A slim shape came softly up out of the companionway, and, closing the
door, paused uncertainly. Facing the wind, the girl thrust back her
blowing hair, and looked about her.
“I thought my father was here,” she murmured, not knowing whether to go
“He’s below,” Medbury told her.
“I thought he was here,” she repeated. She hesitated a moment, and then
turned suddenly to Medbury.
“Where are we going?” she asked him.
“Better ask your father that,” he replied. “He only gave me the course.”
“I did ask him. He said he believed we were chartered for Santa Cruz.”
“Then that’s where we’re going,” he said promptly.
“I can’t realize yet what has happened,” she went on; “it was so calm
and peaceful. It seems the strangest thing.”
“Oh, this sort of thing’s been done before,” replied Medbury. “They
can’t accuse us of inventing any new kind of foolishness; so don’t you
go to feeling proud because you think you’ve found something strange.
When you get out to Santa Cruz all the old captains in port will drop
aboard and spin yarns about what’s happened to them, till you’ll think
this is the commonest thing in the world.”
“You’re trying to make me feel safe,” she declared; “that frightens me
all the more. You take too much pains to assure me. Tell me truly: have
you ever been in greater danger?”
“Yes,” he answered; “many a time, and only last winter, for once. For
five minutes, one night, I thought of more things in my life than
I’d done for twenty years. I haven’t done that yet, to-night. I never
thought to walk the streets of Blackwater again.”
Hetty tried to think how it would seem to feel that she, too, would not
walk the streets of Blackwater again. In two months, she remembered,
the cherry-trees would be in bloom there; she could see them whitening
the whole village. She looked at him and smiled.
“Did you think of it in cherry-time, with all the streets and
dooryards white with blossoms?” she asked idly, with a vague notion of
distracting her thoughts from the present hour.
“Yes,” he answered quietly; “and of other white things–of drawing my
sled home from school through the drifts, and glad to be alive.”
She caught her breath and turned her face away. She was beginning to
understand, she told herself, what it was to be a sailor, and face
danger year after year, living one’s life mainly in dreams, with only
far-off memories to feed upon. Her eyes filled with tears. Finally she
turned to him again with a little smile.
“I’m beginning to know what it is to be a sailor,” she said.
The clock in the cabin struck, and the bell forward repeated the four
sharp strokes. A man came aft to relieve the wheel. A moment later
Captain March appeared on deck, and walked over to his daughter’s side.
“Heh! young lady,” he said, “I thought I told you to turn in.”
“I’m going to stay with you a while,” she answered, and took his arm.
“Cap’n,” said Medbury, “hadn’t you better keep your watch below? I’ll
change the men at the pumps and take a spell at the wheel myself. We
don’t need you now.”
“No,” replied the captain; “my place is on deck to-night.”
They stood in silence a long time, listening to the sounds of the
night, and having no inclination to speech. Suddenly, above the roar
of the wind, they heard the voice of the lookout crying from the
“Light ahead on the port bow! Light ahead! White light!”
Captain March sprang to the wheel and jammed the helm hard up; Medbury
ran forward. He had scarcely reached the forecastle-deck when the light
came abreast, a cable’s length away. All at once it began to swing in a
short, quick arc, and the people on the brig heard the cry of voices.
It swept past them like a banshee, with the light swinging frantically,
and the sound of oars chopping the sea in short, irregular strokes.
The next moment the brig came up into the wind with rattling blocks
and slapping canvas, and Captain March was roaring orders in a mighty
voice, while the watch below streamed out upon the deck like a hive of
[Illustration: “There came a ‘smooth,’ and the boat shot in”]
They lay with sails shaking and a flare burning over the quarter,
and listened for the sound of oars again, with the brig rolling and
thrashing under them. They heard it at last, and a voice urging the
rowers on; and soon a boat came out of the blackness of the night,
reeling crazily over the seas.
Medbury stood on the rail, with the crew clustered behind him, as the
boat swung in.
“Steady!” he sang out. “Steady there, or you’ll swamp her! Hold off,
and watch your chance!”
There came a “smooth,” and the boat shot in, and a black little figure
leaped upon a thwart, and, steadied by two men, was swung up over the
rail and to the deck by Medbury almost before he realized that it was a
As her feet struck the deck, she turned with a little laugh.
