He Spoke Her Language
MARTHA BANNING THOMAS
MIRANDA STONE was not a linguist. It is doubtful if she could even pass an eight-grade grammar test, yet she specialized in a highly technical speech of her own. She knew the language of the lowered eyelash, the syntax of a shrug, the punctuation of pantomime, the gesture which seems to reveal everything while saying nothing. But it must not be thought that she crudely practised her charms to their ultimate, mathematical values. There still remained about her unfathomed wells of enchantment. And Hank Carter and Michael Dinsmore
realized this. One spoke her language; one did not.
Hank Carter understood Miranda to the last subtle inflection; understood and contrived to appear as stolid as a sandbag. Stolidness, he decided, was the thing. It brought golden flecks in Miranda's hazel eyes; it produced a whirlwind in the descriptive flutter of her hands; it made her, in fact, perfectly raging and very attractive.
Michael understood nothing but that she cast the spell of a leprechaun over him, and he loved her for it.
Hank and Miranda had been quarrelling one late summer
afternoon on a rocky shelf part way up a cliff. It was not a dangerous place at the moment, but could become so. During many summers spent in the rugged Maritime province, Miranda had yearned to sit on this shelf and dangle her feet over the edge. Her parents objected systematically year after year. Michael Dinsmore objected this year. Hank Carter said he’d be delighted to take her there, and gave a calm, bright glance in the direction of Mickey.
So there had developed, earlier on the same afternoon, one of those casual situations which blow from a breeze to a squall. The discussion had begun agreeably enough. Miranda and Hank and Mickey were lolling on the white sand after a splashy romp in the ocean. Miranda reclined on a sunburned elbow, and presented a picture quite adequate for a cigarette advertisement. The brown of her fair skin contrasting with the light of her dancing curls made one of those amber-and-white-gold combinations which are as rare as they are alluring.
Mickey could not drag his eyes away from her. H^pk managed better, having sternly lashed himself to an established behavior. If she once caught the gleam of flattery in your glance, she appropriated you for her slave and used you like a Nubian cupbearer.
Miranda Drushed back a curl, and Mickey moved nearer. She expressed a desire to climb the rock wall of a cliff a mile or so distant for the purpose of sitting on a certain famous shelf.
“No girl,” stated Mickey, “should risk her neck on such a crazy stunt.”
Hank poured thin rivers of sand through his fingers.
“You seem to forget there are a number of arms and legs besides yours which can do very well for themselves in the matter of climbing a cliff,” drawled the girl.
Mickey earnestly lapsed into the speech of his early environment.
“Don’t be daft, darlin’. I’d hate to be seein’ ye dead, your fair hair floatin’ out like a fan on the cold, black water, your poor sweet face all white.” His voice caressed her. His eyes said more.
Then Hank inserted into the spell of the moment several crisp sentences. And it was directly after this that the dowrny cloud in the blue sky of conversation attained the size of a shawl, a blanket, an enveloping tent which blotted out everything but the arrogance of Miranda’s two squires.
“I’d never be thinkin’ of takin’ ye,” said one.
“And I’ll take you any time you want to go,” said the other.
Hank knew Mickey was probably right, and was annoyed with him for this reason.
Miranda lolled back on her sunburned elbow like a Cleopatra lazily amused by the bear pits. And it all ended on a brittle note of battle.
“You’re a blitherin’ fool, Hank Carter, to urge her. You’re losin’ the good sense you were born with.”
“I think I’ll go this afternoon,” interrupted Miranda, and lowered her lashes so that soft shadows rayed out on her cheeks.
“But,” pleaded Mickey, “what about our date tonight?”
“Oh, yes.” She pretended sudden recollection, though she would not have missed their appointment for all the cliffs along the Nova Scotia shore. “I’ll be sure to be at the McVickers for cocktails at half past six. Well, Hank, let’s ankle along and climb into our Alpine models.”
So they left Mickey, and when they looked back he stood like a bronze statue in brief swimming shorts and jersey on the white sand. His arms were folded ácross his chest, and such a look of storm lay in his eyes that Miranda shivered. Their evening together should prove delightful.
The story of a girl who climbed for a thrill and tumbled into romance
Something in the frown between Mickey’s eyes made Ilank feel annoyingly young and callow. Though these two were of the same age. Mickey knew more about life. He had knocked and been knocked about a good bit, and he was not easily bewildered—except by Miranda.
