|Home -> Miscellaneous (non California related books) -> Angel Island -> Chapter 3|
"I don't exactly like your, use of the word right, Ralph," said Billy. "You mean duty, don't you?"
"And he'd better change that to privilege," put in Pete Murphy, scowling.
"Shut up, you mick," Honey interposed, flicking Pete on the ear with a pebble. "What do you know about machinery?"
Pete grinned and subsided for a moment. Honey could always placate him by calling him a mick."
"No," Ralph went on obstinately, addressing himself this time to Billy, "I mean right. Of course, I mean right," he went on with one of his, gusty bursts of, irritation. "For God's sake, don't be so high-brow and altruistic."
"How about it, Frank?" Billy said, turning to Merrill.
"Well," said Frank slowly, "I don't exactly know how to answer that question. I don't know what you mean by the word - right. I take it that you mean what our right would be if these flying-maidens permitted themselves to become our friends. I would say, that, in such a case, you would have the only right that any man ever has, as far as women are concerned - the right to woo. If he wins, all well and good. If he loses, he must abide by the consequences."
"You're on, Frank," said Billy Fairfax.
You've said the last word."
"In normal condition, I'd agree with you," Ralph said. "But in these conditions I disagree utterly."
"How?" Frank asked. "Why?" He turned to Ralph with the instinctive equability that he always presented to an opponent in argument.
"Well, in the first place, we find ourselves in a, situation unparalleled in the world's history." Ralph had the air of one who is saying aloud for the first time what he has said to himself many times. At any rate, he proceeded with an unusual fluency and glibness. "Circumstances alter cases. We can't handle this situation by any of the standards we have formerly known. In fact, we've got to throw all our former standards overboard. There are five of these girls. There are five of us. Voilà! Following the laws of nature we have selected each of us the mates we prefer. Or, following the law that Bernard Shaw discovered, the ladies have selected, each of them, the mates that they prefer. They are now turning themselves inside out to prove to us that we selected them. Voilà! The rest is obvious. If they come to terms, all right! If they don't - " He paused. "I repeat that we are placed in, a situation new in the history of the world. I repeat the bromidion - circumstances alter cases. We may have to stay on this island as long as we live. I am perfectly willing to confess that just now I'd rather not be rescued. But it's over our months that we've been here. We must think of the future. The future justifies anything. If these girls don't come to terms, they must be made to come to terms. You'll find I'm right."
"Right!" exclaimed Billy hotly. "What are you talking about? Those are the principles of an Apache or a Hottentot."
"Or a cave-man," Pete added.
"Well, what are we under our skins but Hottentots and Apaches and cave-men?" said Ralph. "Now, I leave it to you. Look facts in the face. Use your common sense. Count out civilization and all its artificial rules. Think of our situation on this island, if we don't capture these women soon. We can't tell when they'll stop coming. We don't know what the conditions of their life may be. The caprice may strike them to-morrow to cut us out for good. Maybe their men will discover it - and prevent them from coming. A lot of things may happen to keep them away. What's to become of us in that case? We'll go mad, five men alone here. It isn't as though we could tame them by any gentle methods. You can't catch eagles by putting salt on their tails. In the first place, we can't get close enough to them, because of their accursed wings, to prove that we wouldn't harm them. They've sent us a challenge - it's a magnificent one. They've thrown down the gage. And how have we responded? I bet they think we're a precious lot of molly-coddles! I bet they're laughing in their sleeves all the time. I'd hate to hear what they say about us. But the point I'm trying to make is not that. It's this: we can't afford to lose them. This place is a prison now. It will be worse than that if this keeps up - it'll be a madhouse."
"Do you mean to tell me that you're advocating marriage by capture?" Billy asked in an incredulous voice.
"I mean to tell you I'm arguing capture," Ralph said with emphasis. "After that, you, can trust the marriage question to take care of itself."
