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Moonlight At The Crossroads by Earl Derr Biggers

First published in The Saturday Evening Post, Oct 7, 1922

"YOU lie, Hilary," said the woman in the deck chair. She looked very lovely but a bit weary in the light of the dying sun. Behind a jeweled hand, she stifled a little yawn. "You know you lie."

"My dear Isabelle, isn't that rather unfair?" The tall, distinguished-looking man stood with his back to the rail, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of a tweed coat. His thin, handsome face was calm; though he stared down at the pale-gold hair, the violet eyes of a famous beauty, he appeared unmoved.

A famous beauty, yes, he was thinking, but a beauty past her noontime. Too bad that even the loveliest flowers must fade.

"Unfair? I think not," the woman answered. "You were always a liar—I see that now. That wonderful time at Mentone?"

The man shrugged. "Why go back to Mentone?"

"Why not? I believed you then, because I wanted to believe. But now I know—when you said there was no other

"Isabelle!" He knelt by her chair, but she looked away, down the deck, at a middle-aged man who stood by the rail, idly swinging a monocle over the side and staring off to where the sun dipped down into a sea as crimson as his own complexion. "Isabelle, if we must go back to Mentone, let's go back to the happiness of those weeks—the perfume of the roses, the pale moon in the star-decked sky, those warm nights on the terrace."

"Sir James!" called the woman. The man down the deck galvanized into life. "Sir James enters on the word 'terrace'" she explained.

"Ah—er—ah—yes—pardon me," remarked Sir James, arriving promptly. "I was admiring the sunset."

He stuck the monocle in his eye and was suddenly an actor. "Er—er—ter-race." He clattered his feet on the spotless deck. "I come in. My line, old chap. Here you are, like two love birds, and so and so and so, ending—"

"Just a moment." The tall man had risen quickly to his feet. "I—I don't understand. According to my part"—he took a rumpled roll of manuscript from his pocket—"I have a scene here—a rather good scene—"

The woman sighed wearily. "That stupid fool of a Nixon—he gave you the original part. The scene you speak of was never played in the London production. Mr. Thatcher can tell you." She glanced at Sir James. "He was with me in London."

"Quite true," agreed Mr. Thatcher, dropping the monocle. "The scene was struck out at the first rehearsal, old chap—the first rehearsal at which Miss Clay appeared, I mean. I enter on the word 'terrace.'"

The tall man smiled. "I see," he said. "A corking good scene for Hilary, I thought it. He recalls to her all that they meant to each other at Mentone; for a brief moment he has almost won her again. She is very nearly in his arms."

"I'm sorry," said the woman coldly.

"My one chance in the piece," persisted the tall man.

The woman's eyes narrowed, her mouth hardened. "The scene is out," she said. "You understand that, Mr. Wayne?"

"Naturally," bowed the man. "Naturally, it's out."

Her eyes flashed. "Just what do you mean by that?"

"You are the star," he replied. He paused. "Your word is law." He took out a pencil and scribbled something on the script. "There, the scene is out. And doubtless it won't matter particularly—in Australia."

Two young people came suddenly upon them—a slender girl with sleek, bobbed, coal-black hair, an English boy with rosy cheeks and frank gray eyes. They stopped. "Rehearsal?" cried the boy. "I say, did you want us?"

"No," said the star. The couple moved on; the girl called back over her shoulder, "Isn't it a glorious evening?"

The three by the rail looked after them. "All their evenings are glorious," Wayne remarked gently. "Their days too. They're going to be married in Sydney, they tell me. And young Mixell was about at the end of his rope when this engagement offered. You see, Miss Clay, what happiness your tour is bringing to others."

The woman shrugged. "Happiness, you say? I wonder. It happens that I was married once, myself. Happiness, perhaps, for a little time." It was characteristic of her that though she was speaking now of her own experience, what she said still had the ring of lines from a play.

"Ah—er—yes," said Wayne. "But to continue—let me get this right. Isabelle, if we must go back to Mentone—and so and so—warm nights on the terrace—"

Mr. Thatcher restored his monocle. "Here you are, like two love birds. Frightfully silly line, that. I always hated it. I don't suppose I could say— "

The ship's clock spoke sharply, four times. Passengers were appearing on deck with that air of bright expectancy those on shipboard wear as the dinner hour approaches.

"Six o'clock," remarked Sibyl Clay. "We may as well drop it. I must dress, even for one of these beastly dinners." Her face lighted suddenly with a charming smile. Swinging about, Wayne saw the cause. A good-looking, tanned man of thirty-five or so was drawing near. "Come here, Mr. Maynard," continued the famous star. "I am very, very angry with you. You have neglected me all day."

The newcomer obeyed. He was flattered, as any man would have been. "I was punishing myself," he told her, "for my sins."

"What tiny, unimportant sins they must be," said Sibyl Clay.

"On the contrary," he answered, "I have to-day endured the ultimate in torture. I'm sure you gentlemen agree?"

"Quite," said Thatcher. Wayne merely smiled.

"Rather nice evening," Maynard remarked. "A sample of our Hawaiian climate. I hope you're going to like Honolulu. It's my home town, you know."

"I shall love it," the actress promised.

"You're stopping over, I trust," ventured Maynard.

The lovely lips pouted. "Hardly at all. So stupidly arranged—my tour. I should like to have played in Honolulu, but we spent nearly a week in Los Angeles, and now we must hurry on to Australia at once. They're so eager for me over there. Isn't it sweet of them?"

Maynard seemed disappointed. "Then it's only between boats?" he inquired.

