The White Kami: A Novel by Edward Alden Jewell

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

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
[1]

I
THE PRINCE
[2]

[3]

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[4] 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[5] 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,[6] 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.[7] 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.”

[8]

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.”

[9]

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[10] 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[11] 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[12] 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,[13] 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:

[14]

“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[15] 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.

[16]

“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[17] 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[18] 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[19] 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.

[20]

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.

[21]

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[22] 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?”

[23]

“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[24] 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[25] 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.

[26]

“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.

[27]

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.

[28]

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.”

[29]

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[30] 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[31] 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[32] 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[33] 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.

[34]

“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.”

[35]

“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,[36] 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.

[37]

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[38] 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[39] 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[40] 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?”

[41]

“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.

[42]

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[43] 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[44] 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[45] 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 Francisco!” 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[46] 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,[47] 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[48] 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!”

[49]

“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[50] 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.

[51]

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[52] “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.

[53]

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[54] 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[55] 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[56] 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[57] 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,[58] 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[59] 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.

[60]

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!”

[61]

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.

[62]

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.

[63]

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[64] 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[65] 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[66] 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.

[67]

“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[68] 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.[69] “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.

[70]

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.

[71]

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.

[72]

[73]

II
LILI
[74]

[75]

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[76] 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[77] 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[78] 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.[79] 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[80] 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.

[81]

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!

[82]

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,[83] 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[84] 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!”

[85]

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[86] 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.

[87]

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[88] 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[89] 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[90] 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!”

[91]

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[92] 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[93] 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[94] 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[95] 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:[96] “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[97] 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.

[98]

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!”

[99]

III
“CURLY LOCKS, CURLY LOCKS”
[100]

[101]

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[102] 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[103] 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….”

[104]

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[105] 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,[106] 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[107] 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.

[108]

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!”

[109]

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[110] 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,[111] 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!”

[112]

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.

[113]

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.

[114]

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[115] 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.

[116]

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,[117] 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[118] 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[119] 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.

[120]

[121]

IV
STRATAGEM
[122]

[123]

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[124] 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[125] 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[126] 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[127] 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!”

[128]

“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[129] 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.

[130]

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[131] 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[132] 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[133] 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[134] 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….

[135]

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[136] 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.

[137]

“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[138] 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[139] 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.

[140]

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[141] 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[142] 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,[143] 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.

[144]

“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!”

[145]

V
THE PIPE
[146]

[147]

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[148] 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.

[149]

“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[150] 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….

[151]

“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[152] 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[153] 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.

[154]

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.

[155]

“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[156] 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.”

[157]

“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[158] 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[159] 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?”

[160]

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.

[161]

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[162] 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[163] 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.

[164]

[165]

VI
THE MASCOT
[166]

[167]

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.[168] 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[169] 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.

[170]

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[171] 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[172] 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[173] 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.

[174]

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.[175] 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[176] 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.

[177]

“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?”

[178]

“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[179] 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!

[180]

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[181] 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[182] 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[183] 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.

[184]

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.

[185]

VII
THE MYTH
[186]

[187]

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[188] 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[189] 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[190] 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[191] 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.

[192]

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[193] 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,[194] 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[195] 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,[196] 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[197] 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[198] 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.

[199]

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[200] 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[201] 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[202] 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….

[203]

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[204] 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?”

[205]

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[206] 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[207] 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.”

[208]

“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?”

[209]

“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.

[210]

“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[211] 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.”

[212]

“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.

[213]

VIII
THE FLAMING WOUND
[214]

[215]

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[216] 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[217] 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.

[218]

“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[219] 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.

[220]

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[221] 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[222] 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[223] 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[224] 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[225] 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!”

[226]

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.

[227]

“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,[228] 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.

[229]

IX
DREGS
[230]

[231]

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[232] 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.

[233]

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[234] 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[235] 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.

[236]

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[237] 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[238] 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[239] 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[240] 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[241] 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[242] 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[243] 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.

[244]

[245]

X
THE STAR OF TROY
[246]

[247]

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[248] 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[249] 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[250] 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?”[251] 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[252] 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.

[253]

“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[254] 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[255] 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[256] 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.

[257]

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[258] 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[259] 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[260] 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[261] 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[262] 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[263] 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;[264] 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.

[265]

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[266] 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[267] 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[268] 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[269] 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[270] 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[271] 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,[272] 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.

[273]

XI
THE WHEEL TURNS ON
[274]

[275]

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[276] 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[277] 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[278] 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,”[279] 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[280] 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[281] 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[282] 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.

[283]

“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[284] 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[285] 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[286] 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:[287] 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[288] 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.

[289]

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[290] 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[291] 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[292] 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.

[293]

“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….

[294]

“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[295] 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[296] 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,[297] 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.

[298]

“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?”

[299]

“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.

[300]

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[301] 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.

[302]

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[303] 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[304] 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[305] 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[306] 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[307] 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:

[308]

“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[309] 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[310] 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[311] 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.

[312]

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[313] 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[314] 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,[315] 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.

[316]

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[317] 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[318] 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[319] 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.

[320]

“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—”

[321]

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….”

[322]

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.

[323]

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[324] 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[325] 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[326] 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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