|Home -> Miscellaneous (non California related books) -> Angel Island -> Chapter 2|
Silence, profound, portentous, protracted, followed.
Finally, Honey Smith absently stooped and picked up a pebble. He threw it over the silver ring of the flat, foam-edged, low-tide waves. It curved downwards, hissed across a surface of water smooth as jade, skipped four times, and dropped.
The men strained their eyes to follow the progress of this tangible thing.
"Where do you suppose they've gone?" Honey said as unexcitedly as one might inquire directions from a stranger.
"When do you suppose they'll come back?" Billy Fairfax added as casually as one might ask the time.
"Did you notice the red-headed one?" asked Pete Murphy. "My first girl had red hair. I always jump when I see a carrot-top." He made this intimate revelation simply, as if the time for a conventional reticence had passed.
"They were lookers all right," Ralph Addington went on. "I'd pick the golden blonde, the second from the right." He, too, spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, as though he were selecting a favorite from the front row in the chorus.
"It must have happened if we saw it," Frank Merrill said. There was in his voice a note of petulance, almost childish. "But we ought not to have seen it. It has no right to be. It upsets things so."
"What are we all standing up like gawks for?" Pete Murphy demanded with a sudden irritability.
Everybody dropped. They all sat as they fell. They sat motionless. They sat silent.
"The name of this place is 'Angel Island,'" announced Billy Fairfax after a long time. His tone was that of a man whose thoughts, swirling in phantasmagoria, seek anchorage in fact.
They did not sleep that night.
When Frank Merrill arose the next morning, Ralph Addington was just returning from a stroll down the beach. Ralph looked at the same time exhausted and recuperated. He was white, tense, wild-eyed, but recently aroused interior fires glowed through his skin, made up for his lost color and energy. Frank also had a different look. His eyes had kindled, his face had become noticeably more alive. But it was the fire of the intellect that had produced this frigid glow.
"Seen anything?" Frank Merrill inquired.
"Not a thing."
"You don't think they're frightened enough not to come back?"
The gleam in Ralph Addington's eye changed to flame. "I don't think they're frightened at all. They'll come back all right. There's only one thing that you can depend on in women; and that is that you can't lose them."
"I can scarcely wait to see them again," Frank exclaimed eagerly. "Addington, I can write a monograph on those flying-maidens that will make the whole world gasp. This is the greatest discovery of modern times. Man alive, don't you itch to get to paper and pencil?"
"Not so I've noticed it," Ralph replied with contemptuous emphasis. "I shall lie awake nights, just the same though."
"Say, fellers, we didn't dream that, did we?" Billy Fairfax called suddenly, rolling out of the sleep that had followed their all-night talk.
"Well, I reckon if it wasn't for the other four, no one of us would trust his own senses," Frank Merrill said dryly.
"If you'd listened to me in the beginning," Honey Smith remarked in a drowsy voice, not bothering to open his, eyes, "I wouldn't be the I-told-you-so kid now."
"Well, if you'd listened to me and Pete!" said Billy Fairfax; "didn't we think, way back there that first day, that our lamps were on the blink because we saw black spots? Great Scott, what dreams I've had," he went on, "a mixture of 'Arabian Nights,' 'Gulliver's Travels,' 'Peter Wilkins,' 'Peter Pan,' 'Goosie,' Jules, Verne, H. G. Wells, and every dime novel I've ever read. Do you suppose they'll come back?"
"I've just talked that over with Ralph," Frank Merrill answered him. "If we've frightened them away forever, it will be a terrible loss to science."
Ralph Addington emitted one of his cackling, ironic laughs. "I guess I'm not worrying as much about science as I might. But as to their coming back - why, it stands to reason that they'll have just as much curiosity about us as we have about them. Curiosity's a woman's strong point, you know. Oh, they'll come back all right! The only question is, How soon?"
"It made me dream of music - of Siegfried." It was Pete Murphy who spoke and he seemed to plump from sleep straight into the conversation. "What a theme for grand opera. Women with wings! Flying-girls! Will you tell me what the Hippodrome! has on Angel Island?"
"Nothing," said Honey Smith, "except this - you can get acquainted with a Hippodrome girl - how long is it going to take us to get acquainted with these angels?"
"Not any longer than usual," said Ralph Addington with an expressive wink. "Leave that to me. I'm going now to see what I can see." He walked rapidly down the beach, scaled the southern reef, and stood there studying the horizon.
The others remained sitting on the sand. For a while they watched Ralph. Then they talked the whole thing over with as much interest as if they had not yet discussed it. Ralph rejoined them and they went through it again. It was as though by some miracle of mind-transference, they had all dreamed the same dream; as though, by some miracle of sight-transference they had all seen the same vision; as though, by some miracle of space-transference, they had all stepped into the fourth dimension. Their comment was ever of the wonder of their strange adventure, the beauty, the thrill, the romance of it. It had brought out in them every instinct of chivalry and kindness, it had developed in them every tendency towards high-mindedness and idealism. Angel Island would be an Atlantis, an Eden, an Arden, an Arcadia, a Utopia, a Milleamours, a Paradise, the Garden of Hesperides. Into it the Golden Age would come again. They drew glowing pictures of the wonderful friendships that would grow up on Angel Island between them and their beautiful visitors. These poetic considerations gave way finally to a discussion of ways and means. They agreed that they must get to work at once on some sort of shelter for their guests, in case the weather should turn bad. They even discussed at length the best methods of teaching the English language. They talked the whole morning, going over the same things again and again, questioning each other eagerly without listening for an answer, interrupting ruthlessly, and then adding nothing.
The day passed without event. At the slightest sound they all jumped. Their sleeplessness was beginning to tell on them and their nerves were still obsessed by the unnaturalness of their experience. It was a long time before they quieted down, but the night passed without interruption. So did the next day. Another day went by and another, and during this time they did little but sit about and talk.
"See here, boys," Ralph Addington said one morning. "I say we get together and build some cabins. There's no calculating how long this grand weather'll keep up. The first thing we know we'll be up against a rainy season. Isn't that right, Professor?"
On most practical matters Ralph treated Frank Merrill's opinion with a contempt that was offensively obvious to the others. In questions of theory or of abstruse information, he was foolishly deferential. At those times, he always gave Frank his title of Professor.
"I hardly think so," Frank Merrill answered. "I think we'll have an equable, semi-tropical climate all the year round - about like Honolulu."
"Well, anyway," Ralph Addington went on, "it's barbarous living like this. And we want to be prepared for anything." His gaze left Frank Merrill's face and traveled with a growing significance to each of the other three. "Anything," he repeated with emphasis. "We've got enough truck here to make a young Buckingham Palace. And we'll go mad sitting round waiting for those air-queens to pay us a visit. How about it?"
