Rod's Salvation: In Two Parts. Part Two
DURING the next week things did not grow better. Rod was absent more and more, and had less and less to say about his employments. Fayal was too proud to ask questions, but her misery grew with the silence. He was restless, excited, or discontented, and somewhat sullen; and her eyes, as they followed him about the room, or as he made his hasty exit after supper, were dark with suffering. When, in all the years of their two lives before now, had he gone off without her for a “ cruise around,” morning, afternoon, or evening? He had not even to call her; she was by his side as a matter of course. They two, all ignorant of the rarity of it, had known the bliss of perfect, sufficing companionship ; and now that it was past, of course it was on one heart that the bitterness of the loss chiefly bore.
The old people saw it all. Do not the old people always ? And when youth thinks age irresponsive, weak, submissive, is it not only that it has so often seen it all ?
It was at sunset, one clear afternoon, after the early tea, that Fayal threw a shawl over her shoulders and stepped out into the lane, and, nodding to her grandmother at the window, with the smile that had ceased in the last weeks to be brilliant, and become only sweet, walked slowly out towards the open country. The kind old blue eyes watched her till she was out of sight; then Mrs. Wheelock turned around and faced her husband, who was looking out of the window, too, over her shoulder.
“ Well ? ” said she.
“Well?” answered Captain Wheelock, shaking his head.
There was a pause while Mrs. Wheelock went over to her accustomed seat and picked up her knitting.
“ She is n’t used to it,” observed the captain, somewhat apologetically. “ It’s been plain sailing up to now.”
“Yes,” assented the old lady calmly. “ This is a voyage to learn.”
Then they sat placidly into the twilight, talking now about this little matter, then that, while the girl whom they both loved was absent, “taking her turn at the wheel,” as Captain Trent would have said.
It did not take Fayal long to get into the open country. The little spot of houses was soon left behind, and the wandering road, with its divisions of footpaths twisting about in the grass which here and there spilled over the low white fences from the small dooryards, became a yet more wandering guide over the common and undivided land. Captain Trent’s house was the last one in this direction, and as Fayal passed Mary Jane came to the open door.
“Good-evening, Fayal Grant,” she said. “ Have you heard that Susan Whitton’s brother, that’s been studying so hard all winter, sickened and died yesterday, over awn the mainland ? ”
“No,” answered Fayal, leaning on the palings. “ Why, I ‘m so sorry.”
“Yes; the news came this forenoon. William brought, it over. I meant to stawp in and tell you before, but there’s been a heavy sea awn all day, what with getting the baking done and having Julia Spence to help with the sewing.”
“ Poor Susan ! I’m so sorry for her.”
“ Yes, it’s a dreadful thing; and he was a very pretty young man, too.”
“Yes, he was.”
“ And very well educated, too, but you’d never know it.”
Fayal assented again, sadly. Both women recognized that commendation could go no further than this.
“Well, they say he’ll have a very handsome obituary notice in the Seacove paper,” declared Mary Jane, with a cheerful confidence that even death may have its compensations, — “ a very handsome notice indeed.”
“ I ’m glad of that. I hope it will be a comfort to Susan.” Fayal’s voice dropped into a somewhat doubtful intonation as she turned away. Her mind reverted constantly to Susan, as she picked her way over the deep ruts in the grassy roads, to turn out of which put in apparently imminent peril the wheels of any adventurous charioteer as well as his own bones. To have one’s brother lying dead in one’s sight, — that was terrible ! Fayal had had no experience of death; it was as yet only a fact to her, not a reality; but she knew, at least, that it meant strangeness, separation, and silence. It was better even to see Rod loving her less, caring less for her companionship, than to have him gone, to live without him, — oh, a thousand times better ! Poor Susan Whitton !
But Fayal was still too young, too unused to trouble, to find consolation in the knowledge that there were worse things than that she was undergoing; and it was sadly enough that, having reached a point where the sea stretched forth on nearly three sides of her, while on the other the level land was unrolled to the horizon, with only the poor little huddled gray houses of Seacove in the near distance to break the lines of uniformity, she sank down on the dry grass, and looked landward towards the sunset. She heard nothing except the low accompaniment that was never wanting at Seacove, the break of the waves on the beach. As far away from the village as this, even those few sounds that come with twilight were lost, — the tinkling of the cowbells, the shutting of doors and windows, the good-nights of neighbors called to each other across the lanes. There were rarely more strident noises than these in Seacove; it was a singularly quiet place, and the women had low voices. The western heavens were bronze, illuminated with molten gold, and in the midst hung the sun, a globe of crimson fire, with, about it, clouds of yellow and flaming rose. Beneath, the earth itself glowed with a tender color, which was dark only when it touched the radiance of the sky. As her eyes, dazzled by this magnificence, turned to the sea, they saw there a tossing stretch of tinted lights and shadows, and a pink sky over it, the eastern clouds reflecting the western brightness, and the mist in the horizon shimmering with the warmth that lay before its face. Perhaps Fayal was too used to the glory of Seacove sunsets to be much moved by them, but it did not uplift her to-night. The sun sank below the darker earth, the flaming colors disappeared, as she sat there; the blue dropped down over the green and lavender, and the eastern sky lost its pink reflections and grew slate-color before she moved at all; then she turned her head quickly, in response to a voice behind her.
