A dramatic story of a tempestuous wooing
SOME men are so eminently suited to the needs of other times us to be incongruous in this. Tom Rorke was like that. He belonged in an earlier, more elemental age. His is a tale of destiny; of how one man, crossing another’s path but thrice within his lifetime, yet held the key for him between joy and despair.
It was London in 1917. Through swirling smoke and to impassioned music, the Savoy grill teemed with officers and their women. Yorke, swaggering colonel of Australian infantry, checked his champagne halfway to his lips.
“By cripes,” he swore, “no wonder Hank dodged us for lunch! Just look at that girl he’s got.”
His guest, Cormick, turned, to see Hank Miles seating a slim dark girl near-by.
“He can’t put that over,” Yorke declared in his husky voice, and stood up abruptly. “Here, boy. Bring them coffee and liqueurs across. Come on, doc.”
He clunked over and sat down deliberately at the other table. “Well, Hank, I’m glad you found us. Interduce me and the doc, now.”
His boon companion, Hank Miles, glared futile protest; then accepted the inevitable with good grace and presented them to Sally Garrett. While the Australians vied with each other truculently for the lady’s favors, the grey-haired, genial doctor pondered again the conviction that had obsessed him ever since they arrived together in his hospital, wounded from France.
A ship’s surgeon till the war, he had forgotten very many men. And somewhere, sometime, he knew he had met this John Yorke before. Much thought, and some enquiry, had not recalled the happening. Yet the conviction persisted, not merely that their paths had crossed, but that the man’s personality had impressed itself on him deeply in some unusual circumstances. Miles and Yorke, he had learned, had enlisted in Australia together. In spite of Yorke’s glaring lack of education, once in France his unquenchable lust for fighting, vast energy and optimism, iron nerve and genius for leadership had swept him up swiftly to the rank of colonel. Though the lank and saturnine Miles made in many ways a drastic contrast to him, the two were on terms of the greatest intimacy. So much the doctor had discovered, but nothing to explain his vivid sense of familiarity.
Yorke was to leave hospital that day, and had invited the man who had cared for him to a good-by luncheon. Cormick watched him now exchanging badinage with Sally Garrett, who returned his thrusts with the facile wit of the slums that had bred her. He would have caught the eye in any company. His enormous shoulders and depth of chest, lean flanks and fine-drawn limbs and great square head thatched with yellow curls, marked him at once. Yet the elemental virility he personified distinguished him far more. Even to Sally— whom all men desired, many pursued, and one or two men lovedhe was irresistibly impressive as with his big head thrust forward, his grey eyes gleaming and a smile, half grim, half very sweet, yet somehow altogether potent, he sued her as unrestrainedly as if they were alone. He so absorbed her interest that soon Miles gave up the contest, sat back with a swiftly concealed flash of anger and chatted with the doctor.
That night after the show, a glittering hired limousine complete with footman and chauffeur in uniform stopped at the stage door of Sally’s theatre. The doorman indignantly opposed Yorke’s leonine figure on his sacred portal.
“ ’Ere, ’ere. Aht of it, you! Nobody allowed in.”
Yo’-ke trickled a stream of coins from one hand to the other till the fellow’s eyes began to bulge. Then he pressed the cash into his palm, dealt him a playful clout in the ribs which made him gasp, ran up the narrow stairs and soon was pounding on the door of Sally’s dressing room.
A maid’s indignant face appeared. “Who let you in? Miss Garrett’s dressing.”
Yorke quizzed her with a knowing eyebrow till she blushed -though she could not have told why. Then he grinned disarmingly. “All right. I can wait. Better lock that door, though.”
The door slammed, and he paced the bare corridor impatiently, a mighty, arrogant and virile figure, immaculately uniformed, spurs ringing and crop slapping his boot. Presently the door opened, revealing Sally, a startling and gorgeous vision in a high-collared gold metallic wrap over a clinging scarlet gown.
Up from the gutter via the chorus, she had come to be London’s most popular revue actress. She was voluptuous and slender, with a red, sulky mouth and a mass of jetty curls, a vivid, elemental child of night and the bright lights, living by her wits and certain other powers God or the devil had given her. Yorke’s eyes fired, and his whole frame seemed to tighten.
At sight of him she smiled her wise, slow smile.
“Oh! You .1 was expecting Hank.”
“Well, it’s his party.”
“No, it ain’t. It’s my party. I’m the party.”
“But I promised him.”
Across the passage a door opened, with a glimpse of a long dressing room crowded with chorus girls. Yorke’s face creased puckishly. “ ’Arf a mo’,” he chuckled, and pushed his way in, oblivious of screams and imprecations as the girls snatched kimonos or ducked for cover. “Hey!” he bellowed. “Who wants to go to a party?”
He grabbed and hauled, wriggling and giggling from behind a clothes rack, a perky little half-clad blonde. “You’d like a party at Princes’, I’ll take my oath.”
She hung her head and squirmed. “I thought so.” He swung her into a corner whence she could not escape, and wrote on the back of a card. Folding the girl’s hand round the card and a five pound note, he patted her bare back so that the powder flew. “Wait at the door for Mister Miles, a long, black, miserable lookin’ Aussie. Give him the card and keep the fiver. You’re a good kid.”
In high glee he returned to Sally, who had been watching with mingled indignation and amusement. “That’ll fix your conscience. Now come on.” Slipping a hard arm about her, he ran with her down the corridor and stairs, like a boy released from school.
