THE FIGURE-HEAD GAINS AN ADMIRER

When she was ten years old Rachel left the country school, and when she
was eighteen she graduated from the High School in Old Harbour. Her
course of study in that institution had been protracted by reason of
the frequent spells of bad weather which, for weeks together, had kept
her a prisoner at the Point. These interruptions she had accepted
philosophically, for she had preferred to gain knowledge in an
unhampered fashion, to look about her, to ask questions, to read the
books of her own choosing. She was an exceedingly headstrong creature
and had anyone wished to manage her he would have experienced great
difficulty. However, apparently, no one had such an unreasonable wish.

Her lean little face was charming. With its broad forehead and high
cheek bones it suggested a type of the Renaissance. The expression in
her eyes was candid and thoughtful. Her nose was straight, her upper
lip short, her mouth full and handsome in line, though, in meaning,
asleep. Activity of the mind gives character to the eye, activity of
the emotions individuality to the lips, and Rachel Beckett had not
lived emotionally. She was still chained heavily by her youth, for
youth has its shackles as well as age.

It was about this time that André Garins approached her with an
important proposition. He came leaping down the path from the
lighthouse and found her seated in the lobsterman’s door. In the
kitchen Nora could be heard scolding. Occasionally the words were
drowned in guttural sobs.

“It’s her pork pie,” Rachel explained. “I got to reading and the fat
just bubbled up before I knew. Now I’m going to Old Harbour to get her
another,” she added in a louder voice, “Want to come along?”

André nodded. He had attained his full height without losing the
slimness of adolescence. “There’s something I want to talk to you
about,” he said shyly.

But he did not broach the subject at once; instead he said tentatively
as the two breasted the high wind which was all alive with the tang of
the sea, and in which the girl’s garments rattled like the rigging of a
ship, “It’s good of you to get her another pork pie; why do you do it?”

“Because,” Rachel answered with spirit, “people once in a while ought
to have what they want–if it’s only pork pie.”

André regarded her beautiful face with dull curiosity. “Then you’re
not doing it because you’re sorry for her?” he asked.

“No,” she answered shortly; “principle.”

But the abstract had no meaning for André; he always thought in
straight lines and his thoughts were convertible into actions. Now he
took up the matter which had brought him to her.

“Mother thinks you and I could set up shop together,” he said. “She
thinks I can paint what are called ‘souvenirs’; you know I paint very
well, and you could take charge of the candy and fruit. She thinks we
might get quite a little trade from the hotel people all about here, if
we opened a shop in that unused barn of Shattuck’s.”

The proposition appealed to Rachel mightily. Now that the schooldays
were past she found herself much too frequently in the presence of Nora
Gage and quarrels were constant. If the young girl had had her way she
would have bundled the so-called housekeeper out of the door and have
done the work herself, but old David was fastidious in the matter of
her hands and cherished the idea of one day seeing her a “lady.”
André’s plan seemed to offer scope for her energy, she hailed it
joyfully. A week later the youthful shop keepers were established in
their odd quarters.

The situation of the unused barn was magnificent. It stood on the top
of a high turfy hill which overlooked both the ocean and the bay. On
going around it a narrow path, almost hidden by the tall grass, was
discovered, and this path led directly to that bit of the bay shore
where were the figure-head and the wreck. The door of the barn
commanded the road. There was something in the bleakness of the
situation that took hold on the fancy. The barn had long been an
object of popular interest. It was toned by the weather to the
beautiful grey of a dove’s wing. It leaned lightly to one side. Its
two front windows were like empty eye-sockets. As one approached it,
climbing around the crumbling foundation of what years before had been
a house, he imagined it the retreat of birds of prey.

The only steeds housed here were the horses of the wind, in the pauses
of the storms that swept the Point. The barn was supposed to be
haunted. Therefore the scene that greeted the first curious visitors,
struck pleasantly on their sight.

A bit of sail-cloth bearing the inscription: _Souvenirs And
Confectionery_ appeared over one window, and a little trail of smoke
issued from the other. Just inside the door was Rachel. She stood
behind an improvised counter of new boards on which was ranged a file
of golden oranges. Oranges and girl, how they lit the gloom! When not
engaged in waiting on a customer, and her duties in this direction were
of the lightest, Rachel made a pretence of sewing, though oftener than
not the sewing was abandoned for a book. The range of her reading at
this time was remarkable. Like her father, she read everything that
came her way with a kind of tragic eagerness. Frequently closing the
book and leaning her elbows on the counter, she would gaze straight
ahead, while the questioning look deepened in her eyes. In the
background where a ray of light fell André painted the lighthouse in
garish colours on the bosom of a heaven-tinted shell.