They glanced back once more as they topped the low bluff. Mickey had not moved a muscle. The shadows of his legs ran before him on the gleaming sand. His long slim waist and narrow hips, the taut strength of his body like a bow ready for its arrow, thrilled Miranda: but she gave Hank’s arm a squeeze and called him a lamb pie.
THE SHELF hung seventy-five feet above the shore below, where rocks, meekly and maliciously covered by water at high tide, waited for unwary mariners. To reach this shelf it was first necessary to scramble, at low water, down a steep path to the shore, walk several rods over the rocks and then climb up the cliff again, using the last ounce of adhesiveness in your feet and fingers.
Miranda was agile and unafraid. She made little of the cliff. Hank admired her assurance but naturally would not mention it. It simply wouldn’t do. So she got there ahead of him, sat down, and dangled her feet over the edge of the cliff. She said it was delicious; and in five minutes wore away the white skin of her sport shoes kicking them against the black crags.
Hank, panting slightly, sat beside her. Miranda’s pale gold hair lifted and fell in the chill draught of air. Her long throat curved up from the open neck of her blouse. Her brown arms glowed curiously in the strange light which filtered through a waterfall.
The actual peril of the ascent did not lie in the steep wall of rock. Tearing down from the top of the cliff and crashing out several feet from the shelf where they sat, was a cataract. In dry weather it shrank to nothing but a mild rivulet falling in long strings of silver beads, but after recent and heavy rains it roared like a zoo. You climbed up the side of the cataract then, ducked at a certain point, and pulled yourself up and over the edge of the shelf. “I want to sit behind moving water,” Miranda had said. “I want to look at the sea through a tumble of noise.”
And here they were, in spite of Mickey Dinsmore left behind standing like a bronze statue on the white sand.
Now and then a blob of salt spray fell on their lips, tossed up from the churning water below; and they licked it shyly with their tongues, as if they had tasted it for the first time in their thoughtless lives.
Hank settled at once into his pose of stolidity. Miranda must not under any circumstances guess how he adored the corners of her mouth, the pale mist of her hair, her hands a little grubby from the climb but slim and strong and full of characteristic gestures.
“You’re so simple and natural,” she was remarking. “I wonder you don’t go in training to be a goatherd. Up somewhere in Bavaria, perhaps. The pure, blue sky would become your fresh complexion. University grad gone goatherd !”
Hank did not object to her jeering, because it meant that his sandbag rôle fooled her completely. So he continued to be stodgily unappreciative of his companion’s charms. And the name of Mickey Dinsmore bobbed and tossed in the currents of their conversation like a cork.
“Your wave is all scrambled, Mindy,”
before Mickey parks his smile on you tonight.”
“I wish you'd fall into a meat chopper and make hamburg of your famous cowlick,” she rejoined. “You’re altogether too bland about it.”
“How sweet of you to mention it,” he murmured gratefully, “May I call your attention to the fact that the tide turned a little while ago? It’s coming in.”
She did not answer him. She was thinking of that blue look of storm in Mickey’s eyes, and what fun it would be
Hank once remarked. “Thought you’d like to know, so you can get home in time to assemble it into a coilïure
The water poured past their eyes in a grey-green tlood. Beyond it lay the flat sea toward which it plunged in steady thunder. Miranda’s green sport socks were soaked with spray. Miranda's hair had last its smart outline and become a tousled blur.
Hank finally unfolded his legs, rose and, flattening himself against the rock wall, said:
“I say we climb dowm now; and I say you’ll like it.’ “No,” replied the girl, giving one of her regal shrugs.
“When the tide is another hour high we can’t possibly get over the rocks to the path up the cliff.”
to coax him out of his mood when she saw him at the Mc Vickers.
Miranda leaned her head on the palm of one hand much as a pensive buttercup might lean on a lower leaf.
“And yet,” she remarked slyly, "you have the reputation for being a dauntless adventurer.”
“That sort of slop doesn’t wash down my gullet,” he replied with gruff inelegance.
“Come on, Mindy. Give daddy your paw and let’s get going.”
The quality of light which drained the moving cascade liad grown greyer. Miranda’s face took on a queasy, seasick tone.
“You look like a mermaid with the measles,” grinned Hank. “And let me remind you that if you’re going to the dance with the Irish harpist who’s twanging your heartstrings—”
“Meaning Mickey—you’d better be getting your muscles into high.”
“Michael is the name.” she corrected him, “and aren’t his shoulders brutish and beautiful? He’s taking me after the dance to Sandy’s. You know (hat dirty shack up the river—you have to come by here to get to it where our best summer tourists lap up gin and brandy . ” "You’re not making a dent with that kind of smart gab, me gal, Ixcause I just plain don’t believe you. Come on; pass up your paw.”
