Copyright
Nancy Mann Waddel Woodrow.

The Black Pearl online

. (page 17 of 20)
Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 17 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


paled visibly, every tinge of color receding from his face; his eyes,
deep and dark, held hers, as if reading her soul and demanding that she
reveal the strange secrets of her nature.

The forces of life ready to burst through the harsh crust of the earth
without and express themselves in the innocent glory of flower and grass
and tender, green leaves, and the sound of birds, were now seeking
expression through denser and more complex human avenues. All the love,
all the longing which Seagreave had so sternly suppressed during these
days he and Pearl had spent together, rose in his heart and threatened
to sweep away in a mighty tide of elemental impulses all of those
resolutions of restraint to which he had clung so hardly.

He arose and leaned his arm on the mantel-piece, still gazing at her as
if he could never withdraw his eyes. "You are so - so beautiful," he
stammered, scarcely knowing what he said. "The world will claim you. You
have so much to give it and all your nature, all your heart turns to it.
You will soon forget this hut in the mountains, and - and all that it has
meant." He buried his head in his arms.

She, too, rose and laid the handful of her jewels on the table without
another glance at them. "These mountains!" She threw wide her arms and
drew a long, ecstatic breath. She came near to him and touched his arm.
"I hated them once, I love them now." She smiled up at him, her darkly
slumbrous, scarlet-lipped smile.

He leaned toward her as if to clasp her close, but the vows he had sworn
to himself a thousand times since she had been in his cabin alone with
him still held him. Slowly he drew back and with all the strength of his
nature fought for self-control. He called upon every force of his will,
and in that supreme moment his face hardened to the appearance of a
sculptured mask; all of its finely-drawn outlines seemed set in stone.

She turned angry shoulders to him and stirred the stones on the table
with impatient fingers until they rolled about, flashing darts of light.
Symbols of power, of material and deadening splendor; eternal
accompaniments of imperial magnificence! The sapphires sang triumph, the
diamonds conquest, the rubies passionate and fulfilled love.

"They are what you really care for." He spoke huskily; his voice sounded
thick and uncertain in his ears. "That and - and your wonderful dancing,
and applause - and success and money. It's natural that you should - but
it all makes me realize - clearly, that I can't even try to force myself
into your life. There's no place for me. Even - even if you were
kind - you sometimes seem to - to - to suggest that you would be - I'd be
just a useless cog, soon to be dropped. It's all complete without me.
But, for God's sake, I'm begging you, I'm begging you, Pearl, not to be
kind to me for the rest of the time that we're here together."

"And what about me?" she flashed. "You've thought everything out from
your own side, and you've just been telling it. Don't you think I've got
a side, too? I guess so."

He looked at her in surprise, the emotion that had changed and broken
his expression fading into wonderment and puzzle.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Kiss me, and I'll show you," she said audaciously. All the allurement,
the softness and sweetness of the south was in her mouth and eyes.

"How can we go on like this?" His voice was a mere broken whisper. He
yearned to her, leaned toward her, and yet refrained from holding her.

"Like _this_," she murmured, and threw her arms about him and laid her
head on his heart, her face upturned to his.

"I told you" - so close was she held that she scarcely knew that she was
breathing - "I told you - that if I once held you in my arms I'd never let
you go."

"You may have told yourself; you never told me before. But I'm content."

"Content! That's no word for this," he cried between kisses. The
mounting tide he had feared had become a mighty torrent sweeping away
all his carefully built up mental barriers, and with that obliterating
flood came a sense of power and freedom. All the youth in his heart rose
and claimed its share of life and love and happiness.

"Let me go," she said at last, and drew away from him, flushed as a dawn
and rapturous as a sunrise.

"No, never again," and stretched out his arms, but she slipped behind
the table, putting it between them. "Sit down," she commanded, "and
build up the fire. I want to talk, talk a long time, all night maybe."

"I hope so," he said ardently, and, obeying her, stooped to place fresh
logs on the embers. "But what is there to talk about? We've said and
will continue to say all there is in the world worth saying. I love you.
Do you love me?"

"Maybe you won't want to say that after you've heard me." She had
leaned forward, her arms on her knees, her eyes on the flames which
leaped from dry twig to dry twig of the burning logs and on the shower
of sparks which every minute or so swept up the chimney.

