A short story by Robert W. Chambers
Title: Pasque Florida
Author: Robert W. Chambers [More Titles by Chambers]
The steady flicker of lightning in the southwest continued; the wind freshened, blowing in cooler streaks across acres of rattling rushes and dead marsh-grass. A dull light grew through the scudding clouds, then faded as the mid-day sun went out in the smother, leaving an ominous red smear overhead.
Gun in hand, Haltren stood up among the reeds and inspected the landscape. Already the fish-crows and egrets were flying inland, the pelicans had left the sandbar, the eagles were gone from beach and dune. High in the thickening sky wild ducks passed over Flyover Point and dropped into the sheltered marshes among the cypress.
As Haltren stood undecided, watching the ruddy play of lightning, which came no nearer than the horizon, a squall struck the lagoon. Then, amid the immense solitude of marsh and water, a deep sound grew--the roar of the wind in the wilderness. The solemn paeon swelled and died away as thunder dies, leaving the air tremulous.
"I'd better get out of this," said Haltren to himself. He felt for the breech of his gun, unloaded both barrels, and slowly pocketed the cartridges.
Eastward, between the vast salt river and the ocean, the dunes were smoking like wind-lashed breakers; a heron, laboring heavily, flapped inland, broad pinions buffeting the gale.
"Something's due to happen," said Haltren, reflectively, closing the breech of his gun. He had hauled his boat up an alligator-slide; now he shoved it off the same way, and pulling up his hip-boots, waded out, laid his gun in the stern, threw cartridge-sack and a dozen dead ducks after it, and embarked among the raft of wind-tossed wooden decoys.
There were twoscore decoys bobbing and tugging at their anchor-cords outside the point. Before he had fished up a dozen on the blade of his oar a heavier squall struck the lagoon, blowing the boat out into the river. He had managed to paddle back and had secured another brace of decoys, when a violent gale caught him broadside, almost capsizing him.
"If I don't get those decoys now I never shall!" he muttered, doggedly jabbing about with extended oar. But he never got them; for at that moment a tropical hurricane, still in its infancy, began to develop, and when, blinded with spray, he managed to jam the oars into the oar-locks, his boat was half a mile out and still driving.
For a week the wind had piled the lagoons and lakes south of the Matanzas full of water, and now the waves sprang up, bursting into menacing shapes, knocking the boat about viciously. Haltren turned his unquiet eyes towards a streak of green water ahead.
"I don't suppose this catspaw is really trying to drive me out of Coquina Inlet!" he said, peevishly; "I don't suppose I'm being blown out to sea."
It was a stormy end for a day's pleasure--yet curiously appropriate, too, for it was the fourth anniversary of his wedding-day; and the storm that followed had blown him out into the waste corners of the world.
Perhaps something of this idea came into his head; he laughed a disagreeable laugh and fell to rowing.
The red lightning still darted along the southern horizon, no nearer; the wilderness of water, of palm forests, of jungle, of dune, was bathed in a sickly light; overhead oceans of clouds tore through a sombre sky.
After a while he understood that he was making no headway; then he saw that the storm was shaping his course. He dug his oars into the thick, gray waves; the wind tore the cap from his head, caught the boat and wrestled with it.
Somehow or other he must get the boat ashore before he came abreast of the inlet; otherwise--
He turned his head and stared at the whitecaps tumbling along the deadly raceway; and he almost dropped his oars in astonishment to see a gasoline-launch battling for safety just north of the storm-swept channel. What was a launch doing in this forsaken end of the earth? And the next instant developed the answer. Out at sea, beyond the outer bar, a yacht, wallowing like a white whale, was staggering towards the open ocean.
He saw all this in a flash--saw the gray-green maelstrom between the dunes, the launch struggling across the inlet, the yacht plunging seaward. Then in the endless palm forests the roar deepened. Flash! Bang! lightning and thunder were simultaneous.
"That's better," said Haltren, hanging to his oars; "there's a fighting chance now."
