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Title: In Great Waters - Four Stories
Author: Janvier, Thomas A. (Thomas Allibone)
Language: English
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  Transcriber's Notes:

  Italic text is denoted by _underscores_ and bold text by =equal
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[Illustration:

                                          See page 223

  "HOME ALONG THE BEACH FOR THE SECOND TIME"]



                            IN GREAT WATERS

                             Four Stories


                                  By

                           THOMAS A. JANVIER


                               Author of

          "The Uncle of an Angel" "The Aztec Treasure-House"
            "The Passing of Thomas" "In Old New York" etc.


                             _ILLUSTRATED_

                            [Illustration]


                          NEW YORK AND LONDON
                     HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
                                 1901



                Copyright, 1901, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

                        _All rights reserved._
                            November, 1901.



                                  TO

                               C. A. J.



Contents


                                                  PAGE

  THE WRATH OF THE ZUYDER ZEE                        3

  A DULUTH TRAGEDY                                  65

  THE DEATH-FIRES OF LES MARTIGUES                 135

  A SEA UPCAST                                     171



Illustrations


  "HOME ALONG THE BEACH FOR THE SECOND TIME"           _Frontispiece_

  "HE WAS A CRAZED MAN"                            _Facing p._      6

  "IT WAS A STATELY DWELLING"                           "          24

  OLD JAAP                                              "          56

  "'I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH MY WHOLE HEART'"              "         126

  MARIUS                                                "         136

  "THE OTHERS WERE UPCAST ON THE ROCKS"                 "         166

  "THEN I COULD USE MY EYES TO LOOK BEHIND ME"          "         220



The Wrath of the Zuyder Zee


I

Old Jaap Visser was mad. Out there on the island of Marken, in the
Zuyder Zee, he was the one madman, and a curiosity. The little
boys--all born web-footed, and eager as soon as they could walk to
toddle off on their stout little Dutch legs and take to the water--used
to run after him and jeer at him. An underlying fear gave zest to
this amusement. The older of them knew that he could lay a strange
binding curse upon people. The younger of them, resolving this concept
into simpler terms, knew that he could say something that would
hurt more than a spanking; and that would keep on hurting, in some
unexplained but dreadful way, beyond the sting of the worst spanking
that ever they had known. Therefore, while they jeered, they jeered
circumspectly. Out in the open--on the brick-paved pathways which
traverse the low marsh-land and unite the little knolls on which are
the villages: the Hafenbeurt (where the harbour is), the Kerkehof, and
the Kesbeurt--butter would not melt in their small Dutch mouths when
they met him. But when they had him at their mercy among the houses
of one or another of the villages things went differently. Then they
would yell "Old Jaap!" "Mad old Jaap!" after him--and as he turned upon
them would whip off their sabots, that they might run the more lightly,
and would dash around corners into safety: with delightful thrills of
dread running through their small scampish bodies at the thought of the
curse that certainly was flying after them, and that certainly would
make them no better than dead jelly-fish if they did not get around the
corner in time to ward it off! And old Jaap would be left free for a
moment from his tormentors, brandishing his staff in angry flourishes
and shouting his strange curse after them: "May you perish in the wrath
of the Zuyder Zee!"

The young men and women of Marken, who never had known old Jaap save
as a madman, felt toward him much as the children did; though as
they got older, and came to understand the cause of his madness and
the effectiveness of his curse, their dread of him was apt to take
on a more serious cast. Even Krelis Kess, a notorious daredevil in
all other directions, and for a long while one of old Jaap's most
persistent tormentors, came in the end to treat him with a very
obliging civility. But then, to be sure, Marretje de Witt was old
Jaap's granddaughter--and everybody in Marken knew that this gentle
Marretje, because of her very unlikeness to him it was supposed, had
made capture of Krelis Kess's much too vagrant heart. One person, it
is true, did dissent from this view of the matter, and that was Geert
Thysen--who declared that Krelis was too much of a man really to care
for a pale-faced thing fit only to marry another oyster like herself.
And Geert's black eyes would snap, and her strong white teeth would
show in a smile that was not a pleasant one as she added: "A live man
who knows the nip of gin-and-water does not waste his time in drinking
weak tea!" But then, to quote the sense of the island folk again,
everybody in Marken knew that to win Krelis's love for herself Geert
Thysen would have given those bold black eyes of hers, and would have
said thank you, too!

Among the old people of Marken, who had known old Jaap before his
madness came upon him, a very different feeling prevailed. They dreaded
him, of course, because they knew what his curse could accomplish; but,
also, they sorrowed for him--remembering the cruel grief which had come
upon him in his youth suddenly and had driven him mad. Well enough,
they said, might he call down his strange curse upon those who angered
him, for twice had he known the bitterness of it: when death, and again
worse than death, had struck at that which was dearer than the very
heart of him through the wrath of the Zuyder Zee.

It all had happened so long back that only the old people had knowledge
of it--in the great storm out of the Arctic Ocean which had driven into
the Zuyder Zee the North Sea waters; and there had banked them up,
higher and higher, until the whole island of Marken was flooded and
half the dykes of the mainland were overrun. Old Jaap--who was young
Jaap, then--was afloat at his fishing when the storm came on, and his
young wife and her baby were alone at home. In her fear for him she
came down from the Kerkehof, where their home was, to the Hafenbeurt;
and there, standing upon the sea-wall that shelters the little harbour,
watching for him, was the last that ever was seen of her alive. When
his schuyt came in she had vanished--caught away by the up-leaping sea.
That was bad enough, but worse followed. A month later, when he was
at his fishing again--glad to be at work, that in the stress of it he
might a little forget his sorrow--his net came up heavy, and in it was
his dead wife.

[Illustration: "HE WAS A CRAZED MAN"]

Then it was that his madness fell upon him. By the time that he was
come back to Marken--sailing his schuyt for a long night through the
dark waters with that grewsomely ghastly lading--he was a crazed man.


II

The shadow that rested on Jaap Visser's mind was a deep melancholy that
for the most part kept him silent, yet that was broken now and then by
outbursts of rage in which he raved against the cruel wickedness of the
sea. It did not unfit him for work. He had his living to make; and he
made it, as all the men of Marken made their living, by fishing. But
those who sailed with him in his schuyt said that always as the net
came home he hauled upon it with tight-shut eyes; that always, as it
was drawn inboard, he turned away--until the thrashing of the fish and
some word about the catch from his companions assured him that he might
look without fear of such a sight as that which had flashed burning
through his eyes and had turned his brain.

When he was on land he spent little time in his own home: of which, and
of the baby motherless, his mother had taken charge. Usually he was to
be found within or lingering near the graveyard that lies between the
Kerkehof and the Hafenbeurt: an artificial mound, like those whereon
the several villages on the island are built, raised high enough
to be above the level of the waters which cover Marken in times of
great storm. Before this strange habit of his had become a matter of
notoriety, a dozen or more of the islanders, as they passed at night
along the path beside the graveyard, had been frightened pretty well
out of their wits by seeing his tall figure rise from among the graves
suddenly and stand sharply outlined against the star-gleam of the sky.

But in those days, as I have said, his madness was no more than a
sombre melancholy--save for his fitful outbursts of rage against the
sea. The bitterness that came into his heart came later: when his
daughter was a woman grown and Jan de Witt married her--and presently
deserted her, as was known openly, for an Edam jade over on the
mainland. Things went worse and worse for a while: until one day when
old Jaap--even then they were beginning to call him old Jaap--fell into
a burning rage with his son-in-law and cursed him as he deserved for
the scoundrel that he was.

It was down at the dock that the two men came together. The schuyts
were going out, and Jan was aboard his own boat making ready to cast
off. Half the island folk were there--the fishermen about to sail, and
their people come to see them get away. Some one--who did not see old
Jaap standing on the piling near where Jan's boat lay--called out: "The
fishing is good off Edam still, eh, Jan?" And then there was a general
laugh as Jan answered, laughing also: "Yes, there's good fishing off
Edam--better than there is nearer home."

At this old Jaap broke forth into a passionate outburst against his
son-in-law: calling him by all the evil names that he could get
together, crying out against his wickedness and his cruelty, and
ending--as Jan's boat slid away from her moorings, with Jan standing at
the tiller laughing at the old man's fury--by calling out with a deep
grave energy, in strange contrast with his previous angry ravings: "God
cannot and will not forgive. He will judge you and He will punish you.
In His name I say to you: May the might of the angered waters be upon
you--may you perish in the wrath of the Zuyder Zee!"

There was such a majesty in old Jaap's tone as he spoke those words,
and such intense conviction, that all who heard him were thrilled
strangely. Some of the old men of Marken, who were there that day,
still will tell you that it seemed as though they heard the voice of
one who truly was the very mouth-piece of God. Even Jan, they say,
paled a little; but only for a moment--and then he was off out of the
harbour with a jeer and a laugh.

But that was Jan's last laugh and jeer at his father-in-law, and his
last sight of Marken. The next day the boats came hurrying home before
a storm, but Jan's boat did not come with them. At first it was thought
that he had put into the canal leading up to Edam--it was about there
that the other fishermen had lost sight of him--but a couple of days
later his boat drifted ashore, bottom upward, in the bight of Goudzee
south of Monnikendam. That left room for guess-work. Certainty came at
the end of a fortnight: when the two men who had been with him got back
to Marken--after a trip to England in the steamer that had picked them
up afloat--and told how the schuyt had gone over in the gale and spilt
them all out into the sea. As for Jan, he never came back at all. As he
and the other two men were thorough good sailors, and as the survivors
themselves were quite at a loss to account for their catastrophe, there
was only one way to explain the matter: old Jaap's curse had taken
effect!

After that old Jaap had a place still more apart from the other
islanders. What he had done to one he could do to another, it was
whispered--and thenceforward he was both shunned and dreaded because of
the power for life and death that was believed to be his. The reflex of
this popular conviction seemed to find a place in his own heart, and
now and again he would threaten with his curse those who got at odds
with him. But he never uttered it; and the fact was observed that even
in the case of the teasing little boys he was careful not to curse any
one of his tormentors by name.


III

Certainly, if ever old Jaap had cursed any particular little boy it
would have been Krelis Kess--who was quite the worst boy on the island,
and who usually was the leader of the troop that hung about the old
man's heels.

And even when Krelis got to be a big young fellow of twenty--old enough
to go on escapades in Amsterdam of which the rumour, coming back to
Marken, made all steady-going folk on the island look askance at
him--he still took an ugly pleasure, as occasion offered, in stirring
up old Jaap's wrath. If the old man chanced to pass by while he was
sitting of a Sunday afternoon in Jan de Jong's tavern, drinking more
gin-and-water than was good for him, it was one of his jokes to call
out through the open window "Mad old Jaap!" in the shrill voice of a
child; and to repeat his cry, with different inflections but always
in the same shrill tones, until the old man would go off into a fury
and shout his curse at the little boys who seemed to be so close
about him but who could not anywhere be seen. At that Krelis would
fall to laughing mightily, and so would the loose young fellows his
companions--who had found out that that would send his hand to his
pocket and give them free drinks all around.

Under such conditions it is not surprising that the wonder, and also
the regret, of these young scapegraces was very great when on a certain
Sunday afternoon in mid-spring time Krelis not only did not volunteer
his usual pleasantry at old Jaap's expense--as the old man came
shambling up the narrow street toward the tavern--but actually refused
to practise it when it was suggested to him. And the wonder grew to
be blank astonishment, a minute later, when he went to the window and
begged Herr Visser to come in and have a glass of schnapps with him!
To hear old Jaap called "Herr Visser" by anybody was enough to stretch
to the widest any pair of Marken ears; but to hear him addressed in
that stately fashion by Krelis Kess was enough to make any Marken man
believe that his ears had gone crazy!

At first the young scamps in the tavern were quite sure that Krelis
was about to play some new trick on old Jaap, and that this wonderful
politeness was the beginning of it. But the marvel increased when
the old man--who liked schnapps as well as anybody--joined the little
company of tosspots and was treated by Krelis with as much respect as
though he had been a burgomaster! And more than that, when the session
was ended--and old Jaap, to whom such treats came rarely, was so far
fuddled that he could not manage his legs easily--Krelis said that
nothing could be pleasanter than a walk across to the Kerkehof in the
cool of the evening, and so gave him a steadying arm home. As the two
set off together the young fellows left behind stared at each other in
sheer amazement; and such of the Marken folk as chanced to meet this
strangely assorted couple marching amicably arm in arm together were
inclined to disbelieve in their own eyes!

For a week, while they all were away at their fishing, there was a lull
in the excitement; but it was aroused again the next Sunday when Krelis
did not come as usual to the tavern--and went to a white heat when a
late arrival, a young fellow who lived in the Kerkehof, told that as he
came past Jaap Visser's house he had seen Krelis sitting on the bench
in front of it talking away with old Jaap and making eyes behind old
Jaap's back at Marretje. At first, being so entirely incredible, this
statement was scouted scornfully; but it aroused so lively a discussion
that presently the whole company left the tavern and went over in a
body to the Kerkehof bent upon disproving or verifying it--and there,
sure enough, were old Jaap and Krelis smoking their pipes together, and
Marretje along with them, on the bench in front of old Jaap's door!

Young Jan de Jong--the son of the tavern-keeper--expressed the feelings
of the company when he said, later, that as they stood there looking at
that strange sight you might have knocked down the whole of them with
the flirt of a skate's tail! But they did not stop long to look at it.
Krelis glared at them so savagely, and his big fists doubled up in so
threatening a fashion, that they took themselves off in a hurry--and
back to the tavern to talk it over, while they bathed their wonder in
very lightly watered gin.


IV

That was the beginning of Krelis Kess's courting of Marretje de
Witt--about which, in a moment, all the island blazed with talk.
Until then, in a light-loving way, Krelis had been keeping company
with Geert Thysen. That seemed a natural sort of match, for Geert and
Krelis had much the same bold way with them and well enough might have
paired. But Geert, like Krelis, had a devil of a temper, and it was
supposed that an angry spat between them had sent Krelis flying off in
a rage from her spit-firing--and that the gentle Marretje had caught
his heart on the rebound. The elders, reasoning together out of their
worldly wisdom, perceived that under the law of liking for unlike this
bold-going young fellow very well might be drawn toward a maiden all
gentleness; and that, because of her gentleness, Marretje would find a
thrilling pleasure in the strong love-making with which Krelis would
strive to take her heart by storm. All that, as they knew, was human
nature. Had they known books also they would have cited the case of
Desdemona and the Moor.

However, there was not much time for talking. Krelis was not of the
sort to let grass grow under his feet in any matter, and in a love
matter least of all. Nor were there any obstacles to bar his way. He
had his own boat, that came to him when his father was drowned; and he
had his own house in the Kesbeurt, where he had lived alone since his
mother had ended a notably short widowhood by marrying a second time.
Old Jaap, moreover, was ready enough to accept as a son-in-law the only
man in Marken who ever had styled him Herr Visser, and who in addition
to that unparalleled courtesy had given him in quick succession nearly
a dozen bottles of the best Schiedam. There was nothing to hinder the
marriage, therefore, but Marretje's shyness--and Krelis overcame that
quickly in his own masterful way.

And so everybody saw that matters were like to come quickly to a
climax--everybody, that is, except Geert Thysen, who said flatly that
the marriage was both impossible and absurd. Geert had her own notion
that Krelis was serving her out for her hard words to him, and was only
waiting for a soft word to come back to her--and she bit those full red
lips of hers with her strong teeth and resolved that she would keep
him waiting until he was quite in despair. Then, at the very last, she
would whistle him back to her--with a laugh in his face first, and then
such a kiss as all the Marretjes in the world could not give him--and
the comedy of his mock courtship would be at an end. Sometimes, to be
sure, the thought did cross her mind that Krelis might not come to her
whistle. Then the color would go out of her red cheeks a little, and
as she ground her big white teeth together she would have a half-formed
vision of Krelis lying dead somewhere with a knife in his heart. But
visions of this sort came seldom, and were quickly banished--with a
sharp little laugh at her own folly in fancying even for an instant
that Krelis could hesitate in choosing between herself and that limp
pale doll.

And then, one day, she found herself face to face with the fact that
Krelis had not been playing a comedy at all. The news was all over the
island that he and Marretje were to be married the next Sunday; and
that he meant to be married handsomely, with a great wedding-feast at
Jan de Jong's tavern in Jan de Jong's best style. "So there's an end of
your lover for you, Geert Thysen!" said Jaantje de Waard, who brought
the news to her.

At this Geert's red cheeks grew a little redder, and her big black eyes
had a brighter flash to them; but she only laughed as she answered:
"It's one thing to lay the net--but it's another to haul it in!" And
Jaantje remembered afterward what a strange look was in her face as she
said those strange words.


V

The wedding was the finest that had been known in Marken for years. At
the church the parson gave his "Golden Clasp" address, which was the
most beautiful of his three wedding addresses and cost five gulden.
Then the company streamed away along the brick-paved pathway from the
Kerkehof to the Hafenbeurt, with the sunshine gleaming gallantly on the
white caps and white aprons of the women and on the shiny high hats
of the men, while the wind fluttered the little Dutch flags--and they
all walked much more steadily then than they did when they took their
after-breakfast walk, before the dancing began. In that second walk
the men's legs wavered a good deal, and some of them had trouble in
steering the stems of their long pipes to their mouths. But that is not
to be wondered at when you think what a breakfast it was! Jan de Jong
fairly excelled himself. They talk about it in Marken to this day!

While the wedding-party walked unsteadily abroad the big room in the
tavern was cleared; and when the company was come back again, much the
better for fresh air and exercise, the dancing began. And just then a
very queer thing happened: Krelis led off the dance with Geert Thysen
instead of with Marretje his bride!

Some say that Geert made him promise to do this as the price of her
coming to the wedding; others say that it was done on the spur of the
moment--was one of Geert's sudden whims that Krelis, who also was given
to sudden whims, fell in with. About the truth of this matter there
can be only guess-work, but about what happened there is plain fact:
Just as the set was forming, Krelis dropped Marretje's hand and said
lightly: "You won't mind, Marretje, will you? It's for old friendship's
sake, you know." And with that he took the hand of Geert Thysen, who
was standing close beside him, and away he went with her in the dance.
Those who think that it had been arranged between them beforehand point
out that Geert had refused all offers to dance and had come close to
Krelis just as the set was formed. There is something in that, I think.
But whether they had planned it or had not planned it, the fact remains
that Marretje's place at the head of the dance at her own wedding was
taken by another woman; and as the set was complete without her, she
did not dance at all until the first figure came to an end. They say
that there were tears in her eyes as she stood alone there--and that
she was very white when Krelis took her hand again, at the end of the
first figure, and gave her for the rest of the dance the place at the
head of it that was hers. They say, too, that Geert stood watching
them--when Krelis had left her and had taken his bride again--with a
hot blaze of color coming and going in her cheeks, and with a wonderful
flashing and sparkling of her great black eyes. And before the dance
ended Geert went home.

There was a great crackling of talk, of course, about this slight that
Krelis had put upon Marretje on her wedding-day; and people shook their
heads and said that worse must come after it. Some of the stories about
Krelis's escapades in Amsterdam were raked up again and were pointed
with a fresh moral. As for Geert, the Marken women had but one opinion
of her--and the least unkindly expression of it was that she was
walking in a very dangerous path. But when echoes of this talk came to
Geert's ears--as they did, of course--she merely curled her red lips
a little and said that as she was neither a weak woman nor a foolish
woman she was safe to walk where she pleased.


VI

It was a little disconcerting to the prophets of evil that the weeks
and the months slipped away without any signs of the fulfilment of
their prophecies. However keen may have been Marretje's sorrow on
her wedding-day, it was not lasting. Indeed, her gentle nature was
so filled with a worshipping love for Krelis that he had only to
give her a single light look of affection or a half-careless kiss to
fill her whole being with happiness. He was a god to her--this gayly
daring young fellow who had raised her up to be a shy little queen
in a queendom, she was sure, such as never had been for any other
woman in all the world. And Krelis was very well pleased with her
frank adoration. It was tickling to his vanity that she should be so
completely and so eagerly his loving slave.

Next to her love for Krelis--and partly because it was a part of her
love for him--Marretje's greatest joy was in her housekeeping. She
had taken a just pride in the tidiness of her housekeeping for her
grandfather; but it was a very different and far more exciting matter
to furbish and polish a house that really was her own. And Krelis's
house, of which she was the proud mistress, was far bigger and far
finer than her old home. It was a stately dwelling, for Marken,
standing on an out-jutting ridge of earth at the back of the Kesbeurt,
close upon a delightful little canal--and from the back doorway was a
restful far-off outlook over the marsh-land to the level horizon of
the Zuyder Zee. Marretje loved that outlook, and she had it before her
often: for down beside the canal was her scouring-shelf--where she
scoured away through long sunny mornings, while Krelis was away at his
fishing, until her pots and kettles ranged in the sunlight shone like
burnished gold.

Yet the fact should be added that when the old men of Marken talked
together about this fine house of Krelis Kess's they would shake their
heads a little--saying that a better spending of money would have been
for a smaller house founded on solid piling, instead of for this showy
dwelling standing on an out-thrust earth bank which well enough might
crumble away beneath it in some time of tremendous tempest when all
the island should be overswept and beaten by the sea.

For the most part, of course--save for little chats with her
neighbours--Marretje was alone in that fine house of hers. Old Jaap had
come to live with the young people--as was only fair, since he had no
one but his granddaughter to care for him--but both he and Krelis spent
all their week-days afloat at their fishing and only their Sundays at
home. Yet now and then the old man, making some excuse for not going
out with the fleet, would give himself a turn at shore duty; and would
sit in his big chair, smoking his long pipe very contentedly, watching
his granddaughter at her endless scouring and cleaning, and listening
to her little bursts of song. In his unsettled old mind he sometimes
fancied that the years had rolled backward and that he was watching
his own young wife again; and in his old heart he would dream young
love-dreams by the hour together--blessedly forgetting that the love
and the happiness which had made his life beautiful had been snatched
away from him and lost forever in the wrathful waters of the Zuyder Zee.

[Illustration: "IT WAS A STATELY DWELLING"]

But Marretje's love-dreams were living ones. As Krelis lounged over
his pipe of a Sunday morning, taking life easily in his clean Sunday
clothes, he would say an airy word or two in praise of her housekeeping
that fairly would set her to blushing with happiness--and what with the
colour in her fair face and the light in her blue eyes she would be so
entirely charming that Krelis's own eyes would go to sparkling, and he
would draw her close to him and fondle her in a genuinely loverlike
fashion that would fill her with a very tender joy. Krelis was quite
sincere in his love-making. His little Marretje's soft beauty, and her
shy delight in his caresses, went down into an unsounded depth and
touched an unknown strain of gentleness in his easy-going heart.

But even on the first Sunday after they were married Krelis went off
after dinner--it had been a wonder of a dinner that Marretje had
cooked for him: she had been planning it the week through!--to join
his companions as usual at Jan de Jong's. This came hard on Marretje.
She had been counting so much on that afternoon! A dozen little tender
confidences had been put aside during the morning to be made then
comfortably: when the dinner things would all be cleared away, and her
grandfather would have gone to take his usual Sunday look at his boat,
and she and Krelis would be sitting at their ease--delightfully alone
together for the first time in their lives!

She had thought it all out, and had arranged in her own mind that they
would sit on the steps above her scouring-shelf--at the back of the
house and hidden away from everybody--with the canal at their feet,
and in front of them the level loneliness of the marsh-land stretching
away and losing itself in the level loneliness of the sea. She had
a cushion all ready for Krelis to sit on, and a smaller cushion for
herself that was to go on the next lower step--and she blushed a little
to herself as she thought how she would make a back to lean against out
of Krelis's big knees. And then, just as she had finished her clearing
away and was getting out the cushions, Krelis put on his hat and said
that he thought he would step across to the tavern and have a look at
the boys. The boys would laugh at him, he said, if he settled right
down into being an old married man--and he tried to give a better
send-off to this small pleasantry by laughing at it himself. But he
did not laugh very heartily, and he almost turned back again when he
got to the bridge--thinking how the light of happiness which had made
Marretje's face so beautiful through that Sunday morning suddenly had
died out of it as he came away. And then he pulled himself together
with the reflection that she would be all right again when he got back
to her at supper-time, and so went on. When he was come to the tavern
he forgot all about Marretje's unhappiness, for the boys welcomed him
with a cheer.

Being in this way forsaken, Marretje carried out what was left of her
broken plan forlornly--arranging the cushions on the two steps, and
sitting on the lower one with her elbow resting on the upper one, and
gazing out sorrowfully across the marsh-land and the sea. That great
loneliness of sedge and sea and sky made her own loneliness more
bitter: and then came the hurting thought that just a week before, very
nearly at that same hour, Krelis still more cruelly had forsaken her
while he led with Geert Thysen their wedding-dance.

