The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Locusts' Years, by Mary Helen Fee

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Title: The Locusts' Years

Author: Mary Helen Fee

Illustrator: Charles Sarka

Release Date: August 14, 2011 [EBook #37089]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


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Original Front Cover.

Original Title Page.

The Locusts’ Years


By the time they had crossed the cocoanut grove and had gained the beach, it was evident that the boat was making for the island

[Page 179]

The Locusts’ Years
A. C. McClurg & Co.

A. C. McClurg & Co.

Published October, 1912

Copyrighted in Great Britain

Press of the Vail Company
Coshocton, U. S. A.


To my Brother [9]


The Locusts’ Years

Chapter I

When a man has reached the point where he can reflect, with cynical satisfaction, upon the brutality of organized society, and can contemplate unmoved one of its victims; and when the cause of his reflections is a woman not over thirty, whose worth and refinement are obvious to any reader of faces, that man either must possess a coarse-grained and cruel nature, or he must be very highly civilized.

No shade of doubt could have entered Judge Alexander Barton’s mind as to which of these adjectives applied to him. He would have repudiated the faintest hint that a taint of coarseness or cruelty could lie in him. His was one of those eminent political personalities which bubble up from the great caldron of American democracy. He had convictions and principles of a high order. They appeared frequently in the shape of addresses to young men’s political and reading clubs, or in a [10]“few remarks” at church socials, where a programme of songs and recitations was followed by the distribution of home-made cakes and candies, and of uninspiriting beverages. It was sometimes remarked of him in that other world which he frequented that his conscientiousness in attending these mild-flavored symposia was the indisputable evidence of his fitness to adorn the roster of the Philippine judiciary. For to whom may we look for an example, if not to the interpreters of the law, whose position vests them with dignity, social and official? From whom may we demand the utterance of lofty principles and of high convictions, if not from the very men whose business it is to punish the unhappy wretches whose actions have declared their principles, expressed or otherwise, of the flimsiest?

Judge Barton was also frequently extolled as the pattern of American democracy, as, indeed, he was. Nothing could have been more catholic than his handshake, nothing more finely measured than the appreciation which it conveyed of the recipient’s relation to himself: to the veteran of the Army of the Philippines, it was hearty, and bespoke the comrade in arms; to the struggling young civil-service employee, [11]it was encouraging, and it hinted, ever so delicately, that the inspiration for great ambitions ought to lie in the example of living statesmen; to the clergy and to the members of the Educational Department, who fairly swarm in the Philippines, it was fraternal and spoke confidentially of the tie which linked them in a great work; and to the effervescing spume from the Pacific coast, which is knocking about Manila, loud in vituperation of the change from democratic to bureaucratic society—to that segment of Young America whose disposition to criticise existing institutions led to the happy phrase “undesirable citizens”—the Judge’s democratic cordiality always embodied a hope that their mutual relations might continue forever harmonious, and it even intimated that no act on his part could make them otherwise.

The cause of the Judge’s highly civilized musings was one of those undesirable citizens of the feminine gender; and, if you ask how anything proper in the feminine gender may be classed as an undesirable citizen, there can only be cited an opinion from the Judge himself—one of those ex-cathedra sentiments which he held as infallible—that any one who refuses to accept pleasantly a situation which he [12]is powerless to remedy, and who continues a quarrel which is futile and which can result only disastrously to its single champion, that person is, primarily, inefficient, and, secondarily, insane; either of which states is undesirable. Furthermore, there is nothing so repellent to a man as the feminine weakness which enlists his sympathy, and, at the same time, challenges the terms on which it is given. To find the shivering wretch on whom you would bestow an alms repudiating your charity and mutely reproaching you for the condition of things which makes you donor and him recipient—in such a metaphor, perhaps, the Judge might have condensed the musings which a month’s illness and the daily opportunity of studying Miss Ponsonby had bred.

The young woman who had received so much of His Honor’s valuable consideration did not look a very formidable antagonist in a quarrel with organized society. She stood at an open window of the hospital, gazing down on a convalescent-strewn lawn, where a military band was delighting the sick with a Christmas Eve concert. Her tall figure was very slender—so slender, in fact, as to make it quite evident that the blue cotton nurse’s dress which [13]she wore was the survival of a plumper epoch. She was not a beautiful woman, nor was she even a pretty one, though she was far from being ugly. Her eyes were gray and kind, with well arched brows. Her nose was slightly aquiline, with sensitive nostrils. A rather low forehead, a broad mouth, and a shapely head covered with brown hair, were attributes which she shared with any number of women. What particularly marked her was a delicate grace of manner, an emanation of fastidiousness in every glance and movement, a reserve which at times became almost stiffness; in short, a distinction which, in happier circumstances, might have made her envied, but which in the mixture of a pioneer community served only to isolate her.

For at least two weeks of convalescence, Judge Barton had amused himself with the attempt to determine why Miss Ponsonby’s charm and distinction should be assets of so little practical value to her. His decision was that, in appearance most distinguished, she was singularly lacking in the unconscious self-confidence which usually accompanies distinction; that, a most feminine creature in many respects, she was unfemininely distrustful of her power over men. There was, in her perfectly dignified [14]attitude toward the other sex, and in the absence of all coquetry, a sort of proud abdication of feminine rights. She resigned all a woman’s natural claim upon man’s emotional nature; and the keen analyst who had studied her so closely fancied that he could detect a repressed challenge of man’s superiority. He classified her (with a kind of shrugging pity) as one of those women of whom all men speak respectfully and many men admiringly, but who grow old and plain and bitter, unsought among their more frivolous sisters. At the same time, he admitted an attraction which had kept him bidding indirectly for her notice.

Miss Ponsonby’s impassive reserve with men was so wholly a confession, and, at the same time, so proud a disclaimer of the usual meek attitude of unpopular women, that it not only irritated the man who could analyze her, but it provoked his curiosity and led him into attempt after attempt to sting her into speech and unconscious revelations. And whenever he did so and retired, foiled, with the consciousness of having given an unmanly stab to weakness, his man’s desire to think well of himself made him put the blame upon her.

On the afternoon of that particular day, Miss [15]Ponsonby’s feminine characteristics were in possession. She leaned rather languidly against the window frame, and her bodily fatigue, and a self-conscious forlornness which she strove habitually to conceal, were quite evident. Every movement betrayed the woman pushed beyond her strength; every sensitive, quivering line of her face hinted at emotions rioting under a repressed exterior.

If her very apparent dejection aroused no compunction in the Judge (he being so highly civilized) it evoked an ardent sympathy from the young man in the next bed; for, in those days, not even the potency of a Judge’s title could have commanded a private room in the hospital. As a next best expedient, Judge Barton had been placed in a small room opening from the main ward, and containing but two beds. The exigencies of an overcrowded surgical ward made it necessary that the second bed should be occupied by a young pearl fisher, with a crushed chest, who had been taken off a wrecked lorcha. His magnificent physique, and the face of a Greek statue, would have lured from a woman a more complimentary description than the term “young ruffian” which Judge Barton had instantly but inaudibly fastened upon him. “Young ruffian” [16]is perhaps an exaggerated phrase to describe the beauty and insouciance which, in a male, may be qualified by a hat too far on one side. The Judge had never seen Collingwood in his hat, but he divined just the angle which the young man’s taste approved.

Collingwood was gradually recovering, but he was still unable to move without the assistance of a nurse or of one of the Filipino attendants. He had the black hair, the pink and white skin, and, the cameo-cut profile of a Celtic ancestry, modified by his father’s union with a woman of Tennessee pioneer stock. His eyes, which should have been the Irishman’s blue, were a steadfast brown. His frame was a little more massive than his father’s had been; the Irishman’s blarney had merged into the chaff of the Westerner; but enough of Irish humor remained to lend flavor to the practical, hard-headed sense which he had inherited from the mountaineer side of the family. His speech was cheery and careless, yet shrewd; lacking in polish, yet not uncouth. He was not uneducated, and took an innocent satisfaction in having credentials to show for that fact, being a graduate of a small high-school in one of the Middle States. The [17]Judge had found him a not uninteresting companion, for he was outspoken, a born lover of adventure, and a born money-maker, if the Judge ever knew one.

However, Collingwood himself interested Judge Barton far less than did the growth of an emotion in the young man which the dignitary had covertly watched enlarge from an expansive gratitude to absorbing affection. The “young ruffian” had fallen head over ears in love with a woman whose critical faculties and fastidious instincts might well have shaken the courage of a more pretentious suitor; and he enjoyed the ruffian’s usual advantage of being sensitive to material difficulties only. If he felt the distinction in Miss Ponsonby’s manner, it was not as something which separated her from him, but as something which made her only more desirable. He mistook her reserve for shyness; her proud detachment, for meekness. He was aflame to seize the woman who not only appealed to his senses, but who stirred ambitions of which he was hardly conscious, and to bear her away from her overtasked life. He wished to play King Cophetua to the beggar maid; and he was saved from appearing supremely ridiculous only by his sincerity and [18]by freedom from all self-consciousness in his desire.

It was so natural that a young ruffian should fall in love with probably the first gentlewoman with whom he had come into frequent association, that the Judge wasted no particular attention on Collingwood’s side of the case. What really interested that gentleman was Miss Ponsonby’s attitude. For, as he put it to himself, there was a woman with an undeniable personality, engaged in a dumb squabble with society because she could not obtain a recognition of that personality; and the only admirer and partisan she could muster was a young ruffian so far removed from atmospheric influences that he had not recognized that she was a personality; a man who would not have known what was meant by the word. She might have been the young woman who despatches telegrams from the lobby of a first-class hotel, so far as Collingwood’s assumption that she belonged to his world was concerned. Her nurse’s apron and cap were to him the indisputable evidences of his right to claim her for his friend or for his sweetheart, provided, of course, that the attraction was mutual; and that her taste might be influenced by any other standard [19]than his own, he had no suspicion. Judge Barton had even detected at times the tacit overture for a class combination, the assumption that they of the toilers needed no chance civility from one temporarily thrown into their society. That the situation daily developing under his observant eyes must be humiliating to Miss Ponsonby, Judge Barton had not the least doubt. But he was sufficiently human to hope that the hour of Collingwood’s discomfiture (for of that also he had no doubt) might be delayed until he, the Judge, was ready to leave the hospital, and to find some other amusement than that of watching a proud woman’s struggle with her femininity.

Collingwood, quite unconscious of the Judge’s observant eye, lay watching Miss Ponsonby with an alertness which contrasted strangely with his maimed body. There was, in his slightly dilated nostril and in the glow of his eye, the suggestion of a horse which pricks forward its ears and accelerates its pace as it nears home; and perhaps some latent instinct of domesticity lay at the bottom of the man’s rather inexplicable fancy for Miss Ponsonby.

It was inexplicable, not only through the social gulf which actually divided them, but through the [20]fact that she had never been a man’s woman, and that all Collingwood’s previous attachments had been for the type of woman who is adored by the opposite sex. Miss Ponsonby was not diffident under his advances, nor was she overwhelmed by a man’s favor, little as she had enjoyed of it. Attention of a sort she had had, because the position of the relatives who had brought her up was such that any member of their household had to be taken into consideration; but from the time she had left the shelter of their roof, she had received from men an indifference as profound as it was respectful. Collingwood’s very open admiration was the first tracery upon a page which was humiliatingly blank.

It had begun—his admiration—on his first night in the hospital, when he lay a bandaged mummy, racked with pain, a mounting fever adding its torments to the closeness of a muggy, tropical night. There were memories of its sufferings mingled with gentle ministrations, of touches soothing to his worn body, of a feeling of helplessness and dependence upon this gentleness, which carried him back to his half-forgotten childhood, and washed, as clean as his school-boy’s slate, a philosophy of life acquired in numerous love affairs [21]with the young ladies of hotel lobbies, and of restaurant check stands.

The impression remained overnight and increased by reason of the succession of another nurse, who prided herself upon her jollity, and believed that her patients needed cheering up. Collingwood was in such a condition that jollity was an affront to him. He endured the cheerful lady as best he could, and counted the long hours till four o’clock brought back his madonna.

The word had no part in Collingwood’s vocabulary; but it is applicable because it expresses the quality of worship which he had injected into an otherwise very mundane emotion. Collingwood, who was as innocent as a babe of social traditions, who was an American democrat through and through, and believed that all men are equal, save as the possession of “the price” enables one man to command more of this world’s goods than another, was unable to account for the elements in Miss Ponsonby’s nature which whetted his desires, by any of the threads which contributed to the fabric of his philosophy; and he explained them by imputing to the lady the rare and peculiar quality of goodness.

Goodness! There you have the weak point in the [22]arch of man’s philosophical structure, the thing which at once embodies his highest ideal and his most human distaste, the thing over which he has rhapsodized in poetry, which he has exalted into a theology, and which he has ruthlessly crucified whenever he has met it in the flesh. Collingwood supposed that Miss Ponsonby’s delicate rejection of his advances (a rejection qualified by some feeling which a lover’s instinct had to interpret to his advantage) originated in goodness, in a final struggle of the etherealized feminine nature before it submitted to its incarnation and became bound in the flesh. He thought the delicate self-restraint with which she met the caprices and fretfulness of her wards was founded on heavenly patience. He imagined that her occasional snubs of Judge Barton were the outcroppings of an inward shrinking from a passion to which she could not respond; for, loverlike, he assumed that all men must feel as he did about his divinity and he could not perceive the undercurrent of patronage in the Judge’s not infrequent gallantries, which was like an acid on Miss Ponsonby’s quivering nerves.

It was a delicious situation. Judge Barton rubbed his hands in enjoyment of it, and you must [23]admit that he had some justification in the lady’s persistent refusal to make the best of his somewhat generous efforts to establish friendly relations. Oh, yes, it was a delicious situation; and the only one element in it which the Judge never suspected was that secret response to the young man’s tenderness which the lover himself had divined, which whetted him in spite of studied rebuffs, and which, his alleged democracy notwithstanding, all Judge Barton’s class instincts would have unhesitatingly pronounced unseemly—as, indeed, the young woman herself regarded it. [24]


Chapter II

Charlotte Ponsonby continued to lean against the window in an abstraction which registered impressions very much as a flagellant’s ecstasy may note the pathway of his torment. The consciousness of her own perturbation made it exceedingly difficult to turn around. She was so unhappy that it seemed the fact must be evident to even a casual observer. She was afraid of a kindly word, or of a mere friendly glance, lest it should break through the self control she had been exerting.

When at length the National Anthem had been played, and lucent amber was fading into early dusk, the nurse had no further excuse for turning her back on the two patients in her ward. She did not glance at them as she moved away, but her quick return with a glass of milk showed that one of them, at least, was in her thoughts. She offered the refreshment to Collingwood with an explanation, [25]in a dry, professional tone, for its being three minutes late.

He sipped it, looking over the rim with his steadfast brown eyes.

“I’m tired,” he said fretfully.

“I suppose you must be. I will move you when you have finished that.”

“I wonder,” Judge Barton mused, “if nurses do not sometimes feel like saying ‘So am I’ when we fellows complain of being tired, or nervous, or out of patience.”

Miss Ponsonby threw him a smile of recognition for the courtesy of the thought. “Very often they do,” she replied, “but that thought would not come in the case of Mr. Collingwood, because he is tired, and we know that he suffers. Nurses seldom think of themselves so long as they can reasonably think of their patients.” Her outstretched hand conveyed an intimation to the patient under discussion that he was taking an unusual time to consume a glass of milk.

Collingwood was not a man to be hurried when he had an object in taking time. He affected not to see her hand, when, in reality, he wanted to [26]caress it; and he continued to sip his milk very slowly indeed.

“Christmas Eve,” he said lugubriously, “a bum Christmas if ever there was one.”

“Yes,” said Judge Barton. “Collingwood has an epoch now in life—a landmark. Hereafter he will class all events as before or after the Christmas he spent in hospital.”

“Oh, you,” Collingwood threw at him, “you can afford to smile. You have plenty of friends. It’s not the same with you as with a poor devil like me.”

“My dear fellow,” expostulated the Judge, “‘at night all cats are gray.’ Friends do not make a Christmas. When one is away from one’s home and family at this season, there are no gradations. Ask Miss Ponsonby.”

“Is it true, Miss Ponsonby, what he says?” inquired Collingwood with the air of one appealing to an infallible tribunal.

“I don’t know, Mr. Collingwood. Judge Barton must look for his support to someone who has passed through both experiences. I have passed Christmas away from my family, but I have not passed one surrounded by a host of friends.” [27]

“Ah, but you understand so much,” the Judge murmured. Irritated by her unresponsiveness, he grew almost impertinent. “The keenness of your intelligence is only excelled by your kindness of heart.”

Miss Ponsonby’s cheek for an instant flew danger signals, but she said nothing. She looked at the Judge a moment and subdued him. Then—

“I do not believe you give me credit for any great kindness of heart,” she said simply.

“Then must I give you credit for the patience of Job.”

“That you may do.” She took the glass from Collingwood, who, after an ineffectual effort to convince himself that it was not empty, yielded it reluctantly.

The Judge, with a delicacy which he practised with almost ceremonial observance, turned on his pillow and gave them the benefit of a wealth of grizzled black hair, covering a massive head. He would not intrude upon the act of changing the young man’s wearied posture. His excess of delicacy robbed the act of its naturalness, made it seem personal and intimate.

Collingwood felt the nurse’s hesitation. His [28]heart thumped in glad triumph. Let her rule her manner as she would, she could not make that service impersonal. He saw her teeth catch her underlip as she bent over him. Her eyes would not meet his, which glued themselves appealingly upon her face. She slipped her arm under him, however, while his own went about her neck.

In spite of her care, and the perfect training of her action, the slight change which she made in his position wrenched a groan from him. Yet as she laid him back and still stooped, drawing her arms from under him, his own clinging arms tightened, and he pressed his lips ardently against the cheek so near his own.

For a breath, the very shortest breath a man ever drew, he could have sworn he felt a response to the caress, a womanly yielding to all that affection and dependence may imply. Then her eyes, startled, met his, and on the heels of a fawn-like timidity, a wave of fierceness sent the red blood dyeing her cheek, set the high arched nostril aquiver. The intuition flashed into his brain that it was the first man’s caress which had ever touched her soft cheek, and that she was no less frightened than indignant. The joy of the thought drove his blood leaping and [29]stifled his cry of protest, as she drew hurriedly back and left him. She moved rapidly toward the corridor, whence the babble of a woman’s voice, which grew louder as the owner advanced, came floating in.

The lady, weighted with flowers, who had come to bring the season’s remembrances to the suffering dignitary, had paid him several previous visits, was known to Charlotte, and was an object of no little curiosity to Collingwood. She was a member of a very fashionable set, and bore its stamp in dress and mannerisms. She was tall and large-boned, with an ugly, intense face framed in a mass of the then fashionable chestnut-red hair. Save for its haughty demand for consideration, her countenance was not unlike those of her fallen sisters in the suburbs of Manila. There were the same suggestions of life drained to the dregs, the challenge, the hard look about the eyes. She had the manner of an actress, a kind of studied, feline grace which fell into postures and left the observer in doubt whether her next move would be a purr or the stroke of a treacherous paw.

The lady took Miss Ponsonby’s hand and held it during the course of several honeyed utterances. [30]Yet the effect of her courtesy was an impression not of kindness, but of insolence. She managed to convey the idea that civility to one’s inferiors is an attribute of a great lady, and that she was living up to the demands of her position. When she passed to the bedside of the afflicted one, however, a warmth, a glow of the magnetism which she could exert diffused itself like an essence in the bare, ugly room. She addressed the Judge in the abusive strain of intimacy.

“You fraudulent creature!” she reproached him, “lying here, pretending to be ill when I want you at my dinner.”

“Dear lady, don’t.” The Judge gestured away the phantom of that dinner. Being shut out of paradise, he could not talk of its glories.

Mrs. Badgerly laughed in his face. Then she looked around the room for the nurse. She wished her flowers arranged just so in the bowl of old Chinese bronze which her husband and she hoped would keep them green in a dear friend’s memory. Would Miss Ponsonby put them in one by one as she directed? She herself was afraid of ruining her frock, which had already led to recrimination between herself and her husband. [31]

“You do it beautifully, you know,” she purred, as the nurse’s deft fingers planted sprays of green and white. “You must not mind my comments. I am supposed to be a critic—really competent. I took lessons in Japan. Nothing is so satisfying as to lie face down on the floor, sticking cherry blossoms into a Satsuma vase.”

“Speaking of Japan,” remarked Judge Barton, “have those silks which you promised to get for me come yet?”

“You are not to mention those silks. They are on a navy boat.”

“Smuggling again,” said the Judge. “I believe you women do it for the sake of intrigue. You will never rest till you have gotten some poor wretch cashiered and have driven me off the bench. I did not mind the duty, and I do mind the delay. Why didn’t you have them sent down by mail?”

I mind the duty. I shall oppose it on principle whenever I can. I delight in evading customs duties. It is the greatest pleasure I have in life.”

“Badgerly votes a Republican ticket, doesn’t he?”

“What ticket he votes is immaterial. So is what you say. Would you find me guilty and sentence [32]me to imprisonment if I came up for trial in your august court?”

“I’ve no doubt I should cast about for extenuating circumstances, though you would not deserve my doing so. So I am to be the purveyor of smuggled goods, eh?”

“Oh, if you are too holy—” she rippled.

“Dear me, I hope I don’t set up for being holy. I should almost prefer the title of smuggler. Still, in my position, it might look awkward. However, I’ve always been a pliant fool in a woman’s hands, and I haven’t the backbone to rise up and protest. If you are determined to smuggle, I suppose you must, but don’t tell me about it.”

“How you politicians do juggle with your consciences,” she retorted. “You would have liked me so much better if I hadn’t told you. You would have known, but you could have pretended not to.” She glanced up in time to catch a flicker of distaste in Miss Ponsonby’s eyes, as that lady hastily withdrew them after a covert scrutiny of the Judge. “But how I run on!” she declared flippantly. “I am afraid we are shocking your good nurse.”

If Miss Ponsonby took note of the condescension in Mrs. Badgerly’s choice of adjectives, she did not [33]betray the fact. She quite repudiated any inclination to be shocked. “You could not do it,” she declared ambiguously, planting the last spray.

Mrs. Badgerly took Miss Ponsonby’s measure deliberately. She had long before admitted the personality. She now divined the quarrel. It gave her a rapturous moment of triumph to realize that there was a woman pulled down by the weight of material circumstances which buoyed her up. The full flavor of her insolence rioted in her blood. What was character, what was personality, to power?

She carried a swagger stick of Philippine camagon wood, tipped with a rare piece of Chinese ivory carving. She swung one knee over the other, revealing a mass of dainty petticoats, and silken hose, and a pair of high-heeled slippers. She lolled back, her keen face supported by one slender gloved hand, while she swished her voluminous draperies with the swagger stick. Even Judge Barton, who knew her so well, was stunned by her audacity. He felt as if each blow were a lash on the shoulders of the woman facing her, who had turned to leave them. He felt that Mrs. Badgerly wanted them so interpreted. [34]

“So glad you are not narrow,” said Mrs. Badgerly suavely, “I hate cats, old feminine cats. I lunched with six of them yesterday. I tried to propitiate them. ‘I’ve been just as bad as bad can be,’ I said, ‘but I am not going to be so any more. I’m going to be good as gold from now on. I’ve even told my husband so.’”

She paused to let the full audacity of her remarks sink into her auditors’ minds. Judge Barton held his breath. It was a masterly inspiration to flaunt her impudence in the other’s face. “What is your purity worth? your delicacy? your refinement? your fastidiousness?” she seemed to exult. “Will they win you notice or consideration? You are not the companion, the friend of this man; I am that. You are his menial. What does his secret opinion of either of us matter? His deference is for me.”

“Yes,” went on Mrs. Badgerly, still blocking Miss Ponsonby’s way with her theatrically shod feet. “I made my little confession—wasn’t it dear of me?—in public, and they looked shocked. Nothing is more vulgar than to be shocked. They sat and stared at one another in helpless bewilderment. They had not a word to say.”

If Mrs. Badgerly felt that the helpless indignation [35]of six ladies whose commercial and official relations with her husband through the medium of their husbands had to be supported by civility to his wife; if she felt that their action formed any precedent for the young woman in a nurse’s cap and apron, she made her first error then and there. The very faintest suggestion of contempt swept across Miss Ponsonby’s aristocratic features. She made a little forward movement, just sufficient to force Mrs. Badgerly to draw back her French slipper.

“Probably they did not believe you,” she said gently; “and, as they could not possibly say so, there was nothing else to be said.”

The snigger with which Collingwood received this (he had been listening, but it was Mrs. Badgerly’s fault, she pitched her voice too high) was drowned in an exclamation from the Judge.

“Ah-ha, Mrs. Badgerly, there you have your riposte. You must not try fencing with Miss Ponsonby. Did I not tell you long ago that she was clever, far too clever for you or me? But she is kind, too. She is too generous to take you at your word, though she does not mind countering with you for the pure skill of it.” [36]

Charlotte’s response was a somewhat drawn smile as she moved away. Mrs. Badgerly, though taken aback, was not routed. She still felt that the sinews of war were in her hands, and, until the close of her visit, she made a series of demands upon the nurse which could not courteously be refused, but which kept that unfortunate always waiting upon her. She reserved a few arrows till her departure.

“Dear nurse,” she said, laying a hand on Miss Ponsonby’s arm, “I have been a dreadful nuisance, but I must be forgiven. People are so good to me. They always do forgive me. You will—I know you will. You look so tired, dear nurse. Won’t you let me send the carriage for you some evening when I am not going out? I am sure you ought to be rewarded in Heaven for the sacrifices you make on earth. Are you always occupied at this hour?—the only time when Manila is agreeable?”

Martin Collingwood, who was even more obtuse than the generality of men in matters where women’s finesse is concerned, took these feminine taunts at their face value. They moderated the resentment which, at first, the obvious prosperity and self-confidence of the visitor had aroused. He [37]had anathematized her with the favorite adjective of democracy: he had mentally labelled her “stuck up.” But the tenor of the conversation went far to remove that impression. Its delicate thrusts, its cruel taunts, he missed; but the unvarnished effrontery of it reminded him, save for a flavor of smartness which he relished but could not define, of the frankness of some of the young ladies who had contributed to his discarded philosophy.

Nevertheless, he gloried somewhat inconsistently in Miss Ponsonby’s ill concealed reprobation. Her spunkiness (his own word, dear reader) delighted him as a further evidence of that holiness which was essential to his madonna. The remembrance of his stolen kiss flowed back to him, and he lay alternately quaking and enraptured at the thought of his own boldness.

Miss Ponsonby put aside Mrs. Badgerly’s thanks and declined her carriage. She went about her evening duties with a kind of startled grace like some nerve-tense creature, ready to leap at a sound. Not a single glance fell Collingwood’s way.

But at nine o’clock, when lights were to go out, the necessity of administering medicine to Judge Barton made her bear down on their little ward with [38]a tray. She was very self-possessed, so much so that the keen man of the world guessed that her late encounter had been more trying than she was willing for him to know.

Still, the motive which made him utter a word or two of apology for his guest was not wholly kind. Miss Ponsonby had snubbed his friend, and to do that was to impugn the greatness of the man himself.

“I am afraid that my caller gave you a great deal of trouble,” he said.

Charlotte smiled. “It mattered little. I am here for that.”

“A great deal of trouble,” he repeated, detaining her by holding his medicine untasted. “But, as she said, she must be forgiven. Ah! there is nothing so perfect as the assurance of spoiled women!”

That hurt. It drew a contrast. She, Charlotte Ponsonby, was not spoiled, and she had no assurance, and he could not forgive her for it. Pain jarred an injudicious reply from her.

“Why are they spoiled?”

“My dear lady! Why is the earth scattered with the records of man’s folly? Because he feels, and they prey upon his miserable feelings. I am [39]not sure that you are mundane enough to understand.”

“I am not certain that I do understand. But I am certain that my stupidity does not originate in any ultramundane flights.”

“Ah, you’re clever,” said the Judge, “dangerously clever.”

“No woman is dangerously clever till she uses her wits for evil purposes,” she said, flushing. “I resent your choice of adjectives.”

“A thousand pardons,” he cried. “I was thinking of the effect of your cleverness upon yourself, not upon others, and I cannot retract. It is dangerous for any woman’s happiness to analyze herself and all the world as you do.”

She gave a little shrug, and held out her hand for the glass.

“Bear with me,” he pleaded. “I am not sleepy, and you wish to turn out the lights and leave me in the darkness to ponder my sins.”

“It is my solemn duty to turn them out at once if you are going to do that.”

“I protest. Hold on just a minute, and I’ll swallow the nauseous stuff. Seriously, Miss Ponsonby, don’t you think—all advantages and disadvantages [40]taken into consideration—that it is a good thing for a woman to be spoiled?”

“I am not certain. What do you mean by spoiled?”

“Oh, womanly will do for a definition.”

“Is Mrs. Badgerly womanly?”

“Not in the completest sense, but womanly enough to be spoiled—to base all her demands upon her charms, and not upon her rights.”

“I will think that over. It presents a field for interesting thought. But do drink your medicine.”

“Not until you have told me what you really think.”

“I think you leave no place for the women with no charms. Has she no rights either?”

“The proper sort of woman does not want any rights. She values her charms infinitely higher than all the rights that can be given her.”

“That must be exceedingly pleasant for the women who are born charming. But I insist that a sensible woman should value the attainable more than the unattainable. Charm is unattainable by any conscious process. The woman born without it had better make few claims if, to use a commercial [41]metaphor, she wants her drafts honored. There is nothing for her to do but philosophically to make the best of the situation, and to accept those things which are the commonly admitted rights of her sex.”

“Ah! you reason so clearly and practically. But don’t be a philosopher. Don’t let philosophy creep upon you. Resist it. You know the quotation, I am sure, ‘That unloveliest of things in women, a philosopher.’”

He set the glass to his lips, so that he did not see how she paled under the thrust, nor how one hand went to her throat quickly as if a sudden pain had gripped her. When he had finished drinking and had set the empty glass upon her tray, she switched off the light without her usual “good-night,” and left him.

“Nurse—Miss Ponsonby,” said a small voice in the gloom, a most abject voice to issue from six feet of recumbent manhood, “won’t you come here a minute?”

Miss Ponsonby paused, but did not look back. “Are you awake?” she inquired evenly. “I thought you were asleep hours ago. You must be dreadfully [42]tired. The attendant is here now, the one who handles you so nicely. I will send him to you immediately.”

A man cannot lie in the dark and cry for a nurse who will not come. Collingwood submitted, though fear had taken possession of him. His late audacity seemed madness.

The night wore on. Clouds obscured the sky, and a hot, choking darkness blocked the windows, with solid blackness. The sounds of traffic grew intermittent. Occasionally a carriage went past, full of drunken soldiers or marines, shouting and singing. Once the ambulance went out and came back with an emergency case.

Collingwood’s bed commanded the door which opened into the main ward, so that he had a perfect view of Miss Ponsonby, sitting at her desk and working at her report. A thick green shade cut the light from the room, but centred it like a halo around her shapely head.

By and by, though her features were composed, the watcher saw a glisten of light which flashed at recurrent intervals as a tear dropped downward. The sight filled him with repentance and perplexity. He associated the tears, though he could not tell [43]why, with his stolen kiss. He had kissed more young women in his life than he had energy at that moment to remember; and no one before had felt his caresses a reasonable pretext for weeping. Here again was that mysterious goodness mixing up a situation which ought to have been simple as day, and yet he was glad that it was there to mix.

A faint sound from Judge Barton’s couch told him that the Judge, too, was wakeful and had seen the sparkling drops; but he could not hear what that gentleman was saying to himself.

Not a philosopher,” he murmured, “not a philosopher, but uncompromising. Why isn’t she attractive! She ought to be attractive.” Then, quite gently, “Poor creature! Why doesn’t she surrender? Why doesn’t she accept the situation and compromise with life?”

There was no one to answer. Presently Miss Ponsonby, as if realising that there might be wakeful eyes among the patients, got up and went out into the corridor. A few minutes afterwards, the bells, the whistles, and the revolvers of enthusiastic exiles flung out a Christmas greeting, and her relief came.

Each man took unto himself a partial responsibility [44]for her tears. Judge Barton planned to wipe out the memory of his unchivalrous conduct by his most deferential manner and his very best conversation. Collingwood dreamed of abasing himself, and of settling without delay all doubts as to his attitude. If he saw a rosy vision of Miss Ponsonby reconciled to him and forgiving, he was not altogether conceited. He had been a man decidedly popular with women. But when the sixteen weary hours had passed away, and the afternoon shift of nurses brought not Miss Ponsonby but the red-haired lady of cheerful temperament, Judge Barton’s instinctive sigh was speedily followed by a rapt interest in Collingwood. That young man had allowed his disappointment to express itself by an involuntary twist in bed, so that he yelled in agony. [45]


Chapter III

Some five or six weeks after the events narrated in the preceding chapters, Judge Barton’s Australian chestnuts were rattling their silver-plated harness on the Luneta driveway at sunset, while their owner was threading the mazes of a Sunday-night carriage jam. He had that day returned from a short vacation in Japan, where he had gone to recuperate after his attack of fever.

The hot season was coming on apace, and but little breeze disturbed the waters of the bay, which were sombred by the reflections of slate-colored clouds streaked across the zenith. The brilliancy of the sunset seemed to have driven apart the clouds in the west, however, where the sky was enamelled in hues of jade and amber and turquoise, seamed here and there with gold, and occasionally with a fading line of dark vapor. With the purple shapes of the mountains extending to right and left, with the foreshortened sweep of the waters, and with the [46]motionless lines of the anchored vessels, the distant picture flamed out like a theatre curtain, while the motley assemblage which filled the oval around the bandstand was not unsuggestive of a waiting audience.

As he was in the act of leaning forward to note the outline of a great five-masted freighter, anchored abreast the bandstand, Judge Barton caught sight of a profile which was vaguely familiar to him, but which, for a moment, he quite failed to associate with a name. A second later, he remembered that he had always seen Miss Ponsonby in her nurse’s cap, and he could not determine whether it was the harmonious effect of imported millinery or some radical change in herself which lent a charm to her face never found there before.

As for the man at her side, it was something of a triumph to perceive the hat at just the angle at which the Judge’s imagination had pictured it, the angle affected by a very smart enlisted man.

It was not wholly in response to the political instinct which, in a democracy, bestows handshakes in place of largesse, that Judge Barton made his way to the carriage in which Miss Ponsonby sat. Since the miserable Christmas Eve when he had [47]succeeded in pricking her into a fencing match, he had not seen her. On the following day, she was put on day duty in another ward, in accordance with some mysterious system of change pursued in the hospital. Within three or four days more, the Judge was pronounced able to begin the journey up the China coast, from which he had only that day returned. When he left the hospital, Collingwood was convalescent, but was suffering from a moroseness which his observant neighbor attributed to thwarted affection.

Miss Ponsonby greeted her quondam patient not with coldness, which may imply an intentionally concealed interest, but lifelessly, with an indifference almost impertinent. Judge Barton felt the indifference, was chilled by it, and revenged himself by a guarded significance of manner which did not amount to ill breeding, but which hinted at an expectation gratified, and made her, as he was delighted to perceive, self-conscious and ill at ease. The feeling with which he had approached her was genial and kindly. To find himself suddenly enveloped in the atmosphere of challenge, of reserve, of dumb interrogation of the providential workings of this world, stirred up in him the old desire to [48]push her just a little bit closer to the wall against which her back was so resolutely set. It was not a chivalrous feeling, but it was a very human and natural one, which might have been shared by millions of the Judge’s fellow-citizens, far more pretentious than he was in the matter of Christian charity and brotherhood.

Miss Ponsonby was looking even paler and thinner than she had looked at Christmas. There was a purpling thickness in her eyelids, there was a depth of shadow beneath, which, to an attentive observer, hinted at tears and vigils in the night. In her listlessness, and in a sweet effort in her smile, the Judge found, in the further course of the talk, the signs of conquest. It was as if, driven to bay, she sought help even from her enemies to ease the agony of surrender. The Judge was not hard-hearted. So long as she fought, he was willing to stab and prick. At the first sign of feminine weakness, at the sight of her beaten and shrinking, he was ready to forget that only a few weeks before he had been rather eager to see her reduced to humility. His concern for her finally found utterance in the hope that she was going to indulge in a much needed rest. “You know I always said, when [49]I was in the hospital, that you needed nursing just as much as Collingwood and I did, if not more,” he added.

She thanked him rather formally, and he detected in her stiffness an access of shyness. A faint color dyed her cheek.

Collingwood, whose resemblance to a pagan deity—or to a young ruffian—was stronger than ever, broke in joyously:

“Oh, she’s going to take a vacation, all right—a long one, in fact, for the rest of her life—with me. You are quite right, Judge. She does need care, and I’ll see that she gets it.”

Miss Ponsonby’s face rivalled the afterglow into which the gorgeous spectacle before them was beginning to melt like metals fused in a crucible; but, after an instant, she lifted her eyes and gazed with a remarkable intensity at Judge Barton. If her self-consciousness had originated in a prescience of his astonishment, it was not more painful than his own chagrin at having betrayed himself. He had certainly not expected her to marry Martin Collingwood. He had taken a mild pleasure in letting her perceive that he divined her struggles in a compromise with her pride for the sake of a few passing [50]attentions and pleasures; but never had it occurred to him that she could possibly bridge the distance between herself and Collingwood in marriage. To have exhibited his utter amazement enraged him with himself. He recovered himself promptly, however, and, in turn, tendered a firm white hand to each.

“Bless you, my children,” he said blandly, “I showed some surprise, but really I don’t know why. The thing is obviously appropriate.”

There was a dryness in Collingwood’s reply which made him, for a moment, almost as impressive as the Judge himself.

“I am glad you think so. That was my opinion from the first, but I had considerable difficulty in getting Miss Ponsonby to take my view of it, and even yet she has her moments of doubt.”

Miss Ponsonby gave him a shy little smile, but at the end of the fleeting movement, her eyes again sought the Judge’s with the same questioning intensity, so that he was amazed to find himself answering aloud.

“Obviously appropriate,” he repeated, “and for a hundred reasons: first, my dear young lady, so charming a person as yourself has no business rusting [51]out in the fatigues of your profession; second, because this young free-lance needs somebody to look after him; third, because marriage is to be encouraged on general principles.” At this point he seemed to recognize the necessity of steering the conversational bark into safer waters, and endeavored to divert it by pleasantry at his own expense. “Although I have not been able to induce any young woman to share my joys and sorrows, believe me, it is not because I am opposed to the institution. If I am an old bachelor, it is not for lack of trying to marry.”

It was Collingwood who made the humanely frank rejoinder, “I guess you haven’t tried very hard since you have been on the bench, have you, Judge?”

It is strange how a man may both resent a fact and take pride in it. Six weeks before, when the Judge had wished to put a squabbling young woman in her place, he had rather gloried in the material advantages connected with his position. A hint that his position might win him a wife when his personality unaided could not do so, rasped his nerves. Charlotte saw him wince and returned good for evil. [52]

“Ah! you are not sincere. You are too modern to believe in marriage.”

“Is it in an ironical spirit, then, do you think, that I beg an invitation to yours?”

“But it will be so very quiet—not even cards or cake; and only one or two of Mr. Collingwood’s friends, and one or two of mine, to give us countenance.”

“To keep us from feeling that we are eloping,” said Collingwood blithely.

“Am I not the very man to do that? If there is no other way, I must be railroaded in in an official capacity. Does not Collingwood need a best man? Does not the marriage ceremony call for a parent to give the bride away—’Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?’—and all that?”

This was pure advertising propaganda, a way to one of those newspaper squibs which delight both the snobbishness and the sentimentality of Americans. In the slight pause which ensued, the Judge had a momentary sensation of being weighed in a very delicately balanced mind, and of being found wanting. But Charlotte only said, “You may come if you wish. But it is sooner than you anticipate—very soon.” [53]

“To-morrow morning at seven-thirty,” interjected Collingwood. “We are going out on the Coastguard boat at ten.”

Here was a burning of bridges, a lover who wooed and a maid who did not dally! The Judge asked where the ceremony would take place, and was told to come to a certain church not far from the hospital. Once more his over-restraint betrayed him, and Miss Ponsonby guessed his surprise.

“We were both brought up Catholics,” she said, “and though we have neither of us clung very closely to the Mother Church, that is where we naturally turn on such an occasion. We have not needed a dispensation. The path has been easy.” She smiled enigmatically.

“No, we haven’t needed a dispensation from the Pope,” said Collingwood, “but apparently we cannot manage our own affairs without the help of the Civil Government. I am not sure that we shall get through to-morrow without the appearance of some of the gang declaring that there are reasons why this woman should not be married to this man.”

“The Civil Government?” repeated Judge Barton, mystified. Then a light broke upon him. [54]“Of course—you are under contract.” He addressed Miss Ponsonby.

“My service under contract was fulfilled five months ago,” she replied. “I am at liberty to leave Government employ any moment I wish.”

“But they are long on eminent medicos and short on nurses,” went on Collingwood, whose spirits were evidently riotous, “and when Miss Ponsonby sent in her resignation, they informed her of the fact, and, by the Lord! they had the effrontery to expect us to arrange our affairs to suit their convenience. The letter has gone back and forth till it has eighteen endorsements. It hove in sight a few days ago in an extra large envelope. I told Charlotte to put on a nineteenth, and to end the whole matter by telling the Civil Commission and the Bureau of Health and the Marine Hospital Service all three to go to the devil.”

“Which it was manifestly impossible for me to do,” added Miss Ponsonby, blushing.

“Manifestly,” assented the Judge, with a short laugh. To him whose whole policy was diplomacy here was temerity in a twentieth century citizen of the American Republic to mock the Civil Commission. [55]As well a Venetian in the twelfth had jeered at the Council of Ten.

