Prince Tabnit's voice might almost have taken his place in his absence, it was so soft, so fine of texture, no more consciously modulated than is the going of water or the way of a wing. It was difficult to say whether his words or, so to say, their fine fabric of voice, begot the silence that followed. But all eyes were turned upon Olivia. And, Prince Tabnit noting this, before she might speak he suddenly swept his flowing robes embroidered by a thousand needles to a posture of humility before his sovereign.
"Your Majesty," he besought, "I pray your consent to the bestowal upon my most unworthy self of the hand of your daughter, the Princess Olivia."
King Otho leaned upon the arm of his carven throne. Against its strange metal his hand was cameo-clear.
"For the king," he was remembering softly, "'the Pyrenees, or so he fancied, ceased to exist.' For another 'the mountains of Daphne are everywhere.' Each of us has his impossible dream to prove that he is an impossible creature. Why not I? To be normal is the cry of all the hobgoblins ... And what does the princess say?" he asked aloud.
"Her Highness has already given me the great happiness to plight me her troth," said Prince Tabnit.
King Otho's eyebrows flickered from their parallel of repose.
"In Yaque or in America," he murmured, "the Americans do as the Americans do. None of us is mentioned in Deuteronomy, but what is the will of the princess?" the American Sovereign asked.
Mrs. Hastings, seated near the dais, heard; and as she turned, a rhinestone side-comb slipped from her hair, tinkled over the jewels of her corsage and shot into the lap of a member of the High Council. He, never having seen a side-comb, fancied that it might be an infernal machine which he had never seen either, and, palpitating, flashed it to the guardian hand of Mr. Frothingham. At the same moment:
"Ah, why, Otho," said Mrs. Hastings audibly, "we had two ancestors at Bannockburn!"
"Bannockburn!" argued Mr. Augustus Frothingham, below the voice, "Bannockburn. But what, my dear Mrs. Hastings, is Bannockburn beside the Midianites and the Moabites and the Hittites and the Ammonites and the Levites?"
In this genealogical moment the prince leaned toward Olivia.
"Choose," he said significantly, but so softly that none might hear, "oh, my beloved, choose!"
The faces of the great assembly blurred and wavered before Olivia, and the low hum of the talk in the room was relative, like the voices of passers-by. She looked up at the prince and away from him in mute appeal to something that ought to help her and would not. For Olivia was of those who, never having seen the face of Destiny very near, are accustomed to look upon nothing as wholly irrevocable; and—for one of her graces—she had the feminine expectation that, if only events can be sufficiently postponed, something will intervene; which is perhaps a heritage of the gentlest women descended from Homeric days. If the island was so historic, little Olivia may have said, where was the interfering goddess? She looked unseeingly toward St. George and toward her father, and the sense of the bitter actuality of the choice suddenly wounded her, as the Actual for ever wounds the woman and the dream.
Then suddenly, above the stir of expectation of the people, and the associate bustling of the High Council there came a vague confusion and trampling from outside, and the far outer doors of the hall were thrown open with a jar and a breath, vibrant as a murmur. There was a cry, the determined resistance of some of the Golden Guard, and shouts of expostulation and warning as they were flung aside by a powerful arm. In the disorder that followed, a miraculously-familiar figure—that familiarity and strangeness are both miracles ought to explain certain mysteries—was beside St. George and a thankful voice said in his ear:
"Mr. St. George, sir, for the mercy of Heaven, sir—come back to the yacht. No person can tell what may happen ten minutes ahead, sir!"
The oracle of this universal truth was Rollo, palpitating, his immaculate coat stained with earth, earth-stains on his cheeks, and his breast labouring in an excitement which only anxiety for his master could effect. But St. George hardly saw him. His eyes were fixed on some one who stood towering before the dais, like the old prints of the avenging goddesses. Clad in the hideous stripes which boards of directors consider de rigueur for the soul that is to be won back to the normal, stood the woman Elissa, who, by all counts of Prince Tabnit, should have been singing a hymn with Mrs. Manners and Miss Bella Bliss Utter in the Bitley Reformatory, in Westchester County, New York.
"Stop!" she cried in that perfect English which is not only a rare experience but a pleasant adventure, "what new horror is this?"
