By Hugh J. Cannon
Nell told her story simply. It was the more pathetic because of her efforts to leave out of it all tragedy and personal heroism. The young fellow listened with less astonishment than she had anticipated. Before the account was entirely finished he broke in impetuously:
“But there’s not a thing in this history to keep me from saying what I came from Ellice Island to tell you. I love you and want you to be my wife. You can make me as happy as an admiral and at the same time solve your own troubles.”
“No, my dear friend, it can’t ever be. You are gallant and generous, but such a step, instead of solving troubles would multiply them. Besides, although he plead insistently, I refused to marry the man to whom I was engaged and I loved him as I shall never love anyone else.”
Perhaps I can’t win as much love as he once had. I don’t know about that. But if you’ll let me try I’ll promise to make you love me a good bit. You’re white clear through – blood’s as white as your spirit. And anyway, those things aren’t looked at here as they are by your aristocratic friends.”
“Nate begged for permission to come with me to Samoa and spend his life here. If marriage were to be considered he naturally would be my choice. No, Dick. May I call you Dick tonight? Such happiness is not for me.”
“But my dear girl. I can’t believe there is even a sixteenth of colored blood in your veins. In an amateurish sort of way I’ve studied these peoples and the products of mixed marriages. Will you forgive me when I say that I have studied you ever since learning you were a daughter of John Z. Terry? And I cannot make myself believe your blood is anything but pure white.”
A tiny seed of hope awoke to life in the girl’s soul but it was transitory, having nothing in which to fasten root.
“But Dick, with the same breath that tells me you believe me all white, you confess to suspicions of my mother. Else why did you study me?”
The young man had no ready answer and the other continued:
“You knew my mother. Tell me honestly how she was considered by the whites – by your own parents, for example?”
Officer Hawley did not find it easy to meet the earnest, pleading eyes and voice of the attractive girl. His too palpable embarrassment could not be concealed.
“Come!” she insisted. “There is no need for hesitation; you can do nothing more than confirm what I already know. Even the little children knew my mother was not pure white, didn’t they? And after learning my identity, this information, never forgotten through all these years, was revived, and you watched to see if any evidence of Fijian blood could be detected. You fail to see any and decide to ask my hand in marriage, thinking if such taint is not apparent in me it will not be in my offspring. But I am answering the question for you,” she said almost bitterly. “You have already indicated your knowledge that my mother was not white. Did you know she was a Fijian?”
“Oh, Miss Nell! Why do you insist on nailing me to the cross like this? I’m not that cold-blooded.”
“Forgive me for my bitterness. I didn’t intend to reproach you, but I must insist upon an honest answer.”
“Well, I did hear, as a small boy and quite by accident, that Mrs. Terry was part Fijian.”
“It was wrong of me, Dick, to insist upon an answer. And what do I get out of it? Just what I expected, confirmation of an odious truth. I’ve thought my bark was cut adrift from its anchorage, but now I feel that it, too, is on the reef and the watchers are as impotent to render help as they were in your story.”
“But, girl, you will break down under such stern discipline. Can’t I hope that you will relax and be more human?”
“Hope! Have you ever been on the desert and seen a mirage? That’s what hope would be in my case. It could lead to nothing but disappointment.”
“Please do not consider my question impertinent, but do you and this man Everett correspond?”
“I have never written him, but he has disobeyed me and pleads that I come home or let him come here to live. My father, Mr. Redfield, got a promise from him that he would not see me without my own or his consent. Father will never give permission without first obtaining mine. And mine will never be given.”
It was the first time she had mentioned Nate’s name to anyone but herself since goodbye was said in Honolulu. To speak of him and to confess the love she still cherished, but must subdue, was too much. She broke down completely.
“Poor little heroine!” Dick said sympathetically after a long silence. “I have an idea of how you suffer. I love you as intensely as it is in my power to love, but will you believe this positive truth, that I would give my life for your happiness? If I ever become convinced that you’ll never marry me. I’ll persuade you to go home and marry my rival. But please get this firmly fixed in your mind. I’ve been trained as a fighting man, the greater the obstacles, the harder the fight, and I’ll not abandon hope of winning you for myself. In spite of hurricanes and reefs you’ll always find me, like Admiral Kimberly, on the bridge fighting until the ship is saved or lost, but unlike the old sea dog, I’ll save the ship.”
