She suddenly raised her face, her eyes shining through the humid mask of it.
"Would you—could you—understand?"
"Tell me, Claire-Anne, what you want to."
She drew a short gasping breath, turned her head away, looked up, turned it away again, paused for breath, gripped his hand by the wrist....
"I ... I ... I was the child of actors, and they died, and there was enough money to bring me up and educate me, and give me my chance on the stage.... And I wasn't good enough.... I was too much myself. Couldn't quite be other characters. I don't know if you understand.... But ... then a man got infatuated with me and married me.... And later he wished he'd married a—comfortable woman with a fortune.... And then he died and left me ... not very much.... But that was not the reason.... I was left, how do you say?... stranded. I had no career, no husband, no child, no business. France, it is not easy ... not easy anywhere.... Friends? People are too busy.... And I was ... just there.... And all around me life bubbled and flowed, and I was ... not dead, not alive ... and alone ... I might have been a leper, but even lepers have colonies, and some one to be kind to them ... not dead, not alive ... and alone. I was so young.... It was unfair. Life was everywhere like a sparkling wine ... but where I was, was flat....
"And then—then I met a man ... it was pleasant for a while—to have some one to talk to, to go around with. It's so pleasant to laugh. You don't know how pleasant until you haven't laughed for a long time.... He didn't want to marry ... and in the end it was a choice of—oh, well ... or going back to being not dead, not alive ... and I couldn't go, just couldn't. And he gave me presents of money.... And then he got married. I don't blame him ... a comfortable woman with a fortune ... but I wasn't left for long.... Where one goes, others always follow.... There's a sort of ... sentier intuitif, a psychic path....
"And I wasn't so ashamed ... I was a little glad I had a place in the world ... a work even.... And every one might despise me.... I had a place.... I was no longer not dead, not alive.... I was even thankful for that.... Until I met you with your—terrible courtesy, with your understanding.... My head and my heart melted, and my body, too, and all had been so firm, so decided.... And I dreamed that I could snatch a while from destiny.... But—you see.... What the consul said was true, so ... dearest—but I mustn't ever call you dearest again."
"Well, then—dearest, you see why I couldn't marry you when you asked." She laughed bitterly. "If you had only known...."
He took a terrible grip on himself, faced her, looked at her.
"Claire-Anne, will you marry me now?"
"I don't know why you say it, but I know one thing: you are true. And I thank you ... but please don't make me cry any more. I have cried so much when you were away.... If only five years ago before I was ... estropiee ... crippled....
Dusk had gone; darkness had come, and now darkness itself would leave soon, for the third quarter of a great saffron moon showed its edge in the eastward. Marseilles was like the pale light of a candle. And a great palpable darkness had settled like water in the hollow of the woods.
"Dearest"—her voice took sudden strength—"will you forgive me? I don't say that just as if I'd done a small wrong. But will a big power come out of your heart and say: 'It's all right, Claire-Anne. I understood.' It will be so much for me to know that—in the days when you are gone—"
"But, Claire-Anne, I'm not gone—"
"You must go, dearest. You must go now. Don't you see?" Her voice grew gentle. "You couldn't stay any more. It wouldn't be like you, somehow. And I wouldn't have you spoiled in my eyes ... darling, you could never be ... but you must go...."
"And you, Claire-Anne—"
"Destiny ... a long, lean finger ... a path...."
"But you never know—"
"We know, we poor women, Shane. We know.... Shane, don't you understand ... what makes the ... girl in the archway, the emperor's mistress, drink, take ether ... do strange horrors?.... They know.... And they want to escape from seeing it ... for an instant even ... the terrible story of the Belle Heaulmiere ... the 'Armorer's Daughter':
"Ainsi le bon temps regretons Entre nous, pauvres vielles sotes, Assises bas, a crouppetons, Tout en ung tas commes pelotes, A petit feu de chenevotes Tost allumees, tost estaintes: Et jadis fusmes si mignotes!... Ainsi emprent a maintes et maintes.
"Do you understand, Shane, do you understand? So we regret the good old times, poor old light women, gathered together like fagots, and hunkering over a straw fire, soon lit, soon out—tost allumees, tost estaintes ... and once we were so dainty. To many and many's the one it happens. Pauvres vielles sotes! Poor old light women, Shane.... Et jadis fusmes si mignotes! ... Dainty as I am, they were once.... And do you blame them now when see it coming ... the drink, the ether ... the abominable things...."
"O my God! Claire-Anne!"
"Heart of hearts, Shane. I once escaped to light, where they escape to oblivion.... Once I had you, and all my life I'll remember it.... All my life I'll remember: I once knew a man.... And it will be a help, so much a help...."
"Oh, Claire-Anne, it can't be!"
"It must be, dearest heart. It is—decreed. Darling, sometimes I thought—Do you remember your showing me the poor prince's dagger, and our talking about him—setting himself free—and I said I thought I could understand why he did not.... I've wanted to, myself.... But.... There's a way you're brought up, when you're young.... They put such fear of God in you ... such fear of hell ... you never could—throw things down and go straight to Him, and say: 'I couldn't. I just simply couldn't. I hadn't the strength. I couldn't ... just....' And they never think of Him saying: 'Of course you couldn't.... And it was all My fault. I wasn't looking.... I've so much to think of.... You did right to come to Me....' But, no! no! One fears. They teach you so much fear, Shane, when you are young ... so that even this is better—this—game, where none win.... And so—one goes on...."
She rose suddenly and clutched his shoulders in panic. Her mouth twisted in piteous agony....
"Oh, but dearest, dearest, pauvres vielles sotes, poor old light women.... Shane, assises bas, a crouppetons, in an archway, hoping for a drunken farmer with a couple of sous ... and so cold, so cold, with a little fire of straw stalks ... tost allumees, tost estaintes!" ...
"No, Claire-Anne! no!"
"A drunken farmer, or traveling pedler.... Et jadis fusmes si mignotes ... and so dainty once!"
"No!" His voice took the ring of decision. She didn't hear him. Her voice broke into a torrent of sobs.
"Take me in your arms, Shane, once more. And let my heart come into your heart, where it's so warm ... and I'll have something to remember in the days when it will be ... so cold, so cold ... and I'll be there warming old bones.... A petit feu de chenevotes.... Shane, dearest, please...."
He took her in his arms, and her body seemed to be some light envelope in which a great turmoil of spirit beat, as a wild bird beats against a cage.... He could hardly hold her body so much was her tortured sobbing.... So much did what was within wheel and beat, beat and wheel, in unendurable panic. Her voice murmured in his wet shoulder:
"Pauvre vielle sote! O Shane, Shane ... pauvre vielle sote!" ...
Above him, to starboard, he could hear the churning of the tug that was to take them from the docks to the open sea. Overhead the pilot was stamping impatiently. Forward the mate was roaring like a bull:
"Where is that damned apprentice? Tell him to lay aft and bear a hand with the warps."
In a minute or so he would have to go on the poop and give orders to let go and haul in. The tug was blowing, "Hurry up...." He ought to be on deck now.... He hated to go up ... he hated to see the last of Marseilles ... he would never see Marseilles again....
Was all ready? Yes, all was ready. Cargo, supplies, sea-chest, everything for the long voyage he had decided—had to decide—on at the last minute. Forward across the Atlantic to where the sou'east trades blew, and then south'ard reaching under all sail—the fleecy clouds, the bright constellations of the alien pole, the strange fish-like birds, the flying-fish, the bonita, the albacore; the chill gust from the River Plate; the roar of the gales of the forties; the tremendous fight around the Horn, with a glimpse of land now and then as they fought for easting—the bleak rocks of Diego Ramirez and the Iledefonsos, and perhaps the blue ridge of Cape Horn, or of the False Cape; then, northward to Callao ... anywhere, everywhere ... new seas, new lands, new cities ... but never again Marseilles....
And he would never see her again, La Mielleuse—couldn't if he wanted to ... never again ... irrevocable.... On that pillow she had laid her head, her dark darling head!... And last night he had seen it for the last time, dark, smiling in sleep, on a snowy pillow.... He remembered as he might remember a strange pantomime.... His going to his coat for—what he had there ... the silent tiptoe ... the gentle raising of her left arm, as she smiled in her sleep ... the sudden weakness at her soft warm beauty ... the decision.... Of course he had done right!... Of course!... Of course!...
Overhead the pilot stamped on the deck in a flurry of impatience. The tug wailed in irritation. He must get on deck....
He threw one last glance around.... He had everything he needed for himself.... Nothing lacking.... His eyes paused for a moment on his desk. Wait! Where was the dagger? Prince Charles's dagger?
He gripped himself in fright. Was he going—had he gone—mad? He knew where that was ... he knew ... he knew.... It was—
"Ogh!" A flash of horror went over him.... But he had done right ... of course he had done right....
"All's ready, sir," the mate called in to his cabin.
"Man, you're no' ill?" the mate looked at him, queerly.
"Of course I'm not ill." He swung on deck. "All right? Let go aft, then, and haul in. Tug a little westward: a little more westward. Hard a port, Mr. McKinstry. All right! Let go all, for'a'd.... She's off...."
THE WRESTLER FROM ALEPPO
"Ya Zan," came his wife's slow grave voice, "O Shane, when your ship is in trouble, or does not go fast, do the passengers beat you?"
"Of course not," Campbell laughed. "What put that in your little head?"
"When I went with my uncle, Arif Bey, on the pilgrimage to Mecca—Arif was a Moslem that year"—she bit the thread of the embroidery she was doing with her little sharp teeth, tkk!—"our ship anchored for the night in Birkat Faraun—Pharaoh's Bay. In the morning it would not move, so the Maghrabi pilgrims beat the captain terribly. And once at Al-Akabah, when the captain lost sight of shores for one whole long day, the Maghrabis beat him again. They said he should have known better. Don't—don't they ever beat you, ya Zan?"
"Not yet, Fenzile. They only beat bad skippers."