“Manifestly is a good word,” Collingwood went on. “It was, as you say, manifestly impossible that Miss Ponsonby should tell the Bureau of Health to go to the devil, but it was manifestly ordained that I should write them a letter, telling them what I thought of them, and telling them to go to the devil’s place of residence; which I did. Forthwith, Miss Ponsonby was fired, bag and baggage, from Civil employ. They had not seen their way to releasing her for six months, but when she crossed Their High-Mightinesses—or when I did it for her—they could let her go in twenty-four hours. Well, what’s one man’s meat is another man’s poison. I don’t know about their poison, but I knew my meat when they put it in my hand, and I’m not the man to let it go.”

“I see.” There was a falling off in Judge Barton’s interest in the romance, but he struggled to conceal his feelings. He fancied also that Miss Ponsonby was embarrassed, almost annoyed, at her lover’s frankness. “To-morrow morning, you say, at seven-thirty? I’ll be there.” [56]

He turned away after his most impressive handshake, and still pondering this inexplicable step on the lady’s part, sought his own carriage. Was she led by romance simply, by the belated desire for love-making and mating which might easily seize upon a woman pushing rapidly away from the age when romance is a right? Or had she, with a shrewdness which belied her late folly, decided to accommodate herself to the rather material atmosphere which prevails in Manila? Had she perceived that Collingwood was of the stuff to win out in whatever he undertook? And had she voluntarily embraced a temporary effacement with him in order to return to the world better equipped for the struggle to impress it with her personality? Whatever was her motive, she was not wholly a happy bride, and yet,—there was something in that fleeting smile which she had given Collingwood, something very tender, exquisitely feminine, which touched the Judge and roused in him a grudging spirit toward the man who had reached out his hand to take what he, Alexander Barton, had never dreamed of taking. The Judge was baffled, and was about to give up the problem, when the well-known figure of his friend Mrs. Badgerly [57]recalled her cleverness in analysis and her unbounded effrontery in stating her conclusions. He went immediately to submit his difficulty to her.

Collingwood and his betrothed continued listening to the evening concert in a silence which may have expressed their entire proprietary assumption of each other, but which, on the gentleman’s part, was permeated with the watchfulness of one handling an overfilled glass. He was anxious not to joggle his companion’s reserve, as if he feared that the spilling of a drop or two of what was passing in her mind might leave a few acid scars upon his complacency. There had been, as you felt, no easy courtship. If, in the presence of others, he chose to carry it off with a high hand, when he was left alone with her, he betrayed that, until the final blessing should have been said over them the next day, he was more or less in doubt of his captive. His blurting out the news of their approaching marriage to Judge Barton had been a stroke of policy as well as an overflow of pride. His lover’s watchfulness, combating with his lover’s tenderness, told him that every pressure must be brought to bear to keep her from halting even at the last moment. He had realized from his earliest acquaintance with [58]her that she was overworked and at the point of a nervous and physical breakdown. He knew from her own admissions that she had no relatives to whom she was willing to apply for assistance. He had had her shy confession of affection for him and no few glimpses at a depth of feeling which she would not wholly reveal. His own rashness in meddling in her dispute with the Government officials had cost her her means of livelihood, in the islands, at least, and his own business was pressing him. These reasons, even unsupported by the ardor of his love for her, seemed to justify him in applying all the pressure he could to hurry Charlotte into marriage; but he could not be blind to her reluctance, to a timidity and foreboding which she would not explain but which caused her no little unhappiness.

Miss Ponsonby sat on in a reverie not altogether pleasant, as one or two changes in her sensitive countenance testified. She was so preoccupied that she remained unconscious of the playing of the national anthem, of the dispersal of the crowd, and of the threats of a few spattering raindrops which were not followed by a shower, but which sent the coachman to put up the hood of their victoria. The [59]darkness had quite closed down upon them, the lights on the shipping were huddled like little suburban villages on the plain of waters, and the flash-light on Corregidor was winking an occasional red eye low down against the sea, when Collingwood laid an almost timorous hand upon his betrothed’s arm.

“Don’t worry. Leave that to me. It is my side of the contract. Why do you take this ridiculous quarrel so seriously? Besides, it was my fault. I jumped in—oh! just because I felt so good that I wanted to tackle the world.”

“It is an omen. It is the recurrence of conditions that have always weighed me down. Whatever I do, there is someone to be annoyed and offended at the act. I am in disgrace. I have been unutterably lonely in Manila, and I felt that in our marriage, at least, there would be the compensation of having no one to object; and now these offended dignitaries project themselves into the affair, trailing their forked lightnings of displeasure. Why must combat hover over my head? Why must I fight for what drops into the laps of other women?”

“You couldn’t fight,” said Collingwood. “You [60]haven’t fought. You have only been wearied and discouraged and unhappy. When I came in and did a little fighting for you, it paralyzed you. What is a row more or less—and least of all, under the circumstances? It would take more than exchanging compliments with the Bureau of Health to unsettle my spirits to-night.”

“It crushes me,” replied Charlotte. “Besides, you have not had my life.”

Collingwood studied her through the gloom. Her last words were a lifting of the veil which, she had assured him, hid much pain. He had been able to account for her reluctance in being hurried into an early marriage through reasons which reflected credit upon her and were not uncomplimentary to himself. To marry a man who had come into her life less than three months before and who was planning to carry her off to a practically uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean might well have daunted the enthusiasm of a much more daring spirit than hers. Collingwood’s social traditions were rudimentary beside hers; but even he, pagan that he was, could make allowances for nervousness on that score. What he could not account for was her evident misgiving of the ultimate outcome of their [61]romance. She was vexed by doubts which she was unwilling to share with him, and yet a few frank words in the early days of their engagement had sufficed to remove all thought that she was concealing from him anything that he ought to know.

She had told him that she had been practically an orphan since infancy; that till she was fourteen years of age, she had been brought up in a convent; that at fourteen she went to live in the family of her mother’s cousin; that she had been educated at Smith College, taking her bachelor’s degree there; that she had found the bread of dependence exceedingly hard to eat, and, in defiance of her relatives’ wishes, had taken her training as a nurse; and finally, that she had come to the Philippines to put as great a distance as possible between herself and them, to whom her career was a source of humiliation. “There has never been, in my past life, one act of which you or I should be ashamed. There have been no events, no episodes, nothing but a series of petty humiliations, of wasted efforts, and of thwarted ambitions which I cannot talk about even to you. I want to forget them. They have almost overwhelmed me. I have been—I am—on the verge of becoming morbidly introspective [62]and retrospective. Help me to put the past away, but not because there is one thing in it that you ought to know.”

To such an appeal a lover can make but one reply. After that, whenever Collingwood saw her struggling with one of her moods of gloom, he bent his energies to its conquest, none the less willingly that he had discovered a ready charm for its exorcising in the caresses for which his own affection was glad to find an excuse.

He had early learned the futility of argument against her despondent moods, not only because her intelligence was better trained than his own, but because, as he admitted to himself, she had all the argument on her side. But he possessed, in the final appeal to tenderness, a power before which she was invariably vanquished. There was, in her shy acceptance of his caresses, an element of childishness, of a child yielding to some forbidden pleasure, self-rebuking, fearing a price to be paid, yet infinitely content in the moment. She was wonderfully self-reliant in her thinking processes, and adorably dependent in her emotions. She could think, and she was begging of the unseen Fates to be spared thinking. She could decide, but she was grateful to him [63]for taking decision out of her hands. She loved him, but she found unutterable difficulty in voicing her feelings. He had found, in truth, what the coquette must skilfully feign—the woman’s dread of her own emotions, the alternate advance and retreat, the struggle with her own nature, before she could submit to a master. She was veritably a wild creature, striving to conceal the fact, a woman of nearly thirty as timid as a girl in her teens. He was secretly amused at the evident difficulty she experienced in recognizing her own capacity for romance and affection; but her careful repression of her emotions lent savor to a wooing which had in it some of the elements of mediævalism. For the time when she would see fit to cease her own struggle against the mysterious influences which he felt battling against him, he could afford to wait. That such a time would come, his natural optimism and his previous experiences with women made him certain. In the meanwhile, he did not intend to risk a chance word as he felt his hand so near closing on hers forever.

Protected by the darkness within the carriage hood, he threw an arm about her and held her pressed to his side while he put his lips against hers [64]and finally pressed his face against her cheek in a wordless caress.

“There is nothing to be said that we have not said,” he murmured at length. “But I entreat you, in God’s name, put your fears aside to-night. Are we the first man and woman who have dared risk and calamity for the sake of loving? Oh! the word sticks in your throat, I dare say. It is wonderful how you have coquetted with every reason which may excuse our marriage except the only one that justifies it.”

“Ah, if I only knew that we could be sure of ourselves,” she murmured. “But suppose it is a mistake; suppose you find me something different from what you fancy me—I tell you every day that you idealize me—that I cannot live up to your conception of me! Suppose you come to hate me, as some men do hate women that are tied for life to them, millstones around their necks!” She shuddered.

It was a line of thought so unnatural for a girl to indulge in on the eve of her marriage, that Collingwood found time for a moment’s wonder what could have been the formative influences of her life to make her look so despondently on her own powers [65]of holding affection. But the moment was not for indecision. Collingwood drew his face away from hers although he still continued to encircle her with his arm.

“You may not be sure of yourself,” he said. “The processes of your education seem to have left you muddled on matters that you ought to have been clear on before now. But I’m sure of myself. I’m marrying you for love—for a consuming passion, if you like the term. I got it out of a novel. I don’t pretend to combat your reasons. All that you have said may be in the light of prophecy. You may be right, but no power on earth could make me give you up without the utmost struggle that I am capable of. I believe that we have a happy life before us. But if I believed that it was going to end in the blackest tribulation that man ever entered into this side of the eternal torments, I would go on and mortgage my life for the few weeks of joy I’ve had and the few that may be ahead of us before the thing goes to smash. As for you, you have resisted at every step, and I’ve felt every minute that you were fighting yourself more than me.” He crushed her against him suddenly, and as suddenly dropped his arm from her [66]waist. “There, now, you are free. Do you mean to tell me that you like this better—that you are not happy in my arms? Then something in you that isn’t your tongue lies. Why, I’ve felt it at every caress I’ve ever given you—the struggle and the yielding and the gladness. Come! Stop coquetting with yourself! Isn’t it so?”

In the minute or two which intervened before her reply, he held his breath for fear he had gone too far. Then the soundness of his instinctive judgment was demonstrated to his entire satisfaction. For a second or two Miss Ponsonby strained her clasped hands to her eyes, then she deliberately nestled back to his side, and slipped an arm around his neck. She began to cry, the first tears her lover had seen her shed, though he suspected that she shed many, and he hushed her to his breast as if she were a grieving child. She cried very quietly, and he knew that she was ashamed of her weakness. She soon regained control of herself, and she answered his question with an instinctive sense of fairness which he had often noticed in her. Most women would have taken advantage of the tears to evade an acknowledgment of defeat.

“You are right, Martin,” she admitted. “I have [67]coquetted with myself, I have been pretending to myself that I meant ultimately to back out, and in my heart of hearts I knew I would not, I knew I could not. I have been selfish. I have spoiled your happiness, and refused to accept my own for fear of the future. Yours is the only sensible view. There are chances—but we cannot reason, we cannot think. We must just take what life gives us; and if by and by comes sorrow, why, we’ve had a little taste of joy. I am through coquetting, dear. I am happy—now—here. I do not care what comes. I’ve been a wretched prophet of evil, because secretly I meant to ride rough-shod over whatever I summoned to oppose. I surrender. I throw myself on your mercy. I don’t deserve quarter, but I know you will give it.”

There was a very long silence in the victoria. At the end of it, Miss Ponsonby said with a little choking laugh, “But, Martin, I—I distrust I’m marrying my master.”

“Not the least doubt about it,” said Collingwood. “But when masters are the right sort—fellows like me, for instance—they are not a bad thing for some women to have—women like you, for instance.” [68]


Chapter IV

What the buried archives are to the archæologist, the trunkful of old letters is to the novelist. But before those light-giving documents are brought forth, a little family history should be detailed as preface.

In the year 1872 the Civil War had been more generally forgotten in the North than in the South. In the State of Massachusetts, however, a goodly circle of antislavery agitators still kept up the fight in favor of the black man. The Fourteenth Amendment had not then been made, nor those celebrated discussions which fixed its interpretation and application; but the reconstruction of the Southern States still left plenty of ground for bitter speech and feeling.

Prominent among that circle and among the old Boston families of that day was the widow of a man who had literally given his life to the antislavery cause, for he had died during the War of overwork upon an antislavery journal. His widow [69]belonged to a family that for two hundred years or more had been prominent in state and national affairs. When her husband died and left her and a half-grown daughter almost penniless among a wealthy kindred, she found little or no difficulty in getting along; for their pride in the editorial victim was great, and she had been always a family favorite.

But if the mother was everywhere sought, her daughter Charlotte found a less ready welcome. A tall, superb beauty, singularly cold at times and reserved, at others fiercely vehement, she was as utterly unlike the descendant of a staid New England family as can be imagined. It is regrettable that she found little favor in the family eyes; and in the year 1872 she came to an out and out rupture with all her kindred by eloping with Mountjoy Ponsonby, a Marylander, a Roman Catholic, and an irreconcilable son of slave-holding parents.

Mrs. K—— took to her bed and died of chagrin. Four years later the unhappy girl followed her mother to the grave, leaving behind her a baby daughter six months old.

Of that marriage so soon ended, the best and the worst that can be said is that it was unhappy. The [70]two undisciplined natures who had defied tradition, family sentiment, religious training, and political inheritance for the sake of each other, had not the patience to work out their common happiness when the infatuation which had drawn them together died, as all such sudden and violent emotions must.

When Mrs. Ponsonby turned her back on life and on an impoverished Southern home where her New England thrift had struggled ceaselessly with the indolence and sluggish ways of a slave-holding household, it was after almost all possible recrimination had been exhausted over religion, politics, family inheritance, and ideals of life. Her husband, having buried her with due ceremony and observance in the Maryland family vaults, betook himself to travel, leaving the child to be cared for by a distant female relative. When little Charlotte was four, the relative died, and, as an ultimate act of defiance to his wife’s kindred, Ponsonby placed his daughter in a Roman Catholic convent.

There the little girl remained till her fourteenth year. In that period, she saw her father some six or eight times. Their interviews were constrained affairs, for Mountjoy Ponsonby was not [71]a man of domestic or affectionate nature, and the child of the wife with whom he had quarrelled bitterly made little appeal to him. He usually gave his daughter much good advice, found her exceedingly docile, but equally difficult, and was always embarrassed by an unspoken appeal in her nature which he dumbly resented. He looked forward with repugnance and dread to the days when she could be no longer stuffed away in a convent, and he rather hoped that she would feel herself religiously called upon to stay there.

Like many other men, he had formed the habit of looking on himself as immortal, so that when he was instantly killed by being thrown from his horse, he had made no provision for his child’s future. On his own side of the family there was no near kindred; and the Boston relatives instantly put in a claim for the custody of little Charlotte.

The man who was most actively interested in the little girl’s future was one Cornelius Spencer, a dry, hard-working, quiet man, capable of loving with singular intensity and equally capable of concealing his emotions. He had paid a quiet court to the beautiful Charlotte K——, and family gossip said that he took her elopement very seriously; [72]but it was all conjecture, for he kept his own counsel. A year later, he married Martha Winston, her cousin, a lady who, furthermore said family gossip, had been in love with him for several years.

The Spencer marriage turned out well; how nearly that well may be translated happily, who can say? At least, Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Spencer were a decorous couple, he given to amassing this world’s goods, she devoted to a thrifty oversight of their expenditures and to a calm enjoyment of their prosperity. Two daughters came to them, handsome children whose education from the first was up to the strictest standards of conservative Boston.

There was much sage wagging of heads among the Boston kin when Cornelius Spencer came forward as the potential guardian of the orphan immured in the convent. But though they conjectured again, Mrs. Spencer kept her own counsel as her husband had kept his years before. Of course, said the kinship, it was a bitter pill to her. Charlotte K—— had always outshone her in brains, in wit, in beauty. She had been proud to marry the man whom Charlotte had refused; and to find that man, eighteen years later, still cherishing [73]sentimental memories of her rival, determined to make himself a second father to that rival’s child,—ah, well, Martha was a remarkable woman to bear it all so quietly!

It happened that, on the day the young girl appeared in charge of the nun who brought her North, a very observant lady was calling upon Mrs. Cornelius Spencer. The lady was the wife of an army officer, and had a taste for letter-writing, in fact, felt that letter-writing was her only gift. A few extracts from her epistle to her husband will throw some light upon Charlotte Ponsonby’s girlhood experiences.

“—I have been visiting about for days among the K—— kin. They are as magnificently satisfied with themselves as ever, take themselves very seriously, are as proud of their money-making powers as of their blue blood; really it’s wonderful how they all make money, and talk, as they have always done, from a very much higher plane than they really live on.

“Among others, Martha Spencer asked me to luncheon, and I went there this morning. Really, Cornelius must have made oodles of money. The mere household accessories were simple enough; but the books, the pictures, and the curios were a joy. I feasted my soul, and I wished for you, my dear, to enjoy it with me.

“But I’ll talk of those things to you later. What I [74]want to tell you about now is an incident that I am afraid may slip away from me, and I want to describe it while my impressions are fresh,

“You remember I wrote you, in a previous letter, about the lawsuit and how old Dry-as-dust Cornelius has a real spark of romance in him after all, and of how he has disinterred his old love’s child from a convent where she was to have been buried alive. It was my happy fate to see the sequel this morning.

“Martha and I were sitting together just before lunch, when the bell rang. ‘I think that must be the little relative whom we are expecting,’ said Martha, and a second later the butler ushered in a nun and a fourteen-year-old girl.

“I wish you could have seen Martha’s greeting! It was exactly what she would have given a woman of the world, paying a morning call. She was concentrated extract of courtesy and breeding. The child, who was evidently nervous and expectant of a warmer welcome was instantly chilled by it. But she rose to it! She rose to it magnificently! She has rather fine eyes, her mother’s eyes as I remember them, and a self-possessed manner for a child of her age. I tried to gush over her a bit, but she would have none of me. Having been rebuffed by her hostess, she had no intention of allowing an undetermined factor to the situation to make amends to her.

“The nun would not remain, and departed immediately after formally handing over her charge. She kissed Charlotte (the child is named for her mother), and I rather fancied that, in spite of her cold welcome, the child is not [75]reluctant to enter on a more brilliant life than the conventical one. At any rate, she did not shed any tears.

“Charlotte was sent upstairs with a maid to make her toilette for luncheon. ‘Your cousins regret not being here to welcome you,’ said Martha suavely, ‘but they went out to the country place of a friend for a day’s skating. They will see you at dinner.’

“‘I am very glad they did not change their plans on my account,’ said my little nun that might have been.

“Cornelius came home for luncheon and was stiffer than Martha. He was self-conscious, that was apparent. We had the most perfect luncheon imaginable, but though Martha prides herself on her heating arrangements and their temperatures never vary a degree, I felt as if the outside air had crept through the whole house.

“I am sorry for that girl from the bottom of my heart. Martha hates the sight of her, and the girl knew it before she had been twenty minutes in the house. She will have food and dress and every material luxury dealt out to her as lavishly as it is to Martha’s own girls; but of good-will, kindness, human affection, not a drop. Instead, she will receive a courtesy measured by the most approved social standards. She will never be allowed to forget for one moment that it is given from a high sense of duty, and not from any sense of affection. I am not sure that Cornelius has done the child a kindness. She might have fared better in a boarding-school. At the same time, I have a great deal of sympathy for Martha. I shouldn’t be at all nice about it, you know, if you raked up a dead and gone sweetheart’s child and established her among our brood.”


Within a few weeks after the writing of this epistle, Mrs. Spencer expressed herself to an elderly relative perched in a very old colonial home among the hills of Vermont.

“Charlotte’s little daughter is now with us. She is a very reserved child with beautiful manners—I suppose convent training does give that—and, her teachers think, has an exceptional mind. We have had private teachers for her this year because, though her elementary training is fair, she is greatly lacking in general information, though she has a curious accumulation of Roman Catholic religious lore.

“She has a great deal of personality for a child of her age, which I have respected. I find myself constantly shrinking, however, from some undercurrent of feeling which she doesn’t express. She gets on very well with my two girls, but they don’t understand her any more than I do. Of course, she is treated exactly as they are—I really wouldn’t get one a hair ribbon without buying its match for Charlotte.

“For a convent-reared girl, she is not so difficult to deal with as might be. I send her to church every Sunday in the brougham with the parlor maid, who happens to be of her faith; and I called on the parish priest and commended her to his fatherly mercies. He is a rather robust person, clearly of Irish peasant origin, and speaks with a very decided brogue. She is plainly growing a bit fastidious about him, and I am inclined to feel that she is none too [77]deeply enamored of her church. She has a curious gift of worldliness for a child brought up in a convent.”

Eight years later Mrs. Spencer penned another brief note to this same elderly relative’s daughter.

“I suppose it would be asking too much of you to run down to Smith and see Charlotte take her degree. I can’t go—Natalie’s engagement is just on—and somebody ought to appear from the family. She takes high honors, I understand. She wrote me a very pretty little note, saying it wasn’t to be expected of any of us to get up, but I can see she is hurt. Do go if you can.”

Six weeks later in that same year, the military lady found herself at a very quiet and exclusive resort in the White Mountains, and once more delivered herself to her husband of many impressions.

“You remember that incident I told you of some years ago of seeing Charlotte K’s daughter engulfed in the Spencer household. Well, they are all here for a brief stay, Martha engrossed in her two girls. Natalie’s engagement to young X—— of the Navy has been announced. Charlotte Ponsonby is really a magnificent creature—from a woman’s standpoint, that is. But the outcome of the affair is just what might have been expected. Somehow they have mortally wounded her, and to protect herself [78]from them and their curiosity she has built a wall between herself and the whole world. I tried to cross it, and was most delicately and effectively rebuffed. She is the most solitary girl I have ever known, and yet she is not morbid. She moves among us in the most self-possessed, unasking spirit that was ever held by a girl of twenty-two. She is remarkably well bred, quite at ease outwardly, and is altogether too clever to please men—who are dreadfully shy of her, though they speak of her admiringly. I would not have you think that her cleverness is of that cheap type which sharpens its wits on others, and prides itself on its brilliancy. She is not in the least talkative, but she gives you the feeling of one who is weighing, sifting, analyzing, judging; who is using her brain to its best purposes at all times.

“The pathetic part of it all is that she is playing up to a rôle that somebody—I don’t know what idiot—assigned her. I find among all the kindred and all the family acquaintance the general opinion that Charlotte has no emotions, nothing but a brain; and the poor child is nothing but a bundle of emotions that she is desperately trying to conceal. I understand her perfectly. I never was so sorry for anyone in my life—anyone in our condition, that is. She has been tagged a girl of brains, and it has somehow been impressed upon her that, if she shows any feminine weakness, she will disgrace herself. So there she is, on her intellectual tiptoes, striving to conceal a very human disposition to come down on her heels, exiling herself from all that girlhood prizes.

“Of course, you dear old goose, you are saying to yourself, [79]‘Why don’t you put her wise, then?’ My dear, she has analyzed it all just as clearly as I have. She knows what is going on. She merely hasn’t the courage to break through the convention and, on the whole, I don’t wonder at it. It takes more courage to fight the accepted conception of oneself than it does to do any other sort of fighting in the world. Charlotte Ponsonby is a victim of the Spencer stupidity and of her own timidity and sensitiveness. There has grown up an impression that Charlotte doesn’t care for dancing; and night after night she goes off to her room, pretending a desire to read when her heart is in her toes, where a normal girl’s heart should be. If there is an expedition of any sort, Charlotte is always handed over to some elderly fossil because she is so intelligent and serious, and so entertaining to old gentlemen. If a man pays her the least attention, everybody notes it (and you know we pride ourselves an our breeding too); and so much interest, sympathy, and, yes, my dear, damnable curiosity, is openly shown in the matter that the girl’s pride is outraged, and in sheer self-defence she snubs her admirer incontinently.

“She lives and has always lived, as nearly as I can see, utterly without intimate companionship, confidence, or any of that wholesome dependence that belongs to girlhood. There is something infinitely pathetic in her isolation, which, much as I should like to, I dare not invade. There is a pride in life born of indigence as there is the pride of wealth. Charlotte Ponsonby is armored in the pride born of spiritual indigence. Her soul is hungering and thirsting for that thing for which all the world has decided she [80]cares nothing. Mark my words, my dear, in the end, tragedy will come of it.”

It was at the close of their stay in the mountains that Mrs. Spencer again unburdened herself to the Vermont relative.

“What do you think Charlotte is now bent on? She wants to be a trained nurse. I have felt for a long time that she had something revolutionary in her mind. It doesn’t matter to me particularly, but Cornelius is grieved to the heart. However, we have no right to coerce her, and financial independence seems to be the one thing on which her mind is fixed.”

Three years later she wrote again:

“Charlotte has finished her training and is going to the Philippines. She came in from New York last week to break the news. I said little, and Cornelius said less. But we have talked it over, and have decided that she must judge for herself. I don’t feel satisfied with the results of our care for Charlotte, and I don’t know where the blame lies, but I do feel that she cherishes some bitterness of feeling in her heart, and that she is very unhappy.

“Something in her nature wears clearer as she grows older, some ingrained romanticism which we did not suspect, and which repels me. However, it is too late to worry about now. She has taken her life into her own hands, and has decreed that it shall lie apart from ours; and I, for one, am thankful.”


To these may be added a final word from Miss Ponsonby herself, written, on her wedding eve after her return from the Luneta.

My dear Aunt:

“This is the last letter I shall write you for some time, for to-morrow I am going to be married, and shall leave Manila for a remote island where the opportunity for correspondence is small.

“The man I am going to marry, whose name is Martin Collingwood, is engaged in pearl-fishing in the seas south of Manila. He is a man, I believe, with the money-making gift. However that is not the reason that I am marrying him. With me it is absolutely a matter of the heart. I am marrying him because, as nearly as I can see, he is the one human being who has ever loved me in this world, and because I cannot live life without love.

“It is hardly necessary to say that I am sacrificing my ambitions in this matter. To a woman brought up as I have been, a dependent, a brilliant marriage would represent the most successful thing, the most nearly compensating thing, that life could offer. It has not come to me, however, and I am making the best I can of what has offered.

“You may wonder why this frankness at the end of the silence which has always existed between us. It is because my only hope in the future is based on the fact that, at last, I have courage to declare myself. To guard my every thought and feeling from your curiosity and criticism, I have separated myself from all the world, and in the beginning [82]unknowingly, but in the end with full knowledge, have walked down a path which has ended here. I will not hamper myself in my new life by even the memory of my old cowardice. You may call me weak, call me sentimental, foolish, romantic, call me all the things which for years you have been trying to discover in me, and for which you have sought in vain beneath the mask I wore—I am going to have my share of living.

“This is not written in bitterness toward you. I am grateful for all the care and the money lavished upon me, and I realize fully the sacrifice that you made in receiving me into your home and in treating me, as you did, with perfect justice. It was magnificent. I am simply one of those miserable beings who have come into this world unwelcome, born to be a worry and a trial to someone, and I have taken the only means I knew to escape from it.

“Tell Uncle Cornelius that I am not ungrateful to him. Some day I’ll write you again. For the present I want to put every memory of the past out of my life. If the day ever comes when I can go back to it without its influencing my life as it has always done, I’ll write again.

“Yours gratefully,

Charlotte Ponsonby.



Chapter V

Judge Barton had to cut short his morning ride in order to reach the San Sebastian church at seven-thirty, but he admitted to himself that he would have gone without his daily exercise rather than have missed the wedding; and he was actually ten minutes early. He found the edifice empty but pervaded with a general stir which hinted at impending events. A dirty, bare-footed sacristan in marine blue cotton drawers and a transparent shirt was opening windows and lighting a few candles about the high altar. The early morning sunlight streamed through the apertures, while the noise of street traffic outside echoed hollowly through the dusty, empty silence of the church. Sparrows flashed across the moted sunbeams and lost themselves among the violet and orange shadows of the lantern. A pobre shuffled in to mutter his devotions, and a widow and her two daughters, who had been praying before one [84]of the chapel altars, lingered to discover the cause of the preparations.

Soon one or two men dropped in, strangers to the Judge, and friends, as he instantly decided, of Collingwood. They stood about indecisively, and stared up into the vaulted roof, and whispered to one another in funereally regulated tones. Then came a group of five or six women, whom the Judge recognized as fellow-nurses of Miss Ponsonby; and almost immediately afterwards, without ceremonial or welcome of the organ, the bride and groom appeared. Both were in white; he in the military-cut blouse which is so popular in the Philippines, she in a simple street dress of white muslin with a hat of white embroidery. The marine sacristan went to summon the priest, while the bridal pair waited quietly in the shadow of one of the Gothic pillars.

When the priest, a Spaniard of ascetic and noble countenance, had arrived and was embarked upon the marriage ceremony, Judge Barton took himself to task for the flutter of nervousness which, to his great discomfiture, he found obtruding into his judicial reflections. He had come to satisfy a [85]very natural curiosity, and the affair had taken his sympathies unaware. He had never before attended a wedding in which the seriousness of matrimonial experiment appealed to him so strongly. He never before had felt the solemn happiness which his sympathy with that bride and groom awoke in him. He stole a glance at the other witnesses; they were as preternaturally grave as he. There was even a subdued air about Collingwood, full, however, of reserved triumph. As for the bride, her pallor and fatigue were quite evident, but she had an uplifted look which was most attractive. He caught himself wondering if there would be any kissing the bride, and then he decided it was time to rein in his imagination. “Emotions by the quart!” he thought to himself. “Have I turned sentimental old woman? Champagne wouldn’t make me more maudlin.”

He waited quite discreetly after the ceremony, till the young men and the group of nurses had had their say, and it had been clearly demonstrated that there would be no kissing. Then he went up and offered Mrs. Collingwood his hand. There was a genuine friendliness in his manner, a warmth and [86]sincerity in his few words that touched her. Her own reserve melted before them. He saw her eyes suffuse, and a faint color glow in her cheek.

She was instantly aware, indeed, that she occupied a new plane in his thoughts. She had gained upon him personally, and, as the wife of a man engaged in developing one of the greatest resources of the islands, and likely to become a factor of local commercial life, she would receive consideration. She knew that he regarded her marriage as a mésalliance, yet by making a mésalliance she had become a person to be taken into account. Stranger situations than this happen frequently in the world—in the governmental world—and Mrs. Collingwood did not betray her intuitions.

“Well, Judge,” said Martin jocosely, “the Bureau of Health did not bear down on us after all.”

“No; you are a Benedict, Collingwood, and ‘whom the Lord hath joined’—I don’t know whether it is in your service or not. My Latin is rusty.”

“‘Let no man, not even a Civil Commissioner, put asunder,’” Collingwood finished for him. The Judge suspected that he felt some relief in [87]having the possibility of a change of mind on his bride’s part obviated, and the two men smiled at each other openly.

“I feel that my troubles are ended,” said Collingwood.

His wife betrayed that she was still somewhat self-conscious. “It remains for Judge Barton to be trite and to warn you that they have just begun,” she said, a little stiltedly.

“Nonsense! What does it matter whether your troubles are beginning or ending? The point is that you have your present, your romance. I dare say you will have your troubles—most of us do; but to-day—” The speaker paused expressively.

“That is an extremely sensible view,” replied Mrs. Collingwood. “He has not your happy gift of expression, but it is Mr. Collingwood’s also. He told me as much yesterday. I had been foolish enough to anticipate the future.”

“Is that what made you look so solemn?” the Judge inquired playfully.

She blushed a little and shook her head reprovingly, “It is no joking matter. Try it yourself and see how you feel. Why, even Martin looked serious.” [88]

“Frankly, I was scared to death,” Collingwood admitted. His wife laughed softly. The Judge shook hands again with the newly made husband in an access of geniality.

He declined an invitation to the hotel breakfast which was all they could offer in the line of wedding festivity, but he found time later to appear aboard their boat.

“Mind,” he said as he wished Mrs. Collingwood good-by, “you have not seen the last of me. I am going to appear in your island paradise sometime when you least expect me. When things get unendurable here, I shall flee to you and solitude.”

“How long do you think you would endure it?” she inquired.

How long will you?”

“Ah! I must. I’m pledged. I shall have no excuse for repining. I took the step with my eyes open.”

“Well, I fancy you do not regret leaving Manila.” In the wholeness of his suddenly acquired sympathy with her, the Judge quite forgot that he had been one of the many persons contributing to the experience which had failed to endear Manila to her. [89]

“No; my experiences here have not been altogether happy, but perhaps I was partially to blame.” She hesitated and looked over at the shining roofs, at the patches of green shrubbery relieving them, and, in the background, at the mountains where Lawton died. The launch whistled for its passengers before Judge Barton could reply, but he wrung her hand with the intensity of a lifelong friendship. And such is the perversity of the human soul that his heart ached as the launch darted up the Pasig. She had waited upon him with infinite patience and gentleness through nearly a month of illness. He had seen her daily. She had been so situated that the faintest effort of real kindness or of chivalry on his part could have won her everlasting gratitude, and probably, if he had desired it, her affection. He certainly fulfilled the ideal which her social traditions demanded of her husband more nearly than Collingwood did, and the Judge knew how to make himself liked when he wanted to. But he had not tried to be kind to Miss Ponsonby. He had been patronizing, and at times almost impertinent and unmanly. He had not a shadow of right to the grudging sense of having something that should have been his snatched [90]away from him. He had even a feeling of impatience with her, a thought that she had cheated him, that she had chosen to hide her real self from him, and to reveal it cruelly at the moment when Fate put an insurmountable barrier between them. He could not stifle the miserable regrets, the sense of baffled yearning, that took possession of him. He did his best to shake off the memory of the wedding and of her face as he had seen it at the altar, but he could not do so. Mrs. Collingwood became an obsession. Before the coastguard cutter had pulled its anchor, he was wondering how soon and by what means he could invent an excuse for visiting her at her home.

The coastguard steamer on the Puerta Princesa run, on which the Collingwoods had elected to go as far as Cuyo where their own launch would pick them up, drove a clean white furrow, and, as Collingwood had predicted, passed Corregidor at noon. She went out through the Boca Chica with Corregidor on the left; and Mrs. Collingwood, who was resting in her steamer chair, smiled languidly as he glanced back at the island. “Corregidor over the stern,” she murmured as if repeating some well-worn quotation, and then went on, “Have your experiences [91]here led you into contact with a type of man who has but one iterated and reiterated wish,—he is, by the way, usually a major in the United States army,—which wish is ‘to see Corregidor over the stern’? I do not know how many times my tongue has burned to suggest that the wisher take a coasting steamer and see it.”

“Oh, the army’s sore on the Philippines,” remarked Collingwood.

She eyed him reflectively. “And you, who have been in it, seem to be ‘sore’ on the army.”

“That’s right,” he exclaimed heartily, “Any man who has once served his country as a high private and has gotten out is ‘agin the Government’ for the rest of his life. I came over on the troop deck of a transport, and I swore I’d go home on a liner or leave my bones here.”

“Which seems likelier to be attained?” she asked, smiling idly.

“Which do you think yourself? You’ve linked your fortunes with mine. Why?” he added fixing her with a sudden intensity of glance insistent for reply.

His wife crimsoned and looked across the glinting sea. [92]

“I thought you answered that question to your satisfaction last night,” she murmured.

“No; I tried to answer it for you. It was you that needed convincing. Here is a case of temperament,” he went on, half jocose, half serious. “So long as you hesitated and I had my side to urge, any old reason would do for me. I would clutch at a straw and hold on to it as if it were a cable. But now everything is settled and final, I want to understand. I want you to make yourself clear to me.”

“But, my dear Martin! The idea is out of the question. Why, for a month you have professed to be able to make me clear to myself.”

Martin ruffled his hair with a puzzled hand. “Did I?” he murmured. “Did it strike you as cheeky?”

“No; I was heartily grateful. You helped me.”

“In what way?”

“In the way of common sense,” Charlotte said, as simply as if the remark were an everyday one, and her husband’s somewhat startled acceptance of the reply sent her into a ripple of laughter, in which, after an instant, he joined heartily.

Their merriment attracted the attention of the [93]only other passengers, two enlisted men going out to join a hospital corps at Puerta Princesa. It also drew upon them a frown of disfavor from the captain.

The captain was an old-time skipper from a tramp freighter, with the freighter’s contempt for passengers. He was not married, and he had little sympathy with the billings and cooings of newly married couples. As often as his eyes fell on the orchids and ferns and potted plants which were hanging from stanchions and cumbering his decks (Mrs. Collingwood was taking them down for the adornment of her new home) he cursed picturesquely. To his second officer he had expressed a desire for a typhoon that would roll the deadlights out of his boat, and blow the hyphenated “garden truck” into the Sulu Sea. He had emphasized his distaste for bridal society by setting a table for himself and his officers on the forward deck behind the steering apparatus, thus leaving the tiny dining-room entirely to the despised passengers.

Yet there had been little enough sentimentality exhibited to arouse his displeasure. Mrs. Collingwood spent her day in the steamer chair while her [94]husband walked the deck with his cigar or sat chatting at her side. The hospital men, covertly watching them as everybody does a bridal pair, opined that they were a “queer proposition” but quite agreed that they seemed happy.

To Collingwood, the change in Charlotte’s mood was an intense relief. The hesitations and self-questionings with which she had puzzled him for a month previous had apparently been quieted by the finality of the marriage ceremony. That she was nervously worn out by the strain of the previous weeks and by the disagreeable circumstances of her quarrel with the Government he realized; and with a delicacy for which she was thoroughly grateful, he refrained from the rather ardent demonstrations of his courtship, and treated her with matter-of-fact kindness and good fellowship. She was his, and she seemed contented and at peace. It was a glorious summer day, the sea was waveless, the boat was clean and quiet, and might almost have been their private yacht, so completely were they alone. A chance observer beholding a lazy young woman in a deck chair and a quiet young fellow pacing to and fro near her might have taken them for a young married couple of some weeks’ or [95]months’ standing. He would hardly have suspected a bridal couple.

Yet the young man’s mind, as they steamed past the beautiful wooded heights of Mindoro, and looked up and up at the giant forests or out over the gleaming water, was a tumult of joy and triumph and wonder—the wonder being by no means in the smallest proportion. His wife was not a beautiful woman, but his lover’s eyes endowed her with every beauty as she lay scanning the tree-clad mountains. That fine quality of breeding in her which Collingwood was unable to define, but which pleased him inordinately, was never more apparent. Moreover, he had found her in times past a rather difficult person to deal with, and behold! in the Scriptural “twinkling of an eye,” her thorniness had vanished and a docility as agreeable as it was unexpected had given him fresh cause for self-gratulation.

Still, as he had confessed, his temperament inclined him to retroactive investigation. So long as she proved obdurate and was not yet won, Collingwood could not analyze. But with the struggle past he had time to take up the contradictions of her attitude, and he found little to justify his bold statement [96]that he could read her better than she could read herself. If, as he had somewhat daringly reminded her, she was happy in his arms, it was a happiness, as he could not but realize, of less ecstatic measure than that of many of the predecessors who, with or without the sanction of an engagement, had yielded to their pressure. She was a novice at love-making, as a man less experienced than her husband would easily have guessed; and she was reticent, not only in the voluntary expression of that fact, but in response to his tentative overtures to her to confess it. Collingwood was no less puzzled by the fact than by the philosophy of life which desired its concealment. He had known many young women in his life who were not novices at love-making, but who ardently desired to be thought so.

An ironical sense of his wife’s power to baffle him tempered more than one of the affectionate glances he cast upon her as he strolled back and forth beside her chair. The consciousness of her mental superiority, of her obedience to perceptions and convictions which were only half formulated in his own mind, was literally seeping through Collingwood’s brain. He was inordinately proud of [97]her. Her excellence was a proof of his own good taste. He felt that she was a credit to him. He did not associate her intelligence and her grace with a class distinction. On the contrary, it was one of his sources of joy that he would take her out of the masses and make her of the classes, only Martin did not use those terms. In his simple philosophy, people with money were important, and people without it were not. Miss Ponsonby had been poor. She had earned her own living. Ergo, she was nobody. But he, Martin Collingwood, would make her somebody, and when he had done so, she would fill the position to his entire satisfaction. He did not ask himself if he would come up to her expectations. He did not understand that a woman can ask for more in a husband than for a lover, a master, and a provider of the world’s goods. In spite of his public-school education, Martin Collingwood’s philosophy of life was a very primitive one, based upon a sense of sex superiority. He could realize that a woman can be a man’s inferior; but he supposed that the mere fact of his sex makes any man the equal of the proudest woman who lives.

So Collingwood continued to walk the deck in a [98]fool’s paradise, and his wife lounged away her day, if not in his blissful state of ignorance, a happy and contented woman, nevertheless. There was a soundness in that primitive philosophy of her husband’s which she was proving. If Collingwood did not have all the requisites of a woman’s ideal of her husband, he had at least three-fourths of them; and Mrs. Collingwood was enough of a philosopher (little as she liked being told so) not to cavil at the missing quarter when they were hurrying away from the conditions that made that quarter vital.

The coastguard steamer skirted the coast of Mindoro and then turned her nose westward. The next day, she crept up under the pinnacled heights of Peñon de Coron in a jade-green sea, and entered the channel between Coron and Bushuanga. There the water was like purple glass, save where a rush of porpoises parted it in swift pursuit of the flying-fish. Fairy islets dotted its dazzling surface while the land masses on either hand were clothed in amethystine haze.

The boat lay half a day off the curving beach of Culion, and the travellers stared up at the nipa houses of the leper colony, clinging to the hillsides, [99]and at the gray old church and the fort on the left, speaking of the day when Moro paraos were no strangers to the peaceful locality. On the third night, it anchored in Halsey Harbor, “which is,” said Collingwood, “the last place on earth except the one we are going to live in.”

