"Good God!" exclaimed Maynard, looking hard in turn. "Yes," he added, "it's Beekman!"
It was broad daylight by this time, and the high peak of the island was already visible, although low on the horizon. Ordinarily, the arrival of the castaways would have been a matter of deepest interest to Captain Weatherby, his officers and the men on the ship, but under the circumstances their presence simply meant two more persons to feed and care for. His owner could look after them. Indeed, Captain Weatherby had not left the bridge as the two had been passed aboard, and he had not heard that one of the persons he had picked up was the man for whom they had been combing the seas in an exhaustive search of every island in Polynesia.
He was engaged in the desperate task of getting the sluggish ship to the island, if possible, before she sank. The existence of that island was charted, but it was marked as uninhabited, desolate, completely encircled by a formidable reef and very dangerous. Ships avoided it, giving it a wide berth. It promised them little. Still, in their condition, perhaps a very little meant the wide difference-or is it narrow? – between life and death. A good sailor, like a good doctor, never gives up entirely until the very end. While the ship floats she has life, and while she has life there is hope; but Captain Weatherby was forced to admit to himself that the amount of hope was very small, indeed; that is, for the ship, and not much more, he feared, for her people.
Ordinarily, he could have made the run to the island in half a day. It seemed to him under present conditions he would be fortunate if he reached it by evening, and yet he must reach it before dark if he were to save the lives committed to his care and skill. To make a landing through the breakers on a reef-encircled island by means of an improvised raft would be an almost impossible task in daylight, and under the most favorable circumstances, and quite an impossible task at night in any sort of sea. Consequently, he drove the waterlogged Stephanie as fast as she could be driven in her condition, his chief engineer ably seconding him, employing every expedient to keep up steam and to increase the speed.
Weatherby was a resourceful man. He had spent some years in Cramp's shipyard in Philadelphia, after retiring from the command of great liners. The love of the sea was strong upon him, however, and he had been tempted to the easy and pleasant work of commanding the Stephanie by the munificent offers of Maynard, who, since he owned the biggest yacht afloat, was not satisfied with any but the best captain. Therefore, if Captain Weatherby could find a suitable strip of sand on which to beach the ship, if necessary to careen her, he believed that with his carefully selected force of engineers and mechanics and seamen he could stop the leak and put her in seaworthy condition again. However, that was not to be thought of. That desolate, reef-guarded island toward which they were heading was the only one they could by any possibility hope to reach, and if the charts were true, as they undoubtedly were, it would not afford any facilities whatsoever for such work as would be necessary. It never occurred to him that the earthquake which had raised the tidal wave which had wrought their undoing might have broken the barrier and have changed conditions at the island, so as to provide him with the beach he craved. He was simply going to the island, because, when the ship sank, it would at least enable them to keep alive, for a little while longer, at any rate. Consequently, he paid no attention whatever to the pair he had rescued as he put the ship on her course again.
There were plenty of people capable of looking after them better than he. Indeed, to his casual inspection they seemed to be two islanders, rather fairer of skin than those whom he knew. He wondered how they came to be where they were. He had seen that the wreck which had kept them up was part of a ship's boat and not the remains of a native vessel. It did, indeed, occur to him that possibly they might have come from that island for which he was heading, which might not be uninhabited, after all, but time would soon settle those problems. In the meantime his duty was clear.
Beekman was incapable of recognizing any one. He had been silent enough in the water, but when they got him on deck he had begun to mutter incoherently things they could not understand. Harnash, after his discovery of his identity, seemed incapable of action. The sight of his friend brought back vividly his own perfidy, and the desperate condition in which he saw Beekman to be intensified the swift and sudden recollection of his own baseness. Mr. Maynard had nothing with which to reproach himself, of course, and it was he who first recovered himself and repeated his order that Beekman should be taken to the cabin.
For a moment Harnash found himself wishing they had not found Beekman, and for a moment Maynard, in whose good graces Harnash had become more and more solidly entrenched, had the same thought; on his young subordinate's account only, of course. As the days of the cruise had passed without any tidings of the missing man, and as the possibilities of their search grew smaller and smaller, they both became resigned to and in a measure satisfied with the situation, even if Stephanie had not shared in their feelings.
Harnash had made a grievous error; he had done an unworthy thing. The consequences had been such as no one had dreamed of, but Harnash had manfully confessed and he had done his best to atone. Mr. Maynard could not be in the presence of Harnash and his daughter without realizing the depth and permanence of their devotion. It was deplorable, of course, that Beekman had been sacrificed to their happiness, but there was no use blinking the facts. Here was Beekman alive and on the ship. Maynard never dreamed but that he would at once claim Stephanie for his wife, and by putting himself in Beekman's position, Maynard could easily imagine what his feelings toward Harnash would be when he knew. Whatever happened, Beekman had to be told if he lived. It was all terribly awkward and embarrassing and quite an impossible situation.
