THE JUDGMENT OF VULCAN
BY LEE FOSTER HARTMAN
To dine on the veranda of the Marine Hotel is the one delightful
surprise which Port Charlotte affords the adventurer who has broken
from the customary paths of travel in the South Seas. On an eminence
above the town, solitary and aloof like a monastery, and deep in its
garden of lemon-trees, it commands a wide prospect of sea and sky.
By day, the Pacific is a vast stretch of blue, flat like a floor,
with a blur of distant islands on the horizon—chief among them
Muloa, with its single volcanic cone tapering off into the sky. At
night, this smithy of Vulcan becomes a glow of red, throbbing
faintly against the darkness, a capricious and sullen beacon
immeasurably removed from the path of men. Viewed from the veranda
of the Marine Hotel, its vast flare on the horizon seems hardly more
than an insignificant spark, like the glowing cigar-end of some guest
strolling in the garden after dinner.
It may very likely have been my lighted cigar that guided Eleanor
Stanleigh to where I was sitting in the shadows. Her uncle, Major
Stanleigh, had left me a few minutes before, and I was glad of the
respite from the queer business he had involved me in. The two of
us had returned that afternoon from Muloa, where I had taken him
in my schooner, the Sylph, to seek out Leavitt and make some
inquiries—very important inquiries, it seemed, in Miss Stanleigh's
Three days in Muloa, under the shadow of the grim and flame-throated
mountain, while I was forced to listen to Major Stanleigh's
persistent questionnaire and Leavitt's erratic and garrulous
responses—all this, as I was to discover later, at the instigation
of the Major's niece—had made me frankly curious about the girl.
I had seen her only once, and then at a distance across the veranda,
one night when I had been dining there with a friend; but that
single vision of her remained vivid and unforgettable—a tall girl of
a slender shapeliness, crowned by a mass of reddish-gold hair that
smoldered above the clear olive pallor of her skin. With that
flawless and brilliant colouring she was marked for observation—had
doubtless been schooled to a perfect indifference to it, for the slow,
almost indolent, grace of her movements was that of a woman coldly
unmindful of the gazes lingering upon her. She could not have been
more than twenty-six or -seven, but I got an unmistakable impression
of weariness or balked purpose emanating from her in spite of her
youth and glorious physique. I looked up to see her crossing the
veranda to join her uncle and aunt—correct, well-to-do English
people that one placed instantly—and my stare was only one of many
that followed her as she took her seat and threw aside the light
scarf that swathed her bare and gleaming shoulders.
My companion, who happened to be the editor of the local paper,
promptly informed me regarding her name and previous residence—the
gist of some "social item" which he had already put into print; but
these meant nothing, and I could only wonder what had brought her to
such an out-of-the-way part of the world as Port Charlotte. She did
not seem like a girl who was traveling with her uncle and aunt;
one got rather the impression that she was bent on a mission of her
own and was dragging her relatives along because the conventions
demanded it. I hazarded to my companion the notion that a woman like
Miss Stanleigh could have but one of two purposes in this lonely part
of the world—she was fleeing from a lover or seeking one.
"In that case," rejoined my friend, with the cynical shrug of the
newspaper man, "she has very promptly succeeded. It's whispered that
she is going to marry Joyce—of Malduna Island, you know. Only met
him a fortnight ago. Quite a romance, I'm told."
I lifted my eyebrows at that, and looked again at Miss Stanleigh.
Just at that instant she happened to look up. It was a wholly
indifferent gaze; I am confident that she was no more aware of me
than if I had been one of the veranda posts which her eyes bad
chanced to encounter. But in the indescribable sensation of that
moment I felt that here was a woman who bore a secret burden,
although, as my informing host put it, her heart had romantically
found its haven only two weeks ago.
She was endeavouring to get trace of a man named Farquharson, as I
was permitted to learn a few days later. Ostensibly, it was Major
Stanleigh who was bent on locating this young Englishman—Miss
Stanleigh's interest in the quest was guardedly withheld—and the
trail had led them a pretty chase around the world until some clue,
which I never clearly understood, brought them to Port Charlotte.
The major's immediate objective was an eccentric chap named Leavitt
who had marooned himself in Muloa. The island offered an ideal
retreat for one bent on shunning his own kind, if he did not object
to the close proximity of a restive volcano. Clearly, Leavitt did not.
He had a scientific interest in the phenomena exhibited by volcanic
regions and was versed in geological lore, but the rumours about
Leavitt—practically no one ever visited Muloa—did not stop at that.
And, as Major Stanleigh and I were to discover, the fellow seemed to
have developed a genuine affection for Lakalatcha, as the smoking
cone was called by the natives of the adjoining islands. From long
association he had come to know its whims and moods as one comes to
know those of a petulant woman one lives with. It was a bizarre and
preposterous intimacy, in which Leavitt seemed to find a wholly
acceptable substitute for human society, and there was something
repellant about the man's eccentricity. He had various names for the
smoking cone that towered a mile or more above his head: "Old
Flame-eater," or "Lava-spitter," he would at times familiarly and
irreverently call it; or, again, "The Maiden Who Never Sleeps," or
"The Single-breasted Virgin"—these last, however, always in the
musical Malay equivalent. He had no end of names—romantic, splenetic,
of opprobrium, or outright endearment—to suit, I imagine,
Lakalatcha's varying moods. In one respect they puzzled me—they
were of conflicting genders, some feminine and some masculine, as if
in Leavitt's loose-frayed imagination the mountain that beguiled his
days and disturbed his nights were hermaphroditic.
Leavitt as a source of information regarding the missing Farquharson
seemed preposterous when one reflected how out of touch with the
world he had been, but, to my astonishment, Major Stanleigh's clue
was right, for he had at last stumbled upon a man who had known
Farquharson well and who was voluminous about him—quite willingly so.
With the Sylph at anchor, we lay off Muloa for three nights, and
Leavitt gave us our fill of Farquharson, along with innumerable
digressions about volcanoes, neoplatonism, the Single Tax, and what
not. There was no keeping Leavitt to a coherent narrative about the
missing Farquharson. He was incapable of it, and Major Stanleigh and
myself had simply to wait in patience while Leavitt, delighted to
have an audience, dumped out for us the fantastic contents of his
mind, odd vagaries, recondite trash, and all. He was always getting
away from Farquharson, but, then, he was unfailingly bound to come
back to him. We had only to wait and catch the solid grains that now
and then fell in the winnowing of that unending stream of chaff. It
was a tedious and exasperating process, but it had its compensations.
At times Leavitt could be as uncannily brilliant as he was dull and
boresome. The conviction grew upon me that he had become a little
demented, as if his brain had been tainted by the sulphurous fumes
exhaled by the smoking crater above his head. His mind smoked,
flickered, and flared like an unsteady lamp, blown upon by choking
gases, in which the oil had run low.