To this somewhat discouraging remark, Mrs. Collingwood, who was leaning over the rail, staring into darkness and the massed bulk of land near, made no reply. Immediately after the dropping of the anchor, the captain, accompanied by his third officer and the two hospital corps men, had gone ashore to call upon the single American family which was holding Halsey Harbor. He did not invite the Collingwoods to go, glad apparently to be out of their sight for a time. They laughed at their power to arouse his distaste, and agreed that they were the gainers by his dislike. The fiery cigar tip of the officer on watch was the only reminder that the boat was not wholly in their hands.

Collingwood, throwing away his cigar, slipped an arm around his wife, who never objected to petting. [100]

“It’s wonderful,” she said dreamily; “I never knew before that tree toads made silence. I thought they made noise.”

The night was one of those cloudy ones which occur so frequently in the tropics, when the vapors hang low at dusk, to dissipate later. The boat seemed to be at anchor in a bay shut in by low hills, for, at one point, a rift in the clouds showed the pallor of the sky and a single star, below which the solid blackness loomed in relief, and against which a clump of bamboo teased the eye with its phantom outline. A faint chorus of insects and tree toads and the insistent cry of an iku lizard suggested that the boat must be fairly close to the shore, but, as Mrs. Collingwood had said, the sounds only emphasized the stillness. Low down in the gloom—so low as to suggest a valley between the hills—a light burned steadily with a sweet and human significance in the tremendous vagueness about them.

There was almost trepidation in Collingwood’s inquiry if she found it lonesome.

“Not in the least. Or rather, I find it tremendously lonely, and enjoy it. Are you worrying about me when it is too late? Do not do so. I shall find plenty to occupy me on the island.” [101]

“For a woman who held back as persistently as you did, you have experienced a wonderful change of heart.”

“Did you think I was afraid of loneliness?”

“Lord! I didn’t know what you were afraid of, but I could see you were afraid of something. I had to take it into consideration. It was one of a lot of things working against me which I had to combat.”

There came a long, long pause. Eight bells sounded. The second engineer came out on the lower deck and cursed some of the Filipino crew who had stretched themselves for a night’s rest in such a manner as to block the passage-way.

“Well,” insisted Collingwood, “am I a good guesser or not?”

“About the island? No, dear. My imagination took hold of that at once. The thought of living on a practically uninhabited island stirred up all the romance there is in me.”

“What was it, then? Come, we’re married. Out with it!”

“You told me yourself in so many words that I was coquetting with myself.”

“I never said anything like that,” declared Mr. [102]Collingwood with a vivacity inspired by a premonition of the resentment she might feel. But Charlotte only laughed.

“Those were your exact words,” she insisted. “They were quite true.”

“That was not all,” he persisted. “It was more serious than that. I felt something mighty heavy in the atmosphere at times.”

Mrs. Collingwood reflected a few minutes. “Don’t you think,” she said then, “that any woman of mature age—of my age—would hesitate to marry a man of whose family and antecedents she knew as little as I did of yours?”

“No: I don’t see what my family had to do with it. In the first place I haven’t any near relatives living now, as I told you; and if I had, you wouldn’t have married them. You have married me. As for my antecedents (I suppose you mean my conduct), I told you myself that I had been no saint. I’m just a good average citizen. I’ve known better men than I am, and I have known worse. I have not been married before; that’s the main thing, after all; and no woman ever had cause for a breach-of-promise suit against me. I had ——” (he named a man locally prominent) “write [103]to you and tell you that he came from the same town with me, and he knew my record was what I had told you. Besides, I didn’t give a thought to your family, and you have talked less about them than I have talked of mine.”

“That is true. Do you think me secretive? There is nothing to be secretive about. But my life with my relatives was too painful to talk about, even to you.”

“I saw that. I guessed it must have been hard to anybody so loving and tender as you.”

“Martin, when did you form the impression that I am loving and tender?”

“Well, ain’t you?”

“I think so; but most people have not thought so, you know. What made you decide differently?”

“Oh, that first night in the hospital after they had fixed me up in the operating room, and the chloroform wore off, and my fever came up. God! I can feel it all now! And just when I thought that I could not stand things any longer, and must yell, you came along with an ice bag and gave me a piece to suck.” His wife smiled in the darkness at his homely phraseology. “It [104]seemed to me I had never heard a woman’s voice in my life as soft as yours was when you said, ‘You are in great pain, I know.’”

“But that was what I should have done for anybody, Martin.”

“I knew it. That’s why I felt that you were gentle and loving. I would have liked to put my arms around you and cry. I wanted to be babied. It is strange, isn’t it, how physical suffering can unman a fellow?”

Charlotte turned her eyes on him for an instant. He could just see their gleam by the reflection of a ray streaming out on the water from a light on the lower deck, and they were infinitely tender yet mirthful. “You understand yourself thoroughly,” she said. “You were a brave baby and a good baby but you were a baby, Martin, a great six-foot baby.”

“Well, if it made you fall in love with me—

“Ah! but I didn’t then. You bullied me into being in love with you. You wouldn’t give me a chance to make myself heard.”

“What about that time I kissed you?” said Martin, referring to that episode for the first time since his very formal and abject letter of apology had [105]met an equally formal but cold forgiveness from her.

To his consternation, she drew away from him in sudden displeasure. “Perhaps we had better not speak of it.”

“Why shouldn’t we speak of it? Is it a crime for a man to kiss a woman he loves? Did it contaminate you?”

“I had given you no right, no encouragement.”

“I’d have done it if I had known I was to be kicked out of the hospital, broken ribs and all. Besides, how is a man to know whether he has any rights till he exercises them?”

Martin put the question seriously in all good faith. It was his primitive philosophy again, the simple way in which he tested women in his sphere of life. She was at a loss how to reply, and somewhat sore put to hide her inexperience in affairs of the sort. She had been brought up to believe that milkmaids kiss their young men over the gate, but that, in refined society, men offer no caresses to girls whom they respect, unless a troth has first been plighted. Had she chummed more with girls and young women, she might have learned that [106]even in the best of society, young people pay little heed to the strong statements of their elders, and that, wise heads to the contrary, young blood will have its toll. But Charlotte had had no chums and had never exchanged gossip over late bedroom fires. Her views on the propriety of kissing were entirely theoretical. But that kiss was a sore remembrance with her. It marked the beginning of the end. It was an opening door which gave her an instant’s glance into the kingdom of love; and from its bestowal, she had known that she was confronted with a mighty temptation to open it further and to go boldly into the fair land. How hard she had fought with the inclination, she could never tell Martin Collingwood; but she had fought, and she had lost.

She glanced up at him penitently after his last speech, and marked the cessation of her involuntary resentment by slipping back into his arm. He was emboldened to make a query which had been on his tongue a dozen times, but which, up to that hour, not even the proprietary sense of the husband had enabled him to regard as discreet.

“Charlotte, am I really the first man you ever cared about?” [107]

“Absolutely the first to whom I ever gave a sentimental thought.”

The delighted recipient of this compliment did not, in the joy of hearing it, examine it too closely. When he did begin to speak, his wife was pleased to note that he was less inclined to investigate the cause of the phenomenon than to speculate upon its uncommonness.

“I don’t know what you were about,” he said. “It’s mighty good luck for me, but—not in an uncomplimentary sense—you must have been an awful goose.”

“That’s it exactly. I was an awful goose; and, being so, I had an inspiration to keep out of love.”

“Why so?”

“Because I was afraid of being in love. Can you understand that? Because love was altogether associated in my mind with pain—the pain of losing, and the pain of loving and of not being loved, and of being generally misunderstood.”

“And all that because you were raised an orphan. I don’t think you had a fair show, old girl.”

“I know I had not,” said Mrs. Collingwood decisively. She added, “But I had rather not talk about it. It makes me morbid.” [108]

“Were your folks well to do?”

“They were people of considerable wealth. I do not think they ever grudged me anything I cost them. But I was in a false position in their house, and I was conscious of it. The knowledge put me at a disadvantage with all the world. It made me feel myself different from everybody else. I was self-conscious, afraid of being an object of pity. It was like failing to possess some essential article of dress that everybody else has, and trying to cover up one’s nakedness.”

“That’s it. I couldn’t put it into words, but that is exactly how you acted with Barton. You seemed to shrink away from him and to be ready to fight him if he spoke pleasantly to you.”

“Oh, dear! was it so bad as that?” Charlotte’s heart sank. Her way of expressing facts differed considerably from his, and the balance of vividness and realism was in his favor.

“It was, just like that. But you were not that way to me. Why not?”

Her woman’s wit, already quickened by her increased experience with men, showed her how to be truthful, and, in so being, how to deceive him most. “Ah! you were different,” she murmured. [109]But after he had led her, in response to her request, back to her chair, and was pacing to and fro beside her in quiet happiness, her heart reproached her. She had not shrunk from him because she knew that he was blind, because, to carry out her simile, he could perceive nothing lacking in her raiment. But those keen eyes of Judge Barton’s had questioned her, had perceived every rag and tatter!

The captain returned and called Martin to deliver to him a message from the Inhabitant of Halsey Harbor. Charlotte was left alone to her musings.

She was very happy. The old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind” was proving its appositeness in her case. No one was about her who could read her, who could perceive the absence of any necessary raiment, who would be conscious that there was anything odd in her being Martin Collingwood’s wife. She had, in one decisive action, destroyed all that was holding her spirit in leash. A woman yet young, whose emotions had been stifled for a lifetime, in whom the warmth of love had been overlaid by the calculating egoism of a nature wounded to the quick, she had emancipated herself at the [110]fortuitous moment, alive to the rapture of passion, of freedom from all the restraints that had curbed her existence. She had thrown the admonitions and the self-restraint of a life-time aside for a romance. She had (but fortunately for a time she was able to put the fact out of mind) quite justified a conventional assumption that a woman’s nature is full of primitive evil, and that you must pitch your maxims pretty strong if you would have them believed at all, and that then, ten to one, she will demolish all your precautions at a bound if an object in trousers holds out his arms. She had profited by her husband’s view. “Come what may,” she said, “I will have my romance and pay the price afterwards.”

So far, the price seemed a remote contingency. With every revolution of the steamer’s screw, Manila and her distant relatives whose pride she had outraged became the mere phantoms of memory, growing paler every hour. Nothing was left but the delightful sense of being an absolute necessity to Martin—she who had been a superfluity all her life!

As for Collingwood himself, his kindness, his [111]shrewdness, his strength were gaining constantly in her esteem. He had proved himself innately delicate and refined. Of what possible importance were a few deficiencies in speech, a too vivid phraseology, the lack of the little courtesies which mark a man of the world? But (and here some of her elation diminished) if they mattered so little, why had she to convince herself so eagerly? If two negatives make an affirmative, too passionate a denial sometimes constitutes an assertion. Whenever she arrived at this stage of reflection, another cloud dimmed her horizon. Was not her whole attitude a practical deception of the man himself? Would Martin Collingwood have accepted her surrender so joyfully, could he have read that it was weighted with the condition of living with him on an uninhabited island? Would not all his self-esteem repudiate such a proposition? She had not lied when she said that she loved him, but would he content himself with a definition of love which excluded all natural pride of choice, and put a compromise value upon himself? As often as she found herself confronted with these thoughts, Charlotte took refuge in a bit of casuistry. If she saw Martin with clear eyes and underrated the proportional [112]value of his attainments, did he even see her clearly at all? Did she wrong him more in reserving an opinion of his social worth than he wronged her in not perceiving that she had any social worth? The fact that every person has a real personal value and an accredited worldly value, and that most effort is directed to making these two values coincide, or appear to do so, put a convenient weapon in her hand. Since, in only a few cases, the two values are really identical, happy marriages must be the result of a marvellous luck or of a wonderful power of self-deception. Was she to be taxed for not deceiving herself? Was her intelligence to be punished when his ignorance was rewarded? As often as she thought about it, it seemed that his incapacity to value certain qualities of her own justified her in a few mental reservations.

Nevertheless she was afflicted with a sense of penitence in spite of her sophistry, and when, after a long conversation with the captain, her husband came back to her and bent over her, she put up her arms and drew his face down to hers, giving him the first voluntary caress which she had bestowed upon him since the hour of her surrender upon the Luneta. [113]

“Have you thought me a selfish, ungrateful wretch?” she asked him.

“Never! But I have worried a little. There’s no getting around it—you are daffy about some things, Charlotte.”

“Daffy is such a beautiful word. It’s so civil. I’ll adopt it. You are not daffy about anything but me, are you, Martin?”

“Kingsnorth says I’m daffy about anything that I really like.”

“Tell me about Mr. Kingsnorth—all about him. Analyze him for me.”

“I can’t do that sort of thing. Besides, I want you to form your own impressions. You will see him in thirty-six hours.”

“So soon as that.” She drew a long breath, and fell silent.

“The captain says he is going out at dawn. We ought to make Cuyo by five to-morrow afternoon, and if Mac’s there with the launch, as he surely will be, we’ll get our freight transhipped and make the run over to-morrow night. That will bring us home by dawn the day after to-morrow. Home,” he repeated softly. “I’ve dreamed many dreams [114]in my life and some of them have come true, but I don’t think anything stranger could have happened to me than taking my wife home to an uninhabited island in the Pacific.”

“Nothing stranger could have happened to you than finding yourself married at all. Isn’t that it?”

“It’s a fact,” he admitted slowly. “I was not planning to marry for many a year. I don’t know that I thought seriously about doing it at all. In fact, I was so afraid that I might be injudicious and get married—or get myself married—” he smiled in the darkness—“that I swore off even on flirtations some time before I came out here. But when you came along with the ice-bag and your nice voice, and I got a good look at you next day, all that went up in the air. I knew then and there that I wanted to get married as quick as I could. I’d been in love before a half dozen times, but I knew every time that it wasn’t a love I wanted to marry on. It don’t matter how much a man loves a woman, he don’t love her in the right way unless she does him credit. I felt that way about you. You were the kind of woman I could be proud of all my life. ‘That’s the girl for me,’ I said, and [115]sure enough—” his pause expressed the idea that the outcome had been foreordained.

His desire to compliment her was so unmistakable, his admiration was so sincere, that Charlotte was able to stifle quickly the first instinct to rebuke his unconscious patronage. His egoism, after all, was of an inoffensive variety. He was not boasting himself as a connoisseur, but was testifying to the completeness with which she satisfied his ideal. The wife lay silent for a long time, studying his face, which was just dimly visible in the glow of his cigar. When she spoke, it was as she rose from her chair.

“I hope I’ll always be able to live up to your conception of me,” she said. “I mean to try.”

“Nonsense,” replied the man of common sense. “You just suit me perfectly as you are. Why, you’d spoil it all if you even thought of trying. What is there to try? You are you. I wouldn’t have the biggest fault or the smallest virtue in you altered by the ten-millionth of an inch.”

When Charlotte had shut the door of her stateroom and had snapped on the light, she sank for an instant on the locker, with a face in which pride, shame, and contrition were tumultuously mingled. [116]For why had she spent twenty-eight years acquiring tastes and criterions which, at that moment, made her seem incredibly mean and ungenerous? [117]


Chapter VI

It was well on in the afternoon of the next day when they anchored off Cuyo, which, with its squat lighthouse and low shore, impressed Charlotte as a dreary, lonesome spot. A launch, which was lying abreast the lighthouse, saluted them with vociferous toots, and Collingwood waved his hat in joyous response.

“That’s Mac, all right,” he said. “He’ll be aboard directly. It’s a wonder he didn’t hire the town band to welcome us.”

Charlotte winced and secretly rejoiced that for once Mr. Maclaughlin’s initiative had failed to come up to its reputation. Yet when a boat came alongside, and a grizzled Scotch-American stepped up the short ladder, her greeting was warm enough to fully satisfy her husband.

“My soul!” said Mr. Maclaughlin, giving her a lengthy handshake and a look of unqualified admiration, “but you could ha’ knocked us down with a feather the day the letter came saying that Martin [118]would bring back a wife. Kingsnorth nigh took to his bed on it.”

Consternation was plainly written on Mrs. Collingwood’s face. Her sensitiveness was a-flutter, fearing a cold welcome from her husband’s friends.

“I’m sorry,” she began, and then came to an awkward stop.

“No offence, I hope,” said Maclaughlin, reading the signs, “He’s well over it by now. Kingsnorth is just one of those poor bodies we call a woman-hater; and you’ll notice, Mrs. Collingwood, that they always begin life just the opposite. He thought he’d found a bunkie for life in Martin, an’ the lad fooled him! I don’t say but we were all surprised, but you’ll find a hearty welcome at the island.”

“Can we get out to-night?” asked Collingwood.

“Get out in an hour if we can get our freight transhipped, unless Mrs. Collingwood is in a mind to stay and see the city by gaslight.” He jerked a derisive thumb in the direction of the iron and nipa roofs ashore.

“All the light stuff is on deck now,” said Martin whose instincts to accomplish whatever was to be done mastered any tendency toward conversation. [119]He pointed, as he spoke, to a tarpaulin-covered heap forward. “The heavy cases are stored where they can be hauled up in a minute. I’ll see the captain at once. He won’t try to delay us, not he. Get alongside right away, with the launch, can’t you?”

“I doubt you’ve gone broke,” remarked Maclaughlin, contemplating the heap and smiling at Charlotte, who laughed.

“Not so had as that, I hope,” she responded, “but some of the credit is due me that he hasn’t.”

“That’s a fact,” her husband supplemented. “I wanted to buy out Manila and wire additional supplies from Hong Kong. However, we can talk about that later. Thank the Lord, there isn’t any sea on. We would have the devil’s own time transhipping, if there were.”

He dashed off, and Maclaughlin jumped into his boat with an order to the native rowers to hurry. For an instant, Charlotte was annoyed by their unceremonious departure, but her good sense soon rose superior to her training. Martin alert, talking business, with his hat on the back of his head, a long pencil emphasizing his gestures, was a very different figure from the insouciant young pagan, [120]alternately jocose and pleading, that had wooed her. How quickly, too, the easy speech of the husband had possessed him. “Devil’s own time” came ripping out with unconscious force. At first, Charlotte’s fastidiousness revolted from it. Then she decided that it was virile and that she liked it. Still, she mused, if he felt the need of emphatic embellishment to point the assertion of so simple a fact as that, what might he not do when an occasion out of the ordinary arose?

Her question was answered before their goods and commissaries were aboard the launch, and, for a time, she could not tell whether she wanted to laugh or to cry. While she was still in doubt, her husband came back, red and perspiring, with his coat off. He held out a collar and necktie.

“Just look out for these things for me, won’t you?” he said. “My! I’m pretty well cussed out. Hope I didn’t shock you, pet.”

“You did, but it didn’t matter; or rather, it passed the point of shocking. You have the towering imagination in profanity, Martin, of an architect of sky-scraping buildings.”

Collingwood was able to extract a compliment from this, and looked grateful, though he was evidently [121]impressed by the form of its expression. “I may have said a little too much,” he apologized, “but a man would have to be a saint not to lose his temper—Here!” he roared, as three of the crew, having mounted to the upper deck and having armed themselves with a flower pot apiece, started brazenly off with their burdens, “take two of those at a time. How many trips do you plan to make with this flower garden, anyway? You see that everything is right in the stateroom, won’t you?” he threw over his shoulder as he darted off.

“Certainly,” she replied, adding to herself, “for I shouldn’t like you to ‘cuss’ me.”

She felt quite safe from any such dire possibility, or she could not have joked about it even with herself. Nevertheless, she was very thoughtful as she gathered up their belongings and put them in the valises, leaving, however, the strapping and the pulling to be done by Martin.

When she had done all that there was to be done, and had put on her hat, she sank down on a locker, still holding her husband’s discarded collar, and let her thoughts dwell rosily on the part she could play in the island life. A guilty conscience urged her to acts of reparation. All that she could do to [122]bring order and system and beauty into her husband’s home she was resolved to do. He had told her enough to let her know that he had lived in an unlovely fashion, and that he had aspirations for something better, though he could not define what he objected to in the past, or just what he wanted in the future. He was bent on making money, chiefly because he seemed to feel that there was no way of obtaining his ideal without large expenditures; and yet he was not ostentatious. He had been very liberal—extravagant, she had laughingly told him—in the purchase of household belongings; and she had told the truth when she said that she deserved the credit of restraining him. He was going to become the typical American husband, who labors unceasingly that his womankind may be decked in finery and may represent him in the whirl of society; but his wife could see that, until such a time as their prosperity should be at flood tide, he would expect her to administer wisely and economically. He gave much—as far as he was conscious of her needs—and he would ask proportionally in return. Charlotte’s head reared proudly to meet the thought. She would not fail him. And then she vowed for the hundredth time, [123]that his unstinted devotion should meet with its just due, and that never, never should Martin suspect how she had had to battle with herself before she could conquer the feeling that her love was a shame to her.

Martin, coming to seek her in order to introduce her to the wife of a local military officer, found her sunk in reverie with his crumpled neck-wear pressed against her cheek. He put on a clean tie and collar and they went on deck together.

The military officer’s wife was a young woman, plainly of village origin, who was carrying the wide-spreading sail which many Americans in the Philippines elect to display in the exuberance of having journeyed to foreign lands. Her appearance jarred on Mrs. Collingwood, and her conversation, which was frivolous and full of assumption, reinforced the unfavorable impression.

The lady had met Collingwood three or four times before, and had treated him with scant courtesy, because he had been an enlisted man. But when she heard that he was married, and that his wife was aboard ship, her curiosity got the better of her exclusiveness—that and her eagerness to hear the sound of her own voice, for there were [124]few Americans in Cuyo, and she was already on bad terms with several families. She threw a gushing condescension into her manner of greeting Charlotte, which put that young woman’s nerves on edge at once. But Mrs. Snodgrass (“What a name!” thought Charlotte, “I never expected to meet it out of books!”) was determined to make the best of the conversational opportunity. After a somewhat ingenuous scrutiny, she invited the Collingwoods to dinner. Charlotte was about to decline, when Martin interrupted and said that their being delayed an hour or so was of no importance; that it was evidently going to be a clear night, and they had time enough to make the run over before dawn. Charlotte supposed that some affection for Lieutenant Snodgrass—who had been a captain of volunteers in the war, and Martin’s officer—was the cause of her husband’s eagerness, and she accepted the invitation at once. She went ashore with the Lieutenant’s wife, while Martin remained to see to a few last details, and to make some arrangements with Maclaughlin.

Lieutenant and Mrs. Snodgrass (he had not been able to secure entrance to the regular army with his volunteer rank) were comfortably domiciled, [125]and the meal was a good one, though Charlotte was made uncomfortable by the hostess’s repeated apologies both for her food and her service. “The servants are such impossible creatures here, don’t you think?” fluttered the little woman who, before her marriage, had been a stenographer working for twelve dollars a week, and who had never enjoyed the luxury of a servant in her life till she came to the Philippines.

Charlotte glanced at her in surprise. “I had not thought so,” she replied. “They need a great deal of training, of course, but I fancied them ideal servants, so truly of the servant class, believing that God ordained us to be masters, and them to serve. At home, I feel that servants do not acquiesce in the situation, and the more intelligent they are, the more sensitive I am to the undercurrent.”

It was evident that Mrs. Snodgrass regarded this remark as verbiage. “How funny!” she said. “I never felt that way.”

“In other words,” remarked Lieutenant Snodgrass, who was a self-made man, but who was taking on his army training with great quickness, “Mrs. Collingwood prefers an aristocratic social system to a democratic one.” [126]

“I suppose so,” Charlotte assented, “though theoretically I stand for democracy like all good Americans. You inferred a condition of my mind of which I was hardly conscious myself. But I suppose you are right.”

“Do you hear that, Collingwood? You are the most rabid democrat I know. Are you going to bring your wife over to your way of thinking?”

Martin was staring at Charlotte, who began to color with embarrassment. Her view-point had seemed to her so natural and so simple that she was quite unprepared for the comment it evoked.

“I’ll have to coach you up before I turn you loose on people,” he said. “Why, I never thought it of you.”

Lieutenant Snodgrass assumed the air of a man, the length of whose matrimonial experience justifies him in extensive allusions to feminine peculiarities.

“Oh, if she doesn’t startle you any worse than that,” he hinted darkly.

After dinner, Charlotte was left to a long hour of Mrs. Snodgrass’s company while their husbands reviewed war experiences and discussed that never-ending theme of exiles, the Government’s Philippine policy. It was ten o’clock when the Collingwoods [127]bade good-bye to their hosts, with the usual promise of an exchange of visits. They found Maclaughlin waiting for them at the landing with the boat. He asked Mrs. Collingwood if she could steer and, being told that she could, vacated his place in the stern for her.

The night was dark but not cloudy, like the previous one. The moon would not rise till later, but the night azure of the sky was unclouded, and all the constellations of the tropic belt were glittering in its peaceful depths. The Southern Cross was there, and the so-called False Cross, while, in the north, the “Big Dipper” hung low and out of place. The water was phosphorescent, the oars turning in green fire, which sent a million prickles flashing away in the waves. When, now and then, a banca crept past them, its shape was outlined in the same lurid radiance, and the noiseless paddles dripped smears of unearthly flame. Charlotte pulled her tiller ropes in silence, keeping a wary eye out for unlighted craft, and watching the huddle of lights that was their launch. The coastguard cutter had left half an hour before. She was a faint glimmer of dots on the vague horizon; her smoke still lay a wavering, dark line across the night sky. [128]

Suddenly a tremor of deadly fear shook Charlotte. There went the chain by which she had felt herself linked to the world and civilization. She had put herself at the mercy of a man of whom she knew, after all, next to nothing. Once aboard the launch, once out of Cuyo harbor, she was as utterly in his power as any prisoner in a dungeon is in the power of his captors. A wife may have rights and privileges in the eye of the law, but they avail her little on an island where no one of her own race save her husband’s friends steps foot.

Her crowding thoughts sickened her, though she had enough will and strength to guide the boat alongside the launch. Collingwood threw away his cigar and held out his hands. “Up with you,” he cried gayly.

The answer was a half movement and a groan as she dropped back with her face in her hands.

“Charlotte, are you sick? My God! What’s the matter?”

His vehemence and the fear in his voice reassured her. With indomitable pride she raised herself. “My ankle turned; it was sickening pain for an instant. It is all right, I think. The pain is growing less.” [129]

She hated herself for the lie. She despised herself for the little pretence she still made at lameness as her husband would have picked her up bodily. “I can walk,” she said, and stepped over the thwarts.

Maclaughlin had clambered aboard ready to receive her as Martin lifted her. They put her in the steamer chair which was to serve her as a stateroom, and Martin hovered over, chafing her hands, offering her brandy from his pocket flask. Mr. Maclaughlin, after making certain that she was not seriously hurt, tactfully removed himself. Martin called to him to wait a minute before pulling out; that it might be necessary to get a doctor. Charlotte’s face burned. She was grateful for the darkness that hid it.

“It is not even sprained,” she said truthfully. “There—see how I can move it. It didn’t amount to anything, only I am such a coward.”

“You are sure now?” said Martin. She was only too glad to say that she was.

An hour later, a waveless sea was gurgling musically as the launch cut through it, and a tropical moon was scattering a pathway of brilliants into which the little craft seemed desirous of plunging [130]herself, but which she could never quite attain. The Filipino steersman shifted from foot to foot, a dim moving shape at his shadowed post. Mysterious clanks and groans issued at intervals from the engine-room below. There was no longer a wavering dark line across the night sky, though the light on Cuyo was still visible. And in the exquisite peace a woman, reared to luxury and social exclusiveness, lay in her deck chair and listened to the talk of men who had known most of the shadows of life and some of its pits of evil, took their homage, too, and found it tasty.

Each had drawn up one of the three-legged, rattan stools which are so common in the Philippines and they were seated one on each side of her. Their talk wandered over many themes, but was always terse and vivid. They agreed in damning the Government. All civilian non-employees do that continually. They spoke of affairs on the island, and discussed the administration of local justice with the simplicity of men who do not quibble over political documents, but who have a strong conviction that the powerful must rule the weak. One of the Japanese divers was making trouble with the launch crew, preaching the inferiority of the [131]white race and the drubbing one part of it was destined to receive. “I guess he’s right on the Russians,” said Collingwood. “I believe the Japs will thrash them into the middle of kingdom come; but if he goes to putting on any airs around me, I’ll kick him into the China Sea.”

“No need,” said Maclaughlin cheerily, “I did it for him last week. It did him a world of good.”

“How are findings?”

“None too good. We’ll not make our fortunes this year, but we’ll make our keep, and a little to spare.” The smile on the keen face told Charlotte that the speaker was not dissatisfied.

“How’s Kingsnorth?”

“Just himself.”

“Poor devil,” said Martin feelingly. Maclaughlin broke into a hearty laugh. “Hear the married man,” he cried, “an’ if you could ha’ heard him six months gone, Mrs. Collingwood!”

“I probably shouldn’t have liked it,” said Charlotte dryly.

“Kingsnorth will snort when he hears that Mrs. Snodgrass asked us to dinner,” said Martin. “They don’t like each other,” he explained to his wife. “I can’t say I ever thought she liked me [132]much till this trip. She thinks I’m likelier to be a respectable member of society, now I’m married. She thinks that because I was a soldier I went about sowing wild oats by the cavan.”

It happened that at the moment he finished the remark, Charlotte’s glance rested on Maclaughlin, whose face was fair in the moonlight. In a flash—in just the instant’s time that it took him to change his expression—she read the man’s judgment that Collingwood owed thanks to his wife for any civility received from Mrs. Snodgrass. A man brought up in the British empire has some sources of knowledge denied the citizens of our great republic. Thirty years of kicking over American frontiers had robbed the Scotchman of many a national trait. They had not obscured his firm fixed impressions of gentility. He knew Martin’s wife for a gentlewoman.

“How did you like Mrs. Snodgrass?” Martin asked his wife.

Charlotte cast about for something truthful and non-committal. “I thought she was very prettily dressed,” she replied, “and that she showed very good taste in her home. It was cosy, and the dinner was excellent.” [133]

“Good heavens, Charlotte! I didn’t ask you that. I asked you how you liked her.”

“She told you,” said Maclaughlin with a short laugh.

“Of course I did,” echoed Charlotte. “I put it in the most forcible way I could. Don’t pretend you did not understand.”

“I understood well enough. I just wanted you to come out and out with what you mean. Why don’t you like her?”

“She is too commonplace and too assuming.”

“What do you mean by commonplace?”

“I mean—I mean—” exasperation brought her to the point of unguarded speech—“a woman who says ‘Don’t you know?’ with every other breath, or tacks on a sweet ‘Isn’t it so?’ or ‘Don’t you think?’ to qualify every word she utters. I mean a woman of exactly Mrs. Snodgrass’s type.”

“Commonplace always means a woman then?”

But by that time Charlotte was laughing, partly at her flash of temper, partly at the odd confusion of her definition, which Martin had so quickly pointed out with his uncompromising finger.

“It doesn’t mean a man like you,” she said. “You are not commonplace, but unique.” [134]

“The only one of my kind,” said Martin yawning. She could see, under his jocularity, his pride and pleasure in her (as he considered) audacity. Her criticisms of the lady meant little to him, except as they were the gauntlet thrown down, the laudable declaration that Martin Collingwood’s wife was not going to stand any patronizing from the regular army. But she realized also that he was flattered by the invitation they had received. To him Lieutenant and Mrs. Snodgrass were people that counted. A pang of contrition shot through her that what had been a sort of social triumph to him had been an unmitigated bore to her. Then a sense of humor came uppermost. The boredom she might conceal. But as well attempt to make water run up hill as to make Charlotte Collingwood regard an acquaintance with Lieutenant and Mrs. Snodgrass as a social triumph. Maclaughlin, who was to take the first watch, went forward, and Collingwood curled himself up, native fashion, on a mat at his wife’s feet. Long after his deep respirations told her that he was fast asleep, she lay with wide open eyes, staring into the silvered pathway ahead of them, her thoughts a blending of regret and of exquisite joy. When, [135]at three o’clock, Maclaughlin came to wake up Martin, she pretended to be asleep, and shortly after she did fall into a slumber, from which she was awakened by her husband’s voice and the word “home.”

She sprang to her feet with an instinctive movement of bewilderment, and then caught her breath for sheer delight in what she saw.

The launch was riding a mile or more off the shore of a wedge-shaped island perhaps three miles in length. Its backbone was a line of hills which rose precipitously from the sea on the eastern side (as she later discovered) but which, on the west sloped gently down to a level coast plain, a quarter of a mile or more broad. The plain and the hills were one huge cocoanut grove. In the foreground, the columned boles and the graceful plumes made a great haunt of emerald shade, a dream place of cool recesses and long cathedral aisles. Its rich, unvarying greenness seemed the more vivid by contrast with the changing hues of the shallow water, with the gleaming whiteness of the beach, and the occasional overtopping of a wave like the dip of a sea-gull’s wings.

At the northern apex of the island, situated [136]where they not only commanded the western sea, but looked eastward over a channel to the coast line of Panay and a scarped mountain rearing its cloud-hung flanks against a lustering sky, three steep nipa-roofed cottages nestled among the palms. Southward, the beach line ran straight till it curved out into a sharp point in front of one of the hills. There stood a small nipa village.

Dawn flushes played across the sky behind the distant mountain, and pearled the shining sea. A great fishing banca manned by at least twelve oarsmen swept boldly past them. The naked backs were made of rippling bronze. A lorcha, almost on the western horizon line, showed in faint lines and in gleaming spots of mother of pearl. The morning breeze was almost chill.

It came, a crowding of perceptions and sensations, but Charlotte’s pleasure was almost ecstatic.

“Beautiful, beautiful!” she murmured. “It is a veritable paradise.”

Is it?” said Maclaughlin’s knowing voice behind her. “I’m glad you think so, Mrs. Collingwood. My wife has been doubting you’d find it dull. Martin and I will take ours with a bandstand [137]and a few trolley-cars and a chop-house thrown in, eh, Collingwood?”

“Oh, shut up, Mac, don’t pour cold water on my wife’s enthusiasms. Besides, she’s got a poetic soul, and you and I haven’t.”

Charlotte stared. “What will you endow me with next?” she asked. “A poetic soul! Martin, who has been talking about poetry for the last two months?”

“I don’t mind admitting,” said Mr. Collingwood shamelessly, “that I have, or, at least, I’ve been dwelling on the poetry of love and I found you responsive. Therefore I deduced a poetic soul—sort of Sherlock Holmes. Sabe?”

She made no reply beyond one of those reproachful head shakes which indicate the compromise between duty and inclination. Martin grinned. He knew when she tried to be severe, but was yet secretly pleased with him.

Charlotte did what she could to repair the dishevelled appearance caused by sleeping dressed in the steamer chair. A few minutes later, they were all in the boat, speeding straight for the nipa cottages. Martin explained that the launch could go [138]in no further on account of the coral reef; but, he said, a mile or more to the southward, where the hill jutted out, there was a channel cut through the reef, and the launch could come close in and find anchorage in a pool which lay under the cliff. A rude pier had been constructed there, and there their freight would be landed and then dragged up to them along the beach in a carabao cart; for they had one draft animal. He further informed her that the launch lay down at the anchorage every night, and came up abreast the cottages every morning to pick up the fishers, for it was easier to be rowed out than to trudge down the mile of sand.

As they drew near the shore, Charlotte perceived that, in spite of the steep roofs, the cottages had something of an American air, having broad verandas in front; while one, which she imagined must be the Maclaughlin home, was covered with morning glory vines. The houses sat back about fifty yards from the beach, just where the cocoanut grove came to an end, and it was evident that the sea breeze made them deliciously cool.

A man was pacing up and down the beach, and, as the boat grounded, a woman emerged from the vine-wreathed cottage, and came swiftly on, flapping [139]a kitchen apron which she was wearing, and making other gestures of welcome. Charlotte had little time to observe either closely, for her attention was quite taken up with the novel preparations for landing her and her companions. Full thirty feet of water intervened between them and the dry sand, not deep enough to drown in, but quite enough to spoil dress and shoes. The Filipino oarsmen met the difficulty, however, by rolling up their trousers and going overboard. They made a chair of their clasped hands, and Charlotte, seating herself therein, was carried ashore and set down in front of Mrs. Maclaughlin.

Mrs. Maclaughlin was tall and bony with iron-gray hair and a large featured, strong face, characteristic of the pioneer. She was not shy, and she seized Mrs. Collingwood by both hands and kissed her, then held her off for inspection.

“Well, Martin Collingwood’s a fool for luck,” she remarked. “I never thought he’d get a nice, peart, stylish girl like you to follow him off to a place like this. You’re either mad—and you don’t look it—or you’re worse in love than any woman ever was before you.”

The informality of the greeting took Charlotte’s [140]breath. As she stood blushing, a large, brown, and well-made hand was extended to her.

“How do you do, Mrs. Collingwood?” said a voice in the refined accents of the upper class Englishman. “I don’t need to introduce myself, do I? Martin has told you all about us, and there are not enough of us to confuse. Don’t let Mrs. Mac’s plainness of speech annoy you. When you are well acquainted, you’ll rather like it. It breaks the monotony of things.”

She tried to make some trivial, laughing rejoinder; but the words faltered on her lips, for, as she glanced up into his eyes, she saw there the instant recognition of all that she was, the interrogation flashing into quickly throttled life, as to why she was Martin Collingwood’s wife, and what she could possibly have to do with a colony of fisher folk composed of one insouciant blade of fortune, two typical bits of western flotsam, and a renegade from decent society. [141]


Chapter VII

On a certain cloudless September morning eight months later, five persons were merrily disporting themselves in the warm billows that rolled upon the island beach. It was one of those radiantly clear mornings which so often occur in the tropical rainy seasons when every particle of dust has been washed out of the air, and the morning breeze is of a spring-like freshness. The sun had not yet peeped over the Antique coast range, but the mountain flanks were outlined in soft mauve and gray against the glowing sky. A fishing fleet off the coast showed tints of pearl, and thin threads of masts above the quiet sea. Westward there was a sapphire expanse, and a whole string of lorchas, every inch of canvas set to take advantage of the fresh wind, standing across on a tack for San José or Cuyo.

Charlotte Collingwood, slipping out of the water, paused an instant to breathe deeply and to feast her eyes upon the solitary beauty of the scene, before [142]she betook herself to housekeeping cares. Then hastening across the short extent of ground between the beach and her cottage, she sought her bathroom and the brisk dousing with fresh water that would remove the sticky effects of the sea bath.

Half an hour later she emerged from her bedroom as hearty looking a young woman as you could desire to see. Her shapely figure, clad in a simple white piqué dress, was considerably fuller than it had been in her hospital days, though it had not degenerated into stoutness. Her skin was still colorless, for color once faded in the tropics is gone forever; but her face was fuller, her eye brighter, her expression one of happiness and content.

The room which she contemplated with a possessive and complacent eye was one so typical of American housekeeping in the Philippines that it merits description. It was a perfectly square apartment, generous in its proportion. Two sides were almost entirely taken up by windows opening on a deep-eaved veranda. The series of shell lattices were pushed back to their fullest extent, and on the broad window-seats were rows of potted ferns, rose geraniums, and foliage plants, some in gleaming brass jardinières, some in old blue and [143]white Chinese jars. The walls were of the plaited bamboo in its natural color called suali; but the woodwork of soft American pine had been carefully burnt by Charlotte herself, and gave some richness of coloring. The floor of close tied bamboo slats was covered with blue and white Japanese mats. One inside wall was almost entirely hidden by a great Romblon mat, upon which Collingwood’s collection of spears, bolos, and head axes was artfully displayed. Beneath this, an army cot, a mattress, and some blue and white Japanese crêpe had been combined into a tempting couch heaped with pillows. The other inside wall held a very fair collection of hats, ranging from the cheap sun-defence of the field laborer to the old-time aristocrat’s head-piece of tortoise-shell ornamented with silver. Below these were some home-made shelves with Charlotte’s books upon them. One corner was occupied by a desk of carved teak inlaid with mother of pearl, a veritable treasure which Kingsnorth had given to Charlotte as a wedding present. Another corner held a tall, brass-bound Korean chest of drawers, which Charlotte had picked up at an auction in Manila. A suit of Moro armor in carabao horn and link copper hung beside [144]this, and everywhere there was brass—brass samovars from Manchuria, incense burners from Japan, Moro gongs and betel-nut boxes, an Indian tea table with its shining tray. Wherever there was room for them, framed photographs decorated the walls. Rattan easy-chairs and rockers and a steamer chair with gay cushions lent a homely comfort to the apartment.

As the room was living-room and dining-room combined, its centre was occupied by a round narra-table—a beautiful piece of old Spanish workmanship, the glories of which were hidden at that moment by the whitest of cloths—and a service of Japanese blue and white china. There, too, gleamed the remains of the Maryland silver which had once been the pride of a county—the great breakfast tray with its urn and attendant dishes, the heavy knives and forks and spoons. It had lain for twenty years in chests, and Charlotte had brought it with her to the Philippines, not so much anticipating a use for it, as making it the evidence of final separation from all that her life had known.

Mrs. Collingwood never ceased to contemplate her living-room, and especially her table, with satisfaction. The snowy linen, the gleaming silver and [145]glass, stood for her tastes. She could remember vividly the depression she had experienced at meal times during her first two weeks at the island, when the mess made its headquarters with the Maclaughlins. Mrs. Maclaughlin’s dream of table luxury was a red and white checked cloth, much colored glass in the form of tumblers, sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and vinegar cruets, a set of brown and white “semi-porcelain” dishes, and knives and forks of German silver. Charlotte had endured the meals for which Martin had half-way prepared her, by the exercise of fortitude only; but she had waited patiently for Mrs. Maclaughlin’s own suggestion of a division of labor.

It happened that Mrs. Maclaughlin greatly desired to devote herself to poultry and gardening. The islanders had to depend wholly upon poultry, fish, pigs, and goats for meat, and upon tinned vegetables. Everybody yearned for green foods and better meats, so that Mrs. Maclaughlin’s ambitions received a hearty support. A kitchen was added to the Collingwood quarters, the stove and kitchen utensils were transferred, and Charlotte found plenty of occupation in her new duties.

