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a capacious leg-of-mutton sail which flapped idly in the almost
motionless air.

He found Virginia seated in a camp lounging-chair, with a paper-covered
novel lying open face downward in her lap, gazing thoughtfully at the
dusk which seemed rolling toward them over the sea like a fog.

"It was a beautiful sunset," she said; "but now it has gone, the ocean
seems to have such a cruel, cold look. And there are whispering voices
on the water."

She shivered slightly and looked at him half humorously.

"I know," said Dan. "But the stars will be out to-night, and, later,
the moon."

"It will be dreary at best," replied Virginia. "I think it would be
nice if there weren't going to be any night until we - until we - " she
paused. "Oh, Captain, you think we - " She stopped short and frowned.
"There," she said reproachfully, "I told you I was going to be brave.
I'm succeeding admirably!"

"You _are_ succeeding admirably," said Dan. "Yes, I think we are going
to get out of this. Of course we are. In the meantime, pending
dinner, or supper, rather, I am going into my cabin to see if I can't
confiscate some of the Captain's clothes. I feel as if I had been in
these for years. And - " he hesitated.

"And what?" she asked.

"And if the Captain has left a razor, I am going to shave."

"Are you really?" laughed the girl. "And while you are about it, won't
you please telephone for my hairdresser?"

With the dark came a light breeze - and the stars, which Dan hailed with
delight as giving him something to go by. The breeze came over the
starboard beam, the sail filling nicely, and Dan, taking a stand by the
wheel, directed the derelict toward land. He had lighted the red
starboard lamp - the port lamp was missing - and hung a lantern at the
head of the foremast. Virginia sat beside him.

For an hour Dan had been absorbed in the business of manoeuvring his
sodden charge. Waterlogged as she was it was no easy matter to swing
her out of the current and head her upon a course. But at last he had
succeeded. Having but one sail it could not have been better placed
than amidships. Placed in the mainmast it was easier to maintain
steerage way and at the same time it served to push the derelict
forward. Turning to the girl, he laughed triumphantly; and she, who
had begun to be almost jealous of the derelict, inasmuch as it had
taken so much of his attention, smiled politely, if faintly.

"And now," said Dan, sitting beside her, with his hands on the lower
spokes of the battered wheel, "we are homeward bound. The stars have
told me a great deal. See them all. Over there are Regulus and his
sickle, and in the northwest you see Queen Vega. There is Ursa Major
up there, nearly overhead. There's the Little Bear north of it; and
still north is the good old North Star. We are going straight for
land, Miss Howland."

"You are awfully clever, Captain Merrithew."

Dan looked at her quickly. She was smiling mockingly.

"Yes," she continued, as though communing with herself, "I really
believe he would rather talk about his old stars than bother coming
down to the level of a girl who is dying to bring him to earth. I
cannot imagine a more disagreeable man to be shipwrecked with."

"Nor I a more agreeable - " He checked himself. "I am entirely at your
service, Miss Howland," he added; "which is to say, I have alighted."

She did not answer at once. Instead she leaned forward with her hands
supporting her chin, her elbows in her lap, gazing solemnly at the
western stars.

"It is nearly eight o'clock, isn't it?" she asked, without moving her

"Yes," replied Dan, "about that. Why?"

"Just now in New York," said Virginia in her low, full tones, "they
have finished dining on Broadway. All the lights are, oh, so bright!
and women in the most gorgeous spring gowns and men in evening dress
are pouring out of the Astor, the Waldorf, the Knickerbocker, - every
place, - and stepping into red and green taxi-cabs, or strolling
leisurely to see the latest play. And on Fifth Avenue, in the club
opposite our house, the same five stout men are just about to occupy
the same five stout chairs in the big windows. I have watched them for
years, and - " The girl paused. "Our house! Do you suppose my father
is there now?" She closed her eyes. "I can almost see him. Of course
he is mourning me for lost; and Aunt Helen is trying to comfort him and
other persons. But there, I must not think of that, must I?" She
turned to Dan and smiled bravely.

"No, you must not," he said gravely. "He is a man; he will bear his
grief like a man. And when you return - "

"When I return?" interpolated the girl, quickly. "Have you thought
about that, Daniel Merrithew?"

"Not a great deal, except to resolve that if I ever get ashore I shall
never again go to sea as a sailor."

