The _Henrietta C. March_ was a brig of five hundred tons burden, and
was bound for Santa Cruz in the West Indies; and Captain March had
stopped off his home port to take aboard his wife and daughter and
Drew, who had been given a long vacation by his church. The mate of the
brig had been taken suddenly ill, and for two days the captain had been
trying to get a man to fill his place.
It was with an impression of almost Crusoe-like loneliness that Drew
found himself upon the deck when they reached the brig at last, and
the mate, with the crew at his heels, had gone forward to swing the
boat to her place on the center-house, and then to the windlass to
heave the chain short. Drew set his baggage down on the deck and,
walking forward, watched the men heaving at the windlass, the jar and
clank of which filled the vessel. On the quarter-deck the captain, in
his shirt-sleeves and wearing a shapeless brown hat, walked back and
forth, occasionally glancing aloft at the fly, which was beginning
to straighten out in the freshening southwest breeze. His wife and
daughter were nowhere in sight.
The clank of the windlass grew slower and slower as the cable
shortened, and every moment or two Medbury glanced over the bow.
Finally he raised his hand above his head, and the men came trooping
down from the forecastle-deck, some going aloft to loosen sails and
others going to various stations with a businesslike directness that
seemed to Drew to be under the guidance of wordless intuition. He
stood leaning against the fore-rigging as two came toward him with
the unseeing look of men who, having a duty to perform, recognize no
obstacle, and, gently pushing him aside, began to throw to the deck the
coils of running rigging against which he had been leaning. He moved
from place to place, always finding himself in the way and being pushed
aside with the silent directness that seemed purely impersonal, until
at last, throwing off his coat, he began to pull with the rest. In
silence they made place for him. For a time he found his hands catching
awkwardly at halyards and braces and slipping over and under other
harder hands; then at last he caught the swing, and his body rose and
sank with the bodies of the others, and his breathing came heavily and
thickened with theirs. The minister had found himself.
It was not until the brig slowly paid off, heeling before the fresh
breeze, and the outward-bound song began its chant about her forefoot,
that he gathered up his baggage and went aft. Captain March was at the
“Go right down and make yourself to home,” he said. “They’ll show
you your room. I declare, you take a hold like an old hand. We’ll be
sending you aloft in a few days.”
Drew smiled, but shook his head.
“No,” he said; “I shall stick to the deck.”
As he went down the companionway and stepped across the cabin, he saw
the round little form of Mrs. March kneeling before a locker in what
was to be his room. She turned her head at the sound of his footsteps.
“I thought I’d tidy your room up a bit,” she told him. “Gracious
knows, it needs it. You’d think it started out as a carpenter shop or
sail-loft, but got discouraged and ended up just plain litter. I guess
Cap’n March has left house-cleaning out of his almanac. And he said
this room was clean!”
“Oh, I am sure it will do nicely, Mrs. March,” Drew replied. “My mother
says I’m fond of a comfortable disorder.”
“I guess men are all alike in that,” she said: “they like a
clutter–they think it’s having things handy. But I hope you’ll excuse
my back,” she went on. “I was just telling my daughter that I was
almost ashamed to show my face to you. There I was scolding about Cap’n
March being so late, when all the time you and he were so anxious to
get off and he scurrying around to find a mate. I declare, sometimes it
seems as if the good Lord didn’t do his best by women when he gave them
tongues. They’re like drums to little children–make a dreadful noise
and keep them from better things.”
Drew smiled. It seemed clear that the captain had used some latitude in
explaining his late return home. Meanwhile Mrs. March was backing out
of the room.
“There,” she said; “it’s in a sort of order, if you don’t look too
Ten minutes later Drew came out into the cabin, having put away his
“I am sure the room couldn’t be better, Mrs. March,” he said. “It seems
to me delightfully cozy and neat.”
Mrs. March shook her head and smiled as she said:
“I’d ‘a’ been better satisfied if you hadn’t mentioned its being so
nice. I’ve noticed this about men folks, that when things suit them,
they don’t notice them. When Cap’n March talks and acts like a man
right out of the Bible, I’m sure he’s been up to mischief, or else has
something unpleasant on his mind, one.”
