|Home -> Miscellaneous (non California related books) -> Angel Island -> Chapter 6|
They won't be home until very late tonight," announced Lulu. "The work they're doing now is hard and irritating and fussy. Honey says that they want to get through with it as soon as possible. He said they'd keep at it as long as the light lasted."
"It seems as if their working days grew longer all the time," Clara said petulantly. "They start off earlier and earlier in the morning and they stay later and later at night. And did you know that they are planning soon to stay a week at the New Camp - they say the walk back is so fatiguing after a long day's work."
The others nodded.
"And then the instant they've had their dinner," Lulu continued, "off they go to that tiresome Clubhouse - for tennis and ball and bocci. It seems, somehow, as if I never had a chance to talk with Honey nowadays. I should think they'd get enough of each other, working side by side all day long, the way they do. But no! The moment they've eaten and had their smoke, they must get together again. Why is it, I wonder? I should think they would have said all they had to say in the daytime."
"Pete is worse than any of them," Clara went on. "After he comes back from the Clubhouse, he wants to sit up and write for an hour or two. Oh, I get fairly desperate sometimes, sitting there listening to the eternal scratching of his pen. I cannot understand his point of view, to save my life. If I talk, it irritates him. My very breathing annoys him; he cannot have me in the same room with him. But if I leave the cabin, he can't write a word. He wants me near, always. He says it's the knowing I'm there that makes him feel like writing. And then Sundays, if he isn't writing, he's painting. I don't mind his not being there in the daytime in a way because, of course, there's always Peterkin. But at night, when I've put Peterkin to bed I do want something different to happen. As it is, I have to make a scene to get up any excitement. I do it, too, without compunction. When it gets to the point that I know I must scream or go crazy, I scream. And I do a good job in screaming, too."
"What would you like him to do, Clara?" Julia asked.
The petulant frown between Clara's eyebrows deepened. "I don't know," she said wearily. "I don't know what it is that I want to do; but I want to do something. Peterkin is asleep and perfectly safe - and I feel like going somewhere. Now, if I could fly, it would rest me so, to go for a long, long journey through the air." As she concluded, some new expression, some strange hardness of her maturity, melted; her face was for an instant the face of the old Clara.
Julia made no comment.
It was Chiquita who took it up.
"My husband talks enough. In fact, he talks all the time. But if I tire of his voice, I let myself fall asleep. He never notices. That is why I've grown so big. Sometimes " - discontent dulled for an instant the slow fire of her slumberous eyes - " sometimes my life seems one long sleep. If it weren't for junior, I'd feel as if I weren't quite alive."
"Ralph talks a great deal," Peachy said listlessly, "by fits and starts, and he takes me out when he comes home, if he happens to feel like walking himself. He says, though, that it exhausts him having to help me along. But it isn't that I want particularly. Often I want to go out alone. I want to soar. The earth has never satisfied me. I want to explore the heights. I want to explore them alone, and I want to explore them when the mood seizes me. And I want to feel when I come back that I can talk about it or keep silent as he does. But I must make my discoveries and explorations in my own way. Ralph sometimes gives me long talks about astronomy - he seems to think that studying about the stars will quiet me. One little flight straight up would mean more to me than all that talk. Ralph does not understand it in me, and I cannot explain it to him. And yet he feels exactly that way himself - he's always going off by himself through unexplored trails on the island. But he cannot comprehend how I, being a woman, should have the same desire. Do you remember when our wings first began to grow strong and our people kept us confined, how we beat our wings against the wall - beat and beat and beat? At times now, I feel exactly like that. Why, sometimes I envy little Angela her wings."
The five women reclined on long, low rustic couches in the big, cleared half-oval that was the Playground for their children. It began - this half-oval - in high land among the trees and spread down over a beach to the waters of a tiny cove. Between the high tapering boles of the pines at their back the sky dropped a curtain of purple. Between the long ledges of tawny rock in front the sea stretched a carpet of turquoise. And between pines and sea lay first a rusty mat of pine-needles, then a, ribbon of purple stones, then a band of glittering sand. In the air the resinous smell of the pines competed with the salty tang of the ocean. High up, silver-winged gulls curved and dipped and called their creaking signals.
At the water's edge four children were playing. Honey-Boy had waded out waist-deep. A sturdy, dark, strong-bodied, tiny replica of his father, he stood in an exact reproduction of one of Honey's poses, his arms folded over his little pouter-pigeon chest, lips pursed, brows frowning, dimples inhibited, gazing into the water. Just beyond, one foot on the bottom, Peterkin pretended to swim. Peterkin had an unearthly beauty that was half Clara's coloring - combination of tawny hair with gray-green eyes - and half Pete's expression - the look, doubly strange, of the Celt and the genius. Slender and beautifully formed, graceful, he was in every possible way a contrast to virile little Billy-Boy; he was even elegant; he had the look of a story-book prince. Far up the beach, cuddled in a warm puddle, naked, sat a fat, redheaded baby, Frank Merrill, junior. He watched the others intently for a while. Then breaking into a grin which nearly bisected the face under the fiery thatch, he began an imitative paddle with his pudgy hands and feet.
Flitting hither and yon, hovering one moment at the water's edge and another at Junior's side, moving with a capricious will-o'-the-wisp motion that dominated the whole picture, flew Angela.
Beautiful as the other children were, they sank to commonplaces in contrast with Angela.
