|Home -> Miscellaneous (non California related books) -> Angel Island -> Chapter 8|
"And as soon as we finish the New Camp," Honey said eagerly, "we must make another on the rocks at the north. That will be our summer place."
"And as soon as we've finished that, let's build a house-boat for the lake," Billy suggested.
"Then let's put up some hunting-boxes at the south," Ralph took it up.
"There's a good year's work on the New Camp," Frank reminded them.
"But after the New Camp and the Hunting-Boxes and the House-Boat - what?" Ralph asked a little drearily.
"Plenty to do," Billy promised cheerily. "I've been working on a plan to lay out the entire island in camps and parks. Pete, I want to bring them over to you some night."
"Come to-night," Pete said eagerly.
"Why not bring them to the Clubhouse," Honey asked. "I'd like to see them, too. While I'm working with my hands on one job, I like to be working with my head on the next."
"Sure," agreed Ralph, "I'm for that. I'll join you to-night. Can you come, Frank?"
"I had meant to write to-night," Frank said. "But of course I can put that off."
"Has it ever occurred to you fellows," Billy asked, "that just as soon as the boys are big enough for us to leave the women in their care, we can build a boat and visit the other four islands?"
"Gee!" Honey said. "Now you're shouting. I never thought of that. Lord, how I would like to get away from this place for a while. Being shut in in any way always gets on my nerves."
Ralph drew a long breath. "I never thought of it," he admitted. "But it gives me a new lease of life."
"I shall feel like Columbus," Pete acknowledged, "and then some. Why it's like visiting the moon - or Mars. And God knows we'll need an other island or two in our business - provided we stay here for two or three generations more. We'll be a densely populated world-center before we know it."
"I was thinking," Billy suddenly relapsed to the previous subject. "How about the women tonight? They always hate to have us leave them when we've been away all day, - and we've been here two days, remember."
"Oh, that's all right," Honey answered. "I'm sure Lulu'll be all right. There's been the greatest change in her in the last few months."
"Peachy won't mind," said Ralph. "She told me the other night to go to the Clubhouse as often as I wanted and stay as late."
"Clara says practically the same." Pete wrinkled his forehead in perplexity. "It took my breath away. How do you account for it?"
"Oh, that's all right," Honey answered. stopping to dash the sweat from his forehead, "I should say it was just a matter of their getting over their foolishness. I suppose all young married women have it - that instinct to monopolize their husbands. And when you think it over, we do sort of give them the impression while we're courting them that they are the whole cheese. But that isn't all. They've come to their senses on some other matters. I think, for instance, they're beginning to get our point of view on this flying proposition. Lulu hasn't hinted that she'd like to fly for three months. She's never been so contented since, we captured them. To do her justice, though, she always saw, when I pointed it out to her, that flying was foolish, besides being dangerous."
"Well," Ralph said, "what between holding them down from the clouds and keeping them away from the, New Camp, managing them has been some job. But I guess you're right, Honey. I think they're reconciled now to their lot. If I do say it as shouldn't, Peachy seems like a regular woman nowadays. She's braced up in fine style in the last two months. Her color is much better; her spirits are high. When I get home at night, she doesn't want to go out at all. If I say that I'm going to the Clubhouse, she never raises a yip. In fact, she seems too tired to care. She's always ready now to turn in when I do. For months and months, you know, she sat up reading until all hours of the night and morning. But now she falls asleep like a child."
"Then she's gotten over that insomnia?" Pete asked this casually and he did not look at Ralph.
"Entirely," Ralph replied briefly, and in his turn he did not look at Pete. "She's a perfectly healthy woman now. She gets her three squares every day and her twelve hours every night - regular. I never saw such an improvement in a woman."
"Well, when it comes to sleeping," Pete said, "I don't believe she's got anything on Clara. I often find her dead to the world when I get home at night. I jolly her about that - for she has always thought going to bed early indicated lack of temperament. And as for teasing to be allowed to fly, or to be taken out swimming, or to call on any of you, or to let her tag me here - why, that's all stopped short. She keeps dozing off all the evening. Sometimes in the midst of a sentence, she'll begin to nod. Never saw her looking so well, though."
