The wind died out, as he had predicted, and all the afternoon the brig
rolled on the long swells, which hourly grew heavier. They leaped
against the horizon, swung onward beneath the keel, and swept past with
the unrelenting persistency that seemed the embodiment of vindictive
hate. A gale can be combated, but, in the grasp of a calm, man is
helpless. Every part of the vessel cried out in protest. The canvas
slatted and flapped like the wings of a huge bird vainly trying to rise
from the waves; every block rattled and croaked; the main-boom, hauled
chock aft, snatched at its sheets with a viciousness that threatened
to part them at every roll and made their huge blocks crash; from
the pantry below came the constant rattle of crockery; and the blue
sea, dipped up through the scuppers, swashed back and forth across the
main-deck. By eight bells every stitch of canvas had been furled or
clewed up to save it, and the brig lay rolling in the dark hollows like
a drunken sailor reeling home.
At dusk Hetty made her way to the forward companionway, and, seating
herself on the sill, with her hands clasped about the guard-rail,
looked out across the watery waste. The line of her eyes, parallel with
the deck, saw the stars fly downward till they seemed to vanish in
the sea, which suddenly seemed to tower like a huge black wall above
the brig; then suddenly it dropped away, and the stars flew up again,
and she saw them fairly overhead. Out of the swashing flood of the
main-deck, in a momentary lull, Medbury appeared.
“Is that you, Hetty?” he said.
“Yes,” she answered. “It’s awful, isn’t it?”
“It’s a nasty roll, and no mistake. There’s dirty weather knocking
“You mean a storm?”
“Shall we get it?” she asked.
“We may and may not,” he answered. “It’s hard to say.”
“Could it be a hurricane coming?” she asked with awe.
“Haven’t you ever heard the sailors’ rhymes about hurricanes in the
West Indies?” he asked.
Look out you must;
That anchors March squarely in the middle of the safe months; so we’re
all right, you see. No, it isn’t a hurricane.”
He seated himself on the deck, and, leaning against the door-jamb,
braced himself to the roll. For a while they sat in silence, and
watched the long rollers infold them–three great ones, then a
succession of lower ones, in an ever-recurring sameness that moved the
girl with a growing nervousness. At last she turned to him and said:
“I wanted to explain to you that I had no reason to be ugly this
morning. But what is the use? Father would always oppose; besides, I am
not sure myself. I want to be friends, nothing more.”
“Well! that is a wooden tale,” he said disappointedly.
“I never said anything different at any time, Tom,” she protested.
“Oh, I know. You always had a pair of skittish heels, Hetty.” He
turned his face to her suddenly. “Is there any one else?”
“No,” she said.
“All right,” he answered; “I’ll hope on. I’ve been doing that a long
time; I’m not going to stop now.” He was silent a moment, and then he
said: “Do you know how long that’s been, Hetty? Fourteen years. We were
in school then, and it began the day of that big snow-storm, when I
drew you home on my sled. You wore a red jacket, and your cheeks were
almost as red. I can see you sitting there now, and smiling whenever
I looked back. You were the shyest little thing! When we reached your
gate, you just slipped off and ran into the house without turning.”
“Oh, do you remember that!”
“I’ve thought of it under every star in the sky, I think. I guess
that’s the way it will always be with you–slipping away and not
looking back.” He laughed a little dolefully.
“I’m not like that,” she said in a low voice. “I may go away, but I
shall look back. I am no longer a child.”
“Then don’t go away,” he said eagerly; but she stopped him.
“Don’t, Tom!” she pleaded. “Don’t speak of it any more–now. Just be
“All right, Hetty. It will be as you say. I don’t nag my–friends.” He
In silence they watched the swells racing in. They were like living
things, of incredible speed, insatiable, pitiless, rushing on to infold
them. As the brig rolled in their grasp, the girl instinctively moved
her body against the roll: it was as if she thought to lessen the awful
dip of the deck with her puny weight; and whenever the great rollers
passed, and the vessel, like a tired thing, lay for an instant almost
at peace in the lower levels of the sea, an involuntary sigh of relief
escaped her. Medbury heard her and looked up.
“You’re not afraid, Hetty, are you?” he asked. “It’s disagreeable;
“No, not _really_, I think,” she answered; “but I wish it would stop.”