Drew laughed as he replied:
“Then I’m going to cultivate wise silences, Mrs. March. I’ll give you
the impression of a man walking in a dream. I have come on this voyage
to learn things; you are not letting me lose any time.”
“Oh, if you came to learn things, you’ll be wasting time by talking
with the rest of us: you must go to my daughter here. She’s been
called to that, you know–to teach all men and nations.” Her voice
held a curious note: pride, resentment, anxiety, all seemed to marshal
themselves in the words.
Drew turned quickly at the one word, to see the daughter standing in
the doorway of her room. He noticed that while the girl’s brow was
drawn in a frown, her lips had the undecided irregularity of curve that
hinted at a smile suppressed. This study of particulars did not make
him any the less alert to a general impression of striking beauty. He
smiled and bowed somewhat elaborately, to which the girl returned a
curt little nod, though her answering smile was friendly.
He had the tact to seem not to recognize the tension and to turn to
other subjects, and he now said, with a heartiness that seemed to have
long been waiting for expression, that they really were off at last.
His glance at the hanging lamp over the table, gently swaying in its
gimbals, had the effect of bringing the corroborative testimony of its
motion to their notice, while he went on to add that it seemed too
good to be true. He said that ever since the brig had anchored off the
harbor he had been haunted by the fear that something would happen at
the last moment to keep him at home. Not till now had he felt safe.
“It’s the other way about with me,” said Mrs. March. “I shall not feel
safe till I get home again. If the Lord meant for us to go wandering
about on the face of the waters, he would have made them steady enough
to build roads on. If he put people ‘way on the other side of the
earth, he meant them to stay there–and us, too,” she added lamely,
but with sufficient clearness.
Drew halted half-way up the companionway.
“You don’t mean to say that you are afraid of the sea, Mrs. March,” he
asked, “after all your voyages?”
“I’ve been going with Cap’n March off and on for twenty-five–yes,
thirty–years,” she answered; “yet I never go out of sight of land
without feeling that I’m making faces at my Maker and daring him to
“Oh, mother’s fear is her most precious possession,” said the girl,
now for the first time coming forth into the cabin. “Nothing has ever
happened to her at sea; and that, she feels, is the best reason for
thinking that something is bound to happen the next time.” She put her
hand on the elder woman’s shoulder and smiled down on her from her
“Well, that’s reasonable,” retorted Mrs. March. “I was never one to
shut my eyes and claim it wasn’t thundering. I’ve got my hearing. What
does the good Lord give us feelings for if he doesn’t mean us to use
them?” With this challenge to unbelief in design in nature, she went to
Captain March was still at the wheel when Drew returned to the deck.
Medbury was forward with the crew, busily stowing the anchor. Little
by little, Blackwater was disappearing behind the high white cliffs.
Drew took up the glass which lay in its box against the frame of the
sliding hood of the companionway and looked toward the village. Even
as he looked, the white spire of his church disappeared from view. He
saw it vanish, and put the glass down, to see the girl standing in the
companionway watching the changing shore.
“I’ve seen the last of my church for three months,” he said to her;
“now I am really loose and free.”
“It’s good to get away from responsibility for a while,” she said. “I
feel now as if I could dismiss all thought and worry until I return.
Then things may look different to me. I am going to think so, anyway.”
“Hetty,” said the captain, “just run down and get my pipe off my desk,
won’t you? You’re younger than I am. Besides, I’m busy.” He turned
to Drew. “Ashore I smoke cigars mostly; my wife says a pipe’s low.
But here I’m master.” He looked about his little kingdom with a mild,
His daughter brought his pipe, and, with the gentle look not yet gone
from his face, he was filling it when a boyish-looking lad came aft
along the starboard side of the house, sent by the mate to take the
wheel. Drew, watching the captain, saw his face change. As the lad
came to the quarter-deck, the captain pointed a stubby finger at
him. “You–” he began harshly, and then hesitated and glanced at his
daughter. The boy stopped and turned a frightened look upon the captain.