"Chiquita, on the contrary, isn't sleeping as much as she did," Frank said. "She's more active, though - physically, I mean. She's rejoicing at present over the fact that she's lost twenty-five, pounds in the last three months. She said last night that she hadn't been so slim since she was a girl."
"Twenty-five pounds!" exclaimed Honey. "That's a good deal to lose. How the hell - how do you explain it!"
"Increased household activity," Frank replied vaguely. "And then mentally, I think she's more vigorous. She's been reading a great deal by herself. Formerly I found that reading annoyed her - even when I read aloud, explaining carefully as I went along."
"I haven't noticed an increased activity on Julia's part," Billy said thoughtfully. "But she's always been extraordinarily active, considering everything. The way she gets about is marvelous. But of course she's planned the placing of her furniture with that in view. She's as quick as a cat. I have noticed, however, that she seems much happier. They certainly are a changed lot of women."
"The twelve o'clock whistle has just blown," Honey announced. "Let's eat."
The five men dropped their tools. They gathered their lunches together and fell to a voracious feeding. At last, pipes appeared. They stretched themselves to the smoker's ease. For a while, the silence was unbroken. Then, here and there, somebody dropped an irrelevant remark. Nobody answered it.
They lay in one corner of the big space which had been cleared from the jungle chaos. On one side rippled the blue lake carving into many tiny bays and inlets and padded with great green oases of matted lily-leaves. On the other side rose the highest hill on the island. The cleared land stretched to the very summit of this hill. Over it lay another chaos, the chaos of confusion; half-completed buildings of log and stone, rectangles and squares of dug-up land where buildings would some day stand, half-finished roadways, ditches of muddy water, hills of round beach-stones, piles of logs, some stripped of the bark, others still trailing a green huddle of leaf and branch, tools everywhere. The jungle rolled like, a tidal wave to the very boundary; in places its green spume had fallen over the border. As the men smoked, their eyes went back to the New Camp again and again. It was obvious that constantly they made mental measurements, that ever in their mind's eye they saw the completed thing.
"Well," said Ralph, reverting without warning to the subject under discussion. His manner tacitly assumed that the others had also been considering it mentally. "I confess I don't understand women really. I've always thought that I did. But I see now that I never have." Addington's rare outbursts of frankness in regard to the other sex were the more startling because they contrasted so sharply with his normal attitude of lordly understanding and contempt. "I've been a good manager and I'm not saying that I haven't had my successes with them. But as I look back upon them now, I realize I followed my intuitions, not my reason. I've done what I've done without knowing why. I have to feel my way still. I can't account for the change that's come over them. For four years now they've been at us to let their wings grow again. And for four years we've been saying no in every possible tone of voice and with every possible inflection. I've had no idea that Peachy would ever get over it. My God, you fellows have no idea what I've been through with her in regard to this question of flying. Why, one night three months ago, she had an awful attack of hysteria because I told her I'd have to cut Angela's wings as soon as she was grown-up."
"Well, what did she expect?" Honey asked.
"That I'd let her keep them - that I'd let her fly the way Peachy did! Or - what do you suppose she suggested? - that I cut them off now."
"Well, what was her idea in that?" Billy's tone was the acme of perplexity.
"That as long as I wouldn't let her keep them after she had attained her growth, she might as well not have them at all."
Billy laughed. "That's a woman's reasoning all right, all right. Why, it would destroy half Angela's charm in my eyes. That little fluttering flight of hers, half on the ground, half in the air, is so lovely, so engaging, so endearing - - . But of course letting her fly high would be - ."
"Absurd," Ralph interrupted.
"Dangerous," Honey interpolated.
"Unwomanly," Pete added.
"Immodest," Billy concluded.
"Well, thank God it's all over," Ralph went on. "But, as I say, I give up guessing what's changed her, unless it's the principle that constant dropping wears away the stone. Oscar Wilde had the answer. They're sphinxes without secrets. They do anything that occurs to them and for no particular reason. I get along with, them only by laying down the law and holding them to it. And I reckon they've got that idea firmly fixed in their minds now - that they're to stay where we put them."