After a while old Jaap came home and seated himself beside her. He was
silent, as was his habit, but having him that way soothed and comforted
her. As she leaned her head against his shoulder and held his big bony
hands the old man went off into one of his dream-fancies that his
young wife was beside him again--and perhaps, in some subtle way, that
also helped to take the sting out of her pain. When Krelis came home at
supper-time, walking a little unsteadily, he did not miss her flow of
chattering talk that had gone on through the morning; and presently it
began again--for Krelis returned in high good-humour, and his fire of
pretty speeches and his kisses quickly brought happiness back to her
sore little heart. Knowing thereafter what to expect of a Sunday, her
pleasure was less lively--but so was her pain.


VII

It was a little past the turn of the half-year after the wedding that
the prophets of evil pricked up their ears hopefully--as there began to
go humming through Marken a soft buzz of talk about the carryings on
of Geert Thysen and Krelis Kess. It was only vague talk, to be sure;
but then when talk of that sort is vague there is the more seaway
for speculation and inference. All sorts of rumours went flashing
about--and carried the more weight, perhaps, because they could not
be traced to a starting-point and were disavowed by each person who
passed them on. The sum of them became quite amazing before long!

In the end, of course, this talk worked around to Marretje. Bit by
bit, one kind friend after another brought her variations of the same
budget of news, pleading their friendship for her as the excuse for
their chattering; and all of them were a good deal disconcerted by the
placid way, with scarcely a word of comment, in which she suffered them
to talk on. Only when they took to saying harsh things about Krelis
did they rouse her a little. Then she would stop them shortly, and
with a quiet insistence that put them in an awkward corner, by asking
them to remember that it was her husband whom they were talking about,
and that what they were saying was not fit for his wife to hear. This
line of rejoinder was disconcerting to her interlocutors. To be put
in the wrong, that way, while performing for conscience' sake a very
unpleasant duty, could not but arouse resentment. Presently it began
to be said that Marretje was a poor-spirited thing upon whom friendly
sympathy was thrown away.

Perhaps it was because Marretje was not feeling very strong just then
that she took matters so quietly. Certainly she had not much energy
to spare, and her days went slowly and heavily. Even on the Sunday
mornings when she had Krelis at home with her--and a good many of his
Sundays were spent away from the island, in order, as he explained,
that he might get off on the Mondays earlier to his fishing--she found
it hard to keep up the laughing talk and the light-hearted way with him
that he seemed to think always were his due. When she flagged a little
he told her not to be sulky--and that cut her sharply, for she thought
that he ought to feel in his own heart how very tenderly she was loving
him in those days, and how earnestly she was longing for a tender and
sustaining love in return.

It is uncertain how much of all this old Jaap understood, but a part
of it he certainly did understand. In some matters his clouded brain
seemed to work with a curious clearness, and especially had he a
strange faculty for getting close to troubled hearts. Many there were
in Marken, on whom sorrow had fallen, who had been comforted by his
sympathy; and who had found it the more soothing and helpful because
it was given with no more than a gentle look or a few gentle words.
In this same soft way, that asked for no answer and that needed none,
he comforted Marretje in that sad time of her loneliness. Many a day,
when the other fishermen kept the sea, he kept the land--letting his
boat go away to the fishing without him while he made company at home
for his granddaughter, and even helped her in the heavier part of her
house-work with his big clumsy old hands. These awkward efforts to
serve her touched Marretje's heart very keenly--yet also added a pang
to her sorrow because of her longing that Krelis might show his love
for her in the same way.

But old Jaap had his work to do at sea, and Marretje had to make the
best of many and many a weary and lonely day. Being in so poor a way
she could busy herself but little with her house-work--nor was there
much incentive to scour and polish since Krelis had ceased to commend
her housekeeping; and, indeed, was at home so little that he was
indifferent as to whether she kept her house well or ill.

And so she spent much of her time as she had spent that first lonely
Sunday afternoon--sitting on the steps above her scouring-shelf,
looking out sadly and dreamily across the marsh-land and the sea. Or
she would walk slowly to the end of the village, where rough steps
went down to a little-used canal, and there would lean against the
rail while she gazed steadfastly across the marshes seaward--trying to
fancy that she could see the fishing fleet, and trying to build in her
breast little hope-castles in which Krelis again was all her own. They
comforted her, these hope-castles: even though always, when the week
ended and the fleet was back again, they came crashing down. Sometimes
Krelis's boat did not return at all. Sometimes it returned without him.
When he did come back in it very little of his idle Sunday was passed
at home. The dark months of winter dragged on wearily. Grey chill
clouds hung over Marken, and grey chill clouds rested on this poor
Marretje's heart.


VIII

But one glad day in the early spring-time the sun shone again--when
Krelis bent down over her bed with a look of real love in his bright
eyes and kissed her; and then--in a half-fearful way that made her
laugh at him with a weak little laugh in which there was great
happiness--kissed also his little son. "As if his father's kiss could
hurt this great strong boy!" she said in a tone of vast superiority:
and held the little atom close to her breast with all the strength
of her feeble arms. She loved with a double love this little Krelis:
greatly for himself and for the strong thrilling joy of motherhood, but
perhaps even more because his coming had brought the other Krelis back
again into the deep chambers of her heart.

It was the prettiest of sights, presently, when she was up and about
again, to see Marretje standing in front of her own door in the spring
sunshine holding this famous little Krelis in her arms. Then, as now,
young mothers were common enough in Marken; but there was a look of
radiant happiness about Marretje--so the old people will tell you--that
made her different from any young mother whom ever they saw. "Her face
was as shining as the face of an angel!" one of the old women said to
me--when I heard this story told in Marken on a summer day. And this
same old woman told me that through that time of Marretje's great
happiness Geert Thysen walked sullen: ready at any moment, without
cause or reason, to fly out into what the old woman called a yellow
rage.

But even from the first the matrons of the island, knowing in such
matters, pulled long faces when they talked about the little Krelis
among themselves. Krelis Kess's son, they said, should not have been
so frail a child; and then they would account for this puny baby by
casting back to the time when Marretje was orphaned before she was
weaned, and so was started in life without the toughness and sturdiness
with which the Marken folk as a rule are dowered. These worthy women
had much good advice to give, and gave it freely, as to how the little
Krelis should be dealt with to strengthen him; but Marretje paid scant
attention to their suggestions, being satisfied in her own mind that
this wonderful baby of hers really was--as she had said he was on the
day when his father first kissed him--a great strong boy.

Krelis, seeing his little son only once a week, was the first to notice
that he was not so strong as a healthy child should be; but when he
said so to Marretje she gave him such a rating that he decided he must
be all wrong. And then, one day, Geert Thysen opened both his and
Marretje's eyes.

It was a bright Sunday afternoon, when the little Krelis was between
two and three months old, that Marretje was sitting with him on her
lap, suckling him, on the steps above her scouring-shelf; and Krelis
was seated on the step above her, and she really was making a back of
his big knees. What with the joy of her motherhood, and her joy because
her Krelis was her own again, it seemed to Marretje as though in all
the world there was only happiness. She held the little Krelis close
to her, crooning a soft song sweetly over the tiny creature nestled to
her heart; and as she suckled him there tingled through her breast, and
thence through all her being, thrills of that strange subtle ecstasy
which only mothers know. And Krelis, in his own way, shared Marretje's
great happiness: as they sat there lonely, looking out over the
marsh-land seaward, their hearts very near together because of the deep
love that was in both of them for their child. Presently Krelis leaned
a little forward, and with a touch rarely loving and tender encircled
the two in his big arms and drew Marretje still closer against his
knees. And they sat there for a while so--in the bright silence of that
sunny afternoon, fronting that still outlook over level spaces cut
only by the level sky-line far away--their two hearts throbbing gently
and very full.

A little noise broke the deep silence suddenly, and an instant later
Geert Thysen was almost within arm's-length of them--standing in a boat
which she had poled very quietly along the canal. Krelis unclasped his
arms and drew back quickly; but Marretje bent forward and grasped the
little Krelis still more closely, as though to shield him from harm.
For a moment there was silence. Krelis flushed and looked uneasy,
almost ashamed. There was a dull burning light in Geert's black eyes
and her face was pale and drawn. She was the first to speak.

"You're quite right to make the most of your sick baby," she said. "You
won't have him long."

"He's not a sick baby," Marretje answered furiously. "He's as strong
and well as he can be!"

Geert laughed. "That puny little thing strong and well!" she answered.
"Much it is that you know about babies, Marretje! Don't you see how the
veins show through his skin? Don't you see the marks under his eyes?
Don't you see how little he is, and how he don't grow? In another
month you'll know more. He'll be over yonder in the graveyard by that
time!" And then she flashed a look on Krelis of that sort of hate which
comes when love goes wrong as she added: "And it is no more than you
deserve, Krelis Kess. You might have had a strong woman for a wife, and
then you would have had a strong child!" With that she gave a sudden
thrust with the pole that sent her boat flying away from them, and in
an instant vanished around a turn in the canal.


IX

Within a week the story of what had happened between them was all
over Marken. Geert Thysen herself must have told what she had done.
Certainly Krelis did not tell; and Marretje, having no one else to
turn to, told only her grandfather. But various versions of the story
went about the island, and the comment upon all of them by the Marken
folk was the same: that Krelis had played the part of a coward in
suffering such words to be spoken to his wife with never a word on his
side of reply. Old Jaap, they say, blazed out into one of his mad
rages against his son-in-law. Some say that he then laid the curse upon
him--but that never will be known certainly, for the bout between the
two men took place when they were alone.

What is known to be true is that Krelis for a while was as a man
stunned; and that when he came to himself again--this was after
the little Krelis was laid away in the graveyard--what love he had
for Marretje was turned to an angry hatred because she had let his
boy die. He said this not only to his neighbours but to Marretje
herself--telling her that their child had died because she had borne it
weakly into the world and had given it no strength with which to live.

Even a strong woman, being well-nigh heart-broken--as Marretje was
when her baby was lost to her--could not have stood up against a
blow like that. And Marretje, who was not a strong woman, felt the
heart-breaking bitterness of what Krelis said because she knew that it
was true. Very soon she was as feeble and as wan as the little Krelis
had been. Happiness was no more for her, and she longed only for the
forgetfulness of sorrow which would come to her when she should be
as the little Krelis was. And so her slight hold on life loosened
quickly, and presently she and the little Krelis lay in the graveyard
side by side.

She had a very nice funeral, so one of the old women in Marken told me:
the best bier and the best pall were used, and the minister gave his
best address--the one called "The Mourning Wreath"--at the grave. And,
to end with, there was a breakfast in Jan de Jong's tavern that was of
the best too. It was only just to Krelis, the old woman said, to say
that in the matter of the funeral he behaved very well indeed.

But one thing which he did at that breakfast showed that it was for his
own pride, and not for the sake of Marretje, that everything was done
in so fine a style. On Marken there was left no near woman relative of
Marretje's, and when the guests came to the table they were a good deal
scandalized by finding that Geert Thysen was to be seated on Krelis's
right hand. Old Jaap's place was on his left, but when the old man saw
who was to take the seat on the right he drew back quickly from the
table and left the room.

At that, for a full half-minute there was an awkward pause--until
Krelis, in a strong voice, bade the company be seated: and added that
no one had a better right to the seat beside him than Marretje's oldest
friend. As he made this speech a little buzzing whisper went around
among the company, and some one even snickered down at the lower end
of the big room. But there was the breakfast, as good as it could be,
before them. It was much too good a breakfast to lose on a mere point
of etiquette. The whispering died out, and for a moment the guests
looked at one another in silence--and then there was a great scraping
and rattling of chairs as they all sat down. And Krelis and Geert
presided over the funeral feast with a most proper gravity--save that
now and then a glance passed between them that seemed to have more
meaning than was quite decorous in the case of those two: the one being
a maiden, and the other a widower whose wife had not been buried quite
two hours.

Of course there was a good deal of talk about all this afterward; but
as public opinion had been moulded under favour able conditions--while
the mellowing influence of the good food and abundant drink was still
operative--the talk was not by any means relentlessly harsh. The men
openly smiled at the proof which Krelis had given that his loss was
not irreparable; and the women, with a certain primness, admitted
that--after all the talk there had been--Krelis owed it to Geert to
marry her with as little delay as the proprieties of the case would
allow.

But even this kindly public opinion was strained sharply by the
discovery that the marriage was to take place only two months after
that funeral feast at which, to all intents and purposes, it had been
announced. That was going, the women said, altogether too fast. But
the men only laughed again--partly at the way in which the women were
standing up for the respect due to their sex, and partly at Krelis's
hurry to take on again the bonds from which he had been so very
recently set free.

Here and there among the talkers a questioning word would be put in as
to how old Jaap would take this move on the part of his son-in-law. But
even the few people who bothered their heads with this phase of the
matter held that old Jaap never would have a clear enough understanding
of it to resent the dishonour put upon his granddaughter's memory. He
had returned to his home in the Kerkehof and was living there, in his
own queer way, solitary. He was madder than ever, people said; and
it was certain that he had gone back to his old habit of spending in
the graveyard all of the days and many of the nights which he passed
ashore. Often those who passed by night between the Hafenbeurt and the
Kerkehof saw him there--keeping his strange watch among the graves.


X

What the Marken folk still speak of as "the great storm"--the worst
storm of which there is record in the island's history--set in a good
four-and-twenty hours before the December day on which Geert Thysen
and Krelis Kess were married. From the Polar ice-fields a rushing
and a mighty wind thundered southward over the Arctic Ocean and down
across the shallows of the North Sea--sucking away the water from the
Baltic, sending a roaring tide out through the English Channel into the
Atlantic, and piling higher and higher against the Holland coast a wall
of ocean: which broke at the one opening and went pouring onward into
the Zuyder Zee.

Already on the morning of that wild wedding-day the waves were lapping
high about Marken, and here and there a dull gleam of water showed
where the marshes were overflowed. Just before daybreak the storm
lulled a little, but came on again with a fresh force after the unseen
sunrise, and grew stronger and stronger as the black day wore on. Down
by the little haven the fishermen were gathered in groups anxiously
watching their tossing boats--in dread lest in spite of the doubled and
tripled moorings they should fetch away. Steadily from the black sky
poured downward sheets of rain.

According to Marken notions, even a landsman should not have ventured
to marry on a day like that; and for a fisherman to marry while such
a storm was raging was a sheer tempting of all the forces which work
together for evil in the tempests of the sea. Every one expected that
the wedding would be put off; and when word was passed around that
it was not to be put off, all of the older and steadier folk refused
with one voice to have anything to do with it. How Krelis succeeded in
inducing the minister to perform the ceremony no one ever knew--for
the minister was one of the many that day on Marken who never saw the
rising of another sun. He was not well liked, that minister, and
stories not to his credit were whispered about him; at least so one of
the old women told me--and more than half hinted that what happened to
him was a judgment upon him for his sins.

Even when the wedding-party came across from the Kerkehof to the
Hafenbeurt, some little time before mid-day, the marshes on each side
of the raised path were marshes no longer, but open water--that was
whipped southward before the gale in little angry waves. There was no
chance for a show of finery. The men wore their oil-skins over their
Sunday clothes, and the women were wrapped in cloaks and shawls. But it
was a company of young dare-devils, that wedding-party, and the members
of it came on through the storm laughing and shouting--with Geert and
Krelis leading and the gayest madcaps of them all. So far from being
dismayed by the roaring tempest, those two wild natures seemed only
to be stirred and aroused by it to a fierce happiness. They say that
Geert never was so beautiful as she was that day--her face glowing with
a strong rich colour, her eyes sparkling with a wonderful brilliancy,
her full red lips parted and showing the gleam of those strong white
teeth of hers, her lithe body erect and poised confidently against the
furious wind which swept them all forward along the path.

But as the party came near to the graveyard, lying midway between the
Kerkehof and the Hafenbeurt close beside the path, some of the young
men and women found their merriment oozing out of them. In that day
of black storm the rain-sodden mound was inexpressibly desolate. All
around it, save for the pathway leading up to its gate, the marsh was
flooded. The graveyard almost was an island--would be quite an island
should the water rise another foot. Rushed onward by the gale, shrewd
little waves were beating against its windward side so sharply that the
soft soil visibly was crumbling away--a sight which recalled a dim but
very grisly legend of how once a great storm had hurled such a sea upon
Marken that the dead bodies lying in that very spot had been torn from
their resting-places by the tumultuous waves. But crueler still was
the shivering thought of Marretje, only two months dead, lying in that
sodden ground in her storm-beaten grave.

And then, as they came closer, the memory of Marretje was brought home
to them still more sharply and in a strangely startling way: as they
saw old Jaap uprise suddenly from where he had been crouched amidst
the graves. Bareheaded, with his long grey hair and long grey beard
soaked with the falling torrent and flying out before the wind, he
stood upright on the crest of the mound close above them--his tall lean
figure towering commandingly against the black rain clouds, defiant as
some old sea-god of the furious storm.

He seemed to be speaking, but the storm noises were as a wall shutting
him off from them, and not until they had passed on a little and were
to leeward of him could they hear his words. Then they heard him
clearly: speaking slowly, with no trace of anger in his tones but
with a strange solemn fervour--as though he felt himself to be out
beyond the line which separates Time from Eternity, and from that
vantage-point uttered with authority the judgments of an outraged God.
It was to Geert and Krelis that he spoke, pointing at them with one
outstretched hand while the other was raised as though in invocation
toward the wild black sky: "For your sins the anger of God is loosed
upon you in His tempests, and in His name I curse you with a binding
curse. May the raging waters be upon you! May you perish in the wrath
of the Zuyder Zee!"

A shudder went through all the wedding company. Even Krelis, half
stopping, suddenly paled. Only Geert, bolder than all of them put
together, held her own. With a quick motion she drew Krelis onward, and
her lip curled in that way of hers as she said to him: "What has old
Jaap to do with you or me, Krelis? He is a mad old fool!" And then she
looked straight at old Jaap, into the very eyes of him, and laughed
scornfully--as they all together went on again through the wind and
rain.

But when they came to Jan de Jong's tavern, where the wedding-breakfast
was waiting for them, Krelis was the first to call for gin. He said
that he was cold.


XI

It was the strangest wedding-feast, they say, that ever was held on
Marken: with the black tempest beating outside, and all the lamps in
the big room lighted--although the day still was on the morning side
of noon. Young Jan de Jong--the same who is old Jan de Jong now, and
who now keeps the tavern--remembers it all well, and tells how his
mother was for bundling the whole company out of doors. Such doings
would bring bad luck upon the house, she said--and went up-stairs and
locked herself into her room and took to praying when her husband told
her that bad luck never came with good money, and that what Krelis was
willing to pay for Krelis should have.

But it was the wife who was right that time--as the husband knew a
very little later on. For that night Krelis's boat was one of those
swept away from their moorings and foundered, and Krelis's fine house
was undermined by the water and went out over the Zuyder Zee in
fragments--and so the wedding-feast never was paid for at all. And she
always said that but for her prayers their son would have been lost to
them too. Old Jan was very grave when he told me about this--and from
some of the others I learned that it was because of what happened to
him that night that he gave over the wild life that he had been leading
and became a steady man.

At first, what with the blackness of the storm and the ringing in
everybody's ears of old Jaap's curse, the company was a dismal one.
But the plentiful hot gin-and-water that Krelis ordered--and led in
drinking--soon brought cheerfulness back again. As for Geert, she
had no need of gin-and-water: her high spirits held from first to
last. Seated on Krelis's right--just as she had been seated only a
little while before on the day of Marretje's funeral--she rattled away
steadily with her gay talk; and every now and then, they say, turned to
Krelis with a look that brought fire into his eyes!

The walk after breakfast was out of the question. As the afternoon went
on the storm raged more and more tumultuously. There was nothing for it
but to have the room cleared of the chairs and table and go straight on
to the dancing; and that they did--excepting some of the weaker-headed
ones, whose legs were too badly tangled for such gay exercise and who
sat limply on the benches against the wall.

This time it was not by favour but by right that Geert led the dance
with Krelis--her black eyes shining and her face all of a rich red
glow. And as she took her place at the head of it she said to Jaantje
de Waard: "Who's got him now, this lover of mine you said I'd lost,
Jaantje? Didn't I tell you that it's one thing to lay the net, but
it's another to haul it in?" And away she went, caught close to
Krelis, with a laugh on those red lips of hers and a brighter sparkle
in her black eyes. Jaantje said--it was she who told me, an old woman
now--that somehow this speech of Geert's, and the sudden thought that
it brought of dead Marretje out there in the graveyard, made her
feel so queasy in her stomach that she left the dance and went home
bare-headed through the storm.

The dancing, with plenty of drink between whiles, went on until
evening; and after night-fall the company grew still merrier--partly
because of the punch, but more because the feast lost much of its
grewsomeness when they all knew that the darkness outside was the
ordinary darkness of black night and not the strange darkness of that
black day. But there was no break in the storm; and now and then,
when a fierce burst of wind fairly set the house to rocking on its
foundations, and sent the rain dashing in sheets against the windows,
there would be anxious talk among those of the dancers who came from
the Kerkehof or the Kesbeurt as to how they were to get home. From time
to time one of the men would open the door a little and take a look
outside--and would draw in again in a hurry and go straight to the
punch-bowl for comforting: for none of them had seen any storm like
that on Marken in all their lives.

And so, when at last the storm did lull a little--this was about eight
o'clock in the evening, close upon the moonrise--there was a general
disposition to take advantage of the break and get away. And Krelis did
not urge his guests to stay longer, for he was of the same mind with
them--being eager to carry off homeward his Geert with the flashing
eyes.

But when the men went out of doors together to have a look about them
they were brought up suddenly with a round turn. It is only a step from
Jan de Jong's tavern to the head of the path that dips downward and
leads across the marshes to the other villages. But when they had taken
that step no path was to be seen! Close at their feet, and stretching
away in front of them as far as their eyes could reach through the
night-gloom, was to be seen only tumultuous black water flecked here
and there with patches of foam. Everywhere over Marken, save the
graveyard mound and the knolls on which stood the several villages,
the ocean was in possession: right across the island were sweeping the
storm-lashed waves of the Zuyder Zee!


XII

Though they all were filled with punch-begotten Dutch courage, not
one of them but Krelis--as they stood together looking out over what
should have been marsh-land and what was angry sea--thought even for
a moment of getting homeward before daylight should come again and
the gale should break away. And even Krelis would not have been for
facing such danger at an ordinary time: but just then his soul and body
were in commotion, and over the black stormy water he saw visions of
Geert beckoning him to those red lips of hers, and firing him with the
sparkle of her flashing eyes.

"It's a bit of sea," he said lightly, "but if one of you will lend a
hand at an oar with me we'll manage it easily. Just here it's baddish.
But a stiff pull of a hundred yards will fetch us into smoother water
under the lee of the graveyard, and beyond that we'll be a little under
the lee of the Kerkehof--and then another spurt of stiff pulling will
fetch us home. Geert will steer, and we can count on her to steer well.
I wouldn't have risked it with Marretje at the tiller--but I've got
another sort of a wife now. Which of you'll come along?"

There was a dead silence at that, for every one of the young fellows
standing there knew that to take a boat out into that water meant a
fight for life at every inch of the way.

"Well, since you're all so modest," Krelis went on with a laugh, "I'll
pick out big Jan here to pull with me--and no offence to the rest of
you, for we all know that not another man on Marken pulls so strong an
oar."

It was old Jan himself who told me this, and he said that when Krelis
chose him that way there was nothing for him to do but to say that he'd
go. But he said that he went pale at the thought of what was before
him, and would have given anything in the world to get out of the job.
All the others spoke up against their trying it; and that, he said,
while it scared him still more--for they all, in spite of the punch
that was in them, spoke very seriously--helped him to go ahead. It
would be something to talk about afterward, he thought, that he had
done what everybody else was afraid to do. And when the others found
that he and Krelis were not to be shaken, they set themselves to
bringing a strong boat across from the other side of the village and
getting it into the water--in a smooth place under the lee of one of
the houses--and lashing a lantern fast into its bows.

When Krelis and Jan went back to the tavern to fetch Geert there was
another outcry. All the women got around Geert and declared that she
should not go. But Geert was ready always for any bit of daredeviltry,
and the readier when anybody tried to hold her back from it--and then
the way that Krelis looked at her would have taken her with him through
the very gates of hell. She only laughed at the other women, and made
them help her to put on the oil-skin hat and coat that Krelis fetched
for her to keep her dry against the pelting rain. And she laughed still
louder when she was rigged out in that queer dress--and what with her
sparkling eyes and her splendid colour was so bewitching under the big
hat that Krelis snatched a kiss from her and swore that at last he had
a wife just to his mind.