But of the wanderer Farquharson he spoke with precision and authority,
for he had shared with Farquharson his bungalow there in Muloa—a
period of about six months, it seemed—and there Farquharson had
contracted a tropic fever and died.
"Well, at last we have got all the facts," Major Stanleigh sighed
with satisfaction when the Sylph was heading back to Port Charlotte.
Muloa, lying astern, we were no longer watching. Leavitt, at the
water's edge, had waved us a last good-by and had then abruptly
turned back into the forest, very likely to go clambering like a
demented goat up the flanks of his beloved volcano and to resume
poking about in its steaming fissures—an occupation of which he
"The evidence is conclusive, don't you think?—the grave,
Farquharson's personal effects, those pages of the poor devil's diary."
I nodded assent. In my capacity as owner of the Sylph I had merely
undertaken to furnish Major Stanleigh with passage to Muloa and back,
but the events of the last three days had made me a party to the
many conferences, and I was now on terms of something like intimacy
with the rather stiff and pompous English gentleman. How far I was
from sharing his real confidence I was to discover later when Eleanor
Stanleigh gave me hers.
"My wife and niece will be much relieved to hear all this—a family
matter, you understand, Mr. Barnaby," he had said to me when we
landed. "I should like to present you to them before we leave Port
Charlotte for home."
But, as it turned out, it was Eleanor Stanleigh who presented herself,
coming upon me quite unexpectedly that night after our return while
I sat smoking in the shadowy garden of the Marine Hotel. I had dined
with the major, after he had explained that the ladies were worn out
by the heat and general developments of the day and had begged to be
excused. And I was frankly glad not to have to endure another
discussion of the deceased Farquharson, of which I was heartily
tired after hearing little else for the last three days. I could not
help wondering how the verbose and pompous major had paraphrased and
condensed that inchoate mass of biography and reminiscence into an
orderly account for his wife and niece. He had doubtless devoted the
whole afternoon to it. Sitting under the cool green of the
lemon-trees, beneath a sky powdered with stars, I reflected that I,
at least, was done with Farquharson forever. But I was not, for just
then Eleanor Stanleigh appeared before me.
I was startled to hear her addressing me by name, and then calmly
begging me to resume my seat on the bench under the arbor. She sat
down also, her flame-coloured hair and bare shoulders gleaming in
the darkness. She was the soul of directness and candour, and after
a thoughtful, searching look into my face she came to the point at
once. She wanted to hear about Farquharson—from me.
"Of course, my uncle has given me a very full account of what he
learned from Mr. Leavitt, and yet many things puzzle me—this
Mr. Leavitt most of all."
"A queer chap," I epitomized him. "Frankly, I don't quite make him
out, Miss Stanleigh—marooning himself on that infernal island and
seemingly content to spend his days there."
"Is he so old?" she caught me up quickly.
"No, he isn't," I reflected. "Of course, it's difficult to judge
ages out here. The climate, you know. Leavitt's well under forty, I
should say. But that's a most unhealthy spot he has chosen to live in."
"Why does he stay there?"
I explained about the volcano. "You can have no idea what an
obsession it is with him. There isn't a square foot of its steaming,
treacherous surface that he hasn't been over, mapping new fissures,
poking into old lava-beds, delving into the crater itself on
"Isn't it dangerous?"
"In a way, yes. The volcano itself is harmless enough. It smokes
unpleasantly now and then, splutters and rumbles as if about to
obliterate all creation, but for all its bluster it only manages to
spill a trickle or two of fresh lava down its sides—just tamely
subsides after deluging Leavitt with a shower of cinders and ashes.
But Leavitt won't leave it alone. He goes poking into the very crater,
half strangling himself in its poisonous fumes, scorching the shoes
off his feet, and once, I believe, he lost most of his hair and
eyebrows—a narrow squeak. He throws his head back and laughs at any
word of caution. To my notion, it's foolhardy to push a scientific
curiosity to that extreme."
"Is it, then, just scientific curiosity?" mused Miss Stanleigh.
Something in her tone made me stop short. Her eyes had lifted to
mine—almost appealingly, I fancied. Her innocence, her candour, her
warm beauty, which was like a pale phosphorescence in the starlit
darkness—all had their potent effect upon me in that moment. I felt
impelled to a sudden burst of confidence.
"At times I wonder. I've caught a look in his eyes, when he's been
down on his hands and knees, staring into some infernal vent-hole—a
look that is—well, uncanny, as if he were peering into the bowels
of the earth for something quite outside the conceptions of science.
You might think that volcano had worked some spell over him, turned
his mind. He prattles to it or storms at it as if it were a living
creature. Queer, yes; and he's impressive, too, with a sort of
magnetic personality that attracts and repels you violently at the
same time. He's like a cake of ice dipped in alcohol and set aflame.
I can't describe him. When he talks—"
"Does he talk about himself?"
I had to confess that he had told us practically not a word. He had
discussed everything under heaven in his brilliant, erratic way,
with a fleer of cynicism toward it all, but he had left himself out
completely. He had given us Farquharson with relish, and in infinite
detail, from the time the poor fellow first turned up in Muloa, put
ashore by a native craft. Talking about Farquharson was second only
to his delight in talking about volcanoes. And the result for me had
been innumerable vivid but confused impressions of the young
Englishman who had by chance invaded Leavitt's solitude and had
lingered there, held by some attraction, until he sickened and died.
It was like a jumbled mosaic put together again by inexpert hands.
"Did you get the impression that the two men had very much in common?"
"Quite the contrary," I answered. "But Major Stanleigh should know—"
"My uncle never met Mr. Farquharson."
I was fairly taken aback at that, and a silence fell between us. It
was impossible to divine the drift of her questions. It was as if
some profound mistrust weighed upon her and she was not so much
seeking to interrogate me as she was groping blindly for some chance
word of mine that might illuminate her doubts.
I looked at the girl in silent wonder, yes, and in admiration of her
bronze and ivory beauty in the full flower of her glorious
youth—and I thought of Joyce. I felt that it was like her to have
fallen in love simply but passionately at the mere lifting of the
finger of Fate. It was only another demonstration of the
unfathomable mystery, or miracle, which love is. Joyce was lucky,
indeed favoured of the gods, to have touched the spring in this
girl's heart which no other man could reach, and by the rarest of
chances—her coming out to this remote corner of the world. Lucky
Joyce! I knew him slightly—a straightforward young fellow, very
simple and whole-souled, enthusiastically absorbed in developing his
rubber lands in Malduna.
Miss Stanleigh remained lost in thought while her fingers toyed with
the pendant of the chain that she wore. In the darkness I caught the
glitter of a small gold cross.
