At Liberty Shelter: Franconia Range October 7–12, 1926
On the seventh we started out from Little Sunapee, cobalt blue and fringed with scarlet wind-tossed maples and dark pines and spruces–on a curving road over gold-prinked hills, among the draping boughs and fiery leaves. It was up beyond Plymouth when sunset overtook us, a marvellous and bewitching sunset, which we caught glimpses of from time to time. First we saw it over Newfound Lake with its two green islets–there we saw a long low bank of yellow-russet clouds, edged on top with a brilliant gold cloud of sharp mountain-peaks. The sky had a rosy glow above the clouds, and in the north and south were high narrow tiers of pink. We longed for it, but we could not wait–it vanished behind dark trees. Suddenly they broke for a moment–we saw another and an entirely different sunset. Now the west was a maze of fire, and nearer us, partly covering it, were dark purple clouds–drifting about and changing. Again we saw it–there were brilliant russet tiers in the north–but the west was almost concealed by those same violet clouds, much thicker now, and breaking open sometimes and showing through arching windows the fire and glow and rosiness. Now gone again–and for a long time we had no more glimpses, but at last, when we thought it must be over, the trees broke, and lo! all was changed–the deep violet clouds had vanished–now there were long narrow tiers of dark yellow in the west, blended with tiers of dusky blue shadow.
We passed the glorious green field from where the Franconia Ridge looms up, and we could feel dimly the presence of those sometimes terrible and awesome mountains–or smiling–sparkling–but always proud.
The Dartmouth Outing Club cabin is near the Moosilauke Brook–a rushing river which thunders over slippery boulders. In places it seems glassy black, ruffled with the white of eddies–sometimes they are strange foam-yellow–sometimes the whole great brook comes rushing through a deep crack a foot wide, with a mysterious crash and whirling foam. Sometimes a black glassy pool surges out from high crags and swings down a green cascade.
There are marvellous rocks to explore on, rocks full of mysterious pools with sheer walls. Often these pools carry several big stones–strange mottled mineral effects, sparkling with mica–all the stones smooth and oval or round. I discovered a tiny cave above a large rock pool, a cave set with stunted spruces and other shrubs. Just below there the stream ran silver and blue with sunlight, through a dark grove of solemn green hemlocks touching their foreheads to the cloud-fringed sky.
If only I had waked Daddy up I should have prevented a disaster. Why didn’t I? There is no adequate reason. I wasn’t in the habit of waking people up–and I wanted to explore the brook. If I had only thought one minute longer than I did!
We broke camp as quickly as possible, and started for The Flume–from there we were to proceed up the Flume Trail, and up the slide, and on over the peak of Flume, down into the col between Flume and Liberty, then up and over Liberty’s shark-tooth peak, and down to the little shelter on its flanks just below the summit.
The long stretch of green field was fresh and sparkling, and there above it were the mountains we were going to climb–here many hands have failed–here is an invincible challenge–for me mountain-fever is not an illness–but an indescribable longing.
First, way off to the right of the range, was Osseo, that low long mountain, and its sudden deep blue peak with sheer crags was seen behind the shoulder of a flaming hill; then Flume, gashed with its stupendous slide, the peak showing to the left of the same hill; then the green-flanked Liberty, with its summit wavering with sharpness, prinked with great brown crags; then dark-peaked Haystack, not showing far above its ridge; then far-off dreaming Lincoln; and Lafayette in its fringey mantle of white mist.
When I had been on my first northern mountains it was hard to believe where I was. I had heard Chocorua and Moosilauke spoken of, and I knew that I was going to climb them, but when I was really there I could hardly believe it. I have overcome that–all I feel now is an indescribable sublime isolation–I feel the character and spirit of each mountain upon me like a strange dark-eyed thought.
We pushed on through the crimson-draped roads–and often we saw Liberty before us, dull green, with bubbles of rock near the peak–Liberty with its arch of blue sky. Clouds were well down on Lafayette–now Lincoln was among them, too. We reached the Flume House, parked our car, and struggled into our packs, then strode into the driveway that leads to the Flume gorge. All during that trip my pack seemed to grow lighter, not heavier, but at first I wondered whether, going up the great white slide, it wouldn’t really pull me over backwards. I was worried about Daddy, too. His load seemed tremendous–I could barely lift it; it crumpled him up somewhat–and, well, could he carry it up the slide?
The first spectacular thing in the Flume was a long, undulating, but very smooth rock or rocks, over which the Flume brook runs in flood-time. Oh, it was slippery, even though dry! Our hob-nails slipped disgracefully on it, with no more hold than wet rubber soles could have given. If the slide was going to be as slippery as that–well, never mind what I was thinking!
The board walk began to grow steeper, foot-braces about a foot apart appeared–it was wet and the foot-braces were needed very much. Then I saw where I was. The echo of the brook beneath filled the air, leaped about and roared and thundered. My voice was feeble, and my thoughts could not hear themselves. The sky had narrowed to a small slit of blue, and on both sides of me were high dark walls of rock, covered in places with moss and little climbing ferns. It seemed to be raining slightly–the air was full of wetness from the lashing captive brook and dripping precipices.
“What is this famous Flume?” I had said before to Daddy.
“Oh, just a little gorge where the Flume brook comes through.”
“Well, then, what are all these people crazy to see?”
“They get wild and excited about almost anything, because other people do, that’s all.”
I had to be content–naturally I didn’t expect much. In fact, when we had come to the long smooth rock I had thought it was the climax.
“Are there any falls in this gorge?” said I.
“Oh, I think there’s a nice little cascade there.”
When we came to that long rock, I had said: “Is this it?” I was amazed even at that.
He was looking mischievous. “Part of it.” I was excited.
At the head of those great walls were two dazzling, thundering silver cascades.
We left the grim rock walls a-whirl with their water echoes. We filled our canteens at a whirling pool of the same brook, where so many canteens have before been filled. Again a strange feeling–the anticipation of mountainous isolation was upon us, we felt it drawing tighter like a shadow as we strode up the beginning of the leafy trail towards purple-gleaming Flume and green Liberty. Sometimes we saw the slide ahead, steep–oh, steep! After quite a little walk, when we were near the foot of the slide, we sat down on a mossy rock and ate soft bread and butter and cheese–the bread left over from supper at the Agassiz Basins cabin. Then we had chocolate and small sips of icy cold water. A royal dinner could have tasted no better.
In the summer of 1932, eighteen year-old Barbara Follett and her “semi-platonic” friend Nickerson Rogers quit New York City and headed to Maine with the plan of following (or semi-following) the nascent Appalachian Trail from its northern terminus at Katahdin as far south as they could get before winter set in. To make matters tricky, the AT had not yet been cut in Maine, so bush-whacking and guesswork were in order. Travels Without a Donkey recounts their adventures from Katahdin to Lake Umbagog on the New Hampshire border. They then continued their walk over the White Mountains and down Vermont’s Long Trail to western Massachusetts. They had been planning to hitch-hike to Tennessee to continue their journey along the AT, but something changed their minds and they sailed to Majorca instead, spending the winter of 1932 and most of 1933 exploring southern Europe.
“It’s spring,” Nick said.
In the very shadow of New York’s skyline, one solitary white crocus had blossomed in a scrawny patch of grass.
“What shall we do about it?” he demanded.
“What does anybody in New York do about it? Grin and bear it.”
“Come on, Bar–show a spark of life, old gal. I’m getting out of here this summer.”
“But — ”
“Getting out. Leaving the office. Going into the north woods. Mountains. It’s spring, child!”
I looked at him to make sure he was serious. In these depressed times, one didn’t leave good jobs in order to run away to the north woods. His brown eyes sparkled. But then, they always did. He was the one person in New York whose eyes always sparkled.
“All right — I wish you joy.”
He fished in various pockets and finally produced a little square of white metal, with a monogram and the words: “Appalachian Trail – Maine to Georgia.”
“That’s what I’m going to do,” he explained. “I haven’t had a walk for ages. Well, I’m going to have a real one now.”
“Not from Maine to Georgia!”
“Why not? It’s only two thousand miles or so.”
“It’ll take all summer.”
“Can you think of a pleasanter way to spend the summer?”
I looked at the solitary white crocus in the scrawny patch of grass. “No,” I said. “I can’t.”
Over lunch that day, he told me about this Appalachian Trail. It is a footpath, starting at Katahdin, that grand old mountain in Maine, and ending at Mount Oglethorpe way down in Georgia, after having crossed the highest and handsomest country of all the states between. Now, owing to the diligence and energy of walking clubs in various parts of the country, only a few miles of trail remains to be broken. But two years ago, when Nick told me about it over our luncheon, a large part of the trail, especially in Maine, was still theory–a dream, an ambition. Where it had become an actuality, it was marked with metal squares like the one he had shown me.
Quite a grand project, it sounded. I just sat staring and smiling, while he talked.
“Bar,” he began again, “I think I’d like you in shorts.”
“With your hair cut, flying in the wind–your swell red hair.”
“Cut my hair!”
“Your freckles are out-of-doorsy. You belong out-doors.”
“I haven’t got freckles,” I protested.
“Yes you have–very swell ones.”
“I know I belong out-doors,” I agreed. “I get mountain-fever. Got it now–something awful. I want to climb Wildcat.”
“We will,” he said happily. “I didn’t want to walk all the way to Georgia alone, anyway.”
“Are you asking me to come with you?”
“Of course! What else?”
“But I can’t — ”
“Nonsense. We start up north the first of July. You give ’em notice.”
“But, Nicky — ”
“‘But’ isn’t worthy of you, Bar. Not in spring.”
* * *
Some friends had a camp on a New Hampshire lake. It was there that Nick met me, promptly on the first of July. He was sunburned and smiling, comfortable in old clothes. Without stopping a minute, he deposited me and my pack in a borrowed canoe.
We paddled vigorously into the sunlit late–magic to someone parched from too much New York. After a while I saw white beach ahead of us, and the green canoe scraped sand gently.
A small green island. A pine dipping graceful branches over a flat boulder that stood half in the rippling lake, half on land. A tiny stone fireplace on top of the boulder. Golden rippled reflections wavered on the sand at the lake’s edge; silver ones shimmered on the under sides of the pine branches. The world smelt of sun, and bay leaves, and pine-needles. The brightness was almost unreal. The sun wrapped us in gleaming shawls of warmth.
We drew the canoe up. Nick parted the bay-bushes and revealed a little path, hardly more than would be made by a rabbit. Five or six yards back, on a knoll screened with bushes, was our house–a brown tent, not more than six feet square.
“This is it,” Nick announced. “This is home.”
I wanted nothing so much as to swim, although I soon found that muscles that had been in the city for two years had forgotten some of their rhythms. Then I sat, dripping, on the big boulder, long hair cascading down my back. I felt very white in this summer-time world where the human body ought to be brown.
Nick brandished a pair of scissors. “Off with it!”
I put up my arms in self-defense. “No — no!”
“Yes! Absolutely! You can’t walk two thousand miles with that yard of hair, child. It’ll get wound up in the blackberries. It’ll collect whole hay-ricks. Bats will nest in it.”
“But, Nicky, I like my hair. And I don’t object to bats.”
“I like it, too. But I don’t like what you do to it–tying your face to the back of your neck with it. I want to see it wave in the wind. That’s really why I married you. And anyway, you can grow it again.”
I wavered. “It would be more comfortable, of course …”
“Don’t, Nicky — !”
“Too late now. Got to go on with it.”
The air was full of flying fragments. Reddish fluff covered the boulder. A great weight was vanishing from my head. What hair I had left began to stand on end in the joy of its freedom. For the first time in years, it was waving in the wind.
Here’s Chapter I of Barbara’s unpublished novel, Lost Island. All typos are mine. My plan is to post the thing in about fifteen parts, one or two per week.
Not even a cat was out. The rain surged down with a steady drone. It meant harm to New York and everyone there. The gutters could not contain it. Long ago they had despaired of the job and surrendered. But the rain paid no attention to them. It was bent on an errand of hate against the city.
Windows were gray and tight shut. There was one window fronted with a box of pansies, and behind the pansies, rather than behind the window, Jane Carey lived. There was nothing outside, this morning. Nothing but gray curtains hanging between the sky (was there really a sky?) and the flooded streets. Solid gray curtains, sometimes swaying ominously in the gusts of wind.
In New York people never lived in houses or even in burrows. They inhabited cells in stone cliffs. They timed the cooking of their eggs by the nearest traffic light. If the light went wrong, so did the eggs. All the cliffs were alike, and even all the cells. Unless there was some personal reason for knowing a particular one, it could never be distinguished from the others. A gigantic beehive.
Opening her window a little wearily, Jane took the pansies in out of the lashing rain. Her face at first might seem like thousands of others that peered occasionally from cells in stone cliffs. Her plain brown hair was drawn back severely, and there was no light in it. But, on a second glance, there was something rare and haunting about her, perhaps her bold forehead in contrast to the wistfulness of her mouth, perhaps her dark brown eyes and the secret laughter in them — something intangible that was Jane Carey.
“I don’t like civilization,” she said, to the rain.
Millie Carson’s voice answered sleepily, in the tone of one who had discussed the subject before. “Well, s’pose you could chuck Manhattan out in the Indian Ocean as you’d like to, it still wouldn’t stop raining. Be a lot worse, too, out in the wild, woolly woods you’re forever ranting about.”
“Out in the wild, woolly woods,” said Jane, “you’d stay snug in your own shack, or cave, or tree, as the case might be. You wouldn’t go out to work till it stopped, whereas I — ”
“But you’d have to lug home a lion to eat — if it didn’t eat you first, that is.” To Millie, “woods” and “lions” were practically synonyms.
Things like that were beyond rational consideration. “Broadway for me, gal, work or no work,” Millie said.
“And the wild woods for me, lions or no lions,” Jane echoed.
“What I can’t understand is why the hell you don’t beat it back to that one-horse town in Maine where you were raised.”
“Some time I’ll tell you.”
“It would leave a job for somebody in little old N. Y., Janie. Worth thinking over. Always thought you were kind-hearted.”
“If I left my job,” Jane retorted, “there’d be a revolution. A hundred thousand people would fight for it.” She flapped into her raincoat.
“Toodleoo!” Millie sang out. “Don’t get drowned, kitten.” And she promptly went to sleep again.
Outside, the rain was a wall. Jane made a dash into it. She lowered her head and struggled with it. At last, the blue light of the subway station, a dim but welcome symbol of hope.
She stood on the platform and let two roaring, jammed expresses hurtle by. Jammed was hardly the word, either. Millie wouldn’t mind piling into them, being squashed to pulp. Perhaps she even enjoyed it. Millie and her absurd lions! Jane smiled. An elderly, stern-looking lady with a vast expanse of bosom and a string of cheap pearls noticed the smile…. Millie had never been off the pavements in her life. Didn’t want to, either. No two persons could be more different, or fonder of each other. Millie’s needs were snappy clothes, plenty of war-paint, and boy friends. She was a chorus girl in a cheap show — not very near the footlights, but on her way, perhaps. Jane was shy and retiring. She looked severe and plain by contrast, and a little old-fashioned, like something carved in oak. She idolized woods and hills and bright pastures. To her the city was purposeless and tyrannical. For months these two girls had shared the small uptown apartment. Jane was out all day, Millie most of the night. When they were together, they were a never-ending source of bewilderment and amusement to each other, which was perhaps why they got along so well…. Jane was still smiling. The dame with the pearls lifted her eyebrows and sidled up. “Do I know you?” she challenged, with immense haughtiness.
Jane quickly reassured her. “Oh, no! I was just smiling to myself, and — well, you got in my way.”
The downtown local pulled in, its four yellow lights suggesting the feelers of some great dashing worm. Jane stood at the very rear of the train, and absently watched the tunnel lights. With a spurt, yellow meteors jumped up and arranged themselves in a row behind, one end of it growing, the other fading away in the tunnel. Sometimes a blue one flew into the row. Once the red eyes of an express train behind loomed up, a monster roaring past out of the dark. It was sinister but impersonal. It didn’t care in the least whether or not Jane liked civilization. It was civilization — efficiency and machinery. The engine maintained a frightful pace, and you had to keep up with it or get crushed and mangled.
Everywhere now the engine was victorious. Even at sea. Jane did not know much about the sea, except that it held a nameless magic for her. But she was conscious of its transformation. No more sleepy galleons with purple and gold sails, moving on in a leisured sway. Even the fine old tea-clippers were too slow. Sails had to surrender to the propeller and the steam-engine. The world couldn’t sit around waiting for the wind to blow in some special direction. But why think of ships and the sea? They were more intangible and unattainable even than woods and hills…. Here was Times Square — people nearly killing one another in their frenzy to get somewhere or other, as if it mattered. But you had to keep pace. Philosophize till doomsday; a lot of good it would do if you didn’t keep pace. No chance at all for trees, sailing ships, or philosophy.
Jane worked in a very dark little office. Not a ray of sunlight could penetrate there; hardly a gleam of honest daylight. After three years, working without daylight was still torture to her. Otherwise, it could be said that she had an enviable job, particularly now, when jobs, as Millie put it, were scarcer than thousand-dollar bills. The truth seemed to be that one could starve to death on an enviable job — for mountain wind, for stars among pine trees, or the call of a wood-thrush to his mate.
No one knew precisely what the business of that little office was. Jane knew only that it was intensely scientific. Professor Myers was in charge of whatever it was that happened there. He was an aged and kindly soul who directed by correspondence mysterious researches in entomology, and wrote articles about them for which he was never paid.
Professor Myers amused Jane, and seemed to her always a trifle pathetic. He was so wrapped up in entomology that he never noticed when anyone laughed at him. People were forever laughing at him, though gently and affectionately. He never remembered his appointments. Sometimes he forgot his overcoat. His glasses were perpetually lost.
“Good morning, Miss Carey, good morning.” He beamed. He was always in the office by the time she arrived at nine, and he worked there till all hours of the night. There were other members of the staff, but he and Jane were the only ones of any importance. They worked in a world by themselves. She was his secretary; upon her devolved many duties which seemed irrelevant, such as buying his railway tickets when he went out of town, keeping on hand a supply of cigarettes and pipe tobacco, and finding his glasses.