"You hit it off pretty well when you said that all I really cared for
was money and jewels and my dancing and the big audiences and all that."
Her eyes had narrowed so that the gleaming light that shone through her
lashes was like a mere line of fire. "You see, I got to play the game. I
got to. Nothing but winning and winning big ever's going to suit me. I
saw that when I was awful young. I sort of looked out on life and it
seemed to me that most people spent their lives like flies, flying
around a while without any purpose, trying to buzz in the sun if they
could, and by and by dropping off the window pane."

"Nothing but winning will suit you," he said drearily. "You are only
repeating what I told you." All the life, the passion had gone out of
his voice. "And I'm no prize, heaven knows!"

"I ain't through yet," she said. "I never did talk much. I guess I'm
going to talk more to-night than I ever talked in my life, but I always
saw everything that was going on around me, and it didn't take me long
to make out that all you'll get in life is a kick and a crust if you
haven't got some kind of power in your hands."

"God, you're hard, hard as iron!" The room rang with the echoes of his
mirthless laughter. "Five, three minutes ago, you were in my arms, soft,
yielding, trembling, giving me back kiss for kiss, and now you sit
there expounding your merciless philosophy."

"It ain't me that's merciless," she returned, apparently unmoved, "it's
life. You think my dancing's great, so does everybody; so it is. Well,
it didn't grow. I made it." Here she lifted her head with pride, and
folded her arms on her chest. "Maybe you don't think it took some
training. Maybe you don't think it took some will and grit when I was a
little kid to keep right on at my exercises when I ached so bad that the
tears would run down my cheeks all the time I was at them. My mother
knew that you had to begin young and keep at 'em all the time, but mom
never would have had the nerve to keep me to it. She used often to cry
with me.

"When I was a girl I'd liked to have had a good time, just in that
careless way like other girls, but I gave that up, too, so's I could
work at my dancing. When I'd get tired and blue I'd look at the stones
I'd begun to collect with the money I'd earned. I'm hard, yes, I guess
you're right. I guess you got to have a streak of hardness in you to be
one of the biggest dancers in the world, or to be the biggest anything,
but" - here she ran across the room and was down on her knees beside his
chair - "I'm not hard any longer. Those jewels there," pointing to the
table behind her, "they don't mean a thing to me any longer, nor my
dancing, either, nor money, nor applause, nor anything in the world but
you."

He shrank away from her as if he feared the subduing magnetism of her
touch. "The useless cog to drop away when you get tired of him! I told
you your life was all rounded and complete."

"It's not," she cried passionately, "without love. Without your love.
I've got it and you can't take it away from me."

He brushed the wing of hair back from his pallid face. "My love!" His
voice seemed to drip the bitterness of gall. "Where in heaven's name is
there any place for it?"

"There isn't much room for anything else," she returned, "and that's the
truth. I've told you that all those things that you say make my life
complete, don't mean that," she snapped her long fingers, "not that to
me any more. I've told you that I'd give them all up for you if you
asked me, but," and here she swept to her feet, as if upborne by a rush
of earnestness so intense and deeply felt that it was in itself a
passion, "but I'll give 'em up, for it's a lot to give, for the man I
know you are and - and not for the man that's been shirking life."

Since the first moments after she had begun to voice her experiences,
and what he called her merciless philosophy, he had crumpled down in his
chair, and when she had sprung up, he had risen perfunctorily and
wearily to his feet, but at her last words he had straightened up as if
involuntarily every muscle grew tense, an outward and visible indication
of his mental attitude. Inherited and traditional pride was in the
haughty and surprised uplift of his head; a bright flush had risen on
his cheek and his eyes sparkled with a thousand wounded and angry
reflections.

Whether or not she had intended to produce this effect by her words,
she was undaunted by it, and went on: "José tells me that you got a big
place in England, just waiting for you to come and claim it, and you
quit it and everything there because a girl turned you down. It was sure
a baby act."

"I - " he began to interrupt her. There were few men who would have cared
to ignore that chilled steel quality of Seagreave's voice or, for the
matter of that, the chilled steel look on his face.

