By Joseph Hergesheimer
It is only the path of pure simplicity which guards and preserves the spirit. CHWANG-TZE
TO HAZLETON MIRKIL, JR.
from Dorothy and Joseph Hergesheimer
Very late indeed in May, but early in the morning, Laurel Ammidon lay in bed considering two widely different aspects of chairs. The day before she had been eleven, and the comparative maturity of that age had filled her with a moving disdain for certain fanciful thoughts which had given her extreme youth a decidedly novel if not an actually adventurous setting. Until yesterday, almost, she had regarded the various chairs of the house as beings endowed with life and character; she had held conversations with some, and, with a careless exterior not warranted by an inner dread, avoided others in gloomy dusks. All this, now, she contemptuously discarded. Chairs were—chairs, things to sit on, wood and stuffed cushions.
Yet she was slightly melancholy at losing such a satisfactory lot of reliable familiars: unlike older people, victims of the most disconcerting moods and mysterious changes, chairs could always be counted on to remain secure in their individual peculiarities.
She could see by her fireplace the elaborately carved teakwood chair that her grandfather had brought home from China, which had never varied from the state of a brown and rather benevolent dragon; its claws were always claws, the grinning fretted mouth was perpetually fixed for a cloud of smoke and a mild rumble of complaint. The severe waxed hickory beyond with the broad arm for writing, a source of special pride, had been an accommodating and precise old gentleman. The spindling gold chairs in the drawingroom were supercilious creatures at a king's ball; the graceful impressive formality of the Heppelwhites in the dining room belonged to the loveliest of Boston ladies. Those with difficult haircloth seats in the parlor were deacons; others in the breakfast room talkative and unpretentious; while the deep easy-chair before the library fire was a ship. There were mahogany stools, dwarfs of dark tricks; angry high-backed things in the hall below; and a terrifying shape of gleaming red that, without question, stirred hatefully and reached out curved and dripping hands.
Anyhow, such they had all seemed. But lately she had felt a growing secrecy about it, an increasing dread of being laughed at; and now, definitely eleven, she recognized the necessity of dropping such pretense even with herself. They were just chairs, she rerepeated; there was an end of that.
The tall clock with the brass face outside her door, after a premonitory whirring, loudly and firmly struck seven, and Laurel wondered whether her sisters, in the room open from hers, were awake. She listened attentively but there was no sound of movement. She made a noise in her throat, that might at once have appeared accidental and been successful in its purpose of arousing them; but there was no response. She would have gone in and frankly waked Janet, who was not yet thirteen and reasonable; but experience had shown her that Camilla, reposing in the eminence and security of two years more, would permit no such light freedom with her slumbers.
Sidsall, who had been given a big room for herself on the other side of their parents, would greet anyone cheerfully no matter how tightly she might have been asleep. And Sidsall, the oldest of them all, was nearly sixteen and had stayed for part of their cousin Lucy Saltonstone's dance, where no less a person than Roger Brevard had asked her for a quadrille.
Laurel's thoughts grew so active that she was unable to remain any longer in bed; she freed herself from the enveloping linen and crossed the room to a window through which the sun was pouring in a sharp bright angle. She had never known the world to smell so delightful—it was one of the notable Mays in which the lilacs blossomed—and she stood responding with a sparkling life to the brilliant scented morning, the honey-sweet perfume of the lilacs mingled with the faintly pungent odor of box wet with dew.
She could see, looking back across a smooth green corner of the Wibirds' lawn next door, the enclosure of their own back yard, divided from the garden by a white lattice fence and row of prim grayish poplars. At the farther wall her grandfather, in a wide palm leaf hat, was stirring about his pear trees, tapping the ground and poking among the branches with his ivory headed cane.
Laurel exuberantly performed her morning toilet, half careless, in her soaring spirits, of the possible effect of numerous small ringings of pitcher on basin, the clatter of drawers, upon Camilla. Yesterday she had worn a dress of light wool delaine; but this morning, she decided largely, summer had practically come; and, on her own authority, she got an affair of thin pineapple cloth out of the yellow camphorwood chest. She hurriedly finished weaving her heavy chestnut hair into two gleaming plaits, fastened a muslin guimpe at the back, and slipped into her dress. Here, however, she twisted her face into an expression of annoyance—her years were affronted by the length of pantalets that hung below her skirt. Such a show of their narrow ruffles might do for a very small girl, but not for one of eleven; and she caught them up until only the merest fulled edge was visible. Then she made a buoyant descent to the lower hall, left the house by a side door to the bricked walk and an arched gate into the yard, and joined her grandfather.
"Six bells in the morning watch," he announced, consulting a thick gold timepiece. "Head pump rigged and deck swabbed down?" Secure in her knowledge of the correct answers for these sudden interrogations Laurel impatiently replied, "Yes, sir."
"Scuttle butt filled?"
"Yes, sir." She frowned and dug a heel in the soft ground.
"Then splice the keel and heave the galley overboard."
This last she recognized as a sally of humor, and contrived a fleeting perfunctory smile. Her grandfather turned once more to the pears. "See the buds on those Ashton Towns," he commented. Laurel gazed critically: the varnished red buds were bursting with white blossom, the new leaves unrolling, tender green and sticky. "But the jargonelles—" he drew in his lips doubtfully. She studied him with the profound interest his sheer being always invoked: she was absorbed in his surprising large roundness of body, like an enormous pudding; in the deliberate care with which he moved and planted his feet; but most of all by the fact that when he was angry his face got quite purple, the color of her mother's paletot or a Hamburg grape.
They crossed the yard to where the vines of the latter, and of white Chasselas—Laurel was familiar with these names from frequent horticultural questionings—had been laid down in cold frames for later transplanting; and from them the old man, her palm tightly held in his, trod ponderously to the currant bushes massed against the closed arcade of the stables, the wood and coal and store houses, across the rear of the place.
At last, with frequent disconcerting mutterings and explosive breaths, he finished his inspection and turned toward the house. Laurel, conscious of her own superiority of apparel, surveyed her companion in a frowning attitude exactly caught from her mother. He had on that mussy suit of yellow Chinese silk, and there was a spot on the waistcoat straining at its pearl buttons. She wondered, maintaining the silent mimicry of elder remonstrance, why he would wear those untidy old things when his chests were heaped with snowy white linen and English broadcloths. It was very improper in an Ammidon, particularly in one who had been captain of so many big ships, and in court dress with a cocked hat met the Emperor of Russia.
They did not retrace Laurel's steps, but passed through a narrow wicket to the garden that lay directly behind the house. The enclosure was full of robin-song and pouring sunlight; the lilac trees on either side of the summer-house against the gallery of the stable were blurred with their new lavender flowering; the thorned glossy foliage of the hedge of June roses on Briggs Street glittered with diamonds of water; and the rockery in the far corner showed a quiver of arbutus among its strange and lacy ferns and mosses.
Laurel sniffed the fragrant air, filled with a tumult of energy; every instinct longed to skip; she thought of jouncing as high as the poplars, right over the house and into Washington Square beyond. "Miss Fidget!" her grandfather exclaimed, exasperated, releasing her hand. "You're like holding on to a stormy petrel."
"I don't think that's very nice," she replied.
"God bless me," he said, turning upon her his steady blue gaze; "what have we got here, all dressed up to go ashore?" She sharply elevated a shoulder and retorted, "Well, I'm eleven." His look, which had seemed quite fierce, grew kindly again. "Eleven," he echoed with a satisfactory amazement; "that will need some cumshaws and kisses." The first, she knew, was a word of pleasant import, brought from the East, and meant gifts; and, realizing that the second was unavoidably connected with it, she philosophically held up her face. Lifting her over his expanse of stomach he kissed her loudly. She didn't object, really, or rather she wouldn't at all but for a strong odor of Manilla cheroots and the Medford rum he took at stated periods.
After this they moved on, through the bay window of the drawing-room that opened on the garden, where a woman was brushing with a nodding feather duster, under the white arch that framed the main stairway, and turned aside to where breakfast was being laid. Laurel saw that her father was already seated at the table, intent upon the tall, thickly printed sheet of the Salem Register. He paused to meet her dutiful lips; then with a "Good morning, father," returned to his reading. Camilla entered at Laurel's heels; and the latter, in a delight slightly tempered by doubt, saw that she had been before her sister in a suitable dress for such a warm day. Camilla still wore her dark merino; and she gazed with mingled surprise and annoyance at Laurel's airy garb.
"Did mother say you might put that on?" she demanded. "Because if she didn't I expect you will have to go right up from breakfast and change. It isn't a dress at all for so early in the morning. Why, I believe it's one of your very best." The look of critical disapproval suddenly became doubly accusing.
"Laurel Ammidon, wherever are your pantalets?"
"I'm too big to have pantalets hanging down over my shoetops," she replied defiantly, "and so I just hitched them up. You can still see the frill." Janet had come into the room, and stood behind her. "Don't you notice Camilla," she advised; "she's not really grown up." They turned at the appearance of their mother. "Dear me, Camilla," the latter observed, "you are getting too particular for any comfort. What has upset you now?"
"Look at Laurel," Camilla replied; "that's all you need to do. You'd think she went to dances instead of Sidsall"
Laurel painfully avoided her mother's comprehensive glance. "Very beautiful," the elder said in a tone of palpable pleasure. Laurel advanced her lower lip ever so slightly in the direction of Camilla. "But you have taken a great deal into your own hands." She shifted apparently to another topic. "There will be no lessons to-day for I have to send Miss Gomes into Boston." At this announcement Laurel was flooded with a joy that obviously belonged to her former, less dignified state. "However," her mother continued addressing her, "since you have dressed yourself like a lady I shall expect you to behave appropriately; no soiled or torn skirts, and an hour at your piano scales instead of a half."
Laurel's anticipation of pleasure ebbed as quickly as it had come—she would have to move with the greatest caution all day, and spend a whole hour at the piano. It was the room to which she objected rather than the practicing; a depressing sort of place where she was careful not to move anything out of the stiff and threatening order in which it belonged. The chairdeacons in particular were severely watchful; but that, now, she had determined to ignore.