"It's an excellent idea," Frank Merrill said heartily. "I have been on the point of proposing it many times myself."
However, they seemed unable to pull themselves together; they did nothing that day. But the next morning, urged back to work by the harrying monotony of waiting, they began to clear a space among the trees close to the beach. Two of them had a little practical building knowledge: Ralph Addington who had roughed it in many strange countries; Billy Fairfax who, in the San Francisco earthquake, had on a wager built himself a house. They worked with all their initial energy. They worked with the impetus that comes from capable supervision. And they worked as if under the impulse of some unformulated motive. As usual, Honey Smith bubbled with spirits. Billy Fairfax and Pete Murphy hardly spoke, so close was their concentration. Ralph Addington worked longer and harder than anybody, and even Honey was not more gay; he whistled and sang constantly. Frank Merrill showed no real interest in these proceedings. He did his fair share of the work, but obviously without a driving motive. He had reverted utterly to type. He spent his leisure writing a monograph. When inspiration ran low, he occupied himself doctoring books. Eternally, he hunted for the flat stones between which he pressed their swollen bulks back to shape. Eternally he puttered about, mending and patching them. He used to sit for hours at a desk which he had rescued from the ship's furniture. The others never became accustomed to the comic incongruity of this picture - especially when, later, he virtually boxed himself in with a trio of book-cases.
"Wouldn't you think he was sitting in an office?" Ralph Addington said.
"Curious about Merrill," Honey Smith answered, indulging in one of his sudden, off-hand characterizations, bull's-eye shots every one of them. "He's a good man, ruined by culturine. He's the bucko-mate type translated into the language of the academic world. Three centuries ago he'd have been a Drake or a Frobisher. And to-day, even, if he'd followed the lead of his real ability, he'd have made a great financier, a captain of industry or a party boss. But, you see, he was brought up to think that book-education was the whole cheese. The only ambition he knows is to make good in the university world. How I hated that college atmosphere and its insistence on culture! That was what riled me most about it. As a general thing, I detest a professor. Can't help liking old Frank, though."
The four men virtually took no time off from work; or at least the change of work that stood for leisure was all in the line of home-making. Eternally, they joked each other about these womanish occupations; but they all kept steadily to it. Ralph Addington and Honey Smith put the furniture into shape, repairing and polishing it. Billy Fairfax sorted out the glass, china, tools, household utensils of every kind.
Pete Murphy went through the trunks with his art side uppermost. He collected all kinds of Oriental bric-a-brac, pictures and draperies. He actually mended and pressed things; he had all the artist's capability in these various feminine lines. When the others joked him about his exotic and impracticable tastes, he said that, before he left, he intended to establish a museum of fine arts, on Angel Island.
Hard as the men worked, they had always the appearance of those who await the expected. But the expected did not occur; and gradually the sharp edge of anticipation wore dull. Emotionally they calmed. Their nerves settled to a normal condition. The sudden whirr of a bird's flight attracted only a casual glance. In Ralph Addington alone, expectation maintained itself at the boiling point. He trained himself to work with one eye searching the horizon. One afternoon, when they had scattered for a siesta, his hoarse cry brought them running to the beach from all directions.
So suddenly had the girls appeared that they might have materialized from the air. This time they had not come from the sea. When Ralph discovered them, they were hovering back of them above the trees that banded the beach. The sun was setting, blood-red; the whole western sky had broken away. The girls seemed to be floating in a sea of crimson-amber ether. Its light brought lustre to every feather; it turned the edges of their wings to flame; it changed their smoothly piled hair to helmets of burnished metal.
The men tore from the beach to the trees at full speed. For a moment the violence of this action threw the girls into a panic. They fluttered, broke lines, flew high, circled. And all the time, they uttered shrill cries of distress.
"They're frightened," Billy Fairfax said. "Keep quiet, boys."
The men stopped running, stood stock-still.
Gradually the girls calmed, sank, took up the interweaving figures of their air-dance. If at their first appearance they seemed creatures of the sea, this time they were as distinctively of the forest. They looked like spirits of the trees over which they hovered. Indeed, but for their wings they might have been dryads. Wreaths of green encircled their heads and waists. Long leafy streamers trailed from their shoulders. Often in the course of their aerial play, they plunged down into the feathery tree-tops.
Once, the blonde with the blue wings sailed out of the group and balanced herself for a toppling second on a long, outstretching bough.
"Good Lord, what a picture!" Pete Murphy said.
As if she understood, she repeated her performance. She cast a glance over her shoulder at them - unmistakably noting the effect.
"Hates herself, doesn't she?" commented Honey Smith. "They're talking!" he added after an interval of silence. "Some one of them is giving directions - I can tell by the tone of her voice. Can't make out which one it is though. Thank God, they can talk!"
"It's the quiet one - the blonde - the one with the white wings," Billy Fairfax explained. "She's captain. Some bean on her, too; she straightened them out a moment ago when they got so frightened."
"I now officially file my claim," said Ralph Addington, "to that peachy one - the golden blonde - the one with the blue wings, the one who tried to stand on the bough. That girl's a corker. I can tell her kind of pirate craft as far as I see it."
"Me for the thin one!" said Pete Murphy. "She's a pippin, if you please. Quick as a cat! Graceful as they make them. And look at that mop of red hair! Isn't that a holocaust? I bet she's a shrew."
You win, all right," agreed Ralph Addington. "I'd like nothing better than the job of taming her, too."
"See here, Ralph," bantered Pete, "I've copped Brick-top for myself. You keep off the grass. See!"
"All right," Ralph answered. "Katherine for yours, Petruchio. The golden blonde for mine!" He smiled for the first time in days. In fact, at sight of the flying-girls he had begun to beam with fatuous good nature.
Two blondes, two brunettes, and a red-top" said Honey Smith, summing them up practically. "One of those brunettes, the brown one, must be a Kanaka. The other's prettier - she looks like a Spanish woman. There's something rather taking about the plain one, though. Pretty snappy - if anybody should fly up in a biplane and ask you!"
"It's curious," Frank Merrill said with his most academic manner, "it has not yet occurred to me to consider those young women from the point of view of their physical pulchritude. I'm interested only in their ability to fly. The one with the silver-white wings, the one Billy calls the 'quiet one,' flies better than any of the others, The dark one on the end, the one who looks like a Spaniard, flies least well. It is rather disturbing, but I can think of them only as birds. I have to keep recalling to myself that they're women. I can't realize it."
"Well, don't worry," Ralph Addington said with the contemptuous accent with which latterly he answered all Frank Merrill's remarks. "You will."
The others laughed, but Frank turned on them a look of severe reproof.
