O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1920
Part 3 out of 8
his smile had won for Ambrose the coveted and uniformed position of
door-man, a post at which he served with considerable success and
the incidental tips.
The recently wealthy Mr. Braumbauer, for instance, really felt that
he _was_ somebody, when Ambrose opened the door of his car and bowed
him under the portcullis of Swalecliffe. And y'understand me, a
feller's willing he should pay a little something for service once
in a while. And so, one way and another, Ambrose managed to eke from
his job a great deal more than he drew on pay day.
But Mr. Travis's source of income did not stop there--far from it.
He had brought from Galveston a genius for rolling sevens--or, if he
missed seven the first roll, he could generally make his point
within the next three tries. He could hold the dice longer than any
man within the San Juan memory, which, in view of the fact that
craps is to San Juan what bridge is to Boston, is saying a great deal.
Ambrose was simply a demon with the bones, and he was big enough to
get away with it.
True, there had been difficulties.
One evening at the Social Club Ambrose held the dice for a straight
sixteen passes. He and five other courtiers of fortune were bounding
the ivories off the cushion of a billiard table, to the end that the
contest be one of chance and not of science. In the midst of
Ambrose's stentorian protests that the baby needed footwear, one of
the losers forgot his breeding to the extent of claiming that
Ambrose had introduced a loaded die. As he seconded his claims with
a razor, the game met a temporary lull.
When the furniture had ceased crashing, the members of the club
emerged from beneath the pool tables to see Mr. Travis tying up a
slashed hand, while he of the razor lay moaning over a broken
shoulder and exuding teeth in surprising quantities.
After this little incident no one ever so far forgot himself as to
breathe the faintest aspersion on Mr. Travis, his dice, his way of
throwing them down or of picking them up.
It was generally conceded that his conduct throughout the fray had
been of the best, and the affair did much to raise him in popular
esteem--especially as he was able to prove the caviler's charges to
be utterly unfounded.
And so, with his physical beauty, his courage, and his wealth,
Mr. Ambrose de Vere Travis became something of a figure in San
Juan's social circles.
Just when Ambrose fell in love with Miss Aphrodite Tate is not quite
Aphrodite (pronounced just as spelled) was so named because her
father thought it had something to do with Africa. She was
astoundingly, absolutely, and gratifyingly black, and Ambrose was
sure that he had never seen any one quite so beautiful.
Aphrodite lived with her parents, the ancient and revered
Fremont-Tates, patroons of San Juan. In the daytime she was engaged
as maid by a family that _suttingly_ treated her lovely; while in
the evening she could usually be found at the St. Benedict Young
People's Club. And it was here that Ambrose met her.
True love ran smoothly for a long time. At last, when he felt the
tune was ripe, Ambrose pleaded urgent business for two evenings and
shook down the Social Club dice fanciers for the price of the ring.
Then Mr. Dominique Raffin loomed dark on the horizon. Mr. Raffin did
not loom as dark as he might have loomed, however, because he was
half white. He hailed from Haiti, and was the son of a French sailor
and a transplanted Congo wench. He was slight of build and shifty of
eye. His excuse for being was a genius for music. He could play
anything, could this pasty Dominique, but of all instruments he was
at his tuneful best on the alto saxophone.
"Lawd! _Oh_, Lawd!" his audience would ejaculate, as with closed
eyes and heads thrown back they would drink in the sonorous
emanations from the brazen tube. "Dat's de horn ob de Angel
Gabriel--dat's de heabenly music ob de spears!" And so Dominique's
popularity grew among the ladies of San Juan, even if among the
gentlemen it did not.
To tell the truth, Dominique was something of a beau. Because he
played in an orchestra, he had ample opportunity to study the
deportment of people who passed as fashionable. His dress was
immaculate; his hair was not so kinky that it couldn't be plastered
down with brilliantine, and he perfumed himself copiously. His
fingers were heavily laden with rings. Dominique's voice was
His native tongue was French, but he had learned to speak English in
Jamaica. Thus his accent was a curious mixture of French and Cockney,
lubricated with oily African.
Altogether, it is not to be wondered that such sturdy sons of Ham as
Ambrose disliked the snaky Mr. Raffin. Disliked him the more when
his various musical and cultural accomplishments made him a general
favourite with the ladies. And then, when he absolutely cut
Mr. Travis from the affections of Miss Tate, the wrath of the
blacker and more wholesome San Juan citizens knew no bounds.
As for Ambrose--he sulked. Even his friends, the fur-lined tenants
of Swalecliffe Arms, noticed that something worried the swart
guardian of their gate. In the evenings Ambrose gave his entire time
to frenzied rolling of the bones and was surprised to see that here,
at least, luck had not deserted him.
On the few occasions when he forsook the green baize for an
evening's dancing at the St. Benedict Young People's Guild, the
sight of the coveted Miss Aphrodite whirling in the arms of the
hated Raffin almost overcame him.
Finally the lovesick Mr. Travis decided to call upon the lady of his
heart and demand an explanation. After some rehearsal of what he
wanted to say, Ambrose betook himself to the tenement in which the
Tate family dwelt. At sight of her cast-off swain, Miss Aphrodite
showed the whites of her eyes and narrowed her lips to a thin
straight line--perhaps an inch and a half thin. Evidently she was
Aphrodite opened the interview by inquiring why she was being
pestered and intermediated by a low-down black nigger that didn't
have no mo' brains than he had manners. Her feelings was likely to
git the better of her at any moment; in which event Mr. Travis had
better watch out, that was all--jest watch out.
The astounded Mr. Travis did his best to pacify this Amazon; to
explain that he had merely come to inquire the reason for her
displeasure; to learn in what respect Mr. Raffin had proved himself
so sweetly desirable.
The answer was brief and crushing. It seemed that where Mr. Travis
was a big, bulky opener of doors, Mr. Raffin was a sleek and
cultured Chesterfield--a musician--an artist. Where Mr. Travis could
not dance without stepping on everybody in the room, Mr. Raffin was
a veritable Mordkin. Where Mr. Travis hung out with a bunch of
no-good crap-shooting black buck niggers, Mr. Raffin's orchestral
duties brought him into the most cultured s'ciety. In short, the
yellow man from Haiti was a gentleman; the black man from Texas was
This unexpected tirade made the unhappy Ambrose a trifle weak in the
knees. Then pride came to the rescue, and he drew himself to his
full and towering six feet five. He held out his mammoth hands
before Miss Aphrodite and warned her that with them, at the first
provocation, he would jest take and bust Mr. Raffin in two. This done,
he would throw the shuddering fragments into the street, and with
his feet--Exhibit B--would kick them the entire length and breadth
of the neighbourhood.
This threat only aroused new fires of scorn and vituperation, and
Miss Tate informed her guest that, should he ever attempt the
punitive measures described, Mr. Raffin would cut him up into little
pieces. It seemed that Mr. Raffin carried a knife, and that he knew
how to use it.
Mr. Travis snorted at this, and stamped out of the Tate apartment.
At his exit, doors closed softly on every floor, because the
neighbours had listened to the tete-a-tete with intense interest.
Even people in the next house had been able to hear most of it.
Ambrose made his furious way toward the Social Club, his mind set on
mortal encounter with the hated Dominique. But--here was an
inspiration!--why not win his money away from him first? To win away
his last cent--to humble him--to ruin him--and then to break him in
two and kick the pieces through the San Juan causeways, as per
programme! This would be a revenge indeed!
Ambrose noted with satisfaction that Mr. Raffin was already at play,
and crossing the smoke-filled room he threw down some money and took
his place in the game.
Now, Mr. Travis was ordinarily a very garrulous and vociferous crap
shooter, but to-night he was savagely silent. There was a disturbing,
electric _something_ in the air that the neutrals felt and feared.
There was a look in the Travis eye that boded ill for somebody, and
one by one the more prudent gamesters withdrew.
Then suddenly the storm broke.
Later accounts were not clear as to just what started the fray, but
start it did.
Dominique's knife appeared from some place, and the table crashed.
Then the knife swished through space like a hornet and buried its
point harmlessly in a door across the room.
What followed is still a subject of wondering conversation on San
It seems that Mr. Travis seized Mr. Raffin by the collar of his coat,
and swung him round and round and over his head. Mr. Raffin streamed
almost straight out, like the imitation airplanes that whirl dizzily
about the tower in an amusement park. Suddenly there was a rending
of cloth, and Dominique shot through the air to encounter the wall
with a soul-satisfying thump.
Ambrose looked bewildered at the torn clothing he held in his hand,
and then at the limp form of his late antagonist. Mr. Raffin lay
groaning, naked from the waist up.
Ambrose strode across to administer further chastisement, but
was halted by a cry from one of the onlookers. This man stood
pointing at Dominique's naked back--pointing, and staring with eyes
that rolled with genuine negro terror.
"Look!" gasped the affrighted one. "Look! It's de Voo-doo Eye--
_dat man's a witch_! Ambrose, fo' de Lawd's sake, git away from
"What you-all talkin' about?" scoffed Ambrose, striding closer, and
rolling Dominique so that the light shone full on his back.
"What you-all talkin'----_Good Lawd_"!
This last ejaculation from Ambrose was caused by the sight that met
There, on the yellow back before him, reaching from shoulder to
shoulder, was tattooed the likeness of a great human eye!
Everyone saw it now. To some--the Northern darkies--it meant nothing.
But to the old-school Southern negroes it meant mystery--magic--death.
_It was the sign of the Voodoo_!
Several of the more superstitious onlookers retreated in poor order,
their teeth chattering. Their mammies had told them about the Voodoo
Eye. They remembered the tales whispered in the slave quarters about
people being prayed to death by these baleful creatures of ill omen!
They weren't going to take any chances!
Ambrose, for all his natural courage, was shaken. He remembered old
Tom Blue, the Texas Voodoo, who poisoned twenty-one people and came
to life after the white men lynched him. And now he had laid rough
hands on one of the deadly clan; had brought upon himself the wrath
of a man who could simply _wish_ him to death!
Trembling, he stooped down and looked at the Devil's Sign. He looked
again--closely. Then he broke out into a ringing peal of wholesome
"Git up!" he shouted, as Dominique showed signs of life. "Git up,
Mr. Voodoo, befo' Ah gits impatient an' throws you out de window!"
This recklessness--this defiance of the dread power--shocked even
the least superstitious of the audience. By this time they were all
under the spell of this mysterious mark. Those who hadn't recognized
it at once had been quickly enlightened by the others.
Ambrose seized Dominique by the shoulder and dragged him to his feet.
Swaying unsteadily, the mulatto looked around him through eyes
closed to snakelike slits.
"Raffin," said Ambrose, "you-all has on yo' back de Eye ob Voodoo.
Dese gennlemen hyar thinks yo' _is_ a Voodoo. Ah know yo' _ain't_!"
