FIRST MATE STARK
Upon the day that Thurg discovered Nadara he had come racing to the foot of the cliff, roaring and bellowing like a mad bull. Upward he clambered half the distance to the girl's lofty perch. Then a bit of jagged rock, well aimed, had brought him to a sudden halt, spitting blood and teeth from his injured mouth. He looked up at Nadara and shrieked out his rage and his threats of vengeance. Nadara launched another missile at him that caught him full upon one eye, dropping him like a stone to the narrow ledge upon which he had been standing. Quickly the girl started to descend to this side to finish the work she had commenced, for she knew that there could be no peace or safety for her, now that Thurg had discovered her hiding place, while the monster lived.
But she had scare more than lowered her sapling to the ledge beneath her when the giant form of the man moved and Thurg sat up. Quickly Nadara clambered back to her ledge, again drawing her sapling after her. She was about to hurl another missile at the man when he spoke to her.
"We are all alone in the world," he said. "All your people and all my people have been slain by the Great Nagoola. Come down. Let us live together in peace. There is no other left in all the world."
Nadara laughed at him.
"Come down to you!" she cried, mockingly. "Live with you! I would rather live with the pigs that root in the forest. Go away, or I will finish what I have commenced, and kill you. I would not live with you though I knew that you were the last human being on earth."
Thurg pleaded and threatened, but all to no avail. Again he tried to clamber to her side, but again he was repulsed with well-aimed missiles. At last he withdrew, growling and threatening.
For weeks he haunted the vicinity of the cliff. Nadara's meager food supply was soon exhausted. She was forced to descend to replenish her larder and fill her gourd, or die of starvation and thirst. She made her trips to the forest at night, though black Nagoola prowled and the menace of Thurg looked through the darkness. At last the man discovered her in one of these nocturnal expeditions and almost caught her before she reached her ledge of safety.
For three days he kept her a close prisoner. Again her stock of provisions were exhausted. She was desperate. Twice had Nagoola nearly trapped her in the forest. She dared not again tempt fate in the gloomy wood by night. There was nothing left but to risk all in one last effort to elude Thurg by day and find another asylum in some far distant corner of the island.
Carefully she watched her opportunity, and while the beast-man was temporarily absent seeking food for himself the girl slid swiftly to the base of the cliff and started through the tall grasses for the opposite side of the valley.
Upon this day Thurg had fallen upon the spoor of deer as he had searched the forest for certain berries that were in season and which he particularly enjoyed. The trail led along the edge of the wood to the opposite side of the valley, and over the hills into the region beyond. All day Thurg followed the fleet animals, until at last not having come up with them he was forced to give up the pursuit and return to the cliffs, lest his more valuable quarry should escape.
Halfway between the hills and the cliff he came suddenly face to face with Nadara. Not twenty paces separated them. With a howl of satisfaction Thurg leaped to seize her, but she turned and fled before he could lay his hand upon her. If Thurg had found his other quarry of that day swift, so, too, he now found Nadara, for terror gave wings to her flying feet. Lumbering after her came Thurg, and had the distance been less he would have been left far behind, but it was a long distance from the spot, where they had met, to Nadara's cliffs. The girl could out-run the man for a short distance, but when victory depended upon endurance the advantage was all on the side of the brute.
As they neared the goal Nadara realized that the lead she had gained at first was rapidly being overcome by the horrid creatures panting so close behind her. She strained every nerve and muscle in a last mad effort to distance the fate that was closing upon her. She reached the cliff. Thurg was just behind her. Half spent, she stumbled upward in, what seemed to her, pitiful slowness. At last her hand grasped the sapling that led to the mouth of her cave--in another instant she would be safe. But her new-born hope went out as she felt the sapling slipping and glanced downward to see Thurg dragging it from its position.
She shut her eyes that she might not see the depths below into which she was about to be hurled, and then there smote upon her ears the most terrific burst of sound that had ever assailed them, other than the thunders that rolled down out of the heavens when the rains came. But this sound did not come from above--it came from the valley beneath.