But she would not.
“Run home and groom the cowlick,” she advised him. “That tomato-cheeked Evans object is aiming to the club tonight. I rather thought you enjoyed her lusty style. Michael used to be one of her best numbers, but his tastes are changing.”
“Indeed?”enquired Hank, "and where do you get this Michael stuff? 1 le never used to lx* anything but Mickey down on the ball ground beyond the railroad tracks, when 1 ran away from home to play with him. Yet you act as if he wen ‘ an escaixd Romanoff. Good afternoon, Miss Strong.” He stepjied to the northern end of the shelf. “When you decide to come down, don’t forget the grand staircase is on the left.”
Miranda did not give him a glance like a startled fawn or a gazelle or any of those wistful, wixdsy creatures; she simply stared at the last place she viw his fingers, and continued to lend her ear to the waterfall.
But Hank saw through her i>ose as if he had watched it being shaixd by a glassblower.
“She thinks I'll tear home and re|x>rt to Mickey, and that he’ll heave into action and save her at the last dramatic moment. She eats theatrics like frosted ice cream sodas-darn her greedy little soul !”
TJTALFWAY down the black crags. Hank really began to feel nervous. Spraying skirts of the cascade swung out and soaked him to the skin. Miranda showed no signs of following him. Glancing dow’n, he saw the rexiks waiting below. “Black devils,” he muttered. “They’re slippery already. I wish Miranda would
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be sensible for once and stop cooling her heels seventy-five feet up in the air.” He knew better than to urge her, however. He spoke her language, which meant matching gesture with gesture and never giving in.
While his body was occupied in negotiating the difficult descent, his mind revolved around the subject of Mickey Dinsmore. The handsome Irishman had furnished the core of the afternoon’s argument. Mickey, six feet three of raw bone and hard muscle, hair black as midnight, eyes an intense blue, fists that might have won him a champion’s belt.
Hank liked Mickey well enough. Everybody liked Mickey, though he came from a soiled, slanted shanty beyond the railroad tracks. He had brains and ambition. He had been graduated with honor from the local university in the town where Hank and Miranda had grown up, and by a naive, lovable, blundering manner had won for himself a place in college circles. Girls liked him because he smiled down at them with a wicked indulgence, like a giant who has come from another country and is amused by all he sees. Men liked him because he was a grand amateur fighter and never got mad. But to have Mickey dawdling around Miranda was like the puckering taste of a green gooseberry in the mouth of Hank Carter, who had recently arrived at the astonishing conclusion that he loved her himself—a staggering discovery since he had known her since she had tantrums in her baby carriage.
“Miranda belongs to people who have kept decanters of Burgundy in Hepplewhite sideboards for generations. Mickey’s grandfather sold cheap watches on a tray. Mickey’s father was a greaser on the railroad tracks.” Hank was not being a snob. It was more a matter of values. He admired Mickey for a number of reasons, but not as a playmate for Miranda. She would fool him and hurt him and grow tired of his simplicity. He took her seriously. Like a torch, he flared and died under the breath of her caprices. He had come obviously to this far province and taken cheap lodgings near the hotel just to be near her during his vacation. Hank found it in his heart to be a little sorry for him.
He reached the bottom of the cliff. Through the streaming cataract and up the wet, shining wall of the cliff he could just discern Miranda’s white shoes and green socks. Once, through a brief rent in the curtain of water he saw her smile down at him. She had to lean forward to do it, her chin on her knees, and he wished she wouldn’t. It made him shiver.
But he did not call to her. She would not have heard him if he had. There was nothing now to do but wait around the next craggy comer until she chose to come down. He could keep an eye on her.
The sound of pebbles scratching and rolling together on the narrow strip of shore seemed to rub against his raw nerves. The water was dark grey now and the sky leaned down to it ; a few clouds, heavy with rain, sagged close to the horizon.
Hank sat down and hugged his knees. He was more tired by the effort of the cliff, going up and then down, than he supposed. It took plenty of courage and energy. In a few days he had meant to speak to Miranda about loving her. She would be surprised, pleasantly so, he hoped. Not once during the last two summers, when he had been seeing a lot of her. had he been traitor to his rôle. Even his mother had been mystified.
“Miranda is a nice child; very pretty, if a little spoiled. She might grow fond of you, dear, if you gave her any encouragement.” “I’m not giving her any encouragement,” he answered, “not by a jugful.”
