The Portal of
The PORTAL OF DREAMS
by CHARLES NEVILLE BUCK
Author of THE KEY TO YESTERDAY THE LIGHTED MATCH
Illustrated by FRANK SNAPP
NEW YORK W. J. WATT &COMPANY PUBLISHERS
CHAPTER I. A
VISION UPON A
CHAPTER III. I
EMBARK ON A
CHAPTER IV. SOME
PASSAGES FROM A
CHAPTER VI. THE
END OF THE
CHAPTER VII. IN
CHAPTER IX. A
PORTRAIT AND A
CHAPTER X. I
CHAPTER XI. I
FIND MYSELF A
CHAPTER XIV. THE
CHAPTER XV. TWO
CHAPTER XVI. AN
INTERVIEW AND A
CHAPTER XVII. WE
GO TO THE
CHAPTER XVIII. A
CHAT WITH A
CHAPTER XIX. A
VOLLEY FROM THE
CHAPTER XX. A
CHAPTER XXI. I
GO WALKING AND
CHAPTER XXII. I
FAIL TO RETURN
THE OFFER OF
CHAPTER XXIV. MY
DAY IN COURT.
HOW IT ENDED—AND
[Illustration: Sit down! he thundered.]
List of Illustrations
Sit down! he thundered.
A young woman was sitting before a counter, with her back to the
street, trying on gloves.
Frances! Frances! Frances! I declaimed with the deep profundity of
You are a great traveler, aren't you, Mr. Deprayne? she suggested
when the silence had begun to be oppressive.
THE PORTAL OF DREAMS
CHAPTER I. A VISION UPON A WARNING
The doctor was so small and frail that his narrow face was rescued
from inconsequence only by a trimly cropped Van-Dyck with a dignified
sprinkling of gray. I always felt that, should I ever see him in a
bathing suit, I would have to seek a new physician. I could never again
think of him as sufficiently grown-up to practise an adult vocation.
Yet when the doctor spoke his mentality issued out of its small
habitation of flesh and expanded to commanding proportion.
The little doctor was in fine a very great doctor, and on this
occasion he was bullying me with the large authority of a Bonaparte.
But, Doctor I began protestingly.
He raised a small hand which suggested the claw of a delicate bird
and fixed me with quizzical eyes that had the faculty of biting sharply
through a man's unspoken thoughts.
Don't assume to say 'but' to me, he sternly enjoined; and since we
had long known each other, not only as physician and patient, but also
as men who breakfasted at the same hour and the same club table, I
Once upon a time, he continued, the German Kaiser presumed to
question a pilot on his imperial yacht. Do you recall the result?
No, said I, I don't, but
Again the doctor eyed me, basilisk fashion, across the bacon and
eggs of our belated morning meal, as he continued:
He very properly reminded the Emperor that upon a vessel in the
high seas, a pilot acknowledges no superior this side of Eternity. In
matters of health I take the bridge. You obey.
But I weakly insisted.
You presume to think because you house your nerves in a
well-muscled body that they are infallible, he implacably continued.
I've seen rotten motors in excellent garages. I've seen unhappy wives
immured in palaces, and I've seen finer figures of men than you in
My nerves are simply of the high-strung type, I argued.
Those are the kind that snap, retorted the sage. If you were a
racehorse, it might be a matter of reasonable pride to you to be bred
in the purple. Being a man with no avocation except the spending of
unearned money, it means that you are perilously over-sensitized.
What unpleasant pedantry are you leading up to? I demanded. Out
I mean to. You have the artistic temperament which, without genius,
is worse than useless. You choose to regard yourself a failure and grow
morose because you have found the law uncongenial and because editors
earn their salaries by returning your manuscripts. The durability of
your nervous system depends entirely on how you utilize the next five
Go on, I encouraged him, don't mind me. Sentence me to death if
it amuses you.
It won't be death, but unless you fortify those nerves, he calmly
went on, there probably will be disaster. It may take any one of
As, for instance? I inquired, with pardonable curiosity.
Oh, arterio-sclerosis, paralysis, insanity, something of that
Thank you kindly, I murmured, as I reached for the matches. Can I
have my choice of the lot?
However, went on the big little doctor, if you devote the next
few years to a program of diversified travel, you ought to lay up an
account of nerve-strength upon which you can draw ad lib. for
forty or fifty years to come. You should even have a surplus against
the unfortunate exigency of living on when you are old and useless.
But I have traveled, I argued. I've been to
He interrupted me with a snort, and swept my declarations aside,
You have dabbled at travel, like a school-girl nibbles at
chocolates. Get out on the hike and stay out for a year or two. Build
into your artificial self something of the out-door animal. You have a
fair startyou were once an athlete. He rose to go down to his motor,
and I shouted after him contemptuous and profane criticism.
Nevertheless within the week I booked passage for the Mediterranean.
I found once more that Europe and the African fringe of the
land-locked sea have to offer to the hunger of the wanderlust only a
stereotyped table-d'hôte. Shortly it cloys. Within several weeks one
thing only had promised to break the stagnant surface with a riffle of
interest. And that one thing puzzled me in no small degree, since it
was not such a matter as would ordinarily have challenged my attention.
I have passed with a glance many beautiful women, and felt no need to
turn my head for a further inspection. I am not of the cavaliering
type, and yet here I was finding myself interested, in a strange and
indefinable way, in a woman whose face I had not seen, and whose name I
did not know. That, I told myself, was the secret of it. It was exactly
because she was elusive, mysterious in fashion, that I found my flat
interest piqued. I never had more than the swish of her skirt or a
glimpse of her retreating figure, until it came about that sheer
inquisitiveness gave her an augmented importance. At all events, she
had eluded me over southern Europe from Genoa to Constantinople, and
thence into Egypt, and I wanted to see her face. It was at Naples that
I had my first hasty and imperfect view of her. I was hurrying through
the Galeria Umberto, on my way to a luncheon appointment for which I
found myself late. As I passed Merola's a young woman was sitting
before a counter, with her back to the street, trying on gloves. I
could appreciate the gypsy grace of her figure, which was slender,
because one of the avocations into which I have essayed without
distinction is painting. The single thing at which I have not failed,
except the success of having selected parents who bequeathed me money,
is an appreciation of the beautiful. That appreciation, despite my
hurry, brought me to a stop for a full glance at her; but there was no
mirror at any part of the shop which gave me a reflection of her
averted face, and as my appointment was imperative, I refrained from
going in to buy gloves. But there was something so exquisite in her
bearing, and in the tasteful lines of her simple traveling gown, that I
caught myself thinking of her. Then as I went down to the quay a day
later to say farewell to some friends, just as the gangplank of an
outgoing steamer was about to be drawn up, I saw her hurrying across
it. Her face was still averted. I strained to catch a feature, but a
wayward gust of bay breeze wrapped a filmy veil about the profile which
was for a moment turned my wayand hid it. She did not house at the
deck rail but disappeared as the gangplank came up and cut off pursuit.
But I had added to my first impression the knowledge that she did not
merely walk. She soared as though her feet were the sandals of Hermes,
and she carried herself with the splendid grace of a slender young
[Illustration: A young woman was sitting before a counter, with her
back to the street, trying on gloves.]
The luncheon appointment, which had thwarted my impulse to turn into
the glove shop, and so end the mystery in its incipiency, brought a
long trail of complications and caused me to envy those fortunate men
who are not handicapped by the possession of relatives. I have
sometimes thought that the truly ideal existence would be to be born an
orphan unhampered by cousins, aunts or any of those human beings who
are privileged to make demands upon our times and thoughts.
From the moment when I watched the skyline of New York sink slowly
behind the horizon until I reached Naples I had at least been a free
agent. But hardly had I signed my guest card at Parker's Hotel and
strolled out to hail a crazy Neapolitan hack when the angular and
purposeful figure of my Aunt Sarah loomed up in the near foreground
andsaving her graceeclipsed the picturesqueness of the town and the
distant cone of Vesuvius. I had known vaguely that this estimable lady
was beating her way about Europe, guide-booked and grimly set upon
self-improvement, but I had hoped to keep the area of two or three
monarchies between us.
I knew that from one to the other of the Cook's Agencies she would
be flitting with the same frantic energy that characterizes the
industry of the ant. That I should myself pass within hailing distance
of her party or be recruited in her peregrinations was a disaster which
I had not anticipated. None the less the blow had fallen and I had
walked unwarned into the ambuscade of her fond embrace. Aunt Sarah
would now converse voluminously of cathedrals and old masters, and all
the things upon which tourists are fed to a point of acute mental
She had ordered me to luncheon with much the same finality as that
with which royalty commands the attendance of guests at court. I had
gone meekly though doing so involved passing Merola's and opened up a
series of events which were destined to alter for the worse my
immediate future. But the luncheon had been only the beginning, and
greater misfortunes were to follow in due order.
I have never since been able to understand precisely what form of
paresis seized upon me, and paralyzed my normally efficient power of
lying, when she instructed me to attach myself to her party for a motor
trip to Villefranche and Nice. I do know that no available mendacity
occurred to my shocked brain and I found myself murmuring an
acceptance. The acceptance was again meek and spineless. I had
discovered at luncheon that Aunt Sarah, with that motherly obsession
which appears to characterize many maiden ladies of fifty and beyond,
had under wing a party of three young ladies who were capping off their
educations with the post graduate advantages of the grand tour. That
these young ladies possessed all the homely virtues, I have not the
slightest doubt. Their faces and figures attested the homeliness and
their virtue was such that they seemed always wondering whether their
halos were on straight. Theirs was an insatiate greed for intellectual
feeding. They browsed through their Baedeckers with a seeming terror
lest something erudite escape them. They pursued and captured and
assimilated every fleeting fact which might improve their minds. Until
my captivity they had no man with their party. That was probably
because Aunt Sarah had made the strategic mistake of permitting all
those, whom she might otherwise have annexed, to see her girls. She
should have enlisted her male escort first and held back the
introductions until desertion was impracticable. At all events, I had,
like the imbecile I was, fallen for it, and surrendered my liberty.
When the boat bearing the unknown divinity set sail I was merely a
satellite of Aunt Sarah's constellation and no longer a free agent.
Because I happened to be, in a superficial way, familiar with the
tourist-tramped sections of the Continent, I became a sort of gentleman
courier, without recompense, and because I had once undertaken to be a
painter, I was expected to give extemporaneous lectures on the art
treasury of the museums. We walked several thousand miles, or maybe it
was millions, over those peculiarly hard floors which make art
galleries penitential institutions. I saw the three plain faces in
every phase of soulful rapture that can be elicited by the labors of
the masters, from Michelangelo to Murillo.
When this had gone on for several centuries, or maybe it was æons, I
discovered that every art gallery has two or three truly interesting
features, though the full enjoyment of these was denied me. I speak of
the exits. Perhaps to the unintimidated mind of the outsider it may
appear that whatever agonies I underwent were the deserved result of my
own abjectness. It is easy to say that I might have pleaded other plans
and gone on my way enfranchised. To such a critic my only and
sufficient reply is that he or she does not know my Aunt Sarah. My Aunt
Sarah says to whomsoever she chooseth, Go, and he goeth; Come, and
he cometh. She knew perfectly well that I had no other plans. She
correctly assumed me to be a derelict floating without purpose and with
my chart lost over-side. She virtuously resolved that for once I should
be made of use, in assisting to improve the minds of the three plain
young ladies. Lying would have been quite futile. Consequently she
said, Come, and I came. When I learned that we were to make the tour
to the Riviera towns by motor, I welcomed the suggestion as a less evil
than cathedrals and art galleries. At least we should be out of doors
and in the exhilaration of rapid motion one might hope to forget the
three young ladies at brief and blessed intervals. One could not at the
same time think of the culture-pursuing trio and anything rapid.
It has been my curse in life that I have dabbled at so many things
that I can be made of smattering use in almost any circumstance. Our
chauffeur discovered this three and one-half minutes after the
occurrence of our first blow-out, when Aunt Sarah, taking pity upon his
sweating and dust-grimed brow, told me off to help him patch the
puncture. After that it was impossible to feign ignorance as to the
interior workings and deviltries of motor cars.
The Upper Corniche Road is perhaps the most charming driveway of the
worldand I say this with due reverence to Amalfi. By a road as white
as a fresh tablecloth and as smooth as a bowling alley one speeds to
the purring of his motor along the way thrown up for the tramping feet
of Bonaparte's battalions. From a commanding height the traveler looks
down, as from the roof of the world, with close kinship of peaks and
clouds, upon a panorama a-riot with breadth and depth and color.
Fascinating road-houses of stucco walls curtained behind a profusion of
clambering roses tempt one to pause and take his ease to the tinkle of
guitars and mandolins. But Aunt Sarah and the girls, ever bent upon
reaching the next cathedral with a stained glass window or the next
dingy canvas of a saint sitting on a cloud, were scarcely amenable to
the lure of road-house temptation.
They seemed to regard Europe as a transitory effect which might fade
like the glories of sunset before they had finished seeing it, and
anything savoring of the dilatory aroused their suspicion.
Far below us lay the outspread Mediterranean, blue beyond
description and upon her placid bosom sailboats shrunk to the size of
swallows and yachts seemed no larger than nursery toys.
One gracious afternoon, while I was occupying the front seat beside
the driver, I almost attained a state of contentment. I was pretending
that I had forgotten all about the human freight in the tonneau. My
eyes were drinking in the smiling beauty framed by the wide horizon,
when suddenly the droning of the motors fell quiet and with no
warrantable reason the automobile slid to a halt and declined to
CHAPTER II. PURSUING A
Aunt Sarah and the girls were much annoyed and their annoyance did
not grow less when, after a half-hour of diagnosis, the chauffeur
emerged, grease-stained and exhausted from under the car, shaking his
head. He frankly admitted that his worm's eye view had failed to
enlighten him as to the trouble. Aunt Sarah turned upon me eyes
mirroring a faith sufficient to move even stalled motor cars.
I am sure, my dear, she said, sweetly, your mechanical aptitude
can find a remedy for this difficulty.
It was, of course, an order to burrow into the confined space
between the road bed and the bottom of the car, and of course I
burrowed. For a time I was out of touch with all matters transpiring in
the great outer world, but finally I saw the inverted face of our
chauffeur gazing in upon me and heard his bellowing voice. I have
hitherto neglected to mention that our chauffeur was neither French nor
Italian, but Irish. He was, in fact, an excellent fellow, and the only
member of our party whom I found companionable.
Sure, sor, he yelled, there's another car in trouble just around
th' turn av' th' road.
I supposed that he was imparting this information only out of the
assumption that misery loves company, and inasmuch as my reply was
profane, it need not be quoted. In a moment more, however, his grinning
visage reappeared at the road level. They wants to know if you can't
be afther lending 'em a tire-iron?
What do they think this is? I roared back, squirming far enough to
clear my face for utterance, but not far enough to see what was going
on. This isn't a repair crew.
It was hardly a gracious response to a fellow motorist in trouble,
but my point of view was oppressed with the weight of a paralyzed car,
and Aunt Sarah and the girls, and I was misanthropic to the degree of
sourness. From my position whatever conversation ensued was merely an
incoherent babble of voices. Palpably, despite my discourtesy, Mr.
Flannery had supplied the inquirers with whatever they needed, and they
had gone their way. I, in the course of the next few minutes, emerged
from my hedge-hog isolation, tinkered with the carburetor, and crawled
back again into concealment. Then someone returned the borrowed
tire-iron. I did not have the opportunity to speak to the Someone, and
I should not have seen the Someone at all had I not happened to catch
the shouted words of Mr. Flannery. Mr. Flannery had so accustomed
himself to pitting his voice against machinery that even in moments of
quiet he hurled his words like the roar of a bull. So, as he spoke now
to the unknown person, I recognized an allusion to myself. The words
which set me to extricating myself as speedily as possible from my
humble position were as follows:
Sure, ma'am, th' boss would be afther bein' more polite to yer,
only the car is layin' a little heavy on his stummick, and it gives him
a bit of a grouch.
The word which excited me was the ma'am, and my excitement was no
means allayed when I stood clear in the road and saw just disappearing
around a curve a figure which I recognized. It could be no other
figure, for no other figure that I had ever seen could walk with the
same triumphant and lissome grace. Again the face was turned away from
me, and about her hat floated a confusing cloud of veil. But she had
been there within a few feet and possibly had even heard my surly
responses to her request for assistance. Possibly she had seen my
wriggling feet while I, who would have esteemed it the greatest
possible privilege to have assisted her in any way, had lain there
surrounded by dust and profanity. I was seized with a mad impulse to
run after her, but I knew that the return of my iron signified that
their tire-mending was finished and they were on their journey.
My own repairs were not finished, and I stood there with streaks of
grease across my face, caked with dust and by no means presenting the
appearance with which a man might hope to appear acceptable in the eyes
of divinity. Aunt Sarah and her bevy of young intellectuals, I found,
had withdrawn to the greater comfort of a near-by road-house, and could
give me no information, while Flannery's description was on the whole,
unsatisfactory. The idiot had not asked her name, and in answer to all
my questions could only assure me vaguely that the young lady was a
peach. One thing he had noticed. The car, which had passed us a
quarter of an hour before was a large blue touring car, of high
horse-power. It is strange what details impress certain minds and what
goes unseen. So again I had missed my chance, and the incident had not
served to reconcile me to my serfdom.
Several days later I had succeeded in gaining a brief leave of
absence from my duties as courier, and was spending an interval of
sadly needed rest.
I had the hope that the unknown girl and her party would be stopping
for a while in one of the closely grouped towns along the coast: Nice,
Cannes, Mentone, Monte Carloit mattered little which one it might be.
If she was in any of these, I should eventually find her, and I haunted
the dazzling whiteness of the Boulevard des Anglais, with a buoyant
pulse beat of expectancy. At any moment I might again catch a glimpse
of her in a shop or café, and if I did, I meant that it should be more
than a glimpse, and that she should not again escape until I had at
least seen her face. I spent most of my time wondering what she was
like. Would the full view bring a greater sense of fascination or the
pang of disillusionment? It might be that when I saw her I should find
myself harshly awakened from a dream, but at all events, there would be
certainty, and an end to the tantalizing sense of following a
will-o'-the-wisp which constantly eluded. She gave me one very anxious
afternoon. I had been taking a horseback ride near town when I came
upon a wrecked and empty automobile. The physical facts showed clearly
what had happened. The car had evidently skidded while speeding, in an
effort to turn out for some passing vehicle, and had tried to climb a
stone wall. There must have been a very ugly moment, as the twisted
front wheels and crumpled hood attested. What frightened me was the
fact that it was a large, blue touring car of the same sort, if not
identical, with the one described by Flannery. I was commencing my ride
when I saw it, but I turned back at once to town and began an
investigation. I finally learned that the chauffeur for a local garage
had taken a party of his own friends for a joy ride, and that the
expedition had come to summary grief. My effort to trace the history of
that particular car for a week or two past resulted in nothing. I was
informed that it had been hired many times and to many unrecorded
persons, usually for the afternoon or day.
Several nights later I was sitting at a roulette table in Monte
Carlo's Cercle des Etrangers. I had fallen in with a coterie of
chance acquaintances, who for some reason held faith in my luck and
insisted upon my crowding into a vacant place at the wheel. My function
was to submit to the issue of fortune not only my own stack of louis
d'or, but also the considerable purse that they had raised among
My table was near the center of the main salle, and at my
elbows crowded the little party of men and women whose interests hung
upon my success or failure. It was the same old scene; the same old
life that one sees year after year in this chief cathedral of the gods
of chance. Men and women from both hemispheres stood or sat in the
tense absorption of eyes riveted on dancing ball and whirling disc. At
my right was a regally gowned woman whose delicate features were now as
hard as agate and whose eyes were avid. At my left was a saturnine
Spaniard who smiled indifferently, but who did not know his cigar had
died to a stale coldness. I was experiencing the sense of
disillusionment which invariably comes to me afresh when I enter the
Casino of Monaco. I always ascend the stairs of the palace which the
principality-supporting syndicate has provided for its patrons with a
mild elation of expectancy. I always take my place at the tables with
the realization of disappointment. The sparkle of jewels is there;
sometimes the beauty is there, but the spirit that rules is not a
spirit of gaiety; and the glitter of eyes makes me forget the diamonds.
The cold lust of greed flashes in the hard brightness of set faces.
Between the droning announcements of the croupier insidious thoughts
force themselves. I think of the management's efficient ambulance
services; of the exhaustive arrangements by which unknown patrons may
be promptly identified; and the sinister discoveries of the beach.
These things were in my mind now as the stack of gold pieces at my
front alternately piled and dwindled under a fitful sequence of petty
losses and gains.
I may have been at the table an hour when I began to have the
insistent feeling of someone in particular standing at my back. Of
course, there were many people behind me. Besides my own party was the
crowd of idle onlookers as well as others who were impatiently waiting
to seize upon vacant places about the board.
And yet, just then I could not turn my head. My system involved
leaving the winnings upon the table for three successive spins of the
wheel. I had played a group of numbers in the black, cautiously
avoiding the alluring perils of the greater odds, and twice my little
pile of louis d'or had drawn in its prize money. On the third
spin we stood to lose the entire amount of our augmented stake or see
our pile swell commandingly. While I waited for the croupier to close
the betting and touch the button, I twisted my head backward, to
determine whose presence in the throng had so subtly announced itself
to my consciousness. But the barrier of faces that pressed close
against my chair cut off all who stood further back. The wheel raced;
the ball danced madly about its rim; the crowd stood bating its breath;
and the scattered piles of gold lay in doubt on the green baize
It was over. The croupier sang out the winning number, column and
combinations. The rake was extended to push over to me a fairly
imposing pile of French gold. I was conscious of coming in for more
than my individual share of interest. Luck had been with me, and at
Monte Carlo, the lucky man is the man of moment. But the sense of some
personality above the many personalities was now borne in upon me with
irritating force. I was impatient to rise and push back my chair and
look about me, but as I attempted to do so, the men and women whose
capital I had increased raised a chorus of remonstrance. I reluctantly
resumed the place which I had been about to abdicate and once more laid
out my stake. This time I pushed the entire pile out onto the green
cloth in a pyramid on the black. I knew if I lost it they would
willingly surrender my services. Even at that cost I wanted freedom.
For, in the moment that I had been standing there, I had caught a
glimpse of a retreating figure, which disappeared through the door,
almost at the instant that my eyes identified it. It was the figure of
a woman in evening-dress, or rather, I should say, of the woman
in evening-dress. There was the same graceful majesty of bearing, the
same slim graceand the same averted face. But because I wished to
leave the table fortune pursued me. Spin after spin doubled, tripled,
quadrupled my swelling pile of money. Finally I told them that I would
remain for three more tests of chancebut no more. I could hardly
abandon these enthused men and women without warning, but as soon as I
had fulfilled the obligation, I rose, and I fear there was more of
precipitate haste than of courtesy in my manner of shouldering my way
through the press of onlookers, to the door and the wonderful
embroidery of flower beds before the casino. Eyes followed me, for my
luck had held and I was a momentary sensation. It was still early, as
hours go in a place where the major activity belongs to night life, and
for two hours I haunted the cafés and boulevards without result. The
next day proved equally fruitless, but that night, as I was idling with
my after-dinner cigar, along the Boulevard de Condemine, I saw
strolling at some distance ahead of me, a young man and a girl. It was
she, and I had only to hasten my steps to overtake and see her. I could
guess that the man with her was a Frenchman. The cut of his clothes and
the jaunty swagger of his bearing were distinctively Gallic. My
imagination could read the title fortune hunter as though it were
embroidered on his coat-tails.
I was resentful, and hurried on, but as usual I was destined to
disappointment. An untimely and inconsequential acquaintance loomed up
in my path, and when I attempted to brush hastily by him, he slapped me
on the back and hailed me with that most irritating of all conceivable
forms of address, Well, how is the boy to-night?
He did not find the boy particularly affable that night, but with
an accursed and persistent geniality he succeeded in delaying me for
the space of a few precious moments. At a distance, I saw her disappear
into a lighted doorway against which her face and figure showed only in
silhouette. Again I had lost her. I could hardly pursue her into the
entrances of private houses, but I noted the location and went back to
my apartments in the Hotel Hermitage with the comforting thought that
we were in the same town and that by rising early the next morning, and
searching tirelessly till midnight, I should ultimately be able to see
Before sleep came to me a telegram was brought to my door.
Aunt Sarah had succeeded in becoming involved in some ludicrous
difficulty with the Italian customs officials. She implored that I come
at once to her rescue. How she had achieved it, was a matter of
inscrutable mystery. I had always found the politeness of Italian
customs officers as gracious as a benediction, but Aunt Sarah was a
resourceful person. I rejoined her detestable cortège long enough to
extricate her from her newest difficulty, and to discuss with her her
plans for the immediate future. I found that she and her young ladies
were yearning for the sepia tinted walls of Rome where, under every
broken column and crumbling arch their hungry souls might drink deep
draughts of improving tradition and culture. I knew that they would
waste no time musing by moonlight in the shadows of the Colosseum, but
that with Latin dictionaries they would decipher in the broad light of
day the inscriptions on the arcs of Titus and Constantine. None the
less, I encouraged their idea and enlarged upon the suitability of this
time. I looked up the train schedules and wired for hotel reservations.
Every moment that they hesitated I was excitedly quoting, though not
aloud, lines that came back from the days of a less-mature literary
'Why dost thou stay and turn away,
Here lies the path to Rome.'
I thought it the part of wisdom to refrain from mentioning until the
actual moment of their departure that my own way lay in an opposite
direction. But when I had seen them settled in their first-class
compartments and the accommodating guard had reassured me by locking
them in, I turned with a sigh of contentment and fled back to Monte
Carlo. I had been absent only a few days, but I returned to a dusty and
desolate town. Perhaps the numbers of gamblers and pleasure-seekers had
not actually diminished. Perhaps they had even increased, but a day's
search satisfied me that the unknown lady had gone, and for me the town
What idiosyncrasy drove me to the Holy Land, I cannot say, unless it
was that after my exhausting term of cathedral inspection I felt a
desire to have a look at that temple which, except for the Taj Mahal,
has always appealed to me as the world's most beautiful place of
worshipthe Mosque of Omar.
Riding one day on a donkey around the walls of Jerusalem, I had a
glimpse of Her standing on the ramparts above me by the gate of the
Needle's Eye. But as I looked up, the sun was full in my eyes and I
could distinguish only the lashing of her skirts in the wind, and a
halo-like aura of gold about her head, which was uncovered. At that
distance her face was a featureless oval. Until night came with its
howling of a thousand dogs I visited the places to which guides most
frequently conduct their charges. But in the Temple of The Sepulchre,
on the Mount of Olives, at the Jews' Wailing Place and among the
vaulted bazaars, there was only failure for my quest. For two days I
hunted, and while I hunted she must have gone down to Jaffa or departed
for the overland trip to Syria.
CHAPTER III. I EMBARK ON A FOOL'S
I was sitting on the terrace at Shepheard's Hotel on the evening of
my arrival there. I was finding life flat, as one must who can discover
no fascination in Cairo's appeal to the eyes, nostrils and ears. Before
me was the olla-podrida of touring fashion and fellaheen squalor; the
smell of camels and attar of roses; the polyglot chatter of European
pleasure-seekers and the tom-toms of Arab pilgrims.
Then once more I saw her. But still I did not see her face. I
suppose there were other persons with her. I did not notice. I did
notice the salient thing. She was boarding a motor 'bus, presumably for
the Alexandria train, and was followed by the usual Cairene retinue of
tarbooshed porters and luggage-bearers.
My glimpse of her was again only in exit. My baggage had just been
unpacked, and I also could not catch the Alexandria train. I had been
foolish enough to announce my coming by postcard from Jerusalem to an
acquaintance at the Turf Club and had found awaiting me at Shepheard's
on my arrival a note informing me that George Clann, a friend of past
days, had invited a few army officers and native men for dinner that
evening to meet me. The note added that no excuse would be accepted. I
had called up the club and signified my acceptance. That was before I
had seen the departing goddess, but I was due in the Sharia el Magrabi
an hour hence and so was once again completely anchored.
Had I seen her in entrance instead of in exit only, I should perhaps
have remained in Egypt and fanned into rebirth a languid interest in
sarcophagi and cartouches and camel-riding and scrambling up the
comfortless slants of pyramids.
As it was I began to subscribe to the Oriental idea of an inevitable
destiny. I admitted to myself that it was written that for me this lady
was to remain as unseen as though she belonged to the latticed and
veiled seclusion of some pasha's harem. I told myself that had my first
glimpse been a full one I should have gone on my way with prompt
forgetfulness and that a curiosity so strange and fantastic must
influence me no further.
I sought out an empty place on the terrace where unintentionally
enough I overheard an earnest conversation between a fair-haired and
enthusiastic young Englishman and a grizzled fellow in middle life.
They were talking business in one of the writing-rooms which give out
through open windows upon the terrace, and the enthusiasm of the
younger gave a carrying quality to his voice.
He was, it appeared from his solicitude, seeking a billet which it
lay in the power of his elder vis-à-vis to bestow. From the discussion
which neither of them treated as confidential I learned that there is
somewhere in the Pacific Ocean a perfectly useless island from which
certain ethnological data and exhibits might be obtained. It further
appeared that the British Museum was deficient in these particular
curios and that the glass cases were yearning to be filled. The youth
had been employed in Soudanese excavations and research. Now that work
had ended and with it the pay, the necessity for other work and pay had
The billet down there, suggested the elder man, will be no end
beastly, I dare say. A tramp steamer sails from Port Said in three days
for Singapore, Sandakan and the South Seas. The pay will be one hundred
and fifty pounds for the job. The fare will probably be maggoty
biscuitsstill, if you feel game to have a dash at it The speaker
finished with a shrug which seemed to add, It's never difficult to
find a fool.
But the young man laughed with a whole-hearted enthusiasm, that
entirely missed the under note of contempt in the manner of his
benefactor. Well, rather, he declared. And I say, you know, its
jolly good of you, sir.
Later I made the acquaintance of the young Briton in the American
bar where over Scotch and soda we discussed the project, to the end
that I nominated and elected myself an assistant forager for the
British Museum, serving at my own expense. There was something likeable
about my new and naïve acquaintance, who was so eager to shoulder his
futile way across a third of the globe's circumference in search of
crudely inscribed rocks and axe-heads and decaying skulls. My own
experience in life had been even more futile. I had learned to speak
five languages and had completely failed of gaining a foothold in five
useful professions: Art, Law, Literature, Music and Contentment.
Possibly the appeasement of my Salatheal hunger, the curing of the
curse, did not after all lie along the routes of Cunarders and
Pullmans. Maybe I was still nibbling at travel as the school-girl
nibbles at chocolates. Perhaps his method of taking the long and empty
trail was the heroic medicine my itching feet required. At all events,
I sententiously quoted to myself, I think It will kill me or cure, and
I think I will go there and see.
When I informed young Mansfield, for that proved to be his name,
that I meant to be his traveling companion, his almost childlike face
took on an incredulous expression. He was a great two-hundred-pound
chap whose physique should logically have been the asset of a pirate or
a pugilist, but the visage which surmounted it had a rosy pinkness and
his blue eyes wore the guileless charity of essential innocence. With
his physical power went a long-suffering good nature, and as he talked
of the widely scattered places he had seen and the things which should
have made him wise in his generation it seemed to me that his soul must
have worn a macintosh, from which the showers of experience had been
shed off without leaving a mark. I have seen mastiffs with eyes full of
wistfulness because Nature has denied their affectionate temperaments
the gentle lives of lap dogs. Mansfield struck me the same way. Why a
man, by his spare and simple standards as rich as Cr[oe]sus, should
care to ship with him on a voyage promising maggoty biscuits, was quite
beyond his mental process. He confessed, in all frankness, that he did
it merely for the moneythe pitiful hundred and fifty. There was a
girl back in England, probably as devoid of surprises and complications
of character as a lane-side primrose. I pictured her to myself as a
creature of pink and shallow prettiness. The day to which his ambition
strained as the ultimate goal was the day when he could become a
curator in the British Museum and transplant her to decent London
lodgings. He longed to placard and arrange scarabs in a plate-glass
case and to classify Chimbote pottery and on bank holidays to push a
go-cart in the park.
I was glad, however, when I went over the rust-red side of the
Wastrel that Mansfield went with me. We had known that we were
shipping on a mean vessel, and one shouldered out of more orderly
chartings, because of her unworthiness. Liners did not ply the tepid
waters for which we were bound: waters ridden by no commerce save the
peddling of copra and pearl shell and beche-de-mer. Yet even the
warning had not prepared me for what I found, as I first stepped upon
her unclean decks and had my initial view of her more unclean crew.
Perhaps there are other corroded hulks shambling here and there among
the less frequented ports of the seven seas as uninviting in appearance
and as villainously manned as was the Wastrel, but on this point
I stand unconvinced. A glance told us that her sea-worthiness was
questionable and that her over-burdening cargo pressed her Plimsoll
mark close to the water line. We were to learn by degrees that her
timbers were rotten, her plates rust-eaten and her engines junk. Her
officers were outcasts from respectable seafaring, none too cordial in
their relations with admiralty courts. They had fallen back on the
hazardous command of such a vessel as this not from choice, but
necessity, precisely as other types of unemployed and hopeless men fall
back on vagrancy and crime. Her crew was picked from the dregs of
scattered ports. They were Lascars, Kanakas, Chinese and non-descripts
from here and there; haled forth and signed from dives where human
garbage trickles down to the sea. At first they interested me as new
and roughened types of men, yet as I say, I was more than grateful for
the shoulder touch of at least one being of my own sort. From our
arrival, none of them except the captain and officers took the
slightest pains to conceal that they regarded us as unwelcome
interlopers and even the courtesy of the after-guard was short-lived
enough. In that desert of taciturnity Mansfield babbled like a brook
and overflowed with young sentimentality.
The first leg of our journey ended at Borneo, leaving us as
unacquainted with officers and seamen, save in the surface details of
personal appearance, as we had been at Port Said. Now we were dropping
Sandakan harbor over the stern. Already the sprawling, hillside town,
framed in its mangrove swamps, was lost around the buttress of the
harbor's sentinel rock. Ramparts of sandstone were burning with a ruddy
glow in the sunset.
A sense of isolation settled on us. As we had nosed our way outward
Mansfield had been leaning silently on the after rail. His eyes had
dwelt lingeringly on the green gardens and white walks of the British
Consulate which sits upon its hill. Now we had seen the last of that
and of the bay's flotilla of matting-sailed junks. Off the port bow
were only beetling sandstone and the countless gulls, flashing white as
they tilted the snowy linings of their wings into the sun. He talked
for a time, in low tones of the girl in Sussex as men will talk when
they are homesick, and then he rather shamefacedly produced from
somewhere and opened at random a much battered blank-book, written in a
I dare say, he hesitantly told me, I have no moral right to read
this. It's quite personal, yet it's unsigned. Invasion of privacy can't
apply to anonymous persons, you know. He paused for a minute and
indolently watched the screaming hordes of Sandakan birds as if
awaiting my agreement, but I said nothing.
You see, he continued, I've been living lately in a cheap
pension at Cairo and, before that, in beastly Soudan inns, so when
I drew a bit in advance I resolved to treat myself to a day or two at
Shepheards. You remember how full the house was? They had to give me a
small room on the roof. It was really a sort of servant's room in less
crowded times, I fancy. A beggar of an Arab used to pray on his rug in
front of my door.... In rummaging about I found this. He held up the
blank-book. I looked for an address, meaning to post it to its owner
but there was no address and only given namesthere's not a surname
between these covers. Some servant must have found it in a vacated room
and later left it in the one to which I had fallen heir. Seems to have
been some girl's desultory but intimate diary. Just an entry now and
then, with evidently long gaps between. You see the first writing is
immature, almost childishand the last is dated at Cairo.
I nodded my head, but said nothing. He appeared deeply interested
but his simple punctilio required the reinforcement of my approval,
before he could quite clear the skirts of his conscience in the matter
of having sampled its contents.
You see, he half-apologized, my first glance was disinterested, I
was merely seeking to identify ownership. But from just a few lines,
read in that fashion, I saw that it was his voice became serious,
almost awedwell that it was rather wonderful. Some girl has been
putting her heart into words here he tapped the blank-bookand
she's written a genuine human document. Again he paused, drumming on
the rail with the fingers of one hand.
From a half-dozen bits of Chimbote pottery, he reflected, I can
read a great deal of the habits and life of the Incas. I can restore an
extinct mammal from some fragments of skeleton, but I find it jolly
difficult to understand anything about a woman. If a fellow means to
marry he ought to try to understand. That's why I'd like to have a dip
into this. Do you think I might?
Do you think, I countered, smiling, that you would have the right
to read somebody's unsigned love-letters? A certain magazine editor
had once witheringly opined that I would never succeed in literature
until I acquired some insight into the feminine riddle. But he had not
pointed me to diaries. He had bluntly advised me to fall in love with a
few variant types.
Until a man had found blond or dark hairs on his coat shoulder, said
the editor, he could not hope to write about heartbeats. If he had
found various kinds, and that often, he could write better.
