Lost Island, part 15

Chapter “XVI” (should be “XV,” I think) of Lost Island, pp. 213 – 228. Chapter I here.

John apparently hadn’t the slightest intentions of ever leaving New York. He lived in a cheap hotel room which he rented by the week; and he attended to his business with publishers day after day. He would refer, in a confidential, mysterious tone, to his “Business with Publishers.” As to its exact nature, Jane was quite in the dark. But in any event, that was the least of her worries.

In fact, John was pretty complicating, even if he was a Godsend. Nothing in all her varied philosophies was quite adequate to rationalize him. After several glasses of sherry, the two-lives theory sounded good; in the cold gray dawn, however, it looked more like plain selfishness. The whole thing had been pretty sudden, anyhow; she could not adjust herself to it. One day she was Davidson’s — Davidson possessed her, heart and soul and body. The next day — she was still Davidson’s, and also John’s. Which was not reasonable. She agreed entirely with John, that nothing beautiful could be wrong. But that sword cut two ways: nothing wrong could be beautiful. If it was wrong to hurt people, then this was wrong, for it would hurt Davidson. Better to starve herself? Starved, she wouldn’t be of so much use to Davidson…. And so on, round and round.

In the mean time, she was impelled deeper and deeper into this conflict, which was at least an exciting and vital conflict, and therefore fun. She saw a great deal of John, and he never failed to amuse and delight her. They lunched together, perching on stools and giggling over their ice cream sodas; they wined and dined, saw shows, kissed at the red lights. And danced. At least twice a week, often three times, they danced.

One Saturday afternoon, he insisted on going shopping with her while she bought a dress. This was to make sure that he would approve of it. Of course he did nothing but hamper progress. He delighted at the same time that he infuriated the shop girls. He would stand off a little, as Jane appeared in some sparkling creation, and tilt his head critically from side to side, wrinkling his nose in perplexity. Jane would burst out laughing uncontrollably. “Nope! Nope!” he would say finally. “Won’t do. Off with it!”

“Your husband seems to have his own ideas,” one saleslady acidly remarked.

In about the fourth shop, Jane walked out of the dressing room in a glittering sheath of gold mesh that fell to the floor in an intricate graceful cascade. A deep swirling cape reached almost to the waist, and was held together on one shoulder by a blazing blue clip shaped like a butterfly.

The expression of approval on John’s face was now almost as ludicrous as his disapproval had been before. Jane turned slowly around for him, and his approval increased. “But,” he said at last, in awed tones, “I wanted you to show off your backbone.”

Jane unclasped the butterfly, and the gleaming cape fell with a faint rustle. The front of the dress was held up by a slender gold loop around her neck. Her back and shoulders were bare.

John’s eyes were very big. “‘S wonderful!” he exclaimed softly. Then he beckoned to the salesgirl, and whispered: “How much does it cost?”

This dress was the first that had ever meant anything to Jane; and she loved it because it symbolized new discoveries in life: it symbolized the glamour of music, of rhythm, of dancing; it symbolized patterns of colored lights, and glass pillars reflecting them iridescently — John’s part of her life, which was magical and exciting, even if it was a conflict. She knew intuitively that Davidson would hate that dress. He would think she looked like a prostitute in it, and he would say so. She felt sorry, all at once, that he couldn’t share these things that were beginning to mean so much to her. The contrast between the two men, her lovers, was amusing. In reality John was only three or four years younger, yet the difference might easily have been three times as great. He was so boyish and enthusiastic, spontaneously ready to be amused by anything at all, happy-go-lucky; while Davidson was quiet and brooding, moody, sensitive and stern, and intensely emotional in an altogether different way…. Give up John? Whatever happened, she couldn’t do that. And they went on dancing….

Margaret Kingsley met him, and approved whole-heartedly. “If I didn’t love you, Janie, I’d go out to vamp him myself.”

“Go ahead!” Jane suggested. “Don’t mind me, Marg.”

“But aren’t you nuts about him?”

“Sure — in a way.”

Margaret shook her finger in reproof. “Mrs. Ghost!” she mocked softly. “He’s holding you down.”

“You’d be surprised how little he’s holding me down,” Jane assured her.

“Well! That sounds interesting.”

“Of course I love Johnny,” Jane told her. “In a different way, that’s all. I can’t take him too seriously. He wouldn’t want me to. It isn’t like that.”

Sometimes Margaret dug up one of the boy friends who seemed to her so unexciting, and the four went dancing together. On one of these occasions, Jane coralled Margaret between dances.

“Marg, remember what I said about everybody having a spark somewhere?” she asked.