To Prince Tabnit's face, as he looked at her, came once more that indefinable change—only this time nearer and more intimately explainable, as if something ethereal, trained to delicate lines, like smoke, should suddenly shape itself to a menace. St. George saw the woman step close to the dais, he saw Olivia's eyes questioning him, and in the hurried rising of the peers and of the High Council he heard Rollo's voice in his ear:
"It's a gr'it go, sir," observed Rollo respectfully, "the woman has things to tell, sir, as people generally don't know. She's flew the coop at the place she was in—it seems she's been shut up some'eres in America, sir; an' she got 'old of the capting of a tramp boat o' some kind—one o' them boats as smells intoxicating round the 'atches—an' she give 'im an' the mate a 'andful o' jewelry that she'd on 'er when she was took in an' 'ad someways contrived to 'ang on to, an' I'm blessed hif she wasn't able fer to steer fer the island, sir—we took 'er aboard the yacht only this mornin' with 'er 'air down her back, an' we've brought 'er on here. An' she says—men can be gr'it beasts, sir, an' no manner o' mistake," concluded Rollo fervently.
And a little hoarse voice said in St. George's ear:
"Mr. St. George, sir—we ain't late, are we? We been flirtin' de ger-avel up dat ka-liff since de car-rack o' day."
And there was Bennietod, with an edge of an old horse pistol showing beneath his cuff; and, round-eyed and alert as a bird newly alighted on a stranger sill, Little Cawthorne stood; and the sight put strength into St. George, and so did Little Cawthorne's words:
"I didn't know whether they'd let us in or not," he said, "unless we had on a plaited decollette, with biases down the back."
Clearly and confidently in the silent room rang the voice of the woman confronting Prince Tabnit, and her eyes did not leave his face. St. George was struck with the change in her since that day in the Reformatory chapel. Then she had been like a wild, alien thing in dumb distress; now she was unchained and native. Her first words explained why, in the extreme dilemma in which St. George had last seen her, she had yet remained mute.
"I release myself," she cried, "from my oath of silence, though until to-day I have spoken only to those who helped me to come back to you—my master. Have you nothing to say to me? Has the time seemed long? Is it a weary while since I left you to do your will and murder the woman whom you were now about to make your wife?"
A cry of horror rose from the people, and then stillness came again.
"Take the woman away," said Prince Tabnit only, "she is speaking madness."
"I am speaking the truth," said the woman clearly. "I was of Melita—there are those here who will know my face. And it is not I alone who have served the State. I challenge you, Tabnit—here, before them all! Where are Gerya and Ibera, Cabulla and Taura? Have not their people, weeping, besought news of them in vain? And what answer have you given them?"
Murmurs and sobs rose from the assembly, stilled by the tranquil voice of the prince.
"Where are they?" he repeated gently, his voice vibrant in its rise and fall, its giving of delicate values. "But the people know where they are. They have attained to the perfect life and died the perfect death. For I have raised them to the supreme estate."
Prince Tabnit, with uplifted face, sat motionless, looking out over the throng from beneath lowered lids; then his eyes, confident and a little mocking, returned to the woman. But they had for her no terror. She turned from him, confronting the pale, eager faces of the people; and in her beauty and distinction she was like Olivia's women, crowded beside the dais.
"Men and women of Yaque," cried Elissa, "I will tell you to what 'supreme estate' these friends whom you seek have long been raised. For here in Med and in Melita you will find many of those whom you have mourned as dead—you will find them as you yourselves have met and passed them, it may have been countless times, on your streets of Yaque—not young and beautiful as when they left you, but men and women of incredible age. Withered, shaken by palsy, infirm, they creep upon their lonely ways or go at will to drag themselves unrecognized along your highways, as helpless as the dead themselves. They number scores, and they are those who have displeased your prince by some little word, some little wrong, or, more than these, by some thwarting of the way of his ambition: Oblo, who disappeared from his place as keeper at the door; Ithobal, satrap of Melita; young Prince Kaal—ay, and how many more? You do not understand my words? I say that your prince has knowledge of some secret, accursed drug that can call back youth or make actual age—age, do you understand—just as we of Yaque bring both flowers and fruit to swift maturity!"
Olivia uttered a little cry, not at the grotesque horror of what the woman had said but at the miracle of its unconscious support of the story and theory of St. George. And St. George heard; and suddenly, because another had voiced his own fantastic message, its incredibility and unreality became appalling, and yet he felt infinitely reconciled to both because he interpreted aright that little muffled exclamation from Olivia. What did it matter—oh, what did it matter whether or not the reality were grotesque? What seems to be happening is always the reality, if only one understands it sufficiently. And at all events there had been that hour in the King's Alcove. At last, as he weighed that hour against the fantasy of all the rest, St. George understood and lived the divine madness of all great moments, the madness that realizes one star and is content that all the heavens shall march unintelligibly past so long as that single shining is not dimmed.