Young Mansfield was giving my question a graver and more literal
consideration than it merited.
I rather think, he said seriously, that one might read such
letters. Unless the offense is against some definite person there is no
offense at all.
Perhaps you are right, I admitted, with a listless avoidance of
argument, and in a moment more he had opened the book at random and was
CHAPTER IV. SOME PASSAGES FROM A
Mansfield was right. The pages of this diary struck the essentially
human note of frank self-avowal. They were as fragrant as May orchards,
their sweetness of personality made one think of brave young dreams
among dewy blossoms. But I confessed to him the feeling that we were
trespassers into these secrets, and after that he either laid the book
by altogether or read it only when alone.
The Wastrel was cruising at her cripple's pace southeast by
east, through those hot waters which lie directly above the equator.
After some days we sloped across the line, but still clung to the
hideous swelter of the next meridian. Our course lay among groups of
lush islands which simmered in steam and fever, and the merciless,
overhead sun beat upon us, as if focused through a burning glass until
the pitch oozed from the deck cracks, and the sweat from our pores, and
the self-control from our curdled tempers. Faces that had been sullen
at Sandakan grew malevolent and menacing at 150 degrees, east, where,
if I remember rightly, we crossed the equator.
The scowls of the men dwelt hatefully upon Captain Coulter as he
paced the bridge. From scraps of information picked up here and there
in fo'castle disparagement, I pieced together a lurid abstract of his
history. I knew how wild and unsavory were the reputations of many of
the men of the eastern beaches. I had listened to tales of lanai
and bund, but even in such company our skipper stood out as
The sheer and hypnotic force of his masterful will lay over and
silenced the ship. From the first, he dominated. But if he had
dominated at the latitude of 120 he domineered at 150, and to this
domineering he brought all those extremes of tyranny which lie at the
hand of a ship's captain on the high seas. At times the sheer,
undiluted brutality of this control compelled my unwilling admiration.
Every pair of eyes that met his from the fo'castle, were eyes of
smoldering hatred and fear, and though he assumed scornful
unconsciousness of this attitude, he knew that his security was no
greater than that of the lion-tamer, whose beasts have begun to go bad.
He must appear to invite attack, and upon its first intimation of
outbreak, he must punish, and punish memorably.
Captain Coulter was little above the average in physical pattern and
he walked with a slight defect of gait, throwing one foot out with an
emphatic stamp. His face was always clean-shaven, and it might have
served a sculptor for a type of the uncompromising Puritan, so hidden
were its brutalities and so strong its note of implacable resoluteness.
Over a high and rather protrusive forehead, long hair of iron gray
was always swept back. Bushy and aggressive brows shaded eyes
singularly piercing and of the same depth and coldness as polar ice.
His nose was large and straight, and his lips set tight and unyielding
like the jaws of a steel trap. The chin was square and close-shaven.
Our captain was a silent man, yet in his own fashion bitterly
passionate. Heffernan, the first mate, was a tawdry courtier, who
studiously considered his chief in every matter, and maintained his
position of concord by ludicrous care to risk no disagreement. In the
stuffy cabin where three times a day we sweltered over bad food
Mansfield and I studied the attitudes of the officers.
Coulter grimly amused himself over his eating by making absurd
statements for the sheer pleasure of seeing his next in command, fall
abjectly into agreement. The second mate, however, was impenetrably
silent. He was without fear, but a life which had evidently brought him
down a steep declivity from a lost respectability, had taught him
consideration for odds. If he did not contradict the dogmatic
utterances of his chief in table conversation, he at least refused to
Mansfield and I were convinced that if this prematurely gray fellow
with the dissipated face, cut in a patrician mould, could ever be
brought to the point of personal narrative, he would have a stirring
story to tell. We also knew that he would never tell it.
Once before the feud between after-watch and fo'castle drove the
officers into an alliance of self-defense. A grave clash between the
captain and the second mate seemed inevitable. It was a night of
intolerable heat, and a sky spangled with stars hung over us low and
smothering. Lawrence, the second mate, was off watch, and joined us,
carrying a violin. Then under the weird depression and melancholy
lassitude which burdened us all, he began to improvise. Mansfield and I
listened, spell-bound. Under his touch the catgut gave off such strains
as could come only from the sheer genius of a gifted musician who had
suffered miserably. It was almost as if he were giving without words
the story which his lips would never tell, and into the improvised
music crept infinite pathos and somber tragedy. No one could have
listened unmoved, but the manner in which Captain Coulter was affected
He came over with an advent like that of a maniac. The lame foot was
pounding the deck with the stressful stamp that was always his
indication of rage. He halted before us with fists clenched and his
eyes glittering. Upon Lawrence he vented an outpouring of blasphemous
and unquotable wrath.
Throw that damned fiddle overboard, was the command with which he
capped his fierce tirade. Don't let me hear its hell-tortured
screeching on my ship again.
For a moment Lawrence stood silent and cold in a petrifaction of
anger. Then he laid the instrument carefully on a hatch and stepped
forward. Obviously it was in his mind at that moment to kill the
captain, but after a pause he thought better of it. The odds against
him were too heavy.
I'll stow the violin in my box, sir, he said with a voice so quiet
it was almost gentle, but so help me God, if ever we meet after this
voyage is ended, I mean to kill you. Coulter laughed disdainfully and
strode away, but for ten minutes Lawrence sat silent, his breath coming
in deep gasps while he wrestled with the murder madness. We learned
later that the captain was one of those persons whom music frenzies,
and from that time on we did not even permit ourselves the consolation
of whistling a favorite air.
Of all the restless men in the fo'castle, Coulter most keenly
watched one John Hoak, a gigantic seaman from Liverpool, in whom he
instinctively recognized a potential ringleader of mutiny. One evening
Hoak vindicated this appraisement by defiantly and loudly playing a
music-hall tune on an accordion. A strain of it reached the bridge and
Coulter, who was on watch, ordered the offender forward. After a
violent and profane denunciation, under which the giant writhed in
silent fury, Coulter lashed out to the sailor's mouth with his clenched
fist and sent him sprawling to the deck. But lest this conduct should
appear too irresolute, he added the punishment of twenty-four hours in
irons. A fellow seaman plucked up the heroism to demand that the
incident be entered on the log for admiralty investigation and
Coulter's only reply was to send the insurgent into the inferno of the
stoke hold for an extra shift at the shovels. In the stokehold the
thermometer registered 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and the white and brown
torsos that strained under the trembling dials were black with the
sooty sweat of their effort and red with the pitiless glare from the
From these beginnings the cloud on the horizon of our affairs
steadily gathered and blackened until an ominous pall of impending
mutiny overhung us. Only an occasional coral reef or atoll now broke
the monotony of a dead and oily sea. No shred of cloud relieved the
emptiness of a devitalized sky. Mansfield and I went about in canvas
shoes and pajamas. The ship was more disheveled than we, and its
discipline more slovenly than its dress. The churlish silence of the
fo'castle was met by the braggart autocracy of the officers. Conditions
grew tenser and thicker with each day, yet no specific rupture came to
fire the waiting explosion. Slowly it brewed and gathered menace, while
the air hung pulseless and heavy under its shadow. Mansfield and I knew
it needed only a lightning flash to loose all the artillery of the
thunders and set them about their hell's fury. By tacit consent we did
not often talk of it, but we remained close together and placed our
revolvers, belts and sheath-knives where they could be readily caught
up. Under the silent horror of foreboding our nerves became raw and our
tempers, like those of the others, short and raspy. On one sultry
afternoon when the trade wind was dead, I came upon Mansfield sprawling
in the shadow of a life-boat, diligently reading entries from the
unknown girl's diary, touching the incidents of her sheltered and
untroubled life. He glanced up shamefacedly, then began in exculpation:
See here, you know you're quite wrong about the guiltiness of
reading this. I'm sure she wouldn't mind. She's not that sort. Here we
are menaced by the inferno of a mutiny. We are no better than mice
waiting the pleasure of a cat, which means to crush them.... The
atmosphere will drive us mad. This book is like a breeze off the
heather.... I tell you it helps.
In abnormal times men entertain abnormal ideas and warped notions. I
sat cross-legged on the deck beside him and stuffed tobacco into my
pipe. I said nothing.
It's all getting on my nerves. I'm losing my grip! he admitted.
Last night I dreamed of a nasty row and all day a bit of rhyme has
been running through my brain. He paused a moment, then quoted:
''Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead
Or a yawning hole in a battered head,
And the scuppers glut with a rotting red.
'And there they lay while the soggy skies
Dreened all day long in upstaring eyes,
At murk sunset and at foul sunrise.'
He broke off and laughed at himself unsteadily.
Get your mind off it, I commanded shortly. Fetch out the
blank-book. Let's read about her début party.
But the passage at which the book fell open dealt with a time prior
to débuts. At the head of the page was pasted a newspaper clipping
hinting at personalities but giving no names.
One of the most beautiful and popular members of the younger set in
the summer colony had been capsized while sailing in the harbor. The
youth who accompanied her had been seized with cramps and she had kept
not only herself but her helpless escort above water until the tardy
arrival of help. Beneath, in her own hand, was scrawled:
Did they expect me to drown him? I had to stand by, of course. What
else could a fellow do? But I spoiled a dress I look nice in. I'm sorry
Appended to this was a postscript so badly written that it was hard
to decipher. I could guess that her cheeks had colored as she wrote it.
Maybe after all, I am a grandstander. I did get awfully tiredand
I pretended that he was looking on, and was swimming out to help
By Jove snorted Mansfield, she's a ripping good sort. I wonder
who she pretended was looking on.
Turn back, I suggested. It may tell.
But it was only after some searching that we found him duly
catalogued, and even then she gave him no name. Yet in trailing him
through the pages, we came to know her quite well, and to render
sincere allegiance. She was not at all conventional. She was one of
those rare discoveries upon which the prospector in life comes only
when he strikes an El Dorado. She dared to think her own thoughts and
did not grow into the stereotyped mold of imitation. We felt from the
clean, instinctive courage of her tone and view-point that if ill
chance had marooned her with us on this imperiled ship, she would bear
herself more gallantly than we could hope to do, and that she would
tread these filthy decks with no spots on the whiteness of her skirts.
In her early writings she had shown for something of a tomboy and
there were hints of elderly exhortation to tread more primly the paths
which were deemed maidenly. Yet from these tattered scraps of life and
outlook, we could piece together some concept of her soul fabric. This
girl was woven of pure silk, but not of flimsy silk; there were
strength and softnessresoluteness and tendernessa warp and woof for
the loom of noble thingsand charm. Often I felt as though I were
invading a temple in which I had no place as communicant, and into
whose fanes and outer areas I should wish to come reverently, with the
shoes of my grosser soul in my hands. One night she had been sitting in
the moonlight on the beach, and the sea had talked to her. What she
wrote that night was pure poetry. I shall not try to reproduce it from
my faulty memory. My heavy masculine hand would mar its gossamer
beauty. One might as well undertake to restore the iridescent
subtleties of a broken bubble. On this occasion she was thinking of the
mysterious man she had so quaintly idealized. Had the lucky beggar,
whoever he was, read those lines he must have felt that, in the lists
of life, there rested on him the sacred obligation to bear a spotless
shield and a true lance. She transcribed as one to whom the magic and
delicate nuances of life are revealed. Besides these passages there
were others sparkling with the merriment of spontaneous humor. Our
writer was no Lady Dolorosa. She was as many-sided and many-hued as the
diamond whose facets break light into color. She frankly admitted to
these pages, intended only for herself, that she was beautiful, though
she wished that her eyes were blue instead of gray-brown, and that her
type were different. Evidently she had cut her teeth on compliment and
fed from childhood on that type of admiration which beauty exacts. She
seemed to be a little hungry for tributes of a different and deeper
sort. In her society days, as in the more youthful period, we found
frequent references to the unnamed man who still held his undeserved
and paramount place as an idealized personality; a human touchstone by
which she tested the intrinsicness of other menalways to the
detriment of those on trial.
CHAPTER V. PREMONITIONS BECOME
At last, running back to the start, we tracked him down and with his
discovery came disappointment. I had realized that she had been
dressing a mere lay-figure in garments of idealized manhood and
endowing an unknown with a panoply of the chivalric to which he could
probably lay no rightful claim. Still it was disconcerting to realize
that he had, in the flesh, contributed absolutely nothing to the
picture. She had simply devised from the whole cloth of imagination a
collaborative sum of Galahad the Pure and Richard the Lion-Hearted. She
had seen him only once in later yearsfrom the sidelines of a
Yale-Harvard football game. He was playing with the crimson and she was
at the impressionable age. There was the whole and meager foundation
for his apotheosis. She did not state the year, but she gave the score,
and by that I identified the occasion.
I devoutly pray, I confided to young Mansfield, that she never
meets him. She has fed herself on dreams. I hope she doesn't wake up.
Mansfield promptly took up the unknown hero's defense. He invariably
held a brief for the idealist.
Why do you assume that he's a bounder? he demanded almost
resentfully. He may be all she thinks.
I don't assume anything, I retorted, but I happened to play on
that team myself and I am compelled to admit, though with chagrin, that
we had among us no knights from Arthur's Round Table. Warriors of
ferocity we had; young gentlemen who played the game to the lasting
glory of John Harvard; but this letter-perfect type of chivalry, valor
and gentleness well, I'm afraid he failed to make the team.
You remember the story of Bruce and the spider? In his ermine,
surrounded by his stalwart barons, Robert would probably have learned
no lesson from the weaving of filmy webs. Alone and in peril, it taught
him how to conquer. To us, alone and in peril, this diary assumed an
epochal importance entirely out of kelter with its face value.
Of course, there were many topics which we might have discussed to
divert our minds from morbidly watching the cloud of impending mutiny
spread and grow inky. But the cloud was present and human, and the
diary was present and human, and we were present and human. Whether or
not we were creatures of atrophied brains and distorted vision is an
academic question. The fact remains. For us there was genuine relief in
turning from the miasma of brooding doom which overhung the Wastrel
to the spiced fragrance of this self-revealed personality. It was a
clean breeze into our asphyxiation. It was a momentary excursion out of
a noisome dungeon into an old-fashioned garden, where roses nod and
One steaming night when darkness had stopped our reading, the two of
us were lying flat on our backsand silentin the enveloping shadows
of the forward deck near the capstan. A group of men who were off watch
had gathered near us, seeking the gratefulness of the uninterrupted
breeze. With no suspicion of our proximity, they fell into a
low-pitched but violent conference.
Hoak held the floor as spokesman, and his deep whispering voice was
raw with bitterness.
We hain't no bloomin' galley-slyves, he growled. Blyme me, I say,
let's make a hend o' the 'ole bloody mess once and for hall.
How? came the natural question from one of the more conservative.
'Ow? retorted the ringleader, W'at's the odds 'ow? Any way will
do. Rush the cabin. There's a stand of rifles at the for'ard bulkhead.
Kill hoff the bloody lot of hofficers. Navigate the bloomin' ole 'ooker
back ourselves and report whatever damn thing we like.
How about these passengers? They'd snitch, suggested the same
Aw no, sarcastically assured Hoak, they won't snitch. They won't
'ave no more charnce to snitch than Coulter 'isselfdamn 'im.
For a moment I felt a steaming throb in my throat. Then came a new
sensation, something like relief that at last the clear outline was
looming through the fog of maddening uncertainty. It did not seem to
matter so much what the certainty was, so long as it brought an end to
the suspense. There was some discussion in hushed voices. Caution had
its advocates who opposed so desperate a course.
Think it hover till to-morrow, said Hoak at last. But hif you
don't stand by me Hi'm going to cut loose a boat and tyke to the water.
To 'ell with the Wastrel an' her rotter of a captain.
There was a sudden hush followed by a sort of low chorused groan.
Around the superstructure of the forward cabin appeared Captain
Coulter, his first officer and the chief engineer. For an instant they
stood silently, flashing electric torches into the terrified faces of
the conspirators who, like schoolboys caught denouncing their teacher,
shuffled their feet and remained speechless.
Hoak, alone, took a step forward. His face was working spasmodically
in the bull's-eye glare which exaggerated the high lights on his
snarling teeth and the black shadows of his scowl. He wavered for an
instant between his personal dread of Coulter, and the knowledge that,
with so much already known, caution was futile. While he hesitated the
other men tacitly grouped themselves together at his back and stood
sullenly eying the officers. Coulter and his two subordinates slipped
their hands into their pockets. It was a tense moment and a noiseless
one. When the captain broke silence his voice was cool, almost casual.
Mr. Kirkenhead, he ordered the chief engineer, take this man Hoak
to the stokehold, and keep him there until we reach port. Give him
double shift and if he makes a false movekill him.
The giant made a passionate start forward, and found himself looking
down the barrel of Coulter's magazine pistol. From the glint of the
raised weapon he bounced backward against the rail, where he leaned
incoherently snarling like a cornered dog.
Hi didn't sign as no blymed stoker, he growled at last. Hi won't
The stokehold or hell, it's up to you. Coulter's reply came in an
absolute monotony of voice strangely at variance with the passionate
stress of their labored breathing. Back of the tableau gleamed the
phosphorescence of the placid sea. There's thirty seconds to decide.
Mr. Kirkenhead, look at your watch.
For a seeming eternity there was waiting and bated breath. We could
hear the muffled throb of the engines, and the churning of the screws.
Then Kirkenhead announced, Twenty seconds, sir.
A moment more and Hoak turned, dropping his head in utter dejection
and shambled aft toward the engine-room companionway.
Mr. Heffernan, came the captain's staccato orders, instruct the
ship's carpenter to scuttle all the boats, except the port and
starboard ones on the bridge. If we are to have any little
disagreements on board we will settle them among ourselves. No one will
leave in my boats except by my orders. Andhe wheeled on the
menwhenever you vermin feel inclined for troublestart it.
So that incident passed and went to swell the cumulative poison of
festering hatred. We knew that the eruption had merely been delayed;
that it must inevitably come and that now its coming would be soon.
Between forward and aft war had been declared. Later that same evening
I made bold to remonstrate with Captain Coulter as to the order
concerning the boats. The conversation took place on the bridgeand it
Mr. Mansfield and myself, I said, are passengers who have paid
full fares and we are entitled to full rights. We demand protection.
This hulk is rotten and unseaworthy. When you scuttle her boats you are
throwing the parachute out of a leaky balloon.
Coulter looked me over for a moment and replied with absolute
Mr. Deprayne, rights are good thingswhen you can enforce them.
Consulates and courts of admiralty are a long way off. The intervening
water is quite deep. If you don't like the Wastrel, leave it.
I'm sorry I can't spare you a boat to leave in.
Mansfield and myself went that night in the miserable cabin which we
shared oppressed with the conviction that the breaking point was at
hand. Mansfield had suddenly sloughed off his boyishness and become
unexpectedly self-contained, giving the impression of capability. The
prospect of action had changed him. Once more he began to quote his
ghastly verses, but now without shuddering, almost cheerfully.
''Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead,
Or a yawning hole in a battered head
And the scuppers glut with a rotting red.'
Then he remembered that sometimes men survive strange adventures,
and he wrote a letter to the girl in Sussex which he asked me to
deliver in the event that I, and not he, should prove such a survivor.
I fastened it with a pin into the pocket of my pajama jacket. For hours
after we had turned into our berths each of us knew that the other was
not sleeping. We heard the crazy droning of the sick engine; the wash
of the quiet water; the straining of the timbers.
We had not, on turning in, followed our usual custom of blowing out
the vile-smelling oil lamp which gave our stateroom its only
illumination. Neither of us had spoken of it, but we left the light
burning probably in tacit presentiment that this was to be a night of
some portentous development, and one not to be spent in darkness.
Mansfield pretended to sleep in the upper berth, but after vainly
courting dreams for an hour, I slipped out of mine and crept to the
fresher air of the deck.
When I returned to the cabin, still obsessed with restless
wakefulness, I found the diary, and throwing myself into my bunk, spent
still another hour in its perusal. I had long ago laid by my early
scruples and now I found in its pages a quality strangely soothing.
Singularly enough, in all our fragmentary reading between these limp
covers, we had never pursued any consecutive course and though certain
passages had been re-read until I fancy both of us could have quoted
them from memory, there still remained others upon which we had not
touched. For me in my present condition of jumping nerves they offered
fields of quieting exploration. Now, for a time, I skipped about,
reading here and there passages in no way connected. There was a highly
humorous description of a certain Frenchman who had insistently
shadowed the course of the girl's travels about the Continent,
inflicting on her an homage which it seemed to me must have been more
offensive than actual rudeness. She did not give his name, but her
description of his appearance and eccentricities was so droll and
keenly appreciative that even my strained lips curled into a grin of
enjoyment in the perusal. He had a coronet to bestow and she likened
his attitude and bearing to that of a crested cock robin. To-night,
she wrote, monsieur le comte proposed for my handto Mother. I
was in the next room and heard it. To hear one's self proposed to by
proxy is quite the most amusing thing that can happen. When he asks me
I shall inform him that I've already given my heart to another mana
man who hasn't asked me and may never ask me. Yes, he will, too. He
must. It is in my horoscope. 'The Heavens rolled between us at the
end, we shall but vow the faster for the stars.' This little Frenchman
needs an heiress and it might as well be mebut it won't be.
This was the first intimation that the unknown author of these pages
was possessed of wealth as well as beauty. In a vague way I found
myself regretting the discovery, although I could not say why. Through
these pages breathed the distinction of a piquant and subtly charming
personalitythe fact that she had fortune as well, could add nothing.
But as I read the paragraphs devoted to her odyssey across the
continent and around the borders of the Mediterranean, shadowed always
by this persistent suitor with his picayune title, it struck me that
her itinerary and the order of her going tallied with my own
wanderings. Yet that might have no significance, since the routes of
European touring are distressingly devoid of variation.
The finger of destiny had seemed to concern itself in the fashion in
which I had always just missed the lady of Naples, Monte Carlo and
Cairo by a margin of seconds and of untoward circumstance. If my Fate
were playing with me in this manner it appeared consistent with its
policy of tantalizing evasiveness that she and the writer might be the
same. When I had given up the pursuit and come away to this remote
quarter of the globe it might still be decreed that I should not escape
Having skipped about for a time in such haphazard fashion, the idea
seized me of going back to the beginning and reading from the
commencement down to the present.
In the first pages of course I encountered a certain immature
crudity of composition and yet, in spite of these things, there was
much here of the charming fascination of childhood and the beginnings
of character. If the later sections were as fragrant as flowers, the
earlier passages were like the annals of rosebuds and blossoms. I
believe I have already mentioned that in her childhood she had been
something of a tomboy. Her interests had seemed to include many things
which might quite naturally have belonged to the enthusiasms of her
brothers. Also one read between the lines that her charming sense of
humor and self-containment had developed upon overcome tendencies
toward passionate temper. A certain passage had to do with her
experience at a girls' boarding-school when she was probably not more
than ten or eleven. One of the teachersan unimpeachable lady of great
learning and little human perception, it would seemhad aroused her
intense disfavor. There were various references to this feud and also,
even so early, to the mysterious person vaguely alluded to as He. The
principal of the school harbored a bull terrier of rather uncertain
temper. This brute, save for total fealty to his mistress and to the
writer of the diary, seemed to hold in his nature only distrust for
humanity, and among those specially singled out for his antipathy was
the aforementioned teacher.
One day the writer and the dog had met the preceptress on the
avenue. The girl had set down with great glee, the terror with which
her enemy had appealed to her for protection against the onslaughts of
the dreaded Cerberus.
I told her that I would hold him, naively related the entry, in a
sprawling, childish hand, and I did hold him until she was almost
at the gatebut when I let him go I gave him a little sound advice and
he took it.
There followed a vivid description, done into mirth-provoking humor,
of the somewhat strenuous events of the next twenty or thirty seconds.
A section of black alpaca skirt remained with the dog as a memento.
Of course, commented the writer, I couldn't laugh freely until I
got back to the house, but I am laughing now. She looked so absurd! As
I came in I saw Him ride by on horseback. I'm afraid he wouldn't
The description of that teacher had reminded me strongly of my good
Aunt Sarah. The explanation that the dog had been the child's friend
merely because she had refused to be afraid, was so convincingly put
that I found myself in guilty accord with her point of view. In a dozen
ways, despite this single instance, she showed that her pity and
tenderness were very genuine and sensitive, and easily reached by any
This going back to the beginning enabled me to meet, on the occasion
of his first appearance, the man who had exercised such a strong
influence upon her subsequent life. In this I was pleased, for it
showed that however imaginary may have been his aura of ideality, none
the less it had basis in something more substantial than a glimpse of a
football game. There was, too, an element touching and almost pathetic
in this earliest self-confessed love. He was when she first saw him,
eighteen or nineteen, and she half as old. This disparity in age had
put a chasm between them which it did not occur to her that the years
would bridge. He was just at that self-sufficient age, when he regarded
himself as very much a man and short-skirted, pigtailed females as very
far beneath his mature devotion. Yet, in his patronizing way, he had
been decently kind and had jeopardized his standing as a
man-of-the-world by impersonal courtesies to a little girl. His
influence had accordingly grown strong and permanent, though he had not
known of its existence. She had enviously watched him with girls a few
years her senior and had admired his frank, sportsmanlike attitude and
freedom from callow freshnessand his courage. She said quite frankly
in the diary that she did not suppose he had remembered her at all.
And so, as I lay sleepless and oppressed by presentiment of
disaster, I read from childhood to young womanhood her chronicle of
ideals until, under the soothing of the document, I at last fell into a
CHAPTER VI. THE END OF THE WASTREL
When sleep came to me it was fitful with a thousand nightmare
impossibilities, I saw, in my dreams, the face of the stale sea and sky
translated into a broad human visage paralyzed and smiling unendingly
in that hideous grin which stamps the tortured teeth of the lockjaw
victim. Then the monster of the dream broke out of its fixity and with
a shriek of hurricanes aimed a terrific blow at the prow of the
Wastrel. The ship shivered, trembled and collapsed. With a stifled
gasp I woke. Our sickly lantern was guttering in a sooty stream of
smoke. Young Mansfield stood in the center of the cabin buckling his
pistol belt. From somewhere came a sound of rushing water and a medley
of shouts and oaths and pistol shots. A dingy rat scuttled wildly out
from between my feet and whisked away through the crack under our
bolted door. While I stood there stupidly inactive, hardly as yet
untangling fact and dream, Mansfield handed me my belt and revolver.
Slip on your shoes and fetch along a life-belt, he commanded
steadily. It has come.
We jerked open the door and groped along the alley-way in darkness,
and, as we guided our steps with hands fumbling the walls, water washed
about our ankles. The lights there had gone out. With one guiding hand
on the wall and one on Mansfield's shoulder, I made my labored way
toward the deck ladder.
Without a word and as of right, the young Englishman, who had
heretofore lacked initiative, now assumed command of our affairs. We
needed no explanation to tell us that the pandemonium which reigned
above was not merely the result of mutiny. A hundred patent things
testified that this shambling tramp of the seas had received a mortal
hurt. The stench of bilge sickened us as the rising water in her hull
forced up the heavy and fetid gases. The walls themselves were aslant
under a dizzy careening to starboard.
She must have steamed full front on to a submerged reef and
destruction. It was palpably no matter of an opening seam. She had been
torn and ripped in her vitals. She was dying fast and in inanimate
agony. In the rickety engine-room something had burst loose under the
strain. Now as she sank and reeled there came a hissing of steam; a
gasping, coughing, hammering convulsion of pistons, rods and driving
shafts, suddenly turned into a junk heap running amuck.
It is questionable whether there would have been time to lower away
boats had the most perfect discipline and heroism prevailed. There was
no discipline. There were no available boats, except the two hanging
from the bridge davits, and about them, as we stumbled out on the
decks, raged a fierce battle of extermination, as men, relapsed to
brutes, fought for survival.
I have since that night often and vainly attempted to go back over
that holocaust and arrange its details in some sort of chronology. I
saw such ferocity and confusion, turning the deck into a shambles in an
inconceivably short space, that even now I cannot say in what sequence
these things happened. I have a jumbled picture in which certain
unimportant details stand out distinctly while great things are vague.
I can still see, in steel-black relief, the silhouetted superstructure,
funnels and stanchions; the indigo shadows and ghostly spots of white
under a low-swinging half-moon and large softly-glowing stars. The sky
was clear and smiling, in the risor sardonicus of my dream.
I have sometimes felt that all the difference between the courageous
and craven lies in the chance of the instant with which the numbers
fall on the dice of life. To-day's coward may be to-morrow's hero. For
an instant, with an unspeakable babel in my ears and a picture of human
battle in my eyes, I knew only the chaotic confusion that comes of
panic. Then I caught a glimpse of one detail and all physical fear fell
away from me. I found myself conscious only of contempt for the
struggling, clawing terror of these men who were as reasonless and
ineffective as stampeding cattle. The detail which steadied me like a
cold shower was the calmness of young Mansfield as he waited at my
side, his face as impersonally puzzled as though he were studying in
some museum cabinet a new and strange specimen of anthropological
We both stood in the shadow of the forward superstructure as yet
unseen. All the ferocity of final crisis swirled and eddied about the
bridge upon which we looked as men in orchestra chairs might look
across the footlights on a stage set for melodrama. Apparently the crew
had already discovered to its own despair that Coulter's inhuman orders
for scuttling the boats had been carried out, and that of all the
emergency craft carried by the Wastrel, only those ridiculously
insufficient ones hanging by the port and starboard lights of the
bridge offered a chance of escape. At all events, the other boats hung
neglected and unmanned. That the whole question was one of minutes was
an unescapable conclusion. One could almost feel the settling of the
crazy, ruptured hull as the moments passed and each time I turned my
head to glance back with a fascinated impulse at the smoke-stack I
could see that its line tilted further from the vertical.
Heffernan was in charge of the starboard boat, already beginning to
run down its lines, and over that on the port side, Coulter himself
It seemed that when the moment of final issue came, a few of the
foremast men had preferred entrusting their chances to obeying the
captain, whose effectiveness had been proven, to casting their lots
with their mates. These were busy at the tackle. On the deck level
howled and fought the mutineers. Already corpses were cluttering the
space at the foot of the steep ladder that gaveand deniedaccess to
the bridge. Probably the revolver shots we had heard as we groped our
way from our cabin had been the chief officer's terse response to the
first mad rush for that stairway. Now as he awaited the lowering away,
Coulter stood above, looking down on the sickening confusion with a
grim expression which was almost amusement. The fighting went on below
where the frantic, terror-stricken fellows swarmed and grappled and
swayed and disabled each other in the effort to gain the ladder. But
when someone rose out of the maelstrom and struggled upward it was only
to be knocked back by the ax, upon which, in the brief intervals
between assaults, Coulter leaned contemplating the battle-royal. The
revolver he had put back in his pocket. It was not needed, and he was
conserving its effectiveness for another moment.
In telling it, the picture seems clear enough, but in the seeing, it
was a thing of horrible and tangled details, enacted as swiftly as a
moving-picture film run too rapidly on its reel.
There were shouts and quick staccato orders piercing the blending of
terrorized voicesan oath snapped outa shrieka struggling massa
desperate run up the ladderhands straining aloft to pull down the
climber and clear the waya swift blow from above, a thud on the deck
belowa sickening vision of slaughter. Over it all pounded the
hammering racket from the disorganized engines. Soon came the stench of
smoke and out of one of the after hatches mounted a thin tongue of
orange flame, snapping and sputtering vengefully for a moment, then
leaping up with a suddenly augmented roar. The twin elements of
destruction, water and fire, were vying in the work of annihilation.
I turned my head for an instant to look back at the new menace, and
clutched Mansfield's arm. Aloof with folded arms against the rail,
making no effort to participate in the riot, stood young Lawrence. The
fast-spreading flames lit up his face. His attitude and expression were
those of quiet disgust. His lips were set in scorn for the superlative
excitement of his fellows. He was the stoic awaiting the end, with a
smile of welcome for the acid test which held, for him, no fear. It was
as though the rising rim of water brought a promise of grateful rest.
He saw ahead nothing except release from all the wild turmoil and
misery which had spoken itself without words that evening when Coulter
had silenced the improvisation of his violin.
But if the end was a thing of quiet philosophy to Lawrence, it was
not so to others. The lurid flare, which turned the impassioned picture
in a moment from a silhouette of blacks and cobalts to a crimson hell,
seemed to inflame to greater madness men already mad. There was a rush
for the rails. We saw figures leaping into the sea. There had been some
hitch on the bridge, due no doubt to the miserable condition of
everything aboard the disheveled tramp. The boats were not yet
launched, but now the men were embarking. Coulter himself was the last
to leap for the swinging boat, and a moment before he did so Hoak
appeared. He had miraculously made his way alive out of the
engine-room's inferno, and his coming was that of a maniac. His huge
body, bare to the waist, sweat-streaked and soot-blackened and
fire-blistered, was also dark with blood. His voice was raised in
demented laughter and every vestige of reason had deserted eyes that
were now agleam only with homicidal mania. From the companionway to the
bridge, his course was as swift and sure as a homing pigeon's. He
brandished the shovel with which he had been shamefully forced to feed
the maws of the furnaces. The struggling men fell back before his
onslaught. But Hoak had no care for self-preservation. His sole mission
The fight about the ladder's foot had waned. With a leap that
carried him half-way up and an agility that knew no thwarting the
madman made the upper level. The tyrannical despot of the vessel,
standing poised for his swing to the boat raised the pistol which had
already halted other mad rushes during the last sanguinary minutes. At
its bark Hoak staggered to his knees, but was up again and charging
forward with the impetus of a wounded rhinoceros. He had one deed to do
before he died and would not be denied. The flying shovel narrowly
missed the captain's head as he jumped for the boat, but the seaman
with his lips parted over the snarl of clenched teeth fought his
painful way to the davit, gripping a knife which he had brought in his
belt. His eyes glowed with the strange light that madness lends and his
muscles were tensed in the brief exaggerated strength of a supreme
effort. He hurled himself to the out-swung support and seizing the
stern line began hacking at its tarred tautness as he bellowed ghastly
laughter and blasphemies. Coulter from his place below sent two more
bullets into the great hulk of flesh that hung tenaciously and
menacingly above him, but, as the second spat out, the rope, none too
good at best, parted and the boat, held only by its bow line, swung
down with a mighty snap, spilling its occupants into the sea like
apples tossed from an overturned plate. We had a momentary glimpse of
the captain clinging to the gunwale, his legs lashing out flail-like.
Then his hold loosened and he fell with a splash into the phosphorus
water where the sharks were already gathering. And at the same moment,
his mission performed, Hoak slowly slid around the curving davit and
dropped limply after him.
Young Mansfield's voice came vaguely to my ear. They've overlooked
the life-raft, he said. Let's have a try at that. There's not much
The starboard scuppers were letting in sea water and the flames were
creeping close, as we turned together, holding to the shadows of the
superstructure, and ran forward.
We were tearing our fingers raw over stiffened knots when a rush of
feet interrupted us. The next instant I saw my companion lashing out
with the butt of his pistol, and surrounded by a quartette of
assailants. In the moonlight he loomed gigantic and heroic of
proportion. I, too, was surrounded and conscious only of a wild new
elation and battle-lust, as I fought.
Suddenly there came a terrific shock, preceded by a wildly screaming
hiss in the bowels of the Wastrel's hull. The torn shell
quivered in an insensate death-rattle, and under a detonation at once
hollow and loud a mass of timbers shot upward amidships. The boilers
had let go and we hung wavering for the final plunge, yet it did not
come at once. Then I suppose I was struck by falling débris. With a
dizzy sense of stars dancing as lawlessly as rocket sparks and dying as
quickly into blackness, I lost all hold on consciousness.
CHAPTER VII. IN STRANGE
Pongee pajamas and a revolver belt constitute a light equipment even
for the tropics, but that was the least pressing of my concerns.
How long I had remained insensible I can only estimate, but often
there come back to me, from that time, wraith-like shreds of memory in
which I seem to have drifted down the centuries. I recall for one thing
a stunned and throbbing aching back of the eyes and a half-conscious
gazing up at rocking stars.
At all events, when rational understanding returned to me, the sun
was glaring insufferably from a scorched zenith. I began to patch
together fragments of memory and to call loudly for Mansfield. There
was no answer, and when I attempted to rise I found myself roughly
lashed to the life-raft by several turns of a line so tightly drawn
that the sensory nerves in my legs gave no response to my movements.
My support was rocking in its lodgment between two weed-trailing
boulders, stained like verdigris and licked smooth by the lapping of
the sea. Off to my front stretched waters, so quiet that they seemed
almost tideless, though at a distance I could hear the running of surf.
To look behind involved a painful twisting of my neck, but I made the
effort, and was rewarded with the sight of land. A quarter of a mile
away smooth reaches of white sand met the water in a graciously
inviting beach. Beyond it and mounting upward from palm fringe to
snow-cap rose the very respectable proportions of a volcanic island.
The coral rocks which had caught my raft were outposts of many others
that went trooping shoreward, breaking, here and there, the surface of
From the deep turquoise of the outer sea to the white rim of the
sands ran a gamut of colorful beauty. The mountain, as symmetrically
coned as Fuji-yama, stood over it all in grave dominance. Off to the
left sponge-like cliffs broke steeply upward from the level of the
beach and about their clefts circled endless flights of gulls. There I
knew the rising tide would thunder and break itself to pieces in a
thousand plumes of spray.