The rain came, beating the waves down, seemingly, for a moment, beating out the wind itself. In the partial silence the sharp explosions of the gasoline-engine echoed like volleys of pistol-shots; and Haltren half rose in his pitching boat, and shouted: "Launch ahoy! Run under the lee shore. There's a hurricane coming! You haven't a second to lose!"
He heard somebody aboard the launch say, distinctly, "There's a Florida cracker alongside who says a hurricane is about due." The shrill roar of the rain drowned the voice. Haltren bent to his oars again. Then a young man in dripping white flannels looked out of the wheel-house and hailed him. "We've grounded on the meadows twice. If you know the channel you'd better come aboard and take the wheel."
Haltren, already north of the inlet and within the zone of safety, rested on his oars a second and looked back, listening. Very far away he heard the deep whisper of death.
On board the launch the young man at the wheel heard it, too; and he hailed Haltren in a shaky voice: "I wouldn't ask you to come back, but there are women aboard. Can't you help us?"
"All right," said Haltren.
A horrible white glare broke out through the haze; the solid vertical torrent of rain swayed, then slanted eastward.
A wave threw him alongside the launch; he scrambled over the low rail and ran forward, deafened by the din. A woman in oilskins hung to the companion-rail; he saw her white face as he passed. Haggard, staggering, he entered the wheel-house, where the young man in dripping flannels seized his arm, calling him by name. Haltren pushed him aside.
"Give me that wheel, Darrow," he said, hoarsely. "Ring full speed ahead! Now stand clear--"
Like an explosion the white tornado burst, burying deck and wheel-house in foam; a bellowing fury of tumbling waters enveloped the launch. Haltren hung to the wheel one second, two, five, ten; and at last through the howling chaos his stunned ears caught the faint staccato spat! puff! spat! of the exhaust. Thirty seconds more--if the engines could stand it--if they only could stand it!
They stood it for thirty-three seconds and went to smash. A terrific squall, partly deflected from the forest, hurled the launch into the swamp, now all boiling in shallow foam; and there she stuck in the good, thick mud, heeled over and all awash like a stranded razor-back after a freshet.
Twenty minutes later the sun came out; the waters of the lagoon turned sky blue; a delicate breeze from the southeast stirred the palmetto fronds.
Presently a cardinal-bird began singing in the sunshine.
* * * * *
Haltren, standing in the wrecked wheel-house, raised his dazed eyes as Darrow entered and looked around.
"So that was a white tornado! I've heard of them--but--good God!" He turned a bloodless visage to Haltren, who, dripping, bareheaded and silent, stood with eyes closed leaning heavily against the wheel.
"Are you hurt?"
Haltren shook his head. Darrow regarded him stupidly.
"How did you happen to be in this part of the world?"
Haltren opened his eyes. "Oh, I'm likely to be anywhere," he said, vaguely, passing a shaking hand across his face. There was a moment's silence; then he said:
"Darrow, is my wife aboard this boat?"
"Yes," said Darrow, under his breath. "Isn't that the limit?"
Through the silence the cardinal sang steadily.
"Isn't that the limit?" repeated Darrow. "We came on the yacht--that was Brent's yacht, the _Dione_, you saw at sea. You know the people aboard. Brent, Mrs. Castle, your wife, and I left the others and took the launch to explore the lagoons.... And here we are. Isn't it funny?" he added, with a nerveless laugh.
Haltren stood there slowly passing his hand over his face.
"It is funnier than you know, Darrow," he said. "Kathleen and I--this is our wedding-day."
"Well, that _is_ the limit," muttered Darrow, as Haltren turned a stunned face to the sunshine where the little cardinal sang with might and main.
"Come below," he added. "You are going to speak to her, of course?"
"If she cared to have me--"
"Speak to her anyway. Haltren; I"--he hesitated--"I never knew why you and Kathleen separated. I only knew what everybody knows. You and she are four years older now; and if there's a ghost of a chance-- Do you understand?"
