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not yet contracted for its spiritual endowment. In a word a splendid
type of American with which to blend an ardently artistic
temperament.... Paula, holding something of this conception of the
capitalist, became eager to see what adjustment could follow a meeting
with his complement in characteristic qualities - her revered mystic. Mr.
Stock was pacing up and down the mango grove. Leaving Father Fontanel on
the veranda, she joined the American.

"I found a holy man down on the water-front, mildly inquiring who owned
the _Saragossa_," she said laughingly, "and asked him to share my
carriage. He has not told me what he wants, but he's a very wonderful
priest."

She noted the instant contraction of his brows, and shrank inwardly at
the hard, rapid tone, with which he darted the question:

"Are you a Catholic?"

"No, Mr. Stock."

"Yes. I'll see him." It was as if he were talking to his secretary, but
Paula liked him too well to mind. They drew near the veranda.

"... Well, sir, what is it?" he spoke brusquely, and in French, studying
the priest's upturned face. Mr. Stock believed he knew faces. Except for
the years and the calling, he would have decided that Father Fontanel
was rather too meek and feminine - at first glance.

"What I wished to ask depends upon your being here for a day or two,"
the priest said readily. "Father Pelée's hot breath is killing our
children in the lower quarters of the city, and many of the poor women
are suffering. The ship out in the harbor looked to me like a good angel
with folded wings, as I walked the water-front this morning. I thought
you would be glad to let me send some mothers and babies - to breathe the
good air of the offing. A day, or a night and a day, may save lives."

Paula had felt a proprietary interest in Father Fontanel's mission, no
matter what it proved to be. She was pleased beyond measure to find that
he was entirely incapable of awe or cringing, before a man of stern and
distinguished mien and of such commanding dignity. Moreover, he stated
the favor quite as if it were an advantage which the American had not
thought of for himself. So interested was she in the priest's utterance,
that when her eyes turned from his face to Stock's - the alteration there
amazed her. And like the natives of the water-front, the American did
not seem to be _aware_ of the benign influence. He had followed the
French sentences intently at first, but caught the whole idea before the
priest was finished.

"Did you know I wasn't a Catholic?" he asked. The question apparently
had been in his mind before he felt himself responding to the appeal.

"No," Father Fontanel answered sincerely. "The truth is, it didn't occur
to me whether you were or not."

"Quite right," Mr. Stock said quickly. "It has no place, whatever, so
long as you don't think so. You've got a good idea. I'll be here for a
day or two. You'll need money to hire boats; then my first officer will
have to be informed. My launch is at the Sugar Landing.... On second
thought, I'll go back down-town with you.... Miss Wyndam - later in the
day - a chat with you?"

"Of course."

Father Fontanel turned, thanking her with a smile. "And the name is
'Wyndam,'" he added. "I had not heard it before."

Paula watched them walking down the driveway to the carriage which she
had retained for Father Fontanel. The inclination was full-formed to
seek the solitude of her room and there review the whole delightful
matter.... She was glad that the priest had not asked her name, for
under his eyes - she could not have answered "Wyndam."

It was not until the following evening, after a day of actual physical
suffering from Pelée and the heat, even on the _Morne_, that she had the
promised talk with Peter Stock.

"I like your priest," he said, "He works like a man, and he hasn't got a
crook in his back. What he wants he seems to get. I have sent over a
hundred natives out yonder on the _Saragossa_, negotiated for the town's
whole available supply of fresh milk, and Laird, my chief officer, is
giving the party a little cruise to-night - - "

"Do you know - I think it is splendid?" she exclaimed.

"What?"

"The work - your ship filled with gasping unfortunates from the city!"

"Do you happen to know of any reason why an idle ship should not be used
for some such purpose?"

"None, whatever," she said demurely, quite willing that he should adjust
the matter to suit himself. His touchiness upon the subject of his own
benefactions remanded her pleasurably of Reifferscheid. Her inward joy
was to study in Peter Stock the unacknowledged influence of Father
Fontanel - or was it an unconscious influence? The American's further
activities unfolded:

"By the way, have you been reading the French paper here - _Les
Colonies_?"

Paula had not.

