Story type: Literature
Only Farallone’s face was untroubled. His big, bold eyes held a kind of grim humor, and he rolled them unblinkingly from the groom to the bride, and back again. His duck trousers, drenched and stained with sea-water, clung to the great muscles of his legs, particles of damp sand glistened upon his naked feet, and the hairless bronze of his chest and columnar throat glowed through the openings of his torn and buttonless shirt. Except for the life and vitality that literally sparkled from him, he was more like a statue of a shipwrecked sailor than the real article itself. Yet he had not the proper attributes of a shipwrecked sailor. There was neither despair upon his countenance nor hunger; instead a kind of enjoyment, and the expression of one who has been set free. Indeed, he must have secured a kind of liberty, for after the years of serving one master and another, he had, in our recent struggle with the sea, but served himself. His was the mind and his the hand that had brought us at length to that desert coast. He it was that had extended to us the ghost of a chance. He who so recently had been but one of forty in the groom’s luxurious employ; a polisher of brass, a holy-stoner of decks, a wage-earning paragon who was not permitted to think, was now a thinker and a strategist, a wage-taker from no man, and the obvious master of us three.
The bride slept on the sand where Farallone had laid her. Her stained and draggled clothes were beginning to dry and her hair to blaze in the pulsing rays of the sun. Her breath came and went with the long-drawn placidity of deep sleep. One shoe had been torn from her by the surf, and through a tear in her left stocking blinked a pink and tiny toe. Her face lay upon her arm and was hidden by it, and by her blazing hair. In the loose-jointed abandon of exhaustion and sleep she had the effect of a flower that has wilted; the color and the fabric were still lovely, but the robust erectness and crispness were gone. The groom, almost unmanned and wholly forlorn, sat beside her in a kind of huddled attitude, as if he was very cold. He had drawn his knees close to his chest, and held them in that position with thin, clasped fingers. His hair, which he wore rather long, was in a wild tangle, and his neat eye-glasses with their black cord looked absurdly out of keeping with his general dishevelment. The groom, never strong or robust, looked as if he had shrunk. The bride, too, looked as if she had shrunk, and I certainly felt as if I had. But, however strong the contrast between us three small humans and the vast stretches of empty ocean and desert coast, there was no diminution about Farallone, but the contrary. I have never seen the presence of a man loom so strongly and so large. He sat upon his rock with a kind of vastness, so bold and strong he seemed, so utterly unperturbed.
Suddenly the groom, a kind of querulous shiver in his voice, spoke.
“The brandy, Farallone, the brandy.”
The big sailor rolled his bold eyes from the groom to the bride, but returned no answer.
The groom’s voice rose to a note of vexation.
“I said I wanted the brandy,” he said.
Farallone’s voice was large and free like a fresh breeze.
“I heard you,” said he.
“Well,” snapped the groom, “get it.”
“Get it yourself,” said Farallone quickly, and he fell to whistling in a major key.
The groom, born and accustomed to command, was on his feet shaking with fury.
“You damned insolent loafer–” he shouted.
“Cut it out–cut it out,” said the big sailor, “you’ll wake her.”
The groom’s voice sank to an angry whisper.
“Are you going to do what I tell you or not?”
“Not,” said Farallone.
“I’ll”–the groom’s voice loudened–his eye sought an ally in mine. But I turned my face away and pretended that I had not seen or heard. There had been born in my breast suddenly a cold unreasoning fear of Farallone and of what he might do to us weaklings. I heard no more words and, venturing a look, saw that the groom was seating himself once more by the bride.
“If you sit on the other side of her,” said Farallone, “you’ll keep the sun off her head.”
He turned his bold eyes on me and winked one of them. And I was so taken by surprise that I winked back and could have kicked myself for doing so.
Farallone helped the bride to her feet. “That’s right,” he said with a kind of nursely playfulness, and he turned to the groom.
“Because I told you to help yourself,” he said, “doesn’t mean that I’m not going to do the lion’s share of everything. I am. I’m fit. You and the writer man aren’t. But you must do just a little more than you’re able, and that’s all we’ll ask of you. Everybody works this voyage except the woman.”
“I can work,” said the bride.
