At the end of the week, when his steamer sailed, Davidson was considerably cheered up. But Jane, although glad of her victory, was left exhausted. Every ounce of the spirit and determination she had given him during that week had correspondingly drained her own resources. She could not even keep up a pretense of courage. She was haunted by grotesque visions of the monstrous ogre with which Davidson was fighting a losing fight, almost single-handed. And there was nothing she could do to fend off the iron fist. Even in the wilds of an unknown island, there had been no ultimate escape from that fist.
Civilization — and among its other sins, it had abolished the ships that were Davidson’s life, and the life of many other men as well. More speed wanted, greater dependability, room for more cargo; everything must be keyed up to the highest possible pitch of speed and efficiency. Why? That was the irony of the thing. Where was it all bound? Only to more speed and efficiency, a continuing hectic circle, while hearts were crushed in it. And they called it Progress, and worshipped it….
But there had been Lost Island. Again and again she came back to that, and her eyes would shine. If you had a Lost Island in the past, and a sense of humor with which to fight the present, you could get along. If the world sometimes got to be too much for your sense of humor, you could cry a little, instead of laughing; then laugh at yourself.
Davidson wrote from San Francisco: “Putting out tonight — weather hopeless — fumbling in the dark Janie, but hoping — expect to be in New York again in a month — I have read Chance — I love you.”
“Fumbling in the dark'” with his awkward, willing hands, and getting hurt — it was an excruciating thought that tormented her through long nights, mingling incoherently with her wondering in vain what she could do for Millie, who had not even called her up again.
There was always John, indispensable John. He was a little restless now, for he had been a long time away from Maine and the mountains; but he was always on hand with a warming bottle of wine, or a compliment that made life temporarily easier; always ready and eager to dance, at any hour of the day or night, and eternally amusing. Jane could not help thinking that here in the lap of civilization at least, he was ever so much more — well, comfortable — than Davidson, who was so ready to be hurt by a misinterpreted word, or thrown into a dismal mood that would last for hours and wear her out.
John never lost his buoyant spontaneity. One morning, at about two o’clock, he jangled her doorbell, rudely waking her out of a sound sleep. She started up, wondering if she was dreaming, and it rang again. No doubt this time. She scrambled up and put on a light, scuffled into her slippers and threw a dressing gown around her.
John was tense, excited, his blue eyes gleaming. “Sorry to get you out of bed, Jane. But I had an idea — I do sometimes — and I’m that crazy I just had to come and spring it on you, or die of it. Let me in?”
“Of course,” she stammered, with a laugh.
“I’m like you; I do absurd things once in a while, such as calling on a young lady at two in the morning.”
“How often have you done that?” she inquired.
“Oh, my craziness usually works differently. Mountains, for instance. One day I was industriously shingling the roof, at home, and all of a sudden I hurled my hammer into the air and went and climbed Pike’s Peak.”
“But Pike’s Peak’s in Colorado.”
“Well, that’s where I went.”
“What are you up to now?” she inquired.
“Janie, I think you’d better come to Maine with me.”
She looked at him wide-eyed for a minute. “What a thing to bring up at this hour!” she exclaimed.
“On the contrary, I make all my important decisions at this hour. I’m at my best early in the morning; haven’t you caught on to that yet? But let’s get back to the point. You’re getting thin.”
“Is that the point?”
“You bet! I don’t like women to be too thin. Slender, of course, but not pencilly.”
“I don’t see why your views on the female form need concern me.”
“Who should they concern, if not me? Don’t I take you dancing three nights a week at least, flaunting you in public places? Besides, you aren’t happy. You may be able to fool anyone else in this world, but you can’t fool me, because I know.”
“How, may I ask?”
“I’ve been wondering. It isn’t by any outward sign. You’re a pretty good actress, all right. But I guess when you love a person, you know those things. You’re happiest when you’re dancing.”
“Well, nobody can be ecstatically joyous all the time,” she said. “Life isn’t built for that.”
“You work too hard,” he said.
“And you keep me up too late.”
“You think too much. You worry. You’re too sympathetic, and suffer too much over other people’s woes.”
“That may be true,” she admitted. “But as for working, I have to earn a living.”
“You put too much stress on that. Earning a living is all very well, but what’s the good of it if you don’t enjoy the living you sweat so hard to earn?”