"My. Barnaby," she finally broke the silence, and paused. "I have
decided to tell you something. This Mr. Farquharson was my husband."
Again a silence fell, heavy and prolonged, in which I sat as if
drugged by the night air that hung soft and perfumed about us. It
seemed incredible that in that fleeting instant she had spoken at all.
"I was young—and very foolish, I suppose."
With that confession, spoken with simple dignity, she broke off again.
Clearly, some knowledge of the past she deemed it necessary to
impart to me. If she halted over her words, it was rather to dismiss
what was irrelevant to the matter in hand, in which she sought my
"I did not see him for four years—did not wish to…. And he
vanished completely…. Four years!—just a welcome blank!"
Her shoulders lifted and a little shiver went over her.
"But even a blank like that can become unendurable. To be always
dragging at a chain, and not knowing where it leads to…." Her
hand slipped from the gold cross on her breast and fell to the other
in her lap, which it clutched tightly. "Four years…. I tried to
make myself believe that he was gone forever—was dead. It was
wicked of me."
My murmur of polite dissent led her to repeat her words.
"Yes, and even worse than that. During the past month I have
actually prayed that he might be dead…. I shall be punished for it."
I ventured no rejoinder to these words of self-condemnation. Joyce,
I reflected, mundanely, had clearly swept her off her feet in the
ardour of their first meeting and instant love.
"It must be a great relief to you," I murmured at length, "to have
it all definitely settled at last."
"If I could only feel that it was!"
I turned in amazement, to see her leaning a little forward, her
hands still tightly clasped in her lap, and her eyes fixed upon the
distant horizon where the red spark of Lakalatcha's stertorous
breathing flamed and died away. Her breast rose and fell, as if
timed to the throbbing of that distant flare. "I want you to take me
to that island—to-morrow."
"Why, surely, Miss Stanleigh," I burst forth, "there can't be any
reasonable doubt. Leavitt's mind may be a little flighty—he may
have embroidered his story with a few gratuitous details; but
Farquharson's books and things—the material evidence of his having
"And having died there?"
"Surely Leavitt wouldn't have fabricated that! If you had talked
"I should not care to talk with Mr. Leavitt," Miss Stanleigh cut me
short. "I want only to go and see—if he is Mr. Leavitt."
"If he is Mr. Leavitt!" For a moment I was mystified, and then in
a sudden flash I understood. "But that's pre-posterous—impossible!"
I tried to conceive of Leavitt in so monstrous a rôle, tried to
imagine the missing Farquharson still in the flesh and beguiling
Major Stanleigh and myself with so outlandish a story, devising all
that ingenious detail to trick us into a belief in his own death. It
would indeed have argued a warped mind, guided by some unfathomable
"I devoutly hope you are right," Miss Stanleigh was saying, with
deliberation. "But it is not preposterous, and it is not
impossible—if you had known Mr. Farquharson as I have."
It was a discreet confession. She wished me to understand—without
the necessity of words. My surmise was that she had met and married
Farquharson, whoever he was, under the spell of some momentary
infatuation, and that he had proved himself to be an unspeakable
brute whom she had speedily abandoned.
"I am determined to go to Muloa, Mr. Barnaby," she announced, with
decision. "I want you to make the arrangements, and with as much
secrecy as possible. I shall ask my aunt to go with me."
I assured Miss Stanleigh that the Sylph was at her service.
Mrs. Stanleigh was a large bland woman, inclined to stoutness and to
making confidences, with an intense dislike of the tropics and
physical discomforts of any sort. How her niece prevailed upon her
to make that surreptitious trip to Muloa, which we set out upon two
days later, I have never been able to imagine. The accommodations
aboard the schooner were cramped, to say the least, and the good
lady had a perfect horror of volcanoes. The fact that Lakalatcha had
behind it a record of a century or more of good conduct did not
weigh with her in the least. She was convinced that it would blow
its head off the moment the Sylph got within range. She was fidgety,
talkative, and continually concerned over the state of her complexion,
inspecting it in the mirror of her bag at frequent intervals and
using a powder-puff liberally to mitigate the pernicious effects of
the tropic sun. But once having been induced to make the voyage, I
must admit she stuck manfully by her decision, ensconcing herself on
deck with books and cushions and numerous other necessities to her
comfort, and making the best of the sleeping quarters below. As the
captain of the Sylph, she wanted me to understand that she had
intrusted her soul to my charge, declaring that she would not draw
an easy breath until we were safe again in Port Charlotte.
"This dreadful business of Eleanor's," was the way she referred to
our mission, and she got round quite naturally to telling me of
Farquharson while acquainting me with her fears about volcanoes.
Some years before, Pompeii and Herculaneum had had a most unsettling
effect upon her nerves. Vesuvius was slightly in eruption at the time.
She confessed to never having had an easy moment while in Naples. And
it was in Naples that her niece and Farquharson had met. It had been,
as I surmised, a swift, romantic courtship, in which Farquharson,
quite irreproachable in antecedents and manners, had played the part
of an impetuous lover. Italian skies had done the rest. There was an
immediate marriage, in spite of Mrs. Stanleigh's protests, and the
young couple were off on a honeymoon trip by themselves. But when
Mrs. Stanleigh rejoined her husband at Nice, and together they
returned to their home in Sussex, a surprise was in store for them.
Eleanor was already there—alone, crushed, and with lips absolutely
sealed. She had divested herself of everything that linked her to
Farquharson; she refused to adopt her married name.
"I shall bless every saint in heaven when we have quite done with
this dreadful business of Eleanor's," Mrs. Stanleigh confided to me
from her deck-chair. "This trip that she insists on making herself
seems quite uncalled for. But you needn't think, Captain Barnaby,
that I'm going to set foot on that dreadful island—not even for the
satisfaction of seeing Mr. Farquharson's grave—and I'm shameless
enough to say that it would be a satisfaction. If you could
imagine the tenth part of what I have had to put up with, all these
months we've been traveling about trying to locate the wretch! No,
indeed—I shall stay right here on this boat and entrust Eleanor to
your care while ashore. And I should not think it ought to take long,
now should it?"
I confessed aloud that I did not see how it could. If by any chance
the girl's secret conjecture about Leavitt's identity was right, it
would be verified in the mere act of coming face to face with him,
and in that event it would be just as well to spare the unsuspecting
aunt the shock of that discovery.
We reached Muloa just before nightfall, letting go the anchor in
placid water under the lee of the shore while the Sylph swung to
and the sails fluttered and fell. A vast hush lay over the world.
From the shore the dark green of the forest confronted us with no
sound or sign of life. Above, and at this close distance blotting
out half the sky over our heads, towered the huge cone of Lakalatcha
with scarred and blackened flanks. It was in one of its querulous
moods. The feathery white plume of steam, woven by the wind into soft,
fantastic shapes, no longer capped the crater; its place had been
usurped by thick, dark fumes of smoke swirling sullenly about. In
the fading light I marked the red, malignant glow of a fissure newly
broken out in the side of the ragged cone, from which came a thin,
white trickle of lava.
