The Esmeralda was putting out to sea when I thought of a last expedient to draw the attention of her captain. Filling my revolver with cartridges which I had loose in my pockets, I fired all the chambers as fast as I could snap the trigger.
My signals were heard, and Anderson proved true to his bargain. He immediately reversed his engines, and, when he had backed in as close as he thought safe, sent a boat ashore for us. We got into it without any obstruction from the cowering natives, who only shrank from us in horror, now that their prayers had failed to move us. The moment our boat was made fast to the steamer's davit ropes and we were pulled out of the water, "full speed ahead" was rung from the bridge. We were raised to the deck while the vessel was getting up speed.
I crawled up the ladder to the bridge feebly, for I was becoming stiff from the bruises of the fall from my horse. Anderson received me coldly, and listened indifferently to my thanks. An agreement such as ours hardly prepared me for his loyalty.
"Oh, as to that," he interrupted, "when I make a bargain my word is my bond. On this occasion I am inclined to think the indenture will be a final one."
His bargain was a hard one, but, having made it, he abided faithfully by its conditions. He was honest, therefore, in his own way.
"How far can you get out in fifteen minutes?" I asked.
"We may make six or seven knots. But what is the good of that? There will be an earthquake on that island on a liberal scale--on such a scale that this ship would have very little chance in the wave that will follow us if we were fifty miles at sea."
"You have taken every precaution, of course--"
Anderson here looked at me contemptuously, and, with an air of sarcastic admiration, he said: "You have guessed it at the first try. That is precisely what I have done."
"Pshaw! don't take offence at trifles at a time like this," I said testily. "If you knew as much about that earthquake as I do, you would be in no humour for bandying phrases."
"Might I ask how much you do know about it? You could not have foreseen the trouble more clearly if you had made it yourself."
"I did not make it myself, but I know the means which the man who did employed, and but for me that earthquake would have wrecked this earth."
Anderson made no direct answer to this, but he said earnestly: "You will now go below, sir. You are done up. Roberts will take you to the doctor."
"I am not done up, and I mean to see it out," I retorted doggedly. My nervous system was completely unhinged, and a fit of stupid obstinacy came on me which rendered any interference with my actions intolerable.
"Then you cannot see it out upon my bridge," Anderson said. The determined tone in which he spoke only added to my impotent wrath.
"Very well, I will return to the deck, and if any of your men should attempt to interfere with me he will do so at his peril." With that, I slung my revolver round so as to have it ready to my hand. I was beside myself. My conduct was already bad enough, but I made it worse before I left the bridge.
"And if you, Anderson, disobey my orders--my orders, do you hear?--an explosion such as took place in the middle of the English channel shall take place in the middle of this ship."
"For God's sake leave the bridge. I want my wits about me, and I have no intention of earning another exhibition of your devilries."
"Then be careful not to trouble me again." Thus after having passed through much danger with a spirit not unbecoming--as I hope--an English gentleman, I acted, when the worst was passed, like a peevish schoolboy. I am ashamed of my conduct in this small matter, and trust it will pass without much notice in the narrative of events of greater moment.
On deck, Natalie Brande, Edith Metford, and Percival were standing together, their eyes fixed on the island. Edith's face was deathly white, even in the ruddy glow which was now over land and sea. When I saw her pallor, my evil temper passed away.
"It would be impossible for you to be quite well," I said to her anxiously; "but has anything happened since I left you? You are very pale."
"Oh no," she answered, "I'm all right; a little faint after that ride. I shall be better soon."
Natalie turned her weird eyes on me and said in the hollow voice we had heard once before--when she spoke to us on the island--"That is her way of telling you that your horse broke her right arm when she caught him for you. She held him, you remember, with her left hand. The doctor has set the limb. She will not suffer long."
"Heaven help us, this awful night," Edith cried. "How do you know that, Natalie?"
"I know much now, but I shall know more soon." After this she would not speak again.
With every pound of steam on that the Esmeralda's boilers would bear without bursting, we were now plunging through the great rollers of the Arafura Sea. Everything had indeed been done to put the vessel in trim. She was cleared for action, so to speak. And a gallant fight she made when the issue was knit. When the hour of midnight must be near at hand, I looked at my watch. It was one minute to twelve o'clock.
Thirty seconds more!
The stupendous corona of flame which hung over the island was pierced by long lines of smoke that stretched far above the glare and clutched with sooty fingers at the stars, now fitfully coming back to view at our distance. The rumbling of internal thunder waxed louder.
Fifteen seconds now!
Fearful peals rent the atmosphere. Vast tongues of flame protruded heavenward. The elements must be melting in that fervent heat. The blazing bowels of the earth were pouring forth.
A reverberation thundered out which shook the solid earth, and a roaring hell-breath of flame and smoke belched up so awful in its dread magnificence that every man who saw it and lived to tell his story might justly have claimed to have seen perdition. In that hurricane of incandescent matter the island was blotted out for ever from the map of this world.
