HotFreeBooks.com
West Wind Drift
by George Barr McCutcheon
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

She had had time to fortify herself.

"Yes,—I understand," she said, but not without a strange wonder filling her mind.

He was fair,—and yet he was baffling. She had not expected this rare trait in him. Men she had known were not like this. The men who loved her,—and they had been many,—were impetuous and insistent, demanding much and offering everything,—vain-glorious warriors who counted confidently on easy conquest. She had come in contact with but one class of men: the spoiled, cocksure sons of the rich who love in haste and have it over with while there is yet time to love again. She caught herself guiltily wondering how many men of her acquaintance would have allowed this engaging opportunity to pass without making the most of it! And why should this man be different from the others? She experienced a sharp feeling of irritation, and out of that sprang the wilful desire to hurt him because he was different. So she lifted her chin, and looking straight into his eyes, said: "I understand perfectly. You prefer that I should not put you in the class with Manuel Crust."

"I'm not quite certain that Manuel's way of handling women isn't the best after all," he said musingly. "Ride over 'em rough-shod, trample them under foot, kick them to one side and then ask them whether they love you or not. If they say they don't, all you have to do is to behave like a gentleman and leave them alone."

She laughed. "But suppose they were to say they did love you,—what then?"

"That, I understand, is what they generally do say,—and it causes a great deal of trouble for the unfortunate gentleman."

"Are you never in earnest, Mr. Percival?"

"I was very much in earnest a moment ago. You knew how much in earnest I was or you wouldn't have said that nasty thing about Manuel Crust."

"I am sorry I said it," she cried. "It was uncalled for,—and I was deliberately trying to be mean."

"I knew it," he said quietly. "I don't think any the worse of you for it. A woman plays fair until you get her into a corner,—and then she plays fairer than ever to make up for what she did when cornered. Am I not right?"

She did not reply. She was staring past him, down the line of huts. The door of Olga Obosky's cabin had opened and closed, projecting for an instant an oblong block of light into the darkness. The figure of a woman, emerging into the full light of the moon, had caught Ruth's attention. Percival turned quickly. Together they watched the figure move swiftly across the Green toward them. Suddenly it stopped, and then, after a moment, whirled and made off down the line of cabins, soon to be swallowed up by the gloom.

"Were you expecting some one?" inquired Ruth, icily.

He was still looking intently into the far-reaching gloom. Neither had spoken for many seconds. He started, and looked searchingly into her eyes.

"That was Madame Obosky," he said.

"I know. I recognized her," said she evenly.

"And you believe she was coming out here to meet me,—isn't that so?"

She drew herself up. "I shall have to say good night, Mr. Percival. No! It is not necessary for you to walk home with me."

He placed himself in front of her. "Would you mind answering my question?"

"Yes," she flashed, "I think she was coming out here to meet you. Permit me to pass, please."

He stood aside. "Good night, Miss Clinton."

He watched her until the door of her cabin swung open,—and he smiled as she stood revealed for an instant in the square of light, for she had obeyed the impulse to glance over her shoulder.

She was angry, hurt, disgusted as she slammed the door behind her.

"Where have you been?" cried out an accusing voice, and Ruth's gaze fell upon the figure in one of the deck chairs beside the fire. "I have been waiting for you for—"

"How long have you been here?" cried the girl, stock-still and staring.

"If Mrs. Spofford had not been so entertaining, I should say for hours and hours," said Madame Obosky.

"As a matter of fact," said Mrs. Spofford from her side of the fireplace, "it hasn't been more than an hour. Madame Obosky came soon after you went out, dear."

"But—but I saw you just now coming out of your cabin," cried Ruth blankly. She had a queer sensation as of the floor giving way beneath her.

"You saw—Oh, now I understand!" cried the Russian, with a laugh. "Zose girls of mine! Zey—they are like so many grandmothers. They will not go to bed until zey know I am safely tucked in myself. Alas, Mrs. Spofford, zose girls do not trust me, I fear. If I go out at night alone, zey instantly put their heads together and shake zem all at the same time. So that is what has happen, Miss Clinton. One of them,—Alma, I suspect, because she had a sister who,—Yes, it would be Alma, I am sure,—in any case, one of zem comes out to get me, so like a policeman. But still I do not understand something. I have told them I was coming here to see you. If it was one of my girls, why has she not come?"

Ruth had turned away, ostensibly to pull down the little window shade but really to send a swift searching glance out across the Green.

"She went the other way," she replied, rather breathlessly.

Olga sprang to her feet. "Now, what is zat little fool up to?" she cried, angrily. "If I catch her running out to meet men at zis hour of—"

Ruth interrupted her. "She started in this direction but when she saw us, she turned and went the other way. I was talking to Mr. Percival out near the meeting-house. About the Easter services, Auntie," she made haste to say as Mrs. Spofford looked up in surprise.

Olga was looking at her fixedly, an odd expression in her eyes, her lips slightly parted.

"He has promised to help me. He is delighted to sing in the choir. Madame Careni-Amori will sing two solos. She promises to make Joseppi sing one or two. I—I was discussing the arrangements with Mr. Percival."

"Now I understand," said Olga, gaily, but with the odd, inquiring look still in her eyes. "Alma thought it was I. I have zem very well-trained, those girls. She sees me with a man,—zip! She runs the other way as fast as she can! That is the height of propriety,—is it not, Mrs. Spofford?"

"I do not quite understand what you mean, Madame Obosky."

"Why did he say it was you?" cried Ruth, hot with chagrin.

Olga shrugged her shoulders. "He is so very amiable," said she. "I dare say he thought it would please you."

Ruth bit her lip. There was no mistaking the challenge in the Russian's remark, however careless it may have sounded.

"I came to see you about Mr. Percivail's birthday," said Olga, abruptly changing the subject. "Some one has suggested zat we all join in giving him a grand great big celebration. Bonfires, fire-works, a banquet with speeches, and all zat kind of thing. What do you think, eh?"

"He wouldn't like it at all," said Ruth promptly. "Moreover, why should we celebrate his birthday? He doesn't deserve it any more than scores of other—"

"Oh, then we must drop it altogether," broke in Olga, rather plaintively. "I thought every one would be in favour of it. But, of course, if there is the slightest opposition—"

"I do not oppose it," said Ruth coldly. "Pray do not let me upset your plans."

"It is not my plan. Zat nice, sarcastic Mr. Fitts, and Mr. Malone, and Captain Trigger, they have proposed it, Miss Clinton, not I. But men never quite get over being boys. They do not stop to question whether a thing is right or wrong. I dare say after they have thought a little longer over it, zey will agree with you that it is foolish to be so enthusiastic about this fellow Percivail,—and the whole project will dissolve into thin air."

Her hand was on the latch. She met Ruth's harassed, unhappy gaze with her indolent, almost insolent, smile. Suddenly the American girl snatched up her jacket and the little fur collar she had thrown across a chair in the corner.

"If you don't mind, I will walk part of the way home with you," she said.

Olga opened the door and looked out. "Thank you,—I am not afraid. Pray do not think of it,—I cannot permit you to come. It is late,—and the moon is under the clouds. Good night,—good night, Mrs. Spofford."



CHAPTER VII.

She quickly closed the door behind her and sped off down the line of now lightless cabins. A man stepped out of the black shadow beyond the second cabin and stood in her path. She did not pause, but walked swiftly, fearlessly up to him, her heart quickening under the thrill of exultation. He was waiting for her! He had been waiting for her all the long evening. The time had come!

The night was dark now; a strong wind had sprung up to drive the black and storm-laden clouds across the moonlit sky. She held out her hands with a little moan of ecstasy,—and then she was in his strong, crushing arms, pressed fiercely to his breast.

"God, can I believe,—is it true? You have come,—you have come of your own free will,—you are here in my arms!" His hot lips found hers in a wild, passionate kiss. "Speak to me! Tell me it is all real,—that I am not dreaming. Oh, Ruth, Ruth,—darling!"

Her body stiffened. A convulsive shudder raced over her, and then, for an instant, she was limp and heavy in his embrace. Then suddenly she threw her arms about his neck and kissed him furiously, savagely, again and again,—breaking away at last with a low, suffocating laugh.

"Now,—now,-" she cried, "now, what are you going to do with me?"

He lifted his head with a jerk, peering into her face, slow to realize the incredible mistake he had made. He was still under the spell of the riotous passion that her lustful response had aroused. It had rushed over him like a great, resistless wave,—hot, delicious, tingling. He had been amazed, bewildered by the unbelievable craving,—furious and uncontrolled,—which she revealed in her momentary surrender to the elemental. The truth began to dawn upon him even before she spoke. Could this be Ruth,—could this unbridled, voluptuous wanton who clung to him and smothered him with kisses be the pure, high-minded girl he had grown to love and revere? She spoke, and then he knew that the consuming fire in his blood was unholy,—as unholy as the spark that set it ablaze.

"Damn you!" he whispered hoarsely,—but he did not put her away from him. The lure of the flesh was upon him. It was stronger than his will, stronger than his love.

For months this woman had beguiled him. There had been times when he was compelled to fight himself,—times when he asked: "Why not?"

She was alluring, she was frankly a sensualist; but she was patient, she was crafty. She knew that he was honourably in love with another, but she was not deterred by that nor by the conviction that her conquest, if she prevailed, would be transitory. She had a code of her own. It included an uncertain element of honour, fixed rather rigidly upon what she would have called constancy. Singleness of purpose was her notion of morality. She would not have believed herself to be a bad woman any more than she would have looked upon her lover as a bad man. To her, morality in its accepted sense signified no more than the suppression of human emotions and human sensations. As a matter of fact, she considered herself a good woman if for no other reason than that she steadfastly had repelled the munificent appeals of countless infatuated men. Treasure had been laid at her feet, only to be kicked aside. She calmly spoke of herself as a pearl without price. She was content to possess, but not to be possessed. That was what she called self-respect. She was a pagan, but she was her own idol. She worshipped herself. She would never permit her idol to be desecrated.

All this Percival knew,—or rather sensed. He was not above feeling a queer sort of respect and admiration for her. She was not without integrity.