But how had I reached this place and what had become of Mansfield?
It must have been he who had lashed me to the raft. From no one else on
the Wastrel could I have expected better treatment than a
cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead. Palpably, he had emerged from the
battle victor, and, save for myself, sole survivor. I conjectured that
when he had floated the raft from the partly submerged deck, he had
found the spark of life still lurking in my pulses and had made me fast
upon its timbers. Perhaps an over-trust in his ability to remain afloat
had made him less careful of himself. Possibly he had lost
consciousness as we drifted and had been washed over-side, to fall prey
to the prowling sharks. I could not hope to know what his end had been,
but I wished that I might have shared it with him.
I fumbled at the soaked knots of my rope with fingers that had grown
numb. When, at last, I was free and had to some extent restored the
circulation in my stagnant veins, I began the task of freeing my
oarless craft from its wedged position so that the insetting tide might
carry me to the shore.
In the pocket of my pajama jacket, soaked with salt water and almost
reduced to a pulp, I found the letter which I stood charged to deliver
to the girl in Sussex. I laughed. I knew that I was not in reality the
solitary survivor of the Wastrel. I was merely the latest
survivor. I was to die more slowly than my fellows. This sun, at the
end of my lingering, would beat down on my bones, whitened, disjointed
and perhaps vulture-plucked. The revolver in my belt was already
clouding into red rust under the washing of the night's salt water. I
experimentally turned the cylinder and found that the corrosion had not
yet attacked the mechanism. One cartridge could cheat my sentence of
slow death, yet I did not fire the shot.
Life had heretofore been a thing I would have willingly surrendered.
Now, I found myself standing precariously on the narrow and very
slippery edge of existence, and with Death advancing on me I no longer
wished to die. The very odds against me brought a dogged desire to
cling until my feet should slip and my fingers could no longer hold
their life-grip. Meantime I should probably go mad, but that lay
hereafter. At present I had only to wait for the tide. Since I could
not hurry the ocean pulse, I must lie there thinking.
From the sea I could look for rescue only by a miracle. What had
been Coulter's course or destination he had not confided, but I knew
that we had for days been in imperfectly charted waters where our
screws had perhaps kicked up a virgin wake. We had passed atolls
marked, on the chart, P. D. and even E. D. (position doubtful and
existence doubtful"), and to hope that some other wanderer might
shortly follow would be taxing coincidence too far.
Only God knew what type of human, animal and reptilian life the
island held. I could view it across the accursedly beautiful waterway
and speculate upon its nature, but I could beat up no confidence in its
treatment of me. Its aspect would have been magnificent had its lush
greenery not wrapped and softened every commanding crag and angle, but
it was a loveliness which suggested treacherous menace; the deceptive
beauty of the panther or of the soft-gliding snake that charms its prey
Isolation here would sap my mental essence and atrophy my brain,
unless some device could be found by which I could side-focus and
divert my trend of thought. Even had the young girl's diary remained to
me, I might by it have kept myself reminded of life in those civilized
spots which I could hardly hope to revisit; and so I might die sane. A
single book would have helped. I had been credited with a sense of the
ludicrous so whimsical as to be almost irresponsible. If now I could
invoke that facetious quality to my salvation I might hope to be
regarded as a consistent humorist.
At length I saw that the tide was setting in, carrying my raft with
it, and realized that I was hungry. When I had once more under my feet
the feel of solid earth, the sun was hanging near the snow-capped
crater of the volcano. I left for to-morrow all problems of
exploration, and stripping to the skin, ran up and down the soft sand
of the beach until the blood was once more pulsing regularly through my
naked body. Then on hands and knees I pursued and devoured numbers of
the unpalatable crabs that scuttled to hiding under slimy tangles of
sea weed. My throat was hot and sticky with the parch of thirst, but as
night fell the jungle began to loom darkly, a forbidding hinterland,
and no fresh water came down to my beach.
The melting snow was a guarantee of springs and a man can endure
three days without drinking if he must. I stretched myself between two
large rocks just upward of the high-tide line, cursing stout Cortez and
all those perniciously active souls who insisted on discovering the
Sleep did not at once come to my relief. I saw the stars, close and
lustrous, parade across the night, and instead of planning while I lay
awake practical things for the morrow, as a good woodsman might have
done, I was thinking futilely of the psychological features of my
predicament. Possibly the doctor's prediction of insanity had lain
dormant in some brain cell from which it was now emerging to frighten
me. I feared less for the hunger of my body than for the impossibility
of feeding my mind. It occurred to me that keeping a record of my
emotions would at once serve to fight back atrophy and leave an
interesting record for those who might, but almost certainly would not,
come in after days to the island. Then I recalled that in my penless
and paperless plight I was as far from the possibility of writing as
from the power to ring for a taxicab and drive home.
Yet the idea of a diary fascinated me. I wished to write in
frankness what it felt like to die at the foot of an undiscovered
volcano. There came to my mind an example I wished to emulate. I had
come upon a report made public by the Naval Department of Japan in
which was quoted a letter written by Lieutenant Sakuma, from the bottom
of Hiroshima Bay, where his submarine had struck and failed to rise
Most of his crew lay dead in the sunken vessel, and he himself was
slowly and painfully succumbing to strangulation. He devoted to a note
of apology addressed to his Emperor those hours spent in dying, and
expressed the hope that his message might, in future, be of value in
the avoidance of similar fatalities. He praised the gallantry of his
The letter, read in the Mikado's palace a week later, when the
submarine had been raised with its dead, was in the stoic style of the
race and severely official. It culminated in a broken sentence.
It is now 12:30 P. M. My breathing is so difficult and painfulI
thought I could blow out gasoline but I am intoxicated with itCaptain
Nakanoit is now 12:40 P. M.I
There it ended. It seemed to me that if I could busy myself in faint
duplicate, with so human a record of approaching the ferry, I could be
in a measure consoled. Then gazing at the Southern Cross, before sleep
brought respite, I found myself thinking once more of the elusive lady
who had so often escaped my inquisitive glance and whose face I should
now never see.
CHAPTER VIII. NATURE INDULGES IN
Though I am not giving authorship to this narrative with a view to
its general perusal, I am determined so to write it that if other eyes
do chance upon it they may read the true records of a man's emotions
under those circumstances.
I shall never be able to coax myself into any illusion of heroism in
my adventures and I shall set down my most abject terrors in equal and
impartial degree with the few occasions in which the instinct of
self-preservation enabled me to rise to the need and bluff
The case of the submarine commander of Nippon was different. He
wished to leave behind him such a message as an Emperor might read, and
with exalted devotion to his object, he left it. Still, had some
miracle brought his vessel to the surface before the end, who knows but
that, in the confessional of his own memory, he might have acknowledged
a very delirium of terror? Who knows but that between the period of one
unflinching paragraph and the capital of the next, there may have been
intervals of wallowing in the trough of physical despair?
At least with me there were many fears. The night went by a road of
nightmare and thirst which led to no haven of rest. I slept fitfully
and in terror, and awoke at its end to a feeling of exhaustion. For a
while I dreaded to rise and face the possibilities of a new day. It was
only the burning torture of thirst that finally outweighed panic and
drove me in search of water. I held timidly to the shore, distrusting
the jungle and dodging furtively from rock to rock, with straining eyes
and ears. Climbing among the ragged boulders which were strewn like
fragments of fallen masonry at the foot of the cliff, I shortly came
upon a thread of clear water, where I lay and slaked my thirst. After
that came a renewed freshness and a sudden return of vigor. I began
also to feel a healthful hunger, and when, in clambering to the top of
a steep rock, I frightened a shrieking gull from her nest, I fell
avidly on the eggs she left behind.
As the sun climbed, a tepid humidity freighted the air, but the
trade-wind, rising steadily and freshly, tempered it and stirred the
delicate fronds of palm and fern.
The cliff was honeycombed with small irregular caverns and rifts.
Some were mere grottoes, but others went back into somber recesses
deeper than I, with no means of lighting my steps, cared to explore.
For my dwelling place I selected one that broadened from a twisted and
narrow fissure to a crude chamber large enough for a wolf's den, or at
need a man's refuge. A fern-fringed brooklet trickled across the
For my door yard I had a small plateau with a sheer wall of cliff at
my back and a steep drop at the front. One must climb to reach the
place which is an advantage where the tenant may desire to roll stones
down upon the heads of his visitors.
The Wastrel must have gone to the bottom near by, for
incoming tides from time to time deposited on my shore strange and
satirical scraps of flotsam. The sardonic humor of the sea mocked me by
delivering on my beach a tattered fragment of old newspaper and an
empty biscuit tin.
It was two days after my arrival that I discovered some bulky thing
lodged, as my raft had been, upon the near-by rocks. The two days had
told upon me. My pajamas were in ribbons; my canvas shoes torn, and my
flesh bruised. My feet, too, were cut and blistered and my hands raw. I
had already tired of talking aloud to myself and more and more often I
caught myself turning with a sudden start to peer apprehensively at the
fringe of the forest. To my growing morbidness it seemed that over the
beauty of the place hung an impalpable but certain curse. I waded out
eagerly to the fresh bit of salvage and found a seaman's chest with
quaintly knotted handles of tarred rope. It was of stout workmanship
and its heavy locks and hinges had endured without injury the buffeting
of the sea. The name of J. H. Lawrence still legible upon one end
brought back with startling vividness the memory of a man waiting with
stoical amusement the coming of death. Laboriously enough I dragged it
in, halting often to pant and wipe the sweat out of my eyes with my
The sun was sinking over the shoulder of the mountain when I at last
arrived, exhausted but still tugging at my prize, upon the plateau of
my cliff apartment. I lay a long while, my heart pounding with
exertion, before I was equal to the task of attacking its lock with a
stone and my sheath knife, and after that it was some moments before
the lock yielded and I raised the heavy lid. First there met my eyes a
scattered collection of souvenir postcards, much discolored and faded,
but sufficiently preserved to awaken a clamor of protest and longing.
There were tantalizing pictures of the Café de Paris and Trafalgar
Square and the bund at Hong Kong.
Young Mr. Lawrence must have been a confirmed souvenir-buyer. I
could trace his odyssey by trivial things he had picked up here and
there. Two curved daggers with turquoise settings in the hilt had come
from the bazaars of Damascus or Jerusalem. A copper incense-burner with
a package of scented tapers had been brought from Tokio or Nagasaki.
Equally useless things filled package after package.
No mission chest piously outfitted at home ever carried to the
remote heathen a more useless assortment of unnecessaries than this one
brought to me. There was not a shirt, not an article of utility, only
trinkets as serviceable as doll-babies to a prizefighter. At last,
however, I came upon two packages carefully wrapped in sail-cloth. So
painstaking and secure had been their packing that when I took off the
first covering and the second, I found that the contents had suffered
The first bundle contained the violin which had incensed the captain
and several packages of extra strings. As I took it out, I seemed to
hear again its plaintive, wordless song and I laid it down reverently.
It seemed a part of the dead man's soulsomething intimate and
wonderful which had outlasted his mortality.
In the second package was something wrapped in tissue paper and very
soft to the touch. I opened it and spread out on the sand a gorgeously
wrought Mandarin kimono. Its silk was of the heaviest and richest
quality and its design flamed with the unstinted opulence of Chinese
embroidery. On the flowing sleeves and bordered panels were storks of
blue and silver flying among poppy-like flowers of crimson purple.
There were also delicately worked streams and reeds and moons, all
tangled up with ranting dragons of gold, gazing fiercely out from eyes
of inset jade. Gold thread, silver thread, silk thread, cunningly
combined to the making of its dazzling pattern.
Some celestial dignitary had once ordered its embroidering and,
perhaps, had ridden upon his palanquin garbed in its splendor with the
pride of a peacock in his narrow, slanting eyes. It seemed to me,
kneeling there in my torn pajamas, my knees and elbows bruised, my
stomach rebelling against rank food, that I could see the whole picture
of which this garment had once been a brilliant detail. There were
shouting coolies running ahead with huge bamboo staves to clear the
way. The grandee's chair, crusted with carving, was borne along in
state. I could picture paper lanterns swinging from slender poles and
plum blossoms awave and smell the heavy reek of burning incense, and at
the thought of all this arrogant luxury I suffered as though I were
struggling through a nightmare. The young derelict of the Wastrel
had, in all likelihood, bargained for it and haggled over its cost in
an Oriental shop. He had finally bought it for a gift to a wife or
sweetheart, and even with capable bargaining it must have been a
purchase beyond his means. Now in futile magnificence it lay outspread
before me who was sea-wrecked and fighting hunger. In the same package,
however, I found my first useful articles: a small block of those
miniature matches that one may buy in the Chinatown sections of San
Francisco or New York, which burn with an odious reek of sulphur. It
was doubtless because they partook of the quality of a curiosity that
he had preserved them.
There was also one of those slung-shots such as may be bought along
water fronts where seamen foregather: a small leather sack, loaded with
shot and suspended from a wrist-strap.
At the extreme bottom of the package, carefully preserved between
two sheets of thick cardboard, lay a page torn from a newspaper. It was
on that heavy, glossed paper which some journals use for their
pictorial sections and was covered with miscellaneous illustrations.
I was on the point of throwing the thing away, when some impulse led
me to turn it over. What I saw altered and remoulded all my life from
that moment forward.
A curtain of dusk was beginning to fall upon the hinterland at the
edge of the forest. The fringe of cane and palm was filling up with
shadow and the peak of the volcano was brooding against a sky of
When I turned the sheet it was as though I had come face to face
with an actual personality where a moment ago there had been nothing
animate. Of course it was only because the art of photographer and
engraver had ably abetted each other, but the portrait which worthily
filled the seven columns of glazed paper was a marvel of lifelike
presentmentand of indescribable loveliness.
There are authenticated cases, in plenty, of men who have loved a
face seen only in a picture. The Mona Lisa of da Vinci has laid over
many beholders the hypnotic spell of the long-dead woman immortalized
upon its canvas. Pygmalion loved his Galatea. I fancy that, if the
truth were told, I loved in that first flash of view the lady who
smiled out at me from the lifelessness of ink and paper. The margins of
the sheet had been so close trimmed at the top that no date or caption
remained, but beneath, the scissors had left two words: Miss
Frances and with these two words I must content myself.
But for the picture itself.
I have already confessed my passionate reverence for beauty. Here
before me was beauty of the purest type I have ever been privileged to
see. It was not the brush magic of a gifted painter who has caught from
a lovely model the charm of line and color and canonized them with
idealization. It lacked all the fire with which the palette might have
kindled it. It recorded nothing more than the lens had seen, yet its
flawlessness required no aid of art and asked no odds of color.
Her clear, young eyes smiled out at me with a miracle of
graciousness. Her perfectly curving lips were graver, and if possible
sweeter than her eyes. Her chin and throat were exquisitely modeled.
Her hair was abundantly massed and heavy. I could guess from the
photographic tones that its coils and escaping tendrils of curl, varied
in shifting lights between the red warmth of gold and the amber of
But what most made this a remarkable photograph was its living
quality. So vital was the effect as one looked, that it seemed a
palpitant personality of breath and soul. The lips might be trembling
on the verge of speech and in the quiet smile hovered a delightful hint
of whimsical humor. The whole bearing was queenly with that gracious
pride which we characterize as royal when we speak of royalty as
something inherently noble. For the accolade of a smile from those
lips, in the flesh, a man might undertake all manner of folly. The
young woman was in evening dress and at her throat hung a rope of
Suddenly a transport of rage and a bitterness of contrast possessed
me. My hair was matted, my arms and hands raw and blackened with blood
and grime. I was the picture of abandoned misery. The satirical gods
now set Tantalus-wise before my eyes a picture of beauty and ease and
sheltera pretty woman in the charming fripperies of evening dress.
But while I scowled, her eyes smiled back into my own, challenging
in me the vagabond spirit of the whimsical, until I too smiled.
I bowed to the picture.
You are quite right, I said aloud. Since it is impossible to
alter the situation, the only sane course is to recognize its humor.
While we are together here, I shall regard you as a living person. It
shall be our effort to turn this poor jest on the high gods who are its
It almost seemed to me that the lips parted and the eyes danced
Frances, I added, I may call you Frances, may I not, in view of
the informality of our circumstances?you are gorgeous. It was good of
you to come to keep me company. I needed you.
The air held a twilight stillness upon which my words fell
clamorously. I realized that I had not before spoken aloud for more
than a day. Into the ensuing silence came a new and alarming sound. It
was half human and incoherent, like a number of voices at a distance. I
felt my muscles grow rigid and choked off a half-animal growl that rose
involuntarily in my throat. Instinctively I was whipping the revolver
from its holster and slipping forward, crouched in the protection of a
rock, my eyes turned toward the jungle. Vaguely lurking in the
gathering fog of shadow, where the palms began, were some eight or ten
figures. It was impossible in the waning light to make out what sort of
creatures they were, but they moved with a soft prowling tread that was
disquieting. After a little while they melted out of sight, but until
past midnight I sat my eyes alertly fixed on the tangled dark, while
the low-hung stars paraded across the sky.
CHAPTER IX. A PORTRAIT AND A TEMPLE
The night, however, passed without event and morning came bathing
the empty edge of the forest with crystal freshness. The scene I still
had to myself. My morning journey down to the water's edge for food and
bathing was made with the most painful caution and I ate without
My world had altered overnight. I was no longer merely shipwrecked
but shipwrecked among savages who might adhere to that perverted
epicureanism which esteems human fare for its flesh pots. Stories of
cannibalism had been plentiful at the captain's table on the Wastrel
the value of white heads for decorating native huts had been touched
upon. My defense was limited to the six cartridges in the chambers of
my revolver and the newly discovered slung-shot.
Meantime I was hideously lonely. I turned the chest on end near the
opening of my cavern and spread the newspaper portrait upon it for full
inspection. The two upper corners I fastened with the curved and
jewelled daggers from Jerusalem.
The days which immediately followed marched slowly and were much
alike. It was only in my own state of mind that there was any element
of change or development.
The lurking figures did not reappear at the edge of the jungle and I
began to hope that they were members of some itinerant band from the
opposite side of the island who had chanced upon this locality in their
wanderings and might not again return. I was not even positive that
they had seen me.
Slowly, weirdly, while I dwelt in uncertainty and suspense the
influence of the lady in the picture grew upon me and compelled me. It
may have been at first, and doubtless was, a form of auto-hypnosis.
Already the seed for such an influence had been planted in the
dependence which young Mansfield and myself came to feel for the
unknown girl's diary. Now, in utter isolation, I was doubly in need of
something to avert my thoughts from channels which go down to madness
and despair. The lifelike quality of the portrait made it easier to
talk aloud, and as the spell grew I found myself talking with the
softness of the lover.
There is a power in the spoken word. The mere act of giving audible
expression is a spur to thought. Sitting alone and debating how
uncertainly the wretched spark of life sputtered at the wick of my
being, I was the craven. When I talked to the picture whose lips smiled
as though all the world were brave, I grew ashamed of my terror.
Leaving my cave in the morning to forage and reconnoiter with the
pistol at my belt, I would carry with me, as a fragrant memory, the
gracious smile of her lips and the royal fearlessness of her eyes. Her
image nerved me to endurance; gave me a shoulder touch on normal
thought, and enabled me to hold in memory the world for which her
evening gown and pearls were symbolsand in deeply morbid moments this
saved me from losing my grip. Certainly, it was all an artificial
staya ludicrous pretensebut it servedand that is the final test
of any love or any creed. It served.
As these forces worked, I, at times, forgot that the picture was
that of an unknown. Its reality was so strong that it came to stand for
some one I had left behind, whom I must live to rejoin; some one
inexpressibly dear whose love hung over me and safeguarded me like a
powerful talisman. Often, in my broken sleep, I would dream that I was
sore beset by a thousand dangers and had fled to my cave as animals
have fled to caves since the world began, and that I stood huddling
there miserably, awaiting the end. Then, in the dream, she would come
out of the picture, as Galatea stepped down from the lifelessness of
granite into rosy and animated warmth. My assailants always fell back
before her coming and I, despite my terror, would attempt to meet her
gallantly. She would open a hidden door in the side of the rock, and
lead me through it. And always, in this repeated and unvarying dream,
beyond the door we stepped into a brilliantly lighted room where men
and women chatted carelessly in evening dress and danced to the tinkle
of stringed instruments.
By these degrees the illusion grew until my pretense became a vagary
and obsession and to me ceased to be a pretense. I fell back on
occultism and told myself that I had succeeded by mere concentration of
mind in forcing her to project her astral self across the world, until
I had with me her picture and her essence of soul.
Many of life's most sacred and permanent institutions are only
fictions, long entertained. My fiction became so real to me that for
periods I forgot to question itthen sometimes, at a moment when the
illusion was strongest, some impulse of reason would strike in upon and
chill me, like a sluicing from a cold bucket. It would come upon me to
think of myself as I should have appeared to any unwarned stranger, who
had found me talking, even lovemaking, with a sheet of lifeless paper.
And from that impersonal view-point I would wonder if my brain had
already crumbled to madness and imbecility. The cold sweat would bead
my forehead. My finger would creep to the trigger of my pistol and
linger there, twitching with the itch of self-destruction. But soon the
smiling lips would reassure me; the mood would pass and again I would
surrender myself to the pretense which was grateful where the truth was
austere and desolate.
I discovered in my tramps about the island's edge that this spot
seemed to be the most favored home of the orchid. This monarch of
flowers bloomed at the jungle's margin, in an infinite variety of
flaunting petals, soft colors and deeply glowing life. No other flower
is so ethereal and illusively lovely. None could be more fitted for a
tribute to as impalpable a love as I acknowledged. It became a part of
my daily program to bring back with me as I returned to the cave,
masses of these splendid blossoms which I heaped before her shrine.
I had reached the age of thirty-five and had heretofore been immune
to feminine fascinations. I had even been characterized as a
woman-hater, though this was an injustice. This new obsession,
bewitchingwhatever you may choose to term itwas not momentary. In
defense of my consistency I declare that the thing required two weeks
at least for its accomplishment. And in those two weeks other affairs
Of course, I had been told, as has every traveler in the south seas,
that there is not an atoll or island left for discovery. I had been
informed that on every coral speck in the reef-strewn ocean, there is
or has been, a white man. I knew now that this was a fallacy. My island
was marked by a volcano tall enough to proclaim itself as far as a
glass could sweep the horizon from a ship's lookout, and if no pearl
shell or beche-de-mer trader, no blackbirder of the old days, no
windswept vessel of the present had hitherto sighted that peak, it must
lie too far off the course of rambling traffic, to expect a visit now.
I knew that we had dropped down-world for days before the wreck, and I
had heard grumbling, because of the mysterious course being steered. I
was the firstcomerand yet the faint and struggling instinct of hope
urged the setting up of a tattered flag or two of sail cloth along the
From my eyrie in the rocks, the coast line went away in a succession
of broken and porous cliffs which I had explored for a distance of
perhaps two miles. That two miles held all I had learned to know of
this island which was clearly a large one. What the interior had behind
its curtain of palm and moss and caneback in the impenetrable
junglebelonged to the mystery of an unopened book. I did know that
off to the left as one faced the sea, separated from me by four or five
miles of precipitous coast line, loomed a headland from which a flag
waving by day would be observableif ever a vessel came across the
shoulder of the world. To reach the point and return would be a day's
journey, for the path I must take led over a trail more suited to a
mountain goat than a man who had until lately been civilized.
One morning I set out carrying tightly wrapped one of the pieces of
sail-cloth which had come out of the mate's chest. My resolution to set
my flag flying had filled me with a sort of specious exaltation. The
venomous beauty of the place was beyond description, and in a measure I
yielded to its lure and walked almost buoyantly. The sea to its skyline
was blue with a depth of sapphire. The tangle of the jungle was aflash
with vivid and sparkling color. Small, harmless snakes slid brightly
aside, as multi-hued as shreds of rainbow. I had climbed and crawled
for several hours, and was beginning to suffer keenly from weariness
and stone bruises on my poorly protected feet, when I came to a sort of
path running upward. This led me to a more commanding eminence than I
had before reached and gave me a view inland over an endless blanket of
green, unbroken forest. Ahead of me was a still greater height, and
after a short rest I made my way to the point from which I could look
across its crest. Then I halted dead in my tracks and stood fingering
my revolver. A cold sweat came out on my forehead and my knees
trembled, threatening to fail me. It was as though a curtain had risen
on a stage set to terrify the beholder.
The high ground fell steeply away into a basin whose slopes were
roughly broken into rising tiers. These tiers commanded a sort of
amphitheatre two hundred yards in diameter, through which ran a small
thread of water cascading from the interior elevation. A quarter of a
mile away began the background of timber and tangle.
The bottom of the basin had been worn smooth by much treading. A
boulder some four feet tall and probably of an equal thickness rose,
pulpit like, at the center. Its top was hollowed out into a bowl and
its sides were inscribed with crude hieroglyphics. Near it were a
half-dozen upright poles, surmounted by what seemed to be cocoanuts. In
a dozen places under rude stone ovens were the ashes of dead fires.
Scattering piles of human bonesbut nowhere a skulltold me that I
had stumbled on a kai-kai templea place of cannibal
observances and feasting. I did not at once venture into the hollow for
closer scrutiny. It was not such an institution as one would care to
invade carelessly. Over the whole place hung a horrible stench. Flies
buzzed about it in noisy, filthy swarms. After a long interval of
listening and reconnoitering I became convinced that this place of
special observance was to-day as neglected as are many churches in
Christian lands on week days.
I crept tremblingly down into the abominable pit and made my way
toward the stone altar prepared now for any atrocious sight. But the
climax of discovery came when I had crawled half way and the cocoanuts
on the poles resolved themselves into withered, human heads, sun dried
and yellow fringed.
These mummied skulls were for the most part trophies of old battles,
but lying at the top of the rock was another which must have surmounted
its living shoulders only a few days ago. The frizzled hair was tied
into dozens of kinky knots. The facial angle was low and slanting and
the coarse lips were hideously twisted in a snarl of death and
defiance. On the scalp, which a war club had crushed, sat a very
beautiful head-dress of gull feathers, brilliantly dyed in green and
crimson and orange. The victim had worn to his obsequies such a
decoration as might have crowned a princess of the Incas. He had been a
warrior of rank and now, as befitted his station, his head lay drying
out on a mat of yellow and brown wood pulp.
A stifling nausea assaulted the pit of my stomach. My retreating
steps reeled drunkenly, and when, near the rim of the basin, I turned
for a final gaze in the fascination of horror, I no longer had the
place to myself.
Two human figures stood at the farther rim of the amphitheater,
silently regarding me. Both were thin, pigmy-built men with long arms
and low foreheads. Their faces, grotesquely disfigured with bone and
shell ornaments spiked through noses and ears, were bestial yet not
stupid. Their eyes were beady and sharp, and just now their thick lips
hung pendulous with wonderment. For an instant I was incapable of
motion; then, as they stood in equal petrification, I remembered and
acted on the counsel of an east-side gang member whom I had once been
privileged to know in New York. I had inconsequently inquired whether,
in his acrimonious career, he never came eye to eye with fear.
Sure thing, he had promptly replied, but when a guy gets your
goatstall. If you makes de play strong enough it's a cinch you gets
his goat too.
By that rule this was my moment to stall. I drew myself up to the
limit of stature and threw out my chest in the best semblance of
arrogance I could assume.
They were decked like the head of their sacrificial victim, in
brilliant feather work, beautifully and harmoniously wrought. Their
flint-tipped spears were elaborately carved and their necklaces were
fashioned of shells and teeth. Some of the teeth were human. For
perhaps thirty seconds we held the strained tableau, then I glanced
over my shoulder. Between me and retreat stood a third figure. Compared
to his gaudiness of decking, the raiment of the others was mean and
sober. One bare shoulder and arm was covered with festering ulcers. His
monkey-like face had the same slant of brow and heaviness of lip, but
it worked constantly with a keen and twitching play of expression which
argued speculative thought. As I turned he was leaning on a knotted
war-club, and regarding me with profound gravity.
CHAPTER X. I SEEK ORCHIDS
Internally I was quaking, and thinking very fast. The first shock of
their astonishment was dissipating, and two of the three faces were
clouding into a glowering scrutiny which augured darkly for my escape.
The gaze of the third held a grave perplexity, touched with awe, and in
the interval of overcharged silence the other eyes dwelt questioningly
I knew from their spell-bound attitudes that I was the first white
man they had seen and an apparition. Measured by their pigmy standards,
I was a gigantic being of a new type and order, possibly I was even
As a man they had no fear of me. The revolver which I had slipped
from its holster and cocked had not impressed them. They knew nothing
of its death-dealing quality. That was a point in my favor. It would
afford, if need be, six miracles of mortality, but the jungle that had
disgorged them could disgorge hundreds of others like themperhaps
thousands. Gods must carry themselves, when they walk among men, with a
godlike scorn of mundane dangers. I turned to the one man who was above
the others, exposing my back to the two spears, as though safe in my
consciousness of immunity. I extended one arm with a gesture intended
to epitomize great majesty. It was a pose borrowed from some old
sculptor's conception of the Olympian Zeusalbeit shamefully
It was an anxious moment. Should he, to whom I made my commanding
plea, lift his finger in signal, the spears from behind, poisoned
spears perhaps, would strike me down. But as I strode forward, with one
hand still pointing heavenward, I commanded him in a mighty voice to
He on his part eyed me dubiously, never shifting his attitude or
raising his club from the earth, but he permitted me to pass from the
amphitheatre unmolested. I went, deliberately, holding my gaze rigidly
to the front and using every ounce of self-control to curb the impulse
of my feet to run, and the impulse of my neck to crane. A vestige of
misgiving, a note of human anxiety, would have destroyed me.
My peril was superlative, and yet as I look back on the occasion, I
can see that it overdid comedy and became pure farce. I was defending
my life with burlesque. My audience would not be impressed by finesse,
and impressing it was a matter of life and death. In the words of the
east-side bruiser, I was makin' it strong.
At all events my bearing, in a situation without precedent of
etiquette, found sufficient favor to cover my retreat and I went down
to the sea unfollowed. I had none the less seen enough to set me
thinking and thought brought little solace. Were I accepted on the
basis of my own divine assumption, and regarded as a being from another
world, the story would travel fast among their villages. Its wonder
would be promulgated and men would burn with curiosity to behold me.
Among those who came as pilgrims would be some demanding proofs and
miracles. I was now committed to a permanent policy of bluff. I had
always been regarded as a facetious individual. Now my life depended on
attaining a supreme flippancy of attitude on pain of sacrifice to rites
for which I had no reverence. When at sundown I reached the place where
the portrait smiled whimsically at me from its post of honor, I sat for
a while looking into the comprehending eyes and my thoughts took more
cheerful color. Before me lay a situation in which I was to pit my
legacy of human development against the brute odds of minds lighted
only to the mistiness of dawn.
Frances, I said, you smile. Of course since you are fixed in
print, you can't do otherwise than smile. I wonder I broke off and
became suddenly and unaccountably serious. I wonder if you would
smile, were you here with me in the flesh as well as merely in the
spirit. I wonder if you would.
Then with a feeling which was tremendously real, I added fervently
and aloud, Thank God you are not here in the fleshbut I am grateful
for your smiling. Somehow I find it reassuring.
After a little reflection I summarized the entire situation to the
lady with whom I discussed my affairs.
You see, my dear, I informed her, to their untutored and
man-eating minds I present a dilemma. I am either a great immortal,
whom it would be most unwise to heckleor I am very good eating, in
which case it is a pity to let me grow thinner.
It shall be our care, dear lady, I added, to maintain this status
of godship and to that end we must arrange a little program of simple
miracles from time to time. You see, I explained, it won't be long
before they will be coming here and demanding what manner of deity I
am, and what is my immortal name. Do you know what I shall tell them?
I paused and grinned into the smiling eyes and the lips that seemed
trembling on the verge of speech.
I shall tell them, I assured her, that in me they behold the
great god Four-flush.
If I concede to the cold logic of material reasoning that this
dependable companionship and love of a man for a portrait washed up by
the sea was merely the aberration of a brain unseated by solitude, I
must also believe that a series of totally incredible coincidences
subsequently befell me. But if it be that certain things are written in
the stars and certain passions are irrevocably decreed, my life is
freed of grotesqueness and becomes logical.
While I lived under the sword of the problematical to-morrow,
suspended by the hair of an uncertain to-day, my dependence upon her
grew greater. The brave man is said to die once and the coward often,
but the line between the courage and cowardice is not absolute. There
were periods when I felt that I could play the game and die if I must,
with the detached philosophy of a Socrates. At other times I wallowed
in the pit of foreboding and died several times a day. In these moods I
wished for the moment of crisis which should put my resolution to the
touch, and end the matter.
The savages did not approach my cave, but sometimes when evening
fell and the jungle spread itself in a fringed blanket against the
moonlight, I could make out skulking patches of shadow at its edge. In
my rambles too I had a sense of being endlessly watched by unseen eyes,
and once bending over a sunlit pool to drink, I was startled by the
haggard face which looked up from it with streaks of white in its long,
tangled hair. Each day I brought fresh orchids from the jungle's edge
and heaped them before my intangible lady.
They are more beautiful, Frances, I told her, than any I could
buy you along the Champs Elysées or Fifth Avenueand all they cost is
a ship and crew and cargo.
One morning I discovered that where the growth of cane and moss and
vines had formerly been thick and unbroken there were now several
clearly defined alleyways, made by the coming and going of the blacks,
bent on observing me. A few inquisitive steps into one of these trails
revealed, at a little distance, a pool of water. Its basin was of mossy
rock, and its edges were choked with ferns. A slender waterfall fed it,
and through the cloistered half-light of the forest interior fell a few
fervid dashes of sunlight like gold leaf on the somber tones of
greenery. The air hung wet and steamy like the atmosphere of a hot
house. But the marvel of it was the orchids. They climbed and trailed
and illumined the place with a dozen varieties of weird and subtle
beauty. One could understand why men take their lives into their hands
and penetrate fever-infested jungles in search of newer types. Their
delicacy was unearthly and splendid. They were not, it seemed, flowers
growing on dirt-fed stems, but blossoms of the gods. Each one was like
the blooming of some human soul freed from the grossness of the flesh.
Here was a bloom as ethereally pure and pale as the reincarnation of
some flawless virgin spirit; there were flaming petals of such
magnificent color as might have sprung from the heart of a conqueror. I
saw epitomized in petal and stamen, all the poetry of the world's dead
dreams. I took as many as I could carry back to the portrait, and on
the following morning I returned for more.
They lured me strangely with their fox fire of sheer beauty, until I
had penetrated the jungle to the distance of a quarter of a mile and
stood in a small opening where I plucked an armful of their blossoms.
Suddenly, as I started back, I felt a biting pang in my left
shoulder, and knew that I had been speared, though the tangle of the
jungle revealed no human form, and its silence remained unbroken. The
spear, which had come from nowhere, as it seemed, fell to the ground,
but not before it had gashed my flesh and left upon the tattered
remnants of my jacket a tell-tale smear of blood.
I believed myself to have been mortally poisoned by the javelin, and
my one wish now was to escape, with the semblance of greatness still
upon me, and die unseen. I went with as much dignity as possible toward
the beach, backing through the tangle to keep my flow of blood
concealed. I had no doubt that many unseen eyes followed my exit and
even if it were for a brief time, I wished to go with the seeming of
divine invulnerability. I even forced a loud and derisive shout of
laughter which rang weirdly through the silences. Wicked pains shot in
white-hot currents through my blood and racked my muscles. I was weak
with nauseating pain and dizziness swam in my brain. At last the
merciful rocks gave me concealment. I dropped on my knees, my teeth
gritted, and dragged myself back to my cave where I turned my face to
the rock wall to die.
CHAPTER XI. I FIND MYSELF A DEMI-GOD
Yet I did not die. While I lay waiting to do so the insistent ache
of my bones, the racking of my wound and the sodden numbness of my
brain, slowly blurred me into apathy. That passed and the delirium came
on a swelling tide of temperature. Centuries trampled roughshod over me
and demons of pain scourged me through the seven hells of fever.
Scorching wastes of time were broken at long intervals by little oases
of lucidity when I crawled to the opening and drank, but even these
were clouded by shreds of nightmare horror, and remembered
Once, waking to momentary sensibility, I found the narrow cave still
ringing with the echoes of my tortured and delirious shrieks.