“Good Lord, Jane, don’t tell me Freddy has one!”

“Of course he has. I found it in just one dance. It’s photography.”

Margaret made a weary gesture. “Oh, I knew that!” she exclaimed. “And of all the dumb — ”

“Now listen here, Madam Olympus! He’s amusing as hell about it. He was telling me how he made himself a darkroom in the attic; how he tried to pipe running water into it, and nearly flooded the house, thereby getting himself in so bad with the family that he’s had to conduct his experiments in secret ever since. And did you know that on a package of a certain kind of film it says: ‘Open in total darkness. Instructions inside’? How’s that?… You ought to go to his place some evening and watch him work. He’s already invited me, by the way. That kid’s an artist. Why don’t you come down off the mountains? Does the air in the high altitudes agree with you, or something?”

Margaret sighed. “You’re right, Janie; gosh, how I envy the way you get on!”

But there was a great deal in Jane’s daily existence that was pretty far removed from fun.

One evening trouble came over the telephone. “Hello, Jane Carey,” said a voice that was only half familiar. “You don’t know?… Gawd, is it that bad? Why, I’d recconize your vocalizin’ any place.”

“Millie!”

“Uh-huh. The same, sweetheart.”

“Where are you? I want to see you.”

“Nerts to you. You can’t see me, kid. I just want to tell you something.”

“But Millie, I must see you!”

“Didncha hear me say nerts? Listen! It was me took your dough, and I’m gonna pay it back. Started an account in your holy name the other day.”

“Millie, I don’t give a hang about the money. I just want to see you. What are you doing?”

“Never you mind about that, honey. What are you doing, by the way? And how did the jolly ol’ lions treat you?”

“If you knew where I am, why didn’t you phone long ago, Millie?”

“Well, I just happened to see you in the book tonight.”

“Won’t you come to see me?” Jane pleaded.

“Can’t we be quits, Janie? Can’t you lemme alone? You’d just preach at me, or something. Well, I don’t wanna be preached at, see? Maybe I’m happy just like I am. Maybe I wanna go alone.”

Jane changed her tone. “Go plumb to hell for all I care,” she said. “I loathe preaching, and wouldn’t waste my voice on you if I got paid. I’d just like to see you. Can’t you get that through your dense cranium?”

Millie chuckled a little. “Now you’re beginning to sound like you,” she said. “Oh, I dunno. I’ll think it over.”

Jane felt that she was on the right track. “Well, never mind; don’t come if you don’t want to,” she said.

“I’ll come,” Millie said, and hung up abruptly.

It was a good many days later that she came, late at night, and furtively. “Anybody here?” were the first words she said, as she thrust her tangle of black curls inside the door.

Jane fairly hauled her inside and hugged her in a bear-like embrace. “My ribs!” Millie protested. “Hear that crack? Ouch!”

Jane thrust her off a little and looked at her familiar face. Only — it wasn’t quite familiar. The plucked eye-brows were the same, and the war-paint — a little more war-paint, if anything; but her cheeks were thinner, and her eyes troubled. She was wearing a tight black satin dress, with silver trimming, and one of her arms jingled with assorted bracelets. She positively reeked of cheap perfumery. Her black pumps had silver heels.

“Thought you wouldn’t like it,” Millie said, half-defiantly, as she stared back. “But it’s your own fault, you know.”

“You nut, I’m tickled silly!”

“Cut out the sentiment, and give an account of yourself,” Millie insisted. “Couldn’t you even send an old pal a post-card?”

“I got shipwrecked,” Jane began.

“Shipwrecked, your grandmother! Did you get your backbone broke, too?”

“Damn near.”

“Shipwrecked!” Millie mocked. “That’s a hell of a note, when you have to tell fancy stories even to me. Kee-rist! Kitten, I’m disappointed.”

Jane grinned. “I won’t believe yours, either.”

“I got shipwrecked, too,” Millie said.

Jane waved her hand. “Not interested,” she said solemnly.

“Well, I s’pose I gotta explain, on account of your dough. It was thisaway. I fell in a big way for a yegg. Mary was shocked, the little darling, but anyway I went and spent a few nights with him, sociable-like.”

“Oho, a bed-time story!”

“Yeah — and why I ever fell for his line — ” She stopped and scrutinized her old friend. “He said he’d get me a job in a real show!” Millie exclaimed. Jane was careful not to show the slightest spark of interest. “Well, tha’s all, except I almost had a brat, and I swiped your dough, and the yegg vanished in thin air, and I couldn’t get a job, and I started taking in men for a consideration — for quite a consideration — and they like me, and here I am — kind of fell in the woild, you see, when all the time I wanted to be a Pavlova.”

