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Title: The White Kami
Author: Jewell, Edward Alden
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Libraries)



THE WHITE KAMI

_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_:

THE CHARMED CIRCLE

    “Possessed of unusual strength and intensity. His characters
    are all sharply individualized and fit competently into the
    picture. They are interesting people and alive to the point of
    giddiness. Mr. Jewell has touched them with the fresh, electric
    buoyancy that distinguishes his book throughout.”—_The Literary
    Review_

    “The extraordinary plot is the plot of a melodrama, but its
    handling is the work of a literary artist and an authentic
    humourist.”—_The Chicago Evening Post_

    “As sunny as ‘Seventeen’ and as subtle as ‘The Age of
    Innocence.’ There will be thousands to delight in it, with
    tears and chuckles.”—_Wilson Follett_

_NEW YORK: ALFRED A. KNOPF_



                             THE WHITE KAMI

                                 A NOVEL

                                   BY
                           EDWARD ALDEN JEWELL

                             [Illustration]

                   NEW YORK ALFRED · A · KNOPF MCMXXII

                           COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY
                           EDWARD ALDEN JEWELL
                        _Published, April, 1922_

      _Set up and printed by the Vail-Ballou Co., Binghamton, N. Y.
       Paper furnished by W. F. Etherington & Co., New York, N. Y.
             Bound by the H. Wolff Estate, New York, N. Y._

              MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



  To
  MY FATHER AND MOTHER

  _C’est un ordre des dieux qui jamais ne se rompt,_
  _De nous vendre un peu cher les grands biens qu’ils nous font._—CORNEILLE



CONTENTS


                              I THE PRINCE

    CHAPTER ONE: FOG,                                                    3

    CHAPTER TWO: THE AMAZING CUSTOMER,                                  20

    CHAPTER THREE: FATE BEGINS TO PLAY HER CARDS,                       27

    CHAPTER FOUR: THE FOOTBALL OF THE INDIAN OCEAN,                     37

    CHAPTER FIVE: THE SKIPPING GOONE GETS A MASTER,                     42

    CHAPTER SIX: STEALING THE THUNDER FROM IRMENGARDE,                  53

    CHAPTER SEVEN: LIKE THE BARQUE OF CLEOPATRA,                        63

                                 II LILI

    CHAPTER EIGHT: THE AWAKENING,                                       75

    CHAPTER NINE: LOVE ON A SCHOONER—,                                  85

    CHAPTER TEN: —AND ELSEWHERE,                                        91

                     III “CURLY LOCKS, CURLY LOCKS”

    CHAPTER ELEVEN: HONEYMOON,                                         101

    CHAPTER TWELVE: A TOUGH OLD BIRD AND THE KEY OF PARADISE,          108

    CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE WHITE KAMI,                                  112

                              IV STRATAGEM

    CHAPTER FOURTEEN: UTTERBOURNE NARROWS HIS EYES,                    123

    CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE ANCIENT URGE,                                 130

    CHAPTER SIXTEEN: AFTER A FASHION—AND NO LICENSE REQUIRED,          135

                               V THE PIPE

    CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: COBWEBS,                                        147

    CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE QUARREL,                                     154

    CHAPTER NINETEEN: THE DINNER THAT NEVER WAS EATEN,                 161

                              VI THE MASCOT

    CHAPTER TWENTY: A FEW UPS AND A LOT OF DOWNS,                      167

    CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: MERRY-GO-ROUND,                                174

    CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: AT DAWN IN THE CHINA SEA,                      180

                              VII THE MYTH

    CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: WHOM THE POPPY CAPTURES,                     187

    CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: BITTER COMFORT,                               199

    CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: RENDEZVOUS,                                   203

                         VIII THE FLAMING WOUND

    CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: AN IMPRESARIO TUNES UP HIS PRIZE FOR BIG MONEY, 215

    CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: THE FLYING MOOR,                             220

                                IX DREGS

    CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: EXALTATION,                                  231

    CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: AVALANCHE,                                    236

                           X THE STAR OF TROY

    CHAPTER THIRTY: CYNICS,                                            247

    CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: THE MAP OF THE WORLD AGAIN,                    257

    CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: NEWS,                                          265

                          XI THE WHEEL TURNS ON

    CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: A GRAVE WITH FLOWERS IN THE JUNGLE,          275

    CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: PITCHERS AND STARS,                           289

    CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: “PUT NOT YOUR TRUST IN PRINCES,”              300

    CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: WEDDING BELLS IN THE OFFING,                   312



I

THE PRINCE



CHAPTER ONE

FOG


I

Her name was Stella, and she did not like her name. Her hair was quite
lustrous, but she did not like her hair, either, and stood combing
it jerkily before a glass which possessed in its midst one of those
unfortunate waves capable of drawing the face of the beholder into a sad
and sometimes startling distortion. Nor did she take the trouble to keep
out of range of the wave, which proved beyond any reasonable doubt that
things were not going very well with her.

Stella’s face was by no means a discredit to her sex; but a woman is
never seen to the best advantage when at odds with her hair—one of
the few generalities that may fairly be called safe. Her life was a
failure—that worst of all possible failures:—the kind of failure one just
misses grasping. She phrased it all supremely: “I guess I’m about as deep
in the mire as any one could get without being swallowed up entirely.”

Her eye chanced to light upon a cheaply framed photograph. With an
impulsive, half desperately searching air she took it in her hand, and
her regard assumed a passing gleam of softness. What she held was the
likeness of a young man about her own age—apparently around twenty—with a
somewhat groping look. Her inspection became hard, critical, unrelenting.
When she put him down it was with a thrust of annoyance. The young
man tottered a moment on the dizzy edge of a rouge pot and then fell
prostrate. She did not bother to put him on his feet again.

As she reached the dining room, chairs were just being scraped into
business-like adjacency with the table. Stella was really supposed to
come down in time to set the table for breakfast; but now and then,
either despite her high impatience or because of it, she overslept,
which was likely to signify that she had been into the small hours with
a novel. It also meant, in the ruthless way of life’s dispensations,
checks, and balances, that her sister Maud must contrive to set the table
between stirrings and slicings and fryings in the kitchen. Maud was plain
and capable, always pressed for time, very serious about everything. But
she was amiable, and even owned a sense of humour, of a sort—which at any
rate was better than none at all.

Exclamations of delight were in the air, emanating from Aunt Alice.
“Goody—muffins!” She sniffed approvingly. “Some more of your grand
corn muffins, Maud? Or—no, it seems to me—Maud, don’t I get a whiff of
graham?” And now her nose was lifted in sheer transport.

“Corn muffins this morning,” Maud replied, a pleased smile on her
somewhat formless lips.

“Goody again, say I!” It was a zest which seemed really to congratulate
all present.

Stella eyed her aunt dully. God had made her, and she had a good heart: a
wide-chested, cheerful, talkative lady of uncertain years, and a little
taller than Maud’s husband, even when he wore his special high heels. Ted
was far from being a vain man, but he didn’t like to be thought of as
a little man, either, and the cobbler said he’d done that kind of work
before.

Romance? thought Stella, looking unhappily about her. Where was it? She
longed for charm and luxury and brilliant contacts, but her father was in
the harness business.

Well—as he bent low over each sibilant spoonful of orange juice,
wrinkling both eyes a great deal while he delved into the independable
fruit, Frank Meade, stolid and honest and plain, wouldn’t strike any
one as perhaps quite bloated with romance; and yet, abruptly, a wisp of
remorse softened the daughter’s mood a little as she watched him—almost
a little errant burst of spiritual vision. But it faded quickly, and
she was brooding: “He might have been worth millions if he’d switched in
time!” Millions, not for themselves but what they could do to one’s life.
It was a distinction, though perhaps a trifle fine.

Into this sombre reverie broke the quiet voice of her sister: “Stella,
dear, another cup?”

“Such delicious coffee!” endorsed Aunt Alice, who could always be
depended upon to edge in something with the sly apology of the
parenthesis.

Stella suddenly remembered how Irmengarde, in the chapter where they
had afternoon tea somewhere in the Tyrol, waved aside the entreaties of
all her admirers, declining urged dainties on every hand because the
particular romance of her situation recommended an attitude of delicate
ennui. Stella would have liked borrowing the technique of the Tyrolese
mood, but there you were again. This wasn’t a resort in the Tyrol but
just the familiar San Francisco dining room with walls of cracked cream.
Her name was not Irmengarde. She was at war with life, but her cup went
back to be refilled notwithstanding.

After breakfast Maud called out to her husband: “Ted, dear, I wish
you’d bring home one of those new patent wringers with you tonight. The
handle’s come off my old one, and the man at the repair shop said if it
ever came off again he couldn’t fix it.”

“They’re grand!” echoed Aunt Alice over the rail of the banister. “I
think Bert said there were ball bearings inside.”

Ted said all right, his eyes winking behind very bright-looking glasses,
and Maud gave him a capable yet withal affectionate kiss. Aunt Alice,
though afar off now, heard and shouted unquenchably: “Another one for me,
Maud! You’re all right, Teddy! You’re a good boy! ‘Drink to me only with
thine eyes....’” Her voice strode irrepressibly off in song.

Stella half consciously heard too; and, out in the kitchen, her hands in
the eternal suds of dish-washing, it set her thrilling over one of the
golden sentences in that chapter where Irmengarde steals out to view the
ruins by moonlight.

“For one who has kissed as I have kissed,” sighed Irmengarde, “there are
no longer any mysteries in the world!”


II

So long as her hands were immersed in the kitchen suds, Stella could more
or less successfully build up about her an illusion of romance, for it is
perhaps the one solid virtue of dish-washing that it releases the mind to
rambles far afield. However, this task completed and the pan on its peg,
life slumped again badly.

She had not, it is true, always felt this way—until quite recently, in
fact, had not been greatly concerned about the things that didn’t go with
her destiny. But she had encountered the novel heroine Irmengarde, and
then—well, then the letter from Elsa, brief but wonderful, and really the
first letter since they were small girls living on the same street—before
the Utterbournes began mysteriously to rise. There had been postcards
through the years: now and then from the eastern school where Elsa had
gone so young to escape domestic unpleasantness; sometimes, later on,
a card startlingly from Europe or the Orient. For her part, Stella had
answered as many as she could with long, impulsive letters, in which lay
revealed the germ which had at length so unhappily sprung to flower.

Of course Elsa was never very demonstrative, and a postcard is only a
postcard; but that she hadn’t forgotten was the essential fact. Then, at
last, the letter: “I’m going to open the house in Berkeley for dad. He’s
been living at his club long enough, he says. When I get there I’ll look
you up.”

Stella had waited, and watched the mails eagerly for another glimpse
of Elsa’s thrilling scrawl. Perhaps she would ask her over to tea. Or
perhaps she would take her to a matinée and they would pour out their
hearts to each other afterward. However, the time since Elsa must have
reached town had at length run into weeks—and no word.

Stella thought of phoning; had even sketched problematical telephone
conversations; but hadn’t, after all, brought herself to do it. There was
something about Elsa—well, something that always made approaches a little
difficult. This seemed a part of her almost terrible charm. Yet once they
had come together again, everything would be quite simple and natural.
And so restlessly did she long for a breath of that richer life, that at
last she asked herself: “Why not just go and see Elsa without waiting to
hear—just drop in as though I happened to be passing by? I’ll do it!” Her
day gave promise of turning out rather better than it had begun.

A desperately conventional maid seated her in the Berkeley drawing room.
Then there was a long, long wait.

Stella, nervously fingering her gloves, adjusting and readjusting her
hat, had plenty of time to note her surroundings: a room sumptuous yet
severe, but above all incommunicative—formal to a degree which suggested
its ostracism from familiar domestic uses; yes, forbidding. It was like
a blind, a decorous façade, behind which who knew what might be in
progress? And the silence—something almost ominous—a sense of something
beyond or underneath it all....

She rejoiced in the luxury, but at length grew restive, as ten, fifteen,
twenty minutes—half an hour crept by. She stirred, coughed. Finally she
crossed the room. Just as she reached the door, however, the spell was
broken.

A figure came racing down the stairs. It was Elsa—an active girl,
yet inscrutably calm, heavy dark curly hair and very droopy eyes at
once extremely soft and extremely bold, and possessed of a kind of
unassailable bovine quality. She stopped abruptly at sight of Stella,
stood a moment facing her with an expression of wholly tactless
blankness, then came forward with hands hospitably extended.

“Stella—you old peach! Hello there!” They kissed lightly. “Please forgive
me. I forgot all about you.”

Stella wished she hadn’t come; but her friend went on with really
disarming cordiality: “We can talk for a couple of minutes while the
car’s being brought round. I’m sorry I have to run off. I’ve been rushed
to death getting ready for my dance—the biggest thing I ever attempted,
and a good deal of a bore, but I’m horribly indebted.” (The Utterbourne
family tree was aristocratic—men now and then in public life, and streaks
of real genius, always more or less money—and of course the social fruits
were proportionate.) “Sit down.” Her eyes drooped very much indeed at the
corners.

Certainly Elsa couldn’t be called a snob; the fact is, she was so very
much at ease with everybody that no one could accuse her of not treating
all people exactly alike. There was even something a little humorous in
her utter disregard of anything even approaching the conventions; and
what made it the more surprising just now was her background of the most
immaculate conventionality.

Stella leaned forward, obviously constrained, and wriggled nervously.
“You mustn’t let me keep you.” But Elsa gazed at her in a perfectly
steady yet detached manner, and exclaimed out of a silence which, it was
clear, bore no impress of awkwardness for her: “You’re looking ripping!”

Stella longed to throw her arms around Elsa and free her heart of its
accumulated turbulence. Instead they merely sat facing each other on
conventional chairs.

Talk of the dance resumed. “A week from tomorrow—I’m dreadfully
excited.” The girl’s eyes drooped pleasantly, however, and certainly
didn’t display any excitement to speak of. She just gazed on, with
disconcerting blankness; and since it couldn’t have occurred to her
that any embarrassment might accompany this frank chatter about the
approaching festivity, it must have been sheer impulse that brought out
the suggestion: “If you’d care to come, Stella, I’ll see you get an
invitation. Aunt Flora’s engineering everything. If you like I’ll give
her your name.”

All very quiet, ordinary, off-hand; yet Stella flushed and felt her heart
plunged into confusion. She was at once delighted and terrified. “I
shouldn’t know a single person but you—I’m afraid....” Pride, at first,
prevented her framing it any more forcefully; but the next moment she
felt so very wretched about her life that her pride just caved in and she
was faltering, though with a stiff little laugh: “I’m afraid a ball gown
would be a good deal of a problem!” Her eyelids were burning. She was
furious. She felt crushed.

Elsa’s gaze was still upon her, yet it was plain her friend’s commotion
of soul made no overwhelming impression. Her eyes drooped to signify
a forthcoming confidence. “If you’ll promise not to let it out—we’re
planning to announce something that night—during the supper dance!”
Stella thought miserably of her own lagging and forlorn engagement. But
it didn’t appear that the other girl, with everything so bewilderingly
romantic, was particularly thrilled. All at once, her expression never
changing, she disconcertingly demanded: “Was that the horn?” and strode
to the door. “Let me take you wherever you’re bound for, Stella—I’ve a
little time to spare. Sorry I can’t stay and talk.”

“Oh, thanks—I think I’ll just be going back to San Francisco. Please
don’t bother, Elsa.”

“Come along. I’ll take you as far as the ferry.”

The doggy little car in which one sat luxuriously low gave one a sense of
distinction, made one forget, even, that in a few short hours there would
be dish water again. Elsa drove expertly. She could almost have driven a
locomotive. Stella, a little bewildered by the rate at which things had
moved since her slow wait in the silence of the drawing room, watched her
friend with awe and admiration. The only trouble with the ride to the
ferry was its appalling brevity. And Elsa’s affectionate drawl was in her
ears: “Here we are. I’m going to look you up one of these days. Bye-bye.”
She nodded pleasantly without smiling, and Stella alighted.

“Oh, by the way—hold on a minute.” Elsa dove into one of the car’s
leather pockets and with blithe tactlessness produced a current _Vogue_.
“It will amuse you going across, and you’ll find some nifty patterns near
the back.”

A moment later she had departed, full speed in a bath of blue
smoke—breezed off exactly as she had breezed in, leaving behind her a
vast unhappy vacuum. Stella felt desperately let down. It was only now
she realized how much she had counted on Elsa.

“I’ll never hear from her again,” she brooded darkly; for she was
rather given to indulging in premonitions. Of course there would be no
invitation to the dance. Elsa would tremble for what her friend might
arrive in! She beat back the tears angrily with her lashes. This was all
that had come of her hopeful, desperate little expedition.

In the plodding ferry boat Stella thumbed the fashions, her mood growing
ever darker. “What will come next?” she muttered. The murk of discontent
settled thicker and thicker in her heart, like the fog across the
harbour, where whistles were hooting “Beware!” on every side.


III

At about the same hour that Stella reached her decision to call on Elsa
Utterbourne, the employes of the business houses along lower Market
street were streaming out into the hazy noon in quest of lunch, the
stomach being sovereign and benevolent tyrant there as in all walks of
life. A few had brought lunches from home wrapped in a bit of paper, and
among these was Jerome Stewart, an employe of Oaks, Ferguson & Whitley,
Ships’ Chandlers. He was one of a little group sprawled on the doorstep
of a wholesale candy factory which made a leader of forty-nine-cent
chocolates. He sat huddled somewhat, his knees raised so high as to
provide a very slanting table indeed for his stock of viands. However,
the clerk was quite unconscious of the fact that his position in the
universe might not be considered a thing of overwhelming delight.

He never had anything much to say at these times—a dearth which by
no means applied all round. A clerk from a fishing tackle store was
delivering a very graphic lecture on the difficult art of casting for
bass, and exacted the half guarded attention of the little group.

“The mistake most fishermen make is to whip their rod when they cast—like
that.” You saw exactly. “But,” he demonstrated, “the right way is like
this—v-e-r-y gently.”

Jerome thought he would like to be able to cast well. “I suppose it’s
only a knack,” he mused. But how did one go about it to learn the knack?
The tackle clerk might have told him, in a general way: application,
patience; but Jerome seldom carried his inchoate ambitions that far.

Another clerk, though his profession was selling typewriters, had a
passion for architecture, and began expatiating a trifle thickly across
his hard boiled egg. And Jerome followed him with considerable interest,
musing in much the same strain as before. Still, Jerome had never, at
best, felt more than a flirtatious interest in architecture, though he
had talked some of studying it on the side. Well, when analysed, it
proved to be pretty much in a class with many other idle ambitions: for
example, the sea. The sea, oddly enough, had come very near amounting
to a passion with Jerome Stewart. He had spoken rather grandly once of
taking to the high seas. Even to this day a mild penalty pursued him; one
of the group, suddenly leaning over to jog his shoulder, urged:

“Come on! You haven’t done your jig for months. Boys, are we going to let
him sit here and hide his talent?”

The crowd laughed goodnaturedly. “Sure! Out you go! Limber up!” And there
was a shuffling movement, as though the clerk might be about to find
himself precipitated on to the sidewalk, where an admiring ring would
form.

Jerome, however, had a very well developed sense of his own dignity. He
resisted, and the interest waned; however, it was quite true that he had
an accomplishment. In the dim long ago, a seaman at the waterfront had
taught him the hornpipe. Those were the brave, adventurous days. But
after all, he had been content in the end to take up ship chandlery; and
it must ever remain not the least of his humiliations that once when the
chance came to go out for a day in a fishing tug he had grown fatally
reluctant at the last moment because, to his land-locked eyes, there
was a deal of a sea slopping in. Jerome had come at length to take it
modestly for granted that nearly everything in life was more or less
unattainable.

As he consumed his bread and cheese, with a generous dessert of
home-made cocoanut cake in the offing, the clerk scanned such snatches
of relatively current news as revealed themselves down the columns of
the _Chronicle_ from which his banquet had emerged. This helped him keep
posted on the affairs of the great world. Sometimes there would be only
advertisements, in which case he knew how to accommodate himself without
a struggle. Or it would be the sporting page, and he always liked that.
Jerome seldom saw a game, but, like most normal individuals, read the
sporting news religiously—almost superstitiously. Today it was mostly
small type about stock and bond matters. Sometimes he wondered dimly
about the stock exchange. But after all it was no great matter, one way
or another.

Some young lady stenographers, arms linked and lips vocal with fun,
strolled past, leaving in their wake a havoc of masculine eyes. One of
the clerks sketchily whistled a perfectly unsuggestive tune suggestively.
The little passing thrill subsided; and then Jerome began thinking about
his own affair of the heart. It was a curious thing, but the clerk,
although he saw her nearly every day, could never conjure in his mind a
wholly satisfactory picture of the girl he was going to marry. There was
no doubt about his loving her. He loved her very much indeed. Besides, he
was very anxious to be married; the desire for a hearth of his own “and
kiddies” was firmly fixed in his soul. But it was always just a little
through a haze that he saw the girl herself. He could never, for one
thing, remember definitely whether she had a dimple; though he knew she
was fair, with fresh colour, and that her hair looked like gold when the
sun caught it right.

Jerome filled his short little pipe and lighted it. The pipe always gave
him a faintly jaunty feeling. If he ever thought of his destiny as a
bit obscure it was certainly never at such times as this. And at worst,
though his destiny obviously lacked a great many things he more or less
desired, he wouldn’t be willing to change it for anybody else’s.

The world moved busily on every side, heeding him not a bit. Every one,
as a matter of fact, had more important things to do than notice a
chandlery clerk who wasn’t even sure if his girl had a dimple. What all
the world missed, therefore, was a young man of about twenty or so, thin
but quite well built, a little unkempt, with a somewhat sallow look. His
hair was parted in the middle, and in the back it overlapped his collar
just a trifle—it was that kind of hair. His clothes had been, in their
jeunesse, a bit loud, which would be a weakness belonging to his years
and the fact that he was engaged; but they had never fitted any too well,
and long continuance of careless carriage had scarcely improved matters
in this direction. Finally, he wore a bright tie which was fastened near
its extremities to his shirt by means of a patent clip. The clip seemed
urging his shoulders forward and downward. Yes, upon the whole he seemed
pretty obscure; yet it wasn’t that he didn’t want to learn the knack of
life, but only that he thought he couldn’t.

Some whistles blew presently, and a city clock boomed. The group on the
steps of the candy factory broke up, and Jerome took his way back to the
ancient and musty mercantile house with all sorts of things pertaining to
ships displayed in the windows. He proceeded automatically to a special
peg and hung up his hat, encountering in the vicinity Mr. Ormand Whitley,
the junior partner, indulging in a drink of water at the old-fashioned
cooler. Whitley was only seventy-five and decidedly spry yet. He eyed the
returning clerk over a crockery cup and very solemnly announced, with a
gesture toward the water:

“My boy, that killed off every one once except Noah and a few animals!”

And then he laughed—a laugh which had a bursting start, like the
operation of a steam valve. Yes, there was something undeniably frivolous
about the junior partner, even though, curiously enough, his head made
one think instantly of the head of some profound Greek philosopher. It
might almost have been the head of Socrates.


IV

Closing time never found Jerome napping. His legs had been wrapped all
the afternoon about the rungs of his stool with the cheerful yet sluggish
permanence one encounters commonly in the plant kingdom; but now he
unwound them, took down his hat, and went out into a thick winter fog.
His legs really belonged somewhat in the category of beanpoles, but they
carried him over the ground. His gait, indeed, possessed a slightly
headlong quality, without being quite eager. All his movements seemed
a little automatic, even his head being held at a more or less fixed
angle—a habit indubitably acquired through prolonged association with
the ledger, and encouraging a suspicion that to change its focus a lever
somewhere would have to be touched, or a spring pressed.

Some blocks along he caught sight, through the fog, of a familiar back,
a little in advance, and the automatic walk accelerated to an automatic
dog-trot.

“Stella!” He was grinning all over with welcome.

She raised her head abruptly and returned his greeting, with just that
degree of impatience which is likely to accompany a rebound from startled
solitude.

“What are you doing ’way down here at such a time of night?”

She told him, a bit curtly, of her visit to Elsa. Ordinarily she would
have taken a car uptown from the ferry terminus, but today it had
occurred to her that exercise might tend a little to relieve her sense
of depressing futility. So far as he was concerned, it had been a most
happy decision.

They walked on together, talking of immediate things, or not talking at
all; and he kept sliding his admiring eyes round for brief surveys of
the fair face he could never seem to keep vividly in his mind. It rather
exasperated Stella to be looked at this way. She might, she thought,
almost as well be an article in any one of the shop windows they were
passing. At length she demanded:

“Is something the matter with my hat?”

“No, indeed! I like it very much, Stella.”

She sighed sharply.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Nothing.”

“You seem rather mad. Anything up?”

She shook her head, and there followed a space of silence, during which
she was conscious, as never hitherto, of her companion’s imperfections.
It couldn’t be denied—the engagement was dragging. There wasn’t even a
ring. They had decided for the present to call themselves engaged and
save the money a ring would cost. Today, however, she eyed her vacant
finger scornfully, and remembered with a turbulent pang how Elsa had
whispered her own forthcoming engagement; what a romantic, exciting
engagement it promised to be; such a propitious beginning!

“Well,” she sighed at length, rebelling against so wooden a silence,
“anything new at the store today?”

“No,” Jerome laughed shortly.

“Doesn’t anything ever happen there?”

“No.” He laughed again. And she was thinking: “What a stupid
conversation!” Stella sometimes had sparkling enough conversations with
persons her mind conjured to flashes of fragmentary tête-à-tête, though
they might not, it is perhaps true, stand up under a test of modern
psychology. “Don’t you ever think of getting into something else?” she
demanded.

“Oh, I’ve thought of plenty of things I’d like to do, but”—he drew a fine
distinction—“this seems to be about the only thing I really know _how_ to
do.”

“Because you’ve never tried.”

“Well, what would you like to have me try?”

“Isn’t there anything you’d like to try yourself?” She lifted her head
impetuously. “If I were a man I think I’d discover something besides
being a clerk in a ship supply store!”

She was really scolding him now, though she hadn’t meant to speak with
quite such driving scorn. It was a day when everything grated, nothing
went well; a day when blouse strings knotted and buttons flew off; a day
aggravated by everything and everybody. By this time her mood of revolt
was poignant indeed. Jerome looked at her in mild, inquisitive amazement.

Stella was groping. She saw herself deep in a mire of eventlessness
and humdrum, and longed to reach out after the dazzling things in
life—romance, excitement, the luxury of gay, brilliant contacts. In her
heart rose a blind little cry of opaque desire.

Abruptly, right at her elbow, a door slammed. She started quite violently
and turned, in time to behold an arrestingly handsome man emerging from
a railroad and steamship travel bureau, his hand full of bright-coloured
tourist pamphlets.

Her glance was hurried and thrilled. But a tiny miracle was to happen.
A moment later the handsome man came running up behind her, with quick
chivalrous steps.

“Pardon me,” he requested, raising his hat in an almost lavish way; and
she saw that he was handing her a pattern page from her fashion magazine,
which she had detached on the ferry boat and thrust in loosely. It had
fallen to the sidewalk just as she was passing the travel bureau.

“Oh—thank you so much!” she fluttered, flushing with vague excitement.

The stranger, smiling with an ample bewitchment, restored her property,
lifted his fashionable hat again, and strolled into oblivion. Her last
searching glance discovered a single fresh violet in his buttonhole.

“That was a stroke of luck!” Jerome observed in his calm, automatic
manner. “You don’t often get back things you lose in a crowd.”

Stella, though she beheld in what had just occurred a sly stroke of irony
in that the chivalrous act should have fallen to another than Jerome,
made no immediate reply. Indeed, for the moment her mind surged richly
with excited imaginings. It was like the beginning of a romance! “I was
just wishing,” she mused, still flushed. “Then a door slammed—as though
fate had been listening all the time, and then....” Yes, she liked to
view life in terms of indefinite grandiloquence. Still, it had all ended
there. The handsome stranger, who might be a prince setting out on some
fabulous tour of the universe, had quickly disappeared. She would never
see him again.

Once more the fog settled about her. Life slumped. She felt more dismally
hemmed in than ever.

Jerome cheerfully broke the silence with easy commonplaces, to which she
responded moodily if at all. Each time a space of stillness came between
them, Stella was reminded in a curious, haunting way, of the silence of
that long wait in the Utterbourne drawing room, where there had seemed
something ominous or impending, invisible yet more palpable, too, than
mere fancy.

At length Jerome fell taciturn also; and it was then that the girl
reëstablished the theme which the episode of the fashion page had broken.

“Don’t you ever have a feeling,” she wearily insisted, “you ought to be
getting more out of life?”

This time his laugh was slightly constrained. “I’ve thought of cutting
quite a figure in the world some day. How do I know but I still may? You
never can tell.”

“You certainly won’t unless you make up your mind to!”

“Oh say!” he protested, his masculine dignity beginning to feel menaced.
“Why do you want to jump on me all of a sudden? I guess I’m no worse off,
at least, than I was a year ago.”

But his defensive nonchalance infuriated her. “A year ago!”

“Well,” he replied easily and a trifle coolly, “I lay a whole lot of
plans I don’t always discuss, because I prefer to wait till I’m ready to
spring something definite.”

Their voices were taking on a sharper quality as they carried their
lovers’ quarrel through the home-rush of the ignoring fog-choked city.

“Anything’s better than submitting! I must say _I’d_ admire you more if
you didn’t just take what’s handed out.”

“You would?”

“Oh,” she cried, with a hot fling of her voice, “if you could only
_plunge_!”

His reply was indeed provoking. “Where to?”

“Almost any place would be better than where we are!”

It was beginning to get under his skin. He smarted, looking straight
before him as he walked. “Oh, I think I might be a little worse off.
Oaks-Ferguson is a good old house.”

She gestured blindly with the fashion magazine. “It isn’t so much just
money. It’s settling down right here in one spot for the rest of our
lives!” And at length, since he made no reply, she sighed angrily and
stopped. “I’m tired. I guess I’ll wait at this corner for a car.”

He paused moodily beside her, and she turned on him with a heavy look in
which there seemed no glint now of affection. “Don’t bother to wait. I
know you always walk.”

“You mean you’d rather go the rest of the way without me?” She stood with
pressed lips, staring gloomily down the street. Finally he continued: “If
so, all you’ve got to do is say the word.”

She was witheringly thinking: “It oughtn’t to be necessary.” As a matter
of fact, she hadn’t really intended bringing about such a situation; yet
even now, as she had it in her heart to speak more gently, words of
greater harshness rose perversely.

“We don’t seem to be getting anywhere with each other, Jerome.”

He addressed the ground: “You mean you’re tired of me for good?”

His very directness irritated her. “I’m certainly tired of the way we
just drag along.”

“Well,” he said at last, speaking with an emotion which, while genuine
enough, also seemed to him rather pleasurably smacking of the heroic, “if
you can do better without me, all I can say is you better try. Nothing I
do seems to suit you.” And, in his aroused mood of masculine ire, Jerome
found it expedient to add: “It’s my private opinion you don’t exactly
know what you do want.”

The thrust was so palpably true, in a sense, that the girl abandoned her
last scruple of lingering reserve. “I guess it’s high time we broke off
our engagement!”

Her car arrived and she stepped aboard, while Jerome turned and marched
off without a word.



CHAPTER TWO

THE AMAZING CUSTOMER


I

Alone in the street car, Stella brooded it all miserably. “How unhappy I
am,” she thought. And then she faltered: “I didn’t realize....” Yet she
asked herself, too, what could be left unsaid if the scene were to be
played over—“except, maybe, the actual breaking off...?” Everything she
had said was quite true, yet her heart was not at rest. “I don’t seem
to know which way to turn any more,” she told herself darkly, almost in
tears.

Meanwhile Jerome, continuing home on foot, argued that what had occurred
was no great matter. She had succeeded really in arousing him, and his
mood was surprisingly energetic.

“Well, if she feels _that_ way....” He muttered the opening phrases of
many very vigorous statements designed to cover his feelings; but for
the most part they were destined to an eternal suspension. “I guess I’m
not _quite_ so hopeless....” Well, the thing had happened, and there was
an end of it. There would be no longer any special reason why he should
vividly picture her in his mind when they were apart; yet, curiously
enough, now their ways were sundered, he found himself picturing her with
singular vividness. “A fine thing,” he thought, “to keep at a fellow
about!” Perhaps there was more to be got out of life, but had she given
any hint as to how it was to be managed? She _had_ not! He bolstered his
outraged ego the whole of the way.

Arrived at his own house, Jerome went at once to his room. He washed in
a desultory manner, then proceeded to plaster his hair down very slick,
even dipping the brush into the water pitcher to facilitate the process.
His evening toilet completed, the young man sat down in a straight chair,
tipped himself rakishly back against the wall, knocked the caked ashes
out of his jaunty little pipe, filled it with tobacco from a tumbler
supposed to hold his toothbrush, and began pulling away in a comfortable,
dignified fashion. He flattered himself he didn’t exactly resemble the
traditional conception of a man who has just passed through the ordeal of
a broken engagement, and tried to persuade himself that Stella would be
the heavier loser of the two.


II

The next day Mr. Whitley, the junior partner of Oaks, Ferguson &
Whitley’s, was waiting on a couple of old regulars—joking with them
in his undignified yet senile fashion, and laughing explosively as he
wrapped some small purchases. Jerome presently became aware of the entry
of another customer, and not unwillingly climbed down from the stool of
his destiny.

The customer was peering into one of the dusty show-cases: a large man,
about forty-five, perhaps, dressed in a Palm Beach suit and wide-brimmed
hat. Both hands—and they lay conspicuously outspread on the showcase
before him, almost as though they were in reality goods whose purchase
he was considering—were amazingly encrusted with precious stones. On
one finger alone were two massive rings set with diamonds and rubies
of almost incredible magnitude, while on another finger was a curious
constellation of tiny stones set into a golden cube which stood well out
from the band itself. The man was, from head to foot, an exotic—with
Italian blood, probably, though above all a cosmopolitan—and seemed so
full of contradictions that at first one found it simply impossible to
make him out at all; yet regarding his amazing picturesqueness there
could, at least, be no mistake. He had about him a gorgeous flavour of
romance and mystery.

The customer began with some hesitation: “I wonder—could you give me any
sort of idea what it would take to feed say about thirty-five people and
a small crew during a voyage to Honolulu?”

Jerome stared. What else could he do? But the customer smiled and tried
to be more coherent.

“The fact is,” he said, in a very friendly, confidential, optimistic
manner, “I’m altogether a novice at this sort of thing, and just dropped
in because I saw up over the door that you deal in ship supplies. I
thought I might as well stop and enquire, even though I haven’t had time
yet to draw up any lists or such things. _Lord_, isn’t it a busy life?”

His eyes—large and black and enthusiastic—swam with a vague yet
enkindling glow as he gazed about. “You see,” he explained, in a voice
peculiarly booming and rich, “I’ve just rented a schooner—taken it for a
year—yes, a fine little fourmaster, with a brand new coat of paint!”

Jerome, of course, noticed that to the man across the counter ships were
sexless objects, and that he spoke of chartering a vessel exactly as a
real estate man might speak of letting or acquiring a piece of property.
Yet, oddly enough, all this seemed but adding to his charm.

“To tell the truth,” confessed the glittering stranger, removing his hat
and disclosing a black toupee which contrasted a little queerly with a
greying fringe lower down, “I’ve not more than the remotest idea what you
stock up with.”

“For the galley?” asked Jerome, desiring to be nautical, yet at the same
time wishing to avoid an appearance of self-consciousness which he always
more or less felt when he spoke of the sea or the things of the sea.

“That’s it!”

“But couldn’t all such be left to the steward, sir?”

“The steward?” For a moment the warm black eyes appeared a trifle blank.
“Well, now I suppose so. Lord, yes, I suppose the steward would take all
such loads off my mind. But you see,” he leaned across in a perplexed
way, speaking very confidentially indeed, “the fact is I haven’t got any
steward yet.”

“No steward, sir?”

“Well, no, I haven’t yet,” the other apologized. And then he broadened
the confidence, his eyes petitioning and not a little wistful: “You see
the fact is I haven’t got any crew at all yet.” His face relaxed into a
smile of singular sweetness. “Lord, what a busy life! It seems to me as
though I never more than get started!”

“The trouble is, sir,” said Jerome, “we deal only in ship’s hardware
here.”

“Ah?” returned the customer, obviously a little dismayed; and he looked
about in a helpless way, yet almost hopefully, too, as though half
anticipating, out of the very abundance of his optimism, that he might
discover displayed somewhere goods which would welcomely disprove the
clerk’s assertion.


III

“What’s wanted?” asked Mr. Whitley with crisp, rising inflection. He had
come up and was standing beside Jerome, his hands on his hips, looking
more than ever like an intellectual colossus.

“Why, I’ll explain a little more about it,” replied the customer, turning
from Jerome to the old man. “My name’s Xenophon Curry—you may have heard
of me. Here’s my card—here’s two of ’em.” And he drew forth a wallet from
the pocket of a vast expanse of black and white checked woolen vest and
took from it two generous bits of pasteboard, which he handed across with
a little bustling gesture. “You see, I’ve rented a schooner called the
_Skipping Goone_—nice name, kind of, isn’t it? As I was just explaining
to your young man here, I don’t know just how to go about it to get a
crew and so forth, and I suppose—good Lord, yes!” he laughed, “first of
all there will have to be a captain! Well, it will come right somehow. I
always manage to blunder through. I guess it must be part of my luck!”

Both Jerome and Mr. Whitley were absorbed in the customer’s card, and the
latter finally observed: “I see you head an opery troupe!”

“Yes,” replied Xenophon Curry, drawing in deeply and expanding his ribs
exactly the way his singers always did when they were going to attack a
high note. “We’ve just closed a triumphant tour of the States, and now,”
he added, with a little fling of his head which can only be described
as magnificent, “we’re going to keep right on—west! That’s where the
schooner comes in, do you see? I wouldn’t say—no, I wouldn’t say but we
might go clear round the world! It’s a wonderful thought, in a way, isn’t
it?”

The mouths across the counter were dropped in astonishment; but Mr.
Whitley, being so ancient a pupil in the school of life, possessed rather
more ballast to withstand the puff of unexpected gales than did his
clerk. He recovered first, and made a very smart remark indeed to the
effect that he wouldn’t so much mind going along himself if there were
as many pretty chorus girls as some shows carried. He winked naughtily.
And of course this remark was but the forerunner of one of his bursting,
infectious laughs, which, once released, ran along quite placidly.
Laughter never seemed to discomfit the junior partner in the slightest
degree.

When he had sobered sufficiently, Mr. Whitley began an inventory of
commission houses. “There’s Silvio’s over the way, and Chiappa’s in
Mission street—couldn’t go far wrong. Your steward, when you find one,
will know where to get the best prices.”

“How about Gambini’s?” asked Jerome.

“Oh, there’s no end of ’em,” remarked the old man opulently. For it
was, in truth, a neighborhood abounding in lures for the marketing
steward. Chicken feathers were forever wafting on the whiff of limes and
pineapples, and when it rained, mouldy oranges sped down on the muddy
breast of gutter streams.

Presently the junior partner felt it incumbent on him to do a bit more
honour to the prodigiousness of what the customer had disclosed. “An
opery troupe!”

“Yes,” replied Xenophon Curry with warm and lingering affection. “And I
want to tell you, gentlemen, I’ve got some of the finest songbirds in
captivity! Next time we play here I’ll send you down some passes.”

“Be sure they’re well toward the front,” stipulated the old man. The
laugh was crowding in, but he just managed to add: “My eyes aren’t quite
as good as they used to be!”

“I suppose,” observed Jerome respectfully, “you’ve been in the business
all your life?”

“Almost as far back as I can remember,” the impresario assured him.
“Lord, gentlemen, you couldn’t get me to give it up for a million
dollars! It’s the glory of doing what you’re made to do! I was made for
music as sure as God made little green apples! Music—” he poised it a
moment, quite ecstatically, his eyes raised toward the ceiling, “—that’s
what I’m _made_ for!” But then he seemed to realize that emotion was
rather carrying him away, and that, after all, here he was in a ship
chandlery store, with a clerk and an old man blinking at him behind the
counter; so he ended, very simply, and with another of his fine smiles:
“I’m sorry to have bothered you about the supplies, but you see I never
tried to run a schooner before. Gentlemen, I’ll wish you good day!”

He made them a gallant flourish and was about to take his departure, when
Jerome suggested: “If you like sir, I could go through the _Skipping
Goone_ to see if there’s anything in our line you might need. There
usually are a lot of odds and ends missing.”

Mr. Whitley showered looks of affection upon his clerk. Yes, he was
really an ornament to the establishment. But Xenophon Curry looked
positively radiant.

“That’s a fine idea, young man! Say, would you? I’ll show you through
myself, from top to bottom, upstairs and down!”

Jerome came around the counter and accompanied the impresario to the
door. In the street where trucks were thundering endlessly by along
the cobblestones, afternoon was on the wane, foggy and black. On the
threshold the man extended a hand.

“I’ll come down here in a cab and pick you up, and we’ll go to the wharf
together. It’s ’way over somewhere,” he waved vaguely.

After they had shaken hands the amazing customer hurried off. His whole
being seemed to exude a fierce yet always benevolent energy—the most
amazing customer who had ever come into the store. “I’ll be able to tell
Stella something’s happened at Oaks-Ferguson’s today!” he mused; and then
he remembered that she’d no longer be interested to know whether things
happened there or didn’t.

The look of animation faded wanly, and he felt very much alone. “Maybe
I’ll go over anyway and see if she’s ready to make it up,” he thought, as
he stood there in the doorway beside a swinging shiny oilskin coat and
hat, gazing out into the murk of the dying winter day. But another voice
within him followed close: “Maybe I won’t, too—anyway not yet awhile.”
The first was the voice of the heart, hungry for the return of a girl’s
affection; but the second was the voice of a still squirming masculine
ego.

However, could he have known that at this very moment Stella was
receiving from the postman an invitation, after all, to Elsa’s dance,
and could he have beheld the look of rapture that came into her face as
she realized the good fortune which had befallen her, Jerome would have
experienced greater difficulty than ever persuading himself that she was
going to be the heavier loser of the two.



CHAPTER THREE

FATE BEGINS TO PLAY HER CARDS


I

At eleven o’clock the ballroom was crowded. Elsa Utterbourne, in a
handsome, severe, somehow almost boyish gown, was the centre of interest,
and about her revolved giddily the established dances of the year—a year
when all that was most _outré_ was also most popular.

Young interests and enthusiasms and hopes and despairs and infatuations
and intrigues merged and were stirred into a gay musical shuffle. All
the season’s debutantes were there and a great many of last season’s
debutantes; all the important marriageable young ladies, in fact, and
a few of the important unmarriageable older young ladies, and a great
many young married folks, with their air of unimpeachable _savoir-faire_
and often an inclination to be as scandalous as possible without quite
incurring the frown of the community; even a sprinkling of blithe young
divorcées, since connubial life can’t be expected to be a grand sweet
song in every single instance, and how can you always tell until you’ve
tried it whether married life with one mate will prove as nice as married
life with another mate—or in extreme cases, a state of unmarried life
with somebody else’s? In a word, the dance was an entire success.

Captain Utterbourne, looking immensely civilized and wholly unnautical,
sat all in a sort of cynical little slump on a davenport, his hands
lightly thrust into his pockets—a rather short, stockily built man with
somewhat thick neck and wrists, and a round full face. His eyes were
middling small under a sloping brow, while the nose was inclined to be
outstanding.

Having observed Elsa one is equipped in really superlative degree to
graduate to the Captain; for if ever there was a logic in relationship,
it demonstrated itself here! If Elsa’s eyes were unassailable, the
Captain’s whole face was unassailable. In fact he possessed what is
commonly known as a poker face—inscrutable, always superbly clean shaven;
a man of mystery and enigma; subtly terrifying.

As she sat beside him for a moment now, it became vividly apparent that
the Captain could not possibly be any one else but the father of Elsa,
just as Elsa could not possibly be any one else but the daughter of
the Captain. There was something restful in the very completeness of
heredity’s achievement—only it must be clearly grasped that whatever
was remarkable in Elsa was doubly and trebly remarkable in him. There
were muffling traits of the long-divorced mother in her—traits of vague
impulsiveness and even an elusive warmth; but in the Captain one found
everything sheer.

Their snatch of talk concerned a singularly handsome man standing not far
from them, leaning negligently yet with impeccable elegance against a
high-backed chair, and gently swaying a monocle, which never went to his
eye.

“At any rate, and even if Flora did arch her brows over his coming, you
can hardly deny that Mr. King is by all odds the most fascinating person
the present occasion has yielded,” drawled Captain Utterbourne in a tone
of subtle affection.

Nor was Elsa prepared to deny this. King had been wafted into the West
under the hushed though wholly laudatory auspices of her father. It was
a good deal of a mystery. There was something not altogether coherent
about his having been picked up at sea somewhere. But whatever the facts,
certain it was that his eyes, supremely blue and round, captured all on
whom their gaze rested, and that, in short, he was fascinating beyond
question or argument.

“Almost too good to be true,” admitted Elsa humorously “—like the
coloured postcards of Sorrento and Egypt and the Côte d’Azure.”

Her eyes drooped with whimsical appreciation. Suddenly she jumped up—“I
have it!”—and sped off.


II

Left alone, Captain Utterbourne, humming gently, gazed across in a
quizzical way at the man their talk had just concerned. He watched him
with eyes a little narrowed; and underneath his lazy quiet there seemed
to lurk something keen and purposeful. It was as though some subtle
preparation were afoot.

Presently he got up, strolled over to where King was lounging watching
the dancers, and nodded with a smile flickering icily on his lips.

“King,” he began abruptly, yet in the dreamy, drawling tone which
characterized most of his speech, “did you ever sit down before a map
of the world and just let your mind go? H’m? It’s a gorgeous piece of
adventure!” There was a tiny thrill of fire, and he seemed to be pulling
the sentences up from some profound abyss. “A map of the world—h’m? What
it has cost in toil and ingenuity—the long sifting of facts—the grim
wrestle with legend—h’m?”

What could it mean? What was this new mystery of approach? There were
forces busy here.

“Think,” embroidered the Captain,“—think of the slough of the Middle
Ages, when what bothered the map-makers most was the pressure of the
Church, holding up before them those obscuring metaphysical allusions
to ‘the four corners of the earth’—when the best they could do was to
conceive of a rectangular world—h’m?—surrounded by—by the unknown! Just
think of it, King!”

A waltz swayed the dancers all about them. Yes, there were forces busy
here.

Elsa dashed up. “Oh, here you are!” She laughed easily and not very
mirthfully. “Yes, I know—I’m coming,” she soothingly interpolated over
her shoulder to a youth with mussed hair who had wildly pursued her
waving a program with its flying cord and pencil. “I wanted Mr. King to
meet Miss Meade.” She grasped his arm and informally hurried him off,
with a slight nod toward her father, which somehow fulfilled every demand
of etiquette.

Not far away sat Stella, looking quite as delightful for the occasion as
she felt over her thrilling share in it. She was wearing a dress Elsa
had insisted upon lending her—“since you seem to be so tired of your own
clothes”; it was her way of being tactful. There had been some demur,
but Elsa, as usual, had her own way—said, indeed, she would positively
have the invitation withdrawn unless Stella agreed to take the dress too.
There was a good deal of whimsy about Elsa.

Mr. King saluted Stella with one of his most fascinating smiles. He
bowed, too, in a courtly way, which made her catch her breath a little.
“I’m delighted,” he murmured.

And Stella, her eyes strangely full of light, paused just short of
exclaiming: “There’s something about you—something I seem to remember....”

Elsa prepared to dance off with her impatient partner, but turned to
her father, who had strolled up, and warned him with dry playfulness:
“Please keep an eye on them, and don’t let them get so interested in
each other that they forget about supper, because Stella has that dance
taken—haven’t you, Stella?” She had been unflagging and a little brazen
in her friend’s behalf.

“I believe so,” fluttered Stella, excitedly glancing at her card, though
in truth, her face all alight with momentarily realized dreams, she
wasn’t much concerned over the possibility of any mere individual’s being
able to subtract her attention from the glittering whole. Nevertheless,
that is exactly what did happen. She fell right into the trap Elsa had
mockingly cautioned against; and this is how it all came about.


III

Captain Utterbourne, with faint petulance, his lips twitching to a smile
of finely etched satire, scrupulously withdrew; but he turned back
a moment and faced King with the most affectionate and least complex
expression of which he was capable.

“By the way, would you mind dropping in at my office tomorrow? You know
where we are—Hyde’s. There’s something I’d like to go into—h’m?” His mere
look subtly completed the sentence; for Captain Utterbourne had perfected
the art of intelligible suspension. Mr. King agreed eagerly, though he
kept his monocle spinning in a thoroughly sophisticated and idle fashion.
Utterbourne had been but glancingly arrested in his departure—all this
was very high art. With a faint bow to Stella, which delicately rebuked
her for having been the means of interrupting him at a moment when he had
cryptically begun to open his mind to his new favourite, the Captain was
gone; and they saw him pause, in passing, to banter his sister Flora,
just glancingly, as she sat in a little whirl of gentle gossip near the
punch bowl.

“May I sit down here?” suggested Mr. King gracefully; and found her
looking up at him almost coyly, as though having tête-à-têtes with men of
his calibre were indeed an established phase of her life. But naturally
her heart was fluttering very much.

He talked easily and in a conventionally flirtatious manner: had been
noticing her all evening, he said—though as a matter of fact, he was but
recently arrived. And she, almost painfully excited, played back in quite
the same spirit, though it privately cost a greater effort. Mr. King was
so bewilderingly nice that she used every instinctive gift in an effort
to please and impress him: yes, just giddily let herself go.

They talked of pleasant immediacies. When she dropped her
handkerchief, he stooped to pick it up; and when he handed it to her
something—something vaguely reminiscent—made her feel as she had felt
when the introduction was taking place. Certainly no one had ever before
treated her with such a wealth of worldly chivalry.

“Oh, thank you!” she fluttered; and he returned a deft little gesture.
Then another flash of reminiscence brought a gay cry to her lips. “Oh,
now I know! We’ve met before—though I’m _sure_ you’ll never remember!”
And as she spoke of the episode of the rescued fashion page, Stella saw
again a handsome stranger emerging from the travel bureau, his hand full
of alluring pamphlets, and in his buttonhole a single violet. Surely she
hadn’t been mistaken?

Just at first he didn’t seem to remember, but in an instant he
chivalrously remembered it all with the utmost vividness. They discussed
the curious little coincidence. It was quite wonderful. Her romantic
nature made the lavish most of a circumstance which to another might seem
casual in the extreme. Such things really happen pretty often, but her
mood insisted upon the most rosy values; and indeed, the tiny episode,
from the moment he did remember, seemed to carry them swiftly along
toward an intimacy undreamed of a moment since.

He looked at her, she felt, almost consumingly with his magnetic round
blue eyes.

Presently he asked whether she wouldn’t like some punch, and she said
she would, so they got up and he gave her his worldly arm. She had never
before been so satisfyingly thrilled.

Mr. King handed her a glass of punch, making a minute ceremony of it; and
she fluttered again, and smiled across at him quite archly over the rim
as she sipped.

He asked her: “I suppose you spend about all your time dancing, Miss
Meade? It seems to be the rage nowadays.”

And while she ought, of course, to have laughed it off, or been at
least flirtingly evasive, she looked at him instead with an impulse of
wistfulness out of her meagre life, and a wave of unassuming candour
brought out the admission: “I really don’t very much, but I enjoy it
immensely. Don’t you think this is a very nice party?”

He seemed to regard her with subtly keener interest; and, curiously
enough, it was just that impulsive little flash of candour in Stella, to
begin with, that stimulated in Mr. King a sentiment destined at last to
involve her most surprisingly. She had a very definite picture, however,
of the sort of impression she wanted to make on this man—the impression
he seemed irresistibly to invite—and it would have bewildered her to
think he might be getting another picture altogether.

He asked her if she wouldn’t like to dance, and without even glancing at
her card she said yes she would; and then half wished she had said no,
because she was hazy about the new steps, and was desperately afraid Mr.
King would find her, after all, disappointing.

But they danced, and everything went splendidly, and he didn’t find her
so disappointing, although himself so immaculately proficient in the new
steps.


IV

After that Stella thought of course he would leave her and find some one
else on whom to spend his superlative charms. It seemed incredible he
shouldn’t. But instead he gave her his ceremonious arm again and escorted
her to a romantic, shadowy nook, and sat down beside her. And it was
then, for the first time, that Stella dared think he might be growing
really interested in her.

“He must be impressed!” she thought, thrilling more than ever.
“Perhaps....” But she dared not, even in secret, tempt herself with
all the delirious possibilities that crowded her brain just then.

King leaned a little toward her as she sat excitedly opening and shutting
Elsa’s fan in her lap.

“You must feel warm, even though you don’t show it,” he said, smiling
gallantly. “Let me fan you.” And when she had surrendered the fan, with a
delighted, coquettish gesture, Mr. King began waving it slowly back and
forth as he talked—not really stirring up a great deal of breeze, but
beautifully establishing an atmosphere of coolness and languor.

“You can imagine you’re an Egyptian princess, and I’m one of those nice
glossy black slaves, with a fan of papyrus or ostrich plumes—what is it
they use?”

“Oh, dear,” replied Stella in a very worldly tone, “I’m afraid I don’t
know, really!” She laughed a brief, happy laugh, and, after a little more
appropriate repartee, she insisted: “I’m sure your arm must be getting
tired. Suppose the Egyptian princess tells her slave he may stop fanning
her until ...”

“Until after she’s danced again?”

Too late Stella realized she had gauchely precipitated a second
invitation. But he seemed genuinely to welcome it (“That’s a divine
waltz,” he observed irreproachably) and anyhow she couldn’t resist
appearing on the floor again with him. As they danced she could hardly
help noticing how people watched them. It was a delicious sensation.
Fortunate for her he had come late—too late to fill his card. Normally,
she guessed, it wouldn’t require much exertion on his part!

And still he didn’t leave her. Jesting merrily they went about in search
of another shadowy nook, and when they had found one to their liking, sat
down and resumed their talk. Of course in talk they didn’t go beneath
those superficial currents which sociologists tell us are essential to
mutual soundings-out within the herd. One talks of the weather or the
high cost of everything, or if one is especially gifted, perhaps, one
talks about Egyptian princesses—and all the while keeps his ears alert
for that “low growl” which shall warn him he is in the wrong pew. But
behold! there was no low growl. She heard none, he heard none. And yet it
would seem as though these two: this girl in revolt against life and this
the most fascinating man at the ball, must belong in very widely severed
pews indeed.

“Where is your home, Mr. King?” she asked.

“Ah, how shall I answer?” he cried in mock consternation. “I’m afraid
I’ve become a kind of permanent tramp—travelling a lot and—well, jogging
about generally.”

“Abroad?” she asked, clasping her hands but making otherwise a valiant
effort not to be overcome with awe.

“Pretty much all over the globe,” he admitted. “I’ve whistled up the sun
sitting astride the pyramids; I’ve strummed a ukulele on the beach at
Waikiki; I’ve dabbled a bit at Monte Carlo; I’ve sipped tea with little
doll-like geisha girls in Yokohama. What haven’t I done, and where
haven’t I been?” He looked honestly almost appalled at his own wealth of
experience; and she hung on his words, her face responsive to the thrill
in her heart.

A little later on they were speaking of the earthquake and how the city
had developed out of calamity. And then, since she had quoted, in this
connection, something her father had said, and since they were on the
subject of business generally Mr. King suggested: “May I ask what your
father’s business is?”

And Stella—unhappy Stella. She ran her fingers nervously along the
feathers of the fan in her lap, and was silent for just a moment, the old
rebellion, impotent but hot, bringing its flush to her face. Then slowly
she raised her eyes to his, unexpectedly found in them the inspiration
she had missed elsewhere, and replied quite frankly, with the same sort
of candour that had slipped in more than once already: “My father’s
business is harness.”

Did he hear a growl? Was he in the wrong pew? Destiny seemed to hold her
breath. But if there was any growl now it was so faint as to recommend
no drastic alarums and excursions. “Harness—ah.” That was all. And he
went on in the same gracefully adjusted tone: “Perhaps not quite so much
demand, but still an important item.” And he added, breaking into the
more general field the topic seemed prompting: “I like a good horse. I
suppose you ride, Miss Meade?”

“Oh—occasionally,” she replied, her face still slightly flushed with
suppressed rebellion, but smiling with that attempt at archness she told
herself the situation required. “Occasionally”—yet what she really meant
was a long time ago; for it was highly possible the staid old family
horse, used only for driving now, might expire of amazement were Stella
to take a notion to mount.

“It would give me ever so much pleasure if I might call. May I?” He
looked very worldly and pleading over the conventional request.

And then—ah, but one knows in advance what she must say, and one sees
most clearly, at length, how it was that she forgot the supper dance
entirely.