"Yes," Wayne told him. "We land at ten Tuesday morning, I believe. The boat from Vancouver comes in at two and sails for Sydney at ten that night. We shall have only twelve hours in your Honolulu, Mr. Maynard."

Maynard shook his head regretfully. "Not enough," he said. "Twenty-four hours—and none of you would ever leave us. But twelve—why, you'll have hardly a taste of our moonlight!"

"Sit down—do," urged Sibyl Clay, "and tell me about your moonlight, Mr. Maynard."

The tanned young man dropped quickly into the chair at her side. She looked up at the two members of her company.

"Our rehearsal will be resumed to-morrow morning in the lounge. We'll take this piece from the beginning."

Wayne bowed. "By the way," he said, holding out his part, "it seems rather useless my learning lines that are no longer in the piece."

"See Nixon," advised the woman sharply. "He will give you the part as Bentley played it in London." Her eyes went back to Dan Maynard's face, their expression altered magically.

"I've heard so much of your Hawaiian moonlight " she began.

Norman Wayne and Thatcher strolled off to a distant part of the deck. Wayne's mouth was set in rather grim lines.

"So that scene's out," he said. "I might have known."

Thatcher nodded. "Of course," he replied. "A selfish little beast, this Clay woman. I've played with her—I know. But one doesn't rise to the heights without a bit of trampling, old chap."

"I suppose not."

"Rather surprising—her mention of her marriage. He wasn't a bad sort—her husband, I mean. She killed his spirit, squandered his money, tossed him aside like a flattened orange. Oh, she's been on the make, my lad. You'll have very little opportunity I was surprised when you took the engagement, a bully good actor like you."

"Oh, one wants a change. I've always hankered to take a look about, down yonder. The South Seas—they fascinate me. Travel and see the world, I thought. I presume your reasons were quite different. You've been in Australia before, you said."

"Started there," nodded Thatcher. "No, I'm not precisely going for the ride. But engagements are none too plentiful at home, you know."

"We've all learned that," admitted Wayne. "Rather rough time for the artist. Ah, yes, whether our sweet star fancies the role or not, she's a great philanthropist. A year in repertoire in Australia—it's a life- saver for some of us. For instance—"

He nodded toward a little old lady who approached at a rapid gait. "And how's our Nellie to-night?" he inquired as she came up.

A beautiful smile appeared on the lined old face. "Keen as mustard," said Nellie Fortesque. "Working again. Bless you, I thought my run had ended for ever. Working, and the weather's perfect, and my tired heart has stopped jumping about. I don't think I've ever been so happy."

"Wayne here," remarked Thatcher, "has just discovered that his best scene is out of our opening piece."

The old lady tapped Wayne on the shoulder.

"Don't you care," she comforted. "Don't you worry. You'll play second fiddle, my boy, and a very soft music at that. We all will. But what of it? We're working. And if our star is a little touchy, can you blame her? Australia for a year—it makes us happy, but it makes her sad. She's passed the hilltop; she's coasting down. Poor child! I was on that hilltop once myself. But I mustn't stop here chatting. I'm walking two miles before dinner."

She went on down the deck, and Wayne smiled after her. "It's added ten years to her life, this engagement," he said. "It's rescued Harry Buckstone at the very door of the almshouse. It's given young Mixell and that girl their chance to marry. It's showing me the world. Odd turn, isn't it, that so notably selfish a woman should be the instrument of so much happiness? ... Well, I must go below."

As he passed Sibyl Clay's deck chair he saw that she was leaning very close to Dan Maynard's broad shoulder and talking in a low voice. Wayne smiled. The great star was playing Juliet again—Juliet, so young, so fair, so innocent.

* * * * *

THE Pacific, an ocean of many moods, was still beneficently calm the following morning. They gathered in the lounge at ten o'clock, as happy a group of players as one could have found on land or sea: Wayne, studying an amended part; Thatcher, gay old Nellie Fortesque, the veteran Harry Buckstone, the two young lovers, a few quiet Britishers who had minor roles in the plays Sibyl Clay was to offer to Australia. The sun poured through the port-holes; the creaking ship plowed westward toward the East.

"Feeling younger every minute," Nellie said. She smiled at the girl with the bobbed hair. "Look out, Zell, my dear, I shall be asking for your roles by the time we reach Sydney."

"They're yours without a struggle," said the girl. She spoke to the old woman, but it was at the boy she looked.

"I may even try to take Tommy away from you," warned Nellie humorously.

"At that point," said the girl, "the struggle would begin."

"Living's cheap in Australia, they tell me," remarked Harry Buckstone. "Compared with London, I mean. We shall be able to lay by a bit. I shall try, at any rate. Starting rather late, but I realize it now. Laying by a bit—that's the great idea."

Nixon bustled in; he was a little cockney, always flurried and rushed. Not only did he manage the stage but he was Sibyl Clay's business manager as well.

"'Morning, everybody. Bit of all right, this weather, what? I've had a radio from Sydney. We open there the third of October—the day after we land—with Isabelle. Six months in that city alone—that's the promise, if all goes well. And after—Melbourne, Auckland—there's no limit, the way I see it. Sibyl Clay's a big name down there. We may not go home for two years, at least."

"Two years?" Tom Mixell looked inquiringly at the girl. "Would you like that, dear?"

"Why, Tommy," she said, "I'd love it! Home's wherever you and I are—after this."

Sibyl Clay came in. She looked fresh and cool in a marvelous blue gown that matched her eyes. With her came Dan Maynard, good-natured, genial. "I've invited Mr. Maynard to watch us rehearse," the star explained.