All the company, muffled in shawls and cloaks, went along with them to
the water-side to see them start; and because there was no commotion
in the quiet nook where the boat was lying, and the darkness hid the
tumbling waves beyond, most of them thought that the only danger ahead
for Geert and the others was a thorough drenching--and were disposed to
make fun of this queer wedding-journey on which they were bound. But
the young men who had launched the boat knew better, and they tried
once more to make Krelis give over his purpose--or, at least, to wait
until the moon should rise a little and thin the clouds. And all the
answer that they got was a laugh from Geert and a joking invitation
from Krelis to come across to the Kesbeurt in the morning and join him
in a glass of grog.

Krelis was to pull stroke, and so big Jan got into the boat ahead of
him--with his heart fairly down in his boots, he told me--and then
Krelis got in; and last of all Geert took her seat in the stern, and
as she gripped the tiller steadily gave the order to shove off. With
a strong push the young men gave the boat a start that sent it well
out from the shore, and then the oars bit into the water and they were
under way.

One of the old women whom I talked with was of the wedding-party, and
down there by the shore that night, and she told me that they all
cheered and laughed for a minute as the boat with the lantern in her
bows shot off from the land. The thought of danger, she said, was quite
out of their minds. Right in front of them, less than a quarter of a
mile away, they saw the lights of the houses in the Kesbeurt shining
brightly, and plainly setting the course for Geert to steer; and they
knew that the two strongest men on Marken were at the oars. What they
all were laughing about, she said, was that anybody should be going
from the one village to the other in a boat--and that it should be a
wedding-journey, too!

But it was only for a moment that their laughter lasted. The instant
that the boat was out of the sheltered smooth water they all knew that
not by one chance in a thousand could she live to fetch across. By the
light of the lantern fixed in her bows they saw plainly the wild tumult
of the sea around her--that caught her and seemed to stand her almost
straight on end as Geert held her strongly against the oncoming waves.
The old woman said that a thrill of horror ran through them all as they
realized what certainly must happen. By a common impulse down they
all went on their knees on the sodden ground, with the rain pelting
them--and she heard some one cry out in the darkness: "Old Jaap's curse
is upon them! May God pity and help them and have mercy on their souls!"

[Illustration: OLD JAAP]


XIII

Old Jan, who alone knew it, told me the rest of the story--but speaking
slowly and unwillingly, as though it all still were fresh before him
and very horribly real.

He said that when the boat lifted as that first sea struck her it was
plain enough what was likely to happen to them--for they could not put
about to make the shore again without swamping, and with such a sea
running they were pretty certain to swamp quickly if they went on. But
Krelis was not the sort to give in, and he shouted over his shoulder:
"I've got you into a scrape, Jan; but if we can pull up under the lee
of the graveyard there's a chance for us still." And then he called to
Geert: "Now you can show what stuff you're made of, Geert. Steer for
the graveyard--and for God's sake hold her straight to the sea!" As for
Geert, she was as cool as the best man could have been, and she steered
as well as any man could have steered. The light from the lantern shone
full in her face, and old Jan said that her eyes kept on sparkling and
that her colour never changed.

With that tremendous wind sweeping down on them, and with the waves
butting against the boat, and throwing her head up every instant, even
Jan and Krelis--and they were the best oarsmen on Marken--could make
only snail's way. But it heartened them to find that they made any way
at all--as they could tell that they were doing by seeing the lights
ashore crawling past them--and so they lashed away with their oars and
found a little hope growing again. Presently Krelis called out: "The
water's getting smoother, Jan. Another fifty yards and we'll be all
right!"

That was true. They were creeping up steadily under the lee of the
graveyard, and the closer they got to it the more would it break the
force of the waves. If they could reach it they would be safe.

Just as Krelis spoke, the boat struck against something so sharply that
she quivered all over and lost way. Neither of the men dared to turn
even for an instant; nor could their turning have done any good--all
that they could do was to row on. But Geert could look ahead, and the
lantern in the bows cast a little circle of light upon the furious
sea. As she peered over their shoulders a strange look came into her
face, Jan said, and then she spoke in a voice strained and strange:
"It's a coffin," she said, "and I see another one a little farther on.
The sea is washing away the graveyard--as it did that time long ago!"
And then the coffin went past them, so close that it struck against and
nearly unshipped Krelis's oar.

Jan said that he trembled all over, and that a cold sweat broke out on
him. He felt himself going sick and giddy, and fell to wondering what
would happen should he be unable to keep on pulling--and how long it
took a man to drown. Then--but because of a ringing in his ears the
voice seemed to come faintly from very far away--he heard Krelis cry
out cheerily: "Pull, Jan! If we're getting among the coffins we'll be
safe in a dozen strokes more!"

It was at that instant that a great wave lifted the bow of the boat
high out of the water, and as she fell away into the trough of the sea
she struck again--but that time with a crash that had in it the sound
of breaking boards. Jan knew that they must have struck the other
coffin that Geert had seen, and he was sure that the boat was stove in
and in another moment would fill and sink from under them.

For what seemed a whole age to him there was a grinding and a crunching
beneath the keel; and then, as the boat swung free again, he saw Geert
go chalk-pale suddenly--as she stood peering eagerly forward--and
heard her give a great wild cry. And then her color rushed back into
her cheeks and her eyes glittered as she called out in a strong voice
resolutely: "It's Marretje come to take you from me, Krelis--but she
sha'n't, she sha'n't! You never really were her lover--and you always
were and always shall be mine! And I hate her and I'll get the better
of her dead just as I hated her and got the better of her alive!" And
with that Geert let go her hold upon the tiller and sprang forward and
clasped Krelis in her arms.

Jan could not tell clearly what happened after that. All that he was
sure of was the sight for an instant, tossing beside the boat in the
circle of light cast by the lantern, of a lidless coffin in which lay
wrapped in her white shroud the dead golden-haired Marretje--and then
the boat broached to and went over, and there was nothing about him
but blackness and the tumultuous waves. As he went down into a hollow
of the sea he felt the ground beneath his feet, and that put courage
into him to make a fight for life. Struggling against the gale, and
against waves which grew smaller as he battled on through them, he went
forward with a heart-breaking slowness; and the strength was clean gone
out of him when he won his way at last up the lee side of the little
mound--and dropped down at full length there, in safe shelter amidst
the graves.

"And Geert and Krelis?" I asked.

"With her arms tight about him there was no chance for either of them,"
he answered. And then he went on, speaking very solemnly: "The word
that was truth had been spoken against them. They perished in the wrath
of the Zuyder Zee!"



A Duluth Tragedy


I

[Illustration]

Jutting out from the rocky coast, a sand spit nearly seven miles
long, Minnesota Point is as a strong arm stretched forth to defend
the harbour of Duluth against the storms which breed in the frozen
North and come roaring down Lake Superior. Wisconsin Point, less than
half its length, almost meets it from the other shore. Between the
two is the narrow inlet through which in old times came the Canadian
voyageurs--on their way across Saint Louis Bay and up the windings of
the Saint Louis River to Pond du Lac, twenty miles farther westward.
That was in the fur-trading days of little sailing-vessels and
birch-bark canoes. Now, close to its shoulder, the Point is cut by a
canal through which the great black steamships come and go.

Five-and-twenty years ago--before the canal was thought of, and when
the Duluth of the present, with its backing of twenty thousand miles
of railway, was a dream just beginning to be realized--Minnesota Point
was believed to have a great future. Close to its shoulder a town site
was staked out, and little wooden houses were built at a great rate.
Corner lots on that sand spit were at a premium. The "boom" was on. The
smash of '73 knocked the bottom out of everything for a while. When
good times came again the town site moved on westward a half-mile or
so and settled itself on the mainland. The little houses on the Point
were out of the running and were taken up by Swedes--who were content,
as Americans were not, to live a few steps away from the strenuous
centre of that inchoate metropolis. That time the "boom" was a genuine
one. The new city had come to stay. In course of time, to meet its
growing trade requirements, the canal was cut which made the Point an
island--and after that the Point was dead for good and all.

Nowadays it is only in summer that a little life, other than that
of its few inhabitants, shows itself on Minnesota Point--when
camping-parties and picnic-parties go down by three miles of shaky
tramway to Oatka Beach. During all the rest of the year that sandy
barren, with its forlorn decaying houses and its dreary growth of pines
stunted by the harsh lake winds, is forgotten and desolate. Now and
then is heard the cry of a gull flying across it slowly; and always
against its outer side--with a thunderous crash in times of storm, in
times of calm with a sad soft lap-lapping--surge or ripple the deathly
cold waters of Lake Superior: waters so cold that whoever drowns in
them sinks quickly--not to rise again (as the drowned do usually), but
for all time, in chill companionship with the countless dead gathered
there through the ages, to be lost and hidden in those icy depths.

The ghastly coldness of the water in which it is merged seems to
have numbed the Point and reconciled it to its bleak destiny. It has
accepted its fate: recognizing with a grim indifference that its
once glowing future has vanished irrevocably into what now is the
hopelessness of its nearly forgotten past.


II

[Illustration]

George Maltham, wandering out on the Point one Sunday morning in the
early spring-time--he had just come up from Chicago to take charge of
the Duluth end of his father's line of lake steamers and was lonely
in that strange place, and was the more disposed to be misanthropic
because he had a headache left over from the previous wet night at
the club--came promptly to the conclusion that he never had struck a
place so god-forsakenly dismal. Aside from his own feelings, there was
even more than usual to justify this opinion. The day was grey and
chill. A strong northeast wind was blowing that covered the lake with
white-caps and that sent a heavy surf rolling shoreward. A little ice,
left from the spring break-up, still was floating in the harbour. Under
these conditions the Point was at its cheerless worst.

Maltham had crossed the canal by the row-boat ferry. Having mounted
the sodden steps and looked about him for a moment--in which time his
conclusion was reached as to the Point's god-forsaken dismalness--he
was for abandoning his intended explorations and going straight-away
back to the mainland. But when he turned to descend the steps the boat
had received some waiting passengers--three church-bound Swedish women
in their Sunday clothes--and had just pushed off. That little turn of
chance decided him. After all, he said to himself, it did not make
much difference. What he wanted was a walk to rid him of his headache;
and the Point offered him, as the rocky hill-sides of the mainland
conspicuously did not, a good long stretch of level land.

Before him extended an absurdly wide street--laid out in magnificent
expectation of the traffic that never came to it--flanked in
far-reaching perspective by the little houses which sprang up in such
a hurry when the "boom" was on. In its centre was the tramway, its
road-bed laid with wooden planks. The dingy open tram-car, in which
the church-bound Swedish women had come up to the ferry, started away
creakingly while he stood watching it. That was the only sight or sound
of life. For some little time, in the stillness, he could hear the
driver addressing Swedish remarks of an encouraging or abusive nature
to his mule.

Taking the planked tramway in preference to the rotten wooden sidewalks
full of pitfalls, Maltham walked on briskly for a mile or so--his
headache leaving him in the keen air--until the last of the little
houses was passed. There the vast street suddenly dribbled off into
a straggling sandy road, which wound through thickets of bushy white
birch and a sparse growth of stunted pines. The tramway, along which
he continued, went on through the brush in a straight line. The
Point had narrowed to a couple of hundred yards. Through rifts in
the tangle about him he could see heaps of storm-piled drift-wood
scattered along the lake-side beach--on which the surf was pounding
heavily. On the harbour side the beach was broken by inthrusts of
sedgy swamp. Presently he came to a sandy open space in which, beside
a weather-worn little wooden church, was a neglected graveyard that
seemed to give the last touch of dreariness to that dismal solitude.

The graveyard was a waste of sand, save where bushy patches of birch
had sprung up in it from wind-borne seeds. Swept by many storms, the
sandy mounds were disappearing. Still marking the graves were a few
shabby wooden crosses and a dozen or so of slanting or fallen wooden
slabs. Once these short-lived monuments had been painted white and had
borne legends in black lettering. But only a Swedish word or a Swedish
name remained here and there legible--for the sun and the wind and the
rain had been doing their erasing work steadily for years. One slab
alone stood nearly upright and retained a few partly decipherable lines
in English. But even on that Maltham could make out only the scattered
words: "Sacred.... Ulrica.... Royal House of Sweden ... ever beloved
... of Major Calhoun Ashley," and a date that seemed to be 1879.

His headache had gone, but it had left him heavy and dejected. That
fragmentary epitaph increased his sombreness. Even had he been in a
cheerful mood he could not have failed to perceive the pathetic irony
of it all. There was more than the ordinary cruelty of death and
forgetfulness, he thought, about that grave so desolate of one who
had been connected--it did not matter how--with a "royal house," and
who was described in those almost illegible lines as "ever beloved."
That was human nature down to the hard pan, he thought; and with a
half-smile and a half-sigh over the fate of that poor dead Ulrica he
turned away from the graveyard and walked on. Half-whimsically he
wondered if he had reached the climax of the melancholy which brooded
over that dreary sand spit. As he stated the case to himself, short of
finding a man lying murdered among the birch-bushes it was not likely
that he would strike anything able to raise that graveyard's hand!

The murdered man did not materialize, and the next out-of-the-way
sight that he came across--when he had walked on past the dingy and
forgotten-looking little church--was a big ramshackling wooden house
of such pretentious absurdity that his first glimpse of it fairly made
him laugh. Its square centre was a wooden tower of three stories,
battlemented, flanked by two battlemented wings. A veranda ran along
the lower floor, and above the veranda was a gallery. Some of the
windows were boarded over; others had scraps of carpet stuck into their
glassless gaps--and all had Venetian shutters (singularly at odds with
the climate of that region) hanging dubiously and with many broken
slats. The paint had weathered away, and bricks had fallen from the
chimney-tops--a loss which gave to the queer structure, in conjunction
with lapses in its wooden battlements, a sadly broken-crested air.
As a whole, it suggested a badly done caricature of an old-fashioned
Southern homestead--of which the essence of the caricature was finding
it in that bleak Northern land.


III

[Illustration]

Maltham had come to a full stop in front of this absurd dwelling, which
was set a little back from the road in a dishevelled enclosure, and
as he stood examining in an amused way its various eccentricities he
became aware that from one of the lower windows a man was watching him.

This was disconcerting, and he turned to walk on. But before he had
gone a dozen steps the front door opened and the man came outside.
He was dressed in shabby grey clothes with a certain suggestion of a
military cut about them; but in spite of his shabbiness he had the look
of a gentleman. He was sixty, or thereabouts, and seemed to have been
well set up when he was younger--before the slouch had settled on his
shoulders and before he had taken on a good many unnecessary inches
about his waist. From where he stood on the veranda he hailed Maltham
cordially:

"Won't yo' come in, suh? I have obsehved youah smiles at my old house
heah-- No, no, yo' owe me no apology, suh," he went on quickly, as
Maltham attempted a confused disclaimer. "Yo' ah quite justified in
laughing, suh, at my foolish fancy--that went wrong mainly because the
Yankee ca'pentah whom I employed to realize it was a hopelessly damned
fool. But it was a creditable sentiment, suh, which led me to desiah
to reproduce heah in godfo'saken Minnesotah my ancestral home in the
grand old State of South Cahrolina--the house that my grandfatheh built
theah and named Eutaw Castle, as I have named its pore successeh,
because of the honorable paht he bo' in the battle of Eutaw Springs.
The result, I admit, is a thing to laugh at, suh--but not the ideah.
No, suh, not the ideah! But come in, suh, come in! The exterioh of
Eutaw Castle may be a failuah; but within it, suh, yo' will find in
this cold No'th'en region the genuine wahm hospitality of a true
Southe'n home!"

Maltham perceived that the only apology which he could offer for
laughing at this absurd house--the absurdity of which became rather
pathetic, he thought, in view of its genesis--was to accept its owner's
invitation to enter it. Acting on this conclusion, he turned into the
enclosure--the gate, hanging loosely on a single hinge, was standing
open--and mounted the veranda steps.

As he reached the top step his host advanced and shook hands with
him warmly. "Yo'ah vehy welcome, suh," he said; and added, after
putting his hand to a pocket in search of something that evidently
was not there: "Ah, I find that I have not my cahd-case about me.
Yo' must pehmit me to introduce myself: Majoh Calhoun Ashley, of the
Confedehrate sehvice, suh--and vehy much at youahs."

Maltham started a little as he heard this name, and the small shock so
far threw him off his balance that as he handed his card to the Major
he said: "Then it was your name that I saw just now in--" And stopped
short, inwardly cursing himself for his awkwardness.

"That yo' saw in the little graveyahd, on the tomb of my eveh-beloved
wife, suh," the Major replied--with a quaver in his voice which
compelled Maltham mentally to reverse his recent generalizations. The
Major was silent for a moment, and then continued: "Heh grave is not
yet mahked fitly, suh, as no doubt yo' obsehved. Cihcumstances oveh
which I have had no control have prevented me from erecting as yet a
suitable monument oveh heh sacred remains. She was my queen, suh"--his
voice broke again--"and of a line of queens: a descendant, suh, from a
collateral branch of the ancient royal house of Sweden. I am hoping,
I am hoping, suh, that I shall be able soon to erect oveh heh last
resting-place a monument wo'thy of heh noble lineage and of hehself. I
am hoping, suh, to do that vehy soon."

The Major again was silent for a moment; and then, pulling himself
together, he looked at Maltham's card--holding it a long way off
from his eyes. "Youah name is familiar to me, suh," he said,
"though fo' the moment I do not place it, and I am most happy to
make youah acquaintance. But come in, suh, come in. I am fo'getting
myself--keeping you standing this way outside of my own doah."

He took Maltham cordially by the arm and led him through the doorway
into a wide bare hall; and thence into a big room on the right, that
was very scantily furnished but that was made cheerful by a rousing
drift-wood fire. Over the high mantel-piece was hung an officer's sword
with its belt. On the buckle of the belt were the letters C. S. A.
Excepting this rather pregnant bit of decoration, the whitewashed walls
were bare.

The Major bustled with hospitality--pulling the bigger and more
comfortable of two arm-chairs to the fire and seating Maltham in it,
and then bringing out glasses and a bottle from a queer structure of
unpainted white pine that stood at one end of the room and had the look
of a sideboard gone wrong.

"At the moment, suh," he said apologetically, "my cellah is badly
fuhnished and I am unable to offeh yo' wine. But if yo' have an
appreciative taste fo' Bourbon," he went on with more assurance, "I am
satisfied that yo' will find the ahticle in this bottle as sound as any
that the noble State of Kentucky eveh has produced. Will yo' oblige me,
suh, by saying when!"

Not knowing about the previous wet night, and its still lingering
consequences, the promptness with which Maltham said "when" seemed to
disconcert the Major a little--but not sufficiently to deter him from
filling his own glass with a handsome liberality. Holding it at a level
with his lips, he turned toward his guest with the obvious intention of
drinking a toast.

"May I have a little water, please?" put in Maltham.

"I beg youah pahdon, suh. I humbly beg youah pahdon," the Major
answered. "I am not accustomed to dilute my own liquoh, and I most
thoughtlessly assumed that yo' would not desiah to dilute youahs. I
trust that yo' will excuse my seeming rudeness, suh. Yo' shall have at
once the bevehrage which yo' desiah."

While still apologizing, the Major placed his glass on the table and
went to the door. Opening it he called: "Ulrica, my child, bring a
pitcheh of fresh wateh right away."

Again Maltham gave a little start--as he had done when the Major had
introduced himself. In a vague sub-conscious way he felt that there
was something uncanny in thus finding living owners of names which he
had seen, within that very hour, scarcely legible above an uncared-for
grave. But the Major, talking on volubly, did not give him much
opportunity for these psychological reflections; and presently there
was the sound of footsteps in the hall outside, and then the door
opened and the owner of the grave-name appeared.


IV

[Illustration]

Because of the odd channel in which his thoughts were running, Maltham
had the still odder fancy for an instant that the young girl who
entered the room was the dead Ulrica of whom the Major had spoken--"a
queen, and of a line of queens." And even when this thought had
passed--so quickly that it was gone before he had risen to his feet to
greet her--the impression of her queenliness remained. For this living
woman bearing a dead name might have been Aslauga herself: so tall and
stately was she, and so fair with that cold beauty of the North of
which the soul is fire. Instinctively he felt the fire, and knew that
it still slumbered--and knew, too, that in the fulness of time, being
awakened, it would glow with a consuming splendour in her dark eyes.

All this went in a flash through his mind before the Major said:
"Pehmit me, Mr. Maltham, to present yo' to my daughteh, Miss Ulrica
Ashley." And added: "Mr. Maltham was passing, Ulrica, and did me the
honeh to accept my invitation to come in."

She put down the pitcher of water and gave Maltham her hand. "It
was very kind of you, sir," she said gravely. "We do not have many
visitors, and my father gets lonely with only me. It was very kind of
you, sir, indeed." She spoke with a certain precision, and with a very
slight accent--so slight that Maltham did not immediately notice it.
What he did notice, with her first words, was the curiously thrilling
quality of her low-pitched and very rich voice.

"And don't you get lonely too?" he asked.

"Why no," she answered with a little air of surprise. And speaking
slowly, as though she were working the matter out in her mind, she
added: "With me it is different, you see. I was born here on the Point
and I love it. And then I have the house to look after. And I have my
boat. And I can talk with the neighbours--though I do not often care
to. Father cannot talk with them, because he does not know Swedish as
I do. When he wants company he has to go all the way up to town. You
see, it is not the same with us at all." And then, as though she had
explained the matter sufficiently, she turned to the Major and asked:
"Do you want anything more, father?"

"Nothing mo', my child--except that an extra place is to be set at
table. Mr. Maltham will dine with us, of co'se."

At this Maltham protested a little; but presently yielded to Ulrica's,
"You will be doing a real kindness to father if you will stay, Mr.
Maltham," backed by the Major's peremptory: "Yo' ah my prisoneh, suh,
and in Eutaw Castle we don't permit ouah prisonehs to stahve!" The
matter being thus settled, Ulrica made a little formal bow and left the
room.

"The wateh is at youah sehvice, suh," said the Major as the door
closed behind her. "I beg that yo' will dilute youah liquoh to youah
liking. Heah's to youah very good health, suh--and to ouah betteh
acquaintance." He drank his whiskey appreciatively, and as he set down
his empty glass continued: "May I ask, suh, if yo' ah living in Duluth,
oh mehly passing through? I ventuah to ask because a resident of this
town sca'cely would be likely to come down on the Point at this time of
yeah."

"I began to be a resident only day before yesterday," Maltham answered.
"I've come to take charge here of our steamers--the Sunrise Line."

"The Sunrise Line!" repeated the Major in a very eager tone. "The
biggest transpo'tation line on the lakes. The line of which that great
capitalist Mr. John L. Maltham is president. And to think, suh, that I
did not recognize youah name!"

"John L. Maltham is my father," the young man said.

"Why, of co'se, of co'se! I might have had the sense to know that as
soon as I looked at youah cahd. This is a most fo'tunate meeting,
Mr. Maltham--most fo'tunate for both of us. I shall not on this
occasion, when yo' ah my guest, enteh into a discussion of business
mattehs. But at an eahly day I shall have the honeh to lay befo' yo'
convincing reasons why youah tehminal docks should be established heah
on the Point--which a beneficent Providence cleahly intended to be
the shipping centeh of this metropolis--and prefehrably, suh, as the
meahest glance at a chaht of the bay will demonstrate, heah on my land.
Yo' will have the first choice of the wha'ves which I have projected;
and I may even say, suh, that any altehrations which will affo'd mo'
convenient accommodations to youah vessels still ah possible. Yes, suh,
the matteh has not gone so fah but that any reasonable changes which
yo' may desiah may yet be made."

Remembering the sedgy swamps beside which he had passed that morning,
Maltham was satisfied that the Major's concluding statement was well
within the bounds of truth. But he was not prepared to meet off-hand so
radical a proposition, and while he was fumbling in his mind for some
sort of non-committal answer the Major went on again.

"It is not fo' myself, suh," he said, "that I desiah to realize this
magnificent undehtaking. Living heah costs little, and what I get
from renting my land to camping pahties and fo' picnics gives me all
I need. And I'm an old man, anyway, and whetheh I die rich oh pore
don't matteh. It's fo' my daughteh's sake that I seek wealth, suh, not
fo' my own. That deah child of mine is heh sainted motheh oveh again,
Mr. Maltham--except that heh motheh's eyes weh blue. That is the only
diffehrence. And beside heh looks she has identically the same sweet
natuah, suh--the same exquisite goodness and beauty of haht. When my
great loss came to me," the Major's voice broke badly, "it was my love
fo' that deah child kept me alive. It breaks my haht, suh, to think of
dying and leaving heh heah alone and pore."