Nor was Maynard unmindful of the fact that the naked man before him, over whom a coat had been hastily thrown, had been found adrift with a woman. He had no doubt that some irregular connection had been entered into, or some sort of relationship had grown up between the castaways. This woman was presumably a native, but that would be no ultimate barrier toward Beekman's claim to marriage with Stephanie. At any rate, the situation, which had gradually been clearing because they had not found him, became suddenly more complex than ever when they did. Both Harnash and Maynard were ashamed of their feelings, and that very shame, the personal humiliation a man experiences who has given way momentarily to unworthy thoughts or impulses, made them more resolutely determined to do everything in their power for him.
The yacht carried a surgeon, of course, who messed with the officers, and was scarcely admitted to any more social intimacy with the owner and his party than the others. Dr. Welch had met the party in the gangway, and in obedience to the suggestion from Stephanie, he had followed her into the cabin. The maid's cabin was abaft the bathroom and dressing room, which separated it from Stephanie's luxurious cabin. There was a spare berth in Celeste's cabin and there the unconscious Truda was bestowed. The doctor made a swift personal examination.
"There's nothing very much the matter with her," he said at last; "exposure, cold, lack of food or drink, prolonged nervous strain, and surprise probably account for her collapse."
He administered proper restoratives, directed that she be well rubbed down and wrapped in blankets and given suitable food and drink, and predicted that in a day or two she would be all right, which, indeed, proved to be the case.
"Remarkably light colored for a Polynesian," he observed professionally to Stephanie as he turned away to leave his patient in the care of the two women.
"Yes, and with a distinctly European cast of countenance," answered the girl.
She bent over her as the doctor left the room in obedience to a summons from Harnash that he come to the other cabin to look at the other castaway immediately.
Stephanie was the exact antithesis of Truda; dark where the other was fair, brown eyed where the other was blue eyed. To be sure, Truda's dazzling fairness had been modified by the sun under which she lived, and Stephanie's complexion was clearer, if darker, owing to her more sheltered habit of life, but Stephanie recognized to the full the extraordinary beauty of the sea nymph before her.
Truda, who had never seen so splendid a brunette, made the same unconscious acknowledgment as her civilized sister. The yacht, its sumptuous fittings, the wonderful things about her, this extraordinary being bending over her in her unusual clothes, all added to the poor little islander's dismay. Even Celeste, by no means unpleasing in her trim maid's dress, was a thing for Truda to wonder over. These were the women of that other faraway world of which Beekman had told her. It could not be that in their presence he could continue to love her, and so Truda, agonizingly jealous, was afraid. Everything was new and strange; the yacht itself, the deep throbbing of the hard-pushed engines, the very bed on which she lay, the expensive furnishings of the cabins, added to her trepidation and alarm. Save so far as mental habit and life had been altered by intercourse with Beekman and what he had taught her, she was still, in many of her instincts and habits, a savage, and a savage suddenly and with no warning introduced to the highest civilization.
Fear tied her tongue. She had not said a word. She would not speak. It seemed to her that she had forgotten how to use any language but the native speech of the island. She could only stare in dismay, appalled, silent. Stephanie had an exquisite voice; low, trained, cultivated. Beekman had often admired it and her use of it. She was a singer, and her speaking voice, unlike that of many singers, was as musical as the other. She bent over the girl and addressed her in English.
"What is your name?"
Truda understood well enough, but she was utterly incapable of answering. Her lips could scarcely frame a Polynesian word, much less an English one. She could only stare wildly. On a venture Stephanie repeated the question in French, then in Italian, then Celeste shook her head.
"She is not of the south, not Latin, mademoiselle," she said; whereupon Stephanie, summoning the remains of a brief schooling in the harsh tongue, repeated the question in very indifferent German.
There was no answer. That exhausted the linguistic possibilities of the cabin. Presently the steward appeared with broth, which the doctor had ordered. The two women, social differences more or less laid aside with this new and interesting plaything, had meanwhile covered the nakedness of the poor girl, who was entirely submissive and unresisting. in their hands, with one of Stephanie's daintiest and most beautiful night robes. Save for the grass or fiber petticoat of the Polynesian, with an occasional grass mat about her shoulders, Truda had never been so completely dressed before. She was scarcely dressed in that filmy, diaphanous adornment; but by comparison it seemed to her that she was strangely and fully clothed. The lace and linen and silk had a strange feeling to her, yet she was woman enough to delight in the beauty of the garment, to marvel childishly at its color, its softness. She lifted her lovely arm and stared at the short sleeves.