Argument broke out hydra-headed. They wrangled the whole evening. Theory at first guided them. In the beginning, names like Plato, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer preceded quotation; then, came Shaw, Havelock-Ellis, Kraft-Ebing, Weininger. Sleep deadened their discussion temporarily but it burst out at intervals all the next day. In fact, it seemed to possess eternal vitality, eternal fascination. Leaving theory, they went for parallels of their strange situation, to history, to the Scriptures, to fiction, to drama, to poetry.
Honey ended every discussion with a philosophic, "Aside from the question of brutality, this marriage by capture isn't a sporting proposition. It's like jacking deer. I'm not for it. And, O Lord, what's the use of chewing the rag so much about it? Wait a while. We'll get them yet, I betchu!"
All of Honey's sex-pride flared in this buoyant assurance. It had apparently not yet occurred to him that he would not conquer Lulu in the end and conquer her by merely submitting to her wooing of him.
And in the meantime, the voiceless tête-à-têteing of the five couples continued.
"Say, Ralph," Honey said one day in a calm interval, "it's just occurred to me that we haven't seen those girls, flying in a bunch for quite some time. Don't suppose they've quarrelled, do you?"
Everybody stopped work to stare at him. "I bet that's the answer," Ralph exclaimed. His voice held the note of one for whom a private mystification has at last broken.
"But what do you suppose they've quarrelled about?" Pete Murphy asked.
"Me," Honey said promptly.
Ralph laughed absent-mindedly. "It's a hundred to one shot that they're quarrelling about us, though," he said. For some mysterious reason this theory raised his spirits perceptibly.
"But - to get down to brass tacks," Pete asked in a puzzled tone, "what have we done to make them quarrel?"
"Oh, we've done nothing," Ralph answered with one of his lordly assumptions of a special knowledge. It's just the disorganization that always falls on women when men appear on their horizon. They're absolutely without sex-loyalty, you know. They seem to have principle enough in regard to some things, a few things. But the moment a man appears, it's all off. West of Suez, they'll lie and steal; east of Suez, they'll betray and murder as easy as breathe."
"Cut that out, Addington," Pete Murphy commanded in a dangerous voice. "I won't stand for that kind of talk."
Ralph glared. "Won't stand for it?" he repeated. "I'd like to know how the hell you're going to help yourself?"
"I'll find a way, and pretty damned quick," Pete retorted.
It was the closest approach to a quarrel that had yet occurred. The other three men hastily threw themselves into the breach. "Shut up, you mick," Honey called to Pete. "Remember you came over in the steerage."
Pete grinned and subsided.
"As sure as shooting," Honey said, "those girls have quarrelled. I bet we never see them again."
It was a long time before they saw any of them; but, curiously enough, the next time the flying-girls visited the island they came in a group.
It had been sultry, the first of a long series of sticky, muggy days. What threatened to be a thunderstorm and then, as Honey said, failed to "make good," came up in the afternoon. Just as the sky was at its blackest, Honey called, "Hurroo! Here they come!"
The effect of the approach of the flying-maidens was so strange as to make them unfamiliar. There was no sun to pour a liquid iridescence through their wings. All the high lights of their plumage had dulled. Painted in flat primary colors, they looked like paper dolls pasted on the inky thundercloud. As usual, when they came in a group, they wove in and out in a limited spherical area, achieving extraordinary effects in close wheeling.
As the girls made for the island, a new impulse seized Honey. He ran down the beach, dashed into the water, swam out to meet them.
"Come back, you fool!" Frank yelled.
There may be sharks in that water.
But Honey only laughed. He was a magnificent swimmer. He seemed determined to give, in an alien element, an exhibition which would equal that of the flying-girls. The effect on them was immediate; they broke ranks and floated, watching every move.
To hold their interest, Honey nearly turned himself inside out.
At first he tore the water white with the vigor of his trudgeon-stroke. Then turning from left to right, he employed the side-stroke. From that, he went to the breast-stroke. Last of all, he floated, dove, swam under water so long that the girls began uneasily to fly back and forth, to twitter with alarm.
Finally he emerged and floated again.
"He swims like a motor-boat!" said Ralph admiringly.
Suddenly Lulu fluttered away from her companions, dropped so low that she could have touched Honey with her hand, and flew protectingly above him.
