|Home -> Miscellaneous (non California related books) -> Angel Island -> Chapter 4|
"The question before the house now is," said Ralph, "how are we going to do it? Myself, I'd be strong for winging them sometime when they're flying low."
The other four men burst into shocked remonstrance.
"Well, don't go up in the air," Ralph said in an amused voice. "It wouldn't hurt them any. And it seems to me if we've definitely made up our minds to capture them, the best way is the swiftest and surest."
"But to shoot a woman!" Pete exclaimed.
"Well, don't worry," Ralph answered him, "we haven't any guns. I did think of bows and arrows, though." He said this in the tone of one who throws out a suggestion and he stopped to study the faces of his fellow conspirators. Equally they expressed horror and disgust. "All right," he said with equanimity. "I see you're like all human nature. You're determined to pull off this caveman stunt, but you want to do it with every appearance of chivalry and generosity. You're saving face. All right! I'm agreeable - although personally I think the quickest way the most merciful. Has anybody a better plan? "
Nobody had. It was obvious, though, from the talk that followed, that they had all been secretly considering the matter.
"The only thing for us to do," Honey said at once, "is to lie in wait. Conceal ourselves in the bushes and leap out on them."
"That sounds easy," Ralph said. "But has it occurred to you that these girls have the ears of wild animals? Has it occurred to you that they have all the instincts and cunning of the animal and all the intuition and prescience of the woman? Has it occurred to you that they always approach from above?"
"The only thing I can think of," said Billy, "is to lasso them. Only we've got to get them to alight and walk round first. But either they can't walk or they don't like to walk. We must off offer them some bait. Now, what in thunder would tempt a creature that's one-third woman, one-third bird, and one-third angel to come down to earth?"
For a moment they were all silent considering this question. "By Jove," Ralph burst out finally, "what are we all sitting here like dopes for? Those trunks are full of women's clothes. Did you ever see a woman yet who wouldn't fall for ribbons and laces?"
"Good shot!" exclaimed Honey. "Let's go through the women-truck to-morrow and pick out some things that would please a girl. We'll put them on the beach a good distance off from us, so they'll not think it's a trap. If we do that every day for a week or two they'll get accustomed to walking round while we're working. It's our play to take no notice of them whatever."
"That's the answer," Ralph said in a tone of satisfaction.
Immediately after breakfast, the next morning, they made for the file of trunks so contemptuously rejected the first week of their stay. Honey, who was always head and shoulders in front of the others, broke open the first one.
"By jiminy, boys!" he shouted, seizing something that lay on top and waving it over his head, "we've got them on the go-off. By George," he went on, lowering his voice, "I bet that belonged to some darned pretty woman."
The men crowded about him; and, as they examined his find, their faces softened. Nothing could more subtly have emanated femininity. It was a hand-mirror of silver. Two carved Cupids held the glass between them. Their long wings made the handle.
"Put it down there on the hard sand," Ralph said, "where they can't fail to see it."
"Hold!" exclaimed Honey in a tone of burlesque warning. "There must be five mirrors. He knows nothing of women who thinks that one mirror may be divided among five girls. I hope Lulu cops this one."
His companions did not laugh. Apparently they were impressed with the sapience of his remark. They searched the trunks until they had gathered the five that Honey demanded. They placed them in a row just above the high-water line. The mirrors caught the sunlight, reflected it.
"They won't do a thing to those girls," said Honey. There was the glee in his voice of a little boy who is playing a practical joke.
The girls came in a group in the middle of the afternoon.
"They've spotted them already," said Honey.
"Trust a woman and a looking-glass."
The discovery ruined discipline; it broke ranks; the five girls flew high, flew low, flew separated, flew grouped, crowded about Julia, obviously asking her advice. Obviously she gave it; for following her quick, clear tones of advice came a confused chattering - remonstrance. Then Peachy, Clara, Chiquita, and Lulu dropped a little. Julia alone came no nearer. She alone showed no excitement.