"But our Rais was a good sailor. He must have been a good sailor, Zan. He was very old. He was very pious, too. He said the prayers. Do you ever say the prayers, Zan, when the sea looks as if it were about to be angry?"
"What sort of prayers, Fenzile?"
"Oh, prayers. Let me see." Her dark eyes had the look he loved, as if she had turned around and were rummaging within herself, as a woman seeks diligently and yet slowly in a chest. "Oh, like the Moslem's Hizb al-Bahr. You ought to know that prayer, ya Zan. It will make you safe at sea. I wonder you, a great Rais, do not know that prayer."
"What is the prayer, Fenzile?"
"'We pray Thee for safety in our goings forth and our standings still.... Subject unto us this sea, even as Thou didst subject the deep to Moses, and as Thou didst subject the fire to Abraham, and as Thou didst subject the iron to David, and as Thou didst subject the wind and the devils and djinns and mankind to Solomon, and as Thou didst subject the moon and Al-Burah to Mohammed, on whom be Allah's mercy and His blessing! And subject unto us all the seas in earth and heaven, in Thy visible and in Thine invisible worlds, the sea of this life and the sea of futurity. O Thou Who reignest over everything and unto Whom all things return.' ... You must know that prayer, and say that prayer, ya Zan. What do you do when it is very stormy?"
"Oh, take in as little sail as possible and keep shoving ahead."
"I don't understand," she let the embroidery fall in her lap. "I see your ship from the quays and I can't understand how you guide such a big ship. And how you go at night, Zan, that I cannot understand. It is so dark at night. There is a terrible lot I do not understand. I am very stupid."
"You are very dear and darling, Fenzile. You understand how to take care of a house and how to be very beautiful, and be very loving—"
"Do I, Zanim? That is not hard. That is not very much. That is not like sailing a ship on the sea."
Without, Beirut seethed with life. Thin, gaunt dogs barked and snarled in the narrow staired streets. Came the cry of the donkey-boys. Came the cry of the water-sellers. Came the shouts of the young Syrians over the gammon game. Loped the laden camels. Tramped the French soldiers. Came a new hum....
Fenzile rose and went through the courtyard, past the little fountain with the orange-trees, past the staircase to the upper gallery, came to the barred iron gates, looked a moment, moved modestly back into the shadows....
"O look, ya Zan," her grave voice became excited. "Come quickly. See. It is Ahmet Ali, with his attendants and a lot of people following him."
"And who is Ahmet Ali?"
"Ahmet Ali! don't you know, Zanim? The great wrestler, Ahmet Ali. The wrestler from Aleppo...."
Through the grilled door, in the opal shade of the walls, Shane saw the wrestler stroll down the street; a big bulk of a man in white robe and turban, olive-skinned, heavy on his feet, seeming more like a prosperous young merchant than a wrestling champion of a vilayet. Yet underneath the white robes Shane could sense the immense arms and shoulders, the powerful legs. Very heavily he moved, muscle-bound a good deal, Shane thought; a man for pushing and crushing and resisting, but not for fast, nervous work, sinew and brain coordinating like the crack of a whip. A Cornish wrestler would turn him inside out within a minute; a Japanese would pitch him like a ball before he had even taken his stance. But once he had a grip he would be irresistible.
"So that's Ahmet Ali."
"Yes, Zan," Fenzile clapped her hands with delight, like a child seeing a circus procession. "Oh, he is a great wrestler. He beat Yussuf Hussein, the Cairene, and he beat a great Russian wrestler who came on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And he beat a French sailor. And he beat a Tartar. Oh, he is a great wrestler, Ahmet Ali."
The wrestler had come nearer. Behind him came four or five supporters, in cloth white as his. Behind them came a ruck of Syrian youths, effeminate, vicious. Came a croud of donkey-boys, impish, black. The wrestler walked more slowly as he approached to pass the iron doors. And Shane was startled into a sudden smile at the sight of his face—a girl's face, with a girl's eyes. And in his hand was a rose. A wrestler with a rose!
"Why, a man could kill him."
"Oh, no! Oh, no, Zan!" Fenzile said. "He is very strong. He conquered Yussuf Hussein, the Cairene, and Yussuf Hussein could bend horseshoes with his bare hands. He is very strong, very powerful Ahmet Ali."
The wrestler was walking slowly past the house throwing glances through the grill with his full girl's eyes. A quick suspicion came into Campbell's mind. He turned to his wife.
"Does he come past here often?"
"Yes, yes, Zan. Every day."
"Does he stop and look into the court like that, every time?"
"Yes, Zan. Every time," she smiled.
"Do you know whom he's looking for?"
"Yes, Zan. For me."
Campbell's hand shot out suddenly and caught her wrist.
"Fenzile," his voice was cold. "You aren't carrying on with, encouraging this—Ahmet Ali?"
"Zan Cam'el," her child's eyes flashed unexpectedly. "I am no cheap Cairene woman. I am a Druse girl. The daughter of a Druse Bey."
"I am sorry, Fenzile."
She looked at him steadily with her great green eyes, green of the sea, and as he looked at her sweet roundish face, her little mouth half open in sincerity, her calm brow, her brown arch of eyebrow, she seemed to him no more than a beautiful proud child. There was no guile in her.
"You mustn't be foolish, you know, Fenzile."
"Severim Seni. I love only you, Zan. But it is so funny to see him go by, I must always smile. Don't you think it funny, Zan?"
"No, I don't think it at all funny."
"Oh, but it is funny, Zan. A big strong wrestler like that to be foolish over a very little woman. And for a cheap showman of the market-place to be lifting his eyes to a daughter of the Druse emirs. It is funny."
"It isn't funny. And he isn't much of a wrestler anyway."
"Oh, but he is, Zan. He is a very great wrestler. They say he threw and killed a bear."
"O kooltooluk. Hell! I could throw him myself."
She said nothing, turning her head, and reaching for her embroidery.
"Don't you believe me, Fenzile? I tell you I could make mince-meat of him."
"Of course, Zan. Of course you could." And she smiled. But this time it wasn't the delighted smile of a child. It was the grave patient smile of a wise woman. And Shane knew it. Past that barrier he could not break. And on her belief he could make no impress. There was no use arguing, talking. She would just smile and agree. And her ideal of strength and power would be the muscle-bound hulk of the Aleppo man, with the girl's face and the girl's eyes, and the rose in his hand. And Shane, all his life inured to sport, hard as iron, supple as a whip, with his science picked up from Swedish quartermasters and Japanese gendarmes, from mates and crimps in all parts of the world, would always be in her eyes an infant compared to the monstrous Syrian! Not that it mattered a tinker's curse, but—
Oh, damn the wrestler from Aleppo!
He had thought, when he left Liverpool on a gusty February day, of all the peace and quiet, of the color and life there would be on the Asian shore ... Europe had somehow particularly sickened him on this last voyage.... All its repose was sordid, all its passion was calculated. England and its queen mourned the sudden death of the prince consort, but it mourned him with a sort of middle-class domesticity, and no majesty. So a grocer's family might have mourned, remembering how well papa cut the mutton.... He was so damned good at everything, Albert was, and he approved of art and science—within reason.... There was a contest for a human ideal in America, and in the ports of England privateers were being fitted out, to help the South, as the Greeks might, for a price.... And Napoleon, that solemn comedian, was making ready his expedition to Mexico, with fine words and a tradesman's cunning.... And the drums of Ulster roared for Garibaldi, rejoicing in the downfall of the harlot on seven hills, as Ulster pleasantly considered the papal states, while Victor Emmanuel, sly Latin that he was, thought little of liberty and much about Rome.... Aye, kings!
And so a great nostalgia had come over Shane Campbell on this voyage for the Syrian port and the wife he had married there. He wanted sunshine. He wanted color. He wanted simplicity of life. Killing there was in Syria, great killing too. But it was the sort of killing one understood and could forgive. A Druse disliked a Maronite Christian, so he went quietly and knifed him. Another Maronite resented that, and killed a Druse; and they were all at it, hell-for-leather. But it was passion and fanaticism, not high-flown words and docile armies and the tradesmen sneaking up behind.... Ave, war!
And he was sick of the damned Mersey fog, and he was sick of the drunkenness of Scotland Road, and he was sick of the sleet lashing Hoylake links. He was sick of Pharisaical importers who did the heathen in the eye on Saturday and on Sunday in their blasted conventicles thumped their black-covered craws in respectable humility.... In Little Asia religion was a passion, not a smug hypocrisy; and though the heathen was dishonest, yet it was not the mathematical reasoned dishonesty of the Christian. It was a childish game, like horse-coping.... And in the East they did not blow gin in your face, smelling like turpentine....
And he was sick of the abominable homes, the horsehair furniture with the anti-macassars—Lord! and they called themselves clean.... He wanted the spotlessness of the Syrian courtyard.... The daubs on the British walls, sentimental St. Bernard dogs and dray-horses with calves' eyes, brought him to a laughing point when he thought of the subtlety of color and line in strange Persian rugs....
And he was sick of British women, with their knuckled hands, their splayed feet. Their abominable dressing, too, a bust and a brooch and a hooped skirt—their grocers' conventions, prudish, almost obscene, avoiding of the natural in word, deed, or thought.... He wanted Fenzile, with her eyes, vert de mer, her full childish face, her slim hands with the orange-tinted finger nails, her silken trousers, her little slippers of silver and blue.... Her soft arms, her back-thrown head, her closed lids.... And the fountain twinkling in the soft Syrian night, while afar off some Arab singer chanted a poem of Lyla Khanim's:
"Beni ser-mest u hayran eyleyen ol yar; janim dir.... The world is a prison and my heart is scarred.... My tears are like a vineyard's fountain, O absent one...."
And here was Beirut again: here the snowy crest of Lebanon, here the roadstead crowded with craft; here the mulberry groves. Here the sparkling sapphire sea; here the turf blazing with poppies; here the quiet pine road to Damascus; here the forests, excellent with cedars. Here the twisting unexpected streets. Here his own quiet house, with the courtyard and its fountain. Here the hum of the bazaars, here the ha-ha of the donkey boys, here the growling camels. Here the rugs on the wall; here the little orange-trees. Here the two negress servants, clean, efficient. Here color, and peace, and passion. Here Fenzile....
