Drew’s face brightened.

For a quarter of an hour Thomas Medbury had been standing at the east
window of his mother’s parlor, gazing out across his neighbor’s yard
with an eager intentness that betrayed a surprising absorption in a
landscape without striking features and wholly lacking in any human
interest. The low-studded room in which he stood was closely shut and
darkened, having about it the musty smell peculiar to old houses. There
were sea-fans before the fireplace, flanked on each side by polished
conch-shells. On the wall hung an oil-painting of the brig _North
Star_, with all sail set, and at her foretruck a white burgee, with
her name in red letters, standing straight out in half a gale of wind.
Family portraits in oval gilt frames were ranged with mathematical
precision along the remaining wall-spaces, and on the mantelpiece stood
a curious collection of objects brought from far lands–carved ivories
and strange ware from China, peculiar shells, a Japanese short sword,
and a South Pacific war-club. No one would have needed to be told that
it was the home of a sailor.

Indeed, a keen observer might have guessed it from the young man
himself. He was tall and broad-shouldered, and bronzed to the color of
overripe wheat. His eyes had the steady, far-seeing look of the seaman,
but were not yet marked about by the crow’s-feet that the glare of the
sun on the sea brings early in life. It was, moreover, a strong face,
straightforward and pleasant, and irradiated by an almost boyish

Suddenly he leaned forward with quickened interest as the door of his
neighbor’s house opened, and there stepped forth a short, stout man
of sixty, who stood a moment for a last word and then hurried down
the boxwood-lined path. He, too, was clearly a sailor: he walked with
his feet far apart, like a man so habituated to the rolling deck that
it seemed a waste of time and energy to alter his gait on the rare
occasions when he trod the firm ground. Medbury perceived that his
face wore a look of placid satisfaction, and with the tightening of
the lines of his own to an unspoken resolution, he hurried through
the house and across the yard, and, vaulting the low dividing fence,
approached his neighbor’s back door.

He lifted the latch without knocking, and at once came face to face
with a wet-eyed young woman standing at a table and listlessly cutting
out sugar-cookies with a tin mold. A child of four, leaning against
her, reached eagerly for the cutter, and a boy of ten sat near the
stove, softly crying.

“Annie,” said Medbury, abruptly, “where’s Bob? I want to see him.”

“He’s up-stairs, packing. He’s going out with Cap’n Joel March,” said
the young woman, tragically. The boy by the stove broke into a wail,
and she turned sharply toward him.

“Do stop it, Bobbie!” she exclaimed. Then she walked toward the door to
call her husband.

She returned at once, her husband, tall, brown, and wiry, walking
behind her with the subdued step of a culprit who feels that by
stepping softly, smiling unobtrusively, and gainsaying no man, he may
escape, through his humility, what he deserves for his misconduct. His
good-natured face lighted up at sight of Medbury.

“Bob,” said Medbury, without other prelude than a nod, “I want you to
do me a favor: don’t go out this trip with Cap’n Joel.”

The other smiled uncertainly and seated himself.

“Why, that’s a funny thing to ask, Tom,” he said wonderingly. “Annie’s
been at me, of course; but I don’t see what odds it makes to you. It’s
a good berth, and it don’t seem right to let the chance go by. Besides,
I’ve promised the old man. I can’t back out now.”

“But he promised _me_ he’d stay home a spell,” broke in his wife. “He
thinks that’s nothing. He’s just got home, after being away eleven
months. Why, baby didn’t know him!”

Under the concentrated gaze of her elders, the child contemplated her
father as a blinking puppy might have looked at an object that, from
being unfamiliar and terrifying, had gradually become an accepted but
still unexplained phenomenon. But presently she turned to Medbury.

“Him gived me a pen-n-y,” she said, with a serene gravity that seemed
to concern itself with the fact as a historical statement rather than
as a personal gratification.

Medbury seized her and tossed her, giggling, in his arms.

“He did, did he?” he exclaimed. “Well, he doesn’t deserve to have
another if he can’t stay home and get acquainted with you.” He seated
himself, and, with the child snuggling against him, turned to her
father again.