WHEN Miles, arriving late and somewhat flustered, read the note, his eyebrows climbed. “Here’s the skirt you're short of, Hank,” it said.
“Where d’you get this?” he asked the little blonde. “He gave me it. A big man with all yellow hair and funny eyes. He was with Sally Garrett.”
Miles turned the card over. Then he tore it up very slowly. His face was not good to see.
Thus it began. All London watched, with the wry cynicism of its vast experience, and said that Sally at last had met her match. Imperturbable and arrogant, Yorke monopolized her. And though superficially rebellious, her heart confessed that, dominated by his surging energy, abashed by the boyish directness of his mind, and thrilled by his bottomless grey eyes with their uncanny trick of instant change from wide and trusting candor to intense ferocity, she did not miss her other gallants.
Miles she forgot; in fact, though he had counted it a personal triumph, her presence with him had been quite
fortuitous, merely a means of piquing Issay Zborsky, her manager, who was inclined to misinterpret his status in her scheme of things.
But Miles did not forget. He was still in hospital, limbering up a stiffened arm, and the realization of her slighting rankled in the bitter soul of him.
Sally and Yorke rode in the mornings, drove in the afternoons or lunched before the matinee. After the show they supped and danced. Sundays they spent on the river or drove to Brighton. But contrary to what London thought, always last thing at night she faced him at her door with his dismissal in her eyes; and when at first he cavalierly tried to overrule in this as in all other things he did, he met a stare so cold and utterly defiant that even he desisted.
Six weeks went by, six of the fastest lived and most lavish weeks that Sally could remember. Yorke spent like a prince, far more than any colonel’s pay. Then late one night when she unlocked her door, he said, very quietly, “Please let me in, just for a minute.”
Sally’s face set and her eyes hardened.
“Please, kid,” he begged. “I’ll go the minute you say so, I promise. But I got some things to say I can’t say here, like this.”
Sally, dusky and pale and drowsily beautiful, smiled her wise smile from under her long lashes, shaking her head. “Tomorrow . . .”
But then she met his eyes. The fierce light in them she knew, of Yorke the conqueror, had given place to something she had not seen before. They were limpid and wide and deep, trusting and very wistful. Sally lost herself in them, and her words died on her lips. She found herself pushing back the door and standing aside for him to enter. She indicated the drawing-room, “Go in and have a drink. I’ll be back soon.”
The room Yorke entered with some diffidence was very obviously by and of its owmer, done with the bizarre and gorgeous tastes that she could not outgrow. Flowers were everywhere, and costly bric-a-brac; lights dim and roseate. The place reeked w’ith the smoke of oriental cigarettes and her own too heavy perfume.
Yorke tossed cap, crop and gloves on to a chair and mixed himself a Scotch and soda. He stood tasting it, his craggy head held high, his mighty figure black against the fireplace, the shadows from the dim light marking his ruggedness into a startling impression of elemental force.
Soon Sally came, in a négligée of daffodil chiffon and shimmering satin. Armies have died to win for kings women less ravishing. “By cripes!” said Yorke, “you make me think of Suva, an’ those there black and yeller orchids, an’ the scent that rolls down to the sea out o’ the bush of evenin’s.”
She sank into a low chair and lay back sleepily. The clinging yellow drapes revealed her loveliness. The place was very quiet, though town roared sullenly outside. With the low light, the fire, and those two humans, it w'as vibrant with glamor. The ice clinked in Yorke’s glass as he drained it and put it down. Not moving from where he stood, and looking straight before him, he said:
“I ain’t much at talkin’: but I’m goin’ back to France tomorrer and I want to get this off my chest. When I started, you was just another woman. I ... I been sort of strong for women in my day. That’s natural, ain’t it? But you’re different. You’ve fair got my goat. They w'as women. But you’re you. I got to have you ...”
He stopped, and there w'as silence. Sally waited. “I never talked like this before,” he resumed deliberately. “Women was alw'ays pie for me. I done had plenty. But I liked the sea and drink and fightin’ better. But you . . . you got ’em all in you. Some days you make me feel all sad an’ beautiful, like sunset at sea with palms on an atoll black agin the color; an’ then again you make me mad, like likker; an’ sometimes you’re just a pup, a kid, I got to feed and nurse. Ah, kid. How can I tell it?”
Sally looked very drowsy, but the eyes watching him, veiled by long lashes, were intent.
blue seas, flat like glass, with chunky islands green like dabs of spinach on ’em. The surf spouts forty feet across the reefs, an’ in
Then he was all eagerness, and his eyes shone. “Look! The war’ll be done soon. We’ll go back, dow'n under, to the pearlin’ seas—Australia, where I come from, an’
we’ll do some livin’. There’ll be a schooner, pretty like a gull on the water. You’ll see the sun rise on
the evenin’s J green doves cooin’ and
smell the flovp^-^-^ you drunk. That’s a place
to live. T’ 1 I I ( there, an’ fireflies. Pearls.” He fumbled ltivJL JLV^^tTIere, kid. Look you here.” While Sally wate. r wide lips parted and her
brown eyes with that iiu..3uring wise look of hers, he produced a screw of paper. “Give us your hand,” he said, unrolling it, and into her cupped palm he rolled a perfect pearl as big as the end of her first finger. It moved and shimmered, a quick glohule of pale, cold fire.