For Angela was a being of faery. Her single loose garment, serrated at the edges, knee-length, and armless, left slits at the back for a pair of wings to emerge. Tiny these wings were, and yet they were perfect in form; they soared above her head, soft, fine, shining, delicate as milkweed-down and of a white that was beginning, near the shoulders, to deepen to a pale rose. Angela's little body was as slender as a flower-stem. Her limbs showed but the faintest of curves, her skin but the faintest of tints. Almost transparent in the sunlight, she had in the shadow the coloring of the opal, pale rose-pinks and pale violet-blues. Her hair floated free to her shoulders; and that, more than any other detail, seemed to accent the quality of faery in her personality. In calm it clung to her head like a pale-gold mist; in breeze it floated away like a pale-gold nimbus. It seemed as though a shake of her head would send it drifting off - a huge thistle-down of gold. Her eyes reflected the tint of whatever blue they gazed on, whether it was the frank azure of the sky or the mysterious turquoise of the sea. And yet their look was strangely intent. When she passed from shadow to sunshine, the light seemed to dissolve her hair and wing-edges, as though it were gradually taking her to itself.
"Oh, yes, Peachy," Lulu said, "Angela's wings must be a comfort to you. You must live it all over again in her."
"I do!" answered Peachy. "I do." There was tremendous conviction in her voice, as though she were defending herself from some silent accusation. "But it isn't the same. It isn't. It can't be. Besides, I want to fly with her."
The ripples in the cove grew to little waves, to big waves, to combers. The women talked and the children played. Honey-Boy and Peterkin waded out to their shoulders, dipped, and pretended to swim back. Angela flew out to meet a wave bigger than the others, balanced on its crest. Wings outspread, she fluttered back, descended when the crash came in a shower of rainbow drops. She dipped and rose, her feathers dripping molten silver, flew on to the advancing crest.
"Oh," Lulu sighed, "I do want a little girl. I threatened if this one was a boy to drown it." "This one" proved to be a bundle lying on the pine-needles at her side. The bundle stirred and emitted a querulous protest. She picked it up and it proved to be a baby, just such another sturdy little dark creature as Honey-Boy must have been. "Your mother wouldn't exchange you for a million girls now," Lulu addressed him fondly. "I pray every night, though, that the next one will be a girl."
"I want a girl, too," Clara remarked. "Well, we'll see next spring." Clara had not been happy at the prospect of her first maternity, but she was jubilant over her second.
"It will be nice for Angela, too," Peachy said, to have some little girl to play with. Come, baby!" she called in a sudden access of tenderness.
Angela flew down from the tip of a billow, came fluttering and flying up the beach. Once or twice, for no apparent reason, her wings fell dead, sagged for a few moments; then her little pink, shell-like feet would pad helplessly on the sand. Twice she dropped her pinions deliberately; once to climb over a big root, once to mount a boulder that lay in her path. "Don't walk, Angela!" Peachy called sharply at these times. "Fly! Fly!" And obediently, Angela stopped, waited until the strength flowed into her wings, started again. She reached the group of mothers, not by direct flight, but a complicated method of curving, arching, dipping, and circling. Peachy arose, balanced herself, caught her little daughter in midair, kissed her. The women handed her from one to the other, petting and caressing her.
Julia received her last. She sat with Angela in the curve of her arm, one hand caressing the drooped wings. It was like holding a little wild bird. With every breeze, Angela's wings opened. And always, hands, feet, hair, feathers fluttered with some temperamental unrest.
The boys tiring of the waves, came scrambling in their direction. Half-way up the beach, they too came upon the boulder in the path. It was too high and smooth for them to climb, but they immediately set themselves to do it. Peterkin pulled himself half-way up, only immediately to fall back. junior stood for an instant imitatively reaching up with his baby hands, then abandoning the attempt waddled off after a big butterfly. Honey-Boy slipped and slid to the ground, but he was up in an instant and at it again.
Angela fluttered with baby-violence. Julia opened her arms. The child leaped from her lap, started half-running, half-flying, caught a seaward going breeze, sailed to the top of the boulder. She balanced herself there, gazing triumphantly down on Billy-Boy who, flat on his stomach, red in the face, his black eyes bulging out of his head, still pulled and tugged and strained.
"Honey-Boy's tried to climb that rock every day for three months," Lulu boasted proudly. "He'll do it some day. I never saw such persistence. If he gets a thing into his head, I can't do anything with him."
"Angela starts to climb it occasionally," Peachy said. "But, of course, I always stop her. I'm afraid she'll hurt her feet."
Above the rock stretched the bough of a big pine. As she contemplated it, a look of wonder grew in Angela's eyes, of question, of uncertainty. Suddenly it became resolution. She spread her wings, bounded into the air, fluttered upwards, and alighted squarely on the bough.
"Oh, Angela!" Peachy called anxiously. Then, joyously, "Look at my baby. She'll be flying as high as we did in a few years. Oh, how I love to think of that!"
She laughed in glee - and the others laughed with her. They continued to watch Angela's antics, their faces growing more and more gay. Julia alone did not smile; but she watched the exhibition none the less steadily.
Three years had brought some changes to the women of Angel Island; and for the most part they were devastating changes. They were still wingless. They wore long trailing garments that concealed their feet. These garments differed in color and decoration, but they were alike in one detail-floating, wing-like draperies hung from the shoulders.
Chiquita had grown so large as to be almost unwieldy. But her tropical coloring retained its vividness, retained its breath-taking quality of picturesqueness, retained its alluring languor. She sat now holding a huge fan. Indeed, since the day that Honey had piled the fans on the beach, Chiquita had never been without one in her hand. Scarlet, the scarlet of her lost pinions, seemed to be her color. Her gown was scarlet.