“Rot!” said Farallone. “We’ll ask you to walk ahead, like a kind of north star. Only we’ll tell you which way to turn. Do you see that sugar-loaf? You head for that. Vamoose! We’ll overhaul you.”
The bride moved upon the desert alone, her face toward an easterly hill that had given Farallone his figure of the sugar-loaf. She had no longer the effect of a wilted flower, but walked with quick, considered steps. What the groom carried and what I carried is of little moment. Our packs united would not have made the half of the lumbersome weight that Farallone swung upon his giant shoulders.
“Follow the woman,” said he, and we began to march upon the shoe-and-stocking track of the bride. Farallone, rolling like a ship (I had many a look at him over my shoulder) brought up the rear. From time to time he flung forward a phrase to us in explanation of his rebellious attitude.
“I take command because I’m fit; you’re not. I give the orders because I can get ’em obeyed; you can’t.” And, again: “You don’t know east from west; I do.”
All the morning he kept firing disagreeable and very personal remarks at us. His proposition that we were not in any way fit for anything he enlarged upon and illustrated. He flung the groom’s unemployed ancestry at him; he likened the groom to Rome at the time of the fall, which he attributed to luxury; he informed me that only men who were unable to work, or in any way help themselves, wrote books. “The woman’s worth the two of you,” he said. “Her people were workers. See it in her stride. She could milk a cow if she had one. If anything happens to me she’ll give the orders. Mark my words. She’s got a head on her shoulders, she has.”
The bride halted suddenly in her tracks and, turning, faced the groom.
“Are you going to allow this man’s insolence to run on forever?” she said.
The groom frowned at her and shook his head covertly.
“Pooh,” said the bride, and I think I heard her call him “my champion,” in a bitter whisper. She walked straight back to Farallone and looked him fearlessly in the face.
“The bigger a man is, Mr. Farallone,” she said, “and the stronger, the more he ought to mind his manners. We are grateful to you for all you have done, but if you cannot keep a civil tongue in your head, then the sooner we part company the better.”
For a full minute the fearless eyes snapped at Farallone, then, suddenly abashed, softened, and turned away.
“There mustn’t be any more mutiny,” said Farallone. “But you’ve got sand, you have. I could love a woman like you. How did you come to hitch your wagon to little Nicodemus there? He’s no star. You deserved a man. You’ve got sand, and when your poor feet go back on you, as they will in this swill (here he kicked the burning sand), I’ll carry you. But if you hadn’t spoken up so pert, I wouldn’t. Now you walk ahead and pretend you’re Christopher Columbus De Soto Peary leading a flock of sheep to the Fountain of Eternal Youth…. Bear to the left of the sage-brush, there’s a tarantula under it….”
We went forward a few steps, when suddenly I heard Farallone’s voice in my ear. “Isn’t she splendid?” he said, and at the same time he thumped me so violently between the shoulders that I stumbled and fell. For a moment all fear of the man left me on the wings of rage, and I was for attacking him with my fists. But something in his steady eye brought me to my senses.
“Why did you do that?” I meant to speak sharply, but I think I whined.
“Because,” said Farallone, “when the woman spoke up to me you began to brindle and act lion-like and bold. For a minute you looked dangerous–for a little feller. So I patted your back, in a friendly way–as a kind of reminder–a feeble reminder.”
We had dropped behind the others. The groom had caught up with the bride, and from his nervous, irritable gestures I gathered that the poor soul was trying to explain and to ingratiate himself. But she walked on, steadily averted, you might say, her head very high, her shoulders drawn back. The groom, his eyes intent upon her averted face, kept stumbling with his feet.
“Just look,” said Farallone in a friendly voice. “Those whom God hath joined together. What did the press say of it?”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“You lie,” said Farallone. “The press called it an ideal match. My God!” he cried–and so loudly that the bride and the groom must have heard–“think of being a woman like that and getting hitched to a little bit of a fuss with a few fine feathers”; and with a kind of sing-song he began to misquote and extemporize:
“Just for a handful of silver she left me,
Just for a yacht and a mansion of stone,
Just for a little fool nest of fine feathers
She wed Nicodemus and left me alone.”
“But she’d never seen me,” he went on, and mused for a moment. “Having seen me–do you guess what she’s saying to herself? She’s saying: ‘Thank God I’m not too old to begin life over again,’ or thinking it. Look at him! Even you wouldn’t have been such a joke. I’ve a mind to kick the life out of him. One little kick with bare toes. Life? There’s no life in him–nothing but a jenny-wren.”
