The cover page for this chapter indicates that it’s XIV, not XIII, but the page numbers follow on from the end of Chapter XII, and I believe “XIV” was simply a very rare error on Barbara’s part.
Chapter XIII, pp. 170-193, of Lost Island, which began here.
New York was exactly as Jane had known it would be. As the schooner came close and swung into the harbor, using her auxiliary engine, the water was gray with hard usage. Skyscrapers rose up, domineering, in a gesture of ugly triumph. Undefeatable, inevitable, that city. There was no more permanent escape from it than from death. Some of the buildings were blackened with waterfront soot. Terribly high and frowning, huddled together in a grim crowd. It occurred to Jane that perhaps even they were tired of standing with their feet in filth, looking inevitable.
Jane rested both elbows on the bulwarks, and then her face on her arms. Going to her doom without looking at it. No use to look. Couldn’t avert it by looking any more than by hiding one’s eyes. A subtle hideous cloud of odors — typical welcoming gesture. It suggested — what? Stale fish, garbage, sewage…. A tug passed them, like a squat black goblin. A radio aboard it poured forth jazz interspersed with a long eulogy concerning tobacco.
Jane did not want to see the troop of big gulls that trailed the schooner. Their wings were dingy, and their calls greedy and hollow. Not at all the same breed of gull that had followed the Annie Marlow to sea!…
She had forgotten how much noise there was. The city had a continuous savage roar, pierced by jagged shrieks of automobile horns, now and then shaken into shrapnel by an elevated train or a heavy truck. There was no escape from that din, an enormous pressure on ears used to the sea and the leaves. No escape until eventually, having defeated an unwilling desk clerk, they found themselves in a mousy green-carpeted room in a cheap hotel. Even then the roar could be heard — muffled to a dull growl outside.
They sat down on the bed. Davidson put his arm around her, and felt that she was trembling. For a while she said nothing at all, then laughed a little, hollowly.
“Hurrah!” said Davidson. “Do that again. What were you thinking of?”
“I was thinking that now we’re really marooned,” she said.
She got up and walked nervously around the room. As she passed one corner, she was startled by a quick flash of movement beside her. A mirror, of course. The first she had seen. She looked at her own brown face, crowned with its ragged mop of hair that stuck up and out in all directions like a Fijian’s — and at sight of herself, looking so ludicrous and forlorn, she could not help laughing again. It was more nearly genuine this time.
“Number two,” said Davidson. “We’re getting on fine.”
“Good God, Daveson! No wonder those customs people looked at us so queerly. It surprises me they let us land at all.”
“Wilson told ’em about us,” Davidson said. “He’s a decent chap, Wilson. Loaned me some money, by the way.”
“That’s lucky. I wouldn’t have thought of it.”
“A rather essential commodity,” he said glumly.
“Yes — and one of the chief things wrong with the world. Being a slave to that trash — ghastly to think of it. Money! And now it’s ruined our island, too.”
“What would you think of getting in on the gold-hunting down there?” he asked.
“I’d hate it,” she said vehemently.
“I was talking it over with Wilson. He seems to know a bit about such things. He said you couldn’t possibly get in on it without capital. Not a chance. The worst kind of closed-corporation gyp-game affair. I could go as laborer and pan for the blasted stuff, and get about two bucks a day at best.”
“I wouldn’t even want to live there,” Jane said indignantly. “Not with that going on. It seems criminal, that that island, so far away from anything to do with money, should be torn up for it now. It makes me want to kill somebody. Watching them blast and drill would be like seeing a thousand seagulls killed every minute. It would be like eating into my own flesh with their cursed steam-shovels. It would be — giving in to ugliness, Daveson — and we promised we’d never do that!”
“Jane,” he said softly, “don’t rave. Save your strength. And remember one nice thing: that when we last saw it, it was still untouched and peaceful and lovely. We can keep it forever.”
“You’re right,” she said. “We’ve got to think about the present, and about New York. What are we going to do?”
“I’m going to a barber,” he said.
“Me to — and then?”
“Well, we have to live somewhere — somewhere cheaper than a hotel. Any ideas on that?”
“Oh, sure, I’ve worked that problem once or twice before. We’ll chase up a one-room-and-kitcheonette affair, and keep house. But I’ve got to have a few rags to cover me, even to see landladies in. I’d never get anywhere, looking this way.”
