“The fire upon the altar waits,” he repeated, solemnly. Suddenly he broke into a shrill laugh and ran like a deer in the direction of the forest that stretched up the slopes of the mountain.
The mate’s face, thrust over the rail as I drew alongside the schooner, plainly bespoke his utter bewilderment. He must have thought me bereft of my senses to be paddling about at that hour of the night. The tide had made, and the Sylph, righting her listed masts, was standing clear of the shoal. The deck was astir, and when the command was given to hoist the sails it was obeyed with an uneasy alacrity. The men worked frantically in a bright, unnatural day, for Lakalatcha was now continuously aflame and tossing up red-hot rocks to the accompaniment of dull sounds of explosion.
My first glance about the deck had been one of relief to note that Joyce and his wife were not there, although the commotion of getting under sail must have awakened them. A breeze had sprung up which would prove a fair wind as soon as the Sylph stood clear of the point. The mate gave a grunt of satisfaction when at length the schooner began to dip her bow and lay over to the task. Leaving him in charge, I started to go below, when suddenly Mrs. Joyce, fully dressed, confronted me. She seemed to have materialized out of the air like a ghost. Her hair glowed like burnished copper in the unnatural illumination which bathed the deck, but her face was ashen, and the challenge of her eyes made my heart stop short.
“You have been awake long?” I ventured to ask.
“Too long,” she answered, significantly, with her face turned away, looking down into the water. She had taken my arm and drawn me toward the rail. Now I felt her fingers tighten convulsively. In the droop of her head and the tense curve of her neck I sensed her mad impulse which the dark water suggested.
“Mrs. Joyce!” I remonstrated, sharply.
She seemed to go limp all over at the words. I drew her along the deck for a faltering step or two, while her eyes continued to brood upon the water rushing past. Suddenly she spoke:
“What other way out is there?”
“Never that,” I said, shortly. I urged her forward again. “Is your husband asleep?”
“Thank God, yes!”
“Then you have been awake—”
“For over an hour,” she confessed, and I detected the shudder that went over her body.
“The man is mad—”
“But I am married to him.” She stopped and caught at the rail like a prisoner gripping at the bars that confine him. “I cannot—cannot endure it! Where are you taking me? Where can you take me? Don’t you see that there is no escape—from this?”
The Sylph rose and sank to the first long roll of the open sea.
“When we reach Malduna—” I began, but the words were only torture.
“I cannot—cannot go on. Take me back!—to that island! Let me live abandoned—or rather die—”