surrounded

It must have been four bells when the second mate found his way to
Medbury’s side and told him that the captain wanted him.

“I’m to stay here,” he added.

“Don’t give them any let-up,” Medbury shouted in his ear; “and lash
yourself fast. But don’t give them any let-up.”

He struggled aft, and put his hand on the captain’s shoulder. In the
light of the binnacle-lamp he could see that the old man’s face was set
and grim.

“Want me, sir?” he called, and bent his head to hear.

“Yes,” he heard. The captain whirled the wheel, and then continued:
“Yes; go aloft; see if you can see the light on Culebra.” He paused to
shift the wheel, straightened up again, and went on: “These seas run–a
little like shoaling water. I’d hate to run too far to the westward and
fetch up on the shoals beyond Culebra. Bad enough as ’tis. Take a good
look, and hurry back.”

“All right, sir!” Medbury shouted, then made his way to the
main-rigging, and went slowly and carefully up. The wind flattened him
against the ratlines, so that it was with difficulty that he lifted
arms and knees; and when the brig swung to port, he seemed to be
clinging to the lower side of the rigging, so far did she roll down.
“Fetlock-shrouds all the way up,” he muttered to himself. When he was
well above the obstructing lower topsail, he looked ahead.

Under him, near the vessel, the sea gleamed spectrally over its whole
surface, but farther away it was black. The mist had lifted, and he had
the impression, even in the darkness, of a wide horizon-line; but no
light was to be seen. He went upward again, till the crosstrees were
just above him, and looked once more.

He gazed long, sweeping the whole line of the sea ahead slowly, pausing
at each point, that he might not lose the flash. The strain brought the
tears to his eyes, and he wiped them with his sleeve and looked again.
Something in his dizzy altitude, in the task set him and its failure,
impressed him more than anything had yet done, and he began to lose
heart.

“Father went this way,” he muttered, “and I guess it’s good enough for
me. He was a better man than I am. Poor Hetty!” He looked for the light
again, giving all his thought to it. Then he sighed. “I wish to God,”
he went on, “that we’d let her be! She wouldn’t have been here if we
hadn’t teased her about China. I wish she was there. This is no way for
her to go–a girl like her.” Then slowly at last he descended to the
deck.

At the wheel, Captain March was growing unutterably weary, and
something like the same thoughts were passing through his mind.

“Lord,” he said, “I haven’t ever been much of a praying man, and
I ain’t going to begin now, when I can’t shift for myself. I’d be
ashamed. You know I’ve tried to do right. I ain’t afraid of death, but
I hate to lose the old boat. I’ve always had good luck, and I guess
I’ve kind o’ got in the way of thinking it was going to last. I’d like
to have it. I rather expected to die at home, and be buried alongside
of mother. She thought of that a good deal.” Of his wife and daughter
he would not trust himself to think.

He looked up as Medbury approached him, but turned his eyes away
immediately. He saw that Culebra light had not been sighted.

Medbury simply shook his head and stepped back, but the captain called
him nearer.

“I guess it’s too early,” he said. “Go up again soon, and if we haven’t
made it then, we’ll try to get a sounding. See if that steward left any
cold tea below, will you?”

As Medbury went down the companionway and into the pantry, a figure
came softly out of the girls’ room and tiptoed across the cabin. It
was Hetty. As she neared the pantry, the swinging floor tripped her
and sent her flying into the room behind Medbury’s back. She giggled
hysterically as he turned with a start.

“Good Lord, Hetty!” he exclaimed, “haven’t you gone to sleep yet?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said plaintively. “I waited for you; I thought
you’d never come.” She hesitated, laid her hand on his arm, and
continued slowly: “Now I want you to tell me the truth–the truth. I’m
not a child. I can bear it. I know we are in great danger–isn’t it so?”

He hesitated and looked away, and she dropped her hand to her side.

“You needn’t tell me; I know,” she told him.

“We’ve got a chance,” he now explained. “It looks bad, I know, but
we’ve got a chance. I guess we’ve got an even chance.”

“We didn’t think it would be like this when we left the harbor at home,
did we?” she continued. “It was like a spring day, and the buds were
getting red. I said the leaves would be full grown when we got back–I
said so to mother.” She choked back a sob.

“Don’t, dear!” he pleaded. “Don’t! You shall see them yet. You shall
live to grow old among your trees, Hetty.”

“But if I don’t,” she persisted, “and–anything happens, will you try
to get to me? I don’t want to go alone, shut up down here.”

“Yes,” he answered solemnly; “I’ll get to you. But we’re going to pull
through–really.”

“You will not forget!” she insisted.

He laughed softly.

“Do I ever forget you?” he asked

“No,” she said; “no–and I am glad.”

Then suddenly she flung her arms about his neck, pressed her cheek
against his, and vanished.

When Medbury reached the deck he took the wheel while the captain drank
a great draught of the clear, cold tea. Taking the wheel again, he said
something that Medbury could not understand.