"The editor, M. Mondet, is the smug authority for a statement yesterday
that Saint Pierre is in absolutely no danger from the mountain. Now, of
course, this may be true, but he doesn't know it - unless he should have
the Dealer in Destiny on the wire. There is always a big enough
percentage of foolish virgins in a city, so it peeved me to find one in
the sole editorial capacity. My first impulse was to calk up the throat
of M. Mondet with several sheets of his abominable assurances. This I
restrained, but nevertheless I called upon him to-day. His next issue
appears day after to-morrow, and my idea is for him to print a vigorous
warning against Pelée. Why, he could clear the town of ten thousand
people for a few days - until the weather settles. Incidentally, if the
mountain took on a sudden destroying streak - just see what he would have
done! Some glory in saving lives on that scale."

"Vine leaves, indeed," said Paula, "Did M. Mondet tell you he would
print this warning?"

"Not exactly. He pointed out the cost of detaching a third of the city's
inhabitants. I told him how this cost could be brought down within
reason, and showed myself not unwilling to back the exodus. I'm a
practical man, Miss Wyndam, and these things look bigger than they
really are. But you never can tell what a tubby little Frenchman will
do. It's atrocious for a man in his position to say that a volcano won't
volcane - sorely tempting to old Father Pelée - a sort of challenge. It
would be bad enough to play Pilate and wash his hands of the city's
danger - but to be a white-lipped, kissing Judas at the last supper of
Saint Pierre - - "

"Did you tell him that?" Paula asked hastily.

"Not in those words, Miss Wyndam, but he seemed to be a bit afraid of
me - kept watching my hands and pulling at his cravat. When he finally
showed me to the door, his was the delicacy of one who handles dynamite.
At all events, I'm waiting for his next issue to see if my call 'took!'
I really do wish that a lot of these people would forget their clothes,
chickens, coals, coins, and all such, for a few days and camp somewhere
between here and Fort de France."

Paula was thrilled by the American's zeal. He was not content, now that
he had begun, to deal with boatloads, but wanted to stir the city. She
would have given much to know the exact part of Father Fontanel in this
rousing ardor of her new friend. "And you really think Pelée may not
hold out?" she asked.

"I'm not a monomaniac - at least, not yet," he replied, and his voice
suggested a certain pent savagery in his brain. "Call it an experiment
that I'm sufficiently interested in to finance. The ways of volcanoes
are past the previsions of men. I'd like to get a lot of folks out of
the fire-zone, until Pelée is cool - or a billion tons lighter. This
ordered-up-to-Nineveh business is out of my line, but it's absorbing. I
don't say that Pelée will blow his head off this week or this
millennium, but I do say that there are vaults of explosives in that
monster, the smallest of which could make this city look like a leper's
corpse upon the beach. I say that the internal fires are burning high;
that they're already playing about the vital cap; that Pelée has already
sprung several leaks, and that the same force which lifted this cheerful
archipelago from the depths of the sea is pressing against the craters
at this moment. I say that Vesuvius warned before he broke; that
Krakatoa warned and then struck; that down the ages these safety valves
scattered over the face of the earth have mercifully joggled before
giving way; that Pelée is joggling now."

"If M. Mondet would write just that," Paula said softly, "I think you
would have your exodus."

She sought her room shortly afterward. Pelée's moods had been variable
that day. The north had been obscured by a fresh fog in the afternoon.
The ash and sulphur fumes, cruel to the lungs on the breezy _Morne_, six
miles from the craters, gave her an intimation of the anguish of the
people in the intervening depression where the city lay. The twilight
had brought ease again and a ten-minute shower, so there was real
freshness in the early evening. Rippling waves of merriment reached her
from the darky quarters, as the young men from the fields came forth to
bathe in the sea. Never before was the volatile tropic soul so strongly
evidenced for her understanding, as in that glad hour of
reaction - simple hearts to glow at little things, whose swift tragedies
come and go like blighting winds which, though they may slay, leave no
wound; instant to gladden in the groves of serenity, when a black cloud
has blown by.