The work was naturally to her taste. She possessed [146]an ample home-making instinct, and she had had, in addition to the usual “Domestic Science” course of a modern college, her nurse’s training in dietetics. Collingwood’s exuberant delight in the changes she made in their manner of living was just second to Kingsnorth’s. For decency’s sake, that gentleman had refrained from comment in Mrs. Maclaughlin’s presence; but after their first meal he had taken Mrs. Collingwood aside, and had assured her with unmistakable sincerity that she was no less than a fairy godmother in their midst. He execrated Mrs. Maclaughlin’s cooking, her taste in foods, and her ideas of table service; and his gratitude to Charlotte was profound.

Mrs. Collingwood was contemplating her breakfast table and smiling softly at the memory, when her husband came out of their bedroom in his working clothes—flannel shirt, khaki trousers, and sea boots. He gave her a hearty kiss.

“You vain creature,” he said, “looking at your housekeeping and thinking how you can lay it over Mrs. Mac.”

“That wouldn’t be much to do. Do you remember that red and white tablecloth?”

“Don’t I? And how Kingsnorth used to curse [147]it!” He eyed her reflectively. “Kingsnorth is mighty grateful to you, Charlotte, and mighty fond of you.”

To this, at first, no answer was returned. Mrs. Collingwood fingered a bowl which stood in the window, flushed slightly, and looked embarrassed. At last, as if his continued silence demanded response, she said perfunctorily:

“Well, of course, if I have made things pleasanter for him, incidentally, in doing it for you, I’m glad.”

“That’s the only thing you’ve disappointed me in. I wanted you and him to be good friends. I think he has tried, but you have been stubborn; there’s no denying that, pet.”

“I’ve tried my very hardest. I’m sorry, Martin. You’ll have to give me time.”

“Give you all the time you want,” he cried gayly. “But you’ll have to come round in the end.” She shrugged her shoulders half seriously, half teasingly, but a reply was obviated by the entrance of the Maclaughlins and of the person under discussion.

The Englishman, beak nosed, high nostrilled, fair, and tall, was typical of his race. But drink [148]had dulled his eye, his skin was flabby, and an unspeakable air of degeneration hung about him. Even the exaggerated deference of his manner to Mrs. Collingwood seemed a travesty upon the once easy courtesy of the well-born Briton. As for Charlotte, she stiffened perceptibly. Try as she would, she could not overcome her proud resentment at being expected to associate with John Kingsnorth.

“Any special plans for to-day, Mrs. Collingwood?” Kingsnorth demanded as they sat down to breakfast.

“There never are any, I believe. I am going to make a lemon pie under the direct supervision of Mrs. Maclaughlin. My husband has impressed it upon me that I can never fulfil his ideal of a cook till I can make such lemon pies as Mrs. Maclaughlin does.”

In a second Kingsnorth’s manner changed, just a fine hostile change which implied that no pie made by Mrs. Maclaughlin’s recipes could interest him. “With limoncitos” he said slightingly, “or with those big knotty yellow things that the women use in laundering their camisas?”

“Why, you are quite up in native customs,” Charlotte [149]exclaimed. “I didn’t know that. Are you sure?”

A faintly cynical smile played for an instant over Kingsnorth’s features. “Oh, yes, I’m sure,” he replied.

Charlotte became suddenly aware of a changed atmosphere. Martin and Maclaughlin were looking discreetly into their plates, Mrs. Maclaughlin was gazing with a hostile eye at Kingsnorth.

“You certainly do know a great deal about Filipino customs,” she said meaningly.

“You keep still, Jenny,” Maclaughlin threw in hastily. His wife tossed her head scornfully, but subsided. Kingsnorth went on eating. His expression was not agreeable. Charlotte threw herself into the silence that followed.

“Martin, who is that bucolic looking Japanese that I saw strolling up the beach this morning?”

“Bucolic! What do you mean by that long word? You are always springing the dictionary upon me.”

This charge was an indication that Collingwood was highly pleased. It was the nearest open tribute he ever paid to his wife’s education. She made no reply but smiled at him, indulgent of his wit. [150]

“Well, explain,” Martin went on teasingly. “What does it mean?” But Charlotte only went on smiling.

“Greek for hayseed,” Kingsnorth put in lightly. “You know that word, Collingwood?”

“Right you are. He is a hayseed. That is our new diver. He came down on the lorcha last week, and we picked him up with the launch. Been promenading around here, did you say?”

“In kimono and parasol,” said Charlotte.

“Well, he goes to work to-morrow. He won’t get much more time to parade.”

“Have you three divers, then?”

“No. The fellow that Mac kicked hasn’t been able to get over it. He resigned immediately, but I succeeded in convincing him that he couldn’t quit the job till I got a new man in his place. I believe he wants to go to law about it.”

“Can he make any trouble? Isn’t that taking the law into your own hands?”

Martin shrugged his shoulders. Kingsnorth laughed. “It would be dangerous on British soil,” he said, “but not under the great republic. Who is going to tack back and forth across this channel in a lorcha or a parao, because a Jap got kicked? [151]His nearest magistrate is a Filipino juez de paz on the Antique coast. I wish him joy of all the law he can get there. When it comes to the island of Maylubi, Martin, Mac, and I are the law. ‘L’état, c’est nous.’”

Mrs. Collingwood smiled discreetly at the French, and pushed her chair back. Kingsnorth often threw a phrase of French into his speech, and she felt that it was aimed directly at her, and implied an exclusion of the others from their superior plane of conversation. It was not an act characteristic of an Englishman of his class, and she realized that only the intensity of his desire to establish himself on a footing of intimacy could induce him to use such methods.

They all walked down to the beach together, and after Charlotte had watched their row-boat pull alongside the launch, she sat down on a bit of sand grass beneath a cocoanut tree and revelled in the morning breeze. It was a “four man breeze” as they say when four men are needed on the outriggers of the paraos; and more than one deep-sea fishing craft swept by with its four naked squatting outriders sitting at ease on their well sprayed stations with the great sail bellying above them. As [152]the tide went out, troops of children wandered up the beach, digging skilfully with their toes for clams, or pouncing with shrieks of delight on some stranded jelly fish. From the field beyond the house, their gardener could be heard hissing at their one draft animal, and once in awhile Mrs. Maclaughlin’s voice arose in a rain of pigeon Spanish as she bent over her garden beds, or ranged through her poultry yards.

It was very lonely, but Charlotte did not mind it. Barring the discomforts of their experiences in the early days with Mrs. Maclaughlin’s food, and the difficulty of holding John Kingsnorth in his place without betraying her feelings about him to Martin, she might have said that her island life hardly boasted of the crumpled rose leaf. Even Kingsnorth’s evident determination to be accepted as an intimate, did not imply a desire to establish any sentimental relation to herself, nor could she explain to her whole satisfaction just why she so vigorously thwarted him. She was only conscious of feeling that to accept his tacit offer of good fellowship was a clearly defined step downward, an open throwing over of standards which, if she had endangered them by her marriage, she had still high hopes of [153]maintaining, and to which she hoped ultimately to win her husband.

On the whole, her thoughts were very sweet and wholesome as she sat there in the growing warmth. More than once a sense of housekeeping responsibility urged her to rise and betake herself indoors, but she could not bring herself to disturb her reverie till a respectful cough attracted her attention.

An old man and a young girl, carrying a child in her arms, stood a few feet away. The man was dressed in spotless white trousers with a Chinese shirt of white muslin. One sleeve was decorously adorned with a black mourning band, and his white bamboo plaited hat was also wreathed in sable. The girl was dressed in the deepest of Filipino mourning—black calico skirt, black alpaca tapis, or apron, and a camisa of thin barred black net, shiny and stiff with starch. Through its gauzy texture her white chemise, trimmed with scarlet embroidery, showed garishly, while the immense sleeves made no pretence of hiding her plump, gold-colored arms. Her face, of a very Malaysian type, was decidedly pretty, and the haughty column of her neck and a wealth of jetty hair lent still further charm. As she caught Charlotte’s eye, she [154]stepped forward, throwing back, as she did so, the black veil which had hidden the child’s face.

Charlotte’s first exclamation of surprise and pity was followed by an indignant flush. The child, which was evidently dying of anæmia, was a mestizo. Its blue eye, its almost fair hair above a pasty skin and something indefinably British in the stamp of its expression betrayed its paternity at once.

The man spoke neither Spanish nor English, and the girl had only a few phrases of each; but with Charlotte’s command of the vernacular she managed to get a few facts in some sort of sequence. For brevity and to spare the reader an elliptical conversation in three languages they can be set down as Charlotte summed them up afterwards.

The man was the child’s grandfather; the girl, its aunt. Its mother had died a week or so before at a village on the Antique coast. The woman and her people had lived with Kingsnorth openly in his house up to the morning of the señora Americana’s arrival. At that time Kingsnorth had come in in great excitement, had bundled them all off in short order, and had established them in the coast village. [155]As he was their only source of income, they accepted his mandate without question.

But the mother had died, of what they could not make quite clear, though the girl pressed her hands upon her heart and repeated “muy, muy triste” more than once. After the mother’s death, the baby lacked nourishment, though its father gave money to buy milk. They had come over on a fish parao to show it to its father, and had received orders to keep out of Mrs. Collingwood’s way; but hearing from the villagers of that lady’s skill in curing the sick and of her willingness to use it, they could not forbear bringing the child to her. But with tears, they besought her to keep the secret. The old man made a very fair representation of bestowing a hearty kick, and the girl, weeping, ejaculated “Pega, pega mucho,” many times.

Charlotte had been interested during her hospital experience in a series of experiments made by one of the surgeons in infant-feeding. The mortality among Filipino children is enormous, and much attention is given to infant care. It happened that she had been trying the food process on one or two babies in the village, and it was doubtless the [156]news of that fact which had induced the people to risk Kingsnorth’s anger and appeal to her.

She led them homeward, gave the child some nourishment, and set to work to show the girl how to prepare the canned milk for future use. It was not till they had departed that she realized that they had not said whether or not the mother had been legally married. Later she decided that the fact was immaterial, but she was inclined to believe the child illegitimate.

For the next ten days the girl presented herself with the child for treatment. She watched carefully to see that the fishers had gone each day, and that Mrs. Maclaughlin was not around. The child thrived, and with returning health showed a somewhat engaging appearance.

Charlotte could never be quite certain of her reasons for keeping silence to her husband on the subject. At first undoubtedly she desired to avoid making trouble for the old man and the girl; but later, when Mrs. Maclaughlin had met the girl face to face on Charlotte’s veranda steps, and she knew the fact had been retailed to Maclaughlin and to the other men, she was still wordless. For a few days the sullen demeanor of Kingsnorth showed [157]that he dumbly resented her knowledge; but in the end his protégés established themselves in the village, and when Charlotte walked that way she often saw his taffy-colored son, in a single garment, staring with incongruous blue eyes from the floor of a nipa shack.

What was stranger, even, than anything else, Mrs. Maclaughlin showed an eager desire to avoid the subject. Charlotte had anticipated, with some dread, that the lady would break forth garrulously once the cat was out of the bag; but she was most pleasantly disappointed. Between herself and Martin the matter was never mentioned. There were times when she would have liked to ask him what he had really expected her to do before Kingsnorth saved the situation by packing off his impedimenta; but she was afraid that, if the subject were ever opened up between them, she would express herself too frankly, and she was too thoroughly happy with her husband to care to risk disturbing their satisfaction in each other. As time went on, she ceased to give the matter any thought at all. After all, she reflected, had she not known it all potentially the first time she ever saw Kingsnorth? What did the addition of a few specific [158]data matter? At that time all her will was bent to the determination to make the best of her romance, to be happy at any cost, and to postpone indefinitely, if not ultimately, any hour of settlement. [159]


Chapter VIII

“Want a paseo, Charlotte?” Martin called from his deck chair on the vine-shaded veranda one Sunday afternoon. “It’s not so very hot. I feel like walking myself.”

Mrs. Collingwood, who was dabbing a powder puff across her face as a finish to her afternoon toilet, responded at once, from the adjoining bedroom, that she was longing for a walk. In a few minutes, she appeared, tying the strings of a great sun hat, and handed her umbrella to Martin.

“Have I got to lug this thing?” he groaned; but even as he spoke, he opened it and held it tenderly over her.

Kingsnorth, smoking on his own veranda, nodded and asked them where they were going.

“Most anywhere. Up the hill, probably. Charlotte likes to go there. Will you come along?”

Mrs. Collingwood did not second the invitation, though she had time to do so before Kingsnorth [160]replied. “I’m too lazy. I’ll leave hill-climbing to you adventurous young persons.” To himself he added, “You don’t want me. You want to go up there and spoon. Oh, Lord! to be young again!” He did not add, “and to love and be loved”; but the words were bitter in his thoughts as he watched the young couple go along the clean beach.

When they came to a path leading across the cocoanut grove to a spur of hill on the eastern side of the island, they took it, followed it through the shadowed green arcades, climbed a rather stiff hill, and, at length, found themselves in the shade of a bamboo clump at the head of a cleft filled with undergrowth. An outcropping of rock made a sort of natural seat for Charlotte, and Collingwood stretched himself at her feet. On the ridge above them a line of cocoanut trees drooped their great leaves, while over their heads the long bamboo stems swayed to every breath of air. Although the elevation was low—not more than fifty or sixty feet above the water—it gave the loungers an extended view. The sea rolled in long swells of deepest sapphire. Far away to the north, the great plateau mountain of Tablas was a violet shadow in the [161]sky; but on the east the insistent sun searched out every ravine and spur of the Antique coast range. From that grim mountain king which lords it over them on the north to the far distance of the south their weathered sides lay outlined in long lines of pink and mauve, and in great patches of smoky-blue, where cloud shadows lay soft upon them. Here and there a distant sail gleamed, a mere speck of pearl against the lustre of sea and sky, and, in the north, a steamer’s smudge was plainly visible, though the vessel was hull down.

“May be a tramp freighter going north, which slipped through the channel without our noticing her,” said Martin. “This is not the time for the Puerta Princesa steamer.” Boats were always a source of conversation at the island. They were charged with almost a romantic significance, coming and going, ever the mute reminders that, beyond the shining horizon line, people still lived and toiled, still built and populated the great cities of which Martin loved to speak.

“I can’t see a line of smoke without a pang of homesickness,” he said. “Let’s see. We are thirteen hours ahead of Chicago time. It is now about four o’clock; it’s quiet enough in those empty [162]streets now. But about the time we were eating lunch, the theatres were just emptying. I can see the carriages drive up, and the women with their beautiful dresses showing under their opera cloaks; and the other kind, the kind that don’t go in carriages, hurrying off to catch a car, buttoning up their jackets as they come out into the cool—it’s just frosty weather there now—and the lights in the big restaurants, and the lamps flashing on carriages and automobiles. Meanwhile, we are here frizzling, and here we bid fair to stay till we make money enough to go home in style. I shall take you to the theatre some time that way, Charlotte. You’ll be in a low-necked dress with diamonds—do you think you’ll like diamonds?—and you shall have one of those long coats with the hoods, and I’ll be in my swallow-tail. We’ll spin up in an electric brougham, and rustle into our box. Then, after the performance, we’ll have a supper, and then I’ll say ‘Home’ kind of careless to the chauffeur. How does that strike your imagination?”

He lay at her feet, smiling, and Charlotte hardly knew what to reply. How could she say to him that the experience on which his whole imagination had fastened was a matter of fact detail of [163]her past? She had rarely entered a theatre except under the circumstances which had made it a picture of delight to him. She did not deny that it would be pleasant to go again, and she did not, for an instant, underrate the pleasure which comes of knowing oneself among the envied few. But how could she take from him the pleasure of anticipating for her as well as for himself? Indeed, would not it make a perceptible rift in his present joy if he knew that his innocent outburst could find no echo in her breast? Would he not feel a little ridiculous? And how uncomfortable it was that that coil of misunderstanding always was most perceptible at Martin’s most exalted moments! Why had he chosen to assume that she was a stranger to luxury, and why had her good taste so resolutely declined to give him even a hint, until suddenly she found herself in a position where a hint would seem like an insult? She would have liked to tell him, then and there, a string of reminiscences, and to share half a hundred memories with him, but it was too late. To say anything then would be to pour cold water by the bucket over his enthusiasms. What she did say was:

“I shall enjoy that immensely if it ever comes; [164]but until it does come, I want you to understand that I am not discontented with our life here; and that if it never comes, I shall not let myself repine over it.”

“Thank God for that,” he replied earnestly. And as she smiled at him faintly, puzzled by his emphasis, he added, “I took my chances when I brought you here, and there is no doubt that you are an unusual woman to have stood it as you have done. The queer part of it is that I knew what risks I was taking, but until it was too late to back out, I couldn’t own them to myself. One of the reasons that I wanted you so badly was that I hated it so here, and it was so all-fired lonely. But I kept on saying to myself that it wouldn’t be lonely for you because I would be here.”

“Well,” she conceded, willing to gloss over the selfishness of which he stood ready to accuse himself, “so long as you are willing to believe that you would not be lonely because I would be here, that seems a fair exchange.”

“No, it wasn’t fair at any point, because I knew exactly what the place was like and you were going into it blindfold. But a man can’t stop to look at things that way. If we did, nobody would [165]ever get anything in the world that he wanted. My mother used to say to me that God helps those who help themselves. I’ve come to the conclusion that He doesn’t do anything of the kind, but that He sits back and doesn’t interfere with those who take.”

After this burst of unusual eloquence, Mr. Collingwood closed his eyes and puffed luxuriously at his cigar. But for the rhythm of the surf, nature seemed steeped in afternoon slumber. In the accentuated silence the voices of children digging clams far up the beach came to them like drowsy music.

Collingwood smoked on, content with his own analysis of his conduct and delighting in his wife’s soft hand on his brow. Charlotte thought he was going to sleep, and smiled tenderly at his closed eyes. Martin not infrequently displayed his enjoyment of her society by a willingness to nap in it; but she was not petty enough to grudge him the indulgence. Besides, many of her tenderest thoughts, her best inspirations had come to her as she mused, on lazy afternoons, with his handsome profile in her lap. There seemed, at such times, to be a reversal of their ordinary relations. She [166]leaned tremendously on Martin, not by making him a sharer in her domestic difficulties or by wearying him, already weary with toil, by that demand for petty services by which some women delight to vaunt their possession of a slave. As far as she could be a buffer between him and all the little cares and burdens of their daily life, Charlotte had kept her promise to herself to make Martin Collingwood a good wife. And though she measured his hourly joy in the pride of having her undivided affection, she felt herself meanly stinting him of that secret hoard of gratitude which lay so warm in her heart. Was he fairly treated, she asked herself, in being denied the knowledge that he alone of all the world had made her feel herself welcome in it? He thought her strong, when, in reality, all her strength came from him. Deprived of that crown and sceptre with which he had endowed her, would she be more than a poor shrinking outcast again, a creature at bay, ready to snap without discrimination at passing curiosity or at passing kindness. But pride was still strong in her heart—love had not subdued that; and there were some explanations that she could not force herself to make. When he lay supine, as on that afternoon, [167]his pagan beauty even more markedly defined by a slumber that was like a child’s, she had an intuition of his unexpressed dependence on her. Was it possible that Martin had reservations also? The thought bred another. Is it possible for any soul to unbosom itself completely to another? Does not the very wealth of confidence entrain some final reservations, the inner sanctuary of that self-dignity with which the-gentlest spirit is reluctant to part? She decided that, freely as he revealed himself to her, Martin must carry deep in his heart, some feelings jealously guarded from her—thoughts and feelings perhaps that he had recklessly revealed to the young girls who at times had fired his imagination. It is the instinct of the human soul to guard those weaknesses of which it is self-conscious from those natures which cannot understand them, and, not understanding, cannot sympathize. Of what weakness did she make Martin self-conscious? She knew only too well the weaknesses of which he made her self-conscious; knew, too, her desperate fear that full cognizance of them might shake the foundations of his pride in her. They had been married eight months, and in that time they had hardly touched a jar in their lives. He [168]had told her a thousand times that she was all the world to him, and she had replied a thousand times that she asked nothing more, and that, so long as she could be that, she was willing to bear solitude, and endure even privation. Was all her happiness hinged upon the chance dropping of a curtain in his speech or hers? upon the revelation of another self hidden away behind his merriment, behind her silence? She sighed and moved impatiently, trying to shake off her thoughts. Then she remembered that he was sleeping and glanced down to find him gazing at her quizzically.

“I’ve been awake all the while,” he said, “watching your face. You have been doing a sight of thinking all to yourself. You thought I had dropped off, didn’t you?”

“I’ve had reason to believe you capable of it, Martin.”

“What I have done and what I am going to do this afternoon are two distinct things, Mrs. C.”

“Oh, Martin, I hate ‘Mrs. C.’ It sounds like Dickens.”

“Do you mean the dickens?”

“No: if it comes to that, I’ll use the other word—the one you are so fond of using.” [169]

Mr. Collingwood almost sat up. “Say, you’re coming on,” he ejaculated. “You’d never have said that when we were first married.”

“That’s true.” Mrs. Collingwood’s tone left open an inference which her husband must have perceived, for he laughed contentedly.

“You were mealy-mouthed,” he stated, with a genial retrospect in his voice.

Charlotte looked at him demurely. “I was brought up to observe the conventional limitations of feminine speech, dear; but if your heart is set upon my enlarging upon them—”

“Heaven forbid!” Martin ejaculated piously, as she came to her suggestive little pause. He added after a moment, “But I had a girl once that used to swear. It never sounded bad in her. It was just funny and cute.”

If there was one habit of Martin Collingwood’s that came near rousing a visible resentment in his wife, it was his easy-going references to his “girls.” She knew that the term, as he used it, implied no disrespect, that it was his equivalent for innamorata, and that each affair with a girl had represented one of his tentative ventures toward matrimony. She was not jealous of her predecessors in his affections, [170]for there was an overwhelming sincerity in his invariable reassurance that none of them “came up to specifications”; that is, conformed to his ideal of womanhood, as she herself did. Nor did he hesitate to reveal that, in most cases, the breaking of sentimental ties was largely the result of his own initiative. If his frankness in these revelations had contained one element of personal vanity, it would have strained dangerously his wife’s respect for him. But although he had a happy self-confidence, Collingwood was utterly without self-conscious vanity. Charlotte realized, also, that his good looks and his personal charm which she, with her critically developed faculties, had been unable to withstand, must have made him an exceedingly popular swain with the type of young woman whom he had previously affected. But it was irritating to have him lump her with them so carelessly. It implied that, though she was the only perfect jewel according to his taste, the matter was, after all, one of taste and not of kind. She was human enough, however, to suffer some pangs of curiosity concerning her erstwhile rivals, and though she would not have asked a question, [171]she was not dissatisfied when Martin went on:

“It’s funny what differences there are in people. You are not glum, but you don’t laugh much. Even when you seem happiest, you are rather grave and quiet. But that girl giggled from morning till night, and she made me laugh too. She saw the funny side of everything that happened, and she was no fool either. She was quick as a flash. The last time I saw her was at the close of the Spanish War. It was about ten days before I enlisted. The Government sent a gunboat up the Mississippi River just to show the backwoods people what a real live gunboat that had been in the war looked like; and those blamed officers were making love to every pretty girl on both banks of the river wherever the boat lay long enough to have a reception for the officers or a smoker for the men. This girl was dancing with a sandy-haired little ensign, and he was piling it on thick as molasses on a hot cake. All of a sudden, she began to giggle. He wanted to know why. “I’ll bet a horse you’re married,” she said over his shoulder; and the fellow, like to split himself laughing, [172]vowed he wasn’t. But when he got to St. Louis, there it was in the papers, how his wife had come out to join him for that week. When his boat went back down the river the next week, all the girls gave him the laugh. That little devil had told it on him, and all the talk he had given her.”

“I like that girl,” said Charlotte. “What became of her? How did it happen that you didn’t make the best of your opportunities in her case?”

“I did. She had me mighty anxious. But she played just a little too bluff a game. She got hold of a long-legged sergeant of volunteers and she let on that she didn’t have a minute to give me after he came along. I used to walk home from church with her pretty regularly, but the first Sunday after she picked up with him, she turned me down. I had to come along behind with her best friend: she was one of those girls that always have neglected women friends and run ‘em in and make you be civil to ‘em. I hated this other girl, and I was the maddest man that ever tagged up the street after his girl and another man. All of a sudden, I saw that every time she took a step, she turned the hem of her skirt with her heel. You know I just came to myself. I got to wondering if I [173]wanted to marry a girl with a jay-bird heel like that, and I decided I didn’t. I enlisted, came out here, served my country in China, and took back talk from a lot of West Point popinjays for two years—damn their souls—and that was all the patriotism I had. She married her volunteer and he served his three years and got a commission. I saw by a paper not very long ago that they are in Samar now. She was a good fellow, that girl. I should like to see her again. If the fool killer tried to kill her, the gun wouldn’t go off, sure.”

“That is quite so,” Charlotte replied gravely, and then, as Martin relapsed into laziness again, she remained studying him and pondering the somewhat irrelevant motives which had influenced his life.

“A jay-bird heel!” She looked with amused scrutiny at his somewhat emphasized masculine beauty. What magnificence, what unconscious arrogance of self-esteem lay unrebuked in this innocent youth; for in spite of the fact that he had known sin as she had never known it, that his unrestrained instincts had reached forth into experiments with life from which not only her sex, but the inheritance of tradition and of environment had [174]eternally debarred her—in spite of these facts, Charlotte had always a sense of cynical and satiated age beside his debonair innocence. It had been her lot to be both player and onlooker in that melodrama where the possession of ample means and the development of critical and æsthetic faculties have frowned upon the expression of a direct and creative ambition; and yet, where all that is subtly ambitious, and all that is meanly jealous, and all that is secretly arrogant, deprived of a natural and healthy expression, underlie and taint the whole body of society. She had come to realize that, in that world in which money must not be mentioned, money is the most indispensable necessity; that every instinct tabooed as vulgar has been so tabooed, because, when it is no longer recognized in speech, it may be the more successfully pursued in action. She had discovered that the exquisite charm of manner which is called high-bred unconsciousness is the result of a self-consciousness so unflagging that its possessor is incapable of losing herself utterly in any emotion; and that the final result of the developing process is an individuality whose utter selfishness and nullity are not patent simply because all the arts of society and all the material advantages of [175]wealth are bent to the concealment of the truth. Collingwood was, as he had said of his sweetheart, “no fool.” He had a keen interest in life, a rather broad knowledge of men and affairs as they are judged by concrete results; but of that sense of social values which amounts almost to a cult with our so-called aristocratic classes, Martin was as ignorant as his primeval parents were of sin. Suddenly, as she looked at him, a quotation flashed into Charlotte’s mind. She formed the words with her lips as her memory groped for them:

The ancients set no value on that half feminine delicacy, that nervous sensibility which we call distinction, and on which we pride ourselves. For the distingué man of the present day, a salon is necessary; he is a dilettante and entertaining with ladies; although capable of enthusiasms, he is inclined to scepticism; his politeness is exquisite; he dislikes foul hands and disagreeable odors, and shrinks from being confounded with the vulgar. Alcibiades had no apprehension of being confounded with the vulgar.

Martin opened his eyes as she was breathing the words to herself, but she did not stop. He stared at her, and when she paused, he asked:

“What kind of hoodoo was that?”

“That, O my Alcibiades, was a charm.” She [176]leaned forward and kissed him—a half repentant, wholly tender little caress. It pleased him, for while she was ready enough to be petted, Charlotte was slow to offer endearments. Lifelong habit was stronger even than the impulses of a naturally demonstrative nature.

“Who are you hoodooing? Me?”

“No: myself. It was I that needed the charm.”

“Now you are getting mysterious again. Tell me what it was about.” Collingwood had, when he desired to wheedle, not only a child’s persistency but a child’s alluringness. Charlotte had had experience in plenty with him, and knew her own weakness in resisting him. She cast a hasty glance around and perceived the steamer, the smoke of which had been visible when they gained the hill. They had, in seating themselves, half turned their backs in her direction, and she had crept very close to the island.

“Martin, that boat seems to be coming nearer. She would not come this close if she were heading for Cuyo.”

“Eh! Here?” Collingwood raised himself alertly and stared. “That’s strange. Coastguard. She isn’t making Iloilo, or she would not be cutting [177]across our bows; but it is a queer route for Cuyo. Why didn’t she cut over to the west after leaving Romblon?”

“You’ll have to signal her for information, Martin.”

“Information be blanked. I’ll signal her for fresh beef if she gets close enough. We may be able to exchange a bit of fish. Have you seen the fish parao go in yet?”

“It went by a few minutes ago.”

“That’s good. Maybe we had better go down and be ready to trade if she comes near enough. I’ll send out a note with the launch. It looks, though, as if she were heading straight for us.”

“Would a coastguard steamer drop mail here?”

“No: catch a Government captain dropping an anchor to oblige anybody. If she is coming in, it is either with somebody interested in pearl fishery statistics, or some sort of survey, or—” he turned suddenly, a teasing smile melting all his handsome features to winningness—“your friend Barton. Didn’t he promise us a visit sometime?”

Martin had assumed a marital jocularity on the subject of the Judge. Charlotte had honestly but vainly tried to dispel from his mind his strong conviction [178]that Judge Barton was a rival who had hardly been allowed to approach the tentative stages of worship. Her quick frown and “Impossible!” only made her husband grin more broadly. “That was a mere civility at parting,” she insisted. “Judge Barton hasn’t a particle of interest in us.”

“He hasn’t any in me, certainly; and he would be justified in not having any in you. Snapped his nose off, you did, every time he opened his mouth.”

“Martin, you do not understand. I tried my best to be agreeable to Judge Barton, just as any nurse ought to be to any patient; and every time I ‘snapped his nose off’ as you express it, I did it in self-defence. He was very often impertinent to me.”

“Why Charlotte, I heard pretty near every word he ever said to you, and I never heard anything out of the way.”

They were going down hill by that time, Martin ahead, picking the trail; and Charlotte made a quaintly affectionate grimace behind his sturdy back. There were various reasons why she was unwilling to make any effort to enlighten Martin’s [179]denseness. There was no earthly danger of his appreciating unaided the delicate flavor of Judge Barton’s impertinence.

“Anyway,” she remarked, deftly slipping from the discussion of facts upon which disagreement was certain, “he will have forgotten both of us completely by this time, and there is not one chance in a hundred of his being on that boat if it does stop here.” But Martin had time to correct her. He was willing to admit that there was not much certainty of the Judge’s being on the boat unless she stopped; and then he stood ready to back his judgment. By the time they had crossed the cocoanut grove and had gained the beach, it was evident that the boat was making for the island. Kingsnorth had sighted her, and had sent out the launch, which was puffing busily toward her. “Kingsnorth’s got as good a nose for fresh beef as I have,” Collingwood grunted approvingly. The Maclaughlins were on their veranda with a pair of binoculars, and some excitement could be perceived even in the distant village.

The steamer slowed up in reply to signals from the launch, and evidently awaited advice about dropping anchor. When she did come to a halt, [180]however, and put a boat out, Martin counted the persons who descended into it.

“Distinguished passengers,” he remarked concisely. “The captain would not put out the gang-way for his own use in that sea. Three men in white suits; three rowers; and the skipper is coming along. We’re in for visitors, Charlotte. What is there for dinner?”

Charlotte was away on the instant. He heard her despatching boys—one to the village, bidding him secure the very best of the afternoon’s catch; another to the poultry yard with orders to bring up the two fattest capons, but not to slay them till further orders. Complaining shrieks of the storeroom door, the hinges of which were exceedingly rusty, bore testimony to repeated openings; and the voice of old Pedro was audible, cursing the ice-machine.

By the time the boat was close in, the sun was fairly low and seemed to be sucking up the whole Visaya Sea is shafts of splendor. As soon as the narrowing distance permitted the little crafts’ passengers to be recognized, Collingwood cocked a humorous eye upon his wife and went into silent ecstasies of laughter, much to the amazement of [181]Kingsnorth and the Maclaughlins. Charlotte blushed, bit her lips and then she laughed also, at first in helpless embarrassment, and finally with a sheer burst of merriment. She had barely time to recover her gravity when the boat grounded, and Judge Barton, as an acquaintance, took precedence of his fellow-passengers, and was carried ashore in time to introduce them as they landed. All had to avail themselves of the primitive transporting process by which Charlotte herself had made her landing, and it was in no hateful spirit that she admitted that dignity and such a progress are almost incompatible. [182]


Chapter IX

This is an unexpected pleasure, murmured Mrs. Collingwood, giving to Judge Barton a warm pressure of the hand. For though she was proud and sensitive, she was not vindictive, and the Judge’s conduct on her wedding day had gone far to blot out the recollection of their of their unamicable past. Also his presence was a compliment, an assurance that his professions of interest were not wholly perfunctory.

“It should not be so,” he replied. “What did I tell you on your wedding day? You’ve forgotten. I haven’t, you see, and here I am! Moreover, I have brought you a commissioner and a gentleman interested in pearl shells.” By the time he had finished this long speech, the Judge had shaken hands with both husband and wife, and stood ready to introduce the men who followed him. They were respectively a member of the Philippine Commission and an American agent for a button factory in the United States, who was desirous [183]of making arrangements for a permanent supply of shells.

“The Commissioner is headed for Cuyo, and will go on there to-morrow,” said Judge Barton. “Mr. Jones would like to stay and see the field and talk business with Mr. Collingwood until the steamer returns, in about a week; and I have wondered if you could put up with me that long also. But nobody is to be inconvenienced. Knowing the limited resources of islands in the Visaya Sea, each of us has come provided with an army cot and bedding, and we have also a first-class shelter tent. Likewise, remembering Mr. Collingwood’s reminiscences in hospital, and being minded of the scarcity of fresh beef, I ventured to bring along the quarter of a cow—I believe a part of the hind quarter.”

He got no further. Martin had again taken his hand between two bronzed paws and was shaking it fervently.

“I understand, Judge,” he declared, “just why you hold your eminent position. A man can’t be great these days without a head for detail, and you have one. There are plenty of men who would have forgotten all I said about this place, but you haven’t. You remembered it at the right time. [184]Now, frankly, Judge, where is that beef at the present moment?”

The Judge hooked a thumb in the direction of the steamer’s boat. “That beef is in that dinghey,” he replied, “and, without desiring to advise Mrs. Collingwood in her domestic arrangements, I should suggest that the sooner it is eaten the better. The steamer’s ice-carrying facilities are limited, and it is by the grace of God that it has ‘kept’ till now.”

“He means by the grace of Government coal, Mrs. Collingwood,” interrupted the steamer’s captain, who was standing by talking to Kingsnorth, whom he knew. “I had nearly to ruin my engines getting that beef down here, the Judge was so concerned about it.” It came ashore at that minute, a suggestively dead piece of beef in cheese-cloth wrappings, but the fishers received it almost with rites of welcome.

Kingsnorth and the Maclaughlins having been presented, the group wandered leisurely toward the Collingwood cottage. The newcomers protested that there was no need of Mrs. Collingwood’s giving herself trouble about dinner; they could go back to the steamer for dinner; it would be waiting for [185]them. It was the stereotyped convention throughout a land where hospitality is as catholic as is the necessity for it. Martin and Charlotte, naturally, would hear nothing of the visitors’ returning to the steamer before bedtime.

“If you don’t mind dinner’s being a little late,” Charlotte added, while Mrs. Maclaughlin threw in, in response to a last weak protest, “Trouble! Why we would cook for twenty people to get to talk to one.”

So the boat went back for the tent, the cots, and the luggage of the prospective guests, while the visitors sat on Charlotte’s veranda, enjoying the evening breeze and the sunset, as they drank tea and consumed delicious little triangles of buttered toast, and slices of sweet cake. The Commissioner wanted to know all about the island: who owned it? what crops did it produce? was there an intelligent teniente? “He obeys the orders that we give him,” replied Martin dryly, and the Commissioner smiled: Was there easy communication with the mainland? What did Mr. Collingwood think of coprax in the Visayas? Then, in an aside, to Charlotte, What a pity that he had not brought Mrs. Commissioner! she would have enjoyed this. Such a [186]charming situation and such a delightful home! Mrs. Commissioner would never cease to regret having missed it. “We hope that you will have occasion to pass again, and will bring her with you,” Charlotte murmured politely, and the great man assured her that he should make a point of it. “She loves atmosphere,” he said. “We have more of that than anything else,” Kingsnorth interjected, and to the Commissioner’s hearty laugh, Martin added, “Specially when it is moving N.N.E. eighty miles an hour.”

Meanwhile Judge Barton was trying out his Grand Army manner with Mrs. Maclaughlin, and privately taking stock of place and people.

“Chickens!” he said regretfully in response to her remark that she guessed those chickens would live a day longer in view of that quarter of beef. “Have I contributed, by my own unselfishness, to my own undoing? The chickens of Manila are not chickens, they are merely delusions in the form of blood, bones, and feathers, bought, killed, and served, by a succession of inhuman Chinese cooks, for the sole purpose of tantalizing the American stomach. Do I understand that you feed your chickens, and that they are actually fat?” [187]

“Fat as butter,” said Mrs. Maclaughlin proudly.

The Judge sighed with anticipation. “I’m glad I’m going to stay a week,” he declared. “I’m fond of chicken—when it is chicken. But tell me, are you never lonely here, Mrs. Maclaughlin?”

“I am. Charlotte ain’t.”

The Judge took note of the familiarity, but the laughing eye he turned upon Mrs. Collingwood did not betray that fact. “Yes, we are talking about you,” he said in response to the glance she gave, hearing her name used. “Mrs. Maclaughlin says that you are never lonely.”

“Of course I am not. I have too many occupations. I am busy from morning till night. There is no excuse for ennui.”

“I thirst to know what you do. I know a score of ladies who are suffering from nostalgia with far less excuse for loneliness than you have.”

“Well, there is the housekeeping, though our servants are quite satisfactory, and it isn’t onerous; and there is my mending and Martin’s, and my sewing, and I have an hour’s school each day for the children, and an hour’s medical inspection, which usually runs into two or three; and if you will look on our table, you will not find it [188]wholly empty of books and magazines. Then when Martin comes home, there is tea and talk, and then dinner. Sometimes after dinner, I read aloud, or Martin and I play a game of chess. We go to bed early and get up early for we are working people.”

“Heavens!” said the Judge. “I stand confounded. It is virtue past all the known limits of exemplariness. I wish a few women of my acquaintance could hear you.”

Charlotte lifted her brows and smiled with kindly malice. “Your friend Mrs. Badgerly is well?” she inquired sweetly.

“You are no less a mind reader than you formerly were, I perceive. My friend Mrs. Badgerly is quite well. She was in my thoughts when I gave utterance to my wish. My friend Mrs. Badgerly is one of your admirers, Mrs. Collingwood.”

“Since when?”

“Since that memorable day on which you so effectually snubbed her.”

“I am glad I did it,” Charlotte said emphatically, and they both laughed.

“It has been done more brutally, I believe,” said [189]the Judge, “but never more thoroughly. She appreciates your powers. She really does.”

To this bit of by-talk the Commissioner and Martin had been paying a desultory attention as they sipped their tea. At that point, Charlotte brought the conversation back to something which would include the other guests, and the Judge got no further opportunity to engross her attention, till, the dark falling, a servant lit a lamp in the sala, and Charlotte excused herself on the plea of a housekeeper’s duties. She left the group on the veranda enjoying the warm starlit darkness, across which the steamer’s lights gleamed cosily. Judge Barton, glancing behind him, saw her superintending the laying of the table in the living-room of the cottage, and he abruptly rose and joined her.

“Can’t I help?” he said by way of excuse for presenting himself. “I have brought all this nuisance down upon you. I might be allowed to make myself useful if I can.” Then in reply to her assurance that there was nothing that he could do, and that she regarded the occasion as a treat and not as a nuisance, he went on, “Then can’t I stay and talk to you?” He took the permission for granted and without waiting for a reply, glanced around the [190]room, which, with its quaintly adorned walls, its tasteful photographs and water-colors, its gleaming brass, and the glancing lights on carved teak and inlaid blackwood, was full of charm.

“What an absolutely delightful room! and this old table! Where does Collingwood pick up these things?”

Charlotte smilingly laid a finger upon her lips, glancing in the direction of the Commissioner. “I think it’s loot,” she said.

“And I know this is,” the Judge remarked, standing in front of the desk. “I remember hearing Collingwood say he was in the Chinese affair in 1900. Why wasn’t it my fate to be there too? It’s all very well to talk about our superior civilization, but there is something in the mere thought of looting treasures like these to make the mouth water.”

“Martin did not loot these. Mr. Kingsnorth did. He gave them to me for a wedding present.”

“Lucky dog! either to loot or to give.”

“I am ashamed to confess,” Charlotte admitted, twitching a tablecloth into better place as a servant laid it, “that I am getting dreadfully mixed upon matters of right and wrong. When I came [191]out here, my principles were simple as day. There wasn’t any doubt how I regarded looters and people who would accept looted goods. I should as soon have accepted a stolen ham. And here am I, the possessor of various pieces of looted furniture, brazenly rejoicing in them, and all the more because they were looted. I am degenerating hour by hour.” She shook her head plaintively as she put a massive brass candlestick of old Chinese design into its place.

Judge Barton, leaning against the open casement, his two hands braced behind on the sill, stood a picture of smiling content as he studied her. His natural magnetism fairly radiated from him in his benignant mood. His wealth of grizzling hair, his large-featured, intellectual face, and one or two lines that bespoke the brute strength and will of the man, made him look like some roughly but powerfully sketched figure. His clothes were always fashionably cut and he wore them well, but the sense of the well formed muscular-body beneath them always dominated their lines. As he stood beaming upon her, it would have taken a stronger-minded woman than Mrs. Collingwood to weigh impartially the balanced charms of the powerful [192]intellect and of the powerful animal in the man. She relaxed her old suspicious guard, which had revived for an instant when he followed her into the house, so clearly bent upon a tête-à-tête. Without the faintest suggestion of sentimental intimacy, they were encased in an atmosphere of congenial interest. An onlooker would have pronounced them a pair of reunited chums.

“I am dying to say something,” said the Judge in response to her lament over her decaying morals, “but I don’t dare.”