“What’s that, sir?” he asked, and leaned forward to catch the words.

“I said you were gone long enough. Thought the teapot had got adrift.”

“Yes, sir,” Medbury replied. “Didn’t find it right away. That steward
never did leave things where you could put your hand right on them.
He–” Medbury paused. He was about to say that it was the last of the
steward’s tea that the captain would ever drink, but changed his mind.
“I won’t trouble the old man to-night,” he said to himself. “Morning
will be time enough–if there is a morning.”

The canvas screen above the taffrail had whipped itself free, and the
great seas, in long ridges that seemed never to break, followed the
vessel with vindictive hate. The gale beat the men down, the spray
blinded them; now and then a rush of wind, coming with great fury, with
a wailing cry that sprang upon them like Indians from ambush, pressed
them onward along the rolling seas without motion other than the
forward one. Then the wind, relaxing its hold, left the brig wallowing
exhausted in the deep hollows, like a collapsing thing.

It was after one of these outbursts that Medbury touched the captain’s
arm.

“Going up again,” he yelled, and pointed aloft.

The captain nodded, and Medbury slanted away.

He went up deliberately, turning his eyes neither to right nor to
left until he saw the crosstrees just overhead. Stopping, he thrust
a leg between the ratlines to steady himself, and gazed ahead once
more. It had grown lighter, and he could now plainly distinguish the
blurred line where sky and water met. Suddenly, far ahead, he saw a
little point of light grow out of the blackness of the night, flash
for a moment, and then disappear. His heart leaped in exultation, but
he waited, to be sure. Again it flashed and disappeared. Marking its
position well, he hurried to the deck and aft.

“It’s ahead, sir,” he shouted. “Bears a point off the starboard bow.”

Captain March made no reply; his face was as immobile as a figurehead.
Whatever exultation he may have felt in the triumph of his reckoning,
he was never to show it.

By eight bells the light was abreast, and they had hauled up on their
course past Sail Rock. The gale was sweeping down through the passage,
with a threatening sea, and every bit of rigging roaring and piping to
the tune of the road. Suddenly, out of the blackness on their port bow
a dark shape loomed, and the rock stood up almost beside them. Without
changing the course a hair, they drew near, passed under its lee,
with the gale dropping for an instant and the staysails flapping, and
overhead, from the rock, the sound of startled sea-birds crying in the
night. Then the gale rushed down again, and sea and rigging roared once
more.

Medbury gave a sigh of wonder.

“Never heard anything like that before,” he exclaimed.

“You can always hear them at night, if you go close enough,” said the
captain.

“Well, it’s stirring,” replied Medbury. He walked to the rail and
scanned the sea with the glass. “Pity there isn’t something more’n a
‘bug light’ on St. Thomas,” he said to the captain as he walked over to
his side. “We might skip right in before daybreak.”

Captain March glanced over the rail.

“By daybreak we’ll not need St. Thomas light,” he said dryly, and bent
to the wheel again.

“The old pirate!” muttered Medbury. “He’s chartered for Santa Cruz, and
that’s where he’s going! There’s five feet of water in the hold, and
a tearing gale loose, and a worn-out, hopeless crew; but he’s going
to Santa Cruz! If the wind should flop around or fall, we’d go to the
bottom; but it won’t. It wouldn’t have the cheek–not with him. Well!”

The wind hauled over the quarter, and fell slightly; gradually the sea
grew pale, and spars and sails took on more definite shape; and then
all at once it was day, and they saw the sea whipped with foam, and
dark masses of purplish-black clouds hanging low, with dashes of gold
firing their edges in the east. St. Thomas had dropped behind them,
and far ahead the cone of Santa Cruz, gray and misty under the darker
clouds, was rising on the edge of the sea.

Day came on apace; the wind dropped a trifle more, but not until the
harbor of Christiansted took shape, with the anchored ships lying thick
in the roadstead, and the bright-hued little town clinging to the
hillside above the water’s edge, did the captain allow the girls on
deck. As they ascended at last, white but happy, and looked out of the
companionway, glancing eagerly about them, the gray, worn vessel, the
dark, low-hanging clouds, the wind-swept sea, appalled them, and for a
moment they could not speak.

“Eet iss not lak home,” murmured the Danish girl; “eet iss mos’ sad
and mos’ des_o_late.”

“But it’s land,” cried Hetty–“land after that awful sea!”

They were silent for a moment and abstracted, gazing with curious eyes
at the land rising under the bow. Suddenly Miss Stromberg seized her
companion’s arm.

“Ah!” she cried, “doze flag–yonner!” She pointed where the red,
white-crossed ensign of Denmark flapped straight out in the gale above
the little white fort at the water’s edge. “And op by doze tall tree,”
she went on eagerly, “iss ma gahden–wiz yellow wall, and doze red
tiles beyon’. Now eet iss shuah-lee home.”

