Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins (Chapter 26)
Come and Find Me by Elizabeth Robins
Hypertext formatting by Joanne E. Gates
At last! After fruitless, heart-sickening search among the boulders, Cheviot had caught sight of Hildegarde, breasting easily the risen wind, stepping lightly and without the least inconvenience down from the tundra to the beach. Over the rocks he came running, making signals for haste. Red, too, a long way behind, went racing along the shore, back and forth, barely out of the spray; running seaward when the breakers retreated, fleeing from them on their return, howling at the sailors as they bent over their oars, hardly fifty yards from the foam-line.
Hildegarde made her way blindly, stumbling among stones, scattering bits of pilot bread in her wake, and casting backward looks.
"Hurry! Hurry!" Cheviot was shouting.
"She 's so lame!" Hildegarde could n't hear his next words, but she caught the quick gesture of one who reproachfully reminds himself. And he was flying forward to her aid.
"I 'm all right--but the dog--"
Without slackening pace, a hand at either side of his mouth, he called: "They can't hold the boat in that surf."
"Red 's all right. He 's there." Louis was near
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enough now for her to see the heat of the race in his face as he called out: "The captain will be furious--" The rest was caught away by the wind till quite near: "I'll pull you along. Here, catch hold of my hand."
"Oh, Louis, I 've got something to tell--"
"--ankle giving out again?"
"No, not that."
He turned sharply to signal the sailors that the lady would be there in time.
"Don't waste breath! Come on!"
"Something 's happened. It 's about Jack Galbraith."
Had he heard? What was he going to do? It had n't occurred to her so much as to wonder before. Did he think there was no hurry about this news she had picked up concerning the long-lost traveler. or had the wind carried the name away? Or--"
"I must tell you about it, Louis. Wait a moment!"
"You 're asking the tide to wait!" And far from gently his own momentum was carrying her on. Was there then once service he would refuse her? Well--well--she steeled herself. He could n't refuse to take the dog in any case.
"We--we can't go so fast."
"Yes, we can. We 've got to."
"No. I must wait for--the dog."
A flying look of astonishment sent over shoulder shot from her to Ky. " That dog?" But impatience drove even wonderment out. "Can't you see how close--" He flung an arm toward the laboring boat, as with hot face turned seaward to the wind he hurried on.
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"If the dog goes back he 'll think I failed him--" The wind and the surf took the rest. In the turmoil of her mind the first thing needful to assure seemed to be Ky's safe conveyance to the ship. While Louis, without slackening speed, snatched her arm through his, compelling her to keep his pace, still the girl looked back as she held behind her the last of the lure. Ky was making her way better than her new friend, for Hildegarde's weakened ankle turned more than once, and now she was almost down. Cheviot had swung back and had her on her feet again.
"Louis--" But the pain had turned her faint.
"It 's horrible to hurt you, but there may n't be another boat this year," he jerked out, starting on again.
Hildegarde had no real fear of their being left. Was n't "the watchman" with her? But Ky! The sailors might refuse to wait for a dog.
"Here!" He shook off her slack hand and grasped her by the arm. "I must help you more."
"Yes, yes. Help me to get her down there in time."
"All right!" But he was shouting the reassuring words across the surf. "Come on!" he encouraged the sailors. "Coming on" was easier said than done. An instant the boat had fallen back.
"We 'll be there as soon as you!" Cheviot's shout dropped hoarsely: "We won't if you can't do better than this."
"You 'll have to tell father--"
"If you stop to talk we 'll simply be left behind."
Ah, well, if he took it like that, why should she go any further with him? "You 'd better hurry on with the
To Illustration, facing page 518
"Hildegarde's ankle turned more than once, and now she was almost down."
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dog," she said. "Tell father he must manage somehow to come."
"Are you out of your head!" He seemed to be carrying her forward without volition of hers. She offered no physical resistance but, "I'm not coming with you to the ship," she said. "I've got to go back."
"Go where, for God's sake?"
