Lucky you! I just discovered that I hadn’t typed the last two installments in this series (did I lose heart at some point?) — there are *ten* chapters to this tale! O, frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! That much more of this to appreciate!
By Hugh J. Cannon
Mail from the United States did not reach Apia often. Frequently a month would elapse between these interesting periods, but when it did arrive it invariably caused great excitement. Strange it was how eagerly men and women, native and white, waited at the post office though some of them had never received a letter in their lives and had no reason to expect one.
As no mail boat ever reached port without having something for Nell Redfield, she was always an early caller at the post office. A few days after Lieutenant Hawley’s last visit, she was handed more than the usual quota of letters and papers. A bulky one from her father was the first to be opened. After recording a number of unimportant items, it went on to say:
“Your mother’s last letter probably prepared you to some extent for the impending news concerning Nate and Jessie. Mother and I believe we can appreciate your feelings, knowing your affectionate heart as we do, when you learn that these two, whom you cherished above all others in the world, are probably engaged by this time. She was to meet him in New York, and unless my knowledge of human nature is very faulty, their future plans are already consummated.
“My dear daughter, since commencing this letter, I have sat long in retrospection and have seriously questioned motives and judgment in the part I have played in your affairs since the unfortunate secret came to light. The worthiness of my motives troubles me not at all, for I can call heaven to witness my advice was only that which I felt the exigencies of the case demanded.
“Regarding my judgment, that is a matter on which I can not easily satisfy myself. A step which involves the life-long happiness of one as dear as you are to me should never be decided impulsively. A decision should be based on something more substantial than sentiment or adherence to a favorite hobby. While acknowledging the influence of both sentiment and a pet idea, I believe a principle is involved which would be violated were you to marry. As you know I have for years publicly fought such unions, and in your case would consider it to be a very serous step. Of course if you did not believe as I do, the matter would be less grave for you. But you did accept the principle and even went farther than I would have dared suggest.
“These being the facts, the matter of marriage seemed out of the question for you. However, it would be neither wise nor proper for Nate to remain single, because you are forced to do so. Such a course could be prompted only by an unwise sentimentality. You have set him free and have urged that he seek a suitable companion. We have added our advice to your suggestion. Mother and I both felt that if he is to marry, no one would suit you better as a wife for him than your dear friend Jessie, and we have done all in our power to bring about such a union. It has not been an easy thing to do. For a long time Jessie would not have much to do with Nate because she felt that something in his conduct displeased you. It was not until I gave him permission to tell your real reason for going away that her sympathy for him was enlisted; but her tender heart was touched and her first impulse was never to marry, and especially not to accept attention from Nate, because it would increase your burden of grief. Then he became obsessed with the same idea. In my day I have had many mulish witnesses and juries to contend with, but never did I have a more difficult task than to convince these two obstinate creatures that it would but add to your unhappiness to have them remain single simply out of consideration for your feelings.
“Now that such a marriage is arranged, at least it has probably proceeded that far, I sit here and wonder after all how fallible our judgment has been. Telling you of their prospects enables me to measure the matter with your eyes, at least to an extent, and I wonder! I wonder! If I have done wrong, my dear girl, pray forgive me. I have acted according to the best light that was in me.
“Nate is now en route to Egypt where he and some other engineers have taken up a big engineering contract. He will be gone for several months. His tentative plan, as far as it has been communicated to me, is that he will return within a few months and marry, then Jessie may accompany him to Egypt. Of that she will doubtless write you more fully than I am able to do.”
After reading her father’s letter, Nell hadn’t the courage for some little time to peruse another which she saw by the handwriting was from Jessie. But finally with a sigh she opened it.
“This letter and your father’s, which he tells me he has just mailed, will doubtless reach you at the same time. If you have not already read his, will you please lay this aside until you have done so?
“Now, with the assurance that you know the contents of his letter, I can proceed, difficult as it is.
“I have just returned from New York where I saw Nate embark for Egypt. It was understood when he sailed that I should write you fully and frankly and ask you to be equally frank. Whether or not Nate and I consider ourselves formally engaged depends wholly upon your answer. Judge Redfield assures me that whether you remain there or return home you positively will not marry. I know Nate still loves you, and to my own surprise that fact is not seriously disturbing, though I am sure it would be extremely hard for both of you and perhaps dangerous for the happiness of all, if you should meet until after some years have elapsed. If there is the slightest lingering doubt as to your future intentions, I promise that my affair with Nate will be instantly terminated.
“My dear friend, I mourn with you in your sorrow and if our marriage would add to your burden of grief I shall forever banish all thoughts of such union. If, on the other hand, you approve of what we have done, we shall go away from here and you can abandon your solitary life and come home, where you can at least have the comforts of civilization and the association of your parents.
“Since the foregoing was written, your father and I have been talking about the most exciting thing. You could never guess what it is! Nothing less than a trip to Samoa to visit you! The two years have nearly passed and Judge and Mrs. Redfield, in any event, will come. He authorizes me to say this. Perhaps after the disclosures your father has made, you would rather not see me now; but if I really thought that I should almost die of grief, I love you better than anyone else in the world – not even excepting my own family, or Nate.”