The groom, who must have heard at least the half of Farallone’s speech, stopped suddenly and waited for us to come up. His face was red and white–blotchy with rage and vindictiveness. When we were within ten feet of him he suddenly drew a revolver and fired it point-blank at Farallone. He had no time for a second shot. Farallone caught his wrist and shook it till the revolver spun through the air and fell at a distance. Then Farallone seated himself and, drawing the groom across his knee, spanked him. Since the beginning of the world children have been punished by spankings, and the event is memorable, if at all, as a something rather comical and domestic. But to see a grown man spanked for the crime of attempted murder is horrible. Farallone’s fury got the better of him, and the blows resounded in the desert. I grappled his arm, and the recoil of it flung me head over heels. When Farallone had finished, the groom could not stand. He rolled in the sands, moaning and hiding his face.
The bride was white as paper; but she had no eye for the groom.
“Did he miss you?” she said.
“No,” said Farallone, “he hit me–Nicodemus hit me.”
“Where?” said the bride.
“In the arm.”
Indeed, the left sleeve of Farallone’s shirt was glittering with blood.
“I will bandage it for you,” she said, “if you will tell me how.”
Farallone ripped open the sleeve of his shirt.
“What shall I bandage it with?” asked the bride.
“Anything,” said Farallone.
The bride turned her back on us, stooped, and we heard a sound of tearing. When she had bandaged Farallone’s wound (it was in the flesh and the bullet had been extracted by its own impetus) she looked him gravely in the face.
“What’s the use of goading him?” she said gently.
“Look,” said Farallone.
The groom was reaching for the fallen revolver.
“Drop it,” bellowed Farallone.
The groom’s hand, which had been on the point of grasping the revolver’s stock, jerked away. The bride walked to the revolver and picked it up. She handed it to Farallone.
“Now,” she said, “that all the power is with you, you will not go on abusing it.”
“You carry it,” said Farallone, “and any time you think I ought to be shot, why, you just shoot me. I won’t say a word.”
“Do you mean it?” said the bride.
“I cross my heart,” said Farallone.
“I sha’n’t forget,” said the bride. She took the revolver and dropped it into the pocket of her jacket.
“Vamoose!” said Farallone. And we resumed our march.
The line between the desert and the blossoming hills was as distinctly drawn as that between a lake and its shore. The sage-brush, closer massed than any through which we had yet passed, seemed to have gathered itself for a serried assault upon the lovely verdure beyond. Outposts of the sage-brush, its unsung heroes, perhaps, showed here and there among ferns and wild roses–leafless, gaunt, and dead; one knotted specimen even had planted its banner of desolation in the shade of a wild lilac and there died. A twittering of birds gladdened our dusty ears, and from afar there came a splashing of water. Our feet, burned by the desert sands, torn by yucca and cactus, trod now upon a cool and delicious moss, above which nodded the delicate blossoms of the shooting-star, swung at the ends of strong and delicate stems. In the shadows the chocolate lilies and trilliums dully glinted, and flag flowers trooped in the sunlight. The resinous paradisiacal smell of tarweed and bay-tree refreshed us, and the wonder of life was a something strong and tangible like bread and wine.
The wine of it rushed in particular to Farallone’s head; his brain became flooded with it; his feet cavorted upon the moss; his bellowed singing awoke the echoes, and the whole heavenly choir of the birds answered him.
“You, Nicodemus,” he cried gayly, “thought that man was given a nose to be a tripod for his eye-glasses–but now–oh, smell–smell!”
His great bulk under its mighty pack tripped lightly, dancingly at the bride’s elbow. Now his agile fingers nipped some tiny, scarce perceivable flower to delight her eye, and now his great hand scooped up whole sheaves of strong-growing columbine, and flung them where her feet must tread. He made her see great beauties and minute, and whatever had a look of smelling sweet he crushed in his hands for her to smell.