Here seemed the dawn of a wonderful dream indeed—as though gates were
suddenly opening in her life. She responded to Ferdinand King in waves
of delirium. Just once she thought of Jerome; and his defects, under the
warm spell of beauty which surrounded her now, turned him into almost a
caricature. Jerome and Mr. King! She forgot herself and laughed aloud;
then, flushing, made her head toss flirtingly and pretended she had been
thinking of something else entirely.

Well, in truth, the contrast would be nothing short of striking; for at
this stage of his career Ferdinand King was in the finest prime of his
incontestible fascination. He was about forty, with rich plumy hair,
white at either temple. His face, so arrestingly handsome, was just a
little too ruddy, perhaps, to allow any one’s crediting his destiny with
never having wooed the heartening cup. His mouth was almost a perfect
“cupid’s bow.” A very grand, big, daring, gallant, adventurous sort of
man, who appeared altogether superb in evening clothes, and would make
a magnificent perpetual best man at fashionable weddings. One at once
associated him with gardenias and teacups; yet there was always that
indefinable grandness and air of _difference_ about him which made the
man seem far indeed from any mere usual type of social flâneur. A gay
old dog, though a mature and worldly and white-templed dog, too—which
from the beginning of the world, has been the most fascinating type to be
encountered.



CHAPTER FOUR

THE FOOTBALL OF THE INDIAN OCEAN


I

Captain Utterbourne was involved with a vague but immensely lucrative
corporation calling itself the Hyde Packet Company. The business was
tramp freighters—vessels of one or two thousand tons, mostly, with
business-like mien, which poked nondescript noses into every corner of
the navigable world where commerce was to be scented. The _Star of Troy_
was Captain Utterbourne’s own cherished and particular tramp: a sturdy
craft with bulging, broad-beamed bow and very decent living quarters—for
the Captain was somewhat particular how he lived. How he happened to be a
sea captain was a supreme enigma. It baffled everybody. There hadn’t been
a grain of salt in the family until now. But that he was a sea captain
had to be accepted as a fact. To tell the truth, that was all you could
hope to do with Utterbourne—simply accept him. There was no alternative.

The Hyde offices (despite the prosperity of the stockholders) were just
one large dusty room, the walls smoky and cluttered with maps; but it
was always a lively place. A good many desks were crowded into it, at
one of which, in a modest corner, sat Captain Utterbourne. Men mostly in
shirt sleeves kept up a busy drone, abetted by intelligent-looking girls
deep in dictation and the clatter of typing. The Captain, however, sat
unheeding in the midst of everything.

When Ferdinand King arrived he found Utterbourne absorbed in a sheet of
paper before him, upon which he was engaged with a pencil. The caller
hesitated a moment, half glancing about for an office boy; but almost at
once his presence was perceived, and, flinging down his pencil with a
tiny gesture, the Captain rose and held out a hand.

“Come in, please,” he said in a quaint sing-song, his lips parting with a
smile which might be called almost insolent were one not at the same time
conflictingly sure that the emotion behind it was wholly amiable. “Have a
chair. We’re not very sumptuous, since our business doesn’t call for much
style.”

When one came into the presence of Captain Utterbourne one seemed coming
into the presence of a man about whom strange currents eddied. He wasn’t
wholly reassuring—in fact, no one standing before him could feel quite
easy or as though his soul was his own. Still, this aura about him had
a haunting and insidious attraction, too, so that even though it might
prove fatal, one would not care altogether to escape.

King was a little startled to observe that the sheet of paper on which
the other had been so diligently at work was covered merely with a lot
of scrawled anchors, which the Captain had depicted in a variety of
positions: now upright, as though in the act of being lowered, with
the stock horizontal and the shank standing perpendicular; again in a
position of repose, with the stock and one fluke resting, one assumed, on
the bed to the sea. Whenever Utterbourne grew absorbed in anchors it was
plain to those who knew him as well as it is ever possible to know a man
with a poker face, that he was concentrating on some new enterprise.

The Captain, half sheepishly noticing that his handiwork had been
detected, muttered: “No doubt every one has his own unconscious emblem—a
stray out of the past, perhaps—h’m?” His lips moved with apparent
reluctance, as though it annoyed him to think that nobody, even after
all these centuries of progress, had been able to render speech possible
without visible effort. He tilted back in his chair somewhat rigidly,
his toes just touching the floor as he rocked, and hummed Macdowell’s
_To a Wild Rose_ a moment in a mood of vaguely pleasureable detachment.
At length, however, there was a reviving “_Well, now_,” and King leaned
a little toward him, prepared to hear unfolded the mysterious substance
which had seemed hovering in the air last evening. What was going forward
behind that card-player’s mask?


II

The Captain’s little eyes looked quite mild and affectionate, but they
also held their tiny glint of fire. He gazed at Ferdinand King in an
unwavering, disconcerting way, tapping with his pencil upon the wooden
shelf he had pulled out of the desk to form an improvised table between
them, and uttering an occasional dreamy “H’m?” But in a moment or so the
pencil was laid aside, and he began speaking, his chin nestled cosily in
his hands.

“King,” he said, “did you ever hear of Hagen’s Island?”

The other man shook his head, but seemed at the same time to recognize
the curious little prelude about maps as hinging here. He waited almost
breathlessly.

“Hagen’s Island,” resumed the Captain, “had governments quarreling over
it in its time. I don’t doubt but it might once have been quite capable
of bringing on a war somewhere. Oh, heaven! the laughter behind it
all—behind all life, for that matter, King! H’m?—h’m? I spent a whole
dreamy spring afternoon once, with crocuses just blooming outside, going
through speeches about far off Hagen’s Island delivered in Parliament.
That was in connection with the coaling station project which got under
way and then was abandoned, with engineers right on the spot. Maybe it
was all politics—I don’t know.” He shrugged.

“The island proved to be too remote. In short, it was a failure. Some
newspaper wag dubbed it ‘the football of the Indian Ocean,’ and then the
last ripple died out.” He seemed to lose himself a moment, as in a fog at
sea; and King, mystified but much interested, waited for him to go on.
The narrative was characteristically resumed from a rather startlingly
new angle.

“Once upon a time there was a Dutchman—long before the coaling
station. His name was Vander Hagen, and his mania was to start an
ideal commonwealth. Every generation somebody or other tries it. Isn’t
it funny? Vander Hagen had passionate ideas about representation and
individual rights. There seems to have been a lot about the Greeks in
his plan. Well,” the Captain shrugged, “he died of a broken dream, and
was buried on the island where the commonwealth had been tried and
found wanting. The remnant of his disciples went back home in a mist
of disillusion. A few years later if his name chanced to be mentioned
anywhere, people would exclaim: ‘Who was Vander Hagen?’ Isn’t it
disillusionizing, King? Isn’t it?”

Utterbourne smiled one of his most enigmatic smiles, and after another of
the half quizzical pauses continued: “I found a copy of the Dutchman’s
_Journal_ a few years ago in one of those little book stalls along the
Seine in Paris. It was an English translation, and on the fly leaf was
written: ‘From Daisy to Paul, with compliments of the season.’ He smiled
in a flickering way—it was just a little like the play of light and shade
beneath a tree in summer.

“Months later, with a cargo of wheat for Madagascar, I began reading
the _Journal_, and a strange—King, an almost uncanny—desire to pay the
island a visit came upon me. My people on the _Star of Troy_ thought I
was mad. That was a good while ago—they know me better now—h’m? Well, I
couldn’t seem to shake that sombre and majestic Dutchman off my back,
King. He’d settled, and I knew there was only one way to be rid of him.
Besides—h’m?—I’d thought of a little scheme of my own.

“There were reefs—a wicked necklace with a conscience of lead. We found
some ruined docks and a spectral derrick—all that remains of the coaling
station fiasco—and silence, King. Silence.... Not a soul on the island,
of course. Every venture ever started there has fallen through.” And
after a moment he murmured: “By the way, King, are you superstitious?”

“No,” the other laughed shortly, beginning just in a hazy manner to piece
things together in his mind and feel along toward conclusions.

“Good,” mused Captain Utterbourne, his voice barely audible. “Good. I
think we’re making progress, King.” And he gazed at him tenderly, yet
with eyes half shut, as when he sat watching and watching while the
dancers whirled about them.



CHAPTER FIVE

THE SKIPPING GOONE GETS A MASTER


I

Xenophon Curry, impresario extraordinary, sat sipping his breakfast
coffee and perusing the morning paper. He looked extremely optimistic.

The day before he had shown an obliging chandlery clerk over the
_Skipping Goone_, “upstairs and down,” and the clerk had an eagle eye
for such missing items as deck hose and cabin door knobs; and though
the clerk was but a humble clerk, and although his contribution to the
progress of events was frankly minor, the impresario nevertheless felt
himself appreciably nearer the realization of his daring project. He and
the clerk had partaken of ice cream soda together afterward in a queer
little confection emporium near the waterfront. And, all in all, it had
seemed a highly important day.

Another cause for optimism was the fact that rehearsals were going
surprisingly well. He would make people sit up after the tour had got
under way! Indeed, his songbirds were artists to be proud of—not so much,
perhaps, because of special genius as for their almost uncanny sticking
proclivities. It was, in truth, an organization of the most amazing
sort, which had built itself up gradually about Xenophon Curry’s vast
heart. Surely no organization was ever before so supremely an affair of
the heart. Curry had drawn his songbirds to him from all over the world.
Essentially a cosmopolitan himself (“I’m a dyed-in-the-wool hybrid”)
he had kept open house in his heart for all sorts and conditions of
people. Under his wing, one by one, he had gathered the struggling, the
discouraged, the heavy-laden—even a soul now and then that called itself
plainly down and out. And not only songbirds, but a tiny orchestra had
been drawn in, too, by patient degrees: now a violinist with aspiring
soul rescued from some dreadful little café chantant in Vienna; now a
flute player off the hills of Sicily; again a lowly snare drummer in
a band somewhere in Kentucky, who had a deep-seated passion for the
kettles. They knew they could count on him to the last ditch, and so
were willing to follow anywhere he led. It was really a little touching.
Certainly in no other way would it have been possible for Mr. Curry to do
the things he had done, for, from a worldly point of view, no impresario,
barring none, ever met with such shocking and consistent adversity.

Over his eggs the impresario read of an auction sale to be held that
afternoon at Crawl Hill and the list sounded promising. Mr. Curry made
it a point to attend auctions whenever possible, for in this manner
he was sometimes able to pick up odd bits to use as properties in his
necessarily heterogeneous productions. He decided to stroll around and
nose for bargains that might fit into the world tour.

The weather being delightful, Curry literally did stroll. But when
he had at length covered some considerable distance he began to ask
himself where Crawl Hill was, after all. He remembered it vaguely, and
was certain of the general neighbourhood; but just how to get there was
developing into another matter. He would have to begin inquiring. He half
paused. And as he did so a pleasant voice challenged him at his elbow.

The impresario turned and faced a tall, quite handsome lady, near his own
age, gowned expensively and somewhat complexly. Her eyes were frank, her
demeanour that of one who has been much about and feels at home in the
combinations of a moving life without sacrificing a rather unusual fund
of freshness.

“I beg your pardon,” she said, smiling easily and just a little grandly,
“but I wonder if you could tell me how to get to Crawl Hill?”

Mr. Curry’s face lighted humorously. “A moment more and I might have put
the same question to you.”

“Oh, I _see_!” she observed, simply and even graciously, much as though
they were old friends. “Quite a _coincidence_—isn’t it? I thought I knew
_perfectly_ well when I started _out_, but this part of the city has
changed so!”

“Lord, hasn’t it! Crawl Hill used to be one of those big places”—he
enlarged a little upon the circumstances, adding: “Since we’re both
headed for the same auction, we might walk on together, and I’ll ask the
way.”

“It’s very kind of you, I’m _sure_!” she told him, her manner more than
ever gracious.

So the stroll was thus resumed, and Mr. Curry was struck with the
peculiar ease he felt from the very beginning in his new companion’s
company. Their talk, as they proceeded, widened gradually to embrace
a considerable range of subjects: cheerful commonplaces—just, as a
contemporary puts it, “the talk which goes up the chimney with the spark
of the wood fire.” Discreet, polite side-glances revealed, for him, an
undoubtedly romantic lady nearly as tall as himself, vaguely lavish, just
faintly overpowering in her enthusiasms, who walked along with free,
hopeful stride and lifted her arching brows in an unbroken expression
of communicative pleasantness. She wore a cloak made from an Arabian
gondura—a fabric of rusty plum with intricate embellishment of bright
green braid. There were wide flowing sleeves; and underneath the cloak
one now and then caught sight of confusing details; a bit of Paisley,
blue serge, large decorated brass buttons. Her hat was an oddly shaped
straw with an ample feather falling off behind.

The lady, for her part, quickly noted his air of bustling optimism and
seemed responding to it with unconscious warmth; at first, it is true,
she had eyed his rings and general air of the exotic with some slight
twinges of doubt: but after she had received one or two of his radiant
smiles it was only too plain she felt it would be unhandsome to hold so
small a matter against him. Indeed, he seemed to perceive in her at once
an element of happy tolerance, at the same time that he was very sure
he caught a genuine passion for the artistic. Above all he couldn’t but
be impressed with the uplifting and flowing quality in her rich voice.
“I learned about the auction from some _friends_ who have been spending
months in Morocco, where they _heard_ about Mr. Hoadley’s death and
immediately thought about the lovely ‘things’ every one remembers having
seen in his house here in San Fran_cisco_!” Her sentences, inclined to
be “Germanic,” moved with the liquid fluency of a wide, well-mannered
river. And there were words she stressed saliently or perhaps rather
lingered over; it was a little quaint. One came to listen for them. Other
words, too, which, by the most marvellous yet wholly artless subtlety
in shading, she managed to slip within quotation marks—although, as
a matter of fact, there was seldom any real reason for their being
quoted. “I don’t expect to find a _thing_ that I’ll really _buy_, for
everything’s sure to be quite _dear_, you know, considering how immensely
rich Mr. Hoadley was when he did his _collecting_, although it’s always
pleasant to just visit these ‘sales’ and look around and perhaps pick
up some little trifles that catch one’s _fancy_—as trifles have such an
irresistible way of _doing_!”


II

Crawl Hill, when at last they reached it, proved to be a tall frowning
old house, whose once considerable grounds had shrunk to a mere wisp
of withered lawn. Within they breathed a heavy mustiness. It was a bit
ghostly, too—decidedly a place to be visited by daylight.

And as for the little adventure—well, it didn’t, after all, lapse at
the door. Mr. Curry, as they moved on together through the crowd, told
himself there was nothing so very unusual in their having met like this.
He was always meeting people—was a Bohemian—freely admitted it. But was
this lady a Bohemian also? And who was she? He was on the verge of
learning, and the method was rather happy.

It chanced that somewhat apart from the throng stood a satin-wood console
of the French Renaissance period, on which reposed an ornate silver
card tray. She liked the tray—“not that one would really _want_ it, you
know, for of course it is a little ‘overdone’; but it reminds one of
the _Victorians_—doesn’t it?—and I think there was much to _admire_ in
them, although it has become the fashion to sneer at their dust-catching
‘ideas.’”

And the tray gave Mr. Curry an unexpected cue. He smiled and drew out his
wallet, then, selecting one of his cards, tossed it humorously down. Her
eyes lighted quickly, and, without a word, she brought out one of her
own, too, and placed it beside his on the tray. Then they stood there
side by side, like two absurd children, reading each other’s cards. Hers
was very modest and simple: Flora Utterbourne, with no address. But his,
being so ambitious, not to say overwhelming an affair, naturally called
for a small smiling effusion on her part.

“I know you by ‘reputation,’ though I’ve never had the pleasure
of attending one of your _performances_. It’s always sounded so
_interesting_!”

And then—well, then he just plunged in and began telling her all about
the world tour; and she suggested they sit down “in those delightful
Lorenzo di Medici _chairs_;” no one would object, she was sure; and
if they wanted to sell the chairs before he had finished telling her
about the world tour, why then they would just move over to “that
‘Huguenot’ bench in the hall, which is _sure_ not to be ‘put up,’” she
laughed, “until quite the last _thing_!” So they sat in the Lorenzo
di Medici chairs while the auction hummed on about them, and he
opened his ardent heart, and she followed everything he said with an
immense facial responsiveness. (Sometimes people found this a trifle
disconcerting, because her feeling about whatever you were saying had a
way of seeming just a bit stronger than your own.) And, in her large,
rich, impulsive way she would keep interrupting him with fragments of
delighted appreciation. “By _Schooner_!” for instance: “but this is the
most amazing thing I ever _heard_ of!” Or again: “No crew, but a fresh
coat of paint!” She could grasp the essential high points of humour in
a situation and bring them together; yet there was nothing the least
satirical or mocking. The impresario felt on friendly turf, and deluged
her with eager, bustling words. He became inspired, impassioned. He
gestured a little wildly. But she found it all wildness with an appealing
tang, and rejoiced in the current of his really electric enthusiasm. When
he had finished, his whole eloquent person relaxed slowly. Mr. Curry was
like a superb engine, which couldn’t be expected to cool off just in a
minute.


III

A gate-legged mahogany table had arrested Miss Utterbourne’s notice.
She calculated its fineness with an eye accurate from long and loving
experience. She became enthusiastic, and finally, smiling excitedly at
the impresario, whispered: “I’m going to _bid_ on it!”

Of course Mr. Curry at once took a step and cleared his throat, gallantly
ready to do the actual bidding for her; but he was surprised to find
himself wonderfully eclipsed by the lady herself, who pressed resolutely
up through the crowd toward the auctioneer, her manner all at once
proclaiming her an adept at this sort of thing.

“Fifty!” she tendered firmly.

“Fifty-five,” countered a man with cold eyes and shiny elbows.

“Sixty!”

She was serene and undaunted, and the opponent withdrew at seventy-five.

“I _got_ it!” she exulted, giving her head a small toss. “And of
course an absurd ‘bargain,’ considering its unusual _size_, though a
less expensive one would have served my _purpose_, if it weren’t that
‘gate-legged’ tables are my special _weakness_!”

He couldn’t conceal his astonishment. “You went after it as though you
made a real business of such things.” And she had another of his fine
smiles.

“Well, you see I _do_—in a _way_!”

“What! A business of bidding at auctions?”

“Oh, no,” she laughed, “my ‘business’ is _apartments_!”

“Apartments!”

She had put on her gold-rimmed nippers, and they straddled her nose in
a humorous, faintly pompous manner. “It’s the only way I can gratify my
_craving_ for rare and ‘intriguing’ _possessions_! You see I take an
apartment, furnish it with all the lovely ‘things’ I couldn’t afford for
_myself_, and then turn the key over to a tenant who will pay me the
_difference_!” Her face displayed tokens of the anxiety which belonged
to an at length pretty involved background of sub-leased domiciles. “Of
_course_,” she confessed, speaking now slowly, almost cosily, “it’s
always a pang to move out, though there’s the new apartment to begin
‘planning,’ and then,” her voice dropping a little and her eyes smiling
in a deliciously sly way behind their friendly nippers, “I sometimes
just _have_ to slip a few things _along_ with me—my tendency is to
‘over-furnish’ anyhow.”

He by no means missed the note of pathos in her brave little scheme; yet
she had assured him, too: “You’d be _surprised_ how settled I manage to
_feel_ in the midst of what, of course, in one sense, doesn’t really
_belong_ to me!”

“That’s the only home you have, then—the home that only lasts until it’s
furnished?”

“Yes,” she slowly admitted, “I’m _afraid_ so. Sometimes there _does_ seem
a good deal of ‘irony’ deep down _underneath_ everything!”

“Ah!” sighed the impresario, though a radiant smile broke through in
spite of him, “no one understands such things better than I. Life’s just
full of irony, isn’t it?—whichever way you turn!”

“My brother, Captain Utterbourne,” she observed, “has all _sorts_ of
subtle theories about it, though I never can remember just how they go
_afterward_, since, you see, he has a way of ‘conveying’ so much and yet
really saying so _little_!”

There was a breath of musing silence between them, and then Mr. Curry’s
eyes lighted suddenly. “You mean—a sea captain?”

“Yes,” she told him, “although I often feel it’s more a _hobby_ with him
than exactly a _profession_.” Her smile was full of humour and a kind of
furtive family loyalty.

“I wonder,” ventured the impresario impulsively, “if your brother would
be willing to help me—that is, give me a little advice....”

“Oh, I _see_!” she cried, quickly catching the drift behind his
eagerness. “About the ‘world tour’! Of course,” she hesitated,
“Christopher is sometimes a trifle _set_ in his ‘ideas’ about how things
ought to be _managed_: but he knows _hundreds_ of ‘seafaring’ men—some
of them really quite _remarkable_; and unless he should get swept _away_
from us on one of his whims of ‘perversity’, I’m _sure_ he could get your
schooner equipped with something more than a coat!”

Curry’s delight was almost speechless. He ardently scribbled his San
Francisco address on one of his cards, and she put it carefully away
inside her bag—a large and complex bag, which the beholder could not but
assume entered conspicuously into the manipulation of a complex existence.


IV

Flora, full of her new theme, went straight to her brother about it
that very evening. “Oh, Chris—such an interesting _impresario_—clear
around the world in a schooner: the _Skimming Duckie_, or something like
that—quite daring and _original_”—it was just a little breathless and
sketchy at first. But her brother bantered, in his freezing way: “You
make it all crystal clear, Flora. A schooner?” And then he shouted. He
did not laugh, he shouted. It was a little uncouth; but the Captain
liked to be a little uncouth sometimes. It helped him with the sea
captain atmosphere, which, after all, as has been suggested, wasn’t quite
a native emanation. Utterbourne had perhaps out of sheer perversity
taken to the sea, and made a success of it; yet he had a meditative,
quizzical trend of mind, and leaned a little to hesitancies, a great
deal to analysis. He was an enigma of the first water; yet to those who
knew him best it sometimes seemed as though he possessed the heart of a
mystic—almost of a poet.

“Oh, well,” was the upshot of the talk, “if you like. I’m busy—h’m?
But tell him to phone in for an appointment.” The tone was one of cold
generosity, which never failed more or less to frighten the listener—a
stab of formality that not even his own sister could hope to escape.

But she didn’t mind in the least, even though she may have been a little
frightened. She just arched her fine brows gratefully and said: “Thank
you so _much_, Chris! You’ll _never_ regret it, I _know_, and he’s really
quite _celebrated_, in a way—though I presume the ‘world tour’ will
add a great deal to his _fame_!” And her hand rested a moment upon her
brother’s responseless arm.

Well, in no time at all the excited impresario was phoning for an
appointment. Then he called at the smoky offices of the Hyde Packet
company, which he brightened enormously with his glowing, optimistic
enthusiasm. Utterbourne, from the first, of course, looked upon Flora’s
new friend as a figure of comedy; nevertheless it only showed a little in
the quivering of his lips; and he knew of a skipper, he said—a Captain
Bearman—who might be prevailed upon to take hold, in case he happened to
be without a ship just now.

Luck was kind. Captain Bearman was very much without a ship, and, in
his own rather acid fashion, seized almost avidly upon the opportunity
at hand. His fashion, it developed, was full of snarls and shrouded in
a rind of perpetual crustiness. But he was an authentic sea captain,
notwithstanding, and the impresario rejoiced over him ardently.

A little dinner was arranged at the Pavillon d’Orient—an Armenian resort
famous for its skewered meats and imported cheeses. Utterbourne actually
came himself, and brought Bearman along; while, out of the warm abundance
of his generosity the impresario invited a certain young clerk of his
acquaintance. (“He’s got such a shut-in, humdrum look.”) And there was
champagne, which more or less went to the clerk’s head, and made him
feel, for the time-being, a person of considerable consequence.

Naturally Utterbourne talked of everything under the sun except the
subject that had brought them together. He spoke poisingly of fate and
art and habit and flayed immortality within an inch of its life and said
“H’m?” a great many times and hummed _To a Wild Rose_. And when, later
on, Curry referred to the merchandise which the _Skipping Goone_ would
carry by way of defraying expenses as a “sideline,” then Utterbourne
drawled over his shish kébab: “It’s to be presumed we all have our
sidelines, of one sort and another—h’m? With some it’s gambling, with
others art, literature, some branch of scientific research—h’m? With most
of us, perhaps, it’s just women”—more sea captain atmosphere.

But Curry staunchly defended his sideline—said it had come to him in
Oshkosh while he was directing the last act of the _Gondoliers_ one
night—really an inspiration, nothing short of that! And Utterbourne
said “Yes,” while the other captain, out of a flaming profusion of
auburn whiskers, echoed it: “Er—yes,” with a most curious, quick little
side-glance of his narrow green eyes, which somehow instantly set him
down as a satellite.

Captain Bearman was big and bluff-looking, with the sea quite oozing from
his whole personality; there was even a little gold braid, and, in spite
of some rather doubtful cuffs, he looked like an admiral; yet for all
that it was only too plain he fawned on Captain Utterbourne—and fawned
very acutely. He couldn’t seem to be obsequious and echoing enough—it was
rather baffling. He would always echo: “Er—yes,” or “Er—no,” as the case
might be, and ordered all the dishes the other captain ordered, and, in
brief, took the cue from him in everything.

At first Utterbourne by no means went out of his way to avoid conveying
the impression that the project of the _Skipping Goone_ was unseaworthy;
and Captain Bearman, simply because he possessed what the psychologists
call an “inferiority complex,” and though it might mean a lapsing of
his present opportunity, made his embittered lips curl in sympathetic
disdain. But as the impresario climbed to higher and ever higher
levels of honest zeal, gradually Utterbourne thawed somewhat, leaning
negligently back, his knife prying about the base of his goblet, often
rather gravely menacing its equilibrium; and at once, of course, the
other captain began to thaw too. From that time on the prospects were
ever so much better.

Of course Xenophon Curry was an enthusiast, and of course the champagne
had made him exhort a good deal about the supreme virtue of his songbirds
(“It’s not that they’ve all got million dollar voices, for I can’t keep
that kind; but they’ve all got million dollar hearts!”) And of course he
talked a little wildly about his great dream—New York and the capitals of
Europe.... Yet the serene and glacial Captain Utterbourne felt in spite
of himself a little touched, and merely thought it expedient at last to
observe, his voice slipping out between reluctant lips like a thin ribbon
of lazy ice: “You must take care, Mr. Curry—h’m?—not to let a possible
material success ... I mean,” he cleared his throat with faint petulance,
“you mustn’t let your sideline turn you into a rival of ours rather than
of Gatti Cassazza’s.”

It was finally settled, and Bearman became the master of the _Skipping
Goone_, and the radiant impresario, as he hailed a taxi for the entire
party by way of ending the evening in a blaze of style, cried: “The
schooner will turn the trick—you’ll see!”

In a word, it was nothing short of a triumph.



CHAPTER SIX

STEALING THE THUNDER FROM IRMENGARDE


I

Meantime, Elsa Utterbourne’s ball had certainly proved the turning point
for Stella! All at once her life seemed packed with romance, and the
bewildered girl who had rebelled so bitterly against the eventlessness of
everything hadn’t time half to realize the wonders that were taking place.

The whole house seemed the brighter for Stella’s having gone to the
party. Yes, even near-sighted Ted smiled quite knowingly after Maud had
whispered a mysterious something in his ear behind the pantry door—for
Maud was shrewder than most people imagined, despite her fatal plainness.
She had guessed there were happy secrets in the air.

As for Stella—she refused to give in to those darker promptings which
suggested that Mr. King might, alas, have been merely amusing himself,
and had no intention really of calling. No, it was too wonderful to turn
out thus. Even Irmengarde would be thrilled—she couldn’t help herself.

The evening after the party Jerome came, and wanted to make it up. “I
don’t see what I’ve done all of a sudden,” he said, “to make you turn
against me like this!” And a moment later he was assuring her, with most
unusual vigour, that he didn’t intend to let a girl throw him down just
because she “gets an idea in her head.” Indeed, as he urged his cause,
Jerome looked quite roused and fiery. He rather amazed her, and finally,
by way of overwhelming climax, produced a ring. “I got to thinking,” he
covered it very simply. “Not such a big stone, of course—the big ones
cost like a house and lot. But the clerk at Ascher’s said we could trade
it in toward a larger one any time, and he told me it was a good little
diamond, even if it’s not so very showy.”

“Oh, Jerome—!” She clasped her hands in bewilderment.

“Let’s see how it fits!” he pleaded.

So she let him slip it on to her finger—how life galloped! And after
that—well, since she knew less now than ever which way to turn, Stella
ended by consenting to keep the ring, at least until she’d definitely
made up her mind. Tenderness and remorse and tears nearly overcame her.
“You must let me think.... I—I’ll send you a note!” Her eyes were soft
with romance. And they kissed—for one may kiss, even if one doesn’t know
which way to turn.

From the time he left her until the next morning when the florist’s boy
arrived, Stella’s mind was indeed in a state of quandary, and Jerome
had at least a fair fighting chance. However, the florist’s boy brought
a small but authentic box of violets, and a note from Mr. King written
on the stationery of Captain Utterbourne’s club; he was going to call
that evening! And then—had Jerome but known it as he sat poring over the
ledger, he might just as well have withdrawn from the arena altogether.

The only drawback, except that Mr. King must necessarily learn what a
shabby house she lived in, was the fact that Stella would have to receive
him in the same gown she had worn to the ball, and which fortunately
hadn’t yet been returned. Nothing in her wardrobe would suffice. However,
capable Maud found that the neck of Elsa’s gown could be temporarily
built up with a bit of chiffon so that it would appear a less formal
creation; and in fact, her mouth mumblingly impeded with pins, Maud
very soon proved how surprisingly it might be disguised as another gown
altogether.

Just at the last minute Stella ran to her sister and pressed a tiny
package into her hand. “Won’t you please ask Ted to run around to the
Stewarts’ and give this to Jerome? There won’t be any answer—he’ll
understand.” Then she turned up the gas in the parlour and sat in
glittering state to receive her caller.

       *       *       *       *       *

After a quarter of an hour of more or less breathless readjustment, the
situation began to show signs of growing manageable. His ample charm and
magnetism carried everything before them. Their talk led them by degrees
into a simpler intimacy than it had been possible to establish at the
ball. He told her, discreetly, more of his romantic life; and she managed
to tell him of her life, too, without quite letting the cat out of the
bag—that is, without quite letting him see that what she showed him was
the wistful all.... He left with reluctance, but they were to meet again
the next afternoon, at the matinée.

The house was still and dark; yet she was partly mistaken in deciding
all the family were asleep at the time of Mr. King’s departure. Hardly
had she turned out her light on an image in the glass which had become
strangely tolerable, when she heard slippered feet, and Maud was kneeling
beside the bed, searching her hand.

“Oh, Stella!” she whispered in tones of throbbing and unselfish delight,
“I think Mr. King’s just _grand_, dear!”


II

It all seemed so bewildering—so utterly incredible. They went to the
matinée. They strolled in Golden Gate Park and watched the swans and
laughed a great deal over hot tamales on the beach. He became a frequent
caller—and sometimes it seemed to the delighted girl that the florist’s
box was even more frequent. He seemed to know so expertly how everything
should be done: such intoxicating manners, such style! He seemed to have
dropped right from the skies into her dazzled heart. From this time
forward her little romance moved swiftly indeed.

Before she had half time to realize—yes, even _begin_ to realize—what
was really taking place, he had asked her to become his wife. “You’re
the first girl I’ve cared enough for,” was the way he phrased it; though
it goes without saying that a man of Mr. King’s temperament must more or
less have cared for a good many girls in his day. “I guess I can manage
to make you happy, little girl,” he assured her, with a certain splendid
imperiousness, “though perhaps you might come to long for a more settled
life....” He had just arrived from a secret conference with Captain
Utterbourne under the shadow of an august map of the world. But of course
Stella was up in arms at once: “I never want to stop! I want to go on and
on, out in the world, seeing new things, meeting new people...!” And, in
his graceful way, he allowed her to carry the point.

Oh, life! Oh the forces of life—and the world—and human destiny!

“I just have to blush right to his face every time he looks at me, he
_is_ so handsome!” was one of Aunt Alice’s voluble confidences shared
by Maud out in the kitchen. “I’ve got a psychic feeling he’s just the
one for our little Stella, and yet don’t it beat all! My gracious, Maud,
you’d think he’d never look at any one less than a countess! And his side
view makes me think of a picture I saw once in the paper of a man who was
going to marry a duchess!”

Oh, life! Oh the forces of life—and the world—and human destiny!

       *       *       *       *       *

The afternoon was idyllic. Mr. King and Stella were sitting together
before a tiny fire, and there was tea. It was very cosy and romantic. She
had been doing some mending before he came, and had hurriedly laid her
basket aside. Breaking off in the midst of a very glowing description of
the Riviera when at its gayest, however, he suddenly begged her to go
on with her sewing. She demurred, naturally: “It’s such awfully plain
and uninteresting work!” But he insisted that it completed the “domestic
picture,” and added: “You don’t know how charming it is to see a woman
sitting before the fire busy with needlework.” At length she complied;
but it vaguely alarmed the girl. “All I want to do is to get away!” she
cried throwing her arms wide, though she still grasped the garment she
was mending, bringing it thus a little whimsically into the gesture.
“What you’ve told me of your life sounds so wonderful!” she sighed
happily.

“Well, it’s adventurous,” he conceded. And then he asked her: “What does
your father think about it?”

“Why, what could he think but what every one thinks?”

King might have asked, not perhaps egregiously or unreasonably, what
every one did think; but he merely amplified: “I had in mind my immediate
prospects.”

“With Captain Utterbourne?”

“Yes—and its having to be handled in so hushed and confidential a way.”

“Oh, but to me the mystery—that is the most wonderful part!” she cried.
“I love having everything mysterious!”

He gave her hand a little squeeze, and she looked up at him, happily
thrilled. She pictured herself going through life with him like this,
thrilled, always thrilled, each day full of delicious mystery and romance.

He began murmuring a bit of nursery jingle, which sounded in her charmed
ears like the rarest music:

    “‘_Curly Locks, Curly Locks, wilt thou be mine?_
    _Thou shalt not wash dishes nor feed the swine,_
    _But sit on a cushion and sew a fine seam,_
    _And feast upon strawberries, sugar, and cream!_’”

“Oh, I wonder,” she laughed softly, “—will it really be like that? How
did this wonderful thing ever happen to me?”


III

As he rather suspected, Mr. King was destined to encounter a brief
impediment in the person of Stella’s father. Who was Mr. King? What
did any one really know about him, and why so much mystery about the
future? But the answer was always simply: “Why, Utterbourne—your old
friend Captain Utterbourne.” Mr. Meade’s position was certainly not a
simple one, especially since he seemed to be the only one attempting,
even hesitatingly, to stand in the way of true love. And, though he tried
to see the situation all clearly and advise what seemed best, the worst
of it was he felt Mr. King’s peculiar fascination, too, in a sense, and
so seemed unable to make up his mind as to the values of an unusual
situation.

“Stella,” he said, in his grave way, “are _you_ sure—that’s the
point—_dead_ sure, girlie?”

And Stella was thinking excitedly: “If father really makes a fuss, we’ll
elope!” It was just the tang of fire which completed the romance of this
whole unbelievable circumstance.

Captain Utterbourne, as a matter of fact, was inclined, in his faintly
quizzical and even petulant way, to dissuasion, when he learned the
length to which affairs had run. He tried delicately to ease his mind.
Meade was so simple.

“King’s all right, of course—h’m? Though perhaps romantic....” It was
as near as he could come to uttering platitudes like Iago. “The trouble
with King is, he’s too irresistible. How he’s managed to escape all these
years is beyond my comprehension! I must say,” the Captain complained,
“it’s something of a calamity he should have chosen this particular
time—h’m? But the man, it seems, refuses to listen to reason, just as the
woman refuses. However,” he added, in a thin, hand-washing tone, “from
your point of view I can see how it may appear something of a catch—h’m?”
And he left, humming _To a Wild Rose_.

But at length the creases were quite ironed out. Mr. Meade called King
into the back parlour and told him it was all right—though his voice
broke just a little as he added: “I only want my girl to be happy.”

They were definitely to be married, and Stella naturally didn’t have time
for anything any more. Even sleep was an indulgence almost crowded out.
How life tore along!

One day she unexpectedly met Jerome downtown. The contrast between them
was really startling. It seemed unbelievable a man so hopelessly obscure
and a girl so conspicuously important could have been engaged to each
other only a few short weeks ago. What a pace she had gone! But Jerome,
with the clip on his tie and his jaunty little pipe between his lips,
looked more than ever irrevocably fixed in a certain niche. He tried
still to flatter his ego into believing that, despite appearances, Stella
would be the heavier loser; but such flattery was obviously growing
harder every day.

When they met, Stella was bound for a tea engagement with Elsa. Indeed,
just as they were speaking, Elsa herself came along.

“Ah?” she said, with cool uplifting voice and cool down-drooping eyes.

“Oh, am I late, Elsa?”

“No. But even if you were, a bride-to-be is always forgiven anything.”
She gave Jerome a glancing look.

“I’d like you to meet my friend Miss Utterbourne,” said Stella, turning
to Jerome, and feeling that the situation might possibly develop
embarrassments.

The two nodded formally, Elsa’s eyes merely drooping a little more. Then
Jerome felt so profoundly unhappy that he just mumbled something, raised
his hat, and left them. But as he walked he unconsciously straightened
his shoulders a little, and held his head surprisingly high.

“Isn’t that the young man you threw over, Stella?”

“Yes, we were engaged for awhile,” Stella replied with a tone of
attempted lightness.

Elsa gazed after him. “Something tells me you’ll never see _him_ again.”

Her friend appeared rather startled. “What do you mean, Elsa?”

“I don’t know,” the other shrugged. “The way his back looked, I guess.
Things come to me like that, and I always speak them out.”

“Do you mean he might do something—something desperate?” faltered Stella.

Then Elsa laughed. “No, little one, you miss my meaning. What I meant was
he’d never give you another chance.” She chuckled cryptically.

       *       *       *       *       *

“I suppose, in a way, it does look like rushing into matrimony,”
observed Stella happily, sipping her tea and trying to be convincingly
sophisticated.

Elsa stared in her blank way. “Everybody admits he’s wonderful,” she
etched. “Still, to be perfectly frank, it does seem somewhat pell-mell,
even assuming the man to be wealthy and—well, a kind of prince.” Her
eyes were whimsical. But since Mr. King had to dash away to parts
unknown in the _Star of Troy_, without giving any one a chance to catch
one’s breath, was there anything to be done about it, after all? “Parts
unknown,” mused Elsa. Yes, rather a complete mystery, all round.

“I can’t tell you any more about it, Elsa, because I don’t know any more.
Hasn’t your father even mentioned it?”

Elsa smiled with not a little of the parental cynicism, though it
flickered more warmly upon her kindlier mouth and in her cow-brown eyes.
“I haven’t a bit of pull, dear child. The Captain, though he’s a sort of
an old dear, is just about as communicative as a clam, even with me.”

“Whenever I say anything about it all,” admitted Stella, but with shining
eyes, “Ferdinand tells me to remember what happened in the case of
Lohengrin. What did happen, do you remember?” she smiled.

Still, though she had coaxed very prettily at times, especially toward
the last, she had also come, perhaps even a bit consciously, as the
closer intimacy developed, to live up to that doll-like ideal King seemed
rather to nurse in his high-sailing heart. “Leave everything to me,
little lady,” he had urged, in his magnetic, irresistible fashion. “Never
you worry that dear little head of yours about business. It doesn’t
belong in a woman’s sphere. Does it, peaches? You just leave things to
me, and if we’re successful in this deal, I’ll take you to Paris and buy
you all the hats in the rue de la Paix!”

Elsa warned her young friend against “letting any man make a ninny” of
her. “You seem to be quite hypnotized, Stella. It’s all very well,” she
observed, her eyes drooping so much that it looked as though she were
pulling the corners down with her fingers, “to let a man think he can
run his business without you to begin with. They always lead off like
that. But unless you mean to be a traitor to your sex, you can’t begin
too soon letting it be known (I don’t care if he _is_ a prince!) that the
old lord-and-master idea has been converted into a sieve.” She paused,
then smilingly dropped in an extra lump. “It’s because I refuse to be a
traitor that I’m no longer wearing my engagement ring.”

“What!” cried Stella in real dismay.

Elsa held up the vacant finger with a philosophic grimace.

“But—”

“I’d rather not go into it now, if you don’t mind,” she half yawned.
“It’s rather a boring business, and I’m trying to forget I was ever such
a fool as to be taken in.”

“Oh, but Elsa—after starting off so splendidly—the dance....”

“Well, isn’t it better to wake up now than too late? Besides, it’s merely
an episode. Love is only an episode, little one. Don’t you hang on so
hard to your dangerous ideals!”

And she reached across and pinched Stella’s cheek in her vaguely rough
way.


IV

The wedding was a very quiet and modest affair—a little quieter and more
modest, to tell the truth, than _quite_ appealed to Stella’s ambitious
notions of grandeur, though it was a church wedding, too, with a small
reception afterward.

Of course every one was tremendously impressed by the bridegroom, and
everybody said how sweet the bride looked. Aunt Alice wept happy tears on
people’s shoulders, and between whiles talked faster than any one else.

Meade gave his daughter away, and looked very proud, though also a little
pathetic in his dress suit.

There were all sorts of nice gifts for the bride, most of which, for
the time being, would have to be left behind. And one of the gifts gave
Stella a real momentary, ungraspable heartache. It was a small cut-glass
fruit bowl, and within lay a blank card on which, in cramped scrawl,
appeared the single word: Jerome.



CHAPTER SEVEN

LIKE THE BARQUE OF CLEOPATRA


I

She was now Mrs. Ferdinand King, and had sailed away in Captain
Utterbourne’s _Star of Troy_ on a honeymoon full of mystery—one destined
to carry her not even she knew whither or how far. But Jerome just
remained a clerk immersed in the dust and antiquity of Oaks, Ferguson &
Whitley’s.

He told himself he must keep up a worldly front behind which he could
hide his great unhappiness. This attempt found expression in a certain
rather superficial cockiness, valiantly aided and abetted by the jaunty
little pipe. But he had lost the one girl he ever really cared for, and
felt the loss bitterly. With Stella seemed to go out, too, forever, that
dream of hearth and kiddies to which he had clung so lovingly and so
long. He could not show these things, however. And his ego, though not
morbidly sensitive or in the least vindictive, was still squirming—it was
all pretty complex.

During this unhappy period his defensive cheerfulness was made vaguely
easier by a somewhat surprising friendship which had developed between
himself and the picturesque impresario. After the visit to the schooner,
and certainly after the dinner, the impresario might very logically have
dropped from his horizon; nevertheless, Jerome went right on seeing him
at odd times and places—and, most notably, had been permitted to attend
several rehearsals. These were naturally dazzling experiences, which gave
the clerk glimpses of a wholly new world and brought him into vivid if
momentary contact with men and women who, in their blithe, impressively
sophisticated manner, appeared to know about all there was to know about
life.

Some of the songbirds, it is true, rather kidded the impresario for
taking up with the young clerk; and one of the singers, the official
comedian of the company, worked up a highly successful imitation, which
became one of the best things he did. Yet of course when he appeared upon
the scene, Mr. Curry’s new friend was treated with tremendous respect.

As for Jerome, he thought the members of the troupe without exception
splendid; and, partly, no doubt, as a means of easing the distress in his
heart, even began telling himself he was growing positively infatuated
with a certain girl who did a few small rôles, but mostly sang in the
chorus. Her name was Lili—an extraordinary creature, with great wide,
bewitching, wicked light brown eyes which were always beaming; a mouth
that existed only for eating and loving; a wealth of rich massed hair
and—well, nobody ever did know how much there was underneath it—perhaps
a very great deal, for Lili was deep, in her way, despite genuinely
child-like qualities. She was a truly delightful person, impulsive and
affectionate and a trifle flighty, with a healthy desire to be a prima
donna.

Lili used to amuse herself, when Jerome came amongst them, by beaming
on the poor clerk till he had to blink and would grow quite red. She
had a way of gradually opening her eyes wider and wider as she beamed,
which produced a really electric effect and would make any one’s pulse,
pre-eminently the pulse of a clerk who had never been beamed on that way
before, double and treble its accustomed beat. He didn’t dream it was
she who laughed most heartily over the efforts of the comedian, and that
she herself one day took round a petition, drawn up by the comedian,
requesting signatures of all the male members of the troupe who would
agree to adopt fashion’s latest mandate: a patent clip to hold down the
ends of one’s tie and keep one’s shoulders from growing too haughty.


II

With everything vigorously under way, and the actual sailing day in
sight, Xenophon Curry was calling on his friend and benefactress, Flora
Utterbourne, to express for perhaps the hundredth time his overwhelming
gratitude. He stirred his tea happily and looked about the little drawing
room which Flora had made so much her own with the assistance of sales
and auctions. Glancing about one understood Flora’s success.

The tea things stood between them on the very gate-legged table acquired
at Crawl Hill, and in which the impresario insisted upon feeling a
whimsical part interest. Flora had just returned from a luncheon
party—they had met, as a matter of fact, on her threshold—and as they
sipped and chatted she informally lifted off a hat of faun straw and
figured silk, thrusting the pins back into it, with the veil still where
it had been brushed up out of the way across the crown. She laid the hat
aside and touched her hair comfortably. His response to the geniality
of this hour of early twilight, with a small clock ticking somewhere,
was very whole-hearted, though of course sentimental, because everything
about the impresario was sentimental.

Some turn or other in the talk presently brought up the subject of his
rings. “I’ve been _noticing_ them,” she smiled. “It seems to me I’ve
never seen so many—and some of the ‘stones’ seem quite _wonderful_!”

“I know,” he laughed, “there are a good many more than there ought to
be, but I get so attached to each new one that drops into my hands, I
couldn’t bear to give any of ’em up.”

“Good gracious!” she exclaimed. “Do they really come as easily as all
_that_?”

“Oh, well,” he confided, “it’s become a sort of custom that when one of
my songbirds is offered a contract by one of the big managers and has to
leave me—and I want to tell you I’ve discovered more than one now famous
star and given the boost to begin with!—then I get a ring in remembrance.
Sometimes it will be a great big stone—like this one, you see? Then again
a more modest size, like this one. It depends,” he added confidentially,
“a little on the contract; but I love every single ring on my fingers
exactly the same, because each one stands for a songbird.”

“A songbird who has flown away,” she murmured, her fine eyes a little sad.

“Yes,” he sighed. “But it can’t be helped, and it doesn’t mean, you know,
that they don’t go right on being loyal. We all have to make our way in
the world. Lord, if it isn’t one thing it’s another! Money’s the main
difficulty, and what can you hope to do if you never had any?”

Ah, what indeed? The impresario set down his cup thoughtfully; and a
moment later she sympathetically brought out her own special phase of
that curious irony they had spoken of at the auction. “No one would
_think_, to see how ‘entrenched’ we look, that I’d be out of here, ‘bag
and baggage,’ early in the _morning_!”

“What?” cried Mr. Curry, really quite shaken.

She nodded and smiled at him over a slice of caramel cake she was
nibbling.

“Tomorrow!”

“It’s really heart-_breaking_,” she admitted slowly, “though when I’ve
had time to grow a little interested in the new ‘apartment’ it won’t
matter. But it did strike me as so _irresistibly_ funny, sitting here
with you ‘over the teacups,’ that at eight o’clock the men will be at the
door for my _trunks_!”

Suddenly he leaned toward her with great earnestness. “Miss Utterbourne,
I want to ask you a favour.”

“Yes?” Her brows were arched in cordial interrogation.

“It—it’s about this table—table we bought,” he said, quite steadily
despite the brazen pronoun, and fixing her with his honest, eager gaze.

“Of _course_,” she laughed softly, and with a subtle note of warm
joyousness, “I’ve _always_ thought of it as ‘our’ table! I shall never
_think_ of it otherwise!”

“Well, I want to ask you,” he continued, earnestly thumping with one
sparkling finger, “not to leave the table behind.” She coloured a little,
and he pressed on: “I want you to take it with you to the new apartment
for a kind of nucleus—to begin building around!”

“Ah,” she sighed lightly, but with a gently glowing graciousness, “you’re
a diabolical tempter at my _elbow_, for I’m sure you know my weakness for
‘gate-legged’ tables!”

“I guess I have a weakness for them, too,” he admitted doggedly.

“Well,” she laughed, blushing still more happily, “then I’m afraid the
table _will_ have to go along, _really_, though I’m sure the people who
are subletting will _notice_! What would sound most _plausible_, do you
think?” She was growing quite excited. “For it would hardly do to tell
quite the facts—_would_ it?”


III

Meantime, the _Skipping Goone_ was taking on a lively appearance indeed,
as the great sailing day drew close. She had hugged her wharf so long
in apathetic solitude that it had begun to look as though she might be
destined just to settle down in the peaceful calm of the harbour for
the remainder of her days. She seemed a little weary and careless of
reputation. Small urchins of the wharf played familiarly all over her
decks, while a shore cat, who would have raised her paws in horror at the
thought of becoming a ship’s cat, had strayed aboard through pardonable
misapprehension and become parent to a generous brood of kittens. The
hawsers had taken on a staid and permanent look. But lo! a great change
was come about, and the _Skipping Goone_ strained at her moorings, ready
to launch forth upon the most strenuous period of her career.

It was at length the very eve of departure. Jerome had been feeling very
sad, with the hour of severance so nearly arrived; but as the night wore
on he felt less and less sad in proportion to the augmenting glasses of
claret poured out for him by the incomparable Lili, who, herself in a
distinctly uplifted state, didn’t leave off beaming at all. His, just
now, were sensations he could wish to prolong into an eternity; they
eased his hurt at the same time that they encouraged in him a feeling
that he might, if he would, cut a tremendous figure in life. Could Stella
look in upon him now here in the dazzling midst of Girardin’s French
table d’hôte, surrounded by gay opera singers making the most of their
last night on shore, she would think there had been strides since the day
they had quarrelled in the fog.

“Pass the bottle along down, dear old dear!” somebody shouted.

All things considered, it was a remarkably democratic aggregation of
songbirds. Naturally when he boasted about its being one big family, the
impresario exaggerated a little; for of course there was a perpetual
swarm of petty jealousies and artistic differences—though what are most
families like, anyhow? By and large, the troupe was an extraordinary
model of ruined caste.

When the fun was at its height, Curry waved a gem-encrusted hand, gave
his songbirds a departing smile, and removed himself to a distant corner
of the restaurant where he could spread out all those “dreadful lists and
things” which Captain Bearman insisted must be checked up. His retreat
was deplored by a prodigious groan, and impulsively covered by Lili, who
chased after him with a slopping goblet of wine and a depleted plate of
sandwiches. “So you won’t starve to death, old dear!” And she flung her
arms spontaneously round his neck before returning to beam upon her clerk.

“You’d think it ought to be an easy thing to run a schooner,” Curry
smiled up wanly at M. Girardin, who had strolled over from his little
cash booth in a relaxed mood. “But Lord! there’s been nothing but
trouble from the word go!” Captain Bearman was turning out to be a master
full of whines and unforeseen exactions. There had been endless fault
to find with the _Shipping Goone_. “What a vessel! Sails rotten, hull
rotten! Rudder in the last stages!” Apparently there was nothing quite
right about the poor old _Skipping Goone_, of which the impresario had
been so proud, except perhaps the new coat of paint—and even the colour
of that had been grumblingly objected to as unnautical. “And then,”
Girardin was told, “the cargo!”

“But _mon dieu_, do you intend to handle it all yourself? Have you no
business manager, _par example_?”

“Well, perhaps not in the strict sense,” admitted Mr. Curry in his
petitioning, confidential way. “There’s a sort of treasurer—you see that
man just waving the bottle? But he just handles the box office receipts.
Then I’ve got a kind of assistant, too, who’s supposed to do things; but
he’s been so crazy to go on the stage that I’ve had to let him sing in
the chorus, and that seems to make him not much good for anything else.”

An unusual amount of commotion on the other side of the restaurant made
them look across. Most of the troupers had had sense, but a few were in a
very mellow condition—notably Jerome, who wasn’t used to stimulants and
so reacted to them with awful completeness. The songbirds were grouped
in a crowding and boisterous circle. One of the men was whistling a jig
tune, and several were clapping their hands in syncopated time, while in
the centre, very much flushed and largely unable to keep his balance, was
Jerome, doing the sailor’s hornpipe.


IV

In the cold grey dawn of the great sailing day, shadowy figures began
going aboard the _Skipping Goone_. The city delivered them up. Then
gradually the city awoke, and the waterfront went about its usual
occupations.

As morning advanced, the _Skipping Goone_ became a setting for some of
the wildest scenes in the history of opera in America. Red-eyed sopranos
were bumped by stevedores; a stout lady whose forte was contralto
matrons, went madly about in search of a trunk. Sailors were puttering,
while Captain Bearman croaked out sullen orders through his beautiful
flaming whiskers. Finally, the lord of all commotion, Xenophon Curry,
who was sure, yes desperately and perspiringly sure, half the important
things had been forgotten.

And of course Flora Utterbourne was on hand to see them off. She walked
right aboard the _Skipping Goone_, her face smilingly full of every good
wish for the impresario as she stood beside him on deck conversing with
unbroken animation, yet always in that fluid, gliding manner which he
knew so well now. Yes, Flora in her speech flowed on like a gracious
river. And there was just a faint sadness behind her frank gaze, which
meant that this departure was going to leave an unexpected emptiness.
However, if there was sadness in her gaze, there was sadness also in the
impresario’s. Xenophon Curry, though borne up by unquenchable optimism,
realized that it was going to be surprisingly hard to say good-bye—maybe
for years or a lifetime—to the lady who had asked him the way to Crawl
Hill.

The _Skipping Goone_ looked small and a little pathetic this morning.
What was in store for them in the wide, wild ocean?

A crowd was waving on the wharf. The last perfervid farewells had been
said, and the singers went about nibbling bon voyage chocolates, defiant
of _mal de mer_. There were flowers, there was even confetti. The drab
old schooner had taken on a very festive look indeed—almost like the
barque of Cleopatra!

Every hand clutched a handkerchief, every handkerchief sought its niche
in the vibrating atmosphere. A tenor tried his voice behind the deckhouse
and emerged singing _Auld Lang Syne_. The last hawser was cast off. A tug
hooted.

And so it was that the _Skipping Goone_ in her brave new paint, bearing a
mixed cargo of merchandise and songbirds, gay with flutter and bloom, was
trundled off down the bay and out upon the heaving vast, bound for parts
remote and adventures cloaked in an impenetrable veil.



II

LILI



CHAPTER EIGHT

THE AWAKENING


I

The first thing of which Jerome was conscious was a feeling that the
covers had slid off. They sometimes did, for he was a trifle too long for
his bed and frequently threshed the blankets loose at the foot.

Yes, he dully decided, without yet definitely opening his eyes at all,
that the bed clothes must have slid off onto the floor. He felt chilly,
yet not so chilly as to force him to any really energetic effort toward
a recovery of the obstreperous quilt. He groped futilely about with one
hand, then gave it up. There seemed to be something desperately wrong
with his head. He couldn’t seem to concentrate—no, not even on the quilt.

Some time later he again emerged into a realm of hazy half-consciousness,
and began remembering, very sketchily, the crimson night out of which the
present condition had evolved; saw once more the boisterous gathering
at Girardin’s, with himself in the midst; seemed still to feel Lili
beaming at him in her wonderful way. Then it came to him that he had
finally succumbed to prolonged persuasion and had done his little stunt.
He blushed unhappily and told himself his dignity was now permanently
shattered. How had they managed so to overcome his every better scruple?
Girardin’s—he had lost all count of the number of glasses—everybody so
jolly—Lili—the way she looked at one.... He groaned. Then he remembered
that by now she must be far to sea. What time was it? What time? It
seemed very dusky. He couldn’t hear his alarm clock on the commode. Of
course—it hadn’t been wound. He had gone out and made a night of it, and
his clock had run down.

And then—then he blinked his eyes a little and began, very dully
at first, to establish a groping connection with the objects they
encountered. The particular object which first arrested his attention
was a crack which ran in a perfectly straight line across the ceiling
over his head. It puzzled him, rather, because he couldn’t remember any
such crack as this in his ceiling. There were plenty of cracks, but all
zig-zag. Curious, how he had managed to sleep all these years under a
perfectly straight crack without ever seeing it!

He groaned again and shut his eyes. These puzzling inconsistencies made
his head rock more and more acutely. He tried to turn over and go back to
sleep—tried to put all that was baffling out of his wretched head. But
the one query that now kept at him with dogged persistence was: how did
he ever get to bed without being able to remember a single circumstance
connected with the process?

His next discovery was that he had gone to bed in his clothes. His
hand encountered the clip which still staunchly held his tie in place.
The clip proved beyond possible doubt that he wasn’t in his customary
nightshirt. And then—ah, but then the action seemed speeded up enormously!

