Romance Island, by Zona Gale

Chapter 12

Between-worlds

Down nebulous ways they went, the thin darkness flowing past them. The sloping avenue ran all the width of the palace grounds, and here among slim-trunked trees faint fringes of the light touched away the dimness in the open spaces and expressed the borders of the dusk. Always the way led down, dipping deeper in the conjecture of shadow, and always before them glimmered the mist of Olivia’s veil, an eidolon of love, of love’s eternal Vanishing Goal.

And St. George was in pursuit. So were Amory and Jarvo, and Rollo of the oil-skins, but these mattered very little, for it was St. George whose eyes burned in his pale face and were striving to catch the faintest motion in that fleeing car ahead.

“Faster, Jarvo,” he said, “we’re not gaining on them. I think they’re gaining on us. Put ahead, can’t you?”

Amory vexed the air with frantic questionings. “How did it happen?” he said. “Who did it? Was it the guard? What did they do it for?”

“It looks to me,” said St. George only, peering distractedly into the gloom, “as if all those fellows had on uniforms. Can you see?”

Jarvo spoke softly.

“It is true, adôn,” he said, “they are of the guard. This is what they had planned,” he added to Amory. “I feared the harm would be to you. It is the same. Your turn would be the next.”

“What do you mean?” St. George demanded.

Amory, with some incoherence, told him what Jarvo had come to them to propose, and heightened his own excitement by plunging into the business of that night and the next, as he had had it from the little brown man’s lips.

“Up the mountain tomorrow night,” he concluded fervently, “what do you think of that? Do you see us?”

“Maniac, no,” said St. George shortly, “what do we want to go up the mountain for if Miss Holland is somewhere else? Faster, Jarvo, can’t you?” he urged. “Why, this thing is built to go sixty miles an hour. We’re creeping.”

“Perhaps it’s better to start in gentle and work up a pace, sir,” observed Rollo inspirationally, “like a man’s legs, sir, beggin’ your pardon.”

St. George looked at him as if he had first seen him, so that Amory once more explained his presence and pointed to the oil-skins. And St. George said only:

“Now we’re coming up a little — don’t you think we’re coming up a little? Throw it wide open, Jarvo — now, go!”

“What are you going to do when you catch them?” demanded Amory. “We can’t lunge into them, for fear of hurting Miss Holland. And who knows what devilish contrivance they’ve got — dum-dum bullets with a poison seal attachment,” prophesied Amory darkly. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” said St. George doggedly, “but if we can overtake them it won’t take us long to find out.”

Never so slightly the pursuers were gaining. It was impossible to tell whether those in the flying car knew that they were followed, and if they did know, and if Olivia knew, St. George wondered whether the pursuit were to her a new alarm, or whether she were looking to them for deliverance. If she knew! His heart stood still at the thought — oh, and if they had both known, that morning at breakfast at the Boris, that this was the way the genie would come out of the jar. But how, if he were unable to help her? And how could he help her when these others might have Heaven knew what resources of black art, art of all the colours of the Yaque spectrum, if it came to that? The slim-trunked trees flew past them, and the tender branches brushed their shoulders and hung out their flowers like lamps. Warm wind was in their faces, sweet, reverberant voices of the wood-things came chorusing, and ahead there in the dimness, that misty will-o’-the-wisp was her veil, Olivia’s veil. St. George would have followed if it had led him between-worlds.

In a manner it did lead him between-worlds. Emerging suddenly upon a broader avenue their car followed the other aside and shot through a great gateway of the palace wall — a wall built of such massive blocks that the gateway formed a covered passageway. From there, delicately lighted, greenly arched, and on this festal night, quite deserted, went the road by which, the night before, they had entered Med.

“Now,” said St. George between set teeth, “now see what you can do, Jarvo. Everything depends on you.”

Evidently Jarvo had been waiting for this stretch of open road and expecting the other car to take it. He bent forward, his wiry little frame like a quivering spring controlling the motion. The motor leaped at his touch. Away down the road they tore with the wind singing its challenge. Second by second they saw their gain increase. The uniforms of the guards in the car became distinguishable. The white of Olivia’s veil merged in the brightness of her gown — was it only the shining of the gold of the uniforms or could St. George see the floating gold of her hair? Ah, wonderful, past all speech it was wonderful to be fleeing toward her through this pale light that was like a purer element than light itself. With the phantom moving of the boughs in the wood on either side light seemed to dance and drip from leaf to leaf — the visible spirit of the haunted green. The unreality of it all swept over him almost stiflingly. Olivia — was it indeed Olivia whom he was following down lustrous ways of a land vague as a star; or was his pursuit not for her, but for the exquisite, incommunicable Idea, and was he following it through a world forth-fashioned from his own desire?