But King Otho was riding no such griffin with sun-gold wings. King Otho was genuinely and personally interested in the woman's words. He turned to Prince Tabnit with animation.
"Really, Prince," he said, "is it so? Pray do not deny it unless there is no other way, for I am before all things interested. It is far more important to me that you tell me as much as you can tell, than that you deny or even disprove it."
Prince Tabnit smiled in the eagerly interested face of his sovereign, and rose and came to the edge of the dais, his garments embroidered by a thousand needles touching and floating about him; and it was as if he reached those before him by a kind of spiritual magnetism, not without sublimity.
"My people," he said—and his voice had all the tenderness that they knew so well—"this is some conspiracy of those to whom we have shown the utmost hospitality. I would have shielded your king, for he was also my sovereign and I owed him allegiance. But now that is no longer possible, and the time is come. Know then, oh my people of Yaque, that which my loyalty has led me wrongfully to conceal: that in the strange disappearance and return of your sovereign, King Otho, he who will may trace the loss of that which the island has mourned without ceasing. I accuse your king—he is no longer mine—of being now in possession of the Hereditary Treasure of Yaque."
Then St. George came back with a thrill to actuality. In the press of the events of this morning, after his awakening in the room of the tombs, he had completely forgotten the soft fire of gems that had burned beneath the hands of old Malakh in that dark chamber under King Abibaal's tomb. He and Amory and Jarvo had, with the king, left the chamber by the upper passages, and Amory and Jarvo knew nothing of the jewels. Yet St. George was certain that he could not have been mistaken, and he listened breathlessly for what the king would say.
King Otho, with a smile, nodded in perfect imperturbability.
"That is true," he said, "I had forgotten all about it."
They waited for him to speak, the people in amazed silence, Mrs. Medora Hastings saying unintelligible things in whispers, for which she had a genius.
"It is true," said King Otho, "that I am responsible for the disappearance of the Hereditary Treasure. You will find it at this moment in a basement dungeon of the palace on Mount Khalak. On the very day, three months ago, that I dined with your prince I had made a discovery of considerable importance to me, namely, that the little island of Yaque is richer in most of the radio-active substances than all the rest of the world. The discovery gave me keener pleasure than I had known in years—I had suspected it for some time after I found the noctilucous stars on the ceiling of my sitting-room at the palace. And in the work-shop of the Princess Simyra I came upon a quantity of metallic uranium, and a great many other things which I question the taste of taking the time to describe. But my experiments there with the very perfect gems of your admirable collection had evidently been antedated by some of your own people, for the apparatus was intact. I shall be glad to show some charming effects to any one who cares to see them. I have succeeded in causing the diamonds of Darius to phosphoresce most wonderfully."
The phosphorescence of the diamonds of Darius was to the people far less important than the joyous fact which they were not slow to grasp, that the Hereditary Treasure was, if they might believe the king's words, restored to them, and the burden of the tax averted. They did not understand, nor did they seek to understand; because they knew the inefficiency of details and they also knew the value of mere import.
But the king, child of a social order that wreaks itself on particularizations, returned to his quest for a certain recounting.
"Prince Tabnit," he said, "the High Council and the people of Yaque are impatient for your answer to this woman's words."
"I rejoice with them and with your Majesty," replied Prince Tabnit softly, "that the treasure is safe. My own explanation is far less simple. If what this woman says is true, yet it is true in such wise as, strive as I may, I can not speak; nor, strive as you may, can you fathom. Therefore I say that the claim which she has made is idle, and not within my power to answer."
At this St. George bounded to his feet. Amory looked up at him in terror, and Little Cawthorne and Bennietod went a step or two after him as he sprang forward, and Rollo's lean shadowed face, obvious as his way of speech, was wrinkled in terrified appeal.
"An idle claim!" St. George thundered as he strode before the dais. "Is this woman's story and mine an idle claim, and one not within your power to answer? Then I will tell you how to answer, Prince Tabnit. I challenge you now, in the presence of your people—taste this!"
Upon the carven arm of Prince Tabnit's throne St. George set something that he had taken from his pocket. It was the vase of rock-crystal from which, the night before in the room of the tombs, the king had drunk.