Sally sat up and bent above it eagerly. “My gawd,” she said, “Jack. Is that real?" Her eyes were shining.
“It is. I brought it from the bottom, my own self, in Vaui lagoon, dowm there w'here I come from; an’ I got barrels more. That one’s for you. Say you'll come with me, kid. I’ll make you glad of it.”
Sally looked up from the jewel in her palm. “Are you asking me to marry you, Jack?”
“Tomorrer, if you say so. Not that I care. Married or not, you’re my woman. But say you’ll come.”
Sally lay back and stretched her body lazily, the pearl clutched in her fist. “I like you, Jack. I never met a man like you before. But aren’t we all right as we are? Wait till the war ends. Then we’ll see what we shall do.” She opened her palm and rolled the pearl about, watching its changing glow.
Yorke bent and took her by her shoulders, pulling her gently to her feet. “That’s fine with me. But promise me you’ll come.”
“Promises are . . . dynamite. This is good enough for now.”
He drew' her very close and looked down with puzzlement in his bottomless and candid eyes. Disarmed by his tenderness, she let herself be drawn to him. But her gutter coquetry must have its fling. “You never can tell, can you?” she said, and arched an eyebrow.
At the instant change in him, she tried to wrench herself aw'ay, but she was helpless. His face wras fierce and his eyes burned. “The hell you say! Well, it’ll be bad for any bloke that comes between us, I can promise. An’ there’s plenty coves’ll tell you that I keep my word. You’re mine, d’ye hear? You belong to me.”
He wrapped her with an iron arm, turned up her face and kissed her, hungrily. By and by she ceased to struggle. Her arms wont round his neck and she gave him back his kiss with no less passion.
Next day he went to France.
A year had passed. Immaculate and ravishing ín tailored blue serge and white fox fur, Sally walked Bond Street on a sunny morning. Sally was worried.
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For six months, Josslyn, youthful and slightly rakish Earl of Kantare, had besieged her ceaselessly to marry him. And all the hard school of her world had taught her, answered “Yes.” It would be a triumphal consummation of the struggle that had been her life. Josslyn was rich and handsome, he had three lovely homes and all that went with them; and he was wild about her. Of course he was weak and drank a lot; but then, what man hadn’t some vice? Josslyn was charming and easy to handle. And a girl must live. You can’t dance at the Alhambra all your life. You get old by and by; and men don’t squire you when your cheeks begin to sag. For all her many gallants, few ever offered marriage. All told, the opportunity was brilliant and unique.
But always when she neared acceptance, loomed into her consciousness John Yorke, with his craggy head and yellow curls, who twice had swaggered home from France, and in whose presence other men had paled like stars at daybreak. A wire from him was in her handbag now. He was coming home, again to be decorated by the King for bravery.
She was waiting as he came down the platform in his muddy top boots and his well-worn khaki. He laughed and his eyes shone as he caught her to him. Her heart raced, and the glamor of him enveloped her.
Followed two weeks such as he only could provide. He swept into London like a sea breeze into a sultry room, and plundered it for her in princely fashion. He made love to her that changed from gentle pleading to primeval arrogance and back again, and at night by her fireside in his husky voice told tales of far, strange seas and lands, in words which for all their crudities made heady poetry.
All his last day they motored through the drowsy valley of the Thames. It was spring, smoke-tanged and crisp and altogether beautiful. They drove home in the dusk and dined at her apartment. After, they sat by the firelight.
Sally’s breast glowed. Never had she known such a day, and at this its end a singing joy enveloped her. By and by Yorke crossed and pulled her to her feet. Her heart thumped and her eyes were swimming. He gathered her into his arms and sat down with her. She gave a great sigh, put her arms around his neck and curled up close, her black head on the rows of ribbons on his breast. The place was very quiet; only the rattle of a taxi in the street below, or the falling of the fire, disturbed it.
Yorke kissed her gently, and she quivered. Josslyn was infinitely far away. “Listen, kid,” he said by and by. “I got to tell you. I’ve made a bloomer. You see, I figgered this here war would finish long ago, and I been spending cash accordin’. I got lots of money back where I come from, but I can’t get at it till I get there.”
She had stiffened in his arms as her heart sank. To Sally, the chorus girl, this was a stale old story, one she had heard from many men. Coming from him, and at the height of her rhapsody, it was a slap in the face, a sickening, dreary anticlimax.
“I’m well nigh broke except my pay, o’ course,” he chuckled, “but that won’t hold the pace we’re goin’ half a day. You won’t mind, will you, just for a bit? The war can’t go on much longer.”
She strained from his embrace and sat up straight, having become after so brief a lapse again the woman London knew, to whom all men were predatory, to be feared always while they were humored, and to be plundered while they contrived her downfall.
He was fumbling in the little pocket underneath his belt. "Here.” Between thumb and finger he held up a pearl, larger than the three he had given before, one on each of his leaves.
“There’s a beauty, the last I’ve got with me.” He put it in her palm and kissed her fingers. “Now wait a little while and we’ll be off, down under, where I got buckets full like that.”
She bent above the jewel shimmering in her palm. Then she looked up. “Where are these pearls, this money that you talk about? Why can’t you get them now?”
Yorke laughed, and patted her shoulder. “That’s a secret.”
“You can tell me, can’t you?”
“Nope. No one but me and Hank Miles knows, and what ain’t known can’t hurt.”