“_Mon Dieu!_” she cried, “eet iss betteh–dees.” She watched the others
coming over the rail, and, when all were safe, turned to Medbury with a
little courtesy. “Eet iss ver’ _ro_manteec tow be safed from doze salt
wateh by so nize young gentleman,” she murmured, with a gleeful face.
“Yo’ happen tow be a mah’ied man, maybe?”
“No, ma’am,” Medbury answered soberly.
She laughed in his face.
“Yo’ sad faw das, maybe?” she asked mischievously.
“Oh, no,” he answered, laughingly recovering himself.
“Das iss mo’ betteh,” she said demurely, and turned to Hetty.
Taking both her hands in her own, she kissed her impulsively.
“Ah ahm mo’ gladdeh faw tow see yo’ naw ahnybody,” she said. “Ah see
nut’ing but doze mens all tam. Ah t’ink Ah go git crezzy,” she added
They got the brig on her course again, and took the captain of the boat
and his two passengers down into the cabin. The captain said his vessel
was a Danish bark from Copenhagen, bound for Santa Cruz, and she had
been burned two days before. They had taken to their boats, but, as
there was no wind, they had lingered near, in the hope that the smoke
from the burning vessel would be a beacon for some rescuer. But no
vessel had been sighted, and before night came on they had started on
their long road. Their other boat had been lost in the fog.
The captain had told his story in fair English, and at its close he
turned to his passengers, and said they were going home to Santa
Cruz, where the young man, a lieutenant in the army, was stationed.
His sister, Miss Stromberg, he added, lived with her brother. As he
mentioned their names, he bowed. Both rose, and, passing gravely
around the group, shook hands with all. They were much alike–small,
dark-haired, with handsome, piquant faces. Life seemed a huge joke to
As they seated themselves again, the girl looked about her and smiled.
“Ah t’ink dis iss mo’ nizeh naw das liddy boat,” she said.
“Mooch mo’ nizeh,” her brother agreed. He smiled, and bowed to the
collected company, beginning with Hetty and ending with her.
“I hope so,” said Captain March; then he turned to the Danish captain
and added: “I’m glad to get your men; I’ve already found your vessel.”
When he had finished the story of his own misfortune, he went up on
deck, followed by the two rescued men.
“My dear,” said Mrs. March to the girl, “you must be tired out. Now you
must have something to eat and then go straight to bed. My daughter can
easily take you in her room.”
The girl laughed, and, leaning forward, placed her hand on the
“Ah t’ink das iss mos’ kind, lak ma own modder. Das iss ve’y nize. How
s’all Ah say no at so kind heaht? Ah t’ink Ah ahm ‘mos’ t’ousand year’
old, and ‘mos’ aslip–me.” Her shoulders drooped; her eyes closed.
“And das iss ve’y im_po_lite wiz so kind, good peop’!” Her eyes opened
again, and begged forgiveness for the discourtesy.
“Nonsense, child!” said Mrs. March. “I should think you’d be half dead.
I only hope you won’t find worse trouble here; though I must say we
deserve all we get for trusting ourselves on the water–we women.”
“Yo’ lak not doze wateh?” Miss Stromberg asked.
“Like it!” said Mrs. March. “I’m afraid every minute.”
“Ah!” she murmured piteously. Her eyes caught Drew’s look, and she
smiled. “Yo’ lak eet, maybe?” she asked him.
“Yes,” he answered; “or at least until to-night. But I do not know it
“No?” she said.
“Mr. Drew is a minister of the gospel,” explained Mrs. March, with
dignity; then she added with smiling derision: “He thinks he’s taking a
“Ah!”–Miss Stromberg flashed a bright smile upon Drew–“das iss ve’y
nize tow be a min_ees_ter–tow be so good as tow prich tow peop’. Ma
fader one also wass; but me–” she shrugged her shoulders–“Ah find das
ve’y hahd tow be so good all da tam. Eet iss ve’y sad not tow tek doze
examp’ off ma fader.” She sighed.
Her brother and Captain Rand joined her at supper, and brother and
sister were very gay; but the captain ate hurriedly, and speedily
returned to the deck. Lieutenant Stromberg soon followed him, but Drew
lingered. Miss Stromberg had been telling her experiences in the wreck.
