The Island of Intrigue/Chapter 3
WHEN I awoke the sun was shining so brightly in my face that it made my eyes ache. I lay gazing about me, wondering, in the first bewildered moment of conscious thought, where I was, and how I got there. The events of the previous day had faded from my mind, and I fancied that I was still at Miss Farmingdale's, and wondered at the unfamiliar outlines of the furniture, and why the floor seemed to sway so. Then it all came back to me, and for a time I lay there quietly, thinking.
I was unhappy and depressed. I couldn't help feeling that the Smiths weren't my sort of people any more, or I wasn't theirs. Something was wrong. Either they or I had changed so that we had grown hopelessly away from the old familiar footing. The thought of spending the whole summer alone with them on an island, in intimate daily association, was intolerable. I determined that when Daddy came the following week, I would talk it all over with him, and coax him to take me away. I felt a little better when I had come to my decision.
As I sat up my locket slipped to the floor and I saw that the chain was broken. I couldn't understand this, for I had worn that locket and chain ever since I was eight years old, when I tried to follow Daddy from the hotel and might have been lost if the house detective had not seen me. Daddy had the chain made and fastened on my neck without clasps, and too small to slip over my head. In the locket, which had a secret spring known only to Daddy and me, was a picture of himself and, engraved on the inside of the case was an inscription, giving Daddy's name and permanent address. Although fine, the chain was remarkably strong and Iunderstand its breaking. I hoped Aunt Julie knew some place where I could have it repaired at once.
I rang for the maid, and presently she appeared, with a steaming breakfast tray. Just as I was preparing to go up on deck, Bijou tapped at the door.
"Good morning, Maida," she said. "Did you sleep well?"
"Rather too well," I replied. "I'm afraid I've overslept myself. I feel a little dull and headachy, and it must be very late."
"Oh, no. It's never late with us: We don't pretend to keep any regular hours, you know, especially on the Tortoise. We all come straggling up on deck whenever we feel like it."
"Let's go up now. It's a glorious day!"
It was glorious. The sun was high, and the clear, blue waves danced and curled into little serpentine ridges of foam, that scattered and spread like old lace. A low, unbroken line of shore lay far in the distance over the port-rail, and a flock of sea-gulls followed in our wake, their wings tipped with silver as they swooped and turned in the sunlight.
All the rest had preceded us, and they gathered about at once. I asked Aunt Julie about having my chain repaired and she was quite confident it could be done at once—Monsieur Pelissier could join the broken ends. He secured a tool from the engine room and I was forced to tolerate his close presence while he deftly secured the chain about my neck.
"You value your locket greatly?" he queried tentatively.
"Yes," I replied. He seemed disappointed at my curt answer and thanks, but I couldn't like him. However, he was especially attentive, and brought me cushions, a rug for my feet, smelling-salts, bon-bons and books, until, in self-defence, I beat a retreat with Alaric.
We played a game of quoits under the awnings and I won an easy victory. Then I went back to Aunt Julie, who sat near the door to the companionway, with some perfectly atrocious embroidery in her hands. There was now no sign of Lorna or Monsieur Pelissier, but Bijou joined us.
"We'll reach Sunset Island between four and five o'clock this afternoon. Captain Andrews tells me," observed Aunt Julie, snapping her thread, and frowning at the mess she had made of a purple petunia. "I hope you'll like it, Maida. It's quiet, of course, for it's three miles from the mainland, and no one lives on the island, but it's cool and pleasant, and the girls like it after the excitement of the winter."
Bijou gave an impatient little twitch in her chair, but didn't say anything. I had my doubts about her preference for a quiet summer on a lonely island.
"Dear, dear!" Aunt Julie ejaculated, reflectively, "if dear Margaret was only here! If she could know that her baby was with us now, how happy she would be! You remember your mother well, Maida?"
"Oh, yes! Yes, of course!" I cried, distressed. How could she think I had forgotten in twelve short years the dearest face in all the world!
I still shrank from speaking of my mother to them. Aunt Julie meant well, of course, but it was intolerable, with Bijou's lazy unfeeling eyes gazing at me. I would have felt differently perhaps, if it had been Lorna.
"It was a great blow to us all." Aunt Julie shook her head sadly, and then with an intuition I wouldn't have given her credit for possessing, she added, briskly, "Well, we won't talk about sorrowful things on a lovely morning like this.
"The old days, back in Concho County, were good days after all."
"How you talk, mother!" remarked Bijou, disgustedly. "I don't remember much about it, and I don't want to! This is the life I like. I don't care to think of the time before. We're rich, now!"
She spoke as if their wealth might have dated from the day before, and the sinister gloating triumph of her voice was like her mother's, when she had spoken about the power of money. It grated upon my nerves horribly, and I turned quickly to her.
"Money is useful, of course. It makes everything smooth and easy for you to do what you want to do, but I don't think it is so terribly important for one's happiness, do you?"
