Medbury descended to his room, opened the lid of his desk, and fumbled
about aimlessly with hands that trembled; then, as if he had found what
he had been looking for, he lowered the lid, and, leaning his elbows
upon it, stood looking moodily before him. He told himself that he was
glad it was over; anything was better than the long uncertainty that
had held him bound in chains for years. But no one should know that he
cared, and he glanced at the little hand-glass under his window to see
if his face had changed. It cheered him to note no difference since
morning, and, with boyish affectation, he smiled at his image in the
glass. But suddenly, as if to test his strength, his mind flashed the
image of Hetty before him–her face turned up to him smilingly, as he
had often seen it, her eyes, every feature. With a groan he dropped his
head upon his arms.
He put the mood away from him sternly, and began to debate with himself
whether it would be better to keep on loving her all his days, going to
his grave a sad and lonely man, or gaily to turn to another at once, to
show how little he cared. He came to no decision because he could not
determine which course would hurt her more.
It was his watch below, but he could not sleep, so taking his log-book,
pen, and ink out into the cabin, he sat down at the table, though it
was neither the time nor the place for writing up his log.
Mrs. March was there alone, and, saying that he could not write at his
desk, Medbury opened his book.
He wrote down the date, saw that he had written that of two days
before, so scratched it out, and replaced it with the correct one,
and slowly began to write “Dead calm” in bold letters up and down the
column for winds.
“How long do you suppose this is going to last, Tom?” asked Mrs. March.
Medbury looked up and shook his head.
“There’s no telling. Wind’s an uncertain thing; nothing more so,” he
replied, and dipped his pen into the ink, squared his shoulders, and
made the down stroke of the first letter of a new word with a care for
details that seemed to indicate that he had left the subject of winds
irrevocably behind, and then added, “except women.”
Mrs. March had thought the sentence finished, and had taken up her
knitting again. Now she merely nodded.
“It’s true,” she said impartially. “Most women wouldn’t know their own
minds if they were to come upon them in broad daylight. They are like
men in that.” She shot an amused glance toward the young man.
“You know them,” he said bitterly, ignoring her last sentence, and
secretly disappointed at such ready acquiescence, which indicated, he
feared, a jocular state of mind.
“You mean I don’t know them,” corrected Mrs. March. “No one does. Do
you suppose I know my own daughter’s? No more than she does herself. I
suppose you were thinking of her, weren’t you?”
“It’s all over,” he answered, and laid down his pen, but continued to
make motions across the page with his finger.
Mrs. March showed no surprise, but she ceased knitting, apparently out
of respect for the young man’s feelings.
“How do you know?” she asked.
“She just told me so,” replied Medbury, glad that he could at last
unburden himself. “She said she sometimes thought she had no heart. She
told me that there were times when she had thought that she might care
for me, but now she knew her own mind. So it’s all over.”
“Know her own mind! Fiddlesticks!” exclaimed Mrs. March, and proceeded
to knit again. “I guess you’ve pestered her in some way, and so she
said, ‘Now I’ll decide.’ I suppose you’ve told her often enough that
you couldn’t live without her, and should always feel that way. It’s
perfectly natural for a girl to want to see if you can’t.”
“Then you think it may come out all right, after all?” he asked quickly.
She made a little murmur of dissent.
“I couldn’t go so far as to say that. It may be just pretense, and it
may be the plain truth, and it may be she doesn’t know. You can’t tell.
You’ve got to wait and see.”
“Well,” he replied gloomily, “I guess it’s all over.” He was not going
to be so weak, he told himself, as to begin to hope again.
“I’ve always thought it would come out right in the end,” continued
Mrs. March. “You know I don’t feel like Cap’n March. I’ve always said,
‘Let the young folks settle it for themselves’; and I’ve always liked
you, Tom. But you’ve always been too humble, and she’s been too certain
of you. I kind o’ thought, when you took things in your own hands and
came this trip, it was the best thing you could have done. A girl likes
a masterful man.”
“She told me it was the worst thing,” Medbury replied.
“Then I guess she was afraid of herself,” said Mrs. March, with
conviction. “She was afraid she’d have to give in.”
Medbury shook his head doubtfully as he said:
“I don’t know why she should be afraid, Mrs. March.”
“Because a girl’s love is a funny thing. There’s fear in it, and
pretense, and bashfulness, and coldness, and all the craziest things
under the sun.”
He hesitated a moment before speaking, and then said, with boyish
“She’s known me so long, and known how I felt, sometimes it seems to me
that maybe it’s grown tiresome to her. A man like Drew, now, who hasn’t
known her long–if he cared–” He hesitated.
“I’ve thought that, too,” said Mrs. March, gently.
The cabin door opened, and they heard Hetty’s laugh near. It had the
peculiarly resonant quality of a voice on deck in a calm, heard by one
below. It also sounded happy. Medbury slipped away to his room.