“It’s a regular cradle–as peaceful as that,” he assured her. “Only
we’re a little old for cradles, I guess,” he added.
“I am,” she said.
Over them the stars raced back and forth; for there were no clouds,
only a soft haze that made the stars seem large and near, but without
brightness. Close down to the sea a whitish film seemed to spread,
making the curtain of the night above it intensely black. Once, as they
dipped to port, Hetty’s eyes caught sight of a deep-red glow suffusing
the lifted wave near the bow. She clutched at Medbury’s arm.
“What is that, Tom–there–like blood?” she gasped.
“That? Why, the reflection of our port light. You poor thing!” he said
pityingly. “Hadn’t you better go below? It’s queer, but on a night like
this, or in thick weather, if you once lose your nerve, you see the
queerest things. Come, you’ll be all right below.”
She dropped her face to her hands and laughed.
“No,” she said; “now I will stay. There!”–she straightened herself and
looked at him smilingly,–“now, I’ll be sensible. Why do you look at me
like that?” she asked abruptly.
He turned his face away.
“Can’t I even look at you? A friend could do that.”
“But that was different,” she answered. “It was–” The look of yearning
love upon his face moved her strangely. She felt the impatient tears
flood her eyes. Meanwhile he hastened to speak of other things.
“Do you remember how you used to tie your hair up in two tight little
braids?” he asked–“always tied with red ribbon?”
“Mother did that,” she answered promptly. “I hated it. I used to tell
her they made my head ache. I’ve forgotten now whether they did or not.
But it wasn’t always red ribbon.”
“Wasn’t it?” he asked. “That’s what I remember.”
“Some things you’ve forgotten, you see,” she told him. “It is easy to
forget, after all.”
The door of the passage below them opened, and some one stumbled toward
them. It was Drew. Medbury slipped away, vexed at the interruption, but
Hetty turned a relieved face to the newcomer. In this difference lay
the measure of their love.
Reaching the deck, Drew almost dropped in the place where Medbury
had been sitting. He removed his cap from his head, and passed his
hand across his forehead. From the forecastle floated aft, above the
jangling noises of the brig, the faint strains of an accordion.
“Just at this moment I have no higher ambition than to sit out there
and play like that,” said Drew, turning his head to listen.
“It sounds rather nice at sea,” said the girl. “Maybe it’s because I’ve
always heard it there that I like it.”
“Oh, it isn’t that,” he replied. “It’s the care-free touch I envy.
Care-free–with all our fixed beliefs tumbling about us! See those
stars! And we have been taught to call them steadfast!”
She laughed, and looked at him mischievously.
“You’re seasick again,” she said. “I knew it by the way you dropped to
“I am,” he promptly admitted.
“Well, you’re honest; you ought to be proud of that,” she told him.
“Most men refuse to confess to seasickness until the fact confesses
itself.” She laughed.
“I might be proud of being honest if I were not too much ashamed of
being ill. The lesser feeling is lost in the greater.”
“You would feel better if you would not watch the rail. It’s the worst
thing you can do.”
“You are watching it,” he said.
“But I am never affected,” she replied. “Besides, I’m feeling reckless
He turned and looked at her smilingly.
“You reckless! You are self-control itself,” he declared.
It is strange, but there are times when to be called self-controlled is
like an accusation.
“That sounds like calling me hard and unfeeling,” she said.
“Rather say it’s calling you happy. I think there is no happiness
without self-control,” he replied.
“Do you call it happiness,” she cried–“rolling like this? I think it
“All happiness is more or less dull,” he declared. “It’s the price it
pays to discontent, which is supposed to know all the ups and downs of
“I should not like to think that,” she said soberly.
“Then I hope your whole life may prove it false,” he answered.
In the silence that followed, his eyes, searching the night with the
fascination in the thought of discovery that the sea gives even to the
sighting of a sail, came back to her face and lingered there. For a
moment he looked at her with the intent, impersonal gaze that he had
directed toward the horizon. She was leaning against the guard-rail,
with her hands clasped over her knees, and her eyes turned up to
the stars. Her head was uncovered, and her hair looked black above
the gleaming whiteness of her face, which wore the intense look of
abounding vitality that pallor sometimes gives in a larger measure than
vivid coloring. As he watched her face in the dim light, he became
distinctly alive to a new impression–the impression that he was
becoming strangely drawn to her. The knowledge came upon him suddenly,
like a ship looming above him in the night.
