A Castaway of the South
A CASTAWAY OF THE SOUTH.
By GILBERT PARKER.
GUSTAVE FLAVELLE had a strong sense of humour. That was why his imprisonment in New Caledonia for political crimes, in company with his friend and compatriot Henri Rochefort, had been relieved of some of its deadly ennui and despair. It was how he managed to make friends among the libérés and récidivistes, as among the officers and gendarmes. It was why the corner of the island set apart for political prisoners, behind an ominous escarpment of sea and bayonets, was less dreary for all than it otherwise would have been; why Junie Cavour or La Grive the Cricket, as she was called, the sometime keeper of the secrets of Monsieur le Commandant, laughed in his face at an inspection one day, patted him on the shoulder and called him un beau garçon; why, perhaps, as a sequence, she came again under the very noses of the guards—for did she not always bear the Commandant's permission to go where she listed?—and said to him gaily and meaningly that the cage of the starling was not built for the eagle. It was why on the motionless, tropic sea, with but a cupful of water left for her, and no food at all for either, bereft of sail and helpless of arm, he had heart enough to say in a cheery, if thirstily arid voice: "Ah, Junie, ma chérie, you shall see! There will be land or a ship to-morrow, or the next day, truly!"
Junie Cavour sitting still and nerveless in the stern, only raised her head with a smiling languor, and waved her hand to her companion with an assent which was half protest, and said nothing. He continued: "Ma foi, what a mother France is! To-day she is the lover of those whom princes cherish; to-morrow she cherishes those who hate princes. It is a strange nation. Yesterday Paris said: 'Voilà! The pen of Gustave Flavelle; it is good': Now with droll distress she cries, 'Gustave Flavelle—ah, most execrable!' Well, it is no matter ... I am free; that is much. Why am I free? Because Junie Cavour made one, two, three, many, guards, so blind!—and put out to sea with me on the night of the great banquet at the Hôtel du Gouverneur. Why was La Grive so minded to suffer the perils of the ocean, this thirst, this hunger, the sweating sun of the hurricane season, the malarial moon that pinches the face and leaves it glassy and cold, and the trembling chance of reaching land across these thousand leagues of misery, with Gustave Flavelle, the outlaw of France? Eh, bien, that is a question which Gustave Flavelle cannot answer. He is only so grateful! He kisses his hand—there! to Junie Cavour, and says, Mon sauveur!"
La Grive, pale of lip and weary of eye, but striking, and pathetically handsome still, moved her fingers slowly over the waves of her tawny hair, and with a wistfully playful motion of the head, replied: "You wish to know, mon ami? Well, for one thing, because that was misery there for me too. Monsieur le Commandant—you think? Faugh! I had him, so, around my finger. I was a power; the greatest in New Caledonia. I thought power would bring happiness. Ah, ah, that was amusing! Monsieur le Commandant was devoted—and jealous. He thought me wise in counsel, he applauded me when his foolish officers were stricken in their vanity—by me. But everything palled. I loved nothing of it. I hated them all, except the gendarmes and the prisoners. For one political prisoner I had much regret—much. He was gay and yet wise. He had been wise and yet gay. Years before I had laughed when he was folâtre, and cried when he was triste—in his books. That was when...." . She paused; her lustrous eyes fixed abstractedly on the sickly horizon before her. There was silence for many moments. Gustave Flavelle, with his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands, watched her. At last he said: "Yes, La Grive, that was—when—when?"
She slowly looked towards him, and replied: "When I was not La Grive. When I was young; when I was an exile in England— it seemed like that to me; when I earned my living by teaching good English girls what not to read in French.... Ah, how like farce it is!... But they were sweet and noble and I was good then too.... I taught them to read Gustave Flavelle. I wished some day that I might come to know him face to face, the young novelist: And I have.... So you see!"
She leaned back with a fluttering suspiration of breath and relapsed into silence. He shaded his eyes with his hand and scanned the circle of the horizon mechanically; then he turned and said: "What changed all that, Junie?"
Her hands suddenly clenched, her large eyes glowed until the dark rims of suffering round them were one with their dusky radiance. "Ah," she said, "you have discernment—well!... You have seen the fountains at Versailles in the sun—I was like that; the roses in the Bois de Boulogne on a fête day—that; the song of the birds in the Jardin des Plantes—that; the golden stars that dance in June—all that.... Well, what? But that is my story. You see the sky there, like a yellow shower of mist in plague time, and the red billows of the evil sun that roll through it?—well, that is the background and the foreground of my life. But in New Caledonia they thought I was always gay because I laughed in their faces.... Bah!... Do you know, mon ami, what it is to have a hot iron-band pressing in and in upon the heart, until there is no heart left at all; only a nameless ache; a cold emptiness? No, you do not; except as the poet. Ah, Gustave Flavelle, to think that I speak so to you; and here!... It is perhaps, because, we are near to death? Ah! Yes. So. See to the north, nothing but hateful sea and murrain sky; the drip of equatorial poison, the sieve of fever. To the south, the east, the west, the same. Bien, mon Gustave, would you not drink to death if we each had one glass of wine?"
He had drawn near to her. At her feet he looked up, a suffusing kindness overcoming the pale endurance of his face; and said: "Junie, I did not know you. I was gay but not wise, I only saw the flash of light, not the sun itself."
"So, Gustave, so. Because at first I sang to them; because I danced for them all—convicts, soldiers, prisoners, governor—they called me La Grive. But do you know what my father called me when I was a little child? It was L'Alouette; because he said I would soar, and sing, and!... Mais, that was long ago and—and, mon ami, I am, as you see, foolish—quite."
