and savagely bent
it down and back; but a cruel forcing of his leg defeated his
purpose.

This, he realized, could not go on indefinitely; one or the other
would soon weaken. An insidious doubt of his ultimate victory lodged
like a burr in his brain. Nicholas' strength was inhuman; it increased
rather than waned. He was growing vindictive in a petty way--he tore
at Woolfolk's throat, dug the flesh from his lower arm. Thereafter
warm and gummy blood made John Woolfolk's grip insecure.

The doubt of his success grew; he fought more desperately. His
thoughts, which till now had been clear, logically aloof, were blurred
in blind spurts of passion. His mentality gradually deserted him; he
reverted to lower and lower types of the human animal; during the
accumulating seconds of the strife he swung back through countless
centuries to the primitive, snarling brute. His shirt was torn from a
shoulder, and he felt the sweating, bare skin of his opponent pressed
against him.

The conflict continued without diminishing. He struggled once more to
his feet, with Nicholas, and they exchanged battering blows, dealt
necessarily at random. Sometimes his arm swept violently through mere
space, at others his fist landed with a satisfying shock on the body
of his antagonist. The dark was occasionally crossed by flashes before
Woolfolk's smitten eyes, but no actual light pierced the profound
night of the upper hall. At times their struggle grew audible,
smacking blows fell sharply; but there was no other sound except that
of the wind tearing at the sashes, thundering dully in the loose tin
roof, rocking the dwelling.

They fell again, and equally their efforts slackened, their grips
became more feeble. Finally, as if by common consent, they rolled
apart. A leaden tide of apathy crept over Woolfolk's battered body,
folded his aching brain. He listened in a sort of indifferent
attention to the tempestuous breathing of Iscah Nicholas. John
Woolfolk wondered dully where Millie was. There had been no sign of
her since he had fallen down the step and she had cried out. Perhaps
she was dead from fright. He considered this possibility in a hazy,
detached manner. She would be better dead--if he failed.

He heard, with little interest, a stirring on the floor beside him,
and thought with an overwhelming weariness and distaste that the
strife was to commence once more. But, curiously, Nicholas moved away
from him. Woolfolk was glad; and then he was puzzled for a moment by
the sliding of hands over an invisible wall. He slowly realized that
the other was groping for the knife he had buried in the plaster. John
Woolfolk considered a similar search for the pistol he had dropped; he
might even light a match. It was a rather wonderful weapon and would
spray lead like a hose of water. He would like exceedingly well to
have it in his hand with Nicholas before him.

Then in a sudden mental illumination he realized the extreme peril of
the moment; and, lurching to his feet, he again threw himself on the
other.

The struggle went on, apparently to infinity; it was less vigorous
now; the blows, for the most part, were impotent. Iscah Nicholas never
said a word; and fantastic thoughts wheeled through Woolfolk's brain.
He lost all sense of the identity of his opponent and became convinced
that he was combating an impersonal hulk--the thing that gasped and
smeared his face, that strove to end him, was the embodied and evil
spirit of the place, a place that even Halvard had seen was damnably
wrong. He questioned if such a force could be killed, if a being
materialized from the outer dark could be stopped by a pistol of even
the latest, most ingenious mechanism.

They fell and rose, and fell. Woolfolk's fingers were twisted in a
damp lock of hair; they came away--with the hair. He moved to his
knees, and the other followed. For a moment they rested face to face,
with arms limply clasped about the opposite shoulders. Then they
turned over on the floor; they turned once more, and suddenly the
darkness was empty beneath John Woolfolk. He fell down and down,
beating his head on a series of sharp edges; while a second, heavy
body fell with him, by turns under and above.



XIII


He rose with the ludicrous alacrity of a man who had taken a public
and awkward misstep. The wan lamplight, diffused from within, made
just visible the bulk that had descended with him. It lay without
motion, sprawling upon a lower step and the floor. John Woolfolk moved
backward from it, his hand behind him, feeling for the entrance to the
lighted room. He shifted his feet carefully, for the darkness was
wheeling about him in visible black rings streaked with pale orange as
he passed into the room.

Here objects, dimensions, became normally placed, recognizable. He saw
the mezzotint with its sere and sunny peace, the portfolios on their
stands, like grotesque and flattened quadrupeds, and Lichfield Stope
on the floor, still hiding his dead face in the crook of his arm.

