Landover took a strange fancy to Manuel Crust. He was drawn to him in the first place by the blasphemous things he said about Percival. In the second place, he enjoyed Manuel's vituperative remarks about cutting the liver out of the "boss." Notwithstanding the fact that Manuel was more or less given to cutting the livers out of remote and invisible persons,—including King Alfonso, the Kaiser, Queen Victoria (he didn't know she was dead), King Manuel, the Czar of Russia, the Presidents of all the South American republics, the Sultan of Turkey, President Roosevelt, and Sebastian Cabral,—Mr. Landover positively loved to hear him talk. He made a point of getting him to talk about Percival a great deal of the time. He also liked the way in which the prodigious Manuel deferred to him. It inspired the philanthropic motives that led him to share his very excellent cigars with the doughty foreman. Moreover, he had something far back in his mind, had Mr. Abel Landover.
Percival was indefatigable. He set the example for every one else, and nothing daunted him. The sceptics,—and there were many of them at the start,—no longer shook their heads as they went about what once had loomed as a hopeless enterprise, for to their astonishment and gratification the "camp" was actually becoming a substantial reality.
The small group of men who, for obvious reasons, had courted the favour of Abel Landover at the outset, now went out of their way to "stand in" with the amazingly popular man of the hour.
He represented power, he stood for achievement, he rode on the crest of the wave,—and so they believed in him! Landover may have been a wizard in New York, but the wizard of Trigger Island was quite another person altogether,—hence the very sensible defection.
These gentlemen openly and ardently opposed him on one occasion, however. It was when he proposed that the island should be named for the beloved Captain. They insisted that it be called Percival Island. Failing in this, they advocated with great enthusiasm, but with no success, the application of Percival's name to almost every noticeable peculiarity that the island possessed. They objected fiercely to the adoption of such titles as these: Mott Haven (the basin); Split Mountain; Gray Ridge (after the lamented Chief Engineer); Penguin Rocks; The Gate of the Winds; Top o' the Morning Peak; Dismal Forest (west of the channel); Peter Pan Wood (east of the channel); Good Luck Channel; Cypress Point; Cape Sunrise (the extreme easterly end of the island); Leap-frog River; Little Sandy and Big Sandy (the beaches); Cracko-day Farm; New Gibraltar (the western end of the island); St. Anthony Falls. Michael O'Malley Malone christened the turbulent little waterfall up in the hills. He liked the sound of the name, he claimed, and besides it was about time the stigma of shame that had so long rested upon the poor old saint was rewarded by complete though belated vindication.
Strange to say, no name was ever proposed for the "camp." Back in the mind of each and every member of the lost company lay the unvoiced belief,—amounting to superstition,—that it would be tempting fate to speak of this long row of cabins as anything more enduring than "the camp."
Notwithstanding his dominant personality and the remarkable capacity he had for real leadership, Percival was a simple, sensitive soul. He writhed under the lash of conspicuous adulation, and there was a good deal of it going on.
The satiric Randolph Fitts, notwithstanding his unquestioned admiration for the younger man, took an active delight in denouncing what he was prone to allude to as Percival's political aspirations. It is only fair to state that Fitts confined his observations to a very small coterie of friends, chief among whom was the subject himself.
"You are the smartest politician I've ever encountered, and that's saying a good deal," he remarked one evening as he sat smoking with a half dozen companions in front of one of the completed huts. They were ranged in a row, like so many birds, their tired backs against the "facade" of the cabin, their legs stretched out in front of them. "You're too deep for me. I don't see just what your game is, A. A. If there was a chance to graft, I'd say that was it, but you could graft here for centuries and have nothing to show for it but fresh air. Even if you were to run for the office of king, or sultan or shah, you wouldn't get anything but votes,—and you'd get about all of 'em, I'll say that for you. To a man, the women would vote for you,—especially if you were to run for sultan. What is your game?"
Percival smoked in silence, his gaze fixed on the moonlit line of trees across the field.
"And speaking of women, that reminds me," went on Fitts. "When does my lord and master intend to transplant our crop of ladies?"
"What's that, Fitts?" said Percival, called out of his dream.
"Ladies,—what about 'em? When do they come ashore to occupy the mansions we have prepared for them?"
"Captain Trigger suggests next week."
"What's he got to do with it? Ain't you king?"
"He's got a lot to do with it, you blithering boob."
"Besides," drawled Peter Snipe, the novelist, picking doggedly at the calloused ridges on one of his palms, "some of the women object to moving in the dark of the moon. They say it's sure to bring bad luck."
"There's quite a mixup about it," observed Flattner. "Part of 'em claim it's good luck. Madame Obosky says she never had any good luck moving by the light of the moon, and Careni-Amori says she doesn't blame her for feeling that way. Sort of cattish way of implying that the fair Olga could get along without any moon at all. Professional jealousy, I suppose."
"I was speaking to Miss Clinton about it today," remarked Michael Malone.
"What does she think about it?" from Percival.
"I don't know. She asked me what I thought about it."
"And what did you tell her?"
"I told her I wasn't a woman, and that let me out. Being a man, I'm not entitled to a vote or an opinion, and I'd be very much obliged to her if she'd not try to drag me into it,—and to answer my question if she could. Whereupon she said she was in favour of moving by the light of the sun, and payin' no attention at all to the moon. Which I thought was a very intelligent arrangement. You see, if they move in the daytime the damned old moon won't know anything about it till it's too late and—"
"You're the first Irisher I've ever seen who wasn't superstitious, Mike," broke in Fitts, with enthusiasm. "It takes a great load off my mind. Now I can ask you why the devil you've never returned that pocket-knife of mine. I thought you had some sort of superstition about it. A good many people,—really bright and otherwise intelligent people,—firmly believe it's bad luck to return anything that's been borrowed. I suppose I've owned fifty umbrellas in my time. The only man who ever returned one,—but you know what happened without my telling you. He got caught in a sudden shower on his way home from my apartment after making a special trip to return it, and died some three years later of pneumonia. Sick two days, I heard. So, as long as you're not a bit superstitious about it, I'd thank you—"
"I'd have you know that I never keep anything I borrow,—that is, never more than a day. It's against my principles. Don't ask me for your dommed old knife. I lent it weeks ago to Soapy Shay."
"You did?" cried Fitts, incredulity and relief in his voice. "Much obliged. I haven't been able to look Soapy in the face for a month. Did he recognize it?"
"I think he did. He kissed it."
"Landover tried to borrow my lead pencil yesterday," remarked Flattner. "Finally offered to put up his letter of credit as security. I gave him the laugh. That lead pencil is worth more than all the letters of credit lumped together. He wanted to write a note. So I agreed to let him use it if he wouldn't take it out of my sight and on condition that he didn't write more than five or six line's. But when he made as if he was going to sharpen it, I threatened him with an ax. Can you beat that for wastefulness? These low-down rich don't know the meaning of frugality. Why, if I hadn't stopped him he might have whittled off five thousand dollars' worth of lead, just like that. I also had to caution him about bearing down too hard while he was writing."
"What was he wanting to write a note for?" demanded Malone. "Has he lost his voice?"
"It was a note of apology. He says he never fails to write a note of apology when he's done something he's ashamed of, or words to that effect. Lifelong practice, he says."
"Who was he apologizin' to?"
"That little nurse, Miss Lake,—the one with the coral earrings. You know, Mike. I saw you carrying a bucket of water for her yesterday."
"Her name isn't Lake," said Malone. "It's Hardwickley. And if you had your eyes open, you'd have seen me carrying one for her every day, so you would, my lad."
"The damned villain!" exploded Flattner. "He told me her name was Lake,—word with only four letters,—and she turns out to have—let's see,—eleven! I call that pretty shifty work, I do. You can't trust these wizards of Wall Street. They'll do you every crack, if you don't keep your eye peeled. Hornswoggled me out of seven letters."
"You've got to watch 'em," mused Fitts. "What was he apologizing to her for?"
"Something to do with his washing. I don't just remember what it was, but I think she didn't iron and fold his handkerchiefs properly, or maybe it was his collars. In any case, he panned her for it, and afterwards repented. Told me in so many words that he felt like a blooming cad about it, and couldn't rest till he had apologized."
Fitts took several puffs at his pipe and then remarked: "That man has the biggest wash of anybody in this camp. I don't see any real reason why he should change collars three times a day while he's hauling logs down from the hills. As a matter of fact, what's the sense of wearing a collar at all? Most of us don't even wear shirts. See here, your majesty,—begging your pardon for disturbing your thoughts with my foot,—why don't you issue a manifesto or edict or something prohibiting the use of collars except on holidays, or at weddings, funerals and so forth?"
Percival yawned. "If Landover didn't have a collar on he'd think he was stark naked. Gosh, I'd like to go to bed."
"Why don't you? We'll call you as soon as we get any news," said Flattner.
"No, I'll stick it out a while longer. I say, Flat, it begins to look as if there's real wheat coming up over there after all. Old Pedro was telling me today that it looks like a cinch unless we got it sowed too late and cold weather comes along too soon. I never dreamed we'd get results. Putting out spring wheat in virgin soil like this is a new one on me. If it does thrive and deliver, by gosh, a whole lot of agricultural dope will be knocked to pieces. I thought spring wheat had to be sown in land that was ploughed the fall before. What's the explanation?"
