Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Mary Meehan, and PG Distributed Proofreaders
By Joseph Hergesheimer
It is only the path of pure simplicity which guards and preserves the
TO HAZLETON MIRKIL, JR.
_from Dorothy and Joseph Hergesheimer_
Very late indeed in May, but early in the morning, Laurel Ammidon lay in
bed considering two widely different aspects of chairs. The day before
she had been eleven, and the comparative maturity of that age had filled
her with a moving disdain for certain fanciful thoughts which had given
her extreme youth a decidedly novel if not an actually adventurous
setting. Until yesterday, almost, she had regarded the various chairs of
the house as beings endowed with life and character; she had held
conversations with some, and, with a careless exterior not warranted by
an inner dread, avoided others in gloomy dusks. All this, now, she
contemptuously discarded. Chairs were--chairs, things to sit on, wood and
Yet she was slightly melancholy at losing such a satisfactory lot of
reliable familiars: unlike older people, victims of the most
disconcerting moods and mysterious changes, chairs could always be
counted on to remain secure in their individual peculiarities.
She could see by her fireplace the elaborately carved teakwood chair
that her grandfather had brought home from China, which had never varied
from the state of a brown and rather benevolent dragon; its claws were
always claws, the grinning fretted mouth was perpetually fixed for a
cloud of smoke and a mild rumble of complaint. The severe waxed hickory
beyond with the broad arm for writing, a source of special pride, had
been an accommodating and precise old gentleman. The spindling gold
chairs in the drawingroom were supercilious creatures at a king's ball;
the graceful impressive formality of the Heppelwhites in the dining room
belonged to the loveliest of Boston ladies. Those with difficult
haircloth seats in the parlor were deacons; others in the breakfast room
talkative and unpretentious; while the deep easy-chair before the library
fire was a ship. There were mahogany stools, dwarfs of dark tricks; angry
high-backed things in the hall below; and a terrifying shape of gleaming
red that, without question, stirred hatefully and reached out curved and
Anyhow, such they had all seemed. But lately she had felt a growing
secrecy about it, an increasing dread of being laughed at; and now,
definitely eleven, she recognized the necessity of dropping such pretense
even with herself. They were just chairs, she rerepeated; there was an
end of that.
The tall clock with the brass face outside her door, after a
premonitory whirring, loudly and firmly struck seven, and Laurel
wondered whether her sisters, in the room open from hers, were awake.
She listened attentively but there was no sound of movement. She made a
noise in her throat, that might at once have appeared accidental and
been successful in its purpose of arousing them; but there was no
response. She would have gone in and frankly waked Janet, who was not
yet thirteen and reasonable; but experience had shown her that Camilla,
reposing in the eminence and security of two years more, would permit no
such light freedom with her slumbers.
Sidsall, who had been given a big room for herself on the other side of
their parents, would greet anyone cheerfully no matter how tightly she
might have been asleep. And Sidsall, the oldest of them all, was nearly
sixteen and had stayed for part of their cousin Lucy Saltonstone's dance,
where no less a person than Roger Brevard had asked her for a quadrille.
Laurel's thoughts grew so active that she was unable to remain any
longer in bed; she freed herself from the enveloping linen and crossed
the room to a window through which the sun was pouring in a sharp bright
angle. She had never known the world to smell so delightful--it was one
of the notable Mays in which the lilacs blossomed--and she stood
responding with a sparkling life to the brilliant scented morning, the
honey-sweet perfume of the lilacs mingled with the faintly pungent odor
of box wet with dew.
She could see, looking back across a smooth green corner of the Wibirds'
lawn next door, the enclosure of their own back yard, divided from the
garden by a white lattice fence and row of prim grayish poplars. At the
farther wall her grandfather, in a wide palm leaf hat, was stirring about
his pear trees, tapping the ground and poking among the branches with his
ivory headed cane.
Laurel exuberantly performed her morning toilet, half careless, in her
soaring spirits, of the possible effect of numerous small ringings of
pitcher on basin, the clatter of drawers, upon Camilla. Yesterday she had
worn a dress of light wool delaine; but this morning, she decided
largely, summer had practically come; and, on her own authority, she got
an affair of thin pineapple cloth out of the yellow camphorwood chest.
She hurriedly finished weaving her heavy chestnut hair into two gleaming
plaits, fastened a muslin guimpe at the back, and slipped into her dress.
Here, however, she twisted her face into an expression of annoyance--her
years were affronted by the length of pantalets that hung below her
skirt. Such a show of their narrow ruffles might do for a very small
girl, but not for one of eleven; and she caught them up until only the
merest fulled edge was visible. Then she made a buoyant descent to the
lower hall, left the house by a side door to the bricked walk and an
arched gate into the yard, and joined her grandfather.
"Six bells in the morning watch," he announced, consulting a thick gold
timepiece. "Head pump rigged and deck swabbed down?" Secure in her
knowledge of the correct answers for these sudden interrogations Laurel
impatiently replied, "Yes, sir."
"Scuttle butt filled?"
"Yes, sir." She frowned and dug a heel in the soft ground.
"Then splice the keel and heave the galley overboard."
This last she recognized as a sally of humor, and contrived a fleeting
perfunctory smile. Her grandfather turned once more to the pears. "See
the buds on those Ashton Towns," he commented. Laurel gazed critically:
the varnished red buds were bursting with white blossom, the new leaves
unrolling, tender green and sticky. "But the jargonelles--" he drew in
his lips doubtfully. She studied him with the profound interest his sheer
being always invoked: she was absorbed in his surprising large roundness
of body, like an enormous pudding; in the deliberate care with which he
moved and planted his feet; but most of all by the fact that when he was
angry his face got quite purple, the color of her mother's paletot or a
They crossed the yard to where the vines of the latter, and of white
Chasselas--Laurel was familiar with these names from frequent
horticultural questionings--had been laid down in cold frames for later
transplanting; and from them the old man, her palm tightly held in his,
trod ponderously to the currant bushes massed against the closed arcade
of the stables, the wood and coal and store houses, across the rear of
At last, with frequent disconcerting mutterings and explosive breaths,
he finished his inspection and turned toward the house. Laurel,
conscious of her own superiority of apparel, surveyed her companion in a
frowning attitude exactly caught from her mother. He had on that mussy
suit of yellow Chinese silk, and there was a spot on the waistcoat
straining at its pearl buttons. She wondered, maintaining the silent
mimicry of elder remonstrance, why he would wear those untidy old things
when his chests were heaped with snowy white linen and English
broadcloths. It was very improper in an Ammidon, particularly in one who
had been captain of so many big ships, and in court dress with a cocked
hat met the Emperor of Russia.
They did not retrace Laurel's steps, but passed through a narrow wicket
to the garden that lay directly behind the house. The enclosure was full
of robin-song and pouring sunlight; the lilac trees on either side of the
summer-house against the gallery of the stable were blurred with their
new lavender flowering; the thorned glossy foliage of the hedge of June
roses on Briggs Street glittered with diamonds of water; and the rockery
in the far corner showed a quiver of arbutus among its strange and lacy
ferns and mosses.
Laurel sniffed the fragrant air, filled with a tumult of energy; every
instinct longed to skip; she thought of jouncing as high as the poplars,
right over the house and into Washington Square beyond. "Miss Fidget!"
her grandfather exclaimed, exasperated, releasing her hand. "You're like
holding on to a stormy petrel."
"I don't think that's very nice," she replied.
"God bless me," he said, turning upon her his steady blue gaze; "what
have we got here, all dressed up to go ashore?" She sharply elevated a
shoulder and retorted, "Well, I'm eleven." His look, which had seemed
quite fierce, grew kindly again. "Eleven," he echoed with a satisfactory
amazement; "that will need some cumshaws and kisses." The first, she
knew, was a word of pleasant import, brought from the East, and meant
gifts; and, realizing that the second was unavoidably connected with it,
she philosophically held up her face. Lifting her over his expanse of
stomach he kissed her loudly. She didn't object, really, or rather she
wouldn't at all but for a strong odor of Manilla cheroots and the Medford
rum he took at stated periods.
After this they moved on, through the bay window of the drawing-room that
opened on the garden, where a woman was brushing with a nodding feather
duster, under the white arch that framed the main stairway, and turned
aside to where breakfast was being laid. Laurel saw that her father was
already seated at the table, intent upon the tall, thickly printed sheet
of the Salem _Register_. He paused to meet her dutiful lips; then with a
"Good morning, father," returned to his reading. Camilla entered at
Laurel's heels; and the latter, in a delight slightly tempered by doubt,
saw that she had been before her sister in a suitable dress for such a
warm day. Camilla still wore her dark merino; and she gazed with mingled
surprise and annoyance at Laurel's airy garb.
"Did mother say you might put that on?" she demanded. "Because if she
didn't I expect you will have to go right up from breakfast and change.
It isn't a dress at all for so early in the morning. Why, I believe it's
one of your very best." The look of critical disapproval suddenly became
"Laurel Ammidon, wherever are your pantalets?"
"I'm too big to have pantalets hanging down over my shoetops," she
replied defiantly, "and so I just hitched them up. You can still see the
frill." Janet had come into the room, and stood behind her. "Don't you
notice Camilla," she advised; "she's not really grown up." They turned at
the appearance of their mother. "Dear me, Camilla," the latter observed,
"you are getting too particular for any comfort. What has upset you now?"
"Look at Laurel," Camilla replied; "that's all you need to do. You'd
think she went to dances instead of Sidsall"
Laurel painfully avoided her mother's comprehensive glance. "Very
beautiful," the elder said in a tone of palpable pleasure. Laurel
advanced her lower lip ever so slightly in the direction of Camilla.
"But you have taken a great deal into your own hands." She shifted
apparently to another topic. "There will be no lessons to-day for I
have to send Miss Gomes into Boston." At this announcement Laurel was
flooded with a joy that obviously belonged to her former, less
dignified state. "However," her mother continued addressing her, "since
you have dressed yourself like a lady I shall expect you to behave
appropriately; no soiled or torn skirts, and an hour at your piano
scales instead of a half."
Laurel's anticipation of pleasure ebbed as quickly as it had come--she
would have to move with the greatest caution all day, and spend a whole
hour at the piano. It was the room to which she objected rather than the
practicing; a depressing sort of place where she was careful not to move
anything out of the stiff and threatening order in which it belonged. The
chairdeacons in particular were severely watchful; but that, now, she had
determined to ignore.
She turned to johnnycakes, honey and milk, only half hearing, in her
preoccupation with the injustice that had overtaken her, the conversation
about the table. Her gaze strayed over the walls of the breakfast room,
where water color drawings of vessels, half models of ships on teakwood
or Spanish mahogany boards, filled every possible space. Some her
grandfather had sailed in as second and then first mate, of others he had
been master, and the rest, she knew, were owned by Ammidon, Ammidon and
Saltonstone, her grandfather, father and uncle.
Just opposite her was the _Two Capes_ at anchor in Table Bay, the sails
all furled except the fore-topsail which hung in the gear. A gig manned
by six sailors in tarpaulin hats with an officer in the stern sheets
swung with dripping oars across the dark water of the foreground; on the
left an inky ship was standing in close hauled on the port tack with all
her canvas set. It was lighter about the _Two Capes_, and at the back a
mountain with a flat top--showing at once why it was called Table
Bay--rose against an overcast sky. Laurel knew a great deal about the
_Two Capes_--for instance that she had been a barque of two hundred and
nine tons--because it had been her grandfather's first command, and he
never tired of narrating every detail of that memorable voyage.