When, at last, I came fully to myself, painfully weak and scalded
with the fever, but sane, I could see the stars spangling my scrap of
sky. My adventure had occurred in the morning, but whether hours or
days had played out their scores I did not know. I drank and slept
again. I next woke to the glare of forenoon. The clouds in my brain had
been swept away, and the hand I lifted fell weakly back on a forehead
which was cool and moist. The battling life spark had triumphed over
the native poison. But when I tried to drag myself to the mouth of my
grotto, my weak head began rambling again, so that real and unreal
things wandered strangely together. My side was lacerated by the pistol
which had been at my belt as I tossed in the fever. A twist in the
fissure brought me to the point where I, still concealed in the dark
shadow, could see the primitive terrace of my plateau, and there were
such things as brought back upon me an avalanche of terror, rage and
The lady still smiled from her post of honor with her gracious and
fearless eyes. The curved damascus daggers still held the enamelled
sheet in place, but beyond her I saw death. Against a background of
intense sea and sky under the glare of a fiercely brilliant sun, stood
grouped a human ensemble of indescribable color and savagery. Upon
scores of black and sweating torsos; upon gorgeously dyed feather work
and shell ornaments, the light fell in color gone mad. They stood
massed and silent, their spears and bows and clubs for the moment idle.
Their faces mutilated with spiked ears and nose ornaments and dyed
teeth, were unspeakably hideous. Every eye was just now intent on the
portrait of my lady. At the front stood the three whom I had supposed
to be priests at the amphitheatre, and with them was a man very aged
and white haired, but erect and gorgeously appareled.
Slowly one of the priests approached the portrait and put out an
ulcerous hand to touch the face. A tidal wave of unspeakable fury
caught me up and swept me back into the realm of insanity. I was
transplanted in an instant to the nightmares of my delirium. I saw
instead of a lifeless picture the slender, breathing figure of the
woman I worshiped contaminated by this profane touch. I attempted to
rush out and die like some Mad Mullah devotee in fanatical battle with
her assailants, but my strength was not equal to my impulse. I stumbled
to my knees and my right hand fell upon the hilt of my pistol. I
whipped it out and fired. In my agued hand it should have been harmless
enough, but the range was short and I had once been a marksman. I saw
the man crumple forward with a short, strangled groan. I saw those at
the back crowding one another over the cliff in the panic of their
disordered flight. They had not seen me. They knew only that bolts of
death were striking them down. I heard endless thunders as the pistol
report sent its echoes beating and rebounding against the confined
walls of the fissure. Blue and slender lines of spiraling smoke went
drifting out into the air. I caught a glimpse of two bolder spirits
stopping to drag away their dead. Then I collapsed and lay for hours
where I had fallen.
Once more I awoke with a moist forehead and a hunger which gnawed at
the pit of my stomach. Only the gods knew how long I had been without
food. The air fanned me with the soft, reviving breath of night. The
moon, riding up the east made an irregular diagram of silvered light
across the ledge, and fell with a reassuring touch of ivoried white, on
the newspaper sheet and the portrait.
I was too famished and spent to stand, but I made the journey down
to the beach on hands and knees, and when I had eaten my fill of
unsavory crabs I lay for a time in the grateful coolness of the wet
sand and drew new strength from its healing. My sickness was ended. The
pitiable weakness that had made the downward journey a torture was the
heritage of hunger. I had needed no medicine but food, and now I found
myself able to walk back upright. That night I slept sweetly and
dreamed once again of the familiar door beyond which lay luxury and
The sun was high when I awoke with a sense of great refreshment and
recovery. The slit of sky framed in the rift was not yet hot, but
tenderly blue with a color of promise. The fronds of fern and palm
stirred to the land breeze. I went down to my surf bath and breakfast
with an almost buoyant step. A half-hour after my return, when I turned
to look at the jungle edge a sight greeted me which demonstrated the
decision of the natives that our intercourse was not so soon to become
a closed incident.
This time, however, their coming was characterized by a more
gratifying element of respect. They swarmed out of the bush, not in
paltry dozens nor scores, but in their panoplied hundreds. Gorgeously
decked chiefs and the club-bearing warriors smeared with indigo halted
in the open, leaving a satisfying interval between their position and
mine. With great and conspicuous show of peace the warriors discarded
their spears and shields and raised their weaponless hands for me to
behold as I looked down from my high place. The white-haired king broke
a spear, gazing up at me the while, then dropping the pieces knelt and
bowed his slanting forehead to the sands. At his back bent the priests,
trailing their bright feathers in the dust. No one could misunderstand
their pantomime. Men of their tribe had offended the deities. A nation
had come in humility and supplication for forgiveness.
While they made obeisance in relays a group of young men approached
the priests, bearing armfuls of orchids. The king and priests and
orchid-bearers moved forward for a few steps and halted, gazing up
inquiringly at me. This performance was several times repeated before I
understood that they were seeking my consent to approach nearer. Then I
bowed and pointed inward. A rigorous order of precedence was observed,
the aged king keeping his place at their head and his followers their
positions of relative rank. The weight of his years made the royal
steps so slow that the colorful pageant crept like an army of snails.
Suddenly it dawned upon me that if I were to be a god receiving a
delegation of mortals, I should receive it in some suitable degree of
state. They were sending to me the mightiest men of their villages. The
kinky head of their king was abased. Aged Merlins were coming on their
marrow bones, resplendently trailing their feathered finery along the
white and flaring sands. I stood awaiting them in a raveled,
mud-smeared suit of pajamas which at their best had never been
ostentatious. The thing seemed unfit. Evidently these folk inclined to
the splendor of pomp. Jeffersonian simplicity would be lost on them.
Their pageant should be met with pageantry. There had been some who had
doubted and denied me. Of a surety if I were to play this nabob from
the skies; if I were to turn the averted tragedy into a screaming and
cheerful farce, it was my duty to dress the part.
With a signal of raised hands, I signified that they were to await
my reappearance. Then I bowed with profound dignity, and stepping from
their view, disappeared.
A few minutes later I emerged from my cave, a transmogrified being.
I was no longer the derelict of rags and tatters. Mine was the opulent
splendor of a High Mandarin of China. About my fever-wasted frame fell
and flapped the gorgeous folds of the embroidered kimono. In my hands I
carried a violin and bow. It is true I was unshaven, and through holes
in my canvas shoes protruded eight or ten toes, but what mortal can
assume to criticise such eccentricities as may be the part of godhood?
When I took my stand once more on my pedestal of mountain, I found
them patiently awaiting the nod of deity. The sun fell resplendently on
my silver storks and gold dragons and silk poppies. The lessening land
breeze fluttered the embroidery-crusted folds and splintered light from
my person. I listened with satisfaction to the incoherent sound that
went up from many throats; a chorused gasp of profound awe and
admiration and wonderment.
I signaled my immortal readiness to receive them. As the
ludicrousness of the farce broke over me I had to bite back unsolemn
roars of laughter. A spirit of deviltry and vaudeville possessed me. As
their high priests in deadly earnest marched on all fours with faces as
rapt and fanatically sober as those of Mecca pilgrims, I drew the bow
across the catgut and, lifting my voice, proclaimed myself in ragtime.
I informed them in the words which were new only to them and solemn
only to them that I had rings on my fingers and bells on my toes, and
as I sung they became hushed with awe and approached with a deeply
moved sense of their great honor and responsibility.
When they were only a little way off, I went down to meet them, and
with a condescension which I trusted would not injure my prestige,
lifted the aged chieftain to his feet and permitted him to walk. He,
however, remained deferentially two paces in my rear. It was evident
from their straining upward gazes, that deeply as they were moved to
reverence by my own exalted spectacle, there was some greater
revelation which they awaited above. This disquieted me since I had in
reserve no added climax to offer. I had given them a display savoring
of the circus but I had no grand spectacle to advertise in the main
tent after the regular performance.
When we had reached the plateau, however, I understood and was
relieved. To me they had come kneeling, but before Her portrait they
threw themselves on their faces and groveled. They sprinkled sand and
pebbles upon their hair and their voices, even to me who understood no
syllable, carried such depth of humility and supplication as filled me
They would rise from their suppliance only long enough to glance at
the face of the picture, then fall again and renew their paroxysms of
ungainly prayer. From the hands of the orchid-bearers they took the
heaps of blooms, and piled them at a distance from the shrine. The
young men who had been so signally honored withdrew from the holy of
holies. Only the high priests and the king were left with me in the
For a time I stood dumbly looking on, then the idea percolated into
my confused understanding. I realized that at best I was only a
demi-god, perhaps a sort of super-high-priest, but no god. These
ambassadors extraordinary had come not to me but to The Lady of the
I lifted up my voice for attention, and from their kneeling postures
they regarded me with grave reverence. I took my place, with bowed
head, before the portrait and addressed the lady in tones of deep
solemnity. It seemed to me that her delicate mouth line quivered with
amusement, as though she and I had between us a delicious secret.
Frances! Frances! Frances! I declaimed with the deep profundity of
a ritual. I have failed totally and signally at the god job. There is
in all this world of sky and sea and of my heart but one deity. It was
you who struck down with a thunderbolt the sacrilegious, false priest.
It was you who saved me from death and raised me to the high estate of
your vicegerent. I paused and went on more seriously: It is you whom
these people worship with idolatryand of them all, none worships you
so wholly as I, your priest! And though I was declaiming before a
lifeless image to impress ignorant cannibals, I meant it. When I had
finished there rose a devout murmur from the blacks, and with a motion
to them to remain, I went into the cave and came out again with the
small Japanese burner and a taper of incense. As the heavy fragrance of
the burning stuff spread itself upon the air, their wonder grew.
[Illustration: Frances! Frances! Frances! I declaimed with the
deep profundity of a ritual.]
At length I wheeled and pointed back to the jungle. Slowly,
reluctantly, but with perfect obedience, the wild bush men took up
their backward journey to relate the unbelievable tale of their
CHAPTER XII. PORT AND STARBOARD
There are men whose lives develop in gradations of gentle growth.
Decade merges into decade by unstartling evolution. Variations of
thread and color run smoothly into the life-pattern. With me it has
been otherwise. The constantly recurring dream of the portal in the
cliff was in a fashion symbolical of my life. The dreamed-of rescue
never came by degrees, but by the abrupt opening of a door where there
had been no door before and by the sudden changing of worlds in a step
across the threshold. For me epoch had followed epoch with sudden
breaks and few connecting threads. One day I was a bored tourist
lounging under the striped awnings of Shepheard's Hotel. The next day
found me on a disreputable ocean tramp bound for the Ultima Thule. That
voyage had ended as suddenly as it beganwith a quick curtain of
unconsciousness on a tableau of violence. Mansfield, too, dropped out
of my life with more instant suddenness that he had entered it. Now,
presto! with the sudden trickeries of a mountebank the sprite who
played with my destinies ushered in another unprefaced era. Across an
invisible line I stepped into days of luxury and prosperity.
It is told that the Inca god-kings breakfasted each morning on fruit
fresh plucked from growing-places a hundred miles away. In a horseless
land relays of runners, each dashing his appointed distance, saw to it
that a perishable dainty outlived its journey across a mountain range.
This gives a key to my mode of existence, for several months following,
though my luxury was of a lesser scale. In those months I mastered some
vocabularyand in so crude a dialect vocabulary suffices. I lacked
fluency, of course, and had trouble with their consonant-locked
syllables and gutturals, but in a fashion I could talk. Day followed
day with a monotony of ease. I was no longer satisfied with the noisome
flesh of disgusting crabs, and gull eggs far advanced toward the
hatching. Delicacies of fish and flesh and hitherto unheard-of fruits
were served up to me to satiation. My tattered pajamas gave way to
garments of cocoa-fiber and feathered finery for ceremonial wear. The
necessity of entering into the lives of the natives brought repulsive
revelations which I endured as best I could since if I were to
influence them I must proceed with a nice diplomacy. My fluttered folk
and wild could not be hurriedly herded into new folds. Departing
spirits, they believed, followed the sun into the west. Gods visited
mortals though usually in invisible forms and were fond of the flesh of
enemies slain in battle. Fetich and superstition took a hundred phases.
Their gusty and savage minds were childishly susceptible and in their
quickly roused affections they were as demonstrative as collies. I
began shortly to look about for some simple miracle wherein the new
goddess might manifest herself as a deity of benefaction as well as of
condign punishment. The opportunity came in a fashion most unexpected
and the result hardly made for a reform of enlightenment. I was told
that there dwelt in stilt-supported villages of grass on the far side
of the island a warlike tribe, with whom my people were hostile.
My folk were bushmen and dreaded the sea, but these enemies were
salt-water men, who could with axe and adz scoop from the solid tree
outrigger canoes and who were terrible in their strength. Their king
was lord over several villages and about his house went (this they told
me with bated breath) a row of many round stones, and each stone stood
for an enemy slain and eaten. For many seasons there had been peace,
but one day there arrived at my plateau a delegation of grief-torn
warriors. A small village had been attacked and two heads taken to
swell the row of stones around the canoe house. They had now come to
propitiate the deity bearing fruits and exquisitely wrought spears.
They besought the forgiveness of my Gracious Lady, because they could
offer no enemies' fleshthe most god-satisfying of sacrifices. This
omission, however, they swore to remedy, if victory were permitted to
hover over them in fight. Among the most devout of the petitioners was
Ra Tuiki, the aged chief with white hair. They urged me to accompany
them to their principal village and lay the hand of blessing on their
clubs and spears.
Through dense tangles of palm and fern, mangrove and moss I was
borne in a rough hammock of fiber. Great soft-winged butterflies
flapped across the course of our march. Brilliant birds fluttered off,
twittering and screaming. I should have preferred walking, but my
position prohibited it. To condescend meant to become a mere man.
In their squalid villages of grass hovels I found filth and the
excitement of battle preparation. It was my first view of their home
lifeand my last. I was taken to the house of a chief or sub-king, who
lay mortally hurt of an arrow wound, and who wished to have the
blessing of the highest priest that his spirit might take its course
honorably, and without curse, to the west. He lay on his mat dying, and
was older and more repulsive to the eye than Ra Tuiki. His ears had
been stretched by many huge ornaments, and the cartilage of his nose
was torn and ragged where the chances of battle had pulled out rings
and spikes. His eager eyes gazed up at me out of a face stiffened and
set with elephantiasis, and by his mat lay, unwrapped from their fiber
coverings, that they might comfort his passing spirit, two excellently
preserved negroid heads. I shuddered, but I laid my hand on his
slanting foreheadand I have seen men die with less dignity.
As night brought the closing in of choking jungle shadows, a
half-dozen red fires leaped up to drive their ribbons of red flare into
the blackness. They wavered fitfully and grotesquely upon twisting,
leaping bodies, which were paradoxically preparing for the ordeal of
the morrow by hideous orgies and dances and fatigue and nerve waste.
But when the first light of sunrise attacked the reek of dew that
veiled the jungle, while the dying fires still smouldered into gray ash
and my throat labored in stifling gasps of wet, they trailed out
silently into the bush. They were a long line of shadow shapes whose
footfall made no sound, and whose pigmy bodies melted into the tangle
as impalpably as the dissipating mists. My bearers carried me back to
the shore. Two days later their delegation came chattering in
hysterical delight and bringing in native triumph the head of the king
who had three hundred stones about his house.
About this time I instituted an important policy. By night I had
signal fires kept burning on every high place along the coast. I
disingenuously told my people that where a great shrine is, there must
also be at nightfall mighty banners of flame. They liked the idea.
Despite their hideous ferocity, they liked everything which might have
appealed to the imagination of a child. They liked music, they liked
color. The greatest privilege that their warriors could earn, was that
of coming, to the number of a dozen at a time, to my plateau by night
and after due reverence of squatting for hours on their haunches, while
I coaxed from the violin airs from opera or music hall.
On the point above us blazed one of our signal fires, and between
the reddened crevices of rock its flare struck down and yellowed our
gathering. The portrait would catch the light and leap from its shadow.
Over us were the stars. In a circle of silent absorption sat dark
immovable figures, with high lights gleaming, here and there, on the
mahogany of cheek-bone or forehead. Some fantastic painter might
portray these gatherings on canvas. He would need a bold brush. I find
no words for its description, but fantastic it was and strange. Under
the fetich of the starlight I would find myself drifting away into
realms of storied romance with the woman I loved and had not seen. Then
my bow would all unconsciously drift into love songs. I would find
myself singingEver the wide world over, lassand oftentimes when
my voice rose to the strain I could fancy that She joined me in its
singing. Her voice sang in my brain definitely and with the sweetness
of the beloved and familiar. I had, of course, never heard a syllable
from her lips, and yet I was sure that could I hear her voice in life I
should instantly recognize it, though blindfolded. I thought of it as a
richly sweet contralto. It never for a moment occurred to me to fancy
it might be anything else.
Once for a week the sky ceased to smile, and grew black. The jungle
was lashed and stripped with hurricanes and on several occasions the
earth trembled. The sea pounded our porous coast and boiled into a
tremendous tide. I knew that if the cyclonic scope was general, ships
were having trouble, but in that thought lurked a vague hope. If any
power were to drive a vessel to my rescue it would be a power which
carried sailors out of their ordered courses. One night, some six
months after the wreck of the Wastrel, when the skies were
serene again I found myself more than ordinarily adrift on the tide of
imagination. The march of the stars showed that midnight had passed,
and yet the natives sat unhurried, and I, as unhurried as they, was
still absorbed with the violin.
My eyes traveled out to sea, absently and without reason. Suddenly
the bow stopped half-way across the strings with a rasping gasp of the
catgut. The instrument itself fell from my hands and I sat rigid and
staring like a man suddenly stricken. The other eyes followed mine and
also remained riveted. Leagues away over the phosphorescent waste of
water, but clear and unblinking, glowed the green spot of a ship's
starboard light. I tried to speak, but for the moment my grasp on their
dialect slipped from me and left me dumb. I was trembling with
heart-bursting excitement, and at sight of my emotion they began to
stir uneasily with a threat of panic.
As suddenly as it had left me my self-possession returned. With a
sweeping gesture I pointed to the myriad stars that gemmed the heavens
and told them that one of these had come down to the sea, bringing
other demi-gods like myself. I adjured them to build up the fires of
welcome until the island might seem a mountain of flame. Their
strongest men must feed, as never fires had before been fed, and all
others must go to their huts and await the morrow.
Alone on my plateau I saw the fires leap up in a coast-wise line of
beacons that dyed the night vermilion. The tiny point of seaward green
was crawling snail-like on the sea and at last my gaze was rewarded by
a slender flowering spray of rocket fire, followed by another and
another. Then the point of light ceased crawling and stood still. I let
my head fall forward in my palms and my breath came in spasmodic gasps.
But as I raised my eyes they fell on the smiling lips of the
portrait. It seemed to me that Her lips and eyes, still gracious, even
congratulatory, held a touch of wistful sadness which had not been
there before. They seemed such lips and eyes as say, Bon voyage
The glow of wine-like exultation died in my arteries and a chill
settled on my heart. There, in the world of tangible things and
unrelenting facts, what room would there be for such a companionship?
Was this strongest love of my life to melt into nothing now that I no
longer needed its support? Was it a dream? If so it was a dream from
which I should awake to an empty life. No! I would set out to find her
in the flesh. I halted my reflections with a start. And when I found
herwhat? I sat there in the midst of silences, and the sweep of
essential things. About me lay leagues of sea, miles of rock, an
infinity of sky. They brooded gigantically over me and whispered that
there are mysterious influences greater than man's cold facts. Man's
thought became only a fluttering stir in a center of protoplasm. I was
as near to the beginnings of things as to the present. It was as easy
to believe in the love of souls that had not met as in other matters.
Nono! I cried out, bending before the face, Whatever it be,
there are loves great enough to burn into miracles. This is not the
first time I have loved younor the last. Through æons of
reincarnation a love like this runs on. I paused awhile, then added,
with an effort to smile. Don't you remember even one or two former
'... happy we lived and happy we loved
And happy at last we died;
And deep in the rift of a Caradoc drift
We slumbered side by side.
The world turned on in the lathe of time,
The hot sands heaved amain,
Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
And crept into light again.'
My eyes were fixed so tensely on the portrait that it grew blurred.
Slowly it seemed to me to vanish and in its place stood a real and
living figure. I could give no detail of its dress or coloring, but it
was a figure of marvelous beauty, and it gazed into my eyes and shook
its head. Then it faded and I was looking again at the portrait. There
was a choke in my throat, and, falling to my knees, I kissed the
CHAPTER XIII. ENTER THE INFANTRYMAN
The morning would bring by rescuers and the breaking up of
housekeeping in my cave. I had no wish that profane eyes should look
upon the portrait or the devout worship of my beloved cannibals. Now
that I was leaving them I realized that they were beloved. In my memory
loomed a hundred acts of simple courtesy. The portrait I took down from
its shrined position; the Damascus daggers I put again into their
places, and the Mandarin's kimono I folded carefully into a package. On
all these things, as on the era for which they stood, I dropped the lid
of the mate's chest.
The morning came on brilliant and fresh with the cleansing sweep of
the trades. Sky and sea sparkled in a diamond clarity, and below me on
the beach patiently waited the dignitaries of my tribe in festal
regalia. Since this was our parting, I too came out decked in the
finery of bird plumage. I did not allow them to climb to the now empty
shrine, but led them down with me to the beach, where shortly a boat
came bobbing over the water.
A queer enough spectacle we must have made, like a flock of
blackbirds patched with the oriole's vermilion and the cockatoo's rose.
I myself, burned out of my Caucasian birthright, differed from them
only in my size.
For a time the handful of white men on the boat hesitated to risk
the chances of landing and being kai-kai'd. As they circled at a
distance I made my throat raw, shouting reassurances in English, while
my wondering blacks contemplated with deep awe this talking of the
At last the rescuers rowed in, and I waded out waist deep to meet
them. The officer in command was a colossal Scotchman with a ruddy face
and an honest mouth as stiffly sober as though it had never yielded to
the seduction of a smile. He gave me a detail of two kanakas whose
brawny arms carried down the chest and its contents.
At last came the moment I had dreaded. I must break the news to
these waiting children that the priests from the stars had not come to
bring them new and permanent wonders, but to take back to the lands of
mystery their goddess and myself. I wished then for a full knowledge of
their tongue, that I might soften the tidings, but I could not bring
myself to the mendacity of promising a return, though they pleaded.
When it came to parting with Ra Tuiki, I forgot my quasi-divinity and
seized the old head-hunter's hand in an ungodlike, Anglo-Saxon grip.
Their island would now be charted. Missionaries would come to them
with teachings of a new faith, but treading on their heels would come
men of another sort, and as I thought of these I wished that we might
be able to leave the place unchronicled. The contract trader would soon
arrive, supported if need be by the authority of his flag's navy,
bringing to my cannibals, or some of them, long terms of peonage under
hard plantation masters.
What, if I may ask, suggested the solemn-visaged Scot at the helm,
when the bow was turned outward and the boat crew was bending to the
oars, was all the demonstration of th' niggers?
They were saying good-bye, I explained, We came to have a very
He pondered my answer for a time in sober silence, then dismissed
the matter with a single observation.
They took it cruel hard, sir.
Over the side of the Gretchen I went to a kindly reception. I
told all of my story that I wished to tell, admitting that I had posed
as a sort of demi-god, but breathing no hint of the godship which was
over my priesthood.
A week of hurricane and storm had tested the ship's endurance,
exhausted the crew, and driven the Gretchen into unknown waters.
If it hadn't been for your signal fires, the captain told me, we
might have gone to smash on the outlying needles. Your lights probably
saved us as well as yourself.
This was no larger ship than the Wastrel, but when one went
to his berth at night it was with confidence that his sleep would not
be interrupted by the sudden necessity of getting up to die. She had
carried a cargo of trade stuffs south and was returning to Singapore by
way of Brisbane, laden with copra and pearl shell. Her direction lay
westerly while I wished to go east, but that was secondary. At the
Australian port, I could reship. Indeed, I was told our course might
shortly cross that of a regular line of steamers between Brisbane and
Honolulu. For a few days it was satisfying enough to pick up the lost
ends of the world's stale news. While I had been marking time the world
had been marching; a hundred paragraphs had been lived into history.
On the fourth day a slender thread of smoke rose over the western
horizon which grew into a clean-painted and white-cabined steamer. As
the gap closed white-clad men and even women stood crisply out against
the deck-rail. Then with much signaling from the halyards the two
vessels had converse of which I was the subject, and I with my chest
went over the side of the Gretchen. I told the steamer's purser
as much of my story as I had told on the Gretchen, and when that
evening I appeared at the captain's table transformed by bathing in a
real tub and submission to a real razor in the hands of a real barber,
it was to find that my story had traveled forward and aft.
St. Paul was a very good man. He had piety and fervor, but also in a
superior and godly fashion he was a man of the world. Perhaps he gained
a firmer grip on his following by reason of his ability to say to the
youth of his generation, I have been twice stoned and thrice
shipwrecked. I had been only once shipwrecked, yet a ready-made
audience awaited entertainment.
It was on the second afternoon that Captain Keller appeared in the
smoke-room. He was a man of about my own build and almost as bronzed,
but fair haired and his carriage proclaimed the soldier before he
introduced himself. I was idly enjoying the comfort of wicker chairs
and windows which framed white decks and dancing seas. The few other
occupants of the place were lounging about in pongee and linen,
chatting lazily of those things which make talk among men coming out of
the East: tribal risings in Java, the late race-meet in Melbourne. The
military-looking young man dropped into a seat at my table and signaled
to the spotless Jap, who officiated as smoking-room steward.
Left you alone yesterday, he began by way of introduction. I saw
you didn't relish being treated like the newest and strangest animal in
captivity. I guess they're accustomed to you now. What will you have?
Brandy and soda, I decided; then I added, Perhaps after being
rescued I ought to make myself more volatile and amusing, but the fact
is I'm readjusting. Did you ever happen to spend six months on an
undiscovered, cannibal island?
He shook his head and laughed with a pleasant gleam of strong,
Then, I assured him, you don't understand the desire to sit still
for a while. You don't understand the sheer wonder of a soft chair,
white woodwork and the regular throb of engines and the sight of
white-skinned, white-clad men and women. Look there. I held out my
He smiled again and nodded. I'm going back to the States, he said,
after three years in the Islands, capped with two months in India and
Australia. I'm Keller of the 23rd Infantry.
He paused, then went on in a matter-of-fact way. I've been in the
jungle three months on end. I know what it means. This is my second
term of Philippine service and it's the first time I've gone home quite
sane. After the first three years the melancholia had me. When the
transport left Manila, and I thought of the three weeks before I could
see the Golden Gate, it took three good huskies to keep me from jumping
overboard. It touches one here. With a finger at the temple, he
paused, then added gravely: And I know some fellows who weren't
stopped in time. One must readjust slowly.
I nodded, puffing with a sense of supreme luxury at the Cairene
cigarette he had offered me, and listening to the tinkle of ice in my
There were some days of almost pure creature contentment and as we
sat under deck awnings or burned cigars in the smoking-room our
acquaintanceship ripened to intimacy. The engines with their muffled
throb were churning out their fifteen knots an hour and the timbers
creaked their complaint to the rise and fall of the prow. Of course all
the time during those days was not spent chatting with the infantryman,
and of course the point of intimate confidence was not at once
established between us. Indeed, I, at first, let him do the talking,
and though he was a modest man he had much to tell. But in the hours I
spent alone I found my thoughts revolving about many things which I
could not generally share. A man may admit to himself without shame
that he has fallen in love with a woman of whose very existence he is
uncertain, but he hesitates to announce it to another. Now, although
the picture which had given me companionship and protection was packed
away out of sight; though I was no longer a dweller in fantastic
surroundings, I still had that presence with me. Whenever I closed my
eyes I saw again the smiling lips and gracious eyes. I knew that I was
henceforth destined to scan all faces until I found hers.
So, being unable to discuss matters that were distracting me I found
need of an outlet, and sought it in transcribing this diary. Of course
the impulse that had stirred me on the island to write down my emotions
each day was one I could no longer gratify. Now I must do the thing in
retrospect and my pen would lack the force which an impending shadow of
fatality might have given it. I had emerged from that pall only to pass
into the shadow of something quite as important. I was dedicated to a
quest. When I found Her I wished to have the story ready to present in
as convincing a form as possible. Sometimes at night Keller and I hung
elbow to elbow over the after-rail, watching the broken phosphorus of
We were standing so on the night before reaching Honolulu where
Keller was to spend a few days while I made immediate connection for
the States. He was telling me many things about himself. There was a
baby, born after he had left God's country, now old enough to chatter,
and do wonderful things, whom he was to see for the first time when he
reached 'Frisco. His confidence invited mine, and over our pipes, I
told him the whole and true story of my experiences and of how an
unknown goddess had safeguarded me.
You spoke of the loneliness, I said at the end. You know now why
it didn't slug me into insanity.
For a long time he stood musing over the recital. He had seen enough
of life's grotesqueries to understand it. Finally he asked:
Will you read me some of your diary?
I took him to my cabin and for an hour he listened while I read the
hastily scrawled pages that I had set down. Of course I read them with
a certain diffidence because it had occurred to me that certain phases
might strike a man living in civilization as the vagaries of a brain
touched with sun and isolation. Indeed, I was surreptitiously watching
his face from time to time as a man might watch a jury box when he is
on trial for lunacy, but I was reassured to find there no politely
veiled judgment against my sanity.
It's decidedly interesting, he said at last, though it's one of
the things we would rule out as too improbable to believe if we didn't
happen to know it was true. In the first place I have been reliably
informed by many expert witnesses that the South Seas have long since
given up their last secrets as to undiscovered islands.
I was also convinced of that, I admitted, until I was cast up on
one. I am now prepared to believe there are many others. Whenever I
live six months in a place I am ready to admit its existence.
He refilled and lighted his pipe, then he said, I don't want to
invade private precincts, but after hearing that I'd like to see the
portrait. May I?
I delved into the mate's chest, and unwrapped the newspaper page.
For some moments he gazed at it, and I began to wonder whether it
held the same magic infatuation for every one else that it did for me.
His expression was enigmatical and his voice, when he spoke at last,
It's very hackneyed, he said, but we must go on saying it. The
world is an extremely small place.
What do you mean? I demanded.
He was still looking at the picture and he spoke reflectively as
though I had not been present.
The loveliest girl in Dixie. They all said so.
In Dixie, I echoed eagerly, Do you mean you know her?
I've danced with her a dozen times, he answered, and yet I can't
say I know her. I remember that all the men were paying court, and I
fancy I should have been smitten like the rest except that my wife had
just accepted me, and I had only one pair of eyes.
For God's sake, I said very quietly, let me have all that you
know about hernameaddress.
It was four years ago, he explained. We were all at Bar Harbor.
She was visiting at one of the cottages there. I was so engrossed with
my own courtship that other girls, even this wonderful one, didn't
count with me. I don't know where she lived, except that she was from
the South. Her name was Frances. He broke off and an expression of
extreme vexation clouded his face.
I know her first name, I urged him. It's the surname I need.
Yes, he responded, of course. Her surname was Again he
halted and an embarrassed flush spread over his cheeks and forehead.
Then he spoke impulsively. You must bear with me. It's ludicrous, but
the name has slipped me. It's just at the tip of my tongue, yet I can't
call it. This thing is inexcusable, but ever since that first trip to
the Islands I've been subject to it. Names which I know perfectly,
elude mesometimes for a few moments, sometimes for weeks.
Can't you remember it, I demanded insistently, if you cudgel your
brain? I don't care how mercilessly you cudgel it. I must know.
He nodded. I quite understand. It has slipped me. I shall remember
it by morning, but his voice became graver.
But what? I inquired.
I'm afraid it's too late to help you. We heard just before leaving
the place that she was to marry some man at home. It hadn't been
formally announced, but I think it was quite definite.
I suppose he said good-night and that I replied. I don't remember
his leaving the stateroom. I recall standing some time later alone on
the deck and seeing a white-clad officer tramping the bridge. His
noiseless feet seemed to be treading upon me. The one honeymoon couple
on our passenger-list passed and halted to comment on the rare quality
of the air and the splendid softness of the stars. The little bride
laughed delightedly. Oh, Mr. Deprayne, she enthused, it was under
skies like this that Stevenson wrote,
'The world is so full of a number of things,
That I feel we should all be as happy as kings.'
I smiled. Yes, I murmured, a number of things. Possibly too many
There was running through my memory a passage from the diary written
by the unknown girl. It was one of those passages that had stuck in my
memory through the shipwreck and the island days, a note of optimism
which I had liked, partly because it was rather too imaginative to be
accepted as fact. Now it mocked me.
It's not just to-day's wonderful things that make life fair, she
had written, but it's knowing that there is to be a to-morrow, and
that that same to-morrow will be lovelier than to-day. I know (I can't
say why unless it's just that some voice keeps singing it to my heart),
that some day he will come walking into my life as into a place where
he has the right to be and our lives will after that be one life. That
is the to-morrow I am waiting for.
CHAPTER XIV. THE ASH-TRASH LADY
But when we parted at Honolulu the name was still eluding Keller's
memory and I had to continue on my way uninformed.
I was at first all for breaking my journey and remaining with him
until some flash of memory should bring back the one word I needed, but
he pointed out to me that little would be gained by this course. I
think he was, in fact, so sensitive as to the mental quirk which had
survived his attack that the idea of a man's shadowing him, waiting for
him to remember, was unwelcome and would have taxed his self-respect. I
felt bound to regard his whim, inasmuch as he promised that if I would
wait a while, two or three weeks at the most, he would arm me with
information. Even if his memory continued to play truant, a word with
his wife, when he met her, would set him straight, and he would at once
communicate with me.
At all events, as we shook hands, looking out across the sapphire
bay, we both pretended that the lapse of his memory was a trivial
thing. I did not affect indifference for its subject, but I assured him
that inasmuch as I had still some days of voyage ahead of me it was
quite probable that the name might come to his memory again before I
landed in 'Frisco, and I made him promise that if such was the case he
would cable the important surname to the St. Francis. There was still
the bare chance, he reminded me, that the rumored engagement had not
after all resulted in marriage. He fell back on those adages calculated
to convey last hope to the forlorn, and since there was nothing else to
be done I accepted his lame comfort in the spirit that prompted it.
Possibly now that I had before me the prospect of learning the identity
of the lady I really welcomed a few days of uncertainty. At least while
they lasted I should have the shred of possible hope and could be
shaping my resolution to face the answer. Long after one has told
himself that there is no longer a chance of hope he none the less
clings to a shred, and when I arrived at the hotel St. Francis and
inquired for a cablegram, I think that relief outweighed disappointment
as the clerk ran through the miscellaneous sheaf of messages and shook
his head. I don't find anything, he said, and strange as it may seem,
I felt like a reprieved man who still faces dreaded news but has not
actually received it.
Before that breakfast at the club my life had been merely prefatory;
a sum of dilute emotions. At Harvard I had taken my degree and won my
H on the gridiron. Since then I had gone through my days just missing
every goal. There had been little even of innocuous flirtation and
nothing of grand passion.
I had tried to paint, and my masters discovered promise which came
to nothing. I adventured into the practise of law and went briefless. I
essayed music without distinction. I finally decided that my genius was
seeking its goal along mistaken avenues. It should be mine to move men
and women to smiles and tears by the magic of pen and ink and printed
word. But the editors were on duty. They received my assaults on a
phalanx of blue pencils. They flung me back, defeated and unpublished.
Perhaps had I fallen in love, it might have been different. Had some
woman kindled the sleeping fires in me I might not have remained an
extinct volcano of a man. Perhaps, so energized, I might have incited
juries to tearsand verdicts. Possibly I might have stormed the
editorial outposts and set my banner of manuscript at the forefront of
literature. Be that as it may, I had heretofore never loved.
Now I did. Now I was the most quaintly tortured of men; wholly,
unqualifiedly and to the depths, stirred by the worship of a woman I
had never seen. Moreover she was probably some other man's wife and the
mother of his children.
She had come to me over the sea, bringing with her my destiny. She
had smiled on me and saved me. She had taken tribute of my soul. Now it
was ended. I had worshiped her among crags of coral, under the dome of
a volcano. I had come to think of her as a splendid and vivid orchid
which a man might hope to wear very proudly at the heart of his life.
To what end had the Fates lured me into this cul-de-sac?
I made the rest of the journey in a fog of sullen misery, and
emerged, at its end, from the Pennsylvania station a morose and
hopeless man. As a taxicab bore me to my club I felt a tremendous
suspense. Doubtless there was a message there. If Keller's memory had
flashed back to him, as memory sometimes does, the name in which I was
so vitally interested, information should have arrived before me in New
York. Since it had not intercepted me in San Francisco I judged that
the blank had not, up to that time been filled. Supposing that he had
remained in Hawaii a week, he would have left there a day after I
arrived in 'Frisco, and then for the six days at sea I should hardly
expect him to communicate with me. But I had stopped two days in the
coast city, arranging financial affairs by telegraph, since I had
landed stripped of everything but my chest and my borrowed clothes.
I had also crossed the continent, and by this time he should also
have arrived in the States, unless his sailing had been again delayed.
Of course I recognized that he had many things close to his own heart,
but this service to me involved only the asking of a single question,
which his wife could answer in one word. I was sure that he would not
prove laggard in the matter, and so I braced myself at the door of the
Club to receive tidings which might put hope to death, or might by bare
possibility, give it new life.
And yet my mail held only the accumulation of unimportant things.
Old advertisements and invitations and bills, many of which had come
while I was out there at the edge of things.
Could it be, I asked myself, that Keller had forgotten me, too? Had
it been possible that the card upon which I had so carefully written my
address had been misplaced? I had been willing to put off the moment at
San Francisco. Now I found myself eagerly impatient for the answer.
