XIV. The Ocean is Calling for You
 

A little while after Wilbur had set off for the station, while Moran was making the last entries in the log-book, seated at the table in the cabin, Jim appeared at the door.

"Well," she said, looking up.

"China boy him want go asho' plenty big, seeum flen up Chinatown in um city."

"Shore leave, is it?" said Moran. "You deserted once before without even saying good-by; and my hand in the fire, you'll come back this time dotty with opium. Get away with you. We'll have men aboard here in a few days."

"Can go?" inquired Jim suavely.

"I said so. Report our arrival to your Six Companies."

Hoang rowed Jim and the coolies ashore, and then returned to the schooner with the dory and streamed her astern. As he passed the cabin door on his way forward, Moran hailed him.

"I thought you went ashore?" she cried.

"Heap flaid," he answered. "Him other boy go up Chinatown; him tell Sam Yup; I tink Sam Yup alla same killee me. I no leaveum ship two, thlee day; bimeby I go Olegon. I stay topside ship. You wantum cook. I cook plenty fine; standum watch for you."

Indeed, ever since leaving Coronado the ex-beach-comber had made himself very useful about the schooner; had been, in fact, obsequiousness itself, and seemed to be particularly desirous of gaining the good-will of the "Bertha's" officers. He understood pigeon English better than Jim, and spoke it even better than Charlie had done. He acted the part of interpreter between Wilbur and the hands; even turned to in the galley upon occasion; and of his own accord offered to give the vessel a coat of paint above the water-line. Moran turned back to her log, and Hoang went forward. Standing on the forward deck, he looked after the "Bertha's" coolies until they disappeared behind a row of pine- trees on the Presidio Reservation, going cityward. Wilbur was nowhere in sight. For a longtime Hoang studied the Lifeboat Station narrowly, while he made a great show of coiling a length of rope. The station was just out of hailing distance. Nobody seemed stirring. The whole shore and back land thereabout was deserted; the edge of the city was four miles distant. Hoang returned to the forecastle-hatch and went below, groping under his bunk in his ditty-box.

"Well, what is it?" exclaimed Moran a moment later, as the beach- comber entered the cabin, and shut the door behind him.

Hoang did not answer; but she did not need to repeat the question. In an instant Moran knew very well what he had come for.

"God!" she exclaimed under her breath, springing to her feet. "Why didn't we think of this!"

Hoang slipped his knife from the sleeve of his blouse. For an instant the old imperiousness, the old savage pride and anger, leaped again in Moran's breast--then died away forever. She was no longer the same Moran of that first fight on board the schooner, when the beach-combers had plundered her of her "loot." Only a few weeks ago, and she would have fought with Hoang without hesitation and without mercy; would have wrenched a leg from the table and brained him where he stood. But she had learned since to know what it meant to be dependent; to rely for protection upon some one who was stronger than she; to know her weakness; to know that she was at last a woman, and to be proud of it.

She did not fight; she had no thought of fighting. Instinctively she cried aloud, "Mate--mate!--Oh, mate, where are you? Help me!" and Hoang's knife nailed the words within her throat.

The "loot" was in a brass-bound chest under one of the cabin's bunks, stowed in two gunny-bags. Hoang drew them out, knotted the two together, and, slinging them over his shoulder, regained the deck.

He looked carefully at the angry sky and swelling seas, noting the direction of the wind and set of the tide; then went forward and cast the anchor-chains from the windlass in such a manner that the schooner must inevitably wrench free with the first heavy strain. The dory was still tugging at the line astern. Hoang dropped the sacks in the boat, swung himself over the side, and rowed calmly toward the station's wharf. If any notion of putting to sea with the schooner had entered the obscure, perverted cunning of his mind, he had almost instantly rejected it. Chinatown was his aim; once there and under the protection of his Tong, Hoang knew that he was safe. He knew the hiding-places that the See Yup Association provided for its members--hiding places whose very existence was unknown to the police of the White Devil.

No one interrupted--no one even noticed--his passage to the station. At best, it was nothing more than a coolie carrying a couple of gunny-sacks across his shoulder. Two hours later, Hoang was lost in San Francisco's Chinatown.

* * * * * * * * * *

At the sight of the schooner sweeping out to sea, Wilbur was for an instant smitten rigid. What had happened? Where was Moran? Why was there nobody on board? A swift, sharp sense of some unnamed calamity leaped suddenly at his throat. Then he was aware of a crattering of hoofs along the road that led to the fort. Hodgson threw himself from one of the horses that were used in handling the surf-boat, and ran to him hatless and panting.