Laurel could repeat most of these particulars: They sailed on the tenth
of April in 'ninety-three, and were four and a half months to the Cape of
Good Hope; twenty days later, on the rocky island of St. Paul,
grandfather had a fight with a monster seal; a sailor took the scurvy,
and, dosed with niter and vinegar, was stowed in the longboat, but he
died and was buried at sea in the Doldrums. Then, with a cargo of Sumatra
pepper, they made Corregidor Island and Manilla Bay where the old Spanish
fort stood at the mouth of the Pasig. The barque, the final cargo of hemp
and indigo and sugar in the hold, set sail again for the Cape of Good
Hope, and returned, by way of Falmouth in England and Rotterdam, home.
The other drawings were hardly less familiar; ships, barques, brigs and
topsail schooners, the skillful work of Salmon, Anton Roux and Chinnery.
There was the _Celestina_ becalmed off Marseilles, her sails hanging idly
from the yards and stays, her hull with painted ports and carved bow and
stern mirrored in the level sea. There was the _Albacore_ running through
the northeast trades with royals and all her weather studding sails set.
Farther along the _Pallas Athena_, in heavy weather off the Cape of Good
Hope, was being driven hard across the Agulhas Bank under double-reefed
topsails, reefed courses, the fore-topmast staysail and spanker, with the
westerly current breaking in an ugly cross sea, but, as her grandfather
always explained, setting the ship thirty or forty miles to windward in a
day. She lingered, finally, over the _Metacom_, running her easting down
far to the southward with square yards under a close-reefed maintop sail,
double-reefed foresail and forestaysail, dead before a gale and gigantic
long seas hurling the ship on in the bleak watery desolation.
Laurel was closely concerned in all these. One cause for this was the
fact that her grandfather so often selected her as the audience for his
memories and stories, during which his manner was completely that of one
navigator to another; and a second flourished in the knowledge that
Camilla affected to disdain the sea and any of its connections.
Sidsall appeared and took her place with a collective greeting; while
Laurel, coming out of her abstraction, realized that they were discussing
the subject in which nearly every conversation now began or ended--the
solemn speculation of why her Uncle Gerrit Ammidon, master of the ship
_Nautilus_, was so long overdue from China. Laurel heard this from two
angles, or, otherwise, when her grandfather was or was not present, the
tone of the first far more encouraging than that of the latter. Her
father was speaking:
"My opinion is that he was unexpectedly held up at Shanghai. It's a new
port for us, and, Captain Verney tells me, very difficult to make: after
Woosung you have to get hold of two bamboo poles stuck up on the bank a
hundred feet apart as a leading mark, and, with these in range, steer for
the bar. The channel is very narrow, and he says the _Nautilus_ would
have to wait for high water, perhaps for the spring tide. She may have
got ashore, strained and sprung a leak, and had to discharge her cargo
"That's never Gerrit," the elder replied positively. "There isn't a
better master afloat. He can smell shoal water. I was certain we'd hear
from him when the _Sorsogon_ was back from Calcutta. Do you suppose,
William, that he took the _Nautilus_ about the Horn and--?" Laurel
wondered at the unmannerly way in which he gulped his coffee. "He might
have driven into the Antarctic winter," he proceeded. "My deck was swept
and all the boats stove off the Falklands in April."
"Gerrit's got a ship," the other asserted, "not a hermaphrodite brig
built like a butter box. You'll find that I am right and that he has been
tied up in port."
"I made eight hundred per cent on a first cargo for my owners," the elder
retorted. "Then there was trading, yes, and sailing, too. No chronometers
with confounded rates of variation and other fancy parlor instruments to
read your position from. When I first navigated it was with an astrolabe
and the moon. A master knew his lead, latitude and lookout then.
"Eight hundred barrels of flour and pine boards to Rio and back with
coffee and hides for Salem," he continued; "then out to Gibraltar and
Brazil with wine and on in ballast for Calcutta. Tahiti and Morea, the
Sandwich Islands and the Feejees. Sandalwood and tortoise shell and beche
de mer; sea horses' teeth, and saltpeter for the Chinese Government. I
don't want to hear about your bills of exchange and kegs of Spanish
dollars and solid cargoes of tea run back direct. Why, with your Canton
and India agents and sight drafts the China service is like dealing with
a Boston store."
Laurel saw that her father was assuming the expression of restrained
annoyance habitual when the elder contrasted old shipping ways with new.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the patient Chinaman will no longer exchange
silks and lacquer and teas for boiled sea slugs. He has learned to demand
something of value."
"Why, damn it, William," the other exploded, "nothing's more valuable to
a Chinese than his belly. They'll give eighteen hundred dollars a pecul
for birds' nests any day. As for your insinuation that we used to diddle
them--I never ran opium up from India to rot their souls. And when the
Chinese Government tried to stop it there's the British commercial
interests forcing it on them with cannon in 'forty-two.
"Look at the pepper we brought into Salem--" he was, Laurel realized with
intense interest, growing beautifully empurpled; "--lay right off the
beach at Mukka and did business with the Dato himself. We forded the bags
on the crew's backs across a river with muskets served in case the bloody
heathen drew their creeses. When we made sail everything was running over
with pepper--the boats and forecastle and cabins and between decks."
"Well, father, the heroic times are done, of course; I can't say that I'm
sorry. I shouldn't like to finance a voyage that reached out to three
years and depended on the captain's picking up six or seven cargoes."
The old man rose; and, muttering a plainly uncomplimentary period about
the resemblance of modern ship owners to clerks, walked with his heavy
careful tread from the room.
"You are so foolish to argue and excite him," William's wife told him.
Laurel regarded her with a passionate admiration for the shining hair
turning smoothly about her brow and drawn over her ears to the low coil
in the back, for her brown barége dress with velvet leaves and blue
forget-me-nots and tightest of long sleeves and high collar, and because
generally she was a mother to be owned and viewed with pride. She met
Laurel's gaze with a little friendly nod and said:
"Don't forget about your clothes, and I think you ought to finish the
practicing before dinner, so you'll be free for a walk with your
grandfather in the afternoon."
Soon after, Laurel stood in the hall viewing with disfavor the light
dress she had put on so gayly at rising. In spite of her sense of
increasing age she had a strong desire to play in the yard and climb
about in the woodhouse. Already the business of being grown up began to
pall upon her, the outlook dreary that included nothing but a whole hour
at the piano, an endless care of her skirts, and the slowest kind of walk
through Washington Square and down to Derby Wharf, where--no matter in
which direction and for what purpose they started forth--her
grandfather's way invariably led.
Janet joined her, and they stood irresolutely balancing on alternate
slippers. "Did you notice," the former volunteered, "mother is letting
Camilla have lots of starch in her petticoats, so that they stand right
out like crinoline? Wasn't she hateful this morning!" Laurel heard a
slight sound at her back, and, wheeling, saw her grandfather looking out
from the library door. A swift premonition of possible additional
misfortune seized her. Moving toward the side entrance she said to Janet,
"We'd better be going right away."
It was, however, too late. "Well, little girls," he remarked
benevolently, "since Miss Gomes has left for the day it would be as well
if I heard your geography lesson."
"I don't think mother intended for us to study today," Laurel replied,
making a face of appeal for Janet's support. But the latter remained
solidly and silently neutral.
"What, what," the elder mildly exploded; "mutiny in the forecastle! Get
right up here in the break of the quarter-deck or I'll harry you." He
stood aside while Laurel and Janet filed into the library. Geography was
the only subject their grandfather proposed for his instruction, and the
lesson, she knew, might take any one of several directions. He sometimes
heard it with the precision of Miss Gomes herself; he might substitute
for the regular questions such queries, drawn from his wide voyages, as
he thought to be of infinitely greater use and interest; or, better
still, he frequently gave them the benefit of long reminiscences,
through which they sat blinking in a mechanical attention or slightly
wriggling with minds far away from the old man's periods, full of
outlandish names and places, and, when he got excited, shocking swears.
He turned the easy-chair--the one which Laurel had thought of as a
ship--away from the fireplace, now covered with a green slatted blind for
the summer; and they drew forward two of the heavy chairs with shining
claw feet that stood against the wall. Smiley's Geography, a book no
larger than the shipmaster's hand, was found and opened to Hindoostan, or
India within the Ganges. There was a dark surprising picture of Hindoos
doing Penance under the Banyan tree, and a confusing view of the Himaleh
"Stuff," he proceeded, gazing with disfavor at the illustrations. "This
ought to be written by men who have seen the world and know its tides and
landmarks. Do you suppose," he demanded heatedly of Janet, "that the
fellow who put this together ever took a ship through the Formosa Channel
against the northeast monsoon?"
"No, sir," Janet replied hastily.
"Here are Climate and Face of the country and Religion," he located these
items with a blunt finger, "but I can't find exports. I'll lay he won't
know a Bengal chintz from a bundle handkerchief."
"I don't think it says anything about exports," Laurel volunteered. "We
have the boundaries and--"
"Bilge," he interrupted sharply. "I didn't fetch boundaries back in the
_Two Capes_, did I?" He thrust the offending volume into a crevice of his
chair. "Laurel," he added, "what is the outport of St. Petersburg?"
"Cronstadt," she answered, after a violent searching of her memory.
"And for Manilla?" he turned to Janet.
"I can't think," she admitted.
"Cavite," the latter pronounced out of a racking mental effort.
"Just so, and--" he looked up at the ceiling, "the port for Boston?"
"I don't believe we've had that," she said firmly. His gaze fastened on
her so intently that she blushed into her lap. "Don't believe we've had
it," he echoed.
"Why, confound it--" he paused and regarded her with a new doubt.
"Laurel," he demanded, "what is an outport?"
She had a distinct feeling of justifiable injury. A recognized part of
the present system of examination was its strict limitation to questions
made familiar by constant repetition; and this last was entirely new.
She was sure of several kinds of ports--one they had after dinner,
another indicated a certain side of a vessel, and still a third was
Salem. But an outport--Cronstadt, Cavite, what it really meant, what they
were, had escaped her. She decided to risk an opinion.
"An outport," she said slowly, "is a--a part of a ship," that much
seemed safe--"I expect it's the place where they throw things like
potato peels through."
"You suppose what!" he cried, breathing quite hard. "A place where
they--" he broke off. "And you're Jeremy Ammidon's granddaughter! By
heaven, it would make a coolie laugh. It's like William, who never would
go to sea, to have four daughters in place of a son. I'm done with you;
go tinker on the piano." They got down from their chairs and departed
with an only half concealed eagerness. "Do you think he means it," Janet
asked hopefully, "and he'll never have any geography again?"
"No, I don't," Laurel told her shortly. She was inwardly ruffled, and
further annoyed at Janet's placid acceptance of whatever the day brought
along. Janet was a stick! She turned away and found herself facing the
parlor and the memory of the impending hour of practice. Well, it had to
be done before dinner, and she went forward with dragging feet.
Within the formal shaded space of the chamber she stopped to speculate
on the varied and colorful pictures of the wall paper reaching from the
white paneling above her waist to the deep white carving at the ceiling.
The scene which absorbed her most showed, elevated above a smooth stream,
a marble pavilion with sweeping steps and a polite company about a
reclining gentleman with bare arms and a wreath on his head and a lady in
flowing robes playing pipes. To the right, in deep green shadow, a
charmer was swinging from ropes of flowers, lovers hid behind a brown
mossy trunk; while on the left, against a weeping willow and frowning
rock, four serene creatures gathered about a barge with a gilded prow.
