Lost Island, part 1

Here’s Chapter I of Barbara’s unpublished novel, Lost Island. All typos are mine. My plan is to post the thing in about fifteen parts, one or two per week.

I

Not even a cat was out. The rain surged down with a steady drone. It meant harm to New York and everyone there. The gutters could not contain it. Long ago they had despaired of the job and surrendered. But the rain paid no attention to them. It was bent on an errand of hate against the city.

Windows were gray and tight shut. There was one window fronted with a box of pansies, and behind the pansies, rather than behind the window, Jane Carey lived. There was nothing outside, this morning. Nothing but gray curtains hanging between the sky (was there really a sky?) and the flooded streets. Solid gray curtains, sometimes swaying ominously in the gusts of wind.

In New York people never lived in houses or even in burrows. They inhabited cells in stone cliffs. They timed the cooking of their eggs by the nearest traffic light. If the light went wrong, so did the eggs. All the cliffs were alike, and even all the cells. Unless there was some personal reason for knowing a particular one, it could never be distinguished from the others. A gigantic beehive.

Opening her window a little wearily, Jane took the pansies in out of the lashing rain. Her face at first might seem like thousands of others that peered occasionally from cells in stone cliffs. Her plain brown hair was drawn back severely, and there was no light in it. But, on a second glance, there was something rare and haunting about her, perhaps her bold forehead in contrast to the wistfulness of her mouth, perhaps her dark brown eyes and the secret laughter in them — something intangible that was Jane Carey.

“I don’t like civilization,” she said, to the rain.

Millie Carson’s voice answered sleepily, in the tone of one who had discussed the subject before. “Well, s’pose you could chuck Manhattan out in the Indian Ocean as you’d like to, it still wouldn’t stop raining. Be a lot worse, too, out in the wild, woolly woods you’re forever ranting about.”

“Out in the wild, woolly woods,” said Jane, “you’d stay snug in your own shack, or cave, or tree, as the case might be. You wouldn’t go out to work till it stopped, whereas I — ”

“But you’d have to lug home a lion to eat — if it didn’t eat you first, that is.” To Millie, “woods” and “lions” were practically synonyms.

“Oh, you’d pick yesterday’s lion-bones,” Jane told her. “And lion soup — delectable!”

Things like that were beyond rational consideration. “Broadway for me, gal, work or no work,” Millie said.

“And the wild woods for me, lions or no lions,” Jane echoed.

“What I can’t understand is why the hell you don’t beat it back to that one-horse town in Maine where you were raised.”

“Some time I’ll tell you.”

“It would leave a job for somebody in little old N. Y., Janie. Worth thinking over. Always thought you were kind-hearted.”

“If I left my job,” Jane retorted, “there’d be a revolution. A hundred thousand people would fight for it.” She flapped into her raincoat.

“Toodleoo!” Millie sang out. “Don’t get drowned, kitten.” And she promptly went to sleep again.

Outside, the rain was a wall. Jane made a dash into it. She lowered her head and struggled with it. At last, the blue light of the subway station, a dim but welcome symbol of hope.

She stood on the platform and let two roaring, jammed expresses hurtle by. Jammed was hardly the word, either. Millie wouldn’t mind piling into them, being squashed to pulp. Perhaps she even enjoyed it. Millie and her absurd lions! Jane smiled. An elderly, stern-looking lady with a vast expanse of bosom and a string of cheap pearls noticed the smile…. Millie had never been off the pavements in her life. Didn’t want to, either. No two persons could be more different, or fonder of each other. Millie’s needs were snappy clothes, plenty of war-paint, and boy friends. She was a chorus girl in a cheap show — not very near the footlights, but on her way, perhaps. Jane was shy and retiring. She looked severe and plain by contrast, and a little old-fashioned, like something carved in oak. She idolized woods and hills and bright pastures. To her the city was purposeless and tyrannical. For months these two girls had shared the small uptown apartment. Jane was out all day, Millie most of the night. When they were together, they were a never-ending source of bewilderment and amusement to each other, which was perhaps why they got along so well…. Jane was still smiling. The dame with the pearls lifted her eyebrows and sidled up. “Do I know you?” she challenged, with immense haughtiness.

Jane quickly reassured her. “Oh, no! I was just smiling to myself, and — well, you got in my way.”