"I _am_ a Voodoo! An' you, you _sacre cochon_," hissed Raffin,
"I'll make you wish you had nevaire been born!"
"Well, jes' fo' de present," laughed Ambrose, good humour spreading
all over his face, "you-all had better git outa my way, an' stay
_out_! Git outa hyar _quick_!"
Dominique, his evil face twitching with fury, picked up the ragged
shreds of his coat and walked unsteadily out.
At his exit a dead silence fell upon the remaining members. Then
they gathered together in excited groups and discussed the incident
in heated undertones. Ambrose, quite unconcerned, took up a pack of
cards and commenced a game of solitaire.
He wasn't worrying. He knew that Dominique was no more a Voodoo than
he was. Startled at first, he had noticed that the eye had not been
carved in Dominique's back, as it should have been, but had been
tattooed. This in itself made the thing doubtful. But more than this,
the marks were the unmistakably accurate work of an electric
Ambrose had spent his youth on the Galveston water front, and knew
tattooing in all its forms. Electric tattooing on a Voodoo was about
as much in keeping with the ancient and awesome dignity of the cult
as spangled tights would be on the King of England. No--it was
ridiculous. Dominique was not a Voodoo!
Ambrose continued his solitaire, humming as he played. Occasionally
he cast an amused eye at the excited groups across the room, and was
not surprised when Mr. Behemoth Scott, president of the club, at
last came over to him.
"Mistah Travis," began Mr. Scott deferentially, clearing his throat,
"would you-all be good enough to jine our little gatherin' while we
confabulate on dis hyar recent contabulaneous incident?"
"Suttingly, Mr. Scott, suttingly!" said Ambrose, pushing back his
chair, and crossing the room with the quaking official. "What can Ah
do fo' you-all?"
"Well, jest this," said Mr. Scott. "You gennlemen kin'ly correc' me
or bear out what Ah say. Leavin' aside all argument whether they
_is_ sech things as Voodoos, Ah guess any of you gennlemen from
the South will remember Aunt Belle Agassiz and Tom Blue. Ah guess
yo' mammies all done tole 'bout the African Voodoos, an' how ebery
now an' den one of 'em crops up still. An' Ah guess dat we've seen
to-night dat we've got a Voodoo among us. Now, Mr. Travis"--here he
turned to Ambrose--"we know what Aunt Belle Agassiz done on de
Mathis Plantation in Georgia--_you_ ought to know what Tom Blue did
in Texas. So we wants to warn you, as a fren' an' membah of dis club
in good standin', dat you better leave town to-night."
An assenting murmur arose from the crowd, with much rolling of eyes
and nodding of heads.
Ambrose held up his hand for silence. A serious expression came over
his features, and he towered tall and straight before them.
"Gennlemen," he said, "Ah sho appreciates yo' good sperit in dis
hyar unfo'tunate affair. But Ah tells you-all hyar an' now dat
Dominique Raffin ain't no mo' Voodoo den Ah is. Now, Ah ain't sayin'
dat he _ain't_ a Voodoo, an' Ah ain't sayin' dat Ah _am_ one. All Ah
says is dat Ah's as _much_ of a Voodoo as he is--an' Ah'm willin' to
"How you-all do dat, Ambrose?" asked somebody.
"Ah'm comin' to dat," replied Ambrose. "If you-all wants to decide
dis mattah beyont all doubt, Ah respekf'ly suggests dat we hold a
_see_-ance in dis hyar room, under any c'nditions dat you-all kin
d'vise. If Ah cain't show yo mo' supernat'ral man'festations dan he
can, Ah gives him fifty dollahs. If it's de oder way 'roun', he
leaves de city within twenty-fo' hours. Is dat fair?"
"Well, it suttinly soun's puff'cly jest," replied Mr. Scott.
"We-all will appint a committee to frame de rules of de _see_-ance,
an' make 'em fair fo' both. You's been willin' to prove yo'-se'f,
Ambrose, an' yo' couldn't do mo'. If dis m'latter Voodoo don't want
to do lak'wise, he can leave dese pahts moughty sudden. Ain't dat so,
"Yassuh--he'll leave _quick_!" was the threatening reply.
"All right den, Ambrose," continued the spokesman, "we'll 'range fo'
dis sperit-summonin' contes' jes' as soon as we kin. We'll have it
nex' Satiddy night at lates'. Meanwhile we-all is moughty obleeged
to yo' for yo' willin'-ness to do de right thing."
The great night arrived, and San Juan, dressed in its gala finery,
wended its chattering way to the Senegambian seance. But beneath the
finery and the chatter ran a subtle under-current of foreboding, for
your negro is superstitious, and, well, _Voodoos are Voodoos_!
Dominique Raffin, dressed in somber black, went to the club alone
and unattended save by Miss Aphrodite Tate. San Juan, fearing the
Raffin mulatto and his ghostly powers, had held its respectful
distance ever since the evening when Ambrose and his rage had
revealed them. Familiarity breeding contempt, Miss Aphrodite knew
her man, and feared him not.
They found the rooms of the social club full of excited negroes, for
never before in San Juan's history had such a momentous event been
scheduled. Raffin and Aphrodite were received with a fearsome
respect by Behemoth Scott, who had been appointed master of
"Jes' make yo'se'f to home," he greeted them. "Mista Travis ain't
come yit; we has ten minutes befo' de contes' styarts."
At last, with a bare minute to spare, Ambrose smilingly entered. He
wore his splendid full-dress suit, a wonderful creation of San
Juan's leading tailor, who, at Ambrose's tasteful suggestion, had
faced the lapels with satin of the most royal purple. Set out by
this background of colourful lapel was a huge yellow chrysanthemum,
while on the broad red band that diagonally traversed his shining
shirt front glittered like a decoration, the insignia from his
Swalecliffe uniform cap.
"Good evenin', folks," was his cheerful greeting. "If you-all is
quite ready fo' dis _see_-ance, an' provided mah--er--wuthy opponent
am ready, Ah'd jes' as soon _pro_ceed."
Miss Aphrodite gazed on the imposing figure of Ambrose with more
than a little admiration. Comparing him with the trembling Raffin,
she found much in his favour.
All but his footwear. Accustomed as she had become to the glistening
patent leathers affected by Raffin, Ambrose's clumsy congress
gaiters somewhat marred his gorgeousness. Nevertheless, she felt her
affections wavering. Her speculations were interrupted by the voice
of the master of ceremonies:
"Ladies an' gennlemen," began Mr. Scott, "we-all has d 'cided to
form a circle of twelve of our membahs wif dese two Voodoo gennlemen
asettin' opp'site each oder in de circle. In o'dah to preclude any
poss'bility of either Mista Travis or Mista Raffin from leavin' dere
places, we has d'cided to tie dem to dere cheers by ropes passed
'roun' dere bodies an' fastened to de backs of de cheers. De lights
will den be distinguished. When he lights is tu'ned out, Mista
Raffin will be given fifteen minutes in which to summon de
supernat'ral proofs--whatevah dey may be--of his bein' Voodoo. Den
Mista Travis will be given his chanct."
Amid the hushed whisperings of the assemblage the committee, six men
and six women, Aphrodite included, took their places in the circle.
Ambrose and the mulatto were seated opposite each other and were
perhaps twelve feet apart. Raffin, nervously licking his lips, sat
bolt upright while members of the committee passed ropes around him
and the back of his chair, and tied his hands. In direct contrast to
his rival, Ambrose slouched down in his seat and joked with the
trembling members as they secured him in his place.
Those not on the committee crowded close to the chair backs of the
circle in order that nothing should escape them. The excitement was
tense, and everyone was breathing hard. When all was ready
Mr. Behemoth Scott took his place in the circle. Drawing a long
breath and grasping his chair for support, he spoke in a hushed
and husky voice: "All raidy, now? Ah asks silence from eve'body.
_Turn out de lights_"!
At the fateful words Stygian darkness enveloped the crowded room.
The shades had been drawn and not the faintest ray from the dim
street lights penetrated the place. It was stifling hot, and the
assembled investigators were perspiring freely....
Silence--black, awe-inspired silence! Two hundred pairs of
superstitious eyes peered into the horrible gloom--two hundred pairs
of ears strained at the tomblike stillness. The suspense was awful,
and none dared move. Occasionally some familiar sound came from the
world outside: the clang of the Tenth Avenue car or the whistle of a
tugboat out in the river, but these sounds were of another
existence--they seemed distant and unfamiliar and wholly out of
place in the mystery and terror of the Voodoo seance.
The minutes slid by, and nothing happened. The suspense was worse
than ever. Something stirred in the circle. Two hundred hearts
missed a beat. Then the whining, terror-stricken voice of the
mulatto broke the stillness: "Let Travis try," he whispered hoarsely.
"My spirits will not come until 'e 'as tried. Let 'im try fo'
fifteen minutes, and when 'e 'as failed I will summon the ghost of
Bula-Wayo, the king of all the tribes of the Niger. But let Travis
try first!" This last almost pleadingly.
A moment more of silence and Ambrose's deep voice boomed forth in
"Ah's willin'," he declared. "Anythin' dat now appears will be mah
doin'--ten minits is all Ah asks. Am dat sat'sfact'ry?"
"Yaas," replied the voice of Behemoth Scott. "Go ahaid wif yo'
sperit-summonin', Mista Travis."
"Ah'll cawncentrate now," replied Ambrose, "an' sho'tly you-all will
witness ample proof of mah bein' a genuine Voo-doo. _Ah's stahtin_'."
Silence more terrible than ever fell upon the waiting negroes.
Then--horror of horrors! a peculiar grating, rustling sound came
from the vicinity of Ambrose--a slight creaking--and again silence.
The investigators held hands of neighbours who trembled from sheer
panic, whose breath came hard and panting from this awful suspense!
Another creaking, as though Ambrose had shifted his weight in his
Then--baleful--in its green, ghastly glow--a dim, indistinct light
shone in the centre of the circle! Moving slowly, like a newly
awakened spirit, it waved in the very midst of the gasping committee.
Back and forth, up and down, it moved--glowing, vaporous, ghostly.
Two hundred pairs of bulging eyes saw the horror--and realized that
it was an enormous hand, terribly deformed!
Some one moaned with terror--a woman screamed. "De hand ob death!"
shrieked a man. "Run--run fo' yo' lives!"
The stampede was spontaneous! Chairs were overturned and tables
smashed in this frightful panic in the dark. No one thought of
turning on the lights--everyone's sole aim was to leave that
appalling shining hand--and get out!
A crashing on the stairway marked where Raffin, chair and all, was
making his fear-stricken way to the street. In one brief minute the
place was apparently empty save for Ambrose. Still tied to his chair,
he inquired: "Is any one hyar?"
For a second there was silence, then the dulcet tones of Miss
Aphrodite fell on the big negro's ear: "Ah's hyar, Ambrose," she said.