“You know why very well. ‘I’m skeered o’ you.’” He threw a fine negro accent into the negro phrase.

“Is it something so impertinent?”

“If I may so express it, it is humanely impertinent. I know no other woman to whom I should hesitate to propound it at once, for it is a question. But I have been scathed by you before this, and I am not absolutely foolhardy.”

“Oh, go ahead,” said Charlotte. “Impertinence acknowledged is impertinence disarmed. Besides, I may owe you some amends. I could never see [193]how I did it, but my husband says I used to snap your head off every time you spoke.”

“You did, you did, indeed.” This was said with fervor.

“Well, I promise not to snap this time.”

“Don’t you find it more comfortable, then—being degenerate, I mean?”

For an instant Mrs. Collingwood stared at him, and he broke into a peal of laughter in which she presently joined.

“Indeed, I must be a formidable person if you were afraid to ask that,” she said. “Well, then, I do. Does my answer content you?”

“Unspeakably. You know we all enjoy being degenerate, but I never hoped to hear you admit it.”

At this instant, Mrs. Collingwood’s attention was diverted by the servant, who came back with a tray of cutlery. She indicated several places at which plates and silver were to be laid, but found time for an abstracted smile at her guest, who stood waiting her pleasure while she gave her directions.

“I daresay—” she returned briskly to the subject after this lapse of time—“I was very priggish. Martin has humanized me—there is no doubt of [194]it—and I am grateful to him. He is so humorously practical. How do you think he is looking?”

“Oh—fine!” Judge Barton was conscious of a restiveness suppressed. He said to himself that he had not come two hundred and fifty miles to talk about Martin Collingwood’s looks.

“I am so glad you think so, because I think so myself. I fancy Mrs. Maclaughlin did not feed him properly in the old days, and men get so careless by themselves. He says I ‘hold him up to the collar beautifully’ and I really try to, and regular food and physical comfort will tell.”

“Collingwood is the picture of health and of masculine good looks,” said Judge Barton; “and as for you, it is a joy to see anyone looking so healthy, so vital. You have changed immensely. I wonder, dear lady, if you yourself realized how tired and nearly broken-down you were in those old days.”

“I was miserable, physically and nervously worn out, and I suppose I looked it. But I have had a glorious rest and nothing in the world to fret or worry about, and—” she raised her eyes to his, blushing as she approached the topic which had been the source of so much constraint between them—[195]“and Martin and I have been ridiculously happy in each other. I may as well be frank and admit that half that was depressing me was sheer loneliness and wounded pride. Probably the loneliness was much my own fault, for I hardly met people half way; and the wounded pride was wholly my own fault, for I started out to earn my own living in defiance of all my relatives’ wishes. I suppose I had not the philosophy to meet the situation, in spite of that hateful little slap you gave me about ‘the unloveliest thing in women.’” The Judge started forward.

“Thank you for giving me my opportunity,” he said in a low voice. “I could not have referred to it otherwise. I have writhed with shame every time I have thought of those words, Mrs. Collingwood. Will you permit me to apologize for them and for numerous other unmanly stabs that I have given you? I do not know why I did it; all the time I was longing to be friends with you.”

“I suppose I irritated you,” Charlotte replied slowly, a little surprised by his vehemence. “It is inexplicable to me also when I look back upon it. I had really forgiven you long ago. You were very nice to us on our wedding day, I remember, [196]and I felt forlorn and deserted enough on that occasion to be grateful to anyone who showed any signs of human interest in us. But I am glad that you have apologized, and am glad to express my forgiveness, and to regret that I was so snappish. All of which may be expressed in that homely phrase, ‘Let us bury the hatchet.’”

“We were always meant to be friends, I think.” Some vibration in the voice made Charlotte sheer off from an approach to intensity. “Martin always liked you,” she said; and thus, ten seconds after their reconciliation, the Judge had cause to reflect with some irritation that there is no woman in the world so unsatisfying at times as one born without natural coquetry. He had a few minutes in which to develop this idea, while Charlotte made a voyage of investigation to the kitchen. She came back well satisfied. “I think we can count on dinner in half an hour,” she said, and carried him back with her to the veranda, where she did her duty by the Commissioner and the Honorable Mr. Jones, who was not expansive on any subject other than oyster shells.

Kingsnorth, who had gone over to his own cottage and had donned the English mess jacket, which [197]is the standard evening attire in the Orient, came back, an undeniable English gentleman in spite of his degenerate countenance, and devoted himself to the judicial luminary, who took stock of him as they chatted. Indeed, the Judge was profoundly interested in Charlotte’s island companions. The Maclaughlins were the sort of people he would expect to find in company with Collingwood, but the Englishman was a surprise. He said to himself that it must have strained all Mrs. Collingwood’s pride to accommodate herself to that household, and he marvelled at her tremendous growth in self-control and in social vagabondage. Six months before she would not have met so unconcernedly such a situation as that in which she found herself.

At dinner the Commissioner, sitting on one side of Mrs. Collingwood with the Judge on the other, was secretly amazed at the house, the household, and the very agreeable woman who was his hostess. With one laughing remark—“My dear, I am the housekeeper, and I won’t be apologized for”—she had silenced Martin, who was inclined to drift into that apologetic and explanatory vein which demands continual reassurance from the guests of their appreciation of their food; and, picking up [198]the conversational ball, she had sent it spinning lightly here and there through all the courses of as perfectly served a dinner as the Commissioner had ever sat through. She was ably assisted by the two officials and Kingsnorth and even by Martin, whose delight in his wife’s grasp of the situation set his dry, keen wits at bubbling effervescence. Maclaughlin, though not partial to what he called “gentlefolk,” was a hard-headed Scot, not likely to rush in where angels tread lightly, and Mrs. Maclaughlin, who found the general trend of conversation too agile for her, may be said to have concentrated herself on the oyster-shell seeker and the Captain, who suffered also from a slowness of abstract speech.

It was also, considering the fact that it was limited by the resources of a comparatively unproductive island, a good dinner, even in the opinion of two habitual diners-out. It began with a cocktail of Martin’s own mixing and was continued in a clear soup and in a baked fish which must have weighed ten pounds and was of incomparable flavor. “Never have I eaten such fish,” declared Judge Barton, helping himself the second time to the fish and its garnish of thin, sliced cucumbers. [199]Then there was a roast of beef highly relished by the fisher folk, camote, or sweet potato, croquettes, a dish of bamboo sprouts cooked after a savory native recipe, and green peppers stuffed with force-meat. There was a crab salad, deliciously cold, and papaya ice.

“But how do you obtain ice?” said the Commissioner.

“We have a small machine which freezes one hundred pounds daily,” replied Charlotte, “just enough for each cottage and the mess kitchen.”

“I remember when Collingwood proposed having that machine made by special order, how I pooh-poohed the idea,” remarked Kingsnorth. “I was not sufficiently Americanized to feel the need of it. But I am as bad as the rest of them now. Frozen desserts are the only ones fit for the tropics; and I’ve even learned to drink iced-tea.”

A general chorus of assent went up. “You certainly make yourselves comfortable,” the Commissioner declared, “and, really, failing a fresh beef supply, you seem to have all that we get in Manila, in addition to a more charming situation. I suppose your only real difficulty is the matter of medical aid.” [200]

“That is our only real fear,” Collingwood replied. “We keep a supply of coal on hand for emergencies, and we never let it get below a certain point. We keep a reserve sufficient to take the launch over to Cuyo or to Romblon. But if there came a sudden need in bad weather, we should be in the deuce of a fix. It is the only thought that ever keeps me awake at night.”

The Commissioner nodded and murmured something appreciative of a possible crisis. Certainly this very entertaining lady who sat beside him—a lady who had seen something of the world if he was any judge of personality—must feel herself strangely situated in that out of the way spot, chancing the dangers of tidal waves, of storms, and of illness without medical assistance. He fancied the situation was explicable. The compromises which women make for matrimony had offered him food for reflection long before he ever saw Mrs. Collingwood; but what he could not understand was why she should have been among those who have to make compromises. A woman of her grace and finish ought to have a pretty wide field of selection, he thought; but then one can never tell how circumstances [201]force persons into unfortunate positions. The Englishman was a dose; not that he had altogether lost his breeding, but that the atmosphere of degeneration hung so palpably about him. “How he must hate himself,” thought the Commissioner, “to make us all so conscious of his fall!” He removed his eyes from Kingsnorth’s face after arriving at this conclusion, just in time to meet the clear gaze of his hostess, and to know, by her sudden blush and momentary shrinking, that she had read him like an open book, and to realize that she was self-conscious of her own situation.

She was enough mistress of herself, however, to hold the conversation at its level. She asked with intelligent interest about those political events in the islands, concerning which it is tactful to question Commissioners. She drew the statesman out on the subject of his own hopes and plans for the islands. He in turn asked information from the fishers, and they, warming to the theme as men will when they talk of things in which they are experienced, gave him their practical, hard-headed views of men and conditions, spoke of native labor and its capacities and incapacities, of resources and [202]possibilities, and of the disadvantages of political unrest to a people more primitive than any that ever before held the reins of government.

Even an illiterate man is interesting when he talks of his craft, and Martin Collingwood, however little natural development he had in social subtilties, was anything but illiterate or even ill informed. To his wife he seemed to gather new dignity as he took a leader’s natural position. It was plain that his business associates deferred to him; and in ten minutes it was plain that the Commissioner knew he was dealing with a man who would, in the financial world at least, make himself felt. Commissioners never ignore financiers. There came into the Commissioner’s manner as the dinner progressed, something more deferential than the mere civility of a guest to a host, something which implied his acceptance of Mr. Collingwood as a man to be considered.

It was, on the whole, a most successful dinner. The newcomers had brought with them a current of the outer atmosphere, breathing interest and exhilaration into the little colony of self-exiles; and the exiles shared themselves so wholly with the outsiders that the outsiders grew to feel much at home. [203]When, at eleven o’clock, they all walked down to the beach with the Commissioner and the Captain, regrets and good-byes were as hearty as they would have been if the acquaintance had been of long duration.

As he was pulled out to the steamer, the Commissioner remembered that, on the way down, Barton had given him a hint of an odd situation, to which he had paid but a cursory attention. Well it was for the old gossip that he was safe ashore under the tent. “But I’ll have it out of him going back,” reflected the Commissioner. “Fine woman! Fine manly fellow, her husband; sort of man we need out here! He isn’t her equal socially, but I suppose women forget social differences just as we do when they come under the attraction of good looks and manly traits. Besides, if he makes money, she can float him with no difficulty. A remarkably fine woman.” [204]


Chapter X

Judge Barton’s servant, aided by Kingsnorth’s boy and Martin’s, had put up the tents and had seen thoroughly to the comfort of the visitors, so that there was nothing more to do than to bid the guests good night and to warn them of the island habit of sea bathing every morning. Jones had no bathing suit, but Kingsnorth said he would be able to lend him one; while Judge Barton, showing his fine white teeth in an appreciative smile, remarked that he never travelled without one. “We shall see you in the morning, then,” said Charlotte, and she and Martin betook themselves to their own dwelling. Martin sank lazily into his hammock on the veranda for a final cigar, while Charlotte went to give some orders to her cook about breakfast. She found that gentleman asleep on the kitchen table with his head on a bread board. Rudely awakened and asked for explanations, he stated that he had not gone to his quarters, because the Señora had sent him word that [205]she wished to speak with him; but finding the time pass slowly, he had fallen asleep as she had found him. He asked her plaintively why she had been so impatient with him for so small an offence, and he held out the bread board to show that it had suffered no harm. “Wash it with boiling water! Why not? but mañana, mañana! As she could plainly see there was no boiling water at that time.”

The situation being one in which racial intelligence beats itself helplessly against racial unintelligence, Charlotte contented herself with a note in her housekeeping tablets to remind her to superintend the washing process the next morning, gave her orders, and returned to her room. Martin was standing before her glass in his shirt and trousers, a costume which always seemed to add to his stature.

“Now will you believe me?” he began teasingly. “What did I tell you about the Judge?”

“I haven’t a word to say, but I was surprised. What do you suppose brought him down here?”

“I told you he wanted to see you.”

“He said he wanted to see us, and we will treat him on that basis. That means that you must do your share of the entertaining. I do not want him on my hands all the time. He may just as well [206]go with you each day as stay around the house. Promise me, dear, that you will take him on your shoulders.”

There was an unmistakable earnestness about Charlotte’s manner. She was pulling hairpins out of her hair as she spoke, and she laid those feminine accessories somewhat vigorously in a mother of pearl box, which Martin, to honor his calling, had insisted on having made for her. Her husband sank suddenly into a rocking chair and pulled her down on his knee.

“You are the funniest woman I ever knew,” he said reflectively, “the first one I ever knew who wouldn’t play on a man’s jealousy. The truth is I was just half inclined to be jealous, but you’ve disarmed me.”

“I can’t conceive myself, Martin, playing on your jealousy. The whole idea is abhorrent to me. Jealousy implies distrust. Do you think me capable of a flirtation with Judge Barton? Do you think I should enjoy making you distrust me?”

Martin’s face was a study. “You might not mean anything but a little fun,” he said apologetically. “Most women begin that way. And then you might find that you liked him best. That happens. [207]It happens often. And the Judge is a big somebody, and I am a pearl-fisher.”

His tone grew bitter as he pronounced the last words. It was almost the first time that Charlotte had heard him refer to the worldly distinctions that he affected to despise. But if he had expected his self-disparagement to bring him a reward in a counter disparagement of the Judge, he was disappointed. Charlotte sat on his knee, a very earnest figure, her teeth nipping her lower lip, her brows frowning with a very real perplexity. Her manner brought back to him his old fear of her unexpectedness in thought and action. But even as he sat wondering, she turned and smiled, and he drew a long breath of relief.

“We may as well have this out now,” she said. “Perhaps I am making a mistake in revealing myself to you frankly. I think men understand the other sort of woman better, the one who plays upon their jealousy. I believe they value her higher.” She closed his protesting lips with a gentle finger. “I am afraid that I do not belong wholly to the twentieth century, Martin. They call it the age of individualism. But I believe yet in those old tenets which were not individual opinions, but the [208]joint consensus of generations seeking a livable basis for men and women. I believe in marriage and the family, and a lot of old-fashioned things. I believe that what chastity is to a woman, physical courage is to a man. I believe that women are born into this world to bear children and that men are born to fight for woman and child. The men of the present day seem to entertain a dream of universal peace, so perhaps the women are excusable for entertaining a dream of universal barrenness. However, that’s irrelevant. We can discuss that another time. But when I took you for my husband, Martin, believing in all these old-fashioned ideas, I did it in the consciousness that the choice was final, the determining factor of my life. So long as you live, there is between me and every other man in the world a barrier (I know not what it is) across which my mind will never step, and across which no man will ever try to address me twice. No, I won’t be kissed—it is the first time I have ever repelled a caress from you, but to me this moment is too serious for caresses. You have the man’s right to resent another man’s possessive thought of me; but you have no right to be jealous of me. I do not say that I will always love you. [209]There are offences which you could commit against me which would turn my love to hatred. I do not pose as the angelic, forgiving woman. I give fidelity. I demand it in return. If you ever cease to love me, somehow, if it breaks my heart, I shall cease to love you. I would not submit to personal brutality from you or from any living being. But so long as you live there will be, in a sentimental sense, but one man in the world for me. I want you to know that, to understand it and feel it in every fibre of your being, even though I know you hold me cheaper for so understanding it.” Her bosom heaved, her cheeks were fiery, and she would have sprung from his knee only that he held her in a clasp that was iron. His own eyes flashed a reply to hers.

“You had no cause to say that last,” he said hotly.

“No cause, when ten minutes ago, you assured me of my unlikeness to other women! Look into your heart of hearts and ask yourself if I am a dearer possession now that you know that, come good or ill, with you or apart from you, in love or in anger, I hold myself yours and no other man’s. And I do so not out of any false loyalty to you, for there are conditions which might cancel your [210]right to ask loyalty. No: it is loyalty to myself. And this much I know of the whole male sex; that while you are infinitely content to know that there are women who can entertain such ideals and hold to them at any sacrifice, you hold the individual woman cheaper for the knowledge.”

She stared at him accusingly, and at first, half confounded, half amused with her unusual intensity, he tried to stare back; but in the end, his eyes fell and a dull shame burned in his cheek. For he knew that what she said was true, and that in the very moment of her assurances, he felt the loss of something to guard, felt that easy-going surety which a man of his experiences with women knows only too well how to diagnose. However, another emotion of a very great pride in her capacity and in her frankness and a sense of guilt made him very abject. He held her when she tried again to slip from his arms; and when, to his consternation, she put her head down on his shoulder and her body was shaken with noiseless sobs, he was as comforting as she could have desired him to be, and she felt a repentant tear mingle with her own.

She allowed herself no luxury of grief, and after a few convulsive efforts got control of herself. [211]But she lay with her head on his shoulder for a long time, and when she spoke it was with a mournful dignity.

“We have had our tragic moment,” she said, “and I with my wretched love of staring facts in the face have unearthed a family skeleton. Let’s put it back in the cupboard, Martin. Yours was a bogey skeleton, and I was so anxious to show it up for a fraud, that I dragged out the genuine one. That’s singularly in keeping with my lifelong habit. Don’t look so long-faced, Martin. Are you angry?” She put her face caressingly against his.

“Angry! Why should I be angry? I wish you didn’t analyze things so minutely, Lottie.”

“I wish I didn’t too, Martin, but I can’t help it. That’s my punishment for being I. Oh, how I wish I were not I!” She looked at him with eyes unfathomably tired and sad, eyes of that gentle appeal that went straight to the depths of his masculine heart.

“All the same, I love you as you,” he said. “I can’t measure how much more or less for being sure of you—but I’m mighty glad to be sure of you—and I can’t take my own insides to pieces as [212]you can, but all the same I love you, love you, Lottie.”

But as he smoked a last cigar,—for he said that their talk had driven sleep from him—Mr. Collingwood uttered but one phrase as he monotonously paced back and forth across his veranda. Sometimes he uttered it with irritation, sometimes he mouthed it slowly as if its terse brevity were the outlet of profound conviction. Sometimes he even smiled tenderly over it, as a memory of his wife’s earnestness brushed across his vision. But however he said it, he repeated it again and again; and it was, “Well, I’ll be damned!” For the lady he had married had again said and done the unexpected thing.

Charlotte was still less inclined to sleep than her lord, though she went through the semblance of courting slumber. She was infinitely annoyed with herself for her own outburst, and was seeking what seemed a reasonable cause for so much emotion, but could not find one. She heartily wished Judge Barton had seen fit to wait for an invitation before he invaded Maylubi; and, though she declined to admit that she looked upon his coming as an omen, she was inclined to feel that he had been altogether [213]too mixed in her romance. He had been an unsympathetic and amused onlooker at her courtship; he had been with them on that last crucial evening before their marriage;—she wondered how much his mere presence had influenced her in her subsequent speech with Martin;—he had been present at the wedding; and now his coming was contemporaneous with their nearest approach to a quarrel. As for what she had eased her mind of to Martin, she knew that she was right, but she added, self-accusingly, that her knowing it was all wrong. Quite mournfully she arraigned herself, and she assented whole-heartedly in what she knew must be Martin’s secret verdict—that women have no business with ideas of a philosophy on sex matters: that they should be limited to instincts and to principles. Long after Martin had ceased to pass upon his own condemnation, and was sleeping like an exaggerated infant, she lay wide-eyed, fearing she knew not what, but conscious of change impending. She had had eight months of a happiness more nearly perfect than she had ever dreamed could be hers, and it was not in the nature of things temporal as she knew them that such happiness could be of long duration. [214]

Judge Barton meanwhile had retired to his tent, but had him drawn thence by a late-rising moon and his own cogitations. As he paced slowly up and down the silvery beach, his thoughts rushed one after another in confusing circles. First of all he anathematized himself for daring to put to the test that lulled security of his own feelings for Mrs. Collingwood. He had left her on her wedding day, himself a prey to a charm that had struck him, as it were, between the eyes, struck him with that force which emotion can attain only when it is suddenly aroused for one who has played an unheeded part in the subject’s life up to the moment of its birth. It had been months since he deemed that his sudden obsession for Mrs. Collingwood was dead, killed by very weariness of itself, and by continual thwarting. For a week or ten days after his parting with her, he had gone about with her face constantly before him, with her voice in his ears. He had started at the sight of a figure in the distance, resembling hers. His appetite had failed him, zest in all things had departed from him. The congratulations of his confrères on a brilliant decision had, it seemed to him, been mockery. He wanted her approval, nobody else’s. The women [215]of his acquaintance bored him to irritation. “I am in love,” he admitted to himself, “in love with a married woman whom I probably might have married myself had I so desired. I saw her every day for six weeks, and far from entertaining any sentimental thoughts about her, I deliberately set myself to tease and annoy her. I lost all sight of her for six weeks, and in that time never gave her a thought; but when I found her with her lover at her side and saw her vow herself to him, for reasons only known to the imp of perversity I discovered that she was my long lost affinity. My God! was ever man before such an imbecile? How can a man conceive such an affection for a woman who has given him one tremulous smile on her wedding day? What does this thing feed on? Am I coming to my dotage?”

In such strain did the Judge berate himself through ten or twelve weary days, and then the obsession left him as suddenly as it had come. Interest and ambition returned, he found his women friends as entertaining as ever, and though he thought often and kindly of Mrs. Collingwood, his meditations were tinged with a strain of that violet usually allotted to the dead. Past experience had taught [216]him that sentimental fancies about women, once chilled, are hard to resuscitate, and he felt quite certain that Mrs. Collingwood’s ghost would trouble his musings no more. He fell into the habit of thinking about the experience humorously, he spoke of it to himself as “my tragedy,” and once he nearly allowed a clever woman to worm the story out of him. The accidental intrusion of a third person was all that saved him from an access of garrulity; but having been saved, he was able to contemplate with retrospective horror his nearness to the brink and to avoid all subsequent promenadings on that path.

When by mere chance, he found himself invited to accompany the Commissioner and the oyster-shell agent on their voyage of discovery, he accepted the invitation with delight, regarding himself as a man protected by inoculation. He owned up, however, to a frank curiosity about the Collingwoods, and to a strong desire to see them together in their home; but he had as little expectation of a revival of his fancy for Mrs. Collingwood as he had of beholding so great a change in the lady herself.

But it had revived! It was there in full force, bringing with it the primitive man’s sense that desire [217]is right. From the moment he had again beheld Charlotte’s high-bred face with her soul shining through the gray eyes, and had been again conscious of her fastidiousness and of her intelligence,—in short, of all the overpowering emanations of a unique personality,—his old passion to dominate her, to hold her fascinated by his own powerful magnetism, burned like a fever within him. It burned the more that in the lapsed months some new element of charm had come to her, as if the enlarging of human experience had fused and melted into softer lines those sturdy elements of character which had repelled quite as often as they had attracted him. She was not to be flirted with—that he knew only too well, and he had to put on eyes and voice a guard that cost him dear; but he could not resist following her when she went to supervise her dinner preparations, he could not resist the grudging sense he had of every word addressed to another than himself.

He cursed his folly in submitting himself to temptation. By his own act he had put himself in this place and had burned his bridges behind him. He had let himself in for a week of the society of a woman, to associate with whom, on the terms on [218]which he must meet her, was sheer tantalization. She would not flirt with him, nor was she of the ingenuously simple sort which can be flirted with without knowing the fact. The Judge smiled ruefully as he tried to imagine Charlotte Collingwood dominated by any emotion which she could not analyze. Plainly, he had one course before him—to see as little as possible of Mrs. Collingwood except in her husband’s presence, and to guard his eyes and tongue if by chance he should find himself alone with her. He was rather proud of his virtuous resolutions, but he dreaded the slow-going days—seven of them before the steamer would return and he could put time and distance between him and Charlotte Collingwood. The Judge had great faith in Time as a mender of all things. [219]


Chapter XI

The next morning at the matutinal swim the Judge affixed himself as a satellite to Kingsnorth, and left the married pair to take their morning recreation together. At breakfast, he talked business and accepted with apparent eagerness an invitation to visit the fishing grounds with the workers and the shell-purveyor. He went on that day and on five other days, enduring a great many sights and smells that he by no means enjoyed, but admitting to himself that anything was better than battling with the continual temptation to bombard Mrs. Collingwood with the declaration of his passion for her. He had enough to do to watch his betraying eye and voice during those long hours, from five o’clock till bedtime, during which the little colony was perforce united; and at the end of each day’s dragging torment, he balanced a mental account in which he itemized on one side his self-restraint, its pains and penances, and on the other Charlotte’s gradual revelation of all her hidden [220]loveableness. At first, a shadow of her old guard had hung about her, and she had been reserved; but reassured by his frank geniality and his apparent desire to see as much of Collingwood as possible, she gradually relaxed her watchfulness, and admitted him to the place of a tried family friend.

One warm night, when the Maclaughlins, Kingsnorth, and the oyster-agent had given themselves up to the delights of bridge, the other three strolled along the beach till they came to an old banca lying bottom up on the sand. There was no moon, but the stars burned steadily overhead, their reflections rising and falling with each slow wave. A ghostly thread of white fire outlined each breaker that toppled lazily over, and the gentle succession of splashes was like a deep harmonic accompaniment to the shrill chorus of insect life which burst from the grove behind them. They sat and listened a long while, each under the same charm, which was a different charm. It was Charlotte who first broke the silence.

“In spite of the noise, isn’t it still, isn’t it lonely, isn’t it delightful?” she said. “It is like a sort of Truce of God thrown into our lives of struggle and overstrain.” [221]

“I can never accustom myself to those sentiments from you, Mrs. Collingwood,” said the Judge. “To me you seem a woman so eminently fitted to be a part of the great world, that I cannot understand your getting along so well without it. It is like seeing a musician trying to live without music, or an artist without pencils and brushes.”

“Charlotte swam out into the big world and got a mouthful of salt water, and it made her sick,” Martin put it. He fancied the Judge’s words had reference to living in a city among hordes of fellow beings. Of society as a fine art, Martin had no conception.

“That’s quite true, Martin; but it isn’t my only reason for liking our present life. Your ‘great world,’ Judge Barton, means a continual drain upon one’s tact and patience, a continual smoothing over of difficulties, of forcing oneself to adapt oneself to people with whom one has no real sympathy. This life is a sort of moral drifting, with the consciousness that the current moves in the right direction. The other world is full of experiences. One passes from one perception to another, one’s being is wrung with the continual play of warring emotions; but here one sits down quietly to digest [222]and to let one’s soul feed on the food one has gathered in that plethora of emotions.”

“I wonder if you know how aptly you illustrate your theory.”

“Oh, yes, I have grown,” she declared tranquilly. “It seems to me my horizon has broadened infinitely while I have been here. When I was a child living in a convent, we internes were given annually a week at the seashore. Our unfailing recreation was to run about with a tin pail and a spade, filling the pail with sea-shells, seaweed, and all the other seashore treasures which children delight in. And when we went home, I remember the joy I had in going through my pail. Things flopped in so rapidly during the day that I hardly knew what was there. But the ecstasy of the twilight hour when I sorted my treasures! My life here has been something like that tin pail sorting-out. I have sat down to review impressions, to throw away the valueless, to classify and arrange the rest. It has been a priceless experience.”

“Very good; but you don’t want to keep it up forever,” remarked Collingwood.

“I fancy Mrs. Collingwood will begin constructing after she has finished sorting.” [223]

“A philosophy! Remember you warned me against it. Besides I have my doubts of a philosophy’s ever being satisfactory to a woman. For myself I have no hopes of ever being more than consistently inconsistent.”

“Your demands are modest.” This in rather an inscrutable voice from the Judge.

“Do you really think so? Have you not learned that really modest demands on life are like elegantly simple clothing, the most expensive to be obtained? Get my husband to tell you his demands on life, and you will hear something that really is modest.”

“Out with it, Collingwood. I have never given you credit for modest demands.”

Collingwood puffed out two rings of smoke, and removed his cigar. He was sitting at his wife’s feet as she sat on the banca, and he leaned his head back luxuriously against her knee.

“Above five millions as near as I can make it is my figure. I might do with more if I could get it, but I don’t see where I can do with less.”

“And you call that modest!” said Judge Barton ironically to Charlotte.

“I call any demand on life modest which can be [224]expressed in dollars and cents. But Martin’s only modest demand is for the five millions. He has others not so modest.”

“Name one,” challenged Collingwood, sitting up in some surprise.

“I shall do nothing of the kind. Find them out for yourself.”

“And how about me?” There was a tone almost of abject anxiety in Judge Barton’s voice.

“Ah, you! You know that you draw sight drafts on the universe daily.”

“Which are seldom honored,” the Judge remarked somewhat bitterly.

“This is all getting blamed mysterious to me,” interrupted Collingwood. “I wish you two would talk down to my level.”

“Talk up to it, you mean,” replied Charlotte good-naturedly. “For you cannot believe for an instant that the irresponsible demands of two persons asking for the impossible are to be put on a higher level than a practical demand like yours that can be expressed in figures, even if it runs into seven. You ask nothing of life, Martin, that isn’t in it; while those drafts of Judge Barton, as well as my own, are drawn on an ideal universe. The [225]Judge and I are not content with things as they are. We do not own up often, but this seems a propitious moment. Deep in his heart each of us is echoing that old refrain of Omar’s.

“Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,

Would not we shatter it to bits—and then

Remould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!”

“That’s pretty. Say that again,” said Martin; and she repeated it. At its end he said wistfully, “I thought you and I had our hearts’ desires.” And Judge Barton broke into his short, ironical laugh.

“Don’t tell me my husband can’t make pretty speeches,” said Charlotte.

“He clings to his commercial instincts,” said the Judge, “for he asked as much as he gave.”

“Humph!” grunted Martin. “I am beginning to be proud of myself. I didn’t know I gave or asked. I thought I referred to things that are understood. You are my heart’s desire. All the rest is just working, and being glad when I succeed, and angry when I fail. It’s taking hard knocks and gritting my teeth over them, and saying to myself that I’ll blast what I want out of this [226]universe yet. That’s just living. But I don’t want the world made over. It suits me all right, and I thought it suited you.”

Judge Barton’s gaze was fixed on the vague moving mass of waters before them, but Charlotte fancied she could detect a tense interest in her answer.

“It does not suit me altogether,” she replied slowly, “but if Judge Barton will forgive an exchange of conjugal compliments, I’ll admit that it has come very near suiting me, since I married you. My little burst of this evening is an echo of a former self. It’s the sort of thing I have said so much in my life, that it ripples off my tongue through force of habit whenever anyone strikes a harmonious note. And now I am going in. I am tired and sleepy, and I know that you both want to talk business.”

The Judge rose as she did. Martin remained on the upturned banca. “I’ll follow you before long,” he said, and before she was out of earshot she heard him say, “What do you think the administration is likely to do?” The rest trailed off in an indistinct murmur; but she smiled, knowing that Philippine policy was uppermost. [227]

The next morning Judge Barton found his self-denying spirit in the minority, and a very insistent small voice demanding a reward for five days of self-immolation. Secure in the knowledge of his past will-power, and confident that the next day would see him off the island, he asked himself why there was any need of sacrificing himself to the heat and smells of another day on the launch. He pleaded a headache, ate little to bear evidence to his sincerity, and after breakfast retired to his tent with the honest intention of keeping it till noon at least for very consistency’s sake. Through its open sides, he could view Mrs. Collingwood at her daily routine.

She came out upon the broad veranda, made a minute examination of the flower-pots, pulled a few dead fronds from a great air-fern which hung in one of the windows, and cut a nosegay from the hedge of golden cannas. Afterwards he saw her through the open casement, sitting at her desk, and apparently making entries in an account book. At nine o’clock, six or eight children between the ages of seven and fourteen arrived and squatted down on the veranda. Charlotte came out with an armful of books, which she distributed; and with the [228]help of one of the larger boys, she also brought out an easel on which was a rude blackboard.

At this point the Judge’s resolution weakened. He donned a coat and ambled over to the veranda. To his hostess’s somewhat suspicious, “Better so soon?” he returned an honest confession.

“It was just one of my boyhood headaches,” he admitted, “the kind that used to keep me in bed till nine o’clock, when school had taken up. Did you never have that sort of headache, Mrs. Collingwood?”

“Never. I was a conscientious child, though I am willing to admit that it was doubtless a great mistake to be so. Rufino, begin.” And Rufino began chantingly:

“E see a cuf. A ball is in de cuf. Srow de ball to me.” He paused triumphantly.

I see a cup,” corrected Charlotte. “Say it after me—cup, cup” and she pronounced the final consonant so distinctly that Rufino proceeded without difficulty:—

“I see a cuppa. A ball is in de cuppa. Srow de ball to me.” There was no little difficulty in inducing Rufino to say throw, and he did not succeed until Mrs. Collingwood made him take his [229]tongue in his two fingers and pull it through his teeth, preliminary to attacking the word. His mates took exuberant joy in this feat, and the next boy, Wenceslao de los Angeles, started out glibly: “I see a cuppa. A ball is in de cuppa,” and then dropped his book, gave his tongue a convulsive jerk and spluttered, “Srow de cuppa to me.”

The Judge gurgled as helplessly as the children did, blushed, tried to save the situation, and looked exceedingly severe. Mrs. Collingwood, a little flushed, threw him a protesting glance, smiled, bit her lip and went on with the reading lesson. When every aspirant had had a chance to see the cup and to pull his tongue, she proceeded to “develop” the lesson. The Judge was bored. It was one of the miseries of his strange infatuation for her that merely being with her or able to watch her afforded him no satisfaction. He wanted to monopolize her, to keep her attention constantly centred in himself. If this feeling was Nature, working in its own blind way to accomplish what the man’s intellect told him could not be done, the Judge ruefully reflected that Nature can sometimes keep a man very miserable, and that she wastes a great deal of human effort. For whether her thoughts were with him or away [230]from him, he was secretly conscious of what she had told her husband, that there was for her, in one sense, but one man in the world. Her old suspicion of him was lulled, and she stood ready for fair honest friendship; but there never had been, in one glance of her eye, in her occasional merry laugh, or in her frank converse, the faintest evidence of that sex consciousness which is in no wise to be confounded with social self-consciousness, but which, as an element in woman’s entity, is the only possible excuse for the banalities which men are usually eager to exchange with them by the hour.

The Judge was wearily awaiting the close of the reading lesson when he received another disappointment in the sight of numerous physically incommoded individuals who strolled up by detachments, and squatted at the foot of the veranda steps. There was a consumptive in a talebon, or hammock, in which the sick are carried about. There was a small boy with a boil on his kneecap. He had plastered it with lime, a disinfectant for almost all skin troubles in the Philippines; and he alternately felt it gingerly, and glanced apprehensively, if fascinatedly, in the direction of the “medequilla.” There were ulcers, and yellow jaundiced folk suffering [231]with a seasonal fever. The Judge decided that fully one-fifth of the island’s population was represented in the assemblage, and he gave a shrug of commiseration as he reflected how they must have suffered unaided before the coming of Charlotte.

He was watching her somewhat closely as she struggled with the limited understanding of one of her protégées, when she glanced down the beach, and he saw a great tide of crimson rush to her cool, clear skin. Naturally his eyes followed hers, but he saw approaching only a rather young and comely girl carrying a young child in her arms. He had barely time to perceive this when Mrs. Collingwood turned to him.

“I am going to dismiss my class and take these poor people next, and I can’t let you assist at that. I am dreadfully self-conscious about it with any on-lookers. There isn’t any evading the fact that it is really daring on my part to attempt to play physician, and nurse, too; but something has to be done for them. But I really couldn’t bear an audience.”

“I’m off,” said the Judge with a laugh. He did not, however, turn toward his tent, which would have taken him away from the approaching girl, [232]but swung briskly down the sand in the direction from which she was advancing.

She greeted him with the customary civility of Filipinos, and he vouchsafed her a nod. He dared not stop and speak to her, but he made directly for the native village, a mile away, where he asked the headman who she was. When he had extracted the full details of the story, he turned and strolled slowly back. But he did not rejoin Mrs. Collingwood. He went, instead, to his tent, where he sat gazing meditatively across the sea while he turned over and over the facts that he had heard.

She had compromised with life with a vengeance! He felt that she had gone far when he beheld the Maclaughlins and Kingsnorth. But to live openly in daily converse with such a man, to sit at the table with him, and to minister to the needs of his illegitimate child—that was carrying tolerance or charity to a length unprecedented. He made no allowance for the fact that she found herself confronted with a situation in which to take action was to risk her domestic happiness. What he scorned in her was the fact that she could be happy under such circumstances. He knew very well that women put up with worse in the very circles which [233]he was struggling so desperately to attain; but he knew also the veil of decent concealment which those circles know so well how to assume. He had to admit, also, that she had proved more of a philosopher than he had given her credit for being, and she had dared to reprove him for his gibe, and he had apologized with God knows what of contrition! The hunter instinct that is so strong in all men rose up in him; and suddenly he realized why he had so remorselessly wounded her and tormented her in those early days of their acquaintance. It was that deep in his mind had lain the desire for her, which still held, but which then he had been unwilling to gratify by marriage; and proportionally as he had felt that she was out of his reach and that he dared not insult her by one sign of sentimentality unbacked by the desire of marriage, he had hated her with the smouldering hatred of balked affection. Well, he loved her still, and he was willing to marry her. If she could get rid of Collingwood, he was willing to marry her. He hardly doubted that she would do it. He felt pretty sure of the motives which had made her marry the young ruffian, who had, he admitted, improved considerably under her hands. She was a feminine [234]creature in spite of her brains, unable to face life without love, and she had been grateful to the man who offered it to her, and had given her the shelter of his roof. But that any woman of Charlotte Collingwood’s breeding would deliberately prefer Martin Collingwood to a man of her own class, Judge Alexander Barton declined to believe. Nor was he altogether wrong. She might not have taken Collingwood in the beginning, had the Judge been his honest rival at that time. But having taken him, she had no intention of questioning her bargain. The Judge read her very correctly up to that point of secret loyalty and gratitude, which to a man of his ambitions was outside the possibilities of human nature.

Why should she not, he asked himself, get rid of Collingwood without scandal and marry him. She was a woman to be proud of. He had seen her at her husband’s table and knew that she graced it. There must be somewhere in the United States an influential kindred who might not care to make too much of her as a nurse, but who would be glad to welcome the wife of an eminent jurist; and with proper family backing, the Judge saw many things. Why not a commissionership, yes, a governorship? [235]And then (for everybody knows that a Governor of the Philippines has a great chance to keep in the public eye) why not something better by-and-by? The Judge’s visions grew more rosy than it is safe to chronicle here.

Strange it was that his week of intimate association had not shown him the utter futility and madness of thinking to approach Mrs. Collingwood with the audacious plan he had in mind. Partly, his own passion blinded his judgment; partly, he had so long been accustomed to the society of women to whom social preferment is the end of life that he had lost sight of the stronger and nobler elements of character that can live in the feminine breast. To be just to the society in which the Judge moved, there was a very fair sprinkling of noble women within it, but his restless ambition drove him into intimacy with those who could understand him and sympathize without the necessity of explanations.

The result of his musings was that he went to luncheon in a dangerous mood. It had full opportunity to show itself, for Mrs. Maclaughlin did not appear. She sent word that she had been engaged in the poultry yard all morning, had bathed late, and would prefer taking her luncheon in her [236]wrapper at home. As the Judge had caught a glimpse of her drying her rather wiry gray tresses in the sunshine of a window, he was able to corroborate her statement; and Charlotte laughed as she gave orders for the preparation of the tray.

“You can be trusted to see all things that you are not wanted to see,” she added.

Then the Judge went point-blank and very indiscreetly at the matter in his mind. “Was that why you sent me away this morning?” he inquired.

For an instant her face flamed, and then the color left it white, with an angry gleam in her eyes. She played with her teaspoon a minute, and then she asked him a civil question about his impressions of her school. It was his turn to flush. The rebuke was the more scathing for its silence. His temper rose, and even in that instant he found time to wonder why he should have such an infatuation for a woman who had such power to enrage him.

“Why do you stand it?” he asked.

Charlotte was dumbfounded. She had her hospital patient on her hands again, when she had imagined, for nearly a week, that she had found a friend. Mechanically she pushed a dish of candied fruits (they were at dessert) toward him. [237]“These are quite fine,” she said quietly. “You had better try them and then have your cigar. Meanwhile I must ask you to excuse me. My cook awaits dinner directions.”

She was rising, but he reached a hand across and seized hers as it rested on the table edge.

“Do you think you can put this scene off?” he demanded. “You have got to listen. You had no business to marry Collingwood in the first place. It is time the thing came to an end.”

Mrs. Collingwood very quietly pulled her hand out of his grasp.

“So,” she said. She had the air of one who finds herself incarcerated with a madman. Judge Barton leaned far across the table, his eyes gleaming, his rather large, powerful face flushed, all the brute strength of the man dominating the urbane jurist who said clever things in a rich, well-modulated voice.

“You had no business to marry him in the first place,” he said. “But that’s done. Still you can change it.”

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Collingwood, a very level intonation of contempt in her tone. It irritated the Judge, and his vehemence rose higher. [238]

“Anything can be changed in these days,” he went on. “I want you to divorce Collingwood and to marry me.”

“Well, I shan’t,” said Mrs. Collingwood. She did not offer to rise, however. Her heart was swelling with anger, humiliation, and a dull disappointment in the man in front of her. But some unaccountable instinct held her listening to the end. She did want to hear what he would say, she knew it would wound her, but she had a very strong curiosity as to how far he would go; and a retrospect of all her past association with him flashed through her mind. A faint smile curved her lips as she remembered the weeks when he had been free, had he so chosen, to make love to her. But he had not wanted to make love to her, till, in the making, he violated all the laws of right and loyalty. She sat very white and rigid, and the Judge felt in her once again the woman who had challenged his old self-complacency.