“What will you use for money?”
“I don’t know. How much did Wilson lend you?”
“Ten bucks,” he said.
“That’ll just about pay the hotel, and the barber, and a few meals,” she said.
“Couldn’t you borrow some somewhere? Haven’t you friends in town?”
She thought of Professor Myers, and wondered if she could ever muster courage to go traipsing into that office looking like a lost gipsy, to ask for a loan.
Then suddenly her eyes lit up. “Idea!” she exclaimed. “David, I’ve got some money myself. In a bank — somewhere in a bank — let’s see — Greenwich Savings — that’s it! Hooray! We’re saved!”
“About two hundred. That’ll tide us over beautifully, till we get going.”
“‘Get going,'” he repeated sadly. “Where, Jane?”
“Yes, let’s talk about that.”
“I’m afraid there’s nothing very cheerful to say about it.”
She looked at him intently, and it seemed to her that now was perhaps as good a time as any to talk to him about the sea.
“Why did you want to leave the island?” she queried. “Was it really the gold, or was it — the sea?”
“The gold,” he said unhappily. “I’m a sailor, and I can’t help getting restless, Jane, but I’ve sense enough to know that going to sea hasn’t much for me any more. It’s a futile life. I want it, but I know better, that’s the story.”
“But you did want to have a little boat,” she said softly.
“Of course — who hasn’t dreamed pleasant dreams of little boats and far places? Why think about dreams now?”
“Well,” she said, “if we worked hard for a few years, and saved our money, why shouldn’t we have one, and sail it everywhere, and maybe discover new islands?”
And they both smiled, at the incongruity of saying these things at this time, in this place.
“Have you any plans at all?” she asked him. “For tomorrow, I mean. After the barber.”
“Yes. After the barber, I’m going to traipse down to the waterfront, and see what’s doing?”
“But — Davidson, you won’t have to go to sea, will you?”
“Let’s not think about it. I’m going to try everything else, first. There might be a job on a tug-boat, or a fish-barge.”
“It would be hell to be a sailor’s wife,” she said.
“I know it — but I’m afraid you are.”
“It would be nice, on the other hand, to be a schooner-captain’s wife. I’d love that.”
He smiled, but not happily. “You incurable little romanticist!” he mocked.
“Is that so far-fetched, then? Aren’t there any other Annie Marlows?”
“Oh, a handful — sure. But every storm that comes along leaves fewer. And the crews are men that have been in those particular companies for years. Besides, I haven’t got captain’s papers, only mate’s. Most of the captains are graybeards. If I wanted to do that, I’d have to stick at sea, and stick at sea, and do nothing else for years — and when I was an old man I might get a schooner, if there were any left.”
“You make it sound grim, all right.”
“It is grim.”
“Davidson, as soon as we find a place to live, and get settled, I’m going to wander into my old office. If there isn’t a job there, there might be a lead. You’d feel less — less crushed, wouldn’t you, if I had a job, too?”
“No!” he exclaimed vehemently. “I’d hate it. It would make me feel like a worm — a third-rate worm.”
“But why? I’d want to help.”
“Well, you’ll probably have to. But how do you think it makes a man feel, that his wife has to work for her bread?”
“But if it makes a dream come true sooner?”
“Dreams, dreams — always dreams,” he muttered.
“But they are important, Daveson, even in New York. Perhaps especially in New York. And by the way, New York’s no place in which to be a lady of leisure.”
“Sorry to go up in the air,” he said. “But about this idea of you having a job — well, I’m old-fashioned, I guess. I just want you to be my wife.”
“Which reminds me that I’m not,” she said. “It’s rather an amusing thought. We’re carrying on an affair, Daveson. I’m your mistress. Isn’t that sort of funny?”
“What are you talking about? Don’t you think the stars have any authority here? Haven’t you got on your finger a ring I made?”
In the morning they determined that, however severe the struggle might be, however hard it was to get going again, they would sail into it with no procrastination. “Because,” Jane said, “if we hang around and rest up, what courage we’ve got will start petering out, and we’ll be left like leaky balloons.”
“What’s first, Jane?”
