BEN AMES WILLIAMS
In which five castaways reach the end of a perilous road and a girl in love discovers the answer to an age-old question
SINCE HE first saw Robin on the wharf at Quai Rimouski, Mr. Jenkins had changed his mind about her half a dozen times. Beginning with the casual interest he might have felt toward any pretty girl, he had progressed to a lively resentment at her presence aboard McPhail’s cruiser. He foresaw she might cause trouble there. McPhail and Pat alone might have submitted to his demands with a certain philosophy; but Robin made a difference. Men had a trick of washing to protect women; they were likely to display, under feminine eyes, a futile and mistaken valor. Mr. Jenkins realized this, and even before the catastrophe his nerves began to draw tight under the strain. When, because of her, Romeo left his post in the pilothouse long enough to wreck the cruiser and cast them all ashore here, he hated her as the source of his destruction.
He did not actually see her slip down into the cleft to go to the shelter today. His back was toward her at the moment. But he glanced that way an instant later and, since she was no longer in sight, he knew at once where she had gone.
He thought she sought only to get out of the wind and the sleety rain while she rested for a while; but he decided grimly that he was as tired as she, that he needed to rest as much as she did. His intention went no further than this; it took no definite form. Yet he was full of dangerous capacities. Mr. Jenkins was a shrewd man, steady and even-tempered so long as matters went smoothly; but since he had been driven into a flight he had not planned, and so had come to this catastrophe, his nerves had suffered and there was a readiness for violence in him now.
But he did not start toward Robin without a first cautious look around. Romeo was beyond him, laboring with a great boulder, a hundred yards or so away; and Angus and Pat were out of his sight on the other side of the naked dome where the monument was rising. When he
was sure of this, Mr. Jenkins, as quietly as a cat, slipped back toward the head of the cleft.
WHEN HE came where he could see her, Robin was in the shelter, working in panting haste, shifting the rocks which he and Romeo had piled across the end of their refuge to shut out the wind. Mr. Jenkins came quietly down below the break of the ledge, so that no one could see him from the cairn above; and he watched in a lively curiosity. He was standing there, three or four paces away, when she turned to crawl out of the shelter with the cake of chocolate in her hand.
In the same instant that she discovered him, he saw what it was she had. These five people had been since the night before wet and cold and hungry; but most of all they had been hungry. Their wet garments drained strength out of them, the steady cold gnawed at them like rats at a grain bin, their exertions in building the cairn had whetted their appetites. In each, hunger was just now the most powerful passion. Thus the cake of chocolate, representing as it did concentrated food values and lifegiving warmth, was for the moment the most important thing in their world. For the sake of it, Robin had risked this attempt to slip down to the shelter without being seen; and to keep it now, she resisted Mr. Jenkins. But there was an equal fury in him. He met her as she came to her feet, and an instant later they were locked in that blind rage of battle, fighting like animals, with the cake of chocolate as a prize.
When Robin screamed, big Pat Donohoe had just reached the cairn with two or three rocks nursed in the cradle of his arms. As he dropped them, he heard her cry; and without a moment’s hesitation, he raced that way. She and Mr. Jenkins did not hear his pounding feet; but Robin, looking past Mr. Jenkins, saw Pat on the ledge above them and cried his name. Mr. Jenkins had that much warning. He whipped around, and he drew her in
front of him like a screen, the pistol in his right hand. At the same time. Pat’s foot slipped and he fell awkwardly sidewise, sliding over the lip of the ledge, landing absurdly in a sitting position ten feet away from where Mr. Jenkins stood with Robin fast in the steel circle of his arm. The breath went out of Pat with a grunt; and Mr. Jenkins, lips tight across his teeth, said sharply:
“Get up! Get out of here!’’
But Robin cried, “Here, Pat!” She threw the chocolate toward the Irishman. The throw was awkward. The precious stuff landed on a sloping ledge and slid downward ; and Mr. Jenkins swore at Robin and thrust her aside so that he could retrieve it. But she clung to his right arm— the pistol was in that hand—tugging at him, holding him back; and Pat, seeing his chance, came to his feet like a released spring and made his leap. Mr. Jenkins jerked free his pistol hand and fired.
When Mr. Jenkins fired, Pat was a lion in mid-leap. He felt the bullet like a flame stab his leg; but it did not stop him. Mr. Jenkins tried to twitch aside out of the way of Pat’s charge; but he was driven back and down, Pat’s great hands grappling for the pistol and for Mr. Jenkins’ throat.
