Flappers and Philosophers/The Offshore Pirate/Chapter 4
In the dense sun-flooded noon of next day a spot in the sea before them resolved casually into a green-and-gray islet, apparently composed of a great granite cliff at its northern end which slanted south through a mile of vivid coppice and grass to a sandy beach melting lazily into the surf. When Ardita, reading in her favorite seat, came to the last page of The Revolt of the Angels, and slamming the book shut looked up and saw it, she gave a little cry of delight, and called to Carlyle, who was standing moodily by the rail.
"Is this it? Is this where you're going?"
Carlyle shrugged his shoulders carelessly.
"You've got me." He raised his voice and called up to the acting skipper: "Oh, Babe, is this your island?"
The mulatto's miniature head appeared from round the corner of the deck-house.
"Yas-suh! This yeah's it."
Carlyle joined Ardita.
"Looks sort of sporting, doesn't it?"
"Yes," she agreed; "but it doesn't look big enough to be much of a hiding-place.
"You still putting your faith in those wirelesses your uncle was going to have zigzagging round?"
"No," said Ardita frankly. "I'm all for you. I'd really like to see you make a get-away."
"You're our Lady Luck. Guess we'll have to keep you with us as a mascot—for the present, anyway."
"You couldn't very well ask me to swim back," she said coolly. "If you do I'm going to start writing dime novels founded on that interminable history of your life you gave me last night."
He flushed and stiffened slightly.
"I'm very sorry I bored you."
"Oh, you didn't—until just at the end with some story about how furious you were because you couldn't dance with the ladies you played music for."
He rose angrily.
"You have got a darn mean little tongue."
"Excuse me," she said, melting into laughter, "but I'm not used to having men regale me with the story of their life ambitions—especially if they've lived such deathly platonic lives."
"Why? What do men usually regale you with?"
"Oh, they talk about me," she yawned. "They tell me I'm the spirit of youth and beauty."
"What do you tell them?"
"Oh, I agree quietly."
"Does every man you meet tell you he loves you?"
"Why shouldn't he? All life is just a progression toward, and then a recession from, one phrase—'I love you.'"
Carlyle laughed and sat down.
"That's very true. That's—that's not bad. Did you make that up?"
"Yes—or rather I found it out. It doesn't mean anything especially. It's just clever."
"It's the sort of remark," he said gravely, "that's typical of your class."
"Oh," she interrupted impatiently, "don't start that lecture on aristocracy again! I distrust people who can be intense at this hour in the morning. It's a mild form of insanity—a sort of breakfast-food jag. Morning's the time to sleep, swim, and be careless."
Ten minutes later they had swung round in a wide circle as if to approach the island from the north.
"There's a trick somewhere," commented Ardita thoughtfully. "He can't mean just to anchor up against this cliff."
They were heading straight in now toward the solid rock, which must have been well over a hundred feet tall, and not until they were within fifty yards of it did Ardita see their objective. Then she clapped her hands in delight. There was a break in the cliff entirely hidden by a curious overlapping of rock, and through this break the yacht entered and very slowly traversed a narrow channel of crystal-clear water between high gray walls. Then they were riding at anchor in a miniature world of green and gold, a gilded bay smooth as glass and set round with tiny palms, the whole resembling the mirror lakes and twig trees that children set up in sand piles.
"Not so darned bad!" cried Carlyle excitedly.
"I guess that little coon knows his way round this corner of the Atlantic."
His exuberance was contagious, and Ardita became quite jubilant.
"It's an absolutely sure-fire hiding-place!"
"Lordy, yes! It's the sort of island you read about."
The rowboat was lowered into the golden lake and they pulled to shore.
"Come on," said Carlyle as they landed in the slushy sand, "we'll go exploring."
The fringe of palms was in turn ringed in by a round mile of flat, sandy country. They followed it south and brushing through a farther rim of tropical vegetation came out on a pearl-gray virgin beach where Ardita kicked of her brown golf shoes—she seemed to have permanently abandoned stockings—and went wading. Then they sauntered back to the yacht, where the indefatigable Babe had luncheon ready for them. He had posted a lookout on the high cliff to the north to watch the sea on both sides, though he doubted if the entrance to the cliff was generally known—he had never even seem a map on which the island was marked.
"What's its name," asked Ardita—"the island, I mean?"
"No name 'tall," chuckled Babe. "Reckin she jus' island, 'at's all."