Notwithstanding the speed of the Esmeralda she was a sloth when compared with the speed of the wave from such an earthquake. From the glare of the illumination to perfect darkness the contrast was sudden and extreme. But the blackness of the ocean was soon whitened by the snowy plumes of the avalanche of water which was now racing us, far astern as yet, but gaining fast. I, who had no business about the ship requiring my presence in any special part, decided to wait on deck and lash myself to the forward, which would be practically the lee-side of a deckhouse. Edith Metford we prevailed on to go below, that she might not run the risk of further injury to her fractured arm. As she left us she whispered to me, "So Natalie will be with you at the end, and I--" a sob stopped her. And it came into my mind at that moment that this girl had acted very nobly, and that I had hardly appreciated her and all that she had done for me.
Natalie refused to leave the deck. I lashed her securely beside me. Together we awaited the end. When the roar of the following wave came close, so close that the voices of the officers of the ship could be no longer heard, Natalie spoke. The hollow sound was no longer in her voice. Her own soft sweet tones had come back.
"Arthur," she asked, "is this the end?"
"I fear it is," I answered, speaking close to her ear so that she might hear.
"Then we have little time, and I have something which I must say, which you must promise me to remember when--when--I am no longer with you."
"You will be always with me while we live. I think I deserve that at last."
"Yes, you deserve that and more. I will be with you while I live, but that will not be for long."
I was about to interrupt her when she put her soft little hand upon my lips and said: "Listen, there is very little time. It is all a mistake. I mean Herbert was wrong. He might as well have let me have my earthly span of happiness or folly--call it what you will."
"You see that now--thank God!"
"Yes, but I see it too late, I did not know it until--until I was dead. Hush!" Again I tried to interrupt her, for I thought her mind was wandering. "I died psychically with Herbert. That was when we first saw the light on the island. Since then I have lived mechanically, but it has only been life in so low a form that I do not now know what has happened between that time and this. And I could not now speak as I am speaking save by a will power which is costing me very dear. But it is the only voice you could hear. I do not therefore count the cost. My brother's brain so far overmatched my own that it first absorbed and finally destroyed my mental vitality. This influence removed, I am a rudderless ship at sea--bound to perish."
"May his torments endure for ever. May the nethermost pit of hell receive him!" I said with a groan of agony.
But Natalie said: "Hush! I might have lingered on a little longer, but I chose to concentrate the vital force which would have lasted me a few more senile years into the minutes necessary for this message from me to you--a message I could not have given you if he were not dead. And I am dying so that you may hear it. Dying! My God! I am already dead."
She seemed to struggle against some force that battled with her, and the roar of many waters was louder around us before she was able to speak again.
"Bend lower, Arthur; my strength is failing, and I have not yet said that for which I am here. Lower still.
"I said it is all a mistake--a hideous mistake. Existence as we know it is ephemeral. Suffering is ephemeral. There is nothing everlasting but love. There is nothing eternal but mind. Your mind is mine. Your love is mine. Your human life may belong to whomsoever you will it. It ought to belong to that brave girl below. I do not grudge it to her, for I have you. We two shall be together through the ages--for ever and for ever. Heart of my heart, you have striven manfully and well, and if you did not altogether succeed in saving my flesh from premature corruption, be satisfied in that you have my soul. Ah!"
She pressed her hands to her head as if in dreadful pain. When she spoke again her voice came in short gasps.
"My brain is reeling. I do not know what I am saying," she cried, distraught. "I do not know whether I am saying what is true or only what I imagine to be true. I know nothing but this. I was mesmerised. I have been so for two years. But for that I would have been happy in your love--for I was a woman before this hideous influence benumbed me. They told me it was only a fool's paradise that I missed. But I only know that I have missed it. Missed it--and the darkness of death is upon me."
She ceased to speak. A shudder convulsed her, and then her head sank gently on my shoulder.
At that moment the great wave broke over the vessel, whirling her helpless like a cork on the ripples of a mill pond; lashing her with mighty strokes; sweeping in giant cataracts from stern to stem; smashing, tearing everything; deluging her with hissing torrents; crushing her with avalanches of raging foam. Then the ocean tornado passed on and left the Esmeralda behind, with half the crew disabled and many lost, her decks a mass of wreckage, her masts gone. The crippled ship barely floated. When the last torrent of spray passed, and I was able to look to Natalie, her head had drooped down on her breast. I raised her face gently and looked into her wide open eyes.
She was dead.
Taking up my girl's body in my arms, I stumbled over the wreck-encumbered deck, and bore it to the state-room she had occupied on the outward voyage. Percival was too busy attending to wounded sailors to be interrupted. His services, I knew, were useless now, but I wanted him to refute or corroborate a conviction which my own medical knowledge had forced upon me. The thought was so repellent, I clung to any hope which might lead to its dispersion. I waited alone with my dead.
Percival came after an hour, which seemed to me an eternity. He stammered out some incoherent words of sympathy as soon as he looked in my face. But this was not the purpose for which I had detached him from his pressing duties elsewhere. I made a gesture towards the dead girl. He attended to it immediately. I watched closely and took care that the light should be on his face, so that I might read his eyes rather than listen to his words.