Robin, by the impact of Pat’s leap, was knocked spinning to one side, and she fell, and Pat’s heel caught her in the temple. It struck her senseless. Then the two men fell on top of her. She was under their threshing bodies, forgotten by them both while they fought the deadly issue through.
UP TO this moment, neither Romeo nor Angus had appeared. They were both too far away to hear Robin’s scream; but they heard the pistol shot. Romeo instantly raced to take a hand in whatever here went forward. Angus, even before the shot, had some forewarning. He was on the opposite side of the island when he discovered that Pat had disappeared. With as many rocks as he could carry in his arms, Angus went up toward the cairn to see where Pat had gone; and he had almost reached it when he heard the shot. He dropped his load and raced up to the cairn, and saw Romeo coming from the left, scudding like a rabbit along the break of the cliff toward the cleft from which sounds of battle rose.
Angus raced to cut Romeo off; but he was still ten or fifteen yards short of doing so when Romeo reached a spot just above the shelter. The man stopped there and whipped a knife from its sheath at his hip and balanced it in his hand, looking down into the cleft as if to pick a fair target.
There was not time to come to him before he threw the knife. Angus scooped up a rock half as big as a brick; and as Romeo raised his hand, Angus threw the rock with all his might at the man’s head. It missed that mark, but it did strike Romeo’s elbow fairly, with a sharp, cracking sound. Romeo’s knife flew out of his hand, and he screamed with pain and whirled and saw Angus almost on him.
It was in McPhail’s mind to get his hands on Romeo’s throat and do a thorough job of it; and the intent was blazing in his eyes. Romeo dodged and darted away— and Angus saw Pat and Mr. Jenkins by the shelter just below him, locked together, rolling over and over in a tight and silent fury. Also, he saw that Robin lay as flat as a beaten rug under their thrashing bodies.
He forgot Romeo. He reached them in two jumps. Mr. Jenkins at the moment happened to be uppermost. Angus hauled at Mr. Jenkins; and since Pat clung like a terrier to his foe, Angus threw them both aside together. They rolled down the slope, and Angus picked Robin up, holding her awkwardly, shaking her, trying to think of some effective thing to do.
Then suddenly he was cool and sane again. Robin was unconscious, dead perhaps; but there would be time to tend her later. Pat and Mr. Jenkins, still locked together, had somehow disappeared around the corner of the shelter, down the steep rocky slope toward the sea. Angus, wondering why Pat needed so long to handle Mr. Jenkins, turned to help.
But Pat needed no help. When Angus left Robin and swung that way, he saw Pat crawling laboriously up the slope toward him. There was no sign of Mr. Jenkins. The rain fog dropped smotheringly about them, and Angus called sharply :
Pat looked over his shoulder; and a gull on patrol in the fog looked down, turning its head sidewise the better to see wrhat lay broken on the rocks. It wheeled sharply, with excited cries, and Pat Donohoe said :
“The gull’s found him, down below. Rest his black soul!”
“He is that! We fell off a ten-foot shelf, locked together like two sweethearts; but he was undermost when we landed, praises be! If it hadn’t been for him to break my fall, not even my head could have stood it. His didn’t. Or maybe it was his back. I heard it crack.” He grinned. “He saved my life, peace to him.”
Angus said flatly: “Romeo’s somewhere around. Look out for him. I’ve got to tend to Miss Dale. She’s hurt.” He turned back to Robin, and lifted her into the shelter and laid her there and eyed her doubtfully, not sure what to do. Clearly, she was alive, for her breast stirred and she made
gasping sounds; but there was a lump on her forehead, and her knuckles were bruised and broken, and her sweater torn. He held a handkerchief open in the spiteful little rain till it was dripping wet; then began to bathe her forehead and cheek and throat.
HE HAD forgotten Pat. The Irishman crawled nearer on hands and knees till he came to the front of the shelter. He watched Angus for a while; and presently he said in a mildly persuasive tone:
“She’s took nought but a crack on her head, sorr. She’ll be fine!”
Angus nodded, still without looking around. “I guess so. I don’t know, can't tell whether she’s hurt or—just knocked out. She’s coming around.” He continued his ministrations; till Pat said, apologetically:
“Sorr, could you maybe be stopping the blood from running out of my leg here? I’m all thumb-handed like. I can’t seem to manage it alone.”
Angus looked around at him. in a quick surprise; and Pat lay softly down on his face and sighed and closed his eyes. Angus caught the big man in his arms.