“It’s a shame, Bob, after promising Annie. Mother says she hasn’t
talked about anything for six months except your coming home for a
while. She said you were going to paint the house and fix things up,
and she’s been running around asking everybody about the best kind of
paint, and planning where to set out shrubs and make flower-beds, and
dig up a little garden for the children. And now you run off at the
first chance!”

“Why, I don’t see why you take it so to heart, Tom,” said Bob, smiling,
but a little grieved. He felt they ought to feel that he did it only
for the best.

“Well, I’ll tell you why: I want to go myself. I asked Cap’n Joel to
take me, but he wouldn’t hear to it. Now, if he can’t get anybody else,
he’s bound to let me go in the end.”

Bob looked at him in amazement.

“Why, you’re going to have the new bark! What do you care for–” Then
all at once his face broke into a comprehending grin. “Oh, I see,” he
added. He sat for a moment smiling down at the floor. “All right, Tom,”
he said, looking up at last. “I’ll do it. I wouldn’t for anybody else.
I really didn’t want to go, but I felt I ought to. But what I’m going
to say to the old man–” He looked at them with a troubled face.

“Nothing,” replied Medbury, promptly. He turned to the boy, who
was listening eagerly, the new hope of keeping his father at home
brightening his tear-stained cheeks. “Bobbie, go over and tell my
mother you want my fish-lines; then run up to Cap’n March’s and tell
him your father can’t go, after all. And hurry right back; your
father’s going to take you fishing.”

The boy went out of the door and over the fence with a wild whoop of
unrestrained joy. Medbury caught up a hat and put it on his friend’s

“You’ll find my boat under Simeon’s shop; everything’s in her,” he
told him. “We’ll send Bobbie right down. And hurry; the tide’s right
for fishing now. You want to get right off.” He laughed boyishly. Then
he gently pushed Bob toward the door and watched him going down the

“Well, that’s done,” he said to Annie, and stepped outside, with his
hand still holding the latch. Suddenly he looked back. “Annie,” he
said, “tell Bob I want him to go out with me as mate when the bark’s
finished. Of course that’s six months away; but tell him to keep it in
mind.” With that he hurriedly closed the door.

The boy returned, and followed his father, and five minutes later
Captain March turned in at the gate. His face was no longer placid,
but wore a look of annoyance. Medbury, watching him, saw him go away
a moment later, hurrying toward the harbor, taking shorter steps than
usual, and biting his bearded under lip in his perplexity.

“Seems kind o’ mean to bother the old fellow,” Medbury said to himself,
looking troubled. He shook the feeling off as he added: “I guess it’s
for his good. Now he’ll look up Davis; he’s the only man he can get.”

As he passed out of his gate, Annie called to him from her doorway. She
was smiling.

“I wish you good luck, Tom.”

“Thank you, Annie,” he replied. “Don’t tell about this.”

She shook her head and laughed.

“Not till it comes out all right,” she promised.

John Davis was sitting in the shipyard watching the carpenters setting
up a stern-post for a new vessel, and there the captain found him.
Medbury, watching them, saw them go away together; but at the corner of
the Shore Road and Main street they separated.

Half-way up High street, Medbury caught up with Davis.

“You’re walking fast, John,” he said.

“Just shipped with Cap’n Joel,” Davis replied, not slacking his gait,
but rather increasing it, as befitted a little man, sensitive as to his
size, when walking with a long-legged companion.

“That’s what I wanted to see you about,” Medbury told him. “You’re not
going.” He smiled, but he glanced uneasily at Davis out of the corners
of his eyes.

Davis stopped and looked at him. He was a middle-aged man with a red
beard and an uncertain temper, and now he stared at Medbury with
flushing face. Then he broke into a laugh.

“I ain’t, eh?” he demanded good-naturedly. “I’d like to know why not.”

Medbury smiled and laid his hand on the other’s shoulder.

“Because I want to go myself, John,” he replied. “I’ve _got_ to go.”

Davis stared at him with dropping jaw.


“That’s what I said,” Medbury replied.

For a moment Davis stood grinning uncertainly; then he looked up.

“Where’s the joke?” he asked. “Blamed if I see it.”

“It’s no joke,” said Medbury, patiently. “I’ve _got_ to go. I can’t
tell why–just now; but some day I may.”