"Oh, I don't mean that," said Virginia. "Ever since the night when you
were shielding me from the fire - "

Dan raised his hand.

"Anything you said that night, Miss Howland, need cause you no regret,
no misgiving. As well judge the words, the actions, of a man who knows
he has but an hour to live."

Virginia looked at him puzzled. She started to speak, but closed her
lips tight upon the words. She was vividly flushed.

"Did I say anything so terrible then?" she asked at length. "I am sure
I can remember nothing I regret. Of course I don't remember much; I
suppose I was awfully flighty, then. But you were fine and brave and
noble; and, whatever I said, I stand pat, as father says," the girl
laughed. "This is such a conventional age that when a knight of modern
times revives the daring and chivalry of older ages, we women have no
adequate way in which to requite it, you know."

"You must not think about it at all," replied Dan.

"And why not? That night I hung at the mercy of your strength and
endurance to pain, when you could easily have saved yourself by letting
me go. Ah, don't deny it," as Dan made a gesture. "I know! My life
was in your keeping, to save it or let it go, as you willed. Daniel
Merrithew, do you ever feel that now you have the right to be
interested in that life that you alone saved?"

"What do you mean?" Dan was looking at her curiously.

The girl laughed excitedly.

"Oh, I don't know exactly what I do mean - except, except that I have
simply felt, well, as though I have no right to be altogether my own
selfish self - in the way I used to be, I mean; that I have no longer an
absolute right - - Oh, how can I explain it clearly? Let us say that
I have a conviction that any serious change I might wish to make in my
life should not be done without - well, not consent, exactly, but good
wishes - no, I mean consent. There, that may be putting it clumsily,
but don't you understand?"

Dan flushed. "I have saved lives before," he said; "and twice men have
saved my life, and I never felt, - felt the way you say toward my

"But that is different; it is impossible to compare man's attitude
toward man as you would a woman's."

"Yes, that's so."

"Then you, too, have felt as I feel?"

"No, I never thought of it in that way."

She was silent a moment, but she regarded him searchingly. His face
was upturned, gazing at the flapping sail on the mainmast. She caught
the strong, classic profile in the starlight, and over her flooded the
deep sense of her utter dependence upon him, upon his skill, his
strength, his resource, and the deeper sense of her implicit trust in
him as the embodiment of all these qualities.

She yearned now to express to him her emotions; she almost felt she
must. And yet she hardly knew how. She had tried to do so, but how
inadequate her words had seemed! Bearing in upon her mood, Dan's cool,
even voice sounded miles away.

"Miss Howland, had you thought - "

She interrupted him.

"See here, Daniel Merrithew, I said before that ceremony had no part on
this boat. Hereafter, if you won't call me by my first name you must
address me by my last. It must be either one or the other."

Dan made no comment. He hesitated just a moment, then he said:

"I was going to ask you, Virginia, if you had thought of going to your
cabin yet."

She smiled and blushed.

"I - I wanted to speak to you about that," she said, speaking rapidly.
"I saw you this evening taking things from the Captain's room into the
mate's cabin. Now, if you have any idea that I am going to sleep on
this horrid, grisly boat, so far away from you, you are mistaken. You
must sleep in the Captain's room - and the door leading into mine must
be ajar, too. Oh, I am terribly unmaidenly! I cannot help it; I shall
be horribly forlorn and frightened, and shall hear all sorts of sounds;
I can hear them now, and so can you - "

"But," interrupted Dan, "I cannot go to sleep, Miss - Virginia. This
boat must be sailed to land. There is a breeze. She cannot be left
alone; she would go a hundred miles out of her course; and, besides, we
might meet a vessel."

For a moment the girl gazed at him uncomprehendingly.

"Do you mean to say you are going to stay up all night and sail? But
you have not had a wink of sleep and I shall certainly not go into
that - " she suddenly arose. "How stupid of me! Of course both of us
must stand watch in turn. While you are steering I shall sleep at the
wheel. While I am steering you shall sleep there. How simple! Then
we need not be alone at all. Here, I'll hold the wheel first and you
go to sleep. I shall wake you at midnight, perhaps before if I get
frightened. Then I shall be asleep through those creepy morning hours."

Dan demurred vigorously, but she was steadfast. So he went to the
after cabin and brought out several blankets and a pillow, which she
arranged deftly.