It was inevitable that his first thought should be of Medbury; but
whatever he might later come to think of his own ethical implication,
in this first moment of self-discovery the thought was little more
than that he should have a care. In a rush of mental restlessness he
rose to his feet and walked to the rail. He could hear the second mate
as he tramped steadily back and forth on the quarter-deck, passing
like a shuttle from darkness to light as he crossed the glow from the
binnacle-lamp. The thump of the wheel jumping in its becket was almost
continuous; it irritated him as the louder noises of the sea and the
vessel had not done. In the east a red light shone and vanished; again
it appeared for a moment. He called Hetty’s attention to it, but she
did not rise. When it appeared again it was farther to the north.
“It’s a steamer going home,” she said. “It’s like your happiness–just
a dull light moving uncertainly through darkness.”
“You mustn’t think that,” he said gently.
“Oh, it’s true,” she persisted; “I can see it’s true. I wanted to go
away, but it was only discontent. If I had gone, it would have been the
same. I should have been broken in the first struggle.”
“To-morrow the wind will blow again, and you will see things in a
different light. Nothing will matter then,” he assured her.
“Do you think I should have succeeded if I had gone?” She turned toward
him sharply while she waited for his answer.
He had seated himself again, and he paused a moment before he replied.
“I think you would have put your whole heart into your work,” he said
at last. “When we do that, we need not think of results–or fear
“I shall always feel that it was right for me to go,” she said, after a
pause. “The regret will remain.”
“It is hard to say what is right, we owe allegiance in so many ways.
A week ago your going was simply an interesting thought to me. Now I
cannot bear to think of it.”
She caught her breath sharply.
“There’s your steamer again,” she exclaimed. “It’s almost gone.”
It came to him vividly, with her conscious refusal to follow his
leading, that he was not having a care; and he added in haste: “I can
see the tragic significance of such a decision, now that I am no longer
a stranger–this putting away of all your old life–your father and
mother. Think what it means to them! Life has many facets: we’ve got to
look at them all.”
“Yes,” she said slowly, as if she were looking at them all in turn;
then she continued: “But if we study them too closely, isn’t there
danger of being simply irresolute and accomplishing nothing?”
“To crown the present hour–might that not be the hardest, and
therefore the noblest, task?” he asked smilingly. “A nature that is
overwhelmed by its first disappointment will not be likely to succeed
in any path. That is not yours, I am sure.”
“It is easy for you to say that,” she answered, with a touch of
impatience; “you have found your chosen work; I must stay at home.
What can we women in seaports do? We tremble through storms, and then
wait in fear for the marine news.” She laughed at her own exaggeration.
“It makes strong, hopeful women,” he declared stoutly.
“Is that all you ask of your work–to be made strong and hopeful?” she
demanded. “It makes me think of life as a gymnasium.”
“No,” he answered frankly; “but I have not found my chosen work, or,
rather, my chosen field.”
“May I ask what that is? Do you mind telling me?”
“I shall be glad,” he replied. “It is simply to work among the poor
in a large town or city. I cannot go among the little children of the
crowded streets without a heartache. That is where my work calls me.
I love the people of Blackwater, and I can be happy there when I can
forget for a time; but I am not needed. Sometimes I feel that no one
is needed, they are so firmly fixed in their beliefs, so hopelessly
certain of themselves. But the little children of the crowded streets!”
He broke off suddenly.
They heard the bell forward ring out sharply. Both counted the strokes
“Eight bells,” she murmured, as it ceased.
The forecastle door opened, and a shaft of light flashed like an
opening fan along the wet, shining deck. Shadowy forms began to move
about, and vanished in the darkness. Then the door was shut, and the
deck was dark again; only the clamor of the rolling vessel and the sea
about her went on unceasingly.
“I am glad you told me,” Hetty said at last in a low voice that had in
it a tremor of exaltation. She did not turn to him as she spoke, but
kept her eyes fixed upon the lines of whitened waves glimmering in the
“It was little to tell,” he said, with a laugh.
“It was much to know,” she answered gently.