But there were certain emotions the Pearl had never known, and they
included remorse and fear. "I ain't finished yet," the gesture with
which she imposed his silence held her accustomed languor. "I got to say
that the man - that's you - that fought all through the Boer war was no
shirker, and the man who did some of the things you did in India - you
got some kind of a medal, didn't you? - what was it José called
you? - soldier of fortune - well, you weren't a quitter, anyway."

She stretched out her arms to him and smiled, her compelling
heart-shattering smile. Ardor enveloped her like an aura; the beauty and
color of her were like fragrance on the air. "That's the kind of man I
want to marry, Harry, not a man that's willing to live outside of life
and work, and stay dead and buried here in these mountains."

He did not bend to her by an inch. Her smiles and her ardor splintered
against chilled steel and fell unheeded. "Is there anything else?" he
asked, after a slight interval of silence, during which he had the
appearance of waiting with a pronounced and punctilious courtesy for
further words from her.

She made no answer, merely continued to look at him, but he, apparently
unmindful and indifferent to that gaze, lifted his book from the table
beside him and, still standing, because she did so, began to read.

For a moment or two she seemed dazed and then, with trembling fingers,
she gathered up her jewels and placed them in the little black bag.

This task accomplished, she started with all the scornful grace, the
indifferent languor of a Spanish duchess to sweep from the room, but in
passing him and noting him still absorbed in his book, her hot blood
flushed her cheek, her eyes glittered with angry fire. Her slight pause
caused him to look up and, seeing the anger on her face, he smiled
amusedly, insufferably. The next second she sprang at him like a cat and
slapped him across his insolently smiling face, and then flung Spanish
oaths at him with such force and heat that they seemed to splutter in
falling upon the chill of the air. Then she flashed from the room.

But the maddening smile still lingered on his lips as he bent to pick up
the book her blow had sent flying to the floor. And, still smiling, he
stood for a moment caressing the white dents her fingers had left on his
cheek. Finally he replenished the fire, filled and lighted his pipe and,
drawing his chair near to the hearth, sat, thinking, thinking, the
greater part of the night.

Pearl was out early the next morning, and walked halfway down the hill.
When she returned to the cabin she found Seagreave sitting in his chair
by the hearth as if he had not moved during the night; his haggard gaze
was fixed on the dead ashes of the fire. Without speaking to him, Pearl
stooped down and, with some paper and bits of wood, began to build up a
blaze again.

He peered at her a moment as if she were a vision, then got up very
stiffly as if he had not moved for hours, and began to assist her,
mechanically following the usual routine of preparing breakfast.

When it was ready they sat down opposite each other as was their custom,
and made a pretense of eating. With the exception of a perfunctory
remark or so the meal passed in silence. Pearl evidently had no
intention of apologizing for her behavior of the night before. Her
manner toward him was that of one who had relegated him to the position
of the tables and chairs, and intended to take no more notice of him.

Taking it for granted that that was the relation she wished sustained
between them, Seagreave gravely adopted her attitude, and for the next
few days if they spoke at all it was principally about the work that was
going on down at the crevasse. Never had Harry occupied himself so
constantly and so feverishly, for the most part outside the cabin,
chopping and sawing diligently at a huge pile of wood, and in his
intervals of leisure he spent a great deal of time down the hill by the
mountain of snow, watching its almost magical vanishing.

"There is a great crowd down at the ravine to-night," he said to Pearl,
one evening at supper. "They are working with torches, and I think they
will probably have some kind of a bridge swung over by midnight. I
managed to signal to them a while ago, and they know that we are safe
now. If - if you want to sit up to-night," his voice sounded strained and
perfunctory, "I think you could possibly get over before morning."

The shadow which had fallen upon her face in the last day or two
deepened a little. "It will be cold out there at night." She caught at
the first excuse which came into her mind. "It will be better to wait
and go down after breakfast."

He acquiesced with a nod, but made no answer in words, and soon after he
left the room, and she, later, peeping cautiously out from the curtain
behind the window, saw him walking back and forth before the cabin.

It was an hour or two later when he opened the door and entered. She did
not hear him. She was standing, her elbow on the mantel-piece and her
cheek on her hand, looking down into the fire. His footsteps roused her
from her reverie and she looked up, in that moment of surprise,
forgetful of self and therefore self-revealing. Thus she stood for one
fleeting second, holding him with her smile, her whole being seeming to
rush out and meet and encompass him and embrace him. Then her eyelashes
drooped long and black on her cheek, and her face was all aflame with
color.