"Then we'll go below," began Darrow. But Major Brent appeared at that moment, apoplectic eyes popping from his purple face as he waddled forward to survey the dismantled launch.
Without noticing either Haltren or Darrow, he tested the slippery angle of the deck, almost slid off into the lagoon, clutched the rail with both pudgy hands, and glared at the water.
"I suppose," he said, peevishly, "that there are alligators in that water. I know there are!"
He turned his inflamed eyes on Haltren, but made no sign of recognition.
"Major," said Darrow, sharply, "you remember Dick Haltren--"
"Eh?" snapped the major. "Where the deuce did you come from, Haltren?"
"He was the man who hailed us. He took the wheel," said Darrow, meaningly.
"Nice mess you made of it between you," retorted the major, scowling his acknowledgments at Haltren.
Darrow, disgusted, turned on his heel; Haltren laughed. The sound of his own laugh amused him, and he laughed again.
"I don't see the humor," said the major. "The _Dione_ is blown half-way to the Bermudas by this time." He added, with a tragic gesture of his fat arms; "Are you aware that Mrs. Jack Onderdonk is aboard?"
The possible fate of Manhattan's queen regent so horrified Major Brent that his congested features assumed the expression of an alarmed tadpole.
But Haltren, the unaccustomed taste of mirth in his throat once more, stood there, dripping, dishevelled, and laughing. For four years he had missed the life he had been bred to; he had missed even what he despised in it, and his life at moments had become a hell of isolation. Time dulled the edges of his loneliness; solitude, if it hurts, sometimes cures too. But he was not yet cured of longing for that self-forbidden city in the North. He desired it--he desired the arid wilderness of its treeless streets, its incessant sounds, its restless energy; he desired its pleasures, its frivolous days and nights, its satiated security, its ennui. Its life had been his life, its people his people, and he longed for it with a desire that racked him.
"What the devil are you laughing at, Haltren?" asked the major, tartly.
"Was I laughing?" said the young man. "Well--now I will say good-bye, Major Brent. Your yacht will steam in before night and send a boat for you; and I shall have my lagoons to myself again.... I have been here a long time.... I don't know why I laughed just now. There was, indeed, no reason." He turned and looked at the cabin skylights. "It's hard to realize that you and Darrow and--others--are here, and that there's a whole yacht-load of fellow-creatures--and Mrs. Van Onderdonk--wobbling about the Atlantic near by. Fashionable people have never before come here--even intelligent people rarely penetrate this wilderness.... I--I have a plantation a few miles below--oranges and things, you know." He hesitated, almost wistfully. "I don't suppose you and your guests would care to stop there for a few hours, if your yacht is late."
"No," said the major, "we don't care to."
"Perhaps Haltren will stay aboard the wreck with us until the _Dione_ comes in," suggested Darrow.
"I dare say you have a camp hereabouts," said the major, staring at Haltren; "no doubt you'd be more comfortable there."
"Thanks," said Haltren, pleasantly; "I have my camp a mile below." He offered his hand to Darrow, who, too angry to speak, nodded violently towards the cabin.
"How can I?" asked Haltren. "Good-bye. And I'll say good-bye to you, major--"
"Good-bye," muttered the major, attempting to clasp his fat little hands behind his back.
Haltren, who had no idea of offering his hand, stood still a moment, glancing at the cabin skylights; then, with a final nod to Darrow, he deliberately slid over-board and waded away, knee-deep, towards the palm-fringed shore.
Darrow could not contain himself. "Major Brent," he said, "I suppose you don't realize that Haltren saved the lives of every soul aboard this launch."
The major's inflamed eyes popped out.
"Eh? What's that?"
"More than that," said Darrow, "he came back from safety to risk his life. As it was he lost his boat and his gun--"
"Damnation!" broke out the major; "you don't expect me to ask him to stay and meet the wife he deserted four years ago!"