The ladder ceased to slip. She opened her eyes and glanced downward. Far below her lay the body of Thurg. She could see that he was quite dead. He lay upon his face and from his back trickled two tiny streams of blood from little holes.
Nadara clambered upward to her ledge, drawing her sapling after her, and then she looked about for an explanation of the strange noise and the sudden death of Thurg, for she could not but connect the one with the other. Below, in the valley, she saw a number of men strangely garbed. They were coming toward her cliff. She gathered her missiles closely about her, ready to her hand. Now they were below and calling up to her. Her eyes dilated in wonder--they spoke the strange tongue that Thandar had tried to teach her. She called down to them in her own tongue, but they shook their heads, motioning her to descend. She was afraid. All her life she had been afraid of men, and with reason--of all except her old foster father and Thandar. These, evidently, were men. She could only expect from them the same treatment that Thurg would have accorded her.
One of them had started up the face of the cliff. It was Stark. Nadara seized a bit of rock and hurled it down upon him. He barely dodged the missile, but he desisted in his attempt to ascend to her. Now Burlinghame advanced, raising his hand, palm toward her in sign that she should not assault him. She recalled some of the language that Thandar had taught her--maybe they would understand it.
"Go-away!" she cried. "Go-away! Nadara kill bad-men."
A look of pleasure overspread Burlinghame's face--the girl spoke English.
"We are not bad men," he called up to her. "We will not harm you."
"What do you want?" Asked Nadara, still unconvinced by mere words.
"We want to talk with you," replied Burlinghame. "We are looking for a friend who was ship-wrecked upon this island. Come down. We will not harm you. Have we not already proved our friendship by killing this fellow who pursued you?"
This man spoke precisely the tongue of Thandar. Nadara could understand every word, for Thandar had talked to her much in English. She could understand it better than she could speak it. If they talked the same tongue as Thandar they must be from the same country. Maybe they were Thandar's friends. Anyway, they were like him, and Thandar had never harmed women. She could trust them. Slowly she lowered her sapling and began the descent. Several times she hesitated as though minded to return to her ledge, but Burlinghame's kindly voice and encouragement at last prevailed, and presently Nadara stood before them.
The officers and men of the Priscilla crowded around the girl. They were struck by her beauty, and the simple dignity of her manner and her carriage. The great black panther skin that fell from her left shoulder she wore with the majesty of a queen and with a naturalness that cast no reflection upon her modesty, though it revealed quite as much of her figure as it hid. William Star, first officer of the Priscilla, caught his breath--never, he was positive, had God made a more lovely creature.
From the top of the cliff a shaggy man peered down upon the strange scene. He blinked his little eyes, scratched his matted head, and once he picked up a large stone that lay near him; but he did not hurl it upon those below, for he had heard the loud report of the rifles, seen the smoke belch from the muzzles, and witnessed the sudden and miraculous collapse of Thurg.
Burlinghame was speaking to Nadara.
"Who are you?" he asked the girl.
"Nadara," replied the girl.
"Where do you live?"
Nadara jerked her thumb over her shoulder toward the cliff at her back. Burlinghame searched the rocky escarpment with his eyes, but saw no sign of another living being there.
"Where are your people?"
"All of them?"
Nadara nodded affirmatively.
"How long have they been dead and what killed them?" continued Burlinghame.
"Almost a moon. The Great Nagoola killed them."
In answer to other questions Nadara related all that had transpired since the night of the earthquake. Her description of the catastrophe convinced the Americans that a violent quake had recently occurred to shake the island to its foundations.
"Ask her about Waldo," whispered Mr. Smith-Jones, himself dreading the question.
"We are looking for a young man," said Burlinghame, "who was lost overboard from a steamer on the west coast of this island. We know that he reached the shore alive, for we have heard from him. Have you ever seen or heard of this stranger? His name is Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones--this gentleman is his father," indicated Mr. Smith-Jones.
Nadara looked with wide eyes at John Alden Smith-Jones. So this man was Thandar's father. She felt very sorry for him, for she knew that he loved Thandar--Thandar had often told her so. She did not know how to tell him--she shrank from causing another the anguish and misery that she had endured.