Strength had suddenly gone out of her; the rapt passion from her face, the tension from her fingers.
"Poor Junie, poor La Grive!" the other said, and he took her listless hand tenderly: "When we get to the land, ma chérie, you shall have the one reward that the outlaw can give; on my soul!"
Her eyes swarmed with flying thoughts for an instant, and then the joy of them faded again, and she said very softly:
"What would you do, Gustave, what would you do for La Grive?"
A swift struggle appeared in his eyes and then he was about to reply with faintly smiling lips; but she touched his sunken cheek with her forefinger and whispered:
"Gustave, mon enfant, I know the thought that fought with another in you for a moment; what sacrifice for you it told. I used to sing a song, ah so lightly, at the Café Papillon! What you would do is in it:—
"God bless all maidens fair, but most
The jailor's daughter gay;
She who in youth's sweet pity
Struck all my bonds away;
And should I e'er return to Nantes,
I'll wed her yea or nay:
Gai faluron falurette!
I'll wed her yea or nay—
Gai faluron dondié"
"Gustave, mon brave! you would do that. Just for the moment that thought came to you. It was noble. But I know. There is one in France, young, beautiful and good—you see I was Monsieur le Commandant's censor there!—You will marry her some day. But that this thing was in your mind for me, for La Grive—it is great; it is like Christ.... Ah, but so for me to crown the headlands of your life with the wrecker's fire—No, that is not Junie Cavour.... But, I am so thirsty! My throat my tongue are fire, altogether!"
Gustave Flavelle took the water-bag, nearly empty now, and with compassionate words poured out a few teaspoonfuls of water in a cup, and handed it to her. She seized it greedily and put it to her lips, but at the moment paused, and looked at her companion, whose eyes were on the cup with an involuntary covetousness of thirst. Yet even then he was smiling that she should have the water. "No, no," she said, "I will not, unless you also drink, mon enfant, I will die first. We must be the same in this, you and I; not man and woman, but soldier and soldier. You know I fought at Voulari. I was wounded. You can see, if you roll up this sleeve, the spear thrust of a native. Well, if you do not drink, neither shall I.... Ah, but you must," she continued with playful pathos: "La Grive always is obeyed." The words were said very slowly, for her throat was painfully dry. Without a word Gustave poured out a mere drop of water in a cup and raised it with such a courtesy as one might use at an emperor's banquet: "To the hour when we kiss the shore of Australia," he said: "To that hour with you, Junie!"
They smiled; but that smile was so charged with destiny that a great artist would have immortalized himself to have painted it and them as they drank. They smiled! Others so stricken, so compassed about with peril, might become mere animals athirst and ahunger, mere unkempt haggard beings broken on the wheel of disaster: not so they. Their tragedy had comedy too; their pallor, a smile; their desolation, a relieving light of inner and airy stoicism: both throwing back with sportive fingers the cowl from the head of Death.... La Grive in her great exhaustion sleeps.
There is no wind to fill a sail if they had one. In the dank stillness Gustave Flavelle attempts once more to row, first covering La Grive's face with her cloak to protect her from the maddening tropic moon; but his oars only feebly catch the phosphorescent sea; the water, like molten silver, drops heavily from them. At last with laborious breath he lays the oars aside and says: "No, Gustave Flavelle; it is no use. It is all the luck of God now: a wind with a ship, or death."
That night, another day, another night and another morning comes; and still they are derelict and alone. No not alone. The sea is peopled with phantoms that beckon them downward to the noisome depths. The last drop of water is long gone. Their dim eyes stare out of piteous caverns. La Grive is only just alive; her companion kneels beside her, his eyes still scanning the horizon for a sail or steamship: she talks of flowing brooks and flowers and birds; of dancing at the Café Papillon, of the fight at Voulari. Once she said with slow scornful smile: "No, Monsieur le Commandant, no, mon ami. It cannot be, I will laugh with you, sing with you, drink with you, rule your country—but never that!... chut, you do not know La Grive. We are good comrades: you need me in the Government. Tss! That is enough—quite." Then after a long pause, in which hot tears hung on her lashes, she whispered to Gustave Flavelle, with no knowledge of who he was in her eyes: "Hush, Monsieur le Commandant, I will tell you something. You know Gustave Flavelle, the patriot prisoner?—There, that is different—where one loves." Her companion looked at her with consummate pity and tenderness, and he murmured brokenly: "The poor Junie. Is it so, ma chérie?" Well it is good to know as one dies that some one cares. His head sank down beside hers in a partial swoon. How long he lay there he could not tell. He was brought to consciousness by feeling a cool breath of air blow over him. He staggered to his feet. There was a wind, and, O God be thanked! there was a vessel on the horizon with wide-stretched sails. He seized La Grive's arm and cried: "Junie, Junie, a sail, a sail!" It came nearer, nearer. Yes they must have been seen. But the long minutes pass and the black pirate-looking craft does not pause, does not turn from its course.... It passes them. In vain Gustave Flavelle waves his signal feebly. In vain!" Compassionate God!" he said, "they pass us by!" Even so. The forms that crowd the bows of the swart ship grew fainter, fainter. Junie Cavour falls on her knees. "Merciful Jesu," she said, "wilt Thou not save Gustave Flavelle, the patriot, and the pitiful La Grive? One cannot die, so. Ah, mother of God!"
But the swift vessel sailed sardonically on. Was such a thing ever heard of before? That awful hospitality of the sea, which levels to one common and heart-grappling degree, the mighty merchantman or steel-clad cruiser with the humblest fishing-smack—to be so belied and renounced here! Could anything be more inhuman?