It was time. Pat’s leg was broken by that single shot which Mr. Jenkins had found time to fire. Waiting uncomplainingly while Angus tried to revive Robin, he had rolled up his trouser leg and pulled off shoe and sock drenched with blood; but then increasing weakness left him helpless to tend himself. The bullet had entered just beside the shin bone, had come out through the back of the calf above the ankle. When Angus saw the wound, he understood how Mr. Jenkins had been able to fight so long against Pat’s greater weight and strength.
With his thumbs he put pressure on till the hemorrhage slackened and stopped. He rolled his handkerchief, put a bit of rock in it, tied it around Pat’s leg and twisted it with his knife for leverage. He tried to remember what to do next; and then Robin, in the shelter behind him, came back to her senses. Her head seemed like bursting, and
her world was all confusion; but her first conscious thought was of that cake of chocolate. She had dropped it somewhere, somehow. She must find it. She crawled out past Angus; but when she saw what he was about, she made a low pitying sound, and Angus said:
“Oh, hullo! I had to take care of Pat. He was bleeding badly. Are you—hurt much?”
“I don’t think so. Just my head, and my hands, I guess. And I'm sort of—sore all over. Where’s the chocolate?” He thought her mind was wandering; but she said: “I came to try and get it, and I did, but Mr. Jenkins caught me here, and then Pat came. Did Mr. Jenkins get it? Where is he?”
She looked around to see where Mr. Jenkins was. and discovered the chocolate, crushed and flattened where the men in their fight had rolled on it. She retrieved it jealously, forgetting Mr. Jenkins; and Pat came groping back to consciousness again. She said: “Here it is! See?” Pat groaned, and she cried: “Oh! Give him this. Angus! Let him eat it.”
“He doesn’t need it yet. We’ve got to take care of this leg of his.”
“Let me,” she said. She loosened the tourniquet, watching the wounds of entrance and of exit to see what flow of blood there was. “No big artery cut, I’m sure,” she decided.
Angus recognized competence in her; and he watched her wet his handkerchief to make a cold pad to compress the wounds. He turned to look around, and saw Mr. Jenkins’ pistol in a cranny among the rocks and picked it up. Then, remembering Romeo, he climbed to the ledge and saw the man not twenty yards away, stealth in his posture, creeping near. Angus raised the pistol, and Romeo whirled and ran, zigzagging like a snipe in flight to dodge the bullet he expected. But Angus did not fire. WTien Romeo was out of sight, McPhail remembered the knife the man had dropped and looked for it, and found it where it had slid down off the ledge.
Robin called to him: “We need something for a bandage.” Angus descended to her side. A bandage? Some garment they might tear into strips. In this windy cold, no rag they wore could be spared. But Mr. Jenkins was somewhere below them, and he had no more need of clothing.
“I’ll find something,” Angus told Robin, and went down the rocky slope. He came to the 1 erige off which Pat and Mr. Jenkins in their fight had fallen. Mr. Jenkins lay like a rag beaten limp by rain, on his back, his eyes open; and Angus was shaken by the sight, till he realized that Mr. Jenkins was alive, was watching him.
He jumped down beside the other man. “Hurt?” he muttered.
MR. JENKINS grinned at him. “What do you think?” he countered in sardonic question. “Think I’m lying here to watch the pretty clouds?” His lips twisted venomously; his words were vitriol, cursing Angus, cursing Pat, cursing Robin most of all. “If she hadn't been along, we’d be all right,” he finished. “I’d like to get my hands on her, just once!” Just long enough to give her neck a twist.” He grinned. “I got the Irishman through the leg. That’s something. Where’s Romeo? 1 le'll butcher the lot of you !” He had not moved at all. lay flat on his back in the beating rain. The raging anger boiling out of his helpless body was a terrible thing to see. Angus said gently: “I’ll get you under cover, Jenkins.” He bent to lift the man, and Mr. Jenkins’ hands flew up find fasten«! weakly on his throat. Angus caught the other’s wrists, tore those hands away, flung them down. Jenkins had no strength in him. His hands were as weak as a child’s. “Be sensible, man,” Angus said. “Let me take care of you.”
Jenkins sjxjke in sudden full surrender. “All right. I’m done. My back’s broken, McPhail. Do as you please.” “We’ll do what we can,” Angus said. He lifted the hurt man, managed somehow to carry him up to the shelter. From weakness or from pain Mr. Jenkins lapsed into unconsciousness again on that short journey. Robin moved aside when Angus appeared, and he laid Mr. Jenkins in the shelter. He told the Irishman:
“I’m sorry to put him in with you, Pat; but he’d die in the rain.”
“Aye, sorr,” Pat agreed. His voice was gentle. “The poor man saved my life for me, whether he meant it so or not. And whatever he’s done, he’s paid for now, full and running over. I’ll tend him all I can.”