“I suppose it was natural,” he went on. “You were alone. You had to have your romance. But what will it be to ours?—to ours? I’ll be a lover to rival the lovers of history—a husband—and we’ll do some of the things we want to do in this [239]world. We have ambitions, both of us. Dear—” his voice dropped like a violin note on the octave—“take the same courage you had in hand to make this mistake, and remedy it. You defied public opinion in marrying Collingwood. Defy it once again to get rid of him. The world will understand you better. Yes, by Jove! it will sympathize more.”

“I shall not test it,” said Mrs. Collingwood. This time she rose definitely. “I thank God you are going away to-morrow. The very air will be freer and cleaner after you have gone.”

He stood looking after her, red-eyed, enraged, yet longing with all the fierce strength of his nature to seize her in his arms and conquer her as Martin Collingwood had once conquered her. When he heard the snap of her closing door, he fell into a sort of stupor, still sitting at the table, his head resting on his clasped hands.

The vehement forceful fury of his mood fell away from him, and he sat staring haggardly at the white cloth. The act was final, and having committed it, he had full opportunity to question its discretion. Strange tragedy of temperament, forcing eye and voice to utterance which no human [240]power can revoke, though life itself would be reckoned a fair price for revocation! Sitting there alone with his thoughts, Alexander Barton was conscious of a shame that would stay with him for life, of a futile hopeless anger and despair with himself, of an ache that would take the taste out of life for many a month and year to come.

Meanwhile, Charlotte had passed into her room, where she stood very quietly looking out of the window. Her heart lay heavy within her, and a dull, gripping pain tugged at her throat. She had a sense of having been morally bruised and beaten. For she saw with painful distinctness, that it was not only brute feeling which had carried away Judge Barton’s self-control; but that deeper, subtler was his measurement of the compromise she had made with life. It was not Charlotte Collingwood’s personality, it was what she had done that opened the way to his advances.

After a time she lay down, and she remained so for the rest of the afternoon, with her face buried in her pillow. How was she to face Martin with the wretched story? How was she to dissemble her own misery? She was a fair actress to the world, [241]taking refuge in a kind of stoic dignity. But how was she to hide her embarrassment and misery from the man who could measure her moods as a barometer measures pressure? [242]


Chapter XII

The evening meal passed off more easily than had seemed possible to Mrs. Collingwood’s disturbed imagination. Judge Barton managed to appear perfectly at ease, and she played her own part better than she had fancied that she could. Only one dread preyed upon her. There was a readiness in Kingsnorth to devote himself to the entertainment of the guests, and a tact on his part in holding the household together which made her suspect that keen observer of a desire to aid her; and such a desire could only lead to the inference that he had, to some extent, grasped the situation. The thought was galling; but its bitterness was, for the time, mitigated by her sense of need.

She slept little that night, but toward morning she fell into a doze from which she was aroused by the sounds of breakfast preparations in the next room. She jumped up hurriedly, only to behold the bathers sporting in the sea, and the coastguard [243]cutter lying a mile or so off shore. Dressing as quickly as she could she hastened down to the beach in time to meet the Commissioner as he came ashore.

The Commissioner’s first rush of enthusiasm had had time to cool, and he had thought much during his week’s absence. Without in the least abating his very high opinion of Mrs. Collingwood’s personality and attainments, he had had time to consider the possible attitude of Mrs. Commissioner, and the difficulties attendant upon too close a connection with the queer island ménage. The result of his reflections was a self-conscious restraint, and a very bungling masculine attempt to recede from a position without betraying himself in the act.

Charlotte read his self-consciousness aright, ignored the existence of a Mrs. Commissioner, saved his feelings for him, and bore him no grudge. She had accepted her husband’s associates kindly for his sake; but she had never ceased to look upon them with the clear vision of her upbringing. Socially Kingsnorth and the Maclaughlins were “impossible.” It mattered little to her, because she had turned her back forever upon society and all its works. She even took satisfaction in playing her [244]part gracefully. She enjoyed the Commissioner’s mystification, and the little access of deference in his manner when he spoke to her.

She was saved the necessity of any direct speech with the Judge, till, at the very last moment, he snatched a second while the others were grouped around the Commissioner.

“I don’t dare put out a hand,” he said, “and I suppose you won’t believe me when I say that I am sorry, and that I didn’t sleep last night for execrating myself. I am sorry in the dullest, heart-sickest way a man can be. I knew as well before I said those things as I know now that it would not do me any good, and yet they had to come out. Well, I’ve lost a friend. But do you suppose you can ever think kindly of me again?”

She raised her eyes to him for one of those slow painful glances that she sometimes gave, and she answered measuredly:

“I don’t think unkindly of you on my own account. Somehow the thing has no bearing on me. I have seen you in the proper light, and I do not think you are worth thinking unkindly about. But for my husband’s sake I shall always feel a resentment. He gave you shelter under his roof, and [245]a seat at his table; and in turn you would have betrayed him. On his account, I shall always feel anger, but for me you are just—erased.”

“You can say, at least, as bitter things as other women,” the Judge retorted with pale lips. She shrugged her shoulders lightly and extended a very high hand.

“It has been such a pleasure to have you with us,” she said quite distinctly. Her eyes met his unflinchingly, but his own were bright with moisture. He wrung her hand in spite of its high bent wrist.

“No, don’t do that,” he said. “Give me a good honest handshake. I’m sorry. I shall be sorry for some time to come. Besides—” his expressive pause said as plainly as words, “You have conducted yourself admirably. The thing has done you no harm.”

Collingwood saw the shrug, the look exchanged, and the handshake. He perceived war in his wife’s manner, and he wondered what it was all about. But as the Commissioner was already seating himself in the human chair to be carried out to the boat there was no time to ask questions then. He was still more surprised when his wife came up to him, and slipping a hand in his, stood [246]watching the departing dignitary. Charlotte had a horror of public demonstrations, and the act was unlike her. He slipped an arm around her, glancing, as he did so, somewhat sheepishly at his other guests; but the Judge was apparently absorbed in the process of turning up the bottoms of an exceedingly well made pair of trousers before embarking in turn; and, as he was carried out, his anxiety to protect a pair of spotless shoes seemed superior to every other consideration.

When the guests were once aboard their boat, the fishers made haste to embark in their own; and Mrs. Collingwood, with a hasty wave of her hand, turned immediately and went indoors.

She drew a long breath of relief as she entered her little sitting-room. There was a sort of clearing in the atmosphere, a sense of wholesomeness and content in having their lives to themselves. She passed lovingly from one piece of furniture to another, giving a touch here, making some slight change there. Her housekeeping cares became a renewed pleasure. All day she busied herself about house and mending, laying aside wholly the books and magazines which, for several hours each day, had been her wonted entertainment. When Martin [247]came home at five o’clock, she met him, a radiant creature, eyes smiling, face beaming content, her laugh spontaneous as a child’s. He was inclined to be lonely, and said as much at dinner. Mrs. Maclaughlin agreed with him, but Maclaughlin and Kingsnorth went over to Charlotte’s side, and insisted that things were cosier with their own little family.

After dinner, husband and wife sat on their veranda steps while Martin smoked a pipe or two. He was very thoughtful, she silently content. Suddenly he broke out:

“Charlotte, did you and the Judge quarrel?”

Charlotte started perceptibly and answered after a decided pause:

“What makes you think we did?”

“I saw your handshake.”

He felt rather than saw another little shrug. It was a reckless gesture. Charlotte wanted very much to quarrel with her little gods just then. She kept silence, however, and he was forced to go on insistently.

“Did he try to make love to you?”

There was a miserable humor in her reply. “Not in your acceptance of the term, Martin.” [248]

“Well, what is my acceptance of the term? I should like to know what you mean by that.”

“He did not put his arm around my waist or try to kiss me.”

“Then what were you scrapping with him for?” said Martin with such instant relief that Charlotte laughed helplessly, though the tears were rolling down her cheeks. Martin studied her intently through the gloom.

“There’s something behind all this,” he remarked sententiously. “I never before knew you to dodge a question, or to be in such a mood. Now, see here, I’ve got some rights in this matter and I want to know about it.”

His tone brought her up sharp in her half-hysterical mirth. She replied quickly.

“You will not like it, Martin.”

“I’ll have to decide that.”

“Well, if nothing but the truth will do, he proposed to me that I should get rid of you and marry him.”

Collingwood threw down his cigar with an oath, and jumped, in the sudden rush of his anger, quite clear of the steps. He made several short, quick [249]turns back and forth before he finally sat down again at his wife’s side.

“I suppose he had some reason for thinking you might entertain such a proposition,” he said bitterly.

Charlotte’s pride sprang to arms. “He may have had one,” she replied laconically. “It was not in any glance or words I had given him. I haven’t been flirting with him. My conscience is clear.”

“But men don’t make propositions of that sort without a reason, Charlotte.”

Again she said nothing. The answer was burning on her lips. “You are the reason. The associates you have given me here are the reasons.” But she maintained silence. Collingwood was angered by what he thought her obstinacy.

“Well, what was the reason?” he demanded.

“He thought I might be ambitious.”

It was an honest answer and as generous as it was frank. But Collingwood was in no mood to measure generosity.

“And you let him get away without giving me a chance to kick him into the Sulu Sea,” he reproached her. [250]

“I did. The greatest fear I had was that he would not get away without your doing it. Suppose you had kicked him—as you are quite capable of doing—and he had kicked back. One or the other would have been hurt. Suppose it had been you, do you think I should have enjoyed seeing you suffer? Or suppose you had hurt him, do you think it would have been a satisfaction to me to know that you had fought for me, and had to be punished for it? Do I want my husband in jail or maimed for rebuking an insolence that I could handle myself? I defended your dignity and mine, and Judge Barton has been a thousand times more rebuked by my tongue than he would have been by your fists.”

With this speech and with the memory of her shrug and handshake, Martin’s kindling jealousy had to be temporarily extinguished. He returned with a more conciliating manner to the charge.

“I should like to know what you said to him.”

But Charlotte could suffer no more. “Don’t ask me, don’t ask me,” she implored. She rose and walked away. The action was the result of lifelong habit. She had never allowed herself to indulge in emotion before others, and she had exercised [251]almost the will of a red Indian to refrain from giving way to an overwhelming burst of tears; but when, after she had regained some control of herself, her thoughts returned to Collingwood, a sense of bitter disappointment in him mingled with her self-pity.

He had not followed her! He had shown her no sympathy in her momentary outburst of unhappiness. She was conscious of never having deserved better of his loyalty and sympathy, and she had never received less! She finally took up a book and endeavored to read, but her heart was sick with wounded love and pride. She found old feelings that she had believed scourged out of her being rising in tumultuous violence. There was the feeling of outraged pride and sensibility, the swelling sense of injustice, and a blind twisting and turning to see a way out of the situation. Suddenly that which the Judge had proposed leaped back into her mind. The ear which had been deaf to him when he appealed to her ambitions became sensitively alive to a whisper when that whisper promised succor from distaste. She was frightened at her own attitude and took herself severely to task. She said to herself that she was morbid, that Martin [252]had every right to be displeased with her, for she had denied him frankness; but even as she ranged these weights in her mind’s eye the scale tipped lower and lower with the weight of his displeasure.

Live under the bane of his anger she could not. The tentative overtures, the timid looks or glances, the humility with which less spirited women propitiate an injured deity were foreign to her nature; but equally she was not calloused, as many women are, to conjugal frowns.

All the self-confidence which she had gained in months of happiness was jolted out of her at Martin’s first angry word. Another woman might have turned his wrath away with a laugh, might have nestled her hand into his with a whisper and a kind look; but it was not in Charlotte Collingwood to offer a caress to an angry husband. It would have been to her an act beyond the pale of decency. Her heart harbored no revenge. Every moment as she sat listening for his step, she justified his resentment, she told herself over and over that she had no tact and no consideration, and that Martin was an abused husband; but to have risen and sought him when he was plainly averse to her society [253]would have seemed to her the acme of unwomanliness.

Meanwhile Mr. Collingwood was pacing the sands. His temper was seething. He did not understand the situation, and the more he realized his inability to understand it, the higher rose his desire to hold somebody accountable. There was no doubting the sincerity of Charlotte’s words, “I have not been flirting with him,” but Martin Collingwood thought there had to be a reason for such a radical step on the part of so conservative a man as the Judge. Then there was the fact that the Judge had departed without that closer acquaintance with Martin Collingwood’s footwear. To a man of Collingwood’s temperament, being balked of the physical pleasures of revenge was worse even than the sting of the affront. Why had not Charlotte told him? She had clearly not meant to tell him. She had meant to let him go on shaking that viper by the hand when they met. But why? Ah, that why!

It was long after midnight when he entered his home. His wife was asleep or pretended to be so; and when he awoke late, after a troubled sleep, he found her dressed and gone. From the adjoining [254]room, the clinking of cups and saucers told him that breakfast was going on.

Collingwood dressed quickly and went in to breakfast wearing an unpleasant face. After one quick glance, Charlotte gave him a smiling good morning, to which he vouchsafed a surly reply.

Kingsnorth remarked: “I thought I should have to go to work without you, old man. Mrs. Collingwood would not have you waked. She made us talk in whispers and eat in parenthesis, as it were.”

“All tom-foolishness,” said Martin. “I am no six-weeks-old baby. You let me oversleep like this again,” he added, addressing the muchacho, “and I’ll beat you with a dog whip.”

Then electrically everybody knew that something was wrong in the Collingwood household. Mrs. Maclaughlin stole a frightened look at Charlotte whose face flamed, Maclaughlin stared first at Collingwood and then at his wife, and finally turned his wondering eyes on Kingsnorth, who met his gaze with an eye about as intelligent as that of an oculist’s advertisement. A moment later Charlotte addressed some trifling remark to Kingsnorth who answered with a suspicious readiness, and they [255]fell into conversation unshared by the rest of the table.

Collingwood continued to gloom after the Maclaughlins and Kingsnorth, who had nearly finished when he appeared, had excused themselves. Charlotte sat on profoundly uncomfortable. She had no words in which to address his frowning majesty, but she was heartsick. She rose at last, saying, “If you will excuse me, Martin, I will leave you to finish alone, I forgot about those launch supplies;” and she made her errand in the kitchen detain her until she saw the launch puffing lazily across the blue, sparkling water.

She went back to her room and lay down half nauseated with the misery surging within her. Nothing in her experience had prepared her to meet the emergency she was confronting. She came of a family to whom the scene which had taken place in her breakfast-room could be possible only as a definite, final act of estrangement. She was as utterly ignorant of those persons who alternately frown and smile and betray joy or sorrow unthinkingly to the world as Martin was ignorant of the jealous guarding of appearances which pertained to her world. It never once occurred to her that Martin [256]could publicly affront her at breakfast and forget all about it before dinner.

Yet that is precisely what he did. The day’s work restored his natural sunny self. He dismissed the Judge from his mind with the mental reservation of kicking him on sight; and when he came home that night, he strode up the steps, caught his wife in his arms, and kissed her as naturally as if they had not, that very morning, omitted that lover’s benediction for the first time since their marriage.

He made no apology for his late spleen. Truth is, he hardly thought of it as affecting her. She clung to him as he kissed her, and he saw that she was pale and her eyes heavily lidded; but he asked her no questions. She had had, in truth, a hard day. As soon as the glowering man body was safely out of the way, Mrs. Maclaughlin came over, bent on extracting information. In her life and in the lives of most of her friends, connubial difficulties meant neighborhood confidences and lamentations. Charlotte parried her hints and, to a point-blank question, returned a look so rebuking that Mrs. Maclaughlin went home in high dudgeon. For the rest of the day, Charlotte struggled against [257]the tears that would have betrayed her—struggled till her eyeballs ached and her weary head seemed drawn back upon her shoulders.

At dinner Kingsnorth stole one furtive glance, said to himself “Thoroughbred, by Jove,” and bent himself to seconding Mrs. Collingwood’s conversational efforts. After dinner they all played bridge till eleven o’clock.

So the whole incident was passed over without speech between husband and wife. But with it went the completeness, the golden, unreal joy of their honeymoon. Though they walked and talked together, and played at being lovers again, a sense of distrust hung over their relations. Collingwood secretly nursed his why; his wife still asked herself proudly if she had deserved public humiliation at his hands. Led by an evil genius he could not have selected a more adroit way to offend her and to arouse her critical faculties against him than that he had chosen. Private reproaches she could have endured with more fortitude than she could endure public sulking.

Nevertheless, she made a Spartan effort to clear him at her own expense, and a no less loyal attempt to conceal from him that a wound still rankled in [258]her breast. But it did rankle, and, in the next six weeks, it seemed to her that she and Martin grew steadily apart; that in spite of every effort to stay the widening process, it went on slowly and relentlessly, and that it was leading them gradually but inevitably to that moment which she had so greatly dreaded before her marriage.

It was the custom at the island for the three men to take turns in going to Manila for commissaries, and to dispose of their pearls and shells. Collingwood had been engaged in this work the year before, when he met with the accident which landed him in the hospital; the Maclaughlins had been up since Charlotte’s marriage, and the next trip was Kingsnorth’s. But as the time drew near, he astounded them all by the announcement that he did not want to go, and that he wished Collingwood to take his place. When pressed for a reason for his apparent insanity, he declared that if a man had to live in purgatory or a worse place, he had better stay there all the time, and not seek spots that would emphasize its drawbacks when he returned to it. He insisted that Collingwood enjoyed Manila while to him it was the extreme of boredom, and that [259]Martin ought to take his wife away for a change, that her spirits were drooping.

“Nonsense,” said Charlotte. “I am absolutely contented. I don’t feel droopy.”

But Collingwood had taken alarm. He stared at her. “But you are a bit pale,” he said. “I wonder why I had not noticed it. Besides, I should like to be in Manila again with you. Let’s accept. Kingsnorth proposed it himself. He can’t complain if we take him at his word.”

At this point, Mrs. Maclaughlin put in a bomb. “Why can’t I go too, then?” she said.

“We need a housekeeper,” cried Kingsnorth, while Maclaughlin remarked hastily, “Don’t talk of it.”

“Fiddlesticks,” Martin said. “You can get along by yourself a while. It’s just the thing. Charlotte will have somebody for company while I am at business.”

By this time, Charlotte was ready with a smile and an echo of his remark. Kingsnorth grew morose while Mrs. Maclaughlin began to enumerate the things which actually demanded her presence in Manila. Maclaughlin gave her one or two [260]frowns; but she had taken the bit in her teeth; and it was soon decided that she was to have her way.

Charlotte’s heart sank and her anticipation of pleasure subsided into dread. Mrs. Maclaughlin was, at all times, a trial to her. She had little sympathy with the self-complacent temperament which is not subject to atmospheric influences; and Mrs. Maclaughlin’s society seemed to her several degrees less desirable in Manila than it did in Maylubi. She made no objection, however, and even succeeded in forcing herself to a half-hearted share in Martin’s enthusiasm. [261]


Chapter XIII

It was all finally settled, and preparations such as could be made were begun. Charlotte found that, with a prospect of returning to the world, a variety of interests which she had thought quite extinct revived and grew clamorous. Memory was busy, too, with the days of her courtship. That strange mingling of ecstasy and misery through which she had passed seemed quite remote and, in retrospect, quite unnecessary. A hundred times she asked herself why she had been such a goose, why she had hesitated, why she had permitted the possible opinion of the world at large to influence her. She went about almost uplifted with the sense of new moral independence.

Collingwood was childishly eager for the change. His head, too, was full of memories and of places—how they would revisit the place where such and such a conversation had taken place,—did she remember that wrestle of their two individualities,—or drive over the ground where he had pleaded [262]so fiercely for the right to take care of her, to stand between her and the bread-and-butter struggle. Particularly he looked forward to the Luneta evenings, for, of all moments in his life, he held that moment on the Luneta when she had dropped her flag the sweetest. He said as much to her, and she blushed like a girl. He also said something to the same effect to Mrs. Mac when that lady was sharpening her imagination one evening at dinner.

“We are going to run off and leave you just once, Mrs. Mac,” he said. “I’ve got one drive with my wife all planned out; it will be a Sunday evening. I am going to take her to the Luneta that evening; just she and I.”

“Oh, I can understand,” replied Mrs. Mac. “For that matter, Mac and I were young once ourselves.”

Kingsnorth, who had preserved a kind of displeased reticence ever since it had been settled that Mrs. Mac was to go to Manila with the Collingwoods, started to say something, bestowed upon the lady an unfriendly glance, and somewhat pointedly asked Mrs. Collingwood if she was going to join the bridge game after dinner. [263]

Charlotte smiled across the table at her husband. “Not unless I’m actually needed,” she replied.

“You hate it so badly, you’ll have to be excused,” Collingwood said. “Better let Kingsnorth take you for a stroll. You need exercise and his temper needs sweetening. He has been in a devilish mood all day.”

“You make me feel like a prescription,” said Charlotte, laughingly. “Mr. Kingsnorth, if your temper does not improve after a dose of my society, my husband’s faith in me as a panacea for all troubles of the mind will have gone forever.”

“I note that fact,” said Kingsnorth, gravely. “I commit myself now to come back grinning like a Cheshire cat.” But he knew, in spite of her light manner, that Charlotte was displeased. It was seldom that she permitted herself the least badinage with him; and he recognized it nearly always as a cloak to cover some hasty and more aggressive instinct.

Nevertheless, when they started away after dinner, she fell into a more intimate tone with him than she generally used. The sunset was just dying out, and its flaming radiance seemed to exaggerate the wide sweep of the waters, the white [264]stretch of sand, and the lithe, swaying boles of the cocoanut groves. Charlotte paused to look about her in a sudden rush of tenderness for the solitude.

“It is wonderful how contented one can be in such a situation as this,” she said. “I am amazed at myself. I am never sad, seldom even lonely. I have a feeling, at times, that this could go on and on and on in endless æons, and I could ask no more than one day’s sunshine and that same day’s sunset. It is inexplicable and yet it is all in myself; anything to upset that harmony between my soul and this could make it a nightmare, an endless nightmare.”

“As it is to me,” Kingsnorth rejoined. “I don’t know why I stand it from day to day. I don’t see how mere dollars and cents can compensate for stagnating here. Yet I am such a slave to the dollar that I do stay; the good Lord only knows when I shall go away.”

“Yet you gave up your trip, you pretended to feel about this as you don’t feel. Why did you do it, Mr. Kingsnorth?”

“I wanted you and Martin to go. You can say what you please about being satisfied and contented; [265]some of your radiance and vitality have disappeared in the last two or three weeks.”

Charlotte flushed uncomfortably. She did not enjoy the thought that she was so closely watched and studied. Kingsnorth, divining her thoughts, went on hastily.

“Besides, I am as miserable there as here. I want the impossible. I’m crying for the moon. I’ve cried for it—My God!—these twenty years. I wonder, Mrs. Collingwood, if you can understand a mood of savage self-dissatisfaction—a mood in which it seems indecent that you should be alive yourself, and unjust that so many million fellow-beings should find this world an agreeable place. There are times when I should like to be an Atlas poised on the gulf of space! How I’d send the old ball and all that dwell in it humming into the void, to go on and on into darkness! You know that poem of Byron’s—”

“Yes, I know the poem and the mood.” She regretted the statement as soon as she had made it, and bit her lips in silent confusion. Kingsnorth stopped and faced her. They stood close to a great clump of pandan bushes where a path, making a [266]short cut from the cottages to the point, led away through the bunched sand grass.

“Are you going to draw that line on me forever, Mrs. Collingwood?” he demanded.

“I don’t know what you mean, Mr. Kingsnorth.”

“Oh, yes, you do. I am Martin’s friend, Mrs. Collingwood. Am I never going to be yours?”

“Just as far as it is a friendship including Martin, yes. But why fence over the matter? The friendship which you would form with me excludes him. I should have poor powers of analysis, Mr. Kingsnorth, if I could not perceive that you have not been bidding for the friendship of a friend’s wife, as she is joined to his life and yours in the present. What you want is a friendship based on the past. You want to build something out of what we have both experienced and what he has not experienced, and I will have nothing of it.”

“I meant no disloyalty to him,” Kingsnorth muttered.

“Disloyalty; no! But would he feel his position a dignified one? Would he have no cause for complaint with both you and me?”

“You coddle him,” said Kingsnorth, with a short bitter laugh. [267]

“I am jealous for all that touches his dignity as well as mine.”

Kingsnorth lost his head. “Why did you marry him?” he said.

“I married him because I was in love with him, Mr. Kingsnorth. I haven’t regretted it. I love him better to-day, if it were possible, than I did then. I have answered your question because I was able to answer it frankly; but, none the less, I resent its impertinence.”

“I apologize. But you will admit, lady of the stony heart, that there are situations that provoke human curiosity past the limits of all good manners.”

Charlotte stood tapping one foot on the ground a long while before she spoke. She was thinking deeply, and the result of her meditations was a sudden appeal.

“Mr. Kingsnorth,” she said gently, “I should like to put this matter honestly before you. You and I find ourselves in a peculiar situation. When I first came here I was utterly taken aback by your presence. You saw my confusion. You probably read it aright, and I saw in your eyes, that first morning, the question which you have just asked [268]me. The answer is easy, and yet not easy to make. For the sake of human affection in my life, to escape a loneliness and a sense of isolation that were almost intolerable to me, I compromised with my ambitions. I know how you and all the rest of the world—or, at least, that part of it in which you and I were brought up—regard my marriage. All the same, I do not regret it, and my life with Martin has been full of happiness. I don’t intend to jeopardize one drop of that happiness. I have steadily refused to drift into any relations with you that could startle Martin’s mind into recognition of facts which he is blind to, and which I choose to ignore. Are you so selfish that, for the sake of a few idle hours, a few reminiscences, perhaps, you would ask me to risk the dearest possession I have in the world—my husband’s unalloyed pleasure in our own relations, his perfect confidence in himself?” She drew a long breath. “It would be a sacrilege. I’ll guard his happy self-confidence as I would guard my own self-respect.”

“That self-confidence of his is deuced irritating to the onlooker.” Then with a burst of anger, “You can’t forgive me for being myself, but you [269]will forgive him for bringing you here and expecting you to associate with me.”

“The association has done me no harm, Mr. Kingsnorth.”

“No, you’re right. You’ve treated me like a leper.”

“I have treated you with the courtesy and consideration which any woman owes to her husband’s friends.”

“And you’ve measured it out drop by drop, as you would medicine in a glass; just as you’ll measure out courtesy to Mrs. Maclaughlin on this trip. Good Lord! Mrs. Collingwood, you can’t have that woman at your heels in Manila. What is Martin thinking of? Let me give him a hint for you.”

“Don’t you dare,” she cried, her face crimsoning, her eyes beginning to flash. Then with a sudden repression of her feelings, “What evil genius inspires this desire to interfere? Why can you not leave me to manage my own affairs? Martin is pleased at the idea of Mrs. Maclaughlin’s going, and that is enough for me.” Then she began to laugh softly. “Please, Mr. Kingsnorth, let this be the last time that you and I discuss my personal [270]affairs or Martin’s. Martin and I have a little Garden of Eden of our own, but I am no primitive Eve. With my consent, he shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.”

Kingsnorth turned around with a shrug. “How long do you think you can keep it up?”

“As long as we live in Maylubi, at the least. I hope forever.”

“Not another day,” said Collingwood’s voice, as he stepped into the path clear in view from behind the pandan bushes. “I’ve been listening to this jargon for ten minutes. Now I should like to know what it means?”

Kingsnorth did not start or utter a word; he only stared defiantly at Collingwood. He was conscious of a low repressed sound from Mrs. Collingwood, who stood as if turned to stone, her gaze fixed not on her husband, but on Kingsnorth. She was nibbling a ratched edge of pandan fibre which she had stripped as they talked; but her expression was one of bitter accusation. Plainly she held him responsible for the conversation he had forced upon her, and the betrayal which had ensued.

Collingwood was white and his brown eyes glittered [271]with an uncanny lustre. He was holding himself in with a strong hand.

It was Charlotte who spoke first. “At what point did you enter the conversation, Martin?” she inquired suavely.

“I didn’t enter. But I judge I heard from the beginning. Mrs. Mac found she had something else to do, and Mac wanted to read; so I came across, short cut, to join you. I waited a minute, intending to scare you, and then what I heard made me want to hear more.”

Charlotte gave a little reckless shrug, and turned her face seaward. Her expression cut Kingsnorth to the heart.

“If you heard from the beginning, you must see that I forced a conversation on Mrs. Collingwood that she disliked,” he said slowly.

“Oh, yes, I got that all right. I’m not playing the jealous husband. Charlotte’s all right; so are you, for that matter. What I’d like to have explained is this compromise talk.”

Charlotte raised her eyes to his. A leaden pain seemed to make them heavy and spiritless.

“You don’t need explanations, Martin,” she said. [272]“Would to Heaven you did; though I’d tear my tongue out by the roots before I would give them, if you really did.”

“I guess I gathered the point,” Martin replied bitterly. “There isn’t much to be said. It makes a thousand things that have mystified me plain as day. You’ve deceived me. You’ve played a nasty part. It does you small credit.”

Kingsnorth started to move away. “You needn’t go,” Martin said, “I don’t see any reason to be sensitive about discussing this thing before you. You seemed to be admitted to things before I was.”

“I learned what my eyes and wits told me. I give you my word of honor that until to-night Mrs. Collingwood and I have never spoken of you or of your and her private affairs. What she said to me was in self-defence and only to parry an insistence that I sincerely regret.” He turned toward Charlotte appealingly, but she made a fierce little movement as if to wave away anything apologetic he might say.

“It must have been a damned interesting comedy,” Martin went on, the words stinging like sleet.

“Stop!” cried Charlotte. She put up a hand. [273]“I have never deceived you, Martin. If you recall the day on which you left the hospital, and on which you came to me and asked me to marry you, you will remember that I spelt out with almost painful distinctness the things which have been alluded to to-night. You simply refused to listen to them. You would not understand. Every word fell on deaf ears.”

“Well, they’re sensitive enough now, I understand the situation. You’ve simply reversed the squawman act. You wanted a home and somebody to love you, and you took what you could get, not what you wanted. And you said to yourself that it did not matter, for you never expected to go home, and you wouldn’t have to show me to your friends. That’s all very fine, from the squawman’s view-point. It’s practical. But by the living God I’m no squaw, to be content with my position! You’re not proud of me, I see. Damnation! do you think I’ll live with you, or any woman that walks the earth, on those terms?”

There was an instant’s silence. Collingwood somewhat relieved by his own violence, glared at the woman, who, up to that hour, had never known less than tenderness from him. Kingsnorth stood [274]bowed with shame and repentance. For an instant Charlotte’s frozen glance met her husband’s. Then with an unconscious gesture she laid one hand on her constricted throat, and, turning, took the path across the grove. Her white figure moved so lightly that they could not realize the difficulty with which she walked. But as the shadows of the tall cocoanut trees closed around her, she grasped a slender bole with both arms and leaned against it, panting. Nausea swept over her. Despair, humiliation, hopelessness weighed her down. Her knees trembled beneath her, and with a little moan, too soft to reach the ears of the two men, who remained motionless, she sank at the foot of the tree.

She lay there a long time, unable to rise, though she was not fainting. Weakness had fastened upon her. But under her breath she kept on repeating one sobbing phrase:

“It isn’t fair! It isn’t fair—three men against one woman. They are so hard. They aren’t generous. It isn’t fair.”

At length Collingwood turned abruptly and walked down the beach. Kingsnorth came out of his stupor and pursued him. [275]

“Collingwood,” he said earnestly, “if I were not such a blackguard myself, I’d call you one, for your treatment of your wife. She’s had no chance between us.”

“She can take care of herself, I think. My advice to you is to keep out of the matter.”

“How can I? I’ve been the cause of it.”

“You the cause!” Martin stared an instant and broke into a short, ugly laugh. “Do you suppose I care for that talk out there to-night? You did me a favor. What I care about is the part I’ve played for the last ten months. A devilish pretty dupe I’ve been.”

Kingsnorth recognized the futility of argument with a man whose self-love has been so sorely wounded. “You’ll see this thing differently when you cool down,” he remarked. “Don’t say anything more to your wife. She’s a noble woman, Martin, a damned sight too good for you, if you want the truth; and you’ve half killed her to-night. Hold in till you’ve had time to get your second thoughts. If you want to beat my face in, I’ll stand it. God! I’m certain it would be a relief.”

Martin’s reply was an inarticulate grunt, as he [276]flung up the path to his own cottage. He charged up the steps through the lighted sala, and into the bedroom, expecting to find Charlotte there. The desire to quarrel was strong in him.

The empty room surprised him, and for an instant jolted his thoughts into a less combative vein. He went out and sat down on the veranda steps, chewing the end of an unlighted cigar, and expecting each minute to see her white-clad figure emerge from the dark line of the cocoanut grove. Gloomy thoughts seized upon his mind.

The chiming of the sala clock brought him to a sudden realization that it was eleven o’clock and Charlotte had not returned. Alarm overcame his rage, and he started hastily up the path through the grove. He almost stumbled over her before he saw her.

“What in the name of Heaven are you doing here?” he demanded. “Get up and come home at once.”

She tried to obey him, but it was with the third unassisted effort only that she dropped her head with a moan that went to his heart. “I can’t get up. I would if I could.” And Martin stooped and lifted her to her feet. [277]

“Can you walk?” he asked. His voice trembled.

She nodded and dragged herself along with his aid. Collingwood was thoroughly frightened. He helped her to her room, where she fell on her bed nerveless. No fury could have blinded him to her utter exhaustion, to the set despair of her face. He went into the dining-room and brought her a glass of whiskey. When she had drunk it, a bit of color came back into her face and she looked at him appealingly.

“Don’t say any more to-night, please, Martin. If you’ll go out on the veranda, I’ll get myself to bed without assistance. I can’t talk.” Her teeth chattered.

Collingwood, half sulky still, half compassionate, betook himself to the veranda and a succession of cigars. Away from the sight of her suffering, anger and humiliation sat again upon his shoulders. When in the wee small hours, he sought his room, he asked her grouchily if she had slept, or if he could do anything for her. To both questions she uttered a denial. It was evident that she had not been crying though she looked very pale and worn; and the next morning she was unable to rise. [278]


Chapter XIV

It seemed to Mrs. Collingwood that the next three days embodied the quintessence of all that had ever fallen to her lot of discomfort and misery. To lie physically helpless, a burden and a care to the one person who, at that time, was most out of love with her, was humiliation of the most cankering variety. Added to it was the sense of loss, the consciousness of ruin and disaster, and a feeling of shame that bowed her to the earth. Her husband’s bitter words had sunk deep into her soul. She saw herself as a creature degraded and partaking of the instincts of the most depraved class. Her marriage began to assume the complexion of an adventure. Was there an element of the adventuress in her? she asked herself tremulously. In reply came a wild rush of denial, an agony of revolt. As she envisaged herself she could not but justify her own actions. The feminine weakness, and dread of life’s bread-and-butter struggle, alone justified them. And she had loved [279]Martin tenderly; she had been a good wife, loyal to his interests, guarding his dignity as her own, literally pouring her affection and her gratitude for all his tenderness toward her into his carelessly outstretched palm. No mother ever more sedulously stood between her child and the evil of the world than she had sought to save Martin Collingwood the pain of knowing what he had come to know. His ingratitude, though she would not use that word even to herself, cut her to the depths of her heart.

But it was plain that their romance was ended; “the thing had gone to smash,” in Collingwood’s forceful language. Time and time again she went over that night on the Luneta before their marriage, and Martin’s words, and her own miserable doubts and fears. The worst had happened, as she had feared it might, but Collingwood was not living up to his philosophy. He was angry at her, held himself a man cheated, put all the blame on her, wanted in a dumb, fruitless way to quarrel with her.

On the evening of her second day in bed, they attempted to thresh out their difficulties, but it was soon evident that they had reached a hopeless [280]impasse. Charlotte ended what was a miserable controversy.

“What is your quarrel with me about, Martin?” she said. “Simply that I am I, that I have lived through certain experiences, that I have certain criterions of taste and judgment that you have not. I have not obtruded them on you. I haven’t made myself obnoxious by them. I deny that I have ever deceived you, and I have tried honestly to think and feel as you do. I haven’t been playing a part. I have been thoroughly happy. But you can’t any more make me put your values on life and people, than you can, because somebody wishes you to, convince yourself that there is no America; that all your past life has been a dream; that all you have known and felt and seen has been mere imagination, a fancy on your part. I’ll have no quarrel with you, no reproaches. I married you of my own free will, and married you for love. As for my philosophy of life or my views on worldly matters, what actual part need they play in our life? If I am content to put them out of sight, why cannot you do so?”

“I’ll be damned if I’ll live with any woman on earth on your terms,” Collingwood reiterated. [281]

She looked him steadily in the eyes. “Then the thing is finally settled, and we can spare ourselves the pain of useless discussion. For in the thing we are quarrelling with—not my actions, but my philosophy of life—I shall not change. Nor can I fancy any woman with a spark of modesty or decency in her, entreating a man to live with her. If you will allow me to remain here during your stay in Manila, I’ll go before you get back.”

“How do you think you are going to live?”

She gave a little reckless shrug. “I supported myself before we were married. I suppose I can do so again. I’ll make no demands on your pocket book. I didn’t marry you to be supported. I married you to be loved by you, to feel that I gave in your life and home an order and an assistance—yes, and a joy—to equalize what I cost you in money. When there is no longer exchange, I refuse to accept.”

“Big talk,” said Martin. She did not reply, but turned away wearily. The servant knocked at the door a minute after to say that dinner was ready, and he went to his meal. After that, it seemed that they had subsided into a tacit acceptance of their future as she had outlined it. [282]

Collingwood was quite as unhappy as his wife was. All his masculine pride was chafing, but his masculine heart was aching. He wanted to be set gloriously in the right, to ascend the pedestal from which he had been ignominiously tumbled by a few incautious words overheard. He wanted, though he hardly phrased it to himself, apologies for his wife’s daring to understand a thing that he had not understood. He had literally eaten of the tree of knowledge and was enraged with what lay patent to his seared vision.

The consciousness of what had been going on in Kingsnorth’s mind, in Judge Barton’s, in the Commissioner’s, burnt like acid on a wound. He saw, with astonishing clearness, Judge Barton’s viewpoint, and he marvelled no more at that gentleman’s temerity. His beggar maid a princess! his throne a mésalliance!—the thought burned. His tortured self-love yawned like an abyss which no heaping of prostrate offenders could ever fill; and against his wife’s quiet dignity his thwarted will raged sullenly.

Yet it is doubtful if he ever really regarded their separation as probable. Tacitly he accepted her statement that she was going away. In reality [283]he hardly thought of such a possibility. Alone with his thoughts, all his will and his imagination bent itself to her conquest. It was that hour of her final humiliation and confession to which he looked forward. How long was she going to keep it up?

During her few days’ illness, however, he showed her some courtesies for which she returned a dignified, but not an affectionate, gratitude. Indeed, she had been up and about the house two or three days before her husband perceived that the door of her heart and mind, which she had so shyly opened to him, had closed, and that he stood outside of it, a part of that concourse which Charlotte Ponsonby had always feared and distrusted. She had trusted him most of all the world, and he had turned upon her and hurt her more cruelly than anyone else had ever done. Without reproach or lamentation or any sign of self-pity, she retired behind those invincible ramparts to which Martin had been blind in hospital days, but to which he was now so much alive.

It would have been exceedingly difficult for him to tell in what the change consisted. Her courtesy was finely measured, it is true, but it was not an armed truce between belligerents. It was the [284]refuge of dignity, of one who feels his position false, but would save appearances by outward grace, at least. She who had been his wife, his dearest possession, became only a graceful hostess in his home—a lady who stood ready to lend a deferential ear to his suggestions, or carry out, to the best of her ability, his every wish, expressed or unexpressed. She ignored his gloom, saw to all his needs, spoke to him always kindly, though without humility or contrition; but for herself she asked not one fraction of his time or his attention. The occasions for little courtesies which he had been accustomed to offer her were skilfully avoided; but were never rudely made conspicuous by their avoidance. Her quiet pride was infinitely more than a match for his aggressive self-love; her supreme naturalness, the most impregnable armor she could have worn.

Kingsnorth beheld the transformation in her, was first astonished, then interested, then moved to profound pity and contrition. With tact equal to her own, he set himself to meet the situation, seconded all her efforts to make their awkward meals natural and easy, silenced Mrs. Mac’s gaping curiosity, and managed, in doing it all, to keep himself well in [285]the background. With Collingwood he had one conversation on the launch, but the sum and substance was that gentleman’s reiteration of the terms on which he would live.

“Damnation!” was Kingsnorth’s irritable response, “you are simply making an ass of yourself, Collingwood. I can’t call you a brute, because I’ve been too much of one myself. I live in glass houses—I can’t throw stones. You’ve married a jewel among women, and you’re going to make your ruffled dignity make smash of two lives that ought to be happy. Moreover, you are not in earnest. This is all bluffing and bad temper to bring Mrs. Collingwood to her knees, and to make her put herself in the wrong when you know there isn’t any wrong or right about things. Now I’ll give you a piece of advice, old man. You are trying that game on the wrong woman: see that you don’t carry it too far, and turn her affection into dislike. I’ve learned one thing, learned it tragically well in this life; and that is that one has just one chance really in this world with one person. Now don’t lose your chance with your wife.”

To this Martin vouchsafed a grunt. Hardly conscious of it, he had set his will to bring Charlotte [286]to his terms. He could not listen to anything that crossed that strong desire.

The days went by slowly where they had once gone so fast, and neither husband nor wife referred again to that tacit agreement of separation. Yet Martin knew from the bundle of letters which he was to carry up to Manila that Charlotte was making plans for business life again; and once, when he came into the sitting-room unexpectedly, he found her frowning over her bank book. He knew the balance it contained, for, on their wedding journey, they had laughed at her little savings; and he knew she could not long maintain herself upon it. He smiled grimly at her flushed discomfiture when he found her pondering ways and means, and somewhat brutally said to himself that she would find that she had little rope to run upon.