The men on the beach watched these proceedings with a gradual diminution of their alarm, with the admiration that Honey in the water always excited, with the amusement that Lulu's fearless display of infatuation always developed.
"Oh, my God!" Frank called suddenly. "There's a shark!"
Simultaneously, the others saw what he saw - a sinister black triangle swiftly shearing the water. They ran, yelling, down to the water's edge and stood there trying to shout a warning over the noise of the surf.
Honey did not get it at once. He was still floating, his smiling, up-turned face looking into Lulu's smiling, down-turned one. Then, rolling over, he apparently caught a glimpse of the black fin bearing so steadily on him. He made immediately for the shore but he had swum far and fast.
Lulu was slower even than he in realizing the situation. For a moment, obviously piqued at his action, she dropped and hung in the rear. Perhaps her mates signaled to her, perhaps her intuition flashed the warning. Suddenly she looked back. The scream which she emitted was as shrill with terror as any wingless woman's. Swooping down like an eagle, she seized Honey under the shoulders, lifted him out of the water. His weight crippled her. For though the first impulse of her terror carried her high, she sank at once until Honey hung just above the water.
And continuously she screamed.
The other girls realized her plight in an instant. They dropped like stones to her side, eased her partially of Honey's weight. Julia alone did not touch him. She floated above, calling directions. The group of girls arose gradually, flew swiftly over the water toward the beach. The men ran to meet them.
"Don't go any further," Billy commanded in a peremptory voice unusual with him. "They'll not put him down if we come too near."
The men hesitated, stopped.
Immediately the girls deposited Honey on the sand.
"Did you notice the cleverness of that breakaway?" said Pete. "He couldn't have got a clinch in anywhere."
But to do Honey justice, he attempted nothing of the sort. He lay flat and still until his rescuers were at a safe height. Then he sat up and smiled radiantly at them. "Ladies, I thank you," he said.
"And I'll see that you get a Carnegie medal if it takes the rest of my life. I guess," he remarked unabashed, as his companions joined him, "it will be fresh-water swimming for your little friend hereafter."
Nobody spoke for a while. His companions were still white and Billy Fairfax even shook.
"You looked like an engraving that used to hang over my bed when I was a child," said Ralph, with an attempt at humor that had, coming from him, a touching quality, "a bunch of, angels lugging a dead man to heaven. You'd have been a ringer for it if you'd had a shave."
"Well, the next time the girls come, I'm going to swim out among the pretty sharks," said Pete, obviously trying to echo Ralph's light note. "By Jove, hear them chatter up there. They're talking all at once and at the top of their lungs just like your sisters and your cousins and your aunts."
"They're as pale as death, too," observed Billy. "Look at that!"
The flying-maidens had come together in a compact circular group, hands over each other's shoulders, wings faintly fluttering. Perceptibly they clung to each other for support. Their faces had turned chalky; their heads drooped. Intertwined thus, they drifted out of sight.
"Lord, they are beautiful, close-to!" Honey said. "You never saw such complexions! Or such eyes and teeth! And - and - by George, such an effect of purity and stainlessness. I feel like a - and yet, by - ." He fell into an abstraction so deep that it was as though he had forgotten his companions.
For several days, the girls did not appear on Angel Island. All that time, the capture argument lay in abeyance. Even Ralph, who had introduced the project, seemed touched by the gallantry of Honey's rescue. Honey, himself, was strangely subdued; his eternal monologue had dried up; he seemed preoccupied. Nevertheless, it was he, who, one night, reopened the discussion with a defiant flat: "Well, boys, I might as well tell you, I've swung over to Ralph's side. I'm for the capture of those girls, and capture as soon as we can make it."
"Well, I'll be - " said Billy. "After they saved your life! Honey, I guess I don't know you any more."
"What's changed you?" Pete asked in amazement.
"Can't tell you why - don't know myself why when you get the answer tell me. Only in the ten minutes that those girls packed me through the air, I did some quick thinking, I can't explain to you why we've got the right to capture them. But we have. That's all there is to it."