"If you people don't mind," said Maynard. Amid a little chorus of polite reassurance, he took a chair near the door.

"Shall we start?" said Miss Clay graciously. She rehearsed the plays herself. "Zell, my dear—Tom—you two are on at the rise. We'll say this is the stage, the exit to the garden over here. Now your first line, Zell dear."

They had never seen her more considerate. A little later poor old Harry Buckstone fumbled a line; he fumbled it again and again. Worried, Thatcher watched the star's expressive face. He looked for an explosion that would rock the boat. But Sibyl Clay was infinitely patient, amazingly sweet and kind. The actor who had been with her in London was at a loss to explain it—until his eye fell suddenly on Dan Maynard, intently watching in the background. They rehearsed until one o'clock and the man from Honolulu remained to the end.

After luncheon Norman Wayne sat in a chair outside his stateroom, a pile of books by his side. Maynard came along, stopped. "You look rather literary," he remarked.

Wayne laughed. "Reading up on the South Seas," he explained. "A part of the world that interests me hugely—always has—those lonely islands away down there at the jumping-off place."

Maynard dropped into a chair. "Not quite so romantic as the authors make them out to be," he suggested.

"You've seen them then?" Wayne asked.

"I've run down there occasionally."

"Lucky devil!" said Wayne. "I suppose they are touched up a bit in the stories. Still, environment has its effect, and there must be something in these tales, after all. A forgotten beach beneath the palms—a few white men in a land meant only for the brown—hot sun, hot blood, hate, greed, revenge. A violent landscape would naturally breed violent deeds."

"Oh, yes, of course. Strange things have happened in the South Seas." Maynard lighted a cigarette. "By the way, I was very much interested in your rehearsal. A charming woman, Miss Clay."

"Yes—charming."

"I recall seeing her act five years ago in London. Never dreamed I'd meet her some day."

"A great favorite in London," Wayne said; "for—for quite some years," he added, with meaning.

"And so sweet and unspoiled, despite her big success."

"Absolutely," agreed Wayne, who was a gentleman.

"Must be a great privilege to work with her," suggested Maynard.

"One learns constantly." Wayne thought of the lines missing from his part in Isabelle.

"Sorry you're not going to stop longer in Honolulu," Maynard went on.

"We all regret it," answered Wayne. "You were born there, I believe you said?"

"Oh, yes."

"In business there?"

"Well, in a way. Look after the interests my father left—a few sugar plantations, a trust company."

"Some one told me your name was quite well known in Hawaii."

"I guess it is. My grandfather came there as a missionary."

"You're not—you're not married, I take it?"

Maynard laughed. "No. Unlucky that way—or lucky, however you care to put it."

He rose and tossed his cigarette over the side. "I live in bachelor comfort in a big house on the beach. Speaking of that, I'd be honored if you and Mr. Thatcher would dine with me to-morrow night. Let's make it early—six- thirty—since you're sailing at ten."

"Very kind of you, I'm sure."

"I hope to persuade Miss Clay to come too."

"I'm sure she will. Speaking for myself, I'll be delighted."

"Then that's fixed," said Maynard. "I'll leave you now to your lurid literature."

He went on down the deck. The afternoon drifted lazily by. At eight that night Wayne came upon Nellie Fortesque, seated beside Tom Mixell and the girl in the shadow of a lifeboat on the after deck.

"Come and join us," said the old lady. "It's night, and the moon is shining, and we're all in love. We're planning our future. It's wonderful. We're all going to be married in Sydney—at least, these children are. We're going to save our money and go back with full pockets and take London by storm. How does it sound to you?"

Wayne smiled ruefully. "Sounds beautiful—for the children. You come away now, Nellie. They want to be alone."

"Oh, no!" cried the girl. "Nellie, don't listen to him!"

But the old lady stood up. "Oh, he's quite right. I was just stealing a little of your happiness—you have so much, my dear." She and Wayne strolled down the deck.

"Beautiful—for the children," said Wayne. "But for—"

"Nonsense! You're a mere boy."

"I'm forty-five, Nellie."

"Think of me. I'm seventy-two—seventy-two, and sailing off into the moonlight—the Hawaiian moonlight they say's so dangerous. Oh, well, I've had my fun. And now I'm safe—secure—for another year at least. That's something at my age. Bless you, it's everything!"

"It's something, even at forty-five," Wayne agreed. They stopped by the starboard rail. Through a long silence they watched the waves moving restlessly in the white path of the moon. From the lounge came the sad, plaintive strains of a Hawaiian melody. Wayne looked at the woman beside him.

"I remember you, Nellie," he said gently. "I was just a youngster—you won't mind my saying it? I remember—at the old theater in York—how beautiful you were. Your Viola—"

"Dear boy." Her voice broke. "Those were great days—great days for Nellie. If I'd only saved something for the future; but I thought youth lasted for ever. These children think that too. I'm glad they do."

Another silence. "I think I'll go below," the woman said. "To-morrow will be an exciting day. Good night—and thank you for remembering."

"Thank you for the memory," said Wayne.

Alone again, he moved aimlessly about the ship. On the upper deck, at a corner of the wireless operator's cabin, he heard low voices. One he recognized—a magic voice that had held thousands enraptured in the London stalls. He paused for a moment; he was a gentleman, but he lingered.

"Yes, it's quite true," Sibyl Clay was saying. "I've had everything I wanted out of life. Every one has been so good to me. Fame, applause—the top of the heap, always."

"It must have been a great satisfaction to you," came Dan Maynard's voice.

"Oh, it has been. I've loved it—reveled in it. That's why I think it's so very strange—"

"What is so strange?"