Yet at the last moment it was he who wavered, he who rang down the curtain on their make-believe. She had looked after his garments and had packed his trunk with wifely solicitude; had prepared for his launch trip, foods for which she knew his predilection, and had, at the moment of farewell, saved the situation by putting out a friendly hand. [287]

“I do hope you will have a pleasant trip,” she said,—and what it cost her to speak so easily and naturally, only she could have told,—“and thank you for giving me the weeks here to get ready. I’ll go over to Cuyo when the launch goes up for you on your return trip, and will leave a letter for you there. There are some things I can’t say to you, but I should like to write them. They will, perhaps, leave a better feeling between us.”

To these words Martin found, at the time, no answer. He wrung her hand, muttered something, and hastened away. Yet when his belongings had all been deposited in the boat, and the men were waiting to “chair” him out, he turned on his heel, and strode back to the cottage.

He took her by surprise, for she had not stayed to watch him. Her impulse had been to scream, to weep, to give some vent to the pain that wrenched soul and body; and in the determination to keep hold upon herself she had gone straight to the back of the house, and was wrestling there with a refractory lock on a cupboard. She turned at his step a face drawn, white, and frozen into lines of pain, and looked at him with eyes that asked and yet were proudly defiant. [288]

He went straight up to her and took her in his arms; and though she relaxed and her head lay passive on his shoulder, there thrilled through them both the sense of conflict, of individuality set against individuality. Their embrace did not lessen the strain, and after an instant, something of his own fierce grasp relaxed, and they stood, the dumb victims of emotions that were stronger than their wills, stronger than their aching desires to be at peace with each other.

She turned at length and looked at him with eyes of misery. “Oh, go!” she said. “It’s a hundred times worse than I ever thought anything could be. Think kindly of me as I do of you. We can’t help ourselves. I knew this hour. I felt it when we were happiest. It had to be.”

“What I want you to do,” Martin said honestly, “is to take into consideration my care for you and my protection. I can take care of you—can do it well. That ought to count for something.”

“O my poor boy, has it not always counted? I’ve leaned on you and your love, Martin. I’ve told you so a thousand times.”

“Yes, but you set against them a lot of trifles.”

“But I don’t set the trifles against them. I have [289]never weighed one against the other—never for an instant.”

“But you know that you could.” Poor Martin here uttered helplessly what was, after all, at the bottom of his spleen.

“Ah,” she sighed. “Don’t judge me by what I know; judge me by what I’ve done and thought.”

“You’ve got to change,” he muttered. “I can’t. I’m right. You’re wrong.”

“The things you have in mind can’t be changed by will power, dear. They are the results of education, association, environment. New environment may change them gradually. What you ask I cannot give. ‘I’ve done all I can do, come as far to meet you as I can.’ I’m not stubborn, Martin. I would do anything in my power to meet your wishes. You are quarrelling not with what I do, but with what I am.”

The answer was a grunt of impatience as Martin flung away again. He raged helplessly against the truth of her words.

When, at last, the launch was hull down on the sky line, Charlotte went to bed, and shutting out Mrs. Maclaughlin’s insistent curiosity, permitted herself the luxury of nearly a week’s retirement. [290]Though at times she wept, for the most part she tried to shut out the past, and to concentrate her thoughts on the future. Collingwood’s idea that her dread of business life would outweigh her sense of humiliation and her wounded self-love was entirely wrong. She shrank, it is true, from the world; but the thought that there was an alternative never suggested itself to her. Collingwood had said that he would not live with her, or what had seemed to her the equivalent of that. She took him at his word. The fact that legally he was her husband counted no more in her summing up of the situation than if he had been a chance stranger encountered in the street. Live for an hour more than was absolutely necessary under the same roof with a man who entertained such feelings for her? She turned sick at the thought.

When at last she emerged from her retirement she was the woman of hospital days, the super-sensitive orphan, feeling herself unwelcome to all the world, everybody’s hand against her, her hand against everybody; but she took them, as Kingsnorth phrased it to himself, in the hollow of her own hand. In the presence of her reserve, even Mrs. Maclaughlin’s frank speech grew guarded. [291]Kingsnorth merely looked at her in a kind of mute apology. Again and again she caught his glance with its furtive appeal; but each time her own eyes met it, not with studied blankness, but with a naturalness that was almost histrionic.

Maclaughlin had returned with the launch before her seclusion was at an end, and after a family discussion of what was patent to their eyes, he went vigorously on her side. She was “gentle folks,” he maintained, a deal sight too good for Martin Collingwood; and Collingwood was behaving like a fool. Mrs. Maclaughlin’s democratic partiality, naturally roused in Martin’s favor, was somewhat rudely snubbed. [292]


Chapter XV

It was at the end of a month, when Charlotte looked forward with increasing dread to her husband’s return and to her own departure, that the lorcha Dos Hermanos, their tried friend, left cargo and letters at the island. Collingwood wrote that he should delay his return another month. He sent down their commissaries, and Maclaughlin was to come up to Romblon harbor to meet the first June run of the Puerta Princesa steamer. Most of these details were contained in a letter to Maclaughlin. His letter to his wife, a very bulky epistle, dwelt upon their own difficulties. It was the first letter he had written to her, and Charlotte’s face, as she read it, was a study.

My dearest Girl:

“You are that, after all. I’ve been thinking over our affairs, and I am willing to admit that I was hasty. But I don’t think that you treated me altogether fair. What I do see is that we haven’t got any time to jaw over what is done and gone. You have been talking about leaving [293]me and all that, but that is just talk. I don’t suppose you ever really meant it, and I never took it seriously. We’ll kiss and be friends when I get back, and you’ll see that everything will come out all right.

“I’ve been having a pretty fine time up here. About the first person I met was Barton. I had intended to kick him on sight, but I was still feeling pretty sore toward you, so I didn’t. He took me up to his clubs and entered my name, and the next night took me to call on that Mrs. Badgerly. Lord! Lord! that woman is inquisitive! She dug at me like a lawyer at a witness. I never gave anything away: swore you wouldn’t come along because you hated the sea trip so, and vowed I had come up on a sugar lorcha. Then this Mrs. Badgerly (she’s a corker; I like her style), told me she wanted to take me to see old General ——’s wife, because the old lady knew you at home. She was a mighty nice old lady—real motherly,—and she told me a lot of things that you never told me, and made a good many things clear that I’ve never understood. Then I was invited out to the General’s to a big dinner, where there were two or three other people who used to know you; and if I hadn’t been so fond of you, it would have made me all-fired mad the way they rammed it into me that I had married into a fine family, and a fine woman, and all that sort of thing. I didn’t need their verdict on you.

“There was another old lady there who used to know you [here Martin named the mother of a very important civil officer], and both the old ladies took me to their hearts and purred over me. I bluffed the thing right through, invited [294]everybody to Maylubi, and promised to bring you up some time this year. Barton was at the dinner too, and he piled it on thick about our island, made it quite romantic.

“Well, the long and the short of the matter is that you call me. I’ll admit that the crowd here is a little swifter than any I have ever known, and maybe you have some right to your private opinions that I didn’t see before. And, as you said, you keep them to yourself, so I don’t see why I should let them bother me. I’ll stay another month or so, and by that time we will both have a chance to get over our grudges. You needn’t think I’ll let you go back to nursing; and as for me, I am willing to live with you on the old terms, and mighty anxious to get back to them.

“I have put six dots here to represent six kisses (......). I’ll give you sixty when I get home.

“Your affectionate husband,

Martin Collingwood.”

“P. S. I am going to take both old ladies for a drive to-night. How am I getting on for a beau?”

When she had twice read this epistle, Mrs. Martin Collingwood was startled by the realization of a great mental change in herself. For six weeks she had schooled herself to feel that she must leave her husband purely out of decent pride and self-respect. She had believed that she was actuated by the desire to remove an obnoxious presence from one who had ceased to take pleasure in it; and she had said to herself a hundred times that her affection [295]for her husband had never wavered, but that to thrust it upon him was indecent.

But as she laid down the letter after a second perusal, she was aghast to realize that she did not want to live again with Martin Collingwood: that she recoiled passionately from his easy sense of possession; that his taking her so completely for granted was an affront that she could not pardon. She became conscious of a slow process that had been going on in her mind during the dreary weeks, the death of the feeling that had cast a glamour over Martin Collingwood and his inability to understand her standards and traditions. He had lived with her for a year, and had been unable to comprehend that she was of different substance from Mrs. Maclaughlin or Mrs. Badgerly. He had been grossly offensive at the bare suggestion that she might be superior to one of them, but when she was ticketed with the other’s approval,—she drew an indignant breath,—he stood ready to exhibit her to the world, and to call its attention to the superfine partner whom he had drawn in the matrimonial lottery.

Well, he would be disappointed. He had yet to learn that she was no readier to accept his terms [296]than he had been to accept hers. She had had her romance, and she would pay the price!

Her social knowledge told her, also, that the Spencer family had taken steps to make its power felt across the Pacific, and that in spite of her marriage and her bitter letter, they were behind her, holding fast to the old tenet that blood is thicker than water. She knew that from both the ladies who had impressed Martin as motherly old dears she would have received at any time both courtesy and kindness; but they would not have taken especial notice of Martin Collingwood or have troubled themselves to introduce him without some sort of urgent appeal from the Boston family.

The thought warmed her sad heart a little, for we are all grateful for good-will, and the world looked a lonely place to Charlotte at that time. She was very thoughtful, however, and she was inclined to regret that old family friends had arrived so inopportunely in Manila. It would make her lot harder, entail humiliating explanations exceedingly difficult to make and—crowning agony—it would mean that the disastrous outcome of her marriage would be immediately known and discussed by the [297]very persons whose knowledge of her affairs she most desired to restrict.

She was sitting on her veranda, the letter upon her lap, her brows frowning, her lips pain-drawn, when Kingsnorth approached from his own cottage. He too had had a letter from Collingwood, and after a bath and a change of garments, had come over to discuss it with Mrs. Collingwood.

He advanced with the hesitating and apologetic air which he had worn with her ever since that unfortunate evening on the beach. She roused herself to a cold courtesy, gave him a cup of tea, and then sat listlessly awaiting what she knew he had come to say.

“I have a letter from Martin,” Kingsnorth began awkwardly, at length, “which I thought you might want to see. He says in it that he did not mention some of the business details to you and that I am to show it to you.”

She took it, glanced through it, flushed slightly, but handed it back without comment. It was a characteristically brief but condensed epistle, dealing wholly with business save in the last paragraph. [298]

“Better show this to my wife. I wrote her, but had something more interesting to talk about than these matters. You were quite right. I have been a damn fool, but I am all right now, and she and I are going to be happy ever after.”

As Charlotte returned the epistle, Kingsnorth fixed her with a curious eye, half interested, half apologetic. Then, as she said nothing, he stammered.

“I hope it will be as Martin says, Mrs. Collingwood, and that no lasting ill will come out of my stupidity and insistence.”

A slight flush tinged Mrs. Collingwood’s cheek. “Martin wrote what he meant to be a kindly letter, and I am grateful for it. But it really doesn’t affect the matter in the least. I am going away. You will have to know it sooner or later.”

“You can’t forgive him?”

“I can’t forgive myself. I have no hard feeling against him. But he showed me myself.” Her face burned.

“Dear Mrs. Collingwood, don’t feel that way. Martin did not mean what he said.”

She lifted her heavy eyes. “Wasn’t it true?”

“No, it wasn’t; or, at least, the coloring he gave [299]it wasn’t true. It wouldn’t be true unless—” he paused and broke off confused.

“Unless what?”

“You know.” He looked at her steadily.

“I don’t know.”

“Unless you leave him. That’s what they do; that’s what I did when I got tired. But if you stay by what you promised, no human being can think of you with less than respect. It isn’t the game, it’s the way you play the game that counts.” His voice trembled with emotion.

Charlotte sat very still, her cheeks burning. It seemed incomprehensible that she should be sitting there, listening to John Kingsnorth’s views on ethics. Where had she failed? What gradual disintegration had taken place in her, that she should be willing, nay, eager, to listen to moral advice from a man whose very presence had once seemed polluting?

At the same time, she realized that his words had value. Is it, she asked herself, the cut and dried opinion of those who walk safely along a beaten path in company with myriads of their fellow beings, which really counts in this world? or is it the knowledge that comes of bitterness and experience? [300]It is so easy to formulate high-sounding phrases; but what do these phrases amount to when one is confronted with life? In the past three years, what downward steps had she taken upon that pathway—she whose whole ideal had been to keep herself untainted from the common world and to walk serenely and gracefully along those heights where all the training of childhood and the instincts of heredity had made her believe that her path lay? When had she missed it? And then, like a flash, she saw in retrospect her conduct for years past; saw herself stopping here, twisting there, trying, at every instant, to evade the fate and the suffering allotted to her in life. Suddenly she realized how much she and John Kingsnorth had in common, for each was a coward. Neither had strength to take sorrow to his heart, and to bear it uncomplainingly. She was doing what he had done, failing as he had failed.

The letter dropped from her shaking fingers, and she raised her eyes to his with a look so hopeless, shamed, and grief-stricken, that he shrank back and winced as if he had seen a gaping wound.

“I can’t,” she said. “Something has snapped. I have changed. I can’t be Martin Collingwood’s [301]wife again. If the weight of my own self-contempt could crush me, I should be dead. Oh, why did they destroy my faith? There would have been the religious life at least.”

“You must not talk that way,” Kingsnorth said. “Your path is as plain as a pikestaff. You married Martin Collingwood,—why, only you and your Maker know,—but you did marry him, and you have got to stay with him. He needs you.”

“Oh, you men!” she cried scornfully. “And if he did not need me—if only I needed him—it would be equally my duty to leave him. However you arrange the scale of duties, they are always to suit your own interests.”

“I am thinking of this from yours,” Kingsnorth said firmly. “I tell you, and I know, that the one thing the human soul can’t stand is to live on compromising with its own self-contempt. A woman of your brains can’t take the liberties with her conscience that her frivolous sisters do. You can’t stand the self-contempt. You’ll disintegrate under it. Convince yourself that you are a martyr if you can, and hug your martyrdom. They got something out of it when it was boiling oil, and melted lead, and crucifixion, and all the rest of [302]those horrors. Be a martyr if you must, but do not try living under the weight of your own self-contempt. Of all failures that is the weakest, saddest, most loathsome. Dear lady, I’ve carried mine with me like an atmosphere. People have felt it; you did. I’ve seen you shrink from me as if I were a leper. And you were right. I am loathsome to myself.”

He stopped, wiped his brow, and settled back into his chair with a heavy sigh. Charlotte sat on, her trembling fingers tightly clasped, her eyes fixed on the sea. She turned at last and shook her head.

“I can’t. I can’t take up that thread of life. I don’t know how I got myself here—it is all a nightmare—but I must go away and work—by myself again.”

Kingsnorth leaned forward, his hands loosely clasped between his knees.

“Will you listen to the story of my life, Mrs. Collingwood?” he said with more of sharpness in his tone than was characteristic of him.

Charlotte had little curiosity in anyone else’s affairs; but she would have listened to anything at that moment to slip away from the discussion of her [303]own. She nodded listlessly, and Kingsnorth began speaking in a very judicial tone.

“I was what is called in England well born, though my people were not rich. My father came of a very old and once distinguished family, but was the owner of an impoverished estate. My mother was equally well born, and possessed a small income of her own. You probably know that, in England, the eldest son is the family; nobody else really counts. In our family there were two girls, then my elder brother, the ‘heir,’ then myself, and another girl. I cannot remember the time when the rest of us were not all being pinched to keep things going for the heir. Tom was, on the whole, a pretty good fellow, but that sort of rearing would spoil the best nature that was ever born. He got into the way of thinking that the rest of us ought to sacrifice everything we had or could hope to have to his position. He was also a devilish good-looking fellow, easy-going and selfish, as was natural.

“My two elder sisters were promptly married off, on the whole pretty well. The difficulty came with Tom. He had to marry money, and he had not enough in himself or the place to make money come begging for him. [304]

“Tom was in an expensive regiment. My dream of life was also the army, but the paternal pocketbook couldn’t stand it, so I was put in a bank instead. I promptly fell head-over-ears in love with the banker’s daughter.

“Her family was what we called ‘new people’; but there was plenty of money, and if Elena wanted me, why she must have me. Therefore no objections were made to the engagement. I was in the seventh heaven of happiness. I do not deny that I was glad she had plenty of money; but I should have married her just the same if she had not had a cent.

“Elena paid a visit to my home in the early days of our betrothal, and—well, she threw me over deliberately for my elder brother. Looking back now, I can see some excuse for her. I was unimportant in my family, of course, and Tom was its centre. He looked handsome in his uniform, and he was the heir. The place had age and dignity, and she knew its value.

“I give Tom the credit of being ashamed and of feeling some remorse; but my father and mother planned—actually aided and abetted my betrayal. They wanted the money for the heir.

“I made a row, naturally, but it was fruitless. [305]Elena wept and declared that she would have her own way. Tom looked ashamed, but his bringing up had made him constitutionally selfish; and the parents on both sides joined to suppress me.

“The end was that I cleared out, blind with rage and pain, cursing Elena and my kin; and in the next three years in London I went to what is commonly known as the dogs.

“My self-pity is justifiable in my eyes to-day; but I made a fatal mistake. If I had had the right stuff in me, Elena couldn’t have driven me to the dogs. I might have hugged my griefs and have grown embittered; but my worst mistake was the desire to ‘drown sorrow’ with drink, with cards, with all the undesirable vices of men. If I had hugged sorrow and warmed it to my heart, I might have suffered more, but I should not have crumbled up morally like a gold ring in quicksilver.

“England has always a frontier war or two on her hands, and I got into one. A private, a ‘gentleman ranker’ has a magnificent opportunity to sink in the English army. Afterwards I drifted over here, and got into pearl-fishing. I liked the life and its adventures (we had to fight a bit in the early days), and then when the Americans came, [306]I fell in with Collingwood. We fancied each other on sight. Then we picked up Mac, and I lighted accidentally on this oyster bed, and we settled here.

“Throughout all these years I have kept up a desultory correspondence with my married sisters; but I have drifted out of their lives, and I realize that I represent to them only a possible legacy. It is my business to make some money, and one day to die and leave it to them; and meanwhile a few gifts from the Orient are not unacceptable.

“Well, to shorten this tale, I settled here and married my wife. You need not look so startled. She was my wife legally; bell, book, and candle were all there. I lived openly with her in my house till the morning when you landed on Maylubi. Then, after I had seen and talked with you, I went home and ordered her out. She loved me, and she obeyed me. Five months later she died.” He stopped and wiped a cold perspiration from his brow.

“But how could you have kept it from me?” cried Charlotte. “Why did not Martin or Mrs. Maclaughlin tell me?”

“Mrs. Mac had her orders from Mac. She never disobeys him. Martin was simply a good friend.” [307]

“But he brought me here.” She stopped, crimsoning with indignation.

“Precisely. He brought you here to associate with me, a respectable married man, as he considered me. He has never understood my conduct. He doesn’t understand why I preferred you to believe me a profligate instead of a decent married man. He has never understood why I should be willing to have my child pass for illegitimate. But you understand, Mrs. Collingwood.”

“Yes, I understand.” Then with sudden passion she cried, “But it was not my fault. I was trained to it.”

“As I was. But, if I had had one spark of manhood in me, I should have stood by the woman I had married, and should have taken my child to my heart in the face of the world. But I did not have the courage. I writhed and twisted to get out of facing the consequences of my own actions; and since then the weight of my own self-contempt has grown steadily heavier. Don’t talk to me of reform,” he added savagely as she started to speak. “There isn’t any reform for such as I. I tell you the consciousness of my own moral cowardice is with me day and night. It never leaves me. And [308]it’s the ungodly unfairness of it all that kills me by inches. I see other men about me, living lives not so very different from mine: Collingwood himself has been no saint. But because I’ve wanted better things, because I drank my cup, knowing that it was poor drink, it has not slaked my thirst, and it has parched the last drop of sweetness out of my life.

“Don’t you go another foot along this trail; you began it when you married Collingwood. If you double and twist on your tracks again, you are lost. Hug pain, hug misery, martyr yourself, if you will, but don’t try to indulge your own selfish will, and to square things by saying that you despise yourself. God in Heaven! Do you know what it is to despise yourself? You don’t now; but you will some day.” He wiped the perspiration that stood in great drops on his brow.

Charlotte, who had turned very white, sat nerveless and trembling like a leaf. All her pride was in arms that John Kingsnorth, degraded scion of a decent family, should be giving advice to her; and then she saw, with sudden horror, what a tremendous distance she had drifted with the current before John Kingsnorth’s words could be true. [309]

For they were true! She had married Martin Collingwood, blaming herself for the weakness that made human affection and the freedom from the responsibility of self-support loom larger than all the traditions of birth and breeding. She had wanted her romance as every other woman in the world does; and romance, as it comes to most women, had been denied her. She might have gone out and found one, as many a woman does, and might, in time, have taken her flirtations lightly. But she had been too timid and too proud to flirt. The doubt came to her that it would have been better to play lightly at romance than to purchase it at the sacrifice of the second essential factor that makes a true marriage. Then came another throb of terror. She saw herself bent wilfully again on her own way, doubling, twisting, as Kingsnorth phrased it, trying to escape her conscience by saying that she despised herself: but the fact stared her in the face that she was turning on all the principles that had justified romance. She had married Collingwood against her reason, justifying herself for being swayed by human feeling by reiterating the finality of the action. For better, for worse, she had said—but now that it was for worse, its [310]finality had somehow disappeared. Where was her mind—her will—her conscience?

She sat for a long time in bitter silence, but roused herself as Kingsnorth, who had been furtively watching her, drew out his tobacco pouch and extracted from its depths a little ball of tissue paper. He unfolded it, and there appeared to her startled eyes a single pearl of unusual size and luster.

“What a beauty!” she cried, bending forward to look at it.

“Yes, it’s beautiful enough,” said Kingsnorth. “I’ve carried it about with me for three years. Even Collingwood has never seen it.”

“I wish you had not—” she stopped, flushing.

“I didn’t show it to you to tempt you. It’s my moral slough. There are times when I’ve felt that its hell luster was my soul, and that I had nothing but the blackened shell in my body. It stood for the dearest emotions a man can have—for love and vengeance.”

“You are horrible,” she cried, shrinking from him.

“I am better than I used to be,” replied Kingsnorth. “I found this bauble three years ago, before [311]Martin and I went into business. I never intended to sell it. Do you know what I wanted it for? To buy her back, and to blacken the face of the man who stole her from me. Yes, shrink! God help me, I love that woman still with a love gone awry. Other women, yes, and better women, though they had not her grace and training, have loved me; but, in my heart of hearts, I have held them all cheap. It was she, the woman who jilted me before all the world, that I wanted. It was he, whose heart I wanted to wring. Poor cheap human nature! Twelve years I’ve roughed it in shacks and junks, a flannel shirt to my back, and pork and beans or rice and fish in my stomach; while he has sat beneath the oaks we played under in our childhood, and has slept in the panelled rooms of our home, and has held the woman he stole from me in his arms! Talk of family affection! There isn’t such a thing. What am I to the mother who bore me? A derelict son, adrift in the South Seas, who is not to come home without some money. What am I to the sisters who played with me and fought with me over our nursery tea? A scape-grace brother, who, it is hoped, will keep out of the way, but who ought to make some money and leave [312]it to their children. Money! I’ve toiled like a negro slave for money, but not for them—not for them! It was for her. I wanted to go back rich. She sold herself once; why not again? The pearl was not enough in itself to tempt. It was the bauble, the outward sign.”

“You hoped—that?” She could not help glancing at his seamed, degenerate countenance.

“Never after you came. The look in your eyes told me what I had become. Since then I have lived—with myself.” He smiled a wretched, drawn smile.

She pointed gingerly to the bauble. “Why don’t you get rid of it? sell it?”

“Sell my soul? Did I not tell you my soul is steeped in it? No, bury it with me. Somehow I know I’ll not last long. Take this word from me. If you know anything of me when death comes, see that this does not go to the women who betrayed me and pitied me not. Women are selfish creatures. They sun themselves on their own cat premises. They have no pity for the poor devils on the outside.”

“Is it women alone? or isn’t it men as well, who are pitiless? Or isn’t it just life? Yet it isn’t [313]pitiless to all. There are those who dance through it on rose-strewn paths.” She stopped, the sense of the great differences in individual lives overwhelming her.

Kingsnorth rose. “Well, that hasn’t been my life or yours. I have seen that you suffer. But suffer! Don’t change that look on your face. Better poignant suffering than moral decay. I tell you, you are facing it.” He rose abruptly and walked away, leaving her like a figure carved in ivory, looking out on the waste of waters, that seemed the emblem of waste in her own life. [314]


Chapter XVI

In the month that elapsed between her conversation with Kingsnorth and the time set by Collingwood for his return, Charlotte had time for an exhausting and (as it seemed to her) fruitless self-inquisition. She was alternately the prey of a hopeless apathy and of a consuming impatience, but in either mood there ran a strong undercurrent of rebellion against all the formative influences of her life. At times the future yawned before her like a bottomless gulf, into the darkness and loneliness of which she must inevitably sink helpless. Out of love as she was with her husband, the prospect of going back to her forlorn, loveless state was one she could not contemplate. To get up day after day, knowing that there was, in all this world, no human being who took more than a casual interest in her; to go to bed at night, knowing that, if ruin and disaster overtook the world, no human thought would turn to her, no voice cry to hers out of the darkness, no warm human [315]hand reach for hers, seemed to her a fate infinitely worse than death. Yet she had lived just that life for twenty-eight years before she married Martin Collingwood to escape from it; and, though she had been most unhappy in it, she certainly had not regarded it as a tragedy. She remembered once having seen a young soldier come forth from the court-room after he had received a life sentence for shooting his corporal. The boy had lifted his hat with his manacled hands and had raised a white face to the touch of the cool morning wind. Something in the gesture had expressed his sense of helplessness in the grasp of that terrible thing we call the law. He was looking down the long vista of years at a living death ten thousand times worse than death, at a life from which every human ambition, every hope, every natural spring had been erased. His brother had followed behind him, a short distance of twenty or thirty feet, already the emblem of a separation that was to become complete. The brother was weeping as strong men do when their hearts are wrung; but, as she had looked at them, one so quiet, the other convulsed with grief, she had recognized that, to the second man, life held comfort and healing still. In the long years to [316]come, new interests would take the place of the old tie; a wife and babes would fill that life; healthy toil allied to honorable ambition would make the years seem to fly; and the memory of a convict brother would drop out of life, only to be recalled tenderly at those seasons when a universal festival brings back the old days and makes the rotting thread of memory seem new and strong once more. But what of the other? Nothing new would come to him, nothing to strive for, nothing to look forward to, nothing to live upon but memories that would be very, very bitter. There would be toil and food and rest, and renewed toil, and the awful knowledge that long before he ceased to live he had ceased to be even to those who had been his nearest and dearest.

Well, she had lived it once. She could live it again. As with the soldier there would be toil and food and rest, and renewed toil. But the heart cries loudly for more than these things in life, until that heart is chastened into meekness. Would she ever be meek, she wondered sadly. If she could have accepted her fate with submission and sadness only, she would have felt herself indeed treated with mercy by the unseen fates. But there was no [317]element of submission in her mood. As often as she contemplated the future, and said to herself that these things must be, had to be, so often the wild will rose within her to say that they must not be. She lay often for hours at a time face downward on her bed, not a muscle moving, not a sound escaping her tense lips; but her passivity was the physical expression of an impotence that left her prostrate before the overwhelming fates.

Often there recurred to her mind a conversation which had taken place between her and a fellow nurse, a young, joyous, magnetic creature for whom she had formed a friendship more nearly approximating intimacy than any other that had come into her life. It was in the last days of her engagement, and she had spoken of a fear of what unhappiness love might bring into her life. The other had looked at her with amazement. “Love!” she said. “I can imagine it bringing a lot of joy, but why unhappiness?”

“Why unhappiness?” Charlotte asked in vain for the reason; but the fact stood stronger than any “why’s,” that there had been, in all her life, some fundamental outrage of human sentiment. It had existed in that strange paternal attitude of her [318]father’s; it had lived on in that perfunctory kindness of the nuns who had found her an antipathetic and incomprehensible child; and it had grown and intensified in the curious, prying interest developed in those who had governed her later years. That any such a condition could exist by a series of fortuitous events was out of the question. There had to be cause running through it all. Yet search her heart and mind as she would, she found there no wells of bitterness or evil thought or envy or malice to justify relations so peculiar as had finally established themselves between her and human society.

The solution of the question came to her suddenly, when, on a particularly dreary day, she had been trying to discipline herself and to keep her thoughts from running on her own troubles. She had spent two hours trying to read the story, written by a great modern author, of three precocious school-boys. She had been a great admirer of the author, and, up to that time, had found fascination in his pages; but the three boys were little to her taste. As she mused sadly, a flash of insight came, and another; and, little by little, she saw clearly what had so long puzzled her. [319]

The precocious child is abnormal, and inspires in his fellow men that blind instinct to worry and torment which runs all through the animal world. She had been a precocious child, made uncanny by perceptions of the hidden currents and causes of life at a time when she should have been gurgling over its toys. As she recalled her sensitiveness to impressions, her powers of reading what was passing in others’ minds, and the singular growth of self-concealment and self-control that had grown out of them, it seemed to her that her keen brain had been her lifelong curse. Little by little, she went back to her convent days and tried to put herself in the place of the good sisters who had taught her. How distressing it must have been to them to feel the dumb interrogation that was always so strong under outward obedience! If she could have been unconscious of her father’s mental state and could have made a happy child’s claim upon his affections, would he not in time have come to love her? If, when she was a lonely orphan, living on her cousin’s sufferance, she had been able to reveal to her relatives the suffering that she really underwent in the strange ostracism which she had built up for herself, would not pity have conquered their [320]selfishness? She drew a long, pained sigh, as she thought of what a difference might have been made in her life by a little less brain and a little more moral courage.

She was lying in her steamer chair on the veranda of her house at the time; and by her side, on a taboret, stood a glass of water. She picked it up and smiled over it. It was full of microbes (dead, of course, for Americans drink no unboiled water in the Philippines), and she knew it, and cared little, for she could not see them. But had she possessed an eye with the magnifying power of a strong microscope, she could not have tasted the water for the sight of the dead organisms would have made it unpalatable. She began to wonder what would be the effect on society, if there were let loose upon it a body of persons with microscopic eyes. They would shrink and exclaim and turn faint at dishes that the epicure delights in. How they would upset dinners and spoil little suppers and picnic luncheons! How eagerly would their society be avoided, and how soon their name become anathema!

But though physically the microscopic eye does not yet exist, the mental and spiritual microscopic eye does exist, and it has about the same distressing [321]effect upon its human brethren who do not possess it as the other sort might have. She had had the microscopic eye—nothing could blind her to facts—and her starts and shrinkings had made her antipathetic to most of the persons with whom she had come in contact. It had remained for Martin, the indomitably ignorant, to be blind to her mental attitude, to assume her a normal woman of the world in which he found her. What of gratitude did she not owe him?

The thought pricked her to her feet, set her to restless pacings of the floor. Whatever of gratitude she owed him, she was preparing ingratitude in the course she was still bent upon pursuing. Never had she appreciated the stubborn inheritance of her own will till she measured herself against it in this struggle. Whatever the conscience and the intelligence might say, her will said “No” as often as she contemplated forgiving Martin and going back to her life with him. The feeling which had been warm in her heart for him so long was dead—killed by his own brutal words, buried in her own shame and self-reproach. She saw with unutterable sadness, that there was no hope of its resuscitation. But did that break the tie that she had of her [322]own volition forged? Could not that same will of hers which resisted so bitterly be schooled to duty and to right? For against a year’s tenderness and kindness, where was the justice of weighing the utterances of a single hour of pain and disappointment? The one ought not to balance the other. She had no right to think so for an instant. Alas, though, one did balance the other, outweighed it many times!

Her marriage had been all wrong. But had she been less conscious of the fact on the day she married him than on the day when she vainly struggled to convince herself that she ought to go on living with him? Marriage can not be for love alone any more than it can be for selfish material interest alone. In its appeal to human emotion and in its relation to the family it may be, as the church calls it, a sacrament; but marriage as a lifelong partnership must have its material side. Love must enter in; but no healthy marriage can exist, unless there be equally the consciousness of a good bargain, of a legitimate exchange of values, added to the affection which sanctifies it. Well, Collingwood had played fairly. It was she who had entered into the alliance, knowing its weakness, knowing herself. [323]

But did she know herself? What more that was disappointing and agonizing was she to learn of herself? What was even then struggling in her breast? Was there some secret hope holding itself in concealment behind her oft repeated thought that life was ended for her? Did some hidden ambition prompt her to take the step that she believed came from self-respect? She had learned only too well her capacity for self-deception. She had advanced step by step along the path by which she had come to the church door with Martin Collingwood, denying every motive which, in the end, had proved itself the stronger. Was it possible that she was turning blindly, as women naturally turn, to a second man to lift her from the wreck to which she had brought her life with the first? Again she faced that truth which she had long before discovered, that too passionate a denial constitutes an assertion; and while every atom of her intelligence bade her distrust her own sophistry, every throb of a strong emotional nature bade her turn from the conclusions of her reason.

In these hours of agonizing inquisition when her soul seemed literally torn in two, she contemplated with added despair, the loss of her early religious [324]faith. It did not come back to her in the least. No impulse for prayer seized her. The conviction that the world is made up of blind forces, and that there is no help outside of ourselves was very strong in her. She might pray and pray, but when she arose from her knees, the elements of struggle would be there still, tearing at her, filling her soul with pain. Prayer would not bring sleep to her aching eyeballs in the night, it would not silence the cry in her heart, it would not keep the thronging thoughts from her weary brain. Time alone could do that. Give her time—she smiled bitterly—and change of circumstances, and she might put the experiences of the last three years behind her, put even the man who had ruled her life and thought for a year (and a happy year) behind her.

Of course she wrestled with the temptations which must present themselves to the intelligent mind which has had the ways of the world set before it. Intelligence said that nothing mattered except the material. She could be good or bad, noble or contemptible, so long as she played her game well and kept on good terms with that thing we call the world. Little the world cares what we do or what we are, said intelligence; the question with it is how [325]much power do we own in this vale of tears. Intelligence told her that with the backing of her family and the successful use of her own powers, and with Judge Barton’s political influence, they two might make a very comfortable place for themselves in this material universe. She felt dangerously sure of the Judge. The knowledge had come to her (how she knew not) that all she needed to insure her an absolute dominion over the man’s soul was a little less moral fastidiousness, a little more worldliness. Indeed, a strange confidence in her own powers of attraction was working itself out of all the miserable situation. She realized how completely she had under-estimated her own charm. Less conscience, less good taste, more charity (which is a much misused term in these days, signifying lack of all social and moral tradition), in fact, a general elimination of the best qualities of her nature would constitute a humanizing process which would work decidedly to her material advantage. But she was not willing to submit herself to the process. She wanted her own way, and she wanted to remain her ideal self. More and more clearly she saw the unreasonableness of her demand. [326]

So the days slipped by one by one, and she marked them off on her calendar. In the end, the time for the launch to go up to Romblon arrived without her having taken any decisive steps toward the act which she still declared to herself she was bent upon. She excused herself on the ground of Martin’s letter, saying to herself that she owed him a personal interview and explanation for her refusal to accept his offer of reconciliation. But in truth, she was pulling away again from the uncomfortable. She could contemplate the action, but until circumstances more disagreeable than those she was enduring forced her into activity, she would not take a decisive step.

It had been the original intention that Kingsnorth should take the launch over for Collingwood, but, as the time slipped by, and the typhoon season was at hand this idea was deemed impracticable. Maclaughlin was a licensed engineer, while Kingsnorth was not, and the launch was not in the best of repair.

Maclaughlin left at daybreak on an exceedingly hot morning, when the sea rolled lazily in long, metallic swells shining as if the brilliant surface [327]were oiled. All that day the heat was like a vapor, but in mid-afternoon the clouds rolled up, showers fell at intervals, and cool gusts of wind made the cocoanut trees writhe and their stiff leaves to rattle. Once or twice Charlotte looked at the barometer, which fell steadily.

At dinner their common anxiety made the three more companionable than anyone had hoped to be. “We are going to have a baguio, that’s flat,” said Kingsnorth, “but it has been kind in holding off. Mac’s safe in Romblon harbor by this time, and that is landlocked, and shut in by mountains. If Collingwood is there, they’ll wait anyway to come out. Mac’s got sense enough not to leave port on a falling barometer, though Collingwood might take the chances.”

“I hope Martin isn’t out on the ocean to-night,” said Charlotte. “It makes me ill to think of it.” She shivered and glanced into the darkness where the oily surf fell over in ghostly green fire, and the wash rolled back pricked with millions of vanishing light points.

“Spooky, isn’t it?” remarked Kingsnorth. He set down his coffee-cup (they were just finishing [328]dinner), and as his hostess rose, held back the rattling shell curtain for her, then went to inspect the barometer. He whistled.

“What is it?” inquired Mrs. Mac.

“Oh, just so-so.” Something in his tone betrayed an effort to retrieve the impression made by his bit of carelessness. Mrs. Maclaughlin went over to the instrument.

“It’s nearly 750,” she said in a dismayed tone.1 “I’ve never known it to go that low without warning since I’ve lived on the island. I wish Mac and Martin were here.”

Charlotte said nothing, but in her heart she echoed the other’s words.

“Can’t be helped,” replied Kingsnorth, curtly. “I hope that you will not feel it presumptuous in me to suggest that Mrs. Maclaughlin stay with you to-night, Mrs. Collingwood. I’ll come over also if there is anything very bad.”

Both women were grateful for the suggestion. [329]Each had been secretly longing to broach the matter, and had felt ashamed to do so.

“I’ll go over with you while you lock up your place,” said Kingsnorth to Mrs. Maclaughlin. They disappeared almost instantly in the profound blackness of the night. Charlotte marvelled at it. The gloom was like a solid substance save where the phosphorescence showed a glimpse of foaming suds, and a few lights gleaming from the distant village seemed golden by contrast with the green and blue fires.

The servants all begged leave to absent themselves for the night. Each had discovered an ailing relative in the village to whom his presence was an absolute necessity.

“Let ‘em go,” said Kingsnorth. “They are in a dead fright. They know we’ll probably have Tophet before the night is over, and they want to get into their flock.” Even as he spoke, a little moan of wind came off the sea, and a pattering shower drenched the earth.

“Curtain rung up,” said Kingsnorth. He had been standing tentatively, hat in hand, after escorting back Mrs. Maclaughlin and some, as it seemed to Charlotte, preposterously large bundles. Charlotte [330]motioned him to a chair. “We may as well watch the first act,” she smiled, humoring his metaphor.

“Just as well,” he answered, “because I fancy we’ll be on the second.”

“Do you mean that there may be any actual danger?” Charlotte asked, startled.

“Danger? no! At the worst we might have to spend a night under the pandan bushes. But one of these big storms is a trying thing while it lasts.”

Trying isn’t the word,” Mrs. Maclaughlin precipitated this dictum into the conversation with her usual vigor. “It’s just nerve-wracking. Lord! Lord! what fools we women are! Here are two of us out here likely to be swallowed up by a tidal wave or Heaven only knows what, just because we were so tarnation ready to take up with a man. I’ve traipsed around this world at Andrew Maclaughlin’s heels twenty-two years, and the good Lord only knows what he hasn’t asked me to go through with; and now he’s left me unprotected in the face of the biggest storm we’re likely to have.” She fairly choked with fear and anger.

Mrs. Maclaughlin’s untrammelled speech was at all times an affront to Kingsnorth. The intimation [331]that he was a poor substitute for Maclaughlin as a protector stung him. When he spoke, his voice had a quality of suave ugliness that grated like a rasped saw on Charlotte’s nerves.

“You’re panicky,” he said. “Why don’t you pattern on Mrs. Collingwood and me? We’re ready for anything; are we not, dear lady?”

A heavy gust of wind and another downpour silenced them all for a few seconds.

“This,” said Kingsnorth to Charlotte, as the gust subsided, “is just preliminary to the theme; it’s the scale playing in the key with which the virtuoso dazzles his audience before he rolls up his cuffs, runs both hands through his hair, and gets into the first movement. Ah, here’s the theme.”

“What’s a virtuoso?” snapped Mrs. Maclaughlin.

“A virtuoso is a gentleman who can play the piano or some other instrument exceedingly well,” Kingsnorth replied, with the same dangerous suavity.

“I hate the nasty long-haired things.” It was quite evident that Mrs. Mac’s nerves had gone to splinters. Charlotte threw herself into the breach.

“Well, don’t hate this storm,” she said, “even if [332]Mr. Kingsnorth did compare it to a sonata. It’s beautiful. It’s grand.” Another howl and downpour, and this time the framework of the house shivered under its impact.

“Merely the andante,” said Kingsnorth, shrugging his shoulders.

“You make my blood run cold,” cried Mrs. Maclaughlin.

It was too dark to see him, but Charlotte knew that his lips were apart and his teeth grinning in an evil smile.

“But why, Mrs. Maclaughlin?” said Charlotte suddenly. “If danger is coming, it will come. No human power can stop it. The future is as unreadable as the very sky. But why borrow trouble for what we are powerless to resist? And if there is beauty and majesty in all this conflict of the elements, surely it is better to see that, than to sit dreading the unknown. Mr. Kingsnorth’s comparisons are not unjust. It is like a great piece of music, divided into movements. Whatever it may come to later, it is glorious now.”

“Spoken like a brave woman,” Kingsnorth cried. “Let loose the dogs of war and make Rome howl! Well, we don’t care; do we, Mrs. Collingwood?” [333]

“Not much,” Charlotte assented, though somewhat coldly. Her manner brought him to a sudden check.

“I forgot,” he stammered. “Excuse me.”

“Forgot what?” This point blank query about a remark not addressed to herself emanated from Mrs. Maclaughlin.

“Dear Mrs. Mac,” Kingsnorth said, and Charlotte winced at his tone, “you do not realize how quickly you deteriorate once out of reach of Mac’s disciplining eye. Mac would never have permitted you to ask that question. I often wonder if, had it been my good fortune to marry, I should have been able to exert the strong guiding influence over my wife that Mac evidently holds over you.”