Her voice was hard now. “You won’t tell me a thing that Hank Miles knows? You trust him more than me? I like that. What the ...”
“There now, don’t you jump that way. “We’re cobbers—mates, d’ye see? It’s our own deal together. That’s how it is. We were in ... I mean we been a long spell together, Hank and me. I’ve got ’em. That’s all that matters. One day you’ll know. I say it’s a secret—one of them things has to be kep’ quiet. If you knew, it might be hard, some day. But if you don’t know, it can’t be no worry to you.”
“D’you think I’m soft, or just a fool?”
“Neither. But I want to save you what, before we get there, might be a hard job for to keep. Now don’t you go to arguin’ with me. Look at that one in your fist. Don’t that' tell? I been selling pearls like that to get my money. Now they’re done, I say, an’ I can’t get more till the war ends. Here, give us a kiss.”
She suffered his caresses, but the glamor of the evening was destroyed. The fears and doubts within her mind fought with the hungers of her spirit and her body.
His train went next morning. Sally was left to the travail of her heart, her fears, and Josslyn.
rT'HE savage fighting of the summer of T8 sent the casualties through the Red Cross system in a ceaseless stream direct to England. Doctor Cormick was operating eight hours a day on cases rushed straight from field stations. Into the awful room, reeking of blood and anaesthetics, they brought a man so heavy that the stretcher bearers labored. He was quite unconscious, covered with white dust, with a week-old yellow beard and bloody bandages on head and shoulder.
They cut off his matted clothes, and Cormick bent to his grisly labors, when his fatigue was banished momentarily by the realization that the man before him was John Yorke. He did his best—flesh wound in thigh and arm, and a bad head wound, maybe a fractured skull. The great body, inert and senseless, was borne off to make room for another.
When Cormick made his rounds that night, an orderly and a sister stood in the gloom on either side of John Yorke’s head. A shaded light glowed there. "Delirious and violent,” the sister said.
Cormick bent over. The light threw shadows in the rugged face under the bandages, with its golden stubble. At once and irresistibly he received that feeling of familiarity. Somewhere, sometime, he had been impressed by this man’s face before.
Yorke had been muttering incoherently, but now his voice grew clearer. “ pearls, kid,” he croaked. “Buckets of ’em, waiting for you an’ me. After the war we’ll go get ’em ...” The voice trailed off.
It began again, first a dull mutter, but growing clearer " . . . the trade wind blows in the mornin’s, but it’s dead calm
at night. There’s fireflies and them green doves cooin’, and yeller orchids, just like you, and scented fit to make you drunk ...” The voice weakened again.
Then, so unexpectedly that they could not prevent him, he sprang upright in bed. His face was furiously contorted. “Pango!” he roared. “You flat-nosed copper. Wouldn’t you like to know they’re hid on Pango!”
Ahhh! That was the answer! Now Cormick knew. As he strove with the raving man, his mind flew back fifteen years, and from his ship he looked down on a gunboat, new in from a famous chase among the islands. On her deck in irons lay a mighty, sullen, sun-tanned youth, half-clad in tatters of white shirt and trousers, with a mass of yellow curls and a week’s bristles on his chin. Of course. John Yorke—Tom Rorke. This was that youth, Tom Rorke, of Vaui fame, whose story then had been a nine days sensation in Australasia.
His father was a bucko whaling captain, his mother a French light-o’-love in Tahiti. Tom grew up on the beach, worked as schoonerman, blackbirder, gunrunner. At twenty he owned a leaky ketch, bought from the wrecker’s yard, and was loved by men as well as women throughout the South Pacific. Then he discovered Vaui pearl reef, took his first rich gathering, and went down to Brisbane, where he made roistering history that is still remembered, bought a new schooner, and returned to Vaui.
A strange ship rode in the lagoon, with divers busy. Tom ordered her out; when she refused he beat her skipper in a savage fist fight and cut her cable. In the next few months he fought off eight more luggers. On their complaints came a gunboat to declare the reef open to all men. Rorke defied her, knocked down an officer and, subdued by six cheerful bluejackets, was haled to court.
There he spoke his mind, staring before him with his big grey eyes that saw so far. “I sweated and starved and worked five years to find ’em, and they’re mine.” “The law says they are common property, under the pearling regulations. You’ve equal rights with everyone.” Rorke turned on the justice savagely. “To hell with a law that takes what a man’s sweated for away from him to share with them what ain’t got guts to hunt ’em for themselves.”
The end of it was six months jail for contempt of court and assaulting an officer in the course of his duty.
When Tom got out, there was a town on Vaui, and forty luggers diving. Soon a masked man stuck up the bank for the contents of the pearl safe. Rorke’s physique marked him, and after a long chase a gunboat cornered him. There was a savage fight, in which an officer was shot. Had he died, Tom would have hanged. As it was, he went to ten year', penal servitude. All efforts failed to find the pearls.
When Yorke grew quiet, Cormick sat by the bed, and marvelled at the march of fate, at the long, winding road the feet of Rorke had trod from that stormy son of the blue seas and the beaches, to the honored and famous colonel of the fiercest fighting men on earth who lay so still before him. Those ten years prison would have ended in ’14. Rorke must have joined at once. Pango, he had cried. Pango. Somewhere on Pango Island in the Loyaltys were hidden the Vaui pearls that Rorke held were his own.