"Yes, I do!" she returned, promptly. "To do what I want! To see life!"
"Do you care so much for society, then?" I asked.
"Society? No, I hate it, the society you mean." Bijou's eyes glittered. "But the theaters, and restaurants, and the races, and dressing better than anybody else, and going to Paris, and just living in motor cars! That's what I want."
"But you've had it ever since you were a little girl!" I said, in surprise. "The pretty things, I mean, and motors, and Paris!"
"Oh, of course!" She reddened sulkily and moved again in her chair with an impatient flounce. "But a child can't have much fun in Paris, in a convent. Don't you love public places, and having everybody nudge each other, and stare at you as you pass, and whisper: 'That's Maida Waring, Oil-Well Waring's daughter'!"
"But I don't think people do! At least, I never noticed it. I should detest it, I'm sure. I couldn't bear to be conspicuous!" I cried in dismay at the thought.
Bijou looked incredulously at me, as if she were wondering whether I really meant it, or if it were a pose.
"Well, you're funny!" she remarked, "I should love it! I wouldn't be like that for anything!"
Hastily Aunt Julie interrupted.
"Bijou's a——a Philistine, Maida! Don't mind her! I'm afraid I've been too lax with the girls and spoiled them, but a mother doesn't seem to have much control over her children, these days."
She spoke pleasantly enough, but she looked warning daggers at Bijou, who shrugged rebelliously, and seemed to be secretly enjoying her mother's discomfiture.
Monsieur Pelissier came up just then, and Aunt Julie went below to see that the maid attended to the packing.
Monsieur Pelissier knew so many interesting things about old, forgotten, out-of-the-way corners of Paris, that it fascinated me, in spite of myself, to listen to him, and it was lunch time before I realized it.
After lunch, I wandered on deck to the stern, and stood at the rail. The shore line was perceptibly nearer now, and was passed a great gaunt rock, with a lighthouse on it, and then several little wooded islands, upon which I could faintly discern white blotches of houses.
Someone came up behind me, hesitated, then advanced to my side.
"Beg pardon, Miss Smith. You dropped your handkerchief."
I turned quickly. It was the bronzed, fair-haired young sailor with the bold eyes, whom I had noticed the day before. He stood staring at me again in that peculiar way, and to my annoyance, I left my face flush beneath his scrutiny, although his bearing was not disrespectful.
"Thank you," I said quietly, taking the handkerchief from his hand, and added on impulse: "But I am Miss Waring, not Miss Smith."
"Beg pardon, Miss. I'm a new hand, and I didn't know." He touched his forehead with his finger and moved off quietly, and I turned again to the water.
He had stared at me so curiously, and had seemed to be on the point of saying more, but had checked himself. I wondered what he would have said.
"It's very pretty, the coast here, isn't it?" Lorna had come up, and was leaning on the rail beside me. "It is quite rugged and picturesque when we approach Sunset Island, not unlike some parts of the coast of Brittany."
"I know very little of France," I returned. "I only saw the points of interest in and about Paris that the average tourist goes in for, when I went over with Miss Farmingdale and the girls. You like France, don't you?"
"Ah, yes, I love it!" cried Lorna, eagerly. "I would live there always, if I could, and never come to America. I mean to, some day."
I wondered if she referred to a possible marriage with Monsieur Pelissier. I hoped not, for I did not think he was the sort of man to make any girl happy. I fancied he could be cuttingly satirical, and even cruel, if he wished.
"France must be a fascinating country, of course," I said slowly. "But to leave America forever, not to want to see one's own country again, I can't imagine that!"
"Ah, wait till you know France well! This is not life, here in America, you do not know how to live!" She spoke as if she were already an expatriate. "The money is here, of course, the wealth, but nothing else, nothing! No art, no beauty, no ésprit, no joie de vivre!"
She paused, and as I was silent, she added, laughingly:
"I shock you, Maida? I seem traitorously unpatriotic. Really, I'm not. I know this is a wonderful country, but France suits my temperament best. Mother and Bijou cannot understand."
"No," I said thoughtfully. "You are different from the rest of the family, Lorna, different from what you used to be when you were a little girl."
"Do you think so?" she asked, quickly. "How different?"
"I don't know. I can't explain." I hesitated. "It isn't only that you are older, now, but you seem to have lived, to have learned more from life than it has taught me yet, or—Bijou."
"Oh, Bijou!" she exclaimed, quite frankly. "Bijou always was stupid, you know! She's hopelessly like mother. That sounds undutiful, but although we are sisters, we haven't an idea in common. We're a queer family, I suppose."
"People can't all be of the same type, you know, even in one family," I remarked, rather uncomfortably. Lorna had a peculiar way, which I learned to recognize later, of letting all conversational bars down, in the most unconventional fashion. One scarcely knew how to reply to her.
She didn't appear to have noticed my banal observation, however, but turned to me with a little confidential air.
