Romance Island, by Zona Gale

Chapter 9

The Lady of Kingdoms

So there were St. George and Amory presently domiciled in a prince’s palace such as Asia and Europe have forgotten, as by and by they will forget the Taj Mahal and the Bon Marché. And at nine o’clock the next morning in a certain Tyrian purple room in the west wing of the Palace of the Litany the two sat breakfasting.

“One always breakfasts,” observed St. George. “The first day that the first men spend on Mars I wonder whether the first thing they do will be to breakfast.”

“Poor old Mars has got to step down now,” said Amory. “We are one farther on. I don’t know how it will be, but if I felt on Mars the way I do now, I should assent to breakfast. Shouldn’t you?”

“On my life, Toby,” said St. George, “as an idealist you are disgusting. Yes, I should.”

The table had been spread before an open window, and the window looked down upon the palace garden, steeped in the gold of the sunny morning, and formal with aisles of mighty, flowering trees. Within, the apartment was lofty, its walls fashioned to lift the eye to light arches, light capitals, airy traceries, and spaces of the hue of old ivory, held in heavenly quiet. The sense of colour, colour both captive and atmospheric, was a new and persistent delight, for it was colour purified, specialized, and infinitely extended in either direction from the crudity of the seven-winged spectrum. The room was like an alcove of outdoors, not divorced from the open air and set in contra-distinction, but made a continuation of its space and order and ancient repose — a kind of exquisite porch of light.

Across this porch of light Rollo stepped, bearing a covered dish. The little breakfast-table and the laden side-table were set with vessels of rock-crystal and drinking-cups of silver gilt, and breakfast consisted of delicately-prepared sea-food, a pulpy fruit, thin wine and a paste of delicious powdered gums. These things Rollo served quite as if he were managing oatmeal and eggs and china. One would have said that he had been brought up between the covers of an ancient history, nothing in consequence being so old or so new as to amaze him. Upon their late arrival the evening before he had instantly moved about his duties in all the quiet decorum with which he officiated in three rooms and a bath, emptying the oil-skins, disposing of their contents in great cedar chests, and, from certain rich and alien garments laid out for the guests, pretending as unconcernedly to fleck lint as if they had been broadcloth from Fifth Avenue. He stood bending above the breakfast-table, his lean, shadowed hands perfectly at home, his lean, shadowed face all automatic attention.

“Rollo,” said St. George, “go and look out the window and see if Sodom is smoking.”

“Yes, sir,” said Rollo, and moved to the nearest casement and bent his look submissively below.

“Everything quiet, sir,” he reported literally; “a very warm day, sir. But it’s easy to sleep, sir, no matter how warm the days are if only the nights are cool. Begging your pardon, sir.”

St. George nodded.

“You don’t see Jezebel down there in the trees,” he pressed him, “or Elissa setting off to found Carthage? Chaldea and Egypt all calm?” he anxiously put it.

Rollo stirred uneasily.

“There’s a couple o’ blue-tailed birds scrappin’ in a palm tree, sir,” he submitted hopefully.

“Ah,” said St. George, “yes. There would be. Now, if you like,” he gave his servant permission, “you may go to the festivals or the funeral games or wherever you choose today. Or perhaps,” he remembered with solicitude, “you would prefer to be present at the wedding-of-the-land-water-with-the-sea-water, providing, as I suspect, Tyre is handy?”

“Thank you, sir,” said Rollo doubtfully.

“Mind you put your money on the crack disc-thrower, though,” warned St. George, “and you might put up a couple of darics for me.”

“No,” languidly begged Amory, “pray no. You are getting your periods mixed something horrid.”

“A person’s recreation is as good for him as his food, sir,” proclaimed Rollo, sententious, anxious to agree.