Her mind was sleepless.... Once, long after midnight, when she fell into
a doze, it was only to be awakened by a dream of a garrote upon her
throat. The ash had thickened again, and the air was acrid. The hours
seemed to fall asleep in passing. From her balcony she peered into the
dead-black of the North where Pelée rumbled at intervals. Back in the
south, the blurred moon impended with an evil light. A faint wailing of
children reached her from the servants' cabins. The sense of isolation
was dreadful for a moment. It seemed to rest entirely with her that time
passed at all; that she must grapple with each moment and fight it back
into the past....

The _Panther_, a fast ship with New York mail, was due to call at Saint
Pierre within forty-eight hours. Paula, to hasten the passing of time,
determined to take the little steamer over to Fort de France for a day,
if morning ever came. She must have slept an hour after this decision,
for she was unconscious of the transition from darkness to the parched
and brilliant dawn which roused her tired eyes. The glass showed her a
pallid face, darkly-lined.

The blinding light from the East changed the dew to steam before it
touched the ground. The more delicate blossoms in the gardens withered
in that hectic burning before the sun was an hour high. Driving down
through the city to the Landing she found the _Rue Victor Hugo_ almost
deserted. The _porteuses_ were gone from the highway; all doors were
tightly shut, strangely marring the tropical effect; broken window-panes
were stuffed with cloths to keep out the vitiated air. The tough little
island mules (many in their panniers with no one leading), scarcely
moved, and hugged the east walls for shade. From the by-ways she
imagined the smell of death.

* * * * *

"Hottest morning Saint Pierre has known for years," the captain said, as
she boarded the little steamer which hurriedly put off.... Night had
fallen (and there had been little to break the misery of Saint Pierre
that day), when she reached the Hotel once more. She retired immediately
after dinner to take advantage of a fresh, south wind which came with
the dark and promised to make sleep possible.... Rumblings from the
volcano awoke her just before dawn. Glancing out over the harbor, she
perceived the lights of a big liner lying near the _Saragossa_. There
was no sleep after this discovery, since she felt this must be the
_Panther_ with letters from New York. According to her schedule, the
steamer had cleared from Manhattan a full week after the _Fruitlands_.
Paula breakfasted early, and inquired at the desk how soon the mails
would be distributed.

"Did you arrange at the post-office to have your mail sent care of the
Hotel?" the clerk inquired.

"Yes."

"The bags should be here very shortly, Miss Wyndam. The _Panther_
anchored at two this morning."

"Please send any letters for me to my room at once," she told him, and
went there to wait, so that she might be alone to read.... Madame
Nestor's writing was upon one envelope, and Reifferscheid's upon
another, a large one, which contained mail sent to Paula Linster in his
care to be forwarded to Laura Wyndam, among them letters from Selma
Cross and Quentin Charter, as well as a note from the editor himself.

The latter she read first, since the pages were loose in the big
envelope. It was a joyous, cheery message, containing a humorous account
of those who called to inquire about her, a bit of the gospel of work
and a hope for her health - the whole, brief, fine and tonic - like her
friend.... Tearing open the Charter letter, she fell into a vortex of
emotions:

This is my fifth day in New York, dear Skylark, and I have
ceased trying to find you. It was not to trouble or frighten
you that I searched, but because I think if you understood
entirely, you would not hide from me. I hope Miss Cross has had
better success than I in learning your whereabouts, because she
has changed certain views regarding me. If you shared with her
those former views, it is indeed important that you learn the
truth, though it is not for me to put such things in a letter.
I have not seen Miss Cross since that first night; nor have I
had the heart yet to see _The Thing_. Reifferscheid tells me
that you may be out of the city for two or three months. I
counted him a very good friend of mine, but he treats me now
with a peculiar aversion, such as I should consider proper for
one to hold toward a wife-beater. It is all very strange and
subtly terrifying - this ordeal for which I have been prepared.
I see now that I needed the three full years of training. What
I cannot quite adjust yet is that I should have made you
suffer. My every thought blessed you. My thoughts bless you
to-night - sweet gift of the world to me.

Live in the sun and rest, Skylark; put away all shadowy
complications - and you will bring back a splendid store of
energy for the tenser New York life. I could not have written
so calmly a few days ago, for to have you think evil of me
drove straight and swiftly to the very centres of sanity - but I
have won back through thoughts of you, a noon-day courage; and
it has come to me that our truer relation is but beginning.