Still on her reluctant progress to the piano she stopped to examine the
East India money on the lowest shelf of a locked corner cupboard. There
was a tiresome string of cash with a rattan twisted through their square
holes; silver customs taels, and mace and candareen; Chinese gold leaf
and Fukien dollars; coins from Cochin China in the shape of India ink,
with raised edges and characters; old Carolus hooked dollars; Sycee
silver ingots, smooth and flat above, but roughly oval on the lower
surface, not unlike shoes; Japanese obangs, their gold stamped and beaten
out almost as broad as a hand's palm; mohurs and pieces from Singapore;
Dutch guilders from Java; and the small silver and gold drops of Siam
She arrived finally at the harplike stool of the piano; but there she had
to wait until the clock in the hall above struck some division of the
hour for her guidance, and she rattled the brass rings that formed the
handles of drawers on either side of the keyboard. Later, her fingers
picking a precarious way through bass and treble, she heard Sidsall's
voice at the door; the latter was joined by their mother, and they went
out to the clatter of hoofs, the thin jingle of harness chains, where the
barouche waited for them in the street. Once Camilla obtruded into the
room. "I wonder you don't give yourself a headache," she remarked; "I
never heard more nerve-racking sounds."
Laurel gathered that Camilla was proud of this expression, which she must
have newly caught from some grown person. She considered a reply, but,
nothing sufficiently crushing occurring, she ignored the other in a
difficult transposition of her hands. Camilla left; the clock above
struck a second quarter; the third, while she honestly continued her
efforts up until the first actual note of the hour.
"Thank God that's over," she said in the liberal manner of a shipmaster.
Now only the walk with her grandfather remained of the actively tiresome
duties of the day. After dinner the sun blazed down with almost the heat
of midsummer, and Laurel felt unexpectedly indifferent, content to linger
in the house. Only too soon she heard inquiries for her; and in her
gaiter boots, a silk bonnet with a blue scarf tied under her chin and
flowing over a shoulder and palm leaf cashmere shawl, she accompanied the
old man across Pleasant Street and over the wide green Square to the
arched west gate with its gilt eagle and Essex Street.
"Will we be going on Central Street?" she asked.
"No reason for turning down there," he replied, forgetful of the
gingerbread shop with the shaky little bell inside the door, the buttered
gingerbread on the upper shelf for three cents and that without on the
lower for two. She gathered her hopes now about Webb's Drugstore, where
her grandfather sometimes stopped for a talk, and bought her rock candy,
Gibraltars or blackjacks. It was too hot for blackjacks, she decided,
and, with opportunity, would choose the cooling peppermint flavor of the
The elms on Essex Street were far enough in leaf to cast a flickering
shade in the faintly salt air drifting from the sea; and they progressed
so slowly that Laurel was able to study the contents of most of the store
windows they passed. Some held crewels and crimped white cakes of wax,
gayly colored reticule beads with a wooden spoon for a penny measure, and
"strawberry" emery balls. There was a West India store and a place where
they sold oil and candles, another had charts for mariners; while across
the way stood the East India Marine Hall.
Here her grandfather hesitated, and for a moment it seemed as if he would
go over and join the masters always to be found about the Museum. But in
the end he continued beyond the Essex House with its iron bow and lamp
over the entrance, past Cheapside to Webb's Drugstore, where he purchased
a bag of Peristaltic lozenges, and--after pretending to start away as if
nothing more were to be secured there--the Gibraltars.
They were returning, in the general direction of Derby Wharf, when Jeremy
Ammidon met a companion of past days at sea, and stopped for the
inevitable conversational exchange. The latter, who had such a great
spreading beard that Laurel couldn't determine whether or not he wore a
neck scarf, said:
"Barzil Dunsack all but died."
"Ha!" the other exclaimed. Laurel wondered at the indelicacy in speaking
about old Captain Dunsack to her grandfather, when everyone in Salem knew
they had quarreled years ago and not spoken to each other since.
"He was bad off," he persisted; "a cold grappled in his chest and went
into lung fever. Barzil's looking wasted, what with sickness and the
trouble about Edward." At a nod, half encouraging, he added, "It appears
Edward left Heard and Company in Canton and took ship back to Boston.
He's there now for what I know. Never sent any word to Salem or his
father. Looks a little as if he had been turned out of his berth. Then
one of Barzil's schooners caught the edge of the last hurricane off the
Great Bank and went ashore on Green Turtle Key. Used him near all up."
Laurel saw that her grandfather was frowning heavily and silently moving
his lips. The other left them standing and her companion brought his cane
down sharply. "Boy and boy," he said. "Barzil was a good man... looking
old. So am I, so am I. Feet almost useless. Laurel," he addressed her, "I
want you to go right on home. I've got to stop around and see an old
friend who has been sick." She left obediently, but paused once to gaze
back incredulously at the bulky shape of her grandfather moving toward
Barzil Dunsack's. That quarrel was part of their family history, she had
been aware of it as long as she had of the solemn clock in the second
hall; and not very far back, perhaps when she was eight, it had taken a
fresh activity of discussion around the person of her Uncle Gerrit, who,
it was feared, might now be drowned at sea. What it had all been about
neither she nor her sisters knew, for not only was the subject dropped at
the approach of any of them but they were forbidden to mention it.
At home she was unable to communicate her surprising news at once because
of the flood of talk that met her from the drawing-room. Olive Wibird and
Lacy, her cousin, were engaged with Sidsall in a conversation often a
duet and sometimes a trio. Laurel took a seat at the edge of the chatter
and followed it comprehensively. She didn't like Olive Wibird who would
greet her in a sugary voice; but elsewhere Olive was tremendously
admired, there were always men about her, serenades rising from the lawn
beneath her window, and Laurel herself had seen Olive's dressing table
laden with bouquets in frilly lace paper. She had one now, in a holder of
mother-of-pearl, with a gilt chain and ring. Her wide skirt was a mass of
over-drapery, knots of moss roses and green gauze ribbons; while a silver
cord ending in a tassel fell forward among her curls.
Lacy Saltonstone, almost as plainly dressed as Sidsall, was as usual
sitting straighter than anyone else Laurel ever saw; she had a brown
face with a finely curved nose and brown eyes, and her voice was cool
"For me," she said, "he is the most fascinating person in Salem."
Olive Wibird made a swift face of dissent. "He's too stiff and there is
gray in his hair. I like my men more like sparkling hock. Dancing with
him he holds you as if you were glass."
"I don't seem to remember you and Mr. Brevard together," Lacy commented.
"He hasn't asked me for centuries," the other admitted. "He did Sidsall,
though, as we all remember; didn't he, love?"
Sidsall's cheeks turned bright pink. Laurel dispassionately wished that
her sister wouldn't make such a show of herself. It was too bad that
Sidsall was so--so broad and well looking; she was not in the least pale
or interesting, and had neither Lacy's Saltonstone's thin gracefulness
nor Olive's popular manner.
"It was very noble of him," Sidsall agreed.
"But he was extremely engaged," Lacy assured her with her wide slow
stare. "He told me that you were like apple blossoms."
That might please Sidsall, thought Laurel, but she personally held apple
blossoms to be a very common sort of flower. Evidently something of the
kind had occurred to Olive, too, for she said: "Heaven only knows what
men will admire. It's clear they don't like a prude. I intend to have a
good time until I get married--"
"But what if you love in vain?" Sidsall interrupted.
"There isn't any need for that," Olive told her. "When I see a man I
want I'm going to get him. It's easy if you know how and make
opportunities. I always have one garter a little loose."
"Laurel," her sister turned, "I'm certain your supper is ready. Go along
like a nice child."
In her room a woman with a flat worn face and a dusty wisp of hair across
her neck was spreading underlinen, ironed into beautiful narrow wisps of
pleating, in a drawer. It was Hodie, a Methodist, the only one Laurel
knew, and the latter was always entranced by the servant's religious
exclamations, doubts and audible prayers. She was saying something now
about pits, gauds and vanities; and she ended a short profession of faith
with an amen so loud and sudden that Laurel, although she was waiting for
It was past seven, the air was so sweet with lilacs that they seemed to
be blooming in her room, and the sunlight died slowly from still space.
By leaning out of her window she could see over the Square. The
lamplighter was moving along its wooden fence, leaving faint twinkling
yellow lights, and there were little gleams from the windows on Bath
The gayety of her morning mood was replaced by a dim kind of wondering,
her thoughts became uncertain like the objects in the quivering light
outside. The palest possible star shone in the yellow sky; she had to
look hard or it was lost. Janet, stirring in the next room, seemed so far
away that she might not hear her, Laurel, no matter how loudly she
called. "Janet!" she cried, prompted by unreasoning dread. "You needn't
to yell," Janet complained, at the door. But already Laurel was oblivious
of her: she had seen a familiar figure slowly crossing Washington Square
--her grandfather coming home from Captain Dunsack's.
Gracious, how poky he was; she was glad that she wasn't dragging along at
his side. He seemed bigger and rounder than usual. She heard the tap of
his cane as he left the Common for Pleasant Street; then his feet moved
and stopped, moved and stopped, up the steps of their house.
She was sorry now that she hadn't known what an outport was, and
determined to ask him to-morrow. She liked his stories, that Camilla
disdained, about crews and Hong Kong and the stormy Cape. The thought of
Cape Horn brought back the memory of her Uncle Gerrit, absent in the
ship _Nautilus_. Her mental pictures of him were not clear--he was
almost always at sea--but she remembered his eyes, which were very
confusing to encounter, and his hair parted and carelessly brushing the
bottoms of his ears.
Laurel recalled hearing that Gerrit was his father's favorite, and she
suddenly understood something of the unhappiness that weighed upon the
old man. She hoped desperately that Janet or Camilla wouldn't come in and
laugh at her for crying. In bed she saw that the room was rapidly filling
with dusk. Only yesterday she would have told herself that the dragon in
the teakwood chair was stirring; but now Laurel could see that it never
moved. She rocked like the little boats that crossed the harbor or came
in from the ships anchored beyond the wharves, and settled into a sleep
like a great placid sea flooding the world of her home and the
lamplighter and her grandfather sorrowing for Uncle Gerrit.
When Jeremy Ammidon sent his granddaughter home alone, and turned toward
Captain Dunsack's, on Hardy Street, he stopped for a moment to approve
the diminishing sturdy figure. All William's children, though they were
girls, were remarkably handsome, with glowing red cheeks and clear eyes,
tumbling masses of hair and a generous vigor of body. He sighed at
Laurel's superabundant youth, and moved carefully forward; he was very
heavy, and his progress was uncertain. His thoughts were divided between
the present and the past--Barzil Dunsack, aged and ill and unfortunate,
and the happening long ago that had resulted in a separation of years
after a close youthful companionship.
It had occurred while Barzil was master of the brig _Luna,_ owned by
Billy Gray, and he, Jeremy, was first mate. In the exactness with which
he recalled every detail of his life in ships he remembered that at the
time they were off Bourbon Island, about a hundred and ten miles
southwest of the lie de France. The _Luna_ was close hauled, and, while
Barzil was giving an order at the wheel, she fetched a bad lee lurch
and sent him in a heap across the deck, striking his head against the
bumkin bitts. He had got up dazed but not apparently seriously injured;
and after his head had been swabbed and bound by the steward he
returned to the poop. There, however, his conduct had been so
peculiar--among other things sending down the watch to put on Sunday
rig against a possible hail by the Lord--that, after a long
consultation with Mr. Patterson, the second mate and the boatswain, and
a brief announcement to the crew, he, Jeremy Ammidon, had taken command
in their interest and that of the owner.
Barzil had made difficulties: Mr. Patterson struck up a leveled pistol in
the master's hand just as it exploded. They had confined him, in charge
of the unhappy steward, to his cabin; where, after he had completely
recovered from the effects of the blow, and Jeremy had been upheld by the
authorities at Table Bay, he stubbornly remained until the _Luna_ had
been warped into Salem.