In the breakfast-room I encountered the doctor, who was dallying
over a cup of coffee and a morning paper. He glanced up and for a
moment his eyes lingered.
Hello, he said, how long have you been gone?
Little less than a year.
You went away a youngish sort of man and you return with
distinguished white temples. He summarized. There must be a story
locked up in you.
I glanced impatiently at the card and called for eggs.
I haven't been nibbling at life this time, I retorted with some
touch of asperity.
I didn't instruct you to gluttonize, he reminded me.
I gave him only a partial history. Even the revised version of my
adventures, which I had by this time learned to tell glibly enough to
conceal the fact that I was omitting the major part, was sufficiently
beyond the rut of things to beguile a half-hour in the eventless walls
of a Manhattan club. But my table-companion eyed me with his customary
and disquieting sharpness, and finally fell into his old habit of
Something is lying heavily on your mind, Deprayne, he announced,
and it's not merely the memory of cannibals and exposure. Dangers of
that sort become pleasant reminiscences when we view them through the
retrospective end of the glasses. There's something else. What is it?
I laughed at him over my raised coffee-cup. This was one man above
all others in whom I should not confide the facts. He would promptly
have prescribed a sanatorium.
Nonsense! I scoffed, and just as I said it a bell-boy arrived at
the table with a telegram on a small silver tray.
A message for Mr. Deprayne.
I was totally unable to control the violent start that caused the
cup to drop on the tablecloth with a crash, and doubtless made my face
momentarily pale. My effort at regained composure did not escape the
doctor. I saw his eyes narrow and heard him murmur, Nerves. Shaken
I took the telegram, calmly enough. I had had my moment of
excitement and was again calm. I even held the missive unopened as the
dining-room boys spread a clean napkin over the coffee stains. Then
with a murmur of apology I tore the end and drew out the blank. I don't
think the doctor detected the disgust of perusal.
Have just arrived from Florida. If in town call and see me. Aunt
Aunt Sarah was one of those disquieting persons who loathe
telephones and note-paper. Her city messages came by wire with the
insistence of commands.
The end was that the doctor decided I must get my mind active, and
after vainly trying to bully me back into literary effort he took a new
Are you too surly and apathetic to combine a small service to
friends with the augmenting of your own fortunes? he demanded, and
before I could reply he fell into the discussion of a matter which just
now lay at the front of his interests. There was a Kentuckian in town,
with glowing projects for fortune reaping along the ridges of the
Cumberlands. He was not a mere promoter, but a man of large means and
ability, who was also much the gentleman. His present scheme of things
required the enlistment of additional capital, and he had come to men
who had interested the doctor as well as themselves. The Kentuckian had
suggested, however, that before committing themselves in the matter
they send one of their own number with him to look over the options.
None of the others, as it happened, could go. Here, declared the
doctor, was my opportunity to try the novelty of useful occupation.
The man, whose name was Weighborne, was to lunch with him. Would I
meet him and talk it over, and if I was favorably impressed accompany
him to the Kentucky mountains?
We were sitting by a Fifth Avenue window as he outlined the matter
with persuasiveness. The sky was drear with the ash gray of autumn.
'Busses, motors and taxis were trailing along in the same old hopeless
monotony. At the thought of remaining here I sickened. Until a letter
or message could arrive from Keller I could do little, and this trip
would take only ten days or two weeks. I now inferred that Keller had
awaited the next steamer. If that were so there would still be the six
days at sea. At all events Kentucky is on the telegraph lines. His word
could follow me there without loss of time. Then he had said, the
loveliest girl in Dixie. South of Mason and Dixon's line I might be
closer to my discoveries when the name arrived. But above all that, I
must fill in the time of waiting with some sort of action. There in the
hills I should at least be away from the scenes which, in the few hours
since my return, had begun to spell insufferable ennui. Yes, I
said I would meet Mr. Weighborne. Why not?
Having promised to be on hand at two o'clock, I began a strange
quest that came to nothing. In Times Square and Park Row I spent
several dusty hours running through newspaper files, and going back to
dates five and six years old. I was hunting for a pictorial section of
the same general style as that which bore the portrait. I found one or
two printed with a like make-up on similar paper, but not even of the
exact size, and although I followed these through the Sundays of
several years, I came in the end only to the conclusion that the paper
had been printed outside of New York.
Weighborne impressed me. In physique and mind and energy he was big
and virile. One could glance at him in his carelessly correct clothes
and know that he would be equally at home in drawing-room or saddle.
The Kentuckian had to cut short his visit with us, since he was leaving
the same day for the South, and what talk we had was limited in its
scope. Yet his personality charmed me and compelled admiration. He was
that type of man who escaped the preliminaries with which the average
promoter of large schemes must convince his hearers. His own bearing
and breadth carried with it an assurance of trustworthiness and energy.
His steady gray eyes had a compelling and purposeful clarity, and I
could not help thinking as we talked what such a companionship would
have meant in those other days of loneliness and danger. Weighborne was
the sort of fellow one would like to have at his back in difficulties.
I agreed to meet him in Lexington three days hence and accompany him to
the properties which he hoped to develop.
There was a minor element of personal risk, he warned me. We should
perhaps encounter the dislike of certain men who were of the feudist
type. He spoke lightly of this feature, but as a matter concerning
which it was only the part of fairness to inform me.
Later in the day while glancing over the papers I came upon the
announcement that a new play was to have its première that evening at a
Broadway house, and in the name of the author, I found my interest
piqued. Bob Maxwell was an old friend. He had fought a long fight for
success and had found the goddess cold and offstanding. We had been
fellows in literary aspiration, and he had been, when I last saw him,
still floundering for support in the unstable waters of newspaperdom.
If his play succeeded, he was made. I tried vainly to reach him by
'phone, and went that evening to the theater to lend my applause.
From the unpainted side of the stage-sets I listened to the salvoes
of handclapping that were waves lifting him to success.
When at last the ordeal was over and my friend's triumph assured, he
led me along the whitewashed walls to the star's dressing room. In
response to his rapping, the door opened on a scene of confusion. The
young woman whom the coming of this night had made a star turned upon
us, from her make-up mirror, a triumphantly flushed face.
The place was aglow with elation. The spirit of success showed even
in the movements of the quiet little French maid as she gathered and
stored the beribboned linen which still littered the green-room. Grace
Bristol herself took a quick, impulsive step forward and placed a
grateful hand on each of the author's shoulders. For me, when I was
presented, she had only a hurried nod of greeting.
Thank God, Bobby! she exclaimed with a half-hysterical catch in
her throat. Thank God, it's over. My knees were knocking so while I
was waiting for my entrance cue that I wanted to run away and hide.
I know, he said. I was watching you. You were green under the
If you'd spoken to me just then, I'd have screamed and had spasms,
she laughed, but now she pointed victoriously to a maze of roses on
her dresserthere are the flowers that glow under glass, tra-la! You
wrote me the bulliest part I ever played, old pal. You made me a star.
I had come to-night simply to congratulate. I had known something of my
friend's struggles and I wished to be among those who were there to say
well done. My own thoughts were coursing in channels far away from
the life of theaters and green-rooms, where this young woman,
undeniably pretty, beyond doubt talented, was enjoying her moment of
high triumph. In her delight was that hysterical touch which stamps
moments of reaction. She had been through the ordeal of a first night
and now she knew that the experiment was successful. Bobby too must
have had the same exaltation, though his masculine nature did not break
so frankly into emotion. I felt that I was the extra person, entirely
superfluous, so I murmured some good-night and started to leave the
place. But my friend stopped me.
I want to talk with you later, old man, he said, and I remained to
be, as it developed, catapulted into a new discovery.
Bobby helped Miss Bristol into her coat and the two of us gathered
up as many of the flowers as we could carry and made our way with her
through the stage-entrance and out into the street. As we hailed a
taxi' at the curb, the night life of never-sleeping places was racing
at full tide along Broadway, and swirling in an eddy about Longacre
Square. It bore on its crest its gay flotillas of pleasureand its
drift of derelicts. To me it pointed all the miserable morals of
Where to? inquired Bobby. Do you show yourself in triumph at
Rector's grill, or go home to dream of applauding thousands?
The lady shrugged her shapely shoulders.
Me for the hay! she announced with prompt decisiveness. Jump in,
boys, she invited in afterthought. I may as well drive you down to
your rooms and drop you first. I need a breath of air to quiet my
Out of the garish color and clangor of Broadway, we swept into the
tempered quiet of Fifth Avenue, stretching ghostlike between the twin
threads of electric opals.
We must both be pretty tired, he suggested when Washington Arch
loomed ahead. We haven't spoken since Herald Square.
I'm too happy to talk, she answered. For ten pretty rough years
I've been building for to-night. She sighed contentedly, then went on,
I began about the usual way ... musical comedy ... in tights ...
carrying a spear. My first promotion was to the front row. I wasn't
fool enough to kid myself into the notion that it was because I was a
Melba or a Fiske. If I used to go to my hall bedroom every night and
cry myself to sleep it was nobody's business but my own. She must have
felt Maxwell's eyes on her, for her voice took on a note of the defiant
as she added, And if I didn't always go straight to my hall bedroom,
maybe that was my own business too. She seemed to be reviewing her
struggle as she leaned restfully back against the cushions with
to-night's roses in her lap. Her lids drooped contentedly. But
to-night, she added, well, to-night I felt all that was paid for and
the receipt signed. How do you feel, Bobby?
Glad it's over, said the man. I'm tired.
It hasn't been just exactly a snap for you either, she
sympathetically conceded. When I first knew you, you were haunting
Park Row for a cheap job, and getting canned by office boys. It's been
a long way, we've come, boy, but we kept plugging when the going was
bad, and now, thank God, we've arrived.
The taxi' drew up before the door of the house where Maxwell had his
quarters. It was a dingy building which has harbored under its roof the
beginnings of a half-dozen literary reputations.
Bobby, said the young woman suddenly, have you any Scotch in your
I believe there's some Bourbon left in the bottle, he admitted.
'Twill have to do, she said with a grimace. I believe I'll climb
the steps and have a highball. We ought to toast the piece, you know.
It's been good to us.
I thought you were too tired, suggested the author in surprise.
We might have stopped where they had champagne.
I didn't want wine. But I need a quiet little chat to work off this
In his sitting-room Bobby announced, I've got to pack. I'm leaving
in the morning. Deprayne will entertain you with traveler's tales.
Miss Bristol paused with her hands raised and her hatpins half
drawn. Her face, for a moment, clouded.
Where are you going?
Out west for a month or two.
Oh, she said slowly. What's the idea? Girl?
He shook his head.
Rest, he enlightened. I'm tired.
The smile came again to her lips.
Oh, very well, she said. Get out your bag. I'll help you pack
Maxwell went in search of glasses and bottles.
A shaded lamp on the table left the corners of the book-lined walls
in shadow. In the open fireplace a bank of coals glowed redly. The
young woman took her place before it on the Spanish-leather cushions of
a divan, drawing her feet under her and nestling snugly back with her
hands clasped behind her head. Her lips were parted in a smile and her
eyes, fixed on the coals, were deep with reflection. The face became
again the face of a young girl, bearing no trace of the experience
which had made up ten years of war with Broadway. To me she paid not
the slighted attention. Shortly he returned and handed us glasses. She
raised hers, smiling.
To you, she saidthe author!
They clinked rims.
To you, he gravely responded,the star!
After that neither of them spoke, until the girl broke the silence
with a laugh.
Some day, Bobby she asserted, you must tell me the story you
haven't dramatizedthe story of your life.
Why do you think it would prove interesting?
She regarded him for a time with close scrutiny.
Well, I don't quite get you, Bobby. You are rather a riddle in a
way. Sir Galahad on Broadwaydoesn't that strike you as a funny
Rather paradoxical, he admitted, the environment might fit Don
Juan better. But why Sir Galahad on Broadway?
That's what they all call you. You are notoriously unattainable.
The only man in this game who hasn't had an affair with any ash-trash.
With any what? he questioned, puzzled.
Ash-trash; actress, she enlightened. The title is a little
conceit of my ownpoor but original. You know perfectly well that
Stella Marcine simply threw herself at your head during the rehearsals.
And she told me that you never even asked her out to supper.
Why should I?
Everybody else does. Most men marry her, at one time or another.
Of course, she went on thoughtfully after a pause, it's very
charming to remain naïve after years of this life, unless, as stage
gossip says, it's merely a pose.
It's not a pose, replied the man quietly.
I know that, she hastened to assure him. But what I want to know
is this. What's behind it? Who is she?
Why should there necessarily be any She? he demanded. Can't a man
live his own life independently of prevalent customsmerely because it
is his own life?
She shook her head and flecked the ash from her cigarette. She
seemed to be pondering the matter before hazarding judgment. Then her
words came positively enough.
Don't pull that old line on me, about being the captain of your
soul, Bobby; I know better.... Oh, I used to believe all those pretty
things. I wanted to go on believing them, but there wasn't a chance.
What did you find?
Just what the fool sailor finds who has the idea that he's bigger
than tides and gales; who fancies he can sail his little duck-pond boat
in the gulf stream, through reefs and hurricanes and bring it out with
the paint fresh. Her voice had perceptibly hardened. You probably
know a lot of girls, Bobby, who wouldn't invite me to teacertainly
not if they knew all my story. Nevertheless when we line up for the big
tryout, I guess the Almighty will take a look at their untempted
innocence, and a glance at meand somehow I'm not worried about what
He'll say. No woman would muddy her shoes if we all had Walter Raleighs
to spread coats over the puddles.
The man lighted a cigarette and said nothing.
But get the angle on me right, Bobby, she hastened to amend. I
haven't loafed. Now, I've made good. From this on I can be the
captain of my souland you can be pretty sure I will.
CHAPTER XV. TWO DISCOVERIES
Bob Maxwell was standing before the fire. He turned abstractedly and
set his untouched glass on the mantel shelf.
You've got a grouch, Bobby, lectured the young actress, at a time
when you ought to be all puffed up and chesty. Aren't you glad we made
good in the same piece? It would be nice of you to say so.
He turned on her a face strangely drawn and his words came swiftly
Triumph, did you say? Don't you know that it's only when you get
the thing you've worked for, that you realize it's not worth working
for? That's not triumphit's despair. Triumph means laying your prize
at somebody's feet he broke off with a sort of groan. To hell with
such success! he burst out with sudden bitterness. To hell and
damnation with the whole of it!
For a long while the girl held him in a steady scrutiny. They had
both forgotten me, silent in my corner. Her cheeks paled a little, and
when finally she reiterated her old question, her steady voice betrayed
the training of strong effort.
Who is she?
Listen, Grace, he said. I've got to talk to some one. You have
come here, so you let yourself in for it.... Ten years ago I was
reporting on a paper for a few dollars a week. It was a long way from
Broadway. There was a dusty typewriter and dirty walls decorated with
yellowed clippingsbut ... There was wild young ambition and all of
life ahead. That was living.
Who was she? insistently repeated the actress, when he paused.
What can it matter how big a play one writes, demanded the author,
if he presents it to an empty house? The absence of one woman can make
any house empty for any man. I'd give it all, to hear her say once
more He broke off in abrupt silence.
To hear her say what, Bobby? prompted Grace Bristol, softly.
Well, he answered with a miserable laugh, something she used to
I suppose, Bobby the girl spoke very slowly, and a little
wistfully, tooI suppose it wouldn't do any good toto hear any one
else say it?
He shook his head.
Do you remember, Grace, he went on, the other evening, when we
were sitting in the café at the Lorillard and the orchestra in another
room was playing 'Whispering Angels'? The hundred noises of the place
almost drowned it out, yet we were always straining our ears to catch
the musicand when there came a momentary lull, it would swell up over
everything else. That's how it is with thisand sometimes it swells up
and slugs onesimply slugs one, that's all. He broke off and laughed
again. I guess I'm talking no end of rot. You probably don't
She raised her face and spoke with dignity.
Why don't I understand, Bobby? Because I'm a show-girl?
My old friend's voice was contrite in its quick apology.
Forgive me, Graceof course I didn't mean that. You're the
cleverest woman on Broadway.
She laughed. I'm said to be quite an emotional ash-trash, she
It seemed inconceivable that Maxwell should miss the note of bitter
misery in her voice; yet, blinded by his own quarrel with Fate, he
passed into the next room oblivious of all else.
She crossed to the table which lay littered with the confusion of
his untidy packing, and took up a shirt that he had left tumbled. She
carefully folded it, then with a surreptitious glance over her shoulder
to make sure that she was not observed, she tore a rose from her belt
and, holding it for an impulsive moment against her breast, dropped it
into the bag. My face was averted, but through a mirror I saw the
pitiful pantomime. From the table she turned and stood gazing off
through his window, with her face averted. From my seat I could also
catch some of the detail that the window framed. Below stretched
Washington Square, almost as desolately empty as in those days when,
instead of asphalt and trees and fountain, it held only the many graves
of the pauper dead. The arch at the Avenue loomed stark and white and
the naked branches of a sycamore were like skeleton fingers against the
garish light flung from an arc lamp. The girl had thrown up the sash
and stood drinking in the cold air, though she shivered a little, and
forgetful of my presence clenched her hands at her back.
From the bedroom, to which Bobby had withdrawn, drifted his voice in
the melancholy tune and words of one of Lawrence Hope's lyrics:
Less than the dust beneath thy chariot wheels
The girl at the window turned with a violent start and her
exclamation broke passionately from lips, for the moment trembling.
For God's sake, Bobby, don't!
What's the matter with my singing? demanded his aggrieved voice
from beyond the door.
She forced a laugh.
Oh, nothing, she said carelessly enough, only when anybody pulls
one of those Indian Love Lyrics on me, I pass.
He returned a moment later to find her still standing by the window.
At last she turned back to the room and took up her hat. She lifted it
to her head as though it were very heavy, and her arms very tired.
I guess, Bobby, I'll be running along, she announced.
Grace, he said earnestly, it's good to know that from this time
on you are a star.
Yes, isn't it? she answered. I'm a real ash-trash now. Nodon't
bother to see me down. Mr. Deprayne will put me into the taxi'.
Outside the threshold she paused to thrust her head back into the
room, and to laugh gaily as she shouted in the slang of the street:
Oh, you Galahad!
But her eyes were swimming with tears.
As I climbed the creaking stairs again, I was pondering the question
of contentment. Here were three of us. One had raked success out of the
fire of failure and had written what promised to be the season's
dramatic sensation. One had earned the right to read her name, nightly,
in Broadway's incandescent roster. I myself had been preserved from
cannibal flesh-pots. All of us were seemingly brands snatched from the
burning, and all of us were deeply miserable. I wondered if the fourth
was happy; the woman who had once said to Maxwell the things he now
vainly longed to hear? And Shethe lady I had never seen; what of her?
I found the author gazing off with a far-away reminiscence which was
mostly pain. The taxi' was whirring under the arch, but he had already
forgotten it and its occupant.
Do you want to unbosom yourself, Bobby? I questioned.
He shook his head.
To you? he inquired with a smile. You're a woman-hater.
But a moment later he came over and laid his hand affectionately on
my shoulder, fearing he had offended me.
I guess, old man, he explained, there's no balm in post-mortems.
I loved her, that's all, and I still do.
She married? I inquired.
She is now Mrs. William Clay Weighborne of Lexington. It's a
prettier name than Fanny Maxwell, and looks better on a check. I was
number three, that's all.
Mrs. Who? I repeated, in astonishment. You don't mean the wife of
W. C. Weighborne?
Why? he asked suddenly. Is the gentleman an acquaintance of
Since this morning, yes. He is even a business associate.
How you birds of a financial feather do flock around the same
pabulum, he coolly observed.
I was rather well impressed with him, I admitted idiotically
enough. He seemed a very decent sort of chap.
Maxwell lighted a cigarette. His voice was a trifle unenthusiastic
as he replied.
So I am informed.
A few days later I arrived at Lexington and Weighborne, who met me
at the station with his car, announced that I was to go to his home on
the Frankfort turnpike. But at this arrangement I balked. Despite a
certain curiosity to see his wife, the lady who had left such a
melancholy impress on the heart of my friend, there were considerations
which outweighed curiosity. My own peculiar afflictions bore more
heavily on me than those of my acquaintances and I had no yearning for
the effort of socializing.
So Weighborne protestingly drove me to the Ph[oe]nix, and armed me
with a visitor's card to the Lexington Union Club. I could see that he
was deeply absorbed. His mind was so tensely focused on coal and timber
development that it was difficult for him to think of other matters. My
apathy lagged at the prospect of following his untiring energy over
hours of close application to detail. I would put it off until
to-morrow. Yet I had hardly taken my seat at table in the dining-room
of the Ph[oe]nix, when a page called me to the telephone booth and
Weighborne's voice came through the transmitter.
Hullo, old man, did I drag you away from food? Sorry, but there are
some papers here I'd like mighty well to have you look over. I might
bring them in, but if you don't mind running out it would be better.
Of necessity I assented.
I'll have my chauffeur call for you at 8:30, he arranged, and
meanwhile I'll be getting things into shape here. By the wayhis
voice took on a reassuring noteyou sidestepped my rooftree this
evening, and I gathered that you were not in the mood for meeting
I murmured some insincere assurance to the contrary, which did not
We shall have the house quite to ourselves, he said. All the
family are flitting off to a dance at the Country Club.
An hour later his car turned in at a stone gate, and up a long
maple-lined avenue. From the windows of a generously broad, colonial
mansion came a cheery blaze of light, throwing shadows outward from the
tall white columns at the front. I could not help thinking of Maxwell's
lodgings in Washington Square, and reflecting that, all prejudice
aside, the flower of his worship had not chosen so badly in
transplanting herself here.
Weighborne met me at the entrance of a hall over which hung the
charm of ripe old portraits and wainscoted walls. Furnishings of
unostentatious elegance made the place a delight. We passed into a
large library where a wide hearth dispensed the cheer of blazing logs
and our feet sunk deep in Persian rugs.
Yet even here, although instinctively hospitable, my host was
plainly immersed in thoughts of coal and timber, for as soon as he had
done the honors he plunged me into a litter of statistics.
I, poor business man that I was, had, time after time, to force my
mind back from its undisciplined straying. As he talked of coal veins,
I would find myself thinking of coral reefs. When he enlarged upon
advances in timber tracts I would be seeing in my memory a circle of
mahogany-skinned pigmies squatting silently about a portrait spiked to
a sailor's chest with a pair of Damascus daggers.
At last Weighborne began sorting through the papers for some
misplaced and necessary memorandum. He crossed the room to a desk at
one corner which he found locked, and his ejaculation was one of deep
My wife has locked the desk and Heaven only knows where she has put
the key, he complained. I'll have to call the Country Club and ask
His words must have carried to the next room, for at once a voice
answered. It was a richly musical contralto, and at its first syllable
my heart stood still, and the room commenced to whirl about me. I had
never heard it and yet I had heard itsinging in a wilderness
of coral and orchids. Surely after all the big, little doctor was
right, I was becoming a lunatic.
Billy, called the voice, you needn't 'phone. I'm here. I'll
My host turned in surprise and walked over to the door.
Hullo, Frances! he exclaimed. Didn't you go to the Club?
I had a headache, replied the voice. I sent the others off, and
stayed at home. I'll come in just a moment.
I stood waiting, my pulses pounding turbulently. Had my host not
been just then dedicated to a single idea he must have noticed my
pallor and wondered at the fascination with which I came to my feet and
stood gazing at the door.
And as I gazed she appeared on the threshold, the blaze from the
logs lighting her and throwing a nimbus about her hair of gold and
honey. I placed both my hands on the top of the table and braced myself
as a man may do when the executioner whispers the warning ready!
She might have stepped from the picture herself. Again she was in
evening dress, which clung to her in soft lines of unspeakable grace.
At her throat hung a string of pearlsthe same pearlsand as she
paused and our eyes met, I could have sworn that her muscles grew
momentarily taut, and her lips twitched in a gasp. She put out one hand
and steadied herself against the door jamb; then with the gracious
recognition of a half-smile for a guest not yet duly presented, she
went over and unlocked the desk.
I stood looking after her. I was conscious of a numbness of
spirita sickening of hopelessness. The question was answered. The
Frances of my Island, the Frances of Maxwell's heartbreak, the Frances
who had married my business associate, were, by a monstrous sequence of
hideous circumstances and coincidence, one and the same. She stood ten
feet and twenty sky depths away from me.
CHAPTER XVI. AN INTERVIEW AND A
As I stood there all immediate things were apparitions seen vague
and distorted through a chaos of wild emotion. I had assumed that for
an experimenter in the unexpected I could qualify as tried and
seasoned. Now it seemed that all prior assaults upon my equanimity had
been mere kindergarten exercises in control.
Weighborne, still too self-absorbed to see that worlds were
crumbling in his library, turned suddenly to us with an apologetic
Frances, he said, forgive me, I entirely forgot to present our
guest. Even then he did not present me, but turned to me to add,
We've talked of you so much here, Mr. Deprayne, that I had overlooked
the fact that introductions were in order. I'm the unfortunate type of
one idea at a time. After all, I hope you'll feel that, having crossed
the threshold you are one of us, and that further formalities may be
dispensed with. Then as I bowed, somewhat incoherently mumbling my
acknowledgments, he turned his back upon the room and busied himself
again with the rubbish that claimed his interest at the desk.
I wanted to leap for his throat. I, who had presented her as a
goddess to a people under skies that rose from the ocean and dipped
again to the ocean, needed no presentation. The casual fashion of his
amenities was in itself an affront.
Of course all this was insanely unfair to my host, and even while my
thoughts seethed in this unamiable vortexso strong is the grip of
artificial conventionsI was attempting to smile with the agreeable
inanity of a drawing-room smirk.
But as she stood there I could read in her face also the record of
the strange agitation that had evidenced itself at the door. Her spirit
too was in equinox. The lips I knew so well, though only in one
expression, were now grave and a little drawn, and her eyes held a wild
questioning, as though my coming brought a startling riddle.
In a moment she was again the perfectly poised mistress of herself.
She came over and offered her hand and as I took it she met my eyes
smiling, though she must have read in them the rising hunger of a man
for a womana hunger which in me was so poignant that my soul was the
soul of a wolf. The touch of her fingers electrified me and the tremor
of my own hand, before I withdrew it, must have telegraphed whatever my
pupils failed to mirror.
That wordless message told her how my sanity reeled on the brink of
seizing her and holding her in wild defiance of this man, across the
room, whose name she bore.
I won't interrupt business, she was saying with perfect serenity.
But later I hope to see you again.
I bowed. I hope so, I answered politely, while a wave of anger
She would not interrupt! She who had snapped all the thread of life
and let my soul go plunging down the abysses.
She would not interrupt!
The grandfather clock against the wall stood at nine twenty-four. At
nine twenty I had been stolidly puffing one of Weighborne's Havanas and
listening to his disquisitions on courts of appeals decisions and
squatters' rights. The cigar which I had dropped on an ash-tray at the
first sound of her voice still held its ash and sent up a thin spiral
of smoke. It had outlived me.
My host plunged afresh into his papers. He might as well have been
reading me ukases from the Romonoff Czar in the undiluted Russian. But
as the clock ticked off the half-hour I seemed to freeze out of the
eruptive and into the glacial stage. I felt my lips drawing into a
stiff smile. I even contrived to nod my head in sedulous and ape-like
agreement when he raised interrogative eyes to mine. So rapidly had my
volcanic lava of spirit hardened to clinkers that when the telephone
called him to a barn, where some accident had befallen a thoroughbred
colt, I was able to turn a conventionally masklike countenance on
Frances, who came to chat with me till his return. She sat in a great
leather chair, and I, standing on the hearth, looked down on her,
braced for whatever might develop. I was resolved to make amends for my
self-revelation of a half-hour ago; I should at least prove myself the
capable mummer; yet I found that I was fettered by an unaccustomed
There was only one topic on which I could find words for talk with
this woman and that topic was forbidden. She, too, for some
unaccountable reason, seemed hampered by a diffidence which her bearing
told me was foreign to her normal nature. So, for a while, our
conversation lagged and faltered and fell into fitful fragments and
puerile tatters, while my gaze devoured her. There was no flaw in the
perfection of her beauty from the coils of her amber and honey hair to
the white satin toe of her small slipper. I had given opulent scope to
my painter's fancy in those island days and had imagined her, in the
color of life, as a being expressed in the souls of orchids. Now I
realized, with a terrible yearning, that I had not done her justice.
Step by step I went back over the record of the last year and found
it painfully distinct and clear. I had, with my imagination built a
house of cards which had tottered. I had been lonely and morbid and had
pretended a picture was a woman. It had come to mean a great dealclay
idols have come to mean immortal gods to poor creatures who have had no
better deities. I had told myself that the finger of Destiny had traced
through my life a thread of gold linking my life to hers. After all it
had been nothing more than a series of inconceivable coincidences. I
had no more part in her cosmos than in that of any woman whose
photograph I might have admired in a miscellaneous collection. It
behooved me to scourge out of my brain the mischievous chimeras I had
harbored there. As for her momentary excitementthe something vague
and deep and disturbed in her pupils as she stood at the door and later
when we touched hands; that was only the psychic realization that this
guest of her husband was staring at her out of insanely wild eyes.
I started to speak, then halted, perplexed over a ridiculous point.
How should I address her? On the island I had called her Frances, and
now I could no more compel my rebellious tongue to frame the title
Mrs. Weighborne than I could have forced it to utter an epithet. So I
said nothing at all.
You are a great traveler, aren't you, Mr. Deprayne? she suggested
when the silence had begun to be oppressive.
[Illustration: You are a great traveler, aren't you, Mr. Deprayne?
she suggested when the silence had begun to be oppressive.]
I had always been accounted a talkative man. One could read in her
face that she had the wit to sparkle in conversation like champagne in
cut glass, yet under the constraint that had settled over us, we
labored as platitudinously as a knickerbockered boy and a school-girl
entertaining her first caller.
I have traveled a little, I answered.
And encountered unusual adventures?
Billy says, she went on as graciously as though I had not rebuffed
every conversational advance, that you were shipwrecked in the south
seas and wounded by savages.
Billy! My bruised consciousness flinched under the familiarity of
the title and I fell back upon shameless churlishness.
A nigger stuck me with a spear, I admitted shortly.
She glanced quickly up with perplexity. Her eyes seemed to read that
I was not at heart a boor and her graciousness remained impervious to
I wish, she said slowly, you would tell me about it, or are you
one of the men who tell women only empty and pretty things?
There was a vagrant hint of wistfulness in the tone of the question.
I wondered if she had been fed, like the girl of our diary, too much on
sweetmeats, and wanted a more nutritious fare.
It wouldn't interest you, I apologized, melting at once to
penitence. Then for a moment came a wild up-sweep of emotion. It was
one of those impulses which master men and, when the trend is violent,
make the eyes swim with blood and the hand rise to murder. With me it
swept to sentiment, and carried me uncontrollably in its undertow.
I wish, I said with an intensity which must have carried a note of
wildness, I wish to God I were back on that island now!
The perplexed questioning of her eyes steadied me again into
I crave your pardon, I said with a disingenuous laugh. It's the
call of the wild.
Perhaps I understand something of that call, was her enigmatical
I wondered. Could she understand? This woman with the perfect
drawing-room poise; this creature of exquisite art? Even if I were
absolutely free to tell her the whole story, from Suez to the Golden
Gate, how much and how little would it mean to her? Could she
comprehend a passion fired with no touch of the physical, painted
horizon-wide against a canvas of cobalt sky? Perhaps not, but I wished
as I had never wished any other thing that I might have been privileged
Her personality, even in silence, wove an aura of subtle magic about
her. She wore at her breast several hot-house orchids. They were pale
and exotic, quick wilting and artificial. Already the edges of their
petals were curling and darkening. Was she like them? Could she have
carried her splendid shoulders with the same grace through jungles and
over mountains? Could she bloom with the wild splendor of those other
orchids in the sterner environment of God's great out-of-doors?
She smiled as she questioned me.
You are sceptical of my power to understand things, aren't you?
I was wondering, I answered, just what you meant by it.
I meant, she said slowly, as her eyes clouded again with that
wistfulness which had a few moments before cost me my self-control,
that civilized women lead even narrower lives than civilized men.
Maybe they feel even more strongly than men the longing for wider,
But in these times, I inanely suggested, struggling to maintain
the pretense of conversation, woman has a full measure of liberty.
She tossed her head with an airy contempt for my reasoning and bent
her eyes for a moment on the tip of her satin slipper. About as much
as a canary in a cage, she announced, and we are expected to sing
joyously for our cuttle bone and hemp seed. I wonder that it never
seems to occur to you men that we women may want something more than
that; that we may not be satisfied after all to hear affectionate
things chirped through the cage wiresthat even human canaries may be
able to conceive of some horizon broader than a window-sill with a pot
or two of geraniums to give it color.
I loved this woman. Why in all conscience did my heart leap almost
triumphantly at the hint that she was restive in captivity? Was it
merely because it was not I who was her captor? Was it jealousy feeding
on the crumbs of a misery shared? There was a long silence.
She had been toying as she talked with a slender gold chain, and
under an involuntary emphasis of her fingers it had given way. She was
now trying to close the broken link with her teeth. I stepped forward
and, without realizing that I was doing it, caught her hand in my
restraining fingers. She looked up quickly.
I beg your pardon, I said hastily, but don't bite that with your
If I bite it at all, she replied with impervious logic, I must
bite it with my teeth.
I took it from her and began the simple work of repair. The contact
of my fingers had left me vibrating, and as I bent my face over the
chain, my hands were trembling.
Why, she demanded in a soft voice, leaning back and clasping her
hands behind her head, won't you tell me the story of your island?
Into the question crept a teasing note of whimsical insistence.
Because, I answered, there is a part of it which I couldn't tell
youand without that there is nothing to tell.
Will you tell me some other time when you know me better? she
inquired as naively as a little girl, pleading for a favorite fairy
At every turn she flashed a new angle of herself to view. At one
moment she was impressively regal, at the next an appealing, coaxing
child; at one instant her eyes hinted at heart-hunger and at the next
her lips knew no curves but those of laughter.
And yet there was a thing about it all that hurt and disappointed
me. With nothing tangible, there was still, in a subtle way, much which
was sheer coquetry of eye and lip. It was invitation. Why did she
challenge me to forbidden things so easy to say, so impossible to
unsay? She must know that from the moment I saw her I had stood at a
crisis; and that this was true only because I loved her. Such things
need no words for their telling.
I'm afraid I shall be denied the privilege of knowing you better,
I said slowly, I leave for the mountains to-morrow morning.
You won't be there forever, she retorted, sha'n't we see you on
the return trip?
I shook my head.
I must hurry back East.
I'm sorry, she answered with sweet graciousness. Any woman in the
country houses about her would probably have spoken in the same
fashion, but to me it was a match touched to powder.
I will quote you a parable, I said, and although I attempted to
smile, that the speech might be taken lightly, I had that rigid feeling
about the lips and brow which made me conscious that my face was drawn
Icarus was the original bird-man, and he came to grief. His wings
were fastened on with wax, but they worked fairly well until he soared
too close to the sun. Then they melted ... and the first aviation
disaster was chronicled.
She looked at me frankly and level-eyed, but her face held only
I'm afraid, she said, you must construe the parable.
I shook my head gravely. I'm glad you don't take its meaning.
I don't understand, she repeated, yet we both felt that we were
standing in the presence of dammed-up emotions which might at any
moment break over and inundate us. She might yet have no realization of
it, but I knew by an occult assurance, in no way related to egotism,
that I could make her love me. My fable was false after all. I had
already fallen and been broken; my pinions were trailing and
blood-stained. There was yet time to save her. During our silence
Weighborne opened the door and our interview was ended.
It had lasted a few minutes, yet during their continuance I had been
several times perilously near the brink. I saw her rise and smile and
leave the room, and I caught or fancied I caught a glance from her eyes
and a miraculous curve of her lips at the threshold. The expression was
subtle and challenging, seeming to say to me, You will tell me many
things before I am through with you. Of course, that, too, was my
disordered imagination, yet for the moment it was as though she had
actually spoken words of self-confidence and conquest. And I knew that
if I saw her again I should say many thingsforbidden things.
Resentment and bitterness and utter heartache possessed me, and I heard
my host's voice in a maddeningly matter-of-fact pitch as he commented,
Now I hope our interruptions are over.
As I went to my room at the hotel that night a telegram was handed
me. I did not at once open it. I presumed that it was from Keller, and
it was all of a piece with my grotesque ill luck that the answer should
come just after I had myself in the most painful possible way solved
the problem. In my room, however, I read, under a San Francisco date,
Name Weighborne, not Carrington. Keller. It was evidently a
telegraphic mistake and should have read Weighborne née Carrington.
Keller had told me who she had been before she married Weighborne, the
man whose name, in the words of my fellow unfortunate, Bobby Maxwell,
looked well on a check.