He stood still a second, breathing hard. Then from the shadow he hurled
himself into that zone of glowing firelight where she stood. A white
flame passed over his face and lighted his eyes with that burning,
incandescent glow that only those cold, blue eyes can show. Primeval,
all preliminary bowing and scraping in the minuet of wooing ignored, he
saw his heart's desire and seized it, lifting the Pearl in his arms,
crushing her against his breast, until she, dazed for the moment, lay
captured and captive.

But her second of surprised, involuntary non-resistance served her well.
Harry looked into her eyes and forgot his vigilance; and with a twist
Pearl slipped through his arms and was across the room. She stood
against the wall of the cabin, her head thrown back, a smile on her
white lips, her eyes daring him.

Seagreave took no dares. It was a part of his creed. He was across the
room in a step, his arms outstretched as if to clasp her.

But Pearl held him with her eyes until at least she covered her face
with her hands and wept and leaned toward him, and again Seagreave
caught her in his arms with a murmur of passionate and inarticulate
words. "I love you, I love you," he whispered, his lips seeking hers.

"Pearl, forgive me. I - I - forgot myself, forgive me. Why, you are as
safe here as in your father's cabin. It will never happen again. I'll
never touch you again unless you let me. Why, Pearl," with a tremulous
attempt at a joke, "for the rest of the time that we're here you can
keep me locked up in the other room if you want to, and just pass my
food through the door now and then when you feel like it."

"Oh, Harry," she was still sobbing, "I'm such a devil. All my life I've
been trying to see what I could get. I set out to make everything and
everybody pay me, and I never got anything but chaff; money and jewels
and applause - all chaff. The only happiness is giving, and I want to
give, give, give to you. That's what I been longing to do ever since I
loved you, and all I could do was to call you names - a quitter and a
shirker." She wept afresh. "And the worst of it is I mean it, I wish I
didn't, but I do."

"But you were right," he said, "good and right, too. You hurt my man's
vanity, and I got nasty - sarcastic, you know. I've got you to thank
forever for bringing myself right home to me - showing me to myself. I
was a morbid, love-sick boy, who indulged in so much self-pity that he
thought he was a very fine romantic figure, running off from his
responsibilities and burying himself in the ends of the earth."

"I was jealous, too, of that girl you quit things for, that girl that
was like violets and white roses. I ain't like 'em."

"Jealous! You! It wasn't long that I remembered her, but you were right
again - I liked that life. I'd got used to it. The other kind seemed
impossible to me - I've been a quitter and a shirker - just what you
called me - but I'm going back home to take it all up again, or if you
would rather, I'll stay here and work mines in these mountains, or help
reclaim the desert - if you'll marry me, Pearl."

"But I'm the Black Pearl - a dancer. I don't see how I can begin to be
anything else now; but I will, I'll be anything you ask me, Harry,"
throwing her arms about his neck, "I will."

He laughed and held her closer still. "I'll never ask you to be anything
else. 'The Black Pearl - a dancer,' that's enough for me. You shall have
all the joy of your gift - its expression. I'm not such a selfish animal
as to ask you to give that up, so that I can keep you - you beautiful,
tropical bird - in a cage, just to gratify my sense of possession - and
watch you mope and pine, because I've kept you from your flights. No,
sweetheart, you shall dance, and have your big audiences that inspire
you, and the applause you love ... and then you'll come back to me, and
I'll be waiting for you and working - always working. I promise you that,
Pearl. But," fixing determined eyes on her, "I'll not dangle around
after you, and patch up your rows with your managers, and engage your
maids, nor be known as the Black Pearl's husband, by the Lord, no! I'll
do my own work in the world, and stand and fall by my own merit, if
there's any in me. But kiss me, Pearl, kiss me."

"Then it's the last kiss till to-morrow," she smiled, "for it's past
midnight now."