His eyes were wide now; he was growing sober by leaps and bounds. There
was the undeviating crack above his head, and six inches to either side
of it were identical cracks. The ceiling wasn’t composed of plaster at
all, but painted boards; and the most staggering thing about it was the
fact that, without even sitting up he could stretch out his hand and
touch it! As a matter of fact, he wasn’t in any actual bed, but on a
shelf underneath a rough board cupboard.

And now, at last, he had reached the inevitable point of exclaiming:
“Where am I?” and sent his leaden feet hurtling through space in the
direction of the floor. He sat for a moment on the edge of the shelf,
holding his vertiginous head in his hands and trying to steady himself to
a facing of whatever ordeal might be in store for him. One awful thought
kept pounding against his feverish temples: “Perhaps I’m in jail!”
Mightn’t the cell of a jail conceivably look like this?

But when he came face to face with a tiny port, his almost entirely
cleared though still very painful brain registered the indisputable fact
that he was at sea.


II

Jerome braced himself and stared out. Occasionally a wave would slap
against the glass. He had let the fishing boats go without him. Now he
was at sea!

He was bewildered, then scared, then more scared. Yet underneath it all
a queer little wisp of daring insinuated itself—something almost akin
to self-congratulation; and the whimsical query leapt: “Has the whole
business of Oaks-Ferguson’s been a dream, and did I go to sea after all?”

The first terrible and confusing instant behind him, panic was dominant
again, and he reeled away to explore his dilemma. Jerking open the door
of the tiny cabin, which appeared to be nothing more nor less than a
supply closet, he emerged into a stuffy corridor and groped his way
toward a flight of steps ahead which led up into daylight. As Jerome
groped toward the light it may be intimated that his mental complex was
one which must defy the most patient attempt at analysis. When he came
out at last on deck, the whole awful, wonderful, terrifying truth flared
up like a rocket: this was the _Skipping Goone_, and he was launched,
along with the rest, on Xenophon Curry’s great world tour.

As for its being the _Skipping Goone_, there could be no shadow of doubt;
for here, as in a vision, with lurid sunset in their still excited faces,
were all his new theatrical friends. He beheld at once a throng and
each separate face. There stood Xenophon Curry in his Palm Beach suit
and gay adornments, like an amazed exotic potentate, gazing at him with
dropped jaw. There was the comedian, who always treated him with such
irreproachable respect, gazing too. And there, with a sun-tinted sail
behind her, looking, he thought, just like some radiant goddess, was
Lili. She wasn’t beaming now, simply gazing like the rest. There was a
space of perfectly blank silence, as Jerome stood there before them. It
was decidedly an awful moment.

Curry was the first to break through. “Good Lord, boy!” he cried, making
futile gestures and taking almost equally futile steps toward the very
substantial looking apparition.

Next to break through were two singers, Tony and Alfredo, who amazed
everybody by suddenly beginning to hurl Italian at each other in
torrents. Jerome, of course, couldn’t understand a word they said,
although, even in the midst of all the confusion, he felt somehow certain
that what they were hurling directly concerned this startling mystery of
which he had so abruptly become the centre.

Curry was grasping his arm. “How did you get aboard?” he cried, a look of
honest amazement supreme, now, in his so warmly expressive face.

“I don’t know, sir,” replied Jerome in a rather weak and husky voice.

Genuine pandemonium set in. It was almost a riot. But gradually, as some
semblance of law and order returned, Tony Riforto was made out adjuring
Alfredo Manuele with the full solemnity of a wagging forefinger:

“You’ve got to help me think, I tell you! How can you expect me to figure
the whole thing out myself?”

“Figure what?” voices demanded.

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Curry, “I begin to see—you took him in tow—yes, it
was you two—at Girardin’s—in the confusion of closing—what then?”

“What then?” spluttered Alfredo. He seemed to grasp at a ray of hope.
“There was a cab!”

“That’s it!” cried the other in exultation. “I begin to remember
something—we had to take him somewhere—he’d caved in. I remember—”

“Yes,” brightened Alfredo, “we couldn’t take him home. It would never
have done, maestro—and that’s the truth indeed!”

No, it would never have done, as he seemed to imply, to wake up a
trustful and unsuspecting family to such a spectacle as the clerk had
then presented. No one would have had the heart.

“He had fallen under the table, maestro!”

“Besides, how did we know where he lived?”

“But what then?” asked Curry, his face crowded more than ever with a real
desperation of concern.

“Tony,” muttered Alfredo weakly, “how was it after that?”

“Wait a minute!” commanded Tony solemnly. “Maestro, we thought it would
be best to bring him aboard for the night!”

“Yes, yes!” the other brightened. “How it all comes back to me! A few
hours sleep on the schooner, and then....”

From the vicinity of the comedian something strangely like an incipient
chuckle was detected.

“Well, maestro,” faltered Tony ruefully, scarcely daring to look at the
victim at all, “after that—after that....”

But it was all too plain at length. “For you see,” as Alfredo appended in
his dire extremity, “we were in so much the same fix ourselves!”

They stood aghast at what they had done. Everybody stood aghast. There
seemed something almost cataclysmic about Jerome’s being here in their
midst instead of back in San Francisco where he belonged.

But at length delightful Lili, who had by this time shed her amazement
and awe (as in the living presence of a ghost) and had begun to beam in
quite her accustomed manner, cried out: “The old dear!” and made for
Jerome, her heart seeming vaguely touched at the expression on his face.
It was Lili who really introduced the first ray of cheer and serenity and
humour into the situation.

She seized his hand. It was a perfectly solid hand. She had held it
before. Even had she had lingering suspicions they were now dispelled.
This was no ghost. No, it was the clerk himself.

And then, somehow, the humour of it all took possession of the throng,
and Lili led him about, and welcome, almost congratulation, was showered
upon him. As for Jerome, while explanations were in progress he had
looked greener and greener; but now a grin was emerging. It was at first
a pretty sickly grin, but it helped lighten the awfulness of his position.

He had to grasp at things to keep his balance—not because he was still
unsteady himself, but because the schooner was performing such violent
antics; a panic he dared not profess made him somewhat faint. They would
never cease tormenting were the fact to come out, after his boasting
the night before, that the man who had danced the sailor’s hornpipe so
convincingly was scared. He grinned instead; and the longer he grinned,
the easier, as a matter of fact, it became. For the present, indeed,
there was nothing else he _could_ do.

“Ain’t it just too rich?” giggled Lili, beaming upon him with her gay,
widening eyes.


III

Long before the excitement over Jerome had begun to abate, the cabin boy
went about beating on a tom-tom, the summons being met by a mixed chorus
of cheers and groans. There were those who had by this time settled down
with white, set expressions, who wished the ship would sink, and rolled
their eyes reproachfully; even a few had crawled into their bunks and
would not be seen again. But there were also those for whom the sea would
hold no discomfort unless it became unduly incensed; Lili, anticipating
trouble, was as yet carrying on serenely, while Jerome, rather
surprisingly, felt no symptoms at all—nothing but the sense of panic he
dared not show. Every time the schooner heeled over, Jerome mentally
gasped. But there was nothing to do but keep the grin active.

The saloon was not quite big enough comfortably to contain the table set
to accommodate them all, and the cabin boy who waited had to squeeze
a bit here and there. But nothing could daunt the blithe hilarity of
the diners themselves, who thrust their legs in amongst wooden horses
which formed the table’s sub-structure, and declared they’d never tasted
anything half so good as the ship’s plain fare.

At the head of the table, looking exactly like an admiral, sat Captain
Bearman. On his right was Miss Valentine, who could sing up to F, while
on his left was the comfortable contralto. It was very delightfully
arranged, and should have melted the stoniest heart; yet Captain
Bearman, incessantly smoothing and fingering his flaming beard (parted
in the middle and flying grandly two ways in an almost horizontal line)
absolutely refused to unbend beyond ungracious monosyllables. People
instinctively wanted to be impressed by him and take him for an admiral,
yet he instinctively wouldn’t let them because of that fatal sense of his
own inferiority.

At the foot of the table sat Xenophon Curry, his rings flashing and his
smile, of such singular sweetness, making the whole place bright. Yes,
Mr. Curry had a wonderfully heartening and stabilizing influence. Had
he been a shade austere, or less impulsively open and human, he could
never hope to lure out a flock of songbirds and flute players and cabaret
violinists and snare drummers into the precarious bosom of an antique
schooner on a world tour packed with the Lord alone knew what.

Lili had invited Jerome to sit next her, and through dinner kept up an
entrancing conversation with the clerk, constantly patting on the back
that manly and dashing phase of his ego which insisted upon the deceptive
grin, and which, in high-handed spurts of confidence, actually began
convincing him that whatever might be the outcome he was glad to be right
where he was! Yes, glad this miracle had befallen him. Glad he had been
dumped into the supply closet. _Glad_ he was at sea—with Lili!


IV

Naturally the _Skipping Goone_ didn’t possess a lounge in any true ocean
liner sense. But there was a rough space aft, out of which improvised
sleeping quarters opened; and into this cabin, forlorn enough in itself,
and lighted only by a couple of very smoky lamps, had been introduced
certain truly voluptuous notes. There were benches with bright red
cushions, and—yes, there actually was a piano. It seemed a wonderful
thing indeed, coming upon a piano in such a dismal coop of a place. But
there it was—a perky, cheap little upright, not quite full grown and
apparently lined with tin. It was shabby and perky at the same time; Mr.
Curry had purchased it at second hand, and it looked as though it had
passed through rather a good many hands even before it reached the dealer
at all. But it was still indomitable, and possessed a red felt scarf with
an amazing border of yellow and green stitching. As for the “soft” pedal,
it no longer worked; but the “loud” pedal was perfectly intact—and that,
as the impresario joyously pointed out to Miss Valentine, was “just fifty
per cent. better than no pedal of any description.”

Round the piano they gathered after dinner and made as much merry noise
as they could in an effort to keep their spirits from sagging. It was
a very different picture from that framed by the tiny lone cabin where
Captain Bearman, surrounded by august nautical implements and with the
impressive book of the log spread open before him, sat busy with his
finger nails, gnawing them in sullen solitude. The perky piano dominated
another scene altogether. Mr. Curry himself sat at the piano, pounding
with incorrigible cheerfulness. The drummer from Kentucky had brought
out his queer little old snare drum for the occasion—no room, alas, for
the kinglier kettles here! And the temperamental violinist from Vienna
vigorously added his best technique to swell the melodic pleasures of the
convivial hour.

The family of songbirds pressed close about them, bawling old comic songs
and parodies at the top of their lungs, laughing with many symptoms of
hysteria, and having the gayest sort of time imaginable. Yes, gayety was
the rule and goal of the hour; and if any one, in a moment of unfortunate
abstraction, had struck up _Home Sweet Home_ or _Rocked in the Cradle of
the Deep_ there would have been a riot indeed. The offender would have
been put right off the ship.

It was a glorious night—sheer and immortal—this first night at sea.
All about spread darkness and lonely ocean, with stars burning dimly
overhead. The stars looked down through empyreans of silence and saw
the _Skipping Goone_ nosing along under full sail with her romantic
miscellany of merchandise and songbirds, dogged and unafraid, conquering
through plain cheek. In the cabin with the smoky lamps the impresario and
his children blithely challenged the elements to do their worst.

Jerome, of course, was in the cabin with them. “Lord, Lord!” Curry had
exclaimed, his kindly face a real pageant of perplexity, “it’s just one
of those things that happen. Boy, it might be worse, though I guess
you’re in for a little taste of the world, eh? You’ll have to take pot
luck with us, but the Lord knows you’re welcome!” In the midst of the
spritely din Jerome and Lili were discussing the predicament.

“Oh,” gurgled Lili, “it will come out in all the papers: ‘Last seen
departing for Girardin’s.’ What grand publicity—if you only needed it,
like me! Gawd knows I could use a little of that kind!” Then she added:
“How are you going to let them know where you are?”

It was a question indeed. The comedian cupped his hands and shouted
across the hubbub: “Write a note and put it in a bottle!” It would be
somehow painfully appropriate—in a bottle—though the chances of delivery
couldn’t be reckoned very brilliant.

Jerome thought of his people—his home—saw everything perhaps more vividly
than ever before in his life. If this amazing calamity hadn’t befallen
him, where would he be now? At the movies, probably. Yes, he was pretty
likely to be at the movies of an evening now that Stella had slipped out
of his life. It seemed unlikely he would ever have need of the movies
again!

Lili began singing along with the others, her strong and somewhat brazen
voice entering in with irrepressible verve. Jerome gazed at her. His
heart grew furtively undaunted. As a matter of fact, before long the
clerk was almost openly applauding his calamity. And then he even began
looking upon it as something he had accomplished himself, in a sense.
Certainly nothing could have been accomplished without him.

He had been an obscure clerk, and was an obscure clerk no longer. What
would come of all this in the end? Perplexity held him in a rather
shivery embrace. But Lili slipped an affectionate arm through his and
made him sway with her to the rhythm.

    “_You can’t have any of my peanuts,_
      _When your peanuts are gone!_”

She clapped time with her large, rather beautiful hands.

They romped from song to song, growing more abandoned all the time. “Come
on, now!” shouted the impresario joyously, dominating in his irresistible
way even the deafening din about him. “Strong on the chorus—swell out on
the second bar, and then—piano—_piano_! Tum te tum tum! Now, then, all
together:

    ‘_Little Annie Roonie is my sweetheart!_’

Bravo!”



CHAPTER NINE

LOVE ON A SCHOONER—


I

It was very curious to feel that he had lived with himself, in a
condition of rather close intimacy, all these years without realizing
that he was capable of supreme emotions. Jerome didn’t feel entirely at
home with himself any more. No, to tell the truth he felt on terms of
slight formality.

There was, of course, no mirror in the supply closet, and, since he
had never before faced the obligation of dressing without the aid of
a mirror, Jerome spent an anxious thought on the possibility of being
unable to negotiate his cravat. The absence of his own familiar looking
glass reminded him, over again, of the vertiginous fact that he had said
good-bye, though so informally, to all that had gone to compose his
erstwhile existence. Could he manage to reorganize his entire life in
an instant? And how could he spend his days if not behind the counters
of Oaks, Ferguson & Whitley’s? But then the more back-patting problem
presented itself: How could they ever manage without him? Yes, this bore
earmarks of a supreme emotion.

Carefully attaching the clip to the ends of his tie, he snipped its
pincher against the edge of his bargain counter shirt. It signified that
he was now ready for whatever the day might hold.

       *       *       *       *       *

Gradually the members of Mr. Curry’s little troupe came straggling
up into the welcome sunshine, wearing an aspect of determined
cheerfulness—which was, indeed, beginning to grow a bit seaworthy.

“Everybody happy, no bones broken,” the comedian estimated in his
twinkling way, as he went about slapping people on the back irrespective
of sex. Curiously enough—even somewhat bafflingly—this was a comedian a
great deal funnier off the stage than on.

“Ah, there, Mr. Stewart!” He approached and shook hands with tremendous
respect.

And Jerome amazed everybody by turning, even as he acknowledged the sober
salutation, and winking broadly at the singers who stood looking on with
an edge of amusement. The wink seemed to warn them they would have to be
guarded from now on if they were to have fun at his expense.

Jerome was making progress.


II

Lili didn’t appear at breakfast. Jerome hated to ask about her, but
at length did; and they told him, without quite the old satirical
respect, that she was lying low. It even got to Lili that her friend had
been enquiring after her; and she sat up in her bunk and romantically
scribbled him a few lines on a bit of wrapping paper torn off a package
containing a new eleventh hour corset.

“Hello, old dear!” she scrawled. “How’s every little thing? It’s a gay
life if you don’t weaken! I haven’t—I’m only taking a long beauty sleep,
and if it gets calmer I’ll meet you on deck tonight.”

Jerome was quite excited over the note. He had never received a note
like this before. While they were still engaged, Stella had written him
three or four letters from Los Gatos, where she had gone on a trip in
the summer; but these letters had differed acutely from the note just
received from Lili. There was something about Lili’s note, with its vague
department store aroma, that made Jerome tingle excitedly. He was very
sure none of the clerks he knew in Market street had ever received such a
note.

There was no moon, but the stars were rich and wonderful. She had dragged
up blankets from her bunk, and sat snug in them on deck—a trifle subdued,
perhaps, by the mighty sway of the sea, though she beamed almost as
dazzlingly as ever, her eyes opening wider and wider in the starlight
till the poor clerk was nearly beside himself.

She asked him if he didn’t want part of her blankets, and he said, very
earnestly, oh no, he wasn’t cold. “But you haven’t any overcoat.” No,
that was true—because he hadn’t worn one to Girardin’s. Everything seemed
to date back to Girardin’s. “Say,” he demanded, “has it seemed long since
that night?”

“Has it seemed _long_!” she exclaimed. “My Gawd!”

“A lot can happen in a little while sometimes,” he mused. “It seems as
though more has happened since that night than altogether in my whole
life!”

She grabbed the clerk frantically. “I thought we were going clear over
that time! Don’t it seem so to you when we tip so far?”

Sensations rather similar had not been stranger to his own brain;
indeed, furtively, once or twice earlier in the day he had thought:
“I’m a goner!” and tried to recall a very concise prayer, and had seen
his whole life drawn into a swift, convenient synthesis; but the loyal
old craft, somehow or other, always managed to come creaking back, and
went right on about her business. “It’s perfectly safe,” he assured her.
The calm may have been egregious, but there was a genuine throb back of
his suggestion: “Would you like me to hold onto you so you’d feel more
steady?”

“Listen to him!” she tittered, snuggling down into her nest and gazing
over at him enticingly. She half closed her eyes and gave him a vampire
look.

Jerome, just then, felt as though he would be willing to do anything in
the world for Lili. Anything she might ask. He had reached an abject
phase in his romantic feeling for her. Lili charmed and hypnotized him,
made the blood go racing. No girl had ever affected him just this way
before.

“Aren’t the stars grand tonight?” she cried, wrinkling her smooth
forehead a little, as though making a real and quite taxing effort to
appreciate God’s celestial accomplishment. “Did you ever see ’em so big?”

Jerome never had.

“I just love to be out on the ocean,” she sighed, “but
ain’t-it-awful-Mabel to think where we’d go to if the boat _would_ go all
the way over?”

The _Skipping Goone_ plowed steadily along through a warm sea under the
stars.

“I’m crazy to get to Honolulu,” the girl observed.

So was Jerome.

“Have you ever been there?”

“No.”

“I hear there’s a wonderful beach where it’s always moonlight, and
everybody plays on those things—”

“Ukuleles?”

“That’s it!”

“I used to have one.”

“You did? What a pity you didn’t bring it along—to Girardin’s,” she added
with a little humorous smile. “It would sound sweet a night like this on
the water, wouldn’t it?”

He agreed. There was a warm silence. Then she began singing, in a dreamy
voice:

    “_I want to be the leading lady,_
    _I want to have the all-star part...._”

She yawned, in a pleasantly relaxed way, and snuggled. “I hate to go to
bed a night like this,” she sighed.

Jerome suggested daringly: “Let’s stay up all night!”

Then she tittered again and narrowed her eyes. But for all her lightness,
it was becoming obvious that Lili’s attitude toward Jerome had altered
somewhat since the day she had gone around with the petition about tie
clips. She still beamed on him, of course, because Lili wouldn’t know how
to look at any man without more or less beaming. But she also looked at
him not a little seriously. He didn’t, somehow, seem quite so funny to
look at as he had at first, and he didn’t talk so stiffly.

After a little she asked: “What are you going to do when we get there?”

Jerome didn’t know.

“Haven’t you any idea?”

He shrugged and lamented: “I’ve only got forty cents to my name!”

She poised it with a faint but very friendly smile.

“I know one thing,” he declared stoutly. “I don’t like the idea of going
back—honest I don’t!”

“Then why do you go back?”

“What _can_ I do?”

“If you could only sing, you might join us in the chorus!”

(Stella, it vaguely occurred to him, would have replied: “Can’t you think
of anything yourself?”)

“I wish I could sing,” he said.

“Ever try?”

“Yes. I sound like one of the fog horns on Yerba Buena during a tule fog!”

She laughed. “It’s a pity, because you could stick around.”

“I’ve often thought I’d like to go on the stage if I ever got a
chance....”

“Why don’t you speak about it to Mr. Curry?”

“Do you think he’d take me on?”

“He’s awful good-hearted,” she evaded, adding: “Are you sure it’s as bad
as a fog horn?”

“I suppose I could learn how. Is it very hard to follow those highbrow
tunes?”

“N-no,” she replied.

“Do you think I ought not to go back?”

“I’m not much at handing out advice,” she replied, quite seriously,
the stars making her big eyes strangely bright, “but if I was you I’d
certainly keep on going, now you got started.”

“Yes,” he said, a new determination in his voice. “I guess you’re right.
Great Scott! It certainly does seem years since Girardin’s!”



CHAPTER TEN

—AND ELSEWHERE


I

Before port was reached two facts important to this history had been
established: the first that Jerome was to join the troupe—not, indeed, as
a member of the chorus (since he had satisfactorily demonstrated to the
impresario that his allusion to fog horns had not been in exaggeration)
but instead as a clerical assistant to Mr. Curry; and the second, that he
had fallen madly in love with Lili.

The first fact was simple enough; as for the second, no doubt the gods on
far Olympus smiled a little. But love spurns the orthodox, and after all
heeds few conventions.

Of course everybody knew about it, for the _Skipping Goone_ was poor soil
in which to cultivate secrets. So the clerk’s love affair was discussed,
just as any issue of general public interest would be anywhere.

That a clerk should fall in love with a girl who sang on the stage could
not possibly cause any surprise, though that Lili should likewise be
smitten with the clerk might seem a little less true to type. But somehow
Lili wasn’t quite a type. She rather baffled. Besides, she hadn’t exactly
fallen in love with Jerome the way he had fallen in love with her.
However, it was a most interesting case; Mr. Curry’s songbirds found it
so, and adapted themselves to its oddities in the easy manner of men and
women of the world. It wasn’t, for that matter, the first time they had
beheld the alluring little singer with a beau.

Any one who had known Jerome intimately during the slow-moving years in
San Francisco would have been astonished enough upon encountering him
in the flushed midst of this new phase of his career. One of the first
momentous changes was an entire absence of the classic tie clip, which
Lili, in playful mood, had snatched off one day and flung far out to sea.
Thus, in a flash, one of the most eloquent emblems of his whole former
life vanished away. It was really wonderful how much less obscure Jerome
looked without the clip. But that was only that. As for the rest—well,
Lili’s beaming eyes alone were a liberal education. And, though she often
enough shocked Jerome with brazenries for which he wasn’t yet altogether
prepared, and while she never seemed to take anything quite so seriously
as he did, her knowledge of the great world opened his mind to somewhat
wider horizons (despite her occasional deficiencies in grammar and
manners) than he had even remotely glimpsed during the epoch when he used
sometimes to think of “cutting quite a figure in the world some day.”

Well, he was cutting a figure now! No, he didn’t feel altogether at home
with himself any more. But it was broadening not to—there was such a
thing, he now began to realize, as feeling too much at home.

Gradually his entire viewpoint changed, so that it was with amazement
he perceived how he had been satisfied just to drudge along in San
Francisco, with nothing ever happening. He had definitely shaken the dust
of the past off his shoes. He was through with the old life forever.

A persisting lightness in Lili troubled him some. She had what at first
struck him as an unnecessarily vulgar way of shouting to her friends:
“I’ve got a man! I’ve got a man!” And he could never, for instance,
begin seriously talking about the way he felt, and about the future
but Lili would laugh it all away with some perfectly frivolous, or at
least irrelevant remark. Her tolerance of the incessantly interrupting
pleasantries of the comedian was distinctly a bore. Jerome’s incorrigibly
healthy ego assured him something was wrong, and that while the
mock-respect of earlier days had largely worn off, he still wasn’t
treated with that degree of honest respect which the majesty of his
ambitious manhood demanded. Jerome had buried his past with its mistakes
and its follies and humiliations, and he demanded of the world that it
treat him accordingly.

Sometimes the startling suddenness of everything would momentarily
overcome. And he didn’t know ... well, at any rate, he mustn’t permit
life to run away with him; to have life run away with him might not be
so bad as to have it crawl away with him; but it would be bad enough.
Sometimes when Lili laughed he had a feeling that life _was_ running away
with him. He had moments of feeling a trifle wobbly about life. Only one
thing seemed, through everything, perfectly clear: it was too late now to
think of turning back!


II

Arrival at Honolulu was plentifully exciting. Naturally every one was on
deck. Captain Bearman set up a sort of preliminary barking through his
splendid whiskers.

Mr. Curry’s press agent, though not conspicuous for creative ingenuity,
had carried out with tolerable success most of the “advance” ideas with
which the impresario had eagerly and patiently supplied him. There
was a throng down to welcome in the band of venturesome troupers. The
newspapers sent their most gifted reporters, and had reserved space on
their front pages for a generous human-interest yarn. A native orchestra
was strumming on the dock. Of course all the songbirds were wild to
debark.

Shore connections established, the reporters descended and tongues were
ardently loosed. Most of the songbirds had a very efficiently developed
sense of publicity. Miss Valentine, the coloratura who could sing up
to F, turned from one to another, talking with elaborate elegance and
conveying the impression that she considered this a very great lark
indeed—something in the nature of a playful interlude between triumphs
of the past (a little yawn and much patting of curls) and radiant
contracts in the future. The comedian told funny stories of life aboard
the _Skipping Goone_, and agreeably noted out of a corner of his eye
that some of them were being reduced to hieroglyphics. One story they all
seized upon was the story of the clerk who had failed to wake up; and
the clerk must be found and interviewed, and somebody even snapped his
picture.

As for the impresario—of course he was made use of to the fullest
advantage. “Like a conquering monarch,” one of the papers next day
proclaimed his arrival; nor was this an exaggeration, for Xenophon Curry
in all his bright habiliments did look like a conquering monarch, and
carried himself like one, too, so proud was he—oh, a very human sort of
conquering monarch: one with a smile such as, in the words of another
paper, “it would be worth walking all the way around Oahu to see.”


III

Preference might have carried Xenophon Curry out to the Beach, but _ars
longa; vita brevis_—he settled cheerfully at the Alexander Young so as to
be near the theatre.

Scarcely had he descended from his room when a most surprising
circumstance developed. Over in one corner of the lobby stood a small
booth where ladies of social prominence were selling flowers for the
benefit of a local charity. All at once the impresario stopped and gazed,
unbelieving, fascinated. And at the very same moment there was a stir
inside the booth, and lo! one of the ladies came forth from it, came
smiling and nodding toward him across the lobby, her face shining with
welcome, and a ready hand outstretched.

Flora Utterbourne—yes, it was really she! Their greeting, as may well be
imagined, was effusive and faintly loud. It was really beautiful!

“But—I left you on the dock...!” he faltered lamely, but happily.

“I know,” she laughed, with warm joyousness, though without his
amazement, “but you see—I took the next steamer _down_, for there were
some _friends_ who had been planning to spend a few _weeks_ here and
asked me to go _along_, and I found I could get _away_, though I really
hadn’t intended leaving town just at this _time_!”

They chattered, then, delightedly, and for ever so long couldn’t seem to
exhaust the stock of superlative congratulations, self and mutual. At
last, however, they seated themselves, and she went on flowingly: “It
really was my _friends_”—just a faintly blushing insistence—“who ‘carried
me off’—the Trents, originally of _Toronto_—perhaps you _know_ them?—and
Mrs. Clyde, who was Miss _Spurling_,—she is the friend I was with in
_Madeira_, the year we met Signora Martinella, who nearly ‘took her life’
in such a strange and tragic _way_!” And Flora was enthusiastically
launched, right then and there, upon a most amazing digression, all
about the Signora Martinella, who was encountered first in the ball
room—“rather _flirting_, we thought—quite a _frivolous_ little thing!”
And then it developed—oh, well, it was a very absorbing affair, and the
Signora in the end _didn’t_ take poison. Oh yes, it was most elaborately
enthusiastic; and when the end was reached she and the impresario sat
facing each other in a state of breathlessness: it was several seconds
before they seemed to realize that all this had no essential point
for them! When at length they did realize this, she smiled, a little
self-consciously, while he was humorously devouring her with his bright
black eyes, and trying to convince himself that this incredible fact
really _was_ a fact.

“We’ve been scanning the ‘horizon’ with such _anxiety_,” she told him,
“hoping each day for a glimpse of the _schooner_—trusting and praying
that nothing had ‘gone wrong’, and in the meantime we’ve been advertising
your ‘songbirds’ really most _extensively_, and are planning to attend
the ‘first night’ of each new _production_, which quite takes me back to
the old days in _Paris_, when I was doing a little studying _myself_,
though of course I knew I never had anything more than a ‘parlour’ voice,
and only wanted to train it a little so that I could give pleasure to
my _friends_, in a way!” And then—it seemed so irresistibly to fit in
here—he was told all about the funny old Italian teacher who would jump
up and down, exclaiming: “_Troppo apperto!_” till she would ask in
despair: “But what can I _do_ about it?” whereupon the Italian would cry:
“_Chiudi! Chiudi!_” Flora smiled richly over the reminiscence.

And then, as they proceeded, she was so very sympathetic that the
impresario just poured out, on the spot, all his business and artistic
troubles, and told her about the clerk—“Lord, a sheer stroke of luck from
my point of view!” And she humorously sighed: “It’s _always_ puzzled me
how you’ve managed to keep everything _going_ in your own head!” And
he asked: “But you see how mysteriously life works? Isn’t it really
remarkable? You never know if people you just casually meet may be
destined....” It trailed off in the wake of a gesture just a little wild;
for obviously both had instantly caught from this a personal not to say a
most thrilling application.

Well, in a word, both of them rejoiced—like a couple of youngsters—at
being together again!

“I know you’ve a _thousand_ things to _do_,” she said at last, rising,
“and I mustn’t keep you any longer, though I _couldn’t_ help ‘waylaying’
you the first _thing_! You see, I’m helping some of my friends—we’re
selling flowers for homeless babies!” She laughed softly. “I really feel
almost like a ‘native’, and you know—I’ve taken a _house_, and have it
nearly all _furnished_, though I’d intended merely to _rest_ here in
Honolulu! I understand how _busy_ you are, and that it won’t be possible
for you to ‘drop in’ quite so frequently as _before_, though the little
‘villino’ by the sea will be always wide open to _welcome_ you, and I
must show you my _charming_ Japanese ‘breakfast’ dishes!”

“I think you’ll find I’ll manage,” he said, stroking his toupee
delightedly with a couple of deft, tender fingers. He was perfectly
radiant.

“Perhaps I’ll give a little garden _tea_ one day, for I’ve a really
most _delicious_ terrace, and invite your ‘songbirds,’ and maybe
Miss Valentine would _sing_!” Whereupon the big impresario almost
whooped—yes, right there in the lobby—because his temperamental heart was
making such an enormous commotion. And for that matter the lady’s heart
was making a commotion also.

“_Addio, signore!_” she murmured cordially—and was gone, her skirts
rustling very much.


IV

Jerome made off as soon as he could—or rather as soon as the intense
delight of this new type of excitement permitted him to think of
it—and sent a cable to his family. Mr. Curry paid him a month’s
salary in advance, so that he wasn’t quite penniless. Indeed, he felt
himself rolling in riches. He supplied himself with a small trunk and
considerable necessary apparel. In a shop window where he saw them
displayed Jerome hesitated over the necessity of a new clip; but he
astutely argued that since Lili had snatched off his old clip and flung
it to sea, evidently there was something about clips—or at any rate
as associated with himself—which made sophisticated people laugh; the
temptation was stoutly resisted. He purchased a haircut, too, which
helped enormously; and went about smoking his short-stemmed pipe—not
exactly jauntily, as in the old days when he thought he knew so much and
really knew so little, but rather in a resolute, sober manner, which
seemed proclaiming at least one highly important milestone passed.

Everybody was furiously busy, getting settled and trying to see the
sights and do the required rehearsing and necessary shopping all at the
same time. As for the sight-seeing, that could no doubt have waited;
but in the case of most of Mr. Curry’s songbirds, temperament dictated
otherwise. And it frequently happened, during the first days in Honolulu,
that members of the troupe would bow to each other, sometimes a shade
haughtily but usually with whole-hearted zest, from carriages in which
they were being driven everywhere.

Jerome and Lili did a little sight-seeing together, though (being not, as
one has already seen, quite a type) she very sensibly wouldn’t hear of
his hiring a carriage, but insisted that “Gawd knows I’m not too elegant
to ride on a street car _yet_!”



III

“CURLY LOCKS, CURLY LOCKS”



CHAPTER ELEVEN

HONEYMOON


I

Hagen’s island—a tiny realm of wonder and suspense.... There it lay,
lost in a warm and dreaming sea, a blue on all sides of uncompromising
intensity. Yes, the island, saturated with sunshine, often richly agleam
with pearls from a swift, brief downpour of rain, appeals to the eye
as not quite real, with its murmurs of palm and giant fern, its ruined
docks, its broken derrick once painted red and standing now against the
lush bloom like a spectre ruling in an empire of everlasting silence.
“Quite capable once—h’m?—of bringing on a war somewhere”—yet now such a
spot of smiling, dreaming quiet. (“Oh, the laughter behind it all....”)

Except when tempest sweeps, furious and black, across the world, whipping
the sea into a churning fury and tearing through the close fabric of the
jungle like an offended offspring of Cerberus, the island sleeps and
broods under a sky tenderly blue and lofty; while restless along the comb
of the inner reefs is ever a rustling fringe of white, “a necklace with
conscience of lead....” There is foam on the lap of the yellow beach. A
place—yes, a place not unhaunted, and bringing sometimes, by the sheer
charm of its drowsy hush, a little throb to the throat. And silence—so
white and enthralling, whether at noon or lighted by luminous spheres of
southern midnight: a silence such as one may encounter in some little
lonely church among the hills of Italy....

But all suddenly, within a house cleverly constructed of palm trunks, the
silence was broken; a woman stood tacking something against the wall. A
man in riding breeches, pongee coat, and white shirt open at the throat,
was just in the act of draining a little glass of amber coloured liquor
in an adjoining room. He sang out to her:

“Stella! What are you up to? You sound like a whole army of carpenters!”

She laughed with an effect of coyness and stepped back. “You’d never
guess, Ferd!”

“What is it?”

“No, you’ll have to come in and see.”

He came, his handsome face a little more flushed than usual, perhaps, and
his eyes supremely blue and round.

“Aha!” he exclaimed in the doorway of the room they humorously called
their parlour.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” laughed the girl, “till I came across
it at the very bottom of the trunk. I certainly would never have thought
of bringing a calendar! Maud must have slipped it in—she was always
raving about that picture—isn’t it beautiful?” Stella laughed derisively,
though without bitterness, for the past was all behind her. “It used to
hang in the dining room,” she explained. “I guess Maud thought it might
look cheerful to us a long way from home. It gives you a sort of feeling
of being still in touch with the world, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” he agreed, and, with a faint smile, beheld a large mercantile
calendar, a bright-coloured print filling the upper half. The picture
showed a sailor just returned to his little home nest after hazardous
voyages. All the colours were too gaudy, and the sailor’s dog was
absurdly foreshortened; but it was a joyous tableau, within its frame of
coiled and knotted ropes; and across the hearthrug, in energetic gold,
one read:

    Oaks, Ferguson & Whitley, Ships’ Chandlers

The soft, scented breath of the jungle outside crooned a little through
the rustle of palm and fern fronds, just now and then audible; and
it stirred the mats at the windows and sometimes made the doors creak
hauntingly on their jungle-vine hinges.

“What’s today?” asked King, lighting a cigarette. And he added, with a
faint note of restlessness behind the laugh: “Already it’s beginning not
to matter much!”

Stella glanced at the calendar gayly. “Today is Thursday—the fourteenth.”
Then, clasping her hands with some excitement, she exclaimed: “Why, isn’t
that St. Valentine’s Day?”

“By Jove, you’re right, Stella.”

She seemed quite delighted over the discovery, though it was with a
trace of seriousness she mused: “_Doesn’t_ it seem strange to think of
Valentine’s Day with nobody but ourselves within hundreds of miles who
ever heard of St. Valentine?”

She glanced around her at the primitive surroundings. A great, lustrous
butterfly with heavy wings alighted on one of the sills and drooped
there, poised.

King looked at his wife with half quizzical amusement. “Can’t we
celebrate some way, even so?”

“Oh, yes—let’s!” she cried, eager to make the most of an unexpected fête
day.

“I simply must step around to the florist’s and order you some orchids.
Shall I, little girl?”

“Please do!” she laughed. “I’m sure you’ll find orchids in abundance just
now—and so cheap! Really yours for the picking!”

“You must admit,” he reminded her, “that living in a jungle possesses
some advantages.”

“Yes, even if not quite all the comforts of home!”

She liked these little flashes of “repartee,” for they always carried
her back to the wonderful night at the ball; yet in the midst of it,
oddly enough, she remembered the frilled paper-lace valentine Jerome had
sent her a year ago. She had found it, thick with cupids, tied to the
doorknob; and it had proved really the beginning of their dull little
courtship. “Poor Jerome,” she thought, “would have to do the conventional
thing. Such magnificence as orchids....”

King held out his arms romantically, and she ran to him. His look was at
once dazzling and tender.

“Give me a kiss, little girl!”

She raised her face happily.

“Now another.”

“Oh, Ferd—I never dreamed of being so happy!”

“Let me steal one on the tip of your nose,” he requested. “There!”

She laughed softly, and he asked: “How much do you love me, lady-bird?”

Could any one doubt he had fallen in love with her as he might fall in
love with Irmengarde?


II

Three days since Captain Utterbourne had lifted his hat to them on the
doorstep of their new abode—lifted it almost formally, his lips just
flickering to a smile of such supreme opaqueness that no one could
possibly divine anything that happened to be behind it in the way of
emotion. Then the _Star of Troy_ had slipped off, quietly and swiftly.

They had gone down and stood together on the ruined dock and watched
her through the binoculars Captain Utterbourne had given them for a
wedding gift; watched till she sank beneath the rim of a cloudless
horizon; watched even the thin plume of smoke till the blue of the
blazing tropical sky had sucked it into eternal limbo. It was then,
really for the first time, they had become aware of the almost unearthly
stillness....

But how fair it was—what breathless beauty! Stella had never imagined
a spot so rich in sheer natural loveliness. She rambled in moods of
romantic bewilderment; wandered along avenues of lush abundance; heard
the soft thud of cocoanuts, and sipped their icy milk with delight.
All was so strange and utterly new to her; so wonderful. It was like
a dream from which one _must_ waken.... Sometimes it was very subtly
like music one cannot listen to without mysterious tremors beyond the
realm of words. The air was warm and a little heavy with the spice of
moist luxuriance, and dead-ripe fruit tinted with sunshine. One’s spirit
drowsed; merely to breathe was exquisite. Stella roamed in a cloud of
wonder, sometimes almost of awe.... And she thought: what a setting for
the romance that had so suddenly bloomed in her drab life!


III

King stood on a gentle rise of rich turf, gazing off through the
binoculars across cultivated fields. Presently up toward him through a
shining little valley rode a Japanese on one of the Australian ponies
Utterbourne had imported. King lowered his glass and watched, a smile
half of amusement on his face. It was Tsuda—an amazing creature of
prowess and contradictions. The Captain had plucked him out of a brawl
over a geisha girl up in Yezo—“Fancy—h’m?”—to begin with. And after
that—oh, but the Captain possessed faculties unfathomable for picking his
men. According to Tsuda, the Captain had saved his life—indeed, Tsuda was
very dogmatic about it.

“Ho, there!” King called out, as the Japanese, having dismounted in the
shade of a thicket of dwarf palms, trotted up the incline to the spot
where the new overseer stood. “Don’t begin any salaaming or kowtowing,
Tsuda,” he begged him with a laugh. “I’ve been salaamed to death all
morning. What have you done to those poor devils of Ainu?”

Tsuda stood beside him, very little and humble. He wheezed some. “Taught
the fear of the gods,” he replied. “Yes, _sir_!”

King hooted. “You’ll finish me, Tsuda, with your priest-ideas and your
fairy tales. I never heard such a bunch of outlandish nonsense in my
life! But of course we’ve got to hand the method credit, I suppose, since
it keeps us supplied with free labour.”

Tsuda bowed solemnly. “It is—gn—the way of the gods,” he murmured. And
then, making sure they were quite alone, he edged a step nearer, assumed
a less formal bearing, and added, in a voice which had startlingly
acquired a note of the utmost sophistication: “If that fail—gn—there
is always the saké!” And he chuckled like an incorrigible urchin up to
tricks.

Tsuda’s English was quite remarkable. It was rather a mystery where
he’d managed to pick it all up, packed, as it was, with slyly winking
colloquialisms, even occasional wisps of slang. Tsuda was a genuine man
of the world, in his own odd way. Very up-to-date, very devious, subtly
sophisticated—a very waggish person, too; though he could upset it all
in a minute with revelations of a most utter and child-like simplicity.
As for the curious “gn” which now and then punctuated his talk, that
mystified rather, till one came to detect about it the humble earmarks of
asthma.

“Look here, Mr. Priest,” said King, who had raised his binoculars again,
“there’s a queer something or other going on—come here and look through
the glasses. It’s one of your Ainu women, and she seems to be burying
something—I can’t make out what.”

Tsuda handled the binoculars proudly but awkwardly. “Oh, that’s a woman
who don’t want her husband any more,” he shrugged casually. “Want him to
die—yes, _sir_! So she make his head-dress like a corpse. Dig a hole for
it—gn. You see how she bob her head up and down? She pray that he rot
with the head-dress.”

King exclaimed in amazement: “What piece of crazy superstition do you
call this?” The island lay still and glowing round about them. The sky
was without a cloud, the sea without a sail.

“Don’t ask _me_!” shrugged Tsuda waggishly. “Don’t blame me for any
of these damn kind of thing! You see such go on all the time. No
telling—gn—what a lot of damn heathen ideas I’ve had to put out of their
heads! By golly tried to tell me once the earth rest on the back of a
fish, and when he wiggle that make earthquakes! But they’re toned down a
whole lot since then. It was a time in Paromushir you see an Ainu woman
give suck to a bear cub. But no more. No sir!” He shook his head a
little sadly. “These fellows haven’t got the pep they used to have—not
by a God-damn! All mixed up with Russian and Japanese. No good—no good.”
He looked really mournful over the undoubted decay of this lost tribe on
which he had lavished his affection so many years.

Tsuda had succeeded, when the Imperial summons came from Tōkyō ordering
all the Kurile Ainu down to a convenient pen at Shikotan, in concealing a
whole tribe up in the remote mountains of Paromushir, becoming himself a
sort of perpetual king over them. It was wild and daring—yes, a work of
genius, clearly, though Tsuda’s affection was never without its ulterior
motive. There had been a lucrative business in salmon, which by this
novel method he acquired gratis. And then—Utterbourne.

Yes, Utterbourne had come along with Hagen’s Island fresh in mind, and
the problem of cheap labour as yet unsolved, he had plucked Tsuda out
of the brawl in Yezo; had looked at him with eyes half closed, in his
quizzical poising way; had hinted discreetly about gold, much gold. A few
months later Tsuda led his Ainu tribe down out of the mountains and into
the hold of the _Star of Troy_, whose prow was turned toward the dreamy
south.

Hagen’s Island—a fugitive, lost tribe: what an inspiration to bring them
together! In truth, it had been one of the Captain’s very finest flashes.



CHAPTER TWELVE

A TOUGH OLD BIRD AND THE KEY OF PARADISE


I

Sometimes the glowing mystery of her new island home seemed to rush upon
Stella and make her a little faint.

“Ferd, dear,” she said breathlessly, “who would ever have dreamed of our
coming to a place like this?”

He eyed her searchingly.

“So strange, Ferd—isn’t it? So almost unbelievable!”

“I wonder,” he mused, “if you would have come if you’d known what it was
going to be like?”

“Oh yes!” she laughed softly. “It’s so beautiful I almost want to cry
sometimes. And the silence.... Oh,” she exclaimed, “I tried so hard to
imagine what our life was going to be like, but I never guessed a place
like this!” Her smile was quiet and engaging. “At first,” she went on, “I
felt almost sure, from things you said, it was going to be some big city
in Europe or the East....”

They strolled together off to the rocky shore and stood gazing a long
time across the tender resting sea. Silence! The sun was dropping beyond
the sheen of a little crescent beach, with the jungle climbing rich and
dark, unstirred save by the echo of such voices as are never still, by
day or night. Slowly the sky grew splendid. Clouds drifted and piled,
painted with crimson and flushed with living gold.

Stella sat by her husband in a rapture of romantic happiness. Far down
against the face of a rock gently slapped by the waxing tide, ran an odd
white fissure, and crabs were busy scuttling all about it. The air was
faintly scented with brine and seaweed as evening began to close in.

“Oh, Ferd....” she faltered delightedly. “It’s _so_ still!”

And then, as the dark came on, she drew her husband into one of his moods
of verbal grandeur, and sat entranced beside him while he multiplied, so
easily, the splendours in store for them. This was but a beginning. They
were to climb—the future was full of light.

“Perhaps you’d like it if I got a consular place in Cairo, later on?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Or—or an ambassador’s in Rome...?”


II

King and Tsuda stood together under some date palms at the edge of a
field—a mass of vivid green—white blossoms tossing in the tropical
breeze—petals here and there whirling and floating idly. The field was
aswarm with bare-legged Ainu labourers in short, rough tunics. They bent
dully to their task, an expression of unbroken hopelessness on their sad,
hairy faces. “A little experiment in transplanting—h’m?” the Captain
called it. When King passed any of the Ainu they would suspend their
work and clumsily prostrate themselves. All the men had long hair and
prodigious moustaches drooping despondently down amongst the vegetation
with which their hands were busy. There were women of the tribe, too,
with faces for the most part hideously tattooed, and wearing on their
heads bright coloured handkerchiefs of Russian manufacture, which gave
them a picturesque, peasant-like appearance.

Tsuda was saying: “This year much rain—look damn good—like a bumper
crop—yes, _sir_! Up to Bihar and Bengal, maybe—gn—even Afghanistan. I
was all over those places,” he added, in an important, off-hand tone,
“learning the business right on the ground—yes, sir!” His eyes darted
rapidly about, met the new overseer’s gaze, then flitted off.

“What’s the exact acreage?” asked King quietly. Tsuda looked a bit blank.
“Any way of estimating what a normal crop ought to be?” And without
giving the other opportunity to reply, he added, rather crisply: “We’re
going to be a little more scientific, from now on, even if you did have
unusual advantages over in India and thereabouts.”

Tsuda flashed at him a glance, then looked glum. His eyes were restless.
His lips moved, but what he brought out was merely a nonplussed “gn.”

“What was last year’s export?” demanded King.

“About five hundred chest.” For the moment Tsuda’s usual blitheness
appeared damped, and his was the bearing of a man squirming faintly under
an incipient sense of infringement.

King reached idly down and pulled off one of the blossoms with its nearly
ripe capsule, turned it round and round, eyed it curiously, sniffed it.
It had a strange, pungent odour. He crushed it, and his fingers were
stained with a warm pinkish fluid.

Tsuda watched him, his eyes showing a glitter of suppressed excitement.
“Ever try any of it yourself?” he asked, his voice nervous and oddly
shrill.

“No, I never did,” laughed King. “What’s it like, Tsuda?”

“Say,” the other replied, in an offended yet subtly smirking way, “do you
take me—gn—for a fellow with inside information?”

King laughed again, this time rather dryly. “I guess you’ve given it a
trial, at least—just now and then, perhaps?”

Slowly, and at first as though grudgingly, Tsuda smiled. The smile spread
into a very clever, confidential grin. “You needn’t please mention it to
the Captain,” he muttered, “but this is a damn-God-forsaken hole.”

“I understand,” replied King, his tone slightly labelled.

“Sss!” Tsuda acknowledged. And then, after a brief pause which, on his
side, was obviously not a little breathless, he pursued: “Maybe you feel
that way too, later on—later on—gn—and want to give it a try—yes, _sir_!”

King fairly howled with mirth. Tsuda was a trifle transparent, after
all. But tough. Oh, he was a tough old bird! He was anxious to share his
iniquities....

“I have an extra spirit lamp,” Tsuda murmured meekly, in a very small
voice, his eyes humbly on the turf, “and—gn—some pipes I smuggled in,”
he half giggled. “It’s a damn lonely hole here—you shall see. The people
here before were lucky to clear out—yes, _sir_! The coal people and that
albatross-dutchman business—all rot,” he grinned parenthetically.

“I guess you’ve been here long enough to know by this time,” suggested
King.

Tsuda came quite close and muttered, his bony hands restless and his eyes
mere darting slits: “You got to cut loose sometimes—simply have to! And,”
he ended cryptically, “_there’s only one way_!”



CHAPTER THIRTEEN

THE WHITE KAMI


I

It was before dawn—a dark and heavy hour, with the stars just dimming and
a light wind in the jungle. Stella was asleep, dreaming: she seemed to be
out on the rocks of the shore, where she and Ferdinand had sat enriching
the sunset with their wonderful projections. She saw it all in her dream
so vividly: the rocky promontory, the sunny sea beyond, and had a sense,
as one does in dreams, of something about to happen. The white beach
below shimmered in the glare of a vacant sky. In her dream she felt the
strange spell of the silence, made manifold. It held her breathless and
she waited, full of wonder. Presently as she gazed across the slumbering
sea, a great ship came into view—was it this for which the breath of
premonition had prepared her? She gazed, and the ship seemed coming
straight on, like an enchanted ship. Her heart stirred with delight.

Abruptly, however, Stella awoke, with a sharp pang of fear and sat up
in bed, trembling. Something like a wild cry seemed to have broken her
dream. She heard it again, though fainter through the woven fastness of
the jungle: the cry of some great night bird, a note so sinister and full
of lamentation that her brow grew a little damp with the terror of her
rousing. Yet in a moment she was calm.

Her husband lay beside her, quietly sleeping. She listened to his regular
breathing in the dark, then lay down and closed her eyes. Gradually the
silence drew her back into a state of drowsiness. She slept.

When she woke again the dark was gone and the sun stood high.

       *       *       *       *       *

Slipping from bed and into an adjoining room of her strange new dwelling,
Stella lighted a small oil stove and started a kettle of water for their
coffee. Returned to the bedroom, she arrayed herself in a bit of frilled
and beribboned negligée and a lacy boudoir cap: small extravagancies of
the unambitious shopping tours preceding her wedding. Adorned in these
luxuries, she sat before her improvised dressing table to begin a rather
elaborate toilette.

Stella had done all she could with the primitive conditions surrounding
her here. The dressing table was fashioned out of an empty packing case,
covered with some old flowered goods. A small mirror hung above it, and
on either side were cheap little bracket candle-holders with coloured
candles that had begun to nod under the hot breath of the tropics. She
had pictured herself in a boudoir rather more authentic; but for the
present this one would do very well.

She sat absorbed in the pleasant task of making herself attractive.
Ferdinand still slept, but was beginning to stir. Even in bed, relaxed
and disheveled with sleep, he looked like a god; and Stella, glancing
over at him, felt more than ever inspired to make herself beautiful. She
must hold his love, she mused—and even tinted her cheeks a little.

King yawned and turned. A romantic manœuvre entered her head, almost as
though inspired by the gay little cap. She fluttered over to the bed.
“I’ll wake him with a kiss!” she thought. However, the stratagem was not
productive of entirely happy results. Her husband hoisted himself on an
elbow and blinked a moment at the surprising apparition he had married;
but instead of compensating her in some way for this early effort in
his behalf, King let his eyes droop shut again, with a tiny frown, and
slipped back—he had barely seen her. The unfortunate bride had violated
an entrenched masculine tradition: these things are very subtle.

Yet sleep was really exhausted, after all, and a moment later King
thought better of his drowsy petulance, roused and called to her:
“Stella!” And she paused, turning a little toward him, while he blinked
goodhumouredly and held out an arm, beckoning slowly. She gave him a
rueful smile and trudged back, pouting a reluctant forgiveness, her heart
relieved, though still in a mood of vague disappointment.

“You mustn’t let little things upset you so easily, Stella,” he said,
with the faintest shade of curtness. “I’ve got a big contract on my hands
here, and must get my sleep out. Anyway,” he added, patting her hand, “it
isn’t late, is it?”

Stella glanced at her watch, pinned on amongst a gay little whirl of
ribbons and laces. “Nearly nine o’clock,” she said—and, oddly enough, the
intelligence quite changed the complexion of things.

He sprang out of bed with an exclamation. “That’s what a climate can do!
Why didn’t you call me hours ago? I’ll have to get an earlier start—where
the devil is my shaving mug—is there any hot water, Stella?”

“A little, Ferd,” she hesitated. “For our coffee....”

“Bring me what there is,” he requested bluntly. And asked her where she
kept his shirts.

“Ferd,”—she faltered a little. “You’re so brusque this morning.... Don’t
you—” and she indicated her finery with a hesitating gesture. “I bought
it because you said this is your favourite colour....”

He paused in the energetic process of dressing and looked at her
squarely, yet at the same time without full attention. “Yes, I do like
it. It’s a dream.” And, since she still hesitated, evidently perplexed
and a little confounded, King laughed with affectionate loudness and
said: “Come here, lady-bird, and I’ll make a fuss over you. I wasn’t
thinking. Of course you look good enough to eat! Give me a kiss.”

He gathered her up and hugged her.


II

When her husband had gone, looking very handsome and magnetic in his
white clothes and a stiff tropical hat, Stella sat a little time at the
doorstep, musing, letting her mind drift on an undercurrent of vague
debate. She idly watched some dusky southern moths floating about a
patch of dull orange fungus in the brooding dimness of the jungle. Her
thoughts, unformed and roaming, were faintly sombre. She remembered her
haunting dream, so sharply broken by the cry of the bird, and seemed
again to see the ship sailing in toward her; she wondered whether any
ships did ever pass within range of the island. Presently, with a little
sigh, she got up and went into the house. She took off her finery and
laid it away, putting on in its stead one of the sturdy house dresses
Maud had made up on the same pattern she used herself.

At first, as her hands were thrust into that familiar and essentially
unromantic element known in everyday parlance as dish water, Stella mused
with another thoughtful sigh: “Here I am again...!” Yet in the very act
of hurrying through all such drudgery to have it out of the way, she
realized that when the housework was finished there would be absolutely
nothing to do until it was time to prepare luncheon. Her life seemed
suddenly so packed with hours, so freighted with brooding silence....
“I must make a point of using all the dishes I can at every meal,” she
laughed softly. The stillness, rendered poignant by the droning of wild
bees and a dainty ambient rustle of fern, pressed against her heart.

This morning she was unusually thorough. Capable Maud, with memories
of past shirking, would open her eyes indeed could she look in at this
marvel of housewifery. The dishes out of the way, Stella turned quite
happily to her sweeping, singing a little as she worked. The broom had
been one of Captain Utterbourne’s poetic foresights....

Her task was broken in upon by a faint and very deferential tap. She
opened the door and on the threshold beheld Tsuda, standing in a humble
posture, hat in hand, and murmuring: “Good morning.” He bowed low as he
spoke, and subtly shook his head a little, as though to emphasize his
acute humility.

She regarded him with a gleam of interested amusement. Tsuda’s face, as
he slowly raised it to the girl in the doorway, showed itself ancient,
yet with strangely youthful eyes; an unusually long face, with a
baffling, complex expression. His loosely woven straw hat with its band
of bright blue ribbon, gave him a note of gaiety and youth. He looked
subtle and cool and debonair, despite his humility, as he stood outside
gazing up into the face of the only white woman within rather a good many
degrees of longitude and latitude.

“Mr. King isn’t here,” she told him, her eyes still amused. There
were times when Tsuda’s face looked just a little like the face of a
horse—though she had caught flashes of darker qualities which left her,
too, a trifle insecure. “I believe my husband rode over to look at some
fields on the other side of the island.”

“Sss—I know,” Tsuda nodded rapidly. Then an expression of quaint
solicitude came into his bright young-looking eyes, and he asked: “You
find everything—gn—all right here?”

His mood this morning was par excellence the mood of a child, naïve
and trusting and simple as sunshine; and a few moments later he was
sitting cross-legged on the floor of Mrs. King’s “parlour,” giving her a
round-eyed account of the manner in which he and all these dusky children
of the northland had been brought down out of far wild Paromushir to take
possession of an island nobody seemed to want.

“We come from the—gn—way up top of the Kurile Isles—very high—you have
not been there?” And he gazed searchingly, as though he would glean
from her face how much they had shared with her—the masters, King and
Utterbourne.

“No,” said Stella, “I’ve never been there. I haven’t travelled a great
deal—until now,” she added with a gay little laugh.

Tsuda hissed gently. “I want you to see how it was, please. We come many
moons ago in a great whale that burn inside like a volcano!” His whole
bearing was that of a child, wide-eyed with the sheer wonder of miracles
befallen. “Yes _sir_—a whale!”