What a pair they were, to be sure! What a bouquet of innocence, youth
and utterly worthless endeavour!

The enterprise brought in little, though during July and August people
came from the Ocean View House and even from remoter hotels on outlying
islands. At this André laughed in his heart, but after the novelty had
worn off, Rachel was less pleased. The money that she earned bought
her a new dress and hat; but it was not sufficient to lighten the
burden on her grandfather’s shoulders. Unable longer to bear the
hardships of lobster-fishing, old David had sold his pots. Taking part
of his scant savings he had bought four cows. He now peddled milk from
one end of the Point to the other. Rachel sometimes looked at him with
sudden fear, though their poverty she realized but vaguely, never
having known anything different. She mended his clothes and lavished
upon him every care. She opened her heart to him, and in spirit he
dwelt there as in a wide, sunny room. But, though he knew her heart,
neither he nor anyone else, knew what was passing in her mind.
Sometimes with a vigorous motion she would clasp her hands behind her
head while she stared through the doorway of the barn; then she would
slip away, taking the winding path to the bay, and remain there for
hours.

The groups of rocks on the bay shore differed from those fronting the
ocean. They were more sad than threatening in form and were covered
thickly with seaweed, like enormous heads with hair. In this hair
sparkled iridescent drops left by the receding tide; these drops
resembled jewels. The rocks, indeed, were decked like the heads of
women, and by reason of the long tresses of seaweed that trailed from
them and that undulated on the surface of the water, an uneasy
restlessness seemed to pervade them.

Rachel would eye them gloomily: then, flinging herself down, she would
observe the various forms of life in the little pools of water where
floated crabs and jellyfish. In the prominent eyes of the crab she saw
the desire for its prey. Looking upward, attracted by the sinister
screech of gulls, she saw them fluttering about the nest of a
sanderling which they pillaged of its eggs. Letting her glance fall
again she studied the little bell-shaped barnacles, like tiny huts,
which everywhere adhered to the rocks in settlements. As the water
approached, one after another of the doors of these wee huts opened and
a hand, vaporish, white as light, reached forth and gathered in the
necessary provender. Everywhere, everything received what it needed to
sustain life. She alone was starved.

With these thoughts surging in her brain, Rachel would make her way
back to the barn. There, with cheeks puffed out, stooping over his
work, she would find André. One day when she entered the barn he
greeted her with a gleeful announcement: he had sold five little shells
and one big one during her absence. She turned away. She had often
watched the faces of the summer people: they bought the shells out of
pity for André, or perhaps, because they admired his handsome face. As
art, she suspected, the shells were nothing. Why could he not see?

“You have no ambition,” she said surlily, “there are schools where one
can learn to do this sort of thing, I suppose. You ought to want to
get away and study.”

Amazed, he looked up at her. “But the shells sell all right,” he
remarked. “I paint well enough for that.”

She made no answer and sparks of some sort glowed in her eyes. She
shook her head at him.

“You’re just like a barnacle,” she cried passionately, “_it_ clings to
a rock, _it_ lives in a corner; everyday when the tide comes in, _it_
opens its door and gathers in food. In the same way every morning you
wait for the city people. You open your door, you reach out your
hand–like this, and you take in the pennies. Bah! is that enough for
you?”

“Well, isn’t it?” he asked, and in his eyes, as he looked at her,
dawned a certain yearning softness.

But she turned away. “Then stay on your rock,” she flashed out; “I
want more.”

He came up to her and laid his hand on her arm.

“What do you want?” he asked.

She looked at him and seeing tears in his eyes, she turned away
sullenly. “I don’t know,” she answered, “but I want life–more’n what
the sea brings me.”

Then suddenly she broke from him and darted into the twilight.

The field where old David put the cows to pasture lay a comparatively
short distance from the house, in the direction of the bay. But
Rachel, leading a large white cow by a rope, had elected to go round by
“the barn.”

“Come along, Betty,” she cried, as she turned into the main road
dragging the surprised animal after her.

A dense fog obscured every landmark. Looking backward, she could just
discern the placid light of the cow’s eyes below the sickle of its
horns; looking downward, she could make out her own feet and the stalks
of grass and flowers beside the road. Moisture clung to the grass in
pendant beads, and there was a fugitive flash of colour here and there
close to the ground. All else was sheeted in the white pall. Groups
of firs looked like spectres, the bushes covered with fluffs of mist
looked like phantoms; Rachel herself appeared like a ghost.