As he prepared to lie down, he looked at the girl.

"See that star up there?" he said. "Well, just keep the vessel going
the way she is, with that star over your shoulder. Don't let it get
anywhere else. If it does, wake me quickly. If you become afraid, or
see anything, let me know at once."

"Yes," said the girl, "I understand. Good-night, Daniel."

"Good-night, Virginia."

In a few minutes Dan was fast asleep. Through the night sailed the
girl, alone, sore afraid, but comforted with the assurance that a touch
of her hand would bring to her the powerful man who slept at her feet.

Straight she stood at the wheel, and tall, like some figure of a
goddess of antiquity. The moon rose, and its light glorified her. It
fell upon the shattered deck, defining every dreary detail. The waves
rose and fell with the lilt of music. The tinkling breeze was cool and
fresh and invigorating. Fear vanished from her. She felt herself a
part of the elements, a part of the night, the lone representative of
life and consciousness, and God amid the waste of primeval desolation.

So she sailed, exalted, ennobled, until long after midnight. When her
thoughts turned to the man sleeping at her feet, she leaned down,
gazing long and earnestly upon his face. Then, as he stirred, she let
her hand rest on his forehead a moment.

"It is time to awaken, Daniel," she said.

He was upon his feet in an instant. There was a strange expression
upon his face.

"I was far away from here," he said. "I was dreaming, the bulliest
sort of a dream."

"Dreaming? And what about, pray?"


"You were! Tell me the dream."

"They say dreams that are told never come true," replied Dan, slowly.

Their eyes met. Both were smiling. Then her eyes fell; but she still

"Then," she said, "I guess you had better not tell me - unless - "

"Unless?" asked Dan, as she paused.

Slowly she arranged the blankets, while Dan waited for the completion
of the sentence. Then she lay down.

"Good-night," she said.

When she awoke, the sun was rising high. The breeze had died away.
The wheel was deserted. She looked down the stretch of deck, but Dan
was nowhere to be seen. With a fluttering heart she arose and shook
out her skirts, hardly daring to peer into the cabin for fear her
dreadful intimations might prove true.

He was not in the cabin. She called his name in a low voice, but only
the hollow echo resounded from the corridor. In agonized suspense now
she ran out on the deck.

"Dan!" she called with all the power of her lungs, not expecting that
he would hear her now. "Dan Merrithew, have you left me?"

There came an answering hail, and looking toward the bow she saw Dan
clambering out of the forward hatch. His shoes and trousers were
dripping wet. As he ran to her she waited, weeping. He caught her
hands and held them.

"Oh, Dan, Dan!" she cried, "you frightened me so! I thought you had
gone. I thought you were dead. You are not going to leave me again,
are you?"

"Never," said Dan.

Then both started as though the underlying significance of the question
and answer had suddenly dawned upon them. Gently she withdrew her
hands, which Dan did not seek to retain. In conversational tone, he

"I am awfully sorry, Virginia. While you were sleeping, the wind fell,
an hour or two after dawn, and the blue of the water struck me. I
found the Captain's thermometer and lowered it overboard. My best
hopes were realized. We are in the Gulf Stream, Virginia, and moving
northward at about four miles an hour. We are all right now if all
goes well."

"But why were you hiding?" asked the girl.

"I wasn't. I wanted to see if the water had hurt the logwood, so as to
impair its value, and to learn the condition of the hull. You know the
cargo is all that is keeping us afloat. Everything is pretty soggy
down there, but we'll hold together, I guess; and I don't believe the
logwood will suffer a bit. Of course the mahogany is all right. We're
lucky. One schooner in a million has mahogany these days."

She had been gazing at him almost vacantly while he was talking. Now
she smiled beautifully.

"Oh, I am so glad to see you again," she said. "It seems almost as if
you had been away a thousand years."

"That," said Dan, "almost pays me for frightening you. Are you ready
for breakfast? I knocked it together a while ago."

"For which you shall be punished - when we get ashore."



After breakfast they drew chairs to the wheel and sat out on deck. It
was a wonderful May morning. Thin clouds hung in the blue, like little
yachts; and the cool, balmy air and the sparkling sunlight brought the
clear, steady call of work to be done, of life to be lived beautifully
and nobly, and strong things to overcome, or to accomplish - the call of

And they heard the call, these two, and responded to it with the
joyousness of youth, wherein a phrase is a lifetime, and a word,
volumes. They talked of themselves, regarding each other wonderingly
as hidden depths of character were revealed, or a word, or a sentence,
or a sympathetic silence threw light upon a new element of personality.

