THE MIGRATORY INSTINCT

By the next morning the incident just recorded had taken on to Rachel a
somewhat different tinge. Her sense of humiliation had so far abated
as to admit of her entertaining a feeling of pity for Emil. He
certainly had appeared a disconsolate and astounded figure as he stood
there gazing after her as she drove away. She wished now that she had
not left so precipitately, or, at least, that she had not declined his
proffered assistance when mounting into the cart.

By an altered reasoning the apology which had offended her yesterday,
now gratified her. As a gentleman who had been guilty of the grave
misdemeanour of kissing a lady, he could not have acted differently;
for she now thrust the entire blame of the incident on his masculine
shoulders. “It certainly was his fault in the first place,” she
argued. And, having shifted the ground of resentment from the apology
for the kiss to the kiss itself, she resolved to forgive the wrong-doer.

The greater part of the day she spent in wandering on the shore of the
bay. Whenever she went there, instinctively she glanced at the mound
of sand where, on the occasion of their first meeting, she had seen
Emil bury the torn scraps of a letter. Not that she would have touched
the mound for the world, but the strictest would not censure a glance
of curiosity in that direction. Owing to its protection from the wind,
the little grave, strangely enough, had remained intact. But this
morning a scrap of paper appeared on the beach bearing, in what was
incontestably a woman’s handwriting, the single word “Dearest.”

Scarcely cognizant of what she did, Rachel, like a feminine Crusoe,
hovered over this bit of evidence on the sand. Like the legendary hero
her consciousness of being alone was destroyed, but with different
effect, for instead of an expression of surprise not unmixed with fear,
her look was one of suspicious misery.

“That letter was never from his mother,” flashed through her mind.
“Old ladies don’t make D’s that way, so big and round,–but small and
trembly. No, whoever she is, she’s young. Of course,” reason
suggested, “the letter may have been written by some relative–by a
cousin, perhaps.” The supposition was barely tenable.

With the keen brightness of eye that betokens jealousy, she remained
poised for the briefest fraction of time above the tantalizing find,
then she turned and pranced away. The instant devoted to the scrutiny
had been so short as to admit of scarcely more than half a heart-throb,
so short as scarcely to be termed a look at all, yet a sense of
dishonour was not lacking in her suffering.

She walked, stopped to think, shed a tear or two, and eventually grew
calm. What comforted her was the thought that Emil cared so little for
its writer that he had torn the letter into bits.

By afternoon her anxiety to forgive him for the misdemeanour of the day
previous had grown to such proportions as to drive her to the place of
meeting much earlier than usual; and waiting there still further
increased the feeling. When she saw him coming, she rose. Her arms,
hanging down her sides, trembled. She was all languor, all expectancy;
she was the desire for reconciliation incarnate. Yet even from a
distance, she knew that something was wrong. She turned upon him a
look of inquiry as he drew near with his hands sunk in his pockets and
his head lowered.

His face was clouded, his moustache curved downward, though when he
lifted his eyes to hers, into them flashed a warm and intensely
grateful smile. But the expression was succeeded by a gloomy one.

“Well, it’s all over,” he announced. “No need for me to have slaved
so. I’m thrown aside and someone else goes ahead and reaps the
profits.”

“What do you mean?” she gasped.

“Mean? Why I mean that my delightful employers have stolen the press,
the sheets, the whole scheme. I wasn’t quick enough and they got
someone else to finish the thing and applied for the patent.”

“How do you know?”

“Oh, I’ve been informed all right,” he said and from his pocket he drew
a letter.

Involuntarily Rachel extended her hand; then her face went white. On
the sheet that fluttered in his fingers she beheld the same childish
chirography that had appeared on the scrap of paper on the beach. Her
hand dropped.

“It’s always the same,” he went on, without noticing the change that
had come over her. And seating himself on the tomb, he took out his
pipe. Having filled it, he commenced to smoke, his eyes widely opened,
full of profound thought, fixed on vacancy.