From the moment of their landing they had not exchanged a word. Jeremy
was surprised to find himself at present bound toward the other's house.
He was not certain that Barzil would even see him; but, he muttered, the
thing had lasted long enough, they were too old for such foolishness; and
the other had come into adverse winds, now, when he should be lying
quietly in a snug harbor.
He had never paid serious attention to the threatened complication two or
three years before, when Gerrit had been seen repeatedly with Kate
Dunsack's irregularly born daughter. He was sorry for the two women. It
was his opinion that the man had been shipped drunk by some boarding
house runner; anyhow, only the second day out Vollar had been lost
overboard from the main-royal yard, and Kate's child born outside the
law. It was hard, he told himself again, walking down Orange Street, past
the Custom House to Derby.
The girl, Nettie Vollar--they had adopted the father's name--was
attractive in a decided French way, with crisp black hair, a pert nose
and dimple, and, why, good heavens, twenty-one or two years old if she
was a week! How time did run. It was nothing extraordinary if Gerrit had
been seen a time or two with her on the street, or even if he had called
at the Dunsacks'. Barzil's and his quarrel didn't extend to all the
members of their families; and as for the Dunsacks being common--that was
nonsense. Barzil was as good as he any day; only where he had prospered,
and moved up into a showy place on the Common, the other had had the
head winds. Through no fault of his own the reputation had fastened on
him of being unlucky in his cargoes: if he carried tea and colonial
exports to, say, Antwerp, they would have been declared contraband while
he was at sea, and seized on the docks; he had been blown, in an
impenetrable fog, ashore on Tierra del Fuego, and, barely making Cape
Pembroke, had been obliged to beach his ship, a total loss. Then there
was Kate's trouble. Barzil was a rigorously moral and religious man and
his pain at that last must have been heavy.
Jeremy Ammidon's mind turned to Gerrit, his son; this interest in Nettie
Vollar, if it had existed, was characteristic of the boy, who had a quick
heart and an honest disdain for the muddling narrow ways of the land. He
would have sought her out simply from the instinct to protest against the
smugness of Salem opinion. A fine sailor, and a master at twenty-two. A
great one to carry sail; yet in the sixteen years of his commands he had
had no more serious accident than the loss of a fore-topgallant mast or
splitting a couple of courses. It was Gerrit's ability, the splendid
qualities of his ship, that made Jeremy hope he would still come sailing
into the harbor with some narration of delay and danger overcome.
He was now on Derby Street, in a region of rigging and sail lofts, block
and pump makers, ships' stores, spar yards, gilders, carvers and workers
in metal. There was a strong smell of tar and new canvas and the flat
odor that rose at low water. Sailors passed, yellow powerful
Scandinavians and dark men with earrings from southern latitudes, in red
or checked shirts, blue dungarees and glazed black hats with trailing
ribbons, or in cheap and clumsy shore clothes. There was a scraping of
fiddle from an upper window, the sound of heavy capering feet and the
stale laughter of harborside women.
On Hardy Street he continued to the last house at the right, the farther
side of which gave across a yard of uneven bricks, straggling bushes and
aged splitting apple trees and an expanse of lush grass ending abruptly
in a wooden embankment and the water. A short fence turned in from the
sidewalk to the front door, where Jeremy knocked. A long pause followed,
in which he became first impatient and then irritable; and he was lifting
his hand for a second summons when the door suddenly opened and he was
facing Kate Vollar. There was only a faint trace of surprise on her
apathetic--Jeremy Ammidon called it moonlike--countenance; as if her
overwhelming mischance had robbed her features of all further expressions
of interest or concern.
"I heard," Jeremy said in a voice pitched loud enough to conceal any
inward uncertainty, "that your father had been sick. Met Captain Rendell
on Essex Street and he said Barzil had lung fever. Thought I'd see if
there was any truth in it."
"He just managed to stay alive," Kate Vollar replied, gazing at him with
her stilled gray eyes. "But he's better now, though he's not up and about
yet. Shall I tell him that--that you are here?"
"Yes. Just say Jeremy Ammidon's below, and would like to pass a greeting
He followed the woman in, and entered a large gloomy chamber while she
mounted the stair leading directly from the front. The blackened
fireplace gaping uncovered for the summer, the woodwork, painted yellow
with an artificial graining, and a stiff set of ebonized chairs, their
dingy crimson plush backs protected by elaborate thread antimacassars,
seemed to hold and reflect the misfortunes of their owner. Jeremy picked
up an ostrich egg, painted with a clump of viciously green coconut palms
and a cottony surf; he put it down with an absent smile and impatiently
fingered a volume of "The Life of Harriet Atwood Newell." She was one of
the missionaries who had gone out on the _Caravan_, with Augustine Heard,
to India, but forbidden to land there had died not long after on the Île
"Houqua was a damned good heathen," he said aloud: "and so was
Nasservanjee." He left the table and proceeded to a window opening upon
the harbor, here fretted with wharves. A barque was fast in a small
stone-bound dock, newly in, his practiced glance saw, from a blue water
voyage, Africa probably. Her standing gear was in a perfection and beauty
of order that spoke of long tranquil days in the trades, and that no mere
harbor riggers could hope to accomplish. The deck was burdened with the
ugly confusion of unloading. Jeremy studied the jibs stowed in harbor
covers, the raking masts and tapering royal poles over the stolid roofs.
Ordinarily seeing no more he could not only name a vessel trading out of
Salem, but from her rig recognize anyone of a score of masters who,
otherwise unheralded, might be in command.
However, here he was at a loss, and he thought again of the change, the
decline, that had overtaken Salem shipping, the celebrated merchants; the
pennants of William Gray, he reflected, had flown from the main truck of
fifteen ships, seven barques, thirteen brigs and schooners. Ammidon,
Ammidon and Saltonstone, in spite of his vehement protests, the counsel
of the oldest member of the firm, were moving shipment by shipment all
their business to Boston, listening to the promptings of State Street and
To the right was the sagging landing from which Barzil's schooners
sailed trading with the West Indies; and back of it, and of his
house, stood the small office. His mind had turned to this
inconsiderable commerce when Kate Vollar entered and told him that
her father would see him.
Barzil Dunsack was propped up in bed in a room above that in which Jeremy
had been waiting. He, totally different from the other, showed his age in
sunken dry cheeks, a forehead like an arch of bone, and a thick short
gray beard. A long faded lock of hair had been hastily brushed forward
and an incongruously bright knitted scarf drawn about his shoulders.
Jeremy Ammidon concealed his dismay not only at Barzil's wrecked being
but at the dismal aspect of the interior, the worn rugs with their pieces
of once bright material frayed and loose, the splitting veneer of an old
chest of drawers and blistered mirror above a dusty iron grate. "You have
got in among the rocks!" he exclaimed. "Still they tell me you've
weathered the worst. Copper bound and oak ribs. Don't build them like
Barzil Dunsack's eyes were bright and searching behind steel-rimmed
spectacles, and he studied Jeremy without replying. "Well, isn't there a
salute in you?" the latter demanded, incensed. "I'm not a Malay proa."
The grim shadow of a smile dawned on Barzil's countenance. "I mind one
hanging on our quarter by Formosa," he returned; "I trained a cannon aft
and fired a shot, when she sheered off. That was in the _Flora_ in
A long silence enveloped them. Jeremy's mind was thronged with memories
of ports and storms, mates and ships and logged days. "Remember Oahu like
it was when we first made it," he queried, "and the Kanaka girls swimming
out to the ship with hybiscus flowers in their hair? Yes, and the
anchorage at Tahiti with the swells pounding on the coral reef and
Papeete under the mountain? It was nice there in the afternoon, lying off
the beach with the white cottages among the palms and orange trees and
the band playing in the grove by Government House."
Captain Dunsack frowned at the trivial character of these memories. He
muttered something about the weight of the Lord, and the carnal hearts of
the men in ships. Jeremy declared, "Stuff! He'll wink at a sailor man
with hardly a free day on shore. It wasn't bad at Calcutta, either, with
an awning on the quarter-deck, watching the carriages and syces in the
Maidan and maybe a corpse or two floating about the gangway from the
"A mean entrance," Barzil Dunsack asserted. "I don't know a worse with
the southwest monsoon in the Bay of Bengal and the pilot brigs gone
from the Sand Heads. That's where Heard got pounded with the _Emerald_
drawing nineteen feet, and eighteen on the bar. Shook the reefs out of
his topsails, laid her on her beam ends, and with some inches saved
"Pick up the three Juggernaut Pagodas of Ganjam," Jeremy remarked
"'Thou shalt have no other God--'"
Jeremy, with a glint in his eye, asked, "Wasn't your last consignment of
West India molasses marked Medford?"
"You always were a scoffer," the other replied, unmoved.
"How's Nettie?" Jeremy Ammidon inquired with a deliberate show of
Barzil's lips tightened. "I haven't seen her for a little," he replied.
"She's been visiting at Ipswich." Jeremy added, "A good girl," but the
man in bed made no further comment. His undimmed gaze was fastened upon a
wall, his mouth folded in a hard line on a harsh and deeply seamed
countenance. An able man pursued by bad luck.
"Nothing's been heard from Gerrit," Jeremy said after a little. Still the
other kept silent. His face darkened: by God, if Barzil hadn't a decent
word for the fact that Gerrit was seven months overdue, perhaps lost,
this was not a house for him. "I say that we've had nothing from my son
since he lay in the Lye-ee-Moon Pass off Hong Kong," he repeated sharply.
A spasm of suffering, instantly controlled, passed over Barzil's face.
"Gerrit called once and again before he last sailed for Montevideo," he
finally pronounced. "I stopped it and he left in a temper. I--I won't
have another mortal sin here like Kate's."
"Do you mean that Gerrit's loose?" Jeremy hotly demanded, rising. "A
more honorable boy never breathed." Barzil was cold. "I told him not to
come back," he repeated; "it would only lead to--to shamefulness."
Jeremy shook his cane toward the bed. "I may be a scoffer," he cried,
"but I wouldn't hold a judgment over a child of mine! I'm not so damned
holy that I can look down on a misfortunate girl. If Gerrit did come to
see Nettie and the boy had a liking for her, why you drove away a cursed
good husband. And if you think for a minute I wouldn't welcome her
because that Vollar fell off a yard before he could find a preacher
you're an old fool!"
"Nettie must bear her burden: far better be dead than a stumbling block."
"Well, I'd rather be a drunken pierhead jumper on the Waterloo Road than
any such pious blue nose. I'll tell you this, too--I'd hate to ship afore
the mast under you for all you'd have the ensign on the booby hatch with
prayers read Sunday morning. I don't wonder you got into weather; I'd
have no word for a Creator who didn't blow in your eye."
"I'll listen to no blasphemy, Captain Ammidon," Barzil Dunsack
"And I'll speak my mind, Captain Dunsack; it's this--your girls are a
long sight too good for you or for any other judgmatical, psalm-singing
devil dodger." He stood fuming at the door. "Good afternoon to you."
Barzil Dunsack reclined with his gaunt bearded head sunk forward on his
thin chest swathed in the gay worsted wrap, his wasted hands, the tendons
corded with pale violet veins, clenched outside the checkered quilt
beneath which his body made scarcely a mark.
Outside, in the soft glow of beginning dusk, Jeremy blamed himself
bitterly for his anger at the sick man. He had gone to see him in a
spirit friendly with old memories, forgetful of their long quarrel in the
stirred emotions of the past days of youth and first manhood; and he had
shouted at Barzil as if he were a lubber at the masthead.