He was no longer that limb of Satan, that sardonic bully of the desert days, but a gay wood-god intent upon the gentle ways of wooing. At first the bride turned away her senses from his offerings to eye and nostril; for a time she made shift to turn aside from the flowers that he cast for her feet to tread. But after a time, like one in a trance, she began to yield up her indifference and aloofness. The magic of the riotous spring began to intoxicate her. I saw her turn to the sailor and smile a gracious smile. And after awhile she began to talk with him.
We came at length to a bright stream, from whose guileless superabundance Farallone, with a bent pin and a speck of red cloth, jerked a string of gaudy rainbow-trout. He made a fire and began to broil them; the bride searched the vicinal woods for dried branches to feed the fire. The groom knelt by the brook and washed the dust from his face and ears, snuffing the cool water into his dusty nose and blowing it out.
And I lay in the shade and wondered by what courses the brook found its way to what sea or lake; whether it touched in its wanderings only the virginal wilderness, or flowed at length among the habitations of men.
Farallone, of a sudden, jerked up his head from the broiling and answered my unspoken questions.
“A man,” he said, “who followed this brook could come in a few days to the river Maria Cleofas, and following that, to the town of that name, in a matter of ten days more. I tell you,” he went on, “because some day some of you may be going that voyage; no ill-found voyage either–spring-water and trout all the way to the river; and all the rest of the way river-water and trout; and at this season birds’ eggs in the reeds and a turtlelike terrapin, and Brodeia roots and wild onion, and young sassafras–a child could do it. Eat that….” he tossed me with his fingers a split, sputtering, piping hot trout….
We spent the rest of that day and the night following by the stream. Farallone was in a riotous good-humor, and the fear of him grew less in us until we felt at ease and could take an unmixed pleasure in the loafing.
Early the next morning he was astir, and began to prepare himself for further marching, but for the rest of us he said there would be one day more of rest.
“Who knows,” he said, “but this is Sunday?”
“Where are you going?” asked the bride politely.
“Me?” said Farallone, and he laughed. “I’m going house-hunting–not for a house, of course, but for a site. It’s not so easy to pick out just the place where you want to spend the balance of your days. The neighborhood’s easy, but the exact spot’s hard.” He spoke now directly to the bride, and as if her opinion was law to him. “There must be sun and shade, mustn’t there? Spring-water?–running water? A hill handy to take the view from? An easterly slope to be out of the trades? A big tree or two…. I’ll find ’em all before dark. I’ll be back by dark or at late moonrise, and you rest yourselves, because to-morrow or the next day we go at house-raising.”
Had he left us then and there, I think that we would have waited for him. He had us, so to speak, abjectly under his thumbs. His word had come to be our law, since it was but child’s play for him to enforce it. But it so happened that he now took a step which was to call into life and action that last vestige of manhood and independence that flickered in the groom and me. For suddenly, and not till after a moment of consideration, he took a step toward the bride, caught her around the waist, crushed her to his breast, and kissed her on the mouth.
But she must have bitten him, for the tender passion changed in him to an unmanly fury.
“You damned cat!” he cried; and he struck her heavily upon the face with his open palm. Not once only, but twice, three, four times, till she fell at his feet.
By that the groom and I, poor, helpless atoms, had made shift to grapple with him. I heard his giant laugh. I had one glimpse of the groom’s face rushing at mine–and then it was as if showers of stars fell about me. What little strength I had was loosened from my joints, and more than half-senseless I fell full length upon my back. Farallone had foiled our attack by the simple method of catching us by the hair and knocking our heads together.
I could hear his great mocking laugh resounding through the forest.
“Let him go,” I heard the groom moan.
The bride laughed. It was a very curious laugh. I could not make it out. There seemed to be no anger in it, and yet how, I wondered, could there be anything else?
When distance had blotted from our ears the sound of Farallone’s laughter, and when we had humbled ourselves to the bride for allowing her to be maltreated, I told the groom what Farallone had said about a man who should follow the stream by which we were encamped.
“See,” I said, “we have a whole day’s start of him. Even he can’t make that up. We must go at once, and there mustn’t be any letting up till we get somewhere.”
The groom was all for running away, and the bride, silent and white, acquiesced with a nod. We made three light packs, and started–bolted is the better word.