She turned to johnnycakes, honey and milk, only half hearing, in her preoccupation with the injustice that had overtaken her, the conversation about the table. Her gaze strayed over the walls of the breakfast room, where water color drawings of vessels, half models of ships on teakwood or Spanish mahogany boards, filled every possible space. Some her grandfather had sailed in as second and then first mate, of others he had been master, and the rest, she knew, were owned by Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone, her grandfather, father and uncle.
Just opposite her was the Two Capes at anchor in Table Bay, the sails all furled except the fore-topsail which hung in the gear. A gig manned by six sailors in tarpaulin hats with an officer in the stern sheets swung with dripping oars across the dark water of the foreground; on the left an inky ship was standing in close hauled on the port tack with all her canvas set. It was lighter about the Two Capes, and at the back a mountain with a flat top—showing at once why it was called Table Bay—rose against an overcast sky. Laurel knew a great deal about the Two Capes—for instance that she had been a barque of two hundred and nine tons—because it had been her grandfather's first command, and he never tired of narrating every detail of that memorable voyage.
Laurel could repeat most of these particulars: They sailed on the tenth of April in 'ninety-three, and were four and a half months to the Cape of Good Hope; twenty days later, on the rocky island of St. Paul, grandfather had a fight with a monster seal; a sailor took the scurvy, and, dosed with niter and vinegar, was stowed in the longboat, but he died and was buried at sea in the Doldrums. Then, with a cargo of Sumatra pepper, they made Corregidor Island and Manilla Bay where the old Spanish fort stood at the mouth of the Pasig. The barque, the final cargo of hemp and indigo and sugar in the hold, set sail again for the Cape of Good Hope, and returned, by way of Falmouth in England and Rotterdam, home.
The other drawings were hardly less familiar; ships, barques, brigs and topsail schooners, the skillful work of Salmon, Anton Roux and Chinnery. There was the Celestina becalmed off Marseilles, her sails hanging idly from the yards and stays, her hull with painted ports and carved bow and stern mirrored in the level sea. There was the Albacore running through the northeast trades with royals and all her weather studding sails set. Farther along the Pallas Athena, in heavy weather off the Cape of Good Hope, was being driven hard across the Agulhas Bank under double-reefed topsails, reefed courses, the fore-topmast staysail and spanker, with the westerly current breaking in an ugly cross sea, but, as her grandfather always explained, setting the ship thirty or forty miles to windward in a day. She lingered, finally, over the Metacom, running her easting down far to the southward with square yards under a close-reefed maintop sail, double-reefed foresail and forestaysail, dead before a gale and gigantic long seas hurling the ship on in the bleak watery desolation.
Laurel was closely concerned in all these. One cause for this was the fact that her grandfather so often selected her as the audience for his memories and stories, during which his manner was completely that of one navigator to another; and a second flourished in the knowledge that Camilla affected to disdain the sea and any of its connections.
Sidsall appeared and took her place with a collective greeting; while Laurel, coming out of her abstraction, realized that they were discussing the subject in which nearly every conversation now began or ended—the solemn speculation of why her Uncle Gerrit Ammidon, master of the ship Nautilus, was so long overdue from China. Laurel heard this from two angles, or, otherwise, when her grandfather was or was not present, the tone of the first far more encouraging than that of the latter. Her father was speaking:
"My opinion is that he was unexpectedly held up at Shanghai. It's a new port for us, and, Captain Verney tells me, very difficult to make: after Woosung you have to get hold of two bamboo poles stuck up on the bank a hundred feet apart as a leading mark, and, with these in range, steer for the bar. The channel is very narrow, and he says the Nautilus would have to wait for high water, perhaps for the spring tide. She may have got ashore, strained and sprung a leak, and had to discharge her cargo for repairs."
"That's never Gerrit," the elder replied positively. "There isn't a better master afloat. He can smell shoal water. I was certain we'd hear from him when the Sorsogon was back from Calcutta. Do you suppose, William, that he took the Nautilus about the Horn and—?" Laurel wondered at the unmannerly way in which he gulped his coffee. "He might have driven into the Antarctic winter," he proceeded. "My deck was swept and all the boats stove off the Falklands in April."
"Gerrit's got a ship," the other asserted, "not a hermaphrodite brig built like a butter box. You'll find that I am right and that he has been tied up in port."
"I made eight hundred per cent on a first cargo for my owners," the elder retorted. "Then there was trading, yes, and sailing, too. No chronometers with confounded rates of variation and other fancy parlor instruments to read your position from. When I first navigated it was with an astrolabe and the moon. A master knew his lead, latitude and lookout then.
"Eight hundred barrels of flour and pine boards to Rio and back with coffee and hides for Salem," he continued; "then out to Gibraltar and Brazil with wine and on in ballast for Calcutta. Tahiti and Morea, the Sandwich Islands and the Feejees. Sandalwood and tortoise shell and beche de mer; sea horses' teeth, and saltpeter for the Chinese Government. I don't want to hear about your bills of exchange and kegs of Spanish dollars and solid cargoes of tea run back direct. Why, with your Canton and India agents and sight drafts the China service is like dealing with a Boston store."
Laurel saw that her father was assuming the expression of restrained annoyance habitual when the elder contrasted old shipping ways with new. "Unfortunately," he said, "the patient Chinaman will no longer exchange silks and lacquer and teas for boiled sea slugs. He has learned to demand something of value."
"Why, damn it, William," the other exploded, "nothing's more valuable to a Chinese than his belly. They'll give eighteen hundred dollars a pecul for birds' nests any day. As for your insinuation that we used to diddle them—I never ran opium up from India to rot their souls. And when the Chinese Government tried to stop it there's the British commercial interests forcing it on them with cannon in 'forty-two.
"Look at the pepper we brought into Salem—" he was, Laurel realized with intense interest, growing beautifully empurpled; "—lay right off the beach at Mukka and did business with the Dato himself. We forded the bags on the crew's backs across a river with muskets served in case the bloody heathen drew their creeses. When we made sail everything was running over with pepper—the boats and forecastle and cabins and between decks."
"Well, father, the heroic times are done, of course; I can't say that I'm sorry. I shouldn't like to finance a voyage that reached out to three years and depended on the captain's picking up six or seven cargoes."
The old man rose; and, muttering a plainly uncomplimentary period about the resemblance of modern ship owners to clerks, walked with his heavy careful tread from the room.
"You are so foolish to argue and excite him," William's wife told him.
Laurel regarded her with a passionate admiration for the shining hair turning smoothly about her brow and drawn over her ears to the low coil in the back, for her brown barege dress with velvet leaves and blue forget-me-nots and tightest of long sleeves and high collar, and because generally she was a mother to be owned and viewed with pride. She met Laurel's gaze with a little friendly nod and said:
"Don't forget about your clothes, and I think you ought to finish the practicing before dinner, so you'll be free for a walk with your grandfather in the afternoon."
Soon after, Laurel stood in the hall viewing with disfavor the light dress she had put on so gayly at rising. In spite of her sense of increasing age she had a strong desire to play in the yard and climb about in the woodhouse. Already the business of being grown up began to pall upon her, the outlook dreary that included nothing but a whole hour at the piano, an endless care of her skirts, and the slowest kind of walk through Washington Square and down to Derby Wharf, where—no matter in which direction and for what purpose they started forth—her grandfather's way invariably led.
Janet joined her, and they stood irresolutely balancing on alternate slippers. "Did you notice," the former volunteered, "mother is letting Camilla have lots of starch in her petticoats, so that they stand right out like crinoline? Wasn't she hateful this morning!" Laurel heard a slight sound at her back, and, wheeling, saw her grandfather looking out from the library door. A swift premonition of possible additional misfortune seized her. Moving toward the side entrance she said to Janet, "We'd better be going right away."
It was, however, too late. "Well, little girls," he remarked benevolently, "since Miss Gomes has left for the day it would be as well if I heard your geography lesson."
"I don't think mother intended for us to study today," Laurel replied, making a face of appeal for Janet's support. But the latter remained solidly and silently neutral.
"What, what," the elder mildly exploded; "mutiny in the forecastle! Get right up here in the break of the quarter-deck or I'll harry you." He stood aside while Laurel and Janet filed into the library. Geography was the only subject their grandfather proposed for his instruction, and the lesson, she knew, might take any one of several directions. He sometimes heard it with the precision of Miss Gomes herself; he might substitute for the regular questions such queries, drawn from his wide voyages, as he thought to be of infinitely greater use and interest; or, better still, he frequently gave them the benefit of long reminiscences, through which they sat blinking in a mechanical attention or slightly wriggling with minds far away from the old man's periods, full of outlandish names and places, and, when he got excited, shocking swears.
He turned the easy-chair—the one which Laurel had thought of as a ship—away from the fireplace, now covered with a green slatted blind for the summer; and they drew forward two of the heavy chairs with shining claw feet that stood against the wall. Smiley's Geography, a book no larger than the shipmaster's hand, was found and opened to Hindoostan, or India within the Ganges. There was a dark surprising picture of Hindoos doing Penance under the Banyan tree, and a confusing view of the Himaleh Mountains.
"Stuff," he proceeded, gazing with disfavor at the illustrations. "This ought to be written by men who have seen the world and know its tides and landmarks. Do you suppose," he demanded heatedly of Janet, "that the fellow who put this together ever took a ship through the Formosa Channel against the northeast monsoon?"
"No, sir," Janet replied hastily.
"Here are Climate and Face of the country and Religion," he located these items with a blunt finger, "but I can't find exports. I'll lay he won't know a Bengal chintz from a bundle handkerchief."
"I don't think it says anything about exports," Laurel volunteered. "We have the boundaries and—"
"Bilge," he interrupted sharply. "I didn't fetch boundaries back in the Two Capes, did I?" He thrust the offending volume into a crevice of his chair. "Laurel," he added, "what is the outport of St. Petersburg?"
"Cronstadt," she answered, after a violent searching of her memory.
"And for Manilla?" he turned to Janet.
"I can't think," she admitted.
"Cavite," the latter pronounced out of a racking mental effort.
"Just so, and—" he looked up at the ceiling, "the port for Boston?"
"I don't believe we've had that," she said firmly. His gaze fastened on her so intently that she blushed into her lap. "Don't believe we've had it," he echoed.