He saw these things, remembered them, and yet now they had new
significance--they oozed a sort of vital horror, they seemed to crawl
with a malignant and repulsive life. The entire room was charged with
this palpable, sentient evil. John Woolfolk defiantly faced the still,
cold inclosure; he was conscious of an unseen scrutiny, of a menace
that lived in pictures, moved the fingers of the dead, and that could
take actual bulk and pound his heart sore.

He was not afraid of the wrongness that inhabited this muck of house
and grove and matted bush. He said this loudly to the prostrate form;
then, waiting a little, repeated it. He would smash the print with its
fallacious expanse of peace. The broken glass of the smitten picture
jingled thinly on the floor. Woolfolk turned suddenly and defeated the
purpose of whatever had been stealthily behind him; anyway it had
disappeared. He stood in a strained attitude, listening to the
aberrations of the wind without, when an actual presence slipped by
him, stopping in the middle of the floor.

It was Millie Stope. Her eyes were opened to their widest extent, but
they had the peculiar blank fixity of the eyes of the blind. Above
them her hair slipped and slid in a loosened knot.

"I had to walk round him," she protested in a low, fluctuating voice,
"there was no other way.... Right by his head. My skirt----" She broke
off and, shuddering, came close to John Woolfolk. "I think we'd better
go away," she told him, nodding. "It's quite impossible here, with him
in the hall, where you have to pass so close."

Woolfolk drew back from her. She too was a part of the house; she had
led him there--a white flame that he had followed into the swamp. And
this was no ordinary marsh. It was, he added aloud, "A swamp of
souls."

"Then," she replied, "we must leave at once."

A dragging sound rose from the hall. Millie Stope cowered in a
voiceless accession of terror; but John Woolfolk, lamp in hand, moved
to the door. He was curious to see exactly what was happening. The
bulk had risen; a broad back swayed like a pendulum, and a swollen
hand gripped the stair rail. The form heaved itself up a step, paused,
tottering, and then mounted again. Woolfolk saw at once that the other
was going for the knife buried in the wall above. He watched with an
impersonal interest the dragging ascent. At the seventh step it
ceased; the figure crumpled, slid halfway back to the floor.

"You can't do it," Woolfolk observed critically.

The other sat bowed, with one leg extended stiffly downward, on
the stair that mounted from the pale radiance of the lamp into
impenetrable darkness. Woolfolk moved back into the room and replaced
the lamp on its table. Millie Stope still stood with open, hanging
hands, a countenance of expectant dread. Her eyes did not shift
from the door as he entered and passed her; her gaze hung starkly on
what might emerge from the hall.

A deep loathing of his surroundings swept over John Woolfolk, a sudden
revulsion from the dead man on the floor, from the ponderous menace on
the stair, the white figure that had brought it all upon him. A
mounting horror of the place possessed him, and he turned and
incontinently fled. A complete panic enveloped him at his flight, a
blind necessity to get away, and he ran heedlessly through the night,
with head up and arms extended. His feet struck upon a rotten fragment
of board that broke beneath him, he pushed through a tangle of grass,
and then his progress was held by soft and dragging sand. A moment
later he was halted by a chill flood rising abruptly to his knees. He
drew back sharply and fell on the beach, with his heels in the water
of the bay.

An insuperable weariness pinned him down, a complete exhaustion of
brain and body. A heavy wind struck like a wet cloth on his face. The
sky had been swept clear of clouds, and stars sparkled in the pure
depths of the night. They were white, with the exception of one that
burned with an unsteady yellow ray and seemed close by. This, John
Woolfolk thought, was strange. He concentrated a frowning gaze upon
it--perhaps in falling into the soiled atmosphere of the earth it had
lost its crystal gleam and burned with a turgid light. It was very,
very probable.

He continued to watch it, facing the tonic wind, until with a clearing
of his mind, a gasp of joyful recognition, he knew that it was the
riding light of the _Gar_.

Woolfolk sat very still under the pressure of his renewed sanity. Fact
upon fact, memory on memory, returned, and in proper perspective built
up again his mentality, his logic, his scattered powers of being. The
_Gar_ rode uneasily on her anchor chains; the wind was shifting. They
must get away!--Halvard, waiting at the wharf--Millie----

He rose hurriedly to his feet--he had deserted Millie; left her, in
all her anguish, with her dead parent and Iscah Nicholas. His love for
her swept back, infinitely heightened by the knowledge of her
suffering. At the same time there returned the familiar fear of a
permanent disarrangement in her of chords that were unresponsive to
the clumsy expedients of affection and science. She had been subjected
to a strain that might well unsettle a relatively strong will; and she
had been fragile in the beginning.