“Don’t run your vessel heedlessly on the reef. It’s late, Dick. Please take me home,” was her only comment.
A sad-eyed, disconsolate young woman looked back at Nell from her mirror as she made her toilette on the morning following the boat ride. The night had been populous with ghosts whose spectral hands snatched happiness away each time she attempted to grasp it. Dick’s suggestion that she was too harsh with herself, offered as it seemed almost casually, had found lodgment in her brain, and doubt as to the correctness of her position added to her other troubles. Had he pursued the thought vigorously she would have fought and expelled it, but left to itself it had insidiously gained some foothold. Another thing greatly surprised and startled her. She felt more than a transient pleasure in Dick’s statement that he was a fighting man and would never abandon hope.
But, she concluded, it wasn’t that she cared for Dick except as a delightful acquaintance; she was starving for affection, to see her father and mother, Nate, Jessie. Her feelings had been pent up so long, like a steam boiler with the safety valve closed, that an explosion was imminent.
Later in the day she resolutely headed Dick off as he was about to repeat the declaration of the night before and said goodbye with a smile so blithe that it was apparent the lieutenant’s fighting spirit was put to the test. For her part she made her way homeward, with heavy heart, to the cottage which now seemed unbearably lonely.
Once there, she picked up her doll, the childish plaything which had been brought to share her banishment. Her own father had sent to New Zealand for it and had given it to her the Christmas before he died. Talita, the name given it, had been her companion ever since.
“It’s because I’m so homesick,” she persisted in telling herself. “Dick is nothing more to me than an old friend. His boyish kindness made me, a mere baby, love him and his many qualities have resurrected that love. But my regard for him now is as innocent as it was then – and of the same character. If I were free to marry of course I should consider no one but Nate. Free to marry! I’m adding to my misery even to permit the thought to enter my mind. My real father’s attitude must never determine mine. This doll is the only babe ever to be pressed to my bosom; I am never to know the sweetness of my own baby’s hand upon my neck.”
The girl was sure Nate was the embodiment of chivalry and honor. Nothing could tempt him to waver in devotion to her as long as any ties bound them together; but now these ties were all severed; he was released from every obligation to her and she herself had urged him to find forgetfulness in the society of other worthy young ladies. No doubt sooner or later he would avail himself of this freedom. To Dick no promise had been given or implied. So long as he was stationed in this vicinity seeing her occasionally and deprived of the association of other girls, he might go on fighting, but once away she would be a mere memory as she had been for twenty years. Both men would marry elsewhere; better for her to become reconciled to the inevitable.
Her thoughts without proper guidance ran wildly from the past to the present and future. But confusedly she determined to reconstruct her defenses. She must never give up the fight. Only one thing, she wisely concluded, would keep her from utter collapse. That was hard work.
With seemingly exhaustless energy and strength during succeeding days she pursued her self-appointed duties. Among other things she had responded to the invitation of one of the Church of England missionaries and was conducting the school which his wife, because of poor health, had been obliged to relinquish. The alert children sat in a semi-circle about her on the pebble floor, their dark faces, lustrous eyes and glistening teeth making a charming picture.
It was customary for them upon assembling to commence with scriptural quotations, and Nell was greatly surprised at the number of passages with which they were familiar. It touched her deeply when a little maid with cherubic face lisped in broken English, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thy heart.” Emboldened by the pleased smile, the child continued: “Mother says ‘Miss Re’field’ do good and she’ll live long time with us.”
“If I am doing good, little one,” came softly from the teacher, “the Lord is giving me the desires of my heart. I have no other desire which can possibly be fulfilled.”
Among the natives and those of mixed blood, Nell found many intelligent and beautiful characters. Robert Emmett, named after Robert Louis Stevenson, who was a dear friend of the Emmett family, and his wife Lena, both of them half white, became her intimate associates. Young Emmett was interested in a schooner which traded among the Samoan and adjacent groups of islands. Often Nell had promised herself and them to accompany Mr. and Mrs. Emmett on one of these trips. Upon renewal of the invitation she consented, and late one afternoon they left Apia with Gardner Islands of the Phoenix group as their destination.
No highly polished mirror could be smoother than was the sea. The lustrous colors of a perfect tropical sunset were artistically mingled with the changeable verdure of the shore. Before them, on their right hand, was the island of Savaii, which disputes with Hawaii the honor of being the original home of the Polynesian race.