“ I have found you at last, Fayal,” said Dan Farnor.
Fayal turned slowly away again, and did not reply for a moment. The sky was dark, and the clouds, which had seemed marshaled only to contribute to the splendor of the occasion, showed themselves instead opposing and dangerous forces which threatened to sweep all light from the earth. The sea was a wide-stretching gray waste, shrouded by a mist; no longer a shimmering veil of beauty, but a cold swathing garment, which would make sight and motion impossible.
“ I thought you went over to the mainland to-day,” said Fayal.
“So I did go, but I ‘ve just come back.”
“ Did you bring Rod with you ? ”
She spoke with an anxiety which she made no attempt to conceal. She was, however, restraining her impulse to rush home and greet her brother. She had learned lately that this was not always the best thing to do.
“ Yes, I brought Rod.”
There was a contemptuous carelessness in his voice which filled Fayal with wild anger, but, with instinctive and unusual self-control, she kept silence. She was angry with herself, as well as with him, that she had framed her question in just that way. Farnor seated himself beside her on the ground.
“ I knew you did n’t want him to stay over there all night,” added Farnor.
Fayal said nothing. She was, indeed, glad that Rod was at home again, but she would give this man no thanks for it.
“ I guess you have learned that I can bring him home to you about when I want to,” he went on.
Fayal flashed an indignant glance at him.
“ This seems to be a voyage to learn,” she retorted, unconsciously making use of the same quaint phrase that had risen to her grandmother’s lips ; ‘‘ and I guess you’ve learned that you don’t get much thanks for it.”
“ No, that’s a fact,” assented the man ; “ but they ’ll come some time, when you want him worse than you have yet.”
Fayal turned towards him again, and swept him with a look of superb disdain.
“ You think that I ’ll come to you for him, do you ? ”
“ I know you will.”
Fayal’s form was slighter, her cheeks were paler, and her eyes not so brilliant as when she had thrown open the door of the club-room, three weeks ago, but she looked like a spirited young goddess still, as she said slowly, —
“ So you ’re threatening me, Dan Farnor ? ”
“ I ‘11 threaten you or anything else to make you think of me, and acknowledge that I ’m something to you,” was the dogged answer.
“ So that’s the way the people whom yon come from make love, is it? That’s not the way to talk to a Seacove girl, though. We ‘re used to men down here.”
The contempt in her voice was so genuine that it touched Farnor as perhaps nothing else would have done, but not as it would have touched a finer man. His self-love was of the sort that could not bear to know that he was underrated.
“ And I am used to women,” he returned angrily; “and I know there are other ways of making a girl like you than the straightforward way you are used to down here.”
It was a foolish boast, and Farnor’s sensitiveness to ridicule made him feel that it was, after he had made it; but he believed it. all the same. Fayal laughed a low, scornful laugh, which she would have been incapable of a month earlier.
“ I guess you need n’t be afraid of anybody’s thinking you ‘re straightforward,” she said.
“I don’t care what they think,” he rejoined sullenly.
“ And as for making people like you, — well, I guess you might as well go at it next time, tilt a bucket, ‘the way we do here ; you could n’t have worse luck than you’ve had.” Her mocking laugh and her words were maddening to the man, who, with all his faults, loved her. Moreover, he had made more than one mistake this evening, and the knowledge of this irritated him into making more.
She had risen, and he picked himself up, too, and faced her.
“ You will take back every word you have said to me to-night.” he asserted angrily.
“ Do you think I will ? ” she questioned contemptuously. “ You ‘ve said something like that before. I am going home now,” she added.
“ Going to find Rod ? ”
“ Yes,” she answered defiantly, “ to find Rod.”
“ Fayal, Fayal! ” exclaimed Farnor passionately. She was very beautiful, standing there in the misty twilight.
“ Why do you treat me like an enemy ? ”
“ Because you are my enemy.”
“ I could be your best friend.”
“ You will never be my best friend.”
“ I can bring Rod back to you.”
“ Rod will come back to me without your help.”
She spoke confidently, but she was tired, — tired out. She was utterly unused to emotional crises. She would have left him, but he followed her, and they walked back in an almost complete silence, which he broke at the door of the Wheelock cottage.
“ I told you you’d listen to me, and you have listened to me,” he said. “ Now I have warned you twice, and it is no use. Next time you ’ll talk differently.”