“Ever been to sea before?” demanded the captain.
“Yes, sir,” faltered the boy.
“Along the sound here–last summer,” he answered.
“Ah,” said the captain; then he added: “Didn’t you learn the le’ward
side of a vessel?”
The boy gave a startled look aloft, and then, with a flaming face,
turned quickly and came back along the lee side of the house. The
captain gave him the course, and without another word walked over to
the rail, where his daughter stood with Drew.
“Sometimes they forget, sometimes they’re green and don’t know, and
sometimes it’s just impudence,” he said in a voice that the boy could
hear. “No matter which it is, ninety-nine times in a hundred the
sailorman who does it tumbles right into trouble. This happened to be
the hundredth time.”
His daughter took him by the shoulders and shook him gently.
“Do you mean to say,” she asked in a low voice, “that you might have
punished that boy for coming aft on the wrong side? You could see he
had forgotten or didn’t know. Would you?”
He smiled upon her.
“Well,” he answered, “he’d have remembered the next time if I had.”
She drew back haughtily.
“I am going to parade–_parade_ up and down that gangway by the hour!”
she told him.
Her father chuckled.
“Nothing to hinder,” he declared.
“You’re not down on the articles as a forecastle-hand, are you?”
She did not stay to listen, but went indignantly away; at the cabin
door, however, she turned and came back.
“You wouldn’t have done it,” she told him; “I know you wouldn’t.” She
stooped–she was taller than he–and kissed him lightly. Then she went
Her father gazed after her.
“Sometimes she’s a thousand feet tall,” he said to Drew; “and then
“No taller than your heart,” suggested Drew as he hesitated.
“That’s about it, I guess,” said the captain.
The wind freshened as night came on, and had a touch of winter in its
sting. They were now running fast by the coast, the high cliffs of
which rose dark and desolate on the starboard. The water was black,
save where it ran hissing along the sides in a ragged gray ribbon of
foam. Behind them, in the west, a crimson flush lingered in the sky.
Drew stood at the break in the poop-deck, watching the shadowy forms
of the crew moving about the deck forward as they made the royal snug
for the night; far overhead he could hear the pennant halyards slatting
against the topmast in the dark. Every taut line and halyard sang in
the breeze, and there was a dull, humming roar in the canvas; under the
lower sails, across the deck, the wind swept crackling and keen.
He heard the mate’s last “That’s well; belay!” and watched him come
aft. He passed without speaking, then hesitated and came back.
“After we get through the Race,” he said, “we’ll begin to get the
swell.” He spoke absent-mindedly, as if he were thinking of something
quite different; then he walked to the rail and sat down. Drew followed
Leaning his elbows on his knees, Medbury sat for a long time without
speaking; at last he looked up with a little laugh.
“I’d give something to be out of this,” he said. “I was a fool to
come. I might have known better. It’s funny, but a man may know a
woman all his life, and at the end of the time know as little about
her as if he’d never seen her–that is, _really_ know her–how she’ll
take things. Now, I suppose this was the very worst thing I could
have done. All that I’ve got to do is to wait till she gets ready and
she’ll tell me so. Oh, I can see just how she’ll look and what she’ll
say! I don’t need to have her tell me. ‘You might have thought of _my_
feelings!'”–he changed his voice,–“that’s what she’ll say. And I–”
he broke off impatiently.
Drew looked at him in bewilderment.
“I don’t think I understand,” he said.
“You don’t? Why, mother said she told you all about it one time when
you were at the house; she said she had to tell some one. That’s how I
felt to-night, and I thought you knew.”
A light broke in upon Drew.
“Ah!” he said. Then he went on: “Yes, she told me; but she did not tell
me the young lady’s name. It is Miss March?”
“Yes,” Medbury answered. “I thought you must know. You’d have been the
only one in Blackwater if you hadn’t. Sometimes I feel like the town
clock, with every one watching my face. That’s one reason why I like
the China seas; I can’t get farther away.”