“Well, I thought I’d collect my money. Then shop. Then hunt up a place to live. And then meet you here tonight. We’d probably better stay another night here.”
“And meanwhile I’ll explore fish barges, etc.”
She climbed into the absurdly ripped green blouse, which she had mended after a fashion aboard the schooner; and the red skirt, which she still loved. She had no stockings, and her shoes were tattered. Then she tried in vain to smooth out her hair by running her fingers through it. “I’m off,” she said.
“Good luck. Don’t get run over.”
Breakfast: coffee and two stale doughnuts at a corner drug-store. After that Jane wandered off uptown to look for her bank. Reason told her she was in the city, but spiritually she could not accept it. Too vast a change, and too swift and cruel. Immensely tall buildings shot up around her, buildings that made her feel dwarfed and frightened. Streams, floods of people swept past her, jostled against her. They were like an ugly wind. Mostly they did not notice her at all; but every now and then someone did, which was much worse. An occasional face turned over a shoulder to stare, and then to laugh. A girl with garish red lips pointed Jane out to her companion. A man yelled: “Hi there, Cinderella!” People — she had forgotten people were like that. She stood on the curb, ridiculous in her short skirt, her frowsled hair. Traffic poured by. The city roared. She was really frightened, all of a sudden — cruelly frightened. She did not know how to get across the street, through that ceaseless mad flood of traffic. Her heart was pounding. The circle of great towers moved unsteadily and rocked in upon her, throwing ghastly shadows, and then wheeled back to leave cosmic spaces…. Cowering, she sat down on the curbstone, and waited, as calmly as she could, for her senses to clear.
“What’s up?” said a voice overhead. “Hi there, miss! What’s up, I said?”
Jane looked into the grinning face of a burly policeman. “What’s up?” she repeated slowly. “Oh, nothing. I…”
“Are you sick?”
“No; I’m looking for the Greenwich Savings Bank.”
“Right across the street,” he said, grinning more than ever, and pointing. “Here! Let me take you over.”
Traffic lights changed, the currents of people mingled, conflicted, altered. The policeman grabbed her arm firmly, and escorted her with mock solemnity to the opposite sidewalk. She thanked him timidly. “Thick, isn’t it?” she said, by way of conversation.
He looked at her curiously. “Don’t forget the one-horse shay next time you come to the big city,” he advised.
She summoned all her courage, and swung into the bank. A somber and awesome palace of marble that made her feel smaller than ever. She filled out a withdrawal slip, and handed it in at one of the long row of gilded windows.
“Well, where’s your bank-book?” the young clerk demanded.
For a second she was nonplussed. “Oh, that!” she began. “I haven’t got it; it’s…”
“Sorry, miss, but we can’t do anything without it. Next, please!”
“But listen!” Jane exclaimed. “I’ve been shipwrecked — the book… I…”
“Whaddya trying to pull on me? Next, please!”
Jane turned away. She could not cope with this. Not in these clothes, anyway. On the other hand, to buy clothes she must have money. She moved slowly toward the door. “Now what?” she mumbled aloud.
Somebody touched her shoulder gently. A girl with piercing brown eyes under the low brim of a jaunty black hat was looking at her and smiling. “Do excuse me,” she said, “but I heard what you said, and wondered if I could help. Have you really been shipwrecked?”
“Of course — why should I make it up?”
“Jiminy crickets, how I envy you!” the girl exclaimed. “Was it exciting? Look here, can’t we be friends? I’ve never known anyone who has had adventures.”
Jane smiled, a little puzzled. “Of course,” she said. “My name’s Jane — Jane Carey.”
“Mine’s Margaret Kingsley,” said the other. “And I’m tickled to death to know you.” They shook hands. “But this isn’t the time to chew the rag, is it, Jane Carey? You’re sort of up against it, aren’t you? Can’t I help? Now, please don’t be stubborn and independent.”
Jane was a friendly person, and succumbed easily to friendliness. “Sure, you can help, if you want,” she said. “The immediate problem is, I can’t fight for my money till I have some decent-looking clothes, and I can’t get any clothes till I have my money.”