Mr. Jenkins opened his eyes. He was, clearly, paralyzed from the waist down, yet there was life in him. When Angus gave him a bit of the chocolate, he gobbled it without a sound.
Robin said: “Now we must bandage Pat’s leg somehow, Angus. Isn’t there anything?”
“Handkerchiefs not big enough?”
“No, not nearly.”
“My underwear, then.” Angus started to unbutton his shirt; but Mr. Jenkins spoke.
“Take my shirt, McPhail,” he said. His tone was mild enough. The fog of battle rage had left him, and he was sane again. “It’s white, and I don’t need it. There’s no warmth in it, anyway; not enough to do me any good.”
Robin felt her eyes sting. She thought she could almost like Mr. Jenkins. Pat sjx>ke for all of them. “You had the makings of a man, Jenkins,” he said. “It’s a sorry end you’ve come to.”
Mr. Jenkins chuckled. “I’m luckier than the rest of you,” he said with grim humor. “You’re cold all over; but I’m only cold from the waist up. Can’t feel it, in my legs, at all. I’d trade my shoes for a flannel shirt, right now.”
Robin still wore McPha l’s leather jacket, with Pat’s great stag shirt over it. She began to strip them off. Mr. Jenkins should have the one, Pat the other. They protested; but Angus supported her and she had her way.
By the time Pat’s leg was bandaged, early dusk was settling around them. Angus distributed bits of chocolate to each of them. Robin, chewing her morsel, making it last as long as jx>ssible, felt warmth and strength run through her body like a flood.
"DOR THE night they all packed into the shelter side by ■*side; first Mr. Jenkins, then Pat, then Robin, then Angus himself in the open end, with Mr. Jenkins’ oilskin for protection against the rain. Dark rame down, and Robin pressed nearer Pat. Angus sat like a wall between her and the weather. After a while she spoke to him. ‘Come closer,” she said. “We can all get under here.’ “I’ve the oilskin. I’m all right.”
“I need you to keep me warm. Lie back against me. Take it off and tuck it around us.”
He hesitated, then obeyed. She drew him back against her, in her arms. He spread the oilskin coat to cover them both.
“There!” she said, almost contentedly, but he felt her trembling.
"Cold?” he asked.
"Don’t be. Keep your nerve. We’ll manage. The rain can’t last forever. And we won’t starve. I’ll get some fish tomorrow, trap them in the shallows when the tide goes out. Then there are shellfish, snails at least, in the seaweed. We’ll find food, something.”
“I’m not so terribly hungry.”
His voice was quiet and steady in the darkness. “Being hungry’s not so bad after the first two or three days, as long as you’re not scared. People have lived a month without food.”
"I’m not scared,” she told him. She asked: "Do many people live alongshore here, Angus?”
“Not many 'way up here. Five or six families, Pat says. I don’t suppose there are fifty people in fifty miles.” He added quickly: "But Gloucestermen and the Nova Scotian fishing schooners come up this way. We’ll be able to attract attention as soon as it clears.”
She whispered, her lips close to his ear: "My being here makes it extra hard for all of you. I’m sorry. Angus.”
“It’s my fault. 1 should have taken you back to Moose Bay that first night. But that can’t be mended now.” After a moment she said softly: “Angus, I'm glad you’re not here alone. If this was going to happen to you—I’m glad I’m with you.”
He said, after a little hesitation, in a defensive tone: "Don’t be afraid. We’ll come through.”
She felt chilled, rebuffed by the remote impersonality of his words. She knew she loved him; yet even in her arms he seemed infinitely far away. She said: "I’m all right in daylight.” Night was full of terrors; and sleet and rain came on a liowling, hungry wind. They were silent for a while, and she felt his shoulders against her breast relax in weary stupor that counterfeited sleep. Her eyes were wide, staring into blackness. Once she felt Pat stir and mutter; and she whispered:
“All right, Pat?”
"Sure, ma’am, fine.”
She thought presently that she was the only one of them still awake. She held Angus closer, brooding over him. Somewhere outside the shelter a rock slid and rolled down the slope below them, the sounds growing less as it bounded toward tire sea. That sharjxmed all her senses.
Something had set the rock rolling. It must be Romeo, prowling near.
But she did not rouse Angus till a little later she saw a darker shape in the darkness a dozen feet away. Then dreadful terror filled her; and she spoke in McPhail’s ear.
"Angus!” She felt him wake. “Romeo’s sneaking up on us. See him, there, in front of you.”
