|Home -> Miscellaneous (non California related books) -> Angel Island -> Chapter 5|
Dawn on Angel Island.
A gigantic rose bloomed at the horizon-line; half its satin petals lay on the iron sea, half on the granite sky. The gold-green morning star was fading slowly. From the island came a confusion of bird-calls.
Addington emerged from the Clubhouse. Without looking about him, he staggered down the path to the Camp. The fire was still burning. The other men lay beside it, moveless, asleep with their clothes on. They waked as his footsteps drew near. Livid with fatigue, their eyelids dropping in spite of their efforts, they jerked upright.
"How are they?" Billy asked.
"The turn has come," Ralph answered briefly. As he spoke he crumpled slowly into a heap beside the fire. "They're going to live."
The others did not speak; they waited.
"Julia did it. She had dozed off. Suddenly in the middle of the night, she sat upright. She was as white as marble but there was a light back of her face. And with all that wonderful hair falling down - she looked like an angel. She called to them one by one. And they answered her, one by one. You never heard - it was like little birds answering the mother-bird's call. At first their voices were faint and weak. But she kept encouraging them until they sat up - God, it was - ."
Ralph could not go on for a while.
"She gave them a long talk - she was so weak she had to keep stopping - but she went right on - and they listened. Of course I couldn't understand a word. But I knew what she said. In effect, it was: 'We cannot die. We must all live. We cannot leave any one of us here alone. Promise me that you will get well!' She pledged them to it. She made them take an oath, one after the other. Oh, they were obedient enough. They took it."
He stopped again.
"That talk made the greatest difference. After it was all over, I gave them some water. They were different even then. They looked at me - and they didn't shrink or shudder. When I handed Julia the cup, she made herself smile. God, you never saw such a smile. I nearly - " he paused, "I all but went back to the cabin and cut my throat. But the fight's over. They'll get well. They're sleeping like children now."
"Thank God!" Merrill groaned. "Oh, thank God!"
"I've felt like a murderer ever since - - " Billy said. He stopped and his voice leaped with a sudden querulousness. "You didn't wake me up; you've done double guard duty during the night, Ralph."
"Oh, that's all right. You were all in - I felt that - " Ralph stammered in a shamefaced fashion. "And I knew I could stand it."
"There's a long sleep coming to you, Ralph," Pete said. "You've hardly closed your eyes this week. No question but you've saved their lives."
Mid-morning on Angel Island.
The sun had mounted half-way to the zenith; sky and sea and land glittered with its luster. Like war-horses, the waves came ramping over the smooth, shimmering sand; war-horses with bodies of jade and manes of silver.
Pete floated inshore on a huge comber, ran up the beach a little way and sat down. Billy followed.
"I've come out just to get the picture," Pete explained.
"Same here," said Billy.
For an instant, both men contemplated the scene with the narrowed, critical gaze of the artist.
The flying-girls were swimming; and swimming with the same grace and strength with which formerly they flew. And as if inevitably they must take on the quality of the element in which they mixed, they looked like mermaids now, just as formerly they had looked like birds. They carried heads and shoulders high out of the water. Webs of sea-spume glittered on the shining hair and on the white flesh. One behind the other, they swam in rhythmic unison. Regularly the long, round, strong-looking right arms reached out of the water, bowed forward, clutched at the wave, and pulled them on. Simultaneously, the left arms reached back, pushed against the wave, and shot them forward. Their feet beat the water to a lather.
They were headed down the beach, hugging the shore. Swim as hard as they could, Honey and Frank managed but to keep up with them. Ralph overtook them only in their brief resting-periods. Further inshore, carried ceaselessly a little forward and then a little back, Julia floated; floated with an unimaginable lightness and yet, somehow, conserved her aspect of a creature cut in marble.
"I have never seen anything so beautiful in any art, ancient or modern," Billy concluded. "When those strange draperies that they affect get wet, they look like the Elgin marbles."
"If we should take them to civilization," was Pete's answer, "the Elgin marbles would become a joke."