The last words Mrs. March had spoken were in his mind, and he put
his book away in bitterness of spirit. He heard Hetty descend into
the cabin, speak to her mother, and then pass his door, going up the
forward companionway. A sudden wild impulse to be aggressive seized
him, and, leaving his room, he, too, ascended to the deck.
She was standing outside the cabin door, and she turned and smiled as
he drew near.
“I thought it was your watch below,” she said pleasantly.
He did not even look at her, but, hurrying to the booby-hatch, threw
open the sliding hood and descended.
“Now I’ve done it,” he said, as he seated himself upon a coiled hawser.
“What a fool I can be when I really put my mind to it!”
But even with this repulse of her he was not satisfied; he wondered why
he had not at least looked at her with scorn, and he thought of several
bitter speeches that would have been better than silence.
Mrs. March sat in a steamer-chair wedged in between the side of the
cabin and the lounge, the captain was smoking, and Drew held his book
unopened in his hand, when Hetty went below later in the morning.
“Well, I’m glad to see you,” said Mrs. March. “I don’t see how you
keep from tumbling overboard, we roll so. Why don’t your father stop
it,–pour oil on the water, or something,–if he’s such a good sailor?
But he only smokes. He doesn’t even tell us how much worse it was on
some other trip. I thought sailors always did that. I’m sure they talk
of nothing else ashore. Just hear those dishes rattle!”
“If you’d only go up on deck, mother,” Hetty advised, “you’d not mind
it so much. It doesn’t seem so bad there. It’s a beautiful day.”
“No,” her mother answered; “I’ll stay here. You know how a pussy-cat
will crouch down and shut her eyes when you go to box her ears; well,
I’m like that. I don’t want to see what’s coming; I know well enough.”
“That’s like Billy Marvin,” said Captain March, with a chuckle.
“Then Billy Marvin’s smarter’n I ever took him to be,” said Mrs. March.
The captain took his pipe from his mouth and turned to Drew.
“I don’t know’s you’ve ever met Billy,” he said; “but he’s one of our
Blackwater folks. He’s been going to sea a good many years, but he’s
never got beyond the galley. Five or six years ago he went out as
steward with Cap’n Dave Barker on the old _Maggie P. Monroe_, and off
Cape Fear one night they struck a pretty lively southeaster, and for a
time it looked pretty dubious. Cap’n Dave is kind of excitable in bad
weather, and he got to raving up and down the deck and declaring they
were all going to kingdom come before morning, and everybody was pretty
well scared. Well, Cap’n Dave’s a good deal better sailor than he is
prophesier, and, the gale going down before daybreak, they all felt
pretty good, but tired out from being on deck all night, and sharp-set
for breakfast. Well, seven bells came, but no signs of Billy, so Cap’n
Dave sent the mate forward to stir him up. He found the galley closed,
with no sign of fire inside, and Billy fast asleep in his bunk just
off the galley. The mate picked up a dish-pan and banged it up against
the boarding right by Billy’s head, expecting to see him jump straight
through the deck. All he did was to turn over slowly and look at the
mate. The mate said he didn’t even blink. Well, he used some pretty
strong language, and Billy tumbled out and began to hustle around. He
said Cap’n Dave was so certain they were going to the bottom before
morning, that it seemed a pity wasting time and strength to wind his
clock and set the alarm, so he just tumbled in, thinking he might as
well be comfortable and get a good night’s sleep, if it was going to be
his last. Then he turned to the mate–he was raking out his stove–and,
grinning sheepishly, said: ‘Mr. Thompson, I thought you was the angel
Gabriel when you started all that racket, blest if I didn’t!’ Cap’n
Dave asked him afterward if he was disappointed when he saw the mate
standing over him instead of what he’d expected. Billy thought a
minute, and then said: ‘Well, cap’n, if you’d kind o’ set your mind on
seeing a first-class show performance, and then after you’d paid for
your seat and was good and ready, if the curtain should go up, and, lo
and behold! there wasn’t nothing there but just Sam Thompson, what
would you ‘a’ been?'”
Mrs. March laughed with the rest, and, leaning forward, touched her
“Don’t you remember the winter Billy’s wife got religion?” she asked.
“I don’t know about telling a minister that; he might think that
Blackwater was pretty stony soil. You see,”–she turned to Drew,–“the
vessel Billy was in was long overdue, and folks were getting uneasy
about her. There was a big revival that winter, and Billy’s wife got
to coming every night and going forward to the mourners’ bench; and,
first and last, a good many prayers were offered for her husband. Well,
when everybody had about given him up, the vessel got in, with Billy
safe and sound. That was the end of Maria’s church-going. Finally the
minister went around to find out why she had lost all her interest, and
she told him. ‘Mr. Snow,’ she said, ‘Billy wasn’t in a bit of danger
all the time we was a-praying for him. He said they didn’t have wind
enough to blow the smoke away from his galley stovepipe, and what we
ought to have done was to pray for a gale of wind. That kind o’ made me
lose all faith in the deficiency of prayer.'”
