The Moon Pool, by Abraham Merritt

Chapter VII

Larry O’Keefe

Pressing back the questions I longed to ask, I introduced myself. Oddly enough, I found that he knew me, or rather my work. He had bought, it appeared, my volume upon the peculiar vegetation whose habitat is disintegrating lava rock and volcanic ash, that I had entitled, somewhat loosely, I could now perceive, Flora of the Craters. For he explained naively that he had picked it up, thinking it an entirely different sort of a book, a novel in fact — something like Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways, which he liked greatly.

He had hardly finished this explanation when we touched the side of the Suwarna, and I was forced to curb my curiosity until we reached the deck.

“That thing you saw me sitting on,” he said, after he had thanked the bowing little skipper for his rescue, “was all that was left of one of his Majesty’s best little hydroairplanes after that cyclone threw it off as excess baggage. And by the way, about where are we?”

Da Costa gave him our approximate position from the noon reckoning.

O’Keefe whistled. “A good three hundred miles from where I left the H.M.S. Dolphin about four hours ago,” he said. “That squall I rode in on was some whizzer!

“The Dolphin,” he went on, calmly divesting himself of his soaked uniform, “was on her way to Melbourne. I’d been yearning for a joy ride and went up for an alleged scouting trip. Then that blow shot out of nowhere, picked me up, and insisted that I go with it.

“About an hour ago I thought I saw a chance to zoom up and out of it, I turned, and BLICK went my right wing, and down I dropped.”

“I don’t know how we can notify your ship, Lieutenant O’Keefe,” I said. “We have no wireless.”

“Doctair Goodwin,” said Da Costa, “we could change our course, sair — perhaps —”

“Thanks — but not a bit of it,” broke in O’Keefe. “Lord alone knows where the Dolphin is now. Fancy she’ll be nosing around looking for me. Anyway, she’s just as apt to run into you as you into her. Maybe we’ll strike something with a wireless, and I’ll trouble you to put me aboard.” He hesitated. “Where are you bound, by the way?” he asked.

“For Ponape,” I answered.

“No wireless there,” mused O’Keefe. “Beastly hole. Stopped a week ago for fruit. Natives seemed scared to death at us — or something. What are you going there for?”

Da Costa darted a furtive glance at me. It troubled me.

O’Keefe noted my hesitation.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” he said. “Maybe I oughn’t to have asked that?”

“It’s no secret, Lieutenant,” I replied. “I’m about to undertake some exploration work — a little digging among the ruins on the Nan–Matal.”

I looked at the Portuguese sharply as I named the place. A pallor crept beneath his skin and again he made swiftly the sign of the cross, glancing as he did so fearfully to the north. I made up my mind then to question him when opportunity came. He turned from his quick scrutiny of the sea and addressed O’Keefe.

“There’s nothing on board to fit you, Lieutenant.”

“Oh, just give me a sheet to throw around me, Captain,” said O’Keefe and followed him. Darkness had fallen, and as the two disappeared into Da Costa’s cabin I softly opened the door of my own and listened. Huldricksson was breathing deeply and regularly.

I drew my electric-flash, and shielding its rays from my face, looked at him. His sleep was changing from the heavy stupor of the drug into one that was at least on the borderland of the normal. The tongue had lost its arid blackness and the mouth secretions had resumed action. Satisfied as to his condition I returned to deck.

O’Keefe was there, looking like a spectre in the cotton sheet he had wrapped about him. A deck table had been cleated down and one of the Tonga boys was setting it for our dinner. Soon the very creditable larder of the Suwarna dressed the board, and O’Keefe, Da Costa, and I attacked it. The night had grown close and oppressive. Behind us the forward light of the Brunhilda glided and the binnacle lamp threw up a faint glow in which her black helmsman’s face stood out mistily. O’Keefe had looked curiously a number of times at our tow, but had asked no questions.

“You’re not the only passenger we picked up today,” I told him. “We found the captain of that sloop, lashed to his wheel, nearly dead with exhaustion, and his boat deserted by everyone except himself.”

“What was the matter?” asked O’Keefe in astonishment.