“Well, that particular vicious circle has got everybody,” she said.
“Yes, but listen here! I’ve got the solution, so why not at least listen?”
“You’re getting pale,” he said.
“No personal remarks!”
“You’ve lived in Maine,” he went on. “You know that it’s the answer to all the ills of the body, and most other ills as well. Why don’t you come for a lengthy visit to my cabin by Katahdin?… Now wait! Let me exercise my salesmanship uninterrupted.”
“You don’t have to sell Maine to me. I remember.”
“Good! But let me sell myself. I’m capable of all sorts of things you wouldn’t suspect me of.”
“Oh, Johnnie, I’d suspect you of anything.”
“In this Maine project I want to be quite the under-dog — your humble servant, in fact.”
“Get along with you!”
“Now, you hold on! I’ll marry you, or not, whichever you like. I don’t give a damn about that. But — here’s the real proposition. If this idea of loving — or loving me, anyway — is worrying you, then the hell with loving, say I! We’ll be comrades, brother and sister, holy and pure and chaste; or, you can call my cabin a health resort, and me your solicitous doctor, if you like that better.”
She looked at him quizzically, her head a little on one side. “John,” she began at last, “is all this nobleness founded on supreme love, or just natural human kindness, or what?”
“You needn’t make fun of me,” he protested. “I’m in dead earnest.”
“Supreme love, then,” she said.
“Of course! Why do you doubt it? Now, isn’t it all reasonable enough? You can’t refuse, can you? Janie, that cabin in Maine is going to be a hell of a lot better with you in it — and it was pretty good anyway. And listen: you know there are lakes in Maine, and little green islands in the lakes…”
“Wouldn’t you like to camp on one — just the two of us, with my tent for a house?”
“What a subtle irony it is,” she exclaimed, “that you should offer me islands, John!”
“Isn’t it a rather swell irony, though?”
“There are other people in the world,” she said after a little.
“Janie, you’ll never make me believe that your troubled friends are worth getting thin for.”
“It isn’t only them.”
“Where is this mysterious lover of yours, Jane? He stands between us, yet I never see him. Is he a wandering sailor, or what?”
“Your humor is grim,” she said. “That’s exactly what he is.”
John drew in his breath sharply. “But he’s making you unhappy,” he protested. “Can it be worth while?”
“Yes; it’s my life.”
“You mean, one of them.”
“It’s one I couldn’t get along without. John, now it’s my turn to talk. I’m going to start playing fair with you, right this minute. I’ve been trying, but I’ve been too confounded selfish.”
“Don’t bother about it,” he said.
“I must. John, you’ve been weeks and weeks in New York…”
“Business,” he mumbled, without looking at her.
“Business, shucks! You’re hanging around to give me a good time. And you are giving me a good time. I’ve adored the dancing, and the wine, and — the loving, too. But it isn’t fair to you. Now you know; why don’t you go to Maine yourself?”
“Business,” he mumbled again, and smiled. “Don’t you think you’re making me happy, too? Nobody on earth can dance like you.”
“I know,” she said. “You want to stick around and watch me, in case life gets too much for me and I collapse. Then you’ll tenderly pick up the pieces. Noble of you, pal, and I appreciate it. But don’t worry. I’m not going to collapse.”
“Oh, you’ve made up your mind about that?”
“Definitely. Years ago.”
He looked at her wistfully. “Wouldn’t you miss me a bit?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s no secret,” she said.
“But I’m not playing fair,” she said. “Not to anybody.”
“You’re too big for one life. So you needed me, too.”
“Pretty gross, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s grand, and honest. I’ve never struck anyone as honest as you, Jane. Don’t mind if I say things crudely sometimes.”
“And you aren’t even jealous,” she said. “I think that’s rather remarkable.”
She smiled a little, and nodded.
“No — he likes to possess, that’s all.”
“I bet he’s dark and sort of grim, and has a moustache.”
“Your humor is remarkably perspicacious. John, don’t carry it too far. Hurts.”
“Sorry.” He put his arm around her. “Maybe — well, maybe I am a little jealous.”
She smiled again. “That’s all right. Nice of you to admit it.”