"Why, confound it—" he paused and regarded her with a new doubt. "Laurel," he demanded, "what is an outport?"
She had a distinct feeling of justifiable injury. A recognized part of the present system of examination was its strict limitation to questions made familiar by constant repetition; and this last was entirely new. She was sure of several kinds of ports—one they had after dinner, another indicated a certain side of a vessel, and still a third was Salem. But an outport—Cronstadt, Cavite, what it really meant, what they were, had escaped her. She decided to risk an opinion.
"An outport," she said slowly, "is a—a part of a ship," that much seemed safe—"I expect it's the place where they throw things like potato peels through."
"You suppose what!" he cried, breathing quite hard. "A place where they—" he broke off. "And you're Jeremy Ammidon's granddaughter! By heaven, it would make a coolie laugh. It's like William, who never would go to sea, to have four daughters in place of a son. I'm done with you; go tinker on the piano." They got down from their chairs and departed with an only half concealed eagerness. "Do you think he means it," Janet asked hopefully, "and he'll never have any geography again?"
"No, I don't," Laurel told her shortly. She was inwardly ruffled, and further annoyed at Janet's placid acceptance of whatever the day brought along. Janet was a stick! She turned away and found herself facing the parlor and the memory of the impending hour of practice. Well, it had to be done before dinner, and she went forward with dragging feet.
Within the formal shaded space of the chamber she stopped to speculate on the varied and colorful pictures of the wall paper reaching from the white paneling above her waist to the deep white carving at the ceiling. The scene which absorbed her most showed, elevated above a smooth stream, a marble pavilion with sweeping steps and a polite company about a reclining gentleman with bare arms and a wreath on his head and a lady in flowing robes playing pipes. To the right, in deep green shadow, a charmer was swinging from ropes of flowers, lovers hid behind a brown mossy trunk; while on the left, against a weeping willow and frowning rock, four serene creatures gathered about a barge with a gilded prow.
Still on her reluctant progress to the piano she stopped to examine the East India money on the lowest shelf of a locked corner cupboard. There was a tiresome string of cash with a rattan twisted through their square holes; silver customs taels, and mace and candareen; Chinese gold leaf and Fukien dollars; coins from Cochin China in the shape of India ink, with raised edges and characters; old Carolus hooked dollars; Sycee silver ingots, smooth and flat above, but roughly oval on the lower surface, not unlike shoes; Japanese obangs, their gold stamped and beaten out almost as broad as a hand's palm; mohurs and pieces from Singapore; Dutch guilders from Java; and the small silver and gold drops of Siam called tical.
She arrived finally at the harplike stool of the piano; but there she had to wait until the clock in the hall above struck some division of the hour for her guidance, and she rattled the brass rings that formed the handles of drawers on either side of the keyboard. Later, her fingers picking a precarious way through bass and treble, she heard Sidsall's voice at the door; the latter was joined by their mother, and they went out to the clatter of hoofs, the thin jingle of harness chains, where the barouche waited for them in the street. Once Camilla obtruded into the room. "I wonder you don't give yourself a headache," she remarked; "I never heard more nerve-racking sounds."
Laurel gathered that Camilla was proud of this expression, which she must have newly caught from some grown person. She considered a reply, but, nothing sufficiently crushing occurring, she ignored the other in a difficult transposition of her hands. Camilla left; the clock above struck a second quarter; the third, while she honestly continued her efforts up until the first actual note of the hour.
"Thank God that's over," she said in the liberal manner of a shipmaster. Now only the walk with her grandfather remained of the actively tiresome duties of the day. After dinner the sun blazed down with almost the heat of midsummer, and Laurel felt unexpectedly indifferent, content to linger in the house. Only too soon she heard inquiries for her; and in her gaiter boots, a silk bonnet with a blue scarf tied under her chin and flowing over a shoulder and palm leaf cashmere shawl, she accompanied the old man across Pleasant Street and over the wide green Square to the arched west gate with its gilt eagle and Essex Street.
"Will we be going on Central Street?" she asked.
"No reason for turning down there," he replied, forgetful of the gingerbread shop with the shaky little bell inside the door, the buttered gingerbread on the upper shelf for three cents and that without on the lower for two. She gathered her hopes now about Webb's Drugstore, where her grandfather sometimes stopped for a talk, and bought her rock candy, Gibraltars or blackjacks. It was too hot for blackjacks, she decided, and, with opportunity, would choose the cooling peppermint flavor of the Gibraltars.
The elms on Essex Street were far enough in leaf to cast a flickering shade in the faintly salt air drifting from the sea; and they progressed so slowly that Laurel was able to study the contents of most of the store windows they passed. Some held crewels and crimped white cakes of wax, gayly colored reticule beads with a wooden spoon for a penny measure, and "strawberry" emery balls. There was a West India store and a place where they sold oil and candles, another had charts for mariners; while across the way stood the East India Marine Hall.
Here her grandfather hesitated, and for a moment it seemed as if he would go over and join the masters always to be found about the Museum. But in the end he continued beyond the Essex House with its iron bow and lamp over the entrance, past Cheapside to Webb's Drugstore, where he purchased a bag of Peristaltic lozenges, and—after pretending to start away as if nothing more were to be secured there—the Gibraltars.
They were returning, in the general direction of Derby Wharf, when Jeremy Ammidon met a companion of past days at sea, and stopped for the inevitable conversational exchange. The latter, who had such a great spreading beard that Laurel couldn't determine whether or not he wore a neck scarf, said:
"Barzil Dunsack all but died."
"Ha!" the other exclaimed. Laurel wondered at the indelicacy in speaking about old Captain Dunsack to her grandfather, when everyone in Salem knew they had quarreled years ago and not spoken to each other since.
"He was bad off," he persisted; "a cold grappled in his chest and went into lung fever. Barzil's looking wasted, what with sickness and the trouble about Edward." At a nod, half encouraging, he added, "It appears Edward left Heard and Company in Canton and took ship back to Boston. He's there now for what I know. Never sent any word to Salem or his father. Looks a little as if he had been turned out of his berth. Then one of Barzil's schooners caught the edge of the last hurricane off the Great Bank and went ashore on Green Turtle Key. Used him near all up."
Laurel saw that her grandfather was frowning heavily and silently moving his lips. The other left them standing and her companion brought his cane down sharply. "Boy and boy," he said. "Barzil was a good man... looking old. So am I, so am I. Feet almost useless. Laurel," he addressed her, "I want you to go right on home. I've got to stop around and see an old friend who has been sick." She left obediently, but paused once to gaze back incredulously at the bulky shape of her grandfather moving toward Barzil Dunsack's. That quarrel was part of their family history, she had been aware of it as long as she had of the solemn clock in the second hall; and not very far back, perhaps when she was eight, it had taken a fresh activity of discussion around the person of her Uncle Gerrit, who, it was feared, might now be drowned at sea. What it had all been about neither she nor her sisters knew, for not only was the subject dropped at the approach of any of them but they were forbidden to mention it.
At home she was unable to communicate her surprising news at once because of the flood of talk that met her from the drawing-room. Olive Wibird and Lacy, her cousin, were engaged with Sidsall in a conversation often a duet and sometimes a trio. Laurel took a seat at the edge of the chatter and followed it comprehensively. She didn't like Olive Wibird who would greet her in a sugary voice; but elsewhere Olive was tremendously admired, there were always men about her, serenades rising from the lawn beneath her window, and Laurel herself had seen Olive's dressing table laden with bouquets in frilly lace paper. She had one now, in a holder of mother-of-pearl, with a gilt chain and ring. Her wide skirt was a mass of over-drapery, knots of moss roses and green gauze ribbons; while a silver cord ending in a tassel fell forward among her curls.
Lacy Saltonstone, almost as plainly dressed as Sidsall, was as usual sitting straighter than anyone else Laurel ever saw; she had a brown face with a finely curved nose and brown eyes, and her voice was cool and decided.
"For me," she said, "he is the most fascinating person in Salem."
Olive Wibird made a swift face of dissent. "He's too stiff and there is gray in his hair. I like my men more like sparkling hock. Dancing with him he holds you as if you were glass."
"I don't seem to remember you and Mr. Brevard together," Lacy commented.
"He hasn't asked me for centuries," the other admitted. "He did Sidsall, though, as we all remember; didn't he, love?"
Sidsall's cheeks turned bright pink. Laurel dispassionately wished that her sister wouldn't make such a show of herself. It was too bad that Sidsall was so—so broad and well looking; she was not in the least pale or interesting, and had neither Lacy's Saltonstone's thin gracefulness nor Olive's popular manner.
"It was very noble of him," Sidsall agreed.
"But he was extremely engaged," Lacy assured her with her wide slow stare. "He told me that you were like apple blossoms."
That might please Sidsall, thought Laurel, but she personally held apple blossoms to be a very common sort of flower. Evidently something of the kind had occurred to Olive, too, for she said: "Heaven only knows what men will admire. It's clear they don't like a prude. I intend to have a good time until I get married—"
"But what if you love in vain?" Sidsall interrupted.
"There isn't any need for that," Olive told her. "When I see a man I want I'm going to get him. It's easy if you know how and make opportunities. I always have one garter a little loose."
"Laurel," her sister turned, "I'm certain your supper is ready. Go along like a nice child."
In her room a woman with a flat worn face and a dusty wisp of hair across her neck was spreading underlinen, ironed into beautiful narrow wisps of pleating, in a drawer. It was Hodie, a Methodist, the only one Laurel knew, and the latter was always entranced by the servant's religious exclamations, doubts and audible prayers. She was saying something now about pits, gauds and vanities; and she ended a short profession of faith with an amen so loud and sudden that Laurel, although she was waiting for it, jumped.
It was past seven, the air was so sweet with lilacs that they seemed to be blooming in her room, and the sunlight died slowly from still space. By leaning out of her window she could see over the Square. The lamplighter was moving along its wooden fence, leaving faint twinkling yellow lights, and there were little gleams from the windows on Bath Street beyond.