War broke out with a new animosity; for they had, of course, now definitely divided into sides. Their conversation always turned into argument now, no matter how peaceably and innocently it began.
The girls had begun to visit the island again, singly now, singly always. Discussion died down temporarily and the wordless tête-à-têteing began again. Lulu hovered ever at Honey's shoulder. Clara postured always within Pete's vision. Chiquita took up her eternal vigil on Frank's reef. Peachy discovered new wonders of what Honey called "trick flying." Julia became a fixed white star in their blue noon sky.
A day or two or three of this long-distance wooing, and argument exploded more vehemently than ever. Honey and Ralph still maintained that, as the ruling sex of a man-managed world, they had the right of discovery to these women. Frank still maintained that, as a supra-human race, the flying-girls were subject to supra-human laws. Billy and Pete still maintained that, as the development not only of the race but of the individual depended on the treatment of the female by the male, the capture of these independent beings at this stage of civilization would be a return to barbarism.
After one night of wrangling, they came to the agreement that no one of them would take steps towards capture until all five had consented to it. They drew up a paper to this effect and signed it.
Their cabins were nearly completed now. Boundless leisure threatened to open before them. More and more in the time which they were alone they fell into the habits which their individual tastes developed. Frank still worked on his library. He had transferred the desk and the bookcases to the interior of his hut. He spent all his spare time there arranging, classifying, and cataloguing his books. Billy fell into an orgy of furniture-making and repairing. Addington began, unaided, to build a huge cabin, bigger than the others, and separated a little distance from them. Nobody asked him what it was for. Honey took long solitary walks into the interior of the island. He returned with great bunches of uprooted flowers which he planted against the cabin-walls. Pete dragged out from an unexplored trunk a box of water-colors, a block of paper. Now, when he was not working on a symphonic poem, he was coping with the wonders of the semi-tropical coloring. His companions rallied and harried him, especially about the poem; but he could always silence them with a threat to read it aloud. All the Celt in him had come to the surface. They heard him chanting his numbers in the depths of the forest; sometimes he intoned them, swinging on the branch of a high tree. He even wandered over the reefs, reciting them to the waves.
One day, late in the afternoon, Billy lay on his favorite spot on the southern reef, dreaming. High up in the air, Julia flashed and gyrated, revolved and spun. It seemed to Billy that he had never seen her go so high. She looked like a silver feather. But as he looked, she went higher and higher, so high that she disappeared vertically.
A strange sense of loneliness fell on Billy. This was the first time since she had begun to come regularly to the island that she had cut their tryst short. He waited. She did not appear. A minute went by. Another and another and another. His sense of loneliness deepened to uneasiness. Still there was no sign of Julia. Uneasiness became alarm. Ah, there she was at last - a speck, a dot, a spot, a splotch. How she was flying! How - .
Like a bullet the conviction struck him.
She was falling!
Memories of certain biplanic explorations surged into his mind. "She's frozen," he thought to himself. "She can't move her wings!" Terror paralyzed him; horror bound him. He stood still-numb, dumb, helpless.
Down she came like an arrow. Her wings kept straight above her head, moveless, still. He could see her breast and shoulders heave and twist, and contort in a fury of effort. Underneath her were the trees. He had a sudden, lightning-swift vision of a falling aviator that he had once seen. The horror of what was coming turned his blood to ice. But he could not move; nor could he close his eyes.
"Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!" he groaned. And, finally, "Oh, thank God!"
Julia's wings were moving. But apparently she still had little control of them. They flapped frantically a half-minute; but they had arrested her fall; they held her up. They continued to support her, although she beat about in jagged circles. Alternately floating and fluttering, she caught on an air-current, hurled herself on it, floated; then, as though she were sliding through some gigantic pillar of quiet air, sank earthwards. She seized the topmost bough of one of the high trees, threw her arms across it and hung limp. She panted; it seemed as if her breasts must burst. Her eyes closed; but the tears streamed from under her eyelids.
Billy ran close. He made no attempt to climb the tree to which she clung, so weakly accessible. But he called up to her broken words of assurance, broken phrases of comfort that ended in a wild harangue of love and entreaty.