There was no sign of Leavitt, although the Sylph must have been
visible to him for several hours, obviously making for the island. I
fancied that he must have been unusually absorbed in the vagaries of
his beloved volcano. Otherwise he would have wondered what was
bringing us back again and his tall figure in shabby white drill
would have greeted us from the shore. Instead, there confronted us
only the belt of dark, matted green girdling the huge bulk of
Lakalatcha which soared skyward, sinister, mysterious, eternal.
In the brief twilight the shore vanished into dim obscurity.
Miss Stanleigh, who for the last hour had been standing by the rail,
silently watching the island, at last spoke to me over her shoulder:
"Is it far inland—the place? Will it be difficult to find in the
Her question staggered me, for she was clearly bent on seeking out
Leavitt at once. A strange calmness overlay her. She paid no heed to
Lakalatcha's gigantic, smoke-belching cone, but, with fingers
gripping the rail, scanned the forbidding and inscrutable forest,
behind which lay the answer to her torturing doubt.
I acceded to her wish without protest. Leavitt's bungalow lay a
quarter of a mile distant. There would be no difficulty in following
the path. I would have a boat put over at once, I announced in a
casual way which belied my real feelings, for I was beginning to
share some of her own secret tension at this night invasion of
This feeling deepened within me as we drew near the shore. Leavitt's
failure to appear seemed sinister and enigmatic. I began to evolve a
fantastic image of him as I recalled his queer ways and his uncanny
tricks of speech. It was as if we were seeking out the presiding
deity of the island, who had assumed the guise of a Caliban holding
unearthly sway over its unnatural processes.
With Williams, the boatswain, carrying a lantern, we pushed into the
brush, following the choked trail that led to Leavitt's abode. But
the bungalow, when we had reached the clearing and could discern the
outlines of the building against the masses of the forest, was dark
and deserted. As we mounted the veranda, the loose boards creaked
hollowly under our tread; the doorway, from which depended a
tattered curtain of coarse burlap, gaped black and empty.
The lantern, lifted high in the boatswain's hand, cleft at a stroke
the darkness within. On the writing-table, cluttered with papers and
bits of volcanic rock, stood a bottle and half-empty glass. Things
lay about in lugubrious disorder, as if the place had been hurriedly
ransacked by a thief. Some of the geological specimens had tumbled
from the table to the floor, and stray sheets of Leavitt's
manuscripts lay under his chair. Leavitt's books, ranged on shelving
against the wall, alone seemed undisturbed. Upon the top of the
shelving stood two enormous stuffed birds, moldering and decrepit,
regarding the sudden illumination with unblinking, bead-like eyes.
Between them a small dancing faun in greenish bronze tripped a
Bacchic measure with head thrown back in a transport of derisive
For a long moment the three of us faced the silent, disordered room,
in which the little bronze faun alone seemed alive, convulsed with
diabolical mirth at our entrance. Somehow it recalled to me
Leavitt's own cynical laugh. Suddenly Miss Stanleigh made toward the
photographs above the bookshelves.
"This is he," she said, taking up one of the faded prints.
"Yes—Leavitt," I answered.
"Leavitt?" Her fingers tightened upon the photograph. Then,
abruptly, it fell to the floor. "Yes, yes—of course." Her eyes
closed very slowly, as if an extreme weakness had seized her.
In the shock of that moment I reached out to support her, but she
checked my hand. Her gray eyes opened again. A shudder visibly went
over her, as if the night air had suddenly become chill. From the
shelf the two stuffed birds regarded us dolefully, while the dancing
faun, with head thrown back in an attitude of immortal art, laughed
"Where is he? I must speak to him," said Miss Stanleigh.
"One might think he were deliberately hiding," I muttered, for I was
at a loss to account for Leavitt's absence.
"Then find him," the girl commanded. I cut short my speculations to
direct Williams to search the hut in the rear of the bungalow, where,
behind bamboo palings, Leavitt's Malay servant maintained an aloof
and mysterious existence. I sat down beside Miss Stanleigh on the
veranda steps to find my hands sooty from the touch of the boards. A
fine volcanic ash was evidently drifting in the air, and now to my
ear, attuned to the profound stillness, the wind bore a faint
"Do you hear that?" I whispered. It was like the far-off murmur of a
gigantic caldron, softly a-boil—a dull vibration that seemed to
reach us through the ground as well as through the air.
The girl listened a moment, and then started up. "I hear
"Voices?" I strained my ears for sounds other than the insistent
ferment of the great cone above our heads. "Perhaps Leavitt——"
"Why do you still call him Leavitt?"
"Then you're quite certain——" I began, but an involuntary
exclamation from her cut me short.
The light of Williams's lantern, emerging from behind the bamboo
palings, disclosed the burly form of the boatswain with a shrinking
Malay in tow. He was jabbering in his native tongue, with much
gesticulation of his thin arms, and going into contortions at every
dozen paces in a sort of pantomime to emphasize his words. Williams
urged him along unceremoniously to the steps of the veranda.
"Perhaps you can get the straight of this, Mr. Barnaby," said the
boatswain. "He swears that the flame-devil in the volcano has
swallowed his master alive."
The poor fellow seemed indeed in a state of complete funk. With his
thin legs quaking under him, he poured forth in Malay a crazed,
distorted tale. According to Wadakimba, Leavitt—or Farquharson, to
give him his real name—had awakened the high displeasure of the
flame-devil within the mountain. Had we not observed that the cone
was smoking furiously? And the dust and heavy taint of sulphur in
the air? Surely we could feel the very tremor of the ground under
our feet. All that day the enraged monster had been spouting mud and
lava down upon the white tuan who had remained in the bungalow,
drinking heavily and bawling out maledictions upon his enemy. At
length, in spite of Wadakimba's efforts to dissuade him, he had set
out to climb to the crater, vowing to show the flame-devil who was
master. He had compelled the terrified Wadakimba to go with him a
part of the way. The white tuan—was he really a god, as he
declared himself to be?—had gone alone up the tortuous, fissured
slopes, at times lost to sight in yellowish clouds of gas and steam,
while his screams and threats of vengeance came back to Wadakimba's
ears. Overhead, Lakalatcha continued to rumble and quiver and clear
his throat with great showers of mud and stones.