“I wish I could carry you away out of this,” he said. “We could go to the mountains — anywhere out of New York. You don’t belong here, except for dancing. It’s horrible for you to be here day after day. We could be kids again, and I could watch your hair go flying, as I used to. Haven’t you the courage to break away from sordid things?”
She shook her head without speaking. “John, be a reasonable boy, and go away and let me sleep, will you? I’ll think about it — honest.”
“Sorry it upsets you so, but I guess that’s the way I’m built.”
“Well, go ahead and think, if you have to, but think it out my way. Come to Maine with me, just for while, Jane — for a vacation.”
“A vacation — from life?”
“From one of them,” he answered. “And watch your weight, young lady. If I catch you losing as much as another pound, I’ll kidnap you!”
He was tempting her more than he knew. The very mention of the cool green woods of Maine…. And a kind of peace to be found there — an echo, almost, of the Lost Island peace. Davidson thousands of miles away, tired and discouraged and bitter, and — yes, inadequate. In the world you had to take good things when they were offered. It was not much use to stick to vague shadowy ideals and dreams that might never again be allowed to come true. You might have the best intentions in the world of being true to ideals, and fighting and suffering and sacrificing for them most nobly; but the world was hard-boiled and indifferent; the reaction was inevitable. You became selfish, too, grabbing good things where you saw them, forgetting other people, forgetting dreams. She felt torn, and miserable. Was it really worth while to deny oneself for the sake of a dream that was, perhaps, ended? But — could you deny a dream, when it was interwoven with the vital fibers of your heart?
New York — anything to get away from New York. But Davidson — anything for him. On Lost Island such conflicts — unreasonable, brutal — never arose to confront you. Here they sprang up like the mythical warriors from dragons’ teeth. On Lost Island one man, one dream, one cave, one world. Here all these were insanely multiplied and distorted. Lost Island… and John offering islands, too!…
A few weeks later Davidson came again. He came very quietly through the door, without saying a word, and took her in his arms. A little shudder went through her.
He stood with his back against the door, bending over her — unnaturally quiet, even for him.
“Daveson, what’s happened? Why so solemn?” she asked finally.
“I just want to tell you something,” he said, “and then I’m going away again. I’ve got to leave you — forever.”
She stared at his tense face. “You’re taking it all in one plunge, aren’t you?” she said.
“Isn’t that best?”
“Yes, but I can’t move so fast. Doesn’t register, Daveson. Won’t you even come in and sit down, and tell me slowly and simply what’s the matter?”
He sighed, and relaxed a little. “Oh, sure,” he conceded. “Sorry to be so blunt.”
“Well, it seems sudden to me,” she said, “but of course you’ve been brooding over it for ages.”
“Yes, I have. Ever since we got back.”
“I know,” she said.
“Jane, I’m no use.” He made a despairing gesture. “It’s all so futile. I can’t do anything. I can’t even tell you…”
“Do you love me?” she asked simply.
“That isn’t the point,” he said almost gruffly.
“Of course it is!” she cried.
“Blythe about it, aren’t you?” he protested bitterly. “Women are queer. Can’t imagine any reality but love. If there are other realities — unpleasant ones — they evade them.”
“You’re annoyed with me,” she said.
“A little,” he admitted. “I’m trying so hard to think this through; and you won’t see it with your head, but only with your sweet, stupid heart. How can I ever make you understand? Won’t you try? You make me feel worse than ever,” he complained.
Instantly she changed, enfolding him in a real and serious attempt to understand this trouble. She found his hand, and held on to it as though it were the only reed that kept her from falling into endless depths; and a dim reminiscence came over her, of floating, without gravity or support, in a blue haze, with one solid concrete object to hold — an oar, that had been.
“First I want to tell you a story,” Davidson said. “Once there was a man. Not much of a man, though. He was a sailor, and a very stupid one. Well, at first that didn’t matter. It was all right until he met a girl he wanted to marry. And then he needed some money. But he was too stupid, I expect. This chap was walking around one day, and he saw a bunch of people in front of the post office, and so he went up to see what was going on. And they were auctioning off a little sloop. This man had an eye for two things in the world — his wife, and little boats.”
“You just said he wasn’t married,” Jane put in.
“This man looked at the boat, and she was sound as a bell, and had sweet lines and a brave way about her. Well, he had a little money in the bank — just enough — and he bought her.”
“Good for him!” she said.