For a mile or more, so thick was the underwood, we walked in the bed of the stream; now freely, where it was smooth-spread sand, and now where it narrowed and deepened among rocks, scramblingly and with many a splashing stumble. The bride met her various mishaps with a kind of silent disdain; she made no complaints, not even comments. She made me think of a sleep-walker. There was a set, far-off, cold expression upon her usually gentle and vivacious face, and once or twice it occurred to me that she went with us unwillingly. But when I remembered the humiliation that Farallone had put upon her and the blows that he had struck her, I could not well credit the recurrent doubt of her willingness. The groom, on the other hand, recovered his long-lost spirits with immeasurable rapidity. He talked gayly and bravely, and you would have said that he was a man who had never had occasion to be ashamed of himself. He went ahead, the bride following next, and he kept giving a constant string of advices and imperatives. “That stone’s loose”; “keep to the left, there’s a hole.” “Splash–dash–damn, look out for that one.” Branches that hung low across our course he bent and held back until the bride had passed. Now he turned and smiled in her face, and now he offered her the helping hand. But she met his courtesies, and the whole punctilious fabric of his behavior, with the utmost absence and nonchalance. He had, it seemed, been too long in contempt to recover soon his former position of husband and beloved. For long days she had contemplated his naked soul, limited, weak, incapable. He had shown a certain capacity for sudden, explosive temper, but not for courage of any kind, or force. Nor had he played the gentleman in his helplessness. Nor had I. We had not in us the stuff of heroes; at first sight of instruments of torture we were of those who would confess to anything, abjure, swear falsely, beg for mercy, change our so-called religions–anything. The bride had learned to despise us from the bottom of her heart. She despised us still. And I would have staked my last dollar, or, better, my hopes of escaping from Farallone, that as man and wife she and the groom would never live together again. I felt terribly sorry for the groom. He had, as had I, been utterly inefficient, helpless, babyish, and cowardly–yet the odds against us had seemed overwhelming. But now as we journeyed down the river, and the distance between us and Farallone grew more, I kept thinking of men whom I had known; men physically weaker than the groom and I, who, had Farallone offered to bully them, would have fought him and endured his torture till they died. In my immediate past, then, there was nothing of which I was not burningly ashamed, and in the not-too-distant future I hoped to separate from the bride and the groom, and never see them or hear of them in this world again. At that, I had a real affection for the bride, a real admiration. On the yacht, before trouble showed me up, we had bid fair to become fast and enduring friends. But that was all over–a bud, nipped by the frost of conduct and circumstance, or ever the fruit could so much as set. For many days now I had avoided her eye; I had avoided addressing her; I had exerted my ingenuity to keep out of her sight. It is a terrible thing for a man to be thrown daily into the society of a woman who has found him out, and who despises him, mind, soul, marrow, and bone.
The stream broke at length from the forest and, swelled by a sizable tributary, flowed broad and deep into a rolling, park-like landscape. Grass spread over the country’s undulations and looked in the distance like well-kept lawns; and at wide intervals splendidly grown live-oaks lent an effect of calculated planting. Here our flight, for our muscles were hardened to walking, became easy and swift. I think there were hours when we must have covered our four miles, and even on long, upward slopes we must have made better than three. There is in swift walking, when the muscles are hard, the wind long, and the atmosphere exhilarating, a buoyant rhythm that more, perhaps, than merited success, or valorous conduct, smoothes out the creases in a man’s soul. And so quick is a man to recover from his own baseness, and to ape outwardly his transient inner feelings, that I found myself presently, walking with a high head and a mind full of martial thoughts.
All that day, except for a short halt at noon, we followed the river across the great natural park; now paralleling its convolutions, and now cutting diagonals. Late in the afternoon we came to the end of the park land. A more or less precipitous formation of glistening quartz marked its boundary, and into a fissure of this the stream, now a small river, plunged with accelerated speed. The going became difficult. The walls of the fissure through which the river rushed were smooth and water-worn, impossible to ascend; and between the brink of the river and the base of the walls were congestions of boulders, jammed drift-wood, and tangled alder bushes. There were times when we had to crawl upon our hands and knees, under one log and over the next. To add to our difficulties darkness was swiftly falling, and we were glad, indeed, when the wall of the fissure leaned at length so far from the perpendicular that we were able to scramble up it. We found ourselves upon a levelish little meadow of grass. In the centre of it there grew a monstrous and gigantic live-oak, between two of whose roots there glittered a spring. On all sides of the meadow, except on that toward the river, were superimpending cliffs of quartz. Along the base of these was a dense growth of bushes.