“Not that it makes any difference,” he continued philosophically after
a pause. “The world gets the benefit of the invention; as for me, I’ve
plenty of other things in my head. I’m not crying over spilt milk,”
and he looked up at her and laughed while the shining returned to his
glance. Reaching out toward her he tried to take her hand. This
movement, while bold, was not destitute of an appealing grace. It was
a mute reference to the kiss, to their changed relations; it was also a
demand for sympathy.

At any other time Rachel would not have resisted it, but now she
stepped out of his reach. “Who is it that informs you?” Her voice was
implacable.

He hesitated. “The daughter of one of my employers,” he said in a low
tone. “She’s stood by me from the first,” he admitted. “She’s been in
fact a–little trump.” And then he sighed.

Rachel turned away her head. “I should think you’d go to her at once,”
she said. “I don’t see why you wait here. There’s a train at six.”

Disconcerted, he got to his feet. Their eyes locked. He glowered upon
her.

“You might be able to protect your rights,” she continued in a stinging
voice. “Then I should think, on _her_ account, if not on your
mother’s, you’d make the attempt.”

She saw the visible pang the mention of his mother occasioned.

“I will,” he cried, “I’ll go.” And he held out his hand.

She saw that he shook from head to foot, and she knew that she had hurt
him mortally. But every force of her passionate nature had become
negative to all appeal from him. She could but stand with an impassive
face and bid him go, lest he court worldly failure instead of success.

And so they parted like strangers.

When he had passed from her sight, Rachel sank in a little heap on the
tomb. She bent her face on her knees. She felt as if a
sounding-instrument had gone to the very depths of her heart and
explored there among ambiguous weeds and mud, and as she listened to
the message that came back, she rocked backward and forward in a very
ecstasy of barren grief and shame. It seemed to her that she had
reached the burying point of life, and her sobs, quick with the agony
of youthful living, sounded small and piteous in that quiet place of
the dead.

During the first weeks succeeding Emil’s departure, Rachel looked
feverishly for a letter. It seemed to her the intensity of her longing
must cause one to appear. But none came, and finally she realized that
none would come. She went about with a curled lip and a scornful eye.
Nora Gage might run the house as she chose and cook as many savory
dishes as she pleased, the girl did not care; she was indifferent even
to her grandfather; but let the one or the other cross her will, and
her anger blazed forth. These violent outbursts were nature’s defence.

In the painful upheaval that separated her dream from the reality, that
which was the very centre of her higher life, suffered to such an
extent that she must have become inert, had it not been for the
responsibility felt by all the ruder faculties of her hardy young
being. She had sought love, struggling albeit unconsciously, toward a
supposed freedom; and driven back on herself, she would have become
like a prisoner at the bottom of a cellar–bleeding, discouraged,
without further hope–had it not been for the nerves that proved
insurrectionary, for the temper that refused to be thwarted. The
activity of these rescuers gradually amazed the girl herself and drew
her from the contemplation of her trouble. But the experience, long
after the actual pain of it had given place to a general
dissatisfaction with existence, left its trace upon her face; and this
tempestuous beauty, wrought from within, played around her lips in a
smile of tragic comprehension and increased the range of her youthful
and expressive eye.

At home Nora dragged her slippers over the kitchen floor with a
flapping sound, and at “the barn,” where even the occasional customer
had ceased to appear, André played wild airs upon his fiddle. Both
these sounds were intolerable to Rachel and, to escape them, she fled
to the cliffs. There, even as the cold weather came on, she sat for
hours, with her chin buried in her hands and her eyes on the ocean–the
ocean which, unfathomable and perpetually active, built itself into
gigantic walls that broke against the rocks with a reverberating report
and were sucked back emitting long murmurs.

Old David, thinking that he discovered in this preoccupation with the
sea a likeness to her father, approached Zarah Patch on the subject and
from a distance, screwing up their eyes in the sunlight, the two
ancient men observed her.