Gradually the colorful picture was supplanted by one less brilliant but no less beautiful: mellow purples and yellows replaced the brighter hues. Gazing oceanward one could not be sure where sky and water met – apparently one contained as many luminous bodies as the other. Of course the north star and the great bear could not be seen, but the southern cross was readily discernable.
Immediately west of Samoa lies the imaginary 180th meridian, and someone has said that here the traveler sails from today into day after tomorrow. The Emmet party left Apia Tuesday afternoon and when they got up on the following morning it was Thursday. The lost day could be recovered only by cross this same line traveling eastward when, if it were traversed on Wednesday, the following day would be Wednesday also.
The love of adventure was strong upon Nell and each hour brought with it a rich load of delight. The Emmetts were companionable; the accommodations, though in no manner resembling those of an ocean liner, were adequate and comfortable. While depending usually upon the wind for motive power, the boat possessed a small gasoline engine which could be used in a calm and in working its way in and out of the intricate harbors, guarded as most of them are by coral reefs. That these are extremely dangerous is attested by the numerous hulks of wrecked vessels so common in the South Pacific.
Even Nell’s dependable nerves were not strong enough to witness without an occasional scream the shark fishing which they saw upon arrival at the harbor at Gardner Island. In other places she had seen the natives use large pieces of pork as bait in their fishing, but here they were using nothing less than human beings for such hazardous purpose. The harbor swarmed with man-eating sharks which, though urged on by appetite and curiosity, were rather shy and would not venture too near the boats of the fishermen.
To attract attention, natives with ropes fastened around their waists would jump into the water. Nell could not restrain a terrified shriek as one of the swimmers got fairly into the group of dangerous fish. Hungrily they darted toward him, but he dextrously avoided them and with the aid of the men in the boat who tugged vigorously at the rope, was jerked out of the water just as a dozen hungry jaws snapped at his legs. Then harpoons were thrown into the backs of the disappointed sharks, and the natives made a great haul.
From the Phoenix group the schooner sailed unexpectedly to Fiji. More than once the opportunity had come to Nell to visit Suva, main port of the Fijian Islands, but each time she had shudderingly refused to go. The thought of looking upon these people – her own people, with kinky hair and thick lips – had been intolerable; but now Mr. Emmett saw a chance for profitable trading at that point. In addition he was sure the more extended trip would prolong the pleasure which his wife and her friend daily had expressed. They were on deck at twilight enjoying the cooling breeze after a sultry day when he told them of the changed plans. Nell, visibly perturbed, could not wholly conceal her dismay. Lena asked:
“What’s the matter? Don’t you want to go to Fiji?”
“Of course we must go since it is arranged, but for some absurd reason I cannot help dreading it.”
“Why? You’ve seemed to have so much fun among these islands that Robert was sure you would like to go there. But I’m sure he can leave it until another time.”
“Indeed, you mustn’t think of such a thing. It is foolish of me to feel as I do. Many years ago my father had a dreadful experience in Fiji, and it has made me abhor the natives, but I’m unjust, for only one of them injured him, and even that one did everything possible to make the matter right. I shall really be glad of this opportunity, for sooner or later I must go there or change some of my plans.”
In consequence of knowing her own relationship to the Fijians, Nell’s natural enthusiasm for the islands and their inhabitants was somewhat dampened. But even with this handicap she was constantly interested and occasionally very much amused at what she saw. The love of ornamentation is remarkably pronounced among this race, and not infrequently a native will be seen with silver buttons through each side of the nose and a ring through its center hanging over the upper lip. In addition thereto, one sees bracelets and anklets, earrings, finger rings and rings on the toes, shoes of course being practically unknown among the natives. The American girl was as fond of jewelry as the average young lady, but determined henceforth to discard all such adornments in the fear that her taste for such things had its origin in savage ancestors.
Pursuant to the intention expressed to Lieutenant Hawley in their first confidential talk, she had continued using the name of Redfield. It was unnecessary to face the unpleasant disclosure which was sure to follow the use of her own name, so well known throughout the South Sea groups.
During the three days which the Emmetts required for the transaction of their business, Miss Redfield was the busiest person in Suva. She met the British commandant in charge of the island, together with many of his associates, broke the heart, according to his tale, of an ardent young officer who began making love to her at their first meeting, accepted numerous invitations to ride and visit with the ladies composing the military colony, obtained some new facts concerning her ancestry and was ready to leave on schedule time.