And this damned wrestler from Aleppo must go and spoil it all.
He might have shipped with one of the great American clippers racing around Cape Hope under rolling topsails, and become in his way as well known as Donald Mackay was, who built and mastered the Sovereign of the Seas, with her crew of one hundred and five, four mates and two boatswains. He might have had a ship like Phil Dumaresq's Surprise, that had a big eagle for her figurehead. He might have clipped the record of the Flying Cloud, three hundred and seventy-four miles in one day, steering northward and westward around Cape Horn. He might have had a ship as big as the Great Republic, the biggest ship that ever took the seas. He might have had one of the East Indiamen, and the state of an admiral. He might have had one of the new adventurers in steel and steam.
But fame and glory never allured him, and destiny did not call him to be any man's servant. He was content to be his own master with his own ship, and do whatsoever seemed to him good and just to do. If they needed him and his boat anywhere, he would be there. When they needed boats to America, he was there. But if they didn't need him, he was not the one to thrust himself. Let destiny call.
Success, as it was called, was a thing of destiny. When destiny needed a man, destiny tapped him on the shoulder. Failure, however, was a man's own fault. There was always work to do. And it was up to every man to find his work. If there was no room for him in a higher work it was no excuse for his not working in a lower plane. There would be no failures, he thought, if folk were only wise. If a man came a cropper in a big way, it was because he had rushed into a work before Destiny, the invisible infallible nuncio of God, had chosen her man. Or because he was dissatisfied, ambition and ability not being equal. Or because he was lazy.
Always there was work to do, as there was work for him now. Clouds of sail and tubby steamboats went the crowded tracks of the world's waters, not to succor and help but for gain of money. And Lesser Asia was neglected, now that the channel of commerce to the States was opened wide. Syria needed more than sentimental travelers to the Holy Land. It needed machinery for its corn-fields and its mines. It needed prints and muslins from the Lancashire looms. It needed rice and sugar. And it had more to give than a religious education. Fine soap and fruit and wine and oil and sesame it gave, golden tobacco, and beautiful craftmanship in silver and gold, fine rugs from Persia. Brass and copper and ornamental woodcarving from Damascus, mother of cities; walnuts, wheat, barley, and apricots from its gardens and fields. Wool and cotton, gums and saffron from Aleppo, and fine silk embroidery.
Others might race past Java Head to China for tea and opium. Others might make easting around the Horn to the gold-fields of California. Others might sail up the Hooghly to Calicut, trafficking with mysterious Indian men. Others might cross to the hustle and welter of New York, young giant of cities, but Campbell was content to sail to Asia Minor. He brought them what they needed and they sent color and rime to prosaic Britain, hashish to the apothecaries, and pistachios from Aleppo, cambric from Nablus and linen from Bagdad, and occasionally for an antiquary a Damascene sword that rang like a silver bell.
For others the glory and fame to which destiny had called them. For others the money that they grubbed with blunted fingers from the dross-heaps of commerce. But for Campbell what work he could do, well done—and Lesser Asia ...
Of all the seas he had sailed it seemed to Shane that Mediterranean had more color, more life, more romance than any. Not the battles round the Horn, not the swinging runs to China, not the starry southern seas had for him the sense of adventure that Mediterranean had. Mediterranean was not a sea. It was a home haven, with traditions of the human house. Here Sennacherib sailed in the great galleys the brown Sidonian shipwrights had made for him. Here had been the Phenicians with their brailed squaresail. Here had been the men of Rhodes, sailors and fighters both. Here the Greek penteconters with their sails and rigging of purple and black. Here the Cypriotes had sailed under the lee of the islands Byron loved and where Sappho sang her songs like wine and honey, sharp wine and golden honey. Here had the Roman galleys splashed and here the great Venetian boats set proud sail against the Genoese. Here had the Lion-heart sailed gallantly to Palestine. Here had Icarus fallen in the blue sea. Here had Paul been shipwrecked, sailing on a ship of Andramyttium bound to the coast of Asia, crossing the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, and trans-shipping at Myra. How modern it all sounded but for the strange antique names.
"And when we had sailed slowly many days"—only a seaman could feel the pathos of that—"and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone;
"And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The Fair Havens—"
Was Paul a sailor, too, Campbell often wondered? The bearded Hebrew, like a firebrand, possibly epileptic, not quite sane, had he at one time been brought up to the sea? "Sirs," he had said, "I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives." There spoke a man who knew the sea—not a timid passenger. But the master of the ship thought otherwise and yet Paul was right. And then came "a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon." And that was the Levanter of to-day, Euraquilo, they call it—hell let loose. Then came furious seas, and the terrors of a lee shore; the frapping of the ship and the casting overboard of tackle, the jettisoning of freight—
"And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away." Somehow the absolute fidelity of the sea-life of the story went to Campbell's heart, and the figure of Paul the mariner was clearer than the figure of Paul the Apostle.
"Howbeit, we must be cast upon a certain island.
"But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country—"
The intuition of seamanship. The flash. How modern! Oh, Paul lived in that sea. His ghost and memory were forever there, as were the ghosts of the Lion-heart; and of Sappho, singer of songs; and of the stout Phenician sailing men; and of the doges of Venice, lovers and husbands of the sea. On the tideless Mediterranean beauty still abided, as nowhere else; would abide, when nowhere else—
Would it, though? Would it abide anywhere? A pang came into Campbell's heart. Off Finisterre he had been passed by Robert Steel of Greenock's Falcon, every sail drawing, skysails and moonrakers set, a pillar of white cloud she seemed, like some majestic womanhood. And while boats like the Fiery Cross and the Falcon tore along like greyhounds, there were building tubby iron boats to go by steam. The train was beating the post-chaise with its satiny horses, the train that went by coal one dug from the ground. And even now de Lesseps and his men were digging night and day that the steamboat might push the proud clipper from the seas. Queer! Would there come a day when no topgallants drew? And the square-rigged ships would be like old crones gathering fagots on an October day. And what would become of the men who built and mastered great racing ships? And would the sea itself permit vile iron and smudgy coal to speck its immaculate bosom? Must the sea, too, be tamed like a dancing bear for the men who are buying and selling? It seemed impossible.
But the shrewd men who trafficked said it must be so. They were spending their money on de Lesseps's fabulous scheme. And the shrewd men never spent money without a return. They would conquer.
Poor sea of the Vikings! Poor sea of the Lion-heart and of the Sappho of the songs! Poor sea of Admiral Columbus! Poor sea to whom Paul made obeisance! Sea of Drake and sea of Nelson, and sea of Philip of Spain. Poor sea whom the great doges of Venice wed with a ring of gold! Christ! If they could only bottle you, they would sell you like Holland gin!
He had figured his work. He had figured his field. It seemed to him that this being done life should flow on evenly as a stream. But there were gaps of unhappiness that all the subtle sailing of a ship, all the commerce of the East, all the fighting of the gales could not fill. Within him somewhere was a space, in his heart, in his head, somewhere, a ring, a pit of emotion—how, where, why he could not express. It just existed. And this was filled at times with concentration on his work, at times with plans of the future and material memories of the past or thoughts of ancient shipmates, of his Uncle Robin. It was like a house, that space was, with a strange division of time, that corresponded not with time of day, but with recurrent actions, memories, moods. There would be the bustle of his work, and that seemed to be morning. There would be the planning of future days, and that seemed like an afternoon, of sunshine; and there would be memories, as of old shipmates, as of Uncle Robin—God rest his dear soul; as of Alan Donn with his hearty cursing, his hearty laugh. And that was like an evening with golden candle-light and red fire burning. And then would come the quietness of night, all the bustle, all the plans, all the memories gone. The fire out, the rooms empty. And in the strange place somewhere within would come a strange lucidity, blue and cold and absolute as the stars, and into that place would walk, as players stalk upon the stage, each of three ghosts.
The first was his mother, who was dead, an apparition of chilling terror. From afar she beheld him with eyes that were queerly inimical. She had done nothing to him, nor he anything to her. She had done nothing for him, nor he for her. Between them was nothing. When she had died he had felt nothing, and that was the tragedy. No tears, no relief, nothing. She had carried him in her womb, born him, suckled him; and he had always felt he had been unwelcome. There had been no hospitality in her body; just constraint. She had had no welcome for the little guest of God; her heart had been hard to him and he at her breasts. Nothing common to them in life, and now joined through the horrible significant gulf of death. She could be with him always now, being dead. But where a man's mother should come to him smilingly, with soft hands, with wisdom and comfort passing that of life, she came with terrible empty eyes. He could see her gaunt profile, her black brows. She was like an engraving he had once seen of the witch Saul had used at En-dor, to call up Samuel, who was dead. She had the same awful majesty, the same utter loneliness.
"You gave me nothing in life. In death give me peace," he would cry. But she stayed until it suited her to go, as she would have done in life. Her haunted, haunting eyes ...!
And there would come another ghost, the ghost of the girl he had married and he a boy—fourteen years ago. It was strange how he could remember her—her red hair, her sullen mouth, her suspicious eyes. Her shoulders drooped a little; there was no grace to her stance. She complained against something, but she did not accuse him. He had married her, and she had married him, and she had died. That was all there was to it. And though she had sorrowed his younger days, yet he felt very kindly to her. There she was, with her sullen mouth, her drooping shoulders, complaining. "Life is so short, and there was so little to it, and others have so much," she seemed to say. "I had a right to have my man and a place in the country, the like of other girls, but all I got was you. And death at the end of a short year. Wasn't it hard, och, wasn't it so!" And he had to comfort her. "It was nobody's fault, Moyra. It just happened. We were awfully young." But her lips were still sullen, her eyes suspicious as she went away. "A short life and a bitter one. A hard thing surely!" When she left him there was a sigh of relief. Poor girl!