Maltham had got to his bearings by this time and was able to frame a
reasonably diplomatic reply. "Well, perhaps we'd better not go into
the matter to-day," he said. "You see, our line has traffic agreements
with the N. P. and the Northwestern that must hold for the present,
anyway. And then I've only just taken charge, you know, and I must look
around a little before I do anything at all. But I might write to my
father to come up here when he can, and then he and you could have a
talk."

The Major's look of eager cheerfulness faded at the beginning of
this cooling rejoinder, but he brightened again at its end. "A talk
with youah fatheh, suh," he answered, "would suit me down to the
ground-flo'. An oppo'tunity to discuss this great matteh info'mally
with a great capitalist has been what I've most desiahed fo' yeahs.
But I beg youah pahdon, suh. I am fo'getting the sacred duties of
hospitality. Pehmit me to fill youah glass."

It seemed to pain him that his guest refused this invitation; but,
finding him obdurate, he kept the sacred duties of hospitality in
working order by exercising them freely upon himself. "Heah's to
the glorious futuah of Minnesotah Point, suh!" he said as he raised
his glass--and it was obvious that he would be off again upon the
exploitation of his hopelessly impossible project as soon as he put it
down. Greatly to Maltham's relief, the door opened at that juncture and
Ulrica entered to call them to dinner; and he was still more relieved,
when they were seated at table, by finding that his host dropped
business matters and left the glorious future of Minnesota Point
hanging in the air.

At his own table, indeed, the Major was quite at his best. He told good
stories of his army life, and of his adventurous wanderings which ended
when he struck Duluth just at the beginning of its first "boom"; and
very entertaining was what he had to tell of that metropolis in its
embryotic days.

But good though the Major's stories were, Maltham found still more
interesting the Major's daughter--who spoke but little, and who seemed
to be quite lost at times in her own thoughts. As he sat slightly
turned toward her father he could feel her eyes fixed upon him; and
more than once, facing about suddenly, he met her look full. When this
happened she was not disconcerted, nor did she immediately look away
from him--and he found himself thrilled curiously by her deeply intent
gaze. Yet the very frankness of it gave it a quality that was not
precisely flattering. He had the feeling that she was studying him in
much the same spirit that she would have studied some strange creature
that she might have come across in her walks in the woods. When he
tried to bring her into the talk he did not succeed; but this was
mainly because the Major invariably cut in before he could get beyond
a direct question and a direct reply. Only once--when her father made
some reference to her love for sailing--was her reserve, which was not
shyness, a little broken; and the few words that she spoke before the
Major broke in again were spoken so very eagerly that Maltham resolved
to bring her back to that subject when he could get the chance. Knowing
something of the ways of women, he knew that to set her to talking
about anything in which she was profoundly interested would lower her
guard at all points--and so would enable him to come in touch with her
thoughts. He wanted to get at her thoughts. He was sure that they were
not of a commonplace kind.


V

[Illustration]


When the dinner was ended he made a stroke for the chance that he
wanted. "Will you show me your boat?" he asked. "I'm a bit of a sailor
myself, and I should like to see her very much indeed."

"Oh, would you? I am so glad!" she answered eagerly. And then added
more quietly: "It is a real pleasure to show you the _Nixie_. I am very
fond of her and very proud of her. Father gave her to me three years
ago--after he sold a lot over in West Superior. And it was very good of
him, because he does not like sailing at all. Will you come now? It is
only a step down to the wharf."

The Major declared that he must have his after-dinner pipe in comfort,
and they went off without him--going out by a side door and across a
half-acre of kitchen-garden, still in winter disorder, to the wharf
on the bay-side where the _Nixie_ was moored. She was a half-decked
twenty-foot cat-boat, clean in her lines and with the look of being
able to hold her own pretty well in a blow.

"Is she not beautiful?" Ulrica asked with great pride. And presently,
when Maltham came to a pause in his praises, she added hesitatingly:
"Would you--would you care to come out in her for a little while?"

"Indeed I would!" he answered instantly and earnestly.

"Oh, thank you, thank you!" Ulrica exclaimed. "I do want you to see how
wonderfully she sails!"

The boat was moored with her stern close to the wharf and with her bow
made fast to an outstanding stake. When they had boarded her Ulrica
cast off the stern mooring, ran the boat out to the stake and made fast
with a short hitch, and then--as the boat swung around slowly in the
slack air under the land--set about hoisting the sail. She would not
permit Maltham to help her. He sat aft, steadying the tiller, watching
with delight her vigorous dexterity and her display of absolute
strength. When she had sheeted home and made fast she cast off the
bow mooring, and then stepped aft quickly and took the tiller from his
hand. For a few moments they drifted slowly. Then the breeze, coming
over the tree-tops, caught them and she leaned forward and dropped the
centreboard and brought the boat on the wind. It was a leading wind,
directly off the lake, that enabled them to make a single leg of it
across the bay. As the boat heeled over Maltham shifted his seat to the
weather side. This brought him a little in front of Ulrica, and below
her as she stood to steer. From under the bows came a soft hissing and
bubbling as the boat slid rapidly along.

"Is she not wonderful?" Ulrica asked with a glowing enthusiasm. "Just
see how we are dropping that big sloop over yonder--and the Nixie not
half her size! But the _Nixie_ is well bred, you see, and the sloop is
not. She is as heavy all over as the _Nixie_ is clean and fine. Father
says that breeding is everything--in boats and in horses and in men.
He says that a gentleman is the finest thing that God ever created. It
was because the Southerners all were gentlemen that they whipped the
Yankees, you know."

"But they didn't--the Yankees whipped them."

"Only in the last few battles, father says--and those did not count, so
far as the principle is concerned," Ulrica answered conclusively.

Maltham did not see his way to replying to this presentation of the
matter and was silent. Presently she went on, with a slight air of
apology: "I hope you did not mind my looking at you so much while we
were at dinner, Mr. Maltham. You see, except father, you are the only
gentleman I ever have had a chance to look at close, that way, in my
whole life. Father will not have much to do with the people living up
in town. Most of them are Yankees, and he does not like them. None of
them ever come to see us. The only people I ever talk with are our
neighbours; and they are just common people, you know--though some of
them are as good as they can be. And as father always is talking about
what a gentleman ought to be or ought not to be it is very interesting
really to meet one. That was the reason why I stared at you so. I hope
you did not mind."

"I'm glad I interested you, even if it was only as a specimen of a
class," Maltham answered. "I hope that you found me a good specimen."
Her simplicity was so refreshing that he sought by a leading question
to induce a farther exhibition of it. "What is your ideal of a
gentleman?" he asked.

"Oh, just the ordinary one," she replied in a matter-of-fact tone.
"A gentleman must be absolutely brave, and must kill any man who
insults him--or, at least, must hurt him badly. He must be absolutely
honest--though he is not bound, of course, to tell all that he knows
when he is selling a horse. He must be absolutely true to the woman he
loves, and must never deceive her in any way. He must not refuse to
drink with another gentleman unless he is willing to fight him. He must
protect women and children. He must always be courteous--though he may
be excused for a little rudeness when he has been drinking and so is
not quite himself. He must be hospitable--ready to share his last crust
with anybody, and his last drink with anybody of his class. And he must
know how to ride and shoot and play the principal games of cards. Those
are the main things. You are all that, are you not?"

She looked straight at him as she asked this question, speaking still
in the same entirely matter-of-fact tone. But Maltham did not look
straight back at her as he answered it. The creed that she set forth
had queer articles in it, but its essentials were searching--so
searching that his look was directed rather indefinitely toward the
horizon as he replied, a little weakly perhaps: "Why, of course."

She seemed to be content with this not wholly conclusive answer;
but as he was not content with it himself, and rather dreaded a
cross-examination, he somewhat suddenly shifted the talk to a subject
that he was sure would engross her thoughts. "How splendidly the
_Nixie_ goes!" he said. "She is a racer, and no mistake!"

"Indeed she is!" Ulrica exclaimed, with the fervour upon which he had
counted. "She is the very fastest boat on the bay. And then she is so
weatherly! Why, I can sail her into the very eye of the wind!"

"Yes, she has the look of being weatherly. But she wouldn't be if you
didn't manage her so well. Who taught you how to sail?"

"It was old Gustav Bergmann--one of the fishermen here on the Point,
you know. And he said," she went on with a little touch of pride, "that
he never could have made such a good sailor of me if I had not had it
in my blood--because I am a Swede."

"But you are an American."

Ulrica did not answer him immediately, and when she did speak it was
with the same curiously slow thoughtfulness that he had observed when
she was explaining the difference between her father's life and her own
life in the solitude of Minnesota Point.

"I do not think I am," she said. "I do not know many American women,
but I am not like any American woman I know. You see, I am very like
my mother. Father says so, and I feel it--I cannot tell you just how I
feel it, but I do. For one thing, I am more than half a savage, father
says--like some of the wild Indians he has known. He is in fun, of
course, when he says that; but he really is right, I am sure. Did you
ever want to kill anybody, Mr. Maltham?"

"No," said Maltham with a laugh, "I never did. Did you?"

Ulrica remained grave. "Yes," she answered, "and I almost did it, too.
You see, it was this way: A man, one of the campers down on the Point,
was rude to me. He was drunk, I think. But I did not think about his
being drunk, and that I ought to make allowances for him. Somehow, I
had not time to think. Everything got red suddenly--and before I knew
what I was doing I had out my knife. The man gave a scream--not a cry,
but a real scream: he must have been a great coward, I suppose--and
jumped away just as I struck at him. I cut his arm a little, I think.
But I am not sure, for he ran away as hard as he could run. I was very
sorry that I had not killed him. I am very sorry still whenever I think
about it. Now that was not like an American woman. At least, I do not
know any American woman who would try to kill a man that way because
she really could not help trying to. Do you?"

"No," Maltham answered, drawing a quick breath that came close to being
a gasp. Ulrica's entire placidity, and her argumentative manner, had
made her story rather coldly thrilling--and it was quite thrilling
enough without those adjuncts, he thought.

She seemed pleased that his answer confirmed her own opinion. "Yes, I
think I am right about myself," she went on. "I am sure that it is my
Swedish blood that makes me like that. We do not often get angry, you
know, we Swedes: but when we do, our anger is rage. We do not think
nor reason. Suddenly we see red, as I did that day, and we want to
strike to kill. It is queer, is it not, that we should be made like
that?"

Maltham certainly was discovering the strange thoughts that he had
set himself to search for. They rather set his nerves on edge. As she
uttered her calm reflection upon the oddity of the Swedish temperament
he shivered a little.

"I am afraid that you are cold," she said anxiously. "Shall we go
about? Father will not like it if I make you uncomfortable."

"I am not at all cold," he answered. "And the sailing is delightful.
Don't let us go about yet."

"Well, if you are quite sure that you are not cold, we will not. I do
want to take you down to the inlet and show you what a glorious sea is
running on the lake to-day. It is only half a mile more."

They sailed on for a little while in silence. The swift send of the
boat through the water seemed so to fill Ulrica with delight that she
did not care to speak--nor did Maltham, who was busied with his own
confused thoughts. Suddenly some new and startling concepts of manhood
and of womanhood had been thrust into his mind. They puzzled him,
and he was not at all sure that he liked them. But he was absolutely
sure that this curious and very beautiful woman who had uttered them
interested him more profoundly than any woman whom ever he had known.
That fact also bothered him, and he tried to blink it. That he could
not blink it was one reason why his thoughts were confused. Presently,
being accustomed to slide along the lines of least resistance, he gave
up trying. "After all," was his conclusion, so far as he came to a
conclusion, "it is only for a day."


VI

[Illustration]

As they neared the inlet the water roughened a little and the wind grew
stronger. Ulrica eased off the sheet, and steadied it with a turn
around the pin. In a few minutes more they had opened the inlet fairly,
and beyond it could see the lake--stretching away indefinitely until
its cold grey surface was lost against the cold grey sky. A very heavy
sea was running. In every direction was the gleam of white-caps. On the
beaches to the left and right of them a high surf was booming in. They
ran on, close-hauled, until they were nearly through the inlet and were
come into a bubble of water that set the boat to dancing like a cork.
Now and then, as she fell off, a wave would take her with a thump and
cover them with a cloud of spray.

The helm was pulling hard, but Ulrica managed it as easily and as
knowingly as she had managed the setting of the sail--standing with
her feet well apart, firmly braced, her tall figure yielding to the
boat's motion with a superb grace. Suddenly a gust of wind carried
away her hat, and in another moment the great mass of her golden hair
was blowing out behind her in the strong eddy from the sail. Her face
was radiant. Every drop of her Norse blood was tingling in her veins.
Aslauga herself never was more gloriously beautiful--and never more
joyously drove her boat onward through a stormy sea.

But Maltham did not perceive her beauty, nor did he in the least share
her glowing enthusiasm. He had passed beyond mere nervousness and was
beginning to be frightened. It seemed to him that she let the boat fall
off purposely--as though to give the waves a chance to buffet it, and
then to show her command over them by bringing it up again sharply into
the wind; and he was certain that if they carried on for another five
minutes, and so got outside the inlet, they would be swamped.

"Don't you think that we had better go about?" he asked. It did not
please him to find that he had not complete control over his voice.

"But it is so glorious," she answered. "Shall we not keep on just a
little way?"

"No!" he said sharply. "We must go about at once. We are in great
danger as it is." He felt that he had turned pale. In spite of his
strong effort to steady it, his voice shook badly and also was a little
shrill.

"Oh, of course," she replied, with a queer glance at him that he did
not at all fancy; "if you feel that way about it we will." The radiance
died away from her face as she spoke, and with it went her intoxication
of delight. And then her expression grew anxious as she looked about
her, and in an anxious tone she added: "Indeed you are quite right, Mr.
Maltham. We really are in a bad place here. I ought never to have come
out so far. We must try to get back at once. But it will not be easy. I
am not sure that the _Nixie_ will stand it. I am sure, though, that she
will do her best--and I will try to wear her as soon as I see a chance."

She luffed a little, that she might get more sea-room to leeward, and
scanned the oncoming waves closely but without a sign of fear. "Now I
think I can do it," she said presently, and put up the helm.

It was a ticklish move, for they were at the very mouth of the inlet,
but the _Nixie_ paid off steadily until she came full into the trough
of the sea. There she wallowed for a bad ten seconds. A wave broke
over the coaming of the cockpit and set it all aflow. Maltham went
still whiter, and began to take off his coat. It was with the greatest
difficulty that he kept back a scream. Then the boat swung around to
her course--Ulrica's hold upon the tiller was a very steady one--and in
another minute they were sliding back safely before the wind. In five
minutes more they were in the smooth water of the bay.

Ulrica was the first to speak, and she spoke in most contrite tones.
"It was very, very wrong in me to do that, Mr. Maltham," she said. "And
it was wicked of me, too--for I have given my solemn promise to father
that I never will go out on the lake when it is rough at all. Please,
please forgive me for taking you into such danger in such a foolish
way. It was touch and go, you know, that we pulled through. Please say
that you forgive me. It will make me a little less wretched if you do."

The danger was all over, and Maltham had got back both his color and
his courage again. "Why, it was nothing!" he said. "Or, rather, it was
a good deal--for it gave me a chance to see what a magnificent sailor
you are. And--and it was splendidly exciting out there, wasn't it?"

"Wasn't it!" she echoed rapturously. "And oh," she went on, "I _am_ so
glad that you take it that way! It is a real load off my mind! Will you
please take the tiller for a minute while I put up my hair?"

As she arranged the shining masses of her golden hair--her full
round arms uplifted, the wind pressing her draperies close about
her--Maltham watched her with a burning intentness. The glowing
reaction following escape from mortal peril was upon him and the tide
of his barely saved life was running full. In Ulrica's stronger nature
the same tide may have been running still more impetuously. For an
instant their eyes met. She flushed and looked away.

He did not speak, and the silence seemed to grow irksome to her. She
broke it, but with a perceptible effort, as she took the tiller again.
"Do you know," she said, "I did think for a minute that you were
scared." She laughed a little, and then went on more easily: "And if
you really had been scared I should have known, of course, that you
were not a gentleman! Was it not absurd?"

Her words roused him, and at the same time chilled him. "Yes, it was
very absurd," he answered not quite easily. And then, with presence of
mind added: "But I _was_ scared, and badly scared--for you. I did not
see how I possibly could get you ashore if the boat filled."

"You could not have done it--we should have been drowned," Ulrica
replied with quiet conviction. "But because you are a gentleman it was
natural, I suppose, for you not to think about yourself and to worry
that way about me. You could not help it, of course--but I like it, all
the same."

Maltham reddened slightly. Instead of answering her he asked: "Would
you mind running up along the Point and landing me on the other side of
the canal? I want to hurry home and get into dry things--and that will
save me a lot of time, you know."

"Oh," she cried in a tone of deep concern, "are you not coming back
with me? I shall have a dreadful time with father, and I am counting on
you to help me through."

Maltham had foreseen that trouble with the Major was impending, and
wanted to keep out of it. He disliked scenes. "Of course, if you want
me to, I'll go back with you," he answered. And added, drawing himself
together and shivering a little, "I don't believe that I shall catch
much cold."

"What a selfish creature I am!" Ulrica exclaimed impetuously. "Of
course you must hurry home as fast as you can. What I shall get from
father will not be the half of what I deserve. And to think of my
thinking about your getting me off from a scolding at the cost of your
being ill! Please do not hate me for it--though you ought to, I am
sure!"

Having carried his point, Maltham could afford to be amiable again. He
looked straight into her eyes, and for an instant touched her hand, as
he said: "No, I shall not--hate you!" His voice was low. He drawled
slightly. The break gave to his phrase a telling emphasis.

It was not quite fair. He knew thoroughly the game that he was playing;
while Ulrica, save so far as her instinct might guide her, did not know
it at all. She did not answer him--and he was silent because silence
just then was the right move. And so they went on without words until
they were come to the landing-place beside the canal. Even then--for
he did not wish to weaken a strong impression--he made the parting a
short one: urging that she also must hurry home and get on dry clothes.
It did not strike her, either then or later, that he would have shown
a more practical solicitude in the premises had he not made her come
three miles out of her way.

Indeed, as she sailed those three miles back again, her mind was in
no condition to work clearly. In a confused way, that yet was very
delightful, she went over to herself the events of that wonderful
day--in which, as she vaguely realized, her girlhood had ended and her
womanhood had begun. But she dwelt most upon the look that he had given
her when he told her, with the break in his phrase, that he would not
hate her; and upon the touch of his hand at parting, and his final
speech, also with a break in it: "I shall see you to-morrow--if you
care to have me come."

At the club that evening Maltham wrote a very entertaining letter
to Miss Eleanor Strangford, in Chicago: telling her about the queer
old Major and his half-wild daughter, and how the daughter had taken
him out sailing and had brought him back drenched through. He was a
believer in frankness, and this letter--while not exhaustive--was
of a sort to put him right on the record in case an account of his
adventures should reach his correspondent by some other way. He would
have written it promptly in any circumstances. It was the more apposite
because he had promised to write every Sunday to Miss Strangford--to
whom he was engaged.


VII

[Illustration]

Maltham left his office early the next afternoon and went down the
Point again. He had no headache, the wind had shifted to the southward,
and all about him was a flood of spring sunshine. Yet even under these
cheerful conditions he found the Point rather drearily desolate. He
gave the graveyard a wide berth when he came to it, and looked away
from it. His desire was strong that he might forget where he had
seen Ulrica's name for the first time. He was not superstitious,
exactly; but his sub-consciousness that the direction in which he
was sliding--along the lines of least resistance--was at least
questionable, made him rather open to feelings about bad and good luck.

Being arrived at Eutaw Castle, he inferred from what the Major said
and from what Ulrica looked that the domestic storm of the previous day
had been a vigorous one--and was glad that he had kept out of it. But
it had blown over pretty well, and his good-natured chaff about their
adventure swept away the few remaining clouds.

"It is vehy handsome of yo', suh," said the Major, "to treat the matteh
as yo' do. My daughteh's conduct was most inexcusable--fo' when she
cahried yo' into that great dangeh she broke heh sacred wo'd to me."

"But it was quite as much my fault as hers," Maltham answered. "I
should not have let her go. You see, the sailing was so delightfully
exciting that we both lost our heads a little. Luckily, I got mine back
before it was too late."

"Yo' behaved nobly, suh, nobly! My daughteh has told me how youah only
thought was of heh dangeh, and how white yo' went when yo' realized
youah inability to save heh if the boat went down. Those weh the
feelings of a gentleman, suh, and of a vehy gallant gentleman--such as
yo' suahly ah. Youah conduct could not have been fineh, Mr. Maltham,
had yo' been bo'n and bred in South Cahrolina. Suh, I can say no mo'
than that!"

Ulrica took little part in the talk. Her eyes were dull and she moved
languidly, as though she were weary. Not until her father left the
room--going to fetch his maps and charts, that he might demonstrate the
Point's glorious future--did she speak freely.

"I could not sleep last night, Mr. Maltham," she said hurriedly. "I
lay awake the whole night--thinking about what I had done, and about
what you must think about me for doing it. If I had drowned you, after
breaking my word to father that way, it would have been almost murder.
It was very noble of you, just now, to say that it was as much your
fault as it was mine. But it was not. It was my fault all the way
through."

"But the danger was just as great for you as it was for me," Maltham
answered. "You would have been drowned too, you know."

"Oh, that would not have counted. It would not have counted at all. I
should have got only what I deserved."

Maltham came close to her and took her hand. "Don't you think that it
would have counted for a good deal to _me_?" he asked. Then he dropped
her hand quickly and moved away from her as the Major re-entered the
room.

Inasmuch as he would have been drowned along with her, this speech was
lacking in logic; but Ulrica, who was not on the lookout for logic
just then, was more than satisfied with it. Suddenly she was elate
again. For the dread that had kept her wakeful had vanished: his second
thoughts about the peril into which she had taken him had not set him
against her--he still was the same! She could not answer him with her
lips, but she answered him with her eyes.

Maltham's feelings were complex as he saw the effect that his words
had upon her. He had made several resolutions not to say anything of
that sort to her again. Even if she did like flirting (as he had put
it in his own mind) it was not quite the thing, under the existing
conditions, for him to flirt with her. He resolutely kept the word
flirting well forward in his thoughts. It agreeably qualified the
entire situation. As he very well knew, Miss Strangford was not above
flirting herself. But it was not easy to classify under that head
Ulrica's sudden change in manner and the look that she had given him.
In spite of himself, his first impression of her would come back and
get in the way of the new impression that he very much wished to form.
When he first had seen her--only the day before, but time does not
count in the ordinary way in the case of those who have been close to
the gates of death together--he had felt the fire that was in her, and
had known that it slumbered. After what he had just seen in her eyes he
could not conquer the conviction that the fire slumbered no longer and
that he had kindled its strong flame.

Nor did he wholly wish to conquer this conviction. It was thrillingly
delightful to think that he had gained so great a power over her, for
all her queenliness, in so short a time. Over Miss Strangford--the
contrast was a natural one--he had very little power. That young lady
was not queenly, but she had a notable aptitude for ruling--and came
by it honestly, from a father whose hard head and hard hand made him
conspicuous even among Chicago men of affairs. It was her strength that
had attracted him to her; and the discovery that with her strength was
sweetness that had made him love her. He was satisfied that she loved
him in return--but he could not fancy her giving him such a look as
Ulrica had just given him; still less could he fancy her whole being
irradiated by a touch and a word.

And so he came again to the same half-formed conclusion that he had
come to in the boat on the preceding day: he would let matters drift
along pleasantly a little farther before he set them as they should be
with a strong hand.

This chain of thought went through his mind while the Major was
exhibiting the maps and expounding the Point's future; and his
half-conclusion was a little hastened by the Major's abrupt stop, and
sudden facing about upon him with: "I feah, suh, that yo' do not quite
follow me. If I have not made myself cleah, suh, I will present the
matteh in anotheh way."

Maltham shot a quizzical glance at Ulrica--which made her think that
she knew where his thoughts had been wool-gathering, and so brought
more light to her eyes--and answered with a becoming gravity: "The fact
is I didn't quite catch the point that you were making, Major, and I'll
be very much obliged if you'll take the trouble to go over it again."

"It is no trouble--it is a pleasuah, suh," the Major replied with an
animated affability. And with that he was off again, and ran on for
an hour or more--until he had established the glorious future of
Minnesota Point in what he believed to be convincing terms. "When the
time to which I am looking fo'wa'd comes, Mr. Maltham, and it will come
vehy soon, suh," he said in enthusiastic conclusion, "it stands to
reason that the fortunes of this great metropolis of the No'thwest will
be fo'eveh and unchangeably established. Only I must wahn yo', suh,
that we must begin to get ready fo' it right away. We must take time by
the fo'lock and provide at once--I say at once, suh--fo' the needs of
that magnificent futuah that is almost heah now!"