After a while her breath came back. She pulled herself up on the bough and sat huddled there, her eyelids down, her silvery fans drooping, the great mass of her honey-colored hair drifting over the green branches, her drapery of white lilies, slashed and hanging in tatters, the tears still streaming. Except for its ghastly whiteness, her face showed no change of expression. She did not sob or moan, she did not even speak; she sat relaxed. The tears stopped flowing gradually. Her eyelids lifted. Her eyes, stark and dark in her white face, gazed straight down into Billy's eyes.
And then Billy knew.
He stood moveless staring up at her; never, perhaps, had human eyes asked so definite a question or begged so definite a boon.
She sat moveless, staring straight down at him. But her eyes continued to withhold all answer, all reassurance.
After a while, she stirred and the spell broke. She opened and shut her wings, half a dozen times before she ventured to leave her perch. But once, in the air, all her strength, physical and mental, seemed to come back. She shook the hair out of her eyes. She pulled her drapery together. For a moment, she lingered near, floating, almost moveless, white, shining, carved, chiseled: like a marvelous piece of aerial sculpture. Then a flush of a delicate dawn-pink came into her white face. She caught the great tumbled mass of hair in both hands, tied it about her head. Swift as a flash of lightning, she turned, wheeled, soared, dipped. And for the first time, Billy heard her laugh. Her laughter was like a child's - gleeful. But each musical ripple thrust like a knife into his heart.
He watched her cleave the distance, watched her disappear. Then, suddenly, a curious weakness came over him. His head swam and he could not see distinctly. Every bone in his body seemed to repudiate its function; his flexed muscles slid him gently to the earth. Time passed. After a while consciousness came back. His dizziness ceased. But he lay for a long while, face downward, his forehead against the cool moss. Again and again that awful picture came, the long, white, girl-shape shooting earthwards, the ghastly, tortured face, the frenzied, heaving shoulders. It was to come again many times in the next week, that picture, and for years to make recurrent horror in his sleep.
He returned to the camp white, wrung, and weak. Apparently his companions had been busy at their various occupations. Nobody had seen Julia's fall; at least nobody mentioned it. After dinner, when the nightly argument broke into its first round, he was silent for a while. Then, "Oh, I might as well tell you, Frank, and you, Pete," he said abruptly, "that I've gone over to the other side. I'm for capture, friendship by capture, marriage by capture - whatever you choose to call it - but capture."
The other four stared at him. "What's happened to you and Ju - " Honey began. But he stopped, flushing.
Billy paid no attention to the bitten-off end of Honey's question. "Nothing's happened to me," he lied simply and directly. "I don't know why I've changed, but I have. I think this is a case where the end justifies the means. Women don't know what's best for them. We do. Unguided, they take the awful risks of their awful ignorance. Moreover, they are the conservative sex. They have no conscious initiative. These flying-women, for instance, have plenty of physical courage but no mental or moral courage. They hold the whip-hand, of course, now. Anything might happen to them. This situation will prolong itself indefinitely unless - unless we beat their cunning by our strategy." He paused. "I don't think they're competent to take care of themselves. I think it's our duty to take care of them. I think the sooner - ." He paused again. "At the same time, I'm prepared to keep to our agreement. I won't take a step in this matter until we've all come round to it."
"If it wasn't for their wings," Honey said.
Billy shuddered violently. "If it wasn't for their wings," he agreed.
Frank bore Billy's defection in the spirit of classic calm with which he accepted everything. But Pete could not seem to reconcile himself to it. He was constantly trying to draw Billy into debate.
"I won't argue the matter, Pete," Billy said again and again. " I can't argue it. I don't pretend even to myself that I'm reasonable or logical, or just or ethical. It's only a feeling or an instinct. But it's too strong for me. I can't fight it. It's as if I'd taken a journey drugged and blindfolded. I don't know how I got on this side - but I'm here."
The effect of this was to weaken a little the friendship that had grown between Billy and Pete. Also Honey pulled a little way from Ralph and slipped nearer to his old place in Billy's regard.