That was what Tom Stormont gentleman-digger fr6m one of the islands of the New Hebrides, who had by merest accident secured a passage on this doubtful boat, asked of the swarthy-faced captain and the detestable mate of the Swallow; and asked it with such determination in his look that any one could have seen him to be a man of mickle might of will. "Great Heavens," he said "you're not going to leave that derelict to its fate?"
"I stop for nothing or nobody," was the ruffianly reply. "I had my orders to do one thing, and one thing I'm going to do. I've enough on hand, to look after these niggers, without turning the Swallow into a life-boat and hospital."
Tom Stormont set his teeth grimly. He looked to where the kidnapped natives were jabbering and making excited protest towards the derelict; he scanned the possibilities for compassion in the sulky mate's face; he glanced towards three seamen who had drawn near and were sullenly regarding their chief. He made up his mind instantly what to do. "Captain Gaskell," he said, in a voice ringing with power. "You must stop and pick up those castaways. You're a 'black-birder,' a buccaneer of human flesh and blood"—he pointed towards the natives—"but, so help me God, I don't believe any other pirate that ever lived would do so scurvy a trick as this. Stop the craft, I say!"
Two armed men who acted as guards over the natives, at a respectful distance, stood still in expectation; the natives crowded upon the barriers which kept them from the after part of the ship; the sailors' eyes were on Tom Stormont: He recognized the fellow-feeling in them. Captain Gaskell's mouth opened and shut with a mumbling sound, like that of a hound when it snatches at the unbroken flesh of the fox which it has quarried, and his yellow teeth showed savagely behind his red beard. With a roll of curses he said to the sailors: "Carry him below and put him in irons."
For this Tom Stormont was prepared. The sailors stood still. He knew they would. He suddenly presented a revolver at the captain's head. "If they stir, you are a dead man," he said. "Give the order to bring the Swallow round, and send a boat to pick up those castaways."
A murmur of approbation came from the sailors. The captain looked at the mate, who stood surlily neutral, and then, pale to his foaming lips, gave the order. The sailors obeyed with alacrity. But while one movement of a tragedy was drawing to a close, by the rescue of Gustave Flavelle and Junie Cavour, another was beginning. Through the strange pantomime that had just been enacted, the natives were growing to a knowledge of what kind of demon had brought them away from their island homes. The spirit of rebellion and revenge was born in their black bosoms, even before the castaways were brought on board, and their hands clasped by those of Tom Stormont who, not to speak it profanely, was henceforth to be to the patriot, and, La Grive, like Him who came out of Edom, mighty to save.
For Tom Stormont the situation was fraught with danger of a kind. But his safety lay in the fact that the sailors were friendly to him. Captain Gaskell had only the vagabond mate, with him in his ugly venom, and even this compatriotship of evil was in peril, through his having been too free in his curses regarding the lack of support at the time of the rescue. The loyalty of a drinking villain is ever an uncertain quantity. So the captain considered it wiser not to let loose a fury that might turn and rend him. Besides, he was fully aware that the half-starved natives, poisoned now by the belief that they were being taken to an evil doom, were seething to revolt. He had been too long on the way from the New Hebrides, the Swallow had been becalmed for days, and provisions were now nearly exhausted. A half-dozen well-armed men might keep a hundred unarmed natives at bay, but Captain Gaskell had awakened to the unpleasant knowledge that half at least of these hundred had knives or native weapons, in the shape of spear-points. He watched them closely; as closely as he watched Tom Stormont, who in his turn was vigilant. With this wind for two days more, these half-fed natives and their suggestive demonstrations would be inside the Great Barrier Reef and on the coast of Australia. But those two days!
Already Tom Stormont and Gustave Flavelle were friends. The Englishman in past days had known well of the literary and political work of the other, and the armour of companionship was soon welded. Tom Stormont asked no questions concerning Junie Cavour. He knew simply that it was through her the Frenchman had escaped. On the evening of the third day after the rescue he said, however, in the course of a long talk: "I was in Noumea for a day a couple of years ago. They talked much then of a woman called La Grive, who appeared to carry the colony in the palm of her hand. Governor and all."
His astonishment was pronounced when the other, emphasising his remark with puffs of cigarette smoke, coolly nodded towards the spot where Junie Cavour was making a picture of dramatic suggestiveness as she movelessly watched the sinking sun, and replied, "She is La Grive."
"She, Monsieur Flavelle! She, La Grive! You astound me. Why——" He paused; for at that instant he heard the loud snarl of voices behind them, and turning, he saw the mate staggering across the deck with drunken gesture. Behind him was the captain. A name was bandied between the two with menace on the one hand, with growls of profane defiance on the other. Yet why should that name bring Tom Stormont swiftly to his feet? Why should it cause Junie Cavour to turn sharply and amazedly round? Why should it send the mate with frenzied gesticulation down the hatchway?
In an instant, Tom Stormont, with grim, inquiring face, was by the captain's side. "To whom are these natives consigned? In other words, whose boat is this, and who pays you for stealing these islanders?" he asked.
Captain Gaskell looked Tom Stormont up and down with an ineffective attempt to be overwhelming and gruffly said: "So you'd like to know the name of the J. P. that's going to put you behind the bars for mutiny, eh? You're hankering to know who owns these niggers, and this Swallow, and the biggest sugar-plantation, and a third of one of the fattest gold-mines in Queensland? Well then take Rothsay Hecklar in your throat and see how you like it;" and the ruffian walked aft.