“We don’t know,” I answered. “He fought us, and I had to drug him before we could get him loose from his lashings. He’s sleeping down in my berth now. His wife and little girl ought to have been on board, the captain here says, but — they weren’t.”

“Wife and child gone!” exclaimed O’Keefe.

“From the condition of his mouth he must have been alone at the wheel and without water at least two days and nights before we found him,” I replied. “And as for looking for anyone on these waters after such a time — it’s hopeless.”

“That’s true,” said O’Keefe. “But his wife and baby! Poor, poor devil!”

He was silent for a time, and then, at my solicitation, began to tell us more of himself. He had been little more than twenty when he had won his wings and entered the war. He had been seriously wounded at Ypres during the third year of the struggle, and when he recovered the war was over. Shortly after that his mother had died. Lonely and restless, he had re-entered the Air Service, and had remained in it ever since.

“And though the war’s long over, I get homesick for the lark’s land with the German planes playing tunes on their machine guns and their Archies tickling the soles of my feet,” he sighed. “If you’re in love, love to the limit; and if you hate, why hate like the devil and if it’s a fight you’re in, get where it’s hottest and fight like hell — if you don’t life’s not worth the living,” sighed he.

I watched him as he talked, feeling my liking for him steadily increasing. If I could but have a man like this beside me on the path of unknown peril upon which I had set my feet I thought, wistfully. We sat and smoked a bit, sipping the strong coffee the Portuguese made so well.

Da Costa at last relieved the Cantonese at the wheel. O’Keefe and I drew chairs up to the rail. The brighter stars shone out dimly through a hazy sky; gleams of phosphorescence tipped the crests of the waves and sparkled with an almost angry brilliance as the bow of the Suwarna tossed them aside. O’Keefe pulled contentedly at a cigarette. The glowing spark lighted the keen, boyish face and the blue eyes, now black and brooding under the spell of the tropic night.

“Are you American or Irish, O’Keefe?” I asked suddenly.

“Why?” he laughed.

“Because,” I answered, “from your name and your service I would suppose you Irish — but your command of pure Americanese makes me doubtful.”

He grinned amiably.

“I’ll tell you how that is,” he said. “My mother was an American — a Grace, of Virginia. My father was the O’Keefe, of Coleraine. And these two loved each other so well that the heart they gave me is half Irish and half American. My father died when I was sixteen. I used to go to the States with my mother every other year for a month or two. But after my father died we used to go to Ireland every other year. And there you are — I’m as much American as I am Irish.

“When I’m in love, or excited, or dreaming, or mad I have the brogue. But for the everyday purpose of life I like the United States talk, and I know Broadway as well as I do Binevenagh Lane, and the Sound as well as St. Patrick’s Channel; educated a bit at Eton, a bit at Harvard; always too much money to have to make any; in love lots of times, and never a heartache after that wasn’t a pleasant one, and never a real purpose in life until I took the king’s shilling and earned my wings; something over thirty — and that’s me — Larry O’Keefe.”

“But it was the Irish O’Keefe who sat out there waiting for the banshee,” I laughed.

“It was that,” he said somberly, and I heard the brogue creep over his voice like velvet and his eyes grew brooding again. “There’s never an O’Keefe for these thousand years that has passed without his warning. An’ twice have I heard the banshee calling — once it was when my younger brother died an’ once when my father lay waiting to be carried out on the ebb tide.”

He mused a moment, then went on: “An’ once I saw an Annir Choille, a girl of the green people, flit like a shade of green fire through Carntogher woods, an’ once at Dunchraig I slept where the ashes of the Dun of Cormac MacConcobar are mixed with those of Cormac an’ Eilidh the Fair, all burned in the nine flames that sprang from the harping of Cravetheen, an’ I heard the echo of his dead harpings —”

He paused again and then, softly, with that curiously sweet, high voice that only the Irish seem to have, he sang:

Woman of the white breasts, Eilidh;

Woman of the gold-brown hair, and lips of the red, red rowan,

Where is the swan that is whiter, with breast more soft,

Or the wave on the sea that moves as thou movest, Eilidh.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09