The men meantime watched. They could not, as they had so loftily resolved, pretend to ignore the situation. But they kept silent and still. Once or twice the girls glanced curiously in their direction. But in the main they ignored them. Descending in big, slow, cautious, sliding curves, they circled nearer and nearer the sand.
Suddenly Lulu screamed. Still screaming, she bounded - it was almost that she bounced - straight up. The others streamed to the zenith in the wake of her panic, caught up, closed about her. There floated down the shrillness of agitated question and answer.
"What the Hades - " Ralph said in a mystified tone.
"I've got it," said Honey. "She caught a look at herself in one of the mirrors and she's scared. Don't be afraid, Lulu," he called in a reassuring tone; "it won't hurt you."
Lulu evidently got what he intended to convey. Again she sank slowly, hovered an instant close to the sand, brought her face near to a mirror, bounced up, dipped down, brought her face nearer, fluttered, put out one hand, withdrew it, put out the other, withdrew it, put out both, seized a mirror firmly, darted to the zenith.
"Well, what do you know about that!" said Billy. And, "Oh, the angels!" exclaimed Pete. Ralph's face opened in the fatuous grin which always meant satisfaction with him. Honey turned somersaults of delight. Even Frank twinkled.
For, high up in the heaven, five heads positively bumped over the meager oval of silver.
Lulu finally pulled out of the crowd and flew away. But all the time she held the mirror straight before her, clasped tightly in two hands, ecstatically "eating herself up" as Honey described it.
The men continued to watch.
Gradually, one after another, the other four girls fell under the lure of their vanity and their acquisitiveness.
Clara dove first, clutched a long-handled oval of yellow celluloid. Next Chiquita swam lazily downward, made a brief scarlet flutter on the beach, seized an elaborate double mirror set in gilded wood. Peachy followed; she chose a heart-shaped glass, ebony-framed. Last of all, Julia came floating slowly down. She took the only one that was left: it was, of course, the smallest; it was framed in carved ivory.
For the next ten minutes, the sky presented a picture of five winged women, stationed at various points of the compass, ecstatically studying their own beautiful faces in mirrors held in their white, strong-looking hands.
Then, flying together again, they discovered that the mirrors reflected. At first, this created panic, then amusement. Ensued a delicious girl-frolic. Darting through the air, laughing, jabbering, they played tag, throwing the light into each other's eyes. A little later Peachy gathered them into a bunch and whispered instructions. Immediately they began flashing the mirrors into the men's faces. To escape this bombardment, their victims had finally to throw themselves face downward on the sand.
In the midst of this excitement came disaster.
Lulu dropped her mirror.
It hit square and shattered on the sand to many brilliant splinters. Lulu fell like a stone, seized the empty frame, gazed into it for a heart-broken second, burst into tears.
It was the first time that the men as a group had ever seen in the flying-girls an exhibition of this feminine faculty. For a moment, they watched her, deeply interested, as though confronted by an unfamiliar phenomenon. Then Billy wriggled.
"Say, stop her, somebody," he begged, "I hate to hear a woman cry."
"So do I," said Peter, his face twisted into creases of discomfort. "She's your girl, Honey. Stop her, for God's sake."
"How's he going to stop her, I'd like to know?" demanded Ralph. "We don't converse very fluently yet, you know."
"Well, I know how to stop her," said Honey, leaping up. "I say, Lulu," he called. "Stop that crying, that's a good girl. It makes us all sick. I'll find you another mirror in a moment."
Lulu did not stop crying. Perhaps she was not too primitive to realize that tears are the argument a woman negotiates best. She wailed and wept assiduously.
Honey, in the meantime, flew to the trunks. He dumped one after another; clothes flew from either energetic hand like gravel from a shovel. Suddenly he gave a yell of triumph and brandished - . It was cheap and brass-bound, but it reflected the sunlight as well as though it had been framed in massy gold.
"Here you are, Lulu!" he called. He ran down the beach and held it up to her. Lulu caught the reflection. She dropped sheer. In her eagerness, she took it from Honey's very hand. And as she seized it, a tear dropped on his upturned cheek. And as the tear dropped, her face broke into smiles.