“It will be beautiful when the sun shines–Christiansted,” said Hetty.

Medbury, going forward, stopped a moment by the main-rigging, where
Drew stood alone. The pumps were quiet as they made harbor, and the
crew were forward. Drew was watching them with curious eyes. He
glanced up as Medbury drew near, and spoke.

“What will be done with them?” he asked in a low voice.

“With what?” asked Medbury.

“With the crew. Wasn’t it technically and actually mutiny?”

Medbury laughed.

“It was a beautiful fight,” he said; then remembering their talk early
on the voyage, he added: “Call it a case of brutality, if you like; but
it seemed necessary.”

“But the men’s part,” persisted Drew–“will they not be punished?”

“Man alive!” said Medbury, “they had been standing many hours at those
pumps and working as they’d never worked before–with no hope. That’s
punishment enough, isn’t it? They’re tired now, and very humble, and,
I guess, if the truth could be told, pretty thankful to me. It wasn’t
mutiny; it was a funk. They simply gave up, that’s all. But if the old
man had done it, you wouldn’t be looking into Christiansted roadstead
this morning. There’s a man for you!” His voice changed as he added:
“And if it hadn’t been for you, God knows where I’d be now. Over the
rail somewhere, with the steward’s pretty little trinket in my back. I
haven’t said much; but I guess you know I’m not going to forget it.”

“Do the ladies know?” asked Drew. He had not mentioned his own slight
scratch.

“They know he was swept overboard,” the mate replied. “I guess they
needn’t know any more at present.” Then he went forward.

Rolling heavily, low above the sea, white with salt, but with the speed
of the gale in her rain-blackened sails, the brig flashed past the
shipping, crowded with wondering sailors, and drove straight for the
rocky beach where the cocoanut-palms came down to the shore, and on hot
mornings the negro washer-women lay their wet clothes upon the smooth
rocks, and the roadstead resounds with the echoing beat of their wooden
paddles. Then all at once Captain March’s voice rang out, and with
sails shaking in the wind the _Henrietta C. March_ shot toward a narrow
ribbon of sand on the shore, struck, rolled slowly, and with a long,
grating sigh came safely to land.

An hour later, as Medbury walked aft, he mounted the steps to
the poop-deck before he saw the flutter of Hetty’s dress by the
main-rigging. She was looking steadily out to sea.

He stopped by her side.

“Here on this side, when you can see the town on the other!” he
exclaimed. “Haven’t you had enough of the sea?”

She looked up and smiled.

“I was looking beyond the sea–as far as home,” she said.

“Are you homesick?”

“No; only thinking of it.”

“It’s a good thing to think of,” he said soberly.

“‘East, west,
Hame’s best.’

After last night, that sounds true, doesn’t it?”

“It’s always true–home and the old things,” she said softly–“the
things we’ve always known.”

He looked down into her face.

“Hetty,” he said, “last night–you rushed away so quickly–is it all
right?”

She turned her eyes seaward again as she answered in a low voice:

“I think so–yes.”

“Oh, Hetty!” he whispered.

She dropped her hand to her side, and he caught it for an instant.
Overhead there were widening patches of blue sky; the sea was taking
on a softer hue. Behind them the tropic world glowed in beauty.
On the beach little groups of negro women, in white bandanas and
bright-colored, wind-blown skirts, stood and watched the sailors aboard
the brig, their shrill laughter and cries coming up softened by the
gale, now rapidly falling. The pumps were going again.

“It is the only familiar sound–that pump,” said Hetty.

Medbury scarcely heard her.

“I don’t understand it yet,” he said at last, turning to her. “Just
when I thought it was all over, suddenly it comes out right. I don’t
understand.”

“You never will, you poor boy,” she replied, smiling up into his face.
Then suddenly her face grew grave, and she began to speak again: “It
was only when I thought it was all over that I began to think. Then
the storm came, and I saw how much it meant to me that you were near
me, and I was almost sure that I had made a mistake. I think I wasn’t
_quite_ sure until you made that dreadful picture yesterday of what it
would be for us to be merely friends. Then I knew.”

“You said I was cruel,” he told her.

“You were,” she said.

“But if it brought us together, how–”

“That doesn’t make it any different.”

“Well,” he replied, in his bewilderment, “I am sure I shall never
understand, as you say; but I do not care. It is enough to know that
everything is right at last. And you are sure that you will not mind
giving up China, Hetty, and the missionary work?”

“Yes,” she said firmly; “I was almost ready to give that up three days
ago–before I thought I cared for you, you know. I have thought many
things in these three days. Sometimes, when I think of them, I feel a
thousand years old, as Miss Stromberg says.”

The door of the cabin below them opened, and they heard the sound of
Drew’s voice and Miss Stromberg’s laugh. She was patiently waiting
until she could go ashore.

“I was beginning to think that _he_ was going to stand in my way,
Hetty,” said Medbury, nodding toward the cabin.