Billy spoke after a long silence. "It's been an experience that - if I were - oh, but what's the use? You can't describe it. The words haven't been invented yet. I don't mean the fact that we've discovered members of a lost species - the missing link between bird and man. I mean what's happened since the capture. It's left marks on me. I'll bear them until I die. If we abandoned this island - and them - and went back to the world, I could never be the same person. If I woke up and found it was a dream, I could never be the same person."
"I know," Pete said, "I know. I've changed, too. We all have. Old Frank is a god. And Honey's grown so that - . Even Ralph's a different man. Changed - God, I should say I had. It's not only given me a new hold on things I thought I'd lost-morality, ethics, religion even - but it's developed something I have no word for - the fourth dimension of religion, faith."
"It's their weakness, I think, and their dependence." Now it was less that Billy tried to translate Pete's thought and more that he endeavored to follow his own. "It puts it up to a man so. And their beauty and purity and innocence and simplicity - ." Billy seemed to be ransacking his vocabulary for abstract nouns.
"And that sense you have," Pete broke in eagerly, "of molding a virgin mind. It gives you a feeling of responsibility that's fairly terrifying at times. But there's something else mixed up with it - the instinct of the artist. It's as though you were trying to paint a picture on human flesh. You know that you're going to produce beauty." Pete's face shone with the look of creative genius. "The production of beauty excuses any method, to my way of thinking." He spoke half to himself. "God knows," he added after a pause, "whatever I've done and been, I could never do or be again. Sometimes a man knows when he's reached the zenith of his spiritual development. I've reached mine. I think they're beginning to trust us," he added after another long interval, in which silently they contemplated the moving composition. Pete's tone had come back to its everyday accent.
"No question about it," Billy rejoined. "If I do say it as shouldn't, I think my scheme was the right one - never to separate any one of them from the others, never to seem to try to get them alone, and in everything to be as gentle and kind and considerate as we could."
"That look is still in their eyes," Pete said. He turned away from Billy and his face contracted. "It goes through me like a knife - - . When that's gone - - ."
"It will go inevitably, Pete," Billy reassured him cheerfully. Suddenly his own voice lowered. "One queer thing I've noticed. I wonder if you're affected that way. I always feel as if they still had wings. What I mean is this. If I stand beside one of them with my eyes turned away I always get an impression that they're still there, towering above my head - ghosts of wings. Ever notice it?"
"Oh, Lord, yes!" Pete agreed. "Often. I hate it. But that will go, too. Here they come."
The bathers had turned; they were swimming up the beach. They passed Julia, who joined the procession, and turned toward the land. Stretched in a long line, they rode in on a big wave. Billy and Pete leaped forward. Assisted by the men, the girls tottered up the sand, gathered into a little group, talking among themselves. Their wet draperies clung to them in long, sweeping lines; but they dried with amazing quickness. The sun grew hotter and hotter. Their transient flash of animation died down; their conversation gradually stopped.
Chiquita settled herself flat on the sand, the sunlight pouring like a silver liquid into the blue-black masses of her hair, her narrow brows, her thick eyelashes. Presently she fell asleep. Clara leaned against a low ledge of rock and spread her coppery mane across its surface. It dried almost immediately; she divided it into plaits and coils and wove it into an elaborate structure. Her fingers seemed to strike sparks from it; it coruscated. Julia lay on her side, eyes downcast, tracing with one finger curious tangled patterns in the sand. Her hair blew out and covered her body as with a silken, honey-colored fabric; the lines of her figure were lost in its abundance. Peachy sat drooped over, her hand supporting her chin and her knees supporting her elbows, her eyes fixed on the horizon-line. Her hair dried, too, but she did not touch it. It flowed down her back and spread into a pool of gold on the sand. She might have been a mermaid cast up by that sea on which she gazed with such a tragic wistfulness - and forever cut off from it.