McPhail sat up. He cried in sharp challenge: “That you, Romeo? What do you want?”
Romeo, without answering, raced away, scrambling up the slope. They heard the
rattle of rocks dislodged by his flying feet. From the safety of the ledge above where they lay, he flung imprecations back at them; yet even while he cursed them all, he moved farther and farther away till the sound of his babbling rage grewr faint and died.
Robin said wretchedly: “Poor man! Maybe he just
wanted to get warm. Can’t we take him in, give him a chance to—get out of the rain?”
Angus did not reply. She thought of Romeo running to and fro like an animal, pitifully questing in the night for shelter. Cold crept into her; and somewhere far below them she heard the growling of the hungry sea.
ROBIN woke before the others in the morning. It was * daylight when she roused, a grey hopeless dawn. She w'ould not wake them; but while she lay cramped and stiff, holding herself motionless so that Angus might not be disturbed, she heard, far away across the island, a cry. She knew it must be Romeo; and she shuddered, thinking he was like a coyote howling from sheer loneliness, thrust out of their small society into the naked emptiness of this rocky, rain-swept world. She pitied him, and wished they might take him in to share their slight shelter, and when Angus woke at last, she suggested this.
“I heard him crying, just a few minutes ago,” she said. “It was pretty terrible. Can’t he be with us?”
Angus stood up. stiff with cold. “I’ll have a look around.” he said. "I’ll talk to him.” He scaled the slope to the ledge above them and went out of their sight. A moment later they heard him shout, and shout again, the sounds receding. Robin thought he was trying to find Romeo, calling to the man.
He was gone what seemed a long time; and when he came back, she saw in his eyes something like despair. He squatted facing them and said quietly: “Romeo’s gone. A fisherman took him off.”
Robin felt her heart pound. Mr. Jenkins began to swear in a still, vitriolic way. Angus explained: “When I came up on the cairn, I could just see the boat, a dory with a sail. It was half a mile away toward shore, just going out of sight in the rain. I yelled, but they didn’t hear me.”
Pat asked, as though anxious to be sure: “A fisherman?” Angus nodded. Pat frowned in a puzzled way. “Now what would a fisherman be doing off here so early in the morning?”
Angus suggested: “Maybe they saw our monument
last night and came off to see who was here.”
Robin looked at him. “Then Romeo would tell them he built the monument, wouldn’t he? So they’ll not think anything more about it when they see it still here. So they won’t come for us.”
Angus said: “He’ll tell them about us.”
Mr. Jenkins spoke in a quizzical amusement. “You trust men too easily, McPhail. Romeo won’t tell them anything. Why should he? I beat him up. Miss Dale there cut his cheek open. He knows you don’t like him a'ffy more; and
he won’t want to see Pat again. Romeo’s well out of it. He’ll keep his mouth shut and go clear.”
“He’ll have to tell them how he got here.”
“He’ll say your boat bucked the ledge, say you and Pat went down with her, say he got ashore alone.”
The rain began again, in a little spiteful sprinkle that came hard and harder. Robin spoke. “Then we’ll have to make ourselves at home, won’t we?” She tried to laugh. “At least we won’t have to carry rocks any more to build the cairn.”
After a moment Angus said : “I’ll try to catch some fish today, find something to eat.” He distributed another morsel of chocolate to each one of them. “We’ll make this last as long as we can,” he said.
Mr. Jenkins refused his portion. “Give it to Miss Dale,” he directed. “I’m done, anyway. No use wasting it on me.”
Robin protested. “Please! Eat it, Mr. Jenkins. You mustn’t give up. Somebody’s sure to find us soon.”
He grinned at her, looked at Angus. “You’re a sentimental lot, taking me in, taking care of me. If I were in your place, I’d dump me off the cliffs below here. I’m glad to have your company for a day or two, of course, so I hope you won’t do it till I’m dead. But I won’t eat your chocolate.”
Angus scanned the sky. “No sign of better weather,” he said. “Pat, we’ve got to have a fire as soon as we can. I’ll go look for more firewood. You try to dry our matches.” He had a box half full, of the safety type, and Pat and Mr. Jenkins had each a few. “Put them on a dry rock, Pat. Maybe the air will dry them. If we can have a fire tonight we’ll all feel better.” He brought under shelter the few scraps of firewood they had already collected. “You can whittle off the outside of these sticks, Pat,” he suggested. “Get at the dry wood inside, shave enough kindling to start a fire, if our matches ever dry.”