"Did you know of him?" asked Burlinghame.
Nadara nodded her head.
"Where is he?" cried Waldo's father. "Where are the people with whom he lived here?"
Nadara came close to John Alden Smith-Jones. There was no fear in her innocent young heart for this man who was Thandar's father--who loved Thandar--only a great compassion for him in the sorrow that she was about to inflict. Gently she took his hand in hers, raising her sad eyes to his.
"Where is he? Where is my boy?" whispered Mr. Smith-Jones.
"He is with his people, who were my people--the people of whom I have just told you," replied Nadara softly--"He is dead." And then she dropped her face upon the man's hand and wept.
The shock staggered John Alden Smith-Jones. It seemed incredible--impossible--that Waldo could have lived through all that he must have lived through to perish at last bu a few short weeks before succor reached him. For a moment he forgot the girl. It was her hot tears upon his hand that aroused him to a consciousness of the present.
"Why do you weep?" he cried almost roughly.
"For you," she replied, "who loved him, too."
"You loved Waldo?" asked the boy's father.
Nadara nodded her tumbled mass of raven hair. John Alden Smith-Jones looked down upon the bent head of the sobbing girl in silence for several minutes. Many things were racing through his patrician brain. He was by training, environment and heredity narrow and Puritanical. He saw the meager apparel of the girl--he saw her nut brown skin; but he did not see her nakedness, for something in his heart told him that sweet virtue clothed her more effectively and could silks and satins without virtue. Gently he placed an arm about her, drawing her to him.
"My daughter," he said, and pressed his lips to her forehead.
It was a solemn and sorrow-ridden party that boarded the Priscilla an hour later. Mrs. Smith-Jones had seen them coming. Some intuitive sense may have warned her of the sorrow that lay in store for her upon their return. At any rate, she did not meet them at the rail as in the past, instead she returned to her cabin to await her husband there. When he joined her he brought with him a half-naked young woman. Mrs. Smith-Jones looked upon the girl with ill concealed horror.
Waldo's mother met the shock of her husband's news with much greater fortitude than he had expected. As a matter of fact she had been prepared for this from the first. She had never really believed that Waldo could survive for any considerable time far from the comforts and luxuries of his Boston home and the watchful care of herself.
"And who is this--ah--person?" she asked coldly at last, holding her pince-nez before her eyes as with elevated brows she cast a look of disapproval upon Nadara.
The girl, reading more in the older woman's manner than her words, drew herself up proudly. Mr. Smith-Jones coughed and colored. He stepped to Nadara's side, placing her arm about her shoulders.
"She loved Waldo," he said simply.
"The brazen hussy!" exclaimed Mrs. Smith-Jones. "To dare love a Smith-Jones!"
"Come, come, Louisa!" ejaculated her husband. "Remember that she too is suffering--do not add to her sorrow. She loved our boy, and he returned her love."
"How do you know that?"
"She has told me," replied the man.
"It is not true," cried Mrs. Smith-Jones. "It is not true! Waldo Emerson would never stoop to love one out of his own high class. Who is she, and what proof have you that Waldo loved her?"
"I am Nadara," said the girl proudly, answering for herself. "And this is the proof that he loved me. He told me that this was the pledge token between us until we could come to his land and be mated according to the customs there." She held out her left hand, upon the third finger of which sparkled a great solitaire--a solitaire which Mrs. John Alden Smith-Jones recognized instantly."
"He gave you that?" she asked.
Then she turned toward her husband.
"What do you intend doing with this girl?" she asked.
"I shall take her back home," replied he. "She should be as a daughter to us, for Waldo would have made her such had he lived. She cannot remain upon the island. All her people were killed by the earthquake that destroyed Waldo. She is in constant danger of attack by the wild beasts and wilder men. We cannot leave her here, and even if we could I should not do so, for we owe a duty to our dead boy to care for her as he would have cared for her--and we owe a greater duty to her."
"I must be alone," was all that Mrs. Smith-Jones replied. "Please take her away, John. Give her the cabin next to this, and have Marie clothe her properly--Marie's clothes should about fit her." There was more of tired anguish in her voice now than of anger.