“The Coleoptera Review took that article of mine,” he said, with another beam. “Let’s write to them.”
Jane fetched her notebook and settled down opposite him at his desk. He dictated in a leisurely way. Between sentences he seemed to be carrying on scientific researches, and Jane did her day-dreaming.
“To Dr. Carl Unger,” he began, “Editor of — ” Jane nodded. “I am very glad that you have accepted my article, and I shall be glad to make the changes you suggest. I was glad to hear — Oh, no, no, I don’t want to be so darn glad. Take out some of those glad’s, Miss Carey.”
He began floundering among the papers on his desk. “Have you seen my glasses?” he asked. “I had them a minute ago.” She walked around his desk, and presently fished them out of the half-open drawer into which they had fallen. He thanked her gravely. “It’s not so much whether you lose your glasses, Miss Carey, as whether you find them again.” You couldn’t laugh at Professor Myers when he said such things so solemnly. He invested them with deep meaning. That remark could be applied to the whole of life. Not so much whether you lost your glasses — it was the finding that counted….
When Jane had first come to New York, only eighteen years old, alone, with little money, and less idea of where she would go or what she would do, old Professor Myers had taken her into his office for half-time work, while she went to business school and learned typing and stenography with the energy of desperation. He bothered her with no questions; he simply approved, advised, watched. Deep down he was a practical soul, but it was deep. Many people who thought they knew him never suspected it at all.
At least there was no great hurry in his office. Stepping inside his door, Jane temporarily stepped into an oasis in the desert of the steam-engine and the dollar symbol. She knew she was lucky not to be in the rush and whirl of industry. Furthermore, she was fond of the old man. But she hated his four dark walls. And his monographs on butterflies’ antennae irritated her — as if you couldn’t appreciate a butterfly without knowing all about its antennae!…
That day was over. Nothing was left of it, no one remembered it, when Jane stepped out into the street again. The rain had abated, but the air was still dank and cold. She stood still a minute, struggling with her umbrella. She was tired, but comforted to think that the week was almost over. From somewhere a voice seemed to be hailing her. It couldn’t be real, but it was persistent. “Janie! Oh, Jay-nee!”
“Why, Bob!” (It was a real voice, then.)
He hurried up to her, and they shook hands gravely. His shape was vague in the rainy mist. He looked very tall, a bit piratical. That was the effect of his felt hat covered with mist. “What are you doing in this end of town, Bob? And where have you been hiding yourself anyway?”
“Right here for the last half hour; I thought you’d emerge some time. Janie, I need the proverbial shoulder.”
“To cry on?”
He nodded. “Ellen’s given me the go-by.”
“Poor devil,” said Jane, into the mist. And in the same minute she wondered why so many of her friends seemed to need her shoulders, whereas she — But she had not yet succeeded in convincing herself that the enigmatic person before her was Bob. He shouldn’t look piratical; he ought to be young and boyish. The rain and her mood had changed him.
“You thought she would, didn’t you?” he asked.
“I was afraid of it, to tell the truth.”
“And you’ll probably say ‘good riddance.’ And I wonder if you aren’t right.”
She squeezed his hand. “Come on up to my little hole,” she invited, “and have some supper. We can’t stand here forever, you know,” she reminded him, as she might have reminded Professor Myers. “How about a steak-‘n’-unyuns? Where’s your car?”
He tucked a hand under her arm, and they vanished into the rain like two ghosts.
That steak did help matters. Jane hustled about her kitchenette in a green dress with ruffles and flowers on it, a sort of symbol of springtime. That helped, too. “Sit down,” she commanded, when everything was ready. “I bet you’re half starved. You’d never remember to eat if somebody didn’t remember for you.” She brought to the table a large platter of steak, and a bottle of red wine. “And don’t sigh like a willow tree, old man. Never liked willows much. Spruces and firs have more the right idea.”
Before long she had him almost laughing. He looked infinitely improved, then. Just a young thing, after all, who didn’t know where he was bound, and who like to pretend that he was grown up. He wasn’t a man yet, but she felt that he was trying hard to be, that he would be very soon, and that he was struggling against heavy odds; for he was the son of a widowed millionaire who pampered him. It was only with Jane that he forgot this other life. With her he could be natural and spontaneous. She was a cold clear spring in the midst of a too languid garden.
“I wish,” she said abruptly, “you could go and plough a field. Awfully good for your backbone, ploughs are. But with those damned button-hooks of your father’s being such a success — ”
“Fish-hooks, Janie — ”
“I don’t care if they were harpoons. They’ve made life too easy for you.
“A really first-class backbone has to be developed in the face of resistance,” Jane solemnly intoned.
“D’you suppose Ellen saw the flaws in mine, then?”
“I don’t know; but it’ll take a good one to hang on to her. She’s a — fly-away. A sprite, sort of. What have you been doing to her?”
He smiled ruefully. “Well, I did look out the window once or twice,” he admitted. “You know how it is. Just natural, Janie. No harm meant. But when somebody strenuously objects, the things we see out the window look better and better.”
Jane smiled slowly. “No girl on earth wants to believe such things,” she said.
“Jane, you understand, don’t you? Couldn’t you see Ellen, and explain to her? I can’t; I’ve tried.”
“She’d curse me for a confounded old meddler, Bob.”
“No, I think she’d take it from you. She thinks of you as kind of an older sister who knows life, and all that stuff.”
“That’s ironical, to say the least,” Jane chuckled. “Must be because I ran away from home. That always gets you a reputation of one kind or another.”
“Jane, I wish you would see her.”
“What can I say that you couldn’t say better?”
“She won’t see me. She won’t talk to me on the telephone.”
“Give her time.”
“It’s hell to wait. And I think she’s going around with some other fellow.”
The hurt look in his eyes persuaded her. “All right,” she said. “I’ll try.” Old Professor Myers’ words about his glasses rang in her mind again, and she added: “Don’t look so worried, Bob. It doesn’t matter so much if you lose her — just as long as you get her back again.”
“Janie, I don’t know how to thank — ”
She made coffee. They talked and laughed, discussed dreams and plans. “You haven’t said a word about yourself, Janie. What are you going to do this summer?”
“Oh, work,” she said casually.
“Couple of weeks. I may go to Maine — climb a mountain or two — have a swim.”
“You like that job of yours a lot, don’t you?”
She dared not flinch at that, for her usefulness to her friends lay in giving them the firm conviction that she herself was content with life. “Sure,” she answered steadily. “I’m lucky to have any job, these days.”
She was even trying to shrug her shoulders with appropriate nonchalance, but the doorbell rang, and that gesture was never finished.
Out in the hall stood a small, dim person. Jane stared. “Mary Rogers!” She grabbed both the girl’s hands. “You’re frozen, and drenched!” she exclaimed. “Come in…. No, nobody here except Bob Graham — you’ve heard of him.”
“Janie,” the other girl whispered — her teeth were chattering — “could you possibly put me up for the night?” She was a shy, gray, frail young person, with hungry but innocent blue eyes.
“Did you ever know me not to put you up for the night? Will you have the bed that lets down or the one that unfolds?”
“I’d be glad to sleep on the floor. The truth is, Jane, my job is gone and I haven’t a cent — and you know I can’t go home, after leaving them so proudly.”
“Oh, Lord, how we all do seem to be in trouble! Well, come on in and meet Bob. Have some coffee. Help yourself to my elegant wardrobe if you’re wet. And do let’s try to be gay.”
Millie came in late, with a scuffle of high heels in the corridor. Jane met her with one finger across her lips in warning. “Mary’s here,” she said. “Lost her job, and all upset. So don’t fling the rough language too much, and don’t be hard on the kid even if you don’t think much of her…. Sa-ay! What you been doing? How come you look so pleased with yourself?”
“Oh, I’ve been getting engaged again, that’s all…. Well, let me have a look at your little lame cat. I won’t hurt her.” Millie was not derisive, only mocking. To her, Jane’s out-of-luck friends were always “lame cats.” There were usually a lot of them around. Jane was too soft and easy, Millie thought — allowed people to prey on her. People would prey, of course, if they had the chance, or thought they had.
Millie’s own ideas were different. Live for yourself first; you got on much better. Good things don’t come of their own accord. They had to be fetched, and then hung on to. All that took energy. But it was the best way to use one’s energy: for your own advancement and not that of lame cats. Jane was a darling, of course, but unpractical. She lived on dreams and ridiculous fancies. Always taking about the woods, or sometimes the sea. Living with her eyes half closed to the world around her, and a dream in their depths. Millie didn’t understand that. She lived in the present. Get the most out of today — fun, clothes, money, laughs; get as much as you can. Tomorrow you may be dead….
Bob was just going. “Thanks, Jane,” he said. “I feel improved.”
She went to the door with him. “Good boy. Don’t worry over Ellen or the fish-hooks or anything.”
“Try not to,” he promised.
“I’ll telephone her in the morning, and ask her over.”
“You’re grand, Jane. And — say! You tell your nice little friend Mary to come and see my Dad next week. He’s been thinking about firing his secretary.”
“Bob — could you fix up a date for her to see him?”
“Sure — I guess so.”
“Corking of you!”
“Well, we’ve all got to help each other out,” he said. “You help morally, I help materially; everybody can, some damn way, and the world wags on.”
“Keep it up,” said Jane. “You’re almost a philosopher.”
Mary was vague and indefinable, Jane thought. But then, she was tired tonight and rather frightened. Millie was louder and ruder, and her world remote from Jane. And yet Millie was infinitely more real, more vital. She was colorful, with her bush of black curls, her snapping eyes, her gorgeous painted mouth. Mary tried to talk about industry, the lack of jobs, the sad condition the world found itself in. But that was an unfortunate subject. The world was going to the dogs… and conversation languished.
“You’re tired,” said Jane. “I think I’ll put you to bed. You can have the contrivance that lets down, and Millie and I’ll berth together.”
Mary looked suspiciously at the swinging bed. “I won’t wake up in the closet, will I?”
“Well, no one has yet. But you never can tell, you know. You might wake hanging upside down, like a little bat.”
…A little shy gray bat which she had brought in from the woods and made friends with, years ago. Luna moths and bats; thrushes at dawn, wild roses, butterflies, and the smell of pines — all these had been part of that “one-horse town in Maine,” where she had spent her first eighteen years, and which she had always thought of with delight…. In those days New York, new friends, a job and money of her own, had been in her mind unattainable and romantic fancies.
The three girls were at last comfortably installed for the night. Jane became aware that Millie was nudging her under the sheet. “Kitten!” she whispered. “Coming to my wedding?”
“It won’t go through,” said Jane.
“He’s a swell guy,” said Millie. “Plenty of money, good looker, dances like a house afire.” Those were the three ideal virtues.
“That’s what you’ve said about all of ’em,” Jane reminded her.
Millie’s idea was to catch a man before you knew him too well and were disillusioned about him; then, when you began to see his faults, drop him like a red-hot poker. That was the way to get the most out of affairs of the heart. All the fun and none of the tears.
“You know,” Jane confided, “I almost got married once myself.”
“For Gawd’s sake! I didn’t think you’d even been kissed. And you never told me, you wretch!”
“Well, it missed fire.”
“It would. You’re so idiotic, kitten.”
“Well, I got to the altar.”
“Didn’t he turn up, or was the ring lost, or — ”
“Nothing like that. It was all quite proper. Horribly proper, in fact. So I skipped, that’s all. Ran for my life.”
“For Gawd’s sake!” Millie commented again. “Honest, I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Jane shut her eyes. It had been a whale of a day, and tomorrow would be another. Time to sleep. But she had evoked a ghost, and it was not to vanish easily…. Not that Charlie had ever meant very much. He had been a jolly soul, and a pleasant companion. He could make a violin tell you of sunsets and far places, but he himself never lived up to the things his violin said. He had money, within reason. A college boy, too — very eligible. Nothing to worry about if she married him, her tyrannical widowed father affirmed. Well, nothing to think about, either; or to dream about. But she had accepted her fate. In that town, it would have been unthinkable to refuse. Furthermore, she was willing to believe that she was in love. Everyone assured her that she was, and there was nothing to compare it with. There were vague dissatisfactions, but she never analyzed them. That was dangerous; besides, it wasn’t customary to worry about matters so obviously well arranged.
She had felt idiotic marching up that church aisle to the strains of the wheezy old organ. A heifer going to sacrifice; and not half so glamorous as if she were an Aztec maiden before the temple of the god of harvests. This sacrifice was all in the best manner, of course. They had invited the aunts and cousins of both families, people of whose existence she had not been aware — squeaky old ladies, mostly, in rustling purple and gray.
And then the face of old Father Benton, kindly and benign. God’s right-hand man. That church was awfully stuffy, too — full of aunts. The whole thing was unbearably proper, anyway. She would have liked to be married out-of-doors, in sunlight…. Charlie seemed to be actually enjoying it. There was a beam on his face. Well, then, Charlie was an ass. The thought made her start…. “Dearly beloved brethren…” Father Benton’s hands caressed his book smoothly, benignly.
Jane’s resentment had surged up. They were not going to put this over on her! Without taking time to think what the consequences would be, she raised her voice high and yelled: “Fire! FIRE!” Then she gathered up the trailing gown, and tore down that church aisle like a wild deer let loose in a city street. Once in the open air she had simply kept on running — and she had good wind and strong legs….
The actual Jane, lying in bed in her New York apartment, smiled faintly. Well, her life had not been utterly void of adventure. Spectacular, at least, that had been. Saved for a far more glamorous doom, she was. A real Aztec temple? Not cut out to be hostess at dinner-parties for Charlie’s friends. Even New York was better than that. A lucky break, that imaginary fire. New York at least was a going concern. It was tyrannical, but rather jolly, if you were in the mood. Chanting wheels of progress — maddening, but busy. You couldn’t see much of God, though. Too much progress. God was like the woods — quiet and old-fashioned.
Chapter II, (pages 15-28) of Lost Island. All typos are mine. You’ll notice that Barbara circled “flapper” in the first paragraph, suggesting that she might have wanted a different word. Chapter I here.
Jane awoke with a feeling that everyone in New York, perhaps everyone in the world, was unhappy or in trouble. It had been so long since one of her young friends had come to her with news of happiness and good fortune. There were two exceptions, and on them she counted more than she knew — Millie, Broadway flapper; and Professor Myers, contented scientist.
The worst of it was that nothing seemed to be leading anywhere. You might struggle up a mountainside, tired and aching, thirsty and scratched with brambles, your packstraps cutting into your shoulders as if they were red-hot; but the fight was to a purpose. You would win, stand at last on the crest with triumph. You would unsling your pack and feel light and free as the wind, and go joyfully about the chores of making camp for the night. Stars in the depth of an ice-cold little spring.
Here was never-ending struggle, with no aim in it; nothing more noble than the brute, beast maintaining of life. You were fighting in the dark, for no reason that you could see. To be happy in New York your whole scheme of life had to be in tune. Millie was in tune. But the things which made Millie joyful or disgusted never touched Jane at all. Her life wasn’t cut out of the same pattern. Some people thrived on ten-cent diamonds. Others had to have stars. The star-people were not superior. They were in some ways less fortunate.
Jane knew mountains well, but the sea and she were strangers. She could not help wondering about it sometimes, when she heard the whistle of an outbound liner. There had been someone back in the Carey family: an Irish sea-captain? — a South Sea trader? No one remembered much about him. Nothing was left of his adventures except one fine old shell with the poetry of running tide in its heart. There must be peace at sea, if it could fashion a mysterious quiet thing like that old shell…. But the sea was unapproachable. On a ferry you could cross the harbor and see ships — rusty freighters and tall liners. But they weren’t really ships. They were symbols, intangible and ghostly. If you looked twice, they were likely not to be there.
Awaking with nothing ahead but another day of the crabbed routine…. Even Professor Myers, absorbed in his entomology, seemed restless at times. “Good morning, Miss Carey, good morning,” he greeted her. “Nice weather.”
“Yes, it’s a vast improvement over yesterday.”
“Days like these” — reminiscent tone — “I get to thinking about — well, going somewhere.”
“Butterflies, and other things. I get to thinking of all the men I know doing it, while I just sit here and tell ’em how. As if I was an old man — I’m not so old…. The West Indies, now — here’s a letter from Dr. Schultenberger down there. Wonderful place for insects. Why, there are spiders so big!” He gestured significantly, measuring the air. Outside, a hurdy-gurdy was quavering a song about spring.
“I know,” Jane said with a sigh. “Personally, I prefer butterflies to spiders, Professor Myers, but it’s really all the same.”
He nodded sadly. “Yes, it’s all the same,” he repeated, as if that were very important.
“Why don’t you rig up an expedition and start out for somewhere, with all your bottles and nets and things?”
“Ah, you collect the money for me, Miss Carey, and I will…. And now let’s write to that man — Schultenberger, or whatever it is. I want to tell him that the grasshopper he’s so proud of is quite ordinary, only he hit on a deformed specimen. He thinks he’s really discovered something.”
Her thoughts hovered around that deformed grasshopper in the West Indies. It was very sad. He thought he’d really discovered something, and it was only a cripple. Must have hurt the feelings of the little thing. A grasshopper certainly had feelings. That one was dead, though…. The hurdy-gurdy was frantic in its efforts to sound like springtime….
Sales everywhere: bankrupt sales, final sales, over-stock sales, super-sales. Everyone frantic to sell, sell, sell. On the way home Jane stopped at a small bakery. Over its counter hung loud signs summoning the whole of New York to come with an enthusiastic rush because a three-day sale on doughnuts was now in effect. A solitary German leaned meditatively over the counter; otherwise the place was empty.
“So you’re having sales, too!” Jane burst out. “Aren’t we all funny?”
The German raised his head and broke into a long laugh. “You said it, miss!” he exclaimed. “Ve are! Ve are! You said it!”
Jane liked Germans. You could always get a laugh out of them, and a laugh was more important than anything else in the world, when you were fighting to keep your head above water. It was all right, as long as Professor Myers had a chuckle about his grasshoppers, Millie about her long line of boy friends, Bob about his fish-hooks, and the baker about his doughnut sale. She herself? Well, she could smile at the whole bunch of them. There was the world to smile at, after all. But it was pretty lonely.