"You can't explain nature, A. A.," said Percy Knapendyke. "Nature does so darned many unnatural things that you can't pin your faith to it at all. Of course, it was a pure experiment we made. We happened to have a lot of hard spring wheat, and this alluvial soil, deep and rich, was worth tackling. Old Pedro was as much surprised as I was when it began to come up. Using that fertilizer was an experiment, too. He swore it wouldn't help a bit. Now he just scratches his head and says God did it. We've got fifty acres out there as green as paint and you can almost see it grow. If nothing happens we ought to harvest it by the middle of February, and if God keeps on doing things for us, we may get as much as twenty-five bushels to the acre. It's different with the oats. You can plant oats on unploughed land, just as we did, and you can't stop it growing. The oats field up there along the base of the hills is a peach. Takes about ninety days for oats to ripen. That means we'll harvest it in about two months, and we'll beat the cold weather to it. Forty or fifty to the acre, if we have any luck at all. Potatoes doing well and—Say, did I tell you what I've found out about that stuff growing over there in the lowlands beyond the river? Well, it's flax. It's the same sort of thing that grows in New Zealand. Those plants I was pointing out to you last week,—the ones with the long brownish leaves, like swords. There's no mistake about it. I took those two Australian sailors over to look at 'em a day or two ago and they swear it's the same plant, growing wild. Same little capsule shaped fruit, with the little black seeds, and everything. I've been reading up on it in the encyclopedia. You cut those leaves off when they get to be full size, macerate 'em in water for a few days, sun dry 'em, and then weave 'em some way or another. We'll have to work that out. Strongest sort of fibre in the leaves. Makes a very stout cloth, rope, twine,—all that sort of thing. Opens up a new and important industry, boys,—particularly obnoxious to married men. We'll be having dress-making establishments in full blast before you know it, and model gowns till you can't rest. I almost hate to spread the news among the women. We won't have a cook, or a laundress, or a school-teacher on the Island if this dressmaking craze gets started. Every hut along this row will have a sign beside the door: 'Dressmaking Done Here.' On the other hand, I doubt very much if we'll be able to get a single tailor-shop going,—and God knows I'll soon need a new pair of pants, especially if we're going to have regular church services every Sunday, as Percival says."
"Father Francisco and Parson Mackenzie have finally got together on it," said Malone gloomily. "For the first time in the history of civilization we're going to have a combination Catholic and Protestant Church. It's all arranged. Father Francisco is going to conduct mass in the morning and Parson Mackenzie is going to talk about hell-fire in the evening. I was wondering what the Jews are going to do for a synagogue and a rabbi."
"I can't answer that question," said Peter Snipe; "but Morris Shine tackled me the other day to write a play for him, something with music and dancing in it. He's got a great idea, he says. A stock company to use the church building once a month. Expects to submit his scheme to Fitts as soon as he gets it worked out, with the idea of having our prize little architect provide for a stage with ecclesiastical props in the shape of pulpits and chancels and so forth, which can be removed on short notice. Suggests, as a matter of thrift, that footlights be put in instead of altar candles. Free show, free acting, no advertising bills, no royalties to authors, free programs,—everything free, including supper."
"Grand little idea, Pete," said Percival. "Are you going to write the play?"
"Sure. My faithful old typewriter is aching to be thumped once more,—and I've got half-a-dozen extra ribbons, thank God. Good for two long novels and an epitaph. Just as soon as we can get the ship's printing press and dining-room type ashore, I'll be ready to issue The Trigger Island Transcript, w.t.f.—if you know what that means. I see you don't. Weekly till forbidden."
"I've always wondered what those confounded letters meant down in the corner of the half-inch advertisements," said Flattner. "It will be a rotten-looking newspaper if it's anything like the sheet the Doraine put out on the trip down. No two letters matched, and some of 'em were always upside down. Why were they upside down, Pete? You're an old newspaper man. Tell us."
"Because it's impossible to set 'em sideways. If it was possible, the blamed printers could do it, you bet. When I was writing leaders on the Saxville Citizen years ago there was a ruffian up in the composing-room who used to set whole paragraphs of my best editorials in em quads, and when I kicked,—Hello, isn't that a lantern, A. A.?"
They all scrambled to their feet and peered intently in the direction of the wooded strip that lined the channel. This whilom conversation came to an abrupt end. Ghostly forms suddenly took shape in front of other huts, figures of men that were until then as logs in the shadows. Far off in the road through the wood, a light bobbed, flashed and disappeared intermittently, and finally emerged into the open and came steadily forward. Detached knots of men down the line of huts, twos and threes and fours, swiftly welded themselves into groups, and, hurrying forward, swelled the crowd that congregated at the end of the "street." Two hundred of them, tired but eager, awaited the arrival of the man with the lantern.
These were the men who slept on shore, the unmarried men, those who had no "feminine hearth," as Snipe put it dolefully one dark and windy night. Since supper-time these men had been waiting and watching. But few of them had gone to bed. Gentleman and roustabout, one and all, were linked together by a common anxiety. News of the greatest import was expected during the night.
A child was coming to the pathetic little widow of Cruise, the radio-man.
Two messengers had gone down to the landing to wait for the report to be shouted from the afterdeck of the Doraine,—Soapy Shay and Buck Chizler, the jockey. Now they were returning,—and it was nearing midnight.
They drew near, the lantern buffeting the legs of the one-time diamond thief as he swung along in the rear of the more active jockey.
"It's a girl," called out Buck to the silent mob. Not a sound, not a word from the eager crowd. "Mother and kid both doing well," went on the jockey, a thrilling note of triumph in his voice.
And then a roar of voices went up to the moonlit sky. The shackles of doubt and anxiety fell away, and every heart swelled with joy and relief. Men began to dance and laugh. Out in front of the crowd leaped Percival.
"Come on now, fellows! Everybody up! Three cheers for the Trigger Island baby! One—two—three!"
And while the last wild cheer was echoing back from, the mountainside: "Now, three good ones for the baby's mother, God bless her!"
Thrice again the exultant yells echoed across the plain, and then out leaped another excited figure. It was Nicklestick the Jew.
"Come on! Come on! Ve got to light the bonfires! Come on! I got the matches! Vait! Vait! Let's vait while we take off our hats a minute, boys,—take them off to our baby's father, Jimmy Cruise. No cheers!"
A hush fell over the crowd. Every hat came off, and every head was bent. To many of them James Cruise was no more than a name salvaged from the shocking experiences of those first dreadful days. Few of them had come in actual contact with him. The time had been too short. But Betty Cruise, his widow, was known to all of them, high and low. They had watched over her, and protected her, and slaved for her, for besides pity there was in every man's soul the fiercest desire that nothing,—absolutely nothing,—should be left undone to insure the happy delivery of the babe they were counting so keenly upon!
She was a frail, delicate English girl whom Cruise had married in Buenos Aires the year before. He was taking her up to his mother's home in Connecticut. His death,—alas, his annihilation!—almost killed her. There were those who said she would die of grief. But, broken and frail as she was, she made the fight. And now came the news that she had "pulled through."
There were mothers on board with tiny babies,—three or four of them, in fact,—peevish, squalling infants that innocently undertook to inspire loathing in the souls of these self-same men. They had no claim upon the imagination or the sympathy of the eager crowd,—no such hold as this newcomer, the child born in their pockets, so to speak,—an expression first employed by an ardent champion of the impending infant in defending his righteous solicitude when it was attacked by a sophisticated and at the same time exasperated nurse.
Two bonfires were started in the open space known as "The Green." The huge piles of twigs and branches had been thrown up earlier in the evening. They were in plain view of the "lookout" at the top of Split Mountain. It had been agreed that if it was a boy one fire was to be the signal; if a girl, two. The "watch" was to share in the glad tidings!
The cheering awoke Abel Landover from a sound sleep. He turned in his bunk and growled:
"The damned idiots!"
Mr. Landover did not like children. He declined to sit up half the night to find out "how things were going." So he went to bed, knowing perfectly well that his three bunkies would come piling in at some outlandish hour and jabber about the "kid," and he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep again for hours.
He was what is commonly known as a "grass widower." His wife rather too promptly married inside of a month after leaving Reno, and, much to her own gratification and joy, proceeded to have three very desirable children within a period of five years, causing him a great deal of pain and annoyance for the reason that their father had once been regarded as his best friend,—and now he couldn't abide the sight of him. He hated children. Now you know the kind of a man he was.
Five tired and thoughtful men were going to bed a little later on in one of the huts.
"What shall we call her?" came from Randolph Fitts, as he threw one of his clay-covered shoes into the corner.
"There's only one name for her," said Percival firmly, from the edge of his bunk. "We'll call her Doraine."
"Good shot!" cried Peter Snipe. "I had two names in mind, but Doraine's got 'em both beat. It may not be as pretty as Angelica, but it's more appropriate. Mortimer was the other name I had in mind."
