Gabrielle of the Lagoon: Part 23

Even the huddled crew seemed to come under the spell of Bilbao's personality as the first pallid hint of dawn swept across the seas. A hot wind from the inland forests on the starboard side stirred Ulysses'

magnificent moustache as he slowly rose to his feet, and with his hand arched over his clear blue eyes stared seaward. Then he lifted his dilapidated helmet-hat. The soft sea winds fluttered the bronze-hued curls that hung like an insignia of chivalry over his lofty brow. With a magnificent gesture he gently pulled the disheveled golden head towards his big bosom, then softly kissed Gabrielle's upturned face as though he had loved her a thousand years ago, and now, once again, they must part, each going their separate ways.

Gabrielle couldn't help coming under the influence of that extraordinary man: she too felt a definite sorrow over the parting. And as she looked up into the flushed, honest countenance, half in wonder at her own thoughts, and caught one glimpse from those fine eyes, she saw the _real_ Ulysses-all that he might have been.

"Captain, it's a-getting loight, dye's a-coming!" came like a rasp from the c.o.c.kney seaman. But even that voice could hardly break the romance of the farewell scene.

Then a mist seemed to come over the silent world as Ulysses, standing like a giant on deck amidst his wondering crew, dissolved into the shadows.

"Dip, dip," went the splashing oars as Gabrielle and Hillary looked into each other's eyes. They were in the ship's boat being rowed hurriedly ash.o.r.e at Aufurao.

Half-an-hour after they both stood on the beach of a strange, desolate land. Sunrise had just begun to throw ineffable hues over the mountain peaks just behind them. Once more they stared seaward and saw the _Sea Foam_ fading away on the wine-dark seas, the sails fast disappearing like a grey bird, taking Ulysses, his remorseful mate and crew, and laughing Mango Pango, beyond the horizon, out of sight, far from their aching, watching eyes.

It was a wild G.o.d-forsaken spot where Hillary and Gabrielle found themselves stranded. They were miles away from A--, where a scanty population of white men, half-a-dozen in all, owned copra, coffee and sugar plantations. But though it was the wildest spot in the whole of New Guinea, the young apprentice preferred it to any other. Even the great loneliness, that seemed to come out of the wide, endless seas into which the _Sea Foam_ had faded, was more welcome than his own thoughts.

"Come on, Gabrielle," he said, as he sighed, and looked seaward. He thought how he was seeing the great world with a vengeance, reaping life's full meed of romance and sorrow. He realised how one by one his old ideals had disappeared, receding into the past like frightened birds. But who can tell what thoughts haunted the young apprentice as the tropic sun blazed over the wild coast of New Guinea and as Gabrielle, exhausted, slept beneath the mountain trees.

As she lay there in the leafy glooms of the dwarf ivory-nut palms, he looked down on her sleeping face till the soft-lashed eyelids seemed to be two tiny graves wherein lay buried all the purest pa.s.sion of his dreams.

Up in the tall, dark-green-fingered palms a strange yellow iris bird was singing. And it seemed to him that it had come to serenade him in his loneliness and whistle some hope into his heart. Then it flew away, and he, too, lay down and slept till once more the great tropic night crept with stars over that wild, G.o.dforsaken forest coast. He heard the call of the red-wings in the jungle and the forest that ran sheer to the rugged mountains that overlooked the sh.o.r.e. It seemed that he and she dwelt alone in all that primitive world of sombre forest lands and interminable gullies.

"Gabrielle, we must get away from here," he said, as she stood beside him trembling. She had just awakened from a dream that had given her Hillary's love and the security of civilisation far from the unreal world of jungle that met her eyes.

"Come on, Gabrielle." The girl took his hand like an obedient child, and then walked with him out on to the reefs where the waves came hurrying in, tossing their white, foamy hands by the caves and coral bars.

Neither spoke one word about the arranged trip up the coast to the settlements, and of the _Lubeck_, N.G.L. steamer, and all that Ulysses had so carefully planned, so that they might not be stranded on that dreadful, fever-stricken coast. It seemed that they had read each other's souls and by instinctive communion stood there caring not where their steps might take them so long as they were together.

As they stood there at the edge of the promontory, beneath the bright stars, Hillary half imagined he stood again on the old hulk off Bougainville; the two dead screw-pines ahead of them looked just like the rotting masts of an old wreck.

"Come nearer, dearest," said the young apprentice, just as he had done on the derelict hulk. Then he said: "Gabrielle, don't cry, dearest. I love you with all my heart and soul. I realise now how you must have felt that night on the old hulk off Bougainville, when you wanted me to jump into the sea and die with you."

He pulled her softly towards him, rained impa.s.sioned kisses on her mouth and once more looked down into the depths of her eyes. Their lips met again and again. He placed his fingers in the folds of her glorious hair and breathed the music of his soul into her ears.

Like some herald of a phantom day, a great radiance flushed the horizon-it was the moon rising far out to sea. It was then that Hillary looked into the girl's eyes and said tenderly: "Is this to be the end, dearest?"

"I'll go anywhere with you," said Gabrielle.

A soft drift of wind came across the hot seas, ruffled the deep swell of the ocean, blowing Gabrielle's tresses out as she stood there.

Nor did the torn blue blouse, the dilapidated shoes and her jungle-scratched face impair her beauty.

Gabrielle simply pressed her lips to his and repeated: "I'll go wherever you go."

It was not till then that Hillary realised the soundness of Ulysses'

advice. A moment before in his dreamy, melancholy mood he had thought of putting out to sea with Gabrielle in an old canoe which he had found among the reefs. It would make so romantic a climax to their adventure: he had thought of the mysterious and wonderful on which they might find themselves driven by the sea, without chart or compa.s.s.

Gabrielle said she would go wherever he went. Well, after all, they would make their way to the small white settlement, and see what turned up then. Hillary would probably be able to find a ship to take him and Gabrielle away. And then-and then.

He turned again to the girl who was still staring out to sea.

"Are you ready?" he said, rousing himself. "For it seems to me the first thing we've got to do is a good long tramp. That'll bring us to the settlement. Don't you want to see people who are more or less civilised once again?"

"Of course I do. But when you said that about going away with you wherever you went, I thought-I thought you meant--" She hesitated.

"Oh! so you thought that," said Hillary. "Well, never mind. Come, we ought to make a move. And as we go you can tell me of everything that's happened." His face darkened. "Gabrielle," he added a moment later, "you know that I always believed in you."

"Yes," she added simply. "And-and, Hillary, thank G.o.d you _were_ in time to rescue me from that Rajah Macka. Oh, if you had been too late!"

Hillary for a moment turned away, his eyes wet with emotion. He had feared such unutterable things.

"Yes," he said, his voice hardly steady; "thank G.o.d, we were in time.

What an adventure it has been. But now everything seems to have come right again. And I've got you for always, haven't I?" he added. And the wind, singing in the palms, drifted a tress of Gabrielle's hair against his face as they stood there gazing on the great moonlit ocean before them.

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