And he waddled off to the engine-room, where the engineer and his assistant were tinkering at the wrecked engine.
Darrow went down into the sloppy cabin, where, on a couch, Mrs. Castle lay, ill from the shock of the recent catastrophe; and beside her stood an attractive girl stirring sweet spirits of ammonia in a tumbler.
Her eyes were fixed on the open port-hole. Through that port-hole the lagoon was visible; so was Haltren, wading shoreward, a solitary figure against the fringed rampart of the wilderness.
"Is Mrs. Castle better?" asked Darrow.
"I think so; I think she is asleep," said the girl, calmly.
There was a pause; then Darrow took the tumbler and stirred the contents.
"Do you know who it was that got us out of that pickle?"
"Yes," she said; "my husband."
"I suppose you could hear what we said on deck."
There was no answer.
"Could you, Kathleen?"
Darrow stared into the tumbler, tasted the medicine, and frowned.
"Isn't there--isn't there a chance--a ghost of a chance?" he asked.
"I think not," she answered--"I am sure not. I shall never see him again."
"I meant for myself," said Darrow, deliberately, looking her full in the face.
She crimsoned to her temples, then her eyes flashed violet fire.
"Not the slightest," she said.
"Thanks," said Darrow, flippantly; "I only wanted to know."
"You know now, don't you?" she asked, a trifle excited, yet realizing instinctively that somehow she had been tricked. And yet, until that moment, she had believed Darrow to be her slave. He had been and was still; but she was not longer certain, and her uncertainty confused her.
"Do you mean to say that you have any human feeling left for that vagabond?" demanded Darrow. So earnest was he that his tanned face grew tense and white.
"I'll tell you," she said, breathlessly, "that from this moment I have no human feeling left for you! And I never had! I know it now; never! never! I had rather be the divorced wife of Jack Haltren than the wife of any man alive!"
The angry beauty of her young face was his reward; he turned away and climbed the companion. And in the shattered wheel-house he faced his own trouble, muttering: "I've done my best; I've tried to show the pluck he showed. He's got his chance now!" And he leaned heavily on the wheel, covering his eyes with his hands; for he was fiercely in love, and he had destroyed for a friend's sake all that he had ever hoped for.
But there was more to be done; he aroused himself presently and wandered around to the engine-room, where the major was prowling about, fussing and fuming and bullying his engineer.
"Major," said Darrow, guilelessly, "do you suppose Haltren's appearance has upset his wife?"
"Eh?" said the major. "No, I don't! I refuse to believe that a woman of Mrs. Haltren's sense and personal dignity could be upset by such a man! By gad! sir, if I thought it--for one instant, sir--for one second--I'd reason with her. I'd presume so far as to express my personal opinion of this fellow Haltren!"
"Perhaps I'd better speak to her," began Darrow.
"No, sir! Why the devil should you assume that liberty?" demanded Major Brent. "Allow me, sir; allow me! Mrs. Haltren is my guest!"
The major's long-latent jealousy of Darrow was now fully ablaze; purple, pop-eyed, and puffing, he toddled down the companion on his errand of consolation. Darrow watched him go. "That settles him!" he said. Then he called the engineer over and bade him rig up and launch the portable canoe.
"Put one paddle in it, Johnson, and say to Mrs. Haltren that she had better paddle north, because a mile below there is a camp belonging to a man whom Major Brent and I do not wish to have her meet."
The grimy engineer hauled out the packet which, when put together, was warranted to become a full-fledged canoe.
"Lord! how she'll hate us all, even poor Johnson," murmured Darrow. "I don't know much about Kathleen Haltren, but if she doesn't paddle south I'll eat cotton-waste with oil-dressing for dinner!"
At that moment the major reappeared, toddling excitedly towards the stern.
"What on earth is the trouble?" asked Darrow. "Is there a pizen sarpint aboard?"
"Trouble!" stammered the major. "Who said there was any trouble? Don't be an ass, sir! Don't even look like an ass, sir! Damnation!"