What followed was the last thing that St. George had expected. It was as if his defiance had unlocked flood-gates. In an instant the vast assembly was in motion. With a sound of garments that was like far wind they were upon their feet and pressing toward the throne. With all the passion of their "Yes! Yes! Yes!" in response to Olivia's appeal they came, resistlessly demanding the answer to some dreadful question long shrouded in their hearts. Their armour was their silence; they made no sound save that ominous sweep of their robes and the conspiracy of their sandaled feet upon the tiles.
St. George did not turn. Indeed, it did not once cross his mind that their hostility could possibly be toward him. Besides, his look was fixed upon the prince's face, and what he read there was enough. The peers, the High Council and those nearest the throne wavered and swerved from the man, leaving him to face what was to come.
Whatever was to come he would have met nobly. He was of those infrequent folk of some upper air who exhibit a certain purity even in error, or in worse. He stood with his exquisite pale face uplifted, his white hair in a glory about it, his white gown embroidered by a thousand needles falling in virginal lines against the warm, pure colour of that room with its wraiths of hue and light. And he opened the heart of the green jewel that burned upon his breast.
"Not for me the wine of youth," he said slowly, "but the poison of age. The poison which, without me to unlock the secret, all mankind must drink alone. May you drink it late, my friends!" he cried. "I, who hold in my soul the secret of the passing of time and youth, drink now to those among you and among all men who have won and kept the one thing dearer than these."
He touched the green gem to his lips, and let it fall upon the embroidered laces on his breast. Then quietly and in another voice he began to speak.
With the first words there came to St. George the thrill of something that had possessed him—when? In that ecstatic moment on The Aloha when he had seen the light in the king's palace; in the instant when the Isle of Yaque had first lain subject before him, "a land which no one can define or remember—only desire;" in the divine time of his triumph in having scaled the heights to the palace, that sky-thing, with ramparts of air; above all, in the hour of his joy in the King's Alcove, when Olivia had looked in his eyes and touched his lips. Inexplicably as the way that eternity lies barely unrevealed in some kin-thing of its own—a shell, a duty, a vista—he suddenly felt it now in what the prince was saying. He listened, and for one poignant stab of time he knew that he touched hands with the elemental and saw the ancient kindliness of all those people naked in their faces and knew himself for what he was.
He listened, and yet there was no making captive the words of the prince in understanding. Prince Tabnit was speaking the English, and every word was clearly audible and, moreover, was probably daily upon St. George's lips. But if it had been to ransom the rest of the world from its night he could not have understood what the prince was saying. Every word was a word that belonged as much to St. George as to the prince; but in some unfathomable fashion the inner sense of what he said for ever eluded, dissolving in the air of which it was a part. And yet, past all doubting, St. George knew that he was hearing the essence of that strange knowledge which the Isle of Yaque had won while all the rest of mankind struggled for it—he knew with the certainty with which we recognize strange forces in a dozen of the every-day things of life, in electricity, in telepathy, in dreams. With the same certainty he realized that what the prince was saying would, if he could understand, lift a certain veil. Here, put in words at last, was manifestly the secret, that catch of understanding without which men are groping in the dark, perhaps that mere pointing of relations which would make clear, without blasphemy, time and the future, rebirth and old existence, it might be; and certainly the accident of personality. Here, crystallized, were the things that men almost know, the dream that has just escaped every one, the whisper in sleep that would have explained if one could remember when one woke, the word that has been thrillingly flashed to one in moments of absorption and has fled before one might catch the sound, the far hope of science, the glimpse that comes to dying eyes and is voiced in fragments by dying lips. Here without penetrating the great reserve or tracing any principle to its beginning, was the truth about both. And St. George was powerless to receive it.