But when he and Robin left the shelter, he decided to add a few boulders to the cairn. “Just on the chance,” he told Robin. "Maybe they haven’t seen it from shore. Maybe Romeo won’t speak of it.” It was raining hard and the wind was icy cold. He had made her wear the oilskin coat. They worked side by side. Hunger was a cry of pain in her, and she was cold, and her hands were bruised and sore; but she did what she could.
AT NOON, Angus decided the cairn would do. It was eight or nine feet high, wide at the base, tapering to the top. “If the weather clears they may see it,” he said. “Now I’ll try to make us more comfortable. Let’s see if Pat’s all right.”
They went down to the shelter together. Pat was cheerful, but Mr. Jenkins was as silent as a trapped animal. Robin thought him weaker. Pat had shavings ready, but the matches were not dry. Angus told Robin to stay here and rest a while. “I’m going to bring seaweed to chink the cracks in the wall,” he explained. “I’ll fix it so the wind won’t come through.”
She was too tired to argue so she obeyed him. He returned presently with a great armful of seaweed. The stuff was wet, but it did improve the rocky barrier across the closed end of the shelter. Pat and Robin put it in place while Angus brought more and more, till there was enough to make a sort of mattress on which they could lie. Also, he walled up part of the open end of this cranny under the ledge, and before dark they had a compact refuge with walls and a roof to shut out rain and wind.
They ate the last of the chocolate that night. The matches were still soggy, so they did not try for a fire. Robin slept against Pat, with Angus between her and the pitiless rain. Once in the night she heard Mr. Jenkins making meaningless sounds, either in his sleep or in a delirium. In the morning she was a little lightheaded. The world was become unreal. She looked out through grey dawn light at shapes that moved and changed their form, that were blurred and strange. Angus was still asleep, and her arms tightened around him. She wanted to protect him and to comfort him and shelter him against all these adversities.
There was no relenting in the weather. Fog shrouded the island; a dripping black fog, with a cold spit of rain or a lashing of sleet from the northeast now and then. When Angus roused, without speaking to her, thinking her still asleep, he climbed up to the ledge above them. She watched him go, and after a while she followed him. She found him adding more boulders to the monument; and she wished to scream with derisive laughter at their folly in working so hard to build this absurd cairn which no one would ever see.
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He told her to go back to the cave. “Lie down,” he said. “Save your energy.”
She shook her head. “I don’t dare.” she confessed, “for fear maybe I can’t get up again.”
“I suppose so. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be warm.”
He nodded. “We’ll have a fire,” he said. “Come along.”
Back at the shelter—Mr. Jenkins was asleep, did not rouse when they returned —he tried two or three matches, but although one fizzed weakly, no flame showed. Angus squatted for a moment, thinking. He looked at Pat.
“We might manage something with ¡xnvder out of the cartridges in the pistol,” he decided. Pat, using Romeo’s knife, had managed to split some flakes of dry wood out of the heart of one of the chunks of drift and to prepare fine dryshavings. Angus removed the bullet from one of the shells and mixed powder and shavings together, and flashed the primer into the mixture. The experiment succeeded. They brought to life a little flame; and they nursed it for an hour, adding one sliver of precious wood at a time. It was not enough to warm them; but the cheerful flame was somehow comforting, and when the fire burned out. they put matches in the warm ashes to dry against another occasion.
Also Pat gave Robin a piece of chocolate he had saved from his portion. She was so hungry that she wolfed it before protesting that he should have eaten it himself. He laughed at her scruples.
“Lord love you, miss. I’m all right. The McPhail will take care of me; and the both of us will take care of you.”
She looked at Mr. Jenkins, slumped down behind Pat, his face turned away. “He ought to have it,” she protested. “Is he asleep?”
“Aye,” Pat said simply. “Let him rest, poor man.”
Angus said abruptly: “We’ll have a
bigger fire tonight, but we’ll need more wood for that. Miss Dale, you and I can go hunt some—if you’re not too tired.”
SHE WAS sure she was not. They descended the broken rock slope below the shelter till they came to the shingle beach, exposed at low tide; and they followed it along, salvaging small bits of drift here and there. Angus was able to carry under his arm what little wood they found in their progress around the northern end of the island; but at last they came upon a real treasure, a spruce bolt four feet long and almost a fexvt thick. Angus picked it up and turned to face her and his eyes were shining.
“We'll be warm tonight,” he told her, strong in triumph. “This will be enough to dry our clothes! We’ll have a regular bonfire!”
She came toward him to put her hands on the smooth peeled surface of the wood, patting it as though it were alive. She wanted to hug it, to hold it in her arms. Then, beyond him, fifty yards away, she saw something else. This was a grey old driftwood stump with straggling nxvts. The root stubs were broken off, with
splintered ends: the stump itself tremendous. She cried out and pointed, and Angus turned and saw it.