He spoke of the _Fledgling_. He used to see her through a golden haze.
She was his first command. Yet each day came the old question, What
next? And the answer. Why, everything. A future - bigger things and
better, broader work, not on the sea at the last. No; landward,
somewhere, anywhere. But onward, onward!

"Something is linked with every one's destiny, Virginia. Fate fires no
salutes; every shot is solid and aimed at something. And the thing
that is hit you have to step over and go on; if you stop to look at it
and think over it and try to look for something else for Fate to knock
down for you, something easier to step over and get away from, you
find, perhaps, years later, that just there you missed your chance."

She regarded him with kindling eyes.

"And so that has been your philosophy."

"For want of a better, yes."

"I think it is a splendid one, and it has stood its highest test - it
has served you well. Do you know, the first time I had any idea you
were interested in the higher things was that day we were in your cabin
on the _Tampico_. Do you remember my looking at your books and
exclaiming over the selection? I don't know, but somehow the Bible
impressed me most."

"I had a pretty good English foundation at Exeter," replied Dan, "and I
kept it up after I left there. That Bible - I think I did grow and
broaden after leaving school, but I never grew beyond Psalms and St.
Paul; which proves that a little knowledge is not dangerous."

The girl smiled.

"Most men would be ashamed to say that," she said. "Most of the men I
have known," she added.

"I never would have said it to any one but you." He said this with
quiet conviction, and the girl inclined her head slightly.

"I thank you. . . . Do you remember that night at the dinner when I
told you that if our friendship was to continue it was to be one of
limitations? How long ago that seems now - and how absurd!"

"Does it seem absurd?"

"Doesn't it?" She laughed. "It seems to me you were inclined to
regard it so that night."

"Much to your indignation."

"Is it so? If you had asked me, I might have admitted that the fact I
ever could be indignant with you was the principal reason why that
night of the dinner seemed so long ago." She hastened to qualify.
"For, you see, I count you now among my very closest friends."

"That is saying a great deal," smiled Dan. "When we get ashore and you
are comfortably installed as queen of your father's drawing-room and
Dan Merrithew is - "

An exclamation from the girl interrupted him.

"Dan Merrithew, don't you dare!"

"And Dan Merrithew is just a - " She had risen, and before he could
complete the sentence her hands were pressed tightly over his mouth.

"Will you be good?" she cried. She released her hands and regarded him
with mock severity.

"But - " laughed Dan.

Again the hands flew to his face.

"Will you?"

"I will," said Dan.

"And you'll promise not to say or think such nonsense again?"

"I promise," said Dan.

And then for a while both fell silent, thinking of the future which lay
before them. The girl smiled as her day-dreams opened and expanded.
Dan frowned, and the fingers of his well-shaped hands locked and
unlocked across his knees.

Suddenly Virginia sprang to her feet with an exclamation.

"Oh, I forgot," she said, and ran, laughing, to the galley, whence she
returned with a large plate of fudge. At Dan's look of surprise she
tossed her head in mock disdain of what he might say or think.

"I unearthed two great cakes of chocolate last night," she said, "and
as I was simply dying for some candy I made fudge while preparing
breakfast. I had to use condensed milk, watered; and as there was no
marble slab I had to stir it in the pan. I don't know how good it is;
it's awfully grainy"; and thus, rattling on, she took a square of the
confection and placed it gingerly between her lips.

"Why, it's not so bad," she said. "Here! Open your mouth and shut
your eyes!" Which Dan did, declaring that he had never eaten anything
half so delicious.

"Really!" she exclaimed, with falling inflection. "Then I must say I
feel sorry for you. . . . Now, why have you that little amused twinkle
in your eyes? I used to see it sometimes at the table on the _Tampico_
when Reggie was boasting, and - and sometimes when I was trying to be
very brilliant. Do you know, sometimes I felt like boxing your ears,
you seemed so superior."

"It was not superiority in your case," laughed Dan, "it was

"Thank you," said Virginia; "and now?"

"Oh," smiled Dan, "the thought of fudge on a derelict was and is
responsible for this twinkle."