"Maida, did mother seem very anxious yesterday, when you reached the yacht, and found I had not returned?"
"Yes, she did," I returned, candidly.
"How silly!" she exclaimed. "You can never convince Mother of a thing! I suppose it must have seemed very queer to you, her anxiety and fussing?"
"Oh, no!" I parried. "She wanted to sail as soon as possible, you know. That was why she called for me at the school earlier than had been arranged."
"I know. But that wasn't altogether what made her worry." She paused, and then added, impetuously: "I'm going to tell you something, Maida. Did—did your father ever know, and tell you—of my engagement, two years ago?"
"No," I said, surprised. "I heard nothing of it. Was it announced?"
"No. That was why I thought perhaps you had not heard. It was Dickie Ranger, Senator Ranger's son. He was attached to the embassy—we were living in Paris then. We were quite terribly in love, too violently to last. We quarreled, and Dickie had himself ordered back to Washington. Well, I've been seeing him again; mother found it out and it upset her terribly. She has other plans for me, and she's desperately afraid I will make it up with Dickie. We've had some horrid rows because I wouldn't give up seeing him, but I'm too old to be dictated to——"
"You're only twenty-two——" I interrupted.
"Yes, I know, but mother and I see things so differently! Now you can understand why she was so worried and alarmed at my continued absence. The worst of it is, she makes other people believe her, too!"
I understood at once, in a flash, all that she had implied, and knew whom she meant by "other people." It explained her reassurance to Monsieur Pelissier when she came on board the previous day: "I have not seen him." Evidently the Frenchman knew of her former engagement, and was aware that she still liked this Dickie Ranger, in a friendly way, if no more. It was quite probable that Monsieur Pelissier might be jealous of the other man.
"I can understand why Aunt Julie was worried," I laughed, "just at the last minute, too, when she almost had you safe on Sunset Island for the summer."
"Yes. I believe my friendship for Dickie is the cause of her sudden resolve to spend the whole season immured up here."
"And you're quite sure you don't really care just a little for this Mr. Ranger?"
"Indeed, no! If you'd ever been in love you wouldn't ask me that!" she laughed, then added, swiftly, "you haven't, have you, Maida?"
"Been in love? Goodness gracious, no! I have never thought of marrying." I could feel my cheeks flush at the very idea. Then I remembered something, and giggled. "Oh, there is what you might call a vague possibility, but the man hasn't the least idea of it himself, and I've never even seen him!"
"If he has not the slightest idea of marrying you, I should call it the very vaguest possibility under the sun!" Lorna laughed. "Who is he?"
"His name is Gilbert Spear, and he is the son of Arnold Spear."
"Arnold Spear, the Consolidated Oil magnate?" Lorna asked, with wide eyes. "He is quite a catch, isn't he?"
"I suppose so," I said, rather shortly. "Daddy and his father are great chums, and from some blundering hints which Daddy has thrown out, I think they've fixed it up between them, in a nice, old-fashioned, high-handed way. I wouldn't marry him, of course, if he was the last man on earth, just because of that. He's a queer sort of chap, I believe, always going off on long trips to the out-of-the-way corners of the earth by himself. He is in India, or South Africa, or somewhere, so he won't trouble me very soon! I wouldn't marry anybody now. All I want is to make up to Daddy as much as anyone can, for the loss of dear mother. It almost killed him when she left us, Lorna."
"I do not wonder!" Lorna's voice was very low and hushed. "She was a lovely, lovely woman, your mother, Maida."
"You remember her?" I asked eagerly.
"Do you think I could ever forget her?" Lorna cried, softly. "You were too young to realize it at the time, but she saved my life, once, at the risk of her own. How could I ever forget that?"
"Oh, I do remember, I do!" The tears sprang to my eyes, and I laid my hand impulsively on Lorna's. "It was that time on the ranch when you were bitten by the rattlesnake."
"And your mother drew the poison from the wound with her own lips," finished Lorna, when I couldn't go on. "It was a heroic thing to do, the bravest thing I ever heard of a woman having done in my life. Do you wonder, Maida, that I love your mother's memory?"
I cried a little, I couldn't help it, but they were happy tears.
"Oh, I am so glad that you remember her!" I said at last, when I could speak. "I've been so lonely without her, so unspeakably lonely!"
Lorna was silent for a time, looking straight off to sea. A little flush had come into her usually colorless face, and her eyes had a faraway, inscrutable look.
At length she spoke, very quietly and gently, and told me many things from the last years of mother's life,—just little incidents, but glorified in the telling by her sympathetic voice, and rendered doubly dear to me. There were things, too, which had completely gone from my memory, and I listened absorbedly, happier than I had been for ever so long.
The afternoon slipped by without my knowing, and I started in surprise when Aunt Julie called to me.
"Look, Maida!" she said. "There, to your left—that long island between the two smaller ones. We're here at last! There's Hard-a-lee!"