“Food,” said Amory languidly, “this isn’t food — it’s molten history, that’s what it is. Think — this is what they had to eat at the cafés boulevardes of Gomorrah. And to think we’ve been at Tony’s, before now. Do you remember,” he asked raptly, “those brief and savoury banquets around one o’clock, at Tony’s? From where Little Cawthorne once went away wearing two omelettes instead of his overshoes? Don’t tell me that Tonycana and all this belong to the same system in space. Don’t tell me —”

He stopped abruptly and his eyes sought those of St. George. It was all so incredible, and yet it was all so real and so essentially, distractingly natural.

“I feel as if we had stepped through something, to somewhere else. And yet, somehow, there is so little difference. Do you suppose when people die they don’t notice any difference, either?”

“What I want to know,” said Amory, filling his pipe, “is how it’s going to look in print. Think of Crass — digging for head-lines.”

St. George rose abruptly. Amory was delicious, especially his drawl; but there were times —

“Print it,” he exclaimed, “you might as well try to print the absolute.”

Amory nodded.

“Oh, if you’re going to be Neoplatonic,” he said, “I’m off to hum an Orphic hymn. Isn’t it about time for the prince? I want to get out with the camera, while the light is good.”

The lateness of the hour of their arrival at the palace the evening before had prevented the prince from receiving them, but he had sent a most courteous message announcing that he himself would wait upon them at a time which he appointed. While they were abiding his coming, Rollo setting aside the dishes, Amory smoking, strolling up and down, and examining the faint symbolic devices upon the walls’ tiling, St. George stood before one of the casements, and looked over the aisles of flowering tree-tops to the grim, grey sides of Mount Khalak, inscrutable, inaccessible, now not even hinting at the walls and towers upon its secret summit. He was thinking how heavenly curious it was that the most wonderful thing in his commonplace world of New York — that is, his meeting with Olivia — should, out here in this world of things wonderful beyond all dream, still hold supreme its place as the sovereign wonder, the sovereign delight.

“I dare say that means something,” he said vaguely to himself, “and I dare say all the people who are — in love — know what it does mean,” and at this his spirit of adventure must have nodded at him, as if it understood, too.

When, in a little time, Prince Tabnit appeared at the open door of the “porch of light,” it was as if he had parted from St. George in McDougle Street but the night before. He greeted him with exquisite cordiality and his welcome to Amory was like a welcome unfeigned. He was clad in white of no remembered fashion, with the green gem burning on his breast, but his manner was that of one perfectly tailored and about the most cosmopolitan offices of modernity. One might have told him one’s most subtly humourous story and rested certain of his smile.

“I wonder,” he asked with engaging hesitation when he was seated, “whether I may have a — cigarette? That is the name? Yes, a cigarette. Tobacco is unknown in Yaque. We have invented no colonies useful for the luxury. How can it be-forgive me — that your people, who seem remote from poetry, should be the devisers and popularizers of this so poetic pastime? To breathe in the green of earth and the light of the dead sun! The poetry of your American smoke delights me.”

St. George smiled as he offered the prince his case.

“In America,” he said, “we devised it as a vice, your Highness. We are obliged to do the same with poetry, if we popularize it.”

And St. George was thinking:

“Miss Holland. He has seen Miss Holland — perhaps yesterday. Perhaps he will see her today. And how in this world am I ever to mention her name?”

But the prince was in the idlest and most genial of humours. He spoke at once of the matters uppermost in the minds of his guests, gave them news of the party from New York, told how they were in comfort in the palace on the summit of Mount Khalak, struck a momentary tragic note in mention of the mystery still mantling the absence of the king and repeated the announcement already made by Cassyrus, the premier, that in two days’ time, failing the return of the sovereign, the king’s daughter would be publicly recognized, with solemn ceremonial, as Princess of Yaque. Then he turned to St. George, his eyes searching him through the haze of smoke.

“Your own coming to Yaque,” he said abruptly, “was the result of a sudden decision?”

“Quite so, your Highness,” replied St. George. “It was wholly unexpected.”

“Then we must try to make it also an unexpected pleasure,” suggested the prince lightly. “I am come to ask you to spend the day with me in looking about Med, the King’s City.”