“But I thought you cared for her. It seemed to me . . .” She looked at him with a troubled frown.
“No,” said Hank, “I don’t just care for her, I love her. Clamp your jaws on my secret. I have my own methods.”
“Oh,” said Mrs. Carter, and felt completely befogged.
But Hank was feeling doleful about his methods at the moment. If Miranda didn’t react pretty soon to his careless departure, they’d both be in the devil’s own mess. The wind whisked around the corner and chilled his back. “She ought to come down right now. In twenty minutes the water will have covered the rocks, and we’ll never make it—too slippery.”
HE WAITED five more minutes. And he thought of Sandy and his shack. He had not exactly believed Miranda’s taunt about going there; still it was just the sort of bad taste Mickey might be expected to show. Suddenly he stood up, stuffed his shoes and socks into a high cranny over his head, turned up his trouser legs, and began to wade over the rocks covered by shallow water. When he reached the side of the falls, he cupped both hands and yelled at the top of his lungs:
“You’ll be late for cocktails at the McVickers.”
He strained his eyes trying to pierce the shaking curtain of water, and found it difficult to keep his balance with the small waves slapping against his ankles.
“Miranda,” he shouted again, “don’t be a fool !”
A drop of rain splashed on his head. He knew it was rain because it was a single, heavy plop, unlike the fine mist thrown out by the cascade.
“Miranda,” he bellowed, “I’ll kill you! I’m coming up to do it now.”
He began at once to climb. The rough edges of the rocks cut and bruised his bare feet. He was not fresh now as he had been at first. He wasted no more breath on calling. His fingers ached ; his bones seemed to be splitting at the joints. A cold anger possessed him. Why should a girl’s stubborn wilfulness subject him to real danger and nerve-wracking worry? He thought it a little cruel of Miranda to be watching him and never saying a word.
He banged his knee against a projecting comer of rock; a stab of pain made his hair crawl along his temples. Once the hideous thought swooped down on him that he might not even reach the shelf; that here, hardly a mile from the hotel, a few feet from Miranda, he might lose his grip and go tumbling down to the black rocks below. The first ascent had been exhilarating. Now’ everything had become dim and dark with the sudden rain. He pushed the weak thought from him and climbed on.
He was quite sure he would have nothing to say to Miranda w’hen he reached the shelf. They would get down again w’ith what haste they could muster, and make their perilous way over the submerged rocks on the shore, and Miranda could go straight to the devil or the dance, whichever she preferred.
Irrelevantly the picture of the Evans girl flashed through his mind. She was too vivid, too vivacious, and though she had a
first name of Maudie, no one ever thought of using it. They called her Evans; everybody did. Like Mickey, she had more or less bashed her way into the country club and, through the possession of a roadster which went like a meteor, a brass-clad ambition which could never accept defeat and more money than any one person ought to have, she had gained a certain position among the people of the university clique who came each summer to this particular part of the province. Hank enjoyed her robustness, her hearty greed for flattery, her blunt appetite in the matter of correct companions. And now, as a plume of windy water struck his back, he wondered if in truth Evans were not a more honest quantity than Miranda.
In those last few minutes, when his feet seemed to be climbing over naked swords, Hank realized that this adventure might shape the remainder of his existence. When it was finished everything might be changed. It was as if, having taken life very much for granted, he now saw with frightening clarity. He might fall and be drowned. Miranda might fall and be seriously injured. She might refuse to marry him now or at any time, preferring Mickey instead. He had a good position waiting for him at home. By being very canny he could make his salary do for two, yet this silly afternoon’s stunt, lightly entered upon, might be the closing chapter of his life. “Oh, snap out of it,” he said aloud.
In a minute and a half more his fingers crooked over the edge of the shelf. In two minutes he had pulled himself up to safety behind the roaring curtain of water. He breathed a long, jagged breath.
The shelf was as empty and dank as a cell in a dungeon. Miranda was not there.
AT SIX-THIRTY o’clock of that same 4*afternoon Mickey Dinsmore, in blue coat and white flannels, stood on the McVicker porch, looking very grave but quite serene. Cocktails were being poured in the living room just beyond. Rain fell in cool, steady showers, making the sky unusually dark at this time. Mickey reviewed the evening ahead. At seven an informal buffet supper at the country club, at nine a dance, at midnight—his face took on a deeper gravity—Miranda Stone had promised to drive with him to Sandy’s shack up the river. He had wangled the loan of the roadster out of Evans, who could be persuaded to do anything for the sake of Mickey’s stormy blue smile. Miranda wanted to see Sandy and Sandy’s shack. She had used the arts of a Hollywood favorite to make Mickey understand just how thoroughly her life would be ruined if he refused to take her. He could not bear the lovely look of despair in which she drowned her eyes. (Hank would have paid no attention to it, for the sake of seeing her look more lovely and despairing than ever.)