His vanity told him that, although he undoubtedly had a good deal of power in his hands, the advantage of this interview had not been altogether on his side. Certain of her words and looks it irked him to remember ; for once the menace in his words failed to rouse her. She scarcely heard him, and certainly gave no heed to what he might or might not be saying; for she had looked into the sitting-room window, and had seen Rod sitting alone in the high-backed rocker, his head on his hand. Quickly she slipped into the house, and, without a word or look at Farnor, shut the door behind her, and left him standing outside in the misty evening. The angry man waited an instant, with the annoying Consciousness that his last shot had missed fire, and through the Same window saw her enter the sitting-room, toss off the shawl that she had held tightly around her in the chilly evening, and, going up behind Rod, lay her hand softly on his tumbled curls. He waited to see no more, but flung himself away, down the tiny lane. He had taken a path from which all such manliness as was in him revolted; he had risked some money and a good deal of reputation, and had fretted through many a tiresome hour, in this stupid hole, as he characterized Seacove, — forgetting that places where we have met love and revenge and disappointment, face to face, can hardly be called stupid by the most exacting of us. All this he had done, and was doing, for the sake of a woman who forgot his very existence in the presence of a silly boy whose weakness he had made his tool, and who, unheeding even her own danger, left him outside alone, that she might meet this boy with a caress which, he told himself, he would have given half his life to induce her to bestow upon him.
It was not long before things reached a climax which Fayal, had she been older and wiser, might have foreseen, and, had she been less single-minded in her devotion and a shade or two less truthful, might possibly have prevented.
One night Rod did not come at all. As usual, Fayal sat up long after the old people had gone to sleep, with that apparent indifference which, to her youth and intensity, was a strange and an unnatural thing ; but at midnight, an unheard-of hour for Seacove dissipation to prolong itself to, she too, exhausted and miserable, dragged herself out of the big chair and crawled into bed.
With one of those intuitions, strong where love is strong, she felt that he would not come home that night. She was sure that she should not sleep, but trouble and anxiety had not yet so cowed the riotous health that was her birthright that she could be wakeful through the long hours which lead to morning. She slept heavily, but waked early to hear Rod’s step outside and his hand on the latch. In a few minutes she was downstairs, and, entering the kitchen, found him building the fire, his usual morning duty. He did not turn to greet her as she came in, but poor Fayal had learned to do without the almost loverlike demonstrations which had formerly been to her as sun and air. Yet it touched her that he had come home in time to save her the trouble of making the fire, as he knew she would have done, rather than let her grandfather suspect his absence. She stepped quickly to his side.
“ It was good of you, Rod ” — she began.
“ Don’t! ” he interrupted sharply, as if she had hurt him. “ I’m not good to do anything! Don’t say it.” Then he recovered himself, and glanced up at her only to look down again, and resume in an altered voice, “ You gave me a start, Fay, coming in like that.”
Fayal stood astonished, dismayed, by the change in him. His face was pale and haggard, with purple lines under his blue eyes, and a worried, apprehensive look strayed about his eyes and mouth. Moreover, there was something else, — indefinable, unmistakable, — something which went straight to Fayal’s heart, bringing a feeling of dread ; something in his looks and voice which indicated mysteriously that here was no longer the petulance of a boy, but the misery of a man. She sank down beside him, the old protecting feeling strong as ever, but with a certain new helplessness which suggested that this was a trouble from which she might not be able to save him. Her arms about his neck, she said, —
“ Tell me, Rod, what is it ? Perhaps we can do something.”
“ What makes you think there is anything to tell ? ” he said quickly ; but he did not push her away, as he sometimes did. Instead, he rested his disheveled curly head against her in a tired sort of way, which was balm to Fayal’s heart. It brought him back to her for the moment. In fact, the boy was utterly exhausted ; excited, disturbed, exultant, and depressed as he had been for the last weeks, this night’s vigil had taken away his remaining strength.
“Oh, Rod, as if I would n’t know! ” said Fayal softly.
“ There is nothing, — nothing,” he said, moving his head restlessly, and then relapsing into quiet.
“ What has happened ? ”
“ Nothing has happened.”
“ But just think, —you have been out all night.”
Fayal spoke a little timidly. She was so afraid to disturb what seemed like their old affection.
“ Never mind. Don’t ask questions, Fay,” he answered wearily.
Her lips were closed, but her heart cried out against this dreadful helplessness. Rod was in trouble, and she could do nothing for him ! In all her young life she had never dreamed of such a catastrophe. His silence continued, and in a few moments they heard the heavy step of Captain Wheelock in the next room. Rod roused himself, and Fayal went about the preparations for the early breakfast. After the meal was over, she stood a moment in the doorway, looking out over the shining sea. Rod was beside her, knocking a nail or two into a loose shingle. He had been on his way out, as usual, when his grandmother had stopped him, and asked him to attend to this small matter. A man’s figure turned into the little side lane that led down to the bluff, and thence by wooden steps to the sand below.