“It’s her father’s blood,” explained old David, “often and often I seen
him look the same way.”

“It’s jest female feelings,” Zarah affirmed, “she ain’t rightly found
her rudder yet, and she’s young. It’s always so with women;”–a remark
of unusual length and penetration for Zarah.

Finally old David hit on a plan for diverting her, a plan, however,
which was destined to increase her malady rather than to cure it. In
the Old Harbour paper that once a week found its way to the Point,
there appeared an account of a private car fresh from the shops which,
for the purpose of conveying his family and friends to their home in
the city, had been brought to Old Harbour by a wealthy summer resident.
The car was stalled on a side track, and old David proposed to his
granddaughter that they go and see it.

It was a fine clear afternoon, and as the visit was in the nature of a
pleasure expedition, they drove beside Zarah Patch in his cart. As
they bowled along the road, the ruts of which were slightly stiffened
by the frost, old David talked continuously and Rachel found herself
listening.

“You know I used to work in the car shops at Philadelphy when I was a
young chap,” he explained. “It was an immense sky-lighted place
covered with tracks and filled from one end to t’other with cars, some
old to be repainted and some entirely new. Winter was the time when
the old ones used to come troopin’ back to us all faded and
travel-stained; they used to seem like old women whose finery was a
little gone-by, who came back to see how young and spruce they could be
made to look. And in the summer we fitted out the new ones, and they
of course was like young things jest preparin’ fer their first venture
into the world.

“I tell ye,” he continued, “I used to feel about them jest as if they
were human creatures. The men who worked there was called ‘liners,’
‘sign-writers,’ ‘hardwood-finishers,’ ‘decorators,’ and ‘rubbers-down.’
The ‘rubbers-down’ worked with emery-cloth and water, and oh my, didn’t
they have to be careful about savin’ the gold paint on the old cars,
though! For the letters and lines of gold on a car are always left to
stand, bein’ as you might say, her jewellery,” he added, with a
cackling laugh.

But when the little party descended at the station, the magnificence of
the new coach dazzled old David. He had never seen anything like it,
though this fact he strove to conceal.

“They used to decorate ’em more,” he said, “they used to paint scrolls
along the sides, and between the winders they put on yaller tulips; and
to my mind, the cars was handsomer.”

The ticket agent ran across the tracks to open the new coach and the
old man, to demonstrate his knowledge of the subject, began enumerating
the different classes of common cars. “‘P.K.’ is the best of ’em,” he
proclaimed, “‘P.K. Wide Vestibule’. But of course this car is
something a little extry.”

When, however, the ticket agent had left them and they once more stood
looking up at the coach, he broke forth into lyric praise of it.

“‘Tain’t hardly been on the tracks, remember,” he cried, “but think of
the miles and miles it has to run, through what different kinds of
country. It’ll be like a good soldier followin’ the leader! But the
engine! Oh, that’s the master of ’em all!” he continued; “great,
shinin’, pantin’ master, that’s what the engine is, the master.”

Rachel looked at the car as at a traveller who is about to start on a
long journey. Once she had seen the wife of the owner with a party of
friends, and she began filling the seats of the new coach with these
people. Oh, the ladies, the softly-turned heads; the nicely-dressed
children–no common folk were to ride in this car! And she imagined
how they would be carried forward, the rolling of the wheels growing
ever swifter and swifter; and then how they would arrive at that spot,
glimmering with a million lights, tumultuous and confused, the city
containing great homes.

On the drive back to the Point, she closed her eyes the better to
pursue her thoughts, and her grandfather’s words mingled with them like
something heard in a dream.

“Sometimes, not often, I used to paint station signs,” he said, “and
after I’d finished the name of a place–maybe it was Kingston, or maybe
it was only Smithville,–I used to think how the sign would be hung at
the end of a long platform or perhaps jest posted against a little shed
of a buildin’ in the midst of a great prairie, and I used to think of
the rain and the snow that’d blow against it, and most blot out the
letters, and the little birds that would perch on it; and somehow I
felt as if I had been to the places jest through paintin’ of the signs.”

Rachel pictured the earth webbed with tracks like veins, and she saw
the ships following certain appointed routes over seas; and again, as
in the past, it appeared to her that she was the one stagnant thing in
an active creation.

“But the signs I liked to paint best,” resumed her grandfather’s
tremulous voice, “were the _Stop-Look-Listen_ signs, and the
_Railroad-Crossin’–Look Out For The Engine_. They are made of cast
steel now and the letters are raised, but in my time they was of wood,
tall white posts with a pointin’ arm, like ghosts givin’ warnin’.”

It seemed to the girl that at all costs she must set herself free and
become a part of a moving and active world. But how transgress the law
that had placed her there on the Maine coast, without experience and
without outlet for all the various capacities of her being? From that
time she began to coax her grandfather to leave Pemoquod.

“The president of the car shops who gave you this house,” she began one
evening, winding her arms about his neck, “if you looked him up–”

“Nicholas Hart ain’t in Philadelphy no longer,” objected the old man.
“I seen in the papers years ago about the car shops failin’ when he had
’em, and then about his movin’ to New York City.”

“Yes, I know that,” she assented, “now if you looked him up, he’d
probably get you a nice easy position in New York. But I don’t intend
you shall work much longer,” she continued, “and that’s just the point;
I ought to be doing something to support us both. But what can I do
here?”

In vain old David protested that he did not wish her to work, she
overruled him, the more easily because his ever-youthful heart was
pleased with the idea of a change. Then, too, he was lapsing into his
second childhood and as time went on he allowed himself to be guided
more and more by her.

Nora Gage was no match for the pair. She had conceived a fondness for
the kitchen, for the stove, for the very pots and pans; moreover, the
food that she was able to get in this house was to her liking,
especially now, when secure from observation, she fried, stirred and
seasoned to her heart’s content. No longer driven to eat these
supplementary luncheons in the privacy of her own chamber, surrounded
by her mice like St. Francis by his birds, she ate when and where she
chose, even under the eyes of the abstracted girl. It must not be
concluded that she was ignorant of any detail of the plan that was on
foot. No one knew, better than she, through listening at the cracks of
doors, what was going forward. And anon she would be servile before
Rachel, through sheer apprehension, and again would rage inwardly to
think that the coming change in her fortunes was due to a brat of a
girl. The grandfather, by the force of that will which existed in the
depths of her being like a seldom-used sword in a scabbard, Nora could
have managed; but Rachel was beyond the range of her power. However,
when the announcement of the great news was finally made to her, her
plea was ready.

“And what’s to become of me, miss?” she demanded. “For more years than
ye’ve lived I’ve served yer grandfather faithful, and now at a word
from ye I’m turned off with no place to go.”

Rachel, sitting on the arm of her grandfather’s chair, regarded the
housekeeper coldly. “Why can’t you go back in the meat-market with
your cousin?” she asked; “grandfather says you used to be there.”

“Yes, but his son’s growed up now and he don’t need me,” and Nora began
to turn a corner of her apron over one stodgy finger. “It was jest as
my friends warned me,” she whimpered, “they said I’d be sorry if I
stayed on here after yer mother died. I’ve sacrificed everything for
ye two and ye don’t seem to know it.” She ended with a guttural sob.

Rachel scanned her with a swift glance from head to foot. “What have
you sacrificed for us?” she asked. “Haven’t you been paid?”

“Yes, but there’s some things that can’t be paid for,” Nora muttered.
“A woman can’t stay in a man’s house the way I have without its costing
her dear.”

The girl stared, then the clear colour stained her face. “Nonsense!”
she cried.

“It may seem nonsense to you, miss,” Nora retorted, “I can well
understand that it do–actin’ as you did awhile back. But it ain’t
nonsense to the world. I might as well be like that poor thing at the
lighthouse ‘stead of the decent woman I am, as far as the world knows.
I’ve give up everything for ye two, that’s what I have, and this is the
way I git treated,” and she began sobbing in earnest.

The old man gazed from one to the other in bewilderment. He saw his
granddaughter rise and heard her draw a sharp breath, and he saw the
housekeeper cower and drop her eyes.

Rachel passed to a window and stood there for some seconds; then a
whiff of cookery from the kitchen stirred in her a kind of pity.
Through a crack of the door was revealed that for which Nora struggled
and schemed. To have food in plenty, greasy, rich food, this was the
one desire of Nora’s life.

“Grandfather,” she said softly and a little wearily, without looking at
the woman, “if you are willing, we’ll take Nora with us.”

Of all this interesting parley which betrayed itself in the
late-burning lamp at the Beckett house, André Garins caught not an
inkling. He slept above in the lighthouse, or, when chance favoured,
below in his bed; and cut off as he was from news, he remained ignorant
of the proposed flight.

Occasionally, after he had polished the crystal lenses and the brass
trimmings of the lantern, his duties over for the day, he tapped at the
Beckett door; but Rachel was too busy to see him: and to escape the
belligerent eyes of Captain Daniels who drank secretly but heavily as
the cold weather came on, he betook himself to the deserted barn.

Blown upon by all the winds of heaven, with whisperings at every crack
and meanings in its loosened timbers, “the barn” was André’s retreat.
Far from finding it dismal, he had only to light a fire in the cracked
stove and whip out his fiddle; and henceforth, it became a cheerful and
friendly abode. He was too close to nature to be rendered unhappy by
mere loneliness. The booming of the sea against the cliffs and the
sighing of the wind in the vastnesses of the sedgegrass, but lit in him
a fiercer gayety.

Up to this time André had resembled one of those unobtrusive plants
which encumber the highway, but which are apt to escape notice until
the flowering season. He was as handsome as an animal, a child or any
other natural thing, and of the primitive soul at the bottom of him,
his large and rolling eye revealed little. But the hour comes when the
humble flower arrests our attention, if only for the fraction of a
moment, by opening a corolla of exquisite perfection.

It was on a day in late autumn after the first snow had vanished from
the earth, leaving it wistful and half-chastened, that Rachel sought
out André. It was to be expected that her schoolfellow would feel
sharp regret at her news, and for this reason she had delayed
enlightening him until the last moment. They stood some distance from
“the barn” in the pale sunlight and as she began to speak, he looked
straight into her eyes with a kind of uncomprehending terror. Scarcely
had she finished when he sank to the ground as if felled by a blow.

“Say you didn’t mean it,” he moaned, and at her dress she felt his
clinging hands while his forehead rested hot against her feet.

She lifted his head and saw his mouth twisting like a child’s, while
from his eyes poured two steady streams of tears.

“Why André!” she cried, and with a movement of almost maternal
compassion, she put her arms about him. Thus drawn against the sky,
the young pair vaguely suggested the group of Niobe and her child.

“Say you won’t leave me,” he moaned, “say we’ll be married and you’ll
never, never leave me.”

Softly she stroked his hair while gazing straight before her. Through
a sort of prescience she knew that this humble and suppliant love was
sweeter and more fathomless than anything that would come to her again.

“No, André dear,” she said finally, “I can’t stay just living on day
after day, and all the days just alike; I can’t because there’s
something _here_,” and she touched her heart, “that won’t let me. All
the same,” she continued, “I’m not sure that you’re not wiser. You’ll
stay here patiently, and, after a fashion, you’ll be happy, I suppose.
But it won’t be that way with me,” she added, with a prophetic shake of
the head; “I shall not be patient and so–”

But André comprehended nothing save the fact that the innermost hope of
his being was in ruins. He was sobbing now with even more abandon and
through the texture of her dress Rachel felt the pure warmth of his
tears.