He turned fearfully to Olivia. Ah—what if she did not guess anything of the meaning of what she was hearing? For one instant he knew all the misery of one whose friend stands on another star. But when he saw her uplifted face, her eager eyes and quick breath and her look divinely questioning his, he was certain that though she might not read the figures of the veil, yet she too knew how near, how near they Stood; and to be with her on this side was dearer—nay, was nearer the Secret—than without her to pass the veil that they touched. Then he looked at Amory; wouldn't old Amory know, he wondered. Wouldn't his mere understanding of news teach him what was happening? But old Amory, the light flashing on his pince-nez, was keeping one eye on the prince and wondering if the chair that he had just placed for Antoinette was not in the draught of the dome; and little Antoinette was looking about her like a rosebud, new to the butterflies of June; and King Otho was listening, languid, heavy-lidded, sensitive to little values, sophisticating the moment; and Little Cawthorne stood with eyes raised in simple, tolerant wonder; and the others, Bennietod, Mrs. Hastings and Mr. Augustus Frothingham, showed faces like the pools in which pebbles might be dropped, making no ripples—one must suppose that there are such pools, since there are certainly such faces. St. George saw how it was. Here, spoken casually by the prince, just as the Banal would speak of the visible and invisible worlds, here was the Sesame of understanding toward which the centuries had striven, the secret of the link between two worlds; and here, of all mankind, were only they two to hear—they two and that motionless company who knew what the prince knew and who kept it sealed within their eyes.
St. George looked at the multitude in swift understanding. They were like a Greek chorus, signifying what is. They knew what the prince was saying, they had the secret and yet—they were no nearer, no nearer than he. With their ancient kindliness naked in their faces, St. George knew that through his love he was as near to the Source as were they. And it was suddenly as it had been that first night when he had stridden buoyantly through the island; for he could not tell which was the secret of the prince and of these people and which was the blessedness of his love.
None the less he clung desperately to the last words of Prince Tabnit in a vain effort to hold, to make clear, to sophisticate one single phrase, as one waking in the night says over, in a vain effort to fix it, some phantom sentence cried to him in dreams by a shadowy band destined to be dissolved when, in bright day, he would reclaim it. He even managed frantically to write down a jumble of words of which he could make nothing, save here and there a phrase like a touch of hands from the silence: "...the infinite moment that is pending" ... "all is become a window where had been a wall" ... "the wintry vision" ... they were all words that beckon without replying. And all the time it was curiously as if the Something Silent within St. George himself, that so long had striven to speak, were crying out at last in the prince's words—and he could not understand. Yet in spite of it all, in spite of this imminent satisfying of the strange, dreadful curiosity which possesses all mankind, St. George, even now, was far less keen to comprehend than he was to burst through the throng with Olivia in his arms, gain the waiting Aloha and sail into the New York harbour with the prize that he had won. "I drink now to those among you and among all men who have won and kept that which is greater than these," the prince had said, and St. George perfectly understood. He had but to look at Olivia to be triumphantly willing that the gods should keep their secrets about time and the link between the two worlds so long as they had given him love. What should he care about time? He had this hour.
When the prince ceased speaking the hall was hushed; but because of the tempest in the hearts of them all the silence was as if a strong wind, sweeping powerfully through a forest, were to sway no boughs and lift no leaves, only to strive noiselessly round one who walked there.
Prince Tabnit wrapped his white mantle about him and sat upon his throne. Spell-stricken, they watched him, that great multitude, and might not turn away their eyes. Slowly, imperceptibly, as Time touches the familiar, the face of the prince took on its change—and one could not have told wherein the change lay, but subtly as the encroachment of the dark, or the alchemy of the leaves, or the betrayal of certain modes of death, the finger was upon him. While they watched he became an effigy, the hideous face of a fantasy of smoke against the night sky, with a formless hand lifted from among the delicate laces in farewell. There was no death—the horror was that there was no death. Only this curse of age drying and withering at the bones.
A long, whining cry came from Cassyrus, who covered his face with his mantle and fled. The spell being broken, by common consent the great hall was once more in motion—St. George would never forget that tide toward all the great portals and the shuddering backward glances at the white heap upon the beetling throne. They fled away into the reassuring sunlight, leaving the echoless hall deserted, save for that breathing one upon the throne.
There was one other. From somewhere beside the dais the woman Elissa crept and knelt, clasping the knees of the man.
"Will you have tea?" asked Olivia.
St. George brought a deck cushion and tucked it in the willow steamer chair and said adoringly that he would have tea. Tea. In a world where the essentials and the inessentials are so deliciously confused, to think that tea, with some one else, can be a kind of Heaven.
"Two lumps?" pursued Olivia.
"Three, please," St. George directed, for the pure joy of watching her hands. There were no tongs.
"Aren't the rest going to have some?" Olivia absently shared her attention, tinkling delicately about among the tea things. "Doesn't every one want a cup of tea?" she inquired loud enough for nobody to hear. St. George, shifting his shoulder from the rail, looked vaguely over the deck of The Aloha, sighed contentedly, and smiled back at her. No one else, it appeared, would have tea; and there was none to regret it.