Stella was plainly enthralled. The rewards of her romantic patience and
doll-like trust hadn’t been any too ample—“a woman’s fingers don’t belong
in a man’s work, little lady.” King had displayed a laughing parsimony;
and though Captain Utterbourne, during the long voyage, must have emitted
at least a hundred thousand words of pure narrative, interspersed with
little gems of psychology and sociology and ethics, he hadn’t taken the
trouble to give out more than the vaguest hints as to what lay before
them in the throbbing mystery of that future always just ahead over
the bow of the _Star of Troy_. Her curiosity about all this business
of the island was keenly aroused, and she was glad to listen to the
strange little Asiatic, who seemed indeed quite bursting with friendly
communicativeness.

Tsuda blinked rapidly. “My people had got bad, very bad, about their
altars. It was simply awful! No good to forget your altars—bad, very
bad.” He shook his long head seriously. “Evil come then. There are ogres
left—all written down in great Book of Shintō—the way of the gods....”
His face seemed illuminated with almost a supernatural glow. “Very bad,
very bad! They come down swoop in the night....” Tsuda nodded slowly
and solemnly. “But the gods send us some one to the rescue. He look
at you—gn—and you can’t look back....” Perhaps Utterbourne had never
received a finer tribute.

Tsuda leaned toward the girl, swaying in a mystic rhythm as he talked,
his voice high and a little tremulous; and as she watched him and
listened to his wild tale, told always in that manner of open-eyed
wonder, Stella vividly sensed the contrast between this new life of hers
and the old. “Where _am_ I?” she asked herself, laughing faintly, yet
with a tiny shiver too, almost of swift fear.

“He bring us all down here,” Tsuda continued. “The whale is very dark,
and give out long trail of black like the volcano. He tell us we build
altars and one day a new god—one day the White Kami will come....” Tsuda
broke off abruptly, and asked in a voice which seemed to have taken on a
subtly darker and narrower quality: “You have not seen the temple?”

“No,” said Stella.

“Good—I’ll show you—gn. Done in the finest Shintō.... I have a brother,
once; he is priest in the Shinshū mountains. I would be too, a priest,
only—” Again he broke off, and for a moment his eyes showed a fierce
gleam of reminiscent hate. But it passed, and he said very gently: “Will
you come and see?”

“The temple?” she asked.

“Yes—to goddess Amaterasu”—he half chanted the name. “Mean the
Heaven-shiner, goddess of the Sun—Shimmei, sometimes, Ten Shōkō Daijin,
Daijingū—we say—gn—Amaterasu. You will come?”

“Is it far?” Stella asked him.

“No, no—not far.”

“Yes,” she hesitated. Her breathing was a trifle accelerated. It all
seemed unbelievable....


III

There was a light truly of heaven in his eluding Asiatic eyes. He led her
to a little temple in a grove of palm and giant fern; pointed out its
mystic excellencies; talked a great deal about Shintō which she couldn’t
grasp.

“It’s like a little doll’s house!” she cried. “And so perfect! I’m sure
it must have taken you a long, long time to build.” There were low mounds
all about, for it was here, also, that the dead were buried.

Tsuda seemed too vividly moved by the ecstasy, which shone out of his
eyes, to hear her little burst of amazed enthusiasm. “Some day he tell
us the White Kami will come. We wait, long time. A very long time, it
seem. One day”—Tsuda crept closer—“the White Kami!” He lifted his arms
in weird triumph. “The White Kami at last is come to live among his
children!”

Stella seemed to grasp in a flash the significance of this. She thrust
her hand, in a startled gesture, against one cheek; found it burning.

Tsuda’s face, as he watched her so eagerly for news of the emotions in
her heart, suddenly clouded with shrewdness. “They do not tell you?” he
murmured, close; she could feel his breath.

“I’ve heard nothing about this, Tsuda. You mean my husband—?”

“Sss.” His eyes, so young in a face so lined and ancient, never relaxed
their eager searching look. “Tsuda tell you all things,” he said softly
and very humbly.

“The White Kami ...” she faltered, groping, her mind in great
confusion. For a moment it was almost as though his words brought to
her the discovery that she had married a being of another species than
herself.... The sensation, though fleeting, was vivid and even terrible.
And half consciously she remembered how she had sat waiting in the
drawing room at Berkeley, and had felt, beyond the incommunicative
conventionality, of the place, a subtle sense of something ominous....

Tsuda’s hands, lean and brown, moved restlessly. “The Captain tell us,”
he murmured, “we may look for the White Kami. But he do not tell us you
come too, Wife-of-the-Kami!”

When she looked at him his head was lowered; and as though swayed by a
religious impulse too powerful to be denied, the Japanese slowly sank
down onto one knee before her and reverently brought the hem of her dress
to his lips.



IV

STRATAGEM



CHAPTER FOURTEEN

UTTERBOURNE NARROWS HIS EYES


I

Jerome gradually learned the ways of the formidable box office, and took
charge of the General Ledger. Thus his time was abundantly filled: during
the day hustling around with brokers in the interest of cargo shipments,
and at night helping check up with the house manager. As a matter of
fact, the company treasurer, whose real and legitimate profession was
selling life insurance, had been approached with an attractive offer by a
local insurance branch and at the end of the present engagement the main
brunt of the financial responsibility would rest with Jerome—a rather
vaster contract than the stool-pigeon job at Oaks, Ferguson & Whitley’s.

He found being connected with a theatre very delightful—the contacts, the
excitement, the sense of privilege he felt early in the evening standing
out in the lobby between a glaring poster that announced the night’s
attraction and a huge frame within which were arranged the pictures of
all the principal songbirds. He would watch the people stream in, then
would himself slip inside until the curtain had gone up, after which he
would go behind and absorb more and more of the mysterious atmosphere
which the audience was denied. Here he could chat in the wings with his
new friends, and hold long, important tête-à-têtes with Lili during
periods of idleness when she wasn’t “on.”

The first popular-priced Saturday night, with the _Bohemian Girl_ in
progress, these two young persons might have been discovered leaning
up against a fragment of some palace or other, engaged in a more than
usually earnest conversation.

“Don’t get so excited, old dear,” cautioned the girl, beaming upon him at
the same time, however, and letting her eyes slowly open wider and wider.

“But why _won’t_ you marry me?” he persisted. It was the old, old
urge—and seemed, indeed, about the only aspect of his former self that
hadn’t been outgrown.

“Hear him rave!” she giggled. “You don’t seem to realize, Jerry, what it
means to get married!”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied in an indefinite but lofty tone.

“Come on,” she coaxed, “let’s both be sensible. Aren’t we all right as we
are?”

“What’s the idea?” he pressed on doggedly. “You admit you love me. Isn’t
that enough?”

She looked at him in her simple yet unfathomable way, her smooth brow, so
seldom fretted, showing faint furrows of honest perplexity, as upon the
night her challenged little soul strove to appreciate the wonder of the
lighted sky. And she said: “This is a time when I wish I had some one to
tell me what to do!” It was a little mysterious, indeed, though her eyes
twinkled just perceptibly.

He gazed at her. “I’m telling you what to do, Lili!”

“You don’t understand,” she smiled. “I mean some one....” It trailed off.
On the stage a barytone was beginning that famous soliloquy, the _Heart
Bowed Down_. Lili looked all at once a bit weary. She sighed and slumped
against the scenery, resting her cheek on a convenient brace.

“Listen, Jerry,” she coaxed, half dreamily, “I love you an awful lot.
You’re a nice boy. But let’s don’t talk about getting married—please
let’s don’t.”

“If you love me,” he insisted, “there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.”

She shook her head, yet in a vaguely undecided way which encouraged him
to press his point. “I don’t see how it can be money that’s holding you
back. Two can live cheaper than one—everybody says so who’s tried it.”

“You mean two can live together cheaper than single, don’t you?” she
laughed.

“You know it’s true!” he cried. “And if it’s only because you don’t want
to give up hopes of being a prima donna, why you don’t have to. You’d
still have your job, and I’d have mine.”

“But just supposing,” she rambled perversely, “I’d want to leave the
stage some day and have swell things and an auto? What then, mister?”

“By that time,” he assured her, “I’ll be making enough for two myself. I
hope you don’t think I’m never going to do anything bigger than this!” He
spoke magnificently.

“Rich man, poor man,”—the girl gently enumerated the buttons down the
front of his coat, holding her head playfully first on one side and then
on the other.

“I’m crazy about you, Lili!” he said, somewhat thickly, grasping her
hands but not otherwise knowing exactly what to do with such very strong
emotion as this.

“I’m crazy about you too, Jerry,” she giggled. “They all laugh at us for
a couple of love-sick prunes, but that don’t bother me. When I’m crazy
about a man I’m _going_ to be, that’s all. Don’t you love the way he
holds onto that last note? Yes, I knew he’d get a hand! It always gets
a hand when you hold on that way.” And she sighed. “I wish I could ever
draw a real song like that. Do you think I’m satisfied with the bits I
do? I _am_ not!”

And then she had to hurry away, which really left them about where they
had begun, so far as their curious little lagging love affair went.


II

But he made another determined effort under the romantic influence of
Flora Utterbourne’s garden tea-party. The tea was strong and dreamy. He
made Lili stroll off with him onto the beach, though she wanted to stay
and enjoy every moment of what seemed to her a function of the highest
social prestige. And he kissed her, behind a friendly palm tree, and
begged her once more to marry him, but she _wouldn’t_ be serious, and
kept singing and making eyes in the most tempting yet at the same time
exasperating way, and sometimes she said, “Boo-o-o!”

Try as he might, Jerome couldn’t seem to arrive anywhere with Lili, even
though she did admit she was desperately in love with him: she always
proclaimed the heartening fact loudly and brazenly—didn’t care at all who
knew it—was candidness itself. Well, the combination was beyond Jerome,
and it humiliated him; it made his ego squirm. There seemed to be a
hoo-doo at work somewhere.

He brooded over his troubles of the heart. The same thing seemed
happening that had happened before, though with the notable exception
that whereas Stella had simply ceased to love him and had married another
man, Lili went right on loving him—she admitted it! She was pretty deep.

And she seemed—yes, he glimpsed the fact indistinctly—she seemed to
be having certain flirtations on the side, which darkened the issue
considerably. There was a soldier he had seen her with one day—a mere
little shrimp in khaki, on duty here in Honolulu. It troubled him
greatly, and he reproached her with it afterward; and she beamed on him
and evaded the point, even cried a little, and made him end by feeling
abject and penitent. Upon the whole, Jerome appeared doomed.

However, all this made no particular stir in the great world. The
tea-party went right ahead. The songbirds were all having a beautiful
time, and the coloratura, Miss Valentine, thrilling still over her
Honolulu notices, walked about haughtily, not seeing any one at all, and
holding her teacup with a poise which would have thrown Galesburg (whence
she had been rescued from a career of choir-singing nonentity) into a
spasm of amazement and envy. She talked with a mysteriously acquired
“eastern” accent, almost never forgetting that the letter _r_ did not
legitimately belong in the alphabet.

Small tables were set out under an awning: you could sit with your tea
or stroll with your tea, just as you chose. The hostess poured the tea
and smiled in her unflagging way, conversing steadily; the river flowed
cordially on, its rhythm unflecked by churning millwheel or breaking
rapids: a deep and gracious river, quiet and gliding, yet sunny, too, and
always singularly fresh and aglow with enthusiasm.

There was one distinguished guest who hadn’t been invited, and whose
calm, sauntering arrival upon the scene created a genuine little
sensation. This was Captain Utterbourne, whose _Star of Troy_ had slipped
into the harbour like a clever grey mouse. He was on his way back from
somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Attired in cool flannels, he sat taking
in the mixed picture which kept constantly breaking into new composition
against the plush of the lawn and the blue of the sea. His eyes were
amused, yet otherwise inexpressive.

Flora was enthroned like a very queen behind a comfortable big yellow
teapot, with her enigmatic brother on one side and the impresario on the
other. Mr. Curry looked about him dreamily, while a sense of peace seemed
creeping into his heart. It was amazing that a place like this should
have so utterly settled an appearance. It had been a mere empty house,
and she had come and waved a wand or something, and lo! you would say
she had always lived here. In a little while she would be gone—vanished;
there would be strangers. So it went with her.

“My dear _man_,” she said richly, “your tea must be _stone_ cold! Let me
give you a fresh cup, and you must try this cake, _really_, for I made it
myself, to see whether I’d forgotten _how_—I don’t have _time_ any more
for such luxuries as ‘baking.’”

“Time,” murmured the Captain with a sleepy nod. “Time—and eternity....”

“Oh, _now_,” his sister countered, “you can’t eliminate my
‘responsibilities’ just by talking like a _Buddhist_!”

“Of course,” he admitted, “one may call things by whatever names one
chooses—h’m? You choose to call them responsibilities.”

“You’ve always laughed at my _apartments_, Chris: but I can’t see that
they’re any more uncertain than _ships_!” And there, in truth, she really
had him.


III

It was all very delightful. And before long the illustrious coloratura
was prevailed upon to sing a few songs, though she said the usual things
about being in wretched voice, without expecting that they should be
taken too seriously.

The impresario excitedly seated himself at the piano and spread out some
music and they conferred in earnest whispers. He sat looking up at her
with such a look of loving and hopeful anticipation as must move any one
not utterly barricaded against sentiment. It was really beautiful to see
them together. He was so manifestly proud of the songbird he had rescued
from the Galesburg choir, while she showed such touching confidence in
him—even if, when the strain was all over and bouquets of praise poured
in, she would forget to give the zealous maestro any particular credit.

The singer drew in deeply, lowered her head a little, focused the
whole force of her being into the momentous first tone, and sang. It
was an aria from that sublime and noble work, _Linda di Chamounix_, in
which, of course, the heroine goes mad in the second act or so, for no
entirely apparent reason, and lets her hair down her back, and sings
cascades in competition with a long-suffering flute. The “business end”
of Miss Valentine’s voice was the vital stretch between B and E; it was
these impressive top notes that made her, in reality, a coloratura to
be reckoned with—that kept the harassed impresario also in a state of
perpetual alarm.

“It’s her range,” he confessed afterward to Flora. “It puts me so on pins
and needles. Every time she opens her mouth I’m afraid of losing her
to one of the big managers.” He was, indeed, forever finding pearls on
ash-heaps, for ultimate confiscation higher up. “Lord, the singers I’ve
lost because of a little special talent!” Curry dropped his hands from an
expended gesture and wriggled the jewelled fingers helplessly. “They’ll
get her—you’ll see. I can’t afford to keep a voice like that.” So life
went. “From him who hath not....” Xenophon Curry was a born impresario,
carrying in his heart a genuine sense of lift and grace which always
touched his poor ragged performances with at least the virtue of lyrical
buoyancy; but an impresario, alas, born to mediocrity and the provinces.

Presently Captain Utterbourne’s eyes became riveted upon a couple
strolling back from the beach.

“Mr. Curry,” he drawled, his lips curling in mirth, “if I’m not mistaken,
that’s the young man you had to dinner at the Pavillon d’Orient.”

“Yes,” laughed the impresario, “and thereby hangs a tale”—which he
forthwith told, in his big, human way, omitting some of the more
painfully satiric touches and stressing rather the new grip on life and
the affairs of the world which the once obscure clerk seemed obtaining.

“Isn’t it simply gorgeous,” murmured the Captain in a tone of softly
contemplative ecstasy, “the multiplicity of ever fresh reactions one
discovers in the human organism! Here one sees a perfectly ordinary and
unimaginative young man—h’m?—going along year after year. Then suddenly
he’s carried off by a caprice of fortune and placed in a wholly new
environment—h’m? And immediately the mechanism of consciousness begins to
act along unpremeditated lines—throws up defences—digs trenches of new
affirmation—h’m? h’m? It’s extraordinary—that alertness, that look of
vigorous ‘becoming’....”

And the Captain sat there watching Jerome and watching, his eyes half
closed in a quizzical, poising way.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN

THE ANCIENT URGE


I

Jerome had failed with Stella; she had thrown him over for another man;
now he had found Lili—had almost desperately, without quite realizing it,
seized upon her. He needed her—that is, his ego needed her. It wasn’t an
aggressive or egregious ego; certainly there was nothing of a Don Juan
about it! But it was a decently masculine ego, and stood possessed of a
salient sense of dignity. Under the circumstances, even had Lili’s spell
been less rare and beautiful, it could have required no prodigious effort
to convince himself that he loved her. As time went on and his brave new
life unfolded, what elements of sheer convenience in it all there might
be obtruded less and less.

Her wonderful eyes, her gay manners, never failed. He couldn’t help
himself—didn’t _want_ to—idealized her lavishly because he really loved
her, though behind that, subtly, because his ego loved her. Had he pried
down deep into his heart—ah, but this was no time for prying; it was a
time for living! He loved, and laid long plans into the future, and more
or less realised, underneath all his reverses, that it was proving the
happiest and most consistently advancing period of his life—even if Lili
did keep holding off.

And indeed he didn’t, after all, have time to sit down much and brood
over his troubles; for entirely aside from matters of heart interest
he was a full fledged business man, now, with problems to work out,
increasing responsibility, tricky accounts to keep straight. Jerome was
proving to Mr. Curry that much of the business of contracting for cargo
could be entrusted to him. He was getting first-hand information about
everything connected with shipping and insurance; worked right along with
the broker—who might be a little inclined to chuckle over occasional
evidence of a rather unusual naïveté, but who soon perceived he was
dealing with nobody’s fool when it came to figures.

The impresario looked on with a glow of thanksgiving and relief, and was
very glad indeed, as things had turned out, that Tony and Alfredo had put
the clerk in the supply closet. “Lord, Lord! It’s wonderful the progress
that boy is making!”

Yes, Jerome found the world a great place. And the most valuable lessons
of all were lessons of contact with men—of all sorts, yet nearly all
prepared to get the better of their fellows if possible.


II

But through everything ran the thread of his queer courtship. Lili
baffled him, yet lured him on and on. And he _wanted_ to be lured. He
couldn’t understand her, but he certainly couldn’t give her up, either;
did a man ever give a woman up because he couldn’t understand her?

Perhaps the worst of it was that Lili kept going places with that same
wretched soldier. Where had she ever picked him up, and who did he think
he was, anyhow? Jerome brooded murder. He brooded almost everything
conceivable, between sessions with the broker, and when he wasn’t
checking up with the house manager. Sometimes he would stoutly decide
never to speak to her again. But the next day she would so overwhelm him
with her beaming and her loud, determined sweetness that contrary impulse
would melt away. Jerome was simply a lump of putty in her hands.

But of course Lili didn’t by any means always treat him so badly.
Sometimes for long stretches she would be quite lovely. On Sundays—all
but one, when she disappeared in company with the miserable meddling
soldier—Lili and Jerome took excursions about the island, sometimes
alone and sometimes with a gay party of their friends. Oh, the skies
were not by any means altogether leaden.

The prosperous season in Honolulu closed on a Saturday night, and the
_Skipping Goone_ was scheduled for departure the following Monday. Jerome
and Lili went on a final jaunt, this time a bit more ambitious than any
of the others. They found they could take an early morning boat over to
Hilo and return late at night.

It was a very joyous occasion. Both were in good spirits, and the weather
was gracious. They saw as much of the larger island of Hawaii as they
could, and had faced back toward town when Lili conceived a sudden desire
to pause at a charming little roadside tavern for a supper of lobster and
wine—lobster being a specialty, as they learned from a sign stretching
out from the door. Lili grew very much excited.

“My mouth is just all set for it,” she said, speaking succulently, as
though already beginning to delight her palate with the proposed feast.

And her companion admitted he was as hungry as a bear. “We’ll stop,” he
agreed, glad enough to prolong the enjoyment of this last trip.

“How much money have we got between us, Jerry? You have my purse in your
pocket.”

“Oh, I have plenty,” he replied, with a firmness that set her pleasantly
humming. Lili loved firmness in the male—especially when it concerned
finances.


III

Over the lobster she flashed her pretty teeth at him in a mood of
increasing jollity. Lili’s hair was somewhat wind-blown, and she had a
high glow—touches which added a deeper poignancy to the perennial charm
of her beaming. And as they sipped their white wine and nibbled their
lobster in cosy intimacy, Jerome felt himself more and more falling under
the spell.

It was the old spell of Lili herself, but it was also the spell of
the hour and the place. Their being out together like this had a fine
adventurous tang. He reached across the table and gave her hand a quick,
fervent squeeze. He was so excited he could hardly eat.

Lili was certainly in a wonderful mood. He had never before seen her
so utterly enjoying herself. And the more of the friendly wine they
drank, the more completely did their respective moods take possession of
them—also the less did they think about the growing lateness. When at
last it occurred to them there was a boat to catch in Hilo, they found,
by consulting their watches and the proprietor of the tavern, it would be
quite impossible for them to reach Hilo in time. At first the inn-keeper
thought there was a special later boat on Sunday, but it developed, when
he consulted a much-thumbed time-table, that it was out of season. And
then they were in a good deal of a panic, until the man told them of
a boat that left quite early in the morning; a stage made connections
somewhere—it was a little vague, but the inn-keeper agreed to get them up
in plenty of time.

There remained a remote and much less gripping panic over the thought
of possibly not reaching Honolulu in time to get aboard the _Skipping
Goone_, but Lili pointed out: “I know Mr. Curry wouldn’t have the heart
to go without us!” And anyway, there was no use trying to cross more than
one bridge at a time. She giggled a little. There was nothing they could
do but remain and make the best of it. After reaching this decision their
spirits rose again very rapidly.

They wandered out of the tavern arm in arm for a little stroll. There
was a gorgeous moon, spreading all about them a realm of intoxicating
tropical splendour. Lili drew closer to him and sighed: “It’s grand,
isn’t it Jerry?” Her tone was a little reverent, as it generally was when
she felt herself overcome by the beauty of the night.

They wandered together a little way down the still, white road. Jerome
felt the girl gently relaxing against him. There was a thrilling
softness and deliciousness in the contact. He slipped an arm about her.
Impulsively they paused and kissed. It was a wonderful, lingering kiss,
and Jerome found his hands tremblingly in her hair.

The night was lustrous and so unutterably sweet. They turned at last and
slowly walked back to the tavern. And the spell endured.... He held her
hand hotly. In the shadow of some feathery trees he pressed his cheek
against hers, and they kissed again.

“Oh, Jerry!” she whispered.

“I love you!” he said.

Their hearts beat rapidly and their voices trembled when they spoke to
each other. They felt themselves irresistibly drawn together.

The urge was strong and sweet. They gave themselves up to it, and the
night was theirs. Yes, theirs. All the lustrous beauty and mystery of it,
long and golden, with cares put aside until the morrow, and only in their
hearts the strange, rich, poignant thrill which held them so breathless
and made their kisses seem immortal....



CHAPTER SIXTEEN

AFTER A FASHION—AND NO LICENSE REQUIRED


I

The next day they made Honolulu once more, with several hours to spare.

The _Skipping Goone_ was all prepared, at a little before sundown, to
sail away from the triumphant scene of Xenophon Curry’s first venture.
Everything was ship-shape. The scenic effects, which had looked so
tattered and shabby coming down through the dawn in trucks, were housed
beneath their particular hatch in the umber cavern set apart for their
stowage. The cargo was placed. The Custom House had pocketed its dues,
issued a bill of health, and handed over the requisite clearance note,
which Captain Bearman pinned to one of the leaves of the book in which he
kept the log. An almost dense crowd was on the wharf to wave God-speed.
It was a picturesque and really moving scene.

“You must _remember_,” Flora was saying, “that I always _knew_ you could
do it!” She spoke earnestly, and her fine eyes were unusually bright. She
gestured a little.

Mr. Curry felt upon him a lingering sentimentality, and asked, his voice
curiously afflicted with huskiness: “When do you suppose I’ll ever see
you again?”

“Oh, perhaps much sooner than either of us _dreams_,” she replied, as
cheerfully as she could considering the queer tug of emotion at her heart.

His look was wistful and solemn, though his wonderful smile broke through
at last.

“Good-bye,” she said warmly. “I’ll be watching for your letters so
_eagerly_, and you know I’ll be wishing you the very finest ‘success’ all
the _time_, for there won’t be a _day_ without its thought of where you
_are_ and what fortune is _doing_ for you!”

She gave him her hand, and he held it just a moment with a lingering
pressure. It was ever so much more intimate and understanding than the
farewell in San Francisco. Then he sighed and went aboard his schooner.
She smiled and nodded, her lips silently forming the word “good-bye” over
and over again, long after the ship had sped beyond earshot; and he could
see her handkerchief still hopefully fluttering when the _Skipping Goone_
had passed the first bounds of the harbour and was beginning to settle to
the heave of the outer sea.


II

Some weeks later the adventurers had proceeded as far as Tahiti,
encountering little notable resistance from the elements, and were
coming, one and all, to feel like thorough-going mariners.

On a day when the sun was bright and the shadows were long and cool,
Jerome and Lili sat smoking cigarettes together in the lounging room of
the hotel. She was sitting in the chair recently vacated by the Tahiti
broker, who had done as well in the matter of cargo as mortal man could
do, received his modest fees, and had been telling Jerome tales of
Tahitian life and saying good-bye over some glasses of rum. The broker
was gone now, and Lili had crept in. She had begged Jerome to sit down
again, and had asked for a cigarette. Then, quite without warning, she
had burst into tears—and this is where the curtain really rises.

Jerome looked at her in bewilderment. “_Lili!_” he cried. “What’s
happened?”

Shutters were drawn to keep out the glare, and the whole town seemed
sleeping.

“I can’t stand it any longer, Jerry!” she sobbed desperately, but in a
very little, tear-drenched voice.

“Tell me what it is, Lili,” he begged, going round beside her and laying
a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Oh, Jerry!”

“Don’t cry any more, but just try to tell me what it is. I know I can
help you, whatever the trouble is.” Yes, he was making progress!

She shook her head miserably. With a quick movement she drew his head
down and whispered. He drew back with a little start, and from the look
on his face it was very apparent they had come to a crisis in their
relationship.

Slowly he sank down into his chair again, and sat facing her across the
empty rum glasses. At first he seemed too dumbfounded for words, but
presently muttered: “Why didn’t you tell me right off, Lili?” And then,
as she merely continued to sob, he went on more forcefully: “Cheer up.
It’s not too late, at that, is it? Nobody’s going to stop to figure up
the time.” His conviction was considerable, though it did not rest upon
experience.

“All I wish is I could just die and be out of the way!” she moaned.

Her eyes were very red, her hair was ruffled and hot-looking. It
occurred to Jerome, almost critically, that she might have chosen a
less frequented place than the lounge of the hotel for her upsetting
confidence, although the room was, it is quite true, deserted and silent.
Then it came to him that she had really set out just to be jolly with him
in an effort to forget her troubles, and that suddenly her courage had
failed.

“Don’t talk like that, Lili,” he begged, knocking the ash carefully off
his cigarette. “It’s nothing anybody can help now, and I’m ready to marry
you right off, whenever you say. Come on. Let’s go out now and see if we
can’t manage to scare up a license and a parson. There must be a way here
as well as in civilized places.”

“It won’t do any good,” she said wretchedly, elbows on the edge of the
table, her chin in her hands, and her head shaking a slow, mournful
negation.

“Come on, buck up, Lili! I hate to see you like this.”

She gazed across at him with rueful eyes, in which there was no beam at
all now. Lili’s eyes never seemed to look quite natural unless they were
beaming.

“I got along just fine until I met you,” she lamented, almost with an air
of reproach, though no one could honestly reproach Jerome very heavily
with having lured astray a girl of Lili’s qualities, experience, and
temperament. As a matter of fact, her conscience troubled her a little
about that wretched soldier....

“I feel just as bad over it as you do,” Jerome assured her. “But I can’t
see the good of sitting here crying.”

“You can’t understand how a woman feels, Jerry.”

“Maybe not,” he admitted, at the same time realizing that at any rate he
knew just how a man feels under the circumstances.

It wasn’t an agreeable feeling. It was a feeling, in fact, that would
have knocked the bottom right out of his small universe a few months ago.
But his universe was growing bigger, and he seemed to be growing along
with it. In the old days Jerome would hardly have known what to do with
obligations of any but the most rudimentary sort. But he had digested a
perfectly marvellous fund of experience. The old unfledged Jerome, who
used to eat his lunches on the step of the factory that made a leader
of forty-nine cent chocolates, would no doubt have frozen with horror
at the notion of sitting down opposite a girl and discussing such an
issue as this. But now, while very far indeed from looking upon it as
a pleasant situation, or one that could be handled with any degree of
lightness, Jerome conceived it a natural enough thing to be a partner in
the dilemma: the obligation was one he had helped to create. A man wasn’t
a man who would allow himself to be scandalized by what had to be, no
matter _what_.

He was at once so advanced and still so immature—knew life and didn’t
yet know life, in a breath. But he argued with blunt assurance: “Don’t
you see, Lili? All we have to do is get married. Everything will be all
right.” He threw away his cigarette and, reaching over between the empty
glasses, drew the girl’s hands gently down into his on the table. “I’ve
tried hard enough to make you marry me; now, perhaps, you’ll listen to
reason!” But he smiled a little sadly, for his ego told him there was
something radically wrong about the way his romance was running.

“Jerry,” said the girl at length, looking at him seriously, “I guess the
time’s come when I’ve got to tell you the truth about me. I can’t marry
you, even now, because I’m married already.”


III

He stared at her, unable for ever so long to grasp the staggering new
situation her words established.

Married! But how could she be? How _could_ she? Who was her husband?
Where was he? Questions that were the groping articulation of an ever
deepening incredulity. And she answered them as well as she could, the
answers, on her part, equally groping through the articulation of despair.

Well, she had married a man twice her age when she was seventeen. They
had lived together only about a year. Then she left him. That was really
about all. Her little story sounded so desperately hackneyed as she
poured it out, with increasing enthusiasm, to Jerome.

She was singing in a cabaret when they met. Why she had married him
could hardly be thought of as an essential question. Such marriages
occur constantly, without rhyme or reason, and nothing on earth can
prevent them or their often dismal consequences. She pleased him and he
married her. He was without money and drank and had a heavy tendency
toward sportiness. They tried to set up a little home in one bare room
of a boarding house. It wasn’t very authentic. Her naturally happy and
irresponsible nature drooped under a cloud of incompatibility. They
fought. Things went from bad to worse. She began slipping back to her old
life in the cabaret. Finally she disappeared entirely. She never saw her
husband again. That was all there was to it.

Lili might consistently have had a totally different story, but she
couldn’t possibly have a story that wasn’t reminiscent of thousands and
thousands of other stories, not Lili. There was nothing very definite
about it. She seemed always like some wayward, brazen child, with no
faculty for doing justice to the serious facts of life. One could not
listen without laughter, even though silent; nor could one listen quite
without the sudden tightening of tears.

Jerome’s gaze never left her face, and she seemed glad of his sincere,
almost passionate attention. It might be nothing could alter her present
plight, but there was refreshment, like the long refreshment of an
utterly spent emotion, in baring her heart completely to some one of
whose comradely sympathy she was sure.

When she had told Jerome the whole story, she sat with her hands in her
lap, leaning forward a little in a limp way.

“If it hadn’t been for this, Jerry, I’d have married you long ago. But I
couldn’t bear to tell you about it—I haven’t told anybody at all, because
I’ve wanted to be free. I’ve even tried to kid myself into forgetting.
Sometimes it all seems so long ago. I nearly did tell you once,
Jerry—that first night we sat out on the schooner and you were so sweet
to me. But I couldn’t seem to, and after that every time it got harder.
I used to think: maybe a letter will come saying he’s dead! It’s awful
queer how far you can kid yourself. The day you made love to me so hard
behind the scenes in Honolulu I almost told myself I’d just decide he’d
gotten a divorce from me long ago, and go ahead and marry you, Jerry. But
then I happened to remember about some people I used to know who were
arrested for bigamy, and I got cold feet.”

Jerome sat staring. Here were shallows and depths he had not glimpsed
before. He shuddered a little at the thought of the thin ice on which
he had been plunging in pursuit of his unhappy little romance. The word
bigamy, which fell so lightly from her lips, sent a vague shiver through
him. It was as though, suddenly and for the first time, he realized that
he and Lili moved on different planes....

He seemed dazed. “It doesn’t seem possible to think of you married,
Lili!” Then, as though stimulated by the very sense of chaos which was
just then so strong in his heart, Jerome asked her: “Why can’t you get a
divorce from him?”

“Can’t be done,” she returned listlessly. But she began eyeing Jerome
just a little shrewdly.

“Why not?”

“Well,” she rambled, rubbing her hands together in a dreamy, irrational
way, “I sometimes thought I’d find out how I could get one, but I never
seemed to have time, and I’ve always heard it’s not so easy. I don’t
know. I never knew how anybody went to work to get a divorce. And then,”
she continued with a far-away look in her wide eyes, “you see I don’t
know where he is, for another thing. Don’t you have to produce the
evidence in a case like that? I don’t know how it is in divorces. We
lived most of the time in two or three boarding houses in Chicago. I
don’t know where he came from. We just met.”

Jerome looked across at her forlornly. The shabby pathos of her wretched
little past gave him a feeling of stuffiness and depression. He seemed
to see before him a quite new and more than ever perplexing Lili—felt
himself almost a stranger in her life.

Not to offer to marry her hadn’t even occurred to Jerome—not so much
because he was any sort of a moral giant as because it had become so
natural a thing to want to marry Lili that impetus carried him along over
the rough road of their new relationship. The facts in the case merely
made simple and inevitable what he had all along desired. However, here
was a new and startling complication. His mind was in a curiously mixed
condition, and he asked himself in bewilderment what steps remained to be
taken. He would willingly help some other way, if he could only decide
what would help. They sat together over the empty rum glasses. The world
had been so fair; now it seemed a very shabby and sordid place.

Lili dropped her head down onto her arms, folded before her on the table.
Her shoulders trembled a little, and he knew she was crying again.

Jerome’s heart was deeply touched. Surely, he thought, there must be
some way for him to put out his hand and help. He had forgotten all her
lightness, all the torments he had endured for the sake of love. In the
confusion of his heart there was something almost like exaltation. He
spoke to her gently.

When she raised her head and took up the sorry theme again, it was at
exactly the point where it had lapsed so miserably. “Divorce wouldn’t do
any good, anyhow, about what I’ve got into now.”

“No,” he agreed thoughtfully, “I guess it wouldn’t.” He felt desperately
remorseful.

But that vaguely cunning look in her eyes remained, behind the tears and
behind the hopelessness of her position. After a moment, squeezing his
hand a little, she murmured: “Jerry, there’s just one way out, if—if
you’d be willing to do it—for my sake.”

He brightened. “What is it?”

“Well,” she hesitated, “nobody knows I’m married but you—nobody in this
part of the world, anyhow, and I....” It was a little more difficult than
she had realized, for she knew that Jerome sometimes had queer ideas
about convention.

“Go on and tell me, Lili,” he encouraged.

“Well, then,” she continued, “what I thought of was why couldn’t we just
tell them we’d run off all of a sudden and got married?”

“I—I never thought of that!” he stammered, blushing.

“Oh, Jerry,” cried the girl bursting into a fresh flood of rather easy
tears, “I’m in such a fix I don’t know what to do, my Gawd, I don’t!”

“Well,” he soothed, “don’t cry any more. We’ll do that, then, Lili.” And
after a little pause he added, with a note of resigned whimsy: “There
won’t even be need of any license. It isn’t quite the way I always
pictured myself getting married, but you can’t always have _everything_
just the way you want it.”

Relief stole all the gloom out of eyes that were made for beaming. She
ignored, or failed to sense, the finer phase of what he would be missing
in the curious transaction.

“All you’ll need will be just a wedding ring, won’t it?”

“That’s all, Jerry.”

“Then I’ll buy that for you right away now, if they have any in Tahiti. I
guess I’ve enough saved up. I’ll see.”

“No, no, Jerry,” she said, reviving rapidly. “That won’t be necessary. I
still have my other wedding ring put away. I can use that one, and nobody
will ever know any difference—will they?” And she added quite cheerfully:
“It’s a lucky thing I kept it! I’d hate to have you going and spending
all that money.” Her tone was almost magnanimous.

“All right,” he replied dully. “I’d sort of like to buy the ring at
least, but of course it’s true no one would ever know the difference.”

He was tapping the ends of his fingers thoughtfully on the table. She
wiped her eyes and smiled: “You know we may have need of all our money
later on—when the time comes.”

She was actually beginning to beam on him again; and she asked, with a
tremor of almost happy excitement in her voice: “How shall we work it,
Jerry? Could we do it this afternoon, so I could flash my ring around
tonight?”

“There isn’t much to do, is there?”

“No,” she laughed. “There isn’t much any one can do for this kind of a
wedding!”

“You better get your ring and we’ll disappear for the rest of the
afternoon. And when we come back you can be wearing it. We’ll fix up a
story in the meantime.”

“Will you wait down here?” She was beaming extravagantly. Lili was
herself again.

“Yes, I’ll wait here,” he said.

“Oh,” she tittered, jumping up, “it will be such a grand joke on
everybody, if they only knew!” She laughed a little hysterically. Her
problem was solved. “I won’t be gone a minute, Jerry!”



V

THE PIPE



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

COBWEBS


I

The mats were drawn at the windows and the lamp was lighted in their
“parlour.” It was a night of warm nervous wind, and, though the pounding
of the surf produced a roar which neither rose nor fell, the jungle,
stirred by shifting gusts, seemed full of nocturnal caprice, and sounded
a broken note of _tempo rubato_—as so often it did, only to make the
dreamy stillness of the following dawn more poignant.

It was a quiet evening at home. King had been enjoying a glass of
after-dinner brandy, and, as was apt to be the case at such times, the
exuberance of his mood brought a soft shine to Stella’s eyes. Just
faintly of late it had been necessary to brush aside vexing little
cobwebs that seemed, in spite of her, weaving question and debate about
the edges of her romance.... But tonight she saw how unfounded were any
quavers she might entertain—the kiss that had brought a frown—Tsuda’s
sombre disclosures.... No, she would never let her mind drift into a web
of ephemeral doubts again; she was done with morbid “premonitions” for
ever—they were intruders.

Every marriage, she reasoned, must call for certain
adjustments—concessions, if one preferred phrasing it that way. Whenever
her husband seemed brusque or abstracted, inclined to forgetfulness of
her, she would remind herself that he had a new business on his hands.
How foolish to grope, ever; to feel perturbed, unequipped! And she would
only laugh when a curious phrase of his came back to her: “Just imagine
what it would have been like if I had come here alone...!” An oddly
impersonal note it was, which had given her a jolt; though now she told
herself it was because she had been in a mood of hyper-sensitiveness.
Without realizing it, she softly laughed aloud, her thoughts playing in
rumination.

“Tell us the joke, peaches!” he suggested in his bluff, magnetic way.

“Nothing,” she replied, her eyes still shining. “I was only thinking how
wonderful it all is!”

And she drew her arms gently about her husband’s neck.


II

A sudden gust of wind whipped one of King’s papers off the table where
he sat figuring opium problems. It went skimming across the floor, and
Stella thrust out a foot to intercept its flight: a spontaneous act which
set her husband musing in a rather odd way.

“You’ve a remarkably narrow foot, haven’t you Stella?” he said. “I
noticed it even that first time we met in the street.”

“Have I?” she laughed, fluttering a little—a mannerism her husband still
possessed the magic potency to inspire.

He seemed to be studying her foot with an abrupt and quite absorbed
interest.

“It’s not very often—” He broke off and glanced up with a rather furtive
smile. “I mean—you must wear about a double A, don’t you?”

“How did you guess?” she laughed. She adored Ferdinand in this sort of
personal, gently intimate mood. It somehow, very subtly, compensated for
the splendours not yet come to pass....

King eyed her shoe attentively. There was even something trancelike in
his gaze. When he spoke again it was with a touch of far-away dreaminess.
“Double A,” he half chanted, “with a short instep—yes—and one of those
Standish heels they’re using such a lot now....” He glanced up again,
this time with a faint start, and found Stella gazing at him amused,
perplexed a little.

“That’s just what the man at the shoe store said,” she smiled. “You’re
terribly clever!” And when her husband, a look still detached and a shade
self-conscious in his round blue eyes, had taken possession of the sheet
of paper she had rescued, and had returned to his work at the table,
Stella sat meditating. But ever, quaintly, through her reverie, like a
whimsical refrain, ran the thread of King’s words: “Double A—with one of
those Standish heels....”

Suddenly, as she looked at him, it seemed to Stella that he was an utter
stranger—she had never seen him till now—they had not _really_ married
and come out here to this mysterious unknown island. Just as abruptly
the sensation passed; but the girl still felt in her heart a shiver of
nervous excitement, and, in brooding mood, got up and roamed restlessly
about the house.

The wind romped outside with nervous starts and stops, each gust
strangely impelling her to fresh question and uninvited quandary.

At length, impelled by a wave of romantic tenderness, Stella paused in
her roaming and leaned up against her husband, so deeply absorbed in
his task—acreage, crops, the problem of irrigation. “Ferd, dear,” she
murmured after a little. “Ferd, dear—I keep feeling as though I’d have to
wake up. I know it’s foolish of me, but the strangeness doesn’t seem to
wear off. Does it ever come over you that way?”

“What?” he muttered, obviously only half conscious she had spoken at all.

Stella caressed her husband’s hair, and, working one little finger into
his lapel buttonhole, coaxed: “Ferd—why _did_ we come to Hagen’s Island?”

He looked up at her then, a somewhat troubled expression in his face.
“Well,” he said slowly, his lips, so like a tender cupid’s bow, touched
with a smile of faint irony, “I guess it was what one would have to call
a case of grabbing up the first thing in sight!”

“But—” Her look was a little troubled.

“Oh, I give you my word,” he laughed, “I’d have preferred a good many
places to this, despite its very superior cocoanuts and sunsets—some
place a trifle less remote. I’m sure I never listened to such a lot of
silence all at once in my life! But here was the chance, and it had to
be this or—well, something a great deal more prosaic. Unfortunately,”
he added, “a man has to work for his living in this hard and unfeeling
world!”


III

Her finger fell out of his buttonhole. “Oh...!” she half cried, and in
such an odd, overturned tone that, still smiling in his princely way, he
demanded: “You didn’t think I was made of money did you, little lady?”

Hurriedly Stella shook her head, a bit alarmed for just a moment lest she
had placed herself in an unfortunate light. Yet somehow she _had_ always
more or less associated Ferdinand with at least the romantic abstract
idea of money. The illusion had been established upon the occasion of her
first glimpse of him, bursting like a bright symbol into her drab life,
his hand full of travel guides. Money—not for itself, but the things it
could do and the dreams it could realize.... Her returning smile seemed
to crack a little, as her eyes, with still their faintly troubled look,
met his, then unconsciously avoided them. It was, to some indefinite
extent, a moment of readjustment for her. The evening seemed all athrill
with intangible revelation....

“Look here,” he said, a suggestion of bravado in his voice, “speaking of
Hagen’s Island and the business, you were responsible yourself, Stella,
for a whole lot of the soft pedaling.”

“I?” she asked, amazed, wondering at the drift.

His smile possessed elements of dryness. “The Captain believes to this
day you knew the essential facts beforehand. But,” and her husband
laughingly seized both her cheeks, “after that day you said you liked
having everything mysterious—well, I didn’t have the heart to break in on
any of your dreams just then....

“I see,” she said, a shade doubtfully. Her cheeks trembled a little where
his fingers had pinched.

“The Captain even tried to talk me out of getting married,” pursued King,
almost chattily. “The Captain always insisted this was a man’s job. But
that was all the good it did! Why you dear little girl,” he went on, his
tone warming and deepening to considerable passion, “how could I ever get
along without you?”

But somehow those other words of his—those words unconsciously yet so
hauntingly _impersonal_—seemed ringing in her ears instead: “—what it
would have been like if I’d come here—alone....”

“I know,” he admitted after a little pause, “time seems to lag a bit. But
after all, what’s six months?”

“Or even a year?” she bravely supplemented, catching somewhat the spirit
of his easy nonchalance.

It was, as a matter of fact, a trifle in the air: the Captain’s was a
complicated life. “If I’m not here—h’m?—by the fifteenth of August,” he
had told them, “or within a week of that time—h’m?—you’ll know I’m not to
be looked for until February again.” But they refused to be dismayed.

“Yes, even a year,” King echoed her gaily. “A year’s gone in no time. And
then,” he laughed, “if we _can’t_ stand it any longer, why off we go,
to some place more lively—maybe where we can live in a cheerful, noisy
little two-by-twice flat with a dumb waiter and—”

“But you said—the rue de la Paix,” she reminded him, a look of groping
alarm in her eyes.

“Ah, so I did.” He sighed a cheerful capitulation; and then, with an
odd effect of pulling himself together and getting romantically “under
way” once more, noisily pushed back his chair, got up, and poured out
some more brandy. “You’re right, lady-bird. I’d forgotten about the
hats. All right—it’s really quite the same. We’ll go to Paris! And after
that—perhaps the Tyrol you’re always talking about. Or—I’ve got it! We’ll
saunter up the coast of Africa, through the Suez canal, into the blue
Mediterranean. Maybe you’ll want to go on to Spain....”

He strode to a window and brushed back the mat roughly, seeming, as he
stood there, to drift miles away, while the blow outside waned, and the
jungle hushed itself beneath warm stars.

The troubled look returned to Stella’s eyes. “Oh, don’t stop—please!” she
urged. And it came to her dimly that this was really the first time she
had had, consciously, to prod his grandeur.


IV

Next morning it was still and sunny. Silence drifted softly in from all
sides through the aching beauty of this tiny empire.

Breakfast finished, King prepared to depart for the day, turning at the
door and nodding easily: “Don’t you worry, little girl. As for such
details as balls and theatres, it’s true they’re not very plentiful.
For your sake I wish we could import some—it would be jolly. But don’t
let your dear little head forget,” he went on a trifle pompously, “that
Hagen’s Island is only a beginning. If I happened to be flush we’d be
taking a smashing honeymoon trip all over the globe—hitting nothing but
the high spots...!” His eyes flashed magnetically. “But whatever your
dreams are,” he continued, slightly magisterial by virtue of his virile
earnestness, “they’re going to come true, later on. However high they
sail—I don’t care. You leave everything to me, little lady. _I’ve got a
hunch!_”

His regard strayed a little, although his words rang with real fervour;
and following his gaze Stella saw a young Ainu woman passing swiftly by
along a path which soon lost itself in the steaming tropical maze. King
watched her out of sight with a look of glancing interest.

“That’s the great chief Cha-cha-kamui’s Small Wife,” he muttered, a smile
breaking. “Tsuda explained it the other day. It seems there’s an official
Great Wife; but she’s old and ugly, and—well, after all,” he laughed,
“the world’s one piece when it comes to that.”

He was hurrying away, and had mounted a pony when Stella called to him,
her voice faltering with a little shrill of unhappy emotion.

“Oh Ferd—_don’t_ go without a kiss!”

“There you are,” he smiled, bending down chivalrously from the saddle to
reach her lips.

At the crest of the tiny hillock he turned to wave again.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

THE QUARREL


I

Weeks passed, and the opium harvest was in full progress.

Tsuda was everywhere, sweating, swearing in breezy English, heaving
out torrents of instruction in Ainu, to which the sad parties to this
“experiment in transplanting” would listen, though without taking the
trouble to straighten out of the cramped posture that went with their
task of scarifying the poppy capsules.

The new overseer, looking like a White Kami indeed in his gleaming
tropical clothes and smart hat, eyed Tsuda sharply, his nostrils dilating
a little.

“Things are going to be run here a little more scientifically than they
have been in the past, Tsuda,” he said with dry briskness. “You’ve done
very well with the Ainu—you understand their ways and their language; but
the business itself is a little bit beyond your reach.”

It was a new aggressive way of speaking which had developed gradually
with King’s adjustment to the conditions of his changed life. He had his
bearings now, and enjoyed the tang of power.

But Tsuda, no longer accorded quite the old freedom, watched this
development darkly. It was part of Tsuda’s cleverness to be as colloquial
as possible with people: it gave him tone and status. However, of late
King had taken to bringing him up a little short and reminding him there
was only one boss on Hagen’s Island. This bothered Tsuda a great deal.

“By the way,” said King, a half deprecating smile on his lips, “it seems
to me your people are beginning to sag a little. I don’t think it would
be a good thing to let them come to feel that because I am about with
them so much I’m less of a—well,” he flung in rather harshly, “the matter
of morale has got to be looked after. For myself”—there was an impatient
though not altogether convincing gesture—“I realize it’s rubbish—all
your priest-stuff. But—well, you might let them know I’m not too well
pleased.” He stood whipping at the top of an opium plant with his riding
crop. “They’re inclined to be lazy, these long-haired devils. We ought
to find a way to liven them a bit. Probably you’re too stingy with your
saké. Loosen up, Tsuda. I think,” he drawled (and it amounted to a
genuine little apogee of satisfaction with his prerogative here) “I ought
to get more work out of _all_ you people.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The miserable Ainu prostrated themselves as he passed. It was
overwhelming and a trifle touching at the same time.

But Tsuda’s look was full of brooding discontent, though, to be sure,
this extreme ritual of respect was but a piece of his own passionate
handiwork. As he had just faintly hinted to Stella, the Japanese would
have been a priest—only there was a clash with the Emperor’s police
in his youth, resulting in his deportation in irons to Yezo. “I never
learned for what,” the Captain once admitted to King. “Murder most
likely. The essential fact remains that he managed to escape—h’m?
And fancy my snatching him, years later—h’m?—out of a brawl over a
geisha girl!” The Captain always had a humorous, twitching look at
such times—and especially when he had occasion to refer to Tsuda’s
manipulation of the Ainu—“religion—h’m?—that is, religion and saké....”
It had called for patience and cleverness on Tsuda’s part; at length
the thrall was complete. But as he watched King now reaping this
vicarious homage, and mused upon the exalted niche King filled in Captain
Utterbourne’s scheme, Tsuda resented what more and more struck him as an
intrusion—yes, more and more, while the _Star of Troy_ steamed steadily
day and night into realms of new adventure and prowess.


II

King drew out a little revolver and emptied its contents rapidly into the
atmosphere. Stella would know by this token he was at hand, and would be
on the lookout for him. Mr. King liked to have his wife at the door or
half way down the path to meet him. It went nicely with his conception
of married life. Also this fusillade, in the nature of a virile salute,
proved an agreeable way now and then of dispersing the shroud of silence
that seemed always to hover like an invisible fog over island and sea,
beneath a mocking sky.

Stella did, indeed, come out a little way to meet her husband. He waved
to her with one of his fine flourishes, dismounted, and when they
met, bent and kissed her, and kept his arm about her in a posture of
comfortable possession as they strolled toward the house.

“You ought to be thankful you can stay in the shade!” he explained. “What
wouldn’t I give for a little ice!”

She made no reply, but walked along as though musing, her head downcast.

“I must say you don’t strike a very hilarious welcome!” he assured her
after a short silence. “Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“Yes,” she faltered.

“What’s the matter? Look up here!” He raised her chin with an
uncompromising hand. Then she smiled faintly and told him: “There’s
nothing the matter—I just don’t feel very lively. Has it been a hard day?”

“So-so. Look here, little girl, your eyes are red. Crying?”

“Only a little.”

“Homesick already?”

“It’s nothing.”

“This won’t do!” he exclaimed; and there was a dash of high romance in
his tone which had never until now failed to thrill her. Perhaps it
thrilled her even now, though she burst into unexpected tears. And the
tears loosed her tongue.

“If I could only write letters,” she sobbed. “It seems so terrible to
think the only word they’ll have at home for maybe a whole year is the
letter Captain Utterbourne took back with him to mail. And even in that,”
she rambled wretchedly, “I was so much in the dark—there was so much that
had to be left unsaid....”

They had reached the house, and she sat huddled on the doorstep. It was
the first time she had really given way to feelings of this sort, and the
flood was proportionate. Her husband stood looking down at her, somewhat
perplexed.

“Stella, my dear child,” he suggested, “it’s no crime, you know, just
because we have to keep a bit still about it. Opium’s a very valuable
medical base—in India there’s even a government monopoly. Yet you
_insist_ on thinking of it only as a dope.” He laughed.

“Yes, I know,” she sighed. “But I try not to, Ferd. It all seems—I don’t
know—so strange sometimes.... And when I learned how they’ve been made to
think of you as a kind of supernatural being, Ferd—oh, I don’t know.... I
can’t tell you how it made me creep when Tsuda....” Her words groped, hot
and half smothered.

King tossed his handsome head and laughed again easily, in his grand
way. “You see,” he told her, “it’s the only sure method of getting hold
of the Ainu imagination. We have to use something a bit extreme. You
mustn’t let a little thing like that disturb you.” His smile was slightly
supercilious. “If the world never treated a man any worse than to make a
god of him, I for one shouldn’t feel like complaining! But”—and now his
look darkened and took on a glint of imperiousness, “I see I’ll have to
caution Tsuda to keep his religious prattle to himself. I won’t have him
giving you the jim-jams with his ridiculous priest-ideas!”

Her emotion had quieted, and her eyes mused. “I really think he’s only a
child at heart,” she said. “But sometimes he frightens me suddenly....”
King sat down beside her on the step, so handsome and protecting; he took
her fingers and caressed them. “You’ve no idea how still it gets after
you’ve gone away to the fields,” she sighed.

“Tomorrow,” he said, “if you like I’ll take you a part of the way so you
can see the Ainu scraping opium—it’s quite a sight.” She brightened.
“And one of these days,” he went on, “we must make a little excursion up
to the grave of Vander Hagen, the martyr Utopian—take our lunch along,
picnic style—and be thankful _we_ didn’t get carried off on the back of
an ideal!”

Somehow, as he laughed in his light, careless way, she remembered how
Elsa had accused her once of having ideals. It set her musing a bit. Then
she found herself remembering, too, how glibly her husband had spoken,
long ago, about whistling up the sun, sitting astride the pyramids. Now
would he whistle on the grave of the man who had come here with a dream
and broken his heart...?

“How long has it been,” King asked, “since the _Star of Troy_ left us?”

“Six weeks, Ferd.”

“_Sure_ we haven’t skipped a month or two somehow?”

“I cross off each day on the calendar,” Stella said, much more cheerful
now the tears were spent. “Come in and I’ll show you. I make quite a
business of it!”

She took his hand and led him in. It was a little cooler than outside;
the mats at the windows made it quite dusky; here and there on the walls
a scrawny spider slept.

They stood together before the calendar: two leaves gone—in a few days
another; then in thirty days....

It was time that must be annihilated. Time—time—time....


III

“By the way, Stella,” he announced a few afternoons later, standing a
little arrogantly, legs braced apart, and moistening his lips with an
appetizer, “your days of drudging are over forever!”

She raised her eyebrows in question, and he went on: “I’ve ordered Tsuda
to have a couple of Ainu women up here in the morning for you to break
in.”

“Servants, Ferd?” She was amazed.

“Quite at your disposal, my dear. And if they don’t keep hustling and
leave you free to fold your hands like a lady, you let me know!”

“But Ferd—I don’t want any servants—I don’t need any!”

“Oh, yes you do. I know how you hate to wash and sweep.”

“But not any more, Ferd—I’d be quite lost without the housework, what
little there is!”

However, he didn’t like having his efforts set at naught. “Nonsense,”—his
tone was slightly dictatorial. “I don’t propose to have you spend your
life slaving.”

“Please tell them not to come,” she said, turning a little pale, yet not
quite consciously taking a stand. “I don’t want any servants.”

They stood gazing at each other through a moment curiously charged with
something neither had foreseen or suspected.

Slowly a look of sharper lordliness crept into his eyes. “Stella,” he
said, “I’m determined to build up an establishment. We ought to put on
more style, even if we are living ’way out here. A little later I may
train one of the Ainu men for a personal valet.” He smiled a rather
brittle smile. “Do you think they’re pliable enough? It’s necessary to
keep these savages impressed,” he went on, “for the sake of morale, if
nothing else. Anyway—call it a whim, if you want to—I’ve taken a dislike
to having my dear little wife washing dishes and beating mats.” It came
back to her with great vividness how he had frowned and closed his eyes
the morning she had put on her finery to please him. But, smiling a slow,
calm, magisterial smile, he added: “What do you think the world would say
if it could listen to you objecting to help about the house, with the
servant problem what it is in civilized places?”


IV

Had he refrained from smiling, or if he had just simply and humorously
smiled, she would undoubtedly have let the matter drop there. But
something new in the glint of his eye and the self-willed curl of his
lips struck an unexpected flint within Stella. Her own eyes gleamed a
little, and she grew whiter.

“If we had the kind of big town house I once pictured, it would be a very
different thing. But here we are on this island instead, and you don’t
know what my housework has come to mean or you wouldn’t talk of sending
up Ainu women to take it away from me!”

“Don’t carry on like a child, Stella,” he said, with a little heat. For,
though there was sense in her words, he did not like the tone. It hadn’t
a traditional ring, and—well, he didn’t like it.

“I’m not carrying on like a child.” Her voice sounded strained to her,
and she was growing a bit hysterical. “Please tell them not to come.”