The downtown local pulled in, its four yellow lights suggesting the feelers of some great dashing worm. Jane stood at the very rear of the train, and absently watched the tunnel lights. With a spurt, yellow meteors jumped up and arranged themselves in a row behind, one end of it growing, the other fading away in the tunnel. Sometimes a blue one flew into the row. Once the red eyes of an express train behind loomed up, a monster roaring past out of the dark. It was sinister but impersonal. It didn’t care in the least whether or not Jane liked civilization. It was civilization — efficiency and machinery. The engine maintained a frightful pace, and you had to keep up with it or get crushed and mangled.

Everywhere now the engine was victorious. Even at sea. Jane did not know much about the sea, except that it held a nameless magic for her. But she was conscious of its transformation. No more sleepy galleons with purple and gold sails, moving on in a leisured sway. Even the fine old tea-clippers were too slow. Sails had to surrender to the propeller and the steam-engine. The world couldn’t sit around waiting for the wind to blow in some special direction. But why think of ships and the sea? They were more intangible and unattainable even than woods and hills…. Here was Times Square — people nearly killing one another in their frenzy to get somewhere or other, as if it mattered. But you had to keep pace. Philosophize till doomsday; a lot of good it would do if you didn’t keep pace. No chance at all for trees, sailing ships, or philosophy.

Jane worked in a very dark little office. Not a ray of sunlight could penetrate there; hardly a gleam of honest daylight. After three years, working without daylight was still torture to her. Otherwise, it could be said that she had an enviable job, particularly now, when jobs, as Millie put it, were scarcer than thousand-dollar bills. The truth seemed to be that one could starve to death on an enviable job — for mountain wind, for stars among pine trees, or the call of a wood-thrush to his mate.

No one knew precisely what the business of that little office was. Jane knew only that it was intensely scientific. Professor Myers was in charge of whatever it was that happened there. He was an aged and kindly soul who directed by correspondence mysterious researches in entomology, and wrote articles about them for which he was never paid.

Professor Myers amused Jane, and seemed to her always a trifle pathetic. He was so wrapped up in entomology that he never noticed when anyone laughed at him. People were forever laughing at him, though gently and affectionately. He never remembered his appointments. Sometimes he forgot his overcoat. His glasses were perpetually lost.

“Good morning, Miss Carey, good morning.” He beamed. He was always in the office by the time she arrived at nine, and he worked there till all hours of the night. There were other members of the staff, but he and Jane were the only ones of any importance. They worked in a world by themselves. She was his secretary; upon her devolved many duties which seemed irrelevant, such as buying his railway tickets when he went out of town, keeping on hand a supply of cigarettes and pipe tobacco, and finding his glasses.

“The Coleoptera Review took that article of mine,” he said, with another beam. “Let’s write to them.”

Jane fetched her notebook and settled down opposite him at his desk. He dictated in a leisurely way. Between sentences he seemed to be carrying on scientific researches, and Jane did her day-dreaming.

“To Dr. Carl Unger,” he began, “Editor of — ” Jane nodded. “I am very glad that you have accepted my article, and I shall be glad to make the changes you suggest. I was glad to hear — Oh, no, no, I don’t want to be so darn glad. Take out some of those glad’s, Miss Carey.”

He began floundering among the papers on his desk. “Have you seen my glasses?” he asked. “I had them a minute ago.” She walked around his desk, and presently fished them out of the half-open drawer into which they had fallen. He thanked her gravely. “It’s not so much whether you lose your glasses, Miss Carey, as whether you find them again.” You couldn’t laugh at Professor Myers when he said such things so solemnly. He invested them with deep meaning. That remark could be applied to the whole of life. Not so much whether you lost your glasses — it was the finding that counted….

When Jane had first come to New York, only eighteen years old, alone, with little money, and less idea of where she would go or what she would do, old Professor Myers had taken her into his office for half-time work, while she went to business school and learned typing and stenography with the energy of desperation. He bothered her with no questions; he simply approved, advised, watched. Deep down he was a practical soul, but it was deep. Many people who thought they knew him never suspected it at all.

At least there was no great hurry in his office. Stepping inside his door, Jane temporarily stepped into an oasis in the desert of the steam-engine and the dollar symbol. She knew she was lucky not to be in the rush and whirl of industry. Furthermore, she was fond of the old man. But she hated his four dark walls. And his monographs on butterflies’ antennae irritated her — as if you couldn’t appreciate a butterfly without knowing all about its antennae!…

That day was over. Nothing was left of it, no one remembered it, when Jane stepped out into the street again. The rain had abated, but the air was still dank and cold. She stood still a minute, struggling with her umbrella. She was tired, but comforted to think that the week was almost over. From somewhere a voice seemed to be hailing her. It couldn’t be real, but it was persistent. “Janie! Oh, Jay-nee!”