St. George's cursory inspection had revealed the others variously absorbed, though they were now all agreed in breathing easily since Barnay, interlarding rational speech with Irishisms of thanksgiving, had announced five minutes before that the fires were up and that in half an hour The Aloha might weigh anchor. The only thing now left to desire was to slip clear of the shadow of the black reaches of Yaque, shouldering the blue.
Meanwhile, Antoinette and Amory sat in the comparative seclusion of the bow with their backs to the forward deck, and it was definitely manifest to every one how it would be with them, but every one was simply glad and dismissed the matter with that. Mr. Frothingham, in his steamer chair, looked like a soft collapsible tube of something; Bennietod, at ease upon the uncovered boards of the deck, was circumspectly having cheese sandwiches and wastefully shooting the ship's rockets into the red sunset, in general celebration; and Rollo, having taken occasion respectfully to submit to whomsoever it concerned that fact is ever stranger than fiction, had gone below. Mr. Otho Holland and Little Cawthorne—but their smiles were like different names for the same thing—were toasting each other in something light and dry and having a bouquet which Mr. Holland, who ought to know, compared favourably with certain vintages of 1000 B.C. In a hammock near them reclined Mrs. Medora Hastings, holding two kinds of smelling salts which invariably revived her simply by inducing the mental effort of deciding which was the better. Her hair, which was exceedingly pretty, now rippled becomingly about her flushed face and was guiltless of side-combs—she had lost them both down a chasm in that headlong flight from the cliff's summit, and they irrecoverably reposed in the bed of some brook of the Miocene period. And Mrs. Hastings, her hand in that of her brother, lay in utter silence, smiling up at him in serene content.
For King Otho of Yaque was turning his back upon his island domain for ever. In that hurried flight across the Eurychorus among his distracted subjects, his resolution had been taken. Jarvo and Akko, the adieux to whom had been every one's sole regret in leaving the island, had miraculously found their way to the king and his party in their flight, and were despatched to Mount Khalak for such of their belongings as they could collect, and the island sovereign was well content.
"Ah well now," he had just observed, languidly surveying the tropical horizon through a cool glass of winking amber bubbles, "one must learn that to touch is far more delicate than to lift. It is more wonderful to have been the king of one moment than the ruler of many. It is better to have stood for an instant upon a rainbow than to have taken a morning walk through a field of clouds. The principle has long been understood, but few have had—shall I say the courage?—to practise it. Yet 'courage' is a term from-the-shoulder, and what I require is a word of finger-tips, over-tones, ultra-rays—a word for the few who understand that to leave a thing is more exquisite than to outwear it. It is by its very fineness circumscribed—a feminine virtue. Women understand it and keep it secret. I flatter myself that I have possessed the high moment, vanished against the noon. Ah, my dear fellow—" he added, lifting his glass to St. George's smile.
But little Cawthorne—all reality in his heliotrope outing and duck and grey curls—raised a characteristic plaint.
"Oh, but I've done it," he mournfully reviewed. "When'll I ever be in another island, in front of another vacated throne? Why didn't I move into the palace, and set up a natty, up-to-date little republic? I could have worn a crown as a matter of taste—what's the use of a democracy if you aren't free to wear a crown? And what kind of American am I, anyway, with this undeveloped taste for acquiring islands? If they ever find this out at the polls my vote'll be challenged. What?"
"Aw whee!" said Bennietod, intent upon a Roman candle, "wha' do you care, Mr. Cawt'orne? You don't hev to go back fer to be a child-slave to Chillingwort'. Me, I've gotta good call to jump overboard now an' be de sonny of a sea-horse, dead to rights!"
St. George looked at them all affectionately, unconscious that already the experience of the last three days was slipping back into the sheathing past, like a blade used. But he was dawningly aware, as he sat there at Olivia's feet in glorious content, that he was looking at them all with new eyes. It was as if he had found new names for them all; and until long afterward one does not know that these moments of bestowing new names mark the near breathing of the god.