Lulu had not grown big, but she had grown round. That look of the primitive woman which had made her strange, had softened and sobered. Her beauté troublante had gone. Her face was, the face of a happy woman. The maternal look in her eyes was duplicated by the married look in her figure. She was always busy. Even now, though she chattered, she sewed; her little fingers fluttered like the wings of an imprisoned bird. Indeed, she looked like a little sober mother-bird in her gray and brown draperies. She was the best housewife among them. Honey lacked no creature comfort.
Clara also had filled out; in figure, she had improved; her elfin thinness had become slimness, delicately curved and subtly contoured. Also her coloring had deepened; she was like a woman cast in gold. But her expression was not pleasant. Her light, gray-green eyes had a petulant look; her thin, red lips a petulant droop. She was restless; something about her moved always. Either her long slender fingers adjusted her hair or her long slender feet beat a tattoo. And ever her figure shifted from one fluid pose to another. She wore jewels in her elaborately arranged hair, jewels about her neck, on her wrists, on her fingers. Her green draperies were embroidered in beads. She was, in fact, always dressed, costumed is perhaps the most appropriate word. She dressed Peterkin picturesquely too; she was always, studying the illustrations in their few books for ideas. Clara was one of those women at whom instinctively other women gaze - and gaze always with a question in their eyes.
Peachy was at the height of her blonde bloom; all pearl and gold, all rose and aquamarine. But something had gone out of her face - brilliance. And something had come into it - pathos. The look of a mischievous boy had turned to a wild gipsy look of strangeness, a look of longing mixed with melancholy. In some respects there was more history written on her than on any of the others. But it was tragic history. At Angela's birth Peachy had gone insane. There had come times when for hours she shrieked or whispered, "My wings! My wings! My wings!" The devoted care of the other four women had saved her; she was absolutely normal now. Her figure still carried its suggestion of a potential, young-boy-like strength, but maternity had given a droop, exquisitely feminine, to the shoulders. She always wore blue - something that floated and shimmered with every move.
Julia had changed little; for in her case, neither marriage nor maternity had laid its transmogrifying, touch upon her. Her deep blue-gray eyes - of which the brown-gold lashes seemed like reeds shadowing lonely lakes - had turned as strange as Peachy's; but it was a different strangeness. Her mouth - that double sculpturesque ripple of which the upper lip protruded an infinitesimal fraction beyond the lower one - drooped like Clara's; but it drooped with a different expression. She had the air of one who looks ever into the distance and broods on what she sees there. Perhaps because of this, her voice had deepened to a thrilling intensity. Her hair was pulled straight back to her neck from the perfect oval of her face. It hung in a single, honey-colored braid, and it hung to the very ground. She always wore white.
"Do you remember" - Chiquita began presently. Her lazy purring voice grew soft with tenderness. The dreamy, unthinking Chiquita of four years back seemed suddenly to peer through the unwieldy Chiquita of the present - "how we used to fly - and fly - and fly - just for the love of flying? Do you remember the long, bright day-flyings and the long, dark night-flyings?
"And sometimes how we used to drop like stones until we almost touched the water," Lulu said, a sparkle in her cooing, friendly little voice. "And the races! Oh, what fun! I can feel the rush of the air now."
"Over the water." Peachy flung her long, slim arms upward and adelicious smile sent the tragedy scurrying from her sunlit face. "Do youremember how wonderful it was at sunset? The sky heaving over us, shotwith gold and touched with crimson. The sea pulsing under us lined with crimson and splashed with gold. And then the sunset ahead - that gold and crimson hole in the sky. We used to think we could fly through it some day and come out on another world. And sometimes we could not tell where sea and sky joined. How we flew - on and on - farther each time - on and on - and on. The risks we took! Sometimes I used to wonder if we'd ever have the strength to get home. Yet I hated to turn back. I hated to turn away from the light. I never could fly towards the east at sunset, nor towards the west at sunrise. It hurt! I used to think, when my time came to die, that I would fly out to sea - on and on till I dropped."
"I loved it most at noon," Chiquita said, "when the air was soft. It smelled sweet; a mixture of earth and sea. I used to drift and float on great seas of heat until I almost slept. That was wonderful; it was like swimming in a perfumed air or flying in a fragrant sea."
"Oh, but the storms, Julia!" Lulu exclaimed. A wild look flared in her face, wiped oft entirely its superficial look of domesticity. "Do you remember the heavy, night-black cloud, the thunder that crashed through our very bodies, the lightning that nearly blinded us, and the rain that beat us almost to pieces?"
"Oh, Lulu!" Julia said; "I had forgotten that. You were wonderful in a storm, How you used to shout and sing and leap through the air like a wild thing! I used to love to watch you, and yet I was always afraid that you would hurt yourself."
"I loved the moonlight most. I do now." The petulance went out of Clara's eyes; dreams came into its place. "The cool softness of the air, the brilliant sparkle of the stars! And then the magic of the moonlight! Young child-moon, half-grown girl-moon, voluptuous woman-moon, sallow, old-hag-moon, it was alike to me. Pete says I'm 'fey' in the moonlight. He, says I'm Irish then."