Honey wriggled as if in discomfort. "Seems to me, Ralph, you take a pretty cold-blooded view of the situation. I guess I don't go very far with you. Not that I pretend to understand women. I don't. My system with them is to give them anything they ask, within reason, of course, to keep them busy and happy, buy them presents, soft-soap them, jolly them along. I suppose that personally, I wouldn't have minded their flying a little every afternoon, as long as they took the proper care. I mean by that, not to fly too far out to sea or too high in the air and never when we were at home, so long, in short, as they followed the rules that we laid down for them. You fellows seem to have the idea if we let them do that we'd lose them. But if there's one general proposition fixed more firmly in my nut than any other, it is that you can't lose them. But of course I intend always to stand by whatever you-all say."
"I don't know," Billy burst in hotly, "which of you two makes me sickest and which is the most insulting in his attitude towards women, you, Ralph, who treat them as if they were household pets, or you, Honey, who treat them as if they were dolls. In my opinion there is only one law to govern a man's relation with a woman - the law of chivalry. To love her, and cherish her, to do all the hard work of the world for her, to stand between her and everything that is unbeautiful and unpleasant, to think for her, to put her on a pedestal and worship her; to my mind that sums up the whole duty of man to woman."
"They're better than goddesses on pedestals," Pete said. "They're creatures neither of flesh nor of marble - they're ideals. They're made of stars, sunlight, moonshine. I believe in treating them like beings of a higher world."
"I disagree with all of you," Frank said ponderously, "I don't believe in treating them as if they were pets or dolls, or goddesses on pedestals or ideals. I believe in treating them like human beings, the other half of the race. I don't see that they are any better or any worse than we - they're about the same. Soon after we captured them, you remember, we entered into an agreement that no one of us would ever let his wife's wings grow without the consent of all the others. One minute after I had given my word, I was sorry for it. But you kept your word to me in the agreement that I forced on you before the capture; and, so, I shall always keep mine to you. But I regret it more and more as time goes on. You see I'm so constituted that I can't see anything but abstract justice. And according to abstract justice we have no right to hold these women bound to the earth. If the air is their natural habitat, it is criminal for us to keep them out of it. They're our equals in every sense - I mean in that they supplement us, as we supplement them. They've got what we haven't got and we've got what they haven't got. They can't walk, but they can fly. We can't fly, but we can walk. It is as though they compelled us, creatures of the earth, to live in the air all the time. Oh, it's wrong. You'll see it some day."
"I never listened to such sophistry in my life," said Ralph in disgust. You'll be telling us next," he added sarcastically, that we hadn't any right to capture them."
"We hadn't," Frank replied promptly. "On reflection, I consider that the second greatest crime of my existence. But that's done and can't be wiped out. They own this island just as much as we do. They'd been coming to it for months before we saw it. They ought to have every kind of right and freedom and privilege on it that we, have."
"I'd like to hear," Addington said in the high, thin tone of his peevish disgust, "the evidence that justifies you in saying that. What have they ever done on this island to put them on an equality with us? Aren't they our inferiors from every point of view, especially physically?"
"Certainly they are," agreed Honey, not peevishly but as one who indorses, unnecessarily, a self-evident fact. "They've lived here on Angel Island as long as we have. But they haven't made good yet, and we have. Why, just imagine them working on the New Camp - playing tennis, even."
"But we prevented all that," Frank protested. "We cut their wings. Handicapped as they were by their small feet, they could do nothing."
"But," Honey ejaculated, "if they'd been our physical equals, they would never have let us cut their wings."
"But we caught them with a trick," Frank said, "we put them in a position in which they could not use their physical strength."
"Well, if they'd been our mental equals, they'd never let themselves get caught like that."
"Well - but - but - but - " Frank sputtered. "Now you're arguing crazily. You're going round in a circle."
"Oh, well," Honey exclaimed impatiently, let's not argue any more. You always go round in a circle. I hate argument. It never changes, anybody. You never hear what the other fellow says. You always come out of it with your convictions strengthened."
Frank made a gesture of despair. He drew a little book from his pocket and began to read.
"There's one thing about them that certainly is to laugh," Honey said after a silence, a glint of amusement in his big eyes, "and that is the care they take of those useless feet of theirs. Lulu's even taken to doing hers up every night in oil or cream. It's their particular vanity. Now, take that, for instance. Men never have those petty vanities. I mean real men - regular fellows."