The gayety of her morning mood was replaced by a dim kind of wondering, her thoughts became uncertain like the objects in the quivering light outside. The palest possible star shone in the yellow sky; she had to look hard or it was lost. Janet, stirring in the next room, seemed so far away that she might not hear her, Laurel, no matter how loudly she called. "Janet!" she cried, prompted by unreasoning dread. "You needn't to yell," Janet complained, at the door. But already Laurel was oblivious of her: she had seen a familiar figure slowly crossing Washington Square —her grandfather coming home from Captain Dunsack's.
Gracious, how poky he was; she was glad that she wasn't dragging along at his side. He seemed bigger and rounder than usual. She heard the tap of his cane as he left the Common for Pleasant Street; then his feet moved and stopped, moved and stopped, up the steps of their house.
She was sorry now that she hadn't known what an outport was, and determined to ask him to-morrow. She liked his stories, that Camilla disdained, about crews and Hong Kong and the stormy Cape. The thought of Cape Horn brought back the memory of her Uncle Gerrit, absent in the ship Nautilus. Her mental pictures of him were not clear—he was almost always at sea—but she remembered his eyes, which were very confusing to encounter, and his hair parted and carelessly brushing the bottoms of his ears.
Laurel recalled hearing that Gerrit was his father's favorite, and she suddenly understood something of the unhappiness that weighed upon the old man. She hoped desperately that Janet or Camilla wouldn't come in and laugh at her for crying. In bed she saw that the room was rapidly filling with dusk. Only yesterday she would have told herself that the dragon in the teakwood chair was stirring; but now Laurel could see that it never moved. She rocked like the little boats that crossed the harbor or came in from the ships anchored beyond the wharves, and settled into a sleep like a great placid sea flooding the world of her home and the lamplighter and her grandfather sorrowing for Uncle Gerrit.
When Jeremy Ammidon sent his granddaughter home alone, and turned toward Captain Dunsack's, on Hardy Street, he stopped for a moment to approve the diminishing sturdy figure. All William's children, though they were girls, were remarkably handsome, with glowing red cheeks and clear eyes, tumbling masses of hair and a generous vigor of body. He sighed at Laurel's superabundant youth, and moved carefully forward; he was very heavy, and his progress was uncertain. His thoughts were divided between the present and the past—Barzil Dunsack, aged and ill and unfortunate, and the happening long ago that had resulted in a separation of years after a close youthful companionship.
It had occurred while Barzil was master of the brig Luna, owned by Billy Gray, and he, Jeremy, was first mate. In the exactness with which he recalled every detail of his life in ships he remembered that at the time they were off Bourbon Island, about a hundred and ten miles southwest of the lie de France. The Luna was close hauled, and, while Barzil was giving an order at the wheel, she fetched a bad lee lurch and sent him in a heap across the deck, striking his head against the bumkin bitts. He had got up dazed but not apparently seriously injured; and after his head had been swabbed and bound by the steward he returned to the poop. There, however, his conduct had been so peculiar—among other things sending down the watch to put on Sunday rig against a possible hail by the Lord—that, after a long consultation with Mr. Patterson, the second mate and the boatswain, and a brief announcement to the crew, he, Jeremy Ammidon, had taken command in their interest and that of the owner.
Barzil had made difficulties: Mr. Patterson struck up a leveled pistol in the master's hand just as it exploded. They had confined him, in charge of the unhappy steward, to his cabin; where, after he had completely recovered from the effects of the blow, and Jeremy had been upheld by the authorities at Table Bay, he stubbornly remained until the Luna had been warped into Salem.
From the moment of their landing they had not exchanged a word. Jeremy was surprised to find himself at present bound toward the other's house. He was not certain that Barzil would even see him; but, he muttered, the thing had lasted long enough, they were too old for such foolishness; and the other had come into adverse winds, now, when he should be lying quietly in a snug harbor.
He had never paid serious attention to the threatened complication two or three years before, when Gerrit had been seen repeatedly with Kate Dunsack's irregularly born daughter. He was sorry for the two women. It was his opinion that the man had been shipped drunk by some boarding house runner; anyhow, only the second day out Vollar had been lost overboard from the main-royal yard, and Kate's child born outside the law. It was hard, he told himself again, walking down Orange Street, past the Custom House to Derby.
The girl, Nettie Vollar—they had adopted the father's name—was attractive in a decided French way, with crisp black hair, a pert nose and dimple, and, why, good heavens, twenty-one or two years old if she was a week! How time did run. It was nothing extraordinary if Gerrit had been seen a time or two with her on the street, or even if he had called at the Dunsacks'. Barzil's and his quarrel didn't extend to all the members of their families; and as for the Dunsacks being common—that was nonsense. Barzil was as good as he any day; only where he had prospered, and moved up into a showy place on the Common, the other had had the head winds. Through no fault of his own the reputation had fastened on him of being unlucky in his cargoes: if he carried tea and colonial exports to, say, Antwerp, they would have been declared contraband while he was at sea, and seized on the docks; he had been blown, in an impenetrable fog, ashore on Tierra del Fuego, and, barely making Cape Pembroke, had been obliged to beach his ship, a total loss. Then there was Kate's trouble. Barzil was a rigorously moral and religious man and his pain at that last must have been heavy.
Jeremy Ammidon's mind turned to Gerrit, his son; this interest in Nettie Vollar, if it had existed, was characteristic of the boy, who had a quick heart and an honest disdain for the muddling narrow ways of the land. He would have sought her out simply from the instinct to protest against the smugness of Salem opinion. A fine sailor, and a master at twenty-two. A great one to carry sail; yet in the sixteen years of his commands he had had no more serious accident than the loss of a fore-topgallant mast or splitting a couple of courses. It was Gerrit's ability, the splendid qualities of his ship, that made Jeremy hope he would still come sailing into the harbor with some narration of delay and danger overcome.
He was now on Derby Street, in a region of rigging and sail lofts, block and pump makers, ships' stores, spar yards, gilders, carvers and workers in metal. There was a strong smell of tar and new canvas and the flat odor that rose at low water. Sailors passed, yellow powerful Scandinavians and dark men with earrings from southern latitudes, in red or checked shirts, blue dungarees and glazed black hats with trailing ribbons, or in cheap and clumsy shore clothes. There was a scraping of fiddle from an upper window, the sound of heavy capering feet and the stale laughter of harborside women.
On Hardy Street he continued to the last house at the right, the farther side of which gave across a yard of uneven bricks, straggling bushes and aged splitting apple trees and an expanse of lush grass ending abruptly in a wooden embankment and the water. A short fence turned in from the sidewalk to the front door, where Jeremy knocked. A long pause followed, in which he became first impatient and then irritable; and he was lifting his hand for a second summons when the door suddenly opened and he was facing Kate Vollar. There was only a faint trace of surprise on her apathetic—Jeremy Ammidon called it moonlike—countenance; as if her overwhelming mischance had robbed her features of all further expressions of interest or concern.
"I heard," Jeremy said in a voice pitched loud enough to conceal any inward uncertainty, "that your father had been sick. Met Captain Rendell on Essex Street and he said Barzil had lung fever. Thought I'd see if there was any truth in it."
"He just managed to stay alive," Kate Vollar replied, gazing at him with her stilled gray eyes. "But he's better now, though he's not up and about yet. Shall I tell him that—that you are here?"
"Yes. Just say Jeremy Ammidon's below, and would like to pass a greeting with him."
He followed the woman in, and entered a large gloomy chamber while she mounted the stair leading directly from the front. The blackened fireplace gaping uncovered for the summer, the woodwork, painted yellow with an artificial graining, and a stiff set of ebonized chairs, their dingy crimson plush backs protected by elaborate thread antimacassars, seemed to hold and reflect the misfortunes of their owner. Jeremy picked up an ostrich egg, painted with a clump of viciously green coconut palms and a cottony surf; he put it down with an absent smile and impatiently fingered a volume of "The Life of Harriet Atwood Newell." She was one of the missionaries who had gone out on the Caravan, with Augustine Heard, to India, but forbidden to land there had died not long after on the Ile de France.
"Houqua was a damned good heathen," he said aloud: "and so was Nasservanjee." He left the table and proceeded to a window opening upon the harbor, here fretted with wharves. A barque was fast in a small stone-bound dock, newly in, his practiced glance saw, from a blue water voyage, Africa probably. Her standing gear was in a perfection and beauty of order that spoke of long tranquil days in the trades, and that no mere harbor riggers could hope to accomplish. The deck was burdened with the ugly confusion of unloading. Jeremy studied the jibs stowed in harbor covers, the raking masts and tapering royal poles over the stolid roofs. Ordinarily seeing no more he could not only name a vessel trading out of Salem, but from her rig recognize anyone of a score of masters who, otherwise unheralded, might be in command.
However, here he was at a loss, and he thought again of the change, the decline, that had overtaken Salem shipping, the celebrated merchants; the pennants of William Gray, he reflected, had flown from the main truck of fifteen ships, seven barques, thirteen brigs and schooners. Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone, in spite of his vehement protests, the counsel of the oldest member of the firm, were moving shipment by shipment all their business to Boston, listening to the promptings of State Street and Central Wharf.
To the right was the sagging landing from which Barzil's schooners sailed trading with the West Indies; and back of it, and of his house, stood the small office. His mind had turned to this inconsiderable commerce when Kate Vollar entered and told him that her father would see him.
Barzil Dunsack was propped up in bed in a room above that in which Jeremy had been waiting. He, totally different from the other, showed his age in sunken dry cheeks, a forehead like an arch of bone, and a thick short gray beard. A long faded lock of hair had been hastily brushed forward and an incongruously bright knitted scarf drawn about his shoulders.
Jeremy Ammidon concealed his dismay not only at Barzil's wrecked being but at the dismal aspect of the interior, the worn rugs with their pieces of once bright material frayed and loose, the splitting veneer of an old chest of drawers and blistered mirror above a dusty iron grate. "You have got in among the rocks!" he exclaimed. "Still they tell me you've weathered the worst. Copper bound and oak ribs. Don't build them like that to-day."
Barzil Dunsack's eyes were bright and searching behind steel-rimmed spectacles, and he studied Jeremy without replying. "Well, isn't there a salute in you?" the latter demanded, incensed. "I'm not a Malay proa."
The grim shadow of a smile dawned on Barzil's countenance. "I mind one hanging on our quarter by Formosa," he returned; "I trained a cannon aft and fired a shot, when she sheered off. That was in the Flora in 'ninety-seven."