He had reached the pinnacle of happiness in believing that the girl he loved was in his arms. He was blind and deaf with ecstasy. The awakening was a shock. His senses reeled for an instant,—and then Ruth Clinton went out of his thoughts entirely!

"Damn you!" he cried again, and drew her close. "She hates me,—she will always hate me," he was mumbling. "Why should I care? Why should I refuse to take—" Her lips were on his again, warm, firm, voluptuous, drawing his heart's blood with the resistless power of a magnet.

They did not hear the rapid approach of footsteps—heavy, swift as of one running. A dark, panting figure raced past them, and then another but a few paces behind.

Percival's senses were released. They cast off the bewitching bonds. His head went up again. In a flash his brain was clear. His arms were still about her, she was still lying close against him,—but the current of passion that consumed both of them was checked.

"What was that?" she gasped, as if coming out of a dream.

He released her, and sprang out into the path to peer fruitlessly after the unseen runners. The sound of footsteps was rapidly diminishing.

They were suddenly aware of women's voices far away to the right. They were indistinct but there was a sinister significance in the ever-increasing volume.

"There's trouble out there," said Percival. "Something wrong. Come,—come along! You must get indoors at once." He grasped her arm and started rapidly off in the direction of her cabin. She stumbled at first, but quickly fell into stride with him. Men's shouts were now added to the clamour.

"I know,—I know," she cried in his ear. "It has happened, just as I said it would. Some of these men are beasts."

"Then, there's hell to pay," he grated.

They reached her cabin just as the door was thrown open. The three startled coryphees filled the entrance. Recognition was followed by a clatter of agitated voices. Olga was fairly dragged into the cabin.

"Bolt your door," was Percival's command as he turned away.

She stood in the door for a moment, looking after him. He passed out of the radius of light. The chorus of voices grew louder down the way,—like the make-believe mob in the theatre.

Then she closed the door slowly, reluctantly. The three girls watched her in silence as she stood for many seconds with her hand on the knob, her eyes tightly shut.

She turned and faced them. There was a wry smile on her lips as she shrugged her shoulders and spread out her hands in a gesture of resignation.

"Yes,—bolt the door," she said. As Alma hesitated, her eyes grew hard, her voice imperative. "Do you know of any reason why you should not do as both Mr. Percivail and I have commanded?"

"No,—no, Madame," cried Alma hastily.

As the heavy wooden bolt fell into place, Olga again shrugged her shoulders and threw herself into a chair in front of the fireplace.

"Put on your clothes," she ordered.

"What is happening, Madame? What is all the noise about?" questioned one of the girls.

But there was no answer. Olga was staring into the fire.



CHAPTER VIII.

Percival's blood was still in a tumult as he ran down the line of cabins. From every doorway men were now stumbling, half-dressed, half-asleep. Behind them, in many cabins, alarmed, agitated women appeared. Farther on there were lanterns and a chaotic mass of moving objects. Above the increasing clamour rose the horrible, uncanny wail of a woman. Percival's blood cooled, his brain cleared. Men shouted questions as he passed, and obeyed his command to follow.

The ugly story is soon told. Philippa, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Pedro, the head-farmer, had gone out from her father's cabin at dusk to fetch water from the little reservoir that had been constructed alongside Leap Frog River a short distance above the cabins. The pool was a scant two hundred yards from her home. It was a five minutes' walk there and back. Half-an-hour passed, and she had not returned. Her mother became uneasy. Pedro reassured her. He laughed at her fears.

"She could not have fallen into the pool," he said. "You forget the fence we have built around it."

"I am not thinking of the pool, Pedro," she argued. "Go you at once and search for her. She is no laggard. She has not stopped in to see one of the girls."

And Pedro went grumpily forth to search for his daughter. An hour later he came staggering down from the woods above the pool to meet the dozen or more friends and neighbours who had set out some-time earlier to look for the two of them, father and daughter.

He bore in his arms the limp, apparently lifeless form of Philippa. He was covered with blood, he was chattering like a madman. Out of his incoherent babble the horrified searchers were able to put together the cruel story. It seems he had heard a faint cry far back in the dense wood,—another and yet another. Then utter silence. Even the night-birds were still. Swift, paralysing fear choked him. He tried to call out as he rushed blindly up from the pool into the forest, but only hoarse, unnatural gasps left his lips. He fell often, he crashed into the trunks of trees, but always he went onward, gasping out his futile cries. He knew not how long he beat through the forest. He was not even sure that it was Philippa's cry he had heard, but his soul was filled with a great, convincing dread. He knew that his beloved Philippa, the idol of his heart, the sunshine of his life, was up there in the woods. Frequently he stopped to listen. He could hear nothing save the pounding of his own heart, and the wheezing of his breath, thick and laboured.

Then, at last, during one of those silences, he heard something moving in the darkness near at hand. Something—some one was coming toward him through the underbrush. He called out hoarsely: "Philippa!" The sound ceased instantly, and then he heard a whispered execration. Wild rage possessed him. He plunged forward into the brush. Something crashed down upon his head, and he felt himself falling forward. The next he knew, he was trying vainly to rise to his feet. Something hot was running into his eyes,—hot and sticky. He lifted his hand to his head; it came away wet. He put his fingers into his mouth,-and tasted blood! It was enough. His strength came back. He sprang to his feet and rushed onward, shouting, cursing, calling upon God! He had no recollection of finding his girl. Apparently everything was a blank to him until long afterwards he saw lights moving among the trees, and voices were calling his name.

Percival and other cool-headed men were hard put to check the fury of the mob. Men and women, bent on vengeance, made the night hideous with their curses, howls and shrieks. In their senseless fury they prepared to kill. They had heard the stories about Manuel Crust and his disciples. Only the determined stand taken by the small group that rallied to Percival's support kept the maddened crowd from seeking out these men and rending them limb from limb. The sailors from the Doraine were the first to listen to the pleas of the level-headed,—just as they had been the first to demand the lives of Manuel Crust and his gang. Individually they were rough men and lawless, collectively they were the slaves of discipline. It was to their vanity that Percival and the others appealed,—only they called it honour instead of vanity. The mob spirit was—quelled for the time being, at least. No one was so foolish as to believe that it was dead, however. Unless the man guilty of the shocking crime was found and delivered up for punishment, the inevitable would happen.

"We'll get the right man," said the voice of universal fury, "if we have to cut the heart out of every one of Manuel Crust's gang."

The women were the worst. They fought like wildcats to reach the cabins occupied by the known followers of Manuel Crust. With knives and axes and burn-ing faggots they tried again and again to force their way through the stubborn wall of men that had been raised against them.

As for Manuel Crust and his little group of radicals, they had vanished. They had mingled with the mob at the outset. There were many who recalled seeing this one and that one, remembered speaking to him, remembered hearing him curse the ravisher. But as their own names began to run from lip to lip, they silently, swiftly disappeared.

Dawn found the camp awake, but grimly silent. No one had gone to bed. With the first streak of day, the man-hunt began in earnest. All night long the camp had been patrolled. Every cabin had been searched, even those occupied solely by women. This search had been conducted in an orderly, business-like way under the supervision of men chosen by Percival. The folly of beating the woods during the night was recognized even by the most impatient; there was time enough for that when the blackness of night had lifted.

Throughout the long night, the restless crowd, with but one thought in mind, hung about the cabin of Pedro the farmer. The doctors and several of the nurses were in there. Down at the meeting-house a bonfire had been started, and here were grouped the men to whom the leaders had intrusted firearms and other weapons,—men of the gun crew, under officers from the Doraine, the committee of ten and others.

It was accepted as a fact that two men were involved in the heinous deed. Percival's account of the mysterious runners seemed definitely to establish this. He called upon Olga Obosky to verify his statement. If she was surprised by his admission that he was in her company when the men rushed past them in the darkness, she did not betray the fact. She indulged in a derisive smile when he went on to explain that it was so dark he had failed to recognize her until she spoke to him. She agreed with him that the two men must have come into the open a very short distance above them, having sneaked out between the cabins before suddenly breaking into a run. Avoiding the beaten roadway, they had laid their course twenty or thirty feet to the right of it, keeping to the soft, springy turf.

Percival had issued orders for the entire camp to congregate on the Green at the first sign of day. The cold grey light of dawn fell upon vague, unreal forms moving across the open spaces from all directions. There was no shouting, no turmoil, scarcely the sound of a voice. The silent, ghostly figures merged into a compact, motionless mass in front of the meetinghouse. It was not necessary for Percival to call for order when he appeared on the steps and began to speak. The only sounds were the shuffling of feet, the rustling of garments, the deep, restrained breathing of the mass.

He spoke partly in English and partly in Spanish, and he was brief.

"You know what we are here for and what is ahead of us. I don't have to tell you the story of last night. You know it as well as I. You will be glad to hear the latest word from Dr. Cullen. Philippa is conscious. He thinks she will recover. She is having the best of care and attention. I will explain why we are all here now. The first thing for us to do is to count noses. We will go about it as rapidly as possible. After that, we will get down to business. Mr. Landover and Mr. Malone will check off the name of every man, woman and child. As your names are called, come forward, answer, and then move over beyond the corner of the building. We've got to find out just who is missing,—if any one is missing at all."

He raised his voice. "I want you all to keep cool. Don't forget that we are after the men who committed this crime. We have no right to say that Manuel Crust or any of his crowd did this thing until we have positive proof of the fact. It may not have been any of Manuel's gang, don't forget that, people. We must make no mistakes. I am saying this to you now because I see Manuel Crust and some of his friends standing over there at the edge of the clearing. Stop! Don't make a move in their direction. We've all had time to think,—we've all had time to get ourselves in hand. There is a right and a wrong way to handle this thing,—and we've got to be sure we're right. The guilty cannot escape. They haven't a chance, and you know it. So, let's be sure,—let's be dead sure before we accuse any man. We have no right to charge Manuel's gang with this crime. The guilty men may be here among us,—absolutely unsuspected. Chizler! You and Soapy Shay go over and tell those men that we are taking a count of all the people in this camp. Tell them to come and answer to their names. They will be safe."