And the third ghost was hardly a presence, but an absence, or a presence so intangible that it was worse than an absence. Claire-Anne, who was dead, whom he had—made dead, whom he had taken it upon himself to set free. For a year after he had left Marseilles she had seemed to be always with him, closer in spirit, now she was dead, than she had ever been in flesh and spirit when alive. A part of him she seemed always to be. Always there, in the quiet cabin, on the heeling decks, on the solid shore. And the long thoughts of him seemed to be conversation with her, on strange beautiful things, on strange terrible things, on the common commodity of life.... And then one day she left him....
He was coming into Southampton Water and waiting for the pilot's cutter from the Solent, one bright July morning. And all the Solent was dotted with sails, the snowy sails of great yachts and the cinnamon sails of small ones. Little fishing-craft prowled near the shore. And afar off, in fancy, he could see the troops of swans, and the stalking herons. The pilot's cutter plowed toward him, her deep forefoot dividing the water like a knife. Immense, vibrant beauty. And he felt, as always, that Claire-Anne was by him, her dark understanding presence, her clear Greek face, her little smile.
"In a minute now we will come into the wind and lower a boat, Claire-Anne." And a shock of surprise came over him. She was not there. It was as though he had been talking with his back turned to some one, and turning around found they weren't there. For an instant he felt as if he had lost somebody overboard. And then it came to him that water, earth, material hazards were nothing to her any more. She had gone somewhere for a moment. And he turned to greet the pilot as he swung aboard.
"She will come back," he thought.... But she never came back. Once or twice or maybe three times, a month, six months, and ten months later, he felt her warm lover-like presence near him. "Claire-Anne! Is it you, Claire-Anne?" And she was gone again. Something that had hovered, fluttered, kissed, and flown away. Never again!
She had become to him in death much more real than she had ever been in life. In life she had been dynamic, a warm, multicolored, perfumed cloud. In death she was static. All the tumult of material things gone, he had a vision of her clear as a line drawing. And he had come to depend on her so much. In difficulty of thought he would say: "Is this right, Claire-Anne?" And her answer would come: "Yes, Shane!" Or possibly when some matter of trade or conduct seemed dubious, not quite—whatever it was, her voice would come clear as a bell. "You mustn't, Shane. It isn't right. It isn't like you to be small." It might have been conscience, but it sounded like Claire-Anne. And oftentimes in problems, she would say: "I don't know, Shane. I don't quite know." And he would say, "We must do our best, Claire-Anne."
Well, she was gone. And he thought to himself: What do we know of the destiny of the dead? They, too, must have work, missions to perform. The God he believed in—the wise, firm, and kindly God—might have said: "Claire-Anne, he'll be all right now. At any rate he'll have to work out the rest for himself. Leave that. I want you to—" And she had gone.
That was one majestic explanation, but at times it seemed to him that no matter what happened in the world, or superworld, yet she must be in touch with him. "Set me, as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thine arm," cried the prince's daughter, "for love is strong as death." If she loved him she must love him still.
It suddenly occurred to him that the fault was not occult, but a matter of spiritual deterioration in himself. To be in harmony with the lonely dead there must be no dross about the mind. The preoccupations of routine, the occasional dislikes of some stupid ship's officer, or boatswain, the troubles about cargo—this, that, the other pettinesses might cloud his eye as a mist clouds a lens. There came to him the memory of a translation from some Chinese poet he had heard somewhere, in some connection:
How am I fallen from myself! For a long time now I have not seen the prince of Chang in my dreams.
He decided he would clear and make ready the quiet sweet place in his heart, the room of ghosts, so that she might come and dwell there. But induce the spiritual mood of the quiet October evening much as he could, yet she never came again.
From his mind now there faded the memory of her face, the memory of her hands, the memory of her voice even. With every week, with every month, with the year, she was gone. Like a lost thought, or a lost bar of music, she was gone. She had been there, but she was gone. The loss was a terrible one. To lose one who was alive was much. But to lose one who was dead was unbelievable, horrible ... to lose the sun ... forever....
He decided he could go back to the Prado of Marseilles, where first he had met her, where she would of all places have kept a tryst with him. There was no risk. The folk of the sea come and go so easily, so invisibly, and French law bothers itself little about the killing of a woman of evil repute.... One of the risks of the trade, they would say. Even had there been a risk he would have gone. He went.
It was a dark night, a night of wind with the waves lashing the shore. A night of all nights to keep a tryst with a dead woman. Immense privacy of darkness and howling winds and lashing waves. With awe he went there, as a shaken Catholic might enter a cathedral, dubious of the mystery of the eucharist, expecting some silent word, some invisible sign from the tabernacle.... He went with bowed head....
She never came.
He concentrated until all faded away, even the night, the wind, the insistent waters. He might have been standing on a solitary rock in an infinite dark sea, to which there was no shore. Asking, pleading, willing for her.... But she never came....
And it suddenly became inevitable to him that she would not come; and slowly, as a man comes slowly out of a drug into consciousness, he came back into the world of lights and laughter and sodden things. And turning on his heel without a look, he went away....
He never called to her again.... He thought over her often enough, and she had never been real, he decided. His mother and his wife had been real. They were their own dimensions. But she was something he had made in his head, as an author may create a character. She was a hallucination. And she had never been with him after death; that had been a mirage in the hinterland of the mind.
And he asked: Who was she, anyway? She was a woman who said she loved him, might even have believed it. Women under stress believe so many things. A little anger, a little passion, a little melancholy, and things resolve themselves into so many differences of color and line. And what standard of truth is there? Suppose he were to tell any man of the world of the occurrence, and to ask who she was, what she was, and what he had been to her. They would have said it was simple. She was a harlot of Marseilles, and he was her amant de coeur. But the beauty of it! he would have objected. All the beauty was in yourself. Or as they would have put it: All imagination!
What a snare it all was, and what was truth? How much better off a man was if he had never anything to do with them, and yet....
A world of men, there would be something lacking! Friends he had in plenty, men would help him, as a ship stands by another ship at sea. Friends to talk to, of ships and sports, of ports and politics; but when one left them, one was left by one's self. And all the subtleties of mind came again like a cloud of wasps. To each man his own problem of living. To each man to decide his own escape from himself.
"And the Lord God said: It is not good that the man should be alone—" the Hebrew chronicler had imagined. No, it was not good. It was terrible. After the day's work was done, after the pleasant evenings of friends, then came the terror of the shadows. Unreal they might be, but they hurt more than real things did. Unless one sank into the undignified oblivion of drink, there was no escape. Shadows came. Acuter than the tick of a watch, they were there, the cold mother with the haunting eyes, the dead wife with the sullen mouth, visible as stars. And empty as air was the space Claire-Anne should have occupied, with her clear-cut beautiful features, her understanding eyes. Three ghosts, and the ghost that was missing was the most terrible ghost of all ... He could not stand them any more.... He must not be alone....
He could not marry a Christian of the East, they were such an unspeakably treacherous race. He could not marry a Jewess, for about each one of the nation there seemed to be an awesome destiny, a terrible doom or an ultimate majesty blinding human eyes; a wall, so high that it was terrible.... He could not marry a Moslem woman, for that would mean acceptance of Islam. And though Islam was very fine, very clean, and Campbell believed in resignation, and acknowledged there was no god but God, as the crypticism was, yet the Scots-Irish honesty of him would not accept Mohammed as the prophet of God. It would be like putting Bonaparte above the Lord Buddha. A faith is a very solemn thing and not to be approached lightly. To accept a faith publicly, the tongue in the cheek, was the sin of insincerity and rank dishonesty, having committed which no man should hold up his head. And moreover Moslem women were queer things. For centuries they had been held to be a little more beautiful than a flower, a little less valuable, less personal than a fine horse. Being told that for centuries, they had come to believe it, and believing one's self to be particular leads one to become it. Moslem women, no!
He had become familiar with the Druses around Beirut. There was something in the hard independent tribesmen that reminded him of the Ulster Scot. Aloof, unafraid, inimical, independent, with a strain of mysticism in them, they were somehow like the glensmen of Antrim. Fairly friendly with the Moslems, contemptuous of the Latin Christians, impatient of dogma, they might have been the Orangemen of Syria. Their emirs had a great dignity and a great simplicity, like an old-time Highland chief. They acknowledged God, but after that their faith ran into esoteric subtleties of nature-worship, which they kept to the initiates among themselves.... And the common run of them had strange legends, as that in a mountain bowl of China lived tribe on tribe of Druses, and that one day these of Syria and of China would be reunited and conquer the world.... They were very dignified men, and muscular.... Their women had the light feet of gazelles ... One only saw their sweet low foreheads, their cinnamon hands.... They claimed they were Christians sometimes, and other times they said they were Moslems, but the truth no stranger knew.... A secret sect, like the ancient Assassins, who had the Old Man of the Mountain for their king.... With them dwelt beauty and terror and the glamour of hidden things....
To Shane they were very kindly. They recognized him for a mountain man born, and for an honest man. They could not understand him, as a Christian, seeing he took no part in Greek or Latin politics. They decided he must have some faith of his own.... He did them some kindness of errands, and they were very hospitable to him....
In '61, after the massacres, when the tribesmen were preparing to retreat to the mountain of the Druses, he returned to find Syria occupied by the troops of Napoleon III and to hear that his friend Hamadj Beg of Deir el Kour was dead in the war.... He went to condole with the family.... Arif Bey, Hamadj's brother, was preparing to retreat toward Damascus....
"Arif Bey," Campbell suddenly said, "also this, I seek a wife."
"Yes." The grizzled Druse scratched his head, and looked at him keenly.
"I am making Lebanon my home; therefore I don't want a wife of my country. There is no people sib to me here but the Druse people.... Would a Druse woman marry me?"
"I—I see nothing against it."
"Do you know a Druse woman who would have me?"
"Well, let me see," Arif said. "There is Hamadj's daughter, Fenzile."
"Is she young, Arif Bey?"