"Oh, hell!" Honey Smith exclaimed in a regretful tone; "they're beating it again. I say, girls," he called at the top of his lungs, "don't go! Stay a little longer and we'll buy you a dinner and a taxicab."
Apparently the flying-girls realized that he was addressing them. For a hair's breadth of a second they paused. Then, with a speed that had a suggestion of panic in it, they flew out to sea. And again a flood of girl-laughter fell in bubbles upon them.
"They distrust muh!" Honey commented. But he smiled with the indolent amusement of the man who has always held the master-hand with women.
"Must have come from the east, this time," he said as they filed soberly back to camp. "But where in thunder do they start from?"
They had, of course, discussed this question as they had discussed a hundred other obvious ones. "I'm wondering now," Frank Merrill answered, "if there are islands both to the east and the west. But, after all, I'm more interested to know if there are any more of these winged women, and if there are any males."
Again they talked far into the night. And as before their comment was of the wonder, the romance, the poetry of their strange situation. And again they drew imaginary pictures of what Honey Smith called "the young Golden Age" that they would soon institute on Angel Island.
"Say," Honey remarked facetiously when at length they started to run down, "what happens to a man if he marries an angel? Does he become angel-consort or one of those seraphim arrangements?"
Ralph Addington laughed. But Billy Fairfax and Pete Murphy frowned. Frank Merrill did not seem to hear him. He was taking notes by the firelight.
The men continued to work at the high rate of speed that, since the appearance of the women, they had set for themselves. But whatever form their labor took, their talk was ever of the flying-girls. They referred to them individually now as the "dark one," the "plain one," the "thin one," the "quiet one," and the "peachy one." They theorized eternally about them. It was a long time, however, before they saw them again, so long that they had begun to get impatient. In Ralph Addington this uneasiness took the form of irritation. "If I'd had a gun," he snarled more than once, "by the Lord Harry, I'd have winged one of them." He sat far into the night and waited. He arose early in the morning and watched. He went for long, slow, solitary, silent, prowling hikes into the interior. His eyes began to look strained from so minute a study of the horizon-line. He grew haggard. His attitude in the matter annoyed Pete Murphy, who maintained that he had no right to spy on women. Argument broke out between them, waxing hot, waned to silence, broke out again and with increased fury. Frank Merrill and Billy Fairfax listened to all this, occasionally smoothing things over between the disputants. But Honey Smith, who seemed more amused than bothered, deftly fed the flame of controversy by agreeing first with one and then with the other.
Late one afternoon, just as the evening star flashed the signal of twilight, the girls came streaming over the sea toward the island.
At the first far-away glimpse, the men dropped their tools and ran to the water's edge. Honey Smith waded out, waist-deep.
"Well, what do you know about that?" he called out. "Pipe the formation!"
They came massed vertically. In the distance they might have been a rainbow torn from its moorings, borne violently forward on a high wind. The rainbow broke in spots, fluttered, and then came together again. It vibrated with color. It pulsed with iridescence.
"How the thunder - " Addington began and stopped. "Well, can you beat it?" he concluded.
The human column was so arranged that the wings of one of the air-girls concealed the body of another just above her.
The "dark one" led, flying low, her scarlet pinions beating slowly back and forth about her head.
Just above, near enough for her body to be concealed by the scarlet wings of the "dark one," but high enough for her pointed brown face to peer between their curves, came the "plain one."
Higher flew the "thin one." Her body was entirely covered by the orange wings of the "plain one," but her copper-colored hair made a gleamy spot in their vase-shaped opening.
Still higher appeared the "peachy one." She seemed to be holding her lustrous blonde head carefully centered in the oval between the "thin one's" green-and-yellow plumage. She looked like a portrait in a frame.
Highest of them all, floating upright, a Winged Victory of the air, her silver wings towering straight above her head, the cameo face of the "quiet one" looked level into the distance.
Their wings moved in rotation, and with machine-like regularity. First one pair flashed up, swept back and down, then another, and another. As they neared, the color seemed the least wonderful detail of the picture. For it changed in effect from a column of glittering wings to a column of girl-faces, a column that floated light as thistle-down, a column that divided, parted, opened, closed again.
The background of all this was a veil of dark gauze at the horizon-line, its foil a golden, virgin moon, dangling a single brilliant star.
"They're talking!" Honey Smith exclaimed. "And they're leaving!"
The girls did not pause once. They flew in a straight line over the island to the west, always maintaining their columnar formation. At first the men thought that they were making for the trees. They ran after them. The speed of their running had no effect this time on their visitors, who continued to sail eastward. The men called on them to stay. They called repeatedly, singly and in chorus. They called in every tone of humble masculine entreaty and of arrogant masculine command. But their cries might have fallen on marble ears. The girls neither turned nor paused. They disappeared.
"Females are certainly alike under their skins, whether they're angels or Hottentots," Ralph Addington commented. " That tableau appearance was all cooked up for us. They must have practised it for hours."
"It has the rose-carnival at Tetaluma, Cal., faded," remarked Honey Smith.
"The 'quiet one' was giving the orders for that wing-movement," said Billy Fairfax. "She whispered them, but I heard her. She engineered the whole thing. She seems to be their leader."
"I got their voices this time," said Pete Murphy. "Beautiful, all of them. Soprano, high and clear. They've got a language, all right, too. What did you think of it, Frank?"
"Most interesting," replied Frank Merrill, "most interesting. A preponderance of consonants. Never guttural in effect, and as you say, beautiful voices, very high and clear."
"I don't see why they don't stop and play," complained Honey. His tone was the petulant one of a spoiled child. It is likely that during the whole course of his woman-petted existence, he had never been so completely ignored. "If I only knew their lingo, I could convince them in five minutes that we wouldn't hurt them."
"If we could only signal," said Billy Fairfax, "that if they'd only come down to earth, we wouldn't go any nearer than they wanted. But the deuce of it is proving to them that we don't bite."
"It is probably that they have known only males of a more primitive type," Frank Merrill explained. "Possibly they are accustomed to marriage by capture."
"That would be a very lucky thing," Ralph explained in an aside to Honey. "Marriage by capture isn't such a foolish proposition, after all. Look at the Sabine women. I never heard tell that there was any kick coming from them. It all depends on the men."
"Oh, Lord, Ralph, marriage by capture isn't a sporting proposition," said Honey in a disgusted tone. "I'm not for it. A man doesn't get a run for his money. It's too much like shooting trapped game."
"Well, I will admit that there's more fun in the chase," Ralph answered.
"Oh, well, if the little darlings are not accustomed to chivalry from men," Pete Murphy was in the meantime saying, "that explains why they stand us off."