Suddenly indistinguishable sounds were in his ears, words from Amory, from Jarvo certain exultant gutturals. He felt the car slacken speed, he looked ahead for the swift beckoning of the veil, and then he saw that where, in the delicate distance, the other motor had sped its way, it now stood inactive in the road before them, and they were actually upon it. The four guards in the motor were standing erect with uplifted faces, their gold uniforms shining like armour. But this was not all. There, in the highway beside the car, the mist of her veil like a halo about her, Olivia stood alone.

St. George did not reckon what they meant to do. He dropped over the side of the tonneau and ran to her. He stood before her, and all the joy that he had ever known was transcended as she turned toward him. She threw out her hands with a little cry — was it gladness, or relief, or beseeching? He could not be certain that there was even recognition in her eyes before she tottered and swayed, and he caught her unconscious form in his arms. As he lifted her he looked with apprehension toward the car that held the guards. To his bewilderment there was no car there. The pursued motor, like a winged thing of the most innocent vagaries, had taken itself off utterly. And on before, the causeway was utterly empty, dipping idly between murmurous green. But at the moment St. George had no time to spend on that wonder.

He carried Olivia to the tonneau of Jarvo’s car, jealous when Rollo lifted her gown’s hem from the dust of the road and when Amory threw open the door. He held her in his arms, half kneeling beside her, profoundly regardless where it should please the others to dispose themselves. He had no recollection of hearing Jarvo point the way through the trees to a path that led away, as far from them as a voice would carry, to the Ilex Tower whose key burned in Amory’s pocket, promising radiant, intangible things to his imagination. St. George understood with magnificent unconcern that Amory and Rollo were gone off there to wait for the return of him and Jarvo; he took it for granted that Jarvo had grasped that Olivia must be taken back to her aunt and her friends at the palace; and afterward he knew only, for an indeterminate space, that the car was moving across some dim, heavenly foreground to some dim, ultimate destination in which he found himself believing with infinite faith.

For this was Olivia, in his arms. St. George looked down at her, at the white, exquisite face with its shadow of lashes, and it seemed to him that he must not breathe, or remember, or hope, lest the gods should be jealous and claim the moment, and leave him once more forlorn. That was the secret, he thought, not to touch away the elusive moment by hope or memory, but just to live it, filled with its ecstasies, borne on the crest of its consciousness. It seemed to him in some intimately communicated fashion, that the moment, the very world of the island, was become to him a more intense object of consciousness than himself. And somehow Olivia was its expression — Olivia, here in his arms, with the stir of her breath and the light, light pressure of her body and the fall of her hair, not only symbols of the sovereign hour, but the hour’s realities.

On either side the phantom wood pressed close about them, and its light seemed coined by goblin fingers. Dissolving wind, persuading little voices musical beyond the domain of music that he knew, quick, poignant vistas of glades where the light spent itself in its longed-for liberty of colour, labyrinthine ways of shadow that taught the necessity of mystery. There was something lyric about it all. Here Nature moved on no formal lines, understood no frugality of beauty, but was lavish with a divine and special errantry to a divine and special understanding. And it had been given St. George to move with her merely by living this hour, with Olivia in his arms.