He wondered at the touch of feeling in her tone, for he could not know
that, having condemned him for a seemingly Laodicean contentment with
life, with as little reason she was now prepared to exalt him unduly,
seeing in his desired course a form of martyrdom at once moving and
heroic. It was in the line of her own desire, and the thought flashed
upon her that here was something even she might be permitted to do.
They had come tremblingly to the heights of emotion: a little thing
might send the streams of their life together, or bear them farther and
Day was breaking when Drew came on deck the next morning. The noises of
the vessel, which had clanked and whined all night through his broken
sleep, seemed to him to take on new life as he reached the deck; but
the brig, as she lay rolling in the trough of the sea, had the gray,
tired look of ships coming home from long voyages. There were no clouds
in the sky, but the stars had faded out, and even as he gazed the rim
of the sun appeared above the sea, flattened out on the horizon, then
rose in an elongated ball. For an instant a red pendant seemed to cling
to the far edge of the ocean; then it vanished, and the sun, round
again and red, had broken free. Day had come.
The ocean had the glassy aspect of the preceding day; as far as the
eye carried not a catspaw darkened the surface. In every direction the
white sails of the Portuguese men-of-war rose and fell on the long blue
swells. Fifty yards astern the triangular dorsal fin of a shark moved
slowly across their track. Drew watched its silent progress with the
fascination that the landsman, seeing it for the first time, bestows
upon it as the embodiment of the cruelty and mystery of its abode.
He turned at the sound of a footstep, and, seeing Medbury beside him,
greeted him, and then nodded astern.
“It’s a shark, isn’t it?” he asked. “I never saw one before.”
“Yes,” replied the mate. “It’s queer, but everybody seems to know them
right off. Sort of natural dislike, I guess.”
Medbury watched it a moment and then looked aloft to where the fly hung
“It beats all,” he muttered; “there isn’t air enough to float a
soap-bubble.” He walked to the pennant halyards, and, untying them,
jerked the fly free from its staff. “It hasn’t lifted an inch in
fifteen hours,” he said. “Confound it! I believe the world has died
overnight!” Then he laughed at his own ill-nature. “It always gets on
my nerves–weather like this,” he explained to Drew.
He turned and walked to the other side of the vessel as Captain March
came on deck. He also looked aloft, glanced at the binnacle from mere
force of habit, and then swept the horizon with half-shut eyes. His
face was inscrutable, and absolutely without emotion. “It’s going to be
hot,” was his only remark. Then he walked to a camp-chair, and, drawing
it to the rail, sat down, and began to whistle softly.
A moment later Medbury crossed over to where he sat.
“I guess I’ll rig up the triangle this morning and scrape the
mainmast,” he said. “It’s a good chance.”
The captain squinted aloft, but said nothing.
“I’ll start at the foot,” continued the mate, as if in answer to
unspoken criticism. “Maybe it’ll breeze up before the men get much
above the deck.”
“All right,” said the captain, and went on whistling.
“There isn’t a breath of air,” said Medbury. “I believe everything’s
“Nothing dead about this roll,” replied Captain March.
“Well, it ought to be,” replied the mate, and walked forward.
“I don’t know as the crew’s going to rise up and call him blessed when
he orders them aloft on that job in a swell like this,” said the
captain to Drew; “but then, as I said, I don’t know.”
Then the barefooted crew came aft with buckets and brooms to wash down
the decks, and he and Drew went below. When they came back to the
deck, after breakfast, two men were at the grindstone sharpening their
knives, and a third was scraping a bright pin-rail forward. Medbury sat
on the forward end of the house, making double-crown knots in the ends
of new man-ropes. He did not look up as Hetty and the minister came and
stood over him, watching his work. Captain March came past the group in
his morning walk.
“You’re not going to scrape the mainmast, eh?” he said, as he went by.
His eyes twinkled.
Medbury did not look up as he answered:
“No; I guess I’ll keep them on deck.”
Hetty looked aloft at the mast thrashing through a wide arc.
“I knew you wouldn’t,” she said. “It would have been–unlike you.”
Medbury glanced at her with a shamefaced smile, but he made no reply.
“Do you know, I had heard so much of the harsh treatment of sailors by
their officers that I came on this voyage prepared for something of the
sort, and dreading it,” he said, in his slow, deep voice; “but I have
seen nothing but consideration.”