It was typical of Pete to refer to the flying-girls as "little darlings." The shortest among them was, of course, taller than he. But to Pete any woman was "little one," no matter what her stature, as any woman was "pure as the driven snow" until she proved the contrary. This impregnable simplicity explained much of the disaster of his married life.
"I am convinced," Frank Merrill said meditatively, "we must go about winning their confidence with the utmost care. One false step might be fatal. I know what your impatience is though - for I can hardly school myself to wait - that extraordinary phenomenon of the wings interests me so much. The great question in my mind is their position biologically and sociologically."
"The only thing that bothers me," Honey contributed solemnly, "is whether or not they're our social equals."
Even Frank Merrill laughed. "I mean, are they birds," he went on still in a puzzled tone, "free creatures of the air, or, women, bound creatures of the earth? And what should be our attitude toward them? Have we the right to capture them as ornithological specimens, or is it our duty to respect their liberty as independent human beings?
"They're neither birds nor women," Pete Murphy burst out impetuously. "They're angels. Our duty is to fall down and worship them."
"They're women," said Billy Fairfax earnestly. "Our duty is to cherish and protect them."
"They're girls," Honey insisted jovially, "our duty is to josh and jolly them, to buy them taxicabs, theater-tickets, late suppers, candy, and flowers."
"They're females," said Ralph Addington contemptuously. "Our duty is to tame, subjugate, infatuate, and control them."
Frank Merrill listened to each with the look on his face, half perplexity, half irritation, which always came when the conversation took a humorous turn. "I am myself inclined to look upon them as an entirely new race of beings, requiring new laws," he said thoughtfully.
Although the quick appearance and the quick departure of the girls had upset the men temporarily, they went back to work at once. And as though inspired by their appearance, they worked like tigers. As before, they talked constantly of them, piling mountains of conjecture on molehills of fact. But now their talk was less of the wonder and the romance of the situation and more of the irritation of it. Ralph Addington's unease seemed to have infected them all. Frank Merrill had actually to coax them to keep at their duty of patrolling the beach. They were constantly studying the horizon for a glimpse of their strange visitors. Every morning they said, "I hope they'll come to-day"; every night, "Perhaps they'll come to-morrow." And always, "They won't put it over on us this time when we're not looking."
But in point of fact, the next visit of the flying girls came when they least expected it - late in the evening.
It had been damp and dull all day. A high fog was gradually melting out of the air. Back of it a misty moon, more mature now, gleamed like a flask of honey in a golden veil. A few stars glimmered, placid, pale, and big. Suddenly between fog and earth - and they seemed to emerge from the mist like dreams from sleep - appeared the five dazzling girl-figures.
The fog had blurred the vividness of their plumage. The color no longer throbbed from wing-sockets to wing-tips; light no longer pulsated there. But great scintillating beads of fog-dew outlined the long curves of the wings, accentuated the long curves of the body. Hair, brows, lashes glittered as if threaded with diamonds. Their cheeks and lips actually glowed, luscious as ripe fruit.
"My God!" groaned Pete Murphy; "how beautiful and inaccessible! But women should be inaccessible," he ended with a sigh.
"Not so inaccessible as they were, though,"
Ralph Addington said. Again the appearance of the women had transformed him physically and mentally. He moved with the nervous activity of a man strung on wires. His brown eyes showed yellow gleams like a cat's. "They're flying lower and slower to-night."
It did seem as though the fog, light as it was, definitely impeded their wings. It gave to their movements a little languor that had a plaintive appealing quality. Perhaps they realized this themselves. In the midst of their aerial evolutions suddenly - and apparently without cause - they developed panic, turned seawards. Their audience, taken by surprise, burst into shouts of remonstrance, ran after them. The clamor and the motion seemed only to add to the girls' alarm. Their retreating speed was almost frenzied.
"What the - what's frightened them?" Honey Smith asked. Honey's brows had come together in an unaccustomed scowl. He bit his lips.
"Give it up," Billy Fairfax answered, and his tone boiled with exasperation. "I hope they haven't been frightened away for good."
"I think every time it's the last," exclaimed Pete Murphy, "but they keep coming back."
"Son," said Ralph Addington, and there was a perceptible element of patronage in his tone, "I'll tell you the exact order of events. It threw a scare into the girls to-night that they couldn't fly so well. But in an hour's time, they'll be sore because they didn't put up a good exhibition. Now, if I know anything at all about women - and maybe I flatter myself, but I think I know a lot - they'll be back the first thing to-morrow to prove to us that their bad flying was not our effect on them but the weather's."
Whether Ralph's theory was correct could not, of course, be ascertained. But in the matter of prophecy, he was absolutely vindicated. About half-way through the morning five black spots appeared in the west. They grew gradually to bewildering shapes and colors, for the girls came dressed in gowns woven of brilliant flowers. And the torrents of their beautiful hair floated loose. This time they held themselves grouped close; they kept themselves aloof, high. But again came the sinuous interplay of flower-clad bodies, the flashing evolution of rainbow wings, the dazzling interweaving of snowy arms and legs. It held the men breathless.
"They're like goldfish in a bowl," Billy Fairfax said. "I never saw such suppleness. You wouldn't think they had a bone in their systems."
"I bet they're as strong as tigers, though," commented Addington. "I wouldn't want to handle more than one of them at once."
"I think I could handle two," remarked Frank Merrill. He said this, not boastfully, but as one who states an interesting fact. And he spoke as impersonally as though the girls were machines.
Ralph Addington studied Frank Merrill's gigantic copper-colored bulk enviously. "I guess you could," he agreed.
"Fortunately," Frank went on, "it would be impossible for such a situation to arise. Men don't war on women."
"On the contrary," Ralph disagreed, "men always war on women, and women on men. Why, Merrill," he added with his inevitable tone of patronage, "aren't you wise to the fact that the war between the sexes is in reality more bitter and bloody than any war between the races?"
But Frank did not answer. He only stared.
"Did you notice," Pete Murphy asked, "what wonderful hair they had? Loose like that - they looked more than ever like Valkyries."
"Yes, I got that," Ralph answered. He smiled until all his white teeth showed. "And take it from me, that's a point gained. When a woman begins to let her hair down, she's interested."
"Well," said Honey Smith, "their game may be the same as every other woman's you've known, but it takes a damned long time to come down to cases. What I want to know is how many months more will have to pass before we speak when we pass by."
"That matter'll take care of itself," Ralph reassured him. "You leave it to natural selection."
"Well, it's a deuce of a slow process," Honey grumbled.
What hitherto had been devotion to their work grew almost to mania. It increased their interest that the little settlement of five cabins was fast taking shape. The men slept in beds now; for they had furnished their rooms. They had begun to decorate the walls. They re-opened the trunks and made another careful division of spoils. They were even experimenting with razors and quarreling amicably over their merits. At night, when their work was done, they actually changed their clothes.