He dropped the monogrammed stub of his cigarette in a little jar of smaragdos, brought, he mentioned in passing, from a despoiled temple of one of the Chthonian deities of Tyre, and turned toward his guests with a winning smile.

“Come,” he said, “I can no longer postpone my own pleasure in showing you that our nation is the Lady of Kingdoms as once were Babylon and Chaldea.”

It was as if the strange panorama of the night before had once more opened its frame, and they were to step within. As the prince left them St. George turned to Rollo for the novelty of addressing a reality.

“How do you wish to spend the day, Rollo?” he asked him.

Rollo looked pensive.

“Could I stroll about a bit, sir?” he asked.

“Stroll!” commanded St. George cheerfully.

“Thank you, sir,” said Rollo. “I always think a man can best learn by observation, sir.”

“Observe!” supplemented his master pleasantly, as a detachment of the guard appeared to conduct Amory and him below.

“Don’t black up the sandals,” Amory warned Rollo as he left him, “and be back early. We may want you to get us ready for a mastodon hunt.”

“Yes, sir,” said Rollo with simplicity, “I’ll be back quite some time before tea-time, sir.”

St. George was smiling as they went down the corridor. He had been vain of his love that, in Yaque as in America, remained the thing it was, supreme and vital. But had not the simplicity of Rollo taken the leap in experience, and likewise without changing? For a moment, as he went down the silent corridors, lofty as the woods, vocal with faint inscriptions on the uncovered stone, the old human doubt assailed him. The very age of the walls was a protest against the assumption that there is a touchstone that is ageless. Even if there is, even if love is unchanging, the very temper of unconcern of his valet might be quite as persistent as love itself. But the gallery emptying itself into a great court open to the blue among graven rafters, St. George promptly threw his doubt to the fresh, heaven-kissing wind that smote their faces, and against mystery and argument and age alike he matched only the happy clamour of his blood. Olivia Holland was on the island, and all the age was gold. In Yaque or on the continents there can be no manner of doubt that this is love, as Love itself loves to be.

They emerged in the appeasing air of that perfect morning, and the sweetness of the flowering trees was everywhere, and wide roads pointed invitingly to undiscovered bournes, and overhead in the curving wind floated the flags and streamers of those joyous, wizard colours.

They went out into the rejoicing world, and it was like penetrating at last into the heart of that “land a great way off” which holds captive the wistful thought of the children of earth, and reveals itself as elusively as ecstasy. If one can remember some journey that he has taken long ago — Long Ago and Far Away are the great touchstones — and can remember the glamourie of the hour and forget the substructure of events, if he can recall the pattern and forget the fabric, then he will understand the spirit that informed that first morning in Yaque. It was a morning all compact of wonder and delight — wonder at that which half-revealed itself, delight in the ever-present possibility that here, there, at any moment, Olivia Holland might be met. As for the wonder, that had taken some three thousand years to accumulate, as nearly as one could compute; and as for the delight, that had taken less than ten days to make possible; and yet there is no manner of doubt which held high place in the mind of St. George as the smooth miles fled away from hurrying wheels.

Such wheels! Motors? St. George asked himself the question as he took his place beside the prince in the exquisitely light vehicle, Amory following with Cassyrus, and the suites coming after, like the path from a lanthorn. For the vehicles were a kind of electric motor, but constructed exquisitely in a fashion which, far from affronting taste, delighted the eye by leading it to lines of unguessed beauty. They were motors as the ancients would have built them if they had understood the trick of science, motors in which the lines of utility were veiled and taught to be subordinate. The speed attained was by no means great, and the motion was gentle and sacrificed to silence. And when St. George ventured to ask how they had imported the first motors, the prince answered that as Columbus was sailing on the waters of the Atlantic at adventure, the people of Yaque were touring the island in electric motors of much the same description, though hardly the clumsiness, of those which he had noticed in New York.