"Yep," was the smothered decision of Michael Malone. His shirt came off, and then he spoke more distinctly. "We can't do better than to name her after her birthplace. That's her name. Doraine Cruise. It sounds Irish. Got music in it. All Irish names have,—leaving out Michael and Patrick and Cornelius and others applied solely to the creatures who don't take after their blessed mothers and who grow up to be policemen and hod-carriers, with once in awhile a lawyer or labour-leader to glorify the saints they were named for, and—Yes, begorry, Doraine's her name."
And so it was that, with an arbitrary quaintness, the babe was named without so much as a thought of consulting the mother. They assumed a proprietary interest in her, a sort of corporate ownership that had as its basis a genuine affection for and pride in Cruise's widow. It did not occur to one of them that she ought to have been considered in the matter of naming her own child; they went to sleep perfectly satisfied that when the question was put to a general vote on the morrow there wouldn't be a single dissenting voice against the name they had selected.
And Mrs. Cruise herself would be very grateful to them for the prompt assistance they had given her at a time when she was in no condition to be bothered with minor details!
The death of Betty Cruise occurred the second day after her baby was born. In a way, this lamentable occurrence solved a knotty problem and pacified two warring sexes, so to speak. For, be it known, the women of the Doraine took a most determined stand against the manner in which the men, viva voce, had arrogated unto themselves the right to name the baby. Not that any one of the women objected to the name they had given her; they were, in fact, pleased with it. But, they protested, this was a matter over which but one person had jurisdiction, and that person was Betty Cruise. If it was not a mother's privilege to name her own child,—especially in a case where the infant's father was in no position to decide the question for her, whether she consented or no, then all they could say was that things had come to a pretty pass.
At any rate, they were going to see to it that the baby was not named by a mob!
Ruth Clinton went straight to Percival.
"I hear you have named the baby, Mr. Percival," she said, prefacing her remark by a curt "good morning."
It was the first time she had spoken to him in many days. Their ways not only lay apart but she had made a point of avoiding him. She stopped him this morning as he was passing the hut in which she and her aunt were to live with two of the American nurses.
The three young women had spent several days in the making and putting up of some very unusual and attractive window curtains and portieres; painting the stones that framed the fireplace, the crude window-casings and door jamb; and in draping certain corner recesses which were to achieve dignity as clothes closets. They were scrubbing the floor when Percival passed on his way to the "office."
His "office," by the way, was a rude "lean-to" at the extreme outer end of the street. It was characteristic of him to establish headquarters at a point farthest removed from the approach to the camp from the ship. Fitts was perhaps the only person who sensed the real motive back of this selection. Every one else attributed it to an amiable conclusion on Percival's part to sacrifice himself for others by walking almost twice as far as any of them. As a matter of fact, he had nothing of the sort in mind. He deliberately arranged it so that all operations should be carried on between headquarters and "home." It was his plan to drive inward instead of outward, to push always in one direction. In other words, thought Fitts quite correctly, he "never had to look behind him for trouble."
To save his life, Percival could not subdue the eager, devouring gleam that flashed into his eyes as he looked into hers. He could have cursed himself. A swift warm flush raced from her throat to her cheeks. Her direct, steady gaze faltered under fire, and a confused, trapped expression flickered perceptibly for a moment or two. He mistook it for dismay, or, on second thought, even worse,—displeasure.
"I—I can't help it," he stammered, surprised into voicing the thought that was uppermost. "You know how I feel. I—I—"
But she had recovered her self-possession. "Do you really think you have the right to name Mrs. Cruise's baby?" she inquired coolly.
He managed a wry, deprecatory smile. "Everybody seems to like the name, Miss Clinton. The more I think of it myself, the better it sounds. I tried it out last night in all sorts of combinations. It fits nicely into almost any family tree—even Nicklestick's. Just say it to yourself. Doraine Nicklestick. Try any name you like. Doraine Smith, Doraine Humperdinck, Doraine Landover—even Doraine Shay—and, I tried it out with Clinton. Doraine Clinton. Don't you like it? I even tried Percival. It isn't quite so satisfying tacked onto a name like mine,—and it's a poor beginning for Fitts,—but with good, sensible surnames, it's fine."
"It isn't a question of how it sounds, Mr. Percival."
"Don't you like Doraine Clinton?"
"I like almost anything better than Ruth. I suppose most people loathe the names that other people have given them."
"No one knows that better than I. I sometimes wonder what they might have called me if I were a girl. Nothing as nice as Doraine, or Ruth, I'll bet my soul on that. Something like Guinevere Aphrodite, or Desdemona Venus, or—"
"We are getting away from the subject," she interrupted crisply. "Has it occurred to you that poor little Mrs. Cruise might like to name her own baby? Why should you men take it upon yourselves to choose a name for her child? Don't you think you were a trifle high-handed in the matter?"
"Of course, if Mrs. Cruise doesn't like Doraine, we will—"
"You will suggest another, I suppose," she broke in scornfully. "Well, I may as well inform you that you are about to strike a snag," she went on, a trifle inelegantly in her desire to be emphatic. "We intend to see to it that the mother of that baby gives it a name of her own choosing."
"May I inquire just who you mean by we?" he asked.
"The women,—three hundred of us, Mr. Percival, that's who. I for one happen to know that Betty Cruise chose a name long ago. Her heart is set on naming the baby after her mother,—Judith, I think it is. That's the name she wants, but do you imagine she will have the hardihood or the courage, poor little scrap, to oppose you, Mr. Percival? I mean you, personally. She thinks your word is law. She would no more think of defying you than she would think of—"
"Pardon me, Miss Clinton," he interrupted gently, "but don't you think that's a trifle far-fetched? I am not a dictator, you know. I fancy Mrs. Cruise knows that, even if you do not."
"I have heard all about your meeting last night," she went on ruthlessly, her eyes flashing. "How you suggested the name, how you settled the question to suit yourself, and how you called the men together this morning and told them that the child was to be called Doraine before you asked them to vote on it. Vote on it! What a travesty! And no one had the nerve to stand up and say a word for that poor little woman. Oh, you've got them well-tamed, Mr. Percival."
By this time the two nurses had appeared in the doorway, and several other women at work down the line, scenting the fray, were approaching.
"I guess you'd better call off the vote, Mr. Percival," said one of the nurses, eyeing him unflinchingly.
"I can't call it off. The men adopted the name unanimously. I have no right to set aside their decision, no matter how hastily it was made," said he, beginning to bridle now that he tasted concerted opposition.
"I warn you that I intend to call the women,—and what few men there are with minds of their own,—together this evening to see that Betty Cruise gets fair play," said Ruth. "When she hears that we are behind her, she'll have the backbone to tell you men to mind your own business and—"
"Have I a mind of my own or not, Miss Clinton?" he interrupted.
"You certainly have," she declared with conviction.
"Then you may expect me to be one of the men to attend your meeting. Good morning." He lifted his hat, smiled and walked briskly away.
"He'll crab the whole thing," observed one of the women, and despite her vocal rancour there was an admiring expression in her eyes as they followed him down the road.
"If he wants to call that baby Andrew Jackson or George Washington, he'll have his way," said another. "Sex won't make any difference to him."
"You just wait and see," said Ruth, quivering with indignation.
"Mercy, how you must hate him, Miss Clinton," cried one of her house-mates.
"I only wish I were a man," cried the other, clenching her fists.
"It would simplify matters tremendously," came in dry, masculine tones from the outskirts of the group. They turned and discovered Randolph Fitts. He was smiling sympathetically.
"I don't quite see what you mean, Mr. Fitts," said Ruth, after a moment.
"Because if you were a man, Miss Clinton, you wouldn't even think of hating him. You'd love him."
Miss Clinton stared at him for a second or two and then, whirling, entered the hut. Her cheeks were burning. Who shall say whether the tears that sprang to her eyes as she fell to work scrubbing in the corner were of anger or self-pity?
Briefly, the situation became quite strained as the day wore on. Women gathered in little knots to discuss the unprecedented "nerve" of the men. By nightfall they were pretty thoroughly worked up over a matter that had mildly amused them at the outset of the day. A comparatively small proportion had cared one way or the other in the beginning. Most of them did not care at all. Given time, however, to digest the thought, aided by such seasoning as could be supplied by a half dozen determined and more or less eloquent voices, they came in the course of a few hours to the conclusion that they never had heard of anything so outrageous, and, to a woman, were ready to fight for little Mrs. Cruise's rights!
Several of the stewardesses and two or three women from the second cabin were avowed and bitter suffragettes. Indeed, two of the stewardesses, being English, were of the hatchet-wielding, brick-throwing element that made things so warm for the pained but bull-headed male population of London shortly before the Great War began. These ladies harangued their companions with great effect.
To have heard or witnessed the little gatherings at noon and at the close of work for the day, one might have been led to believe that a grave, portentous ques-tion of state was involved. Trifling and simple as all this may seem to the reader of this narrative, it serves a definite purpose. It reveals to a no uncertain degree the eagerness with which these castaways reached out hungrily for the slightest morsel that would satisfy the craving of active minds dulled by the constant, never-absent thought of self; minds charged with thoughts that centred on something thousands of miles away; minds that seldom if ever worked in harmony with hands that toiled.