He realized that in order to be in time for supper he must turn toward
the Common and home; but his gaze caught the spars of the strange
barque; and, mechanically, he made his way over a narrow grassy passage
to the wharf. She was the _Cora Sellers_ of Marblehead, and he recognized
from a glance at the cargo that she had been out to the East Coast of
Africa--Mozambique and Zanzibar, Aden and Muscat. A matted frail of dates
swung ponderously in air, there were baled goatskins and sacks of Mocha
coffee, sagging baskets of reddish unwashed gum copal carried in bulk,
and a sun-blackened mate smoking a rat-tail Dutch cigar was supervising
the moving of elephant tusks in a milky glimmer of ivory ashore.
There was a vague murmur of the rising tide, beyond the wharves and
warehouses the water was faintly rippled in silver and rose, and a ship
was standing into the harbor with all her canvas spread to the light
wind. He turned away with a sigh and walked slowly up toward the elms of
Pleasant Street. At his front door he stopped to regard the polished
brass plate where in place of his name he had caused to be engraved the
words Java Head. They held for him, coming into this pleasant dwelling
after so many tumultuous years at sea, the symbol of the safe and happy
end of an arduous voyage; just as the high black rock of Java Head
thrusting up over the horizon promised the placidity and accomplishment
of the Sunda Strait. Whenever he noticed the plate he felt again the
relief of coasting that northerly shore:
He saw the mate forward with the crew passing the chains through the
hawse pipes and shackling them to the anchors. The island rose from level
groves of shore palms to lofty blue peaks terraced with rice and
red-massed kina plantations, with shining streams and green kananga
flowers and tamarinds. The land breeze, fragrant with clove buds and
cinnamon, came off to the ship in the vaporous dusk; and, in the blazing
sunlight of morning, the Anjer sampans swarmed out with a shrill chatter
of brilliant birds, monkeys and naked brown humanity, piled with dark
green oranges and limes and purple mangosteen.
In the last few years, particularly with Gerrit away, he had turned more
and more from the surroundings of his house--rather it had become
William's house--to an inner life of memories. His own active life seemed
to him to have been infinitely fuller, more purposeful and various, than
that of present existence at Java Head. All Salem had been different: he
had a certain contempt for the existence of his son William and the
latter's associates and friends. He had said that the trading now done in
ships was like dealing at a Boston store, and the merchants reminded him
of storekeepers. The old days, when a voyage was a public affair, and a
ship's manifest posted in the Custom House on which anyone might write
himself down for a varying part of the responsibility and profit, had
given place to closed capital; the passages from port to port with the
captain, as often as not, his own supercargo and a figure of importance,
had become scheduled affairs in which a master was subjected to any
countinghouse clerk with an order from the firm: the ships themselves
were fast being ruined.
He was in his room, after supper, seated momentarily on a day bed with a
covering of white Siberian fox skins, and he pronounced aloud, in a tone
of satirical contempt, the single word, "Clipper." Nearly everyone in the
shipping business seemed to have been touched by this madness for the
ridiculous ideas of an experimental Griffiths and his model of a ship
with the bows turned inside out, the greatest beam aft and a dead rise
like an inverted roof. That the _Rainbow_, the initial result of this
insanity, hadn't capsized at her launching had been due to some freak of
chance; just as her miraculous preservation through a voyage or so to
China could have been made possible only by continuously mild weather.
Even if the _Rainbow_ had been fast--her run was called ninety-two days
out to Canton and home in eighty-eight--it was absurd to suppose that
there had been the usual monsoon. And if she did come in a little ahead
of vessels built on a solid full-bodied model, why her hold had no cargo
capacity worth the name.
Things on the seas were going to the devil! He moved down to the library,
where he lighted a cheroot and addressed himself to the _Gazette_; but
his restlessness increased: the paper drooped and his thoughts turned to
Gerrit as a small boy. He saw him leaving home, for the first time, to go
to the school at Andover, in a cloth cap with a glazed peak, striped long
pantaloons and blue coat and waistcoat; later at the high desk in the
counting-rooms of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone; then sailing as
supercargo on one of the Company's ships to Russia and Liverpool. He had
soon dropped such clerking for seamen's duties, and his rise to
mastership had been rapid.
Rhoda, William's wife, entered and stood before him accusingly. "You are
worrying again," she declared; "in here all by yourself. It really seems
as if you didn't believe in our interest or affection. I have a feeling,
and you know they are always right, that Gerrit will sail into the harbor
any day now."
He had always liked Rhoda, a large handsome woman with rich coloring--her
countenance somehow reminded him of an apricot--and fine clothes. She
paused, studied him for a moment, and then asked, "Was your call on
Captain Dunsack pleasant?"
"It ought to have been," he confided, "but I got mad and talked like a
Dutch uncle, and Barzil went off on a holy tack."
"About Nettie Vollar?"
Jeremy nodded. "Look here, Rhoda," he demanded, "did Gerrit ever say
anything to you about her?"
"Yes," she told him; "Gerrit was very frank."
"Did he like the girl?"
"I couldn't make that out. But if there hadn't been, well--something
unusual in her circumstances I think he would never have noticed her.
Gerrit is a curious mixture, a very impressionable heart and a contrary
stubborn will. He was sorry for Nettie, and, at the way a great many
people treated her, threw himself into opposition. Nettie's father made
him very mad, and Gerrit pretty well damned all Salem before he left in
the _Nautilus_. He was excruciatingly funny: you know Gerrit can be,
particularly when he imitates anybody. I think being away at sea a great
deal, and having absolute command of everything, give men a different
view of things from ours. What is terribly important to Salem hardly
touches Gerrit; it's all silly pretense, or worse, to him.
"I wouldn't mind that if it weren't for the sense of humor that leads him
into the wildest extravagances, and the fact that he'll act on his
feelings. You know I'm devoted to him but I give a sigh of relief
whenever he gets away on his ship without doing any one of the hundred
insanities he threatens."
"Gerrit's like me," he said.
"More than William," she agreed. "William is never impetuous, and he's
often impatient with his brother. He's a splendid husband, but Gerrit
would make a wonderful lover. I'm thankful I never fell into his
affections ... too wearing for an indolent woman."
"You've been a great comfort and pleasure, Rhoda," he told her. "I only
wish Gerrit could marry someone like you--"
"But who would give him sons," she interrupted.
"It's just as you say about him, and I've always been uneasy. God knows
what he won't do--on land. William's a great deal happier, for all his
brother's humor. I joke William, but he's very satisfactory and solid.
He'll make port if he doesn't get tied up with newfangled notions. Why,
it stands to reason that a ship built like a knife would double up in the
seas off the Falklands."
"He has a lot of confidence in Mr. McKay."
"McKay is a good man unsettled. The _May Broughton_ is a fine barque,
and his packet ships are as seaworthy as any, but--" his indignation
increased so that he sputtered, and Rhoda laughed. "Now your girls,"
he added, "fine models, all of them, plenty of beam, work in any kind
"That's very complimentary," she assured him, rising. "You mustn't worry
about Gerrit. Remember, my predictions never fail."
When she had gone his mind returned to storms he had safely
weathered--the gray gales of Cape Horn, black hurricanes and the
explosive tempests in eastern straits and seas. He took from the drawer
of a bookcase with glass doors set in geometrical pattern a thin volume
bound in black boards. A paper label was inscribed in a small, carefully
formed script, "Journal of my intended voyage from Salem to the East
Indies in the Ship _Woodbine_." He opened at random:
"Comes in with strong wind from SSE with rain squalls. Very ugly sea on.
Double reefed the Topsails, reefed the courses and furled the mainsail.
At six p.m. shipped a very heavy sea that carried away the bulwarks on
the larboard quarter and stove those on the starboard quarter and
amidships ... upper cabin filled with water. Through the night strong
gales.... Lightning at all points of the compass."
The memory of this night, six days out from Manilla to Hong Kong, was
clearer than the actuality of the room in which he sat, an old man with
his activity, his strength, his manhood, far behind him, a hulk.
"At ten split the mainsail in pieces. Close reefed the fore and
double reefed the main-topsails. Rising gales and heavy head sea.
Shipping a great quantity of water and leaking considerable. Bent a
new mainsail and set it. Reefed and set the jib. Pumping near two
thousand strokes an hour.
"October seventh, Sunday. Comes in with strong gales and a heavy head
sea. Both officers crippled and man laid up. Through the night the same.
Leaking badly. A great number of junks in sight ... and so at five p.m.
come to anchor."
He had been a good man then, sixteen days on the quarter-deck without
going below; insensible to ice or fever or weariness. He had been
autocratic, too; and had his boy servant carrying areca nuts, chunam
and tobacco in two silk bags, another with a fan and a third holding
an umbrella. Such things were all over now, he understood, in this
His mind continually returned to Gerrit, to dwell on the vast number of
perils held in store by the sea; there was always the possibility of
scurvy, an entire crew rotting alive in the forecastle and the ship
broached to, dismasted; of mutiny; the sheer smothering finality of
volcanic waves. He had never realized until now, in the misery of
uncertainty, the hellish loneliness of a shipmaster at sea; the pride of
duty, the necessity of discipline, that put him beyond all counsel, all
assistance and human interdependence. Jeremy, who had arrogantly accepted
this responsibility without a question, through so many long years and
voyages, now dreaded it, found it an inhuman burden, for his son.
William couldn't be expected to appreciate the difficulties of his
brother's position: all the former's experience had been got when, with
James Saltonstone and a party of Salem merchants, he ventured to the
lighthouse at the entrance of the harbor, had a cold collation, and
returned with the pilot or in the Custom House sloop. These occasions of
huzzas and salutes and speeches were supplemented with a hasty
inspection, now and then, of a vessel lying still at the wharf with sails
harbor furled. William guessed little of the long effort through which a
ship won from the first of those moments to the last. He was solely
concerned with the returns of the cargo.
However, Rhoda was right, and this mooning wouldn't bring Gerrit into
port. He turned to the bookcase, where a squat bottle of Medford rum
rested beside a tumbler; after a drink he lighted a cheroot and smoking
vigorously, with hands clasped behind him, paced back and forth in an
undeviating line between the door to the hall and a dark polished
secretary he had bought in London.
While he was walking Camilla came into the room and sedately took a seat
on one of the formal chairs against the wall. "I guess you think that's
the deck of a ship," she said conversationally. He regarded her with a
faint threatening glint of humor. Camilla's dignity was stupendous;
particularly now, when, he observed, her skirts stood out in a thoroughly
grown manner. He liked Laurel best of William's children; she had, in
spite of her confusion in regard to outports, a surprising grasp upon
many of the details of life on shipboard, and a largeness of manner and
expression entertaining in a little girl. Sidsall was the most
ingratiating--she had Gerrit's direct kindling gaze; Janet showed no
individuality yet beyond an entire willingness to conform to outward
circumstance while pursuing deeply secret speculations within. But
Camilla impressed the entire family by the rigidity of her correctness in
personal and social niceties. At times, he felt, she would be a nuisance
but for the firm hand of her mother and his own contribution to their
well-being by an occasional sly sally.
"It might be that," he admitted; "if it weren't for the facts that it's a
house and library, and I'm an old man, and you're not at all like the
"I should hope not," she replied decidedly. "A second mate isn't
anything, and I am a--a young lady anyhow."
"You'll soon be out at dances."
"I go to parties now; that is, mother let me stay at the Coggswells' on
Thursday until the men came at nine for sangaree. And I'm at all the
He made a gesture of pretended surprise and admiration. "I don't suppose
they ever have a good chantey with the stuff they play?" he queried.
"Dear me, no. Mr. Dempster sings The Indian's Lament, and The May Queen:
that's a cantata and it's in three parts."