"Back to the hut."
"Because Jack Galbraith is there." For just an instant his fingers slackened hold. The shadow of a fear she had never seen in those clear eyes darkened the fine candor of his face, and then, with firmer grasp, he was once more hurrying her on.
"I 'm not going crazy. It 's sober truth. Louis, Louis, what are we to do?"
"Prevent that boat from leaving us behind."
"Ah, you don't care! It 's nothing to you!"
The hand on her arm tightened in such a grip she could hardly keep from crying out with the pain of it, but faster than ever the two were flying along the stony beach.
"Oh Louis, help me!" she said passionately, and holding back by main force she brought down the pace. "You would n't want me to--oh, tell me what 's to be done!"
"I don't know. Suddenly all that energy of his seemed spent. "Perhaps nothing can be done."
She had never before seen hopelessness in his face. It pierced through all her preoccupation and excitement. "Yes, yes, something can be done. You need n't take it as you 're doing. Oh, Louis, don't you see, you might go back."
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"I?" He looked at her with eyes that made her draw a breath of pain. "It is true," he said; "I might go back."
"Will you?" she faltered.
"To Galbraith, you say! You want me to go back?"
"Do you 'want' to leave him here friendless, sick. Oh, it was well I came! I must have had an inkling; yes, yes, a presentiment."
"That 's why you came! Why you waited here!"
The sailors might abandon their dangerous task and leave those two there on the beach, for all it seemed to matter to Louis Cheviot, since he had halted on the words: "Galbraith behind these days, too!"
The shouting of the sailors made him turn his eyes. The boat out there, baffled again, was driven back in a third effort to make the final run. Cheviot with his free hand shaped a trumpet, and through it shouted across the surf, "Try up here!"
The men in the boat called out something that was drowned in the clamor of the waves, and Cheviot was running Hildegarde faster than ever down that last stretch of the stony beach. Would he never stop and let her get back her voice? Oh, this carrying a hot ball of lead in your breast, and having to lift it every time you strained for breath.
"Louis, wait! Ky, Ky, come on!" Why was he hurrying her more than ever? Did he imagine-- Her power to think seemed to be leaving her. A wavering vision off there in the sunshine of Louis's late guide hurrying down from the settlement with several other men, two were natives. And the boat, where was the boat? Beaten back again, and that time all but swamped. Yes,
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now it was gone--down behind the white breakers, or further down among the rocks? The look on Louis's face--it gave her a new measure of loneliness. It was like the door of one's own home locked and barred against one. But she could n't see well, for the loosened hair, blown into her eyes, was blinding her. Tears, too. On and on over the water-worn stones with that harsh hand grasping her. If her feet slipped they were not suffered to falter, if they stumbled they were harshly steadied. On and on with this constriction at the breast, and at her side this face of granite. A moment's memory of the arctic current, and the picture that had stood to Galbraith for the type of helpless human striving. Something of the same sense of futility visited her as her feet followed the stronger will. Did nothing matter, then, except this on and on? Death up yonder on the tundra. Death down there in the surf. Pain wherever there was life. Pain only to draw breath. She got hers in great, clutching gasps that stabbed her. Now they were down near the foam-line. The were running in the wet sand. The rage of the surf in her ears, the taste of the brine on her lips. John Galbraith found, and John Galbraith dying. Everything changing, Louis most of all. The fabric of her world dissolving before her dazed eyes to the sound of sea-born thunder.
"You 've got to make a rush--and not mind a ducking!" It was one of the sailors shouting. The big fellow in the hip-boots had leaped out of the plunging boat into the surf. He was hurled headlong, recovered footing, and, streaming with sea water, buffeted his way out of the foam, while he roared angrily, "Come on, if yer comin'. Cap'n's orders, bring ye or leave ye."
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"The dog first," Hildegarde cried out. "No, the lame one."
