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to like it hereafter, I shall be a good deal
changed, that 's all. And if I 'm going to
be so much changed as not to be myself,
I don't see what satisfaction it 's going to
be. I might as well be like foolish Susan
Burtis, and have no character at all."

The others laughed, but Hetty scarcely
heard her. She sat where she could see
through the narrow windows the line of
sea and sky as the brig rolled to port ; then
it flew up, and the bright sunlight flashed
across her face and along the floor of the
cabin. Turning at last, her eyes met

" Did you learn how to make it? " he

" The knot ? No, I gave it up." .

" Like the reading ? "

"I did n't give that up. You carried
the book away."

" I can bring it back."

She shook her head.

*• Not yet," she told him ; then she turned
to her father. " Is n't the wind ever going
to come again? " she asked.

"Well," replied Captain March, "it
brought us here, and I guess it '11 carry
us away. It generally does."

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•• It *s vay slow," she complained.

•* It does n't consider us, my dear," he
replied. Then he rose slowly and went np
the companionway, and a moment later
they heard him whistling for a wind.

Hetty jumped to her feet

** Father mnst see somethings a cat* s-
paw at least," she exclaimed. ** I *m going
to find out." With that she, too, sought
the deck, followed by Drew.

Captain March stood sweeping the sea
with his glass ; but as they approached him
he lowered it, and went silently below.

** There is n't one— not one," said Hetty,
as she looked about for the dark streaks
of cat's-paws. Three great rollers came
sweeping in, and they rocked and pntched
with the might of them. The girl caught
at the rail for sapp>ort. "It makes one
think of the words, 'Who hath measured
the waters in the hollow of his hand,'
does n't it ? " she said solemnly.

" Yes," he answered.

"It makes me feel humble, but useless,
and I do not care to feel like that," she
said. " I want to be doing things. Does n't
life seem barren to you here ? "

He shook his head.

" No," he replied. " Life means just as
much as we put into it, I fancy, and these
days have meant much for me. I should
not care to have them blotted out."

She had turned abruptly just as they
rolled down on a long swell, and, stum-
bling against the bitts, fell outboard across
the low rail.

Drew leaped toward her just in time.
His hand, flashing out, caught her as she
was slipping from the rail, and brought
her back against his breast. For an instant
he held her there.

" Hetty ! O Hetty ! " he gasped as their
eyes met.

"Don't! for pity's sake, don't!" she
whispered, and, pulling herself free, sank
upon the bitts, put her hands to her face,
and laughed hysterically. In a moment
^e looked up.

" Don't tell them," she said. " I should
not like to have them know I fell." Then
she walked unsteadily toward the cabin
door. Half-way there, she looked back.
" I ought to thank you," she said in a low
voice, "and I do." And with that she

Medbury, overhauling a spare sail on
the main-deck, had not seen it, but the

sailor with him had, and his exckrmatioa
had made Medbtiry turn quickly, only to
sec Hetty sunding with Drew's arm about
her. He stoc^d to his work again with
shaking fingers; but the sailor stood still,

Medbury glanced at him, his face grow-
ing white.

" Here ! " he said savagely, and the sailor
turned to his task again without a word.

The day dragged interminably. Hetty
remained steadily in her room; through
his watches on deck Medbury drove the
men from one task to another with a fever-
ish harshness wholly unusual, and which
brought his watch to the forecastle at the
end of the day in heated and profane
weariness. Drew spent the time on deck
with a book, sometimes read with slight
comprehension, but more often closed over
his finger, while he watched the gleaming
whiteness of the sea, seeing now a school
of flying-fish run like flashes of quicksilver
through the long arcs of their flight, and
now the dorsal fin of a shark, like an in-
verted plowshare, cut the surface of the
barren glebe. Even Captain March's im-
perturbability became less rocklike. Once
he paused at Drew's side with a grumbling
sound that was clearly a sigh.

" Well, it 's * Paddjr's hurricane,' and no
mistake," he said. " I never saw anything
like it. Usually there *s a little air stirring
somewhere. You *d think that something
queer had got into things, would n't you ? "

He had been standing balancing himself
easily to the swing of the deck, but there
came a vicious lunge, which stopped sud-
denly, as if arrested by a great hand, and
he went staggering down the slope with
swaying arms, like a collapsing sprinter.
When he brought up against the rail, he
talked on in a level voice that recognized
no interruption :

" It 's queer about a calm : there 's noise
enough in it if a sea 's running, and it gets
on your nerves ; but when the wind blows
again, you feel as if you *d just come out
of an air-tight room, and the sound of the
wind makes you want to shout. There 's
Mr. Medbury, now ; he 's been nagging the
men all the afternoon as if he was afraid
without the sound of his voice, like a boy
whistling on a dark road. It 's ridiculous
in a grown man, but it 's natural."