“Look, André,” she said, “do you see that they are burning wrecks down
there–the lumber of those fishing boats that came ashore last spring.
Why are they doing it?”

He raised his wet eyes and followed the direction of her pointing
finger.

“It’s because they want to use the iron bolts that screw them
together,” she continued. “In just the same way, life treats us–like
wrecked barks, and the flames sweep over us, so that at last all that
is left is the iron strength of us.” She finished almost in a whisper,
as if she had forgotten him.

It was clear that André’s soul would continue to cling to her soul like
the lichen to the wood, the ivy to the tree. And this he knew, even
while he mourned the material separation.

Presently more matter-of-fact words brought him to himself. He ceased
weeping, and rising, stood at her bidding.

“You’ll see about the trunk lock,” she said, “right away; and you’ll
meet grandfather and go with him to buy the tickets. I’ll see you
again in the morning, but this is the real goodbye.”

His face was as calm as hers now, even the longing in it had died.
Seeing him thus–being no Spartan, but soft woman every inch–her arms
went about his neck and her lips met his. While the two young
creatures stood thus the sun, faintly pink, sank into the sea and a
cold wind blew over the land.

Rachel had disappeared but André had gone scarcely a hundred yards when
he flung himself face downward. With his hands knotted among the
sedgegrass, he wept without sound. A locust that had been lured from
its retreat by the warmth of the day, looked at him from the stalk of a
plantain, then changed its location to less violently agitated
quarters; only the shaking of some denuded stalks marked where the boy
lay.

Because of the insubmission, bravery and perseverance of a young girl,
the old weather-beaten house of the former lobsterman was forsaken. No
more would its rooms echo to the sound of voices, and footsteps would
no more pass its thresholds; its doors were closed. The sunlight would
penetrate into its unused rooms and trace the accustomed pattern on
floor and wall; no one would know. And on roof and steps the rain
would beat its old friendly reveille. Sagging in roof and beam under
the drifted snow of winter, denuded in summer of shutter and shingle,
gradually the abandoned house would disappear from the landscape;
little by little it would vanish like a nest that the birds have
forsaken.

When the hour for the departure arrived, several of the good wives of
the Point appeared. They formed a little group around Rachel. One of
them straightened her hat, another retied the scarf around her neck;
then they shook hands with her gravely, looking at her with dimmed
eyes. Rachel strained her gaze in the direction of the lighthouse and
saw Lizzie Goodenough standing with a parcel in her hands. Instantly
the girl darted up the rocky path and the two embraced, while the
others exchanged glances.

Old David, all eagerness to be off, had clambered into the cart in
which a quantity of household gear had been packed, and sat there
holding the reins; while Zarah Patch helped André bring out the one
trunk and several bags and boxes. At last all was in readiness, when
Nora Gage discovered an important item of luncheon unprepared for
transportation. Several baskets were offered, and in the confusion,
Rachel made her escape.

Arrived at the bay shore, flushed and panting, she stooped with a
graceful movement and laid her cheek against the wreck, while with her
hand she patted that shadowy collection of letters that still in washed
out reds and blues formed a name no wind nor tide could efface.
_Defender_! Warped, dislocated, destroyed, its tarry timbers pierced
with innumerable holes, its dismal hulk filled with the last lamentable
cargo of seawrack and sand, the wreck lifted its broken ribs like arms
toward the girl. From what would it restrain her? From what did it
seek to defend her?

Rising, she approached and stood before the figure-head, and the
figure-head looked back at her and, as it were, over and beyond her.
With a timid movement, Rachel kissed this old comrade also. Then she
ran away, and a moment later she looked back, and there she saw
her–that “great-kneed, deep-breasted” Goddess of Hope–with her face
set toward the Unknown,–valiant, free!