"Well, den"--recognizing her voice--"would you mine lightin' de gas
till Ah can tie mahself loose from dis hyar throne ob glory?"
In a moment a feeble gaslight shone, disclosing Aphrodite--somewhat
disarranged by the panic--standing smiling in front of the erstwhile
Voodoo. She looked down at his feet. There, sure enough, one huge
member was unshod and stockingless; the elastic-slit congress gaiter,
lost in the shuffle, lay out of the radius of Ambrose's long leg.
Miss Aphrodite picked it up and, stooping, slipped it over his
mighty toes, noticing as she did so the thick coating of
phosphorescent paint that still covered them.
"Ambrose," she whispered, "Ah wasn't scaired. No ghos' eber was bohn
dat had han's de size ob yo' feet!"
An embarrassed silence followed; the gas jet flickered weakly; then
Ambrose said: "Untie mah han's, Aphrodite--Ah'd jes' lak to hug you!"
"Oh, Ambrose," she cried coyly. But she untied the rope just the same.
Again came silence, broken only by a certain strange sound. Then
Ambrose's voice came softly through the gloom: "Aphrodite," it said,
"yo' lips am jes' lak plush!"
THE JUDGMENT OF VULCAN
BY LEE FOSTER HARTMAN
From _Harper's Monthly Magazine_
To dine on the veranda of the Marine Hotel is the one delightful
surprise which Port Charlotte affords the adventurer who has broken
from the customary paths of travel in the South Seas. On an eminence
above the town, solitary and aloof like a monastery, and deep in its
garden of lemon-trees, it commands a wide prospect of sea and sky.
By day, the Pacific is a vast stretch of blue, flat like a floor,
with a blur of distant islands on the horizon--chief among them
Muloa, with its single volcanic cone tapering off into the sky. At
night, this smithy of Vulcan becomes a glow of red, throbbing
faintly against the darkness, a capricious and sullen beacon
immeasurably removed from the path of men. Viewed from the veranda
of the Marine Hotel, its vast flare on the horizon seems hardly more
than an insignificant spark, like the glowing cigar-end of some guest
strolling in the garden after dinner.
It may very likely have been my lighted cigar that guided Eleanor
Stanleigh to where I was sitting in the shadows. Her uncle, Major
Stanleigh, had left me a few minutes before, and I was glad of the
respite from the queer business he had involved me in. The two of
us had returned that afternoon from Muloa, where I had taken him
in my schooner, the _Sylph_, to seek out Leavitt and make some
inquiries--very important inquiries, it seemed, in Miss Stanleigh's
Three days in Muloa, under the shadow of the grim and flame-throated
mountain, while I was forced to listen to Major Stanleigh's
persistent questionnaire and Leavitt's erratic and garrulous
responses--all this, as I was to discover later, at the instigation
of the Major's niece--had made me frankly curious about the girl.
I had seen her only once, and then at a distance across the veranda,
one night when I had been dining there with a friend; but that
single vision of her remained vivid and unforgettable--a tall girl of
a slender shapeliness, crowned by a mass of reddish-gold hair that
smoldered above the clear olive pallor of her skin. With that
flawless and brilliant colouring she was marked for observation--had
doubtless been schooled to a perfect indifference to it, for the slow,
almost indolent, grace of her movements was that of a woman coldly
unmindful of the gazes lingering upon her. She could not have been
more than twenty-six or -seven, but I got an unmistakable impression
of weariness or balked purpose emanating from her in spite of her
youth and glorious physique. I looked up to see her crossing the
veranda to join her uncle and aunt--correct, well-to-do English
people that one placed instantly--and my stare was only one of many
that followed her as she took her seat and threw aside the light
scarf that swathed her bare and gleaming shoulders.
My companion, who happened to be the editor of the local paper,
promptly informed me regarding her name and previous residence--the
gist of some "social item" which he had already put into print; but
these meant nothing, and I could only wonder what had brought her to
such an out-of-the-way part of the world as Port Charlotte. She did
not seem like a girl who was traveling with her uncle and aunt;
one got rather the impression that she was bent on a mission of her
own and was dragging her relatives along because the conventions
demanded it. I hazarded to my companion the notion that a woman like
Miss Stanleigh could have but one of two purposes in this lonely part
of the world--she was fleeing from a lover or seeking one.
"In that case," rejoined my friend, with the cynical shrug of the
newspaper man, "she has very promptly succeeded. It's whispered that
she is going to marry Joyce--of Malduna Island, you know. Only met
him a fortnight ago. Quite a romance, I'm told."
I lifted my eyebrows at that, and looked again at Miss Stanleigh.
Just at that instant she happened to look up. It was a wholly
indifferent gaze; I am confident that she was no more aware of me
than if I had been one of the veranda posts which her eyes bad
chanced to encounter. But in the indescribable sensation of that
moment I felt that here was a woman who bore a secret burden,
although, as my informing host put it, her heart had romantically
found its haven only two weeks ago.
She was endeavouring to get trace of a man named Farquharson, as I
was permitted to learn a few days later. Ostensibly, it was Major
Stanleigh who was bent on locating this young Englishman--Miss
Stanleigh's interest in the quest was guardedly withheld--and the
trail had led them a pretty chase around the world until some clue,
which I never clearly understood, brought them to Port Charlotte.
The major's immediate objective was an eccentric chap named Leavitt
who had marooned himself in Muloa. The island offered an ideal
retreat for one bent on shunning his own kind, if he did not object
to the close proximity of a restive volcano. Clearly, Leavitt did not.
He had a scientific interest in the phenomena exhibited by volcanic
regions and was versed in geological lore, but the rumours about
Leavitt--practically no one ever visited Muloa--did not stop at that.
And, as Major Stanleigh and I were to discover, the fellow seemed to
have developed a genuine affection for Lakalatcha, as the smoking
cone was called by the natives of the adjoining islands. From long
association he had come to know its whims and moods as one comes to
know those of a petulant woman one lives with. It was a bizarre and
preposterous intimacy, in which Leavitt seemed to find a wholly
acceptable substitute for human society, and there was something
repellant about the man's eccentricity. He had various names for the
smoking cone that towered a mile or more above his head: "Old
Flame-eater," or "Lava-spitter," he would at times familiarly and
irreverently call it; or, again, "The Maiden Who Never Sleeps," or
"The Single-breasted Virgin"--these last, however, always in the
musical Malay equivalent. He had no end of names--romantic, splenetic,
of opprobrium, or outright endearment--to suit, I imagine,
Lakalatcha's varying moods. In one respect they puzzled me--they
were of conflicting genders, some feminine and some masculine, as if
in Leavitt's loose-frayed imagination the mountain that beguiled his
days and disturbed his nights were hermaphroditic.
Leavitt as a source of information regarding the missing Farquharson
seemed preposterous when one reflected how out of touch with the
world he had been, but, to my astonishment, Major Stanleigh's clue
was right, for he had at last stumbled upon a man who had known
Farquharson well and who was voluminous about him--quite willingly so.
With the _Sylph_ at anchor, we lay off Muloa for three nights, and
Leavitt gave us our fill of Farquharson, along with innumerable
digressions about volcanoes, neoplatonism, the Single Tax, and what
not. There was no keeping Leavitt to a coherent narrative about the
missing Farquharson. He was incapable of it, and Major Stanleigh and
myself had simply to wait in patience while Leavitt, delighted to
have an audience, dumped out for us the fantastic contents of his
mind, odd vagaries, recondite trash, and all. He was always getting
away from Farquharson, but, then, he was unfailingly bound to come
back to him. We had only to wait and catch the solid grains that now
and then fell in the winnowing of that unending stream of chaff. It
was a tedious and exasperating process, but it had its compensations.
At times Leavitt could be as uncannily brilliant as he was dull and
boresome. The conviction grew upon me that he had become a little
demented, as if his brain had been tainted by the sulphurous fumes
exhaled by the smoking crater above his head. His mind smoked,
flickered, and flared like an unsteady lamp, blown upon by choking
gases, in which the oil had run low.
But of the wanderer Farquharson he spoke with precision and authority,
for he had shared with Farquharson his bungalow there in Muloa--a
period of about six months, it seemed--and there Farquharson had
contracted a tropic fever and died.
"Well, at last we have got all the facts," Major Stanleigh sighed
with satisfaction when the _Sylph_ was heading back to Port Charlotte.
Muloa, lying astern, we were no longer watching. Leavitt, at the
water's edge, had waved us a last good-by and had then abruptly
turned back into the forest, very likely to go clambering like a
demented goat up the flanks of his beloved volcano and to resume
poking about in its steaming fissures--an occupation of which he
"The evidence is conclusive, don't you think?--the grave,
Farquharson's personal effects, those pages of the poor devil's diary."
I nodded assent. In my capacity as owner of the _Sylph_ I had merely
undertaken to furnish Major Stanleigh with passage to Muloa and back,
but the events of the last three days had made me a party to the
many conferences, and I was now on terms of something like intimacy
with the rather stiff and pompous English gentleman. How far I was
from sharing his real confidence I was to discover later when Eleanor
Stanleigh gave me hers.
"My wife and niece will be much relieved to hear all this--a family
matter, you understand, Mr. Barnaby," he had said to me when we
landed. "I should like to present you to them before we leave Port
Charlotte for home."
But, as it turned out, it was Eleanor Stanleigh who presented herself,
coming upon me quite unexpectedly that night after our return while
I sat smoking in the shadowy garden of the Marine Hotel. I had dined
with the major, after he had explained that the ladies were worn out
by the heat and general developments of the day and had begged to be
excused. And I was frankly glad not to have to endure another
discussion of the deceased Farquharson, of which I was heartily
tired after hearing little else for the last three days. I could not
help wondering how the verbose and pompous major had paraphrased and
condensed that inchoate mass of biography and reminiscence into an
orderly account for his wife and niece. He had doubtless devoted the
whole afternoon to it. Sitting under the cool green of the
lemon-trees, beneath a sky powdered with stars, I reflected that I,
at least, was done with Farquharson forever. But I was not, for just
then Eleanor Stanleigh appeared before me.
I was startled to hear her addressing me by name, and then calmly
begging me to resume my seat on the bench under the arbor. She sat
down also, her flame-coloured hair and bare shoulders gleaming in
the darkness. She was the soul of directness and candour, and after
a thoughtful, searching look into my face she came to the point at
once. She wanted to hear about Farquharson--from me.
"Of course, my uncle has given me a very full account of what he
learned from Mr. Leavitt, and yet many things puzzle me--this
Mr. Leavitt most of all."
"A queer chap," I epitomized him. "Frankly, I don't quite make him
out, Miss Stanleigh--marooning himself on that infernal island and
seemingly content to spend his days there."
"Is he so old?" she caught me up quickly.