“You look swell just as you are,” the other said. “It’s a darn shame to spoil it. But I can see that we’ve got to, if you’re going to live round here. Now, look here. It’s easy as pie. I’ve got charge accounts round various places. You just buy whatever your heart desires and your body requires, and pay me when you can. By the way, I’ve got nothing to do today, and I’d adore to come with you, if you’d like moral support; on the other hand, if you’d rather go alone, I can understand that, too.”
“But wouldn’t you be ashamed to be seen with me?”
“Don’t be ridic! I’m proud of naming one exciting person among my friends.”
“Whatever do you do that makes life so uninteresting?” Jane queried.
“Fashion model. Mannequin. Advertising model, etc., etc. Pose in corsets. Parade like a peacock in evening dresses, with a doll-like smile. I’m always either strapped or flush. Right now I’m flush, so you needn’t feel bad.”
“You’ll be a good one to dress me, anyhow,” Jane said. “You’d better come along.”
“Well, let’s go, then,” said the other. “Where do we start?”
“Underwear,” Jane said. “Haven’t a stitch on under this rag.”
Margaret giggled delightedly, and the two set off, a ludicrous contrast, arm in arm.
With each purchase Jane’s confidence grew. She slipped into new underwear in the women’s rest room of a large department store. That made it possible to try on dresses. Jane picked out two of them. Next came shoes and stockings. She watched her own gradual transformation with interest.
“Say, I’m beginning to look almost civilized,” she commented to Margaret.
“Yes, drat it, you are. But only from the shoulders down. We’ve got to do something about that sublime mop of hair, I’m sorry to say. We’ve got to make you look like everybody else. How long since it’s been combed, Jane?”
“I don’t know. Years.”
Margaret sighed. “Gosh, what wouldn’t I give never to comb mine again!… Well, let’s go chase a hair-dresser.”
Jane emerged from the hair-dresser’s clutches with her brown hair washed and sleeked, trimmed into a conventional short bob, and finger-waved. She looked at herself in the mirror. “‘O dearie me, this is never I,'” she quoted, laughing.
“You know, Jane, you’re really pretty — but not half so pretty as you were,” Margaret said.
“However, now I’ll get by,” Jane said. “And I’m going straight back to that bank and talk to the manager.”
“Atta girl! But I’m not quite through with you yet.”
“Well, a hat, for instance. And some gloves. Pocket-book, handkerchieves, comb, powder, and lipstick.”
“Sick of it?”
“Well — isn’t it lunch-time yet?”
Margaret looked at her watch. “I should say it is! In fact, it’s two-thirty. I was so enraptured watching you struggle with civilization, Jane, that I never thought about time. Haven’t had so much fun in years. Well, ‘let’s have another cup of coffee, and let’s have another piece of pie.'”
The rest of the afternoon was taken up with odds and ends of shopping; and, when it was finished, it was too late, and Jane too tired, even to think about apartment-hunting. She said goodbye to her friend, and walked slowly back to the mousy little hotel, and Davidson.
Davidson looked at her incredulously. “My God!” he said after a while. “You’ve painted your face.”
“Is it awful?”
“It isn’t you. It’s a very handsome young lady, but not Jane.”
“That’s just what I think,” she said. “It’s New York. You’ll get used to it.”
“No. What have you done to your hair?… You make me feel as if I had a mistress.”
“Well, haven’t you?”
“No. I had a wife once, but I guess she’s lost — same as the island. Jane, somehow I thought you’d stay the same through anything.”
“I couldn’t,” she said. “You’ll have to learn to see through the superficial. You wouldn’t object so much if you could have seen how they laughed at me before I got some clothes.”
He gritted his teeth in impotent resentment.
“What sort of luck did you have?” she asked him.
He looked pale and dusty, and she guessed from his voice that he was tired almost beyond endurance. All day he had been about the waterfront. He had hoped to land some sort of job with a towing company, or a ship-chandler — anything to keep him in New York — probably in the harbor or along the waterfront, because it was the only life he knew. He had looked over the shipping, talked with sailors and stevedores and tug-captains, hearing only how desperate conditions were, being discouraged everywhere.
“Never mind, Jane — tomorrow…”
There was no rest. In the morning they separated again. Jane, a little heart-sick and fearful, walked uptown. She was steadied by the fact that now no one took any notice of her at all. In fact, she looked like any other reasonably well-dressed young woman with a good figure and an intelligent face. She was New York, as she had said to Davidson last night.