"I loved the sunrise," said Julia. "I used to steal out, when you girls were still sleeping, to fly by dawn. I'd go up, up, up. At first, it was like a huge dewdrop - that morning world - then, colder and colder - it was like a melted iceberg. But I never minded that cold and I loved the clearness. It exhilarated me. I used to run races with the birds. I was not happy until I had beaten the highest-flying of them all. Oh, it was so fresh and clean then. The world seemed new-made every morning. I used to feel that I'd caught the moment when yesterday became to-day. Then I'd sink back through layer on layer of sunlight and warm, perfume-laden, dew-damp breeze, down, down until I fell into my bed again. And all the time the world grew warmer and warmer. And I loved almost as well that instant of twilight when the world begins to fade. I used to feel that I'd caught the moment when to-day had become to-morrow. I'd fly as high as I could go then, too. Then I'd sink back through layer on layer of deepening dusk, while one by one the stars would flash out at me - down, down, down until my feet touched the water. And all the time the air grew cooler and cooler."
"My wings! My wings!" Peachy did not shriek these words with maniacal despair. She did not whisper them with dreary resignation. She breathed them with the rapture of one who looks through a narrow, dark tunnel to measureless reaches of sun-tinted cloud and sea.
"Do you remember the first time we ever saw them?" Lulu asked after a long time. This was obviously a deliberate harking back to lighter things. A gleam of reminiscence, both mischievous and tender, fired her slanting eyes.
The others smiled, too. Even Peachy's face relaxed from the look of tension that had come into it. "I often think that was the happiest time," she sighed, "those weeks before they knew we were here. At least, they knew and they didn't know. Ralph said that they all suspected that something curious was going on - but that they were so afraid that the others would joke about it, that no one of them would mention what was happening to him. Do you remember what fun it was coming to the camp when they were asleep? Do you remember how we used to study their faces to find out what kind of people they were?"
"And do you remember" - Chiquita rippled a low laugh - "how we would leap into the air if they stirred or spoke in their sleep? Once, Honey started to wake up - and we were off over the water before he could get his eyes open."
"Oh, but Honey told me that he heard us laugh that time," Lulu explained. "He told the men the next day and, oh, how they joked him."
"And then," Chiquita went on, "once Billy actually did wake up. You were bending over him, Julia. I remember we all kept as still as the dead. And you - oh, Julia, you were wonderful - you did not even breathe. He seemed to fade back into sleep again."
"He says now that I hypnotized him," Julia explained.
"Do you remember," Clara took it up, "that we even considered kidnapping one of them? If we'd known what to do with him, I think we might have tried it."
"Yes," said Chiquita. "But I think it was just as well we didn't. We wouldn't have carried it off well. There's something about them that's terrifying. Do you remember that time we saved Honey from the shark, how we trembled all the time we carried him through the air. He knew it, too - I noticed how triumphantly he smiled."
"Honey told me once" - Lulu lowered her voice - "that it was the fact that we trembled - that we seemed so much women, in spite of being creatures of the air - that made him determine to capture us."
"Well, there's something about them that weakens you," Chiquita said in a puzzled tone. "It's like a spell. At first I always felt quivery and trembly if I stood near them."
"It's power," Julia explained.
"I used even to be afraid of their voices," Chiquita went on.
"Oh, so was I," Lulu agreed. "I felt as I did when I heard thunder for the first time. It went through me. It made me shake. I was afraid, but I wanted to hear it again."
"Do you remember the first time we saw them walk!" Clara said. Her face twisted with the expression of a past loathing. "How it disgusted us! It seemed to me the most hideous motion I had ever seen - so unnatural, so ungraceful, so repellent. It took me a long time to get used to that. And as for their running - "
"It's curious how that feeling still lingers in us," exclaimed Peachy. "That contempt for the thing that walks. Occasionally Angela starts to imitate the boys - it seems as if I would fly out of my skin with horror. I shall always feel superior to Ralph, I know."
"Do you remember the first talks we ever had after we'd got our first glimpse of them?" asked Clara. "How astonished we were - and half frightened and yet - in a queer way - excited and curious?
"And after we got over our fright," Lulu carried the memories along, "and had made up our minds we didn't care whether they discovered us or not, what fun we had with them! How we played over the entire island and yet it took them such a long time to discover us."
"Oh, they're awfully stupid about seeing or guessing things," Peachy said disdainfully. "My mind always leaps way ahead of Ralph's."
"Do you remember that at first we used to have regular councils," Lulu asked, "before - before - - "
"Before we agreed each to go her own way," Peachy finished it for her.
"All of us pitted against you, Julia." Chiquita sighed. "I often think now, Julia, how you used to talk to us. How you used to beg us not to go to the island. How you argued with us! The prophecies you made! They've all come true. I can hear you now: 'Don't go to the island.' 'Come away with me and we will fly back south before it is too late.' 'Come away while you can!' 'In a little while it will be too late.' In a little while I shall not be able to help you!"
"And how we fought you, Julia!" Clara said. "How we denied everything you said, every one of us knowing in her heart that you were right!"
"But," Julia said, "later, I told you that I might not be able to help myself, and you see I wasn't."
"Did they ever guess that we had quarrelled, I wonder?" Clara asked.
"Yes," Lulu answered eagerly. Honey guessed it. Now, wasn't that clever of him?"
"Not so very," Clara replied languidly. "I guessed that they had quarrelled. And I had a strong suspicion," she added consciously, "that it was about us."
"I wonder," Peachy said somberly, "what would have happened if we had taken Julia's advice."
"Are you sorry, Peachy?" Julia asked.
"No, I'm not sorry exactly," Peachy answered slowly. "I have Angela, of course. Are you sorry, Julia?"
"No," replied Julia.
"Julia," Peachy said, "what was it changed you? I have always wanted to ask but I have never dared. What brought you to the island finally? What made you give up the fight with us?"