The sailor hesitated, swore, and then, on Cheviot's word, obeyed. His late guide panting, breathless, appeared with the other men at his heals, all but the Esquimaux with letters to send out. Cheviot thrust them in his pocket.
"Not both of us," she said, meeting his eye. "Which?" Each looked deep in that swift instant, neither flinching.
"If you are n't coming of your own accord--" he said.
He made a sign to the blaspheming sailor. The two lifted her in their arms and carried her through the surf, just as hours before they had carried her out.
"Now, sir, said the sailor, "in with you." Cheviot stood with the foam swirling above his long boot tops. "You want me to stay behind?" he called.
"If I could do it myself," Hildegarde began.
Without a word he turned his back on her, strode out of the water and up the stony beach.
IF, upon his return home, Mr. Mar was surprised at the warmth of his reception, he was yet more perplexed to find himself never once called upon to state the value of his Polaris mining interests.
When he sufficiently recovered from his astonishment at this oversight on Mrs. Mar's part, he tried once or twice to introduce the subject of his claims into the family circle. But his wife firmly changed the conversation, as one who insists that painful bygones shall be bygones
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forever. Mar smiled inwardly, for Cheviot's report had been glowing, and for Cheviot to write like that--well, it was, as the sage said, significant of much. But Cheviot was still "in Alaska, looking after things," and Mar kept his own counsel.
It was plain that these last years had left their mark upon his wife. He laid the change at first to the disintegrating action of time upon even that hard, bright surface. He never knew the secret rage he caused by attributing to the weakness of age what was due to a hard-won self mastery, a realized and ripened affection. Only little by little did he become aware that the alteration, so far from being a sign of letting-go, was evidence of a fresh taking-hold; a courageous determination not to shrink from making unpleasant discoveries about herself merely because she was of an age when most people cease to make discoveries of any sort.
Whatever pains her late-won knowledge cost Mrs. Mar, her family, and especially her old and broken husband, reaped some benefit of that lady's ability to go on learning at a time of life when the majority think it rather noble if they make so much as an effort to teach.
It is probable that, failing Hildegarde, Mar might never have grasped the full meaning of the enlightenment that had come to his life's partner during these three years of his absence. Upon that first glimpse of him, as he came limping in at the door, his wife had looked at him with a face no one who saw could forget. "It's been hard for you, too." she said.
"For me, too?" he echoed, wondering.
But she had no other word, either then or after--no gift of tender apology, nor even of explanation. Her
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task, as she conceived it, was not to talk about a long past that was irrevocable, but to "show" the possibility of a brief future that she felt to be still within their reach.
For Hildegarde all life had come to a standstill.
Weeks must go by before Bella, at her old friend's urgent summons, could get back from abroad.
Hildegarde's soreness of heart, her hopelessness of the greater gladness for herself, left her the freer to think of it as only half an achievement--this bringing her father back in the flesh. She must see his spirit "at home" before her task was ended. No discreet opportunity was lost to set her mother in an explanatory light. When the neighbors chorused admiration of the girl's pluck and resourcefulness on the great journey, oh-ing and ah-ing, and "How on earth did you manage?"--"It was never the least difficult," Hildegarde would interrupt. "When I was at a loss I always thought how my mother would take hold of the matter, and when I had imagined her into my perplexity it was n't a perplexity any longer. I saw just what she would do, and I saw it was just right."
Only once, with her father alone, did she venture openly to suggest a corrected judgment of the past.
They had been talking of Mrs. Locke. Mar, who had failed so signally in getting a post for himself, had succeeded in getting one for his daughter's friend.
"You have been good about it!" Hildegarde said. "I 'm so grateful. So is she."
"So is the firm. She 's a success."
"It just shows!"
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"That the reason women are n't more use in the world is because they don't have a chance."
"H'm!" said Mr. Mar.
"No. Not a real chance, father."
"Good heaven! They have everything."
"No. They don't have education. I don't mean out of books. It 's just as Mrs. Locke says. They stand as little chance of knowing about life as kings and queens do. They are still a class apart."