The men took up the gauntlet. They considered themselves challenged. Notwithstanding the secret conviction that the women were right, they stood united in defence of their action. Nothing that Percival could say or do moved them. He tramped from one group of toilers to another, always meeting with the same grins and laughter when he suggested that they wait until Mrs. Cruise was able to approve or disapprove of the name they had chosen.
"Good gosh!" cried one of the sailors. "Are you goin' to give in to the women, boss?"
"Well, I've been thinking it over, boys. I guess we were a little too officious. We meant well, God knows, but after all, Betty Cruise ought to be consulted,—now, oughtn't she?"
"Sure," cried any number of them cheerfully. "It's her kid."
"Well, there you are," he rejoined persuasively.
"But how do we know she won't be tickled to death with our name? She'd ought to be. It's purtier than any name I can think of," argued Jack Wales, a sailor. "When she's well enough, we'll tell her the kid's name is Doraine, and—"
"She won't hold back a second, boss, when she finds out that you picked it for her," broke in another. "Only a couple o' days ago she was sayin' to one of the other women in my hearin' that if it was a boy she was goin' to call him Percival,—and she didn't know what on earth she'd do if it was a girl. Said she'd probably have to call it after her mother and she didn't like her mother's name a little bit."
"I know, but after all, we did butt in a trifle too soon with our—"
"For God's sake, don't let any of these here women hear you talk like that, boss," groaned Jack Wales. "They'll think we're beginning to hedge. We got to stand together in this thing. If we don't, they'll rule this camp sure as you're a foot high. I don't give a dern what the kid's name is, far as I'm concerned, but on principle, boss, it's just got to be Doraine. Doraine she is an' Doraine she stays."
Every one of them was good-humoured about it. They were taking it as a rare and unexpected bit of politics. The thrill of opposition invested them. They scoffed at surrender.
Buck Chizler, however, was seriously affected. He was courting one of the nurses and he, for one, saw peril in preliminary defeat.
"There won't be any living with 'em," he proclaimed, scowling darkly. "I know what it is to have 'em get the bit in their teeth. You just can't manage 'em, that's all. Upset all the dope. Likely to throw you clear over the fence. Experience ain't a particle of use. The gad don't do a bit of good. They just shut their jaws, lay back their ears, and—"
"We're not talking about race-horses, Buck," interrupted Percival, smiling.
"Neither am I," said Buck forcibly.
Ruth went to Olga Obosky. She did so only after a rather prolonged inward struggle. The Russian's interest in Percival was not moderated by the reserve supposed to be inherent in women. She was an open idolatress. One had only to watch the way she followed him with her dark, heavy-lidded eyes to know what was in her mind. Ruth tried not to despise her. She tried not to care, when she saw Percival laughing and talking with this beguiling sensualist,—and it was not an infrequent occurrence.
The dancer was seated on the floor of her hut, tailor-fashion, a cigarette between her lips, her bare arms resting limply on her knees, her body bent forward in an attitude of extreme fatigue. The three "coryphees" were busy at work about the place with Olga's maid. Ruth stopped in the doorway. Olga lazily removed the cigarette from her lips and smiled.
"I once thought I was very strong and unbreakable," she said, "but now I know I am not. See, I am all in, as we would say in America. Suffering snakes,—how tired I am! That also comes from America. Won't you sit down, Miss Clinton? We have three or four deck chairs, you see, and some cushions."
"Why do you sit there on the floor, all doubled up and—heavens, it must be uncomfortable,—if you are so tired? How do you manage your legs?"
"My legs? Oh, my legs are never tired. It is my poor back." Whereupon she slowly, gracefully straightened out one of her legs, and without changing the position of her body, raised it, with toes and instep on a perfect line, until the heel was some three feet from the floor. Then she swung it slowly backward, twisting her body sinuously to one side. A moment later the foot was stretched out behind her and she lifted herself steadily, without apparent exertion, upon the other knee,—and then stood erect. Ruth watched this remarkable feat in wonder and admiration.
"How—how on earth do you do it?" she cried. "Why,—you must be as strong as—as—a—" She was about to say horse, and floundered.
"But I trust not as clumsy as one," said Madame Obosky, stretching her body in luxurious abandon. "I sit on the floor like zat, my friend, because my back is tired, not my legs. If I lie back in ze deck chair when I am tired, I would relax,—and would make so much more regret for myself when the time came to get up again. Besides, it is a good way to rest, zis way. Have you never tried it? Do, sometime. The whole body rests, it sags; the muscles have nothing to do, so they become soft and grateful. The backbone, the shoulders, the neck,—they all droop and oh, zey—they are so happy to be like zat. It is the same as when I am asleep and they are not running errands all the time for my brain. The Arab sits like zat when he rests,—and the Hindoo,—and they are strong, oh, so very strong. Try it, sometime, Miss Clinton, when you are very tired. It is the best way to let go, all over."
Ruth laughed. "I couldn't do it to save my soul."
"Oh, I do not mean for you to get up as I did, or use your leg as I did. You could not do zat. You are too old. That is one of the fruits, one of the benefits of the cruelest kind of child labour. I was a great many years in making myself able to do zat. See! Put your hand on my leg. Now my back,—my arm. What you think, eh?"
Ruth, in some embarrassment, had shyly obeyed her. The dancer's thigh was like a column of warm iron; her waist, free as ever from stays, was firm and somehow suggestive of actual resilience; her shoulders and back possessed the hard, rippling muscles of a well-developed boy; her shapely forearm was as hard as steel. Ruth marvelled.
"How strong you are!" she cried; "and yet you are slight. You are not as big as I am, but oh, how much stronger you are!"
"I have a perfect figure," said Olga calmly. "It is worth preserving. No one admires my body so much as I do myself. I must not get fat. When you are a fat old woman, I shall still be as I am now. You will diet, and pray, and rave,—because you are growing old,—and I shall do none of these things. I eat like a pig, I never pray, and I do not believe in growing old. But you do not come to see me about myself, Miss Clinton. You find me sitting idly with my legs crossed, and you are surprise. I work as I dance,—very, oh, so very hard while I am at ze task,—but with frequent periods of rest. So I do not wear out myself too soon. It is the only way. Work for an hour, rest for ten minutes,—relax and forget,—and you will see how well it goes. Why do you come? Is it to talk about the baby?"
"Yes, it is, Madame Obosky. I have come to ask you to use your influence with Mr. Percival. You—"
"But I have no influence with Mr. Percivail," interrupted the other, staring.
Ruth flushed. "You are his friend. You—"
"Ah, yes,—but nothing more than zat. You too are his friend, Miss Clinton."
"I see little or nothing of Mr. Percival," said Ruth stiffly. "We are not friends,—not really friends."
"But you admire him, eh? Quite as much as I admire him,—and as every one else does."
"There are certain things about him that I admire, of course."
"You admire him for the same reason that I admire him. Because he has a most charming and agreeable way of telling me to go to the devil. Is that not so?"
"It comes to the same thing. If you would like me to put it in another form, he has a very courteous way of resisting. He is most aggravating, Miss Clinton. He is most disappointing. He should be like soft clay in our hands, and he isn't. Is that not so?"
"Is it not possible, Madame Obosky, that we,—you and I,—may have an entirely different viewpoint so far as Mr. Percival is concerned? Or any other man, for that matter?" Ruth spoke coldly, almost insultingly.
"I dare say," agreed Olga, composedly, not in the least offended by the implication. "You want to marry him. I do not."
"How dare you say that? I do not want to marry that man. I do not want to marry him, I say."
"How interesting. You surprise me, Miss Clinton. It appears, then, that our viewpoint is in nowise different, after all."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I leave it to your imagination,—and to reflection. Listen! We may as well be friends. You do not wish to admit it, even to yourself, but you are in love with him. So am I. The difference between us is that I realize I can get along without him, and still be happy. I am not jealous, my dear. If I were, I should hate you,—and I do not. He is in love with you. You know it perfectly well, because you are not a fool. He is not in love with me. No more am I a fool. He—"
"I am not in love with him!"
"So be it," said Olga shortly. "Have your own way about it. It is not my affair. You have come to me, however, because you know he loves you and you know you do not love him. Why, therefore, are you afraid of me?"
"It is useless to continue this—"
"Oh, I see! You do not wish my girls to hear our conversation." Without more ado, she ordered the three girls out of the hut. "Go out and play," she commanded. Then, as the girls imparted in haste, she turned to Ruth. "I am very thoughtless. You are not in the habit of discussing your love affairs quite so generously as I. Poof! They do not care, those girls. Love affairs mean nothing to my girls."
"I have no love affair to discuss, Madame Obosky. You need not have sent them away. Good-bye..There is nothing more to be said—"
"Do not go away,—please. You do not know whether to like me or not. You do not understand me. You have never encountered any woman as honest as I am, zat is the trouble. Sit down, please. Let us talk. We may be here together on this island all the rest of our lives, Miss Clinton. It would not be right for us to hate each other. When you are married to Mr. Percivail, you will have nothing to fear from me. I give you my solemn oath on zat, Miss Clinton. Our little world here is too small. If we were out in the great big world,—well, it might be different then. But, how, I ask you, is it possible for me to run away with your husband when there is no place to run away to?"