"How about the western cowboy and his fancy boots?" Frank shot back over his book.
"Oh, that's different," Ralph said. "Honey's right. That business of taking care of their feet symbolizes the whole sex to me. They do the things they do just because the others do them - like sheep jumping over a wall. Their fad at present is pedicure. Peachy's at it just like the rest of them. Every night when I come home, I find her sitting down with both feet done up in one of those beautiful scarfs she's collected, resting on a cushion. It's rather amusing, though." Ralph struggled to suppress his smile of appreciation.
"Clara's the same." Pete smiled too. "She's cut herself out some high sandals from a pair of my old boots. And she wears them day and night. She says she's been careless lately about getting her feet sunburned. And she's not going to let me see them until they're perfectly white and transparent again. She says that small, beautiful, and useless feet were one of the points of beauty with her people."
"Julia's got the bug, too." Billy's eyes lighted with a gleam of tenderness. "Among the things she found in the trunk was a box of white silk stockings and some moccasins. She's taken to wearing them lately. It always puts a crimp in me to get a glimpse of them - as if she'd suddenly become a normal, civilized woman."
"Now that I think of it," Frank again came out of his book. "Chiquita asked me a little while ago for a pair of shoes. She's wearing them all the time now to protect her feet - from the sun she says."
"It is the most curious thing," Billy said, "that they have never wanted to walk. Not that I want them to now," he added hastily. "That's their greatest charm in my eyes - their helplessness. It has a curious appeal. But it is singular that they never even tried it, if only out of curiosity."
"They have great contempt for walking," Honey observed. "And it has never occurred to them, apparently, that they could enjoy themselves so much more if they could only get about freely. Not that I want them to - any more than you. That utter helplessness is, as you say, appealing."
"Oh, well," Ralph said contemptuously, "what can you expect of them? I tell you it's lack of gray matter. They don't cerebrate. They don't co-ordinate. They don't correlate. They have no initiative, no creative faculty, no mental curiosity or reflexes or reactions. They're nothing but an unrelated bunch of instincts, intuitions, and impulses - human nonsense machines! Why if the positions were reversed and we'd lost our wings, we'd have been trying to walk the first day. We'd have been walking better than they by the end of a month."
"I like it just as it is," Pete said contentedly. "They can't fly and they don't want to walk. We always know where to find them."
"Thank God we don't have to consider that matter," Billy concluded. Apparently the walking impulse isn't in them. They might some time, by hook or crook, wheedle us into letting them fly a little. But one thing is certain, they'll never take a step on those useless feet."
"Delicate, adorable, useless little feet of theirs," Pete said softly as if he were reciting from an ode.
"There's something moving along the trail, boys," Frank said quietly. "I keep getting glimpses of it through the bushes - white - blue - red and yellow."
The others stopped, petrified. They scowled, bending an intent gaze through the brilliant noon sunshine.
"Sure I get it!" Billy answered in a low tone. "There's something there."
"I don't." Honey shaded his eyes.
"Nor I." Pete squinted.
"Well, I don't see anything," Ralph said impatiently. "But providing you fellows aren't nuts, what the devil can it be?"
"It's - " Billy began. Then, "My God!" he ended.
Something white glimmered at the end of the trail. It grew larger, bulked definitely, filled the opening.
"Julia!" Billy gasped.
"And she's - she's - ." Honey could not seem to go on.
"Walking," Billy concluded for him.
"And Peachy!" Ralph exclaimed.
"And why - and - and - - ." It was Pete who stopped for breath this time.
"And she's walking!" Ralph concluded for himself.
"And Clara! And Lulu! And Chiquita!" they greeted each one of the women as fast as they appeared. And in between them came again and again their astonished "And walking!"
The five women were walking, and walking with no appearance of effort, swiftly, lightly, joyously. Julia, at the head, moved with the frank, free, swinging gait of an Amazon. Peachy seemed to flit along the ground; there was in her progress something of the dipping, curving grace of her flight. Clara glided; her effect of motionless movement was almost obsidian. Chiquita kept the slow, languid gait, both swaying and pulsating, of a Spanish woman. Lulu trotted with the brisk, pleasing activity of a Morgan pony.
Their skirts had been shortened; they rippled away from slim ankles. The swathing, wing-like draperies had disappeared; their slit sleeves fluttered away from bare shoulders. The women did not pause. They came on steadily, their eyes fixed on the group of men.
The faces in that group had changed in expression. Ralph's became black and lowering. Honey looked surprised but interested; his color did not vary; Billy turned a deep brick-red. Pete went white. Frank Merrill alone studied the phenomenon with the cool, critical eye of scientific observation.
The women paused at a little distance where the path dipped to coil around a little knoll. They abandoned the path to climb this knoll; they climbed it with surprising ease; they almost flew up the sides. They stood there silently grouped about Julia. For an instant the two parties gazed at each other.
Then, "What does this mean, Peachy?" Ralph asked sternly.
Julia answered for Peachy.
"It means - rebellion," she said. " It means that we have decided among ourselves that we will not permit you to cut Angela's wings. It means that rather than have you do that, we will leave you, taking our children with us. If you will promise us that you will not cut Angela's wings nor the wings of any child born to us, we in our turn will promise to return to our homes and take our lives up with you just where we left off."
A confused murmur arose from the men. Ralph leaped to his feet. He made a movement in the direction of the women, involuntary but violent.
The women shrank closer to Julia. They turned white, but they waited. Julia did not stir.
"Go home, you - " Ralph stopped abruptly and choked something back.
"Go at once!" Billy added sternly.
"I'm ashamed of you, Clara," Pete said.
"Better go back, girls," Honey advised. He tried to make his tone authoritative. But in spite of himself, there lingered a little pleading in it. To make up, he unmasked the full battery of his coaxing smile, his quizzical frown, his snapping dimples. "We can't let Angela fly after she's grown up. It isn't natural. It isn't what a woman should be doing."
Frank said nothing.
Julia looked at them steadily an instant.
"Come!" she said briefly to her little band. The women ran down the knoll and disappeared up the trail.
"Well, I'll be damned," Ralph remarked.
"Well, when you come to that, I'll be damned," Honey coincided.
"Who was it said that God did not intend them to walk?" Frank asked slyly.
"So that's what all this bandaging of feet meant," Billy went on, ignoring this thrust. "They were learning to walk all the time."
"You're on," Ralph said in a disgusted tone. "Foxy little devils!"
"Gee, it must have hurt!" Honey exclaimed. "They must have been torn to ribbons at first. Some pluck, believe me!"
"I bet you dollars to doughnuts, Julia's at the bottom of it," remarked
"No question about that," Frank commented. "Julia thinks."
"Considerable bean, too," said Honey. "Well, we've got to put a stop to it to-night."
"Sure!" Ralph agreed. "Read the riot act the instant we get home. By the Lord Harry, if it's necessary I'll tie my wife up!"
"I never could do that," said Pete.
"Nor I," said Frank.
"Nor I," said Honey. "But I don't think we'll have to resort to violent measures. We've only got to appeal to their love; I can twist Lulu right round my finger that way."
"I guess you're right," Ralph smiled. "That always fetches them."
"I don't anticipate any real trouble from this," Billy went on as though arguing with himself. "We've got to take it at the start, though. We can't have Angela flying after she's grown."
"Sure," said Honey, "it'll blow over in a few days. But now that they can walk, let's offer to teach them how to dance and play tennis and bocci and golf. And I'll tell you what - we'll lay out some gardens for them - make them think they're beautifying the place. We might even teach them how to put up shelves and a few little carpentering tricks like that. That'll hold them for a while. Oh, you'll all come round to my tactics sooner or later! Pay them compliments! Give them presents! Jolly them along! And say, it will be fun to have some mixed doubles. Gee, though, they'll be something fierce now they've learned how to walk. They'll be here half the time. They'll have so many ideas how the New Camp ought to be built and a woman is such an obstinate cuss. Asking questions and arguing and interfering - they delay things so. We've got to find out something harmless that'll keep them busy."
"Oh, we never can have them here - never in the world," Ralph agreed. "But we'll fix them to-night. How about it, old top?" he inquired jovially of Frank.
Frank did not answer.
In point of fact they did not "fix" the women that night, owing to the simple reason that they found the camp deserted - not a sign of woman or child in sight or hearing.
"Well, there's one thing about it," Ralph said on their way back to the New Camp the next morning, "you can always beat any woman's game by just ignoring it. They can stand anything but not being noticed. Now our play is to do nothing and say nothing. They're on this island somewhere. They can't walk off it, and they can't swim off it, and they can't fly off it. They may stay away for day or more or possibly two. By the end of week they'll certainly be starved out. And they'll be longing for our society. We want to keep right at work as if nothing had happened. Let them go and come as they please. But we take no notice - see! We've done that once before and we can do it again. When they come home, they'll be a pretty tired-out, hungry, discouraged gang of girls. I bet we never hear another word out of them on this subject."
The men worked as usual the whole morning; but they talked less. They were visibly preoccupied. At every pause, they glanced furtively up the trail. When noon came, it was evident that they dropped their tools with relief. They sat with their eyes glued to the path.
"Here they come!" Billy exclaimed at last.
The men did not speak; nor until they came to the little knoll that debouched from the trail did the women. Again Julia acted as spokesman. "We have given you a night to think this matter over," she said briefly. "What is your decision? Shall Angela's wings go uncut?"
"No, by God! " burst out Ralph. "No daughter of mine is going to fly. If you - ."
But with a silencing gesture, Billy interposed. "Aren't you women happy?" he asked.
"Oh, no," Julia answered. "Of course we're not. I mean we have one kind of happiness - the happiness that come's from being loved and having a home and children. But there is another kind of happiness of which when you cut our wings we were no longer capable - the happiness that comes from a sense of absolute freedom. We can bear that for ourselves, but not for our daughters. Angela and all the girl-children who follow her must have the freedom that we have lost. Will you give it to them?"
"No!" Ralph yelled. And "Go home!" Honey said brutally.
The women turned.
A dead tree grew by the knoll, one slender limb stretching across its top to the lake. Peachy ran nimbly along this limb until she came as near to the tip as her weight would permit. She stood there an instant balancing herself; then she walked swiftly back and forth. Finally she jumped to the ground, landing squarely on her feet. She ran like a deer to join the file of women.
Involuntarily the men applauded.
"Remember the time when they first came to the island," Ralph said, "how she was proud like a lion because she managed to hold herself for an instant on a tree-branch? Her wings were helping her then. Now it's a real balancing act. Some stunt that! By Jove, she must have been practising tightrope walking." In spite of his scowl, a certain tenderness, half of past admiration, half of present pride, gleamed in his eyes.
"You betchu they have. They've been practising running and jumping and leaping and vaulting and God only knows what else. Well, we've only got to keep this up two or three days longer and they'll come back." Honey spoke in a tone which palpably he tried to make jaunty. In spite of himself, there was a wavering note of uncertainty in it.
"Oh, we'll get them yet!" Ralph said. "How about it, old fellow?" Ralph had never lost his old habit of turning to Frank in psychological distress.
But Frank again kept silence.
"Betchu we find them at home to-night," Honey said as they started down the trail an hour ahead of time. "Who'll take me. Come!"
No one took him, luckily for Honey. There was no sign of life that night, nor the next, nor the next. And in the meantime, the women did not manifest themselves once during the daytime at the New Camp.
"God, we've got to do something about this," Ralph said at the end of five days. "This is getting serious. I want to see Angela. I hadn't any idea I could miss her so much. It seems as if they'd been gone for a month. They must have been preparing for this siege for weeks. Where the thunder are they hiding - in the jungle somewhere, of course?"
"Oh, of course," Honey assented. "I miss the boys, too," he mourned, "I used to have a frolic with them every morning before I left and every night when I got home."
"And it's all so uncomfortable living alone," Ralph grumbled. He was unshaven. The others showed in various aspects of untidiness the lack of female standards.
"I'm so sick of my own cooking," Honey complained.
"Not so sick as we are," said Pete.
"Anybody can have my job that wants it," Honey volunteered with a touch of surliness unusual with him.
At noon the five women appeared again at the end of the trail.
In contrast to the tired faces and dishevelled figures of the men, they presented an exquisite feminine freshness, hair beautifully coiled, garments spotless and unwrinkled. But although their eyes were like stars and their cheeks like flowers, their faces were serious; a dew, as of tears lately shed, lay over them.
"Shall Angela fly?"' Julia asked without parley.
The women turned.
"Wait a moment," Frank called in a sudden tone of authority. "I'm with you women in this. If you'll let me join your forces, I'll fight on your side."
He had half-covered the distance between them before Julia stopped him with a "Wait a moment!" as decisive as his own.
"In the first place," she said, "we don't want your help. If we don't get this by our own efforts, we'll never value it. In the second place, we'll never be sure of it. We don't trust you - quite. You tricked us once. That was your fault. If you trick us again, that's our fault. Thank you - but no, Frank."
The women disappeared down the trail while still the men stood staring.
"Well, can you beat it?" was the only comment for a moment - and that came from Pete. In another instant, they had turned on Merrill, were upbraiding him hotly for what they called his treason.
"You can't bully me," was his unvarying answer. "Remember, any time they call on me, I'll fight for them."
"Well, you can do what you want with your own wife, of course," Ralph said, falling into one of his black rages. "But I'm damned if you'll encourage mine."
"Boys," he added later, after a day of steadily increasing rage, "I'm tired of this funny business. Let's knock off work to-morrow and hunt them. What gets me is their simplicity. They don't seem to have calculated on our superior strength. It won't take us more than a few hours to run them to earth. By God, I wish we had a pair of bloodhounds."
"All right," said Billy. "I'm with you, Ralph. I'm tired of this."
"Let's go, to bed early to-night," said Pete, and start at sunrise."
"Well," said Honey philosophically, "I've hunted deer, bear, panther, buffalo, Rocky Mountain sheep, jaguar, lion, tiger, and rhinoceros - but this is the first time I ever hunted women."
They started at sunrise - all except Frank, who refused to have anything to do with the expedition - and they hunted all day. At sunset they camped where they fell exhausted. They went back to the search the next day and the next and the next and the next.
And nowhere did they find traces of their prey.
"Where are they? Ralph said again and again in a baffled tone. "They couldn't have flown away, could they?"
And, as often as he asked this question, his companions answered it in the varying tones of their fatigue and their despair. "Of course they couldn't - their wings were too short."
"Still," Frank said once. "It's now long past the half-yearly shearing period." He added in another instant, "I don't think, though, that their wings could more than lift them."
"Well, it's evident, wherever they are, they won't budge until we go back to work," Billy said at the end of a week. "This is useless and hopeless."
The next day they returned to the New Camp.
"Here they come," Billy called joyously that noon. "Thank God!" he added under his breath.
Again the five women appeared at the beginning of the trail. Their faces were white now, hollow and lined; but as ever, they bore a look of extraordinary pristineness. And this time they brought the children. Angela lay in her mother's arms like a wilted flower. Her wings sagged forlornly and her feet were bandaged. But stars of a brilliant blue flared and died and flared again in her eyes; roses of a living flame bloomed and faded and bloomed again in her cheek. Her look went straight to her father's face, clung there in luminous entreaty. Peterkin, more than ever like a stray from some unreal, pixy world, surveyed the scene with his big, wondering, gray-green eyes. Honey-Boy, having apparently just waked, stared, owl-like, his brows pursed in comic reproduction of his father's expression. Junior grinned his widest grin and padded the air unceasingly with his pudgy hands. Honey-Bunch slept placidly in Julia's arms.
Julia advanced a little from her group and dropped a single monosyllable. "Well?" she said in an inflexible, questioning voice.
Nobody answered her. Instead Addington called in a beseeching voice: "Angela! Angela! Come to me! Come to dad, baby!"
Angela's dead little wings suddenly flared with life; they fluttered in a very panic. She stretched out her arms to her father. She turned her limpid gaze in an agony of infantile entreaty up to her mother's face. But Peachy shook her head. The baby flutter died down. Angela closed her eyes, dropped her head on her mother's shoulder; the tears started from under her eyelids.
"Shall Angela fly?" Julia asked. "Remember this is your last chance."
"No," Ralph said. And the word was the growl of a balked beast.
"Then," Julia said sternly, "we will leave Angel Island forever."
"You will," Ralph sneered. "You will, will you? All right. Let's see you do it!" Suddenly he started swiftly down toward the trail. Come, boys!" he commanded. Honey followed - and Billy and Pete.
But, suddenly, Julia spoke. She spoke in the loud, clear tones of her flying days and she used the language of her girlhood. It was a word of command. And as it fell from her lips, the five women leaped from the top of the knoll. But they did not fall into the lake. They did not touch its surface. They flew. Flew - and yet it was not flight. It was half-flight. It was scarcely flight at all. Compared with the magnificent, calm, effortless sweep of their girlhood days, it was almost a grotesque performance. Their wing-stumps beat back and forth violently, beat in a very agony of effort. Indeed these stunted fans could never have held them up. They supplemented their efforts by a curious rotary movement of the legs and feet. They could not rise very far above the surface of the water, especially as each woman was weighted by a child; but they sustained a steady, level flight to the other side of the lake.
The men stared for an instant, petrified. Then panic broke. "Come back, Lulu!" Honey yelled. "Come back!" "Julia!" Billy called hoarsely, "Julia! Julia! Julia!" He went on calling her name as if his senses had left him. Pete's lips moved. Words came, but no voice; he stood like a statue, whispering. Merrill remained silent; obviously he could not even whisper; his was the silence of paralysis. Addington, on the other hand, was all voice. "Oh, my God!" he cried. "Don't leave me, Peachy! Don't leave me! Peachy! Angela! Peachy! Angela!" His voice ascended on the scale of hysteric entreaty until he screeched. "Don't leave me! Don't leave me!" He fell to his knees and held out his arms; the tears poured down his face.
The women heard, turned, flew back. Holding themselves above the men's heads, they fluttered and floated. Their faces were working and the tears flowed freely, but they kept their eyes steadily fixed on Julia, waiting for command.
Julia was ghastly. "Shall Angela fly?" she asked. And it was as though her voice came from an enormous distance, so thin and expressionless and far-away had it become.
"Anything!" Addington said. "Anything! Oh, my God, don't leave us!"
Julia said something. Again this word was in their own language and again it was a word of command. But emotion had come into her voice - joy; it thrilled through the air like a magic fluid. The women sank slowly to earth. In another instant the two forces were in each other's arms.
"Billy," Julia said, as hand in hand they struck into one of the paths that led to the jungle, "will you marry me?"
Billy did not answer. He only looked at her.
"When?" he said finally. "To-morrow?"
"To-day," Julia said.
Sunset on Angel Island.
The Honeymoon House thrilled with excitement. At intervals figures crowded to the narrow door; at intervals faces crowded in the narrow window. Sometimes it was Lulu, swollen and purple and broken with weeping. Sometimes it was Chiquita, pale and blurred and sagging with tears. Often it was Peachy, whose look, white and sodden, steadily searched the distance. Below on the sand, Clara, shriveled, pinched, bent over, her hands writhing in and out of each other's clasp, paced back and forth, her eye moving always on the path. Suddenly she stopped and listened. There came first a faint disturbance of the air, then confusion, then the pounding of feet. Angela, white-faced, frightened, appeared, flying above the trail. "I found him," she called. Behind came Billy, running. He flashed past Clara.
"How is she?" he panted.
"Alive," Clara said briefly.
He flew up the steps. Clara followed. Angela dropped to the sand and Jay there, her little head in the crook of her elbow, sobbing.
Inside a murmur of relief greeted Billy. "He's come, Julia," Peachy whispered softly.
The women withdrew from the inner room as Billy passed over the threshold.
Julia lay on the couch stately and still. One long white hand rested on her breast. The other stretched at her side; its fingers touched a little bundle there. Her wings - the glorious pinions of her girlhood - towered above the pillow, silver-shining, quiescent. Her honey-colored hair piled in a huge crown above her brow. Her eyes were closed. Her face was like marble; but for an occasional faint movement of the hand at her side, she might have been the sculpture on a tomb.
Her lids flickered as Billy approached, opened on eyes as dull as stones. But as they looked up into his, they filled with light.
"My husband - " she said. Her eyes closed.
But presently they opened and with a greater dazzle of light. "Our son - " The hand at her side moved feebly on the little bundle there. That faint movement seemed a great effort. Her eyes closed again.
But for a third time she opened them, and now they shone with their greatest glory. "My husband - our son - has - wings."
And then Julia's eyes closed for the last time.