"Not so young, nineteen, but she is a mountain woman and lasts."
"Is she good-looking?"
"Yes, she is very good-looking."
"Is she kindly?"
"Yes, yes, I think so."
"Is she wild?"
"No, She is very docile."
"You trust me a lot, Arif Bey."
"Yes, we trust you much."
"And I trust you, Arif Bey.... Will Fenzile marry me?"
"Yes," Arif Bey decided, "Fenzile will marry you."
It seemed to him, at thirty-five, that only now had he discovered the secret of living. Not until now had his choice and destiny come together to make this perfect equation of life. The work he loved of the bark Queen Maeve, with her beautiful sails like a racing yacht's, her white decks, her shining brass. The carrying of necessities from Britain to Syria, the land he loved, next to Ulster, his mother. And the carrying from Syria into harsh plain Britain of cargoes of beauty like those of Sheba's queen, on camels that bare spices, and very much gold and precious stones. And the great ancient city where he lived; not even Damascus, the pride of the world, exceeded it for beauty. Forward of massed Lebanon, white with snow it lay, a welter of red roots and green foliage—the blue water, the garlanded acacias, the roses, the sally branches. Beauty! Beauty! The Arab shepherds in abbas of dark magenta, the black Greek priests, the green of a pilgrim's turban, the veiled women smoking narghiles and daintly sipping sherbet, pink and yellow and white. The cry of the donkey-boy, and the cry of the cameleer, and the cry of the muezzin from the mosque. The quaint salutations as he passed along the staired streets: Naharkum Sayeed!—May your day be blessed. Naharaka abyad!—May your day be white. Allah yahtikum el afiyeh!—God give health to you. They were chanted like a refrain of a song.
Beauty! Riot and slashing of color. Yet there was line here and massive proportion. The sparkling, magenta city had been the theater of great marching hosts. The Phenicians had built it: "the root of life, the nurse of cities, the primitive queen of the world," they had named her. And gone the Phenicians, and came the slim subtle Egyptians. And the massive burly Assyrians came next: and now the memory of them was forgotten, also their love and their hatred and their envy was now perished. And then came the tramp of the Roman legions, Agrippa's men, and held the city for centuries. Justinian had one of his law schools there, until the earth quaked and the scholars dispersed. And then the Saracens held it until Baldwin, brother of Godfrey de Bouillon, clashed into it with mailed crusaders; and Baldwin, overcome with the beauty of the land, took him a paynim queen. And then came the occult reign of the Druse. And then the Turk.
And St. George had killed the Dragon there, after the old monk's tale.
Shane Campbell was never weary of looking at the inscriptions on the great cliffs at the River of the Dog—the strange beauty of that name! It was like the place-names of native Ulster—Athbo, the Ford of Cows, Sraidcuacha, the Cuckoo's Lane—one name sounded to the other like tuning-forks. And the sweet strange harmony of it filled his heart, so that he could understand the irresistible charm of Lebanon—the high clear note like a bird's song. Here was the sun and the dreams of mighty things, and the palpable proximity of God. Here was beauty native, to be picked like a nugget, not to be mined for in bitter hours of torment and distress.
High, clear, sustained, the note held. Arose the moon and the great stars like spangles. The slender acacias murmured. The pines hush-hushed. The bronhaha of the cafes was like a considered counterpoint. Everywhere was harmony; beauty. And there would be no depression. It would last. There would be no ghosts. They were exorcised. For now there was Fenzile. How understandable everything was! It must have been under a moon like this, under these Syrian stars, to the hush-hush-hush of the pine and the rustle of willow branches, that Solomon the king sang his love-song. And it must have been to one whose body was white as Fenzile's, to eyes as emerald, to velvety lips, to slim hands with orange-tinted finger nails that he sang. Surely the Shulamite was not fairer than the Fenzile, daughter of Hamadj, a Druse emir!
How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, The work of the hands of a cunning workman. Thy navel is like a round goblet, Which wanteth not liquor: Thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins. Thy neck is like a tower of ivory: Thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, By the gate of Bath-rabbim: Thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus. Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, And the hair of thine head like purple; The king is held in the galleries. How fair and pleasant art thou, O love, for delights! This thy stature is like to a palm tree. And thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
I said, I will go up to the palm tree. I will take hold of the boughs thereof: Now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, And the smell of thy nose like apples; And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, That goeth down sweetly, Causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak....
Where before he had made his mistake with women was allowing them to become spiritually important. His mother had been important; he had suffered from the sense of her lack of heart to him. His wife had been important; they hadn't understood life together, he made no attempt to.... They were so young.... And Claire-Anne had become spiritually important to him. So that when she was gone, it was hell.
If he had treated his mother casually, depending on his uncles, it would have been all right. If he had discerned—and he had discerned, though he knew not how to act—that his wife and he would forever be inharmonious, it would not have been a scar on his youth. If he had gone for instance to Alan Donn and said, "Uncle Alan, I'm afeared there's a mistake been made. And what are we going to do about this woman o' Louth?" And Alan would have said: "I ken't well you were a damned young fool. Ah, well, gang off aboard your boatie, and I'll see to her." Alan would have ditched her and her mother mercilessly, and there would have been no scar on his youth....
And Claire-Anne, had he only taken her as he should have taken her, as a light love, easily gotten, to be taken easily, instead of tragedizing until his fingers were scarlet.... God!... Yes, where before he had made his mistakes with women was allowing them to become spiritually important.
Well, he wouldn't do that with Fenzile. He knew better now. Keep the heart free. Let there be beauty and graciousness and kindliness, but keep the heart free, and ask for no heart. All tragedies were internal, all the outward deeds being only as sounds. Keep the heart free.
There were so many aspects to her. She was like a bird about the house, gaily colored, of bright song. He loved to see her move here and there, with movements as of music. And she was like a child at times, as she solemnly made sherbets—very like a child she was, intense, simple. And she was like a young relative; there was emptiness in the house as she went, and when she came back it was like a bird singing.
And she was so beautiful about the place, with her eyes green of the sea, her dusky velvet lips, her slim cinnamon hands, with the dramatic orange tinting on the nails. Always was some new beauty in her, a tilt of the head, a sudden gracious pose. She was like some piece of warm statuary. From any angle came beauty, shining as the sun.
And in the dusk when his arms were about her, she was no longer child, relative, or statue. She was woman, vibrant woman. Tensed muscles and a little stifled moan. And an emotional sob, maybe, or a tear glistening on her cheek. Relaxation, and a strange, easy dignity. With her arms about her white knees, her little head upraised, thoughts seemed to be going and coming from her like bees in and out of their straw skep. And often he was tempted to ask her what she was thinking of. But he stopped himself in time. Of course she was thinking of nothing at all, barring possibly a new sherbet to be made, or whether, if they sold Fatima, the Abyssinian cook, who was becoming garrulous, would Fatima have a good home. Trifles! What was the use of asking her? And here was another possibility. She might—anything was possible—be in some deep subtle thought, into which, if he asked, he might get enmeshed, or be trapped emotionally. Better not ask. He wanted to know nothing of her heart, and to keep his.
He loved her in a happy guarded way. And she loved him. When he came back after a voyage she looked at him with an amazed joy. "O Zan! Zan, dear! Is it you? Is it really you?" She would rush and hold him. What amazing strength her little arms had! And she would stand back and look at him again. "O Zan! Zan!" And she would bury her perfumed head in his shoulder to hide the glad tears. "O Zan!"
"Do you know why I love you so much, Zan dear?" she once said.
"Because you are so big, and yet you are so gentle. And you wouldn't do a little thing, my Zan."
"Don't be foolish, Fenzile!"
"I am not foolish."
Only once she asked him how he loved her.
"I wonder—how much do you love me, my Zan?"
"Oh, lots, Fenzile. A terrible lot." And he smiled.
"As much as you do your ship?"
"Yes, as much as I do my ship."
"That is a lot, Zan.... Zan, would you miss me, if I should die?"
"I should miss you terribly."
"If you died, I should die, too." Her voice quavered.
"Don't be silly. Of course you wouldn't."
"Don't you think I would?" And she laughed with him one of her rare, rare laughs. And that was the way it all should end, in pretty laughter. Let there be none of this horrible emotionalism, this undignified welter of thought and feeling. Kindness of eyes, and pleasantness of body, but keep the heart away. Let them be—how? There wasn't a word in English, or in Gaidhlig to express it; in French there was—des amis, not des amants. Let them be that. Let there be no involution of thought and mind about it. Let there be this time no mistake.... Where before he had made his mistake with women was allowing them to become spiritually important....
Into this idyl of Beirut came now the wrestler from Aleppo, Ahmet Ali, and the occurrence irritated Campbell to a degree which he had not conceived possible. There he passed the door with his dreamy Syrian face, his red rose, his white burnoose, his straggling followers. And Fenzile smiled her quiet aloof smile.
There might be amusement in it, a queer Eastern comedy of the mountebank who raised his eyes to a Druse princess, and wife of a Frank ship's master. It might be amusing to Fenzile to see this conqueror of men conquered by her presence, but it wasn't dignified. By God! it wasn't dignified.
But it wasn't dignified to talk about it. To show Fenzile that it mattered a tinker's curse to him. So he said nothing, and the wrestler went by every day. It was becoming intolerable. It seemed to amuse Fenzile, but it didn't amuse him.
And suddenly a chill smote him. What did he know of these people of the East anyhow? In six years one could learn their language perfectly, know their customs, know themselves, but know only as much as they wanted to be known. The outer person, which is hallucination, one might know, but what of the inner, which is reality? A strange country, where the merchants spoke like princes and the princes like cameleers, and the sakyeh, the water-carrier, might quote some fancy of Hafiz, as the water gurgled from the skin. The obedience, the resignation in the women's eyes might cover intrigue, and what was behind the eyes of the men, soft as women's?
"Fenzile, you say you love me, because I am kind. Don't you love me because I am strong?"
"Anyway, anyhow, dear Zan."
"I am strong, you know. As strong as your friend, Ahmet Ali."