A thought struck Stephanie. At a word from her Celeste brought from her toilet case a silver mirror. Without explaining, she suddenly held it before Truda's eyes. The girl stared, screamed, threw up her hands. There had not been a still pool on the whole island. She had never seen herself before. She was frightened, but Stephanie, a little repentant, reassured her. She held the glass before her own face, so that Truda could look and see the reflection. She took the girl's hand and put it upon the glassy surface and then she put the mirror back in Truda's hand.
Mindful at last of the doctor's orders that the castaway should have sleep and rest, Stephanie and Celeste left her, carefully closing the door of the cabin behind them, and, worn out, Truda fell asleep, the mirror lying by her side, reflecting a very pretty picture indeed.
Now, Beekman was in a very much worse condition than Truda. He had done the fighting. Truda had been a more or less passive instrument in his arms during that horrible struggle with the tidal wave. Not only had his been the physical strain, but the mental as well. It is true that Truda had not been without her share of that mental strain after Beekman lapsed into unconsciousness a second time and presently grew delirious. It was Truda who had held him on the wreck of the boat during the night, who had kept him from sinking, and who had repaid him in this way for her life, which she owed entirely to him. It was Truda who had seen the ship in the growing dawn, who had made the signals which Beekman could never have made. Had it not been for Truda's erect position on her knees, the watchers on the ship might never have seen the wrecked boat with its human freightage.
In addition to all that he had gone through, when Beekman had been slammed against the boat by a wave his right arm had been severely injured. It was obvious to Dr. Welch and the others that Beekman was in bad condition. The physician made a very thorough examination of him. His eyes were open, his lips muttered unintelligible things from time to time, but he was obviously not in possession of his reason. He knew none of them and could tell no coherent story. That right arm, especially, attracted the doctor's attention. The skin was scraped and torn from its upper half. There was one long bruise. But for the antiseptic effects of the salt water it probably would have been in worse condition than it was. Fortunately, the numbness and pain were caused from muscle strain and muscle bruise, for it was found that no bones were broken. Physically, so far as his bones were concerned, Beekman, like Truda, was intact.
"I don't know what happened to them," said Dr. Welch. "They must have been caught in that wave somehow. They have both had a terrible battering."
"This is Mr. Beekman," said Maynard.
"What, the man we have been seeking?"
"Well, by Heaven!" exclaimed the physician. He recovered himself in a moment. "I think we'll have him all right in a day or two. That's a nasty scrape he got on the right arm. The flesh is torn nearly to the bone, but the salt water has helped it, and as soon as it heals he will be all right. He is suffering now from fever brought on by the exposure. I have no doubt he saved that woman, and for a man to bring himself, let alone another human being, through a tidal wave like that-well, what he wants now is food, sleep, and complete rest. If you gentlemen will turn him over to me, I'll look after him, and when he wakes up, I'll guarantee he will be able to tell you all about it."
The doctor's advice was good. There was confidence in his bearing and in his words, which carried conviction to the two men. They withdrew and sat down together in the cabin, while the doctor, summoning his mate and a steward, busied himself with his patient.
"Well," said Maynard, in anything but a joyful manner, "our cruise has been a success."
"In so far as finding Beekman," was the equally melancholy answer, "but if the yacht sinks we won't have bettered his condition appreciably."
"No, of course, not," returned Maynard, thoughtfully. "Yet, I have great confidence in Captain Weatherby. I shan't give up hope until I feel her sinking under us."
"The only thing to be decided now is, shall we tell Stephanie?" he went on.
"Tell me what?" asked the girl, coming into the room and overhearing the last words.
"I-er-" Harnash hesitated. "About our castaways, the man we picked up-"
"Is he alive yet? Will he live?"
"Dr. Welch guarantees it," answered her father. "He has been badly buffeted, his arm is cut and bruised, and he is prostrated from physical and nervous strain."
"Is he conscious yet?"
"No, but Welch thinks he will be when he wakes up. How about your patient?"
"She's all right. She's conscious and Dr. Welch says that she only needs nourishment and rest. She's asleep now, I imagine."
"Who is she? What is she?" asked her father.
"She didn't say a word. She must be a Polynesian, although she looks strangely like a European, especially since we clothed her for the night."
"Didn't she say anything at all?"
"Not a word. She seemed frightened. On a wild venture I tried her in English, Italian, French, and even German. She made no response, yet she seemed to understand. Incidentally, she's one of the most beautiful girls I ever looked at."