“ There is Dan Farnor,” said Fayal.
Rod turned so suddenly that he almost dropped the hammer.
“ Seems to me you can sight him ’most any time of day.” She spoke with unconcealed aversion ; evidently he was a blot on the face of nature.
“ Coming here ? ” asked Rod.
“ Oh, I guess so. He never seems to get time for a longer cruise.”
She spoke with more open contempt than was usual with her before Rod. Dan Farnor’s name had been practically tabooed of late. This morning, however, her deep resentment got the better of her ; besides, in spite of his silence, Rod and she had drawn a little nearer together, though the heavy curtain of dread and anxiety still shut out hope and joy.
“ Look here, Fay,” — Rod spoke rapidly, and looked straight up into her eyes for the first time that day ; “ don’t go to sending Dan Farnor all adrift,— not till this blow is over, any way.”
“ He’s a pretty poor mate for either of us.”
“ Perhaps he is, and perhaps he is n’t,” answered Rod doggedly. “ Anyhow, I’ve shipped with him for a while, and I wish you would n’t give him the go-by every time he speaks to you,” and Rod struck the hammer hard into the wall, so that the whole house quivered.
“ My land! ” said old Mrs. Wheelock, out of the window. “ There’s no call to knock away the timbers under her just yet.”
There was a look of ungracious triumph in Farnor’s eyes, as he paused before them and glanced at Rod, who met his look for an instant, and then turned off and leaned his arms idly against the low fence, swinging his hammer, with his back towards the other two.
Fayal stood tall and straight, her hands falling lightly clasped in front of her, looking down, with the scorn which had animated her in their last interview reviving in her eyes, in spite of Rod’s pleading. Nevertheless, it was not altogether fearless, this morning. Farnor recognized this with a thrill of pleasure. The fear which had haunted her since her first look at Rod’s face, that day, could not be driven out before the man whom she instinctively felt to be responsible for it. His eyes took in her beauty with an intoxicating sense of ownership. He loved her, — he could even be sorry for her ; but she should learn not to put him in belittling situations; after she had learned that, she should see how he could love her!
“ It’s a nice sailing morning, Miss Fayal,” he said.
“ Yes,” answered Fayal, in an expressionless tone, “ I guess it is.”
“We’ve been having good weather, lately. Let me see ; the moon fulls tonight, don’t it ? ” went on Farnor speculatively.
“Could n’t tell if I suffered,” replied Fayal, with lamentable want of interest.
“ I think it does. Suppose you take a walk with me — a little cruise, as you say here — after tea, to-night, and see if it does n’t.” He spoke with an attempt at easy intimacy which it annoyed him to feel was not altogether successful.
“ You need n’t take the trouble to say what we say here. Nobody’ll ever take you for Seacove-born,” remarked Fayal. This statement from the mouth of a dweller in Seacove was never meant to be flattering.
Farnor’s cheek flushed, but he repeated his question quietly. He could afford to bide his time.
“ Will you go ? ”
Fayal’s evasive answer had not been without its motive. She hated with all her undisciplined soul to yield in the smallest matter to this detested man, but she had caught a pleading glance from Rod, as, with apparent inattention, he had listened to Farnor’s question, and she herself was troubled by a new and strange emotion,—she was afraid. If she had known of what she was afraid, the fear might have vanished. It was not of this man personally, and yet he had the power to inspire her with this mysterious suggestion of dreadful possibilities. She did not know just what saving rope she might be casting from her if she answered as she would fain have done, and so she hesitated, and Farnor repeated his question.
Distrust your first impulses, says Talleyrand ; they are almost always true ones.
“ I don’t know but I will,” she answered, carelessly enough for a girl who had no social training, only feminine instincts, to teach her deception. Then she went into the house ; angry, helpless, frightened, and contemptuous, she could trust herself no longer. Rod and Farnor exchanged a few words, and then walked away together.
“ Well, Fayal,” said Mrs. Wheelock, her bright blue eyes scanning the girl with placid deliberation, “ I guess you’d better make you a cap that don’t muss your hair like that when you take it off. You certainly do look like split.”
The early darkness had fallen, and the moon was just rising over the sea, as Fayal stepped from the doorway and turned down the lane with Farnor. They took the way through the village towards the lighthouse on the other side. The air was cool, but there was none of that raw chilliness which breathes through autumn evenings farther inland. The shadows of the little houses lay in black irregularity across the moonlit road. The short turns and windings were so many mysterious paths leading to what might be anything, but which proved to be nothing at all save passages into further grassy moonlit roads, with black shadows checkering their whiteness, and always between them a glimpse of the dancing, gleaming, moonlit sea.