“Your mother told me very little,” said Drew; “she was worrying about
your not coming home, and lonely, and it did her good to speak. It
did not seem to me a hopeless situation as she told it. Captain March
strikes me as being a reasonable man.”
“I guess she didn’t tell you all, then. Well, I was thinking of what
she said and how much she thought of you, and, thinking you knew, I
made up my mind to ask your advice. I felt that I had to talk to some
one.” He hesitated a moment and then, with a boyish laugh, went on:
“You see, Hetty and I had always been pretty good friends from the time
we went to school together. Well, I’ve never got over it. When I first
went to sea she used to write to me; but after a while she went out to
Oberlin to live with an aunt while she went to college; and as I was
half the time on the other side of the world, we kind of lost track of
each other. I guess she lost track of me more than I did of her, for
she’s changed since I saw her last, three years ago, and I can’t quite
make her out. She’s friendly enough, but she’s different, and has come
home with a wild notion of going out to China as a missionary. Good
Lord! a girl like that to be thrown away on those–” He could think
of no word strong enough to convey his contempt. “Well,” he went on,
“I can’t see any place for me in that plan, but that doesn’t seem
to trouble her. That’s what worries me. Of course the old man’s set
against her going; but he’s set against me, too, because I’m a sailor.
That’s the way things stand. When I heard she was going out with her
father this trip, and the mate was sick, I rushed off to the old man
and offered to go with him. He wouldn’t hear of it, and engaged two
others; but I saw them privately, and they backed out. The old man
can’t understand why they did. To-day he came to me, and here I am.
I’ve been offered a good vessel, and I intended to stay home a spell;
but when I heard Hetty was going, it seemed to me it was my last
chance–to go with her; but I guess it was a mistake. I can see she
thinks I’ve done a foolish thing, and is angry.”
“I think I can understand how she feels–how most women would feel,”
said Drew, slowly, after a long pause. “Her sense of justice is
outraged–perhaps that’s too strong a word; but she feels that you have
taken an unfair advantage of her in leaving her no way of escape. She
might not have cared to escape, but she likes to feel that retreat is
open to her. A woman fights at a disadvantage in these things; she is
more sensitive to public opinion than are men, and she has the instinct
of a hunted creature. I don’t know that I can make it clear,” he
concluded hopelessly. “Then, too, I may be wholly wrong.”
“Well, I don’t know what I am going to do, now I’m here,” said Medbury,
“I should say, attend strictly to business and see her as little as
possible for a while,” Drew told him. “As for her anger, that may be a
good sign. If she were simply indifferent to you, she wouldn’t care.
She could leave it safely to time to make your coming ridiculous.”
When Drew entered the cabin, an hour later, Hetty sat at the table
reading, shading her eyes with her hand; her mother sat knitting near
her; and on the lounge her father reclined, pipe in mouth, his hat
on the floor beside him. Blinking in the strong light, Drew sat down
without removing his overcoat.
“Ain’t you going to stay a while?” asked the captain. “You can’t make
church calls to-night.”
“No,” he said; “that’s true. I’m out of that. But I’m going back on
deck soon. I can’t get enough of it: the world seems all sky and stars.
I had lost sight of the fact that the earth is so trivial.”
Captain March let his feet come slowly to the floor and picked up his
“That’s a good deal so,” he said. “Still, there’s enough earth lying
loose around the Race to keep me from forgetting it, at least till
we’ve dropped it astern. I guess I’ll go take a look up on deck.”
As her father disappeared, Hetty laid down her book and looked up.
“Where are we now?” she asked Drew.
“Little Gull Island light is just ahead of us,” he answered.
“That will be our last sight of land, won’t it?” she asked. “I’m going
up to say good-by.”
When she had gone, her mother dropped her knitting in her lap.
“I guess ministers are used to people coming to them with all their
troubles,” she began, with a plaintive little note creeping into her
usually cheery voice, “and I _do_ hope you won’t think I’m trying to
spoil your vacation by troubling you with ours; but Cap’n March and I
have talked and talked till we ain’t on speaking terms with our own
judgments any more, and what to do next I don’t know.” Then she, too,
told the story.