"One week more of this," commented Honey Smith, "and we'll be serving meals in courses. I hope that our lady-friends will call sometime when we're dressed for dinner. I've tried several flossy effects in ties without results. But I expect to lay them out cold with these riding-boots."
Nevertheless many days passed and the flying-girls continued not to appear.
"I don't believe they're ever coming again," Pete Murphy said one day in a tone of despair.
"Oh, they'll come," Ralph Addington insisted. "They think themselves that they're not coming again, after having proved to us that they could fly just as well as ever. But they'll appear sometime when we least expect it. There's something pulling them over here that's stronger than anything they've ever come up against. They don't know what it is, but we do - Mr. G. Bernard Shaw's life-force. They haven't realized yet what put the spoke in their wheel, but it will bring them here in the end."
But days and days went by. The men worked hard, in the main good-naturedly, but with occasional outbreaks of discontent and irritation. "How about that proposition of the life-force?" they asked Ralph Addington again and again. "You wait!" was all he ever answered.
One day, Honey Smith, who had gone off for a solitary walk, came running back to camp. "What do you think?" he burst out when he got within earshot. "I've seen one of them, the little brunette, the one with the orange wings, the 'plain one.' She was flying on the other side of the island all by her lonesome. She saw me first, and as sure as I stand here, she called to me - a regular bird-call. I whistled and she came flying over in my direction. Blamed if she didn't keep right over my head for the whole trip."
"Low?" Ralph questioned eagerly.
"Yes," Honey answered succinctly, "but not low enough. I couldn't touch her, of course. If I stopped for a while and kept quiet as the dead, she'd come much closer. But the instant I made a move towards - bing! - she hit the welkin. But the way she rubbered. And, Lord, how easy scared. Once I waved my handkerchief - she nearly threw a fit. Strangest sensation I've ever had in my life to be walking calmly along like that with a girl beside me - flying. She isn't so plain when you get close - she does look like a Kanaka, though." He stopped and burst out laughing. "Funny thing! I kept calling her Lulu. After a while, she got it that that was her tag. She didn't exactly come closer when I said 'Lulu,' but she'd turn her head over her shoulder and look at me."
"Well, damn you and your beaux yeux!" said Ralph. There was a real chagrin behind the amusement in his voice.
"Did you notice the muscular development of her back and shoulders?" Frank Merrill asked eagerly.
"No," said Honey regretfully, "I don't seem to remember anything but her face."
The next morning when they were working, Pete Murphy suddenly yelled in an excited voice, "Here comes one of them!"
Everybody turned. There, heading straight towards them, an unbelievable orange patch sailing through the blue sky, flew the "plain one."
"Lulu! Lulu! Here I am, Lulu," Honey called in his most coaxing tone and with his most radiant smile. Lulu did not descend, but, involuntarily it seemed, she turned her course a little nearer to Honey. She fluttered an instant over his head, then flew straight as an arrow eastward.
"She's a looker, all right, all right," Ralph Addington said, gazing as long as she was in sight. "I guess I'll trade my blonde for your brunette, Honey."
"I bet you won't," answered Honey. "I've got Lulu half-tamed. She'll be eating out of my hand in another week."
They found this incident exciting enough to justify them in laying off from work the rest of the afternoon. But they had to get accustomed to it in the week that followed. Thereafter, some time during the day, the cry would ring out, "Here's your girl, Honey!" And Honey, not even dropping his tools, would smile over his shoulder at the approaching Lulu.
As time went by, she ventured nearer and nearer, stayed longer and longer. Honey, calmly driving nails, addressed to her an endless, chaffing monologue. At first, it was apparent she was as much repelled by the tools as she was fascinated by Honey. For him to throw a nail to the ground was the signal for her to speed to the zenith. But gradually, in spite of the noise they made, she came to accept them as dumb, inanimate, harmless. And one day, when Honey, working on the roof, dropped a screw-driver, she flew down, picked it up, flew back, and placed it within reach of his hand. She would hover over him for hours, helping in many small ways. This only, however, when the other men were sufficiently far away and only when Honey's two hands were occupied. If any one of them - Honey and the rest - made the most casual of accidental moves in her direction, her flight was that of an arrow. But nobody could have been more careful than they not to frighten her.
They always stopped, however, to watch her approach and her departure. There was something irresistibly feminine about Lulu's flight. She herself seemed to appreciate this. If anybody looked at her, she exhibited her accomplishments with an eagerness that had a charming touch of naivete. She dipped and dove endlessly. She dealt in little darts and rushes, bird-like in their speed and grace. She never flew high, but, on her level, her activity was marvelous.
"The supermanning little imp!" Pete Murphy said again and again. "The vain little devil," Ralph Addington would add, chuckling.
"How the thunder did we ever start to call her the 'plain one'?" Honey was always asking in an injured tone.
Lulu was far from plain. She was, however, one of those girls who start by being "ugly" or "queer-looking," or downright "homely," and end by becoming "interesting" or "picturesque" or "fascinating," according to the divagations of the individual vocabulary. She had the beauté troublante. At first sight, you might have called her gipsy, Indian, Kanaka, Chinese, Japanese, Korean - any exotic type that you had not seen. Which is to say that she had the look of the primitive woman and the foreign woman. Superficially, her beauty of irregularity was of all beauty the most perturbing and provocative. Eyes, skin, hair, she was all copper-browns and crimson-bronzes, all the high gloss of satiny surfaces. Every shape and contour was a variant from the regular. Her eyes took a bewildering slant. Her face showed a little piquant stress on the cheekbones. Her hair banded in a long, solid, club-like braid. In repose she bore a look a little sullen, a little heavy. When she smiled, it seemed as if her whole face waked up; but it was only the glitter of white teeth in the slit of her scarlet mouth.
Lulu always dressed in browns and greens; leaves, mosses, grasses made a dim-colored, velvety fabric that contrasted richly with her coppery satin surfaces and her brilliant orange wings.
The excitement of this had hardly died down when Frank Merrill brought the tale of another adventure to camp. He had fallen into the habit of withdrawing late in the afternoon to one of the reefs, far enough away to read and to write quietly. One day, just as he had gone deep into his book, a shadow fell across it. Startled, he looked up. Directly over his head, pasted on the sky like a scarlet V, hovered the "dark one." After his first instant of surprise and a second interval of perplexity, he put his book down, settled himself back quietly, and watched. Conscious of his espionage apparently, she flew away, floated, flew back, floated, flew up, flew down, floated - always within a little distance. After half an hour of this aerial irresolution, she sailed off. She repeated her performance the next afternoon and the next, and the next, staying longer each time. By the end of the week she was spending whole afternoons there. She, too, became a regular visitor.