The silence of Mrs. Hastings and her quiet devotion to her brother somehow gave St. George a new respect for her. Over by the wheel-house something made a strange noise of crying, and St. George saw that Mr. Frothingham sat holding a weird little animal, like a squirrel but for its stumpy tail and great human eyes, which he had unwittingly stepped on among the rocks. The little thing was licking his hand, and the old lawyer's face was softened and glowing as he nursed it and coaxed it with crumbs. As he looked, St. George warmed to them all in new fellowship and, too, in swift self-reproach; for in what had seemed to him but "broad lines and comic masks" he suddenly saw the authority and reality of homely hearts. The better and more intimate names for everything which seemed now within his grasp were more important than Yaque itself. He remembered, with a thrill, how his mother had been wont to tell him that a man must walk through some sort of fairy-land, whether of imagination or of the heart, before he can put much in or take much from the market-place. And lo! this fairy-land of his finding had proved—must it not always prove?—the essence of all Reality.
His eyes went to Olivia's face in a flash of understanding and belief.
"Don't you see?" he said, quite as if they two had been talking what he had thought.
She waited, smiling a little, thrilled by his certainty of her sympathy.
"None of this happened really," triumphantly explained St. George, "I met you at the Boris, did I not? Therefore, I think that since then you have graciously let me see you for the proper length of time, and at last we've fallen in love just as every one else does. And true lovers always do have trouble, do they not? So then, Yaque has been the usual trouble and happiness, and here we are—engaged."
"I'm not engaged," Olivia protested serenely, "but I see what you mean. No, none of it happened," she gravely agreed. "It couldn't, you know. Anybody will tell you that."
In her eyes was the sparkle of understanding which made St. George love her more every time that it appeared. He noted, the white cloth frock, and the coat of hunting pink thrown across her chair, and he remembered that in the infinitesimal time that he had waited for her outside the Palace of the Litany, she must have exchanged for these the coronation robe and jewels of Queen Mitygen. St. George liked that swift practicality in the race of faery, though he was completely indifferent to Mrs. Hastings' and Antoinette's claims to it; and he wondered if he were to love Olivia more for everything that she did, how he could possibly live long enough to tell her. When one has been to Yaque the simplest gifts and graces resolve themselves into this question.
The Aloha gently freed herself from the shallow green pocket where she had lain through three eventful days, and slipped out toward the waste of water bound by the flaunting autumn of the west. An island wind, fragrant of bark and secret berries, blew in puffs from the steep. A gull swooped to her nest in a cranny of the basalt. From below a servant came on deck, his broad American face smiling over a tray of glasses and decanters and tinkling ice. It was all very tranquil and public and almost commonplace—just the high tropic seas at the moment of their unrestrained sundown, and the odour of tea-cakes about the pleasantly-littered deck. And for the moment, held by a common thought, every one kept silent. Now that The Aloha was really moving toward home, the affair seemed suddenly such a gigantic impossibility that every one resented every one else's knowing what a trick had been played. It was as if the curtain had just fallen and the lights of the auditorium had flashed up after the third act, and they had all caught one another breathless or in tears, pretending that the tragedy had really happened.
"Promise me something," begged St. George softly, in sudden alarm, born of this inevitable aspect; "promise me that when we get to New York you are not going to forget all about Yaque—and me—and believe that none of us ever happened."
Olivia looked toward the serene mystery of the distance.
"New York," she said only, "think of seeing you in New York—now."
"Was I of more account in Yaque?" demanded St. George anxiously.
"Sometimes," said Olivia adorably, "I shall tell you that you were. But that will be only because I shall have an idea that in Yaque you loved me more."
"Ah, very well then. And sometimes," said St. George contentedly, "when we are at dinner I shall look down the table at you sitting beside some one who is expounding some baneful literary theory, and I shall think: What do I care? He doesn't know that she is really the Princess of Far-Away. But I do."
"And he won't know anything about our motor ride, alone, the night that I was kidnapped, either—the literary-theory person," Olivia tranquilly took away his breath by observing.
St. George looked up at her quickly and, secretly, Olivia thought that if he had been attractive when he was courageous he was doubly so with the present adorably abashed look in his eyes.
"When—alone?" St. George asked unconvincingly.
She laughed a little, looking down at him in a reproof that was all approbation, and to be reproved like that is the divinest praise.
"How did you know?" protested St. George in fine indignation. "Besides," he explained, "I haven't an idea what you mean."
"I guessed about that ride," she went on, "the night before last, when you were walking up and down outside my window. I don't know what made me—and I think it was very forward of me. Do you want to know something?" she demanded, looking away.
"More than anything," declared St. George. "What?"
"I think—" Olivia said slowly, "that it began—then—just when I first thought how wonderful that ride would have been. Except—that it had begun a great while before," she ended suddenly.
And at these enigmatic words St. George sent a quick look over the forward deck. It was of no use. Mr. Frothingham was well within range.