"Well," exclaimed Ralph an instant later, "if I'd had any idea that they were angels and not females, this would settle the question for me. Good Lord! Well, you have got a temper, my lady."
It was of Julia he spoke.
For, descending slowly and deliberately, Julia hovered an instant above a big rock. Then, with a tremendous slashing impulse of a powerful arm, she hurled her mirror on it. She flew in a very frenzy of haste into the west.
The girls returned the next morning early.
"After the graft," Ralph commented cynically.
Honey had been rifling the trunks again. He walked down to the beach with an armful of fans, piled them there, returned to camp. The girls descended, eyed them, ascended, gathered together, talked, descended, ascended again.
"What's the row?" Billy asked.
"They don't know what they're for," said Pete. He ran down on to the beach, seized a fan of feathers, opened it, and stood fanning himself. Then he put it down and ran back.
He had hardly returned to the group of men when Chiquita swooped down and seized the fan that he had dropped. The feathers were the exact scarlet of her wings. She floated about, fanning herself slowly, her teeth flashing white in her dusky face.
"By jiminy, if she only had a mantilla, she'd be a Spanish angel," Billy commented whimsically.
The other girls dropped down after a while and seized a fan, or in Clara's case two, and Peachy's three. They sailed off into the west, fanning themselves slowly.
"Say, we've got to have our ammunition all ready the next time they come," said Ralph. "I bet they're here this afternoon. They've never had any of these lover-like little attentions, apparently. And they're falling for them so quick that it's fairly embarrassing. Pete, you'll have to be muckraking this island before we get through."
In their search for what Honey called "bait," they came across a trunk filled with scarfs of various descriptions; gauze, satin, chiffon; embroidered, sequined, fringed; every color, fabric, and decoration; every shape and size. "Drummers' samples!" Honey commented.
"I tell you what we'll do now," Ralph suggested. "Put the first five scarfs on the beach where they can get them. But if they want any more, make them take them from our hands. Be careful, though, not to frighten them. One move in their direction and we'll undo everything we've accomplished."
As Ralph prophesied, the girls came again that day, but they waited until after sunset. It was full-moon night, however; the island was as white as day. They must have seen the gay-colored heaps from a distance; they pounced on them at once. The air resounded with cooings of delight. There was no doubt of it; the scarfs pleased them almost as much as the mirrors. Before the first flush of their delight had passed, Honey ran down the beach, bearing aloft a long, shimmering, white streamer. Ralph followed with a scarf of black and gold. Billy, Pete, and Frank joined them, each fluttering a brilliant silk gonfalon.
The girls drew away in alarm at first. Then they drew together for counsel. All the time the men stood quiet, waving their delicately hued spoils. One by one - Clara first, then Chiquita, Lulu, Peachy, Julia - they succumbed; they sank slowly. Even then they floated for a long while, visibly swinging between the desire for possession and the instinct of caution. But in the end each one of them took from her mate the scarf he held up to her. Followed the prettiest exhibition of flying that Angel Island had yet seen. The girls fastened the long gauzes to their heads and shoulders. They flicked and flitted and flittered, they danced and pirouetted and spun through the air, trailing what in the aqueous moonlight looked like mist, irradiated, star-sown.
"Well," said Ralph that night after the girls had vanished, "I don't see that this business of handing out loot is getting us anywhere. We can keep this up until we've given those harpies every blessed thing in the trunks. Then where are we? They'll have everything we have to give, and we'll be no nearer acquainted. We've got to do something else."
"If we could only get them down to earth - if we could only accustom them to walking about," Honey declared, "I'm sure we could rig up some kind of trap."
"But you can't get them to do that," Billy said.
And the answer's obvious. They can't walk. You see how tiny, and useless-looking their feet are. They're no good to them, because they've never used them. It never occurs to them apparently even to try to walk."
"Well, who would walk if he could fly?" demanded Pete pugnaciously.