To Farnor there was in this walk the suggestion of a triumphal procession, but he was prevented from enjoying it to its fullest extent by the unapproachable attitude of the girl beside him, whose light steps led her at an even swinging pace over sandy road, trodden bypath, and short-cropped turf alike. Despite the keen weapon he carried, and that she as yet knew nothing of, he could not feel secure of her; there was a firm line in the shutting of the mouth, a haughty turn in the way she held her head, that forbade security.
After they had left the village behind them, their way lay along the edge of the bluff, which here rose steeper, while the sea washed its base. Now and then sand and pebbles, loosened by their footsteps, rolled down the steep slope into the foam. Here and there it was dangerous walking, so close ran a straggling fence to the edge of the bluff, leaving outside it a narrow foothold, in its nature precarious, as it jutted out over the crumbling earth, ready, apparently, to break off under a light footfall. Farnor held out his arm to steady her, as she slipped, with catlike agility, around a not too steady post; but she pushed it aside with a scornful indifference that made it difficult to proffer such assistance a second time.
“ There’s no call to dub a Seacove girl going round here,” she said. “ You ‘d better look out for yourself.”
Indeed, he found it necessary; and it was not until they gained the open ground beyond, where the straggling fence, having imprudently left the guiding neighborhood of the bluff, lost itself in the thick low growth of grape and huckleberry, that he found conversation practicable. Here they stood together, for Fayal turned and faced him, her slight figure standing dark against the uniformity of low moor and level sea, until in the distance rose the shaft of the lighthouse, with its revolving light throwing broken rays upon the expanse of waters.
“ Well, what did you ask me to come out for, Dan Farnor?”
Farnor hesitated ; there was a certain pleasure in holding back a moment.
“ Is n’t it worth while to come out just to see such a sight as this ? ” he answered, waving his hand towards the sea.
Fayal glanced around her, shrugging her shoulders. She knew every inch of that view, and loved it better than he could ; and the assumption that he had come out to show it to her was irritating, but she did not put the feeling into words.
“ And, besides, I never see you in Seacove,” went on Farnor. “ But I suppose you don’t think that ’s much of a reason, do you ? ”
“ When you get through taking soundings, and know where you are,” said Fayal deliberately, “ you sing out, and I’ll listen to you,” and she walked on a few steps.
“ Well, listen, then.” Farnor spoke with more decision. “ I brought you out here ” —
“You did n’t bring me; I came,” interrupted Fayal contemptuously. “ It ’ll take a bigger craft than you are to tow me.”
Her dread of what he might be going to say impelled her to reckless mockery. She would say what she could to exasperate him now ; she might be silenced later.
“ To tell you again that I love you ; to tell you that this time you shall not escape me ; to tell you that you are helpless against disgrace without me ; to get you to make me a promise.”
“ Reminds me of Father Abbey’s will,” said Fayal, with desperate nonchalance, although her lips were white, and that dreadful word “ disgrace ” had tightened her heartstrings and made it hard to breathe. “ There are so many important things.”
“ I have come,” broke in Farnor brutally, provoked beyond self-control, “ to get you to buy your brother Rod out of state’s prison by promising to be my wife ! ”
The blow did its work. Fayal staggered a little, but recovered herself before he could touch her. She knew the worst now, and the worst was bad beyond her half-formed anticipations.
“What do you mean?” she gasped. The moonlit sea had come up to her feet and receded, and the lighthouse had toppled over and righted itself again, before she spoke.
“ I mean this,” said Farnor doggedly : “ that your brother Rod, having gambled away more than all his money to me, has forged your grandfather’s name to a check, and that I have it here,” and he drew out his pocket-book, and took from it a folded paper. He was half ashamed of his brutality ; it was not in just such ways that he usually recommended himself to women, but now that he had begun her eyes commanded him to finish. “ Give me the promise I want, and you can have it, — tear it up, give it back to Rod, anything you like; you will never hear of it again from me.”
Farnor really thought himself generous in making this statement.
“Let me see it,” said Fayal huskily.
He handed her the bit of paper, and she gazed at it blankly, but seeing every word. It might not have been a wise or a safe thing for a man in Farnor’s position to do, to place such a perishable bit of evidence in the hands of a desperate woman ; but not for a moment did even he misjudge Fayal. There were the unmistakable words, — a promise to pay one hundred and fifty dollars to Daniel S. Farnor or bearer, signed “ Amos Wheelock ” in a pretty fair imitation of the old captain’s cramped hand. One hundred and fifty dollars ! Fayal had never seen so much money in her life. Had Rod lost his senses, that he dared to palter with such vast sums ?