The far-away look in Julia's eyes grew, if possible, more far-away. She did not speak for a while. Then, "I'll tell you," she said simply. "It is something that I have never told anybody but Billy. When you first began to leave me to come to this island alone, I was very unhappy. And I grew more and more unhappy. I missed flying with you. And especially flying by night. Flying alone seemed melancholy. I came here at first, only because I was driven by my loneliness. I said to myself that I'd drift with the current. But that did not help any. You were all so interested in your lovers that it made no difference whether I was with you or not. I began to think that you no longer cared for me, that you had out-grown me, that all my influence over you had vanished, that, if I were out of the way, the one tie which held you to me would break and you would go to these men. I grew more and more unhappy every instant. That was not all. I was in love with Billy, but I did not know it. I only knew that I was moody and strange and in desperate despair. And, so, one day I decided to kill myself."
There was a faint movement in the group, but it was only the swish of draperies as the four recumbent women came upright. They stared at Julia. They did not speak. They seemed scarcely to breathe.
"One day, I flew up and up. Never before had I gone half so high. But I flew deliberately higher and higher until I became cold and colder and numb and frozen - until my wings stopped. And then - " She paused.
"What happened?" Clara asked breathlessly.
"I dropped. I dropped like a stone. But - but - the instant I let myself go, something strange happened - a miracle of self-revelation. I knew that I loved Billy, that I could not live in any world where he could not come to me. And the instant that I realized that I loved him, I knew also that I could not die. I tried to spread my wings but they would not open. It was terrific. And that sense of despair, that my wings which had always responded - would not - now - oh, that was hell. How I fought! How I struggled! It was as though iron bands were about me. I strained. I tore. Of course, all this was only a moment. But one thinks a million things in a moment like that - one lives a thousand years. It seemed an eternity. At last my wings opened and spread. They held. I floated until I caught my breath. Then I dropped slowly. I threw myself over the bough of a tree. I lay there."
There was an interval of intense silence.
"Did you faint?" Peachy asked in an awed voice.
"You wept, Julia?" Peachy said. "You!"
"I had not wept since my childhood. It was strange. It frightened me almost as much as the fall. Oh, how fast the tears came - and in such floods! Something melted and went away from me then. A softness came over me. It was like a spell. I have never been the same creature since. I cry easily now."
"Did you tell Billy?" Clara asked.
"He saw me," Julia answered.
"He saw - ." It came from her four listeners as from one woman.
"That's what changed him. That's what determined him to help capture us. He said that he was afraid I would try it again. I wouldn't have, though."
Nobody spoke for a long time.
"Julia! It was Chiquita who broke the silence this time. There is something I, too, have always wanted to ask you. But I have never dared before. What was it tempted you to go into the Clubhouse that day? At first you tried to keep us from going in. You never seemed to care for any of the things they gave us. You threw away the fans and the slippers and the scarfs. And you smashed your mirror."
"Billy asked me this same question once," Julia answered. "It was that big diamond - the Wilmington 'Blue.' I caught a glimpse of it through the doorway as it lay all by itself on the table, flashing in the sunlight. I had never before in my life seen any thing that I really wanted. But this was so exquisite, so chiseled, so tiny, so perfect, There was so much fire and color in it. It seemed like a living creature. I was enchanted by it. When I told Billy, he laughed. He said that the lust for diamonds was a recognized earth-disease among earth-people, especially earth-women. He said that many women had been ruined by it. He said that it was a common saying among men that you could catch any woman in a trap baited with diamonds. I have never got over the sting of that. I blush always when I think of it. Because - although I don't exactly understand why - it was not quite true in my case. That is a thing which always bothers me in conversation with the men. They talk about us as if they knew all about us. You'd think they'd invented us. Not that we're not simple enough. We're perfectly simple, but they've never bothered to study us. They say so many things about us, for instance, that are only half true - and yet I don't know exactly how to confute them. None of us would presume to say such things about them. I'm glad," she ended with a sudden fierceness, "that I threw the diamond away."
"Julia," and now it was Lulu who questioned, "why do you not marry Billy when you love him so?" The seriousness of her tone, the warmth of affection in her little brown face robbed this question of any appearance of impertinence.
"Lulu," Julia answered simply, "I don't know why. Only that something inside has always said, 'Wait!'"
"Well, you did well," Peachy said bitterly, for, at least, Billy loves you just as much as at first. I don't see him racing over to the Clubhouse the moment his dinner is eaten. I don't see him spending his Sundays in long exploring tramps. I don't see him making plans to go off into the interior for a week at a time."
"But he would be just like all the others, Julia," Clara exclaimed carefully, "if you'd married him. Keep out of it as long as you can!"
"Don't ever marry him, Julia," Chiquita warned. "Keep your life a perpetual wooing."
"Marry him to-morrow, Julia," Lulu advised. "Oh, I cannot think what my life would have been without Honey-Boy and Honey-Bunch."
"I shall marry Billy sometime," Julia said. "But I don't know when. When that little inner voice stops saying, 'Wait!'"
"I wonder," Peachy questioned again, "what would have happened if - "
"It would have come out just the same way. Depend on that!" Chiquita said philosophically. "It was our fate - the Great Doom that our people used to talk of. And, after all, it's our own fault. Come to this island we would and come we did! And this is the end of it - we - we sit moveless from sun-up to sun-down, we who have soared into the clouds. But there is a humorous element in it. And if I didn't weep, I could laugh myself mad over it. We sit here helpless and watch these creatures who walk desert us daily - desert us - creatures who flew - leave us here helpless and alone."
"But in the beginning," Lulu interposed anxiously, "they did try to take us with them. But it tired them so to carry us - for or that's - what in effect they do."