She felt really sorry for the young officer who expressed such regard for her. There was no question about his sincerity, but he had been away from home for a long time, and there were no marriageable ladies among the whites. It was an easy thing, therefore, for an attractive young woman to take possession of his heart. But the experience reminded her that this young lieutenant’s situation was not unlike Dick’s. She wondered soberly whether her old friend’s love was not due to the fact that he had not seen an unmarried American woman for months.
The information about Mr. and Mrs. Terry came to her through General Howcroft, ranking British officer. She mentioned to him casually that her father had been interested in some orange plantations on the islands with a certain Mr. Terry.
“With John Z. Terry?” he asked in surprise. “Why, I knew him well. We kept bachelor’s quarters together for more than a year.”
“I understood hew as married. Didn’t he live at home?”
“He wasn’t married at the time. That was the one thing he was trying to avoid.” The look of amusement on the general’s face attracted the girl’s attention.
“Trying to avoid! May I ask why?”
The merry old soldier became reminiscent. They were sitting on the veranda of the Suva Grand Hotel, overlooking the sea. His work for the day was finished and with iced lemonade and an attractive companion of course he would tell a story if by so doing the tete-a-tete might be prolonged. Sight of the aforementioned lieutenant in the office seemed to add greatly to his pleasure.
“Well, it was common knowledge here, and I suppose there is no harm in telling you, the daughter of one who played an innocent and ineffective part in the story, inasmuch as you are a friend of the family.”
“Mr. Terry was my father’s friend and business partner,” corrected the girl.
“Of course you would not be old enough to remember him, and now I think of it, he must have left America some little time before you were born.
“Jack Terry was the most honorable man I ever knew. Didn’t have a single bad habit, but did have a most infernally troublesome conscience. Why, I wouldn’t have had his conscience for all his winning ways with women, aye, and men, too, and a good big annuity thrown in. For what good would money and the power to attract be to a rollicking soldier who was all the time afraid he might do something that wasn’t exactly square?”
As his companion volunteered no answer to this perplexing query, the general went on:
“If he spoke sharply to a coolie, in some way he was sure to make it right. That may be according to the golden rule, but it’s poor practice in these parts. Still, Jack had a lot of Yankee shrewdness and made plenty of money. Perhaps his kindness to the natives wasn’t such bad business after all, for they trusted him and turned everything possible his way. His health was none too good – some men, you know, can’t stand this da— excuse me, this infernal climate – and Terry was one of them.
“I’ve been a long time on the way, but now I’m coming to the part that answers your question about his living at home. There was a young woman here, Elinor Alder, daughter of an Englishman who had extensive and profitable interests in these islands. It must have taken a small fortune to have given the girl her education, for she went to school in the States and traveled a good deal. And wasn’t she a beauty? If not, then I’ve wasted a lot of pride in my judgment on such things.”
The general looked his companion over in a way that made her feel decidedly uncomfortable. She would have resented such impudence but for the fact that this man was her father’s friend, and she must hear the rest of the story. His gaze was so searching she feared he might detect a resemblance.
“Now you’re a beauty, too, but in rather a different way. There was just a dash of the voluptuous beauty in her, the kind that isn’t always easy to resist.”
Again the officer stared at her almost rudely. But there was no impudence, only wonder in his surprised gaze.
“But, by George!” he exclaimed. “Except for that one dash there is an actual resemblance between you and her. Pardon me, Miss Redfield, I see I have offended, and if you knew what follows, my offense would forever terminate our friendship. I’m an old fool. More than a score of years have passed since I saw Elinor Alder, and to me all forms of female beauty are more or less akin.”
“You say her name was Elinor Alder?” Miss Redfield was trembling with an excitement which could not be suppressed.
“Her father always called her Elinor. She did not like the name and called herself Nelly, and Mrs. Alder used that name also. After the father died they would both get mad if anyone suggested that there was any other name. Speaking again of her beauty, she could easily have snared any man on the islands – that is, any man but one, Jack Terry. Strangely enough, he was the one man with whom she fell desperately in love and tried her best to catch. But he was shy as a trout and wouldn’t even nibble at the baits she cast in his direction.”
“Why not, if she was such a beauty and well educated?” The question came huskily.