“Oh, you have,” replied Mrs. Mac, while Charlotte sat in helpless embarrassment at the scene. “Well, let me tell you that you wouldn’t have. You might have broken her heart, the Lord knows, as you’d probably have broken your children’s spirits, if you’d ’a’ had ’em; but no woman would ever be proud to be ruled by you as I’m proud to be ruled by Mac. I’m disciplined. You hit the nail on the head there. And maybe I fall back when Mac isn’t around. But I love that old man [334]of mine. I’ve followed him over deserts and oceans. I may have let my mind go once in a while; but no woman on God’s green earth would have married you and lived with you twenty-two years, and still have loved you as I love Mac. I’ve been rebellious sometimes with the Almighty, and it hasn’t always seemed as if the powers above knew what they were about. But the good Lord did a wise thing when He kept women and children out of your hands, John Kingsnorth.” She arose with a snort of wrath and passed into the house. “Where’s my Bible?” they heard her saying to herself. “I brought it.”

For a second or two, Charlotte remained like Kingsnorth, half paralyzed by the outburst. Then a helpless, pitying embarrassment settled upon her. It was all so terribly true, it was such a baring of naked underfeelings. Would it ever be possible, she wondered, to resume the island life after such an indecent exposure of what simmered deep in Mrs. Maclaughlin’s heart? Then, as the silence grew, she cast about vainly for some change of subject. As if divining her thoughts, Kingsnorth rose.

“Already the tempest has broken,” he said. [335]“It’s been brewing three years. I can’t complain; and I know you think she told the truth.”

A sudden impulse stirred Charlotte. “No, no,” she said. “You must not think that. I believe that, if you had married the right woman (that’s the stock phrase, isn’t it?) you would have been a tender husband, and if you had had children, a kind father. I don’t know what perversity of fate kept those influences out of your life, but all that is wayward in you and bitter seems to have been caused by their lack.”

She uttered the words with real warmth, and for an instant wondered that he made no reply. Then, as the pause grew more marked, she heard him breathing heavily, and it flashed into her mind that the man was on the point of an utter breakdown. Her few sincere words had gone straight through the armor that Mrs. Maclaughlin’s blows had apparently failed to affect. An absolute horror of such a possibility seized upon her. They had had, she felt, an indecent exhibition of naked human emotions. If more were to follow, what intimate revelations might not take place? Yet the impossibility of uttering some banality was clear to her mind. Anything short of the sincerity and earnestness [336]demanded by the situation would be insulting. So she remained as if transfixed, in a kind of shivering expectation of what might be coming.

Kingsnorth, however, pulled himself together after a convulsive movement or two of his chest. He stood for an instant without a word, and then walked away to his own quarters, whence Charlotte soon heard his voice shouting angrily for his servant.

Mrs. Maclaughlin, somewhat appeased by finding the Bible which she had brought along for her usual nightly chapter, came out on the piazza as the strident tones of Kingsnorth penetrated the sitting-room.

“Taking it out on his boy,” she remarked. “Well, I’ve been aching to tell the truth to John Kingsnorth for two years, and now I’ve done it.”

“Do you feel any better for it?”

“Yes—no. I’m always sorry when I blurt out. He’s right: Mac holds me in.” Her voice broke. “Oh, my Lord! My Lord! I wish I knew where he was this minute. You’re a strange woman, Charlotte Collingwood. You sit here and watch them waves roll in and hear the wind blowing, and [337]you don’t seem to give one thought to the man that you’ve lived here with side by side for a year. Ain’t you got no love for him?”

Charlotte put up a hand. “I can’t discuss that with you, Mrs. Maclaughlin. Surely I have made it plain before this.”

“You’ve made a lot plain,” replied Mrs. Maclaughlin. There was endless reservation in her tone. It heaped such mountains of unuttered reproach that Charlotte quite bowed under it.

“The rain is coming in strong,” said Mrs. Maclaughlin, when she had extracted sufficient healing from her companion’s discomfort. “You’ll get drenched out here. I’m going to read my Bible. You had better come in.”

But Charlotte motioned her away. “I’m not religiously inclined to-night,” she replied.

“Charlotte Collingwood, do you defy your Maker?”

“I’m rebellious to-night, Mrs. Maclaughlin. There are His waves and His winds, but still I’m rebellious. I’m not apologetic to-night, not even in the face of a baguio.”

“I’ll speak for you,” said Mrs. Maclaughlin earnestly. She went inside, closed the doors and shell [338]windows to keep out the storm, and Charlotte heard her keeping her word. Mrs. Maclaughlin’s prayers were simple but fervent. They seemed to consist chiefly of a few reiterated sentences. “O Lord, protect and save my old husband. You know I love him, Lord; but it isn’t all selfishness. O God, give me back my Mac.” At times she asked that the Divine Power might soften the hardened heart of Mrs. Collingwood. [339]

1 Barometric pressure in Philippines is measured in millimeters. In typhoons where fifth signal is flown, about 742 is lowest pressure recorded. In great storm of 1908, 739.8 was lowest. Generally the falling of the barometer is gradual for several days during the continuance of the storm. When it falls suddenly, as here indicated, before a storm, it means that a storm of short duration but of terrific violence is coming.


Chapter XVII

Meanwhile, the object of her solicitation sat on in a mood terribly blended of recklessness and despair. No shadow of fear darkened the almost ecstatic rebellion of her mood. As the tempest gathered force, and gusts of savage violence hurtled themselves out of the crashing void in front, the rain was driven like fine shot before them. In the lulls the great organ of the surf filled the starless night with crashing harmonies, and through sound or silence a snow field of tumbling froth showed a spectral glimmering through the inky gloom. A crimson glow came through the transparencies of Kingsnorth’s shell windows, a touch of warmth in the blinding convulsion of nature. In the distant Filipino village no lights showed; and it was only after a considerable time that Charlotte became aware that she missed them, and missed seeing, too, the riding lights of the launch, which, on cloudy night or clear, [340]had shone out brightly against the dark outline of the hills above the cove.

For three hours she remained in the storm, drenched, her wet hair torn down by the blasts; her being full of tumultuous welcome to the mad elements that seemed to threaten her. They were so harmonious with her sense of desolation, of failure, of wrecked effort, that for a time it hardly occurred to her that they could mean other than destruction. She pictured herself hurled about in the seething waste before her; but no thrill of fear entered her heart. She almost yearned for the struggle, the helpless physical effort, the very pain of dissolution. The house rocked under the blows of the wind, but she hardly noticed them. She was joyfully expectant of the blow that should shatter and end all, and should take forever from her the agony of deciding between two evils. She rose and, grasping the rails of the piazza, tried to breast the full force of the wind and shot driven rain, but it drove her back, and knocked her flat upon the veranda floor.

She must have been slightly stunned by knocking her head against a chair, for she was next conscious of blurred thoughts, of a spent, chill body [341]and of great mental and physical lassitude. Her mood of elation had departed. She was confused, fearful of the crashing thunder of surf and storm. In a lull, she dragged herself to her feet and opened the door of her house.

The room, with its touches of refinement and beauty, looked hospitable and attractive in spite of the fact that it was dripping where great torn patches in the thatched roof let in the torrent. Mrs. Mac knelt by the table, her eyes fixed, her lips moving. She uttered the one phrase over and over in a heart-broken tone, “O God, keep my old man. God take care of my Mac.”

Charlotte, a wild, torn, drenched figure, stood contemplating her for a moment, half in contempt; then, as the burden of the other’s cry pierced her brain, a sudden wave of pity and affection swept aside the egoistic defiance of her mood.

“Martin,” she said softly, and each word came like the musical utterance of grief. “O Martin!” She turned again toward the sea and its howling terrors just as a gust blew out the lamp. “O my husband! O Martin!” The sea which had been a welcome enemy, a thing to fling defiance to and to yield to in one last bout of struggle, seemed suddenly [342]an abyss of untold horrors; was that thing which would not destroy her, but which might destroy him. She stood motionless, with parted lips, staring into the blackness. Behind her a ship’s lantern, lighted earlier by Mrs. Maclaughlin in anticipation of the fact that sooner or later the wind would put out the lamp, revealed dimly the room and Mrs. Maclaughlin’s kneeling figure, with its plain tear-worn face, so fervently uplifted. But she saw neither room nor figure. Her mind leaped into the waste and pictured Martin all alone in the little white and gold dining-room of the coastguard steamer. She saw the heaving panelled walls, heard the hum of the electric light motor and the pounding of the engines, felt the staggering impact of waves, and heard the wash of the water as it swept astern. Martin’s face was white and set. He sat by the table in one of the swivel chairs, and she could see his eyes fixed on the tassels of the little green silk curtains at the stern windows. He was thinking of her. Something told her that no thought of his own danger had ever occurred to him; that, in that crucial hour, he could feel only for her facing the tempest alone in their home. His larger unselfishness made itself felt. And for [343]three hours she had been thinking of herself, playing at melodrama, and mouthing heroic quotations, coquetting on dry land with a tempest while the man she had loved was actually in its grasp on the sea! Unutterable self-contempt seized upon her.

She turned and met Mrs. Maclaughlin’s gaze. That lady had risen.

“Are you sane?” she inquired. “You’ve been a mad woman. I’ve tried three times to drag you inside, You didn’t seem awake.”

“I’m awake now, Mrs. Maclaughlin. I’ve been mad, but I’m sane. My poor, poor Martin.”

But Mrs. Maclaughlin, though a woman of prayer, was practical. “You’re drenched,” she said. She made Charlotte change into dry, warm clothing. Still the storm waxed violent.

“We’ve got to get out of this,” Mrs. Maclaughlin said. “Get your mackintosh and Martin’s pistols. I’ve put up a basket of food—enough for two or three days. The house has got to go.” Indeed, it swayed perilously as they talked.

It was indeed strange to be belting on pistols and ammunition belts at that hour of the night; but Charlotte saw that the older woman had her wits [344]about her. In a few minutes the two were ready to sally forth. Charlotte looked back with a sob. “My dear little home,” she said. “I’ve been happy here—the only happy moments of my life have been passed here.” Mrs. Maclaughlin said nothing.

The wind lulled for a moment as they stepped outside. The glow of Kingsnorth’s light brought recollection back to Charlotte.

“But why hasn’t Mr. Kingsnorth come to us?” she cried. “He promised.”

Mrs. Mac lifted an accusing finger. “He promised,” she said bitterly. “What do a boozer’s promises amount to? He’s there now sodden with drink—not Christian drink, but them French liqueurs. And our men that ought to be here, God help ‘em!”

The wind came back at that moment so violently that it knocked them over. They lay gasping on their faces, but they heard the roar of falling timbers behind them.

“My home!” Charlotte peered through the darkness, but could not see.

“Or mine! Well, we’ve got to get Kingsnorth out. His will go down with him in it.”

They struggled on—it seemed an interminable [345]time—to Kingsnorth’s piazza. They realized instantly from its groanings and swayings that the house was in immediate danger.

“The door is locked,” said Charlotte. “We can’t make him hear in this rage.”

Mrs. Mac took Mac’s big .45, deftly unloaded it, and slipped the cartridges into the pocket of her mackintosh. With the heavy butt she struck two or three blows on the lattice work of Kingsnorth’s shell windows. The opening made was large enough to admit her hand. She slipped up the wooden latch which falls into place when a Filipino sliding window is drawn to, and opened a casement. The lamp was burning brightly on a table, and Kingsnorth, aroused by the noise and Mrs. Maclaughlin’s repeated calls, was rubbing his eyes and staring dully at their faces in the aperture.

“Are you mad?” said Mrs. Maclaughlin sharply. “Come out of here. This house will go down in a minute.”

“I’ll come,” said Kingsnorth stupidly. It was evident that he was not fully awake, but he staggered to his feet and came to the open casement. A new blast came from the sea, and they felt the floor heave under their feet. [346]

“Back!” cried Mrs. Maclaughlin, seizing Charlotte’s hand and dragging her backward along the veranda. “We have done what we could. O man! man! the door! the door!” For Kingsnorth was still fumbling with the window, pushing back another shutter with the evident intention of getting out that way. In the outstreaming glow of light, they saw the veranda supports sway and heave. Then came a shriek in the air, a deafening roar, the snap of powerful supports strained to breaking; and, as Kingsnorth clambered heavily through the window, the same gust that tipped the cottage over like a child’s house of blocks, sent both women to their faces on the wet ground.

Charlotte never could remember how long it was before she was struggling to her feet, clambering over wrecked bamboo flooring, calling aloud to the man, who, she, knew, must have gone down with the house. Mrs. Maclaughlin was by her side, saying “O my Lord!” at intervals. They could see a crimson glow waxing brighter where the overturned petroleum lamp had set fire to the wrecked house; but it was not till its light grew brilliant, that they saw the man they sought. He seemed to be wedged between an upheaval of the bamboo [347]flooring and the leaning wall of the house. His forehead was gashed and he was unconscious.

Charlotte’s training stood her well, and it was she who bent over him and tried to lift him. She turned a white face, then, to Mrs. Maclaughlin.

“A piece of bamboo has entered his side,” she said. “We must break away these pieces and free him. He will be roasted if we are not quick.”

Fortunately the supports of the floor as well as the floor itself, were of bamboo. At Charlotte’s belt there hung her bunch of housekeeper’s keys, and a knife, not the ordinary penknife, but a real household necessity, combining several domestic utensils. Mrs. Maclaughlin owned one like it, and, in an instant, both women were hacking at the stiff rattan fibres, working with frantic haste as the dry suali lining of the house burst into roaring flame. They tore away the long bamboo slats, but at the last, it was Charlotte who drew out the broken piece which had entered Kingsnorth’s breast. He moved and groaned.

“Is he coming to?” asked Mrs. Maclaughlin, peering but not stopping. Charlotte shook her head. “I hope not, yet,” she said. “We must drag him back out of these ruins.” [348]

By the glow of the burning dwelling, the two women, now dragging, now lifting, took Kingsnorth out of the wreckage, and succeeded in carrying him some fifty feet along the path that led to Charlotte’s home. There a clump of pandan bushes made a shelter against the wind, which, as if satisfied with the havoc it had wrought, ceased for fully five minutes. The crimson radiance of the fire lighted the dripping bushes, cast its demon flickers on the ocean’s rage, and sent leaping shadows among the broken-stemmed cocoanut trees. Charlotte gazed wearily in the direction of the native village.

“They can’t be asleep,” she said. “Why don’t they come?”

“Come!” echoed Mrs. Maclaughlin. “They’ll not come; or, if they do, it will be with evil in their hearts. They’ve got two Japanese rogues to lead them, and they think Mac and Martin have gone to the bottom; and when they find that this man is disabled—” She paused.

Charlotte took time only to groan as she bent over Kingsnorth, wrapping a piece of cloth torn from her petticoat about his wounded forehead, trying to pad the torn and bleeding breast. Blood and [349]froth stood upon his lips and at times convulsions of coughing seized him, and more froth and blood were expelled.

“It is worse than disabled,” said Charlotte slowly after what examination she could make. “I think the lung has been penetrated. I am afraid he is dying.” Mrs. Maclaughlin pressed her lips together, but said nothing.

When Charlotte had done what she could, she sat down and took the wounded man’s head in her lap. The fire, which had blazed up so valiantly, died out as it reached the wet roof, and another pattering shower extinguished it. The night closed about them again in impenetrable darkness. Only once, as the clouds drove past, a rift showed for an instant, and a star beamed down upon them as if reminding them that the world of former days was still there. Little by little, the wind moderated, the showers ceased, and the wild harmonies of the sea subsided into a long rhythmic booming of surf. In spite of its violence, the wind was soft and warm as velvet, and though they were damp, chilled, and uncomfortable, what they had undergone could not have been called suffering. [350]


Chapter XVIII

The mental suffering was, however, far from small. As she strained her eyes through the blackness, Charlotte felt that the weight of ages lay on their aching pupils. Fatigue, despair, and fear all tore at her heart. There rose always before her the vision of Martin as she had imagined him in the little coastguard steamer’s cabin, and the cold dread clenched her heart that the waves had sucked him down and down to the bottomless sea, a lonely, dead thing in the awful vastness of it. Once only she spoke to Mrs. Maclaughlin.

“Do you think it can be near morning?” she asked; and Mrs. Maclaughlin negatived the idea sharply.

“It was about midnight when we cleared out,” she said, “and time goes slowly in fixes like this.

It went infinitely worse than slowly. When, at last, the blackness became a gloom filled with shapes, and a pallor showed in the east, the two women, [351]their hair in disorder, their faces drawn and haggard, had hardly courage to look about them. Broad daylight revealed a scene of desolation, with the sea running furiously against the strewn beach, and with the cocoanut grove a ragged waste, its snapped boles standing upright and the long plumy tops dragging on the ground. Kingsnorth’s charred structure, their own homes sprawling drunkenly, and the distant village in ruins, presented a picture, which, to minds less engrossed with even more heartrending possibilities, would have meant despair.

With the first clear light, Mrs. Maclaughlin hunted up her basket of food and some water bottles which she had deposited at the side of the path, and each woman made a pretence of swallowing a few tinned biscuit, and eased her parched throat with drink. Charlotte moistened Kingsnorth’s lips, but he seemed unable to swallow. After awhile, however, he opened his eyes, and she perceived that he was conscious.

He did not try to speak, but looked at her curiously, evidently wondering how he came to be lying on the ground with his head in her lap. He stared at her, nonplussed by her appearance, then [352]slowly let his eyes travel about him. The wrecked houses, the general devastation had, apparently, significance but no recollection in his mind. He made a faint movement, but the pain stopped him, and then she saw that he desired to speak but could not.

Charlotte bent over him. “You are hurt, Mr. Kingsnorth. I don’t think you can remember all that happened. After you went home, the storm grew much worse, and finally Mrs. Maclaughlin and I perceived that our houses were doomed. We went to your house and broke in a window. You were asleep with a lamp burning on the table beside you; we had some difficulty in awakening you; and when we succeeded, and you roused yourself to come out, another blast of wind came. We had barely time to spring back; but you went down with the house. It caught fire from the lamp—but we got you out and dragged you here. I have done what I could for your wounds.” She stopped, a slight vibration in her voice, and glanced desperately across the still foaming sea. If help did not come to them, there was no hope for Kingsnorth.

The man himself knit his brows in a forceful attempt at remembrance. Little by little, the lines [353]of effort gave way to lines of bitterness. His nostrils dilated, a slow painful flush deepened the pallor of his face, and his lips tightened in a smile of self-contempt. Her own eyes suffused with pity as she looked down on him, for she knew that he had pieced it all out, and that the self-consciousness of ultimate failure and debasement was overwhelming him. To be a man and yet to have been found wanting at the supreme hour to those with whose protection he had been charged was exceedingly bitter to John Kingsnorth. He closed his eyes, unable to look at her, but presently a tear forced its lonely way out, then another, and still another.

At the sight, the last shadow of her old distaste and resentment vanished from Charlotte’s mind. She saw in him only the creature maimed and suffering, dignified by the near approach to the supreme hour, a man weighted with the sense of failure, and the knowledge that his last chance had come and gone, and that it, too, had passed him unprofiting. With sudden tenderness,—a feeling that seemed to reach forth to the uttermost confines of desolation,—she gently wiped away the tears, and then, bending, kissed him on the brow. [354]He smiled at her gratefully and spoke with painful effort.

“Ah that’s good. I’ve been lonely, I’ve wanted a human hand in mine, a woman’s of my own class. I’m not all hard and bad.”

The words came with the utmost difficulty, and she gently pressed her fingers on his lips to stop him. His hand sought hers weakly, and held her fingers there. Then he turned his face to her like a chidden child, and she spoke to him no more. Only occasionally she moistened his fevered lips or wiped away the bloody froth that lay upon them after a fit of coughing. His physical suffering was very great, great enough, she hoped, to dull the consciousness of his dangerous state.

Mrs. Maclaughlin, as the day grew apace, busied herself in erecting a low shelter over the dying man. She got some bamboo poles and stuck them up, and laid on them a roof of banana leaves. She tried to get a mattress out of one of the fallen houses, but was unable to do so. She lighted a fire of leaves and old cocoanut husks, over which she brewed a cup of strong coffee. Charlotte drank it gratefully and afterwards ate one or two of the long fragrant bananas called “boongoolan.” Although [355]she was greatly fatigued, the hot drink and the food brought strength back to her, and new courage animated her.

Their servants and the village folk came in curious groups to inspect the ruined houses; but—sinister omen—they did not approach the whites, but eyed them curiously from a distance. Charlotte realized that, helpless as he was, Kingsnorth was still a protection to them; and he knew it too, for once, when the Japanese diver came too near, he motioned feebly for the revolver strapped at Charlotte’s waist. She gave it to him, smiling faintly. The Jap, however, beat a retreat as the revolver changed hands.

So the long morning wore away and the dying man still pillowed his head in Charlotte’s lap. Her mind, as she looked down upon him, was a-surge with crowding thoughts. Pity was foremost. It was indeed pitiful, this slow, painful ending, in desolation and loneliness, of a life that should have closed in dignity and peace. As the face grew whiter, and the pinched look of death stole upon his features, the bitterness and the degeneracy seemed to yield to what had been the once lofty spirit of manhood before the corroding acids of life had [356]preyed upon it. Step by step he had moved on the narrowing path that ended in a cul de sac. He had declared that the fault was his, and that if he had had the right stuff in him, he could not have made the failure that he had made; but the poor fellow had not selected the elements of his nature. They had been forged and linked upon him by the wills and passions of others. Across the seas, the mother who had contributed perhaps to the poorer elements of his character, and who had chosen his father—that mother still lived an easy luxurious life. Did she really think as little of him as he had declared she did? Would no pangs of contrition for her selfishness strike deep at the roots of her complacency, when she should learn that her son had died an exile on the lonely island? The sisters who had played with him, and the woman whose faithless hand had given the impetus to his downward career—would no repentant pangs visit them when the news should come that he had lived? There were other women, too, as he had boasted; women who had loved him, in spite of his scorn. Where were they? What were they doing as this final hour pressed upon John Kingsnorth? Over in the Filipino village, the child who owed him life [357]sported with his playthings, ignorant of the father who would never act a father’s part to him; and on the sunny hillside mouldered the remains of the broken-hearted girl who had been his wife. It was such a waste, such a pitiable, useless, extravagant waste of human desire, and of human happiness; a life that should have been filled with decency and respect and honor, ending so meanly, so sordidly, beneath the shelter of a mere leaf-roofed hutch. Her heart ached for the sufferer, ached for his isolation, for the final hopeless ending of what he had once hoped would be an honorable and happy career.

It was almost noon when Kingsnorth roused again and declared weakly that he desired to make his will. In the pockets of the coat which she had removed from him were a note book and pencil, and, at his dictation, Charlotte scribbled down his wishes concerning the child whom he at last stood ready to recognize. All his worldly possessions were left to the orphan, and Collingwood was named as guardian. Kingsnorth then signed the document, which both women witnessed. At his request Charlotte once again pillowed his head in her lap, and he kissed her hand feebly in gratitude. [358]

Mrs. Maclaughlin after a last hopeless look at the sea, threw herself down in the shade of the pandan bushes and went to sleep. Kingsnorth watched her jealously and when he was certain that she was beyond listening or seeing, asked Charlotte for his tobacco pouch. She hunted it up in the pockets of his coat, and gave it into his weak, trembling hands. He fumbled with it; and at last drew out the pearl, wrapped in tissue paper, which he had shown her on the day they discussed Martin’s letter.

“For you,” he said weakly; but at her flush, and sudden impulsive gesture of protest, he went on more strongly; “I want you to have it. It means something—a beginning—something between you and want. You’re right: you must not sacrifice yourself. You deserve something of life. But take—take with the strong hand.”

“But Mr. Kingsnorth,” she replied, “I have not told you, but I am not going away from Martin. I shall stay by him; he needs me, I think. At any rate, there is some happiness in that thought.”

He frowned slightly, and then smiled. “All the more need. A woman ought not to be so utterly in a man’s power. We’re merciless wretches—[359]selfish.” The effort of speech seemed to be too great.

Seeing that to refuse him would cloud his dying hours, Charlotte ceased to argue and let him press the bauble into her palm. It lay there, the visible token of Kingsnorth’s final allegiance to the ideals of the class which he had once renounced. It was, as he had declared, a something to stand between her and want, a bridge perhaps in some hour of need, that thing which might furnish her with temporary support and independence if she chose to set Martin Collingwood and her marriage vows aside.

But she did not intend to do so. As the slow hours dragged by, that resolution shaped itself more and more definitely in her mind, and with it there fell away her old self-consciousness about the world’s opinion of her actions. Through what throes this sense of moral independence had come to her, she knew; through what it might yet have to pass before it could obtain a perfect development, she had some intuition; but in her ultimate victory over the weaker and poorer elements of her nature she had perfect confidence. [360]

As she sat on in the blinding heat, her life passed in retrospect before her, and something half bitterness, half elation sprang up in her soul as she gazed upon it. Too clearly she perceived that its noblest features had been those which had most obstructed the happiness she yearned for. Her ideals, those maxims which parent, teachers, and guardians alike had dinned in her ears as the guide-marks of life if she would be a lovely and loveable woman, had only served to isolate her from human kind; and so far as love and tenderness had come into her life at all they were owing to a quality which all her training had taught her to regard as, at best, a weakness, and at worst, a shame. A flush of humiliation stained her cheek as she realized that her husband had not loved her for her intelligence, for her truth, for her candor, for her fair judgment, for her human charity, or for that final tenderness of soul and spirit which she felt welling like some crystal stream in her bosom. No, it was for her capacity for passion which his ruder instincts had assumed must underlie the polished surface of her mind. Judge Barton, too, had loved her, had striven to rouse in her an answering feeling to his own; but though he had been able from the first to put a proper value [361]upon her breeding and intelligence, she could not blind herself to the fact that these attributes were mere accessories to what really attracted him—the development, in herself, of amorous possibilities which only marriage could have brought about. She knew incontrovertibly, that if, by a magician’s stroke, she could be changed back into the girl she was when Alexander Barton first met her, his interest in her would fall flat in an instant. That girl had been neither priggish nor puritanical, only intelligent, full of ideals, and emotionally immature, dedicated to that vision of womankind which man himself has consciously created, but from which unconsciously he turns away, chilled and rebuked by its very perfection.

As she looked back, she wondered at herself and at her own temerity in having dared to break with the teachings of a life-time; in having set at defiance all that tremendous pressure which custom, social usage, family pride, and selfishness bring to bear upon a girl and her marriage. It had taken a certain amount of moral courage to do what she had done; it had taken still more to bear what she had borne. But if out of endurance there came knowledge,—not empty maxims and high sounding [362]phrases, but real knowledge of her own strength and of her own weaknesses, and some true guiding sense of her own relationship to the thing we call life,—she grudged it as little as the mother grudges the birth-pains which give her her child.

Had she taken her courage in her hand with one splendid outburst of defiance, much of sorrow and of humiliation might have been spared her; but, on the whole, she was glad that she had not done so. That sort of courage is seldom moral; it is, at bottom, emotionalism. She had gone timidly inch by inch trying to fortify each step by her intelligence. The way had led through devious windings: it had been a trial of endurance for others as well as for herself; but in the end it was she who had come out benefited. Poor Martin (her eyes lighted tenderly) had trodden it side by side with her; but experience had brought him no enlightenment.

No: the real value of all those weeks of pain and humiliation had been for herself. They had been a preparation for the revelation that had come upon her of the false ideals which modern society gives women. It was incomprehensible that a woman of brains could have clung tenaciously to the ideal which she had cherished for twenty-eight years; and [363]yet, all her training, all the influences which surround a “well-brought-up girl” had contributed to it. What she had asked for herself was a splendid nullity. She had expected to draw her skirts daintily about her, and to pick her way through the drawing-room of life, receiving all, giving nothing, too well-bred and too intellectual to be tempted by its passions; and she had actually supposed this egoistic solitude was moral elevation! She had thought that trampling upon human love, setting aside the desire for home and husband and children unless in their possession she gratified her vanity and ambition, was self-respect! Well, she had not been alone in her delusion. She knew that seventy per cent of her fellow women would condemn her for having married Martin Collingwood, and that more than that number would despise her for overlooking the crude insults of his letter and of his speech by the pandan bushes. Her face flamed as she recalled them. As long as she should live they would be a thorn in her flesh, a scourge, an agony to be relived.

Yet no flagellant ever bent more meekly under his own blows than Charlotte did as she resigned herself to bearing that cross. His words had been [364]but the irrepressible utterance of his own wounded vanity; his letter but the masterful outcropping of the man’s blind egoism. His illusions versus her illusions!—after all, what more had divided them than that? But greater than any illusion was life itself, the mingling of distracting hopes, fears, emotions, out of which only one thing is permanent and real, the consciousness of duty and right, as they are forever separated from material advantages; the expression of the human soul, which must move on struggling, fainting, vanquished or triumphant, asking perhaps for sympathy here or understanding there, but in the end recording its failures or its victories, companionless and voiceless.

Often and often, during her weeks of torment, a phrase had crept into her musings which she had repeated with God knows what of bitterness: “The years that the locust hath eaten.” In the clarity of her new-found light, it was those other years which the locusts had eaten—those long, empty, undeveloping years in which she had patterned herself on a social ideal; but which had brought her nothing of strength or of character.

She went slowly over the year of her life on the island. What had her association with the Maclaughlins [365]cost her? A possible intimacy with a commissioner’s wife. What had it brought her? Much that was healthy in her viewpoint of life. That homely common sense of Mrs. Maclaughlin, her outspoken dependence upon the man of her choice, her frank admission of her sense of duty and obedience to him, had a wholesome significance in these days, when women have thrown off all the old maxims of subjection without finding any new self-imposed obligations. What had her year’s association with Kingsnorth, educated reprobate, well-bred degenerate, cost her? An insulting proposition from a worldly man; but what a wealth of human sympathy and charity and compassion had it not injected into her moral and intellectual exclusiveness! She felt the richening of her whole nature that had come from putting aside her pride, from walking hand in hand with an outcast upon the highway.

As for Judge Barton’s little drama, it had not hurt her in the least. Socially, it is true, it might be a stain. Even the semblance of an “affair” with the respected dignitary might cause gossip. But on her own soul that interview had left not one spot. It had soiled nothing in her but her pride. She [366]realized that it is not dodging the temptations of life that makes character, but meeting them and resisting them. She made up her mind that if fate should ever throw her again into the society of Judge Barton, she would forgive him frankly; nor would she seek to overwhelm him with her offended dignity, nor press upon him the consciousness of his own sins. The man had had his moment of temptation and had fallen. He had wronged no one but himself. Far be it from her to decree his punishment.

Her thoughts turned then to Martin. The situation had its pathos for him as well as for her, though perhaps he might never know it; for there had come into the reality of her feeling for him the very elements which his own egoism had most feared and hated. She had, in the beginning loved him for loving’s sake, caring nothing, so far as she was concerned, for his faults and his weaknesses, only too willing to ascribe to him the worth that he set upon himself; afraid of the world, it is true, and hiding from its condemnation, but secretly quarrelling with what she knew would be its contrary judgment. She had married him because she needed him, because she leaned weakly upon him. [367]Now, when the experiences to which he had subjected her had taught her to stand alone and to judge independently, she was taking him back because he needed her.

He had declared that he would live with no woman on terms of pity or of sufferance; but her heart was full of pity for him as it had never been before; and for the first time the consciousness of her own real superiority to Martin entered into her feeling for him. Up to that hour, she had exalted him always at her own expense. There had been no way of evading the weight of what she had felt to be the world’s scorn but determinedly to make Martin Collingwood into something which he was not; in the moment of putting aside that world’s verdict, he and she swung as naturally into their normal relationships as a compass needle swings back to its rest.

Henceforward she would see Collingwood as he was: the democrat whose democracy is but the ladder of ambition, the raw, self-made man reaching out an eager clutch for those finer things of life which he knows only by their ticketed values. But that fact no longer weighted him with a quality which needed apology or forgiveness; she saw in [368]it growth, the only enduring, magnificent thing in this universal scheme. In all nature what is there but growth and decay, what but the steady effort to arrive at perfection, and the ensuing death out of which come new life and effort? Blind man, with Nature’s unvarying lesson spread before him, seeks to defy in his own being the law which can never be successfully defied; would seize and hold unchanged that moment of perfect development which precedes decadence; would make use of artificial distinctions, would endeavor to strengthen class differences; would invent caste systems, and sell his very soul to gratify his vain hope of retaining in himself or in his immediate descendants what he feels as the highest expression of his own development. He has never done it, he can never do it; but as instinctively as the flower reaches up to the sunlight, so must he ever struggle for the prolongation of his best matured product.

The question of Collingwood’s social status became in an instant trivial. She saw in him the new growth, vigorous, wholesome, needing but the right soil and nourishment to develop into a forest monarch; and she had in her the power to aid that growth, and she had been minded to turn her back [369]upon him because he had not found out what meed of consideration was due her, because he had sapped unconsciously of her strength without asking himself why and whence it came!

The thought broke upon her like a splendor, that there might be more joy in helping Martin Collingwood to his perfected state than there would be in just loving him or in being loved by him. Many times she had repeated, as women are fond of doing, that threadbare quotation,

Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;

’Tis woman’s whole existence!

and she had accepted the common feminine view that the couplet is a testimonial to man’s coarser nature, and a subtle tribute to feminine “soul” and superiority. She saw in it suddenly the whole story of feminine weakness and selfishness. She honored Martin Collingwood that love had not been his whole existence. There in her lap, his head swathed in bloody bandages, was gasping out his life a man who, however manly he might have been in other respects, had been essentially feminine in his disposition to make love his whole existence; and who had felt that the thwarting of the one [370]natural desire for the woman of his choice was sufficient to dull all the normal manly instincts of ambition and accomplishment.

She glanced about her at the evidences of ruin, and she bowed her head in gratitude that it had been her lot to come to this primitive land, to know humiliation and sorrow and loneliness, and to free herself in its solitudes from the false ideals of her training. She looked down the long vista of years and saw herself always at Martin’s side, helping, working with him, bearing with his weaknesses, struggling with her own; but the end of it all was life and character for them both, something bigger than mere loving or being loved. If she uttered a sigh or two for what was irrevocably gone, it was not wholly in regret. It was no dream life she was going back to, no Summer in Arcady (that was past), but plain, prosaic marriage, with disappointments and misunderstandings and misconceptions to be outlived and to make the best of; nor was there anything but health in the thought that Martin might find just as much to overlook as she might. Children would come to them, and she saw herself bearing them, rearing them, guiding into intelligent and ethical expression the forceful inheritance [371]which would be theirs from him, finding in them the realization of her own will and soul expression, rejoicing in his pride in them. He would work and she would bear,—strange anomaly of fate that carried back to its primitive beginnings the product of so much effort and vanity and ambition!

The sunshine beat pitilessly on the leaf shelter; the fatigue of the long vigil told upon her; her crowding thoughts wearied her. She held herself upright with difficulty, and her eyelids drooped. Sitting unsupported, she slept.

Her own body falling forward roused her after the briefest of naps. Her quick movement to regain her balance jarred Kingsnorth, and he opened his eyes. His face was half turned to the sea, whereas her back was set squarely against it; and he instantly perceived the long trail of a steamer’s smudge borne ahead of the vessel which was still hull down. He pointed feebly to call her attention to it.

“Good old Martin,” he murmured weakly. “I knew—he—would come. He’s not—like— me. He—doesn’t fail.”

Charlotte stared, her eyes aglow, her face aflame with hope. She lifted her hand to her throat, [372]choked by what was throbbing there. There were hope and succor fast enough; but also what message of despair might not that vessel bring? What if she, like Kingsnorth, had delayed too long, and the Unseen Powers had decreed there should be no more chances for her? Then as she glanced down, she met Kingsnorth’s intent eyes, puzzled, their keen intelligence slightly dimmed, but full of some question that he dared not ask. A sudden impulse moved her.

“I want to tell you before it is too late,” she said with difficulty, “just how I feel. I glory in Martin Collingwood; I am glad I am his wife. I have had the indecency to be ashamed of myself for the most human and womanly thing I ever did in my life. Well, I’m emancipated.” She stopped, drew a long breath, and broke into a little, low, nervous laugh. “There seems to be growing up a conviction among women that the only door of emancipation is the divorce court, and that the only way to assert their personality is in insurrection. I don’t want that door. I had the effrontery to marry Martin Collingwood to be adored—as if either he or I or anybody else has the right to make that the end of life. That is the cry of the effete, [373]of the thing which must soon fall into decay. But Heaven helping me, I’m going to make myself into a woman, and I’m going to be the right influence in his life. It’s not going to be easy or free from heartache, but we’ll do it.” A sudden recollection overcame her. Her bravery dropped from her, the light vanished from her eye. “If it isn’t too late,” she whispered, “if it isn’t too late.”

“No, no,” Kingsnorth said, though some torment, physical or mental, twisted his lips into uncouth shapes as he dragged out the words. “He’ll come. Almighty God wouldn’t keep a man—from this.” With which words, of a poetic consistency with the weakness which had been his undoing, the voice of John Kingsnorth fell into eternal silence. For half an hour longer, perhaps, his eyes remained open, staring curiously, wistfully, sometimes at her face, sometimes at the deepening vapor line upon the sky. The steamer came full into view, a coastguard boat, undoubtedly heading for the island. The day’s heat diminished; the shadows lengthened; the sea ran more and more gently; and the light of late afternoon deepened to etherealized amber. Its magic seemed to bring peace and resignation to the dying man. Once again with a pathetic sigh he [374]turned his face to hers and tried to nestle closer to her as a penitent child clings to the mother who has conquered him. She bent and kissed him again, this time upon the lips. Shortly after, she perceived that he was unconscious.

Still the labored breathing went on and on a long time,—time enough for their servants to gather, a meek and hospitable group some little distance away, watching the vessel which would restore the whites to their old status on the island; time enough for the steamer to drop her anchor and to put out a boat; but at last, in a long shuddering sigh, it ceased. John Kingsnorth, disreputable offspring of a proud family, had gone to his reckoning. In time they would go to theirs.

For a few minutes, Charlotte made no attempt to move. Then she gently laid him down, and without disturbing Mrs. Maclaughlin still in the deep sleep of exhaustion, dragged herself painfully to her feet. The movement dislodged the pearl, which had slipped unnoticed into her lap. She picked it up and stood looking upon it meditatively. Its luster had no sinister significance in spite of those rather revolting confessions of Kingsnorth’s about his musings over it. It was just a beautiful [375]bauble, one of those shining gauds for which women break their hearts or with which they seek to break other women’s. It had no worth apart from human vanity. Back of all its commercial value, lay a human weakness.

She did not care for it. She said to herself that she would keep it long enough to learn the news that the boat brought her. If Martin was alive, well she knew how quickly he would repudiate the gift, how his man’s pride would revolt at her having financial independence of him. She could not but realize how utterly his own self-respect must hang on his power to work for her, to give her the things he wanted for her. Nor did she wish to repeat to him what Kingsnorth had told her. It was a confession he would not willingly have made to Collingwood; it was the woman in him crying out to the woman. But if Martin was no more, then she would accept the gift, thankful for the help it would give her, knowing well that Martin would not have grudged it.

Stiffly she made her way to the beach and shading her eyes, peered at the approaching boat. The dazzle of the sunset was in them and the boat was well out; but someone was standing, waving frantic [376]arms at her. Her heart gave one great throb as she realized that no one but Martin would so energetically have welcomed the sight of her; and then as it came nearer and she saw him plainly, the throbs settled into steady, confident beating. Her chance had come, and would find her ready to profit.

The sea was molten metal shot with undertones of steely blue and opal; huge banks of cloud were massed on the distant horizon, the hidden sun pouring down great shafts of light; cocoanut trees were yellow green in the radiance; the worn, mouse-colored nipa roofs were turned to gold. All nature was afire with beauty and promise. Yet there in the dismantled homes lay a man’s work to his hand; and in the general devastation was written the story of wreck and of failure, the threat of toil to restore. There, too, in the full light stood a woman ready to help and to bear unflinchingly her share of the burden. Her dress was disordered; her hair, that had grayed slightly in the suffering of past weeks, had something of wildness in its untidiness. Her face was white, and would never again be youthful; but in spite of fatigue she stood erect, magnificent, a splendor of purpose in her eyes, a woman entered into her heritage, tried, self-confident, sure of herself. [377]Though he would never know it, though he was destined to go on to the end in his fool’s paradise of indomitable ignorance, Martin Collingwood, most masculine of masculine types, who had vowed that no woman should ever rule him or patronize him, accepted, in that hour, the terms he had repudiated, and thrust his neck rapturously, for all time, beneath the yoke of petticoat government.

Collingwood and Maclaughlin were both on their feet, the one feasting his eyes on the woman he loved, the other searching with dread premonition of evil for the form dear to him. Neither at that moment gave a thought to the destruction that had overtaken what they had built, or to the tedious steps to be retraced, the effort of accomplishment to be re-done. That was for later; that was life in their sturdy acceptation of it. But just before the boat grounded they saw Charlotte lift one hand with an easy graceful movement and toss some gleaming object into the sea. They even heard the tiny splash it made, and saw the ripples. Neither gave it a second thought; it might have been a pebble picked from the beach, or some equally valueless trifle. Little did Martin dream that it was the last fagot she possessed laid upon the altar of his self-esteem. [378]

As the boat’s keel grated on the sands, however, both men sprang out and splashed their way to her. She stood smiling clearly, steadfastly, into her husband’s eyes; and as he gathered her with a sob into his arms, Maclaughlin, obedient to her slight gesture, tore past them to the low-roofed shelter whither she motioned him. Collingwood, raising his eyes as he lifted his lips from his wife’s, saw the man’s abrupt halt and recoil; then beheld him uncover at the sight of the sleeping woman and their dead comrade.

The End


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111 deficiences deficiencies
153 Malayasian Malaysian
156 no not
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203 remark-a-bly remarkably
236 dumfounded dumbfounded
252 propitate propitiate

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