And he trotted furiously into the engine-room.
Darrow climbed to the wheel-house once more, fished out a pair of binoculars, and fixed them on the inlet and the strip of Atlantic beyond.
"If the _Dione_ isn't in by three o'clock, Haltren will have his chance," he murmured.
He was still inspecting the ocean and his watch alternately when Mrs. Haltren came on deck.
"Did you send me the canoe?" she asked, with cool unconcern.
"It's for anybody," he said, morosely. "Somebody ought to take a snap-shot of the scene of our disaster. If you don't want the canoe, I'll take it."
She had her camera in her hand; it was possible he had noticed it, although he appeared to be very busy with his binoculars.
He was also rude enough to turn his back. She hesitated, looked up the lagoon and down the lagoon. She could only see half a mile south, because Flyover Point blocked the view.
"If Mrs. Castle is nervous you will be near the cabin?" she asked, coldly.
"I'll be here," he said.
"And you may say to Major Brent," she added, "that he need not send me further orders by his engineer, and that I shall paddle wherever caprice invites me."
A few moments later a portable canoe glided out from under the stern of the launch. In it, lazily wielding the polished paddle, sat young Mrs. Haltren, bareheaded, barearmed, singing as sweetly as the little cardinal, who paused in sheer surprise at the loveliness of song and singer. Like a homing pigeon the canoe circled to take its bearings once, then glided away due _south_.
Blue was the sky and water; her eyes were bluer; white as the sands her bare arms glimmered. Was it a sunbeam caught entangled in her burnished hair, or a stray strand, that burned far on the water.
Darrow dropped his eyes; and when again he looked, the canoe had vanished behind the rushes of Flyover Point, and there was nothing moving on the water far as the eye could see.
* * * * *
About three o'clock that afternoon, the pigeon-toed Seminole Indian who followed Haltren, as a silent, dangerous dog follows its master, laid down the heavy pink cedar log which he had brought to the fire, and stood perfectly silent, nose up, slitted eyes almost closed.
Haltren's glance was a question. "Paddl'um boat," said the Indian, sullenly.
After a pause Haltren said, "I don't hear it, Tiger."
"Hunh!" grunted the Seminole. "Paddl'um damn slow. Bime-by you hear."
And bime-by Haltren heard.
"Somebody is landing," he said.
The Indian folded his arms and stood bolt upright for a moment; then, "Hunh!" he muttered, disgusted. "Heap squaw. Tiger will go."
Haltren did not hear him; up the palmetto-choked trail from the landing strolled a girl, paddle poised over one shoulder, bright hair blowing. He rose to his feet; she saw him standing in the haze of the fire and made him a pretty gesture of recognition.
"I thought I'd call to pay my respects," she said. "How do you do? May I sit on this soap-box?"
Smiling, she laid the paddle on the ground and held out one hand as he stepped forward.
They shook hands very civilly.
"That was a brave thing you did," she said. "Mes compliments, monsieur."
And that was all said about the wreck.
"It's not unlike an Adirondack camp," she suggested, looking around at the open-faced, palm-thatched shanty with its usual hangings of blankets and wet clothing, and its smoky, tin-pan bric-a-brac.
Her blue eyes swept all in rapid review--the guns leaning against the tree; the bunch of dead bluebill ducks hanging beyond; the improvised table and bench outside; the enormous mottled rattlesnake skin tacked lengthways on a live-oak.
"Are there many of those about?" she inquired.
"Very few"--he waited to control the voice which did not sound much like his own--"very few rattlers yet. They come out later."
"That's amiable of them," she said, with a slight shrug of her shoulders.
There was a pause.
"I hope you are well," he ventured.
"Perfectly--and thank you. I hope you are well, Jack."
"Thank you, Kathleen."
She picked up a chip of rose-colored cedar and sniffed it daintily.