As she walked, she thought over the bank-book question. Had she taken it to sea with her? Today it seemed that she had left it with Millie; but she could not remember for sure. Millie?… She wandered into a drug-store, found a telephone book, and stood absently thumbing its pages. No results there. Then she had an idea, and called the switchboard of the apartment house where they had lived.
“Does Miss Carson still live here? Miss Rogers, then? Both left a year ago?… Any address?… No?…”
Frustrated in that quarter. Nothing left for it but to go to the bank and try to make somebody believe her.
She selected another of the long row of gilded cages. “Have you still an account in the name of Jane Carey?” she asked.
The clerk referred to large books, and finally shook his head. “Naw,” he said. “She took it out of here a year ago.”
“But — ” Jane began. Then she turned away. So that was it! Millie had her bank-book; Millie had been desperate for money; Millie had moved from the apartment a year ago, and taken Jane’s money with her!
That meant — well, if Davidson didn’t land something right away, it meant that she would either have to borrow indefinitely from Margaret Kingsley, or else find herself some sort of job without allowing herself even the brief reprieve she had hoped for. She wondered what had happened to Millie; what trouble she had got into desperate enough to make her rob her best friend. Rob? No, it couldn’t be called that until it was understood. On second thought, it would be like Millie simply to assume that Jane had been devoured by lions….
What next, then? Professor Myers’ office? Perhaps Mary Rogers would still be there. Perhaps through her Millie could be found…. She hardly dared believe that the office would still be in existence. If it was, maybe she would have the heart to ask for her old job back again.
The building stood where it had always stood, overshadowed on all sides by newer creations which deprived it of even the little sunlight that might ingeniously have filtered down to its windows. Some time this building would give way before the onslaughts of efficiency, and another lithe shining tower would stand over the shadow of these ancient dark foundations.
She walked steadily into the hall, then drew a deep breath and pushed the office door. Her eyes, accustomed to the brightness outside, could hardly pierce the duskiness. Then a cry came from the other side of the room: “Janie!”
It was more like a confused dream than a real experience. Here came Mary, rushing over to her, grabbing both her hands. There sat Miss Perry, behind her ledgers, with an almost warm smile of welcome. And then the door of the inner office opened, and Professor Myers himself came out, bowed, white-haired, looking much older than she had remembered. He stopped short, and ran his hand over his hair.
“Why — why, Miss Carey! Well, Well! Back again from your travels!”
Jane went to greet him, a little shakily. “Yes, I’ve come back.”
“Did you have a pleasant vacation?” he inquired, as though she had been away in the country for a couple of weeks.
“Oh, yes; I certainly did,” she assured him. Vacation! As if the three years — four years — what was it, anyway? — as if all that time had been just a sort of leave of absence from Professor Myers’ dingy little office! Her heart sank.
“And, Miss Carey,” he was saying now, “I really must show you our latest treasure.” He held open the inner door invitingly. On his desk, in a small glass-topped box, an enormous butterfly… breath of azure silk… metallic gleam… rare old Persian vase… the island!
“South America,” he was saying. “Remember that old fellow — what was his name? — Ottocruntz, or something? Well, every entomologist in this country and every other was laughing in their sleeves at him, but he’s brought back the goods. Marvellous creature, isn’t it? I’m keeping it here until it goes to an honorary throne in the Museum. Ought to go into the Metropolitan, instead of the Natural History, as a matter of fact.”
In her terror, Jane clung to the butterfly. Those dead wings, once tremulous and vibrating with life and ecstasy… beauty captured… butterfly triumphant?… other worlds?…
The old man was now beginning to cast about uneasily among the disordered piles of papers on his desk. “Have you — ” he began.
Jane stirred sharply into life. “Yes!” she cried. She picked up his glasses from beside the butterfly box and handed them to him with a small, cynical bow.
“Thank you,” he said patiently. “You know, Miss Carey, I always say that it isn’t so much whether you lose your glasses — ”
A tremor ran through her. “No,” she chimed in quietly, “it’s the finding that matters.”
He nodded with a distant smile. They stood, philosophizing in echoes, a recaptured naiad and a kindly ghost, one on each side of the butterfly which separated them like a symbol of all that had come rushing in between the two since they had stood this same way years ago.