"I don't care," she frowned. "It is the person that rises superior to
conditions who triumphs in this world. Anyway, you seem to be
disposing of your share, despite your notions of incongruity."

"Have you thought," said Dan, "that it might pay to be very economical
with your chocolate? If we stay here two or three months and all our
food runs out we can live on ever so little chocolate each day."

"Two or three months!" echoed Virginia. "Now, you are tactful, aren't
you? And just as I was sitting here chattering away, with no thought
that we were not on a yacht ready to turn home the minute I wished to!"

Dan smiled.

"If we were on a yacht, how soon would you - wish to?" he said.

The girl met his eyes undauntedly.

"If I answered you in one way I should not be at all polite," she said;
"and if in another, I should not be - be - "

"Honest?" suggested Dan.

"That would depend upon what I said," she answered with a non-committal
shrug. "Now I am going. I've a lot to do in my cabin, and a luncheon
menu to make out. _Au revoir_!" She paused at the entrance to the
cabins, smiled brightly at Dan, and then disappeared.

Long he sat, gazing out over the serene waters, filled with a great
inward thrill. The wonder of all the fast-crowding events of the past
fortnight was asserting itself potently in his mind, and it was
difficult to realize he was not now living some wild, improbable dream.
But, after all, he found the sense of responsibility dominant. To his
care was committed a beautiful life, - a life that must be saved,
cherished, and ultimately restored to its proper environment. Of late,
it seemed, an evil star had pursued him; everything he had commanded or
had anything to do with had either sunk or burned - an extraordinary
train of misfortune not lacking in the lives of many able masters of
craft. What next? He passed over that thought with a frown. He was
living in a beautiful present; the future would be met as the past had
been, bravely and with no cry for quarter.

The present! He was immediately to learn how dearly he prized it; for
as he gazed seaward, the smoke of a steamship, below the horizon,
appeared. He sprang to his feet and watched it eagerly; and yet when
that faint column grew more dim and finally faded, he sat back
constrained to confess that he was almost glad the course of the
steamship was as it was. He fought against it, thinking of the girl in
the cabin and her interests. And yet - and yet? He shrugged his
shoulders and walked toward the door, lured by the song which he
remembered so clearly.

"If I had you! If I had you! You!"

"Will _I_ do?" he laughed, peering in at her open door.

"For the present, yes," she bowed, "because I want you to admire. See,
I have been decorating my room with unbleached muslin. Aren't those
curtains dear? And those silesia bunk tapestries, aren't they

"They are, indeed. How much would you charge to beautify my cabin?"

Virginia blushed.

"You had better ask how much you owe me," she said. Then, "You haven't
looked in your cabin! And after all my labor, too!"

With an exclamation Dan darted across the corridor and beheld, with
kindling eyes, many evidences of that feminine touch without which
hardened bachelors may fancy their quarters complete. She had followed
him to the door and was gazing over his shoulder. Something caught in
Dan's throat. Always a man's man, as the saying is, the full force of
the realization of his strange situation seemed rushing from the
interior of that cabin to overpower him. A girl, a beautiful girl, one
whom he had looked upon as he had looked upon the beautiful
unattainable things of this life, planning and executing for his
pleasure, and blushing joyously to find that which she had done for him
pleasing in his sight, left him bereft of words.

He turned to her and strove to speak, and then suddenly he faced about
and walked hurriedly to the deck. She came up behind him and placed
her hand upon his shoulder and smiled, understanding. His eyes met
hers, and then, with an involuntary movement, his arm was about her
waist. For a full minute they stood thus, neither moving, she
regarding him with wondering eyes, but still smiling slightly.

Suddenly he started; his arm swiftly dropped, and he glanced with a
jerk of his head towards the sail.

"Are we getting out of our course?" she asked.

"I was," he said, scowling, "but I won't again. Can you forgive one
who is no better than a - than a blamed pirate?"

"I can forgive you everything but calling yourself names," she said

Before another hour had passed, clouds began to rise from out the sea.
There came a fitful breeze, with a little hum to it. To the
southeast-ward the horizon assumed a grayish-white tinge.

Dan watched it anxiously, and the girl followed his gaze and then
glanced at him inquiringly.

"It's going to cloud over," he said. "There may be some deviltry

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Online LibraryLawrence PerryDan Merrithew → online text (page 11 of 12)