"Oh, she talks like that--your Mrs. Locke?" said Mar, with an obvious uneasiness.
"Not of herself. Of the rest of us--unless"--she smiled--"unless we 've been to Nome; or, like mother, to Mecca."
With a face more serious the girl went on: "I 've only just begun to notice who among the women I know are the must successful and most sensible. They 're the ones that have had the most experience, gone about most, or"--her voice sunk--"had some great trouble, known about life somehow by knocking up against it. It looks as if the only way to get judgment is by having to judge. Men, of course--you're always practising. You 're in things. You are n't an outsider."
"Who is an outsider?"
"Every woman, when she comes out of her own front door. Now"--before he could answer she hurried on--"now, there 's mother" (she spoke as if she had only just remembered her). "A clever person like mother--why, if she 'd had ten times as much to do, she 'd have done it ten times better. And she would n't have had time to think about --a--the cracks in the china. Yes, father,
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you may depend upon it, it 's the women that have n't got much in them that fit best into the small places. Mother 's always been crowded."
When Bella came back from England that September, Mar and his daughter had already six weeks at home. Although given full credit for having so happily reconstituted the domestic circle, for Hildegarde herself the devouring loneliness that had invaded existence showed its first sign of yielding when Bella's childish face appeared at the door. None the less for Bella's friend a shrinking of the heart as she held close the slight figure in its smart French gown. What a butterfly to be broken on the wheel of life!
"But Louis!" Twenty minutes after her arrival, Bella, as she followed Hildegarde up-stairs, put the question for the second time. Why had he stayed behind?
Hildegarde's only answer was to hold open the door of her room and, when the new-comer had passed through, to shut it softly behind them both. Still in silence she laid down Bella's hat and gloves, and then came and stood beside her friend, who sat watching her from the old nook of the cushioned window-seat.
"You might have told me something, even in a cable. What happened up there?" Bella said softly.
"Yes. About Louis."
"I came to realize him. There 's nothing like that wonderful north light for making you see truly."
"Well, what did you find he was like when you saw him--like that, in a north light?"
"I found that he was--the man I wanted to go through life with."
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"I've been hoping for that," said Bella quietly.
"Ah, but I did n't only find him up there. I lost him, too."
Bella leaned forward and took Hildegarde's hand. Very gently she drew her down on the cushioned seat.
Hildegarde had turned her filling eyes away, but she faced her friend for the moments of that low crying, "Oh, Bella, Bella, when you think what a miracle it is to find the right one in the maze, how is it that we ever let the right one go?"
Bella released the hand she had taken and turned her head, looking out of the window.
But Hildegarde's thrilling voice went on: "I wonder we don't watch at the gate of the Beloved from dawn till night, waiting till he comes. I wonder he does n't lie all night, at her door, for fear in a dream she may steal away."
"And yet," said the other, "in broad daylight each lets the other go."
Yes, and with an air of being willing. Of being able to bear their going. And we can't bear it!" Her dimmed eyes fell on Bella's beautiful face. "At least, I can't bear it--or--if I do, it will be because you help me, Butterfly Bella. For you 've learned how."
"Yes, I 've learned how."
Strange, wonderful little Bella. Hildegarde stared at the slight creature, half-stoic and half-sprite.
"How was it? Why could n't Louis see?"
"I tried his patience again and again."
You did n't wait till you got him in a north light for that."
"--and he was strong and kind and immovable in his
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goodness, no matter what I did or said. And his faithfulness to my father--there are n't any words for that. But you remember--Bella, sit close--mother told you about the hermit."
"The strange man they all thought had found the Mother Lode."
Step by step, moment by moment, she went through those hours at Polaris, though there was little need to take Bella farther than the threshold of the hut.
She held up two shaking hands, and, "I know! I know!" she whispered. "Before you open the door, before you knock--I know."
"How do you know?"