"There must be something in the air out this way—I don't know—I can't explain it. I only know that if you were to come to me to-night and tell me that this boat would never reach port, that my career was ended, that I'd just go sailing on through eternity over a sea like glass, I—I wouldn't mind, Dan. Not with you aboard."

Wayne lingered for Maynard's answer. When it came, the voice of the Honolulu man was calm, unmoved. "It's the tropics," he explained evenly. "You're just on the edge, but they've got you already. Wait until you see Waikiki.... By the way, I want you to come to dinner at my house to-morrow night."

"That will be thrilling—dinner with you."

"Wayne and Thatcher are coming too."

"But " There was disappointment in that magic voice.

"I've already asked them," Maynard went on. "And that reminds me, I promised Thatcher I'd join the two of them for bridge this evening. He said I must bring you—for a very charming fourth."

"But it's so much nicer on deck." Wayne could not see, but he knew that pout of her lips. "Can't we stay here?"

Maynard had risen. "A promise is a promise," Wayne heard him saying.

Norman Wayne slipped away. When, a few moments later, he entered the smoking- room, the three of them were already at a table. Thatcher was dealing the cards.

"I much preferred the deck," Sibyl Clay said. "This stuffy old room But men are all alike. They have no appreciation."

"On the contrary," said Wayne, "I'm thrilled to the depths. There's a drizzle in London, no doubt, and little pools of water in the dark alley that leads to the stage door. But to-morrow we shall stand in the Honolulu sunshine."

"At the crossroads of the Pacific," added Maynard.

"At the crossroads," repeated Wayne. He glanced at his hand. "I make it two hearts," he said.

* * * * *

AT nine the next morning the boat from Los Angeles came to a stop in Honolulu harbor. The air was warm and moist and heavy, uncooled by any breeze. The little group of players gathered at the rail, and with that keen interest characteristic of British tourists the world over, stared at the unfamiliar scene. Beyond the water-front, unromantic and commercial, they saw the white tops of buildings, like islands in a sea of brilliant green, and still beyond, blue peaks against a cloudless sky.

Nixon moved among them, worried as always. "You'll have to look after your own hand luggage," he admonished. "I'll have your trunks aboard the Princess Irene as soon as she comes in. Don't forget, we sail at ten sharp, and for God's sake, don't any of you miss the boat."

A gleaming limousine with a Japanese chauffeur was waiting for Dan Maynard, and at his invitation Miss Clay, Wayne and Thatcher rode with him to the Alexander Young Hotel. There the three players engaged rooms for the day.

"You'll be comfortable here," said Maynard. "I've just told the clerk to take special care of you. I'd like to have you at the house, but I've been away for months, and no doubt things are rather upset there. However, I'll have everything running on schedule by dinnertime. And if you don't mind, I'm going to call for you all at two o'clock and show you round a bit."

Sibyl Clay nodded. "You're too good," she said. There was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm in her tone.

For three hours that afternoon Maynard motored them about the island. His high spirits at being home again were contagious. He was no longer a boy, but his manner was boyish and charming, and Wayne found himself liking the man more and more the longer he knew him. No host could have been more gracious. They saw and they admired, and when the Honolulu man set them down at their hotel at five, he told them that his chauffeur would call for them in about an hour.

Wayne dressed with care, then repacked his bags and rang for a bell-boy. It was a bit after six when he descended to the lobby. He settled his account with the smiling little Chinese clerk and directed that his luggage be piled near the desk.

"I'll call for it later this evening," he explained.

"Yes, sir," agreed the clerk. "It will be very safe."

He went over and, lighting a cigarette, dropped into a wicker chair. Women tourists turned to stare at him, and no wonder. A leading man on the London stage for many years, he had in his day set many feminine hearts to beating faster.

Thatcher appeared, his face more crimson than ever above his white shirt- front, the eternal monocle in his eye. His luggage, too, came with him, and when he had paid his bill, he strolled over to Wayne.

"Clay's late as usual, I see," he remarked.

As he spoke, the great star stepped from the elevator. She had made good use of her brief time, Wayne thought as he looked at her. Well into the forties, he knew that, but marvelous are the possibilities of make-up when intelligently applied. And well she understood the virtue of the perfect costume. About her pale chiffon dinner gown she had wrapped a Spanish shawl, as flamboyantly colored as the Honolulu scene.

"I believe the car's outside," said Wayne, rising.

"I am ready," answered the star. He looked into her violet eyes and saw a great general going into battle.

Beautiful, yes, Wayne thought, but unkind of the setting sun to be so hideously bright in the limousine. Did she realize that she had passed the hilltop, that she was coasting down, that her days of fame were numbered? Of course she did. Hard lines on that lovely face, tired lines. At a candle-lighted dinner table, however, they would not show, and under the Hawaiian moon Anything could happen under the Hawaiian moon.

They rolled along between rows of tall coconut palms, over the lowlands, past rice fields and taro patches, and came presently to Waikiki, with its huge hotels and its vast rambling houses. Through a gateway and along a drive that skirted a garden all crimson and gold, and so up to Dan Maynard's big front door.

Maynard was waiting in his living-room, a great apartment furnished in expensive native woods, with greenery everywhere. One side of it was open, save for a protecting screen, to the white beach. About the whole establishment there was an air of wealth, security. To these gypsies of the theater it was a new environment, and their hearts stirred in a mild envy. What would it be like, to have a home, to stop all worry over money, engagements, to sit here by the murmuring surf and feel that disaster could never reach them?