“He bought her,” Davidson went on severely. “He played round with her in the Sound, and liked her. And then one day he thought to himself: ‘I could sell this sloop, if I trimmed her up a bit, at about twice what I paid for her, and that would help get me to the point where I can — marry my wife.’ Well, this man really was very stupid. He painted her, and rove in new running gear, and made her happier than she’d been for a long time. One day a rich chap offered him nearly three times the cost of that sloop. But the sailor had been getting fonder and fonder of her all this time he’d been at work on her. ‘What’ll you do with her?’ he asked. ‘Oh,’ said the rich chap, ‘I’ll stick a good high-power auxiliary in her — make her into a little pleasure-boat.’ And that stupid sailor said he guessed he’d keep her a while longer…. A little later came another sailor, an old shipmate of his, and looked at the sloop; and there was something in his eye, though he didn’t talk much, that said he liked her — that said he wouldn’t tear her to pieces and load her up with machinery. Well, the stupid man sold her for only a few dollars less than he’d paid for her, but the sailor couldn’t pay right away. He took her out into the Sound, and got into a gale and lost her and drowned himself into the bargain. And the stupid man never got paid at all.”
“His wife would understand,” Jane said quickly. “She would have wanted him to do just that.”
“Dearest,” he pleaded, “don’t you see now?”
“I see you,” she answered, smiling.
“I’ve been back a year, and not a cent to show for it. I’ve picked up an odd job here and there, taken a voyage, got paid off, looked around for ships and found nothing but steamers, lost what few dollars I did have. It’s too ridiculous, and — I can’t marry you, Jane. I couldn’t profane it by asking you to come to me in poverty and rags and dirt.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“I’d hardly ever even be with you. I’d have to be out trying to pick up a crust here and there, like a damned seagull. I’d be with you when I was out of work — that’s about all.”
“I can work,” Jane said. “I’ve some money saved up already.”
“Do you think it makes a man very happy to feel that he can’t even support his wife?”
“When it isn’t his fault?”
“You couldn’t be happy with someone who wasn’t good enough.”
“You’re the best in the world.”
“Not by the world’s standards,” he retorted, with some irony.
“But who cares about the world’s idiotic standards?”
“We’re living in the world, and you have to,” he answered bitterly. “That’s what I’m finding out.”
“I don’t believe I could live without you,” Jane said gravely after a while.
“I had sort of a happy thought,” he said unhappily. “We could get along on what we’ve had — feed on the past all the rest of our futures. There was enough, and it was good enough, to hold us forever.”
“Like camels,” she said bitterly, “living for days on what they put in their wretched bellies at one meal. Ye Gods!… I can’t even conceive of a life without you,” she went on distantly. “It’s like trying to imagine infinite space. Imagination gives up.”
“Luckily, perhaps,” he mumbled.
“Don’t be cruel. All the time I’ve known you, you’ve never been cruel to me.”
“Dearest, it’s life that’s cruel — the world — civilization — to me, too.”
“Men are notoriously fond of passing the buck.”
“Jane, you’re fighting me. Can’t you help at all? Don’t you see what I’m up against?”
“I love you,” she said.
“Women are notorious for their lack of logic.”
“I used to believe that,” she said vehemently. “But now I don’t know — I don’t know, Davidson.”
“Well, I love you, but that doesn’t get us anywhere.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“The island,” he murmured.
“Oh, well, if you’re thinking in terms of the island — ”
“Aren’t you? Don’t answer all at once. Think. When you think about love, isn’t it a green hill in the starlight? Don’t you think of the sea, and the fragrance, and the magic? And haven’t those become part of us and so part of our love?”
“You mean you don’t believe our love could stand without those things?” she questioned, incredulous.
“I don’t believe it would be so good. I think it would be a disillusion — in the midst of poverty, and unrest. And I won’t have that, Jane. It’s been the only completely beautiful thing in my life, and I’ll never let it become less, even if I have to give it up. I think it’s too good for the world, and I won’t have the world touch it. Jane, don’t you remember what we said back on the island, the night we were married?”
“You mean, about not giving in to ugliness?”
“But that’s just what we would be doing,” she exclaimed, “if we let the world win out.”
“No,” he said, “the only way not to let the ugliness win is — to keep the lovely thing away from it.”