She spoke so quaintly that Ruth smiled in spite of herself.
"You are a most extraordinary person, Madame Obosky. I—I can't dislike you. No, thank you, I sha'n't sit down. I came to see you about the naming of the baby. I suppose you know that we women have decided to oppose the—"
"Yes, yes,—I know," interrupted the other. "But why should we oppose? It is a very small matter."
"Do you really believe those men had—or have—the right to give a name to Betty Cruise's baby? I don't believe it, Madame Obosky."
"In the first place, can you blame Mr. Percivail for taking the matter out of the mother's hands? Mothers are very, oh, so very stupid sometime, you know. For example, my dear Miss Clinton, you have but to see what Mr. Percivail's mother did to him when he was an infant. She called him Algernon Adonis,—and why? Because she thought he was the most wonderful child in all the world,—and because she was silly. I can almost hear her arguing now with the father, poor man. One day I asked Algernon Adonis what name his father called him by,—I was so sure he would not call him Algernon. He said that up to the day his father died he called him Bud. That's a toy's name, you see. I am in favour of children being named by outsiders, disinterested outsiders,—a committee or something,—men preferably. I think this child should be called Doraine. Betty Cruise she do not care what she call it now that it is not possible to call it Jimmy Percivail or Percivail Jimmy. Has it occur to you that if it had been a boy, all these men would have insisted on Jimmy, without the Percivail?"
"I like the name Doraine,—we all do. What we resent is Mr. Percival's presumption in—"
"Let me tell you one more thing. Do not permit Mr. Percivail to address your indignation meeting tonight, for if you do, and he smiles zat nice, good-humoured smile and tells the ladies zat he is sorry to have displease them, and zat he is to blame entirely for the blunder,—poof! Zat will be the end!"
"I am not so sure of that," said Ruth. "There are some very determined women among us, Madame Obosky." A faint line appeared between her eyes, however,—a line acknowledging doubt and uncertainty. "And you will not join us in the protest?"
"No," said Olga, shaking her head. "I am content to let the men have their way in small things, Miss Clinton. It makes zem—them so much easier to manage when it comes to the big things. I speak from experience. Once let a man think he is monarch of all he surveys and he becomes the most humble of subjects. As I have said before, we may all be here for a long, long time. No one can tell. So, I say, we must pat our men on the back and tell zem what great, wise, strong fellows they are,—and how good and gallant too. Then they will fight for us like the lion, and zey—they will work for us like the ass and the oxen, because man he enjoys to be applauded greatly. A man likes to have his hair rubbed gently with the finger tips. He will smile and close his eyes and if he knew how he would purr like the cat. But, my dear, he do not like to have his hair pulled. Zat is something for you to remember,—you and all your determined women, as you call them."
"Of course you understand, Madame Obosky, I—and the other women,—are thinking only of Betty Cruise in this matter."
"From what I have been told, all these men out here stayed awake half the night thinking about her, Miss Clinton. They behave like so many distracted fathers waiting for news from the bed-chamber. Bless their hearts, you might think from their actions that the whole two—three hundred of them consider themselves the consolidated father of zat single infant."
"I must be getting back to my work," said Ruth abruptly. Her eyes were shining, her voice was soft and strangely thick. "But," she went on bravely, after clearing her throat, "we intend to fight it out with them, just the same, Madame Obosky."
Olga went to the door with her.
"You mean, you intend to fight it out with Mr. Percivail,—you yourself, eh?"
"It is not a personal matter with me, let me remind you once more. He is their leader. He dominates them. He is the force that holds them together. That's all."
"And you would render that force impotent, eh? I see. How wise you women are!"
Ruth stopped short, struck by the remark. "Say that again, please."
Olga repeated the words slowly, significantly, and added: "They might have a worse leader, Miss Clinton."
At another time, Ruth Clinton would have been deeply impressed by the underlying significance of the Russian's words. But she was at the mercy of a stubborn, rebellious pride. She chose to ignore the warning that lay in Obosky's remark. She felt herself beaten, and she was defiant. It was too late to hark now to the mild, temperate voice of reason.
Something rankled deep down in her soul, something she was ashamed to acknowledge even to herself. It was the disagreeable conviction that Percival ascribed her activities to nothing more stable than feminine perversity,—in fact, she had the uncomfortable feeling that he even went so far as to attribute them to spitefulness. Something in his voice and manner, as he left her that morning, suggested the kindly chiding of a wilful child. Well, he should see!
"I don't care what it all comes to, Madame Obosky," she said, a red spot in each cheek. "He shall not name that baby."
The Russian smiled. "Forgive me for saying that you will not feel so bitterly toward him when the time comes for him to name your baby."
Ruth's lips fell apart. She stared for a moment in sheer astonishment. Then she paled with anger. Drawing herself to her full height, she asked:
"Are you deliberately trying to make me despise you?"
"By no means," replied the other, quite cheerfully. "I am merely giving you something to think about, zat is all."
"Rubbish!" was all that Ruth flung over her shoulder as she walked away.
It was the noon hour. Scores of men were resting in the shade of the huts as she strode briskly past. They all smiled cheerily, but there was good humoured mockery in their smiles. Here and there were groups of women talking earnestly, excitedly.
Abel Landover was leaning in his doorway, watching her approach. His eyes gleamed. She was very beautiful, she was very desirable. She had been in his mind for months,—this fine, strong, thoroughbred daughter of a thoroughbred gentleman. His sleeves were rolled up, his throat was bare; his strong, deeply lined face was as brown as a berry; if anything, his cold grey eyes were harder and more penetrating than in the days when they looked out from a whiter countenance. He was a strong, dominant figure despite, the estate to which he had fallen,—a silent, sinister figure that might well have been described as "The Thinker." For he was always thinking.
"I understand you tackled the 'boss' this morning, Ruth," he said as she came up.
"I daresay the news is all over the island by this time," she replied, still angry.
"Was it worth while?" he inquired, a trace of derision in his voice.
She was on the point of replying rather emphatically in the negative, when suddenly she recalled the look in Percival's eyes and the first words he spoke to her. She caught her breath. Her eyes sparkled, her lips parted in a rosy smile.
"Yes, Mr. Landover, it was worth while," she said, and went on, leaving him to reflections that were as perplexing as they were unanticipated.
She experienced a short spell of triumph. After all, Percival was in love with her. She did not need Olga Obosky to tell her that. She could see, she could feel for herself. A certain glee possessed her,—indeed, as she afterwards succeeded in analysing the sensation, it bordered decidedly on malice. She had it in her power to make him miserable and unhappy. She would enjoy seeing him unhappy!
The meanness of the woman who longs to injure the man who loves her, whether loved or unloved, revealed itself for the moment in this fair-minded, generous girl. (It is a common trait, admitted by many fair-minded and generous women!) But even as she coddled and encouraged the little sprout of vengeance, the chill of common-sense rushed up and blighted it.
She had a sickening impression that Percival would fail to play the part according to her conception. In fact, he was quite capable of not playing it at all. He would pursue the even tenor of his way—(she actually made use of the time-honoured phrase in her reflections),—and she would get small satisfaction out of that.
Moreover, there was Olga Obosky to be reckoned with. She was conscious of a hot, swiftly passing sense of suffocation as the thought of Olga rushed unbidden into her brain,—for an instant only,—and then came the reaction: a queer chill that raced over her body from head to foot. What part would Olga Obosky play in the game?
The women congregated on the forward deck of the Doraine after supper that night. The evening repast was no longer dignified by the word dinner. The sky was inky black; not a star flickered in the vault above. There were low, far off mutterings of thunder. The rail lanterns,—few and far between,—threw their pallid beams down into the rippling basin in a sickly effort to penetrate the gloom.
Captain Trigger and Mr. Mott, smoking their pipes on the makeshift bridge, studied the throng of women in dour silence.
"I understand the farmers are praying for rain," remarked Mr. Mott, sniffing the air with considerable satisfaction.
"It would do no end of good," said Captain Trigger, without taking his eyes from the chattering mass below.
Mr. Codge, the purser, joined them.
"What are they waiting for?" he asked. "Why don't they call the meeting to order?"
"They did that half an hour ago," said Mr. Mott. "Good Lord, man, can't you hear them talking? Have you no ears at all?"
"But they're all talking at once."
"And why shouldn't they?" demanded the First Officer. "It's their meeting, isn't it?"
"I met Miss Clinton as I was coming up. She was going to her room. I asked her how the meeting was getting along. I don't believe she understood me, because all she said was 'good-night.'"
"I guess she understood you, all right," said Mr. Mott, again sniffing the air. "Seems to me it's getting a little nearer, Captain Trigger. There's a little breeze coming up, too."
"A good thunder-storm,—" began the Captain, musingly, but failed to complete the sentence.
"Would settle something besides the dust," said Mr. Codge, after a deferential wait of a few seconds.
A figure detached itself from the mass on the weirdly lighted deck below and, approaching the perch of the three officers, came to a halt almost directly below them. The light of a lantern fell fairly on the upturned, smiling face of Olga Obosky.
"What is the hour, Captain Trigger?" she inquired.