Maynard was looking at Sibyl Clay with keen admiration. "You're wonderful," he said. "My poor house has never had such a visitor before. Hundreds of people here would have been thrilled to meet you, but I'm being very selfish."

"I'm glad you are," she smiled. "I shall enjoy the memory more. Just you and I—and Waikiki."

Wayne and Thatcher felt rather out of it, but cocktails restored them. The Japanese butler announced dinner.

The quick tropic dusk was falling. Wayne's premonition came true—the table was candle-lighted, and in that kindly glow the great Sibyl Clay was young again; young as Juliet, and as lovely. The silver of the Maynard family, famous for generations, sparkled no brighter than her violet eyes; the linen was no whiter than her slim, girlish shoulders. Again Wayne had the feeling of a general going into battle, fighting—for what? For security, perhaps; for peace and safety; for a new sort of happiness in this strange corner of the world.

Wayne found it difficult to take his eyes from her face, and seemingly Dan Maynard was in the same predicament. The Honolulu man saw, sitting across from him at his own table as though she belonged there, the most strikingly beautiful woman he had ever met. A sort of intoxication seemed to sweep over him; he talked faster and faster, stories of the islands, tales of his forebears' early adventures. Sibyl Clay had never been known as a good listener, but she listened now; she led him on, she smiled upon him. Intoxicated—he was all of that.

"Ah, but you're not the first, my boy," Wayne thought.

The perfect dinner ended at last, and they retired to the drawing-room for coffee. Wayne took his cup and strode to the screen. Beyond, in the scented night, he saw the white parade of the breakers, line after foamy line in a sea of molten silver.

"Always wanted to visit this spot," he remarked, coming back into the room. "The crossroads." He sat down. "I've been thinking to-night—each one of us stands at the crossroads at some time in his life. I stood there myself once, long ago—twenty-five years ago. Yes, I was at the crossroads, and one word—one little word—decided my course for ever after."

"How was that?" asked Thatcher, putting down his cup.

"Twenty-seven years ago, to be exact," Wayne went on. He glanced at his host and Sibyl Clay; they appeared to be interested. "I was a boy of eighteen at the time, born and reared in a strict household in the cathedral city of York—in the very shadow of the minster, in fact. My father was a stern hard man; he dominated us all, my mother—all of us. His hardness had already driven my elder brother from home. And I, the second son, his last hope—I wanted to go on the stage.

"You can imagine his horror at that. The theater was the house of the devil, he said, and he meant it too. He ranted and stormed, but—well, a traveling troupe came our way; they were doing Gilbert and Sullivan in the provinces. There was an opening in the company and I ran away from home in the night."

He looked at Maynard. "My dear sir, you can never appreciate the life I got into. For a short time all went well; then the houses fell off. We didn't play to the gas. Our salaries stopped, our pitiful luggage was seized for hotel bills, we ate but rarely. Somehow, we struggled on. I had never dreamed such misery could exist in the world. We managed to reach Dublin, and there my resistance gave out. I wired a friend for money to go home.

"I got back to York on Sunday morning—they were ringing the minster bells. It seemed like heaven to me. I was sick and weary. I wanted no more of the theater; I had been cured of my madness. For a time I was afraid to go to the house, but along about noon my courage returned and I went.

"I entered the little drawing-room. My father and mother were sitting there, reading. For a long while I stood just inside the door. They never looked at me. Miserably unhappy, I went to my room, freshened up, came back down-stairs. Again I stood there, a young boy, hungry for sympathy, for a kind word. Finally my father looked up. His eyes were stony and cold.

"'Well,' he said through his teeth, 'have you had enough of the theater?'

"'No!' I cried. Just one little word, sharp with anger and bitterness. Mind you, I had been at the point of forswearing the stage for ever. I was at the crossroads. One kind word, one friendly look—But at that tone in my father's voice, something broke inside me. 'No, no, no!' I fairly shouted, and went out of that house for all time. I borrowed money to get to London. More misery, more heartbreak—but there was no turning back now. I dropped our family name of Harkness. I became Norman Wayne, an actor, and—and here I am."

Maynard shook his head. "Poor little kid," he said pityingly. "It was cruel—cruel. Tell me, have you ever regretted—"

Wayne smiled. "Sometimes," he said. "Sometimes I've wondered, if my poor mother had spoken Oh, well, what's the use? It's all over now."

Thatcher was thoughtfully swinging his monocle on its black ribbon. "By the way," he began, "you say your family name was Harkness?"

"Yes. Naturally, I dropped it. I wanted no more of my father, not even his name."

"Years ago," continued Thatcher slowly, "I knew a chap named Harkness. A Yorkshire man he was too. It was in the South Seas."

"In the South Seas?"

"Yes. I told you I'd been out there, you know, as a young chap. This Albert Harkness—"

"Albert?"

"That was his name. I knew him rather well. We were alone for some months on the island of Apiang, in the Gilbert group. As a matter of fact, I was the last white man to see him alive."

Wayne got slowly to his feet. "You were the last white man to see old Bertie alive?" he repeated. His face had paled.

"Why, yes. You knew him?"

"He was my elder brother, the one my father had driven from home before I left."

"Not really?" Thatcher was silent for a moment. "Odd, isn't it? We've traveled all the way from London together—

I never dreamed Of course, my name is a stage name too. If I'd mentioned sooner that I was Redfield—"

"Redfield?" said Wayne. "Ah, yes, Henry Redfield. You were with my brother on Apiang?"

"Precisely. We were traders there."

"And he died—of a fever?" Something in the man's voice brought a brief, electric silence to that room.