Tom Stormont said that name over and over to himself with his hands thrust deep down in his pockets. His lips were curled in contempt; there was the fret of battle in his eyes. The sound of some one breathing hard caused him at last to look up, and he saw La Grive standing before him, her face radiating suppressed excitement, and a wan smile of discovery on her lips. Their eyes were set to one long penetrative look, and then a triumphant glance of knowledge impelled the woman close to the Englishman. She scanned his face closely, and with a shuddering sigh she said: "Ah, monsieur, it is so strange! I had not remembered you until now: And yet your face has haunted me ever since you rescued us. Since you rescued us, monsieur—that is so strange too. You, Rothsay Hecklar's enemy! You do not remember me. No! You never knew me. But that night you arrived from America, I saw you near his house in London when they came out together, he and she—Rothsay Hecklar and Madeline Boyer his wife".... She threw her head back as does a deer when it faces its pursuers, and her teeth closed with suggestion of animal malison. Tom Stormont dazedly regarded her as she continued: "You watched them drive away. You were stunned, bewildered. In crossing the street a hansom knocked you down. From your pocket a letter fell—a letter to him, I picked it up and—kept it. And then they came and carried you away. I tried to follow but I was weak and ill and could not And then, do you know what they did with me? They arrested me in the streets. They said that I had too much wine—oh how they lied, the English beasts! They could not tell when a woman's brain is turned and her heart is broken.... I was in the hospital for a long time.... The years have passed and so I am here and you are here, Monsieur Tom Stormont!"
Gustave Flavelle had withdrawn from them at La Grive's first words. These were confidences which he felt he had no right to share. Tom Stormont said with a deprecating gesture: "I believed in him. We were friends."
"Yes, yes I know. You went away to California together, after gold. You found it at last—much. But then you were taken ill of fever at a lonely spot in the Sierras. He abandoned you and carried the money with him. Some Indians found you and you recovered, after a long time. You came back to England to find him rich of course and—though it was not of course—married to the girl who had promised to be your wife, the good Madeline Boyer.... He had made her to believe that he had nursed you till you died—he was sure you had died!—and she without love married her lover's friend. Ah! So, the poor lady!... Tell me, monsieur, does he or she know that you live?"
"No, I would not wreck her life; and I spared him too and came to the South Seas."
"But now, but now, monsieur! What will you do? You are poor—eh, is it not so?"
"Yes I am poor."
"Well he has money: it is yours. His wife is yours: he stole both from you—and he killed you. Yes, he killed your life—I know."... She touched his breast with her forefinger gently.
Tom Stormont looked at her half-wonderingly, half-pityingly, for he felt that she had some tale of ill on her own behalf to unfold. "And you," he said, "what do you expect from this? Wherein lies your wrong, La Grive?"
"Ah you know they call me that!... Wherein lies my wrong, monsieur?" She shook her head back with a laugh, but her eyes were afire. She leaned for a moment against a mast wearily: then she continued: "He lied to me at the first so grossly!—but that is no matter now. I was alone; I loved him then. That was something was it not, to be loved with a first love, altogether?... I was foolish and young. I liked power and money—many things. I was ambitious.... He did not keep his word.... I did not care so much of the wrong—the world was bright and he was kind—until my child was born.... Ah, monsieur, it was so sweet. I could have died of that happiness. But then rose the thought of the days to come. All at once, I waked to the great aching misery. I saw its life—a girl—nameless! I hardened my heart. I told him that he must be true for the baby's sake, the little Faustine.... Mais! I learned then how cruel a man can be. I saw that he hated the pretty flower of my life. One night I was taken suddenly ill and nearly died... I think sometimes that was poison. He would know.... When I became conscious and the danger was passed, he told me that the child was dead, that I had accidentally smothered it—oh what a devil was in him!... I knew that if I were mad as a thousand devils like his, I could not hurt Faustine.... Well at last I suspected another wrong to me, and on that night when you discovered him I discovered also the wrong.... I had not known that he had married, until then.... When I recovered they had left England. One day a message came to me from a dying woman. I went to see her: it was a maid who was in the house when Faustine was killed—yes, killed by Rothsay Hecklar, her father—ah! Mon Dieu! The woman came back one swift instant from death to tell me that much; but only that much!... And so you see!"
Tom Stormont did not immediately reply. Something very like a sob was choking him; her story had been told with such searching pathos. She saw this and with a tremulous motion of the hand towards him said: "I have told you all so, because I believe this meeting is of Heaven—for one of us; which one?—ah! Monsieur Stormont, you are a good man; you are brave too. You are like Gustave, great—in a different way. Bien! you know now all of La Grive.... Regardez: you will be silent over there?" She pointed in the direction of that sky-line beyond which Australia lay: "Silent until the time has come: and then you and I will speak of this once again."
Tom Stormont slowly replied: "You have told me your history. Well I am sorry. It only makes me hate him the more. But we will not speak of this again, Mademoiselle—if you please."
But Junie Cavour saw before her a vista of fateful event. There should appear a new heaven and a new earth for at least two of the children of men. But in that new heaven and new earth she knew she would have no part or lot. She only smiled at that prescient thought and said to her companion: "Yes monsieur, we will speak of it just once again, and then, not at all. I have told you so much, I will tell you more. It is best so. You will understand. Gustave Flavelle, the patriot, there—well he is noble. He would sacrifice himself for me; that is the poet in him. He shall not, monsieur, but it is beautiful to think of for a moment; it is Heaven—quite.... Pardon! Pardon! that I speak so much, but.... Ah what is that?" she added sharply.