Farquharson must have indeed parted with his reason to have attempted
that grotesque sally. Listening to Wadakimba's tale, I pictured the
crazed man, scorched to tatters, heedless of bruises and burns,
scrambling up that difficult and perilous ascent, and hurling his
ridiculous blasphemy into the flares of smoke and steam that issued
from that vast caldron lit by subterranean fires. At its simmering
the whole island trembled. A mere whiff of the monster's breath and
he would have been snuffed out, annihilated in an instant. According
to Wadakimba, the end had indeed come in that fashion. It was as if
the mountain had suddenly given a deep sigh. The blast had carried
away solid rock. A sheet of flame had licked the spot where
Farquharson had been hurled headlong, and he was not.
Wadakimba, viewing all this from afar, had scuttled off to his hut.
Later he had ventured back to the scene of the tragedy. He had
picked up Farquharson's scorched helmet, which had been blown off to
some distance, and he also exhibited a pair of binoculars washed
down by the tide of lava, scarred and twisted by the heat, from
which the lenses had melted away.
I translated for Miss Stanleigh briefly, while she stood turning
over in her hands the twisted and blackened binoculars, which were
still warm. She heard me through without question or comment, and
when I proposed that we get back to the Sylph at once, mindful of
her aunt's distressed nerves, she assented with a nod. She seemed to
have lost the power of speech. In a daze she followed as I led the
way back through the forest.
* * * * *
Major Stanleigh and his wife deferred their departure for England
until their niece should be properly married to Joyce. At Eleanor's
wish, it was a very simple affair, and as Joyce's bride she was as
eager to be off to his rubber-plantation in Malduna as he was to set
her up there as mistress of his household. I had agreed to give them
passage on the Sylph, since the next sailing of the mail-boat would
have necessitated a further fortnight's delay.
Mrs. Stanleigh, with visions of seeing England again, and profoundly
grateful to a benevolent Providence that had not only brought
"this dreadful business of Eleanor's" to a happy termination, but
had averted Lakalatcha's baptism of fire from descending upon her
own head, thanked me profusely and a little tearfully. It was during
the general chorus of farewells at the last moment before the
Sylph cast off. Her last appeal, cried after us from the wharf
where she stood frantically waving a wet handkerchief, was that I
should give Muloa a wide berth.
It brought a laugh from Joyce. He had discovered the good lady's
extreme perturbation in regard to Lakalatcha, and had promptly
declared for spending a day there with his bride. It was an
exceptional opportunity to witness the volcano in its active mood.
Each time that Joyce had essayed this teasing pleasantry, which
never failed to draw Mrs. Stanleigh's protests, I observed that his
wife remained silent. I assumed that she had decided to keep her own
counsel in regard to the trip she had made there.
"I'm trusting you not to take Eleanor near that dreadful island,
Mr. Barnaby," was the admonition shouted across the widening gap of
It was a quite unnecessary appeal, for Joyce, who was presently
sitting with his wife in a sheltered quarter of the deck, had not
the slightest interest in the smoking cone which was as yet a mere
smudge upon the horizon. Eleanor, with one hand in Joyce's possession,
at times watched it with a seemingly vast apathy until some ardent
word from Joyce would draw her eyes back to his and she would lift
to him a smile that was like a caress. The look of weariness and
balked purpose that had once marked her expression had vanished. In
the week since she had married Joyce she seemed to have grown
younger and to be again standing on the very threshold of life with
girlish eagerness. She hung on Joyce's every word, communing with
him hour after hour, utterly content, indifferent to all the world
In the cabin that evening at dinner, when the two of them deigned to
take polite cognizance of my existence, I announced to Joyce that I
proposed to hug the island pretty close during the night. It would
save considerable time.
"Just as you like, Captain," Joyce replied, indifferently.
"We may get a shower of ashes by doing so, if the wind should shift."
I looked across the table at Mrs. Joyce.
"But we shall reach Malduna that much sooner?" she queried.
I nodded. "However, if you feel any uneasiness, I'll give the island
a wide berth." I didn't like the idea of dragging her—the bride of
a week—past that place with its unspeakable memories, if it should
really distress her.
Her eyes thanked me silently across the table. "It's very kind of you,
but"—she chose her words with significant deliberation—"I haven't
a fear in the world, Mr. Barnaby."
Evening had fallen when we came up on deck. Joyce bethought himself
of some cigars in his stateroom and went back. For the moment I was
alone with his wife by the rail, watching the stars beginning to
prick through the darkening sky. The Sylph was running smoothly,
with the wind almost aft; the scud of water past her bows and the
occasional creak of a block aloft were the only sounds audible in the
silence that lay like a benediction upon the sea.
"You may think it unfeeling of me," she began, quite abruptly,
"but all this past trouble of mine, now that it is ended, I have
completely dismissed. Already it begins to seem like a horrid dream.
And as for that island"—her eyes looked off toward Muloa now
impending upon us and lighting up the heavens with its sullen flare—
"it seems incredible that I ever set foot upon it.
"Perhaps you understand," she went on, after a pause, "that I have
not told my husband. But I have not deceived him. He knows that I
was once married, and that the man is no longer living. He does not
wish to know more. Of course he is aware that Uncle Geoffrey came
out here to—to see a Mr. Leavitt, a matter which he has no idea
concerned me. He thanks the stars for whatever it was that did bring
us out here, for otherwise he would not have met me."
"It has turned out most happily," I murmured.
"It was almost disaster. After meeting Mr. Joyce—and I was weak
enough to let myself become engaged—to have discovered that I was
still chained to a living creature like that…. I should have
"But surely the courts—"
She shook her head with decision. "My church does not recognize that
sort of freedom."
We were drawing steadily nearer to Muloa. The mountain was breathing
slowly and heavily—a vast flare that lifted fanlike in the skies
and died away. Lightning played fitfully through the dense mass of
smoke and choking gases that hung like a pall over the great cone.
It was like the night sky that overhangs a city of gigantic
blast-furnaces, only infinitely multiplied. The sails of the Sylph
caught the ruddy tinge like a phantom craft gliding through the black
night, its canvas still dyed with the sunset glow. The faces of the
crew, turned to watch the spectacle, curiously fixed and inhuman,
were picked out of the gloom by the same fantastic light. It was as
if the schooner, with masts and riggings etched black against the
lurid sky, sailed on into the Day of Judgment.
* * * * *
It was after midnight. The Sylph came about, with sails trembling,
and lost headway. Suddenly she vibrated from stem to stern, and with
a soft grating sound that was unmistakable came to rest. We were
aground in what should have been clear water, with the forest-clad
shore of Muloa lying close off to port.
The helmsman turned to me with a look of silly fright on his face,
as the wheel revolved useless in his hands. We had shelved with
scarcely a jar sufficient to disturb those sleeping below, but in a
twinkling Jackson, the mate, appeared on deck in his pajamas, and
after a swift glance toward the familiar shore turned to me with the
same dumfounded look that had frozen upon the face of the steersman.
"What do you make of this?" he exclaimed, as I called for the lead.
