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who fancies he understands women; and the rest were laughing at the
confused indignation which marked her replies.

Dan recalled this girl. She had been especially cool aboard the yacht;
and certain pictures of Wotherspoon flashing through his mind, an
amused smile lighted his eyes for an instant. Miss Howland, who at the
moment had turned from Oddington, caught the smile, and following his
gaze, instinctively divined the cause. She was not annoyed. On the
contrary, she was pleased, for it indicated to her that Dan was
perfectly at ease, and she noted, moreover, that he was dealing with
the various courses with a greater degree of _savoir faire_, so to
speak, than she had thought probable. She dismissed forthwith all
fears she had entertained regarding Wotherspoon's prediction that
"among the features of the dinner would be a lifelike imitation of a
towboat skipper swallowing his knife."

He followed Mrs. Van Vleck's leads in conversation, and once responded
with crisp cleverness to a gay remark addressed to him by a girl across
the table. But he seemed to take it for granted that Miss Howland
would be occupied with Oddington; and in fact he had spoken to her but
once, and then to thank her when she pushed a dish of almonds toward

The girl had noted a similar tendency of late on the part of other men,
but had thought of it only in as far as it had impressed upon her the
fact that she and Ralph had grown to understand each other rather well
and were very good friends. She had arrived at that age where she had
begun to feel that perhaps, after all, this might be what the world
called love and that women who attributed to the word emotions deeper,
more absorbing, more thrilling, were mere sentimentalists, who derived
their plans and ideas from a world of dreams or from fiction both
classical and popular; or else they were women of deeper feeling than
she knew herself to be.

It was all a problem. She had reason to feel that a time was
approaching when Oddington might reasonably expect a clearer,
better-defined relation. Whether she would be willing to grant this
was another matter. It was possible she might; it was possible she
might not. She did not know. It was a situation which perplexed if it
did not inspire her, which interested if it did not thrill.

And yet now Dan's tacit aloofness piqued her. She admitted she did not
understand him at all. Here was a man, a tugboat captain, of course a
product of the water front; primarily, no doubt, a dock-rat, and yet a
man who had not tangled himself in the use of his forks, who spoke in
even, well-modulated tones, and looked like a gentleman. Miss Howland
was not snobbish in these thoughts. She had never been a snob; she was
simply considering facts. And she did not want him to be aloof.

"Captain Merrithew," she said in a tone designed to draw him and the
others into general conversation, "Ralph - Mr. Oddington, has been
saying things again about my favorite cousin Percy Walton."

Ignoring the polite chorus of mild expostulation, Miss Howland turned
to Dan, speaking with great vivacity.

"Percy, you know, was educated to win football games for Yale, and at
the last moment went to Princeton. But he did not play there, because
Uncle Horace, his father, in a fit of disgust, made him go to work."
She glanced smilingly at Oddington. "Mr. Oddington and Mr. Wotherspoon
say he was proselyted by Princeton. We've had more fights about it - "

"Well, he was proselyted," laughed Oddington, "stolen from us bodily."

"Wasn't it some time ago?" asked Dan.

"Why, that's just the point," said Mrs. Van Vleck. "It was at least
five or six years ago. I am afraid Ralph and Reggie will never be able
to realize they are not undergraduates."

Oddington smiled.

"Oh, I don't know," he said. "At all events, it keeps us young. As
for Walton, I'd be ashamed to own him for a cousin," winking at Dan.
"Why, Merrithew, all his family had been Yale from great-grandfather

"There; you hear him, Captain Merrithew," cried Miss Howland; "don't
you think that's a horrid way to talk?"

Dan smiled, tapping lightly on the table with his fingers.

"I don't believe he was stolen," he said slowly, as though not quite
certain whether he ought to venture an opinion. "Whether he was or
not, I don't believe he'd ever have made the Yale team or the Princeton
eleven either."

Virginia started in her chair and glanced at him swiftly.

"Indeed!" she said, flushing. "You don't mean to say - what do you know
about Percy Walton?"

"Now you're in for it, Merrithew," grinned Oddington. "What do you
know about Walton?"

Dan picked up his dinner card and spun it between his thumb and
forefinger for a few seconds, and then with a slight smile replied:

"Why, not a great deal. Next to nothing, personally." He paused a
moment, and then glancing down at the table added, "I was captain of
the eleven on which Walton played at Exeter."