Mickey did not care about this idea of going to Sandy’s. But anyhow there would be the long ride in Evans’ car, powerful as a dragon. He toyed with the idea of purposely Using the way to Sandy’s. It would be easy enough. He’d never been there himself, though he'd heard enough about it. An old, weasel-faced trapper had set up a makeshift bar where he served at ridiculous prices certain deadly drinks concocted by his own hand. It had become the thing to go there, and talk about it afterward. It was just rough and dirty and shiftless enough to tickle the jaded tastes of tourists hunting for excitement. Nothing was served until after midnight, another feature which added flavor to the affair. Sandy regaled his guests with blood-chilling tales of bears, moose and wildcats. He played skilfully upon the nerves of his customers. People forgot the fiery path of his liquor down their throats, but never his stories. They felt as if they, too, had joined hands in combating Nature’s outposts, and it did them good.
Mickey hardly fancied the place as entertainment for Miranda. On the other hand, if he had refused to take her, there would be no long ride with the wind singing past their ears. Not as pleasant a night as
he had hoped for, with all these showers of rain.
Hank had behaved like a fool about Cascade Shelf. It was a dangerous adventure, yet Mickey was just honest enough to understand why he did it. It was Miranda at any price, against all comers.
Thoughtfully, then, he sauntered into the McVicker living room. Some one clutched his elbow as he stood, a head taller than any one present, looking about. “She’s not here yet, Mike. I’ve been saving a cocktail for you.” Evans held a glass in each hand, and looked as if she had recently stepped from a rubicund painting by Peter Paul Reubens.
“Thanks, Evans,” said Mickey.
“The car goes like a dream; had it overhauled this afternoon for you.”
“Thanks again; you’re a grand guy.” He gave her one of his smiles. She trembled all over, and felt amply repaid for the loan.
Mickey sent his eyes over the room, and Evans tried to bring them back again.
"See here, let’s find a comer. I’ve got to talk to you,” she said.
“No,” he answered absent-mindedly. “Sorry, Evans.”
“I say, yes!” Her cheeks were round and hard as apples; her black eyes looked sharp with the need of speech. “Come on.” She tweaked at his sleeve, and grumblingly he followed.
“Sit down. I can see if she comes in, and I promise to tell you.” Evans’ voice deepened to a shy huskiness. “Mickey, what I’m going to say is hard sledding; but don’t you honestly think you’re yammering up the wrong tree?”
He stared at her, and again she trembled all over.
“I’ve wanted to speak of this for a long while. We used to be gd friends, Mickey. I understand you better than you think. We’re different, both of us, and you know it. Different from them. They just let us play around with them.” She waved a big hand with a cold, beautiful emerald on one linger, toward a group of well-bred people drinking cocktails in a well-bred way. “For one reason or another they haven’t pushed me out, now I’m in. You’re so gcxxl looking they just can’t help themselves. You slay ’em, and lay ’em down in windrows every time you look at ’em. I wasn’t born yesterday nor the day before. I’ve got money —praise be to poppa and his pants factory. I’ve got a car and plenty of nerve, but we don’t belong, either of us.”
Mickey shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m not running ourselves down to ourselves. We’re goi at our own stuff, but”— she leaned forward, her black eyes softened now—“we don’t speak their language.”
“Well,” said Mickey uncordially.
Evans got flustered in a big way. She went red all over, and it wasn't becoming.
“I just wanted to warn you, Mickey. I'm saying it straight. You’ll get hurt. Better stick to your own dooryard.”
A dark stain crept up his cheeks. “What exactly do you mean?”
"Nothing you wouldn’t like, Mickey.” Evans, of course, had no idea what Mickey’s d(xryard had been—a place of rusty railroad irons, cinders, a rackety board fence, and gangling geranium plants in tin cans. Mickey blinked, trying to brush away the remembrance of the geraniums. They had been his mother’s pitiful gesture for beauty. She had had Mickey’s intense blue eyes, and the boy had loved her with a fierce, protective resentment. His father was a greaser on the railroad tracks. Mickey could hardly remember his face. Both were dead now, and the shanty fallen into a heap of stained, weatherbeaten boards.