Davis gazed up and down the street with an abstracted air; but all at
once he drew himself together and exclaimed:

“Well, I’ll be–” He broke off suddenly, and, turning sharply, began to
walk back to the village.

“Where are you going?” asked Medbury, still standing in the road.

Over his shoulder Davis answered laconically:

“To tell the ol’ man I can’t go.” He did not stop.

“It’s mighty good of you, John,” Medbury called humbly. “I’ll make it
up to you somehow–see if I don’t.”

“Make it up!” cried Davis, stopping in the road. “I don’t want nothin’
made up. You made it up, years ago, when you got me out of that affair
in Para. You didn’t ask no questions that night; nor when you run
across our bar in that no’theaster to fish up my boy when his boat
capsized. I don’t know what you’re up to, and I don’t care. It’s all
right.” He waved his hand lightly, as if to dismiss all obligations,
and departed in search of Captain March.

But half a dozen steps away, Medbury heard him laugh, and turned to see
him standing in the road, looking back.

“Just this minute saw what you was aimin’ at,” he called to Medbury.
“Well, good luck to you!” And, grinning to himself, he went his way.

“Now,” thought Medbury, “if Cap’n March’ll only keep his eyes open for
the rest of the day, I guess he’s not going to miss seeing me. I shall
be near, but not too near. Only I wish I knew of something to hurry
him up before too many people laugh and wish me luck.”

Fate, in the hands of a woman, was to do that for him.

With something of the serene imperturbability that was a part of
his habitual attitude toward life, the Rev. Robert Drew sat in a
rocking-chair on the little porch of his house and, slowly rocking,
looked out across the waters of the placid bay while he awaited Captain
March’s summons. For twenty-four hours he had scarcely stirred from
home, that he might be in instant readiness for departure on the coming
of the captain’s messenger; but the messenger still tarried, and the
_Henrietta C. March_, lying quietly at anchor off the harbor with her
mainsail up, seemed no nearer to sailing than she had been the day

It was early in March–March that had come in like a lamb and now
lay drowsing under a sun that hourly reddened the buds and gleamed
white on the salt-meadows and the shining boles of trees. There were
bird-calls at intervals; barnyard fowls sunned themselves in garden
spaces and sent up cloudy veils of dust: the life of the earth was
awakening. Drew could see dark specks about the harbor’s mouth: he knew
that the boats had begun to go out for flatfish. The thought of even
that mild activity moved him to impatience, and, getting to his feet,
he walked to an open window and looked in.

“Mother,” he said, “I’m going to find Captain March and get some reason
from him why he doesn’t sail. He can get a good mate, I hear; I don’t
understand his delaying. I’m tired of it. If he isn’t going, I wish to
know it, and arrange for a vacation elsewhere.”

“Very well, Robert.” His mother looked up brightly. Her son as an
instrument of strenuous aggressiveness amused her. She had the sense
of humor, which he had not inherited, and it was this sense that lured
her on to add: “Don’t say anything that you may regret.”

“Oh, no,” he answered gravely, and went away, leaving her to the silent
laughter that always seemed to him, whenever he was a witness of it, as
something peculiarly elusive and almost pagan.

In all Blackwater there was no cooler spot than Myron Beckwith’s
boat-shop. Facing the Shore Road, and standing on piles, with big
sliding doors opening at each end, on a hot summer afternoon one could
always find a cool breeze drawing through it and hear the water lapping
about the piles beneath the floor. The panorama of village life passed
by on the Shore Road, and at the back doors one could sit and watch all
the activity of harbor and wharves and see the vessels going up and
down the sound. To sailors ashore and to idlers in general it was an
attractive spot. Here Drew found Captain March standing in a little
group near the rear doors, ruminating on life.

“No,” he was saying, “things go best by contraries. A sailor ought
to marry a girl from the inboard, who doesn’t know a scow from a
full-rigged ship and is just a little scart at sight of salt water.
A man like the dominie here,” he added, as Drew halted by the group,
“ought to marry a girl who’s never been under conviction and has got a
spice of old Satan in her. That’s what gives ’em variety and keeps ’em
interested. When you know just what you’re going to have for your meals
every day, you kind o’ lose interest in your eating.”

“Dominie,” said Jehiel Dace, “you ought to get the cap’n to supply
your pulpit while you’re off on your vacation. He’s a good deal of a

“I have other uses for him,” said Drew, with a smile.