She never spoke. And she scarcely moved. She waved her great scarlet wings only fast enough to hold herself beyond Frank's reach. But from that distance she watched his movements, watched closely and unceasingly, watched with the interest of a child at a moving-picture show. Her surveillance of him was so intense it seemed impossible that she could see anything else. But if one of the other four men started to join them, she became a flash of scarlet lightning that tore the distance.
Frank, of course, found this interesting. Every day he made voluminous notes of his observations. Every night be embodied these notes in his monograph.
"What does she look like close to?" the others asked him again and again.
"Really, I've hardly had a chance to notice yet," was Frank's invariable answer. "She's a comely young person, I should say, and, as you can easily see, of the brunette coloring. I'm so much more interested in her flying than in her appearance that I've never really taken a good look at her. Unfortunately she flies less well than the others. I wish I could get a chance to study all of them - the 'quiet one' in particular; she flies so much faster. On the other hand, this one seems able to hold herself motionless in the air longer than they."
"She's lazy," Honey Smith said decisively. "I got that right off. She looks like a Spanish woman and she is a good deal like one in her ways."
Honey was right; the "dark one" was lazy. Alone she always flew low, and at no time, even in company, did she dare great altitudes. She seemed to love to float, wings outspread and eyes half closed, on one of those tranquil air-plateaux that lie between drifting air-currents. She was an adept, apparently, at finding the little nodule of quiet space that forms the center of every windstorm. Standing upright in it, flaming wings erect, she would whirl through space like an autumn leaf. Gradually, she became less suspicious of the other men. She often passed in their direction on the way to her afternoon vigil with Frank.
"She certainly is one peach of a female," said Ralph Addington. I don't know but what she's prettier than my blonde. Too bad she's stuck on that stiff of a Merrill. I suppose he'd sit there every afternoon for a year and just look at her."
"I should think she came from Andalusia," Honey answered, watching the long, low sweep of her scarlet flight. "She's got to have a Spanish name. Say we call her Chiquita."
And Chiquita she became.
Chiquita was beautiful. Her beauty had a highwayman quality of violence; it struck quick and full in the face. She was the darkest of all the girls, a raven black. As Lulu was all coppery shine and shimmer, all satiny gloss and gleam, so Chiquita was all dusk in the coloring, all velvet in the surfaces. Her great heavy-lidded eyes were dusk and velvet, with depth on depth of an unmeaning dreaminess. Her hair, brows, lashes were dusk and velvet; and there was no light in them. Her skin, a dusky cream on which velvety shade accented velvety shadow, was colorless except where her lips, cupped like a flower, offered a splash of crimson. Yet, in spite of the violence of her beauty, her expression held a tropical languor. Indeed, had not her flying compelled a superficial vigor from her, she would have seemed voluptuous.
Chiquita wore scarlet always, the exact scarlet of her wings, a clinging mass of tropical bloom; huge star-shaped or lilly-like flowers whose brilliant lustre accentuated her dusky coloring.
They had no sooner accustomed themselves to the incongruity of Frank Merrill's conquest of this big, gorgeous creature than Pete Murphy developed what Honey called "a case." It was scarcely a question of development; for with Pete it had been the "thin one" from the beginning. Following an inexplicable masculine vagary, he christened her Clara - and Clara she ultimately became. Among themselves, the men employed other names for her; with them she was not so popular as with Pete. To Ralph she was "the cat"; to Billy, "the poser"; to Honey, "Carrots."
Clara appeared first with Lulu. She did not stay long on her initial visit. But afterwards she always accompanied her friend, always stayed as late as she.
"I'd pick those two for running-mates anywhere," Ralph said in private to Honey. "I wish I had a dollar bill for every time I've met up with that combination, one simple, devoted, self-sacrificing, the other selfish, calculating, catty."
Clara was not exactly beautiful, although she had many points of beauty. Her straight red hair clung to her head like a close-fitting helmet of copper. Her skin balanced delicately between a brown pallor and a golden sallowness. Her long, black lashes paled her gray eyes slightly; her snub nose made charming havoc of what, without it, would have been a conventional regularity of profile. She was really no more slender than the normal woman, but, compared with her mates, she seemed of elfin slimness; she was shapely in a supple, long-limbed way. There was something a little exotic about her. Her green and gold plumage gave her a touch of the fantastic and the bizarre. Prevailingly, she arrayed herself in flowers that ran all the shades from cream and lemon to yellow and orange. She was like a parrot among more uniformly feathered birds.
Clara never flew high. It was apparent, however, that if she made a tremendous effort, she could take any height. On the other hand, she flew more swiftly than either Lulu or Chiquita. She seemed to keep by preference to the middle altitudes. She hated wind and fog; she appeared only in calm and dry weather. Perhaps this was because the wind interfered with her histrionics, the fog with the wavy complications of her red hair. For she postured as she moved; whatever her hurry, she presented a picture, absolutely composed. And her hair was always intricately arranged, always decked with leaves and flowers.
"By jiminy, I'd make my everlasting fortune off you," Honey Smith once addressed her, as she flew over his head, "selling you to the moving-picture people."
Wings straight up, legs straight out, arms straight ahead, delicately slender feet, and strong-looking hands dropping like flowers, her only answer to this remark was an enigmatic closing of her thick-lashed lids, a twist into a pose even more sensuously beautiful.
"Say, I'm tired waiting," Ralph Addington growled one day, when the lovely trio flew over his head in a group. "Why doesn't that blonde of mine put in an appearance? Oh, Clara, Lulu, Chiquita," he called, "won't you bring your peachy friend the next time you call?"
It was a long time, however, before the "peachy one" appeared. Then suddenly one day a great jagged shadow enveloped them in its purple coolness. The men looked up, startled. She must have come upon them slowly and quietly, for she was close. Her mischievous face smiled alluringly down at them from the wide triangle of her blue wings.
Followed an exhibition of flying which outdid all the others.
Dropping like a star from the zenith and dropping so close and so swiftly that the men involuntarily scattered to give her landing-room, she caught herself up within two feet of their heads and bounded straight up to the zenith again. Up she went, and up and up until she was only a blue shimmer; and up and up and up until she was only a dark dot. Then, without warning, again she dropped, gradually this time, head-foremost like' a diver, down and down and down until her body was perfectly outlined, down and down and down until she floated just above their heads.