SALLY, in white silk tights and a twelve-foot train of net and spangles, diamond-crusted brassière and a white ostrich feather headdress three feet high, was chatting with Zborsky between the acts of “Dazzle,” when they brought her the wire: Yorke long ago had named her as his next of kin.
At the catch of her breath Zborsky glanced at her. Her eyes were wide with fear. “What is it Sally?”
“It’s Jack. He’s wounded.” She thrust the wire at him, pressing her hand to her mouth. Then came her call. She squared her shoulders gallantly and made her entrance.
When she was advised of Yorke’s arrival in London, she was by his bed in thirty minutes. In tailored white broadcloth and a white tricorne hat, with her pale face and her big dark eyes with the pity in them, she was half Madonna and half Magdalene—and all woman. There was a hush and a sickly smell of ether in the high white cell, to which his rank and grievous hurt entitled him. Her heart moved with pity, and incredulity that so strong a man could lie so helpless, straight and still, his great frame outlined underneath the covers, head cased in bandages and the yellow stubble glistening on his chin. He did not seem to breathe.
She sank on to the bedside chair and watched with limpid eyes the big face with its strange contradiction of grim outlines and most innocent expression. There in the quiet beside the hurt form of so fierce a lover, new, strange emotions ravished her.
By and by Yorke’s grey eyes opened and lay staring upward. She was reminded of an infant’s gaze, questioning and wide and tranquil. When they saw her, the peace in them was broken. They grew puzzled. A deep frown showed between his brows. He turned his head a little sideways and scrutinized her slowly, up and down, returning to her face. His gaze was quite bewildered now, and hurt.
She took his hand, brown and finely shaped on the bedclothes, and said: “Hello, Jack.”
The tension in his face increased. It held pleading and fear, and revealed desperate mental strain They were awesome moments, ticking past, while she watched a man fighting to control his own hurt brain.
“It’s Sally, Jack,” she pleaded. “It’s only Sally. I came the minute I could get here.” She pressed his hand hard to her breast. “Jack, Jack! Don’t you know me?”
For a little longer his travail endured. Then suddenly his puckish grin broke through it, as the sun breaks through a clouded sky.
“Sally! Ahh, you kid,” he said in a cracked, husky voice, and relaxed with a great sigh. His hand closed on hers slowly like an iron clamp, till she writhed with the pain. He lay quietly then, a smile on his face, till soon the matron came and took her away.
Cormick was in the corridor. They had not met since the day in the Savoy when it all began, but their recognition and mutual sympathy were instantaneous.
“Nothing to fear, Miss Garrett,” he said kindly. “He’s strong as a bull. Just a matter of time.” He strolled down with her, confident and comforting, and put her into Josslyn’s car.
She visited Yorke daily. Josslyn, happening to be a sportsman, drove her in his shining roadster. She filled Yorke’s room with roses, and sat by him, thrilled inexpressibly by the profound and potent meaning in his gaze.
But though Cormick’s optimism as to Yorke’s body proved justified, his returning strength revealed a hurt less tangible but far more grave. His memory was gone. The blow had bruised his brain, wiping out every impression of his past. When with incredulity she realized the truth, Cormick again was reassuring. “It’s a thing that happens now and then. Never fear, Miss Garrett. Even if his memory doesn’t clear itself, it can be built up again. I’ve seen it done. You and his friends will do it. Begin now. Bring things before him every chance you get, closely and with method, bit by bit. Later we’ll get others, who know him best, to help.”
T—TANK MILES was bored. Though predisposed to paths of subtlety and patience, he was disgusted with the long-
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drawn-out hiatus in his plans caused by the war. For ten years now, he told himself cholerically, his luck had been atrocious, beginning with the presence in a certain Brisbane bank of one who knew him, wrecking as smooth a forgery as he had ever planned and landing him in jail for five long years.
An artist at his trade of confidence man, and .finding that his gang mate on the penal farm was young Tom Rorke, he devoted his five years seclusion to the Vaui pearls, which he felt sure Tom must have hidden somewhere. Rorke found in his gang mate a friend. In time they swore eternal comradeship, and Tom promised the companion of those dreary years a share, to start in life again. But he was too shrewd to divulge their hiding place.
Then when they were freed, and a triumphal consummation of Miles’ labors neared, it was August 1914. Drums beat and banners flew, and neither reasoning nor sneers nor pleading could keep Tom Rorke from such a gathering of fighting men. Laughing, he fell in behind a battalion on a recruiting march; and Miles perforce must follow, or give up his dream.
This had proved fortunate in one way; for one black night as they Jay side by side and death was near, Tom fell victim to that generosity which comes to such as he on such occasions.
“By cripes, we won’t get out of this,” he growled, hugging the mud between the cataclysmic shell bursts. “But if you do and I don’t, you might’s well have what I’m leavin’. Pango, they’re on, mate. On the north end there’s a spring runs down the mountain. Go up it till above the trees you get the pointed reef in the lagoon lined on the west end of Falleeao. There’s a big rock there. I buried ’em under the west face of it, and planted a passion vine in the earth I dug. It’ll be grown big now, and under it you’ll find 'em.”
That was the night they had been wounded by the same shell, and gone home together to meet Sally and begin it all. Since then, held in hospital while Tom returned to France, he had had no chance to bring off either of his plans; to desert and go straight to Pango—lack of money held him there—or to shoot Tom in the tumult of some hard-fought fight.