The count was never completed. Manuel Crust did not wait for his name to be called. He pushed his way through the crowd, leaving his followers behind. Advancing to the foot of the steps he cried out hoarsely to Percival:

"If you want your men, I—I, Manuel Crust, will lead you to one of them. He is up there in the wood. Three men are guarding him. He is Sancho Mendez, the blacksmith. Listen, I will tell you. It is the God's truth I tell. There were seven of us hiding out there in the wood. We were scared. We heard our names called out. We had heard the threats to burn us alive. We ran away. We were not cowards,—but still we ran away. We would wait till the crowd cooled off. That was my advice. Then we would return,—then we would help to find the men who did it,—and we would help to burn them alive. An hour ago Sancho Mendez crawled out of the brush up there above the landing and begged us to protect him. His leg was broken. He had fallen over a log. You all know Sancho Mendez. He was a good boy. He was the friend of Boss Percival. He was no friend to me. But he swears he will be my slave for ever if I will save him. Then he tells us everything. When I ask him why the hell he run away, he says he lose his mind or something. He just go crazy, he says. He say everybody was chasing him,—he could hear them in the bushes, he could hear that girl screaming out his name,—and all that. He was going to jump in the water and drown, because he say people tell him always it is the easy way to die. But he falls down and breaks his leg,—here below the knee. He cannot run no more. It is all up. He is afraid to breathe. People are all around him with knives and axes and clubs. He can hear them in the brush. Then the daylight comes, and he sees us down below in the wood, and he says he thanks God. I will be his friend,—I will save him because I am an angel from heaven! Bah! I spit in his face. We tie him to a tree with our belts, and then I come down to tell Boss Percival we have his man,—his good and loyal friend."

"Stop!" yelled Percival, as the crowd began to show symptoms of breaking away. "Listen to me! I give you fair warning. I don't want to do it, but, by God, I'll order these men to shoot the first who tries to start anything. We're going to have law and order here. This man Sancho is going to have a fair trial. What's more, he had a companion. What does he say of the other man, Manuel Crust?"

"Sancho Mendez says he was alone. There was no other man."

Percival looked hard into Manuel Crust's bloodshot eyes. An appalling thought had suddenly flashed into his mind. Many seconds passed before he dared to open his lips. As if by divine revelation the situation lay bare before him,—the whole Machiavelian scheme as conceived by Manuel. Sancho Mendez was to be sacrificed!

Even as he stood there speechless, the plan began to work toward its well-calculated end. Manuel's friends started to harangue the crowd. They were growling hoarse invectives, shaking their fists in the direction of the wood, fanning the pent-up fury of the mob into a whirlwind that would sweep everything before it. Once the tide turned there would be no stopping it until Sancho Mendez was torn to pieces. He would shriek his innocence into deaf ears. And that was Manuel's game.

Percival's heart leaped with joy as he saw the armed force under Lieutenant Platt move swiftly into a position barring the way to the woods. He thrilled with a mighty pride in the shrewd intelligence and resourcefulness of this trained fighting-man from the far-off homeland.

Manuel Crust was turning away to mingle with the crowd. Quick as a flash, Percival was down from the steps and at the "Portugee's" side. He grasped the man's arm.

"I've got a gun against your back," he cried in fierce suppressed tones. "Stand still and keep your mouth shut, or I'll drill a hole through you. You're safe if you do as I tell you, Crust. I'm onto your little game. I'm not saying you are the guilty man, but you know who he is,—and it won't work."

Manuel Crust was as rigid as a block of stone. He did not even turn his head to look into the face of the man who held him.

Michael Malone and Landover were at Percival's side in an instant. From their position on the steps they could see what was not visible to the crowd beyond,—the revolver that was pressed against the small of Crust's back.

"Cover this man," whispered Percival to Malone. "Shoot if he opens his mouth."

Malone's revolver was jammed against the "Portugee's" back, and Percival sprang back up the steps.

Manuel Crust shot a look of surprise at Abel Landover.

"What the hell—" he began, but choked off the words at a command from Malone. While Percival was rapidly calling out orders from above, he broke out recklessly again, addressing the stern-faced banker.

"Are you my friend or not?" he snarled. "What kind of a man are you? Speak up! Tell them I'm all right."

"Keep quiet," warned Malone.

Landover's eyes met the searching, questioning gaze of the Portuguese. Manuel Crust apparently was satisfied with what he read in them, for a quick gleam of confidence leaped into his own. His chest swelled with a tremendous intake of breath.

The remarkable personality,—or perhaps the magnetism,—of the "boss," again asserted itself. He made no allusion to the thing uppermost in his mind as he spoke hurriedly, emphatically to the tense throng. When he directed Randolph Fitts to take a few picked men with him up into the woods to bring down the captive, there were mutterings but no move on the part of the crowd either to anticipate or to follow the detachment. A few terse words to Buck Chizler sent that active young man after Fitts, the bearer of instructions. Sancho Mendez was to be brought in alive. His guards were not to be given a chance to kill him when they realized that the scheme had failed and he would be allowed to tell his own story.

With the departure of Fitts and his men, Percival ordered the people to return to their cabins. He promised them that Sancho Mendez should have his just deserts. Slowly, reluctantly the crowd broke up and shuffled away in small groups across the dewy Green. Manuel Crust was free to go. The few words that passed between Landover and Percival, although unheard by the man, sufficed to put courage back into his heart. He had come to look upon the banker as his "pal"! And his "pal" had not failed him!

This is what Landover said to Percival:

"Whatever may be in your mind, Percival, I want to say this to you. I was in Manuel Crust's cabin when the thing happened. There were eight of us there. I can point out to you the other six. I must beg you to overlook the fact that we are not friends, and believe what I am saying. It is the absolute truth."

"I will take your word for it, Mr. Landover," said Percival, after a moment. "I am aware of your dealings with Crust and his crowd. I don't know what the game is, but I do know that you have been fostering discontent,—it may even amount to revolt,—among; these men. If you say you were with Crust and that he was not out of your sight all evening, I will believe you. You may be a misguided, domineering fool, Mr. Landover, but you are honest. You have failed to appreciate what you were stirring up,—what you were letting yourself and all the rest of us in for, that's all."

Landover flushed. He compressed his lips for a second or two before speaking.

"My opposition to you as a dictator, Percival, hardly warrants the implication that I am in a sense responsible for the devilish thing that happened last night."

"I grant you that," said Percival. "Nevertheless, it is your purpose to down me, no matter what it costs,—isn't that true?"

"No, it is not true. There is an honest, sincere belief on the part of some of us that you are not the man to rule this camp. You may call it politics, if you like,—or revolt, if you prefer."

"We'll call it politics, Mr. Landover. It was not politics that made me the superintendent of construction here, however. I've looked after the job to the best of my ability. I am ready to retire whenever the people decide they've found a better man. You may be right in supposing that Manuel Crust is the right man for the job,—but I don't agree with you."

Landover started. "Nothing is farther from my thoughts than to turn the affairs of this camp over to Crust," he said.

"Once more I agree with you. But that is what you will be doing, just the same. If you think that Manuel Crust is going to play second fiddle to you, Mr. Landover, you'll suddenly wake up to find yourself mistaken. You know what Crust is advocating, don't you? Well, I guess there's nothing more to be said on the subject."

"We will drop it, then," said Landover curtly. "I merely want you to understand that Crust had no hand in last night's affair. I can vouch for that."

"Can you vouch for each and every member of his gang?"

"I know nothing about his gang, as you call it. If I am not mistaken, this fellow Mendez is one of your pet supporters. He may be double-crossing you."

"We'll see. For the present, your friend Crust is safe. As long as he lives within the law, he is all right. We're going to have law and order here, Mr. Landover. I want you to understand that. The best evidence that most of us want law and order is the incredible manner in which these people have curbed their natural instincts."

"No one wants law and order more than I," said Landover.

"And I suppose Manuel Crust is of the same mind, eh?"

"So far as I know, he is," replied the other firmly.

Percival looked at him in blank astonishment. "Well, I'm damned!" he said, after a moment. "Do you really believe that?"

"It does not follow that he is an advocate of lawlessness and disorder because he happens to be opposed to some of your pet schemes, does it, Mr. Percival?" inquired Landover ironically.

"One of my pet schemes happens to conflict seriously with Manuel's pet scheme, if that will strengthen your argument any, Mr. Landover."

"I don't believe Crust ever had any such thought," said the other flatly.

"We're not getting anywhere by arguing the point," said Percival. He turned to walk away.

"Just a moment," called out Landover, after the younger man had taken a few steps. "See here, Percival, I don't want you to misunderstand me. If there is anything in this talk about Crust,—you know what I mean,—and if it should come to the point where stern measures are required, I will be with you, heart and soul. You know that, don't you?"

Percival studied the banker's face for a moment. "I've never doubted it for an instant, Landover. We may yet shake hands and be friends in spite of ourselves."

Landover turned on his heel and walked away, and Percival, with a shrug of his shoulders, set about making preparations to safe-guard Sancho Mendez when he was brought in from the wood. He posted a number of reliable, cool-headed men around the "meetinghouse," many of them being armed. Arrangements were made for barricading the door and the few windows. The prisoner was to be confined in the building, a long, low structure, and there he was to tell his story and stand trial. There was to be no delay in the matter of a trial.

"You will sit as judge, Mike," said the "boss," addressing Malone. "There will not be any legal technicalities, old man, and there won't be any appeal,—so all you've got to do is to act like a judge and not like a lawyer. We've got to do this thing in the regular way. Try to forget that you have practiced in the New York City courts. Remember that there is such a thing as justice and pay absolutely no attention to what you are in the habit of calling the law. The law is a beautiful thing if you don't take it too seriously. Ninety-nine out of every hundred judges in the courts of the U. S. A. sit through a trial worrying their heads off trying to remember the law so that they can keep out of the record things that might make them look like jackasses when the case is carried up to a higher court,—and while they are thinking so hard about the law they forget all about the poor little trifle called justice. I guess you know that as well as I do, so there's no use talking about it."