As the girl stood there with the bit of paper fluttering in her hand, instead of the dark water, and the silver radiance, and the level stretch of gloomy moor, she saw the scene in the cottage as it might be, as it would be ! — the scene that, she realized with a thrill of suffering sympathy, must have been before Rod’s eyes every hour since he traced those ineffaceable words. “ Amos Wheelock,” — she looked at the crooked characters again. No wonder the letters were somewhat cramped and wavering. The signature from which they were copied was that of a hand sturdy and weather-beaten, used to hard work, and hard blows if need be, and hard service in icy seas, but which would have shrunk from a touch of dishonesty as quickly as the delicate fingers of a scrupulous woman. What would it be to Captain Wheelock when he knew that his grandson, his daughter’s child, had not hesitated at a crime from which unprincipled sinners sometimes shrink ? She was too ignorant of business to know that the fraud was too unskillful to be sure of success, or of anything like it. If she had, it would have made little difference ; her grandfather’s heart would go as near to being broken in one case as in the other. Then her grandmother! She had to the full the placid calm that the sea seems to teach the women who live by it; but Seacove placidity was not proof against an attack of this kind : this was a sort of trouble Seacove women never “ shipped for.” And Rod ! poor Rod, poor boy! What would life be worth to him if this were known ? He would have to go away, of course; and to Fayal going away from her own little corner of the world meant expatriation as much as if it had been a larger one. But where could he go ? As for herself, — why, she should die without him! The uncertainty, the anxiety, of these last weeks was killing her, she felt sure. It was too hard, it was too dreadful! Her heart cried out against the truth of it. Her glance fell again upon the bit of paper, and she held it out to Farnor, while her eyes traveled over the silver path beyond the dark waters, and with incongruous recollection she fancied herself the funny, sail little mermaid over Captain Small’s door, who longed with all her red, white, and blue soul to be on the sea again. Perhaps somewhere away from here, somewhere, there was a place —
“ Well, what do you think about it?” said Farnor’s voice, half mocking, half pitying, at her side.
She came back to realities with a throb. “ I think you are a coward ! ” she answered suddenly. So intense was her tone that the words rang through the air as if a bullet had whizzed by his ear.
“ You’ve said as much before,” he replied. “ I want to know what you are going to do.”
“ You mean that if I don’t make you the promise you want, you will show that piece of paper — you will ” —
“ Will take it over to the mainland to the bank ; or else, to smooth matters over, I ’ll take it direct to Captain Wheelock himself.”
Fayal shuddered, as if she had been struck.
“ But if we pay you back,” she began eagerly, “Rod and I? We can; only give us time.”
Farnor made a gesture of impatience. “It is n’t the money I want,” he said. “ I want your promise ; and,” he added, with a muttered word or two she did not hear, “ have it I will, or else that brother of yours will make up to me for it.”
The struggle was three parts over. Fayal thought there was but one thing she could not bear.
“ Do you want a wife that will hate you every hour of her life ? ” she demanded, — “ that will curse the hour she first saw you ? ”
“ I want you.”
“ One that will despise you, and will never look at yours when there is another face she can turn to ? ”
Farnor winced a little. The girl was cruel in her way, too. But he answered again, “ I want you, Fayal, whatever you do.”
“ Do you want a wife that would throw you overboard, and never give you a rope to cling to, for the sake of lightening the ship for Rod Grant ? ” she went on relentlessly.
“ We ’ll see about that later,” said Farnor sullenly, who could not let pass altogether unnoticed so keen an affront to his vanity. “ I want your promise, and I want you.”
“ So that’s the kind of wives your sort of men want? ” said Fayal, with swift scorn. “ You want a wife that cares more for her brother’s little finger than for your whole body and soul ! ” she added, as if it were an unimportant afterthought.
Probably Fayal could never know how much Farnor had to bear that night. For a man of sensitive vanity, such unmitigated contempt from the woman he loved could not be easy to undergo, even though he held the winning cards in his hand. But he answered persistently, “ You know what I’ve said, Fayal, and I stand to it.”
The moon was declining towards the west. They had been out a long time. The whole world grew dimmer, for the clouds were coming up from the south, and now and then fluttered across the face of the moon. The tide was at the full, and broke more noisily below them.
“ Then,” said Fayal suddenly, her face white, but her eyes ablaze, “ I will be your wife ! I give you my promise, and I throw it to you as I would a bone to a dog! ”
There was a moment’s pause. In spite of himself, Farnor was startled by the victory he had gained. It was difficult to feel that there were laurels on his brow, and yet it was a triumph. She had made him the promise, and the fact that she would rather have died did not detract from its value. It was Fayal who broke the silence. She sank down in a little heap on the ground, and burst into tears.
“ Oh, Rod ! ” she cried. “ Rod, Rod, I love you so ! ”
It would have angered her to give way before this man, if she had thought of him. But for the moment even her misery was forgotten, and she remembered only the boy who, she felt, now that she had saved him, might come back to her.
Her tears changed Farnor’s mood, as women’s tears will change a man’s mood one way or the other.