They were as happy as children over their find. Angus dropped the bolt of pulpwood and went to heave at the stump. “I can carry it,” he decided. “I'll get it on my shoulders.” He turned it on end. the roots uppermost, and squatted and chose his hand holds and stood erect with the burden on his back. “I'll come back for the other.” he said.
She was sure she could carry that. Angus said, already panting: “Don’t if
it’s too heavy.” He strode strongly away along the beach. When they came to where that stick of spruce lay, she picked it up in her arms like a baby and tried to follow him.
But the bolt was terribly heavy. Her arms ached as though they were being stretched on the rack, her legs were weak, and her knees almost refused to support her weight. When she came to the foot of the rubble slope below the shelter, Angus was already halfway up it. She climbed slowly. She drove herself by saying, “I’ll go as far as that big rock before I rest.” Then, “I’ll go ten steps.” Then. “I’ll go five, this time.” In the end she was concentrating on one step at a time, when Angus came back down to meet her and relieve her of her load.
She had not till then seen Pat Donohoe. busy at some strange task on the slope below the shelter. On his knees, he was building a rock pile, long and narrow, laying each boulder with care. When she came up to him she asked:
“What are you doing, Pat?”
He looked at her gravely, without replying; but his silence answered her question, and her eyes filled. She went on hurriedly, looked past Angus into the shelter. Mr. Jenkins was not there.
nPIIEY HAD a fire presently in the •L mouth of the shelter, with a crevice at the top of the barrier to let the smoke circulate. She and Pat stayed there, drying their clothes, drying the seaweed that served as their mattress, revelling in the delicious scalding warmth of the flames, choking in the smoke. Angus had departed again to see what he could find. She was asleep when he returned with another log and some smaller stuff; and looking up at him she realized that he had grown terribly thin. His eyes were sunken, as though the flesh back of them was gone. She was full of a great compassion, a rich tenderness. She wished to take him in her arms. He dropped his burden and stepped over their fire into the shelter, and began to fumble in his pockets.
“Brought our supper.” he said triumphantly. He produced handfuls of diminutive. snail-like shellfish. “The seaweed’s full of them,” he said. “We’ll live high.”
She watched him carefully break the snail shells, collecting the tiny bits of flesh on a flat rock. He tilted the slab to face the fire, and the snails shrivelled and charred in the reflected heat. Robin thought the odor of them delicious; but they proved thin and watery containing no real sustenance. The bit of food served only
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to awaken hunger pangs that had begun to dull.
They allowed the fire to go out. "We’ve none too much wood.” Angus said, “and we’ll have to keep some for a signal fire when it clears.” He left them presently to go tirelessly questing round the island that was their prison, and Pat slept, and Robin thought wearily that the sun would never shine again. The wind, without ever rising to gale force, yet persisted out of the northeast; it spat rain at them; it brought a sprinkle of sleet or snow on an occasional colder gust. Life slipped out of her that afternoon. Till now she had been hungry and cold; but also she had wished to live, had fought to live. Now she no longer greatly cared whether she lived or died. Angus came back at dusk, and she slept between him and Pat, and when she woke j it was broad day and he was gone again. She spoke his name, and Pat said:
“He’s up on top, ma’am, keeping watch, case anyone comes handy by.”
She lay for a while, her eyes half open, sometimes conscious, sometimes not; and slowly her senses cleared and her thoughts put on a pellucid, placid clarity.
She realized that she was going to die.
To die was nothing; but she did not want to die till she had told Angus something, and Angus was not here. She must go to him. When she moved. Pat protested; but she emerged from the shelter on hands and knees and began laboriously to climb toward the ledge above them. She crawled like a lazy bear, with hanging, swaying ’ head. She reached the ledge, and crawled on toward the cairn.
She did not see Angus till she came close to him. He sat on the shoreward side of the monument, his back against it, his chin on his chest. She thought he might be dead: and the thought was so terrible that at first she could not move to come nearer him. She scratched at naked rock with her fingers, dragging herself toward him till she came to his side.
When she touched him, he roused instantly. “I was resting,” he confessed, shamedly. “I went to sleep.”
She said: “I want to tell you something, Angus.”
“I’ll get you back to the shelter.”
“It isn’t raining,” she protested weakly. “Be still, my dear, and hear me.” She smiled a little, thinking of old Jeff Plaisted.
