XIV. The Yellow Flag
 

The departing whistle of the yacht Polly struck sharply to the heart of a desolate figure seated on a bench in the blazing, dusty, public square of Puerto del Norte, waiting out his first day of pain. A kiskadee bird, the only other creature foolish enough to risk the hot bleakness of the plaza at that hour, flitted into a dust-coated palm, inspected him, put a tentative query or two, decided that he was of no possible interest, and left the Unspeakable Perk to his own cogitations.

So deep in wretchedness were the cogitations that he did not hear the light, hesitant footstep. But he felt in every vein and fiber the appealing touch on his shoulder.

"Good God! What are you doing here?" he cried, leaping to his feet. There was no awkwardness or shyness in his speech now; only wonder-stricken joy.

"I came back to see you."

"But the yacht! Your ship!"

"She has left."

"No! She mustn't! Not without you! You can't stay here. It's too dangerous."

"I must. They think I'm aboard. I left a note for papa. He won't get it until they're at sea. And they can't come back for me, can they?"

"No--yes--they must! I must see Stark and Wisner at once."

"To send me away?"

"Yes."

"Without forgiving me?"

"Forgiving? There's no question of that between you and me."

"There is. Fitzhugh told me everything--all about the poor dead woman."

"Ah, he shouldn't have done that."

"He should!" She stamped a little willful foot. "What else could he do?"

"Why, yes," he agreed thoughtfully. "I suppose that's so. After all, a man can't bear the names that Carroll does and go wrong on the big inner things. He has met his test, and stood it. For he cares very deeply for you."

"Poor Fitz!" she sighed.

"But here we're wasting time!" he cried in a panic. "Where can I leave you?"

"Do you want to leave me?"

"Want to!" he groaned. "Can't you understand that I've got to get you to the yacht!"

"Oh, beetle man, beetle man, don't you want me?" she cried dolorously. "Didn't you mean your note?"

"Mean it? I meant it as I've never meant anything in the world. But you--what do you mean? Do you mean that you'll--you'll let the yacht go without you--and--and--and stay here, and m-m-marry me?"

"If you should ask me," she said, half-laughing, half-crying, "what else could I do? I'm alone and deserted. And there's only you in the world."

"Miss P-P-Polly," he began, "I--I can't believe--"

"It's true!" she cried, and held out two yearning hands to him. "And if you stammer and stutter and--and--and act like the Unspeakable Perk now, I'll--I'll howl!"

If she had any such project, the chance was lost on the instant of the warning, as he caught her to him and held her close.

"Oh!" she cried, trying to push him away. "Do you know, sir, that this is a public square?"

"Well, I didn't choose it," he reminded her, laughing in pure joy, with a boyish note new to her ear. "Anyway, there are only us two under the sun." And he drew her close again, whispering in her ear.

"Oh--oh, is that the language of medical science?" she reproved.

At this point, generic curiosity overcame the feathered eavesdropper in the tree above.

"Qu'est-ce qu'il dit?"--"What's he say?"

The girl turned a flushed and adorable face upward.

"I won't tell you. It's for me alone," she declared joyously. "But you'll never stop saying it, will you, dear?"

"Never, as long as we both shall live. And that reminds me," he said soberly. "We must arrange about being married."

"Oh, that reminds you, does it?" she mocked. "Just incidentally, like that."

Boom! Boom! Boom! The mission clock kept patiently at it until its suggestion struck in.

"Of course!" he cried. "Mr. Lake, the missionary, will marry us. And we'll have Stark and Wisner for witnesses. How long does it take a bride to get ready? Would half an hour be enough?"

"It's rather a short engagement," she remarked demurely. "But if it's all the time we've got--"

"It is. But, darling, we'll have to ride for it afterward, and get across to the mainland. I've no right to let you in for such a risk," he cried remorsefully.

"You couldn't help yourself," she teased saucily. "I ran you down like one of your own beetles. Besides, what does that permit for the Dutch ship say?"

"That's for myself and a woman--the leper woman. Not for myself and my wife."

"Well, I'm a woman, aren't I? And it doesn't say that the woman mustn't be your wife." She blushed distractingly.

"Caesar! Of course it doesn't! What luck! We'll be in Curacao to- morrow. I must see Wisner about getting us off. But, Polly, dearest one, you're sure? You haven't let yourself be carried away by that foolishness of mine yesterday?"

"Sure? Oh, beetle man!" She put her hands on his shoulders and bent to his ear.

The sulphur-colored winged Paul Pry stuck an impertinent head out from behind a palm leaf.

"Qu'est-ce qu'elle dit? Qu'est-ce qu'elle dit?"

For the second and last time in his adult life the beetle man threw a stone at a bird.

Four hours later six powerful black oarsmen rowed a boat containing two passengers and practically no luggage out across the huge lazy swells of the Caribbean toward a smudge of black smoke.

"Look!" cried that one of the passengers who wore huge goggles. "There goes the flag!"

A square of yellow bunting slid slowly up the pierhead staff of the dock corporation, and spread in the light shore breeze.

"That's the modern flaming sword," he continued. "The color stirs something inside me. Ugly, isn't it?"

"It is ugly," she confessed thoughtfully. "Yet it's the flag we fight under, too, isn't it? And we'd fight for it if we had to, just as we fought for the other--our own."

"I love your 'we,'" he laughed happily.

She nestled closer to him.

"Are you still hating the Caribbean?"

"I? I'm loving it the second-best thing in the world."

"But I loved it first," she reminded him jealously. "Dearest," she added, with one of her swift swoops of thought, "what was that funny title the British Secretary of Legation had?"

"What? Oh, Captain the Honorable Carey Knowles?"

"Yes. Well, I shall have a much nicer, more picturesque title than that when we come back to Caracuna--dear, dirty, dangerous, queer, riotous, plague-stricken old Caracuna!"

"Then my liege ladylove intends to come back?" he asked.

"Of course. Some time. And in Caracuna I shall insist on being Mrs. the Unspeakable Perk."

THE END