THE TROUBLE WITH SRU

When he came to the fishing ground next morning, he kept a keen lookout
for any alteration in Sru.

Sru, however, seemed just the same, and the hands were working as
usual. Timau, wholly recovered now, was working with them, but there
was no sign of Isbel.

He asked Sru where she was, and Sru cast his yellow-whited eyes about
as if in search of her. He opined she might be somewhere in the grove
that lay to the right of the camping place, and indicated the place
with his hand. But as Sru spoke with seeming indifference, Floyd
noticed an expansion of his nostrils and a new light in his eye. It was
as though something had suddenly irritated him.

That something could only be Isbel.

Floyd thought little of the matter. He knew Isbel’s ways, and could
easily imagine that her strange nature might give cause for friction
between herself and her own people. He set to work and put the thought
of her out of his mind–or fancied that he had done so.

As a matter of fact, she was never quite absent from his mind, and he
had reached the stage now of anger with the Kanakas that she should be
of their blood and living among them as one of them.

The strange psychological fact presented itself that though Isbel was a
Kanaka, he was beginning to feel toward Kanakas some of that contempt,
amounting to dislike, so evident in Schumer. That she who was so
different to these people around him should be of the same blood was,
so to speak, an insult against her.

Sru’s savagery and scars, Timau’s ugliness–for Timau was a most
unbeautiful type, though, withal, having a certain honestness in
his plainness, the monkey tricks of the others, and their general
childishness and fatuity, all these things were a reflection on Isbel.

And she chose to live among them! She had discarded him for them. It
only wanted that to complete his feelings on the matter.

Before he returned to the camping place that night he caught a glimpse
of her. She was down by the lagoon edge, filling a bowl with sea water,
and when he spoke to her she replied to him as usual, yet her manner
was different. She seemed upset about something. He might have fancied
that she was sulking, had he not known her so well by unconscious study
of all her moods and expressions. This was not ill temper–as a matter
of fact in all his experience she had never shown ill temper–but
something else. She was unhappy. Something had occurred to disturb her
or to frighten her. She seemed cowed, and as she went off with the full
bowl, he was on the point of running after her to seek an explanation.

But he checked himself in time. He knew quite well it would be useless,
and he dreaded to give her any cause of offense. Sru most likely had
spoken harshly to her, or she had fallen out with some other member of
the tribe. It was not for him to interfere in the domestic affairs of
this strange company, and now for the first time fully he recognized
the veil of difference that separated him from this race, alien to him
as the people of some other star.

He got into the dinghy and returned to the house. It was the evening of
the new moon, and even as he rowed across the lagoon she showed in the
blue east like a reaper’s sickle held up for the sun to look at before
his setting.

Never had Floyd felt lonelier than this evening. Isbel seemed suddenly
to have pushed still farther away from him, and the lonely beauty of
the island under the sunset, and the sickle moon, seemed part of the
new loneliness that had fallen upon his life.

Halfway across the lagoon he stopped rowing and put his hand to the
pocket in which he carried the pearl box. He had left it behind on a
ledge of coral by the working place. It contained the day’s take, two
small pearls of little value; still, it must be recovered.

He turned the boat and rowed back. The hands had all dispersed along
the reef armed with fish spears, the tide was falling, and there were
often big fish to be got in the rock pools at low tide. Not a soul was
in sight, and, having found the box lying just where he had left it
on the ledge of coral, he turned back toward the boat. He had nearly
reached it when a cry from the grove which lay to the left of the
camping place made him start.

It was Isbel’s voice. In a moment he was away among the trees, and
there he found Sru, Sru struggling with Isbel.

The thing seemed absurd, absurd as the idea of a child struggling with
a tiger, and yet she was holding him off, with no breath now to cry
out, one hand twisted in his long hair, and the other striking at his
face.

Next moment Floyd had Sru by the throat, half strangling him with a
powerful grip; then, releasing him, he struck out.

The blow landed right on the point of the chin, and Sru, felled like an
ox under the poleax, crashed into an hibiscus bush and lay without kick
or movement as if he were dead. Floyd turned to Isbel. She had fallen
and half risen, supporting herself with one hand on the ground. She
seemed dazed, like a person who had received a violent blow.

He bent down, picked her up, and, holding her in his arms, carried
her down to the boat. He did not worry about Sru; his one thought
was to get Isbel to a place of safety. If Sru were dead, there would
be no more trouble over the matter. If, on the contrary, he was only
suffering from the effects of a knock-out blow, he would certainly seek
vengeance when he recovered. When he placed Isbel in the boat, he found
that she had lost consciousness.

The sun had not set; it was at the moment of conflict between the
starlight and the last rays of sunset, the pale sickle of the moon had
grown to a brilliant orange gold, and the light was strong enough to
brighten the lagoon water.

Arrived at the beach, he stepped out, and, lifting Isbel in his arms,
carried her up to the house. She was no longer unconscious, and, as he
carried her, he felt her arm clasped round his neck. It was as though
she were accepting his protection and thanking him at the same time.

Arrived at the house, he placed her on the bunk mattress upon which he
always slept, lit the lamp, and knelt down beside her. “You’ll stay
here now, Isbel,” said he; “you will not run away from me any more,
will you? I’ve been pretty lonely without you, but I did not mind so
long as I thought you were happy with your own people. You see how they
have treated you—-”

She raised herself on her elbow and looked into his face, the lamplight
struck her hair and forehead, while he saw nothing for the moment, and
knew of nothing, but the brown depths of her eyes, so close to him, so
mysterious, so luminous–yet so dark.

“I will stay,” said she. “I did not know you before. I know you now.”

He took her hand and she let him hold it for a moment. It was the first
time that hand had been in his, a hand firm, yet soft, subtle, yet
capable, warm as life itself. Then he released it and rose up. There
was grim business to be attended to, and as he fetched the two rifles
and their ammunition from the adjoining room, the feeling came to him
that up to this he had never really lived, but had only existed as a
spectator of life. Here was life raw and real, the battle for existence
and love and everything worth having; the supreme moment which many of
us never know.

He placed the rifles on the table and the ammunition beside them, and
then went back and fetched the revolvers. When he returned, he found
that Isbel had left the mattress and was standing by the table, with
one hand resting on it, and her eyes fixed on him.

“These are for Sru if he comes with any of those fellows behind him,”
said Floyd. “It’s as well to be prepared.”

“Schumer showed me how,” said she, “before you came here–long before.
Look—-” She opened the breech of one of the Winchesters, extracted
the cartridges, and put them back. “Then you fire–so.” She put the
rifle to her shoulder and took aim at some imaginary object, then,
lowering it, she turned to him, and for the first time she smiled.

Her eyes lit with a new light, her little teeth shone, it was as
though something bright and fierce, some unknown spirit, dwelling in
her nature, had suddenly peeped out. He recalled the day when they had
smashed the bottles on the reef, and she had assisted, laughing at the
destruction. She had not smiled, she had laughed, little short laughs
sharp as the thrusts of a stabbing spear.

“Ah,” said Floyd, “you know how to use a gun. Well, that’s all the
better. If they come to make any trouble, we will be able to give them
something they won’t like, you and I.”

“You and I,” said Isbel, with the same smile. Then, suddenly, she
pressed her little white teeth on her under lip.

She placed the rifle back on the table, and, turning, left the house by
the open door.

Floyd looked after her, wondering what had happened now. He finished
the examination of the rifles and revolvers, and then, leaving them
upon the table, came outside.

Isbel was lighting the fire to prepare supper for him.

You may also like