* * * * * *

After the guests had gone, Virginia, her father, and Mrs. Van Vleck sat
for a few minutes in a small apartment between the drawing and dining
rooms. The girl's eyes were bright.

"Well, father, I actually believe you could have knocked me down with a
feather to-night."

Mr. Howland drew his cigar-cutter from his pocket and slowly inserted
the end of a perfecto.

"I suppose you refer to Merrithew."

"Certainly," said Mrs. Van Vleck; "why in the world didn't you tell us,

"Yes, why didn't you?" The girl had arisen and approached her father's
chair. "You might have known, father dear, that both Aunt Helen and I
lay awake nights wondering whether he would bring a boat-hook or a
sou'wester to the dinner, and do - oh, all sorts of outlandish things,
making us the joke of the season. And to think - a football captain in
Percy's class at prep school, quiet, easy-mannered - "

Mr. Howland snapped the end from his cigar and placed the cutter in his

"Are you quite through, Virginia?" he said.

"Quite," replied the girl, who thereupon disproved her assertion by
beginning where she had left off. "And I do believe you knew all the
time and were simply teasing us."

"That is not exactly true," smiled her father. "Of course I looked him
up a bit before offering him the command of the _Tampico_. He comes
from near New Bedford. You know my mother's family lived there."

The girl nodded. "Yes? Go on."

Mr. Howland lighted a match and held it burning for a while before
applying it to his cigar.

"You know," he said, "there are no better people in the world than some
of those New England seafaring families. The Merrithews, I believe,
were very substantial. . . . So you see where your supposed wharf-rat
acquired the manner which you marked in him, and his good English,
and - and well, whatever else you marked."

"What is he going to do now?" asked Mrs. Van Vleck. "Oh, of course,
the _Tampico_. Is he qualified to be a captain?"

"Why, naturally; I haven't the slightest doubt of it. But Harrison
will stay with the ship for two or three more trips to break him in
thoroughly. Both companies by whom he was employed while in tugboat
work speak of him in the highest terms. It's all rather a departure.
But I feel I owe it to Merrithew; and besides, I have an idea he is the
sort of man we want. This West Indian trade is not all beer and

"It is very interesting," said Virginia, stifling a yawn. "I hope to
see something more of him; he's a new sort and worth studying.
And - oh, father, is there any chance that we'll have that house-party
at our San Blanco estate next Spring? I mean - of course you've
promised that. What I meant was, will we go on the _Tampico_? Now
don't smile, father; you have said a dozen times you were through with
steam yachts."

"I'm not smiling," said Mr. Howland. "It is quite possible we'll go
down on the _Tampico_ - unless Merrithew manages to sink her in the

"Bully," cried the girl. "Good-night. . . . I think," she said,
speaking slowly over her shoulder - "I think we had a very successful
partee." She paused and looked doubtfully at her father. "The only
difficulty is that, now we know he is not hopelessly impossible in one
way, we have to face the fact that he is all the more impossible in

"Yes," said her aunt, laughing, "as an interesting social freak we
might have used him; but as an ordinary, well-behaved steamship
captain - " Mrs. Van Vleck shrugged her shoulders expressively and
raised her eyebrows.

"Well," said the girl, "he'll be eminently eligible for the Captain's
table of the _Tampico_. Somehow I wish he had done something unusual
to-night. I had developed all sorts of strange fancies concerning him."

Now, as a matter of fact, she did not wish that at all.



Dan brought to his new duties a well-grounded knowledge of the
fundamentals of his calling, and his deficiencies, such as they were,
were skilfully eliminated by his white-haired mentor, Captain Harrison.
Among other things, this prince of ancient mariners, who had taken a
great fancy to Dan, was at infinite pains to impress upon him the fact
that in the duties of captain of a vessel calling regularly at the
ports of small Latin republics many requirements aside from mere
ability to navigate a ship are involved. Seductive arts, such as
verbal or financial propitiation; knowledge when to give a dinner and
when to threaten to invoke the "big stick"; when to hold to a position
and when to recede from it; - all these attributes of diplomacy were
acquired by Dan under Harrison's tutelage, so that when the old Captain
finally retired to his well-earned rest on a Long Island farm, he
"allowed" that young Merrithew had the stuff in him of which smart
officers are made.