"Of a fever—yes," said Thatcher. "I buried him myself. We were alone among the natives, save for a Chinese cook."

Wayne sat down. "Ah, yes," he said. "So you are Red-field. You knew old Bertie. We must have a talk about this, my friend—a long talk."

Sibyl Clay had risen; she stood tall and fair and shining. Dan Maynard felt a little catch in his throat as he looked at her. "All very interesting, I'm sure," she said. "But, Mr. Maynard, the time is going so quickly, and you have promised to show me Waikiki in the moonlight."

"Of course," cried Maynard, leaping up. "You fellows seem to have something to talk over, so if you don't mind—"

"By all means," agreed Wayne, and Thatcher nodded.

Maynard held open the screen door and Sibyl Clay went out. The night was magic, and filled with the odors of exotic plants, flaming with the crimson blossoms of the poinciana trees. They heard the breakers whispering on the beach. Side by side, very close, they walked together down a shadowy path.

Maynard was dazed, bewitched. Thirty-five, rich, powerful, women had been near him before; they had tried to win him, but in vain.

Always he had guarded his freedom, his independence. But now—he was not so sure of himself now. Many women, yes, but never a woman like this before.

He led her to a bench under a hau tree, some thirty feet from the house. Out toward the reef twinkled the lights of Japanese fishing boats; just above the horizon hung the Southern Cross. A cool breeze swept in from the sea, and the hau tree dropped a yellow blossom in her lap.

"Is it what you expected?" Maynard asked.

"It's wonderful," she answered softly. "I know now—I understand—why people come and never want to go away. Life must be beautiful here—and old age always round the corner—the corner one never needs to turn."

"I was born in that house," he told her. "I learned to swim in these waters. It's home, and I love it."

"I love it, too," she told him. "I'm seeing it for the first time, and I adore it. How happy you must be here. But—you are alone. Surely nights like this— How does it come that you live here in this paradise alone?"

"It may be," he answered, "because I've never met a woman I cared to ask to—to share it with me."

She was very close. "We must find that woman for you. Tell me, have you ever thought—what sort of woman—"

The cool breeze touched his face. He hesitated, drew back a little. "Promise me," he began—"you'll be going home one of these days—promise me that on your way back you'll stop over for a longer stay."

She shook her head. "No, I shan't go home this way. It's all arranged. When the Australian tour is ended, we return to England by way of Suez. Around the world, you see."

"Then," he said, "this is your only night at Waikiki."

"Yes. Just once in a lifetime—at the crossroads."

"It's a wonderful night, for me at least," said Maynard. "I shall remember it always. But you, when you're back in London—"

London! She shuddered inwardly. It was true, what they whispered about her—she knew it. She was through. The thought of London appalled her—new faces, new favorites, Sibyl Clay forgotten. But, of course, Dan Maynard must not suspect.

"Yes, London will be glorious," she said brightly. "They'll give me a marvelous welcome home; they were all so sorry to see me go. And Australia—there's a big triumph waiting there, I know. But even so—"

"Yes?"

"It's just as I told you last night on the boat. Something has happened to me, something very strange. I don't care about my career any more, Dan. I don't care about Australia, or even London."

"Sibyl," he cried—his voice trembled—"do you mean that? Because—"

He stopped. From his drawing-room came the sharp crack of a revolver, followed by the crash of breaking glass.

* * * * *

DAN MAYNARD leaped to his feet and ran along the path to the house, while Sibyl Clay followed more slowly at his heels. As they entered the drawing-room, the Japanese butler, badly frightened, appeared from the hall.

Maynard gasped in amazement as he looked about that usually quiet and peaceful room, for he saw the marks of a terrific struggle. Chairs were overturned, rugs were displaced. Indeed, the struggle was still going on. In the center of the room Wayne and Thatcher fought desperately for possession of a pistol held in Wayne's right hand. In another moment Wayne broke away; he raised the pistol and pointed it at his panting antagonist. But Maynard was too quick for him. He leaped forward, and after a moment of brief effort, wrenched the weapon away.

"For God's sake," he cried, "what does this mean?"

Wayne staggered back against a table. His face was deathly pale, his mouth twitched convulsively, his eyes were blazing. "I'll get you, Redfield," he muttered. "I missed that time, but I'll get you yet."

"What does this mean, I say?" repeated Maynard. He slipped the revolver into his pocket, and going over, laid a hand on Wayne's arm. "Pull yourself together, man. Tatu"—he turned to the butler—"whisky-and-soda, quick."

The butler went out. Wayne sank weakly into a chair.

"I—I'm sorry, Mr. Maynard," he said. "I broke your window. I'm afraid I'm a rotten bad shot. I owe you an explanation and an apology. In—in a moment, please." He buried his head in his arms.

Sibyl Clay came and stood before him. Her eyes were cold; hard lines had appeared about her mouth. "What is this silly melodrama?" she demanded. "Come, speak up!"

"Just a moment," Wayne repeated.

"Take your time," said Maynard. "And try to calm yourself, if you can."

A long silence. The butler appeared with a tray. Maynard himself poured a drink and offered it to Wayne. The actor's hand trembled as he reached for it; the glass tinkled against his teeth. At a safe distance, Thatcher, his face verging on the purple now, watched with a wary eye.

"Yes," said Wayne slowly, "I must explain. I told you I was interested in the South Seas, Mr. Maynard. I was interested because of my older brother, who ran away from home several years before I did. For a time he drifted about down there, and finally settled down as a trader on the lonely island of Apiang. His partner was a man named Redfield—this creature who calls himself Thatcher. The same man; he doesn't deny it. You heard him yourself."