He took a long breath as he finished his peroration, and then came down
smiling to the level of ordinary conversation and added: "I feah, Mr.
Maltham, that I pehmit my enthusiasm to get away with me a little. I
feah I may even boah yo', suh. I promise not to say anotheh wohd on
the subject this evening. And now, as it is only a little while befo'
suppeh, we cannot do betteh, suh, than to take a drink."

Maltham had not intended to stay to supper. He even had intended not
to. But he did--and on through the evening until the Major had to warn
him that he either must consent to sleep in Eutaw Castle or else
hurry along up the Point before the ferry-boat stopped running for the
night. The Major urged him warmly to stay. Finding that his invitation
certainly would not be accepted, he went off for a lantern--and was
rather put out when Maltham declined it and said that he could find his
way very well by the light of the stars.

Actually, Maltham did not find his way very well by the light of the
stars. Two or three times he ran against trees. Once--this was while he
was trying to give the graveyard a wide offing--he stumbled over a root
and fell heavily. When he got up again he found that he had wrenched
his leg, and that every step he took gave him intense pain. But he was
glad of his flounderings against trees, and of his fall and the keen
pain that followed it--for he was savage with himself.

And yet it was not his fault, he grumbled. Why had the Major gone off
that way to hunt up a lantern--and so left them alone? Toward the end
of his walk--his pain having quieted his excitement, and so lessened
his hatred of himself--he added much more lightly: "But what does a
single kiss amount to, after all?"


VIII

[Illustration]

It was on a day in the early autumn that Maltham at last decided
definitely--making effective his half-formed resolution of the
spring-time--to stop drifting and to set things as they should be with
a strong hand. But he had to admit, even as he formed this resolution,
that setting things quite as they should be no longer was within his
power.

The summer had gone quickly, most astonishingly quickly, he thought;
and for the most part pleasantly--though it had been broken by
certain interludes, not pleasant, during which he had been even more
savage with himself than he had been during that walk homeward from
Eutaw Castle in the dark. But, no matter how it had gone, the summer
definitely was ended--and so were his amusing sessions with the Major
over the future of Minnesota Point, and his sails with Ulrica on the
lake and about the bay. Ice already had begun to form in the sheltered
parts of the harbour, and the next shift of wind into the North would
close the port for the winter by freezing everything hard and fast. All
the big ships had steamed away eastward. On the previous day he had
despatched the last vessel of his own line. His work for the season
was over, and he was ready to return to Chicago. In fact, he had his
berth engaged on that night's train. Moreover, in another month he was
to be married: in her latest letter Miss Strangford had fixed the day.
Then they were going over to the Riviera, and probably to Egypt. In
the spring they were coming back again, but not to Duluth nor even to
Chicago. He was to take charge of the Eastern office of the line, and
their home would be in New York. These various moves were so definite
and so final as to justify him in saying to himself, as he did say to
himself, that the Duluth episode was closed.

He had hesitated about going down to Eutaw Castle to say good-bye, but
in the end had perceived that the visit was a necessity. The Major
and Ulrica knew that he was to leave Duluth when navigation was
closed for the winter--indeed, of late, Ulrica had referred to that
fact frequently--but he had not confided to them the remainder of his
rather radical programme. He meant to do that later by letter--from
the Riviera or from Egypt. In the mean time, until he was married and
across the Atlantic, it was essential to keep unbroken the friendly
relations which had made his summer--even with its bad interludes--so
keenly delightful to him; and to go away without paying a farewell
visit he knew would be to risk a rupture that very easily might lead
on to a catastrophe. Moreover, as he said to himself, there need not
be anything final about it. Even though the harbour did freeze, the
railways remained open--and it was only sixteen hours from Chicago to
Duluth by the fast train. To suggest that he might be running up again
soon would be a very simple matter: and would not be straining the
truth, for he knew that the pull upon him to run up in just that way
would be almost irresistibly strong.

In fact, the pull was of such strength that all of his not excessive
will power had to be exerted to make him go away at all--at least,
to go away alone. Very many times he had thought of the possibility
of reversing his programme completely: of making his wedding journey
with Ulrica, and of writing from some far-off place to Miss Strangford
that he had happened to marry somebody else and that she was free.
But each time that he had considered this alternative he had realized
that its cost would come too high: a break with his own people, the
loss of the good berth open to him in New York, the loss of his share
of Miss Strangford's share of the grain-elevators and other desirable
properties which would come to her when her father died. But for these
practical considerations, as he frequently and sorrowingly had assured
himself, he would not have hesitated for a moment--being satisfied
that, aside from them, such a reversal of his plans would be better in
every way. For he knew that while Miss Strangford had and Ulrica had
not his formal promise to marry her, it was Ulrica who had the firmer
hold upon his heart; and he also knew that while Ulrica would meet his
decision against her savagely--and, as he believed, feebly--with her
passion, Miss Strangford would meet the reverse of that decision calmly
and firmly with her strength. The dilemma so nearly touched the verge
of his endurance that he even had contemplated evading it altogether
by shooting himself. But he had not got beyond contemplation. For that
sort of thing he was lacking in nerve.

It was because facing what he knew was a final parting--even though
Ulrica would not know it--would be so bitter hard for him that he had
hesitated about making his visit of good-bye. But when he had decided
that it was a necessity--that the risk involved in not making it
outweighed the pain that it would cost him--he came about again: adding
to his argument, almost with a sob, that he could not go away like
that, anyhow--that he _must_ see her once more!

And so he went down the Point again, knowing that he went for the last
time--and on much the same sort of a day, as it happened, as that on
which his first visit had been made: a grey, chill day, with a strong
wind drawing down the lake that tufted it with white-caps and that sent
a heavy surf booming in upon the shore. He had no headache, but he had
a heartache that was still harder to bear.

He had intended to take the tram-car--that he might hurry down to the
Castle, and get through with what he had to do there, and so away
again quickly. But when he had crossed the canal he let the car go
off without him--for the good reason that the meeting and the parting
might not come so soon. And for this same reason he walked slowly,
irresolutely. Once or twice he halted and almost turned back. It all
was very unlike his brisk, assured advance on that far back day--ages
before, it seemed to him--when he went down the Point for the first
time.

As he went onward, slowly, he was thinking about that day: how it had
been without intention that he turned eastward instead of westward
when he started on his walk; how a whim of the moment had led him to
cross the canal; how the mere chance of the three church-bound women
hurrying into the ferry-boat had prevented his immediate return. He
fell to wondering, dully, what "chance" is, anyway--this force which
with a grim humour uses our most unconsidered actions for the making or
the unmaking of our lives; and the hopeless puzzle of it all kept his
mind unprofitably employed until he had passed the last of the little
houses, and had gone on through the stunted pines, and so was come to
the desolate graveyard.

He did not shun the graveyard, as he had shunned it all the summer
long. The need for that was past--now that, in reality, Ulrica's name
had come to be to him a name upon a grave. For a while he stood with
his arms resting on the broken fence, looking before him in a dull way
and feeling a dull surprise because he found the dismal place still
precisely as he remembered it. That in so very long a time it should
not have become more ruinous seemed to him unreasonable. Then he walked
on past the little church, still slowly and hesitatingly, and so came
at last to the Castle. Oddly enough, the Major was standing again at
the same lower window, and saw him, and came out to welcome him. For
a moment he had a queer feeling that perhaps it still was that first
day--that he might have been dozing in the pine woods, somewhere, and
that the past summer was all a dream.

The Major was beaming with friendliness. "Aha, Masteh Geo'ge, I'm glad
to see yo' and to congratulate yo'!" he said heartily. And he gave
Maltham a cordial dig in the ribs as he added: "Yo' ah a sly dog, a
vehy sly dog, my boy, to keep youah secret from us! But I happened to
be up in town yestehday, and by the mehest chance I met Captain Todd,
of youah boat, and he told me why yo' ah going back to Chicago in such
a huhy, suh! It is a great match, a magnificent match that yo' ah
making, Geo'ge, and I congratulate yo' with all my haht. I should be
glad of the oppo'tunity to congratulate Miss Strangfo'd also. Fo' I am
not flattehing yo', Geo'ge, when I tell yo' that she could not have
found a betteh husband had she gone to look fo' him in South Cahrolina.
Suh, I can say no mo' than that!"

The Major's speech was long enough, fortunately, for Maltham to get
over the shock of its beginning before he had to answer it. But even
with that breathing space his answer was so lame that the Major had to
invent an excuse for its lack of heartiness. "I don't doubt that afteh
youah chilly walk, Geo'ge, yo' ah half frozen," he said. "Come right in
and have a drink. It will do yo' good, suh. It will take the chill out
of youah bones!"

Maltham was glad to accept this invitation, and the size of the drink
that he took did the Major's heart good. "That's right, Geo'ge!" he
said with great approval. "A South-Cahrolinian couldn't show a betteh
appreciation of good liquoh than that!" He raised his glass and
continued: "I drink, suh, to Miss Strangfo'd's health, and to youahs.
May yo' both have the long lives of happiness that yo' both desehve!"

He put down his empty glass and added: "I will call Ulrica. She will
be glad to see yo' and to offeh yo' heh congratulations." He paused
for a moment, and then went on in a less cheerful tone: "But I must
wahn yo', Geo'ge, that she has a bad headache and is not quite hehself
to-day--and so may not manifest that wahm co'diality in regahd to youah
present and futuah happiness that she suahly feels. I confess, Geo'ge,"
the Major continued anxiously, "I am not quite comfo'table about heh.
She seems mo' out of so'ts than a meah headache ought to make heh. And
fo' the last month and mo', as yo' may have obsehved youahself, she
has not seemed to be hehself at all. I don't mind speaking this way
frankly to yo', Geo'ge, fo' yo' know how my haht is wrapped up in heh.
As I once told yo', it was only my love fo' that deah child that kept
me alive when heh motheh left me," the Major's voice was very unsteady,
"and it is God's own truth that if anything went wrong with heh; if--if
I weh to lose heh too, Geo'ge, I suahly should want to give right up
and die. I could not live without heh--I don't think that I could live
without heh fo' a single day!"

There were tears in the Major's eyes as he spoke, and his last word
was almost a sob. Maltham was very pale. He did not attempt an answer.

"Thank yo', Geo'ge," the Major went on presently. "I see by youah looks
that I have youah sympathy. I am most grateful to yo' fo' it, most
grateful indeed!" In a moment he added: "Hahk! She's coming now! I heah
heh step outside. Hahk how heavy and slow it is--and she always as
light on heh feet as a bird! To heah heh walk that way almost breaks my
haht!" And then he checked himself suddenly, and tried to look rather
unusually cheerful as Ulrica entered the room.


IX

[Illustration]

Being braced to meet some sort of a storm, Maltham was rather put about
by not encountering it. Ulrica certainly was looking the worse for her
headache--her eyes were duller than usual, and there were dark marks
under them, and she was very pale; but she did not seem to be at all
excited, and the greeting that she gave him was out of the ordinary
only in that she did not offer him her hand. He drew a quick breath,
and the tense muscles of his mind relaxed. If she were taking it in
that quiet way, he thought, he had worked himself into heroics for
nothing. And then, quite naturally, he felt a sharp pang of resentment
because she did take it so quietly. Her calmness ruffled his self-love.

As she remained silent, making no reference to Maltham's engagement,
the Major felt that the proprieties of the case were not being attended
to and prompted her. "I have been wishing Geo'ge joy and prospehrity,
my deah," he said. "Have yo' nothing to say to him youahself about his
coming happiness?"

"Yes," she answered slowly, "I have a great deal to say to him--so much
that I am going to carry him off in the _Nixie_ to say it." She turned
to Maltham and added: "You will come with me for a last sail, will you
not?"

Maltham hesitated, and then answered doubtfully: "Isn't it a little
cold for sailing to-day? Your father says that you are not feeling
well. I do think that it will be better not to go--unless you really
insist upon it, of course."

"Yo' mustn't think of such a thing!" the Major struck in peremptorily.
"The weatheh is like ice. Yo' will catch yo' death of cold!"

"It is no colder, father, than that day when I took George out in
the _Nixie_ for the first time--and it will do my head good," Ulrica
answered. And added, to Maltham: "I do insist. Come!"

Against the Major's active remonstrance, and against Maltham's passive
resistance, she carried her point. "Come!" she said again--and led
Maltham out by the side door into the ragged garden. There she left him
for a moment and returned to her father--who was standing in a very
melancholy way before the fire.

"Do not mind, father," she said. "It is the best thing for me--it is
the only thing for me."

He looked at her inquiringly, puzzled by her words and by her vehement
tone. Suddenly she put her arms around his neck and kissed him.
"Remember always, father, that I have loved you with my whole heart
for almost my whole life long. And remember always," she went on with
a curiously savage earnestness, "that I am loving you with my whole
heart--with every bit of it--to-day!"

"I am suah yo' ah, my daughteh," the Major answered, very huskily.

She kissed him again, holding him tight in her arms. Then she unclasped
her arms with a sudden quick energy and swiftly left the room.

She led Maltham silently to the boat, and silently--when she had cast
off the mooring--motioned to him to enter it. He found this silence
ominous, and tried to break it. But the commonplace words which he
wanted to speak would not come.

And then, as he sat in the stern and mechanically steadied the tiller
while she hoisted the sail, the queer feeling again came over him that
it still was that wonderful first day. This feeling grew stronger as
all that he remembered so well was repeated: Ulrica's rapid movement
aft to the tiller; his own shifting of his seat; her quick loosing of
the centreboard as the wind caught them; and then the heeling over of
the boat, and her steady motion, and the bubbling hiss of the water
beneath the bow. It all so lulled him, so numbed his sense of time and
fact, that suddenly he looked up in her face and smiled--just as he
had done on that first day.

[Illustration: "'I HAVE LOVED YOU WITH MY WHOLE HEART'"]

But the look in Ulrica's eyes killed his smile, and brought him back
with a sharp wrench to reality. Her eyes no longer were dull. They were
glowing--and they seemed to cut into him like knives.

"Well," she asked, "have you anything to say for yourself?"

"No," he answered, "except that fate has been too strong for me."

"Fate sometimes is held accountable for a great deal," she said dryly,
but with a catch in her voice.

They were silent again, and for a long while. The boat was running down
the bay rapidly--even more rapidly, the wind being much stronger, than
on that first day. They could hear, as they had not heard then, the
surf crashing upon the outer beach of the Point.

The silence became more than he could stand. "Can you forgive me?" he
asked at last.

Ulrica looked at him with a curious surprise. "No," she answered quite
calmly. "Think for a moment about what you have done and about what you
intend to do. Do you not see that it is impossible?"

"But I love you!" he cried eagerly. "I love you more than I can tell.
It is not my will that is separating us--it is fate!"

Her look softened for an instant as he began, but as he ended it
hardened again. She did not answer him. A strong gust of wind heeled
the boat farther over. They were going at a slashing rate. Before them
the inlet was opening. The booming of the surf was very loud.

He saw that his words had taken hold upon her, and repeated them: "I
do love you, Ulrica--and, oh, you don't know how very wretched I have
been! More than once in this past month I have been very near killing
myself."

She gave him a searching look, and seemed satisfied that he spoke the
truth. "I am glad that you have wanted to kill yourself," she said
slowly and earnestly. They were at the mouth of the inlet. As she
spoke, she luffed sharply and they entered it close-hauled.

"Yes," she repeated, speaking still more earnestly, "I am very glad of
that. It makes me feel much easier in my mind about what I am going to
do."

Her tone startled him. He looked up at her quickly and anxiously. "What
are you going to do?" he asked.

"Drown you," she answered simply.

For an instant he did not take in the meaning of her words. Then his
face became very white, though he tried to smile. His voice shook as
he said: "I do not think that this is a good time for joking." The
boat was biting her way into the wind sharply, plunging and bucketing
through the partly spent waves which came in from outside.

"You know that I am not joking," Ulrica answered very quietly. "I am
going to drown you, and to drown myself too. I have thought it all out,
and this seems the best thing to do. It is the best for father," her
voice trembled, "and it is the best," she went on again, firmly, "for
me. As for you, it does not matter whether it is the best for you or
not--it is what you deserve. For you are a liar and a traitor--a liar
and a traitor to me, and to that other woman too!" As she spoke these
last words her calmness left her, and there was the ring of passionate
anger in her tone. The fire that she had been smothering, at last was
in full blaze.

They were at the very mouth of the inlet. The white-capped surface
of the lake swelled and tossed before them. The boat was wallowing
heavily.

Maltham's paleness changed to a greenish-grey. He uttered a shrill
scream--a cry of weakly helpless terror. "Put about! For God's sake put
about!" he gasped. "We shall be drowned!"

For answer, she hauled the sheet a little and brought the boat still
closer into the wind--heading straight out into the lake. "I told
you once that the _Nixie_ could sail into the wind's eye," she said,
coolly. "Now she is doing it. Does she not go well?"

At that, being desperate, he rallied a little. Springing to his feet,
but standing unsteadily, he grasped the tiller and tried to shift the
helm. Ulrica, standing firmly, laid her hand flat against his breast
and thrust him away savagely--with such force that he reeled backward
and fell, striking against the combing and barely missing going over
the side.

"You fool!" she exclaimed. "Do you not see that it is too late?" She
did not trouble herself to look at him. Her gaze was fixed in a keen
ecstasy on the great oncoming waves.

What she said was true--it was too late. They were fairly out on the
open lake, and all possibility of return was gone. To try to go about
would be to throw the _Nixie_ into the trough of the sea--and so send
her rolling over like a log. At the best, the little boat could live in
that surge and welter for only a very few minutes more.

Maltham did not attempt to rise. His fall had hurt him, and what little
was left of his spirit was cowed. He lay in a miserable heap, uttering
little whimpering moans. The complaining noise that he made annoyed
her. For the last time she looked at him, burning him for an instant
with her glowing eyes. "Silence, you coward!" she cried, fiercely--and
at her strong command he was still. Then her look was fixed on the
great oncoming waves again, and she cast him out from her mind.

Even in her rage--partly because of it--Ulrica felt in every drop of
her Norse blood the glow and the thrill of this glorious battle with
great waters. The sheer delight of it was worth dying for--and so
richly worth living through to the very last tingling instant that she
steered with a strong and a steady hand. And again--as she stood firmly
on the tossing boat, her draperies blown close about her, her loosened
hair streaming out in golden splendour--she was Aslauga's very self.
Sorrow and life together were ending well for her--in high emotion
that filled and satisfied her soul. Magnificent, commanding, defiant,
she sailed on in joyful triumph: glad and eager to give herself
strongly to the strong death-clasp of the waves.

[Illustration]



The Death-Fires of Les Martigues


I

"God keep you from the she-wolf, and from your heart's deep desire!"

That is one of our old sayings here in Provence. I used to laugh at it
when I was young. I do not laugh at it now. When those words come into
my heart, and they come often, I go by the rough hard way that leads
upward to Notre Dame de la Garde until I come to the Crime Cross--it is
a wearying toil for me to get up that steep hill-side, I am so stiff
and old now--and there I cast fresh stones upon the heap at the foot of
the cross. Each stone cast there, you know, is a prayer for forgiveness
for some hidden crime: not a light fault, but a crime. The stones must
be little stones, yet the heap is very wide and high--though every
winter, when the great mistrals are blowing across the Étang de Berre,
the little stones are whirled away down the hill-side. I do not know
how this custom began, nor when; but it is a very old custom with us
here in Les Martigues.

Once in every year I go up to the Crime Cross by night. This is on
All Souls Eve. First I light the lamp over Magali's breast where she
lies sleeping in the graveyard: going to the graveyard at dusk, as the
others do, in the long procession that creeps up thither from the three
parts of our town--from Jonquières, and the Isle, and Ferrières--to
light the death-fires over the dear dead ones' graves. I go with the
very first, as soon as the sun is down. I like to be alone with Magali
while I light the little lamp that will be a guide for her soul through
that night when souls are free; that will keep it safe from the devils
who are free that night too. I do not like the low buzzing of voices
which comes later, when the crowd is there, nor the broken cries and
sobs. And when her lamp is lit, and I have lit my mother's lamp, I
hurry away from the graveyard and the moaning people--threading my
steps among the graves on which the lights are beginning to glimmer,
and through the oncoming crowd, and then by the lonely path through the
olive-orchards, and so up the stony height until I come at last to the
Crime Cross--panting, aching--and my watch begins.

[Illustration: MARIUS]

Up on that high hill-side, open to the west, a little of the dying
daylight lingers. Eastward, like a big black mirror, lies the great
étang; and far away across its still waters the mountain chain
above Berre and Rognac rises purple-grey against the darker sky.
In the west still are faint crimson blotches, or dashes of dull
blood-red--reflected again, and made brighter, in the Étang de Caronte:
that stretches away between the long downward slopes of the hills,
on which stone-pines stand out in black patches, until its gleaming
waters merge into the faint glow upon the waters of the Mediterranean.
Above me is the sanctuary of Notre Dame de la Garde, a dark mass on
the height above the olive-trees: of old a refuge for sinful bodies,
and still a refuge where sinful souls may seek grace in prayer from
their agony. And below me, on the slope far downward, is the graveyard:
where the death-fires multiply each moment, as more and more lamps
are lighted, until at last it is like a little fallen heaven of tiny
stars. Only in its midst is an island of darkness where no lamps are.
That is where the children lie together: the blessed innocents who have
died sinless, and who wander not on All Souls Eve because when sweet
death came to them their pure spirits went straight home to God. And
beyond the graveyard, below it, is the black outspread of the town: its
blackness deepened by a bright window here and there, and by the few
street lamps, and by the bright reflections which shine up from the
waters of its canals.

Seeing all this--yet only half seeing it, for my heart is full of other
things--I sit there at the foot of the Crime Cross in the darkness,
prayerful, sorrowful, while the night wears on. Sometimes I hear
footsteps coming up the rocky path, and then the shadowy figure of
a man or of a woman breaks out from the gloom and suddenly is close
beside me--and I hear the rattle of little stones cast upon the heap
behind me, on the other side of the cross. Presently, the rite ended,
whoever it is fades back into the gloom again and passes away. And I
know that another sinful soul has been close beside my sinful soul for
a moment: seeking in penitent supplication, as I am seeking, rest
in forgiveness for an undiscovered crime. But I am sure that none of
them sees--as I see in the gloom there always--a man's white face on
which the moonlight is shining, and beyond that white face the glint
of moonlight on a raging sea; and I am sure that on none of their
blackened souls rests a burden as heavy as that which rests on mine.

I am very weary of my burden, and old and broken too. It is my comfort
to know that I shall die soon. But, also, the thought of that comfort
troubles me. For I am a lone man, and childless. When I go, none
of Magali's race, none of my race, will be left alive here in Les
Martigues. Our death-fires will not be lighted. We shall wander in
darkness on All Souls Eve.


II

"God keep you from the she-wolf, and from your heart's deep desire!"

My old mother, God rest her, said that to me when first she began to
see that my love was set on Magali--and saw, too, that I was winning
from Magali the love that belonged to Jan, who had her promise.

"It is an old man's lifetime, mother," I said, "since a wolf has been
seen near Les Martigues." And I laughed and kissed her.

"Worse than a wolf is a heart that covets what it may not have,
Marius," she answered. "Magali is as good as Jan's wife, and you know
it. For a year she has been promised to him. She is my dead sister's
child, and she is in my care--and in your care too, because you and
she and I are all that is left of us, and you are the head of our
house, the man. You are doing wickedness in trying to take her away
from Jan--and Jan your own close friend, who saved your life out of the
sea. The match is a good match for Magali, and she was contented with
it until you--living here close beside her in your own house--began
to steal away her heart from him. It is rascal work, Marius, that you
are doing. You are playing false as a house-father and false as a
friend--and God help me that I must speak such words to my own son!
That is why I say, and I say it solemnly, 'God keep you from the
she-wolf, and from your heart's deep desire!' That desire has no right
to be in your heart, Marius. Drag it out of your heart and cast it
away!"

But I only laughed and kissed her again, and told her that I would
take good care of myself if a she-wolf tried to eat me--and so I went
away, still laughing, to my fishing in the Gulf of Fos.

But I did not laugh when I was alone in my boat, slipping down the
Étang de Caronte seaward. What she had said had made me see things
clearly which until then had been half hid in a haze. We had slipped
into our love for each other, Magali and I, softly and easily--just as
my boat was slipping down the étang. Every day of our lives we were
together, in the close way that housemates are together in a little
house of four rooms. Before I got up in the morning I could hear her
moving near me, only a thin wall between us; and her movements, again,
were the last sounds that I heard at night. She waited on me at my
meals. She helped my mother to mend my clothes--the very patches on my
coat would bring to my mind the sight of her as she sat sewing at night
beside the lamp. We were as close together as a brother and a sister
could be; and in my dulness I had fancied for a long while that what I
had felt for her was only what a brother would feel.