"Be quiet about it," I said to the hands that had started into
movement. "Look sharp now, and make no noise." Then I turned to the
mate, who was perplexedly rubbing one bare foot against the other
and measuring with his eye our distance from the shore. The Sylph
should have turned the point of the island without mishap, as she
had done scores of times.
"It's the volcano we have to thank for this," was my conjecture.
"Its recent activity has caused some displacement of the sea bottom."
Jackson's head went back in sudden comprehension. "It's a miracle
you didn't plow into it under full sail."
We had indeed come about in the very nick of time to avoid disaster.
As matters stood I was hopeful. "With any sort of luck we ought to
float clear with the tide."
The mate cocked a doubtful eye at Lakalatcha, uncomfortably close
above our heads, flaming at intervals and bathing the deck with an
angry glare of light. "If she should begin spitting up a little
livelier …" he speculated with a shrug, and presently took
himself off to his bunk after an inspection below had shown that
none of the schooner's seams had started. There was nothing to do
but to wait for the tide to make and lift the vessel clear. It would
be a matter of three or four hours. I dismissed the helmsman; and the
watch forward, taking advantage of the respite from duty, were soon
recumbent in attitudes of heavy sleep.
The wind had died out and a heavy torpor lay upon the water. It was
as if the stars alone held to their slow courses above a world rigid
and inanimate. The Sylph lay with a slight list, her spars looking
inexpressibly helpless against the sky, and, as the minutes dragged,
a fine volcanic ash, like some mortal pestilence exhaled by the
monster cone, settled down upon the deck, where, forward in the
shadow, the watch lay curled like dead men.
Alone, I paced back and forth—countless soft-footed miles, it seemed,
through interminable hours, until at length some obscure impulse
prompted me to pause before the open sky-light over the cabin and
thrust my head down. A lamp above the dining-table, left to burn
through the night, feebly illuminated the room. A faint snore issued
at regular intervals from the half-open door of the mate's stateroom.
The door of Joyce's stateroom opposite was also upon the hook for
the sake of air.
Suddenly a soft thump against the side of the schooner, followed by
a scrambling noise, made me turn round. The dripping, bedraggled
figure of a man in a sleeping-suit mounted the rope ladder that hung
over the side, and paused, grasping the rail. I had withdrawn my
gaze so suddenly from the glow of the light in the cabin that for
several moments the intruder from out of the sea was only a blurred
form with one leg hung over the rail, where he hung as if spent by
Just then the sooty vapours above the edged maw of the volcano were
rent by a flare of crimson, and in the fleeting instant of unnatural
daylight I beheld Farquharson, bare-footed, and dripping with
sea-water, confronting me with a sardonic, triumphant smile. The
light faded in a twinkling, but in the darkness he swung his other
leg over the rail and sat perched there, as if challenging the
testimony of my senses.
"Farquharson!" I breathed aloud, utterly dumfounded.
"Did you think I was a ghost?" I could hear him softly laughing to
himself in the interval that followed. "You should have witnessed
Wadakimba's fright at my coming back from the dead. Well, I'll admit
I almost was done for."
Again the volcano breathed in torment. It was like the sudden
opening of a gigantic blast-furnace, and in that instant I saw him
vividly—his thin, saturnine face, his damp black hair pushed
sleekly back, his lips twisted to a cruel smile, his eyes craftily
alert, as if to some ambushed danger continually at hand. He was
watching me with a sort of malicious relish in the shock he had
"It was not your intention to stop at Muloa," he observed, dryly,
for the plight of the schooner was obvious.
"We'll float clear with the tide," I muttered.
"But in the meantime"—there was something almost menacing in his
deliberate pause—"I have the pleasure of this little call upon you."
A head lifted from among the inert figures and sleepily regarded us
before it dropped back into the shadows. The stranded ship, the
recumbent men, the mountain flaming overhead—it was like a phantom
world into which had been suddenly thrust this ghastly and
"Whatever possessed you to swim out here in the middle of the night?"
I demanded, in a harsh whisper.
He chose to ignore the question, while I waited in a chill of
suspense. It was inconceivable that he could be aware of the truth
of the situation and deliberately bent on forcing it to its
unspeakable, tragic issue.
"Of late, Captain Barnaby, we seem to have taken to visiting each
other rather frequently, don't you think?"
It was lightly tossed off, but not without its evil implication; and
I felt his eyes intently fixed upon me as he sat hunched up on the
rail in his sodden sleeping-suit, like some huge, ill-omened bird of
To get rid of him, to obliterate the horrible fact that he still
existed in the flesh, was the instinctive impulse of my staggered
brain. But the peril of discovery, the chance that those sleeping
below might waken and hear us, held me in a vise of indecision.
"If I could bring myself to reproach you, Captain," he went on,
ironically polite, "I might protest that your last visit to this
island savoured of a too-inquisitive intrusion. You'll pardon my
frankness. I had convinced you and Major Stanleigh that Farquharson
was dead. To the world at large that should have sufficed. That I
choose to remain alive is my own affair. Your sudden return to
Muloa—with a lady—would have upset everything, if Fate and that
inspired fool of a Malay had not happily intervened. But now, surely,
there can be no doubt that I am dead?"
I nodded assent in a dumb, helpless way.
"And I have a notion that even you, Captain Barnaby, will never
dispute that fact."
He threw back his head suddenly—for all the world like the dancing
faun—and laughed silently at the stars.
My tongue was dry in my mouth as I tried to make some rejoinder. He
baffled me completely, and meanwhile I was in a tingle of fear lest
the mate should come up on deck to see what progress the tide had
made, or lest the sound of our voices might waken the girl in
"I can promise you that," I attempted to assure him in weak,
sepulchral tones. "And now, if you like, I'll put you ashore in the
small boat. You must be getting chilly in that wet sleeping-suit."
"As a matter of fact I am, and I was wondering if you would not
offer me something to drink."
"You shall have a bottle to take along," I promised, with alacrity,
but he demurred.
"There is no sociability in that. And you seem very lonesome
here—stuck for two more hours at least. Come, Captain, fetch your
bottle and we will share it together."
He got down from the rail, stretched his arms lazily above his head,
and dropped into one of the deck chairs that had been placed aft for
the convenience of my two passengers.
"And cigars, too, Captain," he suggested, with a politeness that was
almost impertinence. "We'll have a cozy hour or two out of this
tedious wait for the tide to lift you off."
I contemplated him helplessly. There was no alternative but to fall
in with whatever mad caprice might seize his brain. If I opposed him,
it would lead to high and querulous words; and the hideous fact of
his presence there—of his mere existence—I was bound to conceal at
"I must ask you to keep quiet," I said, stiffly.
"As a tomb," he agreed, and his eyes twinkled disagreeably in the
darkness. "You forget that I am supposed to be in one."