She must be a part of no more scenes of violence, he told himself,
moving hurriedly through the orange grove; she must be led quietly to
the tender--that is, if it were not already too late. His entire
effort to preserve her had been a series of blunders, each one of
which might well have proved fatal, and now, together, perhaps had.

He mounted to the porch and entered the hall. The light flowed
undisturbed from the room on the right; and, in its thin wash, he saw
that Iscah Nicholas had disappeared from the lower steps. Immediately,
however, and from higher up, he heard a shuffling, and could just make
out a form heaving obscurely in the gloom. Nicholas patently was
making progress toward the consummation of his one fixed idea; but
Woolfolk decided that at present he could best afford to ignore him.

He entered the lighted room, and found Millie seated and gazing in
dull wonderment at the figure on the floor.

"I must tell you about my father," she said conversationally. "You
know, in Virginia, the women tied an apron to his door because he
would not go to war, and for years that preyed on his mind, until he
was afraid of the slightest thing. He was without a particle of
strength--just to watch the sun cross the sky wearied him, and the
smallest disagreement upset him for a week."

She stopped, lost in amazement at what she contemplated, what was to
follow.

"Then Nicholas----But that isn't important. I was to meet a man--we
were going away together, to some place where it would be peaceful. We
were to sail there. He said at eight o'clock. Well, at seven Nicholas
was in the kitchen. I got father into his very heaviest coat, and laid
out a muffler and his gloves, then sat and waited. I didn't need
anything extra, my heart was quite warm. Then father asked why I had
changed his coat--if I'd told him, he would have died of fright--he
said he was too hot, and he fretted and worried. Nicholas heard him,
and he wanted to know why I had put on father's winter coat. He found
the muffler and gloves ready and got suspicious.

"He stayed in the hall, crying a little--Nicholas cried right
often--while I sat with father and tried to think of some excuse to
get away. At last I had to go--for an orange, I said--but Nicholas
wouldn't believe it. He pushed me back and told me I was going out to
the other.

"'Nicholas,' I said, 'don't be silly; nobody would come away from a
boat on a night like this. Besides, he's gone away.' We had that last
made up. But he pushed me back again. Then I heard father move behind
us, and I thought--he's going to die of fright right now. But father's
footsteps came on across the floor and up to my side."

"'Don't do that, Nicholas,' he told him; 'take your hand from my
daughter.' He swayed a little, his lips shook, but he stood facing
him. It was father!" Her voice died away, and she was silent for a
moment, gazing at the vision of that unsuspected and surprising
courage. "Of course Nicholas killed him," she added. "He twisted him
away and father died. That didn't matter," she told Woolfolk; "but the
other was terribly important, anyone can see that."

John Woolfolk listened intently, but there was no sound from without.
Then, with every appearance of leisure, he rolled and lighted a
cigarette.

"Splendid!" he said of her recital; "and I don't doubt you're right
about the important thing." He moved toward her, holding out his hand.
"Splendid! But we must go on--the man is waiting for you."

"It's too late," she responded indifferently. She redirected her
thoughts to her parent's enthralling end. "Do you think a man as brave
as that should lie on the floor?" she demanded. "A flag," she added
obscurely, considering an appropriate covering for the still form.

"No, not on the floor," Woolfolk instantly responded. He bent and,
lifting the body of Lichfield Stope, carried it into the hall, where,
relieved at the opportunity to dispose of his burden, he left it in an
obscure corner.

Iscah Nicholas was stirring again. John Woolfolk waited, gazing up the
stair, but the other progressed no more than a step. Then he returned
to Millie.

"Come," he said. "No time to lose." He took her arm and exerted a
gentle pressure toward the door.

"I explained that it was too late," she reiterated, evading him.
"Father really lived, but I died. 'Swamp of souls,'" she added in a
lower voice. "Someone said that, and it's true; it happened to me."

"The man waiting for you will be worried," he suggested. "He depends
absolutely on your coming."

"Nice man. Something had happened to him too. He caught a rockfish and
Nicholas boiled it in milk for our breakfast." At the mention of Iscah
Nicholas a slight shiver passed over her. This was what Woolfolk hoped
for--a return of her normal revulsion from her surroundings, from the
past.