"Almost nine, Madame Obosky.
"That is nearly two bells, eh, yes? How peaceful you look up there, you three old owls."
"Come up!" invited the Captain cheerily. She joined them a moment later. "Tell me, are they leaving a shred of Percival and his band of outlaws?"
Mr. Codge struck a match and held it for her to light a cigarette. She inhaled deeply and then expelled the smoke in what seemed like a prolonged sigh of satisfaction.
"They are very funny, those women," she said, placing her elbows on the rail and looking down at the crowd. "Do you know what the trouble is now? It is this: they cannot think of a way to condemn the action of those men as a body without also including Mr. Percivail in the verdict."
"Ninety-five per cent, of them want to exonerate Mr. Percivail, but they don't know how to do it in view of the fact that he is the guiltiest man of them all. That's why I say they are very funny, those women. They approve of what he has done in naming the baby, because whatever he does must be right, but they are almost unanimous in charging that all the other men out there were wrong. So they are in a great dilemma."
Captain Trigger laughed. "I see. What was Miss Clinton's position in the debate?"
"Oh, she was one of those who insisted that Mr. Percivail alone be held accountable, the other men not at all. She was the chairman, you see, and they were oblige to listen to her at first. But zen, presently, one of those Brazilian ladies said it was a shame to put all the blame on dear Mr. Percivail, who is such a gentleman and so splendid and all zat,—and zen—then zat Mrs. Block jump up and say that if it was not for Mr. Percivail her husband would have been killed last week when he fell off of the landing into ten sousand feet of water. And the great Careni-Amori she get up and say she would die for Mr. Percivail because he is such a gentleman, and two of those nurses at the same time cry out that he ought to be in the hospital because he is so worn-out working for other people zat he can hardly drag his poor feet around. And so it goes. Miss Clinton has departed, her chin in the air. But she does not deceive me. She has gone to her room to have a good weeping."
"Well, I wish they'd get together on something," growled the Captain; "so's we can all go to bed and get a few hours' sleep."
"Like as not they're keeping the baby awake with all this jabbering," said Mr. Codge. "And that isn't good for babies, you know. They've got to have plenty of sleep. Specially little ones."
"Will you tell me, Captain Trigger, why Mr. Percivail did not come aboard tonight?" asked Olga suddenly. "They were expecting him."
"And they were disappointed, eh?"
"I dare say. At any rate, a good many of them kept peering out over the water most of the time, and listening for the sound of oars." She laughed softly.
The men chuckled. "Talk about strategy," said Mr. Mott, "he's a bird at it. Keeps 'em guessing, he does. By glory, I wish I'd known how to handle women as well as he does. I might have been married fifteen or twenty times if I could have kept 'em anxious and worried,—but I couldn't. I never did have any sense about women. That's why I'm a bachelor instead of a grandfather."
"He told Miss Clinton he was coming," said Olga, harking back to the unanswered question.
"I daresay he changed his mind," said the Captain, rather evasively.
"I do not believe zat. There is some other reason. He is not a woman, Captain Trigger."
"Well, to tell you the truth—but don't let it go any farther, Madame,—he came aboard just before supper to find out how Mrs. Cruise is getting along. Dr. Cullen told him exactly what all these women down there know,—that she's very low,—so he went ashore. Said something about not wanting to take part in any racket that might disturb her,—noisy talk, and all that,—and left a bunch of wild flowers for her in case she was better by morning."
There was a slight noise behind them. Turning, they saw the figure of a woman in the shadow of the deck house.
"Who's there?" demanded Mr. Mott.
Ruth Clinton stepped forward into the light.
"Did he—did he do that?" she asked huskily.
"He did," said the Captain.
"And is she so very ill? I did not know, Captain Trigger."
"She's likely to die, Miss Clinton,—poor little woman."
Ruth was silent for a moment. Then: "Do you think she—she can hear all that hubbub down there?"
"I am sure she cannot. But Percival was afraid she could, so he—well, he thought it best not to make it any worse by adding his groans of agony when you women tore him limb from limb out here on deck. That's the way he put it, so don't look at me like that."
Ruth suddenly hung her head and walked away. As she disappeared down the steps, Mr. Codge remarked, sotto voce:
"She isn't as rabid as she was, is she?"
"She's got it in for Percival ever since he took that fall out of Landover," said Mr. Mott.
"Think she's—er—keen on Landover? He's a good bit older than she is,—twenty years or so, I should say."
"Don't ask me, Codge. As I was saying awhile ago, I don't know anything whatsoever about women. They know all about me, but, gosh, I'm worse than a baby goat where they're concerned. There's no law against her being in love with Landover, and there's no law against him marrying a woman fifty years younger'n himself if he feels like it. Now you take that good looking Russian over there talking to the Captain. Who knows what's in her mind? Nobody, sir,—nobody. All I know is that Landover tried to—"
"Sh! They've got ears like cats," cautioned Mr. Codge.
"—And she put him in his place so quick it made his head swim. That's why he's got it in for her so hard. He says she's not fit for decent women to associate with. On the other hand, if she had been willing to flirt a little with him, and so on, he would have said all the other women were cats if they refused to take up with her. That's a man all over for you, Codge. I hope Miss Clinton ain't considering getting married to that man. He's one of these here what-do-you-call-'ems? Er—"
"Sybarites?" said Codge, who had picked up a good deal from conversations with Peter Snipe.
"That ain't the word," said Mr. Mott. "Now, I'll lay awake all night trying to think of that word. Damn the luck!"
He fell into a profound state of mental concentration, from which he was aroused a few minutes later by the swift and almost unheralded shower that rushed up ahead of the thunderstorm. The rumble of the "apple carts" in the vault above had suddenly become ominous, and there were fitful flares of light in the blackness.
The indignation meeting broke up in a wild scurry of skirts. It is worthy of mention that nothing definite had transpired. The speeches of the ardent suffragettes from the wilds of London were all that the most exacting could have demanded, for they covered all of the known and a great many of the unsuspected iniquities that the masculine flesh is heir to, but except for an introductory sentence or two they failed to touch upon the object of the meeting. They all began with something like "While I am frank to admit that Doraine is a very pretty name," or "Notwithstanding the fact that Doraine is a lovely name," or "If I had a child of my own, I should not in the least object to calling her Doraine," and so on and so forth, but they cruelly abandoned the baby in the next breath, leaving it to be revived by the ensuing speaker.
The rain came just in time to prevent a vote being taken on a motion made by Miss Gladys Spotts. She moved that a committee of three be appointed to serve notice on Captain Trigger, et al, that it was the unanimous sense of the meeting that the women should not only have voice and vote on all public questions, but also representation in the official government. She had learned that there was talk of electing a mayor, a town clerk, a treasurer, a sheriff and a board of commissioners, and it ought to be understood in advance that—
The torrent came at that instant, but it requires a very slight stretching of the imagination in order to understand precisely what Miss Spotts insisted ought to be understood.
It rained very hard all night, and thundered, and lightened, and blew great guns. Not one, but all of the women, tucked away in their bunks, wondered how those poor men were faring out there in that black and lonely camp!
The next morning it was still raining. (In fact, it rained steadily for three days and nights.) Betty Cruise died shortly after daybreak, and with her death ended the controversy over the naming of her babe.
She was the first to be laid to rest in the burying-ground on Cape Sunrise. Services were conducted on the Doraine by the Reverend Mr. Mackenzie, assisted by Father Francisco. All work was suspended on the morning of the funeral. Shortly before noon the entire company walked, in a long, straggling procession, from the landing to the spot three miles distant where the lonely grave awaited its occupant. Careni-Amori sang "Lead, Kindly Light" and "Nearer, my God, to Thee," at the graveside. There were tears in a thousand eyes, and every voice was husky. To most of these people, Betty Cruise meant nothing, but she was to lie out there alone on the wind-swept point, and they were deeply moved. They all went back to work after the midday meal, a strangely silent, thoughtful company,—even down to the lowliest "Portugee."
Mr. Mott, the gaunt old cynic, surprised every one, including himself, by adopting the infant! He announced his decision on the day after the funeral.
"That baby's got to have a father and a grandfather and a mother, and all that," he declared to Captain Trigger, "and I'm going to be all of them, Weatherby. It ain't legal, I know, and I reckon I'll have to turn her over to her proper relatives if they make any demand,—provided we ever get off this island,—but while she's here she's mine, and that settles it, and as long afterward as God's willing. Chances are that no one at home will want to be bothered with an infant that don't actually belong to 'em, so I shouldn't wonder but what I'll have her always. What are you laughing at?"
"I was just thinking that you didn't mention anything about being a grandmother to her."
"Is that meant to be sarcastic?"
"Not at all," said the Captain hastily, noting the look in Mr. Mott's eyes. "But for fear you may think it was, I take it all back, Andrew."
"I laid awake all last night worrying about how lonely and useless and unoccupied I'm going to be if we stick here on this island for any considerable length of time, not to say, always, and I made up my mind that if I had that kid to bring up, life would be sort of worth while. I'll probably live a good deal longer if I have something to live and work for. Ain't that so?"
"It certainly is," agreed the Captain. "Do you mind my asking how you're going to feed it?"