“Why, Bob!” (It was a real voice, then.)

He hurried up to her, and they shook hands gravely. His shape was vague in the rainy mist. He looked very tall, a bit piratical. That was the effect of his felt hat covered with mist. “What are you doing in this end of town, Bob? And where have you been hiding yourself anyway?”

“Right here for the last half hour; I thought you’d emerge some time. Janie, I need the proverbial shoulder.”

“To cry on?”

He nodded. “Ellen’s given me the go-by.”

“Poor devil,” said Jane, into the mist. And in the same minute she wondered why so many of her friends seemed to need her shoulders, whereas she — But she had not yet succeeded in convincing herself that the enigmatic person before her was Bob. He shouldn’t look piratical; he ought to be young and boyish. The rain and her mood had changed him.

“You thought she would, didn’t you?” he asked.

“I was afraid of it, to tell the truth.”

“And you’ll probably say ‘good riddance.’ And I wonder if you aren’t right.”

She squeezed his hand. “Come on up to my little hole,” she invited, “and have some supper. We can’t stand here forever, you know,” she reminded him, as she might have reminded Professor Myers. “How about a steak-‘n’-unyuns? Where’s your car?”

He tucked a hand under her arm, and they vanished into the rain like two ghosts.

That steak did help matters. Jane hustled about her kitchenette in a green dress with ruffles and flowers on it, a sort of symbol of springtime. That helped, too. “Sit down,” she commanded, when everything was ready. “I bet you’re half starved. You’d never remember to eat if somebody didn’t remember for you.” She brought to the table a large platter of steak, and a bottle of red wine. “And don’t sigh like a willow tree, old man. Never liked willows much. Spruces and firs have more the right idea.”

Before long she had him almost laughing. He looked infinitely improved, then. Just a young thing, after all, who didn’t know where he was bound, and who like to pretend that he was grown up. He wasn’t a man yet, but she felt that he was trying hard to be, that he would be very soon, and that he was struggling against heavy odds; for he was the son of a widowed millionaire who pampered him. It was only with Jane that he forgot this other life. With her he could be natural and spontaneous. She was a cold clear spring in the midst of a too languid garden.

“I wish,” she said abruptly, “you could go and plough a field. Awfully good for your backbone, ploughs are. But with those damned button-hooks of your father’s being such a success — ”

“Fish-hooks, Janie — ”

“I don’t care if they were harpoons. They’ve made life too easy for you.

“You brute!”

“A really first-class backbone has to be developed in the face of resistance,” Jane solemnly intoned.

“D’you suppose Ellen saw the flaws in mine, then?”

“I don’t know; but it’ll take a good one to hang on to her. She’s a — fly-away. A sprite, sort of. What have you been doing to her?”

He smiled ruefully. “Well, I did look out the window once or twice,” he admitted. “You know how it is. Just natural, Janie. No harm meant. But when somebody strenuously objects, the things we see out the window look better and better.”

Jane smiled slowly. “No girl on earth wants to believe such things,” she said.

“Jane, you understand, don’t you? Couldn’t you see Ellen, and explain to her? I can’t; I’ve tried.”

“She’d curse me for a confounded old meddler, Bob.”

“No, I think she’d take it from you. She thinks of you as kind of an older sister who knows life, and all that stuff.”

“That’s ironical, to say the least,” Jane chuckled. “Must be because I ran away from home. That always gets you a reputation of one kind or another.”

“Jane, I wish you would see her.”

“What can I say that you couldn’t say better?”

“She won’t see me. She won’t talk to me on the telephone.”

“Give her time.”

“It’s hell to wait. And I think she’s going around with some other fellow.”

The hurt look in his eyes persuaded her. “All right,” she said. “I’ll try.” Old Professor Myers’ words about his glasses rang in her mind again, and she added: “Don’t look so worried, Bob. It doesn’t matter so much if you lose her — just as long as you get her back again.”

“Janie, I don’t know how to thank — ”

“Don’t bother!”

She made coffee. They talked and laughed, discussed dreams and plans. “You haven’t said a word about yourself, Janie. What are you going to do this summer?”

“Oh, work,” she said casually.