"Well said, son," agreed Ralph, "but what are we going to do about it?"
"I'll tell you what we can do about it," said Frank quietly, "if you'll listen to me." The others turned to him. Their faces expressed varying emotions - surprise, doubt, incredulity, a great deal of amusement. But they waited courteously.
"The trouble has been heretofore," Frank went on in his best academic manner, "that you've gone at this problem in too obvious a way. You've appealed to only one motive - acquisitiveness. There's a stronger one than that - curiosity."
The look of politely veiled amusement on the four faces began to give way to credulity. "But how, Frank?" asked Billy.
"I'll show you how," said Frank. "I've been thinking it out by myself for over a week now."
There was an air of quiet certainty about Frank. His companions looked furtively at each other. The credulity in their faces changed to interest. "Go on, Frank," Billy said. They listened closely to his disquisition.
"What ever gave you the idea, Frank?" Billy asked at the end.
"The fact that I found a Yale spring-lock the other day," Frank answered quietly.
The next morning, the men arose at sunrise and went at once to work. They worked together on the big cabin - the Clubhouse - and they dug and hammered without intermission all day long. Halfway through the morning, the girls came flying in a group to the beach. The men paid no attention to them. Many times their visitors flew up and down the length of the crescent of white, sparkling sand, each time dropping lower, obviously examining it for loot. Finding none, they flew in a body over the roof of the Clubhouse, each face turned disdainfully away. The men took no notice even of this. The girls gathered together in a quiet group and obviously discussed the situation. After a little parley, they flew off. Later in the afternoon came Lulu alone. She hovered at Honey's shoulder, displaying all her little tricks of graceful flying; but Honey was obdurate. Apparently he did not see her. Came Chiquita, floating lazily back and forth over Frank's head like a monstrous, deeply colored tropical bloom borne toward him on a breeze. She swam down close, floated softly, but Frank did not even look in her direction. Came Peachy with such marvels of flying, such diving and soaring, such gyrating and flashing, that it took superhuman self-control not to drop everything and stare. But nobody looked or paused. Came Clara, posturing almost at their elbows. Came all save Julia, but the men ignored them equally.
"Gee," said Honey, after they had all disappeared, "that took the last drop of resolution in me. By Jove, you don't suppose they'll get sore and stay away for good?"
Frank shook his head.
Day by day the men worked on the Clubhouse; they worked their hardest from the moment of sunrise to the instant of sunset. It was a square building, big compared with the little cabins. They made a wide, heavy door at one end and long windows with shutters on both sides. These were kept closed.
"Only one more day's work," Frank said at the end of a fortnight, "and then - ."
They finished the Clubhouse, as he prophesied, the next day.
"Now to furnish it," Frank said.
They put up rough shelves and dressing-tables. They put in chairs and hammocks. Then, working secretly at night when the moon was full, or in the morning just after sunrise - at any time during the day when the girls were not in sight - they transferred the contents of a half a dozen women's trunks to the Clubhouse. They hung the clothes conspicuously in sight; they piled many small toilet articles on tables and shelves; they placed dozens of mirrors about.
"It looks like a sale at the Waldorf," Honey said as they stood surveying the effect. "Tomorrow, we begin our psychological siege. Is that right, Frank?"
"Psychological siege is right," answered Frank with an unaccustomed gayety and an unaccustomed touch of slang.
In the meantime the girls had shown their pique at this treatment in a variety of small ways. Peachy and Clara made long detours around the island in the effort not to pass near the camp. Chiquita and Lulu flew overhead, but only in order to throw pebbles and sand down on the men while they were working.
Julia alone took no part in this feud. If she was visible at all, it was only as a glittering speck in the far-off reaches of the blue sky.
The next time the four girls approached the island, the men arose immediately from their work. With an ostentatious carelessness, they went into the Clubhouse. With an ostentatious carefulness, they closed the door. They stayed there for three hours.
