The Brink of Destruction

JOHN WARNE IN AMERICAN MAGAZINE July 1 1906

The Brink of Destruction

JOHN WARNE IN AMERICAN MAGAZINE July 1 1906

The Brink of Destruction

JOHN WARNE IN AMERICAN MAGAZINE

Summer days are now upon us and the Summer man and the Summer girl are enjoying life at the various resorts. For them, as well as for all who love humor, this little tale of perversity will be full of delights. Human nature is the same the world over, and all will appreciate its expression in this story.

HE lit another pipe. It was the same pipe. But he had filled it with different tobacco. He returned to his old position, on his back, with his head propped against a mound of grass and studied the western sky.

It promised to be a glorious sunset.

“In about twenty minutes,” he said to himself, “the rays will get right under that black mass of cloud and set it on fire, and it will split up into blazing purple shreds and each shred will float away and turn pink on a background of blue and green, and the one thing wanting will be a girl, to whom I can explain it as I hold her hand.”

He had always felt that about sunsets. It is a pardonable weakness among young men, particularly with this young American, acquiring a rather painful amount of education at an English university.

This particular sunset promised to be particularly glorious—especially as it would be reflected in the river.

The river ran within two feet of his two feet. Occasionally May flies flicked its surface and gave shivers to the reflection of the trees. So did occasional small fishes, at the May flies’ invitation.

He closed his eyes for a minute and guessed which cloud the sun had reached by the time he opened them. He tried this several times and came to the conclusion that the sun’s movements were too erratic for him to have any chance of success.

And each time he shut his eyes the

interval before they opened became longer. They had been closed for quite five minutes when a new and strange sound disturbed the peaceful glory of the scene. It was not a distant cow, nor the splash of a water-rat, nor the twitter of a dissatisfied bird, nor the sound of the setting sun, so he opened one eye to look. It was the sound of a maiden struggling with a punt. He opened the other eye, sat up, and watched. She was dressed in something white and subtle' and simple, with dark braid round the edge, and the punt was going sideways with uncomfortable rapidity. At intervals she made frantic dives with the pole and seemed to be searching vainly for the bottom of the river. At irregular intervals she found it, but the only result was that the punt turned round the pole and proceeded on its other side, chafing at the unnecessary delay. At last she got a firm grip of something solid and brought the vessel round in a circle three times. Tiring of this, it advanced once more, and a look of horror came ipto her face. The alternatives were pole or punt; she preferred the punt after a short, sharp struggle and the pole remained behind. She recovered her balance and stood glaring wildly at the legend on a board on the bank, “Beware of the Dam ! Danger ! !” He had read it unmoved, now it seemed to take on a new meaning.

The sun continued to set in indescribable splendor.

The punt and the girl floated down

past him and he roused nimself to action.

“Can I do anything to help ?” he asked in a gentle voice.

She turned and saw him for the first time.

“The dam !” she cried. “I’ve lost the pole ! Help me ! Quick !”

His own boat was moored a few 3^ards away. He got in and rowed up to the punt. Just before reaching it he stopped and rested on his oars. “Quick,” she said, “the dam is just down there.”

Her face was hot and red and she was struggling to reduce her hair to order. He did not move. They floated down with the stream together.

“Quick!” she said again. “The current is awfully strong.”

“Admit that you were flirting with Charles,” he said.

A look of alarm and indignation came over her face.

“Don't sit arguing there ! Can’t 3’ou see I shall be over the dam—”

“Admit that you were flirting with Charles.”

She stamped her foot.

“Don’t be silly. Here, take this rope and tie it to your boat.”

She stood holding the painter in her outstretched hand. He looked at it calmly and without interest.

“Admit that you were flirting with Charles.”

She looked round with horror. The “danger” board was now behind them, and the voice of the dam was heard rumbling in the middle distance.

“Harry, don’t be idiotic!” she screamed. “If you let me get drowned I’ll—I’ll—” ‘

She seemed uncertain what she would do in that event.

“Admit that you were flirting with Charles.”

She looked at him for a couple of

seconds in silence, with a twitching mouth and tears coming to her eyes. Then she turned away, arranged the cushions and sat down in the bottom of the punt, apparently resigned to death.