“My own kind?” he repeated. “Meaning you, Evans?” Until the sarcasm was out he did not know how harsh it sounded, and suddenly he remembered that this big, somewhat clumsy young woman with the troubled eyes, had been generous about lending her car for the purpose of taking another girl to drive. “Oh, hang it. I’m sorry. Truth is, I’m worried about Hank and Miranda. They went this afternoon to climb that Cascade Shelf down by the
shore. Miranda promised to be here for cocktails. It’s nearly seven now.”
‘‘I know,” said Evans. “I met them walking there. Mickey, that’s exactly what I mean. They looked right being together. They belong; we don’t.”
The strong brown hand of Mickey gripped the thin glass in his hand until it gave a tiny cracking groan.
“They don’t belong together, not if I know it!”
“An eagle doesn’t play around with an oriole,” remarked Evans, recklessly flinging herself upon unaccustomed figures of speech.
“Well, I’m taking Miranda to Sandy’s, never-the-what!” replied Mickey. “But thanks for the Audubon tip. If I’m an eagle, old dear, you’re a pheasant; a nice plump one.” He grinned and touched her large hand briefly with his brown one.
“A peasant, more likely,” she mumbled with strange humility.
Mickey forgot Miranda for a moment and thought only of Evans.
“You’re all right, honey,” he said, and wondered why she left him so abruptly.
She turned back at the door.
“There’s Sandy loping along the road now. Probably in the village for more bottled goods. They say someone takes it up the shore and river for him in a motor dory. He’s got something green hanging from his pocket.”
Mickey reached her side and looked out on the road. A stringy, bitten little man, so drab he could with difficulty be distinguished from his surroundings, swung along at a singular gait. There was something silent and furtive about him. From one pocket dangled the foot of a green sports sock.
Mickey left Evans at a jump. He ran down the McVicker steps and after the man, whom he at once engaged in conversation. Evans saw him draw the sock out of Sandy’s pocket. Fie seemed very excited. Sandy pointed up the shore, and after a few more hurried words Mickey came running back with the sock in his hand.
“Come on, Evans,” he urged in a low voice, “let’s back your potato masher out of the drive. We’re on our way to the cliffs as fast as we can get there.”
ON CASCADE SHELF lay Hank Carter, shivering and exhausted. Daylight drained away; a dripping dreariness settled into every cranny of the rock. The water roared by with a new, vindictive note. Hank, of course, knew it was still early evening, but the dark clouds of the storm soaked up all the light. He began to figure out the tides. Now the water was on its first quarter of rising. Fligh water, he supposed, would come about midnight, lowwater at six tomorrow morning. There was nothing to do but wait until then, a wretched piece of business but the only possible course left him.
And Miranda? How in the world had she escaped? And why? He almost hated her. and felt lonely and abandoned as if he were shut out of a familiar world behind a shouting curtain of water, a prisoner of his own foolishness and Miranda’s exuberant vanity. It was far too late and too dangerous to think of climbing down again and making their way over the submerged rocks on the shore, if Miranda were anywhere about, which he very much doubted.
Fie must have fallen into a moment’s exhausted dozing. Something aroused him, a voice which pelted insistent words at him like a rain of small stones. He pressed the back of his head against the rock behind him and looked up. Higher yet, perhaps twenty-five feet, in the dim, shaking twilight, he perceived the soles of two white sport shoes and the vanishing glimpse of one green sock.
“I tried—to get to the top—of the cliff.” “Muffled by the racket of the water, the words came faintly down to him. “I was going —to surprise you and be waiting for you—when you cane up the bluff—by the path all mad and angry.”
"Good Lord!” moaned Hank. The feet were Miranda’s. The voice was Miranda’s. He reached forward his cupped hands and
caught some water, which he threw' in his own face. The cold shock of it seemed to clear his wits. Instead of following him down the cliff as she should have done, Miranda had obviously managed to climb even farther up behind the waterfall—a piece of sheer insanity. What did she think she was going to do when she reached the top of the torrent? Had she thought about that? Probably not. The force must be terrific there. Fortunately she had found another 'shelf, smaller than the one on which he sat, and there she had been forced to stay.
Flank suffered an immense relief. The unspeakable horror of wondering what had happened to her had been removed. Everything about him had gone numb. Now he relaxed, and knew how hard he had been trying not to imagine Miranda in some hopeless and dreadful predicament. He wiggled cautiously until he lay on his back lengthwise of the shelf. With his arms under his head as a pillow he looked up at the soles of Miranda’s white sport shoes, and in a moment or two he had hoarded enough breath to shout up at her.
