The next morning Captain Weatherby was glad indeed to be rid of his passengers. His divers had already found the leak. It was now his opinion that the broken plate could be replaced and the leak made tight, or controlled, until they could get to a dry dock in some civilized port, without careening the ship. If all went well, in two days the Stephanie would be ready to leave the island. Of course they would have to get her off the sand, but she had been so beached that with the numerous crew she carried the captain could improvise a cofferdam and dig her out, if necessary, although that would naturally be the last resort. It was probable that ground tackle and her own extra-powerful engines would do the trick. Meantime there was much work for all hands, and the idlers were better away.
After breakfast, which was a trying meal for Truda, since she had no knowledge whatever of the utensils and equipment of civilization, the two women and the three men, accompanied by Dr. Welch, who had pronounced both patients well on the way to recovery, but who thought best to keep them under observation while he visited and examined the island from a scientist's point of view, were ferried over on an improvised raft to the strand, whence they found it not a difficult climb to the upland.
Horrible indeed had been the destruction by the storm that had followed the earthquake. What had been a paradise was now devastated. A few of the animals were still alive, but not a single human being was seen. The little settlement was in ruins. Every house had been leveled to the ground. A deep crevice had opened in the basic rock. It ran underneath the ruin of the church. Beneath the great heaps of stone on either side of this gulf they could see the crushed bodies of the islanders. It was easy to reconstruct the scene and to realize what had happened. The storm had given them plenty of warning. It was of so unusual a character that they had had an abundance of time to choose their places of shelter. Moved by such a mental stimulus, as can easily be imagined, they had chosen to assemble in the taboo house. The taboo had been broken, anyway. The god was angry with them. This was the form of his punishment. What was more natural than that they should turn to him? Perhaps they had some idea of prayer; it may be some lingering remains of Christian faith, which would have led them to assemble in the church in time of peril, had been added to the consciousness that the taboo was broken. At any rate, the men, women, and children all of them had crowded into the church. It was the largest and most substantial of all the buildings, and the earthquake had thrown it down upon them.
The huge rift that had been opened in the island had engulfed many of them, evidently. Whatever the case, not one of them was alive. The rift had divided the ruin into two parts. Most of the people evidently had remained near the door. Old Kobe's body was found in the opening in the rail, his hand stretched out to the broken altar upon which the mouldering cross still stood. They found the two precious books without much difficulty, and that was all.
Truda had disappeared. She presently rejoined them, clad in her usual way in one of the grass or fiber petticoats which she had resurrected from one of the houses of the women which had not been completely demolished. She had laid aside the light garments which Stephanie had put on her, and she seemed a different woman. They noticed it, of course, but made no comment. And now Dr. Welch, easily realizing that the friends would rather be alone, made his excuses and wandered away, out of hearing, at any rate, while he busied himself in observation and interesting studies.
"I'll have Captain Weatherby send a party of men to clear this away and give the bodies decent burial," said Maynard, breaking the solemn pause.
"That's good," observed Beekman; "I was about to suggest it."
"Well, there's nothing further to do here," said Stephanie. "Let's go back to the yacht."
"Before we go," broke in Harnash, "I've got something to tell you, Derrick, and the best place and time is here and now."
The moment had come!
"And I also have something to tell all of you," answered Beekman, realizing that he must settle his affairs sooner or later, and his natural temperament inclining him to sooner rather than later. Stephanie knew perfectly well what Beekman had to tell. She had not seen him and Truda together without becoming entirely aware of the state of affairs, but Beekman had no idea of the communication Harnash intended to make. He looked at him as he spoke. "Good God, old man, what's the matter?" he burst out. "You're as white as the spray yonder."
"I've a confession to make, and I want to tell you before I make it that I do it of my own free will. After you know what I've done, you will hardly believe that, but Mr. Maynard and Stephanie can both testify to that."
"We can," said Maynard.
"And we do," added Stephanie.
"George, I don't know how to take this tone from you. I've always found you strictly honorable. Your word has always been your bond. And your friendship has been beyond price. You can't have anything very dreadful to confess, I imagine. It can't be money, because you just told me about the investments."
"I wish to God it were," said Harnash bitterly. "I'd rather be branded as a thief than-"
A dawning suspicion flashed into Beekman's mind. Why had he never thought of it before? His face changed.
"What is it?" he demanded. "Speak out."
"You wondered how you were shanghaied and I was not. Well, I-I did it."
"I had it done, that is."
"Ah, and Woywod?"
"He was a boyhood friend. He would do anything for me. It was through him."
"By God!" cried Beekman passionately, forgetting everything else as his life on that hell ship came back to him, as he recalled the brutal bullying and the miseries that he and all the other men had endured, and that last terrible scene in the cabin, which had stained his hands with the blood of man; and that it was in self-defense did not make the stain any less vivid. "You-my friend-the best man-at my wedding!"