Coming thus slowly upon them, she gave, for the first time, a close view of her wonderful blondeness. It was a sheer golden blondeness, not a hint of tow, or flaxen, or yellow; not a touch of silver, or honey, or auburn. It was half her charm that the extraordinary strength and vigor of her contours contrasted with the delicacy and dewiness of her coloring, that from one aspect, she seemed as frail as a flower, from another as hard as a crystal. She had, at the same time, the untouched, unstained beauty of the virgin girl, and the hard, muscular strength of the virgin boy. Her skin, white as a lily-petal and as thick and smooth, had been deepened by a single drop of amber to cream. Her eyes, of which the sculpturesque lids drooped a little, flashed a blue as limpid as the sky. Teeth, set as close as seed-pearls, gleamed between lips which were the pink of the faded rose. The sunlight turned her golden hair to spun glass, melted it to light itself. The shadow thickened it to fluid, hardened it to massy gold again. The details of her face came out only as the result of determined study. Her chief beauty - and it amounted to witchery, to enchantment - lay in a constant and a constantly subtle change of expression.
During this exhibition the men stood frozen in the exact attitudes in which she found them. Ralph Addington alone remained master of himself. He stood quiet, every nerve tense, every muscle alert, the expression on his face that of a cat watching a bird. At her second dip downward, he suddenly jumped into the air, jumped so high that his clutching fingers grazed her finger-tips.
That frightened her.
Her upward flight was of a terrific speed - she leaped into the sky. But once beyond the danger-line her composure came back. She dropped on them a coil of laughter, clear as running water, contemptuous, mischievous. Still laughing, she sank again, almost as near. Her mirth brought her lids close together. Her eyes, sparkling between thick files of golden lash, had almost a cruel sweetness.
She immediately flew away, departing over the water. Ralph cursed himself for the rest of the day. She returned before the week was out, however, and, after that, she continued to visit them at intervals of a few days. The sudden note of blue, even in the distance it seemed to connote coquetry, was the signal for all the men to stop work. They could not think clearly or consecutively when she was about. She was one of those women whose presence creates disturbance, perturbation, unrest. The very sunshine seemed alive, the very air seemed vibrant with her. Even when she flew high, her shadow came between them and their work.
"She sure qualifies when it comes to fancy flying," said Honey Smith. "She's in a class all by herself."
Her flying was daring, eccentric, temperamental, the apotheosis of brilliancy - genius. The sudden dart up, the terrifying drop down seemed her main accomplishment. The wonder of it was that the men could never tell where she would land. Did it seem that she was aiming near, a sudden swoop would bring her to rest on a far-away spot. Was it certain that she was making for a distant tree-top, an unexpected drop would land her a few feet from their group. She was the only one of the flying-girls who touched the earth. And she always led up to this feat as to the climax of what Honey called her "act." She would drop to the very ground, pose there, wavering like an enormous butterfly, her great wings opening and shutting. Sometimes, tempted by her actual nearness and fooled by her apparent weakness, the five men would make a rush in her direction. She would stand waiting and drooping until they were almost on her. Then in a flash came the tremendous whirr of her start, the violent beat of her whipping progress - she had become a blue speck.
She wore always what seemed to be gossamer, rose-color in one light, sky-color in another; a flexible film that one moment defined the long slim lines of her body and the next concealed them completely. Near, it could be seen that this drapery was woven of tiny buds, pink and blue; afar she seemed to float in a shimmering opalescent mist.
She teased them all, but it was evident from the beginning that she had picked Ralph to tease most. After a long while, the others learned to ignore, or to pretend to ignore, her tantalizing overtures. But Ralph could look at nothing else while she was about. She loved to lead him in a long, wild-goose chase across the island, dipping almost within reach one moment, losing herself at the zenith in another, alighting here and there with a will-o'-the-wisp capriciousness. Sometimes Ralph would return in such an exhausted condition that he dropped to sleep while he ate. At such times his mood was far from agreeable. His companions soon learned not to address him after these expeditions.
One afternoon, exercising heroic resolution, Ralph allowed Peachy to fly, apparently unnoticed, over his head, let her make an unaccompanied way half across the island. But when she had passed out of earshot he watched her carefully.
"Say, Honey," he said after half an hour's fidgeting, "Peachy's settled down somewhere on the island. I should say on the near shore of the lake. I don't know that anything's happened - probably nothing. But I hope to God," he added savagely, "she's broken a wing. Come on and find out what she's up to, will you?"
"Sure!" Honey agreed cheerfully. "All's fair in love and war. And this seems to be both love and war."
They walked slowly, and without talking, across the beach. When they reached the trail they dropped on all fours and pulled themselves noiselessly along. The slightest sound, the snapping of a twig, the flutter of a bird, brought them to quiet. An hour, they searched profitlessly.
Then suddenly they got sound of her, the languid slap of great wings opening and shutting. She had not gone to the lake. Instead, she had chosen for her resting-place one of the tiny pools which, like pendants of a necklace, partially encircled the main body. She was sitting on a flat stone that projected into the water. Her drooped blue wings, glittering with moisture, had finally come to rest; they trailed behind her over the gray boulder and into a mass of vivid green water-grasses. One bare shoulder had broken through her rose-and-blue drapery. The odor of flowers, came from her. Her hair, a braid over each breast, oozed like ropes of melted gold to her knees. A hand held each of these braids. She was evidently preoccupied. Her eyelids were down. Absently she dabbled her white feet in the water. The noise of her splashing covered their approach. The two men signaled their plans, separated.
Five minutes went by, and ten and fifteen and twenty. Peachy still sat silent, moveless, meditative. Not once did she lift her eyelids.
Then Addington leaped like a cat from the bushes at her right. Simultaneously Honey pounced in her direction from the left.
But - whir-r-r-r - it was like the beating of a tremendous drum. Straight across the pond she went, her toes shirring the water, and up and up and up - then off. And all the time she laughed, a delicious, rippling laughter which seemed to climb every scale that could carry coquetry.
The two men stood impotently watching her for a moment. Then Honey broke into roars of delight. "Oh, you kid!" he called appreciatively to her. "She had her nerve with her to sit still all the time, knowing that we were creeping up on her, didn't she?" He turned to Ralph.
But Ralph did not answer, did not hear. His face was black with rage. He shook his fist in Peachy's direction.
Of the flying-girls, there remained now only one who held herself aloof, the "quiet one." It was many weeks before she visited the island. Then she came often, though always alone. There was something in her attitude that marked her off from the others.
"She doesn't come because she wants to," Billy Fairfax explained. "She comes because she's lonely."
The "quiet one" habitually flew high and kept high, so high indeed that, after the first excitement of her tardy appearance, none but Billy gave her more than passing attention. Up to that time Billy had been a hard, a steady worker. But now he seemed unable to concentrate on anything. It was doubtless an extra exasperation that the "quiet one" puzzled him. Her flying seemed to be more than a haphazard way of passing the time. It seemed to have a meaning; it was almost as if she were trying to accomplish something by it; and ever she perfected the figure that her flight drew on the sky. If she soared and dropped, she dropped and soared. If she curved and floated, she floated and curved. If she dipped and leaped, she leaped and dipped. All this he could see. But there were scores of minor evolutions that appeared to him only as confused motion.