"Nicholas," he said sharply, contradicted by a faint dragging from the
stair, "is dead."

"If you could only assure me of that," she replied wistfully. "If I
could be certain that he wasn't in the next shadow I'd go gladly. Any
other way it would be useless." She laid her hand over her heart. "I
must get him out of here----My father did. His lips trembled a little,
but he said quite clearly: 'Don't do that. Don't touch my daughter.'"

"Your father was a singularly brave man," he assured her, rebelling
against the leaden monotony of speech that had fallen upon them. "Your
mother too was brave," he temporized. He could, he decided, wait no
longer. She must, if necessary, be carried away forcibly. It was a
desperate chance--the least pressure might result in a permanent,
jangling discord. Her waist, torn, he saw, upon her pallid shoulder,
was an insufficient covering against the wind and night. Looking about
he discovered the muffler, laid out for her father, crumpled on the
floor; and, with an arm about her, folded it over her throat and
breast.

"Now we're away," he declared in a forced lightness. She resisted him
for a moment, and then collapsed into his support.

John Woolfolk half led, half carried her into the hall. His gaze
searched the obscurity of the stair; it was empty; but from above came
the sound of a heavy, dragging step.



XIV


Outside she cowered pitifully from the violent blast of the wind, the
boundless, stirred space. They made their way about the corner of the
house, leaving behind the pale, glimmering rectangle of the lighted
window. In the thicket Woolfolk was forced to proceed more slowly.
Millie stumbled weakly over the rough way, apparently at the point of
slipping to the ground. He felt a supreme relief when the cool sweep
of the sea opened before him and Halvard emerged from the gloom.

He halted for a moment, with his arm about Millie's shoulders, facing
his man. Even in the dark he was conscious of Poul Halvard's stalwart
being, of his rocklike integrity.

"I was delayed," he said finally, amazed at the inadequacy of his
words to express the pressure of the past hours. Had they been two or
four? He had been totally unconscious of the passage of actual time.
In the dark house behind the orange grove he had lived through
tormented ages, descended into depths beyond the measured standard of
Greenwich. Halvard said:

"Yes, sir."

The sound of a blundering progress rose from the path behind them, the
breaking of branches and the slipping of a heavy tread on the
water-soaked ground. John Woolfolk, with an oath, realized that it was
Nicholas, still animated by his fixed, murderous idea. Millie Stope
recognized the sound, too, for she trembled violently on his arm. He
knew that she could support no more violence, and he turned to the
dim, square-set figure before him.

"Halvard, it's that fellow Nicholas. He's insane--has a knife. Will
you stop him while I get Miss Stope into the tender? She's pretty well
through." He laid his hand on the other's shoulder as he started
immediately forward. "I shall have to go on, Halvard, if anything
unfortunate occurs," he said in a different voice.

The sailor made no reply; but as Woolfolk urged Millie out over the
wharf he saw Halvard throw himself upon a dark bulk that broke from
the wood.

The tender was made fast fore and aft; and, getting down into the
uneasy boat, Woolfolk reached up and lifted Millie bodily to his side.
She dropped in a still, white heap on the bottom. He unfastened the
painter and stood holding the tender close to the wharf, with his head
above its platform, straining his gaze in the direction of the obscure
struggle on land.

He could see nothing, and heard only an occasional trampling of the
underbrush. It was difficult to remain detached, give no assistance,
while Halvard encountered Iscah Nicholas. Yet with Millie in a
semi-collapse, and the bare possibility of Nicholas' knifing them
both, he felt that this was his only course. Halvard was an unusually
powerful, active man, and the other must have suffered from the stress
of his long conflict in the hall.

The thing terminated speedily. There was the sound of a heavy
fall, a diminishing thrashing in the saw grass, and silence. An
indistinguishable form advanced over, the wharf, and Woolfolk
prepared to shove the tender free. But it was Poul Halvard. He got
down, Woolfolk thought, clumsily, and mechanically assumed his place
at the oars. Woolfolk sat aft, with an arm about Millie Stope.
The sailor said fretfully:

"I stopped him. He was all pumped out. Missed his hand at first--the
dark--a scratch."

He rested on the oars, fingering his shoulder. The tender swung
dangerously near the corrugated rock of the shore, and Woolfolk
sharply directed: "Keep way on her."