"My God!" he shouted. "Look, your schooner, do you see her? She broke away after I'd started to tell you--to tell you--to tell you--your girl there on board--It was horrible!"

"Is she all right?" cried Wilbur, at top voice, for the clamor of the gale was increasing every second.

"All right! No; they've killed her--somebody--the coolies, I think--knifed her! I went out to ask you people to come into the station to have supper with me--"

"Killed her--killed her! Who? I don't believe you--"

"Wait--to have supper with me, and I found her there on the cabin floor. She was still breathing. I carried her up on deck--there was nobody else aboard. I carried her up and laid her on the deck--and she died there. Just now I came after you to tell you, and--"

"Good God Almighty, man! who killed her? Where is she? Oh--but of course it isn't true! How did you know? Moran killed! Moran killed!"

"And the schooner broke away after I started!"

"Moran killed! But--but--she's not dead yet; we'll have to see--"

"She died on the deck; I brought her up and laid her on--"

"How do you know she's dead? Where is she? Come on, we'll go right back to her--to the station!"

"She's on board--out there!"

"Where--where is she? My God, man, tell me where she is!"

"Out there aboard the schooner. I brought her up on deck--I left her on the schooner--on the deck--she was stabbed in the throat-- and then came after you to tell you. Then the schooner broke away while I was coming; she's drifting out to sea now!"

"Where is she? Where is she?"

"Who--the girl--the schooner--which one? The girl is on the schooner--and the schooner--that's her, right there--she's drifting out to sea!"

Wilbur put both hands to his temples, closing his eyes.

"I'll go back!" exclaimed Hodgson. "We'll have the surf-boat out and get after her; we'll bring the body back!"

"No, no!" cried Wilbur, "it's better--this way. Leave her, let her go--she's going out to sea again!"

"But the schooner won't live two hours outside in this weather; she'll go down!"

"It's better--that way--let her go. I want it so!"

"I can't stay!" cried the other again. "If the patrol should sig- storm coming up, and I've got to be at my station."

Wilbur did not answer; he was watching the schooner.

"I can't stay!" cried the other again. "If the patrol should signal--I can't stop here, I must be on duty. Come back, you can't do anything!"

"No!"

"I have got to go!" Hodgson ran back, swung himself on the horse, and rode away at a furious gallop, inclining his head against the gusts.

And the schooner in a world of flying spray, white scud, and driving spoondrift, her cordage humming, her forefoot churning, the flag at her peak straining stiff in the gale, came up into the narrow passage of the Golden Gate, riding high upon the outgoing tide. On she came, swinging from crest to crest of the waves that kept her company and that ran to meet the ocean, shouting and calling out beyond there under the low, scudding clouds.

Wilbur had climbed to the top of the old fort. Erect upon its granite ledge he stood, and watched and waited.

Not once did the "Bertha Millner" falter in her race. Like an unbitted horse, all restraint shaken off, she ran free toward the ocean as to her pasture-land. She came nearer, nearer, rising and rolling with the seas, her bowsprit held due west, pointing like a finger out to sea, to the west--out to the world of romance. And then at last, as the little vessel drew opposite the old fort and passed not one hundred yards away, Wilbur, watching from the rampart, saw Moran lying upon the deck with outstretched arms and calm, upturned face; lying upon the deck of that lonely fleeing schooner as upon a bed of honor, still and calm, her great braids smooth upon her breast, her arms wide; alone with the sea; alone in death as she had been in life. She passed out of his life as she had come into it--alone, upon a derelict ship, abandoned to the sea. She went out with the tide, out with the storms; out, out, out to the great gray Pacific that knew her and loved her, and that shouted and called for her, and thundered in the joy of her as she came to meet him like a bride to meet a bridegroom.

"Good-by, Moran!" shouted Wilbur as she passed. "Good-by, good- by, Moran! You were not for me--not for me! The ocean is calling for you, dear; don't you hear him? Don't you hear him? Good-by, good-by, good-by!"

The schooner swept by, shot like an arrow through the swirling currents of the Golden Gate, and dipped and bowed and courtesied to the Pacific that reached toward her his myriad curling fingers. They infolded her, held her close, and drew her swiftly, swiftly out to the great heaving bosom, tumultuous and beating in its mighty joy, its savage exultation of possession.

Wilbur stood watching. The little schooner lessened in the distance--became a shadow in mist and flying spray--a shadow moving upon the face of the great waste of water. Fainter and fainter she grew, vanished, reappeared, was heaved up again--a mere speck upon the western sky--a speck that dwindled and dwindled, then slowly melted away into the gray of the horizon.