“It all sounds very grand and idealistic,” she said. “But, you see, I just want — to live.” And at the same time, she could not help wondering, for a fleeting second, if he was right.
“You don’t understand, then,” he mumbled, as if to himself. “I didn’t know. I thought you might, when I told you how much I was feeling it all. Jane, I hate to leave you without your understanding.”
“But you’re not going to leave me!” she cried.
“I have to.”
She looked at him, wild and breathless. “Oh, it’s like that, is it?” she questioned faintly.
“Yes, it’s like that.”
She got up heavily. And all her feelings went suddenly numb, as though she had been wrestling with something far beyond her strength. That, she thought, was what happened in the worst crises of life. You were simply deprived of feeling. It was nature’s way of helping you survive. Survival seemed the only thing important to nature; how, or why, was none of her business.
“Let’s take a vacation,” she said softly, “and have some supper.”
Davidson, temporarily alone with his half-won victory, would have been very glad to exchange it for defeat. He had known that he was about to hurt her almost inhumanly, but this silent, dazed reaction was frightening him now. A consciousness was growing upon him that, with all his understanding of her, he had never entirely taken into consideration the full intenseness of her need for him; and somewhere, nearly extinguished by troubles that crowded and clamored around him, was a single small sparkle of happiness and pride. Did he have, really, the slightest right or reason to lay open both their hearts on this mysterious imaginary altar to Beauty? Was Jane, perhaps, right that love was the only beauty that mattered?
He only knew that his feelings and resolves were seething about him in a frenzied chaos — a storm of black and white snowflakes, with Jane, terrified, in the midst of it, buffeted and shaken. Cold perspiration broke out on his forehead.
She said nothing at all. Mechanically she went through the motions of getting some supper ready. She did not know how to think of the future; but for a fleeting second it crossed her mind that next week she would go dancing with John, and that his cheeriness, her dress with the gold cape, the warmth of music, the delight of dancing, his easy goodnight kiss, would be an infinite relief. It seemed that you suffered only up to a certain point, and then the animal was forced to protect itself; as though through the opening of some automatic safety valve, you could not suffer any more.
It became more plain every second that Davidson was right. You could not bring into this world a perfection briefly attained in another, and expect it to endure. And it was obvious that to marry him would mean throwing them both into relentless circles of strain and worry, over each other as well as over materialistic things. He would be constantly in fear of failing her, wondering whether she was conscious of being failed, always aware of his worldly shortcomings, wondering whether he was imposing beyond reason on her love; and, most important of all, continually torn between her and her eternal rival, the sea.
As for Jane, she would be too much on the alert, too much under strain to foresee and intercept these fears of his, trying too hard to keep him reassured; and, even supposing she could succeed at all in this, it could only be when she was feeling on top of the world; and how could anyone be on top of the world all the time? The sea had won, that was all. She could not contend with the sea…. And dimly, fleetingly, in the back of her mind came again, like a tiny pricking, the secret knowledge that she would be wanting now and then to dance.
Some time, being Jane, she would stage another rebellion. It would not be the same kind of rebellion, though. Real adventures could never be repeated. It was a mistake to try to go back, hunting again for the places where there had been high ecstasies. If only a person could have the courage to push forward, over deserts and swamps and glaciers, he would certainly make new discoveries, perhaps as bright as the others. One way to begin an adventure was to buy a red skirt….
This life was over. Davidson was right — to end it quietly and honestly was all that mattered now.
All this, while she fussed at supper. She came back from the tiny kitchen to set the table, and he saw that her expression of terror and tenseness had gone. She nodded to him almost gaily. She brought a big salad in a blue bowl; crackers, cheese; Hamburg and fried potatoes; and, last of all, with an air of mystery, a dark bottle and two small glasses.
“Red wine,” she said, “for our un-wedding night.” The drama of that made her smile.
“You understand, then.”
“Yes.” And she felt, rather than heard, that he sighed tremendously, as a condemned prisoner might sigh, relieved beyond words to have suspense ended, and nothing now to face except death.
He looked at her across the small table. She was just a little flushed with the wine. Her straight brown hair had fallen out of place across her forehead, and her eyes sparkled. She was happy in a kind of desperate way — a little bit artificial, histrionic. Her wispy blue blouse had fallen half off one pale brown shoulder. It was a strong and solid shoulder rather than a graceful one, but at the sight of it a tempest surged through Davidson, toying with his resolves as the wind of open sea shakes the great white sails, trying to tear at them, lift them free of the lines that hold them, hurl them out into space to a fierce destruction.