Said Jane: “You little idiot!”

“Aw, quit the preachin’.”

“Well, I don’t give a damn,” said Jane.

Millie smiled again. “What would you do, kitten?”

“What do you care what I’d do?”

“Well, I don’t, much. I can’t imagine you in my shoes, anyhow. What d’you know about it? Bet you never even had a lover — you old-fashioned, sensible-shoes Jane.”

“Only a couple of ’em,” Jane said.

“Don’t brag. ‘Tisn’t nice, and I don’t believe it.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Two of ’em, honest? Then you’re on to what I’m talkin’ about? You know how it is when you want to sleep with a guy?”

“Sure, I’m on,” Jane said softly.

“Hell, ain’t it?”

“Sure.”

Jane was thinking fast and furiously. She thought that possibly at this point some sort of constructive idea might register. The horror of it was, she had none to offer. She did not have at her finger-tips small jobs on the stage, or in restaurant floor-shows. She could lend money; but that at best would be mere temporary help. Besides, she was quite sure Millie would have none of it.

“Well,” Millie said, “I’ll be moseyin’ along. Customer,” she explained, with a faint leer. “Don’t worry about your dough, beloved lioness.”

“Oh, hell! That’s the least of my worries,” Jane said impatiently.

Millie kissed her briefly, and went out, slamming the door. But the taste of lipstick stayed, and the smell of the cheap perfume. Jane went to one of the big windows, and thrust her head outside. It was a hot spring night, faintly damp; easy to think about lurid passions. A street light burned pale blue below. Somewhere a cat squalled. A far-off radio hurled out faint jazz, of which only the rhythm, and very little tune, could be heard. Jane felt restless and helpless. Again she was up against something she didn’t know how to fight. Not give way to ugliness?… She was determined to do something about Millie. If she couldn’t, then she would have failed; as a friend, as a human being. None of her other triumphs over friends’ troubles would mean a thing to her if she couldn’t help Millie. As she brooded, sick at heart, she wondered if it might not be a good idea to call Margaret into consultation. She tried to picture Millie in fine clothes; but she could not picture her without garish make-up and livid nail-paint…. Besides, it was dancing the girl wanted, in a show or restaurant. She could be good at that. Jane wondered if she knew anybody connected with shows or restaurants; and decided that, since she didn’t, she would make a point of becoming acquainted with one or two as soon as possible. Persons who had that mysterious thing called Drag….

Leaning on the wide window-sill, over the musky fragrance of her geraniums, she put her head down on her arms. As she leaned there in perplexity, half-crying, she thought of Davidson, and knew for sure that it was he, and not John, whom she desired most. John stood for all that was fun in life — but Davidson was life itself….

Jane’s doorbell was a romantic one — sometimes, it seemed, even sympathetic, for only a few days later Davidson himself rang it. She fell blindly into his arms, laughing and crying at once. His heart, beneath her cheek, was shaking both of them.

The long winter had suddenly ended. A warm wind had sent every branch and twig flicking off melted snow; the voiceless white brooks, whose cascades had so long been transformed to icicles, were awake and alive again. It was spring.

She drew away a little, but only enough to put her own arms around him, and look up into his face. “I don’t dare kiss you,” he murmured. “You might fade away and be a dream.”

“I won’t,” she whispered back. Before her rose the vision of the lost island in the dawn: the bright sea, the island gleaming like an opal, and gold spears striking through the clouds. The sails of the little boat that had been their prison through those days and nights, were radiant and magical. They were at the gateway of a fairy world, where mortal husks were to stay behind with all mortal chains and fears, leaving only a great brightness and enchantment to be their own forever. All this, during the moment that he kissed her, as if somehow he was laying it, like a precious offering, upon her lips.

After a long time he held her off at arm’s length, his hands on her shoulders, looking down into her face as though to make quite sure.

“Been happy?”

“I wanted to cry on your shoulder, Daveson, about how I missed you.”

“Well, now you have two serviceable shoulders.”

“But I don’t want to cry.”

“Well, is that all they’re good for? You mustn’t ever cry about me,” he said gently. “I hate to think of it.”

“Don’t you like to be missed?”

“Yes…. I mean — oh, now you’ve got me all mixed up.”

“Any answer you make is sort of wrong, isn’t it?”

“Don’t talk to my shirt, talk to me.”

“You’re rather high up, and anyway I like your shirt.”

“You’d think we’d been apart a thousand years, instead of one.”