“Well,” he resumed, “you’re coming back to us?”
Jane forced herself to smile. “But would you want me, with Miss Rogers here?”
“Oh, didn’t she tell you? She’s leaving us next month…. Yes, I rather suspect it’s a young man who’s the villain in this piece.” And he smiled the fatherly smile that she remembered. “Of course we want you,” he added.
“Let me think about it,” she said. “I really just dropped in for a visit, this time.”
“Of course, of course. You know, Miss Carey, I was thinking about you just the other day — wishing you could be on hand to help me write my new book.”
“Another!” she exclaimed. “What’s it to be about this time?”
“Butterflies,” he said.
What was it she and Davidson had talked about long ago — something she thought Professor Myers ought to be told and made to understand, about butterflies? But the words eluded her now. She could not even remember what it was that had once seemed so obvious. It was blurred in distant haze.
“But,” she said, smiling, “I don’t know anything at all about butterflies.”
“You don’t have to. I want you to type the manuscript for me, and maybe help me reword some parts of it. There’ll be an enormous index to make, letters to write, and eventually proofs to read. And besides all that, the regular office work. I could pay you pretty well, Miss Carey; in fact, I think I could just about double your old salary.”
“I’ll call you up,” she promised. “I think I’d like to come. Thank you for asking me.” She gazed another moment at the butterfly under the glass. Blue wings hovered in the foreground of her thoughts….
In the outer office, Mary pounced at her again. Miss Perry had gone out. “Jane, where did you go? What did you do? I do so want to hear all about it!”
Jane waved her hand airily. “What’s this I hear about you?” she asked. “That’s much more important. Anybody I know?”
“A classmate of my brother’s. You’ll meet him soon. We’re getting married next month.”
“I’m terribly glad…. Know anything about Millie?”
“Yes, but it isn’t a pretty story,” Mary said.
Jane’s face fell. “She got into trouble?”
“Yes — with a man. She was going to have a baby, and she didn’t have any money. I don’t know what happened to her. She just went off one day, and didn’t come back. I couldn’t keep the place alone, on my pay, and so I moved, too.”
“Mary! And you haven’t any idea where she went?”
The other girl shook her head.
“I wish I knew how to find her,” Jane said.
“I wish you did, too. You could cheer her up as nobody else ever could. It was pretty awful, Jane. She didn’t let on a bit — you know how she is; but I just know she was all broken up. She would cry at night, and try not to let me hear. And you see, she couldn’t dance any more, and lost her job, of course. She was simply stranded, high and dry.”
“Who was the man, anyway?”
Mary shrugged. “She never would tell me anything,” she said.
Jane was silent.
“Where are you living?” Mary asked.
“Nowhere yet,” Jane said. “I’ve got to find a place. Down in the village, I expect.”
“Coming back to work?”
“He’s asked me. I’m to let him know in a few days. He’s going to write a book about butterflies.”
“He’s been swell to me,” Mary said. “I’ve been here ever since you left.”
“He’s the kindest person in the world,” Jane said quietly. “But I wonder how much he knows about butterflies.”
“What do you mean, Janie? He’s studied ’em all his life.”
“Yes, of course,” she agreed quickly. “Well, kid, I’m off to hunt houses. I’ll drop in again — let you know where I live, and all.”
“And tell me your adventures, Jane.”
“Sure, if they’re interesting enough. It’s been swell to see you. Give my love to the lucky devil, and I hope you’ll be all-fired happy…. By the way, what day is it?”
Mary laughed. “Thursday, you crazy nut,” she said. “June 21st, to be exact.”
“Thanks. Time to be thinking about vacations, honeymoons, and all that sort of thing — what?… Well, so long!”
Jane looked for a subway station. There it was — blue light on the corner. It was disgusting still to be able to find your way around New York! Nobody could lose that demon of a subway. Might as well try to push over a granite wall.
She was a little bit particular, as to this matter of a place to live. If her salary was to be twice the old one, she could afford to be particular. Friends were important to her happiness, and she wanted a place where they would be glad to come. She had never quite made up her mind whether your house enticed friends, or friends made your house enticing. However, she would give the house the benefit of the doubt, and choose it carefully.