"Of course, dear Zan." But somehow her tone did not carry conviction. If she understood there was nothing this wrestler had he did not have better, it would have been all right. All attributes in the world would have been for her in him. But she thought the wrestler was strong. Damn women! Couldn't they understand the difference between the muscles of a hunting leopard and the bulk of a sea-cow? It was silly, but it irritated him.
And then a thought came to him that he felt degraded him, but of which he could not rid himself, try as he would. What did he know of Fenzile, barring that she was young and strong and beautiful? Nothing. Of what was she thinking in those dreamy eyes, green of the sea? And women always admired strength in a man. And he was away most of the time, half anyway. And the breath of the East was intrigue.
"Oh, don't be rotten," he told himself. But the occasional hot and searing pain remained, and the little black cloud was in his mind. When they were close in the soft gloom, shoulder to shoulder, her eyes closed, her slim cinnamon hands clenched, pain stabbed him like a knife. And in the gay mornings, when she was arranging her flowers in vases of Persian blue, it made him silent as the grave. And in the evening when she was doing her subtle Syrian broideries, it aroused in him queer gusts of controlled fury.... Could it be possible? A mountebank.... And the "Thousand and One Nights" began with Shah Zamon's queen and her love for the blackamoor slave....
If the wrestler would only go away, become tired of parading, and Fenzile would tire of smiling.... And later on Campbell would laugh....
But the wrestler stayed, and many times Campbell met him in the streets, and each time was exaggerated, insulting courtesy from the Aleppo man, as he drew aside to let the Frank pass. There was hostility and contempt in his veiled eyes.... There nonchalance in his smelling of the rose ... Campbell passed by frigidly, as if the man weren't there, and all the time his blood was boiling.... But what was one to do? One could not make a scene before the riff-raff of Syria. And besides, there was too much of a chance of a knife in the back.... Franks were cheap these days, and it would be blamed on the war of the Druses....
Argue with himself as much as he could, it was intolerable. It was silly, but it was intolerable.... To think of another caressing that perfumed hair, of another kissing the palm of that slim hand, of another seeing those sleek, sweet shoulders....
Was he jealous ...? No, irritated, just, he told himself. Was he in love with her himself? Of course not. She wasn't close enough to him for that.... Then why ...?
Oh, damn it! He didn't know why, but it was just intolerable....
The bark was in the open roadstead, cargo all ready, Levantine pilot on board. A reaching breeze from the north and all favorable. And when he would get home to Liverpool, he had a design to spend a few weeks in Ulster.... The roads would be glistening with frost there, and the pleasant Ulster moon at the full.... The turf would be nearly black, and bare as a board, and there would be coursing of hares ... November mists, and the trees red and brown.... Eh, hard Ulster, pleasant Ulster!
He should have been happy, as he made his way down the Beirut streets to go aboard, leaving the land of his adoption for the land of his birth, leaving pleasant Fenzile for the shrewd pleasantry of his own folk.... A little while of Ulster and he would be coming back again.... One's heart should lift the glory of the world, the bold line of Ulster and the lavish color of Syria; the sincere, dour folk of Ulster and the warmth of Fenzile.... He should have left so warmly. "In a little while, dearest, I'll be back and my heart will speak to your twin green eyes." "Yes, Zan. I'll be here." But he had left dourly. And Fenzile had watched him go with quivering lip.... Oh, damn himself for his suspicions, for his annoyance, and damn the fatuous Arab fool for arousing them.... Christ, if only he had that fellow on board ship. And suddenly he met him, with his attendants and hangers-on. The wrestler drew aside with his insolent smile. Campbell's temper broke loose.
"Listen, O certain person," he insulted the Aleppo man, "there is a street in Beirut down which it does not please me to see you go."
"Will the foreign gentleman tell me," the wrestler's voice drawled, and he smelled his rose, "who will stop a Moslem from going down a Moslem street?"
"By God, I would!" The Syrians of Ahmet Ali's escort gathered around, smiling.
"The foreign gentleman forgets that I am the wrestler from Aleppo."
"Just so. I happen to be a bit of a wrestler myself."
"Some day perhaps the foreign gentleman will condescend to try a fall with me."
Syrians, Egyptians, Turks, were pouring from all quarters. Six French soldiers, walking gapingly along the bazaars, stopped wonderingly.
"Dites, les soldats," Shane called. "Vous ne voulez pas voir quelque chose d'interessant?"
"Mais si, Monsieur!"
"Eh bien, je vais lutter contre l'homme avec la rose. C'est un lutteur arabe. Voulez-vous-y assister?"
"Mais, pour bien sur, Monsieur."
"All right, then, by God!" Shane looked square at Ahmet Ali. "We'll wrestle right here and now."
"But the stones, the street," Ahmet Ali looked surprised. "You might get hurt."
"We'll wrestle here and now."
"Oh, all right." The Arab lifted an expressive shoulder. Carefully he removed the great white robe and handed it to an attendant. To another he gave the rose. Shane handed his coat and hat to a saturnine French corporal. Ahmet Ali took his shirt off. Kicked away his sandals. There was the dramatic appearance of an immense bronze torso. The Syrians smiled. The French soldiers looked judicially grave. Ahmet Ali stood talking for an instant with one of his men, a lean bilious-seeming Turk. The Turk was urging something with eagerness. The wrestler's soft girl's face had concentrated into a mask of distaste. He was shaking his head. He didn't like something.
"How God-damned long are you going to keep me here?"
Ahmet turned. There was a smile on his face, as of amused, embarrassed toleration. He was like a great athlete about to box with a small boy. And the boy in earnest.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Any time," Shane snapped.
Very easily he came forward over the cobbled street. He was like some immense bronze come suddenly to life and shambling. Like the brazen servant Thomas Aquinas made under the influence of particular stars. His great brown shoulders, his barreled chest, his upper arms like a man's leg, his packed forearms, his neck like a bull's, his shaven head. All seemed superhuman, and then came his shy embarrassed smile, his troubled eyes. One felt he hated to do this....
He dropped suddenly, easily, into his wrestler's crouch. His shoulders swayed lightly. He pawed like a bear.
Campbell stood easily, left foot forward, like a boxer. His left arm shot out suddenly. The heel of his hand stopped, jolted, Ahmet on the chin. The Syrian shook his head. Pawed again. Campbell slapped him on the forearms, jolted him again on the chin, broke away easily to the right. Ahmet's brown forehead frowned. "Don't be childish," he seemed to chide Campbell. The crowd pressed. The French soldiers rapped them back with the scabbard of their sidearms. En arriere, les puants, en arriere! "Back, sons of polecats, get back." The scabbards clacked like slapsticks.
Ahmet Ali stood up straighter. He wanted to get away from that annoying hand on his chin. His forearms moved faster now, like brown pistons. There was a slight frown on his face. He was becoming impatient. Shane broke again to the right. Ahmet followed, his immense hands poised. Campbell feinted for the chin again with his left hand. The wrestler's smile flickered. His right arm went out in guard. Campbell shifted, caught the brown wrist in his right hand, his left hand shot forward to the chin again. He brought forward all his forces to twisting that gigantic arm. He held the Syrian locked. The right arm began to give. If he could only shift his feet, get some sort of leverage. But how in God's name, how? How could he get behind. With an immense wrench of shoulders Ahmet got free. He stood for an instant, nursing his numbed wrist. He nodded and grinned. "That wasn't bad," he seemed to say. The lean bilious Turk on the edge of the crowd began talking viciously. The saturnine French corporal turned and smacked him terribly across the nose with the edge of the scabbard of his bayonet. "Et-ta soeur!" He had the air of a schoolmaster reproving a refractory pupil. But his language was obscene and his blow broke the man's nose.... He vouchsafed no further interest in the Turk, but turned to watch the wrestling, twirling an oiled mustache....
The Syrian closed his mouth, breathed heavily through his nostrils. His brow corrugated. His eyes became pinpoints. He was a workman out to do a job. He began to weave in, his brown arms describing slow arabesques. The crowd around became oppressively silent. They breathed hissingly.
Shane feinted, dodged, broke away. Doggedly Ahmet Ali followed. Faster than time, Shane's right hand shot out and gripped the wrestler's right wrist. His right foot hooked around the Syrian's right ankle. He pulled downward with sudden, vicious effort. Ali crashed forward on his face, a great brown hulk like an overturned bronze statue. Shane stooped down for either the half-Nelson and hammer-lock, or full Nelson.... An instant too long of hesitation. Light as a lightweight acrobat Ahmet Ali had rolled aside, put palm to ground, sprung to his feet. His face was bloody, his right knee shook. With the back of his hand he wiped the blood from his eyes. There was a twitter from the Syrians. The wrestler lumbered forward again.... A little quake of fear came into Campbell's being. There was an impersonal doggedness about the wrestler from Aleppo's eyes, a sense of inevitability.... Shane's eyes shifted, right and left....
Then suddenly, the wrestler had him....
He felt a twirl to his shoulder, and then he was pinioned by two immense brown arms. They caught him above the elbows around the chest. First they were like boys' arms, light. They became firm as calipers. They settled, snugged. Then they tightened slowly, with immense certainty. There was something about it like the rise of the tide. A gigantic cable around his chest. At his shoulder-blades the Syrian's pectoral muscles pressed like shallow knobs of steel. His arms began to hurt. His breathing began to be hard with every output of breath. The arms tightened.... All his vitality was flying through his opened mouth.... He hit futilely with his knuckles at the rope-like sinews of the brown forearms.... His head throbbed like drums.... In an instant he would be like a bag bound midways ... his ribs giving like saplings in the wind ... Lights danced....
Stupidly he looked down at the clasped hands, and a sudden fury of fighting came on him.... Something terrible, sinister, cold. His free hands caught the Syrian's little finger, tugged, pulled, bent, tore.... He wanted to shred it from its hand.... Rip it like silk.... He felt the great arms about him quiver, grow uncertain.... Tear, tear!...