“And you were not frightened?” he asked her.
“Mos’ exceeding’,” she answered gaily.
“Your brother says you were very brave,” he told her, smilingly.
“He!” she exclaimed, with gay scorn. “He knows not. Eet iss woman’s
paht tow deceife efer. Yo’ learn so not alretty?” She laughed in his
“Ah, I have much to learn!” he answered, with a smile.
“Eet iss so,” she agreed; “doze theologic school tich not efer’t’ing.”
“Now I shall be on my guard,” he answered, and, going up the
companionway, laughingly bade her good night.
“On guahd!” Her scoffing voice followed him. “Das iss doze mos’ worse
Smilingly he walked to the rail, and, leaning his elbows on it, looked
out into the night. Medbury, walking the deck, stopped at his side.
“Jolly little bit of flotsam we picked up,” he said.
“Yes,” answered Drew; “she is charming.”
“Well, she’s a little flirt,” said Medbury. “Did you hear what she said
to me when she came aboard? It took away my breath for a minute.” He
“She’s audacious,” said Drew; “but I think that’s all. I should rather
say she is bent on amusing herself. I should call her remarkably
“Well, she’s remarkably pretty,” replied Medbury. “And what a voice!
She makes that lingo of hers sound like a pretty little piece of music.
I hope we’ll not have to make her take to the boat again.”
Until then Drew had hardly thought of the wind. Now it seemed like the
pressure of a hand against his face. The darkness of the night was
relieved by a luminous haze close down to the sea, which seemed to
radiate a mysterious light that was like an opaque spray. The stars
were gone, and the wind no longer came in gusts, but in a great rush
of sound that overbore speech like the beat of a corps of drums, near
and threatening. Every strand of rigging twanged in the sweep of the
gale; the canvas hummed with a muffled roar; now and then a wave broke
amidships with a sudden shock, and ran hissing across the deck.
Medbury had gone forward to the pumps, which stopped suddenly, and Drew
felt his way along the house to the break in the deck. A group stood
about the well with a lantern, and Medbury was bending over it. “Slack
three feet and a half,” he said, straightening up. Captain March turned
away without a word, and walked aft; but Drew stayed to see the pumps
rigged again and their wearying thump begin once more, with four men at
the bars. As Medbury passed him, Drew asked him what it was.
“Three and a half feet,” he said, and hurried past.
Then Drew at last understood that there was that depth of water in the
It came on to rain later, at first a few small drops out of the black
sky, and then a driving sheet that seemed to sweep straight on and
never to fall. One by one the passengers disappeared, and Captain March
and Medbury, in oilskins, held the quarter-deck with the man at the
wheel. Back and forth across the deck the captain walked, now climbing
to windward, with his body bent forward and his legs far apart, now
braced back, and taking short steps down the wet incline, and sometimes
breaking into a little run and checking himself at the rail. Medbury
stood for the most part at the windward corner of the house, going
forward from time to time, but never for long. They rarely spoke.
Once Medbury went to the binnacle for a moment.
“Steady, man! steady!” he said. “You’re yawing over half the card.”
“Steady, sir,” the sailor replied in an emotionless voice.
Captain March stopped his walk at the wheel, and looked aloft.
“Steer hard?” he asked good-naturedly. He had shouted, for the uproar
was now too great for ordinary speech.
“Yes, sir,” the man replied, and bent to the spokes.
“Guess I’ll take a hold with you,” shouted the captain, and stepped to
his side; but Medbury touched his arm.
“I’ll take it,” he said; but the captain shook his head.
“No,” he answered; “I’ll try it a spell.”
Medbury cast an uneasy look aloft at the maintopsail. In the murky
light he could see it bellied out like a great bowl.
“It’s that topsail makes her steer hard,” he cried in an aggrieved
Captain March did not glance up.
“Yes,” he shouted; “but I guess it’s drawing some.”
Medbury looked at him sharply, and then turned away, grinning.
“Well, I guess it is!” he muttered to himself. “The old pirate!”