“I never flirt,” she said.

There was silence, and the sun was near the earth in a bed of fiery clouds. And still they floated on. The rumbling of the weir grew more aggressive, and the speed of the boat and punt increased.

His eye had been determined and calm; it now seemed to grow a little anxious.

“Admit that 3’ou were flirting with Charles,” he said in rather a louder voice, but she made no reply. She seemed to have observed for the first time the glory of the sunset. She was drinking it in with rapt admiration.

“You know perfectly well,” he said, “that your behavior with Charles was disgusting.”

She turned quickly toward him, leaving the sun to set alone.

“I beg your pardon,” she said apologetically yet casually, “I wasn’t listening. Did you say something?”

“I said you know perfectly well that your behavior with Charles was disgusting.”

She turned back to the sun, which, having languished for a moment, basked once more in the brilliance of her eyes.

They floated on more rapidly. The dam was roaring hungrily just round the next bend of the river.

“Look here,” he was becoming exasperated. “Are you going to admit that you were flirting with Charles?”

“No.”

“Then our engagement is to be off ?”

“Certainly. What a lovely sunset !” she sighed as she rested her

delicious chin on her adorable hands and her gaze was far away across the ends of the earth among the pink and purple clouds.

He looked at her in doubt. She was a fascinating study at any time. In this light she was irresistible. He pulled two strokes and caught hold of the punt.

“Get in,” he said abruptly.

She gave a little gasp of relief. It had been a struggle to appear unconcerned, and she was not sorry it was over.

She got into the boat with dignity and took her seat in the stern.

“What about the punt?” she asked as she leaned back to arrange the rudder lines. “Quick, or we shall be too late ! ”

Instead of remaining at the oars he stepped into the punt and pushed the boat away.

“What are you doing ?” she cried.

“Now you can row home,” he said, settling down among the cushions and turning his face to the sun.

She looked at him in blank astonishment as the vessels drifted apart.

“Harry, what on earth do you mean ?”

Hurriedly she scrambled forward and took up the oars.

“Admit that you were firting with Charles.”

“Certainly not !”

She pulled up to the punt.

“Harry! Get in here at once! What are you doing ?”

“Don’t know,” he drawled, “and don’t care. You will find me lower down—if you drag the river. By George ! it is a pretty sunset.”

The dam was in sight and roaring like anything.

She clutched the punt with one hand and backing with the other,

tried to check its course. But the stream was too strong for her.

“Harry, don’t be foolish!”

“Admit that you were flirting with Charles ?” he murmured with closed eyes.

“No !” she said fiercely, battling with the elements.

“Then it’s no good arguing, let me drown in peace.”

“She lost her hold of the punt and it slipped away. The dam was only fifty yards off. Pride, wrath and terror struggled in her breast. It required all her atrength to check the way on the boat.

“Harry!” she shouted in despair.

The noise of rushing water drowned all but three words of his reply.

“-flirting with Charles,” was

what she heard and her heart hardened even to the point of murder. It seemed like murder, to leave him in that punt.

She pulled the boat round towards the bank. It was too late to follow him and even if she did she could not see how she was to help. She ran hard for the shore and the murderous desires vanished.

The sun was dipping behind the hills but she had forgotten its existence. Her heart was in her mouth. She leaped out and with an oar in one hand and a piece of rope from the rudder in the other hurried along the bank, struggling through long grass to the pool below the dam.

The oar and the rope were for rescue.

How they were to do it was not clear in her mind. Nothing was clear except that she would admit anything—even that she had flirted with Charles. That she would do fully, frankly and without reserve, except that it wasn’t true. The way was short but the minutes seemed

like hours till she emerged from the trees by the calm, deceitful pool.

She looked all round in agony.

“Harry! Harry!”

But there was no punt bottom upwards, and there was no hat floating giimlv on the waters.

“Harry !”

“Hullo ! ”

The punt had drifted sideways and was held at the top of the cataract by two posts sticking up and designed, no doubt, for this very purpose.

His legs, crossed, were all that she could see. She breathed again. Then she called out :

“Harry, are you—are you safe ?”