He whistled softly, and after a rather tense pause announced: “They’re
coming early in the morning, Stella.” There was a fling of his finely
sculptured head.

“Then you’ll have to take charge of them!” she blazed out, with a flash
of spirit which checked and amazed him. It was the first gauntlet of
their life together—a gauntlet surcharged with fiendish irony.

How the issue might have carried itself had Stella proceeded in the same
fashion is problematical; but when, amazed at the state of affairs, and
with her heart already much shaken, she took in spite of herself a step
inimical to progress by surrendering to tears again, King shrugged and
left the room, a smile still torturing his lips.

There was a smugness about his victory which made the girl writhe.



CHAPTER NINETEEN

THE DINNER THAT NEVER WAS EATEN


I

Confusion bore her violently out under the open sky. From her favourite
perch in the rocks the sea stretched wide and dreaming, exquisite in the
light of late afternoon.

At first Stella carried on the mood of this new rebellion. Did he expect
her to settle down on this lonely island like a dull little mouse and
meekly take whatever came to her, without comment or protest? Was this
the outcome of so many romantic impulses all giving his princely word
free rein?

It had seemed right and warmly within the picture that her prince
should wave his sceptre over her destiny, just as in some tale of rich
enchantment.... However, these were days of pause; and there were points
in the process of working out which seemed, despite the office of rosy
spectacles, not altogether ideal.

Her mind groped and rambled afield. Jerome’s transgressions, though dire,
had been all in the opposite direction. She thought of Elsa—how Elsa had
dealt out caution over the teacups. “You seem to be quite hypnotized,”
she had said, with drooping, disillusioned eyes. What would Elsa say now?
“If she were only here!” Stella longed for some one with whom all these
complex issues might be discussed; and again she felt vaguely unequipped.

But being so alone, she grappled with her life as best she could, though
nothing seemed very clear.

As her anger cooled, Stella felt she had let herself go too
far—regretted, in due time, having stood out at all. What made her
attitude hardest now to defend was the fact that Ferdinand’s whole idea
seemed to be to make things easier for her. Perhaps there might even be
something in what he said about the need of keeping the Ainu impressed.
It was dim and not a little terrifying. And certainly he was right in
suggesting the world’s amazement at such opposition as she had brought to
bear. Analysis in good time brought a faint smile even, for, though it
might not be salient, she really did possess a sense of humour.


II

An hour later the shadows had grown long and deep. The sun loitered
low in a sky silent and unfretted by cloud. A tiny wisp of breeze was
stealing about, stirring the mats at the windows and making the doors
creak whisperingly on their jungle-vine hinges.

Stella was laying the table for their evening meal. Penitent, she
was determined, as women sometimes are, that the dinner should be
proportionately nice. Tears were not beautifying, did not belong in her
dream; nor did anger and flashing eyes. Her best dress was protected, as
she went busily about her work, by one of the big, practical aprons Maud
had provided. She had opened some tins, and a cook book was spread before
her. It was to be rather special.

Stella sang a little, softly, as she worked, and was trying, half
consciously and not with entire conviction, to fancy that instead of
being here on this island, lost in a lonely sea, they were living
in Paris, she and Ferdinand, and that she was preparing a little
after-the-opera supper. What had the opera been? Well, what were some of
the operas? What was Paris like?

The house was very still. Presently the little meal was ready, and she
went to call her husband. She was going through the “parlour” toward the
outer door, when, to her surprise, she perceived that he wasn’t outside,
as she had supposed, but stretched instead on the cot. He lay perfectly
still, and she thought he must have fallen into a doze; but as she
approached him she became aware that it was a doze of a rather peculiar
sort, for his eyes were wide open, and, though she called to him, he did
not move—did not seem even aware of her presence. He looked strangely
detached and delighted.

Stella crossed the room, chilling with a sense of indefinable terror.
There was a pungent smell.

King’s lips were a little parted, and the expression on his face was
quite radiant. On a tabouret beside the cot stood a tiny spirit lamp
within a dome of glass open at the top. The wick was lighted, and in the
still, hot air the little flame scarcely wavered. Beside it on the stand
was something dark and mysterious.

One of his hands lay, idly and with characteristic grace, upon his
breast, gently rising and falling with the rhythm of the breath. The
other hand had dropped down on to the floor; the fingers curled, relaxed;
and just beneath them on the mat lay a curious little pipe.

Stella cried out softly. She felt numb, and despite the heat her hands
and brow were cold with damp. She could not bear to touch him, and could
not even make her lips move to speak to him again. She went away.

The waiting dinner grew stale. Stella sat on the step outside. The stars
were feeble at first; then they were lustrous and brilliant.

She did not know how long she sat there. It seemed very late when he
called to her, his voice thick and full of an agony of physical reaction.
She trembled and went in to him. Somehow she managed to light the lamp,
and tropical moths fluttered softly all about it.



VI

THE MASCOT



CHAPTER TWENTY

A FEW UPS AND A LOT OF DOWNS


I

The marriage of Jerome and Lili naturally caused quite a bit of romantic
stir among the members of Xenophon Curry’s little troupe. A very
hilarious party was given to celebrate the event, at which the happy
bride and bridegroom were toasted, and after which (for all this occurred
just on the eve of departure from Tahiti) they were sent down to the
_Skipping Goone_ in a species of hack, much festooned with ribbon and old
shoes, and spattered with rice.

Jerome felt the confusion of his curious position rather keenly; but Lili
appeared to fall in with the whole idea easily enough. She enjoyed the
send-off almost as much as though it had been legitimate. Indeed, she had
nearly all the sensations of a legitimate bride. It was wonderful to be
able to find so agreeable and so entire a solution for her problem!

From Tahiti the course of the _Skipping Goone_ lay southwest, and the
next stopping point in the world tour was New Zealand, where, in the
words of the comedian, a prosperous fall season was “had by all.” New
Zealand became ardent in its endorsement of Xenophon Curry and his
aggregation of songbirds. But this endorsement was, in turn, entirely
outdone by that heaped up by Australia, where the company left its
“private yacht,” as they liked to call it, and went on tour.

This carried them through the winter, and even into the spring, for the
tour was a little prolonged.

Lili dreaded the coming of her baby—dreaded it enormously. Lili didn’t
want any children; she looked upon the ordeal with horror. Her mood was
increasingly difficult to meet as the months dragged on; and the brunt of
this meeting was borne by Jerome.

After the supreme night in Hawaii, his feeling for Lili had begun to
grow complex. The scene in the hotel in Tahiti, again, had introduced
new values into the picture. And then—well, his marriage was not proving
altogether a bed of roses. No, it wasn’t. He could not deceive himself.
Almost from the beginning he had felt that it wasn’t going to be a bed of
roses. Yet how little he had foreseen such unhappy developments as these
back in San Francisco, when, so callow and so lonely, he had first fallen
under the fatal charm of her beaming eyes!

Just after leaving Tahiti, it is true, they passed a few almost happy
weeks together, Lili being able so far to forget herself and her own
troubles a part of the time at least as to accord Jerome all the
affection even he could desire. On her side, of course, it was affection
subtly touched with gratitude; but he responded to it eagerly, and made
the most of this fleeting sense of married felicity—even tried to assure
himself it was somehow a condition that might be brought to endurance,
despite all the unfortunate circumstances.

But more and more surely, as the weeks went by, he knew that their
marriage was but a word scrawled upon the sand when the tide was low. He
wasn’t wedded to Lili in any lasting sense. He was, indeed, merely saving
her from an unpleasant experience. At length Jerome came to look upon
what he had done as a sheer act of duty—and an act which, despite his own
abiding sense of responsibility, grew slyly irksome.

Lili revealed herself to him during these months at sea and in New
Zealand, and especially in Australia, when she became wrapped up in
her own mantle of brooding and petulance and terror, as a being almost
entirely devoid of any real sympathy. Utterly shallow, he told himself.
Utterly selfish.

Of course Jerome didn’t begin to appreciate the unhappiness of her
condition. He didn’t know anything about such things, and only saw stark
qualities. In spite of rallying efforts, his feeling for her cooled and
cooled, till at length there was little sentiment of any sort left. He
even developed latent subtleties in the way of avoiding her, and finally
assured himself it was a matter of profound thanksgiving that their
marriage _wasn’t_ real, but only a word in the sand.

Yet he wondered, sometimes, too, whether they might have been happier
together if there had been a license, and if he had bought the wedding
ring.... For he had loved her once, very extravagantly, and it bewildered
him when he asked himself where his love for her had gone—what had
_happened_ to it.

Well, here were more “supreme emotions” to grapple with, certainly.

Almost nothing notable had befallen him, he always felt, during his
existence previous to this amazing year; but once the era of notable
experiences set in, each seemed to make in him a permanent and
reorganizing difference. Jerome did a lot of thinking these days. His
adventures were coming more and more to stand for elemental phases of
human relationship. He thought about Lili and his feeling for Lili;
thought about his strange and fugitive dip into matrimony; saw his brief
first happiness grow tarnished. When their baby was born, what then?
Would they go on living together like this all the rest of their lives? A
child would mean a new responsibility—another obligation that couldn’t be
dodged....

“I guess I’m in for it,” he muttered, with real, disillusioned grimness.
Yes—very darkly in for it. And this was what had come of his unshakable
desire for—a hearth and kiddies.

Sometimes his consciousness of the dilemma attained rather acute
poignancy, and seemed on occasions, often trifling enough, to dramatize
itself—each repetition widening the gulf a little. One night they had
quarrelled, and she had pouted and wept; then, all at once she had fallen
asleep.

He watched her as she lay, undried tears on her cheeks. Her eyelids
were dropped like perfectly blank curtains, robbing the face of its
most essential expression. There was a relaxed, earthy quality about
the moulding of all the features, such as even the most spiritual faces
sometimes show in sleep. As Jerome stood looking down at her, he was
afflicted in a breath with compassion and disgust. Poor Lili looked so
utterly and helplessly common: how had he ever deceived himself to the
extent of fancying he really loved her? He remembered now with merely
a feeling of cold repugnance how naïvely he had begged her, in the old
days, to marry him. He judged and condemned himself, it is true, from
the standpoint of a subsequent development; but this was a nicety which
didn’t now enter into his scope of vision. Jerome blamed Lili, but he
also blamed himself; and it was with entire frankness he realized his
feeling for this woman, nominally his wife, was a feeling of steadily
entrenching distaste.

What a strange and tragic predicament to have wriggled into!


II

However, when the baby finally came, a new and very wonderful experience
developed for Jerome.

He had spent little thought beforehand on what it would seem like to
find himself a father. Now the fact rushed upon him and unexpectedly
overwhelmed him with its grandeur.

Jerome was a father!

Yes, the great miracle had happened to him. He was a father. There was a
baby boy, and the boy was his son. He hadn’t realized what it would be
like to have a son. Now he knew, and the knowledge thrilled him—deeply.
Jerome remembered how the clerk from the tackle store had exulted in his
superb technique of casting, and how the fellow who sold typewriters had
talked about his great dream, architecture; and he thought: “How very,
very little all these things are compared with having a son!” These
things, only because he happened to think of them, and all things like
them on which men set their hearts. Even love. Yes, he thought, even love
was not quite in a class with having a son. Love had come to him twice
and failed. He was through with it now. He had loved Stella; she had
thrown him down and married another man (how far away all that seemed!);
then he had loved Lili, and had come gradually to love her no longer. But
he was the father of Lili’s child.

He had a little son—and that, he told himself, was something that would
last! He had given up so much; but having a son seemed to recompense for
everything.

And indeed, for a time the child seemed to be drawing Jerome and Lili a
little together again. Lili had hated her baby before it came; now she
had it she responded to the appeal of the little new life also. She had
her glimmerings: dim, errant aspirations toward something better in life
than she had known. Being a mother awakened what was finest. When he saw
the baby at her breast, Jerome looked down at Lili with hopeful eyes.
She had failed to hold his love, but she was the baby’s mother; and love
itself, he dimly felt, might steal back somehow as time went on....

All these mighty and often quite overpowering emotions transpired during
the first two weeks of his august fatherhood. When Jerome had been a
father two weeks, he, together with Lili and the baby and Xenophon
Curry’s entire troupe of songbirds, bade farewell to Melbourne and
travelled back to Sydney, the port where the first Australian engagement
had been played, and from which they were to embark.

It really was a joy to see the dear old _Skipping Goone_ once more. Some
of the salutations of affection were perhaps just touched with satire;
but upon the whole the troupers had settled into a state of romantic
enthusiasm over this novel style of beating about the world. Even Captain
Bearman, though he could scarcely be termed a popular favourite, was made
the recipient of cherry smiles and waves and nods. The _Skipping Goone_’s
master had voyaged to New Zealand and back twice with mixed cargoes. Now
they were off to New Guinea (merely a cargo call); and then would come
Manila.


III

Lili’s baby was the center of an enormous manifestation of interest.
Xenophon Curry was simply wild, and wanted to do all sorts of reckless
things with it from the very first. Indeed, the impresario took such a
violent and paternal interest in the youngster that an outsider suddenly
coming upon a characteristic tableau would decide at once that the man
with the gay rings and the black toupee must be the baby’s father—or
at the very least its grandfather. One would scarcely think, at first
glance, of connecting Jerome with any phase of immediate ownership. It
only showed in his eyes. If he took the baby up in his arms (which wasn’t
very often) he held it so awkwardly as to make every one laugh.

The tiny boy became the company mascot. “They say a little baby often
brings good luck,” observed the superstitious impresario, his honest
black eyes very shiny and serious.

And naturally, if the baby was to be the company mascot, everybody in the
company wanted to have a hand in the baby’s affairs. All the women who
knew how to handle a needle at all began sewing every conceivable article
of wardrobe which could possibly fit an infant’s needs. No mother was
ever before so favoured!

Of course some of the garments turned out to be a little queer, because
opera singers aren’t necessarily authorities on baby’s clothes. But a
great deal of genuine affection and good will was sewed into them—even
the queerest.

The mascot was petted and pampered like a poodle. Its host of admirers
took turns holding it and walking with it and talking baby-talk to it. In
short, the mascot was treated like a little king.

Naturally the parents were very proud. As for Lili, she could never get
over this most prodigious novelty. “I just can’t believe it’s mine!” she
would exclaim. Jerome felt much the same way; yet when he voiced the
sentiment, Lili, remembering that wretched little soldier in Honolulu,
would always look vaguely guilty. How did she know, after all, whether
the baby _did_ belong to Jerome too?

However, of course no such dark uncertainties bothered Jerome. His
marriage could hardly be called better than a failure. But at least, to
him, this little son was a success.

He liked to drop down beside the cradle, his hands pressed together
between his knees, and just look. He couldn’t get enough of just gazing,
without saying anything at all. Sometimes Lili would make fun of his
silent devotion; she took the baby a great deal more sensibly than Jerome
did.

And yet, however sensibly, it was rather a fortunate thing that there
were so many eager and competing hands always ready to relieve her
of the burden of care; otherwise, it is to be feared, the happy and
beaming mother would too often have felt bored and miserable, being so
much tied down. Dear Lili, though she really loved the baby, in her own
happy-go-lucky way, was never cut out to be a mother.



CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

MERRY-GO-ROUND


I

Manila was reached without special incident.

As the _Skipping Goone_ approached the harbour, a sailing skiff was
sighted making straight out for the incoming schooner: a small pleasure
craft with graceful lines, which had won races in its day. When the
skiff came closer it was observed that some one aboard her was waving a
handkerchief in very earnest welcome: a woman, nodding and smiling. With
an abundant thrill, the impresario discovered her to be Flora Utterbourne!

After the first shock of joyous surprise, Mr. Curry had a curious feeling
that it was somehow quite right and natural to find her here in Manila,
and to have her come out in a skiff to meet him.

He wanted to climb right aboard the delightful skiff! He seriously—or
rather a little hysterically—consulted, even, with Captain Bearman as
to the practicability of such a manœuvre, but received such a look of
withering scorn as to force him necessarily into a mood of resignation.

It seemed impossible to wait until the schooner came to anchor. Yet by
hook or crook the thing had to be managed.

The little craft skimmed and tacked about, like a playful puppy barking
at the heels of a charger, and often passed so close as to permit of the
single passenger’s engaging in fragmentary talk with those aboard the
larger vessel.

Curry went racing all over the _Skipping Goone_ in a wholly undignified
fashion, seeking constantly shifting new points of vantage from which
interchanges would be most convenient. He puffed and perspired. He
was enormously excited, and made no attempt to conceal the interesting
emotion. And Flora was excited too, though even under this stress her
speech, as it came to him across the dazzling water, possessed that
flexible and gliding, that complex and ever smooth-flowing quality, which
he knew so well, with its quaint sprinkling, too, of italicised and
quoted words.


II

He wanted to sit right down with her on the edge of the wharf and talk.

“Do you realize it’s been the better part of a year since Honolulu?”

“I _know_, my dear man, but we simply _can’t_ sit down here in all this
‘hubbub’!”

“There’s a carriage!” he cried; and he beckoned the driver wildly.

She laughed—a little humorous, cordial, helpless laugh—and he gave her
his hand.

She entered the carriage and he climbed in after her with the spring and
zest of a stripling. It made him feel immensely young to be with Flora
again. He told her so, and she didn’t mind anything he said, because she
was feeling the very same sensations herself. The impresario’s personal
hand baggage was bundled in with them, and they were off. The driver
wanted to know where to, but they said they didn’t care, so he clucked to
the horse and set out to circle the island. Such opulent indefiniteness
didn’t often befall.

It was an immortal ride. They talked themselves into almost a state of
eager hoarseness; and if one happened to break in while the other was
still speaking, the latter wouldn’t stop, but would keep right on till
the sentence was finished—never stridently, yet with a vigour which
refused to be downed. And then, sometimes, they sat quite silent for a
little while; but somehow these pauses were just as thrilling as the talk
itself.

The simplicity of what had at length developed into a real if somewhat
unusual courtship was rather wonderful. There was, underneath everything,
just a fine mutual recognition of compatibility. Flora wouldn’t have
known how to be exactly coy, even had she desired. So there was nothing
quite of suspense in their mellowing friendship. Both were so essentially
open and enthusiastic. She appreciated him and he appreciated her. It had
come about gradually and very simply, and they just frankly recognized
it. They _deserved_ each other—yes, that was it! And that was what kept
humour so warmly alive. She deserved him and he deserved her.

Flora told him, as they rode along, all the things she had been doing
since her last letter. There was a new apartment, of course, in San
Francisco—“quite a little snug one, this time,” she said, “and not nearly
so difficult to _furnish_, though it’s a _charming_ little place, and I’m
trying out some brand new ‘colour schemes’ in it!”

And he told her all about the baby, and what an unusually smart baby it
was—really all but walking and talking, one would swear, to hear the
excited man rave! Flora laughed till there were tears in her eyes; and
she said she “_certainly_ must _see_ the remarkable baby, which you say
has become your ‘mascot’, though I don’t _really_ see how a baby quite so
_young_ could have teeth almost ready to break _through_!”

Then all at once it began to dawn on them that they didn’t know in the
least where they were driving to. They looked at each other and laughed.
And then they grew momentarily rather solemn over a freely acknowledged
state of famishment. But scarcely had the wheels revolved a score of
times when they beheld—it was just like a page out of some fairy tale!—a
delightful house all overrun with crimson ramblers, and out near the road
a neat sign which said:

    MRS. GILFILLAN: PRIVATE BOARD.

“Whoa!” cried the driver, obedient to an exultant shout from the
impresario.

“But do you think they would take us _in_, just for _lunch_?” asked
Flora. “For you _see_ it isn’t really a _hotel_.”

“I know,” replied Mr. Curry confidently, “but it’s a canny Scotch name,
and I don’t think she’ll send us starving from her door.”

And sure enough, she didn’t. Mrs. Gilfillan turned out to be very
corpulent, very Victorian, and very canny. She took them right in, and
they sat together at one end of a long table, with all the fortunate
private boarders; and there was a genuine revolving pepper, salt,
vinegar, and oil “caster” in the centre of the table; and they ate
preserves out of tiny saucers of red glass with white scroll-work etched
around the rims.

Mr. Curry leaned over and said in a low voice: “Did you ever dream of
finding a place like this in the Philippines?” And Flora leaned over and
replied, in her rich way: “_Isn’t_ it the most absurd and delightful
place you ever _heard_ of?”

The driver had his luncheon too, elsewhere on the premises, and when the
romantic couple emerged on to the porch they found that he had piled Mr.
Curry’s bags beside the front door.

“Oh do _look_!” cried Flora.

“Good Lord! The fellow thought we’d decided to stop here for good!”

“It’s _really_ nice enough to ‘stop at’ for good, _isn’t_ it?” asked
Flora, laughing a little, but showing by her tone, as well as by a kind
of wishing look in her eyes that she honestly meant it.


III

They stood humorously staring down at his things on the doorstep.

“Yes,” he agreed with a sigh, “it is nice. Lord, what wouldn’t I give if
there was nothing in the world left to do but just settle down for good!”

Her brows were drawn quite earnestly. “How _often_ lately I’ve thought
that _too_, though of course it’s hardly more than a ‘snatch’ of
impractical _dreaming_—isn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” he admitted, almost reluctantly. “It’s only once in a
while when you bump up against a place like this, with roses climbing all
over everything, and then—those bags at the door.... Lord, doesn’t one
get tired, sometimes, of everlastingly hustling?”

“And yet,” she reminded him with a smile, “it’s the very thing we have to
_do_, isn’t it—_both_ of us?”

“Yes, the very thing.”

“It—it’s our _obstacle_!” Her eyes sparkled.

Then he asked, his voice grown warm and ardent: “Are we going to let it
be an obstacle always?”

“No, not _always_,” she replied, her own voice cordial and eager and
reassuring.

“How are we ever going to make the merry-go-round stop?”

“Oh, _some_ way will open up, I _know_!”

They strolled out on to the lawn and sat down in a bona-fide,
old-fashioned, creaky garden swing.

“I don’t suppose,” he suggested wistfully, giving her a most enticing
smile, “you ever take little flying trips into Africa?”

“Are you _determined_ to go so far then?” she demanded, with a playful,
deprecating contraction of her brow.

“Ah, but I have to!” he told her, looking almost alarmed, as though
she were spreading for him a delicious snare which he might find it
impossible to resist. “We’re all advertised! We open in Cape Town, and
after that—Johannesburg.”

“Of course it would _never_ do to leave out _Africa_,” she assured him
comfortingly. “And after all, you’ve only _begun_, haven’t you, if it’s
to be a real ‘world tour’?”

He held up a pleading hand and smiled. “It makes me a little tired to
look ahead so far!”

“But don’t you _remember_ how you couldn’t _wait_ to start out in the
_beginning_?”

The impresario bit off the end of a cigar and mused, his words punctuated
with spaces of lighting and taking the first rapid puffs: “That was a
long while ago, wasn’t it? I thought nothing of such details as world
tours then! Yet I truly believe the first feeling of the vastness of our
terrestrial ball came upon me—no, you’d laugh!”

“But you know I _never_ laugh!” she reproached him, laughing, her heart
beating a little faster as she sensed the trend of the talk.

“Well, then—the very day of the Hoadley auction!”

“_Really?_ Yet you never knew how _impressed_ I was with it all, and what
a great thing it seemed to _do_, though it _did_ go through my head, too,
that ‘Singapore’ is—well, a pretty long way _off_!”

“The place that really began giving me shivers of homesickness,” he
confessed, “was Cape _Horn_!”

There was a silence, and he was musing over her phrase: “A way will open
up.” A little later they drove back through the quiet radiance of a
tropical afternoon.

“I’m _afraid_,” she laughed deliciously, “your ‘songbirds’ will make up
their minds I’ve carried you right off the _island_!”

“You have,” he replied dreamily. “Off the island, and all the way back
to that snug apartment with the new colour scheme, and we’re sitting
together over our Sunday night bowls of bread and milk, with the
gate-legged table between us....”

She lowered her eyes and slipped him one of her hands. So one sees that
the songbirds, when it came to that, would really be not unjustified in
their decision!



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

AT DAWN IN THE CHINA SEA


I

His small son had really begun to usurp his entire horizon. Jerome was
about the proudest father ever seen. But the estrangement of Jerome and
Lili came to be a more or less openly recognized fact—which added a
sombre note.

Lili went about beaming in just the old, untroubled way. Except when the
baby was at her breast, one would never dream of associating her with
the supreme experience of motherhood. Whatever might happen to her—and
so much, in her short life, had happened already—Lili would never be any
different.

With Jerome, however, the case stood otherwise. He seemed slowly pulling
ahead; but those great facts of life, which made on him so enormous an
impression, appealed to Lili rather as episodes—objects to arrest a
moment as one flitted along through the vast lark of living.

As for the baby, it seemed to have fallen down very badly indeed in the
role of mediator; instead of feeling himself drawn back to Lili again,
Jerome appeared to have transferred bodily all the love he had once known
for her over to the little new life that bore his name. How strangely
things moved! He tried to understand it, and felt that he really
understood so little.

It was delightful to see them together, Jerome and the baby. He was
still content, for the most part, just to gaze down at the tiny fellow
as he lay in the cheap little cradle they had purchased in Australia.
So entirely and even ludicrously undemonstrative was this attitude
that the troupers accused the proud father of being secretly afraid of
his offspring. Much more convincing, beams and all, was the attitude of
Lili, who, in her impetuous way, knew how to make a fuss over a little
bundle of flannel and lace as successfully as over a man; so that the
more conventional picture of mother and child never failed to evoke an
abundance of enthusiastic appreciation.

“Look there—isn’t that sweet?” the touched impresario would exclaim.

And everybody else thought so too. Even the comedian was awed by the
picture.

Everybody thought her a delightful mother. However, the subtler picture
was Jerome, a now responsible and experienced man, sitting beside his
baby’s cradle, looking down into the tiny face as though he could never
look enough, and when no one was around, letting the fingers of a tiny
hand close about one of his fingers, thrust down so gently. And once he
cautiously stooped and kissed the baby, and felt a thrill the like of
which he had never known before in all his life.


II

At Manila where the _Skipping Goone_ laid by three weeks, it was learned
that Captain Utterbourne had just been there and departed. A few hours
sooner, indeed, and they would have encountered him.

As a matter of fact, it was he who had brought Flora down and deposited
her—with express understanding, however, that she was to take a regular
steamer home. “One could hardly expect me to go into tourist traffic this
late in life, could one?” he asked sweetly, his cold lips moving with dry
mirth. And he delicately refrained from guessing the romantic complexion
of her sudden longing to visit Manila.

Yes, the _Star of Troy_ was roving about somewhere in this part of the
world, and the intelligence seemed vaguely to upset the master of the
_Skipping Goone_. A look of the satellite came into his green eyes,
and he felt somehow less in control, even while he snarled the more
convincingly and had perhaps never looked so much like an admiral.

Manila was kind indeed to Mr. Curry and his songbirds, and the engagement
was by no means unprosperous. Then they were under way once more, bound
now for Borneo. However, though brief, it was to prove a voyage more
packed with incident than any thus far.

The winds were mostly head winds, extremely variable, and much time was
lost. During one whole day the wind dropped almost entirely, and rain
poured down. The glass ran low. The air was damp and unseasonably chilly,
with restless little gusts down the murk of the China sea. In the midst
of all this the baby managed to contract a cold.

It wasn’t a very bad cold, but since there was only one baby, to say
nothing of its being a mascot, instant alarm ran through the schooner.
Everybody was ready, quite naturally and humanly, with every sort of
suggested remedy. Mr. Curry contributed a bottle of pine balsam; some one
else recommended camphor dropped on to a lump of sugar; even smelling
salts were advised. The principal topic of conversation became the baby’s
cold.

“I guess it’s nothing much,” said Lili. “He just snivels a little.”

But Jerome was in a state of terrible anxiety. He, of them all, had
nothing to suggest by way of remedy; and yet it seemed to him as though
his very life depended upon the baby’s recovery. They told him it was
absurd to get into such a state over a baby’s cold. “Just wait till the
child has measles and whooping cough before you begin to look so solemn!”
exclaimed the contralto, who knew what she was talking about.

As the baby improved, Jerome was willing to listen to reason. He had
scarcely slept at night, though Lili had taken it a great deal more
sensibly. The baby’s cold was, indeed, no great matter; but just as it
was felt that there was no longer even a remote danger, a mysterious new
combination set in. Nobody seemed to be able to make it out. Breathing
grew laboured, and the pulse was so feeble that they could barely find it.

Alarm returned. Jerome’s heart was again in a state of panic, while Mr.
Curry, in the privacy of his own little cabin, spent a long time on his
knees. “We couldn’t bear it!” he murmured brokenly. “We just couldn’t
bear it!”

Efforts were redoubled. They kept the baby wrapped up in flannel. Then
abruptly the cold disappeared entirely, and the little creature grew
so hot it seemed to burn one’s arms. Each breath meant a sharp brief
struggle. The day before every one had felt so confident; today every one
chilled to a sense of hopelessness charged with foreboding.

The small sufferer struggled through a night and at dawn ceased his
convulsions. Jerome and Lili knew their baby was dead even while last
frantic efforts toward restoration were being made.

The baby was dead, and the whole ship went into profound mourning.

Lili cried like a little bewildered child. So her heart was eased. But
Jerome, at first, could do nothing but stare down, stunned with misery,
at the small lifeless form. When Curry came upon him standing by the
cradle, he drew an impulsive arm about him; for the impresario seemed to
understand about these things better than anybody else.

“Courage, lad,” he said, tears splashing down, and his great chest
heaving. And Jerome could only falter, “Yes,” in a groping way.

Jerome had loved the tiny boy with all his being. He had laid long,
silent plans; had seen the boy grow up; saw himself even standing by Lili
for the sake of the child. He would love him more and more as the years
went on. The sense of warm devotion in Jerome’s heart had been almost
overpowering at times. But now the baby was gone, and the dreams—they
were gone too. It seemed almost like the end of everything.


III

The baby was buried at sea. One of the seamen, who was clever with
tools, made a smooth little casket, and the small form was laid out in
it, dressed in such finery as it had acquired during the brief earthly
sojourn. The contralto who had had babies herself, in her time, offered
some very life-like artificial roses which she was accustomed to wear
in the _Chimes of Normandy_. The roses were pinned at the waist of the
little dress. Somebody muttered a fragment of prayer, and the cover was
fitted on.

Lili was sobbing hysterically, and Jerome stood near her, his hands over
his face.

It was a quiet night, with a few stars. The casket was lowered gently in
the dark. And the little mascot was gone from them forever.



VII

THE MYTH



CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

WHOM THE POPPY CAPTURES


I

Time stood still—or rather time crept forward like a snail, and seemed
unmoving. The hours of each day stole on like the tide, slow, achingly
slow; or like a hill of sand which patiently sifts its way across a
pasture; or like a drowsy serpent in the sun. A week was like a little
lifetime. A month was like a cycle of Brahma.

Time, time, time! And overhead a sky of burning blue, and all about a
vacant sea, sleeping, dreaming, with just a whisper of surf always on the
yellow beach, marking the hours into tiny rhythmic periods—innumerable
and lethargic; chiming like little shish-faint discs, like dainty
cascades of echoing silver; yet with ever a haunting prescience of
furious power behind, which sometimes broke out in screaming tempest or
long fierce hurricane.

Time, time, time! Here seemed eventlessness of a new and sinister order.
Values were subtly changing. Love was a thing less sheer and unshakable.
In a month—two months—how all life seemed altered! One felt that
invisibly and silently, deep underneath the calm, there were mysterious
forces at work here on Hagen’s Island. Stella, as time drew forward so
slowly, found herself immersed in a world of intangible agents. Nothing
in her experience had prepared her for this....

She had married a prince, and he had turned out to be a White Kami. His
empire was a tiny volcano tip in the ocean. It was hither he had brought
this bride of a so surprising courtship. At first there had been only
poppies and love. But now there was a pipe with a wee bowl, which the
White Kami had gradually learned to manipulate with wonderful dexterity.
Yes, at first his fingers were clumsy and fumbling; there were times when
he could not manage the drop of opium: it would elude him, and he would
chuckle softly, or curse under his breath. But at length he had grown
marvelously proficient.

Opium! A terrible new doubt had torn its way into the shadowy alarm of
Stella’s soul. Opium—opium! How had it come about? What did it mean? What
might it end by doing to both their lives?

Opium! Already, without her knowing it, Ferdinand must have been steeping
himself in the drug—perhaps from almost the moment of their arrival. Just
when _had_ it begun, she wondered darkly. Opium! Had he tried it first in
just a mood of adventurous experiment? And had it forced a stronghold so
insidious as not to be menaced—even by her love for him?

In the light of that fierce, electric moment when she had first beheld
her husband stretched deep in the ecstasy of the drug, Stella found
herself reconstructing much that had taken place preceding it: his
growing lordliness and sometimes almost wilful wish that the pathway of
their love should not lie smooth and charming; his fits of absorption,
that restless instability; his sullen insistence upon the operation of
his own caprice or will. Stella remembered with a shudder how, while that
pathetic little dinner lay stale and untasted within, she had sat so long
on the doorstep alone, and how the dark, foreign night had seemed to
press in upon her and tinge her misery with aspects of stalking chaos.
Yet afterward, in the sunshine of a new day, and with the episode of the
untasted dinner behind them, Ferdinand had tried to lighten the prospect
with his bluff and reassuring laugh.

“I’m afraid you’re inclined to make mountains out of mole-hills,
lady-bird. Don’t you know that opium hasn’t any ill effects at all unless
taken in over-doses? Do you think a man’s a goner just because he
happens to smoke a mere pipeful of it now and then, by way of breaking in
a bit on this humdrum existence?”

“Ferdinand—” she faltered, half consciously relieved a little, yet not,
at heart, honestly convinced.

He interrupted her with a gesture half playful, half of impatience. “I
know what I’m about, peaches. We’ll just forget it.”

Oh life! Oh, the forces of life—and the world—and human destiny!

But, though Stella strove to forget, she couldn’t quite succeed, and
felt herself falling more and more prey, as time crept on, to doubt and
foreboding. Opium! It began to strike on her ears like such words as
cobra, shark, and scorpion. It had a reptilian, a vicious, loathsome
sound. And she grew sick at heart and terrified. A barrier seemed rising
stealthily between them—between her heart and all the radiant happiness
which had glorified its dreams. Love merged with fear and became sorely
baffled. Life was beset with groping.

At last it had come to July. Six leaves were gone from the calendar, and
midway across the leaf which would next stand uncovered, was the date
set by Captain Utterbourne as possibly marking his first return to the
island. August the fifteenth! Stella had put in a background of red, so
that the figures stood out crisply. Yet of course she knew it might not
be just on that day. It might be any day during the week succeeding.

“Or maybe he’ll come as early as the _eighth_,” she told herself, a pang
of terrible hope breaking across her heart at the mere conjecture. But
there were times when, as with a faint breath of foreboding, she strove
desperately not to kindle false lights in her heart; then she would muse:
“Perhaps not before the twenty-second.... I mustn’t let myself grow too
impatient.” Once—grimly: “What if the time goes by altogether? What
then?” Why, then it would simply mean that the _Star of Troy_ need not
be looked for until the completion of the year—not before February. “But
I can’t stand it,” she cried tensely, “unless he comes next month! I
can’t any longer, with things as they are....” She trembled, feeling her
brow grow cold and wet.

For King’s downward progress had been darkly alarming; and out of all
that beauty and delight of her release, a new relentless doom seemed
creeping.


II

King had begun to eat it, she knew, as well as smoke it. His appetite had
rapidly developed to ghastly proportions.

She saw, with awful vividness, daily before her eyes, the potency of
this drug which her husband had come here to handle, and upon which the
prosperity of their future was to rest. She saw its fiendishness, its
strange compelling charm. He had laughed at first. “Don’t you worry,
little girl,” he used to say. “I know enough to keep an upper hand.” Was
this an upper hand?

“You think the stuff’s getting hold of me, don’t you?” he chaffed one
breathless June evening; and Stella, though she was determined not to
give way, could not restrain a desperate gesture. After a little silence
King laughed reassuringly; and then, with a fling of his head he said:
“I’m not used to this sort of life, little girl, and sometimes it gets my
goat!”

Another evening he strode heavily over to her and grasped her arms with
considerable vigour. “It’s time you stopped all this mooning and sighing,
I think,” he told her thickly, an indefinite dash even of menace in his
tone. “I’ve been watching you. It’s all nonsense, and I won’t have it!
You understand? I know what you think. You think I couldn’t stop, right
off in a minute, if I wanted to. Well, I could. Some day, just for fun,
I’ll show you. Let’s have no more foolishness. I know what I’m doing.
I’ve lived in the world a good many years, little girl, and I ought to
know by this time how to look after myself. I don’t like your mournful
eyes and your tears. I tell you I don’t like them. You act like an
everlasting funeral!”

His words gave slightly the impression that he was striving to carry a
point in his own mind, somewhat, as well as in his wife’s. Later, off by
himself in another part of the house, she heard him laugh again, a loud
laugh, with just a note in it of new and sinister wildness.

Sometimes his round blue eyes seemed to bore into her with a searching,
challenging look. She felt her soul in commotion. And she said nothing,
only watched the slow change in those eyes, as hunger stole into them.
Slowly her heart chilled with a sense of doom.

These were restless and not very happy days on Hagen’s Island, though in
most respects life went on quite as usual. King seemed anxious to plunge
more strenuously than ever into the work. A heavy grimness sometimes
coloured his attitude. He grew vaguely harassed and more palpably
restive. Faint lines of struggle crept into his face. He laughed more
boisterously, though perhaps rather less often.

There were times when Stella felt herself slipping tragically out of his
life; yet he still found obvious pleasure in having her come to meet
him on his return from the fields, and often delighted her with flashes
of the old intimate tenderness. But there were occasions, too, when he
displayed such an enlarged arrogance, and chaffed with such an edge that
she trembled and felt her soul in still greater commotion. For he could
less and less, as the time went on, endure any suggestion that things
weren’t quite well with him. If he saw her in tears it would make him
furious. Sometimes a rebuke or sharp gesture of impatience would rouse
her heart, and she would rebel against the docility which, on her side,
had always seemed an essential feature of the romantic relationship. Then
perhaps there would come a mutual wave of affection and forgiveness,
and peace would inhabit the house. He would call her “little lady,” and
sometimes he still called her “peaches,” though his moods of softness
appeared somewhat less frequent.

As time went on and her husband seemed falling more and more under the
insidious sway of the drug, doubts stirred more and more, also, in
Stella’s heart. And she began to ask herself questions about the future
which she could not answer, and which often filled her with a nameless
terror.

Sometimes in the evening Stella would watch her husband, fascinated by
the fearful process of opium smoking, as she had once been fascinated by
the sheer dazzle of his eyes and the romance of manners such as she had
never dared hope to encounter outside of books. She would sit, almost
spellbound, and see the resistless hunger take possession of him. Perhaps
he would be working away on his report for Captain Utterbourne; but at
length he would fling himself upon the cot. He would scowl at her with
eyes which showed a dull glow of something ominous; then his hands would
go out to the tabouret, and with fingers no longer altogether steady, but
which had taken on of late a curious flutter, he would seize the pipe.
After that, absorption would claim him utterly, as though he inhabited a
separate universe.

He would draw a large drop of opium, twirl it on the point of the dipper,
round and round, with uncanny deftness, over the flame of the spirit
lamp, hold it there like meat on a skewer till it roasted. He had learned
to an exquisite fineness when the tiny browning ball was cooked to the
proper pitch—never the least bit burned, never toasted a shade too dry,
yet never drawn off underdone, either. Occasionally he would bring the
opium away from the flame and roll it gently on the bowl of his pipe.
At last he would hold the pipe itself over the flame a moment, and then
would quickly thrust the laden end of the dipper into the bowl, just over
the orifice—always sure, with fluttering fingers; always uncannily sure.
Then he would relax. And there he would lie, a spectacle of manhood in
the wrecking, the stem of the pipe between his lips, which had taken on
a bloated look and seemed no longer quite the cupid’s bow of old. The
pipe would sway slowly back and forth, trembling a little over the fire
of the spirit lamp. And as the sphere of drug inside the bowl began to
sizzle, the White Kami, who had once been Ferdinand King, that figure
extraordinary of beauty and romance, would draw in with all the fervour
of his captured soul; and the spent smoke would drift in clouds from
mouth and quivering nostrils.

She brooded it with a breaking heart when he was away from her; when
he returned she looked at him with eyes full of fear and disillusion.
Gradually—and there was time to do full justice to every faintest shade
of thought and feeling here—she came to doubt in her heart whether the
dreams she had dreamed would ever come true. During these endless hours
and days and months with their silence and their augmenting thrill
of terror, she came to feel that it was all too late—too wretchedly,
tragically late.

Stella had been happy, she remembered with a pang, at first—a little
feverishly, perhaps, even at best, though still undoubtedly happy. The
voyage and the first weeks here on the island had been like some lovely
dream, with only vague, uncharted doubts and tremors of uneasy fancy....

Now her whole life seemed suddenly uncharted.


III

The opium “factory” stood just at the edge of the Ainu village: a mere
palm-thatched shed, with rafters strung along inside, from some of which
double bags of sheeting were suspended. The bags contained the crude
drug or “chick,” which had been standing in linseed oil to prevent
evaporation, and which was now in process of being drained dry. A basin
underneath each bag received the oily residue; but the bags had been
hanging there a good while, and the drippings were only occasional.
In one corner was a vat, half full of a sluggish dark substance which
several Ainu women were patiently kneading with bare feet. Tsuda stood
watching them, critical, keen-eyed.

Presently Mr. King came in. He glanced about sharply, frowned, sniffed.
Tsuda reluctantly dropped on to one knee, while the labourers prostrated
themselves, awaiting a sign from the White Kami which would signify to
them that they might resume their work. King waved an impatient arm, then
moved about restlessly, it almost seemed a bit aimlessly, inspecting the
premises.

His whole bearing appeared somewhat altered. The lordliness, if anything,
was exaggerated, at the same time that he impressed one as being subtly
less in control. Certainly he was noticeably thinner; his former look of
florid fulness was giving place to a muddy pallor, tending to make his
eyes somewhat sunken. Tsuda flashed a glance at him, then looked doggedly
back at the ground.

King approached the vat and investigated with one finger the consistency
of the opium.

“It will soon be tough enough,” he muttered; while Tsuda kept a smile
under judicious control. The overseer cleansed his finger slowly and
meticulously on a cloth, studied his nails a moment with knit brow, drew
out his little notebook and held a pencil poised above one page a long
time; finally with a detached sigh he put it back into his pocket without
having recorded anything at all. He looked about him, his round blue eyes
staring, then strode abruptly out of the shed. Tsuda gazed after him with
a yellowish light in his complex Asiatic face.

A moment later a young savage named Nipek-kem ran in. He had been chosen,
because of superior attainments, as Tsuda’s special aid and lieutenant—a
convenient go-between and secret informer. Out of breath, he was now the
bearer of tidings: the man whose wife had buried the head-dress was dead.

“I expected it,” said Tsuda dryly.

Nipek-kem elaborated: When the man learned his wife had prayed the curse
against him, he raised his arm to strike her dead; but it was already
long that the symbol lay under ground, and his arm dropped; he could not
lift it any more.

For a moment Tsuda’s eyes gleamed. It was a kind of miracle, and the
priest in him would never die. For an instant the worldly side seemed
crowded out, and he saw himself in the sacerdotal robes, in a temple all
a-murmur with the breath of the eternal gods. But the vision passed. With
a sudden cry, as actuated by some swift inner flash, Tsuda seized the
fellow’s arm. He brought his lips close and murmured, trembling with an
excitement of new purpose:

“You know the place in the rocks where the Wife-of-the-Kami sits much of
late?”

Nipek-kem raised both hands to his chest, letting them wave gracefully
downward. Yes, he knew.

“Go and see if she is there now, and come back quickly.”

The savage sped off.

When he was gone, Tsuda sat down beside the opium vat, a look of devious
tenderness in his face.


IV

Nipek-kem peered cautiously over a ledge of rock, all his movements
stealthy. Below, with her head thrown back, sat the wife of the White
Kami. Her eyes were closed; she appeared to be sleeping. The Ainu gazed
down at her a moment, then crept silently backward and disappeared.

When Stella opened her eyes she started and cried out a little. Tsuda was
squatting near her, looking very mild and child-like.

“You come here often,” he murmured humbly.

“Every day,” she replied. “I come to watch for ships that might pass
by—just to see them—it wouldn’t matter how far off....”

The girl seemed changed; her eyes had a strained look, and she appeared
drawn to a perpetual tension of nervous expectancy; she had aged a
little; there was a new calm about her, too—it was dimly menacing....

King’s revolver lay beside her on the rock. One night she had a faintly
disquieting dream about the Ainu, and seeing her husband’s revolver
with some of his things next day, she decided to carry it with her on
her solitary vigils. However, she carried it, really, not so much for
protection as because it was a weapon with which she could attack the
silence, when it grew too awful to be endured, as King had attacked it
the day he returned home from his first inspection of the fields.

“You will see no ships go by,” said Tsuda with an emphatic shake of his
long head. “Ships don’t leave the course unless they have to—no, _sir_!”
He had heard Captain Utterbourne explain it—a law of least resistance in
ships.

“Are the nearest sailing lanes a long way off?” asked the girl with a
trembling touch of wistfulness in her voice.

Things weren’t going very well on Hagen’s Island. Illusions were rubbing
threadbare. It was a time for spiritual inventories.

“Long way—I should say! Full day steaming head on, mebby more.” There was
evidence here of a slight nautical confusion, though he always paid the
closest attention, too, whenever Utterbourne opened his lips. “Better to
give up look for ships—gn—that don’t ever come,” Tsuda murmured, his eyes
searchingly upon her face.

She looked at him sadly, and he let his gaze fall to the little gleaming
weapon at her side. Presently he lifted his eyes to hers, and, with a
child-like smile, pointed to the revolver.

“It is very pretty,” he said. “I had a fine one, once—a fellow give me
in Benares. But”—he grew a shade petulant—“the Captain wouldn’t let me
keep it—say one gun on the island was enough.” And in a moment he added,
speaking more simply and smiling in his naïve way: “Will you let me take
it in my hand, Wife-of-the-Kami?”

Her lips moved—it was a tiny ghost-smile. “Yes,” she said.

Tsuda took the revolver into his hand, his face quite radiant. Anything
new—anything he didn’t possess.... He examined it minutely and lovingly.

“Do you mind if I shoot?” he coaxed.

“There’s a little patch of white against the rocks, far down there near
the water,” she told him, a vague touch of interest coming for a moment
into her listless voice. “I use it sometimes as a target.”

“Will you show me?” He crept to her side very humbly. She saw that his
hand was a little unsteady.

Tsuda emptied the revolver quickly and deftly, then handed it back to her
with a faint regretful smile. And he said, softly, his eyes agleam as he
spoke, in a cryptic whisper:

“Your husband is a very lucky man, Wife-of-the-Kami....”


V

Returning from his cursory inspection of the opium vat, King entered a
silent house. He had turned one room into a makeshift office; for it had
become his practice to divide his time between fields and desk. He liked
to point out that the principal difference between his job and Tsuda’s
was that the former called for head work.

King did rather a good deal of figuring and scribbling. Until recently
the report had gone along in fine style. It was full of notes and
queries and memos of many sorts, and bristled with little tentative
schemes, sometimes inclined toward extravagance, for bringing water into
the fields during the dry spells. He was also working on percentages
of dross, which might be cut down to the benefit of the more special
product. A little of the output was prepared after an elaborate Bengal
receipt for special trade. Utterbourne disposed of the major part to
Indian agents; the rest disappeared along coasts from which fishing
smacks came plying with devious credentials. These were transactions that
would not bear any very merciless investigation, perhaps, though they
were frequently more remunerative than the regular trade.

King, in role of overseer and general manager, had really gone at it
all rather intelligently, to begin with. The island was a test, and he
intended to make good. However, the business was lagging of late.

Stella, coming in, found her husband sitting at his work table, his head
fallen down on to his arms. Yet he was not asleep, for his eyes were wide
open, staring into space with an almost frantic look.

It seemed to her—came rushing upon her in a romantic wave—that this was a
climax. She ran up to him with a little desperate cry, held his face in
her hands—a real flash of passion; she felt suddenly the stronger of the
two—almost as though he were coming to depend upon her now.... And she
resolutely fought down a vague impulse of shrinking which his altering
presence sometimes aroused.

“What is it?” she asked.

He brought himself round with an effort that beaded his forehead with a
few drops of cold sweat. His look darkened—it was as though he divined
what was in her mind.

“Nothing,” he muttered thickly. “What do you want to interrupt me for?
I’ve told you I can’t be bothered when I’m in here, damn it!”

“But Ferd....” She felt the climax slipping.

“Go on about your work and leave me alone. I’m trying ... I say, I’m
trying to work out a better product for our special trade.”

The effort it took to destroy the illusion in his wife’s mind was so
terrific that it left him shaking. He spoke almost savagely; he was in a
savage frame of mind, for he had overrun his usual hour for indulgence in
drug, and was trying to persuade himself that he was still in control.
The compassionate attitude she had taken could hardly have been more
unhappily timed.

Stella, perceiving the failure of her little desperate move, slipped
away, her heart troubled with a strange conflict of emotions. He had not,
despite his agonizing effort, strengthened her crumbling confidence in
him.

And she knew with a pang that he had not really been working on the
product for the special trade at all.



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

BITTER COMFORT


The former delight of their life together was frequently turned to
bitterness by just such disillusionizing scenes as this. The time had
long passed when she could please and amuse and occasionally puzzle him
with her romancing, her manifest infatuation. King seemed unable to grasp
or tolerate such things as romance any more. Sometimes, indeed, he would
go for days without more than casually recognizing her mere presence in
the house. Again, a mood of tenderness would come upon him and she would
see that his eyes glistened with tears. The sense of mirage would be
strong in her heart, for Stella was growing wary; yet even so, it would
seem, at such times, as though a little light were breaking along the
path ahead of them. But it couldn’t last—and she was never really fooled.

Sometimes her husband’s eyes would even take on their old look of
roundness and fascination, and, as though psychically stirred by the
unuttered anguish within her, he would go on in the old way, laying
extravagant plans—all the things they would do by and bye: the places
they would visit, the brilliant life they’d live. But she felt him,
to employ metaphor, puffing, a little, always, at such times, like a
half spent runner, in an effort to make spontaneous what had lost the
persuasive ring of spontaneity. Also, she made the discovery, after a
while, that King only reverted to these flashes of the old-time splendour
when an opium mood reined most benignly in his heart—a heart, after all,
mysterious still, and unsearchable as the forces Stella felt at work all
about her in this little empire of the poppy.

She grew bold and fearless in a new determination to tear away all the
films from her own vision and face the naked facts of her life, whatever
they might prove.

“It’s a queer thing,” she mused, “that there weren’t any premonitions
of all this in the old days....” But then she remembered how her father
had been so troubled and swayed with doubt at first: how he had held her
close and asked: “Are you sure, girlie—_dead_ sure?” Yes, there had been
that note—she lingered over it almost caressingly. And then those words
of Elsa’s: “Don’t you hold on so hard to your ideals, Stella,” or however
she had phrased it—yes, they, too had a haunting way of returning. “But
what were my ideals?” she asked herself searchingly. “Did I have any?
What was it I thought I wanted? What was I so eager to grasp, after all?”

She had played, as it had seemed to her, so brilliantly. He had fanned
her at the ball as though she were a princess. He had sent her violets
and taken her to the matinée. Then their lives had intertwined, and they
had married. She had been so eager to thrust her destiny into his hands.
She had run neck and neck with glittering Irmengarde....

“Irmengarde!” she muttered. “Only think of it!”

Now the pace had retarded. How far back all that seemed! How little she
had understood life; how little she had understood her own heart. Time
stood drowsy and stagnant, and her prince was tampering with a dread
elixir. Yes, the gay, magnetic prince, with white at either temple, who
had murmured so enchantingly in the long-ago: “Curly Locks, Curly Locks,
wilt thou be mine?”

“What I fell in love with must have been nothing more than a myth, I
guess,” she faltered. For time and silence were bringing her to deep and
pitiless introspection. She had been just in the mood ... he had set her
young girl fancy afire. But adversity was turning her into a woman, and
she knew what it was to drink from a very bitter cup indeed.

Love flew out of the window. But the awful reality of Hagen’s Island
could not be dispelled. Her dreams all glimmered out, too. But her
husband remained, like a heavy dross of fact. With the shine gone, she
was no longer blinded. There was bitter comfort in this.

If she still pleaded with him, it was no longer like a frightened doll.
It might not, somehow, be too late, even now, she sometimes groped, if
the Captain.... But time would mock her with its everlasting patience.
“What a strange thing life is,” she mused.

One day she grasped his hands and gripped them tight. “Let me throw the
stuff into the sea,” she urged. “Give me the pipe and all the things
you use, and try....” But she could not, after all, quite face the look
in his eyes without faltering, even though she had learned to speak so
simply, from her heart.

“God help me!” he muttered brokenly. It sounded like a terrible amen in
some ironic ritual of praise.

She braced herself with an immense effort of will, met his gaze again,
and went on earnestly: “I’ll help you with the work—we’ll try to make
a success of the island together, since the island has to be.” Yes,
adversity was making a woman of her after its own inexorable pattern, and
she was no longer hoodwinked by that curious superstition about a woman’s
fingers and a man’s work....

On the point of reminding him of the fine things they had so often
planned to do, a quite wonderful half inspired impulse came to her, and
she said: “I’ve heard you speak many times of wanting to settle down
somewhere in a cheerful little flat without bothering much if nothing
ever happened. It used to seem to me as though I couldn’t endure a life
like that; but now it’s really all the same to me. If you’d rather live
that kind of a life, then it will suit me too, I guess. Anything you can
fix your mind on strong enough, so you....”

In spite of everything, her words sounded a little hollow to her. Yet
back of them was such burning sincerity, too; and she felt that she
couldn’t go on living at all, after this, if he patted her head and
laughed, or if he said: “Don’t worry, little girl!”

He did not laugh, but clung to her—even frantically. He gazed at his wife
with wild, brimming eyes, and caressed her hair with gentle trembling
fingers. He pressed her passionately against his heart, and with a
shaking voice he murmured: “I swear—I swear to you....” There seemed a
faint cloud of exaltation about them.

But at evening she saw him again relaxed and ravenous, twirling the
little fatal drop above the flame of the spirit lamp. And she saw that it
was all irrevocable. And she saw how hopeless it all was....



CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

RENDEZVOUS


I

The visit of the old chief, though informally handled, was a really quite
momentous affair.

Cha-cha-kamui (English version: Very-Old-and-Very-Wonderful) had dressed
up in his robe of state, a most gaudy creation of red and white cloth. He
wore a great crown made of cocoanut palm shavings and embellished with
beautiful gilt paper and wild cotton. The crown was necessarily a great
one, because Cha-cha-kamui possessed a head of enormous dimensions—truly
quite the head of some mythical though very mild and somewhat fussy old
giant. His hair was getting pretty thin on top—the Ainu were sadly on the
toboggan. The crown, therefore, performed a two-fold service.

It was a state affair. King received his august visitor in the “parlour,”
where he spent a good deal of time these days. Tsuda, as he entered,
sniffed the air, and his eyes glittered subtly.

As for Cha-cha-kamui, he was shaking all over from sheer excitement. He
had never been in the immediate presence of a kami before. He was a great
chief, and had brought his people down here inside a whale; he was close
to the gods, but was not himself a god. Thus the ordeal was considerable,
and he was glad to squat as quickly as possible.

The longer the old chief stayed, however, the more his nervousness fell
away from him—especially after King had brought out some of the excellent
brandy that had come all the way from San Francisco. He smacked his
lips over it in touching appreciation. It was a great deal better than
Tsuda’s saké. Tsuda would have to look to his laurels!

Cha-cha-kamui gazed at King, his old eyes lit with affectionate devotion.
He wrinkled his eyelids until he could hardly see, and lifted up the
corners of his mouth with such vigour that he lifted his cheeks right
along with them. He fawned. He massaged his aged hands, and made his
scalp wiggle back and forth. It was a spectacle!

And then, obedient to a private signal from Tsuda, the old man came to
the real business of the session. He launched out fervently upon a long
and very confidential speech, which Tsuda, feigning some surprise and
displaying touches of modest delicacy here and there, translated into
English of his usual colloquial and even slangy sort: English that was
sly and shrewd and not a little waggish.

As for the speech itself—well, it was all about Cha-cha-kamui’s wives;
and since the Great Wife must naturally go right on enjoying the high
prestige of a position bestowed for life, and since she couldn’t be
expected to retain in full vigour the charms of her now far distant
youth, there was nothing to prevent a little harmless alliance on the
side; and what Cha-cha-kamui had above all come to tell the White Kami
was that he wanted the White Kami to have his Small Wife for his very
own. The theme rose to heights of eloquence; it became an oration; he had
never in all his life tasted anything half so fine as the brandy from San
Francisco. He wanted the White Kami to take his Small Wife; he wanted to
show his homage—and could mortal man give more?