This was the first astonishment, and other astonishments were to follow. For as they went about the island it was revealed that the remainder of the world is asleep with science for a pillow and the night-lamp of philosophy casting shadows. Yet as the prince exhibited wonders, one after another, St. George, dimly conscious that these are the things that men die to discover, would have given them all for one moment’s meeting with Olivia on that high-road of Med. If you come to think of it, this may be why science always has moved so slowly, creeping on from point to point.

Thus it came about that when Prince Tabnit indicated a low, pillared, temple-like building as the home of perpetual motion, which gave the power operating the manufactures and water supply of the entire island, St. George looked and understood and resolved to go over the temple before he left Yaque, and then fell a-wondering whether, when he did so, Olivia would be with him. When the prince explained that it is ridiculous to suppose that combustion is the chief means of obtaining light and heat, or that Heaven provided divinely-beautiful forests for the express purpose of their being burned up; and when he told him that artificial light and heat were effected in a certain reservoir (built with a classic regard for the dignity of its use as a link with unspoken forces) St. George listened, and said over with attention the name of the substance acted upon by emanations — and wondered if Olivia were not afraid of it. So it was all through the exhibition of more wonders scientific and economic than any one has dreamed since every one became a victim of the world’s habit of being afraid to dream. Although it is true that when St. George chanced to observe that there were about Med few farms of tilled ground, the prince’s reply did startle him into absorbed attention:

“You are referring to agriculture?” Prince Tabnit said after a moment’s thought. “I know the word from old parchments brought from Phoenicia by our ancestors. But I did not know that the art is in practice anywhere in the world. Do you mean to assure me,” cried the prince suddenly, “that the vegetables which I ate in America were raised by what is known as ‘tilling the soil’?”

“How else, your Highness?” doubted St. George, wondering if he were responsible for the fading mentality of the prince.

Prince Tabnit looked away toward the splendour of some new thought.

“How beautiful,” he said, “to subsist on the sun and the dust. Beautiful and lost, like the dreams of Mitylene. But I feel as if I were reading in Genesis,” he declared. “Is it possible that in this ‘age of science’ of yours it has not occurred to your people that if plants grow by slowly extracting their own elements from the soil, those elements artificially extracted and applied to the seed will render growth and fruitage almost instantaneous?”

“At all events we’ve speculated about it,” St. George hastened to impart with pride, “just as we do about telephones that will let people see one another when they talk. But nearly every one smiles at both.”

“Don’t smile,” the prince warned him. “Yaque has perfected both those inventions only since she ceased to smile at their probability. Nothing can be simpler than instantaneous vegetation. Any Egyptian juggler can produce it by using certain acids. We have improved the process until our fruits and vegetables are produced as they are needed, from hour to hour. This was one of the so-called secrets of the ancient Phoenicians — has it never occurred to you as important that the Phoenician name for Dionysos, the god of wine-growers, was lost?”

Mentally St. George added another barrel to the cargo of The Aloha, and wondered if the Sentinel would start botanical gardens and a lighting plant and turn them to the account of advertisers.