With a little whine like a dog's, the wrestler let go.... He nursed the finger for an instant like a hurt child.... Opening and shutting the hand.... Looking worried.... Great waves of air came into Shane's chest.... His knees were weak.... The Syrian walked around an instant, thinking, worrying.... He was serious now.... Suddenly he plunged....
But swifter than Ahmet's plunge was thought and memory.... Of a day at Nagasaki ... of a little brown smiling Japanese and a burly square-head sailorman.... Of the Japanese's courteous explanation in smiling Pidgin.... With luck and timing he could do it.... Fast, but not too fast, and steady.... Handsomely, as the ship-word was.... There!
The hands trained to whipping lanyards caught Ahmet's wrists as he plunged. Shane's right leg went outward, foot sunk home. Backward he fell, leg taunt, hands pulling. Above him Ahmet's great bulk soared, hurtled grotesquely. For an instant; a flash.... The squeals of startled Syrians, the panic of feet.... Then a crash, an immense crash....
A long shuddering, frightened eh from the crowd.... A French soldier mumbling ... "'Cre nom de nom de nom de nom de Jesus Chri!"
He staggered to his feet, put his hand to his face.... It came away dripping.... His face was like the leeward deck of a flying yacht ... swimming.... A few feet away Syrians and French soldiers were milling over ... something.... The corporal wrenched Shane's arms into his coat. Pushed his hat into his hands.
"Courez donc, le citoyen.... Come on, get away.... Get...."
"Is he dead?"
"No, not dead.... But get away.... He'll never wrestle again.... Vite, alors!"
He pushed him down the street.
"Go on. We can take care of ourselves...." He shoved him roughly forward.... Shane staggered, walked, ran a little.... Behind him a few blocks away, an ominous hum. He ran on.... Some one was shrieking....
"Ma hala ya ma hala Kobal en Nosara.... How sweet, oh, how sweet, to kill the Christians...." The crack of a gun.... Tumult.... The long Moslem war-song.... Two rifles. "A nous, les Francais.... A nous, la Legion!"
A nausea, a great weakness, an utter contempt for himself came over him in the boat pulling him toward his ship ... God! He had fought with and nearly killed—possibly killed—a man for personal hatred! From irritation, and in a public place! A spectacle for donkey-boys and riff-raff of French towns.... He tottered on the ship's ladder.... The sailors caught him. The mate ran up.
"Anything wrong, sir? You look like a ghost."
"No, nothing. All aboard? Everything ready? Is she a-drawing? Anchor a-peak? All right. Get her up...."
"Arif Bey, where is my wife? I come back to Beirut. I find my house deserted. My servants gone. Where is Fenzile? Is she here?"
"Is she dead?"
"No—no, son, I wish she were...."
"Then where is she gone? With whom?"
"Trebizond. Stamboul. Cairo. I don't know where."
"With—oh, don't bother yourself, son. Forget her."
"With whom? I must know."
"With—do you remember that wrestler you crippled, the wrestler from Aleppo?"
"With Ahmet Ali! Impossible! I all but killed him."
"She went, though...."
"No, uncle, no. If he had been strong she might, but,—"
The old Druse chief shook his head, smiled in his beard, a little, bitter, wise smile.
"You were never sick with her, never poor."
"No, never sick, never poor."
"Well, he was sick and poor, so she went with him."
"Then she loved him all along."
"No, son Zan, she loved you—until you threw him. She might have been amused at seeing him pass the house, laugh a little, be flattered.... Such a big fool, and she a little woman.... But she would never have left you...."
"But she did."
"Well ... after the fall, he had no friends ... the Christians despised him, the Moslems hated him.... There was no train to follow him ... he went on crutches.... He passed her door and looked, and looked.... What could she do but come out.... It was her fault, after all.... And she was very tender-hearted...."
"Didn't you know?"
"No, I never knew."
"She used to cry when the leaves fell from the trees.... You didn't know your wife well?"
"No, sir, I did not."
"Well, she is gone, Zan.... Where, one doesn't know.... What will become of her, one doesn't know. Destiny is like a blind camel. He doesn't know against what he stumbles. We do not see him come.... Only when the harm is done, do we say: We might have listened for the tinkle of his bell.... Eh, one is young and does everything and sees nothing. One is old and sees everything and does nothing. There is no mystery ... only ignorance...."
"You say she was very tender-hearted, my uncle. I didn't know.... I thought of her as something else...."
"Son Zan, you had better forget her in another woman. Listen son, I will give you Aziyed in marriage, my own daughter. She is just as pretty and younger and not so foolish as Fenzile."
"Oh, no, sir. No!"
"Well, I don't blame you."
"It isn't that, Arif Bey. It isn't that. I'm very beholden to you ... for your kindness ... and your patience.... I didn't know.... And I thought I knew everything nearly, and am so ignorant.... Why until now I didn't know even this—the sun shone so brightly, and life was so pleasant, I thought that was the way of life.... But I was in love with Fenzile.... And that was what made everything so wonderful ... in love with the wife you gave me ... head over heels, sir ... just simply—head over heels...."
THE VALLEY OF THE BLACK PIG
To him, for a long time now, the sea had been only water. All the immense pelagic plain, dotted with ships; with bergs of ice, like cathedrals; with waves that curled or swept in huge rhythms; with currents defined in lines and whorls; with gulls that mewed and whales that blew like pretty fountains; with the little Portuguese men-of-war; with the cleaving of flying fish and the tumbling of dolphins, all this was water. All this joyous green, this laughing white, the deep reflective blue, the somber exquisite gray, was water. An infinity of barrels of water, immense vats of water, water, wet water....
To him, for a long time now, a ship had been a means of keeping afloat on water, of going from place to place. All its brave strakes, its plunging bows, its healing beams, were wood, such as one makes a house of, or a tinker's cart. All the miracle of sails; the steady foresail; the sensitive jibs; the press canvas delicate as bubbles; the reliable main; the bluff topsails; topgallants like eager horses; the impertinent skysails; the jaunty moonraker, were just canvas stretched on poles. All the pyramidal wonder of them, fore, main, and mizzen, were not like a good rider's hands to a horse; compelling, coaxing, curbing the wind, they were utilities. The spinning wheel was a mechanical device. Port was left, and starboard only the right hand. The chiming of the ship's bell was not an old sweet ceremony but a fallible thing, not exact as the ticking of a cheap watch. And "The lights are burning bright, sir," was not a paean of comfort, but a mechanical artisans' phrase....
To him, for a long time now, they who went down to the sea in ships were men only; men such as sell things in shops or scrub poorhouse floors, or dig tracks for a railroad. The slovenly Achill man, who would face death with a grin, the shambling Highlander who on occasion could spring to the shrouds like a cat; the old bos'un who had been for years a castaway on Tierra del Fuego; the wizened chantey-man with his melodeon, who could put new vigor into tired backs, with his long-drag chanteys, like "Blow the Man Down," and "Dead Horse," and "Whisky Johnnie," and short-drags like "Paddy Doyle" and "Haul the Bowline," and capstans like "Homeward Bound" and "Wide Missouri," and pumping chanteys like "Storm Along"; the keen men at the wheel and the hawk-eyed lookout; the sailor swinging the lead in the bows, with a wrist and forearm of steel—all these were only men, following the sea because they knew no better. And the mate who would wade into a mob of twenty with swinging fists, and the navigator who could calculate to a hair's-breadth where they were by observing the unimaginable stars—they were not of the craft of Noah, they were men who knew their job ... just men ... as a ticket-clerk on a railroad is a man....
To him, for a long time now, ports were ports, only places whither one went to get or deliver cargo. Baltimore, like some sweet old lady; Para, heavy, sinister with rain; Rio, like some sparkling jewel; Belfast, dour, efficient, sincere; Hamburg, dignified, gemuetlich; Lisbon, quiet as a cathedral—they were not entities, they were just collections of houses covering men and women. And men were either fools or crooks, and women were either ugly bores or pretty—bitches.... Men and women, they were born crudely, as a calf is born of a cow, they lived foolishly or meanly, and they died.... And they were hustled out of the house quickly.... They thought themselves so important, and they lacked the faithfulness of the dog, the cleanliness of wild animals, the strength of horses, the beauty of tropic birds, the mathematical science of the spider, the swiftness of fishes.... And they grew old abominably, the women's breasts falling, the men getting pot-bellies.... How the devil had they ever arrogated to themselves the lordship of created things?
To him, for a long time now, the world had been, was, one mean street....
Of all cities, none was better calculated to foster this mood of his than the one to which his business now brought him—Buenos Aires on the Plate. Leaving Liverpool with steel and cotton, there was an immensity of ocean to be traversed, until one came to the river mouth. Then fifty leagues of hard sailing to the abominable anchorage....
Here now was a city growing rich, ungracefully—a city of arrogant Spanish colonists, of poverty-stricken immigrants, of down-trodden lower classes ... a city of riches ... a city of blood.... Here mud, here money....
Into a city half mud hovels, half marble-fronted houses, gauchos drove herd upon herd of cattle, baffled, afraid. Here Irish drove streams of gray bleating sheep. Here ungreased bullock carts screamed. From the blue-grass pampas they drove them, where the birds sang, and water rippled, where was the gentleness of summer rain, where was the majesty of great storms, clouds magnificently black and jagged lightning, where were great white moons and life-giving suns, where was the serpent in the grass, and the unique tree, where were swift horses.... Beeves that had once been red awkward calves, and then sullen, stupid little bullocks, and then proud young bulls, with graceful horns.... Such as earnest Christians believed had lowed at the manger of Christ born in Bethlehem.... And stupid, suspicious sheep, that had once been white gamboling lambs, playful as pups, and so ridiculously innocent looking!—didn't they call their Lord Agnus Dei, Lamb of God?—and gentle ewes and young truculent rams, like red-headed schoolboys, eager for a fray, and shamefaced wethers.... And by their thousands and their tens of thousands they drove them into Buenos Aires, and slew them for their hides....