I went stealthily down into the cabin, where I secured a box of
cigars and the first couple of bottles that my hands laid hold of in
the locker. They proved to contain an old Tokay wine which I had
treasured for several years to no particular purpose. The ancient
bottles clinked heavily in my grasp as I mounted again to the deck.
"Now this is something like," he purred, watching like a cat my
every motion as I set the glasses forth and guardedly drew the cork.
He saluted me with a flourish and drank.
To an onlooker that pantomime in the darkness would have seemed
utterly grotesque. I tasted the fragrant, heavy wine and
waited—waited in an agony of suspense—my ears strained desperately
to catch the least sound from below. But a profound silence
enveloped the schooner, broken only by the occasional rhythmic snore
of the mate.
"You seem rather ill at ease," Farquharson observed from the depths
of the deck chair when he had his cigar comfortably aglow. "I trust
it isn't this little impromptu call of mine that's disturbing you.
After all, life has its unusual moments, and this, I think, is one
of them." He sniffed the bouquet of his wine and drank. "It is rare
moments like this—bizarre, incredible, what you like—that
compensate for the tedium of years."
His disengaged hand had fallen to the side of the chair, and I now
observed in dismay that a scarf belonging to Joyce's wife had been
left lying in the chair, and that his fingers were absently twisting
the silken fringe.
"I wonder that you stick it out, as you do, on this island," I
forced myself to observe, seeking safety in the commonplace, while
my eyes, as if fascinated, watched his fingers toying with the ends
of the scarf. I was forced to accept the innuendo beneath his
enigmatic utterances. His utter baseness and depravity, born perhaps
of a diseased mind, I could understand. I had led him to bait a trap
with the fiction of his own death, but he could not know that it had
been already sprung upon his unsuspecting victims.
He seemed to regard me with contemptuous pity. "Naturally, you wonder.
A mere skipper like yourself fails to understand—many things. What
can you know of life cooped up in this schooner? You touch only the
surface of things just as this confounded boat of yours skims only
the top of the water. Once in a lifetime you may come to real grips
with life—strike bottom, eh?—as your schooner has done now. Then
you're aground and quite helpless. What a pity!"
He lifted his glass and drank it off, then thrust it out to be
refilled. "Life as the world lives it—bah!" he dismissed it with
the scorn of one who counts himself divested of all illusions.
"Life would be an infernal bore if it were not for its paradoxes.
Now you, Captain Barnaby, would never dream that in becoming dead to
the world—in other people's belief—I have become intensely alive.
There are opened up infinite possibilities—"
He drank again and eyed me darkly, and then went on in his
crack-brained way. "What is life but a challenge to pretense, a
constant exercise in duplicity, with so few that come to master it
as an art? Every one goes about with something locked deep in his
heart. Take yourself, Captain Barnaby. You have your secrets—hidden
from me, from all the world—which, if they could be dragged out of
His deep-set eyes bored through the darkness upon me. Hunched up in
the deck chair, with his legs crossed under him, he was like an
animated Buddha venting a dark philosophy and seeking to undermine
my mental balance with his sophistry.
"I'm a plain man of the sea," I rejoined, bluntly. "I take life as
He smiled derisively, drained his glass, and held it out again.
"But you have your secrets, rather clumsily guarded, to be sure—"
"What secrets?" I cried out, goaded almost beyond endurance.
He seemed to deprecate the vigour of my retort and lifted a
cautioning hand. "Do you want every one on board to hear this
conversation?" At that moment the smoke-wrapped cone of Lakalatcha
was cleft by a sheet of flame, and we confronted each other in a
sort of blood-red dawn.
"There is no reason why we should quarrel," he went on, after
darkness had enveloped us again. "But there are times which call
for plain speaking. Major Stanleigh is probably hardly aware of just
what he said to me under a little artful questioning. It seems that
a lady who—shall we say, whom we both have the honour of knowing?
—is in love. Love, mark you. It is always interesting to see that
flower bud twice from the same stalk. However, one naturally defers
to a lady, especially when one is very much in her way. Place aux
dames, eh? Exit poor Farquharson! You must admit that his was an
altruistic soul. Well, she has her freedom—if only to barter it for
a new bondage. Shall we drink to the happy future of that romance?"
He lifted to me his glass with ironical invitation, while I sat
aghast and speechless, my heart pounding against my ribs. This
intolerable colloquy could not last forever. I deliberated what I
should do if we were surprised. At the sound of a footfall or the
soft creak of a plank I felt that I might lose all control and leap
up and brain him with the heavy bottle in my grasp. I had an insane
desire to spring at his throat and throttle his infamous bravado,
tumble him overboard and annihilate the last vestige of his existence.
"Come, Captain," he urged, "you, too, have shared in smoothing the
path for these lovers. Shall we not drink to their happy union?"
A feeling of utter loathing went over me. I set my glass down.
"It would be a more serviceable compliment to the lady in question
if I strangled you on the spot," I muttered, boldly.
"But you are forgetting that I am already dead." He threw his head
back as if vastly amused, then lurched forward and held out his
glass a little unsteadily to be refilled.
He gave me a quick, evil look. "Besides, the noise might disturb
I could feel a cold perspiration suddenly breaking out upon my body.
Either the fellow had obtained an inkling of the truth in some
incredible way, or was blindly on the track of it, guided by some
diabolical scent. Under the spell of his eyes, I could not manage
the outright lie which stuck in my throat.
"What makes you think I have passengers?" I parried, weakly.
With intent or not, he was again fingering the fringe of the scarf
that hung over the arm of the chair.
"It is not your usual practice, but you have been carrying them
He drained his glass and sat staring into it, his head drooping a
little forward. The heavy wine was beginning to have its effect upon
him, but whether it would provoke him to some outright violence or
drag him down into a stupor, I could not predict. Suddenly the glass
slipped from his fingers and shivered to pieces on the deck. I
started violently at the sound, and in the silence that followed I
thought I heard a footfall in the cabin below.
He looked up at length from his absorbed contemplation of the bits
of broken glass. "We were talking about love, were we not?" he
I did not answer. I was straining to catch a repetition of the sound
from below. Time was slipping rapidly away, and to sit on meant
inevitable discovery. The watch might waken or the mate appear to
surprise me in converse with my nocturnal visitor. It would be folly
to attempt to conceal his presence and I despaired of getting him
back to shore while his present mood held, although I remembered
that the small boat, which had been lowered after we went aground,
was still moored to the rail amidships.
Refilling my own glass, I offered it to him. He lurched forward to
take it, but the fumes of the wine suddenly drifted clear of his
brain. "You seem very much distressed," he observed, with ironic
concern. "One might think you were actually sheltering these
Perspiration broke out anew upon my face and neck. "I don't know what
you are talking about," I bluntly tried to fend off his implication.