“ Oh, Fayal,” he said, sinking down beside her, “ do not be so hard on me. You have always been so hard ! Try and feel how I love you ! It will not be anything dreadful to let me love you. I will make you happy, dear. I will indeed. I have done it all for love of you, because you would not let me come near you any other way ! ”
He would have taken her into his arms, but she seemed more unapproachable than ever, now that she had yielded, and something held him away. She did not heed him, and finally he stopped making incoherent protestations. His knowledge of women, though not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church door, was still enough to teach him that whatever mitigating influences her spirit might become subject to must be exerted later.
It was not long before she too grew quiet. She raised her head, and, looking into his eyes with an utter absence of consciousness, said wearily, “Well, I guess you have what you wanted. Give me the paper, now.”
Had what he wanted! The unconscious mockery of the words fell upon the stormy current of passion, pity, and remorseful triumph that swept through the man’s soul. Would he ever have what he wanted ? Could this girl ever conceive what the love was that he wanted, for which he had given so much? In the moment of discouragement his vanity came to his aid. Oh, yes, she would learn ; he had nothing to do now but to teach her!
“ Here it is,” he said, holding it out to her for the second time. “ It is yours, to do what you like with. Tear it up.”
“ No.” she answered, rising, “ I shall keep it, and you shall be paid ” —
“I am paid ! ” he interrupted. “ Oh, Fayal, will you not see that it is nothing to me now ? ”
“ But,” she went on immovably, “it shall not do the harm you meant it to. Good-by.”
“ ‘ Good-by ’! ” he exclaimed. “ What do you mean by saying good-by now ? I’m going back with you.”
“ No ! ” she cried, turning towards him, in a burst of fierce impatience. “ No, you shall not, — not to-night ! I will not bear it ! I want to go alone! I want to take soundings,” she said, with that seafaring turn of speech never long absent from the lips of Seacove inhabitants, “ and I can’t do it with you alongside.”
Her manner was so vehement that Farnor paused, in spite of himself. The usual plea that she could not be allowed to go so far alone so late at night would be laughed to scorn.
“ But suppose anything should happen ” — he began.
“ What should happen ? ” she demanded superbly.
Truly, what should happen ? He knew enough of Seacove fashions to recognize the fact that Seacove women of all ages went from one end to the other of the primitive little village at all hours, with not so much as a thought of any attendant unpleasantness. Nevertheless, he began another protest. She interrupted him : —
“ If you stir from here, Dan Farnor, or try to hail me, till I ‘ve had time to get down past John Small’s, you can have your prize money back again, and I ’ll have my promise back again, and Rod and I ‘ll pull through somehow, though the wind is dead ahead ! ”
It was the old Fayal who flung him this defiance. She threw her head back ; her eyes sparkled, and her sweet, strong young voice thrilled with the stress of her anger. She had borne all she could, and the thought of longer companionship with this man whom she hated, and yet whom she had promised to endure, brought a shock of reaction. It warned Farnor not to let victory slip from him at the moment of attainment, and he stepped back in sign of sullen acquiescence.
She turned and walked swiftly homeward, the bit of paper grasped tightly in her hand. She would show it to Rod, tell him that everything was safe, and they would have some happy days together again before they need think of anything else, — anything that shut off into desolate obscurity the after-years of her life. She would not think of that; she would only think that Rod was saved. One such lesson was enough, she was sure ; he would never do a second time anything that would bring into his face that terrified, despairing look she had seen there that morning. She had perfect faith that Rod was saved. But as she walked on, in the light of the setting moon, with the surge of the high tide beneath her and the moors stretching away into “ undistinguishable gray ” at her side, and instead of the friendly rays of the lighthouse only here and there, in the village before her, the faint glimmer of a belated candle, the heavy consciousness of what she had done settled down upon her. Yet she hardly knew what it was. Only she felt dimly that upon the freedom of her life had been placed fetters; that she, to whom affection for others had been as natural as air, had met with something called love, which was a burden and a nightmare ; that the man against whose presence her soul revolted had acquired some power over her, which, deepest humiliation of all, she had consented to. She left the broad path along the moor, and followed wearily the narrow little footpath between the fence and the treacherous edge of the bluff. Her eyes were blurred by bitter tears, as, at a place where the path was narrowed to two or three inches, the sandy earth crumbled rapidly away under her feet. She caught at the fence which leaned over the descent, but her hand slipped or she lacked the usual strength, and she did not save herself. Even as she fell she was not much frightened ; it did not occur to her to scream; it was a question only of rolling a few feet down the sandy bluff, and she was too tired and confused to make any desperate struggle. But the slope was steeper here than at any other point, and with the smooth round pebbles which rolled noiselessly down, in the sudden collapse of a large mass of the overhanging edge, were some sharp, jagged bits of stone, which had not yet yielded to the friction of the waves; and as Fayal, the force with which she fell increased by her effort to seize the support of the fence, struck heavily almost at the bottom of the bluff, her temple came sharply in contact with such a flint-like edge, and with a little moan of pain she closed her eyes, and, for the first time in her healthy life, sank into utter unconsciousness.
There they found her early the next morning.
It was Rod who gave the alarm. He had watched and waited for her to come home, as she so often had done for him ; and then had fallen asleep, in the tall, stiff chair, to awake, dazed and frightened, at daylight, to realize that Fayal was not there. His first step had been to find Farnor, who, white as death, shook him roughly by the shoulder and bade him “ wake up,” when he cried out to him for news of his sister. The man could tell him nothing except that she left him safe and well the night before. Farnor had taken the same way home, but one place was so like another that he had not noticed that at one spot the earth had freshly caved in, and, if he had, would not have dreamed of danger to the swift-footed girl who had so scornfully rejected his offer of help a short time before.
They did not think of looking for he near the path for some time. Farnor and Rod were devoured by a mutual fear that she had run away from what might be disgrace, and was sure to be suffering. It was Captain Wheelock who first saw her red cap, as it lay beside her at the foot of the bluff. He stood a moment looking down, his weatherbeaten face drawn and white ; then, his voice, which had rung out sturdily in so many fierce blasts and conflicts, feebly hailed Captain Small.
“ Come here, mate,” the old man called. “ Here’s my little girl, — here’s Fayal.” They did not think at first she could be dead, the wound on her temple was apparently so slight and her face so fair and still; but in a few moments they saw what had happened. The sea that Fayal had loved since her birth, the sea of which she had never known fear, had crept up over her head, as she lay there unresisting, and, gently rippling over the beautiful features, had brought her through the gates of unconsciousness into the inner place of death. Then, receding as it had come, it had left her there above the level of the low tide, but, with the capricious friendliness of absolute power, had withdrawn from her grasp the secret she would have hidden, to keep it for her forever.
The bit of paper, the evidence of Rod’s guilt and Farnor’s intrigue, had been washed from the loosened fingers, and borne away beyond the grasp of human hands, powerless for good or evil; but its purpose was accomplished, — Fayal had rescued Rod. The all-wise power which had decreed that her selfsacrifice should not be in vain touched, through her death, with no uncertain hand the impulses for good which had been temporarily suspended, together with the adoring love which Rod had always felt for Fayal.
Rod and Farnor did not exchange many words before the latter left finally for the mainland. The boy did not know just what had happened that night between the man and his sister, and would never, perhaps, realize how thoroughly Farnor had been his enemy ; but some instinct told him that he had nothing further to fear.
“ Dan,” said he, as he waited with him on the dock for the incoming boat, ‘I ’ll pay you every cent of that money, if I live.”
Farnor had been very quiet for the last three or four days, but it was with a burst of savage impatience that he turned upon him.
“ Curse you ! ” he said. “ Do you suppose I ever cared for the money or for you, you young scoundrel ? What I did I did for the sake of one a hair of whose head was worth more than your whole body ; and your miserable life is left you, and hers,” — the man’s voice broke in spite of himself, — “ hers was dragged from her by our accursed selfishness, yours and mine ! Keep still about the money, can’t you ?”
Rod stared at him in a hopeless, helpless sort of way. He had believed this man to be his friend, and the truth added another pang to what he was undergoing. He was not wise enough to know that all Farnor’s disappointed passion, furious regret, and stinging remorse spoke in that final outburst.
A week later, at the Club, Captain Sash expressed the general sentiment when he said, —
“ She set great store by Rod. I think she rated him ’most too high.”
“ Women do,” said Captain Small, with melancholy intuition. “They never know what sort of vessel carries the best kind of ballast.”
“ But, after all,” objected Captain Trent, “ he ain’t sailing as close to the wind as he was. It’s done him a pile of good. Fayal” — and Captain Trent, who was a soft-hearted fellow, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand — “ would have liked to see it.”
“ I wish,” said Captain Small solemnly, “ that she had been married.”
There was a pause. Farnor’s figure came before the eyes of each one of the group, and they could not coincide with the judgment that would have given their favorite to Farnor.
“Yes,” concluded Captain Small, “I wish she could have been married — to a husband.”
“ Yes,” assented one after the other, “ that would have been better.”
This form of statement removed their objections. Farnor was not the Seacove conception of a husband. He might have been the man Fayal Grant married, but that was all.
Then a stillness fell upon the little group, and the smoke grew denser in the low-ceiled room, and no one broke the silence.
Each one of those weather-beaten old men, hardened to danger and death, trained in rough schools, looking upon vicissitude as the breath of daily life, was longing for the sight of a young figure, which should stand on the threshold, the door swinging open before her with a breath of keen salt air, and, superb in youthful health, radiant in youthful beauty, laugh in upon their deliberations.
Fayal Grant had been their tropics and their Italy, and now that she came no more their faithful hearts found the old seafaring world a shade the grayer.