The lonely girl’s heart bounded tumultuously at thought of seeing her parents in the near future. And Jessie! What about her? Nell believed she loved her friend as much as ever. Jessie and Nate certainly had played the game fairly and had been far more considerate than she could have asked. But to meet on the old terms and forget that this friend was now the fiancee of the man whom she was to have married and whom she still loved with all her heart – or almost with it all – that was something not so easy to contemplate. It would be far better for Jessie not to come than to have her feelings wounded by anything less than an enthusiastic and wholehearted welcome.
Nell felt that it was one of those questions, referred to in her father’s letter, which should not be decided by sentiment, but by clear thinking. For hours she walked along the beach and at length received inspiration as she had done many times before, from the rusting pile of steel still bearing the outlines of warships.
“I shall do the thing that is right, no matter how hard it is,” was her conclusion. “Jessie has been in every sense true and loyal and it would be despicable to permit any feeling of resentment to take root in my heart toward her. Thank you, Admiral Kimberly! You and your courageous seamen have again taught me a lesson.”
Before the day was over a wireless was winging its way across the miles of water. It was addressed to her father and read, “Come, bring Jessie.”
Oh, the interminable hours and days which succeeded the sending of that message! Now that she knew these loved ones were coming it seemed impossible to await the time of their arrival. Suddenly she realized how tragic her life had been, how desolate, and she shuddered as she recalled how near to real tragedy she had come while standing on the brink of the volcano crater in Hawaii. “Thank God for the measure of self-mastery which I have acquired,” she murmured. “That alone compensates for a large amount of heartache.”
No longer repressed, the desire to see her parents became a veritable passion, and even the thought of meeting Jessie aroused ecstatic anticipation. She was as a starving person who has spread before him an appetizing meal but is told he must wait for a few hours before partaking of it.
About two weeks later she received a cablegram from her father that the three were leaving San Francisco about the Marama which should reach Pago Pago en route to Australia, twelve days later. Nell decided to make the trip to the other island in order to meet the newcomers at the earliest possible moment. This would also enable her to pay Mrs. Evans the visit which she had promised for many months to make. Then she devoted herself to her school and other work, and when a few moments could be spared they were spent in beautifying her garden and home. Like most people she loved sympathy, but detested pity, and she would have been delighted had it been within her power to make Jessie a little jealous of her and her surroundings. The little house was really beautiful, surrounded outside by stately palm and cocoanut trees, bananas and flowers, and inside filled with gifts of beads, shells and other trinkets.
Thought of Jessie being jealous even set her to thinking seriously of what her attitude toward Dick should be. Of course she could not honestly give him any real encouragement, but she was human enough to desire her friend to see that she still had opportunities to marry, and to one who would be considered a desirable catch in any land.
Nell had heard much unfavorable comment on the accommodations furnished by the Merstat, the inter-island boat which ran to Pago Pago, but decided after having made the trip that many more uncomplimentary things might have been said without exaggeration. Lying on a common deck with people of at least five different nationalities, with no covering to shield the passengers against rain or tropical sun, and with no accommodations whatever was not what the most cheerful optimist would call a pleasure trip. Added to this was the fact that many of the passengers were seasick, some of them so violently ill that they made no effort to reach the side of the small craft, when they began the serious little game popularly known as “feeding the fishes.”
The welcome which awaited her at the naval colony upon her arrival at the island of Tutuila made up somewhat for the discomforts of the trip. Much of her embarrassment she found all the Americans suspected, even if they did not certainly know, that Dick was deeply in love with her.
The motherly Mrs. Evans, delightfully talkative and meddlesome, who, as her husband expressed it, did police duty for the entire colony, felt constrained to sound a note of warning to her visitor.
“Dick is the finest young fellow in the navy, but you must remember, Miss Redfield, that he has been isolated in the South Seas for many months now and has hardly seen an American girl in that time. It is perfectly natural for him to lose his heart to the first one he sees, especially when she is such a beauty,” the worthy lady added the latter clause, realizing that her words were rather crude. “Besides, he has the reputation of falling in love almost as easily as he falls out. Don’t misunderstand me, my dear. I do not charge him with being fickle, and to you, I am sure he will be sincere, but he is due to have a furlough very soon which will take him away for a rather long period, and he is certain to receive another assignment. In that case, of course, you could not be sure what might happen.”
Nell listened mechanically to the warning and thanked Mrs. Evans for it, wondering meanwhile whether the good lady did not have some plans of her own for capturing the popular young lieutenant for a niece, whose praises she was continually singing whenever he was about.
In due time the Marama arrived and discharged the few passengers billed for the Navigator Islands. Nell, who had planned to rush up the gangplank and throw herself into the arms of her parents, was so overcome at the last moment that she could do nothing more than duck her head and weep, childishly. They came to her, the three, and soothed and petted her back to normalcy. The four were soon engaged in a veritable love feast.