Medbury’s mouth twitched with scornful amusement; it almost seemed to
him that Drew had unknowingly called him pusillanimous. He was by no
means a hard man, and was popular with his crews; but he was young and
a certain amount of swagger seemed amusing, while, in addition, he had
all the contempt of the American sailor for the stolid alien creatures
who more and more were finding their way into the forecastles of ships
that carried his country’s flag.
“I don’t believe in being a brute,” he began; “but–”
“Yes,” broke in Hetty, eagerly; “it is only a brute who will take
advantage of his power. I have been going to sea all my life, but I
have never seen cruelty. All the sailors I know are the largest-hearted
of men. I hate the tales that blacken them.”
“I have known them only ashore,” said Drew, “and I certainly never knew
a more joyous, open-hearted people–hardly the sort to make tyrants
of.” He turned to Medbury: “But you were going to say–?”
Medbury sharply drew the strands of his rope through the outer walling
of the knot as he replied:
“I fancy,” began Drew, “that sailors are too practical a class,
too constantly surrounded by danger, not to know the value of
self-restraint. It is wise to keep far from one the passion that fires
the mind beyond the point where the every-day work of living is
accomplished with the least friction.”
Medbury glanced up as he spoke, and caught the look that Hetty fastened
upon the speaker. There was nothing in the quiet gaze beyond interest
and the sympathy of kindred convictions, but it gave Medbury the
curious sensation of standing apart from them, of being irrevocably
alone. He turned away with a new pain about his heart. He was still
thinking of Hetty’s look when Drew, busily erecting his card-house of
the sailor’s life upon a foundation of calm philosophy, asked him if
he had ever seen cruelty on shipboard. His tone was the confident one
of the philosopher who, having formulated a theory, calmly awaits the
facts that will establish it.
“You two might call it that,” Medbury answered, not without a touch of
resentment in his voice; “I shouldn’t. It’s easy enough to talk about
self-restraint, but when it means letting things go to the dogs, and
maybe putting your vessel in danger–” He thrust his fid between the
strands of his rope with an energy that seemed to him adequately to
complete his meaning.
Drew was dimly aware that the situation had somehow become charged
with feeling, and remained silent; but Hetty, with clearer instinct,
recognized the cause of Medbury’s heat, and resented it, while she
recognized its potential force, feeling that she had unwittingly been
drawn from the calm current of broad discussion into an inner vortex of
personal emotion. That she had become unduly interested in Drew–she
clearly saw that the thought was in Medbury’s mind–she indignantly
denied to herself. She turned toward the sailor with resentment shining
in her eyes; but at the sight of his head bowed above his work, there
flashed over her a strange revulsion of feeling. It was not tenderness,
though compounded of tenderness, pity, and the memory of many things.
His loyalty to her, which had lived on through long years in spite of
varying encouragement, had sometimes provoked her vexation, sometimes
her complacency; at this moment it suddenly appeared to her to be a
beautiful thing. His hair waved a little about his brows; his face,
though sad, showed the old fine courage. She saw his close-shut lips
held nothing of harshness. His hands, brown and sinewy, revealed
strength and skill, and were as yet uncoarsened by hard contact with
hemp and canvas in cold and wet and sun. “After all, _he’s_ a man,” she
thought, with tears welling in her eyes.
She turned and looked out across the shining sea, feeling its
immensity, its power in the moving waves, to be somehow strangely
like the life that inclosed her and swept her on without the power of
volition. She did not turn as Drew spoke.
“Shall we finish our book?” he had asked her.
From time to time in the last few days he had read aloud from the
“Idylls of the King” while she worked at some trifle, or sat with hands
clasped in her lap and watched the waves in a pleasurable emotion to
which his fine, unaffected voice had contributed quite as largely as
the words of the poet. At this moment his question, in its abrupt
withdrawal from the general interest, seemed tactless. For an instant
she made no answer.
“No, not now,” she said at last. “Just at present it seems too unreal,
too far away, to move me. I don’t believe I am an imaginative person;
life appeals to me too strongly.”
She had turned to watch Medbury’s work while she was yet speaking,
and Drew, lingering a moment, had gone away with the impression of
dismissal. This she felt, and was troubled by it, and vexed at finding
herself troubled. Her vexation had the effect of bringing her nearer
in spirit to Medbury.