For, in spite of her many friends, acquired easily and quickly wherever she went, she was always, in the last analysis, alone. Perhaps she would be alone till the last star set. Perhaps everyone on earth was surrounded by an impassable barricade of aloneness, doomed to stay inside its walls forever, only they didn’t know it because they didn’t think about it. How could you tell? It didn’t seem as though Millie had such a wall, for instance. Yet perhaps she had. It was a delicate subject. You couldn’t talk about it — too intangible. Fancy going up to someone on the street and saying: “Beg your pardon, ma’am, but have you a wall?” Jane grinned: it was grand to be naive sometimes in the privacy of that wall.
When people were in love, were they still alone? Hard to tell. They liked to pretend they weren’t, but really weren’t they still paddling around in their own little orbits like the stars and comets — orbits which now and then coincided deceivingly, only to diverge once more? But in front of questions like those, you had to give up. One man’s guess wouldn’t mean a grain of sand more than another’s.
The best solution to everything, perhaps, was just to go on and not think about it. That was Millie’s idea. Just go on. Take what comes, have as good a time as possible with the materials on hand, and don’t ask questions about it. That way, Jane supposed, you could in time kid yourself to think that even mud was beautiful. That was a horrid thought, that eventually you could lose your own standards, adapting them to what was around you! It might be a comfortable way out, but it was cowardly. Letting ugliness triumph…! The answer, then? Get away from it, move on — if you can.
“I think I will,” said Jane, aloud. “I think I’d better, before it’s too late.”
Her hand was at her own doorknob. Physical habit had taken her there, while her mind was away drifting on a confused sea. One lighthouse stood out sharply above that sea. The thought: “Move on!… I think I will.”
“Oh, hello, Mary. Thought you might be still asleep. You were snoring like an old volcano when I left, this morning.”
“Not like a little bat?”
“No, there was nothing bat-like about it.”
“Bob crashed through,” Mary said. “I’ve got a date with his father, for tomorrow.”
Jane tapped her gently on the back. “Patience, and you’re all set. Always takes a lot of waiting around.”
Mary sighed. “Patience! That seems to be the one virtue on earth that counts.”
Jane was looking at her now with sudden eagerness. Maybe it was fortunate that Mary had blown in upon her the night before, out of the wind and rain. For even if you’d had a message from Gabriel himself ordering you to leave the city and move on at once, there had to be a certain amount of arranging. You couldn’t just drop everything in the middle. There were frazzled rope ends which had to be cleaned up. And Gabriel couldn’t clean them up.
“Mary, how do you like this little hole of mine?”
“Adore it, Janie.”
“Would you like to live here with Millie?”
“But you…?” Mary protested with bewilderment.
“Oh, me!” Jane’s smile was not her usual everyday smile. Not the shopworn one she used when she handed Professor Myers his glasses. “Well, I think I’ll be going away.”
“Where, Jane? Going to get married, or — ?”
“I don’t think so,” said Jane. “I really don’t know much about it yet; it’s very nebulous. Only, I’ve got a bit of money saved, and — spring is coming.”
“Lucky!” Mary said softly.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just plumb foolish. But how about the apartment? Want it?”
“Sure, if I get a job. But Jane, are you going right away, or what, or how?”
“Next week,” Jane said convincingly…. And now, she thought to herself, perhaps the next thing was to find out where.
How did you find out, when the wind and the stars had told you to go? They gave the command, but left the road unmapped. That was why so many never went at all. Hadn’t the courage to swing out into that void, or the strength to make a footprint upon it. You could stand on the verge and say: “If I only had the chance!” But when the chance came, either you never saw it at all, or you let it slip. It was a subtle thing. You had to grab it before it was there. And even after you had taken it firmly by the hair, it was likely to elude you.
It wouldn’t have occurred to Jane to scan a newspaper for reports of tours and cruises, or to telephone a steamship office and be deluged with catalogs and folders, written in words which said “glamour” without meaning it, empty shells of words, a vain and futile mockery, trite and languid, savoring of hotels and deck sports. That she had long ago abandoned as a useless quest. You could find nothing there except words and hotel rates. The adventure to which she had been summoned was not like that. This adventure was not a separate thing, beginning on one day, ending another. It was a continuation, a going-on, of the life-long adventure. It was the next phase. It had no ending, and its beginning was vague. Whatever purpose it might have it kept a secret. Jane felt it there, but she knew nothing about it, except that it was likely to begin as an escapade to the hills and lakes of Maine — the country and the way of living with which she was most familiar. Pack, tent, cooking-kit…
“I feel,” she said to herself, “as if this is going to be more than just a summer vacation. But maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I ought to stand by things here — ignore the whole idea, shove it away on a dusty shelf, call it an illusion and a dream. But that isn’t common sense — is it?”
The two other girls aroused her out of this revery. They were getting ready to sail out upon New York and demolish it. Millie would doubtless do most of the demolishing, and Mary would follow obediently in her wake, finishing up odds and ends. Then Jane remembered that Ellen Green would presently be arriving. They had arranged by telephone in the morning. Another difficulty to be cleared up.
She had the apartment to herself for a few blessedly quiet minutes; then the bell jangled. “Hello, you old turtle,” said Ellen, pouncing. “Always with your head well inside your shell! Same as ever, Janie? Well, don’t be such an old iceberg. Gimme a kiss.”
“Turtle and iceberg all in one breath,” Jane laughed. “Wonder what I’ll be in another five minutes!”
Ellen was an odd contrast to her friend. She was little and soft. Her curling golden hair was silky, and shone. Her small face suggested the conventional ideal fairy-tale princess. Limpid hazel eyes, and long curved dark lashes. Jane, who was tall and had strong shoulders, sometimes tended to wonder if Ellen were real. She seemed a helpless silken creature, calling up Bob’s young chivalry and masculine desire to protect. This annoyed Jane, because she knew Ellen just a trifle better than he did, and recognized that silken helplessness for exactly what it was — a deliberate illusion.
“How’s things, Ellen?”
“Terrible. Unspeakable. Life is a colossal bore, and all that stuff.”
“Oh, that’s just a state of mind.”
“Don’t you ever get bored yourself, Jane? Should think you would, taking dictation day after day from that old fogy.”
“Oh, I have an occasional adventure. For instance, whom do you suppose I met night before last outside the office?”
“Somebody you know; a rather nice young chap of your acquaintance.”
Jane was startled at this give-away, but did not show it. “No, not Donald. Bob. He had supper with me.”
Ellen endeavored to look hard and stern. “You can have him,” she said, and lowered her eyes so that her innocent lashes were magnificently displayed. “And how’s he getting on?”
Jane refused to admire the lashes. “He doesn’t seem any too happy, either,” she said. “I imagine he finds life a colossal bore, too.”
“Oho! So he doesn’t like it! Well, let him have a taste of his own home-brew, that’s all I can say.”
“Oh, come! Does he really deserve all this systematic torture?”
“Try him yourself,” said Ellen. “If you think I’m so awful, just try him yourself. And what’s more, if you think he’s the only one hurt around here — ”
“He’s an honest soul,” said Jane. “He told me a little of what it was all about.”
“He doesn’t like me any more,” said Ellen.
Jane was conscious of a desire to scold her, as though she were a recalcitrant younger sister. But she was also very conscious of intruding into someone else’s life. She had a horror of meddling people, well-intentioned or otherwise. Still, she had fairly promised Bob — He had made it her business. Promises like that were dangerous. The pain she remembered in his quiet eyes nerved her.
“Whoever is Donald?” she asked.
“I won’t see Bob gadding around with other girls, and not pay him back. You wouldn’t either, Janie.” There was rising fire in Ellen’s voice. “You wouldn’t stand for it. No one would. Oh, Jane, you don’t know! Bob’s filled you up with his side of the thing. Now you just try to understand mine a little.”
“I think I do,” said Jane. “You’re jealous. And nothing is more stupid or more forgivably natural.”
“You’d be jealous, too, Janie. Nobody but a damn cold-blooded lily-white angel wouldn’t be; and I’m not one, thank God, and neither are you.”
This situation was hard to handle as an infernal nightmare. But she had promised, rashly enough, and now something had to be done. There was Bob, with the young pain in his eyes….
“Ellen, try not to be jealous of so little. It may be hard, next to impossible. I’m not denying that. But try. It’s worth it. And I wouldn’t say so if I didn’t feel pretty sure you’re worrying over wispy nothings. That’s perhaps why you are worried: there’s nothing tangible to get hold of and look at. Those girls you’re upset about are like snowflakes; each one has its flash of life as a tiny and lovely crystal, and then melts. Bob’s young and alive and interested, and — you’ll have to face it — male. Naturally he has to look around a bit, see what’s going on. Doesn’t mean anything. Let him look all he wants. He’ll love you more for it…. Oh, Ellen, ‘scuse me for being an old Dutch aunt; but I’ve seen you happy together, and it was rare, and good — too good to lose. You know that better than I. Don’t be jealous of snowflakes; not worth it.”
Ellen drew a long sigh. “If I could believe that — ” But she caught herself. “I don’t believe it, you old orator!” she snapped.
Jane scented victory. She wasn’t sure whether she had won her point, but she followed up fiercely, with the battle-light in her eyes. “Don’t forget,” she said, “that Bob’s in the middle of a social whirlpool. He’s awfully good-looking and entertaining, and — well, rich; and he must be run after a lot by all the young debs and especially their ambitious mammas.”
Ellen turned her head wistfully to one side, and said in a very changed voice: “I was ready to make up, you know.”
“Sure, but he didn’t know, because you wouldn’t show him.”
“If he loved me, he’d have known anyway.”
“You’re trying to make him out a woman,” said Jane. “Men are inclined to be rather dumb.”
“Yes,” Ellen said, “dumb about things that count.” Her voice was extremely gentle now, and the eyelashes were more and more in evidence.
“He’s longing and longing for you to make up.”
“If he wants to make up, he can come to me.”
“He has come, and you’ve always repulsed him.”
“But he might have known,” Ellen wailed, “that I didn’t mean it.”
“You’re so subtle,” said Jane, “how could he know?”
This was the lucky touch, the magic wand, this precious bit of praise. Ellen smiled.
“Forgive me for meddling?” Jane asked anxiously.
“I wouldn’t forgive anyone else under the sun,” Ellen confessed. “But somehow you’re different. And oh, Jane — ” She broke off suddenly, and giggled.
“Jane, I can’t help wondering about you — if you’ll ever manage a love affair of your own as neatly as you manage other people’s.”
“I’ve done some wondering about that myself, lately,” Jane chuckled. “And, you know, I think I’ll presently abandon other people’s and concentrate on my own. So weep your last on this solid shoulder!”
The next day was Saturday, a free day. Professor Myers carried on his researches alone over week-ends, and to all intents and purposes the office was closed. But Jane knew that he would be there, poring among dusty old records, classifying butterflies’ antennae and beetles’ wing-cases, losing his glasses….
How did one begin an adventure? Almost any road you took would lead there, if only you went on far enough. Now that she had a ghost in sight, she would follow it. Maybe it would lead to the reality. Ghosts couldn’t stay too long away from bodies to which they belonged.
So she crossed the Hudson in a ferry. It was a feeble beginning, she admitted to herself; but she would roam around in the woods of New Jersey and try to think out what she wanted to do. From the bow of the ferry, she listlessly watched a little tugboat snorting down-river, and wondered where it was bound. She might have been excited if she had known that it was heading for a lumber schooner becalmed in the harbor below, where old Captain Maynard was pacing his poop with impatience, anxiously watching his idle flapping sails, and cursing the lumber yard for being so slow with their miserable tug.
“Infernal, blasted nuisance, Davidson; that’s what ’tis. They must think I’ve got a couple o’ turbines, or something.”
Davidson, the helmsman, merely glanced at the cracking sails. His answer was a sage smile that never came to the surface. You have to be fatalistic about these things. He shrugged his shoulders. It wouldn’t have mattered to him that at the very moment Jane was watching it chug down the river with that quaint dignity tugs have — the dignity of a solemn snub-nosed dwarf, a coarse and common-sense philosophy of life. It was fun to watch three or four of them butting ridiculously into the immensity of the Rex or the Ile de France, handling the liner with such determination. She had often seen them after dark on the river, coming up with a string of three, four, five huge barges; or on some dignified errand alone, a light high astern, looking like a small cat with its tail in the air. Resolute and staunch, and with an air, too, of mysterious purposefulness, as if it knew all about the sea and the beyond, even if it was only a tug. This particular one, on its way down-river, seemed to say quietly: “I know a lot of things you don’t know.” She could almost imagine that it winked at her.
Up-river they had built a new bridge — a new perpetuation of the skill and strength of engineers. Men had given dreams and love to that structure, built their visions into its very fiber. Sleepless, someone had paced the floor at night, over complex blueprints. Now the leap had been dare; two gaunt dark gray towers supported the slow curve of the cables. There was a haze over the Hudson, and nothing beyond the bridge could be seen. It was obscure and mystic. Those pillars might be the gateposts to purgatory. They were unearthly and aloof. Their strength was remote, with the remoteness of dreams….
There were woods along the river, if you knew where to look. Jane was always at home in the woods. She could understand the language of young leaves, as they poised in the sun, letting gold-green sparks of light play upon them and flick off them. She dreamed of mountains she had known — the gods of forgotten but powerful religions. She had labored up their steep sides and ponderous brows; beaten through storms and clouds along their giant backbones.
And by evening, when she came down to the ferry again, she had nearly decided that as soon as she could decently leave the office, she would go back to those mountains once more.
Then she saw that out in the river lay the symbol of all adventure, gray and still in the dusk, peaceful as a seagull come to rest — a schooner anchored. She was dreaming there, wings folded. Up into the river she had brought with her an atmosphere of untroubled calm, mingled with a touch of the old-fashioned, as if not belonging to this world of engines and industrial turmoil. She was aloof as a little Chinese goddess, and as tranquil. As Jane gazed at her four straight masts and graceful hull, the sparks of her riding lights suddenly pricked out like a friendly signal, a beckoning.
Jane was suddenly overwhelmed with curiosity. She wanted to get closer to that quiet ship. She wanted to know the people aboard her, who lived in this old-fashioned world apart; and she wondered whether such a visit could be arranged. Her friendliness and curiosity vied with shyness. “Maybe morning would be better— ” And then a new thought, devastating in its excitement: “Maybe I could sail in that schooner. What an adventure that would be! Maybe that’s the way to get out of New York!” But she brought herself up sharply. “You silly dreamer, you know things like that don’t happen….” Getting out, once you were rooted, took some doing. You had no courage, nothing except a few hazy and romantic longings which were doomed anyway….
She stood still a minute, lashing herself with scorn; then made her way down the river road, mud-flats on one side of her and factory yards on the other. A dirty and slovenly world. Slovenly people, too. Well, how could they help it, surrounded by this? Here was an existence where there was literally nothing but mud and squalor — a rather striking contrast to her own. Well, some had to have stars. Others could get more pleasure from sitting on grimy doorsteps and surmising who was the father of the landlord’s niece’s baby. They wouldn’t see anything worth while about a mere star.
The lumber yard at last. It’s gate was closed. The schooner herself, if she were real, lay somewhere behind, out in the open river. Jane hailed the watchman, an old man who sat inside the gate. “I want to find out about the ship. She came to your company, didn’t she?”
The old man looked at her with suspicion, and pushed his cap back on his forehead. Obviously he was annoyed at this disturbance of his somnolent peace. “Ship?… Oh, you mean that old scow in the river? Yeah, she brung in some lumber.”
“I want to go aboard her,” said Jane.
“That old scow? Aw, there ain’t nothin’ there for you, girlie.”
Jane flinched, but refused to be daunted. “I’ve never seen a ship like her, and I’m interested. Do you know the captain?”
“Yeah, I seen him once or twice. Too old to go to sea in a reg’lar ship, so they give him that old boat. Don’t matter if he do wreck her, see?”
“How do you think I could get aboard?” Jane persisted.
But this ugly, leering old man apparently had no desire to cooperate in Jane’s escape. “Swim, girlie, swim,” he muttered peevishly, and ambled off into the gloom.
Chapter III (pages 29-41) of Lost Island. If you missed the beginning, here it is.
The river was smiling surreptitiously in the bright morning. And there lay the schooner of the evening before, as though she were trying her best to be real, perhaps for Jane’s sake. There was not much doing at the lumber yard across the river, but at least the old watchman had gone. She found an efficient-looking person at last, who was apparently about to start off somewhere in a dirty launch. “That ship?” He waved an expansive arm. “Why, I’m just goin’ out to her. You kin come along, young lady.”
She looked him over again swiftly, and decided that he was harmless, in spite of the noisy alacrity with which he chewed and spat, in spite of the great red and green dragon tattooed all around his arm in spirals, and the swaggering coarseness of the atmosphere he inhabited and carried with him.
“Fine!” she said. “Do you know anything about this ship?”
“Sure. Whaddja want to know about her?”
“Well, what’s her name, who’s her captain, and where’d she come from?”
“Annie Marlow, Captain Maynard, Nova Scotia,” recited the other, with a grin. “I can tell you more’n that, too. I’m goin’ out now to get old man Maynard’s order — for provisions, you know — doin’ business even if ’tis Sunday; and I bet I can tell you what he’ll get. Beans, mostly.”
“Have you ever been to sea?” asked Jane.
“Wal, not farer than Coney Island.”
They were making a circle around the stern of the Annie Marlow, her gangway being on her starboard side, and her bow pointing up-river. Jane was feasting now — devouring every line and curve of the trim ship ahead: her slate-gray side, bulwarks and taffrail; her masts, weathered purple-gray; the white crosstrees, and the rigging that led aloft to them, narrowing but straight, through which Jane could imagine the wind singing as through harp-strings, and where she could imagine salt spray freezing in fantastic patterns, like frost feathers on a mountain peak. “I love that ship,” she said. “I don’t think I ever loved anything so much.” As they drew nearer, rigging and masts shifted stealthily, magically.
“Annie Marlow ahoy!” sang out the launch skipper. His chest swelled; he felt immensely nautical. “Cap’n Maynard!” He shut off the engine. The sound of a door opening aboard, and someone emerged from the companion and came over to the taffrail. “Ahoy yerself!” he answered.
Jane looked up into a pair of genial blue eyes surmounted by shaggy eyebrows and a shock of steel-gray ruffled hair. The master of the Annie Marlow was rugged and gnarled. His face was weathered as the masts of his schooner. His powerful shoulders were bowed a little. The sea had marked him, in every line and fiber; and there was something about him that was more than dignity. It was the unconscious majesty of the sea.
“Ahoy yerself, Jones!” Even his voice was gnarled, but pleasantly. “Come aboard, come aboard. Glad t’ see ye, glad t’ see ye.”
Jane smiled. “I’m just an ordinary landlubber, Captain Maynard,” she called up, “but I’d love to see your schooner if you’ll let me.”
She climbed the wooden gangway, stepped airily upon the poop deck, and looked around with one enraptured glance. Then she shook hands with the captain. “There are a few real ships left, aren’t there, Captain Maynard?”
“Oh, sure — one or two, one or two.”
They were immense friends. Jane had never before looked into such eyes; in spite of the nests of laughter wrinkles in their corners, they might have caused a typhoon to hold off in hesitation. She waved an empassioned hand around her. “I’ve fallen in love with your ship,” she said.
Now Jones was aboard, and proudly greeting the captain with an irreverent clap on the back. “Wal, what sort of a trip didja have comin’ down, Cap?”
“Oh, one o’ them wet, sloppy, nasty trips, with a dirty roll going,” the captain drawled amiably. He lingered over the words, and Jane could distinctly feel that “dirty roll going.”
The ship was neat and trim from stem to stern. The big wooden wheel was newly varnished, and the binnacle and bell were shining. Jane glanced at the big spanker boom overhead, with the neatly furled sail. The hemp lines, the blocks, even the belaying pins were steeped in romance — a peaceful, unostentatious romance, like that of a pine forest. Things smelled pleasant, too.
Jones was talking again. “And now, Cap’n, about this matter of provisions and all that. Might as well get to business, even if it is Sunday. Beans, I suppose?”
“Beans, nothing! Got so many beans aboard now I don’t need no ballast. Let’s see: how about some eggs?”
Jones jotted on a pad in a business-like manner. “Eggs, eh? About six dozen? Wal, do you want ’em fresh or cold storage?”
“Fresh, you bet! I don’t want none o’ them affairs with chickens in ’em. I buy my chickens separate.” And so they bantered, while Jane looked about the ship only half hearing their voices, making the most of her adventure while it lasted.
Jones was ready to go. “But you’ll be stayin’ aboard, won’t you, Miss Jane?” asked Captain Maynard. “Sure! One o’ the boys’ll pull ye ashore in the skiff tonight. Stay aboard ‘n’ see my li’l old Annie.”
“Is she very old, Captain?”
“Not turrible old, but oldr’n you at that, Miss Jane.”
“And you’ve been in her a long time?”
“No. I just took her over couple o’ years back. Before her I was in a barkentine, the North Star. I tell you I loved that ship. Ten years I had her. Sometimes I see her little white ghost now, risin’ out o’ the sea.”
“Was she lost?”
“Aye, broke up on the Maine coast. ‘Twarn’t I that lost her, though. I was sick ashore that v’yage, and my first mate took her down east. Told me afterwards she was cranky from the start. He didn’t understand her. Ships take a powerful lot of understanding.”
“Perhaps she missed you.”
He nodded wistfully. “I been at sea forty-five year, Miss Jane, and you’d think I’d oughter know the ways of ships, wouldn’t ye now? Well, I’m tellin’ ye, I don’t. But she was a sweet ship.” He spoke with tenderness. “She would do anything but talk, and she tried hard enough to do that.”
Jane was silent, sharing his reverence for the little ship that had tried so hard to talk.
The Annie Marlow, this present and more tangible ship, seemed deserted. “Well,” explained the skipper, “here it is Sunday, and all the boys is off ashore a-larkin’. Sundays they jist skip like rats off a sinkin’ ship.”
“Do rats really leave a ship that’s going to sink, Captain?”
“Well, some say that’s jist an old yarn o’ them stupid sailormen; but I seen things as would s’prise you, Miss Jane. One time I was out in mid-Pacific, and we met up with the Nellie Ross, a bark I knowed. There warn’t no wind, we was both flat becalmed, and Cap’n Walker ‘n’ me wanted t’ compare notes, like, on the longitude. So I pulled over t’ the Nellie. Well, would you believe it, ’bout a score o’ rats off her come back with me — clumb down her side, they did, right into my boat. But the Nellie Ross” — he paused dramatically — “she warn’t never heard of no more. Them Rosses allus was a unlucky tribe, anyways. There was five ships, all same fambly. The Martha Ross was the last and the finest. The Rosses lost their hull blasted fortune in her.”
“Ships are perverse creatures at times, I guess,” said Jane.
“Perverse t’ break your heart, like old women,” said the skipper; “‘n’ then agin just as gentle ‘n’ lovable as young ones.”
He showed her about his schooner. “My, but it’s good to have some livin’ being to talk to, besides Barnacle the cat. Us old sailor-folks gets amighty lonesome at times…. First I want to show you my little flyin’-fish. That’s what I call her to myself.” He walked to the very stern of the ship, where a sizable life-boat hung. Peering down between life-boat and taffrail, Jane could see part of an ordinary small row-boat.
“Don’t look like much, maybe,” the old man chuckled, “but she’s my pride and joy, she is. And she’s a sail-boat, too. In her bottom is a mast and boom I made myself — jist for the fun of it. Sometimes I take her out, all by my lonesome — have a little sail like I used to when I was a kid. And I keep water and biscuits in her, same as in the life-boat.”
They walked forward, and he described each line of the complex rigging, telling her its purpose, the subtle part it played in the total harmony of his schooner. After a while she gave up trying to remember their names, but she never tired of craning her neck to look aloft into the grandeur of the masts. She tried to understand how it came about that at this minute she was so far away from New York — what this magic could be, that had whirled her so powerfully away. This mystery was unfathomable. That made it infinitely tormenting and soul-satisfying, all at once. It was the old eternal romance of the sea and sailing ships, that was all. It had no other name. It could not be torn to pieces and put under the ruthless and scientific microscope.
They had reached the galley up forward. The cook, a small, dark man with a warm smile, was starting up his coal fire. The galley seemed to be the very quintessence of compactness.
An intriguing ladder led up on to the fo’c’sle deck. Jane climbed it, curious to look over the bow. A man was sitting motionless on the schooner’s very shoulder, buried deep in a book and smoking contentedly. A big yellow and gray cat (Barnacle?) lay in his lap, asleep. The man looked up when Jane came to the top of the ladder. “Good morning,” she said, with a friendly nod.
He was a little embarrassed, and laid the open book, face downward, on top of the cat. “Same to you,” he muttered with a shy smile. Then he seemed to remember that his shirt was pretty far open at the neck, and perhaps something had better be done about it. Fumbling for a button, he was secretly chagrined to find it missing. Buttons were intangible things. Defeated, he picked up the book once more, with the air of one resigned to the fact that the world and its buttons were too much for him.
“Have you found something worth reading?” asked Jane, curious.
He held it up, backbone toward her: Conrad’s Lord Jim. She was startled and delighted, and burst into enthusiasm.
He nodded. “Well, Conrad is the only one who ever wrote about the sea and knew what he was saying.”
His voice was graceful and refined. “What a good lot these sailors are!” she thought. Shy, that was all. Needed a little friendliness. “If you wrote about the sea,” she said, “you’d know what you were saying.”
He smiled a little. “I wouldn’t have anything to say. It’s my life,” he explained simply.
“It was Conrad’s life, too,” Jane reminded him. “Well, I’ll leave you in peace.” Obviously, he wanted to be alone.
His eyes were gray. All seafarers had something in their eyes that was honest and peaceful and deep. He had fine shoulders, and his strong brown hands, holding the book, were rough from handling hemp and canvas. Hands made to endure and accomplish the work of the sea. She wanted to say: “You look as if you would last.”
He made an odd contrast to the people whom Jane met every day. It was hard to imagine him on Fifth Avenue, with the slow, rolling stride he doubtless had acquired from pacing many decks. But she had a feeling that he was much more worth while than Fifth Avenue. Why think about Fifth Avenue, anyway? It was only a feeble dream, already dead after these few hours of absence from it. This schooner, these people: here was a dream that would outlast a thousand such futile scurryings.
She looked back at the sailor on the forecastle deck. Doubtless she would never see him again. Look while she could, for he, like Captain Maynard, had the sea’s wisdom in his gray eyes….
“Been yarnin’ with young Davidson?” asked Captain Maynard.
“Not so much yarning,” said Jane. “He’s a very quiet chap.”
“He’s a very good sailor,” said Maynard, “‘n’ ye don’t see so many these days. All the smart young fellers go in for engineerin’ or somethin’, or if they go to sea they head straight for a steamer’s bridge. Davidson’s a reg’lar deep-water man. He’ll be second mate this trip.
The two walked aft again and down into the cabin. “Watch your head!” the skipper sang out in the companionway, and Jane ducked just in time to avoid a shining brass clock. The small chartroom and library, which also served as a living-room, had a pleasant mixed smell of varnish, tar, lumber, and pipe smoke. It was paneled in golden-brown maple. Here and there on the walls were gimbals of well-polished brass, for lamps. The room was lighted during the day by the skylight, under which a compass hung. “See that? Wal, that’s how I keep track of all them absent-minded young greenhorns that steer her. Same’s if I was lookin’ right into the binnacle over their shoulders. Got another o’ them telltales at the head o’ my bed.”
The bookshelves held an odd assortment of pipes, modern fiction, navigation books, and tightly rolled charts. “Well, you’re fixed up here in great style, captain.” He chose a pipe from the shelf, and carefully packed it. Then, settled down in a leather armchair, he answered her:
“Oh, ’tain’t so bad, but a’mighty lonely at times. This goin’ t’ sea” — he shook his head sagely — “ain’t nothin’ in it. What would you be a-thinkin’, now, Miss Jane, with tons o’ green sea a-smashin’ down into this cabin, and you achin’ for a wink o’ sleep, but couldn’t stay in your bunk? Can’t have flyin’-fish weather all the time,” he added.
“Well,” Jane put in, “people don’t have to go to sea.”
He chuckled. “You wouldn’t think they would,” he agreed. “We sailors are a stupid lot. Everybody says so, ‘n’ I guess it’s so. Y’know, many’s the time I been workin’ ashore, ‘n’ bound I’d stay there. Why, one time I went out to a ranch in Montana — thought I’d git off from the wharves, the sight ‘n’ smell o’ the shipping — fur away’s I could git.” He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head again. “Well, the joke was on me. Less’n a year, and I was headin’ for ‘Frisco fast as I could go.”
“You wouldn’t make a good cow-puncher,” said Jane. “Anyway, it seems to me that whatever you’re doing, there’s always a lot of discontentment thrown in. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any adventures, would there? Captain Maynard, do you know that just coming aboard this schooner today, and talking with you, is the grandest adventure I’ve ever had?”
He smiled, delighted but a trifle bewildered, and still in serious mood. “Y’know, it’s almighty queer, this business o’ stickin’ to the sea. They jist can’t git away from it. They hate it ‘n’ cuss it and ‘d give a lot to set up a barber shop or run a chicken-farm or somethin’, but leave it they can’t. Or if they do, back they come in a little while. Get in their blood for good’n all, I reckon. Well, it’s all right fer an old feller like me. I got my ship, and I’m a bit of a philosophy, if you know what I mean. I’m contented enough now. Got over all the rearin’ and cussin’. But take a young chap like that Davidson, or lots of others, they hadn’t oughter be here a-reefin’ sails. They’d oughter by tryin’ fer a steamer job if they’re bound to go to sea. Because, Miss Jane, there ain’t no more ships to speak of, now.” He spoke with deep wistfulness.
“Have you ever been in a steamship, Captain Maynard?”
“No, I ain’t never been in one; I don’t reckon I will, neither. I got my ship, and I ain’t a-goin’ to live such a whale of a lot longer, so I’m all fixed. But a young feller’s different. I reckon as he’d oughter get an eddication, ye know. ‘Cause ye can’t git nowhere without it, these days. Men ain’t what they used to be. No wonder — ain’t nothin’ fer ’em to do. Sailors ain’t what they used to be. Well, I’m askin’ ye, is that any wonder? But there — things change, that’s all. Nobody can’t say if it’s worse or better. But I mind me o’ the old deep-sea ships at times, and wish they was back in style. That was a rotten hard life, Miss Jane — nothin’ at all to be said fer it, ye wouldn’t think — but there was somethin’ about it — I dunno.” He pointed over to the cabin wall, at the picture of a full-rigger tearing before a hammering sea. “See her? Lovely, ain’t she? Well, she was my first command, Jane, more’n twenty year ago — my first command.”
Jane sighed. “I never before wished so much I were a man,” she said. “Yes, I’d go to sea tomorrow.”
And then a bell rang from the messroom. “Come have a bite of lunch,” said the captain. “Then I reckon we’ll both be better off for deciding what’s wrong wi’ the old universe.” The messroom was small and cheerful, the table spread with a red-checked cloth, and the usual bright array of little bottles and shakers in one corner. “Ain’t nobody aboard but us,” said the skipper. “Mate gone off on some ‘social function’ or other; that’s what he calls ’em. Second mate paid off last night.”
The cook waited on the two of them efficiently and smilingly, if not gracefully. It was regal. “How’s that pepper-sass comin’ along, steward?” the skipper enquired.
“Well, sir, I shook it up good an’ plenty. Oughter have some spice to it.”
“That’s jest about the most — most unexpressive pepper-sass I ever did see,” the captain observed, shaking it vigorously over a plate of beans. “An’ I been goin’ t’ sea for forty-five year.”
“You said fifty-five, last time.” The voice came from behind Jane. She started, and turned her head. A stout man with scant gray hair, a large cold grin, and blue cold eyes, was standing in the doorway.
“Hello! There’s my mate,” said Captain Maynard. “Back from your social functions, eh, Stevens?”
“Don’t you see I am?” said Stevens, with the same inscrutable grin.
The captain ignored the retort. “This young lady,” he explained, “come aboard this morning to see my li’l old Annie. She thinks Annie‘s about the best ship she ever saw.”
“I guess she hasn’t seen many, then,” said Stevens, grinning still more broadly. Jane began to understand him now. The purpose of the grin was to allow him to say ironical things and get by with them by making them appear genial. A clever dodge. He was doubtless the sort of taciturn person who liked to make every word do double or triple duty. He would have that cruel knack of demolishing an argument, distorting the whole point of a story, by a few well-directed words. Yet he would do it with a smile, and there would be no satisfactory retort.
“Don’t you like the ship yourself?” she ventured.
He thought a moment. This was a delicate question — mustn’t commit himself in any direction. “Well, yes — and — no,” he said slowly, with pauses between the words. Then he withdrew his immense frame out of the doorway, and Jane and Captain Maynard exchanged a smile.
After lunch, they went on deck again. Jane was too happy. It was dangerous. It was more than happiness. It was wild and feverish. She felt that she could not hold her own heart any longer. It had become too light. There was golden mist around her, and she could not feel the deck under her feet.
Captain Maynard was glancing aloft. “Well, Miss Jane,” he said, “s’posin’ I was to tell you to run up there — to loose them topsails, maybe; think you could do it?”
The challenge, unconscious on his part, came at the nick of time. To Jane, already walking on high clouds, the ratlines and shrouds of the schooner’s rigging looked very solid. “Sure I could!” she sang out, and was over the bulwarks with two long strides.
“Hey! I didn’t mean that!” he called, startled.
She waited tremulously, one hand on the shrouds. Her neatly arranged brown hair was loosening in the wind. “Can’t I, Captain?” she pleaded.
“Well, go ahead, go ahead. But hold hard and watch yourself.”
She looked upward, and saw the clouds rolling past over the tops of the four tall masts. It gave a curious illusion of speed, as if the ship herself were rushing on against the wind. The tense wire shrouds thrilled in her hands. Ratline after ratline she climbed into the wind, with the sensation of entering the upper reaches of a cloud-swept hall of sky. She kept her eyes upward, and saw the trucks of the masts coming closer; but once she looked off to the east, and caught a fragmentary glimpse of New York pinnacles and turrets. She was climbing out where they could not reach her. She did not even stop to draw breath until she had pulled herself on to those white slender crosstrees, that had looked from below so insignificant and perilous. She trembled with excitement; her heart was pounding. She closed her eyes, to shut out that swift illusion the clouds gave. Dizzying even to think about it. The stalwart base of the topmast was a welcome friend, after a trip up a ladder through far reaches of space. She put both arms around it, and leaned her cheek against the weathered varnish, and held tight, while a great river of wind fell past her.
When she found breath again, she looked into the sky through a crowd of lines, and saw gulls veering and calling. She waved to them. She was on equal terms with them now, and their white wings. Perspective had altered weirdly. It was hard to believe that the toy hull she looked down upon could support these colossal masts. The cook, standing outside the galley with his apron on, craning his neck to look approvingly upwards, was an absurd little figure. She waved to him, laughing.
When she came down, she was nearly blind with excitement. “Well, well, you are a sailor for sure,” said Captain Maynard.
She had hoped he would say just that. But she could not speak. Every fiber of her body still vibrated to the speed of the clouds, the supreme beauty of that schooner’s rigging. “I love this ship — I love her,” was all she could find to say.
The old man understood that. “To tell you the plain truth, I do myself,” he said. “If I go away from her, jest for a day or two, I begin to feel homesick right away.” He chuckled. “Want to go down and wash?” he asked, glancing at her coal-black hands. They strolled toward the companionway. “How would you like to be up aloft there with a Cape Horn gale for comp’ny, ‘stead o’ them little gulls, when the wind was like a wild demon to shake you off? Sails splittin’ like thunderbolts, sleet and hail peltin’ you like lumps o’ broken glass, and the whole sea black-green?” They were settled once more in the cabin. “Yes, the sea’s a cruel ol’ mistress, sometimes, Jane. But — git out in the South Pacific trades, with them little flyin’-fish a-flitterin’, an’ the sun on their little wings; or take it at night, moon on the sails, an’ everything so quiet an’ peaceful like, seems like you kin hear the ol’ earth a-spinnin’ — seems like you could see God.”
“Oh, Captain, there’s nothing in the world I want so much!” Jane exclaimed. “If only I could sail with you! I’d give up all the rest of my life, and die happy!”
The wire shrouds vibrated in her hands, the clouds tore past, New York was a lost inferno, staring upwards at its escaping prey. White friendly wings brushed by. She was excited and stirred beyond endurance. He looked in astonishment at the great fire of longing in her eyes, and wondered at the strain of desperation in her young voice. “Why, bless your heart,” he said slowly. “I’d no idea, Miss Jane! Why, come along, to be sure! Glad to have ye go along with me!”
She leaped to her feet, like a wild bird breaking into flight. “You don’t — really — mean it, Captain Maynard!” She was challenging him.
“Why, to be sure I mean it,” he said gently. “To be sure I do!”
Barbara began to formulate her imaginary world of Farksolia when she was a few months shy of nine years old—shortly before she began to write her first novel, “A House Without Windows.” She worked on Farksolia for several years, developing the language of Farksoo with its extensive vocabulary and mysterious alphabet.
Barbara described her new world in an essay (undated, but probably when she was nine, in 1923). Excerpts of the essay appeared in Harold McCurdy’s “Barbara: The Unconcious Autobiography of a Child Genius,” but I thought I’d transcribe the whole thing. Here’s the first part.
FARKSOLIA, THE FARKSOLIANS, AND THEIR DETAILS
Farksolia is a separate planet from the earth, and much more interesting. The planet is about twice the size of the earth, and the Farksolians are about twice as highly developed as we are. Or, at least, they were. The Farksolians all agreed, in almost everything. They were all vegetarians, and above anything else they all agreed to live in one big city so that the surrounding landscape would not be spoilt by houses. So that they did, all except a few of the poorer folks. Sheheritzade is the name of the city where they lived. There were eleven queens over Farksolia and all of them were great people. But those queens are grouped in two classes, the queens before Atee, and the queens after Atee. These two groups were of entirely different dispositions. The queens before Atee had their minds always on the goodness of the people, rules that would make them better, and though they all loved ruling and making rules, they all loved beauty also. They could never quite make the people good enough or kind enough and always they tried to make the people as beautiful as the woodlands around the forest, and tried to make the people love these woodlands, and also they tried to make the people love the sea and swim and bathe in it, and rejoice that they were alive. All this the queens before Atee tried to make the people do and be.
Then after Atee all was changed. This was during the Farksolian war and so of course all was changed. Queens Lazade, Herazade, Chrysothemis and Perizade were always urging the warriors on. Such brave men, and such handsome men! They fought hard with the friends of Queen Atee long after Queen Atee had herself passed. But I cannot go on talking about wars and warriors without explaining what it was all about. Queen Atee, the seventh, was chosen because of her beauty, but when she got to ruling the people all decided she was too fierce, turned on the people who had chosen her, and Queen Atee, herself and friends, and she had many friends. But after the war had passed, the people had overcome Atee, they found themselves extinguished greatly. In fact there were only two families living, with one queen, Perizade, the last. Then Perizade died, and that ended that. The people were sorry that they had gone at Queen Atee at all, and had a hard time struggling along. One family now has a little boy about six years old, and the other family a little girl, about six months. I hope and I want a lot of people to hope with me that the two children may marry and breed the race again. Here is the order of the eleven great queens: Bruwanderine, Lacee, Ibirio, Flitterveen, Rooeetu, Liassa, Atee, Lazade, Herazade, Chrysothemis, Perizade.
During the reign of Bruwanderine the people were a little lower in life than we are now, but they developed much faster than we did and during the reign of Liassa, the sixth, they looked back on themselves as savages. Then they were quite a little higher than we are now. They loved the sea (I will tell about the sea, presently) and they had wonderfully developed body organs. The most marvellous thing about the organs is the way the nose is developed. They can hold the breath for ten minutes, and of course they are wonderful swimmers and divers. Sometimes they can breathe slightly under water, and the wonderful nostrils can deliver to the lungs the small amount of air under water, only it is very rarely that a Farksolian is found with a nose quite so highly developed. If one of them breathed in about two lungfuls of salt water the body would sink. Now if the body was quickly pulled out of the water the Farksolian would be unconscious for about half an hour. But if the body was left in the water the Farksolian would drown. They are built much more strongly than we are and are prepared for much more serious work during their long life. They marry much younger than we ought to, sometimes as young as twelve or thirteen, but more commonly sixteen or seventeen. If we married so young we probably would be very weak and unable to take care of a family. But the Farksolians marrying at sixteen or seventeen are much better wives or husbands than we are if we marry at twenty-nine or thirty. If they marry at about twelve or thirteen, they are as good as we are marrying at twenty.
Now about the sea mentioned above. It is about two thousand miles from Sheheritzade, and the sea itself is about twice the size of the Pacific Ocean. It is a wonderful sea, oh a wonderful sea, and when the sun dances on it it shows up wonderful colours, blues and greens and golds. The sand on the beaches is fine and very white indeed. This sand will show off anything that is swept up on it by the waves, and makes a beautiful background for things that look trashy on our yellow sand. In this sea are very beautiful little fishes marked with alternative bands of blue and gold.
On the other side of this magnificent sea there is a huge plain which extends all along the shore of the sea. There are about two inhabited houses on the plain and about one uninhabited house. Over this marvellous plain run strange, brown little wild animals. Over this plain fly beautifully and gloriously birds with magnificent gaudy plumage. Over this plain fly butterflies with richly coloured wings. All the birds and butterflies on the plain are very beautifully coloured. Wonderful slotched [sic] of colour.
The Farksolians were great people for inventions. Almost every one of their thirty-six hour days they invented something. One of the most important days was when one invented the marvelous mail system that they had. In the middle of the city was an electric mail station. From it ran underground passages to each house in the city. The person that wished to send a letter or a message, writes it out, puts it in the passage, pushes an electric button, and off shoots the box through the passage, to the mail station. The man which receives the letter takes it out of the passage and sends it along the underground passage which leads to the house to whom the letter or package is addressed. In the mail system there is a great closet full of cabinets in which are piles of boxes, so that if one was lost it was easy to replace it, and at the station the men were manufacturing them all the time, for they were lost very often. The envelopes to the letters were very varied indeed. For letters containing valuable things the envelopes were sometimes of metal. Though this precaution was not necessary, considering the fact that none of the men at the mail station were cheats, for they were thoroughly tried out by the queen before they were allowed to go into the business. For notes containing less valuable things are made out of hard beautiful wood, and for notes containing hardly anything valuable the envelopes are made simply of the papery substance that the notes are written on.
The wires of the mail system run along the ground and people walking very often come upon little boxes running along the wires. You usually step over six or seven wires in a single step. The boxes are made of metal. In the winter, when the snow blocks up the passage of the boxes the wires are hoisted from the ground by means of poles.
Another important invention was that of the writing instrument, which, of course, came before the mail system. The invention of the writing instrument was like this: It was a hollow piece of wood sharpened down to a point, and filled with thick, green sap of a certain tree, which is used for ink. Up on the end of this pen that you hold there is a small rubber button, and to wet the sharpened end of the pen you press this button a little and the ink trickles down over the point by means of a little hole just above it. Then when the point gets dry again just press the button again. Sometimes these pens are made of metal but that is quite rare.
The snows of Farksolia have many peculiarities. To begin with snow cannot rest on the trees, and the reason for this is because the sap of the trees is unusually warm and the snow melts away from the warmth of it when it touches the branches through which the sap flows. Also the snow cannot rest under the trees for the outspreading branches throw down a great heat to the ground. Therefore the mountains look much greener in winter than they would otherwise though of course not as green as they do in summer. The leaves of the trees do not fall much in winter and this is another reason for making the trees greener in summer, and even then where they fall vines which grow green in winter twin around the trunks and limbs and take the place of the true leaves of the trees. Though on the great plain the snow level sometimes rises to twenty feet and the Farksolians from Sheheritzade start when the first snow falls and go across the great ocean to the plain in the same machine that they use for coming to the earth, for the sake of the snow. Then when the snows stop falling the Farksolians take a machine which they have hidden on the plain and fly back over the ocean to the city. This journey they can take in about two days.
The Farksolian trees are very peculiar, as I said before most of them are warm-sapped. Nature has planed quite definitely for a green winter. Then there is a special variety of warm-sapped tree and it is this that has the thick dark sap which is used for writing. Though, of course, it has to be cooled before it is used for that purpose. Then there is danger of getting it hard, and when this is done there are two ways to cure it. One is to heat it up and melt it, after which you have to be careful again, about not letting it get hard when it is cooled, and two is to put a bit of water in it, fresh water. Of course, this thins it out more or less, and it is then not so good for writing purposes. But when it is put in a vial with a tight metal cork it stays in the same condition. Then there is another kind of tree whose sap, after going through many processes serves as salt, being rather bitter. It is warm at first, then it is hardened and ground into fine powder. Then a certain food is dipped into it to be eaten.
The foot described is a plant with a stalk almost an inch in diameter. When it is peeled and appears on the food board, anybody would say, “This is the same old food,” and it does look much like celery. Then you dip it in the “salt” from the trees, bite into it, and instead of its being like celery as you supposed it has a funnel down the middle full of red sweet juice, delicious. One of the favorite foods in Farksolia was a fruit. The Farksolians loved fruit. One of the fruits, their favorite, was grown on a beautiful tree with pink and white blossoms, very delicate looking. Then in the fall the blossoms drop off and a beautiful fruit appeared in their place. At first they are green, then turn to a beautiful frosty colour. And the rind looks much like frost, for when you look at it carefully you see all sorts of delicate little patterns all worked in silver. Then when the silver rind is peeled carefully off it revealed silver pulp, and little boxes of the core which are filled with purple and red juices, of all flavors and all sweet. The silver rind is cooked and drunk. Then another food, is a rough brown nut which is very common in the district of Sheheritzade, with a white kernel very sweet. Something like our Brazil Nut. They have a fruit with a yellow soft rind, inside of which is the juiciest pulp of any other fruit. Then there also is a fruit in a green rind with a little pale hard stone, inside of which is a sweet white kernel.
Chapter IV, pp. 42-53. All typos mine. If you missed the beginning, it’s here.
Jane sang as she fried the eggs for breakfast. The world had suddenly changed from a drab, exhausted mud-puddle into a rainbow. She sang ridiculous songs. Why, even the eggs had changed! They were positively smiling now, instead of presenting a wrinkled scowl. Literally the weather was desolate, but that was to be expected on Monday. It was probably trying to deceive her into thinking yesterday was all a dream. But it couldn’t deceive her. A tingling sunburn was on her arms and face. There was no mistaking that, or the haunting vision of rigging and white clouds.
Millie’s voice drawled sleepily from the bed, with a yawn in the middle. “Why all the operatics, Janie?” she protested.
“I’ll tell you when you get up,” Jane caroled. “But I won’t confide in a lump of bedclothes…. Millie, you make me quite tired lying there under the bedclothes on such a grand day.”
“Grand day, you nut! ‘S raining cats and hot dogs!”
“Oh, it’s clearing up fast. Do get up, lazybones, and let me tell you about yesterday.”
“Why didn’t you tell me when I got in last night, if it’s so important, kitten? I can’t get up. I was working till three-thirty. Jeese, have a heart!”
“Oh, Millie, I’m not the same old flub-dub any more. I feel as if I could sleep in a buttercup bowl or any other little stunt like that. I feel ten thousand years younger.”
“Gee, Grandma, you must feel prehistoric. What’s up? Fallen in love?”
“That’s exactly it,” said Jane. In love, yes — with a ship.”
“You heard me.”
“Janie — now listen here — you crazy, insane — ”
“I’m sailing in her. Never was saner in my life.”
“It’s all arranged,” Jane went on gaily. “Mary’s going to take over my share of this little joint, when she gets a job. I’m going to pay a month’s rent in advance, so nobody’ll get stuck.”
“Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute. What is all this? S’pose I don’t want to bunk in with that little lame cat? And when did you get all this doped out, anyways? Jeese, kitten, I didn’t know you could move that fast. What’s the big idea?”
“I’m only following your precious advice,” Jane said. “I’m going to visit my lions. I wouldn’t be surprised if I turned into a lioness, would you?”
“Not a bit! But come across with the story, can’t you? When are you going?”
“About a week.”
Jane frowned — wanted to laugh, but was too overwhelmed. “I don’t know,” she said.
The other girl whistled sharply.
“You seem to be rather less sleepy now,” Jane remarked.
“Gawd, I think I’m sound asleep and having nightmares. What is all this you’re trying to hand me?”
“It’s straight goods,” said Jane. “I forgot to ask.” After all, she thought to herself, it was not so surprising. In the hilarity of the adventure, facts simply did not exist. The destination of the Annie Marlow was a mere earthly detail, of no consequence. Whether she were bound for tropic waters of peacock blue, or for the iceberg-haunted seas off Greenland, mattered not at all. An adventure like this had to be taken one fragment at a time. They were to be outward bound in a week or so; that was enough.
It was futile even to try explaining any of this to Millie, of course. Millie had simply abandoned the whole subject, as something out of which it was impossible to form a connected sequence which an intelligent and rational being could comprehend. “I don’t suppose you happen to know, by any chance, when you’re coming back, do you, lioness?”
“Of course not,” said Jane lightly. She heard Millie swallow hard, and added considerately: “Oh, next fall, probably.”
“What’ll all the busted backbones, bleeding hearts, etc., do?”
“Oh, you’ll look out for them.”
“Will I! They’d better look out for me!”
“They’re one of the things I’m taking a vacation from,” Jane explained.
“Yeah, and from your own brains, looks like. Out to bust your own backbone, huh?”
“That’s the idea. Don’t you want any breakfast?”
“Will you miss me, Mill?”
“Aw, nothin’ doin’ on the sentiment, kitten.”
Jane walked with an air of triumph, on her way to work. Daylight was ahead, above. She had made the first step to get out of the pit. The kindly grasp of old Captain Maynard’s strong hand, the wind-swept rigging of the schooner, the gray eyes of the sailor reading Conrad on the fo’c’sle deck, the quiet calling of the sea and far places — these were her weapons, and New York was swaying perilously on its false throne.
But another feeling was mingled with the bright swirl of her thoughts. A curious sense that she might really be going away forever, instead of a few weeks; that the sailing of the Annie Marlow out of the Hudson River would mark for her the beginning of more than the voyage itself, as though she were about to step into a new life, adventurous and unimaginably beautiful. “I’m going to be disillusioned, of course,” she told herself, with mixed sternness and sadness. “I’ll have to come back, and when I come back things will be much the same as now. But I won’t think about that.” Let the illusion persist, for it had beauty. Let it persist until cursed old civilization had driven it out, if it dared.
Instinctively as she walked, she clutched at fragile wings, perishable branches of iridescent trees, elusive shimmering fruit that a playful wind jerked from her, the jewels that the sun trailed across the sea. There was a small cold fear around her heart — fear of the return, fear of the dreams she had allowed herself to dream. “Maybe I can stay with the schooner indefinitely, on and on. (I’ll work. Captain Maynard shan’t complain that I’m a nuisance.) Maybe there’ll be other schooners.” Fragile wings, perishable branches of iridescent trees….
It should be satisfying to think no further than the immediate adventure. But no one with a sane mind could always do that, Jane thought. You had to look ahead. Hers was a bothersome sort of mind. It often got in her way, poking too far into the future, where it had no business…. Now she was off on another train of thought. Her old and must futile question: what did life mean? What was it for? Once she had believed it was for happiness. But happiness was as ethereal as the colors on a bubble, the powder on a butterfly’s wing. Often if you looked it square between the eyes, it was gone. It could not stand your gaze. Surely there was something brighter and firmer to hold. Beauty? That was what they called it, said Jane, for want of a better word. The thought annoyed her, for it savored of cosmetics and manicure parlors. Movie stars, too. Some time, when there was leisure and peace and the sea, she might invent a new word. This one was frazzled and worn out…. She rammed herself into a downtown subway….
At about the same time that morning, on the deck of his schooner, Captain Maynard was talking with Mr. Stevens, who had paused in his supervision of the stevedores long enough for a smoke. The schooner was now tied up at the lumber company’s dock, and was unloading her cargo of Nova Scotia spruce. The captain was happy. He had been pacing the poop that morning with a light tread. He felt almost like a young man. Jane’s visit aboard, her headlong love for the ship, and her “romantic notions,” had made him laugh to himself more than he had done many a year. He was keenly looking forward to having her sail with him, and as he walked his deck, with an air of prideful possession of his schooner, he pictured to himself how intense her delight would be at the bright blue mornings and soft nights with moonlight on the great sails.
“And then, Stevens,” he recounted, “she throwed her arms up and said if only she could come along of us she’d die happy. Well, I ain’t made o’ steel.”
“So she’s coming, eh?” Stevens appeared none too well pleased, but his face was imperturbable. “Seasick females!” he muttered.
“Stevens, d’you believe in that there old yarn ’bout it bein’ bad luck to have women aboard of a vessel?”
All questions of this nature Mr. Stevens answered with caution. He said he took no stock in any old superstition whatsoever, and followed this announcement by recounting a tale in which a woman had brought exceedingly bad luck upon a vessel.
“Bad luck or good luck, she’s coming,” said Captain Maynard. “And I don’t mind sayin’ as I’m glad of it. Don’t often have comp’ny, Stevens.”
“Passengers are a damn nuisance, Cap’n. But I’m not saying anything, you understand. I never saw a woman yet aboard of a vessel that didn’t get into hot water o’ one kind or another. But I’m not saying anything.” He continued to say nothing for a fairly long time.
The captain was annoyed. “This gal ain’t goin’ to get in no hot water,” he said, with a little curtness. “‘N’ if she’s seasick that ain’t your fun’ral, is it?”
“No,” Stevens admitted, “that’s between her and the fishes, Captain.”
“‘Sides, I’ve a fondness for Miss Jane,” the skipper went on. “She brung to mind my own daughter — poor little girl.”
“Was she the one that died, Cap’n?”
“She was the only one,” the old man said, with reverence. “Born at sea, lived at sea, died at sea — poor little girl.”
“Well, Cap’n,” the mate morosely answered, “I don’t know about being born, but lots of us live at sea, and expect to die at sea.”
Jane was walking into Professor Myers’ office. It occurred to her that she would have to tell him. He would be surprised, and perhaps such short notice wasn’t fair. But fate had taken it out of her control. She would have to tell him, that was all. He would be concerned, too, when his questioning disclosed that she did not even know where the ship was going. He was fatherly and conservative.
“Good morning, Miss Carey, good morning.” He had not changed; he never would. Subconsciously she had expected him to share the radiance of her own heart, and it disturbed her a little that he did not. Wasn’t her adventure written plain as print upon her face?… “Allen has cornered a brand-new cricket,” he announced. “South Seas. Quite a beauty.” (That elusive word again.)
“Well, I’m glad he’s cornered something at last.”
The old man chuckled. He had a good spirit of fun. “I imagine the Foundation was beginning to wonder what on earth he was doing with his time and their money.”
Jane had often wondered how it happened that some foundations were so eager about latest styles in crickets. She had never solved the puzzle. But just now there was something of far more importance to talk about, and it was hard to begin. She plunged bravely. It ought to be done before the two other members of the staff arrived.
“Professor Myers, I’m going away.” It sounded brusque, and now she wished she had said it differently.
He took off his glasses and looked up quickly, but otherwise betrayed not a quiver of surprise. His life had not been without adventure. There had been scientific expeditions into the recesses of the Malay Peninsula. He had very nearly been poisoned once, for the Malay gods were not altogether friendly. He had faced a typhoon in the China Sea. Tigers he had met, on one or two occasions, face to face in the wilds of Burma. He had learned how to encounter the cataclysmal, and keep his face as passive as any Oriental’s.
“Away, Miss Carey? Tired of this little dry, scientific place of mine?”
“No — tired of New York, that’s all. I’m sure you can understand that!” She paused, smiling, and he nodded encouragingly. Her words sounded stilted and uneven. Her forearms glowed with sunburn, and the sound of wind about a schooner’s rigging haunted her. “I’m afraid I haven’t exactly played fair,” she went on bravely. “I’m leaving in about a week. You see, I didn’t even know until yesterday.”
“Going traveling, Miss Carey?” Characteristically, he never commented on the shortness of the notice at all.
Her eyes shone, but she merely nodded her head. She didn’t want him to question her too closely. It would sound idiotic to say: “No, I don’t know where. I forgot to ask.” Although, if the worst came to the worst, she could invent a destination for the Annie Marlow. Let’s see… No, every port of call that occurred to her sounded absurd. A dream ship bound for nowhere…. Professor Myers crashed in again.
“Well, traveling is great experience, any way you look at it, Miss Carey, whether it’s beetles you’re after, or original Old Masters, or just a glimpse of life. Broadens the outlook. May we expect you back?”
In spite of his naturalness she was troubled. “I don’t know just how long — Perhaps you’d better not count on me, Professor Myers.” She felt, indeed, as little to be counted on as though she were bound for the moon or one of the planets.
He smiled reassuringly. “Well, here’s a word of advice from a seasoned old traveler. Don’t do too much work or studying while you’re abroad. My entomology almost ruined my good times.” He was talking in a confidential tone, with a sly smile which, from him, was startling. “Tourist third cabins are fine in the Cunarders, but the food’s best on the new German boats. Trust the Germans for a square meal every time.”
Jane visualized the schooner’s little messroom, its red-checked tablecloth, and the captain’s bottle of “unexpressive” pepper-sauce.
“Well, I certainly hope you enjoy yourself, Miss Carey. And I also hope to see you back here some day.” He began groping patiently about his desk. “By the way,” he said, “have you seen my glasses, by any chance?”
That day Jane’s work was done unconsciously and mechanically. Some kindly god of chance kept her fingers from writing, on the big typewriter, curious sentences which were burlesques of the ones Professor Myers had painstakingly dictated to her. She wanted to mingle a nautical flavor with the entomological atmosphere of his letters. “The peak-halliards of your new cricket are doubtless spliced differently from those of any other which I have examined through the sextant…. I see her little white ghost now, risin’ out o’ the sea. It is orthopterous and saltatorial. She would do anything but talk; but, having modified fore wings, makes a low humming sound by rubbing them together.”
The two other members of the staff came in later. There was a sallow-faced young man who did the dustiest of the classifying and arranging of specimens; and a tight-set woman of indeterminate age, who attended to — well, it was never altogether clear what she did attend to. She was a trig but unattractive little person, whom you could never catch napping. She irritated Jane sometimes by her air of knowing a great deal which she would never under any circumstances divulge, and of being perpetually very busy. Miss Perry prided herself on her knowledge and practice of modern business efficiency, although Jane suspected that Miss Perry’s efficiency was no better than it should be. Her manner was nearly always cold and detached. She had a reputation for coldness, in fact. And in this she gloried.
Jane had never thought much about her until today. She had been too preoccupied in her own first job. But now, with the secret knowledge of sudden release, she could glance in a more leisurely way over the long carriage of her typewriter, and see what was going on. No wonder Miss Perry was slightly inhuman! Jane felt a wave of compassion for her. Why, she had been right there, behind that very desk, for some nine years. Would she ever be anywhere else? It was not likely now. Did a sense ever sweep over her of the utter futility of all this small toil? And if it did — well, no wonder then that she gloried in her detached manner, her little coldnesses. They were all she had.
A vision of lofty rigging obscured Miss Perry. Lines leading aloft, slender and poised, free of perspiration and money, created to a purpose and a beauty. Perhaps the loveliest happening of the afternoon had been the seagulls, so close and seemingly so friendly. She and they had understood each other, and flown on intimate terms. Glorious white wings brushing by, in the sunlight….
“I’m going away, Miss Perry,” said Jane. “In about a week. I’ve told Professor Myers. And by the way, I know a simply corking girl who could come in right away if you’d like to have her. Mary Rogers, a friend of mine.”
Miss Perry looked up from her broad ledgers, and it seemed that her eyes, of an indefinite blue, were friendly. She had hired a great many stenographers from right there behind that desk. She had dismissed some of them with equal imperturbability. Jane was merely one of them. But the indefinite eyes were friendly. She nodded.
“Yes, send Miss Rogers in. You look very happy. Glad to be getting out, I suppose.”
No need of dissimulation, Jane realized with relief. “Well, I am,” she answered as frankly. The gulls’ wings brushed by. “I’m going on a sea voyage, Miss Perry. It’s been a dream for a long time, though I didn’t realize it. Now it’s suddenly come true.” She watched the other’s eyes closely, but they were inscrutable. Had she said too much? Were dreams banned from conversations with Miss Perry? Did she indeed believe in dreams at all? It was doubtful.
“Dreams,” said Miss Perry slowly, “are half one’s life, and the most important half. Take them away and — what have you?”
Jane could only nod in reply. Miss Perry went on, in her noncommittal voice. “It isn’t so much whether they come true, either, because in a way a dream is true if you have it.”
And this was the crass little materialist in her rut! Strangely, it was Jane who said: “They’re so much more satisfactory if they do come actually true, realistically true.”
“I doubt it,” Miss Perry said with conviction. “Often I think it’s better if they don’t. Because the reality is never as good as the anticipation. Not by a long shot.”
“Never?” Jane protested. She felt herself on unfirm ground: Miss Perry seemed to know all about dreams.
“I don’t know about ‘never.’ All I know — and you may not believe it — is that I had one once myself.” She smiled. Jane was sorry for her — liked her, all of a sudden.
The spell broke then. Miss Perry remembered her beloved reputation — impersonal, unaffectionate. Jane was a mere stenographer. Miss Perry settled down over the ledger with immense energy…. Jane’s seagull wings flashed against the rays of a friendly sun.
It was noon. Jane stood on the steps of the building, uncertain whether to go east or west. Nothing much in either direction, for that matter. As she stood undecided, she glanced down at her very sober gray dress, her calm black shoes. That dress was utterly impossible, all of a sudden. There was no use even considering it. How on earth had she ever got into that thing this morning? For the most part she was not concerned with clothes, but the drabness of this was more than she could bear. She hurried off down the street, longing to get rid of it — bury it somewhere, cast it off forever.
All out of breath, she hustled into the nearest store. “I want a red skirt,” she announced. “Right away, if you want to save my life.”
The salesgirl looked at her in cool amazement. “Red, miss? I’m afraid we have nothing in red today. How about this little navy blue one, or a beige? These are the very newest tints.”
“Newest or oldest,” said Jane, “red I must have. Why do you talk fashion when my soul pines for red?”
That was New York. Prating of newest tints. No wonder people were melancholy, in the clothes that prevailed this season. Like being in mourning. As though a little gaiety were against the rules.
In the next store an old lady with white hair waited on her. “A red skirt, my dear? Why yes, of course. Here you are. This russet is very smart, my dear.”
“Is that the reddest you have?” Jane asked, with great irony.
It was. She fled.
At last, in an obscure little place on a dingy street, she unearthed a blazing creation with a flare and a general cockiness that won her.
“And a blouse, too,” she commanded. “Some soft little white thing. With ruffles. Yes, ruffles,” she repeated, sternly.
When she walked out she left the dress of gray tweed behind as a present to the astounded salesgirl. It was a symbolic gesture which stood for the denial of New York’s hold on her. She was climbing into space on the mesh of a schooner’s rigging.
The Annie Marlow glided ahead evenly, obedient to the small snorting tug that was taking her down-river. Gulls veered around her, as if they were glad she was outward bound. They would escort her gracefully down to the open sea. The wake glimmered with their wings, flashing gray and white, beating strongly and softly, in a shifting, weaving crowd. Their yellow beaks glinted now and then, and their cries surrounded the ship. She herself was light-footed as she walked on the waves of the broad Hudson, as she swung down between the wharves and immense bright liners on either side of her. She was quite willing to follow the tug wherever it might be taking her, but, in spite of her patience, she was only waiting to show her own free strength, when they would give her sail and she would forge lightly ahead alone.
“It’s a sweet day,” said Captain Maynard, surveying the vault of sky like one who knew its whims and weaknesses. “And there’d ought to be a fair breeze once we get outside, Mr. Stevens.”
The mate nodded. He was pacing the poop deck slowly, keeping an eye on the tug ahead. “You can’t tell, though. It’s likely enough to baffle all round the compass and then leave you flat becalmed. Or, it might last for days.” He never committed himself with the breezes. His own personal opinion was doubtless quite definite, but he would never divulge it. No one should claim that he was wrong in his judgment of a piece of weather.
Jane stood in a corner of the deck with her hair blowing. She saw that the sky was blue and white and windswept, and the sun gleamed upon gaudy smokestacks of big passenger ships. The gulls feathered back and forth astern, a soft cloud of wings. Beauty — that was what the whole world was starving for, and she had found it…. She closed her eyes in rapture, and the young wind played with her hair.
The river broadened out. Mammoth turrets and pinnacles arose tumultuously astern, the skyline of the city. Jane had seen that skyline before, and she knew its grandeur. But she gave the receding city only a couple of swift glances — glances in which there was a touch of fear that the roaring monster might snatch her back before escape was complete.
Captain Maynard, eyeing the wind, called out through a megaphone to the stalwart tug ahead. Jane heard the answer come back faintly: “All right!” And then, the skipper’s voice again: “Start your engine, Mr. Davidson! Mains’l up, boys!”
There was a rumbling up forward, and the whole schooner began to tremble as if she were profoundly excited, as if her heart were pulsing. There were creaks and rattles, sounds of wood and hemp and canvas. The schooner was shaking herself hard. And the mainsail, like an immense white wing, lifted before Jane’s eyes — crept up the mast one hoop after another. It rippled and billowed like grass on a windy mountain top. Straining and aspiring, it came to rest at last, and as the sailors close-hauled, it filled with wind and curved outward, lifting. The schooner stepped faster, and the tow-rope slackened ahead now and then.
To Jane this setting of the Annie Marlow‘s mainsail meant far more than the beginning of this particular voyage. She knew that nothing would ever be quite the same again, after she had stood on deck and watched great sails rise over her, and felt the tremulous shaking of the ship, impatient to be off into the waiting sea. She would be living in a dream after this, and her steps along New York pavements would be light as falling snow. She would move in a world of shapes and silences, things done automatically without thought. There would be strange little Miss Perry who believed in dreams; and Professor Myers, calm and fatherly, searching for his glasses. Bob and Ellen would doubtless quarrel again. She would glide among them, helpfully and not unhappily, and listen to voices of seagulls, and feel a schooner tremble beneath rising, yearning wings.
As the foresail, mizzen, and jibs followed the mainsail, finally the spanker, and the topsails, four small peaks aloft, the Annie gathered way and forged ahead with a louder chuckling and knocking of waters beneath her breast. She swung along almost airily, leaning a little on her side, every sail drawing well, jibboom pointing arrow-like into an eternity of sea. The tow-rope was very slack now. Much to the captain’s delight, his schooner was gaining on the squat black tug ahead; gaining on her, surging up alongside her, with ivory castles at her bow.
“We’ll manage now!” the captain shouted.
The line was let go. “O. K., Maynard!” The tugmaster leaned out of his small wheelhouse, spat genially, and signaled to his engine-room. “Good luck!” he sang out. The Celia became a receding black blot astern; the schooner, tall and slender and bird-like, settled down alone to the long sapphire trail under the noonday sun.
Jane felt an irresistible sleepiness. She was completely at home here. There was serenity in the swinging gait of the schooner, the sounds from her hull as she rolled a little to the incoming swell. She tossed up her bowsprit, and stepped gaily ahead, with now and then a whiff of spray that was white and ethereal and part of the whole dream. Jane sat down on the saddle of the spanker boom, and planted her back against the mast. It was something substantial and trustworthy to rest upon.
It had been a long, hard week for her. Swamped with the immensity of her secret, throbbing with its excitement, and always dogged by vague fear that something might still prevent her embarking — with all this, which was in itself as much as she wanted to bear, she had to keep pounding away at the office grind, unslackening. She had to finish up odds and ends of work. There were questions to be intelligently answered. She had to help Mary get started. Mary’s job with Bob’s father had not materialized after all, so she was taking Jane’s place with Professor Myers. Jane found it unimaginably hard to be serene and polite to everyone, about multitudinous details which she secretly scorned. She was conscious of a desire to say: “Shut up! I’m thinking,” and one day she had narrowly escaped saying to Professor Myers: “Oh, darn your old glasses!” But she had carried through without a single serious slip, and the strain had been overwhelming.
Leaning against the mast, she closed her eyes, and still saw only a restless shimmering horde of seagull wings. Her entire world was ceaselessly in motion — swells; horizon, which waved up and down like a blue flag; the schooner herself; the sun-trail on the water. The world had become a gigantic cradle. The wind was singing. And before very long the Annie Marlow had rocked Jane off to sleep, free of the pavements, free of money and perspiration, like the ascending taut lines themselves.
The captain found her there when he went down to lunch, and said to his cook: “Steward, I reckon as Miss Jane won’t be comin’.” The steward smiled knowingly, and his smile plainly said: “Something’s up ‘tween her ‘n’ the fishes, eh?” But, being a tactful steward, he said nothing.
Jane awoke with a little start, not knowing just where she was. The schooner’s great mast was behind her, and she felt an increased swaying, for the land was out of sight now, every last vestige of it. The sun blazed low in the west, a great smoky orange globe behind a film of cloud; and the sea shone translucent silver-blue, traced with darker shadows and lighter streams. The breeze was not so fresh, but the sails were still curved and steady. The sound of water at the ship’s bow had changed to a faint murmur. Jane felt alone in the very center of the universe, which was nothing but sea.
Then a single disturbing though occurred to her. She had not the faintest idea where the Annie Marlow was bound. She had simply forgotten to ask, that was all. At times during the week it came upon her forcibly that she must find out at once, but that week had been frantically busy. She had been to the schooner once, in the evening, to find out for sure when they were sailing. Everyone had seemed busy, and she had put off asking the question. There was too much else to think about. She was surprised at herself, and very much amused. It was all part of the adventure, dream-like and unearthly. The ship might be sailing off the edge of the map; quite likely that was it.
Mr. Stevens, the portly first mate, strode the deck with heavy tread and stern gaze. He was in command, now. He kept his eye on the sea and the sails and the nonchalant helmsman, all at once. Nothing could escape him, by Jove! Like many short men — he was an inch or so shorter than Jane — he made the very most of what height he had by standing stiffly erect. His broad shoulders and pompous waist gave him a squat, square appearance, like a cider-jug.
Somehow, thought Jane, he didn’t look like a person of whom she could ask her question. “Mr. Stevens, will you kindly tell me where the ship is going?” It wouldn’t do. You could twist the words around a hundred ways, but you could not make them sound sane. Some time she would have a look at the logbook, if she could discover where it was kept. Maybe after a while she would hear someone mention in the natural course of conversation where they were going. But, after all, for now it didn’t matter very much. They were outward bound — enough for one day.
“Good evening, Mate,” Jane greeted him airily.
But his dignity was not to be trifled with. He drew himself up portentously, and looked at her with his cold eyes. “My name is Stevens,” he announced.
Jane considered an impertinent retort, but thought better of it. She climbed down on to the main deck, and strolled its length once or twice, looking up into the sails. They were arched and vaulted, and silent. They seemed to form part of some immense domed castle ceiling. In this silver-blue light that came just before sunset, they were purged of wear and tear and smudginess, and gleamed smoothly white. The ship was so still, except for the long slow swaying, that she seemed hardly to move at all.