Mr. Smith-Jones led Nadara out and summoned Marie, but Nadara upset his plans by announcing that she wished to return to the shore.
"She does not like me," she said, nodding toward Mrs. Smith-Jones's cabin, "and I will not stay."
It took John Alden Smith-Jones a long time to persuade the girl to change her mind. He pointed out that his wife was greatly overwrought by the shock of the news of Waldo's death. He assured Nadara that at heart she was a kindly woman, and that eventually she would regret her attitude toward the girl. And at last Nadara consented to remain aboard the Priscilla. But when Marie would have clothed her in the garments of civilization she absolutely refused--scorning the hideous and uncomfortable clothing.
It was two days before Mrs. Smith-Jones sent for her. When she entered that lady's cabin the latter exclaimed at once against her barbarous attire.
"I gave instructions that Marie should dress you properly," she said. "You are not decently clothed--that bear skin is shocking."
Nadara tossed her head, and her eyes flashed fire.
"I shall never wear your silly clothes," she cried. "This Thandar gave me--he slew Nagoola, the black panther, with his own hands, and gave the skin to me who was to be his mate--do you think I would exchange it for such foolish garments as these?" she waved a contemptuous gesture toward Mrs. Smith-Jones expensive morning gown.
The elder woman forgot her outraged dignity in the suggestion the girl had given her for an excuse to be rid of her at the first opportunity. She had mentioned a party named Thandar. She had brazenly boasted that this Thandar had killed the beast whose pelt she wore and had given her the thing for a garment. She had admitted that she was to become this person's "mate." Mrs. Smith-Jones shuddered at the primitive word. At this moment Mr. Smith-Jones entered the cabin. He smiled pleasantly at Nadara, and then, seeing in the attitudes of the two women that he had stepped within a theater of war, he looked questioningly at his wife.
"Now what, Louisa?" he asked, somewhat sharply.
"Sufficient, John," exclaimed that lady, "to bear out my original contention that it was a very unwise move to bring this woman with us--she has just admitted that she was the promised 'mate' of a person she calls Thandar. She is brazen--I refuse to permit her to enter my home; nor shall she remain upon the Priscilla longer than is necessary to land her at the first civilized port."
Mr. Smith-Jones looked questioningly at Nadara. The girl had guessed the erroneous reasoning that had caused Mrs. Smith-Jones's excitement. She had forgotten that they did not know that Waldo and Thandar were one. Now she could scarce repress a smile of amusement nor resist the temptation to take advantage of Mrs. Smith-Jones's ignorance to bait her further.
"You had another lover beside Waldo?" asked Mr. Smith-Jones.
"I loved Thandar," she replied. "Thandar was king of my people. He loved me. He slew Nagoola for me and gave me his skin. He slew Korth and Flatfoot, also. They wanted me, but Thandar slew them. And Big Fist he slew, and Sag the Killer--oh, Thandar was a mighty fighter. Can you wonder that I loved him?"
"He was a hideous murderer!" cried Mrs. Smith-Jones, "and to think that my poor Waldo; poor, timid, gentle Waldo, was condemned to live among such savage brutes. Oh, it is too terrible!"
Nadara's eyes went wide. It was her turn to suffer a shock. "Poor, timid, gentle Waldo!" Had she heard aright? Could it be that they were describing the same man? There must be some mistake.
"Did Waldo know that you loved Thandar?" asked Mr. Smith-Jones.
"Thandar was Waldo," she replied. "Thandar is the name I gave him--it means the Brave One. He was very brave," she cried. "He was not 'timid,' and he was only 'gentle' with women and children."
Mrs. Smith-Jones hand never been so shocked in all her life. She sprang to her feet.
"Leave my cabin!" she cried. "I see through your shallow deception. You thoughtlessly betrayed yourself and your vulgar immoralities, and now you try to hide behind a base calumny that pictures my dear, dead boy as one with your hideous, brutal chief. You shall not deceive me longer. Leave my cabin, please!"