But now there were three warring elements in camp. Honey, Ralph, and Billy hobnobbed constantly. Frank more than ever devoted himself to his reading. Pete kept away from them all, writing furiously most of the day.
"We're going to have a harder time with him than with Frank," Billy remarked once.
"I guess we can leave that matter to take care of itself," Ralph said with one of his irritating superior smiles. "How about it, Honey?"
"Surest thing you know," Honey answered reassuringly. All you've got to do is wait - believe muh!"
"It does seem as if we'd waited pretty long," Honey himself fumed two weeks later, "I say we three get together and repudiate that agreement."
"That would be dishonorable," Billy said, "and foolish. You can see for yourself that we cannot stir a step in this matter without co-operation. As opponents, Pete and Frank could warn the girls off faster than we could lure them on."
"That's right, too," agreed Honey. "But I'm damned tired of this," he added drearily. "Not more tired than we are," said Billy.
An incident that varied the monotony of the deadlock occurred the next day. Pete Murphy packed up food and writing materials and, without a word, decamped into the interior. He did not return that day, that night, or the next day, or the next night.
"Say, don't you think we ought to go after him," Billy said again and again, "something may have happened."
And, "No!" Honey always answered. "Trust that Dogan to take care of himself. You can't kill him."
Pete worked gradually across the island to the other side. There the beach was slashed by many black, saw-toothed reefs. The sea leaped up upon them on one side and the trees bore down upon them on the other. The air was filled with tumult, the hollow roar of the waves, the strident hum of the pines. For the first day, Pete entertained himself with exploration, clambering from one reef to another, pausing only to look listlessly off at the horizon, climbing a pine here and there, swinging on a bough while he stared absently back over the island. But although his look fixed on the restless peacock glitter of the sea, or the moveless green cushions that the massed trees made, it was evident that it took no account of them; they served only the more closely to set his mental gaze on its half-seen vision.
The second morning, he arose, bathed, breakfasted, lay for an hour in the sun; then drew pencil and paper from his pack. He wrote furiously. If he looked up at all, it was only to gaze the more fixedly inwards. But mainly his head hung over his work.
In the midst of one of these periods of absorption, a flower fell out of the air on his paper. It was a brilliant, orange-colored tropical bloom, so big and so freshly plucked that it dashed his verse with dew. For an instant he stared stupidly at it. Then he looked up.
Just above him, not very high, her green-and-gold wings spread broad like a butterfly's, floated Clara. Her body was sheathed in green vines, delicately shining. Her hair was wreathed in fluttering yellow orchid-like flowers, her arms and legs wound with them. She was flying lower than usual. And, under her wreath of flowers, her eyes looked straight into his.
Pete stared at her stupidly as he had stared at the flower. Then he frowned. Deliberately he dropped his eyes. Deliberately he went on writing.
Whir-r-r-r-r! Pete looked up again. Clara was beating back over the island, a tempest of green-and-gold.
Again, he concentrated on his work.
Pete wrote all the rest of the day and by firelight far into the night. He wrote all the next morning. In the middle of the afternoon, a seashell struck his paper, glanced off.
It was Clara again.
This time, apparently, she had come from the ocean. Sea-kelp, still glistening with brine, encased her close as with armor. A little pointed cap of kelp covered her tawny hair as with a helmet. That gave her a piquant quality of boyishness. She was flying lower than he had ever seen her, and as Pete's eyelids came up she dropped nearer, threw herself into one of her sinuous poses, arms and legs outstretched close, hands and feet cupped, wrists, ankles, hips, shoulders all moving. She looked straight down into Pete's eyes; and this time she smiled.
Pete stared for another long moment. Then as though summoning all his resolution, he withdrew his eyes, nailed them to his paper. Clara peppered him with shells and pebbles; but he continued to ignore her. He did not look up again until a whir-r-r-r-r - loud at first but steadily diminishing - apprised him of her flight.
Pete again wrote the rest of the day and by firelight far into the night. In the middle of the morning he stopped suddenly, weighted his paper down with a stone, rolled over on to the pine-needles, and fell immediately into a deep sleep. He lay for hours, his face down, resting on his arm.