“We’ll rest here,” said the groom. “What a place. It’s a natural fortress. Only one way into it.” He stood looking down at the noisy river and considering the steep slope we had just climbed. “See this boulder?” he said. “It’s wobbly. If that damned longshoreman tries to get us here, all we’ve got to do is to choose the psychological moment and push it over on him.”
The groom looked quite bellicose and daring. Suddenly he flung his fragment of a cap high into the air and at the very top of his lungs cried: “Liberty!”
The echoes answered him, and the glorious, abused word was tossed from cliff to cliff, across the river and back, and presently died away.
At that, from the very branches of the great oak that stood in the centre of the meadow there burst a titanic clap of laughter, and Farallone, literally bursting with merriment, dropped lightly into our midst.
I can only speak for myself. I was frightened–I say it deliberately and truthfully–almost into a fit. And for fully five minutes I could not command either of my legs. The groom, I believe, screamed. The bride became whiter than paper–then suddenly the color rushed into her cheeks, and she laughed. She laughed until she had to sit down, until the tears literally gushed from her eyes. It was not hysterics either–could it have been amusement? After a while, and many prolonged gasps and relapses, she stopped.
“This,” said Farallone, “is my building site. Do you like it?”
“Oh, oh,” said the bride, “I think it’s the m–most am–ma–musing site I ever saw,” and she went into another uncontrollable burst of laughter.
“Oh–oh,” she said at length, and her shining eyes were turned from the groom to me, and back and forth between us, “if you could have seen your faces!”
It seemed strange to us, an alteration in the logical and natural, but neither the groom nor I received corporal punishment for our attempt at escape. Farallone had read our minds like an open book; he had, as it were, put us up to the escapade in order to have the pure joy of thwarting us. That we should have been drawn to his exact waiting-place like needles to the magnet had a smack of the supernatural, but was in reality a simple and explicable happening. For if we had not ascended to the little meadow, Farallone, alertly watching, would have descended from it, and surprised us at some further point. That we should have caught no glimpse of his great bulk anywhere ahead of us in the day-long stretch of open, park-like country was also easily explained. For Farallone had made the most of the journey in the stream itself, drifting with a log.
And although, as I have said, we were not to receive corporal punishment, Farallone visited his power upon us in other ways. He would not at first admit that we had intended to escape, but kept praising us for having followed him so loyally and devotedly, for saving him the trouble of a return journey, and for thinking to bring along the bulk of our worldly possessions. Tiring at length of this, he switched to the opposite point of view. He goaded us nearly to madness with his criticisms of our inefficiency, and he mocked repeatedly the groom’s ill-timed cry of Liberty.
“Liberty!” he said, “you never knew, you never will know, what that is–you miserable little pin-head. Liberty is for great natures.
‘Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.’
But the woman shall know what liberty is. If she had wanted to leave me there was nothing to stop her. Do you think she’d have followed the river, leaving a broad trail? Do you think she’d have walked right into this meadow–unless she hadn’t cared? Not she. Did you ask her advice, you self-sufficiencies? Not you. You were the men-folk, you thought, and you were to have the ordering of everything. You make me sick, the pair of you….”
He kept us awake until far into the night with his jibes and his laughter.
“Well,” he said lastly, “good-night, girls. I’m about sick of you, and in the morning we part company….”
At the break of dawn he waked us from heavy sleep–me with a cuff, the groom with a kick, the bride with a feline touch upon the hair.
“And now,” said he, “be off.”
He caught the bride by the shoulder.
“Not you,” he said.
“I am to stay?” she asked, as if to settle some trivial and unimportant point.
“Do you ask?” said he; “Was man meant to live alone? This will be enough home for us.” And he turned to the groom. “Get,” he said savagely.
“Mr. Farallone,” said the bride–she was very white, but calm, apparently, and collected–“you have had your joke. Let us go now, or better, come with us. We will forget our former differences, and you will never regret your future kindnesses.”
“Don’t you want to stay?” exclaimed Farallone in a tone of astonishment.
“If I did,” said the bride gently, “I could not, and I would not.”
“What’s to stop you?” asked Farallone.