The two men stared at each other.
"Didn't your man say anything at all?" asked Stephanie, no suspicion at all in her mind.
"Not a thing. He muttered continuously and more or less unintelligibly, but he is not sane yet," answered her father.
"Does he look like a South Sea islander?"
"He isn't one."
"What is he, then?"
The two men looked at each other again. Neither answered the question. Stephanie stared, greatly surprised, and not in the least understanding.
"Why don't you answer? What is the mystery?" she asked, obviously somewhat annoyed by their inexplicable hesitancy.
"He is an American," observed Maynard, slowly.
"It's Beekman," said Harnash.
The three seekers after Beekman were spared the necessity for immediate decision as to the telling of the story they had come so far to relate, for Dr. Welch came from the cabin on the heels of Harnash's startling revelation and reported that the patient was already quite composed and that he would soon be asleep. He guaranteed that he would awaken refreshed, in his right mind, and, save for the wound in his right arm, as well as ever. More careful examination disclosed that the wound was more superficial than otherwise. It would yield rapidly to treatment, the surgeon declared. Then having looked at his other patient, and finding her also fast asleep, Dr. Welch discreetly left the trio to their own devices.
"Of course," said Stephanie, relentlessly, "as soon as possible he will have to be told that our engagement is broken, and why."
"Yes," added Harnash, mournfully, "and as soon as he wakes up I shall tell him that I alone am responsible for his whole sorry plight."
"On the contrary," put in Maynard, sagely, "while I have no doubt that Welch is right, that Beekman will be much better when he does come to, yet he won't be completely himself. It takes more than a few hours of sleep to recover from such an experience as he must have passed through, and that torn arm is going to give him some trouble, at any rate. How he is going to receive both announcements no one can tell."
"He has a just right to be angry with me," said Stephanie.
"And much more with me," confessed Harnash.
There was a community of responsibility and blame, which, if anything were necessary, bound the two lovers more closely together than before, and, in answer to a common impulse, a human craving for sympathy, they approached each other to supplement invisible commiseration with something more tangible. Mr. Maynard looked away while George kissed Stephanie softly. When Maynard turned his head back they were standing side by side, while George was supporting Stephanie, who really needed no physical assistance whatever, by clasping her firmly about her waist.
"I never appreciated before as I do now what an infernal scoundrel I was and what a dastardly thing I did," said Harnash, in bitter self-scorn.
Stephanie was too honest and too clear eyed not to realize the truth of his words. She was too acutely conscious, however, of a certain share in his guilt, at least constructively, and too much in love to let him affect her in the least degree, except, perhaps, to fill her heart with compassion and tenderness for her lover at the terrible task imposed upon him. She patted the hand upon her waist and nestled a little closer to him, if that were possible.
"We won't go into that any more," she began, gently. "It was awful, as I have always said, but it was as much my fault as yours, and you have done everything you could to atone."
Harnash sighed deeply.
"He may not forgive me for all that," he said, doubtfully; "I don't see how he can."
"He must when he knows how you have repented and what you have done since then," continued Stephanie, firmly. "Why, if it hadn't been for you and the sailors, father and I never would have been here, would we, father?"
Mr. Maynard had his own views as to that, but he saw no reason for obtruding then upon these two lovers. With wise discretion and ready tact he nodded acquiescently.
"And there is one thing," went on Harnash, repeating himself, "that he cannot possibly condone."
"And what is that?" asked Stephanie, swiftly.
"The loss of you."
"Well, he can't blame you for that, at least. That's my fault entirely. I never should have promised to marry him in the first place. I never should have continued to let him think I would marry him in the second place. As soon as I found out I loved you I should have told him. If I had, what trouble and sorrow might have been avoided."
This time it was Harnash who attempted to comfort her, tritely enough, too.
"You acted for the best, of course," he said. "You were the soul of honor."
"Yes, I suppose so. But unless one acts in the right way, the fact that one's desires are for the best is of little moment; besides," she went on, after a little pause, which no one broke, so weighty and grave were the responsibilities and possibilities of the situation, "I don't believe he ever really cared very much for me, after all."
"It's impossible," protested Harnash, with a conviction which was a delight to her soul, "that anybody could come in close and intimate association with you without-caring."