A long silence enveloped them. Jeremy's mind was thronged with memories of ports and storms, mates and ships and logged days. "Remember Oahu like it was when we first made it," he queried, "and the Kanaka girls swimming out to the ship with hybiscus flowers in their hair? Yes, and the anchorage at Tahiti with the swells pounding on the coral reef and Papeete under the mountain? It was nice there in the afternoon, lying off the beach with the white cottages among the palms and orange trees and the band playing in the grove by Government House."
Captain Dunsack frowned at the trivial character of these memories. He muttered something about the weight of the Lord, and the carnal hearts of the men in ships. Jeremy declared, "Stuff! He'll wink at a sailor man with hardly a free day on shore. It wasn't bad at Calcutta, either, with an awning on the quarter-deck, watching the carriages and syces in the Maidan and maybe a corpse or two floating about the gangway from the burning ghauts."
"A mean entrance," Barzil Dunsack asserted. "I don't know a worse with the southwest monsoon in the Bay of Bengal and the pilot brigs gone from the Sand Heads. That's where Heard got pounded with the Emerald drawing nineteen feet, and eighteen on the bar. Shook the reefs out of his topsails, laid her on her beam ends, and with some inches saved scraped in."
"Pick up the three Juggernaut Pagodas of Ganjam," Jeremy remarked absently.
"'Thou shalt have no other God—'"
Jeremy, with a glint in his eye, asked, "Wasn't your last consignment of West India molasses marked Medford?"
"You always were a scoffer," the other replied, unmoved.
"How's Nettie?" Jeremy Ammidon inquired with a deliberate show of interest.
Barzil's lips tightened. "I haven't seen her for a little," he replied. "She's been visiting at Ipswich." Jeremy added, "A good girl," but the man in bed made no further comment. His undimmed gaze was fastened upon a wall, his mouth folded in a hard line on a harsh and deeply seamed countenance. An able man pursued by bad luck.
"Nothing's been heard from Gerrit," Jeremy said after a little. Still the other kept silent. His face darkened: by God, if Barzil hadn't a decent word for the fact that Gerrit was seven months overdue, perhaps lost, this was not a house for him. "I say that we've had nothing from my son since he lay in the Lye-ee-Moon Pass off Hong Kong," he repeated sharply.
A spasm of suffering, instantly controlled, passed over Barzil's face. "Gerrit called once and again before he last sailed for Montevideo," he finally pronounced. "I stopped it and he left in a temper. I—I won't have another mortal sin here like Kate's."
"Do you mean that Gerrit's loose?" Jeremy hotly demanded, rising. "A more honorable boy never breathed." Barzil was cold. "I told him not to come back," he repeated; "it would only lead to—to shamefulness." Jeremy shook his cane toward the bed. "I may be a scoffer," he cried, "but I wouldn't hold a judgment over a child of mine! I'm not so damned holy that I can look down on a misfortunate girl. If Gerrit did come to see Nettie and the boy had a liking for her, why you drove away a cursed good husband. And if you think for a minute I wouldn't welcome her because that Vollar fell off a yard before he could find a preacher you're an old fool!"
"Nettie must bear her burden: far better be dead than a stumbling block."
"Well, I'd rather be a drunken pierhead jumper on the Waterloo Road than any such pious blue nose. I'll tell you this, too—I'd hate to ship afore the mast under you for all you'd have the ensign on the booby hatch with prayers read Sunday morning. I don't wonder you got into weather; I'd have no word for a Creator who didn't blow in your eye."
"I'll listen to no blasphemy, Captain Ammidon," Barzil Dunsack said sternly.
"And I'll speak my mind, Captain Dunsack; it's this—your girls are a long sight too good for you or for any other judgmatical, psalm-singing devil dodger." He stood fuming at the door. "Good afternoon to you."
Barzil Dunsack reclined with his gaunt bearded head sunk forward on his thin chest swathed in the gay worsted wrap, his wasted hands, the tendons corded with pale violet veins, clenched outside the checkered quilt beneath which his body made scarcely a mark.
Outside, in the soft glow of beginning dusk, Jeremy blamed himself bitterly for his anger at the sick man. He had gone to see him in a spirit friendly with old memories, forgetful of their long quarrel in the stirred emotions of the past days of youth and first manhood; and he had shouted at Barzil as if he were a lubber at the masthead.
He realized that in order to be in time for supper he must turn toward the Common and home; but his gaze caught the spars of the strange barque; and, mechanically, he made his way over a narrow grassy passage to the wharf. She was the Cora Sellers of Marblehead, and he recognized from a glance at the cargo that she had been out to the East Coast of Africa—Mozambique and Zanzibar, Aden and Muscat. A matted frail of dates swung ponderously in air, there were baled goatskins and sacks of Mocha coffee, sagging baskets of reddish unwashed gum copal carried in bulk, and a sun-blackened mate smoking a rat-tail Dutch cigar was supervising the moving of elephant tusks in a milky glimmer of ivory ashore.
There was a vague murmur of the rising tide, beyond the wharves and warehouses the water was faintly rippled in silver and rose, and a ship was standing into the harbor with all her canvas spread to the light wind. He turned away with a sigh and walked slowly up toward the elms of Pleasant Street. At his front door he stopped to regard the polished brass plate where in place of his name he had caused to be engraved the words Java Head. They held for him, coming into this pleasant dwelling after so many tumultuous years at sea, the symbol of the safe and happy end of an arduous voyage; just as the high black rock of Java Head thrusting up over the horizon promised the placidity and accomplishment of the Sunda Strait. Whenever he noticed the plate he felt again the relief of coasting that northerly shore:
He saw the mate forward with the crew passing the chains through the hawse pipes and shackling them to the anchors. The island rose from level groves of shore palms to lofty blue peaks terraced with rice and red-massed kina plantations, with shining streams and green kananga flowers and tamarinds. The land breeze, fragrant with clove buds and cinnamon, came off to the ship in the vaporous dusk; and, in the blazing sunlight of morning, the Anjer sampans swarmed out with a shrill chatter of brilliant birds, monkeys and naked brown humanity, piled with dark green oranges and limes and purple mangosteen.
In the last few years, particularly with Gerrit away, he had turned more and more from the surroundings of his house—rather it had become William's house—to an inner life of memories. His own active life seemed to him to have been infinitely fuller, more purposeful and various, than that of present existence at Java Head. All Salem had been different: he had a certain contempt for the existence of his son William and the latter's associates and friends. He had said that the trading now done in ships was like dealing at a Boston store, and the merchants reminded him of storekeepers. The old days, when a voyage was a public affair, and a ship's manifest posted in the Custom House on which anyone might write himself down for a varying part of the responsibility and profit, had given place to closed capital; the passages from port to port with the captain, as often as not, his own supercargo and a figure of importance, had become scheduled affairs in which a master was subjected to any countinghouse clerk with an order from the firm: the ships themselves were fast being ruined.
He was in his room, after supper, seated momentarily on a day bed with a covering of white Siberian fox skins, and he pronounced aloud, in a tone of satirical contempt, the single word, "Clipper." Nearly everyone in the shipping business seemed to have been touched by this madness for the ridiculous ideas of an experimental Griffiths and his model of a ship with the bows turned inside out, the greatest beam aft and a dead rise like an inverted roof. That the Rainbow, the initial result of this insanity, hadn't capsized at her launching had been due to some freak of chance; just as her miraculous preservation through a voyage or so to China could have been made possible only by continuously mild weather.
Even if the Rainbow had been fast—her run was called ninety-two days out to Canton and home in eighty-eight—it was absurd to suppose that there had been the usual monsoon. And if she did come in a little ahead of vessels built on a solid full-bodied model, why her hold had no cargo capacity worth the name.
Things on the seas were going to the devil! He moved down to the library, where he lighted a cheroot and addressed himself to the Gazette; but his restlessness increased: the paper drooped and his thoughts turned to Gerrit as a small boy. He saw him leaving home, for the first time, to go to the school at Andover, in a cloth cap with a glazed peak, striped long pantaloons and blue coat and waistcoat; later at the high desk in the counting-rooms of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone; then sailing as supercargo on one of the Company's ships to Russia and Liverpool. He had soon dropped such clerking for seamen's duties, and his rise to mastership had been rapid.
Rhoda, William's wife, entered and stood before him accusingly. "You are worrying again," she declared; "in here all by yourself. It really seems as if you didn't believe in our interest or affection. I have a feeling, and you know they are always right, that Gerrit will sail into the harbor any day now."
He had always liked Rhoda, a large handsome woman with rich coloring—her countenance somehow reminded him of an apricot—and fine clothes. She paused, studied him for a moment, and then asked, "Was your call on Captain Dunsack pleasant?"
"It ought to have been," he confided, "but I got mad and talked like a Dutch uncle, and Barzil went off on a holy tack."
"About Nettie Vollar?"
Jeremy nodded. "Look here, Rhoda," he demanded, "did Gerrit ever say anything to you about her?"
"Yes," she told him; "Gerrit was very frank."
"Did he like the girl?"
"I couldn't make that out. But if there hadn't been, well—something unusual in her circumstances I think he would never have noticed her. Gerrit is a curious mixture, a very impressionable heart and a contrary stubborn will. He was sorry for Nettie, and, at the way a great many people treated her, threw himself into opposition. Nettie's father made him very mad, and Gerrit pretty well damned all Salem before he left in the Nautilus. He was excruciatingly funny: you know Gerrit can be, particularly when he imitates anybody. I think being away at sea a great deal, and having absolute command of everything, give men a different view of things from ours. What is terribly important to Salem hardly touches Gerrit; it's all silly pretense, or worse, to him.
"I wouldn't mind that if it weren't for the sense of humor that leads him into the wildest extravagances, and the fact that he'll act on his feelings. You know I'm devoted to him but I give a sigh of relief whenever he gets away on his ship without doing any one of the hundred insanities he threatens."
"Gerrit's like me," he said.
"More than William," she agreed. "William is never impetuous, and he's often impatient with his brother. He's a splendid husband, but Gerrit would make a wonderful lover. I'm thankful I never fell into his affections ... too wearing for an indolent woman."