"I guess I do," said Michael Malone. "I live on technicalities when I'm in New York. If it were not for technicalities, I'd starve to death. And, my God, man, if we had to stop and think about justice every time we go into court, we'd be a disgrace to the profession."

Percival, Peter Snipe, Flattner and several others strode out from the meeting-house and swept the long line of huts with serious, apprehensive eyes. They had expected to find the people congregated at some nearby point, ready to swoop down upon the prisoner the instant he appeared with his captors at the edge of the wood. To their amazement and relief, the people had taken Percival's command literally. They had retired to their huts, and but few of them were to be seen, even on their doorsteps.

"Can you beat it?" cried Snipe. "By golly, boys, they've put it squarely up to us. It's the greatest exhibition of restraint and confidence I've ever known. This couldn't have happened at home. Hello!"

The gaze of all was centred upon two persons who walked rapidly in the direction taken by Fitts and his party. No one spoke for a few seconds. Flattner, after a quick look at Percival's set, scowling face, was the first to speak. To a certain degree, he understood the situation. It was out of pure consideration for his friend's feelings that he said:

"I'll go and head 'em off, A. A."

"Thanks, old chap,—but there's no sense in getting yourself disliked. I'll do it. I'm in bad already,—and besides I'm the one who gave the order."

Near the end of the row of huts, he drew alongside of Ruth Clinton and Landover.

"The order was meant for every one, Miss Clinton," he said levelly. "Am I to understand that you have decided to ignore it?"

She stopped short and drew herself up haughtily. Their eyes met. There was defiance in hers. She did not speak. Landover confronted Percival, white with fury.

"I am capable of looking after Miss Clinton," he exclaimed. "Your beastly officiousness—"

"You will go back to your cabin at once, Miss Clinton," said Percival, ignoring Landover.

She did not move.

"Miss Clinton came out here at my suggestion," said Landover. "If you have any more bullying to do, confine yourself to me, Percival."

"I am not doing this because I enjoy it, Miss Clinton," went on the young man, still looking into her unwavering eyes. "I am sorry it is necessary to remind you that there are no privileged classes here. You will have to obey orders the same as every one else."

"Very well," she said, suddenly lowering her eyes. "Take me back to the cabin, Mr. Landover. There is nothing more to say."

Percival stood aside. They walked past him without so much as a glance at his set, unsmiling face. Landover slipped an arm through hers. She did not resist when he drew her up close to his side. Percival saw him lean over and speak to her after they had gone a few paces. His lips were close to her ear, but though his voice was low and repressed, the words were distinctly audible to the young man.

"Ruth darling, I am sorry,—I can't tell you how sorry I am for having subjected you to this insult. God, if I could only help matters by resenting it, I—"

She broke in, her voice as clear as a bell.

"Oh, if I were only a man,—if I were only a man!"

They were well out of hearing before Percival looked despairingly up at the pink and grey sky and muttered with heartfelt earnestness:

"I wish to God you were. I'd like nothing better than to be soundly threshed by you."



CHAPTER IX.

Just before sunset that evening, Sancho Mendez was publicly hanged. Confessing the crime, he was carried to the rude gibbet at the far edge of the wheat field and paid the price in full. He had been tried by a jury of twelve; and there was absolutely no question as to his guilt. His companion, a lad named Dominic, callously betrayed by the older man, fled to the forest and it was not until the second day after the hanging that he was found by a party of man-hunters, half-starved and half-demented. He was hanged at sunrise on the following day.

Manuel Crust considered himself glorified. After a fashion, he posed as a martyr. Some sort of cunning, as insidious as it was unexpected, caused him to assume an air of humility. He went about shaking his head sorrowfully, as if cut to the quick by the unjust suspicions that had been heaped upon him by the ignorant, easily-persuaded populace.

Sentiment began to swing toward him. He and his so-called followers were vindicated. It was his gloomy, dejected contention that if Providence had not intervened he and his honest fellows undoubtedly would have been placed in the most direful position, so strong and so bitter was the prejudice that conspired against him. He was constantly thanking Providence. And presently other people undertook to thank Providence too. They began to regard Manuel as a much-abused man.

The burly "Portugee" haunted the cabin of Pedro the farmer. He was the most solicitous and the most active of all who strove to befriend and encourage the unhappy father, and no one was more devoted than he to the slowly-recovering girl. He carried flowers to Pedro's hut; he did many chores for Pedro's wife; he went out into the woods and killed the plumpest birds he could find and cooked them himself for Pedro's daughter.

Presently he began to assert a more or less proprietary interest in the family. It was no uncommon thing for him to issue orders to the nurses; he hectored the Doctor; and on several occasions he went so far as to offend such well-meaning ladies as Mrs. Spofford, Madame Careni-Amori, Mrs. Block and others when they appeared at Pedro's cabin with delicacies for the girl. And finally the people in that end of the camp began to speak of Manuel Crust as a good fellow and a gentleman!

On Easter Sunday he stood guard over Pedro's cabin while that worthy and his family went to the "Tabernacle" to attend the special services. Two of the nurses were inside with the girl, but outside sat Manuel, a grim watch-dog that growled when any one approached.

The horror of that black night and the days that witnessed the wiping out of Sancho Mendez and Dominic hung like a pall over the camp. Both executions had been witnessed by practically all of the inhabitants. Captain Trigger came ashore.

With set, relentless faces the people watched two men go to their doom. The women were as stony-faced, as repressed, as the men. Save for the involuntary groans, and the queer hissing sound of long-pent breath as the black-capped figures swung off into space, the tremulous hush of intense restraint rested upon the staring crowd.

Twice they came out to see men they had known and respected "hanged by the neck until dead," and on neither occasion was there the slightest manifestation of pity, nor was there a single word of gloating. They watched and then they went away, leaving the victims to be disposed of by the men selected for the purpose. No shouts, no execrations, no hysterical cries or sobs,—nothing save the grim silence of awe. For these people, even to the tiniest child, had ceased to live in the light of other days.

Peter Snipe, in his journal, wrote of that silent, subdued throng as other historians have written of the rock-hearted people of Salem, and of the soulful Puritans who grew heartless in the service of the Lord.

They stood afar-off and watched the small detachment of sailors carry the bodies down to the basin, and every one knew that Sancho Mendez and Dominic, heavily weighted, were rowed out to the middle and dumped into a bottomless grave. Some there were who declared that their bodies would sink for ages before reaching the bottom,—and no one thought of Sancho Mendez and Dominic without picturing them as gliding deeper and deeper into the endless abyss of water.

Michael Malone's speech to the multitude on the shorn edge of the wheat field was brief. He spoke from the scaffold on which Sancho Mendez, the blacksmith, sat with a noose around his neck.

"This man has been fairly tried and he is being fairly punished. There is no way to circumvent the laws of God or the laws of man on this island, my friends. The guilty cannot escape. If we transgress the law, we must pay in proportion to our transgression. This man is to die. The laws of our homeland would not have demanded the life of such as he,—but they should, my friends, they should. This island is small. It will be easy for us to keep it clean,—and we must keep it clean. We must not live in fear of each other. The lion and the lamb lie down together here; the thief and the honest man walk hand in hand. Our sins will find us out. We cannot hide them. Remember that. In this little land of ours there is nothing to stand in the way of the soundest principle ever laid down for man. 'Do unto others as ye would have others do unto you.' That is the Golden Rule. All we have to do is to observe that rule and there will be no use for the Ten Commandments, nor the laws of Moses, nor all the laws that man has made. We don't even have to be Christians. 'Do unto others as ye would have others do unto you.' That, my friends, is the law of laws. It is the religion of religions."

"Soapy" Shay, sitting before the fire in his cabin a few nights after the executions, held forth at some length and with peculiar emphasis on what he called an exploded theory.

"As I said before, and as I've always said,—not being a drinking man myself,—it's all bunk about booze being responsible for all the crimes that are committed. Now here were these two guys, Sancho and Dominic. Look at what they did,—and they hadn't touched a drop for months. I'm not saying that licker is a soothin' syrup for a man's morals, but what I am saying is that if a feller has got it in him to be ornery, he'll be ornery, drunk or sober. I was tellin' Parson Mackenzie only this morning that him and me both have good reason for not touchin' the stuff,—for different reasons, of course,—but I didn't see why other people oughtn't to have it if they want it.

"With me, in my former profession, it would have been criminal to touch the stuff. The worst crime a burglar can commit is to get drunk. No decent, bang-up burglar ever does it. I don't suppose there is a more self-respectin' sort of man in the world than a high-grade burglar. And it's the same with a preacher. He can't any more preach a good sermon when he is lit up than a burglar can crack a safe or jimmy a window if he tanks up beforehand. The parson seemed surprised when I put it right up to him like that. He said he'd never thought of it in that light before. Of course, says he, a minister of the gospel ain't even supposed to know what licker tastes like, and I says to him that's where we have the advantage of him. We know what it tastes like, and we like it, and we leave it alone because it cramps our style. He leaves it alone because it's the style for preachers to leave it alone, and because they'd go to hell if they drank like ordinary men. The only place a burglar goes to if he boozes is jail.

"Well, as I was sayin', this here Sancho wasn't soused when he committed that crime, and it all goes to prove that these temperance cranks are off their base. Most of the crime that's committed in this world is committed because the feller wants to commit it. When I was up in Sing Sing once,—sort of by accident, you might say,—there was a lot of talk about prison reform, and pattin' the crooks on the back, and tellin' them they could be just as good as anybody else if they had a chance. The only chance them guys want, and keep lookin' for night and day, is a chance to lift something when nobody's lookin'. That's all they're thinkin' about while they're in the pen, and God knows they're as sober as judges all the time they're there. Crime is crime and you can't always lay it to booze. It's human nature with some people. I'm not sayin' the world wouldn't be better off if there wasn't any licker to drink. It stands to reason that there wouldn't be half so much bunglin' if people kept sober, 'specially when it comes to crime. Now, if this guy Sancho had had a couple of pints in him, everybody would be going around preachin' about the horrible effects of booze, and—What say?"

"I said you make me tired," said Buck Chizler, repeating his remark. "I never did anything wrong in my life except when I was half-soused."