At the end of her hurried recital she said:
“What she thinks of Tom I don’t know; she’s awfully close-mouthed
about some things. I like Tom, and if I had my way I guess I’d let the
young folks settle it themselves. But Cap’n March he’s different. He’s
going to take it for granted that she won’t think of Tom because her
father disapproves of her marrying a sailor; and he will be so sure of
it, and so exasperating, that I don’t know what he’ll _make_ her do
first–marry Tom or go right off to China. In the end he’ll let her do
just what she makes up her mind to do. He always did, and he always
will. If it’s one thing, I don’t care; but to think of her going off
alone to the other side of the world–” She picked up her work and
began to knit rapidly, with fast-falling tears.
Drew sat with his elbow on the back of the chair, his chin in the palm
of his hand, looking down at the floor.
“I wish I knew what to say–to advise, Mrs. March,” he now said; “but I
do not. Perhaps after a while–”
“Yes,” she broke in eagerly; “that’s all we could expect. I told
Cap’n March I was going to speak to you, and he seemed real pleased.
I’m sure you’ll think of some way out,” she added, with the cheerful
optimism with which we shift the burden of our desperate affairs to
the shoulders of others. It is hard to believe that Fate will continue
unkind when our friends are moved. “And I hope,” she went on, “that
you won’t feel it a duty to encourage Hetty’s missionary notions. Of
course you’re a minister and believe in missionaries, and I shouldn’t
ask you to go against your conscience; but I suppose you can believe
in them without thinking that everybody’s fit for the work. I’m sure
Hetty isn’t. All the missionary women I ever saw were thin and homely,
and their clothes seemed just thrown at them. Hetty isn’t a bit like
that. I can say so, if she is my daughter. And I’ve scarcely seen her
for three years; and if now she should go away to live at the end of
the world among heathen idols, with not a homelike thing, and no one to
mother her when she needs mothering, then I think that religion is very
kind to the heathen, who don’t want it, and very cruel to a mother who
has always been a God-fearing woman and only wants her child near her
when she comes to die. She’s all I’ve got.”
She had been speaking with increasing rapidity, but now a light
footfall sounded on deck, going aft, and she stopped.
“Go up on deck,” she said to Drew. “I don’t want her to know I’ve ever
mentioned this to you. She’s a dear girl, but sometimes I feel like a
hen who is the mother of a duckling. What she’s going to do next I
Drew met the girl by the corner of the house.
“I’ve been showing father the stars,” she said. “He, a sailor, and not
to know them! I told him I thought it shameful.”
“I suppose he knew the north star,” he said, smiling.
“Oh, yes; he knew that. The others didn’t seem to impress him. He said
they were too shifty to be of much use.”
“I think there are some folks who know so much that it kind o’ clogs
their brains and keeps them from working right,” said Captain March,
coming up behind her. “I have an idea that we can use just about so
much, and all over and above that is just pure waste. I once had a
mate that was like that. He could name all the stars, too, and knew a
good many things of that sort that didn’t help him much to find his
longitude; but as for the look of the sky, or the heave of the sea,
or the feel of the wind, that meant nothing more to him than so much
blank paper. Now, when I walk the deck at night and look up and see
the stars shining overhead, winter or summer, they’re company for me.
That’s enough for me; what men call ’em I don’t care. I suppose the
good Lord’s got his own names for them.”
Hetty stayed on deck till Little Gull Island light came abreast; but
when she had gone below the captain sought out Drew as he stood by the
main-rigging and told him his daughter’s desire. He made no mention of
“Her mother thought you might help us,” he concluded; “and I hope
you can, for we’re in sore trouble. Still, I don’t ask you to advise
against your conscience. Now I say, ‘No,’ to her; but if she feels
she’s got to go, and doesn’t change, why, I shall say, ‘Yes,’ in the
end. I know that. My father always wanted me to stay ashore, but I
was wild to go to sea. It seemed that I _had_ to go, and in the end I
did. I don’t know that I got all I expected, but I got what I wanted;
and if my girl sets her heart on this as the only way for her to lead
her life, why, I sha’n’t put a stone in her way when once I’m sure. It
wouldn’t be right.”