"Yes, sir," Halvard replied, once more swinging into his short,
efficient stroke. It was, however, less sure than usual; an oar missed
its hold and skittered impotently over the water, drenching Woolfolk
with a brief, cold spray. Again the bow of the tender dipped into the
point of land they were rounding, and John Woolfolk spoke more
abruptly than before.

He was seriously alarmed about Millie. Her face was apathetic, almost
blank, and her arms hung across his knees with no more response than a
doll's. He wondered desperately if, as she had said, her spirit had
died; if the Millie Stope that had moved him so swiftly and tragically
from his long indifference, his aversion to life, had gone, leaving
him more hoplessly alone than before. The sudden extinction of Ellen's
life had been more supportable than Millie's crouching dumbly at his
feet. His arm unconsciously tightened about her, and she gazed up with
a momentary, questioning flicker of her wide-opened eyes. He repeated
her name in a deep whisper, but her head fell forward loosely, and
left him in racking doubt.

Now he could see the shortly swaying riding light of the _Gar_.
Halvard was propelling them vigorously but erratically forward. At
times he remuttered his declarations about the encounter with
Nicholas. The stray words reached Woolfolk:

"Stopped him--the cursed dark--a scratch."

He brought the tender awkwardly alongside the ketch, with a grinding
shock, and held the boats together while John Woolfolk shifted Millie
to the deck. Woolfolk took her immediately into the cabin; where,
lighting a swinging lamp, he placed her on one of the prepared berths
and endeavored to wrap her in a blanket. But, in a shuddering access
of fear, she rose with outheld palms.

"Nicholas!" she cried shrilly. "There--at the door!"

He sat beside her, restraining her convulsive effort to cower in a
far, dark angle of the cabin.

"Nonsense!" he told her brusquely. "You are on the _Gar_. You are
safe. In an hour you will be in a new world."

"With John Woolfolk?"

"I am John Woolfolk."

"But he--you--left me."

"I am here," he insisted with a tightening of his heart. He rose,
animated by an overwhelming necessity to get the ketch under way, to
leave at once, for ever, the invisible shore of the bay. He gently
folded her again in the blanket, but she resisted him. "I'd rather
stay up," she said with a sudden lucidity. "It's nice here; I wanted
to come before, but he wouldn't let me."

A glimmer of hope swept over him as he mounted swiftly to the deck.
"Get up the anchors," he called; "reef down the jigger and put on a
handful of jib."

There was no immediate response, and he peered over the obscured deck
in search of Halvard. The man rose slowly from a sitting posture by
the main boom. "Very good, sir," he replied in a forced tone.

He disappeared forward, while Woolfolk, shutting the cabin door on the
confusing illumination within, lighted the binnacle lamp, bent over
the engine, swiftly making connections and adjustments, and cranked
the wheel with a sharp, expert turn. The explosions settled into a
dull, regular succession, and he coupled the propeller and slowly
maneuvered the ketch up over the anchors, reducing the strain on the
hawsers and allowing Halvard to get in the slack. He waited
impatiently for the sailor's cry of all clear, and demanded the cause
of the delay.

"The bight slipped," the other called in a muffled, angry voice.
"One's clear now," he added. "Bring her up again." The ketch forged
ahead, but the wait was longer than before. "Caught," Halvard's voice
drifted thinly aft; "coral ledge." Woolfolk held the _Gar_ stationary
until the sailor cried weakly: "Anchor's apeak."

They moved inperceptibly through the dark, into the greater force of
the wind beyond the point. The dull roar of the breaking surf ahead
grew louder. Halvard should have had the jib up and been aft at the
jigger, but he failed to appear. John Woolfolk wondered, in a mounting
impatience, what was the matter with the man. Finally an obscure form
passed him and hung over the housed sail, stripping its cover and
removing the stops. The sudden thought of a disconcerting possibility
banished Woolfolk's annoyance. "Halvard," he demanded, "did Nicholas
knife you?"

"A scratch," the other stubbornly reiterated. "I'll tie it up later.
No time now--I stopped him permanent."

The jigger, reefed to a mere irregular patch, rose with a jerk, and
the ketch rapidly left the protection of the shore. She dipped sharply
and, flattened over by a violent ball of wind, buried her rail in the
black, swinging water, and there was a small crash of breaking china
from within. The wind appeared to sweep high up in empty space and
occasionally descend to deal the yacht a staggering blow. The bar,
directly ahead--as Halvard had earlier pointed out--was now covered
with the smother of a lowering tide. The pass, the other had
discovered, too, had filled. It was charted at four feet, the _Gar_
drew a full three, and Woolfolk knew that there must be no error, no
uncertainty, in running out.

