West was so immersed in his own thoughts,
awakened by these new developments, he apparently
did not hear what the girl said. She reached
out and pressed his arm.
“Do you not see, Captain West?
Daylight is coming; it is much lighter over there.”
He lifted his head, and looked where
she pointed. A dull, grey light topped the waters,
and the sky above held a faint tinge of crimson.
The wan glow accented the loneliness, and for the
moment left him depressed. Was there ever a more
sombre scene than was presented by that waste of tumbling
waves, stretching to the horizon, arched over by a
clouded sky? It grew clearer, more distinct,
yet remained the same dead expanse of restless water,
on which they tossed helplessly and alone. Nothing
broke the grimness of it, not even a bird in the air,
or a leaping fish; complete desolation met the eye
in every direction, a threatening, menacing dreariness
amid which each approaching swell seemed about to
sweep them to destruction. The wind increased
slightly with the dawn, buffeting the frail raft to
which they clung desperately, and showering them with
spray, while, as the light became stronger, they searched
vainly for any sign of ship, or shadow of land.
Nothing appeared within range of vision to break the
drear monotony of grey sea and sky. Neither felt
any desire to speak; they could only stare out silently
across the desolation of waters, feeling their helplessness
and peril. This then was the morning they had
struggled forward to this green, grey monster,
whose dripping jaws showered wet foam over them; this
terrible nothingness which promised death.
Her head sank forward into her hands,
as though she would thus shut out the whole weird
picture, and West, aroused by the slight movement,
glanced quickly aside. The sight of her distress
gave him instant mastery over his own depression.
His hand sought her own, where it gripped for support,
and closed over it warmly.
“It cannot be as bad as it seems,”
he insisted, trying to say the words cheerfully.
“I know these waters, and they are never long
deserted. Luck will change surely; perhaps within
the hour we shall be picked up, and can laugh at all
She lifted her head, and their eyes met frankly.
“I am not afraid,” she
protested. “Not physically, at least.
Truly I have not felt fear since you joined me, Captain
West. Before that I was alone, and was frightened
because I could not in the least understand why I was
being held a prisoner, or what my fate was to be.
Now all I must meet is the danger of the sea, with
you to share the peril with me.”
“But you are very tired?”
“Perhaps so, yet I have not
thought about that. There are other things; you
do not believe in me.”
“Why say that?” he asked,
in astonishment. “There is no question of
the kind between us now.”
“Truly, is there not? There
has been, however; I know from the way you spoke.
What was it you believed of me that that
I was part of this conspiracy?”
“I do not know what I believed,
if I actually believed anything, Miss Natalie,”
he explained rather lamely. “I cannot make
the situation altogether clear even to myself.
You see I kept meeting and talking with you or
I thought I did and yet never found you
to be the same. I was all at sea, unable to get
anything straight. One moment I was convinced
of your innocence; the next something occurred to make
you appear guilty, a co-conspirator with Jim Hobart.
Under the circumstances, you cannot condemn me justly.”
“Condemn! I do not.
How could I? You must have kept faith in me nevertheless,
or you would never be here now. That is what seems
marvellous to me that you actually cared
enough to believe.”
“I realize now that I have,”
he said gravely. “Through it all I have
kept a very large measure of faith in you.”
“Why should that faith have
survived?” she questioned persistently, as though
doubt would not wholly leave her mind, “we had
no time to really know each other; only a few hours
at the most, and even then you must have deemed me
a strange girl to ask of you what I did. Surely
there was never a madder story told than the one I
told you, and I couldn’t have proven an item
“Yet it has shown itself true,” he interrupted.
“You actually believe then that
there is another woman a counterfeit of
“It is the only theory feasible;
you have convinced me of that.”
“Yet this does not answer my
question altogether. You are convinced now, perhaps,
because you accept my word, but how have you kept faith
in me when you believed just as strongly that it was
actually I who met and talked with you? I who
was playing in the game with the man Hobart?”
“Will you believe what I say?”
“Perhaps it sounds like a fairy
tale,” he spoke frankly, his eyes seeking her
own, all their surroundings forgotten in the eagerness
of the moment, “but I will tell you the exact
truth. Before this misunderstanding occurred
you had confided in me, trusted me, although I was
a stranger and I believed absolutely in your story.
I had that basis to rest on. In addition to this,
those few hours I passed at ‘Fairlawn’
served to confirm my faith. I got hold of various
odds and ends of evidence which convinced me that
something was wrong that you were actually
being conspired against. I even gained a suspicion
that Percival Coolidge was the actual leader of the
“Percival Coolidge! but why? What could
he gain by such a crime?”
“I have not found the answer
yet, but my conviction remains strong stronger,
indeed, than ever since our talk last night. You
could never have been made prisoner in that cottage
without his connivance; he must have lured you there
for that particular purpose, so that this other girl
could take your place without danger of discovery.
It was a neat trick, so well done as to even deceive
me. The reason for Percival’s participation
is only a guess, but my theory is the fellow had so
juggled your fortune, and the time for final accounting
was so near, he had to take a desperate chance in
order to save himself.”
“You mean the opportunity came, and he could
“Perhaps so, and perhaps it
was his own deliberate plan. That remains to
be discovered. My own theory is that when Hobart
learned what Percival Coolidge proposed doing, his
own criminal tendencies told him that here was some
easy money. The girl was undoubtedly wholly under
his control; some denizen of the underworld probably.
She had already played her part sufficiently well
to convince Hobart of success. Why then, shouldn’t
he have this money instead of Percival? There
was no reason except that Percival was in the way.
That was why he was killed.”
“He may not have fired the shot,
but I have no doubt he inspired it; and the job was
so expertly done the coroner called it suicide.
The way was open; you were a prisoner, and the false
Natalie Coolidge safely installed as mistress of ‘Fairlawn.’
No one apparently suspected anything wrong.”
“And,” she questioned breathlessly, “the
man meant to murder me also?”
“Not at that time in my judgment,”
West answered thoughtfully. “Such an additional
crime was not a part of the original plan. There
was no apparent necessity. Your estate was about
to be settled finally, and given over to your control
in accordance with the terms of your father’s
will. Hobart must have known all this from Percival
Coolidge, and exactly what steps must be taken to
secure it. Once the money, and other property,
were delivered to the fake Natalie, the cashing in
and get away would be easy; even the identity of the
thieves would be concealed. Killing you was not
at all necessary to the success of their scheme.”
“But they did try to kill me.”
“Yes, later, by the sinking
of the yacht. Probably I am largely responsible
“Yes; the persistency with which
I stuck to the trail. They became frightened.
My appearance in Wray Street must have been quite a
shock, and when I succeeded in escaping from their
trap there, Hobart very evidently lost his head completely.
He did not dare risk my ever finding you. The
knowledge that I was free, perhaps in communication
with the police, led to your night trip to the Seminole,
and the secret sinking of the yacht. He had gone
too far by then to hesitate at another murder.”
She waited breathlessly for him to
go on, her eyes on the tumbling waste of water.
He remained quiet, motionless, and she turned toward
“I I think I understand
now,” she admitted, “how all this occurred;
but why why were you so persistent?
There there must have been a reason more
impelling than a vague suspicion?”
“There was the most compelling impulse
in the world.”
“You mean faith in me?”
“Even more than that; love for
you. Natalie, listen; what I have to say may
sound strange, cruel even under such conditions as
now surround us, but you force me to say them.
I love you, have loved you all the time, without fully
realizing exactly what it meant. There have been
times when I have doubted you, when I could not wholly
escape the evidence that you were also concerned personally
in this fraud. I have endeavoured to withdraw
from the case, to forget, and blot everything from
memory. But something stronger than will prevented;
I could not desert you; could not believe you were
wilfully wrong. You understand what I mean.”
“Yes,” the words barely
reaching him. “It was the other girl; she
undermined your faith.”
“That is the truth; yet how
could it be, do you suppose? My very love should
have enabled me to detect the difference. I can
see now, thinking back, where the fraud was even apparent in
mood, temper, action and yet at the time
these made no such impression. Even Sexton never
questioned her identity; in face, figure, dress the
resemblance was absolutely perfect. Good heavens,
but she is an actress!”
She touched his arm with her hand,
and under the slight pressure he looked aside at her.
“You know now,” she said
softly, “and I know. All this is passed
and gone between us. We are here alone, the sport
of the waves, and I have no reason to be other than
frank. I believe in you, Matthew West; in your
honesty and manhood. You say you love me?”
“With all my heart and soul;
it seems to me now I have always loved you you
came to me, the lady of my dreams.”
Her eyes were wet with unshed tears,
yet she smiled back into his face, her voice trembling
as she answered.
“And I,” she said slowly,
“have had no thought but of you since our morning
in the garden together. How far away that seems.”
“You mean you love me?”
“Yes; I love you; there is no
word stronger, but I would speak it is
that not enough?”
He held her in his arms, in spite
of the trembling raft, tossed by the swell of the
sea, and crushed her against him in the ardent strain
of passion. An instant she held her head back,
her eyes gazing straight into his; then, with sigh
of content, yielded, and their lips met, and clung.
The very silence aroused them, startled
both into a swift realization of that dreary waste
in which they floated helplessly alone, a drifting
chip on the face of the waters. Her eyes swept
the crest of the waves, and she withdrew herself partially
from his arms.
“Why, we must be crazed to dream
of happiness here,” she exclaimed. “Was
there ever before so strange a confession of love?
I am trying to be brave but but
that is too much; that waste of green water, with the
grey sky overhead. There is no ending to it just
death mocking us in every wave. Oh, Matthew,
can this be all? Only this little moment, and
then the end?”
He held her hands tightly, his heart
throbbing, but his courage and hope high.
“No, dear,” he whispered
eagerly. “Don’t think that for a moment.
We have passed through too much to dream of such an
ending now. There will be ships there
must be. Look! what is that, yonder against the
sky-line? It is, sweet-heart; it is the smoke
of a steamer.”