Once she looked at him piercingly, and said: “Anyway, I’ll never again know what it means to be afraid.”
“I haven’t known, Jane, since the night I fished you out of the wreck. That was when the dream began. You were so helpless and white, and you had nobody but me. I wanted to take you away somewhere, so you couldn’t be hurt any more.”
“And you did!” she said, smiling.
“Yes, that part of the dream came true. I loved you, but I wanted you all to myself. I’ve always been jealous, Jane. I could almost have been jealous of the butterflies. That’s why I was so hurt when I heard about — him. I didn’t want to believe it. I knew then that I’d lost you.”
“But you hadn’t!” she cried.
“Yes, in a way I had, because I couldn’t satisfy all of you, and I couldn’t share you. Jealousy is pretty ugly. I didn’t want there to be anything between you and me that wasn’t beautiful.”
“There can’t be, now,” she told him. “Nobody can ever share what you and I have had. That’s a different part of life, closed and locked and sealed. You were right, David. I wanted you so much I lost track of other things — the most important thing.”
“I was thinking of Beauty.”
“It’s all the same,” he said.
“Well, we’ve given up both our hearts to that goddess now,” said Jane. “She can’t complain. Nobody could give her more than that.”
He took her in his arms for the last time, and sat stroking her hair. She belonged to him still. She would belong to him always, only soon she would stand, a precious goddess, fragrant as wild roses, on some high pinnacle, inaccessible and remote, his own and yet lost to him, given to his ideal.
She herself was back again on the starlit hill in flower-scented grass; and a pang of hope made her wonder why this could not happen always; even in a shack in the slums, or anywhere else, why could not being together make the island come true, all the rest of their lives? But then she knew that would be asking too much of any magic. It would rebel under such a burden; it would resent being called on, year after year, to be dragged through the dirt so that they might go on dreaming.
“David! Kiss me, and go quickly.”
She was trembling a little, and he felt like a traitor. “I’d be even more of a traitor if I stayed,” he said.
“Good luck to you, sailor.”
He kissed her on the lips again, softly. “Maybe,” he said, “it’s lucky I’m a sailor. We’re forever getting shipwrecked, or buying little boats with our last pennies, and bumming round. And somewhere there might even be… The old sea has secrets still.”
From a letter to Alice D. Russell dated May 31, 1932:
The book — this time I mean mine — has suddenly sprung a disconsolate discovery. I find, much to my disgust and up-noseishness, that I shall have to write another chapter to round out the thing properly. My nose is still so much turned up that I can’t get after the chapter yet. Of all exasperating things to find out after you’ve written a book — to think it’s All Done, and then to see some untucked frazzles hanging out the tail end! However, that’s but a temporary set-back. I expect to have the whole thing done before I go away for the summer. In fact, I MUST. I’ll try to get a copy to you, and I want your opinion including all the hard slams you like.
According to a letter to Helen dated June 30, 1956 (see Barbara Newhall Follett: A Life in Letters, p. 612), Alice never had the chance to read Lost Island. However, we do have the opinion of Professor Frederic Taber Cooper. From a letter to Barbara dated June 29, 1932 (a date suggesting that it didn’t take long for Barbara to finish her new chapter):
No, whatever you do, don’t use that new final chapter. It is written in a wholly different mood, and even the tone of it, even Jane’s attitude towards her specific problem and toward life is altered. It seemed to me as I read that some one else, and not Barbara Follett, had been taking a hand in things and giving her version and not yours. What it all means, if I am at all correct, is that you have already, in these weeks or months since you first drafted Lost Island, grown away from your former attitude and can’t quite get back. We agreed the other day that there is no such thing as finality in human stories; but your original ending was as near a definite, logical rounding out as you can hope for. And at least the work was all of one piece. It had a unity in structure and in style. And my advice is to keep it that way.
Now, if some publisher wants a supplemental chapter, I don’t say it would be a mistake to show the new chapter to him. The book as a whole would remain the refreshingly lovely thing that it is, either with or without the addition. Only I shall always feel that it is more artistic just as it stands.