McClintock's island was twelve miles long and eight miles wide, with the shap_f an oyster. The coconut plantation covered the west side. From the whit_each the palms ran in serried rows quarter of a mile inland, then began _ungle of bamboo, gum-tree, sandalwood, plantain, huge fern, and chokin_rasses. The south-east end of the island was hillocky, with volcanic subsoil.
There was plenty of sweet water.
The settlement was on the middle west coast. The stores, the drying bins, McClintock's bungalows and the native huts sprawled around an exquisit_andlocked lagoon. One could enter and leave by proa, but nothing with a kee_ould cross the coral gate. The island had evidently grown round this lagoon, approached it gradually from the volcanic upheaval—an island of coral an_ava.
There were groves of cultivated guava, orange, lemon, and pomegranate. Th_ranges were of the Syrian variety, small but filled with scarlet honey. Thi_ruit was McClintock's particular pride. He had brought the shrubs down fro_yria, and, strangely enough, they had prospered.
"Unless you have eaten a Syrian orange," he was always saying, "you have onl_ rudimentary idea of what an orange is."
The lemons had enormously thick skins and were only mildly acidulous—swee_emons, they were called; and one found them delicious by dipping the slice_n sugar.
But there was an abiding serpent in this Eden. McClintock had brought fro_enang three mangosteen evergreens; and, wonders of wonders, they ha_hrived—as trees. But not once in these ten years had they borne blossom o_ruit. The soil was identical, the climate; still, they would not bear th_lympian fruit, with its purple-lined jacket and its snow-white pulp. On_ight have said that these trees grieved for their native soil; and, grieving, refused to bear.
Of animal life, there was nothing left but monkeys and wild pig, the latte_aving been domesticated. Of course there were goats. There's an animal! H_hrives in all zones, upon all manner of food. He may not be able to eat tin- cans, but he tries to. The island was snake-free.
There were all varieties of bird-life known in these latitudes, from the bir_f paradise down to the tiny scarlet-beaked love-birds. There were alway_arrots and parrakeets screaming in the fruit groves.
The bungalows and stores were built of heavy bamboo and gum-wood; sprawly, one-storied affairs; for the typhoon was no stranger in these waters. Dee_erandas ran around the bungalows, with bamboo drops which were always down i_he daytime, fending off the treacherous sunshine. White men never went abroa_ithout helmets. The air might be cool, but half an hour without head-gear wa_n invitation to sunstroke.
Into this new world, vivid with colour, came Spurlock, receptively. For a fe_ays he was able to relegate his conscience to the background. There was s_uch to see, so much to do, that he became what he had once been normally, _ovable boy.
McClintock was amused. He began really to like Spurlock, despite the shadow o_he boy's past, despite his inexplicable attitude toward this glorious girl.
To be sure, he was attentive, respectful; but in his conduct there was none o_hat shameless _camaraderie_ of a man who loved his woman and didn't care _ang if all the world knew it. If the boy did not love the girl, why the devi_ad he dragged her into this marriage?
Spurlock was a bit shaky bodily, but his brain was functioning clearly; and, it might be added, swiftly—as the brain always acts when confronted by _erplexing riddle. No matter how swiftly he pursued this riddle, he could no_ring it to a halt. Why had Ruth married _him_? A penniless outcast, for sh_ust have known he was that. Why had she married him, off-hand, like that? Sh_id not love him, or he knew nothing of love signs. Had she too been flyin_rom something and had accepted this method of escape? But what frying-pa_ould be equal to this fire?
All this led him back to the original circle. He saw the colossal selfishnes_f his act; but he could not beg off on the plea of abnormality. He had bee_ll; no matter about that: he recollected every thought that had led up to i_nd every act that had consummated the deed.
To make Ruth pay for it! He wanted to get away, into some immense echoles_ract where he could give vent to this wild laughter which tore at his vitals.
To make Ruth pay for the whole shot! To wash away his sin by crucifying her: that was precisely what he had set about. And God had let him do it! H_as—and now he perfectly understood that he was—treading the queeres_abyrinth a man had ever entered.
Why had he kissed her? What had led him into that? Neither love no_assion—utter blankness so far as reducing the act to terms. He had kissed hi_ife on the mouth … and had been horrified! There was real madness somewher_long this road.
He was unaware that his illness had opened the way to the inherent conscienc_nd that the acquired had been temporarily blanketed, or that there was an_ncient fanaticalism in his blood. He saw what he had done only as it relate_o Ruth. He would have to go on; he would be forced to enact all th_bligations he had imposed upon himself.
His salvation—if there was to be any—lay in her ignorance of life. But sh_ould not live in constant association with him without having these gap_illed. And when she learned that she had been doubly cheated, what then? Hi_houghts began to fall on her side of the scales, and his own misery gre_ighter as he anticipated hers. He was an imaginative young man.
Never again would he repeat that kiss; but at night when they separated, h_ould touch her forehead with his lips, and sometimes he would hold her han_n his and pat it.
"I'll have my cot in here," said Spurlock to Ruth, "where this table is. Yo_ever can tell. I'm likely to get up any time in the night to work."
Together they were making habitable the second bungalow, which was withi_alling distance of McClintock's. They had scrubbed and dusted, torn down an_ung up until noon.
"Whatever you like, Hoddy," she agreed, wiping the sweat from her forehead.
She was vaguely happy over this arrangement which put her in the wing acros_he middle hall, alone. "This will be very comfortable."
"Isn't that lagoon gorgeous? I wonder if there'll be sharks?"
"Not in the lagoon. Mr. McClintock says they can't get in there, or at leas_hey never try it."
"Lord!—think of having sharks for neighbours? Every morning I'll take a di_nto the lagoon. That'll tune me up."
"But don't ever swim off the main beach without someone with you."
"I wonder where the deuce I'll be able to get some writing paper? I'm crazy t_et to work again."
"Probably Mr. McClintock will have some."
"I sha'n't want these curtains. You take them. The veranda bamboo will b_nough for me."
He stuffed the printed chintz into her arms and smiled into her eyes. And th_nfernal thought of that kiss returned—the softness of her lips and the coo_moothness of her cheeks. He turned irresolutely to the table upon which la_he scattered leaves of his old manuscripts.
"I believe I'll tear them up. So long as they're about, I'll always b_ewriting them and wasting my time."
"Let me have them."
"What for? What do you want of them?"
"Why, they are … yours. And I don't want anything of yours destroyed, Hoddy.
Those were dreams."
"All right, then." He shifted the pages together, rolled and thrust them unde_er arm. "But don't ever let me see them again. By George, I forgot!
McClintock said there was a typewriter in the office and that I could have it.
I'll dig it up. I'll be feeling fine in no time. The office is a sight—not on_heet of paper on another; bills and receipts everywhere. I'll have to pu_ome pep into the game—American pep. It will take a month to clean up. I'v_een hunting for this particular job for a thousand years!"
She smiled a little sadly over this fine enthusiasm; for in her wisdom she ha_ clear perception where it would eventually end—in the veranda chair. Al_his—the island and its affairs—was an old story; but her own peculia_istaste had vanished to a point imperceptible, for she was seeing the islan_hrough her husband's eyes, as in the future she would see all things.
For Ruth was in love, tenderly and beautifully in love; but she did not kno_ow to express it beyond the fetch and carry phase. Her heart ached; and tha_uzzled her. Love was joy, and joyous she was when alone. But in his presenc_ wall of diffidence and timidity encompassed her.
The call of youth to youth, and we name it love for want of something better: a glamorous, evanescent thing "like snow upon the desert's dusty face, lighting a little hour or two, was gone." Man is a peculiar animal. No matte_hat the fire and force of his passion, it falters eventually, and foreve_fter smoulders or goes out. He has nothing to fall back upon, no substitute; but a woman always has the mother love. When the disillusion comes, when th_airy story ends, if she is blessed with children, she doesn't mind. If sh_as no children, she goes on loving her husband; but he is no longer a man bu_ child.
A dog appeared unexpectedly upon the threshold. He was yellow and coarse o_air; flea-bitten, too; and even as he smiled at Ruth and wagged his stump_ail, he was forced to turn savagely upon one of these disturbers who had n_ense of the fitness of things.
"Well, well; look who's here!" cried Spurlock.
He started toward the dog with the idea of ejecting him, but Ruth intervened.
"No, please! It is good luck for a dog to enter your house. Let me keep him."
"What? Good Lord, he's alive with fleas! They'll be all over the place."
She dropped the curtains and the manuscripts, knelt and held out her arms. Th_og approached timidly, his tail going furiously. He suspected a trap. The fe_hites he had ever known generally offered to pet him when they really wante_o kick him. But when Ruth's hand fell gently upon his bony head, he knew tha_o one in this house would ever offer him a kick. So he decided to stay.
"You want him?"
"Please!" said Ruth.
"All right. What'll we call him—Rollo?"—ironically.
"I never had a pet. I never had even a real doll," she added, as she snuggle_he flea-bitten head to her heart. "See how glad he is!"
His irony and displeasure subsided. She had never had a pet, never had a rea_oll. Here was a little corner of the past—a tragic corner. He knew tha_ragedy was as blind as justice, that it struck the child and the grown-u_mpartially. He must never refuse her anything which was within his power t_rant—anything (he modified) which did not lead to his motives.
"You poor child!—you can have all the dogs on the island, if you want them!
Come along to the kitchen, and we'll give Rollo a tubbing."
And thus their domesticity at McClintock's began—with the tubbing of a stra_ellow dog. It was an uproarious affair, for Rollo now knew that he had bee_rieviously betrayed: they were trying to kill him in a new way. Nobody wil_ver know what the fleas thought.
The two young fools laughed until they cried. They were drenched with wate_nd suds. Their laughter, together with the agonized yowling of the dog, dre_ circle of wondering natives; and at length McClintock himself came over t_ee what the racket was about. When he saw, his roars could be heard acros_he lagoon.
"You two will have this island by the ears," he said, wiping his eyes. "Thos_oys out there think this is some new religious rite and that you are skinnin_he dog alive to eat him!"
The shock of this information loosened Spurlock's grip on the dog, who bolte_ut of the kitchen and out of the house, maintaining his mile-a-minute gai_ntil he reached the jungle muck, where he proceeded to neutralize the poiso_ith which he had been lathered by rolling in the muck.
But they found him on the veranda when they returned from McClintock's tha_vening. He had forgiven everybody. From then on he was Ruth's dog.
Nothing else so quickly establishes the condition of comradeship as th_haring of a laughable incident. Certain reserves went down on both sides.
Spurlock discussed the affairs of the island and Ruth gave him in exchange he_dventures with the native girl who was to be their servant.
This getting up at dawn—real dawn—and working until seven was a distinc_ovelty. From then until four in the afternoon there was nothing to do—th_hole island went to sleep. Even the chattering monkeys, parrots, an_arrakeets departed the fruit groves for the smelly dark of the jungle. If, around noon, a coconut proa landed, the boys made no effort to unload. The_unted up shady nooks and went to sleep; but promptly at four they would be a_he office, ready for barter.
Spurlock had found the typewriter, oiled and cleaned it, and began to practis_n it in the night. He would never be able to compose upon it, but it woul_erve to produce the finished work. Above the work-table was a drop- light—kerosene. The odour of kerosene permeated the bungalow; but Rut_itigated the nuisance to some extent by burning native punk in brass jars.
He was keen to get to work, but the inspiration would not come. He started _ozen stories, but they all ended in the waste-basket. Then, one night, h_lanced up to behold Ruth and Rollo in the doorway. She crooked her finger.
"What is it?"
"The night," she answered. "Come and see the lagoon in the moonlight."
He drew down the lamp and blew it out, and followed her into the night, mor_ovely than he had ever imagined night to be. There was only one sound—th_all of the sea upon the main beach, and even that said: "Hush! Hush!
Hus-s-sh!" Not a leaf stirred, not a shadow moved. The great gray boles of th_alms reminded him of some fabulous Grecian temple.
"Let us sit here," she said, indicating the white sand bordering the lagoon;
"and in a minute or two you will see something quite wonderful … . There!"
Out of the dark unruffled sapphire of the lagoon came vertical flashes o_urning silver, singly and in groups.
"What in the world is it?" he asked.
"Flying fish. Something is feeding upon them. I thought you might like to see.
You might be able to use the picture some day."
"I don't know." He bent his head to his knees. "Something's wrong. I can'_nvent; the thing won't come."
"Shall I tell you a real story?"
"Something you have seen?"
"Tell it. Perhaps what I need is something to bite in."
So she told him the adventure of the two beachcombers in the typhoon, and ho_hey became regenerated by their magnificent courage.
"That's tremendous!" he cried. "Lord, if I can only remember to write i_xactly as you told it!" He jumped to his feet. "I'll tackle it to-night!"
"But it's after ten!"
"What's that got to do with it? … The roofs of the native huts scattering i_he wind! … the absolute agony of the twisting palms!…. and those two beggar_aughing as they breasted death! Girl, you've gone and done it!"
He leaned down and caught her by the hand, and then raced with her to th_ungalow.
Five hours later she tiptoed down the hall and paused at the threshold of wha_hey now called his study. There were no doors in the bungalow; instead, ther_ere curtains of strung bead and bamboo, always tinkling mysteriously. Hi_ipe hung dead in his teeth, but the smoke was dense about him. His hand fle_cross the paper. As soon as he finished a sheet, he tossed it aside and bega_nother. Occasionally he would lean back and stare at the window which gav_pon the sea. But she could tell by the dullness of his eyes that he saw onl_ome inner vision.
Unobserved, she knelt and kissed the threshold: for she knew what kisses wer_ow. The curtain tinkled as her head brushed it, but he neither saw nor heard.