"No, he isn't," I reflected. "Of course, it's difficult to judge
ages out here. The climate, you know. Leavitt's well under forty, I
should say. But that's a most unhealthy spot he has chosen to live in."
"Why does he stay there?"
I explained about the volcano. "You can have no idea what an
obsession it is with him. There isn't a square foot of its steaming,
treacherous surface that he hasn't been over, mapping new fissures,
poking into old lava-beds, delving into the crater itself on
"Isn't it dangerous?"
"In a way, yes. The volcano itself is harmless enough. It smokes
unpleasantly now and then, splutters and rumbles as if about to
obliterate all creation, but for all its bluster it only manages to
spill a trickle or two of fresh lava down its sides--just tamely
subsides after deluging Leavitt with a shower of cinders and ashes.
But Leavitt won't leave it alone. He goes poking into the very crater,
half strangling himself in its poisonous fumes, scorching the shoes
off his feet, and once, I believe, he lost most of his hair and
eyebrows--a narrow squeak. He throws his head back and laughs at any
word of caution. To my notion, it's foolhardy to push a scientific
curiosity to that extreme."
"Is it, then, just scientific curiosity?" mused Miss Stanleigh.
Something in her tone made me stop short. Her eyes had lifted to
mine--almost appealingly, I fancied. Her innocence, her candour, her
warm beauty, which was like a pale phosphorescence in the starlit
darkness--all had their potent effect upon me in that moment. I felt
impelled to a sudden burst of confidence.
"At times I wonder. I've caught a look in his eyes, when he's been
down on his hands and knees, staring into some infernal vent-hole--a
look that is--well, uncanny, as if he were peering into the bowels
of the earth for something quite outside the conceptions of science.
You might think that volcano had worked some spell over him, turned
his mind. He prattles to it or storms at it as if it were a living
creature. Queer, yes; and he's impressive, too, with a sort of
magnetic personality that attracts and repels you violently at the
same time. He's like a cake of ice dipped in alcohol and set aflame.
I can't describe him. When he talks--"
"Does he talk about himself?"
I had to confess that he had told us practically not a word. He had
discussed everything under heaven in his brilliant, erratic way,
with a fleer of cynicism toward it all, but he had left himself out
completely. He had given us Farquharson with relish, and in infinite
detail, from the time the poor fellow first turned up in Muloa, put
ashore by a native craft. Talking about Farquharson was second only
to his delight in talking about volcanoes. And the result for me had
been innumerable vivid but confused impressions of the young
Englishman who had by chance invaded Leavitt's solitude and had
lingered there, held by some attraction, until he sickened and died.
It was like a jumbled mosaic put together again by inexpert hands.
"Did you get the impression that the two men had very much in common?"
"Quite the contrary," I answered. "But Major Stanleigh should know--"
"My uncle never met Mr. Farquharson."
I was fairly taken aback at that, and a silence fell between us. It
was impossible to divine the drift of her questions. It was as if
some profound mistrust weighed upon her and she was not so much
seeking to interrogate me as she was groping blindly for some chance
word of mine that might illuminate her doubts.
I looked at the girl in silent wonder, yes, and in admiration of her
bronze and ivory beauty in the full flower of her glorious
youth--and I thought of Joyce. I felt that it was like her to have
fallen in love simply but passionately at the mere lifting of the
finger of Fate. It was only another demonstration of the
unfathomable mystery, or miracle, which love is. Joyce was lucky,
indeed favoured of the gods, to have touched the spring in this
girl's heart which no other man could reach, and by the rarest of
chances--her coming out to this remote corner of the world. Lucky
Joyce! I knew him slightly--a straightforward young fellow, very
simple and whole-souled, enthusiastically absorbed in developing his
rubber lands in Malduna.
Miss Stanleigh remained lost in thought while her fingers toyed with
the pendant of the chain that she wore. In the darkness I caught the
glitter of a small gold cross.
"My. Barnaby," she finally broke the silence, and paused. "I have
decided to tell you something. This Mr. Farquharson was my husband."
Again a silence fell, heavy and prolonged, in which I sat as if
drugged by the night air that hung soft and perfumed about us. It
seemed incredible that in that fleeting instant she had spoken at all.
"I was young--and very foolish, I suppose."
With that confession, spoken with simple dignity, she broke off again.
Clearly, some knowledge of the past she deemed it necessary to
impart to me. If she halted over her words, it was rather to dismiss
what was irrelevant to the matter in hand, in which she sought my
"I did not see him for four years--did not wish to.... And he
vanished completely.... Four years!--just a welcome blank!"
Her shoulders lifted and a little shiver went over her.
"But even a blank like that can become unendurable. To be always
dragging at a chain, and not knowing where it leads to...." Her
hand slipped from the gold cross on her breast and fell to the other
in her lap, which it clutched tightly. "Four years.... I tried to
make myself believe that he was gone forever--was dead. It was
wicked of me."
My murmur of polite dissent led her to repeat her words.
"Yes, and even worse than that. During the past month I have
actually prayed that he might be dead.... I shall be punished for it."
I ventured no rejoinder to these words of self-condemnation. Joyce,
I reflected, mundanely, had clearly swept her off her feet in the
ardour of their first meeting and instant love.
"It must be a great relief to you," I murmured at length, "to have
it all definitely settled at last."
"If I could only feel that it was!"
I turned in amazement, to see her leaning a little forward, her
hands still tightly clasped in her lap, and her eyes fixed upon the
distant horizon where the red spark of Lakalatcha's stertorous
breathing flamed and died away. Her breast rose and fell, as if
timed to the throbbing of that distant flare. "I want you to take me
to that island--to-morrow."
"Why, surely, Miss Stanleigh," I burst forth, "there can't be any
reasonable doubt. Leavitt's mind may be a little flighty--he may
have embroidered his story with a few gratuitous details; but
Farquharson's books and things--the material evidence of his having
"And having died there?"
"Surely Leavitt wouldn't have fabricated that! If you had talked
"I should not care to talk with Mr. Leavitt," Miss Stanleigh cut me
short. "I want only to go and see--if he _is_ Mr. Leavitt."
"If he _is_ Mr. Leavitt!" For a moment I was mystified, and then in
a sudden flash I understood. "But that's pre-posterous--impossible!"
I tried to conceive of Leavitt in so monstrous a role, tried to
imagine the missing Farquharson still in the flesh and beguiling
Major Stanleigh and myself with so outlandish a story, devising all
that ingenious detail to trick us into a belief in his own death. It
would indeed have argued a warped mind, guided by some unfathomable
"I devoutly hope you are right," Miss Stanleigh was saying, with
deliberation. "But it is not preposterous, and it is not
impossible--if you had known Mr. Farquharson as I have."
It was a discreet confession. She wished me to understand--without
the necessity of words. My surmise was that she had met and married
Farquharson, whoever he was, under the spell of some momentary
infatuation, and that he had proved himself to be an unspeakable
brute whom she had speedily abandoned.
"I am determined to go to Muloa, Mr. Barnaby," she announced, with
decision. "I want you to make the arrangements, and with as much
secrecy as possible. I shall ask my aunt to go with me."
I assured Miss Stanleigh that the _Sylph_ was at her service.
Mrs. Stanleigh was a large bland woman, inclined to stoutness and to
making confidences, with an intense dislike of the tropics and
physical discomforts of any sort. How her niece prevailed upon her
to make that surreptitious trip to Muloa, which we set out upon two
days later, I have never been able to imagine. The accommodations
aboard the schooner were cramped, to say the least, and the good
lady had a perfect horror of volcanoes. The fact that Lakalatcha had
behind it a record of a century or more of good conduct did not
weigh with her in the least. She was convinced that it would blow
its head off the moment the _Sylph_ got within range. She was fidgety,
talkative, and continually concerned over the state of her complexion,
inspecting it in the mirror of her bag at frequent intervals and
using a powder-puff liberally to mitigate the pernicious effects of
the tropic sun. But once having been induced to make the voyage, I
must admit she stuck manfully by her decision, ensconcing herself on
deck with books and cushions and numerous other necessities to her
comfort, and making the best of the sleeping quarters below. As the
captain of the _Sylph_, she wanted me to understand that she had
intrusted her soul to my charge, declaring that she would not draw
an easy breath until we were safe again in Port Charlotte.
"This dreadful business of Eleanor's," was the way she referred to
our mission, and she got round quite naturally to telling me of
Farquharson while acquainting me with her fears about volcanoes.
Some years before, Pompeii and Herculaneum had had a most unsettling
effect upon her nerves. Vesuvius was slightly in eruption at the time.
She confessed to never having had an easy moment while in Naples. And
it was in Naples that her niece and Farquharson had met. It had been,
as I surmised, a swift, romantic courtship, in which Farquharson,
quite irreproachable in antecedents and manners, had played the part
of an impetuous lover. Italian skies had done the rest. There was an
immediate marriage, in spite of Mrs. Stanleigh's protests, and the
young couple were off on a honeymoon trip by themselves. But when
Mrs. Stanleigh rejoined her husband at Nice, and together they
returned to their home in Sussex, a surprise was in store for them.
Eleanor was already there--alone, crushed, and with lips absolutely
sealed. She had divested herself of everything that linked her to
Farquharson; she refused to adopt her married name.
"I shall bless every saint in heaven when we have quite done with
this dreadful business of Eleanor's," Mrs. Stanleigh confided to me
from her deck-chair. "This trip that she insists on making herself
seems quite uncalled for. But you needn't think, Captain Barnaby,
that I'm going to set foot on that dreadful island--not even for the
satisfaction of seeing Mr. Farquharson's grave--and I'm shameless
enough to say that it _would_ be a satisfaction. If you could
imagine the tenth part of what I have had to put up with, all these
months we've been traveling about trying to locate the wretch! No,
indeed--I shall stay right here on this boat and entrust Eleanor to
your care while ashore. And I should not think it ought to take long,
now should it?"
I confessed aloud that I did not see how it could. If by any chance
the girl's secret conjecture about Leavitt's identity was right, it
would be verified in the mere act of coming face to face with him,
and in that event it would be just as well to spare the unsuspecting
aunt the shock of that discovery.
We reached Muloa just before nightfall, letting go the anchor in
placid water under the lee of the shore while the _Sylph_ swung to
and the sails fluttered and fell. A vast hush lay over the world.
From the shore the dark green of the forest confronted us with no
sound or sign of life. Above, and at this close distance blotting
out half the sky over our heads, towered the huge cone of Lakalatcha
with scarred and blackened flanks. It was in one of its querulous
moods. The feathery white plume of steam, woven by the wind into soft,
fantastic shapes, no longer capped the crater; its place had been
usurped by thick, dark fumes of smoke swirling sullenly about. In
the fading light I marked the red, malignant glow of a fissure newly
broken out in the side of the ragged cone, from which came a thin,
white trickle of lava.