On his own account, Dan, by keeping his mouth shut and his eyes open,
learned not a little of the methods which characterized the relations
of his company with various Governments; and while not all that he
learned could in the widest implication of the phrase he designated as
morally - or, say, rather, ethically - elevating, it afforded an
interesting side-light upon the business character of Horace Howland.

In this connection it is well to state that the ultra clamorous days in
San Blanco had long ceased, and that the new _Presidente_, Rodriguez,
who had arisen to his honors out of the midst of the travail of fire,
powder, and a modicum of bloodshed, was conducting affairs of state
much to the liking of the San Blanco Trading and Investment Company, of
which company Mr. Howland was the brains and guiding spirit. Need it
be suggested that this amounts to saying that Mr. Howland was the
brains and guiding spirit of the San Blanco Republic as then

At all events, with peace smiling over troublous San Blanco, Mr.
Howland sent word to Dan that early in April he, his daughter, Mrs. Van
Vleck, and a party of ten, would sail on the _Tampico_ for Belle View,
the Howland estate, just outside of San Blanco City.

Dan was not altogether surprised at this message. The passenger
accommodations of the _Tampico_ were elaborate, and hints of Mr.
Howland's intention had reached him in one way or another. But now
with definite assurances in hand life took on added zest. He had not
seen Miss Howland since the dinner; but it would have been futile for
him to attempt to convince himself that she had not formed a more or
less vague background for many of his thoughts and moods since that
epochal event. Occasionally he saw her name in the newspapers, and one
of them once printed a picture purporting to be her photograph. But it
was not. Otherwise he might have been tempted to cut it out.

Now, with her presence aboard the _Tampico_ assured, the steamship
became involved with a new significance. He pictured her on the bridge
with him. He selected her place at the table in the saloon, and
dreamed of all the life and laughter and grace and beauty she would
bring to it.

As for himself, he had the proud realization that in measuring his
opportunities on the broadest possible gauge, he had lived up to them
sincerely, and he knew the results to be good. On his own bridge he
had faced the blind fog with the lives of passengers hanging upon his
judgment; he had met the elements at their work, and out of the ordeal
he had come with greater self-reliance, broader, kindlier, better. For
the first time in his life he was looking beyond his dreams, although
the work in hand was all-absorbing; there would be more for him to do.
He felt it, he knew it, for such is youth.

One beautiful April morning, a company, wonderfully well selected
according to the view-point of Virginia and her aunt, boarded the
_Tampico_ and merrily set sail. Not the least of that company was
Howland himself, who, standing upon the bridge beside Dan, smiled as he
thought of the dozen Hotchkiss guns and the two very grim eight-inch
rifles resting in the darkness of the forward hold, and then spoke
almost in parables.

"It is always well, Captain, to divine the trend of the wind before
weather vanes give information to all who care to look for it."

"Yes?" replied Dan, not comprehending.

"Yes. Those playthings, strategically placed at the capital, will
insure an era of Government integrity for some time to come; and that
will be very good; for the kind of integrity existing there is much to
my liking. Vasquez is restless; Sanches is uneasy; but there will be
no radical action for some time to come. When it does - well, Captain,
I have taken the liberty to store some pieces of ordnance below - they
appear as household furniture in the manifest of cargo. I consider
them qualified to maintain all sorts of Government integrity."

"No doubt," smiled Dan; "if you have any one down there to handle them."

"I have a very large office staff in Domingo City, unusually large. I
did not hire the men for their penmanship, nor for their ability as
clerks, either." Here Mr. Howland raised his eyebrows slightly, and
Dan, taking his cue, raised his eyebrows too.

And so the _Tampico_ sailed peacefully south-ward. The April sun
softened the air, the sea was like glass, and by the time the steamship
had picked up the Southern Cross, the little company had been tried in
the balance of propinquity and found not wanting.

It was brilliant moonlight, and eight bells chimed sweetly over the
silvery waters from the forecastle head, as Dan, with a cheery good
evening, followed the first mate to the bridge. The second mate smiled
genially, gave the course as south half east, and, with his dog-watch
ended, went to bed. A gruff voice rolled along the deck.

"The watch is aft, sir!"

Dan's voice hurled astern before the echoes died.