He made his way to the topsail-sheet, and shook it; it was like a rod
“Couldn’t budge it, if I wanted to,” he said to himself. “I wonder how
long that sail’s going to stand all this.”
He started forward, shot in under the lee of the center-house as a
great green sea came over the rail, and, dripping, mounted to the
forecastle-deck. The lookout stood with his arms clasped about the
capstan-head, staring straight ahead. In his yellow oilskins, he
had the look of a wooden man, washed by the seas, immobile, without
Medbury took him by the shoulder, and he barely turned his head. His
face was as emotionless as his figure; only his eyes showed life.
“You’ll–” Medbury lowered his head as he began to shout, for a sheet
of spray sprang at his face like a cat, blinding him and making him
gasp. Then he felt the deck slipping into a bottomless abyss, and,
opening his eyes, saw the jibboom disappear, then the bowsprit, while
over the bow rolled a great green wave, shot with white, and irradiated
with phosphorescence. Almost to the waist it buried them, while they
stood for what seemed an interminable time, clasping the capstan,
with the dragging water roaring about them. The strange fancy flashed
across Medbury’s mind that it was like being on the nose of a gigantic
mole frantically burrowing underground. Then the bow rose again, shook
itself free, and Medbury and the sailor, unlocking their grip on the
capstan, looked at each other.
“You’ll have to get out of this,” shouted Medbury, finishing what he
had begun to say. The man nodded.
“That was the first bad one, sir,” he yelled back. “I don’t know’s
I mind bein’ drownded, but I don’t want to be speared to death.” He
looked aloft, where the lighter spars and sails seemed like a falling
arch above him. “I’ve been expectin’ to get that royal-yard through my
back for the last hour. Couldn’t hear it if it did tumble–in all this
“Well, you’ll have to get out of this,” Medbury repeated mechanically.
“Go up to the top of the center-house. You’ll be safe there.”
They made their way down, the man going up to his station, and Medbury
“She’s burrowing a good deal,” he shouted in the captain’s ear–“like
an old mole.”
The captain nodded.
“Good reason,” he replied.
“What did you say?”
“I said, ‘Good reason.’ There’s a lot of heft in this wind.”
“I sent the lookout up to the top of the center-house,” Medbury now
called. “No place for him forward.”
“That’s right,” answered Captain March; then he nodded his head to show
that he had heard and approved.
The watch was changed at twelve, and the second mate came on deck, but
Medbury still lingered. Captain March would not leave the wheel. At
three bells Medbury sounded the pumps again, and reported a full three
and a half feet of water in the hold. It had gained two inches in three
Captain March merely nodded when he was told, and turned his
inscrutable face aloft.
The night was dragging on toward the hour when the watch on deck is
the hardest to bear. In his weariness of body and mind, Medbury had
grown indifferent to the tremendous rush of the wind. The noises of the
night no longer seemed near him, but far off, muffled by some strange
mental wind-break that hedged him in as if by a wall. Once or twice he
caught himself nodding, and looked up, startled, to take a turn or two
across the deck. His mind was tense with the mental strain, and the
changing of the men at the pumps, or any pause in the monotony of the
uproar, irritated him, as the stopping of a railroad train at stations
affects one dozing through a long journey. He was not afraid,–he had
even begun to exult in the self-control of his superior, seeing in his
perfect handling of his vessel something uncanny, even godlike,–yet
he was all the while keenly alive to the thought that Hetty lay below,
within the circle of impending danger. It was like being compelled to
run for one’s life under a great weight.
It was past four bells when the maintopsail split with a sharp report
like musketry-fire, and, looking up, they saw black space where just
before they had seen a gray hollow of canvas loom through the night. A
ragged fringe of gray flapped along the bolt-ropes, whipping straight
out in the force of the gale. They let tack and sheet go with a rush,
and strove to clew up the topsail, trying to save, in the stoical
following of habit, what was no longer worth saving.
Medbury came aft when they had clewed up what remained of the sail. It
seemed ludicrous to try to stow that frazzled bit of whipping canvas.
He went close to the captain.
“I didn’t stow it, sir,” he shouted in his ear. “Didn’t seem worth
while to send a man aloft. No place for him. Nothing but a rag left.”