Pete awoke with a start. His manuscript was gone. He leaped to his feet, stared wildly about. Not far off Clara was flying, almost on the ground. As he watched, she ascended swiftly. She held his poem in her hands. She studied it, her head bent. She did not once look up or back; her eyes still jealously glued to the pencil-scratchings, she drifted out to sea, disappeared.
Pete did not move. He watched Clara intently until she melted into the sky. But as he watched, his creative mood broke and evaporated. And suddenly another emotion, none the less fiercely ravaging, sluiced the blood into his face, filled his eyes with glitter, shook him as though a high wind were blowing, sent him finally speeding at a maniacal pace over the reefs.
"Say, do you think we'd better organize a search-party?" Honey asked finally.
"Not yet," said Ralph, "here he comes."
Pete was running down the trail like a deer.
"I've finished my poem," he yelled jubilantly.
"Every last word of it. And now, boys," he added briskly before they could recover their breath, I'm with you on this capture question."
For an instant, the others stared and blinked. "What do you mean, Pete?" Honey asked stupidly, after an instant.
"Well, I'm prepared to go as far as you like."
"But what changed you? " Honey persisted.
"Oh, hang it all," Pete said and never had his little black, fiery Irish face so twisted with irritation, so flamed with spirit, "a poet's so constituted that he's got to have a woman round to read his verse to. I want to teach Clara English so she can hear that poem."
There was a half-minute of silence. Then his listeners broke into roars. "You damned little mick you!" Honey said. He laughed at intervals for an hour.
They immediately broke the news of Pete's desertion to Merrill. Frank received it without any appearance of surprise. But he announced, with a sudden boom of authority in his big voice, that he expected them all to stand by their agreement. Billy answered for the rest that they had no intention of doing anything else. But the four were now in high spirits. Among themselves, they no longer said, "If we capture them," but "When we capture them."
The stress of the situation at once pulled Frank away from his books. Again he took complete charge of the little group. He was a natural disciplinarian, as they had learned at the time of the wreck. Now his sense of responsibility developed a severity that was almost austerity. He kept them constantly at work. In private the others chafed at his tone of authority. But in his presence they never failed of respect. Besides, his remarkable unselfishness compelled their esteem, a shy vein of innocent, humorless sweetness their affection. "Old Frank" they always called him.
One afternoon, Frank started on one of the long walks which latterly he had abandoned. He left three of his underlings behind. Pete painted a water-color; Clara, weaving back and forth, watched his progress. Ralph worked on the big cabin - they called it the Clubhouse - Peachy whirling back and forth in wonderful air-patterns for his benefit. A distant speck of silver indicated Julia; Billy must be on the reef. Honey had left camp fifteen minutes before for the solitary afternoon tramp that had become a daily habit with him.
Frank's path lay part-way through the jungle. For half an hour he walked so sunk in thought that he glanced neither to the right nor the left. Then he stopped suddenly, held by some invisible, intangible, impalpable force. He listened. The air hummed delicately, hummed with an alien element, hummed with something that was neither the susurrus of insects nor the music of birds. He moved onward slowly and quietly. The hum grew and strengthened. It became a sound. It divided into component parts, whistlings, trillings, twitterings, callings. Bird-like they were - but they could come only from the human throat. Impersonal they were - and yet they were sexed, female and male. Frank looked about him carefully. A little distance away, the trail sent off a tiny feeler into the jungle. It dipped into one of the pretty glades which diversified the flatness of the island. Creeping slowly, Frank followed the sound.
Half-way down the slope, Honey Smith was standing, staring upwards. In his virile, bronzed semi-nudity, he might have been a god who had emerged for the first time into the air from the woods at his back. His lips were open and from them came sound.
Above him, almost within reach, Lulu floated, gazing downward. She had a listening look; and she listened fascinated. She seemed to lie motionless on the air. It was the first time that Merrill had seen Lulu so close. But in some mysterious way he knew that there was something abnormal about her. Her piquant Kanaka face shone with a strange emotion. Her narrow eyes were big with wonder; her blood-red lips had trembled open. She stared at Honey as if she were seeing him from a new angle. She stared, but sound came from her parted lips.