"She has fainted!" he exclaimed, as he approached the rigid figure. I said nothing until he turned and faced me. Then I read his eyes. He said slowly: "You are aware, Marcel, that--that she is dead?"
"That she has been dead--several hours?"
"But let me think. It was only an hour--"
"No; do not think," I interrupted. "There are things in this voyage which will not bear to be thought of. I thank you for coming so soon. You will forgive me for troubling you when you have so much to do elsewhere. And now leave us alone. I mean, leave me alone."
He pressed my hand, and went away without a word. I am that man's friend.
They buried her at sea.
I was happily unconscious at the time, and so was spared that scene. Edith Metford, weak and suffering as she was, went through it all. She has told me nothing about it, save that it was done. More than that I could not bear. And I have borne much.
The voyage home was a dreary episode. There is little more to tell, and it must be told quickly. Percival was kind, but it distressed me to find that he now plainly regarded me as weak-minded from the stress of my trouble. Once, in the extremity of my misery, I began a relation of my adventures to him, for I wanted his help. The look upon his face was enough for me. I did not make the same mistake again.
To Anderson I made amends for my extravagant display of temper. He received me more kindly than I expected. I no longer thought of the money that had passed between us. And, to do him tardy justice, I do not think he thought of it either. At least he did not offer any of it back. His scruples, I presume, were conscientious. Indeed, I was no longer worth a man's enmity. Sympathy was now the only indignity that could be put upon me. And Anderson did not trespass in that direction. My misery was, I thought, complete. One note must still be struck in that long discord of despair.
We were steaming along the southern coast of Java. For many hours the rugged cliffs and giant rocks which fence the island against the onslaught of the Indian Ocean had passed before us as in review, and we--Edith Metford and I--sat on the deck silently, with many thoughts in common, but without the interchange of a spoken word. The stern, forbidding aspect of that iron coast increased the gloom which had settled on my brain. Its ramparts of lonely sea-drenched crags depressed me below the mental zero that was now habitual with me. The sun went down in a red glare, which moved me not. The short twilight passed quickly, but I noticed nothing. Then night came. The restless sea disappeared in darkness. The grand march past of the silent stars began. But I neither knew nor cared.
A soft whisper stirred me.
"Arthur, for God's sake rouse yourself! You are brooding a great deal too much. It will destroy you."
Listlessly I put my hand in hers, and clasped her fingers gently.
"Bear with me!" I pleaded.
"I will bear with you for ever. But you must fight on. You have not won yet."
"No, nor ever shall. I have fought my last fight. The victory may go to whosoever desires it."
On this she wept. I could not bear that she should suffer from my misery, and so, guarding carefully her injured arm, I drew her close to me. And then, out of the darkness of the night, far over the solitude of the sea, there came to us the sound of a voice. That voice was a woman's wail. The girl beside me shuddered and drew back. I did not ask her if she had heard. I knew she had heard.
We arose and stood apart without any explanation. From that moment a caress would have been a sacrilege. I did not hear that weird sound again, nor aught else for an hour or more save the bursting of the breakers on the crags of Java.
I kept no record of the commonplaces of our voyage thereafter. It only remains for me to say that I arrived in England broken in health and bankrupt in fortune. Brande left no money. His formula for the transmutation of metals is unintelligible to me. I can make no use of it.
Edith Metford remains my friend. To part utterly after what we have undergone together is beyond our strength. But between us there is a nameless shadow, reminiscent of that awful night in the Arafura Sea, when death came very near to us. And in my ears there is always the echo of that voice which I heard by the shores of Java when the misty borderland between life and death seemed clear.
My story is told. I cannot prove its truth, for there is much in it to which I am the only living witness. I cannot prove whether Herbert Brande was a scientific magician possessed of all the powers he claimed, or merely a mad physicist in charge of a new and terrible explosive; nor whether Edward Grey ever started for Labrador. The burthen of the proof of this last must be borne by others--unless it be left to Grey himself to show whether my evidence is false or true. If it be left to him, a few years will decide the issue.
I am content to wait.
NO PETS ALLOWED.
by M. A. CUMMINGS
He didn't know how he could have stood the four months there alone. She was company and one could talk to her ...
I can't tell anyone about it. In the first place, they'd never believe me. And, if they did, I'd probably be punished for having her. Because we aren't allowed to have pets of any kind.
It wouldn't have happened, if they hadn't sent me way out there to work. But, you see, there are so many things I can't do.
I remember the day the Chief of Vocation took me before the council.
"I've tried him on a dozen things," he reported. People always talk about me as if I can't understand what they mean. But I'm really not that dumb.
"There doesn't seem to be a thing he can do," the Chief went on. "Actually, his intelligence seems to be no greater than that which we believe our ancestors had, back in the twentieth century."
"As bad as that?" observed one of the council members. "You do have a problem."