Drew flushed, but made no reply. He,
too, had been thinking of Medbury, but

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his thoughts were not enviable. He had
been false to a man who had trusted him,
he told himself, and he had shown feeling
that he had no moral right to show. It
was in vain that he tried to convince him-
self that his right to H^tty was as great
as Medbury's own ; in his heart he felt that
it was not. And what of the girl ? he asked
himself in growing remorse. After his ac-
tion of the morning, could he again meet
her on the old footing of friendly fellow-
ship ? He could not go on, but how
could he now draw back? In any way
that he looked, he could see nothing but
his moral cowardice.

In a mental restlessness that he could
not allay, he rose to his feet and walked
forward to the break in the deck. The
sun, a copper-colored ball, was nearing
the horizon, and Medbury and his men
were gathering up the sail that they had
been patching; one of the crew was
sweeping up the deck. The querulous
complaining of Medbury's voice floated
aft, the human undertone in the jangling
noises of disturbed nature.

For a moment Drew watched the scene
before him, and then descending the steps
and hurrying across the plank that was
blocked high above the water that swashed
across the deck from scupper to scupper,
he stopped at the galley door. The steward
looked up gloomily, but seeing Drew,
showed his gleaming teeth in a perfunctory
smile that had none of its usual geniality.
Through the high slide in the partition
between the galley and the forecastle Drew
could hear the watch trooping in with
angry mutterings against the mate.

The steward grinned, and jerked his
head toward the forecastle.

" Yo* heah dat ? " he said. " Dese heah
cahms trouble-breedehs faw shuah. Ole
mahn Satan done chase dat buckra mate's
soul roun' de stump all eb'nin*. Two, t'ree
bad mahns aboa'd dis hookeh, en two,
t'ree cowahds. Dose cowahds been de
worse — some dahk night. Dat buckra
mate betteh watch out." He laughed.

Drew stirred uneasily. The threats of
the crew and the scarcely understood
warning of the West Indian steward had
to his mind something of the character of
a Greek tragic chorus foretelling doom,
and presently he moved away out of hear-
ing, not caring to have even negatively
any part in the moving finger of Fate.

He wandered about aimlessly for a
while, dreading to approach Medbury,
who, now that his work was done, stood
near the main-rigging with his pipe in his
mouth, his spirit for the moment at peace.
Drew had little knowledge of sailors, but
he was sufficiently a man of the world to
know that the irrepressible threats of the
forecastle meant little. Still, the steward
had hinted at danger, and, yielding to his
better knowledge of his little world. Drew
finally went aft to warn the mate.

Medbury looked up sharply as Drew
approached, but turned his eyes away
immediately. In the silence that followed
neither stirred, but, resting their arms upon
the sheer-pole, each seemed absorbed in
the cloudless panorama of the closing day.

The sun sank lower and lower ; one by
one the crew came out of the forecastle,
and, dipping up buckets of water, sluiced
themselves with the noisy abandon of
water-spaniels. The pungent scent of
tobacco floated aft, and now the sound of
a laugh, or the scuffle of feet upon the
deck. From the galley came the soft,
slurred speech of the steward, lifted high
in a quick exchange of wit with his
forecastle neighbors, and followed by the
almost continuous flood of his unrestrained
cachinnation. Clearly the day was ending
in peace.

This peacefulness, so at variance with
the scarcely restrained passion that, a mo-
ment before, had sent him aft to warn
Medbury of danger, left Drew strangely
bewildered. He turned to his companion,
and with a smile said :

" Do you know, a moment ago I thought
that the crew was on the verge of mutiny ;
now I feel as if I had been dreaming. I
don't understand it. They are like care-
free children now. I can't believe they are
such consummate actors."

Medbury turned to him and grinned.

" What made you think that ? " he asked.

" I was at the galley door and heard
them making threats. The steward seemed
to think there was danger— to you," Drew
answered. ** I thought I ought to warn
you ; but now it seems silly."