The sea hurled itself against the cliffs. Now and again when it
suspended its roar, the moaning of the fog bell could be heard. In
these intervals of comparative quiet the surging fury in the girl’s
heart gave way to waves of melancholy. She had quarrelled with Nora
Gage that morning and the colour was still high in her cheeks.
Presently she came to a pause, stamping on the ground; the next moment,
however, she was moved to laughter. In a sty beside the road a group
of pigs was nozzling in a trough. One sat up and looked at her with
Nora’s eyes.

Somewhat improved in humour, she went on up the road. When she came
opposite the barn, she clambered around the ruined cellar foundation,
and after tying the cow, entered the little shop. A fire had been
lighted in the battered stove and sent forth a cheerful flicker. Early
as it was, André was already at work; he was decorating a smooth
egg-shaped stone from which he had first removed its wrapping of
seaweed. He glanced up and a light leaped to his eyes. He looked at
Rachel with smiling intentness as if to satisfy himself that she had
not changed in any way over night. Finally he spoke:

“If you’d come a little sooner, Rachel, you’d have seen something.”

She spread her fingers above the stove and turned her neck from side to
side with a slow and graceful movement as the heat rushed into her face.

“What would I have seen?”

Jumping from his stool, André poured some coffee from a pot into a cup;
then he offered the cup to her.

“You look cold,” he said, gazing directly into her eyes; “are you
cold?” And taking her shawl, he shook the moisture from it. There was
always in his attitude toward her a kind of awe.

“What would I have seen?” she repeated without glancing at him.

“Why, a stranger was here. He’d been making a sketch of the
figure-head; he showed it to me.”

“I don’t see what right he had to draw it without my permission,” she
murmured jealously. “Was it a good picture, André?”

The lad looked doubtful. “It was all little scratchy lines,” he said.

Rachel brooded for some minutes over the stove; then she rose. “There
won’t be anyone here this morning,” she announced, “so I sha’n’t come
back. I’ve got to take Betty to pasture. Buttercup–all the
others–got hold of some sorrel; they’re sick.”

She went to the door. The fog was so thick that it looked like cotton.
The wild roses that bloomed here and there made delicate pink patterns
on this white. From the barn the sea no longer could be heard, the
complaint of the fog bell could be caught only faintly. Overhead,
through the mysterious whiteness, could just be discerned the pale disc
of the sun. The girl made her way through the mist as through a
tangible substance. She took the path to the beach and the cow
followed her placidly, the tall wet grass striking against its sides
and its udder swinging like a pendulum. Rachel slipped along the wet
path and climbed stealthily to the top of the first rock.

There, sitting on the wreck near the figure-head, was the stranger; but
he was not sketching. Instead, his head, from which the cap had
fallen, was bent forward and he was carefully burying in the sand what
appeared to be the scraps of a letter. When he had finished this
operation a kind of humorous relief was manifest all over him. A
passenger boat steamed down the bay; a line of smoke followed it. The
vessel was invisible, but the smoke lay in the fog a trail of black.
The young man turned his head to observe it, and at that instant Rachel
started and the cow behind her made a movement.

He looked up.

Poised on the summit of the rock, with the horns of the cow up-curving
about her feet, with the fog clinging to her dress of faded blue and
undulating about her in clouds, she resembled a figure of the Virgin in
a crescent moon.

The pupils of the stranger’s eyes, which were of a living, magnetic
black dashed with fiery sparks, dilated; and two perpendicular lines,
which started from the root of his nose, deepened to grooves on his
forehead. He got to his feet, his massive head with its hair thrown
back upraised toward her. Touched all over with a subjugating power, a
grace more penetrating than beauty, he stared, a sort of animal.

As for Rachel, something of his excitement was communicated to her.
For another instant she paused, held there by the mere force of his
gaze. Then she turned and descending from the rock, led the cow round
into the open space. A close observer might have seen that she wavered
slightly, like one who tastes of wine for the first time.

The spell, however, was broken for the stranger. Unconsciously, with
his lightning glance, he saw that there was a scratch on the back of
one of her hands, that their flesh was rough and that there were
freckles across her nose. She was just a strong, healthy, handsome
lass; and, with the fickleness of a child, he abruptly turned his
attention elsewhere. With excessive care he moved a small box, to
which a telephone was attached, to a position of greater safety.

Rachel watched him warily. Growing within her was an odd sense of
defiance, and this feeling triumphed finally over her natural shyness.

“Did you sketch the figure-head?” she asked all in a breath. Then a
wave of colour rose in her cheeks. She stood before him in a trance of
noble embarrassment.

“Why yes, I did,” he returned. He took a book from his pocket, opened
it to a certain page and presented it to her. The book was filled, all
but that page, with drawings of little instruments.