“I suppose she thought that the good Lord could look out for folks at
sea a good deal better than those who didn’t know the circumstances,”
commented Captain March. “That doesn’t sound unreasonable.” His eyes
twinkled as he looked at the minister.
“I fear there are many that have very queer notions about prayer,” said
Drew, smiling. “Once I heard a man pray: ‘O Lord, keep us from burning
the candle of life at both ends, and snuffing the ashes in thy face!’
It was a little startling.”
“It does sound a little familiar,” admitted Mrs. March. “It’s funny
how free we can be with the Lord in our prayers, when, if we stood
face to face with him, we wouldn’t dare whisper a word or lift our
eyes. I think a good many of us, if we ever do get to heaven, will feel
more like hiding our faces than rejoicing when we think of some of the
things we’ve prayed for. But maybe such people won’t get there, after
all.” She spoke with so great an air of relief that the others laughed.
“Don’t you want them to go, mother?” asked Hetty.
“Well, I don’t think it’s the place for folks who don’t feel as though
they are going to enjoy every bit of it, do you?” Mrs. March replied.
Hetty laughed uneasily, and glanced at the minister.
“Mother,” she said, “aren’t you afraid Mr. Drew will think you speak
too lightly of sacred things? He doesn’t know you as we do.”
“Don’t think me so narrow, please,” Drew protested, smiling. “I
hope I can distinguish between perfect frankness of character and
Mrs. March looked from one to the other in silence, a trifle awed at
the thought of herself in the rôle of blasphemer. Her confusion was
only momentary, however.
“Did I say anything very dreadful, my dear?” she asked. “I didn’t know
it. I don’t like moping here, and if I’m going 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 Drew’s.
“Did you learn how to make it?” he asked her.
“The knot? No, I gave it up.”
“Like the reading?”
“I didn’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. “Isn’t the wind
ever going to come again?” she asked.
“Well,” replied Captain March, “it brought us here, and I guess it’ll
carry us away. It generally does.”
“It’s very slow,” she complained.
“It doesn’t consider us, my dear,” he replied. Then he rose slowly and
went up the companionway, and a moment later they heard him whistling
for a wind.
Hetty jumped to her feet.
“Father must see something–a catspaw at least,” she exclaimed. “I’m
going to find out.” With that she, too, sought the deck, followed by
[Illustration: “They heard him whistling for a wind”]
Captain March stood sweeping the sea with his glass; but as they
approached him he lowered it, and went silently below.
“There isn’t one–not one,” said Hetty, as she looked about for the
dark streaks of catspaws. Three great rollers came sweeping in, and
they rocked and pitched with the might of them. The girl caught at the
rail for support. “It makes one think of the words, ‘Who hath measured
the waters in the hollow of his hand,’ doesn’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. Doesn’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
She had turned abruptly just as they rolled down on a long swell, and,
stumbling against the bitts, with a gasp fell outboard across the low
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 she 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 disappeared.
Medbury, overhauling a spare sail on the main-deck, had not seen it,
but the sailor with him had, and his exclamation had made Medbury turn
quickly, only to see Hetty standing with Drew’s arm about her. He
stooped to his work again with shaking fingers; but the sailor stood
Medbury glanced at him, his face growing 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 feverish 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 inverted
ploughshare, cut the surface of the barren glebe. Even Captain March’s
imperturbability became less rocklike. Once he paused at Drew’s side
with a grumbling sound that was clearly a sigh.
“Well, it’s ‘Paddy’s hurricane,’ and no mistake,” he said. “I never
saw anything like it. Usually there’s a little air stirring somewhere
about. You’d think that something queer had got into things, wouldn’t
He had been standing balancing himself easily to the swing of the deck,
but there came a vicious lunge, which stopped suddenly, 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 enough.”
Drew flushed, but made no reply. He, too, had been thinking of Medbury,
but 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 himself
that his right to Hetty 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 action of the morning, could he again meet
her on the old footing of friendly fellowship? 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 da 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 hearing, 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 the other’s
better knowledge of his little world, Drew finally went aft to warn the
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 moment before, had sent him aft to warn Medbury of danger, left
Drew strangely bewildered. He turned to his companion, and with a smile
“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
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 doesn’t mean anything,” Medbury told him, “and
prophesying 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.”
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 adventures. One seemed enough.”
“One?” queried Medbury, looking up sharply.
“Yes; Miss March fell across the rail. I caught her just in time. I
thought you saw.”
Medbury’s face flushed.
“I didn’t see,” he said. “I didn’t understand.”
It was Drew’s face that flushed now.
“I ought to explain,” he began, but Medbury broke in:
“You haven’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.