She was talking again. The words fell down to him with the tumbling water, and seemed to pass him even as the water passed.
“I’m awfully sorry. Just a joke. Are you all right? I’m stuck here. Can’t move another inch up or down.”
He fancied he saw the light mist of her hair as she doubled forward in order to peer over her knees.
“Don’t !” he shrieked back at her. “Keep quiet or you’ll fall.”
Was it a laugh he heard, or only the voice of the water taunting them for a couple of hare-brained fools?”
So they waited. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. The dark came on thicker and blacker than ever. The rain increased. The buoy, a mile off shore, groaned on the swell as if it were tolling the knell of their silly adventure. For no reason at all. Hank was annoyed by the remembrance of Mickey’s face, the scornful smile deepening his blue eyes as he listened to Hank telling Miranda how very delighted he would be to escort her to Cascade Shelf.
Seven o’clock. Hank’s watch was radium dialled. He held it before his eyes and watched the minutes swing from brush stroke to brush streike. After a while he called again to Miranda:
“We’ll have to wait until six tomorrow morning.”
The shoes kicked some sort of a reply against the rock wall above him.
“Can you stand it all that time?” he next enquired in a roar.
Perhaps she answered him. He could not tell. In the dim light, as nearly as he could see, the shelf on which she rested was very narrow. No use trying to get up there; it would crowd her and perhaps prove disastrous for them both. Miranda must be hideously cold. Then his mind reeled away in a quick confusion of weariness. Maybe it was sleep of a sort, or just exhaustion. Miranda in a cottage; Miranda making coffee; Miranda floating through a summer waltz in the arms of Mickey Dinsmore. It all seemed precious, unattainable, belonging to a life they had wilfully thrown away.
And he forgot his anger with this girl. They were both cold, frightened, separated by water and the slippery face of a black cliff, yet spiritually nearer through their mutual danger than they had ever been before. Fie held his breath until it should rush from his lips in a strong, carrying volume.
“Miranda, I love you. Will you marry me?”
NOW that the words were said, they seemed to shed light and warmth and comfort over the dismal plight in which they found themselves. No matter what she answered, there they were, the biggest, the most important sentences he had ever spoken.
Miranda must have heard, since she again leaned forward. He could scarcely discern the dark blur of her, yet he heard her laugh. She said something. He strained
his head upward to listen—then she gave a scream which slashed across the dark tumble of water like a cutlass. After that he heard nothing but the roar of the cataract. Had she fallen from the shelf? Had he missed seeing her slim body flung downward in the midst of the plunging flood?
Then he noticed a strange and terrifying thing. A glowing eye hung above him and began to descend the cliff. It came slowly at the side of the waterfall, swinging in short arcs as if suspended on a long pendulum. For a sickening moment Hank’s blood seemed to Pack up against itself in his veins; it stopped flowing. There, in the cold and the wet and the darkness, this pendulous eye was ghostly and wholly unbelievable.
The glow wavered and ceased descending. He watched it, hypnotized with horror, and as he looked it swung sharply in and above Miranda’s shelf.
He heard a second scream. Ah, she was safe ! She had not tumbled from her
Instantly the light went out. There was a new rumbling like heavy thunder which resounded hollowly along the rock face of the cliff.
Then the round eye swung out again. It came no farther down but was drawn up and out of sight. And, heaven be thanked, Miranda was calling down to him. But because of the water and the new thunder, he could understand nothing.
He waited. Never in his life, before or since, was he to feel so utterly forlorn, so mystified, so powerless to alter his wretchedness.
Again the glowing eye! This time it came down rapidly and stopped at Miranda’s shelf. Again it swung in, and went out as if darkness had winked it shut.
Hank called and called. Did he or did he not hear answering voices? He grew frantic and writhed on his shelf in a cold sweat of anxiety.
Then the strangest of all things hapjiened. The eye swayed out above his head and, dangling below it, was a shape, skirts, legs, a thin yellow ray shining on familiar green.
“Hank!” A piercing yell reached him, a man’s yell. “You next!”
The legs, the skirt, the light went up the cliff, more slowly this time. Hank could only half guess the meaning of this weird performance, yet his commonsense told him it must be a rescue of some sort.
So he waited, and the spray dashed across him, and his back nearly broke in two as he lay on the cold, hard ledge.