“‘Twouldn’t be a bad notion if we’d all change places now and then,”
replied the captain. “We’d appreciate each other better. I don’t
know but I could preach about as well as the dominie could run the
_Henrietta C._ I ain’t so sure about the prayers. One thing, there’s
several in that congregation I’d like to talk at.”

“Nothin’ to hender you from freein’ your mind as it is,” suggested
Dace, brightening at the prospect. “You don’t need no pulpit for that.”

There was a twinkle in Captain March’s eyes, but he shook his head.

“No,” he said with an air of finality, “it wouldn’t be official. Wisdom
has got to have authority to give it weight. Otherwise it’s just blamed

“That’s so,” admitted Dace; “that’s a good deal so. See what a man will
take from his wife without–”

Captain March turned suddenly.

“There he comes!” he exclaimed, and gazed steadily through the open

All eyes, turning in the same direction, saw a horseman galloping down
the Mount Horeb road. He descended the hill, was lost to sight behind
the rigging-loft, flashed past a bit of the Shore Road, and was hidden
again for a moment while they heard the thunder of his horse’s feet on
the mill-creek bridge. Captain March seated himself and, with knees
wide apart, faced the land-side door.

In front of the shop a boy threw himself from a panting horse. He
walked straight up to Captain March, and in much the same manner that a
courier might announce defeat to a king, said:

“He can’t come. His wife’s sick, he says. He can’t come.”

“That settles it,” said the captain. “I heard Simeon Macy was ashore,
and I thought maybe I could get him for mate. Now I’ve got to go to
the city this afternoon and look one up.”

No one spoke, but every man in the group except the captain and
Drew thought of Thomas Medbury, and wondered how far a man might be
justified in letting personal reasons override necessity when his
vessel was loaded and ready for sea.

Dace was the first to break the silence.

“As I was sayin’,” he remarked, “speakin’ of wives–”

Some one touched Drew on the shoulder and he turned quickly. It was
Deacon Taylor, anxious to talk over again the debated subject of a new
heater for the church. When Drew was again free the captain was gone.

“Where did the captain go?” he asked.

“My wisdom touchin’ wives reminded him that his had sent him on an
errant,” answered Dace. “He went to the market. I suppose by now he’s
tryin’ to explain to his wife how he happened to be three hours late
with the meat for dinner.”

At the market Drew was told that Captain March had gone home. When,
after a momentary hesitation, Drew had gone thither, it was only to
find Mrs. March sitting by a window, apparently watching for her
recreant husband.

“And he wanted roast beef for dinner,” sadly remarked that good lady
after she had told the minister that she knew no more about her
husband’s whereabouts than she knew where Moses was buried. She turned
her face from him for an instant.

“It is twelve o’clock, lacking seventeen minutes,” she added in a tone
that suggested the tragic stage. Drew hurried away.

When, after a hopeless search for the missing mariner, he wended his
way homeward half an hour later, he smiled to himself as he wondered if
it was not just as well: he could not for his life tell what he could
have said to urge the captain to sail. At his gate he came face to face
with a breathless small boy.

“Mr. Drew,” he gasped, “Cap’n March he says–he says–you be
at–Myron’s boat-shop–boat-shop by half-past one–yes, sir. He’s goin’
to sail.” Then he disappeared.

In wonder Drew hastened up to his house, to find his mother kneeling on
the floor and strapping a satchel.

“I’ve just put some crullers and a glass of jelly in your bag,” she
told him, without turning. “I don’t suppose you’ll get a thing that
tastes like real cooking. And I put your winter flannels in, too. It
will be cold nights, and you will sit out on deck and get chilled
through. Now come to dinner.”

“I don’t understand this sudden haste,” said Drew, as he took his seat
at the table. “I saw the captain an hour ago, and he showed no signs
of any impatience to be off. It seems too good to be true.”

Mrs. Drew laughed.