What first opened my eyes a little was the way that I felt about it
when she gave her promise to Jan. For all our lives Jan and I had been
close friends: and most close since that day when the squall struck our
boats, as we lay near together, and I went overboard, and Jan--letting
his own boat take its chances--came overboard after me because he knew
that I could not swim. It was by a hair's-breadth only that we were not
drowned together. After we were safe I told him that my life was his.
And I meant it, then. Until Magali came between us I would have died
for him with a right good will. After that I was ready enough that he
should do the dying--and so be gone out of my way.

When he got Magali's promise, I say, my ugly feeling against him began.
But it was not very strong at first, and I was not clear about it in my
own mind. All that I felt was that, somehow, he had got between me and
the sun. For one thing, I did not want to be clear about it. Down in
the roots of me I knew that I had no right to that sunshine, and that
Jan had--and I could not help thinking about how he had come overboard
after me and had held me up there in the tumbling sea, and how I had
told him that my life was his. But with this went a little thin
thought, stirring now and then in the bottom of my mind though I would
not own to it, that in giving him my life--which still was his if he
wanted it--I had not given him the right to spoil my life for me while
leaving me still alive. And I did my best not to think one way or the
other, and was glad that it all was a blur and a haze.

And all the while I was living close beside Magali in that little
house, with the sound of her steps always near me and the sound of her
voice always in my ears. She had a very sweet voice, with a freshness
and a brightness in it that seemed to me like the brightness of her
eyes--and Magali's great black eyes were the brightest eyes that ever I
saw. Even in Arles, where all the women are beautiful, there would be
a buzz among the people lining Les Lices when Magali walked there of
a feast-day, wearing the beautiful dress that our women wear here in
Provence. To look at her made you think of an Easter morning sun.


III

"God keep you from the she-wolf, and from your heart's deep desire!"

My mother's words kept on ringing in my ears after I had left her.
Suddenly the haze was gone and I saw clearly--and I knew that my
heart's deep desire was to have Magali for my very own. And with that
sudden coming of clear sight I knew, too, that I could have her. Out
of the past came a crowd of memories which proved it to me. In my dull
way, I say, I had fancied that I loved Magali as a sister, and I had
tried to keep that fancy always by me in my haze. But with the haze
gone--swept away by my mother's words as the mistral sweeps away our
Mediterranean fogs--I knew that Magali never had been the fool that I
had been.

I remembered her looks and her ways with me from the very day when she
came to us, when she was just turned of sixteen: how she used sometimes
to lay her hand lightly on my shoulder, how she would bend over to look
at the net that I was mending until her hair brushed against my cheek
or my forehead, how she always was bringing things to show me that I
could not see rightly unless she stood very close at my side, and most
of all how a dozen times a day she would be flashing at me her great
black eyes. And I remembered how moody and how strange in her ways she
was just before Jan got his promise from her; and how, when she told
me that her promise was given, she gave me a look like none that ever
I had from her, and said slowly: "The fisherman who will not catch any
fish at all because he cannot catch the fish he wants most--is a fool,
Marius!"

Yet even then I did not understand; though, as I say, my eyes were
opened a little and I had the feeling that Jan had got between me
and the sun. That feeling grew stronger because of the way that she
treated him and treated me. Jan was for hurrying the marriage, but she
kept him dangling and always was putting him off. As for me, I got all
sides of her moods and tempers. Sometimes she scarcely would speak to
me. Sometimes she would give me looks from those big black eyes of
hers that thrilled me through! Sometimes she would hang about me in a
patient sad way that made me think of a dog begging for food. And the
colour so went out of her face that her big black eyes looked bigger
and blacker still.

Then it was that I began to find in the haze that was about me a
refuge--because I did not want to see clear. I let my thoughts go out
to Magali, and stopped them before they got to Jan. It would be time
enough, I reasoned--though I did not really reason it: I only felt
it--to think about him when I had to. For the passing hours it was
enough to have the sweetness of being near Magali--and that grew to
be a greater sweetness with every fresh new day. Presently I noticed
that her colour had come back again; and it seemed to me--though that
may have been only because of my new love of her--that she had a new
beauty, tender and strange. Certainly there was a new brightness, a
curiously glowing brightness, in her eyes.

For Jan, things went hardly in those days. Having her promise, he had
rights in her--as we say in Provence. But he did not get many of his
rights. Half the time when he claimed her for walks on the hill-sides
among the olive-orchards, she would not go with him--because she had
her work to do at home, she said. And there was I, where her work was,
at home! For a while Jan did not see beyond the end of his nose about
it. I do not think that ever it crossed his mind to think of me in the
matter--not, that is, until some one with better eyes than his eyes
helped him to see. For he knew that I was his friend, and I suppose
that he remembered what I had told him about my life being his. And
even when his eyes were helped, he would not at first fully believe
what he must plainly have seen. But he soon believed enough to make him
change his manner toward me, and to make him watch sharp for something
that would give him the right to speak words to me which would bring
matters to a fair settlement by blows. And I was ready, as I have
said--though I would not fairly own it to myself--to come to blows with
him. For I wanted him dead, and out of my way.

And so my mother's words, which had made me at last see clearly, stayed
by me as I went sailing in my boat softly seaward down the étang. And
they struck deeper into me because Jan's boat was just ahead of mine;
and the sight of him, and the thought of how he had saved my life only
to cross it, made me long to run him down and drown him, and so be quit
of him for good and all. I made up my mind then that, whether I killed
him or left him living, it would be I who should have Magali and not he.


IV

"God keep you from the she-wolf, and from your heart's deep desire!"

My mother said that again to me when I came home that night from my
fishing; and she said it to me often as the days went on. She saw the
change that had come to me, and she knew what was in my soul. It is
not wonderful, when you stop to think about it, that a man's mother
should know what is in his soul: for the body in which that soul is,
the living home of it, is a part of her own. And she grew sad and
weary-looking when she found that her words had no hold on me, and
there came into her eyes the sorrowful look that comes into the eyes of
old people who are soon to die.

But Magali's eyes were the only eyes that I cared for then, and they
seemed to me to grow brighter and brighter every day. When she and I
walked in the olive-orchards together in the starlight the glow of them
outshone the star-glow. It seemed to light up my heart.

I do not think that we talked much in those walks. I do not seem to
remember our talking. But we understood each other, and we were agreed
about what we were to do. I was old enough to marry as I pleased, but
Magali was not--she could not marry without my mother's word. We meant
to force that word. Some day we would go off in my boat together--over
to Les Saintes Maries, perhaps; or perhaps to Marseille. It did not
matter where we went. When we came back again, at the end of two or
three days, my mother no longer could deny us--she would have to give
in. And no one would think the worse of Magali: for that is our common
way of settling a tangled love-matter here in Provence.

But I did not take account of Jan in my plans, and that was where I
made a mistake. Jan had just as strong a will as I had, and every
bit of his will was set upon keeping Magali for himself. I wanted
her to break with him entirely, but that she would not do. She was a
true Provençale--and I never yet knew one of our women who would rest
satisfied with one lover when she could have two. If she can get more
than two, that is better still. While I hung back from her, Magali was
more than ready to come to me; but when she found me eager after her,
and knew that she had a grip on me, she danced away.

And so, before long, Jan again had his walks with her in the
olive-orchards by starlight just as I did, and likely enough her eyes
glowed for him just as they did for me. When they were off that way
together I would get into a wild-beast rage over it. Sometimes I would
follow them, fingering my knife. I suppose that he felt like that when
the turn was mine. Anyhow, the love-making chances which she gave
him--even though in my heart I still was sure of her--kept me always
watching him; and I could see that he always was watching me. Very
likely he felt sure of her too, and that was his reason--just as it was
my reason--for not bringing our matter to a fighting end. I was ready
enough to kill him, God knows. Unless his eyes lied when he looked at
me, he was ready to kill me.

And in that way the summer slipped past and the autumn came, and
neither of us gained anything. I was getting into a black rage over
it all. Down inside of me was a feeling like fire in my stomach that
made me not want to eat, and that made what I did eat go wrong. My poor
mother had given up trying to talk to me. She saw that she could not
change my way--and, too, I suppose that she pretty well understood it
all: for she had lived her life, and she knew the ways of our men and
of our women when love stings them here in Provence. Only, her sadness
grew upon her with her hopelessness. What I remember most clearly as
I think of her in those last days is her pale old face and the dying
look in her sorrowful eyes.

But seeing her in that way grief-struck only made my black rage
blacker and the fire in my stomach burn hotter. I had the feeling that
there was a devil down there who all the time was getting bigger and
stronger: and that before long he and I would take matters in hand
together and settle them for good and all. As for keeping on with
things as they were, it was not to be thought of. Better than much more
of such a hell-life would be ending everything by killing Jan.

What made me hang back from that was the certainty that if I did kill
him--even in a fair fight, with his chance as good as mine--I would
lose Magali beyond all hope: for the gendarmes would have me away in a
whiff to jail--and then off would go my head, or, what would be just
as bad, off I would go head and all to Cayenne. It was no comfort to
me to know that Magali would almost cry her eyes out over losing me.
Of course she would do that, being a Provençale. But before her eyes
were quite out she would stop crying; and then in a moment she would
be laughing again; and in another moment she would be freshly in love
once more--with some man who was not murdered and who was not gone for
his lifetime over seas. And all that, also, would be because she was a
Provençale.


V

All the devils are let loose on earth on All Souls Eve--that is a fact
known to everybody here in Provence. But whether it was one of those
loosed devils, or the devil that had grown big in my own inside, that
made me do what I did I do not know. What I do know, certainly, is that
about dusk on All Saints Day the thought of how I could force things to
be as I wanted them to be came into my heart.

My thought was not a new thought, exactly. It was only that I would do
what we had planned to do to make my mother give in to us: get Magali
into my boat and carry her off with me for a day or two to Les Saintes.
But it came to me with the new meaning that in that way I could make
Magali give in to me too. When we came back she would be ready enough
to marry me, and my mother would be for hurrying our marrying along.
It all was as plain and as sure as anything could be. And, as I have
said, nobody would think the worse of Magali afterward; because that
way of cutting through such difficulties is a common way with us in
Provence.

And All Souls Eve was the time of all times for doing it. The whole
town is in commotion then. In the churches, when the Vespers of All
Saints are finished, the Vespers of the Dead are said. Then, just
after sunset, the streets are crowded with our people hurrying to
the graveyard with their lanterns for the graves. Nothing is thought
about but the death-fires. From all the church towers--in Jonquières,
in the Isle, in Ferrières--comes the sad dull tolling of bells. After
that, for an hour or more, the town is almost deserted. Only the very
old, and the very young, and the sick with their watchers, and the
bell-ringers in the towers, are left there. Everybody else is in the
graveyard, high up on the hill-side: first busied in setting the lights
and in weeping over dead loved ones; and then, when the duty to the
dead ones is done with, in walking about through the graveyard to see
the show. In Provence we take a great interest in every sort of show.

Magali and I had no death-fires to kindle, for in the graveyard were
no dead of ours. Our people were of Les Saintes Maries, and there
their graves were--and my father, who was drowned at his fishing, had
no grave at all. But we went always to the graveyard on All Souls
Eve, and most times together, that we might see the show with the
others and enjoy the bustle of the crowd. And so there was nothing out
of the common when I asked her to come with me; and off we started
together--leaving my old mother weeping at home for my dead father, who
could have no death-fire lit for him because his bones were lying lost
to us far away in the depths of the sea.

Our house was in the eastern quarter of the town, in Jonquières. To
reach the graveyard we had to cross the Isle, and go through Ferrières,
and then up the hill-side beyond. But I did not mean that we should do
that; and when we had crossed the Canal du Roi I said to Magali that we
would turn, before we went onward, and walk down past the Fish-market
to the end of the Isle--that from there we might see the lights glowing
in the dusk on the slope rising above us black against the western sky.
We had done that before--it is a pretty sight to see all those far-off
glittering points of light above, and then to see their glittering
reflections near by in the water below--and she willingly came with me.

But I had more in view. Down at the end of the Isle, along with the
other boats moored at the wharf there to be near the Fish-market, my
boat was lying; and when we were come close to her I said suddenly, as
though the thought had entered my head that minute, that we would go
aboard of her and run out a little way--and so see the death-fires more
clearly because they would be less hidden by the shoulder of the hill.
I did not have to speak twice. Magali was aboard of the boat on the
instant, and was clapping her hands at the notion--for she had, as all
our women have, a great pleasure in following any sudden fancy which
promises something amusing and also a little strange. And I was quick
after her, and had the lines cast off and began to get up the sail.

"Oh," she said, "won't the oars do? Need we bother with the sail for
such a little way?"

But I did not answer her, and went on with what I was doing, while
the boat drifted quickly out from land before the gusts of wind which
struck us harder and harder as we cleared the point of the Isle. Until
then I had not thought about the weather--my mind had been full of the
other and bigger thought. The gusts of wind waked me up a little, and
as I looked at the sky I began to have doubts that I could do what I
wanted to do; for it was plain that a gale was rising which would make
ticklish work for me even out on the Gulf of Fos--and would make pretty
near impossible my keeping on to Les Saintes over the open sea. And I
had about made up my mind that we must go back, and that I must carry
out my plan some other time, when there came a hail to us from the
shore.

"Where are you going?" called a voice--and as we turned our looks
shoreward there was Jan. He had been following us, I suppose--just as I
sometimes had followed him.

Before I could answer him, Magali spoke. "We are going out on the water
to see the death-fires, Jan," she said. "We are going only a very
little way."

Her words angered me. There was something in them that seemed to show
that he had the right to question her. That settled me in my purpose.
Storm or no storm, on I would go. And I brought the boat up to the
wind, so as to lay our course straight down the Étang de Caronte, and
called out to him: "We are going where you cannot follow. Good-bye!"

And then a gust of wind heeled us over, and we went on suddenly with
a dash--as a horse goes when you spur him--and the water boiled and
hissed under our bows. In another half-minute we were clear of the
shelter of the point, and then the wind came down on us off the hills
in a rush so strong that I had to ease off the sheet sharply--and I had
a queer feeling about what was ahead of me out on the Gulf of Fos.

"Marius! Marius! What are you doing?" Magali cried in a shiver of
fright: for she knew by that time that something was back of it all in
my mind. As she spoke I could see through the dusk that Jan was running
up the sail of his boat, and in a minute more would be after us.

"I am doing what I ought to have done long ago," I said. "I am taking
you for my own. There is nothing to fear, dear Magali. You shall not
be in danger. I had meant to take you to Les Saintes. But a gale is
rising and we cannot get to Les Saintes to-night. We will run across
the Gulf of Fos and anchor in the Grau de Gloria. There is a shepherd's
hut near the Grau. I will make a fire in it and you can sleep there
comfortably, while I watch outside. After all, it makes no difference
where we go. I shall have carried you off--when we go back you must be
my wife."

She did not understand at first. She was too much frightened with the
suddenness of it all, and with the coming of Jan, and with the boat
flying on through the rushing of the wind. I looked back and saw that
Jan had got away after us. Dimly I could make out his sail through the
dusk that lay thick upon the water. Beyond it and above it was a broad
patch of brightness where all the death-fires were burning together in
the graveyard. We had come too far to see any longer those many points
of light singly. In a mass, they made against the black hill-side a
great bright glow.


VI

"God keep you from the she-wolf, and from your heart's deep desire!"

My mother's words seemed to sound in my ears loudly, coming with the
rush of wind that eddied around me out of the sail's belly. They gave
me a queer start, as the thought came with them that here at last my
heart's deep desire would be mine presently--if only I could snatch it
and keep it from the she-wolf of the sea.

Magali was silent--half standing, half sitting, against the weather
side of the boat, close in front of me as I stood at the tiller with
the sheet in my hand. She had got over her fright. I could tell that by
the brightness of her eyes, and by the warm colour in her cheeks that
I had a glimpse of as we flashed past the break in the hills where the
Mas Labillon stands. And in that moment while the dusk was thinned a
little I could see, too, that she was breathing hard. I know what our
women are, and I know what she was feeling. Our women like to be fought
for, and any one of them gladly would have been in Magali's place--with
the two strongest and handsomest men in Les Martigues in a fair way to
come to a death-grip for her in the whirl of a rising storm.

Back in the dusk, against the faint glow of the death-fires, I could
see the sail of Jan's boat dipping and swaying with the thrusts of the
wind-gusts as it came on after me. It had gained a little; and I knew
that it would gain more, for Jan's boat was a speedier boat than mine
on the wind. Close-hauled, I could walk away from him; but in running
down the Étang de Caronte I had no choice in my sailing. Out on the
Gulf of Fos, if I dared take that chance, and if he dared follow me,
I could bear up to windward and so shake him off--making for the Anse
d'Auguette and taking shelter there. But even my hot blood chilled a
little at the thought of going out that night on the Gulf of Fos. When
we were down near the end of the étang--close to the Salines, where it
is widest--the wind that pelted down on us from the hills was terribly
strong. It was hard to stand against even there, where the water was
smooth. Outside, it would be still stronger, and the water would be all
in a boil. And at the end, to get into the Anse d'Auguette, we should
have to take the risk of a roaring sea abeam.

But any risk was better than the risk of what might happen if Jan
overhauled me. Now that I fairly had Magali away from him, I did not
want to fight him. What might come in a fight in rough water--where the
winds and the waves would have to be reckoned with, and with the most
careful reckoning might play tricks on me--was too uncertain; while
if I could stand him off and get away from him, so that even for one
night I could keep Magali with me, the game would be won. After that,
if he wanted it, I would fight him as much as he pleased.

The thought that I would win--in spite of Jan and in spite of the
storm, too--made all my blood tingle. More by habit than anything else
I sailed the boat: for my eyes were fixed on Magali's eyes, shining
there close to me, and my heart was full of her. We did not speak, but
once she turned and looked at me--bending forward a little, so that her
face was within a foot of mine. What she saw in my eyes was so easy to
read that she gave all at once a half-laugh and a half-sob--and then
turned away and peered through the blustering darkness toward Jan's
sail. Somehow, the way she did that made me feel that she was holding
the balance between us; that she was waiting--as the she among wild
beasts waits while the males are fighting for her--for the stronger of
us to win. After that I was ready to face the Gulf of Fos.

The time for facing the gulf was close on me, too. We had run through
the canal of the Salines and were out in the open water of Bouc--the
great harbour at the mouth of the étang. The gale roared down on us,
now that there was little land to break it, and we began to hear the
boom of the waves pounding on the rocks outside. I luffed well into the
wind and bore up for the narrows opening seaward where the Fort de Bouc
light-house stands. The water still was not rough enough to trouble us.
It would not be rough until we were at the very mouth of the narrows.
Then, all at once, would come the crush and fury of the wind and sea.
I knew what it would be like: and again a chill shot through me at
the thought of risking everything on that one great chance. But I
had one thing to comfort me: the moon had risen--and while the light
came brokenly, as the clouds thinned and thickened again, there was
brightness enough even at the darkest for me to lay a course when I
got out among the tumbling waves. Yet only a man half mad with passion
would have thought of fronting such a danger; and even I might have
held back at the last moment had I not been stung to go on.

Jan had so gained on me in the run down the étang that as we came out
from the canal of the Salines his boat was within less than a dozen
rods of mine; and as I hauled my sheet and bore up for the narrows he
shot down upon us and for a moment was almost under our stern. And at
that Magali gave a little jump and a half-gasp, and laid her hand upon
mine, crying: "Marius! Quick! Sail faster! He will take me from you!
Get me away! Get me away!"

And then I knew that she no longer balanced us, but that her heart was
for me. After that I would have faced not only the Gulf of Fos but the
open Mediterranean in the worst storm that ever blew.


VII

"God keep you from the she-wolf, and from your heart's deep desire!"

The words were in my ears again as we went flying on toward the
narrows--with the reflection of the flame in the light-house making
a broad bright path for us, and the flame itself rising high before
us against the cloud-rack like a ball of fire. But God was not with
me then, and I gave those warning words no heed. I was drunk with the
gladness that came to me when Magali made her choice between us; and
all that I thought was that even if we did go down together, out there
in the Gulf of Fos, I still would be keeping her from Jan and holding
her for my own. That there might be any other ending for us never
crossed my mind.

Jan did not think, I suppose, that I would dare to go outside the
harbour. He was in a rage too, no doubt; but, still, he must have been
a good deal cooler than I was--for a rage of hate does not boil in the
very bones of a man, as a rage of love does--and so cool enough to know
that it was sheer craziness to take a boat out into that sea. What I
meant to do must have come to him with suddenness--as we drew so close
to the light-house that the flame no longer was reflected ahead of us,
and the narrows were open over my starboard bow, and I let the boat
fall off from the wind and headed her into the broken water made by
the inroll of half-spent waves. In my run close-hauled I had dropped
him, but not so much as I thought I should, and as I came on the wind
again--and hung for a moment before gathering fresh headway--he ranged
up once more within hail.

"Where are you going? Are you crazy?" he called out--and though he must
have shouted with all the strength of his big lungs his voice came thin
through the wind to us, and broken by the pounding of the sea.

"Where you won't dare to follow!" I called back to him--and we went
rushing on below the big old fort, that carries the light on its tower,
through the short passage between the harbour and the Gulf of Fos.

Something he answered, but what it was I do not know: for as we cleared
the shelter of the fort--but while the tail of rock beyond it still was
to windward, so that I could not luff--down with a crash on us came
the gale. I could only let fly the sheet--but even with the sheet all
out over we went until the sail was deep in the water, and over the
leeward gunwale the waves came hissing in. I thought that there was the
end of it; but the boat had such way on her that even on her beam ends
and with the sail dragging she went on until we had cleared the rocks;
and then I luffed her and she rose slowly, and for the moment was safe
again with her nose in the wind.

Magali's face was dead white--like a dead woman's face, only for her
shining eyes. She fell to leeward as the boat went over--I could not
spare a hand to save her--and struck hard against the gunwale. When the
boat righted and she got up again her forehead was bleeding. On her
white face the blood was like a black stain. But she put her hand on
mine and said: "I am not frightened, Marius. I love you!"

Jan was close aboard again. As our way had deadened he had overhauled
us; and because he saw what had happened to my boat he was able to
bring his boat through the narrows without going over.

"Marius! Marius! For God's sake, for Magali's sake, put about!" he
shouted. "It is the only chance to save her. Put about, I say!"

He was only a little way to leeward of us, but I barely made out his
words. The wind was roaring past us, and the waves were banging like
cannon on the rocks close by.

What he said was the truth, and I knew it. I knew that the gale was
only just beginning, and that no boat could live through it for
another hour. And then one of the devils loose on that All Souls Eve,
or perhaps it was my own devil inside of me, put a new evil thought
into my heart: making clear to me how I might get rid of Jan for good
and all, and without its ending in my losing my head or in my losing
Magali by being sent overseas. It was a chance, to be sure, and full of
danger. But just then I was ready for any danger or for any chance.

[Illustration: "THE OTHERS WERE UPCAST ON THE ROCKS"]

"Lie down in the bottom of the boat, Magali," I called sharply. "That
is the safest place for you. We are going about."

I spoke the truth to Magali; but, also, I did not want her to see what
happened. She did what I told her to do, and then I began to wear the
boat around. How I did it without swamping, I do not know. Perhaps the
devils of All Souls Eve held up my mast through the black moments while
we lay wallowing in the trough of the sea. But I did do it; and when I
was come about I headed straight for Jan's boat--lying dead to leeward
of me, not twenty yards away. The clouds thinned suddenly and almost
the full light of the moon was with us. We could see each other's faces
plainly--and in mine he saw what I meant to do.

"It will be all of us together, Marius!" he called to me. "Do you want
to murder Magali too?"

But I did not believe that it would be all of us together: for I knew
that his boat was an old one, and that mine was new and strong. And,
also, the devils had me in their hold. The gale was behind me, driving
me down upon him like a thunder-bolt. As I shot close to him the moon
shone out full for a moment through a rift in the clouds. In that
moment I saw his face clearly. The moonlight gleamed on it. It was a
ghastly dead white. But I do not suppose that it was for himself that
he was afraid. Jan was not a coward, or he would not have jumped after
me when I was drowning in the stormy sea.

Once more he called to me. "Marius! For the sake of Magali--"

And then there was a crashing and a rending of planks as I shot against
his boat, and a sudden upspringing of my own boat under me. And after
that, for a long while, a roaring of water about me, and my own body
tumbled and thrust hither and thither in it, and at last a blow which
seemed to dash me down into a vast black depth that was all buzzing
with little blazing stars.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the others were upcast on the rocks dead.