Jeremy began to hum, and in a moment was intoning in a loud monotonous
voice, sweeping a hand up and down:
_"To my hero, Bangedero,
Singing hey for a gay Hash girl."_
"I don't think that's very nice," she said primly.
"What do you mean--not very nice?" he demanded, incensed. "There's
nothing finer with a rousing chanteyman leading it and the watch hauling
on the braces. You'd never hear the like at any Ballad Soirée. And:
_"Sweet William, he married a wife,
'Gentle Jenny,' cried Rose Marie,
To be the sweet comfort of his life,
As the dew flies over the mulberry tree."_
"There isn't much sense to it," she observed.
For a little, indignant at her disparagement of such noble fragments, he
tramped silently back and forth, followed by a cloud of smoke from the
cheroot. No one on land could understand the absorbing significance of
every detail of a ship's life.... Only Gerrit, of all his family, knew
the chanteys and watches, the anxiety and beauty of landfalls--the blue
Falklands or Teneriffe rising above the clouds, the hurried making and
taking of sail in the squalls of the Doldrums.
"In India," he told her, stopping in his measured course, "female
children are given to the crocodiles."
Her mouth parted at this, her eyes became dilated, and she slipped from
the chair. "That's perfectly awfully appalling," she breathed. "The
little brown girl babies. Oh, father," she cried, as William Ammidon came
into the library, "what do you suppose grandfather says, that in India
female children are...crocodiles." Words failed her.
"What's the sense in frightening the child, father?" William
remonstrated. "I wish you would keep those horrors for the old heathen of
the Marine Society."
Jeremy had a lively sense of guilt; he had been betrayed by Camilla's
confounded airs and pretensions. He ought to be ashamed of himself,
telling the girl such things. "The British Government is putting a stop
to that," he added hastily, "and to suttees--"
"What are they?" she inquired.
"Never mind, Camilla," her father interposed; "go up with your mother
"I suppose it's no good speaking to you," William continued; "but my
family is not a crew and this house isn't the _Two Capes_. You might make
some effort to realize you're on land."
"I know I'm on land, William; tell that any day from a sight of you. You
can afford to listen a little now and then about the sea. That's where
all you have came from; it's the same with near everybody in Salem.
Vessels brought them and vessels kept them going; and, with the wharves
as empty as they were this afternoon, soon there won't be any Salem to
"The tide's turned from here," the other replied; "with the increase in
tonnage and the importance of time we need the railway and docking
facility of the larger cities--Boston and New York."
"It's running out fast enough," Jeremy agreed; "and there's a lot going
out with it you'll never see again--like the men who put a reef in
England in 'twelve."
"You are always sounding the same strings; we're at peace with the world
now, and a good thing for shipping."
"Peace!" the elder declared hotly; "you and the Democrats may call it
that, but it's a damned swindle, with the British to windward of you and
hardly a sail now drawing in your ropes. What did Edmund Burke tell
Parliament in 'seventy-five about our whalers, hey! Why, that from Davis
Strait to the Antipodes, from the Falklands to Africa, we outdrove
Holland, France and England. After the laws and bounties Congress passed
in 'eighty-nine what could you see--something like a half million tonnage
gained in three years or so. In the war of 'twelve your land soldiers
were a pretty show, with the Capitol burning; but when it was finished
the privateers had sunk over nine million dollars of British shipping to
their sixty thousand. The Chesapeake luggers have gone out with the tide,
too. And then, by God, by God, what then: the treaty of Ghent, with
England impressing our seamen and tying our ships up in what ports she
chose under a right of search! On top of this your commissioners repeal
the ship laws and the British allow you to carry only native cargoes to
the United Kingdom with a part of the customs and harbor dues off.
"But in spite of Congress and political sharks we went out to India
and China direct, with _The George_ home from Calcutta in ninety-five
days, and the East Indiamen six or seven months on the shorter run to
England. I can show you what the London _Times_ said about that, it's in
my desk: 'Twelve years of peace, and...the shipping interest...is half
ruined...thousands of our manufactures are seeking redemption in foreign
lands.' It goes on to tell that American seamen already controlled an
important part of the British carrying trade to the East Indies. Yet your
precious lawmakers open our West India trade to Great Britain, but they
wouldn't ask the privilege to carry a cargo from British India to
Liverpool or Canada."
"Now, father," William put in, "you are getting excited again. It isn't
good for you. We are not all such fools to-day as you make out."
"Look at the masters themselves," Jeremy continued explosively;
"gentlemen like Gerrit, from Harvard University, and not lime-juicers
beating their way aft with a belaying pin. They could sail a ship with
two-thirds the crew of a Britisher with her clumsy yellow hemp sails and
belly you could lose a dinghy in. Mind, I don't say the English aren't
handy in a ship and that they wouldn't clew up a topsail clean at the
edge of hell. What we are on the seas came over from them. But we
bettered it, William, and they knew it; and, naturally enough, laid out
to sail around us. I don't blame England, but I do our God damn--"
"Father," the other firmly interrupted, "you are shouting as if you were
on the quarter-deck in a gale. I must insist on your quieting down;
you'll burst a blood vessel."
"Maybe I am," Jeremy muttered; "and it wouldn't matter much if I did.
When I see a nation with shipmasters who would set their royals when
others hove too, and get there, all snarled up with shore lines and
political duffel, I'm nigh ready to burst something."
"Rhoda said that you were at the Dunsacks' this afternoon; I saw Edward
in Boston yesterday."
"I don't care if you saw the Flying Dutchman," the other asserted,
"It's curious about the China service," William went on; "anyone out
there for a number of years gets to look Chinese. Edward is as yellow as
a lemon, but nothing like as pleasant a color. Thin, too, and nervous;
hands crawling all over themselves, never still for a moment. He didn't
say why he had left Heard and Company, and I didn't quite like to ask.
Edward came on from England in the _Queen of the West,_ the Swallow Tail
Line. I did ask him if he were going to settle in Salem, but he couldn't
say; there was something about a Boston house. It seems that Gerrit
carried his chest and things from Canton in the _Nautilus_ as an
Suddenly Jeremy felt very insecure, his body heavy and knees weak,
failing. He stumbled back into the chair by the fireplace, William at his
side. "You must pay some attention to what you're told, father," the
latter said anxiously. "How are you now?"
"I'm all right," he declared testily, trying to brush away the dimness
floating before his eyes.
"Shall I help you up to bed?"
"I'll go to bed when I've a mind to," Jeremy retorted. "I am not under
cover yet by a long reach." To establish his well-being he rose and moved
to the secretary, where he got a fresh cheroot, and lighted it with
slightly trembling fingers. He grumbled inarticulately, remembering his
own exploits in the carrying of sail and record runs under the bluff bows
of the Honorable John Company itself. The ebb tide, he thought, returning
to William's figure and its amplification by himself. So much that had
been good sweeping out to sea never to return....Gerrit long overdue.
Once more he shook himself free of numbing dread; automatically he had
fallen back into the passage from the secretary to the hall door. He saw
that he had worn threadbare a narrow strip where his feet had so often
pressed. It would be necessary for him to see about a fresh case of
cheroots soon, primes, too; they needn't try to put him off with the
second quality. He was put off a great deal lately; people pretended to
be listening to him, and all the time their thoughts were somewhere else,
either that or they were merely politely concealing the opinion that he
was out of date, of no importance.
His family were always providing against his fatigue or excitement; at
the countinghouse the gravest problems, he was certain, were withheld
from him. At the occurrence of this possibility a fresh indignation
poured through his brain. Fuming and tramping up and down he determined
that to-morrow he would show any of the clerks who didn't attend to his
wishes or counsel that he was still senior partner of Ammidon, Ammidon
The evening was surprisingly warm and still, with an intermittent
falling of rain, and the windows were open in the room where Rhoda
Ammidon sat regarding half dismayed her reflection in the mirror of a
dressing table. A few minutes before she had discovered her first gray
hair. It was not only the mere assault upon her vanity, but, too, a
realization far deeper--here was the stamp of time, the mark of a
considerable progress toward the end itself. Her emotions were
various; but, curiously enough, almost the first had been a wave of
passionate tenderness for William and her little girls. The shock of
finding that arresting sign was now giving place to a purely feminine
reaction. She considered for a moment the purchase of a bottle of hair
coloring, then with a disdainful gesture dismissed such a temporary
and troublesome measure.
She kept an undiminishing pride in her appearance and a relentless care
and choice in the details of her dress, pleased by the knowledge that
the attention men paid her showed no indication yet of growing
perfunctory. She had been much admired both in Boston and London
through her youth, and she recalled her early doubts at the prospect of
life in Salem; but she realized now that, as her years and children
multiplied, she was by imperceptible degrees returning to a traditional
New England heritage.
She was glad, however, that William's wide connections lifted him above a
purely local view; William was really a splendid husband. Rhoda was
conscious of this together with a clear recognition of his faults, and
quite aside from both existed her unreasoning affection. The latter
vividly dominated her, shut out, on any occasion of stress, all else; but
for the most part she held him in an attitude of mildly amused
Gerrit Ammidon she hadn't seen until after her engagement to William, and
she sometimes thought of the former in connection with marriage. Gerrit,
she admitted to herself, was a far more romantic figure than William; not
handsomer--William Ammidon was very good looking--but more arresting,
with his hair swinging about his ears and intense blue gaze. An exciting
man, she decided again, for whom one would eternally put on the loveliest
clothes possible; a man to make you almost as ravishingly happy as
miserable, and, therefore, disturbing as a husband.
At this her mind returned to her gray hair and the fact that the metal
backlog of the kitchen fire, which supplied the house with hot water, had
been leaking over the hearth. A feeling of melancholy possessed her at
the turning of younger visions into commonplace necessities, but she
dismissed it with the shadow of a smile--it was absurd for a woman of her
age to dwell on such frivolous things. Yet she still lingered to wonder
if men too kept intact among their memories the radiant image of their
youth, if they ever thought of it with tenderness and extenuation. She
decided in the negative, convinced that men, even at the end of many
years, never definitely lost connection with their early selves, there
was always a trace of hopefulness, of jaunty vanity--sometimes winning
and sometimes merely ridiculous--attached to their decline.
Rhoda stirred and moved to a window, gazing vaguely out into the moist
blue obscurity. Sidsall, she realized, was maturing with a disconcerting
rapidity. Depths were opening in the girl's being at which she, her
mother, could only guess. It was exactly as if a crystal through and
through which she had gazed had suddenly been veiled by rosy clouds.
Sidsall had a charming nature, direct and unsuspicious and generously
There was a sound at the door, and William entered, patently ruffled. It
was clear that he had had another disagreement with his father. "It's
shameful how you disturb him," she declared.
"Look here, Rhoda," he replied vigorously. "I won't continually be put in
the wrong. It seems as if I had no affection for the old gentleman. I
always have the difficult thing to do, and he has been slightly
contemptuous ever since I was a boy because I didn't go to sea. The truth
is--while I wouldn't think of letting him know--he's a tremendous
nuisance pottering about the countingrooms with his stories of
antediluvian trading voyages. And worse is to come--these new clipper
ships and passages have knocked the wind out of the old slow
full-bottomed vessels. We have about determined to reorganize our fleet
entirely, and are in treaty with Donald McKay for an extreme clipper type
of twelve hundred tons.
"Of course, he's my parent; but I wonder at Saltonstone's patience.
Father won't hear of the opium trade and it's turning over thousand per
cent profits. We are privately operating two fast topsail schooners in
India now, but it's both inconvenient and a risk. They ought to be put
right under our house flag for credit alone. It is all bound to come up,
and then he'll go off like a cannon."