Now, passed fit for France again, he sat consumed with ennui in the office of the depot where he was waiting his departure. A granite-faced sergeantmajor entered.
“Here’s a woman wants you, sir.” Miles looked thoughtful. He knew several reasons why women might want him.
“A woman, hey?” He went to the window and peered out guardedly. His lips formed a silent whistle and his thick black brows went up. What could this mean? Returning to his desk, he stood gnawing his lip and tapping with his fingertips. “Show her in,” he then ordered, making up his mind, and sat down.
It was Sally. In a black seal coat cut in arresting fashion and a tight scarlet hat she entered that bare and dusty office, and glamor and potency came with her. Miles rose, bold admiration on his long and blue-chinned countenance. He had forgiven neither Yorke nor her for the little blonde a year ago.
Sally held out her hand. “It is a surprise, I suppose.” She sat down and Hank Miles waited.
“Hank, I came because of Jack. He’s had a bad head wound and lost his memory. We’re helping all we can, but there’s a whole lot that only you can do for him.”
Miles’ eyes had narrowed. “How do you mean—lost his memory?”
“Just that—lost it. His mind was a blank when he came to. It’s a thing that happens sometimes, Doctor Cormick tells me.”
“You mean, don’t he remember anything?”
“No. Nothing.” “Won’t it come back?”
“He recognizes everything you tell him, but nothing comes back by itself. The doctor says after a long time, when we’ve built his past up partly for him it may do.”
Miles slid back in his chair, while his thoughts raced. He stroked his long chin and licked his lips. “I’m under orders for France,” he at last said slowly, watching her. “Aren’t there other chaps?” “None that I know of. You must come, Hank. He’s needing you. You see, he told me all about you, how you’re his best friend, and the only one who knows about the pearls, and everything.”
Miles’ pale blue eyes met hers, full stare, ingenuously. “Pearls?”
“Oh, yes, he told me. Only not where they are. No one but you knows that.” Miles’ puzzlement increased. He peered at her. “What’s that? I don’t understand.”
With a jolt Sally remembered certain doubts and fears she had forgotten in the presence of Yorke’s hurt and grievous need. “Jack told me he had a fortune in pearls somewhere back in Australia, and that only you knew of them and where they are. That’s so, isn’t it?”
Miles’ face took on a curious look in which pity and ridicule and condescension mingled, and of which her wit missed nothing. She leaned toward him tensely, as he flung back in his chair and laughed. “You fell for that?” he said with incredulity. “He told you a tale like that, and you believed him?”
Sally’s mouth was tight and her eyes snapped. “What do you mean, exactly?” “Why, you’ve been kidded, joshed. Is he the first man who went broke on you and told you a fairy tale to keep you coming?”
That touched her. The tricks and falsities that men had tried on her were legion. Yet she made a gallant effort to deny the sickening conviction that had seized her. “That’s not funny, Hank. I thought you were his friend. He had some with him. He gave me four, beauties, unpierced or anything.”
Miles’ mind worked fast. There were the remains of Tom’s first Vaui gathering, which had been in a Brisbane bank all through his imprisonment, and which he had secured before leaving for the war.
“Well, what of it? Everyone trades pearls where he comes from. It’s the pearling country. But four pearls aren’t a fortune. My aunt, are you that green? Where would he get that many pearls? They’d be worth a million. Isn’t it a fairy tale from the skin in? Isn’t it the same old yarn to get a woman going? Sure, I’m a pal of his, but that’s no reason why I’d help him welsh a girl like you. I’ve got some feelings.”
Sally was white now, her lips a thin scarlet line like a knife cut. She gripped his arm and shook it. “This is true, what you’re saying? You take your Bible oath it’s true?”
“Ask yourself if it’s true. You fell for him and let him kid you. Isn’t that it?” Her nostrils moved, and she blew down them like an animal. Then she got up. “All right. And thank you.”
She went out to Josslyn waiting in his shining roadster.
IT WAS a great day for Yorke, for they had let him sit up in an armchair to receive Sally. His flesh wounds were healed and the bandages on his head replaced by a pad with straps of plaster. The weeks in bed had fined him down. Lying back by the open window, covered by a quilt, his face in vast repose and with that strange air of the spiritual, he looked like a dead knight’s statue on some ancient tomb. There was a great bowl of Sally’s roses by his side.
The orderly came in. “Miss Garrett, sir.”
She wore a coat of leopard skin wrapped closely round her, and a black felt pirate hat with flaring brim. The carriage of
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her curved and slender form, and the veiled fire in her eyes, suggested startlingly the coat’s first owner. Yorke held out his hands. His grey eyes shone.
“By cripes, you’re soothing to the eyes! You've been away for twenty years.”
She came and stood above him, looking down, giving her hands into his eager ones, remaining erect with her curved mouth drooping, looking down under her lashes. “Give us a kiss,” he said, pulling to bring her down. But she resisted; and then he sensed the change in her.
“Why, what’s the matter, kid?”
She made a little movement of the left hand which he held, offering it for his inspection, and he saw the three great diamonds and the wedding ring on it. She took her hands away, walked to the window and stood looking out. Yorke stared straight before him, his pale face grim and set.
“Why did you do it,” he said at last, with ominous quiet. “Who is it, and what have I done?”
She said, staring over the grey London roofs, “I went for Hank Miles to help you remember all the things I don’t know about. He told me.”
Yorke’s voice snapped like a breaking cable. “What! Hank Miles did what?”