A Sea Upcast


I

When we East Anglians be set to do a thing, we be set firm. We come at
what we want by slow thinking, but when we know what we want we hold
fast by it--being born stubborn, and also being born staunch. It is
the same with our hating and with our loving: we fire slowly, but when
at last the fire is kindled it burns so strongly in the very hearts of
us--with a white glow, hotter than any flame--that there is no putting
it out again short of putting out our lives.

Men and women alike, we are born that way; and we fishermen of the
Suffolk and Norfolk coast likewise are bred that way: seeing that
from the time we go afloat as youngsters until the time that we are
drowned, or are grown so old and rusty that there is no more strength
for sea-fighting left in us, our lives for the most part are spent in
fighting the North Sea. That is a fight that needs stubbornness to
carry it through to a finish. Also, it needs knowledge of the ocean's
tricks and turns--because the North Sea can do what we East Anglians
can't do: it can smile at you and lie. A man must have a deal of
training before he can tell by the feel of it in his own insides that
close over beyond a still sea and a sun-bright sky a storm is cooking
up that will kill him if it can. And even when he feels the coming of
it--if he be well to seaward, or if he be tempted by the fish being
plenty and by the bareness of his own pockets to hold on in the face of
it--he must have more in his head than any coast pilot has if he is to
win home to Yarmouth Harbour or to Lowestoft Roads.

For God in his cruelty has set more traps to kill seafarers off this
easterly outjut of England, I do believe, than He has set anywhere else
in all the world: there being from Covehithe Ness northward to the
Winterton Overfalls nothing but a maze of deadly shoals--all cut up by
channels in which there is no sea-room--that fairly makes you queazy to
think about when you are coming shoreward in a northeast gale. And as
if that were not enough to make sure of man-food for the fishes, the
currents that swirl and play among these shoals are up to some fresh
wickedness with every hour of the tide-run and with every half shift of
wind. Whether you make in for Yarmouth by Hemesby Hole to the north, or
by the Hewett Channel to the south, or split the difference by running
through Caister Road, it is all one: twisting about the Overfalls and
the Middle Cross Sand and the South Scroby, there the currents are.
What they will be doing with you, or how they will be doing it, you
can't even make a good guess at; all that you can know for certain
being that they will be doing their worst by you at the half tide.

At least, though, the Lowestoft men and the Yarmouth men have a good
harbour when once they fetch it; and by that much are better off than
we Southwold men, who have no harbour at all. With anything of a sea
running there is no making a landing under Southwold Cliff--though it
is safe enough when once your boat is beached and hauled up there; and
so, if the storm gets ahead of us, there is nothing left but to run for
Lowestoft: and a nice time we often have of it, with an on-shore gale
blowing, working up into the Covehithe Channel under the tail of the
Barnard Bank! As for beating up to seaward of the Barnard and running
in through Pakefield Gat, anybody can try for it who has a mind to--and
who has a boat that can eat the very heart out of the wind. Sometimes
you do fetch it. But what happens to you most times is best known to
the Newcome Shoal. When you have cleared the Barnard--if so be you do
clear it--the Newcome lies close under your lee for all the rest of
the run. What it has done for us fishermen you can see when the spring
tides bare it and show black scraps of old boats wrecked there, and
sometimes a gleam of sand-whitened bones.

For a good many years we had another chance, though a poor one, and
that was to make a longish leg off shore and then run in before the
wind and cross the Barnard into Covehithe Channel through what we
called the Wreck Gat--a cut in the bank that the currents made striking
against a wrecked ship buried there. The Wreck Gat is gone now--closed
by the same storm that nearly closed my life for me--and you will not
find it marked nowadays on the charts. Its going was a good riddance.
At the best it was a desperate bad place to get through; and at its
worst it was about the same as a sea pitfall: and that nobody knows
better than I do, seeing that I was the last man to get through it
alive. But when you happened to be to windward of it, if it served at
all, it served better than running down a half mile farther and trying
to round the tail of the bank.

Very many craft beside our own fisher-boats find their death-harbour
on our East Anglian sands. Our coast, as it has a right to be, is the
dread of every sailor man who sails the narrow seas. Great ships,
storm-swept on our sands, are sucked down into the depths of them,
or are hammered to pieces on the top of them, as light-heartedly as
though they were no more than cock-boats. And the supply of ships to be
wrecked there is unending--since the half of the trade of the world,
they say, sails past our shores. From every land they come: and many
and many a one of them comes but never goes. Down on them bangs the
northeast wind with a roar and a rattle--and presently our sands have
hold of them with a grip that is to keep them fast there till the last
day! Sometimes the dead men who were living sailors aboard those ships
come ashore to us, though they are more like to find graves in the
sands that murdered them or to be swept out to sea; sometimes, by a
twist of chance that you may call a miracle, the sea has a fancy for
casting one or two of them ashore alive. Dazed and half mad creatures
those live ones are, usually: their wits all jangled and shaken by the
great horror that has been upon them while they tossed among the waves.

And so, as you may see, we men of the Suffolk and Norfolk coast need
the stiff backbone that we have as our birthright for the sea-fighting
that is our life-work; and it is not to be wondered at that our life of
sea-fighting makes us still more set and stubborn in our ways.


II

My little Tess came to me, a sea upcast, after one of our great
northeast gales. I myself found her: lying where the waves had landed
her on the shingle, and where they had left her with the fall of the
tide.

I was but a bit of a lad myself, then, going on to be eight years
old. Storms had no fright in them for me in those days. What I most
was thinking about when one was blowing--while my poor mother, if my
father was out in his boat, would be looking wild-eyed seaward, or in
the bed-room praying for him on her knees--was what I'd be picking up
on the shingle when the gale was over and the sea gone down. Later on,
when I came to know that at the gale's end I might be lying myself on
the shingle, along with the other wreckage, I got to looking at storms
in a different way.

That blow that brought my Tess to me had no fears in it for my poor
mother, seeing that it came in the night time and my father safe at
home. The noise of my father getting up wakened me; and in a sleepy
way I watched him from my little bed, when he had the lamp lighted,
hurrying his clothes on that he might go down to where his boat was
hauled up on the shingle and heave her with the capstan still higher
above the on-run of the waves. And as I lay there, very drowsy,
watching my father drag his big boots on and hearing the roar of the
wind and feeling the shaking that it was giving to our house-walls,
there came suddenly the sharp loud bang of a gun.

My father stopped as he heard it--with one leg in the air and his hands
gripping the boot-straps, I can see him now. "That's from close by!"
he said. "God help them--they must be ashore on the Barnard Bank!" Then
he jammed his other boot on, jumped into his sou'wester, and was gone
on a run. My mother ran to the door--I know now, having myself helped
to get men ashore from wrecked ships at my life's peril, what her fear
was--and called after him into the darkness: "Don't thou go to putting
thy life in danger, George May!" What she said did no good. The wind
swallowed her words before they got to him. For a minute or two she
stood in the doorway, all blown about; then, putting her weight on it,
she got the door shut and came back into the bed-room and knelt by the
bedside praying for him. I still was very drowsy. Presently I went off
to sleep again, thinking--God forgive me for it!--that if a ship had
stranded on the Barnard I'd find some pretty pickings when morning came
and the storm was over and I could get down to the shore.

And that was my first thought when I wakened, and found the sun shining
and the wind blowing no more than a gentle breeze. My father was home
again, and safe and sound. There had been no chance for a rescue,
he said--the ship being deep down in the sands, and all her people
swept out of her, by the time that daylight came. And so I bolted my
breakfast, and the very minute that I had it inside of me I was off
down the cliff-path and along the beach northward to find what I could
find. All the other Southwold boys were hurrying that way too; but our
house being up at the north end of the village gave me the start of all
of them but John Heath, who lived close by us, and he came down the
cliff-path at my heels.

The Barnard Bank lies off shore from Covehithe Ness, and under the Ness
our pickings would be most like to be. At the best they would be but
little things--buckets and baskets and brooms and odd oars, and such
like--the coast guard men seeing to it that we got no more; but things,
all the same, that any boy would jump for: and so away John and I ran
together, and we kept together until we were under the Ness--and could
see the broken stern-post of the wreck, all that was left to see of
her, sticking up from the Barnard going bare with the falling tide.
There I passed him--he giving a shout and stopping to pick up a basket
that I missed seeing because on my side weed covered it--and so was
leading him as we rounded the Ness by a dozen yards. And then it was I
who gave a shout--and made a dash for a big white bundle that was lying
in a nook of the shingle just above the lap of the waves.

John saw the bundle almost as soon as I did, and raced me for it. But
I did see it first, and I touched it first, and so it fairly was mine.
A white sheet was the outside of it; and at one corner, under the
sheet, a bit of a blanket showed. I would have none of John's help as I
unwrapped it. He stood beside me, though, and said as I opened it that
even if I had touched it first we had seen it together--which wasn't
so--and that we must go share and share. I did not answer him, being
full of wonder what I was like to come to when I had the bundle undone.
In a good deal of a hurry I got the sheet loose, it was knotted at the
corners, and then the blanket, and then still another blanket that was
under the first one: and when that inner wrapping was opened there was
lying--a little live baby! It looked up into my face with its big black
eyes, and it blinked them for a minute--having been all shut up in the
dark and the sunlight bothering it--and then it smiled at me as if I'd
just waked it up not from the very edge of death in the sea but from a
comfortable nap in its cradle on land!

John Heath burst out laughing. "You can have my share of it, George,"
said he; "we've got babies enough of our own at home." And with that he
ran away and began to look again for brooms and buckets along the shore.

But I loved my little Tess from that first sight of her, and I was
glad that John had said that I might have his share in her; though of
course, because I first saw her and first touched her, he had no real
share in her at all. So I wrapped her up again as well as I could in
her blankets--leaving the wet sheet lying there--and set off for home
along the shore, carrying her in my arms. Tired enough I got before I
had lugged my load that long way, and up the cliff, and so to our house
door. In the doorway my mother was standing, and I put the bundle in
her arms. "Lord save us!" said my mother. "What's the boy got here?"

"Mother," said I, "it's a little beautiful live baby--and I found it,
and it's mine!"


III

That was the way that my Tess came to me: and I know now how good my
father and my mother were in letting me keep her for my own--they with
only what my father could make by his fishing to live on, and the wolf
never very far away from the door. But the look of those black eyes of
hers and the smile in them won my mother's love to her, just as it had
won mine; and my mother told me, too, long years afterward, that her
heart was hungry for the girl baby that God had not given her--and she
said that Tess seemed to be her very own baby from the minute that she
took her close to her breast from my tired little arms.

As to where Tess came from--from what port in all the wide world the
ship sailed that brought her to us--we had no way of knowing. Nothing
but Tess in her bundle came ashore from the wreck; and what was left of
the ship burrowed down into the sands so fast and so far that there was
to be seen of her only a broken bit of her stern-post at the storm's
ending. Even after the set of the currents against her sunken hull, on
the next spring tide, had cut through the Barnard Bank and so made the
Wreck Gat, no part of her but her broken stern-post ever showed. Tess
herself, though, told us what her own name was, and so gave us a notion
as to what land she belonged to; but we should have been none the
wiser for her telling it--she talking in words that were the same as
Greek to us--if the Vicar had not lent us a hand.

My finding the baby made a stir in the whole village, and everybody
had to have a look at her. In the afternoon along came the Vicar
too--smiling through his gold spectacles, as he always did, and
swinging his black cane. By that time, having had all the milk she
could hold, and a good nap, and more milk again, Tess was as bright as
a new sixpence: just as though she had not passed that morning nearer
to death than ever she was like to pass again and live. She was lying
snug in my mother's arms before the fire, and in her own fashion was
talking away at a great rate--and my mother's heart quite breaking
because her pretty chatter was all in heathen words that nobody could
get at the meaning of. But the Vicar, being very learned, understood
her in a minute. "Why, it's Spanish," said he. "It's Spanish as sure as
you're born! She's calling you 'madrecita,' Mrs. May--which is the same
as 'motherkin,' you know. But I can't make even a guess at the rest of
it. Everything ends in 'ita'--real baby-talk."

"Do kindly ask her, sir, what her blessed little name is," said my
mother. "It'll bring her a deal closer to us to know her name."

"I'll try her in Latin," said the Vicar--"that's the best that I can
manage--and it'll be hit or miss if she understands." And then he bent
over the little tot--she being then a bit over two years old, my mother
thought--and asked her what her name was in Latin words.

For a minute there was a puzzled look in the big black eyes of her and
her brow puckered. And then she smiled all over her pretty face and
answered, as clear as you please: "Tesita." That a baby no bigger than
that understood Latin always has seemed to me most like a miracle of
anything that ever I have known!

My mother looked bothered and chap-fallen. "It's not a real name at
all," she said, and sighed over it.

"It's a very good name indeed, Mrs. May," said the Vicar; "only she's
giving you her baby way of saying it. Her name is Theresa. 'Tesita' is
the same as our 'Tess' would be, you know."

"Theresa! Tess!" cried my mother, brightening up all in a minute. "Why,
that was my own dear mother's name! Her having that name seems to make
her in real truth mine, sir!" And she hugged the baby close to the
heart of her, and all in the same breath cried over it and laughed over
it--thinking, I suppose, of her mother dead and buried, and thankful
for the daughter that she so longed for that had come to her upcast by
the sea.

More than what her name was, as is not to be wondered at, Tess never
told us; and the only thing in the world that gave us any knowledge
of her--and that no more than that her people were like to be
gentlefolk--was a gold chain about her neck, under her little night
gown, with a locket fast to it on which were some letters in such a
jumble that even the Vicar could not make head nor tail of them, though
he tried hard.


IV

Whatever part of the world Tess came from, it was plain enough by the
look of her--and more and more plain as she grew up into a tall and
lanky girl, and then into a tall slim woman--that Suffolk was a long
way off from the land where she was born.

Our Suffolk folk, for the most part, are shortish and thickset and fair
and blue eyed. We men--being whipped about by the wind and weather,
and the sea-salt tanned into us--lose our fairness early and go a
bun-brown; but our women--having no salt spray in their faces, and only
their just allowance of sunshine--have their blue eyes matched with the
red and white cheeks that they were born with; and their hair, though
sometimes it goes darkish, usually is a bright chestnut or a bright
brown. Also, our women are steady-going and sensible; though I must say
that now and then they are a bit hard to get along with: being given
to doing their thinking slowly, and to being mighty fast set in their
own notions when once they have made their minds up--the same as we
men. As for Tess--with her black eyes and her black hair, and her face
all a cream white with not a touch of red in it--she was like none of
them; and she could think more out-of-the-way things and be more sorts
of a girl in five minutes than any Suffolk lass that ever I came across
could think or be in a whole year!

Tess was unlike our girls in another matter: she had a mighty hot
spit-fire temper of her own. Our girls, the same as our men, are
easy-going and anger slowly; but when they do anger they are glowing
hot to their very finger-tips, and a long while it takes them to cool
off. But Tess would blaze up all in a minute--and as often as not with
no real reason for it--and be for a while such an out-and-out little
fury that she would send everything scudding before her; and then would
pull up suddenly in the thick of it, and seem to forget all about it,
and like enough laugh at the people around her looking scared! Somehow,
though, it was seldom that she let me have a turn of her tantrums; and
when she did they'd be over in no time, and she'd have her arms around
me and be begging me to kiss her and to tell her that I didn't mind.
I suppose that she was that way with me because for my part--having
from the very first so loved her that quarreling with her was clean
impossible--I used just to stand and stare at her in her passions; and
like enough be showing by the look in my eyes the puzzled sorrow that I
was feeling in my inside. As to answering her anger with my anger, it
never once crossed my mind.

With John Heath things went differently. He would go ugly when she
flew out at him--and would keep his anger by him after hers long was
over and done with, and would show it by putting some hurt upon her
in a dirty way. A good many thrashings I gave John Heath, at one
time or another, for that sort of thing; and the greatest piece of
unreasonableness that Tess ever put on me, which is saying much for it,
was on that score: she being then ten years old, or thereabouts, and
John and I well turned of sixteen.

Some trick that he played on her--I don't know what it was--set her
in a rage against him, and he made her worse by laughing at her, and
she ended by throwing sand in his eyes. Then his anger got up, and he
caught her--being twice the size of her--and boxed her ears. I came
along just then, and I can see the look of her now. She was not crying,
as any ordinary child would have been--John having meant to hurt her,
and hit hard. She was standing straight in front of him with her little
hands gripped into fists as if she meant to fight him, that cream white
face of hers gone a real dead white, a perfect blaze of passion in her
big black eyes. In another second or so she'd have been flying at him
if I'd given her the chance. But I didn't--I sailed right in and myself
gave him what he needed; and when I had finished with him I had so well
blackened the two eyes of him that he forgot about the sand. But after
it all was over, so far from being obliged to me, what did Tess do but
fall to crying because I'd hurt him, and to saying that he'd only given
her what she deserved! For a week and more she would not speak to me,
and all that time she was trotting about sorrowfully at John's heels.
It seemed as though all of a sudden she had got to loving him because
he had played the man and the master to her; and I'm sure that his love
for her had its beginning then too.

John's folks and my folks, as I have said, lived up at the north end
of the village, a bit apart, and that made us three keep most together
while we were little; but Tess never had much to do with the other
children, even when she got big enough to be with them at school. They
did not get along with her, being puzzled by her whims and fancies and
set against her by her spit-fire ways. And she did not get along with
them because she was quick about everything and all of them were slow.
When she began to grow up, though, matters changed a good deal. The
boys--she being like nobody else in the village--picked her out to make
love to, and that set the girls by the ears. Tess liked the love-making
a deal more than I liked her to like it; and she didn't mind what the
girls said to her because her wits were nimbler than their wits and
she always could give them better than they could send.

So things went while the years went till Tess was turned of seventeen,
and was shot up into a tall slim woman in all ways so beautiful as to
be, I do believe, the most beautiful woman that God ever made. And then
it was that Grace Gryce, damn her for it, found a whip that served to
lash her; and so cruel a whip that she was near to lashing the life out
of her with it at a single blow.


V

According to our Suffolk notions, Grace Gryce was a beauty: being
strongly set up and full built and well rounded, with cheeks as red as
strawberries, and blue eyes that for any good looking man had a smile
in them, and over all a head of bright-brown hair. Had Tess been out
of the way she'd have had things all as she wanted them, not another
girl in the village for looks coming near her; and so it was only human
nature, I suppose, that she hated Tess for crossing her--making her
always go second, and a bad second, with the men.

It was about John Heath, though, that the heart of the matter was.
All the village knew that Grace fancied him, and that he half fancied
her--and would have fancied her altogether had Tess been out of
the way. Making up his mind between them--John always was a thick
thinker--did not seem to come easy to him. The whims and the ways
of Tess--that made a dozen different sorts of girl of her in five
minutes--seemed to set him off from her a-most as much as they set him
on: being a sort of puzzle, I'm free to say, that other men beside John
couldn't well understand. With Grace it was different. She might blow
hot or she might blow cold with him; or she might show her temper--she
had a-plenty of it--and give him the rough side of her tongue: but what
she meant and what she wanted always was plain and clear. To be sure,
this is only my guess why he hung in the wind between them. Maybe he
set too little store on Tess's love because it came to him too easily;
maybe he thought that by seeming to love her lightly he best could hold
her fast.

Hold her fast he did, and that is certain. In spite of all her
whimsies, he had her love; and it was his, as I have said, from the
time when he man-mastered her by boxing the little ears of her--she
being only ten years old. Always after that, even when she was at her
sauciest and her airiest, he had only to speak short and sharp to her
and she'd come to heel to him like a dog. Sometimes, seeing her taking
orders from him that way was close to setting me wild: I having my
whole heart fixed on her, and ready to give the very hands of me to
have from her the half of what she gave him. Not but what she loved me
too, in her own fashion, and dearly. She showed that by the way that
she used to come to me in all her little hurts and troubles; and the
sweetness and the comfortingness of her to me and to my mother always,
but most when my poor father was drowned, was beyond any words that I
have to put it in. But my pain was that the love which she had for me
was of the same sort that she had for my mother--and I was not wanting
from her love of that kind. And so it cut to the quick of me--I who
would have kissed her shoe-soles--to see her so ready always to be meek
and humble at a word from John. There were times, and a good many of
them--seeing her so dog-faithful to him, and he almost as careless of
her as if she had been no more than a dog to him--that I saw red as I
looked at him, and got burning hot in the insides of me, and was as
close to murdering him as I well could be and he still go on alive.

Like enough Grace Gryce--being of the same stock that I was, and made
much as I was--had the same feeling for Tess that I had for John; and
Grace, being a woman, had nothing to stop her from murdering Tess in a
woman's way. She would have done it sooner had her wits been quicker.
Time and again they had had their word-fights together, and Tess always
getting the better of her because Grace's wits, like the rest of her,
were heavy and slow.

It was down by the boats, under the Gun Hill, that they fought the
round out in which Grace drew blood at last. A lot of the girls were
together there and Tess, for a wonder, happened to be with them. They
all were saying to her what hard things they could think of; and she,
in her quick way, was hitting back at them and scoring off them all.
Poor sort of stuff it was that they were giving her: calling her "Miss
Fine-Airs" and "Miss Maypole," and scorning the black eyes and the pale
face of her, and girding at her the best they could because in no way
was she like themselves.

"It's a pity I'm so many kinds of ugliness!" says Tess in her saucy
way, and making it worse by laughing. "It's a true pity that I'm not
pretty, like all the rest of you, and so am left lonely. If only I'd
some of your good looks, you see, I might have, as the rest of you
have, a lot of men at my heels."

That was a shot that hit all of them, but it hit Grace the hardest
and she answered it. "It's better," said she, "to go your whole life
without a man at your heels than it is to spend your whole life
dog-tagging at the heels of a man."

The girls laughed at that, knowing well what Grace was driving at. But
Tess was ready with her answer and whipped back with it: "Well, it's
better to tag at a man's heels and he pleased with it than it is to
want to tag there and he not letting you--liking a may-pole, maybe,
better than a butter-tub, and caring more, maybe, for grace by nature
than for Grace by name."

That turned the joke--only it was no joke--on Grace again; and as the
girls had not much more liking for her than they had for Tess, seeing
that she spoiled what few man-chances Tess left them, they laughed at
her as hard as they could laugh.

Grace's slow anger had been getting hotter and hotter in her. That shot
of Tess's, and the girls all laughing at her, brought it to a boil.

"Who be'st thou, to open thy ugly mouth to me?" she jerked out, with
a squeak in her voice and her blue eyes blazing. "Who be'st thou,
anyway? Who knows the father or the mother of thee? Who knows what foul
folk in what foul land bore thee? Dog-tag thou may'st, but--mark my
words--naught will come of it: because thou'rt not fit for John Heath
or for any other honest man to have dealings with--thou rotten upcast
of the sea!"

Tess was holding her head high and was scornful-looking when this
speech began; but the ending of it, so Mary Benacre told my mother,
seemed like a knife in her heart. Her face went a sort of a pasty
white, so Mary said; and she seemed to choke, somehow, and put her hand
up to her throat in a fluttering kind of way as if her throat hurt her.
And then she sort of staggered, and made a grab at the boat she was
standing by and leaned against it--looking, so Mary said, as if she was
like to die.

"Mayhap now thou'lt keep quiet a bit," Grace said, with her hands on
her fat hips and her elbows out; and with that, and a flounce at her,
turned away. The other girls, all except Mary, went along with Grace;
but not talking, and most of them scared-looking: feeling, like
enough, as men would feel standing by at the end of a knife-fight, when
one man is down with a cut that has done for him and there is a smell
of blood in the air.

Mary staid behind--she was a good sort, was Mary Benacre--and went to
Tess and tried to comfort her. Tess didn't answer her, but just looked
at her with a pitiful sort of stare out of her black eyes that Mary
said was like the look of some poor dumb thing that had no other way of
telling how bad its hurt was. And then, rousing herself up, Tess pushed
Mary away from her and started for home on a run. Mary did not follow
her, but later on she came and told my mother just what had happened
and gave her Grace Gryce's words.

It was well that Mary came, that way, and told a clear story about it
all. What Tess told--when she came flying into the house and caught
my mother around the neck and put her poor head on my mother's breast
and went off into a passion of crying there--was such a muddle that my
mother knew only that Grace Gryce had said something to her that was
wickedly cruel. Tess cried and cried, as if she'd cry the very life out
of her; and kept sobbing out that she was a sea upcast, and a nobody's
daughter, and that the sea would have done better by her had it
drowned her, and that she hoped she'd die soon and be forgotten--until
she drove my mother almost wild.