There was no sign of Leavitt, although the _Sylph_ must have been
visible to him for several hours, obviously making for the island. I
fancied that he must have been unusually absorbed in the vagaries of
his beloved volcano. Otherwise he would have wondered what was
bringing us back again and his tall figure in shabby white drill
would have greeted us from the shore. Instead, there confronted us
only the belt of dark, matted green girdling the huge bulk of
Lakalatcha which soared skyward, sinister, mysterious, eternal.
In the brief twilight the shore vanished into dim obscurity.
Miss Stanleigh, who for the last hour had been standing by the rail,
silently watching the island, at last spoke to me over her shoulder:
"Is it far inland--the place? Will it be difficult to find in the
Her question staggered me, for she was clearly bent on seeking out
Leavitt at once. A strange calmness overlay her. She paid no heed to
Lakalatcha's gigantic, smoke-belching cone, but, with fingers
gripping the rail, scanned the forbidding and inscrutable forest,
behind which lay the answer to her torturing doubt.
I acceded to her wish without protest. Leavitt's bungalow lay a
quarter of a mile distant. There would be no difficulty in following
the path. I would have a boat put over at once, I announced in a
casual way which belied my real feelings, for I was beginning to
share some of her own secret tension at this night invasion of
This feeling deepened within me as we drew near the shore. Leavitt's
failure to appear seemed sinister and enigmatic. I began to evolve a
fantastic image of him as I recalled his queer ways and his uncanny
tricks of speech. It was as if we were seeking out the presiding
deity of the island, who had assumed the guise of a Caliban holding
unearthly sway over its unnatural processes.
With Williams, the boatswain, carrying a lantern, we pushed into the
brush, following the choked trail that led to Leavitt's abode. But
the bungalow, when we had reached the clearing and could discern the
outlines of the building against the masses of the forest, was dark
and deserted. As we mounted the veranda, the loose boards creaked
hollowly under our tread; the doorway, from which depended a
tattered curtain of coarse burlap, gaped black and empty.
The lantern, lifted high in the boatswain's hand, cleft at a stroke
the darkness within. On the writing-table, cluttered with papers and
bits of volcanic rock, stood a bottle and half-empty glass. Things
lay about in lugubrious disorder, as if the place had been hurriedly
ransacked by a thief. Some of the geological specimens had tumbled
from the table to the floor, and stray sheets of Leavitt's
manuscripts lay under his chair. Leavitt's books, ranged on shelving
against the wall, alone seemed undisturbed. Upon the top of the
shelving stood two enormous stuffed birds, moldering and decrepit,
regarding the sudden illumination with unblinking, bead-like eyes.
Between them a small dancing faun in greenish bronze tripped a
Bacchic measure with head thrown back in a transport of derisive
For a long moment the three of us faced the silent, disordered room,
in which the little bronze faun alone seemed alive, convulsed with
diabolical mirth at our entrance. Somehow it recalled to me
Leavitt's own cynical laugh. Suddenly Miss Stanleigh made toward the
photographs above the bookshelves.
"This is he," she said, taking up one of the faded prints.
"Yes--Leavitt," I answered.
"_Leavitt_?" Her fingers tightened upon the photograph. Then,
abruptly, it fell to the floor. "Yes, yes--of course." Her eyes
closed very slowly, as if an extreme weakness had seized her.
In the shock of that moment I reached out to support her, but she
checked my hand. Her gray eyes opened again. A shudder visibly went
over her, as if the night air had suddenly become chill. From the
shelf the two stuffed birds regarded us dolefully, while the dancing
faun, with head thrown back in an attitude of immortal art, laughed
"Where is he? I must speak to him," said Miss Stanleigh.
"One might think he were deliberately hiding," I muttered, for I was
at a loss to account for Leavitt's absence.
"Then find him," the girl commanded. I cut short my speculations to
direct Williams to search the hut in the rear of the bungalow, where,
behind bamboo palings, Leavitt's Malay servant maintained an aloof
and mysterious existence. I sat down beside Miss Stanleigh on the
veranda steps to find my hands sooty from the touch of the boards. A
fine volcanic ash was evidently drifting in the air, and now to my
ear, attuned to the profound stillness, the wind bore a faint
"Do you hear that?" I whispered. It was like the far-off murmur of a
gigantic caldron, softly a-boil--a dull vibration that seemed to
reach us through the ground as well as through the air.
The girl listened a moment, and then started up. "I hear
"Voices?" I strained my ears for sounds other than the insistent
ferment of the great cone above our heads. "Perhaps Leavitt----"
"Why do you still call him Leavitt?"
"Then you're quite certain----" I began, but an involuntary
exclamation from her cut me short.
The light of Williams's lantern, emerging from behind the bamboo
palings, disclosed the burly form of the boatswain with a shrinking
Malay in tow. He was jabbering in his native tongue, with much
gesticulation of his thin arms, and going into contortions at every
dozen paces in a sort of pantomime to emphasize his words. Williams
urged him along unceremoniously to the steps of the veranda.
"Perhaps you can get the straight of this, Mr. Barnaby," said the
boatswain. "He swears that the flame-devil in the volcano has
swallowed his master alive."
The poor fellow seemed indeed in a state of complete funk. With his
thin legs quaking under him, he poured forth in Malay a crazed,
distorted tale. According to Wadakimba, Leavitt--or Farquharson, to
give him his real name--had awakened the high displeasure of the
flame-devil within the mountain. Had we not observed that the cone
was smoking furiously? And the dust and heavy taint of sulphur in
the air? Surely we could feel the very tremor of the ground under
our feet. All that day the enraged monster had been spouting mud and
lava down upon the white _tuan_ who had remained in the bungalow,
drinking heavily and bawling out maledictions upon his enemy. At
length, in spite of Wadakimba's efforts to dissuade him, he had set
out to climb to the crater, vowing to show the flame-devil who was
master. He had compelled the terrified Wadakimba to go with him a
part of the way. The white _tuan_--was he really a god, as he
declared himself to be?--had gone alone up the tortuous, fissured
slopes, at times lost to sight in yellowish clouds of gas and steam,
while his screams and threats of vengeance came back to Wadakimba's
ears. Overhead, Lakalatcha continued to rumble and quiver and clear
his throat with great showers of mud and stones.
Farquharson must have indeed parted with his reason to have attempted
that grotesque sally. Listening to Wadakimba's tale, I pictured the
crazed man, scorched to tatters, heedless of bruises and burns,
scrambling up that difficult and perilous ascent, and hurling his
ridiculous blasphemy into the flares of smoke and steam that issued
from that vast caldron lit by subterranean fires. At its simmering
the whole island trembled. A mere whiff of the monster's breath and
he would have been snuffed out, annihilated in an instant. According
to Wadakimba, the end had indeed come in that fashion. It was as if
the mountain had suddenly given a deep sigh. The blast had carried
away solid rock. A sheet of flame had licked the spot where
Farquharson had been hurled headlong, and he was not.
Wadakimba, viewing all this from afar, had scuttled off to his hut.
Later he had ventured back to the scene of the tragedy. He had
picked up Farquharson's scorched helmet, which had been blown off to
some distance, and he also exhibited a pair of binoculars washed
down by the tide of lava, scarred and twisted by the heat, from
which the lenses had melted away.
I translated for Miss Stanleigh briefly, while she stood turning
over in her hands the twisted and blackened binoculars, which were
still warm. She heard me through without question or comment, and
when I proposed that we get back to the _Sylph_ at once, mindful of
her aunt's distressed nerves, she assented with a nod. She seemed to
have lost the power of speech. In a daze she followed as I led the
way back through the forest.
* * * * *
Major Stanleigh and his wife deferred their departure for England
until their niece should be properly married to Joyce. At Eleanor's
wish, it was a very simple affair, and as Joyce's bride she was as
eager to be off to his rubber-plantation in Malduna as he was to set
her up there as mistress of his household. I had agreed to give them
passage on the _Sylph_, since the next sailing of the mail-boat would
have necessitated a further fortnight's delay.
Mrs. Stanleigh, with visions of seeing England again, and profoundly
grateful to a benevolent Providence that had not only brought
"this dreadful business of Eleanor's" to a happy termination, but
had averted Lakalatcha's baptism of fire from descending upon her
own head, thanked me profusely and a little tearfully. It was during
the general chorus of farewells at the last moment before the
_Sylph_ cast off. Her last appeal, cried after us from the wharf
where she stood frantically waving a wet handkerchief, was that I
should give Muloa a wide berth.
It brought a laugh from Joyce. He had discovered the good lady's
extreme perturbation in regard to Lakalatcha, and had promptly
declared for spending a day there with his bride. It was an
exceptional opportunity to witness the volcano in its active mood.
Each time that Joyce had essayed this teasing pleasantry, which
never failed to draw Mrs. Stanleigh's protests, I observed that his
wife remained silent. I assumed that she had decided to keep her own
counsel in regard to the trip she had made there.
"I'm trusting you not to take Eleanor near that dreadful island,
Mr. Barnaby," was the admonition shouted across the widening gap of
It was a quite unnecessary appeal, for Joyce, who was presently
sitting with his wife in a sheltered quarter of the deck, had not
the slightest interest in the smoking cone which was as yet a mere
smudge upon the horizon. Eleanor, with one hand in Joyce's possession,
at times watched it with a seemingly vast apathy until some ardent
word from Joyce would draw her eyes back to his and she would lift
to him a smile that was like a caress. The look of weariness and
balked purpose that had once marked her expression had vanished. In
the week since she had married Joyce she seemed to have grown
younger and to be again standing on the very threshold of life with
girlish eagerness. She hung on Joyce's every word, communing with
him hour after hour, utterly content, indifferent to all the world
In the cabin that evening at dinner, when the two of them deigned to
take polite cognizance of my existence, I announced to Joyce that I
proposed to hug the island pretty close during the night. It would
save considerable time.
"Just as you like, Captain," Joyce replied, indifferently.
"We may get a shower of ashes by doing so, if the wind should shift."
I looked across the table at Mrs. Joyce.
"But we shall reach Malduna that much sooner?" she queried.
I nodded. "However, if you feel any uneasiness, I'll give the island
a wide berth." I didn't like the idea of dragging her--the bride of
a week--past that place with its unspeakable memories, if it should
really distress her.
Her eyes thanked me silently across the table. "It's very kind of you,
but"--she chose her words with significant deliberation--"I haven't
a fear in the world, Mr. Barnaby."
Evening had fallen when we came up on deck. Joyce bethought himself
of some cigars in his stateroom and went back. For the moment I was
alone with his wife by the rail, watching the stars beginning to
prick through the darkening sky. The _Sylph_ was running smoothly,
with the wind almost aft; the scud of water past her bows and the
occasional creak of a block aloft were the only sounds audible in the
silence that lay like a benediction upon the sea.