Hetty had spread a shawl on the forward end of the house, and, with her
arm resting on the slide of the companionway, sat with an unopened book
in her lap and looked out across the shining sea. It was three bells
or more, and the morning sun was warm upon her face, and painted with
rainbow hues the spray that the fresh northwest wind clipped from every
toppling wave. The brig was sliding down the seas like a boy let loose
from school, now dipping her nose into a long roller with chuckling
hawse-pipes, now sinking into the blue hollows, sending the sheeted
spray outward for yards as her counter came home with a jarring thud.
The spars whined unceasingly, but the sails, bellying in the steady
breeze, made scarcely a sound, save when a sudden lurch spilled the
wind from the canvas, and it snapped like a great whip.
The scene, with the vividness of its new sensations, now for the first
time experienced, impressed itself upon Drew’s mind as something wholly
mysterious and strangely moving. After the first night, when there had
been no sea, he had remained steadily below, too ill to rise; but the
sickness had now passed, and it was with only the uncertainty of gait
of one not yet accustomed to the motion of the vessel that he had made
his way to the deck and looked out over the watery world.
[Illustration: “The brig was sliding down the seas like a boy let loose
With a sense of aloofness, of absolute separation, from all that he had
ever known, he gazed about him. The words,
“Look’d at each other with a wild surmise.
Silent, upon a peak in Darien,”
flashed through his mind: the perfect poem seemed strangely
interpretative of his mood. Then his gaze came back from the notched
and leaping horizon to the silent figure of Hetty, and, with the
lifting spirit of a mind released from the oppression of a strange and
portentous solitude, he clumsily made his way to her side, glad for
She looked up brightly.
“Oh,” she said, “I was wishing for some one to enjoy it with. I tried
to get my mother, but she would not come up. She said she could _feel_
it; that was enough for her. I hope it is not enough for you.”
“No,” he answered; “there is more in seeing it: it is strange and
overwhelming. I am inland-bred, you know: I feel as if all known things
had passed away.”
“To me it is like coming home,” she declared. “I cannot remember when
it was not familiar. Now it is like lifting the latch of the door at
home after a long absence.”
He shook his head, smiling.
“I cannot imagine any one thinking of it as companionable, as a part of
actual experience. I need hills and old trees and remembered turns in
roads to feel the intimacy of the world. This is strange and beautiful,
but leaves me an alien. It is like a kaleidoscope: nothing is twice the
“I do not care for things that are twice the same,” she told him. “Here
something is always likely to happen. The only certain thing I know of
to-morrow is that we shall have plum-duff.” She laughed.
He looked at her, gravely smiling.
“A certain noble discontent–you know the thought–is well; but–”
he was thinking of her mother’s concern, and her words carried him
toward it; yet he hesitated, doubtful if it might not be too soon to
speak–“but constant change means lack of purpose, doesn’t it? If you
set your heart on something,–something vastly different from anything
you have ever known,–it will be fruitless of good unless persisted
in–unless it wears grooves in your life. A mere impulse for change is
to be distrusted.” He smiled and added: “Don’t think that I cannot give
“I know what you mean,” replied the girl, looking seaward with troubled
eyes. “I suppose mother has told you what I wish. But it isn’t a mere
desire for change, and everybody’s disapproval only makes me more eager
to go. Isn’t that a proof that the desire is something to be obeyed–a
real call? How can I be sure that it is not, unless I try? Do you think
me a silly person?” She looked at him with a suggestion of defiance,
but smilingly, too.
“I should be the last one to think that,” he told her. “Only look at it
from all sides–that is all your friends can ask.”