“Well, the truth of the matter is she was part Fijian – about an eighth, I believe. Didn’t show any more signs of it than you do, but her mother was well known here and though she, too, was a good looker, her colored blood was very apparent. Nelly was deuced smart and clever – could sing like a lark and play the guitar in the moonlight in a way that made a fellow’s heart kick like an army mule. The whites were all wild about her and fifty of ’em stood ready to take her off Jack’s hands. Some of ‘em were so struck they would even have married the girl, though that isn’t a soldier’s usual practice in these parts. But she could see no one but Jack, and he was determined not to yield, though I believe in his heart he did think a lot of her even at that time.
“Of course you know, better than I do, the repugnance a Yankee feels toward marrying a girl of negro descent – and that’s about what the Fijian’s are – and Terry was too square to take the dishonorable course many men would have taken. Wasn’t he in a turbulent little hell?
“About this time he received a letter from his friend Redfield – your father, I suppose – on this very subject. Mr. Redfield had heard in some way that Jack was in danger and wrote, calling his attention to the perils of propinquity and the calamitous results of an improper marriage. I remember being shown the letter and Jack’s answer to it, in which he assured his friend that there was no cause for anxiety on that score.
“My word! I’m making a long story of this, but will hurry on now. The girl did not immodestly press the matter, but she was an alluring creature, and as I said, Jack thought a lot of her deep down in his heart, though he was provoked or amused at her abnormal jealousy, a racial characteristic, by the way. His tremendous will power would have carried him through, I believe, but he was taken with a severe sickness, and Mrs. Alder and Nelly carried him almost by force from our quarters to their home and nursed him with skill and tenderness, too blooming much of it. As soon as he was able to stand on his feet he broke away and came back to our rooms and confided his troubles to me. It seems that in a moment of delirium he had said something to the girl which made her think he was willing to marry her. What was said, if anything, was a perfect blank to him, but in his weakened condition and after their solicitous care, that confounded conscience of his again got in the way and he almost decided to go through with it. However, with returning strength came the old feeling of aversion at such a union. Elinor was so determined to win him that the thing at last became intolerable, and he decided to change his headquarters to Nukualofa, over on Tonga. After a frank talk with the girl, he left us, and I saw him but once afterward. His absence made her love stronger, and it became a regular passion. You know a woman’s love is different from a man’s in that respect. She followed him to the other island, after a year or two, and he finally succumbed and married her. They had one child – a boy, I think, but maybe it was a girl. I know it was one or the other. They were all killed in the hurricane about which you have naturally heard from your father.”
In spite of frequent sips of lemonade, the girl’s lips were dry and her throat parched.
“Thanks, General, for the story,” she managed to say as she made preparation to go to her room. “I’ve often heard of Mr. Terry from my father and that makes it very interesting.”’
From the window of her room Nell could see the general who evidently was not disposed to leave before the lemonade was finished. After it was gone he still sat there, apparently lost in thought. Then suddenly he jumped to his feet greatly to the surprise of several loungers at the other end of the veranda who were not accustomed to seeing this August and rotund personage show so much activity. The girl could not help wondering whether his unusual conduct was related in any way to their recent conversation. She felt certain it was and finally decided to resume the interview. The startled expression on the face of her father’s old friend when she again appeared before him convinced her she was the innocent cause of his excitement.
“I wish you would tell me all you know about Mr. and Mrs. Terry,” she said. “My father will be glad to learn the details of their lives.”
The young lady was surprised by the general’s blunt question. “Was it your father who sent a Mr. Gray down here?”
“No, I’m sure it wasn’t my father.”
“This man Gray was determined to learn everything there was to know about Mrs. Terry – didn’t care a straw about Jack. And another thing which, when I thought about it a moment ago, nearly made me jump out of my uniform, you and Gray both snapped me up when I spoke of Mrs. Terry as Elinor. What difference does it make what her first name was?”
Again the general looked at Nell unto she manifested embarrassment.
“I’m a garrulous old fool.” Then he put his arm tenderly around her. “But Jack Terry was the best friend I ever had. I remember now his little girl was not killed in the hurricane but was taken to the States by the Redfields, doubtless your parents. If you should ever see her again, and of course you will, please tell her that General Howcroft will be as true a friend to her as her father was to him. And as for Mrs. Terry’s ancestry, he will let his tongue be cut out before he will ever mention it again.”
“Thank you, General Howcroft. I’ll tell her,” the girl answered gratefully. She looked unflinchingly into his eyes for a moment, and she knew they understood each other.