"You may think it unfeeling of me," she began, quite abruptly,
"but all this past trouble of mine, now that it is ended, I have
completely dismissed. Already it begins to seem like a horrid dream.
And as for that island"--her eyes looked off toward Muloa now
impending upon us and lighting up the heavens with its sullen flare--
"it seems incredible that I ever set foot upon it.
"Perhaps you understand," she went on, after a pause, "that I have
not told my husband. But I have not deceived him. He knows that I
was once married, and that the man is no longer living. He does not
wish to know more. Of course he is aware that Uncle Geoffrey came
out here to--to see a Mr. Leavitt, a matter which he has no idea
concerned me. He thanks the stars for whatever it was that did bring
us out here, for otherwise he would not have met me."
"It has turned out most happily," I murmured.
"It was almost disaster. After meeting Mr. Joyce--and I was weak
enough to let myself become engaged--to have discovered that I was
still chained to a living creature like that.... I should have
"But surely the courts--"
She shook her head with decision. "My church does not recognize that
sort of freedom."
We were drawing steadily nearer to Muloa. The mountain was breathing
slowly and heavily--a vast flare that lifted fanlike in the skies
and died away. Lightning played fitfully through the dense mass of
smoke and choking gases that hung like a pall over the great cone.
It was like the night sky that overhangs a city of gigantic
blast-furnaces, only infinitely multiplied. The sails of the _Sylph_
caught the ruddy tinge like a phantom craft gliding through the black
night, its canvas still dyed with the sunset glow. The faces of the
crew, turned to watch the spectacle, curiously fixed and inhuman,
were picked out of the gloom by the same fantastic light. It was as
if the schooner, with masts and riggings etched black against the
lurid sky, sailed on into the Day of Judgment.
* * * * *
It was after midnight. The _Sylph_ came about, with sails trembling,
and lost headway. Suddenly she vibrated from stem to stern, and with
a soft grating sound that was unmistakable came to rest. We were
aground in what should have been clear water, with the forest-clad
shore of Muloa lying close off to port.
The helmsman turned to me with a look of silly fright on his face,
as the wheel revolved useless in his hands. We had shelved with
scarcely a jar sufficient to disturb those sleeping below, but in a
twinkling Jackson, the mate, appeared on deck in his pajamas, and
after a swift glance toward the familiar shore turned to me with the
same dumfounded look that had frozen upon the face of the steersman.
"What do you make of this?" he exclaimed, as I called for the lead.
"Be quiet about it," I said to the hands that had started into
movement. "Look sharp now, and make no noise." Then I turned to the
mate, who was perplexedly rubbing one bare foot against the other
and measuring with his eye our distance from the shore. The _Sylph_
should have turned the point of the island without mishap, as she
had done scores of times.
"It's the volcano we have to thank for this," was my conjecture.
"Its recent activity has caused some displacement of the sea bottom."
Jackson's head went back in sudden comprehension. "It's a miracle
you didn't plow into it under full sail."
We had indeed come about in the very nick of time to avoid disaster.
As matters stood I was hopeful. "With any sort of luck we ought to
float clear with the tide."
The mate cocked a doubtful eye at Lakalatcha, uncomfortably close
above our heads, flaming at intervals and bathing the deck with an
angry glare of light. "If she should begin spitting up a little
livelier ..." he speculated with a shrug, and presently took
himself off to his bunk after an inspection below had shown that
none of the schooner's seams had started. There was nothing to do
but to wait for the tide to make and lift the vessel clear. It would
be a matter of three or four hours. I dismissed the helmsman; and the
watch forward, taking advantage of the respite from duty, were soon
recumbent in attitudes of heavy sleep.
The wind had died out and a heavy torpor lay upon the water. It was
as if the stars alone held to their slow courses above a world rigid
and inanimate. The _Sylph_ lay with a slight list, her spars looking
inexpressibly helpless against the sky, and, as the minutes dragged,
a fine volcanic ash, like some mortal pestilence exhaled by the
monster cone, settled down upon the deck, where, forward in the
shadow, the watch lay curled like dead men.
Alone, I paced back and forth--countless soft-footed miles, it seemed,
through interminable hours, until at length some obscure impulse
prompted me to pause before the open sky-light over the cabin and
thrust my head down. A lamp above the dining-table, left to burn
through the night, feebly illuminated the room. A faint snore issued
at regular intervals from the half-open door of the mate's stateroom.
The door of Joyce's stateroom opposite was also upon the hook for
the sake of air.
Suddenly a soft thump against the side of the schooner, followed by
a scrambling noise, made me turn round. The dripping, bedraggled
figure of a man in a sleeping-suit mounted the rope ladder that hung
over the side, and paused, grasping the rail. I had withdrawn my
gaze so suddenly from the glow of the light in the cabin that for
several moments the intruder from out of the sea was only a blurred
form with one leg hung over the rail, where he hung as if spent by
Just then the sooty vapours above the edged maw of the volcano were
rent by a flare of crimson, and in the fleeting instant of unnatural
daylight I beheld Farquharson, bare-footed, and dripping with
sea-water, confronting me with a sardonic, triumphant smile. The
light faded in a twinkling, but in the darkness he swung his other
leg over the rail and sat perched there, as if challenging the
testimony of my senses.
"Farquharson!" I breathed aloud, utterly dumfounded.
"Did you think I was a ghost?" I could hear him softly laughing to
himself in the interval that followed. "You should have witnessed
Wadakimba's fright at my coming back from the dead. Well, I'll admit
I almost was done for."
Again the volcano breathed in torment. It was like the sudden
opening of a gigantic blast-furnace, and in that instant I saw him
vividly--his thin, saturnine face, his damp black hair pushed
sleekly back, his lips twisted to a cruel smile, his eyes craftily
alert, as if to some ambushed danger continually at hand. He was
watching me with a sort of malicious relish in the shock he had
"It was not your intention to stop at Muloa," he observed, dryly,
for the plight of the schooner was obvious.
"We'll float clear with the tide," I muttered.
"But in the meantime"--there was something almost menacing in his
deliberate pause--"I have the pleasure of this little call upon you."
A head lifted from among the inert figures and sleepily regarded us
before it dropped back into the shadows. The stranded ship, the
recumbent men, the mountain flaming overhead--it was like a phantom
world into which had been suddenly thrust this ghastly and
"Whatever possessed you to swim out here in the middle of the night?"
I demanded, in a harsh whisper.
He chose to ignore the question, while I waited in a chill of
suspense. It was inconceivable that he could be aware of the truth
of the situation and deliberately bent on forcing it to its
unspeakable, tragic issue.
"Of late, Captain Barnaby, we seem to have taken to visiting each
other rather frequently, don't you think?"
It was lightly tossed off, but not without its evil implication; and
I felt his eyes intently fixed upon me as he sat hunched up on the
rail in his sodden sleeping-suit, like some huge, ill-omened bird of
To get rid of him, to obliterate the horrible fact that he still
existed in the flesh, was the instinctive impulse of my staggered
brain. But the peril of discovery, the chance that those sleeping
below might waken and hear us, held me in a vise of indecision.
"If I could bring myself to reproach you, Captain," he went on,
ironically polite, "I might protest that your last visit to this
island savoured of a too-inquisitive intrusion. You'll pardon my
frankness. I had convinced you and Major Stanleigh that Farquharson
was dead. To the world at large that should have sufficed. That I
choose to remain alive is my own affair. Your sudden return to
Muloa--with a lady--would have upset everything, if Fate and that
inspired fool of a Malay had not happily intervened. But now, surely,
there can be no doubt that I am dead?"
I nodded assent in a dumb, helpless way.
"And I have a notion that even you, Captain Barnaby, will never
dispute that fact."
He threw back his head suddenly--for all the world like the dancing
faun--and laughed silently at the stars.
My tongue was dry in my mouth as I tried to make some rejoinder. He
baffled me completely, and meanwhile I was in a tingle of fear lest
the mate should come up on deck to see what progress the tide had
made, or lest the sound of our voices might waken the girl in
"I can promise you that," I attempted to assure him in weak,
sepulchral tones. "And now, if you like, I'll put you ashore in the
small boat. You must be getting chilly in that wet sleeping-suit."
"As a matter of fact I am, and I was wondering if you would not
offer me something to drink."
"You shall have a bottle to take along," I promised, with alacrity,
but he demurred.
"There is no sociability in that. And you seem very lonesome
here--stuck for two more hours at least. Come, Captain, fetch your
bottle and we will share it together."
He got down from the rail, stretched his arms lazily above his head,
and dropped into one of the deck chairs that had been placed aft for
the convenience of my two passengers.
"And cigars, too, Captain," he suggested, with a politeness that was
almost impertinence. "We'll have a cozy hour or two out of this
tedious wait for the tide to lift you off."
I contemplated him helplessly. There was no alternative but to fall
in with whatever mad caprice might seize his brain. If I opposed him,
it would lead to high and querulous words; and the hideous fact of
his presence there--of his mere existence--I was bound to conceal at
"I must ask you to keep quiet," I said, stiffly.
"As a tomb," he agreed, and his eyes twinkled disagreeably in the
darkness. "You forget that I am supposed to be in one."
I went stealthily down into the cabin, where I secured a box of
cigars and the first couple of bottles that my hands laid hold of in
the locker. They proved to contain an old Tokay wine which I had
treasured for several years to no particular purpose. The ancient
bottles clinked heavily in my grasp as I mounted again to the deck.
"Now this is something like," he purred, watching like a cat my
every motion as I set the glasses forth and guardedly drew the cork.
He saluted me with a flourish and drank.
To an onlooker that pantomime in the darkness would have seemed
utterly grotesque. I tasted the fragrant, heavy wine and
waited--waited in an agony of suspense--my ears strained desperately
to catch the least sound from below. But a profound silence
enveloped the schooner, broken only by the occasional rhythmic snore
of the mate.
"You seem rather ill at ease," Farquharson observed from the depths
of the deck chair when he had his cigar comfortably aglow. "I trust
it isn't this little impromptu call of mine that's disturbing you.
After all, life has its unusual moments, and this, I think, is one
of them." He sniffed the bouquet of his wine and drank. "It is rare
moments like this--bizarre, incredible, what you like--that
compensate for the tedium of years."
His disengaged hand had fallen to the side of the chair, and I now
observed in dismay that a scarf belonging to Joyce's wife had been
left lying in the chair, and that his fingers were absently twisting
the silken fringe.
"I wonder that you stick it out, as you do, on this island," I
forced myself to observe, seeking safety in the commonplace, while
my eyes, as if fascinated, watched his fingers toying with the ends
of the scarf. I was forced to accept the innuendo beneath his
enigmatic utterances. His utter baseness and depravity, born perhaps
of a diseased mind, I could understand. I had led him to bait a trap
with the fiction of his own death, but he could not know that it had
been already sprung upon his unsuspecting victims.
He seemed to regard me with contemptuous pity. "Naturally, you wonder.