The morning dawned, a blare of sunlight. Pearl, glancing from the window
just before they ate their early breakfast, could see that bridge was in
place. Both she and Harry were quiet. It was the last meal together in
the cabin, and more than once tears filled her eyes and ran down her
cheeks as she made a pretense of eating. "They're happy tears, Harry,
honest, they are," she assured him. "I guess I'm kind of locoed at the
thought of seeing Pop and Bob and Hughie again. Come on, let's hurry
down now and meet them." She stood up and drained her coffee cup and
then threw her cape about her. "Come on." She held out her hand to him
and smiled.




CHAPTER XV


The sun-flooded hillside showed plainly the path of the avalanche;
blank, featureless it lay, without sheltering tree or rock to diversify
its bald monotony. But it was bare no longer, for the brown earth was
covering her nakedness with a delicate mist of green. Beyond the sweep
of the avalanche the maples were swinging their tassels, and the
swelling buds of the oaks and aspens showed that they were almost ready
to burst into leaf; the air was full of bird calls and fluttering wings,
and the breeze, although chill, seemed ineffably soft in comparison with
its recent rigorous blasts.

Pearl and Seagreave had gone but a short distance from the cabin when
suddenly Pearl shielded her eyes with her hand. "Look," she cried
excitedly, and pointed to two men who were standing down by the bridge
evidently awaiting them, "I can't quite see from here, but it is, it
must be, Bob and Pop."

She almost flew down the hill after that, and Seagreave, his face
suddenly set in lines of determination, kept pace with her. He had
noticed, even if she had not, that those two motionless figures at the
bridge had not advanced one step to meet her, but were maintaining an
attitude portentously watchful, it seemed to him, and boding ill for the
warmth and spontaneity of the welcome she so evidently expected.

But Pearl appeared to see nothing of this, and as she drew near the two
who awaited her, she would have flown like a bird into her father's
arms. But before she could throw her arms about him he caught her wrists
and pushed her back a step or two anything but gently.

"Why weren't you down at the bridge last night?" he asked sternly. The
old man had changed since the avalanche. There were anxious deep hollows
about his eyes which were at once brighter and more sunken than ever.
His parchment skin looked livid and lifeless and his mouth had tightened
until it was drawn in and pinched.

"Why weren't you down at the gully waiting for us?" he asked again. "The
bridge was across at midnight. The boys have been working night and day
to get you out, and this is the way you act, hiding up there in that
cabin like you'd as lief stay there as not."

"Yes, Pearl, why weren't you down to meet us?" Bob Flick spoke for the
first time, his slow, soft voice was placating and yet it was evident
that his sympathies were with Gallito. "The boys had the place all lit
up with torches while they worked, and your Pop and I waited half the
night for you down here. Why didn't you come?" Neither of the men had so
far even glanced at Seagreave, but ignored him as thoroughly as if he
were not there.

Pearl looked at Flick a moment in frowning incomprehension. Petted,
spoiled child that she was, she could not bear to be scolded where she
had expected a rapturous welcome. From Flick to her father she glanced,
and then back again. "What's the matter with you two?" she cried. "Are
you mad just because I didn't come chasing down the hill in the dead of
night? How did I know that the boys were going to get the bridge across
at midnight?"

"Because, if you'd been the sort of girl you ought to be, you wouldn't
have stayed a minute longer in that cabin than you could have helped.
You'd have stood down by the gully all night long just to show the folks
in the camp that you wouldn't stay in that cabin after there was any
chance at all for you to get away," Gallito answered her before Bob
Flick got a chance. "What made you stay up there? You and him, too," he
pointed one, long, gnarled forefinger at Seagreave, "have got to answer
me that question. And there's another one, too, and you'll answer it."

Again Pearl stared at him, and again she turned her puzzled eyes on Bob
Flick. Then, as the meaning of their attitude flashed over her, she fell
back a pace or two, her face grown white. "Dios!" she murmured, with
stiff lips, a sob rising in her throat.

Then she tossed high her head in hot resentment. Her mouth was set in a
thin scarlet line of obstinacy, her eyes burned, but their expression
was unreadable. With a slow movement of her body, expressing infinite
scorn, she swung away from her father and her lover and, with her eyes
upon the far, blue ranges, superbly ignored them.

Bob Flick shot a warning glance at Gallito, who was about to speak, and
took a hasty step forward. "Look here, Pearl," he said conciliatingly,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20

Online LibraryNancy Mann Waddel WoodrowThe Black Pearl → online text (page 17 of 20)