"And there was one time just after we were married when it was all wonderful," said Peachy. "I did not even miss the flying, for it seemed to me that Ralph made up for the loss of my wings by his love and service. Then, they began to build the New Camp and gradually everything changed. You see, they love their work more than they do us. Or at least it seems to interest them more."
"Why not?" Julia interpolated quietly. "We're the same all the time. We don't change and grow. Their work does change and grow. It presents new aspects every day, new questions and problems and difficulties, new answers and solutions and adjustments. It makes them think all the time. They love to think." She added this as one who announces a discovery, long pondered over. "They enjoy thinking."
"Yes," Lulu agreed wonderingly, "that's true, isn't it? That never occurred to me. They really do like thinking. How curious! I hate to think."
"I never think," Chiquita announced.
"I won't think," Peachy exclaimed passionately. "I feel. That's the way to live."
"I don't have to think," Clara declared proudly. "I've something better than thought-instinct and intuition."
Julia was silent.
"Julia is like them," Lulu said, studying Julia's absent face tenderly. "She likes to think. It doesn't hurt, or bother, or irritate, or tire - or make her look old. It's as easy for her as breathing. That's why the men like to talk to her."
"Well," Clara remarked triumphantly, "I don't have to think in order to have the men about me. I'm very glad of that."
This was true. The second year of their stay in Angel Island, the other four women had rebuked Clara for this tendency to keep men about her - without thinking.
"It is not necessary for us to think," said Peachy with a sudden, spirited lift of her head from her shoulders. The movement brought back some of her old-time vivacity and luster. Her thick, brilliant, springy hair seemed to rise a little from her forehead. And under her draperies that which remained of what had once been wings stirred faintly. "They must think just as they must walk because they are earth-creatures. They cannot exist without infinite care and labor. We don't have to think any more than we have to walk; for we are air-creatures. And air-creatures only fly and feel. We are superior to them."
"Peachy," Julia said again. Her voice thrilled as though some thought, long held quiescent within her, had burst its way to expression. It rang like a bugle. It vibrated like a violin-string. "That is the mistake we've made all our lives; a mistake that has held us here tied to this camp for or four our years;the idea that we are superior in some way, more strong, more beautiful, more good than they. But think a moment! Are we? True, we are as you say, creatures of the air. True, we were born with wings. But didn't we have to come down to the earth to eat and sleep, to love, to marry, and to bear our young? Our trouble is that - "
And just then, "Here they come!" Lulu cried happily.
Lulu's eyes turned away from the group of women. Her brown face had lighted as though somebody had placed a torch beside it. The strings of little dimples that her plumpness had brought in its wake played about her mouth.
The trail that emerged from the jungle ran between bushes, and gradually grew lower and lower, until it merged with a path shooting straight across the sand to the Playground.
For a while the heads of the file of men appeared above the bushes; then came shoulders, waists, knees; finally the entire figures. They strode through the jungle with the walk of conquerors.
They were so absorbed in talk as not to realize that the camp was in sight. Every woman's eye - and some subtle revivifying excitement temporarily dispersed the discontent there - had found her mate long before he remembered to look in her direction.
The children heard the voices and immediately raced, laughing and shouting, to meet their fathers. Angela, beating her pinions in a very frenzy of haste, arrived first. She fluttered away from outstretched arms until she reached Ralph; he lifted her to his breast, carried her snuggled there, his lips against her hair. Honey and Pete absently swung their sons to their shoulders and went on talking. Junior, tired out by his exertions, sat down plumply half-way. Grinning radiantly, he waited for the procession to overtake him.
"Peachy," Julia asked in an aside, "have you ever asked Ralph what he intends to do about Angela's wings? "
"What he intends to do?" Peachy echoed. "What do you mean? What can he intend to do? What has he to say about them, anyway?"
"He may not intend anything," Julia answered gravely. "Still, if I were you, I'd have a talk with him."
Time had brought its changes to the five men as to the five women; but they were not such devastating changes.
Honey led the march, a huge wreath of uprooted blossoming plants hanging about his neck. He was at the prime of his strength, the zenith of his beauty and, in the semi-nudity that the climate permitted, more than ever like a young wood-god. Health shone from his skin in a copper-bronze that seemed to overlay the flesh like armor. Happiness shone from his eyes in a fire-play that seemed never to die down. One year more and middle age might lay its dulling finger upon him. But now he positively flared with youth.
Close behind Honey came Billy Fairfax, still shock-headed, his blond hair faded to tow, slimmer, more serious, more fine. His eyes ran ahead of the others, found Julia's face, lighted up. His gaze lingered there in a tender smile.
Just over Billy's shoulder, Pete appeared, a Pete as thin and nervous as ever, the incipient black beard still prickling in tiny ink-spots through a skin stained a deep mahogany. There was some subtle change in Pete that was not of the flesh but of the spirit. Perhaps the look in his face - doubly wild of a Celt and of a genius - had tamed a little. But in its place had come a question: undoubtedly he had gained in spiritual dignity and in humorous quality.
Ralph Addington followed Pete. And Ralph also had changed. True, he retained his inalienable air of elegance, an elegance a little too sartorial. And even after six years of the jungle, he maintained his picturesqueness. Long-haired, liquid-eyed, still with a beard symmetrically pointed and a mustache carefully cropped, he was more than ever like a young girl's idea of an artist. And yet something different had come into his face, The slight touch of gray in his wavy hair did not account for it; nor the lines, netting delicately his long-lashed eyes. The eyes themselves bore a baffled expression, half of revolt, half of resignation; as one who has at last found the immovable obstacle, who accepts the situation even while he rebels against it.