“I believe I could do that,” she said as she watched him.
He looked up with a flush of pleasure.
“Want to try?” he asked, and jumped to his feet. “I’ll get a piece of
manila and teach you.”
He threw down a coil of running rigging for a seat for her, and
together they laughingly began the lesson.
“I always envied the things boys did,” she said. “I know how I used to
watch them, but was too afraid of being called a tomboy ever to attempt
anything. It’s hard to be ambitious and sensitive, too.”
“I know you could run when you were a child,” he said, smiling. “Do you
remember the time you snatched my hat and I did not catch you till you
got to Martha Parsons’s gate? Then you turned and looked so serious
that I did not dare to take it.”
“Yes,” she answered, with a laugh. “And I remember how frightened I was
when you followed me. I thought I had done the boldest thing. And when
we stopped and just looked at each other I was sure that you thought
so, too. Finally I said, ‘Here’s your hat,’ and you said, ‘Oh,’ and
took it. I don’t remember now how it ended.”
“I do,” he said promptly. “I took it and went away; afterward I went
back, but you had gone. Then I thought of all the things I ought to
have said and done when it was too late.”
“Well, it was silly enough,” she said, dismissing the subject. “I don’t
know what made me do it.”
He had unlaid the strands of the rope while they talked, and now,
placing it in her hand, he showed her how to make a bight with one
strand and pass a second around the first, and a third around the
second, and up through the bight of the first, forming the wall.
“Now you try,” he said, and, undoing the knot, passed the rope to her.
In a moment she held it up triumphantly.
“What do you do next?” she asked.
“Now we will put on the double crown.”
“It _is_ hard,” she said after a moment more. “It looked simple enough
while you were doing it.” She held the rope in her hand and looked at
him in smiling despair. “I shall never learn.”
“Yes, you will,” he assured her. “You only need a little patience.”
“_You_ will need the patience,” she answered.
“Haven’t I always had it with you?” he asked in a low voice.
“Is that right?” she demanded, holding up the knot.
“Yes; now run the end–no, this end–through the bight. That’s right;
now pull it taut. You haven’t answered my question, Hetty.”
[Illustration: “‘_You_ will need the patience,’ she said”]
“You haven’t asked any,” she replied quickly; and then added: “What
“Pull it tighter,” he answered, and, leaning forward, drew it taut, for
an instant covering her hands with his own.
She drew hers away quickly and dropped them in her lap.
“It’s no use,” she told him; “I shall never learn.”
“Try!” he urged.
“No; I cannot even try.” She looked about her with restless eyes.
Something in her face stirred his foreboding.
“Do you mean, Hetty–”
“Oh, I mean nothing,” she cried impatiently. “I wish the sea would go
down. It’s dreadful.”
She sprang to her feet, and, moving to the rigging, leaned against the
sheer-pole and watched the blue sea rise almost to the line of the
deck, then fall away with appalling swiftness. Medbury followed her
“What’s the matter?” he demanded.
“Why don’t you whistle for a wind?” she asked him. “Why don’t you? I
think I’ll go below until you do.”
“Isn’t it pleasanter here?” he said. “You would call it a beautiful day
“Yes, I should,” she acknowledged. “It seems like April–April at home.
I can shut my eyes”–she shut them–“and see just how it looks: the big
willow by our gate growing green in a night, and the grass, and the
sunlight on everything–or rain; only the rain makes the grass greener,
and you don’t mind it at all in spring, as you do at other times.”
He had watched her while she stood with eyes closed, but when she
opened them suddenly and looked at him with a smile, he turned away
in confusion, as if he had been caught watching her when he knew she
would not care to be seen.
“That’s the way your face always looks to me,” he said, with the
boldness of embarrassment.
“What do you mean?” she asked. Her lips parted as if to smile, but
closed again in a neutral line that was neither smile nor frown, but
might easily become either when she had heard his explanation.
“Like April–your face is like that. It’s always changing. I like it
always, but best when you smile, of course.”
“I cannot smile at a speech like that,” she said primly, and turned a
serious face from him.
For five minutes he kept his eyes turned from her, and then looked to
see if her April face had changed again. It had not, and a sigh escaped
At the sigh her face had become severe, but almost immediately he saw
her lips twitch, close firmly together, then part in a laugh.