Harnash, by a magnificent display of courage, kept his head erect and forced himself to look squarely into Beckman's eyes. Maynard watched the two men with a curious interest as he might have watched a great dramatic climax in a play. Stephanie was fearfully concerned, yet she was proud of her lover, for in an utterly impossible position no man could bear himself with more courage and more dignity than Harnash exhibited then.
"Yes," he said, "you can't say anything to me that I haven't said to myself. You can't characterize my conduct more bitterly than I have done."
"Damn you," cried Beekman, his quick temper entirely uppermost, and before anyone could say a word or interpose he leaped upon Harnash. He had only the use of his left hand, but with that he struck him a fearful blow on the side of his face. "When I think of all you made me suffer," he continued, "I could kill you."
"I call heaven to witness, and you all," cried Harnash, the blood flaming in his cheek beneath Beekman's hand, "that I sustain this blow not because I fear but because I merit it. You see that Beekman's right arm is helpless; I could kill him if I would, but I deserve it." He turned his face toward his friend. "Strike again," he said, with sublime, almost heroic, purpose; but Beekman's hand fell.
What Harnash said was true. The two were not equally matched. Under ordinary circumstances Beekman was the stronger, but now the advantage was with the other man. "I couldn't strike a second time a man who won't strike back. If you would fight me I'd kill you with one hand. Why did you do it?"
Now it was Stephanie's turn. She interposed.
"Because I loved him."
"And our engagement?"
"I would have carried it through. I refused to tell you the truth."
"That I loved George and that he loved me."
"So you made love to my promised wife behind my back, did you?" cried Beekman, the scorn and contempt he infused into his words fairly scorching Harnash.
"I loved her before you did," protested the other, "but I never said a word to her. I never sought anything from her until-until-I-"
"Until I let him see that I didn't care for you, except as a friend, and that I did care for him," put in Stephanie deftly again.
"I begged that I might tell you the true facts of the case," said Harnash.
"And again I refused," said Stephanie. "I knew that marriage was my father's wish. It had been arranged with your father. I believed that you loved me. There was no other way."
"And did you know that he intended to do this?" asked Beekman in his rage.
"Now, by God, that's too much," cried Harnash. "That's an infernal shame. You can insult me, but you can't insult her, Beekman!" He stepped forward with clenched fist.
"Strike one blow. I beg you to do it," taunted Beekman.
But Mr. Maynard interposed between the two men and held them apart, for now Harnash, as angry as the other, would have struck him. Beekman had lost some of the advantage of his position by his implied charge against the woman.
"I didn't know it," answered Stephanie quickly, "but if I had I might have-the temptation-you didn't love me, did you?"
"I did then, but not now," answered Beekman scornfully.
"Ah," said Stephanie, quickly and greatly relieved, "I thought so."
"If you had only come frankly and told me the state of affairs, how much trouble would have been avoided," continued Beekman.
"Yes," said Stephanie, "we see that now; but, on the other hand, you wouldn't have won the heart of the woman you do love," she continued boldly, staking everything on her guess.
It was the first moment in the interview that Beekman had given a thought to Truda. Instinctively he turned to look for her. She had been standing near by, listening. She had made out, with her imperfect knowledge of English, only that these two men were quarreling over this woman. It intensified her conviction that Beekman must love this glorious woman. There was no place in his heart for her. Outside his heart there was no life possible for her. Her people were all gone. The island was a ruin. There was but one course left her. She stole softly away and presently began to run.
Now, the earthquake and storm had overthrown the clump of trees which hid the little amphitheater on the top of the cliff, still intact, whence Truda and her forebears for so many years watched the open sea, and the long path was clearly visible from where they stood. They could see her bright figure, outlined against the gray rocks, running toward the brink. Of what she would do there, no one, of course, could be sure, but in Beekman's mind flashed a suspicion which grew to a certainty. He forgot Stephanie; he forgot Harnash; he forgot his wrongs-he forgot everything but that far-off flying figure!
"My God!" he cried, "she thinks I don't care. She'll throw herself over the cliff."
Without a word, he tore over the debris-encumbered path, and without a second's hesitation the others followed. Even Stephanie gathered up her skirts and ran like Camilla over the ground. Dr. Welch, happening to turn at the moment, saw them and followed also. As he ran, with deadly fear in his heart, Beekman shouted after her.
"Truda," he cried. "Stop! for God's sake, wait!"
It was the first intimation the others had received that she understood English. But Truda ran on. She heard his voice, indeed. She partly comprehended his appeal, but it seemed to her that it was only in pity that he called. She was possessed by a certain panic terror, a certain wild jealousy, a certain horrible despair. She could never be like that glorious creature over whom the men quarreled as men have quarreled since time and the world began. Even if he did love her, he could never love her long. There was a passionate abasement in the swift comparisons she had been making since she had been brought on board the yacht. It was no use. She must go on. And not only did her own misery impel her flying feet, but some vivid considerations for his happiness. She was not of his kind. She was only a savage islander. She only realized it since she had been picked up by the yacht, because she had never before had any standards of comparison. Thus, in spite of the second that her heart gave to his appeal for the moment, she ran on.