"Sure," agreed Soapy. "But you'd have done it right if you'd been sober, my boy. That's the principal trouble with booze. It never gives a feeler a chance to do anything right." Whereupon, with a slow wink for the other members of the group, he arose and passed out into the night.

"I can't make that feller out," grumbled Buck, uncomfortably.

Easter Sunday was bright and clear, following a fortnight of cold, penetrating winds and rain. The sun smiled, but it was a cold smile that mocked rather than cheered. The sky was the colour of thin, transparent ice; the vast white dome was unspotted by a single cloud; the rose tints of early morn, frightened away at birth by the chill, unfeeling glare, took with them every promise of tenderness that dawned with the new day. But, though the sky was hard, the air was soft; the tang of the salt-sea spice lay over everything.

Percival had no active part in the exercises arranged by Ruth. The song service was held in the open. A platform had been erected in front of the "tabernacle" (the meeting-house on occasion) for the choir and musicians. There were no seats for the congregation. Every one stood, bareheaded, in a wide semi-circle facing the platform. The "boss" took his place inconspicuously among those who formed the outer fringe of the assemblage. His gaze seldom left the face of the girl he loved. Once her eyes met his. She was on the platform discussing arrangements with the two clergymen when her roving, unsettled gaze chanced to fall upon him. For many seconds she stared at him fixedly,—so fixedly, in fact, that Father Francisco, after a moment, shot a look in the same direction. Even from his far-off post, Percival saw the colour mount to her cheeks as she hastily turned away to resume the conversation that had been so incontinently broken off. She was bare-headed. He had been watching the sun at play among the coils of her soft, dark hair,—a glint here as of bronze, a gleam there as of gold, ever changing under the caresses of that flaming lover a hundred million miles away.

The affable Mr. Nicklestick was standing beside Percival, carrying on a more or less one-sided conversation.

"You see, it's this way," he was saying, contriving to reduce his far-reaching voice to a moderate undertone; "I'm not in the habit of attending Easter services. I'm not opposed to them, believe me, A. A.,—not in the slightest. Now at home in New York, I make it a habit to walk from the Metropolitan Museum down to the Waldorf-Astoria regularly every Easter. Between eleven and twelve-thirty. You get them going into certain churches and you get them coming out of others, don't you see? Oh, vat would I give to be on Fif' Avenue at this minute, A. A.! A hundred thousand dollars,—gladly, villingly,—yes, two hundred thousand! I vonder vat things are like on Fif Avenue now,—at this minute, I mean. I vonder what the vimmin are wearing this season. My God, don't you vish you were on Fif Avenue, A. A.?"

"What?"

"I say don't you vish you were on Fif Avenue now?"

"No, I don't," gruffly.

"You—you don't?" gasped Nicklestick. "My God, where do you wish you were?"

"Over in France,—or better still, in Germany,—that's where I'd like to be. Keep still! Can't you see Careni-Amori is singing?"

Nicklestick was silent for two minutes. Then he volunteered: "Do you know what that song vould cost if she vas to give it in the Metropolitan Opera House, A. A.? A thousand dollars, von thousand simoleons. And we get it for nothing. It ain't possible to realize that you can get something for nothing in these days, is it? I vas saying to Morrie Shine only this morning that—"

"Sh!" hissed an exasperated Brazilian in front of them.

"I guess we better not talk any more, A. A.," said Nicklestick, deprecatingly. Presently he leaned close to Percival's ear and whispered: "Miss Clinton is looking very fine today, isn't she?" Receiving no reply, he waited a moment and then went on: "Landover is a very lucky dog, eh?" Failing again, he was silent for some time. His next effort was along a totally different line. "I've been feeling some of the people out in regard to the election next week. I think it's a great idea. You got a cinch, A. A. Nobody vants anybody but you for governor. What seems to be—"

"Sh!"

"Oh, you go to the devil!" addressed the exasperated Mr. Nicklestick to the Brazilian. "Ain't we got freedom of speech here on this island? Veil, then! What seems to be troubling most every one, A. A., is who is the best man for clerk. Nobody vants to be treasurer, for why? Because there ain't anything to be treasurer about. Say, where are you going?"

"Nowhere," replied Percival, as he strode away.

Over against the line of trees on the opposite side of the wheat field still loomed the gibbet from which Sancho Mendez and Dominic had stepped blindfolded into another and darker world. While Pastor Mackenzie, leading up to the glorious resurrection, was repeating the story of the Crucifixion, Ruth Clinton, sitting behind him on the platform, stared wide-eyed at this gaunt object, and she saw not Christ on the Cross but the spectre of Sancho Mendez falling off into darkness. Percival's gaze followed hers, and his heart smote him,—for it was he who had demanded that the gruesome reminder be left standing as a warning to carrion. And he had laughed when Peter Snipe christened it "the scarecrow!"

"Leave it standing, A. A.," Peter had said, "and you can bet your boots no jailbird will ever roost on it if he thinks twice. And it's just that sort of thing that makes a man think twice."

But the look of dread in the eyes of this girl who could do no wrong, and yet was to be everlastingly tortured by the sight of the thing that stood as a silent accuser of all who looked, was more than Percival could stand. Easter Sunday,—and that gibbet pointing its long arm toward the little flock in the shadow of sanctuary,—mocking the good as it beckoned to the bad,—Easter Sunday and that!

He stole quietly away, circling the edge of the crowd, his head bent, his teeth set. Just as he was about to pass from view around the corner of the "tabernacle," he cast a quick glance at the girl on the platform. Their eyes met again. She turned her head quickly, but he was certain that she had followed his movements from the beginning.



CHAPTER X.

Toward the close of the exercises, the congregation was startled by the sound of an ax smiting wood. The blows were rapid and vigorous. The surprised people looked at each other first in wonder and then in consternation. Who was guilty of this unseemly sacrilege?

Finally those on the edge of the multitude discovered the wielder of the ax. Some one, not easily recognizable, was chopping away the supports of the scaffold. The crowd grew restless; angry mutterings were to be heard on all sides. Every eye was turned from the platform to glare at the lone chopper across the fallow field.

Madame Careni-Amori, who was about to begin her second song, looked helplessly at Ruth Clinton.

Ruth had recognized the man at once. At first she was annoyed, then there surged over her a great, uplifting thrill of exaltation. She stepped quickly to the front and, raising her clear young voice, reclaimed the wandering attention of the throng.

"Please be quiet. Madame Careni-Amori is to sing for us once more. Mr. Percival is knocking down that horrible thing over there. It is right that he should. We do not need it there as a warning. Mr. Percival has had a change of heart. He has been moved,—tremendously moved,—by what he has seen in your faces today. That is why he is over there now hacking down that dreadful thing. It is the skeleton at our feast. We were conscious of its presence all the time. He is over there all by himself cutting it down so that our hearts may be lighter, so that this glad hour may end without its curse. Please remain where you are. He requires no assistance. He prefers to do it all alone. And now, if you will all give attention, Madame Careni-Amori will sing for us."

Careni-Amori lifted up her glorious voice in song. The rhythmic beat of the ax went on unceasingly; the powerful arms and shoulders of the destroyer were behind every frenzied blow. As the last notes of the song died away, there came the sound of splintering wood, then a dull crash, and the gibbet lay flat upon the ground. Some one uttered an involuntary shout. As Percival turned from his completed work and wiped the sweat from his brow with his bare forearm, he found the gaze of the entire company fastened upon him. Then there came to his ears the clapping of hands, then the shrill clamour of voices raised in approbation. Swinging the ax on high, he buried its blade deep in the fallen timber and left it imbedded there. Snatching up his coat from a nearby stump, he waved his hand to the crowd and then, whirling, was quickly lost among the trees that lined the shore.

Landover walked beside the thoughtful Ruth as she crossed the Green on her way home. He studied her lovely profile out of the corner of his eye. As they drew away from the dispersing throng, he spoke to her.

"If money were of any value here in this Godforsaken spot, I would offer considerably more than a penny for your thoughts, Ruth."

She started slightly. "You couldn't buy them, Mr. Landover. They are not for sale at any price."

"I suppose there is no harm in venturing a guess, however. You will give me one guess, won't you?"

"All the guesses you like,—free of charge," she rejoined airily.

"You are trying to decide whether or not it was all done for effect."

She smiled mysteriously, looking straight ahead. Her eyes were very bright.

"You are wrong. I was thinking about hats, Mr. Landover. Don't you know that every woman's thoughts run to hats on Easter?"

"I confess I had a better opinion of him," he said, disregarding her flippancy. "I don't like him, but I've never suspected him of being a stupid ass before."

"Of whom are you speaking?" she inquired, suddenly looking him full in the eye.

"Our mutual friend, the enemy," he replied.

"Mr. Percival?"

"Certainly."

"But I thought he was beneath our notice."

"We can't very well help noticing him when he goes to such extreme lengths to attract attention."

"You think he did it to attract attention?"

"Not so much that, perhaps, as to get back into the lime-light. You see, he was rather out of it for as much as half an hour, and he simply couldn't stand it. So he went off and staged a little sideshow of his own."

She walked on in silence for a few moments, torn by doubts and misgivings. Landover's sarcastic analysis was like a douche of cold water. Perhaps he was right. It had been a spectacular, not to say diverting, exhibition. Her eyes darkened. An expression of pain lurked in them.

"I can't believe it of him, Mr. Landover," she said at last, in a slightly muffled voice.

"I thought it was understood you were to call me Abel, my dear."

"If he did it deliberately,—and with that motive,—it was unspeakable," she went on, a faint furrow appearing between her eyes.

"Of course, I may be wrong," said he magnanimously. "It may have been the result of an honest, uncontrollable impulse. But I doubt it."

"Men do queer, strange things when under the influence of a strong emotion," she said, a hopeful note in her voice.

"True. They are also capable of doing very base things. You don't for an instant suspect Percival of being a religious fanatic, do you?"

"Please don't sneer. And what, pray, has religion to do with it?"

"I dare say Morris Shine is again lamenting the absence of a motion picture camera. He is always complaining about the chances he has missed to—"

"Stop!"