"A sailorman's threat does n't mean
anything," Medbury told him, "and pro-
phesying evil is the * doctor's ' trade. He 's
a big voodoo out home in Santa Cruz, and
half the negroes on the island will go five
miles out of their way to avoid him."

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Drew paused a moment before speaking,
then he said slowly :

" Well, my crisis was only a mare's nest,
it seems. I was beginning to think it was
to be a day of adventm'es. One seemed

" One ? " queried Medbury, looking up

" Yes ; Miss March fell across the rail.
I caught her just in time. I thotight you

Medbur/s face flushed.

" I did n't see," he said. " I did n't

It was Drew's face that flushed now.

** I ought to explain," he began, but
if edbury broke in :

" You have n't anything to explain to
me. I 'm the mate of this vessel ; nothing
more. That *s all the interest I 've got
here, and all I want."

With that he walked away. He knew it
was childish, but having let himself go, he
was no longer able to exercise his self-
restraint till the whole madness had passed.


As Captain March went up the companion-
way after supper, he thought he felt a puff
of air across his face. Stepping out upon
the deck, his eyes instinctively turned to
the northeast, from which direction he ex-
pected the wind. A dove-colored light still
shone in the eastern sky ; below it the sea
was a darker color, irradiated by the glow-
ing west.

His daughter and the young men had
followed him, and now she touched his

" Is n't that a cat's-paw ? " she asked,
and pointed northward, where a dark film
of purple seemed to roughen the long slope
of a swell that shone like pink satin. Even
as they looked, the slope became a shallow
bowl, and the patch of purple faded to the
uniform gray of the hollowed wave.

Captain March shook his head and

"It does beat the deuce," he said.

This was as wide a departure from the
placid philosophy with which he looked
upon life as he ever gave expression to;
and his daughter and his mate, who knew
him equally well, recognized in it the ex-
tent of his mental distiurbance. To them
both, the prolonged calm, in the changing

twilight, took on an aspect of uncanniness.
It was as if they stood absolutely alone,
the last of living things, in a chaos of dead
waters, under the sweeping throng of
stars, which saw not and heeded not the
blotdng out of their small world. Tacitly
both had agreed to give no sign of their
changed relations so long as they were
compelled to meet daily.

M edbury slipped away forward for a
turn about the deck. He looked at the
lights to see if they were in order.

" They might as well be kept burning,"
he muttered, " though God knows what
good they are."

Back on the quarter-deck, when he re-
turned from his round, he found the others
leaning over the rail in silence. It had
suddenly grown dark, and a haze had
come up, obscuring the stars and the sea.
He paused near Hetty, who looked up,
smiled, and made room for him.

" We thought we heard the beat of a
steamer's paddle," she said. " Listen ! "

He leaned over the rail beside her, but
for a long time heard nothing but the
whine of spars, the rattle of the main-sheet
blocks as the boom swung them taut, and
the-jump of the wheel in its becket At
intervals there came the sound of water
dripping from the channels or spouting
from the scuppers. These sounds seemed
to make more acute the silence of the sea,
which seemed like a living, threatening
presence. At last Medbury stood up.

" There 's nothing," he said.

•* Listen!" said Hetty, in a low voice,
and again he dropped his elbows to the

Suddenly there came a quick succession
of muffled throbs, like the far-off churning
sound of a steamer's paddle-wheel; then
it ceased as absolutely as if a door had been
closed noiselessly upon it.

" There ! " cried Hetty.

Fully ten minutes passed before they
heard it again.

"It 's queer," said Medbury. "There
was n't a sign of a steamer in sight at
sunset. She must be far away, and we
hear her only when we 're both on the
top of a swell. Sound carries a long way
on a night like this."

Captain March straightened up.

" Bring me the glasses, Mr. Medbury,"
he said.

Medbury brought them, and the captain

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slowly swept the horizon ; then he crossed
the deck and walked to the main-rigging.
Coming back, he handed the glasses to

" Go forward and take a look/' he said.

In five minutes the mate came back, and
went up the main-rigging to the crosstrees.
When he descended, he came aft.

"It 's getting thick," he said; "she
ought to blow her whistle."

" Better get your fog-horn forward,"
said the captain, and took the glasses for
another look as Medbury went below. A
moment later the mate returned to the
deck with the long box of the patent fog-
horn, and presently the dreary wail began
to soimd at intervals from the forecastle-
deck. Hetty shivered as she heard it.