“Davidson, it’s been thousands of millions of years…. I wish you never had to stop kissing me.”

“I can kiss you all night every night for a week.”

“Only a week!”

“How many times do you suppose we can kiss in a week?”

“Not enough,” she said. “Not enough to make up for this year. We’ll never catch up, Davidson. We’ll owe each other tremendous debts all our lives…. How’s everything?”

“Oh, I’m working — that’s the best I can say. In a steamer, chipping rust. Sea’s getting to be more of a washout all the time. Don’t let’s talk about anything so unpleasant. Let’s talk about you. You’ve let your hair grow, haven’t you?”

“Like it?”

“Very much,” he said. “It’s more like you. You weren’t meant to be fixed up by hair-dressers, anyway…. May I take it down?”

“You’re losing your grip, Daveson. Why ask?”

One by one he plucked out the pins, and presently her hair fell like a soft brown wing over his calloused knuckles. He played with it gently, running his fingers through it, winding it around his big wrists, burying his face in it, loving the warm smell of it.

“You’re beautiful,” he said.

And the telephone rang. “It would,” she said.

“Don’t answer it.”

“Oh, I have to. It may be a girl I know who’s in trouble.”

But it was John’s gay voice. “Hi, pal! Are you getting set for the big date tonight?”

“Oh, had we a date tonight?”

“What! You’ve forgotten?”

“Sorry, John. No can do.”

“Hey! Whaddya trying to pull on me?”

“You sound like a bank clerk,” Jane said. “Next, please!”

“But listen here, you can’t — say, what’s the matter, anyhow?”

“Something has occurred which renders it impossible for me to accompany you,” Jane said primly.

“Oh, talk English. Are you sick?”

“When did you ever know me to be sick…. No, thanks, ridiculous boy, I don’t need any of Lydia Pinkham’s pills.”

John sighed windily, and it reverberated in the receiver. “What is this thing called love?” he wailed at last.

“What, indeed? That’s the question.”

“Well, lunch tomorrow, then?”

“O. K.”

“Well, goodbye, and I hope you won’t sleep tonight.”

“I probably shan’t,” said Jane, and hung up.

Davidson was looking at her wistfully. “An admirer!” he exclaimed.

Jane nodded and laughed. “Didn’t you like the way I passed him off?”

But he was grim. “I’d like to knock his block off; that would teach him not to come prowling around my wife!”

Jane wrinkled up her forehead. “But Daveson, you didn’t expect me to live in a convent, did you? You mustn’t be jealous of Johnny. We knew each other when we were kids in Maine.”

“I’m jealous as hell. I don’t care if it is unreasonable. I never claimed to be reasonable — about you. Where was he going to take you tonight?”

“Sometimes we go dancing,” Jane said.

“Dancing!” he repeated stonily.

“What’s wrong with that?”

He shook his head. “Nothing, I guess,” he said glumly. “Only — somehow I never thought of you — That chap’s in love with you, isn’t he?”

“What makes you think that?”

“How could he help it? I bet he looks at you with his eyes all shining.”

Jane smiled. “Oh, Daveson, let’s not spoil this evening talking about him.”

“One more question,” he said.

“Don’t!” she pleaded.

“Then it’s true, and he’s your lover,” Davidson said.

“Davidson, what if he is? Can’t you see that it doesn’t matter?”

“Doesn’t matter!”

She tried to tell him about her two selves. She was not conscious now of any rationalization. At this moment it seemed to her absolutely true. She could even feel the two personalities inside her, who, instead of fighting each other till one of them was dead, were moving on side by side, as sensibly and peacefully as they could manage.

Davidson smiled ruefully. Then he sighed a little, and said in an entirely changed voice: “Jane, you wouldn’t believe how the world keeps shouting at me to take my hands off you — let you go free, and go free myself, because I’m useless and worthless, and can’t make any money, or look out for you as I should. And now that this chap… well, it’s another reason, that’s all. You wouldn’t be lonely…. Oh, I love you, and want you to be happy, Jane. I can’t make you happy — not in this civilization. You’ll want to — be married and have children — and I’d be a selfish brute to — ”

“Davidson, aren’t you going to marry me some day?” She was frightened at his calmness, after the passion that had swept him only a moment before.

“I want to confess something. It’s time I was honest with you.”

“Aren’t you always?”

“Well, not with myself, then. Yes, I’ve been fooling myself, living on pretty dreams, but dreams don’t wash with the world, Jane. No good.”

“Dreams are half your life,” said Jane in an echo. “And — the best half. The only half that counts.”