“My place is with my husband,” said the bride, “whom I have sworn to love, and to honor, and to obey.”
“Woman,” said Farallone, “do you love him, do you honor him?”
She pondered a moment, then held her head high.
“I do,” she said.
“God bless you,” cried the groom.
“Rats,” said Farallone, and he laughed bitterly. “But you’ll get over it,” he went on. “Let’s have no more words.” He turned to the groom and to me.
“Will you climb down the cliff or shall I throw you?”
“Let us all go,” said the bride, and she caught at his trembling arm, “and I will bless you, and wish you all good things–and kiss you good-by.”
“If you go,” said Farallone, and his great voice trembled, “I die. You are everything. You know that. Would I have hit you if I hadn’t loved you so–poor little cheek!” His voice became a kind of mumble.
“Let us go,” said the bride, “if you love me.”
“Not you,” said Farallone, “while I live. I would not be such a fool. Don’t you know that in a little while you’ll be glad?”
“Is that your final word?” said the bride.
“It must be,” said Farallone. “Are you not a gift to me from God?”
“I think you must be mad,” said the bride.
“I am unalterable,” said Farallone, “as God made me–I am. And you are mine to take.”
“Do you remember,” said the bride, “what you said when you gave me the revolver? You said that if ever I thought it best to shoot you–you would let me do it.”
“I remember,” said Farallone, and he smiled.
“That was just talk, of course?” said the bride.
“It was not,” said Farallone; “shoot me.”
“Let us go,” said the bride. Her voice faltered.
“Not you,” said Farallone, “while I live.”
His voice, low and gentle, had in it a kind of far-off sadness. He turned his eyes from the bride and looked the rising sun in the face. He turned back to her and smiled.
“You haven’t the heart to shoot me,” he said. “My darling.”
“Let us go.”
“Let–you–go!” He laughed. “Send–away–my–mate!”
His eyes clouded and became vacant. He blinked them rapidly and raised his hand to his brow. It seemed to me that in that instant, suddenly come and suddenly gone, I perceived a look of insanity in his face. The bride, too, perhaps, saw something of the kind, for like a flash she had the revolver out and cocked it.
“Splendid,” cried Farallone, and his eyes blazed with a tremendous love and admiration. “This is something like,” he cried. “Two forces face to face–a man and a bullet–love behind them both. Ah, you do love me–don’t you?”
“Let us go,” said the bride. Her voice shook violently.
“Not you,” said Farallone, “while I live.”
He took a step toward her, his eyes dancing and smiling. “Do you know,” he said, “I don’t know if you’ll do it or not. By my soul, I don’t know. This is living, this is. This is gambling. I’ll do nothing violent,” he said, “until my hands are touching you. I’ll move toward you slowly one slow step at a time–with my arms open–like this–you’ll have plenty of chance to shoot me–we’ll see if you’ll do it.”
“We shall see,” said the bride.
They faced each other motionless. Then Farallone, his eyes glorious with excitement and passion, his arms open, moved toward her one slow, deliberate step.
“Wait,” he cried suddenly. “This is too good for them.” He jerked his thumb toward the groom and me. “This is a sight for gods–not jackasses. Go down to the river,” he said to us. “If you hear a shot come back. If you hear a scream–then as you value your miserable hides–get!”
We did not move.
The bride, her voice tense and high-pitched, turned to us.
“Do as you’re told,” she cried, “or I shall ask this man to throw you over the cliff.” She stamped her foot.
“And this man,” said Farallone, “will do as he’s told.”
There was nothing for it. We left them alone in the meadow and descended the cliff to the river. And there we stood for what seemed the ages of ages, listening and trembling.
A faint, far-off detonation, followed swiftly by louder and fainter echoes, broke suddenly upon the rushing noises of the river. We commenced feverishly to scramble back up the cliff. Half-way to the top we heard another shot, a second later a third, and after a longer interval, as if to put a quietus upon some final show of life–a fourth.
A nebulous drift of smoke hung above the meadow.
Farallone lay upon his face at the bride’s feet. The groom sprang to her side and threw a trembling arm about her.
“Come away,” he cried, “come away.”
But the bride freed herself gently from his encircling arm, and her eyes still bent upon Farallone—-
“Not till I have buried my dead,” she said.