“He says the same of you,” she told him. “But if you really get away
you owe it to your mother. I am the god out of the machine–I. I was
tying up the flowering-currant bush by the fence, and Captain March
came by. He was hurrying, my dear. I never saw him hurry before. What
do sailors say–rolling both scuppers under? Yes; it was like that.
I called to him and asked him if he had seen my son. Yes, he had.
Then I told him that if he didn’t sail soon you would need a second
vacation to recover from the nervous strain of waiting for this one to
begin. I let him know how you had done nothing for two days but sit by
your baggage and start at every sound. I told him, too, that you were
constantly worrying lest something should happen to keep you at home
at the last minute; so the sooner you got away the better.”

“Oh, mother! mother!” protested Drew, smiling.

“Oh, I put it strongly–trust me for that. He said he had seen you,
but you had said nothing. I knew it would be like that. Oh, you were
two Buddhas sitting under the sacred Bo-tree, contemplating eternity.
Isn’t that what the Buddha is supposed to do? You were like that, you
two, anyway. Well, he explained everything. He told me that two men
had promised to go out with him as mate, but changed their minds. He
thought it queer. Another asked to go, but, for personal reasons, he
didn’t want him. But as soon as he knew just how you felt he said he’d
go right off for this man. I thought it very good of him. I hope the
man isn’t a rough character. But, Robert, you didn’t tell me that his
wife and daughter are going.” She looked at her son reproachfully.

“Whose wife and daughter? I can’t follow you,” he said.

“The captain’s, of course.”

“I believe he did mention the fact that his wife and little girl
were going, but it made no impression on me,” Drew told her. “I have
scarcely thought of it since.”

“His little girl! Robert, haven’t you ever seen her?”

“No, mother.”

“Well, I suppose you knew of her, though they don’t attend your
church.” Then she changed the subject with an abruptness that was so
characteristic that Drew’s thoughts slipped away from the question
he had been about to ask. “But, do you know,” she said, “I think he
decided to go partly because he forgot his meat for dinner and he’s
afraid of that round, good-natured-looking little wife of his. His
hurry to get away now looks as if he’d been too busy finding a mate to
get home earlier. He told me about it with an intimate chuckle that
seemed to take me right into his family closet and introduce me to the

As Drew made his way through Beckwith’s boat-shop half an hour later
and stopped at the wide sliding doors at the rear, a large yawl was
lying at the float. Three sailors sat on the thwarts, leaning forward
with the characteristic rounded shoulders and relaxed look of idle
seamen. Up the long plank walk from the boat hurried a tall, beardless
young man of twenty-eight or thirty. He walked with a swinging gait,
his shoulders were well back, and his face wore the look of one whose
thoughts were pleasant.

He glanced from Drew to his baggage, then back to Drew again, and
smiled, showing firm white teeth.

“Mr. Drew?” His voice suggested a query, but went on again immediately,
without waiting for an answer: “Tumble in. The old man’s gone aboard.
He wouldn’t wait.”

He paused while Drew gathered up his baggage, but did not offer to
assist. The American seaman is no burden-bearer for other men.

The sailors in the boat turned incurious faces as they heard the two
draw near, then quickly rose and held the yawl to the float till they
were seated in the stern-sheets. In silence the oarsmen then took their
places, shipped their oars, and at Medbury’s word sped away.

Drew looked at his watch as they pulled away from the float.

“It’s not yet the hour Captain March set for leaving,” he said. “I hope
I did not misunderstand it.”

“Oh, that’s the old man’s way,” replied the other, lightly. “Now that
he’s really off, he can’t hurry fast enough–had to get Myron to take
him out in a sailboat while I was to wait for you.”

“Are you a Blackwater man?” asked Drew, later.

“Born here, and my father and grandfather before me. I guess that makes
me a Blackwater man, all right. My name’s Medbury. You know my mother;
she goes to your church.”

Drew’s face brightened.

“Yes, indeed. Now I understand why I’ve never seen you,” he said. “Your
mother told me that you had not been home for more than two years. I’ve
not been here so long. She is very cheerful in her loneliness; I often
stop in to talk to her.”

“Yes,” answered Medbury, soberly; “she told me. It does her lots of
good. She thinks a great deal of you.” He paused a moment, and then
said: “I’ve promised her to take no more long voyages. She’s getting
old, and I’m all she’s got.”

“That’s good,” said Drew, heartily. He was very fond of the
bright-faced old woman who had lived to see the covetous ocean take all
but her youngest boy, and was quite prepared to like her son for her