Outside, the girls watched this maneuver in visible astonishment. They drew together and talked it over, flew down close to the Clubhouse, flew about it in circles, examined it on every side, made even one perilous trip across the roof, the tips of their feet tapping it in vicious little dabs. But flutter as they would, jabber as they would, the Clubhouse preserved a tomb-like silence. After a while they banged on the shutters and knocked against the door; but not a sound or movement manifested itself inside.
They flew away finally.
The next day the same thing happened - and the next - and the next.
But on the fourth day, something quite different occurred.
The instant the men saw the girls approaching, they carefully closed the door and windows of the Clubhouse, and then marched into the interior of the island. Close by the lake, there was a thick jungle of trees - a place where the branches matted together, in a roof-like structure, leaving a cleared space below. The men crawled into this shelter on their hands and knees for an eighth of a mile. They stayed there three hours.
The girls had followed this procession in an air-course that exactly paralleled the trail. When the men disappeared under the trees, they came together in a chattering group, obviously astonished, obviously irritated. Hours went by. Not a thing stirred in the jungle; not a sound came from it. The girls hovered and floated, dipped, dove, flew along the edge of the lake close to the water, tried by looking under the trees, to get what was going on. It was useless. Then they alighted on the tree-tops and swung themselves down from branch to branch until they were as near earth as they dared to come. Again they peered and peeped. And again it was useless. In the end, flying and floating with the disconsolate air of those who kill time, they frankly waited until the men emerged from the jungle. Then, again the girls took up the airy course that paralleled the trail to the camp.
For two weeks the men rigidly followed a program. Alternately they shut themselves inside the Clubhouse and concealed themselves in the forest. They stayed the same length of time in both places - never less than three hours.
For two weeks, the girls rigidly followed a program. When the men retired to the Clubhouse, they spent the three hours hovering over it, sometimes banging viciously with feet and hands against the walls, sometimes dropping stones on the roof. When the men retired to the jungle, they spent the three hours beating about the branches of the trees, dipping lower and lower into the underbrush, taking, as time went on, greater and greater risks. But, as in both cases, the men were screened from observation, all their efforts were useless.
Finally came a day with a difference. The men retired to the forest as usual but, by an apparent inadvertence, they left the door of the Clubhouse open a crack.
As usual the girls followed the men to the lake, but this time there was a different air about them; they seemed to bubble with excitement. The men crawled under the underbrush and waited. The girls made a perfunctory search of the jungle and then, as at a concerted signal, they darted like bolts of lightning back in the direction of the camp.
"I think we've got them, boys," said Frank. There was a kind of Berserker excitement about him, a wild note of triumph in his voice and a white flare of triumph in his face. His breath came in excited gusts and his nostrils dilated under the strain.
"I'm sure of it," agreed Ralph. "And, by Jove, I'm glad. I've never had anything so get on my nerves as this chase." Ralph did, indeed, look worn. Haggard and wild-eyed, he was shaking under the strain.
"Lord, I'm glad - but, Lord, it's some responsibility," said Honey Smith. Honey was not white or drawn. He did not shake. But he had changed. Still radiantly youthful, there was a new look in his face - resolution.
"I feel like a mucker," groaned Billy. He lay face down on a heap of vines, his forehead pressed against the cool leaves. "But it is right," he added as one arguing fiercely with himself. "It is right. There's no other way."
"I feel like a white slaver," said Pete. He was unshaven and the black shadow of his beard contrasted sharply with the white set look in his face. "It's hell to live, isn't it? But the worst of it is, we must live."
"Time's up." Frank breathed these words on the long gust of his outgoing breath. "Now, don't go to pieces. Remember, it must be done."
One behind the other, they crawled through the narrow tunnel that they had cut into the underbrush - found the trail.
"Let's swim across the lake," Honey suggested; "I'm losing my nerve."
"Good idea," Billy said. They plunged into the water. Fifteen minutes later, they emerged on the other side, cool, composed, ready for anything.