The speech amazed King greatly. It was, in truth, an amazing speech. King
hardly knew how to take it at first, and looked at Tsuda in a complex,
searching way. But presently he laughed, with a laugh that had a sort of
catch or rattle in it; and he thanked the royal octogenarian and replied
much as he had once replied to Tsuda respecting another issue: “You’re
very kind. Perhaps I’ll avail myself of your generosity one of these
days—who knows?”

Yes—who knew? He had been used to a life of movement and diversion, and
Hagen’s Island was a little remote. He felt broken and reckless. Often
he longed to fall back into old voluptuous ways. Yes, who knew? He had
fallen so far; let all the old passions rush and confound his soul.
Besides, ever since the day Stella had pleaded with him so earnestly,
and he had crumpled and wept and murmured: “God help me!” King had had a
feeling that he was no longer master. He had shown her a weakness which
put him, however intangibly, in her power. Often a muddy desire came upon
him to reassert his manhood and resume full moral sway. The very episode
which at the time had seemed drawing them closer together had in reality
plunged them farther apart.

He argued weakly and gropingly. His soul snarled for opium.

Cha-cha-kamui departed well pleased, and marched proudly back to the
village. His crown was a trifle awry, and perhaps he walked a little
unsteadily; but no one could expect to emerge from the presence of the
gods behaving quite as usual.

Tsuda, also, departed well pleased.

Left alone, King stood a few moments, irresolute, his mind carrying on
the argument it had been engaged with, but in a more and more febrile
fashion. Yes, he groped, perhaps this maiden of the old chief’s could
give him back the sense of supremacy which had so lapsed and failed of
late. Stella.... He rambled darkly. She had grown too strong for him
... he scarcely knew her any more. Then he laughed again, a reckless,
unnerved laugh; and there was a hollowness in it, and a catch; it slyly
rattled.

King’s mind, at the time of the old chief’s arrival, had been morbidly
clear, as it always was when under an immediate spell of narcotic. Opium
never muddled him, but on the contrary stimulated his faculties, set them
in exquisite if sombre harmony. But when the hunger for more swept upon
him, then a cloud seemed to descend, and he saw all things darkly.

The house was full of an immense stillness. He had a sense of wavering
all alone in space. After a moment he slunk to his cot and lay down. A
heaviness like the pain of a nameless, black remorse, beat dully at his
pulses. There was no longer within him even the power to struggle. He was
shadowed by nightmare, cursed with impotence of will, chained down by
a fatal languor and could only move in the direction dictated by drug.
Reaching out for the little spirit lamp, he lighted it. His eyes gleamed
with eagerness and torture. As the tiny sphere of ecstasy sizzled and
browned over the flame, he longed with a terrible longing to be free once
more even while he knew that to be free would cost an effort such as he
had not any longer the moral courage to make.

He drew in deeply and expelled the vapour with a long sigh of delight.
Almost in an instant he was a prince again, and the empires of the earth
and of the skies were his.

The island was a test. However, he was busy with other harvests now.


II

Time, silence, the sea. And through them thrilled ever that haunting
sense of something just impending. The island was like a room in which
there was only so much air. When the air was gone, that would be the end.
However, it was all very elusive and subtle.

The slow days crept like the imperceptible movement of shade across a
sweep of summer lawn.

One morning, soon after dawn came in across the dreamy jungle, Stella
stood before the calendar blocking out her yesterday. There was a look of
quivering, almost frantic hope in her eyes. Today was the long awaited
fifteenth of August, and she meant to spend it all in her rocky nook,
gazing to sea through the glasses. Perhaps there would be a tiny speck
at last on the horizon. Captain Utterbourne was a man quite capable of
being perversely and poetically punctual if he chose.

Mechanically she loaded her pistol and took the binoculars. Who but the
Captain would ever think of anything so beautifully and maddeningly
ironical for a wedding gift?

On the way out she noticed in passing that her husband wasn’t in the
parlour where he usually slept now, so as to be near his smoking
materials.

On the floor in a corner, half buried beneath trash, lay the big book
in which King’s report on the progress of opium culture was to have
appeared. Life seemed slipping out between his fingers. He could not have
told just when he crossed over the sinister boundary beyond which there
could be no returning. However, he had passed it by, and now could only
press on and on.

This morning the sun was barely in the sky, yet King was not in the
house. Dully she wondered where he was. Then she passed on out into the
early freshness of the dawn.

At first the sea was misty. But as the day advanced a little, and the
shroud gradually dissolved, it became very blue—like the colour in
certain canvases of primitive Italian painters.

Tsuda came toward her, hat in hand, and his demeanour, as always,
scrupulously humble. Sometimes she felt Tsuda was too humble; yet she
believed he had the heart of a child. Tsuda could scarcely be thought of
as in any sense a kindred soul; they were not of the same race; and at
times he alarmed her, vaguely, with his flashes of oriental mysticism;
still, after a fashion, he spoke her tongue, and beside him and her
husband there were only the hairy Ainu....

Tsuda greeted her cheerfully and with his usual wide-eyed innocence in
full operation.

“Wife-of-the-Kami, you come early today.”

“Yes,” she told him quietly. “I am looking for the _Star of Troy_.”

“The _Star of Troy_?” There was a flash almost of sudden dismay in his
bright eyes.

“It’s not certain,” she admitted wistfully.

“Wife-of-the-Kami, he will not come today.”

She turned her eyes, so full of sorrow and of disillusion, upon him. “Why
do you say that, Tsuda?”

“We must—gn—wait out the year. It is always so. He will not come today,
Wife-of-the-Kami.”

Her eyes travelled away from his face dully and rested on the sea
again—the sunny, vacant sea. She felt that her heart was very close to
breaking.

When at last her arms tingled with the strain of holding up the
binoculars, she lowered them slowly. And then she saw that the young
savage, Nipek-kem, had slipped noiselessly toward them and had prostrated
himself before her.

“Please tell him he may get up,” she said.

Then Tsuda, who, she saw, had likewise dropped to his own slightly
rheumatic knees, spoke a few low words to Nipek-kem, who promptly arose
and sat on the ground Turk-fashion, beginning at once an elaborate Ainu
gesture salutation. Every movement of his body lured a tiny jingle from
the accoutrements of his royal-looking shirt-front. Finally he lifted up
his hands as high as his head, the palms turned upward, and lowered them
gradually to his knees, speaking at the same time a few murmuring words
in the crude Ainu dialect.

“What does he want?” asked Stella.

“He tell—gn—of a prayer in the valley for rain. It is long time,
Wife-of-the-Kami, that we get no rain, and the cocoanut withers in the
sun. They ask if you will show yourself on the crest of the hill as a
sign—gn—the gods will open up the sky.”

She felt the primitive fog of superstition in the midst of which she
dwelt, and a shudder of new misgiving and vague fear oppressed her. But
she rose and said: “Yes, I will go. Where is the hill, Tsuda?”

“Just come along this way, Wife-of-the-Kami. I give you a hand so you
don’t slip down where it get steep.”

And Nipek-kem followed at a respectful distance. But first, his eyes
agleam, he picked up the little revolver which Stella had left on the
rock. He slipped it inside his tunic of birds’ feathers. This, he knew
with a gay heart, would mean all the good saké he could drink.


III

The hill to which Tsuda took her, his hand hot, trembling now and then a
little as it supported her up the rough trail, proved to be the same hill
upon which reposed the prostrate slab sacred to the remains of Vander
Hagen. It was one of the loftiest spots on the island. They stood just
beside the grave to watch the rain ceremonial.

In the valley below were a few Ainu huts. In their midst was a bit of
open sward, and half the tribe was assembled. Most of the Ainu lay on
the ground and kept nodding their heads in the dust in a patient, abject
way. In the centre of the sward a post had been set up, and upon it was
fastened the dilapidated skull of a raccoon brought down from Paromushir.
It seemed to leer in the sunshine. There was no cloud in the sky. The
island simmered and baked. This was, indeed, an unusual spell of drought
in a realm so lush, and where scarcely a day passed by without its brief,
warm drenching. In the valley they prayed for rain, and some capered
solemnly, sprinkling each other with water. Nobody remembered at length
how the curious custom had begun. Its origin lay swallowed up in the void
that stood in lieu of history. These Ainu had no heritage: a weary race
devoid of yesterdays.... Tsuda had seized upon this piece of ritual, but
he had subtly touched it, too, with the finer genius of Shintō. Tsuda
could never outgrow the sacerdotal atmosphere which had surrounded his
youth in the Shinshū mountains. The lure of the gods was in his blood.
This was his other self—his soul’s deep hinterland.

“These are days again—gn,” he murmured, “of the working of magics and
miracles!” His face looked shiny and very serious. And the curious thing
about Tsuda was that he just hazily believed, himself, in the magic
and the miracles—without, of course, quite sacrificing any of that
conflicting shrewdness and that worldly subtlety, which were also such
deeply imbedded elements in his nature.

Stella sank down on to the broken slab to watch, curious, yet with
unmoved face. And Tsuda squatted beside her, very humbly.

“Yes _sir_!” he murmured. “We see the wonders coming to pass!”

He raised his fists high above his head in an attitude of odd yet
convincing religious ecstasy. There was a weird, poetic quality in his
voice. Stella felt her soul shrinking. She seemed on the very brink of
some nameless despair.

“These are great days for the children of the White Kami!” he cried.
And he hugged his knees and rocked. And his eyes were bright. And he
wheezed with asthma. Everything about Tsuda was at once so simple and so
profoundly mixed up. All the complexes of a lifetime of frustration and
cleverness and hard knocks, with always that queer shine underneath of
the priest-wish, seemed converging now into a high mood of conflict.

“It is good—gn—we think much on the ways of the gods.”

The pagan plea for rain proceeded in the valley at their feet. The old
chief, Cha-cha-kamui, clad in his paraphernalia of state, including the
august crown of shavings and gilt, sat amongst his people intoning a
chant or saga in a high, shrill voice—a voice so haunting in the still
white sunshine that Stella felt it would echo in her soul as long as
she lived. The chant was slow and of a droning cadence. At intervals
the singer raised his voice in a wailing crescendo, but the wail always
drifted back afterwards into the tonic, and the chant would recommence
and proceed as before. And all the while the dancers moved on about the
leering raccoon skull, capering and sprinkling each other with the
symbolic water.

In a flash Stella saw herself, vividly, at home in the old days, and her
heart was seized with a fierce ache. Tears slipped from her eyes and she
never heeded them.


IV

Through her tears she saw the savages below her in the valley. She saw
the chief of the Ainu and heard his wailing supplication. Mysterious
forces....

As she gazed at the cluster of native huts, suddenly her mind whirled
with amazement. The mat at the door of one of the huts was lifted and her
husband came out. He looked about him a moment a little uncertainly, and
then strode off, disappearing into the jungle.

Stella could feel her heart beating. She turned to Tsuda to see if he had
shared her observation. It was apparent, from his involved look, that he,
too, had seen the White Kami come out of the hut.

Her mind, so edged with suffering, leapt instantly to a suspicion which,
even after all that she had endured, was potent enough to fill her with
an immense revulsion. At first she thought she would say nothing at all,
but presently she asked: “Tsuda, whose hut is that my husband just left?”

Tsuda looked humble and reluctant. “The way of the gods....” he
murmuringly began.

But she interrupted him in a dry, rather sharp voice. “Let’s never mind
about all that, Tsuda. Just tell me whose house it is.”

Tsuda at first was silent. He made a little awkward motion of appeal
toward her with his bony brown hands. But he saw that he must not evade
(clever Tsuda) so in a moment he told her the truth in a reticent
mutter—perhaps just too reticent to be convincing. The truth he had
brought her up here to, if possible, behold.

“It is the house of the great chief’s Small Wife.”

“Yes,” murmured Stella. A plain dull monosyllable. There was nothing
more to be said. Still, after a little, she asked, in a voice almost
completely strained free of any emotion: “Does he go there often, Tsuda?”

And Tsuda answered in the affirmative—that is to say, he answered after
his own devious fashion, slowly inclining his head, but quickly raising
it to fix his restless bright eyes upon her face: “It is written—gn—we
must trust the gods in all things, Wife-of-the-Kami.”

She said she would go back to her rock. And she sat there all through the
day. Sometimes fancy played pranks with her vision, and she thought the
horizon was broken by a tiny point like the far off bow or funnel of a
ship. But she was always mistaken. The sun dropped into the sea, and the
dark came. When it was too dark to watch any longer she returned to the
house.

For a week Stella went every day to watch for the _Star of Troy_. But the
ocean rested vacant. On the eighth day she did not go to the rock at all.



VIII

THE FLAMING WOUND



CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

AN IMPRESARIO TUNES UP HIS PRIZE FOR BIG MONEY


I

Life aboard the _Skipping Goone_ was much sobered by the death of the
little baby. Lili, though her grief was genuine enough, found a vague
refuge in knowing herself a center of sympathetic interest; but for a
time Jerome was inconsolable.

However, though life was saddened, it must nevertheless go on. Some of
the principal songbirds were preening themselves in anticipation of the
furor they hoped to create in Africa. Fortunes had been made there. And
you never could tell who might be listening. The excitement all round
was naturally rendered much more pointed by the wonderful thing that
had happened to Miss Valentine in Manila. It had come at last. She had
received a cable message from America advising her that a private hearing
was being arranged in Cape Town, and stating that a contract offer might
depend on the verdict. The cable was signed by a name of such awful
significance that the enraptured recipient trembled violently whenever
she pronounced it, even to herself.

In her more confident moments Miss Valentine assured herself (and every
one else, for that matter) that her reputation and fortune were already
firmly established; but, being only human, and not so very far along,
even yet, from the lowliness of her choir-singing days in Galesburg, the
fortunate artist also experienced moments when she felt doomed to certain
disaster. Something would be sure to go wrong. “I’ll be so nervous I
can’t sing a note!” she confided to the contralto. But everybody told
her of course she’d sing all right, and everybody was vociferous in
congratulation exactly in proportion to the acuteness of his or her
secret envy.

Mr. Curry smiled, then sighed. The bolt had fallen, though not, after
all, quite from the blue. Bolts of this sort never did fall altogether
from the blue any more. It only meant that in a little while another
ornament would find its way on to his already crowded hands.

Naturally Miss Valentine spent nearly all of her time at the dinky
piano in the cabin they called their “assembly saloon.” Early and late
she worked, and swore a great deal under her breath, or sometimes
proclaimingly, if the note happened to be _very_ bad, and sometimes she
would hurl her music on the floor and stamp on it, for she was a very
temperamental artist indeed. But when things seemed to be going well,
then she would be just lovely to every one, and say nice things like
this: “I think you have one of the nicest contralto voices I’ve ever
heard, dear,” or: “Now I’ve got those wretched Cs and D’s where I want
them, I’m going to sit down and knit all day on a sweater for poor little
Lili.”

One day she came running up on deck to Mr. Curry, crying miserably: “It’s
gone! I can’t sing a single note any more that doesn’t sound like a tin
whistle, and I feel just like drowning myself!”

“What’s all this?” asked the impresario cheerily.

“I tell you I can’t even get up to a B♭ without screeching,” she wailed,
weeping copiously into a very small handkerchief. “And I think it’s
just a shame, with the hearing so close!” Some of the songbirds began
whispering a little.

Mr. Curry gave her one of his finest smiles. “You’ve just gotten yourself
all tied up into about a hundred knots, that’s all. Don’t tell me it’s
not so—can’t I see? Haven’t I got eyes? Now listen to me, my dear child.
We’re going to walk up and down here on deck a few turns, and you’re
going to take some very deep breaths of this sea air—oh, not little
sniffs like that! What do you think you are, a rabbit? And now,” he ended
confidently, “we’ll see what’s wrong in mighty short order!”


II

He sat at the piano and faced her, swinging idly back and forth, his
hands loosely clasped. His lips were parted in a smile of quaint
amusement.

“It will never do to try to sing with such a red nose,” he suggested.

She laughed, in spite of her plight, and struck out at him playfully in
the air, then turned her back and spent an intensive moment before the
tiny mirror of her vanity case.

Curry reached round to the keyboard with one bejewelled hand and struck a
chord. “First your running scale—you know—with one over the octave.”

She started in bravely, though, just as she had expected, in no time he
had stopped her, and was assuring her she was working too hard. “Didn’t
I tell you you were all tied up?” Then he struck another chord. “Give
me some soft work, please—some nice, quiet, smooth ‘ti-roos.’ No, no!
Piano—_piano_! Wait a minute. You’re not on your breath.” He shook his
head critically. “No, you’re not on your breath at all. Just relax—don’t
be afraid—just feel restful. Let your shoulders down—there!”

“Relaxing won’t get the tin whistle out of my throat!” she lamented
doggedly.

“We’ll see,” he soothed. “Try again—‘ti-roo.’” He listened carefully, his
head on one side. “Put it more forward—right on your lips. Ti-roo-oo-oo.
Let the breath carry it. Now once more.”

Half an hour passed, and still she was too “open.” The impresario,
perspiring a little from concentrated exertion, scratched his head
carefully, so as not to displace the shining toupee. Then, suddenly
inspired, he jumped up from the piano stool.

“Look here,” he cried, “I want to see what your ribs are doing. Don’t
you _dare_ let them fall on the attack—if you do you’re lost! When you
sing for those smug fellows in Cape Town I want you to think of your
ribs every minute—you understand? Don’t think about who’s listening to
you—_think about your ribs_!”

Placing one glistening hand intelligently against the singer’s ribs,
Mr. Curry asked her to sigh for him. “Say: ‘Ooooooo.’” He waited
breathlessly. “No—you let ’em fall! It’s just what I was afraid of!”
He studied her a moment, very earnestly. Then his face lighted. “Try
‘Ahhhhh.’” And at last the effort succeeded. “You’ve got it!” he cried
exultantly. “Didn’t I _tell_ you they’d stay up if you went at ’em right?
Now the same thing on your ‘ti-roo.’ Wait a minute and I’ll give you the
key.”

The impresario, keeping one hand firmly on Miss Valentine’s ribs, reached
far out to the piano with the other. “That’s it!” The next chord was
triumphant, and the next chord after that was more triumphant still. His
songbird was coming back into her own again.

“Feel as though you’re leaning on your face!” he cried. “Don’t be afraid
of your face—it won’t fall out!”

Then he made her send air through her nose with her mouth open—which
made her look a little ludicrous, but then, was there ever a genuine
singer who cared how she looked when she sang? And he made her sing
“La-la-la-la-la,” over and over again, and told her she ought to feel
her tongue wag up from the bottom of her throat, and talked a great deal
about a mysterious region in back of her teeth, and put her through the
ordeal of the “silent attack.” And then—oh, well, there was nothing much
left to do but sit back and enjoy the fruits of tireless patience. But
they plunged into arpeggios, for good measure, and the impresario kept
nodding, pleased and more pleased—though he had an eagle eye on her all
the time, too.

She was really singing now—had got all untied—the tin whistle was cast
out. After a little supplementary staccato work he turned to her with
mild, appealing eyes, which glistened very suspiciously.


III

“This may be the last chance we’ll have together like this,” he said
softly, “before the offer comes. While you’re still one of my songbirds,
let me hear you sing some of the old pieces, like _Annie Laurie_ and the
_Last Rose of Summer_. I’ll play along and just dream.”

“Yes,” she replied warmly. “You’re an angel! I’ll sing anything you like.”

And so she sang him the old songs down in the stuffy little cabin; and
his eyes kept right on glistening, though he smiled up at her from time
to time quite happily. Yes, she sang as no one, surely, had ever heard
her sing before. The impresario had tuned her up for big money; but now
she was singing just for him.

When he had finished, stealthy forms might have been detected moving away
from the passage outside—not only songbirds, but seamen too, the mate
and the ship’s cook and the cabin boy; while up on deck Captain Bearman,
who had been secretly listening himself at one of the ventilators, was
roaring and cursing because his ship was lying all unmanned, at the mercy
of the elements.

It was really a shocking state of affairs.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

THE FLYING MOOR


I

The wind, capricious in the extreme, settled on the last day out from
Borneo into an uncompromising head wind. The schooner laboriously plowed
along toward Sandakan, on the Bornean north coast; it was necessary to
tack constantly, and progress was heavy. The glass stood low. The air was
thick and murky.

“I reckon there’s more rain in Borneo than anywhere else on earth,”
observed the mate, as he and Captain Bearman stood conversing a few
minutes near the wheel just prior to the latter’s going below for his
usual four hours of sleep. The mate and the captain relieved each other
every four hours, while the seamen worked on a schedule of two on and six
off, day and night.

Bearman made some mumbling reply. Then he began issuing instructions—a
great many more than were really necessary; and the mate, who knew his
business, privately resented being treated like an apprenticed seaman.

All the passengers, assuming that port would not be made until morning,
had gone below. Captain Bearman at first had figured that the coast ought
to be picked up around noon, and his binoculars began to be a little in
evidence soon after that—not seeking Borneo itself, but the islands which
string along to the north-east. The wind was very unfriendly and the
schooner laboured as though she had a barge in tow. It grew dark—and no
Borneo. It was slow and heavy-going progress at best.

The dark came down, and with the early dark, the sky seemed to lighten a
little, and a few stars emerged. The wind slackened, too. But the glass
retained its pessimistic outlook, and clouds were slowly banking ahead.


II

Below, in the little cabin allotted to them at the time of their
marriage, Jerome and Lili were quarreling. Jerome looked haggard and
sombre since the death of his baby; but Lili, though she had cried a
good deal and had a dull expression in her eyes sometimes, seemed not
particularly altered.

They were not quarreling violently; it was more the irritability
of fatigue and depressing emotion which found utterance in mutual
dissatisfaction. Now that his little son was gone, Jerome was asking
himself how much longer this farce with Lili would have to be kept up.

Her eyes grew heavier and heavier. Her sumptuous hair was done into a
tight braid down her back. She was already in her bunk, while Jerome sat
glumly on the edge, still in his clothes.

She nodded and half drifted off for a moment; then, as he moved, she
opened her eyes. And she murmured, her voice obscurely troubled and with
no longer the petulant ring it had more or less carried all the evening:
“Jerry....”

“Well?”

“Don’t you care about me at all any more?”

“What did you say?” he demanded bluntly, coming back to his drab present
apparently from very far off.

“Jerry, don’t you remember how you used to tease me to marry you?” she
asked, her heavy eyes making a desperate effort to beam a little.

“Yes, I remember.” And he added, rather dryly: “How could any one forget
a thing like that?”

“I suppose you’re glad it turned out so you couldn’t,” she said
miserably, her words broadening off into an unquenchable yawn which
seemed somehow, half pathetically, a keynote to her whole nature.

“I think,” he replied coldly, though in tones rather melancholy than
bitter, “it’s a good thing for both of us.” And he concluded, getting to
his feet: “I’m going up on deck for a smoke. It’s too stuffy to try to
sleep down here.”

He left her without looking back.


III

On deck it was so dark that, until his eyes grew accustomed, he could
see nothing at all. The few stars had gone under again and the bank of
cloud ahead was higher in the sky. Jerome listlessly threw himself down
on deck close to one of the gunwales and lighted his pipe. The voices of
Bearman and his mate nearby made him feel drowsy. Captain Bearman was
just issuing the last of his instructions before turning in. The ship’s
bell sounded half past midnight.

“As I figure it now,” concluded the ship’s master through his fiery
bush, “we ought to get in a little after dawn. We’ll be making good
headway, and I want to try a flying moor. Of course,” he added whiningly,
“I expect to see those fools make a mess of it and get the cables all
tangled, the way they did off Port Phillip. But the harbour’s very good
here, and we know every inch of it. We’ll try a flying moor, Mr. Nelson.
And I wish you’d get the lashings off the anchors some time between now
and daylight. You’ll have your hands full without going to work on the
hatch covers. Besides, I think we’ll run into a thunder storm before
morning.” He turned and walked off without saying good-night.

Jerome heard the mate mutter to himself, just once, in a disgusted tone:
“A flying moor!” He thought of going over and talking with the mate; for
the mate was a very decent chap. But he felt so comfortable and drowsy
where he was that he decided not to move, even for the sake of learning
what a flying moor was.

As a matter of fact, Captain Bearman wanted to enter with the finest
flourish known to the profession because he had a firm persuasion that
the _Star of Troy_ would be found riding at anchor in the harbour. What
a triumph to come dashing in at dawn, full sails, “a bone in her teeth,”
and achieve a flying moor! But the mate was disgusted because he guessed
the reason and he knew his skipper. It might very possibly be that the
mate hadn’t carried his analysis far enough to know that his skipper
possessed an inferiority complex. But he knew him for a disappointed and
embittered man; had seen him play the satellite.


IV

Jerome slept. He could breathe up here under the open sky, and wanted to
be alone. For the first time, consciously, in his life, he felt a full
sufficiency in his own being. He had made a mess of wedding his destiny
to other destinies. He was through with women, and wanted to feel himself
free of them, quite free. It was sweet to lie up here in the dark all
alone and mourn his baby’s death, and begin to pull himself together a
little, and look toward the future.

His life, he felt, was pretty sombre and difficult, despite the high
promise of the release which had given him a start in the great world.
But at least he could take up his burden and go on alone. It no longer
concerned him what Lili did, or what became of Lili. He was free. And
with each puff of his little short-stemmed pipe, which now looked
anything but jaunty, Jerome felt himself more a misogynist.

When his pipe was smoked out he did not refill it, but curled up instead,
right where he was, with his head on one arm, and fell asleep.

During the hours that followed he was occasionally half conscious of
voices and passing steps. He slept lightly, and, as the phrase has it,
with one eye open, the way people often do who sleep out under the sky.

At a little before four o’clock Jerome woke suddenly and sat up. He
felt vividly awake, yet there seemed no cause for it. Everything was
quiet. There was less wind than at midnight. Dawn was in the sky; but it
struggled as yet unequally with great rolling clouds, dense as boiling
tar, which seemed to have broken loose from some mysterious mooring
that had held them embanked all night. Jerome saw at once that Captain
Bearman’s thunder storm was upon them at last. There was a clap quite
close at hand, and then he realized that it was thunder which had aroused
him from sleep.

Some of the top sails were flapping a little in a lull that would be
broken any minute—the quietest and most sinister kind of lull in the
whole realm of human experience.

Mr. Nelson, the mate, was giving orders. They could see the rain coming
afar off across the troubled sea. A gust of wind made the sails strain
and the rigging creak in an abrupt, complex way.

Jerome watched, and the spell of the sea was strong upon him. He had no
terror left. A feeling of restlessness made him ask himself: “Why don’t
I cut loose and ship before the mast?” He watched the mate and felt his
cool authority; watched the seamen on duty going intelligently about
their work, undismayed by the threatening chaos of the sky. “Yes. I love
it,” Jerome murmured. And then he added, half to himself and half aloud:
“It’s so big and free!”

The mate wanted to get up to the forecastle before the rain came, if he
could, and see if the anchors were all ship-shape for Captain Bearman’s
flying moor; but he waited for the wheelman to bring the vessel around
into the starboard tack. In his effort to perform this manœuvre neatly,
the wheelman spun the wheel so far that the rudder jammed on the port
side. He made a futile effort to release it and turned deploringly toward
the mate.

Mr. Nelson swore at the man softly and effectively. There was no bluster
about it. The mate knew, and the seaman knew, it is no light and airy
calamity, getting the rudder jammed. Already the schooner was swinging
around before the wind. In another moment the wind would come over the
port quarter, and the sails would jibe.

“Run up forward and rouse the other men!” shouted the mate, his words
snatched from his lips by a sudden rush of wind.

The storm was upon them—wind, thunder, rain. With her rudder disabled,
the vessel lay helpless. And the mate had no more than spoken when the
jigger topmast snapped with a sharp crack and came crashing down with the
topsail and gaff. The splintered topmast lay on deck, but the gaff had
fallen clean of the gunwale, and floated on the waves. Everything was
in confusion. The sails were jibing, and the seamen were rushing about,
ducking out of the way of the booms.

Captain Bearman came up the companion ladder to take possession of the
deck. (It was the beginning of the morning watch.) He heard the crash
and hastened, his face full of alarm. But as he emerged, the jigger boom
swung round and struck him in such a way that he was swept clear of his
ship, and, temporarily dazed, recovered his senses in the water.


V

From out the tempestuous maw of the sea came the bawling voice of the
_Skipping Goone’s_ unfortunate master.

“Help! Help! Throw me a line, d’you hear?”

But though the mate heard well enough, he was too good a seaman to take
any heed. Out of the corner of his eye he had already noted that the
jigger gaff floated near at hand. The captain could temporarily take care
of himself, while the mate took care of the vessel.

It was time for quick action.

They were lowering the sails. That done, the mate caught one of the
seamen by the arm and shouted in his ear: “Go aft and haul in the log!”

Then rapid preparations were made for taking a sounding.

“Run up forward with the deepsea lead, and carry the line from the poop,
but keep it well outboard”—however, as they feared, the depth was beyond
the reach of their cable.

Meantime, the storm had crashed and roared to the point of its fullest
fury. There was not very much wind, but the rain was like a cloudburst,
and lightning seemed to strike on all sides of the schooner at once.

“Help! Help!” bawled the voice of the skipper. “I can’t hold out much
longer!”

They paid no attention, but set to work quickly to rig up a sea anchor.

“Take that broken jigger topmast,” ordered the mate, “and slash a piece
of canvas—that will do—just slash it on there, and get some leads for the
bottom....” When it was launched, the sea anchor made the schooner head
up out of the trough.

Orders had to be shouted and reshouted on account of the fearful uproar
of the skies.

“On the port side—”

“The rudder—”

Men called out and ran here and there shouting. But always the voice that
dominated even the fury of the storm was the voice of the ship’s master
out in the sea.

“Help! Help! Let down that boat, you swine!”

And then, in the midst of it all, the real calamity befell them. A bolt
of lightening struck the mainmast, shivered it, and plunged on straight
down into the hold of the ship. The crash of it was frightful.

Terrified faces appeared in the companionway. Songbirds came scrambling
up to see what was happening to them. They trembled with dismay, and were
instantly drenched by the rain.

At first the mate ordered them below, out of the way. But almost
immediately a new crisis developed.

A seaman ran up, panting: “We’re afire!” His eyes rolled.

Flames, indeed, began almost at once shooting up out of the hold where
the bolt had struck. Everything below was very dry. From this moment
there was no time even to think of saving the vessel. And now the mate
shouted:

“Get all hands on deck! Bring up blankets, and throw two chests of
biscuit into the boats!”

The _Skipping Goone_ was done for. It no longer mattered whether her
rudder was jammed or whether it wasn’t. It no longer even mattered about
her splintered masts. A bolt had plunged into her bowels, and no power on
earth could save her now.

“I guess it’s our scenery that’s on fire!” said Mr. Curry wildly, rushing
about in an effort to make sure all his songbirds were up from below.
A look of amazement and deep anguish was in his face. “We must get
these people off, Mr. Nelson! Where’s Captain Bearman? Lord, Lord!”—he
was wringing his hands—“it doesn’t seem possible a thing like this has
happened to us!”

The life boats could only be launched from two davits on the poop deck.
One boat always hung there in readiness.

The sea was not running very high, so that it would be possible to launch
the boats and then lower the passengers into them. The mate shouted his
orders.

“Two men at each davit. Easy, easy! Don’t let that line get wedged there!
Now lower!”

The boats were built to hold about twenty each. The ship’s cook, cabin
boy, and two of the seamen went along in the first boat with the women.
Then the second boat, already hauled up to the davits, was hoisted with
some difficulty and maddening delays, out over the gunwale. Men began
sliding down the rope ladder.

The fire spread rapidly through the hold of the ancient vessel. Smoke
rolled up in huge spirals and puffs into the dawn of the breaking sky.
The squall was passing rapidly up the world.

“Shove ’er off!” shouted Mr. Nelson hoarsely. And the second boat drifted
loose. Jerome seized an oar, the impresario another, and they stroked
side by side with the seamen.

Slowly the boats pulled away from the doomed old ship which had seemed
to share with them such a deal of human drama, and which had valiantly
brought them so far.

They picked the skipper up; and so overwhelmed was he by the immense
misfortune which had come upon him in so short a time that he no longer
bawled but seemed unable to do more than stare in a dazed way.


VI

It was a glorious dawn. The squall had cleared the air, and the sun
emerged in a red glare to gaze upon this spectacle of disaster.

The two small boats kept together and moved slowly off toward the misty
coast of Borneo. By noon, barring mishap, they would limp into the
harbour. However, there would be no flying moor.

And the _Skipping Goone_—well, she had settled deeper and deeper into the
sea, till at last, with a distant sound like a sigh, with her flaming
wound and her shattered masts, she slipped down beneath the waves. The
bolt had plunged through the hull, tearing a ragged gash. Perhaps it had
plunged on down to the very bottom of the sea, for all anyone knew and
for all it mattered now.



IX

DREGS



CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

EXALTATION


I

Time drew on, through September, October, November. It was December. It
would soon be Christmas....

No disaster in life could be immense enough any more, Stella felt, to
move her. She had “supp’d full with horrors.”

Perhaps she knew when he passed over the fatal boundary; perhaps she knew
when there could be no more returning. But it seemed to matter so little
now. It was all so ancient, so long ago.

She saw her prince dissolve into a moral pauper, and could do nothing. It
was almost thrilling, in a way, to realize there was nothing, absolutely
nothing she could do. There came a time when she even felt that tears
would never flow again.

The physical change in King was really unbelievable. He had so shrunken
from his former look of florid strength and poise and elegance that one
who had not beheld the slow lapse from day to day would have passed him
without recognition. He had played fast and loose all his life, and
within was paying the penalty. His splendour had stood upon the sand of
an encroaching decay. However, of course there would have been no such
precipitous collapse as this without the powerful push of drug. It was
as though here on Hagen’s Island he had crowded the impetus of years of
indulgence into a few months. The time was brief, in fact; though to him
and to the girl he had fanned at the ball it seemed like a taste of sheer
eternity.

The nights grew hideous with King’s dreaming. He had reached the stage
at last where dreams usurp the realm of sleep entirely. Sometimes he
would sit perfectly passive from dusk to dawn, with eyes that stared and
saw nothing but forms of ministering ecstasy. But when he lay down to
sleep, it was as though ten thousand demons all at once took possession
of his brain. Nightmare would suddenly seize the helm, and he would
writhe like some unhappy figure in Dante’s vision of hell.

Pity rose irresistibly in Stella’s heart sometimes, and she would go to
him and wake him, and hold his hand—out of sheer human compassion. He had
tasted the sweets of opium. These were the dregs.

Sometimes he would impotently weep as she held his hand, and tears would
seem to calm him, and he would sleep again. But soon the incubus of
dreams would be upon him anew. He would seem to fall over the very edge
of the world—on, on through space, eternally. Or he would relive his
whole lifetime in an hour, and he often talked of people Stella had never
heard of.


II

One night she started up in terror from a deep sleep, and found King
standing over her, a lighted candle in his unsteady hand. The restless
flame kept the whole room dancing. Grotesque shadows leapt all about the
frightened woman as she sat in bed, one wrist gripped frantically by her
husband, who stared at her in a mood of smouldering horror. For a time
she heard only his breathing, here in the dead of night. But at length he
began muttering to her, his lips moving almost as though with the awful
revenue of nightmare still upon them. For a time she could not make out
any words, but after a little his tongue attained a thick coherency.

“Clouds!” he mumbled. “Clouds...! I can’t see anything else—horrible,
great black ones, and they roll up and fill the whole sky...!” His look
was awful.

Stella laid a hand on his in an effort to calm him, though her own heart
was on the dizzy edge of chaos.

The candlelight threw up before her a face dead white against a moving
background of shadows. Slowly she felt him relax. The grasp on her wrist
lessened, until finally his hands were moving about vaguely like moths
that cannot find the light. She looked down and saw dimly the dull red
marks he had left.

She drooped a little and felt all at once very weary. Her husband sat
on the edge of the bed, his back bent and his shoulders sagging heavily
toward his knees. All the old lordliness in him seemed burnt to cinders.

After a while he sighed a long sigh and slowly got to his feet. He had
put the candle down, and when he reached out for it, his hand was so
unsteady that he knocked it over, extinguishing the flame. She heard him
sigh again in the thick darkness of the room, and then grope his way out.


III

Another night he seemed to be trying to fit an endless throng to shoes.
He was upon his knees, and they came up before him tirelessly out of a
void. Stella wakened and crept, trembling a little, to the door opening
into the “parlour.” Here the air was heavy with fumes. He throve best in
such an atmosphere.

She listened, enthralled in a way. Stella was coming to feel almost
impartial, like an outsider—an outsider even to herself.

Her husband’s voice drifted to her, hollow and touchingly patient; but
sometimes it sounded a little eager, too—as when he urged:

“Madam, I think you could wear an A quite as well as a B. Have you ever
tried? The foot is really narrower than you think. Let me try on one of
the newest lasts in an A, and if it doesn’t feel comfortable, we’ll try
a B instead. I think you’ll find this suede quite satisfactory, and it
goes so well with almost every gown.”

Stella was amazed. She remembered an occasion when he had spoken of her
feet with singular intelligence, and felt a tiny stir of interest in her
deadened heart—even determined that she would speak to him about it.

The next day she chanced to find him brooding over the book in which
he had long ceased recording the progress of opium culture on Hagen’s
Island. There was a far-away look in his eyes—a look of great stillness;
and she knew he was under the brief delicious spell of recent indulgence.

“Ferd,” she said, sitting down near him and trying dully to occupy her
fingers with some mending, “you talked all night about shoes—do you
remember?”

At first a vaguely startled expression came into his eyes, and she had a
sudden sense of danger—even drew back a little, instinctively. But the
expression changed to one of such utter serenity that it grew in time
to—almost an ashen radiance.

“Oh, yes,” he murmured, gazing at her musingly as she sat, her needle
busy. His body shook all over in a light yet constant way. And he
repeated, very dreamily: “Oh, yes. I remember. There were so many—all
sorts of people—and they came in a line that seemed to stretch clear
off to the end of the world.” He sighed. “Sometimes it seemed as though
I never could take care of so many. But I was all alone, and there was
nothing else to do.”

“Strange,” she said.

“What did you say, Stella?”

“I was thinking how strange it is you should have had a dream like
that....” Her voice sounded flat and monotonous to her. She realized,
even as she spoke, how little it mattered.

“Strange?” he repeated, still dreamily.

He had the look of a man who feels eternity rolling all around him.
He sat like a Buddhist figure, and the radiance in his face took on
a sublime, translucent quality. Exaltation held his soul poised and
untortured in a realm of breathlessness and peace. And he smiled,
for suddenly it seemed to him that his whole life hung together like
some perfect fabric, and that all that had entered it was somehow
essential—even beautiful and almost holy. He laughed, a soft, murmuring
laugh, terrible in its uncanny detachment, and rocked gently back and
forth. His mind grew immeasurably clear and calm. Then his lips began
moving, a flood of words fell about her—a soft, astounding, irresistible
flood. And she sat there, amazed, trembling, almost under a spell.



CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

AVALANCHE


I

“When I was a child,” he said, “I lived in an orphan asylum. It stood on
a hill, and down below there were a lot of iron foundries. The air was
always full of smoke. It came up sometimes in clouds—in clouds—in black
clouds that even covered up the sun.”

“Oh!” cried Stella, one hand pressed against her cheek. In the presence
of his great serenity her agitation seemed immense, unendurable.

“I never knew who my people were. From what I could make out, and it was
very little, I guess I must have been picked up somewhere.” He smiled
dreamily. “Yes, I guess that must have been it. One day I decided to
run away. It was a great many miles to New York, and I walked. Later on
I was earning three meals a day making artificial flowers in a garret
in Bleeker street. I can see it now—most of the plaster fallen off the
walls—dormers sticking out through the roof—elevated trains going by
all day right beside the windows.... We made everything,” he said, his
tone tender and a little caressing, “from single and double roses to
lilies-of-the-valley. But I liked to make violets best, and they let me
do them most of the time, because I could turn out so many in a day.”

“Violets....” Stella murmured, and saw again a florist’s boy standing at
her door with a small square box and a note.

“Later on, I became a model in a class of sculptors. Then for many
years I did whatever work I could get hold of and managed to keep from
starving. You see how beautiful it all is? But to get to the shoes....”

He paused just a moment, a faint smile signifying what pure and calm
delight this flow of reminiscence brought to his soul. Then he went on
speaking.

“How it happened was like this: A long, long time later, I worked through
a part of one winter in a popular-priced upstairs clothing concern,
posing in the window as a wax figure wearing the latest thing in business
suits. All I had to do,” he explained with another of his gentle,
bubbling laughs, “was put on a heavy makeup, that I learned how to do
once from an actor I roomed with. Then I dressed up and walked out into
the window. I would strike a pose and hold it fifteen or twenty minutes,
standing without moving. When I broke the pose, half the people out in
the street would be standing there with their mouths open.” He smiled,
a look of great happiness and light in his wasted face. “They paid me
ten dollars a week. I lived on stew and doughnuts, and slept a part of
the time in a sort of dormitory where the beds were twenty-five cents a
night, with special inducements if taken by the week.”

The man seemed all aglow and under the sway of eternal forces. Indeed, as
the excitement of narrative grew upon him he began to show even a tiny
flush across his sunken cheeks, which had become at length so grey and
sere. His eyes were bright and a little wild, as with fever.

King seemed eager that she should know what his life had been—just as
at first he had bowed to her silent mandate that only what was fine and
romantic in it need matter. He kept exclaiming: “Isn’t it beautiful?” And
she could do nothing but sit there and listen, while, on his serene and
breathless heights he tore the veil from a heart which had so long been
shut away in a realm of glamorous mystery.


II

“It lasted nearly all one winter,” he went on. “Then I lost this good
place because the daughter of the managing director got crazy about me.
She was a pretty little doll,” he laughed, musingly, “and I guess I might
have done a whole lot worse than marry her. But you see I was nobody,
with a salary of only ten dollars a week, and anyhow, I wasn’t in love
with the girl. But she made such a commotion that they decided it would
be good thing to get me out of the way.”

His look was eager, yet always serene, and he kept rocking gently. To
Stella there seemed in him a horrid new fascination as he hurled forth
at her, though so softly and from so cloud-kissed an elevation, this
startling avalanche of words. She listened to him with hot flushes. And
she could not bid him stop till he had poured out all his heart to her;
she could not deprive herself of a single bitter drop.

“After that,” he continued, “I decided to go to Rochester, because I’d
found some items in the help wanted columns that looked pretty good.
Moving,” he smiled in lambent appreciation, “was no great matter. I
didn’t even have a trunk. I just put my things in a paper suitcase and
got on the train. In Rochester I found work in a shoe store. It didn’t
take me long to catch on, and it turned out to be a very good thing.”

Indeed, it turned out, in quite short order, that fitting shoes was
King’s genuine calling. Business actually increased—especially on the
feminine side of the establishment. “Ladies came,” he said, with an
effect of quiet drollness, “who needed shoes no more than they needed
elephants.” There seemed to be a peculiar and overwhelming thrill about
the mere way he knelt before them in his superbly fitting clothes. But
the odd part of it all was that this enormous fascination was just as
natural and spontaneous in him as eating or walking. He became, in a
short time, a kind of shoe-fitting matinée idol.

Stella made a vague gesture, but it did not amount to an interruption.
She had merely come to a last little climax in her immense disillusion.
Almost without realizing it during the past months, with everything else
torn asunder in her life, Stella had faintly clung to the thought that
there was an aura of martyrdom playing out from her position. Other
women before her had married men who, like Ferdinand, had fallen victims
to drug. A man might be very brilliant, even an actual prince, for that
matter, and still destroy himself with opium. But now the last ounce of
sentimental comfort was drowned in her soul by this sudden outburst of
confession—which yet was no confession surely, so far as the radiant
being before her was concerned. (“It’s all beautiful—isn’t it!” he
murmured.) And she saw with an eye of entire disenchantment at last that
the man she had married had once been a wax figure in a clothing window,
and then a shoe clerk. How could she think of herself as a martyr after
that?

“I liked to hang around hotel lobbies and bars,” he said. “I would drift
around with swells and imagine I was one of them. In the back of my head
somewhere I was always figuring—I even had some sort of idea that I might
meet somebody some day who would give me a boost.”

He dressed like a dandy and lived in a hall bedroom. He wore a pearl
stick pin and gaiters and believed in “hunches” and went on fitting
shoes. Naturally, all this time, he admitted, with one of his soft little
laughs, there were affairs of the heart. He withheld nothing, but poured
it out upon Stella in a warm, confounding torrent. Of course a man so
magnetic could not very well escape the toils into which his sheer
perfection of face and form attracted poor dazzled idolaters.

“I was always getting mash notes,” he said, “from women I didn’t know
from Eve. They were sometimes on monogram stationery, and scented....
Women were always wanting to meet me, and inviting me to tea, and begging
me to send them my photograph. I used to get so tired of it sometimes,”
he sighed, yet quite happily. “You can’t imagine how tired I’d get. I
used to want something else, but I never seemed to know just what....”

Serenely and without a blush, in this curious exaltation wherein all was
tuned to the “master key,” King told his story to the girl he had finally
married. Stella, breathing rapidly, her hands clasping and unclasping in
her lap, saw again with singular vividness her husband coming out of the
hut where Cha-cha-kamui’s Small Wife lived.


III

“I was forever laying plans,” he went on. “I kept planning to do all
sorts of things, and just went on selling shoes. I was always figuring. I
wanted to be rich and travel off over the world. I used to collect travel
guides and vacation pamphlets wherever I could find them, in railroads
and steamship offices and hotels. Sometimes you’d be surprised what
beauties I’d pick up in the way of travel booklets! I would take them
home and go through them, figuring and planning. I got after a while so
I knew all the favourite tourist stopping places about as well as though
I’d seen them.” He smiled with consummate satisfaction.

Stella caught her breath a little, and gazed at her husband with
eyes staring and amazed. “But—” she faltered, out of her morass of
disillusion. “But—Egypt—Monte Carlo—Waikiki...?”

King laughed gently. “Figures of speech, you might call them, I guess.”

“But Ferd—”

“I used to plan and figure about it all so much, sometimes I wasn’t quite
sure myself whether I’d really seen places or only imagined I had. It
got to be that way. But,” he went on with a new touch of eagerness in
his voice, “there was one genuine little joy ride. One year a Rochester
newspaper held a contest to decide who was the most popular clerk, and I
won it! Just imagine that! All the women voted for me, and I got a free
trip through Yellowstone Park and on out to the Coast. I always had that
to build on. The rest was what I hoped I’d do some day....”

“But,” she murmured, “you were picked up at sea—Captain Utterbourne....”

“Oh, yes,” King smiled. “I was just starting out to see some sights then.
Somehow or other I’d managed to save up two or three hundred dollars.
I don’t know how I ever managed to, with all the demands....” It was
dressing like a prince, he had in mind, and the financing of his endless
small flirtations. “I booked a passage on a rummy old freight steamer
that carried a few passengers. I happened to hear about it. The steamer
was going to some place in Europe—some little port I’d never even heard
of. But it was cheap, and I thought I’d start out and see what happened.
I thought it would be a grand thing to stop selling shoes and begin
living like a real millionaire. But—I don’t know. I never quite figured
out how it was. Almost as soon as I’d started I wished I hadn’t. I guess
maybe it was a little too late in life to try to change all my habits,
and I’d done so much planning and travelled around such a lot in my mind
that now I was really starting out to do it, it seemed a little stale and
tame. I really wished I hadn’t started. But by that time it was too late
to turn back.

“The boat wasn’t seaworthy, and somewhere out in the ocean we broke down.
That’s fate, I told myself. I guess we would have gone to the bottom if
Captain Utterbourne hadn’t happened to come along in his _Star of Troy_.”

“And then....” Stella just murmured. She saw how the astonishing tale was
approaching, pitilessly and inevitably, the epoch wherein she herself
began to figure; she felt the imminence, at last, of her own phase, and
could only sit there and listen, while the words fell about her.

And then—yes, then there had been Utterbourne, holding up before him a
glass in which stretched a perspective of strange new combinations.

“I’d begun to feel so uncertain,” he said, with the first shade of
weariness in his voice. “When I got out at sea, on my way to some little
port, I began to wonder if what I really wanted wasn’t to settle down
somewhere and get a few years of domestic life before my time came to
die. I guess something of that sort must have been what I wanted all
along, even if I never seemed to know what it was.... I thought I’d like
to go back to selling shoes again, maybe, and try to get married, if I
could, to somebody who’d know how to make a snug little home. I went on
planning and planning—always planning.” A faint note of bitterness seemed
creeping in. “When I came home from work, I figured, there would be a
smiling little wife waiting to welcome me with a kiss and supper. I even
figured on a Morris chair and slippers to put on in the evening, instead
of—well, I’ve told you the sort of life I’d always been used to.... And
I could still go on reading guide books and illustrated pamphlets. But
of course,” he ended with a sigh which grew a little sombre before he
relinquished it, “I couldn’t very well turn down an offer like Captain
Utterbourne’s....”

“Go on,” the girl said. She had heard so much. She knew she could hear
what remained without flinching.

“You can imagine the rest,” he said, his tone growing restless. “Most
of it you know already.” He told her, not without an increasing though
always muffled, groping bitterness, as the exaltation gradually failed,
how his romantic soul revived. Caesar was himself again. But that queer
little waif of simplicity, almost like homesickness, in his heart, didn’t
quite die of despair, even now. “It was about then,” he ended, “that I
met you, Stella.”


IV

She had uttered her cry for romance just as Fairy Fate happened to be
passing by her door. Fairy Fate decided to have a little fun. Stella
wanted a prince. Very well, then, she should have a prince. However, it
was really to the waif in his heart that she belonged, though she did not
know this at first, and afterward would not have it so, but must ever
strive to persuade herself that he had fallen in love with her as he
might fall in love with Irmengarde....

“What a pity it all is,” she thought, as his feverish tongue at length
lapsed speechless. There was a long silence, and she thought: “How fooled
we both were!”

He sat before her, relaxing now, and trembling. His look of ecstasy
darkened and glimmered out, while his eyes took on their old tortured
stare. When he spoke, the softness and breathless simplicity were gone
from his voice, which sounded muddy and harsh. He beat with one fist
against his forehead.

“I’ve been a fool—all my life, such a fool!” he muttered.

The little hectic colour died from his cheeks, and in his eyes she saw
stealing again the awful look of torturing hunger for opium, which no
power could stifle any more.

But she spoke to him very gently. “I understand now, Ferd. I understand
it all.”

And she thought: “It was my price.”

Wearily and mechanically, while he slunk away to the cot where his
smoking materials always were, Stella’s hands took up the work which
had fallen into her lap. She sat sewing, just as she had sat beside
the hearth the day he had begged her not to stop. “You don’t know
how charming it is to see a woman sitting before the fire, busy with
needlework,” he had said. There was a waif in his heart and he had
married her.

But the tears were spent, and there was nothing left now but time and
silence.



X

THE STAR OF TROY



CHAPTER THIRTY

CYNICS


I

The inhabitants of Sandakan are still talking about it. You can corner
any one, native or trader, and get a first-hand account of the amazing
spectacle which saluted the eyes of the awaking town on a certain morning
late in March. If the drinks are on you, and all the circumstances of the
hour conspire toward your informer’s temporal well-being, you will hear
with the full vividness of which a Bornean is capable, when in the mood,
how the slumbering sea delivered up a couple of over-crowded life-boats
with “Skipping Goone” badly stencilled on the sides. You will hear also
how a bald impresario, bewailing incoherently the loss of a certain black
toupee, clad only in a night shirt and blanket, but hugging to his breast
a huge leather wallet in which reposed all the receipts from the Manila
engagement, led a bedraggled lot of songbirds up into the town. It was
a visitation such as never before was heard of—at once so tragic and so
screamingly funny. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Most
of the women were in hysterics. The captain of the outfit, drenched but
dressed like an admiral in honour of the flying moor which never came
off, walked a little by himself with chin plunged despondently into the
fiery midst of such splendid whiskers as the town had never seen till
now. It became a matter of waterfront gossip that the captain of the
vanished schooner was something of a pariah.

But the town recovered from its amazement and opened its arms. Within
twenty-four hours there wasn’t a single surviver of this the most
picturesque disaster in the history of the China sea who couldn’t sit up
and give a wholly original version of the affair.


II

Two days later, Jerome departed alone for a hike about the island. The
catastrophe had temporarily upset his universe, just as it had upset
everybody’s universe; but this was no longer the old Jerome, but one who
rebounded with far more elasticity from upheavals. The _Skipping Goone_
was gone, and with this untimely and sad demise had come an end to Mr.
Curry’s erstwhile triumphant world tour. But Jerome still had his own
life to grapple with.

He tramped many miles, kept reliving in spite of himself the stark horror
of those last moments aboard the schooner, and after all couldn’t see
very clearly ahead. Then there was still the ache of grief in his heart
over the loss of the little life in which his own had grown so lovingly
bound up. He wandered without aim, alone, through the heavy tropical
sweetness. Yes, he seemed older and more sombre. Domestic friction
and tragedy and now this most recent experience at sea had combined
to give him a new bearing of maturity. He did not walk like a naïve
automaton any more. His gait had altogether lost its effect of groping,
juvenile stiff-jointedness. His face was sad, and his eyes were a little
restless. But there were new lines of strength, just entering into the
picture—dimly showing—like ghosts of qualities on the way....

Once a brown baby, sturdy and naked and adventurous, ran on before him
shouting and sped out of sight round a bright epiphytous plant with its
peculiarly graceful pendant bloom; and Jerome, no longer a proud father,
saw again with a pang a small casket lowered into the sea.

Returning toward town later in the afternoon, he found himself tramping
wearily but with a subtly lighter heart along a winding road across whose
sunny face patterns of tropical vegetation played, faintly breeze-touched
and tremulous. Nothing had really occurred to change the drab look of
things in his life, but he had grappled honestly, and the trouble in his
heart seemed a little eased. On either side, as he walked, were fields
of tea and tobacco, and off a little way stood a bamboo cottage flanked
by irrigated patches of rice, and with a great clump of bananas at the
doorstep. The sunlight made everything very still.

He sat down presently on a heap of white stones by the roadside for a
brief rest before tramping the remainder of the way. Just beside him was
a tree half strangled by a growth of flaming orchids.

Here he sat, for some little time, brooding half purposefully and half
dreamily. It was one of those rather rare moments when he seemed to see
himself with considerable detachment. Others had been remarking the
alteration in him as it so strikingly developed. Suddenly he seemed
conscious of alteration himself. Life, he thought, had been bumping
him along at a terrific rate. It had all begun—well, hadn’t it?—almost
immediately after the historic quarrel with Stella as they walked up
Market Street together in the fog and seemed, neither of them, to know
just which way to turn. After that, the curtain had gone up and the
play had started. Jerome musingly reviewed the immense changes that had
come into his life since the day Xenophon Curry entered Oaks, Ferguson
& Whitley’s in quest of provender for his songbirds and a crew as yet
non-existent. And he muttered to himself as he sat now on the heap of
stones resting: “No wonder I feel different!”

He rubbed his palms lightly and meditatively together and looked back
along the road. From this point it dropped rather sharply into a valley,
and then began a long gentle ascent, stretching far up and off among
the foothills toward the legend-kissed heights of distant Kina Balu.
Sometimes the road was invisible for a stretch, where a curve deflected
its course; then it would slip back into view again, an ever narrowing
line, but always gleaming in the white light of afternoon. The young
man’s eyes idly pursued it to a far crest, and in that shimmer of
distance he perceived a figure spinning along toward him on a bicycle.
He watched it glide nearer and nearer, now slipping out of sight for
a time, then re-emerging. The figure was a woman. He would wait, he
decided, until she had come up and passed him. Then he would go on his
way back to town.

She coasted down the long decline into the depression out of which rose
the sharp little eminence on which Jerome was seated. Momentum carried
the rider half way up the steep slope beyond. Then, instead of submitting
herself to the fatiguing task of pumping the rest of the way, she
dismounted and walked, wheeling her bicycle along beside her.

He watched her idly as she strode toward him, his stare being the
calculating, half conscious stare of the ever alert male—something
altogether fundamental and which cannot be disturbed by even so
impressive a creed as misogyny. Jerome assured himself that he had become
a confirmed woman-hater; and yet this admission to no appreciable extent
interfered with the casual interest of his gaze now.

She saw him sitting there by the side of the road, made glancing note of
the fact that the stare was perfectly intact, normal, and true to type,
then came on with a rather bold, free, just slightly self-conscious
swing. She was dressed all in white and wore on her head a tropical
helmet lined with apple green and which kept her face deeply shadowed.

When she came nearly abreast of the man on the heap of stones, she gave
him the conventional glance calculated to set at rest any tremble of
suspicion that she deliberately avoided his eyes. All these tactics are
so simple and so fundamental, and facts of such everyday occurrence, that
they almost never attract one’s notice. However, in the present case, the
girl looked quickly back again, then stopped abruptly, gazing at Jerome
in a cool, challenging fashion.