Halvard was so long in stowing away the jigger shears that Woolfolk
turned to make sure that the sailor had not been swept from the deck.
The "scratch," he was certain, was deeper than the other admitted.
When they were safely at sea he would insist upon an examination.

The subject of this consideration fell rather than stepped into the
cockpit, and stood rocked by the motion of the swells, clinging to the
cabin's edge. Woolfolk shifted the engine to its highest speed, and
they were driving through the tempestuous dark on to the bar. He was
now confronted by the necessity for an immediate decision. Halvard or
himself would have to stand forward, clinging precariously to a stay,
and repeatedly sound the depth of the shallowing water as they felt
their way out to sea. He gazed anxiously at the dark bulk before him,
and saw that the sailor had lost his staunchness of outline, his
aspect of invincible determination.

"Halvard," he demanded again sharply, "this is no time for pretense.
How are you?"

"All right," the other repeated desperately, through clenched teeth.
"I've--I've taken knives from men before--on the docks at Stockholm. I
missed his hand at first--it was the night."

The cabin door swung open, and a sudden lurch flung Millie Stope
against the wheel. Woolfolk caught and held her until the wave rolled
by. She was stark with terror, and held abjectly to the rail while the
next swell lifted them upward. He attempted to urge her back to the
protection of the cabin, but she resisted with such a convulsive
determination that he relinquished the effort and enveloped her in his
glistening oilskin.

This had consumed a perilous amount of time; and, swiftly decisive, he
commanded Halvard to take the wheel. He swung himself to the deck and
secured the long sounding pole. He could see ahead on either side the
dim white bars forming and dissolving, and called to the man at the
wheel:

"Mark the breakers! Fetch her between."

On the bow, leaning out over the surging tide, he drove the sounding
pole forward and down, but it floated back free. They were not yet on
the bar. The ketch heeled until the black plain of water rose above
his knees, driving at him with a deceitful force, sinking back slowly
as the yacht straightened buoyantly. He again sounded; the pole struck
bottom, and he cried:

"Five."

The infuriated beating of the waves on the obstruction drawn across
their path drowned his voice, and he shouted the mark once more. Then
after another sounding:

"Four and three."

The yacht fell away dangerously before a heavy diagonal blow; she hung
for a moment, rolling like a log, and then slowly regained her way.
Woolfolk's apprehension increased. It would, perhaps, have been better
if they had delayed, to examine Halvard's injury. The man had insisted
that it was of no moment, and John Woolfolk had been driven by a
consuming desire to leave the miasmatic shore. He swung the pole
forward and cried:

"Four and a half."

The water was shoaling rapidly. The breaking waves on the port and
starboard swept by with lightning rapidity. The ketch veered again,
shipped a crushing weight of water, and responded more slowly than
before to a tardy pressure of the rudder. The greatest peril, John
Woolfolk knew, lay directly before them. He realized from the action
of the ketch that Halvard was steering uncertainly, and that at any
moment the _Gar_ might strike and fall off too far for recovery, when
she could not live in the pounding surf.

"Four and one," he cried hoarsely. And then immediately after:
"Four."

Chance had been against him from the first, he thought, and there
flashed through his mind the dark panorama, the accumulating disasters
of the night. A negation lay upon his existence that would not be
lifted. It had followed him like a sinister shadow for years to this
obscure, black smother of water, to the _Gar_ reeling crazily forward
under an impotent hand. The yacht was behaving heroically; no other
ketch could have lived so long, responded so gallantly to a wavering
wheel.

"Three and three," he shouted above the combined stridor of wind and
sea.

The next minute would see their safe passage or a helpless hulk
beating to pieces on the bar, with three human fragments whirling
under the crushing masses of water, floating, perhaps, with the dawn
into the tranquillity of the bay.

"Three and a half," he cried monotonously.

The _Gar_ trembled like a wounded and dull animal. The solid seas were
reaching hungrily over Woolfolk's legs. A sudden stolidity possessed
him. He thrust the pole out deliberately, skillfully:

"Three and a quarter."