A little distance from the rest, Honey sat with Lulu. She was shaking the brown masses of her hair vigorously and Honey was helping her. He was evidently trying to teach her something because, over and over again, his lips moved to form two words, and over and over again, her red lips parted, mimicking them. Gradually, Lulu lost all interest in her hair. She let it drop. It floated like a furry mantle over her shoulders. Into her little brown, pointed face came a look of overpowering seriousness, of tremendous concentration. Occasionally Honey would stop to listen to her; but invariably her recital sent him into peals of laughter. Lulu did not laugh; she grew more and more serious, more and more concentrated.
The other men talked among themselves. Occasionally they addressed a remark to their captives. The flying-girls replied in hesitating flutters of speech, a little breathy yes or no whenever those monosyllables would serve, an occasional broken phrase. Superficially they seemed calm, placid even. But if one of the men moved suddenly, an uncontrollable panic overspread their faces.
Honey arose after a long interval, strolled over to the main group.
"I think they're coming to the conclusion that we're regular fellows," he declared cheerfully. "Lulu doesn't jump or shriek any more when I run toward her."
"Oh, it's coming along all right," Frank said.
"It's surprising how quickly and how correctly they're getting the language."
"I'm going to begin reading aloud to them next week," Pete announced. "That'll be a picnic."
"It's been a long fight," Ralph said contentedly. "But we've won out. We've got them going. I knew we would." His eyes went to Peachy's face, but once there, their look of triumph melted to tenderness.
"What are we going to read them?" Honey asked idly. He did not really listen to Pete's answer. His eyes, sparkling with amusement, had gone back to Lulu, who still sat seriously practising her lesson. Red lips, little white teeth, slender pink tongue seemed to get into an inextricable tangle over the simple monosyllables.
"Leave that to me!" Pete was saying mysteriously. "I'll have them reading and writing by the end of another two months."
"It's curious how long it's taken them to get over that terror of us," said Billy. "I cannot understand it."
"Oh, they'll explain why they've been so afraid," said Frank, "as soon as they've got enough vocabulary. We cannot know, until they tell us how many of their conventions we have broken, how brutal we may have seemed."
"And yet," Billy went on, "I should think they'd see that we wouldn't do anything that wasn't for their own good. Well, just as soon as I can put it over with them, I'm going to give them a long spiel on the gentleman's code. I don't believe they'll ever be frightened of us again. Hello!"
Lulu had tottered over to their group, supporting herself by the ledge of rock. She pulled herself upright, balancing precariously. She put her sharp little teeth close, parted her lips and produced:
The men burst into roars of laughter. Lulu looked from one face to the other in perplexity. In perplexity, the other women looked from her to them and at each other.
"Sounds like the Yale yell!" Pete commented.
"But what I can't understand," Billy said, reverting to his thesis, "is that they don't realize instantly that we wouldn't hurt them for any thing - that that's a thing a fellow couldn't do."
Twilight on Angel Island.
The stars were beginning to shoot tiny white, five-pointed flames through the purple sky. The fireflies were beginning to cut long arcs of gold in the sooty dusk. The waves were coming up the low-tide beach with a long roar and retreating with a faint hiss. Afterwards floated on the air the music of the shingle, hundreds of pebbles pattering with liquid footsteps down the sand. Peals of laughter, the continuous bass roar of the men, an occasional uncertain soprano lilting of the women, came from the group. The girls were reciting their lessons.
"Three little girls from school are we,intoned Lulu, Chiquita, and Clara together.
"Mary, Mary, quite contrary,said Peachy.
"The hounds of spring are on winter's traces," began Julia. With no effort of the memory, with a faultless enunciation, a natural feeling for rhythm and apparently with comprehension, she, recited the Atalanta chorus.
"That's enough for lessons," Honey demanded.
"Wait a moment!"
He rushed into the bushes and busied himself among the fire-flies. The other four men, divining his purpose, joined him. They came back with handkerchiefs tied full of tiny, wriggling, fluttering green creatures.
In a few moments, the five women sat crowned with carcanets of living fire.
"Now read us a story," Lulu begged.
Pete drew a little book from his pocket. Discolored and swollen, the print was big and still black.
"'Once upon a time,'" he began, "'there was a little girl who lived with her father and her stepmother - '"
"What's 'stepmother'?" Lulu asked.