At last, after long weary walking round about Greenwich Village, and discouraging interviews with grimy proprietors, she stumbled on what she wanted. It was a quietly furnished apartment, with fresh-looking blue curtains, blue dishes in the tiny kitchen, a window-box of geraniums, and enormous windows with big square panes.
“Used to be a studio,” the landlady explained, “one o’ these here artists, you know. Plenty of light, you see — sun, too, mornings.”
The place was pretty and picturesque, in a simple way. There was a small bedroom, leading off the living-room; and in the living-room itself a blue-covered couch that could be unfolded in case of company. The more Jane looked at the big windows, framed in the long curtains, the more she liked the place. Plenty of light! That was certainly a selling point, in New York!…
Davidson’s shoulders were drooping, no doubt about that. He looked more silent and grim than ever. Jane suffered for him. She did not dare ask what sort of day he had had. She knew, all too well.
“I’ve got a place to live in,” she told him. “I think you’ll like it. It’s got windows.”
He stared gloomily. “Who’s going to pay for it?” he mumbled.
She sat down on the floor at his feet, and rested her head on his knees. “I went to see the old professor, too,” she said.
“Well, I can have my job back, if I want it, at twice the old pay.”
“You’re lucky,” he said.
Jane was suffering for him. She had an inkling of how it all must be hurting him, that she could walk into an office and be offered a well-paid job, while he, who wanted so badly to protect and take care of her, could find no work at all. He was tight-lipped and bitter. “I’m glad you’re so clever,” he said. “But if you think I’m going to hang round and be — well, your gigolo — you’re mistaken, that’s all.”
She bit her lips and said nothing. But presently he began to stroke her hair, in the old familiar way; and then he bent down to whisper in her ear: “Sorry! Better luck tomorrow.”
They moved into the new apartment. Davidson came out of his gloom long enough to admire it a little, and help her carry home some groceries from the corner store. That just about exhausted the money he had borrowed from the sailor Wilson. After that he went off downtown again; and then, because sometimes two can laugh more easily than one, Jane telephoned Margaret Kingsley to come and have lunch with her.
“Some time,” Margaret said, “I do wish you’d tell me the story. How it began, the shipwreck, the whole thing. And I’m curious about that ring.” She pointed to the plain dark circlet of ebony, with its tiny carved figures, that Jane always wore — that was, to her, sacred.
“Would you believe it, Marg?”
“I mightn’t believe all of it. It would probably sound too good to be true. But I want to hear it, anyway. It’ll make a marvellous tale.”
“What worries me,” Jane said, “is that I’m afraid it’s coming to an end, and not a particularly happy one.”
“Stories don’t end happily in life,” Margaret asserted. “The better the beginning, the worse the end.”
“Don’t be morbid!” Jane warned. “I’m depressed enough already. You see, I’m afraid I’m losing my lover.”
Margaret sat very still, almost without breathing. Then, in a queer small voice: “I lost one once,” she said. “Hurts, doesn’t it?”
Davidson came in late that afternoon. The droop to his shoulders was more pronounced, and his mouth was grim. “God, Jane, this is a racket,” he said after a while. “There just isn’t a job in New York.”
She left the peas on the small stove to take care of themselves. Davidson needed her more than they did.
“You know what I’ve got to do?” he went on. “Well, there’s no use hanging round here any longer — I’ve got to go to sea again.”
She flinched, but said nothing. She had a pretty fair conception of what he was up against. No matter where he turned he faced brutal conflict. He would have been willing to sacrifice his own feelings, overcome his repugnance, and accept any job, however hateful, that would keep him near Jane; but such a job was not to be found. Going to sea meant even a greater sacrifice, involving both of them. And yet Jane was sure that, in spite of her need for him and his longing to keep and protect her, the deep subtle call of his old profession was strong, almost like the instinct of life itself. She could offer him nothing to offset it except herself and the dismal prospect of prolonged emasculating idleness.
She understood how hopeless it was to argue with the question. A dull pain dragged slowly through her, associated with a burning greenish odor from the stove. She slipped away to rescue the peas. The floor underfoot was a blur, and her hands were ice-cold.
But after supper there was another shock in store for her. “You see, I met an old shipmate of mine this morning,” he told her. “Mate of a freighter — Nelson Line. He put in a word for me aboard and — well, I’d never have got the job without him, and I didn’t dare miss the chance. We sail tomorrow night, Jane.”