“I told you once about that old man.” she said. “Remember, Angus? The one who said apple trees try to have children when they’re going to die.” hie thought she was delirious, held her close, tried to lift her. She shook her head. “No, don’t.” she said. “I’m all right. Only I’m dying of course.” She smiled, wrinkj ling her eyes at him. “Like the apple trees, Angus. I'm dying, don’t you think? J Bearing apples is their way of loving, isn't it? Angus. I love you.”
He said, after a moment, roughly: “You’re out of your head. Miss Dale. I’ll get you back where you'll be warm.”
He lifted her, stood erect She wondered how he could. “How can you still be strong?” she whispered. He bore her down toward the shelter. "Do you love me?” she asked quietly.
He said: “Hush! We’ll be all right.” j So she knew that some things could never change; yet when he brought her ; back to the cave under the ledge, she made him hold her till she fell hard asleep in his arms.
ROBIN knew nothing after that till she - woke between rough sheets, with something warm and delicious trickling down her throat. She tried to call Angus, and her closed eyes filled, and tears welled out between her lashes, and someone said tenderly:
“There, poor lamb!”
Robin wanted to be comforted and petted and tended, so she cried a little more, and a woman with rough hands was j kind to her, and she slept for hours or days, and woke to a room full of sunshine, and the woman said:
“Well, my dear, you’ve a bright eye on
I you this morning! You’re better. I’m I thinking.”
They went along the rugged coast to Corner Brook in a lubberly motorboat j that smelled most mightily of cod, and it j rolled and tossed on the greasy seas and I pot-potted at its business in a humdrum ! way. Pat sat with his leg in splints 1 stretched out before him; and Angus ! stayed near Pat, and he had no word for Robin at all. She had to content herself j with watching the bristling brow of him, j the firm jaw, the sensitive lip, that line of I pain beside his nostril. She thought J miserably: “I can't help it, Angus.
¡ Whether you do or not, I do, my dear. I do!”
Angus scarce spoke all that journey, but j Pat talked to her. Pat was an understand| ing big brute of a man. At Corner Brook j he insisted they leave him there till his ; leg could mend. He said she and Angus I must take the train and catch the boat at j Port aux Basques. “Sure and I'm fine, j sorr,” Pat declared. “I'll let you hear i when I’m fit for travelling again. Now be I off and see the young lady safe home.”
5k) she and Angus took the train together: and at dusk that evening they stood on the after deck of the Caribou, watching the last lights of Port aux Basques turn yellow and then disappear in fog behind them. Robin had accepted defeat. Angus would never change.' He would never love a woman. He would see her safe on her homeward way; but that was all.
Safe? She thought she would never be safe and at ease again. She asked: “How did they come to rescue us, Angus?”
“By the time they got Romeo ashore he was delirious,” Angus replied. “Something he said started them wondering, and they finally sent a second boat to the island to check his story.”
1 Robin pondered this a moment, then i asked: “How can I get to Rimouski? My car is there.” She wore a dress bought in Corner Brook. “I’ve no clothes, nor money. You had to pay for these things I'm wearing, and you’ll have to lend me money for a railroad ticket.”
“If you write a cheque, the purser will cash it.”
She felt a miserable pang. “You mean, to pay you back?”
“I don’t want you under obligation to me.”
She nodded, waiting till she could speak easily. “All right. I will.”
“Now?” he suggested.
She stared at him in the darkness, hurt beyond words. Then she turned, and he went with her to find the purser. She asked for a blank cheque, filled it in. With the money in her hands she turned to Angus.
“Now. how much was it?” she asked. “Clothes, tickets, everything?” He told her, to the penny. “You're Scotch, aren’t you?” she reflected gravely, and gave him bills and waited for her change. Then she said: “Good night,” and went to her
cabin and hoped she need not see him again.
But in the morning when she appeared, he was waiting at the end of the corridor. “We’re in.” he said. “We’re tied up at the dock, waiting for the immigration men.” “Are we?”
“Yes!” He spoke almost roughly. He said: “You’re safe now. You don’t need me any more. You don’t owe me anything. You’re not dying. You’re all right.”
Robin looked up at him with a sudden beating interest. "Yes,” she assented. “Of course I am. Why?”
His hand gripi)ed her arm so hard she wished to cry out. but she was not sure whether she felt rapture or pain. He said harshly: “You were crazy, delirious, on
the island: but we're both sane now. There’s no apple tree business in this! I want to—marry you!”
At his own words perspiration beade his brow, and his lips were white with fear. He was a little boy . . . She laughed in flooding happiness. “Heavens to Betsy!” she whispered. “What a blessed man!”
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