The long trip back to the camp was taken almost in silence. Once in a while, a mechanical "That's a new bird, isn't it?" came from Billy and, a perfunctory "Look at that color," from Pete. Frank walked ahead. He towered above the others. He kept his eyes to the front. Ralph followed. At intervals, he pulled himself up and peered into the sky or dropped and tried to pierce the untranslatable distance; all this with the quiet, furtive, prowling movements of some predatory beast. Next came Honey, whistling under his breath and all the time whistling the same tune. Billy and Pete, walking side by side, tailed the procession. At times, those two caught themselves at the beginning of shuddering fits, but always by a supreme effort they managed to calm themselves.
They came finally to the point where the jungle-trail joined the sand-trail.
"There isn't one in sight," said Frank.
"They may have flown home," Honey said doubtfully.
"They're in the Clubhouse," said Ralph. And he burst suddenly into a long, wild cry of triumph. The cry was taken up in a faint shrill echo. From the distance came shrieks - women's voices - smothered.
"By God, we've got them," said Frank again.
And then a strange thing happened. Pete Murphy crooked his elbow up to his face and burst into hysterical weeping.
All this time, the men were moving swiftly towards the Clubhouse. As they approached, the sound inside grew in volume from a hum of terrified whisperings accented by drumming wings, to a pandemonium of cries and sobs and wails.
"They'll make a rush when we open the door, remember," Ralph reminded them. His eyes gleamed like a cat's.
"Yes, but we can handle them," said Frank. "There isn't much nerve left in them by this time."
"I say, boys, I can't stand this," burst out Billy. "Open the door and let them out."
Billy's words brought murmured echoes of approval from Pete and Honey.
"You've got to stand it," Frank said in a tone of command. He surveyed his mutinous crew with a stern look of authority.
"I can't do it," Honey admitted.
"I feel sick," Pete groaned.
Just then emerged from the pandemonium within another sound, curt and sharp-cut, the crash against the door of something heavy.
"That door won't stand much of that," Frank warned. "They'll get out before we know it."
The look of irresolution went like a flash from Billy's face, from Honey's, from Pete's. The look of the hunter took its place, keen, alert, determined, cruel.
"Keep close behind me," Frank ordered.
"When I open the door, push in as quick as you can. They'll try to rush out."
Inside the vibrant drumming kept up. Mixed with it came screams more sharp with terror. There came another crash.
Frank pounded on the door. "Stand back! he called in a quiet tone of authority as if the girls could understand. He fitted the key to the lock, turned it, pulled the door open, leaped over the two broken chairs on the threshold. The others followed, crowding close.
The rush that they had expected did not come.
Apparently at the first touch on the door, the, girls had retreated to the farthest corner. They stood huddled there, gathered behind Julia. They stood close together, swaying, half-supporting each other, their pinions drooped and trailing, their eyes staring black with horror out of their white faces.
Julia, a little in front, stood at defiance. Her wings, as though animated by a gentle voltage of electricity, kept lifting with a low purring whirr. Half-way they struck the ceiling and dropped dead. The tiny silvery-white feathers near her shoulders rose like fur on a cat's back. One hand was clenched; the other grasped a chair. Her face was not terrified; neither was it white. It glowed with rage, as if a fire had been built in an alabaster vase.
All about on the floor, on chairs, over shelves lay the gauds that had lured them to their capture. Of them all, Julia alone showed no change. Below the scarlet draperies swathing Chiquita's voluptuous outlines appeared the gold stockings and the high-heeled gold slippers which she had tried on her beautiful Andalusian feet. Necklaces swung from her throat; bracelets covered her arms; rings crowded her fingers. Lulu had thrown about her leafy costume an evening cape of brilliant blue brocade trimmed with ermine. On her head glittered a boudoir-cap of web lace studded with iridescent mock jewels. Over her mail of seaweed, Clara wore a mandarin's coat - yellow, with a decoration of tiny mirrors. Her hair was studded with jeweled hairpins, combs; a jeweled band, a jeweled aigrette. Peachy had put on a pink chiffon evening gown hobbled in the skirt, one shoulder-length, shining black glove, a long chain of fire-opals. Out of this emerged with an astonishing effect of contrast her gleaming pearly shoulders and her, lustrous blue wings.