"I've got that all attended to," said Mr. Mott calmly. "I've been to see three of these women who've got tiny babies, and they've promised between 'em to nurse this one. It's all fixed, Captain. Of course, I don't know how it's going to work out, seeing as one of 'em is Spanish, one of 'em Portugee and the other a full-blooded Indian,—but they're all healthy."
"It's very noble of you, Andrew," said the Captain, laying his hand on the First Officer's shoulder.
"Absolutely not," snapped Mr. Mott. "It's nothing but plain, rotten selfishness on my part,—and I don't give a damn who knows it."
Inside of a fortnight after the events just chronicled, the women came ashore to occupy the practically completed huts.
The Doraine was deserted except for Captain Trigger and the half-dozen sailors who remained with him. These sailors were ancient tars whose lives had been spent at sea. They were grizzled, wizened old chaps. One of them, Joe Sands, had been an able seaman for forty-six years, and, despite a perpetual crick in the back, he insisted that he was still an abler seaman than ninety-five per cent, of the thirty-year-olds who followed the sea for a living. When Captain Trigger announced his resolve to stay on board, where he belonged, these vainglorious old seadogs elected to remain with him to the end.
The exodus of women was hastened somewhat by the further listing of the Doraine. This was due primarily to the removal of thousands of tons from the holds, the galley and the engine room. A more sinister cause for alarm, however, was the action of the greatly lightened vessel when a tidal wave swept into the basin from the north. This came at the tag end of the storm,—on the third day, in fact. The Doraine seemed actually to be afloat for a few seconds, heaving, shuddering, groaning. Her bottom, after scraping and grinding and giving up the most unearthly sounds, suddenly appeared to have freed itself completely from the rocks on which it was jammed. She seemed on the point of righting herself. Then she started to roll over on her side! Almost as abruptly she stopped, shivered, and then lay still again. But she was not in her old position. She was lying over at least two degrees farther than before the upheaval.
This same, tremendous tidal wave, driven up by the strong wind that had blown steadily and viciously out of the north for three days,—or perhaps created by some vast internal convulsion of the earth,—completely inundated the low-lying point of land known as Cape Sunrise, At least two miles of the island was temporarily under water. The high ridge lining the shore alone prevented the sea from hurtling over into the valley to destroy the fields and gardens and even to imperil the row of huts along the opposite slope.
Out on Cape Sunrise the waters swept over the lonely grave of Betty Cruise, but fell back baffled when they attacked the foothills that protected the homes of the living. There were superstitious persons who read meaning into this startling visitation of the sea. They made ugly romance of it. For, said they, the lonely spirit of Jimmy Cruise was trying to reach its mate,—aye, striving to drag her body down to the bottom of the sea to lie beside his own.
As the days went by,—long days that were not governed by any daylight saving law,—the settlement took on the air and life of a sequestered village. There was the general warehouse from which stores were dispensed sparingly by agents selected for such duties. Women and men went to market and carried home the provender. A fish market was established; wood-yards, fruit and vegetable booths, a dispensary, and a general store where leather, cloths of various description, and furs were to be had by requisition.
In speaking of the dispensary, Dr. Cullen complacently announced that the supply of medicine was limited, but that it was nothing to worry about. He declared bluntly,—and with a twinkle in his eye,—that people took too much medicine anyhow.
"Medicine is a luxury," he said. "The more we stuff into people the more they want, and the less they take the sooner they forget they're sick. As your doctor, from this time on, I shall be delighted to set your broken bones, sew up your gashes, and all that sort of thing, but it is precious little medicine I'll give to you. So don't get sick. The only epidemic we can have here, according to my judgment, is an epidemic of good health. Am I right, gentlemen?"
The two young American doctors put aside their dignity and grinned.
The wines and liquors from the Doraine were brought ashore and locked away in the cellar beneath the warehouse. It could be had only on the doctor's orders.
"It won't hurt any of us to drink nothing but water for awhile," said Percival in discussing the matter; "and the chances are we'll be less likely to hurt each other if we let the grog alone. There'll be no drinking on this island if I can help it. I understand some of you men are planning to put the pulp of the algarobo through a process of fermentation and make chica by the barrel. Well, if I have anything to say about it, you'll do nothing of the sort. I know that stuff. It's got more murder in it than anything I've ever tackled. We can make flour out of that pulp, as some of you know, and that's all we are going to make out of it. Besides, we can be decent longer on flour than we can on chica.
"We'll find it harder to do without tobacco than without booze, and unless we discover something to take its place we'll be smokeless in a few weeks. Professor Knapendyke is experimenting with a shrub he has discovered here. He says it may be a fairly good substitute if properly cured. But it won't be tobacco, so I guess we may as well make up our minds to swear off smoking as well as drinking. I hope there's nothing in the saying that the good die young. Because if there is, we're in for an epidemic that will wipe out four-fifths of our population in no time at all. We're going to be so good we'll die like flies."
The weeks wore on and the fields of grain were harvested. The yield was not a heavy one, but it was sufficient to justify the rather hap-hazard experiments. The fifty-odd acres of wheat produced a little over a thousand bushels. The twenty-acre oat-field had averaged forty bushels. A few acres of barley, sown broadcast in the calcareous loam along the coast, amounted to nothing.
Primitive means for grinding the grain had been devised. This first crop was being laboriously crushed between roughly made mill-stones, but before another harvest came along, a mill would be in operation on the banks of Leap Frog River.
The exploration of the island had long since been completed. In certain parts of the dense forest covering the western section there were magnificent specimens of the Norfolk Island pine. Fruits of the citrous family were found in abundance; wild cherries, wild grapes, figs, and an apple of amazing proportions and exceeding sweetness. Pigeons in great numbers were found, a fact that puzzled Professor Knapendyke not a little.
He finally arrived at an astonishing conclusion. He connected the presence of these birds with the remark-able exodus of wild pigeons from their haunts in the United States in the eighties. Millions of pigeons at that time took their annual flight southward from Michigan, Indiana and other states in that region, and were never seen again. What became of this prodigious cloud of birds still remains a mystery. Knapendyke now advanced the theory that in skirting the Gulf of Mexico on their way to the winter roosts in Central America they were caught by a hurricane and blown out to sea. By various stages the bewildered survivors of the gale made their way down the east coast of South America, only to be caught up again by another storm that carried them out into the Atlantic. A few reached this island, hundreds of miles from the mainland, and here they remained to propagate. At any rate, the naturalist was preparing to put his impressions and deductions into the form of a paper which he intended to submit to the National Geographic Magazine as soon as he returned to the United States.
The more practical Mr. Fitts decided to start a squab farm.
A few of the giant iguanas were seen, and many smaller ones. The meat of the iguana is a great delicacy. There were no beasts of prey, no herbaceous animals.
Lookouts on Top o' the Morning Peak reported the presence of monstrous birds at rare intervals. Where they came from and whither they went no one could tell. There were unscalable cliffs and crags at the western end of the island, and it is possible that they had their nests among them.
Lieutenant Platt described the first of these huge birds as being at least thirty feet from tip to tip. It flew low above the top of Split Mountain and disappeared beyond the hills to the west. When first descried by one of the lookouts, this bird was far out over the ocean, approaching the island from the east. As it soared over the heads of the men, several hundred feet above them, its wings full spread, it was more like a small monoplane than a bird. In colour it was a dirty yellow, with a black belly and head. Before any one could procure a gun from the hut it was out of range, flying at an incredible speed. A few days later another was seen, coming from the same direction. It was flying much higher, and a few futile shots were fired at it. Then, after a week or ten days without a single one of the monsters being seen, five of them appeared in the west and flew eastward over the island and out to sea.
"What was the name of that passenger-carrying bird they were always talking about in the 'Arabian Nights'?" inquired Platt.
"You mean the roc," replied Knapendyke. "If it ever really existed outside of the fairy tales, it is now extinct. The nearest thing to it in size is the condor, I suppose."
"I've seen some whopping big condors up in the Andes," said Percival, "but twelve feet from tip to tip was what the natives called a full-grown specimen. What do you make of these birds, Flattner?"
"After seeing an iguana eighteen feet long, I'm ready to believe anything. A protracted and an enforced spell of sobriety is the only thing that keeps me from diagnosing my own case as delirium tremens. There's one thing sure. Birds as big as these, and iguanas as huge as the three we've seen,—to say nothing of the enormous flying fish Morris Shine claims to have seen,—take me back to the Dark Ages. I daresay we're seeing the tag end of the giants. God knows how old these birds and reptiles are,—hundreds of years, at least. I'd give almost anything to get one of those birds and stuff him. There was once a flying animal known as the pteranodon. It has been extinct for millions of years. Belonged to the class called pterodactyls. Who knows? If you fellows could shoot for sour apples, I'd have one of 'em."
Christmas and New Year's day, long since past, had been celebrated in a mild, half-hearted way on board the Doraine. Easter was drawing near, and Ruth Clinton took upon herself the task of arranging special services for the children. She was going ahead with her plans when her aunt, with some bitterness, advised her to consult the "King of Babylon"—(a title surreptitiously accorded Percival by the unforgiving lady)—before committing herself too deeply to the enterprise.