“There!” he cried triumphantly, and laughed with her.
“Oh, Tom, you’re ridiculous!” she cried, and struggled against her
laughter. But her face became serious again at once, and she added: “I
do not like such speeches. They sound silly.”
“All right,” he replied, but not in the tone of one cast down.
Captain March’s keen eyes, as he walked the deck, looking aloft, saw a
slightly frayed spot in the maintopsail-halyard. Crossing the deck, he
stopped by the side of his mate.
“Looks as if that halyard wouldn’t stand much strain,” he said. “Better
look at it before long, Mr. Medbury.” He pointed to the place as
Medbury looked up.
“I will, sir,” answered Medbury.
“Hawkins never did look after the little things,” the captain went on,
with gentle grumbling. “Good man, but didn’t seem to have any eyes
sometimes. Still, I was sorry to have him go ashore sick. He can’t
afford to lay idle long. Same with John Davis. I thought he’d jump at
the chance to take Hawkins’s place. I didn’t think it so strange in
Bob Markham’s backing out: he’d promised his wife to stay ashore. But
Davis–I don’t understand about him. I never knew folks to act so.
Davis seemed pleased when I asked him, and hurried right off to get his
things; but before I’d hardly turned my head, back he galloped and said
he’d changed his mind. It made me a little provoked; and when I asked
him why, he just winked. Well!” He walked away, still grumbling.
Medbury had not lifted his eyes from his work as the captain had
talked, but now he glanced up, to find Hetty’s eyes watching him
keenly. Something in the intensity of her look stirred his foreboding.
He was not wholly unacquainted with the intuitive divination with
which women often flash upon the secrets men would withhold from them,
and now he braced himself for the question that he knew was coming.
“Do _you_ know why they would not come?” she asked. Her voice was tense.
He tried to show surprise at the question, but knew that he failed.
“I suppose they didn’t want to,” he answered.
“Don’t you _know_?” she demanded.
He hesitated, and she sprang to her feet.
“You needn’t tell me,” she cried with suppressed passion. “I know. I
know you got them to. They’d do it for you. You seem to have obliging
friends. Oh!” She turned away, but came back immediately. “And now
I suppose everybody in Blackwater is laughing over the story. And
laughing at _me_! I didn’t _want_ you to come; but if I’d known this,
do you think I would have set foot on this vessel while you were
aboard? I’d have _died_ first.” She walked to the rail, but came
restlessly back. “Well, it’s over now. Do you think I could go back
home and have people know that your–your trick had succeeded? There
have been times when I have thought that I could care for you in the
way you wish, but I couldn’t be sure. If my face is like April, as you
say, I think my mind is, too. I cannot be _sure_. Sometimes I think I
do not care for anything; I think I have no heart. And then, when I see
you watching me, and I know what you are thinking, I almost hate you,
and want to go away from everything I’ve ever known. But now, after
this, it is ended. Oh, you make me ashamed!”
He had heard her in a tumult of contending emotions–shame and sorrow
for hurting her, pity, remorse. Heart-sick, he rose to his feet.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, Hetty. Good Lord! you know that! You _must_
know it!” he exclaimed. “And no one will know. You needn’t care.”
“Oh, needn’t care!” she cried in scorn.
Then, manlike, because he was sorry, but had no answer, he became angry.
“You are a hard woman,” he said, in a sudden letting-go of all
self-control–“a hard and heartless woman.”
She shrank from him as if he had struck her, and her face grew white.
“I wish you wouldn’t,” she whispered passionately–“wouldn’t speak to
me. You hurt me.”
He did not understand, and his face hardened, and his eyes grew hot
with impotent anger. It was as if all the conventions had dropped away
from him, and he had become the primitive man. He could crush her with
one hand, he blindly told himself; yet she mocked him and his strength.
All his life he had loved her, followed her in devoted service, but
to what end? To be shunned, eluded, mocked, and scorned. He gripped
his hands tightly together in his revolt against his enforced inaction
because she was weak and a woman. But for once he would speak.
“You’ve hurt me for many a long year,” he answered hotly, “but you’ll
hurt me no more.” With that he walked away as Cromwell must have gone
from the Long Parliament.