I have not yet the fibre for work; New York is empty without
you, as my garret would be without your singing. I shall go
away somewhere for a little, leaving my itinerary - when I
decide upon it - at the _Granville_. Some time soon I shall hear
from you. All shall be restored - even serenity to your
beautiful spirit. I only suffer now in that it proved business
of mine to bring you agony. I wanted to make you glad through
and through; to lift your spirit, not to weight it down; to
make you wiser, happier, - to keep you _winged_. This, as I know
the truth, has been my constant outbreathing to you....

My window at the _Granville_ faces the East - the East to which
I have come - yet from the old ways, I still look to the East
for you. New York has found her Spring - a warm, almost vernal
night, this, and I smell the sea.... Two big, gray dusty moths
are fluttering at the glass - softly, eagerly to get at the
light - as if they knew best.... They have found the way in, for
the window was partly open, and have burned their wings at the
electric bulb. The analogy is inevitable ... but _you_ would
not be hurt, for flame would meet flame.... I turned off the
light a moment and remembered that you have already been hurt,
but that was rather because flame was not restored by flame....

One moth has gone away. The other has curled up on my table
like a faded cotton umbrella. So many murder the soul this way
in the pursuit of dead intellectual brilliance....

Bless your warm heart that brims with singing - singing which I
must hear again.... An old sensation comes to me now as I cease
to write. My garret always used to grow empty and heartless - as
I closed and sealed a letter to you.... You are radiant in the
heart of Quentin Charter.

She was unconscious of passing time, until her eye was attracted by the
heavy handwriting of Selma Cross upon a _Herriot Theatre_ envelope. This
communication was an attempt to clear herself with Paula, whose
intrinsic clarity had always attracted truth from the actress; also it
seemed to contain a struggle to adjust herself, when once she began to
write, to the garment of nettles she had woven from mixed motives.

I am almost frantic searching for you. I knew you were in the
hall _that night_, because I saw your hat as you started to
walk down. Charter was saying things about the stage that made
me want to shut the door, but I must tell you why I made him
come there. When it occurred to me how horribly you had been
hurt by my disclosures regarding him, the thought drove home
that there might be some mistake. You would not see him, so I
sent a telephone-message to the _Granville_ for him to call.
He, of course, thought the message from you. Indeed, he would
not have come otherwise. He avoided me before, and that night,
he certainly would have seen no one but you. Our elevator-man
at the _Zoroaster_ had orders from me to show a gentleman
inquiring for you about seven, to my apartment.

My thought was, to learn if by any possibility I was wrong in
what I had told you. I even thought I might call you in that
night. Anyway, you would be just across the hall - to hear at
once any good word. He thought at first that it was a trap that
_we_ had arranged - that you were somewhere in the apartment
listening! Oh, I'm all in a welter of words - there is so much,
and your big brute of an editor would give me no help. The
woman in your rooms is quite as blank about you. I never beat
so helplessly against a wall.

But here's the truth: Charter did not talk about our relations.
Villiers had a spy watching all our movements - and was thus
informed. Then, when he got back, Villiers told me that Charter
had talked to men - all the things that his spy had learned. He
did this to make me hate Charter. This is the real truth.
Charter seems to have become a monk in the three years. This is
not so pleasant to write as it will be for you to read, but he
would not even mention your name in my room! I want to say that
if it is not you - some woman has the new Quentin Charter heart
and soul. I could have done the thing better, but the dramatic
possibility of calling him to the _Zoroaster_ blinded my
judgment, and what a hideous farce it turned out! But you have
the truth, and I, my lesson. Please forgive your fond old
neighbor - who wasn't started out with all the breeding in the
world, but who meant to be square with you.