“You have been in the navy, haven’t you, Judge?’ Captain Evans asked later.
“No, unfortunately I have not been.”
“Well, I still think you have been connected with the government to an extent which will justify me in sending you over to Apia with the gunboat. In any case I would have to dispatch Hawley there within the month and he might as well go now. Your daughter can tell you the difference between that vessel and the Marstal.”
Jessie was not accustomed to sea travel, never having been aboard a liner until they embarked in San Francisco, and consequently the experience with the gunboat was a novel one for her. Hawley took great pains to show her about, and explain the workings of the vessel while Judge and Mrs. Redfield were visiting with their daughter. Naturally the lieutenant was on his best behavior, and when Jessie was alone with Nell she could not refrain from saying,
“Isn’t Mr. Hawley a delightful fellow? And he cannot speak of you without betraying that he really is very much in love.”
Shortly thereafter, when Nell and Dick were alone together, she smiled when he said, “Say, Nell, your young American friend certainly is a peach.”
These comments made her thoughtful. Suppose Dick and Jessie should fall in love with each other. How would that help her situation? Would it be easier to see Nate marry Jessie, or to have Dick marry her? After a long consideration of the matter, she decided that after all it would be better to allow things to proceed along the course they were now taking. As a lover she had become reconciled to having Nate eliminated from her consideration. That struggle had been fought out and won before she left home, and she was determined to urge Jessie to proceed with her plans for marriage. An infatuation between Dick and Jessie would help her in no way and would add to the sorrow which Nate had already been called upon to endure.
She would, therefore, permit Dick to show her attention and would give him just enough encouragement to head off anything like a love affair with her friend, in case he manifested any inclination to do such a thing.
Not only was Dick willing to devote himself to her, but at the first opportunity he spoke with the judge and told him of his desire to marry Nell.
“I know your views, sir, on the subject of her marrying, but I must frankly disagree with you. Why should the life of this girl be wrecked because her mother happened to have a trace of foreign blood in her veins? At most Nell has but one-sixteenth. She could be examined by the most skillful as well as the most critical scientist in the world and that trace could not possibly be discovered.”
“Mr. Hawley, I was reared in the south and am familiar with the evils resulting from mixing white and negro blood. I have opposed it all my life as my father did before me. I am firmly convinced that it is wrong in principle, and if I am right, then this girl should not marry, regardless of the small amount of colored blood which she carries. I will say to you,. However, that whereas in the beginning I did not question the correctness of my position, I have been analyzing my own views recently with the hope of discovering whether they are really sound.”
“And with what result, may I ask, sir?”
“My own opinion is that Nell should never marry, and I would be pronounced in that opinion if she still feels as she did at the time of leaving home, for you know of her refusal to marry the man to whom she was engaged and whom she unquestionably loved very dearly. Marriage under those conditions would be a violation of principle, and people who violate what they honestly believe to be a principle manifest a weakness which augurs poorly for future happiness. If she could seriously contemplate marriage without feeling that she is doing violence to her own conscience. I should make no determined effort to dissuade her, but my opinion is that she can never do it.”
“I am almost a stranger to you and invite you to answer this question frankly: Have you any personal objections to my winning her if I can?”
“None, except those which have already been stated. Personally the recommendations given you by Captain Evans are sufficient, but you must remember of course that her heart has already been given, though perhaps it is no betrayal of confidence to tell you that her friend, Miss Dean, is practically engaged to the man whom Nell expected to marry.”
Jessie Dean’s frankness with her friend robbed the situation of much that otherwise would have been extremely embarrassing. It was not long before the two were discussing the situation unreservedly. Nell learned that Nate’s path in the beginning, where it ran parallel to Jessie’s, was far from smooth. However, after she had been told the cause of Nell’s departure, she had, because of sympathy and a real liking for him, been glad of his company and that feeling had gradually ripened into a deeper one.
“Do you actually love him, Jessie?”
“Yes, I do, very much. And still I am not so enthusiastic about it as I have always expected to be when I should become engaged.”
“Are you satisfied with Nate’s conduct toward you?”
“Well, if I had never seen him make love to you, I should say yes. Nate has changed a great deal since you left, is much more sober and mature, and has lost all of his former rollicking boyishness. He is doubtless as ardent as his present nature permits him to be.”
It was perhaps fortunate for Nell that Dick was about during the first few days and that he was so assiduous in his attentions. While she made no pretense of caring more for him than she really did, it was a pleasant diversion to talk with him. One beautiful evening he took the party for a ride on the harbor and at Nell’s request told the story of the hurricane and the naval heroes which had so thrilled her.
“Did you ever see such a hero worshipper?” she asked as he was taking them back to land. And afterwards when she and her parents were alone, she said, “That is the only thing he admires in me. He thinks I am doing something heroic, and that alone has won his admiration.” However, she would have been miserably disappointed had she really thought there were no other characteristics to attract Hawley’s admiration.