A lower sounding would mean the end. He paused for a moment, his
dripping face turned to the far stars; his lips moved in silent,
unformulated aspirations--Halvard and himself, in the sea that had
been their home; but Millie was so fragile! He made the sounding
precisely, between the heaving swells, and marked the pole instantly
driven backward by their swinging flight.

"Three and a half." His voice held a new, uncontrollable quiver. He
sounded again immediately: "And three-quarters."

They had passed the bar.



XV


A gladness like the white flare of burning powder swept over him, and
then he became conscious of other, minor sensations--his head ached
intolerably from the fall down the stair, and a grinding pain shot
through his shoulder, lodging in his torn lower arm at the slightest
movement. He slipped the sounding pole into its loops on the cabin and
hastily made his way aft to the relief of Poul Halvard.

The sailor was nowhere visible; but, in an intermittent, reddish light
that faded and swelled as the cabin door swung open and shut, Woolfolk
saw a white figure clinging to the wheel--Millie.

Instantly his hands replaced hers on the spokes and, as if with a
palpable sigh of relief, the _Gar_ steadied to her course. Millie
Stope clung to the deck rail, sobbing with exhaustion.

"He's--he's dead!" she exclaimed, between her racking inspirations.
She pointed to the floor of the cockpit, and there, sliding
grotesquely with the motion of the seaway, was Poul Halvard. An arm
was flung out, as if in ward against the ketch's side, but it
crumpled, the body hit heavily, a hand seemed to clutch at the boards
it had so often and thoroughly swabbed; but without avail. The face
momentarily turned upward; it was haggard beyond expression, and bore
stamped upon it, in lines that resembled those of old age, the
agonized struggle against the inevitable last treachery of life.

"When----" John Woolfolk stopped in sheer, leaden amazement.

"Just when you called 'Three and a quarter.' Before that he had fallen
on his knees. He begged me to help him hold the wheel. He said you'd
be lost if I didn't. He talked all the time about keeping her head up
and up. I helped him. Your voice came back years apart. At the last he
was on the floor, holding the bottom of the wheel. He told me to keep
it steady, dead ahead. His voice grew so weak that I couldn't hear;
and then all at once he slipped away. I--I held on--called to you. But
against the wind----"

He braced his knee against the wheel and, leaning out, found the
jigger sheet and flattened the reefed sail; he turned to where the jib
sheet led after, and then swung the ketch about. The yacht rode
smoothly, slipping forward over the long, even ground swell, and he
turned with immeasurable emotion to the woman beside him.

The light from the cabin flooded out over her face, and he saw that,
miraculously, the fear had gone. Her countenance was drawn with
weariness and the hideous strain of the past minutes, but her gaze
squarely met the night and sea. Her chin was lifted, its graceful line
firm, and her mouth was in repose. She had, as he had recognized she
alone must, conquered the legacy of Lichfield Stope; while he, John
Woolfolk, and Halvard, had put Nicholas out of her life. She was
free.

"If you could go below----" he suggested. "In the morning, with this
wind, we'll be at anchor under a fringe of palms, in water like a blue
silk counterpane."

"I think I could now, with you," she replied. She pressed her lips,
salt and enthralling, against his face, and made her way into the
cabin. He locked the wheel momentarily and, following, wrapped her in
the blankets, on the new sheets prepared for her coming. Then, putting
out the light, he shut the cabin door and returned to the wheel.

The body of Poul Halvard struck his feet and rested there. A good man,
born by the sea, who had known its every expression; with a faithful
and simple heart, as such men occasionally had.

The diminished wind swept in a clear diapason through the pellucid
sky; the resplendent sea reached vast and magnetic to its invisible
horizon. A sudden distaste seized John Woolfolk for the dragging death
ceremonials of land. Halvard had known the shore mostly as a turbulent
and unclean strip that had finally brought about his end.

He leaned forward and found beyond any last doubt that the other was
dead; a black, clotted surface adhered to the wound which his pride,
his invincible determination, had driven him to deny.

In the space beneath the afterdeck Woolfolk found a spare folded
anchor for the tender, a length of rope; and he slowly completed the
preparations for his purpose. He lifted the body to the narrow deck
outside the rail, and, in a long dip, the waves carried it smoothly
and soundlessly away. John Woolfolk said:

"'... Commit his body to the deep, looking for the general resurrection
... through ... Christ.'"

Then, upright and motionless at the wheel, with the wan radiance of
the binnacle lamp floating up over his hollow cheeks and set gaze, he
held the ketch southward through the night.





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