"You've been a great comfort and pleasure, Rhoda," he told her. "I only wish Gerrit could marry someone like you—"
"But who would give him sons," she interrupted.
"It's just as you say about him, and I've always been uneasy. God knows what he won't do—on land. William's a great deal happier, for all his brother's humor. I joke William, but he's very satisfactory and solid. He'll make port if he doesn't get tied up with newfangled notions. Why, it stands to reason that a ship built like a knife would double up in the seas off the Falklands."
"He has a lot of confidence in Mr. McKay."
"McKay is a good man unsettled. The May Broughton is a fine barque, and his packet ships are as seaworthy as any, but—" his indignation increased so that he sputtered, and Rhoda laughed. "Now your girls," he added, "fine models, all of them, plenty of beam, work in any kind of weather."
"That's very complimentary," she assured him, rising. "You mustn't worry about Gerrit. Remember, my predictions never fail."
When she had gone his mind returned to storms he had safely weathered—the gray gales of Cape Horn, black hurricanes and the explosive tempests in eastern straits and seas. He took from the drawer of a bookcase with glass doors set in geometrical pattern a thin volume bound in black boards. A paper label was inscribed in a small, carefully formed script, "Journal of my intended voyage from Salem to the East Indies in the Ship Woodbine." He opened at random:
"Comes in with strong wind from SSE with rain squalls. Very ugly sea on. Double reefed the Topsails, reefed the courses and furled the mainsail. At six p.m. shipped a very heavy sea that carried away the bulwarks on the larboard quarter and stove those on the starboard quarter and amidships ... upper cabin filled with water. Through the night strong gales.... Lightning at all points of the compass."
The memory of this night, six days out from Manilla to Hong Kong, was clearer than the actuality of the room in which he sat, an old man with his activity, his strength, his manhood, far behind him, a hulk.
"At ten split the mainsail in pieces. Close reefed the fore and double reefed the main-topsails. Rising gales and heavy head sea. Shipping a great quantity of water and leaking considerable. Bent a new mainsail and set it. Reefed and set the jib. Pumping near two thousand strokes an hour.
"October seventh, Sunday. Comes in with strong gales and a heavy head sea. Both officers crippled and man laid up. Through the night the same. Leaking badly. A great number of junks in sight ... and so at five p.m. come to anchor."
He had been a good man then, sixteen days on the quarter-deck without going below; insensible to ice or fever or weariness. He had been autocratic, too; and had his boy servant carrying areca nuts, chunam and tobacco in two silk bags, another with a fan and a third holding an umbrella. Such things were all over now, he understood, in this driving age.
His mind continually returned to Gerrit, to dwell on the vast number of perils held in store by the sea; there was always the possibility of scurvy, an entire crew rotting alive in the forecastle and the ship broached to, dismasted; of mutiny; the sheer smothering finality of volcanic waves. He had never realized until now, in the misery of uncertainty, the hellish loneliness of a shipmaster at sea; the pride of duty, the necessity of discipline, that put him beyond all counsel, all assistance and human interdependence. Jeremy, who had arrogantly accepted this responsibility without a question, through so many long years and voyages, now dreaded it, found it an inhuman burden, for his son.
William couldn't be expected to appreciate the difficulties of his brother's position: all the former's experience had been got when, with James Saltonstone and a party of Salem merchants, he ventured to the lighthouse at the entrance of the harbor, had a cold collation, and returned with the pilot or in the Custom House sloop. These occasions of huzzas and salutes and speeches were supplemented with a hasty inspection, now and then, of a vessel lying still at the wharf with sails harbor furled. William guessed little of the long effort through which a ship won from the first of those moments to the last. He was solely concerned with the returns of the cargo.
However, Rhoda was right, and this mooning wouldn't bring Gerrit into port. He turned to the bookcase, where a squat bottle of Medford rum rested beside a tumbler; after a drink he lighted a cheroot and smoking vigorously, with hands clasped behind him, paced back and forth in an undeviating line between the door to the hall and a dark polished secretary he had bought in London.
While he was walking Camilla came into the room and sedately took a seat on one of the formal chairs against the wall. "I guess you think that's the deck of a ship," she said conversationally. He regarded her with a faint threatening glint of humor. Camilla's dignity was stupendous; particularly now, when, he observed, her skirts stood out in a thoroughly grown manner. He liked Laurel best of William's children; she had, in spite of her confusion in regard to outports, a surprising grasp upon many of the details of life on shipboard, and a largeness of manner and expression entertaining in a little girl. Sidsall was the most ingratiating—she had Gerrit's direct kindling gaze; Janet showed no individuality yet beyond an entire willingness to conform to outward circumstance while pursuing deeply secret speculations within. But Camilla impressed the entire family by the rigidity of her correctness in personal and social niceties. At times, he felt, she would be a nuisance but for the firm hand of her mother and his own contribution to their well-being by an occasional sly sally.
"It might be that," he admitted; "if it weren't for the facts that it's a house and library, and I'm an old man, and you're not at all like the second mate."
"I should hope not," she replied decidedly. "A second mate isn't anything, and I am a—a young lady anyhow."
"You'll soon be out at dances."
"I go to parties now; that is, mother let me stay at the Coggswells' on Thursday until the men came at nine for sangaree. And I'm at all the Ballad Soirees."
He made a gesture of pretended surprise and admiration. "I don't suppose they ever have a good chantey with the stuff they play?" he queried. "Dear me, no. Mr. Dempster sings The Indian's Lament, and The May Queen: that's a cantata and it's in three parts."
Jeremy began to hum, and in a moment was intoning in a loud monotonous voice, sweeping a hand up and down:
"To my hero, Bangedero, Singing hey for a gay Hash girl."
"I don't think that's very nice," she said primly.
"What do you mean—not very nice?" he demanded, incensed. "There's nothing finer with a rousing chanteyman leading it and the watch hauling on the braces. You'd never hear the like at any Ballad Soiree. And:
"Sweet William, he married a wife, 'Gentle Jenny,' cried Rose Marie, To be the sweet comfort of his life, As the dew flies over the mulberry tree."
"There isn't much sense to it," she observed.
For a little, indignant at her disparagement of such noble fragments, he tramped silently back and forth, followed by a cloud of smoke from the cheroot. No one on land could understand the absorbing significance of every detail of a ship's life.... Only Gerrit, of all his family, knew the chanteys and watches, the anxiety and beauty of landfalls—the blue Falklands or Teneriffe rising above the clouds, the hurried making and taking of sail in the squalls of the Doldrums.
"In India," he told her, stopping in his measured course, "female children are given to the crocodiles."
Her mouth parted at this, her eyes became dilated, and she slipped from the chair. "That's perfectly awfully appalling," she breathed. "The little brown girl babies. Oh, father," she cried, as William Ammidon came into the library, "what do you suppose grandfather says, that in India female children are...crocodiles." Words failed her.
"What's the sense in frightening the child, father?" William remonstrated. "I wish you would keep those horrors for the old heathen of the Marine Society."
Jeremy had a lively sense of guilt; he had been betrayed by Camilla's confounded airs and pretensions. He ought to be ashamed of himself, telling the girl such things. "The British Government is putting a stop to that," he added hastily, "and to suttees—"
"What are they?" she inquired.
"Never mind, Camilla," her father interposed; "go up with your mother and sisters.
"I suppose it's no good speaking to you," William continued; "but my family is not a crew and this house isn't the Two Capes. You might make some effort to realize you're on land."
"I know I'm on land, William; tell that any day from a sight of you. You can afford to listen a little now and then about the sea. That's where all you have came from; it's the same with near everybody in Salem. Vessels brought them and vessels kept them going; and, with the wharves as empty as they were this afternoon, soon there won't be any Salem to talk about."
"The tide's turned from here," the other replied; "with the increase in tonnage and the importance of time we need the railway and docking facility of the larger cities—Boston and New York."
"It's running out fast enough," Jeremy agreed; "and there's a lot going out with it you'll never see again—like the men who put a reef in England in 'twelve."
"You are always sounding the same strings; we're at peace with the world now, and a good thing for shipping."
"Peace!" the elder declared hotly; "you and the Democrats may call it that, but it's a damned swindle, with the British to windward of you and hardly a sail now drawing in your ropes. What did Edmund Burke tell Parliament in 'seventy-five about our whalers, hey! Why, that from Davis Strait to the Antipodes, from the Falklands to Africa, we outdrove Holland, France and England. After the laws and bounties Congress passed in 'eighty-nine what could you see—something like a half million tonnage gained in three years or so. In the war of 'twelve your land soldiers were a pretty show, with the Capitol burning; but when it was finished the privateers had sunk over nine million dollars of British shipping to their sixty thousand. The Chesapeake luggers have gone out with the tide, too. And then, by God, by God, what then: the treaty of Ghent, with England impressing our seamen and tying our ships up in what ports she chose under a right of search! On top of this your commissioners repeal the ship laws and the British allow you to carry only native cargoes to the United Kingdom with a part of the customs and harbor dues off.
"But in spite of Congress and political sharks we went out to India and China direct, with The George home from Calcutta in ninety-five days, and the East Indiamen six or seven months on the shorter run to England. I can show you what the London Times said about that, it's in my desk: 'Twelve years of peace, and...the shipping interest...is half ruined...thousands of our manufactures are seeking redemption in foreign lands.' It goes on to tell that American seamen already controlled an important part of the British carrying trade to the East Indies. Yet your precious lawmakers open our West India trade to Great Britain, but they wouldn't ask the privilege to carry a cargo from British India to Liverpool or Canada."
"Now, father," William put in, "you are getting excited again. It isn't good for you. We are not all such fools to-day as you make out."
"Look at the masters themselves," Jeremy continued explosively; "gentlemen like Gerrit, from Harvard University, and not lime-juicers beating their way aft with a belaying pin. They could sail a ship with two-thirds the crew of a Britisher with her clumsy yellow hemp sails and belly you could lose a dinghy in. Mind, I don't say the English aren't handy in a ship and that they wouldn't clew up a topsail clean at the edge of hell. What we are on the seas came over from them. But we bettered it, William, and they knew it; and, naturally enough, laid out to sail around us. I don't blame England, but I do our God damn—"
"Father," the other firmly interrupted, "you are shouting as if you were on the quarter-deck in a gale. I must insist on your quieting down; you'll burst a blood vessel."