"I do not deny it," said Thatcher. "We were together on that island, Bert Harkness and I."

"On that lonely island, the only two white men for miles around. Some sort of feud grew up between them—"

"It's a lie!" cried Thatcher.

"Until finally this swine shot poor old Bertie in the back."

"A lie, I tell you!" Thatcher shouted.

"Shot him in the back, like the yellow coward he is, and then reported poor Bertie had died of a fever."

"Mr. Maynard, I appeal to you," said Thatcher. "The man is mad. What proof has he—"

"Proof enough," cut in Wayne. "You thought you were safe, didn't you? You forgot that Chinese cook. You thought he didn't know, but he did, and two years after, he told the whole story to a missionary named McCandless. The missionary wrote it all to me."

"This happened a long time ago?" inquired Maynard.

"Over twenty years ago," Wayne told him. "When I heard the true story of Bertie's death, it was too late. Redfield had disappeared utterly. The earth had swallowed him up. But I've been waiting. That's why I took this engagement. I've been waiting, and now, as luck will have it, I meet Redfield in your drawing-room—and I'll never leave him again, not until I've paid him back, not until—"

"Ridiculous!" said Sibyl Clay. "In all my life I've never heard anything so ridiculous. Mr. Thatcher, I'm sure Mr. Maynard will furnish you with a car. Go to the boat and wait for us."

Thatcher stood up. "Pardon me," he said, "I'll do nothing of the sort. This idiot has called me a coward, but I'm not, and I'll not run away like one. No, we'll have this out here and now."

"I'll get you, Redfield," muttered Wayne. "I'll get you, I promise you that."

"Try it!" sneered Thatcher. "I'm an older man than you, yet I'm not afraid. Try it, but look out I don't get you!"

"In the back," said Wayne. "A shot in the back—that's your specialty."

"You lie!" Thatcher cried.

"Just a moment," pleaded Maynard. "Wayne, I thought you were a sensible man. Suppose you do get him, as you say. Think of what it will mean."

"I've got to get him," said Wayne pitifully. "Poor old Bertie—we were more than brothers. The only member of my family I ever loved. Why, when we were boys—"

"Rubbish!" cried Sibyl Clay. Her face was drawn, old. Maynard looked at her in wonder. He brought forward a chair.

"Sit down," he said.

"Why should I sit down?" she demanded.

"You seem rather tired, that's all," he answered gently. For a long moment their eyes met. Sibyl Clay was a great general, but she knew when her campaign was lost. She dropped into the chair.

"Now let's talk this over quietly," Maynard said. "I can understand how you feel, Wayne, old man. Naturally, in the moment of meeting this chap—of recognizing him, I mean—you lost your head. But you must calm down. I like you; you're a good fellow, and if you take the law into your own hands like this, you know the end. Your whole life wrecked, and what will you have accomplished?"

"An eye for an eye," muttered Wayne stubbornly.

"Nonsense! That's archaic. Besides, if you'll pardon my saying so, your evidence seems a bit flimsy."

"It's all of that," put in Thatcher. "I remember now—I had a row with that Chinaman about his wages after Harkness died. This absurd story of his is the Oriental idea of revenge."

"Precisely," said Maynard. "You hear, Wayne? That's quite likely—"

"Chinese don't lie," objected Wayne. "We all know that."

"Do we?" said Maynard. "Most of them don't, that's true. The Chinese reputation for truthfulness is built upon a pretty solid foundation. But there are about half a billion of them, and there are black sheep in that race as in all others. I speak from experience. I haven't lived all my life in Hawaii without knowing the Chinese. Why, my dear fellow, I could give you examples—"

"For instance," said Thatcher eagerly.

Maynard sat down. "A good many years ago," he began, "we had a house- boy— "

Sibyl Clay interrupted. "Now," she said bitterly, "I suppose we are to have your life-story too."

Maynard regarded her coolly. "I am trying to avert a catastrophe," he said. "Kindly remember that." He turned to Wayne. "This boy of ours was very young—twenty, I think—a Cantonese and a splendid servant. He became obsessed with some fancied grievance and we let him go. He went away and spread the most fantastic lies about us. We had to drag him into court in the end. He broke down and confessed he had been trying to save his face." Wayne listened stubbornly. "What I'm trying to get at is, if one Chinese would do that, another would. How do you know that in this instance—"

Wayne shook his head.

"You mean well, Maynard. But this man is guilty; he's guilty as the devil. Look at him!"

"I see no evidence of his guilt," protested Maynard. "On the contrary, I see several things that point to his innocence—and so would you, in a calmer mood. For example, he was under no compulsion to tell you he was Redfield."

"Precisely," cried Thatcher. "If I'd killed poor Bert, do you think I'd have revealed myself to his brother?"

"You thought you were safe," said Wayne. "You never dreamed that Chinese knew what was going on at Apiang."

"Even so," persisted Maynard, "I think he would have remained silent. Wayne, will you take my advice?"

"I promise nothing," answered Wayne.

"That missionary is still alive?"

"He was a few years ago—living in Sydney."

"Sydney—your next stop. And the Chinese?"

"He was in Sydney too."

"There you are. Remember, there are courts to settle this sort of thing. Let the matter rest for the present. Admit like a man that your evidence against this chap is hone too good. When you get to Sydney, investigate; learn how that story has stood the test of time."

"A splendid idea," cried Thatcher. "Give me a chance. I'll help with your investigation. I'll prove your story is rot, and I'll prove other things. That brother of yours—you think he was a saint. Well, he was a dirty blackbirder."