At the end of the line came Merrill, a doubly transformed man, looking at the same time younger and handsomer. Bigger and even more muscular than formerly, his eyes were wide open and sparkling, his mouth had lost its rigidity of contour. His look of severity, of asceticism had vanished. Nothing but his classic regularity remained and that had been beautifully colored by the weather.
The five couples wound through the trail which led from the Playground to the Camp, the men half-carrying their wives with one arm about their waists and the other supporting them.
The Camp had changed. The original cabins had spread by an addition of one or two or three to sprawling bungalow size. Not an atom of their wooden structure showed. Blocks of green, cubes of color, only open doorways and windows betrayed that they were dwelling-places. A tide of tropical jungle beat in waves of green with crests of rainbow up to the very walls. There it was met by a backwash of the vines which embowered the cabins, by a stream of blossoms which flooded and cascaded down their sides.
The married ones stopped at the Camp. But Billy and Julia continued up the beach.
"How did the work go to-day, Honey?" Lulu asked in a perfunctory tone as they moved away from the Playground.
"Fine!" Honey answered enthusiastically.
"You wait until you see Recreation Hall." He stopped to light his pipe. "Lord, how I wish I had some real tobacco! It's going to be a corker. We've decided to enlarge the plan by another three feet."
"Have you really?" commented Lulu. "Dear me, you've torn your shirt again."
"Yes," said Honey, puffing violently, "a nail. And we're going to have a tennis court at one side not a little squeezed-up affair like this - but a big, fine one. We're going to lay out a golf course, too. That will be some job, Mrs. Holworthy D. Smith, and don't you forget it."
"Yes, I should think it would be," agreed Lulu. "Do you know, Honey, Clara's an awful cat! She's dreadfully jealous of Peachy. The things she says to her! She knows Pete's still half in love with her. Peachy understands him on his art side as Clara can't. Clara simply hands it to Pete if he looks at Peachy. Even when she knows that he knows, that we all know, that she tried her best to start a flirtation with you."
"And to-day," Honey interrupted eagerly, "we doped out a scheme for a series of canals to run right round the whole place - with gardens on the bank. You see we can pipe the lake water and - - ."
"That will be great," said Lulu, but there was no enthusiasm in her tone. "And really, Honey, Peachy's in a dreadful state of nerves. Of course, she knows that Ralph is still crazy about Julia and always will be, just because Julia's like a stone to him - oh, you know the kind of a man Ralph is. The only woman you can depend on him to be faithful to is the one that won't have him round. I don't think that bothers Peachy, though. She adores Julia. If she could fly a little while in the afternoon - an hour, say - I know it would cure her."
"Too bad. But, of course, we couldn't let you girls fly again. Besides, I doubt very much if, after so many cuttings, your wings would ever grow big enough. You don't realize it yourself, perhaps, but you're much more healthy and normal without wings."
"I don't mind being without them so much myself" - Lulu's tone was a little doubtful - "though I think they would help me with Honey-Boy and Honey-Bunch. Sometimes - ." She did not finish.
"And then," Honey went on decidedly, "it's not natural for women to fly. God never intended them to."
"It is wonderful," Lulu said admiringly, "how men know exactly what God intended."
Honey roared. "If you'd ever heard the term sarcasm, my dear, I should think you were slipping something over on me. In point of fact, we don't know what God intended. Nobody does. But we know better than you; the man's life broadens us."
"Then I should think - " Lulu began. But again she did not finish.
"We're going to make a tower of rocks on the central island of the lake," Honey went on. "We'll drag the stones from the beach - those big, beauty round ones. When it's finished, we're going to cover it with that vine which has the scarlet, butterfly flowers. Pete says the reflections in the water will be pretty neat."
"Really. It sounds charming. And, Honey, Chiquita is so lazy. Little Junior runs wild. He's nearly two and she hasn't made a strip of clothing for him yet. It's Frank's fault, though. He never notices anything. I really think you men ought to do something about that."
"And then," Honey went on. But he stopped. "What's the use? " he muttered under his breath. He subsided, enveloped himself in a cloud of smoke and listened, half-amused, half-irritated, to Lulu's pauseless, squirrel-like chatter.
"My dear," Frank Merrill said to Chiquita after dinner, "the New Camp is growing famously. Six months more and you will be living in your new home. The others - Pete especially - are very much interested in Recreation Hall. They have just worked out a new scheme for parks and gardens. It is very interesting, though purely decorative. It offers many absorbing problems. But, for my own part, I must confess I am more interested in the library. It will be most gratifying to see all our books ranged on shelves, classified and catalogued at last. It is a good little library as amateur libraries go. The others speak again and again of my foresight during those early months in taking care of the books. We have many fine books - what people call solid reading - and a really extraordinary collection of dictionaries. You see, many scholars travel in the Orient, and they feel they must get up on all kinds of things. I suggested to-day that we draw up a constitution for Angel Island. For by the end of twenty years, there will be a third generation growing up here. And then, the population will increase amazingly. Besides, it offers many subjects for discussion in our evenings at the Clubhouse, etc., etc., etc."
Holding the tired-out little junior in her lap, Chiquita rocked and fanned herself and napped - and woke - and rocked and fanned herself and napped again.
"Oh, don't bore me with any talk about the New Camp," Clara was saying to Pete. "I'm not an atom interested in it."
"But you're going to live there sometime," Pete remonstrated, wrinkling in perplexity his fiery, freckled face.
"Yes, but I don't feel as if I were. It's all so far away. And I never see it. If I had anything to say about it, I might feel differently. But I haven't. So please don't inflict it on me."