In about ten minutes more the glowing eye came down again, farther this time. It stopped and dangled just above his head. With a wild clutch his hand shot out for it, and, before he realized quite what happened, a big flashlight banged him smartly on the nose. A piece of paper fluttered beside it, fastened to the light by wire. The frayed end of a thick rope brushed across his face. By concentrating with utmost effort—his brain seemed bruised as well as his body— he steadied the light and slowly read words scrawled on the paper.
“Miranda safe. Slip noose under arms. Will haul you up slowly. Look out for rocks. Jerk three times when ready.”
WHEN Miranda was dragged over the top of the cliff she looked neither pretty nor sparkling. She smiled once at Mickey and fainted in a way she had previously considered detestable.
“I’ll look out for her,” said Evans. “You get back to your job.”
The headlights of her foreign car shone through the slanted rain. It stood within a perilous few feet of the rocky edge, the gears set in reverse, and large stones rolled beneath the front tires. A stout rope was wound a few times over the bumper.
There was a third person busy with the rope, a stringy little man who seemed to work with practised skill. “Git yourself braced agin this boulder,” he was saying to Mickey. “Bend your body so, the whole heft of it, and we’ll be ready to heave ’er
clear soon’s we git the signal from below.”
This second rescue was a harder task than the first. Hank was heavier than Miranda. The distance down was greater, but at last he came over the rocky edge much as a strange fish might have been brought up from the deep. His shirt hung in torn ribbons from his shoulders.
“Miranda?” he muttered.
And these two lay on the wet ground with the rain falling on them. Evans took rugs from the car and wrapped them up with a series of soothing clucks as she made them warm in the woollen folds. But Mickey stood looking down at them and said nothing.
The weasel-faced man coiled the rope in shipshape fashion and threw it in the car. He dusted his hands together and said he guessed he’d be gittin’ along. “Got some customers cornin’ to my place tonight,” he winked craftily. “Got to git me a pint or two of this and that and send it along in a motor dory.”
Mickey thanked him and pressed a bill into his hand. The man named Sandy loped off in the darkness.
Miranda opened her eyes. “Hank, darling, are you safe? Did you hear me say yes? I shouted it down at you from the shelf.”
Mickey’s lips went thin in a half-smile. Evans looked at him and her mouth trembled over his visible hurt.
And Miranda went on saying things just as if she and Hank were alone.
“I had no idea, no idea at all, Hank, that you cared for me. You’ve been so beastly always. I’ll go back with you when your vacation ends-and marry you as soon as I can collect a few clothes.”
Hank reached out a wet hand and felt her hair.
Mickey lifted the rescued ones into the rumble-seat of the car. Evans packed them so tightly with blankets and a rubber cover that they sat up stiffly and securely. Mickey dropped the flashlight into his pocket and backed the car from the edge of the cliff. Evans, sitting beside him, watched him with silent wistfulness. They went slowly along the country road.
“You’re dead right, Evans,” he said, “we don’t speak their language. When it comes to a showdown, even though 1 saved them, they yelled for each other first thing. We’re outsiders.”
“To them, we are,” she replied gently, and wanted to do some foolish thing to comfort him.
Mickey looked at her and smiled.
“Good old Evans!” he murmured.
“But how,” demanded Miranda from the depths of a divan and flanked by hot-water bottles since she would not go to bed until matters were cleared up“did you happen to have my sport sock in your pocket, Mickey?”
“We saw Sandy loping along by the McVickers. The thing was dangling from his pocket. On the gamble that it might be yours—I remembered the color—I rushed out and hailed him. Lucky I did, too, though I suppose I would have gone in any case to see where you were.”
Miranda gave a squawk of triumph.
“I found a long whip branch growing beside that upper shelf. I tied my green sock to it and hoisted it up at the side of the fall as best I could. Nearly lost my footing, doing it, too. A signal of distress. Somehow, it must have got tangled in other branches and stood upright at the edge of the cliff. I couldn’t see, of course.”
“Sandy,” said Mickey, “borrowed the long rope for us from a sailor friend on the way. He was a lot of help about pulling, but I don’t think you’ll be caring to see him or his shack tonight. Come on, Evans, let’s go-
They left a long silence behind them.
Miranda glanced at Hank and smiled straight up and out of her wells of enchantment. There was no artifice in her look.
“Your foot must be killing you, darling. Mother will put you to bed in our spare room. What an awfully nice afternoon.”
“Mickey’s a fine lad,” said Hank.
“And you’re another,” said Miranda.