An instant the two armies stood staring at each other - at close terms for the first time. Then, with one tremendous sweep of her arm, Julia threw something over their heads out the open door. It flashed through the sunlight like a rainbow rocket, tore the surface of the sea in a dazzle of sparks and colors.
"There goes five hundred thousand dollars," said Honey as the Wilmington "Blue" found its last resting-place. "Shut the door, Pete."
With another tremendous sweep of her magnificent arm, Julia lifted the chair, swung it about her head as if it were a whip, rushed - not running or flying, but with a movement that was both - upon the five men. Her companions seized anything that was near. Lulu wrenched a shelf from its fastenings.
The men closed in upon them.
Twenty minutes later, silence had fallen on the Clubhouse, a silence that was broken only by panted breathing. The five men stood resting. The five girls stood, tied to the walls, their hands pinioned in front of them. At intervals, one or the other of them would call in an agonized tone to Julia. And always she answered with words that reassured and calmed.
The room looked as if it had housed a cyclone. The furniture lay in splinters; the feminine loot lay on the floor, trampled and torn.
"I'd like to sit down," Ralph admitted. It was the first remark that any one of the men had made. "Lucky they can't understand me. I'd hate them to know it, but I'm as weak as a cat."
"No sitting down, yet," Frank commanded, still in his inflexible tones of a disciplinarian. "Open the door, Pete - get some air in here!" He knelt before a sea-chest which filled one corner of the room, unlocked it, lifted the cover. The sunlight glittered on the contents.
"My God, I can't," said Billy.
"I feel like a murderer," said Pete.
"You've got to," Frank said in a tone, growing more peremptory with each word. "Now."
"That's right," said Ralph. "If we don't do it now, we'll never do it.'
Frank handed each man a pair of shears.
"I sharpened them myself," he said briefly.
Heads over their shoulders, the girls watched.
Did intuition shout a warning to them? As with one accord, a long wail arose from them, swelled to despairing volume, ascended to desperate heights.
"Now!" Frank ordered.
They had thought the girls securely tied.
Clara fought like a leopardess, scratching and biting.
Lulu struggled like a caged eagle, hysteria mounting in her all the time until the room was filled with her moans.
Peachy beat herself against the wall like a maniac. She shrieked without cessation. One scream stopped suddenly in the middle - Ralph had struck her on the forehead. For the rest of the shearing session she lay over a chair, limp and silent.
Chiquita, curiously enough, resisted not at all. She only swayed and shrugged, a look of a strange cunning in her long, deep, thick-lashed eyes. But of them all, she was the only one who attempted to comfort; she talked incessantly.
Julia did not move or speak. But at the first touch of the cold steel on her bare shoulders, she fainted in Billy's arms.
An hour later the men emerged from the Clubhouse.
"I'm all in," Honey muttered. "And I don't care who knows it. I'm going for a swim." Head down, he staggered away from the group and zigzagged over the beach.
"I guess I'll go back to the camp for a smoke," Frank said. "I never realized before that I had nerves." Frank was white, and he shook at intervals. But some strange spirit, compounded equally of a sense of victory and of defeat, flashed in his eyes.
"I'm going off for a tramp." Pete was sunken as well as ashen; he looked dead. "Do you suppose they'll hurt themselves pulling against those ropes?" he asked tonelessly.
"Let them struggle for a while," Ralph advised. Like the rest of them, Ralph was exhausted-looking and pale. But at intervals he swaggered and glowed. With his strange, new air of triumph and his white teeth glittering through his dark mustache, he was more than ever like some huge predatory cat. "Serves them right! They've taken it out of us for three months."
Billy did not speak, but he swayed as he followed Frank. He fell on his bed when they reached the camp. He lay there all night motionless, staring at the ceiling.
There was a tiny spot of blood on one hand.