"Why, Ruth dear, I—"

"We have no right to judge him, Mr. Landover."

"Are you defending him?"

"I don't believe he had the faintest notion that he was being—theatrical, as you call it. I am sure he did it because he was moved by an overpowering desire to make all of us happy. He couldn't bear the thought of that evil thing out there, pointing at us while we worshipped and tried to sing with gladness in our hearts. No! He did it for you, and for me, and for all the rest of us,—and he made every heart lighter when that thing toppled over and fell. Did you not see the change that came over every one when they realized that it was destroyed? There were smiles on every face, and every voice was cheerful. The look of uneasy dread was gone—Oh, you must have seen."

"I can only say that it ought to have been done before, Ruth,—not during the exercises."

"It was his way of publicly admitting he was wrong in insisting that it should remain."

"He had his way with that weak-kneed committee, as usual. The tactics of that Copperhead Camp he talks so much about are hardly applicable to conditions here. We are not law-defying ruffians, you know,—and these are women of quite another order."

"No one,—not even you, Mr. Landover,—can say that he has been anything but kind and considerate and sympathetic," she flashed. "He is firm,—but isn't that what we want? And the people worship him,—they will do anything for him. Even Manuel Crust respects him,—and obeys him. And you, down in your heart, respect him. He is your kind of a man, Mr. Landover. He does things. He is like Theodore Roosevelt. He does things."

Landover smiled grimly. "Perhaps that is why I dislike him."

"Because he is like Roosevelt?"

"My dear, let's not start an argument about Roosevelt."

"Just the same, I've heard you say over and over again that you wish Roosevelt were President now," she persisted. "Why do you say that if you are so down on him?"

Landover shrugged his shoulders expressively.

"I can wish that, my dear, and still not be an admirer of Mr. Roosevelt," he replied. "But to return to Percival, isn't it quite plain to you that he was pouting like a school-boy because he had not been asked to take part in today's exercises?"

"He was asked to take part in them. I asked him myself."

He glanced at her sharply. "You never told me you had asked him, Ruth."

"The night the crime was committed," she said briefly. "He was very nice about it. He promised to sing in the choir and—and to help me with the decorations. After our unpleasant experience the next day, he had the—shall we say tact or kindness?—to reconsider his promise."

"Openly advertising the fact that he preferred to have no part in any entertainment you were arranging," was Landover's comment. "I don't believe it was because of any particular delicacy of feeling on his part, my dear. In any case, the fact remains that he let you go ahead with the affair, and then, bang! right in the middle of it he stages his cheap, melodramatic, moving-picture act. Bosh!"

She turned on him with blazing eyes.

"You will not see anything good in him, will you? You can't be fair, can you? Well, I can be,—and I am. He has been fair with both of us,—and I am ashamed of the way I have treated him. We deserved his rebuke that morning, and he did not hesitate to turn us back,—although he realized what it would mean. He loves me, Abel Landover,—he loves me a thousand times more than you do, in spite of all your protestations. He—"

"Why, Ruth,—I—I—"

"Yes,—I know,—I know you are shocked. And I don't care,—do you understand? I don't care that! You want your answer, Mr. Landover. Well, you shall have it now. I cannot marry you. This is final."

The blood left his face. "You don't know what you are saying, Ruth," he exclaimed. "You are angry. When you have had time to—"

"I've had all the time I need," she interrupted shortly. "I don't want to be disagreeable,—but it's no use, Mr. Landover. I do not love you. I am sorry if I have misled you into hoping. There is nothing more to be said."

"You have misled me," he cried out bitterly.

"I am to blame, I suppose, for not giving you your answer before this. I have temporized. It is a woman's trick,—and a horrid one, I'll admit. I have never even thought of marrying you."

"Are you in love with Percival?" he demanded.

"Yes,—I think I am," she replied, looking him straight in the eye. She spoke with a sort of gasp, as if releasing a confession that surprised even herself.

"My God, Ruth,—I can't believe it," he groaned.

"I have denied it to myself—oh, a thousand times,—I've fought against it. I've tried to hate him. I've done everything in my power to make him believe that I despise him. But it's no use,—it's no use. I—I can't think of anything else. I can't think of any one else. Oh, I know I am quite mad to say this, but I sometimes find myself praying that we may never be rescued. It might mean—well, you can see what it might mean. Thank God, you have driven me to this confession. It is the first time I have been really honest with myself. I have lied to myself over and over again about my feeling toward him. I have lain awake for hours at night lying to myself—telling myself that I hate him and always will hate him. Now, it's out,—the truth is out. I have never hated him,—I have cared for him from the very beginning."

She spoke rapidly, the words rushing forth like a flood suddenly released after breaking through the dam, sweeping everything before it,—resistless, devastating, cruelly rapturous. She thought nothing of the hurt she was inflicting upon the man beside her; he was an atom in the path of the torrent, a thing that went down and was left behind as the flood swept over and by him. As suddenly as it began the torrent was checked. A hot flush seared her neck, her cheeks, her brow.

"What a fool you must think me!" she cried in dire chagrin. "What a stupid fool!"

He had not taken his eyes from her transfigured face. He had listened with his jaw set, his lips tightly pressed, his brow dark with anger.

"I don't think that," he said shortly. "You have merely lost your head, as any woman might, over a picturesque, good-looking soldier of fortune. Perhaps I should not be surprised, nor even shocked by what you've just told me. He is the sort that women do fall in love with,—and I suppose they are not to be blamed for it. No, I do not think you are a fool. When one reflects that such experienced heads as those possessed by the irreproachable Obosky, the immaculate Amori,—to say nothing of the estimable lady we are pleased to call the 'Empress of Brazil,'—when such heads as theirs are turned by a man it is high time to admit that he has something more than personal magnetism. I am wondering how far the contagion has really spread. There is a difference between contagion and infection, you know. Infection is the result of personal contact,—contagion is something in the air. This epidemic of infatuation very plainly is in two forms. It appears to be both infectious and contagious. I rather fancy the amiable Obosky has selected the former type of the prevailing malady. Percivalitis, I believe, is the name it goes by."

There was no mistaking the significance of his words. The implication was clear, even though veiled in the heaviest sarcasm. He had the satisfaction of seeing the colour ebb from her cheek. Her face being averted, he missed the swift flicker of pain that rushed to her eyes and, departing, took away with it the soft light that had glowed in them the instant before. He had touched a concealed canker,—the sensitive spot that had been the real cause of her sleepless, troubled nights,—the thing she had refused in her pride to accept as the real source of discomfort.

Down in her soul lay the poison of jealousy, a cruel and malignant influence that until now had been subdued by a mind stubbornly unwilling to recognize its existence.

In the eagerness to supply herself with additional reasons for hating Percival, she had given her imagination a rather free rein in regard to his relations with Olga Obosky. While she was without actual proof, she nevertheless tortured herself with suspicions that came almost to the same thing; in any case, they had the desired effect in that they created a very positive sense of irritation, and nothing seemed to please her more in the dead hour of night than the feeling that she had a right to be disgusted with him.

And now, Landover, in his sly arraignment, prodded a very live, raw spot, and she knew that it was bleak unhappiness and not rancour that had kept her awake.

"Is it necessary to beat about the bush, Mr. Land-over? If you have anything definite to tell me about Mr. Percival and Madame Obosky, I grant you permission to say all you have to say in the plainest language. Call a spade a spade. I am quite old enough to hear things called by their right names."

"Since you have been so quick to get my meaning, I don't consider it necessary to go into details. I daresay you have ears and eyes of your own. You can see and hear as well as I,—unless you are resolved to be both blind and deaf."

"Did you not hear me say that I know he loves me?"

"Yes,—I heard you quite distinctly."

"As a rule, do men love two women at the same time?" she inquired, patiently.

"I have never said that he loves Obosky. It is barely possible, however, that he may not choose to resist her,—if that conveys anything to your intelligence."

"It does and it does not," she replied steadily. "You see, I believe in him. I trust him."

"And I suppose you trust Olga Obosky," he said, with a sneer.

"I understand Olga Obosky far better than you do, Mr. Landover."

"I doubt it," said he drily.

"She is my friend."

"Ah! That measurably simplifies the situation. She will no doubt prove her friendship by delivering Mr. Percival to you, slightly damaged but guaranteed to—"

"Please be good enough to remember, Mr. Land-over, that you are not speaking to Manuel Crust," she exclaimed haughtily, and, with flaming cheeks, swept past him.

He hesitated a moment, and then started to follow her. She stopped short and, facing him, cried out: "Don't follow me! I do not want to hear another word. Stop! I can see by your eyes that you are ashamed,—you want to apologize. I do not want to hear it. I am hurt,—terribly hurt. Nothing you can say will help matters now, Mr. Landover."

"Just a second, Ruth," he cried, now thoroughly dismayed. "Give me a chance to explain. It was my mad, unreasoning love that—"

But, with an exclamation of sheer disgust, she put her fingers to her ears and sped rapidly down the walk. He stood still, watching her until she entered the cabin door and closed it behind her. Then he completed the broken sentence, but not in the voice of humility nor with the words that he had intended to utter.



CHAPTER XI.

Shay, coming up the walk, distinctly heard what he said.

"What's the matter, Bill?" he inquired, pausing. "Did she throw the hooks into you?"

Landover glared at him balefully. "You go to hell, damn you," he snarled, and walked away.

"Soapy" rubbed his chin dubiously as he watched the retreating figure. Pursing his thin lips, he turned his attention to an unoffending stump six or eight feet away and scowled at it vindictively. He was turning something over in his mind, and he was manifestly in a state of indecision. Ruminating, he spoke aloud, perhaps for the benefit of a Portuguese farm-hand who happened to be approaching from the opposite direction, but who still had some rods to cover before he was within hearing distance.

"Gee, he's getting to be as decent and democratic as any of us. Shows what association will do for a man. Two months ago he would have been too high and mighty to tell me to go to hell. If he keeps on at this rate, he'll be worth payin' attention to in a couple of months more. Won't he, Bill?" This to the farmhand, who obligingly halted.