"Maybe I am," Jeremy muttered; "and it wouldn't matter much if I did. When I see a nation with shipmasters who would set their royals when others hove too, and get there, all snarled up with shore lines and political duffel, I'm nigh ready to burst something."
"Rhoda said that you were at the Dunsacks' this afternoon; I saw Edward in Boston yesterday."
"I don't care if you saw the Flying Dutchman," the other asserted, breathing stormily.
"It's curious about the China service," William went on; "anyone out there for a number of years gets to look Chinese. Edward is as yellow as a lemon, but nothing like as pleasant a color. Thin, too, and nervous; hands crawling all over themselves, never still for a moment. He didn't say why he had left Heard and Company, and I didn't quite like to ask. Edward came on from England in the Queen of the West, the Swallow Tail Line. I did ask him if he were going to settle in Salem, but he couldn't say; there was something about a Boston house. It seems that Gerrit carried his chest and things from Canton in the Nautilus as an accommodation."
Suddenly Jeremy felt very insecure, his body heavy and knees weak, failing. He stumbled back into the chair by the fireplace, William at his side. "You must pay some attention to what you're told, father," the latter said anxiously. "How are you now?"
"I'm all right," he declared testily, trying to brush away the dimness floating before his eyes.
"Shall I help you up to bed?"
"I'll go to bed when I've a mind to," Jeremy retorted. "I am not under cover yet by a long reach." To establish his well-being he rose and moved to the secretary, where he got a fresh cheroot, and lighted it with slightly trembling fingers. He grumbled inarticulately, remembering his own exploits in the carrying of sail and record runs under the bluff bows of the Honorable John Company itself. The ebb tide, he thought, returning to William's figure and its amplification by himself. So much that had been good sweeping out to sea never to return....Gerrit long overdue.
Once more he shook himself free of numbing dread; automatically he had fallen back into the passage from the secretary to the hall door. He saw that he had worn threadbare a narrow strip where his feet had so often pressed. It would be necessary for him to see about a fresh case of cheroots soon, primes, too; they needn't try to put him off with the second quality. He was put off a great deal lately; people pretended to be listening to him, and all the time their thoughts were somewhere else, either that or they were merely politely concealing the opinion that he was out of date, of no importance.
His family were always providing against his fatigue or excitement; at the countinghouse the gravest problems, he was certain, were withheld from him. At the occurrence of this possibility a fresh indignation poured through his brain. Fuming and tramping up and down he determined that to-morrow he would show any of the clerks who didn't attend to his wishes or counsel that he was still senior partner of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone.
The evening was surprisingly warm and still, with an intermittent falling of rain, and the windows were open in the room where Rhoda Ammidon sat regarding half dismayed her reflection in the mirror of a dressing table. A few minutes before she had discovered her first gray hair. It was not only the mere assault upon her vanity, but, too, a realization far deeper—here was the stamp of time, the mark of a considerable progress toward the end itself. Her emotions were various; but, curiously enough, almost the first had been a wave of passionate tenderness for William and her little girls. The shock of finding that arresting sign was now giving place to a purely feminine reaction. She considered for a moment the purchase of a bottle of hair coloring, then with a disdainful gesture dismissed such a temporary and troublesome measure.
She kept an undiminishing pride in her appearance and a relentless care and choice in the details of her dress, pleased by the knowledge that the attention men paid her showed no indication yet of growing perfunctory. She had been much admired both in Boston and London through her youth, and she recalled her early doubts at the prospect of life in Salem; but she realized now that, as her years and children multiplied, she was by imperceptible degrees returning to a traditional New England heritage.
She was glad, however, that William's wide connections lifted him above a purely local view; William was really a splendid husband. Rhoda was conscious of this together with a clear recognition of his faults, and quite aside from both existed her unreasoning affection. The latter vividly dominated her, shut out, on any occasion of stress, all else; but for the most part she held him in an attitude of mildly amused comprehension.
Gerrit Ammidon she hadn't seen until after her engagement to William, and she sometimes thought of the former in connection with marriage. Gerrit, she admitted to herself, was a far more romantic figure than William; not handsomer—William Ammidon was very good looking—but more arresting, with his hair swinging about his ears and intense blue gaze. An exciting man, she decided again, for whom one would eternally put on the loveliest clothes possible; a man to make you almost as ravishingly happy as miserable, and, therefore, disturbing as a husband.
At this her mind returned to her gray hair and the fact that the metal backlog of the kitchen fire, which supplied the house with hot water, had been leaking over the hearth. A feeling of melancholy possessed her at the turning of younger visions into commonplace necessities, but she dismissed it with the shadow of a smile—it was absurd for a woman of her age to dwell on such frivolous things. Yet she still lingered to wonder if men too kept intact among their memories the radiant image of their youth, if they ever thought of it with tenderness and extenuation. She decided in the negative, convinced that men, even at the end of many years, never definitely lost connection with their early selves, there was always a trace of hopefulness, of jaunty vanity—sometimes winning and sometimes merely ridiculous—attached to their decline.
Rhoda stirred and moved to a window, gazing vaguely out into the moist blue obscurity. Sidsall, she realized, was maturing with a disconcerting rapidity. Depths were opening in the girl's being at which she, her mother, could only guess. It was exactly as if a crystal through and through which she had gazed had suddenly been veiled by rosy clouds. Sidsall had a charming nature, direct and unsuspicious and generously courageous.
There was a sound at the door, and William entered, patently ruffled. It was clear that he had had another disagreement with his father. "It's shameful how you disturb him," she declared.
"Look here, Rhoda," he replied vigorously. "I won't continually be put in the wrong. It seems as if I had no affection for the old gentleman. I always have the difficult thing to do, and he has been slightly contemptuous ever since I was a boy because I didn't go to sea. The truth is—while I wouldn't think of letting him know—he's a tremendous nuisance pottering about the countingrooms with his stories of antediluvian trading voyages. And worse is to come—these new clipper ships and passages have knocked the wind out of the old slow full-bottomed vessels. We have about determined to reorganize our fleet entirely, and are in treaty with Donald McKay for an extreme clipper type of twelve hundred tons.
"Of course, he's my parent; but I wonder at Saltonstone's patience. Father won't hear of the opium trade and it's turning over thousand per cent profits. We are privately operating two fast topsail schooners in India now, but it's both inconvenient and a risk. They ought to be put right under our house flag for credit alone. It is all bound to come up, and then he'll go off like a cannon."
"Couldn't you wait till he's dead, William?" she asked. "It won't be a great while now. I can see that he has failed dreadfully from this worry about Gerrit."
"Five years will make all the difference. We are losing tea cargoes every month to these ships making sensational runs. I don't talk much, Rhoda, about, well—my family; but I am as upset over Gerrit as anyone else. Except for a tendency to carry too much sail there's not a better shipmaster out of New England. Not only that ... he's my brother. It's easy to like Gerrit; his opinions are a little wild, and an exaggerated sense of justice gets him into absurd situations; yet his motives are the purest possible. Perhaps that word pure describes him better than any other, however people who didn't know might smile. As a man, Rhoda, I can assert that he is surprisingly clean-hearted."
"That's a wonderful quality," she agreed; "why anyone should smile is beyond me. William, would you know that my hair is turning gray, do I look a lot older than I did five years ago?"
He studied her complacently. "You've hardly changed since I married you," he asserted; "a great deal prettier than these young cramped figgers I see about. The girls, too, are just like you—good armfuls all of them."
The next day was flawlessly sunny, the slightly stirring air reminiscent of the sea, and the lilacs everywhere were masses of purple and white bloom. Stepping down from her carriage on the morning round of shopping Rhoda encountered Nettie Vollar leaving one of the stores of Cheapside.
"Why, Nettie," she exclaimed kindly, "it's been the longest time since I've seen you. It is just no use asking you to the house, and it seems, with nothing to do, I never have a minute for the visits I'd like to make." Nettie, she thought, was a striking girl, no—woman, with her stack of black hair, dark sparkling eyes and red spot on either cheek. More fetching in profile than full face, her nose had a pert angle and her cleft chin was enticingly rounded. Later she would be too fat but now her body was ripely perfect.
"I don't go anywhere much," she responded, in a voice faintly and instinctively antagonistic. "I don't like kindness in people; but I suppose I ought to be contented—that's all I'll probably ever get from anybody who is a thing in the world. Mrs. Ammidon," she hesitated, then continued more rapidly, her gaze lowered, "have you had any word about Captain Ammidon yet? Have they given up hope of the Nautilus?"
"We've had no news," Rhoda told her, and then she added her conviction that Gerrit would return safely.
"He was better than kind," Nettie Vollar said. "I'm sure he liked me, Mrs. Ammidon, or he would have if everything hadn't been spoiled by grandfather. He thinks I'm a dreadful sin, you know, a punishment on mother. But inside of me I don't feel different from others. Sometimes I—I wonder that I don't actually go sinful, I've had opportunities, and being good hasn't offered me much, has it?"
"You are naturally a good girl, Nettie," Rhoda answered simply; "but you must be braver than ordinary. If we think differently from Salem still it is in Salem we must live; I keep many of my beliefs secret just as you must control most of your feelings."
The other responded with a hard little laugh. "Thank you, though. You are more like Gerrit, Captain Ammidon, than Mrs. Saltonstone, his own sister. I hate her," she declared. "I hate all the Salem women, so superior and condescending and Christian. They always have a silly look of wonder at their charity in speaking to me... when they do. They act as if it's just a privilege for me to be in their church. I'd rather go to a cotillion at Hamilton Hall any day."
"Of course you would," Rhoda agreed. There seemed to be so little for her to offer or say that she was relieved when they parted. The afternoon grew really sultry, but, when the shadows had lengthened, she encountered Jeremy Ammidon wandering aimlessly about the hall and, his fine palmetto hat and wanghee in her hand, urged him out to the East India Marine Society. "It's much too beautiful a day for the house," she insisted.