Beekman stumbled and fell. He fell on his wounded arm, opening the wound again. He lay half-stunned for a moment, and by the time he had struggled to his feet the others had joined him. The race was lost. Truda had won. The little group around Beekman could see clearly into the amphitheater which Truda had entered. She stepped to the edge and glanced down. The sheer fall of perhaps five hundred feet would kill her instantly. It had been her purpose to fling herself from the brink without a moment's hesitation, but, like Lot's wife, she was fain to take one look backward, one glance of farewell.
"Oh, God!" cried Beekman, stretching out his left hand, the only one he could move, to the little figure posed against the sky in all its golden brilliance as he had seen it when he had lain upon the sand, a castaway, the first morning on that island. He thought and they all thought she would go over without hesitating, but she looked back. That backward look was her salvation.
Quicker witted than any, and realizing from her own womanly intuition what was in her sister woman's mind, Stephanie saved the day. As Truda's head came around, Stephanie took the boldest and most astonishing action of her whole life. There, in plain view of Truda, she struck Beekman full in the face with her clenched fist, and before anyone could stop her she struck again and again. She rained blow after blow upon him. She was a vigorous young woman, and in her excitement she had no idea of the power which her frantic excitement gave to her blows. Beekman, half-dazed from the other fall, and weakened from loss of blood from the reopened wound in his arm, was too astonished for resistance. Indeed, the first blow was enough. Instinctively, as one blow succeeded another, he threw up his arm vainly and then went down fairly under a mighty thrust into which she put all the force of her body. Indeed, she almost leaped upon him as he staggered backward. She recovered her balance with difficulty as Beekman fell a second time. He cut his head on a rock as he went down, and lay there with his arms outsprawled, senseless. As he did so Stephanie stepped forward with uplifted foot as if to stamp upon him. The next moment, Harnash, thinking her mad, clasped her in his arms.
"Stop, stop," he cried. "What has he done to you?"
"It was the only way," screamed Stephanie, hysterically. "Look!"
Then, and not until then, did they appreciate the meaning of her action. It was plain to the jealous heart of Truda. She had seen the first blow and the second. She had seen her lover go down. She saw him lying there. What was this woman doing? How dared she lift a hand against Beekman? Had he been killed? Rage-hot, savage, passionate-filled Truda's heart. There would be time enough to die later. Meanwhile she must teach this woman a lesson.
More swiftly than she had fled, she turned from the cliff brink and came bounding down the path, and yet there was some joy in her heart. Whatever Beekman might feel for this woman, it was obvious that she regarded him with scorn. But it was mainly murderous resentment that filled Truda's soul. Her face was transformed. It was convulsed with passion, with anger, with savage rage. There might have been some infiltration, some slight strain of Polynesian blood in this woman. She was aflame to defend her lover, with the spirit of the lioness sacrificing her life for her cub. In fact, the passion in her face was appalling.
"Father," cried Stephanie as she approached, "don't you see?"
It was Maynard who caught the island girl in his arms. It was he who held her firmly, despite her frantic struggles, while Stephanie approached, with Harnash holding her tightly, but to protect her from assault, because now he knew why she had done it.
"I only did it to stop you," she cried. "He loves you, not me. This is the man I love. Don't you understand?"
The passion faded out of Truda's face. She did indeed understand. She had been blind, mad to have doubted her lover. A great anxiety came into her face. She stared down at Beekman in agonized contrition and alarm. Her heart almost stopped at what she saw. Mr. Maynard released her, gave her freedom. She knelt down by her lover's side. She lifted his head in her arms and laid it against her breast. She called to him passionately in every language with which she was familiar. She pressed her lips to his lips, to his face, to his bleeding forehead.
Dr. Welch now came up with the party. Fortunately, he had brought a flask with him. A few drops restored Beekman to consciousness. He opened his eyes and gazed into Truda's face.
"Truda!" he said, struggling to a sitting position. "Thank God, you came back to me!"
"And this woman?" asked Truda, looking up at Stephanie. "Do you love her?"
She would have the truth from him, not from Stephanie or any other.
He shook his head.
"Forgive me, Stephanie. I love only you, Truda."
"But when you go back to that other world of which you told me, and I am there, alone?"
"I will love only you," he answered in a voice which carried conviction even to Truda.
She bent over him and laid her face in his hands.
"It strikes me," said Mr. Maynard, "that you haven't come out so badly, after all, Beekman."
"No," said Beekman. "Harnash, it was a-it wasn't a-pleasant-thing you did, but now that I love Truda, I can understand. We'll say no more. Let's forget it and be friends again."
"And you forgive me?" asked Stephanie, kneeling by his side, while Truda jealously raised her arm as a barrier. Stephanie laughed. "I won't touch him," she said.
"What shall I forgive?"
"That violent assault of a moment since," she said as a deep flush spread over her face. "It was the only way to let her see we were nothing to each other."
"It was a very effective way," said Beekman, his native humor coming to the rescue. "George," he said, extending his hand to his friend, "let me give you a piece of advice. Take a few boxing lessons before you take this lady for your wife."