It was Honey who whistled and called. It was Lulu who twittered and trilled. No mating male bird could have put more of entreating tenderness into his voice. No mating female bird could have answered with more perplexity of abandon.
For a moment Frank stared. Then, with a sudden sense of eavesdropping, he moved noiselessly back until he struck the main trail.
He kept on until he came to the shady side of his favorite reef. He took from his pocket a book and began to read. To his surprise and discomfort, he could not get into it. Something psychological kept coming between him and the printed page. He tried to concentrate on a paragraph, a sentence, a phrase. It was like eating granite. It was like drinking dust. He stared at the words, but they seemed to float off the page.
That, then, was what all the other four men were doing while he was reading and writing, or while, with narrowed, scrutinizing eyes, he followed Chiquita's languid flight. He had not seen Chiquita for a week; he had been so busy getting the first part of his monograph into shape that he had not come to the reef. And all that week, the other men had been -. A word from the university slang came into his mind - twosing - came into it with a new significance. How descriptive that word was! How concrete! Twosing!
He took up his book again. He glued his eyes to the print. Five minutes passed; he was gazing at the same words. But now instead of floating off the page, they engaged in little dances, dizzyingly concentric. Suddenly something that was not of the mind interposed another obstacle to concentration, a jagged, purple shadow.
It was Chiquita.
Frank leaped to his feet and stood staring. The quickness of his movement - ordinarily he moved measuredly - frightened her. She fluttered, drifted away, paused. Frank stiffened. His immobility reassured her. She drifted nearer. Something impelled Frank to hold his rigid pose. But, for some unaccustomed reason, his hand trembled. His book dropped noiselessly on to the soft grass.
Chiquita floated down, closer than ever before.
She had undoubtedly just waked up. The dew of dreams still lay on her luscious lips and in her great black eyes. Scarlet flowers, flat-petaled, black-stamened, wreathed her dusky hair. Scarlet bands outlined her dusky shoulders. Scarlet streamers trailed in her wake. Never had she seemed more lazy and languid, more velvety and voluptuous, more colorful and sumptuous.
Frank stared and stared. Then, following an inexplicable impulse, he whistled as he had heard Honey whistle; and called as he had heard Honey call, the plaintive, entreating note of the mating male bird.
The same look which had come into Lulu's face came into Chiquita's, a look of wonder and alarm and -. She trembled, but she sank slowly, head foremost like a diver.
Frank continued softly to call and whistle. After an interval, another mysterious instinct impelled him to stop. Chiquita's lips moved; from them came answering sound, faint, breathy, scarcely voiced but exquisitely musical, exquisitely feminine, the call of the mating female bird.
When she stopped, Frank took it up. He raised his hand to her gently. As if that gave her confidence, she floated nearer, so close that he could have touched her. But some new wisdom taught him not to do that. She sank lower and lower until she was just above him. Frank did not move - nor speak now. She fluttered and continued to sink. Now he could look straight into her eyes. Frank had never really looked into a woman's eyes before. The depth of Chiquita's was immeasurable. There were dreams on the surface. But his gaze pierced through the dreams, through layer on layer of purple black, to where stars lay. Some emotion that constantly grew in her seemed to melt and fuse all these layers; but the stars still held their shine.
Slowly still, but as though at the urge of a compelled abandon, Chiquita sank lower and lower. Nearer she came and nearer. The pollen from the flowers at her breast sifted on to his face. Now their eyes were level. And now -.
She kissed him.
Billy, Ralph, and Pete sat on the sand bantering Honey, who had returned in radiant spirits from his walk.
"Here comes old Frank," Billy said. "He's running. But he's staggering. By George, I should think he was drunk."
Frank was drunk, but not with wine. When he came nearer, they saw that his face was white.
"You're right boys," he said quietly, "and I'm wrong." For a moment, he added nothing; but they knew what he meant. "A situation like this is special; it requires special laws. It's the masculine right of eminent domain. I give my consent I - I - I - I agree to anything you want to do."