“Pretty well, thank you.”

“Can you get the punt to the shore ?”

“Not without the pole. Bring the boat, you can get her here all right if you’re careful and keep her head up stream.”

“I see,” she said, “that will be ing with Charles.”

“Rot. I saw it with my own eyes.”

“You’re a horrid cad and you may stay where you are.”

He paid no attention. Slowly she strolled back to the boat and pushed off.

The sun had almost disappeared. The water of the stream was all a fiery red with the reflection of the clouds and the trees wore that mysterious air of unearthliness and unreality and indescrible beauty which they take on in the glow of a Summer evening.

But it was all lost on her. She paddled gently towards the dam, whose voice seemed to have abated its ferocity. Even the current seemed less violent and the awful strain of the last quarter of an hour had given way to a most delicious calm of body and of mind.

Within sight of the punt she held the boat up and watched. For a moment Harry’s head appeared in the place where, from the attitude of the legs, it was expected. Then it disappeared again.

“Admit that I was not flirting with Charles,” she cried.

“Hold her steadily and let her stern drift down here,” said a voice from the punt.

“Admit that I wasn’t flirting with Charles.”

No answer.

She drew away a few yards.

“Shall I say you may be late for dinner ?”

No answer.

“If I tell them to bring dinner for you here, it will all be cold, won’t

it ?”

“Can’t stand hot things on a warm evening.”

She moved a little further off.

“Good night,” she called.

‘ ‘ Gooooo-ooo-nH-i-i—”

“Very well,” she said to herself in exasperation, “he can stay there, I don’t care.”

She worked hard for a minute and brought the boat under the bank behind a jutting tree. There she repented—within limits—and stopped and watched out of sight.

She had not been watching long when there was a movement in the punt. He sat up and looked around. She could not make out clearly what he was doing, but he seemed to be filling his pipe. There was a pause. Something had gone wrong.

A horrid word floated across the waters. He got up and shook himself. Then he crawled on his knees from one end of the punt to the other. He was looking for something. Then he stood up again and pushing one of the posts tried to alter the position of the punt. Appar-

entlÿ that did not work for there was a swish of water and he clutched the post and pushed himself back again. Then he looked round once more and the same horrid word thrilled through the peaceful air.

She emerged into full view and rowed steadily up the stream. He saw her and waved a white handkerchief frantically. She stopped and rested on the oars. He put his hands to his mouth and bellowed :

“Your behavior with Charles was absolutely irreproachable.

She backed down with a grin of triumph.

“Apologize V’ she said.

“I apologize,”

“Say you behaved like a cad in suspecting me.”

“I behaved like a cad in suspecting you.”

“Say I gave you no cause at all for thinking anything of the kind.”

“Hang it, do be reasonable ! You must admit—”

She pulled away again.

“Hi ! All right ! You gave me no cause.” She backed towards him.

“Go on your knees and say you’ll never do it again.”

He collected the cushions and obeyed.

She was satisfied. Following his directions she let the boat drift

gently against the punt. He fastened the two together, got in, took the oars and pulled both in a few minutes to a place of safety.

They looked at each other and frowned.

“You’ve had a narrow escape,” she said.

“Not a bit. The edge of the dam is the place I always go to, to get away from the crowd. It is the nicest-mannered dam I know.”

“But you wouldn’t have liked spending the night there.”

“Shouldn’t mind, it’s quite warm.” “Then why did you give in ?” “Ah!”

He looked at her and smiled.

“I think I know,” she said.

He ran the boat against the land and sat by her side in the stern.

“What was the reason,” she whispered.

“I found that when I came out to rescue you—”

“Well?”

“I lelt my matches on the bank.” “Oh, then I don’t mind admitting that Charlie and I had a jolly good time this morning.”

But then the moon rose—and it is against nature to quarrel any more when the moon is round and bright and large.

I am what I think, even more than what I do, for it is the thought that interprets the action. It is behind the veil, in the silent world of thought, that life’s greatest battles have to be fought and lost or won, with no human eye to witness, no voice to cheer or encourage. — Rev. Basil Maturin.