"Like a lead-pencil, isn't it? Put that big log on the fire. The odor of burning cedar must be delicious."
He lifted the great log and laid it across the coals.
"Suppose we lunch?" she proposed, looking straight at the simmering coffee-pot.
"Would you really care to?" Then he raised his voice: "Tiger! Tiger! Where the dickens are you?" But Tiger, half a mile away, squatted sulkily on the lagoon's edge, fishing, and muttering to himself that there were too many white people in the forest for him.
"He won't come," said Haltren. "You know the Seminoles hate the whites, and consider themselves still unconquered. There is scarcely an instance on record of a Seminole attaching himself to one of us."
"But your tame Tiger appears to follow you."
"He's an exception."
"Perhaps you are an exception, too."
He looked up with a haggard smile, then bent over the fire and poked the ashes with a pointed palmetto stem. There were half a dozen sweet-potatoes there, and a baked duck and an ash-cake.
"Goodness!" she said; "if you knew how hungry I am you wouldn't be so deliberate. Where are the cups and spoons? Which is Tiger's? Well, you may use his."
The log table was set and the duck ready before Haltren could hunt up the jug of mineral water which Tiger had buried somewhere to keep cool.
When he came back with it from the shore he found her sitting at table with an exaggerated air of patience.
They both laughed a little; he took his seat opposite; she poured the coffee, and he dismembered the duck.
"You ought to be ashamed of that duck," she said. "The law is on now."
"I know it," he replied, "but necessity knows no law. I'm up here looking for wild orange stock, and I live on what I can get. Even the sacred, unbranded razor-back is fish for our net--with a fair chance of a shooting-scrape between us and a prowling cracker. If you will stay to dinner you may have roast wild boar."
"That alone is almost worth staying for, isn't it?" she asked, innocently.
There was a trifle more color in his sunburned face.
She ate very little, though protesting that her hunger shamed her; she sipped her coffee, blue eyes sometimes fixed on the tall palms and oaks overhead, sometimes on him.
"What was that great, winged shadow that passed across the table?" she exclaimed.
"A vulture; they are never far away."
"Ugh!" she shuddered; "always waiting for something to die! How can a man live here, knowing that?"
"I don't propose to die out-doors," said Haltren, laughing.
Again the huge shadow swept between them; she shrank back with a little gesture of repugnance. Perhaps she was thinking of her nearness to death in the inlet.
"Are there alligators here, too?" she asked.
"Yes; they run away from you."
"And moccasin snakes?"
"Some. They don't trouble a man who keeps his eyes open."
"A nice country you live in!" she said, disdainfully.
"It is one kind of country. There is good shooting."
"Sunshine all the year round. I have a house covered with scented things and buried in orange-trees. It is very beautiful. A little lonely at times--one can't have Fifth Avenue and pick one's own grape-fruit from the veranda, too."
A silence fell between them; through the late afternoon stillness they heard the splash! splash! of leaping mullet in the lagoon. Suddenly a crimson-throated humming-bird whirred past, hung vibrating before a flowering creeper, then darted away.
"Spring is drifting northward," he said. "To-morrow will be Easter Day--Pasque Florida."
She rose, saying, carelessly, "I was not thinking of to-morrow; I was thinking of to-day," and, walking across the cleared circle, she picked up her paddle. He followed her, and she looked around gayly, swinging the paddle to her shoulder.
"You said you were thinking of to-day," he stammered. "It--it is our anniversary."
She raised her eyebrows. "I am astonished that you remembered.... I think that I ought to go. The _Dione_ will be in before long--"
"We can hear her whistle when she steams in," he said.
"Are you actually inviting me to stay?" she laughed, seating herself on the soap-box once more.
They became very grave as he sat down on the ground at her feet, and, a silence threatening, she hastily filled it with a description of the yacht and Major Brent's guests. He listened, watching her intently. And after a while, having no more to say, she pretended to hear sounds resembling a distant yacht's whistle.