"It would be just like him to cut Easter out of the calendar altogether," said she.
"He cannot possibly have any objection to an Easter service," protested Ruth, her brow puckering.
"There's no telling what he will object to," said Mrs. Spofford.
"He is really quite tenderhearted, and awfully fond of children, you know. I am sure he will be very much pleased with the—Besides," she broke off to say with considerable heat, "Mr. Percival is not as high and mighty as he imagines himself to be. Other people have something to say about the management of this camp. You forget,—and so does he perhaps,—that we have a council of ten. I rather fancy—"
"Pooh!" sniffed her aunt. "He is worse than all the Tammany bosses put together. The other men on the council of ten eat out of his hand, as Abel Landover says. His word is law,—or, I should have said, his smile is law. All he has to do is to grin and the argument is over. I've never seen anything like the way people give in when he smiles. It is disgusting."
"Please don't forget, Auntie, that he did not smile on Saturday when Manuel Crust stopped him in front of the meeting-house and said he was going to take Sunday off from work up in the woods. He didn't smile then, did he? And there were a dozen men planning to take the day off with Manuel Crust, too."
"I confess I was frightened," admitted Mrs. Spofford, with a slight shudder. "That Manuel Crust is a—a dangerous man. He carries a knife. I saw it."
"Were your sympathies with Manuel Crust or Mr. Percival? Answer, please."
"Naturally, my dear, I—why, of course, they were with Percival. He was one man against a dozen. Besides, he does represent law and order. I have never questioned that, have I?"
"Weren't you a weeny, teeny bit proud of him yesterday, Aunt Julia?"
"Weren't you?" countered the other.
"I could have hugged him," exclaimed Ruth, her eyes sparkling. "I hate him,—mind you,—but I could have hugged him, just the same."
Mrs. Spofford looked searchingly into the girls clear, shining eyes.
"I wish I knew just how much you hate him, Ruth."
"Be honest, Auntie. What you mean is, how little I hate him; isn't that so?"
"I don't believe you hate him at all."
"Well, the first chance you get, ask him how much I hate him. He will tell you. Now let's talk about Easter Sunday. I don't in the least see why I should go down on my knees to Mr. Percival in order to—"
"Manuel Crust went down on his knees, didn't he?"
"Don't be silly! Manuel Crust was leading a strike. I am arranging a sacred entertainment."
"Still, if I were you, my dear, I would ask him what he thinks about it."
"All right," cried Ruth, "I'll ask him. And what's more, I shall ask him to sing in the choir. He will love it."
Not only did Percival promise to sing in the choir, but he eagerly offered to help her with the decorations. But when she announced that she was going up into the hills in quest of the little red winter berries that grew in profusion, he flatly put his foot down on the project.
"I don't feel any too sure of Manuel Crust and his gang," said he. "They're in an ugly mood and they are brutes, Miss Clinton. Don't be alarmed. They're not likely to molest you or any one else, but I don't believe in taking chances. Just at present they're pretty sore at me and they're doing all they can to stir up discord. It will work out all right in the end, of course. They may be beasts but they're not fools."
"Is it true that Manuel Crust claims that every man should have his woman?" she asked steadily.
He was surprised by the frank, unembarrassed question. "Crust is about as vile as they make them, Miss Clinton. Most of these fellows are decent, however."
"But you have not answered my question."
"I will answer it by saying that if he has any such notion as that in his mind he will have it taken out of him in short order if he attempts to put it into practice. The women on this island will be protected, Miss Clinton, if we have to kill Manuel Crust and his fol-lowers. It is true he has been preaching that sort of gospel among the vicious and ignorant Portugees and half-casts, but it's all talk. Don't pay any attention to it."
"We can't help being worried. Suppose his following is much larger than you think. They are a rough, lawless crowd, and—"
"Ninety-five per cent, of the men here are decent. That's the only comfort I can give you." He smiled his whimsical smile. "I think you will find that you will be courted in the regular, old-fashioned way, and proposed to with as much solemnity and uncertainty as if you were back at home, and it will be left for you to choose your own husband. We have two ministers of the gospel here, you know. I predict some rather violent courtships, and perhaps a few ill-advised marriages, but you may rest assured that no man is going to claim you until you claim him."
He was looking straight into her eyes. She felt the blood mounting to her cheek,—and was conscious of a strange, delicious sensation as of peril stealing over her.
"You are most reassuring," she managed to say, scarcely above a whisper, and then paused expectant.
Afterwards she was shamed by the exquisite pain of anticipation that had coursed through her in that moment of waiting. She never could quite account for the temporary weakness that assailed her and left her mute and helpless under the spell of his eyes. She only knew that she waited expectant,—for something that never came! What she might have said in response, what she might have done if he had uttered the words she was prepared to hear, she did not care to contemplate, even in the privacy of her own thoughts. She only knew that she was ashamed of the thrill that went over her and strangely bitter toward him for being the cause of it. She would not admit to herself that disappointment had anything to do with it,—for she found herself arguing, nothing could have been more distressing than to rebuff him when he seemed so eager to help her in her plans for Easter Sunday.
The fact remains, however, that Percival held his tongue, and she never quite understood why he did.
The time and the place of this encounter invited confession. There was a full moon in the heavens, the night was still, the air crisp with the tang of October in the north,—and they were alone in the shadow of the "tabernacle." Lights gleamed in the little windows that stretched to the right and left of them. Far off somewhere in the dark, an unseen musician was gently thrumming a fandango on his Spanish guitar. She had been on her way home from Careni-Amori's cabin, where she had gained the prima-donna's promise to sing, when she saw him, walking slowly across the "Green." His hands were clasped behind his back, his head was bent. She experienced a sudden rush of pity for him,—she knew not why, except that he looked lonely and forgotten. It was she who turned aside from her course and went out across the Green to join him.
"You are most reassuring," she had said. The dusky light of the moon fell full upon her upturned face; her shadowy, limpid eyes were looking straight into his; enchantment charged the air with its soft and languorous breath,—and yet he looked away!
After a moment he spoke. His voice was steady and,—to her,—almost sardonic.
"The day of the cave-man is past. Likewise the cannibal. I think I can promise that you will neither be beaten nor eaten,—but you do run a little risk in being abroad on such a night as this,—and alone."
She stiffened. "I don't think there is the slightest danger, Mr. Percival."
"I wasn't thinking of danger," he said. "There is a lot of difference between danger and consequences. You see, you might have been mistaken in your man. I might have turned out to be Manuel Crust."
"I—I—I was sure it was you," she stammered, and wished she had not said it. It was a confession that she knew his figure so well that she could recognize it in the gloom of the night and at a distance that should have rendered him almost invisible.
"Even so, I am Manuel's brother under the skin," he said. "Like Judy O'Grady and the Colonel's lady, you know. However, all's well that ends well, so what's the use of magnifying the peril that stalks through the land."
"You were brought up on the good, old-fashioned novels, I see. That's the language of heroes,—and heroes live only in novels, where they are perfectly safe from harm, thanks to the benevolent author."
"You're right. I was brought up among the old-fashioned heroes. I lived through every adventure they had, I longed for every girl they loved, I envied everything they did, and I dreamed the most beautiful dreams about prowess and virtue and love. I rather fancy I'm a better man for having been a swashbuckling boy. I acquired the generous habit of falling in love with every heroine I read about, and in my thoughts I performed even more prodigious deeds of valour in her behalf than the hero to whom she inevitably plighted her troth in the final chapter. In real life, however, I've never been in a position to do anything more heroic than give up my seat in trolley-cars to ladies of all ages,—By the way, have you never longed desperately to be a heroine?"
"Of course, I have," she cried, smiling in spite of herself. Her eyes were sparkling again, for the danger was past. "And I have loved a hundred heroes,—madly." She hesitated and then went on impulsively: "We haven't been very friendly, Mr. Percival. Perhaps I am to blame. In any case, you have been very generous and forbearing. That is more than I have been. I never thought I could bring myself to the point of saying this to you. Can't we be friends again?"
He was silent for a moment.
"Do you mean to go back to where we were before—Well, before we clashed?"
"Yes,—if you will put it in that way."
"I can't go back to that stage," he said, shaking his head. "You may have stood still, Miss Clinton, but I have progressed."
"I don't know what you mean."
"You will, after you reflect awhile," he said.
She drew back, in a sudden panic. She spoke hurriedly, her composure wrecked.
"I—at least, Mr. Percival, I have done my part. If you do not care to be friends, I—I have nothing more to say. We must go on just as we were,—and I am sorry. I have done my part."
"I do not want to distress you," he said huskily. "If I were to tell you why it is best for us to go on as we are, you would lose what little faith you may still have in me. I have not always been able to conceal my feelings. You do not care as I do,—and I have been pretty much of a rotter in showing you just how I feel from time to time,—an ordinary bounder, and God knows I hate the word,—so there's nothing more I can say without distressing and offending you. I want you to feel perfectly secure so far as I am concerned. We are out here alone in the night. If I were to let go of myself now and say what I want to say to you,—well, you would be frightened and hurt and,—God knows I wouldn't hurt you for the world. I hope you understand, Miss Clinton."