"Couldn't you wait till he's dead, William?" she asked. "It won't be a
great while now. I can see that he has failed dreadfully from this worry
"Five years will make all the difference. We are losing tea cargoes every
month to these ships making sensational runs. I don't talk much, Rhoda,
about, well--my family; but I am as upset over Gerrit as anyone else.
Except for a tendency to carry too much sail there's not a better
shipmaster out of New England. Not only that ... he's my brother. It's
easy to like Gerrit; his opinions are a little wild, and an exaggerated
sense of justice gets him into absurd situations; yet his motives are the
purest possible. Perhaps that word pure describes him better than any
other, however people who didn't know might smile. As a man, Rhoda, I can
assert that he is surprisingly clean-hearted."
"That's a wonderful quality," she agreed; "why anyone should smile is
beyond me. William, would you know that my hair is turning gray, do I
look a lot older than I did five years ago?"
He studied her complacently. "You've hardly changed since I married you,"
he asserted; "a great deal prettier than these young cramped figgers I
see about. The girls, too, are just like you--good armfuls all of them."
The next day was flawlessly sunny, the slightly stirring air reminiscent
of the sea, and the lilacs everywhere were masses of purple and white
bloom. Stepping down from her carriage on the morning round of shopping
Rhoda encountered Nettie Vollar leaving one of the stores of Cheapside.
"Why, Nettie," she exclaimed kindly, "it's been the longest time since
I've seen you. It is just no use asking you to the house, and it seems,
with nothing to do, I never have a minute for the visits I'd like to
make." Nettie, she thought, was a striking girl, no--woman, with her
stack of black hair, dark sparkling eyes and red spot on either cheek.
More fetching in profile than full face, her nose had a pert angle and
her cleft chin was enticingly rounded. Later she would be too fat but now
her body was ripely perfect.
"I don't go anywhere much," she responded, in a voice faintly and
instinctively antagonistic. "I don't like kindness in people; but I
suppose I ought to be contented--that's all I'll probably ever get from
anybody who is a thing in the world. Mrs. Ammidon," she hesitated, then
continued more rapidly, her gaze lowered, "have you had any word about
Captain Ammidon yet? Have they given up hope of the _Nautilus_?"
"We've had no news," Rhoda told her, and then she added her conviction
that Gerrit would return safely.
"He was better than kind," Nettie Vollar said. "I'm sure he liked me,
Mrs. Ammidon, or he would have if everything hadn't been spoiled by
grandfather. He thinks I'm a dreadful sin, you know, a punishment on
mother. But inside of me I don't feel different from others. Sometimes
I--I wonder that I don't actually go sinful, I've had opportunities, and
being good hasn't offered me much, has it?"
"You are naturally a good girl, Nettie," Rhoda answered simply; "but you
must be braver than ordinary. If we think differently from Salem still it
is in Salem we must live; I keep many of my beliefs secret just as you
must control most of your feelings."
The other responded with a hard little laugh. "Thank you, though. You are
more like Gerrit, Captain Ammidon, than Mrs. Saltonstone, his own sister.
I hate her," she declared. "I hate all the Salem women, so superior and
condescending and Christian. They always have a silly look of wonder at
their charity in speaking to me... when they do. They act as if it's just
a privilege for me to be in their church. I'd rather go to a cotillion at
Hamilton Hall any day."
"Of course you would," Rhoda agreed. There seemed to be so little for her
to offer or say that she was relieved when they parted. The afternoon
grew really sultry, but, when the shadows had lengthened, she encountered
Jeremy Ammidon wandering aimlessly about the hall and, his fine palmetto
hat and wanghee in her hand, urged him out to the East India Marine
Society. "It's much too beautiful a day for the house," she insisted.
"There's nothing remarkable about it," he returned; "wind's too light and
variable, hardly enough to hold way on a ship." There were the stirring
strains of a quickstep without; at the door they saw the Salem Cadets,
preceded by Flag's Band, marching in columns of fours into Washington
Square. The white breeches with scarlet coats and brass buttons made a
gay showing on the green Common, the sunlight glittered on silver braid
and tassels, gilt and pompons, scaled chin straps and varnished leather.
The old man's face grew dark at the brilliant line drawn up for
inspection, and he muttered a period about cursed young Whigs. "Wouldn't
have one of the scoundrels in my house if I could help it. Don't
understand William; he's too damned mild for my idea of a good citizen.
"Why, it's only reasonable that a country's got to be run like a ship,
from the quarter-deck. How far do you suppose a vessel would get if the
crew hung about aft and chose representatives from the port and starboard
watches and galley for a body to lay the course and make sail?"
"Please, father," she protested, laughing. "Do go along into the sun."
She gently pushed him toward the door. Rhoda realized the fact that
William was more than half Whig already. That threatened still another
point of difference, of departure, from all that his father held to be
sacred necessities. Jeremy, like most of the older shipmasters, was a
bitter Federalist, an upholder of a strongly centralized autocratic
government. He left, grumbling, and the staccato commands of the military
evolutions on the Common rang through the slumberous afternoon.
She lingered in the doorway and Laurel appeared, jigging with excitement.
"Can't I get nearer," she begged; "there's nothing to see from here." Her
mother replied, "Ask Camilla to take you over to the Square." Camilla
appeared indifferently. "I don't know why anyone should be flustered,"
she observed; "it isn't like the Fourth of July with a concert and
As they were going, Sidsall came out in a white tarlatan dress worked
with sprays of yellow barley, her face glowing with color, and sat on
the steps. "Positively," her mother said, looking down on the mass of
bright chestnut hair in a chenille net, "we'll soon have to have you up
"I wish I might," she responded. "And Hodie is too silly--I can't
get her to lace me tightly enough. She says such things are engines
of the devil."
"It's still a little soon for that--" Rhoda broke off as a slight erect
man at the verge of middle age turned in from Pleasant Street upon them.
"Roger," she said cordially as he came quickly up the steps. He greeted
her lightly and bent over Sidsall with an extended hand:
"The apple blossoms, I see, are here."
Rhoda wondered what nonsense Roger Brevard was repeating; Sidsall's face
was hidden from view. But then Roger was always like that, his manner was
never at a loss for the appropriate gesture. He had a great many points
in common with her, she thought; neither had been born in Salem, and his
rightful setting was in the best metropolitan drawing-rooms. He had been
here for a dozen years, now, in charge of the local affairs of the
Mongolian Marine Insurance Company; and she often wondered why, a member
of a family socially notable in New York, he continued in a city, a
position, of comparative unimportance.
She was, she said, going back to the lawn, the glare of Pleasant Street
was fatiguing; and she proceeded through the house with the surety of his
following. But on the close-cut emerald sod there was no sign of him, and
she found a seat in a basket chair by the willow tree beyond. She waited
for Roger with a small but growing impatience; he must be done
immediately with whatever he might say to Sidsall, and she wished to
discuss the possibilities of a rumor that President Polk intended to
visit Salem. There would be a collation, perhaps a military ball, to
arrange; Franklin Hall would be the better place for the latter. She
heard a faint silvery echo of laughter--Sidsall. It was extremely nice,
of course, in Roger Brevard to entertain her daughter, though she didn't
care to have the child give the effect of receiving men yet.
It was, finally, Sidsall who appeared, unaccompanied, in the drawing-room
window. She came forward to where Rhoda sat, her face still stirred with
amusement. "Mr. Brevard went on," she said in response to her mother's
look of inquiry. "That's rather odd," the latter commented almost
sharply. "He had only a few minutes," the girl explained. She sank into a
seat and mood of abstraction. Rhoda studied her with a veiled glance.
Hers were exceptional children, they had given her scarcely an hour's
concern; and she must see that in the unsettling period which Sidsall was
now entering she was not spoiled.
Perhaps Laurel entertained her more than the others. She was a very
normal little girl, not thoughtful like Janet, and without Camilla's
exaggerated poise; but she had a picturesque imagination; and her
companionship with her grandfather was delightful. The latter addressed
her quite as if she were a fellow shipmaster; and she had acquired some
remarkable sea expressions, some deplorable and others enigmatic: only
to-day, questioned about the order of her room, she had said that it was
"all square by the lifts and braces." For this her grandfather had given
her a gold piece.
There was, she knew, an excellent school for older girls at Lausanne;
and, revolving the possibility of obtaining for Sidsall some of the
European advantages she, Rhoda, had enjoyed, the following afternoon she
drove to the Cliffords' on Marlboro Street for a consultation with Madra,
who had spent a number of seasons on Lake Leman. In a cool parlor with
yellow Tibet rugs and maroon hangings she had tea while Madra Clifford,
thin and imperious, with a settled ill health like white powder and a
priceless Risajii shawl, conversed in a shrill key.
"Caroline has been in bed for a week. That vulgar Dr. Fisk, with his
elbow in her bosom, tried five times to extract her tooth, and then broke
it to the roots. I hear there is a galvanic ring for rheumatism. The pain
in my joints is excruciating; I have an idea my bones are changing into
chalk; the right knee will hardly bend." The darkly colored shawl with
its border of cypress intensified her sunken blue-traced temples and the
pallid lips. She developed the subject of her indisposition, sparing no
detail; while Rhoda Ammidon, from her superabundance of well-being, half
pitied the other and was half revolted at the mind touched, too, by
bodily ill. The fortune accumulated by the hardy Clifford men, flogged
out of crews and stained by the blood of primitive and dull savages--the
Cliffords were notorious for their brutal driving--now served only to
support Madra's debility and a horde of unscrupulous panderers to her
"Edward Dunsack is in Salem," she continued; "and I've heard he has the
most peculiar appearance. Very probably the result of the unmentionable
practices of the Orient. Father liked the Chinese though; so many of our
shipmasters have, and not always the merchants.... What was I saying? Oh,
yes, Edward Dunsack. I understand you had a distinct alarm in that
quarter, about the girl and Gerrit Ammidon. But I forgot to say how glad
I am about Gerrit. You must have been horribly worried--"
"What do you mean?" Rhoda demanded.
"Why, haven't you heard! The Nautilus was sighted. News came from Boston.
She ought to be into-day, I believe. I suppose William has been too
concerned to get you word at home."
Rhoda Ammidon rose immediately, surprised at the force of the emotion
that blurred her eyes with tears. Gerrit was safe! Possibly they had
been told at Java Head now, but she must be there with Jeremy Ammidon;
surprises, even as joyful as this, were a great strain on him.
Neglecting the object of her visit she returned at once to Pleasant
Street, urging the coachman to an undignified haste, and keeping the
carriage at the door.
Her father-in-law was at his secretary in the library, and it was evident
that he had heard nothing of his son's return. "Well, Rhoda," he said,
swinging about; "what a bright cheek you have--like Laurel's."
"I feel bright, father," she replied with a nod and smile. "After this
none of you will be able to laugh at my predictions. You see, a woman's
feeling is often more correct than masculine judgment." His momentary
bewilderment gave place to a painfully strained interrogation. "Yes," she
told him, "but we are none of us surprised--Gerrit is almost in Salem
harbor." She moved near him and, with a veiled anxiety, laid her hand
upon his shoulder.
"A splendid sailor," he muttered. It seemed as if Rhoda could really hear
the dull rising pounding of his shaken heart. But his excitement
subsided, gave way to a normal concern, a flood of vain questions and
preparation to go down to the wharf. In the midst of this a message came
from the countinghouse of Ammidon, Ammidon and Saltonstone that the
_Nautilus_ would dock within an hour.
A small crowd had already gathered on Derby Wharf when Rhoda and her
companion made their way past the warehouses built at intervals along the
wharf to the place where the _Nautilus_ would be warped in. The
wharfinger saluted them, William Ammidon joined his wife, and beyond she
could see James Saltonstone conversing with the Surveyor of the Port.