“Not father,” she answered laughingly. “If I can be made to look at
it from his point of view, he will willingly spare me the rest. Poor
father! But let’s not speak of it,” she went on. “Look! the Mother
She pointed to the bird, the black-and-white little creature which
always seems to be hurrying home, wherever it may be. Far to the
southeast a trail of smoke from an unseen steamer blotched the white
sky. On the main-deck the second mate and a sailor were patching a
topsail; from the galley drifted aft the cheerful whistling of the
steward, like a flock of blackbirds, and the homelike sound of rattling
pans. Only the man at the wheel was aft, now bending to the spokes, now
glancing at the binnacle, and now turning his eye aloft to the luff of
the mainsail. It was the morning of the third day out.
Drew was silent so long that she turned a troubled face to him.
“You must not think that I do not care for your advice,” she said
gently; “I do–shall some day. Just now I cannot bear to speak of my
disappointment. It wasn’t a sudden impulse; it was a part of my life,
and it must be given up, perhaps. After a little, when I can collect my
scattered forces, if you can help me–” She smiled uncertainly.
“I know, I know,” he hastened to say. “But I was really thinking of
something quite different–that three days ago I had not even seen you;
now our lives seem intimately near. Only at sea could that happen.”
“Yes,” she agreed; “people grow into friendship quickly at sea–and
grow apart as quickly. I have heard my father say that is a reason
for the cruelty and harshness on shipboard–that men’s tempers become
warped when they cannot escape from one another and they find no common
ground for companionship. He says there have been times when he fairly
hated a mate of his. On shore they might have been intimate for years
without an unpleasant thought.”
“Let us hope that we may escape that disaster,” he said, with a smile.
He wondered if Medbury had been in her thoughts. They had scarcely
spoken, he had observed. He himself had seen little of the younger
man, and he was quite prepared to rate him her inferior, in spite of
his physical attractiveness. He seemed a mere boy in his impulses;
he doubted not that he would keep his boyishness to the end of life.
Certainly, he told himself, he was lacking in her capacity for growth.
Meanwhile his own first opinion of her beauty had not changed; it
was as apparent as ever, he told himself, and had taken on an added
grace with his widening knowledge of her many changing moods. As he
gazed at her now, he had an impression of distinction, but distinction
united with a certain gentleness that, he told himself, was rare. Her
face was in profile, and the mouth, clear-cut and undrooping, had the
softness of outline that he associated with good temper. Her eyes,
though now sad, had the same gentle look. He liked her thick brown
hair and the clear oval of her face: they gave him the impression of
harmony. In spite of his first feeling of attraction for Medbury, he
felt that the girl hesitated wisely; he could see no road by which
the two could travel as equal companions. That Medbury’s hopes seemed
destined to be shattered did not move him greatly; for rarely to the
masculine onlooker is the disappointed lover a tragic figure. One has
seen him play his game and lose; now let him bear the loss manfully.
They did not speak of her desire again that day; indeed, eight days
passed before he ventured to refer to it. Meanwhile they had become
great friends. The pleasant weather had held, and they had rolled down
the long, smooth seas, which daily seemed to grow bluer, under a sky
that remained cloudless.
It was morning again, the morning of the eleventh day out, and they
sat in the same place, with much the same scene about them, though now
with a tropical softness flooding the world, and less heeded as their
thoughts turned more to themselves. He had been reading aloud while she
worked at some trifle, but suddenly he closed the book.
“That is enough of other men’s dreams,” he said. “What of yours?”
She did not even look up as she replied:
“Mine are poor enough; I prefer those of others. Besides, I have
scarcely thought of them for days.”
“Are they less insistent?” he asked.
“Don’t!” she appealed. “Don’t! I am not yet ready to face them. I have
lost my courage.”
“I will say no more,” he said; “but I had thought that you seemed
different–ready to surrender. I had hoped so.”
She looked up now.
“Are you against me, too?” she demanded.
“Can you believe that?” he asked. “I had thought that I was for you–as
we all are.”
“You are all making it very hard for me,” she told him.