Mr. Shay made constant and impartial use of the name Bill. Except in a very few instances, he applied it to all males over the age of two, and he did it so genially that resentment was rare. Americans, Britons, Irishmen, Portuguese, Spaniards, Indians, Swedes,—all races, in fact, except the Hebrew,—came under the sweeping appellation. His Hebrew acquaintances were addressed by the name of Ike.

It so happened that this particular "Bill" was lamentably slow in picking up the English language. It was even said that he prided himself on being halfwitted. However, being an exceedingly dull creature, he was quite naturally a polite one. He was a good listener. You could speak English to him by the hour and never be annoyed by verbal interruptions. At regular intervals he would insert a shrug of the shoulders, or nod his head, or lift an eye-brow, or spread out his hands, or purse his lips,—and he never smiled unless you did.

Perceiving that some sort of an answer was expected, "Bill" wisely shrugged his shoulders. "Soapy" interpreted the shrug as affirmative,—having a distinct advantage over "Bill," who hadn't the faintest idea which it was,—and proceeded to go a little deeper into the matter.

"Now, as I was saying, this Landover guy is up against something, Bill. She handed him something he didn't like. Right on the nose, too, if I'm any judge. What do you suppose it was, Bill?"

"Bill" nodded his head very earnestly.

"That's what I think," said "Soapy," fixing his hearer with a moody, speculative frown. "Now, I know something about this Landover guy that she don't know. I suppose A. A. will give me an awful panning if I up and tell her what I saw that day. He seems to think it's a secret."

There was a slight pause, suggesting to "Bill" that he ought to frown as if also in doubt.

"At the same time, I think she ought to be told, don't you, Bill?"

This called for something definite. So Bill scratched his left ear.

"In the first place, she's too nice a girl to be hitched up with a Priscilla like him. Now, I don't know what happened here a couple of minutes ago, but it looks to me as if she needs a little moral support. It strikes me that this would be a good time to tell her. What do you think about it, Bill?"

Always on the lookout for rising inflections, "Bill" was ever in a position to give prompt replies. He could dispose of the most profound questions almost before they were out of the speaker's mouth. His answer to "Soapy's" query was a broad grin,—for he had detected a sly twinkle in the speaker's eye. He also shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands,—and, to clinch the matter, he winked.

"Now, I don't want to take this important step without being backed-up by some clever, intelligent feller like you, Bill," went on "Soapy." "It's all for her good,—and A. A.'s, too, although he won't see it in that light. If you say you think she ought to be told, that's enough for me. If you say she oughtn't,—why, nothing doing. It's up to you, Bill."

"Bill" was plainly at sea. You can't decide a question that lacks an interrogation point. So all that "Bill" could do was to stare blankly at "Soapy" and wait for something tangible to turn up. Mr. Shay suddenly appreciated the poor fellow's dilemma and supplied the necessary relief.

"What say, Bill?"

Whereupon "Bill" started to shake his head, but, catching the scowl of disapproval on "Soapy's" brow, hastily changed his reply to a vigorous nod.

"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Shay. "That completely clears my conscience. So long, Bill."

And half a minute later he presented himself at Ruth Clinton's cabin.

"Goodness!" exclaimed Mrs. Spofford, as she opened the door. She also opened her eyes very wide, and sent a startled, apprehensive glance over her shoulder into the warm, fire-lit interior. "What do you want?" she demanded querulously of the unexpected visitor.

Mr. Shay took off his hat. "I'd like a few words with Miss Clinton," he said. "I saw her come in, so she's not out. It's important, ma'am. She will hear something to her advantage, as they say in the personals."

"Will you please return at three o'clock, Mr. Shay? My niece is resting after the arduous labours of the—"

"I dassent wait," said "Soapy," with a furtive glance over his shoulder. "If he sees me, I'll probably have to change my mind."

"Who is it, Auntie?" called out a clear voice from within.

"'Soapy' Shay," replied the visitor himself.

"Mr. Landover will be here presently, Mr. Shay,—" began the obstacle in the doorway.

"I guess not," broke in "Soapy," forgetting himself so far as to wink. "I expect you haven't heard the news, ma'am. He's had his nose put out of joint."

"Good heavens! His nose out of—"

"Come in, Soapy," cried Ruth.

"Ruth, my dear,—do you know who—do you know what—"

"Sure she knows," again interrupted "Soapy," unembarrassed. "I'm not after anybody's jewels, Mrs. Spofford,—and besides which I am the principal candidate for Sheriff of this bailiwick. You don't suppose a man who's running for the office of sheriff on Mr. A. A. Percival's ticket is going to lift anything before election, do you? Besides which I've made up my mind to be straight as long as I'm on this island, and if I'm elected,—which I will be,—I'm going to see that nobody else does anything crooked. Mr. A.A. Percival is a wise guy,—a mighty wise guy. Says he to me, 'Soapy, you are one of the most expert—'"

"Come inside, Soapy," called out Ruth.

Mr. Shay entered. "You better shut the door, Mrs. Spofford," he said coolly. "What I got to say is private. As I was saying, A. A. says to me, 'Soapy, you are one of the craftiest and slipperiest crooks on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. What you don't know about crime would fill a book about as thick as a postage stamp. There's nobody on this island more fittin' to be an officer of the law. You know everything that an officer of the law ought to know, and besides which you know everything that a thief has to know. So you're going to be elected Sheriff of Trigger Island.' That's what A. A. says to me, and, as usual, he's dead right. Why, ma'am, there ain't a thief in the universe that can fool me. I don't have to have any evidence,—not a grain of it. All I got to do is to just ask 'em why they done it. But what I dropped in to see you about, Miss Ruth, is—Say, you ain't by any chance expecting A. A. to drop in, are you? I wouldn't have him ketch me here for—"

"I am not expecting Mr. Percival, Soapy," she said, her gaze fixed expectantly on the man's face.

"Well, then," said he, "I got a little story to tell you. It's the gospel truth. Just try to forget that I used to be a crook and that in ordinary times I am one of the most gosh-awful liars on earth. But there's absolutely no pleasure in lying nowadays, and as for working at my regular trade, Mrs. Spofford, you needn't be the least bit nervous. It ain't necessary for you to set on that trunk. Take this chair, please. Now, you remember some time back that A. A. and your friend Landover had a mix-up in the last named gentleman's stateroom, and you also must remember that Mr. Landover told you about it and that Mr. Percival never told you anything about it. Well, I was a witness to that fracas. I just happened to be walking along the deck when something caught my eye and I went up close to see what it was. You'd never guess what it was. After looking at it very carefully I discovered it was a port-hole."

Forsaking his whimsical manner, he related tersely in as few words as possible the story of the encounter.

"Now, it's my guess that Mr. Abel Landover didn't speak the whole truth and nothing but the truth when he furnished you with his version of the affair. Am I right, or am I wrong?" he asked, in conclusion.

"I prefer to believe Mr. Landover's story," said Mrs. Spofford stiffly. "Will you be good enough to go now, Mr. Shay?"

"Sure," said "Soapy," rising. "I'm not asking anybody to take my word against his. I'm just telling you, that's all. Good afternoon, ladies."

"It was not Mr. Percival who fired the shot? You are sure of that, Soapy?" Ruth was standing now. Her eyes were very dark and tempestuous.

"Sure as my right name ain't Soapy Shay," returned the witness, holding up his right hand.

"Ruth, it isn't possible that you place any credence in—"

"Thank you for coming, Soapy," interrupted Ruth. "It was very good of you."

"Soapy" lingered at the door, fumbling his dilapidated hat. Mrs. Spofford was staring speechlessly at her niece.

"I'd a little sooner you wouldn't say anything to A. A. about me peaching on him," said "Soapy," somewhat nervously.

"I shall not 'peach' on you, Soapy," said the girl, a joyous smile suddenly illuminating her face.

"Soapy" went out. As he closed the door, he said to himself: "Next time you tell me to go to hell, Abe Landover, I guess you'd better furnish a guide that knows the way."

As soon as the door was closed, Mrs. Spofford turned upon her radiant niece.

"You are not such a fool as to believe that rascal's story, Ruth?"

"I believe every word of it!" cried the girl.



CHAPTER XII.

Sailors, sniffing the gale that night, shook their heads and said there was snow on the tail of it. Morning found the ground mottled with splashes of white and a fine, frost-like sleet blowing fitfully across the plain. The ridge of trees over against the shore became vague and shapeless beneath the filmy veil, while the sea out beyond the breakers was clothed in a grey shroud, bleak and impenetrable.

Knapendyke was positive and reassuring in his contention that no great amount of snow ever fell upon the island. While much of the vegetation was of a character indigenous to the temperate zone, there was, he pointed out, another type peculiar to tropical climates,—and although the latter was of a singularly hardy nature, it was not calculated to survive the rigours of a harsh, protracted winter.

"We'll have spells like this, off and on, just as they occasionally do in Florida or Southern California, is the way I figure it out," he said to the group of uneasy men who contemplated the embryonic blizzard with alarm and misgiving. "Moreover, I believe the wet, cold season is a short one here. The birds are content to stick it out. The fact there is no migration is proof enough for me that the winter is never severe. As the weather prognosticators say, look out for squalls, unsettled weather, frost tonight, rising temperature tomorrow, rain the next day, doctors' bills the end of the month. Avoid crowded street-cars, passenger elevators and places of amusement. Take plenty of out-door exercise and don't eat too many strawberries."

Children, on their way to school in the town hall, shouted with glee as they romped in the snow-laden gale. It had no terrors for them. They were not concerned with the dour prospect that brought anxiety to the hearts of their elders.

"It's fine to be a kid," said Percival, watching the antics of a crowd of boys. "Why do we have to grow up?"

"So that we can appreciate what it was to be a kid," said Randolph Fitts.

Ruth Clinton was one of the teachers. There were, all told, about thirty children in the school, their ages ranging from five to fourteen. Most of them were youngsters from the steerage, bright-eyed little Latins who had picked up with lively avidity no small store of English. They were being taught in English.