The afternoon was serene, a faint air drew in from the sea; and with it,
sweeping slowly inside Peach's Point, was the tall ship with her canvas
towering gold in the western sun against the distance of sea and sky. As
Rhoda watched she saw their house flag--a white field checkered in
blue--fluttering from the main royal truck.
"The royals are coming in!" Jeremy Ammidon exclaimed, gripping Rhoda's
arm. "He is lowering his top-gallant yards and hauling up the courses! My
dear, there's nothing on God's earth finer than a ship."
The _Nautilus_ slipped along surprisingly fast. Rhoda could now see the
crew moving about and coiling the gear.
"Look, father, there's Gerrit on the quarter-deck."
The shipmaster, shorter than common, with broad assertive shoulders in
formal black, was easily recognizable. A woman with a worn flushed face
pressed by Jeremy. "Andrew's there, too," she told them, "Mr. Broadrick,
The ship moved more slowly, under her topsails and jibs, in a soundless
progress with the ripples falling away in water like dark green glass,
liquid and still. She was now but a short distance from the end of the
wharf. Mr. Broadrick was forward between the knightheads with the crew
ranged to the starboard and at the braces, while Gerrit Ammidon stood
with one hand on the quarter-deck railing and the other holding a brass
speaking trumpet to his lips:
"Let go your port fore and after braces, Mr. Broadrick; brace the fore
and mizzen yards sharp up, leave the main braces fast, and lay the main
topsail to the mast. As she comes to the wind let the jibs run down." He
turned to the man at the wheel, "Helm hard a starboard."
"Hard a starboard, sir."
The ship answered quickly and rounded to while her weather fore and
mizzen yards flew forward until they touched the starboard backstays
and the men hauled in the slack of the braces. With the main yard
square to check her way the jibs drooped down along the stays. "Mr.
Broadrick, you may let go the starboard anchor and furl sails." The
mate grasped a top maul and struck the trigger of the ring stopper a
clean blow, the anchor splashed into the water with a rumbling cable,
and the _Nautilus_ was home.
Gerrit Ammidon walked hurriedly to the companionway and went below, while
the mate continued, "Stand by to let go your topsail halliards and man
the gear. Sharper with the mizzen sheets and unbend those clew lines and
garnets... stow the clews in a harbor furl." At a rhythmic shout the
bunts of the three topsails came up together.
The wind had died away and the flags hung listlessly from the main truck
and spanker gaff. The water of the harbor was unstirred except for the
swirls at the oar blades of an incoming quarter boat and the warp paying
out at her stern. The voice of the mate, the chantey of the crew heaving
at the capstan bars, came to Rhoda subdued:
_"The times are hard and wages low,
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her.
I guess it's time for us to go,
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her.
I thought I heard the old man say,
Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her.
To-morrow we will get our pay
Rhoda Ammidon discovered herself leaning forward tensely, her hands shut
in excitement and emotion; and she relaxed with a happy laugh as the
_Nautilus_, with her yards exactly square and rigging taut, her sides and
figurehead and ports bright with newly laid on paint, moved to the wharf.
It seemed to her that Gerrit, descending a short stage from the deck,
looked markedly older than when he had last sailed. Yet he had a
surprisingly youthful air still; partly, she thought, from the manner in
which he wore his hair, falling in a waving thick line about his cheeks.
His mouth was at once fresh and severe, his face clean shaven, and his
eyes--if possible--more directly blue than ever.
"I'll take the ship's manifest to the Collector," he said, greeting them
and impatiently waving aside the vendors after the cook's slush, the
excited women and runners and human miscellany crowding forward. "Then
Java Head." He paused, speaking over his shoulder: "I'd be thankful if
you would send the barouche down in an hour or so."
Driving back, her hand on Jeremy Ammidon's knee, Rhoda wondered at
Gerrit's request. It was entirely unlike him to ride in the barouche;
rather he had always derided it in the terms of his calling. However,
unable to find a solution for her surprise, she listened to the other's
comments and speculations:
"I suppose William's first question will be about the cargo, and, of
course, I hope the ship has done well. But I'm just glad to have Gerrit
back; I am for a fact, Rhoda."
"We all are," she assured him, "and William as happy as any. You mustn't
be misled by his manner, father. I hope the supper will be good and
"Gerrit will be satisfied with anything," he chuckled. "Probably he's
been out of beans even for a month. Did you notice that fore-royal mast
and yard? They were rigged at sea: Gerrit carried them away. It hurts him
to take in a sail. Some day I tell him he'll drag the spars out of his
ship. His confounded pride will founder him." He made these charges
lightly, with a palpable underlying pride; and, Rhoda knew, would permit
no one else to criticize his son.
She found her daughters in a state of gala excitement on the front steps.
"Uncle Gerrit in the _Nautilus,_" Laurel chanted; and it was evident that
Camilla herself was thrilled. They all went up to put on holiday dress.
Rhoda turned to the coachman, "Have the barouche at the head of Derby
Wharf in an hour."
Gerrit's unusual demand again puzzled her. A fantastic possibility lodged
in her brain--perhaps he was not alone. She pulled the bell rope for her
maid, changed into black moiré with cut steel bretelles, and selected
the peacock coloring of a Peri-taus shawl. She found her husband with his
father in the library. "I understand it's a splendid cargo," William
remarked. Jeremy nodded triumphantly at her, and she expressed a half
humorous resentment at this mercenary display. "He ought to be here," the
younger man declared, consulting his watch. As he spoke Rhoda saw the
barouche draw up before the house. She had a glimpse of a figure at
Gerrit Ammidon's side in extravagantly brilliant satins; there was a
sibilant whisper of rich materials in the hall, and the master entered
the library with a pale set face.
"Father," he said, "Rhoda and William, allow me--my wife, Taou Yuen."
Rhoda Ammidon gave an uncontrollable gasp as the Chinese woman sank in a
fluttering prostration of color at Jeremy's feet. He ejaculated, "God
bless me," and started back. William's face was inscrutable, unguessed
lines appeared about his severe mouth. Her own sensation was one of
incredulity touched with mounting anger and feeling of outrage. The woman
rose, but only to sink again before William: she was on her knees and,
supported by her hands, bent forward and touched her forehead to the
floor three times. Gerrit laughed shortly. "She was to shake your hands;
we went over and over it on shipboard. But anything less than the
_Kûl'on_ was too casual for her."
She was now erect with a freer murmur of greeting to Rhoda. The latter
was instantly aware of one certainty--Chinese she might be, she was, but
no less absolutely aristocratic. Her face, oval and slightly flat, was
plastered with paint on paint, but her gesture, the calm scrutiny of
enigmatic black eyes under delicately arched brows, exquisite quiet
hands, were all under the most admirable instinctive command. Rhoda said:
"I see that I am to welcome you for Gerrit's family." The other, in slow
lisping English replied:
"Thank you greatly. I am humbled to the earth before your goodness."
"You will want to go to your room," Rhoda continued mechanically. "It was
only prepared for one, but I'll send a servant up at once." She was
enraged at the silent stupidity of the three men and flashed a silent
command at her husband.
"This is a decided surprise," the latter at last addressed his brother;
"nor can I pretend that it is pleasant." Jeremy Ammidon's gaze wandered
blankly from Gerrit to the woman, then back to his son.
Never before had Rhoda seen such lovely clothes: A long gown with wide
sleeves of blue-black satin, embroidered in peach-colored flower petals
and innumerable minute sapphire and orange butterflies, a short
sleeveless jacket of sage green caught with looped red jade buttons and
threaded with silver and indigo high-soled slippers crusted and tasseled
with pearls. Her hair rose from the back in a smooth burnished loop.
There were long pins of pink jade carved into blossoms, a quivering
decoration of paper-thin gold leaves with moonstones in glistening
drops, and a band of coral lotus buds. Pierced stone bracelets hung
about her delicate wrists, fretted crystal balls swung from the lobes of
her ears; and clasped on the ends of several fingers were long pointed
filagrees of ivory.
"Taou Yuen," Gerrit repeated shortly, with his challenging bright gaze.
"That means Peach Garden. My wife is a Manchu," he asserted in a more
biting tone; "a Manchu and the daughter of a noble. Thank you, Rhoda,
particularly. But I have always counted on you. Will you go up with her?
That is if--if my father has a room, a place, for us."
"This will always be your home, Gerrit," Jeremy said slowly, with the
long breath of a diver in deep waters.
In the room that had been his since early maturity Gerrit Ammidon gave
an involuntary sigh of relief. Taou Yuen, his wife, was standing in the
middle of the floor, gazing about with a faint and polite smile. Her eyes
rested on a yellow camphor chest--one of the set brought home by his
father--on a severe high range of drawers made of sycamore with six legs,
on her brilliant reflection in the eagle-crowned mirror above the mantel,
and the sleigh bed with low heavily curved ends.
The situation below, however brief and, on the whole, reasonably
conducted, had been surprisingly difficult. At the same time that he had
felt no necessity to apologize for his marriage he had known that Taou
Yuen must surprise, yes--shock, his family. She was Chinese, to them a
heathen: they would be unable to comprehend any mitigating dignity of
rank. Where they'd actually suffer, he realized, would be in the
attitude of Salem, the stupid gabble, the censure and cold pity caused
by his wife.
Personally he regarded these with the contempt he felt for so many of the
qualities that on shore bound the interests of everyone into a single
common concern. It gave him pleasure to assault the authority and
importance of such public prejudice and self-opinion; but, unavoidably
implicating his family, at once a part of himself and Salem, he was
conscious of the fact that he had laid them all open to disagreeable
moments. He was sorry for this, and his regret, principally materialized
by his father's hurt confusion, had unexpectedly cast a shadow on a scene
to which he had looked forward with a distinct sense of comedy. Where the
realities were concerned he had no fear of Taou Yuen's ability to justify
herself completely. He possessed a stupendous admiration for her.
He watched her now with the mingled understanding and mystification that
gave his life with her such a decided charm. Her gaze had fastened on the
mirror-stand above the drawers: she must be wondering if she would have
to paint and prepare herself for him here, openly. He knew that she
considered it a great impropriety for her face to be seen bare; all the
elaborate processes of her morning toilet must be privately conducted. He
recognized this, but had no idea what she actually thought of the room,
of his family, of the astonishing situation into which her heart had
One and then another early hope he saw at once were vain. It had seemed
to him that in America, in Salem, she might become less evidently
Chinese; not in the incongruous horror of Western clothes, but in her
attitude, in a surrender to superficial customs; he had pictured her as
merging distinctively into the local scene. In China he had hoped that in
the vicinity of Washington Square and Pleasant Street she would appear
less Eastern; but, beyond all doubt, here she was enormously more so. The
strange repressed surrounding accentuated every detail of her Manchu pomp
and color. The frank splendor of her satins and carved jades and
embroidery, her immobile striking face loaded with carmine and glinting
headdress, the flawless loveliness of hands with the pointed nail
protectors, were, in his room, infinitely dramatized.
The other, less secure possibility that she might essentially change
perished silently. In a way his wish had been a presumption--that a
member of the oldest and most subtle civilization existing would, if she
were able, adopt such comparatively crude habits of life and thought.
She moved slowly up to the bed, examining it curiously; and again he
understood her look of doubt--in China beds were called _kang_, or
stoves, from the fact that they were more often than not a platform of
brick with an opening beneath for hot coals. She fingered the ball fringe
of the coverlet, and then turned with amazement to the soft pillow. A
hand with the stone bracelet falling back from her smooth wrist rose to
the complicated edifice of her headdress.
"Your pillow is coming along from the ship," he told her; "the women here
do up their hair every morning."