And so it went for a long while with her, my mother petting her and
crying over her, until at last--the feel, I suppose, of my mother's
warm love for her getting into her poor hurt heart and comforting
her--she began to quiet down. Then my mother got her to bed--she
was as weak as water--and made a pot of bone-set tea for her; and
pretty soon after she'd drunk a cup or two of it she dropped off to
sleep. She still was sleeping when Mary Benacre came and told the
whole story; and so stirred up my mother's anger--and she was a very
gentle-natured woman, my mother was--that it was all she could do, she
said afterwards, not to go straight off to Grace Gryce and give her a
beating with her own hands.


VI

When Tess came to breakfast the next morning it gave me a real turn to
look at her. Somehow, at a single jump, she seemed to have changed from
a girl to a woman--and to an old woman at that. Suddenly she had got
to be all withered like, and the airs that she used to give herself and
all the pretty ways of her were gone. She just moped in a chair in a
corner--she who'd never been quiet for five minutes together, any more
than a bird--with a far-away look in her beautiful eyes, and the glint
of tears in them. Sorrow had got into the very bones of her. "Dost
think I really am come of such foul folk that I'm not fit for honest
company?" she asked my mother--and if she asked that question once that
morning she asked it a dozen times.

In a way, of course, she had known what she was all her life long. "My
sea-baby" was my mother's pet name for her at the first; and by that
pet-name, when most tender with her, my mother called her till the
last. How she had come to us, how I had found her where the waves had
left her and had carried her home in my little tired arms, she had been
told over and over again. Sometimes she used to make up stories about
herself in her light-fancied way: telling us that she was a great lady
of Spain, and that some fine morning the great Spanish lord her father
would come to Southwold by some chance or other, and would know her by
the chain and the locket, and would take her home with him and marry
her to a duke--or to a prince, even--in her own land. We'd see that
she'd be pretending to herself while she told them to us that these
stories were true, and I think that she did half believe in them. But
it was not real believing that she had in them; it was the sort of
believing that you have in things in dreams. Her love was given to my
mother and to my father--and to me, too, though not in the way that I
wanted it--and we were the true kinsfolk of her heart. On our side,
we all so loved her, and made her feel so truly that she was our very
own, that the thought of her being a nobody's child never had a chance
to get into her mind. And her own fancies about herself--always that
her own dream people were great people in the dream land where they
lived--kept her from seeing the other chance of the matter: that they
as well might be mean people, who would put shame on her should ever
she come to know who they were. Into her head that cruel thought never
got until Grace Gryce put it there; and put there with it the crueller
thought that her being a nobody's child was what made John stand off
from her, he thinking her not fit to be his wife.

Tess was fearing, maybe, that even if John had not had that feeling
about her he was like to have it after Grace had set him in the way of
it. And maybe she was thinking, too, that if she had been hurt for the
sake of him, and so deserved loving pity from him, it was Grace who for
the sake of him had done the hurting--and that it was Grace who had
won. Our girls are best pleased with the lover who fights to a finish
some other man in love with them and well thrashes him. Tess may have
fancied that John would take it that way; and so end by settling that
Grace, having the most fire and fight in her, was the most to his mind.
But what really came of it all with John, as far as I can make out, was
that his getting them fairly set the one against the other cleared his
thick wits up and brought him to a choice.

And so, being in every way sorrowful, Tess was like a dead girl that
day; and my heart was just breaking for her. When dinner time came she
roused up a bit and helped my mother, as she always did--though my
mother wanted her to keep resting--and tried in a pitiful sort of way
to talk a little and to pretend that she was not in bitter pain; but
those pretty feet of hers, so light always, dragged after her in her
walking, and she was all wizened-looking, and there were black marks
under her beautiful sorrowing eyes. My mother helped to make talk with
her, though my mother was wiping her own tears away when she got the
chance; but as for me, I was tongue-tied by the hurt and the anger in
me and could not say a word. What I was thinking was, how glad I'd be
to wring Grace Gryce's neck for her if only she was a man!

After dinner I went out to a bench in front of our house, but a bit
away from it, and sat there trying to comfort myself with a pipe--and
not finding much even in a pipe to comfort me--until the sun, all
yellow, began to drop down toward the Gun Hill into a bad looking
yellow sky. All the while I had the tail of my eye bearing on our door,
and at last I saw Tess come out of it. She took a quick look at the
back of me, sitting quiet there; and then, I not turning toward her,
off she walked along the edge of the cliff to the northward. At first
I didn't know what to do--thinking that if she wanted to be alone I
ought to leave her to her loneliness--and I sat on and smoked another
pipe before I could make up my mind. But the longer I sat there the
stronger my drawing was to go to her. What was hurting her most, as
I well enough knew, was the thought of having neither kith nor kin
for herself, along with the dread that even if she found her people
they might only be a shame to her--and that was a hurt that having a
husband would cure for her, seeing that she would get a new and a good
rating in the world when she got her husband's name. And so, at last,
I started after her to tell her all that was in the heart of me; and
thinking more, and this is the truth, of what I could do to comfort her
by taking the sting out of Grace Gryce's words than of how in that same
way I could win my own happiness.

I walked on so far--across the dip in the land where the old river was,
and up on the cliffs again--that I began to think she had turned about
inland and so had gone that way home. But at last I came up with her,
on the very top of Covehithe Ness.

She was sitting at the cliff-edge, bent forward a little with her
elbows on her knees and her face in her hands; and as I came close to
her I saw that she was crying in that quiet sort of way that people cry
in when they have touched despair. I walked so softly on the grass that
she did not hear my footsteps; but she was not put out when she looked
up and saw me standing over her--by which I think, and am the happier
for thinking it, that she had not gone there of set purpose to meet
with John.

"Sit thee down here, George. I'm glad thou'rt come," she said, and she
reached me her hand.

When I was on the grass beside her--she still keeping her hand in mine,
as if the touch of something that loved her was a comfort to her--she
had nothing to say for a bit, but just leaned her head against my
shoulder and cried softly there.

The tide was out and a long stretch of the Barnard Bank lay bared below
us, with here and there the black bones of some dead ship lying buried
in them sticking up from the sands. Slicing deep in the bank was the
Wreck Gat, with the last of the ebb running out through it from the
Covehithe Channel and the undercut sides of it falling down into the
water and melting away. At the edge of it was the sunken ship that
had made it: the ship that had brought Tess to us from her birth-land
beyond the seas. As I have said, no more of the wreck showed than her
broken stern-post: a bit of black timber, all jagged with twisted iron
bolts and weed-grown and barnacled, upstanding at one side of the
channel from the water and not high out of it even at low tide. When
the tide was in, and any sort of a sea was running, you stood a good
chance of finding just where it was by having your boat stove on it:
for then it did not show at all, except now and then in the hollow of
the waves.

Tess was looking down on it, her head still resting on my shoulder, and
after a while she said: "If only we could dig that ship up, George,
we might find what would tell that I'm not come of foul folk, after
all"--and then she began to cry again in the same silent sort of way.
I couldn't get an answer for her--what she said hurt me so, and she
crying on my shoulder, and I feeling the beating of her heart.

"It was good of thee, George," she went on again, presently, "to save
the baby life of me; but it's a true truth thou'dst have done me more
of a kindness hadst thou just thrown me back into the sea. I'd be glad
to be there now, George. Down there under the water it would make no
difference what sort of folk I come of. And I'd be resting there as I
can't rest here--for down there my pain would be gone."

My throat was so choked up that I had hard work to get my words out of
it, and when they did come they sounded queer. "Tess! Tess!" I said.
"Thou'lt kill me dead talking that way. As if the like of thee could
come of foul folk! A lord duke would be the least to be fit father to
thee--and proud of thee he well might be! But what does it matter,
Tess, what thy folk were who owned thee at the beginning? They gave
thee to the sea's keeping--and the sea gave thee to me. By right of
finding, thou'rt mine. It was I who found thee, down on the shingle
there, and from the first minute that ever I laid eyes on thee I loved
thee--and the only change in me has been that always I've loved thee
more and more. Whether thy people were foul folk or fair folk is all
one to me. It's thyself that I'm loving--and with every bit of the love
that is in my heart. Let me make thee the wife of me, Tess--and then
thou'lt have no need to fret about who thy forbears were for thou'lt
have no more to do with them, being made a part of me and mine."

I talked at such a rate, when I did get set a-going, that my own words
ran away with me; and I got the feeling that they ran away with Tess
too. But when I had ended, and she lifted up her head from my shoulder
and looked straight into the eyes of me, I knew by what her eyes had
in them--before ever she said a word back to me--that what I wanted
most in the whole world for myself I could not have.

It seemed to me an hour before she spoke, she all the time looking
straight into my eyes and her own eyes full of tears. At last she did
speak. "George," said she, "if I could be wife to thee, as thou'dst
have me be, I'd go down on my knees and thank God! But it can't be,
George. It can't be! I've set my heart."

There was no doubting what she said. In the sound of her voice there
was something that seemed as much as her words to settle the matter for
good and all. Whenever I am at a funeral and hear the reading of the
burial service it brings back to me the sound of her voice that day.
Only there is a promise of hope in the burial service--and that there
was not for me in Tess's words.

"It's John that's between us?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, speaking slow, "it's John." She was quiet for a minute
and then went on again, still speaking slow: "I don't understand it
myself, George. Thou'rt a better-hearted man than he is, and I truly
think I love him less than I do thee. But--but I love him in another
way."

"Damn him!" said I.

That got out before I could stop it, but when it had got out I wasn't
sorry. It told what I felt then--and it tells what I feel now. John's
taking her from me was stealing, and nothing less. We were together
when I found her, he and I; but I first saw her and I first touched
her--and he gave me his share in her, though he had no real share in
her, when he knew what my finding was. And so his taking her from me
was stealing: and that is God's truth!

Tess said nothing back to me. She only looked at me sorrowful for a
minute, and then looked down again at the bit of wreck on the sands. By
the sigh she gave I knew pretty well what was in her mind.

I'd had my answer, and that was the end of it. "I'll be going now,
Tess," I said; and I got up and she got up with me. I was not feeling
steady on my legs, and like enough I had a queer look on me. As for
Tess, she was near as white as a dead woman, though some of her
whiteness may have come from the yellow sunshine on her out of the
western sky. Up there on top of the Ness we still had the sun with us,
though he was almost gone among the foul weather yellow clouds.

"Thou'lt try to forgive me, George," she said, speaking low, and her
mouth sort of twitching.

"I love thee, Tess," I said; "and where there's love there can be no
talk of forgiveness. But John has the hate of me, and I tell thee
fairly I'll hurt him if I can!"

With that I left her--there on Covehithe Ness, over the very spot where
the sea brought her to me--and went walking back along the cliff-edge:
and not seeing anything clearly because I was thinking about John, and
what I'd like to do to him, and there was a sort of red blur before my
eyes.

After a while I turned and looked back. My eyes had cleared a bit,
but what I saw made them red again. Tess was not alone on the Ness.
John was with her. The two stood out strong in the last of the
yellow sunshine against a cloud-bank on the far edge of the sky. I
suppose that Tess being hurt that way for him brought John to his
bearings--making him love her the more for sorrow's sake, and for
anger's sake making him ready to throw Grace Gryce over. Like enough
he had been watching for his chance to get to her, waiting till I was
gone. Anyway, there he was--and I knew what he was saying to her as
well as if I'd heard the words. It is no wonder that the blood got
into my eyes again as I started back along the path. But I did not go
far. Somehow I managed to pull myself together and turn again. What I
had to settle with John Heath could be settled best when he and I were
alone.


VII

When Tess came home to supper that night she was all changed again: her
looks gay once more, and her step light, and a sort of flutter about
her lips--as if she was wanting to smile and was trying not to--and a
soft look in her eyes that I never had seen there, but knew the meaning
of and found the worst of all.

I couldn't eat my supper; and got up presently and went out leaving
it--my mother looking after me wondering--and walked up and down on the
cliff-edge in the darkness with my heart all in a blaze of hate for
John. For a good while I had been looking for what I knew was in the
way of coming to me; but it was different, and worse, and hurt more
than I had counted on, when at last it came. Out there in the darkness
I staid until the night was well on--not wanting for a while to hear
the sound of Tess's voice nor to lay eyes on her. Not until I was
sure, by the lights being out in the house, that she'd gone to bed, did
I go in again. My mother was waiting waking for me. She came to me in
the dark and put her arms around me and kissed me; by which I knew that
Tess had been telling her--and knew, too, she always having looked to
the wedding of us, that her heart was sore along with mine. But I could
not bear even her soft touch on the hurt that I had. I just kissed her
back again and broke away from her and went to bed. And in the very
early morning, not having slept much, I slipped out of the house before
either she or Tess was stirring and down to my boat and so away to sea.

What I was after was to get some quiet time to myself that would steady
me before I had things out with John. I was not clear in my mind how
I meant to settle with him. I did know, though, that I meant to have
some sort of a fair fight with him that would end in my killing him or
in him killing me--and I knew that to tackle him with my head all in a
buzz would be to throw too many chances his way. And so I got away in
my boat, at the day-dawn, to the sea's quietness: where I could clear
my head of the buzzing that was in it and put some sort of shape to my
plans.

Had I been in my sober senses that morning I never should have gone
away seaward at all. Backing up the promise of the yellow sunset of
the night before, pink clouds were showing in the eastern sky as I
started; and as I sailed on in loneliness--standing straight out from
the land on a soft leading wind from the south-west westerly--the pink
turned to a pale red and then to a deep red, and at last the sun came
up out of the water a great ball of fire. The look of the sea, too,
all in an oily bubble, and the set of the ground-swell, told me plain
enough--even without the sunrise fairly shouting it in the ears of
me--that a change of wind was coming before mid-day, and that pretty
soon after the wind shifted it would be blowing a gale.

I will say this, though: If I'd missed seeing the red sunrise--and
all the more if I'd been full of happiness and my wits gone a
wool-gathering--I might have thought from the look and the feel of the
water, and from the set of the high clouds, that the wind would not
blow to hurt anything for a good twelve hours. That much I'll say by
way of excuse for John. Like enough he slept late that morning--through
lying awake the night before thinking what he'd be likely to
think--and so missed seeing the sun's warning. When he did get away in
his boat it was well past eight o'clock; and there was no man on the
beach when he started, so they told me, to counsel him. And, all being
said, even a good sailor--and that John was--starting off as he was to
buy a wedding-ring might not look as sharp as he ought to look at the
sea and at the sky.

As to my own sailing seaward--I seeing the storm-signals and knowing
the meaning of them--I have no more to say than that I was hot for
a fight with anything that morning, and didn't care much what I had
it with or how it came. Anybody who knows how to sail a boat, and to
sail one well, knows what joy there is in getting the better of foul
winds and rough seas for the mere fun of the thing; but there is still
more joy in a tussle of that sort when you are in a towering rage.
Then you are ready to push the fight farther by taking more and bigger
death-chances: since a man in bitter anger--at least in such bitter
anger as I was in then--does not care much whether he pulls through
safely or gets drowned. And so I went on my course seaward, on that
soft wind blowing more and more lazily, until the coast line was lost
in the water behind me: knowing well enough, and glad to have it that
way, that the wind would lull and lull until it failed me, and that
then I would get a blow out of the northeast that would give me all the
fight I wanted, and perhaps a bit to spare!

But because I meant my fight to be a good one, and meant to win it, I
got myself ready for it. When the wind did fail--the sun was put out
by that time, and from high up in the northeast the scud was flying
over me--I took in and snugged away everything but my mainsail, and
put a double reef in that with the reef-points knotted to hold. Then
I waited, drifting south a little--the flood having made half an hour
before, and the set of the ebb taking me that way.

I did not have to wait long. Out of the mist, banked thick to the
north-eastward, came the moaning that a strong wind makes when it's
rushing down on you; then from under the mist swept out a dark riffle
that broke the oily bubble of the water and put life into it; and
then the wind got to me with a bang. There was more of it than I had
counted on having at the first, showing that the gale behind it was a
strong one and coming down fast; but I had the nose of my boat pointed
up to meet it, and with no more than a bit of a rattle I got away
close-hauled. There was no going back to Southwold, of course. What I
was heading for was the Pakefield Gat into the Stanford Channel, and so
to the harbour at Lowestoft; and I pretty well knew from the first that
no matter how close I bit into the wind--and my boat was a weatherly
one--I had my work cut out for me if I meant to keep from going to
leeward of the Pakefield Gat in the gale that was coming on.

Go to leeward I did, and badly. When I raised the coast again, and a
lift of the mist gave me my bearings, I saw that Kessingland tower was
my landfall. As to working up from there to the Pakefield Gat--the
edge of the gale by that time being fairly on me--I knew that it was
clean impossible. I still had two chances left--one being to cross the
Barnard by the Wreck Gat, and the other to round into Covehithe Channel
across the tail of the bank. To the first of these the wind would help
me; but I knew that even with the wind's help it would be ticklish
work trying to squeeze through that narrow place at the half ebb--when
the strong outset of the current would be meeting the inpour of the
storm-driven sea. It would be better, so I settled after a minute's
thinking, to pass that chance and take the other--which would be a
fairly sure one, though a close one too. And so I wore around--with a
bad wallow in the trough of the sea that set everything to shaking for
a minute--and got on my new course pretty well on the wind.

Just as I was making ready for wearing, and so had my hands full, I
glimpsed the sail of a boat in the mist up to windward; and when I was
come about she was abeam to leeward, showing her high weather side to
me, not twenty yards away. Then I saw that it was John Heath's boat,
and that John was standing up alone in her at the helm. Why the fool
had not staid safe in Lowestoft harbour, God only knows. But it's only
fair to him, again, to say that he must have got away from Lowestoft
a good while before the wind shifted; and like enough he would have
worked down to Southwold, and got his boat safe beached there before
trouble came, if the calm had not caught him sooner than it did me--he
being all the time close under the land.


VIII

Some of my rage had gone out of me in my fight to windward in the
gale's teeth; but when I saw John close by me there it all came back
to me. For half a minute the thought was in my head to run him down
and sink him--and I had the wind of him and could have done it. Even
in my rage, though, I could not play a coward trick like that on him;
and before I could make any other plan up he set me in the way of one
himself.

"I'm making for the Wreck Gat," he sung out. "Give me a lead in,
George--'tis better known to thee than to me."

Had I stopped to think about it, his asking me to lead him in would
have been a puzzle to me, he being just as good a sailor as I was
and just as well knowing every twist of the sea and the sands. But I
didn't stop to think about the queerness of what he wanted--why he was
for making things double safe by my leading him is clear enough to me
now--because my wits were at work at something else.

While the words were coming out of his mouth--it all was in my head
like a flash--I saw my way to settling with him, and to settling fair.
He was crazy to want to try for it through the Wreck Gat on the half
tide, with the run of the ebb meeting the onset of the breakers and a
whole gale blowing. But his being crazy that way was his look out,
not mine. I'd give him the lead in that he wanted--asking him to take
nothing that I didn't take first myself, and giving him a better chance
than I had because I'd be setting the course for him and he'd have
only to follow on. That either of us would pull through would be as
it might be. As to my own chance, such as it was, I was ready for it:
knowing that I would be no worse off dead with him than I was living
with him--and a long sight better off if I put him in the way of the
drowning that would finish him, and yet myself won through alive.

That was what got into my head like a flash while he was hailing me,
and mighty pleased I was with it. "Follow on," I sung out. "I'll give
thee a lead." And to myself I was saying: "Yes, a lead to hell!"

"All right," he sung out back to me--and let his boat fall off a bit
that I might draw ahead of him. As he dropped astern, and the uptilt of
his weather rail no longer hid the inside of his boat from me, I saw
that there was a biggish bunch of something covered with a tarpaulin'
in the stern sheets close by his feet. But I gave no thought to it: all
my thought being fixed on what was ahead of me and him in the next
half hour. I was glad that we had to wait a little. Every minute of
waiting meant more wind, and so a bigger fight in the Wreck Gat between
the out-running current and the in-running sea. I had a feeling in my
bones that I would pull through and that he wouldn't, and I was keen
to see the smash of him as his boat took the sands. After that smash
came, the rest of his life could be counted in minutes and seconds--as
he floundered and drowned in that wild tumble of sand-thickened waves.
So I'd have done with him and be quit of him; and would have a good
show--if I didn't drown along with him--for winning Tess for my own. If
I did drown with him, or if--not being drowned--Tess would have none of
me, there still would be this much to the good: I'd have served him out
for crossing me in my deep heart-wish, and I'd have made certain that
he and she never could come together in this world alive.

All that I was thinking as I stood on ahead of him, bucketing through
the waves that every minute were heavier with the churned up sand. And
I also was thinking, and I remember laughing as the thought came to me,
that there was a sort of rightness in the way things were working out
with us--seeing that the ship that had brought me my Tess, and the sea
that had given her to me, together were making the death-trap for the
man who had stolen away from me her love.

The wind was well up to a gale as we drove on together, me leading him
by a half dozen boats' lengths, and from all along to leeward of us
came to us through the mist a sort of a groaning roar as the breakers
went banging and grinding on the Barnard Bank. Nothing but having the
wind and the sea both with us, when we stood in for the gat, saved us
from foundering; and yet that same also put us in peril of it, because
we had a wide open chance of being pooped by the great following waves
which came hanging over and dragging at our sterns.

The mist thinned as we got closer in shoreward, showing me the
sand-heavy surf waiting for its chance to scour the life out of us;
but also showing me Covehithe Ness, and Covehithe church tower off to
the left of it, and so giving me the points that I wanted to steer
by. As for the look of the Wreck Gat, when we opened it, the waves
blustered over it so big, and were all in such a whirl and a fury with
the current meeting them, that only a crazy man--as I have said--ever
would have tried for it. Just about crazy I then was, and the look
of it suited me. In that sea the narrow channel was so lashed by the
breakers running off from the sands to windward of it that there was
no sign of a cleft anywhere. No matter how we steered, getting through
it would be just hit or miss with us--and with all my heart and soul I
hoped that it would be hit for me and miss for John.

To make in, I had to bear up a little; and getting the wind by even
that little abeam gave my boat a send to leeward that was near to doing
for me. I was glad of it, though; because I knew that John would get
that same send in the wake of me--and with more chance of its finishing
him, his boat being a deal less weatherly than mine. And so--as I
grazed the sands, and after the graze went on safe again--my heart was
light with the thought that I'd got the better of him at last.

[Illustration: "THEN I COULD USE MY EYES TO LOOK BEHIND ME"]

There was no looking back, though, to see what had gone with him. All
my eyes were needed for my steering. Everywhere about me the sand-heavy
water was hugely rising in a great roar and tumble; and as for the
sands under it, and there the worst danger was, it was just good luck
or bad luck about striking them--and that was all that you could say.
Twice I felt a jar under me as the boat went deep in the sea-trough;
but I did not strike hard enough to hurt me, and I lifted again so
quick that I did not broach-to. And then, when I thought that I was
fairly through, and had safe water right ahead of me, there came a
bang on the boat's side--as the sea-trough took me down again--that
near stove me: and right at the side of me, so close that I could have
touched it as I lay for a second there in the deep wave-hollow, was the
stern-post of Tess's sand-bedded ship rising black out of the scum and
foam. One foot farther to leeward and the jagged iron of it would have
had me past praying for. But it did no harm to me--and as the water
covered it again I shot on beyond it into what seemed to me, after the
sea I'd hammered through, almost a mill-pond on the lee side of the
bank.

Then I could use my eyes to look behind me: and what I saw will stay
fixed in them till the copper pennies cover them and I see with them no
more.

In spite of his send to leeward at the start, John had come through
after me without taking the ground; but he had gone farther to leeward
than I had, and so was set--when smooth water lay close ahead of
him--fairly in death's way. As I looked back I saw only the bow of
his boat, with the scrap of sail above it, riding on the top of an
oncoming wave. Then the boat tilted forward, and came tearing down the
wave-front at a slant toward me, and I saw the whole length of her:
and what burned my eyes out was seeing Tess there, standing brave and
steady, the two hands of her gripping fast the mast.

It was not much more than a second that I had to look at her. With a
sharp sound of wood splintering, that I heard above the noise that
the sea was making, the boat struck fair and full on that iron set
timber--and then the wave that had sent her there was playing with the
scattered bits of her, and the sand-heavy breakers were tumbling about
the bodies of the two that she had borne.

       *       *       *       *       *

If the sea meant to give me back my dead Tess again, I knew where
I should find her--and there I did find her. On the shingle under
Covehithe Ness she was lying: come to me there at the last, as she came
to me there at the first, a sea upcast. That last time she was all
mine. There was no John left living to steal her away from me. And if
she was not mine as I wanted her, at least she never was his at all. In
that far I had my will and way over him, and for that much I am glad.

And so, she being all my own, home along the beach for the second time
I carried her. It was a wonder to me, as she lay in my arms, how light
she was--and she so tall!


THE END





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