"But it's the inspiration of building it for you women," Pete said gravely, "that makes us men work like slaves. We're only doing it for your sake. It is the expression of our love and admiration for you."
"Oh, slush!" exclaimed Clara flippantly, borrowing from Honey's vocabulary. "You're building it to please yourself. Besides, I don't want to be an inspiration for anything."
"All right, then," Pete said in an aggrieved tone. "But you are an inspiration, just the same. It is the chief vocation of women." He moved over to the desk and took up a bunch of papers there.
"Oh, are you going to write again this evening?" Clara asked in a burst of despair.
"Yes." Pete hesitated. "I thought I'd work for an hour or two and then I'd go out."
Clara groaned. "If you leave me another minute of this day, I shall go mad. I've had nothing but housework all the morning and then a little talk with the girls, late this afternoon. I want something different now."
"Well, let me read the third act to you," Pete offered.
"No, I don't feel like being read to. I want some excitement."
Pete sighed, and put his manuscript down.
"All right. Let's go in swimming. But I'll have to leave you after an hour."
"Are you going to see Peachy?" Clara demanded shrilly.
"No." Pete's tone was stern. "I'm going to the Clubhouse."
"How has everything gone to-day, Billy?" Julia asked, as they sat looking out to sea.
"Rather well," Billy answered. "We were all in a working mood and all in good spirits. We've done more to-day than we've done in any three days before. At noon, while we were eating our lunch, I showed them your plans."
"You didn't say - ."
"I didn't peep. I promised, you know. I let them assume that they were mine. They went wild over them, threw all kinds of fits. You see, Pete has a really fine artistic sense that's going to waste in all these minor problems of construction and drainage. I flatter myself that I, too, have some taste. Addington and Honey are both good workmen - that is, they work steadily under instruction. Merrill's only an inspired plumber, of course. Pete and I have been feeling for a long time that we wanted to do something more creative, more esthetic. This is just the thing we needed. I'm glad you thought it out; for I was beginning to grow stale. I sometimes wonder what will happen when the New Camp is entirely built and there's nothing else to do."
Billy's voice had, in spite of his temperamental optimism, a dull note of unpleasant anticipation.
"There'll be plenty to do after that." Julia smiled reassuringly. "I'm working on a plan to lay out the entire island. That will take years and years and years. Even then you'll need help."
"That, my beloved," Billy said, "until the children grow up, is just what we can't get - help."
Julia was silent.
"Julia," he went on, after an interval, in which neither spoke, "won't you marry me? I'm lonely."
The poignant look - it was almost excruciating now - came into Julia's eyes.
"Not now, Billy," she answered.
"And yet you say you love me!"
The sadness went. Julia's face became limpid as water, bright as light, warm as flame. "I love you," she said. "I love you! I love you!" She went on reiterating these three words. And with every iteration, the thrill in her voice seemed to deepen. "And, Billy - ."
"I'm not quite sure when - but I know I'm going to marry you some time."
"I'll wait, then," Billy promised. "As long as I know you love me, I can wait until - the imagination of man has not conceived the limit yet."
"Well, how have you been to-day?" Ralph asked. But before Peachy could speak, he answered himself in a falsetto voice that parodied her round, clear accents, I want to fly! I want to fly! I want to fly!" His tone was not ill-tempered, however; and his look was humorously a affectionate, as one who has asked the same question many times and received the same answer.
"I do want to fly, Ralph," Peachy said listlessly. "Won't you let me? Oh, please let my wings grow again?"
Ralph shook his head inflexibly. "Couldn't do it, my dear. It's not womanly. The air is no place for a woman. The earth is her home."
"That's not argument," Peachy asserted haughtily. "That's statement. Not that I want to argue the question. My argument is unanswerable. Why did we have wings, if not to fly. But I don't want to quarrel - ." Her voice sank to pleading. "I'd always be here when you came back. You'd never see me flying. It would not prevent me from doing my duty as your wife or as Angela's mother. In fact, I could do it better because it would make me so happy and well. After a while, I could take Angela with me. Oh, that would be rapture!" Peachy's eyes gleamed.
Ralph shook his head. "Couldn't think of it, my dear. The clouds are no place for my wife. Besides, I doubt if your wings would ever grow after the clipping to which we've submitted them. Now, put something on, and I'll carry you down on the beach."
"Tell me about the New Camp, and what you did to-day!" Peachy asked, after an interval in which she visibly struggled for control.
"Oh, Lord, ask anything but that," Addington exclaimed with a sudden gust of his old irritability. "I work hard enough all day. When I get home, I want to talk about something else. It rests me not to think of it."
"But, Ralph," Peachy entreated, "I could help you. I know I could. I have so many ideas about things. You know Pete says I'm a real artist. It would interest me so much if you would only talk over the building plans with me."
"I don't know that I am particularly interested in Pete's opinion of your abilities," Addington rejoined coldly. "My dear little girl," he went on, palpably striving for patience and gentleness, "there's nothing you could do to help me. Women are too impractical. This is a man's work, besides. By the way, after we've had our little outing, I'll leave you with Lulu. Honey and Pete and I are going to meet at the Clubhouse to work over some plans."
"All right," Peachy said. She added, "I guess I won't go out, after all. I feel tired. I think I'll lie down for a while."
"Anything I can do for you, dear?" Addington asked tenderly as he left.
"Nothing, thank you." Peachy's voice was stony. Then suddenly she pulled herself upright on the couch. "Oh - Ralph - one minute. I want to talk to you about Angela. Her wings are growing so fast."