Paula felt that she could go down into the tortured city at this moment
with healing for every woe. She paced the room, and with outstretched
arms, poured forth an ecstasy of gratitude for his sake; for the
restoration of her Tower; for this new and glorious meaning of her
womanhood. The thought of returning to New York by the first boat
occurred; and the advisability of cabling Quentin Charter for his ease
of mind.... At all events, the time of the next steamer's leaving for
New York must be ascertained at once. She was putting on her hat, when
Madame Nestor's unopened letter checked her precipitation. The first
line brought back old fears:

I'm afraid I have betrayed you, my beloved Paula. It is hard
that my poor life should be capable of this. Less than two
hours ago, as I was busied about the apartment, the bell rang
and I answered. At the door stood Bellingham. He caught my eyes
and held them. I remember that instant, the suffocation, - the
desperate but vain struggle to keep my self-control. Alas, he
had subjected my will too thoroughly long ago. Almost
instantly, I succumbed to the old mastery.... When his control
was lifted, I was still standing by the opened door, but he was
gone. The elevator was at the ground-floor. He must have passed
by me and into the apartment, for one of your photographs was
gone. I don't think he came for that, though of course it will
help him to concentrate I cannot tell what else happened in the
interval, but my dreadful fear is that he made me divulge your
place of refuge. What other purpose could he have? It is almost
unbearable that I should be forced to tell him - when I love you
so - if, indeed, that has come to pass.... He has altered
terribly since the accident. I think he has lost certain of his
powers - that his thwarted desire is murdering him. He did not
formerly need a photograph to concentrate. His eyes burned into
mine like a wolf's. I know, even in my sorrow, that yours is to
be the victory. He is breaking up or he would not _come to
you_....

For a moment or two Paula was conscious of Pelée, and the gray menace
that charged the burnt-out air.

Then came the thought of Father Fontanel and the door that was never
locked; and presently her new joy returned with ever-rising
vibration - until the long-abated powers of her life were fully vitalized
again.... She was wondering, as she stepped into the hall and turned the
key in her door, if she would be considered rather tumultuous in cabling
Charter.... At the stairway, she halted, fearing at first some new
mental seizure; then every faculty furiously-nerved, she listened at the
balustrade for the repetition of a voice that an instant before had
thrilled her to the soul.... There had only been a sentence or two from
the Voice. Peter Stock was now replying:

"He's a man-servant of the devil, this pudgy editor," he said striding
up and down the lower hall in his rage. "A few days ago I called upon
him, and in sweet modesty and limping French explained the proper policy
for him to take about this volcano. To-day he devotes a half-column of
insufferable humor to my force of character and alarmist views. Oh, the
flakiness of the French mind! M. Mondet certainly fascinates me. I shall
have to call upon him again."

Paula heard the low laugh of the other and the words:

"Let's sit down, Mr. Stock. I want to hear all about the editor and the
mountain. I was getting to sea somewhere, when the New York papers ran a
line about Pelée's activity. It started luring memories, and I berthed
at once for Saint Pierre. It was mighty good to see the _Saragossa_
lying familiarly in the roadstead - - "

Trailing her fingers along the wall to steady herself, Paula made her
way back to the door of her room, which she fumblingly unlocked.




NINETEENTH CHAPTER

QUENTIN CHARTER IS ATTRACTED BY THE TRAVAIL OF _PELÉE_, AND ENCOUNTERS A
QUEER FELLOW-VOYAGER


Charter did not find Paula Linster in the week of New York that followed
his call at the _Zoroaster_, but he found Quentin Charter. The first
three or four days were rather intense in a psychological way. The old
vibrations of New York invariably contained for him a destructive
principle, as Paris held for Dr. Duprez. The furious consumption of
nerve-tissue during the first evening after his arrival; a renewal of
desires operating subconsciously, and in no small part through the
passion of Selma Cross; his last struggle, both subtle and furious, with
his own stimulus-craving temperament, and the desolation of the true
romance - combined, among other things, worthily to test the growth of
his spirit.... The thought that Skylark had fallen into the hands of
Selma Cross, and had been given that ugly estimate of him which the
actress held before his call, as he expressed it in his letter, "drove
straight and swiftly to the very centres of sanity." Over this, was a
ghastly, whimpering thing that would not be immured - the effect of
which, of all assailants to rising hope, was most scarifying: That Paula


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Online LibraryWill Levington ComfortShe buildeth her house → online text (page 16 of 23)