"You say that because you love me, but lots of other men have known me very well, and-"
"It strikes me that the conversation is becoming rather purposeless," interrupted Mr. Maynard, a little impatiently. He had quite forgotten that the airy nothings of lovers true are much the most purposeful things which can engage their attention, when they are in the mood. "It is settled that we shall not tell him until he is better able to sustain the shock. For one thing, if what Captain Weatherby fears comes to pass, we shall all be so busy saving our lives that these love affairs will be of little moment." Again Mr. Maynard blinked the fact that love affairs are of infinitely greater moment to lovers even than the saving of life. "Of course," he went on, "whether he is still in love with Stephanie or not, Beekman is going to be frightfully indignant and resentful over the outrage, of which he was the victim. But we knew that when we started. We knew the engagement was broken. We knew that you and George had to face the music, Stephanie, and now that the time has come, face it, that's all. As for me, I'm going on deck." He paused at the foot of the companion ladder and looked back at the other two. "I wonder what sort of a relationship subsists between Beekman and that woman we picked up with him," he added as he ascended.
"I wonder, too," said Stephanie, turning to Harnash, a gleam of surprise in her eyes.
"It would solve everything beautifully if he had fallen in love with her," returned Harnash, optimistically.
"What, Derrick Beekman in love with a savage!"
"Well-er-not exactly in the way in which I love you."
"Do you mean to tell me he would fall in love any other way with any respectable woman?" flashed out the girl, changing her tactics to the great bewilderment of the more conventional man.
"Well, I don't wish to say anything about this island person, of course, but-"
"George," said the girl, "she's as beautiful as a dream, much more beautiful than I am."
This was a statement which Harnash could not allow to pass uncontradicted, and he denied it in the most effective way, which interrupted further speech, if only for a moment.
"Nonsense, impossible!" exclaimed he, when the kiss was finished.
"Did you get a glimpse of her?"
"I only saw a limp, drenched figure being hoisted aboard. I noticed she was whiter than the people of the islands we have visited."
"Why, her skin, save for the touch of the sun, is whiter and finer than mine. Her figure, which has obviously never known the restraints of-of-civilization is absolutely perfect. Her hair is like spun gold, and there's enough of it to cover half her beautiful little body."
"What you say is very interesting," observed Harnash, indifferently, "but it doesn't particularly concern me. The only type of woman that appeals to me is your type."
He emphasized this statement in truly appropriate, if somewhat conventional, fashion, and Stephanie received statement and emphasis alike with obvious satisfaction.
"There's another thing," she went on, when this second kiss had also run its course, "she doesn't look in any way-form or color or feature-like a South Sea islander. In these weary months of cruising and visiting island after island we have seen a great many, and not one of them has been as she."
"What does she look like?"
"A European. Our kind of people. She has white race somehow stamped all over her."
"Do you think she can be European?"
"Who knows? She didn't answer to any European language at my command. There wasn't a thing on her save the remains of a belt that seemed to have held some kind of a native skirt."
"After coming through that tidal wave the surprise is not that she had nothing on, but that they were alive at all. Beekman was in about the same case. Indeed, I don't think he had anything on, either. Probably the suit he wore when he went adrift was pretty old and could not stand much weathering. It was a happy thought of yours to have me bring some of Beekman's clothes with us in case we did find him. He couldn't have worn your father's or even mine now. He seems to have grown broader somehow. He looked as though he were a head taller than I am and he seemed in splendid bodily condition."
"The girl is shorter than I," said Stephanie, "but on a pinch she can wear my clothes."
"If she's an islander you'll find it difficult to get her into-er-many of the things civilized people wear."
"I shan't try," said Stephanie, smiling at her lover's sudden hesitancy. "I've got all sorts of negligées and kimonos that she can wear without-"
"So you can break her into the harness of civilization gradually," laughed George.
"Yes, including shoes."
"I'm sure she'd never get your dainty slippers on," went on the fatuous lover, and Stephanie, looking down with him at her small, exquisitely shod feet, agreed with him.
"Her feet, while they are not large, are larger than mine, but beautifully shaped, and I dare say they have never been bound up in a shoe."
"I feel that this is to be our last happy day," said Harnash, irrelevantly.
"We'll hope not," said Stephanie. "Indeed, I'm sure it won't be."
And so they babbled on, forgetful for the moment of all the facts of the case and the demands of the situation, not the least of which was Captain Weatherby's firm conviction that unless he got the ship ashore in a very short time, they would be adrift on whatever makeshift support they could compass.
It came into Harnash's mind, as he thought of what was laid upon him, that such a catastrophe might not be the worst thing to which to look forward. At least, he and Stephanie would die together, and if contrition, sincere repentance, and an earnest purpose of confession and amendment availed, they would be together in some future, where there might be no giving in marriage, but where there would be love and joy and the communion of soul with soul in ways scarcely to be apprehended by poor humanity.