“Not with the world,” said Davidson.

“Just what do you mean when you say ‘the world’?”

“The beast you get your living off, whatever you want to call it. Just let me tell you what I’m up against!…. You don’t want to hear it, though. Only — I doubt very much, Jane, to put it honestly and… I doubt if we’ll ever be married.”

She drew his hand away from his eyes and made him look at her. “We are married,” she said.

“Jane, I can’t earn a living. Not even for myself. I’m an utter tramp. Don’t you see? I’ve no way of getting on. My profession — trade — whatever it is — it’s gone.”

The world would receive him like a granite wall — and it would hurt. That had been Jane’s thought years ago in the Annie Marlow. Davidson was a man whose livelihood had dropped from beneath him. And there was nothing to take its place. To one who had known the tall white glory of sails, the sea’s bitter strength, the great harmony of the wind, nothing ever could take its place. The insidious nature of the tragedy he was facing began to dawn on her afresh. He was without a calling, a drifter on the face of the sea. He was in the last analysis cut off from his shipmates because of spiritual barricades; and from the rest of mankind he was isolated because of shyness and his own cynicism.

To clinch the situation, he was not in the least interested in the world or what it could offer him. He was a seafarer, hopelessly unfitted for any other existence. And he was ambitionless. To go into the rush and whirl of the thing, to learn a trade, for instance, and take the ladder patiently rung by rung, changing all his habits and ideas, to concentrate slavishly on something which did not appeal to him anyway — that was as much out of the question as to create, stone for stone and tree for tree, a new island with his own bare hands.

Before Jane had come, life had been fairly simple. You drifted about from one ship to another, with little spells of intensely enjoyable leisure between. Sailing ships were declining, of course, but you could still pick up a schooner here and there. There were even a few wandering barks and barkentines. Between voyages you read and meditated about life. There was nothing very much to worry about. You laughed with your comrades, and went off on a bat with them occasionally. That was all.

Then Jane arrived in the middle of his tranquil wandering life. She was aloof and alien and beautiful beyond mortal words — a goddess, and yet miraculously his own. All of which was simple and natural enough, so long as there had been an uninhabited island to shelter them. After that the horror began, an interminable nightmare. The waves she caused agitated his quiet pool into frenzied rapids. He was in a state of chaotic frustration, about which nothing could be done. The old former life could not serve his needs any more. The sea could not serve him. Any kind of life at sea meant separation from her, not just for part of the time, but for most of it. Not the sort of existence to offer to the woman you loved.

The sea was false, and yet for him there could be nothing but the sea. There were steamships, with ridiculously low wages and short voyages, after which you were usually paid off. Then there still lingered a schooner or two here and there, but such jobs were mere casual oddities; you couldn’t support a wife, maybe a family, on oddities. And even if you could, what would be the use, when you would be away almost all the time? Like being single, yet without the same freedom from responsibility. And anyway, right now chances were a thousand to one against your getting any sort of a job at all.

With this problem staring him in the eye, he did not think it would be cowardly to go away from Jane and never see her any more. Rather, he was afraid that he was not brave or strong enough to do so.

“I can make just enough on one job to tide me over till I get another. As for that fishing-boat scheme, right now I wouldn’t dare buy one, even if I had the means. The state of things — depression, they call it, but I think it’s an excavation. Sailors are willing to work for nothing but their keep, and a thousand after every job. What can you do?”

“Things won’t go on like this forever, you know,” she said.

“They may. They’re going down and down and down. Jane, I don’t want to hurt you, I don’t want to leave you; I’m just confessing, that’s all. I’m frustrated. I can’t do as I want, and I don’t know how to cope with it.”

“Kiss me,” said Jane.

“You silly! That won’t help the material side of the question.”

“The material side isn’t the most important side.”

“I’m not a romanticist, Jane; I’ve taken too many hard knocks.”

“Neither am I a romanticist; but please kiss me.”

He did, and she shivered. “Cold?”

“No, a rabbit ran over my grave. Didn’t that help the material side of the question just a little?”

“Yes.”

“Then, you see, it really is true that the material side is only part of the whole thing. Even an excavation can’t break love.”

“No,” said Davidson.

“We’re going to conquer this thing, you know. We’re going to stick together and pull each other through.”

“Jane, you could make a better life without me pulling you down.”

“I don’t want anything but you.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“And this other fellow — ”

“Doesn’t mean a thing,” Jane said.

“Will you wait?”

“Of course.”

“Years, maybe?”

“As long as I live,” she told him — and she believed it, too.

Chapter XVI

Speak Your Mind

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