“No vacation?”

“Couple of weeks. I may go to Maine — climb a mountain or two — have a swim.”

“You like that job of yours a lot, don’t you?”

She dared not flinch at that, for her usefulness to her friends lay in giving them the firm conviction that she herself was content with life. “Sure,” she answered steadily. “I’m lucky to have any job, these days.”

She was even trying to shrug her shoulders with appropriate nonchalance, but the doorbell rang, and that gesture was never finished.

Out in the hall stood a small, dim person. Jane stared. “Mary Rogers!” She grabbed both the girl’s hands. “You’re frozen, and drenched!” she exclaimed. “Come in…. No, nobody here except Bob Graham — you’ve heard of him.”

“Janie,” the other girl whispered — her teeth were chattering — “could you possibly put me up for the night?” She was a shy, gray, frail young person, with hungry but innocent blue eyes.

“Did you ever know me not to put you up for the night? Will you have the bed that lets down or the one that unfolds?”

“I’d be glad to sleep on the floor. The truth is, Jane, my job is gone and I haven’t a cent — and you know I can’t go home, after leaving them so proudly.”

“Oh, Lord, how we all do seem to be in trouble! Well, come on in and meet Bob. Have some coffee. Help yourself to my elegant wardrobe if you’re wet. And do let’s try to be gay.”

Millie came in late, with a scuffle of high heels in the corridor. Jane met her with one finger across her lips in warning. “Mary’s here,” she said. “Lost her job, and all upset. So don’t fling the rough language too much, and don’t be hard on the kid even if you don’t think much of her…. Sa-ay! What you been doing? How come you look so pleased with yourself?”

“Oh, I’ve been getting engaged again, that’s all…. Well, let me have a look at your little lame cat. I won’t hurt her.” Millie was not derisive, only mocking. To her, Jane’s out-of-luck friends were always “lame cats.” There were usually a lot of them around. Jane was too soft and easy, Millie thought — allowed people to prey on her. People would prey, of course, if they had the chance, or thought they had.

Millie’s own ideas were different. Live for yourself first; you got on much better. Good things don’t come of their own accord. They had to be fetched, and then hung on to. All that took energy. But it was the best way to use one’s energy: for your own advancement and not that of lame cats. Jane was a darling, of course, but unpractical. She lived on dreams and ridiculous fancies. Always taking about the woods, or sometimes the sea. Living with her eyes half closed to the world around her, and a dream in their depths. Millie didn’t understand that. She lived in the present. Get the most out of today — fun, clothes, money, laughs; get as much as you can. Tomorrow you may be dead….

Bob was just going. “Thanks, Jane,” he said. “I feel improved.”

She went to the door with him. “Good boy. Don’t worry over Ellen or the fish-hooks or anything.”

“Try not to,” he promised.

“I’ll telephone her in the morning, and ask her over.”

“You’re grand, Jane. And — say! You tell your nice little friend Mary to come and see my Dad next week. He’s been thinking about firing his secretary.”

“Bob — could you fix up a date for her to see him?”

“Sure — I guess so.”

“Corking of you!”

“Well, we’ve all got to help each other out,” he said. “You help morally, I help materially; everybody can, some damn way, and the world wags on.”

“Keep it up,” said Jane. “You’re almost a philosopher.”

Mary was vague and indefinable, Jane thought. But then, she was tired tonight and rather frightened. Millie was louder and ruder, and her world remote from Jane. And yet Millie was infinitely more real, more vital. She was colorful, with her bush of black curls, her snapping eyes, her gorgeous painted mouth. Mary tried to talk about industry, the lack of jobs, the sad condition the world found itself in. But that was an unfortunate subject. The world was going to the dogs… and conversation languished.

“You’re tired,” said Jane. “I think I’ll put you to bed. You can have the contrivance that lets down, and Millie and I’ll berth together.”

Mary looked suspiciously at the swinging bed. “I won’t wake up in the closet, will I?”

“Well, no one has yet. But you never can tell, you know. You might wake hanging upside down, like a little bat.”

…A little shy gray bat which she had brought in from the woods and made friends with, years ago. Luna moths and bats; thrushes at dawn, wild roses, butterflies, and the smell of pines — all these had been part of that “one-horse town in Maine,” where she had spent her first eighteen years, and which she had always thought of with delight…. In those days New York, new friends, a job and money of her own, had been in her mind unattainable and romantic fancies.