The council, spurred by the far-seeing Percival, recognized the perils of a period of inactivity following the harvest and the flailing days. The majority of the men and women would be comparatively idle. Preparations for the building of a small ship occupied the time and interest of a few engineers and ship-carpenters, but as some weeks were bound to pass before the work could be begun in earnest, an interim of impatience would have to be bridged. Work, and plenty of it, was the only prescription for despair.

Already symptoms of increasing moodiness marked the mien of the less resourceful among the castaways. While it was not generally known, two men had attempted suicide, and one of the Brazilian ladies,—a beautiful young married woman,—was in a pitiful state of collapse. She had a husband and two small children in Rio Janeiro. The separation was driving her mad. There were others,—both men and women,—whose minds were never free from the thought of loved ones far across the waters and whose hearts ached with a great pain that could not be subdued by philosophy, but they were strong and they were cheerful. In their souls burnt an unquenchable fire, the fire of hope; they stirred it night and day with the song of the unvanquished.

Improvements in the hastily constructed cabins provided not only occupation but interest for the able-bodied men and women. There was no little rivalry in the matter of interior embellishments; those skilled in the use of implements took great pride in hewing out and adding more or less elaborate ornamentation to the facades of their habitations,—such as casements, door-posts and capitals, awnings, porches, and so forth. A shell road was in process of construction from one end of the village to the other, while over in Dismal Forest woodsmen were even now cutting down the towering Norfolk pines and hewing out the staunch timbers for the ship that was to sail out one day in quest of the world they had left behind them. But these enterprises provided work for men only. The women, in the main, were without occupation. With the approach of winter the men in active control of the camp's affairs realized that something would have to be done to relieve the strain,—at least, to lighten it until spring came to the rescue with toil in the fields and gardens.

A system of exchange was being worked out. As has been mentioned before in this chronicle, the people of the steerage were the plutocrats. Their hoardings represented real money, the savings of years. When it came to an actual "show-down,"—to use Percival's expression,—these people who were poor in the accepted sense, now were rich. They could "buy and sell" the "plutocrats" of another day and another world.

The theory that one good turn deserves another was an insufficient foundation upon which to construct a substantial system of exchange. It is all very well to talk about brotherly love, said Percival. The trouble is that certain brothers are for ever imposing upon other brothers, and the good turn does not always find its recompense. Socialism, he argued, is a fine thing until you discover that you are not alone in the world. Brotherly love began with Cain and Abel, and socialism is best exemplified by a parlour aquarium. Nothing happens to disturb the serene existence of the goldfish until somebody forgets to feed them, and then they begin nibbling at each other.

"You mend my fence, I'll mend yours," is an ideal arrangement until you find it is "our fence" and doesn't need mending.

To Landover, Block and other financial experts was delegated the power and authority to perfect a fair, impartial monetary system. First of all, they arbitrarily declared the dollar, the peso and the shilling to be without value. "Time" script was to be issued by the governing board, and as this substitute would automatically become useless on the day the castaways, were discovered and taken off the island, no citizen was to be allowed to reduce or dissipate his hoard of real money.

Landover's proposal that a central depository be established for the purpose of holding and safe-guarding the possessions of each and every person was primarily intended to prevent the surreptitious use of real money. This project met with almost universal opposition. The "rich" preferred to hang onto their money, thereby running true to form. While professing the utmost confidence in the present integrity of the banker and his friends they ingenuously wanted to know what chance they would have of getting their money back when these masters of finance were ready to leave the island! So they elected to hide their gold and silver where it would be safe from unscrupulous financiers! And nothing could shake them in this resolve.

"Time" was the basic principle on which the value of the script was to be determined, and as "time," in this instance, meant hours and nothing else, a citizen's income depended entirely on his readiness to work. Ten hours represented a full day's work. The hand-press on board the Doraine was used to print the "hours," as the little slips made from the stock of menu card-board were called. They were divided into five denominations, viz.: One Hour, Three Hours, Five Hours, Seven Hours and Ten Hours. Each of these checks bore the signature of Abel T. Landover and a seal devised by Peter Snipe, who besides being an author was something of a draughtsman,—indeed, his enemies said he was a far better artist than he was an author, which annoyed him tremendously in view of the fact that he had stopped drawing when he was fifteen because eminent cartoonists and illustrators had told him he had no talent at all. The printing and stamping was done on board the Doraine and the script was shortly to be put into circulation. Landover was slated to become treasurer of Trigger Island at the general election.

As an illustration, this sort of dialogue was soon to become more or less common:

"What's the price of this hat, Madame Obosky?"

"Twenty-seven hours, Mrs. Block."

Or:

"Gimme an hour's worth of 'smoke,' Andy," meaning, of course, the substitute for tobacco.

Or:

"You blamed robber, what do you mean charging six hours for half-soling them shoes? If you was any good, you could ha' done it in half the time."

Every individual in camp over the age of thirteen was obliged to have an occupation. To a certain extent, this occupation was selective, but in the main it was to be determined by a board whose business it was to see that the man-power was directed to the best advantage for all concerned. A camp tax was ordered. At the end of the week, every citizen was required to pay into the common treasury two "hours." He could not "work out" this tax. It had to be paid in "cash." Out of the taxes so received, the school, the church, the "hospital" and the "government" were to be supported.

The "governor" of Trigger Island and the humblest workingman were to receive exactly the same pay: "hour" for hour. Thirty thousand "hours" represented the total issue, or, approximately fifty units for each individual over the age of thirteen.

As no man's hours was worth more than another's, and as every transaction was to be based on time, rather than on money, there was no small likelihood that any one man or group of men could ever obtain a commanding grip on the finances of the Island.

And so it came to pass that all manner of enterprises sprang into existence. Competition was not allowed. There could be but one millinery shop, one dress-making establishment, one shoe and sandal factory, and so on. Everything was conducted on a strictly cash basis; there were no "charge accounts."

Olga Obosky, as the proprietress of the millinery shop, earned no more than any one of her half-dozen assistants,—and they were all paid by the "government." The same could be said of Madame Careni-Amori, who conducted a school of music, and the great Joseppi who graciously,—even gladly,—went into the tailoring business. Andrew Mott, one time First Officer on the Doraine, opened a "smoke" store and dispensed cured weed that Flattner authorized him to call "tobacco." The austere Mrs. Spofford decided to open a dress-making shop!

It was all very simple, this man-to-man system of traffic, but no one took it lightly or in the spirit of jest. They were serious, they were sober-minded. Interest, incentive, grim determination centred in the seemingly childish arrangement. Greed was lacking, for there was no chance to hoard; confidence was paramount, for there was no chance to lose.

The "hours" travelled in a circle, from the "government" to people, from people to "government"; when all was said and done, it was the product of soil and sea that formed the backbone of the system.

With the adoption of the plan, it was to become a punishable offence,—indeed, it was to be classified as treason,—for any resident of Trigger Island to "forage" for necessities. He could do what he pleased in respect to the non-essentials, but when it came to foodstuffs of any kind or description, he was guilty of a felony if he failed to turn all that he produced or secured into the general stores.

"Strikes me," said Randolph Fitts in council meet-ing, "that we are arriving at the most exquisite state of socialism. This comes pretty close to being the essence of that historic American dream, 'of the people, by the people, for the people.' Up to date, that has been the rarest socialistic doctrine ever promulgated, but we are going it a long sight better. 'From the people, by the people, to the people.' What do you call that but socialism?"

"Are you speaking to me?" demanded Percival.

"In a general way, yes."

"Well, it's not my idea of socialism. So far as I've been able to discover, socialism is a game in which you are supposed to take something out of your pocket and put it into the other fellow's whether he wants it or not. This scheme of ours is quite another thing. We're not planning to split even on what we've got in our pockets so much as we're planning to divide what we've got in our hands, and there's a lot of difference between a hand and a pocket, old top. You can see what's in one and you can't see what's in the other. And, by the way, Fitts, if we let the socialists in this camp suspect that we're trying to introduce socialism here, there'll be a revolution before you can say Jack Robinson. They won't stand for it. They'd let out the blamedest roar on record if they thought we were trying to deprive them of the right to feel sorry for themselves."

Ruth hurried over to the town-hall bright and early on this snowy, gusty morning. The forenoon session of the school began punctually at 8:30 o'clock. She was there half an hour ahead of time to see that there was a roaring fire in the huge fire-place, and that the benches for the scholars were drawn up close to it. There were two teachers besides herself,—and both of them were experienced "school marms." She taught the "infant class," comprising about a dozen tots. The three teachers took turns about in building the fires, arranging the benches and cleaning the crude blackboard.

There had been church-services the night before, and the benches were all in use, arranged so that they faced the combination pulpit-rostrum-stage at the far end of the room. Tonight there was to be a general committee meeting to discuss the prospective financial scheme and the general election that was to take place the following week.

The structure was not blessed with a paucity of names. If there was to be a council-meeting or a camp assembly, it was called the "Meeting-house." On Sundays it became the "tabernacle." Week-days it was known as the "schoolhouse," and at odd times it was spoken of as the "theatre," the "concert-hall," and the "Trigger Island court-house." In one corner stood the grand piano from the Doraine, regularly and laboriously tuned by the great Joseppi. Madame Careni-Amori gave vocal and instrumental lessons here every afternoon in the week, from three to six. Among the older children there were a number who had voices that seemed worth developing, and the famous soprano put her heart and soul into the bewildering task of stuffing the rudiments of music down their throats.

Ruth stopped just inside the door and looked about her in astonishment. The benches had been drawn up in an orderly semi-circle about the fire-place. Beyond them she observed the figure of a man kneeling before the fire, using a bellows with great effect. The big logs were snapping, and cracking, and spitting before the furious blasts.

She closed the door and started across the room in his direction. Suddenly she recognized the broad back and the familiar but very unseasonable panama hat. Panic seized her. She turned quickly, bent on making her escape. Her heart was beating like a triphammer,—she felt strangely weak in the knees. As abruptly, she checked the impulse to flee. Why should she run away, now that the moment she had wished for so ardently the night before was at hand? Chance had answered her call with amazing swiftness. She was alone with him,—she could go to him and lay her weapons at his feet and say,—as she had said a hundred times in the night,—"I can fight no more. I am beaten."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse