Lost Island, part 1

Here’s Chapter I of Barbara’s unpublished novel, Lost Island.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.

I

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.

“Oh, you’d pick yesterday’s lion-bones,” Jane told her. “And lion soup — delectable!”

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.

“You brute!”

“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 — ”

“Don’t bother!”

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.

“No vacation?”

“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…

Lost Island, part 2

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.

II

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.”

“Collecting butterflies?”

“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?”

“Moses, maybe.”

“Somebody you know; a rather nice young chap of your acquaintance.”

“Not Donald!”

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.

“Well?”

“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…

Lost Island, part 3

Chapter III (pages 29-41) of Lost Island. If you missed the beginning, here it is.

III

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.”

“Come aboard!”

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!”

Chapter IV…

Lost Island, part 4

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.”

“A what?”

“You heard me.”

“Janie — now listen here — you crazy, insane — ”

“I’m sailing in her. Never was saner in my life.”

“Gawd!”

“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.”

“Well, where?”

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?”

“Nope.”

“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.

Chapter V…

Lost Island, part 5

Chapter V (pp. 54-66) of Lost Island. Chapter I is here.

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!”

(Two months!)

“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 6…

Lost Island, part 6

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.”

“I don’t.”

“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.”

“Civilization?”

“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?”

“No, bugs.”

“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.”

Chapter VII…

Lost Island, part 7

Chapter VII (pp. 84 – 99) of Lost Island, which began here.

The storm came with a frowning of the sky, and ponderous shadows over the sea’s face. Jane sensed it, early one morning when she went on deck. Serenity was lost, cast away behind. The sea had no use for that now. The world was a gray color, unutterably gray. The wind was gray. It came in whorls, biting at the foam. The waves showed white hungry teeth.

Mate and captain stood together in a corner of the poop, but Jane could not hear their voices. The wind had set its heart upon transforming the two men into marionettes, animated but soundless. She moved a little closer, and thought she heard Captain Maynard say: “Dirty, by the look of it.” Stevens solemnly nodded his head. All of a sudden Jane wanted to laugh, and wished Davidson were up there with her. Human beings had dwindled, and seemed puny and helpless. The ship was diminishing, too. Once, without any warning, she took a gaunt wave over her windward bow, and shuddered to it like some wild creature.

“Best get them topsails in, Stevens,” the captain said. “Then they’ll be in.” The mate nodded again, somewhat grimly, Jane thought.

Breakfast was rather silent. The ship lurched a good deal, and shook herself when waves met her bows too hard. The captain was troubled. He felt that there was treachery in the sea. And he could do nothing about it. He must push on ahead into the ambush of the storm. And the burden was all his own.

Davidson was on deck when she came up again. He stood gazing out to windward. Jane met him with a question in her eyes. But he could not answer. He doubted the loyalty of the sea, that was all. You had to be fatalistic about some things. A storm was one of them. He hoped it would hold off, but if it came he was ready. As he turned to greet her, his eyes were very gray. The sea had darkened them.

“The Annie‘s a staunch old girl,” he said consolingly. “Well put together.”

“If we do go down,” Jane teased, “and you are the sole survivor, you might inform my deluded father and my ex-intended. It would be a shame for them to miss that pleasure.”

“Shall I give them your dying affection, and all that sort of thing?”

“No, the dolphins can have that. But you may go shares with ’em if you like, Daveson.”

“And suppose nothing happens at all? It may not, you know.”

“Well, then the dolphins won’t have to go shares with you. But if I should be the lone survivor, are there any little things of that sort I can do for you?”

“Just remember,” he answered, “that in my case there weren’t any dolphins at all.”

By afternoon it was blowing half a gale. The sky sagged with ominous clouds, shadowing the sea, which swirled and heaved like boiling ink. The voice of the wind rose and fell, and its tone was resentful. Sometimes it shrieked triumphantly through the rigging, and then fell to low moaning. The Annie Marlow‘s sails were storm-reefed, and she tore on obliquely before the wind, rising high over the piles of water, crashing down into innumerable hollows, while spray crackled sharply upon her decks. Her masts leaned at a weird angle against a frayed sky, and they looked tired and old.

Evening came, and the wind remained about the same. The captain began to be hopeful. “Perhaps we’ll run out of the doggoned thing yet, Stevens.” The mate, as usual, was taciturn.

Jane went to sleep in peace. She had no serious idea that anything calamitous might happen to the schooner. Shipwrecks belonged to adventure stories. She had trust in the old skipper, and perhaps in Davidson. She fancied the wind was going down a little. The motion of the ship was not uncomfortable, except for occasional jerks and plunges. Besides, the sea was her friend….

When she awoke it was with the sensation that her feet were jammed tightly against the foot of her bunk, and that she was almost standing upright. The universe gave a violent shudder; there was a rush, and Jane found herself in a heap in a corner of her room — which corner she could not tell. There was no great pain in the fall, and yet when she tried to get up she could not. “What have I broken?” she wondered. She clung frantically to something that was in her way, and recognized it as the small bench opposite the bunk. But she was still not sure which was up and which down. And something in her body began to ache. An arm, or a leg?  She could not tell. Nothing was familiar, not even her own limbs. She wrestled to get up, but it was like struggling in pitch black with an unseen foe — like one of those nightmares in which all strength and control have vanished.

She looked for the porthole, but wasn’t sure where to look. At last her eyes found it, a small gray piece of doubtfulness in the black wall. Then she knew where the floor was, and struggled up, clinging to the bench. Nothing broken after all, only she felt full of bruises. One arm was hurting badly now, but it was sound and she could move it.

She found it comical, this crushing of the world. Here she was, groping for the floor, which had got so mixed up with walls and ceilings; relieved, now that she had found it, as though it were some inestimable treasure; thanking heaven because she knew where it was, and where the porthole was. She tried to get to that porthole, with the vague idea of looking out; made a desperate dash for the bunk which was somewhere up above her across the room. As she started to climb at it, she was hurled down upon it violently. She caught its edge and stood clutching that, while the world seesawed about her again. She chuckled a little. A feat of acrobatics just to cross her room!

She managed to peer out the porthole, just in time to see three or four big silver stars go flying up somewhere into infinity, while an immense black weight hurled itself with malevolence at the small pane of glass. When the sky came down again, there was only one star left, which went out as she looked, extinguished suddenly against its will.

Then she remembered a flashlight she had left somewhere about. Perhaps she could get a bit of light. It might help. A little flicker of light could cheer one’s soul. But she could not even think of anywhere to look for it. There was nowhere. She concentrated her faculties into a reasonable studying out of where she had last seen it. As if in mockery, something hit her on the head and flew off across the room. What on earth was that? There was no way of finding out. Then she remembered the little row of books on the shelf above the bench. She groped over there, vaguely hoping to do something about it, but could find nothing except occasional edges which she held on to thankfully. No, she could do nothing about anything. The air might be full of flying books, but she could not help it.

The ship was plunging desperately forward, swinging back, leaping, staggering. Waves beat and hammered the decks with diabolical frenzy. The wind howled. Outside, the sea was black chaos gleaming now and then with fangs of white foam. Once the ship plunged into such a succession of gigantic seas that Jane felt: “Everything will give way now.” But somehow the Annie Marlow came through. Jane strained her eyes at the porthole again. A livid cascade of lightning illuminated the whole sea and sky in a mad gold suspense. Awful chasms, abysses, and parapets of black clouds, with jagged edges…. Whatever thunder followed may have added to the uproar, but was not distinguishable as thunder.

And then, all of a sudden, Jane wanted Davidson more than she had ever wanted anything in her life. She wanted his quiet smile, and his aloof strength. The need was an actual pain, a dull, unintelligent throbbing. She felt for the pain — oh, that cursed arm again…. At the same time she was conscious of a dim rectangle in one wall of the cabin, with a shadow bulking in it — some strange illusion. But after she had looked at it a while, she remembered the door; and then she knew that it was Davidson who stood there. She even believed she could hear his voice faintly calling to her across a measureless gulf.

“Yes, yes, I’m here,” she almost shrieked, trying to make her way toward him. She felt for the edge of the door, found it at last, and got to her feet facing him. He was immensely tall in his wet black oilskins. She could not see his face.

“Are you all right, Jane?” came his voice close to her ear. She felt his breath for a second, a precious scrap of life and warmth.

“Yes, I’m all right,” she shouted back.

“Just came down — to see if you needed me. Now I must go.” Their hands met somehow, and held on for a second in a mute exchange of comradeship. Then he had melted into the obscurity outside, and the released door slammed viciously.

He had come — to see if she needed him! She stood in the dark treasuring this. And now he had gone back to the Annie, who did need him very much. Was he up in that awful fury now?… The ship leaped; Jane felt her rising on an endless flight, which changed to a quivering, painful struggle upwards. A tremendous crash came, and it was as though an entire range of mountains had been precipitated upon the ship. She was buried, lost, extinguished. There were smothered slammings and crashes, and the roaring of a thousand giant waterfalls, pouring, pouring…. Still buried in that sea. She reeled, shaking beneath the blow. She seemed to give up, only to begin struggling quietly again, stifled under the weight, a crushed ship. “She’ll never get through this — never,” Jane thought. And Davidson? Where was he?… Still the ship was trembling, as though alive, patiently trying to cast the thing off.

She came out of it at last. Jane could only guess how much the ship had suffered for that victory. She could not know that the mainmast had snapped off clean, carrying away with it a ruin of splitting timber, streaming rags of sail, and a whipping tangle of rigging. She had no way of knowing that Stevens, the mate, and two of her sailor friends had lost their lives.

Some time after that a curious release came, a comparative hush, with a low thrashing of seas and a snarling of wind. It was as though the treacherous purpose had been accomplished, and now the elements rested. Jane waited a while, listening; it might have been hours or only seconds. At last she ventured to look out the porthole again. Surely the seas were less now. Or was it only that they seemed less in contrast to that monster which had nearly extinguished them? The water beat less madly against the ship, and crests were not so high. But the ocean itself was closer than before, closer and blacker. There was no sky at all that she could see; nothing except sinister gleams of that black water.

The ship was sluggish now, not rising so promptly to meet the seas. She kept her head down, and let them slam over her with sickening thuds in a dreary rhythm, only shuddering now and then, as if hurt, tired….

The door burst open again, and Captain Maynard stood outside, haggard under his sou’-wester. “We’re leaving her,” he called hoarsely to Jane; and she knew intuitively that this was the supreme confession of his life.

She stared at him horror-struck. He seemed to be shaking with exhaustion and half-suppressed grief and anger.

“Pack your things and come on deck,” he told her. And he was gone, swallowed in the grayness….

Leaving her! That meant she was going down beneath them — that she could bear it no longer and had surrendered. Her struggle was at an end. But — leave her? In the life-boat, of course; but how could any boat live in such a sea?… Pack up her things… in pitch dark with a ship going down under her!… Where was everything, anyway? She found the chest of drawers that was built in under her bunk. Her one small suit-case should be in the lowest drawer — yes, it was. She opened others, and her hands met vaguely recognizable objects — shoes, for instance, and a blouse. She was astonished to find them there, as though they must have gone through some terrible transformation in the course of the night — as though it were strange beyond belief that a shoe should still be a shoe. She put them into the suit-case deliberately, wondering at her ability to do this thing at all.

Then she realized that she was not yet dressed. “I can’t go up into the storm in pyjamas,” she reasoned deliberately. She slipped into the first clothes that her hand touched — the rebellious red skirt, an old green blouse, an overcoat. She grew calmer and calmer, even began to calculate as to what else she had better look for in the way of personal belongings. There should be a comb about somewhere, for instance. And then there were the books — three or four of them, old companions. Where were they? Lying about on the floor, of course. She would look for them, too, while the ship was going down. One of them had been sliding about in that far corner for some time, but she had not been able to make the effort of reaching it. Now she rescued it, felt it over, recognized it — Lord Jim….

She emerged into a world of black wreckage. The Annie Marlow was a battered skeleton, swaying unevenly under the impact of seas that still poured across her decks, tireless in their determination to sweep everything away. Although she could not see the schooner’s bow, the forward slant told her that it must be under water most of the time. The poop was comparatively high.

She found her way into the little knot of anxious men who stood with weariness depicted in every gesture and in the droop of their broad shoulders. Someone had a lantern. In their black sou’-westers they faintly resembled a band of monks. Oilskins gleamed occasionally. She tried to look at their faces when the lantern lighted them, and thought she had a glimpse of Davidson, busy with the life-boat, which had a dozen times narrowly missed being smashed or carried away. The ocean was a turbulent waste of black angry water. The Annie rolled ceaselessly, as if frantic with exhaustion, like a tormented soul, and at every swing her bow inclined still closer toward the sea that had caught her at last. The captain’s face was that of a ghost suffering beyond all mortal words or help.

“Look out! Squall!” came someone’s cry. A savage gust enveloped the ship, and a demoniac rush of water came. Jane, who had sought the standing rigging of the jigger mast for something to hold on to, clutched the shrouds with all her strength, and waited. There was a roaring, an almost gleeful howl of wind, a crash somewhere — and then she was falling, falling in the dark through a measureless chasm while the shouting of wind and sea became fainter and fainter, sounding far up above her somewhere, dying away into silence….

She awoke with a sense of peacefulness, and of swinging lightly through space. Of swinging on, poised like a seagull; rushing down rivers of wind, soaring up hills of it — winged and free. Half-seen rainbows, stars, meteors seemed to flit around her, to stream past her. She was one white soul, unencumbered by earthly trash, darting through a friendly sky.

So civilization was lost, was it? Surely there were no chains now — chains of the flesh, chains of the world. Well, it was time some of that perished….

As if the very thought was too rebellious, the air was suddenly full of hard thudding pains that held her with iron fingers. She could see their black wings beating over her, and hear the growling of their voices. She shrank from them; lifted a hand to fend them off. It struck wood — only a mortal hand after all; and her eyes opened straight into an immense sky, black and full of bright, scudding clouds. Nearby loomed a silent figure, rugged in the moonlight. Once, centuries ago perhaps, she knew she had seen that same shape, unstirring and somber — a symbol of the sea.

The sea! She felt and heard it all around her, heaving and whispering. At that feeble tap of her hand, the man, who had been silent as a carved figurehead, seemed to leap into life. Almost instantaneously he was bending over her, looking anxiously into her face. “Jane! Jane! Awake?”

The pains that had possession of her were still beating frenzied black wings together. “You’re not one of them, are you?” she wanted to ask, but her voice had fallen into a hollow of the sea.

Davidson gave her a drink of water, out of the little cask in the bow of the boat. His hands trembled. She struggled a minute and sat up, while he steadied her. The illusion of freedom had vanished now. Pathetically mortal and clumsy she was, after all. The sea tore past, slantingly. Great waves toppled high and threatening, changed into abysses almost before they had come. Black and gray waves, gleaming with moonlight, crested with fragments of it. A wild sky, with those white clouds, and the moon racing like a frightened creature through them.

Jane was in the captain’s sailing skiff, which had hung beneath the life-boat. It was chasing along like a porpoise. It soared up on to a pinnacle, poised there dancingly, then, with a chuckling of water under the keel, swung into the shifting hollow. This was merely playfulness. There was no danger in the marbled sky, and the wind was light. But there was an illusion of tremendous swiftness, like flying.

“How do you feel?” he asked her after a while. Words were like children’s wooden joys that jiggle on an elastic, after the spring has worn out and half the paint has rubbed off, leaving an absurd and doleful expression on their small faces.

And when she answered, her own syllables sounded no less odd, as if English were some weird foreign tongue which they were attempting to speak for the first time. “All right,” she quavered — then collapsed against him in a little heap. “Water,” she pleaded. “More water.”

Davidson was almost holding his breath, as if its motion and sound might send her slipping away from him again. And slowly the black wings ceased their thundering; but they left her bruised and aching from head to foot. “Where — is everyone?” she asked faintly.

“Jane — I don’t know.”

“Oh, I can’t think!” she exclaimed, and put her hands over her eyes.

“Hurt, aren’t you?”

“Yes, what did I… something hit me?”

“Great mass of stuff falling…. Wonder you’re not — dead. Anything broken?”

“I don’t know. Oh, why don’t you tell me where we are? Did the ship go down?”

“Don’t look so reproachful,” was all he said.

“I don’t understand,” she repeated. “I don’t understand anything.”

“Neither do I,” he told her.

She lay down again in the bottom of the boat, which was just long enough, and looked at the sky. When she stirred, everything crashed and pounded in her body. Davidson sat in the stern, and held under his arm the handle of an oar he was using for rudder. Steering somewhere that cockle-shell with its little white sail — shelterless, without even a compass. He looked old, a trifle grim; always he appeared to hold mystic kinship with the tall gaunt waves. He guided the skiff through them with a subtle, half-tender understanding. He knew them, and the treachery of their natures.

She lay motionless, and tried to think. As her strength came back slowly, she began to remember and to understand. After a while she looked across at Davidson again; and she saw that he was haggard with weariness. His eyes were changed; his teeth were clenched as though their tenseness was holding him up. She tried to move toward him, but could not wrestle with the entangling faintness that would not let her go. The world turned swiftly upside down, and she saw the speeding sea above and the sky below with the moon gliding through those fleece-clouds that looked like Arctic ice floes. When things had righted themselves, she got to the stern of the skiff. Her muscles were trembling; but even then she felt secret exultation because her bones were miraculously intact, and he would not have a cripple on his hands.

“Let me take her — David.” She could not remember just what his name was.

“You’d better sleep, Jane.”

“Let me take her — please.”

He looked at her and smiled a very little, relinquishing the oar to her. “Keep her as she is,” he said. “As near east as you can. You can pick out a star ahead — any star you like — your favorite star — only check it now and then by the North Star, because that’s the only one that stays put. If the wind changes, call me. And some day we’ll get to — God knows where. And — call me — when you’re — too tired.” He drew a deep breath, shuddering, and curled up his tall frame in the bottom of the boat. His head leaned toward the forward seat, but he was asleep before he touched it.

Jane sat in the stern and steered with the oar. This was no dream, then. The feel of its handle was comforting. It was real. As real as anything ever was. Just now one could not be quite sure. “Keep her as she is.” The little sail held steady; she watched it, alert. She would have to bear up. Stars were few and rather dim because of the moon. But old Polaris gave her confidence, when it wasn’t in a cloud. For the first time she realized what an abstract thing a direction is. Ashore she took them for granted; usually knew where she was just by a feeling, or by familiar landmarks. At sea there was nothing. A mere star couldn’t give you the feeling that a tree could, or a church steeple. Perhaps it did, though, to a sailor. How fortunate that whoever had invented stars had put one in the center of things where it could do nothing but chase its own tail, so to speak, in one spot. That was thoughtful. Otherwise the earth had not done a methodical job in casting off these stars…. What? That was nonsense, of course.… The stars rose up in multitudes and shouted at her all together, reproaching her for impertinence. The universe was a cosmic din. Careful — Davidson’s asleep!

It was pretty grim. Davidson looked sick, and she was half delirious. If anything should happen to him — well, then there would be nobody even to mention a star. But he would last. He was made to last a long time. He was dead tired, that was all. How long had he been at this job? For all she knew it might be days and days. How could she tell how long they had been adrift, or how far they had come? There was no record of it on the sea’s face. And where were they going? Had he thought, as he set that easterly course, that some day they should land on some shore or other?

She could answer none of this, of course. She could only steer. She steered for hours, and still the night held on. She steered for centuries, and yet the dawn refused to come. She steered for aeons, and the moon hung high. The motion of the little boat was subtle and haunting. The white wing dipped gracefully now and then. And Davidson slept on. She wished he would wake up and be companionable, for it was pretty lonely, this steering a coracle at a bare horizon of sea with nothing but a few stars for friends — the sea under you and the sky over you and the whole world so empty and strange…. And then her thoughts edged back to New York. A phantasmagoric city of diabolical green and gold rose up swiftly and reached out the arms of a monstrous robot. She drew back, the thing faded, and she felt comforted by the simplicity and grandeur of the sea. There was meaning and a kind of beauty — this wistful human effort in a symphony of elements which were perhaps friendly — who could tell? — and certainly were beautiful, sky and peering stars, great restless sea, warm wind of the tropics, and now — a line of gray was beginning to grow over in the east — now the sunrise. She felt exalted, and opened her heart to all this…. And Davidson slept, tired out with his brutal fight against a sea which now had forgotten that brutality.

The exaltation was not without its icicle of fear. As the line of gray brightened, she wondered if she had strength, heart, staunchness, to cope with this and see it through. She steered on, waiting for the sun, longing for a rest, determined not to wake Davidson. Ahead the boat’s wing beckoned pensively, ghostlike in the gray. She was more alone in that moment, while he was sleeping, and the sun had not yet quite decided whether it would rise that day, than she had ever been in her life.

Davidson woke with the first rays. He opened his eyes and saw Jane’s face in the new white light. The sea looked young again. Jane’s face was passive yet triumphant. He marveled, and adored her.

She smiled when she saw he was awake. This was how life could go on — if two people marooned in an open boat could still be cheerful to the sun and each other…. Half standing in the bow, he peered off ahead. There was nothing to be seen, of course. He expected nothing.

“My trick at the wheel, Jane.”

He took the oar quietly from her grasp. She shifted cautiously to the bow seat — there was no middle one — and sat clasping her knees with her hands.

“Everything still hurt?” He wished he could replace her aching bones, which weren’t good enough for her, with better ones of pure gold.

“Yes, but I’m all right. I can stand it. This soaring gets into one’s fiber. I think I’ll feel it all the rest of my life. Tell me, where are we bound for?”

“Jupiter, I guess. I’m trying for the coast, of course, but the currents are wrong. I may as well say it — there’s so little hope that it would take a magician to see it — and then he’d have to have a microscope.”

“So little as that?” she asked with a casual interest that astounded him. It was what she had expected.

He pointed to the tin of biscuits and the breaker of water that lay in the little boat’s bow, telling her the whole story without the added harshness of words. She met his glance unwavering.

The sun was beginning to assert its cruelty, but the breeze held. The sea’s floor, intense blue, rose and fell swiftly. You looked at its continual hovering and waving, and then turned for relief to the sky, pale and strangely still.

“What’s all this about?” Jane asked abruptly.

“What do you think?” He did not move.

“I can’t tell — I’ve never been shipwrecked before,” she said. “Only I know I’ve never been so conscious of the — unreality.”

“I’m afraid it’s real, Jane — damn real.”

“Is anything?”

“Hunger and thirst are, when they get you.”

“Isn’t there anything edible floating around?” she asked quaintly. “Jellyfish or something? Seems as if there ought to be.”

His chuckle was small in that colossal solitude, yet it contained infinite warmth and comradeship. Jane looked at him a moment, and held out her hand. He grasped it as though across an abyss.

Unutterably tired as she was, after all; and bewildered — she wanted to be bewildered, but must hold up for his sake. She crouched in the bottom of the boat, at his feet, and leaned her head ever so little against his knees.

“We’ll see it through, won’t we, Jane? Together.”

Davidson was greater than the sea, master of it. A cliff, rugged and furrowed by storm and tide, but dominating both. An oak-tree that no gale could break, though it made a mighty harp of the branches. Death was a nothingness, danger a wisp of thistledown upon the wind, and civilization had never existed at all. Nothing could hurt him. He was eternal.

“Sure, we’ll see it through.”

The material world had given way. It was weak and paltry, and it was unimportant. But Davidson was there. He was real, and could be counted on. The simplicity of his acceptance, and the strength of his passiveness, could never be shaken, by time or suffering or despair or death.

Chapter 8

Lost Island, part 8

Chapter VIII (pages 100-112) of Lost Island, which began here.

Long afterwards Davidson was to remember a certain moment on the Annie Marlow‘s poop deck as the most dire moment of his life. In times of stress he would compare his trouble to that past horror, and sigh with relief. That was the ultimate. Nothing the world could do to him would ever approach the intensity of it. Thinking of it, he would feel impervious to discouragement, money, life. He never regretted having seen the bottom of the pit of despair, for it served as armor and shield. It was the moment when he realized that Jane was not there with the others.

They were lowering the life-boat in the thick of fiendish confusion. In the uproar of squall and rain that had suddenly descended as if released from long imprisonment, the sea was like the inside of a volcano in eruption.

The men had been pumping hard most of the night, and were exhausted and bleary-eyed. That was why he had forgotten to look for her, make sure that she was with them. And now it was too late. Now they were launching the life-boat, and the schooner was sinking.

It was the captain who bawled out anxiously: “Miss Jane there?”

Someone’s voice answered faintly: “No, sir!”

Davidson shouted in anguish: “I’ll get her!” and, snatching a lantern, he had dashed away from the others.

“There’s no time! God, there’s no time!” the men protested in a despairing chorus.

The schooner was rolling her decks full of water, and each shuddering heave seemed her last.

“Wait!” Captain Maynard quietly commanded.

But they rebelled. Hours on end they had fought for the ship and for their lives; were they to be denied at the last their one little chance of escape? And for what? One more life — a girl who had probably been swept overboard anyway? Maddened with terror, intensified by the loss of the first mate, they had forgotten all discipline. They forgot even their shipmate Davidson. During “flyin’-fish weather” they were passable sailors; it was in a crisis like this that it became obvious to what pitiful degree of inadequacy the seafaring profession had fallen.

By main force they carried their captain to the life-boat, and launched her. She wheeled dizzily on a great black pinnacle, and then fell into unthinkable depths. At the same instant the ship vanished from them, and they could see nothing but turbulent blackness….

Davidson knew none of this. He knew only that he was hunting for Jane, and that he would never leave that sinking ship unless he found her. His life was for her, with her; and he had not known it until now, when perhaps she was lost to him forever.

He flayed himself without mercy for not having been more careful of her. A stupid brute…. For all he knew, she had been lost overboard. But he would not believe that. He would believe that she was here somewhere, and he would find her. And he would never leave without her. That thought gave him a curious calmness, a sense of quietude.

“Jane! Oh, Jane!” He held up the lantern again. Nothing.

Could she have gone down below? Below decks it was up to his waist, almost, in water. He got to her cabin at last, calling her. Nothing. Only the mournful slamming of a door somewhere, the creaking of the ship, water sloshing, seas hammering, wind lamenting. He called again, agonized. The water mocked him.

Never leave the ship without her. That was something to hold to — a purpose, at least. He had nearly deserted her once. The horror of that! But it would be atoned now…. The ship was shuddering, giving way to the sea; but still she fought a little, numb with terror and weariness.

His mind became clear and steady. He climbed out on deck again in a leisurely manner, preferring to die in the open; and as he tramped up the companionway stairs he tried to picture Jane as he had seen her last. Where had she been? He made powerful, deliberate efforts to remember, and suddenly it seemed that in the light of a swinging lantern he caught a glimpse of her holding on to the rigging with both hands as a voice rang out: “Squall!” The jigger rigging… starboard side…

Nothing but a tangle of wreckage there. The topmast had snapped in that squall, and come hurtling down with whatever running gear had not been blown away before. Was she in that awful heap, then — mangled, crushed?… Never leave without her — never leave…. He shoved something aside, and wire rope spat at his bare hands viciously. He wrestled with it. There was — a piece of topsail, most likely — a faint suggestion of something white in under there. And then he saw that it was Jane’s upturned throat.

He got her out of there at last. He had lifted her up in his arms, and her head fell back limply. There was no doubt in the world that she was dead. Her face was that of a little girl lost and lonely, wistful beyond words. He stroked aside the tangles of her hair, but she could not feel his gentleness, or know his sad triumph. He had come back for her, and found her….

During all this he had been too absorbed to notice the absence of the crew. Now he stood looking over the edge of the poop with Jane in his arms, wondering if he were possessed by some fiendish hallucination. The life-boat was not there, that was all. He stood like a man in a dream. The Annie Marlow herself awoke him. For she was trembling hard, lowering her bow steadily, and going down, down….

It was not until then that he remembered the captain’s skiff, with the dismounted mast and boom that the old man had made himself, with which he used to amuse himself in the quiet harbors. He leaped at this one dim chance, working fast in the dark, always believing that in another second he would feel the rush and suck of the whirlpool. And it seemed that hardly more than one swift heart-beat after he had launched the skiff, with Jane lying in it, the ship gave a great sigh and slipped into the hollow that rose in tumult and came together over her. It was like the extinguishing of a light. She was there no more. There was only the sea.

Much to Davidson’s surprise, the boat lived through that night. The mast and boom lay in the bottom of it, and to one side, projecting a couple of feet over the bow. Davidson unlashed the little sail from between them, and folded it over Jane, trying to protect her from the smashing clouds of spray. He steadied the boat with an oar. Between seas he bailed with his sou’-wester. He felt the waves diminishing, and saw the dawn come. The sea was an ancient cornfield of gray and battered stubble, rough and unkempt. The sunrise was a smear of ambiguous lighter color. That was east, then. It was the first he had known or even suspected of direction for many hours. Rain had stopped, and the skiff rode the waves without taking parts of them over her small bow. Daylight had brought relief.

He took the sail from Jane’s body, and looked into her face. She was white and lost, and they were awesomely alone. The sea and the world had forgotten them long ago. Perhaps the sea and the world were right. There was no way of telling whether he himself was really alive. There was no one to ask, and nothing to believe in…. Was Jane breathing? No, the boat’s motion… For all he knew, there might be no sharp demarcation between life and death. Maybe this was their passage through eternity. Desolate sort of eternity, though.

He set up the mast. It was a solemn rite. The boat would drift about aimlessly in the gray wash no longer. The little sail flapped pitifully as he released it, like a soft white creature suddenly put out in the open by itself, and frightened; then it steadied as though it had got over the worst of its trouble. The boat steadied a good deal, too. Feeling the tiller, she stepped out determinedly, with a purpose. She could go on now, for someone was steering.

All that day he sat there alone. In his terrible solitude he saw the setting of the sun and the stealthy falling of dark, all the while watching over the body of the woman he loved. Then at last she had awakened….

 

They gave all their strength to this fight, yet that strength was pitifully small, and it dwindled with the supply of biscuits and water. Those little crumbs lasted several days, but at last were gone — “weevils and all,” Davidson declared. Hunger was not the most painful enemy. The worst of that was over. Nothing was left of it except increasing weakness and weariness. It seemed to Jane as though her body were held together by a few very taut elastic bands. But when the water was gone…

They lost all sense of time, of course. There was no time to count, in this long blue torture. They watched the sky in despair, longing for the blessed cool wetness of rain. Even the wind had despaired, exhausted. A few languid zephyrs rippled the sail now and then. All hope of progressing anywhere was shattered by this tropic calm. Sometimes they took down the sail and used it for shelter against the sun….

“Is there a chance we shall be picked up?” Jane asked.

“Yes — a very little one.”

“What do you think about dying, Daveson. Better, maybe?”

“How?” he asked.

“We might jump overboard. Swim, and swim — and — swim…”

“I can’t swim,” he told her. “And anyway, I want to hold out for that little chance. I want to live.”

“So do I.”

She played her part determinedly, faithfully. When she complained it was in jest. Civilization? Well, a soda-fountain, perhaps. But there were no such compromises. It seemed that she had been swallowing red-hot embers. Another day or two crept by, and they still steered watch and watch, shipmates. Davidson’s cheeks were hollow, and his eyes blazed. Soon she realized that her voice was useless. She could not speak above a painful, half-choked whisper. No, there were no compromises. She wished she could talk with him, if only a little. Their scraps of conversation had been precious.

“Daveson, do you believe in God?” she had asked once, as they exchanged the oar.

“I don’t believe in anything on earth, still less anything off it.”

They, and the oar, were floating in a blue void.

“God was hammered — and — hammered — into my head years ago,” Jane pursued. “But I rebelled. I didn’t like Him. Not their little God, anyhow.”

“I believe in you,” Davidson faltered.

That was the last coherent conversation. Every time he woke her, it was harder for her to move. It came like a rough intrusion. She had to struggle up against the weakness that held her crushed flat underfoot in the bottom of the boat — the burden that was each time harder to throw off. Sometimes she wondered whether it was worth the fight. Why not just lie there and die? The restfulness of death! But Davidson’s face, tormented with weariness and starvation, would make her remember. Until the last, her small strength was promised.

She lost all sense of gravity. The world would not pause. It was a pulsing whirl of hot blue, with Davidson’s face somewhere in its eddies. She could scarcely hold the oar, while the sea poured back and forth and the sky wheeled. The sail looked old and haggard, too, as frail as though the merest puff might make it melt away into air. It seemed to be made of no real solid material. She could see no recognizable world. But she held on to what there was. She steered a while, then found a shadow bending over her. Her hand did not know enough to let go of the oar of its own accord, until it was taken from her. She slept, then, until the relentless shadow came again to wake her. That was in the desolate hours some time after midnight. She steered again — a small, worn-out ghost.

The end of strength came with terrifying suddenness, as if all her muscles had agreed to surrender together from their feeble hold, and had left her unsustained. Dizzily the oar eluded her grasp. She kept it from sliding into the sea. It was her last effort. She felt a sense of victory, as if with that faint gesture she had saved the boat. The oar was safe. It was all she could do.

“David!” she said faintly, in an agonized whisper; and slipped forward, helpless. She could steer his course no longer. He roused himself from his half-sleep; and as he touched her she gave him a tiny wisp of a parched smile.

“Shipmate,” he whispered, so faintly that she scarcely heard him. He took the oar, and bent over her. Her head was on his knees….

Then he felt a coolness about him, as though a wind had sprung up; and the air surrounding him was brighter. Struggling, he raised his head and looked. Yes, the dawn was coming. It was light. The east was like a ship with immense rose-colored sails. Dawn? What good was the dawn? Beauty. It could give them that while Jane’s life faded — his own, too, soon enough.

With a sudden wildness, he stared ahead; and kept on gazing fixedly into the sunrise, incredulous and awed, wondering why his eyes were playing such tricks. Then, very gently, he roused Jane. With awful weariness she lifted her head, and he felt remorse at having disturbed her to share this insane delusion. He pointed; she looked out ahead, and he felt a quiver run through her.

Sometimes it happens that, just as you have reconciled yourself, after long struggle, to some harsh decision the world has made upon you, these seemingly unalterable circumstances may alter, as though a black curtain had been raised to reveal a gleaming stage…. Sometimes, after a Nantucket sea captain’s wife has strained her eyes for days from the look-out on the roof for the sails of the schooner long overdue, just as she has abandoned herself to a grief so benumbing, a torture so exquisite, that the world has no room to hold it — sometimes he comes home…. And sometimes, when two people are dying together in an open boat, hundreds of miles from any known land, the sea and sky form a prodigious magic, and dawn clouds lift from an enchanted island.

It showed through rifts in the rose and gold clouds, almost as ethereal as they. In that mystic light, land and mist were jumbled in a glowing mountainous heap of colors, and over them was the tense sky thronged with still brightening feathers of cloud. The very water beneath the keel of the skiff was alive and magical; and the little boat herself seemed to be holding her breath. A marvellous iridescence came over the island, a gleam of pale gold and lavender, of green and soft blue, intermingled subtly, woven with the wings of crimson mist. The sea was silver-blue, and the island drifted between it and the sky, gleaming like a fire-opal.

Wild-eyed, Davidson stared at the fusion of those colors. It was ineffable loveliness given at a moment of despair and surrender. It was hope and happiness and beauty, coming together at a time when he was sure they were all completely lost. He had always held, deep down, an obscure faith in life — that you could live without being forever disillusioned, that sometimes you were given a piece of beauty unchallenged and untroubled — “a woodpile without a nigger,” he said to himself — that there were some few remnants of a good old-fashioned fairy-tale magic left, to live for. This passage in the open boat had shaken that faith. He had deliberately accused it, face to face, of being a tinseled liar; he had chucked it overboard and watched it sink. And now, here was a living proof, a symbol, of that faith; it had been quietly drifting along with him all the time — or perhaps, perverse creature, was merely following him because he had abandoned it — and now a score of ardent voices clamored in his heart to say that he had not been wrong after all.

The mist-screen lifted and broke here and there, showing a green peninsula with a tuft of feathery palm trees; then a soft abyss of blue velvet between two gilded ridges; a sharp purple mountain with red clouds hovering about its peak. Clouds and island were still half-melted together, half-submerged in an ocean of colored light.

The sun cast gold spears radiating upward through the colors, making them paler, making clouds stand separate from the land, and the land look more real and substantial. In a few more moments the sea was its own clear blue once more, the clouds had drifted clear, and ahead of the exhausted pair in the open boat was a real earthly island, as though sea and sky and sun had created it at that very moment expressly for them, seeing and rescuing them in their direst need.

All this time Jane had never spoken or moved. Only now she looked up at him, smiling as much as her blackened and tortured lips would allow. The magic should not be tarnished with a few choking words. She leaned her head against his knees again, and that small gesture of companionship was an eloquent thanksgiving to the sea and to him….

They remembered little else of that day. They had crept from the skiff and fallen in warm pinkish sand. The beach rose at a rather steep slant to a forest fringed with palms. They staggered up into cool fragrant shade, and found a few coconuts, fallen before they were ripe. Davidson had one tool — his jackknife. It took all his strength to cut through the green husk…. Water, milky and cool, and the soft white jelly that lined the shell of the unripe coconut — this was their first food. They opened another, and moistened their faces with its water…. There were flickering shadows and shearing lights, fragrances, and an odd poise to the universe.

The island was kind. It seemed to understand their plight. Its long crescent of a beach had welcomed them like an enchanted threshold. At its south end it tapered into a low green peninsula, lacy with palms, and at its very tip two magnificent ones leaned out over the sea, heads together. Sometimes they were two plotting mischief-makers, sometimes two lovers. To the north, the beach gave place to rocks, and finally rose in cliffs that were like the crude castle of a giant.

Behind the circle of coconut palms that edged the beach, the forest was not dense, although it was luxuriant. It was a friendly forest, with few harsh brambles and thick creepers. Its floor was covered with mosses and small vines and flowers, broken by clumps of ferns, some nearly as tall as Davidson, yet delicately feathered as frost on a window-pane. Flowering trees threw brightness and fragrance among the more sober green of mangoes and breadfruit. Some of these flowering trees had immense clusters of flame-red flowers; some were white; some pink like apple-blossoms. And there was a modest white flower with the fragrance of a marvellous wine. But far more important to the shipwrecked pair were papaia trees, with their fantastic clusters of big, smooth-skinned yellow fruit, easily reached; and alligator pears, guavas, bananas, and pale wild oranges.

There was nothing to do but rest in silence, and nibble cautiously at the fruits, a few of which they collected by almost superhuman effort. They felt very sick. That weary writhing of the little boat haunted their muscles. In spite of being starved, it was hard to swallow anything. They lay on the beach all day and all the next day almost without speaking. The sea whispered at the edge of the sand, and the big palm fronds rustled.

Jane could do nothing but dream, and her thoughts edged back softly but not understandingly over her life. This was too different from anything she had known or conceived, for her to understand it. Not so long ago the perpetual dust of Professor Myers’ office threatened to be her only atmosphere, perhaps forever. That dust! There was none here. Where was she now?… There had been Millie, gay and heartless, and other friends, apparently always in trouble, whom she had sistered. There had been disillusionments, mountain-high. Your voice could laugh, but sometimes your soul didn’t. It stayed underneath and languished. She was hurt to find life made up of so many little things. At first she believed most faithfully that they had a deeper meaning and a coherent larger purpose; but after a while she saw to her dismay that the deeper and larger things were merely shadows cast by the small. So she buried the whole great treasure of winged dreams and iridescent shades under an oak-tree in the farthest corner of her heart, and planted a bush of wild roses over it. A small grave of dreams. Secretly and silently she buried them, a little ashamed, as a burglar might be who had long pursued some gleaming ruby necklace, and, having by infinite stealth and risk obtained it, found that it was red glass.

After that burial — now that the world had jolted her down to its own level — she had gone straight ahead with life, not liking it very well, but liking a few of the ways it had and some of the friends it had given her. She tried, serenely and patiently, to help them a little, to give them something of herself and of a curious wisdom she had evolved; yet she had a dim vision of herself always standing a bit aloof from them after all, half-smiling — a little gray goddess with dull brown hair. And that would have been her life.

But, because she wasn’t gray enough, after all — she had missed it by a shade — there came the red skirt and the Annie Marlow. Where was that poor ship now? She thought of dark green sea-caverns, and the slow waving of great fishes’ tails, deliberate and soft and half-seen in dimness, coming and going and interweaving…. And then that good-hearted crew, and old Captain Maynard. Where were they? Drifting around somewhere in the life-boat, starving and suffering and dying? A shudder… She herself had come so near the edge of a great granite cliff overhanging a valley of black and purple shadows….

And then, Davidson, who had saved her life, for whom she was beginning to feel something like earnest adoration. He was still a mystery. His sense of values and appreciation of the poetic side of life were sometimes a little hard to reconcile with the sea. Strange that he could come to her straight out of this sea, in all the grandeur of his simplicity, and understand her, when not one of the friends whose lives had been more like hers could come so near.

Thinking of him, all at once she wanted him. That, also, was new — the feeling that she needed companionship. He was stretched out beside her in the shade; and she spoke to him. “Daveson, have you got another orange over there? I honestly can’t move, to speak of.”

“I’m trembly, too.”

“I like having you around,” she said. “My thoughts wabble so. How’s your state of mind?”

“Haven’t any.”

“I was thinking — about the others — wondering what happened.”

“No one’ll ever know, I guess. I’m afraid they never got anywhere, Jane. And I’m sure I don’t understand why we did.”

“I’m curious to know where we got to,” she said.

“Well, as far as I know, no land has any business to be here.”

“Could it be the coast?”

“We were hundreds of miles from the coast when we were wrecked,” he told her, “and you know how much progress we made in the skiff.”

“An island, then.”

“Must be. Perhaps it’s Atlantis. Some day we’ll explore.”

“Do you really have hopes that we’ll ever be all right again?”

“Well, I don’t feel any worse, do you?”

“I feel like a starfish,” Jane said. “A sick starfish….”

“Maybe we’re dead. I don’t know.”

“The other world doesn’t seem to exist,” she went on. “I’ve been thinking about it a long time, trying to figure out which of them is the dream.”

“Don’t you believe there’s room for both of ’em?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t seem likely. If we survive this, we may find out.”

“Be a shame if we didn’t survive, having stuck it out this long.”

“Yes. I want to. I’m going to try to. What shall we do? Do you think we’ll be rescued, or what?”

“Maybe there are people around,” he said. “We’ll explore, when we can. Maybe we’ll have to make out here a while.”

“There seems to be stuff to eat growing round.”

“Yes; we won’t starve. And another thing. I’ve got matches. Waterproof container in the biscuit tin. Probably O.K. We can build fires, to keep warm, if it ever gets cold here, and to cook things.”

“What things?”

“Well, breadfruit, for instance. Isn’t one supposed to roast breadfruit? I’m not an expert in the field of tropical cooking, but I know we can’t exist very healthily on just fruit.”

“What is breadfruit, then?”

“Potato-y stuff, I think.”

“I believe it will all be sort of natural to me,” Jane suggested. I’ve camped out a lot.”

“Without a tent? Without any blankets, cook-pots, or a single useful implement of any kind, except a knife? This isn’t a summer vacation, Jane.”

“S’pose there are wild beasts around?”

“Might be. Almost certain to be poisonous snakes. Furthermore, in the tropics there’s always fever, and no quinine within a thousand miles.”

But in spite of this dismal note, Jane could not seem to come to grips with reality. She was conscious only of a dreamy peace.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you, Jane. Likely nothing that happens to us here can seem very bad after the boat. I just don’t want you to get the idea that our troubles are over, or that this is a ready-made fairy-tale paradise, that’s all.”

As evening came, a thousand shrill-voiced crickets burst into chorus, and bat-wings swooped overhead. A new breath of subtle fragrance came from the island that had sheltered them — the fragrance of tangles of jasmine flowers. Stars came, and the great fans of palm trees stirred softly. Davidson slept near her. It was not a ready-made, fairy-tale paradise. But she knew of nowhere in the world she would rather be.

Chapter IX.

Lost Island, part 9

Chapter IX (pp. 113-126) of Lost Island, which began here.

They might almost have spent their lives in that one corner of the long beach, exchanging low-voiced conversation, moving only in order to shake low-drooping branches of an orange tree, or pull down another banana. But on the afternoon of the fourth day, black clouds began to pile up over the sea. Leaves rustled and shivered, turning up their pale lower sides. Jane and Davidson had moved slowly along the beach, with the vague idea of finding shelter from the threatening rain somewhere in the woods or cliffs.

Davidson pointed. “Maybe we can crawl in under that big rock that leans outward. Up there near the top of the cliff.”

“If we can get up to it,” Jane said.

Getting up was not so hard as it looked. They had edged around tidal pools fringed with seaweed, climbed giant steps, crept along narrow ledges, peered into dim crevices. Almost straight below, the sea rose and fell with lazy, swaying rhythm. It seemed blue beyond anything that blue could be. Farther back, along by the beach, it changed abruptly to clear blue-green; and sea urchins could be distinctly seen, very black and bristly against the magic of flickering lights on the sand. Higher and higher they climbed, among sharp black pinnacles, up-thrust turrets of rock, easily three hundred feet above the sea; and, always exploring, searching for shelter, they had come on to a broad level shelf just below the forest. Here, almost entirely concealed by giant ferns and flowering vines which drooped down fringily from above and nearly met the ferns, they found the entrance to a cave.

They pushed flowers aside, and stepped in cautiously. Davidson himself could easily stand erect under the arched ceiling. The cave was cool and green and soft with moss. When their eyes were used to the gloominess, they could see, in the rock walls, gleams and sparkles of mica. A little lizard, of a non-committal color, with bright alert eyes and a long tail, ran up one wall, paused to look at his visitors, and ran on to the ceiling, where he clung and continued to eye them upside-down. With a keen cry, a white-winged bird flashed by outside, and carried away the last of the sunlight; for a moment later black clouds were upon the island, and the cliffs were lost in rain.

“I’m tired — tired beyond words,” Jane said suddenly, in a faint voice.

“Well, no wonder; that was quite a climb for two ancient mariners.”

“I thought I was all right again, and strong, almost.”

“You’re doing grand — just grand, Jane.”

Some parts of the floor were damp, but for the most part it was fairly dry. They lay down in the moss; and quite simply he put his arms around her and held her close to him. She lay still, and thought about him, who had protected her so valiantly through storm and shipwreck, hunger and despair, fear and sickness. She was content. That she should be lying in his arms was too natural even to wonder about. In some far-away corner of her consciousness, the fleeting thought occurred to her that some day they would be lovers. But even that was nothing to wonder very much about. It, also, would be natural as the sunrise….

“Well,” she said, “it’s beginning to look as if we were marooned, Daveson. We’ve been here four days, and not a trace of anybody.”

“We’ve got to depend on ourselves, I guess,” he said.

“What would you think of making this cave permanent headquarters — home, sort of? Be nice to have a home, wouldn’t it?” She chuckled. “We might lose this castaway feeling — this dreamy feeling of belonging nowhere and nothing being real.”

“It’s a good cave, as caves go,” Davidson admitted. “Sure, I’d just as soon be a caveman. Time’s going backwards: we’ll be our own Neolithic ancestors.”

“That’s just what some scientific expedition will think, when it discovers your bones,” Jane put in. “You’ll get stuck in a museum, Daveson — Exhibit Y. Rather interesting thought, the vulgar mob gawping at your large bones — you who like to be the most inconspicuous person in the world!”

“How about you?” he retorted. “Remember, I’ll have company in that glass case. You’ll be right alongside. ‘Caveman’s Girl Friend’; or, maybe, ‘Male and Female of Missing Link.'”

“Sure, I’ll stick by you,” she promised solemnly. “But in the mean time, I don’t see how our Neolithic ancestors could ask for a better cave. Cool. High up with the wind and birds. A little damp in spots, I admit. We can lug the sail up from the boat, and sleep on that, and my overcoat. A little darksome and gloomy, of course….”

“We’ll shove some of those vines back out of the way,” he suggested. “Be a heap lighter, then.”

Jane was awed into momentary silence at the almost dizzying realization of how this rock-bound “home” of theirs was suspended far above a rumbling sea, while the eternal forest grew on its very roof.

“It doesn’t look as if life was going to be so difficult and dangerous,” she said presently. “We’ve already found food and water and shelter, and we haven’t been devoured by lions, that I know of…. I’m looking forward to exploring, when I’m strong enough.”

“And I’ve a couple of ideas I want to chew over some more,” Davidson said. “When I was a kid, I read Candide, and was specially tickled by the very end of it. ‘Cultivate your garden.’ It rang true. It still does. That philosophy covers just about everything. If we’re really stuck here, we could do worse than have a try at a garden.”

“Waste of time round here,” Jane objected. “The whole island’s one immense garden already.”

“But we could collect things together a bit. Go hunting yams, for instance, and okra, and such truck — transplant ’em — get a lot of ’em together in one convenient place.”

“Bet you wouldn’t know a yam if you saw one.”

“Well, that remains to be seen. Read up a bit about that sort of thing, once. And there’s always the good old method of trial and error.”

“You’ll need a couple of tools,” she reminded him. “A shovel, and a hoe, and…”

“I’ll make ’em,” he said. “What are my hands for, anyway? I kind of want to use my hands again. You see, being stranded here is — well, sort of a challenge. Hard to explain… a challenge to one’s ingenuity and sense of humor, and everything else. And I want to see what I can make of it. I guess it’s just an ordinary male reaction — I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you turn hydraulic engineer?” she suggested. “Find out where the water drips in from — dry out the cave a bit.”

“That’s one thing,” he agreed, “and another is fishing. Without any equipment. How to go about it kind of baffles me. It eggs me on. I keep wondering about it. Nets? How to make nets? Coconut fiber? Spears? Could I learn to spear fish the way the South Sea islanders do? You see, it’s all pretty difficult and interesting to think about.”

“You’re dreadfully ambitious for a person so recently shipwrecked,” Jane told him, with faint protest in her voice. “I admire you, but you make me feel tireder than ever.”

He chuckled. “Oh, I’m not going to begin tomorrow,” he assured her. “I’m just thinking ahead, that’s all. Fun to lie here thinking of all the things you’re not going to do tomorrow. We can afford to lazy round and think…. You know, I’ve a hunch we’ll be here quite a long time.”

“I don’t mind confessing I’m glad,” said Jane.

“Not frightened?”

“Not very. I don’t believe I care a bit whether we’re rescued or not.”

He drew a sigh, as if of relief. “Neither do I,” he agreed. “If it doesn’t take too much effort to keep alive, I think there may be some peace here — and I’ve tried to find peace all my life. And she thought his arms tightened a little, just as she fell asleep.

In the morning, the cave was filled with shimmering, elusive light. It silvered the tips of tall ferns that stood sentinel at the opening; it was reflected in blue and green and gold sparkles from the scales of the little lizard, who had shifted his position until he clung at the very rim of daylight, half outside the cave. Jane and Davidson got up lazily from the moss, and went to the threshold of their front door. They were in a high world, from where they could look straight out into the wonder of a new morning. The towers and pinnacles of rock, yesterday so desolate in the impending rain, were touched with magic, and at their feet the sea glistened with a new and younger blue.

“Let’s explore today — I think I really feel like it, at last,” Jane said.

Davidson was leaning against the front of the cave, looking at her. The sun glinted on her long tangled brown hair, made it shine with little twists of gold; and her face was young and eager. The pale, pinched look was fading slowly away. She turned, and their eyes met. Both smiled.

“Yes,” he said at last. “We’ll explore. But first — breakfast.”

They pushed between the ferns on one side of the cave mouth; and by climbing a steep ledge, clutching the thick vines that fell across it, digging their toes into small crannies, they were able to get up to the level of the forest, and stood triumphantly on the roof of their dwelling-place. Then they went into the woods in different directions, to hunt breakfast.

Leaves sprinkled wet pearls as Jane brushed through them. They were a great diverse population. There were soft lacy ones that drooped graciously, little lithe aspiring ones that grew tensely upward, long slender grayish ones, big triangular glossy ones — every shade of green and gray-green and yellow-green, blended together subtly in a chorus of colors. They were conversing, too, these leaves, in a language of almost imperceptible nods and stirrings and secret smiles, and slight flickerings where golden ethereal beads of light broke into green mercury over edges and tips and stems.

Jane found her heart hammering so hard that it shook her, and she did not feel the twigs and branches of undergrowth against her face. “What is it?” she asked tensely; and answered herself: “I guess I’m getting well; I’m in love!” And she began to run, back toward the deeper woods — running away from the intensity of her own feelings, running to find a quiet corner where she could rest and think, all alone. She leaned against a tree, to catch her breath. This quiet soothed her. A green smell came from the moss and ferns. Earth. Flowers starred the little glade here, and every petal of every flower was an entire world. A solitary cricket cheeped nearby — a small golden cry of life.

She felt wild and ethereal, part of the woods. She stretched out her hands, and leaves met them caressingly. They rustled a little as a fragrant breath of wind strayed through. The woods were singing now. There were a thousand small glimmering things stirring in her heart — and a deep, persistent calling, like waves.

Slowly, out of a mist of confused happiness, she became aware of another calling, of Davidson’s voice: “Janie! Where are you?”

They perched on the edge of the cliff, and nibbled their fruit. It was gay, spitting an occasional orange-seed far out into blue mid-space.

“Davidson!”

“What, Janie?”

“Got your knife?”

“Sure.”

“Well, cut off my hair, will you?”

“No, I like your hair.”

“Well, cut off some of it, then. It’s hot and heavy and tangled. I haven’t anything to comb it with, and it gets in my eyes, and it’s thoroughly messy and uncomfortable.”

“I see your point, but I hate to.”

“Go ahead! Courage! I want to swim today.”

“Swim? Are you up to that?”

“Of course I’m up to it. In fact, I’m crazy for it. So be a good shipmate, and cut it off. I want to feel the wind on the back of my neck.”

He opened the jackknife that had stood by him through the thick and thin of several years, and took hold of a bunch of Jane’s long hair.

“Does this mean — ” he stopped to ask — “that I’m going to have to try and shave, or anything like that?”

“Of course not. I think your tawny beard is getting exceedingly picturesque.”

“It must be.”

“What do we care how we look?” she demanded. “For the first time in our lives, it doesn’t make any difference.” She looked at him, and the sweeping realization came over her of the full import of this. “Do you realize how grand it is?” she questioned. Her eyes gleamed with eagerness. “There are no mirrors, Davidson! We’re free of them. Oh, mirrors are one of the worst things about a hateful civilization. No mirrors! Do you realize the glory of that? Do you realize what it means?… It means I can be beautiful, for the first time in my life!” she burst out triumphantly.

Davidson smiled. “I’ve always thought you were beautiful,” he said simply.

She laughed at him, secretly afire with inexpressible joy. Then she shook her head, serious again. “No,” she said. “Always, before, I’ve been plain — plain old plain-Jane. I’ve had friends, and they liked me, but nobody ever thought I was anything but plain. I couldn’t get away from that, and accepted it, all my life. I never cared or worried very much. But now, all of a sudden — I don’t know why — I want to be beautiful. And I am — because — well, because I feel that way. That’s enough — here, where there are no mirrors. I feel like the island itself — shining and iridescent.… Come on, get busy on my hair!”

Reluctantly he plunged into it, holding small bunches of it firmly in one hand, and slashing with the knife. It was a slow and difficult job, but before it was finished quite a lot of Jane’s hair managed to get free and blow merrily out to sea. What was left looked pretty ragged, but he saw that she was right about it, and not only from the practical point of view. Short in front so that it could not get in her eyes, it allowed new lines of neck and forehead and cheeks to be revealed; it made her look younger, more carefree, like a gipsy princess behaving rather naughtily and happy about it. The last traces of the old Jane were gone.

She shook her head, feeling it, ruffling up her hair, letting the wind stir it. “Wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Thanks, shipmate. And now let’s go.”

The coral sand on the beach below was shiny and hard, in some places snow-white, in others shading to pink and purplish. The sea was a thousand colors, changing and shifting subtly. Waves rushed at the beach, blue, shading to green, glinting with red, and — for a magic second at the break — pure gold.

“I’m going to strip,” she said. “Don’t know why I haven’t before. Modesty in mixed company, I s’pose. But I don’t want to be modest any more.”

“Better be careful!” he warned. “I’ve never seen a naked woman. There’s no telling what it may do to me.”

“You’re a sailor, and you tell me that!”

“It’s the truth,” he said.

“But it’s amazing. How did it happen?”

“I don’t know,” he mumbled. “Always been shy, I guess. Sort of steered clear.”

“No amorous escapades in your whole career?” she asked, still incredulous.

“Sure; when I was in grammar school I carried a little girl’s books for her; and when I told her I was going to run away to sea, she cried.”

“And afterwards? At sea?”

“Well, the other chaps had plenty of stories to tell, but they didn’t sound like anything I wanted. They got their money stolen and acquired diseases.”

“And so,” Jane repeated slowly, “you’ve never seen a naked woman. S’pose you can stand the shock?”

“Well, I don’t guarantee the results.”

“I won’t hold you responsible, then,” she said. “But I’m a confirmed nudist and sun-worshipper.”

“I think I’m going to be, too.”

“That’s another thing I missed in New York.”

“There are roofs,” he said.

“There are also airplanes,” she reminded him. “Well, let’s have a ceremony. Strip together, and bury the remnants in some special place, as an offering to the sun.”

But the wiser Davidson objected. “It can be cold in the tropics,” he warned her. “We’d better save ’em. Stick ’em back in the cave; out of sight, if you like.”

Jane unlaced her shoes, and kicked them far and wide.

“Probably a good idea to retrieve them, too,” he said. “Though I hate to spoil the fun.”

“You know, you’ve made me almost self-conscious,” she protested. “What if I don’t come up to long-cherished expectations?”

“That’s the least of my worries,” he said; “and anyway, I won’t hold you responsible.”

“Well, then, off with them! Here’s to the sun!”

She was lithe and well-muscled, with strong shoulders, deep chest, and a straight back like a young boy’s. There were still a good many bruises on her body, and she was too thin from days of starvation: there were shadows between her ribs.

She flung up her arms, in the rapture of feeling wind and sun against her skin; and, tossing back her short hair with a new careless gesture, she ran down the beach a little way before dashing into the sea that waited for her — hungrily, Davidson thought, tense with desire.

Her swimming was easy and agile, with leisurely grace: face in the sea, hair floating loose like seaweed, elbows arched one after another, arms and shoulders gleaming silver for an instant at each stroke, body rolling a little from side to side — a finished “crawl.” The water was warm silk.

But she was soon tired. She lay floating on her back, gazing at the domed roof of the blue world in which she was imprisoned. The sea’s almost imperceptible long swells cradled her. Then, with a slower stroke, she swam out two or three hundred feet more. Looking straight down through the wavering blue crystal atmosphere, she could see a garden of ivory castles, purple fans, chiseled coral boulders, and companies of bright little fish, sometimes holding still as though preserved in blue glass, sometimes darting with a suddenness that was like a conjurer’s trick: they were there, poising on their jeweled fins; and then there was space where they had been — that was all she saw.

She swam back slowly to shore. By now the sand was almost too hot to walk on. She walked on the edges of her tender bare feet, curling up her toes a little. But except for that, and a sense of unusual well-being, she was not in the least self-conscious, which only added to her happiness…. “Davidson! There are corals deep down — wonderful caves and towers and palaces; and little fish that make you think a rainbow somewhere has burst into millions of pieces, and the pieces have come alive.”

“What a mermaid you are!” he observed.

“Why don’t you come out and see?”

“Don’t you know that sailors can’t swim?” he asked. “It’s one of the incongruities they all have in common.”

“That’s ridiculous,” was her verdict.

“It may be ridiculous, but it’s true.”

“Well, then, I’ll teach you. It’s the grandest feeling I know.”

“You rest a while first,” he warned her. “And don’t get too much sun at first. You’ll turn into a red ember.”

“Grandpa!” she mocked.

“Maybe so, but I’m going to watch out for you, shipmate. You aren’t any ox yet, you know. I could play a tune on those ribs of yours.”

“I s’pose you’re right.” She threw herself down, still glistening, on the sand beside him, and lay breathing deeply, arms above her head. “I’ve never in my life swum in water that was so — beautiful,” she told him. “Beautiful — beautiful — I use that trite old word again and again. But it means something, here. You understand me when I say it, don’t you, Daveson? We’ll give back to that beaten and trampled-on poor old word all the meaning it ought to have, and more. More, Daveson, because beauty will be our religion, our new god — this island’s god.”

“Thought it was the sun we were worshipping.”

“Oh, there are quantities of gods,” Jane informed him. “The sun is one of the biggest and best. But to me they’re all subordinates — essential fragments of the one supreme one, which is Beauty. It’s beauty we live on, after all. Without it we’d starve and die a horrible death, spiritually. The hunger for it is the one thing all life has in common. It may not be recognized as that, and it may have very different forms. I think that’s the answer to those indefinable yearnings we all have sometimes, that we can’t quite understand or put into thoughts….”

He wanted to say that to him she symbolized all earthly and heavenly beauty. He wanted to fling a swift arm across her breast, and never let her go again. But already she had escaped fleet-footed down the beach, leaving him only her laugh, and the print of her gold-white body in the sand. She was collecting shells now, and exploring the tide pools at the foot of the cliffs — those warm pools that fairly seethed with quaint small life: crabs, anemones, starfish (one brilliant red one looked unreal, as though it had fallen in a pot of paint), and strange unidentifiable shelly or wormy creatures. Davidson joined her. They stepped cautiously, to avoid the barnacles with which some of the ledges were carpeted. Sometimes they held hands companionably, as they crouched down to peer into a pool and laugh together at some small oddity.

They climbed down closer to the sea, and stood on rocks that were covered with slippery wrack. Fringes of kelp lifted and fell, swirling.

“Look!” Jane said. “Those shellfish — musselly-looking things. Wonder if they’re edible.”

“Too bad they aren’t oysters,” Davidson said.

“We can’t be choosy. Anyway, I’m going to try one. Where’s your knife?” She had pried loose one of the bivalves from a cluster of its companions, and was trying to pull its shells apart.

“In my pants pocket, of course, halfway down the beach. That’s the trouble with your sun-worship; how does a chap carry his knife?… Here, let me open him.”

“Pretty slimy,” she observed. “But I’m no sissy. Here goes!” And she swallowed hard.

Davidson laughed at her expression. “Better stick to oranges,” he advised. “If you don’t enjoy these critters, what’s the use of forcing yourself to eat ’em?”

“But they’re quite good,” she said. “A little peppery, as if they’d been seasoned.”

“Somebody was mighty thoughtful,” Davidson mocked. But then he tried one himself, and admitted that its sliminess was the worst thing about it, and that it really was a relief from a diet of little beside fruit.

Jane wanted to swim again. She lured Davidson into the water, and set him to thrashing his big arms and legs, while she rollicked around him. “There’s hope for you,” she told him, “even if you are a sailor.” So, swimming and learning to swim, chasing up and down the beach, eating fruit and shellfish, they spent the whole day; and not until dark was beginning to fall could Davidson get Jane to leave the sea.

When at last she came ashore, she realized again with desperate suddenness how tired she really was. All at once she was clumsy and heavy as lead, missing the buoyant support of the water, feeling that gravity had mysteriously and ruthlessly doubled its power. She thought it odd that the water should seem a more natural element — fish out of water was no word for the way she felt now! “Damn! My strength goes, just like that,” she protested, snapping her fingers. “I wish I’d get over it, Daveson.”

“You silly child, you’ve been banged up, and shipwrecked, and starved, and sick, and nearly dead in a dozen ways,” he reminded her. “What d’you expect so soon? I shouldn’t have let you swim so much.”

She sighed. The cave at the top of the cliff looked incredibly high and far away. She eyed it doubtfully. “Let’s stay on the beach tonight,” she suggested.

For answer, he picked her up gently, and carried her toward the cliff. Her wet hair brushed his shoulder. Up the giant steps and the winding ledges he walked cautiously, breathing hard from the weight of his burden, feeling at the same time stirred and triumphant, as on the night he had carried her half-dead body out of a tangle of wreckage on the Annie Marlow. Only now she was very much alive, and warm, and naked.

“I love you,” he said. But — irritatingly if it had not been so absurd — she was sound asleep.

She did not wake up when he put her down in the moss. She did not wake at all till long after the big green-lighted fireflies in the vines at the cave mouth had folded themselves away under the leaves. She was dimly conscious first of the fragrance of those flowers outside, then of the softness of moss against her unaccustomed nakedness — soothing to sunburned shoulders — and then that Davidson’s chest was against her own, his arms around her once more, and that she was happy to be so intimately close to him. She lifted her hand, and cautiously caressed one big solid shoulder. At her touch he started as though from an electric shock.

“Sorry! Didn’t mean to wake you,” she whispered. “Glad you’re here, that’s all.”

And the next thing she knew he had hunted and found her lips in the enchanted dark, and was kissing them hungrily, though reverently, and caressing her with hardened hands that were surprisingly tender.

“Janie! My little Janie!”

“Yes,” she said.

There was nothing in life, except to be his, part of him.

Chapter X

Lost Island, part 10

Chapter X (pages 127 – 142) of Lost Island. Chapter I here.

Davidson was whittling. He sat in the mouth of the cave, with the big green ferns around him, the rocky turrets and soft blue sea for background. He was naked and tawny-colored among green fronds. The thick soft hair on his chest and forearms was spun gold in the sun. The hair on his head was getting scraggly now, and it was oddly bleached on top; the beard was perhaps and inch long — light brown, with glints of gold, and here and there a suspicion of red. In fact, Davidson looked primitive and comfortable, and as if he belonged there. He sat tensely concentrated over a little block of ebony wood which he was shaping with his jackknife; and despite all Jane’s teasing, he would not tell her about it.

“All sailors whittle,” he informed her. “It’s another of our common weaknesses, like not being able to swim, and liking to make love. We just can’t help ourselves.”

“And you won’t tell me what it is?” she pleaded.

“Sure — it’s ebony.”

“Brute!”

“If I told you what it’s going to be, it would turn out to be something else,” he protested.

“Oh, I didn’t know that. One of the subtle secrets of the art of whittling, no doubt.”

“Sailors never confess what they’re whittling,” he went on. “Bad luck.”

“Well, I’ll try to be patient.”

“After all, Janie, there’s plenty of time.”

“‘Scuse me, will you? I’m going for a short swim.”

“Sure — but don’t turn into a mermaid. I shouldn’t like you half so well with a fish-tail, or fins.”

He felt more at peace with life and with himself than he had ever felt before. Every now and then he glanced up from the whittling, and looked out for a moment into the glowing sea. Every leaf in the fringe of bushes trembled; beneath, the waves were small voices. This world belonged to him. The real one was lost outside somewhere, and was of no consequence anyhow. He hoped it had been chucked over the edge into black grinning chaos.

Paradoxically, he was awed and even a little startled when he thought about the superb naturalness of their love the night before — a naturalness which would have been impossible in the mad rush and whirl, the gigantic conflict, of the city. This was the way it was meant to be, and mixing them up till they were hopelessly lost in a jungle labyrinth of complexes, conventions, inhibitions, and all the rest of the long words which merely meant unhappy struggle.

He thought fleetingly, with horror, of the morbid despair of his own boyhood, the blind groping for beauty and for freedom, the tragic squalor of the life his parents lived, in which he had been brought up, from which some inextinguishable silver flame of desire had prompted him to rebel, to run away, to take precarious refuge in the immense aloofness of the sea. And probably, he thought, that same story, with slight variations, was at some time, in some degree, the story of every human being.

What made his particular story different from others, was that he had won. He had completely escaped morbidness and squalor — not only in heart, but in the flesh as well. He had left it all behind, apparently forever; and was surrounded by nothing but beauty — undreamed-of, unimaginable beauty; for so far, certainly, nothing had occurred to justify his first reasonable fears about the island. He was conscious of a surge of gratitude — not exactly to a God whom he doubted, but to whatever circumstances or fates had combined to create this magic. Perhaps it was Jane, after all, to whom gratitude was due. So he thanked her again, silently and worshipfully, and bent over his whittling…. And Jane, who was clambering down the cliff for an early dip in the sea, felt much as he was feeling — ecstatically at peace, with a knowledge that all was well with the world.

She stood on a shelf of rock three or four feet above the water. Seaweed, black and fringy, heaved in a blue, bottomless void. She looked up toward the top of the cliff, but Davidson and the cave were hidden behind tall jags of rock. Between these jags the sea surged and withdrew with a rumbling suck, and eerie swirlings of seaweed.

With sudden abandon, Jane flung her arms above her head, and in the same motion hurled her lithe body into the air, straightened it, and shot cleanly into the sea. It was a superb gesture: her way of shouting joy. Silver bubbles streamed up behind her. She sank, more and more softly, making no move to bring herself to the surface again, but waiting, prolonging the pleasure. Presently she was gliding up instead of down. She looked toward the surface — saw it like a silver film above her before she shattered it. Then, tossing back her hair, she swam vigorously.

For her, swimming was a means of expression that transcended all others that she knew. She had learned it in the cool lakes of Maine; she had taken to it at the age of five or so like a small fish. Swimming opened up an entire new world of possibilities. She had long known the joy of coasting around a small island, sometimes under low-dipping pine branches, sometimes past rocks where turtles sat sunning. She knew the beauty of an under-water world, mystically blurred for human eyes, with its shifting sun-rays, streams of bubbles, golden ripple reflections; a silver-green mermaid world where fish were at home; an alluring world because she could not stay down in it very long at a time, but had to be content with brief glimpses.

In fact, swimming was a way of getting about which did not involve sweat, dirt, or blisters on toes; it was a continuing fresh coolness, a perpetual caress; an escape from gravity, clothes, solidity. And the motions of a well-rounded crawl could certainly give as much creative ecstasy, as much joy in supple grace and power, as any dance.

In New York, swimming, like mountains and sun-worship, had been lost. Now she lived its delights all over again, and they were greater even than she had remembered, because of the clear brilliant buoyancy of this sea, and the glitter of sand, corals, and small fish.

She came ashore at last, feeling rather superior to mere fish — because, after all, fish couldn’t enjoy her world, and probably weren’t over-sensitive to the beauties of their own, whereas she could be keenly alive and appreciative in both of them.

“Davidson” — she repeated the thought aloud at the top of the cliff — “I’m better than a fish.” And she explained about the two worlds.

“Shouldn’t boast, Janie,” he chided her. “You can’t move as fast as a fish.”

“Fast! Who wants to move fast? Too much speed in modern life anyway — everybody knows that.”

“Even in fish life?” he queried.

Sleek and glistening, she flopped down beside him in the ferns. “Certainly,” she insisted. “Modern fish are stream-lined, like modern cars, but they don’t look so silly.”

“And are their bodies by Fisher, too?”

“Certainly — who else?”

“That’s where he got his name and reputation, I s’pose…. Well, as I said before, just as long as you don’t grow fins…”

They went exploring. Back of the cave, the woods stretched for perhaps two or three miles, then rose into a meadowy hilltop, which projected like a bare shoulder from a loosely flung fur mantle. It was toward this hill that they made their way. The woods were for the most part easy enough to get through, although now and then they had to battle underbrush, climb over a mossy windfall, or back away and try another place.

The tree-trunks, dark brown and gnarled, grew up and lost themselves, as the trunks of tropic trees seem always to do. In northern countries, Jane thought, a tree had a more definite personality. Each was an individual. You could see where it came from, and where it was bound, even when many grew thickly together as in a pine grove. They would be growing in harmony, but each knew its own mind, nevertheless. She remembered a certain pine grove on the slope of a pastured hill; and even now she could feel the mighty lilt and sway of those trees before a northwest wind that polished the blue of the sky. She stood there in a tropic island jungle, and heard, for a fleeting minute or two, the long low rushing of that far-away wind.

Here, you saw a section of trunk which rose up and turned into a cloud of green and gray shadowings. Branches intertwined and seemed to grow together. Vines added to the confusion. It was beautiful, but mysterious. It was better not to try to untangle them by following one single column upward. They did not want you to understand them, these tropic woods.

After a while a pool of light began to show ahead, apple-green and translucent. It was the end of the woods. As they went on, this emerald pool became still brighter, and seemed to radiate a warm glow. Great flowering vines grew at the edge of it — purple blossoms in clusters, and white and yellow ones, hibiscus, honeysuckle, jasmine. When they could find no other hold, they grew in loops and arches over each other. A fragrance, tangled as their tentacles, arose from them. Some had sharp reddish thorns, others smooth green curving stems.

And butterflies — fragile flaming creatures; freedom and the quintessence of high ecstasy; beauty measured in wings. A universe of butterflies triumphant. A breath of azure silk with a sheen like a Persian vase; a lace of yellow and gold; a pair of wings made from the secret essence of orange-blossoms. There was hovering and swirling, stooping tenderly over favorite flowers; flirting, poised on a path of fragrance; swerving up into the breeze; coming to rest, wings spread out in sunlight. The keen joy of flight — wings and sunlight and petals… petals… sunlight… wings….

Jane had loved butterflies longer than she remembered. The swift movements of their wings spoke to her, and their colors had symbolized another and more fragrant world. That world was — this island! She had found it, then! She turned to Davidson, to tell him all that she was thinking, to share her exultation with him….

The hill streamed with rivers of green-gold warmth. Each tall grass blade radiated a quivering atmosphere, and the earth was hot underfoot. But Jane and Davidson were becoming used to this. If you wanted to shade your eyes, you plucked a banana leaf, and allowed sunlight to pour over your body in gold cataracts and waves that were almost visible.

They made their way to the top of the hill; and around them, brilliantly colored, was the enchanted circle of their kingdom. Northeast of the hill lay a valley, like a green trench, down which a little river ran, and across the valley the mountain rose almost vertically out of the sea. This was the same mountain, with its rugged green shoulders and tumultuous cone of reddish-purple rock, which had dominated the island as they stared at it from the sea at dawn. It had seemed unbelievably tall and remote. That was illusion, partly caused by their own exhaustion, partly by the confused splendor of the clouds. In reality it was not much higher than the hill they were on now, but it was wilder and grander. At its foot, just across the valley, the woods looked very dense and luxuriant. Down the mountain walls tumbled the same brook that drowsed along so peacefully when it reached the valley — a series of wild flying cascades that gleamed in the sunlight. And now, for the first time, they could look out at the sea on the opposite side of the island, glimpses of blue between a row of sand-dunes that stretched southward from the mountain. On the other side of the hill was the dark fringe of forest through which they had come, dipping to the achingly white crescent of their beach. It seemed far away; and the sea beyond it could hardly be the same sea in which Jane had swum that morning. It was an impalpable soft blue now, like the blue of spring flowers.

“And still no people,” Davidson commented at last. “It becomes increasingly obvious, Janie, that we’re marooned.”

“No matter how feverishly hard I worked my imagination,” she said, “I couldn’t conceive of a more delightful place to be marooned in. I’m less and less afraid of it all, Daveson.”

“I think we can make out of it a life that will be pretty grand,” he said, “if we try hard enough. Interesting to see if we’re equal to our opportunities — if we really can become part of the earth, and get along without a single civilized trapping — except a knife.”

“What a defeat for civilization it will be, if we can!” Jane exclaimed. “Prove it’s all superfluous, just as I suspected; prove that the only necessary thing it’s ever invented is knives!”

They worked in a circle around the hill some distance below its top, and found a corner just under the fringe of vines that edged the woods. Here, in a bower of bright flowers and sunlight, they rested — Jane watching butterflies, Davidson earnestly whittling again at his mysterious block of ebony, covering it with his hand if she became too inquisitive, and laughing at her.

“I’ll show it to you — maybe tonight,” he promised.

She lay on a carpet of grass and petals, and looked up into a thousand miniature miracles of flowers and leaves and light. A tremulous scarlet hibiscus, balancing on no stem that she could see, stared her defiantly in the face. From a crowd of gentle white flowers floated an occasional reminiscent petal, drifting down on rays of light that shot through the upper leaves and played subtle havoc with colors and shapes. Each leaf was a single layer of green-gold light, imprisoned and materialized. Flowers were no longer flowers, but by-products of that light, so intense that it could not be contained in mere rays and flickerings, but had to burst into jets of many-colored fire. Butterflies were a still more extravagant expression of it — light gone wild with ecstasy, light broken free from all shackles, embodied light winging in and out of fragrant archways and palaces.

“And old Professor Myers — ” Jane began in a low voice — “old Professor Myers sends men out with nets and bottles and pins to catch them and take the light out of them, and bring them home dead. And they call it collecting butterflies. More like — collecting dust.”

“Don’t they say it’s ‘in the interest of science,’ and all that?”

“Yes — in the interest of science that isn’t content until it’s taken everything to pieces to see what it’s made of.”

Davidson pondered. “They forget something pretty important,” he said after a while. “They forget that the most vital things get damaged and lost in the course of trying to analyze them. It’s pretty ironical.”

“You mean — the light, the life, get lost, Daveson?”

“Sure — like — like quicksilver. Can’t put your finger on it. But what they lose is the real butterfly. All they have left is a bunch of dead nerves and a little colored dust — so they say that’s what a butterfly’s made of. I think any unpretentious heathen chap’s more on the right track, when he maintains that even a stone has a soul.”

“I’m a heathen,” Jane said. “I’ve always wanted to be free to go heathen without any interference or criticism. I believe everything alive has a soul — flowers, animals, birds — trees, of course — and on this island even stones can have souls, if they like. I suppose that’s why I’ve always loathed the so-called sport of hunting.”

“Even for food?”

“No, that’s different. It’s reasonable and necessary to hunt for food. The Indian does, and the Eskimo. But he takes only what he needs. Nature’s creatures were made to prey on each other. The bird I hate is the one who dresses up in some fashionable sport store, and goes off armed with all the fashionable and expensive gadgets, and then proceeds deliberately, stupidly, to slaughter deer. Just for the fun of it — the famous so-called love of the chase, and the lust to kill. That’s pretty foul. As for collecting butterflies — some time,” Jane went on dreamily, “I’m going to tell Professor Myers what you were saying. You hit the nail on the head again, Daveson. I’ll have it out with him.”

“When you get back?” he questioned.

She snapped her fingers in annoyance. “For months,” she began again, “I tried to get certain thoughts formulated so I could discuss them. I wanted a few simple words — just the words you’ve given me. A dozen times I had it on the tip of my tongue. ‘Professor Myers — you’re wrong, somehow, somewhere.’ But I couldn’t tell why or get any further with the idea. And now that I understand, I’m marooned on an uninhabited island where I can’t do anything about it.”

“But, Janie, you couldn’t anyway. Nobody would listen or care. If it’s the old man’s life to take butterflies apart, you can’t stop him, you know.”

“I can’t help feeling,” she insisted, “that if I could bring him here so that he could see what I’m seeing now, he’d understand, too…. Taking to pieces a breath of light and magic to see what it’s made of, and calling that entomology…!  And yet, Davidson, he’s a dear old man with the kindest heart in the world, and he understands lots of things.”

“Want to write him a note?” Davidson suggested. “Let’s see — we could hang it round a gull’s neck, or put it in a bottle — except we haven’t got a bottle; or pin it to a porpoise.”

“Sort of a nautical free delivery,” Jane smiled.

“Sure; modern stream-lined mail coaches — bodies by Fisher…”

“Nobody back there would understand anyway, I guess,” Jane said, serious again, “except the few who have always understood. We’ll just have to keep it to ourselves, Daveson. This is our world, a brand-new one, and it can have its own independent laws and religion and philosophy of life. And we’re king and queen,” she added, “and can have everything as we want it.”

“Here’s another thing I sometimes believe,” Davidson said. “What is all this taking apart of butterflies, vivisecting dogs, inventing always more and bigger telescopes, but the human passion to have everything explained? What is religion itself, but a way of accounting for why we’re here, how we got here, how the earth began, and all the rest of it? Human nature apparently rebels at mystery. If a man doesn’t understand a thing, and can’t account for it — well, he’ll account for it anyway, if only by some far-fetched fairy-tale like Genesis.”

Jane nodded slowly. “Yes, but don’t get science and religion too mixed up. Some of the time they’re at cross purposes. A few of the more up-to-date and intelligent clergy accept science; but a good many of ’em mistrust and fear it.”

“They think it’s a sin against the Bible, I suppose,” Davidson suggested.

“Sure. They feel that the evolution idea, for instance, in some profane way explains the origin of life; whereas God knows the poor old scientists are completely gumfoozled about the origin of life. They don’t even pretend to understand that.”

“I think it’s rather grand as a mystery,” Davidson put in.

“Oh, so do I. I love it as a mystery. But some people seem to fear being so utterly in the dark. They’d rather believe in Genesis, just as you said. Well, let them!… Ever thought much about evolution, Daveson? It’s glorious. It means that every form of life came from a simpler form. It means there are no sharp demarcations between species — oh, how that problem bothered the poor old classifiers in Darwin’s time and before! It means that all life is one immense varied river. That makes me feel on intimate and friendly terms with the earth and the other creatures on it. If you really believe in evolution, you can’t conceive of man as so very distinct from other animals.”

“It kind of takes the edge off his vaunted superiority, too, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, sure it does! All life is one, plants and animals together.”

Davidson was thoughtful. Then he said: “You’ve made fun of science often enough. Yet it was the most detailed and painstaking research that brought this evolution idea to light.”

Jane conceded this. “Of course,” she agreed. “And it has brought to light a great many interesting and useful facts. Medical research, for instance.”

“Well,” he pursued, “probably every known fact helps to complete the picture. Probably even your friend Professor Myers’ butterflies’ antennae fit in somewhere.”

She smiled. “But you yourself just said they lose one thing they’re after,” she reminded him. “They can’t analyze life. In a way you’re right about the dead butterflies fitting into the picture. My objections are based less on reason than on the fact that I dislike cases full of crucified insects. I wish they could study evolution not in a closed office, or a stinking laboratory, shut away from fresh air and daylight, but first-hand, in the open. Maybe it would be more real that way, and maybe they’d get a better general perspective, even if it wasn’t so scientific. It’s life I’m interested in.”

“And paradoxically,” he said, “they have to study life through death.”

“Yes — and it seems to me like a long way round.”

“Well,” he suggested, “you and I can study however we like, and the graybeards can stick to their microscopes in peace. There’s plenty of room for various kinds of studying, and probably they supplement each other somehow. Anyway, why should we worry about it?”

He was watching the light play upon her brown and white body. Leaf shadows, frail, ephemeral, quivered and flickered across her shoulders and her breast. Once the elusive shadow of a big butterfly wandered erratically up the whole length of her, zigzag, from her ankles to her face and the ragged brown hair that was golden over her forehead where the sun bleached it, and curling a little in the joy of its freedom.

She herself was dreaming now, watching the thronging butterflies, her eyes following their radiant wings in and out of the flowers. She was half-hypnotized by warmth, and by those flickering, weaving, ceaseless movements. Davidson smiled, and went on with his whittling.

And evening came, with crickets in chorus — a long golden chain. Dew was in the air now, and fragrances like cordials in exquisite glasses. Then fireflies came — multitudes — myriads — a never-completed pattern of sudden soft lights, greenish-gold. Only crickets and fireflies and fragrances shared the world.

Jane and Davidson crept from their hide-away, and walked out on to the grassy hillside, under a tremulous sky pricked with stars. They passed through a fringe of woods. Their footsteps here were nearly soundless. The trees were asleep. There was nothing — only the two of them there together in a void of tropical dark.

The rhythm of their footfalls took possession of Jane like a primitive dance. Who were those people who danced over crops they had planted — danced to the gods of the harvest, treading down the earth, pounding it with their naked feet?… She herself felt very primitive. The swing of her own body was part of the forest. Just ahead of her, broad shoulders rose and fell a little, half-invisible, almost mesmerizing in their steady swing.

When they came out of the woods again on to the open hillside of grass, he dropped back beside her, and put his arm around her, to hold her tight against his side; and they walked on as one person, every step, every slight swing, made together in a unison of muscles that was almost music. The island, taking possession of their mood, seemed to have given in return part of its own rhythm and grace.

They rounded the crest of the hill, and a warm wind rushed at them. There was a sense of spaciousness. The sky was straight above — nothing came between. Where they had come from, the forest showed a black fringe of trees. For a few minutes there were only stars. Then, out of a gulf beyond the edge of the east the moon floated, casting an arch of pale rose color on to some wispy clouds just above, slowly transfiguring the entire island into a soft black etching on a background of pale light. The world was still now; but if you held your breath and listened hard, there were always the voices of little creatures in the grass, and the small sound that a leaf makes, and the low far-away murmur of the sea.

“Here’s the top of the hill,” Davidson said. He turned, and put his hands on Jane’s shoulders, looking into her face. And that new moonlight had destroyed the work of the sun — for she looked very white against the soft dark of the island. To her, his tall frame was masterful and a little austere, in silhouette against the sky. The wind made the grass ripple against their knees.

“I want to talk to you,” he said. “I’ve finished it,” he added cryptically.

For a minute she could not think what he meant. Then she remembered, “Oh, the whittling! Let’s see. Did it turn out what you expected?”

“Yes, but not so good, of course. Like a poem or a painting, or anything else, whittling never satisfies its creator.”

“Well, that’s all the more credit to the creator, Daveson. Horribly smug to be satisfied, especially with yourself.”

“It was a labor of love, anyway,” he said. And he opened his big hand to show it to her. It was a slender ring of smooth-polished ebony, precise and symmetrical, resembling those worn by African tribes. Only instead of lines and crosses scratched into the outside of it, Davidson had cut a row of tiny, fanciful figures that stood out in slight relief; two porpoises, bounding, backs arched; an anchor; a butterfly. These Jane could just make out in the moonlight.

It was a piece of workmanship such as he had never even approached before in idle hours of tinkering. Accomplished with nothing but a reasonably sharp jackknife, it would have done credit to the most ingenious wood-carver. It was the expression of one of those rare inspired impulses that seize artistic persons once or twice in a life-time, when, stirred by deep emotion, they are mysteriously capable of work such as they had only dreamed of, and are never able again to match.

In the lovely, unearthly light on the hilltop, in the warm wind, with the grasses rippling, the little ring lying in Davidson’s big square hand had an air of mystery and magic. Neither he nor Jane spoke, as he slipped it on to her finger. This was a solemn rite.

“And so now we’re married,” he said at last.

“Is it legal?” she inquired archly.

“Of course it’s legal. What do you mean — ‘legal,’ anyhow? By what law?”

“I don’t know.” She glanced upward. “The law of the stars, maybe.”

“Right,” he agreed. “I don’t know, and I certainly don’t care, but I’m fairly sure that’s a law no justice of the peace would dispute.”

“He might dispute it,” said Jane, “but he just wouldn’t know any better. Anyway, I feel tremendously married.”

“Well… After all, two thousand stars for witness that were shining long aeons before old Adam was heard of. They ought to have authority — and sacredness, too. They’ve got us on record.”

“I’d like to see the book.”

“Well, you’d find us written down in silver fire.”

“Something like this,” Jane said. “Shipwrecked pair: little island in corner of World No. 5,792,431.…”

“Who would dare say it isn’t legal?” he demanded.

“It’s awesome to be so much married,” Jane said. “It’s frightening. D’you suppose the stars grant divorces, too?”

“Don’t like the way your mind works,” he protested. “What a rebel you are!”

“Yes, I am a rebel, I guess.”

“Now I’m frightened,” he told her.

“Don’t be. What I rebel against is — is — well, giving in to ugliness — that puts it in a nutshell. And you’re the most beautiful lover in the world.”

“Forgive my curiosity, but do tell me how you know that!”

“The stars told me…. I love your ring, David. It’s a work of art, and magic.”

“Glad — it was the best I could do.”

“That’s why I love it. I love it ever so much more than any ring you could have bought for me, if we had met in the world of bought things. Because you made it — and it’s you.”

He sighed with gratitude. “That’s what I hoped you’d feel,” he said. “You’ve said what I didn’t know how to say. You’re wonderful. You understand everything…. You know, Jane, I liked something you said a minute ago — about ugliness — not giving in to it. That’s what I’ve been trying not to do, all my life.”

“It pays,” Jane said. “You stay more alive to lovely things, if you’re a little bit choosy.”

“Let’s promise together,” he said, “never to give in to anything ugly.”

“We don’t need to. We don’t have to worry about ugliness, here. We don’t even have to go hunting for beauty, because it’s all around us…. Daveson, let’s not hide away in our cave tonight. Let’s just sleep out here, under the moon.”

Chapter XI