“He made a fool of me, because I believed your fairy tales, and he told me that you’d lied to me like any stagedoor Johnny.”
Yorke’s arm flicked out and seized her, drawing her down despite her fierce resistance, without effort. “Let me get this. Hank told you I lied about my pearls to get you coming; and you believed him and married that young Josslyn. Is that straight?”
“It is. And you might as well know that if you hadn’t lied I might have fallen for you, broke or not. You almost had me thinking there was something to this love business. Women get that way sometimes.”
Yorke nodded slowly, staring straight before him. “You better . . go,” he said presently, in a tight, hard voice, and did not look up as her footsteps crossed the floor and the door closed.
That night while the officers of the Hounslow depot were at dinner, a commotion arose in the hall. A hoarse voice cursed a steward. Then the messroom door slammed open. Yorke stood there, swaying, ludicrously clad in khaki trousers far too small for him, slippers, and a Tommy’s tunic strained over a pyjama coat. His yellow curls were shaved in one place, where straps held down a cotton pad. His face was ashen. While the mess sat spellbound, his grey eyes travelled up and down the table.
“I want Hank Miles,” he said. “I’m goin’ to kill him.”
A dozen men there knew Yorke and loved him. One spoke up. “Hank went to France with last night’s draft.”
Then all sprang up as Yorke reeled as a tree begins to fall. Voices exclaimed, and eager hands reached out to succor him.
They made the wires hum to London, and by and by came an ambulance to take him back, silent and grim and still on the stretcher in the ridiculous attire he had bribed an orderly to get for him.
Meanwhile the papers had been full of the marriage of Sally Garrett to the Earl of Kantare, and Cormick, worldly wise, clearly perceived the workings of some tragedy connecting Sally’s marriage with his patient’s dash on murder bent to Hounslow. Yorke was a sick man next day, having caught a chill from the effort, and the long drive in the taxicab. He barely escaped pneumonia.
When his temperature was down, one night after dinner Cormick strolled into his room. Yorke grinned a welcome, albeit his grin was very wistful. “Hullo, doc. Bum pickin’s for the undertakers. Have a chair.”
By and by, Cormick took Yorke’s sinewy brown fist between his hands. “I
saw it in the papers. That was it, wasn’t it?”
Yorke nodded. “Aye, doc. She went to Hank Miles and he double-crossed me, so he did, the snake!” His mouth shut like a steel trap and he stared before him. “You know how I am, now, doc. I don’t remember things the way I ought to. We was cobbers. He’s the only man on earth could help me, and he crossed me. Sally—she done her best, but she don’t know. He’s the only man. And he told her I was lyin’. I’ll kill him for that if I swing for it.”
The still, cold fury in his tone and his inexorable conviction were appalling things to hear. By and by Cormick said; “Perhaps there’s another who could help you.”
Yorke shook his head. “Him only. No one knows what he knows. That’s why he did it, when he heard I lost my memory. But he’ll never touch ’em. I’ll get him. Somehow I'll get him.” Cormick said: “Fifteen years ago in Brisbane harbor I saw you on the Kiwi’s deck, in irons. I didn’t recognize you till you came in wounded the other day, but then I knew. You’re Tom Rorke. Tom Rorke of Vaui. Don’t you remember —you did ten years in jail for holding up the Vaui bank?”
Yorke’s face was set like granite, and his eyes agonized. “Hold tight and wait,” Cormick whispered. “Don’t hurt yourself. Tom Rorke. Tom Rorke of Vaui.”
At last the great head nodded. “Yes, I remember; Tom Rorke and . Vaui.” “When you were delirious you said something—something I believe you think no one but Miles could know.” Yorke said “I did?”
“You said ‘Pango. Wouldn’t you like to know they’re hid in Pango.’ ”
Yorke jerked upright in bed and gripped the doctor’s arm. “Yes, yes. Go on.” “That’s all.”
“That was all I said?”
“That was all.”
Yorke sank back slowly. “Pango,” he said. “Them pearls are hid on Pango. And she didn’t believe me. Was that all I said, doc? Didn’t I say where they was hid?”
“No, nothing more.”
Yorke’s teeth bared in a grim, cold smile. “Well, I’ll remember that, some day. Things are coming back to me. I’ll remember. But if I don’t, one thing you can lay your soul on, Hank Miles will never touch ’em. I’ll see to that.” Cormick held his peace, and the two sat for a long time in a poignant silence, knowing that communion of the spirit happily which comes to humans once in a while, true comradeship born of great heartedness in each, love and trust.
A week later Yorke disappeared completely. At night he was. Next morning he was not. All efforts failed to discover him. It was ascertained that he had cleared his bank account in cash, nothing more, and if Cormick had his suspicions as to where he had gone, and why, he kept them to himself.
THAT was in October 1918. In due course came the Armistice and the slow scattering of the gathered legions. Cormick, demobilized, returned to the sea and his old run of Brisbane, Sumatra, Colombo, and back again. The even tenor of his days resumed as though the war had never been.
Three years went by. And then one day when they had just left Colombo, the fourth officer, a graceless and flippant youth, met him on deck.
“Have you seen her, doc?” he importuned.
“Seen who?” Cormick returned dispassionately.
The fourth mate struck an attitude of adoration, rolled up his eyes and kissed his hand to some imaginary deity. “Mmmmm! Marvellous! Came on board just as we sailed. Talk about Cleopatra! Black hair, black eyes, and, mama, what
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a figger! If she takes after the old man he’ll wreck the ship. She’s leaning on the rail to port.”