One thing he caught immediately. Those lonely gyrations were not the exercise of the elusive coquetry which distinguished Peachy. It was more that the "quiet one" was pushed on by some intellectual or artistic impulse, that she expressed by the symbols, of her complicated flight some theory, some philosophy of life, that she traced out some artless design, some primary pattern of beauty.
Julia always seemed to shine; she wore garments of gleamy-petalled, white flowers, silvery seaweeds, pellucid marsh-grasses, vines, golden or purple, that covered her with a delicate lustre. Her wings were different from the others; theirs flashed color, but hers gave light; and that light seemed to have run down on her flesh.
"What the thunder is she trying to do up there?" Ralph asked one day, stopping at Billy's side. Ralph's question was not in reality begotten so much of curiosity as of irritation. From the beginning the "quiet one" had interested him least of any of the flying-girls as, from the beginning, Peachy had interested him most.
"I don't know, of course." Billy spoke with reluctance. It was evident that he did not enjoy discussing the "quiet one" with Ralph. "At first my theory was that flying was to her what dancing is to most girls. But, somehow, it seems to go deeper than that - as if it were art, or even creation. Anyway, there's a kind of bi-lateral symmetry about everything she does."
Billy fell into the habit, each afternoon, of strolling away from the rest, out of sound of their chaff. On the grassy top of one of the reefs, he found a spot where he could lie comfortably and watch the "quiet one." He used to spin long day-dreams there. She looked so remote far up in the boiling blue, and so strange, that he had an inexplicable sensation of reverence.
Now it was as though, in watching that aerial weaving and interweaving, he were assisting at a religious rite. He liked it best when the white day-moon was afloat. If he half-shut his eyes, it seemed to him that she and the moon made twin crescents of foaming silver, twin bubbles of white fire, twin films of fairy gossamer, twin vials that held the very essence of poetry. Somehow he had always connected her with the moon. Indeed, in her whiteness, her coldness, her aloofness, she seemed the very sublimation of virginity. His first secret names for her were Diana and Cynthia. But there was another quality in her that those names did not include - intellectuality. His favorite heroes were Julius Caesar and Edwin Booth - a quaint pair, taken in combination. In the long imaginary conversations which he held with her he addressed her as Julia or Edwina.
Days and days went by and he could discover no sign that she had noticed him. It was typical of the "damned gentleman" side of Billy that he did not try to attract her attention. Indeed, his efforts were ever to efface himself.
One afternoon, after a long vigil in which, unaccountably, Julia had not appeared, he started to return to camp. It was a late twilight and a black, velvety one. The trees against a darkening curtain of sky had turned to bunches of tangled shadow, the reefs and rocks against the papery white of the sand to smutches and blobs of soot. Suddenly - and his heart pounded at the sound - the air began to vibrate and thrill.
He stopped short. He waited. His breath came fast; the vibration and thrill were coming closer.
He crystallized where he stood. It scarcely seemed that he breathed. And then - .
Something white and nebulous came floating out of the dusk towards him. It became a silver cloud, a white sculptured spirit of the air. It became an angel, a fairy, a woman - Julia. She flew not far off, level with his eyes and, as she approached, she slowed her stately flight. Billy made no movement. He only stood and waited and watched. But perhaps never before in his life had his eyes become so transparently the windows of his soul. Quite as intently, Julia's eyes, big, gray, and dark-lashed, considered him. It seemed to Billy that he had never seen in any face so virginally young such a tragic seriousness, nor in any eyes, superficially so calm, such a troubled wonder.
He did not stir until she had drifted out of earshot, had become again a nebulous silver cloud drifting into the dusk, had merged with that dusk.
"What makes your eyes shine so?" said Honey, examining him keenly when he reached camp.
It was the first time Billy had known Julia to fly low. But he discovered gradually that only in the sunlight did she haunt the zenith. At twilight she always kept close to the earth. Billy took to haunting the reefs at dusk.
Again and again, the same thing happened.
Suddenly - and it was as if successive waves of electricity charged through his body - the quiet air began to purr and vibrate and drum. Out of the star-shot dusk emerged the speeding whiteness of Julia. Always, as she approached, she slowed her flight. Always as she passed, her sorrowing gray eyes would seek his burning blue ones. Billy could bring himself to speak of this strange experience to nobody, not even to Honey. For there was in it something untellable, unsharable, the wonder of the vision and the dream, the unreality of the apparition.
The excitement of these happenings kept the men entertained, but it also kept them keyed up to high tension. For a while they did not notice this themselves. But when they attempted to go back to their interrupted work, they found it hard to concentrate upon it. Frank Merrill had given up trying to make them patrol the beach. Unaided, day and night he attended to their signals.
"Well," said Honey Smith one day and, for the first time, there was a peevish note in his voice, "that 'natural selection' theory of yours, Ralph, seems to have worked out to some extent - but not enough. We seem to be comfortably divided, all ten of us, into happy couples, but hanged if I'm strong for this long-distance acquaintance."
"You're right there," Ralph Addington admitted; "we don't seem to be getting any forwarder."
"It's all very pretty and romantic to have these girls flying about," Honey cntinued in a grumbling tone, "but it's too much like flirting with a canary-bird. Damn it all, I want to talk with them."
Ralph made a hopeless gesture. "It is a deadlock, I admit. I'm at my wits' end."
Perhaps Honey expressed what the others felt. At any rate, a sudden irascibility broke out among them. They were good-natured enough while the girls were about, but over their work and during their leisure, they developed what Honey described as every kind of blue-bean, sourball, katzenjammer and grouch." They fought heroically against it - and their method of fighting took various forms, according to the nature of the four men. Frank Merrill lost himself in his books. Pete Murphy began the score of an opera vaguely heroic in theme; he wrote every spare moment. Billy Fairfax worked so hard that he grew thin. Honey Smith went off on long, solitary walks. Ralph Addington, as usual, showed an exasperating tendency towards contradiction, an unvarying contentiousness.
And then, without warning, all the girls ceased to come to the island. Three days went by, five, a week, ten days. One morning they all passed over the island, one by one, an hour or two between flights; but they flew high and fast, and they did not stop.
Ralph Addington had become more and more irascible. That day the others maintained peace only by ignoring him.
"By the gods!" he snarled at night as they all sat dull and dumb about the fire. "Something's got to happen to change our way of living or murder'll break out in this community. And we'd better begin pretty quick to do something about it. What I'd like to know is," and he slapped his hand smartly against a flat rock, "coming down to cases - as we must sooner or later - what is our right in regard to these women."