A step sounded on the forward companionway, and Medbury appeared. He
glanced past them to the man at the wheel, looked aloft, then walked
slowly to the break of the deck. Suddenly he came back and seated
himself on the corner of the house near them. Apparently he had wearied
He was manifestly trying to appear wholly at ease, and he began to
talk at once, and very rapidly, like one repeating a speech that had
been learned by heart. He spoke of the wind and the run of the vessel,
and he told them that they had not touched a sheet for more than sixty
hours. He said he hoped that it would last, though he added that he
“When ought we to get out, Tom?” asked Hetty. She bit off her thread
as she spoke, and, spreading her work on her lap, examined it
“If the wind holds, in four or five days,” he answered; “but I’m afraid
it won’t. The sea’s beginning to look oily now; the snap has gone out
of the wind. We’ll be slatting and rolling in a dead calm by the middle
of the afternoon. I noticed the change in my bunk, and couldn’t sleep.”
“I thought sailors could always sleep.” This was Hetty’s contribution
to the conversation as she still studied her work.
“Well, I couldn’t,” he answered.
“Then we may be three weeks going out,” said Drew. “It seems like a
“I was a hundred and twenty days on my last voyage–from Singapore,”
“I am beginning to grasp the reason for the sailor’s rapt, far-seeing
look,” said Drew. “It is not strange that he never loses it, with his
constant study of invisible signs and meanings. But a hundred and
twenty days! What changes may take place in that time!”
“We find changes enough,” Medbury answered. “Sometimes I think we
sailors are the only things that do not change, except to grow older
and sadder. We always hope to find everything just as we left it, but
we never do.”
Hetty looked steadily seaward, and a fine flush came to her face; but
Drew was struck with the philosophy of the situation.
“That surely ought to be true,” he acquiesced–“that the sailor is the
most unchanging of men. One should come back wiser in sea-lore, but
solitude and the singleness of his purpose should keep him untouched by
all the distractions that change other men. I’ve noticed in Blackwater
the freshness of spirit, almost boyishness, of old men.”
Hetty’s face was turned forward, and now she leaped to her feet.
“What _is_ that, Tom?” she exclaimed. “We are running on a sand-bar!”
A hundred yards ahead of them stretched a great golden-brown field
that looked like a salt-meadow in April. Above it wheeled a flock of
Medbury scarcely turned his head.
“Sargasso weed,” he answered, and grinned. “It’s always waltzing about
in these latitudes.”
The girl walked to the main-rigging, and, leaning across the
sheer-pole, watched the yellow plain with wondering eyes. A moment
later, as they plunged into it, she caught her breath; it seemed
incredible to her that there should be no shock.
Instantly the sounds of the sea were hushed; there was only the soft
hissing of the weed as it swept past the side of the brig.
“Come up to the forecastle-deck and see it pile up on the bow,” Medbury
said to the girl.
She did not stir.
“Won’t you come?”
“No,” she answered.
He leaned across the sheer-pole with her a moment in silence. The bell
forward struck four sharp strokes; it was like a cry in the night. Then
a sailor came lurching aft to relieve the man at the wheel.
“Is it always going to be like this, Hetty?” Medbury asked her in a low
“I suppose so.”
“You want it so?”
“I said, ‘I suppose so.'”
“It’s the same thing,” he remarked drearily, and sighed.
The sigh seemed to irritate her, for she turned upon him suddenly.
“Why did you speak like that–before a stranger?”
“Like what?” he asked, in astonishment.
“About coming home unchanged, and finding nothing as you had left it.
Of course he knew what you meant. And it wasn’t true, for I have not
changed. I could have sunk through the deck for shame.”
“Oh, _that_,” he replied. “_He_ didn’t understand; he thought it was a
“A text!” She turned away in scorn.
A moment he stood looking outboard with unseeing eyes; then he stooped
and drew a boat-hook from the slings beneath the rail.
“Wouldn’t you like to have a piece?” he asked, pointing to the seaweed.
She hesitated a moment, and then came back to his side.
“Yes,” she said.
He drew in a great bunch and spread it at her feet, and she picked up a
bit with dainty fingers.
“It’s no longer beautiful,” she said in disappointment, and dropped it
on the house.
“No,” he answered soberly, and tossed the weed back into the sea.