All the time, mile upon mile, was unrolling before them the unforgetable beauty of the island. So perfectly were its features marshaled and so exact were its proportions that, as in many great experiences and as in all great poems, one might not, without familiarity, recall its detail, but must instead remain wrapped in the glory of the whole. The avenues, wide as a river, swept between white banks of majestic buildings combining with the magic of great mass the pure beauty of virginal line. Line, the joy of line, the glory of line, almost, St. George thought, the divinity of line, was everywhere manifest; and everywhere too the divinity of colour, no longer a quality extraneous, laid on as insecure fancy dictates, but, by some law long unrevealed, now actually identified with the object which it not so much decorated as purified. The most interesting of the thoroughfares led from the Eurychôrus, or public square, along the lagoon. This fair water, extending from Med to Melita, was greenly shored and dotted with strange little pleasure crafts with exquisite sweeping prows and silken canopies. Before a white temple, knee-deep in whose flowered ponds the ibises dozed and contemplated, was anchored the imperial trireme, with delicately-embroidered sails and prow and poop of forgotten metals. From within, temple music sounded softly and was never permitted to be silenced, as the flame of the Vestals might never be extinguished. Here on the shores had begun the morning traffic of itinerant merchants of Med and Melita, compelled by law to carry on their exchange in the morning only, when the light is least lovely. Upon canopied wagons drawn by strange animals, with shining horns, were displayed for sale all the pleasantest excuses for commerce — ostrich feathers, gums, gems, quicksilver, papyrus, bales of fair cloth, pottery, wine and oranges. The sellers of salt and fish and wool and skins were forced down under the wharfs of the lagoon, and there endeavoured to attract attention by displaying fanciful and lovely banners and by liberating faint perfumes of the native orris and algum. Street musicians, playing tunefully upon the zither and upon the crowd, wandered, wearing wreaths of fir, and clustered about stalls where were offered tenuous blades, and statues, and temple vessels filled with wine and flowers.

At the head of the street leading to the temple of Baaltis (My Lady — Aphrodite) the prince’s motor was checked while a procession of pilgrims, white-robed and carrying votive offerings, passed before them, the votive tablet to the Lady Tanith and the Face of Baal being borne at the head of the line by a dignitary in a smart electric victoria. This was one of the frequent Festival Embassies to Melita, to combine religious rites with mourning games and the dedication of the tablet, and there was considerable delay incident to the delivery of a wireless message to the dignitary with the tablet of the Semitic inscription. St. George wondered vaguely why, in a world of marvels, progress should not already have outstripped the need of any communication at all. This reminded him of something at which the prince had hinted away off in another æon, in another world, when St. George had first seen him, and there followed ten minutes of talk not to be forgotten.

“Would it be possible for you to tell me, your Highness,” St. George asked — and thereafter even a lover must have forgiven the brief apostasy of his thought —“how it can be that you know the English? How you are able to speak it here in Yaque?”

The motor moved forward as the procession passed, and struck into a magnificent country avenue bordered by trees, tall as elms and fragrant as acacias.

“I can tell you, yes,” said the prince, “but I warn you that you will not in the least understand me. I dare say, however, that I may illustrate by something of which you know. Do there chance to be, for example, any children in America who are regarded as prodigies of certain understanding?”

“You mean,” St. George asked, “children who can play on a musical instrument without knowing how they do it, and so on?”

“Quite so,” said the prince with interest.

“Many, your Highness,” affirmed St. George. “I myself know a child of seven who can play most difficult piano compositions without ever having been taught, or knowing in the least how he does it.”

“Do you think of any one else?” asked the prince.

“Yes,” said St. George, “I know a little lad of about five, I should say, who can add enormous numbers and instantly give the accurate result. And he has no idea how he does that, and no one has ever taught him to count above twelve. Oh — every one knows those cases, I fancy.”

“Has any one ever explained them, Mr. St. George?” asked the prince.

“How should they?” asked St. George simply. “They are prodigies.”

“Quite so,” said the prince again. “It is almost incredible that these instances seem to suggest to no one that there must be other ways to ‘learn’ music and mathematics — and, therefore, everything else — than those known to your civilization. Let me assure you that such cases as these, far from being miracles and prodigies, are perfectly normal when once the principle is understood, as we of Yaque understand it. It is the average intelligence among your people which is abnormal, inasmuch as it is unable to perform these functions which it was so clearly intended to exercise.”

“Do you mean,” asked St. George, “that we need not learn — as we understand ‘learn’?”

“Precisely,” said the prince simply. “You are accustomed, I was told in New York, to say that there is ‘no royal road to learning.’ On the contrary, I say to you that the possibilities of these children are in every one. But to my intense surprise I find that we of Yaque are the only ones in the world who understand how to use these possibilities. Our system of education consists simply in mastering this principle. After that, all knowledge — all languages, for instance — everything — belongs to us.”