She slowly approached leading the cow. He turned to her his face,
framed in its curling beard. “I’m a pretty poor excuse for an artist,”
he began.

“That figure-head belongs to me,” she interrupted, handing the book
back.

A second time he fixed his attention upon her and two tiny stars of
laughter shot into his eyes. “Does it, indeed?” he remarked; there was
almost a caress in the words.

“Yes, my grandfather saved it and set it up here,” she affirmed. She
breathed quickly and every moment her shyness and her anger deepened.

“It appears to be an interesting bit of carving.” Stealing over this
great giant as he frankly studied her was something of the air of a
lazy lion. “I should say someone carved it who loved to carve,” he
added. Then, with an idea of giving her a chance to recover
countenance, he considerately turned his gaze in the direction of the
bay.

“What–what are you doing now?” she asked quickly; for her spirit was
roused and it behooved her to recover dignity.

“Well, I hoped to be able to get some of those fishermen to take me out
in a boat for a certain purpose, but they can’t see my signal and the
fog doesn’t lift.”

He seated himself on the wreck and began to touch up his drawing of the
figure-head, then he fell to making a tentative sketch of the
indistinct figures in the dories out on the water.

Had he made the slightest effort to detain her in conversation, Rachel
certainly would have turned on her heel; as it was, drawn on by her
curiosity, she moored the cow with a stone on the rope, and came nearer.

“All this is out of my line,” he explained, “but I like to try my hand
at it once in a way.” And, indeed, he looked hugely pleased with his
effort, as he held the paper at arm’s length to study the effect.

Rachel watched him and now and then her eyes travelled to his face with
the clear dispassionate gaze of a child. His cap lay on the sand at
his feet and his dishevelled locks moved in the wind above a face that
was simple and bold. His finger-tips were stained with acid, his
clothing was a bit careless; a spray of Prince’s Feather, freshly
picked, trailed from the button-hole of his coat. About them was
complete silence except for the plashing of the waves and an occasional
muffled cry from the almost invisible lobstermen. The fog wrapped them
round.

Presently he reached a point beyond which he was unable to carry his
sketch, and, abandoning it, he began turning the pages of the book at
first slowly, then with increased attention. At last he paused. His
eyes narrowed and the perpendicular wrinkle on his forehead deepened.
He read over some notes. He struck out a word here, inserted another
there; then commenced to write rapidly on the margin of the page and
for several minutes the scratching of his pencil continued. It was
apparent that like a hunter he was running down his quarry, and leaping
over many a ditch and rock in his excitement; it was apparent, too,
that he had entered a world in which woman was unknown.

Finally, Rachel’s interest expressed itself in an involuntary sigh, and
he raised his head with a dawning consciousness of her presence. Tiny
drops of moisture, like diamond dust, glittered in her hair. He
studied them; then met the brightness of her oval-shaped eye.

In his turn embarrassed, he hitched his shoulders and laughed.

“I forgot that you were here,” he said.

Until that moment she had not resented his indifference, but now, when
he voiced it, she felt a hot sense of chagrin. He had, she considered,
been pointedly lacking in courtesy. Moving away, she took up the rope
of the cow.

He got to his feet. “By Jove, I don’t see how it happened,” he said
simply.

It was the touch required. She halted and stood playing with the rope.

“I got to thinking of this,” he continued, and he laid his hand on the
box to which the telephone receiver was attached. “It’s something I’ve
been working out. I want to test it. It’s a fine coast for the
purpose. Plenty of submerged rocks, I should say,” and he gazed about
him.

She also swept the rolling leagues of misty emptiness, but with the
glance of one who is familiar with them, then her eyes, wistful and
unutterably intense, went to his. There was something about the life
and mentality of this man that startled and stirred her, something in
his appearance that seemed to speak of a nature unshackled, gigantic.

“I asked that boy at the old barn up the road where I could get hold of
a boat and someone to row,” he continued, “but he didn’t tell me.”

She turned from him. “I’ll take you,” she volunteered, “this
afternoon.”

At this the stranger showed a row of brilliant teeth. “Why
that–that’s fine,” he said. Once more his manner was gentle, almost
caressing.

To demonstrate his gratitude he tore from the book the sketch of the
figure-head and presented it to her.

She took it without exhibiting any emotion. Then, leading the cow, she
disappeared around a boulder. A moment later, however, she appeared on
its summit, and the cow pushed up behind her so that his first
miraculous impression was repeated.

“What time,” she asked, “do you want to go?”

He moved his lips without speaking; a magical light had dawned on his
world.

“Why, about three o’clock,” he answered,–pausing between the words.

And the next moment she was no longer there. The fog had closed over
the spot of the vision.