"All right. Relieve the wheel - and the lookout!"

Virginia, addressing a merry group on the hurricane deck, just below
and aft the bridge, paused in the middle of a sentence and listened to
the sharp, crisp words. Then she smiled slightly and resumed her

Dan paced up and down with the mate, taking up the thread of the talk
where it had been left the previous watch; but neither was in a talking
mood, and they soon fell silent. Presently a girl's rich voice rose to
the accompaniment of Oddington's banjo, an instrument but poorly
adapted to the motif of the music, which was plaintive, yearning. The
deep contralto notes brought full meed of meaning, although the words
were German; low, deep, uncertain at first - the ponderings of love, of
devotion, of doubt - then swelling loud and full and free at the end;
love justified, undying, triumphant, overpowering.

"Könnt' fühlen je das Glück das ich würd nennen mein
Hätt' ich nur Dich allein! Hätt' ich nur Dich, nur Dich allein!"

Then suddenly in wild rapture she broke from the German, repeating the
refrain in English -

". . . The rapture that would be my own
If I had you . . . if I had you . . . you."

Piercing sweet it ended, filled with tenderness. Just you, you, you,
going on far across the moon-lit waters into infinity. Dan walked to
the lee of the bridge and with hands on the dodger's ridge, leaned
forward, peering bard and straight to the rim of the sea.

For every heart there is a song, and for every song a heart; for this
earth is not so big that the dreams, the passion of some song-maker,
humble or not, may not strike a responsive chord, at the other end of
the world, it may be. And this for Dan; this simple love song with its
swelling iterations. It awakened sleeping poetry in the heart of the
young commander, awakened a tenderness long hidden under the rough
exterior of a tumultuous life.

There was no mistaking the identity of the singer, no mistaking those
deep, full notes, vibrant, rounded, and so melodious. To whom was she
singing? Could a woman sing like that, sing as Miss Howland sang, to
no one? Impersonally? Dan turned his face down at the group. The
women were muffled in greatcoats, for the soft evening, which had
tempted them to the deck, was growing chill, and he could see the dark
forms of the men and the red lights of their cigars. Wotherspoon had
just finished a comic song, and they were all laughing and applauding.

Somehow it all emphasized in Dan his aloofness. He heard Oddington
address some jocular remark presumably to Miss Howland, for he caught
her laughing reply. And the thought came, how eminently eligible
Oddington was to sit at her side; how fitting that he should be
there - wealthy, distinctly of her set, a good fellow at the university,
and now a law partner in the practice which his hard-working father had
prepared for him. For the first time, perhaps, in his life Dan felt
himself humbled, and a great wave of bitterness flooded his mind. . . .
And yet Miss Howland had been very kind to him. Ah, but that was not
the point. He did not want persons to be kind; that suggested charity,
or pity. No; he wanted exactly what he earned - what he could take with
his bare hands and his bare soul. He wanted equality - or nothing; and
if at the end of his struggle it had to be nothing, all right - but the
end was not yet.

Toward nine o'clock the deck party began to break up. Some one had
suggested bridge, and some opposed the suggestion. At the end of a
laughing discussion Oddington and three others went to the
smoking-room, while the rest dispersed in various directions. Dan,
filled with his thoughts, was in the act of lighting his pipe, when the
clicking of footfalls and the rustling of skirts sounded on the bridge
steps. The next instant Virginia stood before him. The moonlight fell
upon her, outlining the girl distinctly in her long, blue,
double-breasted coat and the wealth of rippling dark hair flowing from
under an English yachting cap. She was smiling.

"Do I intrude upon your sacred precincts?" she asked, "or am I welcome?
I want to talk to you."

"You are welcome, Miss Howland," said Dan, knocking the fire from his
pipe and stuffing the briar-wood into his pocket, at the same time
glancing quickly toward the wheel where the mate and the quartermaster
were busy over a slight alteration in course.

"I feared that incident at the table - Reggie Wotherspoon's behavior, I
mean, might have upset you. Of course you know he meant nothing by it.
We all understand how he hates to be beaten in an argument. Really he
admires you - which is well for him, I can assure you."

Dan, deeply embarrassed, muttered something about understanding
perfectly about Wotherspoon, and that he knew him to be a decent enough
sort of chap.