“No, no,” the captain roared. “That’s right. Don’t want to expose
anybody more’n we can help.” His voice seemed far away–detached, as it
were, in some strange manner.
Medbury still lingered near. He was a bit excited, and wished to talk.
“Steer any easier, sir?” he roared.
Captain March nodded, then he leaned toward his mate.
“Yes,” he yelled. He nodded aloft. “Been expecting that.” Then, for
the first time in his life, he became communicative as to his plans at
sea. “It’s like this,” he went on: “We’ve got five hundred miles to run
in this craft or an open boat. I’ll make it in this, if I can. Got to
take some risk, you know. Can’t afford to take in sail as long as she
carries it. When it goes of its own accord, well and good. Can’t help
Medbury had begun to long, with an indescribable sense of weariness,
for the coming of day. Once, as he looked eastward, it seemed to him
that the curtain of darkness had lifted: the crests of the waves no
longer showed a vivid contrast to the black body of the watery waste,
but both were fading into a neutral tone of gray, and objects on board
began to have more definite outlines. Then all at once the royal flew
out of its bolt-ropes, like a hound loosened from its leash, and went
twisting and snapping into the night.
Medbury saw the yard lowered to its place and all things made snug
forward. As he passed under the foresail to go aft again, he had to
brace himself against the wind, which drew under the sail like a
great flue. Every cord of the sail seemed vibrant with sound; and as
he staggered on, out of the tail of his eye he watched the mainsail
tug at its sheet, and boom and gaff swing up like straws. As his head
rose above the top of the house, he saw that Captain March’s eyes were
following him, and he turned his own away.
“If he sees me watching that mainsail,” he said to himself, “he’ll
think I’m wondering why he doesn’t take it in.” He smiled grimly.
“Well, that would be God’s truth; but he sha’n’t know it.” So he stood
and gazed steadily seaward.
Now it was surely day–day that showed itself in a gray sea leaping
against a gray sky. A driving mist, too vaporous to be called rain,
gave the same neutral tone to the vessel, which seemed to have lost
her individuality overnight. She had the tired, lifeless look of the
men on her deck; and as she groaned and whined along the watery road,
her aspect was at once human and wholly sad. Though they were far to
the south, the mist was cold upon their faces. Now and then a dash of
spray flew across the quarter-deck, and its greater warmth was pleasant
in comparison. By eight o’clock the water in the hold had gained six
inches, and the crew were beginning to lose heart.
The group that gathered in the cabin that day had the restlessness
of people waiting to start on a long journey. In her growing fear,
Mrs. March hungered for companionship; she steadily kept to the
cabin, refusing to go to her room, but half-sat, half-reclined upon
the lounge, and watched the wooden walls reel about her. Whenever an
unusually heavy sea rolled them down, she gripped the back of the
lounge and prayed in silence; and when it passed she looked about her
with a spent face. Hetty and Miss Stromberg sat in steamer-chairs,
talked a little, and sometimes laughed without reason; from time to
time they staggered to their room, never remaining long, or losing for
a moment the aspect of being about to do something quite different.
Drew tried to be cheerful, but felt that he was only inane; now and
then he read in a book that at other times he held closed over his
finger. All day Lieutenant Stromberg sat at the table and played
solitaire, resolutely forbearing to cheat himself, being restrained by
the thought that he might be near his last hour. At times he made jokes
that no one seemed to understand, and then looked up wonderingly when
he laughed alone.
It was afternoon when Hetty, unable longer to bear the thought of
the dark, close cabin,–all the windows had now been battened down
and the skylight covered,–made her way to the forward companionway,
and, opening the doors, looked out upon the deck with eyes wide with
wondering fear. The leeward rail was level with the sea, which boiled
about it; the deck ran like a mill-race. The sky was lost in the
driving mist, which closed about them in a gray wall that seemed like
a barrier to hide the impending dangers beyond. Clinging to the door,
she stepped out upon the deck and glanced aft. The wind beat her down
like a flower-stalk, and she crouched upon the door-step. But Medbury
had seen her, and hurried to her side.
“You mustn’t stay here; you know you mustn’t,” he protested. “We may
ship a sea at any time.” He himself was dripping, and his face was rosy
with the damp wind: he looked like Neptune’s very brother.
“Yes,” she cried; “yes; I’ll go in a minute. I couldn’t stand it down
there another second.” She lifted her face above the house for an
instant, and nodded aft. “What is that for?”
Above the taffrail, from quarter to quarter, a stout piece of canvas
had been stretched between two upright poles, shutting off the outlook
astern. Medbury glanced toward it before he replied.
“That?” he said. “Oh, to keep the spray off the glass of the binnacle.
It clouds it so the men can’t read the compass.” It did not seem to him
wise to tell her that it was to keep the helmsmen from glancing over
their shoulders at the following seas, and perhaps losing their nerve
at a critical moment. “Please go down now; it makes me nervous to see
She crouched down upon the door-step and looked up at him with a smile.
“I didn’t suppose you were ever nervous,” she told him.
“Well, I am, about you–any woman, in a sea like this.”
“Oh,” she murmured, and looked away, thinking of his qualifying
“any woman.” He had never spoken like that before–classed her with
other women. It showed that he had accepted the situation, and she
told herself that she was glad; nevertheless, it was not an unmixed
gladness: for the first time she felt that something had gone out of
her life that she had always calmly accepted as being as unchanging as
her native hills. Yet it seemed unreasonable that it should sadden her.
With a little shrug of impatience she put the thought away just as he
leaned to speak to her again.
“Won’t you go below now, Hetty?” he said, with a touch of impatience.
“I can’t stay here.”
“I’ve not asked you to,” she replied.
“You know what I mean well enough,” he said. “I can’t leave you here
alone. You are a little tease, for all you can be so dignified at
“If you call me names, I shall certainly be dignified,” she declared.
She looked away as she added: “You wouldn’t call Miss Stromberg a
tease, I’m sure.”
“She’s a little flirt,” he answered promptly.
“How do you know?” she asked.
“Oh, I just think so. The dominie says she isn’t, though. It’s only
fair to say that,” he replied.
“I _wondered_ what men found to talk about so much,” she said.
He did not think it necessary to answer this, but stood looking out
over the deck with unseeing eyes. A wave broke at the side, leaped up,
and swept across the deck in a sheet of spray.
She gasped as it struck her face, and then she laughed.
“You see,” he warned her. “The next time it may be worse.”
“It’s better than that stuffy cabin,” she answered, feeling an
exhilaration in the salt spray and the wind. There was comfort in his
presence, too, though she hardly acknowledged it to herself. It had
needed this storm and the danger to bring back to her all her old
ideals of manliness, cherished in her girlhood in the little seaport,
but weakened by her later acquaintance with a widely different life.
She looked up suddenly and said:
“Can’t we still be friends, Tom–just friends?”
“I’m your friend,” he answered. He did not look toward her as he spoke.
“You wouldn’t speak to me yesterday.”
“I was a fool,” he said, still looking away from her.
“It hurt me,” she said. She paused, but he did not speak, and she went
on: “We can always be friends, then, can’t we?”
For a moment he did not speak or look at her.
“Oh, yes,” he said at last; “we’ll be friends. I’m going back to the
old long voyages again as soon as I can–in Santa Cruz, if your father
will let me off. In a year or two, or perhaps three, I may go back
home, and we may meet on the street, and shake hands, and smile, and
you will go away satisfied. ‘He’s my friend yet,’ you may say, and
maybe think of me again in a year or two, or perhaps meet me and bow as
we pass. Or, more likely, _you_ will go away, and, coming back again
after a long time, meet a bent, brown old man and not recognize him. Or
you may ask about me, and be told: ‘Oh, he died long ago, in the South
Pacific or Japan, or some other God-forsaken place.’ ‘I knew him long
ago,’ you’ll say, and then go on asking about others. I guess that’s
what friendship like ours comes to mean.”
He turned to her as he ceased, and saw her rising to a stooping
position under the low sliding-hood. Her face was white.
“I’m going below now,” she said.
“It’s best,” he answered; “I’m afraid to have you here.”
She descended two steps and then turned.
“You are cruel,” she said. Her voice trembled.
“What did you say?” he asked.
He leaned over toward her, for the gale had drowned her words.
“I said, ‘You are cruel.'”
“Oh,” he said vaguely, and watched her as she disappeared below.