CHAPTER XVII. WE GO TO THE
Weighborne was at the station on the following morning when, five
minutes before train time, I arrived. He was clad for his mountain
environment in high lace boots, corduroy breeches and flannel shirt,
and in this guise he loomed bigger and stronger of seeming than in
conventional clothing. His level, straight-gazing eyes held the cheery
satisfaction of facing, after a good breakfast, a prospect of action.
He was meanwhile willing to fill the interim of railroad travel with
conversation. I, on the contrary, knew that sleeplessness had left me
haggard, and met his advances, I fear, with churlish taciturnity.
In the smoking compartment, when we were under way, I sat gazing out
of the car window at fleeting fields still a-sparkle with frost
crystals on wood and stubble.
You and Frances didn't just seem to hit it off, commented my
companion with a proffer of his cigar-case, or rather Frances liked
you all right, but you He broke off with an amused smile and busied
himself with the kindling of a panatella.
A man can hardly explain to his fellow-man, I was rude to your wife
because I love her. I worship her in a way your prosaic little soul can
never understand. It is only because civilization is all distorted that
I don't murder you and carry her off in triumph to my cavewhere she
So I mumbled some foolish contradiction. I thought her charming; I
was merely not a woman's man. I was still part savage. My unfortunate
temperament must be my apology.
Weighborne studied me for a moment in some perplexity. He knew I was
lying, but he had no suspicion why I lied and he could hardly argue in
her defense with me, a stranger. He changed the topic, but there was a
hurt expression in his face as though he were unable to understand my
subtle hostility, as he construed it, for a person entirely lovely. If
I did not like Frances there must be something abnormal about me, and
the expression was quite eloquent though wordless. I had no difficulty
in reading it. It was as though he wanted to say to me and was saying
to himself, After all, our relations are those of business, and your
personal preferences and prejudices do not concern me, but we won't
speak of Her again. It shall be a prohibited topic between us. In this
tacit attitude I found an element of relief. If I were to be forced
into his daily companionship I must not be specifically reminded at
every turn that he was the husband of his wife. I had stepped knee-deep
into this miserable Rubicon of financial venture as the agent of
others, and turning back was impossible. Afterward.... But at this
point I stopped. I could not yet bring myself to think of any
Inasmuch as Weighborne and I were for a time to travel the same
trail and since, as my reason insisted, he was guilty of no injury to
me except an injury so fantastic that only destiny could be blamed, and
since, too, he was all unconscious even of that, there must be truce
Yet there rose insistently before me the lissom beauty of his wife.
The light that tangled itself in her hair blinded and tortured me.
The deity I had built out of fancy and under the influence of the
tropics, laid itself in parallel with the woman I had seen last night.
The goddess I knew. The woman I loved and doubted. Was she only the
coquette who wanted to lead me chained at her chariot wheel for the
cheap joy of conquest? My goddess had not been that sort. What had she
to offer me in return for such a tribute to her vanity? Was I merely to
flit in the background of her life giving all that the heart has,
receiving nothing but the occasional condescension of a smile? Does
great beauty so preëmpt a woman's soul as to drive out even the homely
These questions bored insistently into my brain until it ached with
perplexity. Then came the memory of her momentary wistfulness; her
craving for something more than life had given her, or something
What was that? At all events, I knew that to fall again within the
scope of her personality would mean to be swept rudderless from my
moorings. Whatever her object, be it exalted or petty, I must
inevitably bow to it, in unconditional surrender, if such were her good
or evil pleasure. Consequently the one end of all my thinking was the
resolve that I should not again see her.
The journey was progressing with more surety than my reflections. It
whisked us through the richness of Bluegrass pasture lands, and the
opulent ease of Bluegrass life into a barer country where the color of
the soil grew mean and outcropping rocks lay bare. The landscape, as
though in keeping with my mood, dropped down a scale of bleakness.
The cleanliness of dignified mansions, spacious barns and
whitewashed fences gave place to less pretentious farm-houses in
disrepair, and these in turn dwindled to log cabins that were hardly
better than shanties, and choking undergrowth instead of clean meadows.
We roared through foothills where the vivid green of young cedars
dashed the gray tangle of naked timber and scrub. At last we climbed
into the mountains themselves, lying in dreary ramparts of isolation
under skies that had grown sodden and raw. Here were the barriers of
the Cumberland heaping up gigantic piles of raggedness under bristling
needle points of timber.
We passed through anomalous villages where the nation's most
primitive and quarantined life was rubbing shoulders with the outriders
of capital's invasion. Shaggy men ridden in from distant cabins on
shaggier horses; men who probably nursed guilty knowledge of illicit
stills, gazed at the passing train out of humorless and illiterate
At last we left the train at a station over which the November dusk
was closing, where the coke furnaces glared in red spots along the
shadowed ridges. A four-mile drive brought us to the tawdry hotel, and
after attacking our eggs and ham we went to our rooms. I on a feather
bed, with the reek of a low-turned lamp in my nostrils, lay for hours
gazing at the patched and dirty wall-paper, and at last fell asleep to
dream of a wonderful lady who opened a door in a wall of rock, and led
me through it to things which could never be.
The next morning as we waited for the wagon which was to take us
twenty miles into the hills, Weighborne showed me the dingy court-house
whose weatherbeaten walls had in other days been penetrated by the
gatling guns of the militia. He pointed out boyish-looking figures
whose eyes were young and mild, yet who had more than once notched
their guns. He showed me spots where this marked man or that had
fallen, shot to death from the court-house windows, by assassins who
had never been apprehended or prosecuted.
That is all changing, he said. When capital comes the feud must
Stolid groups of mountaineers, clad in butternut and jeans, eyed us
with mild curiosity. Here and there a father whose face was as stupid
and uneducated as that of a Russian peasant, walked side by side with a
son dressed in the season's ready-made styles. Between parent and child
yawned the gulf of schooling, which the younger generation had acquired
in a college down below or in the new schools at home, presided over
by fotched on teachers.
We traveled at snail's pace over twisting roads where our wagon
strained and creaked in tortuous ruts almost hub-deep, and where the
scraggly horses lay against their collars and tugged valiantly at the
traces. Quail started up before us with their whir of softly drumming
wings and disappeared into the thick cover of timber. Squirrels barked
and scampered to hiding at our coming. Occasionally a fox whisked out
of sight with a contemptuous flirt of its brush. Once only in twenty
miles we encountered another traveler. An old man, riding bareback on a
mule, drew up in the road and awaited us. Despite the cold, a gap of
sockless, dust-covered ankle showed between his rough brogan uppers and
the wrinkled legs of his butternut breeches. Across his mule's withers
balanced a rifle. His face was bearded and sad.
Mornin' Rat-Ankle, drawled our driver, halting the team for
Mornin', Pate, came the nasal reply.
There was a long interval of silence while the mounted man
contemplated us with an unabashed stare. Finally he spoke again.
Mornin', strangers, he said.
There followed a protracted series of questionings between the
native born as to the health and well being of their respective
I thought I saw the mountaineer's eyes glitter with sudden interest
when Weighborne's name was given him, but the light died quickly out of
his pupils, leaving only the weariness and sadness of his dull life.
At times the climbs were so steep that we had to trudge alongside,
lending a hand at the wheels. The last two miles of the journey, said
our driver, would be impassable for a wheeled vehicle. He would have to
deposit us and our luggage at Chicken-Gizzard Creek. A little later,
while we were walking up a steep incline, Weighborne drew me back out
of earshot of the teamster.
I'd better post you on a few details, he said. Ever hear of the
I shook my head.
Keithley was the prosecuting attorney in some rather celebrated
murder trials. He was shot to death one afternoon as he came out of the
Yes? I questioned.
Six months later Con Hoover was shot from the laurel on this road.
He had allied himself with those who sought to avenge Keithley.
I nodded my head.
There were Cale Springer, Bud DodeI could enumerate other
victims, but that is all unnecessary detail. What concerns us is this.
Jim Garvin is county judge. In a rough way he is the political boss of
the region and he has built up a fortune. His own gun is unnotched, but
a half-dozen men who have incurred his displeasure have come to abrupt
ends. The newspapers in Louisville and Lexington have intimated that
besides being at the head of fiscal affairs and operating a general
store the judge also issues his orders to a murder syndicate.
Why, I demanded in some disgust, hasn't it been proven?
It is difficult to prove things of this sortwhen the defendant is
more powerful than the law and when juries walk in terror, Weighborne
reminded me. He has twice been tried for complicity. A company of
state guards patrolled the court-house yard to reassure venire-men and
witnesses. The only result was the defeat, at the next election, of the
judge and prosecutor who had made themselves obnoxious.
Why, I inquired, aren't such malefactors taken into a civilized
circuit, on a change of venue, and tried where jurors are not
They have beenwith the same result, affirmed my informant. You
see, while the jurors were freed from fear, the witnesses knew they
must return home.
Shall we be likely to meet this highly interesting character? I
The store where our wagon turns back, said Weighborne, is his
Then I am to be careful not to form or express any opinion adverse
to judicious homicide? Is that the point?
Our plans involve bringing a branch railroad along the way we have
been traveling, he replied, and the coming of that railroad means the
death knell of Jim Garvin's power. What is still more to the point, our
attorney here and the man for whose house we are bound is the Hon.
Calloway Marcus. He was Keithley's law partner, and he is a marked man.
He it was who prosecuted Garvinand lost his official head. His actual
head he keeps on his shoulders by riding at the center of a bodyguard.
I tell you these matters so that you may watch your words.
Shall we encounter open hostility at this place? I inquired.
Weighborne shook his head. On the contrary, we shall be most
courteously received. Politeness is highly esteemed hereabouts. The
fact that a man means to 'lay-way' you to-night, with a squirrel gun,
is not deemed sufficient reason for relaxing his courtesy this
An hour later our conveyance drew up at the junction of two ragged
roads where thin, outcropping ledges of limestone went down to the rim
of a shallow stream. Beyond the water rose a beetling bluff. One could
imagine that when summer brought to this hollow in the hills its
richness of green, and its profusion of trumpet flower and laurel and
rhododendron, there must be an eye-filling beauty, but now it was
unspeakably raw and desolate.
Two houses were in sight and both were of depressing ugliness. In
the fork of the road where the ground was trodden hard stood the
store. It was a one-room shack built of logs and boarded over, but
innocent of paint. A leanto porch, disfigured by a few advertising
signs, gave entrance to a narrow door. The second house set back and
higher up the slope of the mountain. Its solidity was that of mortised
logs and its windows were protected behind solid shutters. Inside there
was plainly an abundance of space, as befitted the dwelling-place of
the district's overlord. A clump of white-armed sycamores partly masked
its front, but through the naked branches one could see that for a
hundred yards about it, in every direction, lay unbroken clearing, and
that for all its civilian seeming it might, if need arose, stand siege
against anything less formidable than gatling guns.
Stamping the cold and cramp from our feet, we settled our score with
the liveryman, and turned into the store.
CHAPTER XVIII. A CHAT WITH A
Inside Judge Garvin's store we came upon a group of slovenly
loungers. Had my mind been free enough of its own troubling thoughts to
spare a remnant of interest, I should have found this new and strange
scheme of things engrossing. I was in a scrap of America which the
onrushing tide of world advancement had left stranded and forgotten.
Here a people of unmixed British stock lived primitive lives, fought
feudal wars, and shrined every virtue high except regard for human
These four narrow walls in part epitomised that life. The shelves
back of the counters displayed what things they held essentials: rough
crockery, coarse calicoes, canned goods, barrels of brown sugar,
brogans, stick candy and ammunition.
About a small stove loafed some eight or ten men and several
hound-dogs. The shoulders of these men slouched; their hands were
chapped and coarse; their clothes muddied, but when they walked it was
with something of the catamount's softness, and their eyes were alert.
Behind the counter stood a man of fifty. I knew, without waiting for
Weighborne's greeting, that this must be Garvin. There was something
pronounced yet hard to define which gave him the outstanding prominence
of a master among minions.
He was a large man and inclined to stoutness. His hair and moustache
were sandy and his florid face was marked with a purplish tracery of
veins in which the blood appeared to bank and stand currentless. His
neck was grossly heavy and bovine, but his forehead was broad and his
eyes disarmingly frank and blue. His mouth, too, fell into the kindly
lines of a perpetual smile.
His clothing was rough and his neck collarless, but one forgot this
and noted only the suavity of his bearing and the ingratiating quality
of his voice. Such was the man who should have gone long ago to death
or imprisonment for the orders he had issued to his assassins.
Judge Garvin, said my companion, my name's Weighborne. I met you
once in the court-house. You probably don't remember me.
The gigantic reprobate smiled affably.
Sure, I remember you, he affirmed. I mighty seldom forget a man.
He came out from his place of office behind the counter and proffered
his hand. It was not, like those of his henchmen, a calloused hand.
I had leisure to glance about the faces of the group as this
colloquy occurred. They had been stolidly silent, gazing at us with
unconcealed curiosity. When Weighborne introduced himself there was no
overt display of interest, and yet unless I was allowing my imagination
to run away with me I sensed from that moment forward that the lazy
indolence of the atmosphere was electrified. The men lounged about in
unchanged attitudes and from time to time spat on the hot stove, yet
each of them was carefully appraising us.
I reckon you gentlemen came up to look over this here coal and
timber project? Garvin's voice seemed to hold only a politely
simulated interest in our affairs.
Do you think, Judge, as a man in good position to gauge the
sentiment of the people, that we shall have their sympathy in our
I studied Garvin's face closely, but if there was a spark of
interest in his eyes, my eyes could not detect it. He smiled
noncommittally and shook his head.
Well, now, as to that, he replied judicially, I couldn't hardly
We want to develop the coal and timber interests of the section,
summarized Weighborne briefly. It will mean railroad facilities,
better schools and fuller enforcement of the law.
Garvin nodded in a fashion of reserved approval. There was no
betrayed hint of his perfect understanding that it meant other things
as well: an end of Garvinism, a period to his baronial powers; the
imminent danger which lurked for him in courts no longer afraid to try,
and witnesses no longer terrified into perjury.
That sounds purty promisin', he agreed. It sounds purty good.
Then why would the people not coöperate?
Garvin gave the question deliberate consideration.
Well, now, he finally said, that ain't such an easy question to
answer just right off. The people hereabouts have been livin' purty
much the same way fer nigh onto a hundred years. They're satisfied.
Are they satisfied with a reign of terror? Weighborne was treading
the thin ice of local conditions. I fancied he was trying to force
Garvin into committing himself, but it was a dangerous experiment.
What's anybody terrified about? inquired the Judge with entire
Weighborne, totally checkmated by this childlike query, changed
ground and laughed.
Oh, we hear a good deal of talk down below, he explained, about
the shot from the laurel and all that sort of thing.
Judge Garvin laughed heartily.
Oh, pshaw! he exclaimed in high good-humor. There ain't nothin'
in all that. Them newspapers down below's jest obliged to have
somethin' to talk about. We're all neighbors up here. We're simple sort
of folks. Sometimes we has our little arguments, but the lips still
smiled genially; he paused and his voice was like a benediction as he
went onbut I hope we ain't got in no such serious fix that we needs
regulatin' from outside. They do say that most of them fellers that got
killed needed killin' pretty bad. I've lost two brothers, but I ain't
Weighborne saw that a withdrawal from debate would be advisable, but
that this withdrawal must not seem precipitate.
However, as a matter of argument, he suggested, is any man
competent to decide that his enemy needs killing?
The judge went into his trousers-pocket and produced a twist of
tobacco into which he bit generously before replying.
Well, he drawled, your enemy's the man that's goin' to decide
whether you need killin'. Why don't it work both ways?
Weighborne made no reply. One cannot argue with a set opinion. The
loungers were saying nothing, but their eyes dwelt admiringly on their
spokesman. At last Garvin smilingly inquired:
You'd have to condemn rights-of-way, I reckon?
Only where we couldn't make individual trades, answered my
That procedure ain't apt to be no ways popular, reflected Judge
You gentlemen understand I ain't criticisin', he assured us when
we made no reply. If condemnation suits are brought in my co'te I
ain't got no personal interests to serve. I'm jest namin' it to you,
because you asked about the people's notions, that's all.
At least, fenced Weighborne, you yourself see the advantages of
It was putting a question which was almost a challenge to this
leader of the old, lawless order whose baronial power we threatened. He
answered it with no flicker of visible interest in his pleasant drawl.
Well, as to that, what little property I've got would be benefited,
but as an officer of the law, I reckon it wouldn't hardly be proper for
me to take no sides. A moment later he hospitably added, If there's
any courtesy I can show you gentlemen just call on me. Where are you
goin' to stop at?
I gazed on this lord of lies with compelled fascination. Under a
crude exterior and a suavity which gave the impression of stupid
good-nature he was masking bitter and intense feeling. Here was a
tyrant talking with men who represented the new order and he knew as
well as we that if we succeeded his carefully built scheme must topple.
Our success and his could not both have life. One must perish. The
power that had enriched him, a power built on murder and stealth, must
go from him, leaving him only the contempt of his fellowsor he must
thwart our designs. One might have expected such dissimulation in a
polished diplomat moving the strategic pieces of the chessboard of some
European power, but here it seemed inconceivable.
We are on our way over to the Calloway Marcus place, explained my
companion in a casual voice.
There was no change of expression on the face of the storekeeper,
though the name was one he venomously hated. One or two of the more
unguarded loungers scowled in silence.
How did you calc'late to git thar? asked Garvin. It's all of two
miles an' they're rough milesmostly straight up an' down.
I suppose we shall have to walk, said Weighborne.
I'd like to take you over thar, said the judge thoughtfully, I
sure would, but the fact is me and Cal Marcus ain't got much in common
an'well, you understand how it is?
We thanked him for his solicitude and at the same moment one of the
henchmen drew him aside and spoke in a low voice. Garvin came back and
addressed us again.
Curt Dawson says Cal Marcus went past here this mornin', goin'
to'rds town. It's an hour by sun nowhe'd ought to be comin' back this
way before long.
I have spoken at length of Garvin and have given only collective
notice to the group of mountaineers who loafed about the dingy store,
because aside from their more savage qualities they were much like the
indolent loungers one may see in any cross-roads grocery. Even viewed
as feudists, and I was so new to the country that I was inclined to
discount the somber and murderous stories of their ways, they were
still merely the members of a human wolf pack and much alike. Only this
shrewd leader stood out in personal relief.
But to this generalizing there must be one exception, and that was
to be found in the person of Curt Dawson. Until he came forward and
drew his chief aside, I had not noticed him and he had not emerged from
his seat in a darkened corner while we had chatted. When he did come
forth it was with a step at once indolent and suggestive of power. His
movements were all unhurried, even graceful, but every flexing and
tensing of his muscles carried a hint of potential swiftness and power.
His face was unshaven and dissolute, but it retained a keen and
instinctive intelligence. His gray eyes had a light in them that seemed
to come from some inner source.
Curt Dawson could hardly have been more than thirty and was in the
full prime of his youthful strength, hard as hickory and in the same
rough fashion as the pines among which he had grown, commanding in
appearance and pungent in personality. I found my eyes dwelling on him,
and later on this scrutiny bore results. No one who had once seen this
young desperado could fail to recognize him on second meeting. His
manner of addressing the judge carried the assurance of the
confidential man, and a certain arrogance of demeanor.
We had left our bags outside and I took up a position near the door
where I could watch the twisting ruts of the drab road. We talked, as
we waited, of the outside world and Garvin astonished me by his grasp
on general affairs.
At last Marcus arrived and his coming made a strange picture which
dwells still in my mind. The western sky was all ash of rose and the
higher clouds were dark masses edged with gold. The hills were gray and
frowning ramparts with bristling crests. Against this setting, around
the shoulder of the mountain, appeared a grotesque cortège.
A half-score of rough men mounted on unkempt horses came slowly and
gloomily into view. They maintained, as they rode, the slovenly
formation of a hollow square and across their pommels lay repeating
rifles. The battered rims of their felt hats drooped over
The only unarmed member of the group rode at the center of the
square. He was tall and unspeakably gaunt. One looked at his worn and
rugged face and thought of the earlier portraits of Abraham Lincoln;
the portraits of lean and battling days. The collar of his threadbare
overcoat was upturned, but at the opening one had the glimpse of a
narrow black necktie slipped askew. The clean-shaven line of his mouth
was set in relentless determination.
The bodyguard rode with hanging reins, and each right hand lay in
counterfeited carelessness on the lock of its rifle.
Thar he comes now, commented Garvin. You must excuse me if I
don't go out to introduce you. He's a bitter kind of feller. You
understand how it is.
At Weighborne's signal his attorney halted and the men of the
bodyguard drew rein, keeping their places about him. We walked out to
the middle of the road, and while we talked to the rawboned,
life-battered man in the center of the hollow square, his attendants
shouted greetings to the loungers on the porch of the store. These
greetings partook of the nature of pleasantries and the only note of
frank hostility came from the throats of the hounds. They bristled and
growled with an instinct which was softened by no artificial code of
hypocrisy. Still, so long as the halt lasted, the two parties kept
their eyes alertly fixed on each other. It needed little penetration to
discover that the geniality was shallow and temporary, like that
between the outposts of hostile armies lying close-camped, across an
interval soon to be closed in battle.
You made a very unfortunate mistake in stopping here, said Marcus
to Weighborne, in a low voice. He nodded to two mountaineers who rode
on the far side of the cavalcade. They slipped from their saddles and
allowed us to mount in their stead while they trudged alongside,
carrying our bags.
As we started forward, Weighborne answered.
I didn't halt at Garvin's place from choice. The wagon could go no
further. I don't suppose there was any actual danger, and after all I
wanted to see how he would talk.
Marcus nodded and drew his mouth tighter.
It turns out all right, he said, but don't do it again.
After a moment's silence he burst out bitterly.
No danger! My God, man, do you suppose I ride like thissurrounded
by armed men, because it pleases my pride? He swept his talon-like
hand around him in a circle. Look at them! Do you reckon I do that for
pomp and display? Do you suppose any man likes to say good-bye to his
children when he leaves home with the thought in his mind that it may
be a last good-bye?
Is it as bad as that? I questioned with the stranger's
He turned his hunted eyes on me. Worse, he said briefly. I dare
not go unguarded from my house to my barn, sir. Keithley used to carry
his two-year-old child into court in his arms. Even they would not
shoot a baby. One day he went without the child. That day he died.
I looked at the face which was turned toward me. It was a face from
which had been whipped the knowledge of how to smile. We rode for a
half-mile in silence with only the cuppy thud of hoofs on the soft
earth, the creaking of stirrup leather and the clink of bit rings.
Why, I asked at last, don't you leave such a country and
establish yourself where you can have security?
His angular chin came up with a jerk. His eyes flashed.
Go away? he repeated. Do you think a man wants to be driven from
the country where he and his parents and his children were born?
Besides, sir, my mother belongs to the old order. I was the first to be
educated. She still smokes her pipe in the chimney-corner. She is of
the mountains. She must stay here. He paused, then his words began
again dispassionately, and gathered, as he talked, the fiery resonance
of the instinctive orator.
If the men who love war, leave lawless countries, who in God's name
is to do the work? The order is changing. What does Kipling say about
the men who blaze trails?
'On the sand-drift, on the veldt-side, in the fern-scrub we
That our sons might follow after by the bones on the way.'
These men have made a mockery of the law. It is my desire to punish
them with the law. It is my purpose to do so unless they kill me first.
Why am I representing your company? For the fee? No, sir!... God knows
I need the fee, but I shall also have a bigger compensation. When the
new order comes I shall see Garvin's power crumple. I shall send him to
the gallows or to the penitentiary. That will be my reward. His voice
was again passionate. The filthy assassin realizes my motive and he
sees in you my allies. Watch him, and safeguard your steps.
CHAPTER XIX. A VOLLEY FROM THE
When we reached the attorney's house the reality of feud conditions
gained corroboration from a hundred small details. Like Garvin's, it
stood in an area stripped of trees and undergrowth. It was a large
cabin of logs and to its original two rooms rambling additions had from
time to time been made. Everywhere a note of the poor and primitive
stood out in uncouth nakedness. The men of the guard were all
impoverished kinsmen, who lived like parasites upon the lawyer's
strained and meager bounty. Several of them slept on pallets in a loft
gained by a ladder, and others dwelt in near-by cabins. The room turned
over to us served as guest chamber and parlor, and here alone in the
house was there any hint of concession to appearances. Through the
cracks of its uncarpeted floor chilly gusts of wind swept upward, and
sent us hovering quail-like as close as possible to the stone hearth of
the broad chimney place. A huge four-post bed in one corner was
decorated with stiff pillows upon which purple paper showed through
coverings of coarse lace; patches of newspaper stopped the widest wall
cracks. A cheap cottage organ stood at one side and rush-bottomed
chairs completed the furnishings. A small cuddy-hole housed the
attorney and his wife. His mother, an ancient crone-like woman of
withered, leathery face, and all her brood of grandchildren slept in
two beds in the large, murky room which also accommodated dining table,
cook stove and pantry accessories.
One saw a profusion of firearms, and unlike the make-shift of less
important things these were modern and effective. Before lamp-lighting
came the barring of heavy shutters, and as time passed we grew
accustomed to other evidences of that caution which was daily routine
with these people living in a practical state of siege. We were fed, in
relays, by the flickering light of a coal-oil lamp. The women declined
to partake of food until we were through, and busied themselves
incessantly between stove and table. As we withdrew to the draughty
room which was ours for sleeping, but common ground until bedtime, the
retainers shuffled into the places about the table which we had just
vacated, for supper, eating, as suited henchmen, after their betters.
We were not a merry party as we huddled in a semi-circle around the
hearth where the blaze burned our faces while the gusty air chilled our
backs. Weighborne and Marcus argued over an opened copy of Kentucky
Reports. The old woman, with a face shriveled like that of an aged
monkey, crouched in her chair and sucked with toothless gums at a clay
When an hour had thawed the shyness of the mountain folk into
general conversation and I had been forced to tell many traveler's
tales, Marcus arose and with a rough tenderness wrapped a shawl around
the shivering shoulders of the old woman.
My mother, he said with no note of apology, has never been to
Louisville or traveled on a railroad train. She is afraid of
accidents. He turned and shouted into her deaf ear, Mother, Mr.
Deprayne here has crossed the ocean. He's been to the Holy Land.
The old woman lifted her wrinkled eyes and gazed at me, in
Well, Prov-i-dence! she exclaimed. It was her single
contribution to the evening's conversation.
Once a dog barked, and with silent promptness two or three of the
younger men melted out into the night to reconnoiter.
The visitor proved to be only a neighbor seeking to borrow some farm
implement and he announced himself from afar with proper assurance that
he came as a friend. We heard his voice drawing nearer and shouting:
It's me. I'm a-comin' in.
I was for the most part a listener, offering few contributions to
the talk. I was thinking of other matters, but before the evening came
to an end I had heard, in plain unvarnished recital, stories which
began to make the spirit of the vendetta comprehensible. I spoke of
Curt Dawson and asked our host for a biography. The mountain lawyer's
rugged face grew dark with feeling.
I have twice prosecuted him, he said bitterly. And in the chain
of evidence I wove around him there was no weak link, but a conviction
would have been a personal defiance of Garvin. That required courage.
Each time the foreman of the panel came in with perjury on his lips and
reported 'not guilty.' He paused and then went on. When Keithley fell
in the court-house yard, and while the rifle smoke was still curling
from a jury-room window, I rushed into the place and I found this boy
there. He was wiping gun grease from his hands, and he testified that
he had heard the shot while passing and had come in to detect the
assassin. Of course, he was the murderer. He has other crimes of the
same type to his damnable discredit. He is Garvin's principal
gun-fighter. Garvin has never fired a shot in accomplishment of his
crimes. His men have all been slain by proxy. Curt Dawson has become so
notorious that of late Garvin has kept him as much as possible out of
sight. I am a little surprised that he mentioned Dawson's name to you.
He has of late rather pursued the policy of holding ostensibly aloof,
and he might have inferred that you would repeat the circumstances to
me. Marcus rose and paced the cabin floor for a few turns, then came
back and took his seat once more in the circle about the fire.
You mean, suggested Weighborne, that the implication of Dawson
was coming too close to identifying the master hand?
The lawyer nodded. It is well understood that Dawson is merely a
part of Garvin. That makes it unwise to give him great prominence. If
he has been called back it means something.
And you think that something is? Weighborne left the question
I think that when the buzzards come there is apt to be carrion.
The thin, close lips of the attorney closed tightly.
I have always understood that this man is to be my executioner some
day. Maybe the time is closer at hand than I anticipated.
Is this fellow totally illiterate or has he, like Garvin, a shrewd
knowledge of things? I inquired.
He has had only scant and primary schooling, but he has learned a
great deal that is not in books. He has seen the outer world as a
railroad brakeman and when still a boy went to the Klondike.... Let me
impress this on you both. At any time you see him don't fail to tell me
at once the full particulars ... I had supposed him to be in Virginia.
If he's here now he will bear some watching.
The two hours between early supper and early bedtime dragged along
tediously. The old woman sat dozing and nodding while two of the
retainers sang to the accompaniment of the cottage organ, strange
songs, half-folk lore, in weird, nasal voices that rose high and
shrill. This singing was without musical effect, for the mountaineer
alters his voice in song and unconsciously adopts the tradition of the
Chinese stage, achieving a thin falsetto. It was a relief when the men
climbed their ladder and our host bade us good-night.
Early morning found me awake, but already someone had hospitably
kindled our fire, and when we went out on to the porch, where a tin
basin and gourd dipper supplied the only bathing facilities, a small
tow-headed boy was there before us with hot, water in a saucepan. The
mountaineer is averse to cold water and sparing with hot. It was
presumed that we shared this prejudice.
Frost still hung thick on the stubble and the mists lingered in the
valleys when we climbed into our saddles and trailed out to inspect one
of the tracts in which we were interested.
I was not a happy man nor one bearing a blithe spirit, for my own
discoveries crowded too closely and heavily on my heart, to be
lightened by the mere novelty of fresh surroundings. Yet even in my
shadowed state of mind, I could not help drinking in the splendidly
unpolluted air with deep breaths that made my lungs feel new. From
frost-rimmed earth to infinity it seemed to stretch in clean and
filtered clarity. The mountains were no longer ragged piles of
chocolate and slate. The fresh vigor of morning had folded them in the
softening dyes of a dozen inspiriting colors. Distance merged the
leafless trees into veil-like masses of dove browns and grays where
shadows of violet lurked and deepened. The woods wore a brave, if
ragged, coat of russet and burgundy and orange with a strong hint of
that purple which is the proper garb of kings and hills. As we rode
along ridges we looked down into vast basins of variegated country,
rough but essentially beautiful. On the lips of the young day was a
silent bugle-call of color. Above and about us the high-piled barriers
of the mountains clambered steeply into space where the sky was blue
I understood why Marcus had so resentfully repudiated the suggestion
of turning his back on this country. I knew that a man whose eyes had
first opened on such scenes would not wish that their last gaze should
be exiled. Rough and hard as life among these peaks might be, there
brooded a spirit here which would make flight impossible. The roots of
the laurel would hold the native son planted where his life had come to
bud and leaf. The eagle's brood would not go down to seek the easy
security of prim orchards and smooth meadows.
We rode sometimes for hours on end without seeing a cabin. Then we
would come upon a rude habitation of logs and pause to pass greetings
with a gaunt man in butternut brown, and would catch a glimpse of
tow-headed children and slatternly women.
So civil were all these salutations; so at variance with any idea of
violence that the elaborate precautions of Marcus (the very fashion in
which we were now riding armed and en cortège) began to assume a
Of course, I argued with myself, the attorney knew his own country
and I did not, yet I was morally certain that Weighborne and I could
have gone about our business unescorted and as secure as though we were
inspecting suburban lots under the guidance of a real-estate dealer. I
suggested something of the sort to Marcus and his only response for the
moment was a grim smile. Then he patiently began to explain.
At this moment, he said, Jim Garvin knows just where we are and
just what we're doing. We have spoken to three men. Of that three at
least two have notified the store of our passing. There is a 'phone at
Chicken Gizzard, you know.
It seemed rather too exaggerated a system of espionage for
And telephoning in this country, went on the attorney, is not so
simple a matter as you might suppose. We have no general system and no
universal exchange. There are telephones or 'boxes' as they are locally
called, connecting three or four houses into separate groups. A
telephone message from my house to Lexington, for example, would have
to be repeated and relayed through a half-dozen 'boxes' before it
reached its destination.
And yet during all that day's ride and all of the next three days
there was never, to my eye, an indication that any man interested
himself in our goings or comings. On the fourth day it was otherwise.
We had covered some twenty-five or thirty miles since breakfast over
roads that were full of climbs and other places where there were no
roads at all. Our spent horses plodded wearily, though the sun hung
close enough over the western highlands to warn us that, unless we
increased our pace, we should be benighted.
We were riding with our ever-present squad of gunmen and our road
dipped to the valley where we should cross that branch of Chicken
Gizzard which bounded the Marcus place at the back. We shook our jaded
mounts into a shambling trot and reached it at that hour which ushers
in the short November dusk. The woods were still and the bark of a
belated squirrel going home from forage broke the silence with a
seeming of noisiness.
The creek was shallow and fordable, but to reach the crossing it was
necessary to follow a dizzy bridle path steeply downward and in single
file, between thick growing saplings and laurel. Back of the mountains
the sky held a pale afterglow against which the higher timber sketched
itself starkly. The body of the woods was a dark mass out of which only
the white-barked sycamores showed themselves with any clearness of
Beyond the ribbon of water lay Marcus's rotting and weed-choked
division fence. The smoke from his chimney, and the glint at the crack
of a lighted window were visible a half-mile distant.
Our front horses had splashed fetlock deep into the water and halted
the cavalcade to drink when a sudden staccato outbreak ripped the
silence. Three thin jets of rifle fire blinked out with acrid sharpness
from the laurel through which we had just come. The men who had
ambushed us must have lain so close to our passing line that we might
almost have touched them from our saddles as we rode down the
There was instantly a confused, snorting, splashing stampede for the
cover of the opposite shore. I, who chanced to be riding third in line,
followed my two leaders and made the timber in safety. I slid from my
saddle and found refuge in a tangle of drift at the roots of a sycamore
which overhung the water. My armament was limited to an automatic
pistol, small enough for the pocket, and it hardly warranted intrusion
into a debate with repeating rifles. As chance would have it, just as
our cavalcade had halted, and the instant before the volley was fired,
I had half-turned in my saddle to gaze back, at the two-color effect of
the slate-gray hills and lemon sky. Every other face was looking
forward, and I alone saw a figure standing above, in the brief
illumination of a rifle flash. It was the figure of Curt Dawson. Those
of our party who found themselves in the rear and hampered, in their
escape, by the confusion ahead, dismounted in the stream and began
maneuvering to the opposite shore at an angle which gave them
protection behind the bodies of their mounts. As they came they fired
with random aim at the points from which had spurted the ambuscading
fire. But over the hill had settled a sudden and profound quiet. The
darkness had spoiled markmanship which was presumably selected for its
It appeared that every one had made the crossing unharmed, though
for a few minutes each man held to such concealment as he had attained
and there was no effort to reunite.
At last, like disorganized partridges coming back to the covey, we
crawled out of our individual hiding-places and began collecting on the
trail-like path which went twisting up to the house. Some led their
horses and some, who like myself had been separated from their beasts,
came on foot.
As we gathered without a sound the mountaineers were searching the
timber with wide eyes that contended against the darkness.
Then came the startling outburst of a fresh volley. It was fired
into the group and fired from cover on the attorney's own property. I
felt a sensation not unlike a hornet sting in my left shoulder and
clapped my right hand against the spot. I did not fall. I even had a
sense of surprise at the comparative mildness and painlessness of the
pang. I heard some one fall heavily, but in the darkness it was
impossible to distinguish individuals. So close on the assassin's shots
that they were hardly distinguishable came the cracks of our own guns,
and without giving the concealed riflemen time to shift positions our
men charged into the ambush.
Our policy was no longer one of retreat, but of attack. I saw a tall
youth plough his way through the thicket toward a clump of cedar which
had just belched fire, and having to do something, I followed at his
heels. The silence had given way now to the ripping of bushes and the
kicking up of dead leaves, and twice off at my side I heard the
pop-popping of rifles. I, following my guide, was crouching and
slipping from tree trunk to laurel bush and from laurel bush to
boulder. Suddenly a spurt of flame and a report burst out in our faces,
and the song of a bullet passing near made me duck my head. Then the
man with me fired and there was a groan from the front and the crash of
a body falling into a bush.
Afterward (I suppose in a very few minutes) quiet settled again,
except for the treading of our men as they searched the timber. The
assailants were clearly driven off. My companion even ventured to bend
down as we returned and strike a match over the fallen body in the
brush. As it flared up, I recognized with a shock, the thin, saddened
face of the sockless man who had accosted us in the road, and whom our
driver had called Rat-Ankle. He now lay doubled in a shapeless heap,
We already knew that the casualties had not been one-sided, and as
my companion and I regained the road among the first we saw that some
one still lay there, his horse standing quietly over him. A glance told
me that it was Weighborne. His bulky size even in that crumpled
attitude unmistakably proclaimed him. As we bent over him, we found
that he was unconscious but breathing, and we hoisted him up to an
empty saddle, where we held him as we made the trip to the house.