But this was sentimental, Shane said. Bullocks and sheep must die, and the knife is merciful as any death. But oughtn't these things be done by night, privily, as they should bury the dead? Must they drive down these infinities of creatures, and slaughter them openly and callously, until the air was salt with blood, until the carrion crows hovered over the city in battalions? Had they no feeling, had they no shame? Must the pitiful machinery of life be exposed so airily?
Of course it must, he knew. These things had to be done in bulk. Now weren't the middle ages when one killed a cow because one had to eat: one killed a sheep because the winter was coming when woolens were needed. All Europe needed shoes, saddles, combs, anti-macassars, afghans—what not? And Europe was a big place, so in bulk they must bellow and bleat and die, and have their hides torn from their pitiful bodies, salted, and chucked in the hold of a ship.
Of course it must. That was civilization.
From long ago, from far away, came the chime of old romance, but very thin, like the note of a warm silver bell, that could not hold its own against this blatancy. Came ancient immortal names—Magellan, that hound of the world, whining fiercely, nosing for openings that he might encircle the globe, he had been up the silver river. Sebastian Cabot, too, the grim marauder, seeking to plunder the slender Indians, he had been here. It was he had christened the great stream—Rio de la Plata, the river where silver is. And Pedro Gomez, who headed the greatest expedition the Argentine ever saw, and founded and named the city. And fighting Beresford, the British general who took it from Spain, and Whitelock who lost it again.... Campbell could see his bluff grenadiers, their faces blackened with powder, their backs to the wall, a strange land, a strange enemy, and blessed England so far away.... And the last of the Spanish viceroys, with a name like an organ peal, Baltazar Hidalgo de Cisneros y Latorre—a great gentleman, he had been wounded fighting Nelson off Cape Trafalgar. Campbell could almost see his white Spanish face, his pointed fingers, his pointed beard, his pontifical walk.... And of them nothing remained. Nothing of Magellan, nothing of Cabot, nothing of Gomez, nothing of staunch Beresford, or bluff John Whitlock, or of the great hidalgo.... Stat magni nominis umbra? ... No, not even that. The shadows of the great names had gone. The dim chime of a silver bell drowned by the lowing of dying cattle, by the screech of bullock-carts, by the haggling of merchants over the price of hides....
But he could not remain on board ship in port. Ships, he had enough of them! There was nothing to do but go ashore, landing at high tide at one of the two lugubrious piers, and make his way toward the squares ... past the blazing water-front where the prostitutes chanted like demented savages, past the saloons where the sailors drank until they dropped, or were knifed, or robbed, or crimped. Down the ill-lit streets, which must be trodden carefully, lest one should stumble into a heap of refuse. Down to the Plaza Victoria, with its dim arcades, or to the 25 de Mayo, with its cathedral, its stunted paradise trees. And from the houses came shafts of light, and the sound of voices, thump of guitars like little drums, high arguments, shuffle of cards.... Dark shadows and lonely immigrants, and the plea of some light woman's bully—"cosa occulta...." A dim watery moon, the portico of the cathedral, a woman exaggerating her walk.... Pah!... immigrants fearful of the coming snow.... A vigilante strutting like a colonel.... Mournful pampa winds....
The theaters? Sugary Italian opera; a stark Spanish drama, too intense for any but Latins, foreign; debauched vaudeville, incredibly vulgar; or at the concert-hall, sentimental Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon songs, with an audience of grave uncritical exiles—a little pathetic. No!
The clubs? Oh, damn the clubs! A blaze of light and raucous voices, ships' masters, ships' chandlers, merchants, discussing the riddle of local politics, and the simony of office; or the price of hides, and freight charges; how a ship's master could turn a pretty penny in bringing out shoddy clothes, or pianos—Jesus! they were crazy for pianos here! Rattle of glasses and striking of matches. Bluff, ceremonious salutations.
"Well, captain, what kind of a trip did you make out?"
"Pretty fair, captain."
"Will you have a little snifter, captain?"
"Well, captain, seeing that it's you—"
"Paddy, a little of what ails him for the captain—"
And after a while the whisky would dissolve the ceremony, and would come nauseating intimacies.
"We shipped a stewardess in Hull—" or "There was an Irish girl in the steerage, a raving beauty, and when I saw her, I said: Wait. So—"
They were all the same. Give them whisky and time and the talk would come around to easy money and easy women. All were the same, bluff, sentimental, animal, all but the one or two hawk-eyed, close-lipped men who came and went silently, who drank little and drank by themselves. These men made the really big money, but it wasn't easy; they took a chance with their lives, smuggling slaves from Africa for the Argentine plantations, or silver from Chile and Peru. But as for the rest, easy money, easy women!
Well, what was Campbell fussing about? Wasn't he too making easy money, bringing agricultural steel and cotton goods here and taking away his tally of hides?
And as to easy women, wasn't there Hedda Hagen?
A ship's master had introduced him to her at a band concert in one of the public squares—a tall Amazonian woman with her hair white as corn, and eyes the strange light blue of ice. Her head was uptilted—a brave woman. The introduction had a smirking ceremony about it that defined Froken Hagen's position as though in so many words. Her bow was as distant to Shane as his salutation was curt to her. Shane was suddenly annoyed.
The captain of the American boat talked incessantly while the band blared on. Strolling Argentines eyed the woman's blond beauty at a respectful distance. They trotted to and fro. They loped. They postured. She paid no attention. To her they were nonexistent. To the American skipper's conversation she replied only with a flicker of the eyelids, a fleeting smile of her lips. Shane she seemed to ignore. She was so clean, so cool, so damnably self-possessed.
"Froken Hagen," Campbell ventured, "aren't you sick of all this? Captain Lincoln says you have been here for five years. Aren't you dead tired of it?"
"No." Her voice was a strong soprano timbre.
"Don't you want to get back to the North again?"
"Often." She had a quiet aloof smile. Somewhere was the impression of a gentlewoman. She did not mean to be abrupt. She was just immensely self-possessed.
It occurred to Shane suddenly that he liked this woman. He liked her dignity, her grave composure. He liked her coolness, her almost Viennese grace. He liked her features; but for the wideness of her mouth, and the little prominence of chin, she would have been immensely beautiful. Her corn-like hair, massively braided, must be like a mane when down, and beneath her Paris frock he could sense her deep bosom, great marble limbs. Her voice had the cool sweet beauty of Northern winds.... Her eyes were steady, her chin uptilted. Somewhere, some time, somehow she had mastered fate.
About, in the gas-lit square, escorted, guarded, went other women, reputable women. Great rawboned women, daughters of Irish portenos, with the coarseness of the Irish peasant in their faces, the brogue of the Irish peasant on their Spanish, but punctiliously Castilian as to manners; gross Teutonic women; fluffy sentimental Englishwomen, bearing exile bravely, but thinking long for the Surrey downs; gravid Italian women, clumsy in the body, sweet and wistful in the face; Argentines, clouded with powder, liquid of eyes, on their lips a soft little down that would in a few years be an abomination unto the Lord; women of mixed breed, with the kink of Africa in their hair, or the golden tint of the Indian in their skin. Good women! And yet.... For grace, for coolness, for cleanliness, the venal Swedish girl outshone them all....
"Froken Hagen," Campbell said, "may I call on you some time?"
"If you like."
"Does that mean you don't want me to come?"
She smiled at him.
"Mr. Campbell," she laughed gently, "you know very well what I am. If you don't call on me it won't mean anything to me. If you do call I think I'll be rather glad. Because on first appearances I like you. But do whatever you like. I have no wiles."
"Thank God for that!"
Lincoln, master of the Katurah Knopp, listened in with a silent chuckle. She was a queer one, Hedda was. And Campbell, he was a queer one, too. Two queer ones together. Hedda was all right, but a man sickened of her quick. She wasn't what you might call warm. No affection; that's what a man missed far from home, affection. Yes, affection. Hedda had none. She was a fine woman, but she had no affection. He liked to see men get stung. In a few days Campbell would be down at the club with a face as long as to-day and to-morrow. He would call for a drink angrily.
"Well, captain, what's got into you? You don't look happy."
And Campbell, like the others, would grumble something about a God-damned big Swede.
"Hey, what's wrong? Ain't Hedda treated you right?"
"Sure, she treated me right," he would say as the others said, "but God damn! that woman's not human. Take away that rot-gut and gi' me whisky. I got a touch o' chill."
Lincoln had seen it all before. He liked to see it all the time. He chuckled as Shane turned to him.
"Lincoln, are you seeing this lady home?"
"Not if you want to."
"I don't want to break up any arrangements of yours."
"Tell the truth," Lincoln said, "I've got a little party to-night. A party as is a party—Spanish girls, Spanish dancers ... I wish I could take you, but it ain't my party...."
"Then I'll see Miss Hagen home."
Dog-gone, Lincoln would have to go down to the club and tell 'em how Campbell of the Maid of the Isles got stuck with the human iceberg!
Without, the west wind had increased suddenly, a cold steady wind, coasting down the Argentine pampas, bending the sparse trees and giant thistle, ruffling the river, shallowing it, until to-morrow many a poor sailorman would regret his optimistic anchorage ... Shane shivered.... To-morrow October would be making a din in the streets.... And the poor skippers fighting their way round the Horn, icy winds and head seas and immense gray dirty-bearded waves.... To-morrow three men were to be shot in the 25 de Mayo for a political offense, and Shane could see them in the bleak dawn, three frightened stanch figures; the soldiers would be blowing their fingers in the cold air, and their triggers would be like ice to the touch ... the shoddy tragedy....
But within the room was warm, a little fire of coal in the unusual grate, and the soft and mellow lights of candles, and here and there gauchos' blankets on the wall, and here a comfortable chair and there a table of line, and brass things ... clean and ascetic, and yet something womanly about the place, the grace and composition of things.... And with her coming into her house, Hedda Hagen's manner had changed gently.... She was no longer frigid, aloof.... She unbent into calm smiles, and the grace of a hostess of the big world ... the quiet masonic signal of a certain caste....