"The stepmother had two daughters, and all three of these women were cruel and proud - - '"
"What's 'cruel and proud'?" Chiquita asked.
"'And so between the three the little girl had a very hard time. She worked like a slave all day long, and was never allowed to go out of the kitchen. The stepmother and the proud sisters, used to go to balls every night, leaving the little girl alone. Because she was always so dusty and grimy from working over the fire, they called her Cinderella. Now, it happened that the country was ruled by a very handsome young prince -'"
"What's 'handsome young prince'?" Clara asked.
"'And all the ladies of the kingdom were in love with him.'"
"What's 'in love'?" Peachy asked.
Pete closed the book.
"Ah, that's a question," he said after an instant of meditation, "that will admit of some answer. Say, you fellers, you'd better come into this."
Moonlight on Angel Island.
The sea lay like a carpet of silver stretched taut from the white line of the waves to the black seam of the sky. The land lay like a crumpled mass of silver velvet, heaped to tinselled brightness here, hollowed to velvety shadow there. Over both arched the mammoth silver tent of the sky. In the cleft in the rock on the southern reef sat Julia and Billy. Under a tree at the north sat Peachy and Ralph. Scattered in shaded places between sat the others. The night was quiet; but on the breeze came murmurs sometimes in the man's voice, sometimes in the woman's. Fragmentary they were, these murmurs, and inarticulate; but their composite was ever the same.
Sunrise on Angel Island.
In and out among the trees, wound a procession following the northern trail. First came Lulu, white-clad, serious, pale, walking with Honey. The others, crowned with flowers and carrying garlands, followed, serious and silent, the women clinging with both hands to the men, who supported their snail-like, tottering progress with one arm about their waists. On the point of the northern reef, a cabin made of round beach-stones fronted the ocean. It fronted the rising sun now and a world, all ocean and sky, over which lay a rose dawnlight. Still silent, the procession paused and grouped about the house. Frank Merrill stepped forward and placed himself in front of Honey and Lulu.
"We are gathered here this morning," Frank said in his deep academic voice, "to marry this man to this woman and this woman to this man. If there is any reason why you should not enter into the married state, pause before it is too late." His voice came to a full stop. He waited. "If not, I pronounce you man and wife."
Silently still, the others placed their garlands and wreaths at the feet of the wedded pair. Turning, they walked slowly back over the trail.
Midnight on Angel Island.
Julia sat alone on the stone bench at the door of the Honeymoon House. She gazed straight ahead out on a star-lighted sea, which joined a star-lighted sky and stretched in pulsating star-gleams to the end of space. She gazed straight out, but apparently she saw nothing. Her eyes were abstracted and her brow furrowed. Her shoulders drooped.
A man came bounding up the path.
"Has Ralph been here?" he asked curtly. Billy's face was fiery. His eyes blazed.
"He's been here," Julia answered immediately. "He's gone!"
"By God, I'll kill him!" Billy turned white.
Julia's brow smoothed. She smiled a little. "No, you will not kill him," she said with her old serene air. "You will not have to kill him. He will never come again."
"Did he try to make love to you?"
"How did he justify himself?"
"He appealed to me to save him. I did not quite understand from what. He said I could make a better man of him." Julia laughed a little.
"How did you know he was here?"
"I stopped at their cabin. He was not there. Peachy did not know where he was. Of course, I guessed at once. I came here immediately."
"Did Peachy seem troubled?"
"No. She doesn't care. Pete was there, examining her drawings. They're half in love with each other. And then again, Pete doesn't know, or if he does know, he doesn't care, that Clara is doing her damnedest to start a flirtation with Honey. And Lulu has walked about like a woman in a dream for weeks. What are we all coming to? There's nothing but flirting here!"
"It must be so," Julia said, "as long as men and women are idle."
"But how can we be anything but idle? There's nothing to do on this island."
"I don't know," said Julia slowly; "I don't know."
"Julia," Billy said in a pleading voice, "marry me!"