“Haven’t we met somewhere?” she asked him bluntly.

Jerome got up, a little too hastily, perhaps, to do full justice to the
poise and new nonchalance which were coming to be an intrinsic part of
his nature.

“I don’t know,” he wobbled in surprise. “Have we?” Surely there was
something about her he recognized. “Yes, I’m sure we have, but I’m sorry
to say I can’t exactly place it.”

“That’s my difficulty, too,” she laughed.

And then something in her half satirical laugh, but especially in
a certain unassailable bovine quality in her eyes, carried Jerome
flashingly back across the waste of centuries to an all at once vividly
remembered occasion.

“Miss Utterbourne?” he said, fumbling a bit with his hat, which seemed
uncertain which hand, if either, would acquire an ultimate undisputed
possession.

“Yes, I am,” she told him. “And it emphatically annoys me not to be able
to place you more definitely. Wait—”

He gave her a courteous lift.

“Ah,” she exclaimed, though her expression scarcely changed, “that’s it.
Now I remember perfectly. I dimly connected you in my mind with Stella
Meade, but Borneo’s so far off, and you don’t look at all as I remember
you.”


III

Both were privately busy for a moment with the circumstances of their one
previous meeting. Things, she shrewdly decided, must have been happening
to him. As for Elsa, she looked precisely the same as ever. She was still
unmarried, and had just begun a little to take on the vigorous air of one
who is on the verge of becoming really confirmed in her attitude toward
life.

“It’s very surprising we should have run into each other like this, ’way
out here,” she said, taking off her rather mannish hat and thrusting back
her hair with a firm brown hand.

“Yes, it is,” he agreed, feeling more at his ease. When they met before
she had really quite terrified him with her bold, sure, satirical front.
Now he was much better equipped to combat it. He felt he was equipped to
combat anything. “But where have you ever come from suddenly,” he asked,
“riding a bicycle so coolly out of nowhere at all?”

“I’m on a trip with dad,” she told him. “We brought Aunt Flora as far
as Manila and dropped her there. But I’m going to stand by the ship all
the way back to San Francisco again.” There was a hidden smile in her
words which seemed to exult in a certain stability of will not shared
by the romantic Aunt Flora. “I like it for a change,” she went on with
a slight drawl. “I never dreamed in the first place the Captain would
let me come.” And she laughed briefly. “He’s always such an old bear
about business. But there wasn’t any difficulty. It only goes to prove,”
she ended, shrugging humorously, “that you never can tell about the
Captain until you try. I’m having a bully time, though the days at sea
are usually pretty dull. As soon as it’s possible to establish shore
connections anywhere, I make off at once with my bicycle.”

“I’ve met your father—Captain Utterbourne,” said Jerome.

“Have you? Yes—I don’t know why—I assumed you knew him. Dad seems to meet
everybody sooner or later. He’s absurdly promiscuous—not meaning anything
personal,” she laughed, without really qualifying her easy tactlessness.
“And yet,” she added, in a drawl not so very unlike her parent’s, though
it seemed a few shades brighter, “dad’s not what I’d call the mixing
kind.”

Jerome was silent, and in a moment she went on, drooping her eyes and
smiling calmly: “But it hasn’t been explained what you’re doing in
Borneo.”

“I’m afraid I’m stranded here,” he smiled.

She gazed at him blankly.

And then, before going deeper into his plight, he asked: “But how did
you get in without any one’s seeing you? I don’t understand, for I swear
I know every ship in the harbour by this time, and the _Star of Troy_
certainly wasn’t hereabouts this morning.”

“Oh, but a great deal may happen since morning, you know.”

“Yes, I realize that,” he admitted. And he vaguely hoped, and really
believed, that his tone smacked somewhat of cynicism.

“You should stick right to the waterfront in these exciting seas,” she
advised him, “if you don’t want to miss what’s going on. We dropped
anchor just at noon today. We came up from the Celebes, where dad did
some business. Right after tiffin I rowed ashore and started off to see
the sights. I’ve seen them,” she ended humorously, and with just a tinge
of restlessness. “Now I’m ready to move on to some other place. The older
I get the more insatiable I seem to grow.”

“Then you didn’t linger about the waterfront long enough,” he thrust
back, “to be quite posted yourself about what’s going on.” His sad eyes
had a little sparkle in them.

But of course her most effective weapon was always the unassailable
gaze—not, however, that she used it quite consciously. And as she gazed,
Jerome felt a trifle uneasy. He couldn’t help himself.

“You had no chance,” he expanded, “to hear about the _Skipping Goone_.”

She repeated the name after him with the inflection of one who half
remembers or is not quite sure. “Wait a minute. It’s not a name one
forgets in a hurry. Oh, I know! She’s the schooner Aunt Flora was always
talking about. Sometimes she called her that, and sometimes she mixed the
goone up with other birds, but I never corrected her because Aunt Flora’s
so delicious when she gets things just a little wrong. I believe dad had
something to do with that schooner in the first place, didn’t he? Some
queer business of getting a skipper, or something of the sort?”

“Yes, that was it.”

“Aunt Flora told me some very amazing things about the man who’s taking
an opera troupe around the world. There’s been a lot about it in the
papers, and I remember dad’s shouting over it, too.”

“I suppose so,” replied Jerome. “It must have seemed a thing to shout
over at first. And yet we managed to make a go of it, in spite of
everything, until—”

“You!” For once she was surprised into a very slight change of
expression. “But you aren’t one of them? You’re not a singer?”

“No, not a singer. I tried to be,” he explained, the sadness in his face
temporarily lightened by this unexpected little roadside duel, “but there
seemed no opening for a fog horn.”

“Do you mean that the _Skipping Goone_ is lying right here in the
harbour, and that we passed her by without a salute? It must never get to
Aunt Flora!”

“The _Skipping Goone_,” Jerome replied solemnly, “is out yonder, about
ten miles, at the bottom of the sea.”

And he told her the story briefly and simply.


IV

“Which way were you walking?” she asked him, obviously impressed by his
adventure.

“I’m on my way back to town. We’re merely camping here till we can get a
boat out.”

“Then let’s walk back together,” she suggested.

“May I wheel your bicycle along?” he requested in a rather worldly way.

And she surrendered it to him—not because she subscribed, of course,
in even the faintest degree, to any of the old sex superstitions, but
simply because Elsa was so splendidly emancipated that she could be
unquestionably glad to rid herself of an encumbrance when possible, with
no thought about it one way or another. Otherwise her surrendering it
must have seemed a faint contradiction. So Jerome took charge of the
bicycle, and she walked beside him with free, full stride, while he
harked back into the realm of ancient history and told her, discreetly
and with ever an effect of budding cynicism, the thrilling tale of the
kidnapping—or rather, his accidental departure—in the first place, and
something of his adventurous life after that. She appeared very much
interested. And it seemed so good having some one entirely outside his
now largely harrowing association to whom he could talk, that Jerome
found himself looking upon Elsa Utterbourne as really an old friend. He
did not mention Lili, and left uncommunicated the heartache connected
with the loss of his tiny son at sea. It seemed almost incredible—almost
like a strange illusion—that all this could have happened to him since
the day in San Francisco when Elsa Utterbourne had come along to
contemplate, without entirely knowing it, his sense of forlornness and
pique.

“Do you know where Stella is now, by the way?” he asked casually.

Elsa looked at him in a somewhat sidewise fashion. “I rather thought
you’d be able to give _me_ a little news of her.”

“No, I’ve not heard a word since she went away on her honeymoon.”

“Neither have I, nor has any one else, so far as I know.”

“Strange. You’d think the earth had swallowed them up!”

“Yes, wouldn’t you?”

“But your father took them off in the first place—he must have some idea,
at least, where they are.”

“Oh, the Captain knows exactly.”

“But he won’t tell?”

“No, he won’t tell. The only way would be to take a chance on his talking
in his sleep. But the trouble is,” she smiled dryly. “he never even
snores—he sleeps like the Sphynxes.”

Jerome gave her a glance of amusement.

“No doubt,” continued Elsa, “they’ll turn up one of these days with some
unbelievable adventure to relate.”

“I expect so.”

As they walked Elsa shaded her eyes with an arm from time to time, and
gazed coolly off across the panorama which kept spreading new pictures.
Occasionally a native with empty baskets would pass them, trudging back
from the coast where beeswax and tobacco had been traded.

“If you’d like to come out this evening, you’ll find us at home,” the
girl said as they approached the port.

“You’re staying on board?”

“We always do. It’s very comfortable. We have plenty of ice, and plenty
of things to mix with it. You’d better come.”

“Thanks. I believe I will.”

She nodded, and, recovering her bicycle, rode off down to the wharf,
where a small boat awaited her.



CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

THE MAP OF THE WORLD AGAIN


I

Yes, the _Star of Troy_ had slipped into the harbour of Sandakan, and
rode there at anchor in a dreamy way, as though, despite her grim and
business-like appearance, it had suddenly become her destiny to drift
idly at her ease forever upon an idle tropic sea. A little dry-looking
smoke dribbled off her stack. There appeared no signs of life aboard.

Visitors were usually received in Captain Utterbourne’s snug little
white cabin—or his “shop,” as he preferred calling it: a delightful
place, walls and beamed ceiling scrupulously painted, floor dark and
highly polished. There were a couple of good brass ships’ lamps, always
perfectly spotless and shining. A faint aroma of metal polish merged with
that thrilling, indefinable scent which belongs in greater or less degree
to the cabins of all ships.

Elsa, looking very cool and wise, was mixing something in a shaker,
assisted by a young Chinese boy whom Captain Utterbourne had picked up in
Hong Kong, and who was supremely devoted. The girl spoke to him now and
then in low tones, and he smiled at her with affectionate understanding.

Captain Utterbourne, turning a fresh cigar about with slightly mincing
appreciation, was receiving accounts of the wreck of the _Skipping
Goone_ as they fell indiscriminately from the lips of Captain Bearman,
Xenophon Curry, and a certain young man with a very sophisticated face
and troubled eyes whom Elsa had encountered by the roadside during the
afternoon. The master of the _Star of Troy_ seemed rather to have an eye
on Jerome, and there was something like amazement lurking behind the
efficient poker mask.

“I never had such a run of bad luck in my life,” Captain Bearman whined,
his embittered lips seeming rather to steal over and fold in the words
than cleanly to emit them. “I simply go below for a wink of sleep, and
before I can get back again that ass of a mate....” His manner was an
odd blend of self-conscious indignation and uneasy dignity. “First the
rudder—then he lets her jibe—and I’m knocked off my ship into the sea! I
can’t tell you, Captain, what I went through out there in the water—that
mate....” His face gleamed white with the rage that was in him. “He ought
to be brought to trial—I mean to see about it. It amounts to mutiny, I
say!”

Captain Bearman’s eyes went rapidly about; and he was harassed by a
disagreeable sense of not having quite succeeded, after all, in defending
his position. However, this was but a logical phase of his destiny, which
always, in the end, must simply be bowed to.

“Lord, Lord!” exclaimed the impresario. “It seems incredible we should
go through what we did and all live to tell the tale! But when I saw my
scenery going,” he continued with a sigh, “I knew that was the end of the
world tour. It takes the ground from under a man—everything wiped out in
an hour....” He looked tired and seemed even to have aged; but nothing
could ever rob that smile of its incorrigible strength and sweetness—a
smile so full of confidence in the inherent good of an often enough
unfathomable scheme of things. However, transcending everything else
just now was the startling and ludicrous aspect of the impresario’s head
without the toupee, which had been, for all who knew him, so essential
a feature. Without the boyish bangs he had somehow a naked, lost look,
which lured out smiles all round, though the situation was grave and
sober. It was like the laughing twist of a comet’s tail through empyreans
of stern and awful purpose. Or it was like the drunken porter’s
soliloquy in _Macbeth_.

Elsa superintended the distribution of the drink she had been concocting,
and they all sat sipping. Jerome’s eyes rested upon a map of the world
covering one wall of the cabin. There was the whole world outspread;
the route of his adventurous travels, with their complement of personal
growth, could be traced league by league. He felt some one gazing at him
curiously, and when he turned met Elsa’s eyes.

Talk broadened to consideration of other sea disasters, the theme seeming
to hold a subtle fascination; and Utterbourne, discoursing about “runs of
luck,” aired certain slightly nebulous theories about “rhythm” in such
matters. And then they returned to the wreck of the _Skipping Goone_,
and Jerome, conscious that Captain Utterbourne was following him with
quizzical attention, told at some length of the tussles he was having
over insurance and the cargo tangle generally.

“There’s been some rumpus about witnesses—it’s lucky I had presence of
mind to grab the books before leaving the schooner.” He laughed shortly.
“It’s worse than any mix-up I ever got into in the chandlery line!”

He drank the last of his cocktail; and the Captain, staring at him
blankly, mused: “How the devil has a fellow of this type managed to
change so utterly in one short year? How the devil?” There was a glow
behind the sleeping quiet of his baffling eyes. Experience, the Captain
concluded with a sly wink of relish, must have acted in the case of
young Stewart—h’m?—like a sly milligram of radium. For the Captain was
very fond of analysing people—considered himself extremely clever at it;
and, while he sometimes made mistakes of which nobody knew anything, he
was, on the whole, a pretty shrewd judge of human nature. And with him
analysis always moved hand in hand with the musing query: Is this a man
I can use somewhere? The process had become really subconscious. As he
watched Jerome he narrowed his eyes a little.

“We seem to be a deadly poison—h’m?” observed Captain Utterbourne a
little later in his lynx-like drawl, conversation having by this time
turned upon one of his most cherished themes: the deleterious influence
of civilization on the human race, and especially the havoc wrought by
Christianity. It was perhaps a trifle vague; but the other captain,
setting down his glass, nodded with that peculiar brand of admiring
speechlessness one would expect to encounter in a satellite who seemed
thus to convey: “Exactly what I’ve always insisted, but these fools
won’t listen to reason—you can’t get ’em to!” And from time to time, as
startling figures emerged concerning the decline of savage life under
enlightened rule, Mr. Curry would cry: “Is it possible?”—almost as
though, right on top of all his own troubles, he half recognized here a
human challenge to do something.

“By the way, dad,” demanded Elsa, “speaking of savages in general and
Borneo in particular, when do we sail on?”

For a moment Turk met Turk, with faces that defied each other in the
matter of inscrutability.

“Anxious already—h’m?” her father parried—for he loved to pit query
against query.

“Not especially,” she replied with a restless toss of her head, yet
without accentuating, as she so often did at such times, the drooping of
her cow-brown eyes. “I find these places a bit dull, Captain,” she added,
drawling. “I suppose it’s the effect of civilization.” Her dry thrust
went home, and his eyes subtly twinkled. At such times he looked ever so
human and guileless.

“Well,” capitulated Captain Utterbourne, his words lethargically
purring, “I’m liable to be held up here some little time by fellows who
are bringing down some tobacco from the interior. I didn’t know,” he
suggested with icy, tempting hesitation, giving his daughter a playful
yet challenging look, “but we might slip off together some day down
toward Sarawak to see if we couldn’t capture a few ourangs, or perhaps
a rhinoceros or two. Maybe you’d find that more exciting. I understand
there’s still a little wild life left in the remoter realm of the raja.”


II

A day or so later Jerome, emerging from the office of a ships’ broker,
met Elsa again. She was swinging along in her independent way, and he
thought she had not even seen him, till abruptly she paused, her gaze
just lighted, incidentally, by a smile of greeting.

“Have you found a ship yet?” she asked.

“Yes, there’s a sailing for Yokohama in a few days. We’re going on there
and take a Pacific Mail boat back to San Francisco.”

“I suppose you’re anxious to start.”

“No, I’m not.”

“No?” Her blankness was disturbed by the merest flicker.

“Borneo’s out in the world, and San Francisco isn’t,” he explained,
smiling a little, but obviously serious, too.

“I see what you mean,” she said after a pause. “It’s quite interesting.
It even makes Borneo almost tolerable.”

“Well,” he qualified, “of course I don’t necessarily mean Borneo in
particular.”

“I understand. Why do you go back, then?”

It was almost the very thing Lili had asked him when the proposition of
his returning ignominiously from Honolulu held the boards. However, it
was with by no means the old air of helplessness and groping that he
put squarely up to Elsa the question: “What else can I do?” Openings in
Borneo were not conspicuously numerous—that was certain.

She gazed at him intently. And then she murmured in even tones: “True,
what else could you do?”

He looked off toward the harbour a little dreamily. “Perhaps,” he said,
“something will turn up in Yokohama. We have nearly a week there, and I
mean to pry around.”

“Yes, I would.” But somehow her look seemed not precisely to fit the
words. And after a moment she asked him: “Is there anything you have in
mind that you’d like to do?”

“Oh, no,” he replied with quite worldly carelessness. “Anything that
would keep me busy and not let me drop back into a slump again.”

“You think there might be danger?” she calmly laughed.

“I don’t know,” he smiled. “I don’t want to try!” And then he asked her:
“How much longer are you staying on, Miss Utterbourne?”

She shrugged. “You never can tell what the Captain may take it into his
head to do. I never dare go very far away from the ship for fear they’ll
suddenly decide to haul up and move off. But as long as I stick around
and look eager it’s just another case of the watched pot. I’m ready
anytime he is,” she concluded, her eyes drooping.

“And you don’t know where you go from here, I suppose?”

“No.” She moved her head a little restlessly.

After a moment she said: “Well,” nodded informally, and went on. Jerome
watched her till she disappeared from view—a trim, independent figure,
with youthful stride.


III

A few more days passed. Early on the morrow all the stranded victims of
shipwreck would be aboard a steamer bound for Yokohama—all, that is,
except Miss Valentine, who by hook or by crook must reach Cape Town,
and for whom a circuitous passage had been booked, after much dickering
and consultation. Mr. Curry was taking his songbirds sadly back to San
Francisco, where the little company would disband—not without tears,
surely, when the time came. Indeed, already there had been tears. And,
with the terrors of shipwreck still so fresh in their minds, the loyal
songbirds had got together and drafted a declaration pledging themselves
to stand by the impresario through all the arduous hardships of a slow
reorganization, if he would but say the word. The comedian made a
humorous speech. His voice broke in the midst of it, and then he hurried
on more humorously than ever. Curry was deeply touched. He said he felt
unworthy of such devotion. And then he told them that since he’d lost
everything else, he couldn’t ask them to stand by any longer. It wouldn’t
be fair to them. He must let them go, each his own way. It wrung his
heart, but he must let his songbirds go. However, he would help them all
he could; and if ever fortune smiled upon him again, he would call them
back, even though they might be scattered to the very ends of the earth!

Jerome, on this last evening in Borneo, left the place where he was
lodging and strolled along the waterfront, musing and trying to map
his life. After an hour or so with his pipe as sole companion, and his
thoughts roaming far, he turned back, deciding to go to bed early,
since it would be necessary to rise at dawn. He still felt that vague
loathness to begin the homeward voyage which had more or less bothered
him ever since the disaster at sea. It would be sweet to see his own
people once more; yet he dreaded lest returning to the haunts of his
long obscurity might mean but the beginning of a slump which, however
gradually, would thrust him back again into the same position whence he
had so miraculously risen. Of course Jerome knew perfectly well that he
was his own master, and that, in the highest sense, his future would be
just exactly what he chose to make it. Nevertheless, as he had pointed
out to Elsa in whimsical vein, Borneo was out in the world, whereas San
Francisco wasn’t.

“That’s it,” he muttered, “it’s adventure and life and hustle and bustle
and even danger I’ve come to require. I can’t get along without these
things now I’ve had a real taste of them. I’ve simply got to go on and
on!”

The germ of seeing things happen, and of being himself in the thick of
heavy action, had penetrated into his corpuscles—kept racing through his
arteries like possessed. He was in a state of intoxicated revolution,
underneath his new exterior of worldly poise. Obscurity had been
overthrown with violence; it had been assailed, cast down, trampled
upon; it was extinct. But Jerome, for all his emancipation, was vaguely
fearful of ghosts.

Ventures such as this of Xenophon Curry’s didn’t, he knew, bloom on every
bush along one’s way. And rumination had drawn him into a mood sober and
regretful by the time he reached the house where his bed was: a frame
of mind tending wonderfully to augment the thrill of surprise which
accompanied a sight of Captain Utterbourne’s Chinese boy awaiting his
return with a note.

Jerome took the note, opened it, read it through rapidly. He could feel
his heart thumping. The communication bespoke his immediate presence
aboard the _Star of Troy_ by way of answer. The boy smiled with all
his white young teeth, and, in gentle sing-song English, admitted the
matter must be urgent, since his instructions were to wait all night if
necessary, and to bring back with him no answer but “Misser Stoot.”

What could it mean? Somehow Jerome kept remembering how peculiarly Elsa
had gazed at him when she said: “True, what else could you do?” As a
matter of fact, he had once thought of speaking to Captain Utterbourne
about an opening of some sort; but the opportunity hadn’t just seemed
to develop. Here, as though determined he should be kept vividly in the
swim, fate submitted an eleventh hour opportunity. Did it amount to that?

He followed his oriental guide eagerly.



CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

NEWS


I

“Did you ever hear of Daedalus?” asked Captain Utterbourne dreamily when
his caller had been shown into the little white cabin he called his shop.
“I’ve just come across a fascinating account of him in a book of myths.
Daedalus, it seems, was the man who invented sails. Like all advanced
spirits from the beginning of time, he was looked upon as mad—just
because he was always experimenting—trying to fasten sails on to his own
body, and similar devices—h’m? Isn’t it funny how little it takes to make
the world think you mad?”

It wasn’t, perhaps, quite tangible—almost, in fact, as though the master
of this romantic freighter were himself, after all, part of a myth. “And
anyhow,” puzzled Jerome, “tangible or not, what has Daedalus, even if
he did invent sails, to do with this hurry-up call on my last night in
Borneo?”

His glance discovered upon the table a sheet of paper scrawled over
with anchors in many positions. The Captain had evidently been busy
on them prior to his arrival. Then his glance strayed to the map of
the world, and again, in a parenthetical flash, he felt its peculiar
thrill—almost as though it were a special or enchanted map. Jerome had
always more or less responded to the thrill of maps—a little, even, in
the funny old school geographies. Now that he was himself abroad upon
it, the spell was brightly multiplied. What a pace he had gone! At
length he was aboard a ship in the harbour of Sandakan, listening to a
story about the man who invented sails.... And back of the story there
was something—something.... The suspense was terrific; yet “I must be
patient,” he told himself; for he guessed that the Captain was a man who,
like certain horses, would only proceed the more slowly if urged.

Finally Utterbourne, perceiving with a quick glance of his little grey
eyes that his visitor seemed momentarily absorbed in the map on the wall,
swung slowly round in his swivel chair. Appearing to forget Daedalus
entirely, he rocked back and forth, his hands spread loosely on his
knees. A light of quizzical and devious affection flickered into his
face, and, gazing at the young man before him he murmured:

“Stewart, did you ever sit down before a map of the world and just let
yourself go? H’m? It’s a gorgeous piece of adventure!”

After that the Captain sat for a time without saying anything at all—only
drumming idly with a pencil. There was something fiendish about these
silences; yet out of them, one could be sure, great things were wont to
grow.

“I’ve been wondering—h’m?” And still he drummed, his upsetting gaze never
quite leaving the other’s face, though it wavered a bit at intervals to a
point just beyond, only to return at once. The substantial ticking of a
brass clock set into the wall above the Captain’s desk added an effect of
overtone to the silence which had fallen between them. Jerome, breathless
with impatience and excitement, cleared his throat, and Utterbourne
said: “H’m?” in a murmur of unbroken meditation. But at last the Captain
stirred, laid aside his pencil—which seemed a sign they were making
progress—clasped his hands loosely on the table and said:

“I sent for you, Stewart, because I thought—h’m?—I thought you might be
able to help us out.” He hesitated, still quizzical. “You’ve been on
my mind, rather, ever since I began hearing about your extraordinary
exploits this year. To be perfectly frank”—he smiled, and Jerome,
guessing what the Captain would say, smiled back easily—“I shouldn’t have
quite picked you out—well, say that night in the Pavillon d’Orient—as a
man I’d ever be likely to see my way clear to using. But,” he went on,
his voice subtle with congratulation, “a man—h’m?—a man can’t have the
experiences you seem to have had without developing a kind of feeling”—he
held the thought a little sensuously suspended a moment—“a feeling for
the finer grain in adventure—h’m? It’s pretty hard to phrase; it’s a
thing to be sensed.”

Jerome would have spoken, his eyes, now, quite aflame with delighted
excitement; but the Captain lifted one hand in a faint gesture and went
on speaking: “Stewart, I’ve been thinking you may be one of the men I’ll
have need of when we launch a project we have in mind—h’m?—a sort of
office and clearing house for our Mediterranean trade—maybe at Naples,
or perhaps Tripoli—the plans are still very much in the air. I knew you
were sailing in the morning, and I wanted to sound you a little—in fact,
I didn’t know but you might be induced to come along with us instead—h’m?”

Again Jerome was eager to voice his sentiments in this connection,
and again the Captain, perceiving his eagerness, chose to hold him
in a torment of unreleased speech. “I presume,” he drawled, “you’re
anxious to get home after your life-and-death struggle with the Dark
Angel—h’m?” There was a smile on Utterbourne’s lips, a smile of chilly,
faint derision, since, so far as he was concerned, the Dark Angel was
at liberty to pause on his threshold whenever the impulse prompted; he
would be ready, without question or prayer. “But, as a matter of fact,”
he resumed, “I expect to reach San Francisco myself maybe sooner than
Curry and his songbirds—or at any rate not very much later. If you care
to consider the Mediterranean business at all, but feel you’d rather not
run the risk of reaching home a week, a day, or even an hour later, then
go on tomorrow with Curry, and I’ll get in touch with you afterward. H’m?
If, on the other hand, you’d like to come along with us now, I could
perhaps lay a sort of ground-work in your mind between here and San
Francisco, which might facilitate matters in case it developed that we
wanted to get things under way rather quickly.”

“I think,” said Jerome (permitted at last to speak) with a voice he
tried hard to keep perfectly steady, “that I’ll run the risk!” His eyes
sparkled a little. “Would you like me to sleep on board tonight? I’d hate
like the devil to wake up somewhere else and find all this was only a
dream!”

Then Utterbourne laughed. That is to say, he shouted. And when Jerome was
gone, he sat in the dark on deck a long time, smoking one cigarette after
another, and gently humming _To a Wild Rose_ at intervals.


II

Jerome couldn’t wait till morning to break the news to Curry, but got
the impresario out of bed. There were new lines of worry and care in the
good man’s face, but his enthusiasm over the offer which had been made
his erstwhile business manager was wholly unfettered. At first he blinked
sleepily, and said: “Well—well....” in a somewhat solemn, deliberating
way. But when he woke up sufficiently to realize that it wasn’t for
advice but for congratulation that the business manager had roused him,
then Curry became satisfactorily boisterous. In fact, they both became a
little boisterous, for Jerome had smuggled in sandwiches and a bottle of
something, and insisted upon an impromptu celebration right on the spot.

It was well along toward morning before the weary maestro was left to a
little snatch of needed slumber. As for Jerome, he didn’t go to bed at
all. He felt it would be out of the question even to think of bed. And
he wanted to be on hand early to corner Lili with the facts and give
her, he told himself, some general instructions. He whistled along the
waterfront, deserted and very full of echoes at this hour, and finally
settled down on a barrel of tar to wait for sun-up.

Jerome had scarcely seen Lili since the arrival in Borneo—and had,
indeed, given her deliberately a wide berth. It was essential, he felt,
to begin making it plain to all the world that they weren’t living
together any more. Now he began wondering how she was making out, and
what she had been up to. Poor Lili, he thought. She seemed so helpless,
so little able to look out for herself. He must see what could be done.
Perhaps he could arrange to send her part of his salary for awhile. He
would see how reasonably she took the news of his desertion.

The songbirds began to appear, clad in outlandish togs which had been
acquired helter-skelter in a mart where there was little in the way of
choice. They were all in good spirits, however. “On to Yokohama!” had
been adopted as the company slogan. After that—well, no one seemed to
care to bother very much yet about the future. Things would turn up, as
they always did, somehow or other.

Jerome was just deciding that happy-go-lucky Lili had overslept, as she
so frequently did, and debated ascertaining her lodgings and going off to
hunt her up, when suddenly he beheld her coming along, garbed in a queer
pink dress and wearing an enormous hat trimmed with blue roses and fur.
She had a little white dog on a leash, and it strained sniffingly ahead,
running in a spindle-legged, sidling manner. She was right upon Jerome
before she discovered him.

“Oh, Jerry!” she cried. And at first her eyes beamed with the sheer
pleasure of encountering him; but almost at once they took on a hurt,
reproachful look, and all the beam was gone out of them. Her lips went
into a disappointed little pout.

He wasted no words, but acquainted her simply and frankly with the facts
in the case. Their ways were to sever. Tomorrow at this hour they would
be hundreds of miles apart. It was unlikely they would ever meet again.

“Oh, but Jerry....” she faltered.

“It’s up to you,” he concluded, “to do the rest. They know we’ve not
been getting on. Now it will be very easy. You may tell them anything
you like. I don’t care how strong you make your case—I guess I can stand
up under the strain. But I should think that simple desertion would be
about as good as anything. Just one request: Please don’t tell them I was
in the habit of hitting you with clubs. I’d hate any one to think that
of me. But I know you’ll work it out. And if you want to say I fell in
love with some one else—if that would help—why, go ahead, only please
have a heart and don’t make her some little painted fool. I’ve written
my address on this piece of paper”—he handed it over—“and if you have
trouble financing things for awhile, just get in touch with me and I’ll
see what I can do, though as you know, I’m not by any means a pluto
_yet_!”

She seemed a little bewildered by it all. As a matter of fact, it was a
rather bewildering speech. And before she had quite found her bearings,
Lili murmured, with tears threatening: “We were so happy together once,
Jerry—oh, I could cry my eyes out at the way you’re treating me!”

“But,” he reminded her, “you know it was already agreed we were going to
separate. There’s no use going into all that again. And I don’t think we
better be too thick together this morning, either. What you tell ’em must
be convincing.”

But she had had time to get over the first shock, and her manner now grew
assertive. “Oh,” she cried, “that’s all very well, my fine fellow, but
you don’t seem to be considering _my_ feelings in the matter. You just
skip out and leave the hard part for me. If that isn’t just like a man!”


III

The blue roses on her hat were shaking, and the absurd dog kept jerking
at his leash, sometimes even forcing her to take a step and regain her
balance. Jerome was beginning to feel slightly upset.

“Everybody thinks we’re married,” she babbled, rather disconnectedly,
“and that makes it just about the same as if we were. All you do is light
out, but what about _me_? That’s what _I_ want to know!”

“We talked everything over,” he repeated glumly. “I don’t care to argue
about it any more. It’s only fair I have my chance now.”

But she was piqued, and her lips still pouted; and then, out of the
muddled wretchedness of her heart, she cast up at Jerome the reminder
that if she hadn’t been so honest in the first place he’d be her husband
now, this minute—he couldn’t help himself. “And then,” she ended, in
truly flaming, if somewhat confused triumph, “I guess you’d be a little
more cut up about this divorce business—it wouldn’t look quite so easy to
you, anyhow, as it does this way!”

“But you had to, Lili!” cried Jerome, not a little horrified, for a
moment, despite his worldly poise, at the vista her sordid dreg of
self-revelation opened up. “You _had_ to tell about your marriage....”

They looked at each other rather helplessly, till, her mood softening,
she faltered: “You never used to be so high and mighty with me, Jerry!”

“But great heavens, Lili, you don’t seem to realize what it means to have
two husbands at the same time!”

“How do I know if I’d _be_ having two? How could I be sure? How do I know
where I stand anyhow? How do I know where my husband is, or if I have any
husband by this time any more at all—even one?”

Lili in her pink dress and overloaded hat, with the little dog straining
and pouncing at the end of its leash, seemed really an almost tragic
figure. There was something so petitioning, so frankly primitive about
her outburst.

“You’re just as cosy as an iceburg, Jerry,” she said, even simulating a
small shiver. “You seem to forget all about that night—you know—about
us being together at Hilo, and how you loved me then. Oh, my Gawd!” she
ended in a lamentation of moist bitterness. “It shows you can’t believe
a word a man says to you, and I just think I’ll go and commit suicide!”
After which she seemed to feel almost cheerful.

And then—then something most unexpected happened!

Just as she was saying, with a weak little resigned sigh, that she’d
have to be getting aboard, a dapper man in a check suit came up and
tipped his hat.

Lili brightened amazingly. Her manner grew excited and gracious. She
began beaming.

“Oh, here you are now!” she laughed. “I was looking for you, and waiting
till I didn’t dare wait any longer for fear of missing the boat. I want
to introduce you to Mr. Stewart, an old friend of mine,” she went on
cordially. And now she was beaming on them both. It was a situation!

The newcomer, whose name Jerome didn’t get exactly, shook hands, with
some slight asperity, and began edging up toward Lili in a faintly
proprietary way. All at once Jerome noticed that Lili’s wedding ring
had mysteriously disappeared; and from that time on he grinned without
ceasing until Lili and the new friend she’d picked up and the little
prancing dog had moved off out of sight round the corner. Her friend was
going on to Yokohama too. “On to Yokohama!”

“Can you beat it?” muttered Jerome.

And then, with just one brief sigh, he went about his own affairs.



XI

THE WHEEL TURNS ON



CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

A GRAVE WITH FLOWERS IN THE JUNGLE


I

It was a new phase of life entirely. The _Star of Troy_ was not the
_Skipping Goone_; yet was, in her way, quite as romantic. Jerome had a
feeling from the very first that the _Star of Troy_ wasn’t altogether a
typical tramp freighter. She possessed a most remarkable captain, for
one thing, and a most remarkable captain’s daughter. Also there seemed
something cryptic about her whole destiny. The _Skipping Goone_ had
always seemed like a nice, plump, amiable, sensible old lady, whereas
about the _Star of Troy_ there was something ageless, lithe, and alert,
something unfathomable: the very rush of water under her bow had a
mysterious thrill behind it. Here was a bow accustomed to explore strange
waters. Yes, the two craft were wholly alien creatures. Yet Jerome found
the subtler atmosphere of the taciturn, drab tramp no less alluring. In
place of the swishing sails and the comfortable strain of rigging there
was now the rhythmic plod of an engine. He grew to love it. By all means
there was a wealth of romance here, if of a less garrulous and gypsy
sort, and the former clerk responded to it keenly—though soberly, too,
for the old Jerome was no more.

His talks with Captain Utterbourne held for him the fascination of a
piece of strange, vivid fiction. What a mine the man was; what a life he
lived! As for his life, no one but Utterbourne himself could really know
the full richness of it, since with no one did he choose to share it save
in flashes and fractions.

The talk now largely centered about the project of the new Mediterranean
experiment. But Jerome felt that although the Captain might appear for a
moment wholly engrossed in it, even this venture, important and daring,
even, as it might seem, was but one venture out of a score, perhaps, with
which his brilliant mind was ever busy.

The evenings were rich and unforgettable, with the _Star of Troy_
slipping so steadily on through tropic seas and the little white cabin,
with the map of the world covering all one wall, so cheerful and bright.
They would gather here after dinner: Utterbourne, Elsa, Jerome, and
usually one or two of Utterbourne’s men—Sutherland or Sargeant or maybe
Rutherford, keen-faced and clever, playing their parts in the mysterious
game about which no mind save one could really know all. The China boy,
smiling with his usual affectionate understanding (though sometimes,
too, with that more cryptic smile which belongs to the unsearchable
East) would mix them suave, delicious drinks. And they would smoke and
talk of life in many climes and under all sorts of conditions. Captain
Utterbourne, whatever the theme, could hold them in a thrall, when it
pleased him. Sometimes he would elect silence. But when he began to
speak, the air took on a subtle sparkle, though he was never guilty of
mere wit.

And then, perhaps, the talk would turn to business—as it generally did,
sooner or later, with so much still in the air which must be reduced to
concreteness. And Elsa would grow bored and pick up a novel, which she
would read, or pretend to read, with an air of languid absorption; or
she would leave them and go out alone on deck in the lofty dark to dream
of nobody knew what—dreams of her own, as profoundly hidden away in the
unassailable depths of her consciousness as were the secret thoughts and
broodings of the Captain himself.

Jerome had many talks with Elsa, too, for the days were long at sea, and
each seemed glad of the other’s company. It was upon these occasions that
Jerome most surprised himself, for they stirred in him a new and very
pleasurable sense of poise, which he had never even dreamed of acquiring
in the days of his futile groping. He felt himself a match for Elsa—not,
however, that she didn’t frequently baffle him with her drooping eyes and
coolly static expression.

He looked forward to their talks together; and in her own way, so did
Elsa, too. Yes, perhaps in her own way Elsa looked forward to them with
even more eagerness than Jerome himself. He interested her—particularly,
she would tell herself, in the light of what his past had been. She
remembered (and the picture kept rising in her mind) how she had come
upon him that afternoon in the street with Stella, and how he had merely
mumbled something and gone away. But she remembered, too, how his
shoulders had straightened, as though unconsciously; and how she had
felt, in her somewhat psychic manner, that it would be the beginning of
better things for him. Then she had forgotten about him, and here he was
again. She had not guessed that his progress would carry him so far in
one short year.

Elsa discreetly (perhaps selfishly, too, without altogether realizing it)
refrained from any mention of Stella at first, and Jerome never mentioned
her, either. Yet, Stella was sometimes in their minds as they talked.
And one evening she burst like a bomb on their ears. It was Utterbourne
who spoke of her. The _Star of Troy_ was bound for San Francisco, but
there were to be stops: the Captain had already announced something a
little vague about picking up cargo somewhere in the Chagos archipelago.
Bluntly, at length, he turned to Elsa and said:

“By the way, we’re likely to run into one of your old friends.”

“Yes, dad?”

“She married Ferdinand King and they came out here to settle. Or have I
told you all this before?”

“No, dad. It’s quite fresh news—except her marriage. If you remember, I
was the maid of honour. Otherwise you’ve not repeated yourself,” replied
his daughter dryly.

Jerome had a strong feeling of unreality. The news stabbed him with
amazement. Yet after all it was only simple and natural that news of her
at last should fall from the Captain’s lips. He found himself musing in
many moods.

“What in the world do you suppose they can be doing ’way off here?” asked
Elsa the next afternoon, as she and Jerome sat together under a bit of
awning aft. “Did you hear the Captain say what island it is?”

“No. He said the Chagos group. I’m trying to recall what’s raised there.”

“Guava, I suppose,” said Elsa. “Or copra.”

“Mr. King must have been put in charge of some business. Perhaps he
oversees output from the whole archipelago,” remarked Jerome with
somewhat expansive generosity.

“Like a prince, in a way, didn’t you always think him?” ventured Elsa,
her eyes darting toward him for a moment, but her expression otherwise
supremely uncompromising.

“I’m afraid I’m hardly a judge of princes,” Jerome fenced back.

“Well, I mean—a sort of fabulous prince, you know,” she persisted.
“Almost too good to be true.” Jerome laughed easily, and she went on:
“His beauty, as I recollect it, was of that tremendous sort that leaves
the whole world gasping as it passes by. I was conscious of it in church,
during the ceremony.” And she added: “Were you there?” with another of
her little exploring darts.

“At the church? Yes,” he answered carelessly. “I slipped in at the last
minute, and stayed well back.”

Elsa gazed at him fixedly a moment, then observed: “Mr. King always
reminded me a little of some Roman emperor, though which one I never
figured out. Then he’s struck me as perhaps Apollo, with the soul of Sir
Willoughby!” She laughed.

“You may be right,” her companion shrugged. “I barely met him once. I
took him to be the type most women would fall for.”

“You haven’t a very high opinion of us, I’m afraid, as a sex, Mr.
Stewart.”

“You mustn’t let my sweeping remarks lead you astray,” he said, his eyes
coolly mirthful, and a new look of cynicism about his mouth.

“You mean you’re willing to allow there might be exceptions?” It wasn’t,
perhaps, entirely clear, but that was Elsa’s way.

“Oh, yes, of course,” he laughed.

“That would give us common ground to meet on, wouldn’t it?”

“Then you glory in being an exception?” He seemed eager to play up to her
mood—almost inspired to a sort of transient cleverness.

“Oh, naturally,” replied Elsa, her eyes drooping as she gazed off past
him at nothing at all. “Just the way Tinker Bell gloried in being an
‘abandoned little creature.’ One lives and learns. Doesn’t one?”

“Yes.” After all, the plain monosyllable held still a place in his soul.

“I suppose you’re an exception, too,” she said, “if the subject isn’t
becoming too vague with handling.”

“I believe we’re two of a kind,” he told her, with a real little flare of
daring. There seemed a curious romantic gleam in the situation. “I’ve had
my flings and learned my lessons,” he admitted.

She mused. “Yes. Still, it’s perhaps best to rap on wood, don’t you
think?”

Jerome made a careless gesture. “Oh, I’m not worried.”

“Still,” she went on in her utterly unmoved way, “the world is a swarm of
temptations, and the man who feels most secure is usually just the one
to be twisted round some woman’s finger—or vice versa, of course. You
understand.”

“Yes, I understand.”

In fact, they both understood. And in fact it seemed to them as they
talked that there was rather a good deal of common ground. It was not an
unpleasant discovery.

“I’d always said,” she went on, “I’d had my flings and learned my lessons
too. But I’m not superstitious, and I never rapped on wood. Well,” she
smiled, her brown eyes drooping a little more, “it would have been
better if I had. For I was taken in, after all. I almost reached the
point of parroting ‘I do’ in the presence of a rector. But I escaped in
time, which is something,” she ended seriously, her wise young mouth
taking on a singularly compact look.

He would have preferred, and really very much preferred, remaining
unenmeshed in Elsa Utterbourne’s eyes. But it occurred to him that
candour, in a case of this sort, might be the wisest course. Her own
passionless frankness encouraged him, and he muttered: “I was taken in,
too. But with me the case went a little harder.”

“How?”

“Well, I didn’t escape in time—that’s all.”

She gazed at him with renewed interest, her foot tapping slowly against
the rail. “I didn’t know that,” she murmured. And, since he didn’t
spontaneously enlarge upon the interesting announcement, as she hoped he
would, the girl presently asked him: “Would you like to talk about it? If
you wouldn’t, please say so. I’ll never mention it again.”

He laughed, shortly and with some bitterness. “It won’t be necessary to
do much talking. It was just something that came about. The moon was
partly responsible, but I don’t care to lay the blame on any one but
myself.”

“Some one in the troupe?” Elsa ventured.

“Yes. We didn’t get on together. She’s on her way to San Francisco
now—and freedom,” he replied, with quiet significance.

“I see,” she said.

Their eyes met, and they shared between them a complex smile.


II

There were times when you felt you could safely disregard what the
Captain was saying, and go your way, for he was by no means a tyrant or
martinet. On the other hand, there were now and then occasions when he
said something one knew instinctively must be regarded. Perhaps more
the inflection than the substance—or maybe just a faint lifting of the
chilly, flickering eyebrows.

At any rate, when the Captain suggested to Elsa that she stay on board
that evening with her novel and not attempt to explore the island until
morning, she knew this to be one of the times. Shrugging her shoulders,
she drawled:

“All right, Captain. It’ll be too dark by the time we get in to see the
sights.” And added, a little languidly: “This doesn’t seem the liveliest
of ports.”

“No. There’s an embargo on oil, and the natives have never heard of
electricity. Mr. Rutherford, I’d cut down a little more. We can afford to
creep here. There’s a legend about reefs, and you know,” he added, with a
graceful gesture in the direction of the cabin where he kept his library
of sailing directions, “even the best of our charts weren’t drawn by God
Almighty.”

Though the restriction passed no further, and though he was secretly
prodded with curiosity to see what sort of place this was to which Stella
had come with her fabulous husband, Jerome announced to Elsa that he,
too, would wait until morning to go ashore. He would stay and keep her
company—unless she really preferred her book.

This pleased her, though she didn’t, of course, show it. It was
interesting to come across a young man apparently quite as disillusioned
as herself, and one who never attempted even abstractly, to make love
to her. That, indeed, was the beauty of the whole arrangement, on both
sides. Each felt as the other did about life, and especially about the
opposite sex and romance and moonlight and all that sort of thing.

Jerome smiled easily as he suggested she might prefer her book, and
Elsa—well. Elsa would very greatly have preferred him to her book; but
she felt, too, just the way he did: that is, had penetrated beyond the
tiresome realm of feeling altogether; so that; after all, at the last
moment she made him go along. There was, to tell the truth, a tiny and
very complex tremor of alarm in her enigmatic heart, and she knew she
must remain indifferent at all costs. Besides, since a restriction
had been laid down, she found it irksome to face the ordeal of waiting
until morning for news of their mutual friend. There were times when the
Captain was a little tedious.

Jerome, also, was very anxious to keep his new and hard-won indifference
intact; but since whether he went or waited was a matter of very small
consequence, he decided, on Elsa’s request, to go. Captain Utterbourne
and two or three officers were about to embark in the little launch.
Jerome ran and joined the shore party. The whole of the way in the
Captain talked dreamily about the relative excellence of Cuban and
Haitian rum.


III

It was quite dark when the launch crept up to the dock. There seemed to
be no lights on the island. A queer sort of a place. And what was that
spectral object that resembled a crazy derrick? Rutherford turned an
electric flash upon it.

Suddenly a figure darted forward out of the dark and fell at the
Captain’s feet. It was Tsuda. He uttered at first a high-pitched oriental
lamentation. But a sharp word brought him to his feet, and he stood there
before them with bowed head. Clearly it was not a joyous welcoming.

“What’s the matter?” asked the Captain, his voice low and commanding. The
poet and dreamer were now wholly merged in the dynamic man of action.

“Evil come upon us!” Tsuda cried, his nervous brown hands writhing.

“Well, don’t let’s have any of your bizarre but redundant embroideries
now, Tsuda. What do you mean by evil?”

“Death,” said Tsuda between his teeth.

It was all very weird, with the dark, and the mysterious background of
tropical vegetation. But the sky was gradually growing lighter, and in a
little while the moon would be up.

“Who is dead?” demanded Utterbourne sharply.

“It is the wife of the Kami....”

“Mrs. King—!” This was one of those rare occasions when the man of many
shrouds found himself betrayed into a really spontaneous exclamation. He
added quickly: “When did it happen?”

“About a week ago, Captain.”

“But how?”

“Just fell sick of watching,” replied Tsuda simply, and with the faintest
suggestion of reproach in his voice, as though he would like delicately
to fix a slice of the responsibility on the shoulders of his inquisitor.

And Utterbourne, though he ignored the reproach, seemed to comprehend.
“My God,” he said very softly, under his breath. But already his mind was
grappling with possibilities, some of which might be realities, beyond
this fact. “Where’s King?” he asked with the former terseness.

Tsuda hesitated, as though delicately loath to be the bearer of so much
ill news. “The White Kami,” he muttered at length, “lies—gn—in a trance,
Captain. We can’t rouse him much any more. Yet sometimes he cry out about
the ogres. They are still go on, you know, yes _sir_, even if Raikō—”

“That’s enough!” exclaimed Utterbourne almost savagely, though still in a
very low voice. “I tell you it’s no time for your prattle about the gods.
Where is King?”

“In the great house, Captain.”

“What do you mean by saying he’s in a trance? Do you mean—opium?”

“Sss,” replied Tsuda, and was still.

Captain Utterbourne thrust out his hands and gripped Tsuda’s arms—felt
the man tremble in his clutch.

“If all this isn’t the truth, let’s have it now. Otherwise it will go
hard with you later.”

Utterbourne was a man who, when a situation seemed perfectly simple,
could make it appear obscure and devious, but who, if a situation was
full of doubt and mystery, could speak out bluntly from the shoulder.

“No, no—the truth!” cried Tsuda. “By all the shrines of Shinshū...!”
And in a moment he added: “The White Kami is fall on evil ways, Captain.”

“And Mrs. King?”

“We bury her—gn—near the temple, on holy ground with the rest that have
die.”

A stillness followed, then Utterbourne asked:

“What are those lights moving along there through the trees?”

Tsuda replied: “Every night send up offering to the temple for the soul
of Wife-of-the-Kami. She fall sick of watching, but now the gods are good
to her,” he murmured cryptically.

There was a dead silence. The breathing of all the group was faintly
audible.

Jerome, at the first words concerning Stella, had turned very pale.
What this talk of a kami was he couldn’t fathom. But he had known with
the vividness of lightning that the wife of the Kami meant Stella, and
that Stella was dead. He felt dazed. For anything but this he had been
prepared. Now he seemed completely cut adrift, and could scarcely think.
It seemed a new vortex in his life. Half an hour ago this would have
seemed impossible, but now he felt himself carried away by a rush of
emotion he could not understand. Married and happy, Stella could never
have meant more to him than a troubled dream; dead of unhappiness, she
took possession of his heart and wrung it.


IV

“We’ll go on to your house, Tsuda,” said Captain Utterbourne more gently,
“and get to the bottom of this business.”

Tsuda nodded and led the way. The Captain turned back with a muttered
remark to one of his men: “I had an uneasy feeling there was something
wrong here. Places send out strong waves of vibration.”

It was, in truth, these same “waves” which had whispered him to take the
one slight precaution of keeping Elsa on board till the situation had
been traversed. As a matter of fact, one of the sly, unspoken objects
back of his acquiescence in Elsa’s request to come along with him on
this voyage had been the thought that her presence here would have a
stimulating and reassuring, a sort of bolstering effect on Mrs. King. If
she had grown lonely and discontented, Elsa would cheer her and (with
perhaps a little judicious manipulation) convince her that it would be
much easier now to face out another year on the island. If King was doing
well it would be a pity to let him slip on to other fields just yet.

But the Captain had felt strangely uneasy, from the moment the anchor
dropped; and he preferred that Elsa be held temporarily in reserve. As a
recruit, Jerome, also, was a little new. But Utterbourne was anxious not
to strike any wrong notes of unnecessary secrecy with him just now, and
besides wanted him to get more or less the “feeling” of these adventures,
which would help his background. Backgrounds were very important things.
He little guessed the commotion in Jerome’s mind at the present moment.

A step or two farther along, Captain Utterbourne remembered he had
neglected to bring out a small chest of bright trash which Tsuda would
pounce on eagerly—gay, valueless objects that would fit into his scheme
of Ainu culture. Possibly the chest might tend to put Tsuda in a frame of
mind for withholding nothing. Men like Tsuda had to be treated tenderly.
The trouble with Tsuda was that he was too suspicious. Tsuda would be
suspicious of a fly if it happened to look a little different from most
other flies.

“Would you mind, Sargeant, going back for it now—h’m?”

So the party temporarily disbanded. Utterbourne and Sutherland went on
with Tsuda, while Sargeant and Rutherford turned back toward the launch.

At this moment of disruption a wild and romantic design entered Jerome’s
head and captured it entirely. In the dark he made his escape from both
parties. Utterbourne supposed he had gone back with Sargeant, while the
returning men thought he had gone on with Utterbourne—or rather no one
gave him any deliberate thought at all. But Jerome, dodging behind a
huge palm, waited until the steps in both directions had died out.

Alone on an unknown island he stood, his heart given over to a sudden
wave of impulse. Stella was dead. In life their ways had been roughly
sundered; in death she seemed, during this feverish, pulsing hour, given
back to him again. He seemed to have achieved an intangible victory over
the man who had once cast him into a humiliating discard—yes, all in the
first, swift, terrible knowledge of her fate.

He would go alone to her grave—he would be the first to look upon it.
Perhaps the others would not even go, since after all what is a grave?
But he would go; it was his hour of triumph. Life had divided their ways,
but death had brought them together again. Poor Stella. Things had turned
out very differently with her from what she had hoped. Probably no one
would ever know just what had taken place. She became starry with mystery
and bound up in an eternal beauty of suspense. Yes, he would go to her
grave; for despite what he had become, Stella must always be in his mind
the woman he once loved. Indifference, while it may carry a man far, can
never quite blot out a memory like that.

During the preceding sombre conversation he had caught at words as they
fell, almost without heeding them at the time. Now they hung together in
his mind and formed a vivid picture. The grave was near the temple ...
you could tell it by the fresh flowers. And the string of lights ... they
were taking up an offering ... an offering to heathen gods for the soul
of Stella. It was ghastly. It all but passed belief.

Keeping his distance, and walking as softly as possible, Jerome made off
after the procession of twinkling lights. Overhead the heavy tropical
stars were shining brightly. There would be a moon presently; the east
was aglow; but in the jungle it was very dark. The way was long, and the
strange men with the lights went ever on ahead.

After a time a tropical grove was reached, in whose midst stood the
temple. No one, at first, approached very close: there seemed a
recognized margin of some sort, beyond which the ground was holy. Of
them all, the single figure alone, bearing in his hands a woven tray
heaped with the choicest fruits of the place, went on toward the temple
itself; the rest squatted upon the ground. Not a word was spoken. It was
a strange and awful ceremony.

The moon was just rising, full and yellow; the first soft beams began to
steal in through the breeze-stirred palm orchard to illumine the temple
with a pale light. But the resinous torches cast up everything in bold,
dancing relief. Jerome, on the outskirts, crouching, felt his mind in
greater tumult even than before. He seemed to himself almost possessed.

It was a Japanese temple. They had ruined Tsuda’s chances of becoming a
priest; but he knew a temple from _torii_ to _sessha_. It was surrounded
by a low wall with a gate. Outside the gate was a tiny spring of fresh
water. Jerome could see it: a little pool just troubled in the torchlight.

All about sprang the rich blackness of a tropical growth, the most lush
he had ever beheld. The moon was climbing slowly up the sky. He was glad
he had come. Life was wonderful and sad. He watched with eyes that tried
to record every detail of this unearthly hour.

The figure with the offering uttered a bit of weird chanting; then
suddenly the words ceased, and the tray was deposited on a small altar
at the foot of a flight of steps leading up to the temple itself. That
was all. The crude fragment of ritual concluded, these strange beings
with bushy hair and prodigious drooping moustaches moved away in silence.
Jerome, crouching in his hiding place, watched them pass by, one by one,
and disappear. He could see the twinkling lights, like far-off tapers,
winding farther and farther. Then silence was supreme.

He remained still in hiding what seemed to him a long, long time. Never
had he been in a place so intensely still. When at length he stirred and
began moving cautiously toward the temple, his senses were abnormally
alert with the painful excitement. But he was ever conscious, too,
of that odd feeling of triumph in his heart. Death had seemed to put
her back somehow into his hands again. He couldn’t get away from
that thought—nor did he want to get away from it. Jerome even began
projecting, vaguely and fitfully, a scene with Stella’s father: he would
go in very simply and tell him how he had visited her grave alone tonight.

The past was irrevocably behind them; but his heart would not be still.

Suddenly he stopped, thrilling with terror, as a great bird rose up
from almost beneath his feet and flew off screaming across the silvered
dark. It looked like a great sinister eagle, yet it had the neck of a
crane and head plumage of what (though moonlight can create delusion as
regards colours) seemed brilliant vermilion. He could hear the bird still
screaming at a great distance, crashing on through the tangle of its
native wood as though quite blind. After that the silence was still more
poignant.

Pulling himself together, Jerome moved on slowly, seeking the grave with
the flowers. There were a number of mounds all about, but they looked
ancient. Far around to one side, however, he found at last the grave
he sought—in the dark stumbled against it, and was really on his knees
before he realized this was, in truth, the end of his quest.



CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

PITCHERS AND STARS


I

Moonlight filled the open space and flooded the temple with a bath of
bluish white.

Jerome knelt beside the grave in the shadow of great palms. In the midst
of this world of silence he suddenly felt a little self-conscious.
Impulse, he feared, had carried him to lengths which it would be rather
difficult to explain. Yet she was the woman he had loved, and men can
never forget these things.

“I must go back, now,” he thought.

Slowly he raised his eyes, and was glad of the stars and the moon. It
required the stars and the moon and the pounding of one’s own heart at
a time like this to keep a man sane. He clung, rather, to the familiar,
static facts in his life—a life now so changed, which had once been
packed with all that was familiar and unchanging.

Stella lay dead at his feet, and on the little altar out there in the
moonlight was the offering placed at the threshold of the gods for
Stella’s soul. He bowed his head a moment, shaken with amazement and
confused regret. When he raised his head, however, and was about to take
his departure, Jerome started. He fancied he had seen something stir in
the moonlight. In another moment he was sure of it.

The paper door of the temple was slowly moving. His finger nails gripped
hard against his palms, and he braced himself by another swift glance at
the unheeding dome of night.

Yes, the door of the temple was opening—slowly, very slowly; first only
a hair’s breadth, then wider and wider, till the aperture was sufficient
to permit a slender, white-clad form to slip through and out into the
soft radiance of the night.