Jane climbed the main rigging, on the windward side of the ship. The shrouds vibrated a little, from the straining of sails at the masts. They were living and tense. She climbed toward the sky on a gray mesh, and the marble slopes of the sails were her companions. As she climbed, the horizon broadened out a little, but it was all alike. The sea was almost imperceptibly heaving. You could not see where undulations began and ended, but they were there, because the schooner recognized them. Sometimes a suspicion of a silver ridge, scarcely more than a shadow, glided across — no more.
Even mountains, even woodland rivers, pine forests and moss and ferns, had never held for her such peace as this of the sea. It would rock to sleep all ambition, desire, grief, leaving only a great serenity, and a purpose of things. The ship, steering for one tiny but determined point in the quivering circle of the compass card; the great aloneness; the colossal importance, or the microscopic unimportance of her — these things twined themselves with a subtle possessing rhythm, into Jane’s heart. And she desired no more than this tremendous symphony of sound and feeling.
Clinging to the topmast, she sat on the crosstrees, and swung her feet almost jauntily over eighty feet of space. She looked down through graceful sweeps of sail, and up to the peaked topsails. The sun had slipped into the sea without so much as a single hiss, and the world was unbelievably still. A smear of color began to glow over the west, and there were limpid pools of blue-green in the sky, with cloud shapes between, and small rose feathers trailing languidly across the zenith.
No telephones here, or jazz bands, doorbells, phonographs, alarm-clocks, typewriter clickings, or the roar of subways and the “L.” It all had been cut clean out of the picture. Jane cried a little. It was too completely what she had longed for, and it had come before she was ready to believe in its reality. You couldn’t bear a piece of beauty like this. Beauty…. Now that she was away from the manicure parlors and hair-dressing shops, that word did not seem so pitiful. It was adequate, now. It was God. The topmast, warm from the afternoon sun, felt alive in the crook of her elbow. It was companionable and strong. Her shoulders trembled, and a few more tears fell through the height, to land in the lap of a sail.
In a way this escapade was the direct sequel of another. Vaguely she wondered, there on a level with the ship’s long gaffs, if Charlie ever thought of her any more. She had neither seen or heard of him since her wild dash from the church more than three years ago. Most likely his delicate sense of propriety had been profoundly shocked. Most likely he would be shocked all over again if he could know that she was at this moment sitting on the main crosstrees of a schooner whose destination she had had no proper chance to ask about. And she smiled to herself at that thought.
There was another person to be thanked for this adventure — Andrew, the old Scotch gardener, the one mortal in Jane’s home town who had sympathized with that frantic dash of hers. He was a quaint character, half of whose words she usually failed to understand, though she knew they were friendly. It was to his cottage that she had run from the church, two miles away, across fields. She had kicked off her white slippers and run barefoot, leaping fences and brooks, tearing through fringes of brush, holding off the ground her white dress with its lace so carefully stitched by one of Charlie’s innumerable aunts. During that run she had been conscious of almost hysterical happiness and relief, which refused to be dispelled by thoughts of uncomfortable consequences.
She reached Andrew’s place streaming with sweat and out of breath. At first she had not been able to find the old man; but his pet duck, Heather, was waddling across the back yard, with its perpetual ridiculous expression of good nature. “Andrew!” she called, in desperation.
And then his youngest son appeared, John, a lad of about Jane’s age, who had been her friend and playmate for years. He gazed at her wedding dress, and smiled slowly, approvingly.
“Well, I couldn’t do it, Johnny…. I just spread my wings — came sailing over fences…”
“I wish I could ha’ seen ye. Ye always did run grand, Jane.”
“Where’s your father? I want to talk it over with him.”
John said, with many r’s, that his father was somewhere about, but he didna ken just where. And then he glanced around the yard, and caught sight of Heather. “Why doon’t ye pin a note on the duck, Janie? If Heather’s aroond, Andra’s no far awa’.”
In his Ford truck, old Andrew drove her to Portland, where one of his married daughters lived. He demanded no explanation, and asked only one question — whether she had bolted just after the ceremony or just before it.
“It was a close squeak,” Jane had answered gravely; and Jane on the crosstrees of the schooner trembled.
He told her she was a “verra wise lass.”
“How so, Andrew?”
“Aweel, Jane, if tae rin awa’ was hoo ye lo’ed Charlie, ye sairtainly couldna be cantie wi’ him.”
She would never forget this simple approval. How much she had needed it! His daughter, too, had been unbelievably kind, lending her a little money with which to start her proposed fortune-hunting in New York, understanding her silence, asking no questions. She wrote to Andrew a good deal, asking how Heather was and how John was, thanking him for all he had done for her, and giving the latest news from New York. To these letters he replied that Heather was well and John was well, and he wasna much of a hand at writing, and they all wished her luck. Also, he usually said that he had pleaded with her father as well as he knew how, and hoped he would soon come around and act human about Jane’s escapade, but that right now he was determined to have nothing to do with his scapegrace daughter, ever again.
So Andrew had played his part in Jane’s sailing for unknown places in the Annie Marlow; and she thanked him again from the crosstrees and the sails and the great peace of the sea….
The bell for supper jangled loudly from below, crashing into the calm. Jane twisted herself and peered downward, and caught a glimpse of the cook on his way aft, carrying his big “dog-basket.” An aroma floated up, perhaps imaginary but very tantalizing, of baked ham, mingled with other undefinable scents. Carefully she lowered herself between the white arms of the crosstrees — a perilous moment, with the world gracefully swaying, before her feet rested on the ratlines again. Then down slowly on the stairway of the rigging, between tall sweeps and curves of sail.
Captain Maynard and Mr. Stevens were already at the table. “Feeling a little — ?” the captain began. But he stopped short, for obviously she wasn’t. “Well, well! You look as though you were enjoying yourself, Jane. Thought you might be turnin’ toes up afore now, maybe.”
“Oh, no! You see, there’s too precious little time for me to be wasting any of it.”
“Little, eh?” he retorted. “What d’you think o’ that, Stevens? She calls a two months’ v’yage little!”
“Huh!” Stevens commented, “she’ll think different before it’s over.”
“Not that it’d amount to so much afore them new-fangled steamboats ‘n’ sich got to swallerin’ the sea ‘n’ changin’ everyone’s notions,” the captain resumed. “In the old days we’d think nothin’ o’ seventy ‘n’ eighty days.” He interrupted himself to pour pepper-sauce generously into his soup, all the time shaking his head at the little bottle as if to say: “My, my, how can you be so unexpressive! Why, even pepper-sass ain’t what it used to be.”
There were no stars when Jane went on deck. The night was close and thick, and rounded sails leaned mouse-gray out of it. The only light was the coppery gleam from the binnacle lamp, which now and then touched the brown varnish of the big wheel, or sent up a ray to illuminate for an instant the helmsman’s youthful face. The man whistled softly from the midst of a pool of mingled flickerings and shadows.
At first Jane thought he was alone there. When her eyes became used to the dark she thought she discerned another figure in the stern on the windward side; but if it was a man he was so motionless that he might have been cut in ebony. He leaned against the taffrail at ease, looking out ahead — jet-black against a sky of deep, deep gray.
He gave her a sense of absolute tranquillity. It was as though he had become part of the ship, like one of her masts, or the great curve of sail that faded aloft in the night. Perhaps he was holding subtle communion with the sea. There was strength about him, too. Not a dashing, valiant strength, but the quiet power of some splendid pine tree in a New England forest. He belonged completely to the sea and to the night; he was one with their aloofness and long silences.
It occurred to Jane that he was the only person aboard whom she could ask where the Annie Marlow was bound. She had considered Captain Maynard, but some intuition restrained her. He was more aloof and solemn now they were at sea. The colossal burden of guiding the schooner by infinitesimal compass points through an eternity of waves, had deepened and changed him. But the young man by the taffrail would understand. In the same moment she realized why he looked familiar to her. He was Davidson, the new second mate, whom she had found reading Conrad on the fo’c’sle deck the first time she had come aboard.
They said good evening gravely. “Have you finished Lord Jim yet?” Jane asked.
He nodded shyly. Jane was exploring the very innermost corner of his world, a corner which he had never mentioned to anyone. You couldn’t, and be at the same time a sailor and one of your mates. Jane, of course, was not one of his mates. He could talk to her about Conrad and books. Yet he was not at ease, because he felt shy with her, instinctively afraid to infringe on alien worlds.
He admitted that for a long time he had known Lord Jim almost by heart.
“I suppose,” said Jane, “you would rather read it six times over than read six other books.”
A little surprised and vaguely pleased that she understood so well, he nodded once more. Jane tried to put him at ease. “You have to pick your books, though,” she said.
“Oh, you pick them over just as you cull apples. But Conrad is safe, you know.”
“A lot of people can’t make head or tail of Conrad, and don’t want to try.”
“Well, a lot of people can’t abide prairies, and a lot more say that too many trees clutter up the sky.”
“And some,” Jane echoed, “don’t even like to look at the sea, while others are utterly unable to stay ashore.”
He returned her quick smile. He wasn’t afraid of her any more. “How did you find that out?”
“Your captain told me. But I think I knew it anyway. Has it got you, Mr. Davidson?”
He admitted, after a small silence, that he was “in pretty deep.”
“Another thing your captain and I talked about,” said Jane, “was the merits of sailing ships and steamers. ‘I wish the old clippers was back in style,’ was how he put it. Of course he admitted it was a rotten hard life, but there was ‘somethin’ about it’ — he didn’t know quite what, but there it was. It’s positively uncanny, Mr. Davidson, the way you sailors feel about the sea.”
“Well — ” They talked it all over. But it left Jane as mystified as before. There seemed no answer at all, no consistency. It was a strange vicious circle of conflicting emotions that could not be broken or changed. Davidson was a true deep-water man, thought Jane. The true ones always got muddled when they tried to explain.
The breeze was just barely enough to fill the sails. “Are we going to get becalmed?” Jane asked.
He said he was afraid so; yes, it looked it, all right.
“What happens then?”
“Well, everything stops, except that the ship begins to tear herself to pieces. I don’t like that, myself. Hurts.”
“One gets to think of a ship as a living thing, I guess,” said Jane.
He smiled and said he guessed that was true; anyway, you got mighty fond of a ship.
“Captain Maynard talks about his ships as though they were his children,” said Jane. “It struck me as quaint at first. But now I really believe the Annie Marlow is alive.”
They fell silent for a little while. That bothersome question Jane wanted to ask had been forgotten once more. She had again let it slip into oblivion, because she did not care. The ship herself, and the slumbering sea, were the facts that counted.
“I think the Annie Marlow is alive,” she murmured again.
The mainsail, until now steady as though carved in ivory, drew a deep breath and sighed; and the schooner swung gently as a cradle over the domes of polished jet that slipped beneath her.
Chapter VI (pp. 67 – 83) of Lost Island. As always, typos are mine, not Barbara’s. The story began here.
Jane was up early, and came on deck to feel the incredible blue of a young morning at sea. The wind was like the primrose wind that chases about fragrant pastured hills at dawn; only bolder and freer.
That day Jane decided she would make a determined and systematic effort to find out where the Annie Marlow was bound. She tracked down Davidson, and found him busily painting the interior of the small engine-room up forward by the fo’c’sle.
“Mr. Davidson, I’ve come to ask you the most astounding question anyone ever asked you in your life,” she began.
He put down his brush and smiled. “The trouble is, I probably can’t answer it, Miss Carey.”
“So you’ve found out my name?” She frowned at him mockingly. “Well, that isn’t my name. Not here. That’s my Sunday-go-to-meeting ‘longshore name. Here I’m known as Jane, just plain old plain-Jane, you know.”
He gave her his shy smile again. “Then I haven’t any ‘Mr.’ to me,” he ventured, busy with the paint-brush now.
“Oh, I’m glad of that. I don’t like handles. And now that that’s all settled so soon, will you please hand me that other brush?”
“Aren’t you on vacation?”
“Oh, well, I have to earn my passage, you know. And — oh, yes! Now for that great question I was going to ask you. Get ready!” She lowered her voice apprehensively. “I want you to tell me where this ship is going. I didn’t dare ask anyone but you; and I suspect it’s time I found out.”
He placed his brush quietly across the pail of white paint, and looked straight at her. She gazed back into his honest gray eyes. The moment would have been absurd if it had not also been a cosmic adventure. A miracle took place. For he understood, and far more completely than if she had told the whole story, with all its details, explanations, excuses, in hundreds of words. Words were a nuisance, and this no time for them.
“Valparaiso,” he murmured. “Going after nitrates.” And without saying anything more, he went back to his work. As for Jane, the swift silence of his understanding was even more exciting to her than the ring of “Valparaiso.” She painted at his side without answering, but the big brush was unsteady in her hand….
At sea days slipped away fast, lost over the rim of space. They were born in a splash of gold, marched over in a blue arc, and vanished with a pouring of moonlight across the curves of sail. Jane spent many hours alone, walking the deck and day-dreaming. She walked in the early mornings, which were bright as new butterflies. Sailors would be washing down the deck, then, and one of the mates tramping about among them with a bucket of sea water. She walked on the poop at noon, when Captain Maynard and Mr. Stevens were up with their sextants, in ambush to catch the sun at the peak of its flight. She paced the long main deck in the afternoons, in the shade of the sails. She walked on those calm days when one languid blue dome after another rose up, gleaming subtly like moonstones, and the weary old schooner was beating her wings and yearning for wind. Sometimes she walked at night, almost alone with the magic of the ship — the ship southward bound across the dark — southward under those stars, all there was in the universe, and yet nothing.
Here, at sea, Jane was able for the first time to feel definitely that the earth was a sphere. Till now, she had accepted the fact only as something which she had trained herself to believe, but around which she had found it hard to wrap her imagination. At sea there was clear unobstructed expanse on all sides. She saw ships hull-down. Several times she had a distinct sensation of the Annie Marlow crawling on the outer rim of a huge globe, with nothing but a mysterious power called gravity to keep her from flying off into that infinite space which was another very difficult thing to visualize.
Sometimes Jane scrubbed dishes in the galley or painted with the sailors. The engine-room was finished now, and Davidson’s watch had begun on bulwarks and waterways. Also, within a few days she had become the official sewer-on of buttons for this crew. Not that the men weren’t able to sew on their own. They had done it for years, and would continue as they drooped into senility; but it gave Jane a grown-up, motherly feeling which she enjoyed, and also a good opportunity to talk with them.
On the first Sunday afternoon she held a session amidships, sitting on one of the long spare gaffs. Most of the men were out in the sun with their buckets, washing clothes in mountains of soapsuds with such energy and thoroughness that only the most valiant and time-tried specks and stains could withstand the strain; sometimes the material itself gave way first. In return for the buttons Jane sewed, they insisted on washing her blouses for her, with the result that everyone felt mutually useful.
They thought her an extremely good sport anyhow, not so much for the sturdy and seaman-like way with which she sewed buttons, as for her companionship, the eagerness with which she listened to their tales, and her laughter that mingled so naturally with their own.
“Bill, what were you all laughing your heads off about awhile back? Oh, I heard you! Why, it shook the whole ship.” Bill was sitting beside her while she carefully sewed up a rip in his blue shirt, and between stitches admired the sleek brown shoulder under the torn edges of cloth.
“Why, the p’int was, Miss Jane — Well, tell me now, ain’t ol’ Barnacle a tom-cat?”
“Sure he is,” Jane agreed, stitching away, and not having the faintest idea of whether he was or not.
“Well, doggoned if he ain’t gone and had a hull fambly o’ little Barnacles — five of ’em!” announced Bill, elated that Jane had fallen into the trap.
She received the momentous information in the proper spirit, laughing with the rest of them.
“The ol’ man don’t know yit,” Bill pursued. “But he’s gone t’have the s’prise o’ his sixty years. Yessir!”
Young Jim took up the strain. ‘N’ tell her about the cook, Bill. You see, Miss Jane, the cook’s a very superystitious sort of a chap, ‘n’ when he seed that the tom-cat had kittens he throws his hands over his head ‘n’ gives a whoop ‘n’ says: ‘Then sure this ship’s a-gone ter have the damnedest worst luck in the world.’ ”
“What do you think yourself, Jim?”
“Why, Miss Jane, what I figgers is that natur is natur, ‘n’ if we was thinkin’ that cat was a tom the joke was on us. The ol’ bitch! Think o’ pullin’ a stunt like that.”
“Do you figger as them kittens was borned out o’ wedlock?” drawled Pete — a signal for another general uproar. There followed an enlightening discussion of the love life of cats.
Jane enjoyed these gatherings. She had found out that the atmosphere of coarseness which often prevailed in the crew’s conversation was unintended and unconscious, so that it was actually not coarseness at all. She liked their enthusiasms and their spirit of fun. She liked to have them show her their pictures and keepsakes, and to listen when they talked about wives and daughters, the son who ran a barber shop, and the gal friend who worked at a sody-fountain in ‘Frisco.
Still more, she liked to talk about books and dreams with Davidson. He was one of the Annie Marlow‘s crew, but at the same time he was mysteriously different from them.
“How about Youth: have you read it yet?” she asked him one evening.
He confessed that he had been saving Youth; that he nibbled at Conrad slowly, in order to make that shelf of blue-bound books last a long time. That was how she came to read the story aloud to him. She read it straight through from beginning to end one evening below decks in his little cabin. Mr. Stevens smiled knowingly to himself as he marched the poop on watch, as if to say to the broad expanse of sea and to the uninterested back of the helmsman: “See there? Didn’t I tell you?” He and his imagination were so happy together that he could not for the life of him resist mentioning to Captain Maynard, later in the evening, that Jane seemed to be “in powerful deep with that six-foot swashbuckling second mate.”
“Shucks!” said the skipper. “Swashbuckling” was the very last word one would ever apply to young Davidson. “Shucks! They ain’t nothin’ but pals, and why the hell shouldn’t they be pals if they likes?” But he looked thoughtful, all of a sudden.
Most of the time the captain was busy with his ship, contemplating the horizons, studying his charts, all alone, with the weight of an entire world on his shoulders. But sometimes he came out of his aloofness as on the first day Jane had been aboard.
“Well, Jane, are you enjoyin’ it as much as you thought to?” he asked her once.