CHAPTER XX. A CAVALCADE FROM THE
I have since searchingly asked myself whether, at that time, any
mean thought entered my mind as to the possibilities which might open
for me if Weighborne died. I set it down in justification, though it
may rather be attributable to the excitement of the moment than to
inherent guilelessness, that that phase of the matter did not occur to
me. Had I entertained such speculations they must have been short
lived, for when we arrived at the cabin and made an examination, and
when later by relayed telephone messages we brought the doctor, it was
to learn that the patient would have to lie in bed for perhaps a week
or two, but need fear no grave consequences. His wound had narrowly
missed the heart, but the margin was sufficient. My own injury proved
to be a mere flesh scratch and a bandage did for it all that was
I was rather surprised at the almost lethargic calmness with which
the household greeted our disordered homecoming. Preparations for
supper went on with little interruption. There was no excited demand
from those who had stayed at home, for the full story, and even the
children seemed uninquisitive. Only the aged woman showed a flash of
unexpected fire as she demanded, Didn't ye git nary one of them
We got Rat-Ankle, drawled an unshaven lout with a revolting note
of placid satisfaction.
That's better'n not gettin' nary one, commended the old woman. Her
voice revealed the hereditary source of Marcus' ability for sincere
I looked at her aged, monkey-like face and the intensity of her
beady eyes with wonderment. There was vindictiveness there but no fear,
no excitement even, except the excitement of hateand yet this old
woman was the same who could not be induced to travel on a railroad
train for fear of an accident.
It was several hours later that the doctor arrived. He was much like
the men among whom he lived. If he had once been otherwise long
association had roughened him to their own similitude. He entered with
a wordless nod and went straight to the bed where the injured man lay
unconscious. After a silent examination he opened his worn and faded
saddle-bags and proceeded taciturnly but capably with his work. He
asked no questions and Marcus volunteered no explanation. At last he
rose and said, He ain't in no great danger if he keeps quiet. Have you
got a little licker in the house, Calloway?
Before the fireplace he poured generously from a stoneware jug into
a tin cup, but instead of tossing down his white whiskey at a gulp he
sipped it slowly, while he gave directions to the lawyer or shouted
them loudly into the ear of the old woman. The only allusion to the
ambuscade came from her.
Our folks got Rat-Ankle, she announced somewhat triumphantly. But
they didn't see nary other face of them that lay-wayed 'em.
Don't pay no attention to Mother, said Marcus more hastily than I
had before heard him speak; at times she gets childish.
The physician nodded.
Then it was that I, in an ignorance which had not learned the
valuable art of general distrust, volunteered a remark for which my
host, so soon as we were alone, rebuked me sternly.
Mrs. Marcus is mistaken as to that, I said. Just as the volley
was fired, I recognized Curt Dawson.
The voice of Calloway Marcus again cut in with an interruption. Oh,
I reckon you're mistaken about that, Mr. Deprayne. I understand Dawson
is across the Virginia line.
I'm sure enough, I persisted, failing entirely to catch my host's
effort to silence me, to swear to it in court.
Mr. Deprayne is a stranger here, deprecated the lawyer. He isn't
familiar enough with our people to be certain in these matters.
Again the doctor nodded and, taking up his saddle-bags, went out. As
soon as he had bidden him farewell, Marcus returned. He walked over and
stood before me with a face that was deeply troubled. Except for his
mother, too deaf to hear his low-pitched voice, and Weighborne, whose
initial unconsciousness had passed under medical administrations into a
profound sleep, we were alone.
Sir, he said patiently, I can't be angry with you because you
don't understand what you have done. Perhaps I should have warned you.
I sent for Richardson because he was the only doctor within many hours'
riding, but I don't confide in him. He will carry straight to Garvin
your announcement that you have recognized his gun-man. You have given
away a secret I might have used to great advantage. Sir, you have
tremendously complicated matters.
He dropped his hands at his sides with a weary gesture,
half-despair. However, it's done now, he added, it's no use to
deplore itbut, for God's sake, be more careful in the future.
When Weighborne recovered consciousness he spoke to me once more of
his wife. He was afraid that an exaggerated report of the affair would
leak through to the Lexington papers, and he wished to allay her
anxiety. The duty of this reassurance devolved on me, but the
complicated system of telephoning spared me the torture of felicitating
her. The message was relayed through disinterested voices before it
reached her ears. As it eventuated Weighborne's precaution was a wise
one since the news filtered that same night to a newspaper
correspondent at the railroad town. This scribe so well utilized his
information that the papers of the next morning carried scare-heads
over a story of bloodshed and massacre which accorded to both of us
desperate wounds and ludicrously lauded us as heroes.
It cannot be said for Weighborne that he proved a docile patient. He
had all the energetic man's aversion to inactive days in bed, and he
greatly preferred, if he must submit to such an exigency, that it be in
his own bed and among more plentiful conveniences, than could be
afforded here. But to move him over twenty semi-perpendicular miles was
pronounced impossible and to that decree he had to submit.
I, who, despite my newspaper peril, was not even bedridden,
continued the daily rides to tracts marked for inspection, and
discussed the day's work with him in the evening.
One afternoon we met in the road a party of horsemen who halted us
and expressed the desire for a peaceable parley. Marcus gave his
assurance and a stout fellow with a ruddy, good-natured face and a
benevolent smile rode out and accosted us.
You're a lawyer, Calloway, he began, an' I reckon you know I've
got to do my duty. I hope you ain't holdin' hit ergainst me none. He
paused and seemed relieved when the attorney nodded his understanding.
I just want ter know ef you won't bring yer fellers ter county
co'te any day this week that suits you an' answer fer the killin' of
Rat-Ankle. I'm namin' it to yer like a friend, an' I'm askin' you ter
set the day. Hit ain't nothin' but a matter of givin' bail noways.
For whom have you warrants? asked Marcus.
The sheriff read a list of a half-dozen names, all kinsmen and
retainers of the attorney. Weighborne and myself were not included.
Marcus accepted service and agreed to be present on the date named. It
was not until the sheriff's men had waved their hands and ridden away
that he turned to me.
That shows Garvin's effrontery, he remarked with a laugh. He
summonses me to answer in his own court, for meeting with hostility the
attack of his own assassins. I'll be therebut I hope to give him a
Weighborne had some temperature and was often restless on his
mattress of corn shucks, though his amiability held steady. One evening
several days after our ambuscade, I was sitting alone and morose before
the open hearth while he slept. Since our apartment had been a
sickroom, the evening gatherings had been suspended and I had
companionship only from my pipe and thoughts. The thoughts were not
cheery comrades to-night. They went back with a brutal sort of
insistence to the island and the things which had there taken root, to
grow with the rank and lawless swiftness of the tropics. I had had a
long conversation with Marcus that evening in which he had outlined his
plans for the examining trials. He meant to strike a bold and
unexpected blow, using me as his star witness.
All that the county judge could do would be to fix a bond for
answering to the grand jury, but the circuit court was also under the
influence of the dictator, and later when the trials came up on that
docket the prosecution would become persecution. Garvin would, however,
fix a light bond, he thought, in the preliminary hearing and would
expect Marcus to await the main issue later. Therefore, he meant to
forestall the attack with an attack in the county court. His enemies
would rely on his reputation as a supporter of law and order to make
his warfare a warfare within the law, and that would also lull them
into expecting only formal and preparatory fencing at the hearing of
When I take the course which I mean to take, the attorney had
assured me, it will be in the nature of exploding a bomb and may
precipitate trouble. If I had the power to do so I should ask for a
militia detachment to be present and preserve order, but unfortunately
such a call can come only from some civil officer such as the circuit
judgeand he is not disposed to act on my request. I shall have to
satisfy myself with having in town every anti-Garvin man whom I can
bring there. Garvin doesn't want a general battle just now. He doesn't
want to attract outside clamor. He wants to move in the dark, so I
think he will instruct against an outbreak in the streets or
court-room. But there is one thing I can do, and that I am arranging. I
am held in some respect by the papers of Louisville and Lexington, and
I have written a rather full statement of conditions here and asked
that reporters be present in the court-room on Wednesday. That will
mean that whatever transpires cannot be hushed up. Then I shall move to
swear Garvin off the bench, announcing openly that his jackal led this
ambuscade in obedience to his own orders. That will be my surprise and
my proof of it will be your testimony. If he suspected it he would find
a way to silence you. Even as it is he knows you recognized Dawson and
you must be cautious. He may seek to keep you out of court.
At length I slipped out and stood for a while leaning against a post
of the porch, although the air was sharp with frost, and the stars
pierced coldly through the hard steel of a winter sky. My other skies
had been softer.
The mountains, under a young moon, stood out black and forbidding;
frost mists hung like frozen smoke on the lowlands. From somewhere
about the house came the nasal singing of a mountaineer to the plunking
of a tuneless banjo. His voice rose and quavered and fell with more
care that his words be distinct than that his notes be true. He had
chosen a song composed by a local bard, and as I stood gazing off
across the sea of moonlight and mist he alone broke and tortured the
Right down here in Adamson coun-tee
Where they have no church of our Lord,
Frank Smith sold Pate Art'b'ry some whis-key
And caused him to get shot in the for'd.
His fellows, in all solemnity, took up the ludicrous chorus and
trumpeted in through their noses.
Oh, whis-key's the root of all ev-il,
It fills up a drunkard's hell,
So why not vote out this old ev-il
And say farewell, whis-key, farewell!
I smiled as I thought how little they were changed from rude
retainers in an old, oak-raftered hall of feudal England. I felt as
remote from civilization as though I were living behind the moat and
draw-bridge of some embattled baron. In such a place anything might
And then as the singers fell silent again, I became aware of a faint
and distant sound of voices. The hound which lay curled upon the top
step of the porch rose and sniffed the keen air, his bristles rising.
In a moment he was off toward the road, barking blatantly.
The voices became more distinct and I moved from my position in the
moonlight to the corner of the house where the shadow fell black enough
to swallow me. As I did so a shuffling of feet in the loft told me that
the men there had also caught the sound. The approaching party must be
coming to this house, since we had no neighbor within three-quarters of
a mile and the road ran out and ended at our gate.
Shortly a group of horsemen came into view, climbing the hill a
quarter of a mile away. They seemed to be riding close together, knee
to knee, and except when they crossed the intervals of the moon's
spotlight one could see them only in a massed effect. They came to a
halt in the shadow at a little distance from the gate.
The noiseless opening of a door and a momentary glimpse of a
stealthy, rifle-armed figure slipping out into the shadow of the
kitchen assured me of the preparedness of the impecunious clansmen who
played watchdogs for their keep.
Then a loud and affable voice from the road gave greeting, Hello,
There was no immediate reply. Those inside were awaiting a more
conclusive guarantee of pacific intent. Seemingly amicable salutations
shouted from the night had before now brought householders into the
excellent target of a lighted door, where they had lain down and died.
Hello, Cal Marcus! called the voice again, we're a-comin' in.
Who be ye? challenged a voice from the interior. Don't come till
we know who ye be.
In the next moment I started violently and found myself in a tremor
from head to foot, for the voice which answered the question was a
woman's voice, and it was the voice of rich contralto which I had once
heard and often imagined.
It's I, Frances Weighborne, was the response, and some gentlemen
who rode over with me from the train. In corroboration came other
voices, deep and masculine, and evidently recognized within as the
voices of friends. The man in the shadow of the kitchen came out from
his concealment and started down to the gate swinging his rifle at his
side. A door opened and framed the emaciated, half-clad figure of
Calloway Marcus. Come right in, Ma'm, he shouted. The group rode up
into the light and dismounted.
I saw her come in at the gate. The moonlight was full upon her, and
I stood skulking in my concealment of shadow like a thief, held fast in
a paralysis of jealousy and worship.
This was no place for me. I, of all men in the world, could least
endure or be endured at that greeting between Weighborne and his wife
who had ridden these mountains to be with him.
CHAPTER XXI. I GO WALKING AND MEET
He and I had labored across those twenty miles in a wagon by
daylight. I could guess what it meant at night and in the saddleand
she had done it! She had come alone, except for such chance escort as
she could recruit at the mining town, and now as she walked in the
moon-bath of the clearing, there was not a man of them all who carried
himself with so free and unwearied a stride. She was dressed in a short
riding-skirt and a heavy sweater. Her shoulders swung back as free as
an Indian's, and I knew at that moment, and without doubt, that this
was the elusive lady of Europe who had walked out of Shepheard's Hotel
the night when I sat on the terrace. She was no fragile ornament of
drawing-rooms; she was the woman who strode like a goddess and for whom
timidities had no existence. She was not then, after all, I exultantly
reflected, the hot-house orchid; a mere whisper and fragrance on waxy
petals. She was the splendid flower I had conceived, fit for God's good
open skies. And that thought sent a rich bugle note of triumph ringing
through the chaos of my misery.
Of a surety it was no place for me. In what was to be said behind
that door I had no part. She had come splendidly, but she had not come
to me. These thoughts raced tumultuously through my mind, and when she
reached the steps of the porch, and the light showed the mud and dust
on her corduroy skirt, and caught the gold of her hair under an
upturned hat brim, I bit savagely at my lips and turned away.
I sat for an hour or more in the shadow of a fence line, with the
night mists rising and congealing under the pale moonlight like the
tracery of frost on a julep mug. I had left my coat inside and at last
I was conscious of being deeply chilled. As often as I turned my eyes
out upon the mountain and forest they came back to dwell on the rough
log wall that separated her from me. I felt the drawing of the magnet.
Inside at least I could look at her, devour her with my eyes though I
might not open my arms to her or even my lips except to utter
commonplaces. But then the thought would come of the tenderness of the
reunion which was perhaps at that moment being enacted so near me, yet
so far from me, and at the picture I ground my teeth. Why had I at last
discovered her to be the sum of all my dreams, and more, only to sit
outside a wall of logs and know that inside she was pouring out on
another man the miracle of her tenderness?
To-morrow I would deliver her husband over to her and go back.
Finally, however, I realized that for to-night the Marcus house was my
only available abode, and that by this time the first affections of
greeting would be over. I could safely return.
Decency and civility demanded that I shake her hand and give an
account of my rough nursing. The cabin was already crowded. What
shifting and rearranging her arrival might necessitate was a thing to
which I should accommodate myself before the household settled down to
sleep. Already I might have caused inconvenience by my disappearance.
As I drew near the house, the cracks of the shutters still held
threads of light. At the threshold of the room where I had left
Weighborne I hesitantly knocked.
Come in, said a low voiceher voice.
I opened the door and halted in astonishment.
She was sitting before the fire in the rough chair which was usually
occupied by the old woman and her eyes were fixed on the flaring logs
and the white ashes below them. She was leaning forward with her brows
slightly drawn in a troubled and pained expression. The blaze threw
shifting dashes of carmine on her cheeks and heightened the rose-madder
of her lips. Her slender fingers were intertwined across her knees and
one foot, cased in a riding-boot, was tapping the floor in evident
Her discarded sweater hung over the chair back and against its white
background her graceful slenderness was clear drawn despite the loose
folds of a blue flannel shirt. The open collar revealed the arch of her
throat, and though it was now circled by rough fabric instead of
pearls, it was the same throat and neck that had so imperiously
supported the head of the island goddess. But the deep wistfulness of
her face and the troubled rise and fall of her bosom with breathing
that was akin to a sigh filled me with wonder. Then the complete
loveliness of her, the yearning for her swept me, and I had to grip
myself resolutely for control.
I must have let myself in very quietly, for she did not turn her
head. But what held me in pause and anger was the discovery that
Weighborne lay asleep and breathing heavily, as though the last hours
had brought no exciting incident. Could it be possible that he had
slept uninterruptedly? At the thought a wave of savage resentment swept
me. Had she come to me I should have arisen to meet her, though I had
to shake off the sleep of death itself and push my way through the
heavy weight of the grave.
I went very quietly over to her, without speaking, and still she did
not raise her eyes. I looked down, cursing myself that I had dared to
suspect she could burgeon only in the affluence of satins.
Slowly her gaze came up and on seeing me she gave a little start.
Then she spoke in a low voice which was a trifle cool.
Do you think your welcome is very prompt?
I stiffened and flushed. Could she be so blindly indifferent as not
to know that I had taken myself off in misery and loneliness only
because I was not cad enough to intrude on that meeting? And now she
permitted herself to grow piqued over the only evidence of
consideration it lay in my power to show her.
Do you think I could have done otherwise? I inquired.
I think if I were a man, and a woman had come across the
mountains she halted suddenly and colored. Then she added in an
altered tone of flat indifference, It doesn't matter.
For a moment I stood there with no answer to frame. Her words
bewildered me. So she might have spoken had she been free or affianced
to me. I was standing above her looking down and her eyes, with the
same pained wideness, were looking at some picture which the flickering
flames and white embers held for her imagination. Then I understood.
Her words were not after all really addressed to me. She, too, was
thinking of the man asleep in the huge four-post bed who had not
awakened to receive her, and upon me was falling the expression of what
was in her heart because I was the only person with whom she could
speak. Since he had not aroused himself she had noticed my absence. Had
it been otherwise I should have been forgotten. It was the final note
of my quaint and unprecedented torture that I should come in as her
husband's proxy for a chiding that should have been his.
For the next few moments I stood helplessly silent. Outside I heard
the distant baying of hounds off on some ungoverned chase. She sat
there while the longings in my heart welled and the reason in my brain
reeled, until I could feel only one thingthat she should belong to
me; that my arms should enfold herthat everything which balked that
end was a monstrous and hideous injustice. Then as a drunken man may
suddenly sink into the irresponsible vagueness that carries him into
total irresponsibility, the tidal wave mastered me. There was an
inarticulate sound in my throat; something between a groan and a sob,
which must have startled her, for she looked suddenly up, and as she
did so I dropped to my knees beside her and carried both her hands to
my lips. She flinched back with a sudden little start of astonishment,
but I was now the primitive creature bereft of sanity and I gathered
her to me and crushed her in my arms and covered the cool softness of
her cheeks and eyes and lips with my kisses until they flushed hot and
crimson. In an instant the thing was over. A wave of returning reason
swept me like a sluicing from a bucket of ice-water, and I came to my
feet sane and unspeakably mortified. She was still sitting very silent
and her flushed color had at once died to pallor. Her eyes were wide
with mystified incomprehension. Her lips moved, but shaped no words. I
tried to speak, but the sense of my outrageous conduct stifled me.
She could not understand and I could not tell her, of all the
torture which had so culminated. After this, even should the powers of
miracle clear away every other obstacle between us, she would never
listen. I heard my voice groan miserably, and with no further effort at
explanation or apology, I walked, or rather stumbled, to the peg where
my coat hung beside the door and let myself out into the night.
Where I went I could not say. I was tramping along with the
aimlessness of the man whose steps are unguided. My one conscious
intention was to keep going, to kill the rest of the night and to try,
as best I might to bring myself to such a point of sanity that with
to-morrow morning I could return and take my medicine with at least the
dignity of the condemned criminal. Vaguely I planned
self-destructionafter I had faced whatever ordeal awaited me first
and I had met the obligation of supporting Marcus in court. I should
tell the two of them my story and let them at least realize that before
I had become the madman and the brute I had been through such things as
might craze a man. Weighborne was not the sort of husband who would
tamely pass without punishment such an affront to his wife and himself.
I hoped that his method of reprisal would be summary. That would bring
a sort of relief, yet for her sake he must let me be my own
executioner, that it might end there.
The night was all a-sparkle under the moonlight, and the air, spiced
with frost, went into the lungs with the tingling stimulation of
needles. I tramped endlessly along the road, and all the heat of my
paroxysm cooled into a chill of self-contempt. Still I had no definite
idea of where I was goingI was simply plunging ahead in an effort to
burn up with physical exertion the restlessness and misery that
It was only when I had walked and run alternately for hours,
frequently halting to sit by the roadside and curse myself, that I
realized I must have come a long way from the house of Cal Marcus, and
that the night must be well spent. I might not have even then returned
to a realization of outward things had I not heard the sound of voices
and the patter of unshod hoofs on the roadbed. Some roistering riders
of the night were making their late way home, and had I been in a less
heedless mood, Marcus' frequent injunction and the things I myself had
seen would have prompted me to avail myself of the concealment offered
by the fence row's tangle. But these matters were all far from my
thoughts, and I merely turned back to the side to let the horsemen
pass. I was walking with my head downcast at a point where the moon
bathed the road, when the horses behind broke into a canter. As they
passed me one of the riders, with a surprised shout to his companions,
wheeled his mount to a halt just before me.
Hold on thar! sang out a voice. Let's take this feller along with
I looked resentfully up and as I did so recognized the figure above
me as that of Curt Dawson. When I met his eyes I met also the glitter
of a leveled pistol.
I was in no mood to be trifled with and I knew that surrender to
such a capture meant disaster to Marcus's plan of attack. Their purpose
was to dispose of a dangerous witness, and since my testimony was to be
damning to Curt Dawson, he above all others had a motive to serve which
would make him recklessly desperate. I was unarmed, but I sprang
forward meaning to strike up the weapon or force him to shoot without
parley. I did not greatly care which alternative he chose, but I had no
mind to be taken alive. Even if I succeeded in overpowering Garvin's
gun-man, there was still his ally to reckon with. However, neither
thing happened. Curt Dawson, merely laughed in his indolent fashion and
jerked his horse back in its haunches, sliding from the saddle as he
His fellow-traveler had now reinforced him and the two of them came
over and faced me.
Bud, said the gun-man with a slow, contemptuous drawl, we hain't
ergoin' ter kill this fellerleastways not yit. Them's the orders. He
hain't ergoin' ter pester us inter hit, but we're goin' ter take him
along with us. He hain't got no gun. I reckon you kin put up yours.
Then he turned calmly to me and added, Now, stranger, I low yer gwine
ter come alongor get the hell of a lickin'and then come along
The second mountaineer slipped his revolver back into the case
which, mountain fashion, he wore strapped to his side beneath his left
armpit. Both men carefully buttoned their leather holsters. Meantime, I
looked from one to the other, gauging their distances, and made up my
mind to attack Dawson first. Then I heard the assassin calmly direct,
Now, Bud, take hold of him.
CHAPTER XXII. I FAIL TO RETURN HOME.
It was precisely as one might have given the command of attack to a
dog, and under the sting of indignity, my reason once more slipped from
me. I dived for Dawson and saw him reel backward under the blow I
planted on his sneering mouth, but at the same instant the second pair
of arms went round me from behind. Bud had taken hold of me and I am
forced to say he did it with the effective enthusiasm of an octopus. I
fancy that had there been an audience, that would have been pronounced
a good fight. Sometimes the three of us swayed from side to side of the
road in a triangular wrestling match; sometimes we rolled about and
clawed at each other on the ground.
The moon had set and between gasping breaths, out of sweat-blinded
and battered eyes, I was occasionally conscious of a steel-blue sky in
which the stars seemed to dance about and of unsteady silhouetted
trees. But I was more sensible of the cruel ruttiness of the road on
which our feet slipped and our ankles twisted. Curt Dawson was one of
those rough-and-tumble battlers who laugh as they fight. His companion
kept up a running string of muttered curses, but both of them were
strong, wolf-like huskies of tireless sinews and savage determination.
There was, of course, no fairness of combat, but I had the advantage of
trying to kill while they were fighting to take me alive, though with
odds of two to one. I suppose it did not last long, but it seemed to me
as interminable as the wars of Valhalla. I was very dizzy and nauseated
from their kicks in the stomach and blind from blood that ran down out
of a cut in my foreheadCurt Dawson wore a heavy ringstill I had the
satisfaction of seeing that Bud was badly lamed, possibly from a
twisted ankle, and that the gun-fighter himself was far from fresh. At
last Garvin's head villain came into a clinch with his arms about me
and under his vice-like grip I felt my ribs creaking. Bud thought me
whipped and had drawn off for a moment of much-needed rest. Then I got
my hands up and had the satisfaction of feeling my fingers close on
Dawson's throat. The touch of flesh in my grasp seemed to rally my
ebbing strength and I closed down with all the vicious force I could
muster, until my nails sunk deep under the skin and his own arms
relaxed and his agonized breath rattled in his windpipe. We went down
locked together, but my grasp at his throat held, and as we rolled and
wallowed I found myself on top and gripped the harder. I knew only one
desireto choke the last breath from his lungs, and I should have
accomplished it had not the second man recognized the situation in
time. If I had been fighting sanely I might have risen in time to meet
him, and in his condition could have disposed of him, but I had
forgotten his existence and remembered only the enemy upon whose chest
my knee was pressing and whose life was fast waning under my ten
clinging fingers. The mania to kill with bare hands is strong when it
has once obsessed, and the second feudist found it an easy thing in my
absorbed condition to throw his handkerchief about my neck and strangle
me first into helplessness and finally into unconsciousness.
I came to my senses lying at the roadside, trussed up like a pig
being taken to market. On either side of me lay my captors stretched at
full length and resting, though a line of gray over the eastern peaks
bespoke the coming of dawn, and a thin ribbon of rosy pinkness was
edging the gray at the margin of the morning.
When I endeavored to rise Curt Dawson also sat up and gazed at me.
His face wore scars that gave me a moment of sincere pleasure, and he
found only one eye available for his scrutiny. His open shirt showed
upon his neck the deep-written autograph of my finger nails, but his
lips wore a grin as he reached for his broad-brimmed felt hat and
placed it on the back of his head.
Well, stranger, he drawled as good naturedly as though our combat
had partaken only of elements of friendly sport, I want ter name it to
yer that you ain't noways er cripple in er fight. I told yer yer'd haf'
ter come along, an' I reckon I was about right. Ef yer ready ter ride
we'll heave yer up an' hike.
What are you going to do with me? I demanded.
We'll figger on that by an' by, he assured me; the fust thing we
do will be plum friendly. We'll take yer where yer kin git a drink of
I found that prospect grateful, for from head to foot I ached with
bruises and a great weakness possessed me, but I did not propose to
submit tamely at any point.
I don't see how you are to keep me out of court unless you kill
me, I suggested, and if you are going to kill me you've got to do it
here and now.
What fer? he queried with his tantalizing coolness. Ef we're
ergoin' ter kill yer, I reckon we'll pick our own time and place. But
mebby we won't haf ter.
He rose indolently and came over with an effort to conceal the
hobble of a limp, and propping my bound body against his knee proceeded
to wrap his blue cotton bandana around my eyes. This being accomplished
to his satisfaction, the two of them loosened my ankles and raised me
to one of the saddles, leaving my hands fast bound, and passing straps
around my legs. Then Dawson mounted behind me, holding me in place, for
I found myself reeling feebly and in danger of collapse. The other man
led the horse that carried the double burden and we started on a
journey of which I have no clear remembrance, since from time to time I
drifted into a condition bordering on unconsciousness.
It was full daylight but still very early when they took me from the
saddle, and of course I had no idea of the road by which we had come or
the country through which we had passed. The blindfold was not removed
until we had entered a house and I had been helped up a steep stairway
and laid on a bare, corn-shuck mattress. Then I was allowed to look on
the bare walls of a loft-like room. The mattress was stretched on the
floor; a tin basin surmounted a box. Otherwise there were no
furnishings of any sort. Dawson was grinning down on me with a stone
jug supported in the crotch of his right elbow and a tin cup in his
Say when, stranger, he invited as he began to pour the white
whiskey. This here is your domicile fer ther present time. Yer
victuals will be along presently. At the door he paused and looked
back. Ef yer needs anything, he added, kick like hell on the flo'.
They ain't nobody here that minds a little noise. The latch string
hangs outside, but yer kin see fer yerself there ain't none on this
side the do'.
I was for an hour satisfied to lie quietly on the mattress and rest
and after they had brought me a meal of cold bread, greasy bacon and
coffee, I continued inactive except for thinking. The trial was two
days off and the least hardship I need expect would be imprisonment
until it was over. After that I was at a loss to forecast their
designs. Even then I could not be set free to tell my story, but I felt
sure that nothing would be done until the arch-conspirator and
dictator, Jim Garvin himself, had been consulted and had issued his
Shortly before noon I heard footsteps on the stairs, and since one
set of feet came with the creaking caution of a person who did not wish
to be heard, I feigned sleep and breathed with a deep regularity that
was almost a snore. The door opened and Dawson entered. By this time I
knew his delicate tread. He crossed the room and looked at me for a
while, bending low down to listen to my breathing. I did not stir nor
open my eyes and after a time he went again to the door and announced
in a carefully guarded voice, He's asleep all right enough.
There was no reply, so my straining ears, seeking to do duty also
for the eyes I dared not open, could make no identification, but my
face was turned toward the door and some inner sense declared to me
with insistent conviction that the silent visitor was no other than the
county judge himself. Finally Dawson turned and I counted his steps
until they stopped, as I presumed, at his companion's side. At that
juncture, and with infinite caution I stole a momentary peep between
closely drawn lids, and the brief glimpse revealed the broad back and
shoulders of the man who had so affably chatted with us at the store on
the day when Weighborne and myself had arrived. Even in so cursory a
survey, I knew that I was taking a decided risk, but it seemed
My room never had more than a half-light, which filtered through
shutter slats so slanted that I could see nothing between them save the
sky and a few stark sycamore branches. Consequently I lay in
comparative darkness while they were etched against the full light of
the partly open door. Now, should I regain my libertya thing highly
improbableI could testify that Garvin himself had knowledge of my
Outside my door there was silence and I told myself that they were
listening. My simulated sleeping breath stole out to them and reassured
them, for finally I heard Garvin's low voice. That's the man, he
said. Just keep him here till I let you know what to do. Then their
descending footsteps on the stairs drowned the words and I was once
The next day Dawson and his understrapper, Bud, whose last name I
had never learned, permitted me to accompany them to the lower floor of
the house and a somewhat larger measure of freedom.
Among the many activities of his young life, Mr. Dawson had at one
time enjoyed that expression of public confidence which is dear to the
mountain man. He had held office as a deputy sheriff. That honor had
been short-lived, but as a memento of his days of power he retained a
very good pair of heavy nickeled handcuffs, and when I was made free of
the lower floor these ornaments adorned my wrists. The connecting chain
was long enough to give my hands a limited scope. My two jailers and
myself beguiled an hour or two with a game of casino, and I was able to
shuffle the cards when the deal fell to me, but the manacles were
sufficiently hampering to give them a sense of entire security.
I welcomed with some eagerness an opportunity to visualize my
environment, since there was now only one day left before the calling
of the Marcus cases on the county court docket, and if I was to learn
anything which might facilitate my escape it must be shortly
I presumed that I had been brought to some remote and isolated point
in the hills, and that even if I could rid myself of handcuffs and
guardians, there still lay ahead of me the problem of a journey,
probably a long one, through an unknown country.
I had still much to learn, and one of the things which did not occur
to me, but which time made clear, was that Garvin never played his game
twice in the same fashion. He had known that my disappearance would
wake into frantic activity the smaller, but no less vigilant force of
private investigators who served Cal Marcus. All the inaccessible
hiding places in the heart of the timbered hills would be under
espionage. He accordingly decided that the best method of keeping me
under cover would be somewhat similar to that of the man in the story
who knew his rooms were to be searched for a document he sought to
conceal, and who adopted the method of putting it in full sight on the
mantel shelf, where the searchers into corners and secret places did
not take the trouble to open its envelope.
I had, in fact, been brought to a cabin which, although it nestled
in a deep gorge a half-mile from the public road, and was invisible to
passers-by, was still less than a mile and a quarter from the town
itself. These things I was to discover on the morning of the trial
when, feeling secure that it was now too late for me to avail myself of
the information, Curt Dawson yielded to the temptation of informing me
just how fully I had been stung.
But on my first visit to the ground floor I saw little that added to
my knowledge. For months the place had palpably been swept by winds and
battered by hail, tenantless and dilapidated. Indeed, the loft where I
had been confined was more habitable than the lower floor. I at once
recognized that they meant to leave the cabin with its air of desertion
unchanged, so that any straggling investigator would pass it by with
unaroused curiosity. There were two rooms, and the walls were
vulnerable to windy gusts through cracks between rotting logs. The
windows were glassless and an insufficient heat came from a fire which
burned feebly on an open and smoke-blackened hearth. My two jailers
rose constantly to fall back shivering on the jug of moonshine. There
was no sign of beds or furniture of any sort. Until we arrived there
the house had been abandoned.
Dawson permitted me to walk to the door and look out. The morning
was gray and chilling. A slight rise in temperature had brought cold
moisture and under a raw sky the hills stretched up all about us in
reeking veils of foggy desolation. I saw only rattling weed stalks
feeding on the decayed skeleton of what had been a fence-line before
the days of abandonment, and a basin choked with volunteer timber,
around which the hill-sides rose like a spite-fence, cutting off
whatever lay beyond. A small front porch had graced the cabin in
earlier times, but of that there now remained only one upright, and a
few broken planks. I tried to locate the stable, but there was no
evidence of any outhouse except some charred and over-grown timbers.
Palpably the mountaineers had not kept their horses with them. If I
escaped I must do so on foot.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE OFFER OF PAROLE.
Perhaps the disappointment of my cursory reconnoiter showed itself
in my expression. Curt Dawson, who stood with his arms folded and his
loose length draped against the door-jamb, grinned at my dolorous face.
Nice place, ain't hitfer a murder?
That's about all, I responded affably enough. I had discovered
that I was gaining nothing by a sullen attitude and I am afraid that I
was even yielding to a cheap desire to impress these desperadoes with
By the way, I added, what's the delay about? Why don't you finish
up your job and get to a more comfortable place?
Again he grinned. Say, stranger, he questioned, ain't we treatin'
yer pretty well? Was you ever in any other jail where yer got better
handled? I've done laid myself out ter make yer visit memorable.
It will be, I assured him, provided I live long enough to
remember itand I reached out my manacled hand for some of his
natural leaf and loaded the cob pipe with which I had been presented,
whenever I pass through Frankfort in after years, Dawson, I promise to
drop into the penitentiary and pay you a visit.
No Dawson ain't never put up thar yit, came his quick retort, with
a flash that showed I had touched his raw nerve of fear, but the smile
came back as he added, as fer me, I venerates the traditions of my
I had never succeeded in trapping this unique man-killer into any
admission which he did not care to make, and I had begun to understand
his ability to take the witness stand and run, unscathed, the gantlet
of cross-examination. Still, I could not refrain now from putting a
How did it occur to you to bring me here? Had the judge arranged in
advance that I should be kidnaped?
The who? he inquired.
Aw! his laugh was hearty and prolonged. So that's the idee that's
bitin' yer? The jedge thinks I'm in Virginny. In fact, stranger, I am
in Virginny. I just seems ter be here, but I hain't. I brought yer here
because yer'd done been firin' off yer face ter the effect that yer
thought yer saw me shoot at yer from the laurel. I didn't low ter have
yer testifyin' ter no sich false notion. Hit mout injer my rep'tation
fer peace and quiet.
Still he later made me a proposal which I promptly rejected. I done
been studyin' right smart, an' we ain't doin' no good fer ourselves,
stayin' round here, he ventured. I done sort figgered that mebby if
hits plum agreeable ter you, we mout take yer down ter the railroad
cars, an' let yer promise to leave the mountings and keep yer face
What reason have you to suppose that I'd keep a promise made under
I got two reasons ter spose hit. In the fust place the minnit yer
busts yer contrack an' comes back inter this jurisdiction I gives yer
my word I'm goin' ter kill yer thar same's I would er houn' dawg. In
the second place, I'd have this here He fumbled awkwardly in his
pocket and brought out a paper which he handed me to read. It was an
affidavit legally drawn, with blank spaces for my signature, and that
of witnesses. It purported to have been written in an attorney's office
in Virginia and to be duly attested. The document represented me as
stating voluntarily that I had seen Curt Dawson (in Virginia) and had
realized that he was not the man whom I had recognized among our
assailants. I was leaving the mountain country, so I was asked to
swear, because, being an Easterner, I did not find the environment
congenial. The fantastic bit of perjury culminated in this highly
I feel that, in intimating that the said Curt Dawson made said or
any attempt upon the lives of my party, I have been guilty of an
unpardonable injustice, which I deeply deplore and for which I feel
sincere chagrin. As I read that passage I laughed with an amusement
that was not feigned, and then I tore the paper into fragments which I
scattered among the ashes.
Dawson watched me and shrugged his shoulders.
We don't hardly like ter kill furriners he said. Them folks
down below misunderstands hit an' raises hellbut I reckon ef they
won't take nuthin' but killin' they kin git kilt.
So they had planned not only to keep me out of court, but to present
my affidavit when it became convenient: an affidavit purporting to have
been made by me across the Virginia line, while I was abjectly fleeing.
Weighborne and maybe his wife as well, whom I had already grossly
insulted, would hear the reading of my Iscariot betrayal. If it were
possible for them to think more contemptuously of me than they already
did, this would be the precise climax to bring about such a result.
Most of that day I spent below stairs. In the afternoon Bud left the
cabin and shortly after returned in great excitement.
Git that damned feller upstairs quick, he cautioned. A couple of
them Marcus men is stragglin' round here, an' they mout come in.