A mere skipper like yourself fails to understand--many things. What
can you know of life cooped up in this schooner? You touch only the
surface of things just as this confounded boat of yours skims only
the top of the water. Once in a lifetime you may come to real grips
with life--strike bottom, eh?--as your schooner has done now. Then
you're aground and quite helpless. What a pity!"
He lifted his glass and drank it off, then thrust it out to be
refilled. "Life as the world lives it--bah!" he dismissed it with
the scorn of one who counts himself divested of all illusions.
"Life would be an infernal bore if it were not for its paradoxes.
Now you, Captain Barnaby, would never dream that in becoming dead to
the world--in other people's belief--I have become intensely alive.
There are opened up infinite possibilities--"
He drank again and eyed me darkly, and then went on in his
crack-brained way. "What is life but a challenge to pretense, a
constant exercise in duplicity, with so few that come to master it
as an art? Every one goes about with something locked deep in his
heart. Take yourself, Captain Barnaby. You have your secrets--hidden
from me, from all the world--which, if they could be dragged out of
His deep-set eyes bored through the darkness upon me. Hunched up in
the deck chair, with his legs crossed under him, he was like an
animated Buddha venting a dark philosophy and seeking to undermine
my mental balance with his sophistry.
"I'm a plain man of the sea," I rejoined, bluntly. "I take life as
He smiled derisively, drained his glass, and held it out again.
"But you have your secrets, rather clumsily guarded, to be sure--"
"What secrets?" I cried out, goaded almost beyond endurance.
He seemed to deprecate the vigour of my retort and lifted a
cautioning hand. "Do you want every one on board to hear this
conversation?" At that moment the smoke-wrapped cone of Lakalatcha
was cleft by a sheet of flame, and we confronted each other in a
sort of blood-red dawn.
"There is no reason why we should quarrel," he went on, after
darkness had enveloped us again. "But there are times which call
for plain speaking. Major Stanleigh is probably hardly aware of just
what he said to me under a little artful questioning. It seems that
a lady who--shall we say, whom we both have the honour of knowing?
--is in love. Love, mark you. It is always interesting to see that
flower bud twice from the same stalk. However, one naturally defers
to a lady, especially when one is very much in her way. _Place aux
dames_, eh? Exit poor Farquharson! You must admit that his was an
altruistic soul. Well, she has her freedom--if only to barter it for
a new bondage. Shall we drink to the happy future of that romance?"
He lifted to me his glass with ironical invitation, while I sat
aghast and speechless, my heart pounding against my ribs. This
intolerable colloquy could not last forever. I deliberated what I
should do if we were surprised. At the sound of a footfall or the
soft creak of a plank I felt that I might lose all control and leap
up and brain him with the heavy bottle in my grasp. I had an insane
desire to spring at his throat and throttle his infamous bravado,
tumble him overboard and annihilate the last vestige of his existence.
"Come, Captain," he urged, "you, too, have shared in smoothing the
path for these lovers. Shall we not drink to their happy union?"
A feeling of utter loathing went over me. I set my glass down.
"It would be a more serviceable compliment to the lady in question
if I strangled you on the spot," I muttered, boldly.
"But you are forgetting that I am already dead." He threw his head
back as if vastly amused, then lurched forward and held out his
glass a little unsteadily to be refilled.
He gave me a quick, evil look. "Besides, the noise might disturb
I could feel a cold perspiration suddenly breaking out upon my body.
Either the fellow had obtained an inkling of the truth in some
incredible way, or was blindly on the track of it, guided by some
diabolical scent. Under the spell of his eyes, I could not manage
the outright lie which stuck in my throat.
"What makes you think I have passengers?" I parried, weakly.
With intent or not, he was again fingering the fringe of the scarf
that hung over the arm of the chair.
"It is not your usual practice, but you have been carrying them
He drained his glass and sat staring into it, his head drooping a
little forward. The heavy wine was beginning to have its effect upon
him, but whether it would provoke him to some outright violence or
drag him down into a stupor, I could not predict. Suddenly the glass
slipped from his fingers and shivered to pieces on the deck. I
started violently at the sound, and in the silence that followed I
thought I heard a footfall in the cabin below.
He looked up at length from his absorbed contemplation of the bits
of broken glass. "We were talking about love, were we not?" he
I did not answer. I was straining to catch a repetition of the sound
from below. Time was slipping rapidly away, and to sit on meant
inevitable discovery. The watch might waken or the mate appear to
surprise me in converse with my nocturnal visitor. It would be folly
to attempt to conceal his presence and I despaired of getting him
back to shore while his present mood held, although I remembered
that the small boat, which had been lowered after we went aground,
was still moored to the rail amidships.
Refilling my own glass, I offered it to him. He lurched forward to
take it, but the fumes of the wine suddenly drifted clear of his
brain. "You seem very much distressed," he observed, with ironic
concern. "One might think you were actually sheltering these
Perspiration broke out anew upon my face and neck. "I don't know what
you are talking about," I bluntly tried to fend off his implication.
I felt as if I were helplessly strapped down and that he was about
to probe me mercilessly with some sharp instrument. I strode to turn
the direction of his thoughts by saying, "I understand that the
Stanleighs are returning to England."
"The Stanleighs--quite so," he nodded agreement, and fixed me with a
maudlin stare. Something prompted me to fill his glass again. He
drank it off mechanically. Again I poured, and he obediently drank.
With an effort he tried to pick up the thread of our conversation:
"What did you say? Oh, the Stanleighs ... yes, yes, of course." He
slowly nodded his head and fell silent. "I was about to say ..." He
broke off again and seemed to ruminate profoundly.... "Love-birds--"
I caught the word feebly from his lips, spoken as if in a daze. The
glass hung dripping in his relaxed grasp.
It was a crucial moment in which his purpose seemed to waver and die
in his clouded brain. A great hope sprang up in my heart, which was
hammering furiously. If I could divert his fuddled thoughts and get
him back to shore while the wine lulled him to forgetfulness.
I leaned forward to take the glass which was all but slipping from
his hand, when Lakalatcha flamed with redoubled fury. It was as if
the mountain had suddenly bared its fiery heart to the heavens, and
a muffled detonation reached my ears.
Farquharson straightened up with a jerk and scanned the smoking peak,
from which a new trickle of white-hot lava had broken forth in a
threadlike waterfall. He watched its graceful play as if hypnotized,
and began babbling to himself in an incoherent prattle. All his
faculties seemed suddenly awake, but riveted solely upon the heavy
labouring of the mountain. He was chiding it in Malay as if it were
a fractious child. When I ventured to urge him back to shore he made
no protest, but followed me into the boat. As I pushed off and took
up the oars he had eyes for nothing but the flaming cone, as if its
leaping fires held for him an Apocalyptic vision.
I strained at the oars as if in a race, with all eternity at stake,
blindly urging the boat ahead through water that flashed crimson at
every stroke. The mountain now flamed like a beacon, and I rowed for
dear life over a sea of blood.
Farquharson sat entranced before the spectacle, chanting to himself
a kind of insane ritual, like a Parsee fire-worshipper making
obeisance before his god. He was rapt away to some plane of mystic
exaltation, to some hinterland of the soul that merged upon madness.
When at length the boat crunched upon the sandy shore he got up
unsteadily from the stern and pointed to the pharos that flamed in
"The fire upon the altar is lit," he addressed me, oracularly, while
the fanatic light of a devotee burned in his eyes. "Shall we ascend
and prepare the sacrifice?"
I leaned over the oars, panting from my exertions, indifferent to
"If you'll take my advice, you'll get back at once to your bungalow
and strip off that wet sleeping-suit," I bluntly counseled him, but
I might as well have argued with a man in a trance.
He leaped over the gunwale and strode up the beach. Again he struck
his priest-like attitude and invoked me to follow.
"The fire upon the altar waits," he repeated, solemnly. Suddenly he
broke into a shrill laugh and ran like a deer in the direction of the
forest that stretched up the slopes of the mountain.
The mate's face, thrust over the rail as I drew alongside the
schooner, plainly bespoke his utter bewilderment. He must have
thought me bereft of my senses to be paddling about at that hour of
the night. The tide had made, and the _Sylph_, righting her listed
masts, was standing clear of the shoal. The deck was astir, and when
the command was given to hoist the sails it was obeyed with an
uneasy alacrity. The men worked frantically in a bright, unnatural
day, for Lakalatcha was now continuously aflame and tossing up
red-hot rocks to the accompaniment of dull sounds of explosion.
My first glance about the deck had been one of relief to note that
Joyce and his wife were not there, although the commotion of getting
under sail must have awakened them. A breeze had sprung up which
would prove a fair wind as soon as the _Sylph_ stood clear of the
point. The mate gave a grunt of satisfaction when at length the
schooner began to dip her bow and lay over to the task. Leaving him
in charge, I started to go below, when suddenly Mrs. Joyce, fully
dressed, confronted me. She seemed to have materialized out of the
air like a ghost. Her hair glowed like burnished copper in the
unnatural illumination which bathed the deck, but her face was ashen,
and the challenge of her eyes made my heart stop short.
"You have been awake long?" I ventured to ask.
"Too long," she answered, significantly, with her face turned away,
looking down into the water. She had taken my arm and drawn me
toward the rail. Now I felt her fingers tighten convulsively. In the
droop of her head and the tense curve of her neck I sensed her mad
impulse which the dark water suggested.
"Mrs. Joyce!" I remonstrated, sharply.
She seemed to go limp all over at the words. I drew her along the
deck for a faltering step or two, while her eyes continued to brood
upon the water rushing past. Suddenly she spoke:
"What other way out is there?"
"Never that," I said, shortly. I urged her forward again. "Is your
"Thank God, yes!"
"Then you have been awake--"
"For over an hour," she confessed, and I detected the shudder that
went over her body.
"The man is mad--"
"But I am married to him." She stopped and caught at the rail like a
prisoner gripping at the bars that confine him. "I cannot--cannot
endure it! Where are you taking me? Where _can_ you take me? Don't
you see that there is no escape--from this?"
The _Sylph_ rose and sank to the first long roll of the open sea.
"When we reach Malduna--" I began, but the words were only torture.
"I cannot--cannot go on. Take me back!--to that island! Let me live
abandoned--or rather die--"
"Mrs. Joyce, I beg of you...."
The schooner rose and dipped again.
For what seemed an interminable time we paced the deck together
while Lakalatcha flamed farther and farther astern. Her words came
in fitful snatches as if spoken in a delirium, and at times she
would pause and grip the rail to stare back, wild-eyed, at the
Suddenly she started, and in a sort of blinding, noon-day blaze I
saw her face blanch with horror. It was as if at that moment the
heavens had cracked asunder and the night had fallen away in chaos.
Turning, I saw the cone of the mountain lifting skyward in
fragments--and saw no more, for the blinding vision remained seared
upon the retina of my eyes.