Wayne leaped to his feet. "You liar!" he cried. "You contemptible liar! Shoot a man in the back, and then besmirch his name!"

Maynard got between them just in time. Sibyl Clay sighed wearily. "Will this never end?" she said.

"He'll apologize for that!" Wayne shouted.

"Yes, yes, of course he will," said Maynard. "Come on, Thatcher, you didn't mean it."

"Oh, didn't I?" Thatcher stood glaring through his monocle. Somewhere in the distance a bell tinkled. "I meant every word of it—a blackbirder! What's that beside the things he's accused me of here to-night?"

The butler entered. "Telephone ring for Miss Clay," he announced.

The woman followed the butler out. Maynard went to Thatcher and spoke in a low voice. Thatcher stepped toward Wayne.

"Very good," he said, "I apologize. I withdraw what I said."

Wayne nodded. "I've got a beastly temper," he murmured. "I inherited it. I'm sorry."

The actress returned, walking slowly. "That was Nixon," she remarked, in a dead tired voice. "It's twenty-five minutes before ten, and he's frantic. He's picked up our luggage at the hotel. We—we had better go." She looked at Dan Maynard.

"Of course." Maynard went to the hall, and they followed. He gave the men their hats and sticks; he wrapped the Spanish shawl about Sibyl Clay. "The car is just outside." In the drive, he turned to them. "I'm taking you down myself. Wayne, get in front with me. Thatcher, you ride in the back with Miss Clay."

Kalakaua Avenue was deserted, an ideal speedway, and Dan Maynard's idea appeared to be speed. They tore on through the brilliant Hawaiian night. As they went, the Honolulu man talked in a low voice to Wayne. In the rear seat, Sibyl Clay sat haughty and aloof beside the erstwhile Sir James. She was thinking of London, despairingly.

Nixon was pacing the dim pier shed, a man distraught. "Well, you nearly missed it, didn't you?" he cried. "Every one's on board but you. In heaven's name, get on!"

"Thatcher," said Maynard, "I've had a talk with Wayne. He's going to make an investigation down in Sydney. Until then, there's a truce between you."

"Thanks," said Thatcher. "That suits me perfectly. I'll help with the investigation, as I promised."

Maynard stood with Wayne's pistol in the palm of his hand. "Do you carry this about with you all the time?" he asked.

Wayne nodded. "For the past few weeks—yes," he said.

"I think I'd better keep it," Maynard suggested.

"I fancy you had," Wayne agreed. "Thank you for what you've done—and good-by."

He followed Thatcher up the gangplank.

Maynard turned to Sibyl Clay. He felt a little pang of regret as he saw her white face. "Better reconsider," he said. "If you'll come back this way—"

She shook her head. "No," she answered wearily. "There are some moments, Dan—they come once, and never again. This was my only stop in Honolulu." She held out her hand. "Good night."

"Good-by, and good luck," said Maynard gently.

The plank was drawn in as she reached the deck, and a few moments later the big ship crept from the pier. Slowly it drew away from the harbor lights, swung round and headed for Australia.

* * * * *

AN hour later Norman Wayne stood in a friendly shadow near the prow of the boat. A pipe was between his teeth, and he was staring at the dim shore-line of Oahu.

A short, stocky man came creeping out of the dark, slowly, silently. For a moment he stood at Wayne's back, unperceived. Then he stepped to the rail at Wayne's side. They looked at each other. Neither spoke. The stout man took out his own pipe and began to fill it.

"You're a damned good actor, Wayne," he remarked softly. "I've always thought so, but I was never surer of it than I was back there to-night."

"Thanks," said Wayne. "I give every part my best. My one rule of life. We weren't a moment too soon with our bit of melodrama, old chap."

Thatcher nodded. "I know. I saw it in her face when they came in."

"I've been suffering a few moments of remorse," went on Wayne. "Are you quite sure we did the right thing?"

"Of course we did. It's just as I told you this noon. I know Sibyl Clay—selfish, utterly selfish. She'd have hooked that chap in another moment—married him to-morrow, probably. And what would have become of us? A lot she'd care. The tour would have ended before it began. She'd have thrown us all over, stranded us nine thousand miles from home, all our hopes smashed—poor old Nellie, Harry Buckstone, the two kids—oh, we did the right thing."

"I was thinking of Maynard."

"Ah, yes, Maynard. A fine chap. She'd have ruined his life, just as she's ruined others. Yes, young Maynard was very near to taking the wrong turn at the crossroads to-night. But we dragged him back. He'll be grateful to us in the morning."

Thatcher lighted his pipe. "We'd best be careful," said Wayne, glancing over his shoulder. "Mustn't act too chummy until I can pretend to dig up new evidence at Sydney and tell Sibyl Clay I was wrong."

"Of course." Thatcher started to move away. "You added a few details to the scenario we worked out at luncheon," he said.

"Naturally. The excitement of the moment, you know. Yes, I had several inspirations."

"There was one in particular I didn't much care for," Thatcher continued—"that about my shooting poor old Bertie in the back. I wouldn't shoot any man in the back. You know it."

"Nonsense!" said Wayne. "I've read more South Sea stories than you have. Men are always shot in the back down there. And if it comes to that, I didn't like what you said about Bertie—a dirty blackbirder."

Thatcher laughed. "You don't mean you've actually got a brother named Bertie?" he inquired.

"Certainly I have. He's a bookseller directly across from the Mitre, in Oxford." Wayne looked up at the star-strewn sky. "How he would enjoy a tour like this. Poor old Bertie has never been out of England in his life."

 
 
 

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