From the native quarter there came muttering sounds like the growls of wild beasts. Tom Stormont had been so long among the Polynesians that he caught instantly at a sense of danger. He ran forward. Among the natives was the mate blinded with drink. He was pouring out liquor from a bucket and handing it to the islanders. The stalwart digger sprang over among them, seized the bucket and hurled it into the sea. Then he endeavoured to push the mate aft. But the wretch was mad with drink; and bloodthirsty. He turned to the savages, and in a few words of their own language, raised them to murderous frenzy like his own. Tom Stormont retreated swiftly aft, calling for the guard to stand steady—which they did not do—and to the captain and sailors to arm. La Grive, he drew swiftly back. To the captain, Tom Stormont said: "Don't fire yet. Let me do what I can first."
Six rifles were levelled. The natives in their onward movement paused. Even six death-dealing weapons are awkward for a hundred men to face at the start. The savages suddenly changed their plan of action. They pushed the mate before them and held their knives over him menacingly. This instantly sobered him. Sane now, he grew lividly still with fear. "More drink, more food!" the blacks shouted. It was at this moment that Tom Stormont, notwithstanding the captain's cursing determination to fire, stepped between the natives and the rifles, coolly drew his tobacco pouch from his pocket, and quickly yet not hurriedly filled his pipe, walking steadily towards the foremost Polynesian, and looking him in the eye unconcernedly as he did so. He knew the calibre of this race; harmless enough when not roused; fiendish when the lust of fighting was on them. His easy intrepidity dazed them for a moment. He spoke to them words of good-fellowship, and the sentiments were given interesting emphasis: he held the now lighted pipe to the mouth of this foremost native. There was an instant's sullen gravity, then the mouth slowly opened and the pipe-stem went in. This done, he took some cigarette papers from his pocket, rapidly rolled one and handed it to another native motioning him to light it at the fiery pipe. Others quickly followed, and as the natives received the gifts they put their weapons in their lava-lavas or laid them aside. A spell was on them. In this brief strangely-won truce, the mate began to creep away. Tom Stormont saw the danger and in a low tone commanded him to be still for a little longer. But the fellow was in terror of his life and only quickened his movements. There were ominous sounds from some of the yet unbribed natives, and an upraised knife showed that a critical moment had arrived. But just at the supreme apex of doubt, and when Tom Stormont felt that lives were hanging by a gossamer thread, one of the natives called to the others with a wide-eyed chuckle. "See! see!" he said.
There on the deck between the natives and the rifles was La Grive! She had instantly seen the danger as the intrepidity, of Tom Stormont's scheme, to save the mate. It flashed through her mind at the same time, how once in the forest of New Caledonia, before the fight at Voulari, she had saved her own life as well as that of the Commandant and his aide-de-camp by her dancing—dancing that had turned the heads of London one year: how the natives had been so overcome that they made her a chieftess by rubbing her arm, lanced with a spear-point, against the bleeding shoulder of a great chief.
And now she was dancing on the deck of the Swallow!
"Put up your rifles, gentlemen-executioners," said Tom Stormont to himself, as he pushed the mate aft with his boot: "There will be no bloodshed to-day."
To dance well is as great an achievement in the eyes of a Polynesian, as to be dexterous in the accumulation of gory heads in battle.
From the first instant La Grive caught and held the gaping attention of the natives. There was something diabolically beautiful in the dramatic intensity of this dancing. It was not only sensuous grace; not mere bending and swaying; but splendid poetic strength, magnificent nervous meaning, superb aplomb; the daring rhapsody of a glorious Mænad. There in the tropic sunset, on a suddenly becalmed sea, with the sails idly flapping for an accompaniment, she danced hatred, and evil, and blood-thirstiness away. Now it was the tense pose of one who would defy the stars in their courses, now the faint roll of musketry from her vivid feet. The movements of armies was in the lissome breadth of her fine gesture; the gayest, weirdest fantasies of a master-musician were in the enchanting rhythm of her swaying body; the rapt exultation of one who was drunken with pure oxygen was in her impassioned face. A black wandering sea-bird circled overhead, and brown humanity crouched conquered before her. The captain's yellow teeth were clenched to one unmoving grin of fascination. An ecstasy possessed her. She swung, she whirled, she panted with beaming life; she laughed. Swifter, swifter!—More and more intoxicating!—But let us leave her there triumphing!
The Swallow sailed into a natural and unfrequented harbour of the Queensland coast in the friendly gloom of a cloudy evening, and her passengers and dusky freight were safely landed. Tom Stormont and La Grive were prepared, if not willing, to see Rothsay Hecklar, the planter and slaver there; but only his agent was present. To-night the natives were to be housed in some rude huts, and to-morrow started on their march across the hills to "Lebanon," the plantation, where Madeline Hecklare, once Madeline Boyer, ruled her household in a stately, neutral way, uninterpreted of those about her, unreadable even to her husband; strangely changed from the warm-faced, frank-thoughted girl who had bade Tom Stormont God-speed in his quest for gold, years ago. A shadow was in her life; her gift of wise, yet not oppressive, reticence, was the chief outlined evidence of it. The only other apparent testimony was the sleepless eyes that watched the misty moon wheel away behind the hills, and the Southern Cross fade into the morning; and the slow lips that murmured hidden thoughts to the waves of a coral sea: but these things were not seen by any eye save God's. She distrusted her husband. She knew some evil had been done her, but she could not surely define it, and she had naught by which to accuse. She also had come to know that his character was unworthy; and that there was some dark thing in his life. But what?