"Go on," said Bella, with an intensity of quietness. And like that to the end--looking more than ever a spirit, and like a spirit seeming to have no human heart for breaking, Bella listened with wide, far-looking eyes that half the time were tearless.
It was Hildegarde who broke down when she told how at the last, Ky and she had left him. When her choked voice failed: "Of course, I know the end," said Bella, and they held each other fast, sitting there a long time with no word spoken.
At last Hildegarde felt the small hands loose their hold. Bella stood up. And now she was walking up and down the room. At last, as by a chance, her eyes found Hildegarde, and a great gentleness came into the little face. She came back to the window and stood close against her friend.
Hildegarde lifted her head. "You say you know the end, but you don't quite. Louis came calling me to
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hurry," and she told of those few minutes on the beach. "I did n't realize I was ruining my life. I went on insisting. Yes, Jack Galbraith did n't die deserted, for I sent him in his last hour my best chance of happiness. I clung to the side of the boat and watched Louis cross the beach with Reddy at his heels. Ky was crouching at the stern with her black muzzle turned to the shore, howling, howling. The men were angry, the dog was in their way. "She is hungry," I said. She had begun to gnaw the glove I had dropped in the bottom of the boat. Then it suddenly flashed over me! If there was nothing in the hut to feed a hungry dog, neither was there any food for a man."
Bella hid her face.
With fresh tears Hildegarde went on, "And Louis would n't know. It had n't occurred to me at all while I was there. I found myself sobbing, and saying half out loud, 'Oh, God, oh, God, is that why Jack is dying?' The sailors were staring. I leaned over and said to the big Dane, 'Do you want to make some money, you and these others? I 'll pay you, pay you well, if you 'll give me just five minutes more on shore.' No, no. They were all of one mind. 'I 'll pay you ten dollars a minute,' I said, and I 'd have gone on offering more if they had n't turned back for that. It 's risking life, they said, and they told me how the captain-- But they though I was distracted at leaving Louis, and that all I wanted was to get him. They liked Louis. They turned back. Just then the whistle screamed out from the Beluga very angrily. But they ran the boat in on a great wave, and I flung out through the surf and ran up on the tundra calling Louis. He was standing at the door of the hut
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with the man who 'd shown him the way to the mines. Louis turned round when he heard my voice, and oh, Bella, the look on his face! 'So you could n't leave it to me even to bury him,' he said." She hid her eyes in Bella's lap. "And that was the end."
There was a long, long silence. At last a hand on Hildegarde's hair, and Bella's voice saying: "For you it was n't the end."
The other lifted her face. "Yes, for me, too. 'There 's nothing to be done,' Louis repeated that. I was to go back, he said, for my father's sake. And I did. I was quite dazed. But for me, too, it was the end."
"Where is Louis now?"
"I don't know. I have n't seen him since."
"I got a letter to him, but--"
"Was 'n't there time for an answer?"
"I got an answer. But there was nothing in the letter."
"Nothing, but how they 'd buried John Galbraith. Oh, Bella!" Hildegarde's horror-struck eyes besought forgiveness.
But Bella spoke with a strange steadiness. "Louis did n't say any of the things you wanted him to say?"
Hildegarde shook her head. "We waited, father and I. We lived on board first one and then another steamer. And two ships went away without us. Father was so good, so good. He moved heaven and earth to get another message to Polaris to say that we were waiting. And Louis never came. I have hurt him so much he can't bear even to see me." They sat in silence, crying.
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"You and I will never let each other go."
"No, said Bella."
"You and I alone together till the end."
"Ky, of course," Hildegarde amended. "Where is she now?"
"Down there, in the shade of the redwood. There, don't you see?"
Hildegarde shook her head. "Not very well." She wiped away her tears. "But that 's how I kept seeing life all the way home. You and the great discoverer and I."
Bella had stood up. "You 're as blind as Ky!"
"Why do you say that?" Hildegarde asked miserably, with a sudden sense of desertion. "What do you see, then?"
"Louis Cheviot coming across the lawn."
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