Across the water, slower paced, came the dread concussion of sound.
"Good God! It's carried away the whole island!" I heard the mate's
voice bellowing above the cries of the men. The _Sylph_ scudded
before the approaching storm of fire redescending from the sky....
The first gray of the dawn disclosed Mrs. Joyce still standing by
the rail, her hand nestling within the arm of her husband,
indifferent to the heavy grayish dust that fell in benediction upon
her like a silent shower of snow.
The island of Muloa remains to-day a charred cinder lapped about by
the blue Pacific. At times gulls circle over its blackened and
desolate surface devoid of every vestige of life. From the squat,
truncated mass of Lakalatcha, shorn of half its lordly height, a
feeble wisp of smoke still issues to the breeze, as if Vulcan, tired
of his forge, had banked its fire before abandoning it.
BY ALEXANDER HULL
From _Scribner's Magazine_
There may have been some benevolent force watching over Harber. In
any case, that would be a comforting belief. Certainly Harber
himself so believed, and I know he had no trouble at all convincing
his wife. Yes, the Harbers believed.
But credulity, you may say, was ever the surest part in love's young
golden dream: and you, perhaps, not having your eyes befuddled with
the rose-fog of romance, will see too clearly to believe. What can I
adduce for your conviction? The facts only. After all, that is the
single strength of my position.
There was, of course, the strange forehanded, subtle planning of the
other girl, of Janet Spencer. Why did she do it? Was it that,
feeling her chances in Tawnleytown so few, counting the soil there
so barren, driven by an ambition beyond the imagination of staid,
stodgy, normal Tawnleytown girls, she felt she must create
opportunities where none were? She was very lovely, Harber tells me,
in a fiery rose-red of the fairy-tale way; though even without
beauty it needn't have been hard for her. Young blood is prone
enough to adventure; the merest spark will set it akindle. I should
like to have known that girl. She must have been very clever. Because,
of course, she couldn't have foreseen, even by the surest instinct,
the coincidence that brought Harber and Barton together. Yes, there
is a coincidence in it. It's precisely upon that, you see, that
Harber hangs his belief.
I wonder, too, how many of those argosies she sent out seeking the
golden fleece returned to her? It's a fine point for speculation. If
one only knew.... ah, but it's pitiful how much one doesn't, and
can't, know in this hard and complex world! Or was it merely that
she tired of them and wanted to be rid of them? Or again, do I wrong
her there, and were there no more than the two of them, and did she
simply suffer a solitary revulsion of feeling, as Harber did? But no,
I'm sure I'm right in supposing Barton and Harber to have been but
two ventures out of many, two arrows out of a full quiver shot in
the dark at the bull's-eye of fortune. And, by heaven, it was
splendid shooting ... even if none of the other arrows scored!
Harber tells me he was ripe for the thing without any encouragement
to speak of. Tawnleytown was dull plodding for hot youth. Half
hidden in the green of fir and oak and maple, slumberous with
midsummer heat, it lay when he left it. Thickly powdered with the
fine white dust of its own unpaven streets, dust that sent the
inhabitants chronically sneezing and weeping and red-eyed about town,
or sent them north to the lakes for exemption, dust that hung
impalpably suspended in the still air and turned the sunsets to
things of glorious rose and red and gold though there wasn't a single
cloud or streamer in the sky to catch the light, dust that lay upon
lawns and walks and houses in deep gray accumulation ... precisely
as if these were objects put away and never used and not disturbed
until they were white with the inevitable powdery accretion that
accompanies disuse. Indeed, he felt that way about Tawnleytown, as
if it were a closed room of the world, a room of long ago, unused now,
So unquestionably he was ready enough to go. He had all the fine and
far-flung dreams of surging youth. He peopled the world with his
fancies, built castles on every high hill. He felt the urge of
ambition fiercely stirring within him, latent power pulsing through
him. What would you? Wasn't he young and in love?
For there had been, you must know, a good deal between them. What
does one do in these deadly dull little towns for amusement, when
one is young and fain and restless? Harber tells me they walked the
streets and shaded lanes in the dim green coolness of evening,
lounged in the orchard hammock, drifted down the little river, past
still pools, reed-bordered, under vaulting sycamores, over hurrying
reaches fretted with pebbles, forgot everything except one another
and their fancies and made, as youth must, love. That was the
programme complete, except for the talk, the fascinating,
never-ending talk. Volumes on volumes of it--whole libraries of it.
So, under her veiled fostering, the feeling that he must leave
Tawnleytown kept growing upon Harber until one evening it
crystallized in decision.
It was on a Sunday. They had taken a lunch and climbed Bald Knob, a
thousand feet above the town, late in the afternoon. The dying sun
and the trees had given them a splendid symphony in black and gold,
and had silenced them for a little. They sat looking down over the
valley in which the well-known landmarks slowly grew dark and
indistinguishable and dim lights blossomed one after another. The
sound of church bells rose faintly through the still air. The pale
last light faded in the sky.
Harber and Janet sat in the long grass, their hearts stirring with
the same urgent, inarticulate thoughts, their hands clasped together.
"Let's wait for Eighty-seven," she said.
Harber pressed her hand for reply.
In the mind of each of them Eighty-seven was the symbol of release
from Tawnleytown, of freedom, of romance.
Presently a shifting light appeared in the east, a faint rumble
became perceptible and increased. The swaying shaft of light
intensified and a moment later the long-drawn poignancy of a
chime-whistle blowing for the river-road crossing, exquisitely
softened by distance, echoingly penetrated the still valley.
A streak of thunderous light swam into view and passed them,
plunging into a gap in the west. The fire-box in the locomotive
opened and flung a flood of light upon a swirling cloud of smoke. A
sharp turn in the track, a weak blast of the whistle at the
bridge-head, and the "Limited," disdaining contemptible Tawnleytown,
had swept out of sight--into the world--at a mile to the minute.
"If I were on it," said Harber slowly.
Janet caught her breath sharply. "You're a man!" she said fiercely.
"You could be--so easily!"
Harber was startled for a moment. Her kindling of his flame of
adventure had been very subtle until now. Perhaps she hadn't been
sure before to-day of her standing. But this afternoon, upon the
still isolation of Bald Knob, there had been many kisses exchanged,
and brave vows of undying love. And no doubt she felt certain of him
With Harber, however, the pathway had seemed leading otherwhere. He
wasn't the sort of youth to kiss and ride away. And, discounting
their adventurous talk, he had tacitly supposed that his course the
last few weeks spelled the confinement of the four walls of a
Tawnleytown cottage, the fetters of an early marriage. He had been
fighting his mounting fever for the great world, and thinking, as
the train sped by, that after all "home was best." It would be. It
must be. So, if his fine dreams were the price he must pay for Janet,
still he would pay them! And he was startled by her tone.
Her slim fingers tightened upon his.
"Why do you stay?" she cried passionately. "Why don't you go?"
"There's you," he began.
"Yes!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I'm selfish, maybe! I don't know! But
it's as much for me as for you that I say it!"
Her words poured out tumultuously.
"Where are all our wonderful dreams--if you stay here? Gone
aglimmering! Gone! I can't see them all go--I can't! Can you?"
Was he to have, then, both Janet and his dreams? His heart quickened.
He leaned impulsively toward her.
She pushed his face away with her free hand.
"No--no! Wait till I'm through! We've always known we weren't like
other Tawnleytown folk, haven't we, dear? We've always said that we
wanted more out of life than they--that we wouldn't be content with
half a loaf--that we wanted the bravest adventures, the yellowest
gold, the finest emotions, the greater power! And if now ...
"See those fights down there--so few--and so faint. We can't live
our lives there. Seventy-five dollars a month in the bank for
you--and dull, deadly monotony for both of us--no dreams--no
adventures--nothing big and fine! We can't be content with that! Why
don't you go, John?
"Don't mind me--don't let me keep you--for as soon as you've won,
you can come back to me--and then--we'll see the world together!"
"Janet--Janet!" said Harber, with pounding heart. "How do you
know--that I'll win?"
"Ah," she said strangely, "I know! You can't fail--_I won't let you
Harber caught her suddenly in his arms and kissed her as if it were
to be his last token of her.
"I'm going then!" he whispered. "I'm going!"
"There's no time to be lost!" he said, thinking fast. "If I had
known that you were willing, that you would wait--if ... Janet, I'm
Her arms tightened about him convulsively. "Promise me--promise me!"
she demanded tensely, "that you'll never, never forget me--that
you'll come back to me!"
Harber laughed in her face. "Janet," he said solemnly, "I'll never
forget you. I'll come back to you. I'll come back--'though 'twere
ten thousand mile!'"
And they walked home slowly, wrapt once more in their fascinating
talk, fanning the flames of one another's desires, painting for
their future the rich landscapes of paradise. Youth! Brave, hot youth!
The next day Harber contemptuously threw over his job in the bank
and fared forth into the wide world that was calling.
* * * * *
Well, he went south, then east, then west, and west, and farther west.
So far that presently, after three years, he found himself not west
at all, but east--far east. There were between him and Janet Spencer
now thousands on thousands of miles of vast heaving seas, and
snow-capped mountain ranges, and limitless grassy plains.
Three years of drifting! You'd say, perhaps, knowing the frailty of
vows, that the connection might have been lost. But it hadn't.
Harber was but twenty-three. Faithfulness, too, comes easier then
than later in life, when one has seen more of the world, when the
fine patina of illusion has worn off. Besides, there was, I'm sure,
a touch of genius about that girl, so that one wouldn't forget her
easily, certainly not in three years. And then, you know, Harber had
had her letters. Not many of them. Perhaps a dozen to the year.
Pitifully few, but they were filled with a wonderful fascination
against which the realities of his wandering life had been powerless
to contend. Like a slender cable they bound him--they held him!
Well, he was in Sydney now, standing on the water-front, beneath a
bright-blue Australian sky, watching the crinkling water in the
Circular Quay as it lifted and fell mightily but easily, and seeing
the black ships ... ah, the ships! Those masterful, much more than
human, entities that slipped about the great world nosing out, up
dark-green tropical rivers in black, fir-bound fjords, through the
white ice-flows of the Arctics, all its romance, all its gold! Three
years hadn't dulled the keen edge of his appetite for all that;
rather had whetted it.
Nevertheless, as he stood there, he was thinking to himself that
he must have done with wandering; the old saw that a rolling
stone gathered no moss was cropping up sharply, warningly, in
his mind. He had in the three years, however--and this is rather
remarkable--accumulated about three thousand dollars. Three thousand
dollars! Why, in this quarter of the world, three thousand dollars
should be like three thousand of the scriptural mustard-seed--they
should grow a veritable forest!
What was puzzling him, however, was where to plant the seed. He was
to meet here a man who had a plan for planting in the islands. There
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