" It frightens me ! " she murmured, with
a little catch in her voice. "It frightens

The crew were at the rail forward, silent
and listening. The fog had blotted out
the fore part of the vessel, but the fore-
castle door was open, and the swinging
lamp was hke an orange center of light in
a jiebulous haze. Once a sailor passed be-
fore it, and his shape loomed black and
huge against the luminous interior. • At
short intervals the fog-horn sounded Hke
a wailing banshee through the darkness;
but there was no answering signal : only at
long intervals came that strange, throbbing
beat, like an uncanny chuckle, but seem-
ingly neither nearer nor farther away than
at first. Hardly two aboard agreed as to
its direction, for the opaque walls of fog
deflect sound-waves at sea, as a crystal
breaks a ray of light.

Back on the quarter-deck Medbury was
telling a curious story.

" Two years ago," he began slowly, with
the hesitation of a man who feels moved
to confidence against his better judgment,
" we were running up the straits to Singa-
pore, when it suddenly came on thick.
We were close-hauled and had just about
wind enough for steerageway, and we
had the fog-horn going and were keeping
a sharp lookout, for we were right in the
track of shipping, and you know how ves-
sels drift together in a fog, no matter
which way they were heading before it
thickened up. Well, we had n't heard a
peep all day, and towards night it seemed
to be lifting a little, when I heard the man
at the wheel give a little cry, and, looking

astern, there, not a cable's length away,
was a dingy, raveled-out, full-rigged Por-
tuguese brig slipping right across our
wake. They had n't made a sound, and
they did n't even then, though our old
man got black in the face with cursing
them for their sins. There was a black-
whiskered old fellow, with his coat-collar
turned up about his ears, at the wheel ;
but he scarcely looked our direction : only
once he wagged his beard at us, and threw
one arm over his head in a funny way, and
then squinted aloft again, paying no more
attention to us than if we 'd been so much
seaweed. But just forward the fore-rigging
there was a row of sailormen leaning over
the rail, and their eyes followed us like a
lot of beady birds* eyes till the fog swal-
lowed them up again. Well, the day after
we reached Singapore the old man came
aboard in a brown study. He said he 'd
heard ashore that there 'd been a lot of
dirty weather knocking about the straits,
and a Portuguese brig called the Viiia
Real was forty days overdue. Well, she
stayed overdue, and not a splinter or spun-
yam of her ever came ashore." He paused
a moment to relight his pipe, and then
added : " On th^ stern of the Portuguese
brig we had seen, in big white letters a
foot high was the name Villa Reaiy

In the silence that followed some one
forward gave a low laugh; in the fog it
sounded strange and unnatural.

" Did you ever hear a loon cry along-
shore at night ? " asked Medbury. For the
first time on the voyage he had become
actually loquacious. " I used to hear them
at home when I was a boy. It 's a creepy
sound, and makes a man feel lonesome
and homesick." He paused, as if half
ashamed of the confession, but went on,
with a boyish chuckle : " Somehow, that
fellow's laugh made me think of it, though
I can't say it sounded like a loon, either.
It 's queer how one thing *ll suggest an-
other that is n't at all Hke it."

" It sounded strange to me, too," con-
fessed Hetty.

" Did it ? " he said, turning to her.
" Well, that 's funny."

" Knocking about in fog and storm,
without sleep, a sailor gets queer notions
in his head at times," said Captain March,
slowly. " Now I had a Httle experience
once that seemed queer at the time,
though I suppose it was natural enough,

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Drawn by M. J. Bums. Half-tune plate eni;ravetl by F. II. W'ellini;tun


if you only knew how to explain it. You
know what queer shapes will sometimes
loom up at night ; but walk right up to 'em,
and you find it 's nothing but a stump or
a white post or something. Well, the first
vessel I ever had was the schooner Sarah
J, Mason. I was pretty young at the time,
and I guess I was a bit nervous, but it
does seem yet as if that first voyage as
master was the roughest I 've ever had.
I had chartered for Para, and we struck
dirty weather almost from the first. About
eight days out, the wind came out ahead,
light and baffling, and I got her topsails
on for the first time. But along after sun-
down it freshened up again, and I took
'em in. A young fellow from up the State
somewhere had stowed the maintopsail,
and someway, I don't know how, — I guess
he was hurrying and a little careless; it
was his watch below, — he slipped. For
years after that, when I was n't feeling
first-rate, I used to wake up with a start,
thinking I heard his yell again. Well, it
was n't very rough, and we got a boat
over, but it was n't any use. He must
have gone down like a stone. After that
it was dirty weather, with scarcely a
glimpse of the sun, all the way out. I
was upset and worn out, I guess ; but one