Once he had dared to tax her with cherishing a memory that was not in keeping with her wifely duty; but he was met by such a vehemence of suggestive and icy scorn, that he never repeated his offence. He had bought a hoped-for happiness at a tremendous cost. Fate held a lien on his existence. Foreclosure must occur. It was peculiar that he felt no shiver of warning pass through him at the moment when Gustaw Flavelle appeared in his doorway, delivering a note of introduction that the agent, at the harbour, of the Swallow had given him. On the advice of La Grive, the Frenchman had told the agent just who he was—no criminal, no convict, no enemy of the morality of the Anglo-Saxon dispensation, but a gentleman of France, companion of Henri Rochefort and Félix Rastoul, sent hugger-mugger out of his native country to rot in a savage island of the South. At Lebanon he could wait, she said, until money came; until through the aid of sympathizers in Sydney, he could sail again for Europe. She was sure that Rothsay Hecklar would be flattered by the association; besides, she insisted, it suited her that Gustave Flavelle should find his home for a time at Lebanon. And since Gustave Flavelle had views in his chivalric heart regarding La Grive, which as yet he did not make definitely clear to her, he consented to seek a position of Rothsay Hecklar. It was as she said. The planter, slave-dealer, murderer as he was, had sensibilities of a pleasing kind, like many another of his class. He was far from averse to having in his employ, as under-manager, the famous French novelist and politician.
Gustave Flavelle did not hide from the planter the fact that he owed his escape to a woman whom he had left in a hut in the hills near the Hebron Falls, and to whom he was attached by all the ties of gratitude and—affection. This again was on the advice of La Grive. The Frenchman told the story airily. To the planter it seemed like a page out of Balzac: and he inwardly determined to see to some purpose the rescuer of this newly-made under-manager.
"You see, monsieur," said Gustave Flavelle, finishing his tale, "it is quite amusing, but ah, monsieur," and he shook his finger in mock reproof, "I am afraid you will have to change the command of the Swallow if you desire to preserve its stainless reputation: I have much fear that the invitations to travel, which its Captain issues to the natives of the Islands, are not of the kind encouraged by Government—so, truly!.... Oh, pardon me, monsieur, champagne?... Is it not unwise—ah you laugh so at what I say of the Swallow!—Is it not unwise, that you give your employé champagne?... Bien! if you insist then. So I drink.... Eh, what is that, monsieur—To my charming and intrepid companion and rescuer!... Ah, Monsieur Hecklar, you honour me much.... De grace, a moment. I desire to add to your toast: To the auspicious moment when monsieur has the honour of meeting mademoiselle! She is a great woman, monsieur, you will see that—quite. Love, wisdom, comedy, tragedy—it is all in her: the full ellipse of life; the perihelion of all the planets of joy and suffering. Monsieur, once again: To the hour when you have the honour to meet La Grive!"
The Frenchman laughed, eyes and mouth, as he stood in the shade of the verandah, and Rothsay Hecklar did not see the boding something behind the laugh; but Madeline, the wife, at that moment glancing from the window, did. She caught the ring of sharp scorn; the fine rapier point of hate touched the nerves of her heart; and she withdrew to wonder what part this man was to play or had played in her husband's life. The time came when the impression faded, but it had its resurrection duly.
And so it was that Gustave Flavelle began a brief career at Lebanon. He superintended the pacific breaking-in of the natives who had made life momentarily exciting on the Swallow: He also made Rothsay Hecklar delicately and covertly to understand that a compact of silence was safest for both, since if one was a refugee from the Government of France, the other was open to the practices of the law in Australia, through kidnapping natives. And Captain Gaskell did not, for obvious reasons, have Tom Stormont arrested as he had threatened. Tom Stormont on the contrary secured employment as Assistant District Engineer on a railway that was being built across the hills, and along the precipitous sides of the Hebron Gorge. Junie Cavour, as Gustave Flavelle said, had found a humble home in a mountain hut. She lives a life of mingled joy and tragic apathy. There is a smother at her heart, despite the gay words that rise to her lips whenever Gustave Flavelle comes to see her, bringing as he often does, Tom Stormont.
Altogether there was something about her beautifully sardonic; something so splendidly irregular, so vivid, so mentally certain, so lightning-like in the sweep of the elements of her nature. Life in her was concentrated along the narrow clefts of impossible mountains; on the copings of dizzy cliffs. Hers was the sure foot of the chamois, the daring heart of the wapiti, the reckless glory of the cassowary as it sweeps down the rattling side of a canyon. She stood on precipitous peaks of life as calmly secure for the moment, as indomitably nerved, as when she rode the horse of Assistant-Engineer Tom Stormont along a pathway of Red Bluff where never horse had trod before; betwixt a river-chasm on one side and a great excavation for a bridge on the other. A partridge whirring in the trees, a snake starting from the wild-pumpkin vines, a rolling and obtrusive stone, a nervous horse—and both woman and animal would be no more. What feared she? She was forcing the elements of life into one swift pulsation, one brief scene of activity. How else had she sat before a nest of death-adders at the Cave of Cries in Hebron Gorge and painted them as they writhed? How else seized one by the neck and held it, as with her brush she sought the colours of its breast?