She answered jovially that it would be all right with her if they never got to the Panama Canal or Valparaiso.
He lowered his voice, hesitated a little, and then asked: “That aint — ’cause o’ young Davidson, is it, Jane?”
She was surprised, and if it had been anyone but Captain Maynard she might have felt a trifle hurt. But he was completely unconscious of this. He was asking a question, and only wanted an honest answer. “Oh, no,” she assured him. “It’s just — well, your schooner, and the old sea, and not having to worry about anything that’s going on ashore. You know, I feel as if I’d never been in New York at all — as if the place didn’t exist any more. You don’t know what a grand feeling that is.”
“Reckon I do know, maybe,” he said. “Been to sea forty-five year.” But he would not let her pass it off so easily. He leaned back in his leather armchair, glancing now and then from force of habit at the compass overhead. “I was thinkin’ o’ my daughter — poor little girl,” he said quietly. “You didn’t know as I had a daughter, did you, Jane? Well, I hain’t, not no more. Her mother died when Rose was fifteen years old; and then I took her to sea along of me: happened so sudden-like, and I was that bewildered, I didn’t know what else I could do with her. ‘Twould ‘a’ all been fine, ’cause she liked the sea jist the same’s you do, Jane; but — well, ’tain’t a long story — it was a sailorman as shamed her and broke her heart; and — she went overboard half a year after, Jane, when I was beginnin’ t’ see what was wrong. Off Hatteras, one o’ them cold, blowsome, dark nights…. Him? Jane, I’d ‘a’ killed that skunk, ‘cept I knowed as it wouldn’t ‘a’ done no good.”
Jane was very still. The old man seemed to be talking to himself, as though he had forgotten she was there. “Rose…. She was as lovely as her name — poor little girl,” he said tenderly. Then he struck the arm of the chair with his fist, and went on bitterly: “An’ hadn’t I been a-tellin’ of her — hadn’t I told her a hundred times to watch out fer sailormen, an’ any other kind of a man? Only, she jist thought as he was diffrunt from the hull rest of ’em, ye see…. Aye, everyone thinks that, at one time or another, an’ some is bound to get a rotten deal. So, ye see” — he nodded his head slowly — “God knows I ain’t a-preachin’, Jane, but — you remember ’bout my Rose — poor little girl.”
Jane had heard that story, with variations, from many people; but never before had she felt so deeply touched. Perhaps that was because of her affection for the gray-haired master of the Annie Marlow, with his quaint ways of speech and his kind blue eyes. It seemed to her that no one could do him a wrong, or his daughter, or anything belonging to him.
But on deck once more, with sails like great caves half lit by the moon, and the sea eastward paved with silver, and her hands grasping the shrouds of rigging that beckoned her aloft to where the moon glanced upon one narrow white bar of the crosstrees — then this present world of beauty was all that counted….
Passing through the Canal was a hot day of contact with mankind, and then all was left behind again, and it might have been only a confused and noisy dream. As the Annie Marlow drew southward, mackinaws had been thrown aside, and flannel shirts had long ago given place to light blue ones, or to none at all. A flock of small brown and white albatross pursued the ship; “goonies,” the sailors called them. Jane sometimes threw chunks of bread to them, for which they raced and quarreled. There were dolphins in the wake, iridescent and electrical; jellyfish, too, which appeared suddenly all over the surface of the ocean in the middle of the day, and then vanished again.
“How do you account for that, Davidson?” Jane asked.
“Oh, well, you see, they just come up at noon to take their sights,” he told her, with the familiar shy chuckle.
“And then go down, I suppose, to figure ’em out?” she retorted.
And days melted past, without a murmur, without a shadow. Sometimes when Jane awoke she smelled a strange deep-sea smell out the porthole, and heard a husky, gigantic breathing — a whale wallowing and blowing through the swells. Sometimes the captain told a yarn at the dinner table. He liked the southeast trades, even if they did make his course to Valparaiso a circuitous one. “I could purr, I’m so happy when there’s a breeze,” he said one day, rubbing his hands together as he came down the companion. Occasionally he spoke to the schooner herself: “Keep it up, lady! I’ll hold ye to it!” But that was all. That was the way of the sea.
The friendship with Davidson grew. Jane had never experienced a comradeship so simple and so happy. That, also, was the way of the sea.
“Davidson, there’s one more thing I’d love to do before we get to — Valparaiso,” she said one afternoon, giving him her little one-sided smile as she mentioned that name. “I’d like to stand the mid-watch with you some time, if I may.”
“The graveyard watch?”
She nodded. “The point is that I can’t wake up, Davidson. I sleep too well at sea. What would you recommend?”
He reflected. “Of course,” he teased, “I’d like to come and wake you myself, but — well!”
“Mr. Stevens would enjoy it if you did,” said Jane.
He gave a wry smile. “Stevens has a habit of enjoying a lot of things that plain ain’t so.”
“Well, he gets a lot of free entertainment out of the world that way,” Jane affirmed.
“It’s a pretty kettle of fish,” he retorted, “when there’s so little fun in the world that you have to invent it out of your own imagination.”
“Well, they say that to create is the most satisfying kind of self-expression,” said Jane, laughing.
“You’re a mighty arguer! I can’t fool you, but we can fool Stevens. Let’s see. Suppose you take some string, and tie one end of it to your wrist, or your ear, or something, and stick the other end through your porthole — the one that opens on to the half-deck. And then, you see, I come on watch at midnight, and I — well, psychic communication, and all that.”
“Grand! You’re a genius, Davidson.” They chuckled together like grammar-school mischief-makers, and it flashed across Jane’s mind that she had always wanted a brother….
When she came quietly on deck, a little after midnight, the trade wind was blowing hard, and the schooner darted lightly across a long sweep of black and silver waves. Nearly full, the moon was threading in and out of white clouds. It felt very late. The deck slanted weirdly beneath Jane, and her hair blew. Never before had she felt the sea and the night and the wind like this. She knew that, like Davidson, she belonged to them.
“It’s grand tonight,” she said.
“I know. But you get fed up on it.”
“You all say that, but you all come back.” She was very beautiful in the half-light, with her hair blowing straight back from her serious young face.
“Well, you can see why, can’t you, Jane?” He made a sweeping gesture ahead somewhere, at slanting booms, dark tumbling sea, and wild white clouds. “You get ashore, you see, and you get flurrying around, backing and filling, and never quite sure what your course is — ”
“Or how to steer it,” she put in.
“They don’t have charts with compass roses and all. And you sort of lose — well, you lose your sense of values, if you know what I’m trying to say.”
“I do know. I’ve been there. You get to thinking a dollar bill’s pretty important; or if you don’t think so you miss your dinner.”
“Yes, and you get stewed up in a lot of little frazzles that don’t matter. And then one day you’re disgusted and you — well, you go to sea.”
He was not very articulate, but his words spoke eloquently of the thousand trivialities ashore, and the great restfulness of the much-cursed sea.
“I believe you’re rather like me,” Jane ventured. “I call it civilization, and I don’t like it. But if I say so, everyone laughs in a gentle and superior manner.”
“No, thank heaven. This civilization thing — it has its points, I suppose. But you get fed up with it. What’s more, it looks as if God had got fed up with it, too.”
“Do you believe in God?”
“Well, I don’t know. I rather think not. Anyway, not when I’m mixed up with civilization. Nothing means much there, and if there is a God, He’s all worn out, and I don’t wonder. Here almost anything might be true; but here it doesn’t matter. As far as I’m concerned, He’s a failure anyhow; for when I need Him, I’m suddenly hesitant and skeptical; and when circumstances are such that I might believe in Him, I don’t have any use for Him. What good is an elusive hide-and-seek sort of God like that?” She chuckled happily.
He was silent a minute, then said: “He gives it to sailors coming and going. We get driven back and forth between civilization and the sea, and can’t decide which is worse.”
“I think,” Jane put in, “that probably sailors get the worst of civilization, too. You know — the back alleys and certain large tin cans.”
He smiled in agreement. “But we always think we’ll do better next time — and we don’t. We flounder round a bit, get in no end of trouble, and — go to sea again. And the sea ruins us for anything else, because it’s immense and sometimes peaceful, and because it unrefines our characters.” Jane knew that he was speaking now from the standpoint of his shipmates, of the sailors of all the world; she noticed again how curiously he belonged to them and at the same time was very much alone and — a little lonely.
“Speaking of God,” said Jane, “just what do you believe?”
“He and I don’t always hit it off very well. But at least I’m not a wild, raving atheist.”
“I’m glad of that, because it seems to me that atheists are — well, too impudently sure, perhaps.”
“They’re forever throwing stones at other people’s windows,” said Davidson.
“Because they haven’t any of their own, probably.”
“It may be too cold outside for the other people to live without their windows — if they aren’t hard-skinned people. And, even if the glass is a bit fogged up — well, every man has a right to his own.”
She liked the metaphor. “And then,” she added, “isn’t any window as good as any other? I mean, does anybody really know?”
He shook his head, smiling, and looked off to sea. His ideas had come from twelve hard years of this sea. Jane wondered quietly how it came about that he, whose life had been so apart from hers, should understand her so well, not alone in words, but in feelings and the subtle shades that are never put into words at all.
It was a night for companionship. They talked about evolution, the prehistoric ages, and the pathways of comets; and they laughed at themselves for incongruously discussing trilobites and dinosaurs in the small hours of the morning on the poop deck of the Annie Marlow. Four bells came with amazing swiftness, and the wheel was relieved.
“Let’s go on a marauding expedition,” Davidson whispered.
“What shall we maraud?” Jane whispered back, feeling very gay.
“The honorable and reverend night-lunch-box.”
“I trust that the first mate sleepeth.”
“He snoreth,” Davidson assured her.
They walked cautiously down to the companionway, keeping close together in the dark, and tiptoed into the messroom. A lamp burned there dimly, and the night-box bulked big on the table. Jane felt as if they were congenial ghosts, and as if a ghost was a pretty good thing to be. Her heart was thumping a little. She thought that was odd, and wondered if Davidson could hear it, or if it might wake up Mr. Stevens. She pictured to herself the first mate’s surprise and secret delight if he should find her there.
“How Stevens would enjoy this!” she whispered.
Davidson just smiled. They went on deck again, as soon as the raid was over, and the wind came at them with a rush. “I wonder what’s got into that cook,” he said. “They never before put up such a good night lunch.”
Whitecaps gleamed about the ship, and the wind was almost warm. It was not very dark, because of the moon; the light was gray and it gave Jane an eerie feeling, intensified by the schooner’s slanting. Was it on a night like this — colder, perhaps, and darker — that Rose had thrown herself into the sea?
“Davidson, tell me, did you ever hear the story of the captain’s daughter?”
“Yes, the old man told me all about it just a couple of days ago.” He looked at her oddly in that light which seemed to come from the wind rather than the moon. A smile lighted his face then. They wanted to laugh, yet somehow affection and respect for the skipper prevented that. It was at once solemn and absurd that the old man should unroll to each of them separately the same subtle chart to guard them from reefs and shoals that still lay remote in another ocean.
“Aren’t you awfully afraid of me, Jane? Don’t you tremble for fear I may pounce upon you like a lion and devour you, at any moment?”
“Don’t make fun of him,” said Jane, smiling back in spite of herself.
“I wouldn’t for worlds,” he assured her.
Captain Maynard had woven still another strong thread into the fabric of their comradeship, contrary to what he had intended — a complete trust in each other.
To young Davidson, Jane stood for something fine and aloof and precious beyond measure. He had never known anyone like her — a companion, something of a rebel, and a fellow dreamer. They had come together out of worlds that were far apart; and each found in the other something much needed and beautiful. His simplicity and honesty were to her like a deep mountain spring after a long hard trail. There was no more shallowness or meanness about him than about the sea, and — unlike the sea — no cruelty.
He knew mostly the backwash of cities, and to his mind girls were painted gold-diggers to whom you paid casual attention, if you were in the mood, for obscure and unworthy reasons that you did not bother to analyze. Jane was not a girl. She was a friend.
He always seemed shrouded in mystery. His way of speaking, to begin with, could hardly have been taught by the sea. But he had read widely, free from the influence of all academic or pedagogical conventions. He contended that a great deal of Shakespeare was tedious, and that the last chapter of Moby Dick stood even with anything in literature. Conrad was the supreme master, of course, head and shoulders above them all. He also liked the stern calmness of the Scandinavian writers.
But how had it all come about? Jane never knew. He remained a mystery. She had to take him just for what he was, and in a way that too was a relief. His gentleness and deep-lying sense of values were even harder to explain than his curious literary knowledge. But for her this did not need explaining. After all, a person was a person, at sea or ashore. Heredity — surroundings — they had a good deal to do with it, but not all. Davidson was there. And that was soul-satisfying. You didn’t probe into the depths of a friend as though — she thought of Professor Myers — as though he were an entomological specimen.
How lost he was! He realized it, and yet she was frightened for him. She admired his aloofness from the world; his way of turning his back upon it, paying no attention to its little cold realities. But some time he would bump hard against it, and it would receive him like a wall of granite — and it would hurt.
He was a man whose virtues seemed to count against him. He did not care to bow to the little gods, saw no reason why he should, and had the quiet courage to ignore them. He wanted to drift and be let alone. His virtues were elemental; the little gods were scornful, and so he gave them the cold shoulder. He wanted peace and solitude, and found them alone; he laughed cynically at nearly everything about mankind and civilization.
He was a true seafarer, and this instinct, together with his unconscious virility, directed his destiny. Life had been simple. He found peace, for the most part. Sailing ships were dying now, but he still pursued them. In them he had grown up and become a man, and they and the sea had laid the foundation of his life. And they were failing him, gradually leaving him high and dry. Ashore, in the thick of industrial competition, he was helpless. Probably, by dint of effort and struggle, he could have succeeded at something, but it was not worth while to him. So he remained a drifter, a man who was nothing, who belonged nowhere; and yet who was somehow stronger than the civilization that defeated him, grander, and immeasurably more romantic….
They conversed in low voices, and watched the phosphorus in the wake, knots of greenish light. Davidson told her how once, when he was first mate of a full-rigged ship some time ago, he had been on deck late watching for the lights of an expected landfall. He had been told to call the skipper out the minute they were seen. He had walked the deck, looking anxiously ahead, nerves taut. He saw at last a string of lights, twinkling along the horizon’s dark rim. With a sigh of relief he called the captain. When they came on deck together the entire sea ahead was blazing, paved with fire. That row of lights, so like the harbor of a seaport, had been only first sparkles of the phosphorus.
He told her also about rainbows he had seen in the moonlight; and she described to him the “frost feathers” in her beloved New England mountains: frozen mist, delicately chiseled into feathers of lace, projecting outward from crags into the wind which had carved them.
It came three o’clock, with a chiming of six bells. Davidson asked, then, just how it happened that Jane had sailed in the Annie Marlow. “You never told me that story, you know, Jane, and I’m a wee bit curious.”
“Oh, I just ran away from our mutual enemy.”
“Yes. It happened like a flash. I smelled an adventure, and before I knew it — ”
“You were at sea, and in such a hurry that you even forgot — ”
“Exactly.” They exchanged smiles.
“That ought to satisfy me, I suppose. But it doesn’t. I want to know just what it was our mutual enemy did to you. There must have been something terrible — and terribly sudden.”
“Only general disgust. It’s all so little, Daveson, and so moneyish.” She had unconsciously contracted his name. He thought the contraction very pleasing. Exclusively hers. “I worked for an old professor of entomology,” she finished abruptly, as though that ought to be enough said.
“You wouldn’t enjoy entomology. By the way, what is entomology? Birds?”
“You’re the sort who gleefully runs away from anything you don’t like, aren’t you?”
“I am an awful runner-away,” she admitted. “I ran away once from such an important occasion that my deluded father never forgave me.”
“What? A dinner-party, or something?”
“Thousands of dinner-parties!” said Jane, with a smile. “As a matter of fact, it was a marriage. Even that would have been all right, if it had only been someone else’s marriage. The trouble was, it happened to be mine.”
Davidson was terrifyingly silent for a minute. Then he asked: “You aren’t married now, are you?”
“Didn’t I just tell you I ran away?”
“Yes, but — By Jove, that was fortunate!” He sounded almost fierce.
“That’s what I think. But what do you know about it?”
“Nothing — except that it was almighty fortunate.”
Jane unconcernedly pursued the subject. “If I hadn’t run away, I’d be there this minute — hostess at a dinner-party, probably.”
Actually a tremor shook Davidson’s powerful frame. “Imagine that!” he brought out, with terrible irony and indignation.
“He was sort of a fool,” said Jane, amused by this display of vehemence. “He liked dinner-parties and such things. To tell the truth, it was my father who was in love with him, not I. The young man had cash, you see.”
Davidson felt that never in his life had he heard of such rank injustice. “Trying to sell you — was that it?”
Jane admitted that her father had had dreams of luxurious senility. Davidson glowered. His black eyebrows were threatening.
“Why does my little escapade upset you so?” Jane asked.
“Just to think that they should try to put anything over on you, Jane. Of course, they didn’t make the grade. But suppose they had!”
“Well, I wouldn’t be here, that’s a cinch.”
“That’s just it,” he said. At that minute he wouldn’t have traded her companionship for anything else on earth. Seven bells sounded.
“I suppose I’d better be going down,” Jane said. “You’ll be arousing Stevens pretty soon, won’t you?”
He nodded, with some sadness, and reflected that never before had he found the graveyard watch too short. He strolled with her to the companionway. She glanced out once more over the gray waves, and up at the mysterious sails. The wind was strong and swift.
“Can we do this again, Daveson?”
“Yes.” He paused a moment, and then said with sudden emphasis: “Yes!” She was inside the door of the companion. “You know,” he said, “it’s a curious thing that they should have made me second mate this particular trip — instead of next, say.”
“You mean, that if you had been only the man at the wheel — ”
He nodded. “Sometimes I wonder,” he said slowly. “I wonder if perhaps there isn’t such a thing as — Fate.”
Jane smiled, and said with seeming irrelevance, knowing he would understand: “Daveson, you’re a grand sort of brother.”