BY ETHEL COOK ELIOT
All rights reserved
Published February, 1931
Reprinted February, 1931 (three times)
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Ariel, quiet but alert, lay in her steamer chair, one ofthe most inconspicuous of the several hundred passengers theBermuda was bringing to New York. No one would be likelyto look at her twice or give her a second thought, as she crouchedaway from the March wind, insufficiently protected from thecold by her nondescript tweed coat, and carelessly, casually bare-headed.All about her on the deck were people of outstanding,vivid types. The thing that had impressed Ariel about these fellowpassengers during the two days of the voyage was theirapparent self-sufficiency,—a gay, bright assurance of their ownsignificance, and the reasonableness, even the inevitableness, oftheir being what and where they were. The very children appearedto take it quite as a matter of course that they shouldcome skimming over the Atlantic in a mammoth boat-hotelwhile they played their games, read their books and ate theirmeals,—just like that.
Ariel took nothing as a matter of course, and she never hadfrom the minute of earliest memory. Her proclivity to wonderand to delight was as organic as her proclivity to breathe. Butnow it was neither delight nor wonder but an aching suspensethat quivered at the back of her mind. She thought, “If Fatherwere here! If it weren’t alone, this adventure! New York Harborat last! I—Ariel! But it isn’t real. There’s no substance. Itwas to have happened and been wonderful, but this is palerthan our imagining of it. The shadow of our imagining. Oh, it’sI who have died and not Father. Where he is, whatever he isdoing, it’s still real with him. With Father it would be alwaysreal,—alive.”
A steward came up the deck, carrying rugs and a book forthe woman who had occupied the chair next to Ariel’s duringthe two days’ voyage. Two children with their nurse trailed behind.Ariel’s glance barely touched the group and returned toNew York’s terraced, dream-world sky line. But she was gladthat these people had come up on deck and would be near herduring the little while left of ship life. It did not matter thatthey would remain unaware of her until the very end. It wasmore interesting, being interested in them, than having theminterested in her. And there was no reason on earth why theyshould be interested in her. It never entered Ariel’s head thatthere was.
Joan Nevin, the woman, was tall, copper haired and eyelashed,and graceful with a lithe, body-conscious kind of gracefulness,of fashion, perhaps, more than of nature. Her sleek furcoat, her high-heeled, elegant pumps—even the close dark hat,flaring back from her copper eyebrows—these seemed to motivateher gait and her postures. She was, perhaps, more pliableto them than they to her. But Ariel did not mind this, althoughshe realized it. It was wonderful, in its way, fascinating bystrangeness.
To tell the truth, Mrs. Nevin interested her more at the momentthan the unknown, beautiful harbor at which she appearedto be gazing. And no aching longing for her father’ssharing of this interest could turn it dreamlike, for her fathercould never share it, alive or dead. Fashionable women, even ata distance, bored him. But how did a woman like that feel, Arielwondered, about her so finished and catered-to beauty, and hereasy self-sufficiency? And how did it feel to have two burnished,curled children that were one’s very own, to love, to live for, toplay with? How wonderful if Ariel herself had had childrenof her own to play with and dance with on their beach, whileher father was alive and she could still have gloried in them,before the sense of unreality had settled like a thin dust overunshared happiness!
The Nevins and the nurse had come the length of the decknow, and were standing near her, but not taking their chairs,and oddly silent. Still, she would not look directly at them todiscover the reason. If she looked into their faces she might becomevisible to them. So far, these two past days, Ariel had keptherself wrapped in a cloud of invisibility, she felt, merely bynot meeting other eyes. She was shy of contacts, ever since herfather’s death; and the aching, hurting suspense at the back ofher mind, which was caused by dread of the near approachingmeeting with her father’s friend, had only intensified her desirefor invisibility.
As for Mrs. Nevin, until this instant she had been nearly asunaware of Ariel as Ariel supposed her to be. She had looked ather once or twice in the beginning, to wonder whether it wasa child, a girl or a woman who occupied the neighboring chair,but quickly decided that such speculation was waste of timesince the one thing certain was that Ariel’s age didn’t matter,since she was obviously—nobody. From that decision she hadreturned to social obliviousness, lying back for hours at a time,wrapped up preciously by her eager cabin steward in two fur-linedrugs, which could not have been hired for the passage butmust be her own expensive property, following with absorptionthe fine print of a thick novel by some one named Aldous Huxley.Now and then she would lift languid but brilliant eyes andgaze for a while at the flying sea. That was all, for after the firsthalf hour on board she had not thought it worth her while towaste that brilliant languid gaze on any other fellow-passengermore than on Ariel.
But now she remained standing by Ariel’s chair, as thoughwith some intention, and Ariel had finally to look up and meet,for the first time, in a direct exchange of glance, those brilliant,mahogany-colored eyes set wide apart under their stronglyarched coppery brows, and it was, without doubt, a breathtakingmoment. But it was the steward who was speaking, andhis tone was seriously accusatory. “You are occupying the lady’schair.”
He was right. In the excitement of at last being almost in,so near the landing, Ariel had neglected to make sure of herown name—Ariel Clare—on the slip of pink cardboard stuckinto the holder on the chair’s back. “I’m sorry,” she muttered,rose and was off like a bird. The steward’s eyelids just flickeredas she brushed past him in exquisite, smooth flight. But theflicker was not because the steward had recognized that thenondescript, pale, young girl had turned exquisite with motion.He blinked merely because her decision to depart and thedeparture had been so strangely, almost weirdly, simultaneous.
“Tuck it in at the foot more, please. Very well. That will do.Thank you.” Ariel, out by the deck rail, heard Mrs. Nevin’slow, but carrying voice directing and dismissing her eager slave.“It was unkind and perfectly needless,” she thought. “Any chairwould have done her just as well for the next few minutes untilwe land. It doesn’t matter, though. I won’t care.”
But she decided to go for a last time up to the sun deck. Shecould watch the boat docking from there just as well—betterthan from here—and discover her father’s friend among thecrowds on the dock just as easily. She was through with deckchairs and pink cards and haughty neighbors, for this voyage,anyway. But she wished she could wipe out from her memoryforever those brilliant, indifferent eyes.
She found the sun deck surprisingly clear of passengers. Thedeck chairs there had been almost all gathered up and werenow being stacked into corners to wait for the return voyage andnew voyagers. Ariel crossed to the rail and began to search, eyesnarrowed against the cold sunlight glinting from cold waves,for her father’s friend in the dark mass at the edge of the pierover there, which only now was beginning to show itself asseparate individuals waiting for the docking of the Bermuda.
“When I care so much that just a stranger scorns me andfinds me in the way, how am I going to help caring terribly ifthe Weymans don’t like me?” she asked herself, baffled thatby no act of will could she slow the beating of her excited heartor cool the fire she felt in her cheeks. “Hugh’s so tall I mustsoon make him out, if he’s really come to meet me. I’ll wavewhen he catches sight of me.... Forget myself.... Wave forFather.... Pretend it’s Father seeing Hugh after all theseyears, and not I. I will not be strange and shy.”
She imagined her father in her place, leaning on the rail,—blond,blue-eyed, chuckling softly and searching with anticipatoryeagerness for the high-held dark head of his friend whichwould stand out any minute now above the crowd of people.And Gregory Clare was so living, so vibrant with life and joy inlife, that when the people on the pier, looking up, first caughtsight of him, not a soul of them but would ask himself “Who’sthat rather wonderful-looking person?” and an involuntarylight, a contagion of life, would ripple answeringly in the liftedfaces.
The wind whipped a strand of Ariel’s hair smartingly acrossher eyes. She shut them against the pain for an instant, andwhen she opened them again her father had gone. She was alone.She was only herself now, shy, trivial, pale,—a worm thatwondered about the impression she was going to make on herfather’s friend and his family. And all the time there was NewYork’s sky line to glory in.
Well, even though she was so mean a person, so little andmean in her hidden self, perhaps she could do something toimprove the outward girl. She could at least put on her hat,stand straight—not flattened against the rail like a weak pieceof straw in the wind,—hold her chin up—her chin that waslike her father’s, pointed, but firm. She pulled out the hat fromone of the pockets of the tweed coat, pushed her blown hair upunder its brim and pulled it well down on her head. It was anotable hat, once well on, and whatever it did for the inner girl,it certainly changed the whole air of the outer, visible girl. Itwas French felt of an exceptionally fine quality, and green, theshade of Bermuda waters when they are stillest. Her fatherhad bought it for her one day in St. George’s. He said he hadgot it for a song at a stupid sale. It was one of the very few hatsof her life, as it happened, because her father thought hats ingeneral ridiculous and more suitable for monkeys than for menand women. But this hat was different. He realized that, whenhe caught it from the corner of his eye, passing the shop window.It sang Ariel. And he had got it for a “song.” But not thefeather that was tacked to the brim, ruffling jewel notes in thewind. That had dropped from a song, not been bought at all.He had picked it up on the beach almost at their door as hecame back one afternoon, not many weeks ago, from what wasto prove his last swim. No bird from which this feather couldhave dropped had ever been seen on the island, so far as anyornithologist knew. But here was the feather, in spite of that.It was magic, then. And it magic’d the hat. It pointed the factthat Ariel’s eyes, rather narrow, but nice friendly eyes, and freeas the day from the malice that one sometimes detects even inthe pleasantest children’s eyes, were as green as itself,—as greenas Bermuda waters.
Now those eyes had discerned one head that did top all theother heads on the approaching pier, and it very probably wasHugh’s. But she had decided last night, or early this morning—shehad slept very little—that she would begin, at least, bycalling him “Mr. Weyman.” For it was five years and a fewmonths over since they had seen each other. His father too haddied, since that far-away time, and he had left law school tobecome the support of his mother and younger brother andsister. At twenty-five, still a student without responsibilities,when they had entertained him at the studio, he had seemed aboy. But at thirty now, and having, as she had, encountereddeath, could he be the same at all, any more than she was thesame