There was something almost grotesquely fateful in the train of coincidences which had converged here from wide points in the Compass of the World; and many a time Tom Stormont thought upon them. There was to him a gloomy fascination in being near his Lost Paradise, his hand almost upon the traitor who had left him shipwreck with the wild sea booming down the hatchways of his life; and who might now after all these years, at any moment stand before him. He never could rid himself of the thought of that retribution which La Grive had faintly prophesied, however it was to come!—for might not harm come to her—to the only woman he had ever loved? He longed for one look at Madeline, one sight of her in her home. He permitted Gustave Flavelle to tell him but little, though the Frenchman lacked not a willing and sympathetic listener in Junie Cavour. At last on a day in which he knew through Gustave Flavelle that Rothsay Hecklar would not be at home he went to Lebanon. He came upon Madeline the wife, seated by the riverside. She did not see or hear him. He was hidden in the pines a few paces from her. With tears in her voice she was reading aloud that rare and beautiful tale in verse, Convict Once, She stopped many times and looked round as though something in her presence troubled her. At last she took a piece of paper and wrote on it swiftly, freely. She then copied what she had written and laid the first slip on the rough seat beside her. After a moment's thought she rose and began to walk slowly away. Tom Stormont stole quietly out, picked up the paper she had left, and returned to his hiding-place just in time, for she came back to get the paper. When she saw that it was gone, she looked round timidly and her hand pressed her heart. With fear in her sad eyes she disappeared among the trees. She did not see a strong man lean his head against a tree with a sob rattling in his throat. This is what he had read:—
"If thou art dead I pray thee come not near me.
For living, I, the parting word have said;
If thou canst hear, O noblest spirit, hear me!
Touch not my presence now, if thou art dead.
"I would be strong, be faithful, and enduring;
Fret at no chain, accuse not, nor despair;
Strain at no hope, bend to no light alluring;
Nor memory cherish, for that thou art there.
"If thou art dead, have pity; see, I tremble!
I dare not love thee, Love, so sore bestead;
I would be true, though he, though all, dissemble—
Why wakens so my heart, if thou art dead?"
These words were in Tom Stormont's mind the next day when he stood in the office doorway of the Sunburst gold-mine at the entrance to Hebron Gorge, waiting for the manager, whom he had sought on business. Two men were emerging from a shaft before him. Suddenly there was a sharp cry from one of them. They had forgotten that Rothsay Hecklar, one of the directors, was below inspecting a new lead—and the fuse for the blasting had been lighted! The name of Rothsay Hecklar rankled through the summer air to Tom Stormont as he ran towards the shaft. He understood on the instant. The men dared not venture to save the imperilled man. Tom Stormont swiftly stepped into the cage and gave orders to lower away. In spite of protestations on the part of the miners the cage was lowered and it disappeared: while faces above waited in dreadful suspense for an explosion—which never came! At length there was the signal to haul up, and soon Tom Stormont and Rothsay Hecklar appeared above the surface, the one calm and austere, and holding in his hand an inch of fuse—the one inch that had been between the planter and his doom; the other, downcast, and with a look of sullen shame in his eyes. Without a word they parted. What was said, what was done, at that meeting in the grim solitude of the tunneled earth, with death quivering from its impotent attack at the feet of these two men, one the wronged the rescuer, the other the wronger and the rescued, lies hidden in their own hearts and in the silences which are not of earth.
The evening of that day La Grive had a notable interview with Gustave Flavelle, who had ridden up from the plantation. She told him that several times Rothsay Hecklar had tried to see her—of course without knowledge of her identity: that she had avoided him, but that she had determined to see him now. Gustave Flavelle with a sudden premonition of evil, tried to dissuade her from her purpose, and proposed that they should leave for the south, now that money from his sympathisers had come, to seek some quiet spot where they could live their lives free from turmoil, and spend their days in security, untouched by the arrows of persecution, unvexed by the passion of revenge: "Junie, ma chérie," he said, "is it worth while now—your hatred? You have me. Would you kill him? Is that it?"
She was silent for a moment and then she said: "Gustave, it is my whim.... But you need not fear. I will not kill him as you think, not as you think. That would not be pleasant for you in memory, mon ami. To kill him would part us; it would be good for you, but the thought of a stab or a bullet-wound would be vulgar quite.... Mais, my Gustave, I wish to say something to you. I know that you should go to Europe—into the great world. I know that there is some one who waits for you, and mourns that you come not. Bien, you will not go. Why? Because you are so good. You think of La Grive. You cannot go and take her with you. You will not desert her.... Ah! Ah! Gustave do not kiss me so. Your arm is so strong.... Hush. You must not say that. You must be true to yourself, to France. Chut! You must forget Junie. I followed you because I was tired of that life there. Well I am here. We are good friends. Is not that enough? We will part so—soon."
He interrupted her: "No, no, Junie Cavour, I know your wish. You risked your life for me! All for me—" a smile was set in a fine firmness on his face—"and I swear to you that I will not leave you. But you shall go with me not as Junie Cavour, but as Junie F——" She put her fingers with tremulous solemnity on his lips, interrupting the word: "Mon Dieu! Hush!" she said, "but you shall not, my Gustave."
Her eyes were moist. She suddenly shook back her hair from her brow, drew away from him quickly, slightly lifted her skirts with a smile as pathetic as fascinating, and, as if she were on the stage, executed a few boldly graceful steps before him. "You see, mon enfant, what I am," she said: "only La Grive, the dancer; known to the world as the friend of Monsieur le Commandant of New Caledonia.... With you to be blessed by priest before the world—No! No!" Once again she swept away in a dramatic impulse of the dance, then suddenly paused, ran over to him, dropped on her knees at his side and said softly: "Gustave, mon ami, yes, you must leave me, for ever.... But to-night, just to-night, I will think that there is no past and no future; only the present in which is the thing that is good."
He stroked her hair gently and thought of how God-like a power in this woman had been turned awry; of what she might have been, if years before, when she was wholly unsoiled of the world, she had come into his life.