In the late afternoon they sat with their backs against great boulders on the highest part of the cliff and Carlyle sketched for her his vague plans. He was sure they were hot after him by this time. The total proceeds of the coup he had pulled off, and concerning which he still refused to enlighten her, he estimated as just under a million dollars. He counted on lying up here several weeks and then setting off southward, keeping well outside the usual channels of travel, rounding the Horn and heading for Callao, in Peru. The details of coaling and provisioning he was leaving entirely to Babe who, it seemed, had sailed these seas in every capacity from cabin-boy aboard a coffee trader to virtual first mate on a Brazilian pirate craft, whose skipper had long since been hung.
"If he'd been white he'd have been king of South America long ago," said Carlyle emphatically. "When it comes to intelligence he makes Booker T. Washington look like a moron. He's got the guile of every race and nationality whose blood is in his veins, and that's half a dozen or I'm a liar. He worships me because I'm the only man in the world who can play better ragtime than he can. We used to sit together on the wharfs down on the New York water-front, he with a bassoon and me with an oboe, and we'd blend minor keys in African harmonics a thousand years old until the rats would crawl up the posts and sit round groaning and squeaking like dogs will in front of a phonograph."
"How you can tell 'em!"
"I swear that's the gos—"
"What you going to do when you get to Callao?" she interrupted.
"Take ship for India. I want to be a rajah. I mean it. My idea is to go up into Afghanistan somewhere, buy up a palace and a reputation, and then after about five years appear in England with a foreign accent and a mysterious past. But India first. Do you know, they say that all the gold in the world drifts very gradually back to India. Something fascinating about that to me. And I want leisure to read—an immense amount."
"How about after that?"
"Then," he answered defiantly, "comes aristocracy. Laugh if you want to—but at least you'll have to admit that I know what I want—which I imagine is more than you do."
"On the contrary," contradicted Ardita, reaching in her pocket for her cigarette case, "when I met you I was in the midst of a great uproar of all my friends and relatives because I did know what I wanted."
"What was it?"
"You mean you were engaged?"
"After a fashion. If you hadn't come aboard I had every intention of slipping ashore yesterday evening—how long ago it seems—and meeting him in Palm Beach. He's waiting there for me with a bracelet that once belonged to Catherine of Russia. Now don't mutter anything about aristocracy," she put in quickly. "I liked him simply because he had had an imagination and the utter courage of his convictions."
"But your family disapproved, eh?"
"What there is of it—only a silly uncle and a sillier aunt. It seems he got into some scandal with a red-haired woman named Mimi something—it was frightfully exaggerated, he said, and men don't lie to me—and anyway I didn't care what he'd done; it was the future that counted. And I'd see to that. When a man's in love with me he doesn't care for other amusements. I told him to drop her like a hot cake, and he did."
"I feel rather jealous," said Carlyle, frowning—and then he laughed. "I guess I'll just keep you along with us until we get to Callao. Then I'll lend you enough money to get back to the States. By that time you'll have had a chance to think that gentleman over a little more."
"Don't talk to me like that!" fired up Ardita. "I won't tolerate the parental attitude from anybody! Do you understand me?"
He chuckled and then stopped, rather abashed, as her cold anger seemed to fold him about and chill him.
"I'm sorry," he offered uncertainly.
"Oh, don't apologize! I can't stand men who say 'I'm sorry' in that manly, reserved tone. Just shut up!"
A pause ensued, a pause which Carlyle found rather awkward, but which Ardita seemed not to notice at all as she sat contentedly enjoying her cigarette and gazing out at the shining sea. After a minute she crawled out on the rock and lay with her face over the edge looking down. Carlyle, watching her, reflected how it seemed impossible for her to assume an ungraceful attitude.
"Oh, look," she cried. "There's a lot of sort of ledges down there. Wide ones of all different heights."
"We'll go swimming to-night!" she said excitedly. "By moonlight."
"Wouldn't you rather go in at the beach on the other end?"
"Not a chance. I like to dive. You can use my uncle's bathing suit, only it'll fit you like a gunny sack, because he's a very flabby man. I've got a one-piece affair that's shocked the natives all along the Atlantic coast from Biddeford Pool to St. Augustine."
"I suppose you're a shark."
"Yes, I'm pretty good. And I look cute too. A sculptor up at Rye last summer told me my calves were worth five hundred dollars."
There didn't seem to be any answer to this, so Carlyle was silent, permitting himself only a discreet interior smile.