St. George looked away to the rugged sides of Mount Khalak, lying in its clouds of iris morning mist, unreal as a mountain of Ultima Thule. It was all right — what he had just been hearing was a part of this ultimate and fantastic place to which he had come. And yet he was real enough, and so, according to certain approved dialectic, perhaps these things were realities, too. He stole a glance at the prince’s profile. Here was actually a man who was telling him that he need not have faced Latin and Greek and calculus; that they might have been his of his own accord if only he had understood how to call them in!

“That would make a very jolly thing of college,” he pensively conceded. “You could not show me how it is managed, your Highness?” he besought. “That will hardly come in bulk, too —”

The prince shook his head, smiling.

“I could not ‘show you,’ as you say,” he answered, “any more than I could, at present, send a wireless communication without the apparatus — though it will be only a matter of time until that is accomplished, too.”

St. George pulled himself up sharply. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Amory polishing his pince-nez and looking quite as if he were leaning over hansom-doors in the park, and he turned quickly to the prince, half convinced that he had been mocked.

“Suppose, your Highness,” he said, “that I were to print what you have just told me on the front page of a New York morning paper, for people to glance over with their coffee? Do you think that even the most open-minded among them would believe that there is such a place as Yaque?”

The prince smiled curiously, and his long-fringed lids drooped in momentary contemplation. The auto turned into that majestic avenue which terminates in the Eurychôrus before the Palace of the Litany. St. George’s eye eagerly swept the long white way. At its far end stood Mount Khalak. She must have passed over this very ground.

“There is,” the prince’s smooth voice broke in upon his dream, “no such place as Yaque — as you understand ‘place.’”

“I beg your pardon, your Highness?” St. George doubted blankly. Good Heavens. Maybe there had arrived in Yaque no Olivia, as he understood Olivia.

“You showed some surprise, I remember,” continued the prince, “when I told you, in McDougle Street, that we of Yaque understand the Fourth Dimension.”

McDougle Street. The sound smote the ear of St. George much as would the clang of the fire patrol in the midst of light opera.

“Yes, yes,” he said, his attention now completely chained. Yet even then it was not that he cared so absorbingly about the Fourth Dimension. But what if this were all some trick and if, in this strange land, Olivia had simply been flashed before his eyes by the aid of mirrors?

“I find,” said the prince with deliberation, “that in America you are familiar with the argument that, if your people understood only length and breadth and did not understand the Third Dimension — thickness — you could not then conceive of lifting, say, a square or a triangle and laying it down upon another square or triangle. In other words, you would not know anything of up and down.”

St. George nodded. This was the familiar talk of college class-rooms.

“As it is,” pursued the prince, “your people do perfectly understand lifting a square and placing it upon a square, or a triangle upon a triangle. But you do not know anything about placing a cube upon a cube, or a pyramid upon a pyramid so that both occupy the same space at the same time. We of Yaque have mastered that principle also,” the prince tranquilly concluded, “and all that of which this is the alphabet. That is why we are able to keep our island unknown to the world — not to say ‘invisible.’”

For a moment St. George looked at him speechlessly; then, in spite of himself, a slow smile overspread his face.

“But,” he said, “your Highness, there is not a mathematician in the civilized world who has not considered that problem and cast it aside, with the word that if fourth-dimensional space does exist it can not possibly be inhabited.”

“Quite so,” said the prince, “and yet here we are.”

And, if you come to think of it — as St. George did — that is the only answer to a world of impossibilities already proved possible. But the vista which all this opened smote him with irresistible humour.

“Ah well now, I suppose, your Highness,” he said, “that our ocean liners sail clean through the island of Yaque, then, and never even have their smoke pushed sidewise?”

The prince laughed pleasantly.

“Have you ever,” he asked, “had occasion to explain the principles of hydraulics, or chess, or philosophical idealism to a three-year-old child, or a charwoman? You must forgive me, but really I can think of no better comparison. I am quite as powerless now as you have been if you have ever attempted it. I can only assure you that such things are. Without Jarvo or Akko or some one who understood, you might have sailed the high seas all your life and never have come any nearer to Yaque.”