night, looking aloft, I saw some one on
the main-crosstrees. There was a good-
sized moon, though the sky was overcast,
but light enough to see pretty distinctly.
' Who 's that aloft ? ' says I to the second
mate. He did n't answer much of any-
thing, but walked to the rail and looked
up. * Well, call him down,' I said sharply,
and he went to the rigging, and, standing
on the rail, yelled : ' Who 's that up there ? '
Then he went half-way up and stopped.
I guess he stood there five minutes before
he came down and went forward. In a
minute he came back, looking pretty white.
* Everybody accounted for, sir,' he said,
and his teeth were chattering as if he had
the ague.

" Now it sounds funny, but I never
looked aloft at night on that trip without
wishing I did n't have to ; and there was n't
a sailorman aboard who could have been
driven to go up to that masthead after
dark if he 'd been killed for refusing. We
had fair weather coming home, and we
carried that topsail till we blew it off her
one night. I was plagued glad to see
it go."

" Talking about explaining things if you
only walk right up to them," said Medbury
— "now, there 're some things you can't

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explain. Take the old Martha Hunter,
for instance. How are you going to ex-
plain her ? '' He leaned forward and ad-
dressed his talk to Drew, who knew nothing
of the Martha Hunter, " She was built in
Blackwater when I was a boy/' he went
on, " and before her ribs were all up, Jerry
Bartow fell from the scaffolding and was
killed, and Tom Martin nearly cut his foot
off with an adz while he was trimming a
stick of timber that went into her. It went
in with the stain of his blood on it, and it
was n't the last stain of the kind that she
carried before she was through. Oh, she
was greedy for that sort of thing! When
she was launched she must have got the
notion that she was designed to dig out a
new channel in the harbor, for she fetched
bottom and carried away her rudder ; and
before the year was out she came off the
Boston mud-banks so badly hogged that
she looked as if she 'd got her sheer on
upside down. It was n't long before a
sailorman fell from aloft and was killed on
her deck ; and the very next trip, in warp-
ing her out of her berth in Wareham, the
hawser parted and broke the leg of the
man who was holding turn at the capstan.
Cap'n Silas Hawkins brought her home to
overhaul, and the very first day he walked
down the main hatchway and was killed.
Why, she used to drag ashore in any sort
of a white-ash breeze ; and if there was
any dirty weather knocking about, she
always managed to run her nose into it,
and would come limping home like a dis-
reputable old girl out on a lark. You
could have filled a book with the stories
of the men she lost or maimed and the
trouble she got into first and last. But she
was fortunate in a way, too, for she made
money and you could n't lose her. I guess
she 's running yet."

" I saw her a year ago last fall," said

Captain March. "I have n't heard any-
thing startling about her since, so I guess
she 's going."

"Well," said Medbury, "how are you
going to explain her, and others like her ?
I 'm not superstitious, or any more so than
the common run of folks ; but things like
that—" He shrugged his shoulders and
laughed, then turned to listen.

For a long time they had not noticed
the sound that puzzled them, and now, in
the silence, they remembered it again, and
strained their ears to catch it once more.
The fog-horn boomed out at regular inter-
vals; only the noises of the rolling brig
were also heard.

While they still stood listening, all at
once Medbury thought he felt a puff of
wind. Yet it was not so much wind as it
was a suggestion of wind: it seemed to
him that a hand, wet and cold, had been
thrust close to his face and then with-
drawn. He could not explain the chill
that seemed to run through his frame.
Then he shook off the feeling, and turned
to Captain March.

" Did you feel a puff, sir ? " he asked,
and held his finger above his head.

" No," replied the captain. " If we get
a stir of air, I '11 put the canvas on her.
I don't want to slat the sails all to pieces,
but if we get enough for steerageway,
we '11 try it. I don't like loafing about in
a fog like this with my hands in my

Then, even while he w^as speaking, out
of the darkness and the fog and the sub*
dued murmurs of the ocean, without other

Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Barton) RendleThe Century → online text (page 43 of 120)