She smiled forlornly. “I thought you hated steamers,” she said.
“I do,” he admitted gloomily. “But what am I to do? There’s nothing else; and obviously I can’t get a job ashore. That’s the mean thing about the sea, Jane. A chap who’s gone to sea is branded. Can’t do anything else, ever, even if he wants to — nobody’ll take him. I’d have been better off if I’d learned shoe-making,” he said bitterly.
“Where’s this freighter going to?” Jane wanted to know.
“I’ll get paid off in Seattle.”
“I know that country, and have a few friends there. There’s a schooner — she runs to Hawaii with lumber. I know a chap who makes his living with a little motor-boat, salmon-fishing summers off Alaska. I want to see if there’s anything in that. And there’s a trading-schooner — I sailed in her once — she goes up into the Arctic Circle summers, to trade with the Eskimos.”
“But — ” Jane began fearfully.
“Janie, if I work anything out there, you shall come out to me. If I don’t, I’ll come back.”
“I rather like that salmon-fishing idea,” she said. “Don’t you?”
“I don’t know anything about it.”
“If you had a boat,” she persisted, “could I come with you?”
“Oh, Janie, you’re always looking so far ahead!”
“I have to. If I looked just at the immediate future, I wouldn’t want to live.”
He whipped his big arms around her so fiercely that he hurt her. “You’ve got to live,” he told her almost angrily. “And you’ve got to be happy. Don’t you see? Otherwise, you make all my failures worse. Life would be unbearable. I need you. You’ve got to help me!”
She had never seen him violent and tortured; she loved him in this pain more than she had ever loved him. She was glad that his embrace was hurting her; physical pain was a relief. Somewhere in her mind was the consciousness that his unhappiness was in a way her fault; without her, his life would still have been a problem, but it would not have approached this present insidious complexity. Till now, their relation had meant only happiness to both of them. The world had changed that. They were now forced to serve unwillingly as each other’s torturers…. Through all this was the undercurrent of her irrelevant feminine pride in him: she was glad his shoulders were so wide, his arms so strong.
“Of course I’m going to help you,” she told him. “I shall work, and save my money, and you do the same, and it’ll be no time before we’ll have enough to buy a fishing-boat, or carry out any other scheme you think up.”
He kissed her, and her mouth was twisted with the pleasure of it. She longed unspeakably for his love.
“You aren’t afraid, are you?” he asked.
“Well, I don’t feel any too brave,” she confessed.
“I don’t believe I’d want you to. I suspect that awfully brave people are heartless. You’re better: acting brave when you aren’t — sweet coward!… You aren’t afraid I won’t come back?”
She shook her head.
“I couldn’t leave you,” he said. “You’re mine, part of me. I’ll never leave you,” he repeated roughly. “My old shell, yes; but my heart and soul, the most of me and the best of me — no, no.”
“I love your shell, too.”
“It isn’t worth much,” he said. “I can’t even earn a living.”
“You could live with me, you know,” she muttered.
“And let you support me? That would be fine, wouldn’t it?… No, Janie, we’re going to do better, only it’ll take time.”
“And strength,” she added.
He sighed. “We’re not going to talk about this any more. Our shells have to forget it, because this is the last time they can be together — for a while. You’re beautiful when you’re sad, Jane. But then, you’re always more beautiful than anything on earth.”
“Except the island,” she said.
“To me you are the island. You make it real.”
She lay in his arms, and at each breath their bodies were pressed together.
“The island,” he repeated. “We have that always, whatever happens to us now. Nobody can hurt that, or take it away from us.”
“Let’s think about it. The hill — ”
“The butterflies — ” she said.
He was right. It was all alive, more vivid than ever — a vision, a dream, but strangely more real even than reality.
“Janie, there’s a star outside the window.”
“Not an electric light?”
“A star,” he repeated. “One of the ones that married us.”
“And there was the waterfall,” Jane pursued.
“You standing in it,” he added.
“You chasing me in the wind and the flowers,” she said.
“And catching you — kissing you — ”
She was a wild white wave, combing in long ecstasy higher and higher to shatter in iridescent surf; then ebbing back, ebbing, merging at last into the sea.