St. George reflected.

“Is Yaque the only example of this kind of thing,” he asked, “that the Fourth Dimension would reveal?”

“By no means,” said the prince in surprise, “the world is literally teeming with like revelations, once the key is in your hands. The Fourth Dimension is only the beginning. We utilize that to isolate our island. But the higher dimensions are gradually being conquered, too. Nearly all of us can pass into the Fifth at will, ‘disappearing,’ as you have the word, from the lower dimensions. It is well-known to you that in a land whose people knew length and breadth, but no up and down, an object might be pushed, but never lifted up or put down. If it were to be lifted, such a people would believe it to have ‘disappeared.’ So, from you who know only three dimensions, Yaque has ‘disappeared,’ until one of us guides you here. Also we pass at will into the Fifth Dimension and even higher, and seem to ‘disappear’; the only difference is that, there, we should not be able yet to guide one who did not himself understand how to pass there. Just as one who understands how to die and to come to life, as you have the phrase, would not be able to take with him any one who did not understand how to take himself there . . . ”

St. George listened, grasping at straws of comprehension, remembering how he had heard all this theorized about and smiled at; but most of all he was beset by a practical consideration.

“Then,” he said suddenly, the question leaping to his lips almost against his will, “if you hold this key to all knowledge, how is it that the king — Mr. Holland — could get away from you, and the Hereditary Treasure be lost?”

The prince sighed profoundly.

“We have by no means,” he said, “perfected our knowledge. We are at one with the absolute in knowledge — true. But the affairs of every day most frequently elude us. Not even the most advanced among us are perfect intuitionists. We have by no means reached that desirable and inevitable day when our minds shall flow together, without need of communication, without possibility of secret. We still suffer the disadvantage of a slight barrier of personality.”

“And it is into one of these lapses,” thought St. George irreverently, “that the king has disappeared.” Aloud he asked curiously concerning a matter which was every moment becoming more incomprehensible.

“But how, your Highness,” he said simply, “did your people ever consent to have an American for your king?”

Before the prince could reply there occurred a phenomenon that sent all thought of such insubstantialities as the secrets of the Fourth Dimension far in the background.

The prince’s motor, closely followed by the others of the train, had reached a little eminence from which the island unrolled in fair patterns. Before them the smooth road unwound in varied light. At their left lay a still grove from whose depths was glimpsed a slim needle of a tower, rising, arrow-like, from the green. In the distance lay Med, with shining domes. The water of the lagoon gave brightness here and there among the hills. And as St. George and the prince looked over the prospect they saw, far down the avenue toward Med, a little, moving speck — a speck moving with a rapidity which neither the prince’s motor nor any known motor of Yaque had ever before permitted itself.

In an instant the six members of the Royal Golden Guard, who upon beautiful, spirited horses rode in advance of the train of the prince, wheeled and thundered back, lifting glittering hands of warning. “Aside! Aside!” shrieked the main Golden Guard, “a motor is without control!”

Immediately there was confusion. At a touch the prince’s car was drawn to the road’s extreme edge, and the Golden Guards rode furiously back along the train, hailing the peaceful, slow-going machines into orderly retreat. They were all sufficiently amenable, for at sight of the alarming and unprecedented onrush of the growing speck that was bearing full down upon them, anxiety sat upon every face.

St. George watched. And as the car drew nearer the thought which, at first sight of its speed, had vaguely flashed into being, took definite shape, and his blood leaped to its music. Whose hand would be upon that lever, whose daring would be directing its flight, whose but one in all Yaque — and that Olivia’s?