"Heavens, good heavens, how happy I am," said St. George instead.
"And then," Olivia went on presently, "sometimes when there are a lot of people about—literary-theory persons and all—I shall look across at you, differently, and that will mean that you are to remember the exact minute when you looked in the window up at the palace, on the mountain, and I saw you. Won't it?"
"It will," said St. George fervently. "Don't try to persuade me that there wasn't any such mountain," he challenged her. "I suppose," he added in wonder, "that lovers have been having these secret signs time out of mind—and we never knew."
Olivia drew a little breath of content.
"Bless everybody," she said.
So they made invasion of that pure, dim world before them; and the serene mystery of the distance came like a thought, drawn from a state remote and immortal, to clasp the hand of There in the hand of Here.
"And then sometimes," St. George went on, his exultation proving greater than his discretion, "we'll take the yacht and pretend we're going back—"
He stopped abruptly with a quick indrawn breath and the hope that she had not noticed. He was, by several seconds, too late.
"Whose yacht is it?" Olivia asked promptly. "I wondered."
St. George had dreaded the question. Someway, now that it was all over and the prize was his, he was ashamed that he had not won it more fairly and humiliated that he was not what she believed him, a pillar of the Evening Sentinel. But Amory had miraculously heard and turned himself about.
"It's his," he said briefly, "I may as well confess to you, Miss Holland," he enlarged somewhat, "he's a great cheat. The Aloha is his, and so am I, busy body and idle soul, for using up his yacht and his time on a newspaper story. You were the 'story,' you know."
"But," said Olivia in bewilderment, "I don't understand. Surely—"
"Nothing whatever is sure, Miss Holland," Amory sadly assured her, but his eyes were smiling behind his pince-nez. "You would think one might be sure of him. But it isn't so. Me, you may depend upon me," he impressed it lightly. "I'm what I say I am—a poor beggar of a newspaper man, about to be held to account by one Chillingworth for this whole millenial occurrence, and sent off to a political convention to steady me, unless I'm fired. But St. George, he's a gay dilettante."
Then Amory resumed a better topic of his own; and Olivia, when she understood, looked down at her lover as miserably as one is able when one is perfectly happy.
"Oh," she said, "and up there—in the palace to-day—I did think for a minute that perhaps you wanted me to marry the prince so that—they could—."
One could smile now at the enormity of that.
"So that I could put it in the paper?" he said. "But, you see, I never could put it in any paper, even if I didn't love you. Who would believe me? A thousand years from now—maybe less—the Evening Sentinel, if it is still in existence, can publish the story, perhaps. Until then I'm afraid they'll have to confine themselves to the doings of the precincts."
Olivia waived the whole matter for one of vaster importance.
"Then why did you come to Yaque?" she demanded.
Mr. Frothingham had left his place by the wheel-house and wandered forward. The steamer chair had a back that was both broad and high, and one sitting in its shadow was hermetically veiled from the rest of the deck. So St. George bent forward, and told her.
After that they sat in silence, and together they looked back toward the island with its black rocks smitten to momentary gold by a last javelin of light. There it lay—the land locking away as realities all the fairy-land of speculation, the land of the miracles of natural law. They had walked there, and had glimpsed the shadowy threshold of the Morning. Suppose, St. George thought, that instead of King Otho, with his delicate sense of the merely visible, a great man had chanced to be made sovereign of Yaque? And instead of Mr. Frothingham, slave to the contestable, and Little Cawthorne in bondage to humour, and Amory and himself swept off their feet by a heavenly romance, suppose a party of savants and economists had arrived in Yaque, with a poet or two to bring away the fire—what then? St. George lost the doubt in the noon of his own certainty. There could be no greater good, he chanted to the god who had breathed upon him, than this that he and Amory shared now with the wise and simple world, the world of the resonant new names. He even doubted that, save in degree, there could be a purer talisman than the spirit that inextinguishably shone in the face of the childlike old lawyer as the strange little animal nestled in his coat and licked his hand. And these were open secrets. Open secrets of the ultimate attainment.
They watched the land dissolving in the darkness like a pearl in wine of night. But at last, when momentarily they had turned happy eyes to each other's faces, they looked again and found that the dusk, taking ancient citadels with soundless tread, had received the island. And where on the brow of the mountain had sprung the white pillars of the king's palace glittered only the early stars.
"Crown jewels," said Olivia softly, "for everybody's head."