I felt as if I were helplessly strapped down and that he was about
to probe me mercilessly with some sharp instrument. I strode to turn
the direction of his thoughts by saying, "I understand that the
Stanleighs are returning to England."
"The Stanleighs—quite so," he nodded agreement, and fixed me with a
maudlin stare. Something prompted me to fill his glass again. He
drank it off mechanically. Again I poured, and he obediently drank.
With an effort he tried to pick up the thread of our conversation:
"What did you say? Oh, the Stanleighs … yes, yes, of course." He
slowly nodded his head and fell silent. "I was about to say …" He
broke off again and seemed to ruminate profoundly…. "Love-birds—"
I caught the word feebly from his lips, spoken as if in a daze. The
glass hung dripping in his relaxed grasp.
It was a crucial moment in which his purpose seemed to waver and die
in his clouded brain. A great hope sprang up in my heart, which was
hammering furiously. If I could divert his fuddled thoughts and get
him back to shore while the wine lulled him to forgetfulness.
I leaned forward to take the glass which was all but slipping from
his hand, when Lakalatcha flamed with redoubled fury. It was as if
the mountain had suddenly bared its fiery heart to the heavens, and
a muffled detonation reached my ears.
Farquharson straightened up with a jerk and scanned the smoking peak,
from which a new trickle of white-hot lava had broken forth in a
threadlike waterfall. He watched its graceful play as if hypnotized,
and began babbling to himself in an incoherent prattle. All his
faculties seemed suddenly awake, but riveted solely upon the heavy
labouring of the mountain. He was chiding it in Malay as if it were
a fractious child. When I ventured to urge him back to shore he made
no protest, but followed me into the boat. As I pushed off and took
up the oars he had eyes for nothing but the flaming cone, as if its
leaping fires held for him an Apocalyptic vision.
I strained at the oars as if in a race, with all eternity at stake,
blindly urging the boat ahead through water that flashed crimson at
every stroke. The mountain now flamed like a beacon, and I rowed for
dear life over a sea of blood.
Farquharson sat entranced before the spectacle, chanting to himself
a kind of insane ritual, like a Parsee fire-worshipper making
obeisance before his god. He was rapt away to some plane of mystic
exaltation, to some hinterland of the soul that merged upon madness.
When at length the boat crunched upon the sandy shore he got up
unsteadily from the stern and pointed to the pharos that flamed in
"The fire upon the altar is lit," he addressed me, oracularly, while
the fanatic light of a devotee burned in his eyes. "Shall we ascend
and prepare the sacrifice?"
I leaned over the oars, panting from my exertions, indifferent to
"If you'll take my advice, you'll get back at once to your bungalow
and strip off that wet sleeping-suit," I bluntly counseled him, but
I might as well have argued with a man in a trance.
He leaped over the gunwale and strode up the beach. Again he struck
his priest-like attitude and invoked me to follow.
"The fire upon the altar waits," he repeated, solemnly. Suddenly he
broke into a shrill laugh and ran like a deer in the direction of the
forest that stretched up the slopes of the mountain.
The mate's face, thrust over the rail as I drew alongside the
schooner, plainly bespoke his utter bewilderment. He must have
thought me bereft of my senses to be paddling about at that hour of
the night. The tide had made, and the Sylph, righting her listed
masts, was standing clear of the shoal. The deck was astir, and when
the command was given to hoist the sails it was obeyed with an
uneasy alacrity. The men worked frantically in a bright, unnatural
day, for Lakalatcha was now continuously aflame and tossing up
red-hot rocks to the accompaniment of dull sounds of explosion.
My first glance about the deck had been one of relief to note that
Joyce and his wife were not there, although the commotion of getting
under sail must have awakened them. A breeze had sprung up which
would prove a fair wind as soon as the Sylph stood clear of the
point. The mate gave a grunt of satisfaction when at length the
schooner began to dip her bow and lay over to the task. Leaving him
in charge, I started to go below, when suddenly Mrs. Joyce, fully
dressed, confronted me. She seemed to have materialized out of the
air like a ghost. Her hair glowed like burnished copper in the
unnatural illumination which bathed the deck, but her face was ashen,
and the challenge of her eyes made my heart stop short.
"You have been awake long?" I ventured to ask.
"Too long," she answered, significantly, with her face turned away,
looking down into the water. She had taken my arm and drawn me
toward the rail. Now I felt her fingers tighten convulsively. In the
droop of her head and the tense curve of her neck I sensed her mad
impulse which the dark water suggested.
"Mrs. Joyce!" I remonstrated, sharply.
She seemed to go limp all over at the words. I drew her along the
deck for a faltering step or two, while her eyes continued to brood
upon the water rushing past. Suddenly she spoke:
"What other way out is there?"
"Never that," I said, shortly. I urged her forward again. "Is your
"Thank God, yes!"
"Then you have been awake—"
"For over an hour," she confessed, and I detected the shudder that
went over her body.
"The man is mad—"
"But I am married to him." She stopped and caught at the rail like a
prisoner gripping at the bars that confine him. "I cannot—cannot
endure it! Where are you taking me? Where can you take me? Don't
you see that there is no escape—from this?"
The Sylph rose and sank to the first long roll of the open sea.
"When we reach Malduna—" I began, but the words were only torture.
"I cannot—cannot go on. Take me back!—to that island! Let me live
abandoned—or rather die—"
"Mrs. Joyce, I beg of you…."
The schooner rose and dipped again.
For what seemed an interminable time we paced the deck together
while Lakalatcha flamed farther and farther astern. Her words came
in fitful snatches as if spoken in a delirium, and at times she
would pause and grip the rail to stare back, wild-eyed, at the
Suddenly she started, and in a sort of blinding, noon-day blaze I
saw her face blanch with horror. It was as if at that moment the
heavens had cracked asunder and the night had fallen away in chaos.
Turning, I saw the cone of the mountain lifting skyward in
fragments—and saw no more, for the blinding vision remained seared
upon the retina of my eyes.
Across the water, slower paced, came the dread concussion of sound.
"Good God! It's carried away the whole island!" I heard the mate's
voice bellowing above the cries of the men. The Sylph scudded
before the approaching storm of fire redescending from the sky….
The first gray of the dawn disclosed Mrs. Joyce still standing by
the rail, her hand nestling within the arm of her husband,
indifferent to the heavy grayish dust that fell in benediction upon
her like a silent shower of snow.
The island of Muloa remains to-day a charred cinder lapped about by
the blue Pacific. At times gulls circle over its blackened and
desolate surface devoid of every vestige of life. From the squat,
truncated mass of Lakalatcha, shorn of half its lordly height, a
feeble wisp of smoke still issues to the breeze, as if Vulcan, tired
of his forge, had banked its fire before abandoning it.