After a long silence, she said: "Gustave, to live life all round is given only to the few; it is they who understand for the race, by whose experiences the world is made wise—That is what you wrote in a tale years ago... Voilà! I have had it all: all, Gustave! of this and of that; the song of the bird and the venom of the serpent; the dew on the rose and the hot lead sputtering on the heart; the iron heel of wrong, the hand upon the mainspring of power, the fingers touching the lever of revenge and——" She paused.
"And what, Junie?"
"And at last, chivalry and—love. Is it not enough?"....
Outside, a tropic storm was sweeping down the gorge with the splendour of an avalanche. To-morrow, the river fed by many streams, would with majestic force stride to the Hebron Falls, and leap down a thousand feet to the wild rapids below. But this night Junie Cavour lived in a sunshine which had nothing to do with the wide happenings of the universe.
All that she did was carefully done. She was resting now before the last great scene. The situation of each player had been prepared, had been studied, arranged. She knew when the hour of destiny had drawn all things to itself; the minute of successful curtain-fall should be hers—the victory hers, let the after-joy be whose it would. Unseen by Tom Stormont and Rothsay Hecklar she had witnessed that tragic comedy at the Sunburst mine. Then she rapidly drew in the flying cords of fate. She sent such a note to Rothsay Hecklar as she knew would bring him to her at a certain spot on the Hebron above the Falls, at a fixed moment the next evening. She had summoned Tom Stormont, and Gustave Flavelle had promised to meet her where she said she would give him her final answer concerning their life now and hereafter. It is one of those singular circumstances of existence, defying all calculation, but answering to the experiences of the world, that Gustave Flavelle thought upon this request only as a whim of La Grive—a dramatic whim. To throw herself into his arms where nature shook its mane back in the pride of its strength seemed to him quite in keeping with the unusual character of Junie Cavour. But there was one other: Madeline, the wife, that wholly pure, and therefore far-off sister; she too must be there. And so a letter sent to her failed not in its intent, as La Grive knew well it would not; it excited imagination, it hinted at mystery and wrong, it whispered with distant faintness of the dead returned to life, and of the balance of happiness readjusted. Yes, Madeline, the wife, would be there.
The morning came, the long day passed, and night found La Grive arraying herself as for a bridal. At nine o'clock she passed from her hut to the riverside and rowed slowly across the swollen stream, being careful to keep above that point where the whirlpools and the fatal currents began. A figure was waiting on the farther bank as she touched it; the figure of Rothsay Hecklar, come to meet the heroine of the Swallow at her invitation, at last—her delicate insinuating invitation, that, as a kind of compensation to his evil heart, followed so hard upon his yesterday's overwhelming! She motioned him to get in. He did so. She instantly pushed off. He made as if to come near her, but she said, disguising her voice: "No, not so—yet. There is much time for greeting—to come." She rowed towards the middle of the stream, but downwards, not upwards, as safety required. The moon was hidden; he, unsuspecting, did not think of what the boat was doing. Junie Cavour suddenly rose and lighted the dry twigs in the iron cage at the stern. They were now on the verge of the fatal currents. Now, he divined the danger. And at the moment she turned towards him, her face in the reflected light from the burning wood. He was full in the glare. He recognized her! "You! You are Flavelle's La Grive!" he chokingly said.
Her figure dilated with a life-time of emotion; she spoke low though thrillingly: "Yes, I am—La Grive. You know who I once was, Rothsay Hecklar. Justice has been long afoot but it finds its goal at last;" she pointed towards the Falls.
"My God! my God! you have brought me here to kill me."
She raised the oars and threw them from her into the stream. "It is not I that drive the lightning home," she said; "It is the hand of Heaven." She pointed to the bank: "There is safety. Win it if you can."
He wrung his hands in impotent despair. "You smothered my child," she said, "and now you reckon with the smothered vengeance of a mother's heart."
"You are mad, you are mad," he moaned.
"Yes, I am mad, Rothsay Hecklar, for to live is madness. And to die—Ah! It might have been so different!—My child, my sweet Faustine, and I shall never meet again, for where she is I cannot go; but you must come with me to stand before the Judgment-seat of God."
He was dull with panic. There was no hope now. "The Falls, the Falls!" he cried: "We are lost."
"Yes," she murmured as if in a dream, as if she now no longer thought of him, sentence being passed. "Yes, we are lost together, you and I. We sail fast and far to-night. See!" She pointed below them towards the shore: "Your wife and Gustave Flavelle, and Tom Stormont above them there on the rocks. They know all now."
It was at this moment that those on shore recognized the two far-travelling voyageurs. The wife was stricken still with horror; but Gustave Flavelle spoke painfully out across the flume of death: "Ah Junie, Mon Dieu! Junie, come back, come back!"
The boat was now in the straight slide of water that ended at the cataract itself. Rothsay Hecklar was on his knees staring in stony dread at the gloom of the massy gorge before them. Junie Cavour was fronted to the shore. Her voice rang clearly out: "Gustave, mon ami, It is the great Justice. Adieu!... The great Retribution; Adieu!" she added, as Tom Stormont, voiceless before this carnival of revenge and readjustment, approached the other two.
There was silence, save for the conquering rumble of the Falls. Suddenly Rothsay Hecklar fell forward senseless in the boat. Junie Cavour threw a kiss towards the shore, and turned swiftly to face her doom, as the boat shot like an arrow into the chasm of destruction.
Madeline Hecklar fell fainting backwards, but Tom Stormont caught her in his arms.