The sweet of life — the sweet of life and the world his own. The words had never meant so much. He had often said them in exultation, but he had never known their truth: the world was literally his own, under the law. Nothing seemed impossible. His mind went back to the unexplained disappearing of that other motor and, however it had been, that did not seem impossible either. It seemed natural, and only a new doorway to new points of contact. In this amazing land no speculation was too far afield to be the food of every day. Here men understood miracle as the rest of the world understands invention. Already the mere existence of Yaque proved that the space of experience is transcended — and with the thought a fancy, elusive and profound, seized him and gripped at his heart with an emotion wider than fear. What had become of the other car? Had it gone down some road of the wood which the guards knew, or . . . The words of Prince Tabnit came back to him as they had been spoken in that wonderful tour of the island. “The higher dimensions are being conquered. Nearly all of us can pass into the fifth at will, ‘disappearing,’ as you have the word.” Was it possible that in the vanishing of the pursued car this had been demonstrated before him? Into this space, inclusive of the visible world and of Yaque as well, had the car passed without the pursuers being able to point to the direction which it had taken? St. George smiled in derision as this flashed upon him, and it hardly held his thought for a moment, for his eyes were upon Olivia’s face, so near, so near his own . . . Undoubtedly, he thought vaguely, that other motor had simply swerved aside to some private opening of the grove and, from being hard-pressed and almost overtaken, was now well away in safety. Yet if this were so, would they not have taken Olivia with them? But to that strange and unapparent hyperspace they could not have taken her, because she did not understand. “ . . . just as one,” Prince Tabnit had said, “who understands how to die and come to life again would not be able to take with him any one who himself did not understand how to accompany him . . . ”

Some terrifying and exalting sense swept him into a new intimacy of understanding as he realized glimmeringly what heights and depths lay about his ceasing to see that car of the guard. Yet, with Olivia’s head upon his arm, all that he theorized in that flash of time hung hardly beyond the border of his understanding. Indeed, it seemed to St. George as if almost — almost he could understand, as if he could pierce the veil and know utterly all the secrets of spirit and sense that confound. “We shall all know when we are able to bear it,” he had once heard another say, and it seemed to him now that at last he was able to bear it, as if the sense of the uninterrupted connection between the two worlds was almost a part of his own consciousness. A moment’s deeper thought, a quicker flowing of the imagination, a little more poignant projecting of himself above the abyss and he, too, would understand. It came to him that he had almost understood every time that he had looked at Olivia. Ah, he thought, and how exquisite, how matchless she was, and what Heaven beyond Heaven the world would hold for him if only she were to love him. St. George lifted the little hand that hung at her side, and stooped momentarily to touch his cheek to the soft hair that swept her shoulder. Here for him lay the sweet of life — the sweet of the world, ay, and the sweet of all the world’s mysteries. This alien land was no nearer the truth than he. His love was the expression of its mystery. They went back through the great archway, and entered the palace park. Once more the slim-trunked trees flew past them with the fringes of light expressing the borders of the dusk. St. George crouched, half-kneeling, on the floor of the tonneau, his free hand protecting Olivia’s face from the leaning branches of heavy-headed flowers. He had been so passionately anxious that she should know that he was on the island, near her, ready to serve her; but now, save for his alarm and anxiety about her, he felt a shy, profound gratitude that the hour had fallen as it had fallen. Whatever was to come, this nearness to her would be his to remember and possess. It had been his supreme hour. Whether she had recognized him in that moment on the road, whether she ever knew what had happened made, he thought, no difference. But if she was to open her eyes as they reached the border of the park, and if she was to know that it was like this that the genie had come out of the jar — the mere notion made him giddy, and he saw that Heaven may have little inner Heaven-courts which one is never too happy to penetrate.

But Olivia did not stir or unclose her eyes. The great strain of the evening, the terror and shock of its ending, the very relief with which she had, at all events, realized herself in the hands of friends were more than even an island princess could pass through in serenity. And when at last from the demesne of enchantment the car emerged in the court of the palace, Olivia knew nothing of it and, as nearly as he could recall afterward, neither did St. George. He understood that the courtyard was filled with murmurs, and that as Olivia was lifted from the car the voice of Mrs. Medora Hastings, in all its excesses of tone and pitch, was tilted in a kind of universal reproving. Then he was aware that Jarvo, beseeching him not to leave the motor, had somehow got him away from all the tumult and the questioning and the crush of the other motors setting tardily off down the avenue in a kind cf majestic pursuit of the princess. After that he remembered nothing but the grateful gloom of the wood and the swift flight of the car down that nebulous way, thin darkness flowing about him.

He was to go back to join Amory in some kind of tower, he knew; and he was infinitely resigned, for he remembered that this was in some way essential to his safety, and that it had to do with the ascent of Mount Khalak tomorrow night. For the rest St. George was certain of nothing save that he was floating once more in a sea of light, with the sweet of the world flowing in his veins; and upon his arm and against his shoulder he could still feel the thrill of the pressure of Olivia’s head.

The genie had come out of the jar — and never, never would he go back.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gale/zona/romance-island/chapter12.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 22:43