"It's the red-winged blackbirds in the reeds," he said. "Now will you let me say something--about the past?"
"It has buried itself," she said, under her breath.
"To-morrow is Easter," he went on, slowly. "Can there be no resurrection for dead days as there is for Easter flowers? Winter is over; Pasque Florida will dawn on a world of blossoms. May I speak, Kathleen?"
"It is I who should speak," she said. "I meant to. It is this: forgive me for all. I am sorry."
"I have nothing to forgive," he said. "I was a--a failure. I--I do not understand women."
"Nor I men. They are not what I understand. I don't mean the mob I've been bred to dance with--I understand them. But a real man--" she laughed, drearily--"I expected a god for a husband."
"I am sorry," he said; "I am horribly sorry. I have learned many things in four years. Kathleen, I--I don't know what to do."
"There is nothing to do, is there?"
"I am free."
"I am afraid you will need more freedom than you have, some day."
She looked him full in the eyes. "Do _you_ desire it?"
A faint sound fell upon the stillness of the forest; they listened; it came again from the distant sea.
"I think it is the yacht," she said.
They rose together; he took her paddle, and they walked down the jungle path to the landing. Her canoe and his spare boat lay there, floating close together.
"It will be an hour before a boat from the yacht reaches the wrecked launch," he said. "Will you wait in my boat?"
She bent her head and laid her hand in his, stepping lightly into the bow.
"Cast off and row me a little way," she said, leaning back in the stern. "Isn't this lagoon wonderful? See the color in water and sky. How green the forest is!--green as a young woodland in April. And the reeds are green and gold, and the west is all gold. Look at that great white bird--with wings like an angel's! What is that heavenly odor from the forest? Oh," she sighed, elbows on knees, "this is too delicious to be real!"
A moment later she began, irrelevantly: "Ethics! Ethics! who can teach them? One must know, and heed no teaching. All preconceived ideas may be wrong; I am quite sure I was wrong--sometimes."
And again irrelevantly, "I was horribly intolerant once."
"Once you asked me a question," he said. "We separated because I refused to answer you."
She closed her eyes and the color flooded her face.
"I shall never ask it again," she said.
But he went on: "I refused to reply. I was an ass; I had theories, too. They're gone, quite gone. I will answer you now, if you wish."
Her face burned. "No! No, don't--don't answer me; don't, I beg of you! I--I know now that even the gods--" She covered her face with her hands. The boat drifted rapidly on; it was flood-tide.
"Yes, even the gods," he said. "There is the answer. Now you know."
Overhead the sky grew pink; wedge after wedge of water-fowl swept through the calm evening air, and their aerial whimpering rush sounded faintly over the water.
She made no movement.
Far away a dull shock set the air vibrating. The _Dione_ was saluting her castaways. The swift Southern night, robed in rose and violet, already veiled the forest; and the darkling water deepened into purple.
He rose and crept forward to the stern where she was sitting. Her hands hung idly; her head was bent.
Into the purple dusk they drifted, he at her feet, close against her knees. Once she laid her hands on his shoulders, peering at him with wet eyes.
And, with his lips pressed to her imprisoned hands, she slipped down into the boat beside him, crouching there, her face against his.
So, under the Southern stars, they drifted home together. The _Dione_ fired guns and sent up rockets, which they neither heard nor saw; Major Brent toddled about the deck and his guests talked scandal; but what did they care!
Darrow, standing alone on the wrecked launch, stared at the stars and waited for the search-boat to return.
It was dawn when the truth broke upon Major Brent. It broke so suddenly that he fairly yelped as the _Dione_ poked her white beak seaward.
It was dawn, too, when a pigeon-toed Seminole Indian stood upon the veranda of a house which was covered with blossoms of Pasque Florida.
Silently he stood, inspecting the closed door; then warily stooped and picked up something lying on the veranda at his feet. It was a gold comb.
"Heap squaw," he said, deliberately. "Tiger will go."
But he never did.
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