Mr. Smith-Jones stood as one paralyzed. He could not believe in the perfidy of the girl--it seemed impossible that she could have so deceived him--nor yet could he question the integrity of his own ears. It was, of course, too far beyond the pale of reason to attempt to believe that Waldo Emerson and the terrible Thandar were one and the same. The girl had gone too far, and yet he could not believe that she was bad. There must be some explanation.
In the meantime Nadara had left the room, her little chin high in the air. Never again, she determined, would she subject herself to the insults of Thandar's mother. She went on deck. She craved the fresh air, and the excitement to be found above. The officers had been very nice to her. Stark was much with her. The man had fallen desperately in love with the half-savage girl. As she reached the deck after leaving Mrs. Smith-Jones's cabin Stark was the first she chanced to meet. She would have preferred being alone with her sorrow and her anger, but the man joined her. Together they stood by the rail watching the approach of heavy clouds. A storm was about to break over them that had been brewing for several days.
Stark knew nothing of what had taken place below, but he saw that the girl was unhappy. He attempted to cheer her. At last he took her hand and stoked it caressingly as he talked with er. Before she could guess his intention he was pouring words of love and passion into her ears. Nadara drew away. A puzzled expression contracted her brows.
"Do not talk so to Nadara," she said. "She does not love you." And then she moved away and went to her cabin.
Stark looked after her as she departed. He was thoroughly aroused. Who was this savage girl, to repulse him? What would have been her fate for his well-directed shot? Was not the man who had been pursuing her but acting after the customs of her wild people? He would have taken her by force. That was the only way she would have been taken had she been left upon her own island. That was the only kind of betrothal she knew. It was what she expected. He had been a fool to approach her with the soft words of civilization. They had made her despise him. She should have understood force and loved him for it. Well, he would show her that he could be as primitive as any of her savage lovers.
The storm broke. The wind became a hurricane. The Priscilla was forced to turn and flee before the anger of the elements, so that she retraced her course of the past two days and then was blown to the north.
Stark saw nothing of Nadara during this period. At the end of thirty-six hours the wind had died and the sea was settling to its normal quiet. It was the first evening after the storm. The deck of the Priscilla was almost deserted. The yacht was moving slowly along not far off the shore of one of the many islands that dot that part of the south seas.
Nadara came on deck for a walk before retiring. Stark and two other sailors were on watch. At sight of the girl the first officer approached her. He spoke pleasantly as though nothing had occurred to mar their friendly relations. He talked of the storm and pointed out the black outlines of the nearby shore, and as he talked he led her toward the stern, out of sight of the sailors forward.
Suddenly he turned upon her and grasped her into his arms. With brutal force he crushed her to him, covering her face with kisses. She fought to free herself, but Stark was a strong man. Slowly he forced her to the deck. She beat him in the face and upon the breast, and at last, in the extreme of desperation, she screamed for help. Instantly he struck her a heavy blow upon the jaw. The slender form of the girl relaxed upon the deck in unconsciousness.
Now Stark came to a sudden realization of the gravity of the thing he had done. He knew that when Nadara regained consciousness his perfidy would come to the attention of Captain Burlinghame, and he feared the quiet, ex-naval officer more than he did the devil. He looked over the rail. It would be an easy thing to dispose of the girl. He had only to drop her unconscious body into the still waters below. He raised her in his arms and bore her to the rail. The moon shone down upon her face. He looked out over the water and saw the shore so close at hand.
There would be a thorough investigation and the sailors, who had no love for him, as he well knew, would lose no time in reporting that he had been the last to be seen with the girl. Evidently he was in for it, one way or the other.
Again he looked down into Nadara's face. She was very beautiful. He wanted her badly. Slowly his glance wandered to the calm waters of the ocean and on to the quiet shore line. Then back to the girl. For a moment he stood irresolute. Then he stepped to the side of the cabin where hung a life preserver to which was attached a long line.
He put the life preserver about Nadara. Then he lowered her into the ocean. The moment he felt her weight transferred from the lowering rope to the life preserver he vaulted over the yacht's rail into the dark waters beneath her stern.