"Do you know," went on the girl, "I myself was rather startled at first
when you said that no man - that you could not tell whether you would
flunk in time of danger. I was so glad when you made your reservation
that in the past, at least, you had not shown the white feather. 'What
the past has shown,'" she quoted, "'who can gainsay the future?' Oh,
it was glorious," she exclaimed impulsively, "the night you stuck to
our yacht until your own tug was battered to pieces! I suppose I have
said that a hundred times; but it grows more thrilling every time I
think of it."

She looked at him with open interest. His uniform became him well; the
trim sack coat fitted his great, deep chest and almost abnormal
shoulders snugly; and above were the square, smooth face, the steady
gray eyes, and the red-gold hair; and the long, straight limbs
supported a lithe, almost aggressive poise.

She started slightly forward.

"Have you ever thought how much we owe you? Oh, I have so often wished
I could show you how much we appreciate all you did, in some way!"

"You must not think of it in that way."

"Why not, please?" Miss Howland was a straightforward girl who faced a
situation squarely.

"Why, because the debt is all on my side. Your father has given me my
first command; and you - you have been fine to me. I have had more than
an ordinary sailor deserves."

"But you are not an _ordinary_ sailor," said the girl quickly. "Father
knows of your people - " She paused. "Oh, I beg your pardon," she

"Listen," said Dan, quietly. "When I was younger, about to enter
college, a careless, happy life ended. I began all over again then. I
date everything from that beginning - from the time I went aboard a
tug-boat - the Lord knows why - and tried to do something. What I have
done, what I shall do, dating from that time, I stand on. Before that
my battles were fought for me. After that the fight was my own. And I
have never regretted one bit of it; nor am I ashamed of one single
minute from the time I slung hawsers on the _Hydrographer_ until I
commanded the _Fledgling_. And I shall always rejoice, and my friends
must rejoice, in that part of the fight, and never seek to hide a
single incident. It's all behind now, but it was worth while. And a
man must go on - "

"Yes, I know," replied the girl, softly. She turned her face from the
silvery path on the water.

"And you are not going to stop fighting. Oh, you will not stop! You
will go on and on. Men like you never stand still. I know it is the
truth. What difference can your past life make to your friends? It is
never what a man was or might have been that counts, or what he may be;
it is what he is."

And then she turned and left him.

One evening as the dark came creeping over the purple waters, the
_Tampico_ cluttered up to the mouth of the harbor of San Blanco City.
Captain Merrithew and Mr. Howland stood on the bridge, while Virginia
and most of her guests were assembled at the rail, all eyes straining
shoreward. A rattle of musketry tore through the evening air - a
muzzle-loading cannon spoke grouchily; then all was still. A sailboat
was drifting out to sea and the fishermen, being hailed, informed those
on the steamship that revolutionists were pounding at the city walls
and pounding hard, but thus far without avail. The uprising, as usual,
they said, had its inception in the fastnesses of Monte-Cristi and,
spreading through the country, had brought up with a bang against the
walls of the city itself.

Mr. Howland was seriously perturbed.

"We must get in quickly and land our guns, Captain," he said. "It's
too bad we have this party with us. However, you must not consider
their comfort. If you land this cargo of ordnance, we can break the
revolution easily and pleasantly."

He glanced at the Blancan navy - two gunboats, formerly pleasure yachts,
and a "battleship," once a steam-lighter - which lay at strategic
intervals across the harbor mouth and moved impatiently.

"The scoundrels!" he ejaculated. "Why don't they shell those
insurgents? They could end this promptly if they wished to. I shall
have something pleasant to say to them and to Señor Gaspard of the
Marine when I see him. Still, perhaps they are waiting for me.
President Rodriguez expects us."

Mollified at this thought, Mr. Howland straightened to a dignified and
commanding posture. The honors accorded an arriving Howland vessel
were the honors accorded a United States warship, and he scanned the
fleet eagerly for the first sign of the invariable welcome. He turned
to Dan.

"Better dive into your cabin, Captain, and get on your double-breasted
regalia," he said. "There will be a round of diplomatic calls and
felicitations generally - and of course they will ask for wine; for of
all half-starved, thirsty natives, give me those of this bob-tailed

The fighting had evidently stopped for the night, and Mr. Howland waved

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Online LibraryLawrence PerryDan Merrithew → online text (page 6 of 12)