A strange expression came into Julia's eyes. Part of it was irresolution and part of it was terror. But a poignant wistful tenderness fused. both these emotions, shot them with light.
"Not yet," she said in a terrified voice. "Not yet!"
"I don't know - why. Only that I cannot."
"Then, when will you marry me? Julia, I see all the others together and it - - . You don't know what it does to me."
"Yes, I know! It kills me too."
"Then why wait?"
"Because - - ." The poignant look went for an instant from Julia's eyes. A strange brooding came in its place. "Because a little voice inside says, 'Wait!'"
"Julia, do you love me?"
Julia did not answer. She only looked at him.
"You are sure there is nobody else?"
"I am sure. There could never be anybody else - after that first night when I waked you from sleep."
"It is forever, then?"
Billy sighed. "I'll wait, then - until eternity shrivels up."
They sat for a long time, silent.
"Here comes somebody," Billy said suddenly. "It's one of the girls," he added after a moment of listening. "I'll leave you, I guess."
He melted into the darkness.
A woman appeared, dragging herself along by means of the rail. It was Lulu, a strange Lulu, a Lulu pallid and silent, but a Lulu shining-eyed. She pulled herself over to Julia's side. "Julia!" "Julia! Oh, Julia!"
Lulu's voice was not voice. It was not speech. Liquid sound flowed from her lips, crystallizing at the touch of the air, to words. "Julia, I came to you first, after Honey. I wanted you to know."
"Oh, Lulu," Julia said, "not - - ."
Her eyes reflected the stars in Lulu's eyes. And there they stood, their two faces throwing gleam for gleam.
"Yes," said Lulu. Suddenly she knelt sobbing on the floor, her face in Julia's lap.
Mid-afternoon on Angel Island.
Four women sat in the Honeymoon House, sewing. Outside the world still lay in sunshine, the land cut by the beginning of shadow, the sea streaked with purple and green.
"Why didn't you bring the children?" Julia, asked.
Lulu answered. "Honey and Frank were going in swimming this morning, and they said they'd take care of them. I'm glad to get Honey-Boy off my hands for an afternoon."
"And why hasn't Peachy come?" Julia asked. I stopped as I went by," Lulu explained. Oh, Julia, I wish you didn't live way off here - it takes us an hour of crawling to pull ourselves along the path. Angela hadn't waked up yet. It was a longer nap than usual. Peachy said she'd come just as soon as she opened her eyes. I went in to look at her. Oh, she's such a darling, smiling in her sleep. Oh, I do hope I have a girl-baby sometime."
"I do, too," said Clara. "Peterkin's fun, of course. But I can't do the things for a boy that I could for a girl."
"I'd rather have boys," Chiquita said; "they're less trouble."
"Would you rather have boys or girls, Julia?" Lulu asked.
"Girls!" said Julia decisively. "A big family of girls."
"Then," Lulu began, and a question trembled in her bright eyes and on her curved lips.
But, "Here's Peachy!" Julia exclaimed before she could go on.
Peachy came toiling up the path, pulling herself along, both hands on the wooden rail. She tottered, but in spite of her snail-like progress, it was evident that she hurried. A tiny bundle hung between her shoulders. It oscillated gently with her haste.
"Let me take Angela," Julia said as Peachy struggled over the threshold.
"Wait!" Peachy panted. She sank on a couch.
There was a strange element in her look, an overpowering eagerness. This eagerness had brimmed over into her manner; it vibrated in her trembling voice, her fluttering hands. She sat down. She reached up and lifted the baby from her shoulders to her lap. Angela still slept, a delicate bud of a girl-being. But Peachy gave her audience no time to study the sleeping face. She turned the baby over. She pulled the single light garment off. Then she looked up at the other women.
The little naked figure lay in the golden sunlight, translucent, like an angel carved in alabaster. But on the shoulder-blades lay shadow, deep shadow - no, not shadow, a fluff of feathery down.
"Wings!" Peachy said. "My little girl is going to fly!"
"Wings!" the others repeated. "Wings!"
And then the room seemed to fill with tears that ended in laughter, and laughter that ended in tears.