Dawson leaped from his chair as though electrified, and his face
showed a passion of anxiety. He sprang toward me and seizing my
shoulder pivoted me, pointing to the stairs.
Hustle, he shouted as he pushed me toward the door. Git movin'.
Naturally I did not obey. I scented the possibility of rescue, so I
laughed at him and stolidly stood my ground.
This place suits me, I said.
With the swiftest demonstration of the art of weapon-drawing I have
ever seen he brought his magazine pistol from its holster and thrust it
into my chest. His chin shot belligerently out and his eyes narrowed
into blazing slits. His profanity came in a wild torrent.
My attitude was still indifference as to whether or not I were
killed. New developments had come fast since I turned from the door of
the room where Weighborne's wife still sat before the fire with my
stolen kisses fresh upon her lips and temples, but there had not been a
moment of forgetfulness. I saw nothing ahead of me worth surrendering
for, and now I felt that parlous as the situation was, it was Dawson
rather than I who was frightened.
Why don't you shoot? I asked.
With a foul paroxysm of oaths and obscenity he threw the pistol
aside, and crossing the room caught up the broken broomstick which
served in lieu of a poker. I had never before been beaten. It was not
pleasant, quite aside from the physical pain. And as to that phase of
it, one who has not been bludgeoned with bracelets on his wrists may
underestimate the actual bodily torture of the experience. At all
events, I must confess that even now I sometimes awake from a nightmare
in which I am being thrashed with a broomstick. I tried resistance, but
one of them dragged at my chain while the other belabored me, until in
a few moments I sank down in the wormwood bitterness of humiliation and
defeat and was half-dragged, half-kicked up the stairs, and thrown into
my room, where they gagged me against the possibility of outcry, and
tied me so that I could not move from my mattress or kick upon the
floor. Dawson himself remained with me. They had none too much time.
Within a few minutes I heard the long-drawn halloo of persons without.
The voices were friendly and the response from Bud was equally cordial.
The all-pervading hypocrisy of these mountain hatreds lay over and
whitewashed the attitudes of both parties. As they came they shouted
their request for permission to enter, and the man inside responded
with assurances of welcome. Those who were arriving were coming as
spies. Those inside were bent on deceit.
We heard them calling, still from afar, that they wanted a drink of
liquor, and we heard Bud shout back that his jug was at their command.
Then feet tramped about the lower floor. Curt Dawson stood back in
the shadow of the eaves while this interview lasted with his weapon
drawn, and never once until the visitors rode away from the house did
his eyes leave the door at the head of the stairs.
When Bud came up after they had gone he was a little pale under the
reaction and the strain of anxiety showed in his eyes.
My God! he exclaimed. I 'lowed them fellers never was ergoin' ter
What did you tell 'em? demanded Dawson curtly.
I told 'em I'd had a little business round hyarlet 'em think it
was somethin' ter do with er still, an' said I'd jest spent the night
hyar ruther then hoof hit back home.
Dawson jerked his head toward the stairway. Did they say anythin'
'bout comin' up here?
No. They kinder eyed them steps, but they didn't say nothin'.
For a moment Garvin's chief henchman walked the floor, then he
snarled out, Did they ask anything erbout me?
Jim Calloway 'lowed that somebody'd done seed you in this country,
an' I said no, that you was over thar in Virginny.
Again there was a moment's silence after which Dawson's orders came
in quick staccato violence.
Bud, you've got ter go ter town, so's they'll believe thet story.
Don't come back hyar no more. Them fellers'll ride back before sundown.
They suspicions somethin' an' they'll jest about slip back ter make
shore. I'll take this feller an' lay out in the timber tell night.
Here, give me a lift.
The two of them raised me, still gagged, and carried me down the
stairs. Keeping the house between themselves and the general direction
of the road, they bore me by a path that ran along a cliff to a dense
clump of timber. Then the lesser villain started on with his ambling
step, pausing at the cabin to pick up the jug which was to corroborate
his claim that his business had to do with illicit distilling. He also
stopped indoors to obliterate all traces of human occupancy.
It was perhaps a mark of respect to my belligerency which led Dawson
to leave me gagged, but it was a painful compliment. He propped me up
so that I might have my back against a tree, and from our place of
concealment we could look down unseen on the house. This time my captor
did not favor me with conversation. He sat silent with his visage black
and snarling, and his hand from time to time crept involuntarily toward
his holster. As for myself, I was distinctly uncomfortable. The gag
cramped my jaws and the rope about my ankles was unnecessarily tight.
But during the three hours that I had to sustain this position, events
were transpiring which gave a certain interest to the situation. The
men who had come earlier returned, as Dawson's suspicion had
prophesied. They shouted as before and when they received no answer
they approached with a caution that carried me back to childhood
stories of Indian attacks on block houses. Finally they entered the
place, and Dawson sat there looking on, his hands wrapped about his
knees and his shoulders shaking with silent laughter, as he surveyed
their elaborate caution. They remained in the house for more than an
hour and then reconnoitered the premises, at one time passing very near
our place of hiding. Once more my custodian's lean hand caressed the
grip of his pistol, and his thumb slipped down the safety catch. But in
the end they rode away and I sorrowfully recognized their conviction
that they had been running down a false clue.
It was cold and quite dark when Dawson removed the ropes from my
feet and ordered me to walk back to the house.
That night I slept the sleep of exhaustion, and it was not until my
breakfast arrived the next morning that I awoke.
My captor should have left me in my loft that day and should himself
have remained below where he could watch for possible intrusion. But he
was overcome with a desire to talk and this impulse led to a strategic
error. He wanted to point out (now that he felt certain that I could
not be present when Marcus called his witnesses) how near I had been
all along to the town. He described to me in elaborate detail how, were
I at that moment free, I could walk in twenty-five or thirty minutes to
the court-house door and proceeded to give me satirical and exact
directions. He felt that he had achieved a Machiavellian victory, and
it pleased him to watch me squirm with a sense of frustrated
He even explained that while the clan was gathering he, himself,
must remain away, not only because he was taxed with guarding me, but
also because he was, as he facetiously insisted, in Virginny and too
fur away to git home.
An' it's a damn shame, too, he confided, because hit shore looks
like there might be fun in town to-day. All them Marcus people is
gatherin' there an' most of us fellers'll be on hand. Ef somebody gits
filled up with licker thar's mighty ap' ter be a frolic. Thet co'te
room hain't agoin' ter be no healthy place nohow. I shuddered. I was
thinking that the woman who had come on horseback across the hills to
join her husband, would probably be with him in that court-roomif he,
himself, were now able to ride.
After awhile Dawson took me up stairs, and just before he closed the
door, I pleaded that my handcuffs be removed, since one wrist was badly
galled and lacerated. For a time he steadfastly refused, but in the end
agreed to loosen the bracelet from the injured hand, and leave it
dangling to the other. All morning I had been complaining of illness,
and had seemed hardly able to move about. Indeed, my bruises were so
apparent that I was no longer a formidable antagonist. My listlessness,
in part at least, deceived him, and after the anxiety of yesterday,
when his enemies were so close on his trail, he found himself in a
state of reaction and buoyant over-confidence. He produced the key and
fitted it into the lock of the fetter, but before he turned it he
paused with a wink of self-satisfaction to say, Jest a moment,
stranger, I'll make sure of you fust.
The handcuffs were of that type which tightens with pressure as the
lock tumbler slides over a series of notches. With such an arrangement
the wrist can be squeezed and pinched in a refinement of torture that
is disabling. Dawson now clasped his fist around the bracelet which he
meant to leave locked.
Now ef you tries to make a false move, he volunteered, I'm goin'
ter squeeze this, an' ef I has ter squeeze hit I ain't ergoin' ter
loosen hit no mo'. I knew him rather well by this time and had no
reason to doubt his truthfulness of intention, so I merely nodded my
enforced acquiescence. I was bracing every nerve and muscle for the
possible opportunity of the next moment, and at the same time was
attempting to appear totally innocent of any threatening intent.
When, with his one free hand the mountaineer attempted to turn the
key, something about the lock stuck, and after a mumbled oath of
impatience, he bent over and took both hands to the task. That was his
one incautious moment, but I stood docile while he removed the manacle,
and then as he straightened up, loosely holding the chain, I sprang
back, wrenching it from his grasp.
He was instantly after me, but I had put enough space between us to
swing the metal weight over my head.
He saw that this time it was a fight to the death and instead of
crowding in upon my blows retreated one step and thrust his hand under
his armpit to the holster. But it was all too momentary even for his
artistic draw. With the chain wrapped about my right hand and the left
bracelet swinging free I lashed viciously out for his faceand landed.
He dropped like a felled tree and as he collapsed the pistol,
half-freed from its case, rattled on the floor.
CHAPTER XXIV. MY DAY IN COURT.
He was not unconscious, but dazed and groggy, and the blood was
flowing from a nasty cut perilously close to the left temple. I was on
him and pinning him against the planks before he could recover himself.
I picked up the fallen key, liberated my right hand, then closing his
manacle about his own wrist, I dragged him over to an upright post and
passing the chain about it fastened his other hand. I had learned
something about gagging now, so by the time he had recovered his full
senses, he found himself hitched quite securely to the unplaned pillar,
bootless, trouserless and speechlessbut above all else astonished. I
took one mean scrap of vengeance which was unnecessary. I went to the
grated shutters and threw the key to the handcuffs out. Then, donning
his clothes before his eyes, since my own would have proclaimed me a
stranger in these parts, I turned and made my way down the stairs, once
more at liberty. I did not vouchsafe him a word of farewell nor turn my
head to look back, though I heard his feet pounding the floor in a
frenzy of rage and futile struggle. Of course, I had possessed myself
of his pistol as well as his hat, boots and trousers.
If I had needed any disguise beyond these clothes it would have been
provided for me by the ragged growth of beard on my face and the
unkempt hair that had not felt a comb since I left the roof of Cal
Marcus. I smiled to myself as I made my exit by the broken porch and
thought what his reflections at the moment must be. He was doubtless
recalling his own explicit directions for reaching the court-house
door. It was now between nine and ten o'clock. If I hurried there might
still be time.
The town which I had seen only once before came into view as soon as
I had reached the high road and made the first turn, but I was
terrified to see in the distance two horsemen jogging along in
leisurely approach. I scrambled across the rail fence and lay close to
the earth waiting for them to pass and grudging the flight of each
priceless minute. As they came nearer I heard a whining voice raised in
an attempt at song.
Right down hyar in Adamson Countee
Where they have no church of our Lord
Carroled one of the horsemen, and I joyously recognized the young
man who, on the night of Mrs. Weighborne's arrival, had slipped out
into the shadow of Cal Marcus' kitchen to reconnoiter.
In another moment I had been given a place behind the mountain boy,
and soon the three of us were ambling through the squalid square of the
county seat. Though groups of men stood everywhere, and eyed each other
suspiciously, no one recognized, in the ragged stubble-faced wreck
astride a doubly loaded horse, the kidnaped witness.
They did not take me to the court-room, but made me dismount at the
back door of Cal Marcus' law office, just a stone's throw away across
the narrow street. Marcus, himself, came to me there in response to a
hurried summons. He listened with no show of expression or emotion and
at the end of my recital gave me brief instructions, and reduced a part
of my evidence to the form of an affidavit.
Both crowds are out strong, he told me succinctly; Garvin's gang
has been instructed to start no trouble. Whether that order will stand
when I spring my surprise I don't know. It will certainly be a severe
test of discipline. They feel quite safe about you, and they mustn't
suspect your escape. Watch that window in the court-room and when I
appear and raise my hand to pour a glass of water come into court. Say
nothing except in answer to my questions.
With those instructions he left me and as he crossed the alley-like
space, he passed between thick clusters of mountain men who formed a
practical cordon about him. I had perhaps an hour to spend alone with
my eyes against the narrow slit of the slightly raised sash. I could
see the lounging crowds and recognize the tensity of conditions. There
was an assumption of nonchalance which sat upon these men with the
stamp of spuriousness. Lines of shaggy horses hitched along two sides
of the square told of many long rides. Swift, furtive glances cast
backward and forward indicated the nerve strain and caution of hostile
forces mingling with a show of cordiality; each bent on giving no
offense, but each watchful and tightly keyed for defensive action.
A group of several young men entered the enclosure of the
court-house together, and from their clothes and appearance I
recognized them as the reporters from Louisville and Lexington. With
the eye of the outside world upon him; with every utterance from the
bench being recorded by these scribes against whom he dare not let a
hand be lifted, the head of the murder syndicate must rely absolutely
on chicane. He must play the fox's game and must not, under any
provocation, show the wolf's teeth.
So the stage was being set, and I, waiting there in concealment, was
to afford the climax of the play.
After an interminable time the lean, Lincoln-like face of Cal Marcus
appeared at the dusty window of the court-room and I saw him pour a
tumblerful of water from the broken pitcher. At the same instant one of
the waiting clansmen threw open the door to announce, They're callin'
yer in co'te.
I needed no urging. My cue had come. They closed around me in a
square and escorted me to the court-room door and as I went I heard the
voice of a deputy sing-songing my name. I even imagined that in his
tone was conviction that the summons would meet with no response.
In order to make clear the exact effect of my appearance, I must go
back and summarize briefly, from accounts later given me by Marcus and
Weighborne, the occurrences of that half-hour which preceded my calling
to the witness stand.
Garvin had appeared in his court-room with his usual affability. He
had even paused to shake hands with Weighborne and express regrets for
his unfortunate accident. His Honor had announced that he would
prefer, in default of objection, passing all criminal cases to the foot
of the docket, first disposing of several matters of probate and minor
importance. To this Marcus had agreed.
When the reporters appeared the judge was surprised, but his wily
composure had betrayed no evidence of chagrin, and he had halted
affairs to chat with the pencil-wielders while his bailiff provided
them with a table and chairs just below the rostrum.
Then had come the call of the cases against the alleged murderers of
Rat-Ankle, and the attorney's prompt motion to swear Garvin off the
bench. In support of his motion, Marcus launched into a dispassionate,
but unsoftened charge that the judge, himself, had been the chief
instigator of the ambuscade. Garvin had listened with growing
Whose affidavits have you to file, Mr. Marcus? he purred with
That of myself
Is that all?
Also that of Mr. Deprayne.
I've done been informed, drawled the Court, that Mr. Deprayne was
seen leaving for the Virginia line some days back, and that he told
several people he was going home. If I'd known of his plans I'd
certainly have held him as a material witness, but unfortunately it's
too late now.
Here is his affidavit, responded Marcus. I submit it to Your
Honor in support of my motion.
Garvin took the paper and read it slowly. It was in general terms
and did not make clear to him that it had been so recently penned.
After the perusal he delivered himself slowly.
Learned counsel has made some mighty grave charges against this
Co'te; counsel has been led astray by personal feelin'. The Co'te must
protect its own dignity. The Co'te sees no reason to regard this paper
as genuine, unless Mr. Deprayne himself will state that he swore to it.
The Co'te regrets that it can't produce that witness for the learned
counsel. The Co'te wishes only here he glanced significantly at the
press tableto have the full facts brought out.
Will Your Honor, suggested Marcus, instruct the sheriff to call
Garvin had looked up with an expression of surprise and then he had
smiled. Mr. Sheriff, he instructed, call Mr. Deprayne.
After that there had been a silence. While Garvin went through the
formality of waiting to hear the announcement the witness does not
answer, he bent over the desk and once more exchanged compliments with
the reporters. These scribes had been sent to expose him and he was
bent on weaving about them the spell of his personality. Then it was
that I entered. From the door where for an instant I halted, I took in
the stained clapboard walls, carved over with crude initials; and the
dingy benches full of men in jeans and hodden gray. I caught my breath
as a dash of color struck my eyes and I recognized back of the gaunt
standing frame of Marcus, the seated figures of Weighborne and the lady
who had been so strangely important in my life. My cheeks flushed and
bracing back my shoulders, I walked down the center aisle,
dust-stained, with four days' growth of beard on my face, and one eye
still discolored. As I came, I was conscious of a murmur of
astonishment rising incredulously from the benches, and of an excited
shuffling of feet.
Called out of his conversation by this sound, Garvin raised his
face, still wreathed in its bland and smiling suavityand our eyes
met. For an instant I think he did not recognize me. I must have been a
rather ludicrous and unprepossessing figure of a man, and possibly it
was the very obvious scars of battle on my disfigured countenance that
first told him my identity. At all events, the change that for an
unguarded interval crossed his florid face was startling.
The smile died instantaneously and he leaned forward to stare at me
as at some apparition. He quickly recovered himself, but the reporters
caught the tableau of his astonishment and put a paragraph into their
stories which was the preface to history-making in Adamson County.
I took my seat on the witness stand and raised my hand to be sworn,
not daring to meet the eyes of the woman who sat at the attorney's
elbow, though I felt her gaze upon me. Then I heard the cold modulation
of Marcus's voice.
Mr. Deprayne, state your name, age and place of residence. I did
Do you aver that an affidavit charging Judge Garvin with conspiracy
to murder and suppress evidence was made by you, and that it is true?
The shuffling of brogans and boots had died out. The fall of a pin
might have been heard at the ends of the room. Every Garvin heeler and
every Marcus adherent was sitting on the edge of his seat. Hands crept
furtively to holsters. There was a general gasp of surprise, then as by
a single impulse a number of men at one side near the back rose, and
across the aisle another group came silently to its feet. The factions
stood taut and motionless, eying each other with hatred. Marcus did not
for an instant resume his questioning and the utter silence was as
oppressive as the stillness that goes ahead of a cyclone. I knew what
it meant, as every one in the room knew. The feud-factions were
crouching for a spring. In another moment the ceiling might ring and
rattle with the cracking of pistols and reek with the stench of burnt
powder. The mountain territory has annals of such holocausts.
CHAPTER XXV. BEING LAUGHED AT.
Every one sat very still lest an excited movement or gesture
precipitate the storm. From my place on the slightly elevated witness
chair I had a full view of the scene in all its ominous tensity. It was
as though breathing had not alone stopped, but all living animation had
for the second been suspended. The body of men had been fixed as though
photographed. An incautious start or the sweep of a hand pocket-ward,
and the outburst would be inevitable.
There were three exceptions among those whom I may term
non-combatants. One reporter began edging down behind the table.
Weighborne unostentatiously shifted his position so as to place his
bulky shoulders between Frances Weighborne and the crowd, and She with
an impatient shifting declined his shielding and sat steadily looking
to the front. She was pale, as I suppose we all were, but perfectly
Then Marcus wheeled and faced the rear of the room, deliberately
turning his back on the enemies who might kill him as they had killed
his partner. With both hands raised above his head and his thin,
cuffless wrists stretching out of his threadbare sleeves, he stood for
a tense moment in silence. His rugged countenance was black with the
vehemence of feeling and his deep eyes were burning.
Sit down! he thundered. He said no other word, but as he
ripped out that crisp and brief command he swept both arms and hands
downward, and, like hypnotic subjects answering the gesture of the
demonstrator, his clansmen dropped into their seats. Garvin took the
cue. He pounded on his desk with the gavel. Order in the court-room,
he shouted, and his henchmen also subsided into their benches.
A deep breath of relief swept over the place. The crisis was
averted. Garvin beckoned Marcus and the opposing counsel to his side.
Gentlemen, he said coolly, the boys seem a little excited. Unless
there is an objection I'm goin' to adjourn co'te for a half-hour, and
then keep this room clear of spectators. But the moment of peril had
passed and when I reached the square with the attorney, who hastily
spirited me out by the back door, I saw the two elements mingling with
a semblance of entire peace.
Marcus took me directly to his office where we were busied with a
supplemental and more exact affidavit, and I did not see the
Weighbornes. I knew that any meeting must be a most unhappy occasion,
and until this matter was disposed of I was willing to postpone that
final clash. We were shortly interrupted by the arrival of the county
attorney, who announced that at the reconvening of court he would move
to dismiss the cases. He said he realized that there could be no
conviction and would not risk precipitating a conflict. Marcus could
hardly refuse to allow his clients to go free, and so for the time he
had to accept that surrender and reserve his ammunition for later
To the Marcus house we rode in cortège. I had not intended running
at all, but when I came out of the law office I found that Weighborne
had been much fatigued and had already started back with another guard,
and I could hardly run away without facing the two of them. Marcus too,
insisted that I must return, even if only for a day. Much of our
business remained unfinished, and I inferred from his attitude that he
knew nothing of the inevitable reckoning which I must face at the hands
of my business partner. We started late and our small army arrived
after nine o'clock. It was again a night of sparkle and starlight and
frost. We learned that supper had been saved for us and the attorney
and I ate it in silence. The Weighbornes had not waited for us. I quite
understood that they might not care to break bread with me, and yet I
was puzzled, because in that paralyzed moment in the court-room when I
had, for the only time during the day, looked full in the lady's eyes,
I had seen no anger in them. I had almost fancied that her lips
half-shaped a smile. But she was a remarkable woman, and whatever her
feeling, she might be magnanimous enough and big enough at such a
moment, when we were all in equal danger, to lay aside for the nonce
her just resentment. Now we should meet again as though that had not
happened, and I had no hope of seeing her smile on me again.
Probably she had retired and I should not have to meet her until
to-morrow. I rose from the table and turned to Marcus.
Where do I sleep to-night? I inquired.
Your same place, sir, he answered, and when I had said good-night
I turned and walked along the porch and opened the door of the room
which served jointly as parlor and bedroom.
Once more, precisely as on that other night, I halted in surprise.
Indeed, it might have been the other night, except that Weighborne lay
where he had thrown himself down fully dressed across the big bed. But
just as before, he was sleeping, and just as before She sat before the
fire alone, in much the same attitude. On her face was the same trace
of wistful loneliness.
I could not escape the feeling that this was in reality a part of
the other eveningthat it had been momentarily interrupted and that
all which had transpired since I had opened this same door in this
exact way, and seen this precise picture, was only the figment of
disordered imagination. But it was now too late to turn back, and after
all there was nothing to gain by deferring the reckoning. The three of
us were here, and it would take only a moment to wake the sleeping man.
I closed the door, and my heart began the wild beating that meeting
her must always bring. As I started across the room she looked up and
rose. I halted where I stood, waiting for her to speak. This evening
she wore a very simple gingham dress, and the chill of the room had led
her to add the sweater. For a breathing space we stood there, she as
slender and youthful as a school-girl; I as awkward and disheveled as a
bumpkin, with my head hanging shamefacedlyawaiting sentence.
Then to my total bewilderment she smiled and held out her hand.
Had she stricken me down with a lightning bolt as the savages
thought she had stricken down the profaning native, I should have been
less astonished. I stood there unable to understand such forgiveness,
and while I waited, she spoke.
Now, said the voice which had been ringing in my heart ever since
I had last heard it, will you be good enough to explain things, or are
you still to be the man of mystery?
How could I explain things? How could I make a commencement? And yet
it was just that which I had come to attempt.
If I can explain at all, I said, very miserably, it will be in
Is that all? she questioned. In her eyes was the whimsical
challenge that had, on the previous occasion, swept me away from my
moorings. The question that I had asked myself once before came back to
my mind. Could it be that my goddess was so far from my ideal that,
after all, what had occurred needed no explanation? I would not admit
such a possibility, and yet her next words seemed to confirm it.
When I first came here, she mused reflectively and only
half-aloud, you stayed outside for an hour, and then you disappeared.
Of course you were a prisoner, but to-day you had the opportunity to
see us. You didn'tand yet she flushed deeply, and I knew that her
thoughts too were going back to the moment when I had, without words,
avowed myself so savagely.
I stayed out there that night, I said bluntly, because I could
hardly be an interloper, when you had ridden these infernal hills to be
with him I jerked my head savagely toward the bed. Then I
went doggedly on, determined that since she had forced me this far we
should hereafter stand in the certain light of understanding. I also
stayed out there because, as it happens, I'm a fool. I couldn't endure
witnessing a reunion between yourself and your husband. It seemed to
me that she should first have called on me for other explanations.
At the last word her face clouded with an expression of absolute
bewilderment, and her eyes widened as she gazed at me.
Mymy what? she demanded.
Your husband, I repeated. Mr. Weighborne.
She contemplated me as though I were a new and rather interesting
variety of maniac, then her laugh was long and delicious. Her clouded
eyes cleared and danced like skies in which the sun has suddenly burst
Oh, she said finally. I understand now. Once more her face grew
grave and she added with a catch in her voice.
And, thank God, I do understand.
For Heaven's sake, I implored, tell me what you understand! As
for me, I understand nothing.
Why, you totally unspeakable idiot, she explained, as though she
had known me always, and as though we had long been close comrades, I
haven't any husbandyet. That's my brother. Didn't you know that?
I stood at gaze, dazed, stupefied, open-mouthed; every thing that
denotes the gawky fool. Then I dropped fervently on my knees at her
feet and shamelessly seized her hands in mine and kissed them. She made
no effort to release them and I crushed them greedily while my tongue
could find no words, until, as I afterward learned, her rings cut into
But, I stammered finally, you are Frances Weighborne. His wife is
Frances Weighborne. Bob Maxwell told me
She laughed again, and Weighborne's heavy breathing became almost a
snore. After all, first impressions are best. Weighborne was a capital
fellow, one could not help liking him.
Correct, said the lady indulgently, as though she were teaching a
small boy his primer lessons. I am Frances Weighborne. My
sister-in-law was also christened Frances in baptism, and acquired the
surname of Weighborne in matrimony. There may, so far as I know, be
various other Frances Weighbornes. We have never copyrighted the name.
Oh, my God! I groaned helplessly. What an unspeakable imbecile
I've beenbut you're wrong, dearest, you are the only one.
Do you think it necessary to swear about it? she inquired. And
are you now quite certain that I'm the right one?
There isn't any time to swear, I assured her, there is so
infinitely much to saybut not here. Come out under the stars, where
one can breathe. Give me five minutes. Unless I speak now I shall die
of suppressed emotion. All my life I've been a supposedly extinct
volcano. I'm no longer extinct. I halted my rush of words; then added,
Yes, you're the right one. I rose and, still holding her hands,
lifted her to her feet. At the door, with my hand on the latch, I
No, I exclaimed, hardly realizing that I was speaking aloud. You
open it. In the dream it is always you who open the door into the other
She wheeled and looked me in the eyes, her own pupils wide and
Do you have it, too? she demanded breathlessly. Do you dream my
dream? Do I come to you in some vague danger and lead you through a
She laid her hand on the bolt, just as I had so often seen her do in
my vision, and we stepped together out into the glory of the frost and
As you are doing now, I answered; then with a new wonder I
demanded, But tell me, how in Heaven's name could you dream of me
before you knew me?
She laughed mockingly.
Perhaps, she vouchsafed, if you make yourself very agreeable I
may tell you.
CHAPTER XXVI. HOW IT ENDEDAND
The railings and uprights of the porch were strips of jet against a
world swimming in blue and silver gray. The planks creaked under our
feet. A confusion of saddles and farm gear hung against the log walls.
The tin basin stood on its accustomed shelf. The world of magic was
jumbled with the commonplace. I led her over to the corner where the
eye could gather in the widest vista. She stood there before me very
upright and slim and her eyes held mine as frankly as a child's might
have done. I gazed at her for a moment more, then my arms went out and
encircled her, and I talked very fast and very low.
I may, at times, seem extremely abrupt, I confessed, but I'm not.
I've worshiped you upon a coral reef and I've made love to you through
endless days and nights with stars for my witnesses much larger than
theseand softer. And now I've found youI've found you, and it
doesn't matter what you say, because I shall never again let you go.
She tilted her face upward and her eyes were dancing as she quoted,
'Nobody asked you, sir.'
She stood there, facing me, within the circle of my arms, with her
chin as proudly tilted as though she were not surrendering, and with
the old incomparable smile lingering on her lips.
And as I gazed at her in the witchery of the moon, the utter
improbability of it all dawned upon me, until I felt that a moment
would bring awakening and the old gnawing despair. The expression was
that which I knew so well, and she seemed no more and no less real than
she had been, looking out from the mate's chest, with the circle of
mahogany-skinned savages sitting silent before her shrine.
That I had loved her was inevitable. It was written, but that was
the lesser part. Here she stood looking at me out of eyes that were
accepting my love without question. Why did she, without even the siege
of a long wooing, so permit me to step into the temple of her life, as
naturally as though it were the shrine of the coral island where I
belonged as high-priest and demi-god?
She had, before to-night, met me only once, and then I had been the
churl, brusquely rebuffing her sweet courtesy. Yet she had ridden
across the hills, and something sang to me that it was to me she had
ridden, though she may have called it coming to her brother. Why was
it? Had I really conjured her soul to me by wishing it across the
world? Had supreme forces compelled us both, so that preliminary
details were superfluous between us?
However that might be, the gracious smile died slowly on her lips to
a seriousness far sweeter, and as she looked into my face her eyes
widened, and dropped all concealment until I was gazing into her soul.
When a woman meets the eyes of a man in that fashion he ceases to
question, and wishes only to do reverence. It is like rolling back the
waters of the sea and revealing the wonders of the deeps. For it is
decreed that the eyes of a woman are given her in defense, to hide
behind their dance and sparkle the things which lie beneathand to
disarm. When once they have opened in the miracle of self-revelation
and surrendered their secret, one must be unworthy who feels himself
worthy of such a manifestation.
And the secret I read there was that she loved me beyond all
doubting. It mattered no longer how the wonder had come to pass. That
was a mere point of god-craft. It had happened, and the stars were
I dropped on one knee and lifted her hand to my lips.
Later, I sketched rapidly, agitatedly, the story of the coming of
her portrait to the island, of its place on the chest and its
subsequent worship. I told her of meeting Keller on the steamer and
Maxwell in New York. I summarized the chain of evidence which had to my
mind proved her to be Mrs. Weighborne. I have no doubt that I told it
badly, but that was of no consequence, since back of my broken
narration was the pent-up rush of emotion, and to her this seemed
important. Nor did my story, so fantastic that I hardly expected her to
accept it without proof, seem to surprise her.
And, I concluded, I am going to build you a new temple which will
make the Taj Mahal a tawdry mosque, for every block and rafter will be
love, and each year we live I shall add new minarets of worshipand
not only five times each day but a hundred, its muezzin shall
call me to prayer.
Her eyes were glowing, and her laugh trembled.
I came quite a long way, she told me, to make you say that, but
after all you have done it very nicely.
But, I admitted after a long pause, I don't yet understandnot
that it matters nowbut why? That word is beating at my brainwhy in
the names of all the gods should you care?
Why shouldn't I? she indignantly countered.
You have known me, I said blankly, a few daysand I should have
imagined that I made a sorry impression.
She laughed again.
I have known you always, she replied.
I shook my head wonderingly.
Listen, she commanded. Once upon a timethat's the way all fairy
stories startI saw you. You didn't notice me much. I was just a kid,
but I fell in love with you. To be exact, it was ten years ago this
There was no end to wonders. All the loose threads of coincidence
were being plaited into a single cable, and the cable was my life line.
As I grew up I met a lot of men and they insisted on saying nice
things to me; but they were all things of one kind and that wasn't the
kind I wantedbesides, you see, I was waiting. I knew that some day
you would come and that if you had anything to say it would be
different. I compared them all with you. It wasn't just a girl's
romantic foolishness. There was destiny in it. You know the Moslem
text'man's fate is about his neck.' You had no chance to escape me.
I, too, knew it was written, I told her, but I was afraid we
should meet too late. When I saw you at Lexington I thought it was too
I was never afraid of that, she affirmed. Sometimes I have known
that you were in dangerand later I've known that you escaped. Then
there was the dreamthe one dream about the door that came over and
over.... At times it seemed that you were very near. Once at Cairo I
felt that I was going to meet you around some corner or in some
bazaarbut I didn't.
You might, if you had turned your head, I declared. Did you by
any chance lose a diary at Cairo?
This time it was she who was surprised.
I lost one somewhere, she acknowledged; then as she colored
divinely she demanded, You didn't find it, did you? You didn't read
those fool things?
It wasn't foolishness, I quoted. There was destiny in it. And
then I made full confession.
I'm glad you wrote it, I added. I owe that diary something and I
want all my debt to be to you.
For a moment she was silent, then she looked up again and confronted
me once more with a charge of stupidity.
And you read that, and knew what football game it was, and yet you
never recognized yourself! What are your brains made of, anyway?
How could a man reply to such a sublime absurdity as that? I
In the diary you wrote of an apotheosis, I confessed. How in the
name of all that is logical could I connect myself with this admirable,
impossible superman? You failed to give the name.
She looked at me and laughed.
The man is also modest, she observed.
Of course, I demurred, it's great to see you treading the clouds,
with ideals for your playmates. Moreover, it's appropriate; but I'm
down here, you know, earthbound and extremely mortal. If we are to walk
together you must come down and join me.
I'll take you up with me, she hospitably asserted, and though
since then she must have discovered many times that she had draped her
cloth of gold upon a lay figure and had made a plumed and mailed knight
of a failure and an inconsequent, yet she has, with gallant
stubbornness, refused to admit it.
Dearest, I said very humbly, I have been inconceivably boorish,
and worse. How could you bring yourself to forgive it?
Because, she answered, I'm a womanand inquisitive. I knew how
you felt, and I wanted to find out why you acted so horridly at
I was trying very hard not to tell you how I felt, I admitted.
You didn't have to tell mein words, she laughed. You told me in
a hundred other ways, that were just as plain.
Then the only part of my story, I said, a little crest-fallen,
which is new to you is the information that you were a goddess and I a
high priest, out there in the South Seas?
Oh, that wasn't new at all, she ruthlessly enlightened, I knew
Is there anything you don't know? I inquired. What gift of
There wasn't any vision about it, she interrupted. I got a letter
from Mrs. Keller the day before you reached Kentucky. I guess when you
get back to New York you'll find one from the captain. His wife wrote
to tell me you were coming. That was why I got a headache and stayed at
home that night.
She laid her hand on my forearm. My sleeves were uprolled to the
Dearest, she exclaimed in sudden anxiety, you're cold! I suppose
I was, but I had not known it.
* * * * *
It has been some time now since I have written in the diary which
had its birth under such strange circumstances. The narrative went into
a pigeon-hole because I have been too busy living to think of
reflecting upon life. It was a device for moments of emptiness and in
later times also for moments of extraordinary jubilation, but since the
last pages were scribbled there has been enough of celebration in
merely living out the days. Yet now I must add a postscript, so that
some time He may have the full record before him. He is my little son.
He is teaching me a great many things and finding in me a willing
pupil. When I first walked out into the public ways after his entrance
to the stage whereon I hope he will be cast in a worthy part, I walked
differently. I walked with the pride of an emperor. Not the pride of
arrogance. I needed no car of ivory and bronze with captives marching
fettered at its wheel. I needed no slave to whisper in my ear,
Remember, Cæsar, thou art but a man. I was filled with a new
graciousness and wished to be generously courteous to all men, yet that
desire was born of a sense of vast superiority. I had found the meaning
of life; the secret of which the gulls shrieked in mating-time around
the rocks of the islandthough then my ears were deaf to its
She has minted from the precious metal of her soul a life which,
with the other lives of his day, will form the mosaic of his times. I
have the prospect before me of new miracles as that new life unfolds. I
feel the exaltation of being undeservedly linked with something vastly
greater than myself. I made an awkward effort once to put some part of
this idea into words, but Frances only laughed. To her it is all quite
natural. Her only comment was that he is as much mine as hers, which
was a flattery that even my egotism could scarcely assimilate.
We have not named him yet, but an idea struck me a day or two ago
while I was sitting at my down-town desk, and I straightway called her
I have just thought of a name, I said. I want to call him Francis
Ra-Tuiki. Of course, I hastened to add, realizing that the silence at
the other end of the wire threatened protest, of course we can dignify
it with highly unphonetic spelling, if you like.
I don't know, she judiciously reflected. Then with a sudden
afterthought she added, That might possibly do for a middle name. I
have already decided upon the first.
I wonder what name she has in mindand she had just finished
telling me that I had a full half-interest in that kid!
A railroad now runs into Adamson County and the new order is
replacing the old. My wife and I and our brother went down on the first
train run over the new line. The people had gathered to see the
spectacle, and incredible as it may seem, there were among them some
who looked for the first time on a locomotive. Old Mrs. Marcus, a
little more withered and monkey-like, was there, and as she
contemplated the marvel she could only murmur in wonderment, Well,
Calloway Marcus no longer rides in a hollow square, but goes openly
to court to defend the railway's damage suits. Yet now that the law is
becoming adequate, he will never have the opportunity to turn it, as
his weapon of reprisal, against Jim Garvin. Retribution came to the
head of the murder syndicate with grimmer and more appropriate drama
than Marcus had planned. The judge fell behind his own counter, riddled
with bullets bought from his own shelf, and fired by the hand of his
own chief henchman and jackal.
Though one of the last of the terrorized juries sat in the box, to
the end that the slayer came cl'ar, it is now Curt Dawson who goes
sunken-eyed and body-guarded, searching the shadows. Shots from the
laurel are fewbut occasional even nowand Garvin's boy is nearing
manhood. At all events, Garvin's executioner seems convinced that
reprisal will come to him. Perhaps it is a premonition.