It was Olivia. That was plain even in the mere instant that it took the great, beautiful motor, at thirty miles an hour, to flash past them. St. George saw her — coat of hunting pink and fluttering veil and shining eyes; he was dimly conscious of another little figure beside her, and of the unmistakable and agonized Mrs. Hastings in the tonneau; but it was only Olivia’s glance that he caught as it swept the prince. There was the faintest possible smile, and she was gone; and St. George, his heart pounding, sat staring stupidly after that shining cloud of dust, frantically wondering whether she could just possibly have seen him. For this was no trick of the imagination, his galloping heart told him that. And whether or not Yaque was a place, the world, the world was within his grasp, instinct with possibilities heavenly sweet. His eyes met Amory’s in the minute when Cassyrus, prime minister of Yaque, had it borne in upon him that this was no runaway machine, but the ordinary and preferred pace of the daughter of their king; and while Cassyrus, at the enormity of the conception, breathed out expostulations in several languages — some of them known to us only by means of inscriptions on tombs — Amory spoke to St. George:

“Who was the other girl?” he asked comprehensively.

“What other girl?” St. George blankly murmured.

And at this, Amory turned away with a look that could be made to mean whatever Amory meant.

On went the imperial train faring back to Med over the road lately stirred to shining dust by the wheels of Olivia’s auto. Olivia’s auto. St. George was secretly saying over the words with a kind of ecstatic non-comprehension, when the prince spoke:

“That,” he said, “may explain why an American has been able to govern us. Chance crowned him, but he made himself king.”

Prince Tabnit hesitated and his eyes wandered — and those of St. George followed — to a far winding dot in that opal valley, a mere speck of silver with a prick of pink, fleeing in a cloud of sunny dust.

“I do not know if you will know what I mean,” said the prince, “but hers is the spirit, and the spirit of her father, the king, which Yaque had never known. It is the spirit which we of Phoenicia seem to have lost since the wealth of the world accumulated at her ports and she gave her trust to the hands of mariners and mercenaries, and later bowed to the conqueror. It is the spirit that not all the continental races, I fancy, have for endowment, but yours possesses in rich measure. For this we would exchange half that we have achieved.”

St. George nodded, glowing.

“It is a great tribute, your Highness,” he said simply, and in his heart he laid it at Olivia’s feet.

Thereafter, in the long ride to Melita, during luncheon upon a high white terrace overlooking the sailless sea, and in the hours on the unforgetable roads of the islands, St. George, while incommunicable marvels revealed themselves linked with incommunicable beauty, sat in the prince’s motor, his eyes searching the horizon for that fleeing speck of silver and pink. It did not appear again. And when the train of the prince rolled into the yard of the Palace of the Litany it trembled upon St. George’s lips to ask whether the formalities of the court would permit him that day to scale the skies and call upon the royal household.

“For whatever he says, I’ve got to do,” thought St. George, “but no matter what he says, I shall go. Doesn’t Amory realize that we’ve been more than twelve hours on this island, and that nothing has been done?”

And then as they crossed the grassy court in the delicate hush of the merging light — the nameless radiance already penetrating the dusk — the prince spoke smoothly, as if his words bore no import deeper than his smile:

“You are come,” he said courteously, “in time for one of the ceremonies of our régime most important — to me. You will, I hope, do honour to the occasion by your presence. This evening, in the Hall of Kings in the Palace of the Litany, will occur the ceremony of my betrothal.”

“Your betrothal, your Highness?” repeated St. George uncertainly.

“You will be attended by an escort,” the prince continued, “and Balator, the commander of the guard, will receive you in the hall. May the gods permit the possible.”

He swept through the portico before them, and they followed dumbly.

The betrothal of the prince.

St. George heard, and his eager hope went down in foreboding. He turned, hardly daring to read his own dread in the eyes of Amory.

Amory, as St. George had said, was delicious, especially his drawl; but there were times — now, for example, when all that the eyes of Amory expressed was what his lips framed, sotto-voce:

“An American heiress, betrothed to the prince of a cannibal island! Wouldn’t Chillingworth turn in his grave at his desk?”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gale/zona/romance-island/chapter9.html

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