It was a brilliant object-lesson in the science of attention. Quakes
might have riven the earth, and he would have gazed on, through the space
of that first electric moment. Jerome trembled violently, felt the cold
sweat of terror and unbelief on his forehead. His eyes beheld her—yet how
could it be she? His mind seemed suddenly crazed. He had been through too
much in one little hour, he reasoned, and closed his eyes. When he opened
them again she would be gone: there would be only the moonlight on the
silent temple, and he would go back to the _Star of Troy_ and take up his
life once more.

But the white figure was still before him. And then, like a dart of
dazzling inspiration, he knew this was really she, and no creature of
disordered fancy. Yet all the while he knelt on her grave and could not
move or speak.

She looked quickly about and listened. Jerome caught something intimate
and familiar in the tilt of her head. In their old eventless lives she
had tilted her head just that way, sometimes. He was rigid while the girl
very cautiously crept out on to the steps of the temple and descended to
the shrine where the offering had been placed.

Her movements were nervous and stealthy. At the foot of the flight she
paused to look about and listen. Then, in an abrupt, snatching way, she
seized some of the food and ran back up the steps with it, disappearing
into the temple. After a moment she reappeared, and this time moved as
though actuated by a slightly less acute nervousness—even lingered a
moment to gaze up, in a tense lost way, at the beauty of the night sky.
Then she was gone.

It was a time of breathlessness for Jerome, indeed. A time of uncanny,
prickling faintness. He trembled. The emotion seemed almost unbearable.
Yet he knew she was Stella; and the former romantic appreciation
of melancholy triumph was giving way to the chaos foreshadowing
readjustment. It was a time of incredulous certainty. A time when fresh
sensation seemed to overwhelm all the previous sensations of a lifetime.
It was no time for speculation, however; how she came there while he
knelt on her grave—what it all meant—must wait. The only concrete issue
that really mattered was whether she would emerge again. If not, what
should he do? But if she did come out? He could call to her—run and touch
her—last frantic doubts—to see if she were real. Still, the fright of it
for her.... Well, what then?

A suspicion hackneyed and shiny from human usage clutched at his reason
almost comfortingly: “I guess I’ll wake up in a minute!”

She came, carrying a small stone pitcher—came down quickly and crossed
the enclosure to the spring beside the tiny gate, where she stopped.
Jerome’s mind, laying about feverishly for some piece of subterfuge
whereby his presence might be made known without causing her any alarm,
yielded nothing but confusion. There must be some way—he ought to be
enough of an adventurer and man of the world by this time.... Yet after
all he could only stay where he was and call her name—a little more
gently and indeed reverently than quite consorted with his new creed of
woman-hating.

“Stella!”

Hardly more than a murmur, though it seemed to boom and echo, as a voice
will under stress of an unusual silence.

She cried out and fled back to the little flight of steps; but he came
forward, an arm outstretched.

“Don’t be afraid, Stella. I’m Jerome.”

And he stopped, stood still where he had emerged from shadow into the
moonlight.

She could see him distinctly. She was grasping the pitcher of water with
both hands—not that it was the last pitcher in existence, nor that she
was so very much concerned about the water, for there was ever so much
more of it; she clung to the pitcher, rather, the way Jerome had been
clinging to the heavenly bodies. There had to be something perfectly
regular, like pitchers or stars, to keep hold of.

But when she saw it really was Jerome, she sat down very limply on the
top step and did a tremendously natural thing: she began crying—tears
that had burned long, unreleased, when she had thought there were no more
tears left.


II

Inside, the temple was just a single tiny room with an altar against
the far wall. The altar was a crude affair, with a “holy of holies”
containing an undersized image of the goddess Amaterasu. Two small
windows high up let in the moonlight. Still, it was so dark after
the comparative brightness without that at first it was possible to
distinguish very little. Stella drew the paper door back across the
opening through which they had entered. After that, to the outer world
the temple presented its usual blank and uninhabited look.

“We must be quiet,” she said, her voice much shaken with terror and
tears. “Shall we sit down on the floor?”

The gleam of hysterical wildness in her eyes cautioned him she must
be humoured; and he realized, too, that as yet she knew none of the
particulars behind his presence. What an amazing situation it was—what an
amazing proposition life was, anyhow, that it should evolve such moments
as this under an unperturbed sky, and with everything else about the
universe intact....

They sat there facing each other on the floor, in the centre of the
temple to the goddess Amaterasu, and at first the immense strangeness
of it all put a restriction upon speech: there was so much to be asked
and so much to be answered that a sense of painful self-consciousness
played conspirator with the so slowly subsiding shock of this coming
together—out of a void, as it were.

When at last she spoke, it was in a tense whisper: “Did you come in the
_Star of Troy_?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, thank God!” He heard her wildly sobbing again.

“Have you been expecting Captain Utterbourne a long time?”

“August,” she faltered, “—then in February. It’s over a year—two long
months over a year.... Since coming to live in the temple, I’ve lost all
count of the days. Is this Friday?”

“No, Thursday, Stella.”

“Thursday,” she murmured after him, her voice strained and colourless.
Then she clasped her hands suddenly and asked in tones verging upon
shrillness: “How did you find your way, Jerome?”

“They told us you were dead.”

“Dead?” It was a repetition choked with bewilderment.

“When we came ashore the Japanese met us—”

“Tsuda!” Her breath caught sharply.

“Yes, Tsuda.”

And in the same swift instant Jerome shared her vivid grasp of the
situation. They sat in silence, both stunned by the terror of it.

“What did Tsuda say?” she asked him presently, her voice so low he could
just make out the words.

“He said ‘evil’ had come. And when Captain Utterbourne asked him what
he meant by that, he said: ‘Death.’ And then he said: ‘The wife of the
Kami.’ Why do they call him that?”

“My husband...?” she murmured, her tone groping and lifeless. “They call
him the White Kami here. It’s too terrible to speak of!”

A vague little gesture, and her hand fell limp.

Yes, all too terrible. Religion and saké. And the daughter of a harness
merchant who had married in a mood of such unreasoning exuberance, with
relief from the humdrum of her life so eagerly grasped, was reduced at
length to dwelling in a Shintō temple, while the Master Mind dallied
with a fine intellectual passion over such theses as the failure of
civilization, and laid plans for bringing down perhaps a rhinoceros or
two in the realm of the raja....

“But why are you here in this temple?” Jerome asked.

“It’s such a long, long story,” she quiveringly sighed, while again the
hysterical sobs shook her violently.

He felt her misery across the dark.

After a time she grew a little coherent. “I had to come here, Jerome—I
had to. My husband....” The words faltered, though he heard her still
thickly murmuring, like one in a fever.

Then he remembered. “I know,” he said softly. “They spoke of that, too,
Stella....”

Yes, they had spoken of that. But they did not know (except Tsuda) how
in one of his frenzies King had attacked her with a knife; and not even
Tsuda knew that the knife had actually entered her body. But Tsuda
had seized upon King’s madness as an admirable and timely pretext for
insisting upon the hospitality of the gods.

Through one of the little high windows Jerome could see the moon,
mounting in sublime unconcern. There is something always so utterly calm
and unhurried about the moonlight.

Stella’s face was brimming with anguish, and she seemed ever in motion:
her fingers kept lacing and fumbling—sometimes she would fold her hands
and bow her head over them in an attitude of helpless submission. But
only for a moment. Her head would be raised with a start, and she would
run a hand through her hair, or make an aimless gesture, if she chanced
to be speaking. Her voice, too, had an unresting quality. It sounded a
note of suffering, and of an immense sadness deeper still, which had
certainly never been there in the old days when she had rebelled against
her destiny. It was a new note, vibrating, as it were, across the tissue
of her very being.

She inclined her head. “No one will ever know, Jerome, what I’ve gone
through.”

He grasped at it with unconscious avidity. Had he realized, in a
perfectly bald way, how he felt, he would no doubt have been a little
horrified. But in the very depths of his heart—that is to say, in
the very depths of his ego—Jerome found curious, sweet comfort in the
knowledge that her marriage with this other man, this prince (as Elsa
called him, with drooping eyes) had at length proved a thing of reproach
and bitterness.

“And Tsuda....”

“Yes,” she said, her eyes quite wide with this new terror in her heart.
“It was Tsuda who brought me here. He told me I’d be safe. There were
times before.... But he said this would be a sanctuary, and that I’d be
quite safe with the gods. You have to know Tsuda to understand all this.”

“But _you_ could not have known Tsuda, really,” observed Jerome with
narrowness of tone, his voice grown steady and cool now, and a shade
aloof.

“He seemed to be my only friend,” she said miserably. “Oh, Jerome—if you
knew everything.... As for the motive—it’s too hideously plain, isn’t it?
Tsuda arranged to have offerings brought up in the evening. It was a part
of his religious observances. His brother was a priest, and Tsuda would
have been a priest too....” There was a wildly monotonous quality in her
speech. She was wringing her hands.

They were silent a moment, and then, seeming to grasp the completeness of
the irony, he muttered: “Those very offerings that kept life in your body
were part of a ritual over your death...!”

She shuddered. “It was the grave of one of the Ainu! I asked Tsuda why
they were heaping flowers on it, and he said it was a part of their
religion—because the man had been brought to his death by a spell....”

“If I hadn’t come here tonight,” said Jerome, solemn and scarcely
breathing, “the _Star of Troy_ might have sailed off again without your
knowing!”

She gave a little sharp terrified cry, and he saw that the matter must
not be enlarged upon. Nevertheless, in his own mind conjecture played
with all the lurid possibilities. Even had Utterbourne taken it into his
head to come and look upon the grave, Tsuda would have taken good care
the girl in the temple knew nothing of it. He saw Tsuda creeping up
here very early in the morning and putting her to sleep with something.
Tsuda.... The _Star of Troy_ would have steamed off. And after that....

But he merely asked, with an inflection of grimness, out of the silence:

“Are you the only white woman here?”

“Yes, Jerome, the only one.”

Then she was very still. She was not weeping now.


III

They would never know what she had endured. Yet her hopes had once
run so high.... Well, the pendulum swings; and after all there are no
favourites, except perhaps in a whimsical or poetic sense.

Stella and Jerome, at the feet of the everlasting gods; and irony sniffed
and chuckled in the corners. Both were vividly conscious of the play
of forces in their lives, and of that immense quality of change which,
developed through the scenes of the drama that had so capriciously caught
them up, revealed itself now in all they did and said.

Calmer, she asked him about his phase of the drama: how had he come on
the _Star of Troy_ when she had left him irrevocably in the rut of Oaks,
Ferguson & Whitley’s? And he told her a little of his vast adventure,
while her heart was stricken with a curious confusion—partly, no doubt,
because of the aloof manner which, more and more, he was coming to
display toward her.

These were baffling days—and a queer, wrong-way-round business life can
be, she thought, when it has a mind. Jerome’s reactions were rather
simpler: Stella, alive and married to another man, drifted back into the
mere troubled dream which the thought of her death had momentarily broken.

“You’re making something really worth while out of your life, aren’t
you?” she said softly, yet in a voice still strained from emotion;
and her gaze, across the dimness of the temple, seemed compounded of
incredulity, wistfulness, and a wild despair. Occasionally a tiny sob
still caught her breath.

Jerome smiled in his new worldly and rather cynical way. “You mustn’t
forget,” he generously reminded her, “that to begin with I was carried
off like a limp bag of meal!” And then he gave her more details—without
bothering, however, to stick quite so close to all the facts as to make
himself entirely a comic figure, even in the beginning.

“Isn’t it strange, Jerome, how some of the last things we’d ever think
possible are the very things that do happen to us?” Her hands, never
still, stroked her cheeks aimlessly.

“I’ve thought of that sometimes,” he answered. “I guess it would never
have struck any one as likely, a year or two ago, that you’d end by
marrying a man like Mr. King and be carried off to an island to raise
opium! And I guess,” he went on impartially, with again the touch of
grimness, “it never struck us, either, that I was the kind of fellow who
would join an opera troupe and end by letting one of the singers—take my
name....” He never could seem quite to bring it out baldly. He had evaded
a little, also, with Elsa, and had not used the actual word, though in
the end, of course, it amounted to the same thing.

“Married, Jerome? A singer...?”

Her eyes were all amazement and inquiry across the dusk of the temple.
But he tossed his head with a careless fling, for he was fully revived
now, and even if it was difficult, circumstances being what they were, to
make the announcement with real and satisfying bravado, still he wanted
her to know that he, too, had had his taste of matrimony—though he didn’t
mention it had only been after a fashion....

She could hardly believe the things she saw and heard; and she remembered
how she had sent the ring back by Ted without a message.

The moon climbed higher, and a tiny night wind was springing. It made the
tattered leaves of the palms and giant ferns shiver softly, like rain.
Stella felt his aloofness, and a shy reticence came upon her tongue. She
sat silent.

“I guess we’ve both changed some,” Jerome laughed coolly, assuming more
lightness than he perhaps really felt. He was a little ashamed of his
very romantic state of mind an hour ago.

“People couldn’t go through all we have in the past year without
changing.” Her voice reached the heart with its pathetic deadness. The
woman drooped and gently shook before him.

Another silence, with the sad swish of the jungle outside, under a white
moon.

“Hagen’s Island,” she murmured brokenly after awhile, “is a place where
you come to know yourself through and through.” And he saw still more
vividly that this was not the girl he had known in his groping days of
hobbledehoy. “I’ve tried to believe it would come right in the end,” she
resumed in a moment, “—maybe after a long, long time. But all the while—”
it faltered just a little—“all the while I’ve had a feeling I’d never
see home again.” Then she looked up and spoke with a touch of hysterical
brightness: “I used to sit on the rocks, Jerome, and imagine what a
home-coming it would be! You don’t mind my rambling on like this, do you
Jerome?”

“Of course not.” But he was privately marvelling. Stella—great
Scott!—actually sighing over the thought of home, where nothing ever
happened! It made him smile—oh, ever so worldly and sophisticated a
smile; and he couldn’t help remembering again how she used to sail into
him in her impetuous, young, rebellious way, for being so satisfied with
his humdrum lot.

“Jerome,” she said presently, in a voice it was obviously a little
difficult still to control, “you haven’t told me anything about your
wife.”

He made an indefinite sound with his lips, and a look half of amusement,
half of grimness, yet also somewhat of a gentler sadness, came into his
eyes. “No, I haven’t,” he admitted.

“Are you happy, Jerome?”

“Now? Oh, yes.”

“Where is she?”

“Where? Oh, off on the high seas somewhere. The fact is,” he continued
more bluffly, “we’ve separated, Stella. It wasn’t a success. We bored
each other. As Captain Utterbourne would say, these experiments require a
sort of real genius if they’re not to turn out failures. I believe,” he
added with a sparkle, “the Captain speaks from experience.”

Stella looked at him, then her eyes faltered. There was an immense
confusion in her heart. All at once she, too, remembered how she had
scolded him so bitterly that afternoon in the fog. “If I were a man,” she
had cried with high, impatient scorn, “I think I’d discover something
besides being a clerk in a dingy old ship supply store!” And now he had
discovered something besides that. He had discovered another destiny
altogether, and she could play no part in it.

She contemplated, as they sat together on the moonlit temple floor, the
tangle into which their lives had drifted.



CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

“PUT NOT YOUR TRUST IN PRINCES”


I

Utterbourne sat with impassive face in the house of Tsuda. Finally he
said: “We will go to see King.”

Nipek-kem went proudly on ahead with a lantern. He did not know exactly
what it was all about—he was just faithfully fulfilling the demands of
his destiny.

“I want you to see for yourself, Captain—gn—what I’ve been up against
here,” wheezed Tsuda, adding in high-pitched oriental petulance: “For
months every damn scrap of business fall on me. He smoke ten—twenty—mebby
fifty pipe a day—yes, _sir_—and then sleep it off—and eat it, too, just
like a Malay. You see for yourself when you go in where he is—gn—what a
damn job I have of it!”

Utterbourne hummed and made no reply.

When they neared the house, Tsuda volunteered, a sad look in his bright,
equivocal eyes: “Last time I pay a friendly visit, Captain, the White
Kami throw a chair at me.” Tsuda sighed and shook his long head. “The
will of the gods—gn—something we can’t understand....”

“The will of the gods,” mused Utterbourne, a little mystically.

“After that,” Tsuda added, “I keep my distance, you damn bet! A man
don’t care to risk his life—no, _sir_!” And he cringed a little, the
posture seeming subtly to add to the impressiveness of his own earlier
words—“what I’ve been up against here.”

“Tsuda,” said Utterbourne dreamily, “what’s the name of this favourite
son of his people who’s honouring us with the lantern?”

“That is Nipek-kem, Captain.”

“Nipek-kem,” ordered Utterbourne, turning toward the Ainu, “come here
with the light a minute.”

The young savage stared. Tsuda uttered a few curt foreign syllables, and
then the Ainu bounded toward them.

“Nipek-kem,” suggested the Captain in his lazy drawl, “please hold the
lantern just here.”

Tsuda, vaguely alarmed, repeated the command in the crude dialect of
Paromushir. All his antennae were out. He sniffed the psychic air between
them.

The Ainu youth, his shirt royal with souvenirs of service, like that of a
general after a life of triumphant campaigns, held the light where he was
bidden to hold it.

Captain Utterbourne glanced round the circle, then murmured: “I’ve been
wondering, Tsuda, about that curious little pouch at your belt. You never
used to wear it.”

The two men stared at each other, striving to break through those
barriers which the Great Mother teaches her children to throw up about
their souls.

“That, Captain? Oh—gn—it’s—”

“Quite so, Tsuda. Nevertheless, I think you’d better give us the gun.”

The duel of eyes continued, each holding the other. It became more
primitive from moment to moment.

“The gun, Captain?”

Not all his cleverness was quite equal to the task of maintaining, in
presence of this awful poker stare, a convincing mask of innocence.
His life might depend on his holding the Captain’s eyes; but it was an
ordeal beyond his powers. He faltered. Suddenly, however, a great light
broke across the lined old face with its strangely youthful eyes, and he
explained: “It was a present—from Wife-of-the-Kami. I guess what you call
it—gn—a keepsake!” And he brought out then, in triumph, the island’s only
revolver, handling the little weapon as a child would a cherished toy.

The Captain didn’t fail to appreciate it all: the light of triumph,
the fondness; still he insisted, quietly but with an undertone of
iron firmness: “You’d better give it to Mr. Sutherland. Keepsakes are
sometimes dangerous, Tsuda. I must have neglected to warn you.”

Tsuda shivered a little with terror and foreboding. However, Captain
Utterbourne made no further comment in this connection.

“I’m going in alone,” the Captain said. “It might excite Mr. King if
we all descended upon him together. He might think us some of Tsuda’s
ogres—the Ogres of Oyeyama.... Sometimes frenzy carries them very
far—h’m? There’s a story told of an opium fiend in Java—or perhaps it
was hashish, I don’t remember. He ran amuck at Batavia and killed a lot
of people in the street before reserves arrived and he was finally run
through by a soldier. The strength of fiends in certain stages—h’m?—it’s
said to be sometimes enormous. The fellow was run through with a pike,
yet such still was the desperation of the man that he—h’m?—he worked
himself forward on the pike, and when he got near enough, stabbed the
soldier to death with a dagger. Therefore—h’m?” the Captain ended, “I
will enter alone. But I will take the lantern from Nipek-kem. Tsuda,
will you assure this impressive individual that he may safely trust the
lantern in my hand?”


II

At first it was hard to make out much of anything in Mrs. King’s
“parlour.” A murk of opium smoke made the gloom tangible. The lamp was
not lighted. It had a crazy newspaper shade now, and the chimney was
streaked black. The table on which it stood was cluttered with rubbish
and clumsily opened tins which had held meats and fish. The whole place
was foul, and the air was so thick it could only be breathed with the
greatest difficulty by lungs not inoculated.

From a corner of the room came the sound of measured breathing. King
was expelling opium smoke from mouth and nose. He seemed to be drawing
up the smoke from the very soles of his feet, and his eyes were closed
in ecstasy—partly immediate, but more depending upon a knowledge of the
sweet torment in store for him. There was another steady intake from
the pipe, another exhalation; and, the resources of the pipe exhausted,
it was laid aside. For a few moments the inert man made feeble wafting
motions in the air with one hand.

And above him, on the wall, Captain Utterbourne perceived a bright print
of a sailor returned to his own fireside. Below it was the last leaf of
a calendar, with all the dates blocked black. And beside it was a sheet
of paper on which several new months had been indicated with a pencil. He
seemed to realize what it meant with something faintly like a flicker of
emotion.

Utterbourne went to the man on the cot, leaned down over him, and said,
in a clear, loud voice:

“Mr. King!”

The crouching figure shuddered, and with a wretched, baffled effort,
tried to shake off the mounting lethargy. He opened his eyes, wanly
questioning, and at length managed to stagger up from the cot.

King was meagrely clothed, and dirty—a sad object, all in all, and a
pretty far cry, now, from any reasonable conception of a god.

Suddenly, as he faced the newcomer with the lantern, a light of frenzied
recognition flamed in his face, making the havoc there singularly vivid.
He took a lurching step and stretched out his arms, his eyes moving with
obscured intelligence.

“Utterbourne!” he cried out in a terrible voice and flung his arms
heavily about the other’s neck, as a drunkard might. “Good God,
Utterbourne! What a hell to leave a man in....” But it flickered weakly.

His cheeks were grey, and so far shrunk from their former appearance as
to resemble a tough, thin substance stretched tightly over the bones of
the face. He was afflicted with general marasmus or consumption of the
flesh, and to look into the man’s face now was almost like looking at a
skull plastered with smoked wax.

He bore down on Utterbourne’s shoulders, and a ray of drifting content
came into his eyes—eyes which began to look even a little blue and round
again, though the dull fire of delirium made their expression still one
of wreck and hopelessness. The Captain manœuvred him back on to the cot,
pushing him with an arm that partly repelled and partly supported. King
dropped, an almost grateful little cry on his lips, and for a while sat
looking helplessly up at the face bent down toward him, so unchanging.

“I’d like to know more about everything here,” said Utterbourne, in a
firm yet inviting voice.

“Yes?” answered King, his hands dangling forlornly. “Yes?” And he gazed
with vacant eyes in which the last spark of fascination had long ago
smouldered and gone out. He had an odd way of swaying and dodging,
occasionally even raising an arm, as though to ward off some menace. When
he spoke it was in a clear but singularly detached voice, and he seemed
frequently to grope about for even the most commonplace words.

“Will you sit down and—talk to me?” he implored. “You don’t know—what did
I start to say? You don’t know—what it’s like to hear a white man speak
again!”

“I will,” agreed the Captain quietly. “Let me light the lamp. Where do
you keep your matches?”

“I don’t seem to understand—very well. Would you mind being a little
more—a little more....” He swayed and his eyes closed.

“Never mind. I have matches.” And in a moment the lamp was lighted,
though it did not materially relieve the gloom of the place. Then
Utterbourne sat down and spoke King’s name again in loud, commanding tone.

“Mr. King!”

It smote against the silence ominously. Utterbourne, with his life of
multiple sensation, had perhaps never before found himself immersed in
an atmosphere so profoundly sombre.

“Yes—yes,” muttered the swaying cadaver.

The Captain shook him, and the man on the cot made another genuine effort
to control his waning senses.

“I am—Ferdinand King,” he said, almost in a chanting way. “I came out
here to take charge of a—of a....” He seemed to drift again and lose the
thread.

“I know,” encouraged the other man.

“Opium! That was it! Sometimes it all seems—to fade away. We were keeping
it dark....” A sound like a rattling chuckle drifted off his lips. Then
his eyes gradually filled with such a look of penetrating anguish that
the Captain shaded his own eyes and gazed at the tiny spirit flame
beneath its dome of glass. “Even my wife ...” murmured King. It was a
look, surely, that came from the very bottom of the beaten man’s soul;
and it takes a superhuman courage indeed to behold such a look with no
flinching.

Tears rushed from King’s eyes, and he went on murmuring: “I had a wife
once—a lovely girl—so pretty and gentle—but perhaps you’ve seen her....”
His voice was low, and he went on more brokenly, rocking himself slowly
back and forth: “They say she has died. She seems—to be gone away....”
He struggled, his eyes moving vaguely. “Gone away.... Oh, God help me!”
he suddenly cried out with a hollow yet considerable force. Then he grew
dense and inaudible again, though continuing to mutter, apparently under
the persuasion that he was still speaking intelligently.

Utterbourne, his glance roving about the dim sombre place, caught sight
of an uncased hunting knife on the table beneath the lamp with its crazy
shade. The knife had a menacing, a naked look.

The man on the cot was babbling weakly, and to bring him back once more
to a state of coherency, Utterbourne spoke with the former incision:
“Look here, King!”

“I’m glad you’ve—come,” the other managed thickly, his eyes gazing sadly
out through tears that had pooled and ceased flowing. “I was looking for
you—there’s a big book over there—over there....” His arm waved with
childish vagueness. “I started in to write up—a report. There would have
been time....” He made a ghastly attempt to smile. Then, “I’m afraid,” he
drifted, “you’ll find it—not quite up to date....”

Utterbourne perceived the book, down on the floor under a mantle of dust.
He crossed, curious, and took it up. The first hundred pages or so were
filled with a flowing and elegant penmanship, but toward the end the
writing had grown shaky and rough. The last entry was dated November 17.

“In a little while,” muttered King nebulously, “I’m going—on with it....”
When Utterbourne returned he found him examining his nails with close
attention. Now and then he rubbed his palms together gently. The tears
that lay splashed on his cheeks already were emblems of an emotion so
ancient that the wretched man had forgotten it, almost as though through
eons of Brahmic life.

“Yes—yes.... What was I saying? About the crop? We’ve been—very
successful—but I hope another year....” He dozed and came to. “I say I
hope we’ll be able to put up—a tank for the rains so we can irrigate.
Then you see ... I don’t know.... Does that answer your question?”

“King,” said the Captain sadly and a little dryly, “how did you come to
fall for your own goods?”

The other looked up wanly and again tried to smile. It was long before
he comprehended what had been said, but at length he began murmuring: “I
really can’t say—no, I can’t. It seems—such a long time....” And after
another somnolent pause he asked: “What did I say?”

“We won’t go into it tonight,” sighed Captain Utterbourne, rising
heavily. “Go to sleep, King. In the morning we’ll try to get at more of
the facts.”

Then a look of groping alarm came into the face of the White Kami, and
he began beating his hands together. “I wish you wouldn’t go away!” he
pleaded. “Only a little while after you’re gone, they’ll begin to come
in for the night!” His eyes smouldered wildly. “Don’t go away just yet.
I—I’ll see if I can answer your question—if you’ll wait.” He beat his
fists against his head, but rather coaxingly than savagely. The veins
stood out as he made a terrific effort at concentration. “Yes!” His face
lighted faintly. “It was about the opium. Not the crop—no....” He shook
his head, as though patiently arguing with himself. “Me—me! Wasn’t that
what you wanted? At first—at first I used very little. Yes—don’t go away!
I’m—going to tell you how it was. It was—Tsuda.... I guess he uses a
little now and then, too. Perhaps some day you’ll want to try—a jaunt.
In that case.... What was I saying? Did I say Tsuda? Yes—that’s right.
That’s right.... I kept telling myself,” he rambled, his manner growing
more and more agitated, and wilder, with an inflection of impatience,
“I’d _quit_—I’d _quit_....” Then, his tone growing warm and dreamy, and
fresh tears springing to his eyes: “We were going to settle down—in some
little ... in some little place where nothing much ever happens—but it
seems sometimes—_no, don’t go!_ I try to hold on, and my fingers ... my
fingers keep slipping off....” He regarded his fingers ruefully, flexing
them at the joints in a childish way. His expression grew very dull and
hopeless. “The lamp,” he muttered. “Would you mind—looking? I’m afraid
the oil’s very low.”

“Never mind, King,” said Utterbourne huskily. “In the morning....”

But he paused in his departure, and saw with amazement a look of swift
and convulsing terror leap into the other’s eyes. It was almost as though
flames darted from them, as King cried:

“In at the windows and doors—they’ll come—all of them—together!”

And he sprang up, screaming. He beat at the air with mill-like motions,
his eyes starting from his head in an ecstasy of horror. He darted over
to the table and seized the knife. His cries were the kind that must live
on forever. As he approached Utterbourne, he raised the knife tremblingly
in the air, and said:

“If you try to leave me—I’ll kill you!”

A slight movement at the door—Utterbourne’s officers, together with
Tsuda, were in the room. But Utterbourne merely stood his ground, gazing
hard at the frenzied being before him, while he spoke again, in a ringing
voice: “Mr. King!”

It seemed to have a calming and disarming effect. The victim shivered and
breathed in noisily. His threatening pose dissolved, his arms dropping
like pieces of flexible lead, while the knife clattered harmlessly on to
the floor.

King staggered, and a moment later was lying on the cot. But he was not
yet quiescent, for he beat at his hands furiously, and bit them, drawing
blood. Muffled cries came from him on long sighs.

They beheld in his face a look of ravenous hunger. Presently a hand
trembled over to the tabouret, and with fluttering fingers King took up
the pipe. Even in this crazed and moribund condition he seemed to know to
an exquisite fineness when the tiny browning ball had attained just the
proper pitch—never the least bit burned, never toasted a shade too dry.


III

It was perhaps not so startling as kneeling on her grave and beholding
her emerge from a temple; nevertheless, the entrance of Stella a
few minutes later was distinctly sensational. Jerome came in just
behind her—a situation complex in the extreme. As was characteristic,
Utterbourne adjusted himself to it without the contraction or flurry of a
single feature, and in one of his sharp, enigmatic silences.

Tsuda, after the first stupefied moment, seemed to wilt and shrink. He
saw that he had been somehow outwitted. He was lost—Tsuda knew that
conclusively. He did not dare look at the Captain, but stood where he
was, shrinking, trembling a little. The game was up—it had been a curious
conspiracy.... All at once he seemed to become a very old man.

Stella barely paused as she entered the room and the wave of almost
tangible amazement broke about her. She crossed the room, her face white
and unmoving, and dropped down beside the cot. She did not lay her hands
upon her husband, but her words embraced him pityingly.

“Ferd—I’ve come back.”

The little spirit lamp was calmly alight, and she gazed at it with eyes
in which there was nothing but misery.

King’s lips moved, though there was no sound of words. A look of ruined
radiance shone in his face. Stella settled in a little heap. Her head
sank on to her arms, and she uttered a soft, desperate cry.

The tragic tableau held the men about her in a state of breathlessness.

“Mrs. King,” murmured Captain Utterbourne; and there was an unmistakable
element of thanksgiving in his voice.

He would have questioned her. But after all, there could not be much to
say. The little spirit lamp beside the cot, and the pipe and dipper and
the covered box seemed telling the story over and over each time a glance
fell upon them.

Tsuda, shrunken and aged, moved almost imperceptibly round to the door.
He waited until the wife of the Kami crumpled into a heap, and then,
with the spell of motionless tenseness broken, he saw his way clear to
slipping out into the night.

However, the gods, for whom he had always evinced so lofty an affection,
were not very kind to Tsuda. It was like a run of ill luck in faro.
Scarcely had he left the house, when a furious beast sprang upon his
shoulders and crushed him to the ground under a storm of blows. The
furious beast had once been a quiet little clerk in Market street. But
much water had run under the bridge, and besides—the clerk had lost his
head completely.

He was magnificent and elemental. He was mad to taste blood, and he
pounded with the merciless hammer of fists which possessed little science
but their full quota of untrained punishing power. One blow thrilled him
profoundly. Tsuda lurched back with a groan and thrust an arm across his
eyes. Then he, too, fought—furious and desperate, like a wounded jaguar,
using his teeth and nails freely, and butting with his bullet-like
Mongolian head. Tsuda had naturally known something of defense in his
younger days, for he had considered it a good thing for a man to know
how to take care of himself, even if he did expect to be a priest. They
clinched and Tsuda neatly tripped his foe and they went down together in
a crashing sprawl.

But somehow, by sheer force of youth and recklessness, probably, Jerome
managed to capture both of Tsuda’s wrists. The man’s muscles strained
and quivered, while his lusty opponent, with swift red passion in his
eye now, bent to the grip, his teeth grinding. The belligerent contact
intoxicated him. It was like his first champagne. It was the finishing
stroke of victorious manhood.

In this position he could have broken Tsuda’s arms, and Tsuda knew it
and cried out warningly. Never since the ancient day in Nemuro, when he
got into a row with miners over a little dancing girl, had Tsuda been so
tempestuously set upon. This time the row was not over a geisha, but the
only white woman on Hagen’s Island.

Jerome felt Captain Utterbourne standing calmly yet a little grimly above
them.

“He can’t get away, Mr. Stewart. Release his arms.”

So Jerome sprang up, bloody and sweaty, and stood panting. The heroic
flash of melodrama was over.

And the Captain said: “We’ll take Tsuda aboard with us tonight for
safe-keeping; in the morning we’ll all feel more rational. Mrs. King
insists upon staying beside her husband, but we can’t leave her without
protection. Sargeant—”

But Jerome broke in: “I’m staying, please. We knew each other once. We
lived just around the corner from each other. I’d rather not go back to
the ship tonight.” It seemed a magnificent moment.

Utterbourne stared at him, and, his lips trembling a little with devious
mirth, he muttered, in almost a tone of quizzical exaltation: “Will
wonders never cease?” After that there fell a pause, and then, under the
stars, like the first welcome note of a returning serenity after much
storm, they heard the Captain gently humming his favourite snatch of
Macdowell.



CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

WEDDING BELLS IN THE OFFING


I

Strange forces were at work in the world; but the sun came up still and
flashing out of the sea, and the birds had business of their own to
attend to.

Tsuda stirred stiffly and opened his eyes; but it took him some seconds
to regain his bearings. He got up slowly and rather rheumatically. His
asthma seemed pretty bad this morning. He rubbed himself, and studied
with rueful attention some of the badges of his fray. One eye he could
only open a little way, and the flesh all about it was deeply discoloured.

Presently Sutherland came and led him to Utterbourne’s cabin, where the
Captain and Tsuda remained closeted a long time. Then the others were
called into conference.

“Come in, please,” the Captain called to them in his quaint sing-song.
“We were just discussing—h’m?” He sat drumming on his desk with a pencil,
and gazed at Tsuda in a thoughtful, detached way. His face was serious
and impassive, but a wan smile flitted across it, too, in little vague
waves, and he began again mildly: “We seem to be making a failure of it.
We don’t seem quite to have grasped the technique—h’m?” He looked with
a faintly mocking appeal from one face to another; but on Tsuda’s his
gaze kept lingering, and he always drew it off with a quizzical debating
wrench. “I pick up a man at sea,” the Captain went on, “and the minute
I look at him I think of my island. King fell right into my hands,
as though from heaven—as though from heaven,” he murmured dreamily;
“and what really extraordinary qualifications he seemed to have. It
doesn’t require much genius—mostly an unfailing, indescribable sense of
adventure—plenty of imagination—h’m?—the sort that attains a momentum
and can live on itself—you know? And an appreciation of picturesque
values.... Yes, King seemed the man in a million. And we really needed
him, too. He couldn’t be thought of as a luxury. What if Tsuda had
suddenly got heart failure, or dropped dead of apoplexy, without another
soul on the island but the Ainu? As a corporation we were always a little
too close. That was our weakness. But,” he continued, “no sooner is he
nicely established here than he falls victim to the thing itself! Isn’t
it funny? Isn’t it simply amazing where weakness will crop out in the
human animal?” There seemed almost a note of whimsical, detached, and
even philosophic triumph in his voice. “With King it turned out to be
opium, and with Tsuda,” he smiled like Mona Lisa, “it’s turned out to
be—King’s wife!”

There was a sharp edge to his words, though he remained otherwise without
passion. An expression of weariness etched itself about his mouth, and he
flung out a little petulant gesture, staring at Tsuda with a sleepy gleam
of reproach. Tsuda leaned forward anxiously, as Utterbourne turned to the
other men in the cabin. “Rutherford—Sargeant—any suggestions? Sutherland?
Do you think the island isn’t perhaps worth the candle?”

But they knew him too well to avail themselves of the extended
invitation, and so merely smiled like a whole row of Mona Lisas, for they
glimpsed that the Captain had already come to his decision, whatever
it might prove. And it developed that they were right, for, after more
characteristic word-play, and a quotation from Amiel about taking
illusions seriously, Utterbourne announced, his look holding at last a
devious and forgiving note: “Tsuda had thought a little of journeying
to Tōkyō and offering himself, because of some obligation or other, to
his Emperor, for whom it seems he harbours a really touching regard; but
I’ve managed to convince him that he ought to stay right on here with
these people who look upon him as almost a kind of emperor himself—with
due respect of course, for Cha-cha-kamui, who has such a fetching way of
wearing his crown this year! Tsuda will temporarily oversee the whole
business. He’s such a dangerous man that I tremble to supply him with
another Kami. They’re pretty scarce, I’m afraid—like lark puddings, or
the perfume of the magnifica.”

So Tsuda was escorted ashore and reinstated; and soon the tiny waterfront
swarmed with Ainu. In an hour the chests of opium were coming aboard. All
was hustle and bustle, and Tsuda had been instructed, as soon as the last
chest was stowed, to declare a little Ainu holiday by way of celebrating
the completion of the year’s work. Utterbourne had delivered a few fresh
casks of saké, and these promised to make the affair really memorable.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Captain strolled up to the house of the White Kami, his soul somehow
afflicted with a mood of uneasiness. The situation was certainly not all
he could desire.

He entered and found King stretched out lifeless.

Stella met him at the door, and the look in her eyes—a wonderful look of
sorrow and release combined—told him, even there on the threshold, that
the end had come.

Soon after dawn King had called out to her very feebly; and when she
reached him she knew at once that it was the end. After the long, long
horror he died quite peacefully. Just at the last his brain seemed to
clear. A little light crept into his eyes, making them for a moment
faintly blue and round again. He half stretched out his arms, and Stella,
bending down close to his lips, heard him murmur her name. He sighed a
few times and was gone. They closed his eyes and folded a sheet smooth
across his sunken breast which rose and fell no longer.

Stella now was tearless and calm. Her look brought a quick emotion to
Jerome’s throat; and, as he entered the room, an elusive tenderness
seemed to come also upon the enigmatic Captain.

“My God,” they thought they heard him say again, very softly.

There was something fugitively poetic and sublimating about it—a devious
spiritual touch, as though the Captain perhaps saw, even more poignantly
than Jerome, that she was a woman at length. Stella fancied there a gleam
of shy sympathy, with a hitherto impregnable barrier for a fleeting
instant broken down.

       *       *       *       *       *

They buried Mr. King, just at the hour of a radiant tropical sunset, in a
scented bower near the house; and they remained a little while in silence
gazing at the plot of vexed earth beneath which lay all that remained
of that being who had played so curious a part in the affairs of the
universe.

Meantime the Ainu, uncognizant of their irreparable loss, had assembled
in the house of the great chief, Cha-cha-kamui, who was present in
all his grandeur, wearing the robe of red and white cloth, and on his
gigantic head the crown of shavings and gilt. Outside, children played
about in a noisy unimaginative way, and the women of the tribe sat on the
ground working their distaffs dully. Cha-cha-kamui’s Small Wife passed
among them, a little distant and haughty—for it was known that in former
days the White Kami had looked with favour upon her.

Later on Tsuda would stage some sort of learned pagan ritual celebrating
the return of the White Kami to the Brotherhood of the Blessed. But such
processes require time—as they do in the mystic Shinshū mountains—and for
the present it sufficed that there was plenty of saké.

When revelry was at its height, Tsuda, who had drunk nothing and seemed
very sad and cast down, slipped out of the house of the chief and away to
the edge of the sea.

The _Star of Troy_ was hoisting her anchor. Every sound was vividly
audible in the hush of early evening.

He sat down in a despondent heap on the dock and leaned wearily up
against the tilted derrick. In a little while there would be only a
drifting plume of smoke along the horizon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Elsa, on deck, under the festive bit of awning aft, was gazing through
her glasses.

“The Ainu,” she observed, letting her eyes droop very much, “must still
be carousing. There’s no one to be seen on the whole island but that
Japanese. I hear you attacked him like a lot of Indians last night,” she
smiled.

“Yes,” Jerome replied, “I’m afraid I was a little more noisy than the
situation really called for.”

“On the contrary,” she assured him, her brown eyes full of moist yet
undemonstrative appreciation, “it must have been really quite splendid.
I’m sorry I had to miss it.”

“How did you spend the evening?”

“After you went ashore? Oh, I read a few chapters in my stupid book,
and tried to walk myself sleepy—well, what kind of an evening would you
expect me to put in, with no thrills but those I could stir up myself?
And all the while you were having wild and impossible adventures—you and
Stella and the Japanese and Stella’s prince.... It really seems unfair,
doesn’t it? I shall never forgive the Captain for keeping me cooped up
out here.” And then she added with feeling, yet very evenly: “How I
_hate_ being a woman!”

Stella watched them from a little distance. She seemed eagerly observing
every detail of their conduct together, with eyes which contained only a
look of quiet inevitability.

“Of course,” she murmured to herself, “it would be like that. It would
have to be.”

“Do you suppose,” asked Elsa, smiling up at him in her grave,
unassailable way, “you’ll be having such adventures in Tripoli?”

He shrugged, and Stella heard him laugh.

“Why not?” Stella thought. She didn’t know what they were talking about,
but was merely carrying on the thread of her own speculations. “It would
have to turn out some such way as this—to be quite perfect and complete.
Yes, it would have to.” And in a moment she thought, with a little more
agitation: “How familiar they are—like old, old friends. He finds in her
all he’s missed in me. How complete! How perfect—that I should come out
of it with nothing but a moral....”

Her heart was flooded with a rush of passionate regret.

They were taking turns peering through Elsa’s binoculars.

“Looks peaceful, doesn’t it, with all the palms and the sunset?”

“Yes—may I have a look?”

“Your Japanese seems rather dejected. I’m afraid you _were_ a bit rough.”

“What would you have done under the circumstances?”

“Just what you did, I’m sure. Let’s have another peep before we are out
of range.”

Slowly the _Star of Troy_ picked her path among the reefs and wore to
sea. But for a long time the figure of Tsuda, huddled on the ruined dock
in the sunset, was still visible.


II

It was about eight o’clock in the evening, and Flora Utterbourne sat by a
lamp in her little apartment. She was wearing the same gown she wore the
day she met Mr. Curry on the way to Crawl Hill. A book lay in her lap.
She was expecting some people who were to drop in and look the apartment
over with an eye to subletting from her. She read a little and cut a
few pages with her tiny Swiss paper knife. A small clock was ticking
somewhere in shadow. It was very quiet: no sounds but the ticking of the
clock and the rustle of pages. After a bit she closed the book upon a
long first finger and let her head drop back against the Egyptian shawl
which so beautifully disguised and enriched a very plain little second
hand arm chair. She closed her eyes and sat musing.

Presently there was a ring at the door. Ah, she thought, the people to
look at the apartment. And she glanced lovingly about as she went to
admit them to her sanctum. The rooms were somehow so entirely _hers_.
One would suppose she had lived here always. Everything delighted
and refreshed the eye. Here one encountered the most harmonious sort
of colour combination. The little drawing room illustrated the fine
compatibility of cream white, Burgundy rose, quiet apple green and
plum and there were delicate touches here and there of red and indigo,
and even warm, bright orange. Over the little white wood mantle was an
antique-looking reproduction of Burne-Jones’ familiar panel of angels on
a winding stair; in a dimmer spot was a madonna of Raphael’s. Flora took
it all in as she crossed, with just a tremor of wistful hesitation.

But lo! no sooner had she opened the door than she uttered an incredulous
cry. Then she held out her hand, and a moment later a man had her right
in his arms—a big man in a Palm Beach suit, wearing gay rings and a
beautiful new shiny toupee. Curry had paused for only one thing after
landing. A new toupee. He couldn’t call the way he was—it might have
proved positively fatal!

Well, as one may imagine, the first quarter of an hour or so was simply
indescribable. No, it is useless even to attempt it. Both talked at once
nearly the whole of the time, and laughed. After that things began to
quiet down a little, though there were still intermittent outbursts. How
could they help themselves?

It developed that the impulsive impresario, who was behaving just exactly
like a kid, hadn’t had a mouthful of dinner. There was talk of slipping
out together for something; but then Flora remembered she had promised to
be at home all evening on account of the people who were coming to look
at the apartment. And Curry wouldn’t go out alone. He said he’d starve
first. So Flora said: “Let’s go and _see_ what there is in the ‘ice box,’
though I’m dreadfully _afraid_ there isn’t enough to satisfy such a big
hungry _man_!”

But behold! there was! Oh, yes—there was a really sumptuous dinner in the
ice box! Flora evolved a fine crisp salad, and produced a little platter
of cold chicken. She made a pot of coffee, while, under her cordial and
excited directions, the impresario spread a cloth on their gate-legged
table and brought out the requisite silver and china. In ever so short a
time they were seated with their table between them. And Flora said that
of _course_ she couldn’t really eat a _thing_, but that she would just
_nibble_ a little to keep him “company.”

Her face took on a look of exaggerated, grave, and high concern as he
told her more about the wreck of the _Skipping Goone_ than it had been
possible to squeeze into a cable. His eyes brimmed for a moment with the
unhappy memory. But then her face lighted, for he was reminding her that,
after all, here he was, safe and sound—“alive to tell the tale, though
Good Lord! when the bolt struck us I never expected to be!”

Her voice was rich with happiness. “And _Africa_,” she laughed, “—I was
‘reading up’ on it so _diligently_. I thought I’d even try to go _down_
there, since my agent says he hears there are delightful ‘apartments’ in
_Johannesburg_!”

But Mr. Curry shook his head slowly, and his eyes looked suspiciously
moist again. He was thinking of his songbirds. When he spoke there was a
tone of deep sadness in his voice. “We’ve come to the end of our world
tour that was going to mark such an epoch in the history of opera—” He
sighed a little.

“But,” she told him warmly, “I think it has, _anyhow_!”

“Everything went,” he mused, “—scenery, properties—even my glorious prima
donna—”

“What?” cried Flora in alarm. “Miss _Valentine_? She—she wasn’t
_drowned_?”

“Oh, no,” he laughed. “Merely gobbled up by one of the big bugs, that’s
all.”

She showed him, nevertheless, a face full of sympathetic despair. “It’s
the most _outrageous_ thing I ever _heard_ of!”

But it all seemed to matter so little to him now. He seized her hands and
gave her a look of such delightful impetuosity that she couldn’t help
looking down at her plate.

“Don’t you see?” he cried in a loud gay voice. “It’s brought us to the
way out!”

“_Has_ it?” she asked softly.

“There’s a chance, if we hold hands tight and jump, of getting off the
merry-go-round at last!”

“Oh—_tell_ me about it!” she begged, her face brimming with eagerness.

“Well,” he said, “since I’m ruined, what’s to be done but make the best
of things? There may be brighter days ahead, but right this minute things
might be worse than they are. The fact is, I know of a job—it’s as leader
of the orchestra in a theatre here in San Francisco. I—I believe it’s a
movie theatre, but what of that? It wouldn’t last forever, and I’d keep
my eyes open all the time for a chance to put over my great dream. In the
meantime, though humble, the job would pay—well, enough for two to live
on, I guess, if we didn’t sail too high. And at least it would be all in
one place—the job, I mean—which is an advantage that couldn’t be claimed
by the world tour, you see! Lord, it’s too beautiful to think of!”

And she was quite as excited and pleased as he. “Why, I’m _sure_ we
could manage, and it would _really_ be the finest kind of _adventure_ to
have to skrimp and ‘figure,’ and I’ve a small ‘income,’ you know, from
all those _apartments_ in the East, so that if the ‘wolf’ ever actually
_threatened_ to break in, why we could sell some of the _things_, though
of course I _know_,” she embroidered, “your job at the ‘movies’ couldn’t
last _forever_, since new opportunities are _sure_ to open up—we’ll
make them!” For suddenly she remembered, and not without a quick little
heartache, how he had poured out to her his big, ardent dreams that day
at the Hoadley auction. “I’ll ‘back you up’ with all my _might_,” she
said in her gracious, heartening way. “We’ll manage by ‘hook or crook’
to keep _advancing_, and in the meantime, we can stay right on _here_ in
this little _place_, which is so comfortable, though of course _small_,
and to which I think I’ve grown more ‘attached’ than to any of the
_others_—”

There was an interrupting ring. Her face fell.

“Oh—I’d _forgotten_! The people who are thinking of sub-_letting_....”
She rose, a little upset.

But Curry kept his head—and afterward bragged of it, too. “Don’t even let
’em cross the doorstep!” he commanded, very firmly. “Tell ’em you’re out.
Tell ’em you’ve changed your mind. Tell ’em anything at all, but don’t
let them in!”

And when the intruders were safely disposed of, the big, joyous
impresario, smiling as he certainly never smiled before in his whole
life, made Flora tie one of her aprons around his waist; and he insisted
on washing the dishes, while she dried them.


III

Three weeks later the _Star of Troy_ slipped in. She never arrived with
any fanfare—that was not her way.

It was agreed that Stella should go home alone, and, with such fortitude
as she could summon, convey to her family the tragic aspect of this
return. She preferred it that way. A cable had gone out to them from
India; but nothing had been said about King, and she faced a task which
brought its shudder. Better, almost better, she thought at times, to have
them carry home her dead body, than to come back with things as they
stood. But in her stronger moments she grimly welcomed the ordeal.

First there was just a moment of overwhelming happiness, with her
father’s arms about her, and Maud stretching out her dear formless lips
for a kiss, and Ted with his near-sighted eyes full of welcome behind
their bright-looking glasses, and the incorrigible voice of Aunt Alice
rushing pell-mell down the stairs. Stella felt as though she could not
endure the almost terrible happiness, while it lasted. And then—

Well, she slumped down into a chair and told them about her husband. She
spoke of him tensely, yet her voice was not clouded with blame. She cried
a little. And then she was in her father’s arms again, and all he could
say was: “Stella—Stella....”

After that life settled down in the house. Stella gradually took up her
old duties, quietly and gratefully; yet she could not quite believe,
sometimes, that the long, long horror was forever still. Her nights at
first were troubled, even terrible; and by day, she never smiled.

Jerome fell easily into the way of dropping in to spend an evening. He
held them all breathless with his multiple adventures, though the darker
phases were not touched upon.

At first he and Stella were but little alone together. He had become,
it would seem, just a good comfortable friend of the family, and his
tongue was always gayest when they were all assembled in the cosy back
parlour. She felt his aloofness, as she had felt it first on that
far-off night in the temple, though it was warmer now, and somehow less
oppressively personal. Yet this way, to Stella, it seemed an even harder
thing to face. His unfailing cheerfulness and that most amazing worldly
nonchalance seemed thrusting their destinies ever farther and farther
apart. Her tragedy seemed indeed complete. Had he really fallen in
love with Elsa? she asked herself. And the answer was always the same,
patiently, inevitably: “It would be like that. It would have to be.”

One evening, however, a curious change came. Jerome and Stella were
sitting out together on the front steps. He had been gay as usual an
hour ago in the back parlour; but now, here in the thoughtful dark,
seemed sunk in a deep realm of reverie. As a matter of fact, Jerome was
busy with far-flung conjecture. There was a good deal to plan—his whole
life, for that matter, which, at his age, represented a contract of no
mean proportions. The Mediterranean project was definitely on, and in
two weeks Jerome would depart for Tripoli—and the Lord knew what! It was
immensely exciting. It seemed the dawn of a real career for him.

He had been perhaps a little more worldly than usual tonight; but now
his mood seemed to warm and soften. “Stella,” he began, then hesitated,
and ended by reaching out and taking her hand. He held it a long time in
silence.

At last he began to speak, his voice a little husky with new emotion.
Stella felt her heart respond in a dumb, incredulous way. But he had said
only a few words when an unexpected interruption occurred.

A smart little car darted up and stopped, and out of it came Elsa
with a boyish bound, which had about it, however, a certain trim and
self-sufficient grace. Stella drew her hand gently out of Jerome’s warm
clasp, and they rose to welcome the newcomer.

There was a very faint and echoy trace of the old romantic flutter in
Stella’s voice as she suggested they go into the parlour. But Elsa, in
her cool, blunt, even subtly tactless way, would not hear of it. “I like
it much better outside, and anyway I can only stop a minute. I’m picking
up dad at the club.”

She gazed at Jerome, just an instant, somewhat queerly; and then she
gazed at them both without any expression at all. Her heart was not
without its emotion—but emotion so jealously guarded that no one on earth
could possibly hope to obtain the slightest clue to it.

She sat down with them on the steps and talked of trivial things. Jerome
was unexpectedly silent. Finally she turned to him, drawling:

“You’re getting to be an awful stranger over our way. I suppose the
journey scares you out.”

And before he could make any reply at all, she had turned calmly back to
Stella with unrelated matters, her tone just a shade too eager, perhaps,
to be _quite_ worthy of the established Utterbourne imperturbability.

When she was gone, Stella mused: “Elsa never changes. She’s always just
the same.” And then, on an undercurrent of dark brooding: “It must be
wonderful to be able to go through life that way,” the woman tensely
murmured.

“I suppose so,” replied Jerome, not quite at his ease still, but behaving
more normally now the other girl had departed.

Stella almost surrendered, right on the spot, to a throbbing impulse to
ask him: “What is Elsa to you, and what are you to her?” But she merely
sat silent; and in a way perhaps more convincing than any words, the
unformed query was answered, after a moment or two, by Jerome’s gently
seeking her hand again.

“Jerome....” she faltered, but her look was growing almost radiant.

“Stella, dear....” His voice was husky once more. “I love you.”

And then everything seemed altered, and she said, because she simply
couldn’t help it: “Jerome—I thought it was—I thought you loved Elsa....”

He smiled, reminiscent and a little grave. “If things had turned out
differently with you, there might have come a time.... You see we met
just when I felt—well, when I felt, or thought I did, about everything a
good deal the way she did. I don’t know....” But after a tiny silence he
ended, very simply: “As it is, I only want you, Stella.”

And then—oh, well, it was a wonderful night. Love seemed to rush back and
overwhelm them. It was far more thrilling than anything in the old days,
yet it was all very quiet and simple.

Bracing himself just a little, and in secret glad of the dark, Jerome
told her the rest about Lili, while she turned wide eyes upon him and
listened. He kept nothing back, because—well, because it _was_ such a
wonderful night; and besides, he had a feeling that the foundations of
their whole future happiness were, in a sense, being laid now, and there
must be no false masonry. At first it seemed so strange to her that she
couldn’t speak.

He wondered, a little darkly, what was passing in her mind. There were
misgivings; but at length she gave his hand a pressure, and she said:

“I see, Jerome. I’m glad you told me.”

Naturally, after that, he breathed more easily. And then he went on
talking about all the things that had gone to make up the fabric of his
life since it was sundered from hers. He poured out to her the love that
had been in his heart for the little son they had had to leave at sea,
and felt her sympathy, warm and intimate. A glow seemed to envelop them
both.

Here they were, on the steps, holding hands—just as in the old days,
only of course now it was all more wonderful. Strange, they thought—so
strange: somehow as though the tiny seed of return had been present even
in that dark and groping lovers’ quarrel up Market street....

She snuggled against him softly. Thoughts of the new life just setting
in flooded her heart with solemn happiness. She watched the dim trees
stirring in the night wind. Stella was quite as far from Irmengarde
as before. Alas, she would never be like Irmengarde, after all. But
she didn’t care. And when it came to life and the serious facts of
living—good heavens! she had had experiences that would make Irmengarde
faint right away and never come to again.

She leaned against Jerome’s shoulder in a happy, tired way. Life had
snatched them up and set them down again. Yes, life had played pranks
with them both, as life will sometimes—incredibly or not, it makes no
difference; tragically or absurdly, there remains nothing to be said. And
Jerome grasped his happiness, too.

“Somehow,” she said, her voice all warmth and tenderness, with a touch
of humour also, at last, “I wish you weren’t going away, but were going
to get back your old job at Oaks-Ferguson’s!” And for the first time,
almost, since that night the little dinner wasn’t eaten—Stella smiled.
“But I know,” she went on humorously, “you’d never be happy _there_
again, and—well, as soon as you can come back to marry me, I’ll be ready
to go away with you.”

“Back to Tripoli?” he murmured, his eyes full of love, but touched also
with ambitious, worldly dreams.

“Wherever the work takes you,” she said.

Then there came a subtle twinkle in his eye, and, though with great
tenderness, he couldn’t resist reminding her: “You used to talk so much
about visiting Paris. Some day—well, some day, you know, it might be even
that—you never can tell, Stella. Wouldn’t it be funny,” he laughed, “to
think of us living in Paris!”

They kissed, like children, without embracing.

And just as he went away, he pressed a ring into her hand. “I know you
don’t want to wear it now,” he said, “but just keep it where you can look
at it sometimes. It will help you to remember. And later on,” he added,
“we’ll trade it in at Ascher’s for a bigger stone. But the man told me
that it’s a good little diamond, at that, for its size.”





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