Not unaccustomed to the youth’s enthusiasms, Cormick thrust him aside. “Go and get some sleep. You’ll feel all different in the morning.” He resumed his walk. As he came round, the object of the mate’s rhapsody still leaned on the rail, the wind whipping white silk round a figure that was all he had described.
As Cormick neared, she turned. At sight of the pale face with the great sleepy eyes and strangely curved and drooping mouth, his indifference was banished. He swung in to face her and touched his cap. “Good evening, Miss Garrett. You don’t remember me?”
Her chin went up and her eyes widened, and he felt all the old potency of her. But there were other things about her no\y, new things, and vital. She had matured, mellowed. In London she had been a girl, avid and questing and somewhat brittle. This was a woman, ripe and glorious; moreover one who had lived much and learned therefrom. Her eyes were hungry and a little hurt, and she faced Cormick with a simplicity that in her was altogether poignant.
Then she smiled. “Of course. It’s Doctor Cormick.”
“I’m very happy that you remember. You’re going with us to Brisbane?”
She raised one corner of her mouth and stared before her sombrely. “I don’t know where I’m going, doctor. My husband died three months ago. It’s made life different and I . . . took this voyage.”
Cormick knew she had not spoken what was in her heart, but, with a hundred questions on his lips, contrived to hold his peace.
They paced the deck and talked of the old days, keeping to superficialities, avoiding carefully the personal. But that night when they met after dinner, she said what he had all along expected. They were leaning on the rail, while the ship rolled lazily over the long dark swells and the moon made a silver highway straight across them. Down the hot land wind came spiced and cloying fragrances, and forward the lascar lookout wailed his watchword. “Huuuum dectaai.”
Sally said: “Doctor, it’s extraordinary my meeting you, because though I had not thought of it, you are the one man of all others I could have wished for.” She stared at the wine-dark horizon. “Can you tell me anything of John Yorke?”
He shook his head. “I haven’t seen or heard of him since he disappeared from hospital. You knew about that, of course?”
She nodded. “I heard it lately, when I had him looked up at the War Office.” She turned to him impulsively. “I came down here to find him. I’d give anything to find him. Do you understand?”
Cormick nodded. He understood.
“We belong to each other, doctor. There were never two like us in all the world. But I didn’t know then. I didn’t understand. How could I? I scratched my way up from the East End, with never more than a month’s living in sight, a chorus girl, fair game for any man. Money, freedom from want, was everything, all my life. How should I know about love? But I might, I would have gone with him but for what happened. And even then, afterward, when I was married and he was gone, in my heart I knew he had told the truth and that Miles had lied. It was too late then. I’ve tried to deny it, tried to forget. I’ve . . . gone in pretty deep, seeking forgetfulness. But it’s no use. I’ve got to find him. I’ll work, or crawl — anything. Can you help me, doctor? I’ve looked Miles up: he was killed the last month of the war. The only man who knew the truth about Jack. So all I could do wTas to come down here to his country and search for him. Isn’t there something you can do?”
She was suddenly very small and unsophisticated, ^gripping his arm and eagerly peering up into his face.
Cormick knuckled his eyes hurriedly. “I don’t know, Sally, if there is. There’s one thing I can think of, one slim chance that might find news of him. It would mean a long trip in a little schooner, discomfort, danger maybe.”
“Oh, never mind. I must do it, anything. I’ve money—plenty; there’s no need to think of that.”
The doctor nodded. “All right. I’ve three months leave due me when we make port. If you wish, I’ll take it and we’ll try together.”
She did not answer, but swayed toward him on the rail. He put his arm about her, and she hid her face on his shoulder, sobbing unrestrainedly.
IT WAS sunrise on Pango. Against the blazing east the gaunt ribs of a longwrecked schooner thrust up blackly. A smart breeze was blowing, sweeping huge combers in to thunder glittering on the beach, and cast their fans of foam up the smooth sand to lave the schooner’s shattered sternpost. Beyond them, whitecaps, rank after rank, marched in from the sapphire South Pacific.
In the fringe of cocoa palms tossing at the jungle’s edge stood a little bamboo hut thatched with pandanus. From it a man emerged, a great, broad, lean-flanked fellow tanned by the sun, clad in white, soiled and tattered, with curls in a golden aureole about his head. He flung off his rags and ran into the surf, shouting for sheer joy in his strength. He fought through the foam and swam in the blue water mightily. Presently he came in, pulled on his clothes and stood leaning one hand on the shattered sternpost of the schooner, his grim head high. The snoring wind laid his curls back from his broad brow as he filled his lungs convulsively, while his wide grey eyes searched the horizon.
So Tom Rorke faced another day; close to the schooner he had beached with the Kiwi’s shell below her waterline, guarding the pearls that he could never find, try as he would, and waiting for his vengeance on Hank Miles, the traitor who could never come.
Suddenly his eyes narrowed in astonishment, as round the jungle bluff a hundred yards away, two figures came, a greyhaired kindly man in white, wearing a solar topi, and a woman whose loveliness of form under her fragile dress the snoring wind made clear. As, incredulous, he went toward them, Cormick raised one hand in salute, patted Sally’s shoulder and left her with her parted lips and shining eyes to labor toward Rorke through the fine white sand.