"There's nothing remarkable about it," he returned; "wind's too light and variable, hardly enough to hold way on a ship." There were the stirring strains of a quickstep without; at the door they saw the Salem Cadets, preceded by Flag's Band, marching in columns of fours into Washington Square. The white breeches with scarlet coats and brass buttons made a gay showing on the green Common, the sunlight glittered on silver braid and tassels, gilt and pompons, scaled chin straps and varnished leather.
The old man's face grew dark at the brilliant line drawn up for inspection, and he muttered a period about cursed young Whigs. "Wouldn't have one of the scoundrels in my house if I could help it. Don't understand William; he's too damned mild for my idea of a good citizen.
"Why, it's only reasonable that a country's got to be run like a ship, from the quarter-deck. How far do you suppose a vessel would get if the crew hung about aft and chose representatives from the port and starboard watches and galley for a body to lay the course and make sail?"
"Please, father," she protested, laughing. "Do go along into the sun." She gently pushed him toward the door. Rhoda realized the fact that William was more than half Whig already. That threatened still another point of difference, of departure, from all that his father held to be sacred necessities. Jeremy, like most of the older shipmasters, was a bitter Federalist, an upholder of a strongly centralized autocratic government. He left, grumbling, and the staccato commands of the military evolutions on the Common rang through the slumberous afternoon.
She lingered in the doorway and Laurel appeared, jigging with excitement.
"Can't I get nearer," she begged; "there's nothing to see from here." Her mother replied, "Ask Camilla to take you over to the Square." Camilla appeared indifferently. "I don't know why anyone should be flustered," she observed; "it isn't like the Fourth of July with a concert and fireworks."
As they were going, Sidsall came out in a white tarlatan dress worked with sprays of yellow barley, her face glowing with color, and sat on the steps. "Positively," her mother said, looking down on the mass of bright chestnut hair in a chenille net, "we'll soon have to have you up in braids."
"I wish I might," she responded. "And Hodie is too silly—I can't get her to lace me tightly enough. She says such things are engines of the devil."
"It's still a little soon for that—" Rhoda broke off as a slight erect man at the verge of middle age turned in from Pleasant Street upon them. "Roger," she said cordially as he came quickly up the steps. He greeted her lightly and bent over Sidsall with an extended hand:
"The apple blossoms, I see, are here."
Rhoda wondered what nonsense Roger Brevard was repeating; Sidsall's face was hidden from view. But then Roger was always like that, his manner was never at a loss for the appropriate gesture. He had a great many points in common with her, she thought; neither had been born in Salem, and his rightful setting was in the best metropolitan drawing-rooms. He had been here for a dozen years, now, in charge of the local affairs of the Mongolian Marine Insurance Company; and she often wondered why, a member of a family socially notable in New York, he continued in a city, a position, of comparative unimportance.
She was, she said, going back to the lawn, the glare of Pleasant Street was fatiguing; and she proceeded through the house with the surety of his following. But on the close-cut emerald sod there was no sign of him, and she found a seat in a basket chair by the willow tree beyond. She waited for Roger with a small but growing impatience; he must be done immediately with whatever he might say to Sidsall, and she wished to discuss the possibilities of a rumor that President Polk intended to visit Salem. There would be a collation, perhaps a military ball, to arrange; Franklin Hall would be the better place for the latter. She heard a faint silvery echo of laughter—Sidsall. It was extremely nice, of course, in Roger Brevard to entertain her daughter, though she didn't care to have the child give the effect of receiving men yet.
It was, finally, Sidsall who appeared, unaccompanied, in the drawing-room window. She came forward to where Rhoda sat, her face still stirred with amusement. "Mr. Brevard went on," she said in response to her mother's look of inquiry. "That's rather odd," the latter commented almost sharply. "He had only a few minutes," the girl explained. She sank into a seat and mood of abstraction. Rhoda studied her with a veiled glance. Hers were exceptional children, they had given her scarcely an hour's concern; and she must see that in the unsettling period which Sidsall was now entering she was not spoiled.
Perhaps Laurel entertained her more than the others. She was a very normal little girl, not thoughtful like Janet, and without Camilla's exaggerated poise; but she had a picturesque imagination; and her companionship with her grandfather was delightful. The latter addressed her quite as if she were a fellow shipmaster; and she had acquired some remarkable sea expressions, some deplorable and others enigmatic: only to-day, questioned about the order of her room, she had said that it was "all square by the lifts and braces." For this her grandfather had given her a gold piece.
There was, she knew, an excellent school for older girls at Lausanne; and, revolving the possibility of obtaining for Sidsall some of the European advantages she, Rhoda, had enjoyed, the following afternoon she drove to the Cliffords' on Marlboro Street for a consultation with Madra, who had spent a number of seasons on Lake Leman. In a cool parlor with yellow Tibet rugs and maroon hangings she had tea while Madra Clifford, thin and imperious, with a settled ill health like white powder and a priceless Risajii shawl, conversed in a shrill key.
"Caroline has been in bed for a week. That vulgar Dr. Fisk, with his elbow in her bosom, tried five times to extract her tooth, and then broke it to the roots. I hear there is a galvanic ring for rheumatism. The pain in my joints is excruciating; I have an idea my bones are changing into chalk; the right knee will hardly bend." The darkly colored shawl with its border of cypress intensified her sunken blue-traced temples and the pallid lips. She developed the subject of her indisposition, sparing no detail; while Rhoda Ammidon, from her superabundance of well-being, half pitied the other and was half revolted at the mind touched, too, by bodily ill. The fortune accumulated by the hardy Clifford men, flogged out of crews and stained by the blood of primitive and dull savages—the Cliffords were notorious for their brutal driving—now served only to support Madra's debility and a horde of unscrupulous panderers to her obsession.
"Edward Dunsack is in Salem," she continued; "and I've heard he has the most peculiar appearance. Very probably the result of the unmentionable practices of the Orient. Father liked the Chinese though; so many of our shipmasters have, and not always the merchants.... What was I saying? Oh, yes, Edward Dunsack. I understand you had a distinct alarm in that quarter, about the girl and Gerrit Ammidon. But I forgot to say how glad I am about Gerrit. You must have been horribly worried—"
"What do you mean?" Rhoda demanded.
"Why, haven't you heard! The Nautilus was sighted. News came from Boston. She ought to be into-day, I believe. I suppose William has been too concerned to get you word at home."
Rhoda Ammidon rose immediately, surprised at the force of the emotion that blurred her eyes with tears. Gerrit was safe! Possibly they had been told at Java Head now, but she must be there with Jeremy Ammidon; surprises, even as joyful as this, were a great strain on him. Neglecting the object of her visit she returned at once to Pleasant Street, urging the coachman to an undignified haste, and keeping the carriage at the door.
Her father-in-law was at his secretary in the library, and it was evident that he had heard nothing of his son's return. "Well, Rhoda," he said, swinging about; "what a bright cheek you have—like Laurel's."
"I feel bright, father," she replied with a nod and smile. "After this none of you will be able to laugh at my predictions. You see, a woman's feeling is often more correct than masculine judgment." His momentary bewilderment gave place to a painfully strained interrogation. "Yes," she told him, "but we are none of us surprised—Gerrit is almost in Salem harbor." She moved near him and, with a veiled anxiety, laid her hand upon his shoulder.
"A splendid sailor," he muttered. It seemed as if Rhoda could really hear the dull rising pounding of his shaken heart. But his excitement subsided, gave way to a normal concern, a flood of vain questions and preparation to go down to the wharf. In the midst of this a message came from the countinghouse of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone that the Nautilus would dock within an hour.
A small crowd had already gathered on Derby Wharf when Rhoda and her companion made their way past the warehouses built at intervals along the wharf to the place where the Nautilus would be warped in. The wharfinger saluted them, William Ammidon joined his wife, and beyond she could see James Saltonstone conversing with the Surveyor of the Port.
The afternoon was serene, a faint air drew in from the sea; and with it, sweeping slowly inside Peach's Point, was the tall ship with her canvas towering gold in the western sun against the distance of sea and sky. As Rhoda watched she saw their house flag—a white field checkered in blue—fluttering from the main royal truck.
"The royals are coming in!" Jeremy Ammidon exclaimed, gripping Rhoda's arm. "He is lowering his top-gallant yards and hauling up the courses! My dear, there's nothing on God's earth finer than a ship."
The Nautilus slipped along surprisingly fast. Rhoda could now see the crew moving about and coiling the gear.
"Look, father, there's Gerrit on the quarter-deck."
The shipmaster, shorter than common, with broad assertive shoulders in formal black, was easily recognizable. A woman with a worn flushed face pressed by Jeremy. "Andrew's there, too," she told them, "Mr. Broadrick, the mate."
The ship moved more slowly, under her topsails and jibs, in a soundless progress with the ripples falling away in water like dark green glass, liquid and still. She was now but a short distance from the end of the wharf. Mr. Broadrick was forward between the knightheads with the crew ranged to the starboard and at the braces, while Gerrit Ammidon stood with one hand on the quarter-deck railing and the other holding a brass speaking trumpet to his lips:
"Let go your port fore and after braces, Mr. Broadrick; brace the fore and mizzen yards sharp up, leave the main braces fast, and lay the main topsail to the mast. As she comes to the wind let the jibs run down." He turned to the man at the wheel, "Helm hard a starboard."
"Hard a starboard, sir."
The ship answered quickly and rounded to while her weather fore and mizzen yards flew forward until they touched the starboard backstays and the men hauled in the slack of the braces. With the main yard square to check her way the jibs drooped down along the stays. "Mr. Broadrick, you may let go the starboard anchor and furl sails." The mate grasped a top maul and struck the trigger of the ring stopper a clean blow, the anchor splashed into the water with a rumbling cable, and the Nautilus was home.
Gerrit Ammidon walked hurriedly to the companionway and went below, while the mate continued, "Stand by to let go your topsail halliards and man the gear. Sharper with the mizzen sheets and unbend those clew lines and garnets... stow the clews in a harbor furl." At a rhythmic shout the bunts of the three topsails came up together.
The wind had died away and the flags hung listlessly from the main truck and spanker gaff. The water of the harbor was unstirred except for the swirls at the oar blades of an incoming quarter boat and the warp paying out at her stern. The voice of the mate, the chantey of the crew heaving at the capstan bars, came to Rhoda subdued: