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Chapter 21

  • 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."
  • "Please!"
  • 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?"
  • "Yes."
  • "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.