The three girls were at last comfortably installed for the night. Jane became aware that Millie was nudging her under the sheet. “Kitten!” she whispered. “Coming to my wedding?”

“It won’t go through,” said Jane.

“He’s a swell guy,” said Millie. “Plenty of money, good looker, dances like a house afire.” Those were the three ideal virtues.

“That’s what you’ve said about all of ’em,” Jane reminded her.

Millie’s idea was to catch a man before you knew him too well and were disillusioned about him; then, when you began to see his faults, drop him like a red-hot poker. That was the way to get the most out of affairs of the heart. All the fun and none of the tears.

“You know,” Jane confided, “I almost got married once myself.”

“For Gawd’s sake! I didn’t think you’d even been kissed. And you never told me, you wretch!”

“Well, it missed fire.”

“It would. You’re so idiotic, kitten.”

“Well, I got to the altar.”

“Didn’t he turn up, or was the ring lost, or — ”

“Nothing like that. It was all quite proper. Horribly proper, in fact. So I skipped, that’s all. Ran for my life.”

“For Gawd’s sake!” Millie commented again. “Honest, I didn’t know you had it in you.”

Jane shut her eyes. It had been a whale of a day, and tomorrow would be another. Time to sleep. But she had evoked a ghost, and it was not to vanish easily…. Not that Charlie had ever meant very much. He had been a jolly soul, and a pleasant companion. He could make a violin tell you of sunsets and far places, but he himself never lived up to the things his violin said. He had money, within reason. A college boy, too — very eligible. Nothing to worry about if she married him, her tyrannical widowed father affirmed. Well, nothing to think about, either; or to dream about. But she had accepted her fate. In that town, it would have been unthinkable to refuse. Furthermore, she was willing to believe that she was in love. Everyone assured her that she was, and there was nothing to compare it with. There were vague dissatisfactions, but she never analyzed them. That was dangerous; besides, it wasn’t customary to worry about matters so obviously well arranged.

She had felt idiotic marching up that church aisle to the strains of the wheezy old organ. A heifer going to sacrifice; and not half so glamorous as if she were an Aztec maiden before the temple of the god of harvests. This sacrifice was all in the best manner, of course. They had invited the aunts and cousins of both families, people of whose existence she had not been aware — squeaky old ladies, mostly, in rustling purple and gray.

And then the face of old Father Benton, kindly and benign. God’s right-hand man. That church was awfully stuffy, too — full of aunts. The whole thing was unbearably proper, anyway. She would have liked to be married out-of-doors, in sunlight…. Charlie seemed to be actually enjoying it. There was a beam on his face. Well, then, Charlie was an ass. The thought made her start…. “Dearly beloved brethren…” Father Benton’s hands caressed his book smoothly, benignly.

Jane’s resentment had surged up. They were not going to put this over on her! Without taking time to think what the consequences would be, she raised her voice high and yelled: “Fire! FIRE!” Then she gathered up the trailing gown, and tore down that church aisle like a wild deer let loose in a city street. Once in the open air she had simply kept on running — and she had good wind and strong legs….

The actual Jane, lying in bed in her New York apartment, smiled faintly. Well, her life had not been utterly void of adventure. Spectacular, at least, that had been. Saved for a far more glamorous doom, she was. A real Aztec temple? Not cut out to be hostess at dinner-parties for Charlie’s friends. Even New York was better than that. A lucky break, that imaginary fire. New York at least was a going concern. It was tyrannical, but rather jolly, if you were in the mood. Chanting wheels of progress — maddening, but busy. You couldn’t see much of God, though. Too much progress. God was like the woods — quiet and old-fashioned.

Chapter II…

Comments

  1. Bruce Edward Watts says:

    I eagerly await the next installment.

  2. Just discovered this site and this author today, will be looking forward to every new installments and trying to get my friends to read as well. Will you be transcribing Barbaras other works after this?

    • Thanks for visiting, Jon. There are a two short stories already on the site (Rocks & Mothballs in the Moon), and I have one or two more to add. I won’t be transcribing Barbara’s two published novels, which won’t be in the public domain for another ten year or twelve years.

  3. Thanks for letting me know, I may have to try and track down copies of her 1st 2 novels then. How many installments do you think Lost Island will run to?

  4. Barbara dedicated “Lost Island” to E.A., whom she met in summer 1929. Is there any indication when she actually started writing “Lost Island”?

  5. This is tremendous, thank you!

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